lust plus lust equals LUST

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You gotta pay the bills. But it doesn’t mean your rent work has to be bad. Nope. Science fiction author Robert Silverberg wrote more than his fair share of gritty adult fiction, including a number of titles for erotic men’s fic publishers like Nightshade. Silverberg applied the same talent to his sexy potboilers as to his science fiction classics. The prose is smooth, sleek, Teflon. It flows like a downhill creek. The narrative flow is equally sublime, with a simple but completely compelling tales of a man under a wicked woman’s thrall and a couple whose lives, not just home, are wrecked by a midnight intruder and mysterious intrigue. Or, if not wicked, at least dangerously self-absorbed. The characters, now that they’ve been brought up, are also top of the line. Silverberg, writing as Don Elliott, imbues his characters with flesh and blood like God forging Adam from dust. One story, of an east coast writer gone Hollywood, eventually aginst his will. What starts as a promising payoff to punishing due-paying by a struggling writer ends as a nightmare of a vicious vixen’s out of control starlet behavior. The other half of this fine volume presents an intimate relationship immediately thrown into chaos, a couple literally and symbolically interrupted mid-coitus, or very nearly anyway. Silverberg’s … Elliott’s … delectable prose, vivid characters and steely grip on the psychology of relationships - not to mention his nimble depiction of sexuality - make this pair of hard boiled melodramas a rich read for fans of literate pulp.

257 pp.

www.starkhousepress.com

Feel the Heat

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One can feel the scorching heat sizzling off the pages of C.J. Howell’s scorching noir novel. I’ve read my share of hard-boiled pulp and I can say without hesitation that this is one of the most unique entries on the noir shelf. In plot terms it’s defiant of traditional narrative since this does not have a conventional beginning-middle-end tautness but rather a sprawling (in 200-plus pages) burn scar of death and delusion. A bleak, blistering savagery of nihilism and existentialist grimness, THE LAST OF THE SMOKING BARTENDERS doesn’t follow a story so much as it does its lost soul characters, Lorne, Tom and Hailey, each very different from the other. The novel almost stands a window into their lives, a window whose dimensions are determined by a starting point before the three’s lives intersect and an ending point after. Tom is the central thread, a homeless paranoiac who eschews paper money because THEY can trace his location. Lorne is his methed-out friend, who  pretty much along for the ride in life. Then there’s Hailey, the FBI agent, lonely but not exactly unhappy, running a one-person office in the middle of nowhere. It’s in the midst of this nowhere that Tom and Lorne’s paths intersect in a bloody insane collision of motives, desires, drugs and madnesses. A clutch of Native American drugheads, a mean bastard named Bulldog Frank and his young poon all end up embroiled in the chaos brewing from Tom’s mental conspiracies, Lorne’s fuck it all addiction attitude and Hailey’s wrong-place-wrong-time luck. The prose spends long graphs describing the surroundings of the characters, and their thoughts, bringing an abundance of descriptiveness beyond what one typically expects from noir. It’s a long short book. I was even reminded obliquely of The Heart of Darkness. Being long on description and short on dialogue makes for slow going, but that doesn’t stand as a critique. Howell’s mode of writing is what makes this such a scalding piece of darkly philosophical pulp fiction. It’s not about crime or murder or other such shenanigans. It’s about something brooding, malevolent and American. It’s in the subtext. I’d tell you what it’s about but the only words for it are those of this novel.

242 pp.

www.newpulppress.com

The Trouble with Herbie

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By Ann Snuggs

Mark your calendars. In July, Timothy Hallinan’s dashing crook, Junior Bender, is back on the streets in his fourth adventure, Herbie’s Game. And once again, it doesn’t start out as his choice.

Junior is minding his own business – burglary – and displaying the spoils of his last outing to his girlfriend Ronnie, when criminal organizer Wattles appears at the door of their motel room, dragging a particularly unsavory, juiced-up hitman behind him.

It seems Wattles’ office was burglarized the night before and he has pegged Junior as the perp. Junior proclaims his innocence. Well, he can prove it to Wattles by finding the thief and retrieving the piece of paper that was stolen.

Yes. A piece of paper. It just so happens that on this paper is the chain of names involved in setting up a hit. He wrote them down? Junior can’t believe Wattles could be that careless.

But he was. And when Junior sees the crime site he knows in a New York second who broke in – his mentor and surrogate father figure, Herbie Mott.

Junior is not happy with the proposition but he’s not thrilled over the prospect of being taken out either. He heads out to Herbie’s home to discuss the burglary but Herbie won’t be discussing anything with anyone anymore. He’s dead. Messily. Tortured before his heart quit.

Now it’s personal.

Junior starts with the one person he’s sure was in the chain and begins the unraveling process but links in the chain turn up either dead or missing. Not only is he a target but his ex-wife, daughter and current girlfriend are in danger, too. Nice that Junior has Louie the Lost to dig up some hitwomen to follow and protect the women in his life.

As Junior digs deeper and deeper he begins to question everything about his life and Herbie’s place in it. Has he really been his own man or spent life caught in Herbie’s game?

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Hallinan’s greatest writing strength is his characters. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the weirdos and sane(?) people in Herbie’s Game are vivid, fascinating and memorable. They come alive for the reader. They breathe and talk and hurt. They move the story at a rapid pace that makes this book hard to put down. I read it through phone calls. I read it through supper. I read it until the last page was turned.

Don’t miss Herbie’s Game.

Footnote: Some situations in Herbie’s Game will be easier to follow if the reader has read the first three Junior Bender novels. It is well worth the time to read them first.

Hardback/eBook

336 pages

July 15, 2014

Soho Crime

$25.00

RIVETING Squared

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Review by Ann Snuggs
David Freed’s third installment in the Cordell Logan series, Voodoo Ridge, is the most riveting yet. Tightly plotted with twists, filled with emotionally charged sequences, it’s a page-turner in the manner that coined the term. Start reading early. It’s hard to put down.
 
Logan’s ex, Savannah, is pregnant. The baby is his from a get-together when the thought of precautions never crossed either’s mind. Cordell has never made a secret of how much he did, does still and will always love Savannah, and in the glow of becoming a father, he proposes a remarriage. To his surprise, she accepts. It’s a “let’s do it now” moment. They load up in his faithful Cessna, the Ruptured Duck, and are off for Lake Tahoe. There’s no waiting period in Nevada.
 
From the air Logan spies a flash from the ground. It appears to be a crash site and like any responsible pilot he reports it as soon as they land at Lake Tahoe, then agrees to put marriage plans on hold for a day to help lead a search and rescue team to the location. That’s the last normal act of the following week.
 
Not only are the remains of the aircraft and a mummified pilot found at the site where Logan saw the crash, but also a fresh corpse. So fresh that Logan met the victim in the short time between landing at the airstrip and hiking into the mountain crash site.
 
Cordell has trouble not reverting to his past life skills to solve the crime but interest becomes passion when Savannah disappears and threats to her safety are tied into the mystery of the long ago crash and the present day murder. Who to trust? Who is not hiding something?
 
It’s tough to write about the absorbing intricacies of the story without turning a review into a spoiler. What can be said is that the book is well-plotted, well-written and riveting. Did I use that adjective before? It’s worth saying twice in describing Voodoo Ridge. The tale is an intense read.

RAVES FOR RABE

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Peter Rabe certainly is a original voice in noir. Rabe may have moved on to other planes of existence or none whatsoever, depending on your viewpoint, but his voice is still here with us, thank God or the Devil, whomever deserves the credit. Actually, that would be Stark House Press, with the totally awesome Stark House Noir Classics line. Stark House is a master of the twofer, so with this volume the reader is rewarded - and richly - with a pair of Rabe books to peruse. Both are excellent and both exhibit Rabe’s ability to write thoroughly noir noir while still making up his own rules. This is neither the Hammett/Chandler/Spillane school of daring detective exploits nor the Cain/Thompson hard cases collect their karma brand of hard boiled crime. These are distinctive criminal exploits which defy analogous juxtapositioning against classic crime story templates. Not that there is nothing familiar here. Far from it. I told you, this is vintage noir, noir as it gets. But the stories - both of ‘em - unfold in completely unpredictable ways. The only way to know what’s happening next is to read on rather than consulting the memory’s storage facility of story skeletons. What’s more, the characters are fresh, even these many years after the original publication of these novels. Take, for example, the central figure of KILL THE BOSS GOOD-BY, Mr. Fell, the boss in question. Fell has run his neck of the mob woods well, managing his rackets, turning a profit and keeping the legal wheels greased with payoff money. Then he goes away for a month, leaving henchman Pander in charge in Fell’s absence. Thing is, once Fell is no longer absent, Pander still likes the in charge part. And he might just pull it off. Fell has been missing for (minor spoiler but nothing too bad) a month due to in-patient psychiatric treatment. He has a serious brain disorder. So questions abound: Can Fell keep the job? Not if Pander has his way. Fell is a unique main character for noir fiction, a sympathetic mob boss with a brain problem. His sidekick, arguably the central character if it’s not Fell, is a devoted man named Cripp who also earns our sympathies for his strength and loyalty. Pander is as despicable as they come. MISSION FOR VENGEANCE is more unique than the somewhat generic title suggests. Here, there is mystery in the crime, but not for a P.I. to suss out. In fact, it is the hellbound-for-vengeance antagonist of the novel who slowly pieces together the truth of how he was double-crossed in a long-ago caper gone wrong. The distinctive, fleshed-out characters motivate this story as much as the claustrophobic closing-in walls of vengeance sought. Rabe was both a master plotter and king of creating believable characters who are likable - or hate-worthy - and vividly so. His prose is also securely his own, rich but lean, descriptive but not cumbersome. Rabe was as much a master of noir as all those guys you’ve heard of.

Trade paperback, 292 pp.

www.starkhousepress.com

MEET THE VICTIM

Johnson Potter appears during an interview in the 1990s.

By Ann Snuggs

Back in the early 1950s local television stations were brand new and hungry for all types of filler programs to fill airtime. (Yes, children, there was a time when more than 200 channels did not fight for viewers 24/7.) One of the needs was for fifteen-minute shows to fill the space between the local fifteen-minute newscast and the half hour.
 
During that period, Johnson Potter happened upon a filler show that failed to impress him and decided he could do better. He contacted a local theatre group, the Callboard Players, and asked if anyone in the group might be interested in writing and directing short TV shows. Bob Jones stepped up. Following Potter’s guidelines, he starting writing. Potter put his producing skills to work – organizing, finding financing and locales. They shot on weekends, working from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Potter even did some of the post-filming production in his living room. The result was Meet the Victim. The shows appeared on about one hundred television stations in 1952.
 
Now, more than fifty years later, his daughter is making some of these episodes available to fans of early television and television historians.
 
They are well-worth viewing.
 
The DVD includes seven episodes: “Ill Wind,” a look at the consequences of greed and a heist gone wrong; “Man on the Beach,” in which a woman’s fears bring about a tragic conclusion; “Trigger Man,” portrait of a hired gun having a bad day; “The Wall,” a psychological drama of conflicts, both of humans and with nature; “The Fatal Story,” which goes to show truth is stranger than fiction; “The Fabulous Pearl,” with a nice O’Henry style ending; and “Never Go Back,” especially if it leads to a twilight zone twist.
 
In these shows, Bob Jones uses “Robert L. Jones” as well as “Bob Jones.” Those credits are for the same man. In a few, Potter’s sister Pat appears. The same players are seen in a varying episodes. None has a name that became a household word nationally. Yet most of the actors who worked in these Potter productions are solid. Many with less skills appear on today’s screen and not just in low-budget movies and television. Potter’s sister-in-law, Inga Larsson Potter, painted the portrait that is a key part of the story in “Never Go Back.” Meet the Victim is an early example of utilizing the resources one has to put together a decent film project.
 
Probably one feature that most indicates budget constraints is the use of narrative rather than dialogue. My first thought was that the amateur performers were not good with dialogue but that is not the case. It simplified sound production, to a degree. It is the least appealing aspect of the shows.
 
An additional bonus included on the disk is an interview with Johnson Potter in his later years made by a Boston reporter. He not only talks about this series of television shows but also his background with film and some of his life experiences. He tells fun details about the making of Meet the Victim. None cited here. No spoilers.
Potter was a fascinating man who first took an interest in film at the tender age of five. Mensa member, world traveler, risk-taker, filmmaker. Footage he took in Europe was included in “The Wall.” Don’t skip the interview.
 
All in all, this is an interesting look at a facet of television history that has few examples extant and available to the general public. The shows are definitely dated, yet they are watchable snippets of drama. Melodrama dominates “Man on the Beach” and “The Wall,” accented by swelling music scores. All have an ironic twist. Some classify as noir, others pure melodrama, and “Never Go Back” – the only one in color – belongs somewhere in the twilight zone.
 
While Meet the Victim is not available commercially, it may be obtained by email from Kira Potter via MeetTheVictim@gmail.com
(Although she has no memories of her dad discussing these television episodes she was influenced by her father’s love of all things film. Kira is currently a lighting director for CNN.)

Small Town, Big Crime

By Ann Snuggs

LynDee Walker used her own background in reporting to create Nichelle Clarke, crime reporter for the Richmond Telegraph. One can only hope that her own journalistic career did not put her in some of the hazard-pay situations in which Nichelle finds herself in the third book of the Headlines in High Heels series, Small Town Spin, to be released this week.

Nicelle just wanted to take a day off to medicate the sinus infection that had her reeling. It wasn’t to be. Called by her friend Parker with a heads up and the offer of an exclusive on a story yet to be broken, she drags her flagging body back into the car and starts for the small town of Mathews on Gwynn’s Island on the Virginia coastline.

This is not going to be a fun assignment. In fact, it’s a heartbreaker. The son of Tony Okerson, retired, big-name NFL star and longtime friend of Grant Parker, has committed suicide. Parker has gotten Nichelle the exclusive family interview with a request that she try to spin the media circus sure to follow the announcement in the least painful direction possible.

The interview not only tugs at Nichelle’s heartstrings but also puzzles her mind. Her gut instinct tells her something is badly wrong with this suicide report. No note. No solid evidence. This boy had everything to live for and suicidal male teens rarely go the overdose route. So – is this a sad teen ending or is it something more sinister? As in murder.

In her heart she knows the pieces just don’t fit. And she is not about to accept the obvious scenario thrown at her. The path may be dangerous (it is) but Nichelle is a woman of principle and has no intention of quitting before she knows what really happened to TJ Okerson.

Now Nichelle is fighting her illness, a couple of hostile co-workers, a small town sheriff who thinks the simple solution is usually the right answer and the stigma of being a big-city reporter in a place where everyone knows everyone else. That’s if they are not related. On the personal scene she’s juggling two hot males. She’s attracted to each one for his own unique appeal.

Small Town Spin is an absorbing read – hard to put down. The mystery doesn’t unravel until the last pages and even this cynical, seasoned, I-knew-it-from-halfway reader did not figure out the ending until it unfolded. Humor, romance, danger and mystery are nicely balanced. This book could turn into a must-have for summer 2014 beach reads.

Just a note for fans of dark, rough crime stories: This is not noir nor hardboiled crime. It’s more chick lit crime – highly enjoyable for this reviewer’s expansive and rather eclectic tastes but perhaps not for those into heavy, more brutal dark crime tales.

Henery Press

Trade paper $15.95

Kindle $4.99

278 pages

TURN LEFT AT PARADISE

 
Review by Ann Snuggs
Turn Left at Paradise, Fred Zackel’s latest thriller available on Kindle, has crime, gore, mystery – but is basically a family drama. Make that melodrama. This family is decidedly dysfunctional.
Bobbie Kelly spent his life without coming to grips with spiritual challenges buried deep inside. That was before his massive heart attack. Now, facing mortality, his past haunts him – in the figure of his long-dead brother, Patrick.
He “escapes” ICU and flies back to the home of his childhood to right the old wrongs and give his soul a chance for at least Purgatory. He feels Paradise may be too great a hope.
Home was Cleveland, Ohio, and a massive blizzard greets him on his return after a gap of thirty-eight years. Weather becomes a character in the story. It’s bitter. It’s wicked. And with Zackel’s vivid prose, it chills the bones of the reader.
The weather is a total shock to Max Kelly, San Francisco police detective, who follows his father on this runaway trip. He – nor anyone from the past – quite understands Bobbie’s driven need to revenge his brother’s death and save his own soul.
Bobbie, ever pressured by the persistent presence of the ghost of his murdered brother, digs up bones, re-opens old wounds and brings chaos and death to lives that had quietly suppressed the past. His brother Patrick was a cop. Now old, retired cops, possible witnesses and family connections are dying as the killer strives to protect himself from justice once again.
It’s always a treat to read Fred Zackel’s writing style, whatever genre he chooses to portray. His scenes are vivid; his characters live and breathe; his action is graphic – often in a couple of definitions of the word. He doesn’t disappoint fans of his writing here.
It’s not common to describe family drama as noir, but dark and dirty Turn Left at Paradise certainly fits both categories.  
 

Hard Boiled Beat

Call it what you will - beatnik noir, beat crime, hard boiled beat - John Trinian’s singular crime drama is a defiant mingling of subgenres that captures the spirit of both the San Francisco Beat culture and the edgy crime fiction called hard boiled still popular at the time (published 1960). Conventional noir it’s not. It follows the directionless life of Erin and her bohemian friends and their lives full of booze, sex, discontent and sarcasm. The closest thing Erin has to normalcy is a grandmother and her servant Hibbert, like an uncle to Erin. Trouble is she feels no connection with her past. Nostalgia is a lost concept. Not that she doesn’t express concern for her grandmother and show signs of a conscience, despite her cynical, aloof attitude. Which begs the question, who … But to even ask the question would be to give something away. For a significant chunk of the novel’s page count, the story is that of a young woman adrift in the counter culture. It’s a character-rich and character-driven story propelled by the interactions of these flesh-and-blood, if not exactly likeable, people. But when awfulness occurs, say, roughly two thirds of the way through the book, more questions arise than a bunch of beatniks could snap at. (Just picking; this is really about beats, not beatniks, if you suss out the distinction I’m making.) A mystery encroaches. Who among her friends is sincere and who has something to hide, that something a critical connection to the awfulness. John Trinian’s hard boiled melodrama is truly set apart among both of its major genre influences. As beat fiction, besides a penetrating look into the disenfranchised eddies of pre-hippy bohemian/beat lifestyle, the reader gets a surprise, grim turn of events that represents a shift in tone from dark to darker, said turn of events further enhancing the themes of the preceding character drama. As hard boiled crime fic, NORTH BEACH GIRL is not the typical dig through the trenches of humanity. It’s a plowing through a whole other strand of humanity, which some would consider a trench of its own. Bums, no-account youths up to no good, with no focus, no goals, no direction, all that jazz. The badness that happens isn’t the point exactly but instead the ugly fruit of the aforementioned disenfranchisement. But what … ? SCANDAL ON THE SAND is equally singular. Not so much Beat but still hard boiled. And it’s a crime story centered around a beached whale! This novella will surprise you. In its short length there is a truly eclectic batch of humanity thrown together in one place, by a beached but still breathing whale. The characters range the spectrum from criminal to law and all sorts of civilianism in between. Noir’s protagonistic shades are in effect. While there is no protagonist way out in front (though one character comes closer than others), there is the flip-flopping found in protagonistic stories versus hero stories. Here, for example, the most despicable character is a cop, while a gangster at the scene is likeable and draws reader sympathy. And these are just two of the characters. There’s also Karen, out walking the early morning beach with her hateful date. There’s Riley, the tow vehicle driver who butts heads with the crummy cop. There’s a photographer and his models. And more. You wonder just how in the hell a crime story is going to unfold credibly from this scenario but once you’re through and you see how Trinian worked it out - well, you’re gonna be knocked as flat on your bum as I was, I hope. Trinian - a man as interesting as his books - was an incredible writing talent, his lean prose creating organic stories and believable characters. The truths of human nature apparent in his works mark Trinian as an insightful talent, able to transform crime storytelling into philosophical fiction without sacrificing readability. Features an introduction for each book, plus a memoir afterward by Trinian’s daughter.

256 pp. 

starkhousepress.com