Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady

Enola Holmes returns, hunted by day by the Great Detective and haunting London's befogged cobbles by night in her alter ego as the Sister of the Streets, doling out charity disguised as a nun. She maintains daytime alter egos as Miss Ivy Meshle, and Mrs Ragostin the young wife of the imaginary Doctor Ragostin - seeker of things lost. One of the first consultee's turns out to Doctor John Watson in connection with a missing girl. The story incorporates plenty of Victorian talking points regarding social issues for young readers to discuss or investigate further; social Darwinism, Marxism, emancipation. Mesmerism and some not fully developed theories about the dangers of correcting which hand the Lady Cecily uses and connections with multiple personality disorders aren't perhaps as clearly expounded as they could be. Beyond the social horror of poverty in Victorian England Enola cuts a rather lonely figure herself. She has few confidantes and those she has are handled with caution lest she give herself away to her brothers. Her skills with codes and cyphers almost surpass Sherlock and her sketching of caricatures help her along like early mug-shots. A much improved adventure that tries to be fun, establishing a fresh identity amongst so much obvious historical hardship.

Monday, 16 June 2014

A Century of Noir

Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins team up to bring us 32 Noir stories from the last century. Collins makes it clear in his intro that the term 'Noir' wasn't the term he or Spillane were aiming for when they set out to put this book together. Tough guy fiction, hard-boiled crime and detective stories was the preferred line, though in the end the collection defers more to reputation than any strict adherence to genre. Most of the stories were born out of the shadowy literature churned out for a voracious post-war public hungry for dangerous thrills, tough guys and femme fatales but from the opening vignette by Chester Himes it soon becomes clear that many of the stories step out of the target genre's darkness in order to let the author's shine. The result is a collection of stories by folk who carved some sort of pulp noir niche for themselves without having to strictly draw from that niche.
Chandler and Hammett should headline a book like this with a story featuring Marlowe, Sam Spade or the Continental Op but neither could be included due to clearance problems. Some other notables get more of a crack at the whip than others with whole novellas being included like the ground breaking Race Williams detective from the 1920s. Many of the stories include the author's trump card detective to showcase their skills but there are also quite a few that take the literary side-step for something unexpected; Gil Brewer's The Gesture being a fine example of a short with a late perspective change that turns things completely on their head; or Fredric Brown's trick ending for Don't Look Behind You; or the balsy genealogist from Donald E. Westlake's Never Shake the Family Tree. Norbert Davis pitches in with an unlikely detective with Chill Blanes, backwoods superstition with Dorothy B. Hughes, chuckles at Lawrence block's animal cruelty psycho dealing it back. There is certainly a deal more fun being had here in a supposed Noir collection than really should be happening.
The editors both contribute, with a decent Nathan Heller effort from Collins, and an entirely forgettable piece of crud from Spillane. Great to see Bill Pronzini serving up another Nameless Detective story - fine work as always. Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone story make me open to reevaluating her skills after I dismissed the female detective's debut novella.  These sorts of collections are great jumping off spots into the darkness, with famous names aplenty but frustration lurks behind many of the names in the form of out of print or hard to locate series.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Give the Boys a Great Big Hand

It's always great to be back with the boys from the 87th Precinct even when McBain struggles to work a worthy plot line.Hapless beat cop Richard Genaro makes another grisly discovery in the form of a severed hand. McBain turns up the extreme weather (its raining constantly) while he scrambles to fit a story to the discarded appendage. Carella leads the investigation whilst Hawes attempts to charm the local Strippers. Kling adds support. Other than plot this one has Teddy and Carella moving into new digs with the newly born twins. The too brief inclusion of Frankie Hernandez as a Puerto Rican detective. And Carella resorts to violence in the squad room as local bad egg Detective Andy Parker crosses the racism line. It's far from the classic of the previous volume King's Ransom but still time well spent.