Friday, August 7, 2015

Forgotten Books: THE DEAD DON'T CARE by Jonathan Latimer (1938)

This fourth volume in Latimer's Bill Crane series is clever, funny, irreverent, sharply written and soaked in alcohol, which is to say it say it's a worthy successor to the first three books. But it also features the most intriguing deadly dame in hardboiled history, and deals with a couple of subjects that were mighty dang daring for its time.

The deadly dame is Imago Paraguay, a slinky Mayan-Spanish number whom Crane - and just about every other man in the book - finds both irrestitable and terrifying. And the better they know her the more terrified they are. On encountering her, one old acquatance turns the color of "a peeled banana," and another all but soils himself.

At one point, Crane observes, Her face was exquisite,like a painted ivory mask, but her hair was the remarkable thing about her. As black, as dull, as coarse as soot, it skull-capped her head and bunched in an ebony knot at the nape of her neck. Its distinction was its lack of luster. It seemed to pocket the rays from the lamps. It might have been dead.

Later, her face reminds Crane of the painted death mask of an Egyptian princess he had once seen in a Berlin museum. And still later we are told, She was contemptously beautiful, like a temple mask. The lids of her eyes were a faint violet-green and they ahd the luster of work silk and her brows, jet black, were arched like bamboo trees in a wind. Her lips matched the scarlet of her gown, drawn tight over her small, firm breasts and fastened over the left shoulder with an emerald-eyed serpent of twisted gold.

The first daring moment comes early, when Crane and others speculate on the possibility that Imago prefers women to men. Later he confronts her directly on that point and she goes to great length (all the way, in fact) to prove him wrong.

The other taboo subject is gang rape. When a teenage girl is kidnapped, Crane ruminates on the fact that no one wants to address the issue. And late in the story the subject comes to the forefront, as the kidnappers spend four full pages planning and attempting to commit the crime. This was only four years after Hammett caused a scandal by allowing Nick and Nora to discuss an erection.

Latimer makes impressive use of omniscient narration. Though we're most often with Crane, the point of view of his pals and other characters mingles smoothly with his own. And Latimer adds a couple of nice extras. At one point we see Crane reading an issue of Black Mask, and he later overhears a group of Florida fishermen debating whether a man seen shooting flying fish with a Tommy-gun could have been "Ernest."


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Love the Bill Crane series (especially the first 4) - never seen the film versions with Preston Foster but would really like to.

Cullen Gallagher said...

Love this book! Perhaps my favorite of the Crane books. My favorite Latimer is "Solomon's Vineyard," but this is a close second. Been meaning to re-read it for years, thank you for the review!

Evan Lewis said...

Me too, Sergio.
And me too, Cullen. Haven't read Vineyard in about 30 years.

jhegenbe said...

Jimmy Crack Corn. One of the best!

George said...

Love Jonathan Latimer's work. I'm with Cullen on SOLOMON'S VINEYARD. Terrific!