Thursday, June 25, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [73]: HOME IS THE SAILOR by Day Keene

Home is the Sailor is a booze fueled romp in the sack, packed full of whisky dreams and murderous nightmares.

First published in 1952 and later reprinted by the fine folk at Hard Case Crime, Day Keene's easy come, easy go, tale of marriage and murder is a fine story told through the watery eyes of perennial drunk Swede Nelson, a sailor who hopes to put the sea life behind him in favor of dry land.

The centerpiece of the story is a hotel owner and widow who instantly falls for Swede. For the drunken sailor turned land dweller, this whirlwind romance seems too good to be true...and it is. In quick succession Swede is wrapped in a web of desire and is murdering for his love. Little did he know this would be the tip of a very sharp edge iceberg. 

Despite some cringe worthy dialogue and completely unbelievable scenes, Home is the Sailor is a lot fun. This book isn't a noir classic or high end literature; it's popcorn pulp which is sure to provide some lighthearted entertainment. 

Side note: I love the cover art by Richard B. Farrell and Gregory Manchess, it captures one of the more memorable moments in the book perfectly. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [72]: THE BEACH GIRLS by John D. MacDonald

A more apt title for The Beach Girls (published 1959) would be The Docklands Drama. This little slice of pulp reads more like J.K Rowling's The Casual Vacancy than it does noir/crime fiction.

Each chapter is told from a different POV of one of the main characters, with the author drip feeding elements of corporate conspiracy, adultery, and murder, only for them to not go anywhere. 

I enjoy character-centric books, however there needs to be something which ties them all together aside from proximity and gossip. Whilst the dockside living was an interesting place-setting, the criminal components were severely lacking - sure, there's a murder, but that was in the backstory with little violence (aside from a couple of adolescent-like beach brawls) or suspense throughout. 

Perhaps this felt underwhelming as I failed to connect with any of the characters. Leo Rice had promise, however the others, (aside from some backstory in their respective chapters) didn't add value or interest to the book nor really contribute in any meaningful way to the wider story arc - they were just furniture. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Like Father, Like Son

Today I take a look at a father/son duo of books, The Fireman by Joe Hill (which was a long overdue read for me) and the new-ish collection of novellas by Stephen King in If It Bleeds. 

The family resemblance and Stephen King's influence is very noticeable in Joe Hill's lengthy extension-level-event tale involving a mysterious virus which causes people to develop dragon-like scales on their skin and eventually explode (if put under enough stress).

Given we're living through a real life pandemic, I wasn't sure this was the right time for a book like this. However, once I started, The Fireman was hard to put down (I read the vast majority of the 700+ doorstop in two days).  

Whilst I enjoyed the general premise and the characters, I thought the book could've been much shorter.

Like King, Hill's strength is characters, which, as mentioned above I enjoyed reading about them, I would've liked to have read more of the broader events surrounding the dragonscale.

- - - - - 

If It Bleeds collects four novellas, the best of which is the title of the collection which features Holly Gibney in, what I think, is the best rendition of the character so far. The story is intriguing and creepy; yet it's not over done - this is a plausible kind of horror which fits the tone of the larger series perfectly.

Life of Chuck had loads of promise and started off great but I felt it tapered off towards the end; a backwards telling of the titular character's life form end to beginning. 

Mr. Harrington's Phone is a lot of fun and focuses on relationship with a supernatural twist. Whilst a slow-burning story, it fits the novella format exceptionally well. 

Rat is perhaps the most true-to-horror story of them all. I'd love a full length novel of this one, just behind If It Bleeds as my favorite novella of the collection. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [71]:THE EXOTIC by Carter Brown

I'm a big Carter Brown fan, but of all the series he penned over his illustrious (or infamous?) career, the Al Wheeler books have to be my least favorite. 

Wheeler reads as a poor mans Hammer (check out the Mike Hammer books by Mickey Spillane, and later, by Max Allan Collins), the lone wolf detective theme just doesn't play out, with Wheeler reading more like a semi-competent private eye with a vague ability to protect and serve in the fictional Pine City, who is focused on the female form more than he is solving a murder. 

Sure, The Exotic is chock block full of that buttery pulp popcorn goodness I love so much but the dialogue really makes it hard to enjoy this for what it is; a pulp disguised as a clever murder mystery. Wheeler's scenes with his boss Lavers are hard to swallow and come across as juvenile and irrational rather than semi-professional. The believably here is low, very low.

What ultimately saves The Exotic is the ending. That last chapter is loaded with bloodshed and iconic scenes. Agnes (Hammer's love interest in this book) features heavily in the highlight reel, while the brazen display of bullets and bloodshed makes for some truly memorable moments.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [70]: THE CASE OF THE LUCKY LEGS by Erle Stanley Gardner

Beauty contests can be murder, and that's certainly true in The Case of the Lucky Legs, the third book in the long running Perry Mason series (originally published in 1934).

Perry Mason, the lawyer who dabbles in detective work not only has to contend with a missing beauty queen who may or may not be involved in murder, but his longtime friend and private detective, Paul Drake may not be as loyal as he was led to makes for a melting pot of sophisticated shadow play, half truths, and ill judgement. 

The Case of the Lucky Legs is a lot of fun. That's to say, the popcorn pulp is in full effect, but there's an added layer of complexity that only Erle Stanley Gardner can pull off without making the book feel like a pure legal thriller. 

One thing I've noticed about these earlier Mason books is that the courtroom antics aren't confined to the courtroom. Rather, the legal jargon and loopholes are cleverly incorporated into proceedings from the get-go and loosely applied throughout the book - of course that final element is critical to catching the criminal in the end - which Mason generally does. 

The Case of the Lucky Legs is a must read for pulp enthusiasts and readers who like their legal thrills just that bit lighter. 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [69]:THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS by Erle Stanley Gardner

Blackmail, lies, deceit, and death; The first book to feature the perennial lawyer/detective Perry Mason has it all. 

Written in 1933, the story holds up remarkably well with devious dames and troublesome tabloids out to extort and exploit Mason's wealthy client. On face value, Mason sees this case as a quick fix; confront the blackmailer, keep the wealthy out of the tabloids, and get his well earned cash once the case is closed - only, the world doesn't turn quite that easy, and before long Mason is neck deep in conspiracy and murder!

It's hard to believe this is the first book in the long running series. The characters in Della Street (Mason's sassy and classy secretary), Mason himself, and Paul Drake (the detective who assists Mason with his cases) are well developed and read like they've been investigating and solving mysteries for years; their chemistry is apparent throughout. 

The case itself is quite clever and I loved the constant twists and turns. Not once did I feel like I knew what was going to happen or who was going to bite the bullet. 

Whilst billed as a legal/crime thriller, these books are pure pulp with a touch more intellect; a damn near perfect combination for fun in fiction. 

Friday, June 5, 2020

Book of the Month [May 2020]

Halloween in May? Well, it was for me and my book of the month at least. 

With all the darkness in the world right now, it was nice to delve back into a bit of darkness in the fictional form with the novelization of Halloween (2018), written by John Passarella. Full disclaimer; it's been about a year and a half since I saw the film so some of the detail was a little sketchy going in - some scenes blew me away while others were completely new (either because I forgot about them or they were actually new scenes for the book). Either way I loved everything about the book. 

Other reading highlights for May include Honky Tonk Samurai by Joe R Lansdale (which was also one of the books featured in my Mount TBR challenge), the dark and twisted novelette by Andersen Prunty, We Don't Talk About Her, and a collection of novellas set in the world of Alice by Christina Henry, Looking Glass

Halloween book blurb: 
In 1978, Laurie Strode survived an encounter with Michael Myers, a masked figure who killed her friends and terrorized the town of Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween night. Myers was later gunned down, apprehended and committed to Smith's Grove State Hospital.
For forty years, memories of that nightmarish ordeal have haunted Laurie and now Myers is back once again on Halloween, having escaped a routine transfer, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. This time, Laurie is prepared with years of survival training to protect herself, her daughter Karen and her granddaughter Allyson, a teenager separated from her family and enjoying Halloween festivities.
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