Friday, June 16, 2017

Forgotten Books: BIG RED'S DAUGHTER and TOKYO DOLL by John McPartland

Somehow, John McPartland slipped under my radar. He wrote thirteen novels back in the ‘50s, and I’d never heard of him until I got this book. But Jeez, it was worth the wait. This guy was a hell of a writer.

These two novels are extremely different in cast in setting, but have several things in common. Both are narrated by first-person tough guys, and the prose is top notch. Both narrators are good with their fists and enjoy using them, even when they lose. And each encounters a babe who immediately becomes THE woman, the only woman who matters and who could ever matter. And both novels are of the grab the reader by the throat and drag him all the way to the end variety I’ve come to expect in Stark House’s line of Crime Classics.

Big Red’s Daughter, from 1953, plays out against the bohemian jazz scene in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Our hero Jim Work is fresh out of the navy and looking to start college. But his life takes a crazy turn when his car smacks into an MG driven by a world class asshole called Buddy Brown. After a brutal fist fight, he meets—and falls for—Buddy’s girl, a tall long-legged blonde named Wild Kearney. Yep, “Wild” is her real name, as well as her demeanor.

Jim is instantly sucked into Wild’s world of spoiled twenty-somethings rebelling with whatever methods are at hand—in this case drugs, booze, jazz and sex. That wouldn’t be so bad if not for the presence of Buddy Brown, a sadistic psychopath who is addictive to all women, and Wild in particular.

Next thing he knows, Jim is dodging the cops who want him first for one murder, then another. Buddy’s evil aura looms over the whole landscape, while Jim’s obsession with Wild colors his every move. 

When he’s caught, this exchange sums it up:
     “Quite a week end for you, Work,” said the policeman next to me in the back of the car. “Kill a girl. Kill a guy. Escape from jail. Almost beat a man to death in front of his mother. Shoot another man.”
     “It’s been quite a week end,” I agreed.

And there’s more to come. Read it and see.

Tokyo Doll, also first published in 1953, is a high octane thriller set—you guessed it—in Tokyo. It’s 1949, and the U.S. Occupation is about to end. The commies are chomping at the bit. That’s when ex-serviceman Mate Buchanan is recruited by an unnamed agency to save the world. Or so he’s told. 

A Japanese scientist, the story goes, created a virus that healed radiation on a test subjects after the bomb hit Hiroshima. Mate’s job is to get that virus, by any means necessary, before the Reds get it, and before the old guy has a chance to destroy it. The plan is for Mate to seduce the scientist’s daughter, in hopes of ferreting out his hiding place.

But before finding the daughter, Mate foils an assassination attempt on the Tokyo Doll—a lovely American babe who sings to GIs on Armed Forces Radio—and falls hard. The Doll, another tall leggy blonde (methinks McPartland has a type), claims to fall for him too, but she’s messing around with a wealthy Japanese dude, and Army Intelligence suspects her of being a Red. 

Meanwhile, the scientist’s daughter, also a beauty, dims Mate’s ardor by chopping off her current boyfriend’s manhood. Seems the guy—a U.S. Army officer--was dumping her and returning to his wife. Now Mate has to hide her from both the police and the army while he makes unwilling love to her, all the while pining for the Tokyo Doll.

More trouble: The police suspect him of murder, a guy twice his size want to murder him, and the Army thinks he’s a traitor. They’re convinced the virus is a weapon rather a cure, and are frantic to destroy it before the Reds get it. And the Tokyo Doll? She’s still professing her love, while messing around with Mate’s arch enemy and acting Redder than ever. 

What to believe? Who to believe? And what the heck to do about it? If Mate completes his mission, will he be saving the world or dooming it? Yikes!

Two great reads, one great writer. You can’t lose on this one.


Rick Robinson said...

Stark House just keeps on doing great doubles.

Evan Lewis said...

And sometimes triples. They just sent me an ARC of a great-looking trio by Peter Rabe.