Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dead Street (Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins, 2007)

I used to read lots of Spillane when I was a kid, but got quickly bored with his cartoonish Mike Hammer (and instead endlessly re-read Chandler). Revived some interest when they were showing TV series and few years ago I was actually stupid enough to buy DVD box-set of second season but put damn thing on the back of the shelf after watching couple of episodes. Yes, it’s that bad (+Shannon Whirry is no Tanya Roberts). After that I lost even that little interest I’ve had in Spillane and was quite surprised last year when I ran into his recent book Consummata (also co written by Max Allan Collins) when browsing my local bookstore. I had no idea he was still alive and decided to give it a try, for old times’ sake. And to be honest, was probably lured a bit by another of those great Hard Case Crime covers (She consumed man like fire – but what a way to burn). Anyway, I’m glad I did because it is quite good.
So this brings me to Dead Street, his final novel. This one was not written in collaboration with Collins, he just finished it. As he writes in the afterword, Spillane wrote 8 of 11 chapters and he only made “some minor editions and continuity corrections”. I think he’s just being modest and is trying not to stain reputation of his late old friend, because this thing is just a total mess. I’m really sorry to say that and was trying hard to like it, but it is just plainly bad.

Our hero, retired NYC cop Jack “The Shooter” Stang is basically twin brother of would-be retired Mike Hammer with same simplistic black & white view of life and “I, the Jury” sense of justice. Only times have changed and instead of communism this patriot’s homeland is threatened by Arabs (still with an A-Bomb of course). And we are living in digital age now with computers and mobile phones, but he – needless to say - still prefers old skul methods. Macho and slightly misogynistic (or slightly infantile if you ask me) attitude towards tender gender is now replaced by almost senile one. Check this:

“Jack, are you in love with me?”
“Incredibly so,” I said. “Now, may I ask you something?”
I didn’t have to repeat her question at all.
She simply said, “Incredibly so.”
We both had our eyes closed when I kissed her. We were blind but all-seeing and now we had the world in our hands.

But all of above is okay and something you really expect from (ageing) Spillane. What’s wrong with the Dead Street is total lack of rhythm, narrative and plot. For the first five chapters it just doesn’t move anywhere. We are following some ridiculous entanglement about girl supposedly died 20 years ago, now miraculously found, but blind and with amnesia and definitely with some sinister background. I guess there will be people who would praise this as superb foundation for events to unfold and plot to tighten, but to me it was just boring. Not much suspense there. Felt like reading some drama about middle-aged guy re-connecting with his old love (and her dog, to make matters even worse).

Fifth chapter ends with “Nuclear devastation. And only a retired cop and a blind beauty to stop it.” And at this point story explodes and quickly falls apart. We are driven into old sub-plot, new characters are introduced, bunch of indices turns up, our hero starts flying between Florida and NYC. Sounds good, but it’s really confusing and I guess these are “continuity corrections” Max Allan Collins tried to fix. So in short, couple of shoot-outs later and one retired dirty cop less, New York is saved from atomic bomb and Florida coast is cleaned from South American drug dealers. And my Spillane history is closed for at least few more years.



Jack “The Shooter” Stang (probably because he stings, but you have already figured out that, right?), retired NYC cop

starts on the “Dead Street”, NYC and unfolds in Sunset Lodge, Florida

Bettie, Shooter’s lost and found love. Now blind and with amnesia, but it doesn’t take long to fall again for our hero

Body count: 
9 – shootout (4), home invasion (4), final “I the Jury” (1)

Cool lines:  
“I saved your life six times today.”
He squinted at me. “Six?” “Once in that cellar, and five times in this room when I talked myself out of killing you.”
[The Coolest!]

Richard S. Prather: The Peddler (1963)

Published first time in 1952 under pseudonym "Douglas Ring")

Unusual one because our main hero is totally and completely unlikable. He’s a peddler driven purely by the greed and has zero respect for women. And it goes from bad to worse. Which means something if you know that already pretty much at the beginning “He thought hungrily about the huge, steady flow of dollars. In his mind grew an obscene image of a great fleshy whore lying on a bed, her legs parted and a constant stream of dollars spurting from her: dollar bills, ten-dollar bills, hundred and thousand-dollar bills, filling the room, smothering her, flowing out of the doors and windows, a cascade, a flood of money rushing day and night from the woman’s thighs.

What a misogynistic fucker, right!? Even his mentor later realizes he’s “a self-centered, individualistic, smart, cocky bastard”.

So can a book with such a negative main protagonist be any good? Probably, if there’s a good plot built around some criminal behaviour (robbery, murder, blackmail, insurance scam, anything) involving interesting characters and quick dialogue and action. But that would be of course crime novel, which Peddler is not. It’s character-driven moralistic drama about a small-time crook rising from the gutter. And in his world there is no grey and certainly no white. Everyone’s crooked, damaged and basically just no good.

Which is not really a problem. Problem is that there’s not a lot of action or happening (we get our first corpse on the page 117) and I also found its pace a bit problematic. Events are taking place in real time but then there are time gaps of one year and more, so you can never really settle into it. I think narration might turn out better if the story would be told in flashbacks (like memories of the dying man or man waiting on the dead row or some shit like that).

But writing is really good and I totally loved and enjoyed its the use of language and slang. When was the last time you read something like “That trigger-happy yentzer tossed a pill on me. I’m supposed to catch it in my teeth?” There’s lots of hard-boiled shit like that and it makes the book somehow really authentic. Maybe author himself was peddler before he discovered his writing talents?

Nah, of course he wasn’t. I just checked him out on Wikipedia and it turned out he was huge after the WW2 and had created PI Shell Scott in really long (40 or so) series of novels. Will put one of those on my to-do list, maybe this Scott guy was such a sissy guy that Prather got tired of him and wrote Peddler as an outlet for his frustrations.



Tony Romero, the Peddler. At nineteen was five feet ten inches tall, with much of his weight in strong well-muscled arms and legs and heavy shoulders.

Maria, hooker with a golden heart + Betty, virgin (almost) with a golden heart. Tony also fucks Ginny, wife of his boss.

Body count
6 (all peddlers, all more than deserved it)

San Francisco, early 50s

Cool lines:
I feel as broken up as if I’d just heard somebody chipped a piece off the rock of Gibraltar. (Ginny’s receiving the news about her husband’s death)

I came back to report on a club. Needs some alterations. Couple dead bodies got to be moved out. And one out of here, maybe.

Friday, April 13, 2012

361 (Donald E. Westlake, 1962)

Novel starts with quoting Roget’s thesaurus of words and phrases explaining us that .361 stands for “(Destruction of life; violent death) Killing”. Promising! And it delivers in that tone as the beginning is quite violent indeed, because after only two chapters our hero is left without one eye and half of his family! He is an ex-marine who had just checked out of uncle’s Sam services and gets immediately drawn into this “clueless ordinary guy in a wrong place at the wrong time” type of plot. Pretty soon he gets sidekick by his side (his brother) and together they head to the big city to solve the mystery and get revenge. So far very good – real page turner I really enjoyed hoping that plot doesn’t get too complicated. This might have happened when hero visits public library and suddenly gets bunch of information about some people involved in events that took place few years back.

But sadly it goes in completely opposite way. From being hard-boiled whodunit/revenge crime story it turns into drama about lost young man in search of himself and his father. I do exaggerate a bit and there is a good twist of the story that gives glimmer of tension and suspense, but still second part was major disappointment.
It has qualities. Donald Westlake is a master and his writing has just the right amount of slang, darkish mood (lots of boozing in hotel rooms!), good descriptions and interesting enough characters. Unfortunately I find the plot very weak and novel feels like it was written by half and then author just wasn’t quite sure how to take it further.

And there’s one thing in 361 that’s totally amazing and probably unique in the world of crime fiction, at least as far as I know - there are no women characters. I repeat: no women!?!? No femme fatales, mysterious blonde dames, ex-girlfriends, voluptuous secretaries, unhappily married horny beauties, greedy widows, hookers with golden hearts, no provincial girls wanting to become actresses/models, no nothing. Really unusual, especially considering it begins with a guy being discharged from the military!? So I think I’m going to remember 361 by this little peculiarity rather than its plot.



Ray Kelly, ex-marine

Body count
2 immediately, 5 or so later

New York, 200 hundred miles upstate and back to the big apple for final conclusion

Cool lines:
“You won’t get away with this”, he said. But he was gabbling. It was just a sentence you say when people push you around and get away with it.

I looked pale and young and unready. The gun barrel was cold against my hairless belly. I was a son of a bitch and a bad son.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Losers live longer (Russell Atwood, 2009)

Similar to Little Girl Lost, but not as good. Again we are in present time in NYC with lonesome PI on the case. His name is Payton Sherwood, he’s a washed up investigator waiting in his shabby office without furniture and slow dial-up internet connection waiting for the clients that never come. He used to work for some big detective agency under mentorship of his friend Matt but was fired few years ago after fucking up simple surveillance job. Number of detectives involved rises to three immediately in the first chapter, because there is also legendary old school sleuth George “The Owl” Rowell who wants to employ our hero for simple job of “flushing a tail out into the open”. But detective count is quickly restored back to two, because Owl is killed (as he is no loser, it is probably from here that title comes from) even before he can fully brief Payton about the job. But he smells big money and has no other work anyway, so fun can begin.

We find ourselves in the usual hard-boiled underworld of film stars, drugs, corporate crime, kids trafficking and femme fatales. And it’s all happening rapidly fast as everything takes place in one day. Story gets quite complicated quickly and there are some plot holes, but they are not too big and the whole impression is still okay at the end. 

There are some other flaws. Biggest one is total absence of police. At the end body count arises to nearly 10 and in all this time there’s no sight of the NYPD which seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? Second one, maybe even more important, is lack of motive that drives our hero so hard. He wasn’t even a friend of the dead detective, hasn’t received any money for the investigation and yet he let himself be beaten, chased and so on.

Another thing I’ve found a bit annoying is authors near obsession with New York. There are just too many of those “I went to street X along venue Y crossing park Z” and there’s even short paragraph related to 9/11 (fortunately not related to our story, war on terror doesn’t take place here). It probably makes reading more interesting for residents of the Big Apple, but I’m certainly not intrigued enough to search these places on the Google maps.


Hero: Payton Sherwood, PI
Location: New York City
Body count: 8

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Quarry in the Middle (Max Allan Collins, 2009)

I’m not big fan of Max Allan Collins but I admit he’s a good writer and his stuff is easy to follow and entertaining enough to pick up every once in a while. And as prolific as he is, maybe I just missed his better stuff somehow. Anyway, I wasn’t in the mood for experimenting with some new authors and decided to finally check out one of his Quarry books. 

I’ve picked this one in the book store because it has cool opening line (I had a body in the trunk of my car). I think it’s at least fourth novel in the series and it has really original premise. Our hitman Quarry has in possession some kind of register of his fellow trade colleagues obtained from his former (before he killed him) employer guy named Broker. So he uses these files in a very clever way – he randomly picks up some assassin and follows her/him (maintaining surveillance) in order to find out who the next target is. Quarry then contacts the target offering discreetly elimination of the original killer and eventual bonus if he finds out who has ordered the hit (and yes of course, killing the bastard too). 

So this set-up brings him to some little town run and divided by two criminal branches of Chicago organized crime. And according to the book title you would expect some sort of “Yojimbo – Fistful of Dollars – Last Man Standing” type of shit, which just doesn’t happen. Sure, there is a bit of scheming and double play and such, but far too little to make it outstanding. Which is disappointing enough, but even worse is that there’s hardly any mystery or suspense. Final twist is soooo predictable and I’ve seen it happened so many times: author falls in this trap where she or he neglect to introduce more characters and subplots, so by the end of the book there’s just one of them who can be actually guilty. What makes this ending especially funny is that our hero himself knows that and he cracks the case simply by:

Culprit: “What makes you think that I took out the contract?”
Quarry: “No other candidate makes sense”

Bravo, Sherlock! 

But I’m probably being a bit nasty because book isn’t bad at all. It’s just not a crime novel; I would classify it more into thrillers section. I liked the style of writing, it’s tight and clear without much ballast with some cool and well conveyed passages between past and present explaining Quarry’s story. I’ve found some lines hilarious which, strangely enough, may even damage the wholesome impression because sometimes I thought author had troubles deciding if he is writing hard boiled hitman story or script for H’Wood thriller/comedy type of crap that needs to feed Bruce Willis with quirky dialogue. It also relies too much on descriptions and not enough dialogue and lacks a little bit of higher pace, but that is probably because there’s really not much going on – guy comes into town, kills some bad guys, has sex, gets beaten, plays poker, has some more sex, few more bad guys are dead and then he collects his fee and goes home.

All in all, it’s good stuff. I think I’ll check Quarry again.



Ex hitman Quarry, using name Jack Gibson

Little town Haydee’s Port, Illinois, mostly in clubs/joints/casinos Paddlewheel and Lucky Devil, probably mid 80s (as Disco is dead)

one good (kind of), one bad and one absolute angel. Teaser, not spoiler: Quarry fucks two and gets blow job from one.

Body count
5 (they all deserved it)

Cool lines:
Disco was dead, which was fine by me, only I wish somebody had paid me to kill a fucker.

Kind of girls you don’t take home to mother…unless mother is a doctor specializing in the clap.

Little blackjack dealer. Redhead. She likes you, Jack. I could fix you up. Kid can suck the chrome off a ’71 Caddy.

“Shut up,” I told her. “I’d rather kill you than fuck you.”
(he tells this twice to the same girl!)

Little Girl Lost (Richard Aleas, 2004)

I’m glad to start my blog with this little pulp. It’s a debut novel from Richard Aleas and it seems he put lots of love and knowledge of classical hard boiled crime novels into this one. We have our lonely hero wondering around the big asphalt jungle trying to find out how his old flame from 10 years ago ended up as a newspapers headline titled “Stripper found murdered”. The more he finds out, less he likes it as he sinks deeper and deeper into depravity of a big city and corruption of the human soul. Big twist and the ending are a bit obvious, but story is still believable, easy to follow, hard-boiled enough, fast paced and there are plenty of intelligently placed clues and unusual characters to make it real page turner.

What raises this novel above average, is our main protagonist. He’s modern version of old school type private dick (at the end you cannot not to think about Sam Spade in Maltese Falcon), but he is not some sort of old guy who can’t keep up with the progress and still holds on old methods. John Blake is in his late twenties and he’s kind of inexperienced apprentice to his boss/friend ex-cop Leo because he doesn’t really know what to do with his life. He uses internet (but is far from some stereotypical genius geek type, thank god), isn’t much of the ladies man (although he does score once!), not very muscular (like his “role models” he gets beaten a lot) and very capable and resourceful (liked the way he gets himself from the prison). In short: excellent merge of classical PI into modern noir age. 

As mentioned, twist is predictable. I mean, you have two beautiful blonde strippers and one of them gets her face blown off to the point where she is not recognizable. It’s so obvious that I kept thinking author will use this formula to create some sort of double twist. It doesn’t really happen, which is a shame but it also doesn’t damage overall good impression. Ending is still a bit shocking and more importantly - like in all good (not just crime) books - journey towards the truth, revelation and main protagonist's self-discovery of is at least as important as a classical whodunit itself.

I encourage you to go find little girl lost yourself.


Hero: John Blake, PI
Location: New York City
Dames: Strippers Miranda aka Randy, Jocelyn aka Jessie, Susan.