Saturday, January 31, 2009

Review of Of All The Bloody Cheek

Killing people is a grim business. This is why, in fiction, hitmen are either tormented, existential figures or your garden variety psychopaths. It is rare to find a fictional contact killer who approaches his work with aplomb and joy de vivre. Augustus Mandrell is such a killer. The invention of Englishman Frank McAuliffe and the hero of three published books (and a rumored unpublished fourth one), Mandrell is the world's greatest hitman, and he's going to make sure you know it.

Starting with Of All The Bloody Cheek (Point Blank, 2005), which was first published in 1965, Mandrell narrates his adventures with relish. Cheek is more of a collection of four connected novellas, than a proper novel. The stories take place in the late 30's and early 40's. In each section, Mandrell relates the story of one of his "commissions," with each one being more elaborate than the next. Mandrell even has a nemisis in the form of an American Army Lieutenant (later a major) named Proferra, whose encounters with Mandrell leave him increasingly mutilated and unhinged.

The events may be historical, but McCauliffe gives Mandrell an urbane, witty, voice that is still engaging over 40 years after it initally appeared. McCauliffe has succeeded in creating a unique hitman who provides a wonderful counterpoint to his more serious counterparts. Unfortunately, Cheek is the only book in the series in print. Point Blank had, at one point, intended to reprint them all, but that plan seems to have fallen by the wayside. Pick this one up while you can still find it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wednesday Paperback Cover

Don't drink kids. It'll make you forget your clothes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dope Menace: The Video

I bought a copy of Dope Menace: The Sensational World of Drug Paperbacks 1900-1975 this weekend. Turns out there's a video as well.

Monday, January 26, 2009

New Lester Dent from Hard Case Crime

Hard Case Crime's October Title is Honey in His Mouth by Doc Savage creator Lester Dent. I would have thought that anything Dent left behind would have been published by now, so I'm curious to see this and to find out some more about it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review of The Vampire of Ropraz

Jacques Chessex’s The Vampire of Ropraz (Bitter Lemon Press, 2008) is a disturbing tale made even more unsettling by the author’s minimalist approach to his material. Chessex takes as his starting point a true story of necrophilia and savagery that occurred in the Swedish village of Ropraz in the early Twentieth Century and spins a spare, but powerful story.

A young girl dies and is buried. Days later, her corpse is found after having been dug up, violated and mutilated. After that, paranoia spreads throughout the countryside as the authorities scramble to find the perpetrator. Another girl’s corpse is found, and the paranoia mounts. Eventually, suspicion falls on Fevez, an alcoholic stable boy with a penchant for molesting cows. While Fevez is clearly disturbed, his guilt in the matter at hand is far from clear. Nevertheless, he is judged guilty and ends up in a psychiatric hospital, where he stays for decades before simply walking away one day.

Vampire, translated from French by W. Donald Wilson, is a slim book, coming in at around 100 pages. Chessex tells the story of Fevez with admirable restraint, and his detached, almost reportorial tone makes the crimes involved in the story all the more horrific. The effect is unsettling because one can’t help but want the author to weigh in with some sort of disapproval when writing about necrophilia and bestiality, but Chessex refuses to condemn. Eventually, the reason for this authorial distance is revealed, as The Vampire of Ropraz is not a story about monstrous crimes, but a tale about the fungible nature of identity.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

In Praise of Feral House

Today, while I was out trying to locate a copy of a certain book for a friend's birthday gift, I stopped by A Capella Books. Here I came face to face with the latest release from Los Angeles based Feral House Press, Dope Menace: The Sensational World of Drug Paperbacks 1900-1975 by Stephen Gertz. I wasn't out to buy a book for myself, but given the topic and the cover featuring Reginald Heade's illustration from Vice Rackets of Soho, there was no way I couldn't buy it. Fiscal responsibility is overrated anway.

The first sixty pages are an essay, interspersed with images of course, regarding the history of drug paperbacks, and the making of a moral panic. ( Did you know that that the head of Citizens for Decent Literature, the group that lead the charge against sleazy paperbacks in the 50's was led by Charles Keating? The same guy who looted Lincoln Savings and Loan 30 years later. That little tidbit says it all about America's screwed up priorities and the value of the self righteous moral posturing that people use to try and cover the fact that there's an almost casual nihilism at the heart of contemporary society, but that's a topic for another day and probably another place.)

Dope Menace comes with extensive footnotes and a list of references in the back for further reading. The rest of the book is given over to pictures. Big, wonderful reproductions of the lurid artwork of paperback originals. It's quite an attractive book, and the sort of thing anyone interested in paperback originals should want to own.

It's not the only great book of this sort Feral House has published. You way also want to check out
Sin-a-Rama: Sleaze Paperbacks of the Sixties, Mexican Pulp Art, and It's a Man's World: Men's Adventure Magazines The Postwar Pulps.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Contest at a Twist of Noir

All right. Listen up. Over at A Twist of Noir, there is a story contest for March. The theme: alienation. The rules, well, you can read them here. The deadline is March 31.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wednesday Paperback Cover

Okay, how can something be abridged and uncensored at the same time?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dancing Aztecs

When Donald Westlake died I picked up Dancing Aztecs at the library because I wanted to read something of his, and I enjoy his comic novels. I finished it a week or two ago, and I've been meaning to post something about it, but James Reasoner has beat me to it, so I'm just gonna link to his post. The lesson here is that, no matter how obscure the topic you're going to write about, don't procrastinate because, in the Internet age, someone will beat you to it.

Killer Covers

Over at The Rap Sheet, J. Kingston Pierce has launched a new weekly feature called Killer Covers. The name pretty much says it all. As you know I do the weekly paperback thing as well. I'd say imitation is the highest form of flattery, but it was Pierce's idea from the start. I can't take any of the credit. I'm looking forward to seeing what he has in his collection.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I've been away from the Internet for a while. Here's what I've missed:

The Rap Sheet put together a wonderful two part tribute to Donald Westlake.

Reed Farrell Coleman is interviewed on the Busted Flush Press blog.

Mark Coggins reveals Raymond Chandler's cameo in Double Indemnity.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wednesday Paperback Cover

A lease on a harem? You can do that?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cassuto on Dexter

As a followup to yesterday's post about Leonard Cassuto's Hard Boiled Sentimentality, I present you with his thoughts on Dexter, which serve to complement his thoughts on serial killers from the book.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hard Boiled Sentinentality Revisited

A while ago, I mentioned I was reading Leonard Cassuto's Hard Boiled Sentimentality. I was only halfway through the book at the time, and I have since finished it, and I'm still a little confused about Cassuto's thesis. He claims to present, "an intellectual history of hard boiled fiction, a story that tracks the nation's most self-consciously masculine fiction back to a genre dominated by women and focused on women and household."

Cassuto starts off with Dreiser and Hemingway as a starting point, which is hard to argue with, and then he moves on to Hammett. Now, as even Cassuto concedes, it's difficult to find anything sentimental in Hammett. The Continental-Op doesn't even have a name, let alone a personal life, and Sam Spade, when it comes time to choose between his professional reputation and his emotions he chooses to be the professional, which is not surprising, since even Spade's sex life revolves around the office.

Now, PI's do get less hard boiled as time goes on. Marlowe isn't Spade, and Archer isn't Marlowe, and by the time you get to get to McGee and Spenser it's hard to argue that detectives become more sentimental, but this may just be a function of their becoming more three dimensional as time goes on. People have families. Sometimes they wish they didn't, but generally they do, and this goes for private detectives and cops and bank robbers and just about any other person who might end up as the main character in a crime novel, so it makes sense that as the genre grows, so should it's characters. I'm not convinced these changes have anything to do with 19th Century sentinental fiction.

That said, there's not really a lot in this book with which I would disagree. I have more than a passing familiarity with most of the authors Cassuto writes about, and I would not dispute most of his insights. Hard Boiled Sentimentality is, overall, a pretty good book. It's just that, as I said before, I think Cassuto might have oversold his thesis.

I'm also a little perplexed as to why Andrew Vachss doesn't get a mention. You can certaintly argue that his books won't stand the test of time, but it's hard to think of a series that captures the essence of hard boiled sentimentality more than the Burke series, which, for all it's hard-ass posturing, is all about family. It's the apotheosis of the phenomenon Cassuto is trying to describe, and it's absence makes me think he may not be familiar with it at all.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


I'm not good at remembering anniversaries (that sound you heard was several women muttering "No Shit" at once) but I just realized I've been doing this two years.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

More on Hunt for Adventure

James Reasoner has spilled the beans about the upcoming Hunt for Adventure series, which is being edited by Hard Case Crime mastermind Charles Ardai and is scheduled to debut in May. Reasoner's contribution to the series will be called Hunt at the Well of Eternity, and it will apparently lead off the series. You can see some other, frustratingly small covers at the Hunt for Adventure Web site.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Couple of Gold Medals for Sale

In the new year, I'm unloading some of the things I've acquired to make room for new things I'll probably acquire. Part of that process is making room on my bookshelves. I've got some stuff I'm just dumping, but I've got a couple of Gold Medals that deserve a good home.

The first, the first edition of John McPartland's I'll See You in Hell, is a real prize. My copy is near fine, and the only visible flaw if some discoloration in the upper right corner where there was a sticker once. The binding is tight. It's probably been read once or twice. I bought it to read, but I can't bring myself to do it. It's just too nice. (Please note: The pictures with this post come from Bookscans, and are not my copies. I don't have a scanner at the moment, but can get access to one if you want to see the covers. My copy is a lot nicer than the one I'm using to illustrate this post.) I'm asking $20.

The other book is the second printing (1955) of Bruno Fischer's House of Flesh. This is in good condition. There's creasing along the spine and in the upper right corner and a little on the back cover. There's an illegible signature on the inside front cover. I'm asking $7.

I don't want to deal with Ebay and all the fees or sell cheap to one of my local bookdealers. If you're interested email me. I have Paypal.

Friday, January 2, 2009

More Westlake

Given yesterday's sad news, I thought it might be appropriate to revisit some of my recent posts on Westlake's work as Richard Stark. First off, there was already a significant surge of interest in his older Parker novels before his death. The U of Chicago Press has already reprinted the first three in the series; The Hunter, The Man with the Getaway Face, and The Outfit. The next three, The Jugger, The Mourner and The Score are being released in May. The new editions will have a foreward by John Banville, who has called Westlake one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century.

Darwyn Cook is also working on a graphic novel adaptation of the first four Parker novels, and Hard Case Crime will soon reprint his first novel under his own name.

If there's any such thing as a silver lining to someone's death, in this case it's the fact that the world loves a dead artist. Their should be an even greater interest in Westlake's work now that he's gone, so hopefully these projects will get the attention they deserve.

I ponder the appeal of a bastard like Parker here.

And, for the record, this is my favorite non-Stark Westlake novel.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Donald Westlake is dead.

Depressing news. He was 75, so one can't say it was unexpected, but depressing nevertheless. Westlake had it. He really had it. He could tell a story so effortlessly that it made you think novel writing has to be a cinch. Wrong. He was just that good. The always on the ball Sarah Weinman has a roundup of links. His next book, Get Real, a Dortmunder novel, is due in April. I'm going to go have a drink.