Monday, May 28, 2012

Pulp Poem of the Week

Cash is
the hardest to find
the easiest to deal with.

     Richard Stark

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: Cornell Woolrich, Savage Bride (1950)

Cornell Woolrich puts an everyman and a femme fatale into an H. Rider Haggard blender.  Beware:  These characters don’t spit—they expectorate.  Grade: D

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pulp Poem of the Week

a stream of
pleasant sound
that seemed
to be saying,
Nothing matters.

          David Goodis
          Down There

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review: Jim Thompson, The Criminal (1953)

The title of this low-key masterpiece (low key for Jim Thompson, anyway) is either highly ironic or an oblique reference to almost every character in the book (or, of course, maybe both). In the main, its title refers to Bob Talbert, a teenager accused of killing a girl after she seduces him. As the narrative progresses, however, the fate of our criminal (if criminal he be) becomes increasingly beside the point. The story is told by a series of first-person narrators, each representing less a perspective than an agenda. Thus, the narrators emerge as criminals of a different sort, self-interested and mostly unconcerned with the truth of the affair. Herein lies the title's irony, as The Criminal frustrates the focus that its title promises. Some of Thompson's most famous novels feature the psychological disintegration of their protagonists. In The Criminal, it is the plot itself that disintegrates. Grade: A

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book Review: Richard Stark, Backflash (1997)

This is the sort of Parker novel that I like best: it focuses fairly narrowly on Parker planning and executing a heist and then dealing with the aftermath. So why didn’t I like it more? Why did I actually find it a wee bit tedious? The answer, I think, is that while Starklake ably executes the Parker formula, it feels like a formula this time out. Starklake doesn’t play with his own conventions as he sometimes does—he just marches through them. Of course, this wouldn’t be my reaction if this were my first encounter with Parker, in which case I would probably think this was a great book. More than anything, this all suggests that I ought to take a break from Parker. CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT ALERT: In Backflash, Parker laughs at a joke. Grade: C+

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book Review: David Goodis, Down There [a.k.a. Shoot the Piano Player] (1956)

Why do so many readers rank David Goodis so highly in the pantheon of noir? My theory goes like this: His best books, including Down There, are remarkable primarily for their restraint. Goodis does his best writing when he doesn’t overtax his talent by trying to do too much. Thus, good Goodis gives you no complicated criminal plots, no overwrought sexual hijinks. He’s simple and he’s bleak, and therefore he gets credit for a kind of noir purity and for a corresponding artistic ambition. But in this realm, art happens only when character happens, and Down There’s characters are thin. The most notably thin is protagonist Eddie Lynn, who is more husk than human. In fact, Eddie has cultivated his huskness as a psychic defense against his painful past. His response to most everything that goes on around him is an empty smile. Eventually, of course, Eddie is forced into substantially more action than this, but, as is typically the case with Goodis, as the action accelerates, the artistry deteriorates. One of Goodis’ great strengths, however, is righting himself on the final page and ending on a perfect note. Grade: B+

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pulp Poem of the Week

Just smart
to get
     Richard Stark

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book Review: Richard Stark, Comeback (1997)

The coolest thing about Parker’s comeback is its lack of fanfare—when it appeared, this was the first Parker novel in 23 years, but that fact is referenced only in the novel’s title. Other than that, it’s a completely ordinary Parker novel (which is to say, a very good Parker novel) that could just as easily have been published in 1967 as 1997, a few cultural references notwithstanding. Comeback drags only in its final act, as Parker novels sometimes do, when it turns into a cat-and-mouse game of who-is-going-to-kill-whom. Grade: B