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"We need to make books cool again. If you go home with someone & they don't have books, don't fuck 'em."--John Waters

I'm the author of more than twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE DEAD LETTERS, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. Look for my next one THE LAST KIND WORDS due out May '12 from Bantam Books. Contact: PicSelf1@aol.com

Monday, April 30, 2012

2 New Reviews: The Twenty-Year Death & The Red Scarf


A brazen, bold, innovative 3-novels-in-1 saga. Three shorter novels comprise the entire story of American writer Shem Rosencranz and his beautiful French bride Clothilde. Each of the three titles is written in the style of a noted crime writer from the decade in which that portion of the story takes place.

Spoiler Alert: Due to the nature of the large book, I’ve reviewed each novel separately, including important plot-points that carry on from one title to the next. If you don’t want to know key threads of the story before going in, you might want to skip the synopses and go straight to the last paragraph.

MALNIVEAU PRISON, taking place in 1931, is written in the style of Georges Simenon. When a convicted thief's body is found in the overflowing gutter of a town near Malniveau Prison, it seems that he may just be one of several escapees. Was he murdered in the prison and then dumped outside, was he killed by other convicts, the police, or someone from the town? It's up to Chief Inspector Pelleter to find out. Clearly he's unwanted at the prison. The warden has coincidentally taken a vacation and Assistant Warden Elogieaux is aggressively unhelpful. The dead thief's daughter Clothilde and her bitter husband, acclaimed writer Shem Rosencranz, may have also played some strange role in how the man died. Also on hand is the vicious Mahossier, an unconscienciable killer of children, who may have had something to do with the two young boys who've gone missing from town. Pelleter must follow clues small and big to derive the truth from this intense and involving mystery.

1941's THE FALLING STAR is written with all the hip swagger of Raymond Chandler. When private eye Dennis Foster is called in to a film studio to help babysit their new star Chloe Rose (Clothilde's Americanized name) Foster gets the feeling that he's being set-up by the powers that be. Chloe claims that she's being stalked around the studio, on set, and even at home. Her husband Shem is a burned out drunk who now knocks out pornographic literature for a low-level wiseguy and fools around on his wife. Foster decides to actually do some investigating though and asks a lot of pointed questions at people who don't like to give answers. He's pulled from the case, paid off, and told to let things slide. Instead, Foster is just urged to a greater resolve to find out what's going on. He stumbles onto the work of a serial killer, and helps Chloe to seek out professional psychiatric help as she begins to suffer a nervous breakdown from the various pressures inflicted upon her.

1951's POLICE AT THE FUNERAL is written with all the brutal noir flavor of Jim Thompson. Here, Shem narrates the tale as we learn Chloe is still in the expensive private sanitarium she landed in at the end of book two. Shem's descent has continued over the last ten years and he's now shacked with his part-time prostitute girlfriend. Shem's wealthy first wife has died, and he meets his now grown hateful son, Joe, at the reading of the will. Shem is in dire need of money but his wife leaves him nothing and their son everything. As an extra insult, there's a codicil that states if Joe had died first, Shem would have gotten it all. As you might guess, this doesn't prove to Joe's benefit. During a loud argument that turns physical, Joe is accidentally killed, and as Shem tries to cover up the fact, he winds up getting deeper and deeper involved with more murders and bigger problems. The police are suspicious of him, his girlfriend's other steady customer, a mob boss, has bought up all of Shem's outstanding debts, and he can't run until the terms of the will are settled and he gets his money.

Writing three books that manage to have their own separate narratives and yet still manage to follow one sub-plot from title to title is an accomplishment. But then to do each book with a different narrative, noted voice, skew the suspense towards that particular kind of writing, and make each one a page-turner is nothing short of astonishing. The three titles are each strong book in their own right, and when added together they form an even greater momentum. The change-up of narratives doesn't throw the reader off, but instead grips him even more tightly. You've never read a book quite like THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH. You'll be amazed, intrigued, awestruck, and extremely impressed. Another major feather in Hard Case Crime's dirty fedora.

THE RED SCARF by Gil Brewer.

It's nice to see that classic hardboiled/noir writer Brewer has had something of a resurgence. In recent years he's been reprinted by Hard Case Crime, Stark House, and now New Pulp Press.

Roy Nichols is hitching back to St. Pete Florida after failing to get his rich brother to give him a loan so Roy and his wife, Bess, can keep their declining motel running. During a bad thunderstorm he's picked up by a shady pair, Noel and Viv, a tense and argumentative couple. While passing a bottle of whiskey around things go black and Roy awakens to the aftereffects of a car crash. Noel is seemingly dead and Viv is lugging a briefcase full of cash with a red scarf tied around it.. Turns out Noel was a courier for the mob, and now Viv has a chance to run with the money. Roy will get a badly needed cut if he'll hide Viv for a few days. Eventually he agrees and soon finds himself in deep trouble. Noel turns up alive, a mob hitman is hot on the money's trail, Bess knows Roy is lying to her, and suddenly murder and the cops are on hand.

Gil Brewer was a master of tension. You can feel Roy's desperation even as he walks step by step down the road that will probably lead to his own destruction. But like any great noir hero, there's no way he can stop himself. He's got a date with an evil fate and there's nothing he can do to avoid it. Driven towards his own doom, Roy stumbles and fights and struggles against the forces surrounding him, even as he refuses to let go of the money and meets his destiny head-on.


Unknown said...

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