Friday, October 26, 2012

Deadly Beloved (Max Allan Collins, 2007)

Mrs. Tree runs a detective agency which she had inherited after her husband was killed on their wedding night. She used to employ two assistants but one had left to conduct some private investigation. So she gets an assignment by her lawyer associate to help some rich guy's wife who had killed the cheating bastard when she caught him with a hooker. Cop friend of her hints that this might look like a job of the mysterious Event Fixer - highly skilled and professional hit-man who specialize in fixing "accidents". He's usually employed by sinister mob family Muertas who is also responsible for premature demise of Mr. Tree. What else? Oh, yeah - Mrs. Tree got over her hubby's dead and she is now fucking his friend Chic Steel. She also has to attend psychiatric sessions in order to recover from stress she had suffered when she killed some bad guys...

So lots of stuff is going on in this little, less than 200 pages pulp. So much in fact that sometimes I got an impression that Collins was in such a hurry to complete it that he forgot to develop his characters and - even more important - build some decent atmosphere. Its pace is simply too fast, maybe because Mrs. Tree is a comic book character and Collins tried to preserve a spirit of a graphic novel. Whatever that's suppose to be...

Few things stand out, both good and not so good. Ending should really be better and more developed. Final twist is very surprising, there's no way you can see it coming. But that's simply because is so far-fetched and totally unbelievable. Just feels like Collins wanted to wrap everything up and get over with it. And the thing I liked was narration. Story is told partly in "real time" and partly in flash backs while she's on the shrink's couch. These passages are executed very elegantly and help build suspense. Very skillfully and very comic book-ish indeed.

Nice and entertaining, but - will all due respect to MAC - a bit too childish for my taste.



Mrs Tree


Body count
7 (one guy is actually killed twice; first time just in dreams!)

Besides our hero there's also a victim Marcy Addwater and beautiful and dangerous leader of the mob Dominique Muertas. She's definitely underused!!

Pretty cool. Her facial expression could be better, but I like those dark blue colors - very noir-irsh! Illustrated by Terry Beatty who was an artist that collaborated with Collins on comic book serials. Although it needs to be said that it is not very accurate: Mrs Tree does indeed wear her signature trench-coat most of the time but not at the end when she confronts the bad guy with a pistol in her bed. At that particular point she wore "the top of a pair of black silk men's pajamas".

Cool lines
Lots and lots of pretty stupid but still hilarious dialogues. Another proof that this would probably make it better comic book than a novel. I can just imagine these wise-crackings lettered in balloons!

"You must be the little woman." 
"You must be the dead whore"  [The Coolest!]

"My client is an innocent woman." 
"Aren't all your clients innocent? Until proven broke?" 
"That's unkind."
Notice he didn't say "unfair."

"I was hoping." I said slowly, politely, "to talk to Mrs. Hazen."

He grunted a laugh. "I was hopin' for a ten-inch dick."
I smiled pleasantly. "Aren't we all? You're...?"

That's what I like about being 21st Century P.I. Ten years ago, shoe leather. Today - Google.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Silencers (Donald Hamilton, 1962)

Silencers starts at American Mexican border where agent Matt Helm has been sent in order to bring back his fellow agent who's suspected double agent. She's a stripper in a sleazy Mexican joint and gets killed when Helm is about to get her. But just before dying she whispers some mysterious final words into her sister's ear. Classic stuff, plot thickens!

So Helm, like it or not, must cooperate with her sister to find out what the fuck is going on. Story soon moves on the road and concludes in some god forsaken mountains where military is conducting nuclear tests. It gets quite complicated and at times even hard to follow but let me assure you that Helm saves the day at the end. And that along the way leaves corpse or two behind him.

Better than plotting are characterizations and development of two main protagonists. Helm is as tough as nails, not at all sissy James Bond stereotype of agent. For example, when he gets an assistant operator, he's pretty indifferent towards him, because "Why bother to get fond of a guy, when you may have to sacrifice him ruthlessly within an hour?" And Gail is cool too, she has lots of style (Helm nicknames her "glamor girl") and I just loved those "My dear man!" exclamations.

Their relationship is pretty intriguing and in a way more interesting than actual chase after the government secrets. They keep playing cat and mouse game and exploiting/deceiving each other, we pretty soon learn that the only reason she's taken on this ride is because she's a part of diabolical plan: "They were counting on this woman to hate, despise, and, given the opportunity, betray me". Even them having sex doesn't clear things much because "In this business, there's a maxim goes: suspect everyone once except a woman you've slept with; suspect her twice." You can judge yourself how their affections progress:
  • "You bastard,", she said. "You lousy, calculating bastard." I grinned at her. "You bitch," I said. "You dirt, double-crossing bitch."
  • "You are dreadful cold-blooded, ruthless person..."
  • "You are unreliable and treacherous and arrogant and selfish...You are mean and vengeful, and the only reason I love you is that I can't hurt you"
Writing is good and tight and Helm is just cynical enough. Secret service operations are described with a great deal of details and accuracy (I suppose) and it seems like Mr. Hamilton has done his homework. Good tense spy thriller mystery from the cold war era. Maybe a bit outdated, but still very enjoyable.



Matt Helm, undercover agent

Secret agent Sarah aka Lia the stripper. But she's out of the picture very soon and then her sister Gail Hendricks takes over.

Body count:
Starts slowly with a shootout in a stripper club, but reaches 10+ at the end.

Starts in El Paso, Texas at the Mexican border and then moves to the mountains of New Mexico.

Cool and pretty accurate. There is a mean looking Latino bad ass playing with his knife and a stripper dancing in the foreground.

Cool lines
Old, bold days when hotels were hotels instead of investments and cattlemen were cattlemen instead of oil magnates.
The gentleman who preceded me at the desk wore a big white hat and yellow cowboy boots. His silver belt buckle was the size of a TV screen. I was in Texas.
[The Coolest!]
Her meekness was as phony as a drunk's New Year's resolution.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Big Bang (Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins, written in mid 60s, finished and published 2010)

Ok, I know I’ve bitched about Spillane but still I couldn’t resist buying The Big Bang. At the local bookstore they were selling it for next to nothing and I decided to try it out since this is Mike Hammer novel and not some sissy old aged Jack Stang crap.

Big Bang starts with some big fucking bangs alright! Hammer springs into action no sooner than in the second paragraph (!!!) by smashing the guy “into a bloody mess“! His buddy gets it even worse: “I broke billy boy’s arm between the wrist and elbow, took half his teeth out, snapped his jaw loose from its hinges, and send the bastard’s balls on a trip…” And all he could think of was “..what the hell these chintzy little shits thought … taking on an old tiger.“

So just in case that by some miracle we have forgotten about Mike Hammer we are immediately back on track. Pace of course steadies a bit (could it possibly go faster and more violent after such an opening!?) and leaves space for the story to develop. In this one we are dealing with drugs. There’s some big fuck-up happening in New York and streets are bone dry. Junkies are climbing walls and for the last six months stuff has been provided in small lots. Mafia (Evello family, also Syndicate) is puzzled and pissed off about their shipments getting intercepted by police and there’s some new gang lead by the guy named Snowbird trying to take over their turf. And in the meantime they are all just waiting for the Big Bang - super shipment from Europe.

Hammer has just returned to the city and all he wants is to chill (cool his heels) and smoke his Luckies when he gets pulled into this mess. To understand his actions (and reactions) we need to examine his attitude towards drugs. I think the best way to do that is to let the main man explain it himself:
  • Human garbage – these fucking drug-heads are all the same, scumbags, all of ‘em, and the gutter’s too good for them.
  • It’s the plague – and the best way to deal with a plague is to wipe out as many rats as possible.

So it’s no surprise that he starts a war against anyone and everyone. And bloody war this will be, by the time he’s finished body count will rise into two digits number. In the process he’ll of course avoid police (“Fuck them!”) and get unlikely ally in colleague professor whose personal loss made his attitude towards drugs even less tolerable (!!!?) than his. Plus of course he’ll fuck a girl or two because – to use his words again – “I was just a human”.

This stuff leaves you speechless; it’s too brutal even for Spillane. It’s probably the best possible cheap pulp fiction on the market and once I got over initial shock I had actually started to enjoy this insanity. I mean plot is tight and writing is good, but there’s just nothing holding it back in its political incorrectness. Okay, we were used to Hammers contempt of law, his macho misogynistic persona, mocking of homosexuals, vegetarians, pacifists, communists, hippies etc, but here everything goes into the tenth degree. Novel is too (or should I say still) extreme even in this day and age and I doubt very much that any of contemporary writers would go that far in creating such an conservative asshole main protagonist. I wonder whether Spillane (or his publisher) was aware of all that in 60s when he wrote it and had maybe abandoned it for these reasons.

Unique stuff. Was and still is.



Mike Hammer, PI

New York

Body count: 
Thousands! Hammer lets poisoned heroin to be distributed on the streets so “Thousands would die. And their friends and families would be so consumed by rage that they would rise up as one and they would take down the Maffia. Hit the Maffia, kill them all.” 

There are 14 "individual" killings (only two of them not committed by our Mikey boy). Let’s see few of the more graphic ones:
  •  his Colt left one eyeball plastered to his cheek to  dangle there
  •  .45 slug entered his right temple splattered blood and brains onto the dead driver
  • .45 slug angled through his open yelling mouth and up through the roof of his bald head, bursting it in bloody chunks like a target-range melon
  • Shotgun blast which took her head off her shoulders and some of her shoulders too
  • Shotgun went off sheering off the front of his face and leaving him a ghastly wet mask and still alive enough to scream until I leaned out and shattered his skull with .45 slug and put him out of his misery. 
Yes, it is - like his pal Pat Chambers has concluded - worst mob bloodbath since St. Valentine’s Day!

His secretary/lover Velda Sterling of course who is holding down the fort while he’s out chasing Indians. Shirley Vought, society girl who has chosen to associate with wrong crowd.

pretty generic but still cool.

Yes, surprisingly there are two of them. First one is not described very profoundly. Just briefly that “I was clawing for the .45 when the chloroform found my face and my last memory was them dragging me.” Second time he’s drugged by LSD and description is much better. Hammer sees some collage pictures of Buster Keaton, Guadalcanal, Woody Woodpecker, Lana Turner and Adolf Hitler. 

Cool lines:
She had a tuna salad sandwich. She didn’t eat meat, she said. That would be news to the tuna.[The Coolest!]

She nodded and gave me a look that made the need-anything-just-whistle one Bacall gave Bogie seem like kid stuff. 

She began by falling to her knees to worship the part of me that seemed to be in charge.

“What kind of condition is he in?” 

“Cold,” Pat said. 
“The kind of cold you get when they file you away in a drawer at the morgue.”

I’ll start with re-breaking your goddamn leg, then see where inspiration takes me.
[The Coolest!]

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Money Shot (Christa Faust, 2008)

This is just a pathetic piece-of-shit cheap pulp. Cannot really find a good way to categorize it, maybe calling it something like “hard-boiled sexploitation wanna be” isn’t far from the truth. Story is trivial and straightforward – some money gets stolen and we have lots of bad guys chasing innocent girl in order to get it back. It’s all pretty silly and predictable but this is (still) not a problem as we are used to those and sometimes they do turn out to be okay or at least bearable.

Problematic aspect of Money Shot comes from its sexploitation angle. Its background is porn industry and everything in the book is linked to it. Not only the characters, but every single observation, dialogue, situation … Author assumes that we are all totally fascinated with the dark side of porn industry and she portraits it as hell on earth, full of white slavers where human life isn’t worth a dime. This would probably make sense back in 70s when porn took off, but I find it hard to believe that these days someone would kill 10+ people for just 100 grand.

It starts as a kind of “innocent and clueless guy gets into mess” mystery but it soon completely loses its plot. Our poor heroine is beaten to a pulp, raped, shot and left for dead and yet for some reason she doesn’t contact the police!? And besides such obvious nonsense we need to accept gaps in our narrator’s story like these: “I have no idea how I got away from the phone but I did. I also had no idea how Malloy found me, but he did.” So – in short – it quickly turns into a ridiculous thriller where bodies just keep piling up accompanied by narrator’s “witty” comments about porn industry. It ends with another cliché as our Angel manages to save bunch of women from white slavery…

Characterization is next to non-existent, we can tell who the good guys (girls) and bad guys are the same moment they are introduced. Writing is simplified to maximum; I would say that whole vocabulary has few hundred words. I also had some troubles with its style. It is too masculine as if Christa Faust is trying to prove that she can write even more tough crime prose as her male colleagues. But this - in all fairness – is a trap into which most of female crime authors fall into.

I like pulp trash in general, but this one is just too much really. While reading it I just couldn’t shook off the feeling that author wrote it just to sell it to Hollywood and make another one of those Tarantino-esque extravaganzas. Just put together lots of action, sex, violence, killings, snappy dialogues, cheap humor, shady east European characters and … and that’s it really. Story, what story!? Simple revenge plot will do just fine and there’s no need for a solid story as long as you’ll be able to cast Angelina Jolie for the Angel’s role. 



Angel Dare, ex porn star. Now running "modelling" agency

L.A. capitol of pornography

Body count: 14

There are few other porn stars (victims), but our hero is so absorbed into herself that they are hardly relevant.

Completely off target, but this is probably because book itself is titled totally inappropriate. We of course all know what money shot is (you seriously don't?) and there aren't much of them here. Also Angel cuts and bleaches her hair right at the beginning... By Glen Orbik.

She gets knocked out twice and stuffed into car's trunk.

Cool lines:
I hate malls. They're like strip clubs for women. All tease and sparkle and the empty promise that if you just drop enough cash, somehow you'll be fulfilled. 

Beard. Ponytail. Beer gut. Tattoos. He looked like one of the first three guys the hero has to fight before he can get to the real bad guy.
[The Coolest!]