Category Archives: Pulp Mystery

Lethally Wedded – J A Jones

Jones, J.A.. Lethally Wedded . Second Reef Publishing. Kindle Edition.

I want a t-shirt for finishing this story! I really feel like I deserve some sort of reward for finishing this story since the story itself didn’t provide any. This tragic tale of mail-order bride woe is narrated in the first person with different  characters telling their part of this lackluster yarn. DWM, Stan, fifty-something lonely man seeks SWF bombshell for marriage sex and citizenship… no mystery here.

Stan meets Tatiana online. She’s living with her friend Julia in an apartment managed by Victor after the death of her husband Boris. So you can see the level of imagination we have going on here…  I would not be surprised if in the first draft of this, Julia was named Natasha.

So, Tatiana come to America and between the luxury brand product placements and commercials for Costco… a story is told. Boy meets girl, girl meets dog trainer, girl meets love of her life rock star, boys rich mother dies, girl plans to kill boy… and at this point Stan is so poorly defined, I really don’t care if she offs him or not. These characters are so flat that I’m hoping for a quick death so I can get out of this book that much quicker.

I should have shelved this book halfway through. But, it has one saving grace… it’s lack of depth and detail makes it very skimmable. So, in for a penny, I stayed to see the big ‘twist’ at the end… I’m not going to spoil it here, but if I did… you would thank me for not letting you experience this lack of a mystery for yourself.

   “Are you really sure about this?” Holly said as she picked at her premade Costco salad of kale, tomatoes, and something that looked like grass.
   “It’s just a ninety-day fiancé visa,” I said as I picked up my slice of greasy pepperoni pizza. Costco made arguably the world’s best pizza, mozzarella cheese melted just right, a tiny bit burnt, the crust crunchy. For only $1.99 a slice! The generous slice of pizza completely covered the paper plate. It was like getting half a pizza for $1.99. Such a deal. I took a bite and wiped at my mouth with a paper napkin as the grease threatened to drip down my chin. “I’m just bringing her over for a visit. You’ll get to meet her, tell me what you think.”
  “What about the ring?”
   “I just wanted an excuse to see you at my favorite lunch spot,” I said, treating her to one of my killer smiles.

Whom Gods Destroy – Clifton Adams

Whom Gods Destroy – Clifton Adams (1953) (PlanetMonk Pulps Book 13) . PlanetMonk Books. Kindle Edition.  It wasn’t bad… in some way I wish that it was because then I could just put it back on the dust bin of history, write up the reasons why you shouldn’t waste your time with it and be done. I could go on with the rest of my happy life and go on to read a much better book. But no, this book wasn’t bad… unfortunately for me it was mediocre. Not bad enough to put it down quickly but also not worth the investment of time and effort it took to read it.

The plot… what there is of it… poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks, Roy, meets pretty good girl from the good side of town, Lola. Boy becomes high school football star… confesses love for girl near the end of their senior year. Girl laughs at boy. Boy runs away, scarred for life, for fourteen years (well it is the early 1950’s).

Upon returning to town due to the death of his father, Roy finds that his father was buried by a charity that’s headed by Lola who is now married to the prominent county attorney. He has become driven by rage over the laughter of Lola and his not being able to make something of himself. One of his old high school buddies is not a bootleg booze retailer in town. Roy finds this bootlegging business may be his own path to riches and power… and then he’ll show Lola, yeah, he’ll have his revenge! Then he’ll be able to stop the perpetual laughter that drives his rage and turmoil. Well all his schemes keep backfiring… and this sad cautionary tale of blind rage and complete inability to move on with ones own life leads to its inevitable conclusion…

Seriously, you see the ending coming from chapter one and the wreckage that accumulates within the rest of this story is just not worth the trip through, unless you’re one of those who love to rubber-neck car wrecks in the opposite lane, then this sad, hopeless Wyle E Coyote tail is for you…

I had seen Lola, I’d had my hands on her, but it was Vida beside me now. She had her arms around me, pressing my face to her breasts, and she was crooning something softly. It had a soothing, pleasant sound in the darkness. “Lie still,” she crooned. “Lie still … ”

But it scared me – whatever had happened in my brain. I had to figure it out, and I couldn’t do it my myself. “I went crazy,” I said. “As crazy as a whole carload of loons. I saw her, right here in this room. She started laughing and I – God, Vida, I’m sorry.”

“I’m not. It had to happen sometime, and I guess I’ve been hoping it would happen. I’m not made like some women. I can’t keep holding on and on forever. And a lush is no husband, Roy. It happened and I’m glad – even if you thought I was someone else.”

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.”

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.

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.

The Woman Aroused – Ed Lacey

The Woman Aroused – Ed Lacey Published in 1951 I read the PlanetMonk Pulps Book 8 Kindle Edition. This is the first novel by Ed Lacy who, up to this point was mostly a short story writer, and this does read a lot like an extended short story. Although a death by mysterious circumstance does take place in this novel, I wouldn’t consider it a mystery… nothing about the death is really investigated, and questions about the death are not formally resolved. However, like the protagonist George, we do have a strong circumstantial case against one of the other characters.

And that is really what this story has going for it, characters. Characters up the Wahoo as we would say; distinctive, quirky and varied. Though not a mystery its more a slice of life story told in a tight first person narrative that has a short story feel to it. You can almost hear George sitting across from you telling you this account about his fall from grace and possible redemption by means of a young woman, the widow of a childhood friend from the neighborhood just returned from overseas Army duty.

And its this friend who has George hold some money for him so that his wife wont get it should they divorce as he anticipates. However, he falls out of the window of his fifth story apartment before he can divorce his wife. Now, George finds himself entangled with this wild foreign woman.

I really did enjoy this story particularly for the realistic sense of New York City in the post world war two late forties with the experiences of the veterans, those who served during the war, The character Eddie (whose political views seem very autobiographical to Mr. Lacy) who is George’s ex-brother-in-law, and the experiences of those who served in the time just after the war Walt, the son of George’s friend and co-worker Joe.

And then of course, there are those classic ‘pulp’ descriptions peppered throughout the book:

   I went into the kitchen and I heard them kissing, then Joe told her,

“I’d best go in and help Georgie boy.” He came in and put a heavy arm around my shoulder, turned on the water in the sink so she couldn’t hear, said, “Jeez, what a night. I tied a big one on. Hey what do you think of Stella? Some sex-boat.”

“Not bad,” I said, pouring the beer. I knew all about Stella – all the Stellas: with a husband someplace in the background, maybe a kid or two, a busted marriage, a routine job during the week, and the frantic week-ends with any guy who treated her “nicely,” as she tried to regain her illusions of bright romance and youth over some bar; a dozen drinks fogging reality.

Blonde Bait – Ed Lacy

Blonde Bait – Ed Lacy Published in 1959 I read the PlanetMonk Pulps Book 8 Kindle Edition published in 2013.

A brief pulp book coming in at 147 pages it’s a novella written in a first person narrative style , that really has an authenticity to its voice. A pulp from the late fifties, a guy meets a buxom blonde bombshell, with a suitcase full of cash and not big on telling us the wheres and whys of having it, not to mention a gun, out sitting on a deserted Florida key. The story has a lot of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ but the clipped nature of the story still has a good bit of action and fisticuffs leading to its climax. I look forward to spending a little more time with this author… and of course, being Ed Lacy, the reason for the mystery behind the money… yeah, its political…

It’s a story about a vagabond guy living on a boat who comes across a woman apparently stranded on a deserted spit of an island. This woman it seems had baggage in more than one way, apparently she doesn’t want to talk about the suitcase full of cash she has, nor why she needs the gun in her hand bag. Eventually, as these two characters interact and get to tell each other their life’s story they forge a relationship and appear to live a rather idyllic life on a small island in the Bahamas. But although they are accepting of each other, there is this wall between them.

Micky has a yearning to return to the US, not permanently just an excursion to see the sights but Rose is on the run from people trying to kill her. As she begins to tell Micky more of her story and how she came to have the money. Micky thinks that, since its been two years, perhaps the people looking for her have giving up. So they set sail for Jacksonville and work their way up to Atlantic city. But it seems that while they were out and about, the people looking for Rose haven’t given up yet. She’s more on the radar than ever, and while Micky and Rose as having diner at a club, a person who claims to be a federal agent notices her. Rose is able to slip the agent as Micky creates a distraction. Now he’s become the ‘person of interest’ facilitating her escape!

The Keys were full of boats , big and small yachts , so I crossed over to the Bahamas , found myself a quiet little island . A hunk of sand and a couple of ragged bushes . No place to live and no way of getting there without a boat – a sea boat . I anchored late in the afternoon , about thirty or forty feet offshore . I didn’t do much of anything but fish for my supper , put in sack time . In the morning I saw this girl on the beach . I’d never seen anything like her before , except in the movies . A tall platinum – blonde , with a face and shape … well , you see the snap . She was calmly sitting on a suitcase , peeling off her stockings and a ritzy summer dress . There was a bathing suit under the dress . I went down into the cabin and put my little telescope on her – through a port hole . Up close she looked even better . She also had a cloth – bag pocketbook , and I could see the heavy outline of a . 45 automatic in the bag .

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…