Fade to Blonde

I’ve been back filling my Hard Case Crime collection every time they have a dollar sale (members only sale, you cats really need to join the club if you haven’t yet), and Fade to Blonde by Hard Case Crime co-founder Max Phillips — the other founder being Charles Ardai — is one that had most recently come in.

Number two in the HCC catalog, Blonde is yet another fantastic addition to the series, as it has everything pulp lovers need: Babes, brawn, bullets and bite.

Set in 1940s Los Angeles, Roy Corson is hired by Rebecca LaFontaine for a little protection from a gentleman named Halliday — a man who has threatened to throw lye in her face. And, oh yeah, Halliday is tied to the mob. But Corson does what any man’s man does in this situation…he takes care of business.

Blonde is a fine example of what pulp fiction goodness is all about, damsels in distress, tough as nails protaganists (and equally slimey antaganists) and razor sharp writing. Author Phillips has a good beat:

From a conversation with a sandwich girl at a party:

“How’s Miss Godalmighty?” she said absently.


“Your date. Miss HIgh and Godalmighty Bellinger.”

“Oh. Fine, thanks. She sends her love.”

“You like tomatoes? Some people are allergic, but I think they’re good.”

“I like tomatoes.”

“What she probably likes is you’re not an actor.”

“That’s it.”

“I guess she’s not too high and mighty for a place like this.”

“I guess she isn’t. What did she turn you down for?”


“I said, what did she turn you down for. Or did she just turn you down, period?”

The girl in the kimono didn’t say anything, just kept slicing tomatoes.

You hear that? That snap snap snap? That’s a good beat, kids.

One slight thing I didn’t like about the book is some of characters brought in didn’t have much purpose other than furthering the plot. It’s expected to have a character once in a while that accomlishes this, but Blonde has a few more than it needs. Corson’s interactions with characters like Burri, the head mob honcho, seem a little forced and pointless. Burri isn’t the only one, either. The man (whose name escapes me) who suggested LaFontaine to Corson in the first place pops up once or twice, if only to give Corson some advice and/or information just seems like filler.

Another small problem I had was with the ending. I felt slightly cheated because there wasn’t enough information prior to suggest what was coming. Looking back, there were slight hints, but they were barely whispers and nothing to grab onto. The finale is by no means unbelievable, but it would have been nice if, after finishing the book, I could have said, “OH! OKAY! I GET IT!” But because of the suddeness, it seemed a tad contrived.

These quibbles are easily overlooked, though, because Phillips is really that good with the lingo. The book is by no means a disappointment and is a fun read from start to finish. So much so, that I’m hoping Phillips throws us fans another bone in the future.

The Getaway

I love Daedalus Books. It’s a fantastic place to buy new books at great prices. If you are unfamiliar with them, it’s kind of like a big store consisting of nothing but the bargain book tables found at Barnes & Noble or Borders, plus with some DVDs and CDs in the mix. Between them and the Wheaton Public Library, my book needs are pretty well set.

I went up to the Daedalus a couple weeks ago with my pops, and proceeded to spend more than I should have — I probably have more books “to read” than “have read” in my collection, but, man, I can’t help myself sometimes. It was on this visit that I saw The Getaway by Jim Thompson.

I saw the book on a table for $1.99, and picked it up hoping that it was the book the movie was based on (rather than the book being based on the movie — I’m not a huge fan of those), and I was pleasently surprised to find it was the former, especially since I had no idea there was a book at all. Having enjoyed the Sam Peckinpah flick (staring Steve Badass McQueen and Ali Holy Hell Hot MacGraw), it was a no-brainer to pick it up.

If you’ve never seen the movie (or read the book), The Getaway centers around Doc McCoy and his wife Carol. Recently released from prison (with a little help from Carol, who may or may not of slept with the warden), McCoy plans a bank job to get his debts paid. Things, of course, go wrong and he and Carol end up on the lamb.

I tore into the book, and really enjoyed it. The movie followed it rather closely for the most part, but the book takes a weird and ugly turn about the last third of it, and is completely different from the movie. It’s not bad, both are quite good, actually, but there’s a part in the book — a part that centers around suggested cannibalism — that really didn’t work. At all. It didn’t work so much, that it affected what could have been a much stronger ending.

It’s rare when a movie is better than the book that it’s based on, and while Thompson’s Getaway was pretty damn enjoyable, Peckinpah’s is a little stronger. That, though, could be the McQueen factor.


I like J.F. Gonzales. I really do. I haven’t read every book he’s written, yet, but I’ve liked every book I’ve read, starting with Maternal Instinct.

Gonzales has a nice knack of disturbing the hell out of you, and I can appreciate that.

But, for some reason, with the last two books I’ve read from him — Bully and, now, Fetish — he seems to be having a hard time ending his books. And by that I mean just the last few pages. In Bully, it wasn’t too bad, but, man, in Fetish, I have zero idea on why he felt he needed the first and last chapters. They are such an obvious force into making the book into some sort of *shocking* ending, and does nothing but hurt it.

The meat of the book is top notch, as usual, and very good read. Long story short, it’s about a cop, a newspaper journalist and a serial killer.

But, dammit, the first and last chapters are so completely unneeded that I wish I hadn’t read them. They are so tacked on, it feels like they weren’t part of the book from the beginning, and an editor (or publisher) suggested he throw them in there. But they just don’t work.

Yet, even with that said, I think Gonzales is a great author who gets better with each book. My favorite is still Bully (with a Survivor a very close second).

I’ll certainly keep reading him.

Kill Now, Pay Later

You know a book is good when it’s memorable, and Robert Terrall’s Kill Now, Pay Later is good book.

Part of the Hard Case Crime series (really digging this series), I finished it about two months ago, and I can still recollect parts of the book with ease.

Ben Gates, Kill Now’‘s main character, is a Private Dick who takes a seemingly easy gig guarding some wedding presents for a fancy pants family.

As it goes, someone drugs him, kills the host and makes off with some of the goodies that were intended for the bride and groom. The blame, of course, falls squarely on Gates’ shoulders, so in order to keep his reputation, he has to solve the case to clear his name.

During his investigation, Gates manages to sleep with seemingly every woman he comes in contact with, and fight every bad guy in his path. Like John Blake in Little Girl Lost, Gates is not a Superman. He does take his licks. Not as much as Black, but Gates (like Blake) is a realistic protagonist.

What’s really interesting about Kill Now is it was first published over 40 years ago. Reading it, it holds up extremely well, as Terrall was smart enough not to put anything in that would date the book. No TV show mentions, no song mentions, no car model mentions. None that I could recollect, anyway.

Kill Now, Pay Later is humorous and action packed, just how I like my pulp. A fine addition to the Hard Case Crime series.

Little Girl Lost

Over a year ago, I read Colorado Kid by Stephen King, which was part of Dorchester Publishing’s new series of Hard Case Crime books. While the book was enjoyable, it was neither hardboiled, nor noir. And as much as I liked the pulp cover, I didn’t pick up any more in the series.

I’m a dumbass.

I should have known that the most likely reason they put King in this series is to sell books and get publicity. It was a smart move. But it wasn’t enough for me to keep reading the line.

So one day I was searching around BookMooch, and, on a whim, I did a search for Hard Case Crime. Little Girl Lost was the first hit, so I put in my request. Soon enough, it was at my doorstep. I took it to work with me the next day, and finished it a couple days after that.

Little Girl Lost - Richard Aleas

In a nutshell, while reading the paper one day, John Blake (who happens to be a private investigator, go figure) learns that his first true love was found murdered on the roof of a strip club. Last he heard, she was off in college. So what the hell happened that made her a stripper, and a dead one at that? So he digs into the case.

Lost is an interesting book, as far as hardboiled goes. Blake is not your stereotypical P.I. Sure, he’s witty as they come, laugh-out-loud witty at times (and I’m sure the people on the Metro loved that). And he’s a tough guy in his own right. But the guy gets his ass kicked at least three times in the book. Not something you see often, and it works on some level because it humanizes him. New comer Charles Ardai (writing under the pseudoname Richard Aleas) shows a great deal of promise with this first novel of his. He’s definitely got the wit down, as well as the feel for a gritty crime novel. I hope he continues to churn them out, as I’m already a fan of his work. (Side note: Ardai is the creator of the Hard Case Crime series).

After finishing Lost, I immediately signed up for the Hard Case Crime book-a-month club, and my father, too. They are reasonably priced, thier covers are seriously bad ass and, if Little Girl Lost is any indication, they are going to be something to look forward to in my mailbox each month.

Check them out.

The Straw Men and The Upright Man

After finishing the disappointing Breed, I did something I rarely do after being let down by an unknown (to me) author.I took a chance on another unknown.

Usually, I go back to the well of familiar authors. You know, play it safe before diving back into the unknown again.

But when I went to my box ‘o new books (a box of books accumulated from used book stores, the Wheaton library and yard sales not yet shelved), I picked up The Straw Men by Michael Marshall Smith (writing as Michael Marshall) and decided that would be my next read. I had heard a lot about Smith, The Straw Men in particular. And it was nothing but good. So, what the hell. Worst case scenario would be I would have a crappy read that day on the way to and from work.

Fortunately, Men did not disappoint. At all. It was so good, as soon as I finished it, the very day no less, I went to Borders & Noble to pick up its sequel, The Upright Man.

The Straw Men - Michael Marshall The Upright Man - Michael Marshall

The Straw Men has a fantastic opening, two men pop into a crowded McDonald’s and kill just about every customer in the joint. Then, it immediately moves onto three (apparently) different side stories — a kidnapped girl, a man who is unwillingly pulled into the missing girl’s investigation and another man who finds out after burying his parents they may not really be dead. And the best part is Smith keeps every storyline separate, until he decides to start pulling them all together. Which he does very smoothly and very believably.

The “men” of the title play a minor role to the bigger picture (the book ends up centering around “The Upright Man,” which is the title of its sequel), but they are interesting nonetheless. To tell you their history and the things they do, and even the upright man’s involvement with them, would be to spoil it for you, as the more you know about the story — and its characters — the more some of the enjoyment is taken out. I went in knowing nothing more than its a good book, and you should know the same.

The Upright Man, the sequel to The Straw Men, is just as good as the first. In The Straw Men, you learn the identity of The Upright Man. In The Upright Man, he is hunted by many of the characters from the first novel. And what a trip he leads them on. My. My.

However, one thing I wish Smith had done — at least in The Straw Men — is developed The Straw Men’s past some more. The very little you get to know from this group is incredibly intriguing, but their story seems to just peeter out. It’s almost as if Smith had a broad idea of The Straw Men going in, but got a bit about The Upright Man, and rolled with him, instead. It doesn’t make the book less enjoyable, by any means. It’s simply an avenue I wish had been traveled more before the road split.

All in all, though, two very quick and enjoyable reads. There’s a third in the series, Blood of Angels, that brings the players back together, but I haven’t picked it up just yet. I’m hitting a couple bookstores this weekend, so we’ll see.

Prodigal Blues

You know those kids on the milk cartons and “Have you seen me?” posters? What would you do if you actually saw one of those kids?

Certainly you’d notify the authorities.

What would you do if you, yourself, were kidnapped after doing the right thing? By the very people who the missing child was with.

Well that’s the pickle Mark Sieber finds himself in, in Gary Braunbeck’s Prodigal Blues.

Let me tell you, if you have not read anything by Braunbeck, you are completely missing out. So far, the man is three for three with me, and I already picked up a forth.

Blues is brilliantly written and absolutely heartbreaking. The pain of Mark’s captors oozes from the pages, and even with what Mark goes through in the beginning of his journey with them, you can’t fault his captors. Braunbeck makes sure of that.

Like “Safe” (but unlike The Ballad of Road Mamma and Daddy Bliss) , Blues is very dark, very brutal and very wrenching. By brutal, I’m not talking about the violence (which there is). I’m talking about the way Braunbeck fleshes out his characters so well, that you really, truly care about what they are going through. He has this incredible knack of creating unique characters that have something about them that they are almost tangible. Even the minor characters in Blues (like Cletus, the mechanic) are interesting enough that you wouldn’t mind reading a book about them, too.

Reading Blues, and what it entailed and how it drained me somewhat, I couldn’t help but reminded somewhat of Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. I assure you, it’s not as demoralizing as Door, but Blues does give you a sense of hopelessness reading it. And that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a little asskicking when you’re reading a book.

Now there’s a reason I haven’t delved too much into Mark’s captors, and it’s simple. It would spoil your enjoyment. Granted, you find out relatively early on what their deal is, but that’s no reason why I should ruin it for you. So I won’t.

Just buy it and read it already.

Waltz of Shadows

I love Joe Lansdale.

I’ve yet to be disappointed in anything I’ve read by him and he has a voice that is recognizable in every one of his books.

Granted, I do have favorites (The Bottoms is one of many and Waltz of Shadows can now be added to that list), but, for the most part, he’s batting pretty good for me. He may not hit a homerun every time he’s up to bat, but he usually gets a double or a triple.

Waltz of Shadows is volume one of “The Lost Lansdale” put out by Subterranean Press. In the forward of Shadows, Lansdale tells on how the book came to be (it was almost Mucho Mojo, a “Hap & Leonard” novel, which is interesting because I can see how Mojo came from it) and how this version has changed from its previous publication.

Waltz of Shadows - Joe Lansdale

Shadows is one of Lansdale’s darkest books I’ve read to date. His works are usually injected with some good natured humor, but I didn’t see so much in this one. But that’s okay, as the book is meant to be dark. Sure, there are still plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in the book, but they are definitely a little more mean spirited as I’m used to from Lansdale. But, again, that’s okay, because it’s really done well.

Oh yeah, the short synopsis is the main character, Hank, gets a phone call from his knucklehead nephew, Bill. Generally, Bill only calls Hank when he’s in trouble, and this is no exception. But this time, Bill is in it deep. Set up for a murder he didn’t commit, Bill is on the run from both the killers and the police, and it’s up to Hank to help him.

Waltz of Shadows, like most of what I’ve read by Lansdale, is really, really good. It’s definitely a little different from the other things I’ve blown through, but it’s one of my favorites, now.

If you have the opportunity to read it, do it.

The Ballad of Road Mama and Daddy Bliss.

That is one helluva title.

It’s a short story/novella from Gary Braunbeck’s book Destinations Unknown. Not only is it the best titled story of the three in Unknown, it’s also the best story.

I had never read Braunbeck until this, but I had certainly heard the name. What I had heard was good, and when I plopped down to read Unknown, saw the title “The Ballad of Road Mama and Daddy Bliss,” I hoped the story was as good as the title. It was.

In a nutshell, “Bliss” is about a man who is forced to do some community service because of a D.U.I. His service entails working with the city morgue picking up bodies. On his first pickup, he notices something very strange about the body, and ends up getting involved in something unworldly.

The second story, “Congestion,” centers around a man who is having an apparent heart attack, while he’s stuck in a traffic jam.

“Merge Right,” the third and final story, has a business man driving on a desolate highway, where every sign is telling him to “merge right.”

As you can see, all three stories are highway themed, and all three stories are good. But “Bliss” really stood out for me because of the way it was told (or written). This is not only a good story to hear at a bar over a beer or three, but Braunbeck tells it like that, as well. There’s something about his ‘voice’ in that particular story that was very compelling, and I felt like he was talking to me, as opposed to me reading it.

But here’s the kicker — and this will be discussed in another entry — there’s a subplot in “Bliss.” At first it seemed like a throwaway. The main character talks about his boss, and how he and his boss, when they were teens, were involved in the cleaning of a house after some bad shit went down. Bad shit that involved wiping the blood off walls. And I figured it was just a little character development because it was discussed only briefly and not brought up again. Oh, no. I found out the night after I finished reading the book that there was much more to that story.

And it was very weird how I learned what happened.

Shoedog has bark and bite.

ShoedogAnother book I picked up at the aforementioned bookstore was an early novel by George Pelecanos called Shoedog.

Shoedog tells the story of a mysterious drifter, Constance, trying to find his place in the world. Picked up hitchhiking, he enters a world of violence, and he seems to fit right in.

Like all of the other books from Pelecanos I’ve read, this one does not fail to entertain. Certainly part of is his works take place in D.C. and the surrounding areas, so I’m familiar with some of the places. But there’s more.

Very few authors not only have a voice, but also a rhythm. Michael Connelly has Jazz. George Pelecanos has Soul.

And it’s all good music.