Friday, January 08, 2010
Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, January 8, 2010
Noel Coward and Getrude Lawrence reading.
No covers for these two. I tried...
Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE among other fine novels. You can find him here.
Scratch Fever by Max Allan Collins
With all the well-deserved kudos being paid to his Quarry series--Quarry in The Middle is not only Max Allan Collins' best Quarry but also one of his finest novels period--I thought I'd pick up one of my favorite entries in one of his other series, the Nolan series.
Nolan is a mostly retired ex-thief who is forced to learn the hard way that the past is never past. In Scratch Fever, however, the lead character is Jon, Quarry's unlikely but steadfast crime partner, a twenty-something comic book illustrator who also fronts a rock cover band--just as Collins himself does. Jon wants to make it full-time in comics but is having no luck so his income, such as it is, is coming from the band which, as the book opens, is playing its last gig as a
The story here concerns a fetching but deadly woman who once tried to murder Jon with a shotgun. She wanted all the robbery money for herself. But she disappeared and was presumed dead. And the money was nowhere to be found. But then Jon is on stage playing his type of song
(one of the reasons the band is breaking up is because Jon hates the heavy metal and Catch Scratch Fever crap they prefer) when he sees back in the shadows of the big dance barn.
What the hell is going on? Well, nothing that Jon could have foreseen and because Nolan can't give him a hand this time, Jon and the band singer Toni (a smart-ass you gotta love) are left to face a situation that keeps evolving into one perfectly cast suspense situation after another.
If you're at all nostalgic for the early eighties, this is your book. Collins has John O'Hara's eye and ear for era and dialogue. This is a time trip back to the growing emergence of punk and how it played in the bars and dance halls and clubs of Iowa and the Quad Cities. Collins always shows his readers an Iowa few writers ever have. His people tend to be working class or criminal class. His mob guys aren't the romantics of the Godfather but the soldiers of The Sopranos.
To me Collins has always been an exemplary story teller. When I got to the end of the long first chapter--which encompasses little more than two hours of the same night--I went back through it just to study the craft. There is so much energy in Collins' work that you never notice the careful way he lays everything out. This is one of those books where a part of your mind is constantly playing ahead of the pages. In this case you're dreading the inevitable showdown that Jon will have to face.
If you like hardboiled fiction, put the Nolan series at the top of your list. Scratch Fever is like reading on steroids.
Jerry House. DON'T BLEED ON ME by Basil Copper
A sleezy P.I. is hired to find a lost truck and realizes he is over his head when he stumbles upon the driver's body. He turns to Mike Faraday, a tough L.A. private eye, for help. The body goes missing and bullets start flying. A beautiful blonde makes love to Faraday and then is killed. Faraday stumbles upon a hidden kingdom just outside of Los Angeles and has to deal with the nation's trigger-happy army and its meglomaniacal ruler. Along the way, Faraday is beaten and tortured, gets to kiss another beautiful babe, and upstages the FBI. All of this is the part of the plot that makes sense.
Don't Bleed on Me is pure pulp and I loved it. (It's a bit disconcerning to read continuing descriptions of American car hoods as "bonnets" but Britisher Copper freely admits his Los Angeles is one of the imagination.) Copper is best known here for his continuing August Derleth's Solar Pons series and for many fantastic stories with a gothic sensability. The bulk of his writing, however, consists of over fifty books in the Mike Faraday series, of which this was the sixth published. I don't know how many of the Faraday books have been published in America, but those that have been seem to have only been published in large-print editions for the library trade.
Don't Bleed on Me was my first encounter with Mike Faraday. I hope it won't be my last.
Jerry House lives in Southern Maryland. He can be reached at email@example.com.