Dark Horse

Dark Horse is the latest Nowhere Man novel. Evan Smoak is the Nowhere Man, formerly known as Orphan X. Plucked from a nasty orphanage at a young age, Smoak was trained to be a super secret assassin until one day he got tired of taking orders and went AWOL. The conceit is that he flies under the radar, has a secret identity like Batman, endless supplies of cash, and a penthouse lair in Hollywood that would make Batman jealous. He has a phone number people can call if they need help and nowhere else to turn. All he asks is that the number be passed on to someone else. Accept all these things and you’ll do fine with thus series. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in a well of despair trying to make logical sense out of how this guy is invincible, ultrawealthy, and still flies under the radar.

Here, Smoak gets a call from someone he’d least expect, someone he might not think worthy of his attention, a cartel smuggler who has no one left to turn to with his beloved daughter’s disappearance. Smoak finds a place among these people and takes on a whole cartel of baddies in the wake of rescuing the missing princess. Again, don’t question how he works his way as an outsider into the Leona cartel. Suspend your disbelief and go along for the adventure. It’s fast paced action that definitely will hold your attention.

Blood World

Blood World sounds like a science fiction thriller along the lines of a Mad Max society. It’s actually a modern-day thriller with the twist being blood, well, special blood that you can’t just get out of any blood bank. It comes from those with special genes and acts like a fountain of youth coupled with a high dose of ecstasy. Of course, it’s an underground pleasure and siphoned off of carriers housed in hidden blood farms and sucked dry to feed a growing market. Different criminal gangs are at odds trying to seize the burgeoning market. Into this maelstrom we find Ellie, whose twin brother was kidnapped years earlier, but she never gave up trying to find him. Ellie us now an LAPD officer who wants to join the fabled blood squad and break the organizations involved. Much of the exciting story is her undercover journey into the heart of the criminal enterprise which plays out similarly to many undercover stories. All in all, an exciting thrill ride.

The Widow Wore Red (The Hanging Heiress)

M

Originally published in 1949 as the Hanging Heiress, later re-published as The Widow Wore Red, Richard Wormser presents a black humor parody of a detective story. The plot revolves around protecting a widow who only stands to inherit a bevy of companies if she survives thirty days. Marty doesn’t realize what he’s got himself into when he starts what with hitmen and others gunning for his charge, but eventually he works things out. It’s a novel that never takes itself seriously and therein lies the problem. It’s a house built without a foundation. There’s nothing supporting the humor.

Hell Ship to Kuma / Barge Girl

Calvin Clements is best known to the world as a screenwriter of Westerns both for television and the movies. His working life actually started with manning a fireboat in New York harbor after several years in the Navy. After that, he wrote four paperbacks, several of which were nautical themed. Half of all his novels are found in this two-book volume.

Hell Ship to Kuma is the gem of the pair. Set in the post-war Far East, it’s the story of a man, once a proud captain of a merchant marine, reduced by a scandal, to begging for crumbs. Captain John Roper can’t get a job with any real shipping company and is reduced to living off what his girlfriend brings in as he waits for someone to take a chance on him. It’s a story of dreams dashed against the rocks and desperation and it’s about what lengths desperate people will go to to survive.

Penniless as he is, Roper never imagined he’d sign on to Murdoch’s he’ll ship, a rusty old freighter run by a man who is out to prove that at sea he is God and the ship his domain.

Nothing could have prepared Roper for the scared helpless crew aboard the freighter who shivered at the sight of the tyrant running it. Murdoch is a character like no other, half-mad, hell-bent, and crooked.

Falling for the one passenger locked in her cabin, a dancer who has no understanding that she’s being sold into virtual slavery in Kuma, a fiefdom Run by another madman and would be king out to humiliate anyone who would stand up to him.

Hell is a ship and an island from which there’s no escape, not when no one has your back and no one will stand up to the twin tyrants. Indeed, the freighter is also an old Chinese slave ship with holds for chaining slaves out of sight of inspections, holds that Murdoch threatens to fill with anyone who stands up to him, including his duplicitous wife and her young lover.

There is also a fortune in heisted metal to be pirated to Red China, but that fortune is almost an afterthought compared to the desperation felt by Roper and Karen, the dancer.

Barge Girl is the second novel and it seems rather pedestrian in comparison. It is set on the tugboats and barges plying the Hudson River. It involves a passionate love affair with a married woman and a love triangle out of Postman Always Rings Twice.

This novel has all the right elements, including a yacht built by hand over five years. But, Clements never seems to quite wind up the tension enough except for a few points towards the end of the story.

The Sailcloth Shroud/ All The Way (The Concrete Flamingo)

This double novel contains two masterpieces by the great craftsman, Charles Williams, one from 1958 and one from 1960. The two novels are nominally connected through their nautical themes, the Florida Keys, and Panama, but approach the crime novel from entirely different angles.

The Sailcloth Shroud is a story, as so many are, about an innocent man up to his eyeballs in trouble from being blamed for killing a man at sea and stealing his fortune to being accused of lying about t by deadly serious mobsters. Sailing a small ketch from Panama to a Texas shouldn’t mean much trouble, but the crew of two don’t survive long. One man dies if a heart attack at sea and is given a watery burial. The other beaten to death days after landing, but not before this penniless bum flashes literally thousands in cash. Captain Stuart Rodgers is one of the good guys, but quickly everyone turns on him. It’s only on his say so that Baxter died at sea. No one else can vouch for what happened. The FBI have a few questions for the Captain, least of all who Baxter was and what happened to his money. The mobsters who hit to the surviving mate don’t believe Rodgers’ tale of a heart attack at sea and are out yo force the truth out of him no matter what it takes. You can feel the walls closing tightly around Rodgers as he has few directions left to turn.

The Concrete Flamingo” by Charles Williams was first published in 1958 under the title “All the Way” and then published in the United Kingdom in 1960 under the title “The Concrete Flamingo.”

What happens when Jerry Forbes, a guy who has been drifting between jobs, ends up in Miami Beach, and meets a Marian Forsyth, a woman who just wasted six years of her youthful vigor on a wealthy executive before being dumped for a younger model? Marian knows everything about Jerry and he is just the guy she has been looking for – – to pull off a murder and a complicated con job on her ex-boss, the guy who dumped her. Why is he the perfect guy for this part in the con? Well, Marian heard Jerry talking and, on the phone, he is Harris Chapman.

Jerry falls for her hook, line, and sinker. Murder, sure why not? Pilfering brokerage accounts? Why not? As long as they can run off to some Mediterranean isle when its done. Of course, it is never that simple when it’s a pulp novel and there are some twists and turns along the way that the reader does not expect.

Marian, meanwhile, is a different kind of femme fatale. She bewitches Jerry without even trying, but she “was as beautifully adept and as pleasant and as far away and unreachable as ever.” You wonder reading this if Marian had all the life sucked out of her by Harris Chapman and what she has left to give Jerry. She has a one-track mind and is on a mission and she will do whatever is necessary to keep Jerry in the game.

What’s terrific about this novel is the detail that Williams puts in as to the planning and execution of one of the most complicated and detailed scams ever invented. Week after week is spent preparing, rehearsing, getting ready for the role of a lifetime. Marion tells him: “In ten days of extensive study, you could become Harris Chapman.” If he pulls this off right, then Not even Chapman’s own fiancé should suspect anything. Yeah, right. No detail is left unplanned. Nothing is left to chance.

The actual plot line can be boiled down fairly simply, but this book is not about the plot so much as it is about getting there and what happens ultimately when the con is pulled off.

Assignment Suicide

Assignment Suicide, published in 1956, was the second or third Sam Durell espionage novel, taking our secret agent by parachute into the heart of the Soviet Union to track down the suspected first ICBM. It’s a fast paced, action packed novel that has Durell on the run from the minute he lands till the bitter end, playing cat and mouse with MVD agents who have no humor. Luckily, Durell finds allies, loyal to Mother Russia, but not to having mutually assured destruction in the hands of the next Stalin.

Shanghai Flame / Counterspy Express

A.S. Fleischman published only a handful of crime/espionage novels before reinventing himself as a children’s book writer. In this double album, Stark House presents two top notch international adventures, both set around 1950.

Shanghai Flame is set in Shanghai just after the Communist takeover. There are still a handful of Americans and Brits around, but most are intent at escaping to Hong Kong if they can. Much like the chaos in Kabul in 2001. Fleischman throws a star-crossed romance, international espionage, and piracy on the high seas together in this one and it works like magic. It’s filled with breathtaking nonstop action.

Alex Cloud, ace reporter, though, just arrived for no better reason than to chase down the woman he let walk away two years earlier in France. Her name is Flame and she too is another reporter who may have overstayed her welcome in Shanghai. He’s determined to find her, win her heart, and get her the hell out of dodge. But Alex has no idea of what he’s gotten himself into and how many people are out to get something he’s not even sure he has. Like every great espionage story, it’s never clear till the end who to trust or who’s going to backstab whom. The writing though just carries this one along.

Counterspy Express, the second novel in this twopack, is also set around 1950, but in postwar Europe. Jim Cabot, as the secret agent is known throughout the story, is more of your classic spy. His mission is to complete the mission of his deceased predecessor if he can figure out what it was. Cabot is a battle hardened agent who prides himself on shaking tails and thinking ten steps ahead. Much of the story takes place in Genoa where he begins tracing Max’s steps including dating Max’s bombshell nightclub singing girlfriend. A Russian scientist has switched sides and it’s up to Cabot to figure out where he’s been stashed and get him and his secrets to the US operatives. Of course, it doesn’t help that there are several parties in the scent and precious few clues. Counterspy Express is another terrific espionage caper set in a world teeming with exotic locations and fascinating people.

Truth Always Kills

If you are even mildly chewing over the idea of retiring in Florida, then perhaps you haven’t read enough of the Florida noir stories that have been pumped out there for the last sixty or seventy years. From the swamplands to the keys, the place is just filled to the brim with kooks and not the harmless kinds. Ollerman revisits Talmage Powell’s St Petersburg and Ybor City with a nasty piece of business. Ollerman’ protagonist, Jeff Prentiss, is a guy nearing the end of his rope. Prentiss was a Tampa Homicide Detective, who made mistakes big enough to get him drummed out of the force with no one left to protect his back. Across the bay, now on St. Pete’s force, no one trusts him and his every move is watched. To top it off, his wife and daughter have gone and left town with no forwarding address. He’s still facing a board of rights hearing in Tampa and who knows what’ll happen. And, his ex-wife’s first husband Just got released from prison and has been stalking her. Prentiss is on his own, drowning in a barrel of crap, and every move he makes backfires as he tries to make headway on a new homicide with his own life falling apart.

The Persian Cat

Although re-released as the fourth Black Gat book by Stark House Press, Flagg’s The Persian Cat’s claim to fame was its release as the first of the Gold Medals in 1950 (apparently numbered 103). Flagg sets this excellent espionage novel in 1950 Teheran and post-WW2 as the surviving French partisans are still tracking down Nazi collaborators and bringing them to justice. Gil Denby is an ex OSS officer (the forerunner of the CIA), but is now at loose ends and for sale to the highest bidder, which in this case is the French partisans who are hot on the scent of a chic society woman who betrayed her husband to the Vichy authorities. His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to use his wiles to seduce this cold adulteress and bring her to French Algeria for trial and execution. Flagg sets most of the tale in Teheran, which in those pre-fundamentalist revolutionary days was an exotic international locale half modern European and half like a scene out of the Arabian Nights. Flagg uses this setting to his advantage in this swift moving espionage tale where no one trusts each other’s motives and every step could end with a veritable and often literal knife in the back. A very enjoyable read.

Dead Wrong

Originally published in 1957, Hellen’s “Dead Wrong” was republished in 2000 by Stark House Press’ Black Gat Books division. It’s a tough, hardnosed Jersey-style crime fiction that reprises the innocent man framed for murder theme, but also has that Maltese Falcon thing going when a mysterious package disappears. It all starts with Malone getting a call from a sea captain buddy who generally wanted to paint the town from bar to bar. But it’s his long lost daughter who shows up with a letter informing Malone to turn over the package to dear daughter. And everyone wants the package from South American revolutionaries to local tough guys to the homicide detectives. Only problem is Malone never had it and never knew anything about it. Well-written, compelling, fast-moving, and gritty.

Hard to Kill

If you are in the mood for a hard-edged, action-packed thriller, you might want to take a look at Heatley’s latest Tom Rollins thriller, third in the series, and which works just fine as a standalone. Take an ex-black ops asset, plant him Mexico where he can’t help but stumble across a cartel human trafficking operation where young girls are kidnapped and sold into cross-border brothels. Though Rollins is apparently on the run himself from matters that played out in the earlier books in the series, he can’t just sit on his hands when he could be a one-man wrecking crew to such an operation. It’s a fairly short, quick read with nearly no let up in the action and there’s no question about who the good guys and the bad guys are.

Strangers When We Meet

Evan Hunter is best known to crime fiction readers as Ed McBain. Hunter, an early pseudonym, became his legal name although it wasn’t his birth name. Strangers When We Meet was a popular 1958 novel, two years later turned into a hit movie starring Kim Novak and Kirk Douglas. It’s not exactly a crime novel except for the adultery. Rather, it’s a novel about the meaning of life and what exactly is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The centerpiece of the novel is, of course, the torrid elicit affair between Larry and Maggie. They both married young, but now after all these years find that the fresh coat of paint has dulled and it’s not bright and shiny and new. On the one hand, it’s indictment of life in all the Levittowns with the cookie cutter houses, taking the kids to school, and waving at your neighbors. On the other hand, Larry gets advice from unlikely sources that he’s throwing away everything and someone warned him that the blonde bombshell Maggie is not the pot of gold. Larry also has a story with his career as an architect and there’s a bit of Howard Roark in him as he storms over changes in his designs. Maggie herself has her own issues. She feels safe with her husband Don, but not filled with excitement. In some ways, still strangers. No one really knows her inside. Her looks make all the other housewives jealous and are misinterpreted by the men as a come-on.

A foil for them and their perilous affair is the happy go lucky life of the rich bestselling writer-client who wants a mansion built to his expectations and who entertains a different woman every weekend. But, he’s terrified of what the critics will say about his next book and he ultimately longs to settle down.

On the surface, this novel sounds like a complicated soap opera, but Hunter makes it into something a bit deeper and more profound.

A Devil For O’Shaugnessy/ The Three-Way Split

A Devil For O’Shaugnessy is Brewer’s lost unpublished novel unearthed for the first time. It has a feel and pace unlike anything else Brewer published. Although like other Brewer novels, it is set on the edge of Florida’s steamy swamps, it is an odd story set in a crumbling mansion by the Gulf where an old grandmother kept on living in spite of all who sought to be bequeathed an inheritance. Of course, a crazy monkey who apparently is the reincarnated spirit of grandma’s ex-husband is the most exciting presence in the house. But there’s also the homicidal granddaughter and the hot-to-trot personal secretary. Into this maelstrom, Brewer threw a hapless conman who had no iron in his veins. That’s O’Shaugnessy, you know. When he’s not dancing with mad femme fatale granddaughter Miriam, he’s impersonating the long lost grandson, Joseph, who grandma dotes over, so he can get close to grandma. In some ways, a comedic set-up with Miriam impatiently crowing at her soft conman to finish the job and he hesitating and uncomfortable with the arrangements. While this story lacks the unending passion Brewer usually filled his tales with, you can still feel O’Shaugnessy sinking into the trap and realizing he’s now locked into the plot with no escape.

Three-Way Split is the other full-length novel in this volume, separated from conman and monkey thriller by a couple of shorts. Three-Way Split, originally published in 1960, is a more traditional nautical noir thriller of the type Charles Williams was known for. It features a down on his luck guy with a small boat who can’t meet the rent for his boat slip and a spotting of a buried Spanish galleon out there. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a conflict if our hero didn’t have a bad news guy for a father, mean, ornery, and selfish, and on the run from a pack of mobsters for something he didn’t quite do a few states over. The interplay between Jack Holland and his old man is terrific. Sparks fly whenever they’re in the same room and Jack will never trust that old guy who won’t just take off and leave Jack alone.

Stark House Press

Turnabout/ Shallow Secrets

Stark House Press offers us a Terrific double feature in an unassuming cover by a writer who should be better known than he is. It’s not often you come upon a two-fer with two “A” sides, but Rick Ollerman pulled it off with two powerful Florida crime novels.

Turnabout is set in the Nineties around the beginnings of the Internet explosion as the General public and criminals as well are just starting to wrap their heads around networking and computer security, but it might as well have been set in the late Fifties or early Sixties. It has the look and feel of one of those early paperback originals.

Frank O’Neill is an ex police officer making a living as a computer security consultant. He got burned out working nights in all the worst neighborhoods, never leaving the job behind, never relaxing. It nearly cost him his marriage. But, as these stories go, retirement is just a fantasy cause the crap has a way of following you wherever you go.

The opening scene will leave your jaw dropping open as O’Neill’s best buddy takes a nose dive into the Gulf of Mexico from a small plane and nothing about is right. O’Neill can’t let this go even if it costs him everything and it nearly does. With a team composed of a born loser working a late night cleaning crew and a 300 pound pickpocket, O’Neill finds the twisted trail to hell as his hunt for his buddy’s killers leads him into the deadly Florida swamps.

Even if O’Neill’s painstaking investigation seems to lead nowhere at first, hang on tight because you are in for a harrowing thrill ride filled with breathtaking twists and turns and it becomes just as action packed as anything.

Shallow Secrets also features a Florida ex police officer, but one who leads a special team investigating a serial killer, leads it, that is, until the new suspect in custody who was caught red handed turns out to have been a houseguest of Officer Robinson. All of a sudden, Robinson becomes a bit of a suspect himself and his career goes down the tubes. You don’t really know through much of the story whether Robinson is Lou Ford or just an innocent guy connected to the wrong person at the wrong time.

This one at first seems to be a bit slower to get going, but rest assured the twists and turns are just beginning and the action when it comes is fast and furious.

Better Off Dead

Better Off Dead is the 26th thriller in Lee Child’s long-running Jack Reacher series, now cowritten with his younger brother who will eventually take over the franchise. Reacher is a Six foot five trained ex military police officer who has never exactly settled into civilian life. He has no home, no car, no regular job. Instead, he’s on permanent walkabout wherever whim takes him. Reacher never finds trouble is too far distant and he has a penchant for helping others.

This one finds Reacher in the border zone of Arizona where he comes upon a Jerome smashed into a tree and ends up in a plot which puts him on the slab in a morgue.

Reacher finds a villain Bond could be proud of and his loyal crew in a plot with far-reaching international implications. He shouldn’t be involved. He had every opportunity to walk away. But he keeps poking around in the hot dry desert, looking for things that don’t make sense.

of course, there’s lot of action and the pace is rather deadly. The plot though is at times a bit confusing, particularly who is working for who and why.

Under an Outlaw Moon

Publisher ‏ : ‎ ECW Press (November 2, 2021)

Language ‏ : ‎ English

Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages

Under an Outlaw Moon takes us back in time to the depression-era days of Bonnie and Clyde. Based on a true story about another young Outlaw couple who grew up too fast, this novel tells the story of Bennie and Stella Mae, two young kids who met at the roller rink. He’s out of the reformatory, enjoying a well-deserved pardon with hopes of being a middleweight contender and driving a cab. She looks like she could be eighteen, but even sixteen’s pushing it. Secretly engaged, just two young kids, but Bennie is one of those guys who can’t stay out of trouble if he tried. Eventually, like the man once said, they turn to banks cause that’s where the money is and a legend is born – a most wanted legend, that is, with Hoover’s boys on their tails.

It’s a novel that succeeds and is quite an un-putdownable read. It’s like following along with a younger – and slightly more innocent – Bonnie and Clyde. Even as they are robbing banks, Bennie still thinks he can study and pass the Bar. She thinks she’ll get a house with a white picket fence. Surprisingly, the story which is set back in 1938 feels fresh and new.

GLITZ

In Glitz, a nod to the casinos of San Juan and Atlantic City, Leonard offers us a cops and robbers story peopled by great characters. Our protagonist is Vincent, a Miami police detective who takes a gunshot while carrying a sack of groceries home. He makes the most of his disability leave with a stay on beaches of San Juan arm in arm with Iris, a young woman ready to take any path out of poverty. Then, there’s Teddy Magyck, who Vincent Mora put away for elder rape seven and a half years ago and has now left Raiford with revenge fantasies dancing in his head. At first, Vincent doesn’t even know he’s being hunted, but pretty soon catches on the cat and mouse game being played with his life.

Leonard, of course, brings this contest to life with his patented ear for dialogue and the result is a story that moves at a breakneck pace with no quarter being given. The story takes us from San Juan to the Monopoly-board streets of Atlantic City, complete with wiseguys running the show. Vincent is officially on leave and has no jurisdiction anywhere the story takes place, but that doesn’t stop him from butting heads with anyone in his way.

ELMORE LEONARD (CRIME AND WESTERN NOVELS, TOO)

Knock-Three-One-Two

Originally published in 1959, Knock-Three-One-Two is a dated crime novel that, on one hand, offers the pitiable story of Ray Fleck, a liquor salesman with a taste for the ponies that step by step washes his life down the drain. You feel sorry for this poor sap, but you know he’s a miserable bastard that kind of deserves what he gets. When he’s up to his eyeballs in his gambling debts, he fantasizes about having dear wife Ruth run over for her life insurance policy payoff. He cheats everyone he meets. He two-times her and then steals his mistress’ jewelry when her head is turned. In short, Ray is a creep and that makes it kind of hard to sympathize with his plight. It’s also a novel about a psychopathic serial killer and that’s always in the background. In the end, though, Brown has a wry sense of humor and that comes into play, particularly at the end.

The King-Killers

The fifteenth book in Thomas Dewey’s Mac detective series is a bit of a mess and isn’t quite up to the high quality of the earlier books in the series. Mac takes on a collection Case where payment for a shipment of toy guns hasn’t been made. But as he goes to collect, he finds that the organization involved seems more geared to utilizing real firearms than mere toys. None of it makes much sense. Nor does it when he’s tasked with finding another private eye who takes a barroom beating. Mac is set up as a patsy or do it seems. Again, little makes sense as Mac chases down leads on a bunch of seemingly unrelated people to Los Angeles and to a compound in the hills east of San Diego. All the swagger and attitude is there, but it’s just such a twisted mess that as a reader you couldn’t care less or could you.

Love Thief

Love Thief is a 1962 Beacon novel by Orrie Hitt. This soap opera morality play, despite the promises of the cover blurb, is not actually all that sleazy or graphic. It’s the story of Cindy Boyd, who rose from a life as the daughter of a pig farmer to become a famous actress with her own line of bras and a chain of designer stores. Rich, spoiled, insolent, Cindy resented what she had to sell (her body) to get ahead and paid it back double to any man who wanted her. Lust, avarice, pride, and other deadly sins were Cindy’s guideposts, but, of course, it all falls apart spectacularly and nothing she touches survives. Her downfall is swift and certain as she falls from one circle of hell to the next.

When All Light Fails

Silvia’s “When All Light Fails” is the fifth novel in the Ryan DeMarco series. The book opens with a nod to a villain from earlier books, Khatri. Nevertheless, it’s not necessary to start this series earlier. The Khatri episode merely offers background and depth to the story and, oh yes, offers DeMarco his opportunity for a near death experience (NDE) and a chance to offer philosophical perspective on the meaning if life.

The real meat of the story takes place when DeMarco and his girlfriend Jayme are offered employment by an powerful figure who asks them to procure a DNA sample from a ten year old whose paternity is at issue now. The question, in fact, relates back to a wild weekend on a men’s fishing trip with a cocktail waitress who apparently never pursued the issue before, but the daddy could be one of four men apparently. The child is now seeking the truth with her mother dying, but the men involved want to remain anonymous, particularly if the DNA exonerates them. It’s a strange assignment fir an ex state trooper.

DeMarco and Jayme go up to Michigan and befriend the young girl and that’s about when all hell breaks loose.

Although this is not necessarily an action packed story, it is quite absorbing as DeMarco tries to figure out the right way to handle things.

APRIL EVIL

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/d5/6c/31/d56c31a9684a3b32b37f8f9c862c21f2.jpg
1956 _ Dell First Edition 85 | 1956; PBO April Evil by ...
April Evil, by John D. MacDonald (Dell, 1960 ...

Best known for his Travis McGee series, MacDonald spent the Fifties putting out crime novel after crime novel, all of which are well worth reading. April Evil, set in a small Florida coastal town, back when Florida still had small towns, is about greed and larceny and lustfulness. An old doctor is set in his ways and keeps millions in cash in a safe in his closet and the whole town suspects it, including a gang of hoodlums come in from Chicago, all set to take it the hard way, his distant relatives who are sponging it off him one dollar at a time, and his nearby relatives who can’t wait for him to die and wanted him declared cuckoo and locked away. Of course, typical of these novels, all their paths cross in the end and that end ain’t all that pretty.

The beauty and wonder in this early MacDonald novel is not so much in the plot, but in the bevy of characters he carefully creates and launches out upon an unsuspecting world. The hard-case hoodlum and the dumb blonde he drags along for kicks, the one who went to Hollywood to become a star, but never had the gift for acting so hooked up with a bunch of hoodlums in Chicago. He’s determined never to go back to the prison he broke out of. The safecracker who joins them. And the psychopath who just loves killing though he is warned not to leave a trail of too many bodies this time.

But that’s just the hoodlums. The folks in this town are quite a bunch. There’s the used car dealer and his trampy wife who sunbathes au natural while her car is delivered by the dealership salesman. The rich dealer who then loses his shirt in a poker game while the wife is out cavorting and stirring up trouble. The kid next door to the hoodlums wants to play private eye. The lawyer who writes up the rich doctor’s will used to be going with the auto dealer’s wife. And so on and so on. They are all interconnected. The story is just rich in characters, each of whom seem so unique and so desperate in their own slightly offbeat ways.

Date With Darkness

Date With Darkness, published in the post-War world of 1947, was Hamilton’s first published novel and his first foray into the tangled web of espionage fiction. Widely viewed as being not up to the level of his later Matt Helm stories, Dare With Darkness nevertheless shows how Hamilton developed his ideas about espionage fiction.

The basic plot line is a naive Navy lieutenant on leave from his post in Chicago where he spent the entire war, becomes stuck in a tug of war between an ex-Vichy France Woman (Vichy France surrendered and collaborated with the Nazis) and a troupe of ex French resistance fighters who have vowed to take revenge on Madame Duval and her husband by any means necessary. Of course, Lieutenant Philip Branch doesn’t know what’s going on for much of the novel. He only knows this beautiful woman he met on the train and who he is smitten with is hitting him up for $200 and has nowhere to go and some characters want him to go back to Chicago and stop helping her. Absolutely none of this makes much sense for a while, but is quite mysterious.

It’s a strange start to a career writing espionage novels by using an innocent off the street who doesn’t have a clue what’s going on, but believes the war is over and the disputes should’ve been left to rot over in Europe. Years later, Hamilton offers us more than two dozen Matt Helm novels with a well-trained spy who knows what’s at stake and what he needs to do no matter the cost. But what you do get here is a taste of shifting alliances and distrust and suspicion.

An interesting appetizer of Hamilton’s early work, but know that the best is yet to come.

A Beast Without a Name

A Beast Without a Name is a collection of twelve short crime fiction stories all based on the music of Steely Dan. Eleven take their cues from song titles and one from an album title. Steely Dan was allegedly named for a steam-powered dildo in William Burroughs’ beat classic Naked Lunch.

Despite a handful of hits in the Seventies such as Reelin’ in the Years, My Old School, and Rikki Don’t Loose That Number, Steely Dan is a bit of an obscure band and the vast majority of their soft rock jazz fusion catalog is not well known by most folks these days. Therefore, as a reader you are probably not that familiar with most of the songs used as story titles in this book. Despite a few call-outs to the band and hidden references, most of the stories are simply take offs on the song titles rather than the lyrical visions of the songs.

The stories are as follows: (1) Pixie Dare Returns Peter Spiegelman; (2)Monkey in Your Soul Matthew Quinn Martin; (3) Here at the Western World Naomi Hirahara; (4) Black Friday Steve Brewer; (5) Hey Nineteen W.H. Cameron; (6) No Static at All Jim Winter; (7) West of Hollywood Libby Cudmore; (8) Don’t Take Me Alive Aaron Erickson; (9) Rikki Don’t Lost That Number Richie Narvaez; (10) Kid Charlemagne Kat Richardson; (11) The Girl Could Be So Cruel Jim Thomsen; and (12) Halfway Crucified Reed Farrel Coleman.

While all the stories in this collection were entertaining, for my money, Here at the Western World by Naomi Hirahara is the most original. This is a song that was left over from their album work and then, although never been on the air before, was stuck on their greatest hits album by the record company. Here’s the chorus: “Knock twice, rap with your cane
Feels nice, you’re out of the rain. We got your skinny girl. Here at the Western World.”

Hirahara takes this odd little song and turns it into a Kurt Vonnegut like exposition on a secret company that hires out artificially enhanced lookalikes to play the part of the deceased for the grieving spouse right up to including re-enacting the meet up or the wedding night. A brilliant turn of a song title into something new.

Black Friday by Steve Brewer is also a favorite. The song title apparently refers to an 1800’s Gold speculator in Australia who ran off with all the proceeds. The connection to Brewer’s story is obvious as it relates a story of a casino robber who ran off to hide in the Australian Outback until the day one of his ex partners who also had a million in proceeds swam-dived off the 22nd floor.

And not to be forgotten is Katy Lied which is an album title, not a song, but takes in a lyric from the song Dr. Wu: “Katy lies, you could see it in her eyes.”

The Unrepentant

Aymar’s The Unrepentant Is an action-packed thriller that deftly handles difficult issues about human trafficking. The novel shows how young girls from broken homes are unknowingly recruited into selling themselves and how badly they are treated by those who are hiding in the shadows pulling the strings. No one deserves to be treated this way and the story of Charlotte is about one who decided to fight back.

The literary/theatrical world is replete with crime fighting duos from Batman and Robin to Starsky and Hutch, but no duo has ever been more mismatched than Charlotte and Mace, an Iraqi War veteran who stumbles upon Charlotte’s bear-execution and plays the superhero even though he has no clue what if going on or what he’s brought into his life when he takes this young girl in.

The story also grapples with what it does to a person to fight evil and what you have to become sometimes to meet violence with violence.