Sunday, January 01, 2006

James Michael Ullman's The Neon Haystack

I finally finished reading The Neon Haystack during the holiday. I had read it already through the middle, but there were days when I was too busy travelling or opening Christmas presents and I didn't get to the book until almost a week later.

It wasn't the only reason for the delonging, because the book had started to drag and get talkative. It's quite a good book, though, and worth saving from oblivion. It's about a man who comes to a middle-sized Midwest town to search for his kid brother who was last seen in the notorious Clay Street district of the town. Steve Kolchak stirs up dirt in the town during his search. The novel comes near the subgenre of cleaning-up-the-town novels, but actually Kolchak accomplishes nothing in that respect. The mystery unravels elsewhere. Medium-boiled, a tad sexist, but certainly worth a read.

Not much has been written about Ullman. He came second in the Edgar contest for the best debut novel with The Neon Haystack (the first one was Cornelius Hirschberg, about whose sort-of-a-P.I. novel Florentine Finish I may yet to write here) and won the Inner Sanctum prize with same. The Neon Haystack was published in French in the Gallimard Série Noire line, which is always a recommendation.

Here's what Mr. Steve Lewis of Mystery*File found out:

Ullman (1925-1997) was a journalist for the Chicago Tribune. Much of his fiction takes place in Chicago.

Mystery novels:

The Neon Haystack,1963. Edgar nominee for Best First Novel,1964. (Winner: Florentine Finish, by Cornelius Hirschberg)

Good Night, Irene, 1965. A plot description from Abebooks: Ex-call girl Irene Brown is murder for one of the oldest reasons. A young reporter, Pete Ames, whose carelessness hastened her death, feels bound to avenge her. He assure that among her ex-clientele of businessmen and racketeer's he will find the right man. The deeper he digs into Irene's unsavory past, the longer becomes his list of suspects. Any of them could of done it. But the more he probes into the lives of the suspects, the surer Pete becomes that only one of them would have done it, for Irene had a hold on that one man, a hold so strong that only her death to break it. [Translated as Hyvää yötä Irene in 1967. I have the book and will read it in due time and post a review.]

The Venus Trap, 1966. Rudy Chakorian, financial wizard intent on personal gain, disappears with a fortune in diamonds, leaving his small son and business partner to suffer the consequences for his misdeeds. Considerable information concerning stock manipulation following World War II gives the novel appeal to an audience interested in business affairs. Much of the action is set in Chicago; however, the setting is not essential to the plot.

Lady on Fire, 1968. Private detective Julian Forbes is in Chicago looking for a missing girl, when his secretary-mistress is murdered, apparently because she has viewed some photos of the girl. The case becomes complicated when a merchandising magnate is implicated, and Julian finds that he is being followed by five ruthless thugs.

Ullman also did this (I'm not entirely sure if it's really him, but I have no reason to doubt): How to Hold a Garage Sale: Everything you need to know to make your sale easy, successful and fun (1981).

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