Sunday, September 26, 2021

Review: The Last One Left

The Last One Left The Last One Left by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Starts really slowly with multiple third person narratives, each with detailed character introductions and much backstory. I stalled out lost after a few chapters and had to restart from the beginning. I have a deep admiration for JDM’s early stand alone novels with their taut linear plots and low word counts. This novel is far more ambitious telling the tale of a complex scheme initiated by the devious and deadly beauty Crissy Harkinson to steal a load of dark money by faking a boating accident. This personally involves Texas lawyer Sam Boylston, an overbearing perfectionist with a marriage on the rocks, and with a kid sister on the missing boat. MacDonald was an exceptional writer and the prose here, albeit a bit wordy for my tastes, is superb. Yeah, the plot is complex and there are probably too many characters but MacDonald deftly ties the multiple narratives into a cohesive and compelling story. It takes a some effort and focus by the reader to get pulled past the slow start but the rewards are substantial. An excellent book that I’m going to dock one half star for the slow start and the excessive verbosity. Four and a half stars.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Review: On Company Time

On Company Time On Company Time by Daniel A. Morton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A shallow tale of office romance. Robin arrives in the city from a small town in Iowa and quickly lands a secretarial job for the publisher of a scandal sheet. She falls almost instantly in love with co-worker Jim but before she can consummate that love, her boss - "Just call me Nails, everyone does" - goes into full seduction mode. Soon he's groping her in the office, in the restaurant, and in the taxi cab, where he, yes, you guessed it, nails her. It is that kind of book. What follows is a few dates with both the boss and Jim, more hanky panky, and some petty office jealousies, which causes a few people to get fired. Jim and Robin quit, but not before telling off Nails. That's it. Only 123 pages of large type and I read this in the amount of time it took to slowly drink a beer. Which may or may not be a recommendation. It's a Midwood paperback. Vintage 1960s sleaze. Not much to this one and not worth tracking down.

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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Review: The Lustful Ape

The Lustful Ape The Lustful Ape by Russell Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Russell Gray was a pseudonym of Bruno Fischer and this novel of murder and blackmail gets off to a typical Fischer quick start as Dirk Hart, an ex-cop turned private detective, learns that his estranged wife was murdered right after visiting him in a negligee. Things get a bit confusing in the first few chapters as Fischer rapidly introduces a lot of characters and spins out sub-plots galore, but then he starts pulling all the threads together and we have ourselves a page turner. The title and back cover tease copy are misleading: there is a character named Ape, and he is lustful, but no more so than the other characters, and his lust has little to do with the story. This is all about a blackmail scheme that Dirk needs to unravel before he too ends up dead. Satisfying murder mystery. Also available as a Gold Medal paperback with the Bruno Fischer by line, and an ebook version is available from Prologue Books.

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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Review: The Damsel

The Damsel The Damsel by Richard Stark
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the first of four books in the Grofield series that Donald Westlake, writing as Richard Stark, spun off from his Parker series. At the end of The Handle - the eighth book in the Parker series - Parker leaves Grofield in a Mexico hotel room with a bullet wound in his back and a suitcase containing his share of the loot from their just completed heist. That's where The Damsel picks up Grofield's story. The implied plot is how does Grofield make it back home to midwest USA with his money. The book starts, however, with a woman climbing through his hotel window. She's escaping from guys Grofield recognizes as gangsters and his complications have escalated. What follows from there is a complicated but ultimately non-sensical plot that takes Grofield and the damsel of the title across Mexico to Acapulco to save the life of a totally undeserving dictator. It does have some excellent action scenes as Grofield is particularly resourceful in dispatching the gangsters. For the most part, though, this is a mix of Mexican travelogue (some of Westlake's best writing) and banter between Grofield and the damsel, which is reputed by many reviewers to be witty, but that I found mostly boring and imminently skippable. As with the Parker series, about halfway through we switch from Grofield's POV and spend several chapters with various antagonists. While these are all well-written character portrayals and serve the plot by showing what everyone else is up to, they are also essentially character assassinations designed to reveal how despicable these characters are. It's hard to care about any of these characters. I'll avoid any spoilers and stop here by saying that the ending was completely disappointing and not worth the journey. Westlake's writing in this first Grofield novel is silky smooth but entirely without the edge of the Parker novels. Probably better than I'm giving credit for but that is not a recommendation.

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Monday, September 13, 2021

Review: Nothing More Than Murder

Nothing More Than Murder Nothing More Than Murder by Jim Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thompson's first noir novel and I really enjoyed the unfolding of the insurance scam and then the complete undoing of Joe Wilmot as his enemies start putting the pinch on him from every angle. Fantastic twist at the end, too. Thompson cleverly keeps the details of the scam from us readers early on, but does it in a way that creates a lot of tension: Joe and his wife Elizabeth talk about what they are doing in the quite realistic way that people do who know what the subject is and don't need to mention every detail. So we know they are up to something but not exactly what. Of course, it all comes out as the action unfolds. Really liked the snarky way the insurance investigator just keeps setting Wilmot up; those were good scenes. Not so good was the way Thompson drifted into Wilmot's back story throughout the last two thirds of the novel. It really didn't add anything to the story. There was also a lot of details about the movie house business, some of it was interesting, but that could have been trimmed down, too for a faster-paced story line.

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Saturday, September 11, 2021

Review: Savage Surrender

Savage Surrender Savage Surrender by March Hastings
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sally Singer, writing here as March Hastings, was a skillful writer that toiled at penning mostly lesbian and sleaze novels for low-brow publishers like Beacon. Here she tells the story of a racecar driver and journalist named Chuck, his nymphomaniac wife Eve, a frigid woman named Robin who is married to an abusive husband, and their wimpy son, aptly called Skinny. The plot revolves around Chuck’s sexual obsession with Robin, with the other characters contributing various complications to his motives. Singer’s strength is her crackling dialog, although her plotting often falls flat. More of a drama than sleaze, and although a murder does occur there is no hiding of the body or noir type elements that I was hoping for. The murder does free Robin from her frigidity which I thought was a bit of a forehead slapper. The novel was okay but I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend it. Two stars, maybe two and a half.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Review: Dolls and Dues

Dolls and Dues Dolls and Dues by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hitt's books make for interesting cultural anthropology artifacts because he usually focuses on some occupation or business or business-like scam and immerses his protagonist in that world. Here we have a union organizer circa 1957. The target is the 16,000 insurance agents at a large insurance company, and Paul Jackson's task is to get all those agents to join a newly created union and then call a strike against the insurance company. When the agents are slow to sign up Jackson comes up with his brainstorm: host big parties for the agents and make sure there are plenty of hookers and booze. Yes, the agents start signing up in droves. Jackson hires a crew of good looking women and sends them on a road trip to towns where the insurance company has lots of agents. The union dues start rolling in. I will spare you the rest of the plot, but it involves greed and fraud and the eventual fall of Paul Jackson from his perch as President of the union. Oh, yeah, he has a problem with the dolls. He beds pretty much every woman he comes in contact with, although none of that is ever described, simply alluded to in a sentence.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Review: One for Hell

One for Hell One for Hell by Jada M. Davis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This 1952 Fawcett Gold Medal noir novel has been lauded by readers as a lost masterpiece and it was deservedly brought back into print by Stark House Press in 2012. Jada Davis was a talented writer who decided that life as a fiction writer was more work and less profitable than other careers and he only published one more novel in his lifetime. ONE FOR HELL tells the story of a corrupt oil boom town that employs a charismatic drifter as a strongarm only to lose control of him as his sociopathic tendencies are revealed. The strength of the novel is in the characterization of the drifter - detailing his lies, deceit, and manipulations that keep piling up into a fragile house of cards that force him to escalate the violence to keep it from falling down - and taking his corrupt town partners with it. The subplots detailing the personal affairs of the townsfolk seems superfluous and I was glad when the narrative returned back to the drifter. Plenty of terrific dialog and several interesting characters although the drifter really shines as one of the most fascinating noir characters that I’ve ever read. Lost masterpiece? Sure, I’m on board and give it a solid five stars.

Available in paperback or ebook from Stark House Press.