Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Review: A Touch of Death

A Touch of Death A Touch of Death by Charles Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ex-jock narrator falls for a cute bikini woman’s scheme to help rob some stolen cash from an uninhabited house, but then he unexpectedly finds it occupied by a drunken hottie who turn out to be even more devious than the first. A great opening sets the stage for a taut rollercoaster of a noir that never fails to keep ramping up the tension as the narrator keeps digging himself into a deeper hole. Williams expertly unwinds the story of the stolen cash and the players involved in a way that doesn't make the complex plot feel that way. The puzzle pieces fall into place forcing the beleaguered narrator to keep continuously adjusting his plans. Terrific dialog, clever plotting, and some very interesting characters make this one a masterpiece of 1950s paperback noir. Highly recommended.

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Saturday, March 20, 2021

Review: The Con Man

The Con Man The Con Man by Ed McBain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fourth book in the series firmly establishes Steve Carrella and his wife Teddy as primary characters as the 87th precinct deals with an influx of con artists, one of which is also a serial killer. McBain is a superb writer spinning dazzling descriptive prose while keeping the story taut and compelling. The killer is a fascinating character, both clever and repellant. I loved the striking third person narrative with multiple viewpoints that ratcheted up the suspense in a race against time as the serial killer readies the next murder, and a major character is endangered. A fine early entry in arguably the best police procedural series of all time.

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Review: Ralph Compton Frontier Medicine

Ralph Compton Frontier Medicine Ralph Compton Frontier Medicine by Robert J. Randisi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Deceased author Ralph Compton’s legacy lives on as a house name, and his publisher has recruited stellar writers to byline his recent releases. Robert Randisi, the writer here, is a terrific storyteller with a gift for creating compelling characters that are fleshed out in the third person by spirited conversations and dialogue. Descriptive prose is light and there is plenty of action. Page one starts with a little girl on a train choking on a bullet and the action and dialogue never let up, making it a difficult book to put down. The characters really shine here with the earnest young doctor, the cantankerous old doctor, and several female characters bringing rich personas to life. There are no sex, gore, or cussing making this suitable for all readers. I liked it a lot. Recommended.

I bought the paperback as a Walmart exclusive, however I see it on Amazon now too.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Review: Legacy of the Slash M

Legacy of the Slash M Legacy of the Slash M by Ray Hogan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ray Hogan was one of a slew of great authors who were writing Westerns in the shadow of the spectacularly popular Louis L’Amour in the 1960-70s. Sadly most of them are forgotten. Hogan’s works are tightly plotted with terse prose and plenty of action. I really like his Ace Double novellas which are just the right length to showcase his skills. Here Hogan tells the story of Jess Holloway who is summoned by a dying friend to take over his ranch since his family was ill-equipped to do so and they vehemently resent his intrusion. Not surprisingly a range war is on the verge of exploding too. Nothing groundbreaking here, although Hogan does a nice job keeping the story fresh with some interesting characters and dialog. A solid and entertaining 106 pages.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Review: Notorious

Notorious Notorious by Day Keene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Surprised this was never made into a movie - or maybe it was under a different name to avoid clashing with the Hitchcock movie? - because it has a movie-friendly plot with great characters and settings. And it has a carnival. The setup: The carnival - run by Ed Ferron, a lifetime carny and an ex-con - is under threat of foreclosure when it rolls into Bay Bayou, a crooked small town. The carnival needs to make money during its week in Bay Bayou or it is done. The town is united against the carnival. Enter stage left: Marva Miller. A woman with a past returns to her hometown. Ferron helps her out of an altercation at the train station, which puts him on the police radar. He gives her a ride to her uncle’s house, where they find him dead. The police and the lynch mob descend quickly and Ferron is the prime suspect. Keene develops this first act by taking Ferron’s situation from bad to worse and it is packed with tension. What happens after that is a bit surprising as the novel turns into a quasi detective novel. Except it is the carny man doing the detecting. To save himself he needs to find the killer. Can he do that and save the carnival, too? That is the driver for the last two-thirds of the novel and it kept me pinned to the pages.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Review: Savage Night

Savage Night Savage Night by Jim Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Deranged existentialist noir filtered through an unreliable first-person narrator who is a schizophrenic hit man with tuberculosis. Is the novel flawed or genius? Hard to say, probably both. First time through I struggled a bit with the pacing because some of the scenes appear filler and move slow and the dialog is full of dashes and ellipses and stuttered words. By the end, wow. Immediately reread it and then again. Those filler scenes are packed full of clues and edginess that only become apparent later as the story winds down and the narrator unravels. A pulp noir with grotesque and carnivalesque styling. Thompson is in a class by himself when it comes to unreliable narrators.

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Review: Of Tender Sin

Of Tender Sin Of Tender Sin by David Goodis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is not so much crime-noir as psycho-noir. It is the second Goodis book I've read that featured a protagonist with incestuous overtones towards his sister and also the second Goodis book that also channels Malcom Lowry's Under the Volcano, but these are not the same books, so that makes three, a menage a trois of incest and Lowry-esque out-of-the headness. Need to read more to confirm, but think Goodis had a fixation. The protagonist in this novel seems mental for most of the book and that is never resolved. The novel doesn't so really end (resolve), instead it just stops. The protag is basically in the same place as in the beginning. Yes, he may know something about the platinum blonde woman (women). Yes, he may know whom his wife has been calling. But we readers are really in no better place to make a decision on our protagonist's state of mind or fate than we were at the beginning of the novel. The psychological torment continues from beginning end. So, on that criteria, this is a superb psychological noir where the dilemma facing the protagonist never really gets solved. For a book written in 1952? A solid candidate for the existentialist canon. Oh, and there is an amazing scene involving a scalping with bare hands! Surely that is a one of a kind!

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