Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dopefiend - Donald Goines

The white powder looked innocent lying there in the open, but this was the drug of the damned, the curse of mankind: heroin, what some call "smack," others "junk," "snow," "stuff," "poison," "horse." It had different names but the same effect. To all of its users-to all of the dopefiends in the Detroit ghetto-it was slow death. 

Holloway House Books, Reprinted in 2007, cover by Jeffrey

I've read some brutal books but not many come as close as this novel from 1971 does in taking the reader into the hell of addiction. It's basically a simple plot that follows a young couple, Terry and Teddy, as they fall into heroin addiction. Terry is a beautiful young woman from a middle-class family with a promising future. She works for a high end department store downtown, has high school behind her, her own set of wheels, and is preparing for college. Her boyfriend Teddy isn't a bad kid exactly, but has allowed himself to take the easier routes in life. It's through Teddy that they're first introduced to Porky, the local dealer. Porky lives in an apartment that is a second home to his customers, addicts, or as they're constantly referred to in the novel, dopefiends. Porky knows just what it takes to lure wide-eyed innocents like Teddy and Terry into his control. A free taste here, a hit on credit there, and soon enough, he's got them hooked. Especially Terry. Teddy is merely the means to get Terry under Porky's control. In the mix are various petty criminals, con artists, prostitutes and killers. Porky also likes to get his kicks watching his girls get freaky with his two dogs. And that's just for starters.

The novel focuses mostly on Terry as she first tries heroin to keep up with Teddy. She's not going to become an addict like the other wretches she's seen in Porky's pad. She's smarter than that. She's convinced that she can stop when she'll have to. But in the meantime, there is her paycheck to get the kicks, then merchandise from the department store she works at, then money from her parents, then a trick or two in the back of a car. And the junk-need is soon an all-consuming drive that she can no longer fight.

Teddy takes a more direct route into addiction. When Terry is no longer willing to steal for him, or give him money from her paycheck, there is shoplifting to carry him along. Then stealing appliances when that isn't enough. It's cool for a little while, until his two cutting buddies are gunned down after a botched robbery. From there it's a short stint at pimping, which fails when his girls are jacked by the cops. Life gets only more desperate and violent as his life spins out of control.

Donald Goines wrote his novels from direct experience. He lived the life of a junkie that started for him in the military after a middle-class upbringing. Influenced by Iceberg Slim (Pimp, Trick Baby, Mama Black Widow to name a few of his novels) Goines wrote Dopefiend in 1971, and went on to write over a dozen more novels after that. His novels focused on life in the ghetto, the life he reported on firsthand. His writing was his escape from a life of crime and addiction. A way of life that tragically ended for him when he was murdered in 1974 at the age of thirty-seven.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Insiders - Rosemary Rogers

I really had no idea what to expect when I opened the pages of The Insiders by Rosemary Rogers. I selected it purely because I saw it as a title on one of those book club advertising inserts that used to come in paperbacks back in the day. There was a little “Graphic Sexual Content” warning next to its title, and I figured that was the book for me. I figured, 1970s, written by a woman, lots of graphic sex and drugs…Sold!

Avon Books, January 1979

A little about Rosemary Rogers first. She’s probably best known for her romance novel, Sweet Savage Love, published in 1974, which apparently got lapped up by lots of teenage girls back in its day. It’s also known for kicking down the doors to the bedrooms of her heroines in somewhat more graphic and violent detail than most romance novels before it. Whatever the case, in 1974 I was reading Hardy Boys and Green Lantern comic books, so Love, both sweet and savage, flew way over my radar then.

Several years later, The Insiders is published. I would have been in high school when The Insiders hit the bookstores, but I don’t remember having heard of it then. Now, almost 35 years after its publication, I can only wonder exactly who the audience was then, and what kind of hidden twisted kicks were going on in their pretty little heads at the time.

I’ll go through this kind of quickly, so try to keep up. The novel’s heroine, Eve Mason, is a well known anchorwoman (or reporter, it’s not really clear which) in San Francisco and has recently broken up with her lawyer boyfriend David Zimmer. Eve spends most of her time pining away for David, wondering how she can win him back. While waiting for David’s affection to return, she spills her broken-hearted feelings out to her therapist, Peter Petrie. Peter’s therapy for Eve is a bit unusual, in that he has her record her feelings onto “sex tapes” after some screwing sessions in his bedroom. Yeah, it was the 70’s! When not screwing Peter and recording her sex tapes, Eve sleeps around with other men, but none of them mean anything, they’re just filling space in her life until David comes back. Eve’s roommate, Marti Meredith, is a model who has her own love-life problems. Marti is feeling a distinct polar chill from her current girlfriend, Stella Gervin. Stella isn't really sure she wants to be a lesbian, and is in no way as comfortable or open with her sexuality as Marti is. Stella also happens to be David’s secretary. David has recently introduced Stella to a rich old fart named George Coxe, who is looking for companionship between the legs of a beautiful (albeit confused) young ingĂ©nue like Stella. David assures Stella that she can have a relationship with a man, and proves it by giving Stella a right good rogering in the sack. David Zimmer sort of misses Eve while fucking other chicks, but he’s convinced she’s just a lying slut just like every other woman he’s known and bedded. He believes this because a co-worker of his, Gloria Reardon tricked Eve into banging another guy at a weekend house party. David caught Eve in the act, and retaliated by screwing Gloria Reardon. Gloria is British and has something of a sketchy background in the European sex trade, and takes delight in messing with David’s head. David takes out his anger on Gloria by screwing her up the ass. There is a LOT of ass-screwing in this novel!

David Zimmer has a 17 year old sister named Francie who is a whole bundle of hot mess; with major psychological hang-ups involving drugs and S&M. Francie makes the acquaintance of millionaire playboy Brant Newcomb. Brant is as handsome as he is cruel, and wastes no time in beating, raping and humiliating Francie for his own kicks. He quickly learns that Francie is one of those messed up birds that will always come back for more, and so decides to share her with various hangers-on in his circle. David learns that Francie has fallen into Brant’s evil games and immediately runs to Eve and begs her to go bring Francie back home. The reason he won’t get Francie himself is that the scandal of her association with Brant can hurt his career with his legal firm. Dave is one of those waffly dickheads that you’d like to see get their ass kicked as often as possible by people who know how. Eve, lovesick for David as ever, agrees to attend a party of Brant’s and return with Francie. That night, Eve arrives at Brant’s party and watches in horror as Francie gets auctioned off to the highest bidder out of a bunch of wealthy perverts. When Eve threatens to call the police, she’s surrounded, stripped, beaten, drugged and gang-raped by Brant and his buddies. Just for extra kicks, someone films the whole thing. The next morning, Brant takes Eve back to her apartment, where David is waiting for her. Dave, ever the thoughtful jackass that he is, immediately calls Eve a slut, a whore and a lying c-word. He calls Eve this often, ever endearing himself to her more and more. In fact, as Eve was getting gang-raped and penetrated in every orifice, her only concern was what Dave would think. Eve is an idiot, but you’ll have to hang with her for the whole novel to really appreciate what a complete and utter moron she is.

So, where was I…oh yes, Dave leaves Eve and runs off back to screwing Gloria in the ass. Eve cries and instead of calling the police, decides that she’s not sure if Dave is the right guy for her after all. While she’s in a quandary over Dave, Brant begins calling Eve and inviting her to come see him again. She’s really angry at Brant for the gang-rape and all, so she’s not sure she wants to ever see him again, except perhaps to slap him. Then Eve gets a job offer to co-host a morning show in New York. Off she goes to New York where she spends the next week co-hosting a national morning show with a cat named Randall Thomas. Randall, (oh…let’s just call him Randy, okay?) decides that in order to see if Eve is really right for the co-hosting gig he’s got to have sex with her. Eve doesn't have a problem with this and complies. To her astonishment, Randy gives her a good banging up the ass after an astounding session of foreplay. Eve then catches a morning plane back to San Francisco to prepare for her move to New York. On the flight back to California, Eve is astonished to find out that the person sharing the seat next to her in 1st class is none other than Brant Newcomb. Brant has been having sort of an identity crises of late. Turns out that beating and raping women has lost its thrill and he’d like to settle down and get married. Eve, he’s decided, is just the kind of strong-willed woman that he’d like to have for his wife. Eve, isn't sure she believes him, and really who can blame her…but she agrees to spend the weekend with him anyway. The only reason she does go off with Brant is because David had the audacity to show up at the airport to meet her with another young girlfriend in tow. Damn him, anyway!!!

Ah, man…I could go on. Does Eve accept Brant’s offer of marriage? Does David come back to her life? Does Francie grow up? Does Marti find love in the soft-core porn industry?  My friends, the answer to these and other burning questions can only be found in the pages of this “searing and tender story of uninhibited love!”

Now that I’m done with it, I’m looking to go back to some good old fashion man-shit in my books, with lots of killing and things blowing up and stuff. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"Subourbon" Hell

"No, now things are colder and more cruel and more vicious. There isn't any unity. I mean people aren't living and hoping for the same things. Now it's all keyed to one idea. I've got to get mine before the roof falls in. People want sensation. They want money only because then they can buy more expensive sensations. I guess we're upper-middle-class."  

While I like all the Travis McGee novels, I’m an even bigger fan of MacDonald’s earlier novels from the 50s. Most of them are crime novels, but there are a few science fiction and otherwise thrown in. Clemmie is more a novel of manners than crime or noir. It’s a look at suburban life in the late 1950s, complete with backyard barbecues, cocktail parties, fights, secretaries, suicides, alcohol, husbands, wives, jobs, suburban malaise and adultery.

Fawcett Gold Medal
Our hero, Craig Fitz, is a 39 year old married father of two. He’s got a job at a local plant where he oversees the factory production of a variety of products. His wife, Maura, has taken their two daughters for a summer trip to visit Maura’s parents in England. Craig is left home alone with the long stretch of a dull hot summer ahead of him. Craig tried to pass the time by visiting friends and neighbors, by knuckling down on his job, doing things around the house, but things just aren't clicking for him. He’s got that middle-aged angst that haunts him in the quiet night after a few too many highballs alone. He’s bored, discontented and horny. His job is uninspiring and he has a new boss with a reputation of sweeping the staff out to cut costs. One night, Craig accepts an offer from another coworker to go out for a night of bachelor shenanigans. Before the night is through, Craig’s buddy is arrested for D and D and hauled off to the slammer, leaving Craig alone in a dark neighborhood lit by neon and whisky. While walking home, Craig passes a gin-joint and hears a fight taking place in the parking lot. One shadow is beating the hell out of another, accompanied by a girl screaming for them to stop. Half drunk, and half cocked, Craig plays the hero and breaks up the fight. The girl at the center of the fight is Clemmie. 

Clemmie is one of those dangerous girls that draw men like moths to a flame. One of those sexual vampires that can take a jerk and juice him dry and cast him aside, leaving him a ruined shell of his former glory. And Clemmie has a new guy in Craig to latch onto. One of those straight, righteous, dependable, earnest fellows that would make Daddy proud. With barely a twitch of her ass, she’s got Craig by the balls, leading him home to her warehouse apartment by the river. Ever the gentlemen, Craig tells Clemmie that he’s married. As if Clemmie gives a hot damn! After a night of wild, mindblowng sex, Clemmie makes Craig an offer the next morning.

“I think you’re good for me. I think I’m good for you. So while your Maura is in England, I offer you a summer affair. I’ll play it your way. No tricks or sly gimmicks. I shall be your available Clemmie, your summer love, and when it’s time for it to be over, we’ll shake hands, shed one tear and part forever. Will that suit your lordship?”

Right! If only it were so easy. You know, I know, Clemmie knows, and Craig knows that this is a bad deal. But Craig’s just been drained of his summertime blahs by this hot bitch in heels and there is no way he’s going to do the right thing by Maura, and himself. And so the fun begins...

This could have gone a number of ways, but MacDonald plays it straight. He lets the characters work the plot out for themselves, which is something I've always liked about MacDonald’s novels. Yes, there are the editorial intrusions here and there, when characters make long speeches against the societal ills of the world that MacDonald is known for. Nothing happens that doesn't end in a seamy melodrama. Everything is tainted by sin in this novel. Sometime it’s too much. But the pull of the story is still right there as you watch Craig’s life go inexorably down that spiral of mid-life hell.   

Friday, January 10, 2014

Pipe Down! War Ain't for Sissies!

The Day After Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein is only the second novel I've read in full by the "Dean of Space-Age Fiction." Originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction in 1941 as "The Sixth Column" and loosely based on a story by Astounding's editor, John W. Campbell, it's a future novel of America after falling to an attack by an alliance between Japan and China.

Signet Books - paperback
I'm not exactly the biggest Heinlein fan around. I know he was hugely popular for many years and I remember seeing plenty of people with their noses in paperback editions of his novels, but I could never get into his stuff. One thing that always annoyed me was the dialog of his characters. To me they always came off sounding like the same person speaking, a sort of smart-alecky version of Heinlein himself. Maybe my mistake was trying to read the wrong stuff, like The Number of the Beast. Or maybe my taste wasn't sophisticated enough to get it, I don't know. It's not like I haven't given his work enough attempts. There have been the handful of short stories by Heinlein that I've liked, but mostly his stuff is a miss for me.

I picked up this novel because I liked the cover, simple as that. And it wasn't a novel that I immediately recognized by him. For the price, what the hell, if I didn't like it at least it will look nice with some of the other vintage sci-fi paperbacks I own.

I'm happy to say that I mostly enjoyed The Day After Tomorrow. I had some issues with it, but for a brisk pulp era science fiction novel I got a kick out of it. Basically, it's the story of 7 survivors after the fall of America to the PanAsians who've taken shelter underground in the mountains of Colorado. Together they plan a revolt against the rule of the evil empire of PanAsians by utilizing a gizmo that operates on what they refer to as The Ledbetter Effect. There is some explanation early on how the Ledbetter Effect works, but it all went right over my head. Essentially, it's not much different from Green Lantern's power ring. And like GL's power ring doesn't work on anything colored yellow, The Ledbetter Effect is designed to not work on anything white, meaning Caucasians. To expedite matters, they decide to create a religion by which they can communicate and recruit the surviving Americans, train them in using the Ledbetter Effect and overthrow the evil PanAsians. The plot gives room for Heinlein to comment on religion, war, politics and race. The problem is that the novel teeters on that uncomfortable edge of racism in doing so. Also, much of the action, (battles and massacres, etc) occur offstage. There is enough action to keep the pace moving quickly, but I like a little more "wetwork" in my war/spy novels. Also, there isn't a single female character of importance in the story. To me, that's something of a missed opportunity. Then again, maybe it's better that sexism was left out here.

So, if you appreciate golden age science fiction, then this might be one you'll enjoy, keeping in mind the time and place it was written.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday Morning Vinyl - Martin Denny - Exotic Percussion

I'm a big time sucker for vintage album cover art, and this cover is one of my favorites. The music inside is also irresistible.

Liberty Records, cover design Pete/Francis & Associates
The theme of this 1961 LP is a sort of East meets West vibe with the use of "exotic instruments" to play western melodies. The instruments in question include Burmese gongs, wood chimes, steel chimes, a three-stringed Japanese lute, a magna harp, wind chimes, a Hawaiian gourd, piccolo xylophones and bamboo percussion heads, and as always, the piano played by Martin Denny.

In addition to Martin Denny, the players are: August Colon, Julius Wechter, Harvey Ragsdale and Frank Kim.

As for the cover, I don't think this is Sandy Warner, who is on many of Denny's exotica LP's at the time. She looks a lot like her though.

This is great music to accompany that cocktail party featuring those sweet tasting drinks that sneak up on you about the third one in. Next thing you know you're the big kahuna swaying to the music and making a fool of yourself for the cute babe in the corner next to the black velvet painting. Or maybe she's got a special little dance of her own to lay on you instead...

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Last Waltz on Wild Horse - T.T. Flynn

I have to put out a thanks to James Reasoner for introducing me to the works of T.T. Flynn through his blog, Rough Edges. I've only recently (in the last two years) started reading more westerns, so I have a lot of writers yet to discover.

Dime Western, October 1, 1934
I recently found a collection of four T.T. Flynn stories from the pulps in the Leisure paperback, Last Waltz on Wild Horse, published by Dorchester Publishing in 2010. The collection includes "Showdown in Blood" (Dime Western, May 1948), "Spawn of the Gun Pack" (Western Story, April 1941), "Last of the Fighting O'Days" (pictured above) and "Last Waltz on Wild Horse" from Zane Grey's Western, February 1953.

I found each of these stories to be terrific entertainment. All of them feature the classic Western tropes with stories pitting brother against brother, family against family, bounty hunters, a sheriff reflecting on his final days, saloons, card cheats, outlaws, shootouts, bar fights and even a dosed bottle of hooch for added fun. Flynn's heroes are solid men of action and character, willing to sacrifice their livelihood and lives for justice and order. Fans of classic movie westerns may recognized Flynn's name as the author of The Man From Laramie starring James Stewart.

I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for other books by T.T. Flynn. With more than 100 stories to his credit in a variety of Western pulps, I have a lot more to look forward to.