Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Review: Dorothy B. Hughes, In a Lonely Place (1947)

If Mickey Spillane had named one of his heroes "Dix Steele," it would leave me shaking my head and rolling my eyes, but when Dorothy B. Hughes gives the name to a serial rapist and killer, I nod and smile. Hughes can get away with this name because everything else in In a Lonely Place is so restrained. Dix Steele is so scary because he seems so ordinary--which is, of course, why sociopaths are so dangerous: Inwardly they have no conscience, while outwardly they seem the same as you or I. Many of today's writers of psycho noir, who are free to indulge their every excessive impulsive (and often do), would do well to learn a few things from this understated masterpiece. Grade: A

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week

It amazed him
she could talk
like that
in the kind of
underwear she wore.
Elmore Leonard
Freaky Deaky

Friday, February 19, 2010

Book Review: Charles Willeford, The Shark-Infested Custard (c. 1975)

Charles Willeford felt that The Shark-Infested Custard was his masterpiece. The novel centers around four men who become friends because they all live in a Miami apartment building that caters to singles. Beyond this, the main things they have in common are a creepy crassness and an interest in the finer points of getting laid. Willeford described The Shark-Infested Custard as "a fairly nasty picture of so-called ordinary young men who are making it down here." Thus, the challenge facing Willeford as a writer was to give his readers sufficient reason to want to spend 263 pages' worth of time with such an unpleasant group of protagonists. For a noirish novel, the obvious strategy would have been to hook readers with a strong narrative drive, but Willeford's episodic storytelling pointedly refuses to do this. (Perhaps it was this vaguely arty storytelling decision, in combination with the vaguely arty decision to use multiple first-person narrators, that deluded Willeford into his high opinion of this book.) Failing this, the author might try to give the book some sort of substance as sociological document, exploring the nature of a society that produces "ordinary young men" like these. But the novel does not seem especially interested in this, either. In the end, the problem with The Shark-Infested Custard is that it does not seem interested in much of anything other than itself. Grade: C

Monday, February 15, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week

He had never liked Summer,
even as a kid,
and now that he
was an adult and a cop,
the only memorable characteristic
Summer seemed to have
was that it made
dead bodies stink quicker.
Ed McBain
Cop Hater

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book Review: Natsuo Kirino, Out (1997)

Take your favorite vintage noir PBO, transfer its setting to present-day Tokyo, turn your loner anti-hero into a quartet of anti-heroines, and the result is Out. This brilliant combination of Everyman noir and psycho noir is by far the best Japanese neo-noir that I have read. Highly, highly recommended. Grade: A

Monday, February 8, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week

"I'm wearing
a skirt,"
she said.

Gil Brewer
The Vengeful Virgin

Monday, February 1, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week

"I'll have you know
we serve the best coffee
in the street," she said.
"If you don't like it
you can go elsewhere."

"Thanks, honey," Leon said,
and smiled his slow, lazy smile.
Maybe I'll just
rinse my hands in it."

James Hadley Chase
I'll Bury My Dead