Friday, June 17, 2016

Black Is the Fashion for Dying (Jonathan Latimer, 1959)

Starts very promising. Without going into details let me just quote the ending of the first chapter:

"A choking sound rose from his throat. Outside of a silver crucifix, suspended between two firm, pink-tipped breasts, Miss Omaha was stark naked."

Naked babes, Hollywood... oh yeah - bring it on!

But then it just starts to build up a classical whodunit. Page after page of a pretty monotone narrative is spent on establishing the cast, the setup and our first victim. But with not exactly subtle hints like "“...that’s Hollywood’s favorite pastime...planning how to kill Caresse" it's not much of a surprise when poor Caresse is killed. True to the formula, murder happens on a set during a movie shot and again we can see it happening few pages beforehand (a bit naive stuff with pistols and bullets as the props). But just in case we still didn't get it, Mr. Latimer reminds us that we are now in a locked-room type of a mystery:

“You know those locked-room murders they’re always putting in books?”
They nodded again.
“Well, this baby, if something don’t give, could make all of ’em look like kindergarten riddles.”

Oh, well. Nothing against the good old fashioned mystery every once in a while. Only this one turns into an amateur detective type which is really not my cup of tea. And to make matters worse it turns into two(!) amateur detectives type with Gordon directing Blake from his hospital bed so the damn thing becomes reminiscent of Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin cozy mystery. To make it even bigger mess, a bit of The Fugitive is thrown in. For no good (or at least credible) reason our amateur sleuth #1 decides to run and hide from the police chase only to appear next day in a big surprise (huh) revelation scene that takes place nowhere else but at the Oscar awards ceremony! I kid you fucking not. So much for that famous "warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse" search. But then again - cops in this one don't play any significant role. They are just observers of the "backward school of detection" method copyrighted by Gordon and practiced by Blake.

Wanted to like this one so Mr. Latimer would have a more positive opening entry on this blog but was really struggling to get over the line. It just dragged on and on... Not noir-ish, not hard-boiled, not even decently suspenseful. Felt like all the effort was spent into creating an authentic H'Wood novel with the convincing atmosphere around the movie making industry and its eccentric people. And that aspect definitely works well but unfortunately it is the only one that works.

And one last thing before I finish. You wonder what happened to that naked beauty from the opening chapter? Hate to disappoint you, but nothing much really - she disappears and is later found dead. Turns out that her sole purpose was to distract our writer hero so that the bad guy could sneak into his house to take a peek at the scene he had just written.... Surely there are easier ways to get a dude away from his typewriter for a minute?



From the "Cast of Characters" section:

Richard Blake—An up-and-coming young Hollywood writer, he worked hard to revise the ending of his script, but it didn’t come off exactly as he’d planned

Josh Gordon—A quick-witted, outspoken young director, he was forced to improvise and he managed to supply a most unexpected ending


Body count
A bit hard to do a proper count. Definitely a couple that I have already mentioned which together with a culprit's death makes it 3. There's also a poet (and occasional screenplay writer) who died in the past (but it's not explained whether it was a violent death) and an actor who committed a suicide. Irene too is excluded from the grand total since she only dies momentarily when hearing some shocking news over the phone ("The phone was dead. And so was she.")

Object of desire: 
Some ledgers proving that Fabro stole his Oscar-winning screenplay. 

Mysterious blonde looking "like a child playing grown-up in her mother’s clothes":
About as cute as they came. A real doll, but probably older than she looked. They were almost always older than they looked.

And of course Caresse: "...conniving, murderous, lying bitch, a jet-age Lucretia Borgia.":
Forty-five, if she was a day. A star for nearly thirty years. Five marriages, a telephone book of lovers, scandals, disasters, triumphs, and she still made carhops of the Mansfields and Monroes.

Hot metal grazed his head. Back of his eyes a skyrocket exploded, sent out millions of red stars. The stars flew upwards, became dancing motes of pinkish light that vanished into outer space. Something soft pressed his cheek. It was the rug. 

Caresse's last lines of the "Tiger in the Night".


eBook comes with a pretty dull cover so I took one of the old paperbacks. Not sure about its author.

Cool lines
It was going to be one of those days when it hailed frogs in Nebraska, when bats committed wholesale suicide against the Empire State Building, when a five-year-old in Peru gave birth to a three-headed baby.

“She’s really dead?”
“Even deader than her last picture.”

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Little People (John Christopher, 1966)

Far from the "pure terror" promised in its full title and even farther from this blog's usual crime stuff but The Little People deserves an honorary post for its crazy cover. Nazi Leprechaun exploitation! The very moment I saw this illustration in some on-line article (which I cannot find now, goddamn) I went on eBay and scored me a copy. I just love being seduced by such preposterous artwork!

It had been sitting on my "pretty high priority" bookshelf waiting for the right moment and I finally decided to check it out for this year's St Patrick Day. Seemed appropriate for the obvious reasons. Also Paddy's day is a national holiday here in Ireland meaning we have a work-free day which it looked like I'm gonna need as this thing has 200+ pages of pretty small print...

At the end it took me more than two weeks to finally get through it:) I don't normally read two fiction books at the same time but in this case I think I put it down twice to read something lighter and then resumed with The Little People. Turned out that those 200+ pages (remember - of pretty small print!) don't contain much dialogue and that the whole thing is written in that semi-archaic English language that can be very difficult to follow for a non-native speaker. And the fact that there's no "pure terror" in it didn't make things easier.

Not saying it's bad at all, it's just not my cup of tea. The premise is interesting ( a group of people finds these pathetic little creatures) and pretty sad (nazi experiments...) with some interesting ideas thrown in  (like how to preserve their human rights) but everything takes ages to start and complete. There are pages and pages of semi-philosophical crap intertwined with way too much personal/family shit to keep the reader focused. At least this reader.



"Mary, the maid, says she's seen the little people near house."
Hanni said, "The little people? I do not understand that."
"It's an old legend in Ireland," Bridget said. "About this race of tiny men and women who can do magic. Mostly they're invisible, but occasionaly people can catch a glimpse of them. Some people."
"In Germany, also," Stefan said. Hanni still looked puzzled, and he turned to her, explaining. "Die Kobolde. Verstehst du?"
"Ah, yes." She nodded. "They do wicked things."

Bridget asked, "The Castle?"
"Well, it's not exactly a castle, though it's called Killabeg Castle and it has some of the old ruins still..."
Daniel Said, "Do you know it?"
"... It lies in a wild part of Mayo. There's no town within twenty miles, and the nearest railway is more than thirty."

Funny enough, there seems to be a place called Killabeg House in Ireland but it is located in county Wexford, not Mayo.

Body count:  /

Little Greta + little people's blonde, dark-eyed leader: "triumph of beauty in miniature".

Should also probably mention Bridget since she and her fiancee Daniel are the main non-little protagonists. But in a typically English conservative tradition we just learn about her secretarial qualities:

For one thing, she had, as a secretary (not to him, but to Joe Grayson, one of the other partners), that rare intelligent competence which would enable her to tackle any situation with a probability of success.

Blackouts: /

They were wearing green costumes, like Greta, These, in the artificial light, the spotlight surrounded by blackness, gave the scene a harsh Disney-like unreality - the cinema's ultimate 3-D achievement after all the fumblings with Cinemascope and Cinerama and the rest. Who in God's name could have dreamed up that one?

Avon #2243, first printing, August 1968

see  'Hero' and 'Title' sections. Illustration credited to Hector Garrido.

Notable cover blurbs: 
"Carefully laid-on horror." - The New York Times

Cool lines: /