Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Devil's Home on Leave (Derek Raymond, 1984)

Simply loved He Died with His Eyes Open so I expected something special but this one had still caught me unprepared. Insane stuff, it breaks almost every crime writing rule!

It begins with a probably shortest chapter I have ever read. Check this:

I knocked at a second-floor flat in a dreary house, one of two hundred in a dreary Catford street.
After a while I heard steps the other side of the door. "McGruder?"
"Who's that?" said a man's voice. "Who wants him?"
"I do," I said. "Open up. Police."

And that's it. Bang! I was sucked in!

What follows is a discovery of the body of a guy killed in such a gruesome manner that even Herschell Gordon Lewis would be proud of it. Poor bastard had been killed with a humane killer (needle-gun used for cattle slaughtering) and then boiled (!??!!!), bled out, his teeth were totally smashed, he was dismembered and finally his remains were put in several shopping bags. WTF!?

But if you think this is gonna be yet another standard serial psycho-killer chase formulaic thriller, better think again. Because pretty soon our nameless sergeant discovers (without much of an investigation btw - it's just "practice and instinct") who the killer is and cat-and-mouse game can begin. But things start to go a bit odd even before that - chronological narration stating specific dates (it begins on April, 14th btw) gets abandoned almost immediately as well as the side-kick kind of a character of an investigating reporter. Like I said - the usual rules are used just to be broken and to mislead  the reader.

Lots of stuff happens afterwards and the whole thing culminates into some weird kind of political espionage involving Russians and UK defense minister. Ending is cool too and (surprise, surprise) unexpected. Without revealing too much, let's just say that crime sometimes does pay.

But of course this is as far from whodunit as it can possible be. It's about the evil vs good, sense of justice, humanity, authority (liked the touch about his boss being reduced to just a voice over the phone), power and its abuse (defense minister is a gambler and a pervert), remorse, dealing with guilt and more.

And who the hell needs a coherent story anyways when you read something so very stylish and authentic (see dictionary in the 'cool lines' section), violent, noir-ish, hard-boiled (police brutality in the 20th chapter!), with such an interesting hero protagonist and totally insane villain?

It has to be said it's also extremely morbid (see body count section), bleak and disturbing so I wouldn't recommend it to everyone. But to me it was total thrill, I simply couldn't stop reading it!



Nameless; in his early 40s but still only detective-sergeant because "Justice is what I bother about, not rank.". Still working in Factory on Poland street in unexplained deaths department A14. You can find him in the room 205.


Body count:  
Violence and death are everywhere in this one and I tried to keep the count as accurately as I could. I'm pretty sure there are 5 corpses directly related to the plot (or let's say to the plot's present time) and at least 15 are mentioned in various contexts and sub-plots: from an old woman thrown from the car (senseless killing  for 70 quid of gear plus maybe a tenner) to a serial killing of three (so gruesome that squatter girl who finds them dies of a heart attack) and to some random Norwegian "geezer" (who buried some young men in his garden). And let's of course not forget our hero's nine year old daughter Dalia who was pushed under the bus by her crazy mother. 

Dames, Blackouts: nope, none. And for the last time - standard rules are all broken in this one
"Well," he said, "what do you think?"
"What I think," I said, "is that the devil's home on leave."
"What does that mean?"
"It means there's a maniac on the manor."

McGruder personifies the devil and there are numerous references to him (or is it "it"?). And this asshole truly is one sick fuck - he gets a hard-on when he's about to kill somebody and then comes into his pants afterwards.
It's probably the only thing I kind of dislike about this masterpiece. I understand the fire-walking metaphor, but there are so many more suitable motives that would do better justice do this book's unique atmosphere.

Cool lines:  
"You can't work that, you bastard!" he screamed. "There's a fucking law in this country!"
"That's right," I said, "and I'm it." [The Coolest!]

"As a copper I don't care about your privacy," I said, "your rages even less. To me you're just an operation - find 'em, nail 'em, wheel 'em in!"
"Must be dull, same operation all the time."
"You should know," I said, "you're the disease."

"You lying, self-deceiving cunt," I said, "if the money were right you'd top a handicapped child in a wheelchair, cop for the lolly and bank it. You're full of shit, piss and death, McGruder, so don't try and launder yourself with me, friend."

"Phillips is a software wizard - the sort of microchip guru who makes a British government foam with excitement, like a snooker amateur with black over the top pocket." 

Plus a few slang words I noted down. Might come handy next time I visit London...

  • doing bird - serving a prison sentence
  • grass, super grass - police informer
  • screw - prison guard
  • topped - (contract) murder
  • hot cross - jail break
  • bag - arrest
  • punter or putting the black on - blackmail
  • clocking (somebody) - checking somebody out, observing
  • Black Maria - prisoners transporting vehicle

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Hail to the Chief (Ed McBain, 1973)

Nostalgic one. My father used to be a big admirer of McBain but I just couldn't get into his writing when I was in my teens. Too formulaic, not enough action, no femme fatales, detailed police procedures descriptions instead of snappy dialogues etc. I preferred (and still do) the vivid world of PIs.

I have learned to appreciate a good writing and smart story telling (I hope) in all these years since but still couldn't enjoy this one. Its subject is juvenile gangs violence which isn't exactly my cup of tea although (like any other subject) it can be done decently or even brilliantly. The whole setup in this one just didn't work for me. I mean - how can you take seriously a bunch of kids that still live with their parents? And at the same time organize their gangs (they call them cliques) into mob-like hierarchies with counselors, secretaries, war chiefs and so on. Sounded a bit silly to me to be honest...

There's no mystery and it is a good example of content being sacrificed to the form. Our detectives' investigation runs in parallel with the reading of the gang leader's confession statement in flashbacks after he had been arrested. So the whole narration comes down to something like this: guy explaining what had happened and then Ed McBain describing how our heroes concluded that same thing using the police procedures. It's an interesting concept but it quickly wears off and becomes more and more annoying. My humble opinion is that this approach would function much more effectively if the guy would be interrogated instead. There are pages and pages of that statement without any dialogues and the whole thing is at times really hard to digest.

Far from being bad, but it's just not for me. Still isn't, even after all those years.



Detectives Steve Carella and Bertram Kling of the 87th precinct

The city in these pages is imaginary.
The people, the places, are all fictitious.
Only the police routine is based on
established investigatory technique. 

Body count
Let's round it to 10. It starts with three man, two girls and a baby in the ditch  (Nice racial and ethnic balance. Three of them were black, two of them were Hispanic and one of them was white), then two more during the story development and at least two in the final shootout. But probably much more since three gangs with approximately 50 members are fighting the third world war (they even have hand grenades!).

Blackouts: /

Don't get it. It probably refers to Nesbitt who is a chief of Yankee Rebels but I can't remember anyone hailing to him.

Pretty unimaginatively constructed human face using the gangs colors and weapons. I doubt Carpenter considered this for a poster of his masterpiece Assault on Precinct 13

Cool lines:
There was another color staining the ice. The color was blood. The bodies were naked. The nakedness made the night seem even colder than it was. 

I don't know any rich man's sons who got killed in that war over there, do you? And I don't know any rich man's sons who get killed in the street in the middle of the night. If there's a God, mister, he doesn't know about poor people.

I knew this was a drastic measure, but I reasoned with the council that if there is nobody left to fight a war, then the war automatically stops.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

No House Limit (Steve Fisher, 1958)

I'm not really into the gambling themed stuff but just couldn't leave this one sitting on a two-pounds discounts shelf in London's Forbidden Planet store. Published by the one and only Hard Case Crime, it almost felt as a duty to buy it and not just an act of mercy. But seriously - where is this world going to when one can buy half a dozen of new books for a price of a pint of Guinness and a pack of cigarettes...

Anyways, like I mentioned, gambling is not exactly my thing. So I had a problem comprehending the basic premise in this one. There's an independent (=not ran by the mob) casino in Las Vegas and some anonymous syndicate (=mob I guess) is trying to take it over. Since "gamblers are not gangsters", they hire some ultra bad-ass high-roller who will play crabs for three straight days and nights against the house attempting to bankrupt the casino by winning ten million bucks. And for some reason, casino owner Joe (our hero btw) needs to be present at the crap table all the time.

So the whole concept seemed a bit silly to me. But I did think at the beginning that it had a potential to develop into something (more) interesting. There are few cool characters and beautiful dames (we are in Vegas after all) and parallel to the main story there's another subplot in which Joe's right-hand man is shielding his boss from the various distractions that might break his concentration. Because during this "siege", syndicate tries to disrupt things by "pushing the queer chips", switching dices with "shaved" ones and even dispatching a hit-man from Chicago.

But all those episodes are just fillers for the main theme. Which is not even gambling, it's LOVE! Joe and his piano player both fall desperately for two women they've just met. In fact, once the siege is over, both of them will propose to their new found loves. So instead of hard-boiled gangster pulp novel, this turns into incredibly cheesy (see 'cool lines' section) and at times hilariously funny romance crap. Too bad.



Joe Martin, owner of the Rainbow's End casino. Or is it maybe Sprig, his tough right-hand man?

One of the richest, most exclusive playlands on this earth is a strip of U.S. highway just outside Las Vegas, Nevada.

Body count: 3

Sunny Guido - "I'd trade my casino for her!" [Fatale]

None, even though Joe is on the verge of collapse all the time during the siege. Pulls it off because in between the sessions Sunny takes good care of him (even fucking him twice!).

Bad-ass gambler Bello requests that casino lifts the limit on betting and Joe - as a fellow high roller - is unable to reject his request since not respecting such unwritten rules would ruin his reputation. I know, I know - I told you I've found the whole concept silly...

Guy in front is definitely Bello, girl is most likely Dee (an exquisite young girl ... with large breasts and rounded hips ... in a dazzling white blue-sequined cocktail dress ... looking sexy) and my guess is that a guy standing in the dark behind her is Sprig since (a) he's a guy who operates from the background and (b) Joe is probably standing at the other end of the crap table facing Bello.

Girl's face looks a bit strange but otherwise it's quite nice illustration. Credited to R.B. Farrell (for whom Google has never hear of btw)

Notable cover blurbs: 
"Sex, sadism and action." by Washington Star.

Pretty funny what was considered sexy and sadistic 50 years ago...
Cool lines
No witty, snappy one-liners in this one I'm afraid. There's occasional cool slang, mostly related to gambling but I'll remember this one for some truly corny dialogs that made me laugh my ass off. Chapter 20 is simply brilliant! Here it is, a bit condensed:

"And is it?"
"I thought so for a while."
"Don't you know?"
He looked at her. "I'm wondering."
"This is better," he said.
"Much better."
"I feel alive again."
"So do I."
"Please say it out loud."
The word offended her. "Joe-"
She whispered: "I love you."
"It sounds beautiful, Joe!"
"It sounds insane. But I want to do it...Why are you crying?"
"I'm not - it's just - I'm so happy!"
His voice was warm. -"I'm happy, too. I'm not sure I've ever been happy before - really happy."
[They start fucking now. Ups, sorry - they are making love!]
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing, darling."
"No, everything's lovely"
"Oh, Joe-"
"I love you," he said. "God help me, Sunny, I love you, I really love you."
"I love you, too!"