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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.

 

The Dirty Lowdown

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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Book Review: “David Goodis : 5 Noir Novels of the ‘40s &’50s” Robert Polito, Editor

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David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s (Library of America)

David Goodis established himself as the successor to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler with the publication of his first book Retreat from Oblivion in 1939. The year before he had graduated from Temple University, so Retreat boded well for a young author. Unfortunately, his career began at a time that many consider the twilight of the Hardboiled era in fiction. Additionally, the world was on the cusp of yet another Great War.

During the 1940s, having moved to New York City, 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.

Now, The Library Of America who in ‘97 issued the books, Crime Novels: American Noir gathered, in two volumes, eleven classic works of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s––among them David Goodis’s
moody and intensely lyrical masterpiece Down There. Now, they  have teamed with editor Robert Polito to gather five of Goodis’ seminal works of the genre that became known as Noir. Goodis, along with James M. Cain and Jim Thompson, are today considered the ‘godfathers’ of Noir and for good reason. They wrote of ‘the mean streets’ but the people that populated their novels were doomed. They had very few redeeming qualities and the lines were often blurred between right and wrong, good and evil, and hero and villain.

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This volume opens with Dark Passage, considered by some as his masterpiece, but regardless, it was his first big break through in 1946, and later on, it made history in a copyright lawsuit. More on that in a minute. The story centers on Vince Parry, who is in prison, convicted of killing his wife. Parry was a decent sort of guy, quiet, never bothered anybody, not too ambitious and worked as a clerk in an investment house bringing home $35 a week. He’d only been married for sixteen months when his wife was found by a neighbor, in her house with her head bashed in. But, before the wife died she supposedly whispered to the neighbor that Parry had hit her with a heavy glass ash tray. The police found the wife’s’ blood on the ash tray and Parry’s fingerprints on it. To make matters worse, as they are wont to do in noir novels, it came out at trial that Parry hadn’t been getting along with his wife and was seeing other women, the fact that the wife had been seeing other men didn’t make much of a difference to the jury. With no alibi, Parry is sentenced to San Quentin.

He plots an escape, and after carrying out the careful plan, he makes his way out of the prison in a very harrowing and realistic way. But, after the escape, while attempting to hitch a ride, he ends up killing a man. Finally picked up by a woman, Irene Jansen, he hitches back into the Bay area and Irene confesses that she suspected who he was, having followed his case in the papers, and then, hearing on the radio, of his prison break had gone looking for him, guessing his route. Irene agrees to hide him in her apartment and provide him with the means to go looking for the real killer.

The tension, and psychological suspense that Goodis paints during these scenes would become a trade mark. Parry is divided between being grateful for the help Irene provides him and the fear of leaving behind a witness who could provide the police with clues as to his activities. Finally, having difficulties staying hidden at Irene’s apartment because of  Madge Rapf, the spiteful and melodramatic woman whose testimony sent him up to prison, keeps stopping by. It seems that Irene has been simultaneously carrying on a friendship with Madge and an affair with Madge’s husband. Irene gives Parry money, and he leaves her apartment, where he starts his quest for the real killers. Along the way he meets a helpful cabbie, who gives him a tip on a plastic surgeon who can inexpensively change his appearance to help him elude the cops.

The novel, with a boost from the Bogart/Bacall movie the very next year, put Goodis on the map as a serious novelist of noir. One interesting aside is that the novel became the set piece in a legal battle between Goodis estate and United Artists Television. The Goodis estate claimed that the UA series The Fugitive constituted copyright infringement. United Artists claimed that the work had fallen into the public domain under the terms of the Copyright Act of 1909 because it had been first published as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post, and that Goodis never obtained a separate copyright on the book. The court found in the estates favor and stated that the law only defined the standing of a work, and should not operate to completely deprive a claimant of his copyright.

In 1947s Nightfall, Goodis would continue to expand his reputation as a master of the genre.  Continuing with the man on the run from the law themes of Dark Passage, Nightfall  also adds the element of the protagonist on the run from some bad guys. Artist Jim Vanning is on the run in New York City, working as a commercial artist. Three gangster hoods are after him, thinking he has a suitcase full of $300,000 of their money. Vanning doesn’t have the money, but this fact won’t deter the hoods as Vanning did have it, but lost it. From there, the plot get complicated. A detective Fraser is on to Vanning, and though he suspects that Vanning may have stolen the money, he doesn’t picture him as the killer of the man who had the money. Naturally, there’s a dame involved. There always is a femme fatale in these great stories and Vanning has to decide whether the alluring Martha is with the crooks or if she is just a dupe for the crooks and being used for bait. The prose are taut and well crafted as you would expect from an author who achieved cult status. It’s packed with action and scenes that would become standard fare for the authors after Goodis that worked in the noir genre.

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The other works chosen here are The Moon in the Gutter (1953), which tells the story of a street hardened man whose sister commits suicide after being raped. With  his marriage on the rocks and questions to be answered in his quest for the man that drove his sister to despair,  he meets a rich woman. The beautiful Loretta provides him with an escape route out of the mean streets of “Filth-adelphia” , but he learns you can take the tough guy out of the alley, but you can’t take the alley out of the tough guy. The dialogue is perhaps some of Goodis’ most hardboiled. The Burglar (1953) is the story of Nat Harbin, the scion of a family of Burglars who upon finding love looks for a way to leave his ‘family’ and past behind. As Ed Gorman wrote in The Big Book Of Noir, Goodis didn’t write novels, he wrote suicide notes. At heart the novel has themes of crime, honor, loyalty and a futile search for redemption. And finally, 1954s Street of No Return tells the story of Whitey, a singer with a million dollar voice. With that voice, women came under his spell and would sacrifice their body and their soul. He could have been another Sinatra until he met a woman who would prove to be his downfall. The story is told as a tale of Whitey’s past to his wino buddy’s in the present and we follow Whitey from that once glorious future through a nightmare descent into oblivion. Whitey now has no future, and only wants the next drink. Along the way Goodis paints the times with hard boiled pictures of Philadelphia and life on the streets and uses historical events such as Puerto Rican race riots as a back drop.

Upon Goodis return from New York in 1950, he lived with his parents in Philadelphia along with 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. He died at the age of forty-nine, one month after winning the “Fugitive” lawsuit. But during his life, The Pulp Poet of the Lost and The Prince Of The Losers made a mark on the world of fiction that many noir authors of the present day readily acknowledge.

LOA logoLibrary Of America is dedicated to preserving the nation’s cultural heritage by publishing America’s best and most significant writing in authoritative editions.

politopic_homepageRobert Polito, the editor is a poet, biographer, and critic whose Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson received the National Book Critics Circle Award. He directs the Graduate Writing Program at the New School.

 

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Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

   

Article first published as Book Review: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and the 50s by David Goodis, Robert Polito, Editor on Blogcritics.

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Book Review: “I Was Dora Suarez” by Derek Raymond

Dora Suarez

I Was Dora Suarez (Factory 4)

“Don’t you see, the words sometimes take the place of tears?”

What if a true villain, a thoroughly evil psychopath, a man who already possessed a heart of darkness, who already scared evil men witless, then went mad? Fully and irredeemably insane. What depths of depravity, what  inhumane crimes would he be capable of?

In I Was Dora Suarez, the fourth in Derek Raymond’s Factory Novels we find out.

Be warned. This novel is not for the squeamish. This novel made it’s publisher, who had already published the first three Factory Novels, vomit over his desk. Much to the glee of it’s author, who himself was a bit of a mad man.

As with the other Factory Novels, Dora Suarez stars the unnamed, detective sergeant of London Metropolitan Police’s, Department of Unexplained Deaths – The Factory, otherwise known as A14. Unexplained Deaths handles the ‘rough trade’. The investigation of the ugly murders of the average citizen and the dispossessed as opposed to The Department of Serious Crimes – Scotland yard – who get the glamorous investigations.

The novel opens with the brutal murder of Dora Suarez, a seemingly gentle young girl, and the kindly 86 year old widow, Betty Carstairs, who has taken her in. The reader gets a peek inside the mind of the killer and of his methods. “His eyes….bore the stare of someone entirely lost on the earth, and he was the most hideous thing that you prayed you might never see.”

The detective sergeant is on suspension from the police for striking a superior officer. Insubordination comes easy to him, as he isn’t a career ladder climber. He is called back on the job, all is forgiven, to handle this case as the police are short handed.

As the sergeant investigates, he immediately empathizes with the victim, and is deeply effected by the heinous details of the murder. Dora was repeatedly axed, one arm cut off before death as she pleaded with her murderer. As he investigates further it’s discovered that the murderer ejaculated on Dora, and defecated on the scene. He also literally threw Betty through a clock. The sergeant also discovers a diary of sorts that, as he reads, makes him believe that Dora may have known her killer. The diary also reveals her innate gentleness in real life and that she was already dying and he develops an obsessive fondness and sadness for the dead woman . There’s a sadness to Dora’s life, the way that she has been repeatedly beaten down, used by life and the people in it.

During the autopsy, the extent of Dora’s sickness is revealed to be advanced AIDS, but how she contacted it is not immediately apparent. It also becomes clear that the killer ate pieces of Dora post mortem. 

Mean while, barely a mile away, another murder is being investigated by Stevenson, one of the sergeants few friends on the police. Felix Roatta has had his head blown nearly off, and the timing of the two sets of murders, as well as the nearness of the scenes, perks both their interest.

Roatta was a notorious gangster and part owner of the Parallel Club. A photograph is discovered taken at the club on Roatta’s birthday with Dora singing on stage, and a man that the other criminal elements that haunt the club are reluctant to talk about.

As the clubs Greek doorman, and other criminal elements that had ownership interests in the club are detained and questioned, and as the degenerate offerings of the clubs “exclusive” upstairs rooms are revealed, the pure ugliness and subversion of decency make the sergeant and Stevenson more than determined to discover the identity and whereabouts of the murderer who even scares these hardened criminals.

This is where I usually talk about the authors craft. How well he uses literary devices, develops the characters and sense of place. Dialog and narration and all the other component parts of a good story. In the case of Dora Suarez, that would be superficial at best. Akin to criticizing the paints in Michelangelo’s pallet or discussing the merits of the water that Monet used to soak his paper.

Raymond simply defines British Noir and in Dora Suarez created one of the most important pieces of crime fiction of the past fifty years. To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, Raymond has taken a cheap, shoddy and utterly lost kind of writing, and made of it something that intellectuals claw each other about. Paul Oliver at Melville House Publishing told me when he provided this review copy, Raymond “Wrote like John Donne if Donne had been taught how to write by Jim Thompson.”

As an entry in the “hardboiled” genre, if bounced on the floor it would chip concrete. In the “Noir” field it is to “black novels” what black holes are to darkness.

As with most of The Factory Novels, it is only superficially a police procedural. And only nominally a mystery. Raymond’s concern, and his protagonists, throughout the series was always more about the victim and what brought them to their fate.

To be sure the dialog is as elegant as Raymond Chandler, and the basic story line as good or even better at uncovering the fault lines of society than Hammett at his best.

The sergeants dialog is hard violent, and insolent, and never approaches the realm of civil discourse whether he is talking to the politically motivated higher ups, the lowly bobbys on the beat who wish to play at being a cop or to the dregs of criminal society, whether they be witnesses or suspects.

In contrast to his violent exterior is  an almost psychotically sacred level of concern for the victim.  In the words of the author, he “describes men and women whom circumstances have pushed too far, people whom existence has bent and deformed. It deals with the question of turning a small, frightened battle with oneself into a much greater struggle — the universal human struggle against the general contract, whose terms are unfillable, and where defeat is certain.”

First published in 1990, I Was Dora Suarez was the fourth of five Factory Novels published and considered the master work of Raymond’s career. Rereleased in September by Melville International Crime and available singly or in a set consisting of the first four novels, with the fifth offered free when it is published in January.

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No one seriously interested crime fiction as literature, noir written as taut, ugly and teetering on the edge of sanity can possibly pass this one by.

 

Article first published as Book Review: I Was Dora Suarez by Derek Raymond on Blogcritics.

 

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 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.

 

 

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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“Frenzy” by James O. Causey

Frenzy1

The Capital Vices

Can a book be called Crime Fiction if there is nobody chasing the bad guys? Frenzy is such a book. All of the characters are bad guys. Not a single one, with the possible exception of the protagonists brother has the slightest bright spot in his soul to redeem him or her. It’s often labeled as “hardboiled” but there is no detective in the story. At least not one who is actually pursuing a crime or trying to solve a mystery. This is classic noir that would have made David Goodis or James M. Cain proud if he had written it.

The story is told by Norm Sands, a self described “two-bit grifter”.  How does a man become a “two-bit grifter”? That question is answered twelve years earlier. Norman Sands and his year younger brother, Matt were orphaned at the age of five when their parents were killed in a car crash. But that wasn’t the defining moment. They had insurance money and an aunt to take them in. They lived in a little town on the edge of the desert in southern California, Mason Flats. A five room room house. They were fed, clothed and cared for but Norm “was a dark child”, moody, got in fights, got in trouble. Boy kind of trouble. Matt was an honor student. Basketball star. People liked Matt. Matt was going to be a lawyer. Norm had a job setting pins in a bowling alley when WWII broke out. Norm ran with a fast crowd. They got in gang fights with the Mexican kids. Hung out playing pool in the backroom of Hermann’s. His brother was going places but Norm was sitting there at a fast idle until he fell in love in the eleventh grade with Laurie. Problem was Laurie was Hal Karse’s steady. Hal’s daddy was a big shot business man in town. Hal drove a sharp convertible, chrome headers, Carson top and all the girls were crazy about Hal. Until in a gang fight with some Mexican kids, Hal picked up a broken bottle and scarred one kid for life. Laurie dropped Hal and started seeing Norms brother, Matt. Hal was envious, but glad that Laurie was near.Frenzy

On prom night, Hal picked a fight with Matt, really beat him up. Norm finds out and takes a knife to Hal’s fine ride. Slashes the top, the upholstery, the dash. Pours dirty in the engine, took a brick to all the glass and gets caught. In the fight, Norm is being beat mercilessly when a free hand finds a brick and and hits one of his attackers, Claude, in the head. Suddenly the fight is over, apparently Claude is dead. What started as boys fighting ended in a murder. Norm flees town. Hops a freight destined for a life on the lam. You learn fast when you are on the run, a murderer at 16. You learn about degenerates, about filth, about hunger. You learn about sadistic brakemen, fond of crippling hobos. You learn to survive. You hustle in poolrooms in East L.A. At twenty you graduate to floating crap games. You discover you have good reflexes and a natural talent for cheating at cards. You celebrate your twenty-first birthday by having your ear drum punctured to avoid the draft. Your friends are con men, pimps and thieves.

Most of all you embrace the Seven Deadly Sins – that is really the message here. Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. AKA The Capital Vices and they will each, in its time undo Norm Sands.

The story opens twelve years later. Norm has become that two-bit grifter. he knows all the cons and can stack a deck. Norm is dealing cards in Gardena, a city out side of Los Angles that took advantage of state laws to operate poker parlors. Norm is shilling and dealing in one of these between betting on sure things that never come in, at Santa Anita on race days.

He is working for a shady character named Garth Anders and answering to Garths muscle, Angelo Ventresca. Norm has plans, such big plans but his own ambitions and schemes derail him every time. The Capital Vices.He plays hanky panky with Ingram’s girl, Robin. When he is caught, because of slothful ways, he is beaten.Nothing more.  In this kind of business there are various types of beatings, this wasn’t a beating that left you with ruined kidneys and a broken soul. Just an object lesson. Norm could have learned a lesson and gotten on with his small life, but lust, greed, envy, a touch of wrath – a need for revenge, and pride won’t let him. And sloth, time after time does him in. The Capital Vices, and Norm has them in Spades. Frenzy 3When a cop named Mallory finds out that Garth is planning on taking a delivery of Heroin he co-ops Norm. Norm decides to finger Garth and Angelo. And at the same time, rip off Garth for a sizable chunk of change….and steal his girl. Naturally it all goes wrong, and Norm this time is on a one way trip to being fitted with a wooden suit, when he escapes, hops a train, not a plug nickel to his name.

After a ten day lock up in San Bernardino for vagrancy he drifts south, eventually landing in his home town, Mason Flats. He initially plans on bumming a couple hundred bucks from his brother but soon is involved in real estate scams, oil speculation, murder, political corruption, and every imaginable vice from gambling to prostitution to drugs and racketeering,

Maybe he sees Mason Flats as his last chance at redemption, read the book and decide for yourself, but he’ll do anything, commit any sin, embrace all the Capital Vices – and betray, use and abuse anybody for this big opportunity to ‘win’.James O Causey  Friends, screw ‘em.  Family, sorry brother. He’ll lie, cheat, steal and no one is safe from his ambition. Not family, not the women he lusts for, not allies. No one and nothing.  Just when you think he has sunk as low as humanly possible, Norman Sands finds new depths of depravity and a new scheme. The Capital Vices rule Norman, and the ending  will answer the question, does crime pay? And what are the wages of sin?

James Oliver Causey was born in Los Angles in 1924 and died 2003. His first writing credit is from Weird Tales, "The Statue," from the January 1943  issue.

Weird Tales Causey’s writing career picked up again after the war. At least four of his stories were published in Street and Smith’s Detective Story Magazine between June 1945 and March 1947. In the early fifties, Causey tried his hand at science fiction with stories in Galaxy Science Fiction, Science Stories, and Orbit Science Fiction. Frenzy was written in 1960.There is a pretty good bio on him at Teller Of Weird Tales web site.

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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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Top Suspense:13 Classic Stories by 12 Masters of the Genre-Review

Book Review.

Top Suspense

The great attraction of short fiction for me is the sheer mastery it takes to develop a character, often many characters, lay out a plot that has to grab the reader right away and then tell a tale that will leave the reader not only entertained but thinking about it long after it is finished.  This is harder than it sounds and can be much harder than writing a full length novel.

Lucky for us readers, there are some authors out there that have mastered the form and in this book from CreateSpace and the Top Suspense Group 12 of those award winning masters have put together a collection of 13 Classic Stories that fulfill those requirements.

Unreasonable Doubt by the prolific Max Allan Collins is batting lead off. This is a tale of greed and murder taken from a real life story in the 50’s with Mr. Collins iconic hardboiled detective, Nathan Heller, from True Detective (November, 1983) and The Million Dollar Wound (1986). Nate is on vacation, but he is on the case. Max Allan Collins has written novels, screenplays, comic books, comic strips, trading cards, short stories, movie novelizations and historical fiction. He wrote the graphic novel Road to Perdition which was developed into a movie starring Tom Hanks.Road To Perdition

  Next up is Deaths Brother by Bill Crider, perhaps most famous for his  Sheriff Dan Rhodes series. Bill Crider has a PhD. and wrote his dissertation on the hardboiled detective novel. Deaths Brother  is the tale of a college poetry professor who has fallen in lust with one of his beautiful students and perhaps picturing himself as Dr. Jonathan Hemlock the Art History Professor and hit man  of The Eiger Sanction fame, decides to help her kill off her rich but terminally ill father..except her father isn’t the man he is sent to kill.

Next up is Poisoned by Stephen Gallagher who has written several novels and television scripts, including for the BBC television series Doctor Who. Poisoned is an eerie story about a “boy” bullied by the neighborhood kids except this story and this boy have a twist.

Poisoned is followed by perhaps my favorite, Remaindered by Lee Goldberg probably best known for his work on several different TV crime series, including Diagnosis: Murder, A Nero Wolfe Mystery, Hunter, Spenser: For Hire, and Monk.  Lee also  wrote and directed the short film Remaindered, based on this short story originally  written for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

The story involves an author who was touted as“The Voice of a New Generation” after his first novel, but finds himself signing books in a K-Mart a few years later amongst the Kotex sales and the potato chip sales, and taking advice like, “write a book about cats if you want success.” He sees redemption when a young, beautiful fan shows up and asks him back to her place to “see her library.” After an afternoon of fan appreciation, she want him to sign her autograph book which is filled with the signatures of all the other authors she has “appreciated”. Kevin Dangler learns the price for artistic redemption, ardent fan appreciation, and just how hard it is to write, or live, the perfect crime.

Next up is Joel Goldman’s Fire In The Sky a tale of a couple of good old young boys who dream of breaking out of the hum drum life in the American Heartland and also of the seemingly unobtainable girl in the fountain at a local water park. They might just get their chance during Joel Goldmana fire which consumes not only the park, but a number of lives.  Joel Goldman is a fourth generation Kansas Citian, and spent twenty-eight years as a trial lawyer and plan to spend at least as many as a writer.  Check out his great novel, No Way Out.

The Baby Store is a futuristic story from Ed Gorman, the  award winning American author best known for his crime and mystery fiction. He wrote The Poker Club which is now a film of the same name directed by Tim McCann. I first became aware of Ed through his contributions to The Book of Noir . A collection that explores the sense of existential nihilism, where betrayal is how romance best expresses itself and fear is only another name for foreplay.

The Book of NoirThe Baby Store invokes a time when the upper classes design their children. When Kevin McKay and his wife lose their designer child, Kevin begins to plot on how to replace him.

Next on our plate is a great crime story by Libby Fischer Hellmann, The Jade Elephant, a tale of a burglar who after escaping cancer, suddenly grow a conscience. After getting the good news in the hospital, he over hears a woman being given a death sentence because she can’t afford a kidney transplant. The woman is a past victim of Gus and his partner in crime. Because they cleaned her out when they robbed her apartment and left her tied up, she is now destitute and destined to die. Unless Gus finds a way to right wrongs and return the Jade Elephant they stole from her.This would allow her to sell it for money to pay the doctors. There is only one problem…or two….or three. Charlieman, the fence who has the artifact and Pete, his greedy partner. Blackleathersm Hellmann

Hellmann’s first crime fiction novel, An Eye For Murder, was published in hardcover in 2002 by Poisoned Pen Press and in paperback by Berkley Books. It was nominated for an Anthony for Best First, and won the Best First Readers Choice Award at Chicago’s ‘Love is Murder’ conference. Last years, Set the Night on Fire,  

was one of my favorite novels of the year.

  The Big O by the great “Tart Noir” writer, Vicki Hendricks is a white trash tale of a swamp, a couple of losers and a hurricane and how one not so innocent woman uses sex and her child to escape. if she can pull this off, she just give her son, Chance, a chance in life. It’s a memorable story of the extremes the “weaker sex” can employ. Ms. Hendricks is best known for her noir novels, MIAMI PURITY, IGUANA LOVE, VOLUNTARY MADNESS, and SKY BLUES.Iguana love Her novels invoke James M. Cain, the author of the noir classic, The Postman Always Rings Twice, but contain graphic sex that would never have gotten by the censors back in Cain’s day. Her work will give you many hot sweaty days and nights of reading fun, even in the dead of winter in Portland, Oregon surrounded by cold, drizzly, and damp that can’t even cut through her heat.

The Chirachi Covenant by Naomi Hirahara,  the 2007 winner of The Edgar Award for Snakeskin Shamisen is a tale taking place right after WWII when the Japanese-Americans were allowed to return to their homes and lives after the internment camps. Snake Skin

It’s an insightful tale of the clash of cultures, lust and honor. You’ll want to read more of Ms. Hirahara’s work after this story.

El Valiente En El Infierno is a border tale of a boy trying to reach his father in North America after the death of his mother in Mexico. he must pay a Coyote and make  a quick night trip over the fence, dodging vigilantes with rifles and cruel streaks. Along the way he meets and confronts xenophobes, his own manhood and pride as well as the unscrupulous coyotes who ply their trade by exploiting their own people. Paul Levine, as usual, writes a poignant story that you will think about many times over the next few days.

This was another of my very favorites from this marvelous collection. Paul is probably best known for his  Jake Lassiter Series.  Jake is Paul levine“Travis McGee with a law degree.” of crime fiction. Paul also writes the humorous "Solomon and Lord” series and moonlights on Facebook as a food critic….okay, I made that part up, but the man seriously knows the best restaurants anywhere in the world.

A Handful of Dust is the next story in this great collection. It is by Harry Shannon, the novelist, songwriter and entertainer who coincidentally lived in my home town of Pomona, California and attended Ganesha High School about the same time as my father. Besides being a great fiction writer, Harry co-wrote a number of songs recorded by artists such as Eddy Arnold (Cowboy), Reba McIntire (Small Two Bedroom Starter), Engelbert Humperdinck (Love You Back To Sleep), and Glen Campbell (Why Don’t We Just Sleep On It Tonight). Harry Shannon

The immensely talented Mr. Shannon also writes the Mick Callaghan novels. In A Handful of Dust Harry tells the story of a professional hit man, a monster named Pike and a late night meeting with a client at a road side bar. Pike, more at home in Vegas in his Armani suits and city slicker shoes, may just have run into a killer more deranged than himself. He’ll find out as he runs through the desert and finds fear in a handful of dust.

The 12th author to entertain us here is Dave Zeltserman the winner of both the Shamus and Derringer awards for his novelette "Julius Katz" in 2010. His ‘man out of prison’ crime noir series features the novels Small Crimes, Pariah and Killer. Small crimes Small Crimes was one of my favorites of 2008, featuring  corrupt cop Joe Denton, just out of prison after serving seven years for a drug fueled assault that left a D.A. permanently scarred. The Canary, The story presented here, is the story of a big time bank robber and armored car robber Karl Haskell and his attempt to reclaim the key to the storage shed where the $300,000 is stashed. The key is hidden inside a painting that, until recently, was in the possession of his partner, Pete Sifer. Sifer has been busted for drugs, and all his property, including the painting where the key is hidden is to be sold at auction. When Haskell can’t buy the painting legitimately at auction, he resorts to nefarious means. A neat, tidy little tale proving that crime might pay, but the tax on greed can be your undoing.

The final tale here is The Chase, this is a great little story written by all 12 of the authors. The deal was that each would write 250 words, then pass the story to the next author on the list. This sounds complicated, but these folks demonstrate why they are the award winners. The story is seamless! I seriously resorted to counting words trying to determine where one author stopped and the other took up the story. That didn’t help. Even once you figure out where the “breaks” must have been you can’t guess who wrote what. You’ll just have to buy this great collection, and read through the end to receive the link that will reveal who wrote what. Besides the “whodunit” of figuring out the last story, it is a great story and well worth the price of this great little book. get it here, today. Top Suspense

The Dirty Lowdown

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The Thin Man–Harry Bosch in the Movies

Thin Man 1

Great news for Noir Movie lovers. Word has it that Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man is in production to star Johnny Depp62834916 and directed by Robb Marshall. Warner bros. put the project in to production in October and Depp is also lined up to produce.

The original movie was based on a Dashiell Hammett novel, which centered on former private detective-turned-professional drunkard Nick Charles, his lovely socialite wife Nora and their schnauzer Asta.

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The original novel was published in 1934 and even though Hammett never wrote a sequel the book became the basis for a successful six-part film series which also began in 1934 with The Thin Man and starred William Powell and Myrna Loy. The 1950’s saw a TV show. The Thin Man was Hammett’s last novel.

The story is set in Prohibition-era New York City. The main characters are a former private detective, Nick Charles, and his clever young wife, Nora. Nick, son of a Greek immigrant, has given up his career since marrying Nora, a wealthy socialite, and he now spends most of his time cheerfully getting drunk in hotel rooms and speakeasies. Nick and Nora have no children, but they do own a schnauzer named Asta, changed to a wire haired fox terrier for the movies. Nick is a fast talking lovable lush as seen in this clip.

The studio intends to give the new film a contemporary attitude but retain the period setting. Author and screenwriter Jerry Stahl has been tapped to pen the script. Stahl is best known for his memoir of addiction Permanent Midnight. A film adaptation followed with Ben Stiller in the lead role. The Thin Man gig marks the second hot project he’s involved with, the first being Hemingway & Gellhorn. That HBO movie, which sees Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen toplining, just began shooting.

Also rumored to be translated to film sometime soon is ConnellyMichael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. Connelly is said to be in talks with Yellow Bird, the same Swedish film company behind the Stieg Larsson crime novel trilogy.

Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch is the detective who made his first appearance in the 1992 novel The Black Echo, and the lead character in a police procedural series now numbering sixteen novels.

Black echo

Bosch’s mother was a prostitute in Hollywood, who was murdered in 1961 when Bosch was 11 years old. His father, who he met later in life, was a powerful defense attorney. He spent his youth in various orphanages and youth halls, as well as with the occasional foster family. After learning of his mother’s murder, Bosch, then living at a youth hall, dove to the bottom of the pool and screamed until he ran out of air and then swam back to the surface. Bosch is also a Vietnam vet who served as a tunnel rat, a specialized soldier whose job it was to venture into the maze of tunnels used as barracks, hospitals, and on some occasions, morgues by the Vietcong. Having had similar experiences during my military service, Bosch runs head and head as my personal favorite neo-noir (Noir written since 1964) “detective character” along with Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder. Drop of the Hard StuffBosch is a maverick and a rebel who often is at logger heads with his bosses,which leads him to leave the LAPD and work as a private detective for a few years. The reader gets the feeling that Bosch is “this close” to becoming the typical hard drinking hardboiled detective, but Harry is ultimately too much in control and too much obsessed with catching the bad guys. The only thing stereotypical about him is his love life, he does appeal to the ladies. Harry was married once, Eleanor Wish was a disgraced former FBI agent, ex-con and subsequent professional poker player.  But relationships with Harry are complicated. Bosch has aged well over the years and as much as us fans have yearned to see his stories translated to the screen, Connelly was forced to sue Paramount Pictures to recapture rights to his first two Harry Bosch crime novels , so after nearly 20 years us fans may just finally get to see Harry on the silver screen. The only two Michael Connelly books to make it to the movies – Blood Work starring Clint Eastwood, in 2002 and most recently The Lincoln Lawyer imageOut now and ruling the box office, have been pretty successful so it is about time we get to see his iconic character, let’s hope the rumors are true. There is certainly enough material for a string of films, so it will be interesting to see if they choose one out standing novel to translate (and there are many in the series) or if they make a sort of collage’ with room for a sequel. Either way, us Michael Connelly fans who have followed Harry Bosch for all these years have something to look forward to.

 

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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