Giveaway (1954) is the story of seventeen year old Eddie who hitchhikes from Indiana to Hollywood, where he sleeps in a park and buses tables at a drugstore. There, he meets a glamorous young lady Jane, who with her mother Toby, works the game show circuit as hustling professionals, auditioning every week as amateurs to win fabulous prizes and then sell them. It is a world of the hustle where everyone pretends they are set up and that they have options. Eddie joins the hustle, auditioning for one game shut after another. Hat really makes this story is Eddie’s narrative, all chock full of attitude as he sees through each and every two-bit nobody. Not a crime story, but a paperback that gives a taste of the era.
Frederic Brown’s the Murderers (January 1961) was published late in his career. Set in a beatnik Hollywood world of failed actors, hitchhikers, and hipsters, it relies on a plot device made famous a decade earlier by Patricia Highsmith in novel and Hitchcock in movie form in Strangers on a Train. Yes, we do have two dopes trading murders and alibis here, but it’s a long way to get there and the journey there takes the reader on a far different journey.
Willy Griff lives in a rooming house known as the Zoo where the struggling actors and singers bop into each other’s rooms parting through the night and often sleeping with whoever is available. To practice their craft, Griff and Charlie will dress up like bums and walk around skid row.
Griff has been having an affair with Doris and her husband meets Griff to warn him off. Griff takes it as an opportunity to scam Doris out of six hundred clams and plan her husband’s murder. He promptly loses the money to a stoned out chick who searches his room for reefer sticks and scores his cash. Also amusing is how Griff cases Doris’ house in disguise and us trapped inside when the gardener comes around.
The story turns dark though when Griff agrees to exchange murder victims and alibis with Charlie, but the cost is killing a skid row drunk for practice. There’s no backing out then, although Griff starts to becoming palsy with Doris’ husband which is just plain odd.
Most of the story is about Griff’s attitude as a failing actor and his step by step thoughts about the cops would pick him up and give him the third degree. He acts out the whole interrogation from beginning to end. You gotta know at that point that he’s somewhat off his rocker.
The whole switch your Murder victim thing seems to take a backseat to everything else going on, that is, till the plan, if you can call this mess a plan, starts to play out. All in all, it’s quite a readable novel giving us a flavor of beatnik Hollywood.
First published in 1949, the Restless Hands is the story of a small town in upstate New York where one Tony Bascomb fled back home after running into trouble in New York City with a mobster. Unfortunately for Tony, every time he shows up, someone seems to get strangled or almost strangled. Tony is one of those guys who cannot avoid trouble and it seems to follow him wherever he goes. The town sheriff has it in for Tony and wants him gone sooner rather than later. When Rebecca is attacked at night, Tony is the chief suspect because it just so happens when he comes into town, but so are her other two suitors, the two who did not flee the town before things with her got too serious. To complicate matters for Tony, who comes running after him but the gangster’s girl who wants to run off with Tony and then, of course, the gangster himself who won’t forgive Tony for humiliating him when the deal was supposed to go down. This story has elements of a Catskills hotel mystery since the suspects are limited to those who were in town, but it is told in a tough-nosed crime story manner not a genteel mystery way.
This was actually the third novel in Fischer’s Ben Helm mysteries, which include the Dead Men Grin (1945), More Deaths than One (1947), the Restless Hands (1949), the Angels Fell aka the Flesh was Cold (1950), the Silent Dust (1950), and the Paper Circle aka Stripped for Murder (1951).
No Chance in Hell (1960, Gold Medal # 1033) is the fifth of six books in Marvin H. Albert’s Jake Barrow private eye series, all originally published by Gold Medal. The others in the series include The Hoods Come Calling (1958), The Girl With No Place to Hide (1959), Trail of a Tramp (1960), Till it Hurts (1960), No Chance in Hell (1960), and Some Die Hard (1961). The Girl With No Place to Hide was recently (2021) republished by Black Gat Books. Albert also wrote under the names Tony Rome and Albert Conroy, mainly for Gold Medal, both crime fiction and westerns.
No Chance in Hell is fast-paced and filled with quick brutal action, Mike Hammer style. It opens with Barrow and his Magnum entering a Spanish Harlem apartment where Barrow spots a mysterious red-haired man out the window and races down the stairs, knowing that this was the man who shot his girl Sandy. He ends up killing someone, not the red-haired man. And the police, particularly his arch-nemesis, Lieutenant Flint, want to know what this has to do with Sandy, who it turns out is a police detective in her own right. Little of this makes much sense yet, but the reader is not going to care with this much action packed into just a few pages.
We then get a return to the recent past and find out what brought Barrow to the apartment, namely the daughter of one of his old pals from World War II, who was told by her father to go to Barrow for help. Barrow, however, after finding this Nina in his apartment is not much help as the red-haired man busts in when Barrow goes out for a phone call and Sandy ends up in critical care and Nina flees out the window. From there, Barrow has to try to find Nina before the bad guys get to her because they want her to get to her father. Along the way, Barrow encounters Nina’s sister, who is tougher than nails, and uncovers an operation involving illegal immigrants and forcing them to work off the cost of their journey similar to way the Cartels operate across the border today.
If No Chance in Hell is an example of the other five books in the series, than the recommendation has to be to find and devour all of them. This has everything you might want in paperback entertainment.
The Deadly September has a great Robert Maguire cover and, as suggested by the cover, is a terrific paperback read. As Hammett’s Sam Spade says, “when a man’s partner is killed, he has to do something about it.” Here, Morty Brill, not Miles Archer, is the partner who was killed and Dick Haven can’t let it go. Whether it is for his own ego, his reputation, the $150,000 in missing cash, or the fact that Brill’s widow and children deserve something you never know. His only clue is that Brill had a meet with Eloise Williams or at least that was what a woman signed in the hotel register. Problem is that Eloise is Haven’s ex-fiancee and he learned about who she was the hard way, about her cold heart. And, the fact is that the last he heard of her she had vowed eternal revenge on Haven for letting her rot overnight in jail. Of course, as these stories go, he can’t share this information with the police and, instead, chases Eloise to a small Jersey town run by a crooked syndicate. He may not be on to anything, but then again the chap who says he has a clue for Haven is shot in front of his eyes. And, he is quickly warned to get lost and out of town or he just might drop dead.
Much of the book is filled with the typical nightclub scenes, the run-ins with cheap gangsters, and the beating the hero of the novel always seems to take, alone, outnumbered, and outgunned, while he tries to stay alive long enough to figure out who killed his partner.
According to the “Author’s Profile” in the paperback, Kramer was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and spent most of his life in New York City. He served in the Air Force in World War II and worked as a pilot for an independent transport company. Monarch Books published three of his novels, Kiss Me Quick (January 1959, Monarch # 121 & 433), Not For a Curse (Monarch # 136), and the Deadly September (June 1960, Monarch # 159). Monarch Books were numbered like Gold Medal Books. It is suggested that Ed Morris was the author’s real name, but that has not been confirmed.
Republished by Cutting Edge, the Short Night by Russell Turner, apparently a pseudonym for Len Zinberg, better known to crime fiction aficionados as Ed Lacy, was originally published in 1957. The lead character, Les Dolsan, is a scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Always in the road, particularly in Puerto Rico, his wife Doris is an out of control lush who eventually slits her wrists in the bathtub. Doris’ mother blames Dolsan and fights him for years over the estate, which bequeaths a small fortune to any heirs. There don’t seem to be any. However, Dolsan had a one night stand with one Peggy Fulton, a Concentration Camp Survivor. Dolsan thinks little about Peggy until suddenly he realizes she tried to reach him. Dolsan then figured out this woman must have been pregnant and felt brushed off. Now he becomes obsessive about finding her and finding an heir to thwart Doris’ hateful mother. When he finally gets a lead on Peggy’s whereabouts, Dolsan finds that everything is far more complicated than he could have ever dreamed.
Plotwise, this novel doesn’t exactly succeed. Little about Dolsan’s growing obsession makes much sense. Moreover, this novel doesn’t even fit loosely into any particular genre. It’s not a mystery. It’s not suspenseful. It’s barely even a soap opera. Lacy wrote far more intriguing books than this one.
Crimes in Southern Indiana is an incredibly well-written connection of sorta-interconnected stories about rural Southern Indiana. Don’t expect buttercups and rainbow sprinkles. These stories give a glimpse of the depths of human depravity and the violence that can spurt forth. Often the characters here are disconnected from society and have little left to loose. They are just trying to survive. They range from domestic violence to meth dealer’s revenge to a man willing to sell his granddaughter to the Hill Clan for a few books for his wife’s cancer treatments. But don’t despair. There are moments here where the spark of life bursts forth and even those beaten to a pulp stand up and fight back, leaving behind a trail of bodies and gore.
Scott Frank’s 2016 crime thriller Shaker is a dark comedic riff on fiction and the stare of the world. The first character we are introduced to in this book is that tarnished City of the Angels, here suffering through a major quake and a series of brutal aftershocks. The politicians are more interested in getting the right headlines than restoring power or, more importantly, cell service. Roy Cooper strolls into this mess from LAX like a man on a mission. That’s cause he’s on a mission dealing out death for clients he never met and the rationale behind it is unimportant to Roy. Just so he gets the job done. But Roy screws up and loses his rental car, wandering into the middle of four gangster wannabes trying to prove their balls by kicking an elderly man. Roy can’t afford to be seen but in a strange twist of events he is hailed citywide as a hero fit taking in four gangbangers all caught on video and broadcast on CNN.
The dark gallows humor shows itself in just so many ways here as Roy tries to extricate himself from this mess as the gangbangers realize he’s a witness and show up to the hospital at the same time as a hapless mayor, all in their way to meet Roy. Meanwhile, Detective Kelly Maguire, whose loud out front mouth has gotten her in hot water with the brass, I’d on the case and slowly putting the pieces together.
As all this goes on we are given Roy’s unbelievable backstory from his childhood filled with a father with migraines and anger issues, an accident that leaves dear old dad near a vegetative state, and Roy doing hard time at a young age for “killing” dad. We see how Roy learned how to toughen up and survive juvie. But we also see that under his calm professional demeanor, there’s still someone in there who is vulnerable and wants to do the right thing.
The story brilliantly juxtaposes the crime fiction story with sardonic commentary about politics, about the media, and about the Internet age. Scratch the surface and all that Hollywood glitter barely masks the decaying cesspool that Los Angeles has become. With neighborhoods gifted to street gangs and the rich up in their mansions blind to what goes on in the streets.
In the end, Roy is forced to confront his past whether he wants to or not.
There is actually a long folk history associated with the story in Dupree Blues. Frankie Dupree, as legend has it, tried robbing a diamond wedding ring from a jewelry store in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1921, intending to give the ring to his girlfriend Betty, killing a police officer in the process and then killing others as he tried to flee custody. In 1931, Blind Willie Walker took the legend and turned it into a blues song, Dupree Blues. In 1948, Dale Curran took the story and turned it into a novel, which has more recently been republished by Cutting Edge Books. Finally, in 1969, Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead took the old blues folk song and transformed it into Dupree’s Diamond Blues.
In the novel by Curran, Dupree is not the hardened criminal he appears to be in the true story and the various versions of the song. Rather, he comes off as an innocent sucker for a beautiful lady. Dupree, a trombone-player, has it bad for Betty, the jazz singer, to the point that he even takes all his gambling winnings and borrows more and buys her a diamond ring. She, however, is not ready to love only Dupree and makes his life miserable, continuing to see the one man Dupree finds threatening, his gambling nemesis.
It is a smoothly written tale that takes you into Dupree’s life, but as a reader, you wish Dupree wasn’t such a fool getting taken in by Betty and her curves, getting taken at the gambling tables, and getting taken by the jeweler. It is in that sense a far cry from the original story of Dupree, a desperado with a quick shot trying to knock over a jewelry store. When Dupree finally gets the balls to take action, he acts without thinking and, rather than being a tough guy, he is two-time loser who misjudged everything.
Sally Singer wrote some 130 books under the pseudonym March Hastings. She is best known for her groundbreaking lesbian pulp fiction. By the late Sixties, however, March Hastings became a house name for lurid fiction.
Originally published under the title Fear of Incest in 1960, and later retitled as Design for Debauchery, it was one of 12 by March Hastings that were deemed “unmailable” by the US Postal Services, which called the books “obscene, lewd, lascivious and indecent.” By today’s standards though, it’s fairly tame except for a handful of risqué scenes where not much us left to the imagination.
Set in New York City, it’s the story of account executive Eric Spokane, divorced and free as a bird. Free that is except that ex-wife Hilda is still obsessed with him and he occasionally gives in at least long enough for a wild romp in one room or another before getting the hell out of Hilda’s house. He toys with Cee-Zee, who at least acts like she can do whatever she wants no strings attached. He is though protective over her.
But then things get crazy when he meets the Millardsons, a family he engages only to get an account, but an oddly insular and protective family, particularly when Eric starts taking Robin out only to find that she’s taken a vow of chastity because of some twisted DNA she’s afraid to pass on. The family tried to send her to Cuba to get her away from Eric but he pursues her through the airport terminal.
Eric finally looses his cool when he thinks someone has taken Cee-Zee, resulting in Eric going off in a stream of violence. Hilda, Cee-Zee, Robin, and the rest of the Millardson oddball clan play a role in the grand finale, but about this time you as a reader will wonder what in blazes you just read and what was the point. It is well written and engaging, but just odd.
Louisiana Newsman Don Kingery produced four novels, Death Must Wait (1956), Swamp Fire (1957), Paula (1959), and Good Time Girl (1960). He had a long illustrious career in reporting, professional sports, judo instructing, and oil field work.
Death Must Wait is set in the backwoods swamps of Southwestern Louisiana, an area well known to Kingery. Jed, the lead character, hails from a colorful family on the bayou. Jed mainly concerns himself with hunting and trapping. But that was all set to change when he is accused of killing a man during a bar fight. Chased by hounds through the swamps until his own kin betrayed him, Jed is not only incarcerated awaiting trial, but escapes only to be caught again.
While the story initially seems akin to other swamp novels, it stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Charles Marquis Warren is one of the legendary figures of Hollywood, creating Rawhide, working on the script for Mutiny on the Bounty, directing Seven Angry Men, directing and producing Gunsmoke, establishing his own production company, and writing and directing Charro! His list of accomplishments is endless. Along the way he wrote a handful (3 or 4) novels, including Deadhead.
Deadhead (1949) tackled a theme very popular through the fifties and sixties, that of a man with amnesia who doesn’t know who he is or where he came from. The story opens with a man with no identity tottering on the streets of Baltimore, drunk and disorderly. Nothing makes sense to him or to the reader who shares his viewpoint throughout the novel. But earring monsters bail him out of jail and try to get from him the location of a missing suitcase we later learn is chockfull of cash. Naturally they don’t believe this man can’t remember and think he’s Doublecrossing them. There are a variety of characters involved and nothing about the situation makes sense till just about the end when everything erupts in a spasm of violence and our hero realizes who he really is. There is a good part of the book where it doesn’t seem to go anywhere, but then boom it all comes into focus.
Dave Garrity, who often wrote as simply Garrity, penned some eight novels, beginning with Kiss Off the Dead (1960) (#948). “Cry Me a Killer” (1961) (#1170), also a Gold Medal paperback original, was his second novel. Legend has it that Garrity got his start with a push from Mickey Spillane, who was his neighbor for many years. And Cry Me A Killer is filled with plenty of sex and violence.
In true noir style, the story revolves around a femme fatale, her husband the mobster, and Detective Walter Patterson, the last honest cop in Central City. He falls for this dame, hook, line, and sinker and, when she tells him that her husband will not let her divorce him and shows Patterson the whip marks she received for even making the suggestion, the die is cast. Patterson may be the only guy in the city not in the take and the only one willing to stand up to the mobsters and show them who is tougher, but he is putty in her hands.
He explains: “She’d been a hell of a jolt to the nervous system of a man who’d sworn off skirts for life. She was a sweet-smelling lush-rounded bundle of sex who could get any guy she wanted, and it wasn’t tough guessing why she wanted Ballanca.”
Slowly but surely Patterson begins planning the ultimate get-even – the murder of the mob boss running the city and eventually living happily ever after with the boss’ wife. It is a complicated plan with so much that can go wrong.
Garrity skillfully develops the story, drawing the reader in step by step as Patterson becomes someone quite different than the person he thought he was. On the outs with the hoods and on edge with the brass, he’s all on his own. That is, unless his plan works and he can pull this off.
Warner Jackson aka W. Warner Jackson was an African-American, Kansas City-based author of three novels: The Birth of Martyr’s Ghost (1957), Lust for Youth (1960) and Cavern of Rage (1961).
Cavern of Rage is set in Kansas City and has quite a few class-based motifs. Dave and Nora Kingsley are the toast of Kansas City society, throwing lavish parties and living the high life on his professor’s salary. Nora, it turns out, is caught up in the glamour and us driving them toward bankruptcy. She is also longtime frigid and cold and Dave is frustrated. She gets her comeuppance and then some in the story from being cheated on to cast out of high society to being a rape victim and then locked up in a bedroom by a crazed rapist with her head shaved and slowly driven insane.
The party they throw one night changed their lives. Dave has an affair with Nora’s best friend Peggy as they take another couple whose car has broken down home. Meanwhile, while Dave is making mad passionate love to Peggy (and within 24 hours they proclaim undying eternal love for each other), Nora has a drink with the hired band leader who slips her a Mickey Finn and rapes her, slamming a liquor bottle into Dave when Dave and Peggy finally return. No one realizes Nora has been raped and Peggy sees her best friend lying in the sitting room passed out and with her clothes torn off and assumes the worst of her best friend despite the intruder bursting out of the house.
The following day, the dam bursts and floods the area, although the floodplains were pretty specific to only include the Kingsley’s neighborhood. Dave and Peggy get caught in the open where they had, despite the flood warnings, set about a picnic in the hills where they again make mad passionate love until they realize the world around them is flooding and they are forced to abandon the car and seek higher ground. They then find a cave where they spend four or five days again making mad passionate love while the disaster unfolds around them. This part of the story could have been expanded to show the full devastation to the area and the desperation this couple were in, but it is but a short interlude in the tale.
Nora and her maid are meanwhile in the house which is flooded to the rafters and is finally rescued by a boat crew. Nora, having lost everything and dressed only in rags, is turned away by all her society friends. She contemplates revenge by robbing them of their jewels and concocts such a plan with the rapist band leader she runs into. He doesn’t care about the jewels so much as viciously raping her society friends. Of course, the price of his cooperation in the robberies is Nora, who is now a shell of her former self, willingly sleeping with him and cleaning his house, which she agrees to, but thinks she will find a way out of before he accosts her.
Jackson has combined a serial rapist/killer story and a society soap opera, but practically ignores the natural disaster that upends everyone’s lives, but barely seems to have registered on anyone else in the city. He barely leaves any character for the reader to sympathize with and doesn’t tell the story with anyone’s inner thoughts. Much of what happens is over the top and comes off cartoonish rather than dramatic. Even when Dave takes on the band leader, the plan makes little sense and he is ill-equipped to play the hero.
Kill Me if you Can was just published in 2022. Yet it fills in a gap in the Mike Hammer chronology between Kiss Me Deadly (1952) and The Girl Hunters (1962), starting with Velda’s disappearance and Mike’s seven year bender when he nearly drinks himself to death with guilt.
Culled from Spillane’s unfinished drafts and outlines, the story has Mike out of his mind trying to figure out how highly trained Velda disappeared from a gala event where she was playing bodyguard. Mike is going through every bar in Manhattan trying to draw out information on who is running the high-stakes jewelry robbery crew that hit Velda. But all it’s gotten him is drunk and sick.
When Mike died take on a security job in a hunch, he ends up turning it into a vicious bloody mess as well.
Much of the story has Mike in a romance with a torch singer who is a stand-in for Velda, but getting no closer to a solution.
This 26th Mike Hammer novel (although perhaps seventh chronologically) is filled with Spillane’s patented brand of comic book violence, Hammer’s bravado, and a searing sense of right and wrong. There are no fuzzy lines in Mike Hammer’s world and very little mercy fir the bad guys either.
Lowdown Road is a kitschy crime fiction tribute to the mid70’s. Think the Dukes of Hazard meets Evel Knievel, only the cousins Melville are driving a taco truck stuffed to the rafters with marijuana (back when there was no such thing as legal recreational marijuana), not a racing car so slick you can’t open the doors. It moves at a crazy pace like Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, only set a decade earlier.
But it never takes itself too seriously whether it’s stealing 250 pounds of marijuana, a county sheriff who is out to avenge the death of his deputy’s wife who he was madly in love with, the all you can eat steak eating contest, the upchucking on outlaw biker Uptown Mike, the freedom loving hippies who pick up Manson, or the attempts to sell a truck full of weed that is impossible to pawn. No ne in this book knows what they are doing except maybe Knievel who is out to jump the Snake River in a circus atmosphere akin to the Altamont tragedy.
This reviewer was provided a free copy for review purposes.
Johannes Willem Mathijs Knipscheer, known generally as James M. Fox, although a lawyer by profession, put out about 24 books, 13 in the John and Suzy Marshall series, from 1943 to 1953. The Iron Virgin (1952) , like the other books in the long-running series, features a husband and wife private eye team, though in his first-person narrative, Johnny refers to Suzy as “the little woman,” and a Great Dane, Khan. The dog, though, doesn’t do much detecting in this novel.
The series is set in early Hollywood and John and Suzy are often employed by the movie stars or, at least, hobnob with them. Here, though, the subject is a missing redheaded dental assistant, often propositioned by clients posing as movie moguls. On a hunch, our detecting and bantering couple start investigating why Hendrix, our dental assistant, who has a number of boyfriends, some who might feel jilted, has disappeared. The Marshalls decide at one point that a Mexican oligarch has taken her to Las Vegas and then deep into Mexico to pose her in X-rated movies. As it turns out, the solution to the mystery is in front of the Marshalls the whole time.
While certainly not hardboiled, this novel offers a pleasant mystery to unravel.
Baynard Kendrick wrote a number of mystery novels from 1936 to 1961, mainly 14 novels in the Duncan McLain series and three novels in his Miles Standish Rice series. He also put out seven non-series standalone novels, including Blood on Lake Louisa and Hot Red Money (1959).
Hot Red Money is an interesting espionage novel although it is not as smoothly written as it could have been. It is nevertheless loosely based on a true story. The FBI’s most valued secret agents of the Cold War were Morris and Jack Childs, who were Operation Solo. Morris was involved in the Communist Party of the United States in the 30’s and 40’s and edited its newspaper. The Party then turned against them and attmepted to discredit them. Morris Childs met with high levels of Soviet agents including Kruschev itself. John Barron wrote the secret story of Operation Solo. Childs was involved in the transfer of millions of Soviet dollars to the Communist Party of the United States.
In Hot Red Money, a reporter is on the trail of the Soviet funds seeping into the United States, often being used to secretly buy controlling stock of defense contractors. The journalist in the story is Maurice Morel and it is at times an interesting story, but does not flow that well in the telling. The heart of the story is the secret movements of the Communists, buying into defense contractors and hiding people away in psychiatric facilities.
A Death in Jerusalem (2022), the seventh novel in Dunsky’s Adam Lapid series takes the prototypical American detective novel and sets it in Jerusalem in 1952. The time and place it is set in are of great significance. Lapid, who was once a Hungarian policeman, survived Auschwitz although his family did not. Though he has immigrated to Israel and made a life there, he still bears scars from a journey through Hell. The big topic on the streets in 1952 is German reparations, but for Lapid and so many others, the idea of putting a dollar figure in human life is unforgivable betrayal. An event in which a People came close to extinction cannot be forgiven. Germany cannot pay to rejoin civilized nations. The new idea that even economically failing Israel at the time could discuss the unthinkable led to violent protests on the streets, in which Lapid was involved. As the story opens, he, having come to the aid of a fallen police officer, is mistaken for an attacker and hauled off to be interrogated and to confess at some point.
Fortunately for Lapid, he is rescued by someone with pull who wants his daughter’s suicide investigated. Lapid, not liking his client, but feeling that he is only on parole, believes he has no choice but to accept the assignment. This, begins a rather interesting exploration in the deceased’s life, what made her tick, and what secrets she had. It also takes Lapid into a web if murder and blackmail while still being pursued by the officer who still thinks he beat another policeman to death.
Lapid appears thus as the lone private eye who can depend on no one and has to keep looking over his shoulder before the Law comes down on him. He is the bearer of everyone’s secrets, even secrets he never suspected he would be involved with investigating.
Even though this is the seventh book in the series, this reader found it to be a fine entry point into the series.
Kill One, Kill Two (1958) was published as the second half of an Ace double with Rabe’s Cut of the Whip. Set in Monterrey, Mexico, it offers the reader a glimpse into a world of corruption and intrigue south of the border. The lead character, McCoy, a dam engineer, has finished his work in Monterrey and getting ready for his next job in Guadalajara. He splits his time between the fabulous dancer Juanita and the blonde Emily, who thrives on attention and won’t leave McCoy alone. Both ladies want a ticket to Guadalajara.
McCoy can’t leave when, after a few drinks, he takes his Jaguar around a curve and someone appears in front of his car and is thrown off a cliff. The police are on the scene quickly but not enough bribes can ever help McCoy when the police realize the victim is Juanita’s husband. From there, everyone’s a suspect to McCoy who has this notion he will crack the case that has been declared closed.
Like many of these old paperbacks, the writing here captures the intensity at the beginning and at times throughout. Nevertheless the plot is at best ultra-complex and could have done with some streamlining.
To Peter Rabe, a hardboiled gangster story and a tough guy espionage story are two sides of the same coin and, indeed, the same characters can be involved in both as long as there is a profit to be made. In this 1955 Gold Medal original, one of Rabe’s earlier novels, we get a tough guy story of a man who has no friends anywhere and can’t trust a soul and we get to see him operate first on the shakey ground if a syndicate who has decided that his usefulness is no longer a given and on foreign soil where he can’t speak the language, can’t fathom the customs, and does not even know what he has of value.
The story begins with Jesso’s semi-triumphant return to New York after closing out a big deal in Las Vegas and choosing to delay his meeting with the new boss. Rabe does a great job of drawing out Jesso’s attitude that he should be in the boss’ chair and his irritability at having to play take a bakery number when he finally arrives to give his report. His dust-up in the reception area with two stuffed shirts birders on hysterical until Jesso finds he’s been loaned out to play private eye to these wise guys, a task he’s been set up to blow no matter what he does.
But if you think the heart of the story is about the war between Jesso and Gluck, the syndicate’s man, you better stop reading this review. Because that’s not even half the story which is one that draws Jesso all the way to Germany where he fences with ex-Nazis for state secrets he unknowingly gathered. There he meets the oddest troika of users from Kator who would sell anything or anyone to his darling sister Renette who he whores out to needle information from suckers to her poor but titled husband the Baron. There too Jesso has to use his wits to keep afloat until payday, not quite knowing what information he has, who he is bargaining with, or even the language being spoken around him.
It’s not a story that switches direction in the middle, but rather the saga of one lone man trying to survive with every hand turned against him seemingly on two continents.
First published in 1956, A House in Naples is set in post-war Italy with two Americans who stayed behind to work the black market when their fellow soldiers headed home. Joe acts dumb, but is clever enough to have himself officially declared dead in action and his mother receiving his life insurance. He’s got himself a bevy of legitimate Italian papers and two young girls to run his household.
Charlie hasn’t taken care of business like that and, when things go South, he has no papers justifying his stay in Italy and flees seeking forgers who can provide him a new identity. The two partners, Joe and Charlie, tolerate each other when they are not at each other’s throats.
As the story is told from Charlie’s point of view, he looks like the better guy, but they are both creepy crooks. But Charlie hides corpses and steals identities. Joe only blackmails and molests.
The heart of the story is distrust and suspicion and both Joe and Charlie have that problem. And for Charlie, it manifests in the question of whether he can ever trust Martha, who takes up with him on a whim. What did she see? What does she know? Will she turn him in? Will Joe turn her into another member of his harem?
Like some of Rabe’s other work, this novel suffers a little because the plot seems to meander. Nevertheless, it is a solid crime novel, particularly its focus on distrust and doublecrosses and Charlie’s desperation.
Anatomy of a Killer (1960) is the story of a mob hitman, but a story twisted Rabe-style. Long before the world heard the stories of such hitmen as Collins’ Quarry or Block’s Keller, Rabe gave us Sam Jordan, a cool, collected, machine-like efficient killer.
But Jordan isn’t your typical wise guy hitman. He is a skinny, unimposing, awkward guy who doesn’t fit in anywhere, who doesn’t know the right way to act, who doesn’t know the right thing to say. And, who gets spooked when things don’t go according to plan. He doesn’t dish out beatings. He takes beatings, to a point until he can seize a tiny advantage.
Our story takes us to a time when Jordan is given an urgent job because someone has decided someone else has to be taken off the board right now. There’s no time to send an advance man out to case the situation. Jordan will have to do it all alone. And the information he is given is crap.
Jordan is the story here and his odd reactions to situations. What Rabe does so beautifully here is he gets the reader inside Jordan’s mind – sometimes. But, other times Jordan’s so far off the beaten track that even the reader doesn’t know what he will do next. And that goes double for all the syndicate guys he has to work with.
Time Enough to Die us the sixth novel in Rabe’s Daniel Port series. Between 1956 and 1959, Peter Rabe published six novels in his Daniel Port crime series, a series that has the same main character appear throughout, but does not follow a set scheme throughout. Each of these novels could be read on its own as a standalone novel, yet all contain in some manner the theme of a criminal trying to get out of the rackets, but unable to fully escape his past. The series includes (1) Dig My Grave Deep (1956); (2) The Out is Death (1957); (3) It’s My Funeral (1957); (4) The Cut of the Whip (1958); (5) Bring Me Another Corpse (1959); and (6) Time Enough to Die (1959). Stark House Press has recently been kind enough to republish all six novels in a two-book set.
Time Enough, though it follows the theme of a hood trying to retire on his own terms, but not being entirely successful at that endeavor, takes the hood in retirement idea to the next level. As the story opens, Port has left the whole rat race behind and found a small fishing village on the Pacific coast of Mexico where he can lay in the sun, Felix with Maria at night, and generally do nothing.
But that wouldn’t make much of a novel so the fickle hand of fate reached out and involves Port in a tug of war over a stolen million dollars, a Chinese agent, local hoodlums, and the Feds. No one there believes Port is just innocently there soaking up the rays.
The entire story is set in Mexico, mainly in the small town Port picked from a map. Throughout most of it, he is stumbling about, not sure what the stakes are or how he got involved.
In the fifth novel in Rabe’s Daniel Port saga, Bring Me Another Corpse, Rabe continues the theme of a hard gangster who successfully walked away from the life, only to find there’s no escape anywhere. Port is grazed by a bullet as he stops in Albany, only to find himself in the hands of federal agents who want him to impersonate a killer for hire, with Port being the target.
The story takes place primarily in Cleveland with Port, pretending to be the guy who wants to kill Port, trying to get an in with the local organization to find the headman if one even exists. It becomes a trick to keep his real identity quiet as he infiltrates the local mob with the feds butting their noses in and a local cigarette girl who is passed around the mob figuring it out but not knowing anything about what it means.
Rabe does a great job of capturing the feel of the situation and his dialogue seems quite on the mark.