Thursday, October 25, 2012

"The Twenty-Year Death" by Ariel S. Winter

Hard Case Crime, 2012

I remember reading that you found a child in a cage, and that there were other small cages next to it . . . And that he had dug a pit in his basement where he would force the children to fight each other if they wanted to be fed . . . An image like that stays with you.  I still have nightmares about it, and that’s just from reading the stories. Is it true?

The Twenty-Year Death has been reviewed high and low on the interwebs, so I won’t belabor the basic details.  Suffice to say it consists of three loosely connected novellas, each set in a different decade and each written in the style of a crime fiction master from each respective decade. 

The first novella, Malvineau Prison, is set in the 1930s.  Police detective Pelleter travels to Verargent, a small town near Malvineau Prison to visit with a Hannibal Lecter like serial killer of children that Pelleter busted some years before.  He quickly gets sucked into the investigation of a recent murder in Verargent and the disappearance of the young French wife of an American writer.  It is the writer, Shem Rosenkrantz, and his wife, Clotilde, that provide the connection between the three novellas. 

I enjoyed Malvineau Prison, but it didn’t captivate me and it took me some time to get through it.  I chalk this up to personal taste.  The writing and story are nothing to quibble with.  The story is a police procedural and differs somewhat in tone from most of the hardboiled material that is typical of Hard Case Crime.  I certainly found myself more and more drawn in as things progressed and I was left motoring along and eager to start the second novella, The Falling Star.

Then he moved his lips as though tasting something, and said, “This is a crap job I have for you, I just want to say that up front. It’s a crap job, but the money’s good and easy and I need someone I can trust.”

The Falling Star is set in the 1940s and finds private eye Dennis Foster taking on a suspiciously simple job watching a big movie studio’s star, Clotilde Rosenkrantz, now known as Chloe Rose.  Foster knows right off that not only is the job crap, but the premise on which he was hired is crap.  He refuses to sit back and take an easy paycheck.  Like any good hardboiled private eye, he quickly follows his nose into trouble.   

This middle novella apes Chandler, of course, and I loved every word of it.  As other reviewers have noted, it’s not at all a stretch to say that nobody has imitated a Marlowe-style detective novel better than Winter does with The Falling Star.  Winter pays uncanny homage to Chandler’s style and adds little flourishes that pull you right into 1940's L.A., or "S.A." in this case.  He also wisely avoids attempts to completely imitate Chandler and write what would be unworthy and distracting “Chandlerisms”; those off-the-wall metaphors that nobody but Chandler can really pull off.  

By the time I finished The Falling Star I was hooked deep and cruising along at racing speeds, ready for the rocket-ride of the last novella, Police at the Funeral.

The elevator came, the bell dinged like the end of a round, and I watched them get on. Just before the doors closed, they turned, and Joseph gave me a withering look of pure hatred, a look that hurt more than any words could have, used to, as my years of drunkenness had made me, declarations of disgust, pathetic amusement, consternation, pity, and sadness.  I didn’t think I’d ever be able to pick up my feet to walk a single step. And my empty stomach was much too hollow.

Shem Rosenkrantz has returned to his hometown to attend the reading of his ex-wife’s will.  His life is a shambles and he is desperate for cash.  The only bright spot is that he has managed to stay straight and on the wagon for a while.  Shem gets nothing from the estate.  A traumatic encounter with his son and the wrath of his trashy girlfriend leads Shem to the hotel bar . . . let the Jim Thompson inspired madness begin. 

Police at the Funeral is the perfect finish to the loosely connected stories that have been steadily building steam from Malvineau Prison on.  It is a harrowing lunatic ride to a head on collision and black conclusion.

Here is a great interview with Mr. Winter.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Kayo Books - San Francisco

I recently swung by Kayo Books during a trip to San Fran.  What a fantastic place.  Most vintage book stores have only a small section dedicated to the crime, noir and sleaze paperbacks we love.  Kayo is all pulp all the time. Thousands of vintage paperbacks, magazines and other cool stuff to browse through.  Such a pleasure to shop for vintage books in a real store instead on the accursed flea bay.  I can only say that if you find yourself in S.F. and you love vintage paperbacks you must make a stop and do prayer at Kayo.

I was able to pick up some good stuff, including some lesser known Spillane novels.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hard Case Crime

There's some really exciting stuff headed our way from Hard Case Crime
I'm particularly looking forward to the Cain novel this fall:

 Also, check this out: The Outfit.  +1 to my viewing list.

Great article here as well.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"She Freak" 1967 Film

I was much pleased to catch this gem on TCM the other night.  Carnies, freaks, circus-folk and a slutty gold digger - you just can't go wrong.  Jade gets tired of slinging hash in a small town diner and decides to run off and join the carnival.  She soon becomes enamored with the "ride boss" but ultimately decides to marry the owner of the freak show because he's got more goin' for him in the wallet.  Well, that and he took her out for a nice dinner and stroll around the carnival.  Despite landing the carnival's big fish, Jade just can't resist the carney powers of the ride boss.  She is soon tempted into sweet sin in the dude's filthy semi-trailer carney home.  Meanwhile the freak show's little person sees that Jade is steppin' out on his boss.  Things don't end well for Jade.

Speaking of freaks, what the freak is that blonde at the upper left of this poster doing?

My DVR was handy for passing by the many extended montages of circus action that were used as filler to pad this film out to a normal running length.  Beyond that, it was a real treat. I hope TCM continues to get more adventurous with its late night offering.  

More book reviews soon.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"The Red Scarf" by Gil Brewer

Crest Book No. 310, 1958
New Pulp Press, 2010

"About eight-thirty that night, the driver of a big trailer truck let me out in the middle of nowhere. I had stacked in with a load of furniture all the way from Chicago and I should have slept, too. I couldn’t even close my eyes."
Roy, desolate at failing to get a loan from his brother, is hitching his way from Chicago to Florida.  He and his wife, Bess, own a motel in which they sunk all of their chips.  They are riding out the hope that a new highway would be located an built fronting the motel.  Word is the new highway will be re-located, leaving their motel a stranded money pit.     

“ALF’S BBQ Drinks Sandwiches”

"The sign was done in blue lights and it kind of hung like a ghost there in the dripping trees. It swung and you could hear it creak. Just the sign, and nothing else.”

In Alf’s, Roy bums a ride from a shady looking couple, Vivian and Noel.  He quickly realizes he is stepping in the middle of a hornet’s nest.

"I sat there without saying anything for about a mile. Just waiting. It wasn’t the cigarette smoke in this car, or the hot air from the heater, either. You could taste the trouble that had been going on between these two."

There is an accident and soon Roy finds himself face to face with a pile of cash, bucks that could solve all of his problems with the motel.  Vivian refuses to explain where the cash came from and begs Roy to help her get out of the country.  Its obvious to Roy that the cash is blood money of some kind and that Vivian is on a lunatic run from big trouble. She carries the money in a case secured by a bright red slash - her scarf. 

Soon Roy is hiding Vivian out in the motel and dodging questions from his wife.  Brewer relentlessly tightens the screws on Roy, and ratchets up the tension for the reader.  Roy must somehow dodge Bess and keep Vivian from blowing his chance at that money. 

"I left her standing there and cut around the other side of the garage. She worried me plenty. I heard her walking the other way on the gravel. It wasn’t good having her here. I had to keep elbowing out of my mind who she really was, the things she’d been mixed up in, and the people she knew. But that money kept chewing at me."

Complications continue to mount as a strange man starts asking for Vivian and the cops come sniffing around.  Roy madly tries to keep all of his balls in the air, desperate to get away with a scheme that is obviously impossible to carry off.  Brewer treads familiar ground, telling a simple story about a man that knows he is treading a doomed path, but can’t break himself away from the false hope that lies just ahead.

While all of Brewer’s novels are good, there are those that sit on a higher tier than the rest.  The Red Scarf is one of those.  Brewer was at his best when he kept both the plot and the writing simple.  The writing in the The Red Scarf is tight. He crafts rapid-fire sentences, which hit like quick jabs to the nose.  The story plunges forward, like a roller coaster headed for a brick wall.

Thanks to New Pulp Press, The Red Scarf is readily available in a handsome re-published edition.  As Dr. Steve Brule would say, check it out.