Friday, December 21, 2007

Sleaze novels for your XXXmas pleasure

A while back I posted minireviews of some fifties and sixties sleaze paperbacks to the Rara-Avis e-mail list. I thought it should be posted here as well. Sorry, don't have time to seek for illustrations for these. These are made up from the notes I've been making in the process of trying to do a book about sleaze paperbacks published in Finland. And with this, I wave my hand and yell: "Merry Christmas!"

Brad Curtis: Too Young, Too Wild, Midwood 1966: Brad Curtis was Giles A.
Lutz, a pretty prolific Western writer who penned some dozen sleaze novels on the side. Too Young, Too Wild is a soap opera gone bad: a young girl likes men, but his father, a powerful financial and political figure, destroys all the men the girl has sex with.

Paul Daniels: The Cover Girls, Monarch 1962: Paul Daniels was Paul Fairman,
a prolific hack of science fiction and sleaze, sometimes mixing the two; The Cover Girls is a pretty well-written drama of modelling girls, with some flashbacks and homosexuality thrown in.

Ben Doughty: Sex Slave, Playtime 1965: I haven't been able to find any info on Doughty, except that he wrote some other sleaze novels, beside this one which is a picaresque story about a young woman who gets trapped inside prostitution and sex industry, some interesting points: bad cops work as pimps. How hardboiled can you get?

Arnold English: School for Sex, Midwood 1961: English was really Morris
Hershman (who's probably still alive, in his late eighties), a prolific writer of short stories, crime novels for low-end paperback houses and some science fiction. He was interviewed in Paperback Parade some years back, he said he hated writing sleaze. No one in the business looked him in the eye (except Mike Avallone, he said). School for Sex, Hershman said, was the first bestseller Midwood, one of the biggest sleaze publishers in the sixties, ever had - and he got 600$ for it! The book is a P.I. mystery, about Roy Knox who gets hired by the principal to find out just what the teenagers in the school do after the school closes. Sadly, the book is not as interesting it could be and there's moralism that doesn't seem to be in the right place in the book. ("Arnold English" - compare with "William Irish". It's a homage, Hershman said.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Update's update

As I wrote earlier, I haven't been blogging lately. It's been because I've been pretty busy with several projects. And Facebook also takes up a considerable amount of time... I hope I'll be getting back to the normal schedule some time next year and I sincerely hope I have something to add before Christmas.

In the meantime, I finished Sean Chercover's debut P.I. novel Big City, Bad Blood. It's pretty classic stuff, with a loner hero, but Chercover adds some twists I didn't see coming.

Paul S. Powers, a review by Mike Ward

Mike Ward posted this review of pulp writer Paul S. Powers's hardback Western novel on the Fictionmags e-mail list and I asked for his permission to reprint it (it's not actually a reprint, since this is not a print media...). He said "yes", so here it is. It's pretty long. Here's a site dedicated to Paul S. Powers, who hasn't been very known even in the pulp fandom. Thanks to his daughter, his biography is easily available. Some of his old Westerns seem to be in print, though.

Review of "Doc Dillahay" by Paul S. Powers
Original hardcover publication: MacMillan, 1949

John Dillahay, Arizona rancher's son, teaches school, becomes a doctor, and marries the love of his life. Along the way we find he's a crack shot, a tough brawler when he needs to be, a smart medical man, and a faithful supporter of his friends.

I won this book as a prize in the most recent PGDF text-analysis contest, and I was going to write a basic review of it. But I discovered I don't need to, as someone has already written it for us:

The Amazon reviewer has read Powers' autobiography, and his comments about the book are informed by knowledge of the background story of the writer and his work.

While I was searching the web for further background on the author and the story, I was startled to discover Powers was a rare-book collector (what kinds of books? what happened to his collection when he died?!?!), and that he ended his days working in a bookstore in Berkeley CA -- where I almost certainly bought books from him.

A small number of his short stories are currently indexed in the FMI:

All that said, I'll now do a meta-review of the book:

1. A novel, or a patchwork of short stories?

When a short-story writer does a novel, he needs to be careful that he isn't writing a bunch of shorts about a common character. This is exactly what short-story writer Powers did here.

We meet young John Dillahay, and he begins to grow wise. His odyssey from youth to medical school to adulthood is explicitly divided into "Book 1" and "Book 2," with most of medical school happening during the blank pages between the two sections. Many little things happen that shape succeeding events. Conflicts provide opportunities for growth. "Doc Dillahay" would segment easily into a TV miniseries; there may even be enough episodes for a thirteen-week season.

On the other hand, I hereby state that it's a novel. "Huckleberry Finn" and "Moby Dick," are just collections of episodes around central characters, and these are the stuff of Great American Novels. You have to be careful about this.

John Dillahay grows up; he chooses a career. He finds a mentor in Doc Ledinger, and their relationship is central to the rest of the book. Here I mention that the mentor is a crusty old geezer, a medical practitioner with a mysterious past, who is fully competent except when he is on one of his six-day drinking binges. By John's example, as a man who can survive bad luck without escaping into the bottle, his mentor is redeemed and becomes a grown-up again. Ledinger becomes an alternate
father-figure, who teaches him all he knows and then makes it possible for him to continue learning at a distant academy (where he will soon know more than his guru).

John goes off to medical school, and returns to take his place as an adult. He survives conflicts, both small and large. By the end of the book he has resolved the power struggles that he is party to: some by acceptance, some by negotiation, some by triumph, and even a couple by losing.

He loses the love of his life (so far) to his own brother.

John's birth father becomes sick, while John is far away at medical school. John is unaware of this, and therefore unable to help him' he is thus implicitly guilty for whatever happens to his father. Back in Arizona, a degreed doctor, still he is unable to keep his father from dying, of a disease far beyond the powers of currently modern medicine to cure; he curses his and medicine's ignorance for their failures.

He comes to a better understanding and acceptance of his place in the universe. He, along with most of the other surviving characters, achieves a happy ending. His adopted father-figure marries John's mother, thus becoming his father in fact. Calling Dr. Freud.

Our boy John discovers the true love of his life has always been near him since the earliest chapters. We all just need to look around us.

2. What's the book about?

Personal growth.

Medicine, specifically medical practice in the American western frontier, its strengths and its limitations. There's enough of this to make it kind of a novel about science. Powers used his childhood memories, of his father's medical practice, to make it all seem real in 1885 Arizona.

Family: support for the members of; betrayal and forgiveness; extension of familial group by adopting or marrying (as when his brother marries the niece of his father's business enemy); tradition; foreswearing of tradition.

The American West: It's not all (or even mostly) about gunfights at the corral. Mostly, the West was about families.

Alcoholism and the effects of alcohol on the western frontier. Alcohol as an internal escape, mirroring the external escape from the civilized parts of America. Alcohol as the destroyer of lives: John's dependence on his mentor provides the justification for his mentor's successful battle against binging and benders. The author is said, in the autobiography, to have had personal experience with alcohol.

Surpassing your father's estate (another call for Dr. Freud): John becomes a successful doctor, while his father fails as a rancher, just as he had failed before moving to Arizona. Was Powers working out personal family issues here?

Although his father is successful in organizing the small ranchers against the rich man's combine, he's forced to abandon ranching and take up storekeeping-a lower status occupation. There's an echo here of his parent's move to Arizona after earlier problems in another state; and this in turn echoes the long-ago move of the de la Haye family to Ireland -which led to an earlier reduction of the family's status. Family, again: maybe his father isn't anything much, but by heaven the
de la Haye family was pretty hot stuff back in Norman England.

3. Why did the author write the book?

Money, career, personal growth.

To work out personal family and career issues. Why am I here? Why is my market for short pulp fiction going away? What am I going to do about it? Why wasn't my Dad like Ludwig Ledinger? Or maybe he was, in the wrong ways.

4. Yucca City == Tombstone? Not exactly.

5. Doc Dillahay == Doc Holliday?

Nope. Dillihay may be Holliday spelled sideways, but I think Powers chose the name simply for its evocation of Arizona history. Holliday was a dentist, and more or less contemporaneous with Doc Ledinger, our protagonist's guide, role model, and mentor. Our boy John was just learning the ropes.

6. Mainstream work from a pulp writer?

Apparently so. Well, mainstream, if you consider a western a mainstream book.

Our author included a couple of jokes at the reader's expense, or maybe they were simply old WILD WEST WEEKLY tropes he couldn't shake. Hero John can beat up one of his larger and more noxious students, throwing him, deservedly, into the cesspit. He can shoot three cans tossed into the air with his pistol, Bam Bam Bam, just like that. He is, in fact, the best shot around; and him just a young feller; he outshot the cartridge salesman, we're told. In fact, his friends suggest a career as
a trick-shot marksman would pay better than doctoring.

During the big gunfight at the end of the book, John takes a brand-new rifle from the store (with the price tag still on it, so he knows it's in good condition!) and carefully wings all the bad guys attacking the Marshall and company holed up in the newspaper office. Dillahay reluctantly kills the syphilis-maddened Cullen La Mar, and his mentor Doc Ledinger reappears on the scene: not dashed to bits at the bottom of the mining pit, as everyone had feared, but safe and sound, having hidden in the outhouse during the battle.

7. Did you like the book? If so, tell why. Should I read it?

Yeah, it was worth the time spent. The sections about medical practice in 1885 are almost science-fictional; certainly they're fiction about science and technology. The American West background is interesting and well-drawn. The main characters generate some empathy in the reader; they are self-consistent and show human traits. Few of the things they do make the reader cringe for their stupidity. (Sometimes we cringe for John's obliviousness to things going on around him, but in these cases
it's an author's device to foreshadow later events.) You could read it and enjoy it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A quick update

Haven't blogged much lately. (I heard an expert say lately that blogs have lost some of their zest. It indeed seems that way, there are fewer comments on some blogs I've been following. I should say that with Facebook and other stuff the web moves away from being anonymous to being someone with a name and an identity. (Admittedly this notion comes from someone who's never understood the point of being anonymous.))

Okay, I digress. Some books and movies I've read and seen lately:

Allan Guthrie: Hard Man. Finally got around to reading this. Pretty much blew me away. I exchanged some e-mails with Allan (or should I say "Sunshine"?) about this and we discussed why a critic like Eddie Muller described the book as "torture porn". I can see that - I think it's mainly because Allan's book lacks (quite deliberately, I should think) social content. There's no whys and hows, there's only what (and how to get out). Allan wrote to me that the book is his most complex. Indeed, there are several discourses in the book, several points of view, and several narratives. It occurred me to compare Allan to - can you take this? - Vladimir Nabokov! His books are also complex and multi-layered, with the focus on the narration and the language, and I should say this applies also to Guthrie. (And I'm not kidding with this!)

Richard Matheson: I Am Legend. This one blew me away big time. Vow! From the start it's so suspenseful you want to die. This was quite recently translated for the first time in Finnish by a new publisher, Vaskikirjat. More power to them! Here's my friend pHinn talking about the book and digging up the old trailers from YouTube...

(I blogged about these on Crimespace. It's getting pretty difficult to keep all these Web 2.0 things together... Who remembers anymore that I have a MySpace account?)

Carl Th. Dreyer: Vampyr (1932). This one also blew me away. Almost like silent David Lynch of Lost Highway and Fire Walk With Me (even though the film is not silent, there's only very little of dialogue). Very inventive and very mysterious, based loosely on a story by Joseph le Fanu. The Redemption DVD I watched (thanks, Markku!) wasn't of a very good quality, but it may be the case that the negative of the film has been destroyed and all the copies are just as murky and dark. I don't mind: I've been waiting for 20 years to see this one. (Here is an essay about restoring the known prints of the films. Here's an essay comparing Vampyr to a film by Lucio Fulci. And here's the film...)

David Lynch: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1994). Now, this one didn't blow me away. You may remember my fascination with the Twin Peaks series. I didn't like this film when I saw it originally, but I was ready to take a challenge. It's still flawed, but more interesting than the first time around. It's pretty difficult to fathom what one would think of this if he/she wouldn't have seen any episode of Twin Peaks. In this respect, the film is a precursor to Lynch's more mysterious latter-day films, such as Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr.

Okay, is there still something more? Oh, I've been reading Boccaccio's Decamerone and The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, maybe later... And I started Sean Chercover's Big City, Bad Blood. Seems pretty strong so far.

Some late additions (I wrote the above yesterday): Antonioni's La Notte: nice photography and very nice ladies in the lead (Jeanne Moreau and Monica Vitti, in very nice early sixties party costumes and high heels!), but something in Antonioni leaves me cold. The films are detached, yes, and it seems quite deliberate, but still there's something... Pirates of the Caribbean: okay fun, but too long.

EDIT: I had some e-mail exchange with Sunshine Guthrie and decided to change my "blow me out" phrases into "blow me away". Sorry all. My English isn't flawless. And thanks, Al!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The cover of the coming Isku

Here's the cover for the seventh issue of Isku, my crime fiction fanzine. It's the only of its kind in Finland! The cover illo is drawn by Henri Joela, who captures the violence in Timo Surkka's story quite well. He also did a breath-taking pin up illo for the story... Here's some more details.