SEPTEMBER 02, 2007In this age of psycho self-promotion (which I'm guilty of 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.