Showing posts with label Lorenz Heller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lorenz Heller. Show all posts

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.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Woman Hunter

Lorenz Heller (1910-1965) wrote three books for a digest-size paperback house called Falcon Books using the pseudonym Laura Hale. Stark House Press has reprinted two of them, so I started with the 1952 dramatic heist novel, Woman Hunter.

Marty Doyle is a boxer who is hiding out in a fleabag apartment in Newark, New Jersey. A couple days earlier, he was supposed to take a dive in the ring but failed to do so. Now he has a pissed off mobster looking for his head, and the only thing that can make it square is to reimburse the mobster the $15,000 he lost betting on the fight.

Marty’s manager is an old-timer named Chuffy who knows a thing or two about both sides of the law. Chuffy wants to pay the mobster the fifteen grand to get Marty back in the ring and working toward a lucrative title shot. Chuffy doesn’t have many marketable skills, but he’s really, really good with guns.

Through his own underworld connections, Chuffy falls in with a heist crew looking to pull a big-money armored car job and lands Marty a gig as the getaway driver. The catch is that Chuffy and Marty need to hide out with the other crew members in a remote cabin before the job, so nothing goes sideways with any of the human resources.

As an author, Heller always puts a lot of energy into fully developing his characters. It was important to him that the reader understands everyone’s motivations. In a 180-page paperback, that can come at the expense of plot and action. That’s the problem with Woman Hunter. The set-up is super-interesting, but it quickly devolves into too much soapy romantic drama. A violent gun-filled conclusion was unable to save this snooze of a novel.

I stand by my assertion that Lorenz Heller is an unsung hero of crime fiction from the paperback-original era, but Woman Hunter isn’t the top-of-the-heap. Stark House is to be commended by bringing Heller’s work back to life, but this one can be safely skipped. 

Get the book HERE

Monday, September 13, 2021

Crime Cop

Using the pseudonyms Larry Holden and Larry Heller, New Jersey native Lorenz F. Heller (1910-1965) authored two police procedural crime novels in 1959 and 1962 titled Crime Cop and Body of the Crime. Stark House Press has reprinted these lean thrillers in one volume with an introduction by retired LAPD detective and author Paul Bishop. As a huge fan of Heller’s writing, I was excited to plunge into Crime Cop.

Taking cues from Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, Crime Cop is set in the fictional metropolis of Hudson. Heller does a nice job of mimicking McBain’s third-person narrative voice. Our featured cops are robbery Detectives Jeff Flavin and George Gilman (presumably before he wrote the Edge westerns), and they are busy dealing with actual crimes, chronic complainers and tips from chatty stoolies.

Amid the day-to-day chaos, Flavin is summoned to a boss’ office to be briefed on a big case. A series of residential home invasion robberies resulted in the death of a female homeowner. Homicide is working the killing, and they need Flavin and his partner to tackle the robberies providing the department with two avenues to solve the crime.

Beyond the normal procedural steps of interviewing potential witnesses, there is some interesting pre-computer police science elements to the plot that were completely fascinating. The compiling of clues and inferences gained from those clues is an exercise in pure Sherlockian deduction. As cops, Flavin and Gilman are logic machines and a pleasure to read.

Smart legwork by the crime cops - punctuated by vivid hardboiled dialogue - develops a viable suspect for the robberies and the killing. There are twists and turns along the way. We also get several vividly-drawn characters filling out the cast, culminating in a satisfying ending.

Crime Cop reminded me of an exceptional Ed McBain 87th Precinct cover band. In many ways, I preferred Heller’s writing and plotting to McBain’s work. The good news is that - thanks to Stark House - readers don’t need to choose. Read them both.

Fun Fact:

There’s a homicide detective in Crime Cop named Ben Tutchek who is the main character in the author’s Body of the Crime. Interestingly, the 1962 paperback was published under the quasi-pseudonym of Larry Heller. The author was setting himself up for a Marvel Universe (or 87th Precinct) of inter-connected cop stories from Pyramid Books, but tepid sales couldn’t justify a third novel. Thanks to Stark House for reuniting this two-book “series” into a single volume. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 52

How does the revival of an obscure western book series lead to allegations of criminality and fraud? Find out on Episode 52 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast. Also: Vintage finds in the wild! We review Dead Wrong by Lorenz Heller and Jack Higgins' A Game for Heroes! And much more! Listen to the show wherever you get your podcasts, stream below or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 52: The Morgan Kane Fiasco" on Spreaker.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Dead Wrong

Lorenz F. Heller (1910-1965) was a New Jersey guy - and eventual Florida transplant - who authored genre books under the names Laura Hale, Larry Heller, Lorenz Heller and Larry Holden as well as TV scripts as George Sims. Black Gat Books has recently re-issued his 1957 paperback Dead Wrong originally published under the Larry Holden pseudonym.

Our narrator, ex-boxer Joe Molone, is planning to host an old friend named Harry Loomis who’s visiting town. As young men, Joe and Harry used to raise hell in the saloons of Newark, but nowadays Malone owns a modest building supply company, and Loomis works on cargo ships. Things take an early head-scratching turn when Harry doesn’t show up for their planned night of debauchery. Instead, Harry’s 24 year-old estranged daughter Claire shows up with a note from her father.

According to the letter, Harry has become fabulously wealthy from a savvy investment and wants to retire to Florida from the cargo ship business. Harry wants his daughter to be with him in Florida while Harry nurses his arthritic bones back to good health. As Joe is wondering why his old friend has stood him up, he learns that Harry has been murdered with a mysterious package missing. If you guessed that this is one of those books where the narrator has to solve a murder to clear his own name with the help of a beautiful girl, you’d be spot-on.

On the road to the truth, there are some excellent action sequences where Joe uses his fists on adversaries as if he was back in the boxing ring. Heller also creates some vivid secondary characters like the street hood with a knack for crafting edge weapons out of anything. Joe’s old flame - a nightclub chanteuse with some real street smarts - is another fantastically-drawn member of the supporting cast. These interesting, well-developed characters propel this rather standard crime-noir plot into something special and unusual. The prose is smooth and there’s no confusion in the storytelling despite many clever twists and turns leading to the tidy ending.

After reading both Dead Wrong and Heller’s A Rage at Sea, I’m beginning to feel that the author may be an unsung hero of 1950s crime fiction deserving greater recognition. Both novels were outstanding, and I’m looking forward to seeking out more of his work. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A Rage at Sea

Frederick Lorenz was the pseudonym used by Lorenz Heller (1911-????) for a handful of paperback crime novels released by Lion Books in the 1950s. The New Jersey native worked as a seaman on a freighter, so it’s only fitting that I’m introduced to his body of work through his shipwreck novel A Rage at Sea from June 1953. Best of all, the book has been reprinted by Stark House Crime Classics as a double along with Lorenz’s A Party Every Night and an informative introduction by Nicholas Litchfield.

The protagonist of A Rage at Sea is Miami drunkard Frank Dixon, a former boat captain who lost his ship in a poker game and now is in the process of drinking himself to death. Out of nowhere, an opportunity arises for Dixon to captain a rich man’s yacht on a four-month cruise through the Bahamas and into the Virgin Islands. Broke and in need of a change, Dixon accepts the gig.

The owner of the yacht is an obese and lazy millionaire playboy named Charles Allard who doesn’t know the first thing about boating. He relies on Theron Addams, his right-hand man, purser, cook, and steward. Addams is also a con-man fueled by greed and love of money ripping off Allard every day of the journey. Dixon’s only reliable ally on the boat is the young engineer named Wirt, but he’s not a man you ever want to cross.

Many authors of nautical fiction fall into the trap of getting extra-technical with their level of boating detail in the narrative. Fortunately, Lorenz avoids that literary pitfall. Nearly the entire first half of the paperback was at-sea, but the reader was able to follow the action without any trouble because the author made the narrative about the four main characters. In fact, I can’t recall a lean crime paperback from the 1950s with character development handled more adeptly than A Rage at Sea.

It’s almost halfway through the novel that an accident leaves the foursome stranded on a deserted Caribbean island - as promised in the book’s synopsis. It’s then that the slow-burn novel begins to boil a bit, but it remains a character drama with shifting alliances and resentments simmering from their time at sea together. The bad blood and bruised egos evolve into threats of real violence and acts of compromised ethics and actual heroism.

A Rage at Sea isn’t particularly action-packed, but the author’s excellent writing keep the pages flying by. To be sure, it’s an odd book - more cerebral than most paperbacks of its type. Dixon is a flawed, but logical, mostly honorable and highly-competent, hero. He’s exactly the kind of guy you’d want to be stranded with on a deserted island. I really liked A Rage at Sea, but I could see it being polarizing for readers who want a bit more swashbuckling in their maritime adventures. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE