Thursday, June 17, 2021

Review: Affairs of a Beauty Queen

Affairs of a Beauty Queen Affairs of a Beauty Queen by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hitt's books from the late 1950s and early 1960s are interesting because, using the term somewhat loosely now, they are a kind of cultural anthropology. He frequently picked a business or some cultural practice and then showed its sleazy underbelly. Here we have beauty contests sponsored by newspapers. Not exactly a scam, but clearly a shady business practice. As Hitt describes it we have small town newspapers running beauty contests where local businesses sponsor a contestant and the newspapers feature pictures of the contestants along with ads for the businesses. The only way to vote is to go to the store in person to cast your ballot. The newspapers sell lots of ads and the stores report that business is booming. The winning contestant gets $500 and the Miss whatever city title and a chance to go on to the county contest and maybe the state and the national contest. In this book we have two city contests and two contestants and two sets of sleazy participants. The contestants are Lili and Cherry and most of the book is narrated in alternating sections from their POVs. What will they go through to win? Who will they bed? Who will take advantage of them? Will they win? Those are the plot elements. Throw in blackmail and attempted rape and there is just enough crime elements to create some edge. Decent writing, decent plot, some good cultural anthropology, but could have used more edginess.

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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Review: The Key-Lock Man

The Key-Lock Man The Key-Lock Man by Louis L'Amour
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another of the first L'Amour books I read back in junior high (it's like a reading time capsule!). Cat and mouse plot with a lot of great descriptions of the Utah and Arizona deserts. Omniscient POV, and L'Amour makes full use of it, roving in and out of every character's head to provide a complete picture of the pursued and the pursuers. Saves the climax until the last couple of pages, so this is a page turner to the very end.

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Review: The Long Night

The Long Night The Long Night by Ovid Demaris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Private eye Vince Slader is a character born from Spillane’s Mike Hammer school of ultra hard-boiled detectives, hard-boiled to the point of self parody. Most of the familiar hard-boiled PI tropes are here, Slader is a former cop, gets beat up, gets laid, hands out plenty of brutal violence, barks caustic and smart ass dialog, etc. Demaris writes all of this very well and adds a couple of nice touches, a best buddy, and a love interest that humanize Slader and make him more sympathetic. The plot has something to do with killing a husband and collecting the insurance and although familiar, is executed well. The destination isn’t all that important, it's the ride, and the novel delivers a fun and wild one. Four stars.

Digital copy available from Cutting Edge books

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Review: Dawson's Run

Dawson's Run Dawson's Run by Tim McCloud
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good example of "don't judge a book by its cover" as the cover art and blurb have nothing to do with the story. This is a straight-ahead western. Ben Dawson is the marshall of Piney Flats and inserts himself in the middle of a feud between two neighboring ranches, one of which borders his own spread. When Dawson's ranch is raided - cattle stolen, buildings burned, ranch hands killed, and his daughter kidnapped - Dawson goes all out to find the killers and his daughter. Some of the transitions are abrupt and there are quite a few cliches and some hokey western dialogue, but this book is non-stop action with almost continuous shoot-outs and hardly any filler in between. A fast, fun, and frenetic read for sure. Does a have a couple of explicit sex scenes, which is rare for 1960s era westerns, and that makes it a nice vintage sleaze collectible, particularly with the cover art.

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Review: Nevada Death Trap

Nevada Death Trap Nevada Death Trap by J.R. Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Randisi, writer of all 470+ Gunsmith books, is a consistently entertaining teller of dialogue driven, easy to read stories. The Gunsmith books can be read in a sitting or two and are perfect escapist summer reading. Here Clint Adams befriends a family of Gypsies and helps them get to town to repair their wagon. A bigoted rancher, and the townsfolk in general, want the Gypsies driven out and Clint is forced to protect them. This is an Adult western so naturally there is a beautiful Gypsy woman and the rancher’s horny daughter for Clint to have explicit sex with. I have a box full of Gunsmith books and can pick any one of them out randomly and know exactly what I’m in store for - a reliably amusing story well told.

Digital ebook available from Amazon.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Review: The Moon in the Gutter

The Moon in the Gutter The Moon in the Gutter by David Goodis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is not so much a novel as a short sequence of events that goes nowhere. It has the kind of fatalism that noir is known for: the protagonist who is doomed. In this case he is trapped by his own limited sense of identity. He apparently hasn’t heard of the “American Dream,” where hard work can take you anywhere. He grew up on the mean streets and in his mind that’s the only place he can live. So when the upper class woman shows up in her sports car and wants to take him uptown? No can do. “Don’t you see the way it is? We don’t ride the same track. I can’t live your kind of life and you can’t live mine. It ain’t anyone’s fault. It’s just the way cards are stacked.” Spoiler alert, that is on the last page. And it is actually a fitting wrap up for this annoying protagonist who spends the novel, in between fist fights and drinking binges, in situations where he needs to say something but can’t get the words out, or needs to move but can’t. He is frozen in place and unable to act. The novel begins with him staring at the blood stains where his sister was murdered. At the end of the novel he knows the answer to who her murderer is. We do too even though the murderer is never identified.

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Saturday, June 5, 2021

Review: Nurse Lily and Mister X

Nurse Lily and Mister X Nurse Lily and Mister X by Diane Frazer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Author Dorothy Fletcher wrote several vintage Nurse Romance novels using the pseudonym Diane Frazer. This one from 1961 tells the story of Nurse Lily who has been entrusted to care for a VIP, a Brit named Sir Edgar, whose identity must remain a secret. The conflict that drives the story involves a dashing young newspaper reporter named Andrew who has been assigned to sniff around on a lead speculating the secret patient's identity. A romance develops, but is Andrew really falling for Lily, or is he just trying to pump her - for information that is. Sir Edgar is a fascinating character, brilliant and cantankerous, and he encourages Lily to feel out the potential threat of discovery by Andrew while providing plenty of snappy and amusing dialog. The strengths of the novel are the smart dialog and plotting, a few nice twists that I didn't see coming, and a weakness is the subplot about Lily’s friend Norman that didn’t really go anywhere (maybe word count filler). In general this is a terrific story and a top notch Vintage Nurse Romance novel if you’re interested in this genre, which was once popular and now sadly forgotten.

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Monday, May 31, 2021

Review: The Widow

The Widow The Widow by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Orrie Hitt wrote 150+ sleaze-noir novels in the 50s and 60s. I've read more than 50 of them so far and the quality of the writing is quite varied. Not sure where this one will ultimately rank after I've finished reading all of Hitt's books, but right now The Widow is very close the top of the heap. Generally, his pre-1960 books are better written, and this is mostly because in the early 1960s Hitt was cranking them out assembly-line mode every couple of weeks and the quality of those books dropped off severely as he rarely made an effort to write from within the character as he did with his early novels. The Widow is the story of Jerry Rebner's decline and fall. When the novel starts he has just been fired from his job operating a backhoe because he punched out his boss. He's ready to leave town until he gets his head turned by a skirt he wants to chase. In the classic noir pattern, we sense that his doom is sealed at that moment. But how it happens is the story and Hitt does a great job of stretching that out in beautiful tease and deny mode. What elevates this novel in my ranking of Hitt's novels? His dialog is stinging back and forth shots on goal, frequently fulfilling the dictum of "using exposition as ammunition." And Jerry Rebner is haunted by the death of his wife in a car accident and there are several scenes where his torment is shown completely from within the character. He's a heel, but these scenes of torment humanize him in a way rarely seen in Hitt's novels (at least the ones I've read so far). And thus we feel his fall even though we can despise his choices. It does get a bit repetitive at times - the repeated tease and deny - and this plot (as many of Hitt's plots do) bares some similarities to other of his novels, but this is one of his best.

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Sunday, May 30, 2021

Review: The Long Lavender Look

The Long Lavender Look The Long Lavender Look by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This 12th novel in the Travis McGee series starts not with the beginning of a salvage job, as so many in the series do, but with McGee and Meyer in a car crash, getting shot at, and arrested for murder. So initially the story is about piling it higher and deeper on top of McGee to learn if he can dig fast enough to keep from getting buried in shit. Yes, he can dig fast enough to get out from under one pile and into another where the manure isn't accumulating quite as fast as in the one he'd escaped from. That's our McGee out of jail, but he can't leave the county, so he starts snooping around. The cast of off-the-rails characters grows, as do the complications, as McGee stirs up his own brand of shit while unraveling an almost too complicated whodunit about a years-ago armored car heist. It's a Travis McGee story, so you just knew that there would be a pot of gold out there somewhere for him to chase down. Plenty of action down the home stretch and MacDonald delivers not one but two of his trademark climactic action sequences. Here it's like a rollercoaster with two big humps before the hard brake at the finish. Actually, a great standalone crime/noir. Because it doesn't follow the series M.O., if you'd never read any of the others it doesn't matter. For McGee fans it's another episode. For noobs, it works on its own and maybe draws them into the series. MacDonald firing on all cylinders in this one. My one ding is that at times the narration slips into McGee lecturing himself in third-person, and although I'd agree that narrative move has a certain utility when it comes to characterization, for the most part, McGee talking to himself like that in a first-person POV was annoying. MacDonald also delivers a great metaphor for the mystery McGee is trying to solve: Before Pluto was discovered, the planet was inferred from other observed phenomena - it had to be there - just as the hidden antagonist of this story is waiting to be found and confronted by McGee.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Review: Unfaithful

Unfaithful Unfaithful by Peggy Gaddis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Peggy Gaddis without a pseudonym in this Venus paperback original from 1952. That's Rudi Nappi with the cover art, which makes this a nice collectible. Once you accept the basic premise - a young woman trapped into prostitution - the follow-on plotting is really superb, as Gaddis just keeps piling it higher and deeper for her protagonist Karen. Definitely kept me reading to see how she would get out of the jam. This is both a crime/noir and a romance. You've got a neat prostitution scheme run by the sleaze-ball manager of a motel and you've got Karen's unrequited love for Shaw, whom she has to chase away because she knows he would reject her if he knew about her "side-job" at the motel. That's the basic set-up and from there Gaddis just keeps raising the stakes. The double-cliff ending was maybe a bit weak on the wrap-up, but overall this was a tight bit of plotting and an enjoyable read.

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