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.

“Who?”

“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?”

“What?”

“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.

Rosemary’s Baby

Many months ago I was at the much talked about, much loved Wheaton Public Library buying my usual bags and bags of books, when I came across a beat up copy of Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin. I, of course, had heard of the movie and was quite aware that it was a book first, but I have never bothered with either.

The movie I never bothered with because Roman Polanski is a fuck and should be skinned.

The book I never bothered with because I’ve never had the opportunity. Well that obviously changed when I saw it for a quarter. (And, to be quite honest, if it were over a buck, I most likely wouldn’t have bought it as the title just never interested me.)

The story of Rosemary’s Baby (for those who have been oblivious to pop-culture for about 30 years) is not complex at all. A woman, Rosemary, and her husband (whose name escapes me, so we’ll call him Hal) move into a new apartment that has a questionable past — suicides and murders and such. The apartment’s tenants are rather… eccentric, to say the least. Strange shit starts happening, Rosemary gets pregnant and the tenants may or may not be devil worshipers and her baby may or may not be demon spawn.

Let’s face it, devil worshipers and demon spawn just aren’t scary anymore. Sure, back in the day you had The Exorcist (which I desperately need to read) and The Omen, and those are still good now. However, people prancing around a pentagram in dark hoods and robes and black candles just don’t cut it nowadays. But damn if that doesn’t effect the enjoyment of this book.

Levin does a fantastic job of just telling you a story. He doesn’t try to do anything else. The entire book centers around Rosemary, and you don’t know anything beyond what she knows. Levin isn’t trying to scare you, he just sits you down in an easy chair and tells you a tale. The entire tone of the book is very conversational and, because of this, reads quickly. But don’t take that as it reads quickly like a pulp fiction novel, where as few words are used as possible, but quickly in the sense you are talking to a friend, and time slips away from you.

The only problem I had with the book — and this is no fault of Levin, but rather the time it was written — is the ending… or, rather, the reveal of Rosemary’s baby. I believe that, at the time, it may have been shocking, but now it reads a little hokey. The actual ending is really good, unsettling even, because of how Rosemary handles her unique situation, but the description of the kid leaves a little to be desired.

Rosemary’s Baby is the first novel I’ve read by Levin, but I see he’s also written such noted works as A Kiss Before Dying and The Stepford Wives, which I would like to read in the future. Most notably, though (for me), he wrote a sequel to Rosemary’s Baby, called Son of Rosmary, a full 30 years later. I’m really curious about that, and will keep an eye out for it.

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.

The First Quarry

There’s a lot of things I love about the Hard Case Crime series. Their covers are amazingly cool. The club is reasonably priced (about $6.00 a month). About every quarter they have sweet sales, where they mark down books to a buck or two (just got in 13 books for $21). And, with the exception of maybe one or two books, I have enjoyed everything I’ve read from the catalogue.

But one of the things I like most about the HCC series is it introduces me to authors I may not have heard of (or have seen their work without realizing it). Like Max Allan Collins. I’ll get back to this in a minute.

Due to just being busy as hell, it’s the first HCC book I’ve read in a while. As I was reading it, I was painfully aware that I’ve been away from the pulp for entirely too long (and realized, with glee, while I haven’t read any in a while it also means I have a pretty big back log I can plow through).

The First Quarry is actually the second “Quarry” book in the catalogue, the first being The Last Quarry. Fortunately for me, First is the prequel to Last, and I have not had a chance to read the latter, yet. So that works out pretty good.

It’s 1970, and Quarry, a paid-for-hire assassin, sits in an abandoned house watching the occupant of the home across the street, waiting for an opportunity to close the contract.

As the title, The First Quarry, suggests, this is Quarry’s first job for The Broker, a man who found Quarry through unknown means, and offered him a position in his company. The Broker negotitiates the contracts, and his employees, men like Quarry, fulfill those contracts. A sniper in Vietnam, Quarry came home from the war only to find his wife with another man and…let’s just say he took care of business. Since then, Quarry didn’t really have anything going on in life until The Broker showed up. An opportunity presented itself, and he took it.

Because nothing is ever easy in a pulp novel, this is no simple job. So many things complicate this seemingly simple hit, it no longer becomes a case of “What can go wrong, will,” but “Yeah, shit’s just gonna go wrong, whether it can or can’t.” But a credit goes to author Collins’ skill, because everything that goes wrong is feasible, and it all comes together in a believable way in the end.

The First Quarry is written in first person narrative, but it is also a diary of sorts, as Quarry addresses the reader (think TV’s “Dexter”). It works extemely well because Quarry (via Collins) is very matter-of-fact with a witty, dry sense of humor. It works extremely well, and a solid introduction to Max Allan Collins for me.

Now, as I mentioned, I like how the HCC catalogue introduces me to authors I’ve read before, authors I’ve never heard of and authors whose works I’ve seen, but wasn’t aware of who they were. Well, Collins is the author of The Road to Perdition (you know, the movie that Tom Hanks is actually enjoyable in?). I didn’t realize this until I hit Collins’ website and noticed that on his bibliography. Completely fitting considering how much I enjoyed the movie’s noir style — and I still need to pick up that graphic novel.

The Fist Quarry is yet another solid entry in the Hard Case Crime catalogue. I can’t wait to read The Last Quarry.

Money Shot

Wow. It certainly has been a while since my last update, but after finishing Money Shot by Christa Faust, I had to post about it.

A while back, I wrote a blog about how, for the most part, I do not enjoy mystery novels (or, more specifically, crime novels) written by women, as they generally get tied up with crap I don’t care about (ie: feel good garbage). Of course, there are exceptions (like Janet Evanovich), but those are few and far between.

Well, if Money Shot is any indication, Faust is a very welcome addition to my limited library of female crime writers. (And before any panties get in a bunch and accuse me of being misogynistic, can men write romance novels as good as women? I’m guessing no.)

Anywho, Money Shot, aside from having a terrific oh-so appropriate title, centers around Angel Dare, a former pornstar turned business woman (her business caters to women in porn). When she gets a call to pull a favor for a friend, a quickie movie, Dare reluctantly agrees. (Partly because the guy she’s to ‘do’ is the current top dog in the industry and he specifically asked for her).

Once she shows up to the shoot, though, she’s beaten, tortured and raped — all over a missing briefcase that she knows seemingly nothing about. Fortunately for our heroine, she manages to live through this ordeal (not for the lack of the baddies trying), and takes it upon herself to give a little payback.

Just scope the book’s first paragraph:

Coming back from the dead isn’t as easy as they make it seem in the movies. In real life it takes forever to do little things like pry open your eyes. You spend excruciating ages trying to bend your left middle finger down far enough to feel the rope around your wrists. Even longer figuring out that the cold hard thing poking you in the cheek is one of the handles of a pair of jumper cables. This is not the kind of action that makes for gripping cinema. Plus there are these long dull stretches where people in the audience would probably go take a piss or get popcorn, since it looks as if nothing is happening and they figure maybe you really are dead after all. After a while, you start to wonder the same thing yourself. You also wonder what will happen if you throw up behind the oily rag ducttaped into your mouth or how long it will take for someone to notice you’re missing. Otherwise you are mostly busy bleeding, trying not to pass back out, or laboriously adding up the cables, the stuffy cramped darkness, the scratchy carpet below and the raw hollow metal above to equal your current location, the trunk of an old and badly maintained car. That’s what it was like for me, anyway.

How can you not like that opening?

And, the best part is Faust keeps that finger snapping beat the entire novel. Good times, indeed.

Part of the Hard Case Crime library, Money Shot is probably the best I’ve read of the series. And that’s impressive because, with the exception of maybe two, they all have been top notch reads.

I’m eagerly looking forward to more from Faust. She’s a fantastic writer, she has crazy wit and she’s pretty damn hot to boot.

That’s right. I said “to boot.”

If you dig the hard boiled, pick this one up immediately.

Fetish

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.

Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film

Would you look at that title. Just look at that wonderful, wonderful title. What a helluva a title, and so appropriate for a biography about Russ Meyer, director of such films as Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Vixen and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The man was the king of sleaze, and I don’t mean that in a negative way.

I picked this book up the same time I picked up Bloody Sam: The Life and Films of Sam Peckinpah, and I damn near read both back-to-back. Good thing I took a break with Brian Keene’s Dead Sea because, honestly, that might just have been to much mysoginism. Even for me.

Like Bloody Sam, Big Bosoms covers the life of its subject with lurid on and off the set. Meyer was a mean sonovabitch, particularly to women, but he also dished it out to his friends. Its really amazing how much Peckinpah and Meyer were alike, yet so different, when it came to women. Both saw women as objects, but where Peckinpah showed them as weak in his films, the ladies in Meyer’s films were nothing but strong Amazonian types. Yet, off screen, it’s obvious that neither men held women in any high regard.

Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film

Big Bosoms is really a fantastic book. Sadly, not much is known about Meyer’s childhood, and the book starts from just about the time he joined the Army. I would really love to know what went on in his household. With Peckinpah, it was rather easy to see why he felt about women the way he did. But there is so much disinformation about Meyer’s relationship with his mother (from the book, Meyer seemed to really love his mother, or fear her, or maybe both). Since Meyer never had anything bad to say about moms, one can’t even really speculate on the true relationship. However, it was noted that mother always referred to Meyer’s girlfriends and wives as ‘cows’, so maybe there is something to be said for that.

One major problem I had with the book, though, is the voice of its author, Jimmy McDonough. For the most part, it’s a well written novel, but there are times where he jumps into a hardcase crime type of voice, and it really doesn’t work. I can completely understand the reasoning behind it. There’s a certain vibe you get when you think of Meyer and/or his films. He’s got a style, for sure. But McDonough’s flaw is he’s not consistent with his voice, and when he drops to the hardboiled type of writing, it completely breaks up the flow. I believe part of it is it just might not come natural to McDonough. Either that, or its so different from other parts of the book, and it hurts the novel some.

Yet, with that said, the wealth of information and interviews within the book make up for it. It can’t be overlooked, but the book is still very enjoyable. It just could have been better.

I think the biggest travesty of all, though, is I’ve never seen a Meyer film, but I’ve certainly heard of them. It’s just that a damn decent release of them is so hard to come by. The U.S. releases suck, and the U.K. box set costs over $100. But, after reading Big Bosoms, I certainly have my eye on it. The book makes it clear that after Meyer’s death, the people that took over his estate obviously don’t give a damn about Meyer’s legacy, and only care about the coin. And that’s a damn shame.

Dead Sea

I’ve been a big Brian Keene fan ever since I read his first novel, The Rising, so picking up Dead Sea, his latest, was a no-brainer.

Dead Sea is Keene’s return to zombies, something he hasn’t written about, in at least novel form, since City of the Dead (the sequel to The Rising). I’m curious on how much of a new Keene zombie book was due to fan pressure, publisher pressure or both, as I’ve always gotten the impression from him (either through appearances or interviews) that he really wasn’t ready to write about zombies anymore. Fortunately, that doesn’t effect the enjoyment of Sea.

In Sea, the undead walk due to a sickness. Originally started in New York, where undead rats came out of the sewers and started chowing down on human flesh, the disease spread and spread and spread (as it does), and soon the Earth is one big walking cemetery. At first, some animals were effected by the disease, too, and some weren’t. But then the disease started crossing over, making for one hell of a problem.

Lamar, the book’s main character, is Sea’s reluctant hero, trying not only to save his own ass, but also the two children who he’s ‘adopted’ after finding them in building fending for themselves.

With each new book, Keene has been steadily improving his craft. In the technical sense, Sea is leagues above Rising (although I enjoyed Rising more). But while I enjoyed Sea a lot, I didn’t feel the passion Keene usually injects in his book, like the passion I felt when reading Terminal or Ghoul. There’s a lot of emotion in The Rutting Season (my favorite Keene book, by far, for personal reasons), but that’s more anger than anything else. Man, Season is an angry, angry book. A great one, but there is frustration in those pages that seeps into your fingers.

However, while there might not be as much passion, there is excitement. Keene is to zombies like Michael Bay is to explosions. While I wish there were a little more depth to some of the supporting characters, it was easily overlooked due to all of the chomping and chewing going on. Keene definitely keeps the blood flowing and the pages turning.

While it’s not Keene’s best work, it’s still a pretty damn good summer read. And a quick one, at that. Something you can eat up on the beach, or on your way to work.

Just keep one eye out for stray rats while you have your nose in the book.