Review: Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman

Don't Ever Get Old
Don’t Ever Get Old

Don’t Ever Get Old
Daniel Freidman
May, 2012

Listen, if you like hardboiled mysteries with quirky characters and an offbeat plot you should really just stop reading and go pick up Daniel Friedman’s debut novel Don’t Ever Get Old. In a bizarre twist Don’t Ever Get Old is one of two novels this summer to feature a geriatric protagonist (the other being Barry Fantoni’s Harry Lipkin, Private Eye) but don’t let Buck Schatz’s eighty-odd years fool you he is as mean and as tough as he was back when he was policing the streets, even if his memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be. The novel open’s with the deathbed confession of one of Buck’s former army buddies. The Nazi officer who tortured Buck during their internment at a POW camp survived the war and apparently escaped with car load of gold. This revelation nags at Buck and while he is initially reluctant to search for the offending Nazi a cavalcade to criminals, spies, and troubled individuals seemingly force him, and his grandson “Tequila,” into tracking down the gold.

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Review: The Black Hand by Will Thomas

The Black Hand by Will Thomas
The Black Hand by Will Thomas

The Black Hand
Will Thomas
Touchstone/Simon and Schuster, 2008

First Line: I stepped across the still of the conservatory, glass crunching under the heels of my boots, and steadied my Webley pistol with both hands, reluctant to step inside.

The Black Hand is what happens when one combines the allure of the 19th century detective with the skill and tendancies honed during the height of the hard-boiled error. Inspector Barker is a 19th Marlowe with kung-fu skills and a pair of inseparable sunglasses. Llewelyn, Barker’s apprentice is the slightly sarcastic, somewhat snide narrator whose voice dominates the novel. It is perhaps a little odd, and certainly unique amongst the crime and detective novel’s I’ve read thus far, that the narrator of the novel is not the quirky detective hero but rather his sidekick. Of course, calling Llewelyn a side kick is not entirely fair, he is slightly more to that. He is Barker’s apprentice, yes and he certainly isn’t as off-beat as his boss but he is still a unique character in his own right.

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Review: A Dance at the Slaughterhouse by Lawrence Block

Last Dance at the Slaughterhouse by Lawrence Block
Last Dance at the Slaughterhouse by Lawrence Block

A Dance at the Slaughterhouse
Lawrence Block
Avon, 1992 (HC: Morrow, 1991)

First Line: Midway into the fifth round the kid in the blue trunks rocked his opponent with a solid left to the jaw.

A Dance At the Slaughterhouse is the ninth novel to feature Lawrence Block’s private detective, Matthew Scudder.  Scudder, an unlicensed detective and currently sober alcoholic is hired to find out if (or how) a TV producer manged to stage the rape and murder of his own wife.  Of course, as with most of the detective novels I’ve read so far, that really only describes the plot at the outset.  Rivaling only The Long Goodbye with its twisting plot A Dance at the Slaughterhouse takes many turns before it finally arrives at a satisfying, thrilling, and morally ambiguous conclusion..

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Review: Promised Land by Robert B. Parker

Promised Land by Robert B Parker
Promised Land by Robert B Parker

Promised Land
Robert B. Parker
Dell Books, 1992 (Orig. 1976)

I’m from an generation for whom Avery Brooks is best known for playing Captain Sisco of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  For another generation, and a different set of genre fans, he is perhaps better known for his 65 episode run as Hawk, PI Spenser’s sometime companion (who even had his own short lived series A Man Called Hawk), in the TV’s Spenser for Hire.  Hawk, though present in Promised Land, makes a fairly limited (and first) appearance; though it is an appearance the certainly leaves an impression.

Promised Land like many a detective story before it begins with a fairly simple missing persons case.  PI Spenser is hired by a suburban businessman to find his missing wife.  As things progress the plot takes a dramatic shift in two different directions when the missing wife gets entangled with some shady characters while her husband must fend off local toughs.  The plot is fairly light on the actual mystery elements shifting away from the hermeneutic mode towards a greater emphasis on examining how Spenser reacts to the situation  (thus creating apprehension and excitement via the proairetic code).

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Review: The Zebra Striped Hearse by Russ Macdonald

The Zebra Striped Hearse by Russ Macdonald
The Zebra Striped Hearse by Russ Macdonald

The Zebra Striped Hearse
Russ Macdonald
Vintage, 1998 (orig. 1962)

First Line: She was waiting at the office door when I got back from my morning coffee break.

When trying to fill out my detective fiction reading with a broad spectrum spread across more than two decades I stumbled across the names Russ Macdonald and Lew Archer.  While The Underground Man seems to be most frequently cited as Macdonald’s best work to feature PI Lew Archer (along with The Chill) I was unable to acquire a copy and instead “settled” for the Edgar Award Winning The Zebra Striped Hearse.  While it lacks the incisive social commentary frequently attributed to The Underground Man it is still a taught, thrilling, mystery that keeps you guessing until the end; and then some.

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Review: I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane

I, the Jury by Mickey Spilane
I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane

Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye with its lyrical prose and distinct voice is a tough act to follow.  It is no small surprise then that I, the Jury, the first of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels, falls a bit short when viewed alongside Chandler’s work.  Despite being roughly 30 years apart in age both Chandler and Spillane were publishing hardboiled fiction at the height of the genre’s popularity throughout the late 40s and fifties.  I, the Jury was published in 1948 just one year before the 5th Marlowe novel, The Little Sister and just two years after The Big Sleep starring Humphrey Bogart hit theaters.  In a bit of a reversal, it is interesting to note that just as The Long Goodbye was hitting print I, the Jury was hitting the silver screen in 3d (bizarre right?).  There has been a Mike Hammer novel published at least once a decade, there is a ten year gap between Kiss Me, Deadly in 1952 and The Girl Hunters in 1962 and the tail end of Spillane’s life is sparse in terms of publishing, with the latest novel The Goliath Bone completed by Max Collins and published posthumously in 2008.

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A Not So Simple Art

The Simple Art of Murder is both an essay and a collection of short stories by novelist Raymond Chandler.  As I begin to delve into my detective reading project it is the former, Chandler’s criticism of the detective genre and discussion of the nature of art in general, that is most pertinent to my own needs.  Chandler begins his essay by exclaiming that “Fiction of any form has always intended to be realistic.”  He delves rather quickly into the elements of his own genre, detective fiction, that seem to subvert fiction’s drive towards realism.  He says of detective fiction that it “….has learned nothing and forgotten nothing” and looks towards the classic authors of the British style with a harsh critical eye.  He dissects A. A. Milne’s The Red House of Mystery, lambastes the ridiculous nature of Murder on the Orient Express and, almost as an aside, comments that Sherlock Holmes is less a person and more of an idea and an attitude.  He succinctly sums up his opinion of British authors with this gem of a quote: “The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers.”

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