“Room To Swing” by Ed Lacy

Room to Swing

Room To Swing is a classic for many reasons. First, it is a classic whodunit – a hardboiled mystery if you will – where the protagonist, a New York private eye is framed for murder, seemingly by his client. Next, it’s worth mentioning that the book won the Edgar Award for Best Novel for 1958, over such notables as THE LONGEST SECOND, by Bill Ballinger , THE NIGHT OF THE GOOD CHILDREN, by Marjorie Carleton  and THE BUSHMAN WHO CAME BACK, by Arthur Upfield .  Third, the detective fits the mold of what the hardboiled PI was supposed to be;  he, ’s a loner, a man who scratches for money, a veteran and decorated hero of two wars and he is no stranger to violence. But what sets this novel apart is Lacy, who was white, is credited with creating "the first credible African-American Private Eye" character in fiction, Toussaint "Touie" Marcus Moore.  Lacy doesn’t just present us with a credible “black” detective but a social commentary that is worth remembering today. 333px-101st_Airborne_at_Little_Rock_Central_High

Written in the same years as the Little Rock Nine took their stand, the novel is not only daring by virtue of ‘exposing’ racial issues of the day, but in presenting a realistic point of view of the African American protagonist. In “Touie” Moore we have a man who has distinguished himself in two wars, winning a Silver Star and a Bronze Stars and having risen to the rank of Captain. But, now in his 30’s, living in New York City, his career choices are limited to civil service jobs, domestic, or laborer. Not very good choices for a proud man who stands on his own. He shares a room with two other bachelors and runs his PI Practice in the same room he sleeps, getting “coloured cases” that the “white agencies” won’t take as well as the occasional bouncer gig or Department Store Detective job to catch shop lifters or repossess items, bought on credit, from other blacks in the ghetto.

Rm to Swing

The story is told in three part, opening in Bingston, Ohio – small, town near the Kentucky Border, and the segregationist south. Touie has come there on a hunch that the real murder must be connected to the victims home town. The victim was himself on the lam from a felony committed there. Bingston is a little town of a couple thousand, so Touie, a negro (and I use that term because at this period of history, Touie preferred Negro and considered being called Black and insult) draws instant attention and not a small amount of racial prejudice. He is refused service at the local lunch counter, where he has stopped to use the phone to try and track down names in the area that might be able to aid in his investigation. He is even refused use of the public pay phone and directed to a gas station on the edge of town where they let “coloureds” use the phone.  Of course, the local cop shows up Billy club smacking against his palm. Touie figures that his description and the fact that he may be wanted for the murder in New York City has already spread, but it turns out to be just small town racism, even though Bingston has a coloured section of town and a deeply entrenched coloured middle class. It is one of these citizens that inserts himself between the town bull and Touie, the negro postman tells Touie, “Relax, man.” as the cop asks Touie, “new in town, boy?” Touie thinks, “I have been called Boy more times in the last couple of hours than in my whole life.”  The cop isn’t there because he heard of a negro suspect in the killing of one of the locals, a black sheep himself, in New York. He is there to “explain a couple things” to a strange negro in town. Like you can’t eat here. It isn’t the custom. Touie gets a little mad at this and gets a bit tough with his language, tells the cop he wasn’t planning to eat the phone book. The cop doesn’t like Touies nice suit, and he doesn’t like the fact that he is driving a fancy, foreign car, a Jaguar, nor is he accustom to being talk back to by a Negro. Touie leaves, but the postman stops him outside the dinner and tells him that “Bingston ain’t a mean town for coloured, just a little old fashion.” Touie tells him to stop the race relations patter. Touie tells the postman he is looking for May Russell, Rm to Swing2one of the names on his list. The postman tells Touie that asking about May Russell will start real trouble, “she isn’t for coloured men.” So Touie pegs her as a loose woman, but a white loose woman.

The postman eventually invites Touie to stay at his home, since there are no hotels in town that cater to Negros.  Touie meets Frances, the postman’s daughter. Touie is considering becoming a postman back in New York, mainly so he’ll have a steady income and a “respectable job” which would make his girlfriend,  Sybil, happy.  Touie eventually confides in Frances, who he grows to respect, that he is investigating Bob Thomas’ murder, and that he is a suspect. Frances, accepts this and agrees to show Touie around the town and help him find the people that Touie needs to learn about.  She tells him that the town is not so bad, as long as your skin is pale, Most of the coloured population has good, solid, jobs. Like her postman father. The coloured population of Bingston has also just scored a ‘major’ victory, after a two year fight they are now allowed to sit in the orchestra at the local movie house instead of being confined to the balcony. Frances knows that there must be more to life than sitting in the balcony and has a yearning to leave, maybe go to college, but that isn’t likely for a Negro daughter in southern Ohio. Touie turns the conversation to Bob Thomas, the murdered man.  Frances tells him that people aren’t really concerned with his murder, they are actually pretty relieved. Thomas had broke out of jail after being picked up for rape and assault. Frances alludes to the fact that Thomas was framed, but doesn’t tell him much more at this point.

On a night time ride through the country, Touie runs the story of his involvement by Frances, and a friendship and trust begins to form and the story goes back to New York, three days earlier. Touie received a visit from a white woman, unusual in itself, since his PI business was almost always with other Negros. The woman is Kay Robbens and she is with a local TV station who has a plan to release a new TV show called “You—Detective” the premise is similar to todays “America’s Most Wanted”. But more scripted and devised. As Kay puts it, “It’s low-level, moronic, disgusting – and it’s my job.” The idea is to dig up cold cases on felons that have fled and not been captured. To find them using PI’s and then set up their arrest live, on TV, by private citizens that are actually unknown actors. Kay has tracked down the first episode’s “star”; Bob Thomas, and wants to pay Touie a small fortune, $1500.00 for a months retainer, to shadow him for  until the episode is ready to air.

Rom To Swng

Touie is seduced by this wind fall and the prospect of getting other lucrative jobs with the show and the TV station. In short, he has stars in his eyes and starts to think he can win Sybil without becoming a boring, postman. Sybil, who is a light skinned negro, thus of a “higher social standing” wants Touie to take the safe job, get a bigger “nice apartment” and be a respectable Negro. But as Touie gets drawn in deeper with Kay’s white friends, he dreams large. He even takes it in stride when Kay tells him, ‘I always try and give you people a helping hand, so I was surprised when you were a Negro.” Touie thinks, “okay, whites can sure say the jerkiest things, I’ve met the type before. At least she is jerky in a friendly way, so many are jerky in a nasty way.” The book succeeds as social commentary on scenes like this throughout and doesn’t sacrifice a great story told in a great way while doing it. Walter Mosley does this very well in his EZ Rawlins books,and surely owes a nod to Ed Lacy.

As Touie gets invited along to parties with Kay’s oh so liberal and socially conscious friends, he learn the other side of racism, the supposed intellectuals with so much concern for the ‘plight of the Negro’ in voice but not in action. At the same time he shines a light on the black community and their own divisions and social strata of ‘lightness of skin’ being the factor on just how far you can go and what you are allowed to achieve. But, Touie has white friends, ex army buddies, that completely disregard race and only look at a persons self worth and how they carry themselves, while still being realists in 1950’s New York. Touie also learns about Bob Thomas, who is living a quiet life, working steady as a machinist, taking correspondence courses and staying away from trouble and not acting the least bit like a fugitive on the run.

One night, Touie is lured to Thomas’ apartment, he thinks by Kay, at midnight only to find Thomas dead, and a cop showing up at just the right time to frame Touie for his murder. Touie slugs the cop and flees, eventually winding up in Bingston to try and find a motive for the murder and hopefully the killer, as he figures that is the only way to avoid death row. And he may not even be able to avoid the cops if he turns up the murder, since he slugged a white cop.

In Bingston, he finds plenty of suspects. Thomas was poor white trash, and raised pretty much without a mother. He was cared for and worked for black women, who fed him, but he eventually made enemies until he was accused of rape and assault.  Touie eventually  travels deeper into the heart of the segregation crisis, both in the north in Ohio, and across the border to the south which is Kentucky,  in order to find the truth that might clear his name. The search down many dead ends, and in fleshing out the early life of Bob Thomas he makes some discoveries that lead him back to New York to unwind the mystery. He has to make choices on who to trust, Kay, his white friends who just might want the publicity of turning up a killer, Sybil who is more concerned with what her friends will think about her dating someone accused of murdering a white man than with whether or not he is guilty, and finally  how to expose and trap the killer.

This book stands as a social document of the complex racial politics of the times–and also as a damn  good mystery and a classic of the genre that deserves to be remembered and read not only today, but in the future.

Ed Lacy, born Leonard "Len" S. Zinberg was probably best know for his stories with boxing as a back drop. In books such as Walk Hard, Talk Loud Walk Hardand 1954’s Go For The Body, where he chronicled “Boxing racketeers, loose-hipped blondes and chiselers” often featured African American protagonists – indeed Lacy was probably the preeminent writer of boxing fiction of the times and also contributed to Ringside magazine as well as other sports journals of the day – but Room To Swing gave us a very respectable black PI, and opened the genre to those to come. Lacy’s interest in African American culture and leftist politics stemmed from his 1920s Jewish heritage and he was married to a black woman and lived most of his life in and around Harlem and actually won many accolades from black writers groups. he died of a heart attack in a Laundromat in Harlem at the age of 56 (1968).

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“Memorial Day” by Harry Shannon “The Mick Callahan Novels”

In Mick Callahamemorialn, Harry Shannon has created a protagonist in the mold of the classic hardboiled detective, yet he is an original and many facets break that mold, or create a new. He is a man who must walk the mean streets, who himself is not mean. Though tarnished, he is a complete man and a common man –if he wasn’t always, he is now. He is a man of honor driven to do the right thing, perhaps to redeem himself in his own heart, but also for those who need his help. His place is between the law and the bad guys, and his sense of justice, his sense of right and wrong aren’t necessarily defined by the dictionary or the legal books.Mick C

Mick grew up hard, his step father making him fight other boys for money and never letting him quit. Mick ran away from home and became a navy SEAL…almost. He was kicked out for punching out an officer. From there Mick went to school and became a psychologist and rode his talent in this field, and his good looks to fame as a big time radio ‘shrink’ until it all came crashing down in a haze of drugs and alcohol and the death of a patient. Gone is the big money, the fast women and the hedonistic life-style.Now Mick is trying to regain his life, to redeem himself.

The meteor that was Mick’s life came crashing to earth in Dry Well, Nevada a dusty, tumbleweed section on the Nevada desert where not much ever happens, except it is the wild west that Mick grew up in. He is covering the local radio station for Loner McDowell, the owner of the only talk show in town. Loner offers the job to Mick while he is out of town for a couple of days, as a favor to help Mick out and give him a leg back into society now that he is sober and clean and not in jail. Mick soon finds that the town is more used to alien abductions than radio shrinks and as he covers the last night with very few calls to the show he struggles to find that personality and the drive that made him a star. Then a young girl calls in, he calls her Ophelia after the character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Who Hamlet tells, "get thee to a nunnery"  of course, Ophelia doesn’t listen, she’s in love with Hamlet and that leads her to climb a tree and fall to her death in a brook. Prophetic. She is having boy friend problems and he knocks her around, He’s “deep” into drugs….but before Mick can try and help her she hangs up. On the walk back to his flea bag motel, Mick stumbles across a body in an alley and as he goes to check, he discovers the man has had his finger tips sliced off and his teeth destroyed. There is a neat little hole in the back of his skull, and then there is a gun at Micks head. It is the local law, Sherriff Bass, who had run Mick out of town years earlier. He is quickly eliminated as a suspect, but honors the cops request to keep things quiet and not say anything about the body until the investigation is complete. He also promises to leave town, eager to get to L.A. for an interview and not wanting to stay around this one horse town, even if it was once his home.

Harry Shannon

The next day, he says goodbye to his buddy Jerry, a horribly scarred drifter who keeps an electronics shop and has a reputation as a hacker. But, on the way out of town he stops at the Memorial Day picnic, talks to some old friends and happens to end up talking to a young girl he knew years before. Sandy Palmer, the daughter of the local millionaire who had foreclosed on Micks families dusty little ranch. He gets the feeling that she is the Ophelia  that called in to his show the night before, the girl with the abusive boyfriend with the drug problem and since a similar girl died when Mick was famous because he ignored her needs, it weighs on his soul. Sandy comes clean and admits to being the caller,but before Mick can talk to her about her worries, he nearly gets into a fight with three young hooligans, one of which might be the boy friend. Sherriff Bass breaks it up before things can get out of hand and remind Mick of his promise to leave town. Mick heads to the motel to pack his car and Jerry decides to join him since the same three toughs are after him for flirting with another girl in their clique. As they are driving out of town, they notice a lot of commotion in the park. Sandy Palmer has been found dead, beaten, her head busted from an apparent fall onto some rocks, just like Ophelia, in a creek. The local veterinarian –acting as coroner- suspects she actually drowned in the shallow creek. So Mick stays, feeling an obligation to find her murderer and to see if it could be linked to the body in the alley.The suspects are numerous. The three toughs, the girls half brother, Will Palmer, a misogynist ne’er do well, and yet other locals, but it doesn’t jibe with the mob hit feel of the first unknown victim.Burning Man

Harry paints very real scenes of a dusty Nevada desert town, more dead than alive and full of characters in various forms of personal dead ends. He builds the story behind some of the greatest action and fight scenes as well as fully fleshed out characters; an old flame who runs the local café after going through a few husbands, the Doc with a taste for young girls and porn, Loner who has a bit of a gambling problem and a shady criminal past of his own, Bass haunted by his  time in Vietnam, Jerry scarred by a woman who didn’t love him, Will Palmer the spoiled rich boy who treats women as toys and the town as his personal fife. And then the three tuffs, none of who will ever win a citizen of the year award. While dredging up his past Mick discovers that almost everyone has a past worse than his and almost everyone used, abused and had reason to harm Sandy Palmer, but does the past intersect at two murders over Memorial Day in Dry Wells?

Harry has created a great character in Mick Callahan and Memorial Day is the first in the series. I can’t say enough about this character or this book. Mick is both action hero and cerebral empath. Harry recently released the first three Mick Callahan Novels in one volume that is available at Amazon.com for $4.99, a great deal for three books that are sure to become classics. besides, after reading Memorial Day, you’ll want to catch up with  Mick in his next adventure, Eye of the Burning Man. Want my advice, buy the collection. You’ll be glad you did.

The Dirty Lowdown

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The Screaming Mimi–Fredric Brown (1949)

Screaming Mimi2

Now considered a minor master piece of the so called, “Noir Fiction” genre, the story has more in common with the “Golden Age of Crime and Detection” as the protagonist, though not a detective, is a reporter trying to solve a murder, or actually a string of murders.  The story also has some over tones of horror, though it probably would not be considered very horrific today, this was written before Hitchcock made horror a standard fare for mysteries. Even the title conveys this with it’s play on The Screaming Meemees-an extreme attack of nerves or ; hysteria – named after the WWI bomb which was launched straight up in the air and came down with a high pitched ‘scream’ before exploding over the target. Fredric BrownThe tale opens  with  a typical  Noir subject. A hopeless drunk, seemingly beyond redemption.  Then Brown does something daring stylistically –his  stylistic elements would become a signature for him – the story is told by a omniscient narrator who addresses the reader directly as we’ll see in a moment. It also involves an apparent ‘serial killer’ then known as a ‘homicidal maniac’.  Let’s get to the tale, which is really quite good.

“You can never tell what a drunken Irishman will do.You can make a flying guess; you can make a lot of flying guesses.

You can list them in order of probability. The likely ones are easy. He might go after another drink, start a fight, make a speech, take a train….You can work down the list of possibilities; he might buy some green paint, chop down a maple tree, do a fan dance, sing “God Save The King”, steal an oboe…You can work on down and down to things get less and less likely, and eventually you might hit the rock bottom of improbability: He might make a resolution and stick with it.

I know that’s incredible, but it happened. A guy named Sweeney did it, once, in Chicago.”Mimi

And that is the protagonist of Browns tale. Bill Sweeny. Sweeny is a drunk. He has been on a two week bender. His clothes are stinking rags, and his body isn’t much better. He hasn’t shaved in god knows when (actually God makes an appearance real soon) and he sleeps on a bench and is scheming where he can beg borrow or steal the next bottle.  But there is more to Sweeny than meets the eye.

“His name really was Sweeney, but he was only five-eighths Irish and he was only three-quarters drunk.

But that’s about as near as truth ever approximates a pattern, and if you won’t settle for that, you’d better quit reading. If you don’t, maybe you’ll be sorry, for it isn’t a nice story. It’s got murder in it, and woman and liquor and gambling and even prevarication. There’s murder before the story proper starts, and murder after it ends; the actual story begins with a naked woman and ends with one, which is a good opening and a good ending, but everything between isn’t nice. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. But if you’re still with me, let’s get back to Sweeney.”

As you can see, this is an unusual narrative style, it’s like you are gathered around a four-top in a smoky little bar and the guy has you leaning over, smugly telling his tale in an all-knowing tone in the hopes you’ll buy the next round.  And it works. Both the style, and the next round bit.  Brown has this  omniscient narrator  not only to open the story and close it, but he pops in from time to time throughout. It really works.

mimi

Sweeney is sitting on a park bench one summer night next to God. Sweeny rather likes God, although not many people did. God was a tallish, scrawny old man with a nicotine stained beard. His full name is Godfrey and he is another hopeless alcoholic. As Brown goes on to describe him, “He’s a little cracked. But not much. No more than the other bums his age that live on the near north side of Chicago and hang out, when the weathers good, in Bughouse Square.

“Bughouse Square has another name, but the other name is less appropriate. It is between Clarke and Dearborn Street, just south of the Newberry Library; that’s it’s horizontal location. Vertically speaking it is quite a bit nearer hell than heaven. I mean it is bright with lights, but dark with the shadows of the defeated men who sit on the benches, all night long.”

Soon Sweeney must go for a walk before he can either sleep or find a way to get another drink. It is a drunken stupor of a walk and soon finds Sweeney as witness to a bizarre crime, or the tail end of one. He sees through a lobby window a stunningly gorgeous woman with a knife wound on her belly. there is a rather large, wolf like dog and the police are about to shoot it when it rears up, seemingly to attack the woman. Only it doesn’t attack her it gently grabs the zipper on the back of her dress and lowers it, leaving her stark naked and Sweeney smitten. It is then that Sweeney makes the resolution. He will sober up, he will get his life back in order, because he must have this woman. It is then that we find out that Sweeney is actually a reporter for the Chicago Blade. He went AWOL and fully expects to have lost his job, his apartment and all his possessions, which he figures he probably hocked or sold for booze.  But, his land lady wouldn’t let him pedal his belongings and has kept his room even Screaming Mimithough he is behind on his rent. And his boss conveniently kept his job and listed him as “on vacation”. during his bender. He finds this out when he takes an eye witness account of this event, which turns out to be the latest attack of “The Ripper” and tries to sell it to his paper so as to stake himself on the road to recovery. Sweeney has the weekend, 72 hours to investigate the Ripper Killings, of which there has been three. Sweeney soon discovers,  as he tries to get his system clear of alcohol and struggles to drink lightly –a functioning alcoholic is our Sweeney – that the first victim, an ex-chorine living with a con man had sold a statuette to the  Ripper, shortly before she was victim number one. The statuette is The Screaming Mimi, so called by the art company that cast it. He finds out that there were only two of the Mimi’s sold in Chicago and quickly acquires the only other, a hauntingly strange work that could only appeal to a mad man. But, it appeals to Sweeney.

He then meets Doc Greene, a one time psychiatrist, and now a booking agent for night club talent. He is the agent for the beautiful and alluring Yolanda, the victim that survived, only because The Ripper was scared off by the dog. Greene is obsessively protective of ‘Yo’ and soon gloms onto Sweeney’s intentions, which aren’t altogether honorable. Sweeney suspects that Greene is the Ripper, even though the only evidence is his personal hatred of the man. Greene soon suspect Sweeney, since he was in a drunken haze at the crime scene. And the local cop, Bline soon investigate Sweeney as well. The dialog is swift, clever, and full of snappy, funny conversations as Greene and Sweeney swipe and snipe. And Brown fleshes out the characters rather well. We find that Sweeney is a connoisseur of classical music and that Greene is rather smart and a not all together bad business man. We are left to wonder about Sweeney’s motives. Does he really mean to capture and expose the Ripper, or is that only the path to the alluring Yolanda?

Mimi Poster

Sweeney’s investigation leads him to Wisconsin, where the original artist that sculpted the Mimi lives in his own drunken stupor, having modeled the statue of a real life event where an escaped mental patient attempted to slash his own sister, who got the “screaming meemees” from the event and ended up dying in a mental hospital from the shock. This seemingly dead end comes near the end of Sweeney’s 72 hours, when he’ll have to go back to work at the newspaper. Sweeney fills the hunt with twists, turns, dead ends and plenty of suspects and though all the clues are there, the ‘reveal’ will astound you.

Brown put together a classic, yet original hardboiled detective whodunit mixed successfully with a serial killer plot in this story. As a rule serial killers don’t work in a whodunit, but Brown was a master. Written in 1949, it was in the second year of Brown’s writing full time. Unfortunately, he was well into his 40’s and would only write full time for another 13 years. Brown never garnered the respect of the critics, or even the publishers during his life as he switched back and forth from crime stories to Sci-Fi, where he wrote classics that so impressed Phillip K. Dick that he praised some of his work as seminal to the genre. Brown was, however very popular with the readers and respected by more successful authors that were his peers. The book was turned into two movies, 1958’s vehicle starring Anita Ekberg and Gypsy Rose Lee. Mimi Movie PosterTitled, Screaming Mimi.

It was also the model for the classic Italian giallo film(or yellow, from the color of the cheap paperbacks the genre was named for in the crime fiction/mystery mode with horror and eroticism as main ingredients-similar to French Noir) ,the Bird with the Crystal Plumage from 1970, directed by Dario Argento and winning the 1971 Edgar Allan Poe award . Brown was unaccredited. for the film.

Crystal Plumage During the 30’s Brown became the King of the Short Short, short stories often published in the pulps and being between 1 and 3 pages long. Browns first novel, 1947’s The Fabulous Clip Joint won the Edgar that year for best first novel and introduced his series characters, Ed and Ambrose Hunter. he is truly one of the forgotten masters of the paperback era of crime fiction. By the way, this novel is available for free from Munsey’s, here.

 

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Cassidy’s Girl- David Goodis

Lundy’s Place, a port for rudderless boats.

Cassidy's Girl3

If ‘Noir Fiction’ is defined as a sub genre of the hardboiled with an “…emphasis on sexual relationships and the use of sex to advance the plot and the self-destructive qualities of the lead characters.” Then Goodis wrote that definition in ‘Cassidy’s Girl’. 

In deed, practically every character in this minor master piece is self-destructive and bent on the failure of the very idea of redemption for Jim Cassidy.Cassidy's Girl2

Jim Cassidy, the high school football star and All Pacific-Coast Conference Guard at the University of Oregon whose brilliant achievements in the halls of learning and on the grid iron left him third highest man in his class. Jim Cassidy, who piloted B-24’s in WWII through 80 missions and came home a war hero  to pilot commercial airliners. Capt. J. Cassidy whose steadiness led them to promote him to the transatlantic run was riding on top of the world. Wearing $125 suits and being invited to all the best parties where they served the best champagne and several of the more elegant post-debutants were wishing he’d turn his eye their way.  Then fate steps in and the big plane, on take off suddenly nosed over only to crash in the marshes at La Guardia leaving only eleven survivors out of seventy-eight passengers and crew. The copilot had suffered an emotional collapse,Cassidy says, but the review board does not believe him noting that Capt. Jim Cassidy had attended a champagne party the night before. The authorities label him a liar and a drunk. The families of the dead demand he be punished. The news papers splash his picture all over the papers, and blame him for the worst commercial air disaster of all time. It’s bad enough in New York, but even when he returns to his small Oregon home town, he is ostracized.

Cassidy's Girl

  Thus begins the downhill process and Cassidy begins to drink in earnest. No matter where he goes, they have seen his picture splashed across the nations new papers and they want him out. And they even attempt to throw him out bodily, but Cassidy is a big, strong man and fights them and ends up in jail for a week. He retreats from small town Oregon and lands in Nevada with his ten thousand dollars life savings from his years with the air lines only to see it fly away faster than his steady reputation, at the craps tables. Soon Cassidy is doing ten days for fighting and vagrancy and sixty days for assault and battery and putting men, and himself in the hospital as he drifts across the country. Cassidy's Girl art

He lands in Philadelphia, where so many of Goodis’ works always land. Cassidy is now piloting a bus for a three-bus company and making the run to Easton three times a day. He does his drinking at Lundy’s Place, a water front dive filled with “rudderless boats.” A place of dirty floors, cracked walls and disorganized human beings. But the shots of rye are cheap and one day, after his third drink he spies a bright purple dress wrapped around a woman with a body out of a Wagnerian Opera. Mildred. Mildred with bulges in all the right places. Mildred filled with violent sex. Mildred who can fight like a man and drink like ten. Mildred who would rather cheat on him than make him dinner. After nine or ten drinks they are married. For four years they do battle, physically and emotionally and sexually,  Cassidy’s only link to sanity is piloting that bus, maintaining that vestige of his control over his life and his value as a man.

Cassidy's

Cassidy is doomed, irretrievably broken, life has killed him but forgotten to kick the dirt over the top until one night, in Lundy’s, he has a fight with Mildred and her latest lover. In the aftermath he decides he can save his life, he can climb out of the hole that life has dug him. And save the life of young Doris who has her own tragic story. A farmers wife who fell asleep smoking one night and burned her husband and children to death. Doris is in Lundy’s to ‘drink herself to death’ as punishment for her failure and Cassidy sees her as someone damaged as much as himself. He decides to never return to Mildred and that maybe, just maybe by saving Doris he can save himself. But Mildred has other plans.

When it seems that Mildred might let him part from her civilly he discovers that she has thrown all his clothes in the river . While he marches to Lundy’s bent on violence for Mildred and her lover and anyone else that would stand in the way of his redemption,  he encounters three thugs paid to do him an injury, but Cassidy is not so easily way-laid. And so begins the struggle for Cassidy to save the frail Doris and himself. But, naturally life stands in his way. GoodisHis final downfall is engineered by Mildred’s would be lover who causes Cassidy’s bus to crash and kill everyone on board except Cassidy and the lover. Cassidy is soon condemned by the authorities when his past is rediscovered. And even when he manages to escape from police custody and dreams of escaping with Doris as a stow away on a ship bound for South Africa. When he dares to plot a new life with Doris in a far away land where they will eat in decent restaurants and sip sherry after dinner and where there will be no need for ‘that other kind of drinking’, life and his doomed friends plot to hold him back and keep him in the gutter where he belongs.

When Cassidy’s Girl was first released in paper back it sold a million copies and established David Goodis as a successor to Hammett and Chandler in the second generation of hardboiled writers that would eventually be known as the paperback writers. The whole story and all the characters are a metaphor for everything uncontrollable in life that can drag a man down. Even the twisted,  Goodis, happy ending is no happiness at all but a validation of the dirty failure waiting for us all.

David Goodis was a prolific writer who sometimes turned out 10,000 words a day. Born to a respectable Jewish family in Philadelphia, and 1938 graduate of Temple University, he published his first novel Retreat from Oblivion in 1939. After the publication he moved to New York City where he wrote for the pulps. During the 1940s, Goodis scripted for radio adventure serials, including Hop Harrigan, House of Mystery, and Superman. Novels he wrote during the early 1940s were rejected by publishers, but in 1942 he spent some time in Hollywood as one of the screenwriters on Universal’s Destination Unknown. His next novel wouldn’t come until 1946 when  Dark Passage was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, published by Julian Messner and filmed for Warner Bros. with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall heading the cast. Goodis Boogie & Bacall  He worked in Hollywood, writing screenplays and adaptations with varying degrees of success until 1950 when he returned to Philadelphia where he lived with his parents and his schizophrenic brother Herbert. At night, he prowled the underside of Philadelphia, hanging out in nightclubs and seedy bars, a milieu he depicted in his fiction. He died in January 1967 a week after suffering a beating  in a robbery attempt. Cause of death was listed as "cerebral vascular accident," meaning a stroke .  Cassidy’s Girl is a lost master piece in what would be called the ‘Noir Fiction’ genre and a journey into dirty world.

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The Killer Is Loose (1956)

Killer LooseFilm Noir of the Week had this to say :

Someday Wagner, I’m gonna settle with you for it. I’m certainly gonna settle with you for it.

The Killer is Loose has holes — blast it with a Tommy gun it has such holes. It’s a little movie with a story that churns single-mindedly forward until its title character sprawls dead on a well-kept suburban lawn and all is once again right with the world — you can get back to your TV dinner now. It asks us to swallow a lot: happenstance, strange motivations, coincidences and contrivances — maybe even a miracle or two. The story unfolds so rapidly that you’ve gotta wait until the end to pick your nits — stop to raise an eyebrow and it just moves on without you, scoffers be damned. Who cares what happened to the other bank robbers? So what if the bank has a house safe instead of a vault!

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Synopsis

A bank employee desperate for cash plans and successfully robs a bank as an inside job. At first the bank employee Poole (Wendell Corey) is considered a hero during the bank robbery but the police quickly figure out he’s involved in the crime. The police catch up with Poole and his young wife at their apartment. Poole’s wife is accidentally shot to death by the police during the gunfight. Poole is arrested, convicted and sent to prison for the robbery.

While behind bars, Poole plans his escape and revenge on the men that killed his wife, especially the leader of the police raid, Lt. Wagner (Joseph Cotten). Poole figures the best way to extract revenge is to kill Wagner’s wife, Lila (Rhonda Fleming). Now, the only way for the cops to recapture the robber is for a wary Wagner to use his wife as live bait.

The Critics

New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther found nothing original about the film calling the lead actors (Cotten and Corey) "first rate" and the crime film "third rate."

Critic Bruce Eder gave a more favorable review and wrote, "Budd Boetticher was a filmmaker of consummate skill and many surprises, as anyone who’s seen his best Western dramas can attest. The Killer Is Loose (1956) only enhances his reputation in a totally unrelated genre, and in a stylistic mode that’s about as far as he could get from his most familiar work. Using a cast of conventional—albeit top-flight—Hollywood professionals, Boetticher takes them out of the studio and puts them into an almost totally location-shot drama, and turns them loose in that naturalistic setting. The result is an array of performances that are as arresting as the script is filled with improbabilities; indeed, the narrative momentum of Boetticher’s direction, coupled with a handful of excellent performances, overcomes a script that is just a little too heavy on coincidences to otherwise play true."killer_is_loose

More recently, critic Dennis Schwartz wrote, "A typical 1950s noir, distinguished by its rapid pace and taut script, that delves mainly into the character of the villain—making him out to be someone who went over-the-edge when he couldn’t take being ridiculed as a failure, anymore…The suburban atmosphere and the no-nonsense style of telling the story add to the blandness of the story and the failure to elicit anything out of the ordinary to the build-up of the suspense that comes with the climax. The result is a watchable film which could be seen for the sense of nostalgia of the 1950s it evokes, a time when it was more receptive for noir to work as well as it does."

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Russian Roulette–Mike Faricy

 

Russian Roulette

What a great read! Flaky characters that could have been  pulled right out of todays head lines. The dialogue drives this story up one way streets, and down dark alleys, only to reveal a short cut across a curb – if your not afraid to jump it –then,  through the parking lot of an urban dive where a blond in painted on jeans leans against the hood of a car and smiles coyly as you skid to a stop.

Dev Haskel, The skirt chasing, wise-cracking, Minneapolis P.I who has an office in every dive bar in town and can’t read the Called I.D. on his cell phone is hired by the stunningly gorgeous Kerri. Kerri has hunted Dev down in The Spot Bar, where the breakfast special is a shot and a beer, to hire him to find her sister. Ever the professional, Dev grills his client for all the 411 she’s got. The sister is Nikki, an address in a seedy part of town, an old boy friend recently married and $500 in cash are his only leads.  After a late night strategy session, Dev wakes up with “…bite marks on my left nipple, scratches on my back, my beds a mess and the place reeks of stale, spicy perfume. My head is pounding and I just read a note that says she only took a hundred dollars out of the five she gave me out of “professional consideration”.

Okay, that should have read, Dev, drills his client…but the next day our Dev gets to work. Kerri provided him with a key, a phone bill and a photo of the sister, Nikki. Nude. On a beach with another girl and two hard case crooks who turn out to be recently decease.In short order, it becomes apparent that Kerri, Nikki, and no one else in this case is exactly on the up and up. Dev is soon dodging bullets and bad guys and trying to figure out why his own client has set him up to be killed when he actually hasn’t learn much of anything. Then through his buddy, Aaron, a local cop he learns of Russian Mob connections to at least some of the players. A prostitution ring and human trafficking all become part of the story. Enter the FBI and ICE and the rest of the Federal alphabet soup. The FBI is more interested in busting a money laundering bank for  PR and head lines, but the immigrations people seem genuinely interested in saving the women being exploited by Braco the Whacko.

Russian Roulette is very well written and flows so smoothly that it’ll draws you into the world of the irreverent Devlan HaskelMike Fairicy  and have you wondering who the next goof ball, goomba or stiletto wearing babe will be to meet him at a bar. You’ll be chuckling at midnight and trying to remember when the dives close in your neighborhood and just exactly what Jameson’s Irish whiskey tastes like with a Bud Light chaser.

Mike Faricy, is the author of six previous books, all available in eBook. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and Dublin, Ireland. Mikes books are filled with the sort of oddballs and flakes we’re curious about but prefer to keep at a distance. Though the characters won’t be saving the world from terrorism, nuclear holocaust or coups to take over the government. He does present some oddly human issues that are just below the belt for  discussion topics in polite society.I highly recommend Mikes books, available at Smashwords, Amazon and Barnes and Nobel

Look for the author interview next week with Mike Faricy at The Dirty Lowdown

 

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THE TAINTED ARCHIVE: Donald Westlake all new novel gets the Hard Case treatment

TheComedyIsFinished-COVERNews from The Tainted Archives and Hard Case Crime, via The Rap Sheet.

A bit of exciting Hard Case Crime news this morning: we’re going to be bringing out a never-before-published novel by the great Donald E. Westlake. 
Don began work on it in the late 1970s, but ultimately decided not to publish the book after Martin Scorsese released his movie "The King of Comedy" since Don was apparently concerned that the premise of his novel and Scorsese’s film were too similar.  He shouldn’t have worried — aside from both having to do with kidnapping a television comedian, the two are completely different.  But he did, and the result is that there’s a Westlake novel that’s been sitting unpublished in manuscript form for the past 30+ years.
The title is THE COMEDY IS FINISHED and it’s going to be our lead title for 2012 — only the second book ever to be published in hardcover by Hard Case Crime.

THE TAINTED ARCHIVE: Donald Westlake all new novel gets the Hard Case treatment

Hard Case Crimes First Hardcover Release will be GETTING OFF by Lawrence Block, which comes out on September 20. Block was a long time collaborator and friend of Donald Westlake.

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L.A. and San Francisco Noir at the Movies Thursday, April 7th

Tonight in San Francisco’s historic Castro Theater Castro Theater they are screening an Orson Welles double feature. First up is THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. “Lady” is a 1947 film noir directed by Orson Welles and starring Welles, his estranged wife Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane. It is based on the novel If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King.

220px-LadyfromS

Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) meets the beautiful blonde Elsa (Rita Hayworth) as she rides a horse-drawn coach in Central Park. Michael rescues her from three hooligans and escorts her home. Michael  is a seaman and learns Elsa and her husband, the famous disabled criminal defense attorney Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane), are newly arrived in New York City from Shanghai. They are on their way to San Francisco via the Panama Canal. Michael, attracted to Elsa despite misgivings is persuaded to sign on as an able seaman aboard Bannister’s yacht and ends up mired in a complex murder plot. :

Lady From. Shanghai is showing a 3pm and 7pm

 

Next up is 1958’s Touch of Evil  an American crime thriller film, written, directed by, and co-starring Orson Welles. The screenplay was loosely based on the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson. Along with Welles, the cast includes Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, and Marlene Dietrich. 220px-TouchofevilTouch of Evil  is one of the last examples of film noir in the genre’s classic era (from the early 1940s until the late 1950s).The movie opens with a three-minute, twenty-second continuous tracking shot widely considered by critics to be one of the greatest long takes in cinematic history. Beginning on the Mexico/US border, the shot shows a man placing a bomb in a car and then the journey of the car into the United States as a passenger tries to tell a border guard she hears a ticking sound. The shot ends with newlyweds Miguel ("Mike") (Charlton Heston) and Susie Vargas (Janet Leigh) kissing. The scene then cuts to the car, containing a man and a woman, exploding. Times are 4:45, 8:45. For more details and ticketing info, check out The Castros web site.

Down in Los Angles, continuing with the The Noir City Los Angeles Festival of Film Noir playing through most of April at the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Tonight they are playing THE THREAT  and THIS WOMAN IS DANGEROUS . THE THREAT , 1949 directed by Felix E. Feist and starring Charles McGraw. The film features Michael O’Shea, Virginia Grey, among others.220px-ThreatPoster

Ruthless killer Red Kluger (Charles McGraw) escapes from prison, vowing vengeance on the cop and D.A. who sent him up. His kidnapping plot culminates in a Mojave hideout – call it “The Petrified Desert” – where the gang waits for a plane to take them to freedom. Director Felix Feist steers the action at a breakneck pace, turning the proceedings into a veritable highlight reel of malicious mayhem courtesy of McGraw, the ultimate noir tough guy. Not on DVD!  Start time is 7:30

Next up is THIS WOMAN IS DANGEROUS  Posterthiswomanx.

The film from 1952 is a Warner Bros. feature film starring Joan Crawford, David Brian, and Dennis Morgan in a story about a gun moll’s romances with two different men. The screenplay by Geoffrey Homes and George Worthing Yates was based on a story by Bernard Girard.

In 1973, during the "Legendary Ladies" show at Town Hall, when asked, "Which one of your films do you regret making?" Joan Crawford told the audience that she considered, "This Woman Is Dangerous," her worst film.

Beth Austin (Crawford) is the leader of a hold-up gang and the mistress of its most cold-blooded killer Matt Jackson (Brian). She has suffered from failing eyesight and travels to a distant state for an operation. Her lover promises to lie low until she returns.  Essentially a sequel to Crawford’s great THE DAMNED DON’T CRY, director Feist brings punch and panache to Daniel Mainwaring’s melodramatic script. We respectfully contend that Joan was a poor judge of her own work.

For times and ticketing information, check out Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard web site.cuar02_egyptomania0801

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A real life film noir: Dashiell Hammett and the case of the missing manuscript : KALW

"You may be right," he said, hesitantly. "About pain and death being the things men fear. But in one form they might frighten him beyond reason, while in other forms, he might be able to face them quite calmly. Fear isn’t a reasonable thing, you know." ACTOR (reading from "So I Shot Him")

It’s terse. It’s polished. There’s crime.

It’s never been published — until now.

Fifty years after Dashiell Hammett’s death, a national mysterymagazine is about to publish a long-lost story by the father of the hard-boiled-detective novel, and fans are giddy with excitement.

The story, "So I Shot Him," is one of about a dozen of the San Francisco writer’s pieces that were never printed anywhere. Word is that, unlike many works authors choose not to publish, this 12-page thriller is high-quality and complete.

 

Hammett Lost Stories

Hammett died of lung cancer in 1961 at the age of 66. But as in any good mystery, but his story doesn’t end there.

ANDREW GULLI: It was in a way unlike anything Hammett had ever written.

That’s Andrew Gulli, an editor at the Michigan-based mystery magazine The Strand. Back in the fall, Gulli was going through the author’s papers at the University of Texas at Austin, where they’re archived, when he came across 14 unpublished Hammett pieces.

GULLI: I was amazed that I’d found 14 pieces of fiction that were written by Hammett that had never before been published before.

And, Gulli says, there was one that particularly caught his eye: a completely polished gem.

GULLI: A lot of Hammett’s stories have clear-cut endings. With this story the ending’s not so clear-cut. You could almost describe it as a psychological thriller.

The Strand is publishing the story under the title "So I Shot Him." And now, half-a-century after the author’s death, the revelation has crime fiction fans on the edge of their seats.

JULIE RIVETT: We’ve known those stories are there. They’ve been kind of a secret treasure trove stashed away in Austin, Texas.

Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter, Julie Rivett, met recently with members of the author’s society to celebrate the release of "So I Shot Him." They went to John’s Grill, one of Hammett’s favorite haunts in San Francisco’s financial district.

The Hammett Society gathered in a dining room flanked by dark brown oak-paneled walls, a black foot-tall statuette of the Maltese Falcon perched regally before them.

RIVETT: The general public has never had access to this material. So we’re really excited to provide another little nugget of Hammett gold.

San Francisco book publisher Vince Emery was one of the first to preview the story.

VINCE EMERY: It’s a very good story.

Emery published the book Lost Stories in 2005. It’s a collection of 21 up-to-then unpublished Hammett stories. He says Hammett’s writing packs a wallop.

EMERY: He’s a writer’s writer. Other writers admire his writing style, which is like a school of martial arts, which believes that the correct hit is invisible. Your opponent should fall without you seeing his hands move. That’s the way Hammett writes. You have an emotional impact and you’re not quite sure why or how.

RIVETT: It’s a credit to the power of literature to see people are still so excited to see this stuff coming out so far after his death.

Again, Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter Julie Rivett.

RIVETT: It makes us as the family very happy and I hope it’ll make the readers happy too.

Maybe happy, maybe intrigued. As they lean back to read it in a dusky corner of a forgotten office somewhere in San Francisco, a ceiling fan turning slowly above, a small bottle of gin in a drawer and half a pack of Lucky Strikes on the table. That’s the hard-boiled stuff of Dashiell Hammett. And it’s back in business.

A real life film noir: Dashiell Hammett and the case of the missing manuscript : KALW

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/kalw/detail?entry_id=86352#ixzz1Ih3L8KB8

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The Noir City Los Angeles Festival of Film Noir

Dust off your fedora and fill up your hip flask, get you dame on the blower and tell her to shake the moths out of her cocktail dress. The Los Angeles Festival of Film Noir hosted by the American Cinematheque and the Film Noir Foundation is breaking out the old films between April 1st and 20th this yeaFilm Noirr. This years festival is being shown at the beautifully restored Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood.Egyptian

This could be a fun outing and a little different than the usual night on the town. Twenty-three of the films being shown are not available on DVD so this may be your only chance to see them unless NetFlix or someone else decides to stream them.

Tonight, April 2nd they are showing  Brute Force, from 1947 and starring Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn and Charles Bickford. 220px-BruteforcedvdBack when the film was released, Variety magazine gave the film a positive review, writing, "A closeup on prison life and prison methods, Brute Force is a showmanly mixture of gangster melodramatics, sociological exposition, and sex…of course, it wouldn’t be  Noir without femme fatales thus Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, Ella Raines and Anita Colby are the women on the ‘outside’ whose machinations, wiles or charms accounted for their men being on the ‘inside’…

Sticking with the prison theme, also showing tonight is House of Numbers starring Jack Palance. Tomorrows features are Whiplash from 1948 starring Dane Clark, Alexis Smith, Zachary Scott, and Eve Arden.220px-Whiplash

Other great films on the schedule are the Two Mrs. Carroll’s, on the 6th, Journey into Fear on the 8th, Gaslight on the 20th. For the complete schedule and ticketing information check out the American Cinematheque website.

399px-Gaslight-1944

These should be a lot of fun and give you something of a break from the usual in the city of Angels.

 

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