Showing posts with label Ed Lacy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ed Lacy. Show all posts

Friday, June 30, 2023

The Short Night

Leonard S. Zinberg (1911-1968) was best known for his work under the pseudonym Ed Lacy, but he also employed other pen names, including Russell Turner for a 1957 noir paperback called The Short Night. The novel has been reprinted by Cutting Edge Books for modern audiences.

Our narrator is a former first-baseman and current baseball scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers based in Vero Beach, Florida named Lester “Red” Dolsan. As the novel opens, he’s just arrived in Manhattan two years after the suicide of his wife. Dolsan is good with money and has a pad in NYC that he hardly ever uses because he’s always on the road - mostly in Puerto Rico recruiting promising Latino shortstops.

Before email and voicemail, people wrote letters on paper or used phone answering services to take messages — also on paper. Going through the messages and letters awaiting him in New York, Dolsan learns that a woman he knew briefly from his past named Peggy was trying desperately to reach him. The flashback of their meet-cute is pretty great, so I won’t spoil it here.

When Dolsan tries to find Peggy, she has largely disappeared. Some amateur gumshoe work starts to fill in the blanks about why she was looking for him months ago. His need to locate Peggy is serious, and the more he searches, the deeper he finds himself enmeshed in the mystery of her disappearance.

Lacy (he’ll always be Ed Lacy to me) is an awesome writer, and his dialogue is among the best of that era. Dolsan is a tough, hardboiled knight-errant with a heart of gold. You’ll really enjoy spending time with this character. In fact, all the characters are vividly-drawn and endlessly-interesting. I’m baffled why this mini-masterpiece was published by a back-bench paperback house using one of the author’s disposable pseudonyms. This book is really something special.

The novel’s central mystery (“What happened to Peggy?”) has a delightfully-clever solution that I couldn’t see coming. Dolsan’s reaction to the dilemma once he solves the mystery also made for some fine reading. Do your best to avoid plot details, and you’ll be delighted throughout this wonderful treat of a paperback. Highest recommendation. 

Monday, January 16, 2023

South Pacific Affair

We've covered a lot of Ed Lacy's (Leonard Zinberg) crime-fiction, but his rare adventure novels have mostly gone unnoticed. I discovered a $2 ebook on Amazon called South Pacific Affair, originally published by Belmont in 1961. With a fistfight, a beautiful woman, and a boat on the cover, I was hoping this nautical adventure would provide me with an excellent escape from my average suburbia.

Lacy's first-person narrative begins rather haphazardly with protagonist Ray debating marriage with an islander girl named Ruita. They are both on the fictional South Pacific island of Numaga. After the conversation, readers are left puzzled as Ray gets intoxicated, pursues a nude fat woman, and is then punched by his co-worker/friend Eddie. It infuriates me when books begin without an explanation or clue of what the Hell is happening.

Through dialogue, readers learn that Ray and Eddie sail a small shipping vessel in the South Pacific. Their main gig is obtaining and selling copra, which is essentially the insides of a coconut. It isn't a lucrative business and the duo realize that most of their proceeds are spent on supplies, women, and booze. But, Ray is disgruntled with his life after discovering his wife having an affair with a Hollywood film producer. Disgusted with love, marriage, and the 9-5 life, he partnered with Eddie to become a seaman. Then, he met Ruita and fell in love. The issue is commitment, which sometimes isn't completely embedded in the male DNA. He's been burned already and doesn't want to make the same mistake again. 

Unfortunately, that is really all that Lacy has going for him in this book. Ray and Eddie get involved in various shipments, fight with a rival, much larger crew, and have a small bout with a ship carrying natives infected with smallpox. This isn't riveting stuff and I was expecting the narrative to develop into some semblance of an adventure story or, at the very least, incorporate some sort of crime-fiction element. These things never come to fruition and the end result is an absolute dud of a novel. Stay away. There are so many better Lacy novels.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Sin in Their Blood

Sin in Their Blood is a 1952 hardboiled crime paperback by under-appreciated author Ed Lacy (real name: Leonard Zinberg, 1911-1968) that remains available today as a reprint. 

Our narrator is Matt Ranzino. He’s a musclebound former boxer, cop and tough-guy private detective who set his practice aside to fight in the Korean War. While serving overseas, he suffered a head wound that almost killed him and contracted a case of tuberculosis that landed him in a hospital bed for 11 months. He’s now back in his unnamed hometown looking to rebuild his life with no money or job. 

His first stop is to visit his old PI partner, Harry. While Matt was overseas, Harry’s business really took off when Harry discovered the lucrative business of blackmailing businesses into allowing Harry to screen their employees for Commies. Harry offers Matt a job with his new Red-Scare firm, but Matt declines. 

Matt’s time in the hospital left him with a scarred lung that could burst open and kill him if he gets involved with any rough stuff, so he really wants to take it easy and live off his military pension. Because that wouldn’t make for much of a mystery novel, Matt finds himself at a crime scene where he is cajoled into investigating the murder of a dead socialite for a lofty fee of $50 per day. 

Once Matt has the gig, we have a rather typical private eye mystery - albeit with a rather exhausted and fragile hero at the helm. Ed Lacy was at the top of his writing game in 1952 when he authored Sin in Their Blood. The story moves along at a great clip, and the characters are all vividly drawn and interesting. It’s a conventional mystery tale, but it’s also the story of a shattered war hero regaining his confidence after the trauma of combat. 

There’s also a damn fine love story featuring a unique female character among the tough-guy patter and fisticuffs. I’ve enjoyed the romantic elements in other Lacy books, but this one is the tops

Overall, we have a fairly perfect private-eye yarn that deserves to be remembered. I’m happy to do my part by reviewing it. Now go do yours by reading it. 

Buy a copy HERE

Monday, May 18, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 44

On Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 44, we plunge into the life and career of crime fiction author Ed Lacy with lots of reviews and revelations. We’ll also check in with Wolfpack Publishing and a special review of Protector #1 by Rich Rainey. Listen on any podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 44 - Ed Lacy" on Spreaker.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Enter Without Desire

Enter Without Desire from 1954 was the fourth published novel from Ed Lacy whose real name was Leonard Zinberg (1911-1968). The paperback was originally released by Avon, and has been reprinted several times since then. It remains available today as an ebook for 99 cents from an outfit called Grotto Pulp Fiction. I’ve always enjoyed Lacy’s work and recently came into possession of a dollar. As such, I decided to download the novel into my Kindle and give it a shot.

As the story begins, Marshal Jameson is a failing artistic sculptor who leaves his reclusive Long Island shack and hitchhikes to New York City on New Years Eve looking for some fun and companionship. To get out of the cold drizzle, Marshal joins the studio audience of a radio game show. He’s selected to be a contestant and paired up with a beautiful audience member named Elma to answer questions on the air in exchange for a cash prize. Thankfully, the author shares with the reader that Elma has big breasts.

As paperback “meet-cute” gambits go, this one is pretty good. Together, Marshal and Elma win a pile of cash on the radio show and decide to spend New Year’s Eve together. Having not been around a woman in months, Elma really gets Marshal’s body chemistry bubbling. Flush with winnings, the couple decides to spend New Years Eve together, and Marshal (as well as the author and the reader) falls madly in love with Elma. The majority of the novel is a very mainstream and nice romance story (albeit from a completely male perspective), and only because this is an Ed Lacy book was I certain that things would eventually get seriously dark.

The plot with Elma takes a pause for sizable flashbacks giving the reader a little more history of Marshal the sculptor’s life before he discovered clay back when he was a young ad-man. Fans of the TV show “Mad Men” will enjoy this segment. His service in WW2 and the war’s aftermath is the focus of another long flashback that brings us forward in time to the fateful New Years Eve when Marshal met Elma.

Be forewarned that the paperback’s first two-thirds is almost devoid of any crime, action, or suspense. The author drops a couple hints along the way about where this is heading as Elma mentions her estranged husband. The book’s second half jumps around in time until the full picture becomes clear to the reader. The last third is a rather compelling crime story about a murder and its tricky aftermath.

To be clear, I loved, loved, loved this book. However, I recognize it’s only a crime novel in the broadest sense of the word. The first person narration was really well-done, and the story of Marshal and Elma is fantastic relationship drama. Basically, Enter Without Desire is a mainstream novel that evolves into a compelling crime-story with a twisty, violent climax. As long as you know what you are getting, you’re likely to enjoy this book as much as I did. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Room to Swing

Leonard Zinberg (1911-1968) was known to crime-noir readers as Ed Lacy. He authored nearly 30 paperback originals during the 1950s and 1960s. As prolific as his work was, Lacy's most successful novel was his ninth career effort, “Room to Swing” (1957). The book introduced the first African-American private-eye in Toussaint “Touie” Moore, a bold literary leap that earned Lacy an Edgar Award in 1958.

“Room to Swing” gains its fictional footing in a familiar way – a financially stressed New York gumshoe trailing a killer. Touie Moore is black, nearly destitute and has a lofty goal of running a successful detective business despite the numerous barriers. His girlfriend Sybil is begging Touie to work in the mailroom, and plenty of white police officers want him out of the private-eye business. Needless to say, Touie needs a big break.

A television producer named Kay approaches Touie about a new show called “You-Detective!” The pitch is that a fugitive will be profiled on television, complete with a sizzling backstory, with the promise of a cash payout for any lucky citizen that chances upon the dangerous criminal. The show's third episode will feature an alleged rapist from Ohio named Robert Thomas. Kay advises that Thomas works at a factory in New York City and that the network has a stooge that will phone him into the police claiming it was a result of watching the show. Touie is offered $1,500 to keep tabs on Thomas to be sure he doesn't quit his job or leave the show before the episode airs.

Without giving away anything more than what's promised on the back cover, Thomas ends up murdered and police believe that Touie is responsible. Lacy's presentation is segmented into days before Thomas' murder, prefaced by current events to tease the story to readers. I didn't particularly care for this style of storytelling as it made the book seem disjointed. This could have improved as a seamless story with a traditional start to finish pace. The bi-product of segmented storytelling is the loss of surprise. 3-2-1 leads to something, right? That left me bored with the first few segments dedicated to Touie's day to day operation. Granted, Lacy is presenting Touie's tenacity in adverse conditions, but it's recycled throughout. There's a lot of racists opposing But otherwise, the heart of the story doesn't reach fruition until  page 85.

“Room to Swing” is a good, but not great, crime-noir. My speculation is that the novel's “against the grain” approach made it a hot commodity at the time of publication. Breaking social conformity was a sizable risk for Lacy, and it paid off in a big way. Arguably, this book placed Lacy on the literary map. He authored a sequel to entitled “Moment of Untruth” in 1964, changing the location from New York to Mexico. I enjoyed Touie enough to pursue the second novel.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 25, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 21

In this episode, things get sleazy with a discussion on the hot genre of vintage sleaze fiction along with a review of Orrie Hitt’s 1959 classic, “The Widow.” Meanwhile Eric tells us about Ed Lacy’s “Room to Swing,” and we look back on the best books we covered during month of November. Stream below or download directly HERE. You can also stream the show anywhere that offers good podcasts. Listen to "Episode 21: Sleaze" on Spreaker.

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Woman Aroused

Leonard Zinberg (1911-1968) was an accomplished author of crime and noir fiction during the dawn of paperback original novels as a popular form of entertainment. His first published book was “The Woman Aroused” originally released in 1951 by Avon under the pen name “Ed Lacey,” a pseudonym later streamlined into “Ed Lacy” for the majority of his published works. His debut has been reprinted several times and remains available as a 99 cent Kindle eBook.

When we meet our narrator, George Jackson, he is separated from his fashionista wife. They still get together once a month to watch a movie, screw, and fight, but the functional marriage is basically over. George works as a writer for an oil company’s internal newsletter and shares his backstory with the reader about growing up as a child in Manhattan with a successful plumber as a father. His personal history is fascinating and broadcasts to the reader that this won’t be your typical helping of noir fiction.

One morning George is surprised by a visit from an old friend named Hank Conley who has just returned to New York after nearly a decade in the Army - a period that encompassed World War 2 and its aftermath. Hank gives George an envelope containing $7,000 in cash and asks George to stash the loot until Hank’s divorce is final, so he can begin enjoying his savings. It helps to bear in mind that in 1951, $7,000 was enough money to base an entire novel around.

Of course, Hank dies under suspicious circumstances while George remains in possession of the $7,000 - creating a moral dilemma for our hero. While still deciding that to do, George travels across Manhattan to meet Hank’s widow, and you can see exactly where this is going. Then things turn in a very different - and much, much darker - direction than I was anticipating. I don’t want to give it away, but this was way more twisted and perverse than the femme fatale story I was expecting. Instead, the author wrote a novel about survivors coping with the traumas of war that echo long after the final shots are fired. “The Woman Aroused” is not really a crime novel, an action story, a mystery, or a noir drama. The book isn’t easy to classify, but it’s unquestionably the kind of fiction that will stay with you long after it’s over.

This being the first novel for Zinberg/Lacey/Lacy, it’s clear that the author had a lifetime of thoughts and ideas in his mind to play with in his narrative. As such, this short work is peppered with Big Ideas about war, peace, love, marriage, economics, atrocities, and more. Just because a paperback is essentially pulp fiction doesn’t mean it can’t be thoughtful - and deeply unsettling - in the process. If you’re looking for something completely different, “The Woman Aroused” is a well-executed literary oddity. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Dead End

Under the pen name of Ed Lacy, author Len Zinberg wrote 28 novels between the years 1951 and 1969. In December 1958, “Mercury Mystery Magazine” ran a 100-page novella by Lacy called “Time Wounds All Heels.” The story was expanded and published as a hardcover in 1958 as “Be Careful How You Live” which was reprinted in 1959 as a paperback titled “Dead End.” It’s currently available as a cheap eBook in all formats.

As the story begins, two cops named Doc and Bucky (our narrator) are laying low in a filthy, roach-infested hideout with a million bucks cash in three ratty suitcases. How did they get there? What’s the story with all that cash?

Lacy slowplays the explanations over the course of the novel comprising mostly of flashbacks from Bucky’s youth and police career leading up to the million dollars in ill-gotten gains. The narrator cop grew up as a hard-scrabble youth with a troubled family background who learned to use his fists early in life. Eventually, he discovers police work and drifts into a life with problematic choices involving on-the-job graft.

Bucky’s moral descent is hastened once he latches onto Doc, a fellow police detective who becomes a father figure to Bucky. Doc’s expertise is making police work lucrative while also working hard to fight crime and solve important cases. All of this comes to a head when a big case brings a million bucks into the officers’ lives quite unexpectedly.

It took a bit for this novel to really grab me, but once it took off, it was a fantastic read. I suspect that the original 100-page novella was about perfect, and it was later filled out to novel length by adding flashbacks of Bucky’s youth and filler scenes delving into his complex relationship with his parents.

Either way, the crime story at the core of this novel is compelling as hell. Lacy’s writing is predictably top-notch, and the plot was never predictable. Mostly, I’m thrilled to see that there are people hard at work keeping Lacy’s fiction alive for today’s readers. This one is highly recommended for fans of fast-moving 1950s hardboiled crime fiction.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Lead with Your Left

New York author Leonard Zinberg utilized the pen name Ed Lacy for his solid run of 1950s and 1960s crime paperbacks. He wrote nearly 30 novels in this span, including “Lead with Your Left”, published in 1957. Like a majority of Lacy's work, it features a former boxer as a main character. 

While firmly entrenched in the mystery and crime genre, “Lead with Your Left” is a poignant study of young marriage. It's the trials and tribulations of young love weighed against the financial burdens of new careers. For me, that's the thread weaving this enjoyable crime novel together. Lacy speaks from the heart with a realistic, grim approach to his storytelling. Much like popular contemporary David Goodis, Lacy is swept up with famine, love, loss and the proverbial triumph over adversity. 

The novel's protagonist is Dave Wintino, a baby-faced rookie detective in NY who is striving to survive in the battle ground of marriage, work and bills. From the book's opening we learn that Dave and his wife Mary are at odds over his career choice. Mary, hoping her spouse would join her uncle's fabric business, is embarrassed to be a “cop's wife” and that his youth and smarts are wasted on what she perceives as meaningless work. Adding more abrasion, Dave's peers at the precinct refuse to accept him based on his size and young appearance. But, we quickly come to understand this character – former Army vet and ex-boxer with an iron determination to complete a job or assignment at any cost. 

Dave's case is the death of retired detective Owens. He was found shot with nonnegotiable bonds in an alleyway. While the senior detectives work around Dave as if he is an obstruction, the young detective takes it upon himself to solve the crime on and off the payroll. He finds that both Owens and his partner Wales put away a murderer/gangster years ago and there may be a connection. Running with a revenge scenario, Dave's investigation ascends the ranks once Wales is found murdered as well. While working with family and former colleagues, Dave is able to connect the dots and determine that all isn't what it appears to be. 

Lacy's positioning of a failing marriage into the narrative is important. As the Owens investigation continues, Dave is assigned a watchmen role for a young journalist who is harassed by a company she is exposing in print. Lusting after the young woman, Dave bounces freedom and individuality off the marriage brick house, contemplating his life and career choices. The book's pivotal point is finding the surprise connection between the two cases. Once that's established, the book races to a fiery crescendo as Dave faces the murderer without the precinct's help. 

The bottom line – Lacy is a master of his domain. I thoroughly have enjoyed his work and continue to seek out his name on those dusty store shelves. “Lead with Your Left” is a compelling and enjoyable read. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Blonde Bait

Ed Lacy was a pen name used by author Leonard S. Zinberg. Lacy wrote over 25 novels between 1951 and 1969. He was credited by creating one of the first African-American detectives – Tony Moore, who debuted in the 1957 novel “Room to Swing”, which also won the Edgar Ward for best novel. “Blonde Bait” was released mid-career in 1959 by Zenith with an alluring premise: “She had to buy protection and her payment was her body”. Okay, I'm in.

The book begins with a troubadour named Mickey reuniting with his old friend Hal in Haiti. Mickey proudly tells Hal of his new lover Rose and his new boat, The Sea Princess. He loves both equally and soon we realize that Mickey and Hal were former business partners. Hal chose married life and quietly settled in New York. Mickey chose freedom – sailing around the Caribbean and up the east coast. Being a lackadaisical sailor costs money, and that's really the central emphasis of the novel. Money. How to get it? What to do with it? Lacy begins to tell this romantic story to us - the curious readers - on how Rose and Mickey became wealthy.

Rose is a tall blonde that is often described as a “big woman” by the author. Mickey finds her washed ashore in the Keys hungry, lonely and desperate. After a few odd conversations between the two, and a rain storm, they become friends. Mickey suspects Rose is carrying emotional baggage – evident from her secrecy regarding a suitcase on board and a book written in French. As the two sail and island hop, engaging in their life stories, we learn that Rose was a down and outer, doing stripping and service work before meeting an elderly French man. He needed her companionship, she needed a consistent residence. While not exactly love, the two made it work until he was murdered. After finding a suitcase in her strip club locker, the police and FBI began harassing her about his death and where the suitcase is hidden. After repeated attempts on her life, she bought a boat and sailed away.

I won't spoil it for you. The suitcase is important, as well as the book. It takes some time and patience on the reader's part to slog through the dialogue between Rose and Mickey. There's a payoff, but the author does a tremendous job staying reserved in his storytelling. Eventually, Mickey finds himself running from the feds and goons as he learns the secret behind Rose's murdered lover. The action takes us from the Keys to Virginia Beach to New York, propelling the narrative with different locations and outcomes for Mickey and Rose's flight. The end result is a really engaging story with enough momentum and intrigue to keep it fresh and entertaining throughout. This was my first Ed Lacy book and I'm already planning which of the author's works to read next.

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.