Archive for Black Lizard Books

A Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson (Lion Books, 1954)

Posted in crime noir, noir fiction, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , , on March 10, 2011 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

Yawdry and sordid from the get go — door to door salesman Frank “Dolly” Dillon knocks on a door not only looking to sell some wares, but find a fellow who owes the company bucks. He encounters a 70 year old lady who is willing to let her young niece have sex with him in exchange for a set of silverware.  The set-up is the cover art on te original Lion Books edition, only the girl, Mona (was Lawrence Block influenced here, with his many Mona characters? Harry Whittington too?) does not have long flowing curly blond hair like the babe depicted, but messily chopped off hair.

When Frank, our narrator, takes Mona in a backroom, she immediately gets naked and he notices a bleeding welt on her.  Mona is very submissive and he knows her old aunt has been whoring the girl out to salesmen and other men in exchange for material goods.

Frank is disgusted and he can’t even get himself to fuck her. He promises Mona that he will come back and save her from this life of sexual slavery. He has no idea how. He first has to deal with his boss, Staples, who is breathing down his neck, and his alcoholic wife, a former cigarette girl in a club he used to frequent in Chicago. Her name is Joyce. They get in a fight and she runs off; he goes to work the next day and Staples has discovered that he’s done some creative bookeeping and taken the company for more than $300.  He’s arrested, and all he can think about is: what will poor Mona think when he doesn’t show uo?

Then get gets sprung by Mona, she pays his debt and he’s released. She has money — or, her aunt’s money, she stole it from a stash of money her aunt has. How much? One hundred grand.

Frank must have the money and the girl, and the only way to get both is to murder the old lady and frame someone for it — frame a dead beat immigrant handyman who owed Frank money on a a suit he didn’t make full payments on.

Of course, as in all noir tales like this, the murder doesn’t go exactly as planned, and things pop up, people get suspicious, like his wife who has seen the money and his boss who knows something is fishy…

Frank acts like he is smooth and knows what he is doing, but he’s actually a dupe, a fool, and a heel — or a fuck-up, and his fuck-ups lead to his evntualy downfall.

Any Jim Thompson is worth reading, and while this one has a few plot and logic flaws, who cares, it didn’t matter in 1954 and does not matter in 2011…A Hell of a Woman is a hell a read.  (The same year, Thompson and Lion Books published A Swell-Looking Babe, which we will get to soon.)

Black Lizard revived the book in the 1980s with a nifty cover.

Then this one…

The Vintage trade ppbk edition isn’t that nifty…trying too hard to be b%w noir, another corny generic cover by uninspired art directors.

The Getaway Man by Andrew Vachss (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Books, 2003)

Posted in crime noir, pulp fiction with tags , , , , on December 24, 2009 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

Not a “vintage” sleaze/crime/sex book, but written in the vintage mode, with a retro type cover, by noir-man Andrew Vahcss (“Vax”).

A few years ago, seemed Vintage/Black Lizard was going to issue some 50K-word trade paper originals, with that old time pulp feel, with covers to match — The Getaway Man was one of them, but seems that idea feel to the side. Too bad.  Then came Hard Case Crime, picking up on the notion…

This is Vachss’ Gold Medal book — has that Gold Medal sensibility and could have been one.  The first-person narrator is recruited to be a getaway driver in a heist; he’s a nowheere guy with a rap sheet from his juvenile days, but he can drive. And find trouble.

He doesn’t “sound” any different than many of Vachss nameless narrators in his short stories, or his characters Ghost and Cross; as for Burke, Burke is more distinct.  Vachss tosses in his trademark sexually abused children sub-plot, which is almost disappointing, that he goes back to an element that, while powerful, has become repetitive in his work.

I first discovered Vachss the summer of 1990; I stumbled on a used mass market reprint of Blue Belle (the third Burke novel), opened it, and was blown away by what I read.  I couldn’t put it down. I had never read crime fiction like this, and it was exciting — the very short chapters, the terse writing, the explicit sex and wild violence, along with dark taboo subjects like incest and child prostitution/porn. The novel was filled with an assortment of colorful characters who helped Burke out, from a transvestite hooker to a homeless rhyming philosopher and a Chinese dragon lady who acted as banker and momma.  Burke himself was a criminal private eye, sorta, a mixed character who was both a crook and avenger of the helpless, who toted a giant mastiff around in a souped up old car. Who the hell was this guy and why had I not found Vachss and Burke before?

I quickly picked up Vachss’ others, such as Hard Candy (the fourth, connected to Blue Belle), Strega, and others.  His first, Flood, was not as good — dense, too private-eye-esque; I later heard rumors that he was unable to sell it and “created” a fake literary agent to get editors to read, selling it finally to Donald I. Fine, not the best of the hardcover publishers at the time.

I have since heard many rumors that Vachss is a con guy and created that image of himself as the one-eyed tough guy lawyer as a marketing ploy (did he really lose his eye in a street fight from a thug with a bike chain?).  Who knows if this is true or made up by jealous competitors?  Does it matter?  Not really.  All promotional images are cons of hype one way or another.

I was a fan throughout most of the 90s, eager for every new Burke book; around the late 90s, the books started to become repetitive and dull, and disappointing.  He came back for me with Shella, and with The Getaway Man.

A recommended read.