Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, July 11, 2014-FEMME FATALES

Last night, I lost all my blog links so I may have missed a few posts here. Please let me know.  I will be in and out today.


Ah, yes, femme fatales. Not only are they fine to gaze upon they are also a crime writer's best friend. Make a list of your favorite hardboiled and noir movies and you likely find a fatale femme in many if not most of them.

  I mentioned "gazing upon"them. Well, in a unique twist there's a 1957 movie in which the femme sets a small town ablaze and nobody has even seen her for a long, long time.

The movie is "Decision at Sundown" and it's one of the justly famous Randolph Scott westerns directed by Budd Boetticher. The hallmarks of these pictures were the low budgets, the excellent scripts and the  inability to sometimes tell the bad guys from the good.

Here we have Scott returning to ruin the wedding of the powerful man Scott believes stole his wife before she disappeared. Scott was in the war and when he returned he found she'd run off with the man who was about to be married.

Scott has reasoned in his loneliness, rage and misery that his wife was so ashamed of what she'd done that she couldn't face the judgment of the townspeople let alone that of her husband.

Scott plans to spoil the man's wedding by killing him, pushing him into a gunfight. The Sheriff tries to run him out of town but Scott and an old friend hole up, Scott waiting for the right moment. 

What could have been a standard cowboy story becomes a fascinating drama as Scott gradually learns that the "innocent" wife he so loves had always cheated on him. The powerful man was only one of many.

We are near the end of the second act before Scott learns that his grief and madness--and Scott does a good job of portraying both--has been for a woman he knew nothing about.

A true femme fatale.

Ed Gorman is the author of both the Dev Conrad and Sam McCain series. You can find him here

THE HOT SPOT, Charles Williams

I read an awful lot of novels with multiple POVS, with fancy jumps in time and place, with a magician's hat of tricks. So sometimes it is very, very nice to reach back to say 1953 and read a straight forward narrative that succeeds on its good plot, great characters, and most of all, great writing. THE HOT SPOT filled that bill.

Madox is not the type of villain you find in most current books. He's a drifter, just looking for a cushion, or an easy way out of his dead-end job working for a car dealer in a small town. When he pulls off a heist that will give him this cushion, things appear to go wrong immediately until the boss's wife throws him a safety line. He's not sure why (is it just for the sex?) but he grabs it and worries about the why of it down the road. That's the kind of guy he is.

He quickly falls for the female accountant next door who has troubles of her own, and it is her troubles that eventually bring Madox down.

This is a beautifully written story told in the first person. The femme fatale deviates from the typical one in that he is never lured in by her sexuality ( in fact he criticizes her "blousiness" at ever turn) but rather by the gift of her alibi and her situation as the boss's wife. It is the girl he loves that brings him the most misery.

So who is the femme fatale? Highly recommended.

Lawrence Block, Mona (Gold Medal #1085, 1961)

I'm sure we all have our own mental picture of a "femme fatale" in a noirish book or movie, whether it is Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity or a more recent version.  In some cases the woman fleeces the innocents.  In others, the more interesting ones to my mind, the "victim" is like Joe Marlin here, our narrator and a self-proclaimed con man.  It's somehow more satisfying when the conner gets conned himself.

Mona (reprinted by Hard Case Crime as Grifter's Game, a better title) was, I believe, the first mystery by Block published under his own name.  Even though you might think you know where the book is going Block manages, even at that early date, to ring some changes on the theme. If the setup seems far fetched, well he tells you that himself.  Marlin flees a hotel bill in Philadelphia and lands in Atlantic City but as he can't check into a good hotel without luggage he grabs a couple of monogrammed suitcases at the train station, only to discover a whole lot of heroin inside.  Later that day on the beach he "accidentally" meets a beautiful if unhappily married young woman and they fall for each other.  Much to Joe's surprise (but not the reader's) her husband is...well, read it yourself.

Once Marlin discovers he's been had Block changes the usual scenario for something you probably won't see coming.  It certainly made for an ending I didn't expect.  As always, the book is tremendously readable.  One of the best parts for me was reading about life in 1960.  You could stay in the very best hotel in Philadelphia for ten dollars a night.  The prices in general are eye-opening.  Everyone smokes, everywhere - on an airplane, in a restaurant while eating, you name it.

This might not be the typical femme fatale story but it is one well worth your time, especially for fans of Lawrence Block, which should include all of you.

                                                                                                                   Jeff Meyerson

Brian Busby, NO PLACE IN HEAVEN, Laura Warren
Bill Crider, A TOUCH OF DEATH, Charles Williams
Randy Johnson, SO YOUNG, SO WICKED, Jonathan CraigGeorge Kelley, FATALE, Jean-Patrick Machette
Evan Lewis, THE VOICE, Cleve F. Adams
Todd Mason, BEYOND THE NIGHT: SIX TALES, Cornell Woolrich
J.F. Norris, TWISTED CLAY, Frank Walford
James Reasoner, THE BITCH, Gil Brewer
Ron Scheer,THE LADY DOC, Caroline Lockhart

And other reviews

Joe Barone, HELL HOLE, Christ Grabenstein
Martin Edwards, WHERE EVERY PROSPECT PLEASES, Robertson Halkett 
Curt Evans, THE ORIGIN OF EVIL, Ellery Queen
Rick Horton, THROUGH SPACE TO MARS, Roy Rockwood 
Nick Jones, THE ART OF NEIL GAIMAN, Hailey Campbell
Margot Kinberg, A BLUNT INSTRUMENT, Georgette Heyer
Rob Kitchin, DOG ON IT, Spencer Quinn
Gerard Saylor, THE THIN MAN, Dashiell Hammett 
Kevin Tipple,/Barry Ergang, NOT SLEEPING, JUST DEAD, CharlesAlverson


Charles Gramlich said...

I think I have a weak spot for femme fatales.

Todd Mason said...

Well, Charles, they wouldn't be too fatal if you didn't...

My entry is up and at 'em, albeit foreshortened for now by time-chop and other extenuating (and in one tomcat's case, micturating) circumstances:

FFF{emme}F(atale)B: BEYOND THE NIGHT: Six Tales of Horror by Cornell Woolrich (Avon 1959)

Unknown said...

Glad to see another Charles Williams book on the list. He was a master. And then there's MONA. Back in the olden days, before the Internet, before block was "discovered" and reprinted, before eBooks made just about everything available, I had trouble locating a copy of MONA. The copy I had was missing about 30 pages right in the middle. I was so desperate that I picked up a paperback edition in Spanish, but I didn't read it. Eventually I found a complete GM copy. I have the Hard Case edition, too, of course. And another one from a different publisher, I believe.

Anonymous said...

The woman in Decision at Sundown actually exerts an influence long after she has committed suicide (and she died before the movie begins, and is never seen on screen). Near the end, the villain (John Carroll) even notes the irony when he wryly grumbles something like, "Who would have thought a woman like Mary Allison could cause all this trouble."

Ron Scheer said...

Now why didn't I think of reviewing Megan's anthology, A HELL OF A WOMAN?

Anonymous said...

Blogger ate my comment again.

Jeff M.

Todd Mason said...

Jeff--really, no kidding:

If you use Name/URL rather than Anonymous, you have a better chance of not having your comment eaten. It shouldn't be so, but so much else shouldn't be so, as well.

You do see the two tick boxes, yes?

Ticking Name/URL will allow you to add an address (or not) if you wanna, and doesn't, for whatever reason, smell as much like spam to Blogspot's buggy sensors.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Great story, Bill. Did you read it with the 30 pages missing?

Did I mention my copy is inscribed by Block?

Jeff M.

Deb said...

I concur with Todd: I use Name/URL and just leave the URL field blank because commenting as Anonymous would send my comment into the void.

Todd Mason said...

And you could even send people to whatever website you want in the URL field. THE ONION, MYSTERY*FILE, the IRS...the web is your oyster, thus.

Anonymous said...

What a neat collection! And thanks for including my post.

Gerard said...

I read HOT SPOT years ago. I think I had a version that had movie graphics on the cover.