Friday, March 28, 2014

Thrift Shop Book Covers: Utah Blaine

Utah Blaine is the second of three Louis L’Amour novels published by Ace.  It was originally published as by Jim Mayo and made its debut as one half of an Ace Double (D-48) in 1954. The artwork of the original paperback isn’t bad, but getting a copy could set your retirement back.

The edition that caught my eye was an early 1970s Ace reprint.  It has an alarmingly orange cover—something close to post-apocalyptic as it seems to devour the town in the background—a gunman on an angry horse firing at someone offstage.  It appears there is something close to artillery kicking up dirt geysers (actually rifle slug impacts, I’m sure).  It is a scene straight from a comic book, and I love it.  The artist is uncredited.      

The opening paragraph:

“He was asleep and then he was awake. His eyes flared wide and he held himself still, staring staring into the darkness, his ears reaching for sound.”

I read this title as a teenager and I can barely remember the plot, but I do remember I enjoyed it. I know the edition I read was issued by Bantam in the 1980s.  The thing I really like about this old Ace paperback.  It informs the customer it is Louis L’Amour “writing under the pen-name ‘Jim Mayo’”. 

This is the fourth in a new series of posts featuring cover and miscellany of books I find at thrift stores and used bookshops.  It is reserved for books I purchased as much for the cover art as for the story or the author.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

SLAMMER by Allan Guthrie

Nick Glass is a rookie prison guard in a Scottish prison.  He has been on the job six weeks with mixed results—the other guards mock and make trouble for him and the inmates don’t respect him.  At home he has a five-year old daughter and wife.  His wife tends to drink too much, and is just on the backside of an affair.  To say Nick has a little stress is an understatement.

To make things worse Nick is approached by one of the inmates and asked to mule drugs inside.  The inmate gives him two choices: 1) make an easy buck; or 2) his little family gets hurt in a big way.  Nick is in big trouble as he desperately tries to protect his family at home and his own life at work.

Slammer is the sort of novel that creeps up on you in about three pages.  It starts hard and strong and never lets up.  Glass is a regular guy caught in a nasty and impossible situation.  He doesn’t belong in the prison.  He is a nice guy, both weak and sincere.  He, much like his name, is prone to fracture.  And Guthrie makes sure Glass does just that.

The novel opens with Glass in the office of the prison psychiatrist.  It is a mandatory visit and Nick is less than pleased to be there.  The psychiatrist is an instrument Mr Guthrie uses to foreshadow and then define the undoing of Nick.  He is a skewed sentiment of sanity in a dark and insane world.  A world that envelopes Nick and threatens to destroy him.  And Nick is the perfect object—he is prone to fantasy, and as the novel progresses, he begins to mistake his fantasy for reality.  It is a trip into hell.  A trip the reader knows is coming with each progressive sentence, paragraph and page, but is helpless to stop.

Slammer is a wonderfully executed novel.  It is reminiscent of Guthrie’s first novel Two-Way Split, but its execution is better (amazingly).  It is short, 263 pages, but it does not lack meaning or story.  The prose is hardboiled, lean and smart.  The dialogue is crisp, and the atmosphere is weighty and oppressive.  It is a fine example of the new noir: a hopeless, distraught and shameless (in a good way) vision of the human condition.

This is an encore post.  It originally went live on November 23,2009.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

New Sam McCain Novel: Riders on the Storm

There is good news on the private eye front.  Ed Gormans new Sam McCain novel is scheduled for release October 15, 2014.  It is titled Riders on the Storm, which is a Doors song, and based solely on the title (and rock band who made it famous), it may be a little darker than the previous McCain titles.  The publisher is Pegasus.  The description at Amazon (slightly edited because it seemingly has a spoiler) reads:

Veteran Steve Donovan brutally belittles and finally savagely beats his old friend Will Cullen when Cullen announces he's joined the anti-war group. 

When Cullen is found murdered, the obvious suspect is Steve Donovan, but Sam has serious doubts about the mans guilt.  At least three people had reasons to murder Cullen, and Sam begins to suspect hell discover even more as his investigation heats up,in this dynamic new politically charged novel by a veteran of the form.