CLASSIC GUMSHOE DETECTIVE NOVELS

 

    Livre Noir, Pulp Fiction, Gumshoe Journals; these are the classic mystery novels that still fill the bookstores and libraries around the world. From Popular Fiction, like James Chandler’s THE BIG SLEEP and THE MALTESE FALCON to Robert Tine’s MULLHOLLAND FALLS, come the stories of mystery, intrigue, murder, police corruption, sex and drugs. Often, the lines are blurred between good guy-bad guy in these stories and more often than not, there is a strong presence of dark vigilantism among the hero characters who go off script to catch a bad guy.

     Some of the best stories around take place during a time frame between the 1940s and 50s, when Hollywood and Broadway were at their zeniths and when high fashion and high society were things to be envied by those whose work a day habits brought in small paychecks and little esteem. Cops, Private Eyes and Newspaper Reporters were the privileged proletariat, who got to mingle with these elite types, and with an added rush of getting in their face, when the Law was broken. Los Angeles and New York were often the playgrounds and backdrops for these crime thrillers, for those very reasons.

     L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, by James Ellroy is one example of this, even though it was published in the 1990s. It has that feel of 1950s writing with its short sentences and terse language. Another is Mickey Spillane’s anti hero, Mike Hammer, Private Eye. In THE BIG KILL, He doesn’t mind mixing it up with crooks, even enjoying a good smack down and pounding of a dame or dude, no matter what their station in life. He has his own brand of justice and a few bones to pick! This is hard boiled melodrama wrapped up in one liners and craftily woven plots. It’s the kind of writing that is edgy, profane and hard hitting. I will begin with a review of THE BIG KILL, and then later in the month, review L.A. CONFIDENTIAL one of my all time favorites.

 

THE BIG KILL, by Mickey Spillane.

 

      Drinking at a seedy bar in the crime ridden East Village on a rainy night, Hammer notices a man come in with an infant. The man, named Decker, cries as he kisses the infant goodbye, then walks out in the rain to be shot to death. Hammer shoots the assailant as he searches Decker's body. The driver of the getaway car runs over the man Hammer shot to ensure that he won't talk. Hammer takes care of the infant and vows revenge on the person behind such a deed.

     Hammer's trail of vengeance leads him to hostile encounters with his police friend Pat Chambers, the DA and his stooges as well as beatings, assassination attempts and torture from gangsters that Hammer reciprocates in an eye for an eye fashion.

      Hammer also has loving encounters with two women he meets on his quest. Marsha is a former Hollywood Actress who was beaten by Decker when he robbed her flat. Ellen is the rich daughter of a horse breeder who works for the D.A.

     The plot is convoluted and littered with odd characters , “Dames with curves they know how to use and lips that work on a man like a drug”, so says Hammer. He gives and receives many severe beatings, and when he's on the receiving end his brutal and ghastly injuries respond remarkably well to the medicinal properties of good scotch, hot black coffee, a plate of steak and eggs, and a few smokes.

     He learns that the dead man was an ex-con trying to go straight when he was tricked into consorting with racketeers. Mike battles with low lifes and high-living hoodlums in the course of seeking his own kind of justice…vengeance for the man and his child. But he gets caught up in the intrigue that becomes almost too much for him. As the investigation heats up, Hammer is almost killed for knowing too much and arrested by the D.A. for butting into police business. But the Private Eye avenges himself and the police by bringing all of the bookies and racketeers down and then finding out the real reason Decker was murdered. It just doesn’t get any better than this for Pulp Fiction.

Resident Philosopher Doug Taylor