Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book Review: Bill S. Ballinger, Portrait in Smoke (1950)

Cleverly and effectively constructed noir. Bill S. Ballinger's method is to juxtapose two narratives, one in first person and one in third, that come together at novel's end. In Portrait in Smoke, Danny April, a small-time bill collector, tells the story of how he becomes obsessed with a young woman named Krassy Almauniski and how he dedicates his life to finding her. His narrative (first person) alternates with Krassy's life story (third person), allowing Ballinger to dramatically contrast Danny's discoveries and theories and fantasies about Krassy with the truth about her life. A memorable read. Grade: A

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pulp Poem of the Week

"I am sorry for all men," she said.
"But the others I am sorry for and send away.
You I am sorry for and I let you come.
That's how I know I love you."

Eric Knight
You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Book Review: Earl Norman, Kill Me in Tokyo (1958)

Avoid Earl Norman's Kill Me in Tokyo unless, for some strange reason, you absolutely must learn about the origins of the first hard-boiled detective whose weapon of choice is karate. The detective in question, ex-GI Burns Bannion, comes to his profession by chance. He is drinking in a club one night when a drunk American businessman decides that he looks like a private detective and thrusts ¥100,000 upon him with instructions to find a woman named Mitsuko. Apparently having nothing better to do, Bannion takes the job, which he continues to pursue ineptly for no discernable reason even after his client turns up dead. Though this novel is without charm, wit, or intelligence, it does have the distinction of being the first place that I have seen the word "herm" (short for "hermaphrodite") used as a verb. Grade: F

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pulp Poem of the Week

He told about all the women
what he had knowed,
and all the saloons he'd been in,
and some of it was a lie,
'cause if all those saloons
was as swell as he said they was
they'd of throwed him out.
James M. Cain

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Book Review: Mickey Spillane, Dead Street (2007)

There are so many false notes in Dead Street that an explication of them all would be longer than the novel itself. Here is one of my favorites from early on: Our hero, ex-cop Jack Stang, has discovered that his fiancée, who supposedly died twenty years ago in an accident after being kidnapped by the mob, is actually alive. When Stang, a.k.a. "The Shooter," learns this remarkable news, he proclaims, "Somebody has got to pay for twenty lost years." Somebody has got to pay for all that lost time, Captain Stang? That's strange. Why didn't they have to pay back when you thought that all they had done was kill your fiancée? Grade: D-

Monday, January 12, 2009

Pulp Poem of the Week

She may
be a
my boy,
but she has

John Dickson Carr
The Three Coffins

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Book Review: Eric Knight, You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up (1938)

Oddly episodic crime novel about a man who hops a freight train to California, chasing after the wife and son who have fled him. We meet numerous flakes in California, including a pair of women who somehow manage to turn a ridiculous Ponzi scheme (Ecanaanomics!) into a successful cross between a religious cult and a political movement. Part social satire, part noir, all from the writer who would later create Lassie. Grade: C+

Monday, January 5, 2009

Pulp Poem of the Week

The night was like purple ink.
And it was as though the bottle
that held the ink
had been smashed against the sky
by some insurgent celestial accountant.
For heaven was pitted with its tiny,
twinkling particles of broken glass.
And there seemed to be no one
there to sweep them up.
God's office was closed for the night.

Cornell Woolrich

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Book Review: John Dickson Carr, The Three Coffins [a.k.a. The Hollow Man] (1935)

If you like traditional whodunits, you may well love this book. In my case, The Three Coffins served to remind me why I quit reading traditional whodunits.

The best part of the book is its famous twenty-seventh chapter, "The Locked-Room Lecture." This disquisition could be read with enjoyment apart from the rest of the novel. (Indeed, this is what I wish I had done myself.) Here, John Dickson Carr's detective-hero, Dr. Gideon Fell, gives an entertaining history and theory of locked-room mysteries. Dr. Fell, aware that he is participating in one of the more ridiculous examples in the history of an often ridiculous genre, argues, "A great part of our liking for detective fiction," he says, "is
based on a liking for improbablity." But Dr. Fell speaks only for fans of certain types of mysteries (not including, obviously, me). In some cases, I do not mind improbable plots, but these stories must compensate with memorable characters. (See, for example, Sherlock Holmes.) In The Three Coffins, however, the characters are thin, and all they ever do is talk, trading their tedious theories back and forth. After the first chapter, all the action takes place off stage, and we are treated to page after page after page of talk, talk, talk. Who cares? Not me. Grade: D+

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Top Ten Novels Reviewed in 2008

1. Gil Brewer, A Killer Is Loose (1954)
2. Charles Williams, Hell Hath No Fury [a.k.a. The Hot Spot] (1953)
3. Martin M. Goldsmith, Detour (1939)
4. Jason Starr, Tough Luck (2003)
5. Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train (1950)
6. Raymond Chandler, The High Window (1941)
7. P. J. Wolfson, Bodies Are Dust (1931)
8. Ken Bruen and Jason Starr, Bust (2006)
9. Charles Williams, Big City Girl (1951)
10. Gil Brewer, Hell’s Our Destination (1953)