Monday, May 27, 2013

Some Good-Old Noir - Web of Murder

"You'll never be so lonely as on a highway driving with a corpse in the back seat." - Harry Whittington in Web of Murder

Black Lizard Books, 1987

Harry Whittington, along with Gil Brewer, is one of my top favorite original paperback writers from fifties and sixties, and Web of Murder is a good example why. Out of the dozen-plus novels I've read by Whittington it's one of the best. It's a simple story of lust and murder, told hundreds of times over the centuries that, from Whittington's typewriter is a tight, taut little masterpiece of noir.

Charley is a lawyer with a semi-successful practice and big plans for himself, beginning with a seat on the bench. He's married to Cora, a stay-at-home wife who has just inherited $500,000 from her father's estate. Unfortunately, Charley is no longer interested in marriage with Cora. He's got his mind on his smoldering secretary, Laura. Laura has lit a torch in Charley that he'd almost forgotten he had after years married to Cora. Only trouble is, Cora refuses to give Charley a divorce. She's made up her mind that she's keeping him. Charley wants Laura and that $500,000 under Cora's throne. How to get rid of Cora and keep the money without the police and the insurance companies sniffing after him and Laura is going to be a problem. But Charley's a smart guy. He's no chump. He's seen plenty of fools try to get away with murder only to get snarled up in their own carelessness. No, Charley's got to be smart, Charley's got to be careful. If he's going to get away with it, he's got to plan everything out, just right, and then he'll have the money, the girl, and everything else with it.

Of course we all know in stories like this, that things aren't going to play out for Charley like he'd hoped. For one thing, there's Victoria, a wealthy socialite who, through Charley's help, shucked her ex-husband while earning herself a nice payoff in the process. Now Victoria would like to have Charley warming her bed for longer than just a weekend. There's also Frank Vanness, a dogged cop who insists that no one gets away with murder as long as he's on the case. And Laura, who says she loves Charley, but is beginning to have second thoughts on this whole murder thing, unless Charley hurries up with it. And finally there is Lou Recsetti, a slimy character who keeps popping up where ever Laura goes, like a bad thought.

The plot spins and the web tightens, things fall apart and violence erupts. You know, just another week in suburbia.

This novel was originally published in 1958 by Gold Medal, but it's been reprinted several times since. If you like this kind of thing, then I would make it a point to find a copy. Unlike Charley, you won't regret it.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Slaughter - "Don't hand him no jive!"

Slaughter from 1972, directed by Jack Starrett and starring Jim Brown, Stella Stevens and Rip Torn is one of those classic 1970s action movies that you don't see a lot of any more unless you deliberately seek them out. Maybe there should be a cable channel that shows nothing but classic action genre flicks from the decade...

Anyway, Jim Brown plays Slaughter, an ex-Green Beret who returns home to find who is behind the car-bombing death of his parents and kill their ass. His father was reputed to have shady ties, and it doesn't take long for Slaughter to discover that local mobsters were behind the hit. While questioning a lady friend of his dad's, an attempt is made on Slaughter's life. The lady is gunned down but is able to give Slaughter a name before dying. Slaughter reacts quickly enough to dispatch  one of the goons, and promptly gets arrested for murder afterward. Instead of facing punishment, Slaughter accepts a deal by the agent in charge of investigating the local mafia, in return for leading them to the big hood in charge. It's one of those scenes you have to just go with and accept. Slaughter heads to Mexico where he meets his partner on the case, a quirky dude named Harry. They're looking for a criminal big shot named Mario. Slaughter meets up with a moll named Ann, played by a hot Stella Stevens, and the two of them immediately fall for each other's excessive charms. Meanwhile, a psycho named Dominick, played by Rip Torn, is making his play to take over the criminal real estate run by Mario. Mario comes off as something of a ponce more than a bad-ass, and is gunned down by Dominick and his goons while practicing on his tennis game. Slaughter goes through bad guys, gets chased through alleyways by cars, gets in knife fights on rooftops, guns down hoods in the street, shoots up a casino and beds the hot Ann in his free time, culminating in an explosive showdown with the psycho wild-haired Dominick.

I liked this movie a lot, and enjoyed Jim Brown's performance as Slaughter. He carries the role in a charismatic style that will easily have audiences rooting for him. The man's got swagger to the nth degree in this flick and is one bad-ass Motherf***er to boot! The plot has holes, but there's plenty of sex and action to overlook them, not to mention tons of terrific dialog. Rip Torn is a bad guy that you can't wait to see get his ass handed to him. Stella Stevens was in a number of movies from this time and basically played the same role in each one, but is enjoyable to watch.

The film was successful enough to lead to a sequel, Slaughter's Big Rip-Off, which I'll have to catch.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Nick Carter - Hood of Death

Hood of Death is the 34th novel in the Killmaster series. The novels eventually totaled over 250 in number, so this one is early in Nick Carter's adventures with AXE, the top secret government agency he reports to.

I've read a few Nick Carter novels over the years and don't remember any as not being fast, entertaining reads. I thought this one would pretty much be the same going, especially judging by the crazy cover.

Award Books, 1968
This adventure was penned by William L. Rhodes and had an intriguing enough premise, but unfortunately kind of went nowhere. Maybe I was too detached, but for nearly half the novel I wasn't even sure what Carter's assignment was, and I wasn't the only one. Even Nick Carter bitched about how bored he was. You know you have a problem when the hero is complaining about being bored.

To sum it up, several Washington D.C. big shots, players in the world of politics and influence, have turned up dead, seemingly of natural causes. First thought might be, who the hell cares. But it's Nick's job is to find out what's going on, and if there is a more sinister reason afoot than just a couple old farts getting the terminal vapors in the sack. He does this by impersonating a swinger named Jerry Deming, a representative for a west coast oil company. His job is to hang around the swanky parties in Washington D.C. and see if anything interesting is going on, and, specifically, who might have wanted the recently deceased big shots permanently ejected from the parties. The one thing each had in common was that they'd been recently linked to a close circle of Asian beauties, assumed to be high rent call girls.

Of course it's just the job for a stud like Nick Carter, and he wastes barely any time getting one of the girls, Ruth Moto, to fall out of her clothes for his charms as Jerry Demming, oil man with a sketchy background and a salary of 16K per year. We get some entertaining sex scenes in this novel as Jerry Demming carouses his way through the party scene, hooking up with each of the Asian beauties in question. Occasionally there is a half-assed attempt on his life in the process, and the usual ass-kicking that follows, but the plot doesn't seem to know where it wants to go. Eventually he hooks up with the stunning Jeanyee Ahling, who is so sexy that Nick wonders if he might actually be falling for her. Trouble is, she could be a deadly assassin. Still, damn she's hot, and a fella can't ask for too much of a good thing, right?

I think the biggest problem is that there wasn't a major bad guy behind the assassination plots, nor is there really any purpose for using hot sexed up babes to lure the victims to their death, other than providing numerous passages showing us what a stud Carter is...which in the end is the point I guess. These aren't exactly novels that are going to give you a lot to sink your teeth into.

All in all it was fairly well written, in spite of the poor plotting. Both the sex and the violence is vividly rendered. I've read worse books by supposedly more "talented" writers with better promotion behind them then William L. Rhodes. So, I guess for the buck it cost me, it wasn't too bad. And I still like the cover.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Saturday Night Rock - Johnny Cash by The Mission Creeps

Very cool song by The Mission Creeps called "Johnny Cash off their newest CD Midnight Blood. I know they're coming to Phoenix in June for an appearance at the Retro Ranch Party, details of which are on their website you can visit through the attached link. I'm hoping to check them out. I think it will be a good time.

Empire of the Atom - A. E. van Vogt

I absolutely love old-school pulp Sci-Fi. Sometimes cynical, sometimes optimistic, frequently trite and juvenile; it almost always had a sense of wonder that was contagious. For me, that mostly went missing somewhere back in the sci-fi books of the 70s and later. Probably around the time the sci-fi section in Walden's got invaded by elves, dragons and wizards. I’m sure there are lots of great science fiction novels from the 70s that I’m completely unaware of, just like a lot of things under many subjects. But I do remember that the pickings in Walden’s and B. Daltons were pretty lame at the time. Lots of elves and swords, like I said, and I pretty much hated that stuff outside of Tolkien, and even then I wasn’t completely jazzed over it. So, it was mostly from the library that my adolescent taste in Science Fiction commenced.
My first introduction to A. E. van Vogt was in the old paperback collection by Asimov and Greenberg called The Great SF Stories 1 (1939) which contained "Black Destroyer" from July 1939 Astounding. It’s been years since I read “Black Destroyer” but it’s a terrific story that is no doubt the inspiration for movies like It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Alien. I know that it was re-written for the first part of the novel Voyage of the Space Beagle. I've got a tattered paperback of that novel hiding in my bookshelves somewhere, with its cover of an astronaut that looks strikingly like Major Matt Mason, if any of you remember him. I've yet to read Space Beagle, though I've started it a number of times. One of these days, right?
Cover by Malcolm Smith, Shasta Publishers 1957 

Anyway, back to A.E. van Vogt. I once read in an essay by Isaac Asimov that van Vogt "lost" many productive writing years to promoting Dianetics in California. Perhaps Asimov was referring to this period in which Empire of the Atom was produced. Pieced together from a series of stories published in the late 40s and early 50s this novel comes across as somewhat clumsy and stiff. Narrative summary often substitutes for the vim and vigor that A. E. van Vogt built his rep on. 

Empire of the Atom is the loose biography of the mutant Clane, and his rise within the Linn Dynasty somewhere around 14,000 AD. This is long after an atomic war decimated the earth's population. You’d think this seems like the right ingredients for a pretty high adventure sort of read. Instead this novel is surprisingly removed and dull. It was, all-in-all, sort of a let-down. 

Still, it wasn't a total waste of time. Here and there were still a few sparks of the old pulp magic that fans like me live for in these old stories. There is, for example, a pretty cool scene when Clane descends into an ancient atomic pit on the surface of Venus. Why exactly he was in Venus, well…I’m not sure. My memory is lost, dazed or confused about some of the plot points and I’m not sure that’s entirely my fault alone. Also there is another cool scene when frozen cadavers of an alien warrior race are discovered on the moons of Jupiter, but not a heck of a lot is made of them afterward. Still the novel had its moments that still make an old fan like me smile and turn the page to see what happens next.

There is a sequel to Empire called The Wizard of Linn. I picked it up the same time I got this book, knowing they were a set. I’m just not in much of a hurry to read it. Maybe it’s that word “wizard” in the title that’s preventing me…

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wednesday Night Rock - "Loose" by The Stooges

Iggy Pop is probably one of the coolest rockers around and The Stooges deserve all the praise they get, even if it is late. This is my favorite song off The Stooges second album Fun House. There is no way you can listen to "Loose" and not feel that power kicking right to the groin. I hear songs like this and want to smoke cigarettes, drink whisky and grab that dirty girl who likes to throw that up-from-under look at you by the keg. Released in 1970 Fun House was written and performed by Iggy Pop, Dave Alexander, Ron Asheton and Scott Asheton. Steven Mackay joined the band playing saxophones on two of the songs. The Fun House album gives you The Stooges at their best, when Rock was dangerous and dirty.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Cult of the White Ape - Weird Tales Feb 1933

I'm a huge fan of classic old pulp stories. My favorites are horror and science fiction. There was a lot of not so great stuff that one finds, but then there is the really good stuff that makes up for it. Today I thought I would put a small spotlight on a yarn from Weird Tales. "Cult of the White Ape" (love that title!) was first published way back in February of 1933. The cover illustration here was done by J. Allen St. John and depicts a scene from the serialized novel "Buccaneers of Venus" by Otis Adelbert Kline.

Feb 1933 - Cover by J. Allen St. John
"Cult of the White Ape" by Hugh B. Cave is a jungle horror story, full of ancient curses, African lore, cannibals, shape-shifters and one nasty bastard of a villain who meets his fate one moonlit night at the Tower of the Bakenzenzi. Our villain, Matthew Betts, arrives in Africa on behalf of a rubber company. He meets with the story's narrator, Lyle Varicks, the chef de poste of the small village in the Congo. Betts immediately makes a horrible first impression by brutally kicking the local "witch doctor" of the village. He also beats his servants mercilessly, and acts like a general dickhead to everyone and everything. Lyle repeatedly warns Betts of his evil ways, but Betts, being the typical outsider coming to rape the scenery for his own personal gain, pays no attention. Soon Betts is haunted by invisible spirits, and claims to see white shadows lurking in the bush. It isn't long before his anger and ferocious nature brings him, his wife and Varicks face to face with The Cult of White Ape!

Other stories in this issue are, "The Cats of Ulthar" by H. P. Lovecraft, "Mandrake" by Clarke Ashton Smith,  "The Fire Vampires" by Donald Wandrei, "The Vanishing of Simmons" by August Derleth, "The Cripple" by Maurice Level, "The Head of Wu-fang" by Don C. Wiley, "The Chadbourne Episode" by Henry S. Whitehead, and part 4 of "Buccaneers of Venus".

Unfortunately, I don't own the issue, but I've read some of the stories in various anthologies over the years. I have a couple collections by Cave, Smith, Wandrei and Lovecraft, which is how I'm familiar with Cave's story. Sounds like a good time for the reader of 1933.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Love Letters - Ketty Lester

Here's a very nice, sort of sexy and haunting song I've always liked. It was written way back in 1945 by Victor Young and Edward Heyman. Since then it's been recorded by a couple dozen artists, including its most recent incarnation by Dex Romweber and Cat Power. I really like the Dex Romweber version, but I'm linking to the version I love, which is also probably best known, by Ketty Lester. Ketty Lester had a hit with "Love Letters" in 1962, kind of an important year for me. I also think it's a great performance by Ketty Lester. It's one of those songs I think of as "midnight song" that's best heard in the dark, alone.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Lancelot Link Secret Chimp

There seems to be a collective amnesia with people my age when it comes to this Saturday morning TV show. Maybe it’s because it had a short life on television. It went on the air in 1970 and only lasted to 1971.

Lancelot Link was a secret agent for A.P.E. (Agency to Prevent Evil) whose arch nemesis was Baron von Butcher and his chauffer, Creto who were agents for C.H.U.M.P. There were also various other villains who regularly popped up to create chaos for our heroes. Lancelot Link’s female partner was Mata Hairi, who may have been as a much a master of disguise as Lancelot.

In addition to his duties as a secret agent, Lancelot Link was also in the rock band The Evolution Revolution. Real swingers, clearly. Mata Hairi played the tambourine as all girlfriends do who are allowed to be in the band.

There was also the host, Ed Simian, who would introduce the Evolution Revolution. Ed Simian would also typically end up spinning in a wild dervish before the camera cuts to the band’s performance, which used to crack me up. 

I think it’s odd that no one seems to remember this show now. There were the usual merchandized tie-ins, mainly children’s lunch boxes.

Maybe this post and the video will jog some memories…