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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