Sunday, April 25, 2010

Down I Go by Ben Kerr

Down I Go by Ben Kerr
Popular Library 653,

Copyright 1955

Ben Kerr was one pseudonym used by hardboiled writer William Ard. Those similar with Ard know the author created two excellent 50s PIs that worked out of NYC, Timothy Dane (one of my favorites) and Johnny Stevens. He must of liked coming up with new tough sleuths, because he birthed another around the same time called Barney Glines. I read the second Glines novel that was published by Gold Medal, titled "Mine to Avenge" and remember liking it a lot. William Ard also dabbed in Westerns and started the Tom Buchanan series under the name of Jonas Ward. The series continued after Ard's early death, some were ghostwritten by Brian Garfield and William R. Cox. But I like William Ard's crime novels best and "Down I Go" is a fine one. No private dick story here, this one is about city corruption, sleazy vice, and an ex-cop looking for a bit of revenge.

"This dump, Bantle thought. This dirty, stinking, miserable little hole, with its grifters and gunsels, its homos and harlots-the cheating, lying, whoring lot of them. The dregs of a corrupt city, streaming into this sewer for their liquor and their lovemaking and their cheap thrills when the show begins."

Lou Bantle is one tough cookie. For a few weeks he's been employed as a floorman, keeping the peace in the roughest and most vile strip joint in Bay City. But there is more to Bantle than slugging out riotous patrons, he has a past. Lou Bantle was once an honest Bay City vice cop, but for the last three years he's been doing hard time. He was railroaded on a trumped-up charge, setup by Detective Charlie Josephs and a gold digger tramp. Bantle was fighting the city corruption and had to be put out of the way. The crooked Josephs wanted to move up in the profligacy that controls the city, so he made his play on Bantle. During the last three years, Josephs has been living large and is now captain of the precinct. Not heeding the warning to never return to Bay City, Bantle is back and looking to settle up with Josephs and the girl who framed him.

There's a steady stream of action in this one, including a descriptive brutal beating Lou Bantle receives from two dirty cops with saps. But Lou recovers quickly, because one of his first undertakings is to protect a girl named Rita Largo. She falls in love with the hardcase ex-cop, adding an extra burden for him when Josephs goes after her to get to Bantle. Bantle still has some old friends on the force that want to clean up the city and he learns that the State's Criminal Investigation Division is at work to sweep out the rats. But they need help from someone unconnected to them and recruit Lou Bantle. Bantle goes undercover for them, but he has to go it alone. (which suits him fine)

I really liked the dark, dingy atmosphere created in "Down I Go." William Ard puts us in a soiled and colorless world, where around every corner there are perverted peeping toms, hookers, dope heads, chiselers, and of course plenty of rogue cops. It's a dirty city and throughout the novel we are always reminded of that. As a main character, Lou Bantle is a monolith. He's aggressive, brawny, and hates all kinds of criminal vice. Nothing can hold him back. There are other things that stand out in this novel. One is Bantle's pursuit of the money-hungry dame that helped set him up and another is the almost insane obsession Charlie Josephs has to hunt down Bantle and kill him. Both I found very gripping and well written.

If you are a fan of William Ard's work, you will enjoy "Down I Go." No complaints from me on this one. I would of liked to seen a little more punch in the end, (not that it didn't have any gun action) and it's not a complaint, it's just that my personal taste would have preferred a touch more violence in the finale. But it takes nothing away from this excellent hardboiled crime novel from the 50s. Did William Ard ever write anything that was not first-rate? I don't believe so. At the young age of 38, cancer took William Ard. What a shame. In a short period of time, he authored an admirable bundle of wonderful noir crime novels. Who knows what other crime-ridden street cesspools, in need of being cleaned up, William Ard would have taken the reader to if he had lived to a ripe old age.

(If you ever have a chance to get your hands on one of Ard's Timothy Dane novels, treat yourself. You will be rewarded)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Man on the Run by Charles Williams

Man on the Run by Charles Williams
Gold Medal 822, Copyright 1958

"How much longer could this nightmare go on?"

The story of a man being hunted down for a murder that he didn't commit has been told many times. And the paperback racks of the Fifties were full of them. I know Gold Medal had their share of them. In fact, many of the well known authors of the day used that literary plot a few times in separate novels. Charles Williams was one of those authors and he penned a damn good one in "Man on the Run."

Rain kept falling. The topcoat was soaked now and heavy. I was seized with uncontrollable fits of shaking that lasted for minutes at a time. Whenever I saw a car coming, I dived off the road and hid.

This one starts out of the gate immediately, even before we know what the hell is going down. A man jumps off a train during a heavy rainstorm. He has cops on his tail and he's tired and scared. Rest and shelter from the cold is what he needs, so he sneaks into a small seacoast community and breaks into an empty cottage. Here we learn of his past. His name is Russell Foley, a third mate on an oil tanker. The night before in the town of Sanport he had a vicious fistfight with a police detective that was screwing around with his wife. Five minutes after he leaves the detective's apartment, the copper is found stabbed to death. Guess who everyone on the Florida coast thinks did it? Enter Suzy Patton, the owner of the cottage where Foley is hiding. She's a big beautiful blonde and a writer of romance novels that take place during the Civil War. Suzy believes Foley's story and is willing to help him. (Of all the times I've gotten into trouble, no beautiful blonde appeared to lend me a hand) They fall for each other and together head back to Sanport to find the real killers. But it's not easy, the hunting for Russell Foley never ceases. And to make matters worse, the killers are now out to get him. We find out that murdered police detective was dirty and it all ties into a payroll robbery that occurred a couple of months ago. While trying to clear his name, Foley stumbles into the body of a nude strangled dame in a bathtub and now the cops also think he murdered her. Separated from Suzy because he was almost apprehended, Foley sneaks aboard a old commercial fishing boat to get another lead on the killers. It is here where he gets more that he was bargaining for.

What I like best about "Man on the Run" is that there is no rest, for Foley and the reader. The story is constantly on the move, with the law on Foley's heels from the get go. This just builds more excitement into the plot as he is searching for the killers and always looking over his shoulder. Charles Williams leaves out the character development in this one. It's not needed because of the pace of the novel. Foley is on the outs with his wife, he likes the sailor life and hitting his favorite drinking hole when in port. Suzy Patton comes off as a perplexing and sad character. Her novels don't sell well anymore and she carries around an aura of loneliness. At the end of the novel, Charles Williams displays her cognitive state brilliantly. I like surprises and I didn't expect that.

Add, the wonderful "man against man" brawl between the despite Foley and the killer into the ending, and all I can say is that "Man on the Run" is a direct hit. I escaped into this one and as with most of Charles Williams' novels, I utterly enjoyed it.