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

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

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


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

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-