Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Men From The Boys

Crime and intrigue in American hotels was evidently such an issue during the mid-20th century that the “hotel detective” became a mainstay of crime and noir fiction and a sub-genre unto itself. Sadly, the security guards of today’s chain hotels don’t warrant a literary movement of their own, but the 1950s hotel detectives sure did. 

Ed Lacy was the pen name of New York writer Leonard Zinberg, who authored many crime and mystery paperback originals - mostly in the 1950s and 1960s. He never reached the popularity of many of his contemporaries probably because his output was comprised mostly of modest stand-alone novels. Lacy’s contribution to the “house dick” sub-genre was his 1956 paperback, “The Men From The Boys” that has recently been reprinted by Black Gat Books, a Stark House imprint.  

The novel stars retired hard-ass New York City cop Marty Bond, now serving as the in-house detective at the Grover Hotel. His job mostly consists of cracking the heads of drunk guests who won’t keep the noise down, and regulating the hooker traffic in and out of the fleabag inn.  

Marty isn’t an immediately likable hero. He’s cynical about the law. He’s racist and misogynist (even by 1956 standards). He’s lazy and gruff. At 54, his health is declining prematurely. The novel’s central mystery begins when a rookie auxiliary police officer from his past visits Marty asking for help regarding a suspicious robbery. Could it have anything to do with the mafia unrest in the news? Marty’s reluctant assistance in the case competes for his attention with his own anxiety and depression over his deteriorating personal life. 

This is one of those novels where the reader slowly sees the true humanity of a heel with a heart of gold buried under a gruff exterior. Lacy pulls it off quite well mostly because he was a damn good writer. Marty’s narration gives the reader glimpses into his worldview, and his cynical wise cracks are often laugh-out-loud funny. 

The cast of characters in Marty’s life - pimps, whores, cops, and strippers - are all colorful and interesting, and the novel’s snappy dialogue keeps the pages flying by. The big problem with this short novel is that the central mystery is a bit of a muddled snooze and way less interesting than the sub-plots concerning Marty’s personal life and relations. You want to spend more time in Marty’s world, but the ex-cop and the reader just deserve a better crime to solve. Nevertheless, there’s plenty to enjoy in this one. It’s not a masterpiece of the genre, but we should all be happy to see Ed Lacy’s work being preserved for modern audiences.

You can obtain a copy of the book through Stark House or directly at Amazon.