Sunday, November 28, 2021

Review: 69 Babylon Park

69 Babylon Park 69 Babylon Park by Harry Whittington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This 1962 Whittington novel is not as sleazy as the front and back covers suggest. Instead it is psychological realism set in married student housing at a trailer park and it reminded me quite a bit of Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road which had been published a year earlier. The beginning also has a bit of a David Goodis vibe as it reminds me of the beginning of The Wounded and the Slain. There's also a passage where protagonist Phil overhears students talking about his car-hop wife May that made me think of Raymond Carver's story "They're Not Your Husband" from Will You Please Be Quiet, Please. In that story a husband overhears guys in a diner making unflatteringly comments about his waitress wife. And in the same vein as those other works, 69 Babylon Park is a literary styled novel about a marriage disintegrating under the weight of expectations. The dialog got a bit long in places but there are some really choice scenes of confrontation and humiliation. If it hadn't been marketed as pulp I could see this Whittington rubbing elbows with the books by Yates and Carver.

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Movie Review: Private Property (1960)

Private Property written and directed by Leslie Stevens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A disturbing psychological thriller neo noir about two drifters, a smooth talking lothario and his halfwit and virginal partner Boots (played by a very young Warren Oates), plotting to seduce a beautiful and unhappily married woman. The disturbing thing is that the charmer intends to get the woman in bed then pull a switch-roo so his partner can finally get laid. The script is terrific detailing the machinations of lothario Duke, played perfectly by Corey Allen, and his methodical attempt to seduce an unwilling married woman. A bit too sexy for its time it was banned and censored and then lost for decades. It may be a low-budget B-movie but the direction, cinematography, and performances are all superb. An easy four stars and highly recommended.

Available to stream for free (with commercials) on Tubi.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Review: Hot Pants Karen

Hot Pants Karen Hot Pants Karen by Mark Allen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This Bee-Line Books sleaze novel from 1970 is far more pornographic than it’s predecessors, the soft-porn novels of the 1960s. It tells the story of virginal Karen who is gang-raped, awakening her sexuality, which stuns her boyfriend Billy into enlisting into the war in Vietnam. and Karen to skip town to hang with anti-war hippies who turn her on to casual sex and orgies. Of course Karen and Billy still have feelings for each other when he returns after three years,which they try to deny by having sex with others. A good portion of the book is graphic sex scenes which are fairly well written although they become tiresome. The females are all very verbose during sex and spout streams of unintentionally hilarious dirty-talk littered with hippie vernacular and slang, language which permeates the book making it an amusing time capsule of the era. The Pro-War vs. Anti-War sentiments were a nice touch, and surprising no slut-shaming or punishment for for the females who engage in casual sex. A cut above average for a hard-core sleazer. Two and a half stars.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Review: Horizontal Secretary

Horizontal Secretary Horizontal Secretary by Amy Harris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As with many of these vintage sleaze novels you can't go by the description on the back cover. There really is no plot to this one. Ellie is a secretary in the shipping department. She's 27 and a virgin when the book begins. Blake, the head of the PR department is putting on the moves and succeeds in seducing Ellie. It's over quick and she's disappointed. She moves on to Frank, a police detective she last dated two years previously and had brushed off. Not this time. Again it's too quick. Is that all there is? she thinks out loud and Frank gives her another go, slower this time. Fireworks! And again and again. But then Frank doesn't call for three days. Blake does instead and she gives him another go. Blake is not the one. Frank finally calls and now wants to marry her. Nope. Ellie dumps him quick. Dave, the next door neighbor beckons as the book ends. This is still 1963 and, fair warning, the sex is not explicit. The first-person narration is strong and we experience this emotional whirlwind along with Ellie. Amy Harris wrote five other books for Midwood and they might be worth checking out: Y-175 Forever Amy, F-203 Birth of a Tramp, F-212 Touch Me Gently, F-215 Counter Girl, and F-265 All of Me. Cover art? Yes, that is Paul Rader's work.

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Thursday, November 11, 2021

Review: Sugar Shannon

Sugar Shannon Sugar Shannon by Lawrence Lariar
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lawrence Lariar was a well-know cartoonist and editor of the Cartoon of the Year series of books. In the late 1940s-1960s he also wrote crime and mystery novels under the pseudonyms Adam Knight, Michael Stark, and Marston La France. Similar to Carter Brown, Lariar had a few different series characters, most notably the Homer Bull and Steve Conagher P-I novels. Although this novel is billed as "an exciting new series," as best I can tell this was the only appearance of Sugar Shannon, who, along with her friend Gwen Moody, are not P-Is, but reporters for a lower-tier New York newspaper. This was an ok mystery but not too exciting. Greenwich Village setting. Lots of quirky artist-types for the reporters to interview as they try to track down the killer. No action sequences. No sex scenes. Just a lot of room searching and interviewing of potential suspects. Sugar is tough-talking and fond of repartee. Stylistically, a Carter Brown comparison seems a close fit. This is the only Lawrence Lariar mystery that I've read and although I'm not rushing right out to find one, I wouldn't mind checking out another. In 2019 Mysterious Press/Open Road re-published all of his novels as eBooks so they are readily available.

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Monday, November 8, 2021

Review: The Turquoise Lament

The Turquoise Lament The Turquoise Lament by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not the usual salvage job for McGee in this one as he sets about helping the daughter of a dead friend who saved his life once upon a time. Some neat backstory here that tells the tale of the time when McGee and Meyer were chasing after sunken treasure, the time when his life was saved, and it is plopped here, an embedded short story, as Chapter Two. McGee duty bound heads out on a rescue mission that turns into a mystery he has to chase down in the usual McGee way that is equal parts social engineering trickery and brazen thuggery. JDM really gave McGee some fun characters to interact with: a war photographer, a bush pilot flying a home made plane, a crusty manager of a trailer park, and the usual assortment of crooked lawyers and businessmen for McGee to shakedown. The teasing out of the mystery keeps the story moving and entertaining. McGee is back in top form busting chops and taking names. The only disappointment here is that there is not the usual 30-40 page climactic sequence to bring the novel to a smashing conclusion. With this one it is a short and sweet battle that is over surprisingly quickly. And it's no spoiler - six books left in the series, after all - to say that McGee lives to fight another day.

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Sunday, November 7, 2021

Review: Play it Hard

Play it Hard Play it Hard by Gil Brewer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Awesome. Brewer totally channels Cornell Woolrich in this paranoia driven narrative. Steve Nolan wakes up from a bender-fueled honeymoon to find a woman claiming to be his wife who isn't the woman he'd just married. No one believes him, though, and the chase is on as Nolan tries to figure out what happened. The prose is Brewer at his propulsive best. Nolan's mind races and we are tethered tight to that paranoia from beginning to end. I wasn't sure how Brewer would wrap this up and have it make sense, but I think he pulled it off. Great also that it ends with an action scene rather than drawing room summary. The "wife" is one of Brewer's better character creations and he lavishes some of his best descriptive writing on her. Sexes it up in this one, too. Recommended.

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Review: Caribbean Kill: Mack Bolan: The Executioner #10

Caribbean Kill: Mack Bolan: The Executioner #10 Caribbean Kill: Mack Bolan: The Executioner #10 by Don Pendleton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A compressed timeline story that also further introduces Jack Grimaldi, a mob plane and chopper pilot, who later changes his allegiance to Mack Bolan. The novel takes up immediately after the events in Las Vegas (Vegas Vendetta) and into reliable Don Pendleton high gear with some terrific action and adventure sequences. There are no dull Mafia backstories, females needing protection to advance the plot, no fat to trim, just flat out action. Yeah, the violence and gore can be a bit disturbing so the book may not appeal to most readers. On the Executioner/Bolan scale I give this four solid stars, one of the better of the early novels in the series.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Review: Reckless

Reckless Reckless by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The RECKLESS graphic novels are unique in that they are true novels, not a collection of short comic books stitched together. This frees the creators, the acclaimed team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, from artificial page counts (the length of a comic book) for their chapters. Brubaker’s stated intention for the RECKLESS books were to create a series character like those popular in the 1960s-70s. James Bond, Nick Carter, Matt Helm, and mostly Travis McGee come to mind for me. The first novel introduces Ethan Reckless who spends much of his time surfing and then taking on side jobs to recover stolen money from  clients for a cut when he needs cash. Contacted by a former lover whose take from a robbery has been stolen by the ringleader named Wilder, Ethan methodically goes about tracking down Wilder while dealing with his own damaged memory and a ton of buried secrets. Both Brubaker’s scripting and Phillip’s artwork are amazing and the story is the type that I love. Highly recommended and an easy five stars.

I borrowed this from my public library with the Hoopla app on my iPad.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Review: The Scarlet Ruse

The Scarlet Ruse The Scarlet Ruse by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The closer I get to the end of my time rereading John D. MacDonald's novels the more I'm feeling that the Travis McGee series has not held up as well as MacDonald's noir novels. In this the fourteenth in the McGee series we have Trav doing mostly investigative type work, and the only action comes in the final third when we are treated to another of MacDonald's stellar rollercoaster structured climactic sequences. Not a fan of the long anti-climactic summary ending which follows, so let me tell you what I like about this one. The teasing out of a stamp collecting scam; and then learning all about stamp collecting. Watching the Mary Alice character deconstruct before our eyes by what she says and does. Her stinging dialogue is stunning and brilliantly crafted to reveal character. The edginess between Trav and MA, the jousting, whenever they are in a scene together keeps a live current rippling throughout this novel. MacDonald, the old OSS guy, deploys a lot of his spy craft via McGee and it is fascinating anthropology to follow along as McGee navigates back in the day before cell phones and google and the metaverse. Among the thematic highlights are McGee's declining capabilities, his suffering another near-death beating, and McGee once again throwing Meyer into the path of a scythe wielding reaper. These all foreshadow a series working its way to the end.

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