April 2010


Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         


JAMES HADLEY CHASE – I’ll Get You For This. Jarrolds, UK, hardcover, 1946. Avon Monthly Novel #18, US, digest-sized paperback, 1951. Filmed as Lucky Nick Cain, 1951, with George Raft, Coleen Gray & Walter Rilla.

JAMES HADLEY CHASE

    They said I was the fastest gun-thrower in the country. Maybe I was, but I didn’t tell anyone that I practised (sic) two hours a day, wet or shine. I killed guys, but it wasn’t murder. Even the cops said so, and they should know. Every time I killed a guy I made sure he had the drop on me first, and I had witnesses to prove it. I’d worked it so I could pull a gun and shoot before the other guy could squeeze his trigger.

   That’s Chester Cain, the hero of James Hadley Chase’s novel I’ll Get You For This, a gambler with a fast gun that would make Mike Hammer or Race Williams blink twice and a barely legal reputation. Like pulpster Gordon Young’s Don Everhard from an earlier age, he’s a fast shooting two-fisted professional gambler who is a law unto himself.

   In I’ll Get You For This Cain has just arrived in Paradise Palm, a coastal beauty spot where he hopes to spend a little vacation time after a grueling few months of profitable gambling up north. He has a bankroll, and he’s in the mood to enjoy it.

   And Paradise Palm seems just the kind of place to enjoy it all. The beaches are stacked with beautiful women if various states of extreme immodesty and even the cops call him sir. In fact, people couldn’t be nicer.

    The buildings were compact, red roofed with white walls. Tree-lined avenues led into the town from four directions. Flower-beds decorated the sidewalks. Every tropical flower, tree and plant grew in the streets, and the effect was like a dream in Technicolor. The colours* hurt my eyes.

    After I’d stared at the flowers, I concentrated on the women, driving in big luxury cars or walking along the sidewalks, or even riding bicycles. It was as good as an Earl Carrol show. There wasn’t a woman who hadn’t stripped down to the bare essentials. My eyes hadn’t overeaten themselves like this in years.

   And if they don’t give him the key to the city or roll out the red carpet, they do just about everything short of that. The owner of the local casino, Don Speratza, even calls him up personally when he checks in at the hotel, to invite him for a night of recreational gaming and offer female companionship. Then Ed Killeano, the city administrator* calls up to tell him how glad they are to have him.

JAMES HADLEY CHASE

   By now Cain’s a bit suspicious, but he’s willing to play along and see where all this is going. The only man who acts at all normal is John Herrick, a reform candidate who isn’t excited about trouble like Cain showing up in town.

   But Cain doesn’t have long to worry about that when he is introduced to Miss Wonderly:

    A girl came across the room towards us. She was wearing a bolero for a dinner jacket of blue crepe. Her skirt, split eight inches up the side, was of blue crepe, too, but her blouse was red. She was a blonde, and I bet every time she passed a graveyard the corpses sat up to whistle after her.

    By the time I’d recovered my breath, she was standing at my side. Her perfume was Essence Imperiale Russe (the perfume that quickened the pulse of kings). I can’t begin to describe what it did to my pulse.

    Speratza was looking at me anxiously. “Miss Wonderly,” he said, and raised his eyebrows…

    Out of the corner of my eye I saw Speratza go off, and then I gave the whole of my attention to Miss Wonderly. I thought she was terrific. I liked the long wave of her hair, and her curves — particularly her curves. Her breasts were like Cuban pineapples.

    “This calls for a drink,” I said, beckoning to the barman. “What part of Paradise did you escape from?”

    “I didn’t escape,” she said, laughing, “I’m out on parole…”

JAMES HADLEY CHASE

   That mention of the perfume brand may have been picked up from Peter Cheyney, whose heroes seemed to be hypnotized by the Narcisse Noir his femme fatales always wore. Later James Bond did this sort of brand name thing with a bit more style and flair, Fleming borrowing some of the Americanized elements of Cheyney and Chase for the Bond saga.

   But paradise doesn’t remain paradise very long and it is only the next day when a hungover Cain finds himself in a place more familiar to him:

    “Who’s this guy?” the man in the gabardine suit asked, turning to the reception clerk, and pointing at me.

    The reception clerk looked like he was going to throw up. His face was pale green.

    “Mr. Chester Cain,” he said, in a far-away voice.

    That seemed to give the ugly guy a buzz.

    “Sure?” The reception clerk nodded.

    The guy faced me. His flat puss was loaded with viciousness.

    “We know all about you,” he said. “I’m Flaggerty of the Homicide Bureau. You’re in a hell of a jam, Cain.”

    I knew I had to talk if it killed me.

    “You’re crazy,” I said. “I didn’t do it.”

    “When I find a rat with your reputation locked in with a murdered man I don’t have to look all that far to find his killer,” Flaggerty sneered. “You’re under arrest, and you’d better start talking.”

    I tried to think, but my mind wasn’t working. I felt like hell, and my head throbbed and pounded.

   It looks bad, especially since the dead man in question is Herrick — the one man in town who hadn’t offered Cain a glad hand and the key to the city. Killeano, the city administrator offers to help, but somehow Cain doesn’t trust him or his motives. Luckily for Cain they didn’t count on Clair Wonderly falling for him — she refuses to play the game even when the cops get rough.

    “He didn’t do it,” she said. “It was a frame-up. I don’t care what you do to me. He didn’t do it! Do you hear? He didn’t do it!”

    Killeano looked at her as if he couldn’t believe his ears. His fat face went yellow with rage. “You bitch!” he said, and slapped her hard across her face.

   And Cain lets them know he isn’t finished with them:

JAMES HADLEY CHASE

    “You boys have had your fun,” I said, “and now I’m going to have mine. I came here for a vacation. All I wanted to do was to have a good time and spend my roll. But you thought you’d be smart. You wanted to murder Herrick because he was in your way. You picked me for the fall guy, and you nearly got away with it. If you hadn’t been so dumb, you would have got away with it. You killed Herrick, but you haven’t killed me, and you’ll find I’m a lot harder to kill than Herrick. I’m going to find out why you wanted Herrick out of the way, and then I’m going to complete his job…”

   Cain ends up teaming with the Feds in the form of a G-Man name Hoskiss, and he and Clair bring down Killeano and Paradise Palms and the dirty racket they are running. (Hoskiss should be a T-Man since the scheme involves counterfeiting, but I suppose we have to give Brit Chase a pass on that mistake.)

   But that’s not the end of it. As the gang are awaiting trial, Cain and Clair know they are in danger and try to go to ground, but the gang goes after them, and Cain has to resort to his old skills with a gun to protect them both while he hunts down Bat Thompson, the hood who killed Herrick and is now hunting Clair and him.

    I caught a glimpse of Bat as he moved, lifted my gun, fired. He must have seen my movement for he fired at the same time. His bullet ploughed a weal along my cheek. I watched him. He rose up, tottered back, his gun slipping out of his hand. I fired again. The slug socked into him, throwing him back. He fell down, stretched out.

    I pulled out my electric torch*. The beam lit up a nightmare scene. The girl lay on her side, bent back, half her face was shattered by the heavy bullet from Bat’s gun. Bat lay near her, his hand touched her naked foot. Blood seeped out of him like water from over-boiled cabbage I turned him over. He moved, blinked his eyes, snarled at me.

    “So long, Bat,” I said, put the gun to his ear.

   And Cain goes home to Clair confident that their reign of fear has ended:

    The future, I decided, as I set off in the darkness, could take care of itself.

   I’ll Get You For This is mid-level Chase, violent and derivative, but compulsively readable and entertaining. Chase still has a following, with many of his books available as free e-books from various sources and his numerous books collectable. He even had his champions in George Orwell, who wrote about him in his famous article “Miss Blandish and Raffles,” and Chase’s friend Graham Greene, who included one of his works in a famous anthology of thrillers.

JAMES HADLEY CHASE

   This despite the fact that Chase was twice accused of plagiarism — notably for his debut No Orchids For Miss Blandish, that sailed a bit too close to William Faulkner’s novel Sanctuary, and later having to apologize to Raymond Chandler for lifting whole passages from one of his books.

   But then as Chase is recreating an entire world that existed only in books and films for him he may be forgiven if he sometimes recreated that world too closely.

   That said, even in this one you know he lifted the name Wonderly from The Maltese Falcon. It was just a habit he couldn’t — or wouldn’t bother to — break.

   Chase only visited the United States twice, but in general made good use of maps and a dictionary of slang in recreating a sort of fractured version of the hardboiled country of James M. Cain, Hammett, and Chandler. His work lacks the surrealism of Peter Cheyney’s Lemme Caution tales, despite which — or maybe because of which — Chase is great fun to read.

   His best works sometimes read like a pastiche of a Gold Medal original or noir film.

   His novels were great favorites (along with Peter Cheyney) in the famous French serie noir paperback series, and truthfully both he and Cheyney’s fractured Americanisms translated to French are a unique reading experience. Like Jerry Lewis, something may be lost in the translation back into English.

   Chase wrote under several names, but other than Chase, was probably best known as Raymond Marshall.

   For the most part his plots are clever if not surprising. They move fast, and at their best manage to recreate the kind of doomed noirish atmosphere of the James M. Cain book that first inspired him (The Postman Always Rings Twice) without achieving a single moment of authenticity.

   In some ways you could call them the British crime equivalent of spaghetti westerns, the pulp formula boiled down to its purest elements by an eye that experienced it only through books and films.

   I’ll Get You For This was made into a forgettable but mildly entertaining film, Lucky Nick Cain, with George Raft and filmed in Italy. It was relatively faithful to the basics of Chase’s plot, and was one of Raft’s better fifties outings.

   ___

   (*)  Careful readers will notice certain Anglicisms like city administrator instead of city manager or supervisor or electric torch for flashlight, and colours for colors creep in.

Previously reviewed on this blog:

      No Orchids for Miss Blandish, by Bill Crider (1001 Midnights).

      Hit and Run, by Steve Lewis.

A TV Review by MIKE TOONEY:


“The Paragon.” An episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (Season 1, Episode 20). First air date: 8 February 1963. Joan Fontaine, Gary Merrill, Virginia Vincent, Linda Leighton, Richard Carlyle. Teleplay: Alfred Hayes. Story: Rebecca West (source unknown). Director: Jack Smight.

THE PARAGON Hitchcock Fontaine, Merrill

   Alice Pemberton (Joan Fontaine) is one of those individuals who, wherever they go, leave discouragement in their wake. She always rubs people the wrong way and yet never seems to notice the harm she does.

   From criticizing her sister’s child-rearing abilities to flicking lint off the maid’s uniform, Alice is a walking, talking affront to anyone who knows her. Her husband John (Gary Merrill) just can’t get through to her; she’s perfect and she expects everybody else to be also.

   One night Alice has a dream, a nightmare really, of a dark shape floating through the bedroom window and settling over her face, smothering her. It just so happens that one of the people who know Alice well is making plans to make her dream come true ….

   Joane Fontaine is best remembered for Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941). She also appeared in Jane Eyre (1944), Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948), Born to Be Bad (1950), The Bigamist (1953), Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961).

   We’ve already dealt with Gary Merrill’s criminous career.  See “The Paragon” on Hulu here.

A REVIEW BY MARY REED:
   

J. S. FLETCHER – The Safety Pin. Herbert Jenkins, UK, hardcover, 1924. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, US, hc, 1924.

J. S. FLETCHER The Safety Pin

   Solicitor Francis Shelmore deals only in conveyancing and lives a calm and ordered life in Southernstowe, “within sixty miles” of London.

   One afternoon Miss Cynthia Pretty, youthful half-owner of a Cornish tin mine, appears in his office to ask for help in locating the mine’s co-owner James Deane, her guardian and trustee, who has disappeared from the hotel where they had arranged to meet before leaving for a trip to the continent.

   Mr Deane is found murdered not far from a mansion occupied by Mrs Sophia Champernowne and her shiftless brother Alfred. She is a rich woman, mayoress of Southernstowe and owner of its biggest drapery store. Deane’s body is discovered by special constable John Hackdale, under-manager of Mrs Champernowne’s emporium and older brother of Shelmore’s shifty clerk Simmons Hackdale.

   John removes The Safety Pin from Deane’s jacket and conceals its existence from those investigating the crime, not exactly the sort of behaviour most readers would expect from a special constable.

   What significance can be attached to the fact that of 400 scenic postcards found in Deane’s hotel room only one has a particular house marked? Did his murderer act alone or with accomplices? Was it a random crime for profit, planned for a particular motive, or one that became inevitable when old secrets began rising from the dark waters of the past to gibber hideously on its slimy surface?

My verdictThe Safety Pin features a convoluted plot featuring blackmail, another disappearance, bribery, and sibling rivalry gone bonkers for a start, as well as more than one shady character with good motives for their behaviour — from their points of view at least.

   Miss Pretty gains sympathy at the beginning but ultimately, as my mother would say, lets herself down. Fletcher plays very cleverly on readers’ assumptions about characters’ motives and then briskly turns them on their heads towards the end of the novel. The denouement will annoy some readers and yet even they will have to admit it’s just the sort of thing that *would* happen in real life.

   My only quibble: I’d like to know what finally happened to that safety pin…

Etext:   http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks07/0701001.txt

         Mary R

http://home.earthlink.net/~maywrite/


IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


COLIN COTTERILL – The Coroner’s Lunch. Soho Crime, hardcover, December 2004; trade paperback: November 2005.

Genre: Licensed investigator. Series character: Dr. Siri Paiboun, 1st in series. Setting: Laos, 1976.

First Sentence: Tran, Tran, and Hok broke through the heavy end-of-west-season clouds.

COLIN COTTERILL

   It is 1976 and one year after the Communist takeover of Laos. Dr. Siri Paiboun is 72 years old, a widower and ready to retire. Instead, he is appointed state coroner; in fact, he’s the only coroner in Laos and has three cases to deal with; the death of an important official’s wife, the discovery of bodies that could lead to an international incident between Laos and Vietnam, and uncovering the reason why the commanders of an Army base, located in northern Laos, keep dying.

   How have I missed Cotterill until now? Let me start with history. I am of the Vietnam era; I had friends who fought and died, there. Once the war was over, I had very little interest in that area of the world. Now I find it fascinating to see how Communism controlled every aspect of individual’s lives.

   What I particularly like is that Cotterill doesn’t present it in a heavy-handed manner, but through the character’s perspective of that being the way life is. In some ways, I find that more effective.

   The characters are wonderful. Dr. Siri, who performs his first autopsy with the help of a very old French book, his assistants, Dtui who reads Thai fan magazines, and Geung who has mild Down’s Syndrome, plus his friends are all delightfully portrayed with affection and, often, humor.

   But it is Siri who takes the lead and is our connection to the metaphysical world. With his white hair, uncontrolled eyebrows and shocking green eyes, Siri stands out on his own, but he can also see the dead and communicate with spirits.

   Rather than making the book unbelievable, it adds dimension and an element of suspense to the story in a way that is hard to quantify. There is a wonderful sense of place to the story, but different from the usual. It is very much tied in with the way people live, rather than descriptions of the location in which the story is set.

   I am so pleased to have found this author and have already ordered the rest of this series.

Rating: Very Good Plus.

   The Dr. Siri Paiboun Series

       1. The Coroner’s Lunch (2004)
       2. Thirty-Three Teeth (2005)

COLIN COTTERILL

       3. Disco for the Departed (2006)
       4. Anarchy and Old Dogs (2007)

COLIN COTTERILL

       5. Curse of the Pogo Stick (2008)
       6. The Merry Misogynist (2009)

COLIN COTTERILL

       7. Love Songs from a Shallow Grave (2010)

NORA PRENTISS. Warner Brothers, 1947. Ann Sheridan, Kent Smith, Bruce Bennett, Robert Alda, Rosemary DeCamp, John Ridgely. Director: Vincent Sherman.

NORA PRENTISS

   As you can see from the photo to the right, this previously hard-to-find film noir drama has recently been released on DVD as part of the Warner Brothers Archive Collection. Every fan of old movies should be buying these.

   Even though they’re essentially print on demand items, the quality is good, and every one that’s purchased will convince the Powers That Be that there’s a small but steady market for them – I wouldn’t count on more – but continued income for Warners will convince Universal and MGM to step up their own programs of releasing old movies in their vaults on DVD.

   And sometimes they go on sale, as this one was, and very well may still be, if you’re reading this early enough. It’s also one of the good ones, which you probably knew already before I came along to tell you about it.

NORA PRENTISS

   I don’t imagine that Ann Sheridan ever made a really bad movie, and if she did, I don’t want to know about it.

   She’s the title character in this one, of course, a singer and night club entertainer who has a small traffic accident one evening, and the good Samaritan who comes to her rescue happens to be a doctor (Kent Smith) with a partner and a thriving practice who’s also a happily married man with two teen-aged children.

NORA PRENTISS

   Well, maybe not so happily married. Doctor Talbot’s a mild-mannered creature of punctuality and habit, and his love life at home has gradually disappeared to less than nothing.

   Some mild, good-natured flirting by Nora Prentiss during her first office visit does more than remind him of that, it shakes him up and down and back again.

   She finds his reaction amusing at first, but more and more she finds herself taking his intentions seriously. We (the viewer) do not get to see the details of the burgeoning romance, but we certainly know what’s going on.

   And if it were not for the prologue, in which we see a man in a jail cell, accused of Dr. Talbott’s murder, we would not know we are in a film noir movie at all, but since we do, we have a different perspective throughout the movie than even the characters themselves do, and into more and more difficulty do they certainly get — in true noir fashion all the way.

NORA PRENTISS

   Ann Sheridan, she of the lovely face and body and low contralto voice, is obviously the star, but even though she is the “other woman” in this film, it is nearly innocently so. It is Kent Smith who undergoes the drastic twists of fate which this movie provides, in abundance, and on whose shoulders rests the burden of making the viewer feel as though it could actually happen.

   I think he succeeds, but Kent Smith, a long-time but strictly second-tier movie and TV star and one you perhaps never heard of, lacks the charisma or sex appeal, to put it bluntly, to pull it off his role in this movie completely.

NORA PRENTISS

   One wonders, at times, what a real life Nora Prentiss would see in an equally real life Dr. Talbot, best described as I said above as mild-mannered. Distinguished and accomplished, yes, but still rather weak and ineffectual.

   Given that small quibble, plus a much more outrageous trial that takes place after the prologue is caught up to, in terms of chronological events, this is nonetheless a noir film that is very much worth watching.

   If you have not seen it, and if you’ve read this far in the review, I very strongly recommend that you do.

NORA PRENTISS

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


LINDA BARNES – Lie Down With the Devil. St. Martin’s Minotaur, paperback, August 2009; hardcover edition, August 2008.

LINDA BARNES Lie Down with the Devil

   A couple of negative reviews I came across recently of a recent Linda Barnes Carlotta Carlyle novel made me wonder if I would find my generally favorable opinion of the series affected when I read Lie Down with the Devil. I must say that I didn’t and thought it one of the stronger outings in a while.

   Carlotta’s personal life has always been a strong factor in the series, with her relationship with Sam Gianelli, the son of a Boston mobster family, and her little “sister,” Paolina, now a teenager with a troubled past, both complicating her none too stable professional life.

   Sam has fled the country under threat of arrest for some serious crime he refuses to discuss with Carlotta, and Paolina, after the traumatic events of the previous novel Heart of the World, has been admitted to Mclean Hospital, a prestigious (and expensive) private facility where she is under treatment and continuous supervision, and refusing to speak with Carlotta.

   Blocked from contact with both Sam and Paolina, Carlotta is persuaded by her tenant Roz to accept a case in which a young woman, soon to be married, is suspicious about her fiance’s activities, and wants him under surveillance to determine what he’s up to.

   Sensing something off center about the explanation the young woman gives her, Carlotta still accepts the assignment, only to find, when the young woman is killed, the apparent victim of a random hit-and-run accident, that she’s been conned by the woman, and the case is linked to the Gianelli family in a way that will profoundly change her life.

   Carlotta’s personal life may often take precedence over the investigations she undertakes, but her intelligence and dogged persistence in the face of daunting obstacles still make her one of the most richly conceived and intriguing protagonists in contemporary detective fiction.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini:


JON L. BREEN – The Gathering Place. Walker, hardcover, 1984; paperback, September 1986.

   Well known for a number of years as a critic, short-story writer, and parodist, Jon L. Breen turned to the writing of novels in 1983 with Listen for the Click, an affectionate parody/pastiche of the classic country-house mystery.

JON L. BREEN Gathering Place

   The Gathering Place, his second novel, is quite different — a bookshop mystery that combines the traditional fair-play whodunit with ghosts and other elements of the paranormal.

   When Oscar Vermilion dies of heart failure, his used book store on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, a fixture since 1935 and a gathering place for such literary lights as Nathaniel West and William Faulkner, is in danger of closing for good.

   But Vermilion’s niece, Rachel Hennings, inherits the property, and she has both experience of her own in running a bookshop and a desire to maintain her uncle’s legacy.

   That desire may not be easy to fulfill, however: Not long after her arrival from Arizona, Vermilion’s is broken into (although nothing is taken); ghostly manifestations begin to occur in the shop’s dusty confines (something guides her hand to write F. Scott Fitzgerald’s name in a copy of The Great Gatsby, a signature that turns out to be authentic); and she is presented with evidence that The Atlantis Courier, an early novel by leading Hollywood writer Arlen Kitchener, was actually ghostwritten by a man who was found murdered shortly after Oscar Vermilion’s death.

   Breen neatly meshes these diverse elements, and a budding romance between Rachel and newspaperman Stu Wellman, into a suspenseful tale that keeps the reader guessing on several fronts.

   Some may find the supernatural segments of the plot a strain on their credulity; this reviewer and general skeptic had no trouble with them, and in fact found that they add considerable depth and mystery to the story line. Another plus is the bookish lore and information the author weaves throughout the narrative.

   One other recommended title by Jon Breen is Hair of the Sleuthhound (1982), a collection of some of the best of his short spoofs of distinguished crime writers and their works.

         ———
   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: This book was previously reviewed on this blog by Marv Lachman.

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