One Good Deed

One Good Deed

We’ve been here before. If you’re a fan of postwar paperback originals, you’ve been probably here quite a few times, in fact. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be here all over again if a talented writer can make it worth the trip.

A stranger arrives in a made-up big town/small city, typically in some vaguely Midwest or southwest locale, only to wind up in trouble with the local law, corrupt power brokers and – inevitably – the resident femme fatale. It’s been a standalone mystery/crime fiction novel staple since the 1940’s. Paw through musty paperbacks in a used bookstore and you’re bound to come up with one or more. Familiarity (even occasional redundancy) doesn’t undermine this viable noir-ish story setup, any more than seascapes, still life’s and figure studies would be invalidated simply because painters frequently explore them like an artistic right of passage. Two examples of this type of story that immediately come to mind are Ross MacDonald’s Blue City from 1947 and The Long Wait, a rare non-Mike Hammer novel from Mickey Spillane in 1951. And I bet you could name some others.

Blue City MontageThe Long Wait Montage

So, there’s nothing surprising about David Baldacci giving this time-honored theme a go in his current One Good Deed, other than the fact that this NYT bestseller already knocked out nearly 40 novels (his first novel, Absolute Power, adapted to a successful film as well) before contemplating his first retro postwar setting. Based on some online reviews I’ve spotted, it caught a few of his loyal fans off-guard. Well, they better get used to it, since it sounds like One Good Deed is the first in a new series Baldacci has planned.

In 1949, Aloysius Archer steps off the bus in Poca City in ill-fitting clothes, a measly few dollars in his pocket and a three day stay prepaid at the only hotel. He’s due to meet his parole officer, find a job and start over after a three-year prison stint on trumped-up charges. But Archer (which is the handle he prefers) endured far worse as a decorated infantryman in WWII’s Italian campaign, and is a man to reckon with.

An ill-advised but understandable urge for a forbidden drink and some barroom banter with a local lounge looker are among his first mistakes. Followed by a bigger lapse in judgement when he agrees to collect a debt for Poca City’s big shot, Hank Pittleman, who owns the local bank, the town’s only industry (a hog slaughterhouse), the hotel Archer’s staying in…hell, even the cocktail lounge they’re drinking in. And the girl who’s got Archer’s head spinning. As will happen in such tales, Archer winds up in bed with Pittleman’s seductive mistress…the same night Pittleman’s murdered, his throat slit ear-to-ear. All of which finds Archer in one hell of a lot of trouble with the local law, the State Police homicide investigator who takes over, and Archer’s own parole officer…who just happens to be an intriguing woman with a mysterious past and is every bit as alluring as the Poca City bad girl he’s already mixed up with.

There’s enough small-town drama and family secrets to fill both a Grace Metalious novel and a Tennessee Williams drama here, mixed in with a puzzling murder mystery (and a few other dustups and deaths along the way), all capped off with a climactic courtroom scene, which may sound like a bit much for any one book, but then Baldacci’s a real pro and more than up to the task. I’d never read one of his novels before, but knowing he plans more Archer novels after One Good Deed, I’ll be watching for the next one. The fact is, when I stumble across some musty old paperback by a long-gone writer in a used bookstore with some other loner stepping off the bus in a made-up town’s Main Street, I’ll probably give it a try too, no matter how many times I’ve been there already.

Head To Noir City.

Noir City No 27

The new Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City e-magazine arrived in my inbox this week. Issue number 27 is yet another sumptuously designed and info-packed treat for film noir aficionados.

Bittersweet but understandable news was Master-Of-All-Things-Noir (and Film Noir Foundation President and TCM’s Noir Alley host) Eddie Muller’s announcement that he’d be stepping aside from full-time editorial chores, handing off the Editor-In-Chief role to Vince Keenan. Ably assisted by Steve Kronenberg, I’ve no concerns, and am sure Mr. Keenan will maintain the publication’s level of content, visual and editorial superiority. If I sound all gushy, I am. Noir City is just that good.

Noir City Spread

Art Director/Designer Michael Kronenberg delivers another feast for the eyes with this issue, including the gorgeous cover illustration. Noir City’s a dark delight to read, of course, but is equally stunning to simply look at, some of the spreads deserving to be framed and up on a wall. Hmmmm…I’ve been thinking about a refresh for the writing cave’s walls. Just might have an idea there…

This issue includes over 90 pages with 15+ articles and features like Steve Kronenberg’s cover story “Handle With Care – The Ordeals Of Gene Tierney” and Jake Hinkson’s “Hungover – Booze And Blackouts In Film Noir”. If you already get Noir City, then you should be reading it right now instead of this site. If not, and you’re a visitor here, then I can guarantee you’ll enjoy the publication. Hightail it to The Film Noir Foundation’s site (link below) to find out more. Like, now.

http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/home.html

 

You Have Killed Me.

You Have Killed Me Cover

Cold and windy under nonstop pouring rain, last Saturday would’ve been a good day to stay indoors. But I ventured out to pick up a current events book reserved at the library (there being a current event or two to keep tabs on these days). The local public library’s a bit lean on actual books, but is well appointed with comfy reading nooks, plush seating and even a fireplace. Almost ready to check out, Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones’ You Have Killed Me caught my eye on the graphic novel section’s endcap. I have it, of course, being an ardent Jones fan. Still, I paused to flip through the 2018 trade pb edition of this 2009 graphic novel anyway. Before I knew it, I’d dropped into one of those fireside chairs to reread this yummy bit of retro noir fun from cover to cover before dashing back out into the rain.

You Have Killed Me Art

Some will holler cliché. Me? I see nothing but classic noir and hard-boiled genre tropes lovingly celebrated in Rich’s story, a smooth flowing piece of work that reads like a period-perfect screenplay for a 1940’s-50’s noir. As for Joelle Jones art? Fans might be surprised to see some softer lines and curvier faces here and there, but it’s still Joelle Jones’ brilliant, stylized draftsmanship throughout, and an excellent chance to see where she was ten years ago. The pair make an excellent team (as seen since on Lady Killer, for example) in this tale of hard luck P.I. Antonio Mercer, hired by wealthy and beautiful Jessica Roman to locate her sister Julie, who’s gone missing on the eve of her society wedding…the missing Julie also Mercer’s one-time lover. But family dramas and messy love affairs are the least of Mercer’s problems once he begins to tangle with gamblers, gangsters and hard-assed cops in jazz clubs, racetracks and roadhouses. Any savvy noir fan will smell a rat – or at least an untrustworthy femme fatale – early on, but even the savviest may not be ready for what really happened to the missing sister. Trust me: This one’s a treat.

Sure, I got soaked on my way back to my car. But I did get the political rant hardcover I’d reserved a week earlier (just to drive myself nuts) and had a good time savoring Jamie Rich’s wordsmithing and ogling Joelle Jones art, both every bit as tasty today as ten years ago when the book came out.

 

Blurred Lines.

The Leopard Man

The Leopard Man (1943)

Crime Reads may not be the first place you’d turn to for talk about horror, even at Halloween time. But it’s definitely worth a visit to read Zach Vasquez’ look at 20 essential films which blur the line between horror and noir (link below). Myself, I’ve always been surprised that more films do don’t do precisely that, the two ‘genres’ sharing some common roots and any number of familiar tropes and stylistic cues. Want to quibble with some of Vasquez’ choices, or toss in your own instead? Go right ahead. I fully concur with several of the article’s selections.

Crime Reads

After all, anything produced by Val Lewton might qualify, and Vasquez’ chooses 1943’s The Leopard Man. Similarly, while the article singles out David Lynch’s 1997 Lost Highway, most anything in Lynch’s body of work will likely merge something horrific with the vaguely noirish, the possibly anachronistically retro, and certainly the just-plain-weird. Vasquez also points to The Eyes of Laura Mars from 1978, that Helmut Newton fashion-kink photo suite brought to life on the big screen, its screenplay adapted from a spec script penned by John Carpenter (Halloween). Or there’s Mickey Rourke and Robert DeNiro in Angel Heart from 1987, and of course, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 dark classic Les Diaboliques.

Les Diaboliques

Les Diaboliques (1955)

Some can argue that many films billed as horror are really just particularly gruesome serial killer thrillers. And others might assert that the moment a film (or story or novel) includes anything remotely supernatural, it no longer qualifies as ‘noir’. But then some people get too hung up on genres and classifications, and I’m not getting into those arguments. Rather, I’ll just encourage you to read Zach Vasquez’ 10.29.19 Crime Reads article “20 Essential Films That Blur The Line Between Horror And Noir” and see for yourself if you don’t find a film you might want to watch come Halloween night.

 

https://crimereads.com/20-essential-films-the-blur-the-line-between-horror-and-noir/

 

TV Noir With A Mancini Soundtrack

Peter Gunn 1

I can’t keep track of all the oddball cable channels I can access. FETV? Never heard of it, but apparently it’s one of far too many syndicated rerun channels cluttering the cable landscape, and definitely wasn’t marked as a favorite. That is, until I discovered that FETV was running three back-to-back episodes of Peter Gunn, the 1958 – 1961 ABC detective series created by Blake Edwards and starring Craig Stevens as the titular private eye with Lola Albright as his jazz chanteuse girlfriend, Edie Hart.

Peter Gunn 2

Set in an unnamed waterfront city that could hug either coast (but is actually far-too-familiar Universal and later MGM backlot streets), suave and perpetually cool Peter Gunn uses quirky jazz club Mother’s as his unofficial office, drives a car-phone equipped big-finned two-tone ’58 DeSoto and typically gets a cool grand for his jobs. Always nattily attired, Gunn’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, and is good with his fists in a tussle with thugs and, in keeping with his name, ready with his gun when needed. Creator Blake Edwards aimed for a cool, hip tone with this series. The look is visibly ‘noir-ish’, most scenes set at night, the redundantly re-used sets kept dark and shadowy, often filmed in jarring camera angles, and all enhanced by Henry Mancini’s jazzy score. In fact, the “Peter Gunn Theme”, which you’d recognize right away if you heard it, was nominated for an Emmy and two Grammys.

Peter Gunn 4

Not to overpraise. This is still crank-em-out late ‘50’s-early 60’s era TV, and there are some genuinely silly episodes, either formulaic whodunits or misguided attempts at lighthearted humor. The urbane P.I. in a wild west ghost town? Peter Gunn babysitting a seal? Well, skip those and focus on the good ones, and there are a bunch, at least from those I’ve seen so far. Dark, moody and then suddenly erupting with unexpected violence, the best episodes of Peter Gunn are as good as many film noirs and neo-noirs, just compressed into a half hour time slot.

Peter Gunn 5

Blake Edwards also wrote and directed a number of the episodes, and several years later took another whack at his Peter Gunn creation, directing a feature film (co-written with William Peter Blatty of The Exorcist fame) released by paramount and starring TV’s Craig Stevens. There’ve been further attempts to revive the character in 1989, 2001 and as recently as 2013 by TNT, but nothing’s come of them. A DVD boxed set exists, and if I stumble across it at a reasonable price, I’d go for it.

Peter Gunn 3

Chicago 1946 – 1957

46 chicago

Late 1950’s Chicago wasn’t much on my radar back in 2000 when Steve Monroe’s ’57 Chicago came out. I’ve probably seen it on shelf in used bookstores, even recently when I’ve been laser focused on 1959 Chicago for my own projects (as in, The Stiletto Gumshoe). Even if I have spotted Monroe’s debut novel, I probably decided to pass, not being much of a fan of the boxing scene, which is the what that novel deals with.

But, it’s on order through my local bookseller now, in the newer 2015 trade pb edition. I requested it along with some other books when I was barely 20 pages deep into Monroe’s second novel, ’46 Chicago from 2002, which I recently bought at a used bookstore. Boxing scene or not, if Monroe’s debut is even half as good as his follow-up, I know it’ll be good.

’46 Chicago deals with semi-rogue cop Gus Carson, recently returned to the force after a harrowing time in the Pacific war, only to find himself suspended over an off-duty shooting in a whorehouse. Where he was a patron at the time. So, let’s be clear: Gus is no angel. Tempted by five hundred easy but obviously suspicious dollars from a Chicago bigwig endorsed by the police brass, Gus is tasked with locating the man behind the numbers game on the south side…who’s been kidnapped. Or, may be dead already. Who’s behind it? The cops? Rivals? The mob? Gus’ search drags him down through the underbelly of the city and up to the sprawling estates of the North Shore’s millionaire power brokers, forced to confront his own violent and less than honest past along the way. He may solve this mystery, but there’s no redemption for Gus Carson at its end. It’s all loosely based on the Chicago mob’s real-life takeover of the south side numbers/policy racket, engineered by Sam Giancana under Tony Arccado’s leadership.

57 chicago

Monroe’s novel is truly harder than hard-boiled, darker than the most noir-ish of noirs, utterly grim and gritty throughout. I just finished ’46 Chicago after work tonight (Tuesday), and now I’m itching for ’57 Chicago to arrive, so I can dive in to that one, fight scene and boxers or not. But only three of the five books I’d ordered have come in so far (those picked up today), ’57 Chicago still en route. Steve Monroe did one more novel in 2015, Pursuit, in what looks like a contemporary setting. According to his website (stevemonroebooks.com) there are a couple more languishing in a file cabinet, including a sequel to ‘46 Chicago. I don’t know if Monroe’s retired (he is or was a successful real estate broker) or if the current publishing/bookselling marketplace conditions have those projects permanently stuck in limbo, but I hope they see the light of day. Some day.

Side note: I did buy ’46 Chicago at a used bookstore, my copy a like-new hardcover with a perfectly clean dustjacket. Only a little way in, what should tumble out from between the pages? The author’s own day-job business card, which may well have been hiding in there since the book’s release in 2002. (The company’s since been absorbed by another in a mega-merger.) And based on the card and his title at the time, I don’t think Mr. Monroe’s hurting for a tight-fisted publisher’s advance minus agent’s commission. Just guessing.

 

L.A. Noir Gets No Darker

Dead Extra

Contemporary or retro, a lot of “L.A. Noir” stories, novels and films claim they’ll take you on a tour of the dark underbelly of Los Angeles. Sean Carswell’s Dead Extra (Prospect Park Books, 2019) drags you into the worst, and then rubs your nose in it…in a good way.

I already forgot where I spotted Carswell’s new book. Crime Reads? Thrilling Detective? The Rap Sheet? Bottom line: I follow or subscribe to a few too many mystery/crime fiction sites/blogs, so it’s hard to keep track. But one of them recommended Dead Extra and I’m glad I asked the local bookstore to get me a copy (small press titles so rarely found on-shelf anywhere but in specialty shops).

Presumed to be killed in action, WWII U.S. Airman (and former LAPD uniformed cop) Jack Chesley has finally returned to Los Angeles after a two-year stint in a Nazi POW camp, only to discover that both his father and his wife, Wilma, are dead. The wife’s demise was ruled an accident, but her twin sister Gertie knows better. Wilma was murdered, and at that only after enduring a couple years of exploitation and abuse at the hands of silver screen big shots bankrolling sleazy prostitution and blackmail rackets.

The story unfolds in alternating points of view, one chapter for Jack in the 1946 present day as he begins to investigate Wilma’s death, and one for Wilma in 1943 and 1944, telling her horribly degrading story: Going off the deep end after getting that telegram from Uncle Sam, committed to a sanitarium, tricked into performing for a no-tell motel’s striptease sex club in order to escape, and then on the run from a murderous gang of pimps and blue movie blackmailers.

There’s nothing titillating about this seamy underworld, and while vengeful Jack Chesley’s investigation covers familiarly gripping hard-boiled ground, it’s really Wilma’s story (as well as her twin sister Gertie’s in the ‘present day’) that will ensnare the reader. I’d have been content with a book that let Wilma tell her own tale…it’s a novel in itself.

Cozy mystery fans would surely faint a few chapters into Dead Extra, but retro crime fiction fans – especially those enjoying period hard-boiled So-Cal material ala Chandler to Ellroy – will probably find themselves comfortably at home here. It’s rough stuff in many places, but I’ll assume that’s only because the author decided not to pull any punches. And the novel has its share of punches and gunshots to go along with the 1940’s era sleaze. Do look for Sean Carswell’s Dead Extra. And let’s prod Sean Carswell into taking a whack at a novel that tells the story of another ‘Wilma’ or ‘Gertie’…he did it well here and I’d love to see more.

 

Dig It: The Dead Beat Scroll

the dead beat scroll

A feature at The Rap Sheet blog (link below) is a good enough recommendation for me, and even though I only saw Shamus and Barry Award nominee Mark Coggins’ piece about the Beats, Jack Kerouac and his new August Riordan novel The Dead Beat Scroll on a Monday, I knew I had to have it. The book was in my hands that Wednesday A.M., which is mighty quick, and I dove in that evening. Indie mystery/crime fiction publisher Down & Out Books did a fine job with this handsome trade pb, each chapter offset with evocative full-page B&W photos shot by the author himself.

Private investigator August Riordan is out for vengeance when his former partner is murdered. But that investigation leads him to an unresolved missing person case and more gruesome murders, all pointing to a lost Jack Kerouac manuscript, presumably worth millions. Specifically, that most famous of Kerouac manuscripts, and if you need clarification on that then you need to do some reading up on Kerouac and the Beats. This was my first time with a Coggins’ novel, my intro to his August Riordan character, and I’m glad I took a chance on a hard-working writer who never got on my radar for some reason. A contemporary setting doesn’t make him pull back on some fun hard-boiled banter, thank goodness:

“Then why did number one son pull a gat on me as soon as I walked through the door?”

Brendan shrugged. “Guns were the language we were speaking until now…”

Research into Chicago’s more provincial late 1950’s Beat scene has been among the things I’ve had to dig into for my own projects lately, and while Coggins’ novel isn’t that kind of a retro setting, it’s fitting in nicely and tidbits about Kerouac, the manuscript and the Beat scene are sprinkled throughout. So this was a timely read for me. I really enjoyed The Dead Beat Scroll and I bet you will too if you check it out. But do look up author (and photographer, BTW!) Mark Coggins’ site (link below). The stunning shots framing each chapter of The Dead Beat Scroll are his and are definitely worth a look.

https://therapsheet.blogspot.com/

https://www.markcoggins.com/

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