Monday, July 28, 2008

Book Review: Russell Hill, Robbie's Wife (2007)

This is one of those books that I like more having finished it than I did while I was reading it. The first 150 pages are slow, and I am not sure that they adequately prepare for the book's third act. But the more that I think about the flaws in this book, the less I am certain that they are flaws. For example, the book's narrator, Jack Stone, is an over-the-hill Hollywood screenwriter who takes a working holiday in Britain to revitalize his career. Occasionally in the novel, we see mediocre snippets from his screenplay-in-progress, and we see one long section, which is utterly incompetent. This long section is largely expository in a way that a professional screenwriter would never be. In other words, it looks like a screenplay written by someone who has never seen a screenplay. And readers are supposed to believe that this guy is a professional screenwriter? But Jack Stone is also a character in crisis, and the more that I think about his writing in the book, which he repeatedly proclaims to be "good" despite much evidence to the contrary, the more I think that it is an appropriate reflection of his psychological state. I know several folks whose opinions I respect who think that this is a great one . . . so I'm going to keep thinking about it. . . . Grade: B-

Pulp Poem of the Week

Morning sun stripes cell.
Five fingers feel my hard heart.
It hurts, hurts, like hell.

Charles Willeford
Miami Blues

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Book Review: Marty Holland, Blonde Baggage [a.k.a. Fallen Angel] (1945)

The set-up is classic noir: Anti-hero wanders into small California town, hooks up with femme fatale, plots to swindle local old maid (who, of course, is not actually that old) out of her recently inherited $10,000. From there the plot drifts a bit toward whodunit territory, and the resolution is too dues ex machina not to be disappointing. On the whole, your time will be better spent watching the Otto Preminger film of this novel (bearing the novel's original title, Fallen Angel), which is much more tightly plotted and much more satisfying. Grade: C

Monday, July 21, 2008

Book Review: Charles Williams, Hell Hath No Fury [a.k.a. The Hot Spot] (1953)

With his fourth novel, Charles Williams hits his stride. In Hell Hath No Fury, an Average Joe moves to a small town to work at a used car lot, and he happens to notice how easy it would be to rob the local bank. Women and noir ensue. This is a classic novel of its type, in which a sympathetic protagonist does rather unsympathetic things, but we root for him all the same as events spiral out of his control. In order to enjoy books of this sort, readers must grant writers a bit of latitude in the realm of plausibility; nevertheless, I do wish that Williams had done a little bit more to convince me that this particular Average Joe would jump at the chance to rob a bank. But this is a minor quibble with a classic. Grade: A

Pulp Poem of the Week

Her hair was falling over
her shoulders in snaky
curls. Her eye was all black,
and her breasts weren't drawn
up and pointing at me,
but soft, and spread out
in two big pink splotches.
She looked like the great
grandmother of every
whore in the world.
The devil got his
money's worth that night.
James M. Cain
The Postman Always Rings Twice

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Book Review: Gil Brewer, The Squeeze (1955)

After writerly forays to Wyoming and France, with his ninth novel Gil Brewer gets back to his Florida roots. In The Squeeze, narrator Joe Maule is an average guy who racks up a gambling debt that he cannot pay. He owes to money to an underworld type named Victor Jarnigan, who gives him another way to get out of debt . . . or else. Top-tier Brewer, no frills. Grade: B+

Monday, July 14, 2008

Pulp Poem of the Week

Her voice faded off
into a sort of sad whisper,
like a mortician asking
for a down payment.
Raymond Chandler
The Little Sister

Friday, July 11, 2008

Book Review: Jerry Handers and/or Rick Conte, Shame Run Wild (1964)

When I began reading this book, I was puzzled by the fact that its cover and title page list different authors. But now, having read it, I understand: No man could be brave enough to take singular credit for describing a woman as having "buxom thighs." Truly this phrase must stand as some kind of milestone in the literary history of America--if not the literary history of the world--and therefore I am awarding this novel one letter grade higher than it otherwise deserves. Grade: D

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Book Review: Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister (1949)

The point of reading a Philip Marlowe novel is to spend time with Philip Marlowe, one of the great creations in all of American literature, not to spend time with a good mystery--truth be told, Raymond Chandler was not much of a mystery writer. In reading a Marlowe novel, then, the question, bizarrely, becomes this: How much does the mystery interfere with the novel? In the case of The Little Sister, the answer, happily, is not too much. The book is never in any real danger of sinking under the weight of inept overplotting, as is the case with other Marlowe novels such as Farewell, My Lovely and (worse) The Lady in the Lake. Grade: A-

Monday, July 7, 2008

Pulp Poem of the Week

He recognized the picture.
It was a snapshot,
blown up. A picture of
Patricia that summer in Maine
when she had worn the Bikini
for the first and last time,
wearing it that once
out there on the rocks,
while they swam. She had
large breasts. She had been
unable to control them.

Gil Brewer
77 Rue Paradis

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Book Review: Gil Brewer, 77 Rue Paradis (1954)

In 1951, Gil Brewer published his third and most successful novel, the million-selling 13 French Street. Then, three years later, in what seems a winking attempt to recapture his past success, Brewer published his eighth novel, 77 Rue Paradis, which, as its title implies, is set on an actual French street. The later novel concerns Frank Baron, a disgraced aeronautics man who has been searching the world to find the party responsible for sabotaging his factories. From here, the plot gets silly. In the end, 77 Rue Paradis is serviceable but forgettable. Grade: C-