Gil Brewer chose a great noir title for his debut novel, but the title perhaps tips his hand too much. Needless to say, readers will not be surprised to discover that the novel's female lead is not a very nice person--just as the novel's first-person narrator should also not have been surprised. As her evil unfolds around him, yet he continues to love her, he protests that you cannot understand his behavior unless you have walked in his shoes, etc., etc., but his protestations are not especially convincing. On the whole, not a bad example of the noir genre, but not an especially memorable one, either. Grade: C
The Lady in the Lake . . . in which we learn that . . . Raymond Chandler has bills to pay. This book features the inept over-plotting of Farewell, My Lovely but without that (superior) novel's weight of hard-bitten gravitas. The weakest of the first four Philip Marlowe novels. Grade: C
There is not much to recommend this book. A partial list of problems: It muddles around extensively in Irish history and politics without saying much of interest. Its plot is first pedestrian and then worse when ***SPOILER ALERT*** it succumbs to the Hollywood cliché of the bad guys kidnapping our hero's daughter. The dialogue is third-rate Raymond Chandler ("If you could major in trouble, you'd have a Ph.D.!"). And, for a novel published in 1983, the female characters are remarkably two-dimensional, even for this genre. Park your Hard Case Crime dollars elsewhere. Grade: F
This highly collectible paperback from 1954 (a decent copy runs $300+) was given a primitive reissue by Gryphon Books in 2004. In the reissue, Gary Lovisi hails Sin Pit as a forgotten noir masterpiece, and he's more or less right. My only gripe is that the novel is so lean that sometimes it reads more like an outline for the book than the actual thing. But one could just as easily count this is a virture: Hardly a word is wasted in Sin Pit, and it hits all the right noir notes along the way--even if it doesn't hold some of them for very long. This was the only novel written by Paul S. Meskil, who wrote a brief afterword for the 2004 reprint. In it, he writes, "My original title was 'Blood Lust' and they changed that title without my knowledge. I also originally wrote the book in the first person." In fact, Blood Lust is a much better title for the book. Hard Case Crime would do well to give this book a proper reissue with its original title restored. As for narrative point of view, Meskil's novel was published in first person, so his comment on this point simply leaves me puzzled. Perhaps he originally wrote the book in third person? Grade: A-
A: Excellent. I intend to read it again. B: Good. I might read it again. C: So-so. I didn't mind reading it. D: Bad. I resented reading it. F: Atrocious. I finished it only because I'm compulsive that way.