Sunday, May 7, 2023

That Old Grey Train by John D. MacDonald - PDF

Another "lost" and never anthologized John D. MacDonald story, this one from Sports Fiction Magazine, September 1947. I did some OCR and editing work on it, then exported to PDF. MacDonald was clearly a knowledgeable boxing fan, although the story is more about dealing with maturity and regrets rather than a sports adventure type of story. Bear in mind that main character is black and there is some language that may be offensive to some readers.

PDF -  That Old Grey Train by John D. MacDonald

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Review: The Killer is Mine

The Killer is Mine The Killer is Mine by Talmage Powell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Talmage Powell was another pulp writer who migrated to the mystery digests, primarily Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and of course paperback originals in the 1950s. He was also one of the Tampa group of author pals with Harry Whittington, Day Keene, Jonathon Craig, and Gil Brewer. Fine company indeed. This paperback from 1959 was Powell’s take on the immensely popular private detective genre of the era with this, the first Ed Rivers novel. A young wife attempts to engage Rivers to prove that her husband on death row is innocent, and while at first disinclined to help, he changes his mind when he is threatened to drop the case, correctly sleuthing that something fishy is afoot. Rivers doggedly seeks the truth while dodging a large retinue of forces that are throwing roadblocks and threats at him. Powell expertly rolls up a delightfully sophisticated and tightly plotted gem with a slew of interesting characters, all spouting terse and evocative dialog. A top notch detective novel and another superior entry in the pantheon of 1959 paperback masterpieces, arguably the best year ever for crime, sleaze, and detective fiction. Five stars and my highest recommendation.

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Friday, February 10, 2023

Review: Park Avenue Tramp

Park Avenue Tramp Park Avenue Tramp by Fletcher Flora
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although similar in theme and style to the late-1950s novels by Lawrence Block and Orrie Hitt, Flora's style here also has a lot of similarities to David Goodis. At times the narrative is more from within the characterizations as opposed to being description or armchair psychoanalysis and the style frequently gets poetic. Went on a bit at times with needless dialog and backstory rumination and that put me in speed-read mode for large chunks of the book, but I could say that about most of these pulps. The basic plot centers around a young woman married to rich older husband. She is a lush and has one-night stands. Her husband hires a private investigator to follow her and make sure no serious relationship develops. When it does, muscle is brought in. Interestingly, the writing is strongest during the sections when the narrative focus is turned over to the investigator. He is bitter, hateful, and fantasizes killing the husband and being with the wife. The writing in these sections is dark and totally "inside" voice and if Flora had given this character more space to act this novel had the potential to be a great crime-noir. As it is, the crime comes at the end, and although critical to plot resolution, it is a small part of the book.

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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Review: Zero Cool

Zero Cool Zero Cool by John Lange
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Zero Cool, first published in 1969, is another of Michael Crichton's early John Lange novels. This was reprinted by Hard Case Crime initially under the John Lange pseudonym. Its cool x-ray looking cover is shown with this review. (The original Signet paperback from 1969 has a lame photo cover). Hard Case later editions have Michael Crichton's name in large letters on top with a "writing as John Lange" by line below in much smaller letters. Crichton apparently revised this novel for the Hard Case Crime edition. Not sure how much was done to the body of the book, but the framing "Video Interview" prologue and epilogue he added seem completely unnecessary. The other somewhat humorous thing to note from the copyright page is that Crichton trademarked Zero Cool. Perhaps planning a movie treatment? Or a branded whats-it? Who knows. The novel itself is just so-so. The plot is intricate and constantly twisting and there is action scene after action scene and it's all quite cinematic. Unfortunately, at least to my reading taste, more than half the book consists of ridiculous dialogue that barely advances the plot. Crichton—like Carter Brown—spends five pages attempting witty repartee to impart maybe three sentences of information that moves the story along. He repeats this technique over an over throughout the novel. Plenty of colorful villains in the James Bond mold, although a bit cartoonish. Plenty of exotic settings, but they are thinly rendered. The plot? A radiologist on vacation in Spain is suddenly sucked into a Maltese Falcon-esque struggle between a bunch of criminals all trying to find a whats-it. I won't spoil the read by divulging more because then the first two thirds of the book are less compelling. The plot driver, and what keeps the pages turning, is that the radiologist protagonist doesn't know what is going on, so we get to follow along as he is batted about like a ping-pong ball between rival gangs. What is going on? Who is who? Will he survive? If you can can put up with the dialogue, or speed read it as I did, the plot will drag you along to the, finally, fast-paced and climactic ending.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Review: Bayou Nurse

Bayou Nurse Bayou Nurse by Peggy Gaddis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of Peggy Gaddis' later novels first published in hardcover in 1964 by Arcadia for the library market and it recycles numerous themes from her earlier novels. Nurse Lindsay puts her hospital career on hold to return to the bayou to care for her ailing Aunt Jennifer who had—spitefully—raised her after Lindsay's parents were killed in a fishing boat accident. Lindsay is the typical sassy Gaddis protagonist readers want to root for, but it is mean Aunt Jennifer, wheelchair confined and using her words like a cattle-prod, who steals every scene she is in. The verbal jousting between Lindsay and Jennifer are the high points. The low being the three dolts pursuing Lindsay: a doctor, a journalist, and a bayou guide. The nurse romance plot, and I won't spoil the outcome, demands that she end up with one of these guys, although to Gaddis' credit, Lindsay isn't really interested in any of them for almost the entire book. So that's the tension that keeps this one moving. Less developed is the mystery of why the journalist is sniffing around the bayou. That plot point is teased a lot but barely pursued until some thin gruel of criminal activity is surprisingly introduced to spur the novel's conclusion. It's the story not told that if it had been would have elevated this one considerably. There's a Valentine paperback edition with the title Strange Shadows of Love which tries to make this seem like a gothic novel. It isn't. Not one of Gaddis' best.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Review: Odds On

Odds On Odds On by John Lange
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Michael Crichton's first novel written under the pseudonym of John Lange while he was in medical school. It's a heist plot, with three professional criminals planning to rob a luxury hotel in Spain. Would have been a better book if it were a hundred pages shorter as there are a lot of scenes with minor characters that add flavor but really don't advance the plot. The middle of the book, where the three thieves are chatting up the hotel guests and gathering information, is basically an excuse for a bunch of gratuitous sex scenes. Nice twist at the end during the heist itself that is set-up with plenty of foreshadowing. If you strip out the extraneous parts you can see the bones of Crichton's later cinematic style here in this first novel. Plenty of good scenes and a solid story arc, just a bit bloated. Available as a Hard Case Crime reprint.

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Sunday, January 29, 2023

Review: The Night It Rained Bullets

The Night It Rained Bullets

The Night It Rained Bullets by Brian Wynne (Brian Garfield)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prolific and talented author Brian Garfield, writing as Brian Wynne, wrote several Westerns taking place in the fictional town of Spanish Flat starring hard-boiled Marshal Jeremy Six. Here the town is invaded by three exceedingly psychotic and brutal outlaws during a winter snowstorm, The arrival of a gambler with a gunslinger reputation, and a drunken rich gambling troublemaker add to the explosive situation which soon escalates out of control resulting in Six having to make some hard decisions and resort to some serious violence. I tend to like stories that take place in confined locations due to conditions that the characters don’t have control of, storms, hurricanes, etc. Tarantino’s Hateful Eight comes to mind. A single day compressed timeline ramps up the tension to a blistering pace making this difficult to put down. A fine novel and an easy four stars. 

Here's scan of it. (if you don't mind reading yellowed images in a comic reader)

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Review: The Bad Girls

The Bad Girls The Bad Girls by Bud Clifton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

EIghteen year old good girl Janey thinks she is pregnant after being raped and is convinced by bad girl Allie to skip town to avoid 1950s era shame. They travel to the sleazy section of San Francisco where they encounter gang members, pimps, prostitutes, pornographers, and crooked cops. Quickly running out of money, they are forced to make decisions that are less than honorable. Bud Clifton is a pseudonym of David Stacton who was a notable poet and historian and his writing chops are evident here. Stylistically his prose is an unusual barrage of short and concise sentences which suits the subject matter well. No one wants to read long florid descriptive prose in a sleazer. Bad girl Allie is the most interesting character and the writer does an exceptional job writing her dialog, which alternates between being a kind and faithful friend to Janey, and a rage spewing vengeful bitch to most others. The plot is more of a coming of age story and character study than a crime or mystery story, which is okay. Turned out to be less forgettable than most sleazers so I give it a solid three stars.

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Thursday, January 19, 2023

Review: Temporary Secretary

Temporary Secretary Temporary Secretary by Joan Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the novel's first sentence we learn that Audrey Owens is tall, slim, and bosomy. She's 19, and unlike the blonde in Paul Rader's cover painting, she's a redhead. Before too many pages we learn that she's only been in New York City for four weeks after having moved there from Coalsville. A recent graduate from secretarial school she is working for a temp agency because she wants jobs where she can meet men. Audrey has a Plan, which is to use, in her words, her "man-bait" body to snag a husband with a Class A future. Audrey is hired out to Carlyle Cosmetics, run by the "dominating" Sara Carlyle, who has a lesbian reputation. Audrey is assigned to VP, and Sara's fixer, Bob Dixon. Audrey wastes no time and gives it up to Bob on his office carpet the first day of her assignment. Next she beds her boss at the temp agency. Followed by a chemist at the cosmetics company. Soon she's juggling relationships with all three of these potential husbands. Not so fast, as Sara asks Audrey to bring her steno pad over to Sara's Park Avenue apartment for some private dictation. What's a girl with a Plan to do? No spoilers from me. This is a smoothly written office romance by one of Midwood's top sleaze authors, Julie Ellis. Ellis authored a massive number of sleaze novels in the 1960s under several pseudonyms before going on to a mainstream career writing gothic, plantation, and historical romances from 1970 until her death in 2006. Her main pseudonym for the sleaze books was Joan Ellis, under whose byline she wrote 46 books just for Midwood. I have most of those in my collection and enjoyed this one so will read and review some more.

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Sunday, January 15, 2023

Review: The Good Old Stuff

The Good Old Stuff The Good Old Stuff by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This collection published in hardcover in 1982 and paperback in 1983 includes thirteen stories culled from the hundreds of stories MacDonald published in the pulp magazines between 1946 and 1952. They are the stories he considered the best and worthy or republication. So that right there makes this a must read for MacDonald fans. I thought the most interesting thing about this collection were the two stories that MacDonald, in his introduction, described as having a hero “who in some respects seems like a precursor to Travis McGee.” The stories - Breathe No More and From Some Hidden Grave - both feature Park Falkner, who in looks and skills does seem similar to McGee. Falkner doesn’t live on a boat at a marina but in a mansion on a private island. These two stories are a variation on the mystery formula of locking all the suspects in a room until the guilty party is found out. MacDonald’s wrinkle in these stories is that Park Falkner picks a crime to solve based on some chivalrous criteria and then invites the suspects to his private island so he can go to work breaking them down. I enjoyed these stories and their “formula” a lot. Park Falkner, and his sort of girlfriend and crime solving partner, Taffy Angus, are intriguing characters and it is clear from the writing that MacDonald had some affection for them. A bit surprised that he didn’t write more stories around these characters, but perhaps there was only so much he could do with the formula of bringing the suspects to the island. McGee as a “Salvage Consultant” who was free to roam certainly worked better to anchor a series. MacDonald's 1957 novel A Man of Affairs employs a variation on this private island theme and his 1959 release Please Write For Details brings all the characters to a mountain retreat in Mexico. So it is interesting to see MacDonald honing his techniques in these early stories. In 1984 he released More Good Old Stuff, which collected 14 more stories and the 27 stories in these two volumes represent all the early work MacDonald felt deserved preserving. Both are worth checking out.

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