The Crank Patrol: I finally got around to watching Mad Men and I don't see why it's getting such good reviews. It could well be me. It probably is me. Yes, I am George Costanza. I just get the same feeling from it that I get from too many neo-noirs. If we put on the right clothes and and drop a few lines to indicate the historical era and its mores then we'll have us a pretty cool retro show. It's playing dress up without a realistic or even very interesting script to buttress the fashions. The one I'm zeroing in on concerned keeping the Lucky Strike tobbaco account happy. Just in case we didn't get the point that cigs equal cancer nearly everybody around the table--ad men and tobacco ghouls alike--were coughing. Pretty ham handed. And the way the ad dude saves the moment when the client starts to walk out...I've seen Superman scripts more believable. The much undervalued Rona Jaffe did this all much better in 1958 with Tbe Best of Everything. The scriptwriters should look it up.
In this age of psycho self-promotion (of which I'm guilty myself) and big buck book promotion, it's no longer enough to be a good solid writer. I remember Anthony Boucher calling John D. MacDonald "One of the first-rate craftsmen of crime." And that was a valid assement. JDM wasn't an innovator, a poet, a master psychologist. He was a damned good storyteller who was, in his fiction, true to his time. You can learn a lot about post-war America by reading his early Gold Medals. Those are just a few of the reasons his best work bears rereading today.
I say this because Kill Now, Pay Later by Robert Terrall, the new one from Hard Case Crime, demonstrates how admirable and readable a really fine craftsman can be. Terrall worked under a variety of names and worked in a variety of forms. As John Gonzales he wrote a very good 1951 Woolrichian Gold Medal called Death for Mr. Big. As Brett Halliday he wrote a number of Mike Shaynes that not even Halliday could have pulled off. And as Robert Kyle he wrote three excellent serious crime novels about governmental and police corruption. He even, believe it or not, wrote some good books under his own name.
In Kill Now, Pay Later private investigator Ben Gates is hired to watch over the very pricey wedding gifts bestowed on the mucky-muck couple getting hitched in a mansion. But somebody doctors Gates' coffee and he passes out. A valuable diamond bracelet is stolen. Right off I liked the set-up because it was unusual. And that's what makes this book such a fine read. Just about everything in it is unusual. Terrall is like another Hard Case Crime author, David Dodge. You're in free fall with these guys. You don't know what the hell they're up and that's what makes reading them such a pleasure. Nary a single private eye cliche in the entire book.
Terrall was especially good with dialogue. His sex scenes are really sexy and they're good clean fun as well. His take on a recently graduated parochial school vamp is funny, sexy and, given her gold-digging ways, a little scarey.
No it's not a masterpiece; no it contains no big thoughts; no it doesn't enrich humankind. It's just what it should be, a terrific read.