Monday, March 30, 2009

Pulp Poem of the Week

It was a very short distance
from where I sat on the bed,
and he stood at the foot of it
with his face turned from me.
Seven bullets couldn't miss him.
Some of them didn't.
Bruno Fischer
Fools Walk In

Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Review: Kenzo Kitakata, The Cage (1983)

The story of Takino, an ex-Yakuza who has settled into straight life running a supermarket and a coffee shop with his wife. Six years have passed since Takino left the gangster world, but when he squares off against a punk who has caused trouble in his store, Takino feels "a strange rush of something close to happiness." The old Takino has emerged from his cage--one of several metaphorical "cages" in the novel--and he knows at once that he does not want to go back inside. An interesting psychological study of both Takino and Takagi, the grizzled, decorated police veteran who pursues him. Grade: B

Pulp Poem of the Week

Want me to squeeze
the blood out?
Or maybe I could stop
the bleeding?
Cauterize it with my

Kenzo Kitakata
The Cage
(translated by Paul Warham)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Book Review: Christa Faust, Money Shot (2008)

Ordinarily, I don't complain about noir clichés; instead, I refer to them as "conventions" and I keep moving. This time, however, I have to complain. One common noir cliché/convention is this: Our innocent protagonist finds herself wanted by the law, and she quickly decides, "There is no way that the cops will ever believe my story. I have no choice but to run." So she runs and, noir being noir, things go from bad to worse. But if ever there were a noir innocent who had no sane reason to run from the law, it is Money Shot's Angel Dare. She finds herself framed for a murder in the most unconvincing way, and she also finds herself in constant danger of being murdered herself. If ever there were a noir innocent who should run to the cops, it is Angel Dare. But no. Instead, she embarks on a campaign of . . . revenge! . . . thereby ensuring that when the cops do catch up with her, they actually will have caught a murderer. As a noir devotee, I usually have a fairly high tolerance for stupid, self-destructive behavior, but not this time. Grade: C-

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Book Review: Bill S. Ballinger, The Tooth and the Nail (1955)

It's the gimmick that keeps on giving. As I described in my review of Bill S. Ballinger's Portrait in Smoke, the author's narrative method is deceptively simple: First-person chapters alternate with third-person chapters with each narrative line raising questions about the other until the plot elements fuse at the end of the book. This time out, the first-person story of magician Lew Mountain alternates with the third-person story of a murder trial--but who is on trial for killing whom? And how exactly does Lew Mountain figure into the court case? The answers are great fun to discover. Grade: A-

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pulp Poem of the Week

In the magician's land of make-believe and illusion
what one doesn't see is always there . . .
only one doesn't see it
until the conjurer is ready to show it.
The silks are stuffed within the hollow egg,
the flowers collapsed within the palm of his hand,
the card concealed on the back of his fingers.
But death is the greatest necromancer of all;
in a moment of inattention,
he makes his sleight and palms a life,
and one does not realize
that the breathing figure is gone.
Bill S. Ballinger
The Tooth and the Nail

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Book Review: Ryu Murakami, Piercing (1997)

Spoiler alert: The following review does not tell how Piercing ends, but it may tell more about the set-up for the ending than you want to know.

Kawashima Masayuki is, without a doubt, mentally ill. He stands above the crib of his baby girl each night brandishing an ice pick, telling himself that no, of course not, he would never stab her with it. But he soon realizes that he must stab
someone with an ice pick, and, as long as he's at it, he really wants to know what it sounds like when you cut someone's Achilles tendons. Thus, he sets out to find someone to torture and kill. To this point, Piercing is engrossing and disturbing. Once Masayuki finds his victim, however, the book falls apart for the simple reason that she turns out to be mentally ill, too. In the context of his family, Masayuki was an interesting and frightening character: Will he stab his daughter? Is his wife any danger? Why can his wife not see that Masayuki is deeply disturbed? But when Masayuki's wife and daughter are replaced by a woman who may be as disturbed as he is, the situation becomes oddly boring. We might as well be watching two asylum inmates in a padded room together, as their actions no longer seem to have any relationship to the real world. Grade C+

Friday, March 13, 2009

Book Review: Lawrence Block, A Diet of Treacle (1961)

This is the fourth Lawrence Block novel that Hard Case Crime has rescued from oblivion, and the second that they have pulled from the morass of sleaze paperback publisher Beacon Books. The first three titles, Grifter's Game (1961; originally Mona), The Girl with the Long Green Heart (1965), and Lucky at Cards (1964; originally The Sex Shuffle) were well worth saving. Unforunately, A Diet of Treacle (1961; originally Pads Are for Passion) is a much inferior work. The early stages of the novel, which deal largely with beat ennui, are predictably tedious; the character arc of good girl Anita Carbone is not particularly believable; and the book's quick ending all but screams, "Hey, I've almost made my word count! Time to wrap this one up!" Memo to Hard Case Crime: This well appears to have run dry. Is it too late for you to un-publish Killing Castro and give some other writer a chance? Grade: D

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pulp Poem of the Week

The Good Humor man passed,
his wagon full of ice cream.
Maybe an ice cream
would taste good,
Joe mused.

Then again
maybe it wouldn't.

Go to hell,
Good Humor Man.
Lawrence Block
Pads Are for Passion

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pulp Poem of the Week

She went along the sidewalk in the sun
looking like something the censors
had cut out of a sailor's dream.

Charles Williams
A Touch of Death