Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Review: Desert Town

Desert Town Desert Town by Ramona Stewart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A shorter version, serialized in two issues of Collier's magazine in 1945, was made into Desert Fury, a pretty good 1947 film noir that featured Burt Lancaster in the role of Tom Hansen, the ex-rodeo star turned sadistic deputy. The movie breaks free from Ramona Stewart's original plot and in all ways is more hard-edged and darker, especially in its conclusion. After the movie appeared, Stewart went back and expanded her original story into this novel length version, and she remained true to her original story line. Although the narrative roams freely from character to character, with enough back story and motivation to give all the characters arcs, the novel is clearly focused on 17-year old Paula's coming of age. To get there she must break free from her domineering mother, Fritzi, who has the sin business - the saloon, brothel, liquor store, casino - in the small town cornered, which effectively gives her control of the town, especially with the Sheriff on her payroll. But this criminal aspect is all back story and periphery and laid out in the first half of the novel. The story picks up in energy when Johnny and Eddie, two gangster types, roll into town. Paula quickly falls for the 40-something Eddie. Kisses are described and it is clear things go much further. And thus begins the battle of wills that takes up the rest of the novel as Stewart exploits two triangle relationships: Johnny, Paula, Eddie and Eddie, Paula, Fritzi. Although the novel has noir elements, it is not a noir in the way the film version is, and is much more focused on the relationships. The descriptive writing gets a bit over the top at times, but there's a lot of great scenes, and it's easy to see why the original magazine story was quickly picked up to be filmed. A Kindle version is available, so well worth checking out.

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Review: Sin on Wheels

Sin on Wheels Sin on Wheels by Don Elliott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thoroughly enjoyed this sleazer, especially for its literary style and focus on character (which is not typical for this genre). Even the sex scenes benefited from the elevated quality of the writing. This Don Elliott book is not to be confused with that other novel with the same Sin on Wheels title, also by Robert Silverberg, although under the Loren Beauchamp pseudonym this time. Two completely different books. This one has protagonist Fred Bryan, newly discharged from the army and unemployed, taking a job as a driving instructor. He soon learns that his driving students are all rich and highly-sexed society women in need of another kind of service. Gigolo is part of the job description and he is well-laid and well-tipped. So one of the novel's arcs is Fred's rise and fall, as it were, down this gigolo path. What drives the story, however, is Fred's and Nina's romance. So really this is a love story. But let's not forget that this is a 1960 vintage sleaze novel by Nightstand Books! It's first date sex and they're off. Meanwhile, back at the driving school, Fred is earning his tips in the back seat. Yes, he's double dipping. This goes on energetically until Fred finds out Nina's pregnant. Plot twist - not his. Abortion time. But this is not going to be one of Orrie Hitt's $300 dollar back alley abortions, no, this is a $3,000, spend a week in a private hospital out in Westchester, abortion. I'll leave the rest of the plot to your imagination and future reading, the question, though, is how will things work out once Fred's driving instructor/gigolo arc intersects with the arc of his romance with Nina? Excellent book, one of the best written vintage sleaze novels I've read.

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Friday, October 23, 2020

Review: Cassidy's Girl

Cassidy's Girl Cassidy's Girl by David Goodis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although the character types and the setting are completely different, the knock-down drag-out verbal (and physical) battles between the men and women characters in this David Goodis novel had me continuously visualizing Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton from that great movie based on the Edward Albee play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. So that is a big part of this novel: the characters guzzle booze and fight. The other part of the novel is Cassidy's arc. He's a disgraced airline pilot who crashed a plane and is now driving a bus for a "living." After a boozy brawl with his buxom wife he dumps her for an alcoholic waif. Cassidy should be watching out for the woman scorned, but isn't. Fights with her lover instead and then foolishly lets the guy on his bus, in the seat behind his driver's seat, with a flask of booze. Can you see what is coming? On the run, helped by friends doing more harm than good, Cassidy can't stop thinking about saving the alcoholic waif and his wrong decisions keep stacking up. Enter stage left, his scorned and vengeful wife. And so it goes. The dialogue gets a bit repetitive at times but Goodis also portrays these self destructive lives with some beautiful prose.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Review: Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever Cabin Fever by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cabin Fever was one of Hitt's first books and it shows, with some sloppy writing in places. That said, we have here a cool dust-up at a summer resort in rural New York. Danny, our focal character and first-rate heel, manages to get drunk and rolled while on vacation. But he takes a job at the resort as a means to get back on the cash. He's quickly chasing after the owner's wife - the femme fatale character - in between chasing after the hostess and his late arriving former girlfriend. There are several other shady characters and everybody seems to have an angle to rip somebody else off. Danny is slow on the uptake, thinks he's in the driver seat, planning his own scam, but as they say about poker games, if you don't know who the mark is . . . All good fun if you put on the editorial blinders. Hitt's book Summer Hotel (Beacon B168, 1958) picks up many of these same themes a few years later and is more smoothly written. Tawny, (Beacon B261, 1959), is a reprint of Cabin Fever with a new title and new cover art.

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Saturday, October 17, 2020

Review: Sin on Wheels

Sin on Wheels Sin on Wheels by Loren Beauchamp
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The original 1961 Midwood edition is highly collectible because of Paul Rader's iconic vintage sleaze cover art. If only the book were as good as its cover. Our POV character is Lenore: a young virgin marrying a philandering satyr. Her honeymoon? Straight home to Jack's trailer and a swift introduction to trailer park living. Before the first week is out he has her playing strip poker and more at a neighbor's party. Not that there's much to redeem here, but not getting any back story about how Lenore met Jack and decided to marry him - except to hear that he never made a pass at her before they were married - removes any chance of identifying with her character. In two weeks of marriage she's already engaged in a tit-for-tat adultery war until she reaches this moment of Kierkegaardian sickness unto death: "Bleakly, she thought over the possibilities of escape from the intolerable situation she had entered. Suicide. Drinking. Adultery. Lesbianism. Divorce. A fine bunch of possibilities, she thought bitterly." What's a newlywed to do? Would you believe there's another option? One that repudiates that build-up of tension? I'll save you the journey, it's a disappointment.

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Review: Man-Crazy Nurse

Man-Crazy Nurse Man-Crazy Nurse by Peggy Dern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Awesome nurse noir! Originally published in 1954 by Croydon in digest form and marketed as a romance. But there's no happy ending romance in this one, it's seriously dark all the way to the nihilistic ending. The cover art and jacket copy of this Pyramid edition was clearly aimed at sleaze readers, and there are a few sex scenes, but this is noir all the way. Arline Grayson is a highly respected nurse at a hospital until she is unable to resist the charms of Dr. Blaine Christopher, a known skirt-chaser. She quits the hospital to become a private duty nurse so that she won't have to work with and be tempted by Dr. Christopher any more. She is shocked to discover, however, that he's the doctor of the patient on her first private assignment. He's a sleaze-ball and specifically requested her. The slippery slope begins when he takes her to a seedy hotel. Her desire is greater than her disgust and she loses a bit of herself in the process. She disintegrates progressively in classic noir fashion as she makes one mistake after the other and utterly destroys her life via mostly self-inflicted wounds. Although Dr. Christopher is a stunningly good homme-fatale and helps things along by getting her black-balled from private nursing. No more spoilers from me. Great book!

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Sunday, October 11, 2020

Review: The Bedroom Broker

The Bedroom Broker The Bedroom Broker by Gus Stevens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Read the ebook version but this was originally a vintage sleaze novel published in 1965 by Brandon House with what appears to be cover art by Fred Fixler, who is a favorites of collectors. 1965 was the cusp between censorship and anything goes and you see that reflected here with relatively more explicit sex scenes, of which there are plenty. The plot is marginally noir-ish, but make no mistake, the primary purpose is to get protagonist Nick Jackson laid as many times as the page count will allow. He's your typical good looking, smooth talking, uber-confident scam artist whom no one can resist. On the lam from some nefarious deed in New York he arrives by train in LA and quickly ditches the woman he'd been sharing a "sleeping" compartment with. On to San Diego where he scams his way into an apartment (sans rent) and into a job (without qualifications) as a brokerage salesman. Soon he's running an insider trading scheme and vacuuming up accounts and bedding every woman in sight. Unfortunately, the ending failed to deliver on the story's noir-ish tendencies.

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Saturday, October 10, 2020

Review: Wild to Possess

Wild to Possess Wild to Possess by Gil Brewer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another of Gil Brewer's relentlessly paced noirs, although it is not hard to keep it fast-paced when the main character is either running or racing around in cars for half the book. That's a key part of Brewer's technique, keep the characters always in motion. The plot requires some suspension of disbelief: Lew overhears a couple plotting a kidnap/murder/ransom and then spends the first part of the book trying to track them down so he can cut himself in on the action. One of the great scenes is when he breaks into the woman's house looking for information only to have them come home and he is forced to hide in the bedroom closet while they sex it up a couple of times. In between the sex they discuss the plan and Lew hears all he needs to. From that point on he's a man on a mission to get his hands on the $250,000 ransom money. Brewer's typically sharp plot twists make sure that things don't go smooth for Lew, but he does a lot of the damage himself by pounding bottles of gin. The climatic seen involving boats was chaotic and fun and is a scene that's been done in movies many times since. The final two pages are just wrap up, but who cares at that point because we already had all the pleasure of the read.

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Review: Damnation Alley

Damnation Alley Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First published in 1967 Damnation Alley is arguably the godfather of the biker (as in motorcycle) post-apocalyptic genre. It tells the story of Hell Tanner, a renegade biker and criminal who is pardoned by the Nation of California in return for him delivering the cure for a plague that is overwhelming the Nation of Boston. Most of the USA has been devastated by nuclear missiles and the cross country journey is extremely perilous due to radiation, huge storms and winds, swarms of giant creatures, and dangerous itinerant motorcycle gangs. The theme of a warrior going it alone against impossible odds is a familiar one, so not too many surprises here. Zelazny’s writing is stellar and in general keeps the linear plot moving at a breakneck pace. There is a weird two page stream of consciousness run-on sentence that made me think that the ebook had ended and that I was reading a printing error, although it the 1960s I’m sure that hip folks thought is was pretty groovy. A essential read for anyone interested in the nascent post-apocalyptic literary scene that soon exploded in popularity in the 1970s and ‘80s.

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Friday, October 9, 2020

Review: My Flesh Is Sweet

My Flesh Is Sweet My Flesh Is Sweet by Day Keene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

About a third of the way into this novel our detective writer protagonist Ad Connors is holed up in a Mexican hotel and needs money to get back across the border before the Mexican police arrest or kill him. He calls his agent in New York and asks him to wire $50, a loan against future sales. The agent agrees but tells Ad to crank out a couple of manuscripts. So Ad snags a typewriter from a pawn shop, buys some paper, and heads back to the hotel room to start writing. The first night he cranks out a 15,000 word potboiler - Kill me, MaƱana - but has more difficulty with the second novelette, "It took him two nights, a day, and part of a third morning to get it down on paper." This second manuscript - A Corpse For the Bride, which he thinks less of, actually leads to a big sale. But that is getting ahead of the story. The significance of these two manuscripts Ad cranks out is that they essentially mirror the structure of this novel. The first half of My Flesh Is Sweet is pure potboiler. Ad witnesses a car crash and then rescues the driver, American school teacher Eleana, from the lecherous general whose car she crashed into, but in the process the general is shot and Ad thinks he's killed him. So Ad and Eleana are on the run trying to get back to Texas and it is fast paced and full of disguises and close calls. There is, however, the business of what she was doing in Mexico in the first place, and that is the more involved plot that takes up the second half of the novel. Good fun read with the added kick that you can see a writer at work who was quite aware of his genre's conventions and also how to play with them.

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Sunday, October 4, 2020

Review: College for Sinners

College for Sinners College for Sinners by Lawrence Block
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another one of the sleaze books Lawrence Block wrote under the Andrew Shaw byline for Nightstand Books. The plot - yes, there is one - follows David Forrestor (Trevor in the Nightstand edition, but Forrestor in the eBook edition Block released as part of his Classic Erotica series) from the start of his sophomore year at college until he suddenly drops out following a period during which he questioned just about every aspect of his life. In the meantime, there's a parallel plot following David's experience with The Libertines - a small campus sex club; he traverses a path from recruitment to initiation to eager participant, from awkwardness to abandon to disgust, and finally, resignation. The latter plot reveals the real purpose of the book: sex scenes, lots of them. Although this was published in 1960 during the censorship era, it leans more explicit, with a caveat: it has long realistic descriptions of foreplay, but once the activity goes further, the language becomes euphemistic, or worse, as description is replaced with phrases such as "it got better and better and better." Block delivers on all the sex scenes as required, but give him credit for also layering in some significant character development. Perhaps in some way it parallels Block's college experience at Antioch. In any case, he does capture the typical tumult when thoughts of certainty and uncertainty about one's life are commingled. That's probably more depth than the typical Nightstand reader wanted to absorb.

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Saturday, October 3, 2020

Review: A Haven for the Damned

A Haven for the Damned A Haven for the Damned by Harry Whittington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stark House has re-released this long out of print Whittington classic. It has one of my favorite crime/noir/mystery setups: a group of people all stuck in a place - in this case an abandoned hotel - where the interactions between the characters is as much fun as the plot. A Haven for the Damned begins with a bank robbery, and the robbers are among the eight people who converge on Lust, a New Mexico ghost town. In the first part of the novel the point of view shifts around to introduce us to all of the characters and show the plot point that is driving them towards Lust. For the rest of the novel it is character warfare with the bank robbers trying to find a way out before the police arrive and all the other characters trying to survive the ordeal. I'd give this five stars for the first three-quarters of the novel, but thought it fell off before the end, descending (literally into a tunnel) with some melodramatic romance.

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Review: Return to Vietnam

Return to Vietnam Return to Vietnam by Stephen Mertz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the pantheon of Mack Bolan stories this book holds a high place for a couple of reasons. First, it returns Bolan to the jungles of Vietnam where his experiences as an extraordinary and deadly soldier led to the creation of the vigilante known as “The Executioner”. Second, it was a precursor and influencer of the POW/MIA movies that soon followed such as “Rambo II”, “Missing in Action”, and “Uncommon Valor”, plus scores of fiction dealing with this issue. The short novel tells the story of Bolan, now a government operative known as Colonel Phoenix, accepting a mission to rescue a POW imprisoned in a modified Vietcong temple. It’s a compressed timeline story with a linear plot and all of the events taking place in a four hour window so the pacing and action is relentless. Bolan is ably assisted by an aging and noble Vietnamese warrior, his beautiful daughter, and a ragtag group of fighters. It’s a definitely a strong entry in the series and I’m thankful to the writer, Stephen Mertz, for helping to bring the POW/MIA issue to the forefront.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Review: Unfaithful Wives

Unfaithful Wives Unfaithful Wives by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Published in 1956, I think this is one of Hitt's best books. I'd rank it along side I'll Call Every Monday and The Promoter. The story line revolves around Fred and Rita - married and dissatisfied - and the people they are having affairs with and the complications that ensue. Plenty of conflict and sex, with murder and theft also in the mix. The multiple POV narration moves effortlessly from character to character, each of whom is dissatisfied, striving, and edgy. Early on the plot is elusive, but this is a real strength of the novel because we are tracking along with these on edge characters, not sure what is going to happen, yet knowing that multiple fuses are lit and something is going to explode. The characters are explored in-depth and the language and psychology is more from within the characterization rather than being the shallow (and lecturing) rationalizations that show up in a lot of Hitt's later books. I read a paperback original, but there is an ebook edition from Prologue Books, so this is an easy one to get a hold of and read.

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Review: Standoff in Labyrinth

Standoff in Labyrinth Standoff in Labyrinth by J.R. Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Clint Adams, The Gunsmith, arrives in the town of Labyrinth to find that his friend Rick Hartman has been framed for murder. Robert Randisi is at heart a mystery writer and this is, like the others in the series, is solidly plotted like a detective story with Adams playing the part of the investigator. The Gunsmith books are reliably easy and entertaining reads and this is no exception. Unfortunately this is probably one of the weaker efforts with Adams endlessly going from place to place questioning folks, lots of pointless small talk, and a motive for the murder that wasn’t really explained. Still a fun read, although not quite up to the usual Gunsmith standards.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Review: Campus Tramp

Campus Tramp Campus Tramp by Lawrence Block
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Long before Lawerence Block hit the big time with his Matthew Scudder crime series he was cranking out two sleazers a month for the likes of Midwood and Nightstand. Campus Tramp, written under the Andrew Shaw byline, was Block's fifth novel. In comparing this to Donald Westlake's Campus Doll, I'd say it has more depth, more nuance, and more style and voice. The main difference is that Block seems to be having fun with it and Westlake seemed to be going through the motions by then. The plot here is straightforward: Linda is going away to college determined to lose her virginity. She quickly falls for the editor of the school paper, beds him, moves in and becomes obsessed. He dumps her and she proceeds to work her way through all the men on campus. On the verge of being kicked out of college, she rallies, quits the guys and the booze and starts cramming three weeks before finals. Until, just before her last final she finds out she is . . . wait for it . . . pregnant. What is she to do? Do hills look like white elephants? Not great, but not bad for a book written in a couple of weeks. Fun to see Block's early style developing.

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Review: Campus Doll

Campus Doll Campus Doll by Edwin West
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Early Donald Westlake written under the Edwin West byline that reads like an Orrie Hitt novel. What's a co-ed to do when she can't pay her tuition? Become a hooker, of course. "They'll get an hour," she said, "for ten dollars." "Only ten bucks? You could get a hell of a lot more than that, Jackie." She had shaken her head. "The guys in school don't have a lot of money. Ten dollars is just about as much as they'll want to spend." Soon, supply and demand being what it was, Jackie had to move from her apartment to a five-bedroom house and had four other girls working for her. And so it goes. This was the censorship era so no explicit sex and things will have to end badly for Jackie. The prose is simple, without nuance, but does read smoothly. Easy speed reading. All plot focused exposition, including the dialog. Achieves the purpose intended, but unlike some of Westlake's other early pulp fiction forays, does not have anything to elevate it or to make it more interesting.

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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Review: High Priest of California

High Priest of California by Charles Willeford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a difficult book to rate. I thought that the writing and dialogue was very good. The narrator is a real jerk, which isn't unusual in these types of novels, although rather than plotting a murder or a heist, he's just looking to score with an attractive married woman. The author does a pretty good job of trying to communicate what motivates this character. I've known jerks, and I've probably been one myself on more than one occasion, so I thought that the character was believable. I suppose the novels weaknesses were with the less than ambitious plot, and the lack of any internal change to the character. Three stars.

Available for Kindle

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Review: Passion Isle

Passion Isle Passion Isle by Curt Aldrich
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Strong crime-noir plot in this sleazer. Insurance detective tracking down a thief who pulls off a jewel heist. As with most of the Greenleaf/Corinth sleazers the plot is just something to fill the space between the sex scenes. Must be at least 10 such scenes in this one, but this was published in 1964, so still in the censorship era and nothing remotely explicit by today's standards. The jewel heist plot is pretty good, unfortunately this is primarily revealed through exposition rather than showing us the action in scenes. Was hoping for better after a strong beginning but was disappointed. Curt Aldrich was a "house name" most frequently used by William Knoles, who wrote the highly collectible 0008 spy-spoof series, for Greenleaf/Corinth. He spent time in Puerto Rico, where much of this book is set, so a fair bet this is one of Knoles.

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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Review: Death Car Surfside

Death Car Surfside Death Car Surfside by Patrick Morgan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When this series first published I was in Jr. high and Bill Cartwright the surfing spy was one of my favorites. I recently reread all ten books of this series and think this is the best of the bunch. It reads like Morgan (pseudo for George Snyder) thought it was going to be the last book but there's actually one more. Fascinating because this is not actually a Hang Ten case. Takes place all in one day and begins in the middle of the action as Cartwright is surfing before daylight and sees a Mustang drive off the end of the pier. He dives down to rescue the driver and bring her up to the beach. Another girl arrives and before too long Cartwright is bopped over the head with his flashlight. He comes to surrounded by police and the girl he rescued has been stabbed to death. Cartwright is taken to the police station and once he realizes they have him pegged for the murder he punches the detective and busts out of the police station. Cartwright is on the run and compounding his felonies. He tries calling his Hang Ten boss several times but the phone is never answered. On his own Cartwright tries to find out why the girl was murdered and he gets deeper and deeper into the manure. This storyline would have made a great end to the series, but it is also a great stand alone noir. Has the best lines of the whole ten book series: "Okay, brush your hair, put on some perfume, and get your purse. I'll show you a life of crime."

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Review: Get Out of Town

Get Out of Town Get Out of Town by Paul Connolly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The debut novel from noted New York Times columnist Tom Wicker writing as Connolly tells the story of a rookie cop fighting the drug trade and police corruption in a segregated town in the deep South. War vet Dave Reynolds returns home and lands a job on the small police force and then reestablishes a relationship with Nancy the local newspaper editor and the widow of his best friend. Barbiturate abuse is rampant in the black community and the impulsive Dave throws himself into cracking the drug trade while digging himself and Nancy into deep danger. A fine novel that portrays the attractions of small town life in the deep South, as well as the ugly, pervasive racism that marked that period in the previous century.

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Monday, September 14, 2020

Review: Pushover

Pushover Pushover by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fund-raising scam artists go into small towns and "write" a book about the town's history as a fund-raising project for the police department or the churches or some other worthy civic cause. They sell ads and sponsorships to local businesses. And they sell, sell, sell the books, but mostly on the side, and keep the profits, plus everything else they can skim off the project. The worthy cause frequently makes next to nothing. On to the next town. That's the crime aspect, and Hitt does a great job detailing how these scams work. Funny thing is the scammers seem to work harder than most people do at legitimate jobs. The protagonist, mastermind of the scams, and our first-person narrator, is Danny Fulton, a self-described louse and jerk, and he lives up to that billing. He spends as much time woman chasing as he does running the scams and that leads to complications threatening to unravel his scam business. His troubles are self-inflicted and he'll deserve what he gets as the book heads to its conclusion. Except there is the matter of the last chapter, which almost feels tacked on. Without the last chapter you have a book that passes the censor test. With it, well, maybe crime does pay.

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Saturday, September 12, 2020

Review: Four for the Money

Four for the Money Four for the Money by Dan J. Marlowe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Has all the goods. Marlowe sucked me right in with his smooth and well-paced style. This is a heist book with a long and interesting setup. Our narrator, "Slick," is the first of a gang of four to be released from prison. He heads out to Desert City, Nevada, which is described as being midway between Reno and Las Vegas. His task is set up a safe house and wait for the others to be released from prison. When they are all out they plan to go for one last big score. The first part of the book is all about Slick. He meets a woman, but she's on to him, calls him Slick without even knowing that that is his nickname. He's a card shark and takes some other card sharks for a big pile of cash. He's rousted by the police. Forced to get a job. Can't find a house to buy but ends up buying a motel from a scammer who's sold it over and over. So plenty of activity and Slick is an engaging narrator. Then the other three guys are released from prison one at a time and make their way to Nevada and Slick's motel. It's a volatile bunch with plenty of interpersonal drama as they try to figure out what the score is going to be and how to pull it off. That's the second half of the book. The heist comes at the end with a nifty surprise.

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Friday, September 4, 2020

Review: Mansion of Evil

Mansion of Evil Mansion of Evil by Joseph J. Millard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very early graphic novel from 1950, Fawcett Gold Medal 129, declares “A fascinating mystery, told in a new picture-book medium” on the back cover. It’s essentially a 195 page color comic book printed in typical paperback size. The plot is interesting enough telling the tale of a psychotic and highly regarded artist who kidnaps a young woman that happens to look exactly like his dead wife - who he accidentally murdered. A lot of padding here, a slew of unlikely coincidences that only serve to drag out the story, word balloons that needlessly state what is evident from the pictures, etc. The prose is pretty clunky - juvenile Golden Age comic book stuff with plenty of anachronisms and old slang. It’s an interesting enough oddity, but not really worth seeking out.

It seems to be in the public domain and available here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Review: Sins of Flesh

Sins of Flesh Sins of Flesh by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some of Orrie Hitt's best writing in this sleaze-noir. One of his early books written before he went into assembly-line mode and the writing here makes clear that he could write better than a lot of his latter books would suggest. I read the hardcover edition but also have the Kozy Books paperback edition and they seem to be identical. The story starts with Shad Albright fresh out of a three-year prison stint for an embezzlement for which he was framed. He goes back to his riverfront property and tries to make a go as a fishing guide. But others want his property so he's immediately embroiled in a fight. In between making time with the four women he's juggling. The middle section devolves into some country-noir melodrama but the the plot does thicken with a murder and Hitt is on his game throughout. Needed a bit more action to be four star, but better than most Hitt books.

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Sunday, August 30, 2020

Review: The Sucker

The Sucker The Sucker by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title gives the end result away just as the voice over at the start of a film noir does. Slade Harper won a gas station in a card game and has been running it for a couple of weeks when a red convertible drives up. Midge Dalton is driving, but Slade isn't interested in him. He has eyes only for the passenger, Ruth Talley. So when Midge offers Slade a job at his mail order auto parts business, Slade knows he is ditching the gas station and chasing after Ruth. And thus begins a classic noir tale where Slade seemingly has the upper hand but of course he is "the sucker" and we know that Ruth is outsmarting him the whole way. Plenty of plot permutations to keep this one interesting, even if the end result is never in doubt. Slade is the first person narrator and he is under no illusions about what a bastard he is, but Hitt does a good job of giving him the blind spot that leads to his downfall, one that we readers can see coming. That provides a nice edge to the narration because we know something Slade doesn't even though he is telling the story.

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Saturday, August 29, 2020

Review: The Ruthless Gun

The Ruthless Gun The Ruthless Gun by T.C. Lewellen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What seemed to be a typical revenge yarn turned out to be so very much more with prose that is both elegant and hard-boiled, and vivid characters, all of them somehow damaged and searching for something - be it redemption, security, or maybe even love. This is a dark novel, taking place entirely during a relentless rain, when a man who was maimed and left for dead returns after seven years to cause events for those involved earlier, and the people around them, to unfold in life altering or life affirming ways. The prose is ambitious and exceptionally well written with many insightful observations on human nature as the haunted characters struggle with painful memories and moral, or immoral obligations. Surely one of the best Westerns that I have read. It should be on everyone’s list of books to find and read. Highest recommendation.

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Thursday, August 27, 2020

Review: Created, the Destroyer

Created, the Destroyer Created, the Destroyer by Warren Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first entry in long-running The Destroyer series starts out with how Remo Williams is “recruited” into the secret CURE agency and expertly trained by Asian Master Chiun, followed by some dull drunken angst scenes, then finishing up with a bang and an unexpected twist. This book, and perhaps the series in general, doesn’t take itself quite so seriously as the other men’s adventure series, which are typically somber and humorless. I really liked the lighter tone and the self-satirizing drollness. I like that Remo merely kills someone without going into graphic detail and gore, which gets tiresome in other series since there are only so many ways to describe a guy’s head getting blown off. I would have liked to see a lot more of Chiun and his wise sayings and clever insults. Looking forward to reading other entries in the series, and hopefully more of Chiun.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Review: Junkie!

Junkie! Junkie! by Jonathan Craig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A cool and smoky noir with trumpet player Steve, former prostitute and junkie girlfriend Kathy, the Boogie piano playing ex-girlfriend Lois, and the nymphomaniac Donna cranking out murders and double-crosses against the backdrop of 1950's Washington DC Jazz clubs. Not nearly as sleazy as it sounds, I found the story compelling, and really dug the whole Jazz musician vibe.

The ebook is available from PlanetMonk Pulps via Amazon

Friday, August 21, 2020

Review: The Living, the Dying and the Dead

The Living, the Dying and the Dead The Living, the Dying and the Dead by George G. Gilman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The 29th entry in the ultra-violent Edge series finds the sullen anti-hero hired to guard the casket of a rich gentleman’s wife, which of course turns out to be far more complicated than it seems. Edge’s psycho-assholery and brutality are on fine display here as he shoots a guy in the back, blows off a woman’s head, then shoots off her husband’s testicles after being insulted. Edge does have some sympathy for the rich guy who hired him since he still pines for his own murdered wife, Beth, giving Edge a small touch of humanity. I’m mostly fond of mindless action and gore as long as the story is compelling, so I liked the book okay in general, although a little more character development across the board would have helped. It’s hard to get invested in a story if the only characters are unsympathetic or caricatures.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Review: Nude on Thin Ice

Nude on Thin Ice Nude on Thin Ice by Gil Brewer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This might just be my favorite Gil Brewer noir thriller because he holds nothing back. The protagonist is about as unsympathetic as you can imagine, and yet all the other characters are just as sleazy so maybe, just a little bit, you root for Ken McCall to get his root of all evil: a big pile of money. The novel kicks off with McCall skipping out on his girlfriend and sticking her with the unpaid motel bill. He's received a letter from a rich dying friend who asks McCall to go console his wife and McCall fantasizes about turning it into a stupid rich score. Only when he gets to her house a menagerie of whack-jobs is already on the scene hoping to make a similiar score. The femme fatale - Justine - is sixteen and Brewer's description of how she teases McCall for the first 60 pages is pure art. She works him to a fever pitch and then the killing begins. And then that girlfriend McCall ditched shows up looking to cut herself in, too. What's a noir protagonist to do? The action gets steamy and it gets bloody and it all rips along with Brewer's typical frenetic pacing. A Nasty, brutish, and short page turner. Set aside a couple of hours when you won't get interrupted because this is one you'll want to race on through to the end.

Available from Stark House along with the excellent MEMORY OF PASSION.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Review: The Girl in the Telltale Bikini

The Girl in the Telltale Bikini The Girl in the Telltale Bikini by Patrick Morgan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the sixth book (out of ten) in the Operation Hang Ten series about surfer/secret agent Bill Cartwright. He's kind of a mash-up of James Bond and Travis McGee. Drives a Woody, lives in a trailer by the beach, surfs, chases women. His cover is that he's a private investigator, but he's a secret agent. Plenty of action: fights, gun battles, car chases, sex. But what makes this series unique is the surfing scenes, and in this book we get a surfing duel with the surfboards as weapons. I first read this whole series back in junior high and this was one of my favorites because of the clever plot driver of someone impersonating Cartwright. Plenty more in this one though as you have missing women (auctioned to arabs for harems) and a sunken spy ship (creates great new waves for surfing ) and a weird cult (trafficking the women and the spy documents) and the Cartwright double is in the middle of it all. The real Bill unravels the mystery and kills all the baddies, but the one thing never explained was why they chose to impersonate him (not that it matters!)

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Review: Hang dead Hawaiian style

Hang dead Hawaiian style Hang dead Hawaiian style by Patrick Morgan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first in the the ten book Operation Hang Ten series, which featured Bill Cartwright as a surfing undercover agent. Unique twist on the spy genre. Cartwright, whose "cover" is that he's a private investigator, is a 23 year old ex-surfing champion recruited and trained by Operation Hang Ten, an "unorthodox" U.S. intelligence agency. He's sent to Hawaii to investigate a ring peddling opium to surfers, the death of CIA agent, and a missing microdot containing plans for a Chinese laser weapon. After shipping his woody and trailer via cargo plane from Los Angeles to Honolulu (!) he infiltrates the surfing scene and starts his three-pronged investigation. He's quickly surfing, bedding the previously un-beddable babe, getting beaten-up, and almost blown up by a car bomb. Smoothly written with plenty of action. The highlight, of course, is the surfing duel. Good start to the series.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Review: Playpet

Playpet Playpet by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reads like an episode of Mad Men. Mavis Gunther is our focal character and she’s like the later Peggy, but one who is hyper-aggressive and rotten to the core. The plot here is that the two partners of an ad agency are in the midst of a vicious breakup and Mavis, an account manager, has to choose sides and then chase accounts threatening to leave. She’s smart and ruthless, knows her way around the business, but uses her looks and sex to land new accounts and keep others from leaving. Mavis is a great character creation and Hitt narrates using her strong and unapologetic voice and we get all her strengths and weaknesses and that keeps her from simply being a stereotypical femme fatale. (A note on this book’s format. It’s the size of a pack of cards and is read on the horizontal. Originally part of a two-book set along with Carnival Sin and the books came inside a hard sleeve the size of regular paperback.)

Monday, August 10, 2020

Review: Dead Low Tide

Dead Low Tide Dead Low Tide by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This has always been one of my favorite MacDonald novels. I read late in the night not wanting to put it down just as I had back in those reading under the covers with a flashlight days. Unlike Soft Touch, this one is not a classic noir. We have the everyman protagonist who is seemingly set up by the femme fatale, but this is more a mystery that needs to be solved rather than a descent into noir fatalism - at least from the protagonist's perspective. Most of the other characters, however, do not fare so well. Bit of a love story in this one, too, but it seems organic rather than gratuitous, and that elevates this one from the otherwise despairing depths.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Review: Backwoods Tramp

Backwoods Tramp Backwoods Tramp by Harry Whittington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Slam-dunk, top-tier, classic that needs to be on your crime-noir reading list. Whittington's prose style is literary in the best sense: character-driven, nuanced, with lush concrete descriptions and absent cliche's and short-cuts. And yet he gives up none of the genre's plotting and pacing. The narrator is conflicted and driven. The villain is sublime. The femme-fatale, despite the title, is no tramp. So many of the scenes are riveting page-turners, especially the scenes with the three of them together. Was this never made into a movie? How is that possible? Loved everything about this one.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Review: The Quaking Widow

The Quaking Widow The Quaking Widow by Robert Colby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The widow is an attractive young woman whose recently deceased husband left her an impregnable box containing unknown objects of incalculable value to be sold in Florida for $200,000. A hefty chunk of change for 1956. Narrator Burt Keating gets involved for a little romance and a cut of the sale and soon finds out that there are dangerous complications since ruthless criminals will do anything to get that box. I loved the 1950s Florida locations - lost forever to development, and the exceptional plotting where attempts to hide and open the mysterious box takes center stage. Some cat-and-mouse action and a couple of heart-stopping twists round out this superb thriller. Robert Colby is one of my favorite writers and this is one of his best. Highly recommended.

The Ace Double is tough to find. Affordable ebooks are available.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Review: The Vengeance Man

The Vengeance Man The Vengeance Man by Dan J. Marlowe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jim Wilson, our first person narrator, is a sociopath, but he is not pretending to be a rube as the sociopathic narrators in Jim Thompson novels do. As the novel begins he is waiting for a private detective to call and tell him in which hotel and room he can find his cheating wife. Then he carefully sets it up to look like a crime of passion before going to the hotel and killing her in cold blood. Then he tells us how he is going to beat the rap at the inquest, and he does. And then he takes revenge on the cop who beat him during the interrogation by breaking his shins and making him crawl out of the swamp to save his life. That out of the way, he sets in motion a plan to ruthlessly take over as the power broker in the small South Carolina town where he lives, but with ambitions to expand his power base from there using is road construction business as the platform to take control of the county and more. To Wilson, everyone is an object to be remorselessly manipulated to achieve his goals. And Marlowe knocks it out of the park with this portrait of a small town corruption, and especially with the sociopathic personalities - and Wilson is not the only one; Marlowe adroitly provides him several sociopathic foils. Although Marlowe dishes out a bunch of incendiary 5-star scenes, the plot at times reads a bit made up as it goes, with back story suddenly interrupting the flow to help make sense of some of the action. Although that is not much of a distraction in this Gold Medal paperback noir classic.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Review: Talk of the Town

Talk of the Town Talk of the Town by Charles Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fast-paced, with plenty of action. Less character development than a lot of Williams's books and the barest of plots. That's okay, though, as it rips along from one complication to the next. The basic story is a stranger comes to town and has the bad luck to get in a car accident. In the three days it takes to get his car repaired he becomes enmeshed with a woman whom the whole town suspects murdered her husband. The stranger, however, is an ex-cop and he just can't help himself from investigating, which quickly turns the town against him, too. Will he survive long enough to solve the murder? That's the question the novel poses. All the action takes place over three days and there is barely a let up from start to finish.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Review: Memory of Passion

Memory of Passion Memory of Passion by Gil Brewer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Over and over as I was reading this book I would break out into spontaneous gleeful and admiring laughter because Brewer was so twisted, so out of control, and yet so in control of this propulsive bit of tease and deny pulp fiction. Totally channeling Poe and Woolrich at their obsessive best, Brewer, with a blistering style of short sentences and short paragraphs takes the foreplay of tension to the limit. The light is red, the tachometer is at the line, the tires are smoking - won't this light ever turn green?! - and then Brewer releases the clutch (plot twist!) and we blast forward and then quickly skid to a stop and do it all over again, engine racing at an impossibly high idle. Over and over and back and forth between multiple obsessed points of view. Bill, who thinks Karen, his old girlfriend, has contacted him after 22 years. Karen/Jean, stalker, stalking Bill. Walter, serial killer, stalking Jean. Louise, Bill's wife, having an affair. From one to the next we go, but always, the narration is from the view point of extreme obsession. Don't expect depth in this psychological noir. The minds, driven by Brewer's breakneck prose pacing, are racing way too fast!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Review: Deadly Chase

Deadly Chase Deadly Chase by Carter Cullen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Great set up here as Robert Craig, our private investigator protagonist, deliberately ODs on barbiturates to get admitted to a psych ward so he can track down a bank robber held within. Cullen does a great job of building the tension throughout as he keeps moving the cheese so that Craig has to continuously adjust his strategy and tactics for recovering the loot from the robbery. Several interesting characters are introduced both as helpers and foes: an ex-cop in the psych ward, a psyche ward nurse, a gunsel for the mob, an insurance investigator, a shady PI (Ad Sharkey!), an independent charter pilot, and all these characters enliven the second half of the book. The tension and action keeps escalating to the end.

Review: Like Mink Like Murder

Like Mink Like Murder by Harry Whittington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sammy decides to go straight after being in prison for four years for robbery after being enticed by Elva, who he is totally obsessed with, and her partner in crime Collie. He has a good job as a milkman and a steady girl when Elva shows up to tempt him back into a life of crime. A relentless cop shadowing him and a disapproving future father-in-law push him either further. An everyman, sexual obsession, a fem fatale or two, and a psychopath are common ingredients in Whittington’s crime/noir novels and this is another fine example of his work. The dialog practically pops off the page, like you’re watching a movie, and the plot screams at a breakneck pace. Yet another terrific novel from a very dependable author.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Review: Handle with Fear

Handle with Fear Handle with Fear by Thomas B. Dewey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was determined not to like this book. First, the main character Singer Batts (super dorky name) is a Shakespearean scholar and amateur criminologist. This sounds even less interesting than Nancy Drew. Second, the eccentric Batts has a partner that does his leg work and who also narrates the story, just like Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, which seemed way too derivative to me. A slew of characters are quickly introduced which I initially found confusing, however I stuck with it. Turns out that the book is great. Sure it’s got plenty of similarities to Rex Stout’s oeuvre. The plot is just as complex and satisfying, however it’s also way more violent. Batts and partner Joe Spinder get beat up or shot regularly, and it has quite a high body count for a story that I feared might have devolved into a tepid cozy mystery. Dewey wrote two other little known crime series, the detective named Mac, and the Pete Schofield books. The Singer Batts books are even less known, and unjustly so. I’m going to have to read the other three Batts books now.

The Singer Batts Mystery MEGAPACK contains all four novels for only $0.99 USD

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Review: Vixen Hollow

Vixen Hollow Vixen Hollow by Jim Harmon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The description on the back cover of this 1961 sleazer suggests that Mike Sloan is a murder suspect and to save himself he goes on a one-man crusade to find the murderer. If only that were the actual plot of the book. It's not. Mike Sloan is a cartoonist with a palsied hand from a car crash that killed his wife. He's banking on collecting on his insurance policy so he returns to his home town: Vixen Hollow. It's all scattershot from there. He chases women and is chased by juvenile delinquents. Some murders happen but he is not investigating them or on a one-man crusade. I speed read this while tending to the barbecue. It's poorly written with no redeeming qualities. Not recommended.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Review: Pale Gray For Guilt

Pale Gray For Guilt Pale Gray For Guilt by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John D. MacDonald was on the top of his game with this the 9th in the Travis McGee series. One of the best in the whole 21 book series. Part of what makes this so good is that it has hardly any social commentary (the usual MacDonald pontificating with McGee as his mouthpiece) and it also does not feature the usual McGee patching the wounded girl-bird back together. What we have here is McGee out for revenge after one of his oldest and best friends is driven to bankruptcy and then murdered. McGee and Meyer execute several cons worthy of The Sting and then MacDonald again delivers a long intense climactic sequence that was his hallmark. The denouement tags both McGee and Meyer in a surprising way. Really enjoyed reading this again. Has all the best of MacDonald's writing and none of the worst.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Review: Comanche Vengeance

Comanche Vengeance Comanche Vengeance by Richard Jessup
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Starts off brutal when Sarah Phelps finds her two small children raped and murdered by Comanches. She buries them and then burns down her house and barns and rides off searching for her husband's body. After she buries him she rides after the Comanches seeking vengeance. Sarah Phelps is a dynamite character. She's tough, driven, whip-smart, and a crack-shot. Grudgingly she accepts help from Gibson Duke and the two of them track the Comanches and every chapter brings at least one new test on her quest for vengeance. They battle outlaws and Comanches multiple times. Get captured and escape. There's buffalo hunts and blizzards. She goes to hell and back to get her scalp, and to also discover love again. Awesome western, one of the best that I can ever remember reading.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Review: Pariah

Pariah Pariah by J.R. Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clint Adams, The Gunsmith, befriends a young widow who feeds and shelters those in need, some of whom are undesirable to the townsfolk, and they treat her like a pariah. She shelters a young Chinese woman who has escaped from a powerful slave trader and he means to have them both killed at any cost. Adams vows to help the women, and of course lay them, and seek vengeance on the murderous slave trader. Robert Randisi, who wrote all 460 entries in this series, is a remarkable storyteller, somehow managing to write consistently entertaining novels on a monthly basis year after year. You always know what you’re gong to get with a Gunsmith book. I’ve never read a bad one, and maybe they don’t exist. Arguably the best of the Adult Western series titles.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Review: To Find Cora

To Find Cora by Harry Whittington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After sultry wife Cora walks out on him again, Joe is obsessed with finding her and gets a lot more that he bargained for. Whittington excelled at stories about ordinary guys getting involved with psychopaths and fem fatales and here Joe gets snared with a brutal and paranoid drunk named Hall and his partner Viola, a sexy and ruthless dish, who have been hiding out in a remote farmhouse until the heat dies down from Hall’s embezzlement. The first person narrative is heavily dialog driven and it absolutely crackles with aggression, hatred, and delusional aspirations. I loved the way that Whittington took a simple plot and embellished it by injecting some unexpected characters and some pretty outrageous twists that I didn’t see coming. Another top notch story from a master of the crime-noir genre. Recommended.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Review: Valley of Violence

Valley of Violence Valley of Violence by Edwin Booth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clay Nichols comes back to the family ranch just in time for an outlaw family to kill his father, shoot him and leave him for dead, and then take over the ranch. Clay falls in love with the woman who nurses him back to health not knowing that she is the daughter of the outlaw that killed his father. The author does a fine job with pacing and plot as Clay has to figure out how to confront the outlaws without alienating the lovely daughter. I really loved the dynamic of the nearby town filled with believable characters and the fascinating perspective of the outlaw family, with half of them gone corrupt and evil, and the others weak and complacent. Booth wrote for the pulps and was a very skilled writer. Recommended.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Review: Last Gun at Cabresto

Last Gun at Cabresto Last Gun at Cabresto by Ray Hogan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rancher Cole Rinnegar is summoned to a distant town by his brother who is being secretly cared for by a beautiful bakery owner. His brother explains that he has robbed a bank and hidden the money before three outlaws critically wounded him. His dying wish is for Cole to retrieve the money and give it back to the bank. The outlaws and others know that Cole’s brother has the money hidden and they are clever and ruthless in seeing if Cole has the money, or is going to get it. Lot of nice twists and action keep the mere 89 pages flying as Cole accepts his mission and finds out that it is far more complex and dangerous than it seemed. Ray Hogan was a top-notch Western writer and this is a fine example of his work.