Thursday, May 27, 2010


By E. Howard Hunt
Hard Case Crime
206 pages

Long before professional spy, E.Howard Hunt became famous as a member of Richard Nixon’s “plumbers,” he was a talented writer known for his mysteries and thrillers written under various pseudonyms. In 1946 he won a Guggenheim Fellowship for his writing. Hunt was one of the architects of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Castro’s communist Cuba and after that debacle, he and many of his colleagues, were relegated to minor desk jobs in the intelligence community.

He later went to work for President Nixon as a security specialist and along with G.Gordon Liddy and others, was one of a secret team charged with fixing “leaks.” Hunt engineered the first Watergate burglary and in the follow up Watergate Scandal, was convicted of burglary, conspiracy and wiretapping, eventually serving 33 months in prison.

HOUSE DICK was published in 1961 under the pen name Gordon Davis and is set in a fancy Washington D.C. hotel (no, not that one). When a rich woman’s jewels are stolen, it becomes Pete Novak’s job to handle the affair. Novak is the hotel’s security manager. When the woman’s husband convinces him there was no burglary and then later turns up dead in the room of occupied by his mistress, matters quickly spiral out of control. The case turns out to be a whole lot more complicated than Novak expected.

Add to the mix a blond femme fatale up her beautiful lips in blackmail, a violent mobster ex-husband just out of prison and wanting his cut and soon things at the Tilden Hotel are really jumping. Yet Novak manages to keep one step ahead of events, as he manipulates both the police and the suspects until he can solve the mystery and return his life to a comfortable status quo. Although not an exceptional work, HOUSE DICK is a competent example of the paperback thrillers that flooded the drugstore spin racks of the 1960s. It remains an entertaining read from a writer whose real life exploits were far more interesting than any of his fiction.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


By Carol McCleary
Forge Books
364 pages

Nellie Bly was the pen name of pioneer female journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochran. She is most famous for two daring feats: a record-breaking trip around the world in emulation of Jules Verne, and an expose in which she faked insanity to study a mental institution from within. Now, firs-time novelist, Carol McCleary, using these two historical events as bookends, weaves a remarkable suspense thriller wherein Nellie crosses the globe in search of a sadistic killer.

The adventure begins in Blackwell Island’s Lunatic Asylum where the intrepid reporter crosses path with Dr.Blum, a monster who murders several of the female patients in his private laboratory as part of some twisted anatomical experiments. Before Nellie can expose him, he fakes his own death and flees to England with the determined journalist hot on his trail. In London he resurfaces publicly earning the name, Jack the Ripper. More than ever Nellie is obsessed with seeing him captured and brought to justice.

Alas the elusive fiend escapes again; this time to Paris, the City of Lights, then in the midst of the grand 1889 World’s Fair. Aware of her own vulnerability in this strange setting, Nellie convinces the famous writer Jules Verne to join the hunt. Soon they are racing to and fro across the great metropolitan city coming in contact with such illustrious figures as Oscar Wilde, Toulouse Lautrec and Louis Pasteur. The duo’s efforts ultimately reveal a grander evil behind the mad killer’s goals, one that will set loose a deadly biological plague capable of wiping out the entire population of the city before spreading throughout the world.

McLeary’s research is impeccable and she marvelously captures atmosphere and mores of the times as the Industrial Revolution was rapidly igniting a class struggle throughout the world. Anarchist of every flag were all too ready to blow things up. It was also a time when the role of women in society had begun to evolve with women like Nellie setting the course. Yet the joy in this depiction is that McLeary doesn’t fall to the temptation of making the feisty reporter a larger-than-life feminist amazon. Instead she brings forth a winning, loveable soul eager to explore all that life has to offer. Her Nellie is both a daring pioneer and at the same time a true product of her times and upbringing. It is this tough-sweetness that comes through and makes THE ALCHEMY OF MURDER a very gratifying experience in so many different ways.

Sunday, May 02, 2010


A Mike Hammer novel
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
An Otto Penzler Book
246 pages

The cover tag to this book reads, “The Lost Mike Hammer Sixties Novel.” It’s an appropriate definition as The Big Bang is set smack dab in the middle of that rocking decade when free love ruled, hippies and peaceniks protested the Vietnam War and the British musical invasion was on thanks to the Beatles.

There was also another war raging on the streets of our of country, one we could not afford to lose. Illegal drugs, spurred by the open door attitudes that made marijuana harmless and LSD the “cool” way to trip, were flooding the mean streets and an epidemic of lost souls was in the making. Into this tsunami of heroine and cocaine, private eye Mike Hammer innocently stumbles when he comes to rescue of an unarmed young man being assaulted by three dope-heads. Hammer leaves two dead and the third in serious condition, much to the chagrin of his pal, Detective Captain Pat Chambers and the new Assistant D.A. Hammer’s reputation is a liability, as the second he becomes involved with anything, a violent bloodbath of some kind always ensues.

Hammer discovers the boy he saved, Billy Blue, worked part time at a local hospital and the thugs who attacked him did so because he refused to steal drugs for them from that facility’s pharmacy supplies. That in itself is nothing extraordinary, still Hammer has a nose for trouble even when it buries itself under such minor misdemeanors. In this case the rash attack on Billy was instigated because, for some unknown reason, the illegal drug market on the streets had dried up and pushers and junkies were getting frantic to score their next fix.

All of which exposes a turf war in progress between the head of an old Mafia clan and a young, hippie club owner called the Snowbird, each vying to control the lucrative drug trade. It doesn’t take Hammer’s nosing around very long to attract attention and soon assailants are coming after him with knives and silenced automatics. Which is exactly how the tough guy works, stirring up a ruckus to see what shakes loose.

Spillane’s writing was always infused with a brash humor filled with sexual innuendos and the more he wrote, the more prevalent it became. It was his literary version of the magician’s sleight of hand; get the audience to focus on one hand while the other performs the hat trick. His protégé, Collins, deftly adapts this style so that the transition between them is unnoticeable and delivers another marvelous Hammer tale. The end was both expected and satisfying as it remained true to the character. Mike Hammer isn’t a social worker, he’s an exterminator with a talent for dealing with human vermin. It’s fun to see him in action again.