Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Long Wait - Mickey Spillane

Wendy was a pretty little head, all right. A little on the hard side when you looked close and the make-up didn't take away the brittle lines that were etched in the corner of her mouth and eyes. She was a million bucks in a green dress under artificial lights and two million in bed. A dime a dozen in the daytime though. 

Signet Books 
Oh snap! That's a mean thing to say about Wendy! But that's how it goes for dames in Mickey Spillane's world. I'm trying to remember now if any of the dames in this novel were called Kitten. I don't think so. That's a name Mike Hammer uses for his babes. And as most of you probably know, Mike Hammer ain't in this hardboiled soap opera from 1951.

As plots go, this one features the old reliable amnesia gimmick for its fuel. Our hero, Johnny McBride returns to Lyncastle, a burg a couple connections from Chicago, to right some wrongs and clear his name. In order to accomplish this, he promises the reader that he's kill someone, break someone else's arms, and a third person will "get a beating that would leave the marks of the lash striped across the skin for all the years left to live." Oh and that last one is a woman. So yeah, Johnny McBride ain't fooling around!

So Johnny pulls into town by bus on the first page. Next thing he knows he's getting the bum's rush by a copper. But Johnny's planned ahead. His plans and a nice fat roll of dough get him into a swanky hotel. But it's not a day he's in town before he's hauled in by the cops for murder. This is after a couple of punches get thrown and someone gets kicked in the stomach and pukes and another gets a belt in the teeth and...well, after things settle down, the cops are dismayed to learn they can't hold Johnny for squat because he's got no fingerprints. That's right, he's got no fingerprints!

Did I mention this novel is one loopy ride? Didn't the amnesia hint give that away? Well trust me, it's a doozy, because Johnny McBride really isn't really Johnny McBride. He's really a guy named George Wilson, who was a pal of the real Johnny McBride after Johnny went on the lam for being accused of stealing $200 grand from the bank he worked at in Lyncastle. In addition to robbing the bank, he was also accused of gunning down District Attorney Bob Minnow. It seems McBride was believed to have killed Minnow because Minnow was going to arrest him for the bank theft. So after shooting DA Minnow, McBride hauls ass out of Lyncastle for parts unknown. But first he leaves the gun with his prints all over it at the murder scene. So, you'd think that is it for Johnny, only now, the cops can't hold him for murder because he doesn't have fingerprints anymore. So they have to settle for tailing him around Lyncastle as he tries to clear his own name.

Yeah, you kind of have to forgive a lot of stuff that makes no sense to enjoy this novel. Anyway, George Wilson, now assuming McBride's identity (because he's McBride's exact double and all) gets dope on a cat named Lenny Servo, who seems to deal all the cards from the stacked deck in Lyncastle. There's also a missing chick named Vera West, who was Johnny's girlfriend and coworker at the bank Johnny supposedly robbed. Johnny's after Vera because he's convinced that Vera had him set up for the bank job because afterward Vera hooked up with Lenny Servo. All this background stuff is revealed through a bunch of punching and teeth-kicking. And with people taking potshots at Johnny whenever suitable.

The novel is violent as hell and moves at a crazy pace. Johnny gets beaten up a lot and has a lot dames throwing themselves at him all the while. It's exactly what I would expect when I open a Mickey Spillane novel. You're going to be entertained and given your $1.95's worth. And you know you like this stuff anyway. Who wouldn't?





Saturday, July 8, 2017

Fadeout - Joseph Hansen

The wire mesh fence slumped as if the signs were too heavy for it. At one point it lay like a rusty circus net. It sprang like a circus net when he stepped across it. In the shadow of the Chute he found the place where Fox Olsen had died. Crude chalk outline on the planks....In the stinking dark forest of splintery posts under the pier lay pizza tins, beer cans, cigarette wrappers, condoms--the joyless detritus of American joy. 

Owl Book Edition 1980
I've heard good things about the Dave Brandstetter series for years and I own a couple of the early ones thanks to used book sales around the town. Some years ago I lent the whole set I had to a friend who was moving to Mexico. Since then I've got them all back and none the worse for wear. It's good to have friends who take care of books. Anyway, I finally read the first novel in the series by Joseph Hansen and am happy to tell you the good things I've heard were justified.

This isn't your standard California detective mystery, as the blurbs on my edition would have you believe. One even refers to Hansen as "a worthy successor" to Hammett. Well, Hansen and Hammett have names that begin with H, but that's about it for comparing the two as far as I'm concerned. This is a moodier, measured novel than Hammett's novels are. Dave Brandstetter is an insurance investigator, not a private eye, and is mourning the loss of a loved one as the novel begins. You don't get the feeling that Brandstetter is a "shoot first and ask questions later" type of guy.

The mystery concerns a missing person named Fox Olsen. It appears, to Brandstetter anyway, to be a staged car accident off a bridge in the rain instead of accidental death. Something just like the cover shows above. No body is found and before any life insurance is going to be doled out to the beneficiaries, Brandstetter has to verify that our missing and supposedly dead Fox Olsen isn't trying to pull a scam for the insurance money. Still, Olsen seemed happy enough, and successful enough in town with his popular radio show. So why take the fade-out?

The more Brandstetter probes the life of Fox Olsen the deeper things get. For one thing, Fox Olsen was a frustrated artist and writer. Add to that a marriage that harbored infidelity. To further complicate matters, an old friend of Olsen's returns after 20 years to rekindle a relationship the two had before Olsen joined the Air Force.

The novel was published in 1969, and I would imagine the gay themes, in addition to a gay detective protagonist were pretty controversial at the time. The mystery of the relationship doesn't take long for Brandstetter or the reader to figure out, especially to a modern reader.

I liked the novel and would recommend it to readers who enjoy the Lew Archer mysteries. Also for readers who don't mind a more poetic depiction of a time in California that you don't see in 60's news-reels. I have the next four novels in the series and am looking forward to reading them. I understand that the as the series progresses so does Brandstetter in age and maturity. I believe they're still in print and available in e-format. I also see that there is a single edition of all twelve Brandstetter novels available through third-party sellers, but the price is a bit steep for that one.