Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: Richard Stark, The Hunter (1962)

The defining moment of the first Parker novel comes in a throwaway scene: Parker, searching for a location from which to surveil his prey, forces his way into a beauty shop, knocking out its proprietress with a punch to the chin. Parker gags her and ties her wrists and ankles together, cutting the cord with pair of scissors that he finds in a desk drawer. At first, he doesn't think anything of the inhaler that he finds along with the scissors, but then he notices that the woman is dead. Parker's reaction? There's no good reason why a gag should kill someone, so he's angry at the abstract stupidity of the woman's death. For just a moment. Then he goes about his business. Grade: B+

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Review: Martin M. Goldsmith, Double Jeopardy (1938)

You can hear the gears grinding in Double Jeopardy’s breathtakingly awkward opening sentence:

I suppose it was that five-point-nine that was to blame—or the gunner who fired it; or maybe it was my own fault for lagging behind the rest of my battalion as we advanced deployed through that ploughed-up cemetery; but, somehow, I find myself laying it all before Anita’s door.
Martin M. Goldsmith’s second novel is unapologetically plot-driven, but Double Jeopardy offers surprisingly little drama. As narrator Peter Thatcher describes how Anita, his femme fatale, played him for a fool and framed him into prison, readers will never have a doubt what is going on, even while Peter is too thick to see it.

Sometimes when noir fiction is dramatically weak, our empathy for the protagonist compensates with cathartic pleasure as we bear witness to inevitable doom. Not so here, as Peter Thatcher’s narrative becomes increasingly overwrought:

Unfortunately, there is no way I can find to adequately describe my suffering. But then I am reasonably certain that even the great Russian masters of tragedy—Tolstoi, Maxim Gorki, Dostoievski—would be quick to perceive the emptiness of their words in the telling of my story and would probably throw down their pens in despair.
Nobody knows the trouble Peter has seen, which he keeps reminding us in his ongoing attempt to wear out our goodwill. Grade: D+

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week

Dashiell Hammett
The Dain Curse

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Review: W. R. Burnett, The Silver Eagle (1931)

The Silver Eagle is the follow-up to W. R. Burnett's groundbreaking gangster-novel debut, Little Caesar (1929). Businessman Frank Harworth is just smart enough, just persistent enough, and just lucky enough to have earned a place among the nouveau riche of late 1920s Chicago, but he isn't satisfied. Frank wants to be accepted by the old(er) money of the city, and he wants to make even more money himself. The former desire leads to romantic entanglements; the latter, to mob entanglements. Frank's character is sympathetic but not sufficiently complex to sustain much interest. Grade: C

Monday, September 20, 2010

Semi-Shameless Self-Promotion: David Rachels, Verse Noir (2010)

This allows you to sample a few of the poems in my collection,
Verse Noir. It's much easier to read if you click on the full-screen icon.

Pulp Poem of the Week

The three stenographers,
with the wisdom of those
whose jobs are still solid,
guessed he'd got it
between the eyes.
Their faces were three pennies.
Benjamin Appel
Brain Guy

Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Review: Jim Thompson, Savage Night (1953)

From one perspective, Savage Night is fairly pedestrian noir. A mob assassin, Charlie Bigger, insinuates himself into a small town as part of his plan for killing a witness in an upcoming trial. This plan, of course, proves to be unnecessarily complicated, as the conventions of noir sometimes require. So far, nothing memorable. But Jim Thompson adds to the mix a startling grotesquerie that turns Savage Night into something altogether new in the noir vein. I will say nothing more about this, as Savage Night should not be experienced by summary, but I will note that it is easy to imagine Flannery O'Connor learning a few of her tricks from Jim Thompson. Grade: B-

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week

Gorilla Haley's skull was fractured.
He became insane. He later became
a member of the Chicago police.
Jim Tully
Circus Parade

Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Review: Ed McBain, Big Man (1959)

A direct descendant of W. R. Burnett's
Little Caesar (1929), Ed McBain's Big Man tells the story of Frankie Taglio, a young man in New York who falls in with the wrong crowd (or right crowd, depending on your point of view) and soon finds himself a career mobster. Frankie's rise through the mob hierarchy is somewhat difficult to explain: There are strangely few gangsters between him and the top, and Frankie doesn't seem to have much going for him other than a bit of intelligence and the willingness to use a gun. (Then again, maybe that's all any gangster really needs.) Big Man has a fair amount of action, but its drama is driven less by the crimes that Frankie commits than by the changes in his character as he ascends the mob ladder. Grade: B

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week

The flare of my gun
showed me nothing.
It never does,
though it's easy
to think
you've seen things.
Dashiell Hammett
Red Harvest

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Book Review: Jim Tully, Shanty Irish (1928)

Kent State University Press, which has reissued four books by Jim Tully, has hung its hat on Rupert Hughes
’ claim that Tully was the father of hardboiled writing in America. Unfortunately, Hardboiled Tully is not much in evidence in Shanty Irish, which veers between pathos and sentimentality in its portrayal of ignorance, poverty, hard work, and drunken blowhards. Grade: D