The Sunday Girl.

The Sunday Girl

Pip Drysdale’s new The Sunday Girl from local publisher Sourcebooks had me worried at first. When twenty-something London real estate market research assistant Taylor Bishop is royally screwed by her bad-boy boyfriend and inspired by Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War to plot her revenge, a series of nasty but hardly deadly gotcha’s can’t quite even the score for getting dumped, much less learning that her ex posted a particularly kinky sex video of Taylor online. Enter wealthy, handsome Pierce Brosnan clone David Turner to turn her head, and 50 pages in, I wondered if I’d seen The Sunday Girl promoted at mystery and crime fiction sites or was reading an edgy contemporary romance instead.

But that was only Drysdale playing the reader, and quite craftily so, waiting till we’re fully invested in the major players and the set-up and then swiftly unleashing the real suspense and genuine mayhem. Yes, Taylor thinks she’s been quite the sneak with each of the nasty tricks she’s played on her jerk of an ex. And her friends (and the reader) will be totally perplexed when she unexpectedly gets back together with him. Which is when we discover just how malevolent he really is.

Sarah Prindle’s lead review of Pip Drysdale’s The Sunday Girl in the current Mystery Scene magazine will give you a much better glimpse of this excellent novel than anything I can offer, not being a reviewer myself. If you find this book mis-shelved anywhere other than your bookstore’s Mystery/Crime Fiction section, don’t be fooled, and don’t let the first 50 or so pages worry you. Drysdale’s crafted a wryly witty, suspenseful and extremely dark contemporary tale here, with a very real, relatable protagonist in the person of Taylor Bishop, who could easily be your own pal or coworker, and will have to learn the hard way what she’s capable of. And what the consequences of her own actions could be.

pip drysdale by frank faller

Author Pip Drysdale photo (c) Frank Faller

The Case Of The Singing Skirt.

1963 the case of the singing skirt

If we can trust online translations (which we probably can’t), this 1963 Dutch edition of Erle Stanley Gardner’s 1961 Perry Mason novel The Case Of The Singing Skirt reads “The Girl’s Secret In Leotard”.  Well, that’s what I got, anyway. Which might make sense since the model in Dutch photographer Philip Mechanicus’ cover photo doesn’t appear to be wearing a skirt at all. To be fair, many U.S. paperback editions of Gardner’s Perry Mason novels showcased peculiarly steamy covers for their wildly successful mysery/courtroom potboilers. This one? A low-rent California gambling den’s cigarette girl and aspiring songstress who witnesses a gambling debt payoff winds up pinned with a murder rap…Perry Mason to the rescue.

Singing Skirt Group

Block & Pochoda In Mystery Scene.

mystery scene 164

You’ll find Ivy Pochoda (These Girls, 2020) and Lawrence Block (Dead Girl Blues, 2020) in the current Mystery Scene magazine, issue 164. Pochoda nabs this issue’s cover, and is treated to an excellent four-page profile by Oline H. Cogdill. Lawrence Block appears with “A Burglar’s Future”, a Bernie Rhodenarr story from the new The Burglar In Short Order 2020 release. Honestly, there’s not a page to be skimmed over in this particular issue, even including a review (the lead review, that is) for the novel I just finished, Pip Drysdale’s new The Sunday Girl (see an upcoming post for that one).

Compare & Contrast.

dead girl blues

“Compare and contrast.” I heard that often enough in college art history classes when a huge screen lit up with slides of some old master painting paired side by side with an impressionist, abstract or expressionist work dealing with a similar subject. “Compare and contrast,” we were instructed to do, awkwardly standing up in a packed auditorium and, in my case, terrified that I’d butcher the artists’ names when forced to say them out loud.

Compare and contrast: I’d just tucked away my copy of Ivy Pochoda’s These Women, knowing what I was in for when I pre-ordered the book and still mulling it over days later when Lawrence Block’s 2020 Dead Girl Blues came in for a pickup. Pochoda’s novel might end up mis-shelved in the mystery or thriller section in some stores, but really it’s neither, instead being a much more harrowing look at the overlooked and ignored in an all-too-familiar setup – a serial killer preying on prostitutes in South Central L.A. Pochoda’s take on this, its literary structure and wordsmithing throw down a gauntlet to challenge countless contemporary thriller writers who celebrate violence, sexualized torture and death for entertainment, her novel zeroing in not on yet another psycho killer, the law enforcement chase or voyeuristic peeks at the victims’ suffering, but instead, on the victims’ friends, parents and even the neighborhood that was the scene of the crimes.

these women

Now I’ve sung Lawrence Block’s praises here before, being one of a select group of writers I revere and who could retype an old phone directory and still sell it to me. With a career that goes back to the 1950’s, there’s a mountain of Block work to digest, so I won’t claim to have read everything he’s done. Well…yet.

Compare and contrast: Pochoda’s These Women goes after the sometimes squirm-worthy serial killer/thriller conventions with a radically different voice, points-of-view and tone that defiantly challenge readers to rethink genre tropes…and more. So, what was Lawrence Block’s intent with Dead Girl Blues, clearly a very personal and eerily unsettling book that also defies many/most genre conventions, though in a very different way? Hey, don’t ask me. All I know is he wrote one hell of a disturbing book which, in its way (and an entirely different way) also insists that the reader rethink the often icky serial killer/murder/thriller conventions. I suppose it would take someone with Block’s resume to dare to put out this book. Sure, a trendy l’enfant terrible might disingenuously try it just to snag some short-lived buzz. But Lawrence Bock has nothing to prove and no need to court trendyville.

Don’t look for shoot-outs, car chases or fetishistic sexual violence-as-entertainment. I’m not sure anything is resolved when you reach the end of the last page, but you’ll be riveted from the opening, “A man walks into a bar”, and wrongly presume that you’ve been down this road before…maybe too many times.

Oh, but you haven’t.

Block’s about to take you somewhere you don’t expect to go, following the unassuming fellow beside you at the bar, next to you in the front seat of the car, behind the store counter, across the dinner table, maybe in bed with you. Hell, he could be your coworker, your boss, your neighbor or even your lover. He might be the James Thompson you think you know, or he might just be “Buddy”, and he’s done something very, very bad. Horribly, sickeningly bad. Maybe he’ll do it again. Maybe not.

There’s not a superfluous word to be found in this novel, the wordsmithing so crisp that Joe R. Lansdale called it “prose as lean as a starving model”. It’s a relatively short work that ought to have any mystery/crime fiction reader thoroughly riveted, but more so, should compel any avid reader of the oh-so-many bestselling sex-n-violence serial killer thrillers to pause and think about what they like to read – and why. Maybe that’s what Ivy Pochoda aimed to do with These Women. Maybe it’s what Block had in mind. Maybe not. But maybe it’s something we all need to ponder when we think about our reading and viewing choices.

Ivy Pochoda’s These Women. Lawrence Block’s Dead Girl Blues. Compare and contrast? I can’t, I suppose, other than having read them back-to-back. Two radically different works from two radically different writers, yet both challenge genre tropes and conventions in their own very powerful ways. So all I can say, is read these books…read them both.

www.lawrenceblock.com

Prezio’s Crime Scenes.

victor prezio. the scene of the crime

Victor Prezio (born 1924) is one of those unsung heroes of the postwar pulp and paperback cover art era, largely eclipsed by better known names but responsible for a lot of illustrations you’ve likely seen many times at leading retro-art and kitschy-culture sites. These two Prezio pieces almost bookend the artist’s evolving style: Early on, working as richly shadowed and every bit as painterly as a James Avati cover illustration, like the grim piece above appropriately titled “Scene Of The Crime”. Then later, much more casual (and surely faster and for less money) brushwork dashes out the scary image below for a sleazy 1966 Real Men magazine cover. Westerns, gothic romances, and no shortage of women-in-peril illustrations for the “men’s adventure” magazine market, Prezio did it all, and is (I think) still with us, but presumably retired by now.

victor pezio real men cover sept 1966

From Muskrat To Mink To Murder.

Howell Dodd 1953

This work week’s enough to drive me to drink. And it calls for a really large drink (and I’m not much of a buzzer, mind you).

Just like the gal down to her last few smokes in the Howell Dodd illustration from the June 1953 issue of True Fact Crime magazine, I could use a large one too. In fact, I’d be happy to pay more than thirty cents for it. But we all know that two bits and a nickel will only buy trouble, and in her case, will lead her down a bloody road “from muskrat, to mink, to murder” as the magazine’s lurid teaser lines stated.

You just gotta love those old pulp magazine copywriters.

The Vegas That Was.

Maximum Rossi

Two business trips to Las Vegas don’t qualify me as an expert gambler, only squandering some dough on the slots and not much more. Writer Paul W. Papa, on the other hand, knows his way around a casino, with books on vintage and even haunted Las Vegas to his credit. So if some portions of Papa’s novel Maximum Rossi (2020) occasionally read like a Las Vegas travelogue or gambling tutorial, a reader’s likely to forgive him. Papa’s fondness for “the Las Veags that was” bleeds through lovingly on every page of the novel.

This book was the prefect remedy for a diet of depressing current events titles and one dense literary novel. Maximum Rossi is a fun, fast read, harkening back to any number of 1950’s-60’s era PBO’s featuring private eyes, troublemakers, adventurers, men-about-town and shady anti-heroes mixed up with bad guys, mysteries and dangerous dames. Here Massimo ‘Max’ Rossi, son of a Boston mob fixer but not in the life himself, lingers in Las Vegas after a bachelor party and winds up deep in trouble with both the law and organized crime families after intervening to save a gangster’s mistress from a bruising. Noble? Yes. But certain to cause trouble. So when that same mobster is found murdered later that night, all fingers point to Max, and the race is on to solve the crime and somehow stay alive.

Flipping back through the book, I don’t see a specific year noted, but will place it comfortably in the mid to late 1950’s. A Ford Thunderbird tells me it could be no earlier than 1955, while Chicago mob chief Tony Accardo references suggest a 1957 (or thereabouts) cut-off. Whatever the year, it seems to be comfortably set in a pre-Rat Pack era that’s ripe with criminal fun.

Specialty press HPD Publishing’s cover art from Darned Good Covers (which I believe is a self-publishing and small press stock cover graphics resource) might be a little misleading. Oh, Vegas dancers and chorus girls waltz in and out of Max Rossi’s troubles (or may even be at the heart of them, and I’ll say no more than that), but you’ll find no saucy scenes intruding on the fistfights and gunplay here. Mind you, I’m quite fond of some sexy sizzle stirred in with the more sinister goings-on. Just as Maximum Rossi the novel fits in well with a 1950’s-60’s style of crime fiction, the book’s cover art maintains that era’s tradition of packaging paperbacks in saucy come-on covers that didn’t always match the stories inside.

It looks like Max Rossi’s Vegas adventures will continue in a sequel, Rossi’s Gamble, due out later this summer (the book included a teaser for that new novel), and I’ll be buying it. You should too. If you get a kick out of what you browse through here with The Stiletto Gumshoe, you’re bound to get a kick out of Paul W. Papa’s Max Rossi.

Virginia Kellogg’s Dark Stories In Lurid Color.

White Heat 1949

Film posters for three postwar classics with stories and/or screenplays by writer Virginia Kellogg: Raoul Walsh’s White Heat (1949) with James Cagney and Virginia Mayo, John Cromwell’s Caged (1950) with Eleanor Parker, and a foreign poster for Anthony Mann’s under-rated noir gem T-Men (1947), a non-U.S. version just ‘cuz I like the pulpy style of that particular poster.caged 1950T-Men 1947

At Crime Reads: Virginia Kellogg

T-Men 1947

I still haven’t worked my way through all of the Crime Reads articles I’ve saved, and they just keep flinging more at me. FYI, if you get the itch to scroll backwards through Crime Reads’ site, you’d best allocate a lot of time. You’ll get lost there, albeit happily so.

Case in point: Last week’s article by Chris McGinley, “Virginia Kellogg: The Forgotten Screenwriter Behind A String Of Classic Noirs”. It’s tagged “She wrote some of the greatest crime movies in Hollywood’s Golden Age. Today we know almost nothing about her”.

Crime Reads

Native Californian Virginia Kellogg (1907 – 1981) originally worked as a Los Angeles Times reporter, then a secretary and script girl, penning a couple early screenplays as far back as the pre-code era. But her important work would come later in the postwar era, with projects like T-Men (1947), White Heat (1949) and Caged (1950), those last two earning her Oscar nominations. Now White Heat and Caged are surely familiar faves for anyone popping in here, but Anthony Mann’s faux-documentary styled T-Men is a real treat, with a complex story by Kellogg (screenplay by John Higgins) and visuals that could be used as a how-to textbook on the classic film noir style.

T-Men 1947 2

Head to Crime Reads (link below) for Chris McGinley’s article, and then I challenge you to not start scrolling online or rooting through your disk shelves for one of these three films. Me? I’ll go with T-Men, a movie with more shades of ‘dark’ than you’d think is possible to capture on film.

https://crimereads.com/virginia-kellogg-the-forgotten-screenwriter-behind-a-string-of-classic-noirs/

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