Matt Helm – Death of a Citizen by Donald Hamilton

Matt Helm - Death of a CitizenMatt Helm - Death of a Citizen by Donald Hamilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a class of fiction that barely rises above comic strip in character development, Death of a Citizen manages to stay the course, but does it well. Despite the glowing accolades from Tom Clancy on the (re-issue) cover as being real, it is not. It is not literature (the English combine this genre with literature better), but it is good pulp.

Comparisons to Hammett or Chandler are lazy claims. Matt Helm is what could be called a dry drunk, addicted to violence without any redemption (killing Commies won't get you past Saint Peter in this day and age), but he is a good pulp hero.

At the end of the day, Donald Hamilton is a good pulp writer.

View all my reviews

Miami Blues

Miami BluesMiami Blues by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pulp Haiku

Well, let's just jump into some dialog with Hoke Moseley talking about his dentures:
"'Bout a year ago, I had some abscessed teeth, and the only way I could chew was to hold my head over to one side and chew like a dog on the side that didn't hurt. I was having lunch with Dr. Evans, and after lunch, he took me back to the morgue, shot me up with Novocaine, and pulled all my teeth. Every one of them. Then he made an impression and had these teeth made for me by the same technician who makes all of the Miami Dolphins' false teeth."

A good reason to call this Miami blues.

Then we have an example of character categorization concerning relationships:
"That's some family, isn't it? Incest, prostitution, fanaticism, software ... "

I especially like the software (there is a legitimate tie-in) being chained into this list of perversions.

View all my reviews

The Burnt Orange Heresy

The Burnt Orange HeresyThe Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pulp Art redux

As in again?

Yes, this picks up on a theme developed by Willeford in "Pick Up." This isn't accidental because it is underlined (maybe highlighted would be preferable) by both artists' choice of...wait for it...Orange. Especially dark orange.

"Pick Up" is the better novel. This one moves us across the country from Frisco to Florida with the migration of the author. This one moves upscale, but doesn't make the fall anymore deeper (and possibly shallower) than that in "Pick Up."

In a nutshell: derivative.

View all my reviews

The Woman Chaser

The Woman ChaserThe Woman Chaser by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pulp cinema?

The modern audience may think Tarantino got there first (at least on film, 1994), but Willeford bookended "Pulp Fiction" with his script, 1960, that made it to the silver screen, 1999, with few, if any, changes.

Pulp cinematic hero? Consider this description:

"Two hundred pounds, the beginnings of a paunch, big size-eleven feet, more enormous yet in red-yellow-and-blue cashmere argyles, thick, hairy arms and basket-ball-player hands, a mat of blue-black chest hair; a sunburned grinning face, and a headful of dark unruly hair, badly in need of cutting. Some dancer! I laughed wildly. In the face of all maternal arguments I had quit taking ballet lessons when I turned fourteen and fell in love with baseball. The hell with it! I assumed an attitude and met Mother’s charming pas de Bourree with outstretched arms and fingers."

View all my reviews

Our Lady of Darkness

Our Lady of DarknessOur Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pulp Fantasy
(only because calling it Horror in place of Fantasy would be a doubling of Pulp which is its own interpretation of middle-class Horror)

I chose to read this out of my stream of Charles Willeford (actually, I was reading "Pick-Up" at the same time) because of another book (how could it be otherwise?) by Don Herron, "The Dashiell Hammett Tour." Within those pages Don Herron offered a writer he and his group ran into on the streets of The City, Charles Willeford. The purchase of Don's book has lead me to wonders of writers who inhabited San Francisco. Don also introduced me to Fritz Leiber, who added many references of Hammett to his novel, "Our Lady...."

Already knowing how Leiber lived in a rent controlled ("Rhodes" historically Rhodema now Union) hotel in the Tenderloin (and which was merely several blocks from my girlfriend's apartment up Nob Hill), it gave me immediate identification.

However, to return to "Our Lady...."

This story is atmospheric and full of the lore of Megapolisomancy. The hero owns an original journal of a man who studied paramental life-forces that defied time and space; and destructive-forces of the city's megalithic monuments. This book, familiar to an expert who wouldn't touch it for his life, contains both the question and the answer to the journal writer's death.

"Our Lady" is invested with the (author's autobiographical) hero's mood of recovering from the alcoholism following the death of his wife years before. Even then, it is neither morose, nor depressive. Instead, the hero is surrounded with comforting and supportive friends who rescue him from the paramental's highly disturbing embrace.

Of interest, and possibly fascination, is the hero's rumination on the many authors and their titles in the field of fantasy and horror genres that were current in the early 1970s.:
Nostig’s "The Subliminal Occult,"
“The Haunter of the Dark,”
"The Outsider,"
Collected Ghost Stories of Montague Rhodes,
“The City of the Singing Flame,”
"Ames et Fantômes de Douleur,"
"Knochenmädchen in Pelze (mit Peitsche),"
"Suspiria de Profundis,"
"The Spider Glyph in Time,"
"Sex, Death and Supernatural Dread,"
“The Thing on the Doorstep,"
“The Disinterment of Venus,”
...and many others.

View all my reviews

The Way We Die Now

The Way We Die NowThe Way We Die Now by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pulp Upward Mobility

Of the Hoke Moseley series, this is the most determinedly Pulp of them all and returns to the roots of the genre.

The sense of research, investigation, criminal pursuit have been sidelined to serve Hoke's fall from grace and his middle class redemption (which is the ultimate condemnation, a very personal and punishing hell within the gritty realm of Pulp).

An example of this arises out of his daughter's own emergence into bitter adulthood:
"Suddenly Aileen began to cry. Tears, unchecked, streamed down her cheeks.
"'What's the matter? Why are you crying?
"'Be-because," she said finally, still sobbing, 'because you can't!'"

View all my reviews


Pick-UpPick-Up by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing my conceit of qualifying terms for this genre, I offer:

Pulp Artist

I am always surprised at the humanity that surfaces with Willeford's handling of this cheap and dirty line of reading. He doesn't squirm or coyly turn his face from the squalid overtures offered by the characteristic covers (which I so love---they pack so much promise in an image).

Without beating around the bush, we have a story of two alcoholics, and their descent into the abyss of hopelessness that leads them to suicide. As much as that says, it doesn't reveal what I discovered about how much un-sentimental sympathy Willeford has for them with the existential twist at the end.

The story is simple, but Willeford's technique is solid enough to build nuance into each character's being. There is sex, beatings, murder, the cosmic joke of unasked-for redemption...and a lot of smoking and drinking.

View all my reviews

New Hope For The Dead

New Hope for the DeadNew Hope for the Dead by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pulp Affirmative Action

"Sanchez picked up one of the long-legged dolls. Hoke sniffed the anima of the owner---Patou's Joy, perspiration, cold cream, bath powder, soap, and stale cigarette smoke.
"'You ever notice,' he said, 'how a woman's room always smells like the inside of her purse?'
"'Nope.' Sanchez dropped the doll on the bed. 'But I've noticed that a man's bedroom smells like a YMCA locker room.'"

Later, Hoke trying to make conversation with Ellita Sanchez during the investigation:

"'You Latin girls lead a sheltered life. But the point I'm trying to make is, these marks look like hickeys to me.'
"'Maybe so. From the smile on his face, he died happy.'
"'That's not a smile, that's rictus. A lot of people who aren't happy to die grin like that.'"

Willeford, a retired Army sergeant who began writing Pulp in the service in the early 50's often brings a knowing sensibility of the professional soldier (albeit the civilian version as a police officer). In this regard, Willeford's protagonists (and especially Sgt. Hoke Moseley) have a military background, or have subordinates who are retired sergeants. And with those attributes of a military life of service comes the mix of accommodation and survival skills. This entry in the series is especially illustrative of this with Hoke's solution to his needs balanced with the solution of a crime. I won't say more given it may reveal too much to those who have not read this book.

Willeford also introduces a new (for the time, but fairly common currently) mode to the police procedural, and that is more tightly integrated story line that draws in family. Some may object this has infrequently been a side-show to the genre (the police procedural), and, as such, nothing remarkable. I would argue that Willeford brings in genuine content consistent with the character of Hoke that adds to the continuity of his earliest work; and it meshes as smoothly as Michael Connelly’s Bosch.

View all my reviews


Sideswipe: A Hoke Moseley NovelSideswipe: A Hoke Moseley Novel by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pulp Burn-out

Willeford has always written from many points of view, and this is a superb example where the separate story lines entwine and intersect naturally. The plot is complex when viewed from a distance, but quite simple when seen from within the eyes of each character.

Willeford also reprises past motifs. One such example is with art. Willeford studied art in France and in Peru. This interests inhabits much of his early writing through his protagonist's own expressed interest in art (often idiosyncratic). This artistic pursuit is fully engaged in "Pick-up," brought to center stage in "The Burnt Orange Heresy," and then here in a surprising and satisfying lesson given by an automobile painter.

View all my reviews

Revenge Of The Kremlin

Revenge of the KremlinRevenge of the Kremlin by Gérard de Villiers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What a dog.

“Hello, Malko!” he said. “We met briefly about two years ago. I’ll be here for another year before I head back to Langley."

“I won’t forget this, Sir George. Do I have your permission to inform Malko himself?”

"What the hell are you going to do in Moscow, anyway?”
“Pull the lion’s tail,” said Malko

"You realize you’re walking into the lion’s den, don’t you?”

She respected him, and he was secretly in love with her.

He hadn’t realized that Irina Lopukin had friends in such high places. I hope she hasn’t gone to complain about me, he thought.

“They took their revenge on her,” said Malko, feeling troubled. He had caused her death, he knew. “I’ll have flowers put on her grave. She was very helpful.”

View all my reviews

The Machine In Ward Eleven

The Machine in Ward ElevenThe Machine in Ward Eleven by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pulp madness

I hesitate to call this a "redux" of another Pulp category, but it does continue Willeford's excellent work in "Pick Up."

I say this in the sense that in that earlier novel, the hero is also (self)committed to a (nearly)psycho ward. The difference here is a stylistic (and internal logical) consistency where the patient isn't entirely aware of all the details. He says as much, and yet as the teller of the tale, where does that put us to judge the facts on the face of the telling?


View all my reviews

Mystery At Thunderbolt House

Mystery at Thunderbolt HouseMystery at Thunderbolt House by Howard Pease
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This historical story, set in San Francisco the year going up to the great earthquake, is a broadly disguised fantasy of Pease's own experience of the shake.

Some elements are based upon his recollection of his aunt, who he recalls being pictured high atop a loaded waggon that is transporting her household items away from the destruction.

The story of rags-to-riches, a common Horatio Alger era theme, also mirror's Pease's family suddenly acquiring a windfall inheritance. However, his own family experience is considerably more subdued to the immense wealth his protagonist finds.

Pease said this book was his personal favorite.

Pease's full stories were printed in American Boy Magazine and illustrated by the renowned artist Anton Otto Fischer whose graphic work was found on many covers such as The Saturday Evening Post.

The Black Tanker

If you are interested in the artwork that illustrated Pease's stories, go to:
Pease Images

View all my reviews

The Black Mass Of Brother Springer

The Black Mass of Brother SpringerThe Black Mass of Brother Springer by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who would believe Pulp Religion?

Sam Springer has been ordained and called to a small church in the Negro (late 50s) part of Jax Florida. The Right Reverend "Deuteronomy" Springer was an ex-accountant and ex-novelist who had writer's block when he became a civil-rights leader in a bus boycott. Too soon, he becomes the focus of Klan activity, a lot of donation money, and a parishioner's wife. He arrived at this impasse of identity because in his respectable life he faced:

"My monthly payment of $78.60 on my house was five days overdue. My car payment on my three-year-old Pontiac was one month overdue. A small payment, only $42.50 per month, to be sure.... I owed the milkman $5.40 for the current month, the grocer for groceries delivered during the month, the telephone bill, the television repair bill for a new booster for the picture tube, and several other sundry bills, including an unfulfilled pledge at the Unitarian Fellowship Society."

Brother Springer quickly admits (to himself) that he has no "faith," but his sermons do inspire the faithful and fuels social protest. And, yet, true to Pulp formula, life is about booze, cigarettes, money, and sex.

Pulp Canterbury Tales

Pulp Decameron.

Pulp Fabliaux.

Willeford's writing contains all the classic elements of the older genres I allude to above. A theme I see emerging in his early works is the anti-hero embodying the archetype of the Destroyer who brings positive change.

View all my reviews

Whip Hand

Whip HandWhip Hand by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is pulp, it reads like pulp, the story is pulp, and the considerably difference here is that the characters are dirt-farm poor pulp.

Distinctions abound as each of these characters has their own point-of-view chapter (or several). Further, their dialect is utterly dirt farmer.

What makes pulp? The scope of their aspirations. Scope is not the same as scale. In terms of scale, pulp characters are going to go for the whole enchilada. Scope reveals that the enchilada is all they plan for. If they are looking for a $1000 bank-roll, in very little time it lands in their lap.

Then what? Scale of aspiration is met, and a world of hurt follows because there isn't enough zeros in $1000 to pay for the mistakes they made getting it.

"Whip Hand" accomplishes the display of this tragic fault across every character.

Charles Willeford has written an existential pulp comedy.

View all my reviews