Showing posts with label Ovid Demaris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ovid Demaris. Show all posts

Monday, August 23, 2021

The Slasher

Ovid Demaris is a mid-20th century author who wrote both true crime and crime-noir. Most of his novels have been reprinted by publishers like Stark House Press and Cutting Edge Books. In recent years, I have read and collected his writing. Thankfully, a friend gave me a tattered copy of the author's Fawcett Gold Medal paperback The Slasher. It was originally published in 1959. As far as I can tell, it was never reprinted.

The novel introduces Stanley Palke, a psychopathic lunatic who terrorizes a Californian city. Palke is gay and has a fondness for naval men and merchant seamen. This "slasher" usually picks up men from local dives or bars and then brutally attacks them with a knife. In the first pages of the book, the police find four dead sailors trapped in a car immersed in water. These appear to be Palke's victims.

Whereas the novel occasionally presents events from Palke's point of view, most of the narrative is from Paul Warren's perspective. Like any "downward spiral" story, Warren has developed an alcohol problem. He ends up being fired from his reporting job due to his inability to stay sober for his newspaper assignments. Feeling as if his life is over, Warren spends his days drinking in bars and refusing his wife's help. The stars unfortunately align when Palke spots Warren in a local dive and offers to buy him a drink. Warren awakens the next day in the hospital after being brutalized by Palke. 

The Slasher is mostly a crime-fiction book that highlights two homicide investigators attempting to locate Palke. As fun as that was, I think I enjoyed the more personal account of Warren's downfall. The fact that this suburban husband and father could socially and financially plunge to the depths of alcoholism and suicidal tendencies was riveting. While Demaris is mostly known for his books on organized crime, I felt he presented this emotional story in a way that was easily relatable to readers. 

The Slasher also features some really mature moments that were shocking to me considering this is a 1959 paperback. Palke's flirtation with men wasn't something that was common in literature or film for that time period. While not terribly graphic, Demaris presents some material that was probably taboo or controversial at the time. At one point Palke insinuates that heterosexual men all have a homosexual tendency at one point or another. Warren's wife even reflects on a personal relationship she had with another woman. Beyond that, the sexual crimes were disturbing. Palke's stabbing was comparable to intercourse, each penetration becoming a sexual crescendo that eventually leads to castration. This is all pretty bold stuff for 1959. None of this is really illustrated with the book's cover. Instead, the artwork suggests that the killer is preying on voluptuous women instead of men.

If you like crime-fiction, there's no reason that you won't enjoy The Slasher. Considering all of the elements at work here, Demaris is able to inject quite a bit into a relatively short 172-page novel. From graphic violence, sexual innuendo, police procedures and the aforementioned "riches to rags" personal story, The Slasher is a multifaceted, enjoyable paperback. Get the ebook HERE

Monday, August 16, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 92

The Paperback Warrior Podcast rolls into August with Episode 92. On this episode, Eric explains the life and literary work of crime-fiction author Ovid Demaris. Eric talks about his recent gothic paperback bonanza, a visit to the psychic capital of the world and his recent health scare. Tom pops in to discuss the life of the paperback king himself, Harry Whittington, including a review of the author's 1954 novel The Woman is Mine. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE:

Listen to "Episode 92: Ovid Demaris" on Spreaker.

Monday, August 2, 2021

The Extortioners

Ovid Demaris (1919-1998) wrote nearly 20 novels of crime-fiction as well as 14 non-fiction books about crime. The author has been reintroduced to new generations of readers with publishers like Cutting Edge Books and Armchair Fiction reprinting his work. The author's fifth career novel, The Extortioners, was originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1960. Since then, it has been reprinted as an e-book by Hauraki Publishing in 2016 and by Armchair Fiction in 2019 as a double with Henry Kane's 1954 paperback Laughter Came Screaming.

Hugh Dewitt has endured many hardships and tribulations on the road to becoming a millionaire. Dewitt, who frequented gambling joints, experienced the loss of his young son in an auto accident. The insurance payout insured Dewitt's family for life, allowing him to invest and buy into the lucrative oil industry. Dewitt's friend and business associate is Neil Gordon, a man he trusts and confides in. Together, the two have grown a small empire.

In the opening pages of the book, Dewitt organizes a party in his large mansion. Angelo Rizzola, Dewitt's former bookie, learns about the party and appears uninvited. Both Dewitt and Gordon are shocked by his appearance, but eventually discuss old times over a few drinks. Angelo insists on investing in Dewitt' business. Hesitant about discussing business with Angelo, he volunteers that his company will be selling a 2% overriding royalty that pays about $5,000 per month. He cannot guarantee that it is still for sale and he has no idea if Angelo can even buy it. All Angelo hears is the payout and states he can come up with the needed funds.

Where does a criminal get a loan? The mob. Without any guarantee that he can even purchase the royalty, Angelo calls a dangerous mob organizer named Jimmy Gracio. Angelo explains the deal and Jimmy immediately says they can share the buy-in, although neither of them know the price. Jimmy has graduated from mob enforcer to organizer and now owns stock in multiple hotels and corporations. This is his chance to finally allocate funds to the oil industry. He tells Angelo to set it up. The problem? The royalty offer has already taken place and has been approved by the company for another person to buy it. 

The author's extremely violent narrative begins with Angelo endlessly calling Dewitt's secretary asking for a callback. Next, both Angelo and Jimmy begin working on Gordon in person and by phone. After numerous threats, Gordon advises Angelo that he knows nothing about the proposed deal and that Dewitt was just saying anything at the party to get Angelo to leave. There's no royalty for sale and Angelo will need to chase another business venture. Angelo relays this to Jimmy and all Hell breaks loose.

Jimmy feels like a victim of discrimination and starts threatening Gordon and Dewitt. Once he targets Dewitt's family, the business associates make the unfortunate mistake of going to the police. The story breaks out into a crescendo of bloodshed and suspense when Jimmy starts using years of experience to extort the family. Is it possible for Dewitt to escape this fiasco alive?

Like Ride the Gold Mare, The Long Night and The Enforcer, The Extortioners is laced with brutality. Demaris was an expert on organized crime and pulls no punches in describing their threatening methods. In some ways this story reminded me of John D. MacDonald's The Executioners (twice filmed as Cape Fear). The endless physical and psychological abuse of attorney Sam Bowden and his loved ones by Max Cady is similar to this story, though MacDonald's novel was published three years before The Extortioners

Aside from a mediocre novel here and there, Ovid Demaris was a rock solid crime-noir author. In my personal experience, The Extortioners is his best work. With two reprint options available, there's no reason you shouldn't be reading this.

Buy the e-book HERE and the paperback HERE

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Ride the Gold Mare

While spending a majority of his career penning non-fiction, Ovid Demaris authored a number of crime-fiction novels. While I've had mixed reactions to Demaris' literary work, I enjoyed his 1959 novel The Long Night. Hoping for another positive reading experience, I read the author's first novel, Ride the Gold Mare, published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1957 and reprinted by Cutting Edge Books in 2020.

The book stars Phil Lambert, a tenacious Hollywood reporter whose focus is the city's deadly heroin distribution network. In the novel's opening pages, a crooked cop named Fusco violently kills a drug pusher. The murder is witnessed by two druggies who flee the scene of the crime. Lambert learns of the murder and suspects that Fusco may be tied to the Syndicate. In an effort to break the story, Lambert tries to stay ahead of Fusco in learning the whereabouts of the two witnesses.

At this early career stage, Demaris was clearly influenced by Jim Thompson's writing style. Ride the Gold Mare is saturated with characters who remain rough around the edges and undesirable. Weepy and Doris, for example, are both losers who never stray far from the gutter begging for drug money. There's a stripper longing for love, a wife begging for faithfulness, a dealer skimming off the top and an average man positioned on the brink of the vast criminal underworld.

Much of the narrative focuses on the aforementioned Sergeant Vince Fusco of the Los Angeles Narcotics Squad. In essence, he is the consummate villain, a narcissistic dirty cop who clashes with the public he’s sworn to serve. In many ways, he's the prototype for the sadistic mob killer that Demaris would later create and utilize for his 1960 novel The Enforcer.

Among the miscreants, delinquents, hookers and dealers, the cast of characters is bleak, created with a sense of depravity by the author. The narrative is littered with profanity, drug use and sexual aggression that is somewhat uncommon for a 1957 Gold Medal paperback. Like John D. MacDonald's 1960 novel The End of the Night, Ovid Demaris' Ride the Gold Mare is a brutal look at youth gone wild with no safety barriers or censorship. It's an epic, violent clash between lawbreakers that swirls into a compelling, fast-moving crime-noir read from beginning to end. The book is a fantastic first-effort from an author who simply excelled in this genre. 

Note - Ride the Gold Mare is also part of a four-book compilation entitled California Crime. The omnibus is available from Cutting Edge and features three other crime-noir novels authored by Demaris - The Enforcer, The Long Night and The Hoods Take Over.  

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Vince Slader #01 - The Long Night

Ovid Demaris (1919-1998) authored a number of crime-fiction novels that were based on his research into real-life organized crime. The author’s most successful books were his non-fiction accounts of actual Mafia operations. As such, it's no surprise that his novels including Hoods Take Over, Candyleg and The Organization revolve around the Syndicate's drug, gambling and prostitution rackets on the American West Coast. While I wasn't fond of Demaris' The Enforcer, I wanted to sample another of his mob novels. I chose The Long Night, originally published in 1959 and recently reprinted as an affordable ebook by NY Times bestselling author Lee Goldberg's Cutting Edge imprint. It's the first of two books starring quasi-private investigator Vince Slader, the other being 1960's The Gold Plated Sewer.

The Long Night features protagonist Vince Slader, a hard-nosed guy who works as a debt collector. Now, Slader isn't a debt collector that sits behind the phones and dials for dollars. Instead, really bad guys call on the really tough Slader to retrieve gambling debts and derogatory installment payments. In Beverly Hills, it's a business that is booming. Armed with an address and a .45, Slader's track record in the debt collection business is very good. He runs the operation under his license of private-investigator, and that business has now become scrutinized by two California Senators who are wise to Slader's violent business practices.

Despite being the target of a committee investigation, Slader takes on a new assignment of tracking down a gambling debtor named Russell. To retrieve him, he starts with questioning Russell's voluptuous wife Cindy. The intense question and answer session eventually leads to Slader getting laid, but it doesn't get him any closer to Russell or his dough. After digging in a little further, Russell is traced to a couple of beefy hit-men who want to protect the man for their own purposes.

The narrative takes an unexpected twist when Cindy dumps Slader on a rural stretch of California highway. It is there that Slader apparently is run over by a car belonging to Russell. But here's the mystery: Slader awakens at the bottom of a ravine behind the wheel of Russell's car. He is in possession of Russell's wallet and driver's license with no idea how he got there. After hearing a radio bulletin about Russell being carjacked, Slader realizes he's been set-up for armed robbery. The book's climactic second-half is a riveting narrative that follows Slader's investigation to clear his own name and find this mysterious Russell character.

My previous experience with Demaris was the soapy, teenage delinquent novel The Enforcer (1960). It was disguised as a gritty crime-fiction novel about a Mafia stranglehold but was really a uninspired episode of Melrose Place. The Long Night is a far more compelling story, one that is legitimately a gritty crime-fiction novel. Demaris inserts loud-mouthed, gambling kingpins into the narrative and saturates the prose with gunplay, fast cars and sexy women. The criminals are edgy, but the hero is a valid, uncompromising tough guy who serves as the perfect crime combatant. While Slader's goal is to recoup the money, the author weaves in a romantic side story as well as an interesting revelation of Slader's ex-wife who became a prostitute.

The Long Night is an enjoyable 1950s crime-fiction novel that retains most of the flavor of the genre's mid-century pioneers. If you are a fan of authors like Frank Kane and Mickey Spillane, The Long Night is sure to please.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Enforcer

Maine native and US Army veteran Ovid Demaris (1919-1998) dedicated a majority of his literary work to non-fiction accounts of Mafia operations. Between 1957 and 1988, Demaris also authored a number of crime-fiction novels, two of which were adapted to film - Hoods Take Over as the film Gang War and Candyleg as Machine Gun McCain. Based on the author's research on organized crime, it's no surprise to find The Enforcer in his published works, a mob-themed crime-noir originally released by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1960 and now available as an affordable reprint through Cutting Edge.

Bender is a ruthless mob enforcer living in a bright and cheery apartment complex in Hollywood. When he's not breaking the legs of debtors and traitors, Bender spends his time with a stripper named Nicki while also lusting over a nearby resident named Eileen. However, the police are on to Bender and have him under investigation for a neighborhood double-homicide. To finalize their case, the police ask Detective Mark Condon to go undercover as a resident at the apartment complex. While it's never really explained what Condon is hoping to discover, readers will forget the story-line due to the narrative's abundant sleaze and sexy oscillation. The apartment complex’s pool is like the porn palace of Los Angeles. Resembling a dirty episode of “Friends”, roommates spend 127-pages attempting to get laid. There's also the sex-starved whacko who observes from afar with one hand on his...windowsill.

The Enforcer was my first experience with author Ovid Demaris and by all rights should be the last. I'm a sucker for punishment and unfortunately bought a four-pack of his vintage novels on Ebay. But just to be fair, Demaris may have intended this to be a smutty romance novel and Fawcett just dressed it up to resemble a vengeful crime-fiction offering. Even the book's title may have been something entirely different. We'll never know. But that doesn't dismiss the notion that Demaris is a good author. His fragmented, multilayered narrative has way too many shallow characters. The author spends multiple pages on poolside antics and immature jokes that hinder the pace. Nothing is remarkable, and Demaris doesn't have a story to tell. It's just a random amount of nonsense about young hotheads stripping, dancing and boning.

It goes without saying, but I'll state for the record that The Enforcer has joined the Hall of Shame. Avoid this one like a scorching case of California Clap. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE