Friday, September 24, 2010

The Deep End by Owen Dudley

The Deep End by Owen Dudley
ACE D-195
Copyright 1956

But you don't shoot cops. That's the end, if you do. The real deep end.

Pete Summer lost his memory from a plane crash over Mexican waters. As his memory returns, he decides to hide out in a quiet Mexican town for a year. And for good reason. Back home in California they believe he killed the man that he was flying to South America on a mineral deal. Everyone thinks Pete Summer is dead until a visitor arrives bringing back bad memories. He learns that his gorgeous wife is now married to an ex-gangster. Not only does Pete miss his wife, he is totally obsessed with her. So he decides to head back home to reclaim his wife. And that may not be such a great idea.

His face hardened. "Let's not kid ourself. You've got a beautiful pan hooked onto a terrific body. But there's nothing behind the face. You just do what I tell you and keep your mouth shut."

Owen Dudley is just one pseudonym that author Dudley Dean McGaughey used. He wrote plenty of novels and short stories, and Westerns fill the bulk of his work. But he did churn out crime mysteries and even some movie novelizations. (my favorite is End of the World for the 1962 Ray Milland film Panic in Year Zero!) He's a darn good storyteller and his early Gold Medal Westerns are some the best that they published. As for The Deep End, it's not the best Dudley Dean book that I've read, but it has a interesting little plot going on.

Pete Summers is a veteran of two wars,WWII and Korea, and that helped mold him into a tough hombre. But the odds are stacked against him from the start. Once word gets out that he is alive and in town, just about everyone is out to get him. Pete's brother-in-law has positioned himself to benefit having Pete presumed dead. Pete's arrival has jeopardize that. His wife's new husband has three thugs hanging around, ready to get their hands on Pete. And then he discovers that the man who bought his old ranch has been bedding his wife for years. After being left for dead in an old sewer hole, Pete really sets out to clear his name from the murder charge and even it up against those who wronged him.

It's a story that has been told before, it even includes that young girl character who had a crush on Pete growing up and is willing to help him through his quest. I liked the Mexican tie-in and having an ex-gangster as his wife's new husband. There a bit about the old guy having trouble satisfying his wife and resorting to hormone ejections. (No Viagra in the 1950s fellas!) It's a hardboiled read and it has plenty of action, but there are really no surprises in the end. But that doesn't make it one that should be written off. Even though the cops and others are gunning for Pete, it really isn't a "man on the run" novel. Pete seems free to roam about as he uncovers secrets and lies from the past, many involving his wife who was everything to him. The novel zips along at a fast clip, and it has to because these ACE paperback novels rarely get beyond 150 pages. Overall a fairly decent job.

What is real good about this ACE Double paperback is the flip novel, The Quaking Widow by Robert Colby. Colby never got the fame and recognition that he deserved. Besides his outstanding Gold Medal paperbacks and his fine short stories, he had four novels published by ACE. I've read them all and The Quaking Widow is the best of the four.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Day Never Came by Steve Fisher

Day Never Came by Steve Fisher
Copyright 1938
Short Story in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,
Oct. 1953

He had no fear. If he died, then he died, and that would be that. But as long as he lived, he was looking out for himself. He took his living and his world without the hurrah of emotion.

Steve Fisher packs a lot in the pages of this short psychological thriller. Day Never Came is a bleak and dark story of a psychotic killer who gets a little too clever for his own good.

Set in prewar Shanghai as the Japanese are bombing the city, a isolated American Marine station waits for orders with a handful of jailed service members awaiting court-martial. Most involve petty stuff, but the Navy prisoner called Clark is in for espionage and as for moral principles, he has none. There is a witness out in the city and his only hope is to get to her before the trial. Clark plans and executes an escape which involves secretly murdering a guard. Dodging bombs he makes his way to the girl's apartment. The kicker is that the girl loves him, but that's a one way street for Clark and he ends up strangling her to keep her from testifying. Without being seen, Clark quitely sneaks back into the Marine brig and thinks he devised a solid alibi. Of course you can be a little too clever, and Clark surely is ... as we waits in his cell.

Readers of Steve Fisher's work know that he was a highly influential author in his day. Pulp, noir, and lives lost in the seedy underworld - his novels and stories are filled with a gritty, raw, (and yes, a romantic) edge on them. Day Never Came has all those. Unseen love, which Clark doesn't realize until it's too late. Madness, as he kills without remorse to save his neck. And pain, sadness, and a lost chance-as he sits in his locked cell at the end. For a short story it's very atmospheric and "the nasty's" what go around in Clark's head are oddly appealing. For me this short story came up as the best of the bunch in this fine 1953 edition of EQMM.

But that is not to say that the others weren't very good. Fredric Brown's 4 pager titled, Cry Silence is a masterfully written tale that questions, "was it murder or was it not." Which lines in parallel to the old question, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" Another enjoyable yarn is the retired cop story Before The Act. Thomas Walsh wrote solid cop mystery novels (some involve rogue cops) and after reading The Night Watch and Nightmare in Manhattan, I realized I'd stumbled on lost treasures. I enjoy his storytelling and when I come across an anthology with a short story of his in it, I'll but it. And that was the reason I bought this EQMM years ago.

Here are the stories in this October 1953 edition:

High Court by Thomas Kyd
Back In Five Years by Michael Gilbert
The Stroke Of Thirteen by Lillian de la Torre
Before The Act by Thomas Walsh
Laugh It Off by Charlotte Armstrong
Day Never Came by Steve Fisher
Cry Silence by Fredric Brown
A Wish For A Cigar by Will Scott
Ms. In The Safe by Frank Swinnerton
Night Of The Execution by Faith Baldwin
Helpless Victim by C.G. Lumbard
The World Series Murder by Rex Stout

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Kill Quick or Die by Stuart Jason

Kill Quick or Die by Stuart Jason
(The Butcher #1)
Pinnacle Books 5th ed.
Copyright 1971

"Like I said before," Bucher told him. "With Syndicate scum it's either kill quick or die."

Thirty seven year old "Butcher" Bucher has moved up quick in the Syndicate. With his sharp wits, fast reflexes, and concrete willpower-Bucher was in charge of the whole East Coast Division. But now he is out and quitting doesn't sit too well with the Big Boys. The Syndicate puts an one hundred thousand dollar "death tag" on his head, but Bucher can handle anything they throw at him. Enter the U.S. Government who sees value in a man who possesses Bucher's intimate knowledge of Organized Crime. They offer him a job working as an agent for a covert group called "White Hat." Bucher accepts, he wants to atone for some of the things he did in his grisly past. But he has one condition, he gets to play it by his own rules. And his rules are: There are no rules, just violence and extreme street vengeance for anyone who gets in his way.

Kill Quick or Die is the first paperback in the Butcher series. And for me, these male testosterone adventure series are "hit or miss." I call this one a "hit." Keep in mind you can't take them too seriously and they have as much believability as those conspiracy wackos who still claim that the Apollo moon landings were staged. The story starts in Atlanta where Bucher is hunting down a Chinese scientist who is attempting to sell his secret plans for a deadly weapon. But this is just a minor event in the plot because what it really is about is having Bucher ruthlessly (no mercy is spared) eliminate members of the Mafia that cross his path. From Atlanta to Cairo the trail always ends with Bucher killing Syndicate hoods and hitmen. None are a match for "The Butcher." He stumbles upon a lucrative business the Mafia has that involves smuggling Arabs into the USA. With the price tag on his head and him nosing around in the Mideast, the Boys go all out to savagely annihilate Bucher. Leaving more dead behind, Bucher is off to Israel and back to Cairo after witnessing the horrifying results of the torture and crucifixion of his beautiful Arab girlfriend Tzsenya. The blood is really boiling now, as he flies back to Atlanta to seek and brutally destroy the head of this Mafioso operation.

Again Bucher stepped back to view his handiwork. This time he was more satisfied. The big Arab's face was warped out of shape by the broken jaw, his left ear was missing, his nose was a pulpy mess of split cartilage and chopped bone. Shreds of mangled flesh, recently his brows, hung down over his eyes and blood streamed from his face wherever the brass knucks had connected. Bucher decided only one thing more was needed. He stepped forward, crashed the knucks of his right fist into the blinded Ahmed's mouth. Teeth and splinters of teeth erupted from the mouth when Bucher jerked free his fist.

Like I said, you don't read these for a credible portrayal of an undercover agent or a man wanting to free himself of his past involvement with organized crime. This is about entertainment and fun. And Kill Quick or Die does deliver on those. The writing style is elementary and it's basically a step-by-step plot here. But the author made Bucher an irrefutable character and I was eagerly looking forward to what happens next in the story. Overall not bad for a paperback found in this for-men-only vengeance genre. As for the series, this is the only one that I've read and I have no idea what Butcher paperbacks are the best. But I might read another.

Oh, two things. Bucher has this silly inner "spider sense" that warns him when trouble is afoot. (Something that I wouldn't mind having) He also doesn't seem to have a first name. "The Butcher" is his Mafia handle, but his surname is used most throughout the novel-Bucher. (Like Cher, ahh but not really like her...)