Tag Archive: pulp noir


Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s a strange thing.  Kotaro Isaka’s 2004 novel Three Assassins, newly released in an English translation, is actually better than his later work in the same world, his 2011 novel Bullet Train, released in English last year and reviewed here at borg.  It’s difficult to tell whether translator Sam Malissa simply did a better job this time, or if Isaka’s writing was better earlier in his career.  At about half the page count as Bullet Train, this prequel of sorts is certainly a better edited piece of fiction.  It has little in common with his other novel, and its brand of storytelling emulates Quentin Tarantino’s 1990s brand of pulp novel nostalgia.  Unfortunately Three Assassins seems past its time.  Sympathetic to the lives of “philosopher killers” for hire, its melancholy questions about the meaning of life seem dated and out of place today.  Although it amps up the intrigue in its final chapters, this feels pretty thin as action thrillers go.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of sci-fi noir have another world to dive into.  It’s Jason Arnett and Rob Schamberger’s The Wave, a future world of colonization in the realm of Altered Carbon, Blade Runner, and Total Recall.  The first novella of The Wave is Rudow Can’t Fail (available now here at Amazon), following a few days in the life of Mars colonist William Rudow, a “fixit” who falls for the wrong dame, the wife of a wealthy corporate executive.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For Mike Hammer fans, every new story is worth the wait. Kiss Her Goodbye finds Hammer pal Captain Pat Chambers calling the old gumshoe out of his retirement in Florida to investigate whether a common friend really committed suicide. We meet Old Man Mike Hammer, not fully recovered from getting caught in the crossfire in his last big show. He’s ragged around the edges, but refuses to let a shelf full of pills and his loss of girth prevent him from pushing anyone out of his way. No matter how many guns they have drawn.

Max Allan Collins is back, taking notes left by Mickey Spillane and drawing them together into one of the most fun, and most down-to-earth, adventures of Hammer in New York City. This time he’s left to work his way through a Studio 54-inspired club, as he trips over dead bodies to learn the truth. But can Hammer really be Hammer without the lovable Velda? Originally published in 2011 in hardcover, Kiss Her Goodbye is now out in paperback, and with an all-new ending.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you can’t imagine the greatest noir crime story you ever read was about a firm of private investigators researching a claim of insurance fraud, you’d better get ready.  The fifth–and what appears to be final–retro re-issue of a classic work of crime fiction by Erle Stanley Gardner (who was, at his death, the best-selling American writer of all time) is now available from Hard Case Crime.  One of the novels Gardner penned under his pseudonym A.A. Fair, the author mastermind known for dozens of Perry Mason novels (60 in total) and Cool & Lam novels (30 total) penned Shills Can’t Cash Chips sixty years ago, and it’s as exciting, current, funny, and full of intrigue as any modern bestseller.  Gardner’s Bertha Cool and Donald Lam are back at it again.  Although Hard Case Crime notes this is the last of their series of Gardner books (with this review I’ve reviewed all but one, including Turn on the Heat, The Count of 9, and the first ever publication of Gardner’s “lost,” Cool & Lam novel, The Knife Slipped)–which is a sad thing–that just means it’s time to begin tracking down the rest.   

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Is there a better way you can think of for New Year’s Eve than spend it with Nick and Nora Charles and their spunky dog Asta?  If you haven’t met them yet, read on, or just check out the TCM marathon tomorrow featuring Dashiell Hammett’s iconic trio as played by William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Skippy.  Find the amiable, put-upon, imbibing hilarity and forced sleuthing–and much more–with 1934’s “Pre-Code” movie The Thin Man, followed by After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), and Song of the Thin Man (1947), beginning tomorrow morning at 8:15 a.m. Central on TCM tomorrow all day–appropriately on New Year’s Eve.

But where did it all begin?  In Hammett’s 1934 novel The Thin Man.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If there is a better writer of pulp crime fiction in the long history of the genre than Erle Stanley Gardner, I don’t know who it is.  Yes, Mickey Spillane and Donald E. Westlake are in the running, too, but even if you push aside Gardner’s more than 60 novels featuring Perry Mason, you’re going to be challenged to find a better duo of detectives from the 1930s onward than Gardner’s Bertha Cool and Donald Lam.  Gardner wrote 29 novels published in his lifetime featuring the larger than life Bertha of the B. Cool Detective Agency and loyal and well-trod upon employee Lam, the narrator of the tales who lost his license to practice law and uses his smarts to keep money coming in to the agency.  Where the Hard Case Crime imprint is at its best is finding lost gems, and they have one in The Knife Slipped, written by Gardner and intended to be the duo’s second case, the publisher kicked it way back in 1939 because of Bertha’s brash, bombastic, and profane style.  Maybe that attitude just reflected the era of the day, but reading the novel now it’s clear Gardner was ahead of his time. 

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Some writers are great at writing crime novels from the perspective of the detective, some are great at writing as the criminal, and then there are writers like Donald E. Westlake who had it all figured out.  The latest publication of a classic Westlake novel from Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime imprint is from the vantage of a murderer who keeps getting wrapped deeper and deeper into his web of lies.  The novel is A Travesty, a 1977 pile-on of crime references and tropes about a film critic trying to prove wrong the maxim “crime does not pay”–featured in a new 2-for-1 trade edition with the short story Ordo titled Double Feature, and originally released together under the title Enough.

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Are Snakes Necessary

Review by C.J. Bunce

The director of The Untouchables, Scarface, Carrie, and Mission: Impossible and writer/director of screenplays for more than a dozen noir thriller films including Body Double, Blow Out, Dressed to Kill, Obsession, and Femme Fatale has penned his first novel.  Along with former New York Times editor Susan Lehman, celebrated movie writer/director Brian De Palma delves into a story of intrigue behind a fictional 2016 senatorial campaign in the new political thriller Are Snakes Necessary? arriving in two weeks from Hard Case Crime.  The modern pulp noir follows intersecting characters in a smarmy world of cheating, lying, and murder, from Las Vegas to Washington to Paris.

A senator and his majordomo encounter a woman from the senator’s past at an airport, and the senator is eager to welcome her daughter as an intern to document his campaign.  Meanwhile, a struggling photographer gets mixed up with the trophy wife of a wealthy businessman in Las Vegas.  Two married couples–a cheating wife and a cheating husband–the wife a victim of spousal abuse seeking to get out, and a politician with a sick wife staking out his next conquest.  And somehow they all come together during a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, based more toward the underlying novel, which was set in France (I reviewed the novel a few weeks ago here at borg).

In a way Are Snakes Necessary? is De Palma taking a stab at doing his own play on Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski.  Fans of The Girl on the Train, Chinatown, State of Play, and the sleazier shelf of 1970s era pulp crime novels will go for this one, along with fans of De Palma’s films.  More about 20th century sexual politics than 21st century sexual politics and less about a political campaign, the snakes in the title are the men who continue to get away with manipulation, lies, and sometimes murder.

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The 24 issues of Matt Kindt′s Dept.H series is everything we look for at borg–science fiction, action, adventure, retro, mystery, noir.  And it all arrived in one comic book series from Dark Horse.  Writer/artist Matt Kindt has said his series Dept.H was inspired by 1970s G.I. Joes, Fisher Price Adventure People toys, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Jacques Cousteau, and readers felt all of that come through. From the patch on the underwater crew outfits that evoked the classic 1960s/1970s G.I. Joe Adventure Team to the SP-350 diving saucer from the famed Calypso in the craft that takes the characters to the depths of the ocean floor in the opening pages, to the setting and Department H Headquarters based on the ocean floor that screams H.G. Wells, Dept.H is one of the decade’s top comic book series.  And it’s now coming your way in two paperback omnibus editions beginning next week.

Best known for his run on his Mind MGMT series, Eisner Award nominee Kindt wrote and illustrated the story, with coloring supplied by Sharlene Kindt, his wife.  In part the series is an Agatha Christie-inspired closed room case.  We meet Mia Hardy, who has been asked to find the mole in the undersea lab, a mole who is believed to have sabotaged the base and murdered her father.  Mia has worked with the suspects before, providing the opportunity for the writer to hold back information and share with us bits and pieces when necessary.  Who killed Mia’s father?  Was it Q, the head of Dept. H security?  Her father’s business partner Roger?  The frenetic head of research Jerome?  Demolition expert Bob?  Her childhood friend turned enemy Lily?  Her own brother Raj?  Or Aaron, the research assistant?  Or was it someone topside?

 

Readers feel the pressure of undersea operations as Mia is plunged into her own peril, as the facility again is sabotaged before she can work her way though all the suspects.  How long can Kindt take us for this suffocating adventure before letting us come up for air?  The page design even features a graduated flood gauge at the pages’ edges that slowly “fills up” with water issue after issue.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of any character or universe love their fandom and often can’t get enough of it.  It’s why writers keep writing new versions of Frankenstein 201 years later and new stories featuring James Bond 66 years later and Sherlock Holmes 132 years later.  Fans of writer Mickey Spillane′s Mike Hammer novels (or the Darren McGavin or Stacy Keach television series) have not just the 13 novels Spillane wrote beginning 72 years ago, but now a full two dozen thanks to Spillane’s co-conspirator of hard-boiled crime and his successor, Max Allan Collins.  In last year’s centenary of Spillane’s birth, that meant the release of the unpublished first Mike Hammer novel Killing Town (reviewed here at borg).  Using the combined talents of Spillane and Collins, it’s a crime story as good as they get.  With the latest team-up of Spillane and Collins, Murder, My Love, Collins proves he has mastered the voice of the famous cop-turned-private eye.  This book is 100% end-to-end Collins, as the writer says he worked from Spillane’s notes but all of the prose is new material.  And that’s fabulous, because this book is all Mike Hammer at his best.

As with Killing Town, Collins’ Murder, My Love is a shorter Hammer novel and a quick read.  Personally at 200 pages I find it the ideal length–all pulp novels, classic paperback mysteries, true crime novels, etc. should be able to be gobbled up in a single trip (like on a Greyhound bus from Detroit to Cincinnati or a train from Omaha to Denver).  I soaked up Murder, My Love in two sittings, and it was an entirely satisfying read, complete with Hammer and his assistant/also cop-turned P.I., Velda, who Collins writes cleverly here first person in a few pages of “off-camera” playback that is some of the best material in the book.

Max Allan Collins signing at San Diego Comic-Con in 2018.

It’s a story set later in Hammer’s career, with Collins establishing a perfect picture of New York City from a few decades ago as he takes a U.S. senator on as a client, a senator with White House ambitions.  Unfortunately he and his wife have a history of extramarital affairs and now someone else knows, resulting in blackmail.  Hammer and Velda embark on the detective work, interviewing the subjects of the senator’s liaisons.  Once they find the schemer behind the blackmail, that’s when the body count begins.  One-by-one the possible suspects end up dead, and Hammer isn’t exempt from getting in the line of fire.

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