Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Coven - Carter Brown

She put her drink down, then came up onto her feet without hurrying. There was a brief hiatus while she unbuttoned the belt tied tight around her waist, then she slid the black silk robe down over her creamy shoulders and let it drop to the floor. Underneath she was only wearing bikini-sized white silk briefs that straddled the curves of her hips tighter than a second skin. I watched, fascinated, as she cupped the taut swell of her breasts in both hands and lifted them slightly, so their swollen tips pointed directly at me. 

Signet - April !971 - Cover by Robert McGinnis
The Coven sports a cover by Robert McGinnis that probably deserved a slightly better novel to go with it. I'm not saying it's a bad novel, because it isn't. It is a fast, entertaining romp about a group of "hippies" with too much money and too much time on their hands who turn to satanic rituals to get their kicks. But it leaves you with that feeling you might have after consuming a can of Pringles by yourself. Pizza flavored Pringles at that.

Rick Holman is a sort of Hollywood private dick, or fixer, or something of that nature, who is hired by an affected British actor named Hector Mulvane. Hector is married to a young and hot little twist named Brenda, who does things like answer the door in a bikini while sipping a martini. Mulvane wants Holman to find out what his two rotten offspring, Kirk and Amanda, are up to. Kirk and Amanda are the sort of Hollywood brats who like making trouble and getting attention. Hector Mulvane is worried that his two kooky kids are running around California cooking up some sort of scandal that'll sully his upcoming knighthood. Amanda has let a number of photos get around showing her in the buff while performing a pseudo-satanic-witchcraft ceremony. Hector thinks her brother Kirk is somehow behind the photos. Kirk is a headcase who has a history of drugs and violence behind him. Kirk was also Brenda's boyfriend before she dumped him to marry Hector. It's all quite sordid, don't you know...

Brenda suggests that Holman look up Amanda's pal Marie Pilgrim. Marie is one of those loopy sexpot starlet wannabes who run around Hollywood with Kirk and Amanda. Holman pays a visit to Marie and finds Kirk hanging around her pad smoking joints and playing the sullen and troubled lothario bit, which includes slapping chicks when they make with the whining. Kirk claims he has no idea where his sister Amanda could be, but he'll do Holman a favor and go find her. He splits, leaving Holman and Marie alone long enough to banter with each other (and the reader) into fits of sexual desire before agreeing to go look for Amanda together.

They all end up in a town named San Lopar, where they meet a foppish eccentric named Pete Cronin. Pete and the gang were all pals at one point. Now Pete takes to hanging out in his weird mansion painting disturbing pictures of death and violence. Pictures so dark and depraved that he refuses to show them to just anyone, but only to people he deems worthy of appreciating his perverse talent. Also in the mix is a beach-bum pothead named Ed Koncius. Ed hangs out in his beach-pad, in a slack-jawed stupor thanks to the copious amounts of pot he consumes. Ed also had a thing going with our twisted brujita, Amanda Mulvane...Remember, Amanda Mulvane and her tarty little pics that started this whole thing?

Well, before you know it, Holman is rapped on the noggin and awakes to witness a satanic ritual featuring red-robed participants and one naked Marie Pilgrim splayed out on an altar surrounded by black candles. It's all too fuzzy for Holman, because he's been drugged and then blindfolded before the ceremony ends. The next morning, a woozy Holman and Marie Pilgrim awake to find that someone has slit Ed Koncius's throat. For Marie, it's a sickening reminder of another ceremony that went bad, leaving a young chick named Shirley Rillman, naked and dead on the beach thanks to a slit throat. Who killed Ed, who killed Shirley Rillman, and where are Kirk and Amanda?

Ah, it's hippies, it's drugs, it's satanic rituals and murder! All the things that sent Ma and Pa Jones into apoplectic fits of fear and loathing back in the late 60's.

Carter Brown's novels are kind of a gas. I've only read a few but I've enjoyed them just fine. I'm sure you will be seeing more of them here in the future.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pale Gray for Guilt - John D. MacDonald

"Drop out of the world. Hallucinate. Turn on. Dig the sounds and colors and feels. Be at one with the infinite something or other. I can't lay too big a knock on them, you know. In another sense I'm a dropout. I don't pay for my tickets. I jump over the turnstiles."

Fawcett Gold Medal

Travis McGee returns in his 9th adventure in the McGee series. Pale Gray for Guilt is a bit different from the previous McGee novels, in that there is less focus on the action, and more on vengeance via a long complicated con job on a couple unscrupulous developers along the Florida coast.

The novel is a bit slow getting its groove on, with the first 50 pages or so introducing us to Tush Bannon, Travis McGee's old football pal. Bannon has set up a marina and motel in Shawana County, Florida. He's having a tough go of making things work. His ten acre property is right in the middle of a potential commercial development. Investors like Preston LaFrance and Gary Santos are after Bannon's stake. Santos is a Miami bigshot who is staking a claim on 200 acres of land surrounding Bannon's quaint little digs. LaFrance is a shady real estate man with family connections in the Shawana County Commissioners Board. As a combined force, they make life hell for Bannon with the intention of forcing him to sell out on the cheap. They could care less that Bannon will end up broke and ruined. But Bannon is stubborn. He holds out against the odds. Then one day Bannon's body is found under a an engine block in his marina, along with sloppy evidence that he committed suicide. McGee smells a rat, a bunch of rats in fact, and takes it upon himself to make those rats pay.

The plot involves a complicated version of "the Pigeon Drop" wherein McGee and his pal Meyer set up apposing investment interests on Bannon's land and the area around it. MacDonald had an MBA from Syracuse, and he puts that background to good work in this novel. You can tell he's having fun with it. Perhaps too much fun as there are times that the con gets pretty complicated. But MacDonald is such a fine writer that he's able to maintain the interest and suspense, along with a desire to see the bastards get theirs before the last page is turned.

Par for the course with the Travis McGee series, you get a lot of asides picking at the threads of the social fabric of the times, in this case Florida in the late 60's. There are also the he-man-hairy-chested observations on the fairer sex. Perhaps things get a bit too wordy here and there. Characters tend to drop long monologues when a few terse sentences would suffice. But those are small quibbles. And thankfully, MacDonald hasn't forgotten to include a twisted psychopath into the plot before the end. Better late than never in this case.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Embrace the Wind - Blaine Stevens

He drew her down upon a mat of sea oats and wild grass. She lay in his arms and opened her lips to his kiss. She tasted so good! An ache of need shivered through him. He pressed himself upon her, feeling the heat rising from her thighs as if from a bubbling cauldron. His hands closed on her breasts. For a long, mindless time, he nursed and caressed and fondled them as if he could never love her enough. With his finger he traced her lips and slipped it between her teeth. She sucked frantically on his finger, breathing raggedly and writhing against him.

Jove, January 1982
What the...? Have I gone all gushy in my reading tastes? Well, no, not exactly. I'm sharing a book I picked up a week ago written by none other than one of my favorite noir novelists, Harry Whittington. Known as the "King of Paperback Writers" Whittington wrote scads of novels under various names, including a bunch of historical romances like the one shown here. This one was published in 1982 and one of three novels under the Blaine Stevens name. Who knows, your grandmother might have a handful of Ashley Carters and Blaine Stevens on her bookshelf. For me, it's another reason to admire those old-school writers like Harry Whittington. Writers write, and in those days, if one had to make a living writing, then producing books outside one's comfort zone was necessary. There was no time waiting for the muse to strike.

I haven't yet read this one. It's part of a handful of Whittington's historical romances from the late 70s and early 80s that I've picked up in the past few months. I'll probably get around to reading it at some point. I'm such a big fan of his noir novels that I'd like to see his approach to writing in the Romance genre. He also wrote a handful of "nurse romances" under the name Harriet Kathryn Myers. Also some sweet vintage sleaze paperbacks that I wouldn't mind finding.

This one, like many of his novels, takes place in Florida, "the pirate coves of Spanish Florida" to be precise. Whittington spent years living and writing in the St. Petersburg area of the Florida gulf coast, so he knows the area well. At the very least, judging by the excerpt above, it promises to be a good steamy one!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

BANG, baa-rOOM and HARP - Dick Schory's New Percussion Ensemble

Stop coddling your Hi-Fi Set!

RCA Victor LPM - 1866, released 1958
This is one from my small but growing Exotica - Space Age - Lounge collection of LP's that I've got on the shelf. I saw this one and bought it purely for the cover and was not disappointed.

Recorded on June 2nd and 3rd, 1958, in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, BANG BaarOOM and HARP is cacophony of percussive instruments performing various tunes arranged by the likes of Skitch Henderson, Bobby Christian and Dick Schory. It sounds fantastic on the turntable, as the record bounces through tunes like "Baia", "September in the Rain" and "The Sheik of Araby" to name a few.

The extensive liner notes by Bob Bollard on the back of the cover give a detailed rundown of the recording process, and includes what he calls "an approximate instrument inventory", of which I'll name a couple here:

3 Vibraphones, 2 Xylophones, 4 Gongs, 8 Timpani, Boo Bam, Timbales, Bongo Drums, Banjo, Harp, Auto Brake Drums, 2 Slapsticks, 2 guitars, 1 Anvil, Coo-Coo Whistle, Siren Whistle, Slide Whistle, Piano, Chromatic Cowbells (take that, Blue Oyster Cult!) and 3 Snare Drums! That's not even half of the list provided.

Fans of Space Age will likely dig this platter. I don't know if it's available on CD, but I imagine with a little hunting one might snag a copy of the album somewhere.