Thursday, December 25, 2014

Pattern for Panic - Richard S. Prather

In less than thirty seconds a cute little gal came in: mine. She was at most a couple of inches over five feet tall, which is a foot shorter than I am, but she had as many dangerous curves as the road to Acapulco. The curves were distributed on a foundation which couldn't quite be called plump, but would never get her a job in the States as a high-fashion model. Which was fine with me. She was dressed in a snug-fitting green satin housecoat, and high-heeled pumps. I guessed her age at maybe twenty, and like many Mexican women she had, in addition to those other dandy things, a healthy mass of black hair and hot dark eyes. 

Fawcett Gold Medal, 1961
Yup, that's our pal Shell Scott, Private Eye on the road to Acapulco by way of a cutie in a house of ill-repute. Exactly how he got there makes for one of the more entertaining vintage private eye novels I've read in a long while.

One can always rely on Richard S. Prather to deliver a breezy, sex and violence filled caper, and Pattern For Panic is no exception. First published in 1954 and later revised for publication in 1961 this is classic Shell Scott. This time he's down in Mexico City, in way over his head with bad guys and dangerous dames thanks to a blackmail plot that leads to a kidnapped scientist, a crooked cop, a bevy of communist spies and a kinky communist ringmaster who gets his kicks from torture.

This novel pretty much covers the bases if you're looking for some dandy pulp action to fill a rainy weekend. Shell is in Mexico City staying at the Hotel del Prado, on a little R 'n R with his local Mexican pal Amador Montalba, when he meets fellow Americans, Dr. Jerrold Buffington, his daughter Buff (yes, I pictured Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buff) and their traveling companion Monique Durand. Monique and Buff are a classic pair of bookend babes, one dark and sultry (Monique) and the other (Buff) blond and girl-next-door. The good doctor Buffington is in town to deliver a lecture on some latest medical research he's doing. They're all enjoying cocktails in the hotel Bar Nicte-Ha when a sleazy ladykiller starts laying some unwanted attention on Buff. Shell Scott decides enough is enough and offers the creep a choice of keeping all his teeth by leaving the bar, or staying and dining on a knuckle sandwich. The creep takes the hint and leaves. Moments later, a cigarette girl whom Shell Scott has had a randy eye on, delivers a note from the creep to Buff, laying out in explicate detail just what the creep would like to do with Buff as soon as her gringo boyfriend splits the scene. Well, that's all it takes for Shell Scott, knight errant to decide that our Latin Lover needs a good old fashioned ass-whipping. Fists fly, teeth rattle and in no time flat, Shell is jumped by a handful of Mexico City cops who seemed to have arrived at an awfully convenient time. He manages to knock a couple of teeth out of one over-zealous cop before getting hauled off to the clink for fighting and having in his possession a pack of marijuana cigarettes, The same pack that Scott had earlier purchased from the cigarette girl. And sure enough, the creep who started the whole thing has disappeared.

Cooling his heels in jail, Shell figures he's in for a long night, when his pal Amador shows up to offer him a job for a Countess Lopez. It seems the Countess has enough pull, thanks to her husband General Lopez, to spring Shell Scott from jail, as long as he does her a little favor in return. The Countess is being blackmailed for a set of provocative photographs and a dirty film of her in action with a secret lover. The Countess would like the film and pix returned to her toot-sweet without her husband, General Lopez, ever finding out. Because, man, if the General finds out about this film of his wife with another man...!Ay Chihuahua!  (Yes, they actually utter that expression in this book!)

Scott eagerly takes the case and barely an hour goes by before he discovers that Doctor Buffington and his daughter Buff have been kidnapped. Shell learns that Buffington had accidentally discovered a nerve agent that, in the slightest doses, could literally send its victim into fits of deadly terror. It seems that certain enemies of the free world would like to get their hands on this nerve agent. Scott also learns that General Lopez has been the target of communist spies that are trying to gain power through nefarious means in Mexico City. Could the blackmail, and the kidnapping, and Scott's frame-up job all be linked? You bet your burrito they could! And all this leads to some hard-boiled hi-jinx that keeps Shell busy for the next 150 pages!

If you haven't read a Shell Scott novel before, then do yourself a favor and grab one. They're probably easy enough to get if you look in the used bookstores. If not, many are available for e-readers. Just know going in that you're in for some campy doses of sexist humor along with your bullets and bad guys.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ellie - Herbert Kastle

So, really, what was so special about Ellie? What could happen with Ellie except more of what had happened in bed at the Forest Park Hotel? I mean there wasn’t an eighteen year old secretary who could speak better English than she could, didn’t have more polish than she had, and didn’t come off more like a lady than she did—and couldn’t, if convinced she should, do as much as Ellie could sexually. In fact what woman couldn’t?

But when I met her at La Guardia, I felt my insides jumping as she strolled lazily down the ramp. And when I walked with her to the luggage pickup and held her hand and saw the airport workers eyeing her, I felt again that this was the most beautiful little chick in all the world.

Dell, April 1974
I think all of us know that couple who can’t seem to live without each other, yet whenever they get together they turn into complete psychos. If they’d never met each other they would have gone through life on a fairly even keel, but since first hooking up have gone completely off the deep end for each other. And I’m not talking in a good way either. I’m talking full tilt psycho-boogie screaming downward spiral cray-cray! Well that’s just a taste of what you have with Nick and Ellie in Herbert Kastle’s novel Ellie. These two make Sid and Nancy look like the Pleasantville homecoming king and queen.

There isn’t really a whole lot of plot to delve into here. It’s a story of boy-meets-girl, boy and girl get together and screw their silly heads off, boy decides he must have girl, girl coyly agrees to stay with boy, and mayhem ensues.

Nick Leib, is in St. Louis on a business trip when on a whim he decides to by a coat in a men’s clothing store. Working in the store is Ellie McBaren, a twenty year old girl in a short skirt. Ellie is common and simple, attractive in a girl next door kind of way, only a couple years removed from a bubblegum chewing teenager with poor grammar skills. She is uncultured, unrefined and has a careless way of revealing too much ass under her short skirt, but Nick doesn’t care. He’s decided that he’s got to have Ellie, whatever it takes.

Nick is one of those self-described studs who can pretty much land any chick he wants, with his Porche and Manhattan apartment and bigshot salary. We get the whole shebang from Nick’s point-of-view and, believe me, by the time you’re done with the novel, there is not enough soap and hot water to wash off Nick’s crummy perspective on things. You want to get your fill of the many ways you can drop the C-word to describe a girl? Just hang out with Nick Leib for a couple chapters and you’ll get more than enough. For that matter, you want to get an idea how to fuck with some poor schmuck’s head? Well, dig how Ellie really lays the headgames down with Nick, and believe me, you’ll have a Master’s degree worth. And all that’s just for the first half of the novel. We haven’t really begun to sink with Nick and Ellie into the depths of insanity disguised as obsessive lust. In fact, obsessive lust is about as tame as puppy-love in the hearts of these two head-cases. But do yourself a favor, if you ever meet a couple like Nick and Ellie. Don't walk, but run away, as fast as you can. Especially if you'd like to carry on your life without private detectives, hit men, rapists, Molotov cocktails, sleazy doctors, and lecherous punks fouling up your scenery.  

So, did I like the novel, you wonder? Well…that’s a tough one. There is no denying how readable, how well written, it is.  Bret Easton Ellis, for all his success and fame, doesn’t come close to pushing your face into the depravity Nick and Ellie get off on. So, yes, I did like the novel. But “like” isn’t really the right word for the experience. It’s more that I admired the novel for what it set out to do. There’s no way anyone in their right mind could relate to Nick or Ellie. Yes, I suppose one could empathize for the passion they have, but only to a point. I’ve had my share of crushes, but they never went past the embarrassment of driving past the block that the object of my unrequited affections lived on. Hopefully that goes the same for most of us. It also made me glad that my relationships have all been relatively normal. Yeah, hooking up with that crazy chick does have its undeniable allure, for a little while…but crazy has a way of rubbing off on you. It’s fun for a weekend, but don’t plan on taking it to the altar.