Saturday, July 23, 2016

Murder Is For Keeps (Peter Chambers, 1961)

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

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

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

3.5/5

Facts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title: 
A bit silly, isn't it?

Edition:  
Monarch Books #428, April 1964

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

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/5

Facts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pure quality. Unforgettable!

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

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

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

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

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

Dames
see 'hero'

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

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

Edition:  
Pocket Books, November 1974

Cover
see 'hero'. Illustration by Hector Garrido. 

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 17, 2016

It's My Funeral (Peter Rabe, 1957)

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

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

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

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

3.5/5

Facts:

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

Location: L.A.
Body count: 0

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

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

Edition: 
Gold Medal #915, Second printing, August 1959 

Cover
Amazing one and definitely on this blog's top 10 covers so far. Just love the symbolism of Ella being a pawn on the chess board that everyone keeps pushing around. And it doesn't hurt that she's naked either, does it? 

The author is not credited but according to the goodreads.com website it is work of John J. Jr. Floherty. 

Update, May 2017:
Came across this amazing post in which author is identified as Jack Floherty Jr

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

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

Monday, July 11, 2016

Devil May Care (Wade Miller, 1950)

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

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

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

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

And still no sign of fucking peacocks...

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

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

2.5/5

Facts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edition: 
Gold Medal #108, fourth printing, October 1951 

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

Cool lines
I've found this paragraph somewhat poignant:

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

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Private Party (William Ard, 1953)

Kind of weak and little far-fetched premise (P.I. hired by the bad guys) but I liked this one anyway because it still felt very realistic.

Instead of the mob our hero simply deals with a corrupt bunch of trade union hoodlums (or something like that). Cops are not just some clueless bystanders, they are actively involved. In fact, I would dare to say they get an equal share of the ink as our hero. There's an inspector and although he and P.I. Dane do cooperate they are far from the best friends. Women are beautiful and sexy (small boned too - see the facts) but far from overly stereotypical (Ann freely admits she won't be able to withstand the Dane's questioning). There's also a great and very believable backstory about the shenanigans between the various law enforcement branches and politics that lead to the fuck-up on which the premise is built on. Cool stuff.

Written well too, keeping the steady pace and nicely steering between melodrama and more hard boiled-ish stuff. Told in the third person changing the focus on several characters that action is concentrated around with some facts revealed in flashbacks (like newspaper articles). Good ratio of dialogue vs action, descriptions with just enough of the required attention to detail (to be honest maybe some - like Roxy going to the beauty salon- are a bit redundant).

Too bad that the ending sucks. It finishes pretty abruptly as if the author had reached the word count limit (although it's only 120 pages long). A bit of an anti-climax, especially with that cop non-selfish sacrifice nonsense...

But I liked the style a lot and will definitely check out other Ard's stuff in the future.

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
"No. I said I was Timothy Dane from New York..."
"A snooping newspaper reporter!"
No," said the one who had entered with Purdy, "Just a hustler. They call themselves private detectives."

Location
New York and some fictitious small town called Newchester forty miles north.

Body count: 5

Dames:
Roxanne Garde aka Roxy:
A very beautiful woman, a redhead woman... Her face was small and delicate, clefted at the chin, with full, sensuous lips and wide-set green eyes whose dominant expression was appraisal. She was tall bodied, with long legs, tapering waist, extraordinary breasts.

Ann Bogan, extremely pretty and endowed with generous physical attractions:
Short and small boned. So short, and so perfectly proportioned, that her waist could truly be surrounded by a man's two hands and her 32 bosom looked pert and more than ample to men and women alike.

Blackouts: /

Title:
The initial killing takes place at some private party

Edition:
Popular Library #569, March 1954

Cover:
Roxy and Timothy

Cool lines
"I'm supposed to be special," she said in a low voice. "Why is it you don't react?"
"I must be backward," he said. "Get out of my way."
"You do it," she said. "You get me out of your way."

She uncrossed her legs, rose out of the chair and stood close to him with what Dane thought was a single, fluid motion. Her scent assailed him, made him more conscious of her basic femaleness than he could remember. And more aware of his own manhood.