A Bullet For Cinderella – John D. MacDonald

A Bullet for Cinderella – John D. MacDonald, published in 1955 I read the PlanetMonk Pulps Book  (#12) Kindle Edition published in 2013, 192 pages.

Tal Howard returns home from the Korean war having been held captive in a POW camp. He finds himself somewhat changed by his war experience. His ‘old life’ doesn’t seem to fit him any more. He’s dissatisfied with both his clerical work at an insurance company, and his domesticated married life. He doesn’t know exactly what he wants… he’s just certain that what he has, isn’t it.

About this time Tal remembers a friend of his who died in the camp. This friend of his confessed to him an embezzlement he did before being drafted. The ill gotten gains where stashed back in his home town. Another prisoner in the camp “a Texan and a Marine”, known for his strength and his callousness, evidently overhead this confession because when Tal goes in search of this nest egg, private Fitzmartin is already in town.

The friend who left this stolen loot never lived long enough to tell Tal exactly where it was stashed. But what Tal does have, that Fitzmartin doesn’t, is a clue… a clue that can only be deciphered by ‘Cinderella’. As Tal works to solve this mystery he is quite aware that Fitzmartin will be stalking him… and will stop at nothing to seize the spoils!

It was quite a good story. Its a stand alone pulp written before John D. MacDonald would create the Travis McGee series of adventure stories.  I found it very interesting that issues like gentrification of cities and towns, as well as cultural stagnification from mass media were issues brought up within the story. Issues we are still addressing today. But at the heart of it, the story is really about man’s search for meaning… and what constitutes ‘treasure’.

I drove back out to the motel. It no longer seemed important about meeting Antoinette in the morning. It didn’t matter any more. I had come here to Hillston to find treasure. I had thought I would find it buried in the ground. I had found it walking around, with dark red hair, with gray eyes, with a look of pride. And I hadn’t recognized it. I had acted like a fool. I had tried to play the role of thief. But it didn’t fit. It never would fit. The money meant nothing. Ruth meant everything. I had had a chance and I had lost it. They don’t give you two chances.

Cold Blood – Robert Bryndza

Cold Blood – Robert Bryndza Bookouture (September 20, 2017) 357 pages.

The fifth DCI Erika Foster novel is another great read. This time out, as DC Peterson recovers from his wounds, two bodies are recovered from the banks of the Themes. Dismembered and stuffed into suitcases… who could do such a horrible thing… and how does someone become a person capable of doing that? This is the story that answers those questions. As DCI Erika Foster and her team track down those responsible for these murders, the split narration shows how an ordinary person can become a person with the capacity to commit murder.

During the course of this investigation Erika continues to check on Peterson while he’s recovering. But, in a sudden twist Erika is betrayed by one close to her and she’s attacked while delivering evidence to the forensics unit. We follow Erika as she recovers from her wounds. The physical one she received during the attack, and the other… well… she is still coming to terms with the death of her husband years ago. She returns to Slovenia to stay with her sister and enjoy her niece and nephew.

During Erika’s recovery, the case is assigned to a drug investigation unit within the department where it becomes ‘lost in the tall grass’ until Erika returns. With new evidence, new perspective and renewed engagement Erika takes charge of the investigation again and her dogged pursuit of these ruthless killers brings about another tense and trilling conclusion.

Erika looked down at Nina’s body and felt an overwhelming sadness. How could a young girl with so much promise stumble down such a dark path? She looked back to the cave, and could just make out Max Kirkham’s feet through the gap in the rocks. It was quiet, and the light was fading, and she shivered. With her free hand, she closed Nina’s eyes.
   The wind whistled across the heather and the air was bitterly cold, and Erika paced up and down to keep warm. She thought how long she had hunted for these two people, and of the trail of destruction they had left in their wake. And now she was alone, guarding their bodies.

Crusader’s Cross – James Lee Burke

Crusader’s Cross – James Lee Burke Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition (July 12, 2005) 337 pages.

The story starts out in a flashback with Dave and his brother Jimmy spending the summer of 58 in Galveston where they were rescued from the surf by a girl… who is eventually taken and subsequently disappears. Later, in the current time frame,  a former classmate of Dave’s, who’s path in life is to run into trouble inevitably finds it and on his deathbed has a confession he gives to Dave,  his uncle, formerly a sheriff’s deputy, had been involved in the girl’s disappearance back in 58.

Dave is reluctant to visit ghosts of the past until an incident where two corrupt sheriff’s deputies take a forceful interest in what might have been said to Dave by an old school chum. Meanwhile,  a series of killings has taken place in the suburbs surrounding New Orleans with one of the bodies discovered in New Iberia parish where Dave has just been rehired by the sheriff’s department.

So, while Dave is officially looking into  the current homicide he’s conducting a reluctant parallel, personal investigation into the past. Which is not something that a wealthy powerful old family wants to have happen. And Dave does not react well to the intimidation tactics of people in power.

In this novel Dave is constantly making bad choices that have serious repercussions for those around him. His reckless encounter with a genteel belle whom he used to know inadvertently corrupts a crime scene. He meets openly, in public, with a witness willing to talk and she subsequently turns up dead. And a verbal confrontation he orchestrates in a posh restraunt turns into an assault and leads to Cletus offering to help his perjured witnesses.

Its not only incredible how Dave turns this around… its miraculous!

“The problem isn’t just the beef at Clementine’s. Its you Dave. You don’t like rules and you hate authority. You wage a personal war against guys like Val Chalons and take the rest of us down with you. No amount of pleading with you works. People are tired of following you around with a dustpan and broom.”
“I’ll clean out my desk,” I said.
“You force your friends to hurt you, Dave. I think that’s a sickness. But you act like it’s funny,” she said.

Red-headed Sinners – Jonathan Craig

Red-Headed Sinners – Jonathan Craig (1953) (PlanetMonk Pulps Book 6) . PlanetMonk Books. Kindle Edition.

What can I say about this work of pulp prose… it’s like a 1950s men’s graphic novel without the pictures. It’s not meant to be funny, at least I don’t think that this story is to be farcical,  though it might be tongue in cheek. It’s a story of a disturbed alcoholic who’s underlying trigger happens to fire… for reasons revealed rather late in the story, about childhood trauma and sexual abuse… I would offer a spoiler alert, but seriously, if you can’t see the end of this train wreck straight from the gate, then brother you’ve got to read more pulp…

Well as it happens the story starts with, a senior police lieutenant gets kicked off the force for roughing up and nearly choking to death a fugitive jewel thief’s moll… as it happens, the lieutenant probably had a few drinks in him and the moll in question was a flaming redhead. Now disgraced Jeff stoner seeks redemption, by finished the jewel thief and recovering the jewels… but to do that, he has to find out where he’s hiding… so he goes to talk to that redhead… but he should probably have a few drinks the settle his nerves, and a couple more to take the edge off, and just go and … talk to her…

And thus begins the tale and trail of bodies leading to the demise of Jeff Stoner… a cautionary tale tis true, a story ripped from the headlines of yesteryear. .. dangerously damaged people should not be given badges and bourbon.

What had happened to the three hours? He tried, painfully, to think back over his actions. He’d stopped at the liquor store, he remembered. He’d had a couple of healthy ones in the car … maybe more than a couple. He bent and lifted the fifth of whiskey. Almost half gone. It didn’t seem possible. He stared at the bottle for a moment. One more couldn’t hurt. He had to pull himself together, didn’t he? He unscrewed the cap and tilted the bottle and shuddered as the whiskey scalded down his throat. There! That was more like it!

The Double Take – Roy Huggins

The Double Take – Roy Huggins – originally published in 1946, I read the kindle edition (2015) from NightHawk Books (188 pages).

Set in the mid nineteen thirties Los Angeles where shamus Stuart Bailey gets a job to investigate a news wife’s past for a city planning commissioner. The case itself seems somewhat suspicious,  but he agrees to take. And sets off for Portland, where she’s from as far as her college transcript says. I had to look us ‘shamus’ on a blog of slang terms. I thought it might be a term for a generic irishman, but nope, it’s an old slang term given to private detectives like gum-shoe or dick.

Well, the case takes Bailey from Portland back to LA and seems he’s picked up a couple of tails along the way. Well, mobsters and along casino, a marine biologist and him luscious young Brazilian wife and her chauffeur,  a vaudeville performer or two and this case gets a bit crowded round the middle.

But it’s all sorted out in the end… what’s a dead body or two along the way. Huggins didn’t write too many books but rather went on to fame and fortune in producing! Shows like 77 sunset strip… and … draw upon the images you can see in this book…

  The mouth stayed hard and drew apart into a tight smile, a smile to carve diamonds with. She made a sharp noise in her throat and turned suddenly and ran down the four steps to the sidewalk. She looked back at me.
“You cheap gumshoe,” she rasped quietly. “I finally figured you out. You’re yellow.” Cold laughter. “You’re too yellow to even live up to your own manhood.” She turned and jumped into the car. The motor ground and roared, and then she leaned out the open window and screamed, “I’ll send my houseboy around to see you. He’s just your type.” The car jerked and jumped away from the curb and raced toward Wilshire in an agony of grinding gears.

  

South of Evil – Brian Dunford

South of Evil – Brian Dunford 234 pages – Murder Thriller

So, I downloaded this to my kindle as the author had contacted me through goodreads and suggested it to me. I read the blurb and found the story an interesting one and since I had a little time here, I figured why not take a break for those pulps of the 40’s and 50’s and read something set in a more contemporary timeframe. A story of a Federal Agent, a drug dealer, and a stash of cash just waiting south of the border in a winner take all tale. Well… this review is a story of timeframes, the benefits of finishing well and a reviewer ‘read all’ tale.

The first third of this novel was plagued by discontinuous timeframes, jumping back and forth, leaving me unsure where I was at times. Then there was an annoying issue with the names of characters, sometimes using a first name to identify a character but then jumping right in an using the character’s whole name and back again… when I really didn’t see it as necessary and I don’t recall any two characters having names that were in anyway similar. And, there are two characters which the author tells us are fond of calling people by nicknames. I love a good nickname, its can be very revealing and characters, but then I really got into the story, I find that only one or two characters are being referred to by nicknames… a little bit of an unfulfilled promises. As I finished the first third I figured I would rate it two stars and shelve it… but, instead, I decided to greatly increase my reading pace and move through the story at a much higher level sacrificing detail while maintaining a cohesive narrative.

As I finished the second third of this novel the timeframes had stabilized and I found myself following a more cohesive story. The characters were all well in place, their relations to one another were fleshed out a bit more, their sense of who and where they were has becoming more clear and the narrative came together and the author was able to pick up the story’s pace. As a result I decided to reduce my reading pace. I took a pause as I approached the two thirds mark and felt the story was really keeping me engaged and the characters were starting to grow on me here. Despite the fact that only ‘The Russian’ had a nickname. I was thinking that this would probably be a good, three-stars overall review if everything stayed stable.

But, every story has an ending… well, at least the ones I finish reading do! And this novel… it really had an ending. No spoilers here… I want you to read it for yourself. It really came together, well planned. The some main characters had really developed and changed in fundamental ways, others remained stubbornly, unapologetically unchanged, and climax was… climatic! It really ended well, a good four-star story once it got its feet under it. I would recommend it and see if there are more stories from Mr. Dunford.

   Strauss hadn’t heard it in a long time, but he had heard “You don’t look Mexican” enough times to know it was true. He looked European. His hair and skin were lighter, and he had the bearing and countenance of the old world.

A man went into the small café. He made eye contact for a second with Strauss, but quickly looked away.

Sometimes, he thought of them by name. Other times, he gave them nicknames: The old man, the sad man, the fat man, the man who should have known better, the man who should have stayed dead the first time.

Neon Rain – James Lee Burke

Neon Rain – James Lee Burke – I read the Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster) paperback version.

Right off the bat we get poignant social commentary and we meet New Orleans homicide detective Lieutenant Dave Robicheaux who may just be the target of a hitman… seems he’s investigating the suspicious drowning of a prostitute in a parish in south Louisiana that ties back to the New Orleans mob. But its deeper than just the mob… soon South American gun runners are setting him up to take a fall for a federal agent’s death. Then, suspended from the force he continues his own investigation following it wherever it leads stepping over bodies as he goes.

From a Calloused parish sheriff and a pair of his corrupt deputies, to biased and apathetic Internal Affairs investigators, the mantle of Noir fiction rest well on this first Robicheaux novel. His life, from serving in Viet Nam to facing down crime in the underworld of New Orleans while battling the bottle and other demons from his past make for a character that is surprisingly introspective and takes the time to see the beauty around him. Burke takes the time to paint a visually lush and fertile environment throughout the novel. It’s a treat for the senses and an immersive experience.

This is the third novel of Burke’s that I’ve read…. I suppose its about time that I got to read the book that started the whole series. This came out in 1987; over ten years from the first Spenser novel and five years before the first Bosch story… which is now on my list to read. There’s something about the narration of the Robicheaux stories that jumps to life… I just wish that they came out with scratch and sniff pages!

   She sat beside me, wiped ointment on my cuts with a piece of cotton, snipped adhesive tape into strips with the scissors, and taped down two big, folded squares of gauze on top of the ointment. Then she rubbed her hands over my skin, down my shoulders and back, across my chest, her eyes looking over my body without embarrassment, as though she were discovering me for the first time. I leaned her back on the bed and kissed her mouth, her neck, unbuttoned her flower-print blouse and placed my head against the red birthmark on her breast. I felt her body stretch out against mine, felt the confidence, the surrender that a woman gives in that moment when she no longer hides her hunger and instead blesses you with a caress that is always unexpected and heart-rushing and humbling in its generosity.

This time I wanted to give her more than she gave me, but I wasn’t able. In seconds I was lost inside her, her hands right against my back, her legs in mine in almost a material way, and when I tried to tense and stop because it was too soon, she held my face close to hers, kissed my cheek, ran her fingers through the back of my hair, saying, “It’s alright Dave. Go ahead. It’s alright.” Then I felt all the anger, the fear, and the heat of the last two days rise inside me like a dark bubble from a well, pause in its own gathered energy and momentum, and burst away into light, into the joy of her thighs, the squeeze of her arms, the blue tenderness of her eyes.

Rising Sun – Michael Crichton

Rising Sun – Michael Crichton

How often is it that I read a great ‘who-dunnit’ and it comes with quite an extensive bibliography at the end. I’m sure plenty of people are familiar with the wonderful movie version of this with Wesley Snipes and Sean Connery. If you haven’t seen it… do so! It’s a great cop movie. The book is a bit more rounded, and it focuses more on the threat that the ‘Japanese model’ poses to America. Now, this was written in 1992 and back then it did seem that the Japanese ‘threat’ was real. The 80’s were a time of technological revolution, especially in tangible consular products. The case Crichton makes for caution is well reasoned and, for the most part, compliments the story being told and is presented, mainly through the discourses of Captain Connor.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Initially, a murder has taken place in a conference room above a grand opening ceremony for a Japanese corporation. Since this is a sensitive situation, the building’s representative requests a special liaison officer from the LAPD be present. The story is told from the perspective of this officer, Lieutenant Smith… and right from the start, where Officer Smith is directed to pick up retired Captain Connor as a consultant, things are not what they appear. Someone is manipulating events, and people from behind the scene and as Connor points out repeatedly “their way of seeing things is not our way of seeing things”.

As the investigators continue through the obfuscation put in their path, powerful interests put their media agents to work. There is a newspaper reporter in their employ who works to dig up dirt or manufacture negative press, and potential character smears to threaten the investigators. Crichton really paints a compelling picture of how these tactics are actually being used in the current media.

Despite this, with the clock ticking and time running out, solid detective work wins the day. Buy not taking anything for granted, by questioning the underlying assumptions, and mostly by looking a gift horse directly in its mouth… the novel ends with a very Japanese display of ‘justice’.

After reading this, I want to read a couple of Crichton’s earlier novels. He wrote four novels between 1960 and 1970 under the name John Lange. These books have been republished as part of the Hard Crimes line, so I’ll get myself a couple of them…

   Every homicide crime scene has the same energy, and that finality at the center. When you look at the dead person, there is a kind of obviousness, and at the same time there is an impossible mystery. Even in the simplest domestic brawl, where the woman finally decided to shoot the guy, you’d look at her, all covered in scars and cigarette burns, and you had to ask, why tonight? What was it about tonight? It’s always clear what you are seeing, and there’s always something that doesn’t add up. Both things at once.

And at a homicide you have the sense of being right down to the basic truths of existence, the smells and the defecation and the bloating. Usually somebody crying, so you’re listening to that. And the usual bullshit stops; somebody died, and it’s an unavoidable fact, like a rock in the road that makes all the traffic go around it. And in that grim and real setting, this camaraderie springs up, because you’re working late with people you know, and actually know very well because you see them all the time. L.A. has four homicides a day; there’s another one every six hours. And every detective at the crime scene already has ten homicides dragging in his backlog, which makes this new one an intolerable burden, so ho and everybody else is hoping to solve it on the spot, to get it out of the way. There is that kind of finality and tension and energy all mixed together.

And after you do it for a few years, you get so you like it. And to my surprise, as I entered the conference room, I realized that I missed it.

Foreign Deceit – Jeff Carson

Foreign Deceit: A David Wolf Mystery – Jeff Carson, Cross Atlantic Publishing 2013. I read the Kindle Edition from Amazon

This is a first novel from what I can tell by author Jeff Carson. It’s a mystery of the thriller variety. While awaiting a potential promotion to Sheriff, Deputy Sargent David Wolf gets notified of his brothers suicide in a small city in northern Italy. Circumstances surrounding his brothers death have details that do not ring true, so he goes there to look into it and bring the body home. While investigating with the help of an attractive, young police woman Lia Parente he uncovers more than just the local charms. The book ends with his return to Colorado and a nice hook into volume two. The e-book edition I read, the first two chapters of the second book in this series are provided.

After letting this sit and digest with me, nothing there really stands out that I can recall with good texture. Perhaps the thing sticking out to me the most is Lia’s ability to drive an Alfa Romero very well, and that she may be ‘vivacious’ but I would have like to have spent more time at the post-climax of the novel exploring that in better detail.

Between Colorado and northern Italy Carson does a decent job in describing the landscapes and settings, but nothing really grabs me with any detail, or texture. I’m not expecting James Lee Burke pastoral here. But given two opportunities to bring a place to life I see an opportunity wasted I suppose. The language used is… standard, no, flat. Yeah, I would describe the descriptions as flat.

“Wolf had been studying the foliage of the area, and could only come to the conclusion that nature looked confused. There were palm trees, pine trees with long drooping limbs, stiff spiked trees with red flowers that looked like fruit, large-leaved prehistoric looking bushes, pine trees you might see in Colorado, and a variety of exotic-looking foliage he’d never seen. The lawn was lush green, full of grasses and thick-stemmed wild flowers with tiny yellow and blue blossoms, and at least a foot tall. One thing was certain—this area got a lot of rain.”

The area is well described, yet… nothing really has a texture. And this marks the description of, well, everything. Its there, but not that we ‘feel’ it. Even the Italian dinner scene at Detective Rossi’s house lacks texture…and if anything is ripe for pulling all our senses in, its an Italian dinner… I WANT to taste that spaghetti! And experience Office Parente… now THAT would be a sensation to textualize!

Bitter End – Rex Stout

Bitter End: The First Nero Wolfe Novella – Rex Stout . I read the Kindle Edition of the original story published in 1940. A classic who-dunit mystery. The clues are there to follow for the observant.

The story starts out where someone has evidently tampered with a jar of pate at the residence of one Nero Wolfe. Poison is suspected and an outraged Wolfe vows to find the dastardly culprit behind this assault on his palate. As fate would have it, Miss Duncan, niece to My Tingley of Tingley’s Tidbits who makes the pate, arrives to engage Wolfe to investigate the product tampering. Among the close knit circle of suspects is: Miss Yates, in charge of production; Mr Cliff, a VP of a competing firm; Philip, Mr Tingley’s adopted son; Mr Judd, a mysterious banker who is also looking to buy Tingley’s Tidbits; and Miss Murphy, assistant to Miss Yates.

The investigation takes a turn for the worse when Mr Tingley is found murdered in his office and Miss Duncan apparently struck unconscious at the scene. The homicide brings Wolfe’s foil Inspector Cramer into the story. With the looting of papers at Tingley’s office, the murder may not be related to the product tampering, but rather the curious birth and adoption of Philip who may be set to inherit the business.

But in the end, deductive reasoning and a careful examination of the facts presented soon turns up the guilty party. And the description, the narrative… its first rate!

It sure was a ramshackle joint. From a dingy hall a dilapidated stair went up. I mounted to the floor above, heard noises, including machinery humming, off somewhere, and through a rickety door penetrated a partition and was in an anteroom. From behind a grilled window somebody’s grandpa peered out at me, and by shouting I managed to convey to him that I wanted to see Mr. Arthur Tingley. After a wait I was told that Mr. Tingley was busy, and would be indefinitely. On a leaf of my notebook I wrote, “Quinine urgent,” and sent it in. That did it. After another wait a cross-eyed young man came and guided me through a labyrinth of partitions and down a hall into a room.

Seated at an old, battered roll-top desk was a man talking into a phone, and in a chair facing him was a woman older than him with the physique and facial equipment of a top sergeant. Since the phone conversation was none of my business, I stood and listened to it, and gathered that someone named Philip had better put in an appearance by five o’clock or else. Meanwhile I surveyed the room, which had apparently been thrown in by the Indians when they sold the island. By the door, partly concealed by a screen, was an old, veteran marble-topped washstand. A massive, old-fashioned safe was against the wall across from Tingley’s desk. Wooden cupboards, and shelves loaded down with the accumulation of centuries, occupied most of the remaining wall space.

“Who the hell are you?”