Monday, November 30, 2009

Pulp Poem of the Week

She was a nice-looking blonde
of twenty-one or two.
She had a dimple in her
left cheek when she smiled.
She had a body like you usually
find only in your imagination.
And she know how to dress so you
knew it wasn't your imagination.
James McKimmey
Winner Take All

Book Review: Daniel Woodrell, Tomato Red (1998)

The plots of Daniel Woodrell's "country noirs" have a purposeful aimlessness to them. Woodrell strives not for the tightly plotted crime thriller of some imaginary Noir World but for the meandering reality of the an actual place--the Ozarks--where shit sometimes happens along the way. Thus, the uncomfortable pleasure of a Woodrell novel is simply immersing yourself in his characters and their place and their language. If drama happens, so much the better. In Tomato Red, we see through the eyes of Sammy Barlach, a surprisingly articulate many-time loser with remarkable powers of introspection and self-knowledge. Sammy's voice, in its inexplicable power, reminded me of Huck Finn, though Huck's voice is more consistent and ultimately more believable than Sammy's. Beyond this, Sammy is no Huck. Sammy is older and far more damaged than Huck, and whereas Huck flees civilization, Sammy seeks it--he wants a family, a community that will have him. In the world of noir, though, lighting out for the territory may be a better option. Grade: B-

Friday, November 27, 2009

Book Review: James McKimmey, Winner Take All (1959)

While reading James McKimmey's Winner Take All, I formulated David's Law of Noir Absurdities: Absurdities are justifiable only in the service of a memorable plot that could not be executed without them. McKimmey's novel certainly begins absurdly: Our hero, Mark Steele, is minding his own business when a long-lost twin brother appears on his doorstep. Steele is streetwise and down on his luck. The long-lost twin is rich and not so tough, and he has a proposition for Steele. It seems that the rich twin has a $100,000 gambling debt, and, due to his lack of toughness, he would like to pay Steele to impersonate him and deal with the underworld types who want their money. (The proposition is slightly more complicated than this . . . but you get the basic idea.) So, I granted McKimmey his absurdities of premise, and I hoped to be rewarded with something memorable, but Winner Take All ultimately disappointed. There was one nice twist along the way, but in the end the book did not justify its absurdities and sank under its own artifice. Grade: C+

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pulp Poem of the Week

She spoke methodically,
with carefully broad A's.
she had obviously been
further schooled in the North,
after I'd known her,
maybe at Smith.
It was somehow
a strange mixture.
She had large breasts and
she aimed them at you
when she talked.

Gil Brewer

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book Review: Brett Halliday, A Redhead for Mike Shayne (1965)

I decided to read a random Mike Shayne novel--rumor has it that this is the 48th in the series--and I was rewarded with a steaming bowl of hard-boiled crap stew. Lesson learned! Grade: F

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pulp Poem of the Week

She had no business being
so damned smart and
so damned sexually attractive
at the same time.
One or the other was fine.
A man could understand that
and cope with it.
Brett Halliday
A Redhead for Mike Shayne

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Book Review: Marvin H. Albert, Devil in Dungarees (1960)

Beyond its regrettably dated title, Devil in Dungarees is an excellent PBO. In particular, I was pleasantly surprised by its wandering third-person point of view. The novel begins with its focus on Walt Bonner, a good cop gone bad who is helping a gang of thieves to rob a bank. Having read more than a few books like this, I thought I could see the formula that was coming: Marvin H. Albert would soon show me the cruel events that had led Bonner to this desperate moment, and the narrative would expect me to feel sympathy for him and maybe even root for him. This assumed, however, that the third-person narrative would follow only Bonner. In this, I was wrong. After only a few pages, Bonner temporarily exited the stage, and the novel made its first shift to another third-person POV. Albert had me on my toes, and he kept me there for most of the novel. I do not mean to imply that Devil in Dungarees attempts anything innovative or daring in its narrative structure. Rather, I note that Albert made enough interesting (and sometimes dark) narrative choices to win me over. This one may not be at the top of the genre, but it is well above most of the heap. Grade: A-

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pulp Poem of the Week

His eyes were dimming crescents,
straining upward into the starred
night sky,
as if trying to make out, to visualize,
some phantom face that no one else
could see.
And what is love anyway but the
the reaching out toward an illusion?

Cornell Woolrich
Rendezvous in Black

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pulp Poem of the Week

She knew how.

Marvin H. Albert
Devil in Dungarees

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Book Review: Bruno Fischer, The Fast Buck (1952)

It may have taken me longer to finish The Fast Buck than any other Gold Medal novel I have read. The problem is that, for at least the first half of the book, Bruno Fischer's plot keeps resetting itself--every time events seem to be leading somewhere, things more or less start over. As a result, I never felt much compelled to pick up the book and read (or to read for very long once I had picked it up). The novel is narrated by Bert Peake, a somewhat likable lifelong hood (with time out for service in WWII) who wants to make some fast money and then maybe play life straight. He goes begging for work at the door of Ted Lumm, a childhood friend who is now a major player in organized crime. Lumm may or may not or may or may not have someone for Bert to kill, but he definitely has a memorable femme fatale, Lorraine Callender, to throw in Bert's path. The climax of the novel, when it finally does come, is not very climactic. My advice is to skip this one. Grade: C-