Archive for murder plot

Savage Night – Jim Thompson (Lion Books, 1954)

Posted in crime noir, noir fiction, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , on December 25, 2011 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

The narrator of this fine noir novel is Carl Bigelow, once known as Little Bigger, a notorious hit man for the mob who is five feet tall and perpetually looks like a kid. He has been hiding out in Arizona, running a gas station, having got a new set of teeth, contact lenses, and a new life…but he is suffering from a lung ailment that has him coughting up blood from time to time.

“The Man” has found him…The Man is a mysterious syndicate guy who one day is in the papers for indictments, beats them, and a month later he is seen in society pages yukking it up with the judges and politicians who were trying to convict him of this or that. We realize it is all for show, and it is all about money.

There is a fellow who is abut to tur state’s evidence because he cannot deal with jail, and Carl Littke Bigger has been found and hired t take the guy out. Carl cannot say no to the job, or The Man will just have him killed, just as The Man orders Carl to kill a mutual acquanitance to prove he still has a killer inside him.

The plot for murder is an intricate one: Carl moves to the snall town where the target lives, enrolls in the local teacher’s college as a cover, and rents a room in the house of te very target…there he seduces and plays emotional games with the target’s lonely ex-singer/stripper wife, and the crippled maid, Ruthie, who also goes to the college.

Ruthie needs crutches because ne of her legs, at the knee, did not fully form, and there at the knee isna tiny foot wth tiny toes. Carl witnesses this tiny foot when he ravishes Ruthie in his bedroom in one of the most perverse sex scenes to come out of noir fiction yet.

I could see Mickey Rooney in this part, c. 1960 or so…a small tough guy. How does this five foot fellow charm the ladies? They crave attention and he gives it to them — he is s charmer, and flatters them, and gets them to love him…the idea, he tells The Man, is to get the wife to actually help him murder the target, and he will patsy her and make it look like she did it alone.

Instead, he frames Ruthie, and then runs away with her…he runs because he knows The Man will take him out after he does the job, to insure no loose ends.

The local good ol’ boy sheriff suspects him, checks him out…and in a bold and swifty move, Carl frames himself by sending an anonymous note stating who he really is, the notorious Little Bigger, but shen it all comes up to look like b.s., it helps him in his plan.

But Carl is insane…he is dying from his ailment, he knows he will never get out of the grip of the mob, and he slowly goes nuts…he may even have fallen for Ruthie, the cripple girl he has knocked up and framed for murder.

The last 10 pages are bizarre…we are not sure what is reality and what are hallucinations…did he kill Ruthie and the baby in her or has she murdered him? Did she ever exist? Has this whole novel been the wild paranoid fantasies of a dying man?

An amazing read…evidence of Thompson’s brilliance as the, yes, Fyodor D. of crime spree. Existential, literate, and American all the way.

Nothing More Than Murder

Posted in crime noir, noir fiction, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , on November 29, 2011 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

Jim Thompson’s third novel znd first cri e noir, published in 1954 by Harper and Row and then in paperback by Dell, before he started writing mainly for Lion Books.

Narrated by Joe Wilmot, he is not as cold blooded as later narrators, yt he has no moral compass when it comes to murder. He and his older wife run a small down movie theater. Theirs is a loveless marriage., especially when she catches him smooching with the honely teen employee, Carol.

His wife wanys out, and there is insurance money to be had. They hire a woman the same size as her, kill her, set the house on fire so the body is charred.  She takes off and waits for the insurance money. Meanwhile, Joe uis being blackmailed by two men who suspect he killed his wife for the money, Carol is in on it and will mess it up, and an insurance investigator is hounding him in a friendly way.

What can I say? Great read, but what Thompson is not?

The Many Faces of John Dexter #9: Stripper! by Robert Silverberg (Nightstand #1530, 1960)

Posted in crime noir, John Dexter, Nightstand Books, noir fiction, pulp fiction, Robert Silverberg, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2010 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

Strippers and hookers, call girls and club dancers were always good fodder for softcore novels back in the day (and still are, with more hardcore tossed in).  This is one of the few Nightstand/Corniths that is a single word high concept title without SIN, LUST, or SHAME.

Stripper! is told in the female first-person voice (making one wonder why this wasn’t penned by Marlene Longman, that Silverberg used for Sin Girls): Diana DeLisle, 22, is a dancer/singer at The Pelican Club who has moved from chorus line to solo act, meaning she has to strip completely naked and sing a song.  There’s a live band. This Philadelphia strip show is actually a show, where a dancer had to do more than just gyrate on a pole as they do these days.  This is a “class act” with both men and women watching, where the woman wear elegant gowns and are only seen fully nude the last ten seconds, as a big tease.

Diana loves her work: “It excites me to take my clothes off in front of an audience. It gets me all hot. That’s why it’s so easy for me to do it I like it” (p. 9).  She’s an exhibitionist.  In my own encounters with strippers — I’ve been known to date and live with a few in other younger years — some women get into it beyond the need for money: they just like to dance, or they get off on strangers looking at their naked bodies.

One ex-girlfriend dancer told me: “I’m like a marriage therapist. I keep married people together — when these married men watch me, they get hot and horny and they go back home and fuck their wives crazy, imagining they’re fucking me. The wife’s happy, the husband’s happy, I’m happy — the world is happy.”

Another told me:  “The men are like flies and I am the spider, they’re in my web and I draw them in, and I suck their energy away.”  (For more on interviews with strippers, see my ethnographic study, Zona Norte.)

Many strippers in te U.S. will say they are not also prostitutes. Not that case wth Diana. From day one she knows she has to sleepwith the club manager, Mack, whenever he wants her; othertimes she may go home with a customer if the price is right.

In comes Johnny Lukas, big time crime and Vegas roller, who owns the seven Pelican Clubs across the nation and has his hands in a lot of illicit business, from money aundering to abortion clinics to white slavery.  He takes a liking to Diana she at the behest of Mack, she sleeps with him.  Johnny son wants to set her up as a main mistress in New York.  Mack has been vying for this, because he is plotting to murder his boss, Mr. Lukas, with the help of Diana.

Diana is to get Lukas away from his bodyguards and somewhere remote, phone Mack, and Mack will kill him…the police will think nothing because he is a mob guy with enemies, and the IRS and FBI have been investgigating him (Lukas admits to Diana he was happier as a Vegas gamber living day to day, that having money and power is more a burden than asset).

Diana has no choice…Mack will have her tortured if she doesn´t agree, and if she rats Mack out to Lukas, Lukas will have her killed for being a rat because one day she may turn on him, and she will know that Lukas had Mack killed for his scheme.  She is stuck in a Catch-22 here.

This is a good crime-sex novel, something that could have been a condensed Manhunt novella at the time, but the female narrative does not ring true, we can tell this is a man writing as a woman…but that does not really matter. Again, Silverberg told a compelling page-turning yarn in 1960.

The 1973 Reed Nightstand version is called One Bed Too Many, with an appropriate cover, and “by” Jeremy Dunn, which was the later name for John Dexter…

Summer Hotel – Orrie Hitt (Beacon, 1958)

Posted in Beacon Books, crime noir, Orrie Hitt, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , on February 22, 2010 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

Catskill hotels, resort hotels, and shabby hotels and the people who work in such places are one of Orrie Hitt’s obsessive themes — seen in Hotel Woman, Hotel Hostess, Hotel Girl, Shabby Street, and others.

Hitt knows the ins and outs of hotel management well, from renting rooms to keeping the food stocked to dealing with the petty ways workers make extra money and make each other in the off hours.

The narrator is McKenzie Osmund, “Mac” to people, who worked as a professional hotel manager until recently, when at one hotel his lover and some other guy she was seeing, an old con pal, set him up as the fall guy for running prostitutes out of the hotel. No one could prove it, nor did anyone believe his story, but now he can’t get a job in the hotel industry where he was used to making $150-180 a week.  Instead, he is making $50 a week as a short-order cook in a greasy spoon, a job he hates.  He gets fired from that job too.

He does find a job at the Parsons Hotel, with summer looming, despite  the scandal — the property was recently taken over by an odd couple:  Jack is an overweight, lazy diabetic and his wife, Diana, is young, 22, vibrant, sexy, with red hair and long legs.  We’ve seen this badly mixed marriages in Hitt’s books before — in this case, Jack was a friend of her father’s who promised to look after her…and boy did he by getting her drunk, taking her to bed, and convincing the naive virgin girl she was pregnant and had to marry him…

So here we are, Mac working for them, Mac has eyes for her, Jack is impotent and low-energy. Mac starts to sleep with Diana; Diana tells him about a $25,000 life insurance policy on Jack, and the hotel, and how they would be better off is Jack was not around.

Mac reads in a medical book how diabetics can accidentally die if derpived on insulin…

Yep: he’s thinking  murder for the woman and money.  We’ve seen this James Cain-like set-up in too many Hitt novels, but since this is from 1958, this is actually not yet old hat in Hitt’s publication timeline.

Still, it is predicable in some ways, and in others not.  Mac isn’t the heel some Hitt heroes are; he’s actually a good guy.  But when he pays the hospital bill for the daughter of the woman he rents a room from, a teenage girl who is pregnant and doesn’t know who the father is (or so she claims) and loses the child to still-birth, the girl’s mother accuses Mac of being the father — why else would a man pay a big hospital bill like that?

Then the girl falls in love with him, and he gives in and has sex with her, but knows it’s a big mistake.  So she’s the second woman; the third is a waitress at the diner he worked at, but it’s just a romp in the car and he gives her money after. Mac isn’t jumbling the three like some Hitt heroes tend to do.

Then he discovers that Diana is running hookers out of the summer hotel — girls who work as waitresses or maids but make money “on the side” with forty percent going to the hotel.  Mac is worried the cops will come down on them, especially since he is plotting a murder. But the place starts to look like a roman orgy:

It was an assortment, I tell you. We had everything at Parson’s Ranch. Guys held hands with guys and girls held hands with girls — or something else. I don’t know. I didn’t watch them. (p. 170)

Is he a sucker like some Hitt heroes, duped into committing a crime by an evil woman?  Why spoil it for you…

It has a happy ending.

Summer Hotel is a good read — on the Hitt Scale, an 8.5.

Web of Murder – Harry Whittington (Gold Medal #740, 1958)

Posted in crime noir, noir fiction, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , on February 5, 2010 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

One of Harry Whittington’s better known novels and Gold Medal titles (reprinted by Black Lizard in 1993), “web” is fitting in the title as attorney Charley Brower digs himself into one giant whole of a mess as he attempts to plot the perfect murder of his wife, Cora.

See, Charley is in love with his secretary, Laura.  He knew he should have fired the sexy, leggy and busty Laura before something bad happened, or good, and it does — he takes the girl to bed and the two fall in love but they cannot be together because of his wife.

He has been wanting a divorce from Cora for years but she won’t grant him one.  She doesn’t mind if he cheats on her, she won’t give him up.  She has plenty of money, inherited from a father who put Charley though law school, but she does not let him have any of it — he has to fend for himself by defending criminals.  And now he is about to become a criminal himself.

A murderer who, it seems, is up for consideration by the Governor of Florida to become a Circuit Court Judge.

The writing is extra-terse, noir-ish and hardboiled, and Whittington packs into one chapter three normal chapters of action and information. It moves with the same speed as You’ll Die Next! and notably different from his Cornith titles.

We just know a monkey wrench or two is going to be tossed into his well-plotted plan, this wouldn’t be a crime novel unless that were so.  The first thing we wonder is: does Laura really love him, or is she playing him and her own game?

Brower in many ways is a sociopath, the cool, calm way he devises his plan and then murders Cora — here he is, a lawyer, up for a judge’s appointment, a pillar of the community, when deep down he’s a stone-cold homicidal whack job.

But after he suffocates Cora dumps her body in Indiana, Laura’s beaten dead body shows up in Florida and the cops at first think she is Cora…

What a mess…

What a web!

Would it be a spoiler to state that he does pull off the perfect murder? That he gets off scrott-free from Cora’s homicide…but at what price?  The price he pays for “freedom” seems to him that the elctric chair would’ve been a better option.

A good introduction to Harry Whittington’s genius storytelling if you’ve never read him before…

The Black Lizard edition, along with others that publisher reprinted, includes an essay from Whittington, “I Remember It Well,” chronicling his career as a pulp meister hacker — from his early days with Gold Medal and that success, to Hollywood, to his fall writing a book a month for William Hamling for much needed cash.  His career was certainly quite up and down, and today he is hailed as the King of Paperbacks from 1950-1965.

Soon on this blog I will be reading more Whittington but focusing on his Cornith/Greenleaf sleaze novels as John Dexter, J.X. Williams and Curt Coleman, one from Novel Books, one from Bedtime, a couple from Beacon under pen names…

Dirt Farm – Orrie Hitt (Beacon, 1961)

Posted in crime noir, noir fiction, Orrie Hitt, pulp fiction with tags , , on January 29, 2010 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

This has all the usual Hitt themes and motifs: the hired hand on a farm, the slave-driving farmer, the young vixen who wants the farmer dead so she can get his land and money, the patsy protagonist who falls into her trap…

Butch Hagen is another typical Hitt hero:

He was a massive man, six inches over six feet, and weighing in at an even two hundred.  In his twenty-five years he had been in any number of brawls but nobody ever licked him. (pp. 7-8)

We’ve seen the set-up in various books, like Violent Sinners, Two of a Kind, The Widow, Pleasure Ground, etc.  This time, however, the vixen, 19 year old Candy Roberts, is not the younger wife of the farmer, but the niece of Clay Billings, the owner of Friendly Farms, and she wants her evil mean uncle done in with — she has tried to talk various hired hands into it, using her body and charms, and here comes big ol’ Butch, ready to fall for the scam and do the deed, owing much in homage to James M. Cain.

While this novel covers no new ground for Hitt, it is quite well-written — excellent prose with re-used material gives this a B-minus on the itt Scale.

The Many Faces of John Dexter #4: Sharing Sharon by Harry Whittington (Idle Hour Books #402, 1965)

Posted in crime noir, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2009 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

A great sadistic-in-nature cover for this Harry Whittington-penned John Dexter,  one of the “The Missing 38” Whittngton penned for Cornith/Greenleaf from 1964-67.

Lynn Munore describes this one as

James M. Cain country: Sharon seduces her young lover Steve into murdering Pete, her older, well-to-do husband. Steve does not need much convincing. Cain told this same story in masterpieces like THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and DOUBLE INDEMNITY. SHARING SHARON is not a masterpiece. Not knowing just how to classify this genre, bookstores usually group Cain with the murder mysteries. But there is no mystery who killed the husband. We are in on it from the start and ride it out right to the end of the line.

Steve is a punk, arrested for robbing Pete’s grocery store by a tough cop named Frank Lock. Pete is a kind-hearted guy, who arranges a job at his store for Steve on probation. That’s where Steve meets Sharon. Sharon is all screwed up because she was molested as a young girl by kindly old Uncle Wilbur…

Indeed, the incest history Sharon has are pretty explicit for a book of this era;  by 1965 things were less stringent. “Molest” isn’t the correct term — for all the innocence feigned, we gradually learn that Sharon is a calculating, manipulative dame fatale; she makes men feel as if they are controlling her, when in fact she’s the puppet-master, using her sexuality to hoodwink them…

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Wild to Possess by Gil Brewer (Monarch Books #107, 1959)

Posted in crime noir, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , , on December 4, 2009 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

Gil Brewer started off with hits for Gold Medal, but all was not milk and honey for the noir author, as Bill Pronzini notes at The Mystery FIle:

His success had begun to wane.  Overexposure, a slowly changing market, the darkening nature of his fiction. . . these and intangibles had led to a steady decline in sales of his Gold Medal and Crest originals after the high-water mark of 13 French Street, to the point where Fawcett decided to drop him from its list.  In his world-by-the-tail decade, he published twenty-three mostly first-rate novels under his own name, fifteen of those with Fawcett; between 1961 and 1967, he published a total of seven mostly mediocre novels – one last failure with Gold Medal (The Hungry One, 1966) and the other six with second-line paperback houses (Monarch, Berkley, Lancer, Banner).

Wild To Possess is one of those titles from Monarch. The protagonist, Lew Brookbank, has been bouncing around Florida for six months, running away from the craziness of his life — his wife, Janice, had been having an affair with a boat bum they knew, Deke Clarkson, and when he went to the guy’s boat to catch and confront them, he found both their dead bodies, shot up.

Freaked out, he took the boat out, dumped their bodies in the ocean, and let the boat drift off.  He had a Luger and figured the cops might try to pin the murders on him. He then started to wander, planted himself in Gulfville, a small Florida town, got a girlfriend, Rita, and tried to forget…only, he drinks more and more trying…

And one day, while posting real estate signs along the road, deep in the flora and fauna, by the swamps,  he overhears a man and a woman talking about a kidnap for ransom plot.  He follows them to the woman’s house and, like an Orrie Hitt peeper, he watches them from the window and listens to their scheme: they are going to kidnap his wife, whose mother is rich, and demand $250,000 in ransom. They are Isobel and Ralph; his wife is Florence. But they don’t plan to release Flo, they can’t; they are going to murder her and run off with the loot…always the loot, the payday, easy money, ill-gained cash, the greenbacks that drive many a noir and Brewer character…

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The Vengeful Virgin by Gil Brewer (Crest Book #238, 1958)

Posted in crime noir, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2009 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

Brewer - Venegful Virgin

Gil Brewer – another self-destructive writer of interesting crime and sleaze novels that, like William Knoles, Elaine Williams, and countless others, drank himself to death, and is nearly forgotten except by crime noir, vintage paperback, and paperback history buffs.

Brewer, like Harry Whittington, lived in Florida and set most of his novels there.  The Veneful Virgin is another one of those “let’s kill the ruch old man and take his money and I’ll fuck you forever, darling” novels with a wayward beauty and a dizzy heel.  This one has a twist, of sorts — the girl is the step-daughter of the rich old dying man, instead of the wife.

Jack is a TV repairman in his 20s.  He may be too good-looking for his own good, as women flock to him — an ex-girlfriend, Grace, he can’t get rid of, an 18-year-old girl desperate for a new life, Shirley, and her lonely married neighbor.

Jack pays a visit for TV and intercom installations to a house and is set by auburn-haired bombshell Shirley, who takes care of her nearly invalid step-father, who has nearly $400,000 in the bank.  Shirley seduces Jack and tells him how much she wants out, needs out, and there’s money…Jack has no idea she’s a virgin when he takes her.

The two immediately plot the murder. To make things complicated, the woman next door has the hots for him and won’t leave him alone; her husband has been away to Alaska and she’s lonely.  And Jack’s possessive ex-, Grace, keeps showing up at the wrong place, wrong times.

The neighbor gets wind of the plot and Shirley kills the woman, and then they kill the step-father.  Jack disposes of the woman’s body into a bass lake.

All along, it’s hard to think how stupid Jack is, easily whipped by teen pussy into doing this.  That’s all that’s on his mind: her hot young body, plus the money she’s worth, and the new life both will give him…but many of these stories end up in a double-cross, right?  Even Jack wonders if she’s playing him.  But she’s not…she really is in love with Jack, until she wonders if he loves the money more than her.

People suspect, the cops come around…Jack and Shirley skip town with a bag full of cash, followed by his crazy ex and — yep, things just go to shit for poor Jack.  Our noir guys just never get away with the cash, the girl, and murder — they always have to meet tragic ends…

This is a fast-paced read — Brewe wrote it in a matter of days, like he did many of his best, and the writing doesn’t suffer, and we feel that dizzy sense of craziness.

I look forward to readng more Brewer books.

Hard Case Crime has also reprinted this.