Friday, December 26, 2014

Let's Hear It for the Deaf Man (Ed McBain, 1972)

In this one we follow three unrelated cases assigned to detectives Carella and Kling. So, I guess, it's about a typical week at the 87th precinct police station.

The best one by far is the "Jesus case" - young man, wearing only shorts, was found nailed to the wall in the abandoned building. I loved the scene in which various officials (medical examiner, detectives, policeman) who arrive at the crime scene argue about who is responsible to get the poor John Doe off the wall and into the morgue. Investigation that follows is not exactly a typical “police procedural” but I think it’s a pretty common one – it’s basically a legwork. Since the only solid clue that Kling has is a left tennis shoe, all he can really do is to roam around the neighborhood asking people “Have you seen this man?” Things do start to unravel when he finally encounters a suspicious guy acting nervously and not willing to cooperate. And he’s missing the left shoe...

So, btw, I would disagree with that “he eventually cracks [the case] mainly thanks to the long arm of coincidence” in the otherwise excellent review that can be found here.

Second story is cool too. It’s about catching a daring thief who operates in an area of posh apartments and who’s arrogant enough to leave a little kittens as a calling cards in burglarized flats. It’s quite intriguing and at times funny (liked that part where surveillance cop’s undercover is immediately blown by a stripper) with an unexpected ending. Needs to be said though that the whole thing gets a bit tarnished by a silly romance between Kling and supermodel Augusta whose flat was on our cat (kitten)-and-mouse guy's list. It goes something like this: "You're so beautiful... Yes, I am but it's my job to be beautiful... You are beautiful too"...

Third one, unfortunately the central one, is a total mess. It's about this uber criminal Deaf Man - modern Dr. Moriarty kind of type - planning and pulling off a bank heist. The essence of his ingenious master-plan is to hit the bank twice in the same day so that the second time employees wouldn't be so alert and (with a little bit of luck) police would ignore the silent alarm even if one would be triggered. Hm... Obviously, in order for this to work, Deaf Man needs to make sure that the first attempt will fail so he sends few cryptic clues to the police department. Which are in fact so cryptic (for example picture of the Japanese zero fighter symbolizes circle which represents repetition; get it?) that police chooses to simply ignore them. And I must say I didn't blame them...

I don't know. I guess McBain tried to blend his police procedural stuff into a classical mystery but the end result just doesn't work. But nevertheless, it was quick and fun read. Definitely worth 1 euro it cost me.

3/5

Facts:

Hero:
Detectives Steve Carella and Bert Kling

Location
The usual "The city in these pages is imaginary..." stuff, but it's pretty obvious that it takes place in New York. In fact, the whole 10th chapter is "dedicated" to the city which was for me a bit redundant...

Body count
5, not counting "badly wounded" robber of the second "assault team" and also not counting the guy killed in the domestic violence call from the above mentioned 10th chapter that has nothing to do with any of the three stories.

Dames
Supermodel Augusta Blair - He had never seen a more beautiful woman in his life
Angela Gould  - "perhaps the least attractive woman the Deaf Man had ever met."
Mary Margaret Ryan - "as sweet a young lass as had ever crossed herself in the anonymous darkness of a confessional."

Blackouts
Carella gets knocked out when muggers sent by the Deaf Man steal his badge and gun.

Title: 
Pretty weak one in my opinion. And it totally ignores the other two stories. Something like "Deaf Man's caper, the Jesus case and little kittens left behind" would sound much cooler.

Cover
Deaf Man is not really deaf, he's just hard of hearing so he wears a hearing aid.

Notable cover blurbs: 
For some reason reviewer at Sunday Telegraph found this "Marvelously ingenious, as always." Surely they were not referring to Deaf Man's master plan!?

Cool lines:  
The girls were wearing blue jeans and long hair. The boys were bearded. In terms of police investigation, this was awkward. It meant they could be (a) hippies, (b) college students, (c) anarchists, (d) prophets, (e) all of the foregoing. To many police officers, of course, long hair or a beard (or both) automatically meant that any person daring to look like that was guilty of (a) possession of marijuana, (b) intent to sell heroin, (c) violation of the Sullivan Act, (d) fornication with livestock, (e) corrupting the morals of a minor, (f) corruption, (g) treason, (h) all of the forgoing. Carella wished he had a nickel for every clean-shaven, crew-cutted kid he had arrested for murdering his own brother. On the other hand, he was a police officer and he knew that the moment he showed his badge in this place, these long-haired youngsters would automatically assume he was guilty of (a) fascism, (b) brutality, (c) drinking beer and belching, (d) fornication with livestock, (e) harassment, (f) all of the foregoing. Some days, it was very difficult to earn a living.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death (Donald E. Westlake writing as Tucker Coe, 1966)

Interesting and quite original premise. An ex-cop, disgraced and fired from the police force after some serious fuck up (his partner got killed while Mitch was cheating on his wife), is hired by a mobster to find his mistress’ killer. Our hero Mitch is more or less happy with (literally) building a wall around him but he also feels bad about his wife needing to support the family. So he decides to take a well paid job.

So it’s a kind of PI mystery combined with a police procedural and it works pretty well. My only little objection would be that it’s a bit too procedural so it slowly becomes repetitive. Mitch’s modus operandi basically consists of systematically interviewing suspects on the list compiled by his employees. With a few exceptions (like blowing up his improvised office) nothing much happens in the course of his investigation and revealing the culprit at the end is done very much in Poirot classical whodunit style. Which is okay, I certainly didn’t see it coming.

Since this is Westlake’s (and mine) introductory novel of Mitch Tobin, I guess our main man deserves a word of two. He’s definitely neither the stereotypically Parker-like tough guy nor comically eccentric Dortmunder-like joker. Tobin is just an ordinary (and quite likeable) guy, a smart cop who had a bad break but doesn’t seem to be too bitter about it. Plus I think Westlake made a good decision by not portraying him as a guilt-ridden jobless drunk deserted by his wife (who in fact forgave him for cheating and hadn’t deserted him at all). Which is another thing I liked about this book: there’s no family shit or drama whatsoever. When things get hot, Mitch sends his family away and they return once the case is solved. Nice!

Quick and entertaining read. Solid, fluent and easy to follow story without heavy character studies or complex sub-plots. At times it felt like something Westlike decided to put together quickly after becoming fed up with Parker novels.

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero
Mitchell Tobin, ex-cop. Doing private investigations these days.

Location
New York

Body count: 4

Dames
Rita Castle, the victim

Blackouts: /

Title: 
One of those poetic types. "Kinds of love" part makes sense and it's pretty easy to decipher. It relates to either Rembek's feelings towards Rita (It was guilt that kept him tied to his wife, but it was desire that had linked him with Rita Castle) or Donner's feelings towards his disturbed sister. Not sure about the kinds of deaths though, people die in this one in pretty standard ways (strangulation, bomb explosion, shootings)

Cover
Pretty cool, showing Mitch being tempted by the money.

Cool lines:  
"Failure is your way of life," I said. "Don't try to change it."
She turned her head, with puzzled animation in her eyes. "That's a rotten thing to say."
"Bring me the money, Betsy."

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Halo for Satan (Howard Browne writing as John Evans, 1948)

Private detective Paul Pine is hired by a priest, an aging mobster and two beautiful women to find some ancient manuscript written by, ahem, none other that our savior Jesus Christ. With such incredibly preposterous plot vehicle (and I'll get back to this, no worries) this one didn't promise much at the beginning. With all respect to Browne and in spite of his reputation...

But it gets better and better with every chapter. Classical hard-boiled detective novel (see facts below), filled with dames, gangsters, sinister killers, tough cops etc. Everything is a bit over the top but plot is really cool and every now and then author throws a curve ball that misleads the reader. Of course, everything culminates with an excellent and surprising whodunit that makes sense. Story is easy to follow and it's driven mostly by snappy dialogues and action. Truly cannot remember the last time I read such a good imitation of Chandler.

Pine shares a lot of characteristics with Marlowe: he is cool, smart, streetwise, witty, resourceful, efficient (he hardly sleeps and spends nights being interrogated by the police after finding corpses), follows his moral code (I like to keep my promises!) and - above all - he has an attitude. The Attitude! I loved the scene where he takes his money out of the wallet before handing it to a cop for identification. Hilarious! I will be tempted to do that myself next time police stop me :)

But there are of course differences too. He reads a lot and in fact keeps books instead of a bottle in the office drawer. In this one he reads a couple of paperbacks written by Philip Wylie and William P. McGivern (The women in it were beautiful and the private eye was brilliant). Pine is not as cynical (disillusioned?) as Marlowe and his methods also differ a bit. For example, I was surprised he had given the name of his client to both the police (in fact he made a deal with them and used client's name for barging) and mobster...

And before I wrap this up, what about that Christ nonsense? Manuscript actually never materializes and it (supposedly) gets burned before the end. So it is either another curve ball thrown at us to make the plot more interesting or it's maybe simply a "stuff that dreams are made of".

Either way, this is excellent stuff. More than appropriate for 100th post of this blog.

5/5

Facts:

Hero:
"Private investigations." Her voice quavered ever so lightly. "Does that mean you're a detective, Mr.Pine?"
"Just a private kind," I said. "I couldn't arrest anybody, if that's what you mean."

Location
Chicago

Body count
7 - not forgetting Kurt in LA, but not counting Louie who died peacefully in his sleep.

Dames
A lovely girl, Lola North. Enough figure and not too many years and a face that could come back and haunt you and maybe stir your baser emotions. A girl who could turn out to be pure as an Easter lily or steeped in sin and fail to surprise you either way. 

Constance Benbrook was a beautiful woman whose glands were stronger than her inhibitions. Shake the tree even gently and she'd fall right in your lap.
 
Blackouts
He gets knocked out twice:

Whoever was behind the blackjack must have been an old hand at the game. I never heard a thing.

Something came down on the back of my head and simultaneously I felt the gun torn from my fingers.
The pavement reached slowly up and laid itself against my cheek.
 
Title:  
But this time we gave a halo to the wrong man. This time it was a halo for Satan. 

Cover
Cool illustration of the scene in which Constance finds Pine regaining consciousness.

Cool lines
"How do you know he's dead?"
"The blood ran out of him and hardly anyone can live without blood."
That one got what it deserved. "You drunk, young man?"[The Coolest!]

"Have you get anything, Paul?" She sounded anxious.
"Leprosy. Go away."[The Coolest!]

"Don't give me that," I said nastily. "You could sit on his belly and eat your breakfast. You're tougher than the sides of a battleship and we both know it."

No more fear in her face now. Fury, the kind of fury that would put claws at my throat in the next three seconds. Hatred, the kind of hatred that pulls triggers. The jungle looked at me out of those wild brown eyes and I stepped back one step.

She was as confident and at ease as a Mississippi congressman up for re-election. She was a widow with millions in the bank and a smooth story ready to tell: two things every cop would respect.

Her left hand was hanging limply at her side. Her right hand was pointing a small blue-steel automatic at the sweet roll I'd had for breakfast.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Me, Hood! (Mickey Spillane, 1963)

Needed something normal after that excruciating Woolrich experience and who else would be more appropriate than good old Mickey Spillane? It's amazing how popular his titles still are and how easy (and cheaply) they can be obtained. So I usually keep a few of his paperbacks ready for a right moment and this little one containing two novellas and one short story seemed perfect. I mean, with the titles like "Me, Hood!" and "Kick It or Kill It!" there was no doubt about what I was going to get.

And yes, no surprises here. It's yet another sex & violence madness. Plot is pretty far-fetched and due to its relentless pace (the whole thing is about 70 pages long) it quickly becomes almost incomprehensible. And to make matters worse, it falls into the "grand issues" category. But at least we get an early warning about this because our hero, after being recruited by a secret service (I think) to do some dubious job, quickly concludes that:

Patriotism doesn't exist on any local level. Suddenly we're international and I can only think of three fields where you striped pantsers could exploit me: The narcotic trade through Italy, Mexico or China; illegal gold shipments to Europe; then last, the Commies.

Welcome, once again, to the beautiful, frightening and simplistic world of Mickey Spillane. Btw - I liked the touch with commies being written with the capital C - makes the whole thing a bit personal, don't you think?

But it turns out that the evil which our hero will be fighting in this one ticks the first check box. Heroin! And this is where things get absurdly hilarious and make this short pulp unforgettable. Because - believe it or not - 8 kilos (kilograms) of smack in the year of our lord 1963 cost "Millions. Not one or two. Not ten. More than that. Enough to get a whole city killed off."

Let's have a little break and do a quick math. To help us understand things properly, let's try to calculate the running costs of a junkie living in NYC in the early 60s. Assuming that street price is twice as much as 'retail' (probably much more; I have no idea really) and taken into account inflation that blows 10 millions to 77.79, we can calculate that price of a single gram is 19.447.50 US dollars. Since the daily dose of an addict is at least 1 gram (according to this site), we can conclude that an average junkie in 1963 would spent almost 60 grand a month supporting their habit. Which, in other words, means that drug addicts used to be millionaires.

So this makes a difference and puts a new perspective on the whole setup. Obviously since "There hasn't been a single shipment that size in twenty years", we can now better understand the ridiculous body count and involvement of CIA and Mafia. Italian boys even dispatch their top east coast enforcer, Keyser Soze like dude named Lodo to kill our hero. Which is another (also unintentionally funny) story, but I don't want to reveal everything.

2.5/5

Kick It or Kill It!

Craziness continues. Drugs again, but this time we also get Commies because "Reds are injecting a poison into this country." All three axis of Evil are somehow involved: Cuba is a collection point for China-grown narcotics and the whole deal is supervised by the Soviet attache. Also aided by mysterious and uber sinister Mr. Simpson who eventually (and most unsurprisingly of course) turns out to be a corrupted senator.

In short, it's a Spillane's take on Hammett's Red Harvest. Secret agent comes to some god forsaken little town and cleans it up. So I don't think that recapping the last five pages will be some major spoiler:

"The guy on the dock died easily and quietly... I took him with one sudden stroke... The other one... went just as easily... My hands were tied. My feet weren't. It took only three kicks to kill him... Then I was ready... When the man there saw me he tried to call out and died before he could. The other one was just as unsuspecting. He died just as easily. Soft neck... There was Harry Adrano. I shot him. There was Calvin Bock. I shot him. There was Sergei Rudinoff. I shot him and took the briefcase off his body and knew that what I had done would upset the Soviet world... There was the man who owned the airlines and I shot him... so I shot him too... I brought the shotgun up and let him look all the way into that great black eye and then blew his head off."

I liked that "soft neck" touch. Otherwise, no further comments are needed...

2.5/5

Facts (only for Me, Hood!):

Hero
I asked, "Who am I?"
His answer was flat and methodical. "Ryan. The Irish One. Sixteen arrests, one conviction for assault and battery. Suspected of being involved in several killings, several robberies and an un-cooperative witness in three homicide cases. Associates with known criminals, has no visible source of income except for partial disability pension from World War II. Present address.."
"That's enough," I said

Location:
New York

Body count
18, not counting "Holmes in emergency ward with a couple of slugs in his chest and not expected to live."

Dames
Miss Carmen Smith. Ryan's description (shortened, as it goes on for two hefty paragraphs):

Most times a woman is nothing... then one day you see one... you not only like but one you must have... instinctively you know... she's big and beautiful... full-breasted... She's not trying for anything. She doesn't have to... long legged and round and in her loins there's a subtle fire that can be fanned, and fanned, and fanned.

Blackouts
nope, but there is one in "Kick It or Kill it!"

Title: 
"May I ask who you are?"
"The name is Ryan, honey. In common parlance I'm a hood. Not a big one, but I get along."

"The things you do... are so different. I never know what to expect-"
"They're hood things, kitten."

Cover
Great looking dark haired semi-naked woman. Hm, did I just use the word 'woman'? Correction - in Spillane's world they are called sweeties, kittens, dolls, kids, sugars, honeys...

Cool lines:  
I don't think I looked like the typical Haynes client. I wasn't carrying a briefcase, either. I was carrying a rod, but that was one reason for the $200 suit. It didn't show. 

"I need a doctor..."
"You'll need an undertaker more."
"Look..."
"Talk." My hand started to go white around the butt.[The Coolest!]

Fright (Cornell Woolrich, 1950)

All good stuff in this one happens in the first fifty pages. And such brilliant start it is indeed! We get to know this dude Prescott who is pretty unsympathetic figure - an average, self-centered guy, Wall Street wanna-be yuppie who's about to make a next step on the social ladder by marrying a girl from a wealthy family. One night he gets drunk, picks up a girl in a bar, takes her home and things happen. Soon she begins blackmailing him and finally he accidentally kills her.

It's a cool setup, especially because we don't (at least I didn't) feel sorry for him as a blackmail victim and kind of secretly cheer for Leona. True, she's a cold bitch but also very charming in her own way. Plus she has plenty of style when driving our poor Press crazy.

But then it begins. It probably began right at the start, but I didn't really notice because introduction was so good.

You see, in Fright nobody ever simply says something. Instead they relate, protest, admit, confine, echo, demand (and counter-demand), exclaim, interject, concur, chortle, parry, admonish, note, retort and even - I kid you fucking not - ejaculate!

And they do so palpitating, pensively, assiduously, obdurately, demurely, strenuously, vociferously, amiably, ebulliently, wonderingly, charitably, ruefully, inwardly, magnanimously, caustically, neutrally, stonily, guilelessly, reticently, deprecatingly, parenthetically. Or simply in dazed exaltation, in disquietude, in discomfiture, in fervent gratitude, in attitude of morose pensiveness, with aching diffidence, or surrounded by surreptitious air of excitement.

This shit is incredible. And relentless! While reading it, I kept thinking about the video I'd seen in which Elmore Leonard gives a few writing lessons. One of them being that "one should never use a verb other that 'said' to indicate a dialogue and certainly shouldn't use an adverb to modify 'said'.. because that's the author and not character talking". I'll bet that he had just finished reading Fright when he said that. Anyways, check out the clip, it's really cool and interesting!

I did read some short stories of Woolrich recently and as far as I can remember language used in that book wasn't so archaic and stories were easy to follow. I guess in this one he wanted to be authentic as much as possible since Fright is taking place in 1915. But still, for non native English speaker as myself, it was at times agonizing. I have great respect of all languages and enjoy old fashioned expressions (see 'cool lines' in Bulldog Drummond or Blackadder clip) but this was simply too much. No joy in reading a book if one needs to look-up obscure words in dictionary every five minutes. I just lost a modicum of my affability...

So much about the form. After the initial promising beginning, story falls apart. Or to be more precise: it turns into heavy psychological melodrama in which Press is paralyzed with fear and sinks deeper and deeper into madness and paranoia. Eventually he even has a nervous breakdown and contemplates suicide. There are occasional attempts to revive the plot and accelerate its pace but they are not very believable. Stuff with shooting the wrong guy is pretty pathetic, but episode with insurance agent is pretty cool though.

It is unforgettable, but for the wrong reasons. And I'll be definitely reading the next Woolrich on my Kindle with built-in dictionary.

2.5/5

Facts:

Hero
see the first paragraph of this post.

Location
Part one is titled "New York", second one simply "Some Faraway Town" and the last again "New York Once More"

Body count: 5

Dames
She was quite young; twenty-two or twenty-four at the utmost. She was quite pretty, but in run-of-the-mill sort of way. It was not a lifelong beauty of feature and formation such as Marjorie had; it was a transient coloration lent her by the fact of her youth alone, that would disappear with that again some day.

Huh? Transient coloration?

Blackouts
There isn't typical one but towards the end Press is so fucked up that he's kind of half conscious all the time. Needs alcohol to be able to talk and even to get asleep on the train back to New York,

Title: 
Press is overwhelmed, totally paralyzed with fear of getting caught for murder. No remorse, no sympathy, no nothing. Which makes him an even bigger asshole...

Cover
At one point Press "sobbingly screams" at her: "You're not human at all! You're a demon". Nice cover by Arthur Suydam but I found even better one. 

First time on this blog: 
First entry with YouTube  clips embedded. It's pretty easy and somehow cool so I also used the one with Blacadder although I know I pushed that language thing a bit too far with it.

Cool lines:  
The man's head, over the top of it, was like an egg sitting in its cup, waiting to be cracked.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Squeeze Play (Terry Harknett aka Thomas H. Stone, 1973)

Private detective gets hired by an old poor black lady to find her niece. Innocent Avis left her Seattle home and went to San Francisco six months ago in order to find her long lost sister. She did find her alright but in process got hooked on heroin and found herself mixed up in a nasty blackmail affair. It's a big time game involving organized crime, beautiful women with a shady past, failed actresses with their sleazy cameramen companions, tough cops (one is named Bogart!), dirty politicians, switched identities and so on.

In short - it's a classical detective novel. Written in 1973! I think its biggest quality is that it doesn't try to reinvent the wheel and keeps things simple and as straightforward as possible. Plot is far from trivial but still easy to follow and the final revelation (let's not even call it a twist) totally makes sense. Characterization is more than decent, especially our main mulatto hero is complex just enough. Special mention must go to the time and location - even though it takes place in San Francisco, there's no mentioning of hippies, Nixon, Vietnam war and so on. It felt like the author had intentionally ignored all that political and sociological crap and had instead simply focused on telling a damn good mystery story.

It's nothing special really, certainly nothing I would call a masterpiece, but it simply works. At least it worked for me. There are many more ways to fuck up these kind of novels then there are ways to make them right and it seems to me that Mr. Harknett was well aware of that.

I often buy crime paperbacks of unknown (to me at least) authors at flea markets and second hand bookstores and usually they are pretty disappointing. But I'm really glad I came across this one and will definitely check out the other four of Chester Fortune series. I googled Terry Harknett (and Thomas H. Stone too) and was amazed how obscure he is, especially since he wrote more than 200 books! There's basically just his Wikipedia page with a single link to some publisher and that's it. No online interviews, studies, blog posts etc. Would appreciate if anyone would give me some tips about his stuff!

4/5

Facts:

Hero:
Chester Fortune, PI. Cover describes him as "Fortune is a Man of Violence in a Violent World"

Location
San Francisco

Body count
Pretty bloody affair for mere 120 pages: 6 + 5 mobsters + not sure about "two detectives and a patrolman went down, clutching at their stomachs and spraying blood"

Dames
Karen - "Youth was a thing of the past for her and he guessed she was into that period of a woman's life when the thirty-second birthday comes around every year."

Blackouts
There was a split-second of agony under his skull, a blinding flash of white light, then darkness. Cool and soft and damp like the earth in a forest after a summer storm.

Title: 
Poor beautiful damsel in distress Karen is being blackmailed (squeezed).

Cover:
see 'hero' section

Cool lines:  
The severed head hit the ground and rolled. Flames exploded from the wrecked car and in their flickering light he looked into the sightlessly staring eyes of what had once been Natalie Webb.
"Told you the ride was coming to an end, baby," he muttered.[The Coolest!]


The right side of his chest was soaked with blood, which had finished seeping from the wound made by a knife. The heart they had cut out was lying several feet away from him.
"I always thought he was a heartless bastard," Bogart said between teeth clenched against his pain.
"Just wasn't cut out for the job," Fortune responded.[The Coolest!]

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Rat On Fire (George V. Higgins, 1981)

Reads like a stage adaption of Elmore Leonard. Dark but funny, authentic and realistic but at the same time very believable. And of course full of interesting characters who establish themselves almost entirely through dialogues.

Story is unusual and cool too. Not some big time multimillion caper involving pros and beautiful dames. There's simply this ass-hole lawyer who owns a run-down building in slums which gets infested by rats so (obviously!) his tenants refuse to pay him the rent. So instead of fixing these problems (as you probably know yourself, this is something fucking landlords never do), he rather opts for an insurance arson scam.

I love character and dialogue driven plots so this one should be 5/5 and it actually was for the first third or so. But the whole setup takes way too long before some action finally kicks off and by then it loses a lot of its initial momentum. Also dialogs become repetitive, tedious and too long so at times it feels like you are stuck inside some endless monologues. It still works and plot sticks together but everything simply becomes a bit boring to be honest.

Good and interesting stuff, but it feels more like an experiment than finished product. I'll be definitely checking Higgins again.

3.5/5

Facts:

HeroThere is no central hero. I think that of all the characters I most (dis)liked Jerry Fein
Location:Boston
Body count: 1
Dames:/
Blackouts: /

Title: 
Leo sets the building on fire by catching some rats, then pours gasoline over them (!) so their skin itches, sets the poor rodents on fire (!!!) and lets them run into the interior of walls where electrical wires and pipes are. So it's pretty accurate title, probably plural would be more appropriate.

But of course rat is just a metaphor for our bunch of villains, so - again - plural would be more accurate.
 
Cover
Pretty cool and somewhat funny. Letters and burned match beneath them are placed in such position that one can imagine a slightly grinning face.

Cool lines:
Oddly enough, couldn't find nothing to put here. No witty Tarantino-esque one-liners, the whole thing is simply too serious and realistic. Jerry's insane ravings about nig*#*! are memorable (as much as I hate to admit some of them also funny) but they are far to politically incorrect to quote them here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Devil's Home on Leave (Derek Raymond, 1984)

Simply loved He Died with His Eyes Open so I expected something special but this one had still caught me unprepared. Insane stuff, it breaks almost every crime writing rule!

It begins with a probably shortest chapter I have ever read. Check this:

I knocked at a second-floor flat in a dreary house, one of two hundred in a dreary Catford street.
After a while I heard steps the other side of the door. "McGruder?"
"Who's that?" said a man's voice. "Who wants him?"
"I do," I said. "Open up. Police."

And that's it. Bang! I was sucked in!

What follows is a discovery of the body of a guy killed in such a gruesome manner that even Herschell Gordon Lewis would be proud of it. Poor bastard had been killed with a humane killer (needle-gun used for cattle slaughtering) and then boiled (!??!!!), bled out, his teeth were totally smashed, he was dismembered and finally his remains were put in several shopping bags. WTF!?

But if you think this is gonna be yet another standard serial psycho-killer chase formulaic thriller, better think again. Because pretty soon our nameless sergeant discovers (without much of an investigation btw - it's just "practice and instinct") who the killer is and cat-and-mouse game can begin. But things start to go a bit odd even before that - chronological narration stating specific dates (it begins on April, 14th btw) gets abandoned almost immediately as well as the side-kick kind of a character of an investigating reporter. Like I said - the usual rules are used just to be broken and to mislead  the reader.

Lots of stuff happens afterwards and the whole thing culminates into some weird kind of political espionage involving Russians and UK defense minister. Ending is cool too and (surprise, surprise) unexpected. Without revealing too much, let's just say that crime sometimes does pay.

But of course this is as far from whodunit as it can possible be. It's about the evil vs good, sense of justice, humanity, authority (liked the touch about his boss being reduced to just a voice over the phone), power and its abuse (defense minister is a gambler and a pervert), remorse, dealing with guilt and more.

And who the hell needs a coherent story anyways when you read something so very stylish and authentic (see dictionary in the 'cool lines' section), violent, noir-ish, hard-boiled (police brutality in the 20th chapter!), with such an interesting hero protagonist and totally insane villain?

It has to be said it's also extremely morbid (see body count section), bleak and disturbing so I wouldn't recommend it to everyone. But to me it was total thrill, I simply couldn't stop reading it!

5/5

Facts:

Hero
Nameless; in his early 40s but still only detective-sergeant because "Justice is what I bother about, not rank.". Still working in Factory on Poland street in unexplained deaths department A14. You can find him in the room 205.

Location:
London

Body count:  
Violence and death are everywhere in this one and I tried to keep the count as accurately as I could. I'm pretty sure there are 5 corpses directly related to the plot (or let's say to the plot's present time) and at least 15 are mentioned in various contexts and sub-plots: from an old woman thrown from the car (senseless killing  for 70 quid of gear plus maybe a tenner) to a serial killing of three (so gruesome that squatter girl who finds them dies of a heart attack) and to some random Norwegian "geezer" (who buried some young men in his garden). And let's of course not forget our hero's nine year old daughter Dalia who was pushed under the bus by her crazy mother. 

Dames, Blackouts: nope, none. And for the last time - standard rules are all broken in this one
 
Title: 
"Well," he said, "what do you think?"
"What I think," I said, "is that the devil's home on leave."
"What does that mean?"
"It means there's a maniac on the manor."

McGruder personifies the devil and there are numerous references to him (or is it "it"?). And this asshole truly is one sick fuck - he gets a hard-on when he's about to kill somebody and then comes into his pants afterwards.
 
Cover
It's probably the only thing I kind of dislike about this masterpiece. I understand the fire-walking metaphor, but there are so many more suitable motives that would do better justice do this book's unique atmosphere.

Cool lines:  
"You can't work that, you bastard!" he screamed. "There's a fucking law in this country!"
"That's right," I said, "and I'm it." [The Coolest!]


"As a copper I don't care about your privacy," I said, "your rages even less. To me you're just an operation - find 'em, nail 'em, wheel 'em in!"
"Must be dull, same operation all the time."
"You should know," I said, "you're the disease."

"You lying, self-deceiving cunt," I said, "if the money were right you'd top a handicapped child in a wheelchair, cop for the lolly and bank it. You're full of shit, piss and death, McGruder, so don't try and launder yourself with me, friend."

"Phillips is a software wizard - the sort of microchip guru who makes a British government foam with excitement, like a snooker amateur with black over the top pocket." 

Plus a few slang words I noted down. Might come handy next time I visit London...

  • doing bird - serving a prison sentence
  • grass, super grass - police informer
  • screw - prison guard
  • topped - (contract) murder
  • hot cross - jail break
  • bag - arrest
  • punter or putting the black on - blackmail
  • clocking (somebody) - checking somebody out, observing
  • Black Maria - prisoners transporting vehicle

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Hail to the Chief (Ed McBain, 1973)

Nostalgic one. My father used to be a big admirer of McBain but I just couldn't get into his writing when I was in my teens. Too formulaic, not enough action, no femme fatales, detailed police procedures descriptions instead of snappy dialogues etc. I preferred (and still do) the vivid world of PIs.

I have learned to appreciate a good writing and smart story telling (I hope) in all these years since but still couldn't enjoy this one. Its subject is juvenile gangs violence which isn't exactly my cup of tea although (like any other subject) it can be done decently or even brilliantly. The whole setup in this one just didn't work for me. I mean - how can you take seriously a bunch of kids that still live with their parents? And at the same time organize their gangs (they call them cliques) into mob-like hierarchies with counselors, secretaries, war chiefs and so on. Sounded a bit silly to me to be honest...

There's no mystery and it is a good example of content being sacrificed to the form. Our detectives' investigation runs in parallel with the reading of the gang leader's confession statement in flashbacks after he had been arrested. So the whole narration comes down to something like this: guy explaining what had happened and then Ed McBain describing how our heroes concluded that same thing using the police procedures. It's an interesting concept but it quickly wears off and becomes more and more annoying. My humble opinion is that this approach would function much more effectively if the guy would be interrogated instead. There are pages and pages of that statement without any dialogues and the whole thing is at times really hard to digest.

Far from being bad, but it's just not for me. Still isn't, even after all those years.

3/5

Facts:

Hero:
Detectives Steve Carella and Bertram Kling of the 87th precinct

Location:
The city in these pages is imaginary.
The people, the places, are all fictitious.
Only the police routine is based on
established investigatory technique. 

Body count
Let's round it to 10. It starts with three man, two girls and a baby in the ditch  (Nice racial and ethnic balance. Three of them were black, two of them were Hispanic and one of them was white), then two more during the story development and at least two in the final shootout. But probably much more since three gangs with approximately 50 members are fighting the third world war (they even have hand grenades!).

Dames:/
Blackouts: /

Title: 
Don't get it. It probably refers to Nesbitt who is a chief of Yankee Rebels but I can't remember anyone hailing to him.

Cover
Pretty unimaginatively constructed human face using the gangs colors and weapons. I doubt Carpenter considered this for a poster of his masterpiece Assault on Precinct 13

Cool lines:
There was another color staining the ice. The color was blood. The bodies were naked. The nakedness made the night seem even colder than it was. 

I don't know any rich man's sons who got killed in that war over there, do you? And I don't know any rich man's sons who get killed in the street in the middle of the night. If there's a God, mister, he doesn't know about poor people.

I knew this was a drastic measure, but I reasoned with the council that if there is nobody left to fight a war, then the war automatically stops.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

No House Limit (Steve Fisher, 1958)

I'm not really into the gambling themed stuff but just couldn't leave this one sitting on a two-pounds discounts shelf in London's Forbidden Planet store. Published by the one and only Hard Case Crime, it almost felt as a duty to buy it and not just an act of mercy. But seriously - where is this world going to when one can buy half a dozen of new books for a price of a pint of Guinness and a pack of cigarettes...

Anyways, like I mentioned, gambling is not exactly my thing. So I had a problem comprehending the basic premise in this one. There's an independent (=not ran by the mob) casino in Las Vegas and some anonymous syndicate (=mob I guess) is trying to take it over. Since "gamblers are not gangsters", they hire some ultra bad-ass high-roller who will play crabs for three straight days and nights against the house attempting to bankrupt the casino by winning ten million bucks. And for some reason, casino owner Joe (our hero btw) needs to be present at the crap table all the time.

So the whole concept seemed a bit silly to me. But I did think at the beginning that it had a potential to develop into something (more) interesting. There are few cool characters and beautiful dames (we are in Vegas after all) and parallel to the main story there's another subplot in which Joe's right-hand man is shielding his boss from the various distractions that might break his concentration. Because during this "siege", syndicate tries to disrupt things by "pushing the queer chips", switching dices with "shaved" ones and even dispatching a hit-man from Chicago.

But all those episodes are just fillers for the main theme. Which is not even gambling, it's LOVE! Joe and his piano player both fall desperately for two women they've just met. In fact, once the siege is over, both of them will propose to their new found loves. So instead of hard-boiled gangster pulp novel, this turns into incredibly cheesy (see 'cool lines' section) and at times hilariously funny romance crap. Too bad.

2.5/5

Facts:

Hero
Joe Martin, owner of the Rainbow's End casino. Or is it maybe Sprig, his tough right-hand man?

Location:
One of the richest, most exclusive playlands on this earth is a strip of U.S. highway just outside Las Vegas, Nevada.

Body count: 3

Dames
Sunny Guido - "I'd trade my casino for her!" [Fatale]

Blackouts
None, even though Joe is on the verge of collapse all the time during the siege. Pulls it off because in between the sessions Sunny takes good care of him (even fucking him twice!).

Title: 
Bad-ass gambler Bello requests that casino lifts the limit on betting and Joe - as a fellow high roller - is unable to reject his request since not respecting such unwritten rules would ruin his reputation. I know, I know - I told you I've found the whole concept silly...

Cover
Guy in front is definitely Bello, girl is most likely Dee (an exquisite young girl ... with large breasts and rounded hips ... in a dazzling white blue-sequined cocktail dress ... looking sexy) and my guess is that a guy standing in the dark behind her is Sprig since (a) he's a guy who operates from the background and (b) Joe is probably standing at the other end of the crap table facing Bello.

Girl's face looks a bit strange but otherwise it's quite nice illustration. Credited to R.B. Farrell (for whom Google has never hear of btw)

Notable cover blurbs: 
"Sex, sadism and action." by Washington Star.

Pretty funny what was considered sexy and sadistic 50 years ago...
 
Cool lines
No witty, snappy one-liners in this one I'm afraid. There's occasional cool slang, mostly related to gambling but I'll remember this one for some truly corny dialogs that made me laugh my ass off. Chapter 20 is simply brilliant! Here it is, a bit condensed:

"And is it?"
"I thought so for a while."
"Don't you know?"
He looked at her. "I'm wondering."
...
"This is better," he said.
"Much better."
"I feel alive again."
"So do I."
...
"Please say it out loud."
...
The word offended her. "Joe-"
...
She whispered: "I love you."
...
"It sounds beautiful, Joe!"
"It sounds insane. But I want to do it...Why are you crying?"
"I'm not - it's just - I'm so happy!"
His voice was warm. -"I'm happy, too. I'm not sure I've ever been happy before - really happy."
...
[They start fucking now. Ups, sorry - they are making love!]
....
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing, darling."
"Hurt?"
"No, everything's lovely"
...
"Oh, Joe-"
"I love you," he said. "God help me, Sunny, I love you, I really love you."
"I love you, too!"
...

Monday, September 29, 2014

Night Train (Martin Amis, 1997)

Was having my Saturday morning newspaper & coffee ritual last week and came across a review of Amis' last book. Glanced through it (didn't make much of an impression btw) and then took a walk to the city center to check out the flea market. So when I saw Night Train selling for 3 euro at the very first stall, it wasn't a coincidence - it was a sign from above demanding to check it out. And why not? In general I don't often go for the "serious" authors disguising their stuff into pulpy crime novels but lately I've been pretty fortunate with picking up lots of great and interesting books from the likes of Sallis, Raymond, Manchette, Garnier and few others.

Night Train starts pretty cool and, as much as it's trying not be, somehow formulaic. Jennifer, a daughter of the local police chief had committed a suicide and our hero, detective Mike is asked by her heartbroken father to investigate the matter. And we can categorize this "matter" as a murder since there were three bullets found in the Jennifer's brain. For some reason (that I still can't get) investigation must not be official so we have a nice setting of police procedural mixed with a classic PI type of story. For a good measure, there's also some personal crap thrown into the mix; as a kid Jennifer used to read stories to Mike when she (yep, Mike is a female) went through the alcohol detox.

So far so good. It's a bit wild (jumping from past to present tense, mixing dialogs with narration) but still pretty clear and it seemed to me it had some purpose and goal. Language used is a little weird too and definitely over artificial; there's no way in hell that tough police cop like Mike, who had solved over 100 murders and is about to retire, would talk and contemplate like she does. But still, it's cool and some of the lines are actually pretty fucking funny (see 'dames' section of the facts).

But quite early came a "Wait a minute, this is bullshit!" moment. The whole thing doesn't move anywhere, makes less and less sense as it goes on and becomes boring pretentious babbling about the meaning of life. "Witty" jokes and "profound" observations became way too repetitive and distractive and it seemed to me that they were simply used for hiding author's inability to express himself concisely. And at the same time story steadily falls apart. I was sure that the main twist will be same pathetic mind fuck about having no twist at all. It doesn't exactly turn out like that, but close enough: the big twist is that whodunnit is not actually revealed. Or maybe it was (Trader would be my guess); to be honest I wasn't paying much attention towards the end and just wanted to finish it off.

Written for reading clubs and dinner parties. Probably not bad but definitely not for me...

2.5/5 (adding an extra half point for that "fuck him, give him five bucks" mailman story)

Facts:

Hero
I'm a police. I'm a police and my name is Detective Mike Hoolihan.

A fourty-four-year-old police with coarse blonde hair, bruiser's tits and broad shoulders, and pale blue eyes in her head that have seen everything.

Location
Second-echelon  American city, mildly famed for its Jap-financed Babel Tower, its harbors and marinas, its university, its futuristically enlightened corporations (computer software, aerospace, pharmaceuticals), its high unemployment, and its catastrophic inner-city taxpayer flight.

You are probably as confused as I was...

Body count: 1

Dames
Jennifer - Man, what a bod: At twenty, she looked like a model in an ad for those cereals that taste great but also make you shit right.  [Fatale]

Unconscious moment: /

Title: 
Night train keeps getting mentioned again and again in a various contexts symbolizing all kinds of shit. First time we come across it, it is actually pretty funny. Our hero's apartment is located near the railway line so because of the noise it causes, night train is "something that keeps my rent down". But pretty soon good old night train starts to symbolize everything and nothing and eventually I got bored with trying to decrypt/decipher all that crap. Judge it for yourself:

Suicide is the night train, speeding your way to darkness. You won't get there so quick, not by natural means. You buy your ticket and you climb on board. That ticket costs everything you have. But it's just a one-way. This train takes you into the night, and leaves you there. It's the night train.
 
Cover
X-ray of a gun. Somehow related to the story (gun definitely is) but my guess would be that the whole concept is another one of those metaphorical nonsenses. You know, like seeing truth through things etc. 

Notable cover blurbs: 
This one, quoting Sunday Independent, deserves to be mentioned because it's so totally ridiculous and misleading: 

Tough, noir, Chandleresque...

Come on guys, what the fuck!?!??

Cool lines  
Not even Italian police are sentimental about full moons. You're looking at a workload increase twenty-five to thirty-five per cent. A full moon on Friday night and you're talking a two-hour backup in the emergency room and long lines trailing in and out of Trauma.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Switch (Elmore Leonard, 1978)

Last Wednesday was the first anniversary of Elmore Leonard's death and what better way to pay maestro a respect than reading one of his novels? Had this one sitting on my shelf for several weeks and it was perfect time to check it out.

It's a story about kidnapping that goes wrong (as all kidnappings eventually do). This time the fuck-up happens because the husband doesn't really want his wife back (furthermore, he prefers her dead) and also - to be honest - because Louis and Ordell are hardly some hard-core professional bad-ass criminal types.

A bit crazy, full of weird (and black) humor that fluctuates between thriller and (almost) comedy. At times pretty unreal and even unbelievable but story somehow holds water. At least I was unable to find some big plot holes or inconsistencies.

It's of course all about the characters, nobody (except Willeford) does them better than Elmore Leonard. Once again it was such a joy to follow their introductions (or audition as Leonard used to call this stage) and further developments. Felt like the author really liked them and had lots of fun with moving them around like figures on the chessboard, disposing them (Marshall) or introducing some new ones (Melanie). My only little criticism would be regarding Frank because he really is a bit too cartoonish and stereotyped asshole yuppie.

Not Leonard's best work but still immensely enjoyable.

4/5

Facts:

Hero
No central hero in this one. At first I liked Ordell (probably because Samuel L. Jackson was so cool in Jackie Brown), then I started to cheer for Mickey (she liked George Carlin btw) but at the end I think Melanie won over them all.


Location
Detroit and shortly Bahamas

Body count: 1 + one critically wounded police officer

Dames
Mickey, the tennis wife and double-crossing Melanie

Blackouts: /

Title: 
Kidnappers Louis and Ordell refer to the exchange of Mickey for the money as "The Switch". But it could also mean the switch inside Mickey because once she was kidnapped "She felt alive. Excited but calm."

Cover
Dark and sinister photo showing kidnapped Mickey. Pretty accurate with her wearing the white blouse and black tape over her eyes. It depicts a scene in which kidnappers first contact Frank with the ransom demand.

Cool lines: /

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Cockeyed Corpse (Richard S. Prather, 1964)

Private detective Shell Scott gets an assignment to investigate whether a death of an actress on the set of an obscure nudie flick was an accident or a murder. Being bored in the hot L.A., our hero doesn't waste no time to depart to the filming location in Arizona expecting to have a weekend of paid vacation in the company of the remaining female cast. Which, of course, won't happen because we know in advance there are some hoods hanging around the ranch where production takes place. And to make things clear to Shell (plus to make action going) two cowboys attempt to shoot him upon his arrival.

So we have a plot but unfortunately it doesn't exactly thicken much from here on. There's almost no mystery or suspense: bad guys try to kill Shell and beautiful women try to seduce Shell while he tries to prevent them from being killed. And this initially interesting and a bit unusual setup of hard-boiled city gangsters and sexploitation movie-makers confined in a rural background pretty soon starts to fade out.

Weak, hard to swallow plot and pretty unbelievable twist aside, I think that book's style was what annoyed me the most about this one. It's only 140 pages long but it doesn't move anywhere. Every single thing takes ages (that fucking rodeo needs ten pages to complete) and Prather spends more effort on describing trivial stuff than to let story breathe and develop with any kind of decent pace. Also had a bit of a problem with dialogs. Pretty lame and without some cool slang and/or cynical one-liners thrown in every now and then that you would expect from hard-boiled PI and city hoodlums (Shell at one stage calls them sub-humans which I had found pretty funny).

Also didn't care much about our hero. He's a kind of a Mike Hammer wannabe - maybe tough enough (he kicks the shit out of the three assholes quite efficiently!) but definitely pretty pathetic at his attempts to be witty or street-wise and failing miserable as a womanizer. Check out his thoughts on four girls that were trying to seduce him:

They stuck closer together than was normal, certainly than was fair. They were going to barbecue together, to the dance together, and - I got the impression - to bed together, which was certainly a sickening impression.

Huh?

I don't know. It's an unusual blend of cozy and hard-boiled crime that I guess was written for younger audience and just hasn't aged very well in my opinion. I'm sure some people love this kind of stuff, I'm just not one of them.

2.5/5

Facts:

Hero
Shell Scott, PI

Location:
"Sun and Sage" Dude Ranch, Arizona

Body count: 8 plus "one only half live"

Dames
April, blonde Delise, redheaded Choo Choo, black-haired and black-eyed Zia

Blackouts
Two of them. Which is not bad for such a short novel but then again it's not great for a guy who calls himself the unconscious detective. First one is more than decent:

I don't know how it is that you can know that you've been sapped, when the fact of the matter is that a split second after being sapped you're unconscious. I guess it's just that my mind works with lightning speed - because I knew I'd been sapped.

But then (as usually) it goes on for another hefty paragraph and spoils everything. Coming out is described pretty good too, in a classic Marlowe-ish manner:

I was climbing out of a dark, slippery hole, and soft tentacles of blackness wrapped themselves around me, holding me back.

But here too, it just continues to go on and on. 

Second passing out is not as good as this one - he simply falls off the wild horse.
 
Title: 
Main villain stages his fake death by killing some unfortunate dude and later refers to him as the "cockeyed corpse" because his face was smashed after falling down for seventeen stories. When Shell finishes off this villain asshole he uses the same expression for describing his final state.

Cover
Surviving girls (see 'dames' section) of "The Wild West" movie cast who are running for a cover when attempt on April life was being made. So it's pretty accurate with an exception of those tree branches covering their boobs.

Cool lines:  
I knew him. I also knew the gun in his left hand, an unusual gun, a Beretta Brigadier, 9 mm. Luger.
The Brigadier is an automatic pistol which fires nine shots. In the right place, one would be enough. And he had it aimed at one of the right places.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Daddy Cool (Donald Goines, 1974)

Was a bit disappointed with this one to be honest. Expected our hit-man hero to be a cool Shaft-like bad-ass but he's more like an aging guy having lots of problems with his family while running his pool-hall. Not very cool either - he loses his coolness when returning home from one of his "jobs" and finds his 16 year-old spoiled daughter Janet making out in a car with a young and "thoroughly unlikable" pimp Ronald. Daddy Cool gets mad, slaps her and as a result she's  so pissed at him that she packs her shit and runs away with the unlikable one. Soon she ends up whoring on the streets of Motor City and daddy is not too happy about it.

But he's not too upset about it either because two weeks later he's still not able to locate her. Is he simply not street wise anymore? Hard to say, but one thing is certain. Instead of keep looking for her, he takes another job in LA because it pays so well (25 grand). Greedy bastard! And an asshole too. When he finally gets back, he releases his frustrations and rage on his two step-sons who were given the ultimatum to either find her or move out of his house. I'm not saying that two of them are not good-for-nothing assholes but still I think he was a bit unfair to them.

It gets better and more dynamic towards the end with somehow Shakespearean tragic, bloody family drama climax.

Quick and entertaining read but I missed any kind of a style in it. Not much of the ghetto noir feeling I had expected, plain dialogues lacking street slang, sloppy and pretty unbelievable story, hardly any characterization (especially Janet is done poorly) and also a bit too sexploitative (five pages long sex scene). The whole thing just feels like it was put together hastily which - after reading Goines' biography - can very well be the case. Apparently he wrote mainly to support his heroin addiction and published 9 books in 1974 alone. Amazing, big fucking respect!

3/5

Facts:

Hero:
Larry Jackson aka Daddy Cool, "one of the deadliest killers the earth had ever spawned"

Location:
Detroit mostly, except for the two jobs that Daddy Cool takes in Michigan and LA

Body count7 + one German police dog

Dames
Daddy Cool's daughter Janet. Innocent 16 year old girl when we first meet her, but two weeks later she celebrates her 17th birthday street-walking and "doing tricks"

Blackouts
None. Which is strange because he's savagely beaten when gang of six mugs him. 

Title: See 'hero'
CoverStandard stuff.

Cool lines:  
Pimping was his game, and no good pimp would allow some bitch's daddy to blow his game.[The Coolest!]


Yes, there would be hell to pay, and some crying. But casket buying would be the order of the day in the near future.