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.