Showing posts with label Frank Bonham. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Frank Bonham. Show all posts

Thursday, February 10, 2022

By Her Own Hand

Los Angeles native Frank Bonham (1914-1988) specialized in westerns, young adult fiction, and television scripts. Between 1941 and 1952, Bonham honed his skills by writing for the pulps. He authored only three crime-noir novels, including By Her Own Hand. It was originally released in 1963 by Monarch Books. 

In an undisclosed California city, Captain Chilton is taking over the Plaza Division police station. Before Chilton, the department had spiraled into a rather chaotic, under utilized precinct. This portion of the city reflects the old guard and braces for the new. Caught in the transition are two Vice Squad Sergeants Skip Kawano and Lou Michikowski. Both are feeling the heat as Chilton increases the pressure to clean up the streets.

Like most traditional police precincts, the way to topple the top echelon of crime is through prostitutes. They are the perfect informants and mostly the police lay off their profession in exchange for valuable bits of information on criminal rings. The same thing occurs here as both Kawano and Michikowski utilize prostitutes to gain valuable intel. In turn, other precincts rely on these same prostitute informants to minimize crime waves. But, Chilton doesn't see it that way. 

At 126 pages, Bonham's novel is more like a quick novella. Mostly, the action is around an investigation into a murdered prostitute to determine what information she was withholding. Chilton's department faces intense opposition for arresting the prostitutes and removing them from the streets. Included in the investigation is a side-story that leads into the porno movie business. For a 1963 novel, Bonham doesn't pull any punches in terms of explicit imagery. This side-story involves a gangbang that's recorded in an after hours park. The scenery, time of day, and skill of the photographer allows the investigation to branch off into some unusual places. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this quick read and found it to be slightly ahead of its time. Also, the characters and plot are soaked in realism due to Bonham's involvement in youth gangs and urban violence. He advocated for peace and was often riding along in police cars to learn firsthand the negative influences affecting California's youth. To my knowledge, By Her Own Hand has never been reprinted, but affordable used copies are still available. It's worth your time.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The Skin Game

Frank Bonham (1914-1988) is best remembered as an author of young adult fiction and westerns from the pulp era into the advent of paperback originals. However, he also authored three crime novels, including The Skin Game, originally released by the prestigious Fawcett Gold Medal imprint in 1962.

Our main character is a former cop turned Parole Officer named Sam Garrett. He’s provided the task of supervising a parolee named Gene Foreman, a man Sam knew years ago when they were both police officers. Gene is technically a sex offender who was recently released on parole from prison after serving 26 months. It’s not as bad as it sounds. He was consorting with a girl who said she was 19 but was actually 17 and - boom - he’s automatically a statutory rapist.

A cop named Donovan has a real hard-on for Gene and wants to bring him in as a suspect for a recent sex crime. Sam doesn’t think Gene did it, but is duty bound to bring his old friend in for police questioning. The problem? Gene abandoned his apartment and is nowhere to be found. Parole Officer Sam needs to locate his old friend before he violates the terms of his parole and further cements his status as a suspect in Donovan’s investigation.

The stakes escalate exponentially when the police learn of a sexual thrill-killer who gets women to pose for naked photographs before brutally murdering them. With Gene completely off the grid, the police naturally gravitates to him as a suspect. Is it possible that this ex-cop has a screw loose and is indiscriminately killing sexy babes while on parole? That’s one of the mysteries encapsulated in this 160-page paperback. There are some unexpected twists along the way, and the novel isn’t always about what it seems.

For a guy who only dabbled in the Fawcett Gold Medal style of crime noir fiction, Bonham nailed the style and plot structure very well. There was plenty of sexual titillation, and characters who aren’t what you think they are. The Skin Game has never been reprinted, and that’s a darn shame because it’s a solid example of what made mid-20th century paperbacks something really special.