Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: Lawrence Block, In the Midst of Death (1976)

Three books into the Matthew Scudder series, I suspect that there may be some self-fulfilling prophecy at work in my reactions thus far: I have been told many times that the series begins relatively slowly before hitting its stride with book five (Eight Million Ways to Die). Is this what I am experiencing because it is what I am expecting, or is this what I am experiencing because it is true? I know that my semi-negative reaction to the first Scudder novel (The Sins of the Fathers) was sincere, as I have little patience for Freudian claptrap in any context. I liked the second novel (Time to Murder and Create) a bit better, if only for the absence of Dr. Freud, and now I like the third novel a bit better still: the plot of In the Midst of Death is less artificial than the earlier novels, and there is some significant development in Scudder’s character beyond his cycles of drinking and tithing. Nevertheless, I still feel as though I’m just killing time waiting for book five. Grade: B-

Pulp Poem of the Week

I hope I
break even today;
I could
use the cash.

          Donald E. Westlake
          “Horse Laugh”

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Book Review: Lawrence Block, Time to Murder and Create (1976)

Time to Murder and Create, the second Matthew Scudder novel, a dead man leaves Scudder payment to find his killer, and our hero pursues the case because he is compulsively honorable, even if he is not particularly ethical. Scudder’s plan is to tempt the killer into attempting to kill Scudder, thereby exposing the killer’s identity. By all rights, Scudder ought to die in this novel; he is, after all, a drunk who takes no particular measures to keep himself safe. Perhaps this is a half-assed suicide attempt on Scudder’s part, though when someone tries to kill him, his reflex is to fight for his own life. After Scudder fails to get himself killed, he does his best to identify the killer with his ratiocinative powers vacillating between anemic and otherworldly as the novel’s plot requires. Quick, entertaining, not entirely satisfying. Grade: B-

Monday, December 8, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week

Life is a gamble,

at terrible odds—
if it was a bet
you wouldn’t take it.

          Tom Stoppard
          Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week

You open a door
in New York,
you never know
what’s in there.

          Donald E. Westlake
          Get Real

Friday, November 28, 2014

Book Review: Don Tracy, Last Year's Snow (1937)

Last Year’s Snow
 is the third of four novels published by unsung noirboiled pioneer Don Tracy in the 1930s. This everyman noir complètement enneigé tells of a love quadrangle—femme fatale, current husband, ex-husband, new paramour—trapped together in a hunting camp. Not brilliant, but worth reading to see Tracy working out tropes of the genre. Notable as well for being the second American novel (and fifth overall) published in Gallimard’s Série Noire. Grade: B-

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week

If it hadn’t been
what it was,
it would’ve been

          Megan Abbott
          Dare Me

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My apologies . . .

My apologies to anyone who has left a comment recently only to have me ignore it. I have just discovered that my comments notifications have been going to a defunct email address. Again, my apologies. The problem has been corrected.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week

Never break a law
you don’t intend to break.

          Donald E. Westlake
          “Ask a Silly Question”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Book Review: Donald E. Westlake, The Mercenaries [a.k.a. The Smashers, a.k.a. The Cutie] (1960)

This mob whodunit would probably not have warranted a reprint by Hard Case Crime were it not Donald E. Westlake’s debut (or, more accurately, his debut under his own name). Narrated by George Clayton—known to his associates simply as Clay—The Mercenaries (reprinted by HCC as The Cutie, complete with cover art that has nothing whatsoever to do with the book) finds Westlake inching his way toward the world of Richard Stark and Parker with Clay’s recurring commentary about the necessity of good criminals behaving without emotion. In sum, a competent but not memorable novel of high academic interest to fans of Westlake/Stark. Grade: C

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week

all life is
six to five

          Damon Runyon
          “A Nice Price”

Monday, November 3, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week


     Elliott Chaze
     Black Wings Has My Angel

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week

one good cop
is about as useful as
one good paper towel
in a hurricane

          Donald E. Westlake
          introduction to Charles Willeford’s
               The Way We Die Now


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: Lawrence Block, The Sins of the Fathers (1976)

Fans of the Matthew Scudder series all seem to agree on two things: (1) You must read the books in publication order, and (2) It takes four or five novels for the series to get really, really good. So I obediently begin with the first novel in the series, and, not expecting anything great, I am not too disappointed. The limited cast of characters combined with the title The Sins of the Fathers leave little doubt where this novel is headed, and that’s where it heads. I’m trusting that later novels in the series (i.e., the ones that are supposed to be really, really good) will feature more Scudder and less Freud. Grade: C-

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week

don’t trust anybody
over thirty
under thirty

          Donald E. Westlake
          “The Hardboiled Dicks”

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week

We all do the best we can, and
sometimes the best we can do is
make a mistake.

          Donald E. Westlake
          unfinished autobiography

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book Review: Donald E. Westlake, Thieves' Dozen (2004)

When you are done with the Dortmunder novels, you still have the Dortmunder short stories to read. Will you enjoy them? Of course. Would you trade them for one more novel? Of course. Grade: B-

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week

She despised men
she could dominate,
but began to think
there was no other kind.

          Thomas Berger
          Sneaky People

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book Review: Donald E. Westlake, Walking Around Money (2005)

Almost lost in a nether region between the Dortmunder novels and the Dortmunder story collection is the Dortmunder novella, Walking Around Money, which Ed McBain solicited for the first Transgressions collection. As is the case with the Dortmunder short stories, Walking Around Money seems to exist outside the narrative of Dortmunder’s career as chronicled by the full-length novels. The novella, featuring Dortmunder and his sidekick Andy Kelp, emphasizes Dortmunder’s competence above his bad luck, which is always welcome given how Dortmunder’s cursedness often obscures the fact that he is actually quite good at his job. Grade: B

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week

A hostage,
was a chance.

          Gil Brewer
          Memory of Passion

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Review: Donald E. Westlake, Get Real (2009)

The career of John Dortmunder came to an unexpected end with the sudden death of Donald E. Westlake on December 31, 2008. The final novel in the series, Get Real, was published the following year, and it hits a fitting final note. Get Real’s premise, which is both silly and inspired (always a delicate balance in Westlake’s world), finds Dortmunder and crew as stars of a fledgling reality TV show. The novel’s ending (no real spoilers here) has Dortmunder and Andy Kelp walking off into a New York City sunset. Admittedly, I may have imagined the sunset, but having come to the end of this wonderful series, can you blame me? Grade: A-