Oct 212014
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Karol Kay Hope

  GORDON ASHE – A Nest of Traitors. Holt Rinehart & Winston, US, hardcover, 1971. Popular Library, US, paperback, no date. First published by John Long, UK, hardcover, 1970.

   Gordon Ashe is a pseudonym of John Creasey, an amazingly prolific British writer who had to his credit some 560 novels published under more than twenty names. A Nest of Traitors continues the adventures of Patrick Dawlish and “The Crime Haters,” one of his most popular series.

   A revered British war hero and onetime independent crime fighter, Dawlish is now deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, London, specializing in crimes of international significance. He is also the acknowledged leader of a loosely knit group of crime fighters, the membership representing every major police force in the world.

   In this case, Dawlish must alert various international investigative agencies to a widespread passport-fraud scheme that could wreak havoc on immigration and passport control throughout the world. As Dawlish’s investigation continues, passport control turns out to be the tip of the iceberg; a select group of the world’s most powerful men are on their way to seizing control over each government, major industry, banking system, and society on the planet.

   By the time Dawlish discovers this master plot, the organization — known as “the Authority” — has almost succeeded, and Dawlish is the one person standing between a
free world and its complete domination by this small but vicious group of immensely wealthy megalomaniacs.

   Unfortunately, Dawlish is just too perfect; and the Authority is too powerful to really be vulnerable to the heroic antics of what Ashe would have us believe is the last honorable man in the world. Farfetched, but a good book to read yourself to sleep with.

   Patrick Dawlish appears in all the Gordon Ashe novels except The Man Who Stayed Alive (1955) and No Need to Die (1956). Representative titles are Death on Demand (1939), Murder Too Late (1947), Elope to Death (1959), A Clutch of Coppers (1969), and A Blast of Trumpets (1975).

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

 Posted by at 10:38 pm
Oct 182014
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Prozini

MEL ARRIGHI – Alter Ego. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1983. No paperback edition. TV movie: CBS, 1987, as Murder by the Book (with Robert Hays as D.H. ‘Hank’ Mercer / Biff Deegan, and Catherine Mary Stewart).

   Hank Mercer is a New York mystery writer, author of such modest best sellers as Death Is My Bedmate and Kill Me Tender. Biff Deegen is Hank’s series sleuth, a hard-boiled private eye patterned after Mike Hammer. Hank is tired of Biff and Biff’s uncouth style; he wants to scrap him and begin a new series about an erudite, tasteful detective named Amos Frisby.

   His editor, Norman Wagstaff. is of course opposed to the idea vehemently. But to placate Hank, who after all is one of his top authors, he agrees over lunch to the following bargain: If Hank can solve a real-life mystery, using Frisby’s methods of deduction, then he trade Riff in for Amos/

   What precipitates this bargain — and what starts Hank off on his all-too-real mystery — is a matchbook dropped on their lunch table by a well-dressed woman, containing the scrawled words “Help me.”

   The mystery involves a valuable statue called The Etruscan Dancer, some urbane crooks, some not so urbane crooks, sexy Marisa Winfield, a poker game, a daring rescue accomplished by Hank using methods better suited to the Human Fly, a chase through the Lexington Avenue subway and, as it were, the piece de resistance: Biff Deegen.

   Biff, you see, steps out of the pages of his own books to become a character in Hank’s real-life mystery.He doesn’t really come to life, of course; he is merely an anthropomorphized figment of Hank’s overworked imagination, his creator’s alter ego. But that doesn’t stop him from becoming Hank’s detective “partner,” sneering at the likes of Amos Frisby and appearing at tense moments to advise Hank on the finer points of physical combat (“Kick him in the balls!”).

   This amusing and affectionate spoof of both genres seems to have been intended as the first of a series– it is billed on the dust jacket as “A Hank & Riff Mystery” — but so far no second book has appeared. Arrighi’s other criminous novels are much more serious in tone; these include such first-rate titles as Freak-Out (1968), The Hatchet Man (1975), Turkish White (1977), the Hitchcockian thriller Delphine (1981), and Manhattan Gothic (1985).

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

NOTE: Mel Arrighi died in 1986 at the relatively young age of only 53. If it so happened that he wrote another book in this series, it was never published before he died.

 Posted by at 6:08 pm
Oct 142014
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Ellen Nehr

MARGOT ARNOLD – Exit Actors, Dying. Playboy Press, paperback original, 1979. W. W. Norton / Countryman Press, softcover, 1988.

   This paperback original is the first of the adventures of Penelope Spring, American anthropologist, and Toby Glendower, Welsh archaeologist. We meet the pair in Turkey on sabbatical from Oxford. The action begins when Penny is seated in an amphitheater and sees a body lying on the grassy stage below. By the time she returns with the police, however, the body has disappeared.

   Next, a member of a film crew staying at the same hotel as the academicians turns up missing. Toby finds the man`s purloined body, and he and Penny decide to investigate. (Toby has a less-than-altruistic reason: He needs to be back in England in ten days, but the police won’t let him leave until the murder is solved.)

   Using talents developed over the years in their academic specialties, the two middle-aged professors become involved with the personnel of the motion-picture crew and their dependents, as well as study the Turkish countryside, to uncover the criminal and his. motives. This is a nice portrayal of two endearing characters and their warm, nonsexual relationship.

   Among Arnold’s other paperback originals are The Cape Cod Caper (1980), Zadok’s Treasure (1980), and Lament for a Lady Laird (1982). These allow the reader to explore the cranberry bogs of Massachusetts, an archaeological dig in Israel, and a Scottish estate.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

      The Penny Spring annd Sir Toby Glendower series –

1. Exit Actors, Dying (1979)

2. Zadok’s Treasure (1980)
3. The Cape Cod Caper (1982)
4. Death of a Voodoo Doll (1982)
5. Death on the Dragon’s Tongue (1982)
6. Lament for a Lady Laird (1982)

7. The Menehune Murders (1989)
8. Toby’s Folly (1990)
9. The Catacomb Conspiracy (1992)

10. The Cape Cod Conundrum (1992)
11. Dirge for a Dorset Druid (1994)
12. The Midas Murders (1995)

 Posted by at 5:33 pm
Oct 042014
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Karol Kay Hope

– The Balloon Man. Coward McCann, hardcover, 1958. Fawcett CRest, paperback, 1969; Berkley, paperback, 1976; IPL Crime Classics, paperback, 1990.

       — The Gift Shop. Coward McCann, hardcover, 1967. Fawcett Crest, paperback, 1968. Zebra, paperback, 1990.

   In her twenty-six-year career, Charlotte Armstrong published dozens of novels and short stories as well as plays and screenplays. Her series detective, MacDougal Duff, appears in only the first three novels; Armstrong is better known for her later works, which combine suspenseful plots with a sensitive depiction of ordinary American people whose moral character is severely tested by extraordinary circumstances.

   Armstrong’s heroes and heroines are normal people with considerable inner resources upon which they can to extricate themselves from dangerous situations that they are in through no fault of their own. The author does not flinch from dealing with such thorny moral issues as the abuse of power by the wealthy, the failure of parents to take responsibility for their offspring, and man’s free will; and she has been known to stand firmly on the side of the underdog. These philosophical issues in no way detract from the suspense of her stories, which is always considerable.

   As shown by The Balloon Man, Armstrong likes young women with guts. The heroine, wife of a rich-boy-tumed-drug-addict, sees her husband throw their young son against the kitchen wall, breaking his leg in a fit of drug-induced hallucination. The down-to-earth young mother leaves quickly, with her son, never to return, knowing her husband’s drug problem is beyond her help. She figures his rich family will take care of him; they’ve always hated her anyway, low-class street girl that she is.

   The husband’s father, however, won’t let it go at that and displays an almost insane resentment of her. He’s determined to get custody of his grandson, and while the heroine waits in a boardinghouse near the hospital until her son is well enough to take back east, the father-in-law bribes an unsavory school pal of his son’s to take a room in the boardinghouse and do all that’s necessary to prove her an unfit mother.

   What follows is a delightful picture of the lives of the boarders and the inner workings of greed and evil that will stop at nothing to separate a child from its mother. A wonderful celebration of good old American grit. And, we might add, wit.

   The Gift Shop is a classic example of Armstrong’s talent and view of the world.Here we have an unassuming, lower-middle-class American girl who is putting herself through college by clerking in an airport gift shop. Her life is ruffled by little more than her boss’s occasional temper tantrum.

   Enter the rich, good-looking bachelor — the youngest of three professionally successful sons who are sources of pride and solace to the patriarch who fathered them. The almost unbelievable hero (are there really such soulful rich young men in the world today?) is hot on the trail of an old school chum who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances (last seen in the gift shop) while researching the whereabouts of the young man’s sister, whose existence has just been revealed to the family.

   And the circumstances of this revelation — a demand that the oldest son, governor of the state, stay the execution of an internationally known crime figure in exchange for the sister’s life — are sinister indeed.

   The adventure that the gift-shop clerk becomes embroiled in is refreshingly humane; and in the course of it, the bachelor overcomes the girl’s resistance to arrogant rich young men. The romance does not proceed without difficulty, however; like many of Armstrong’s heroines, she is the self-sufficient kind and not prone to stroking the male ego.

   This is high adventure, the stuff about which any righter-of-wrongs dreams. It is almost unbelievable, but the author has a way of making us feel it would happen to any one of us, any day now.

   Other excellent Charlotte Armstrong titles are Catch-as-Catch-Can (1952), The Better to Eat You (1954), A Dram of Poison (winner of the Edgar for Best Novel of 1956), The Turret Room (1965), and Protégé (1970). The best of her fine short stories can be found in the collections The Albatross (1957) and I See You (1966).

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

 Posted by at 11:10 pm
Sep 252014
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins

WILLIAM ARDEN – A Dark Power. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1968. Berkley, paperback, 1970.

   During the same years he was writing the Dan Fortune private-eye novels under his Michael Collins by-line, Dennis Lynds took on the pseudonym William Arden and launched another series, this one dealing with industrial spy and PI-in-spite-of-himself Kane Jackson.

   The five Jackson novels are written in a spare, unadorned third-person style reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett’s, and their protagonist is very much the hard-bitten operative, without the leavening of compassion one finds in other Lynds detectives, like Dan Fortune or Paul Shaw.

   Most of the Jackson exploits are distinguished by their setting in the jungle of high-level capitalism, principally in the chemical, metallurgical, and pharmaceutical industries where Lynds worked as a trade-publications editor before turning to fiction.

   In A Dark Power, first and freshest of the series, Jackson is hired by a New Jersey pharmaceutical combine to recover a missing sample of a drug potentially worth millions. The trail leads through the mazes of interoffice love affairs and power struggles, and several corpses are strewn along the path.

   Although Lynds tends to get lost in his own plot labyrinths, this time he keeps the story line under firm control, meshing counterplots with fine precision, skillfully portraying people trapped by their own drives, and capping the action with a double surprise climax. Jackson reaches the truth by clever guesswork rather than reasoning, but this is the only weakness in one of the best PI novels of the Sixties.

   Of the four later Jackson exploits, the most interesting is Die to a Distant Drum (1972), which, like Lynds’s novels as by Mark Sadler, takes as background the turmoil of the Vietnam era. Jackson poses as a revolutionary bomb-maker and joins a Weatherman faction in order to infiltrate a chemical plant and bring out certain evidence of industrial piracy. The result, as usual with Lynds under whatever by-line, is a fine and thoughtful thriller.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

      The Kane Jackson series –

A Dark Power. Dodd, 1968.
Deal in Violence. Dodd, 1969.
The Goliath Scheme. Dodd, 1970.

Die to a Distant Drum. Dodd, 1972.
Deadly Legacy. Dodd, 1973.

 Posted by at 2:42 am
Sep 202014
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins

  WILLIAM ARD – Hell Is a City. Rinehart, hardcover, 1955. Popular Library #756, paperback, 1956. Ramble House, softcover, 2012.

   In the early 1950s, when our political and cultural life was dominated by Senator Joe McCarthy and HUAC, and our crime fiction by the bloody exploits of Mike Hammer, a young man named William Ard joined the handful of hard-boiled writers — among them Ross Macdonald, Thomas B. Dewey, and William Campbell Gault — who carried on the legitimate private-eye tradition of Hammett and Chandler.

   In Ard’s world the PI stands for personal and political decency, a clear line is drawn between dramatically justified violence and gratuitous brutality, and sex is seen as a restoration of oneself and caring for another. Anthony Boucher, the dean of mystery critics, praised Ard over and over for his “deft blend of hardness with human warmth and quiet humor,” for turning out “masterpiece(s) of compressed narration … backed with action and vigor, written with style and individuality.”

   Hell Is a City, seventh of Ard’s nine novels about private eye Timothy Dane, is the most powerful and exciting of his novels. Dane is pitted against the corrupt forces of law and order in a nightmare New York where the mayor, the police commissioner, and most of the officials are allied with the mobs and determined to hang on to their power in the coming mayoral election.

   When a young Latino shoots a Brooklyn vice cop who was about to rape the boy’s sister, the municipal bosses use their puppets in the news media to portray the case as the cold-blooded murder of a heroic officer, and put out word to shoot on sight whoever might contradict the party line.

   Brought into the picture by a crusading newspaper editor, Dane finds himself in the classic roman noir situation: knowing the truth no one else will believe; threatened on all sides by killers with badges and without; hounded through city streets dark with something more than night.

   With its sharply drawn characters, pulsating pace, and terrifying premise, this book could easily have been masterpiece, were it not for its grotesquely bad denouement, perhaps the first televised criminal trial scene in fiction, where all is set to rights in record time and in an impossibly silly manner. In a later Dane-less novel, As Bad As I Am (1959), aka Wanted: Danny Fontaine, Ard reworked the same story line to a better effect, but without the raw, nightmarish tension of Hell Is a City.

   Ard was far from a model of all the literary virtues. He wrote quickly and revised too little, and his style, though readable and efficient, lacks the hauntingly quotable quality of Chandler and Ross Macdonald. His plots tend to fall part under scrutiny and he recycled certain names again and again so that his novels contain small armies of characters named Stix Larsen and Barney Glines.

   But his best books — among which are The Diary (1952), .38 (1952), Cry Scandal (1956), and the paperback original Club 17 (1957), published under his pseudonym, Ben Kerr — are miracles of storytelling economy in which Ard’s special brand of tenderness is integrated with the standard elements of mean-streets fiction.

   His death from cancer in 1960 at age thirty-seven silenced one of the most distinctive voices in the history of the private-eye novel.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

 Posted by at 1:37 am
Sep 142014
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

EVELYN ANTHONY – The Tamarind Seed. Coward McCann & Geoghegan, hardcover, 1971. Dell, paperback, 1979. First published in the UK: Hutchinson, hardcover, 1971. Film: AVCO Embassy Pictures, 1974.

   Evelyn Anthony’s novels are a cross between romantic suspense, espionage, and thriller. Romance is the most important element; her main characters are drawn together by immense physical and emotional attraction, often under circumstances of danger and stress. Exotic locales, international events, and political intrigue round out her successful formula.

   The Tamarind Seed (made into a film in 1974 with Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif) opens with the arrival of Judith Farrow at Seaways Airport in Barbados. Judith, a young widow who is assistant to the director of the International Secretariat at the United Nations, is getting away from it all — mostly from the memory of a shattered love affair with a high-placed and very married British diplomat.

   Within days she forms a friendship with a man staying at her hotel, but this time Judith resists romantic involvement: The man is Feodor Sverdlov, a Russian diplomat, most likely a spy, and also married, to a physician who has remained in the USSR.

   Upon their return to New York, Judith and Sverdlov continue to see each other, but things are not simple for them. Judith, a British subject, is visited by members of her country’s intelligence establishment, warning her to steer clear of Sverdlov. And Sverdlov returns to find his male secretary mysteriously absent; his wife’s petition for divorce follows.

   When Judith delivers a frightening message from one of his colleagues, he fears for his life, and he defects to the British. But doing that means involving Judith in a desperate and dangerous scheme.

   This could be standard romance fare, except for Anthony’s strong characterization and skillful use of multiple viewpoint. Her backgrounds are well researched, and her grasp of international affairs keeps an otherwise typical love story moving along at a fast pace.

   Other noteworthy novels by Anthony are The Rendezvous (1983), which deals with Nazi war criminals; The Assassin (1970), concerning a Russian assassination plot during an American election; The Malaspiga Exit (1974), about international art thievery; and The Defector (1981), another novel about tom loyalties to one’s country.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

 Posted by at 9:42 pm
Sep 092014
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

DAVID ANTHONY – The Midnight Lady and the Mourning Man. Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1969. Warner, paperback, 1973. Filmed as The Midnight Man (1974).

   The greatest strength of David Anthony’s (William Dale Smith’s) first novel is the prtagonist, Morgan Butler, a Korean War veteran who suffered a breakdown. Upon recovering, he worked briefly for a San Francisco detective agency. At the opening of this story, he is half-owner of an Ohio farm, and because he occasionally feels the need for some action, he keeps his hand in the detective business, taking jobs that are a little outside the law.

   Often the jobs aren’t as lucrative or successful as his clients might wish them to be, since Butler is a man of sensitivity and conscience — good at what he does, but incapable of betraying a well-developed moral code.

   In this novel he helps a former marine buddy who saved his life — Quartz Willinger, constable in the small college town of Jordan City, Ohio, who is laid up with an on-the-job injury and trusts no one but Butler to hold down the fort during his convalescence.

   Tapes that three local college students under psychological counseling made and left with their therapist have been stolen. Butler narrows the focus of the thief down to the tapes of one student, Natalie Claybourne, but before he can find the reason the tape was taken, she is murdered in her dormitory room.

   Butler must contend with numerous men who may or may not have been her lovers; her wealthy father, who gives phony-sounding stories about why he seems more interested in recovering the tape than in his daughter’s killing; and a lady who begins to awaken feelings in Butler that he had considered gone for good.

   Anthony’s portrayal of a college town and its bohemian denizens is excellent; there is a section in which Butler relates how he copes with campus “spring madness” that any student or former student will immediately recognize.

   Although the solution is a little predictable and the story somewhat drawn out, this is nonetheless a novel you won’t want to put down. (A film version, The Midnight Man, starring Burt Lancaster was made in 1974. In it, Butler is transformed into a paroled murderer and night watchman turned detective.)

   David Anthony’s other books featuring Morgan Butler are Blood on a Harvest Moon (1972) and The Long Hard Cure (1979). He has also written The Organization (1970) and Stud Game (1978).

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Editorial Comments:   The books mentioned in the last paragraph above comprise the complete criminous output of David Anthony, who died in 1986. The Long Hard Cure, surprisingly enough, has been published only in England. For a review of The Organization on this blog by Bill Crider, go here, and for my review of Stud Game, go here.

 Posted by at 12:25 am
Apr 152012
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Charles Shibuk


VIRGIL MARKHAM – The Devil Drives. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1932. Bart House #10, paperback, 1944. Ramble House, trade paperback, 2007.

   The Devil Drives is an offbeat and highly individual novel by a writer who, it would seem, must have had some familiarity with the work of that master American zany Harry Stephen Keeler. It is somewhat reminiscent of Keeler’s Amazing Web (1929), but is shorter, slighter, less ambitious, more straightforward, and, though complex enough in plot, lacks the unbelievable convolutions and ramifications of the Keeler work.

   The authors do share the ability to propel their narratives forward in such a manner that readers will keep turning pages breathlessly in order to discover what astounding plot development will next occur, and what outrageous coincidence will help to resolve (or amplify) the current situation.


   The Markham novel concerns George Lawson Peters, the warden of Franklin Penitentiary in New Jersey, who deserts his post to seek a lost treasure left by an adventurer nicknamed “Dubrosky” for a girl named Philadelphia Boston. On his odyssey, Peters meets a gangster with a heart of garbage; a repulsive blackmailer who exacts no tribute from his victims; the blackmailer’s unhappy wife; her friend the eccentric countess; and Detective Veen, who reads mysteries.

   At the two-thirds point in the narrative, Peters encounters a honey of a locked-room problem. The door is locked and bolted, and the two windows are locked-all from the inside. The floor and ceiling are ungimmicked, and the fireplace and chimney show no signs of entrance or egress. The victim met his death by drowning. The author’s unique solution is even more bizarre than the problem he has propounded.


   The locked-room situation and many strands of the plot are finally resolved by a few well-placed Keeleresque coincidences. But Markham has still done an ingenious job of deceptive clue-planting that is worthy of Christie, Carr, or Queen; and his unexpected and grimly ironic finale is worthy of Francis Iles or Richard Hull.

   Markham’s other novels include Death in the Dusk (1928), The Black Door (1930), and Inspector Rusby’s Finale (1933). The last-named title has an irresistible premise:

   A Scotland Yard inspector, spending a weekend at a crowded country house, wakes up the morning after his arrival to find that the hostess and guests have vanished and he is alone — except for the dead body of a perfect stranger. The ending, however, as Barzun and Taylor have noted, is a bit hard to swallow.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Editorial Comments:   Curt Evans recently posted on his blog a review of Red Warning (aka Song of Doom in the UK), another work of crime fiction by Virgil Markham. Included with the review is a considerable amount of information about the author himself, and I highly recommend it to you. (Follow the link.)

   More. A link on Curt’s blog led to blogger TomCat’s review of Death in the Dusk, also by Markham, which he says “turned out to be a rival for Joel Townsley Rogers’ The Red Right Hand (1945) and Fredric Brown’s Night of the Jabberwock (1950) in the race for the title of most outlandish detective story ever contrived.”

 Posted by at 5:15 pm
Apr 142012
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


PAUL CAIN – Fast One. Doubleday Doran & Co., hardcover, 1933. First appeared in serialized form in non-consecutive issues of Black Mask magazine between March and September, 1932. Bond Mystery #10, digest paperback, 1945. Avon #178, pbbk, 1948; Avon #496, ppbk, 1952. Southern Illinois University Press, hardcover, 1978. Popular Library, paperback, “American Fiction” series, 1980. Black Lizard, paperback, 1987.

   The hardest of the hard-boiled writers for Black Mask in the early 1930s was unquestionably Paul Cain (Peter Ruric). His style, as pulp authority Ron Goulart has noted, at times “becomes as sparse and clipped as that of a McGuffey’s Reader.”

   In an afterword to the Southern Illinois reprint edition, critic Irvin Faust says that Cain “hasn’t the time or patience for excess baggage. He picks up his literary scalpel and scrapes away conjunctions as if they were bad merchandise… He digs into the page with a hard sentence: simple, declarative, exact.”


   Fast One is Cain’s only novel. (He was primarily a screenwriter and is responsible for such films as One for the Money, Grand Central Murders, and Mademoiselle Foi.)

   It was written on a bet and its various sections first appeared in Black Mask as five self-contained novelettes prior to book publication. It is unrelentingly grim and stark and brutal, to such an extent that it becomes uncomfortable to read; one begins to feel a kind of breathless despair well before the end.


   The “hero” is Gerry Kells, a mysterious loner, a criminal who insinuates himself into the Los Angeles underworld and wreaks havoc on its denizens and on others who happen to get in his way. The dust jacket blurb on a 1978 reissue by Southern Illinois University Press says about Kells:

    “Only the strong prosper in the world of the Depression. Seemingly amoral, Kells does prosper. He strikes to survive, kills without conscience, without time for conscience. But he never becomes a mere killing machine. His integrity, his humanity, abides in a code demanding that he pay for all services: those rendered for him, those rendered against him. He pays with a two-sided coin-loyalty, revenge. He spends money freely, and those who cross him die hard.”


   Cain knew his Los Angeles and he knew the ways of its Prohibition and post-Prohibition underworld. The portrait he paints of both, and of Gerry Kells, makes Fast One an important and compulsively readable novel, despite that feeling of breathless despair it engenders.

   The only other book by Cain is Seven Slayers (1946), a collection of seven of his other Black Mask stories, all of which are in the same tough vein and all of which are excellent samples of pulp writing at its best.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

 Posted by at 7:18 pm