Saturday, June 26, 2021

Review: The Lady Kills

The Lady Kills The Lady Kills by Bruno Fischer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm surprised that Bruno Fischer didn't receive any coverage in Haut's or O'Brien's books on crime noir. Even in Horsley's The Noir Thriller there is just one mention of Fischer, in the Fatal Women chapter, and it is for this book. And I have to say, Beth Antler, is a femme fatale character in all caps, pretty much a textbook example, you could teach a course on the topic using her as an archetype. The noir protagonist is Simon Field and he's an editor working for the newspaper published by Beth's father. The small town is run by gangsters who control the politicians and the newspaper's editorial page is at war with the corruption, which becomes a bigger focus in the second half of the novel. The first half is all about Simon falling under the spell of Beth, even to the point of covering up a murder for her. The plot complications expand out from there, including a nice twist up at the end. Strong characterization, good plot, and the usual noir trappings. The pace was a bit slower than a lot of the Gold Medal era books, but Fischer was a good writer so the less than break-neck paced sections are still interesting reading. Prologue has an eBook version so this is readily available.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Review: The Squeeze

The Squeeze The Squeeze by Gil Brewer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Finishes strong after a clunky setup requiring major suspension of disbelief. The squeeze of the title is that everyman accountant Joe Maule loses a bundle gambling and has to repay a mobster by tracking down 260K stolen and hidden by another guy. As I said, major suspension of disbelief required with this plot. It gets even harder to believe following a twist Brewer introduces. But once you get passed that in the first third of the book the action picks up and the story rips along to the end. The dialog seemed out of whack at times, with the mobster sounding like something from a B-movie, and our protagonist - as Brewer's protagonists often are - mostly uncommunicative. What this novel has, however, is another of those great extended series of scenes involving the disposal of a body. Ranks up there with similar scenes in Brewer's The Vengeful Virgin and Satan Is a Woman. Mid-tier Brewer, but the body disposal sections are top-notch and make this one worth tracking down.

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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Review: Affairs of a Beauty Queen

Affairs of a Beauty Queen Affairs of a Beauty Queen by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hitt's books from the late 1950s and early 1960s are interesting because, using the term somewhat loosely now, they are a kind of cultural anthropology. He frequently picked a business or some cultural practice and then showed its sleazy underbelly. Here we have beauty contests sponsored by newspapers. Not exactly a scam, but clearly a shady business practice. As Hitt describes it we have small town newspapers running beauty contests where local businesses sponsor a contestant and the newspapers feature pictures of the contestants along with ads for the businesses. The only way to vote is to go to the store in person to cast your ballot. The newspapers sell lots of ads and the stores report that business is booming. The winning contestant gets $500 and the Miss whatever city title and a chance to go on to the county contest and maybe the state and the national contest. In this book we have two city contests and two contestants and two sets of sleazy participants. The contestants are Lili and Cherry and most of the book is narrated in alternating sections from their POVs. What will they go through to win? Who will they bed? Who will take advantage of them? Will they win? Those are the plot elements. Throw in blackmail and attempted rape and there is just enough crime elements to create some edge. Decent writing, decent plot, some good cultural anthropology, but could have used more edginess.

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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Review: The Key-Lock Man

The Key-Lock Man The Key-Lock Man by Louis L'Amour
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another of the first L'Amour books I read back in junior high (it's like a reading time capsule!). Cat and mouse plot with a lot of great descriptions of the Utah and Arizona deserts. Omniscient POV, and L'Amour makes full use of it, roving in and out of every character's head to provide a complete picture of the pursued and the pursuers. Saves the climax until the last couple of pages, so this is a page turner to the very end.

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Review: The Long Night

The Long Night The Long Night by Ovid Demaris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Private eye Vince Slader is a character born from Spillane’s Mike Hammer school of ultra hard-boiled detectives, hard-boiled to the point of self parody. Most of the familiar hard-boiled PI tropes are here, Slader is a former cop, gets beat up, gets laid, hands out plenty of brutal violence, barks caustic and smart ass dialog, etc. Demaris writes all of this very well and adds a couple of nice touches, a best buddy, and a love interest that humanize Slader and make him more sympathetic. The plot has something to do with killing a husband and collecting the insurance and although familiar, is executed well. The destination isn’t all that important, it's the ride, and the novel delivers a fun and wild one. Four stars.

Digital copy available from Cutting Edge books

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Review: Dawson's Run

Dawson's Run Dawson's Run by Tim McCloud
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good example of "don't judge a book by its cover" as the cover art and blurb have nothing to do with the story. This is a straight-ahead western. Ben Dawson is the marshall of Piney Flats and inserts himself in the middle of a feud between two neighboring ranches, one of which borders his own spread. When Dawson's ranch is raided - cattle stolen, buildings burned, ranch hands killed, and his daughter kidnapped - Dawson goes all out to find the killers and his daughter. Some of the transitions are abrupt and there are quite a few cliches and some hokey western dialogue, but this book is non-stop action with almost continuous shoot-outs and hardly any filler in between. A fast, fun, and frenetic read for sure. Does a have a couple of explicit sex scenes, which is rare for 1960s era westerns, and that makes it a nice vintage sleaze collectible, particularly with the cover art.

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Review: Nevada Death Trap

Nevada Death Trap Nevada Death Trap by J.R. Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Randisi, writer of all 470+ Gunsmith books, is a consistently entertaining teller of dialogue driven, easy to read stories. The Gunsmith books can be read in a sitting or two and are perfect escapist summer reading. Here Clint Adams befriends a family of Gypsies and helps them get to town to repair their wagon. A bigoted rancher, and the townsfolk in general, want the Gypsies driven out and Clint is forced to protect them. This is an Adult western so naturally there is a beautiful Gypsy woman and the rancher’s horny daughter for Clint to have explicit sex with. I have a box full of Gunsmith books and can pick any one of them out randomly and know exactly what I’m in store for - a reliably amusing story well told.

Digital ebook available from Amazon.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Review: The Moon in the Gutter

The Moon in the Gutter The Moon in the Gutter by David Goodis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is not so much a novel as a short sequence of events that goes nowhere. It has the kind of fatalism that noir is known for: the protagonist who is doomed. In this case he is trapped by his own limited sense of identity. He apparently hasn’t heard of the “American Dream,” where hard work can take you anywhere. He grew up on the mean streets and in his mind that’s the only place he can live. So when the upper class woman shows up in her sports car and wants to take him uptown? No can do. “Don’t you see the way it is? We don’t ride the same track. I can’t live your kind of life and you can’t live mine. It ain’t anyone’s fault. It’s just the way cards are stacked.” Spoiler alert, that is on the last page. And it is actually a fitting wrap up for this annoying protagonist who spends the novel, in between fist fights and drinking binges, in situations where he needs to say something but can’t get the words out, or needs to move but can’t. He is frozen in place and unable to act. The novel begins with him staring at the blood stains where his sister was murdered. At the end of the novel he knows the answer to who her murderer is. We do too even though the murderer is never identified.

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Saturday, June 5, 2021

Review: Nurse Lily and Mister X

Nurse Lily and Mister X Nurse Lily and Mister X by Diane Frazer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Author Dorothy Fletcher wrote several vintage Nurse Romance novels using the pseudonym Diane Frazer. This one from 1961 tells the story of Nurse Lily who has been entrusted to care for a VIP, a Brit named Sir Edgar, whose identity must remain a secret. The conflict that drives the story involves a dashing young newspaper reporter named Andrew who has been assigned to sniff around on a lead speculating the secret patient's identity. A romance develops, but is Andrew really falling for Lily, or is he just trying to pump her - for information that is. Sir Edgar is a fascinating character, brilliant and cantankerous, and he encourages Lily to feel out the potential threat of discovery by Andrew while providing plenty of snappy and amusing dialog. The strengths of the novel are the smart dialog and plotting, a few nice twists that I didn't see coming, and a weakness is the subplot about Lily’s friend Norman that didn’t really go anywhere (maybe word count filler). In general this is a terrific story and a top notch Vintage Nurse Romance novel if you’re interested in this genre, which was once popular and now sadly forgotten.

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