Monday, July 26, 2021

Review: Dirt Farm

Dirt Farm Dirt Farm by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Classic Hitt. Clean prose and plenty of tension. Similar plot to several other of his books: drifter type shows up looking for work. This time it's a farm. There's too many women around for him to keep his mind on the job. Hitt does a great job using the dialog to show character, letting several characters hang themselves with their words. Would have been better if there were more action and less talking, however, and could have used more sex and more violence. Lost steam in the second half and the ending was also disappointingly anticlimactic.

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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Review: Operation Fireball

Operation Fireball Operation Fireball by Dan J. Marlowe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Plenty of good scenes and writing here, and Drake, in this the third book of the series is now someone we want to root for, however, just too many scenes, especially in the first half of the book, that don't advance the plot. It's as if Marlowe got stuck on the same plot point, thought it was more important than it was, and then wasted a lot of energy with half-step-forward, half-step-back scenes. He turns the characters and the action loose in the second half, but this is not as strong as the first two in the series or his other non-Drake books.

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Saturday, July 17, 2021

Review: Angel!

Angel! Angel! by Carter Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

These Carter Brown novels always annoyed me when I first read them back in junior high because they all had the sexy Robert McGinnis cover art and then, unlike the sleazers they were made to look like, they never delivered. That's what we have with Angel. Al Wheeler, the cop on the beat here, spends a lot of time describing sexy women, but never gets to partake. He does solve the crime, however, and in typical mystery novel convention, the wrap up comes, after quite a few red herrings, in the last ten pages. This is a quick and easy read with plenty of interesting characters and a decent plot. Some of the Carter Brown dialog stylistics get slightly annoying, the too clever repartee, and particularly the speech tags (he growled, he snarled, he said laughingly, etc) which is a don't do as far back as creative writing 100.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Review: The Mistress

The Mistress The Mistress by Carter Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This Al Wheeler novel finds the amorous police lieutenant in typical form, he’s irresistible to women, has conflicts with his superiors, and offers an endless barrage of wise cracks. Even though Wheeler is a cop, this is not a police procedural, but rather falls squarely into the “whodunit” mystery genre. Here Wheeler’s police captain finds a dead woman on his porch at home after being threatened by a Las Vegas casino owner that wants to move his operation to Pine City. Turns out that the dead woman is the captain’s niece, the irascible captain assumes a vendetta, and puts the screws on Wheeler to bring in the suspect. Under pressure, Wheeler finds an ally in a stacked stripper named Gabrielle to track down the killer as the bodies pile up. Nicely plotted, snappy dialog, and a quick and easy read like every Carter Brown book I’ve ever read. Three stars.

Now available in paperback or ebook in an Al Wheeler collection from Stark House.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Review: The Score

The Score The Score by Richard Stark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Did anybody write better heist novels than Richard Stark (Donald Westlake)? Well, maybe Dan J. Marlowe - One Endless Hour and Four for the Money are good examples. Seriously, though, it's hard to top these Parker novels for their depiction of heists. And this one is all about the extreme caper - to rob an entire town in rural North Dakota. In the previous Parker novels he'd been trying to clear himself from the Outfit or dispensing with unfinished business. In this one he is free and clear and all about the job. The first half of the book is all setup: describing the job, finding the crew, procuring the guns and the vehicles. Need a movie reference? Think Ocean's Eleven. Second half? They do the heist. Expect some monkey wrenches, but this one is all about the crew pulling off the take down of an entire town. Grofield also makes his appearance in this novel, so that is kind of cool, as he will get his own four book series later: The Damsel, The Dame, The Blackbird, and Lemons Never Lie, which was reprinted by Hard Case Crime.

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Review: The Wounded and the Slain

The Wounded and the Slain The Wounded and the Slain by David Goodis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the more remarkable first chapters in the noir genre. The first paragraph begins with the as yet unnamed focal character considering suicide. As we flip from page one to page two we have this: “At the other end of the bar they were having a good time, talking pleasantly with some energetic laughter thrown in. He tried to hate them because they were enjoying themselves. He collected some hate, aimed it, tossed it, then knew right away it was just a boomerang. There was no one to hate but himself.” He is Bevan, drowning in self-pity and alcohol, and we learn him with a narrative point-of-view that alternates between close third and second person. This narrative approach becomes quite stunning as Goodis introduces Cora, Bevan’s wife, and treats us to the same alternating close third and second person treatment of her, which is juiced up by her seeming schizophrenic second person voice. As the first chapter winds down Bevan is falling down drunk in the bar trying to pick a fight with a guy who comes to help Cora get Bevan out of the bar. The second chapter is Bevan’s back story. He marries young Cora but it turns out she is not interested in sex so Bevan takes up with a hooker, gets found out and trades the hooker in for booze, and races towards alcoholism to the point where a change of scenery is suggested to him by a neurologist. Cue chapter three, the morning after in Kingston, Jamaica and the beginning of a descent that immediately brings to mind Malcom Lowry’s Under the Volcano, published in 1947 and a work Goodis surely would have known. Goodis’ prose is a bit ragged when describing action scenes like the bar fight, but he is at his mesmerizing best when narrating from within the soul-tortured heads of Bevan and Cora.

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Saturday, July 3, 2021

Review: The Violent Vixen

The Violent Vixen The Violent Vixen by Alan Marshall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alan Marshall was one of the pseudos used by Donald Westlake, but he frequently subbed out his contracts to writer friends in need of cash, so there is some dispute among collectors about which Marshalls are Westlake's and which aren't. The character development in this one has the Westlake feel to it and the quality of the writing is a couple of notches above most pulps, so whomever wrote this one took more care than was typical of the genre, but I doubt this is a Westlake. The title makes no sense as there is no violence in this one. The lead character, Judy Stanton, is an actress making her career in beach party movies. (Character seems modeled on Annette Funicello - so think Beach Blanket Bingo.) She's in a long-term contract and wants out, wants to make other types of movies. So there are scenes with her business managers and attorneys where they plot ways out of the contract and there are the inevitable scenes where she is in conflict with the director and producer of the current movie she is making. All that takes up about 50% of the book. The other 50% is sex scenes. Ah ha, the real purpose of the book! Originally this was published under the Greenleaf imprint Sundown Reader, but there's a knock-off eBook version.

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Friday, July 2, 2021

Review: Sin Hellcat

Sin Hellcat Sin Hellcat by Lawrence Block
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a collaboration between Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake and they alternated chapters and did a remarkable job matching styles so that it reads seamlessly. So it is interesting from that perspective. But not much of a novel. It is mostly a lot of tongue-in-cheek writerly pyrotechnics, a lot of spinning of wheels to fill pages in between the sex scenes, of which there are plenty, described in censorship era figures of speech.

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Thursday, July 1, 2021

Review: Longarm on the Humboldt

Longarm on the Humboldt Longarm on the Humboldt by Harry Whittington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Longarm novels, and Adult Westerns in general, don’t seem to get much respect even though they were written by talented work-for-hire authors like Lou Cameron, Frank Roderus, James Reasoner, Pete Brandvold, and of course Harry Whittington who wrote this one, the 28th book in the series. Whittington would go on to write five more Longarm novels over the next couple of years, and although I have all of them, this is the first one that I’ve read. Whittington’s take on US Marshall Custis Long clearly pegs him as a hard-boiled detective, and the familiar tropes are here, getting beat up, captured, escaping, getting laid, etc. The story consists of two investigations, an assignment from the US Government, and another at the behest of a beautiful young blind woman who is seeking revenge. Some may say that Whittingtons best days were behind him in the 1970s, but I don’t think that's true. His descriptive prose is elegant without being wordy, the dialog crackles with authenticity and humor, and the plotting is, not surprisingly, exceptional. There is a Mormon subplot, which was entertaining enough, that smelled of padding that could have easily been cut to really make this a taut 200 pager, but only a minor quibble. Four stars.

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Saturday, June 26, 2021

Review: The Lady Kills

The Lady Kills The Lady Kills by Bruno Fischer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm surprised that Bruno Fischer didn't receive any coverage in Haut's or O'Brien's books on crime noir. Even in Horsley's The Noir Thriller there is just one mention of Fischer, in the Fatal Women chapter, and it is for this book. And I have to say, Beth Antler, is a femme fatale character in all caps, pretty much a textbook example, you could teach a course on the topic using her as an archetype. The noir protagonist is Simon Field and he's an editor working for the newspaper published by Beth's father. The small town is run by gangsters who control the politicians and the newspaper's editorial page is at war with the corruption, which becomes a bigger focus in the second half of the novel. The first half is all about Simon falling under the spell of Beth, even to the point of covering up a murder for her. The plot complications expand out from there, including a nice twist up at the end. Strong characterization, good plot, and the usual noir trappings. The pace was a bit slower than a lot of the Gold Medal era books, but Fischer was a good writer so the less than break-neck paced sections are still interesting reading. Prologue has an eBook version so this is readily available.

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