Monday, November 24, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week



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

          Megan Abbott
          Dare Me
          2012 

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”
          1981

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
against

          Damon Runyon
          “A Nice Price”
          1937

Monday, November 3, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week



no
bad
money

     Elliott Chaze
     Black Wings Has My Angel
     1953

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

          1996

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
or
under thirty
or
thirty

          Donald E. Westlake
          “The Hardboiled Dicks”
          1982

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
          1975

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
          1962 

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-

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week



a figure
like
a bra

          James Hadley Chase
          No Orchids for Miss Blandish
          1939

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book Review: Lionel White, The Snatchers (1953)




Beware . . . spoilers of the ending ensue. Before I began Lionel White’s debut novel, I had two expectations: I expected a successful kidnapping, and I expected a gratuitous rape. I expected the rape because I once read an interview with Charles Ardai in which he explained that Hard Case Crime has not reprinted any Lionel White because his novels tend to feature rapes that (in Ardai’s estimation) are included to thrill male readers. Does such a rape occur in The Snatchers? Yes. But I was reading the novel for the story of the kidnapping. White is an important figure in the history of noirboiled as a pioneer of the criminal procedural; you can draw a direct line from White’s work to Donald E. Westlake’s Parker novels—which brings us to why I was expecting a successful kidnapping. This comes from “True Lies, or True-to-Life?,” an article from the March 24, 1995, Baltimore Sun by Jean Marbella: “[Westlake] had been tickled by a case in which a 1953 mystery novel, The Snatchers by Lionel White, was used as a blueprint for a real-life kidnapping of a baby in France. The kidnapping went exactly as plotted, but the criminals did themselves in, running through the ransom money and blabbing too loudly about their escapade. ‘They ran out of book,’ Mr. Westlake said with a laugh. ‘I always thought they should have taken the money and hired Lionel White to write them a sequel.’” So the kidnappers in The Snatchers must have gotten away with the money too, right? Wrong! The kidnapping in White’s novel goes totally to hell, and the book ends with the criminal gang’s leader dying in a barrage of gunfire. So did Westlake not remember how The Snatchers actually ends? And why would real-life kidnappers use this as their blueprint? I would really love to know! Grade: C

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week



The secret of great fortunes
without apparent cause
is a crime forgotten,
for it was properly done.

          Honoré de Balzac
          Le Père Goirot
          1835
          (translated by Ellen Marriage)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Book Review: James Hadley Chase, No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939)



First, a word to the wise about which edition of No Orchids for Miss Blandish to read: You want the original 1939 version of the book, not the rewritten, “updated” version of 1962. The quickest way to be certain that you have the 1939 text is to check the second paragraph and confirm that “Old Sam [is] asleep in the Packard.” (In 1962, the car becomes a Lincoln.) But in either version, No Orchids for Miss Blandishis perhaps more interesting than it is good. It is the first (and most popular) attempt by British writer James Hadley Chase (born René Lodge Brabazon Raymon) to write in the Amecian noirboiled vein. Published early enough that it interesting almost by definition to anyone interested in the history of genre, No Orchids for Miss Blandish has the additional historical significance of having plagiarized from William Faulkner’s Sanctuary (1931) and of having drawn the attention of George Orwell in his 1944 essay “The Ethics of the Detective Story from Raffles to Miss Blandish” (a.k.a. “Raffles and Miss Blandish”). The novel is about as brutal as a novel could be in 1939, but also a wee bit comedic for the occasional false notes of a Brit trying to write hardboiled American dialogue. I cracked a smile every time one the gangsters let drop a “shall.” Grade: C+

Monday, September 8, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week



feeling faintly defensive but
firmly strangling the feeling
in its crib

          Donald E. Westlake
          What’s So Funny?

          2007

Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Note: Donald E. Westlake, The Getaway Car (2014)



The reviews I have seen of The Getaway Car tend to overpraise it, as the reviewers’ (understandable) love of Westlake the Fiction Writer tends to cloud their perceptions of Westlake the Nonfiction Writer. As a fiction writer, Westlake was a genius, no doubt about it. As a nonfiction writer, Westlake was at least competent, but he never really tried to be more than that. As editor Levi Stahl notes, Westlake wrote so little nonfiction that Stahl, had he chosen, could have collected all of it in a volume. Instead, Stahl decided to pick and choose, and it’s a decidedly mixed bag (which suggests that Stahl was right not to simply collect all of it). Perhaps the most disappointing item is the roundtable discussion among Donald E. Westlake and his pseudonyms Tucker Coe, Timothy J. Culver, and Richard Stark—what seems like a brilliant idea in abstract quickly turns into a lame joke. As Stahl is quick to note in his introduction, this is really a collection for hardcore Westlake fans only. If you haven’t read much Westlake, don’t read The Getaway Car. First read at least the Parker novels, the Dortmunder novels, and The Ax. (And even if you’ve read all those, beware—spoilers abound!) Once you have immersed yourself in the Westlake canon, you will find The Getaway Car to be very, very interesting. Not great, but very, very interesting.

Pulp Poem of the Week



as silent and miserable
as kittens in a sack
with the bridge getting close

          Donald E. Westlake
          Watch Your Back!
          2005

Monday, August 25, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week



I still don’t know
what this is all about.
Please, will you stop
being a woman?


          P. J. Wolfson
          Is My Flesh of Brass?
          1934

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Book Review: Donald E. Westlake, What's So Funny? (2007)



Entertaining (as always) but second-rate Dortmunder. This time out, Dortumunder is blackmailed into trying to steal a seemingly unstealable chess set. The plot is more raggedy than usual, and Dortmunder & Crew relinquish too much stage time to their supporting cast. As with The Road to Ruin (two Dortmunders previous), you can hear the gears grinding as Westlake detours his way into meeting his word count. But every time that I thought it was too long, I remembered that there is only one more Dortmunder novel after this one, and I wanted it to be longer. Grade: C+

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week



elaborately
unaware
of the noise

          Harry Whittington
          Call Me Killer
          1951

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Book Review: Donald E. Westlake, Watch Your Back! (2005)



Watch Your Back! belongs at the bottom of the top tier of Dortmunder novels. Lightweight but exquisitely plotted, the novel concerns, in large part, the fate of the O.J. Bar and Grill, where Dortmunder and his crew often meet. The more affection that you feel for the O.J., the more you will care how things turn out, so Watch Your Back! is best read in its proper sequence (12th novel in the series, not counting one story collection), by which time, if you are still reading the series, you ought to care a great deal. Grade: A-

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review: P. J. Wolfson, Is My Flesh of Brass? [a.k.a. The Flesh Baron] (1934)



How do you know that, deep down, an abortionist is a good guy? When he charters a plane in bad weather to fly across country to perform a late-term abortion on his fellow abortionist’s desperate underage ex-girlfriend. How do you know that, deep down, a writer is a good guy? When he dedicates his novel about abortionists to his wife. Pioneering noir from 1934. Grade: B

Pulp Poem of the Week



I’m not Rebecca
of Sunnybrook Farm.
I’m thirty-four and
I’ve been married twice.

          Charles Williams
          Aground
          1960

Monday, August 4, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week



there ain’t nothin’
as aggravatin’
to live with as
a disillusioned hawg

          Charles Williams
          Uncle Sagamore and His Girls
          1959

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Book Review: Harry Whittington, Call Me Killer (1951)



Amnesia Noir meets Noir Cop. Our amnesiac, of course, cannot remember whether he actually killed that guy, while our Noir Cop clings to his Noir Ways in the face of encroaching forensics. The plot machinations are a bit much to swallow, but you can go only so far wrong when Amnesia Noir meets Noir Cop. Grade: B

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week



To see him
is to wanna
not see him.

          Donald E. Westlake
          The Road to Ruin
          2004

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book Review: Charles Williams, Aground (1960)



Aground is the sixteenth Charles Williams novel that I have read, and it is my least favorite. I found the characters flat (even by standards of the genre), and the dialogue was unusually wooden. But my big problem—and this is my problem, I must emphasize—is that I know nothing about boats, and most of the novel’s action is narrated in sentences such as this: “The mainsail was jib-headed, so there was only one halyard.” Had I taken pains to decipher every such sentence using appropriate resources, Aground would have taken me ages to read, and I do not know that I would have enjoyed it any more than I did. Aground’s plot centers around our hero trying to get a yacht ungrounded before the bad guys kill him. If you know about boats, you may love this book. For me, it was just a bad match. Grade: D+

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week




Don’t fire, men,
until you see
the roots of their hair.


          Charles Williams
          Man on the Run
          1958 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: Charles Williams, Uncle Sagamore and His Girls (1959)



The second of Charles Williams’ two novels chronicling the adventures of peckerwood savant Sagamore Noonan, as seen through the eyes of his seven-year-old nephew, Billy. The first in the series, The Diamond Bikini (1956), does not seem to have sold very well (judging from the scarcity of copies on the current second-hand market), but Williams gave it one more go before he was done with this sort of thing. Uncle Sagamore and His Girls deals with Noonan’s efforts to keep his moonshine business going while also controlling the outcome of the sheriff’s election, and the result is highly entertaining. Recommended for anyone with a taste for light-hearted backwoods comedy. Grade: B

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week



I have such a beautiful love
for myself—
and the sweet part of it is—
no rivals.

          Raymond Chandler
          The Long Goodbye

          1953

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book Review: Donald E. Westlake, The Road to Ruin (2004)



11 Dortmunders down, 3 to go. By now I know that I enjoy the Dortmunder formula, and I thoroughly enjoyed The Road to Ruin, but this may have been the weakest entry in the series thus far. The novel is free from the out-and-out silliness that I sometimes complain about (though to some readers, the entire Dortmunder series may seem an exercise in silliness), but it also lacks the gravitas that elevates some of the books in the series. As well, for the first time while reading a Dortmunder novel, I was acutely aware of the padding. The supporting cast (exclusive of Dortmunder's usual crew) seemed to arrive more quickly than usual, all with backstories and occasions for us to see the narrative through their eyes, and all seeming to lengthen the narrative more than enrich it. The heist this time involves Dortmunder & Co. planning to steal a collection of rare automobiles, but—spoiler alert—things go so wrong that we never get to see them even try to drive away with the cars. In sum, if you enjoyed the first 10 Dortmunders, you will enjoy this one, but if you are looking for a random Dortmunder to read, pick a different one. Grade: C+

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week



She was like a wind-walloping pennant
flickering and buffeting
back against its flagstaff.

          Cornell Woolrich
          Hotel Room
          1958

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Review: Cornell Woolrich, Hotel Room (1958)



The thesis of Cornell Woolrich’s Hotel Room is that “hotel rooms . . . are a lot like people”: they begin new and optimistic, and then they decay until they are torn down to make way for office buildings. (Okay, so maybe the analogy isn’t perfect.) The stories in this collection all take place in Room 923 of New York’s (fictitious) St. Anselm Hotel. Woolrich dedicates the book to his mother, with whom he lived for more than 20 years in a hotel. The first story begins on June 20, 1896, the day of the hotel’s grand opening, and the last story takes place on the hotel’s final night, September 30, 1957, which happens to be one week before the death of Woolrich’s mother. If you are a Woolrich fan, it is easy to read all sorts of psycho-significance into Hotel Room’s proceedings. If you are not a fan, then you are left with a collection of entertaining if overwritten stories, which pluck seven dramatic nights from Room 923’s sixty-one year history. Grade B- 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week



If you put your lips
to a police badge,
you only get
a cold feeling back,
and if you stroke
a .38-caliber revolver,
the .38-caliber revolver
absolutely doesn’t care

          Cornell Woolrich
          Strangler
’s Serenade
          1951

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Book Review: Cornell Woolrich, Strangler's Serenade (1951)



Expanded from the novelette “Four Bars of Yankee Doodle” (1945), Strangler’s Serenade (1951) is Cornell Woolrich running out of gas. If you set out to read Woolrich’s suspense novels in chronological order, this is probably where you stop. The novel’s hero is Champ Prescott, a Big City Cop who is taking forced “rest” after getting shot in the line of duty, but, of course, there will be no rest for him. When he arrives at a boarding house in a small island community, he finds the first murder victim awaiting him. From here, Woolrich foregoes any damaged-cop psychodrama, opting instead for clichés of the Big City Cop showing the yokels how it’s done. Season with a love interest and standard-issue Absurd Woolrich Plotting, and the result is closer to terrible than it is to Woolrich’s Black Period. Grade: C-

Monday, May 19, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week




When you have
nothing inside you,
you feel everything more,
and
you feel you can control
all of it.

         Megan Abbott
         Dare Me
         2012

Monday, April 28, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week




Funny to be
in this neighborhood
in the daytime.

          Donald E. Westlake
          Don’t Ask
          1993

Monday, April 21, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week



What could be more perfect
than an armored car?
It’s stinking with money
and it’s got wheels on it.

     Elliott Chaze
     Black Wings Has My Angel
     1953