Sunday, November 4, 2018

Death for Sale - Henry Kane

He took one of Carter's cigarettes, lit it, blew smoke at the match to extinguish it. "Understand this, Mr. Winston. I'm not a pug-ugly, not a hoodlum, not a gangster. I perform independently and have no interest or curiosity in the motives of those who retain me. I command high fees because I am an expert and because there is a great element of risk. I take such risk into consideration as do others in hazardous professions--the people-jack, the high voltage worker, the test pilot. And if ever I'm caught, I shall accept even that philosophically--that is my way of life, and what comes must come. And now, if you please, what do you want of me, Mr. Winston?"

Dell - July 1957

And here you meet the wordiest hitman in the game. No, he doesn't talk his victims to death, not quite, but the reader may be an innocent bystander in the exchange. Death for Sale, by Henry Kane, was published in 1957. I don't believe I've read any other Henry Kane novels before this one. He's published a lot of books with cool covers on them, but I never see them out there in the the used bookshelves. I picked this one up 20 years ago in a flea market for 50 cents (the sticker is still in the book) and hadn't got around to reading it until this week.

It's got all the trappings of a classic noir plot: a husband is saddled with a shrew for a wife who refuses to divorce him, so in a moment of drunken anger hires someone to kill her. After sleeping on it, he wakes up with second thoughts and spends the rest of the novel trying to prevent the hit from going down. In this case, our reluctant husband is Carter Winston, a successful, 52 year old owner of a talent agency. His wife, Paula Sommers Winston, is twenty years younger, beautiful and rotten, and turns the bitch meter to 11 on the 1-to-10 scale. She makes no secret that she's seeing another man (she refuses to divulge who) while refusing to divorce Carter. She likes the setup, likes living in a mansion with servants, and likes the big life insurance policy on Carter's life. Carter Winston has a 19 year old daughter, Diane, from his first marriage. Diane's mother died when she was 13 or so. Carter Winston's marriage to Paula Sommers his only two years old, and we're given a summary of their whirlwind courtship in a few paragraphs early on in the book. In a moment of drunken frustration, Carter decides he has to have her killed, and hires a shady cat named Stewart Blake to do the job.

Why would a supposedly smart business guy marry someone so much younger? Well, we have an obvious theory here. Paula Sommers is a total smoldering hot babe. And Carter Winston is a stuffed shirt jerk-off. That's the biggest problem with this novel. It's preposterous. All noir plots are preposterous but you forgive them for it if the characters are relatable to the reader. You have to have a little empathy for at least one of them, or hate someone enough to want to see them get their just desserts. But with Death for Sale, you have characters so obnoxious that you really could care less what happens to them. Thankfully, the writing is crisp and professional, and the plot doesn't slow down long enough for you to not finish it. In spite of a few nice touches here and there, some moments of tension, the plot is more "drawing room mystery" than a true noir novel. For example, about a third way into the novel we're introduced to Cynthia Sommers, Paula's sister, who looks exactly like Paula! Then there is Carter's business partner Walter Moore, who's got a torch for Cynthia. Added to the mix is a kooky wannabe actress named Lola Cavanaugh who ends up being at the wrong place at the wrong time when our hitman, Stewart Blake, comes to complete his job.

By the end of the novel we have a gunshot in a storm, a chase through the night, and an overly complex resolution that would have made Ellery Queen slap his forehead! Oh well, it wasn't the worst fifty cents I've spent, and like I said above, the writing was well done. If I run across any other Henry Kane novels out there in the wild I'll probably splurge a few clams and dive in again. Or I just might pick up a Frank Kane novel and be happy with that. Who the heck knows?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Kidnapper - Robert Bloch

"There is no security for the average man today. It is no longer enough to be a good husband, a good father, a good craftsman. If you do not have a Cadillac in the garage, you are a failure. That is the message of modern advertising, that is the standard of the new values we accept." 

TOR Books, March 1988

For a moment there it sounded to me like the message of modern evangelicalism. But that very "standard of the new values" spoken of is the very thing that drives our narrator, Steve Collins, to embark on his scheme to kidnap his way into the good life.

Published in 1954, The Kidnapper, is a nasty little thriller that's my favorite kind of mid-century noir novel. It's not one I see out there in the wild very often. I bought my copy about 15 years ago from a long gone used bookstore in central Phoenix, and only now have gotten around to reading it. If you're going to look for anything by Robert Bloch you're going to have to do it in the horror sections of the bookstores still out there. Like Harlan Ellison getting pegged as a Science Fiction writer, Bloch is forever known as a horror writer, thanks to his 1959 novel Psycho.

Bloch dives headlong into Jim Thompsonville in The Kidnapper, as we get the story straight from our hero Steve Collins. He's been around, knows how life works, knows the angles, and isn't afraid to go after what he wants when opportunity knocks. We meet him after riding the rails into a nameless town, somewhere in Illinois, pulling down the night shift as a tool and die maker. He's not exactly on the run, but he'd prefer to live his life without any inconvenient strings attached. He gets friendly with another guy on the job, Leo Schumann, a little guy everyone just calls Specs, because of his thick glasses. Specs has no luck with the ladies, but has hopes of eventually winning over a working girl named Terry, a "blonde with dyed hair and a figure like your grandmother's broomstick." Specs would like to find a nice girl and get married, save up for a house, follow that American Dream he's been promised. But he can't seem to make it past first base with the nice girls from church. So he pines for Terry. Steve ain't interested in any of that love crap. Catch him telling a dame he loves her? Forget that! It took him long enough to shuck this last lush down in Florida. Anytime he wants a chick he can go pick one up, but saddle down with one, no way, Dad!

Then he meets Mary. Mary Adams is a strange chick. Kind of crazy-like, with her barely contained lust and her innocent way of twisting Steve all up into knots wanting her. Soon enough, she's spending her free time rocking his world each day before work. By day Mary works as a nanny to the daughter of  a well-heeled family that runs one of the banks in town. Shirley Mae Warren is the kid's name. She's 4 years old. Mary's job is to see to it she gets to and from pre-school each day. Her folks have all kinds of money, Mary tells Steve, and maybe one day they'll take Mary, with the kid, on out to California. Wouldn't that be swell?  And there you have it all laid out, sweet as a peach ripe for the picking. Snatch the kid, get a nice fat ransom for her return, and live on Easy Street afterward. Steve's just got to convince Mary that it'll work.

"A criminal? Don't be afraid to say it, Mary, it's only a word. A fancy word that guys like Warren dream up to pin on the little fellow who tries to get ahead. Anytime a little fellow takes dough from a big shot, he's a criminal. But when a big shot takes dough, he's a smart business man. He's got the law on his side because he makes the law to begin with."

Hmm...where have we heard this before? Has a ring of familiarity to it, kind of. Maybe Steve's on to something after all. Anyway, back to the kidnapping. Steve and Mary get the whole caper planned, except one thing. Steve doesn't have wheels. He's gonna need a car. If only he knew a chump he could talk into providing their wheels for a split of the ransom...A guy like Specs for instance. Just think of the dames Specs could have eating out of his hand if he had a little cash to spend on them!

And we're off and running. Of course, you know things never really go as planned in these stories. Something always slips and throws a wrench into things. In this case, the girl they kidnap has to go and die on them. 

Like I said, this novel is a lot of unwholesome fun reading, mostly because of the strong narrative voice that Bloch delivers through Steve's point of view. Steve is one of those characters who has an undeniable dark charm to them, and a way of seeing things that you can damn near relate to yourself, especially when you find yourself working a job for nuts while seeing those other big shots get all the rewards out of life. Bloch plays on our skewed sense of entitlement that has saturated our society for decades now. We're promised that hard work brings us nice stuff. You can almost empathize with the desire to take that shortcut, pull that trigger, get what's yours. And that's the stuff that the best noir novels come from. Bad people making worse decisions.

Highly recommended. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

She'll Get Hers - John Plunket


Youthful actresses were thin-faced and gave him the impression that their underwear was dirty. Shaggy-haired actors were badly mannered and mumbled and sported shrunken Levis designed to display their limited talents. Jo said they were “method actors” but Koslo classified them as glorified delinquents and misfits. Womenish men, mannish women…he couldn’t help but marvel at the miracle that Jo could have known these people and still remain untouched by their neurotic outlooks.

Monarch Books July 1960


Published in 1960 by Monarch Books, She’ll Get Hers is a tawdry little paperback that flies under the wings of some of the better known paperback originals by Gil Brewer and Day Keene and the gang. I’ve read a few Monarch paperbacks and have enjoyed them much like you’d enjoy a burrito from a dirty restaurant. You know they’re bad for you, but you like ‘em anyway. Monarch was kind of a low-rung publisher of pulpy paperback originals, and I’m guessing they went for the sleazier side of stuff than Gold Medal. Judging from the titles in their catalog, lots of juvenile delinquent, beatnik, and sleazy kicks can be enjoyed in these old paperbacks.

She’ll Get Hers is written by John Plunkett. According to the blurbs, Plunkett was heavily involved in the entertainment scene at the time, and sold screenplays for both the television and film industry. I don’t know if She’ll Get Hers was his only novel. It’s the only one I’m finding after a cursory look online. Regardless, it’s an often-told story of a bad guy getting his come-uppance by a bad girl. In this instance, a hood named Marty Koslo, and his new flame, Jo Wilder.

Koslo is an east coast enforcer for the Syndicate and is sent to Los Angeles to get to get to the bottom of why receipts from marijuana sales have dropped in recent months. Los Angeles is familiar turf for Marty Koslo. He’s got a swanky apartment above Sunset Blvd and a hot sexy girlfriend named Lorry Logan. He sets up a meeting with the district supervisors of the organization and reads them the riot act. Their biggest market is in the high schools and colleges throughout the Hollywood area. Koslo lays the tough guy routine down on the supervisors and promises he’ll be following up with the local pushers next. This has the whole L.A. crew in an uproar.

Marty Koslo was not just a successful hood. Marty Koslo was the syndicate’s number one hatchet man. The executioner. The enforcer. Big K, they called him. Not K for Koslo, but rather for Kill.

Later that night, back in his Hollywood office at the Chilton Hotel, Marty Koslo is kicking back with a drink and thinking of his date with Lorry when he’s approached by the bellman, a former jockey named Willie, who puts him wise to a raw deal fixing to happen to one of the regular girls who do freelance “modeling” work in the hotel. Some local Hollywood type named George has paid Willie to supply him with “knockout drops” so that he can score with one of the models who is there posing for “art” pictures. Willie tells Koslo that this particular girl don’t rate such a slimy treatment, that she’s special, that she ain’t like the other girls. He asks Koslo to run George out of the joint on behalf of his unsuspecting victim. Koslo figures what the hell, Willie is a good guy and is obviously sweet on this chick, so he’ll do him this favor. He takes the vial of knockout drops from Willie and goes to George’s hotel room. In it he finds George is all hot and ready for his fun time with the model who is in the bathroom changing her wardrobe. Koslo sends “Georgie” packing. Then he decides that, as long as he’s there, he’ll check out this chick that Willie is so sweet on. And out of the bathroom walks the stunning Jo Wilder.

She stood in the doorway framed by the light of the bathroom. She was wearing a pair of tiny nylon panties, black stilted pumps, a fresh coat of red lipstick and a rather vague expression of mild surprise.

A lot of attention is focused on Jo’s magnificent breasts at this point, and Koslo is basically reduced to a stuttering schoolboy on his first major crush. He lets Jo know that he’s just saved her from a sleazebag whose promises of a career in the movies for Jo was all bullshit. Jo is appropriately grateful, and promptly lets him know that, while she may pose nude for pictures, she’s a good girl who is pure of virtue. She also gets off on Marty’s obvious admiration of her naked body. Marty Koslo asks her if she’s had dinner yet and Jo agrees to go out with him that night.

What follows is a quick courtship of sorts, as Marty Koslo convinces Jo Wilder to come back to has pad above Sunset Blvd that night. A lot of kissing and mushy stuff follows, leaving Koslo’s head spinning under Jo’s alluring spell. She lets him know several times that she’s a virgin, but would like to be his girlfriend. She promises him that she’ll make him happy. Koslo figures it won’t be long before Jo gives herself up fully to his charms. In the meantime he dumps his girlfriend Lorry so he can devote all his energy toward Jo. In a matter of a single weekend he convinces Jo to move out of her dumpy apartment and stay with him. The next afternoon, while helping her pack up her stuff, he meets Jo Wilder’s neighbor, an artist named Mona. Mona seems unusually distressed to learn that Jo is moving out. She’s been painting a portrait of Jo and tells her she’ll have to finish the portrait from memory. Jo Wilder seems oblivious to Mona’s obvious crush on her, and promises to keep in touch with Mona. Koslo doesn’t give a rip about any of that artsy-fartsy stuff, and tells Jo Wilder to never see Mona again.

On the business end of things, Koslo learns that some of the distribution managers have been cutting the marijuana supply with tobacco. The high school kids are complaining that the stuff they’re buying isn’t any good. And the sales are dropping as a result. Koslo is ordered by the bosses back east to terminate the contracts of these managers, and do it with “a lot of noise.” Koslo brings in a 2nd hitman named Tito to help with the job. Meanwhile, Jo discovers the vial of knockout drops that Koslo got from Willie. She accuses Koslo of keeping them to use on her, to take her virginity. She has a complete hissy fit and runs away. Koslo spends the night trying to find her, only to discover that she’s run back to Mona’s arms. He shows up just in time to find Mona diving between Jo’s luscious thighs as Jo is writhing in unbridled passion. No wonder Jo doesn’t give it up for him, he figures. She’s a perverted dyke! In a rage, he beats up Mona and leaves Jo cowering on the floor. Then he and Tito head out into the night to gun down some cheating dealers.

Well, you know how these things go. Koslo’s preoccupation with Jo ends up messing everything up between him and his employers. A hit goes sloppy, a teenage girl is kidnapped, Tito ends up being a perverted psycho, a dealer flips and the police get tipped off to the entire drug operation. In the end, there is nothing left for Marty Koslo to do but go into hiding. But first, he’s gotta win Jo Wilder back!

 

It’s all a hot mess for Marty Koslo. Jo Wilder is one of those chicks who only live in novels like this. There are a lot of eye-rolling moments for the reader as Marty trips over his dick again and again. Lessons for the rest of us tough guys to be learned for sure; the first one being don’t get involved with bad girls who tell you how good they are. Actually that’s a terrible lesson. Where’s the fun in that?


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Dreadful Lemon Sky - John D. MacDonald


“McGee, we’re talking about image here. We’re building an image people are going to trust. You ought to hear that boy give a speech. Make you tingle all over. What I wouldn’t want to happen, I wouldn’t want anybody to come here, some stranger, and try to make a big fuss based entirely on the word of some dead thieving slut.”

“You wouldn’t?”

“Especially when it would be bad timing for Frederick in his career. A man shouldn’t lose his whole future on account of one foolish act. It wouldn’t be fair, would it?”

Fawcett Gold Medal Books 1974


From a novel published in 1974 the above exchange sounds very modern, particularly in a country of wealth and political expedience. I thought The Dreadful Lemon Sky by John D. MacDonald was the last novel in the Travis McGee series that I had not read, but I was mistaken. I probably read it more than 30 years ago, because some of the scenes came back to me again. As for the plot itself, I had mostly forgotten it. So coming back to this novel was almost like reading it for the first time, with just snatches of déjà vu along the way.

It begins like many Travis McGee novels do; a woman, in this case Carrie Milligan, comes back into McGee’s life after several years bringing trouble with her. Carrie is carrying a bag full of money, over $90,000, and she wants McGee to keep it safe for her, no questions. If she doesn’t come back for it in a month’s time, he’s to make sure her sister Suzie Dobrovsky gets it, minus $10k for his fee. McGee agrees to the deal, somewhat reluctantly. Carrie was a friend of his, and his natural instinct is to “rescue” her from whatever it is she’s running from. But Carrie keeps her silence and leaves in the night, leaving the money with McGee.

Well you don’t have to read many books like this to know that Carrie is not going to be coming back for the money. Instead she’s going to wind up dead in a suspicious accident, leaving McGee 90 thousand reasons to find just who was behind Carrie’s fatal “accident” and just where the money came from.

So McGee and his pal Meyer (that’s the entire name you get for his pal in these novels) take the houseboat to Bayside Florida, where Carrie had resided before being killed. They’re not docked at the marina half an hour when they get pulled into the family drama between Cal and Cindy Birdsong, the owners of the marina. Cal is a raging drunk who accuses Cindy of “peddling her ass” to McGee as he checks in to the marina. A fight ensues and Cal is taken away by the police while Cindy recovers from more bruises. A worker, Jason Breen, tells McGee that Cal Birdsong wasn’t always a drunken bully, but that something in recent months changed him. McGee and Meyer go to Carrie’s last employer and meet Joanne, a friend of Carrie’s. They learn that Consolidated Construction Company, where  she did the bookkeeping, is going belly-up.  Owners Harry Hascomb and Jack Omaha had a falling out and Jack Omaha has disappeared. Further backtracking into Jack Omaha’s background leads McGee to local attorney Fred Van Harn. Fred Van Harn is one of those sleazy types who affects long sideburns and fancy watches and a sleazy talent for banging young girls and wives of prominent businessmen. McGee also learns from Joanna that he’s got a kinky twist and likes to hurt women. As McGee pulls the varied characters together he discovers they’re all linked to an amateur get-rich-quick scheme dealing smuggled marijuana to a local singles apartment complex where Carrie lived. A place McGee and Meyer refer to as “Swinglesville.” Unfortunately, as with most schemes, this one runs off the rails, and someone is eliminating the party-goers.

I mentioned that this novel was published in 1974 and it shows its decade in all its sleazy glory. Jesus beards, sideburns, grass, swingers, rock music, it’s all here. You can almost smell incense and pot when you open its pages. In fact, a couple of mood rings fell out of my book. It reeks of 70s fashion, manners and lingo. The McGee books are snapshots of the times they were written. Unfortunately, that eye for detail and ear for dialogue can seem hopelessly dated for a lot of modern readers. But, this book is a terrific look at what MacDonald saw taking place around him in Florida in 1974. He uses McGee and Meyer to dissect the scene for the rest of us squares. McGee is an anachronism, a guy out of place in these modern times. I understand the gripes against these novels, but I forgive them of all that. McGee sometimes comes across more than a bit judgmental and square.  And I don’t care, because the stories, man…the stories!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Time of the Great Freeze - Robert Silverberg

Jim hoisted himself over the rim of the tunnel mouth, stepped into the new world, and fought back a surge of panic as he saw the magnitude of it all. Even at night, even by moonlight, it was possible to see how the flat ice-sheet spread out to the horizon. It was a numbing, breathtaking sight for anyone who had spent his whole life in tunnels hardly higher than his head. 

ACE Books, August 1980

I read this book while the temperatures outside were pushing the 110 degree mark. The acceptance of global warming, or at least, climate change has most of us wondering what happens to a planet that heats up. This book, written in 1963, takes a look at the flip-side of that theory and sees the world under another ice-age.

I picked this up a couple years ago along with several other science fiction novels by Silverberg. I've come late to the game in appreciating Robert Silverberg's science fiction novels. I don't know how I didn't read his books when I was in my teens and enjoying Asimov and Clarke and others. This book would have been a favorite had I read it as a kid. It was written for the "juvenile" market at the time of its publication, in the days before "young adult" shelves filled bookstores, but I think it's enjoyable at any age. It's a pure adventure story and with nice dollops of science and sociology along the way.

It's a simple plot, the best kind it seems, about a young man named Jim Barnes who, along with a team of explorers lead by his father Dr. Raymond Barnes leave New York to reach London during what they believe is the beginning of a long thaw after a several hundred-years-long ice age. The year is 2650 and New York is now completely underground, beneath miles of ice. After a few hundred years it has become completely isolated, existing on an inertia that its leaders have no desire to see interrupted. After making radio contact with London, Dr. Barnes and his associates believe that the time has come for the nations to communicate with each other once again. Unfortunately, he and his team are arrested and tried for conspiracy for their troubles. The City Council, a group of old men holding on to their power (sound familiar?) decide that, instead of giving Barnes and his team any publicity for their theories, they be sentenced to exile. This leaves our friends no choice but to try and make it across the ice to London, alone.

It's an arduous trek, to say the least, and not everyone will make it through alive. For a "young adult" novel of the time, it's surprisingly brutal and violent in places. I don't think I ever remember anyone dying in a Tom Swift or Hardy Boys book. That's not the case here. Death can strike at any moment as our friends travel in the harsh elements, encountering nomadic tribes and deadly beasts along the way. And to make their plight even more grim, their point of contact in London seems less than enthusiastic that our team of Americans complete their journey.

I thought this was a terrific book for what it is, a pure adventure/science fiction story. It's probably a touch old fashioned however, in that this is definitely a "no chicks allowed" kind of party. But for a couple of hours reading in the dog days of summer, it did nicely.


Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Mountain Valley War - Louis L'Amour

The killing of a strong man only leaves a place for another strong man, so it is an exercise in futility. There is no man so great but that another waits in the wings to fill his shoes, so the attention caused by such acts is never favorable. Yet, such men as Cub Hale did not care. They wished to kill and destroy because it enhanced their own image in their own mind. Cub had grown up in his father's image, but with additional touches. He did not consider the law as applying to him, but only to those vague "others."

Bantam Books - February 1981


The Mountain Valley War by Louis L'Amour is the 2nd of 5 novels to feature Kilkenny. It was first published in 1978. I had no idea this book is part of a series and it really doesn't matter. It can be read as a standalone without having read the first Kilkenny book, The Rider of Lost Creek.

A group of settlers have laid claim to land in the Idaho hills. Unfortunately, in the nearby town of Cedar Bluff resides one King Bill Hale. Hale is one of those ruthless, greedy bastards who has gone through life having his own way. He owns the town and the law and now has his sights set on the acres staked outside Cedar Bluff. His son, Cub Hale, is a psychopath who gets his kicks killing anyone who slights him. That he's not in prison is evidence of King Bill Hale's influence. Nita Reardon runs the gambling hall and saloon. She and Kilkenny have a backstory that's not elaborated on in this novel. It's obvious that she's in love with Kilkenny and has followed him to this territory. Lance Kilkenny is the "loner" gunman, wishing only to live in solitude and peace. He has no taste for killing and has hung up his guns for the peaceful life of a rancher. These characters are all western archetypes and the basic plot of the novel has been told thousands of times. L'Amour's strength is the way he can describe action and settings, and this book has plenty of both. From a hidden valley to a fistfight. There are a number of shootouts and a brutal prize-fight at the town fair, described in great detail.

A few years ago I got a stack of Louis L'Amour westerns from a pile of books left at the office. No one else seemed interested in them, so it was up to me to take them home. I've read maybe a dozen L'Amour novels and find them all enjoyable for what they are, old-fashioned stories of good guys and bad guys in the old west. This one differs a bit from the others I've read in that this time around L'Amour has chosen to pad his story with a lot, and I do mean a lot, of exposition. We know who the bad guys are not because of the bad things they do, but because L'Amour tells us, repeatedly, they're bad guys. Same with the good guys, all described as good and honest and hard working men who built the west with their good and honest hard work. L'Amour has also salted the plot with a lot history lessons, often to the point of slowing the momentum. You just want to see the bad guys eat lead without all the by-the-way historical detail. It's strange because I don't recall any other L'Amour novels I've read with so much authorial intrusion. Usually his stories are lean, and mean, trimmed of unnecessary filler.

Still, I enjoyed the book and looked forward to the final showdown, even if I already knew how everything would turn out.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Horror Double Feature - The Sentinel and Sleep Tight

Ballantine Books, 1977


Oh boy, old fashioned horror stuff going on here! First off in this post is a “classic” I guess you could say. It’s The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz, published in 1974. I give a lot of leeway to 1970's horror novels. Generally they're not going to have the pace of modern novels. Even the saturation of 80's horror paperbacks that hit the bookstores make these older novels seem like silent movies in comparison. Still, I love the "good" old stuff. It had a style and creepy manner (when done right) and, if you give them the patience they sometimes deserve, they're a lot of fun to read. This novel has some good things going for it. It's got a nice New York setting that you'll recognize from movies filmed at the time. I never lived in New York so my impression is only what I grew up seeing of it on TV and movies. No, I'm sure it was a long way from the real thing, but that was all I had to go on. It still is. You get a taste of 1970's manners and culture of that period. It's also a well written example of commercial fiction of the day. The problem I had with it is that the main character, Allison Parker, doesn't present much for the reader to relate to. If you met her at a cocktail party you'd probably remember a pretty, but somewhat vapid, young woman and forget about her soon afterward. Allison has just moved into a brownstone flat that she seems fated to have rented. This, of course means trouble in horror novels. Her boyfriend, Michael Farmer, is a lawyer, of course, and a first class arrogant jerk. You might ask yourself, why is Allison going with such an obvious jerk, then you read on and determine that they probably deserve each other. He's always riding her about being "frigid" and insisting that she come clean about something in her past. I have to say I'm not especially clear on Michael's motives in that regard. He should be satisfied with having a hot, and not particularly bright, model to bang. Instead he's pushy and demanding while giving Allison nothing in return. About halfway into the novel there is a shift in plot that brings in a jaded and obsessive New York police detective named Gatz. Gatz has a hatred for Michael Farmer, and is convinced that Farmer is guilty of the death of Farmer's first wife. Then you learn that Allison was seeing Micheal Farmer while he was still married to his now deceased wife. What the hell? Why should I root for this person? Why should I care? And you read it for the horror stuff you've been promised on the blurb. This includes an eccentric but kindly enough neighbor of Allison's living with his black cat and birds. There is also a pair of Euro-chic lesbians living on her floor. And a pair of grotesque sisters living below her. It's all very bizarre and creepy and builds to a climax that won't surprise you today. I would recommend the book to fans of 70's horror novels. Or you could just see the movie if it ever shows up on Underground Classics on TCM.

Zebra Books, 1987


Sleep Tight by Matthew Costello is an entertaining 80's horror from Zebra books. I really did buy this just for the cover. The story inside is chock full of suburban families with their teenage kids getting mixed up in a cosmic horror gig. This book is from a time when publishers like Zebra couldn't print the stuff fast enough. Hence, there are a lot of really bad novels from this period. Still, even some of the bad ones had a completely inappropriate and gory charm to them that, I think, got lost in the 90's and 2000's. There is a Stephen King element to Sleep Tight (just an element mind you) in that white suburban domestic angst is explored along with the scary stuff. I can relate to it on that level and I don't mind its inclusion in plots, but one of my pet peeves in novels, particularly many horror novels, is when a nightmare is described in detail. Nightmares are nightmares, and everyone gets them. To me, a nightmare is page filler. Thankfully, that's not too overdone here, but still enough for me to skip some pages along the way. There are several creepy kidnapping scenes that kick off the novel, and an ex-con punker named Eddie whom you think is going to play the heavy in addition to all the boogyman stuff. But alas...Eddie doesn't last long. There is a "tall man" that haunts the town and sets off a lot of the terror in the book. There is a huge homage to Phantasm going on with this story but a lot of "the tall man" plot goes unexplained or dropped for cutaway scares. I think what I liked more than the horror shenanigans is a look at the period in the 80's in which the story takes place. Music references like "We Built This City on Rock and Roll" and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Yes, "We Built This City" is the worst song ever produced by a band who completely sold out, but I did get an urge to play my Frankie Goes to Hollywood record again. Even Huey Lewis and the News got a shout out. This book is practically an 80's pop culture check list. Star Wars bedsheets, Cherry Coke and all that rot. And teenagers actually had to call each other up or hunt each other down old-school style. I don't remember any scenes of smoking in the school restrooms though, like they did when I was in high school in the late 70's. Different time. Fun novel. Like sticky candy, not exactly nutritious, but still fun to indulge in as the nights cool off.