Friday, April 28, 2017

Forgotten Books: FOR YOUR EYES ONLY by Ian Fleming


I started reading the Bond books when I was twelve (along with Tarzan and Doc Savage) and have been through the whole series at least four times. On my latest trip, I’m listening instead of reading, and they’re still damn good. And this time, I’ve been more impressed with Fleming’s prose than with his character. This is especially true having read so many books by the pastichers, none of whom are quite up to snuff.

This book, the first collection of 007 short stories (published in 1960, between Goldfinger and Thunderball), is one I’d dang near forgotten. It includes four James Bond adventures, plus a random short story framed to masquerade as one.

What I didn’t know until googling is how these stories came to be. Turns out four of them began life as treatments for episodes of a proposed U.S. TV series in 1959. You’ve probably seen the pilot episode (from 1954), a quickie version of Casino Royale starring Barry Nelson as an American secret agent Jimmy Bond.

The series, of course, never materialized, and Fleming repurposed his treatments as short stories.

The first in the book, “From a View to a Kill,” is my favorite of the bunch. It involves motorcycle messengers getting knocked off and state secrets stolen by Russians. The film of that title, with Simon Templar/Beau Maverick impersonating 007, bears no resemblance. According to Wikipedia, the idea was originally planned as the WWII backstory for Moonraker villain Hugo Drax.

In the title story, Bond’s mission to kill the killer of two of M’s old friends is complicated by a babe with a bow and arrow. The babe, under a different name, and the stuff with the bow and arrow later were used sparingly in the 1981 movie. Not bad, but I found the ending lame.

“Quantum of Solace” is the joker in the bunch. Bond just sits and listens to a story about a cheating wife and her vindictive husband. This one, first published in Cosmopolitan in 1959, was supposedly an homage to W. Somerset Maugham, and written in Maugham’s style. Been so long since I read Maugham, I couldn’t say. The film with Daniel Craig not even bothering to pretend to be Bond ripped off the title and nothing else. 

“Risico” is the most movie-like of the bunch. Too bad Fleming didn’t give it a move-like title. It has a typical Bond villain, a babe in a bikini, drug smuggling, Russians and a good amount of shooting, but once again the ending failed to grab me. A little of this stuff reportedly made its way into the For Your Eyes Only film.

Though Bond is little more than a spectator in “The Hildebrand Rarity,” I found it the second most satisfying tale of the book. 007 is undercover as a deckhand on the yacht of a mildly-crooked millionaire.  The unpleasant owner is hunting a rare fish (hence the title), and the tale turns into a murder mystery of sorts. It has the distinction of the only Bond story originally published in Playboy.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

NEW! The FREDRIC BROWN Mystery Library from Haffner Press


After over five years in the making, Haffner Press has released the first two volumes of the Frederic Brown Mystery Library. These are deluxe hardcover volumes, over 700 pages each, and (especially cool) feature original illos from the pulp magazines. 

Info on ordering (and much more) is here: haffnerpress.com/news-events/

Contents of Vol. 1:
The Moon for a Nickel, Detective Story Magazine  Mar. 38
The Cheese on Stilts, Thrilling Detective  Jan. 39
Blood of the Dragon, Variety Detective  Feb. 39
There Are Bloodstains in the Alley, Detective Yarns  Feb. 39
Murder at 10:15, Clues Detective Stories  May 39
The Prehistoric Clue, Ten Detective Aces  Jul. 40
Trouble in a Teacup, Detective Fiction Weekly  Jul-13-1940
Murder Draws a Crowd, Detective Fiction Weekly  Jul-27-1940
Footprints on the Ceiling, Ten Detective Aces  Sep. 40
The Little Green Men, The Masked Detective  Fall 1940
Town Wanted, Detective Fiction Weekly  Sep-7-1940
Herbie Rides His Hunch, Detective Fiction Weekly  Oct-19-1940
The Stranger from Trouble Valley, Western Short Stories  Nov. 40
The Strange Sisters Strange, Detective Fiction Weekly  Dec-28-1940
How Tagrid Got There, unpublished until 1986
Fugitive Imposter, Ten Detective Aces  Jan. 41
The King Comes Home, Thrilling Detective  Jan. 41
Big-Top Doom, Ten Detective Aces  Mar 41
The Discontented Cows, G-Men Detective  Mar. 41
Life and Fire, Detective Fiction Weekly  Mar-22-1941
Big-League Larceny, Ten Detective Aces  Apr. 41 {as by Jack Hobart}
Selling Death Short, Ten Detective Aces  Apr. 41
Client Unknown, The Phantom Detective  Apr. 41
Your Name in Gold, The Phantom Detective  Jun. 41
Here Comes the Hearse, 10-Story Detective  Jul. 41 {as by Allen Morse}
Six-Gun Song, 10-Story Detective  Jul. 41
Star-Spangled Night, Coronet  Jul. 41
Wheels Across the Night, G-Men Detective  Jul. 41
Little Boy Lost, Detective Fiction Weekly  Aug-2-1941
Bullet for Bullet, Western Short Stories  Oct. 41
Listen to the Mocking Bird (NT) G-Men Detective  Nov. 41
You'll End Up Burning!, Ten Detective Aces  Nov. 41
Number Bug, Exciting Detective  Winter 1941
Thirty Corpses Every Thursday, Detective Tales  Dec. 41
Trouble Comes Double, Popular Detective  Dec. 41
Clue in Blue, Thrilling Mystery  Jan. 42
Death is a White Rabbit, Strange Detective Mysteries  Jan. 42
Twenty Gets You Plenty, G-Men Detective Jan. 42
Bloody Murder, Detective Fiction  Jan-10-1942
Appendix:
Fredric Brown in Trade Magazines, Part One
The "V.O.N. Munchdriller" stories from The Driller
The "William Z. Williams"" stories from Excavating Engineer


Contents of Vol. 2:

Little Apple Hard to Peel, Detective Tales Feb. 42
Death in the Dark, Dime Mystery Mar. 42
The Incredible Bomber, G-Men Detective Mar. 42
Pardon My Ghoulish Laughter, Strange Detective Mysteries Mar. 42
Twice-Killed Corpse, Ten Detective Aces Mar. 42
A Cat Walks, Detective Story Magazine Apr. 42
Mad Dog!, Detective Book Magazine Spring 1942
Moon Over Murder, The Masked Detective Spring 1942
"Who Did I Murder?", Detective Short Stories Apr. 42
Murder in Furs, Thrilling Detective May 42
Suite for Flute and Tommy Gun, Detective Story Magazine Jun. 42
Three-Corpse Parlay, Popular Detective Jun. 42
A Date to Die, Strange Detective Mysteries Jul. 42
Red is the Hue of Hell, Strange Detective Mysteries Jul. 42 {as by Felix Graham}
Two Biers for Two, Clues Detective Stories Jul. 42
"You'll Die Before Dawn", Mystery Magazine Jul. 42
Get Out of Town, Thrilling Detective Sep. 42
A Little White Lye, Ten Detective Aces Sep. 42
The Men Who Went Nowhere, Dime Mystery Sep. 42
Nothing Sinister, Mystery Magazine Sep. 42
The Numberless Shadows, Detective Story Magazine Sep. 42
Satan's Search Warrant, 10-Story Detective Sep. 42
Where There's Smoke, Black Book Detective Sep. 42
Boner, Popular Detective Oct. 42
Legacy of Murder, Exciting Mystery Oct. 42
The Santa Claus Murders, Detective Story Magazine Oct. 42
Double Murder, Thrilling Detective Nov. 42 {as by John S. Endicott}
Appendix:
Fredric Brown in Trade Magazines, Part Two
"Willie Skid: Cub Serviceman Says" from Ford Dealer & Service Field"Let Colonel Cluck Answer Your Questions" from Independent Salesman"Barnyard Bill Says—" from Feedstuffs

Friday, April 21, 2017

Forgotten Books: SLEEP WITH THE DEVIL / WAKE UP TO MURDER / JOY HOUSE by Day Keene

SLEEP WITH THE DEVIL

One of the back cover blurbs of the new Stark House omnibus calls this novel “top-notch pulp fiction.” I agree, but calling it pulp fiction seems to imply it's somehow inferior to modern mystery fiction. Which it isn’t. In fact, if this story were published today, I could see it getting serious consideration from award committees.

This novel has everything I look for in a mystery: Tight, no nonsense prose. Terse, vivid dialogue. A plot that grips you on page one and keeps squeezing all the way to the finish. And a protagonist unlike any I’ve met before.

Les Ferron is a man with a plan. He’s going to murder his crooked boss, thereby getting himself out from under another murder rap, assume a well-laid identity as a bible salesman, and marry the sexy virginal daughter of a well-to-do country farmer. And that’s just the beginning. Once he tires of the good girl, he’ll make off with the old man’s money and retire to South America, abandoning the bad girl who truly loves him.

Somehow, no matter how crass and unpleasant Ferron behaves, he gets the reader on his side. I quickly found myself rooting for this bastard to succeed.

I know this sounds pretty pulpy, but it’s handled with style and finesse, and breaks the pulp mold when Ferron’s character begins to grow. He finds himself changing, mentally, physically and emotionally into his new straight-arrow persona, and actually has thoughts of redemption.

Pulp or fiction? I guess it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a hell of a good read.



WAKE UP TO MURDER 

The narrator/hero of this one is a slightly less-than-average joe named Jim Charters, an unappreciated gopher for a sleazy but successful attorney. His meager salary is barely enough to keep his wife fed and sheltered, and when he loses even that—getting fired on his birthday—he throws a wind-ding, carousing up and down the Florida coast.

Next morning he wakes up in a strange motel with a babe in his bed, ten one-thousand dollar bills in an envelope, and vague memories of promising to do something to earn them.

What follows is a compelling and believable mystery as Charters tries to figure what transpired during his all-night debauch, and strives to get out from under it. Which just makes matters worse, because he soon finds himself suspected of a double murder and being chased by the mob.

A bonus for the reader is the knowledge (supplied by David Lawrence Wilson’s Stark House Introduction) that the Florida Sunshine Coast locale is pretty much Keene’s backyard, the scene he shared with such friends and neighbors Harry Whittington, Gil Brewer and Talmadge Powell.

First published by Avon in 1952, Wake Up to Murder, while less riveting than Sleep With the Devil, is a fine tale and well worth your reading time.



JOY HOUSE 

Before this story begins, Mark Harris was a high-profile L.A. criminal attorney who finally crossed the line into criminal activity himself. When his wife threatened to expose him, he killed her. Weeks later he’s on the run, and on the bum, singing for his supper in a Chicago rescue mission.

Then in walks the mission’s benefactor--blonde, rich, and enticing--and his life takes a whole new direction, one he’s sure will lead him straight to hell.

When that benefactor, a young widow named May, hires him as a chauffeur—and seemingly as a boy toy, a position offering him food, shelter, sex and safety from the law, I expected him to rejoice. Instead, he’s wracked with guilt—not for being a murderer, but for acting like a heel or a pimp. The rest of the story is mostly about guilt, indignation and fear of discovery by his dead wife’s shady brother. And he pretty much lost me. I can identify with a unrepentant killer or just about any other kind of low-life, but I can’t abide a weenie.

A major character in this novel (and one I found more engaging than Harris himself) is May’s house, a musty old place that’s been boarded up for ten years. It seems to speak to him, fueling his guilt and paranoia. The story eventually comes to a boil in a snap ending worthy of EC’s Shock SuspenStories, The ending is satisfying, but it does take a long time getting there.

What makes Joy House really interesting is the new Introduction by David Lawrence Wilson, providing a detailed history and analysis of its many incarnations, from short story in Detective Tales, to novel to film, finally resulting in the version used for this book—which restores never-before-printed scenes from Keene’s novel manuscript.

SLEEP WITH THE DEVIL / WAKE UP TO MURDER / JOY HOUSE was officially published just today by Stark House Press, and is available for order from all the usual suspects. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Friday, April 14, 2017

Best-Forgotten Books: STRINGER by Lou Cameron


I really wanted to like this book. And I did, through the first couple of chapters.

After the great enjoyment I got from Lou Cameron’s first book, the jazz/crime novel Angel’s Fight (reviewed HERE), I was eager to try some of his westerns. And I was pleased to see there were a lot of them, though most were in “Adult” series, including about fifty Longarms, thirty-six Renegades and fifteen Stringers.

The only things immediately available, from my local library through Hoopla, were downloadable audio versions of the Stringer books. So I tried this one, the first.

It started off great. Cameron’s narration here is not as Hammettish as in Angel’s Flight, but it’s sharp and creative, with many an entertaining turn of phrase. I liked the subject matter, too. Stringer, so-called because he’s a freelance writer for the San Francisco Sun, is assigned a piece to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Joaquin Murietta. There’s a lot of speculation about whether the head collected by Capt. Love was really Murietta’s, or if Murietta existed at all. Could it be that was just a name invented to mask the identities of various Mexican outlaws? Interesting stuff.  

I liked the setting, too. The series takes place takes place when the West was Old, and already fading from memory to legend. Frank James and Cole Younger, we learn, are on the lecture circuit, warning of the wages of sin. Stinger has an interesting background, having worked as a ranch hand while attending Stanford, and reported on Teddy and the Roughriders in Cuba.

Unfortunately, this being an “Adult” western, the story barely gets going before we have an obligatory sex scene. Like almost all of them in such books, it’s just damned silly, and stops the story cold. After that, I kept expecting the story to pick up, but it just sort of loped along in the background, with a lot of well-written but meaningless jabber until the next sex scene.

I’ll admit, there’s kernel of plot in there, too. Somebody has stolen library books about Murietta, and killed the librarian (the lady who made that first sex scene possible), presumably in hopes of finding the booty from an old stagecoach robbery. And some unseen party is taking potshots at Stringer. And he just incidentally has to shoot a couple of gents. And one of the sex scenes strives for relevance with Stringer popping questions about Murietta between erections.

But there just wasn’t enough story to keep me interested. By the time I gave up, just over halfway through, there had been three sex scenes, very little out-of-bed action, and no real progress toward answering the Murietta questions. It just wasn’t worth my time.

I haven’t given up on Cameron yet. I’d still like to try another of his old Gold Medal mysteries, and maybe a non-Adult western, but this was not an encouraging stop on the journey. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

WEAR YOUR FAVORITE BOOK(S)


These and many more booklovers' T-shirts are offered up for sale at outofprintclothing.com, for $28 plus postage. You can tell them I sent you if you want, but they won't know who the heck I am.