Monday, June 28, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week

I shot ahead,
watching the mirror.
There were cars behind us,
but there was no way to tell.
There are always cars behind you.
Charles Williams
Scorpion Reef

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review: Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest (1929)

Raymond Chandler praised Dashiell Hammett for "[giving] murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse . . . [and putting] these people down on paper as they were, and [making] them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes." But these strengths are not too much in evidence in Red Harvest, Hammett's debut novel. The Continental Op, who narrates the proceedings, is more a catalyst than a character, and the many criminals who populate his story are too busy killing to emerge as much more than killers. Perhaps the most interesting characters are Sheriff Noonan, who somehow manages to seem a precursor to both Lou Ford and Chief Wiggum, and Dinah Brand, a femme fatale whose femme-powers are provocatively difficult to account for. Bottom line: Hammett's snappy prose rescues this hard-boiled cartoon. Grade: B-

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Footnote: Roger Zelazny, The Dead Man's Brother (c. 1971)

The following sentence appears on page 206 of Roger Zelazny's
The Dead Man's Brother (Hard Case Crime #52):
"You know why I sent for you./?" he said/asked.
Any theories as to what on earth is going on here?

Book Review: Roger Zelazny, The Dead Man's Brother (c. 1971)

The hero of The Dead Man's Brother, Ovid Wiley, is an art dealer and blowhard who has a rare genetic predisposition for luck in the face of death. His story might have been interesting if Roger Zelazny (who ordinarily was a science-fiction writer, after all), had focused his attention on Wiley's remarkable gift for survival. Instead, this detail is an afterthought in the novel's serpentine, borderline-nonsensical plot involving the CIA, the Vatican, and Brazilian revolutionaries. The fact that I forced myself to finish reading this dreck indicates that I, too, have a genetic gift, though mine seems to have something to do with masochism. Grade: F

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week

My wife was squawking
the other day about kidnapers,
and I told her we could
set the three of our kids
out on the front porch
with a ten-dollar bill
in each one's hand and
they wouldn't be touched.
That's the kind of kids we got.
Don Tracy
Round Trip

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Author Photograph: Wade Miller

I'm guessing that's Bob Wade on the left and Bill Miller on the right. From the back cover of Guilty Bystander (Signet 1482; January 1958).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Book Review: Lawrence Block, Killing Castro (1961)

This book is a strange hybrid. In the main, it is the story of five men hired to assassinate Fidel Castro for a pot of $100,000. It does not matter who kills Castro or how; if Castro is killed, whichever of the assassins make it back to Miami will split the money. Their story is intercut with a narrative of Fidel Castro's rise to power, though this primer of Cuban history is more or less irrelevant to the main plot of the book--Castro's story contributes to the word count more than anything else. The book's biggest failing, however, comes in its last few pages. Until the end, the story of the five assassins is told with competence. At the end, however, Lawrence Block makes a choice in narrative perspective that seems designed to dampen the drama of the novel's climax as much as possible. Originally published as Fidel Castro Assassinated by Lee Duncan. Grade: C-

Pulp Poem of the Week

Way past nightfall I flicked the TV on
and sat in the squeaky rocker.
Some show played,
kids who drive Porsches to high school
and eat in sit-down restaurants on their own,
but there's this emptiness inside them, apparently,
bigger than the beach.
They were folks you'd like to meet sometime
and leave in a car trunk at the airport.
Daniel Woodrell
Tomato Red

Friday, June 11, 2010

Book Review: W. R. Burnett, Little Caesar (1929)

In Little Caesar, author W. R. Burnett, who had in a minor way infiltrated the Chicago underworld, strove to capture the career criminal, his milieu, and his idiom. Much of what was innovative in 1929 may seem quaint today; as a result, it can be easy to miss that Burnett was fomenting a revolution in crime fiction that would culminate 45 years later in the works of George V. Higgins and Elmore Leonard. But the highest praise for Little Caesar is to note that it is still a potent read. The story of the young gangster, Rico, moves quickly, but because Burnett values language and character over plot, readers may want to force themselves to slow down. Little Caesar's prose is so skillfully terse that it encourages speedreading. Grade: A

Monday, June 7, 2010

Book Review: Gil Brewer, Angel (1960)

When Nick Gavin's friend Fred Westfall summons Nick back to his hometown of Gulfport because Fred needs his help, Nick arrives at Fred's house just in time to find Fred murdered and to pick up the gun (when will the Nicks of the world ever learn NOT TO PICK UP THE GUN?) just before the police arrive. And that's just what happens in Angel's opening scene. Fast and lean--what else can a Gil Brewer novel be when it's only 96 pages long? Grade: B

Hard Case Crime Awards: The Best and the Worst of the First 50

Top 3
1. Charles Williams, A Touch of Death (HCC #17)
2. Ken Bruen and Jason Starr,
Bust (HCC #20)
3. Lawrence Block,
Grifter’s Game (HCC #1)

Bottom 3
48. Madison Smartt Bell, Straight Cut (HCC #21)
Max Allan Collins, Deadly Beloved (HCC #38)
Stephen King, The Colorado Kid (HCC #13)

The Best Cover Award
Gregory Manchess for John Lange’s Grave Descend (HCC #26)

The Worst Cover Award
Robert McGinnis for John Farris’ Baby Moll (HCC #46)

The It-May-Be-Terrible-or-It-May-Be-a-Masterpiece Award
Russell Hill, Robbie’s Wife (HCC #29)

The Once-Too-Often-to-the-Well Awards
Lawrence Block, A Diet of Treacle (HCC #39)
Donald E. Westlake, Somebody Owes Me Money (HCC #44)

The I’m-Embarrassed-How-Much-I-Liked-It Award
David J. Schow, Gun Work (HCC #49)

The Everyone-Else-Likes-It-More-Than-I-Do Award
Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost (HCC #4)

The Charles Ardai Award for Noble Publishing Projects
Charles Ardai

Pulp Poem of the Week

There was a beauty mark
alongside her mouth,
as if to serve as a guide.
Wade Miller
Sinner Take All