Ed Lynskey’s new Appalachian noir LAKE CHARLES from Wildside Press is available in Kindle and paper in June. Or if you like it soft-boiled, his small town cozy featuring two senior lady sleuths QUIET ANCHORAGE is also out now. Purchase links for Lake Charles on Amazon: Kindle: http://tiny.cc/c6eh1
Paper pre-sales (release end of June): http://tiny.cc/9juvu
The Men From the Boys by Ed Lacy. 1956. Harper & Row.
Ed Lacy (1911-68) is an old-line pulp fiction writer whose hardboiled and noir oeuvre I’ve enjoyed reading over the years. He’s quite a character himself: WW II hero, playwright, Communist Party member, The New Yorker contributor, and MWA stalwart. I wrote a long profile on his life and literary output for Mystery*File (http://tiny.cc/gc5t0).
Lacy’s real name is Leonard Zinberg. From what I could find, he adopted the pseudonym as a way to evade the Communist witch-hunts blackballing authors and writers throughout the 1950s. Men is dedicated to Carla who I believe is Mr. Lacy’s daughter from his interracial marriage.
Several years ago after my first reading, I felt lots of enthusiasm for Men, and I decided to give it a second read and see how my impressions held up. Well, it’s not without its warts, but I still found it a compelling and worthwhile enough title to say a few words about here.
Marty Bond, 54, is an ex-cop pensioned off and now reduced to working as a hotel detective in a genuine dive called the Grover. He also oversees a stable of working ladies and refers to himself as a “pimp.” Trouble starts when his young stepson Lawrence shows up at the hotel. They haven’t seen each other in a while. Lawrence is a volunteer auxiliary cop responsible for directing things after they drop the big one, an almost hysterical fear in the 1950s. Of course, the cynic Marty is dead-set against Lawrence’s police career ambitions.
Lawrence brings to Marty a fishy story about a local butcher (Men is set in NYC where Lacy lived and worked as a full-time writer) who was robbed of fifty gees and then turned around and recanted his robbery claim. Before long, Lawrence is waylaid and beaten up in an alleyway. Marty’s ex-wife Dot asks for his aid to investigate and pry the brutish goons off Lawrence’s back. A street savvy and relentless sleuth, Marty complies and tangles with the organized crime elements.
Marty is a physical wreck. He sucks on mints, sees a doctor pal for his upset gut, and still likes to hoist the bottle when he’s not puffing away. Lacy trowels on the grit and grime to each scene in almost depressing fashion. A cancer scare knocks Marty off his rails, and he contemplates suicide via a bullet or sleeping pills.
But you can’t help but to root for the guy. Under the hardboiled patina, he’s a romantic sentimentalist as well as a man whose word is his “bond.” He buys perfume for his whores. He loves to surf fish. He drops into matinees. He digs gorgeous sunsets. You get the feeling on some level Marty is Ed Lacy.
So, if you like your books with a solid noir and hardboiled 1950s’ flavor, then I highly recommend Men. It would’ve made a great film noir. I may very well go back in several years and read Men again. The slim volume is 146 pages long, and its brisk pace makes for a one evening read. I found the 1956 Pocket Books paperback (yellowing and detaching at its spine) which is readily available online and in used bookstores where I bought my copy for $1.25.Ed Gorman is the author of Strangehold and Ticket to Ride. You can find him here.
Forgotten Books: Bad Ronald by Jack Vance
Jack Vance is such a revered sf/fantasy writer his career as a mystery-suspense writer has largely been overlooked. One of his early mysteries won the Edgar, in fact, and at least one of his suspense
novels was made into a TV movie, this being BAD RONALD which is a whole lot better than the 1973 Ballantine packaging would lead you to believe.
The era was still in the throes of Psycho. Numerous writers tried to run riffs on the basic Crazy Mama theme. Vance took the simple but suspenseful story of a seventeen year old kid named Ronald and paired him with an over-protective mother who had to hide him after Ronald committed an unthinkable crime, an event which Vance wisely skims quickly.. The only thing Mom can do is hide him in a hollowed out space in the house (a familiar trope in those days; in fact a more more celebrated novel was called CRAWLSPACE).
As grisly as the set-up is Vance deals with the rest of the novel (the police staking out the house; the nasty neighbors taunting her; and her near-breakdown) with, believe it or not, a healthy dose of black humor. All too soon Mom begins to understand Ronald is not only murderous but maybe even worse, he's a loser. He's pretty much happy to be hidden in the house. She feeds him three times a day (but makes him go on a diet); she gives him magazines hoping this'll keep him in contact with the real world--but he prefers working on his imaginary fantasy novel world; and he whimpers like a child when he can't get exactly the kind of"treat" he wants.
The dark humor only makes Ronald's psychopathology all the grimmer. We really are dealing with a freak here, one who should be chained to a dungeon wall for life. And the wily plot with many twists and turns shows just how many riffs you can run on freaky.
Unlike many of the PSYCHO riffs, there's a great deal of perceptive and nimble writing here. A very solid novel. The TV movie was straightforward and wasn't hip enough to include the humor.
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner