Sunday, March 14, 2021

None but the Lethal Heart (Carter Brown, 1959)

With such a badass cover, this post was scheduled to be published on International Women's Day. I'm not writing this on the 8th of March, so you can probably guess right away about where this review is heading.

Mavis Seidlitz is just not a heroine appropriate to celebrate strong and independent women. She's supposed to be an equal partner in the Rio Investigations detective agency but this "partnership" is a bit odd. You see, It is completely normal for her partner Johnny Rio to throw an appointment book at her for being late, orders her around to bring him drinks (needless to say without "please" and/or "thank you"), and - worse of all - solves the case for her because she herself is too incompetent and dumb enough to drown in the rain.

Annoying and sometimes pretty nasty. Towards the end there's a scene in which Johnny shoots (pretty much in cold blood) a suspect and this is the exchange that follows between our duo of partners:

"Tell me something, Johnny" I said. "When you shot at Marian Stern, did you mean to kill her?

He thought about it for a moment. "I don't think so, Mavis," he said finally. "I wanted to make sure I stopped her shooting Rafael - I think there's a difference somewhere. Why?"

"Just for future reference," I said. "Otherwise I wouldn't feel safe when you got mad at me."

Partnership? Looks more like some kind of abusive and dysfunctional relationship to me.

I wanted to like this and had hoped that Mr. Brown would have toned down his male chauvinistic crap at least when his hero is a female. But instead of satirizing the stereotypes, he uses them for his leading character (non) development. Too bad. Can't really say I was very surprised, more like disappointed.

Other than that, the novel is surprisingly okay. It does take several chapters to get into its goofy sense of humor but then it is genuinely funny. Especially the first half in which Mavis and Rafael are running around like Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant trying to dispose of the corpse with every attempt more silly than the previous one. 

This gag becomes a bit too repetitive and eventually wears off. But still, there are other things to enjoy. The supporting cast is pretty colorful and I liked the dictator's spoiled son Arturo a.k.a. "The Fabulous" and beatnik Terry with his incomprehensible ramblings. Dig this jive:

"It was a kick", he said simply. "What else is there, doll? Don't you want me to have any fun? You a square or something - don't you dig this jazz?"

So yeah, more or less a standard Carter Brown quick read. A product of its time that publishers these days wouldn't give a second thought. I have two more Mavis Seidlitz books but I don't think I'll bother chasing the others in the series. And for the next 8th of March, I'll rather do a post with Dark Angel or Baroness. Until then, happy International Women's day to all you ladies out there. You rule the world!

3/5

Facts:

Hero:
But then I remembered I was Mavis Seidlitz, a full partner in Rio Investigations and I could handle a situation on my own. Anyway was I a girl or a gopher? Did I have red blood in my veins or perfume? So I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders determinedly and wouldn't you know I'd bust a bra strap at the same time!

Dames
Mavis Seidlitz, the torrid blonde private eye.

Location:
L.A.

Body count:
4

Blackouts:
Mavis faints when she discovers corpse #2. Of course she does since she's a woman, right?

References:
He pressed the doorbell and inside the house chimes played something that sounded like it was from My Fair Lady. I figured it wasn't really, because they have something called copyright, don't they, which means it's only right to copy if you pay for it, and I figured Milroyd wasn't the guy to pay for anything if he could avoid it.

Title:
Have no idea what the expression "None but the Lethal Heart" means. I googled it and got back a bunch of links to heart-related diseases. 

Edition:
Signet #1694, First printing, August 1959

Cover
:
Outrageously funny and definitely in my top 10. She didn't even bother to take off the high heel shoes!?! Plus check out the defiant look she's giving us - I don't think this gal has any guilty conscience and I'd bet she'll sleep like a baby tonight!

And it's actually pretty accurate as our heroine indeed does dig a hole:
I had a shallow hole ready in no time, being a healthy girl.

There's a tiny signature in the bottom right corner that looks like Barye. So probably by Barye Phillips?

Cool lines:
Like mentioned before, it takes some time (and effort) to get into "Carter Brown humor" mode. Stuff like this I do understand and find funny:

He believes the shortest distance between two points is a bullet.

Stuff like this I get and I find amusing:

I flung open the front door and stepped out onto the porch, and that was as far as I got. A small blue sea broke over me, carrying me back into the entrance hall again. Then the sea sorted itself out into four beefy, uniformed cops, and a gray-suited character with a face that would have made him top man on the totem pole on any reservation.
"O.K.!" The gray-suited guy snarled at me. "Where's the body?"
I took a deep breath and looked down - the scarlet shirt was stretched as tight as it could be. "If you can't see the body, you need glasses," I said coldly.

And then there are the weird ones like this:

This radio gadget is a cute deal - when it gets around to eight o'clock, it switches on the radio all by itself. Then five minutes later it squawks like a Democrat who's just been goosed by an elephant.

Democrat goosed by an elephant?

Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Star Trap (Robert Colby, 1960)

This one truly is a quick read. Not just because of the fairly large font and decent line spacing; it simply races through at the neck-breaking speed. Here's an example: there is a highway chase scene in which our hero is pursued by cops at 96 mph (=154 km/h!). The real deal. With the red lights and blaring sirens behind him. Glenn is an actor, not the badass Ryan O'Neil-like driver - so how the hell does he manage to escape?

Well, it won't take him longer than a short paragraph:

I searched frantically for some brilliant manoeuvre and there wasn't any. Then I swayed past a truck and into the first decent curve. The red eye closed from view. I had a few seconds' grace and when I saw the motel with the vacancy sign, I prayed hard and braked harder. I nearly turned over but it was a big driveway and I slid into it with the rear-end skidding, cut my lights and faded around the back of the building into a parking space as I heard them go by.

So next time you get chased by the cops, remember to pray hard!

A bit hectic, but not bad at all. It starts as a classic mystery of murder & blackmail in which the hero gets used and framed by the femme-fatale (he of course knows that he's being fucked) but then gradually changes into a really good thriller. Nothing really inventive or original but it does have a little twist at the end that I liked. Besides, it was also nice to read a Hollywood story in which the protagonists are not super-rich and famous but instead, they are B-movie actresses turned starlets and shady Las Vegas gangsters turned "producers". Good stuff, gritty and hard-boiled. 

This is my first Robert Colby and it has left me quite impressed. I googled the guy and it turned out he was quite prolific. His most praised novel seems to be "The Captain Must Die" and - this simply has to be destiny! - I found it on eBay with the starting bid of $0.99 with no bidders so far. It ends in ten hours so it's not entirely impossible that Mr. Colby will appear on this blog again in the near future.

4/5

Facts:

Hero:
She couldn't handle the body alone. So she called the prize goat of them all - lover boy Glenn Harley.

The bad guy(s):
B-movie actor Norman Rainey who "was the worst kind of cruel, sneaky animal" and his sleazy boss, the blackmailing mastermind Marvin Grinstead who "squeezes people. Little people and big people. He's like an evil god".

Dames
The rapid pace of narration slows down for a couple of gears when it comes to the ladies. Every noun gets several superlative adjectives and descriptions of our beauties are longer than the high-speed highway chase. There are two. First the good (?) Nancy:

Her face was heart-shaped, intense and utterly delicate. Her eyes were wide, deep brown and calmly, innocently provocative. Her mouth was a masterpiece of soft demand.
She was so slim, so narrow of waist and hip that her body was a showcase for the high curves.
She seemed built for all things tender and sensual, while her eyes and manner intriguingly denied the knowledge of love.

And not so good Mary Ann:

She was tall. Her hair was the colour of dark walnut polished with a wood-lover's hand. It fell sinuous and causal down one side of a face composed in lines of languid grace. A young face, wise but without hardness. In the misty lavender of the eyes and around the lazy spread of mouth, there was a look of beckoning towards some dream of which she had a sly and special knowledge.
Beneath a turquoise hostess gown, it was clear that she had the figure for marvellous dreams.

I was probably intriguingly denied the knowledge of Nancy's love because I found Mary Ann way cooler. She drinks her bourbon straight and is stoned all the time:

I don't tick, I soar. And I do have the habit bad. I'm incurable. I have no shame about it. I have no shame about anything I do of my own free will.

It needs to be said though that even with a couple of such knockout babes, the sex angle is ridiculously underplayed. We get an indication of this pretty soon when Glenn is "ashamed of his instant reaction" after simply being close to Nancy. One would imagine that not getting a hard-on would be something to be embarrassed about?

Soon after this "incident", it gets a bit kinky. How else would you explain that they actually do get laid immediately after they have buried the corpse in her back garden? 

His intercourse with Mary Ann is not kinky, it's just weird. One moment they are necking in some bar, but in the next one we find them in the car having this cryptic conversation:

"Sorry I can't explain now, Mary Ann. But thanks for the lift. And... everything else."
"And after all the... everything else, pet, you still don't trust me?"

"Everything else"? Huh?

Location:
L.A.

Body count:
1

Blackouts:
It opens with our hero nursing a hangover, but this doesn't really count.

Cool Blurbs:
Wild, hot and simple

And I couldn't agree more!

Title:
Cool sounding but pretty inaccurate. I cannot remember any star traps being set. But then again, maybe I've missed it in the rapid development.

Edition:
Gold Medal #538, UK Edition, 1962 

Cover
:
I was a bit surprised to see pulpcovers.com crediting the illustration to McGinnis. Doesn't really look like the master's typical style, does it? If nothing else, her legs are not long enough... But hey, it's not bad at all. Could probably benefit from a gun and/or stack of money on the bed.

Cool lines:
I needed time to hate. And time to think. And there wasn't time for either.