Showing posts with label Larry Kent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Larry Kent. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Larry Kent #751 - Spanish Harlem

Larry Kent was a hardboiled New York private detective in a long-running series first published in Australia. Many of the novels were written by an American immigrant to Australia named Don Haring, including #751 Spanish Harlem from 1974 currently available from reprint publishers Bold Venture Press (paper) and Piccadilly Press (ebook).

The novel begins with PI Larry Kent being forcibly brought to see a gangster who runs the numbers game in Spanish Harlem. The racketeer’s teenage son has disappeared from a military academy in Georgia, and he needs Larry to find the boy. Kidnapping? Murder? Mob feud? No one knows.

Larry travels down to Dixieville, Georgia, where Greystones Military Academy stands. The missing boy - his name is Phillip - is the “best pass catcher” on the Academy’s football team, so the school is anxious to have him back in pads. Based on the description of the boy’s field position, I gather the author wasn’t much of a football fan himself. It doesn’t take long before Larry is being menaced by a parade of walking southern stereotypes who try to beat him and call him a “nigra lover.”

All roads lead to a racist domestic extremist group called the Sons of the South, who wear white sheets, engage in arson, advocate for sterilization of blacks, etc., etc., etc. Of course they have the local sheriff in their back pocket. Rescuing the missing boy is more complicated than you’d expect and plunges Larry into organized criminal politics among Black Harlem, Spanish Harlem and The Syndicate.

This is a middle-of-the-road Larry Kent novel. It’s not one of the great ones or one of the incomprehensible ones. It’s a bit generic and reminded me of a Mike Shayne mystery without much sex or action. The whole novel is pretty weighted down in racial politics, which became pretty tiresome given today’s never-ending discussions of race. By now, you know if this is your thing or not. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Larry Kent #794 - Hello Dolly...Goodbye

By 1974, Australia’s sexy and violent Larry Kent series was reaching the end of its 800 installment run. In fairness, the first 500 or so were magazine novellas before the series switched to independent short paperbacks in 1965 while continuing with the same sequential numbering. The character of Larry Kent was an American hardboiled private eye similar to Mike Hammer, but he occasionally drifted into espionage work in the tradition of Chet Drum. Today we join Kent in a more traditional P.I. mystery called “Hello Dolly...Goodbye,” the 794th entry in the series. This one was written by an American named Don Haring who emigrated to Australia after WW2 to write a slew of the Larry Kent adventures before his 1981 death in Honolulu at age 58.

The short novel really starts out on the wrong foot as I had to read the first chapter three times to understand the setup. The writing was stylistically fine but extremely unclear. Here’s what I could figure:

Kent is engaged by an NYPD detective on behalf of the department to solve the mystery of two police officers who recently disappeared. One of the missing cops is the kid brother of the detective who hires Kent. That much is clear. The missing officers were investigating a list of names, but the relevance of the list is unclear. The client cop mentions that the list has something to do with a mob from Chicago “interested in aliens.” I assume they meant foreigners and not E.T. Kent also mentions the Secret Service, but there was no indication of why, and the agency is never mentioned again in the novel.

Another thing unclear to me was the era. This paperback was published in Australia in 1974 and takes place in New York City. However, on page one of the novel a character says, “This cop is a client...Write down in your clients’ book. Twentieth of May, eighty...” Does this book take place in 1980? The future? Everyone in the book used a 1940s vernacular and wears fedoras. There’s also a reference to Sonny Liston, an American boxer who competed from 1953 to 1970. I don’t know what to make of any of this, and I guess it really doesn’t matter. The paperback just felt very unstuck in time in addition to the opaque plot.

Anyway, Kent begins working his way down the list of names just like missing cops did. The first name is a famous television personality named Grant Kelso. Unfortunately, Kelso gives Kent the slip before anyone could explain the plot to me. Eventually, he learns that the list of names are all millionaires who belong to a fraternal organization called The Nations Club. Some members are tied into a group that is, in fact, moving people in and out of the U.S. in a scheme that was never entirely clear.

In the author’s defense, there are lots of great scenes in “Hello Dolly...Goodbye” in which Kent is either kicking ass or getting his ass kicked. The hardboiled P.I. patter is amusing and borders on parody at times. Moreover, the collaboration scenes between Kent and the police were also fun to read. Kent shoots and fights his way closer to the truth regarding the two missing cops, but the eventual solutions were rather unsatisfying.

I recently read Larry Kent #642: “Curves Can Kill,” from 1965, and it was awesome - one of the most satisfying private eye-espionage mashups ever. It was also written by Haring when he was clearly at the top of his game. The only thing I can figure is that the Larry Kent series was winding down by 1974, and Haring began just phoning it in to fulfill his contractual obligation because “Hello Dolly...Goodbye” is a total mess. However, I’m not giving up on Larry Kent because I’ve seen how good the series can be. Going forward, I’m going to avoid 1970s installments unless I get a solid tip on a particularly good one from that era.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Larry Kent #642: Curves Can Kill

Between 1954 and 1974, there were hundreds of novellas and paperback original novels produced in Australia starring hardboiled New York Private Eye Larry Kent. The series was published by the same company that brought the world the Carter Brown mysteries and packaged with salacious cover illustrations similar to the Hank Janson books. The primary authors were Don Haring and Des Dunn, but all the books were released under the house name Larry Kent. Piccadilly Publishing has been reprinting Larry Kent’s adventures as affordable eBooks while maintaining the original cheesecake cover illustrations. I’m starting the series with #642: “Curves Can Kill,” a 1965 installment written by Don Haring.

The character of Larry Kent started as a newspaper reporter in 1950 on a popular Australian radio drama called, “I Hate Crime.” The popularity of the radio show launched the novellas and eventually the novels. Kent’s character became a private investigator in the mold of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. As time went on, the writers borrowed a page from Stephen Marlowe’s Chester Drum and Michael Avallone’s Ed Noon when the hero began accepting espionage assignments from the CIA in selected novels. A variation on this “private eye as spy” gambit is the storyline at work in “Curves Can Kill.”

The action opens with Kent tied to a chair being worked over by a Romanian goon wanting to know what Kent knows about “Z Detail.” Unfortunately for the wisecracking Kent, he doesn’t know much, so he must continue to suffer the abuse - from both fists and a switchblade - with no reprieve. It’s a brutal and violent opening scene that will play well for readers who like their pulp fiction more extreme than Carter Brown could ever offer.

Fortunately, we don’t need to sit through 120 pages of Kent being carved up with a switchblade. He is rescued and finds himself in the hands of Z Detail, an America-friendly private intelligence outfit with close ties to the CIA. The Z-boys want to hire Kent as a contract operative for the vast sum of $300 per week.

His first mission as a contract operative for Z Detail involves befriending a woman in New York. Kent’s version of befriending looks a lot more like a Carter Brown novel, and the swinging sixties attitude toward women is on full display. None of this would fly today, but that’s part of the fun of vintage fiction. Anyway, the woman has access to a secret that Kent needs to learn, and giving any more info away would spoil the fun for you. Suffice to say that all this eventually ties back to the Romanian goons who tried to filet Kent in the opening chapter.

This is one of those great books that kept surprising me with the quality of the prose and story. I had been misled to believe that the Larry Kent series was disposable fiction with a production schedule too aggressive to be among the outstanding works of pulp fiction. Instead, as I read “Curves Can Kill,” I found myself repeatedly muttering, “Wow, this is really good.” Fans of violent spy-mysteries with major twists and turns will love this book as much as I did.

There are some slow sections but no boring ones in this Larry Kent mystery-adventure. It all leads up to a shockingly violent bloodbath of a climax - one of the finest I’ve read in ages. Overall, I was very impressed by this paperback, and I’m excited to read some more. With over 800 installments, we are unlikely to run out of Larry Kent content in this lifetime. It’s great to discover a new series with an endless amount of content to enjoy. Highly recommended.

Purchase a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 3, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 29

Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 29’s feature is about Australia’s popular Larry Kent series. Eric reviews S-Com #1, and Tom presents an early rarity by David Hagberg. The guys also ponder what makes a paperback “vintage” as well as an impromptu discussion of Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch series and non-fiction reference books. Stream it below or on your favorite podcast app. Direct downloads are HERE.

Listen to "Episode 29: Larry Kent" on Spreaker.