Showing posts with label Richard Wormser. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Richard Wormser. Show all posts

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Perfect Pigeon

Richard Wormser (1908-1977) is another one of those authors who transitioned seamlessly from writing fiction for the pulp magazines to authoring page-turning novels at the advent of the paperback originals in the 1950s. Under his own name, crime and mystery was his primary bread-and-butter, but he also wrote Westerns under the pen name Ed Friend. Today, the focus is on his 1963 Fawcett Gold Medal crime novel Perfect Pigeon, which remains available as a $4 ebook - free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription.

As the novel opens, our narrator Mark Daniels has just completed a six-year stretch in the penitentiary for bank embezzlement. Daniels is a smart guy and the law never recovered the $250,000 he stole from the bank. His nonsense story was that the money was stolen from Mark after he fell asleep on a bus and no one could prove otherwise. Now a free man, Mark could sure use to get his hands on the stash of stolen dough. After all, he served six years for the right to enjoy that money, right? The problem is that Mark promised himself he’d wait three years before tapping into his cache of cash. Let the heat die down. Let the world forget.

Mark meets a hot chick named Columba (it’s Latin for pigeon) and beds her down to get back in the swing of things. He falls hard for her, but she’s gone like Cinderella after their motel date is over. Mark makes plans to find her again once he has some working capital. When she reappears later in the novel, it’s pure gold.

The job prospects for an ex-con are limited, and it’s not like Mark can go back to work as a bank teller. As such, he needs to support himself as a con-artist wracking up enough scores to keep food on the table and a roof over his head until he can access his hidden embezzlement proceeds. If you enjoy con-game stories, you’ll find the grifts in Perfect Pigeon to be quite satisfying.

Mark also falls in with a crew of ex-cons looking to score some cash by orchestrating some low-level scams. The problem is that these guys are hard-cases, and Mark is a white-collar kind of thief. The bigger problem is that the crew - and everyone else - believes that Mark has a quarter-million bucks squirreled away somewhere, and this molds the decisions that people make throughout the novel when interacting with Mark.

I wasn’t expecting Perfect Pigeon to be funny, but Mark - and, I can only assume, the author - are often hilarious. Moreover, Wormser is an all-around excellent writer who plotted this story like a roller coaster ride. The ending was a great twist that I should have seen coming but failed to recognize the clues.

Perfect Pigeon is one of the finest con-man novels I’ve read in ages. There are some slow parts, but it was an overall satisfying read at a nice price. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, March 22, 2019

Drive East on 66

Richard Wormser (1908-1977) was a Princeton man and a pulp author who wrote 17 of the original Nick Carter books for Street & Smith (long before the Killmaster era) as well as several popular Westerns under the pseudonym of Ed Friend. He also wrote two paperback originals starring Southern California police Lieutenant Andy Bastion: “Drive East on 66” (1961) and “A Nice Girl Like You” (1963).

The premise of “Drive East on 66” is awesome. A California real estate tycoon hires Andy away from his police duties for a two weeks side job. The assignment is for Andy to drive Ralph, the businessman’s troubled 16 year-old son, to an insane asylum in Kansas. The family also hires an attractive psychology grad student named Olga as the teen’s caregiver during the trip.

Along the way, Andy notices that their car is being followed by a mysterious maroon Buick. Is the tail planning a robbery? Was it sent by dad to keep an eye on them? Or is the pursuer determined to make sure they don’t make it to Kansas alive?

Andy, Ralph, and Olga are three vividly-drawn characters for the reader to join on this thousand-mile road trip. Although Ralph’s mental illness isn’t specifically defined, it feels like he’s an autistic savant of sorts - highly intelligent but prone to unexpected outbursts. Olga is a beauty trying hard to be professional during this unusual assignment, and Andy the cop is a top-notch pro with a good sense of humor. The competent officer provides the likable narration for the 150-page pursuit mystery.

The book opens great and ends with some satisfying plot twists. There’s a bit of filler in the middle, but nothing too cumbersome. Overall, “Drive East on 66” was a good natured coming of age mystery that lacked any real edge or violence, but it was enjoyable enough if you’re not looking for a hardboiled bloodbath. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Late Mrs. Five

Richard Wormser (1908-1977) was a prolific pulp fiction writer, penning 17 'Nick Carter' adventures for Street & Smith before releasing a novel under his own name - “The Man with the Wax Face” (1934). Along with writing TV adaptations and screenplays, Wormser wrote over 20 crime and western novels. In 2017, Stark House released two of Wormser's classics as a double reprinting - “The Body Looks Familiar” (1958) and “The Late Mrs. Five” (1960). Both are prefaced with an introduction by esteemed Texas writer Bill Crider, one of the last things the author wrote before his death in February of 2018. 

“The Late Mrs. Five” is my first introduction to Richard Wormser. The book is a superb example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When we first meet protagonist Paul Porter, it's on a lonely stretch of mid-west flattop. Porter, a divorcee, is making the territory pitches as a factory rep for terracers (like a farm plow). In the small farming town of Lowndesburg, Porter stops to check on a display model of the terracer and to talk shop with a client, Mr. Gray.

Upon his arrival he learns that Mr. Gray has gifted his retail business to his son-in-lawn, town sheriff Otto McLane. After a quick inspection, McLane encourages Porter to talk with the wealthy businessman John Hilliard. In route, Porter shockingly spots his estranged ex-wife on main street. Up until this point Porter has no idea of her whereabouts...and very little interest after a bitter divorce that's robbed him of his life savings. After the surprise discovery, Porter continues to Hilliard's residence only to find it vacant.

Later that night, Sheriff McLane arrests Porter for killing his ex-wife! Coincidentally, she had remarried Hilliard and was murdered the same date as Porter's visit to the home. McLane puts the finger to Porter despite a solid alibi. Aligning with McLane's daughter, Porter is forced to run in a frantic attempt to solve the murder. As the pace quickens, the cast of characters are examined by Porter and the reader as the whodunit mystery races to an exhilarating reveal. 

Wormser blends a familiar prose – innocent man accused of murder – with small town charm. This hybrid of “Our Town” crossed with “Perry Mason” works brilliantly despite its shortcomings. We've read it before, but Wormser is an entertaining story-teller and works wonders with this elementary plot. The addition of shyster attorney Henry Lighton smooths out the morbid aspect of murder into a humorous subtext on the legal system's backward motions (paralleling present day). “The Late Mrs. Five” is highly recommended for someone just wanting a classic whodunit that isn't affixed to the names Gardner and Christie.

Buy a copy of the book HERE