Friday, April 30, 2021

Review: Carnival Girl

Carnival Girl Carnival Girl by Max Gareth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Solid writing propels this sleazer a notch above most of the vintage erotica of the era. It tells the sordid tale of Norma, an eighteen year old runway, who dreams of California but ends up getting work as a stripper in a traveling carnival. Norma is not only beautiful, she has an eye-popping physique that no man can ignore, or even resist. Norma is forced to fend off advances by slathering, slobbering horndogs who just can’t control their primitive instincts. Sort of a mildly amusing female sexual awakening/coming-of-age story (but written by a man) for most of the book then an interesting plot twist catches fire leading to an unexpected climax. I really liked the carney atmosphere and the writing in general. I give it an extra star just because I have an inexplicable fondness for carnival books (swamp books too). It’s an okay book if you like carnival stories. I can’t recommend it otherwise.

Available from Cutting Edge Books. I read it in the Vintage Sleaze collection.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Review: No Nice Girl

No Nice Girl No Nice Girl by Perry Lindsay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Perry Lindsay was a pseudo of Peggy Gaddis. When this novel was reprinted in paperback in 1946, it was one of the first of a bewildering array of Gaddis paperback reprints that began appearing along with her paperback originals in the late 1940s and 1950s. By that time Peggy Gaddis had already published more than 100 novels in hardcover. All told, she wrote nearly 300 novels under a variety of pseudonyms. No Nice Girl starts right off with Anice spying through the drapes and catching a businessman having an affair with a neighbor and then blackmailing him into buying her house for $5,000, which in 1946 would have been a considerable amount for an 18-year old to play around with. Where things go next is a bit surprising and never completely given motivation: Anice goes to New York City and moves in with her cousin Phyllis. (What does she do with the $5,000? Spends it mostly on clothes.) Over the course of the novel Anice worms her way into Phyllis's life, angling for her boyfriends and her job. With a little more edge and darkness this could have been really creepy. It's like one of those horror movies (Rock the Cradle?) where the seemingly nice girl invades the family and yet we know she has evil intent. Here, though, the others see what she is up to right away but inexplicably let it happen. Before the happy ending - this is ultimately a romance novel, after all - Phyllis nearly losses everything to her not so nice cousin.

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Review: Shoot-Out at Sugar Creek

Shoot-Out at Sugar Creek Shoot-Out at Sugar Creek by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The popular Spillane/Collins team-ups have proven to be terrific books and the Caleb York novels that take place in the Old West are no exception. Every entry in the six book series has been special. Although you may expect York to be Mike Hammer in the Wild West, the lawful Caleb York is actually a much more multidimensional and sympathetic character. Here York's lover Willa Cather gets involved in a range war with a newcomer, the devious female Victoria Drummond. To greatly complicate matters, Willa finds herself on the wrong side of the law which York, now a Marshall, has vowed to protect. As the range war escalates York, finding himself in an extremely thorny situation, goes full-on Hammer with some drunkenness and brutality showing a side of York that we haven’t seen before. The last third of the book is nearly impossible to put down as the tension and violence ramps up, steering the narrative to a highly satisfying conclusion. It’s been a real pleasure visiting with York and the denizens of Trinity once again and I’m hoping for more Caleb York stories from Spillane/Collins.

Now available in print and ebook.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Review: I'll Call Every Monday

I'll Call Every Monday I'll Call Every Monday by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“She had the insurance policy in one hand, her bra and panties in the other.” Ah yes, game on! This is another of Hitt’s noir classics that deserves to be rescued from dusty garage sale boxes, and thanks to inexpensive ebooks, it just might survive. The engaging voice of the first-person narrator keeps this one entertaining even as you hear echoes of James M. Cain's Double Indemnity with the plot of an insurance guy and a femme fatale out to collect on a fraudulent insurance policy. That’s really the only similarity, however, with Cain’s book as Hitt layers in a completely different plot embellished with parallel tracking sub-plots. Enjoyed this one a lot. As is often the case with Hitt's books, reading them now is like entering a time capsule. Here we have the circa 1960 insurance milieu: Insurance agents going door-to-door to collect weekly premium payments. Wow, what a different world we live in now!

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Saturday, April 24, 2021

Review: Northwest Nurse

Northwest Nurse Northwest Nurse by Arlene J. Fitzgerald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Excellent writing and characterization. Medical parts done well, particularly the emergency room surgery scene. Evocative descriptions. Good use of body language to suggest emotional/psychological states. Strong plot with enough conflicts to keep things interesting. Pitch perfect happy ending that this genre usually requires including the bad actors getting what they deserved as well. Plenty of foreshadowing of the big event (a tsunami), my only complaint being that we didn't really get to experience the tidal waves because the protagonists were already on high-ground, where they were well-positioned to treat the injured in the aftermath. There were a couple of noir-ish side plots that I would have liked to have seen teased out more, which would have put our nurse protagonist in more danger, that's really all that was lacking.

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Friday, April 23, 2021

Review: Shadowland

Shadowland Shadowland by Elaine Evans
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Gil Brewer is one of my favorite crime/noir writers and late in his career, writing as Elaine Evans, he wrote four gothic novels, of which Shadowland, published in 1970, is the only one I've been able to find and read. Brewer fully delivers on the gothic atmosphere and paranoia and that is the best part of this novel. Fast-paced action scenes were always a strength of Brewer's and there are plenty of them here, too, usually with the protagonist running, which is another gothic trope Brewer nails. And he also showcases his scenic abilities with a lot of set-piece verbal confrontations between characters. The challenge is that Brewer makes a less than minimal attempt to guide the reader through a plot that doesn't make any sense. Lacking even a skeleton of a story as support, atmosphere and action alone fail to hold this novel together. It's an interesting read for Brewer collectors and completists, but my recommendation doesn't go beyond that.

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Review: By Flesh Alone

By Flesh Alone By Flesh Alone by March Hastings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Early lesbian pulp novels were often written by men, not the case here since this one was written in 1962 by Sally Singer using the pseudonym March Hastings. Singer wrote over 120 novels, plenty of them lesbian themed. Openly gay (bold for the times) she gives her novels some serious authenticity. Here she tells the story of Lila, a young woman bored with a dull marriage, who ditches her husband for a life as a Bohemian in early 1960s Greenwich Village. The Village was an epicenter for the Beat Generation at that time populated by artists and musicians, most of them flat broke and living in splendid squallor. The book is very well written, I don’t know how I’ve never heard of Singer before - she can really write, and serves as an interesting snapshot of life in the Village with adventure, romance, jealousy, and some fairly torrid (for the 1960s) lesbian sex.

Available from Cutting Edge Books. I read it in the Vintage Sleaze collection.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Review: It's a Sin to Kill

It's a Sin to Kill It's a Sin to Kill by Day Keene
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Strong beginning with a fishing charter captain waking up on the wrong boat and slowly remembering the incidents of the night before that do not add up. He's quickly a murder suspect and the book moves into the investigative phase. As with a couple of the other early Day Keene books I've read this investigative phase gets a bit redundant with the same facts being repeated numerous times. Some good twists, including a nice surprise at the end, but not enough action to make this one really sing.

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Monday, April 19, 2021

Review: The Bitch

The Bitch The Bitch by Gil Brewer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once this one gets into gear it is a typical Brewer nitro propelled plot of robbery, murder, chase and evasion. Starts a bit slow compared to most of Brewer’s other novels, but the slow setup actually pays huge dividends. Tate and Sam Morgan are brothers and partners in a private detective agency and as the novel starts we glean that it is not all brotherly love between them. The plot picks up quickly when we learn that Tate is planning a robbery with Thelma, “the bitch” of the title. There is the usual late 1950s misogyny at work here, but the book could just as easily have been titled “The Bastard” as our narrator Tate has no illusions about what he is. I thought the effort put into character development, although it slowed the pace at times, made this a much stronger and deeply felt book than some of Brewer's more breakneck noirs.

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Review: Lust Is No Lady

Lust Is No Lady Lust Is No Lady by Michael Avallone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prolific author Michael Avallone is probably best known for his 30+ “Ed Noon” private detective novels.This, the fourteenth entry in the series, tells the story of Noon finding himself dangerously out of his element and stranded when a low flying plane drops a load of bricks on his car while driving through Wyoming on his way to a vacation in California. Things only get more complicated when he rescues a naked woman who has been tied to the ground, gets dumped from a motorcycle, then gets involved with a man with smoking hot wife and daughter,and a psychotic son, who have partnered with some baddies to find a long lost cache of gold dust. The Noon books never take themselves too seriously with lots of sly humor and some wacky plotting which help to make the series, and this book, such delightful entertainment. The book is a total blast, funny and fast moving. I liked it a lot.

Available as an affordable ebook.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Review: Hell Bait

Hell Bait Hell Bait by Harry Whittington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of Harry Whittington's famed "missing 38" sleaze novels published by Corinth (Greenleaf) in the mid-1960s when he was on a one book per month contract. Many of those novels hid a crime/noir story in between the sex scenes, which is the case with Hell Bait. Crime/noir with sex scenes. Yes, we have plenty of that now. But one of the reasons the missing 38 are famous is that you couldn't do that back then (unless you went the sleaze route). Gold Medal paperback with explicit sex scenes? No way. Now imagine one of Whittington's Gold Medal paperbacks with those sex scenes. What would you have? Something just like Hell Bait. The crime/noir plot is that Steve Burnette is trying to find out who murdered his brother. However, he's too busy getting laid to do much detective work. I would have liked more investigating, so that's the negative. Loved all the gritty psychological trappings: the biting introspection, the psychological warfare between characters. A brutally raw and honest layer that Gold Medal wouldn't have touched. Hard to find and expensive, but worth it for collectors.

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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Review: The Brat

The Brat The Brat by Gil Brewer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Surprised this one was never made into a movie because it has everything: robbery, murder, double-crosses, car chases, boat chases, gun fights, hot babes and hunky guys. The title is one of those misleading Gold Medal marketing ploys common in the 50s: Evis is no brat, but she is all femme-fatale, going at things “like a blitzkrieg in tight nylons.” The novel starts right in the middle of the action with Lee Sullivan showing up late for the robbery planned by his wife Evis and he quickly realizes that she is framing him for both the robbery and the murder of her co-worker. After a back story chapter describing how they met and the progression towards the robbery, the chase is on as Sullivan tries to track down Evis and the $100,000 with the police in pursuit. Plenty of action in this one with a fully realized narrative arc that is propelled by Brewer's relentless pacing.

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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Review: A Key to the Suite

A Key to the Suite A Key to the Suite by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this book when I was thirteen and clueless about corporate politics and thought it pretty boring compared to the other crime-noir novels I was reading back then. Now, though, after serving time in the corporate world, including having been tasked with some of the same post-merger duties given the novel's protagonist, I found this book absolutely riveting and read it straight through from beginning to end. The plot is a riff on post-merger organizational politics. Floyd Hubbard, corporate hatchet man, is heading to a convention to give a final review of Jesse Mulaney, the soon to be axed head of sales. Mulaney, with the help of his right-hand man, Fred Frick, will not go gentle into the good night and crafts a plan to set up Hubbard and embarrass him at the convention in the hope that this will save Mulaney's job long enough so he can collect his pension. That's the battle drawn and to discover the surprising way it plays out you will just have to read the book yourself. Also on tap, though, is the maturation of Floyd Hubbard into a stone-cold executive. MacDonald also delivers that arc with a nail gun. Another thing that makes this such a great read is the way MacDonald makes full use of the third-person point of view to show this power struggle from all angles; not just from the main characters' point-of-view, but from the minor characters' viewpoints as well. That depth of characterization, combined with an intricate plot filtered through a perspectival point-of-view, should make this a compelling read even if you haven't spent time in the corporate world. MacDonald obviously knew the business world inside and out, however, so if you've been there and done that, this novel rings true.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Review: Go Home, Stranger

Go Home, Stranger Go Home, Stranger by Charles Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a mystery-thriller rather than a noir-thriller and it loses quite a bit of the edge that Charles Williams novels usually have because it sticks to the conventions of the mystery genre. The basic plot is that the protagonist - Pete Reno - needs to solve the mystery to save his sister who's facing the electric chair. So right from the start this story is somewhat tepid because we don't have the urgency of Reno trying to save his own skin. The third-person narration also pushes us a bit farther away from Reno and is another drop in urgency. These are perhaps subtle points, but all you need to do is read Williams' A Touch of Death to feel the difference. Williams wrote such great action sequences so it is hard to dislike this novel even if it does seem one of his weaker ones. You have car chases, boat chases, gun battles, and plenty of lurking about in the bayou. So, better than OK. And it also makes one realize how great his best novels are if this is a weakling.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Review: The Promoter

The Promoter The Promoter by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Intricately plotted noir that deserves to be rescued from the pulp remainders and see a wider readership. The protagonist, a freelance car magazine writer, makes a series of choices that enmesh him deep into the underground nude modeling/porn scene circa late 1950s. Hitt uses the plot technique of keep shoveling on trouble until the protagonist is buried and gasping for air and that keeps the pages turning.

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Monday, April 12, 2021

Review: Deadly Welcome

Deadly Welcome Deadly Welcome by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent double-edged plot about a disgraced hometown football hero who returns to his hometown to clandestinely investigate a murder. The beginning is kind of clumsy with page after page of information dump via totally unrealistic dialogue, but eventually Alex Doyle gets on the scene and the story gets into high gear. Plenty of action, but also plenty of exposition via disembodied dialogue. Not screenplay snappy dialogue. Long long paragraphs of summary delivered via speeches without any scene setting or facial expressions or gestures or anything. Even a scene where the characters are swimming and delivering speeches. That pet peeve aside, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The climactic sequence was done really well and with a lot of pace and that made for a satisfying ending. And despite my bemoaning the exposition via dialogue, MacDonald still delivers plenty of passages like this: "He felt the familiar tensions of the chase, a taste in the back of the throat of a breathless expectancy. It was, in a sense, a dreadful art, this manipulation of human beings. Discover the area of stress. And then nudge so gently and carefully. Back up the lions with a kitchen chair. But it had to be done delicately."

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Review: So Young, So Wicked

So Young, So Wicked So Young, So Wicked by Jonathan Craig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Screams along like a 57 Plymouth with some nice twists and interesting characters, as a piano playing assassin plots a tough hit in a small upstate New York town. Top notch 50s Pulp Crime fiction.

Highly recommended!        

Now back in print thanks to Stark House Press and Black Gat Books.