Sunday, June 25, 2017

Seven Slayers - Paul Cain

There was a sudden roar from a black, curtained roadster on the other side of the street; the sudden ragged roar of four or five shots close together, a white pulsing finger of flame in the dusk, and Coleman sank to his knees. He swayed backwards once, fell forward onto his face hard; his gray hat rolled slowly across the sidewalk. The roadster was moving, had disappeared before Coleman was entirely still. It became very quiet in the street.

Black Lizard Books - 1987
This collection has been sitting on my shelf for many years. I picked up this Black Lizard edition of Paul Cain's Seven Slayers many years ago from a used bookstore in Tempe Arizona that is now closed. A newer, updated version of that bookstore opened in Phoenix a few years ago but, man it's just not the same. I could go on about my favorite old bookstores closing down in the past couple decades (which seems only like a few years to me) but why bother.

So...what can I say about this book that hasn't been said better by other aficionados of the hard-boiled school? I don't know why it took me so long to listen to them and read this book. In a word, these stories rocked! They are chock full o bad guys who are really, really bad, bad-ass dames who can't be trusted and heroes that aren't wholly good. One of the coolest things I noticed in reading the stories is how Cain likes to keep the reader off balance. He does this in subtle ways, as seen in the above paragraph from the story "Murder in Blue" in how many shots were fired. Was it four or five? The omniscient narrator (the author) should know. Or this simple line from the same story; "She was ageless; perhaps twenty-six, perhaps thirty-six."

Or take the high-rise apartment setting from the story "Pigeon Blood" where the hero lives in a flat that has no wall, "At the far side, where the light from the living room faded into darkness, the floor came to an abrupt end - there was no railing or parapet - the nearest building of the same height was several blocks away."

All of the stories wind through the tropes of hard-boiled environments: gambling dens, dingy bars, nightclubs, apartments, rain-swept streets, and sketchy hotels. Fans of this genre will feel completely at home in these stories. Violence is sudden, bodies unexpectedly (for the characters, anyway) turn up in the shadows, bullets fly from across the block, gats are pulled from bathrobes...well you get the idea. No one can be trusted and greed is the common denominator. You'll have a blast reading them.

These stories were originally published in Black Mask way back in the 30's, back when Hammett and Chandler were producing the same kind of hard-boiled tales for the same publications. If you like those guys, you'll like Paul Cain's stories also. Cain's fictional output was limited to only one novel, Fast One, and 17 short stories. I have a copy of Fast One and am looking forward to reading it soon. He was a screenwriter under the name George Sims. His fictional output has been collected under the title The Complete Slayers for anyone interesting in shelling out a whopping chunk of change.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dagger of Flesh - Richard Prather

The cloth slithered over her shoulders and down her back, baring the bold, high breasts. Ayla seemed almost unaware of her now nearly complete nudity, but her large dark eyes were fixed on me. She held the robe momentarily gathered at her waist, covering only the outer curve of her hips and the outside edge of each thigh; and standing like that with her black brows slanting upward, the full breasts thrusting forward, her legs parted slightly and her skin a startling white contrasting with the black cloth, she looked almost obscenely naked. She made me think for that moment of a hot, lusty woman who would enjoy herself in hell.  

Crest - 2nd Printing, May 1957
Back into my favorite genre of fiction with this unusual book by Richard Prather, who can always be relied on to deliver a fast enjoyable caper. Dagger of Flesh is unusual in that instead of our expected hero Shell Scott we have a private dick by the name of Mark Logan on the case. Even more interesting about the novel is that it was rejected by Gold Medal in its original version, presumably because Gold Medal preferred a Shell Scott caper to this unknown cat named Mark Logan. Then, years later Gold Medal apparently published the novel after exchanging Shell Scott's name for Logan, only forgetting to address all the pesky details like, Shell Scott and Mark Logan don't look anything alike and both have different backstories. Both, however, are full of piss and vinegar and never let their case at hand sidetrack  them from a lusty babe like the one in the above paragraph.

Gold Medal 

The novel begins with Logan in the sack with a hot dame he knows only as Gladys. Seems he picked up Gladys in a bar one afternoon and the two of them have been doing the dirty for the past few days. Mark feels a sense of guilt about it though, because he knows Gladys is married. She has no guilty feelings whatsoever and is more than happy to be spending her afternoons doing the horizontal bop with our hero. So, after making arrangements to hook up again the following evening, Mark Logan returns to his office where he has an appointment with an old friend named Jay Weather. Jay owns a successful men's clothing store and for the past week has been getting pressured by a couple of rough types to sell the store off at a price way beneath its value. And to make matters worse for Mr. Weather, he keeps seeing a parrot on his shoulder every day at noon, for exactly one hour. That's right, a parrot. Only no one else sees this parrot, just our distraught Mr. Weather.

Well, things get even messier from there. After asking his old friend Jay Weather how things are going at home with the family, Logan realizes that Weather's new wife is Gladys, the same chick he's been banging the past week. Oh brother, some detective this guy is!

Thanks to a police psychiatrist buddy of Logan's, we learn that Jay Weather's invisible parrot may just possibly be the result of a post hypnotic trance. You see, just a week prior, Jay Weather hosted a small party at his mansion that featured a professional hypnotist named Joseph Borden. As for the two characters pressuring Weather to sell his shop, well they're for real all right, as Mark Logan soon discovers when one of them saps him with the butt of his gun later that night at Weather's store.

The plot thickens with a whole heaping dose of hypnosis hoo-haw which Mark Logan has to wade through. Along the way he tangles with the whole kooky crowd that attended this wacky hypnotist party that Jay Weather hosted. That includes Gladys, the sex-hungry wife, their daughter Ann, another horny sex kitten that seems more than anxious to sink her claws into our hero. And a couple of bizarre artist types, including one Ayla Veichek, who can't seem to cross a room without her clothes slipping off her body.

Well, we're not 40 pages into the book before someone kills Jay Weather, using Mark Logan's gun as the murder weapon. And to make matters worse for our hero, it seems that Logan has fallen victim to a hypnotic spell of his own. Only problem is, he has no idea who is responsible.

So you can see, this is a fairly ridiculous plot for a detective novel. There are plenty of scenes that stretch credulity to say the least. And Logan is a far cry from Hercule Poirot when it comes to using his "little gray cells." But that really doesn't take the fun away from the book. Many of Prather's capers are over the top with goofiness. These books don't take themselves as seriously as some other private eye novels of that era did. So there you have it, for  what it's worth. Now if I can just figure out why whenever someone mentions Winona Ryder's name in public I run around on all fours barking like a's getting kinda embarrassing.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Absalom, Absalom! - William Faulkner

No engagement, no courtship even: he and Judith saw one another three times in two years, for a total period of seventeen days, counting the time which Ellen consumed; they parted without even saying goodbye. And yet, four years later, Henry had to kill Bon to keep them from marrying.

Vintage Books, August 1972
Oh man, I don't really mean to go so long between posts. Life has a way of interfering with the fun stuff. I've been working longer hours at my day job, you know what I mean, that crap you have to do to provide a paycheck that affords the stuff you were really born to do. And I'm halfway through what will hopefully be my 3rd novel. Here's hoping that someone out there has checked out my first two novels...but this ain't the place for plugging my stuff. This is the place to look back at that...HEY! What the hell is William Faulkner doing here in the Files? This ain't typically a scene for that hi-falutin literature stuff that comes with over-sweetened lattes.

Honestly, I'm kind of surprised myself. I didn't really intend on digging into this book again, twenty-some years after the first time reading it. But it's been sitting on my shelf with my other meager collection of Faulkner novels, and I see it and think "gawd-dang that was a good effin' book" and next thing I knew I was wading into the swamp of Sutpen's Hundred all over again. And I mean pulled in like quicksand, succumbing to the winding labyrinthian (sometimes tortuous) prose of what I think is Faulkner's very best novel. I'm not anywhere near a Faulknerian expert. I've read about 5 of his books, and two of those (including this one) twice. But, man...could that dude write!

So...yeah, everyone knows this is a difficult book to read because of the style and structure of the novel, the long passages, the stream of conscience and the confusing timelines. I heard all that stuff too before I first read it. But I was an English major at FSU...I can take it, bring it on! And yes, those first dozen or so pages alone are daunting enough, wherein Quentin Compson agrees to meet the old spinster Rosa Coldfield and first hears the story of Thomas Sutpen who came from nowhere with his two pistols, a horse and a "herd of wild negroes" to pull his 100 mile homestead up from the very earth itself, erect his mansion from the clay of the land and by the sweat of his brow and to later marry Rosa's sister Ellen who gives birth to Henry and Judith thereby keeping in form and destiny Sutpen's plan to seed the south with his offspring and carve his name into the hearth of the noble gentry of Yoknapatawpha County Mississippi. But pushing aside the difficulties of the book and forging onward through the dense prose will reward the soul with a storm of tormented passions that leaves one breathless at its conclusion. A story of past sins that haunt the present, of a family cursed, of murder and violence and war, all told and retold through the lenses of three generations and fifty years of loss and ruin.

Okay, you get the idea, the 10-cent shadow of such in what I was going for there. And...ornate prose aside, I can't recommend this book highly enough. On this second go-round I'd forgotten how heartbreaking so much of the novel is. How painful and tragic and cruel the human condition can be. This is what the best literature does for us. It hurts and disturbs and, ultimately, provides a glimmer of hope. Don't let the difficult rep stop you from reading this book. Dig into it and surrender yourself to the words and don't worry that a particular passage of the moment doesn't make sense. It's not meant to make sense on a linear destination like we're used to. Take it as it comes and stick with it. It will come together by the end you will not be sorry afterward.