It’s load-up-your-ereader time: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes is $3.99 for the next two weeks! It’s time for you to realize why this book ended up on everyone’s Best of 2014 lists. Click on the cover image for a list of participating retailers.
At the start of this second novel in a brief series featuring Montreal's tough guy private eye Mike has reluctantly accepted Trudi Hess as his client. She's being followed by a mysterious well-dressed blond man and wants to know who he is. Garfin learns that Trudi is a dressmaker who had a shop catering to clients with refined tastes and is a recent immigrant from Germany. Currently she devotes her time at an employment agency specializing in finding jobs for immigrants. When pressed for more details Trudi clams up though she's more than willing to accept Garfin's advances when he grabs her in his arms and kisses her wildly.
This is not just a gratuitous pass or an example of the hero's uncontrollable libido you usually find in a private eye novel of this era. Garfin doesn't take advantage of his attractive female clients. He has a hunch about Trudi's real line of work from the way she poses, the way she talks, the extreme mood changes that flip on and off like hot and cold water faucets. So he makes a pass at her and her over eager reaction is a sure indicator that his hunch is right. This is Garfin's kind of detective work. A few chapters later he'll being doing some more detecting in Trudi's apartment in the Cressingham.
As the party gets under way, the young women twirl their way across the dance floor Mike can't help but notice one particular girl whose clothing makes her stand out -- not in a good way -- from the rest of the girls in their gowns and finery. This girl is trying to push away the pawing hands of an obese middle-aged man and isn't succeeding. Mike steps in, gives the older guy a lecture and a shove or two and rescues the girl from a possible ravishing. Once alone with Mike the girl pleads with him to take her away from the party and to the police. He's puzzled and conflicted. While he wants to help her and can't really abandon his job and risk losing his pay for the night. He has to leave her momentarily in trying to sort out his dilemma and when he returns he sees he being pushed into a sedan that speeds away. Thinking quickly he borrows a car rather forcefully from a guest and races after the sedan where it pulls into a truck stop cafe. It doesn't end well when the girl is found crushed beneath the tires of an eighteen-wheeler.
The two stories -- Garfin's pursuit of the mysterious stalker after Trudi Hess and the seeming accidental death of the girl at the truck stop -- eventually merge in the hallways of the Cressingham, a hotbed of vice and violence in Montreal. Along the way we meet a few characters previously introduced in Hot Freeze. There is the French Canadian Captain Masson who refuses to learn English and who has little patience for Garfin's habit of stumbling over dead bodies. More importantly we get to spend a lot more time getting to know the intimate relationship between Mike and his girlfriend Tess whose line of work comes in very handy during this seedy case.
Though Mike Garfin first appears to be your typical wise guy private eye as the reader delves further into this second adventure in Montreal's dark underbelly we see Garfin is far from your run-of the mill gumshoe, in fact he's something of an intellectual. Once again we are reminded he would rather listen to classical records at home rather than rock and roll. And he goes out of his way to show off his arcane knowledge of the Praguerie when one of the suspects claims he is visiting Montreal form his home base of Manhattan in order to finish a thesis on this aspect of medieval French history. I never heard of the Praguerie and I consider myself college educated. It was kind of jaw dropping having a private eye lecture me on Charles VII, the Hundred years' War and the revolt of French nobility modeling themselves on Bohemian aristocrats.
|1st US hardcover edition|
with Brett's original title
For a story essentially about high priced hookers this is a bloody and brutal tale. The original title of the book is The Darker Traffic. Less appealing for a private eye novel but so much more fitting as an expression of Brett's visceral feelings about this seamy world. In one of the review blurbs on my paperback edition Brett is compared to Mickey Spillane and Garfin to his namesake Mike Hammer and rightly so. I don't recall Hot Freeze being such a free-for-all when it came to fistfights, beatings and bullets. The story is one of the earliest novels daring enough to expose the greed and corruption of the soulless people using and abusing women as commodities. The surprising villains of the piece stop at nothing when Garfin tries to upset their cushy business in the flesh trade. What begins as a formulaic lecture by Garfin accusing the bad guys of amorality turns into a literal explosion of revenge and last minute trigger pulling. There is little empathy spared for those who have exploited women so miserably and cruelly. It's clear how Brett feels about what one time was thought of as a victimless crime. Once you finish reading this depiction of the effects of prostitution on the women involved you may come to see how poor a euphemism and misnomer is the phrase "victimless crime."
Reading Challenge update: G6 "Book with a professional detective" on the Golden Age card.
LOUIS TRIMBLE – Stab in the Dark. Ace Double D-157; paperback original, 1957.
A bit of preamble before I get to the review itself. Earlier this month I read and reviewed the other half of this Ace Double, that being Never Say No to a Killer, by Jonathan Gant, a pen name of Clifton Adams, an author probably better known for his western novels for Gold Medal.
Having the book out and in my hands, it was quite natural for me to read the other half, a story I thought I’d like better, as it is a private eye novel, which I always enjoy, and the Gant book being rather derivative in nature, reminding Dan Stumpf in particular of Horace McCoy’s Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, as he so stated in an early comment to that post.
Well, trying to make a long story shorter, it’s been a struggle to finish the second half of the book, the novel by Trimble. So far I’ve been reading it at night just before bed, and managing to move along a a lizard’s pace of maybe 30 pages a night. I’m not finished yet, and I think I will continue on with it, but after reading a review I wrote of the book back in 1991, perhaps I will concede, saying that sometimes retreat is the better part of valor.
Here’s what I had to say the first time around:
Louis Trimble rote a host of second- and third-rate detective novels through the late 1940s, 50s and early 60s, and this is one of them. During that same time period he also wrote a lot of westerns, many [also] packaged as halves of Ace Doubles, and somehow ended up writing science fiction, of all things, before he was finished.
Since Hubin doesn’t state otherwise, this one turns out to have been the only appearance of PI Paul Knox. He’s apparently a man of some wealth, having inherited some money, quit the police force, and joined an world-wide private detective agency. On this case, he’s after a huge pornography/blackmail ring, but his contact at the Winton hotel is dead on his (Knox’s) arrival, an icepick in his eye.
A few curious matters arise, but most of them — like the business of the whiskey bottle and Cora Deane’s missing panties — are merely thrown away [FOOTNOTE] and although it goes on for 171 pages, long by Ace Double standards, the basic flaw in this mystery is one that’s fatal by any standards. It;s dull, it’s not very interesting, and it’s boring.
[FOOTNOTE] and [WARNING: Extremely Minor Plot Alert.] The titillating bit with the whiskey bottle and the panties — well, it kept me thinking about it quite a while — is finally described on p. 167 as “Red herrings … just foolishness, really.”
In other words, it didn’t mean anything, anything at all, and it never did. It was something thrown in just to tweak the reader’s interest, and it wouldn’t [be] worth mentioning if it weren’t for the fact that it’s the only bit of the plot that’s worth mentioning at all.
[UPDATE] 01-28-15. I’ll probably skim on for a while on my current and second go-around. But this is discouraging. It’s been the only thing keeping me going and here I have my own review showing up in timely fashion to tell me to forget it.
So today was a snow day, after a Snowmageddon that wasn’t, at least in New York City (OK, at least in Manhattan). But since I don’t cross-country ski to work, I stayed home and watched Columbus Avenue be empty of cars. I thought I’d get a ton of reading done, but it was more phone calls with clients and wrangling recalcitrant children who didn’t want to do their homework when there was perfectly good loafing to be done instead.
The other thing this storm did was cause my first class of my teaching gig at NYU to be cancelled. It was awful. I felt like a marathoner who pulled a muscle walking to the starting line, or an astronaut when liftoff is aborted at “5…4…3…NONONO.”
I mean, I had BUILT to Monday. Wrote beautiful slides on OneNote (love that OneNote!), thought of the anecdotes to tell, emailed my students with guidelines and suggestions, carb-loaded…and then at 2 PM, “NONONO.” And now not only do I need to wait till next week, but I have to rejigger my syllabus completely. We’re being given permission to extend two classes by a half-hour each (our classes are already 2 ½ hours, so the students will be very excited, I’m sure, to go till 9:30 PM a couple of times), and we’ll be losing an hour and a half of class time. For a seven-session course, this is a serious issue.
The other thing is that I’d based the course (which is about the Role of the Literary Agent) on working through the life-cycle of a book from First Query through a year after publication, and had pretty specific places to end lessons. Now we’ll have to adjust, and it may not be elegant. My wife and mother, both veteran teachers, are looking at me with benign amusement. Apparently my stress-dream that I’m in the right classroom at the right time with only one student and nobody else showing up is both normal and adorable. What can I say? At least I wasn’t naked, too.
And it’s funny—I LOVE teaching. I spoke to a multitude of classes about baseball when I was in that part of my life, and have given so many Query Letter and Pitch seminars in the past 8 years that I have a patter and confidence. But I’ve heard my wife and mother talk so often about “their” classrooms—they have great ownership of their space, and it was one of the aspects of teaching that I’m most looking forward to feeling. Now I’ve got to wait a week.
And all because of a storm that, in my old stomping grounds of Watertown, NY, they would have called “flurries” and not even called for extra plows. (Yes I know, the radar was awful and I wouldn’t be so smug in, say, Old Lyme Ct or Cape Cod. And I’m GLAD the Mayor was overcautious. He’s in an impossible situation, and I am glad he chose to be aggressive about it. I just, for once in my life, was bummed to have a snow day.)
JOHN D. MacDONALD – The Green Ripper. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1979. Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback, 1981. Reprinted many times since.
I noted in my review of the previous entry in the Travis McGee series, The Empty Copper Sea, that the overall tone of the books seemed to be changing — and with The Green Ripper, the change is really palpable.
To start, this book follows directly from the prior: one lovely lass in danger in Copper actually lived through that book’s climax (“Travis Girls” have even less likelihood of survival than “Bond Girls”), and by the beginning of Green, Travis is starting to think “she’s the one.”
Of course, that doesn’t last long, and the main plot trajectory is McGee going undercover to infiltrate a religious cult that’s up to no good. (I’m avoiding spoilers that you can probably guess.)
Published in 1979, this story feels a lot more current and “real” than the Gold Medal vibe of the first 3/4ths of the series: the story is plausible (and foreshadows events like Waco, Texas); Travis comes alive as a character in his anger and frustrated helplessness; and the overall feeling is much more Nightly News than Drug Store Spinner Rack: it’s like the Polaroid colors of the rest of the series snap into something more like digital focus in Green.
In some ways I miss the nostalgia of the earlier series, but the verisimilitude and violence in this one show MacDonald working at a new level. This is a fine thriller, and would work great as a stand-alone for a new reader; but in the context of the 21-book series (with, I am lamenting, only 3 more to go) The Green Ripper is a real high point as well as a powerful inflection point.
Since one of the things that pleases me most about this series is MacDonald’s “literariness” via McGee’s voice, I’ll again share a passage I dog-eared:
NONE BUT THE BRAVE. Golden Harvest Company, Hong Kong, 1973. Original title: Tie wa. Cinemation Industries, US, 1974. Also known as Kung Fu Girl. Pei-pei Cheng, Wei Ou, James Tien, Wei Lo, Chen Yuen Lung (Jackie Chan). Screenplay and director: Wei Lo.
If one were to fully appreciate None But The Brave (aka Kung Fu Girl), it’d probably help to know a bit about early twentieth-century Chinese-Japanese diplomatic relations. The film, which stars Chinese actress Pei-Pei Cheng (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), takes place during a tenuous time for China’s future, when the leadership in Beijing is in the process of making concessions to Japan.
The movie is filled with both martial arts action sequences and a healthy dose of political intrigue. Pei-Pei Cheng portrays a girl who pretends to be the long-lost sister of a Chinese military official in Beijing. Her ultimate goal is to manipulate him so as to free one of the revolutionary party leaders opposed to selling China out to the Japanese.
Along the way, she has to contend with a Japanese official who takes a fancy to her, as well as a member of his entourage (portrayed by a young Jackie Chan) who wants to fight her.
Sometimes the plot isn’t the easiest to follow, but it all sort of comes together by the end. There is some absolutely great cinematography present here; this isn’t some cheap, shoddy grindhouse kung fu film. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Pei-Pei Cheng is wonderfully electric. Her smile and energy are infectious. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of martial arts films, this one takes some patience, but is well worth a look, if only to catch a glimpse of one of Hong Kong’s best-known female action stars in her prime.
We’ll admit it. Even more than the historical detail, even more than the celebrity cameos, even more than the mystery, what we love most about William Shaw’s series is the pair of sleuths at its heart: Detective Sergeant Breen and WPC Tozer. In the sequel to She’s Leaving Home, Breen and Tozer investigate the suspicious death of a man trapped when his house went up in flames. Join them as they walk through the ashes in this excerpt from chapter five.
‘You all right?’ Sergeant Breen asked Temporary Detective Constable Tozer, shouting above the noise of the siren.
‘Me? I’m fine,’ she shouted back. They were in Delta Mike Five, the old Wolesley radio car whose gearbox crunched every time Breen put it into second.
He hesitated before saying, ‘I meant to call you.’
‘Course you did,’ said Tozer.
She looked out of the window. Awkwardly thin, early twenties, in clothes that never seemed to fit quite right. Lank hair cut to a bob. ‘I wasn’t by the phone, waiting for it to ring, if that’s what you were wondering.’
‘Of course not.’
She dipped into her handbag. ‘I suppose you told all the lads,’ she said.
‘What do you take me for?’
‘That’s something, anyway,’ she said. ‘Want a fag?’
He shook his head.
‘Were you avoiding me?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘Busy, that’s all.’
‘Fair enough,’ she said. ‘I been busy too. Getting ready to go home.’
Tozer had handed in her notice. She was leaving too. She had joined CID from the Women’s Section as a probationer, hoping to do more than just interview women and children, or direct traffic, which was all you were supposed to do as a WPC. But it wasn’t much different in CID either.
‘I mean,’ said Tozer. ‘It was just a bit of fun, wasn’t it, you and me?’ Then, ‘Christ. Must have rattled a few windows.’
Breen had pulled up outside the house on Marlborough Place. Or what was left of it. A grand, three-storey Victorian mansion, half of it completely blown away.
The Gas Board were still not allowing people back into their houses. They crowded behind the line of policemen, craning necks. A couple of press men with twin-lens reflex cameras complained about the way they were being treated. Breen recognised one from the local Chronicle. ‘Oi, guv. What’s going on? Get us in there, can’t you?’
Things like this never happened around here. After the firemen had discovered the body news had spread fast.
‘I was expecting to see you last night,’ Breen said. ‘At Prosser’s leaving do.’
‘Didn’t fancy it much, be honest,’ Tozer said. ‘Don’t even know why Prosser’s leaving. Many there?’
‘Everyone,’ he said.
‘Rats from the sinking ship,’ she said.
Breen approached one of the three constables standing on the door. Two men, one woman. ‘They found a body, they said. Where is it?’
‘In the kitchen. What’s left of it.’
A fireman came out of the building. ‘Got a cigarette?’ he asked, brushing down his sleeves.
‘I said no bloody smoking,’ said the gas man.
‘Give it a rest. That guy’s smoking over there. ‘If he can, I can.’ He pointed to a press man hovering at the front gate.
Tozer pulled a packet out of her handbag and offered him one. ‘You a copper?’ asked the fireman.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘For the next four weeks.’ She wasn’t cut out for the force, they said. Breen wanted to tell her that he’d miss her, but he hadn’t found the right opportunity. Not yet, anyway.
‘Why isn’t you in uniform then?’ asked the fireman.
‘Didn’t match my nail varnish,’ Tozer said. The fireman looked down at her hand. She wasn’t wearing any.
‘Safe to go in?’ asked Breen.
‘Fire’s all extinguished. But, ask me, whole lot could go any sec,’ said the fireman. He took a long pull on the cigarette Tozer had given him.
‘We need to see the body before they pull the place down,’ said Breen.
‘I could tell you all you need to know,’ said the fireman. ‘Some bastard sliced him up like a Sunday roast. Sorry, miss,’ he said to Tozer.
‘Who knows about that?’ said Breen.
‘Just us firemen.’
‘Keep it to yourselves, OK? How do you know it wasn’t just the blast?’
‘During the war I seen all sorts of things happen in explosions. Never one skin a man, though.’ The fireman turned to Tozer. ‘What about after this, you and me and some of the lads—’
‘Skinned?’ said Breen.
‘Like a ruddy banana. Not all of him, mind. What about a coffee bar or something, love?’
‘Don’t really think so,’ Tozer said.
‘Pardon me,’ said the fireman. Then to Breen. ‘Only asking out of politeness. She’s got a face like bag of spanners, anyway.’
‘You haven’t been able to get the body out?’
‘Not our job, mate. Too risky in the circumstances.’
Breen said, ‘I want to see him for myself before anything else falls on him.’
‘Only I’m not supposed to let anyone in,’ said the fireman.
‘I’m a policeman,’ said Breen.
The fireman hesitated. ‘Your funeral, mate. They’re bringing a ’dozer to pull the lot down. It’ll be here any minute.’
‘Come on then,’ said Tozer.
‘Oi!’ said the fireman. ‘Go careful. Don’t want to be hoicking out three bodies.’
‘You don’t have to come,’ said Breen to Tozer.
‘I know,’ she said.
What he should have said was, ‘You’re not supposed to come.’ If she got hurt there would be a stink. But it would be good to have her there with him.