Sunday, June 24, 2012

John Fraser: John McPartland


John Fraser--John McPartland

Dear Ed,

McPartland deserves the attention. He seems rather to have slipped through the critical net, maybe
because he didn't deal in the to my mind rather cliched noir depressiveness,
with the inevitable failure of love. I'm glad you yourself have been onto

He can really SCARE you, can't he?



John Fraser has a very readable and wise website devited to books of various kinds.

John McPartland by John Fraser

John McPartland

She was the kind of woman a man noticed, mostly because of her eyes. Dark, almost black pools, they had a warmth that I felt could turn to fire. She had turned her head, looking over the shoulder of the man she was with, and we looked at each other. The third or fourth time it happened he noticed it and I paid some attention to what he was like.

He was a type. You find guys like him driving ten-wheeler transport trucks, or flying, or sometimes as chief petty officers in the Navy, on a sub or a destroyer. Square-built, tough tanned skin, big hands with knuckles that are chunks of stone.The type—what makes him recognizable as a wanderer, a fighter, sometimes a killer—shows in his face.

Big white teeth, yellow a little from cigarettes like his fingers, and he smiles with his teeth closed, talking through them when he’s angry. A thin line of short black hairs for a mustache, sideburns of curling hair, hair black and curly, a face that is rough and yet young, and it won’t change much if he lives to be fifty. The eyes are fierce, amused, hard.

It’s a special breed of man, and the breed are men. Maybe a mixture of German, Irish, French-Canadian, with a streak of Comanche, Ute, or Cheyenne in there about three generations back. You meet men like this one in the truck-stop caf├ęs along U.S. 40, with the diesels drumming outside; or you meet them walking toward the plane on the airstrip; or in jail, still smiling, still ready for a fight.

This guy was laughing as he swung off the bar stool. He was still laughing as he walked over to me.

The Face of Evil (1954)

McPartland is that rarity, a writer of tough novels who feels tough himself. (Was Spillane a barroom brawler? If so, did he win?)

McPartland was one of the Gold Medal blue-collar writers; had served in Korea; obviously knew the black-market milieu of that war; came back and wrote raw, rugged, at times very powerful novels; obviously drank, lived with a mistress and illegitimate kids before it was OK to do so; and died young of a heart attack. He was the kind of person who knew what it meant to be in trouble with the law, doing dumb impetuous things, getting into fights.

What comes across again and again in his novels is his understanding of power, the hard masculine will to dominate others, break them, destroy them. His bad guys are some of the most frightening in thriller fiction: Southern rednecks, syndicate “troopers,” the Mob. His fights are fights in which the loser can get hurt very badly.

When a black-marketing non-com says he’s going to scramble someone’s eggs with his combat boots (crush his testicles), or the middle-echelon syndicate enforcer Whitey Darcy tells the fixer Bill Oxford, “We’re going to make you cry, feller,” or when Buddy Brown, the twenty-year-old petty crook in Big Red’s Daughter (1955) tells Jim Work that he’s going to make him crawl, we know that’s just what they intend to do.

They are hard men.

King McCarthy in The Face of Evil (1955) is a natural fighter. Buddy Brown wins his first two fights with the hero—knocks him down with a sucker punch; gets a painful lock on his knuckles and punches him in the throat while they’re sitting drinking beer in a barroom booth. And the Syndicate, the Mafia, punish offenders ruthlessly. Oxford knows what it will be like to go to prison and have your kidneys smashed by an inmate, crippled with pain for the rest of your life every time you pee. Johnny Cool’s end in The Kingdom of Johnny Cool is dreadful.

However, in most of the novels there isn’t just violence, there’s also love, and things work out all right in the end for the hero and heroine. They very easily couldn’t, though. A strong, focussed counter-energy on the part of the heroes is necessary.

McPartland’s best book is The Face of Evil, about the fixer Bill Oxford, who’s been on the long downward slide of compromise, complicity, corruption, and has been sent to Long Beach by the PR agency to which he’s attached to ruin a genuinely decent reform candidate, upon pain of being stripped of all his high-living perks and slammed into prison. It is tense and well-made throughout.

The Kingdom of Johnny Cool is his other best novel. When it appeared, I wrote to Ross Macdonald (a total stranger, but he’d done a Ph.D. in English himself) to ask him to review it for a student journal I was co-editing. He declined, saying that it seemed to be simply Spillane-type melodrama. He was wrong.

The novel is a powerful account of a Sicilian criminal’s rise and fall in America—a more interesting one than W.R. Burnett’s Little Caesar (1929)—and it takes us into dark cold waters full of predators. McPartland was on to the Mafia as a subject twelve years before The Godfather, and his attitude towards it is far healthier than Puzo’s sentimental power worship. There’s nothing cute or admirable about McPartland’s Italianos.

Ed here: From Time Magazine‘s Milestones : “Died. John McPartland, 47, husky, bushy-haired chronicler of suburban sex foibles (No Down Payment), successful freelance journalist; of a heart attack; in Monterey, Calif. McPartland, who once wrote, “Sex is the great game itself,” lived as harum-scarum a life as any of his characters, had a legal wife and son at Mill Valley, California, a mistress at Monterey who bore him five children and who, as “Mrs. Eleanor McPartland,” was named the city’s 1956 “Mother of the Year.” Later, McPartland’s legal widow submitted the daughter of an unnamed third woman as one of the novelist’s rightful heirs. (9/14/58)”


D.A. Trappert said...

McPartland is one of my all-time favorites since I discovered him through, where several of his books can be downloaded. He writes fight scenes that will make you feel sore. The two books called out in the article are both very good, as are Tokyo Doll, Affair in Tokyo, Big Red's Daughter, and I'll See You in Hell. He wrote a more mainstream novel, No Down Payment, which I have a copy of but haven't read yet. Others of his paperback originals I have read, Ripe Fruit and Danger for Breakfast, are less satisfying, but still worthwhile.

Overall, the consistent quality of his output was quite high.

Anders E said...

Yes, McPartland could make you realize that violence really is painful in the sense of actual, physical, pain. My first encounter with him was the great THE FACE OF EVIL and there's scene towards the end when it is basically all over but the protagonist is threatened by this trio of goons that they are about to settle the scores very soon. But then one of these goons by sheer arrogance picks a fight with a bystander. Remember, this is set during spring break and this bystander happens to be some star athlete at college. He and his half dozen of friends beat the goons into a bloody - indeed crying - mess in no time at all. And McPartland makes it so ugly and real.