Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book review: Hard-Boiled Hollywood

I challenge anyone to get more than a few pages into Jon Lewis’s 2017 revisionist history of post-war Hollywood, without thinking about the parallels to Harvey Weinstein scandal, and all the terrible tales about America’s movie capital that have flowed from it. As Lewis’s book demonstrates, Hollywood – both in the temporal and fantasy sense (and both play a role in this book) was never any different. Arguably, it used to be far, far worse.

Lewis’s book doesn’t deliver a lot of new information or historical research about Hollywood. What it does deliver, in spades, is the meticulous collection, collation and synthesis of a huge amount of pre-existing research, media commentary and popular culture folk law, which he weaves together into a cogent and comprehensive overview of post-World War II Hollywood, and the various power players, criminals, film stars and fringe dwellers, and how they interacted with a studio system in the throws of major transition.

The book touches on lots of familiar names: Robert Mitchum and his famous drug bust; Frank Sinatra, already on the start of his trajectory towards conservatism, and his famous stoush with celebrity columnist, Lee Mortimer; the bullying, manipulative HUAC stooge, Cecile B DeMille; Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, and his close ties to the studio system, just to name a few.… Read more

Book review: Jack Waters

Jack Waters is the latest book by the Brooklyn based crime author Scott Adlerberg. I make no bones about being a fan of Adlerberg’s work. One thing I particularly like is how, as an author, he is not content just to keep hitting the same note in his work.

His debut, Spiders and Flies, dealt with the predatory ambitions of a bored American fugitive on the lam in Martinque, towards a wealthy couple visiting their young daughter who is living on the island. It read like one of those exploitation crime films that were common in the eighties.

Graveyard Love switched gears completely, and delivered a giallo-style tale of a thirty five year old psychologically disturbed loner who lives with his highly strung artist mother, and his obsession with the mysterious red headed woman who regularly visits one of the crypts in the graveyard opposite their house.

In Jack Waters, Adlerberg continues his reinvention, penning an historical crime story about a rakish New Orleans schemer, the title character, whose one great passion in life is playing cards, and whose one major dislike is people who cheat. Water’s private code gets him into trouble when he kills a man for cheating, the son of a wealthy and influential Louisianan businessman.… Read more

Book Review: Getting Carter, Ted Lewis & the Birth of Brit Noir

The time is past when one could accurately describe Ted Lewis as a lost or under appreciated author. His best books have recently been re-released, Mike Hodge’s 1971 film, Get Carter, based on Lewis second novel, Jack’s Return Home, continues to be seen as a crime cinema classic, and Lewis’s profound, albeit posthumous, influence on the origins on Brit Noir is regularly reiterated by many of the leading lights of crime fiction.

But we know little about Lewis as a person and the influences on his work. Nick Triplow’s Getting Carter: Ted Lewis and the Birth of Brit Noir is obviously the product of considerable time, energy and shoe leather spent hunting down the facts of Lewis’s life. That Triplow doesn’t completely succeed in unravelling all the mysteries surrounding Lewis’s spectacular rise and fall is not for want of trying and, it must be stressed, the book is none the worse for it.

Contemporary literary culture, with its focus on the writer’s journey, literature as personal confession and the book scribe as media celebrity, is a relatively new phenomena. Lewis went to his grave without leaving a detailed archive of papers or journals and having only done a handful of newspaper interviews. He had neither the time nor, one suspects, inclination to record his inner most thoughts.… Read more

Book review: Paperbacks from Hell, the Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction

I loved Grady Hendrix’s soon to be released book, Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction. From the opening, his discussion of John Christopher’s totally bizarre 1966 novel, The Little People, about an assortment of unsavoury individuals who spend a weekend in an Irish castle which is also inhabited by evil Nazi leprechauns (‘the Gestapochauns’) to the last few pages, the dying days of American mass market paperback horror, it is a wild, exhilarating ride.

But as well as being a lot of fun, Paperbacks From Hell is also an important work of pulp fiction and pop culture history.

The book comprises a series of thematic chapters, grouped from the most part around one or two foundation texts. Thus the chapter on satanic pulp and mass market paperbacks opens with a look at the cultural importance of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby and Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. The Omen (1976) is the starting point for a look at the large sub-genre of books about women being impregnated by all manner of hell spawn and murderous offspring. Peter Benchley’s paperback sensation, Jaws, is the precursor to a discussion about the wave of pulp and mass market paperback books featuring murderous creatures and animals turned homicidal: rats, dogs, cuts, pigs, insects, even rabbits.… Read more

Book review: The Student

Regular Pulp Curry readers will know I have a particular fondness for noir fiction. In particular, Australian noir fiction. And, let’s be honest, when all is said and done, there’s not much Australian noir fiction, and I mean really noir fiction, out there. The publication of Iain Ryan’s The Student adds another more book to this rather slender canon of local crime writing.

I reviewed Ryan’s debut novel, Four Days, on this site when it was released in late 2015. A very dark police procedural set in the Queensland cities of Cairns and Brisbane in the 1980s, the plot of Four Days involves a borderline sociopathic cop with a drinking problem who becomes obsessed with the case of a murdered prostitute, in the process coming up against a police hierarchy who are keen to bury any investigation into her death.

Now Melbourne based, Ryan grew up in Queensland – a place that for various I am also very familiar with – and he completely nailed the corruption and picturesque sleaze that typified much of the state in the eighties, a time when its police force was one of the most violent and corrupt in Australia. Ryan cited James Ellroy as a major influence and I was particularly taken with the way he was able to pay homage to legendary crime writer without sinking into pastiche or cliche.… Read more