There’s a story regarding the movie version of The Big Sleep that I love, and if it isn’t true, it should be. Supposedly, while working on adapting thThere’s a story regarding the movie version of The Big Sleep that I love, and if it isn’t true, it should be. Supposedly, while working on adapting the book the screenwriters (William Faulkner & Leigh Brackett) couldn’t figure out who killed one of the characters. So they called Raymond Chandler, and after thinking about it for a while, Chandler admitted that he’d completely forgotten to identify the killer of this person in the book and had no idea who did it. Since no one complained about the flaw in the book, the movie just repeated it and didn’t bother answering the question either.
And that’s the thing about The Big Sleep. The plot is overly complex, and it’s pretty clear that Chandler was making it up as he went. It’s still a crime classic because Philip Marlowe books weren’t about the plot, they were all about the character and the atmosphere.
Marlowe is hired by wealthy and dying General Sternwood to see what he can do about illegal gambling debts that his daughter Carmen has incurred. The general’s other daughter was married to a bootlegger named Rusty Regan that has disappeared, and the old man was fond of Rusty and misses his company. Everyone that Marlowe deals with assumes that he’s been hired to find Rusty, and the detective is soon caught up in a web of blackmail and several murders.
Chandler’s first book is a classic and would help redefine and reinvent the mystery genre. With Philip Marlowe, the prototype to the small time smart-ass private detective with an unbreakable code of honor would be established and it’s influenced countless fictional detectives since. Chandler’s no-nonsense, razor sharp cynical prose is still a delight to read....more
Robert B. Parker claimed that he never did another Philip Marlowe book after this one because he didn’t want to spend his career writing another authoRobert B. Parker claimed that he never did another Philip Marlowe book after this one because he didn’t want to spend his career writing another author’s character. Considering that he left one big dangling plot thread here it certainly seems like he was planning another Marlowe novel at that time. I gotta wonder if he didn’t realize after it was published that writing an iconic character is no easy feat and that he should walk away before any permanent damage was done.
Parker had already taken on the challenge of finishing Raymond Chandler’s last book, Poodle Springs, and he'd done a competent job of it. However, while Parker had been considered Chandler’s heir apparent at his peak, he’d already entered a stage of repetitive complacency in his own work and taking on the job of continuing the adventures of Phillip Marlowe may have been more work and risk than reward.
Parker's biggest mistake may have been writing a direct sequel to The Big Sleep. Carrying on with Marlowe would have been tough enough but add in the extra headache of trying to make it a follow-up to a book considered one of the classics of the genre and it just made Parker’s attempt seem even weaker by comparison.
Marlowe gets tangled up with the Sternwood family again when Carmen goes missing, and the detective is soon dealing with sister Vivian and gangster Eddie Mars while looking for her. The story is OK, and Parker had enough talent and too much respect for Chandler’s work to do anything that would dishonor the Marlowe name. But it all just feels unnecessary.
Another big mistake is that Parker incorporated passages from The Big Sleep as flashbacks to that story. Reading Chandler’s prose and then Parker’s attempt to mimic it just makes the seams stand out that much more.
If Parker had really been interested in carrying on the Philip Marlowe name, he would have been better served to take a crack at coming up with a new story and characters so that the comparisons aren’t so obvious. While Parker’s Spenser started as an homage to Chandler and Marlowe, Parker’s writing had long since evolved into another style of detective fiction. You can sense Parker gritting his teeth while writing the obligatory scenes where Marlowe gets beaten up, knocked out and abused in ways that would never happen to Spenser.
All in all, this isn’t bad, but it’s not going to make anyone forget about The Big Sleep. ...more
When it comes to Scott B. Smith it’s a good thing we got the quality because the quantity is on the low side with only The Ruins released since this oWhen it comes to Scott B. Smith it’s a good thing we got the quality because the quantity is on the low side with only The Ruins released since this one came out in 1993.
Hank Mitchell is a regular guy living in rural Ohio with his pregnant wife Sarah and a steady job as an accountant at a feed store. He isn’t close to his brother Jacob who is a high school dropout that spends most of his time drunk when not scrounging out a living. One of the few times they interact is their regular New Year’s Eve visit to the graves of their parents. While taking care of this annual obligation they’re going to drop off Jacob’s drinking buddy Lou before heading to the cemetery when a freak accident leads the three men to the discovery of a small plane that has crashed in the snowy woods. Along with a dead pilot they find a bag with over four million dollars in it.
Hank’s first instinct is to turn in the money to the cops, but Lou and Jacob want to keep it. Tempted but worried that the two men will do something stupid to draw attention to them, Hank will only agree if he holds the cash until the plane is eventually discovered once the snow melts. If no one is looking for the money after the plane is found, they’ll split it up and go their separate ways.
Anybody think this is going to end well?
This is one of my favorite crime novels and a prime example of what I consider to be noir. What starts as the kind of decision that many (Most?) people would make is the first step towards suspicion and betrayal that finds Hank constantly reevaluating his relationship with his estranged brother. That’s about all I want to reveal to anyone who hasn’t read it, but if you like dark stories about the lengths seemingly ordinary people will go to when they see a chance to change their lives, give this one a try.
It was also turned into a very good movie adaptation with Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton that has significant plot differences that make it a surprising watch even if you’ve read the book.
• This and No Country For Old Men make the point that if you find a bag of money and want to keep it that you should never never never go back to the place where you found it.
• I’ve always thought it was effectively creepy how the pregnant Sarah becomes Hank’s Lady Macbeth, but they make the amateur criminal mistake of being just a little too cute with their crimes. Sarah’s idea of returning some money to the plane is clever, but returning to it causes the first murder. Killing Sonny as part of the stage setting for the murders of Lou and Nancy was completely unnecessary. The cops would have no trouble believing that a guy like Lou could shotgun his girlfriend in a drunken rage for any trivial reason. Trying to make it look like Sonny and Nancy were having an affair was an unnecessary risk that could have easily backfired.
• Speaking of that shotgun murder spree, I’ve read this three or four times, but I just realized that Smith made some critical errors with Hank's actions that should have got him caught. First, Hank called Sarah after Lou and Nancy were dead, and she comes up with the plan about involving Sonny. The story is that they dropped off Lou and were leaving when they heard the shooting. If the cops pulled the phone records (Which seems likely at the house of a quadruple murder.) they’d see that call to Sarah and have a good idea that Hank was lying. Also, gunshot residue tests that would be routinely administered in a situation like that would show that Lou hadn’t fired a gun but that Hank had been emptying a shotgun.
• I’d forgotten the part about Jacob’s dog. Hank really shows that he’s kind of an uncaring son-of-a-bitch under this regular fella persona when he leaves the poor animal alone in a garage nights and ties it to a tree during the day where it has nothing to do but sit in the cold and mud. He never considers that it’s not Jacob’s death but his own treatment that makes the dog mean, or of trying to find another home for it. The way he botched the shooting of it is also the most painful scene in the book for me. Yeah, I’m one of those people who can read about or watch a thousand people getting brutally murdered without batting an eye, but even fictional cruelty to animals makes me sick. (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
An operative from the Continental Detective Agency is summoned to Personville (a/k/a Poisonville) by a crusading newspaper publisher, but the man is mAn operative from the Continental Detective Agency is summoned to Personville (a/k/a Poisonville) by a crusading newspaper publisher, but the man is murdered before the Continental Op can meet with him. The Op quickly learns that Poisonville has a crime problem that would make Gotham City seem like Topeka by comparison. After getting a look at its seedy underbelly the Op browbeats the dead publisher’s wealthy father into paying him to clean up the town even though he’s a big part of the problem.
The Op starts working angles, playing crooks and crooked cops and every corrupt person he runs across against each other. Bodies start dropping and warfare between various factions looms as everyone is looking to move up the food chain. The Op exploits this in every way he can, but the increasing carnage starts to take a toll on him as he fears that he’s becoming as bad as the people he’s up against:
“This damned burg’s getting to me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood simple like the natives.”
Hammett was obviously doing something over the top here with a town where murder is seen as the first and best solution to almost every problem. While it’s got that pulpy kind of story, Hammett was also drawing on his experience as a former Pinkerton agent to paint in some of the details and give it just enough gritty reality to make it seem plausible. The plot he cooks up about a tough guy trying to bring down a corrupt towns by playing sides against each other was hugely influential in crime fiction and in the movies.* There’s also a line you have to admire on just about every page.
I don’t think this quite measure up to The Maltese Falcon, but this violent tale about one man trying to clean out a corrupt town earns it’s reputation as one of the best of the genre for a reason.
Think about how many mysteries, thrillers and crime novels are published anymore. Then think about how many people are writing them. There’s a whole lThink about how many mysteries, thrillers and crime novels are published anymore. Then think about how many people are writing them. There’s a whole lot of authors sitting in front of laptops thinking about murdering people. What if some of them got a little too involved in their work?
Bryce Proctor is a very successful novelist who writes best selling thrillers, but he has a big problem. He’s going through a prolonged and messy divorce that has given him a bad case of writer’s block. Bryce bumps into old friend and writer Wayne Prentice who has his own problem. Wayne is a good writer, but he never had a big breakthrough novel and diminishing sales have left him without a publisher.
Bryce sees an opportunity and proposes a solution. He’ll tweak Wayne’s latest unpublished novel and release it as his own, and the two will split Bryce‘s completion fee, over a million dollars. Wayne is willing to go for the deal, but Bryce has an extra condition. He wants Wayne to kill his wife, too.
Westlake seems to have been in a groove when he wrote The Ax and this one. In both he came up with great ideas for plots and then turned them into incredible books of psychological suspense where seemingly ordinary people do terrible things to try and save their way of life. It’s also a masterful presentation of the unexpected ways that guilt can manifest itself and take over someone’s life.
As a bonus for people who like to read, it’s got an interesting perspective inside the world of authors and the publishing industry. It’ll make you wonder whose work you’re really reading.
Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins fought his way across Europe as a decorated soldier during World War II, but in post-war Los Angeles, he’s a second class citizEzekiel “Easy” Rawlins fought his way across Europe as a decorated soldier during World War II, but in post-war Los Angeles, he’s a second class citizen because he’s black. When Easy is fired from a good job due to racism from his boss, he finds himself on the verge of losing the small house he loves. A friend of Easy’s hooks him up with a white man named Albright who has an opportunity to make some quick cash.
Albright is looking for a white girl named Daphne Monet who is known to hang out in black clubs. Since Albright won’t get any answers if he goes looking for her in those places, he wants Easy to find her and is offering $100 for a week’s work. That’s enough to pay his bills, and even though Albright makes Easy extremely nervous, he doesn’t see another way to keep his house.
Easy begins looking for Daphne, but he quickly finds himself the target of cops, rich white men and a dangerous hijacker. Fortunately for Easy, he has one of the staples of crime fiction in his corner; a Bad-Ass-Criminal-Friend. Raymond “Mouse” Alexander is a cheerful little psychopath who has a quick trigger finger and a nose for money, and he’s even more dangerous than the people Easy is already up against.
Mosley created a great character with Easy. In some ways, he’s an average everyman, just looking to get by during a time when his race makes him a frequent target so he doesn’t see the percentage in looking for extra trouble, but Easy also frequently gets fed up with the attitudes of the time and will demand respect when he feels he’s being slighted. He can also be extremely dangerous when pushed.
Since he isn’t a trained detective, Easy finds out what he needs by tapping the many relationships he has within the black community. You won’t find Easy dusting for fingerprints, but you may see him gossiping at the barber shop. Mosley did a superior job of recreating the world of Watts in 1948 and it’s a lot of fun to read about Easy moving through this environment.
Mouse is also a great twist on the classic Bad-Ass-Criminal-Friend concept you see in most detective books. Usually, the BACFs are loyal to their more law abiding friends and follow their lead when their services are called for. In this case, Easy is actually terrified of Mouse and with good reason. They may be old friends, but if Mouse sees an angle to make money, then he’d kill Easy or anyone else that stood in his way without a second thought. Dealing with Mouse is like handling nitroglycerin; it can be useful but if you’re not careful you’ll end up splattered all over the walls.
This was a great start to a good series. The movie version with Denzel Washington is also pretty good with a terrific performance by Don Cheadle as Mouse. ...more
Talk about false advertising. I read this thinking it was a manual for postal employees that I could use to study for civil service exam. But it was jTalk about false advertising. I read this thinking it was a manual for postal employees that I could use to study for civil service exam. But it was just a story about some guy who starts sleeping with another man’s wife and then they decide to kill the husband. It was a pretty good book, but I flunked the test when there weren’t any questions about plotting a homicide. Oh, and that Kevin Costner movie didn’t help either....more
Phillip Marlowe is one of the most famous and influential characters in detective fiction. He’s also a racist alcoholic, and after all the blows to thPhillip Marlowe is one of the most famous and influential characters in detective fiction. He’s also a racist alcoholic, and after all the blows to the head he routinely takes, he’s almost certainly suffering from post-concussion syndrome so you gotta question his judgment.
But he’s also the guy that says things like this:
"It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window."
"He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake."
”" I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”
So I always find myself making allowances for Marlowe’s bad habits and personal failings.
Marlowe is working a boring job trying to find a missing husband when he has the bad luck to come across Moose Malloy. Malloy is a giant hulk of a man who just got out of prison and is looking for his lost love, Velma. Unfortunately, Moose is kind of simple and doesn’t know his own strength so he ends up killing somebody when asking questions. As a witness, Marlowe tells the cops what he saw and is coerced into trying to find Velma by a lazy detective. However, a real paying job as a bodyguard for a guy delivering a ransom for the return of stolen jewelry comes up so Marlowe ditches the Malloy mess. But things don’t go quite as expected.
One of the better Chandler novels, this is pretty typical Marlowe. The plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s not really important. It’s all about atmosphere and attitude. If you can get past the casual racism that litters the early chapters, you’ll find one of the classics of noir fiction. ...more
Like the Tell-Tale Heart, this story is about the toll that guilt takes even after someone gets away with a crime. Set in the early 20th century, it'sLike the Tell-Tale Heart, this story is about the toll that guilt takes even after someone gets away with a crime. Set in the early 20th century, it's an interesting take on watching someone destroy his own life with paranoia and fear. Very well written....more
With a sympathetic but emotionally self-destructive main character, an off-beat plot and lots of very gory humor, this was a wildly original story andWith a sympathetic but emotionally self-destructive main character, an off-beat plot and lots of very gory humor, this was a wildly original story and my favorite Charlie Huston novel to date. Those with weak stomachs should note that there are very graphic scenes dealing with the clean-up of human remains in the aftermath of extreme violence....more
Between this one and the other Hard Case Crime novels that Jason Starr co-wrote, I think that he may be the king of creating unlikeable self-absorbed,Between this one and the other Hard Case Crime novels that Jason Starr co-wrote, I think that he may be the king of creating unlikeable self-absorbed, delusional criminals as main characters. He's a little too good at it because reading an entire book featuring one of these morons makes me feel like my own IQ has dropped about 20 points, and I start worrying that I'll commit a crime out of sheer stupidity like Tommy Russo.
Russo is an aging actor-wannabe working as a bouncer while losing every dime he makes to his compulsive gambling habit. When he's offered a chance to buy into a horse racing syndicate, he thinks he'll fund it by stealing his bar's Super Bowl pool money. Since he's too stupid to walk and chew gum at the same time, things start falling apart in a hurry, and Tommy's crimes and behavior get worse by the minute as he struggles to cover up his theft.
Another solid HCC novel, but spending an entire book in Tommy's warped head wore me out.
I'm grateful to Charles Ardai for establishing Hard Case Crime. Starting a publishing company is a clever way to spend some of those internet billionsI'm grateful to Charles Ardai for establishing Hard Case Crime. Starting a publishing company is a clever way to spend some of those internet billions. But when I learned that he had written a few novels for HCC under the pen name of Richard Aleas, I was worried that he was just buying his way into a writing career. His first book with HCC, Little Girl Lost, didn't change my opinion much. I thought it was very...OK. But having Ardai kick out a book a year seemed like a small price to pay for getting the rest of the HCC line.
So I had zero interest in this one until fellow HCC fiend Dan reviewed it and loved it. His review so intrigued me that I had to read this.
And holy crap. Dan was right. This is a mind-blowing crime novel.
John Blake, the hero of Little Girl Lost, has retired as a detective following the events of that book, and is working for a writing program at a college. He met Dorrie, a girl with her own tragic past and shady career as a quasi-call girl/ masseuse and they became close. When Blake finds her dead of an apparent suicide, he suspects foul play and begins investigating Dorrie’s professional life. As he gets a first hand look at New York’s sex trade, he angers a dangerous mobster, but the worse the danger gets, the more determined he is to solve Dorrie’s murder.
Sound familiar? At first glance, the plot doesn’t seem like anything special, and halfway through the book, I was still only mildly interested. But in the second half, as the collateral damage of Blake’s investigation to others and his own life begins to mount, you get the feeling that this isn’t just another noir story that isn’t going to end well. I started getting a real feeling of dread and then a sneaking suspicion that ‘not ending well’ wouldn’t even begin to cover the horror show that was waiting. I was right. ...more
Southern fried revenge. I felt like eating a pan of corn bread while reading it.
Published in 1970 and set a few years earlier, this reprint featuresSouthern fried revenge. I felt like eating a pan of corn bread while reading it.
Published in 1970 and set a few years earlier, this reprint features Joe Dunne as a low-rent New York private detective who isn’t above taking the occasional strong-arm job like beating up a heroin dealer to stop him from selling near a school.
Three civil rights workers disappeared while on a voter registration drive in Mississippi. (Obviously this was inspired by actual events.) One of the missing kids had a wealthy father who has already used private investigators to learn that they were all killed by five men. The father promises Joe a half-million dollars if he’ll find the bodies and kill the men involved.
Joe isn’t all that happy to become a contract killer, but it’s enough money to get him out of the business altogether, and he’s desperate to move on to something better. Plus, he’s got an ace-in-the-hole. His secretary, Kirby, is a Southern gal complete with an accent, and she knows how the South works. Joe hires her to play his wife and help go undercover in the small Mississippi town so they can talk to people without getting killed. Unfortunately, the cover requires them to act like semi-racist assholes themselves to avoid drawing the wrong kind of attention, and despite their best efforts, it’ll be nearly impossible to get the job done and get away clean.
I really liked the overall set-up for this book, and the lengthy preparations that Joe and Kirby made for their undercover operation in Mississippi during the height of the civil rights movement. I also liked the main character. He’s willing to take a dirty job, and he’s pretty good at it. But he doesn’t like himself very much while doing it.
However, for all the planning and build-up to Joe and Kirby going to Mississippi, and how carefully they act while there, the ending is very rushed. Several characters seem like they’re going to be more important later in the book, but just vanish. It’s almost like the author was on a deadline and took too long to write the first three-quarters of the book and threw together an ending. Too bad because a little more pay-off during the last act would have made this a much better read. ...more
Poor Nick Corey. He’s got so many problems with his wife and people who actually expect him to do his job as sheriff of a small town that he can hardlPoor Nick Corey. He’s got so many problems with his wife and people who actually expect him to do his job as sheriff of a small town that he can hardly eat more than a few pork chops at dinner or sleep more than 8 or 9 hours a night. But Nick has figured out a way to deal with some of his issues, and if that means shotgunning a few folks, then you can hardly blame the poor man.
The obvious comparison here is to Thompson’s other novel about a small town law man with a serious dark side, The Killer Inside Me. Both Lou Ford and Nick Corey hide their real intelligence and contempt for most people behind a mask of pure good old boy redneck, and they take great delight in using their seeming stupidity to tie people into knots. However, Lou’s insanity was more of a personal revenge kind of thing mixed up with his sadism while Nick’s was actually more disturbing to me with it’s nihilistic nature hiding under his lazy persona.
What makes this book extra creepy is that it’s just so damn funny along the way. Nick comes across as stupid on a Homer Simpson level at first, but as the story progresses, you realize just how smart he is at playing people as well as how batshit insane he really is.
This is a great example of Thompson’s noir genius....more
As the song says, Pimpin’ ain’t easy. Or as the other song says, It’s hard out here for a pimp. Or as the song I plan to write someday says, Pimps ainAs the song says, Pimpin’ ain’t easy. Or as the other song says, It’s hard out here for a pimp. Or as the song I plan to write someday says, Pimps ain’t nothin’ but lowlife scum who should be repeatedly beaten about the head and shoulders with steel pipes. I doubt there will be much demand for my version on iTunes.
If professional criminals voted high-school style awards to themselves, then Tony Romero would probably get a Most Likely to Succeed certificate. Young, but bright and manipulative, Tony is ambitious to the point of insanity. When he gets a glimpse at how organized crime runs San Francisco’s prostitution rackets, Tony starts drooling at all that money and power and desperately sets out to get himself a position in the local pimping power structure.
By manipulating people, Tony obtains a slot in middle management and quickly makes the most of it through hard work and clever pimp innovations. He’s doing well, but doing well isn’t enough for Tony. He wants it all, and he wants it now.
The first half of the book was a terrific noir story about the rise of an amoral young man who never once considers how want he wants will impact anyone else. In the second half, Tony has to leave San Francisco for a while due to police attention and while recruiting girls to the business, he meets one girl he can’t forget. The book weakens considerably after this.
Tony is the only really fleshed out character in the book. Everyone else is a prostitute or a pimp/gangster, and they are all written as stereotypes. This rates somewhere in the middle of the Hard Case line that I’ve read. ...more
Jim Thompson must have had noir in his veins instead of red blood cells. This dark first-person story has the reader inhabiting the mind of a killer iJim Thompson must have had noir in his veins instead of red blood cells. This dark first-person story has the reader inhabiting the mind of a killer in way that most authors can't even come close to matching. It's disturbing, chilling and one of the best pieces of crime fiction I’ve ever read.
Lou Ford is a small-town sheriff’s deputy in West Texas. He appears to be just a good natured, not-to-bright, good-ole-boy who usually speaks in a series of clichés to the point of annoying or boring whoever he’s talking to. But Lou’s persona is all a mask to hide his true self and to keep what he thinks of as ‘his sickness’ in check.
When Lou is dispatched to give a warning to a call-girl named Joyce, it escalates into a confrontation that unleashes Lou’s sadistic side, and he’s shocked to discover that Joyce is a willing partner. Letting his darker impulses out of the box soon leads Lou to more violence, and then a lengthy cat-and-mouse game with the local power structure as he covers up his crimes with a mixture of his dimwitted persona and even more bloodshed.
Reading this is a really odd experience. At times, you find yourself rooting for Lou to get away with everything he’s done, but at other times you want to scream at the other characters, “Run! He’s freaking crazier than a shithouse rat! Get out of there before he murders you all!”
And I was both horrified and amused at the malicious joy that Lou takes in ‘needling’ people under the guise of playing the fool that can’t stop running his mouth. He’s got a knack for annoying and insulting people while he pretends he doesn’t realize what he’s doing. That’s just one of the many ways that evil Lou has of getting under your skin. ...more