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Book Review : “The Twenty-Year Death” by Ariel S. Winter

 

 

20-Year-Death_smThe Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime)

  • Hardcover: 700 pages Publisher: Hard Case Crime/Titan Books
  • 1 edition (August 7, 2012) Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857685813 ISBN-13: 978-0857685810

I’ve read trilogies that had five books (Douglas Adams) but I’ve never heard of a debut novel that was, in fact, three complete novels. To be fair, Ariel Winter did – well write isn’t completely correct – publish a picture book. For children. And he has written short stories. For Elle, The Urbanite and McSweeney’s.

Hardly the background you’d expect for a crime novelist, though in his former life as a book seller, he no doubt read some crime fiction. But to decide to write your debut novel, that is in fact three novels, in a genre you have never published anything in previously takes an audacious author. And since he decided to tackle such  a task, why not really go out on a limb and write these three novels in the style of three giants of the genre? Or three subgenre of the genre.

That is exactly what Ariel S. Winter did with The Twenty-Year Death. First he tackles Georges Simenon, an author probably more important in Europe than America, but a seminal author of the crime fiction genre. His Commissaire (Jules) Maigret novels and short stories were a kind of bridge between the ‘cozy’ detective stories, where the crime was solved through deductive reasoning, and the police procedural, where the crime was solved through hard work and the collecting of evidence. Maigret appeared in Seventy-five novels and twenty-eight short stories between 1931 and 1972.

The first novel in The Twenty-Year Death is “Malniveau Prison” and, fittingly, Winter has modeled his Chief Inspector Pelleter on Maigret. Maigret, like Sherlock Holmes, was known for his pipes. With Pelleter, it is his ever-present cigars. Both policemen employ a mixed bag approach to detecting, at times relying on pure intuition, at other times on police methodology. A certain laconic manner is also present in both detectives, as is the penchant for mentoring and encouraging underlings. Both also have a  fondness for beer and wine, although Maigret is more of the heavier drinker. I think it is no coincidence that “Malniveau Prison” takes place in 1931, the same year that the first Maigret story, Pietr-le-Leton was written.

In  “Malniveau Prison” Pelleter is in the village of Verargent, near the prison of the title. He is there to question a serial child killer who has, in the vein of Hannibal Lector, helped Pelleter solve other crimes. While taking Mahossier’s testimony, the killer drops a hint about a series of stabbings that have taken place at the prison but have been hushed up. At the same time, in the village, a body has been discovered lying in the gutter during a rain storm. Initially the victim was thought to have gotten drunk and drowned in the gutter, but it is soon discovered that the man was in fact stabbed to death. Further, he is not known to the people of the village and he also had his clothes changed after having been stabbed.

The victims identity is soon discovered to be that of an inmate at the prison, though he hasn’t been reported missing from there and he is also the father of Clotilde-ma-Fleur, the French wife of the American writer, Shem Rosenkrantz ,who has come to the village to write in peace and quiet. It is only after moving to Verargent that Clotilde discovers that her father, who she has not seen since she was a little girl, is housed at Malniveau. When Clotilde disappears and the bodies of other inmates float out of the ground in a farmers field during the continuing deluge of rain, Pelleter must solve the murder and try and find out who is behind the killings of other inmates.

Winter has managed to capture the style of the prolific Simenon in using many of what were to become standard tools of the trade in crime fiction. Pelleter doggedly follows the clues using a mix of scientific and police procedure (door to door canvasing, questioning of witnesses, the tedious examination of records and files)  as well as intuition, logic and the process of elimination getting inside the heads of the characters to ascertain their possible motives– the author, Rosenkrantz – singularly self absorbed, but madly (perhaps too madly) in love with and protective of his new bride-, the killer Mahossier and his psychotic crimes, the local police and business people. He follows many dead ends and pursues red herrings – the disappearance of a group of young boys, the possibility of Rosenkrantz involvement in the disappearance of his wife and how that could tie into the stabbed inmates – and meets many physical and mental challenges, seemingly from both good guys and bad guys until he is finally able to solve a puzzling case.

This first ‘book’ of the trio is totally satisfying and stands on its own two feet. It captures the voice of Simenon perfectly and if left unsigned and stashed in Simenon’s notes could easily have passed as his own work. Indeed, Winter could have stopped here and spent the next decade or two writing Pelleter novels to the utter delight of crime fiction fans everywhere. The plot is masterfully drawn and the sense of place as well as place in time, are wonderful. The characters, both in the French villagers and , the American Rosenkrantz and the melodramatic Clotilde are an achievement. Having succeeded so far, Winter then turns his hand to Raymond Chandler.

To be sure, Raymond Chandler is probably the most important and most copied writer in crime fiction. Many worthy writers have tried to capture that same style – the use of language, his sharp lyrical similes, and some of the finest  dialog ever written in any genre.  Most have failed. Most end up with parody and pastiche or at best works that are successful but pale in comparison. Chandler (in his own words) took “a cheap, shoddy and utterly lost kind of writing, and made of it something that intellectuals claw each other about?” Winter will have Chandler fans giggling with glee and those same scholars tearing their hair out. His detective, Dennis Foster could be a drinking buddy of Phillip Marlowe’s. It’s not hard to picture them playing chess, chasing the same women. They are both loners, both ex-cops. Both oh so quotable.

Titled “The Falling Star”, book two moves the scene ten years into the future and from France to Los Angles. I’m sorry, it moves the scene to San Angles. Much as Chandler wrote of Los Angles and its environs pseudonymously – Bay City is Santa Monica, Gray Lake is Silver Lake – Winter does the same. Winter even goes so far as to spell ‘okay’ in the "Chandleresque" fashion; “Okey”. But it is not through a few clever name changes and quirky spelling habits that he manages to capture Chandler. His detective, Dennis Foster is cut from the same cloth; He refuses a prospective client’s money because he is ethically unsatisfied with the job and in reality, works for the interest of a character he is investigating.

“The Falling Star” opens with Foster being hired to bodyguard a Hollywood starlet; Chloe Rose – the same Clotilde Rozenkrantz of “Malniveau Prison”. She is still married to Shem, whose career is nearing its ebb, as he works as a script writer, though he has become less important as he sinks in to drunkenness and womanizing, usually with the younger actresses working on his super star wife’s movies. Foster is, as Phillip Marlowe was, not your stereotypical tough guy, but a complex, sometimes sentimental man. He doesn’t like working as a bodyguard, as his self-image is that of a detective. He also doesn’t like the fact that he is hired, in actuality, to NOT do a job and in the end discovers that he was lied to. But, in his diligent way uncovers another crime and as he wades through the Hollywood egos, the single minded police, the shady crime figures and the requisite femme fatale’s he not only sees justice done, but follows his own unique code of ethics which is defined as doing the right thing, not necessarily the legal thing.

I cannot recall a single author who captured Chandler so well. The plot and story could have been pulled from Chandler’s notebooks. The characters could have have stepped out of the pages of The Big Sleep or The Little Sister or any of the novels. And the dialog is wholly satisfying and could have been penned by Chandler from his grave. When Foster narrates, “Hollywood. The talent was crazy and the people behind the scenes were crazier.” It is exactly in that lyrical, cynical fashion that Chandler would have used and when he finishes the story/book with, “That’s why the movies never made any sense. The screen’s not big enough to hold everyone in it.” He adds to the Chandler ideal.

Again, Winter has managed to do, what many have tried, only do it not just successfully but brilliantly. The reader will be left hoping this is not the last time that Winter channels the master.

And for the grand finale, and to wind up this marvelous odyssey of crime fiction, from the cozy/police procedural to the heart of the hardboiled era, Winter takes on another persona from the pantheon of ‘crime fiction gods’ by summoning the "Dimestore Dostoevsky", Jim Thompson. “Police At The Funeral” finds Shem Rosenkrantz in his home town in Maryland. He is now the kept man/pimp of the casual prostitute, Vee, the “should have been enticing, but she is just vulgar,” Vee. Winter pulls out all the stops and would appear to embrace the “three brave lets” that Stephen King spoke of when discussing Thompson; “he let himself see everything, he let himself write it down, then he let himself publish it." It is totally over the top, and sinks to the deepest depths.

Chloe/Clotilde has been institutionalized in a mental hospital for the past ten years, since 1941 when “The Falling Star” took place. Shem has not written anything in years and is mostly forgotten by the public. He is home to hear the reading of the will of his first wife, Quinn where he is reunited with his son, Joe who we met in the opening scenes of “Star”. Shem is hoping to inherit his ex-wife’s estate but when the entire thing is left to his son, Joe, he finds himself nearly penniless and living off the money that Vee gets from her gangster Johns.

Shem has borrowed money from his publishers and from the Hollywood executives and even gamblers and underworld king pins to the extent where they won’t even accept his phone calls or answer his telegrams anymore. Vee is about to abandon him as well, since he won’t be getting his hands on his ex-wife’s money and young Joe  holds him in contempt, seeing Shem as nothing but a drunk who abandoned his mother. As the story progresses, Shem sinks deeper and deeper into drunkenness and desperation, but clings to the lie he tells himself that he deserves the money so as to keep Chloe Rose out of a state hospital.  But when Joe is killed in a drunken argument with Shem, Shem enlists Vee’s help in staging the scene as an accidental  fire.

Winter captures the noir genre and the godfather of the noir movement, Thompson, to perfection. Shem is perfect as a desperate, egotistical, totally self-absorbed, devoid of any redeemable qualities protagonist. Vee is the his perfect accomplice and finds her lineage in the buxom female characters that Thompson and many others of the noir subgenre drew so well. Every single time that Shem has a chance to redeem himself as a human being, he destroys it. His every ‘real’ motive is selfish. At every turn, he is his own worst enemy and has gone from a downward spiral to the final plunge into madness and damnation.

What Winter has accomplished with The Twenty-Year Death will have not just the crime fiction world, but the literary world talking for years to come. To have captured so perfectly the style and voice of three disparate giants and then set them in three separate but interconnected and absorbing stories is truly an accomplishment. It is hard to imagine that he could possibly hope to achieve this kind of tour de force in his future works, but then again, its hard to believe that he could do it in the first place and right out of the gate.

Article first published as Book Review: The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter on Blogcritics.

 

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Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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Book Review: “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” by Horace McCoy

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Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (Midnight Classics)

The second of Horace McCoy’s noir classics, republished in April by Open Road Media in a nicely formatted eBook with perhaps the most extensive biography of McCoy available. Published in 1948 at the start of what scholars consider the beginning of the Noir/Paperback era in crime fiction (and the end of the hardboiled era of authors like Dashiell Hammett, Chandler and the pulp magazines and their authors) , Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye leans towards the hardboiled genre, that had just past, but enters the noir era. The book is full of lively dialogue and tough guys and femme fatales that were also “tough gals”, and though it comes nowhere close to Raymond Chandlers snappy, cynical wit, it stacks up nicely with most of the hardboiled writing of the era.

McCoy, from Tennessee, served in the first world war. After the war he relocated to Texas where he spent the years between 1919 and 1930 as a sports editor for the Dallas Journal . It was while he was in Texas that he got bitten by the acting bug which led him to acting in local theater that eventually saw him move to California in an attempt, at first to become a movie star. This experience was put to good use in his novels and short stories which often depicted central characters that were either involved, usually with little success, in the budding film industry. In the late ‘20s he started his writing career by selling short stories to various pulp mystery magazines such as Amazing Stories, Black Mask and Dime Detective. He went on to publish his first novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? in 1935. Between ‘35 and 1961 (Corruption City was published posthumously in 1961) he published 5 more novels. He spent most of his efforts working as a script writer after the success of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (which we reviewed last week)  from 1935 until his death in 1955.  Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, is among his best efforts and was turned in to a film starring James Cagney as the protagonist, Ralph Cotter. the film, and the book were widely banned because it was "a sordid, sadistic presentation of brutality and an extreme presentation of crime with explicit steps in commission." I guess they didn’t want little Johnny learning step by step criminal schemes.

“Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” 1950, starring James Cagney

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The movie received mixed reviews by the American critics, and was often compared unfavorably to White Heat which features Cagney in a similar role. Nevertheless, the film had a great influence on the French filmmakers who loved pulp fiction and gave the genre the name, film noir, and can be seen, for example, in Jean-Luc Godard’s film Made in U.S.A, in which one character is reading this novel in its French translation, Adieu la vie, adieu l’amour. Indeed, the influence led McCoy and other writers such as David Goodis and James M. Cain ,works to be relabeled ‘noir’ differentiating them from the classic ‘hardboiled’ detective novels of Hammett, Chandler and others.

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is the story of Ralph Cotter, an unquestionably amoral man who sees himself as intellectually superior because of his Ivy League education and his having been born into an upper class family, although his pedigree is questionable and he avoids any proof when challenged by his minions, one exchange;  “Does it matter?” (where he went to college) “You’re not ashamed of it , are you?” “I think the college might be. I’m sure my career doesn’t reflect too much credit on the school. It does prove one thing, though it proves that I came into crime through choice not through environment. I didn’t grow up in the slums with a drunk for a father and a whore for a mother and come into it because it mistreated me and warped my soul. Every criminal I know – who’s engaged in violent crime – is a two-bit coward who blames society. I need no apologist or crusader to finally hold my lifeless body up to the world and shout for them to come observe what they have wrought.” It’s easy to take this book as nothing more than a great ‘genre story’ but McCoy’s use of the then topical subject of “nature verses nurture” is important to the times he lived as many of the “folk lore” criminals of the day such as John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson  were raised in ‘broken homes’ and the apologists of the day explained their antisocial behavior on the hard times of the day.

The book opens with Ralph, along with a fellow inmate, Toko, breaking out of prison on a chain gang. They are aided by Holiday, the buxom gun moll cum femme fatale of the piece. Once successful, Ralph immediately starts pulling robberies in the unnamed town where he is hiding out. On his first job, he ends up being double crossed and when confronted by the police who at first seem about to shoot him, Holiday and Jinx, who had aided in the escape, but take their money instead and tell them to take the first bus to Phoenix.

Horace McCoy

Ralph comes up with a scheme to turn the tables on the crooked cops by recording them on a phonograph talking about a bigger heist and presumably aiding the gang in the crime. He uses this to blackmail the high ranking Inspector Webber and along the way meets and employs the lawyer, Mandon to help him setup his blackmail scheme. As he carries on a tumultuous relationship with Holiday, and plans bigger and bigger capers, Ralph (having taken on the alias of Paul Murphy) is soon revealed as not only wanting to gain riches but to climb socially as well. While trying to locate a con artists that can help him pull off his blackmail scheme he meets Margret, who he sees as a step up the social ladder. But after being caught In flagrante delicto with Margret and coming up with the excuse they had just been married, Ralph figures he has bitten off more than he can chew and consequently turns down $35,000 in bribe money to sign an annulment.

As Ralph, showing disdain for his loosely formed criminal gang,  now with the aid of the crooked police and the shyster Mandon, plans to hold up, and kill, the bag men for a local mafia don, he details a complex and involved strategy. When the crime goes off without a hitch, he is at his most egotistic in the false belief that his superior intellect and planning were the reason for their success. He lords it over Holiday, Jinx and even Mandon, and instead of sowing respect earns more and more resentment from his compatriots.

But Margret and her wealthy  industrial giant of a father has a new found respect for Ralph because he turned down the bribe. He offers Ralph a million dollars to marry Margret, who is infatuated with Ralph. Ralph has no desire to be married, but a million dollars and the respectability the offer could bring him tempts him. But he soon learns that he isn’t as smart as he thinks he is and that old barb about a woman scorned combined with karma can be a bitch.

McCoy drew the story in a very Hammett like way. The unnamed town, the prevalence of crooked small town politicians and superficial upper crust characters are all devices that Hammett used to great effect in his Continental Op stories. But McCoy adds to that many elements that would become in the coming decade of the ‘50s typical of the ‘noir’ genre. Instead of the lone good guy against the array of bad guys – crooked cops and crookeder crooks – and the damsel in distress femme fatale, McCoy introduces the tough gal in Holiday and nary a character is admirable. Everybody has their own motivations and most of those are deplorable and the characters are thus, beyond redemption. Further, though Ralph on occasion displays competence, his ego wants to see his successes as brilliance on his part when what it is is mostly luck.

McCoy also rises above the typical hardboiled/noir fare by introducing many topical subjects of the day; the deplorable conditions in prisons, “Not much of the morning could get into the place where I was, and the portions that did were always pretty well mauled and no wonder: they had to fight their way in through a single window at the same time a solid shaft of stink was going out. This was a prison barracks where seventy-two unwashed men slept chained to their bunks, and when the individual odors of seventy-two unwashed men finally gather into one pillar of stink you have got a pillar of stink the like of which you cannot conceive; majestic, nonpareil, transcendental, K.” (I’m not sure whether the ‘K’ is a misprint or an obscure term.). He also alludes to male rape in prisons and homosexuals who Ralph comes to accept as fellow rebels, he thinks to himself at one point “ We all had a little twilight in our souls; in every man there are homosexual tendencies, this is immutable, there is no variant, the only variant is the depth of the latency….They were rebels too, rebels introverted; I was a rebel extroverted. theirs was the force that did not kill, mine was the force that did kill.”  . There is also the subject of “nature verses nurture” which was very much in discussion at the time the book was written. Further, he reveals much about Ralph and uses a plot device that would become stock in noir fiction through Ralph’s inner dialogs which are almost as numerable as the tough guy banter between the characters. This also portrays Ralphs rising mania to not only out wit the system but to rise above the typical slow witted crooks he is forced to employ in his schemes.

Altogether, not only a tour de force of hardboiled noir fiction, but a literary triumph of genre fiction from one of the grandfathers of the style and a wonderful edition now available in a nicely formatted eBook with an extended biography of the author.

Article first published as Book Review: Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy on Blogcritics.

 

 

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Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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One Man, One Murder by Jakob Arjouni

A Kayankaya Thriller                  

 

To rescue a kidnapped prostitute, Kemal Kayankaya must face some of Germany’s most depraved and dangerous criminals. Fortunately, some of them are his friends. . . .

OneManOneMurderHard-boiled prose, lean, clean dialogue, hard bitten as Sam Spade, cynically cool as Philip Marlowe. Kemal Kayankaya is a worthy successor to the great noir characters and hard boiled detectives of the past. This isn’t a parody or a cheap imitation, Jakob Arjouni has created the real thing. Beautiful!

Jakob Arjouni tells a tale that could have come off of the mean streets of Chandler’s Los Angles or Hammet’s San Francisco, or Chicago or New York or Boston but it takes place in Frankfurt, Germany – the dullest town in Germany, except it isn’t. One Man, One Murder was originally written in 1991 as Ein Mann, ein Mord. Melville International Crime provided me with this Galley of the translation and after reading it, it’s jumped to the top of the list of ‘Best Surprise Book’ of the year. In an original voice, Arjouni tells such a true story and he tells it so well, maintaining tension throughout, dialogue that is  clever, witty, and sad and an atmosphere that James M. Cain would have been proud of.

Kemal Kayankaya is the orphaned son of a Turkish garbage collector, a German Citizen, born and bred. But, because he is of Turkish extraction he encounters suspicion and racism wherever he goes. He meets them with a smart assed attitude and a cynical, jaded tongue.

A piece of dialog while Kemal is trying to rent an office:

“Well then, Mr. Kayankaya, I see you are a private investigator. That’s an interesting name…Kayankaya.” “Not really that interesting. Just Turkish.” I see.” The saccharine content of his smile increases; his eye slits are no wider than a razor’s edge.”Turkish. A Turkish private investigator? What do you know…I hope you don’t mind my asking, but – how come you speak such good German?” “It’s the only language I know. My parents died when I was a child, and I was raised by a German family.” “But – but you are a Turk? I mean —“ “ I have a German passport, if that makes you feel better.”…..”Mind showing it to me?”

And this from when he meets his new client:

“How did you find me? “ He looked startled….”You must have checked the Yellow Pages. But why Kayankaya, why not Muller?” “Because she is Thai, and I thought…” “You thought Thailand and Turkey both start with a ‘T’?” “How could I have known you’re a Turk? On the contrary, I expected – but…”

…They visit exhibitions in New York and go on safaris in Africa: they smoke hashish in Cairo, eat Japanese food, and purpose to teach democracy to Muscovites; they are “international” down to their Parisian underwear – but they are not able to recognize a Turk unless he is carrying a garbage can under his arm and leading a string of ten unwashed brats.

 

This book would have worked so well as just a comic take on the American Hardboiled detective transplanted to Europe in the late 80’s; as a cynical updating of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, but Arjouni had loftier goals. And he achieved them in spades. Sam Spades. It is Arjouni’s willingness to confront serious social issues and display them in the light of a hardboiled/noir novel, with an avoidance of clichés, intelligent observation, and dialog that is both realistic and acid-tinged. And to do it all without preaching. He kind of reminds me of the great Walter Mosley in that regard.

 

Another piece of dialog where Kayankaya channels Sam Spade in his violent reaction:

“What’s your name, nigger?”   So, I said to myself, this must be their guy with the communications skills.I took the cigarette out of my mouth and studied its glowing tip for a moment. His beery breath struck my face. I looked at him and said very quietly: “Listen, pig. Another word out of you, and I’ll see to it that you won’t be able to stand up, sit down, or fuck – ever again.”

And then a few seconds later, he switches to the cynical humor:

(Mrs. Steiner, a bureaucratic receptionist who has just refused to serve or speak to Kayankaya because he appears to be a minority gives an explanation and then Kayankaya says…) “If you are not telling me the truth…” “I beg your pardon…” Despite her obvious fear that our argument might turn into a free for all, Mrs. Steiner looked indignant. “ I am a civil servant!”

 

This particular story opens when Kayankaya  takes on a new client, Herr Weidenbusch, who has discovered that love is never roses and springtime when your girlfriend is a Thai immigrant that has been kidnapped by a gang of pimps. This isn’t the first time either, and the simpering Weidenbusch, with his pink eyeglasses and colorful wrist watches, who rebels against his mother at the age of 40 or so, wants to get her back. He has “paid her debt” to the brothel that sponsored her, and paid for a fake passport so that Weidenbusch can marry her, and now they apparently want more. Kayankaya recognizes a name from the place where Sri Dao Rakdee worked.  “The Lady Bump”, a shady bar and house of prostitution in Frankfurt’s “Eros Center’. Slibulsky is a low life, depraved and shady criminal, a degenerate gambler no loyalty and a broken arm. He just blew a fifty thousand mark inheritance at a roulette table and is working off a further debt to the owner of the establishment. He is also a ‘friend’ of Kayankaya. The kind of friend you hope the other guy has. But Slibulsky has his ear to the ground of the Frankfurt underground and soon opens some doors to dark places where Kayankaya seeks Sri Dao.

Along the way Kayankaya encounters deadly crime bosses, indifferent and crooked cops, violent muscle men, a landlord who wants his money, an illegal immigrant ring that sells the hopefuls fake visas and then disposes of them – the hopefuls, not the visas, a miasma of bureaucratic and social injustice and racial prejudice that mirrors Americas own. The air of contemporary Europe’s racial politics and inane nationalism are the maze that Kayankaya navigates in his quest but he is well equipped with a sharp mind, a sharper tongue and meets these challenges with a cynical, smart-assed attitude and an anti-authority front. There are enough seeming dead ends, as almost any detective novel requires, but instead of having them …dead end, Arjouni has them turn into very interesting ‘small mysteries’ or stories inside the story.Jakob Arjouni Arjouni is a consummate professional. His prose are efficient with a minimalists approach that Hemingway would love, but not so minimalist that he doesn’t manage to fully develop the characters without using stock, stereotypes, and he makes them way too real. He also paints scenes both colorful and dark about the underbelly of a city and maintains a pace that lingers just enough in all the right places.

The only criticism I have for this otherwise master work is that it took to damn long to get it translated and released in English. Well, Melville International Crime has fixed that, and thank you very much.

 

 

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Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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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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Crime Always Pays: EIGHTBALL BOOGIE by Declan Burke

Among all of the recent crop of Irish crime novelists, it seems to me that Declan Burke is ideally poised to make the transition to a larger international stage.– John Connolly, author of THE WHISPERERS

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“I have seen the future of Irish crime fiction and its name is Declan Burke.” – Ken Bruen, author of THE GUARDS

Down in the Old Quarter, two times out of three you flip a double-headed coin, it comes down on its edge.
  ‘Last time, it doesn’t come down at all …’
When the wife of a politician keeping the Government in power is murdered, Sligo journalist Harry Rigby is one of the first on the scene, where he quickly discovers that he’s in out of his depth when it transpires that the woman’s murder is linked to an ex-paramilitary gang’s attempt to seize control of the burgeoning cocaine market in the Irish Northwest. Harry’s ongoing feud with his ex-partner Denise over their young son’s future doesn’t help matters, and then there’s Harry’s ex-con brother Gonzo, back on the streets and mean as a jilted shark …

Crime Always Pays: EIGHTBALL BOOGIE by Declan Burke

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The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett

When I decided to review the classic hardboiled, noir crime fiction stories, I knew I had to start with Hammett.  The the question arose, where to start?  I knew I wanted to start with a novel, not a short story. Not that the short stories weren’t worthy of a review, indeed, I’ll cover a lot of them, but I wanted to do a novel.  At first I figured I’d write about Red Harvest Red Harvest which is often considered his master piece.

Time magazine included Red Harvest in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. And Nobel Prize-winning French author André Gide called the book “a remarkable achievement, the last word in atrocity, cynicism, and horror.”  But, in the end I decided that I’d start with Hammett’s own favorite, The Glass Key.

The Glass Key

The Glass Key is  ultimately the story of a man’s devotion to a friend. It is the story of gambler and racketeer Ned Beaumont, whose devotion to crooked political boss Paul Madvig leads him to investigate the murder of a local senator’s son. Ruffling some feathers during his investigation and setting up his own alibi – Ned is at first a suspect – he stirs up a  potential gang war. While conducting his investigation, he also never misses an opportunity for political maneuvering, dirty tricks and throwing a wrench into the oppositions own political/criminal machine all for a friend he seemingly doesn’t care that much about or cares for him.

On the surface, the book is a “traditional” whodunit with its linear plot, subtle hints, red herrings, false leads, and disclosure of the murderer in the final chapter. It’s his only novel with enough clues to allow readers to figure out who did it–although the identity of the killer will still surprise most readers. Yet, it is classic hardboiled fiction. As the reader turns the pages, they’ll notice a seeming lack of emotion, at least on the surface, of one character for another. Even when one character shows love or friendship, it feels as if there must be an ulterior motive. It fits the classic “noir” standard where all of the characters are flawed, and seem morally scarred and maybe, just maybe beyond redemption. Even the hero, Ned, if you can call him that, very casually-if elaborately, frames a man for murder and potentially sends him to his execution all because the guy cheated him on a bet. The language is spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he does it over and over again as only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes here that seem never to have been written before and seldom since.  It’s debated whether Hammett or Ernest Hemingway first used this sparse, realistic and almost cold-hearted way of writing, but one thing remains clear. Hammett took a cheap, shoddy and utterly lost kind of writing, something meant only for dime novels and made of it something that intellectuals crow about. He took hardboiled and made it literature and set a standard that writers are still trying to achieve.  Hammett’s mastery of the American language, his adherence to reality, and that he (as Raymond Chandler put it)  “gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse.” It is a world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities … it is “not a fragrant world”, but it is the world we live in. While most of his fiction deals with the underworld and its corruption and squalidness, this work shows most effectively the seedy alliances among businessmen, political bosses, elected officials, law enforcement, media figures, and organized crime…and let’s not forget, beautiful women.

 

The Dirty Lowdown

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