Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Drink With The Dead by J. M. Flynn

Drink With The Dead by J. M. Flynn
Ace D-379, Copyright 1959

Though I'm not a huge fan of Flynn's work, I seemed to have acquired many of his paperbacks throughout the years. Writing under the name J.M. Flynn and Jay Flynn, his novels are usually quick and short, with lead characters sometimes anti-hero and others law-enforcement types. My introduction to the author was by first reading his four "McHugh" novels. McHugh is a tough adventurous American spy, and to be honest I labored finishing the series and found it a notch below mediocre. But a few Flynn novels are good and showed that he had the talent for writing crime fiction. "Drink With The Dead" is one of them.

"Better have your lawyer get in touch with me," Jensen said curtly. "Fight it and we take your ranch and whatever else we can find!"
"So that's it. Shakedown," Wright lit a cigar. "Shamus, I don't shake. Go chase an ambulance before you need a ride in one."

The novel starts with Konard Jensen stuck in a small town jail after being interrogated for hours and threatened with the rubber-hose treatment. He is left alone in his cell and facing a murder rap, then Flynn sends the story into a wonderful flashback. We find out Jensen is a federal agent stationed in San Francisco, and the office is investigating the sudden appearance of high quality, illegal booze that's flooding the area. After his undercover partner is shot in a rural town looking into the matter, Jensen is sent to find who killed him and shutdown the illegal operation. Surprisingly, his cover is being a private detective, looking into the death for the family. The cover works well, as Jensen starts rattling cages to bring the crooks out and make them go after him. Willing to have his head busted up, he starts making trouble for the bootlegging operation and it's political influences. But it comes at a cost, and he is taking in for a "road rage" type killing. Out of the flashback, he breaks out of the jail and sets up some alliances. Locating the hidden operation and armed, he violently heads in to settle up with the killer and bootleggers.

Jensen is a tough cookie, willing to take his punishment to serve justice. He has an unpredictable mind which allows him to leap into an action situation. It's nice to see the bootlegging angle, it's rarely used outside prohibition era stories and Flynn makes it convincing for the reader. Not overdone with excessive violence, the story contains well developed characters which strengthens this compelling mystery adventure. Plus, a surprise whodunit ending that I didn't see coming.

Many of Flynn's paperbacks aren't above average, but a couple hit the mark at delivering a suspenseful, complex, dark crime action drama. The word is that Flynn had a problem with the bottle and it affected his writing in many later novels. That may be so, but I read enough of his work to see sparks of unique creativity and an ability to captivate the reader, with hardboiled action and a double-time marching pace. For me, "Drink With The Dead" was an enjoyable yarn.

An example of Flynn off his game, is his 1976 "Blood on Frisco Bay" which was published by Leisure Books. SFPD Sgt. Joe Riggs is free to do what he wants in the name of justice. He drives around in a station wagon with a Walther, foot-long knife and his partner is a Irish wolfhound named Croc. (and I'm not kidding, that is his partner) Plenty of foul mouth dialog, bullets tearing heads off, and a weak plot. Flynn throws about every situation a dude can come across in this one. It's in the category of being so awful, that with a laugh -you may enjoy it.

By the way, the flip novel in the 1959 Ace Double is "Mistress of Horror House" by author William Woody. (pseud?) It features a P.I. called Houston McIver, who operates out of El Paso. It starts off with the traditional, "dame with a nasty problem entering the detective's office." With the little research I did, P.I. Houston McIver appeared in only this novel and I found no reference of William Woody writing anything else.


Anonymous said...

August, If you haven't seen it, a great profile of Flynn by Bill Pronzini is online at http://www.mysteryfile.com/Pronzini1/Flynn.html

I think you summed up Flynn's books very well. Greatly flawed, but with gems of brilliance every now and then.

As for William Woody, Al Hubin says his real name was Woodbury William Fagette, born 1903, died 1974. It looks like you're right. No other books, so far as I can tell either.

August West said...

Thanks Steve. You're like a human encyclopedia.

Even if some Flynn novels were imperfect, I've always had an impulse to read them. I guess I found his writing...interesting?

Walker Martin said...

Just read Pronzini's article on Flynn at the Mysteryfile.com website. A really excellent profile of an obscure paperback writer that Pronzini knew.

Anonymous said...

I like the McHugh books very much. And Action Man is terrific. mtm