Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review: Jim Thompson, Bad Boy (1953)

Jim Thompson’s Bad Boy is tepid autobiography in the vein of Jim Tully’s early books: a series of broad-stroke anecdotes in search of a narrative. The book gets stronger as it goes, with its most famous section detailing Thompson’s encounters with the sheriff who inspired the creation of The Killer Inside Me’s Lou Ford. But this juxtaposition serves only to highlight the comparative thinness of Bad Boy: Thompson may have been haunted by his memories of this man, but in the real-life telling he is (perhaps unavoidably) the barest husk of Lou Ford. Grade: C+

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

It was like being in a room
with no windows or doors.
You kept running against the walls,
slamming into them.
You knew there was no way out.
But back in your mind,
something told you
there had to be a way out.
So you rammed, and rammed,
smashing against those walls.
You’d reel around and try again.
Something had to give—
either one of the walls,
or you.
Gil Brewer
The Three-Way Split

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Note: The Best American Crime Reporting 2010, edited by Stephen J. Dubner

This year’s stand-out: David Grann’s “Trial by Fire,” the story of Todd Willingham, a man accused of burning his house with his children inside.

This year’s stinker: Ernest B. Furgurson’s “The Man Who Shot the Man Who Shot Lincoln,” a boring summary of the life of Boston Corbett.

Book Review: David Rachels, Verse Noir (2010)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: Gil Brewer, Play It Hard (1960)

Gil Brewer mashes up Cornell Woolrich (I Married a Dead Man crossed with The Black Curtain) with his own sexed-up Gulf Coast noir. Perhaps not his best, but I’m always a sucker for noir amnésique. Grade: B-

Pulp Poem of the Week

She moaned and she moaned.
After a while they lay still.
The house waited.
Gil Brewer
Backwoods Teaser

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book Review: George H. Smith and Gil Brewer, Bayou Babe (1960)

You can have a remarkable time reading George H. Smith’s Bayou Babe, but only if you read Gil Brewer’s Backwoods Teaser first. Brewer's novel was published in January 1960; Smith’s book followed five months later. In between, Smith took considerably more than inspiration from Brewer. The books have the same premise, more or less the same opening scene, and many scenes scattered throughout are eerily similar. Historical bottom line: An unexpected payday for Brewer when someone alerted him to Smith's plagiarism. Grade reserved for plagiarists and The Colorado Kid: F-

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book Review: Gil Brewer, The Three-Way Split (1960)

The Three-Way Split begins with Gil Brewer reworking the opening of one of of his short stories. In “Death Comes Last” (Hunted Detective Story Magazine, October 1955), Brewer begins with an aggrieved protagonist, who runs a modest charter-boat service, getting shafted out of his fee because his obnoxious clients didn’t catch any fish and one of them lost a watch overboard. The Three-Way Split begins with another aggrieved protagonist running a charter boat, and this time a necklace falls into the Gulf. On this occasion, however, our protagonist—Jack Holland, which also happens to be one of Brewer’s pseudonyms—manages to find the necklace, and he finds something else too: a recently uncovered sunken ship. Perhaps it contains treasure? After this, Brewer rushes to get his other characters on stage: Jack’s girlfriend, his girlfriend’s sister, his friend the old treasure hunter, his ne’er-do-well father, and the men who want to kill his ne’er-do-well father. If you like this sort of thing, how much you ultimately like The Three-Way Split will probably hinge on how effective you find its ending. Currently available as part of a two-fer reprint from Stark House Press. Grade: B-

Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Review: Gil Brewer, Backwoods Teaser (1960)

Erskine Caldwell meets James M. Cain for swamp titillation. As much comedy as it is noir. Quick, professional, for Brewer completists only. Grade: C

Pulp Poem of the Week

She was
as dry as
an invoice.
Èmile Zola
The Kill (La Curée)
(translated by Brian Nelson)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Èmile Zola, The Kill [La Curée] (1872)

For those inclined to trace the origins of naturalistic crime fiction—a.k.a. noir—beyond Frank Norris’s McTeague (1899), the next logical stop is French naturalist Èmile Zola. The Kill (La Curée), the second in Zola’s twenty-volume cycle Les Rougon-Marcquart, traffics in familiar noir themes of uncontrolled greed and lust. The novel begins in medias res as we are plunged into the tacky decadence of the nouveau riche of the Second Empire, and then rewinds to show how the environment of Paris created Aristide Saccard (greed) and his wife Renée (lust). The novel can be slow at times, as its subject is as much Paris itself as Saccard and Renée, but if your interest in noir is at all academic, The Kill is well worth your time. Grade: B

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

Everything she wore
must have had
strong seams.
Gil Brewer
The Screamer