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.