Don’t tell a book by its cover, they say. Well, sometimes it works. Mike Dime’s cover obviously apes classic pulp art without quite achieving the same quality. And Barry Fantoni’s prose is pretty much the same. Mike Dime is pure PI pastiche. The book can be funny, and you know what they say about imitation and flattery. But Fantoni is a skilled mimic rather than a master.
Today is the great Mickey Spillane’s 96th birthday. (He was born 9 March 1918.) Spillane was the king of hardboiled, double-fisted, anti-communist scribes. Maybe that isn’t so popular anymore. But the realm of hardboiled fiction would be a lot poorer without Spillane’s (and Mike Hammer’s) unambiguous, unironic (and sometimes unintentionally over-the-top) masculinity. Make what you want of Spillane’s politics, he’s one of the hardboiled greats.
Speaking of great, a great way to spend Spillane’s birthday with him is to check out the 1963 film The Girl Hunters, where Spillane plays Hammer. Which is to say, Spillane plays himself. The films itself is not great. Spillane’s performance is not iconic by any means, but it is memorable for being one of the very few times an author has played his literary creation on screen.
Sure, Kiss Me Deadly is a far better film (and much farther from its source material). But Spillane-as-Hammer is worth checking out. And the ripe Shirley Eaton is certainly worth checking out, a year before Goldfinger suffocated Jill Masterson. Eaton’s role as in The Girl Hunters as Laura Knapp is considerably less iconic, but certainly adds to the film’s appeal.
This is pulp fiction on the screen. Blunt, lurid, unpretentious. The Girl Hunters is hard to find on DVD (it used to be on youtube, though no more). But it is available to stream free if you subscribe to Amazon Prime. It’s hardly a classic, but worth a look.
The LSD subplot seemed unusually dated (though that did not stop the most recent Bond continuation author William Boyd from using a very similar plot just last year in Solo). Still, there’s a great deal to enjoy in this—or any—Travis McGee novel. No one should be able to create such a compelling hardboiled white-knight beach bum philosopher. But John D. MacDonald not only created McGee, he thrilled us with McGee’s adventures over and over again.
I haven’t tracked down any episodes of Griff, so I can’t comment on the short-lived PI series starring Lorne Greene (of Bonanza and Battlestar Galactica fame). But Greene sure made for a natty private eye.
Anonymous asked: Remember, noir writers used a minimum of words to convey the scene. They never blathered on and on.
Gee, aren’t you glad you aren’t paying me by the word?
Seriously, though, pulp authors were paid by the word. Some of those (James M. Cain) would become noir writers. Other noir writers, such as Patricia Highsmith, were quite lush verbal stylists.
Hairsplitting aside, I know I blather. When I post at all. Which I’m trying to do. So you’ll probably end up with half pictures, half-decent attempts to emulate noir, and half blathering about whatever strikes my fancy. Which makes about five halves, I think?
In life and on here, I know I should blather less. Thanks for the reminder (not being facetious there). And I will end this before I blather any further.
Watching the first episode of Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond. Dominic Cooper looks nothing like Fleming, but let’s hope for the best. You gotta love this picture of the real Fleming. Nothing like a gun and bow tie. I’ll even forgive him the short sleeves.
Despite all the “shaken, not stirred” business, Fleming (and Bond) drank quite a bit of bourbon. Naturally, I have a few fingers of bourbon in a tumbler (that’s an old-fashioned glass, not this site) to accompany my viewing. I’ll report back with more after I’ve seen more of the miniseries.
While we’re on the subjects of pipe noir, let’s pay our respects to the greatest pipeman to ever write crime fiction: Raymond Chandler. A master of hardboiled fiction,
Chandler was also a devotee of pipe smoking. As you can see, he puffed almost constantly. Even at the famous dinner for Black Mask authors where Chandler and Hammett were photographed together, Chandler has a pipe in his gob. (Chandler is second from the left in the back row, while Hammett is on the end of the same row. Noir heavyweights Horace McCoy and Norbert Davis are seated in the last two spots to the right in the first row of seated gentlemen.) Even in that relatively permissive era, Chandler was the only one smoking at dinner—or the only one couldn’t be bothered to put his tobacco aside for the photo.
I can’t find any information about the pipes or tobacco Chandler favored, unfortunately. I’m quite fond of literary tobaccos, so I will be sure to try and track down whatever Chandler smoked if that information ever comes to light. In the first Philip Marlowe story, “Finger Man,” Marlowe mentions picking up a bulldog pipe—one of my favorite shapes.
It’s the perfect companion for reading crime fiction. Hell, for reading anything. I sit there with a book in my lap and a pipe in my teeth. This isn’t a cigarette. I’m not taking the time to pack my pipe and light it because I need nicotine. I don’t need to puff at all hours.
I can pick it up when I want it. I can think, I can read. I can puff. I can join the fraternity of great men who have puffed on their pipes as they thought. As they read. As they wrote. Cigars are great for celebrating. For socializing. For drinking good whiskey neat. But a pipe for thinking.
Even the tobacco is literary. Bell’s Three Nuns was the favorite of C.S. Lewis. They say the recipe has changed since then. Maybe I’m missing out. But when you’re born too late you have to take what you can get. And what I get is tobacco. I love peeling back the fluted paper on a new tin of tobacco. And each time I open the tin again. It’s like unwrapping a present.
Into my favorite briar it goes. No glass nonsense for me. I once walked into a self-proclaimed smoke shop. All I saw was swirly, spacey glass contraptions. I walked right out. Give me something substantial. Something all the kiddies aren’t doing or experimenting.
Sure, my pipe is a cheap one. And the rim has a little char. So what? I don’t want something you can throw in the dishwasher. It’s a man’s tool. It looks like one. And it’s a tool I’m proud of. A tool I clean and take care of. But a tool I use.
Doesn’t mean it’s not a vice. I know it is. It’s an older vice. A forgotten vice. A vice I don’t need. A vice I chose. A vice I didn’t just pick up because I thought everyone was doing it. A vice I admire. A vice I can perfect. The best kind to have. After all, who wants a second-rate vice?
Mike Shayne was an early arrival on the Miami hardboiled scene. He was later eclipsed by Travis McGee and Hoke Moseley, but Shayne remains an important pulp hero. Halliday’s novels were deliberately formulaic, but readers loved the formula.
The Private Practice of Mike Shayne was published in 1940, but this little gem from 1965 includes a cover illustration by the legendary Robert McGinniss.
In other news, take a look at that cover price. 45 CENTS. I’m happy to find a book like this for two or three dollars. If they ever invent a time machine, you guys can all do back and see the wars and dinosaurs and assassinations and meet your heroes and solve the mysteries of time. I’m just gonna go buy the contents of an entire bookstore.
This was a pretty prosaic Cold War thriller. French secret agent Al Glenne may have been billed as “the FRENCH James Bond,” but Glenne lacks Bond’s depth and élan. It was a quick, enjoyable read nonetheless.
Operation Jealousy was translated by Ralph Hackett, for whom I can’t find much information, except that he also translated three of Braun’s other novels (the ones listed on the book jacket). Whether Braun or Hackett’s doing, the prose in this book is serviceable though far from impressive. (Of course every rule must be proved by its exception.)
Bottom line: decent thriller. I think the book (as an object) is a pretty neat vintage paperback. Not a must-read, but I’m glad it’s sitting in my collection.