Sunday, November 2, 2014

Squeeze Play (Terry Harknett aka Thomas H. Stone, 1973)

The private detective gets hired by an old poor black lady to find her niece. Innocent Avis left her Seattle home and went to San Francisco six months ago to find her long lost sister. She found her alright, but in the process, got hooked on heroin and found herself mixed up in a nasty blackmail affair. It's a big-time game involving organised crime, beautiful women with a shady past, failed actresses with their sleazy cameramen companions, tough cops (one is named Bogart!), dirty politicians, switched identities and so on.

In short - it's a classical detective novel. Written in 1973! It doesn't try to reinvent the wheel and keeps things simple and as straightforward as possible. The plot is far from trivial but still easy to follow, and the final revelation (let's not even call it a twist) totally makes sense. The characterisation is more than decent, especially our main mulatto hero is complex just enough. Special mention must go to the time and location - even though it takes place in San Francisco, there's no mention of hippies, Nixon, Vietnam war, etc. It felt like the author had intentionally ignored all that political and sociological crap and had instead simply focused on telling a damn good mystery story.

It's nothing special. Certainly nothing I would call a masterpiece, but it simply works. At least it worked for me. There are many more ways to fuck up this kind of novel than there are ways to make them right, and it seems to me that Mr Harknett was well aware of that.

I often buy crime paperbacks of unknown (to me at least) authors at flea markets and second-hand bookstores, and usually, they are pretty disappointing. But I'm glad I came across this one and will definitely check out the other four of the Chester Fortune series. I googled Terry Harknett (and Thomas H. Stone too) and was amazed how obscure he is, especially since he wrote more than 200 books! There's basically just his Wikipedia page with a single link to some publisher, and that's it. No online interviews, studies, blog posts etc. Would appreciate it if anyone would give me some tips about his stuff!



Chester Fortune, PI. The cover describes him as "Fortune is a Man of Violence in a Violent World"

San Francisco

Body count
Pretty bloody affair for mere 120 pages: 6 + 5 mobsters + not sure about "two detectives and a patrolman went down, clutching at their stomachs and spraying blood"

Karen - "Youth was a thing of the past for her and he guessed she was into that period of a woman's life when the thirty-second birthday comes around every year."

There was a split-second of agony under his skull, a blinding flash of white light, then darkness. Cool and soft and damp like the earth in a forest after a summer storm.

Poor beautiful damsel in distress Karen is being blackmailed (squeezed).

see 'hero' section

Cool lines:  
The severed head hit the ground and rolled. Flames exploded from the wrecked car and in their flickering light he looked into the sightlessly staring eyes of what had once been Natalie Webb.
"Told you the ride was coming to an end, baby," he muttered.[The Coolest!]

The right side of his chest was soaked with blood, which had finished seeping from the wound made by a knife. The heart they had cut out was lying several feet away from him.
"I always thought he was a heartless bastard," Bogart said between teeth clenched against his pain.
"Just wasn't cut out for the job," Fortune responded.[The Coolest!]


  1. I haven't read these books since I am not into westerns but I think this might give you an idea. Thanks for the post by the way, I am going to check Fortune series.

    1. Thanks a lot, Bish's Beat blog is a great discovery and I'm putting it on my blog list! A bit weird combination of boxing (+wrestling!!) and westerns and I can see myself checking it out quite some time instead of doing work that pays my rent :) Fuck it - so many things to do and so little time, right?

      Turns out that Paul Bishop, the "Bish" who runs this blog, is also a writer and looks like he is somehow involved into Fight Card series. And I actually blogged about one of those books titled Irish Dukes almost two years ago. It's a small world indeed.

      Thanks again for the link, take care!

  2. an interview with harknett

    1. Thanks a lot, very interesting stuff! This Dobbs guy really knows his shit and he asks all the right questions. Harknett himself seems to be a very nice guy. Too modest when it comes to his crime writing. He shouldn't had set his standard as high as to reach Chandler's writing. Nobody can ever do that! :)