Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Book Reivew: Dorothy B. Hughes, Ride the Pink Horse (1946)


Sailor, a Chicago hood, finds the Sen, an ex-senator and his ex-employer, enjoying fiesta in a southwestern town. The Sen owes Sailor $1000 for a job, and Sailor is intent on collecting. Rich in atmosphere, glacial in pacing. Grade: C+

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pulp Poem of the Week



She started a low
continuous moaning,
as though she had
just been branded.
James McKimmey
The Long Ride
1961

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Book Review: Jim Thompson, Recoil (1953)



Doc Luther, a sleazy political horse-trader, pulls every available string to get Pat Cosgrove paroled into his custody. The strange thing is that Doc and Pat do not know one another--so why does Doc want Pat out of prison? Why does he get him a job, buy him clothes and a car, and throw women in his path? In a genre that often strains credulity, I found the answers to these and other questions to be remarkably inane and unsatisfying. And more remarkably, perhaps, Jim Thompson managed to bore me fairly steadily. A disappointment to be sure. Grade: D

Monday, July 20, 2009

Book Review: James McKimmey, The Long Ride (1961)



The Long Ride
has its share of dark, violent moments and sad, tragic characters, but its overall tone nevertheless manages to be breezy and often even humorous. As with any great book, the less you know about the plot going in, the better, so, in only the most general way, here is what you get: the early chapters contain a bank robbery, and the rest of the novel follows a group of strangers as they carpool from the midwest to San Francisco. And of course the two are connected. A light noir classic. Grade: A

Pulp Poem of the Week



Did you ever stop
to figure that
there's all kinds
of ways of dying,
but only one way
of being dead?
Jim Thompson
The Killer Inside Me
1952

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Book Review: Jack London, The Game (1905)



I sought out a copy of Jack London's boxing novel because I thought it might be an instance of naturalistic proto-noir, much like Frank Norris' magnificant
McTeague (1899). Having now read the book, I can report that it is, if nothing else, an instance of creative publishing: The Game is actually a short story that has been stretched through illustrations, typesetting, and good old-fashioned blank pages to appear to be 182 pages long. The man who designed this book could have gotten 50 pages out of the Gettysburg Address. Setting this disappointment aside, I did find The Game to be worth the surprisingly short time it took me to read it. The plot concerns boxer Joe Fleming and his sweetheart, Genevieve. They share an idealized young love, rather like Johnny Marr and Dorothy at the start of Cornell Woolrich's Rendezvous in Black (1948). Joe's attraction to the violence of boxing ("The Game"), however, lends the story an interesting vein of darkness. Grade: C+

Friday, July 17, 2009

Book Review: Lionel White, Flight into Terror (1955)


I liked the first 30 pages of Flight into Terror well enough; I liked the last couple of pages, too. Unfortunately, I came close to hating the hundred or so pages in between. This bulk of the novel fell prey to one of my major noir peeves: plots that are driven by the completely irrational behavior of their protagonists. In this case, Dal Brandon is an ordinary guy who accidentally ends up with $100,000 that does not belong to him, and the people who want their money back kill Dal's wife. For no sane reason, Dal then decides to take the money and run. He does not care about the money, he says; rather, he is intent on finding his wife's killers and avenging her death. Lionel White might have made this believable if he had portrayed Dal as a devoted, loving husband, but the opposite is true. Not only does Dal not love his (late) wife, but at the start of the novel he is planning to abandon her, having already purchased a one-way plane ticket to Chicago. White's portrayal of Brandon in this way wrecks the plot of this book. Grade: D+

Monday, July 13, 2009

Book Review: Jim Thompson, Cropper's Cabin (1952)


After his breakthrough fourth novel, The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson's fifth, Cropper's Cabin, feels like a variation on the proverbial sophomore slump. The novel's narrator, nineteen-year-old Tommy Carver, is poised to rise above his origins as a sharecropper's son: He's getting an education, and he's the secret beau of Donna Ontime, daughter of his father's wealthy landlord. Then, of course, things turn noirish, but the narrative never gains much momentum. On the whole, Cropper's Cabin is not a bad book, but there's certainly no harm in skipping it. Grade: C

Pulp Poem of the Week


I had to see you,
honey,
or I'd go crazy.
Hurry.

Gil Brewer
The Brat
1957

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Book Review: Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me (1952)


In The Killer Inside Me, which is perhaps the most important early entry in the genre of noir sociopathique, Jim Thompson figures out how to be Jim Thompson. The novel's narrator, simpleton sociopath sheriff Lou Ford, may be Thompson's most memorable and creepy creation. While Thompson's fourth novel may not be his best--it loses its way for a bit in the final act--The Killer Inside Me is still the logical place to begin reading one of the noir masters. Grade: A-

Monday, July 6, 2009

Book Review: Gil Brewer, The Brat (1957)



If ever Gil Brewer were guilty of understatement, it was when he titled his twelfth novel. Calling Evis Helling a brat is something like calling Michelangelo a doodler. Evis is one of Brewer's most memorable femmes fatale. Lee Sullivan, The Brat's narrator, has no idea what he is getting himself into when marries Evis and takes her away from her home in the Florida swamp. His first clue comes when Evis announces that she has a plan for them to rob a bank together. . . . Grade: A

Pulp Poem of the Week



It was an ancient house,
built in the late nineties
and constantly repaired
and restored since then.
There was nothing
but the look of money
wastefully squandered here--
a smell of money
even in the flower beds
where roses smelled like
sweaty fifty-cent pieces
instead of roses, and
the jasmine had the scent of
a disinfectant used in banks.

Harry Whittington
Hell Can Wait
1960

Friday, July 3, 2009

Book Review: Elmore Leonard, Mr. Majestyk (1974)


I picked this one up because it appeared on James Lee Burke's pleasantly idiosyncratic list of the all-time best mysteries, which was published recently in Parade magazine. (Alternate interpretation of idiosyncratic list: James Lee Burke has not read very many mysteries.) Says Burke: "It’s one of the best portrayals of professional criminals I have ever read and a beautiful accomplishment in terms of dialogue and style." Mr. Majestyk is a noirish novel of the Average Guy school: melon farmer Vincent Majestyk cares about nothing other than saving his crop, but then he runs afoul of a local mobster and discovers that harvest time becomes more complicated when somebody wants to kill you. Tight, fast-paced, recommended. Grade: B+

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Book Review: Harry Whittington, Hell Can Wait (1960)


At first, Harry Whittington's Hell Can Wait reminded me of The Girl from Hateville, my most recent foray into Gil Brewer. Both novels involve a man on a mission in a small town where he is not welcome. In Brewer, the man wanted to find out the truth about the death of his father, the town banker who robbed the townsfolk blind. In Whittington, the man, Greg Morris, wants revenge on the drunk driver who killed his wife. Unfortunately for Morris, the drunk driver is the richest and most powerful man in the town (which is why he was able to beat the rap in the first place). The most important difference between the two novels is that while the Brewer was executed terribly, the Whittington is very good. Grade: A-