Thursday, December 30, 2021

Review: A Touch of Death

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

The beginning is quite clever as ex-football star Lee Scarborough responds to an ad of someone looking to buy a car and completely by chance meets up with Diana James who sizes him up and recruits him to help her find $120,000 in stolen money. Williams also uses a clever plot device when about a quarter of the way through the novel Scarborough, who started out scheming with one femme-fatale, takes up with another. This switch adds an extra kick to an already fast moving storyline. Plenty of action and suspenseful plot points keep the pages turning to find out who gets the money and who lives or dies. To provide more specifics risks a spoiler, but this novel has most of the archetypal film-noir elements, and it is surprising that, unlike twelve other of Williams’ novels, that this one was never made into a movie.

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Review: Fancy Anders Goes To War: Who Killed Rosie The Riveter?

Fancy Anders Goes To War: Who Killed Rosie The Riveter? Fancy Anders Goes To War: Who Killed Rosie The Riveter? by Max Allan Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This well researched short novel captures the lives of WWII Women at Work while providing a terrific mystery yarn that introduces Fancy Anders, socialite and daughter of a renowned detective, who goes undercover at an airplane factory to help solve the suspicious death of a woman that held the job previously. Fancy is a woman before her time, rebelling against the regimented lives of women in the 1940s. She is adventurous and fearless with modern sensibilities. I really liked the tight, compelling mystery plot, the dialog that contains several 1940s pop culture references and slang, and the cast of characters, especially her new friend Lulu. There are a couple other books in this series that I am looking forward to reading. Loved it.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Review: Murder for the Bride

Murder for the Bride Murder for the Bride by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was MacDonald's second novel, published in 1951, and he steered completely away from the hard-boiled detective style of his first novel and produced an espionage novel full of Russian spies and ex-Nazis. But this is no John LeCarre style spy novel because it features an everyman protagonist in the classic noir sense. Dillon Bryant is a geological engineer scouting oil formations in Venezuela. He's fresh from a three-day honeymoon but has left his wife home in New Orleans. When he receives a letter saying that his wife is in trouble, he rushes home, only to find when he gets to his apartment that his wife has been murdered. The plot takes an intriguing turn as we learn that he'd married Laura after a quick whirlwind romance and that she is not what she seemed. Bryant initially refuses to believe what he hears and sets off trying to discover who she really was. Before too long he realizes he's a patsy and is embroiled in a plot involving Russian sleeper cells. From that point on there are plenty of plot twists and action to keep the pages turning until the end.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Review: Any Woman He Wanted

Any Woman He Wanted Any Woman He Wanted by Harry Whittington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although this was published by Beacon in 1960 as a sleaze novel, it was originally written by Whittington as sequel to Brute in Brass, which was published by Fawcett Gold Medal. Whittington intended Mike Ballard as a series character but Gold Medal rejected this sequel. The hilarious thing is that anyone buying this based on the cover thinking that they were getting a story about a guy making time with four women was seriously disappointed. There is not so much as a kiss in the entire book. Hard to understand Gold Medal's rejection because this is just about the equal to Brute in Brass. The primary difference is that Any Woman He Wanted is not a noir. It is just a straight ahead crime novel. The novel starts with Ballard, now a homicide detective showing up at the scene of a robbery. A nice set-piece scene that establishes character via action. After that things slow down a bit with Ballard's back story, both pre- and post-Brute in Brass. So we learn more about his history, and for those who have read Brute, we find out what happened after that novel ended. It is now four years later and Ballard is a clean, but hobbled, cop. Enter new plot complications. He meets with the DA, who tries to hire him as a special investigator. Ballard knows that is death warrant and refuses. Next day the DA is dead and it is game on. The rest of the novel tracks Ballard as he battles it out with the new criminals who run the town.

280Steps has re-released this one as an eBook and it is also available in a Stark House edition along with A Night for Screaming.

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Sunday, December 26, 2021

Review: Sin for Me

Sin for Me Sin for Me by Gil Brewer
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

One of Brewer’s last books before he started writing knock-offs and TV Tie-ins under psuedonyms. The opening chapters are some of the worst writing I’ve read of Brewer’s but I skimmed ahead because at his best he is one of my favorite crime/noir writers. Written by anyone else, though, I would haver put this one down. Unfortunately it did not get better. Some of the action scenes are pretty good, with Brewer’s signature fast-paced yet descriptive style, but that’s the best I can say.

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Saturday, December 25, 2021

Review: The Temptress

The Temptress The Temptress by Carter Brown
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If you've read any of the other books in the Lieutenant Al Wheeler series (there's 51) you know what to expect from this one, which is number fifteen. Wheeler is tough talking and a smart ass and takes the piss out on everyone he interacts with, although less so the women he beds in his apartment equipped with the "hi-fi machine" and booze. Not a lot of action here. Couple of murders, but minimal police procedural, if that is your thing. Wheeler roughs up a couple of bad guys, but that's about two pages of description total. Mostly it is pages and pages of "witty" repartee and questioning leading up to a quick and thin whodunit reveal of the blackmail plot and the murderer. For collectors, the cover art in this third printing is by Ron Lessor, which was the first of four Carter Brown covers he did. The first edition (S1817) has cover art by Barye Phillips. Not certain on this, but there does not appear to be an edition with cover art by Robert McGinnis, who did most of the Carter Brown covers between 1961 and 1972.

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Friday, December 24, 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 a business-like scam and then 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. 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. See, 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. So plenty of sleaze but no sex scenes.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Review: Eve of Evil

Eve of Evil

Eve of Evil by George G. Gilman
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 

A Christmas story in this ultra-violent Western series seems incongruent but Brit Terry Harknett, writing as George Gilman, pulls it off in this light-hearted short novel. The writer churns out outrageous coincidences in Edge’s adventure related to the biblical story of the birth of Jesus that had me smiling. The story has to do with Edge accompanying a young couple, Joseph and Maria, to a stable before Maria gives birth. Harknett’s writing is solid and the Preacher and his “daughter” characters stand out. Edge is uncharacteristically less violent and more thoughtful than usual which I welcome. Sometimes his brutality is distasteful to me. Still a high body count and clearly the most violent Christmas story that I’ve ever read. An entertaining and fast moving read. I liked it. Three and a half stars.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Review: Satan Takes the Helm

Satan Takes the Helm

Satan Takes the Helm by Calvin Clements
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stories set in boats or snowed-in cabins, etc. work well in the crime/noir genre since it forces tensions due to the confinement of the characters, and then sustains them since there is nowhere to escape. The story here is a familiar one. Luscious young woman is married to an ugly, old freighter owner. She has eyes on a juicy inheritance. She hires a tough-guy captain to helm the freighter and then uses her charms to seduce him and then imply that maybe things would be better if her husband wasn’t around. Clement's spin on this theme is terrific, bristling with thorny dialog and conflict between the main characters as she cleverly manipulates circumstances to influence the reluctant captain. Some nice twists keep the tension escalating to a satisfying conclusion. Great book and an easy four stars.

Reprinted by Stark House Press in their superior Black Gat line.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Review: Kept

Kept Kept by Sheldon Lord
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sheldon Lord was an early pseudonym of Lawrence Block. This starts out quite edgy with a guy hitchhiking and getting picked up by a blonde in a convertible and there's a sense that the storyline could go anywhere, particularly with the breezy, devil-may-care narrative voice. Yet, surprisingly, this turns out to be a Horatio Alger type story as well as a romance story. Our unemployed hitchhiking narrator decides he doesn't want to be the kept man of the Park Avenue blonde so he gets a job and works his way quickly up to general manager. He beds his secretary, but she turns down his marriage proposal because she can sense he's in love with someone else. So back to Park Avenue he goes to marry the blonde and then move to Westchester. Such a depressingly happy ending. Block was better after he switched his pseudo to Andrew Shaw and abandoned the happy endings and even better when writing crime/noir under his own name.

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