Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Masters of Noir - Volume 1 (1953-1959, published in 2010)

Great collection that starts slowly but gets better with each story.

Identity Unknown (Jonathan Craig, first published in Manhunt, August 1954)

Nice police procedural. All it takes for our detective is a pair of victim's expensive shoes to establish her identity and consequently her killer. I liked its sharp style. No need for (too much) drama and emotions in a short story, right?

The Girl behind the Hedge (Mickey Spillane, first published in Manhunt, October 1953)

Seems like a logical decision for the editors of this compilation to shift a gear up with Spillane to follow up the pretty plain opening story. You know - throw in a bit of a sex and violence. No, sir.

I really don't like writing this and I think it is slowly beginning to look I have something against good old Mickey but this one is really bad. Instead of private eyes, cops, gangsters, dolls etc here we have a moral story about a couple of Wall Street brokers. One good (?) and the other (surprise, surprise) not so good. A real asshole in fact. Some time ago this asshole stole the good one's fiance so the poor sucker then masterminded a demonic revenge plan by making the asshole desperately fall in love with a mentally disabled girl and killing himself upon realizing this.

And yes, that's it. Rings a bell? I forgot most about the classical adventures I read back in my primary school days but this certainly resembles one of those Count of Monte Cristo romantic revenge plots. So I don't know, I sure hope that this is the case and that Spillane was fooling around and/or paying an hommage to some old master. But at least he himself stayed the classical Spillane as we know - one of his two protagonists calls this unfortunate girl a "hopeless imbecile". Fucking hell, what was this guy's problem??

Carrera's Woman (Ed McBain writing as Richard Marsten, first published in Manhunt, February 1953)

More like a western but still pretty cool. Bad guy vs good guy & woman playing cat and mouse game in the scorching Mexican sun. Memorable for avoiding the obvious twist at the end.

Butcher (Richard S. Prather, first published in Manhunt, June 1954)

Can a good serial killer hunt story be squeezed into a short story? Probably not. But can a mediocre serial killer hunt story full of incredible coincidences be squeezed into a short story? Yes, definitely - this one is a living proof. Not all bad and with some okay moments and a decent twist at the end. Also nice to see Shell Scott being a tough guy and not just some douchebag babbling about women.

Look Death in the Eye (Lawrence Block, first published in Saturn Web Detective Story Magazine, April 1959)

Another serial killer story! And it took exactly ten minutes to answer the above question and reject my hypothesis. Yes, it is definitely possible to write a good short serial killer story although this is not about the hunt, it is about the hunter instead.

It's Lawrence Block doing his Jill Emerson-ish erotic thing. But this time I was prepared and knew what to expect... and surprisingly I liked it. Liked it a lot to be honest. Hot, a bit crazy and also little nasty! Decided to check out his recent The Girl with the deep Blue Eyes.

On a Sunday Afternoon (Gil Brewer, first published in Manhunt, January 1957)

Sexually repressed wife and her cowardly (impotent?) husband going to a family picnic after the Sunday mass where they are attacked by a gang of juvenile delinquents. Cool stuff by the master of sexy psychological thrillers.

Frame (Frank Kane, first published in Manhunt, December 1954)

Now we are getting somewhere! This one is a proper P.I. mystery with mobsters, dames, stolen loot and even a decent body count. Great story too, kept me guessing right until the end.

Double (Bruno Fischer, first published in Manhunt, June 1954)

My favorite one of the collection. The bitter and woman-hating cop is fixated by the idea that the killer is his cheating ex-wife lookalike. Savage stuff, my only little complaint would be that the apologies at the end are needless!

As I Lie Dead (Fletcher Flora, first published in Manhunt, February 1953)

It's hot and two young lovers sit by the lake. She's dreaming about Acapulco but his mind is elsewhere:

I saw that Grandfather had reached the raft. He was sitting on the far side, his back to us, legs dangling in the water. He’d made it out there in good time. For an old man, damn good time. He was strong, in spite of his fat belly. It didn’t look like he was ever going to die.

Guess what happens next?  You are right - grandfather won't be swimming much in the future. But that is just the beginning of the story. There will be blackmail and murder and betrayal. Excellent stuff, a bit depressing but a great choice for a closing story.



Body count
1 + 1 (added reluctantly since Wall Street yuppies shouldn't really count right?) + 1 + 1 with at least 3 victims + 1 with a bunch of other victims (unfortunately those eyeballs count is not specified) + 0 + 3 + 2 + 4 = 17

Linda from "Carrera's Woman" is pretty cool (or should I say hot?):

There was sweetness in her kiss, and an undercurrent of danger, a pulsing emotion that knifed through me like an electric shock. She pressed against me, and her body was soft and womanly, and I forgot the marks of her nails on my arms and face, forgot that she could be as deadly as a grizzly. She was a kitten now, soft and caressing, and her breath was in my ears, and the movement of her body was quick and urgent. I lifted her, the .45 still in my hand, and carried her to the deep shadows of the rocks.

And cousin Cindy from "As I Lie Dead":

She was gold all over in the various shades that gold can take. Even her brown eyes, behind dark glass in white harlequin frames, were flecked with gold.

Edition: eBook

Cool lines

From "Carrera's Woman":

I hesitated before answering. “Ten G’s is a lot of money, baby.”
“I’m a lot of woman,” she answered.

From "Frame:

He debated the advisibility of walking around back, decided to knock.

He slammed his fist against the big man’s mouth. There was the sound of crunching teeth. The big man went staggering backward and fell across a table.
“You won’t be needing teeth where you’re going.”

From "Double":

I growled, “Don’t flatter yourself.”
“Shouldn’t I?” She got off the chaise longue and ran her hands sensuously over her half-naked body. “Look at me, Gus. Don’t you think I have a right to flatter myself?”

From "As I Lie Dead":

I took the gun out of my pocket and pointed it at him, and then I saw what I’d been living to see. I saw the smooth assurance go sick in his eyes and fear come flooding in. When I’d seen that, I’d had everything from him I’d ever want, so I shot him. I shot him where I hated him most. Right in his pretty face. 

“Yes,” I said. “We’ll go away together, honey. I’ve got our tickets right here in the gun. One way and a long way.”

Monday, August 22, 2016

Bedroom Boulevard (Jim Dobbins, 1967)

Bought this one in a pack with some other books on eBay. Had no idea who Jim Dobbins was but I liked the cover and was hoping to get some quality sleaze. Surprisingly it turned out to be quite okay although totally un-sleazy (btw - is this even the right expression? Chrome's spellchecker doesn't underline it in red). Hadn't planned to write a post about it but after reading it I googled (again, no red underlining?) the name of Jim Dobbins and the search came up with virtually nothing. And I do think it deserves at least a short note that will immortalize Mr (or is/was it Mrs/Miss?) Dobbins on the blogosphere.

The story is built on a very simple premise. Our hero, marine on a medical leave from Vietnam, comes to LA to recuperate from his arm wound and to have few cold beers and hot women. The whole novel is pretty short so it doesn't take him long to get involved with the keeper of the motel where he's staying and also to accidently bump into his cheating ex-wife. To make things more interesting, there's also a gang of juvenile delinquents lead by lady #1's nephew and shady husband of the lady #2.

But all this doesn't really matter. The whole thing is just a pretext to throw in as much sex scenes as possible because our Kirk gets lucky in a biblical sense with no less than four different women. With two of them on multiple occasions.

And somehow curious thing about it is that I still had a feeling that it was leading somewhere. I mean, even as flawed with inconsistencies and coincidences as the story is I would still categorize it as a crime/mystery and not (just) sex/romance. Just too bad its climax is disappointing.

But this too is pretty much irrelevant. The reason why Bedroom Boulevard is memorable is its style. It's extremely conservative and it feels like it was written by someone who was assigned to write a fuck novel but was too shy and had opted to write this weird "erotic" stuff instead.

I'll give you an example. Kirk has no problem with picking up a girl but is later totally shocked when she gives him a blow job. Nothing kinky, no S&M stuff whatsoever, just a good old plain fellatio in a backseat of the car. Don't get me wrong - he's not appalled or anything. And when she goes down on him for the second time (in two minutes!) he even pulls and twists her hair but because she doesn't react with a yelp or cry, he concludes that:

How perverted can you get, I wondered. Not only was her sexual desire twisted, she was a damn masochist too.

Huh? Weird stuff indeed. Puritanic sleaze?

Kind of short but not sweet. Would gladly check Dobbins' other stuff but apparently there is none other :)



See front and back covers for detailed (and not very accurate) description. But must say I kind of liked the guy. Just an ordinary kid who is a bit mixed up and keeps confusing love with sex.


Body count: 0

Karen, the ex-wife (the devil) and Joyce the next wife (the saint). 

He loses his consciousness almost every time he comes. But that poetic (starts went off, just like the fourth of July) crap doesn't count. However there is one proper blackout when he gets beaten by a gang of juvenile delinquents, Nothing special (they kick him in the balls), but I really liked the way he comes out of it:

But I could see the angel, not clear, but I could see her white robe and long hair. But something was wrong. She couldn't be an angel, because that meant I was in heaven. I just never lived that kind of life, and besides, I had been told too many times to go to hell.

See back cover.

All Star #127

Nice and sexploitative as we like them, right?

Cool lines: /

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Too French and Too Deadly (Henry Kane, 1955)

After Peter Chambers the author it's now time for Pete Chambers the protagonist. A year ago I had mixed feelings about the Death of a Flack but this time around it was easy to reach a verdict. This one pretty much sucks I'm afraid.

It starts with an entire page of Chambers' whining about sacrificing his mustache just to impress beautiful and desirable Carlotta with dark and dreamy eyes. Of course I couldn't know it at the time but this was a warning about how things will proceed. From the very first page every single description of a scene, character or action takes ages... and our sleuth's constant "witty" wisecracking and sexists remarks doesn't help one bit.

As annoying as all this is, it is still bearable comparing to the story. As we all know, red herring is the most used plot device in mystery novels but in this one it reaches unprecedented levels. More than once the sequence of events doesn't make much sense chronologically (unless Chambers has at least one identical twin brother) and occasional introductions of "classical" clues are almost pathetic. I mean - do people really write next day appointment reminders on match boxes? Would you for example really pin down a short incriminating list under the Chinese light in your living room?

Enough bitching. In this mess anyone could be guilty so it's a bit ironic that the actual solution doesn't quite make sense. Henry Kane was just no Ross Macdonald.

A bit disappointing. I think it will take me at least another year to pick up another Kane's novel.



Some of the facts are incomplete because I lost half of my notes. For all the Blogger users out there: do not press Ctrl+Z while editing your posts. It won't undo your last change...

"A wise-guy peeper," Frenchie aid. "Yeah, I know him awright. A smart-type guy. Makes with the big words and makes with a lot of them. A sharp-shooter guy."

Bad guys:
Carl Dinello was the upper uppercrust of the undercrust. Carl Dinello was one of the ten most powerful men, without portfolios, in the world. It was open knowledge that Carl Dinello was the remote octopus whose tentacles held control over all illegal gambling in the United States....

And like everything else it goes on and on... Funny thing is that after this introduction Carl Dinello doesn't get mentioned again. Which is probably just as well since I think that the whole thing is confusing enough without any "remote octopuses".

Location: New York
Body count: 3

Object of desire: 
"Gold," Horace said.
The Lieutenant said, "Pardon?"
I said, "What?"
"Gold," Horace said.
"Gold?" Parker fumed, "Gold? What's gold?"
"This," Horace laid the bar on Parker's desk and pointed a long finger. "Gold."
"This?" Parker shot querulous eyes at me. "This is gold?"
"Gold," Horace said. "Gold ingot."
"Ingot?" I said. "What's ingot?"
"Bullion," Horace said.
"And what's bullion?" Parker barked. "Sounds like soup."

"A dame, I hear."
"Carlotta Cain. And what a dame. Brains, class, and putting it mildly, gorgeous."

Edie Rogers - Flame-red hair and round brown eyes and a small red mouth that was puckered like a blister. She was small, with quick movements, and a figure that had launched a thousand tips. Her breasts were round, firm, pointed and protruding; her arms full, her hands and feet small.

Once more, it then proceeds for another two paragraphs with all her anatomical details and details about her wardrobe but I'm sure you've got the picture.

There's also french alcoholic beauty Carlotta (the only cool and interesting character btw) and let us not forget his "short, squat, ugly and wonderful" secretary Miranda.

Blackouts:  /

A bit of a spoiler.

Avon #672, First Edition. One of those in the small format with tiny print.

Nice illustration of a damsel in distress. There are two redheads in this one but since she looks a bit french I think she's Carlotta and not Edie.

Cool lines
Counsel for the defense was panting like an asthmatic hoofer announcing the next act.

I came up out of my chair like I had a wasp gone waspish in my back pocket.

I was more fatigued than a dealer in Vegas working over-time on New Year's.

I tore out its [car trunk compartment] insides like a taxidermist with a deadline working on the carcass of a buffalo.

Tom Reeves bounced around like a pogo stick that had been crossed with a Mexican jumping bean.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Murder Is For Keeps (Peter Chambers, 1961)

After a sort of a needless prologue this one starts as they all should. With a beautiful dame walking in a P.I.'s office and hiring our hero to do a job. No family crap, no favors for the best friend, no ghosts from the past etc. Which is cool, it's been a while since I've read a straightforward sleuth novel.

And it proceeds in this classical tradition. We have a jazz musician and mobsters (owning an illegal gambling joint of course) together with their ruthless thugs. There's a powerful politician (his widow to be precise) and even more powerful billionaire, there are more dames (most of them in distress) and a mandatory police inspector breathing down the neck of our protagonist. Also a sinister backstory involving heroin and a serial killer. I'm sure you get the idea...

It's okay but it lacks a bit of a spark. Not that it's dull or (too) predictable, it's just flat and straight-forward with a story that could use a twist or two. And speaking of twists - I think that the author actually had one planned but had eventually dropped it. I'm talking about the Lois and her involvement with Vic. Towards the end it is established that she's in love with the mobster but this all gets dropped and forgotten and then the book even ends with her taking our hero for a romantic weekend to her cottage by some lake. I guess Mr Phillips was nearing his deadline so he just wrapped it up. And so I'll do the same.



Hero: Mark Preston, "A Ruthless Private Eye":

"Let me tell you something, Miss Freeman. It may hep you understand. I'm a private investigator-"
"A policeman?" she barged in.
"No. Not a policeman. Private cop. I get a licence but no badge. I have clients. People come to me with things that trouble them. I try to put the things right. You've probably heard of the breed, without having encountered a specimen before. Encounter one now." I tapped myself on the chest importantly.

"On, no," he groaned. "Not you. You know this joker?"
He turned to the first man and indicated me me with his head.
"No, I don't."
"Well take a look and try to remember him in future. The name is Preston. He calls himself a private investigator. With him that means he gets a free hand to meddle in police business and make himself a nuisance all around."

Bad guys: 
Crime is like any other business. The big guys, the winners, have to possess the some kind of ruthless purpose they would need to succeed in a more acceptable profession. You don't get to be a Toreno just by exercise of muscle, there's more to it than that, plenty more.

Fictional town of Monkton, California. Located south of San Francisco and three hours away from San Diego.

Body count:  
4 + several victims of the "psychotic killer" back on the east coast several years ago.

Moira Chase with a full "thrusting figure and dark, luminous eyes". Her stepdaughter jazz-loving Ellen whose "whole body was just emerging from the schoolgirl into the woman... with the impatient young breasts". And finally Lois Freeman - "She was beautiful, exciting, self-possessed. She was trouble."

A great black blanket floated down and I pulled it over me.

A bit silly, isn't it?

Monarch Books #428, April 1964

A bit of a mess, it seems more appropriate for some horror book. Credited to Lou Marchetti

Cool lines
I took another sip of the scotch. It was the kind they all pretend they are in the ads.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Baroness #6 - Sonic Slave (Paul Kenyon, 1974)

Instead of the usual hero introductory opening chapter this one kicks off with establishing the threat. A lonesome rider arrives to some god forsaken village/oasis in the middle of the desert and finds all of its population dead. None of the victims has visible wounds but they are all bloated and starting to decay. And right away we get the first LOL moment. Because I don't think you have to be some badass secret agent to figure it out that those unfortunate souls were killed with some sort of a nasty WMD and to get a fuck away as soon and as fast as possible. Instead this idiot takes his time to unpack his gear and starts sending Morse (!!!) encoded messages to his headquarter. Sure enough, body count meter starts rolling.

So we need to wait a chapter to meet the Baroness. And it's well worth waiting. She buys a horse for a million bucks at a high society auction in Kentucky and then fucks some aristocrat. In his stable! And why? To make this guys's stud horny so it would fuck her recent acquisition!

Great stuff, I was hooked! Unfortunately it doesn't keep up with sustaining such madness and loses lots of that initial momentum as it progresses. You can read all the details on the ultimate source for Men's adventure novels at Glorious Trash and there are some useful links on the author's website so I'll just list some of my major likes and dislikes.

Our heroine herself is of course uber cool but she should be more bitchy! All the aristocratic and modelling crap somehow doesn't fit her although some of those "darlings" are quite funny. It needs to be said that the villains in this one definitely steal the show from her. Pair of them is so delightfully insane that I decided to add the 'bad guys' section to the facts. Have been considering this for some time and these two loonies are perfect for its inaugural edition. So scroll down a bit for details.

Next cool thing - Gadgets! And more Gadgets! And even more crazy Gadgets!

  • Wearing computer (=computer that one wears) with millions MOSFET devices built in. MOSFET? Metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor! And the crazy part is that they actually exist. To save you some googling, you can find the specs here. Considering this was published 40 years before iWatch invention, dare I say that Sonic Slave was ahead of its time?
  • Silent microphones (they pick up vibrations of larynx). In order to use them, Baroness and her team need to "subvocalize"
  • Radio transceiver built inside of mouth (with saliva used for its powering!) 
  • Drugs like Puromycin (erases the immediate memories before they become permanent) and Etorphine (ten thousand times more powerful than morphine). Not surprisngly by now (and little worrying) these too actually seem to exist!
  • Ultrasonic buzz saw

And what is not so good? I think it's too long. The whole thing about her team could be cut out. And it should have been since they are just another stereotypical group of beautiful people skilled in various deadly techniques but they don't contribute anything substantial to the story. Also that whole hunting affair should have been told in a single chapter instead of taking 25 pages.

Funny enough that I can't quite decide about the sex. There should be more of it (after that stable stud arousing thing she fucks just one more guy) but at the same time scenes are too long  They both take several pages and although language is pretty crude and the author certainly doesn't shy away from the occasional fuck or cock, the style is far from sleaze or porn. Wikipedia describes it as "graphically poetic pulp tradition" which I think it's accurate enough for stuff like this:

Her melonlike bizaz was digging into his chest, and the little man between his legs was stretching and waking up.

[After already "climbing in the pulpit four times so far"] she reached between his legs and found the axe handle sprouting there... and after a couple of pages... she reached down for the torpedo shape protruding between her legs

But all in all, great fun and I will most certainly check the others of the series. Wish they were a bit cheaper goddamn!

I'm off now to sign the petition to make these novels available as e-Books.



Penelope St. John-Orsini aka Penny aka The Baroness. Code name The Key

The Baroness was a compelling beauty whose face had been seen on all the major fashion magazines. A glossy black mane framed wide sculptured cheekbones, enormous emerald eyes, an exquisite nose and a generous mouth with strong white showing now in a dazzling smile. She was a tall, supple-bodied woman in her early thirties, with broad shoulders, tapering torso and flared hips. There was an athletic bounce to all her movements.

Most women would have struggled, or tried to kick the man behind them. But the Baroness had a set of of one hundred and twenty-four possible reflexes programmed into her nervous system to deal with the problem of being grabbed from behind. The basal ganglia in her brain automatically chose the correct response for the situation.

"The sheik tells me you're bad woman," he said.
"Positively wicked, darling," she said.

Bad guys:
Octave Le Sourd is a crazy/genius scientist with ultra hearing capabilities who wears a bat in his hair. Yes, you did read that correctly. I'm not sure how it is possible but he indeed wears a fucking bat in his hair!

But the undisputed star of craziness and extravaganza is the Emir of Ghazal. Horny bastard with 347 children. With Terry Gilliam-esque thrones (one is converted dentist chair and the other is the golf cart; both of course covered with priceless jewels). With a couple of dwarf servants wearing diapers (wtf ?!??) and turbans. With an obsession for his pet falcon named Fakim. When Baroness kills this darn bird, poor devastated Emir feasts one day in honor of its memory and then declares a nation day of mourning!

Pure quality. Unforgettable!

Briefly in Kentucky and Rome but then it moves to a fictional middle-east country of Ghazal.

Body count:  
Can only do a rough estimation. Not counting:

  • entire populations of the two small "mud" villages 
  • approximately 50 death-row convicts killed on the hunt
  • a bunch of tribesmen that Baroness takes on with a fucking tank!
  • Mad Max like desert battle where 3 tanks, several jeeps and even 2 Phantom Jets are destroyed. And there's a twist - during the battle all sounds are muted! (don't ask, it's a long story and too technical for us mere mortals to understand)
  • Fakim the falcon

And assuming that small tank commander has one gun operator and that Ghazal's chief jailer has three assistants we come to the grand total of 30 individual kills.

Object of desire: 
"You'll control the world's major oil supply. Europe and the United States will be at your mercy."
"Your secret agreement with Communist China will make them think twice."
"Yes. And when things have died down after a year or two, I'll wipe out Israel... The true successor of Mohammed."

see 'hero'

Unconscious moment
There was a blinding pain in her head, and then darkness, as final and complete as the end of the universe.

Sonic part has to do with the sound based doomsday device. Slave part doesn't make much sense.

Pocket Books, November 1974

see 'hero'. Illustration by Hector Garrido. 

Cool lines
Almost, the blood drained from her face gave her away. She forced it back into her skin by concentrating on one of the simpler Yoga dharana exercises... She forced her mind into another Yoga channel, pranayama, and felt her breathing slow down. She was going to have to be fatalistic. If she was blown, she was blown.

She kicked him in the balls. But he didn't have any balls. The kick that would have disabled a normal man just left him standing there, looking slightly greenish.

"This is a knife that gelded my father," he said proudly. "He was chief eunuch before me, in harem of Emir's father."

"It's always nice to be mutilated by a family heirloom," she said dryly.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

It's My Funeral (Peter Rabe, 1957)

One of the best blackmail stories I can remember of. This nasty "business" is usually used to trigger some other plot but in this one it stays in the center all the way through. There's no single villain - instead we have a bunch of amoral assholes ranging from some sleazy "talent scouting agent" to the studio exec and they all want to have a piece of our unfortunate damsel in distress. And there's nobody standing between them and her but our hero. Who himself is a bit shady character...

Smart and well conceived but unfortunately a bit sloppy in its execution. Without going into details, let me just describe how our hero breaks the case. Ella was filmed naked by a hidden camera in some hotel in the middle of nowhere (half a day driving from L.A.) several years ago. By some divine intervention Daniel's new flame Tess is now singing in that very same hotel and staying in that very same suite. So when he comes to visit her and just before they get down to do you-know-what he gets his Eureka! moment when noticing that large mirror in the room looks very similar to the one in the incriminating film. He breaks it and sure enough, there's a guy with a camera behind it.

But it's not just the story holes that bothered me. The whole thing is a bit dull, characters are unconvincing, our hero's relationship with Tess is not quite believable and his motivation is a bit vague too. Is he simply after the reward money or is he on some sort of a Marlowe-esque pursuit to save Ella's honor? And funny thing is that she's not concerned with that damn movie in the first place. In fairness, there's no reason why she should be since that film is hardly a smutty porn reel. It's just about her being naked and going to bed. Alone.

A bit of a mess. Shame, it could have been really good.



Hero, object of desire, dames, title:
see the back cover

Location: L.A.
Body count: 0

Ella Anders: She wasn't all sex, she wasn't all manners, she wasn't all gentleness. But she had all of it. She was completely female.

Two of them, both rather forgettable:
- He got sapped from behind and passed out.
- Port tensed with fear. His body relaxed only when he passed out.

Gold Medal #915, Second printing, August 1959 

Amazing one and definitely on this blog's top 10 covers so far. Just love the symbolism of Ella being a pawn on the chess board that everyone keeps pushing around. And it doesn't hurt that she's naked either, does it? 
The author is not credited but according to the goodreads.com website it is work of John J. Jr. Floherty. 

Notable cover blurbs: 
Never give a killer an even break - shoot first and blonde's all yours.
But as cool as it sounds it's totally untrue (see 'body count' section)

Cool lines
There was no air in the car, just mistrust. They breathed it, they sweated it, they heard it creak with the slightest movement.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Devil May Care (Wade Miller, 1950)

Another one that gets ruined straight away by its far-fetched premise. A guy is hired to deliver a letter from Cleveland to Mexico for the reward of $10k. Not sure about the US p&p expenses back in 1950 but this seems a bit extravagant, doesn't it? And here's the best part: recipient of this letter will reveal himself to our hero by using a secret signal. Which is - and I quote - anything connected with peacocks.

Huh? But at this point I was still intrigued, not really concerned. After all, sometimes such quirky plots do come alive and evolve into something substantial and (more) digestible. Not this one I'm afraid. When I reached the end of the 12th chapter, I knew it was doomed:

He felt possessive. All of a sudden it rushed into his mind how vitally important she was to him and he sat up, wondering. He said aloud, "I'm in love, by God!"

So, yeah - our hero falls in love with a virginal queen of siesta (half his age btw). And then he snaps out of it, gets drunk and in frustration or denial or whatever the fuck tries to rape the other heroine. Jinny obviously isn't exactly thrilled by this savage act although she overcomes the assault pretty quickly and it doesn't take long for her to fall in love with Biggo. And so on. And on and on. Slowly and not exactly surely.

And still no sign of fucking peacocks...

When this feathery signal finally comes, we get some action. And are treated with a LOL moment. Biggo is armed with some ancient spear that he nicked at the bar and he starts chasing the villain but is too stupid to notice that its point fell off during the pursuit. And did I mention that he is a hardened soldier of fortune? And did I mention that his adversary is armed with a gun?

Wanted to like it but just couldn't get into it. Too melodramatic, dealing with the usual subjects (two lonesome outsiders finding each other, loyalty between friends, aging guy who wants to get "out",...) in a pretty dull and uninspiring way. Not much of a spark, it feels like it was penned out quickly to fulfill the contract with the publisher.  And definitely too long. It might have worked as a novella or short story but 180 pages were simply too much.



Biggo Venn,  soldier of fortune for the last 10 years. And since this was published in 1950 it made me wonder where/when the hell were the mercenaries deployed during the WW2? 

Anyway. Back cover describes him as "Fast-talking, heavy-fisted Biggo - fast with a small cannon, fast with a buck, fast with a girl." Understandably they don't bother to mention that he's not particularly smart or resourceful or polite.

His description on the front cover is not much more accurate but it is definitely more cool sounding:
"Biggo was a man to meet... if you left your girl home."

Starts in Cleveland but then quickly moves (and stays) in a small Mexican town called Ensenada.

Body count
4 (although I was a bit reluctant to take the last one - heart attack - into account)

Object of desire: 
Confession letter that would incriminate one gangster so another gangster tries to prevent Biggo from delivering it. Or something like that.

Jinny: Her face looked vaguely disappointed with the way things had gone. But there was nothing disappointing about her figure.

The queen of the fiesta Senorita Pabla Ybarra y Calderon: She was the most beautiful Mexican girl Biggo had ever seen, an ethereal combination of Spanish nobility and Aztec royalty.

He gets doped and rolled by Jinny on their first night together:

Why was she watching him like that? But he was too tired even to think about it or to feel the floor as he toppled forward.

Must admit I wasn't familiar with the devil-may-care idiom. I know what it means now but I still cannot connect "a very casual attitude; a worry-free or carefree attitude" to anything in this book.

Gold Medal #108, fourth printing, October 1951 

"I feel sorry for us, too. You know how to fight but I don't. You know what we are? We're outcasts." She nuzzled tipsily against his collarbone. "I don't want to be one. I don't want to fight. Oh, Biggo, who wants us? Who'll settle for us?"

Cool lines
I've found this paragraph somewhat poignant:

He had been searched hastily and his wallet had been tossed aside. Biggo fumbled with it. The money was still in it. He didn't take it back because it was so bad dying, much less dying broke. Toevs wasn't a bum: no reason he should look like one to anybody.