Now that that title hopefully got your attention, this week I’m reviewing two books, both of which are heavily focused on sex, Miami Purity by US writer Vicki Hendricks and Anthony Frewin’s London Blues.
Some Pulp Curry readers may not have heard of the Miami-based crime writer Vicki Hendricks. That’s a great pity because along with women like Megan Abbott, Christa Faust and others, she is dead set proof a women can knock out a noir tale every bit as feral and fucked up as their male counterparts. I should stress I personally don’t need any proof about this, but I suspect some others do.
Hendrick’s book, Cruel Poetry was reviewed on this site last year. Miami Purity was her debut novel and it’s good. You can tell just from the opening line: “Hank was drunk and he slugged me – it wasn’t the first time – and I picked up the radio and caught him across the forehead with it.”
The character who utters those words is Sheri Parley, a tough as nails stripper in her late thirties, with few life prospects who has come out of a string of terrible relationships, the last one of which led to the death of her last man (Hank) and a terrible alcohol fuelled binge.
In an effort to get her shit together, she applies for a job working at Miami Purity Dry Cleaning. It’s hard work for minimum wage, but it does have its perks, the main one being the owner’s drop dead gorgeous son, who manages the business, Payne. On the minus side is the owner and Payne’s mother, Brenda, who is more than match for Sheri in terms of aggressive behaviour and drinking.
It’s not long before her and Payne couple. That’s no surprise. What does take the reader off guard, however, are Payne’s mummy issues and just what Sheri is prepared to do to ensure she can be with him.
In Miami Purity, Hendricks takes the classic femme fatale and she bends and twists her until there’s nothing recognisable. Then she bends her a bit more. The book also has some of the best written down and dirty sex scenes I’ve read for a long time and a lot of them. The saliva, sweat, sperm and blood drips from the pages.
I love Hendricks’ work and this book just confirmed for me what a good writer she is.
London Blues was published in 1997 and is set in London’s notorious vice strip, Soho, at the tail end of the fifties. It’s a drab period, only just beginning to shake off the oppressive post-war austerity. There’s not a lot of lurks about, not a lot of ways to get ahead, so when Tim Purdom is offered the chance to make a few quid by one of the clapped out denizens of the snack bar he works in, he jumps at it.
Purdom starts off doing odd jobs on the fringes of London’s blue movie racket. Soon he’s graduated to procuring women for the films and, after he buys a Super 8 camera, he shoots the movies himself. He comes into contact with a range of shifty characters, including the mysterious Stephen Ward, who helps Purdom procure ‘models’ for the films and introduces him to the world of private parties that take place in the mansions of the upper classes on the outskirts of the city.
Purdom drifts into the sixties thinking he’s got it made. He’s earning a steady income and London is starting to wake up, at which point his underworld employer informs him that he’s been made redundant by the influx of cheap Scandinavian porn that’s flooding into London. The consequences are even more serious when his main contact in the blue movie racket, Ward, is swept up into the Profumo scandal.
There are so many things I liked about this book.
It’s a fascinating time and place to set a story. Frewin’s rendering of the period detail is terrific and he’s not afraid to spend a bit of time establishing and embellishing it. The rogues gallery of characters involved, male and female, is also deftly portrayed. One gets the definite impression the author was more than a just a curious observer in the milieu he is writing about.
The descriptions of shooting the films, Purdom’s excitement at the illicit world he is involved and how this quickly gives way to drop-dead boredom he feels at having to make yet another cheap stag film, is also marvellously portrayed. In this respect, I have no doubt Frewin was helped by the insights gained on day job, acting as Stanley Kubrick’s personal assistant for twenty years.
No Exit Press, which released London Blues after a number of other publishers passed on it, are to be congratulated for bringing this fascinating story to the page.