Category Archives: Noir

Vixen – Ken Bruen

Vixen – Ken Bruen Published by Minotaur Books 2003, 201 pages. A fine British hard boiled police procedural where one character, a doctor, sums it up best… “God help us all if they’re the good guys.” This is the fifth in a series of Inspector Brant stories and an ensemble cast of recurring characters,  like the nick DCI Erika Foster is stationed in. But unlike Bryndza, this novella of Bruen’s follows several characters not focusing on one central character’s perspective.

Written in a terse, almost staccato style, the story starts literally with a bang as a small explosive is set off in a cinema.  Then we jump into lives in progress with pompous Superintendent Brown asking officious Chief Inspector Roberts where the flamboyant  Sergeant Brant, the chip-on-her-shoulder DC Falls and the anxious Porter Nash aren’t on the scene already.

Interspersed between the scenes of interpersonal drama and heavy drinking we follow as the team pursues a scantily-clad, sociopathic siren and her two henchmen, a pair of two bothers, a would-be brains and pure brawn pair of formerly petty criminals as they extort a ransomed from the police to stop the bombings they’ve started. A broad stroke story of colorful characters cast on a canvas of South London’s lesser known drinking establishments.

Angie, in her elation, had let her true self emerge, her eyes no longer guarded, and what looked out was as old as time and primeval in its malevolence.  Ellen had, without realizing it, moved a few feet away, a voice in her head urging her to get the hell out of there. Angie, always sensitive to danger, put out her hand, touched Ellen’s wrist, asked:
   ‘You okay? You don’t look too good.’
   ‘The brandy. I’m not used to it on an empty stomach.’
   She got up, left fast and felt she had indeed supper with the devil. She’d relegate this case to a junior.

Trouble Is My Business – Raymond Chandler

Chandler, Raymond. Trouble Is My Business . Distributed Proofreaders Canada. Kindle Edition.

This is a collection of four Philip Marlow classic short stories ripped from the pages of Black Mask magazine.

In the first story… a case of extortion, blackmail, revenge and murder, Philip Marlow is subcontracted to rescue an infatuated young man from the clutches of a vicious vixen, after a prior detective on the case turns up deceased things take a turn for the sinister as nefarious types get the drop on our hero. Through bold fisticuffs and intrepid determination, Marlow makes it through to bagging the bag guys.

In the second one Philip Marlow due to testify against a corrupt political boss takes a bodyguard side job for a friend,  when  the friend gets bumped off on the way back from winning a bundle at a wheel rigged roulette wheel… Philip feels a frame… and the tomato playing the numbers at the wheel is telling too many stories to keep it straight.

The third story, Goldfish – Philip Marlow is on the trail of a pair of pearls in a pretty pricy caper… and a determined dame with a flair for violence, is no deterrent. Seems a pair of pearls earnings went missing from a robbery a couple of years ago. The insurance men will pay twenty five thousand for them and a former police woman turned boarding house madam has a clue to there whereabouts. .. twenty five thousand split two ways is a lot of dough. But the bird who gave her the tip have chipped to another, more ruthless chickadee who may just have a head start on Marlow.

The forth, a case of purloined pearls, Marlow falls into a case of cheating spouses and cheating chiselers. The hot Santa Ana winds feature through this story. Marlow steps into a new bar opening across the street from his apartment building. Only one other guy is sitting there, when a man walks in looking for a dame. A rather specific dame, and he describes what she’s wearing. Neither Marlow nor the bartender have seen her, and adds the man goes to leave, the other patron at the bar shoots him and flees, jumping into the guy’s car still running outside. And as fate would have it… the Dame as described just happens to be walking through the hallway in the apartment building across the street.

   The door opened with a jerk and Finlayson and Sebold came in. Sebold looked as spruce and nasty as ever, but Finlayson looked older, more worn, mousier. He held a sheaf of papers in his hand. He sat down across the desk from me and gave me a hard bleak stare.
   “Guys like you get in a lot of trouble,” Finlayson said sourly. Sebold sat down against the wall and tilted his hat over his eyes and yawned and looked at his new stainless-steel wrist watch.
   “Trouble is my business,” I said. “How else would I make a nickel?”

Dead End – Ed Lacy

Dead End – Ed Lacy (PlanetMonk Pulps Book 16) (p. 73). PlanetMonk Books. Kindle Edition.

 I enjoyed this pulp despite its disconnected voice. It’s the story of a young guy who joins the police department after coming home from serving in the Korean War.  His war bride wife, whom he married to spite the man who raised him before he shipped out, keeps pushing the young man to make more and more money.

Soon he’s taking a little grate here, a touch of a freebie there… but nothing serious… at least not until he lucks into making a collar that lands him a promotion, a modest bump in pay, but most importantly puts him in with an older detective… whose got a real money making side deal going. But this is still nickel and dime to what a huge payday may await them, if they can wait it out and play their cards right… why, it could be a million…

It’s a nice story well told in a first person point of view. And that I think is where it was a bit of an issue for me because where you can see in the story that this is a young guy not yet thirty… and there are several examples of where his immaturity can get the better of him… reading the narrative, the voice that’s speaking through it seems older somehow… I feel like the narrator is somewhere in his forties… I really can’t put my finger on why I get this impression. I suppose it’s just from the overall language being used… but the narrator of the story doesn’t sound like some twenty nine year old… kid…

I GUESS the first week I worked with Doc I learned more about police work – the right and the wrong kind – than I did in the entire previous year or so I’d been working at it. Doc was very good, as a cop and as a crooked cop. He was smart, had an explanation for everything. In fact, he could talk you to death about anything. He seemed to have solid connections behind him way up to City Hall. Most times we’d be assigned to the Commissioner’s roving squad, and whenever there was a shake-up in sight, we would be sent to some precinct detective squad, for a while. I guess Doc could have got us both some office jobs, but we worked hard, put in long hours on the streets – where there was money to be made. Right from the first day I made money. We never made a fortune, you understand (up till a few days ago, that is), but I managed to about double my salary. At first I was a little uneasy about the shakedowns, but as Doc told me, “Kid, you get what you pay for in this world. And a city only gets the police force it pays for. You weren’t getting an extra dime for working on your vacation, risking your life by going after Johnson. We take chances every minute. Then it’s up to us to increase our pay whenever we can.”

Noir – Christopher Moore

Noir – William Marrow – Harper Colling published April 2018

“A couple of onions short of a Gibson.” Funny… It’s the first book from this author that I’m reading.

Set in San Francisco in 1947, its Ramond Chandler meets J. A. Konrath with a humorous story of Sammy, a gimpy barman who falls for a blonde, Stilton (like the cheese) who’s built like a B-52 and wandered into the bar one dark and stormy night. Speaking of bombshells, we are introduced to a General who wants to perk up a weekend get-away in the woods with some working girls and Sammy’s shady boss Sal who has his fingers in many a shady pie, has just the idea…

Speaking of idea’s… Sammy get a helluva genius one when his Chinese friend and side-kick Eddie Moo Shoes take him for dinner at a place in the Chinatown back-alleys… If they could just get their hands on a snake and Sammy just knows a South African merchant marine from the bar who might just have the goods.

Things get a little out of hand with the snake crated up back at the bar… and now Sal needs to be put on ice. Next thing you know, the snake’s gone, Sal’s gone and the Cheese turns up missing!

Sammy recruits some friends, all neighborhood characters, and a search is underway… hijinks, including a high-speed car chase, ensue… Hold on to your aliens and G-men, its going to get bumpy!

She had the kind of legs that kept her butt from resting on her shoes – a size-eight dame in a size-six dress and every mug in the joint was rooting for the two sizes to make a break for it as they watched her wiggle in the door and shimmy onto a barstool with her back to the door. I raised an eyebrow at the South African merchant marine who’d been spinning out tales of his weird cargo at the other end of the bar while I polished a shot glass.

Vengeance Is Mine – Mickey Spillane

Vengeance Is Mine – I read this as the third story in the Mike Hammer Collection vol 1 – New American Library 2001. Original copywrite E P Dutton & Co. in 1950.

Felons, fillies and fisticuffs, nobody every accused Mickey of writing a dull story, and this third Mike Hammer novel starts out right away with Mike being roused from a night of drinking with a corpse in the middle of a hotel room shot with Mike’s own gun. Police are looking at it as a suicide, but Mike, having seen an important detail, comes to the conclusion that its murder… and if it wasn’t Mike, who did it?

Well, the corpse was an Air Force captain Mike had met when he came home from oversees. After a night or reconnecting over several bars, he turns up dead. Who in New York would want a department store buyer in from Cincinnati dead… that’s where Mike’s trail starts. And that trails leads to a modeling agency, a trip to the Bowery, a lunch in Greenwich Village, and a tangled web of an extortion ring weaving its way through the city leaving a string of bodies that were often dismissed as suicides. Somehow, the blackmailers are always one step ahead as Mike makes his way through to the truth behind the apparent suicide that wasn’t which started this crusade.

Mickey’s third novel, just like the first two makes wonderful use of straight forward prose to paint a picture of New York in the late forties on a canvass using a shadowy pallet of grays. Against this backdrop he paints the bright colorful characters of Connie, Clyde, Juno and Anton as well as the ever present and faithful Velda and Pat.

I love reading the pure, unvarnished, pre-pc prose. There is a raw and visceral quality to the low-life’s, high hats and criminal middle managers that Mike encounters. And although most people are quick to tell you about his hard-nose ‘take no prisoners’ approach to personal conflicts whenever some mook invades his ‘personal-space’ I like the wa that Mickey lets you know that the ghosts of Mike’s past still haunt him. Mike really sees clearly the impact that his actions make and that he himself is not insulated from the violence around him. But he still chooses to clean up his city. A city where Mike feels for his fellow citizens.

One description that really stands out in this book is where Mike is taken to a section of town he hasn’t visited in a while… and if you like this, wait till her goes to the village…

   The Bowery, a street of people without faces. Pleading voices from the shadows and the shuffle of feet behind you. An occasional tug at your sleeve and more pleading that had professional despair in the tone. An occasional woman with clothes too tight giving you a long, steady stare that said she was available cheap. Saloon doors swung open so frequently they seemed like blinking lights. They were crowded too. The bars were lined with the leftovers of humanity keeping warm over a drink or nursing a steaming bowl of soup.

It had been a long time since I made the rounds down here. A cab swung into the curb and a guy in a tux with a redhead on his arm got out laughing. There was a scramble in his direction and the redhead handed out a mess of quarters then threw them all over the sidewalk to laugh all the louder when the dive came.

The guy thought it was funny too. He did the same thing with a fin, letting it blow out of his hand down the street. Connie said “See what I mean?”

I felt like kicking the bastard. “Yeah, I see.”

My Gun Is Quick – Mickey Spillane

My Gun Is Quick – Written in 1950, I’m reading from the New American Library edition published in 2001, 190 pages.

As the novel opens we find Mike stopping at a diner in the wee hours of the morning where he chats up a red head whose currently prostituting to make ends meet. He sees something honorable in the kid and invests some of the profit he’s just made on a case. He gives her some dough to get a new outfit, get a new job and a new lease on life. The next day she’s found dead, apparently by an accident but Mike sees it otherwise. He takes to the streets uncovering a city wide prostitution ring and dispensing cold hard justice along the way to finding her killer.

This novel tells a story whose central theme appears to be the potential for redemption in a gritty city pulled out from under you at the last second. Nancy, the redhead could have made it if crime hadn’t caught up with her. Lola, another central character who Mike encounters seems well on the way to redemption until her young life was snuffed out too. Even Ann who was going to take the cash a blow town, got herself whacked before she could cash the check.

Following up on leads, Mike encounters a wealthy elderly gentleman, the last survivor of his line, erecting a memorial to himself. While Mike explains what information he needs and the nature of the case, the gentleman is moved by Mike’s story feels a renewal of faith in human kindness… and insists on financing Mike mission to find the identity of the redhead, as its unknown to us at the start…

It’s here as the old man discusses the futility of wealthy the Mike offers his insight on what makes a detective.

I nodded, blowing a streamer of smoke at the ceiling, ‘Money is great. Mr. Berin, but sometimes a guy gets pretty damn sore and money doesn’t matter any more. A guy can get just plain curious, too… and money doesn’t matter then either.’

What follows Mike all through the story, like a dog with the sent of a fox, snapping at his heels is this indignation. He isn’t concerned with the ‘big picture’ prostitution ring that his investigation appears to be unearthing. He leaves that to the press and the police to clean up. No, his mission is a personal vendetta… He took up a cause, to give a young deserving lady a chance at redemption and some one… some scum, stole that from her just as it was about to bear fruit.
It’s this feeling of ‘making it personal’ that builds an intimacy with this reader… I feel for these guys and dolls of the noir city.

Lady Go Die! – Max Allan Collins / Mickey Spillane

Lady Go Die! – A hard-boiled noir novel published by Titan Book 2012, running 241 pages.

In the Mickey Spillane ‘Mike Hammer’ universe, this novel is set to take place between the original Mike Hammer novel “I, The Jury” written in 1947, and “My Gun Is Quick” written in 1950.

Shooting a gun out of a crooked cop’s hand in his own police station with the chief watching… even in a small town like Sidon, that takes balls. So much so that I’m amazed Mike can walk through the front door without turning sideways. But here we are, and Mike Hammer continues to be a champion of the downtrodden, and of a local beachcomber on the receiving end of some ‘enhanced interrogation’ by local cops. This mind you, is Mike on vacation.

Max Allan Collins does a great job of writing this story, published in 2012, as if it were written in the late 1940’s timeline. There is a scene in the novel where Mike is sitting down with his friend Pat, a homicide detective and they are discussing the various aspects of what defines a serial killer. This conversation is written into the story because the writer, of a work in the late 1940’s wouldn’t assume that his readers would know well what a ‘serial killer’ is. It reminded me very much of how Poe had to lay down the various aspects of what a detective is when he wrote the Murders In The Rue Morgue because he couldn’t assume that his readers would know.

Reflecting on this collaboration of Spillane and Collins, I can’t recall if there are references to Mike’s war-time service in this novel. Mickey makes sure to underscore Mike’s ease around violence by referencing his service record fighting the ‘Japs’. The first three novels were written right after the war, with a reader base of veterans who had served.

But Max makes a point of Mike being more introspective of the violence that he needs to employ to meet out justice to those who richly deserve it.

“And Mike – you’re the goddamnedest, most cold-blooded killer I have ever seen in my life. And… you’re good at it.”
I looked down at my hands and suddenly the weight of the .45 under my left shoulder seemed a little too heavy. When I looked up my face was tight.
“I’ve had judges tell me that more than once. I can’t say I liked it.”
He didn’t back off an inch. “Well, tough shinola, sport! Because it happens to be true. I know you. Any time you pull the trigger, you are in the right. The bleeding hearts will never understand people like us. So feel flattered instead of getting touchy about it. I’ve killed people too and never lost sleep over it.”
That was more than I could say.
“Anyway,” he said with an awful casualness, “you’re a killer, not a murderer… and murderers need killing. Somebody has to do it. And I’m electing you.”

Mike is aware that there is a price to pay, and internal toll that all this takes on him. He’s perfectly willing to take that on, and not show that cost to others, and even as others blasely brush it of as a necessary evil… its easy for them, they don’t actually have to do it. Mike is there, and Mike will do it, because that’s how he rolls. But contrary to popular opinion, he doesn’t go looking for it.

But another reason I love reading writing like this…

Bill was one of those medium guys – medium build, medium height, medium weight, with the kind of face they build crowds out of.

C’mon, how can you NOT love a line like that. And this novel is littered with those gems at almost every turn of the page…

Quarry – Max Allan Collins

Quarry – I’ve just finished ready Max Allan Collin’s first Quarry novel. I decided to buy the Hard Case Crime edition of this work published in 2015. Originally this story was published in 1975 as The Broker, but I am working on a goal of reading all of the Hard Case Crime published works so, this is the edition for my library.

Physically dark, aesthetically dark, metaphorically dark the climax comes after midnight, a rainy midnight in a poorly lit rendezvous, a quarry outside of town away from any prying eyes. The ‘quarry’ stone theme runs through the book, but so does this idea of swimming, a cleansing I think… the author keeps coming around to swimming and I think ‘there’s something in the water here’. Peg bathes every time after sex… Mr Collins makes a point of pointing that out.

The story opens up with Quarry in the middle of ‘job’. At the conclusion of this job, Quarry returns to the motel in which he’s staying and we meet him there while he’s swimming in the pool. A broad approaches the pool and coaxes Quarry to return with her to her room to continue their conjugal activities they had evidently been engaged in before

Quarry snuck out to accomplish his job. After completing this new job, he returns to the pool despite the protestations of the broad.

This story ends in a dramatic climax resulting in several fatalities as it were. But more importantly we find Quarry now terminated from his employment with Broker. And since Broker is his only point of contact with the people contracting his services, and the ‘mystery’ being solved in this story stems directly from this work… how is it that Quarry’s story will continue? I know there is a sequel, but how does it start? This novel ends with Quarry, freed of the encumbrances of his ‘work’ swimming after his phone call with Peg. So, what is he going to do with his life next? Is he just going to retire? He seems a bit young for that, and the score from his last jobs isn’t that much money… a nice modest nest egg but certainty not ‘rest of your life’ money…

There’s a passage in the book that really sums things up nicely. Quarry is confronting the person who hired his services…

“… Let me remind you, you smug-ass bastard… you murdered Albert Leroy.”
“No,” I said. “I killed him. You murdered him.”
And I left her to think about it. I hoped she’d think about it a long time. But I doubted it.

But what else can we learn from this work… Well, there’s a passage that sums that up nicely too:

It didn’t make sense, it didn’t make fucking sense. Invisible people nobody wants to kill. Sometimes – like in my case – you get invisible because you want no one to know you. But other guys are born that way. Other guys doctors yank from the womb and can’t find an ass to slap.