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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Saturday, January 14, 2023

Review: The Passionate

The Passionate The Passionate by Carter Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Detective Al Wheeler encounters hot and horney twins, a dead body in a horror TV show host’s coffin, and some brutes to get beat up by. Carter Brown novels can always be counted on for plenty of wisecracks and silly sexist humor. Admittedly his plots can sometimes fall flat - the guy wrote one novel per month. Fortunately here we have a cracking good plot, a whodunit that had me as puzzled as Wheeler as the suspects and red herrings pile up. Top notch Cater Brown for sure and good one to introduce readers confused about the hundreds of CB novels of various quality. This was recently republished by Stark House Press with a couple of other titles at

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Friday, January 13, 2023

Review: Love Me - And Die

Love Me - And Die Love Me - And Die by Day Keene
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Although published under Day Keene's byline, this was Gil Brewer's first novel. As David Rachel describes it in his introduction to Redheads Die Quickly, the collection of Gil Brewer stories he edited, Keene was awash in material and commissioned Brewer to turn his novella "Marry the Sixth for Murder!," which had been published in Detective Tales, into a novel. Which Brewer did using Keene's original story as an outline. It was published in 1951 by Phantom Books in digest format, with cover art by George Gross. After reading Rachel's review of this one I had low expectations, but was still disappointed. Basically this is just a poor Raymond Chandler imitation. The plot moves randomly and the hard-boiled dialogue is clunky. It reminded me quite a bit of what Orrie Hitt tried to do (also poorly) in Love or Kill Them All, his attempt at hard-boiled under the Nicky Weaver pseudo. This one is interesting (and collectible) only because it was Gil Brewer's first novel.

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Thursday, December 29, 2022

Review: The Executioners

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

Having seen both versions of Cape Fear, films based on this novel, they have clearly tainted my perspective of the source material. The Cape Fears were excellent adaptations, not to say that the novel is weak, it’s very good, although I think that the films do a better job of maintaining the tension and terror, and have a superior climax. The films do a better job portraying the psychotic Max Cady. In the book he is introduced early then is “off camera” for most of the rest. One advantage of the novel is the clever and snappy banter between Sam Bowden and his wife Carol, although sometimes it falls flat as being too staged and cutesie for typical folks that aren’t brilliant writers. So yeah, my expectations were pretty high and I was somewhat disappointed. I've read better JDM, and this is one of those rare novels where the movies are better that the book. Three stars.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Review: Seven

Seven Seven by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting collection published in 1971 as the popularity for MacDonald’s Travis McGee series was taking off. The four shorter stories were published in Playboy and likely solicited. “Dear Old Friend” has an epistolary structure where through four shifting attempts at a dictated letter we learn the story. “The Annex” is sort of a white light story or a dream of a dying man. “Quarrel” is a bit of hilarity about an “accidental play” via tape recording. “Double Hannenframis,” my favorite of the shorter stories, is a neat noir about an executive caught insider trading and siphoning cash. The three longer stories were all previously unpublished. “The Random Noise of Love” can best be summed up by what a friend says to the protagonist: “Don’t lose your head for a piece of tail.” Oops, too late. The story has a five-page obsessive description of the girl as she comes out of the shower, gets dressed, does her makeup, etc. Yes, he’s lost his head. “The Willow Pool” is novella length with multiple narrators each describing their view of the events, which is a good technique for broadening the scope of the narrative in ways it couldn’t otherwise. “Woodchuck” seems the class of the collection, with MacDonald at the top of his craft using concrete descriptive writing, insightful psychology, and wicked characterization via action in this long story about a man cynically seducing the wife of a man who works for him. The woodchuck of the title is a story within the story and MacDonald even pulls that digression off and makes it work thematically. Three of the stories I’d give five stars, but the others are not to that level.

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Sunday, August 28, 2022

Review: —And the Girl Screamed

—And the Girl Screamed —And the Girl Screamed by Gil Brewer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those books where I wish Brewer had spent the time to revise instead of cranking it out in five days because it is just completely uneven. Incredibly written scenes are followed by stretches of lackadaisical writing. The beginning was atypical for Brewer, just a grindingly slow setup. And then blammo! Finally, at the start of chapter four, the girl screamed and the novel got going, as ex-cop Reddick witnesses a murder but manages to become the prime suspect and while the police are searching for him he is trying to find the murderer. Unfortunately Brewer didn't then go back and trim the first three chapters down to five pages! There's some really great stuff in this one but you also have to wade through some crap.

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Saturday, August 27, 2022

Review: The Girl from Hateville

The Girl from Hateville The Girl from Hateville by Gil Brewer
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This one is such a mess it is almost incomprehensible how it got published in this fashion. Even if it is a one of Brewer's first-draft-written-in-three-days novels, the lack of editing is astounding. The basic plot line is that Al Harper returns to his home town after being away for eight years only to find that everyone hates him because his father, the town's banker, apparently cleaned out the bank vault with everyone's savings before committing suicide and leaving everyone to default on mortgages etc. That plot line has some truck as it puts Harper in harms way immediately after he hits town. From that point on, though, the writing is chaotic. Too many characters just start showing up for no reason and Harper starts doing one thing and then changes to doing something else in mid-course for reasons unexplained. The best writing is found in the scenes where Al is getting the crap beat out of him, and there are three or four of those scenes, so Brewer was on his game for those at least. The novel could have been OK with a decent edit, but it would have taken a complete rewrite to get it up to the level of Brewer's other novels.

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