Showing posts with label Stark House. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stark House. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Shakedown for Murder

Ed Lacy, real name Leonard S. Zinberg, experienced success with his diverse 1957 private-eye novel, Room to Swing. The book introduced the first creditable African-American PI, New Yorker Touie Moore. For his achievement, Lacy was awarded the Edgar for Best Novel and heaps of respect and accolades from his contemporaries. The following year, Lacy was productive as ever with three new crime-fiction novels, Breathe No More, My Lady, Shakedown for Murder, and Be Careful How You Live (aka Dead End). Stark House Press published two of these novels, Breathe No More, My Lady and Shakedown for Murder as a twofer edition with an introduction by Cullen Gallagher. I chose to read Shakedown... first.

Lacy welcomes readers with a two-page death-dealing scene in which a Dr. Edward Barnes is murdered while making a house call to an apparent friend or longtime colleague. As Barnes collapses by the heavy Buick, the reader is bewildered on what led to this sudden fatal attack and the events that transpired previously. By providing this initial shock, Lacy braces readers for a rip-roar ride through a small town of suspects, agendas, love affairs, and an unlikely hero.

In the opening chapters, single fifty-something Matt Lund arrives for a one-week vacation in a New York coastal town called End Harbor. He's there to visit his adult son Dan, who is married to Bessie and they have a young son named Andy. Matt brings his fat cat with him as well, the only semblance that he has any local relationships other than the jailbirds he babysits as a cop working in a prison back in the city. In first-person perspective, Matt explains that he really would rather be at home snoozing his vacation away instead of being grandpa. But, he's a good sport about it and tries to inject some life and fun into his trip. But, things go off the rails when the local hick cop discovers the corpse of Dr. Barnes.

Lund is a humorous likable guy that displays an ineptitude for modern efficiencies and behavior while still maintaining a veneer of an experienced lawman. On a supermarket run, Lund impresses his grandson by pointing out to the local cop that Barnes didn't accidentally die. He cites specific evidence on the Buick that suggests foul play. The cop doesn't appreciate Lund, who in reality has never worked any investigation beyond petty theft, and tells him to butt out. When Bessie's good friend, a wacky old guy that drives a taxi with reckless abandonment, is jailed for the Barnes murder, Lund is forced into the investigation. 

Lacy always has a thing or two to say about racism in his books and often provides subtext surrounding social issues of the time. Lund's pairing with a Native American woman introduces the town's history of bigotry and hatred towards her ethnicity. The author also adds some insight on getting older and walking the balance beam of working and staying active to retiring and accepting the advancement of years. 

As a crime-fiction novel, Lacy adds in the traditional genre tropes – gumshoe investigation, interviews, weeding out suspects, and discovering possible motives for the murder. If you enjoy mid 20th century crime-fiction, few will write it better than Ed Lacy. Get Shakedown for Murder HERE

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

The Evil Wish

Jean Potts, who lived most of her life in New York City, began her writing career by contributing short stories to the glossy magazines of the early to mid-20th century. Her first full-length novel, Someone to Remember, was published in 1943. She would go on to write 15 original novels, most of which have been published in twofer collections by Stark House Press. I've read a few and wanted to continue my pursuit of her work with The Evil Wish. It was originally published in hardcover by Scribner in 1962 and then later as a paperback by Ace. It now exists an affordable reprint by Stark House. 

In my prior Potts experiences I sampled traditional whodunits, complete with suspects and red herrings, in the 1966 novel The Footsteps on the Stairs and the author's 1972 novel The Troublemaker. However, The Evil Wish is a very different type of novel, one that emphasizes the concept of murder without actually doing the ghastly deed. In a unique presentation, The Evil Wish becomes a white-knuckle, unsettling pot-boiler that doesn't need an invitation to turn the pages. It's a mesmerizing, devilish descent into an unyielding conundrum – to kill or not to kill. That's the question. And it burns like a wildfire. 

In a spacious New England house, thirty-something sisters Marcia and Lucy avoid life and discomfort while living with their well-to-do father, a successful doctor with a practice in the home. The first two floors are the trio's domicile and the top floors are rented to tenants. Marcia is an alcoholic involved in an affair with a married man. Lucy has never committed to love and behaves like a frightened recluse. Both have serious social issues. 

The two have shared a habit since childhood of listening through the basement vent as their father talks to patients and a revolving door of pretty nurses. One night they hear the unthinkable. Old Daddy is marrying the hot young nurse that is clearly in it for the money. If that isn't off-putting enough, Daddy's language suggests that his grown adult-children need to get a life. But, Potts carefully, and sadistically, places the reader into the minds of these two attention-starved sisters. The reader sometimes isn't aware of what is real and what is really being imagined by the delusional duo. 

As the narrative unfolds, a plan of attack develops. What if Marcia and Lucy conspire to not only knock off “pretty young thing” but also Daddy himself? They could waddle in misery and comfortable discomfort in the confines of their own home without Daddy's condemnation. However, the plan backfires when it never comes to fruition. An unexpected death is wrenched into these smooth turning wheels that deteriorates and destroys the murder plan. This is where Potts absolutely shines. By fixating on a murder that can't physically happen, the sisters turn on each other in frustration. The finale is a coffee date from Hell. 

While I haven't read them all I can't foresee another Potts novel surpassing The Evil Wish. It is such an engrossing, all-consuming psychological story that twists and turns into a wretched lifeless state. While it may seem cold and heartless, Potts spruces up the storyline with a tongue-in-cheek look at death and the weird fascination we all have on the old business of murder. The Evil Wish is everything you could possibly wish for in a vintage crime-noir. Recommended! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Stark House Anthology Vol. 01

Stark House Press put together four fantastic anthologies of magazine stories from Manhunt, and to celebrate the publisher’s 25th Anniversary, they are releasing another short fiction anthology from a wider variety of 20th Century crime fiction sources. As such, it should come as no surprise that The Stark House Anthology is a masterpiece.

Editors Rick Ollerman and Gregory Shepard canvassed digests including Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Magazine, Manhunt and many obscure publications to curate this collection that appears to be genetically-engineered to appeal to Paperback Warrior readers.

The anthology boasts 30 stories from crime fiction royalty including Harry Whittington, Fletcher Flora, Fredric Brown, Gil Brewer, and Peter Rabe. They also included a never-published short novel called “So Curse the Day” by Jada M. Davis, author of the 1952 paperback One For Hell.

At 458 pages, you’re bound to find something to enjoy here. Reviewing a short story anthology is a fool’s errand, but here are some quick blurbs of stories I read on my first pass-through.

The Tormented” by James McKimmey

The story originally appeared in the August 1967 issue of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Magazine. The setup is simple. Vince Ecker is a redneck hunter. David Farrel is an over-educated clerical worker. Somehow, they go hunting together on land owned by a wealthy investment tycoon, and Ecker learns where the tycoon stashes his cash. Sounds like it’s time for a heist. As expected, this is a very well-orchestrated crime story consistent with McKimmey’s longer works.

“Nothing in My Way” by Orrie Hitt

Orrie Hitt was the best sleaze-fiction author of his era because his best works were often sexy crime novels incognito. This short story was from Smashing Detective Stories July 1955 issue. The story is about a man who fakes his death for the insurance money and then surgically changes his face so no one will recognize he’s still alive. But in order to enjoy the life insurance money, he needs to get it from his no-good, slutty widow. This is a fantastic story with a great twist ending. Make this one a priority.

“Secretaries Make Such Nice Wives” by A.S. Fleischman

This is probably the shortest story in the book. Taken from the Toronto Star Weekly in 1946, it’s a fun little tale about a man and his wife who are taken hostage and forced to drive the bad guy across the border from Tijuana to San Diego. The driver needs to alert the border police without tipping off the carjacker. The story is just setting up a decent punchline at the end. It’s definitely worth the five minutes of your time it will take you to read it.

“The Geek Girl” by Day Keene

This delightful tale of carny-noir by Day Keene was originally published in Australia’s ADAM magazine in 1953, so we are lucky to find it resurrected here. Opening day of the Carnival passing through Langley is here, and our narrator Morgan (“the talker”) walks the reader through the advance work that makes the road show possible. In town, he meets a beautiful mute girl in trouble with the law and hires her to be a trumped-up geek exhibit on the midway. The story of the geek girl is not a crime story as much as it’s a dramatic and compelling carnival vs. corrupt townie story. But don’t skip this one. It’s a lost classic.

Final Assessment

The editors clearly put a ton of work into The Stark House Anthology and it shows. For 25 years, the publisher has been unearthing and reprinting the finest paperback novels of the 20th century. I hope they continue to compile short fiction from the era because this collection is a total gem. Highest recommendation. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Bait

According to his bio, William E. Vance (1911-1986) taught creative writing and worked for the Federal Aviation Administration in Utah. The author's short stories first appeared in the early 1950s in magazines like Argosy and Esquire. He turned to paperback originals, penning over 40 novels including western and crime-fiction. Using the pseudonym George Cassidy, he authored more racy romance novels including The Flesh Market, Wanton Bride, Assignment: Seduction, and Sin Circus. Stark House Press chose his 1962 novel Bait to reprint as Black Gat Books #59.

Melody Frane is 17 years old and living in a one-room shack on an Arizona migratory farm. Daily, she performs hard labor and arrives home to hear the rhythmical sounds of a squeaky mattress holding her drunk mother and a hoodlum. Melody wants out, and she has the knock 'em dead good looks to rise above her sorrowful lifestyle. Her meal ticket might be Harry Ransome. 

Harry is the town's wealthy entrepreneur, holding the keys to the city through real estate, investments, and solid business savvy. However, most of his success comes from swindling young women like Melody as special concessions to close the big deal. When Harry propositions Melody for the big plays, she hesitantly accepts. Soon, she's wining and dining in Los Angeles while attending a performing arts school that hopes to firm up her mind and soul to deliver the goods. She's forced into uncompromising situations with Harry and his business associates while pining for the real love of her life, a hard-working pilot that works for Harry.

Bait was originally published by Beacon, a sleaze publisher that mostly offered very tepid sex scenes (what we would consider PG-13 today) peppered through a gripping human conflict story. Author Charles Boeckman wrote some of the best Beacon paperbacks as Alex Carter, and Bait sort of falls into the same overall theme. Vance presents the glitz and glamour of the high-dollar white-collar, but underlines it with a blue-collar “fish out of water” story of a small-town girl pressured into unfamiliarity. As a breezy read, take the Bait and enjoy. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Come Easy - Go Easy

For a guy with over 90 novels to his name, British author of American thrillers James Hadley Chase (real name: Rene Raymond, 1906-1985) had a remarkably-good batting average. As such, his 1960 femme-fatale heist noir novel, Come Easy - Go Easy, seemed like a good choice for an effortless and quality read.

Our narrator is Chet, a locksmith specializing in safes. One night he’s dispatched to a service call at the home of a rich jackass who lost his key. Chet pops the lock and sees a half-million bucks in cash just sitting in the safe. That’s the kind of thing that gets a guy thinking…

Chet mentions it to his co-worker Roy, and the guys start scheming. Anyone who reads a lot of heist novels will see that their plan is harebrained and riddled with pitfalls. And, of course, the whole thing goes sideways in the most delightful way possible. I won’t spoil it for you here, but these guys find themselves in a fabulous mess.

The book becomes a man-on-the-run novel and then the author channels Gil Brewer or Harry Whittington for the heart of the novel as Chet hides from the law in a small town among a benevolent boss with sexy young wife driving Chet to more bad decisions.

It’s a heist novel - two, in fact. It’s a prison break novel. It’s a femme fatale novel. It’s a man on the run novel. It’s everything that’s good about noir paperbacks from the 1950s and 1960s. It also the best novel by Chase - by far - that I’ve ever read. If you like the best work of Gil Brewer and Harry Whittington , this is up there with it. Don’t skip this one. I’m dead serious.

Come Easy - Go Easy has been reprinted a bazillion times over the past 60+ years, but you should buy the Stark House version which also includes his novel In A Vain Shadow and an intro by Rick Ollerman. Buy that version HERE.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Time of Terror

The kidnapping-heist crime novel The Time of Terror by Lionel White (1905-1985) was first published as a hardcover in 1960 and later abridged to fit the page count as an Ace Double paperback in 1961. The original text of the novel has been reprinted by Stark House Press and paired with 1958’s Too Young to Die.

Long Island, New York couple Christian and Elizabeth (“Call me, Bet!”) are living the suburban American dream. Christian has a good job with an electronics business he helped found, and Bet spends her days raising her two little kids with the help of a live-in nanny and housekeeper.

We also meet 38 year-old Frank Mace, a downtrodden guy in a downscale New York suburb. Frank is a laid-off factory worker whose family has left him. Frank feels that the only answer to turning his life around is an immediate influx of cash. As such, Frank decides to rob a supermarket without formulating much of a coherent plan.

Upon arrival at the grocery store, Frank encounters an unattended little kid - Bet’s kid - and snatches the boy up concocting a kidnapping-for-ransom scheme on the fly. And away we go with a wild paperback crime yarn.

In the opening chapters of The Time of Terror, the author adopts the conversational narration style employed in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels where the third-person omniscient narrator has personality and provides commentary - even acknowledging that there is a reader to whom he’s speaking. It makes for a fun read, and White has the chops to do it well.

The perspective shifts between the police, the local newspaper, the FBI, the victim family, and our kidnapper are quick and well-executed. The plot developments are of the forehead-slapping, one-damn-thing-after-another variety and you’ll have a hard time looking away from this slow-motion noir trainwreck of a crime story.

Overall, it was a pretty great book. The first half a stronger than the second half, but White never disappoints. If you enjoy heists-gone-wrong paperbacks, you can safely add this one to your reading list.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Little Sister

Robert Martin (1908-1976) wrote a fair amount of crime and mystery paperbacks under his own name as well as the pseudonym Lee Roberts. Little Sister was a 1952 stand-alone Fawcett Gold Medal hardboiled private-eye paperback that has been reborn as a Black Gat reprint, including an insightful introduction by Bill Pronzini.

Our narrator is Private Detective Andrew Brice, and he is summoned to a new client meeting at a large estate. His client is a wealthy, attractive woman named Miss Vivian Prosper who has just gone through a financially-advantageous divorce. Vivian shares the lakefront mansion with her little sister, Linda — and since the novel is called Little Sister, you probably saw that coming.

Little Sister Linda is a 17 year-old whiskey-swilling hellion, and she stands to inherit a pile of money from a trust fund soon when she reaches 18. Linda intends to marry a 30 year-old gas station attendant, and Big Sister Vivian wants PI Brice to break up the romance because the loser boyfriend is clearly just trying to get his claws on the trust fund cash.

All of this is conveyed in the Chapter One meeting between Brice and Vivian. The reader sees where this is going, and then Little Sister Linda arrives home in her convertible, drunk-as-a-skunk with a dead body in the trunk. And THAT’S how you start a private eye paperback.

As a licensed professional, Brice is duty bound to report the corpse in the trunk to the police, but sexy Vivian has other ideas. Could the prospect of getting laid with the seductive divorcee possibly convince our PI to dispose of the body with no police involvement? That’s the kind of thing that could turn a hardboiled private eye mystery into a femme fatale crime noir paperback.

You’ll need to read the book to find out how Brice handles this and other dilemmas he confronts throughout this lean paperback. The plot eventually settles into a pretty standard PI mystery with Brice interviewing one witness after another until the situation becomes both more clear and more messy as red herrings arise. It’s all well-written with a sexy undercurrent thanks to the seductive sisters at the eye of the storm and the fact that every female interviewee throws themselves at Brice.

The climactic conclusion is a scene where the villain, now revealed, explains the motivation and execution of the murder in painstaking detail while holding a gun on Brice. It’s an overused trope in mystery fiction, but well-executed in this case.

And that’s the thing with Little Sister. This paperback breaks zero new ground for a private eye mystery of the 1950s. However, if you’re in the mood for a completely traditional and readable genre paperback, you could do a lot worse. It’s about as good as a better-than-average Mike Shayne novel. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Snake-Bite and Other Mystery Tales of the Sahara

Robert Smythe Hichens (1864-1959) was a journalist, music critic, playwright, lyricist and novelist. He saw his first novel published in 1886 when he was just 17 years of age. His most popular works include An Imaginative Man (1895), Flames (1897), and The Slave (1899). Many of his novels were adapted into film or plays, including The Paradine Case, which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1947. Stark House Press has published a collection of the author's short-stories that include mystery and intrigue set in North Africa. The book is called Snake-Bite and Other Mystery Tales of the Sahara and features an introduction by literary critic S.T. Joshi.

In the story “Desert Air”, an astute worldly traveler recounts his trip to Beni-Kouidar, a windswept city in the Sahara Desert. It is here that the narrator and his companion stumble upon a young exotic dancer that has ties to a powerful Sheik. After being warned to stay away from the young woman, and to leave town, the two overstay their welcome and misfortune falls on the companion. 

“The Desert Drum” is a first-person account of a traveler riding through the tiny hovels called Sidi-Massarli in the Sahara. His reason for explaining his travels is the examination of the “desert drum”, a local superstition that these mysterious drum sounds beckon death. In town, the narrator finds a lawman who has a prisoner tied to his saddle. The lawman explains that the prisoner murdered someone, served prison time, and is now being returned to his hometown to go free. Later that night, the trio of men hear the ominous sounds of the “desert drum”, a sign that one of these men will surely be murdered.

In Joshi's introduction, he points out that Hichens was fascinated by the “eternal feminine”, highlighting the voided space both physically and emotionally between man and woman. The stories in this collection share a location setting – the Sahara Desert – but also a general theme of man lusting for woman. Often, these are performers that have a resound effect on the travelers and businessmen they entertain. In “The Charmer of Snakes”, the stage actress Claire enters the life of Renfrew, creating a life disruption. The same can be said for “The Desert Drum”, where the young prisoner commits murder just to return to prison to see the dancer he's smitten with. 

These stories are entertaining, and showcase Hichens storytelling talents as both a mystery and adventure writer. His writing borders on the cusp of dark fiction, like several of his contemporaries like Arthur Machen and Clark Ashton Smith. If you are new to Robert Hichens, this collection may be a great place to discover his work. Stark House Press have also released more Hichens collections, including The Black Spaniel & Other Strange Stories and How Love Came to Professor Guildea and Other Uncanny Tales

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

A Woman Possessed

A Woman Possessed was a 1961 paperback by Harry Whittington, writing as Whit Harrison. The book is a crime noir paperback packaged as a sleaze novel for the original Beacon Books release. Fortunately, it’s been reprinted as a double by Stark House along with 1952’s Prime Sucker. The new edition includes an insightful introduction by pop culture scholar Cullen Gallagher.

As with the best of Whittington’s novels, he wastes no time getting into the plot. Convicted murderer Dan Ferrel is an inmate on a prison road gang swinging a grass sling to cut down the weeds along the steamy highway. Nobody else knows that Dan is expecting company. Namely, a woman named May who should be roaring up any minute in a blue car to facilitate his escape from the shotgun-toting guards.

Of course, the escape happens and Dan is on the run. May is smitten for Dan, but it’s clear that Dan is just using his psychological hold over May to manipulate her into facilitating his getaway. Dan has another woman on his mind - an old flame with whom Dan has a score to settle.

The second plot thread involves Dan’s brother, Paul. He’s the good kid of the family who is going to attend medical school and make something of himself. Paul just started dating a night club singer — always a disreputable profession in these books — and the songbird is pressuring Paul to join her in a heist, so they can be together with a little cash for a change.

The prison guard overseeing the road gang is Virgil Hawkins, and he’s a gun-crazy psychopath just looking for a reason to kill an inmate. When Dan escapes the road gang, Virgil takes it as a personal affront and takes vacation time to hunt Dan himself. This was a great storyline that I wish the author had further developed.

This is top-tier Whittington: Violent, exciting and compelling. The Beacon Books imprint also means sex scenes a few notches more graphic than the usual 1961 fare. There’s really nothing not to like about this one, and thanks to Stark House, you can read it without spending an arm and a leg. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, October 9, 2023

The Sleeping City

“The Sleeping City” was a novella that originally appeared in the Fall, 1952 issue of Thrilling Detective. It was authored by Mary Hauenstein using the pseudonym of Marty Holland. I enjoyed and reviewed Holland's suspenseful potboiler novel The Glass Heart, and was curious to see what she could do with a hard-hitting heist plot. Both The Glass Heart and The Sleeping City are available as a twofer from Stark House Press, so it made for easy accessibility.

Wade works as a plainclothes cop and lives with his fiancĂ© Betty (separate bedrooms) in her brother's house. He's anxious to climb the career ladder, get hitched, and ultimately find a place of his own. His big break comes when the Gangster Squad's Captain Roberts offers up a sole undercover assignment. Wade is to assume the role of a Chicago hood named Cox, who is expected by a local corrupt businessman named Thompson. The theory is that Thompson is assembling a heist crew to knock off a bank.

The central portion of Holland's novella focuses on Wade easing into his role as a notorious gunman. The real Cox was nabbed at the airport by the cops, and Thompson only knows of Cox through word of mouth and referrals. So, it's an easy infiltration for Wade, as long as he can act and play the part. The idea is that Thompson, Wade, and a couple of smooth thugs are going to rob an armored truck when it picks up a large bankroll. Heist-fiction is always about assembling, planning, and executing, and Holland's approach is no different. But, there's a wrench in the gears with a beautiful woman named Madge, who is part of Thompson's crew. 

Wade falls for Madge, despite being engaged to Betty, and begins to fantasize about the two of them actually going through with the robbery and making a clean break into the High Sierras to live a life of wealthy anonymity. It's more than a romantic escape, as Wade begins to question his own meager existence and potential future suburbanite lifestyle with Betty. Holland introduces a stark balance with Wade and Madge's relationship compared to a bird with broken wings that Wade and Betty are nurturing back to health. It's really quite clever. Also, in a flashback scene, readers discover that Wade saved Captain Roberts' life during WW2, so there's a devout allegiance between the two. 

“The Sleeping City” was a superb story that included a rewarding, furious finale. Holland pulls no punches and delivered some of the best descriptions of gunplay even when compared to her male contemporaries of the time. Her vivid details like “shotgun shooting ejected shells over the shoulder” and “the .38's like little swarms of bees buzzing” added so much to these combat scenes. In terms of violence, her writing of the inevitable gunfight was similar to a much later writer, Marc Olden, who had a real knack for it. 

As a bonus in Stark House Press's reprint of The Glass Heart novel, “The Sleeping City” is a mandatory read. It contains everything we all love about heist and crime-fiction. Holland was a talented writer that is unfairly overlooked. Thankfully, Stark House Press is giving her career much love and respect. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, October 6, 2023

The Glass Heart

Marty Holland was born Mary Hauenstein in 1919. She began her writing career by authoring short stories for the pulps. Her debut full-length novel was Fallen Angel, published in 1945 by E.P. Dutton and Company. The book was sold to 20th Century Fox and adapted into a film of the same name by Otto Preminger. Her second novel, and the subject of this review, is The Glass Heart, originally published in 1946 by Julian Messner, Inc. The novel, which was adapted into an unfilmed screenplay by James M. Cain, has been reprinted by Stark House Press as a two-in-one alongside the author's novella The Sleeping City, which was originally printed in the Fall, 1952 issue of Thrilling Detective.

The Glass Heart, also published as Her Private Passions, begins with protagonist Curt Blair stealing an expensive topcoat from a patron in a ritzy hash joint in Beverly Hills. Blair, a professional deadbeat, beats out the pursuit of the police by ducking into the house of Virginia Block, a middle-aged woman who just happened to be expecting her new gardener to arrive from an employment agency. Blair has enough streetwise moxy to pass for the job and accepts a measly $20 per week salary to cater to Block. But, the deal comes with free room and board and a convenient way to escape the police.

Blair discovers that Block is a miserable, wealthy bitch that is extremely tight with her money. She rarely pays any of the laborers that work at her house or at her sprawling walnut ranch. She possesses an uncanny knack for ripping people off, but still maintains that she is somehow helping everyone around her (like an ex-wife I know). Blair catches on quick, and is about to hit the road, when another roommate moves in – an attractive long-legged female that enjoys Blair's...company. The two go at it hot and heavy, but then another woman moves in and Blair becomes fascinated with her and her tragic history. 

This was a really entertaining novel and showcased Holland's extraordinary ability to write with a male mindset. Blair behaves like any red-blooded American deadbeat, but the level of detail – mannerisms, thought patterns, physical descriptions – would have been challenging for any other female writer. There's even a clever sort of reversal when Blair says (something to the effect) that he can think like a woman. The inevitable countdown for these four wily characters to blow is a potboiler similar to James M. Cain, which is probably what drew him to the story. If you love the high-tension, stressed love, hushed murder aspects of mid 20th century crime-noir novels, then The Glass Heart should surely be your next read. Highly recommended! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Somebody's Done For

Philadelphia crime-noir author David Goodis died on January 7, 1967 at age 49 from brain trauma after being beaten in a robbery. That same year, his final novel, Somebody’s Done For, was posthumously published, but failed to make much of a splash at the time. Thank heavens, Stark House Noir Classics have resurrected the novel as a trade paperback and Kindle ebook.

The protagonist is Calvin Jander, and as the novel opens, he is far from land in Delaware Bay treading water to save his own life following the unfortunate sinking of his rowboat during a solo fishing trip. Let me tell you, that first chapter grabs the reader right by the balls and gets your attention. The panic and fear associated with the certainty that the remainder of your life can be counted in minutes is palpable in Goodis’ prose.

The means by which Jander makes it to the beach on the New Jersey side is pretty amazing, so I won’t spoil it here. He is helped ashore by a beautiful woman named Vera who leads him to an abandoned jungle shack and warns him not to ask too many questions if he wants to live. This was undeveloped land back in 1967, so it’s the perfect place for wanted criminals to hide out far from civilization. Vera is laying low with a small but dangerous group who are less than thrilled about the intrusion of Jander in their hideout.

Jander could slip away easily enough, but we learn that he’s an office drone who always dreamt of being a hero. Vera is in a rough spot with these toughs, and Calvin owes her for saving his life. Maybe it’s hero time? Goodis does a nice job contrasting the aspirational heroism and rationality of Jander with the dangerous powderkeg of emotional irrationality displayed by the crew in the hideout.

Goodis slow-plays the explanation of why this group of dysfunctional, bickering psychopaths is hiding in the woods. When he finally explains their back-story, it’s predictably great.

Most of Goodis’ best work comes from his exploration of skid row bums, but this one follows a white collar professional thrust into a seedy underbelly of crime and dysfunction. It’s an oddly-paced novel that ventures into some pretty dark places. Ultimately, Somebody’s Done For is a satisfying novel that underscores the fact that Goodis was a unique talent taken from the world too soon. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Gang Rumble

By 1955, author Edward S. Aarons had mostly switched his writing expertise to espionage thrillers starring his secret-agent star Sam Durell. Before that, the author had crafted really good crime-fiction that often had the pseudonym Edward Ronns attached to it. In 1958, three years after finding literary success with his Assignment series, Aarons returned to the world of crime-fiction to author a potboiler called Gang Rumble. It was published by Avon and now exists as a Black Gat reprint by Stark House Press.

The narrative takes place over the course of one hot summer night in Philadelphia. Young Johnny Broom is a reckless, defiant hood that leads a small-time lot of losers called the Lancers. Broom's gang is set to rumble with a rival faction called the Violets in a section of abandoned row-houses deemed The Jungle. But, Broom's scheduled rumble is just a distraction for the cops. This hoodlum has a much larger agenda taking place.

With the cops dedicating their labor to the widely circulated rumble, Broom and two other guys are going to rob a local warehouse for a mid-level crime-boss. It's an audition for Broom to move up a few rungs on the criminal ladder. But, the book's most enduring element is that Broom's older brother Pete – a real nice good guy – works in the warehouse and has been coaching Broom to turn a corner and right his life on the straight and narrow. Will Broom kill Pete in the holdup?

This is a really unusual novel for Aarons and I've read enough of his crime-fiction to recognize some striking patterns here. Typically, Aarons doesn't write many crime-noir novels set in urban locations. His usual locale is the New England shoreline towns or the occasional lakeside cottages that permeate crime-noir paperbacks. Further, his crime novels are mostly void of any sexual depravity or heinous violence. 

In Gang Rumble, a male character is mentioned as pleasing himself, which leads to an affair with a housemaid. There is also an attempted rape scene, which is a little more detailed than what Aarons normally presents to readers. One of the characters recalls killing fish by emptying the tank and watching them slowly perish. These are all very unusual aspects to Aarons writing. It reads more like something Ovid Demaris would write – perverted criminals engaging in ultra-violent ways. Or, at the very least a Jim Thompson-styled romp. 

Whether Aarons was influenced by other writers (or assisted?), Gang Rumble is an enjoyable action-packed novel with plenty of intensity, riveting suspense, and an unpredictable formula. It has all of the popular crime-fiction tropes – kidnap, hostage, heist, police procedural – including unruly youngsters doing dastardly things. There's some social preaching here and there, mostly a repetitive pulpit soapbox on mankind's spiral into lawless savagery, which is eerily prophetic as the years roll on. While the author's literary estate is mostly locked tight, I'm glad this one slipped through and was able to be reprinted by Black Gat/Stark House Press. Highly recommended! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Ruby

Stark House Press, and their imprint Black Gat Books, have done a fantastic job preserving Lorenz F. Heller's bibliography for modern audiences. Heller, a New Jersey native, authored a number of stellar crime-fiction and sleaze novels in the mid-20th century using names like Larry Heller, Larry Holden, Lorenz Heller, and Laura Hale. He also penned television scripts using the name George Sims. 

We continue our examination of Heller's reprints with Ruby, a crime-noir novel originally published by Lion in 1956. Stark House Press has published the novel as a twofer with another of the author's 1956 Lion publications, Hot. Both of these novels were originally published under the Frederick Lorenz pseudonym.

As Ruby kicks off, readers are introduced to Joe Latham, a former Army veteran that is now a successful Florida charter captain working the beach tourists in the Gulf of Mexico. Unbeknownst to Latham, his former girlfriend, Ruby, has been murdered. He finds this out from the local small-town deputy, a pudgy vile lawman named Floyd. Like a variant of the fugitive-on-the-run story, all fingers point to Latham as Ruby's killer. Fortunately, Latham was still in love with Ruby, so he has doubled reasons for finding her killer and clearing his own name.

Latham's amateur detective role is vividly brought to life as each page effortlessly slides by. Heller's prose is just so smooth as the protagonist digs through Ruby's most recent relationships to find suspects. His contention with the local police is a real highlight, and becomes the star attraction as the narrative flows into the book's calculated and rewarding finale. An enjoyable element to the story is a young kid that Latham is voluntarily mentoring, so his safekeeping is paramount as Latham seeks the murderer. Additionally, Heller blends a unique embezzlement side-story into Ruby's murder, making the crime a bit more dynamic.

Like usual, Lorenz Heller delivers a twisty and riveting crime-noir tale saturated with defining characters and a memorable storyline. Why Heller wasn't ranked higher in the crime-fiction literary echelon is a real mystery. Ultimately, Stark House Press is doing God's work by keeping his memory and work alive. Recommended! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Satan is a Woman/13 French Street

Stark House Press just released a reprint from Gil Brewer compiling his first two original novels — both from 1951 - Satan is a Woman and 13 French Street. The volume also features an informative introduction from David Rachels.

Satan is a Woman from 1951 was Brewer’s first original novel and the beginning of his publishing relationship with the Fawcett Gold Medal imprint. The narrator is Larry, the manager of a tavern on the coast in St. Petersburg, Florida. 

Larry’s a legit businessman, but his brother Tad is not. Tad recently killed two dudes in Tampa, and now the cops are looking for him. Tad is hiding out with Larry, and Larry is forced to lie to protect his brother — a problem he never invited. As Tad’s legal jeopardy worsens, it becomes clear that Larry needs to come up with money — a lot of it — for an attorney to save his big brother.

One afternoon a knockout blonde walks into Larry’s sleepy tavern. Her name is Joan Turner, and she’s a New Yorker who just rented a cabin next door to Larry’s bungalow. Everything about this initial interaction gives Larry the green light to make a move. Of course, you realize there must be a catch. After all, this is a Gil Brewer novel and you may have noticed the title…

Joan’s true colors come out gradually and watching Larry compromise his own ethics little by little was fascinating to read. There are some great plot twists that I won’t spoil for you here. Suffice it to say that this is a top-notch femme fatale noir story among the best Brewer had to offer.

Brewer’s second 1951 paperback, 13 French Street, was also his most popular book. The paperback sold over a million copies and sustained multiple printings from Fawcett Gold Medal in the U.S. and foreign publishers abroad. The short novel’s reputation as a sex-drenched story of lust and betrayal drew me in, and the pages just kept turning.

Our narrator is Alex Bland, and he’s on vacation visiting his old war-buddy, Verne. Upon arriving at Vern’s house at 13 French Street in a fictional southern town, he is greeted at the door by Verne’s impossibly sexy and flirtatious wife Petra, a dame who just oozes promiscuity. Although Alex has never met Petra before, they know each other from letters (paper emails) they’ve exchanged over the past five years. You see, Verne isn’t much of a letter writer, so he had his sexy wife write the letters to keep in touch with his best pal. (Note to dudes with sexy wives: Bad idea.)

Things are awkward for Alex from the moment he arrives. Verne has aged poorly and does a bad job feigning enthusiasm regarding Alex’s visit. Petra can’t help but make bedroom eyes at Alex every time their gazes lock. A pretty chambermaid confides in Alex that he’d be well-served to keep his bedroom door locked at night.

Things escalate exponentially when Verne leaves town on business, leaving Alex to his “vacation” at the house with Petra. Verne’s elderly witch of a mother lives in the house, and she keeps a close eye on Petra while her son is gone. However, that doesn’t stop Petra from trying to seduce Alex every time the old lady’s back is turned. If you enjoy your vintage paperbacks filled with sexual tension, this one is definitely for you.

Eventually, the old lady’s chaperoning becomes more and more troublesome, and you can imagine where that goes. It takes about halfway through the paperback before 13 French Street becomes a full-fledged crime noir novel where bad ideas beget further moral slippage. It’s also compelling as hell, and the pages keep flying by - making it abundantly clear why this book was such a sensation nearly 70 years ago.

To be sure, there is some retrograde treatment of women in this book that wouldn’t fly today, but 1951 was a very different world. While I still think that The Vengeful Virgin was Brewer’s top masterpiece, 13 French Street isn’t far behind. It remains a lusty noir classic with a femme fatale you won’t forget. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The Fifth Grave

The legend of Jonathan Latimer’s 1941 novel The Fifth Grave is likely more famous than the book itself. Here are the facts:

In 1940, Chicago journalist and crime fiction author Jonathan Latimer (1906-1985) wrote a hardboiled novel called The Fifth Grave with lots of sex and violence. It’s about a hard-drinking private eye seeking to rescue a woman from a bizarre religious cult. Because of the era, no one cared about the boozing or considerable violence, but the sex (tame by today’s standards) made U.S. publishers nervous. As such, they declined to make the book available to American readers.

British publishers were more forward-leaning and released the novel in 1941 under the title Solomon’s Vineyard, and it became a minor literary hit. In 1950, a censored version retitled The Fifth Grave (the author’s preferred title) was released for U.S. audiences with the juicy and scandalous stuff about the narrator’s sex drive (he’s drawn to female butts) removed. When cheap paperbacks became the rage, U.K.’s Great Pan books reprinted the original version - along with other Latimer books - to the further delight of British readers. Meanwhile, the uncensored version of Solomon’s Vineyard never received a U.S. printing until 1983.

In all fairness, it’s more likely that the novel merely slipped through the cracks rather than continued censorship by shadowy puppet masters. The publishing world can, at times, have short memories and resurrecting a novel that had been a hit in England four decades earlier just wasn’t anyone’s priority. It’s fun to say that The Fifth Grave was “banned in the U.S. for 42 years,” but the truth is more benign. It wasn’t until 1983 before it occurred to a wise reprint house to release the unexpurgated original manuscript.

Several different versions of the book have been published over the years. The new edition from Black Gat Books is the definitive, uncensored version reprinted under the author’s preferred title.

The Review:

Karl Craven is The Fifth Grave’s narrator, and he’s a private detective cut from the same cloth as Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or the Continental Op. Think of this generation of fictional characters as Hardboiled 1.0 before Mickey Spillane redefined the genre.

As the novel opens, Craven arrives by train into the fictional town of Paulton from his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri during the sweltering summer heat. On his way to the hotel, he notices a distant set of buildings around a temple surrounded by green fields and grapevines. He’s told that the compound belongs to a religious colony known as Solomon’s Vineyard populated by a thousand crazies awaiting the resurrection of their dead founder, an alleged prophet named Solomon.

Craven was summoned to Paulton by his business partner, Oke Johnson, who was in town working a case. When Craven arrives at Oke’s rooming house, he’s greeted by the local police advising him that his partner has been murdered. Oke was trying to recover a missing girl from the nearby religious cult, and he died without leaving behind any notes or reports. As such, Craven needs to recreate the entire investigation himself, snatch the dame, and get away safely while solving Oke’s murder in the process.

What follows is quite a journey of sex, violence, and corruption. Paulton is a town under the control of a gangster named Pug with the police serving as his toadies. There’s a possible relationship between the local mob and the cult that may provide Craven the leverage he needs to rescue the girl living at the Vineyard. The adventure finds Craven descending into a series of real binds without an obvious path to success. Also, if you like a violent fight scene, the one at the end is total aces.

I have a general bias against crime fiction of the 1940s, but The Fifth Grave is the exception. This book is awesome - even if it owes quite a bit to Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest. Craven is such a badass main character (he even reads Black Mask Magazine in his hotel) that I wanted to spend more time with the guy. Unfortunately, the author never developed Craven into a series character, but Latimer wrote several unrelated novels throughout his career. I look forward to exploring Latimer’s body of work more fully. The Fifth Grave is a close-to-perfect novel. Highest recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Pulp Champagne - The Short Fiction of Lorenz Heller

Lorenz Heller (1910-1965) was an awesome crime-fiction author under a variety of different pseudonyms who was largely forgotten until Stark House Press began reprinting his novels under his actual name. The publisher has released a 13-story compilation of Heller’s short stories spanning from 1947 to 1955 from the pulps and digests.

The compilation has a smart introduction by pulp scholar Bill Kelly, who explains that Heller’s gimmick, if it can be called that, is deep and thorough characterizations nestled into the salacious, pulpy plots. His characters are well-drawn and three-dimensional rather than archetypes or stereotypes that exist solely to push a plot forward. I’ve made this point in my previous reviews of Heller’s novels, and I wanted to see if this literary trick could be sustained in the four stories I sampled from the collection.

“I’ll See You Dead”

This story originally appeared in Detective Tales from May 1947. The narrator is Al Crane, a newly-promoted police detective who is also a family man with a reputation for honesty. One night at a bar, Crane receives a tip that a local torch singer had recently been tossed in the river to die by goons working for a local mobster. As a cop with a sense of duty, Crane is compelled to act.

It’s a pretty good short story with a specific “solution” typical of a lot of pre-Manhunt 1940s crime stories still bound to the conventions of mystery fiction. Heller’s writing is solid as his narrator adopts the hardboiled voice we’ve seen elsewhere from Robert Leslie Bellem and Carroll John Daly.

This was a good story, but I want to see what Heller could do after 1950 when hardboiled crime-fiction got great.

“Forger’s Fate”

This one was from Dime Detective’s April 1951 issue, and it’s organized as a verbatim transcript of a statement provided to the District Attorney’s Office by a Florida man named Wesley Smith. He’s a salesman peddling a check-writing machine designed to thwart forgers. As part of his sales pitch, Smith practices a trick called “muscle forgery” to show how easy it is to copy another’s handwriting perfectly.

After showing off his talent in a bar, Smith is strong-armed into a situation where he is pressured to use his forgery skills to cover up a murder. This is a great story largely because Smith is such a foppish blowhard of a character. Don’t skip this one. It’s a really fun read and a surprisingly violent action story.

“Don’t Ever Forget!”

March 1953’s Detective Story Magazine brings us this gem. Our narrator is recently-retired Police Chief McMahon, who is grabbing a meal and some coffee with his replacement in their dumpy Florida backwater town. A reporter approaches McMahon wanting to do a story on the former chief, who declines the offer.

Later, McMahon learns that the reporter asking around about him isn’t a reporter at all. What’s his agenda? McMahon’s badge-less investigation is solid and the ending is satisfying in this neatly-packaged short story.

“Living Bait”

This one originally appeared in the May 1955 issue of Justice! (a decent Manhunt knockoff). It takes place on a Florida chartered fishing boat with a couple catching tarpons, a local fish. The guy is a wealthy blowhard and his girl is a real dish. The boat captain is telling the story, and his first mate is a colorful, lively character.

A fight erupts and one of the characters falls overboard - presumably dead in the choppy sea. Was it murder or is something else going on? This story was a complete delight and showcased Heller’s superior characterizations.

Paperback Warrior Assessment:

As expected, Pulp Champagne is a terrific collection by an author worth remembering. I will say that if you are looking for very hardboiled crime short stories, any of the Manhunt anthologies from Stark House are superior volumes. Fortunately, we live in a world where you can own them all, so you probably should. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Death of an Intruder/Twice So Fair

Nedra Tyre (1912-1990), who was born in Offerman, Georgia, received her B.A. from Atlanta's Emory University and her M.A. from Richmond School of Social Work in Virginia. She worked as a teacher, staff writer, social worker, typist, and a sales clerk in addition to being a notable mystery and suspense author. She wrote six stand-alone novels and approximately 40 short stories for magazines like Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Sleuth, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Monthly

Stark House Press have recently reprinted two Tyre novels in one volume, Death of an Intruder (1954) and Twice So Fair (1971), along with an introduction by Curtis Evans. Tyre's name was new to me, but thankfully this twofer served as a wonderful introduction to this talented author. Billed as “suspense classics”, both of these novels deliver deeply embedded mysteries that are ratcheted up to higher levels of tension and psychological edginess that is similar to Elizabeth Fenwick (real name Elizabeth Phillips) or Margaret Millar

The better of the two novels, Death of an Intruder, introduces readers to Miss Allison, a middle-aged woman who strives for independence after the death of her aunt. Allison finds a charming house, purchases the home, and begins a solitary life of enjoyment and simplicity. However, her bliss is short-lived when an elderly woman, Miss Withers, knocks on her door and invites herself in. After complaining about a rainstorm, Withers begs to stay the night. Allison, a quiet, non-confrontational individual, agrees to allow her uninvited guest to sleep on the sofa. The next morning, Allison is horrified to learn that Withers hasn't left. And she never will.

Through 150ish pages, Allison must contend with an unwanted roommate that violates her sanctity. As the narrative grips readers, Allison learns that Withers may have killed her pet, ruined her relationship with a prospective boyfriend and close friend, and alienated her from the life she once enjoyed. Debating on how to rid herself of the woman, Allison's only choice may be murder. 

Like Allison's introspective problems within her own home, Twice So Fair presents a recent widow, Rosalind, learning about her late husband's mysterious involvement with one of his students. Both of them were found dead in a college studio, but what was their relationship? As Rosalind contends with the loss of her husband, and the obligatory affairs of dissolving a happily married lifestyle by unforeseen circumstances, she is thrust into a mystery when a stranger invades her home. In a darkened room, the man confesses to be an estranged friend of the student found dead beside Rosalind's husband, and begins a conversational journey explaining his orphaned upbringing and potential “six degrees of separation” from Rosalind's life. But, could this uninvited stranger be a killer?

Nedra Tyre is a phenomenal storyteller, and it pains me to know that I've now read nearly half of her novels. I'm surprised, and disappointed, that she didn't write more full-lengths, but due to publisher issues in her late career, she was submerged into the short story market. Her perspectives on life, literary work, social inadequacies, marital harmony, and paranoia are center-stage attractions of these novels. It's nearly uncanny how well she can enter the minds of the characters she creates. 

According to Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers, Tyre had a niche for “superbly handled suspense”, evident with these novels and her short stories “Locks Won't Keep You Out” (1978, Ellery Queen's Napoleons of Mystery) and “On Little Cat Feet” (1976, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine). I enjoyed her characterizations of both protagonists, with Allison and Rosalind sharing similar outlooks – as dreary as they may be. Interesting enough, there is a sense of wrongdoing on the part of supporting characters, those acquaintances of both Allison and Rosalind. When the support system is most needed, both intimately and professionally, it fails these less-than-confident protagonists. It was clever plotting and development by Tyre to force these characters into independent (irrational?) action. 

If you are new to Nedra Tyre, then by all means this twofer is highly recommended. In general, if you are new to female mystery and suspense writers, Stark House Press have an abundance of long-forgotten, entertaining classics by the likes of Mary Collins, Helen Nielsen, Dolores Hitchens, Ruth Wallis, and Jean Potts to name a few. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Gutter Road

Many authors have shied away from their early work in the sleaze/soft-core paperback market, but science-fiction royalty Robert Silverberg has made peace with his checkered past allowing Stark House Press to reprint his steamy crime-fiction-adjacent works. The latest vintage reprint is a double, including his 1964 novel Gutter Road, originally released under his Don Elliott pseudonym.

The paperback begins with 38 year-old, married accountant Fred Bauman picking up a stacked female hitchhiker (Reviewer Note: Silverberg is totally a breast man). The young babe is Joanne, and she strikes Fred as a sex-positive kinda gal with an aggressively flirtatious streak. In fact, she teases Fred into such a sexual lather that he forces himself upon her in what we’d call a date-rape by today’s standards.

After their car-bang is fully consummated, Joanne shifts gears and blackmails Fred. She wants $5,000 or she’s going to the cops with a load of his DNA to report his suburban ass for sexual assault. She gives him a couple days to pull the money together before disappearing into the night.

We quickly learn that this isn’t Joanne's first rodeo. In fact, the date-rape-blackmail game is her go-to source of income. Previously, she worked as a prostitute and a dominatrix, but the fake-rape business just pays better. She also has a vibrant, consensual sex life with a hoodlum named Buddy, and Silverberg certainly knows his way around a good 1960s-style sex scene.

There are a handful of side characters and family members in the novel, and Silverberg gives us a peek into each of their secret sex lives. Some of this felt like filler, but it was always well written and compelling. The problem with Gutter Road is that there’s not much of a story arc throughout the novel other than the beginning and the resolution. Otherwise, it’s really just a cycle of sex scenes among the cast of dysfunctional characters.

I will add that the last part of the book finally becomes a crime novel once Fred decides to deal with the problem of Joanne the blackmailer head-on. The climactic sequences are pretty great and in total keeping with the dark, violent, twisty conclusions of the best Manhunt stories from the same era.

Overall, I enjoyed Gutter Road. It was an interesting glimpse into societal norms and taboos from 60 years ago. Even with his early sex books, Silverberg could deliver interesting characters and some damn fine prose with a violent conclusion. I’m glad he and Stark House are making these old novels available.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, March 31, 2023

The Gilded Hideaway

Peter Twist was a pseudonym employed by a U.S. Air Force veteran and Civil Engineer named Charles Peter Hewett (1922-1980) for a single novel called The Gilded Hideaway released as an Ace paperback in 1955. The book has found new life as part of a triple-shot of Ace paperbacks released by Stark House under the title Three Aces due in May 2023.

The novel’s opening paragraph sucks you right in:

“You may remember reading a few years back about a guy who stole a hundred thousand dollars and skipped. The newspapers played him up big for a while and then said he had been caught and the money recovered. That was a lie. He was never caught. I was the guy.”

Our narrator is Robert West, a Long Island office manager for his uncle’s general contracting business - building garages and whatnot for suburban families. He’s clearly growing restless of his conventional life with his shrew of a wife and his dead-end job. He’s a man with a lust for adventure and larceny in his heart.

Robert embarks on a pretty elaborate bank fraud scheme, and if you have an appetite for white collar crime, you’ll likely enjoy this aspect quite a bit. However, the majority of the novel is the getaway when Robert makes his way to Mexico with the dough in search of a new life.

The novel becomes a bit of a relationship drama with romance evolving in Mexico, where Robert is laying low. Stick with it, though, as the crime story finds its way back to the paperback’s central dilemma as Robert learns that he’s not as hard to find as he hoped. And, yes, there’s some brain-splattering violence for the action fans.

The biographical information I have on the author indicates that he lived and worked in Mexico for much of his adult life. In many ways, the novel is his way of explaining the culture, regions and people of Mexico in or around 1955. The author’s choice of the pen name “Twist” was deliciously on-the-nose as the twists and double-crosses come fast and furious as the simple plot ripens.

And what an ending! If you can handle some dark and sick scenes of violence, you’ll love this book as much as I did. My only regret is that the author never wrote another novel. If you have this one yellowing on your shelf, drop everything and read it. If you don’t, pick up the Stark House reprint. You won’t regret it. Buy it HERE.