Friday, July 9, 2010

True Crime: The Unmasking — Married to a Rapist

The Unmasking — Married to a Rapist
(Kevin Flynn, The Free Press, 1993)

Rape and betrayal amongst the born again and religious right of lower-class Midwest USA. Ronda meets up with bad-boy Eddie Wyatt, a chronic juvenile delinquent gone good after discovering god, thanks to The Cross and The Switchblade (do people still read that book?). He pops her cherry and they get married, a union that brings two children and great sadness for Ronda, for slowly but surely the sex disappears from their marriage—by the time Eddie gets busted for rape, they hadn’t rolled in the hay for over a year, despite her attempts to get him hot and bothered.
Not just a rapist, Wyatt was a serial rapist, and though sent up for only one count—the one he blindfolded and brought home and raped repeatedly in his own living room—he surely committed many, many more. That aside, Eddie is one sick puppy, his rapes an obvious need for control and power, something he never seemed to have in his life. Nine years after being sent up, he gets out intent on really working for the lord and becoming a minister, only to get caught with homemade videos showing him masturbating over the sleeping bodies of innocent people whose houses he has broken into. Amongst others, one sleeping lass is only ten years old. No hope for this sick puppy—he needs fixing in more ways than one.
As for Ronda, all’s well that ends well: new love to a fine upright religious man, more children, a higher social class, a worse hairstyle and (one assumes) a better sex life.
The way of god is mysterious indeed.
Image: Stolen from the web, it's the paperback edition. My thrift-store find is the hardcover edition, but it's boring brown with no visuals.

Fiction: The Lady in the Morgue

The Lady in the Morgue
(Jonathan Latimer, No Exit Press, 1988, reprinted from 1936)

The morgue attendant jerked the receiver from the telephone, choked off the bell in the middle of a jangling ring. “Hello,” he said. Then impatiently: “Hello! Hello! Hello!” Wan electric light, escaping like Holstein cream from a green-shaded student desk lamp, made the sweat glisten on his lemon-yellow face. His lips, against the telephone mouthpiece, twitched. “You want Daisy? Daisy! Daisy who?”
Elbows leaning hard on the golden-oak rail dividing the morgue office from the waiting room, two newspaper reporters idly stared at the attendant’s white coat. Their shirts were open at the collar; their arms were bare; their ties, knots loosened, hung limply around their necks; their faces were moist in the heat. On the wall behind them a clock with a cracked glass indicated it was seventeen minutes of three.
“Oh, y’ want Miss Daisy Stiff,” said the morgue attendant. “She told ya to call her here, did she?” He screwed up one eye at the others. “Well, she can’t come to the phone. She’s downstairs with the other girls.”
Ballooning dingy curtains, waves of hot night air rolled in through the west windows, rasped the reporters’ faces, made their lungs hot.
The morgue attendant said, “I don’t care if y’ did have a date with her; she can’t come to the phone.” He chuckled harshly. “She’s stretched out.”
The opening lines of The Lady in the Morgue

A relatively forgotten author, Latimer seems to be gaining new critical attention amongst contemporary fans of detective literature, as can be seen by the publication of such books as Bill Brubaker’s Stewards of the House: The Detectives of Jonathan Latimer. Intellectual attention or not, Latimer is hardly a household name, and most of his books have been out of print for years. The Lady in the Morgue was the third of the five books he had written about the heavy drinking detective Bill Crane and his equally alcoholic sidekicks Doc Williams and O’Malley. Upon publication the Crane books obviously did well enough to be bought by Hollywood, where three of the Crane novels were given the B-movie treatment—including The Lady in the Morgue, in 1938—featuring the forgotten Preston Foster as Crane. Still, after five novels, Latimer got bored with his characters and dumped the series, reviving Crane only once and briefly as a bit character in his later, legendary multi-violent novel The Fifth Grave (aka Solomon’s Vineyard).
Crane, a one-time reporter for the Herald-Examiner (later the Chicago Tribune), moved to La Jolla, CA after serving in the Navy during the Second World War. A friend of Raymond Chandler, he scripted or co-scripted some twenty films, ranging from lowly Lone Wolf and Charlie Chan programmers to such classics as the second film version of The Glass Key (1942 / trailer), The Big Clock (1948 / trailer) and The Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948). Supposedly Latimer claimed that he started his Bill Crane series almost in teasing of the hardboiled school of detective fiction that so flourished at the time, but considering that the first Crane novel followed the publication of Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man by roughly a year, one night surmise that kidding had less to do with it. Bill Crane and his cronies fit very much into that sub-genera of the detective fiction of the day, so well embodied by William Powell and Myrna Loy in the 1934 film version of The Thin Man (trailer) and its numerous sequels, that of the screwball comedy alcoholic detective having a hell of a crime to their martinis, whiskeys, gins, et all.
Unlike Nick and Nora, however, Bill, Doc and O’Malley tend to use words like “nigger” and some of their theoretically funny episodes are spectacularly sexist, not to mention way beyond borderline tasteless. You know you aren’t in for a children’s tale in The Lady in The Morgue when, in the first chapter, Latimer not only has his characters perusing the corpses of the city morgue for fun, but has a minor character describe the corpse of importance as “Nice” when he whips off the covering sheet from the body “slender, not with the stringy tenderness of a boy, but firmly rounded....”

Still, sexist or politically questionable or tasteless or not, The Lady in the Morgue is a well written page-turner. True, in this modern age, such conspicuously excessive alcohol consumption might be hard to accept much less laugh about, but it is sooooo excessive that one quickly becomes immune to it. Besides, the plot is fun enough to keep one interested.
Crane, sent to Chicago on a case arrives on time for the body of “Alice Ross,” a suicide, to vanish. Both the cops and two local gangsters think that he is responsible for the disappearance, so through most the book he is almost as busy avoiding them as he is solving the case. Going from strange beds to alcohol to cheap dance halls to alcohol to weed-wasted bohemian ceremonies to alcohol to acts of grave robbing to alcohol to alcohol to alcohol and so forth, the hunt for both the missing body and murderer and various missing women is convoluted but logical. Crane’s detective abilities can’t be faulted, even if his character can be.

The Lady of the Morgue is excellent and entertaining and well worth reading, despite the damage it might cause as you grit your teeth at the heroes' vocabulary. Much like the n-word in Mark Twain's writing, the vocabulary is often deplorable by any thinking person's standards, but it has to be accepted to enjoy the book for what it is: a well written, well thought and unjustly ignored classic of the comic hardboiled detective school.

Images (taken from the web):
(I can't supply an image of the No Exit Press edition because I lent it out and never got it back. Lesson learned [again]: don't lend books, CDs or DVDs.)
Top Two: Different covers to different editions.
Third: Poster to the film.
Fourth: Yet another nifty cover.
Bottom: The good man himself, Jonathan Latimer.

True Crime: For A Mother’s Love

For A Mother’s Love
(Lee Butcher, Pinnacle, 1992)
Yet another true, sordid and almost unbelievable blood-soaked murder involving more sun-fried, brainless Floridians. For A Mother’s Love narrates in a dull and repetitious fashion the perverse story of an insatiable pill-popping, sex-addicted and silicon-pumped Mom found guilty of having her son shoot her weak-willed, nice-guy dentist husband. Lee Butcher wins no awards for his prose, but the story itself is so unbelievably extreme, the people involved so stupid, the actions so incompetent that out of sheer disbelief one has to keep reading.
When Virginia Larzelere (poor white trash with a history of compulsive lying, pill and sexual addiction, son-fucking and embezzlement) can’t find anyone to kill her fourth husband for her, she finally gets her 18-year-old, closeted homosexual son and occasional bed partner to shoot him dead. Most likely the execution of the murder was assisted by the two young idiots that later turned to star witnesses for the state against her and her son Jason, but since they were never charged, one must assume they were innocents merely drawn into the grimy, convoluted and dangerous whirlpool through fear and intimidation (and not greed).
Had Virginia taken fewer pills and not been a compulsive liar who consistently changed every story she ever told, she might have gotten away with it, for up until Steven Heidle and Kristen Palmieri turned state's evidence, nothing could actually be proven. In the end, Virginia was found guilty, but Jason was not. Though not revealed in the book, he even walked off into the sunset with a $75,000 settlement on the contingency that he give up any further right of claim to his adopted father’s insurance money. Jason went on to follow the advice of the Village People and entered the Navy, while his mother went to death row but never stopped fighting to prove her innocence.
Some people out there think Virginia is innocent and got railroaded, and indeed her trial seems to have an avalanche of mistakes, fuck-ups and contradictions. To get that side of the story, go here.

As it is, Virginia’s death sentence was overturned in February, 2008, though conviction was sustained. According to the Jacksonville News of February 28th, 2008: “The high court unanimously agreed with the trial judge that Virginia Larzelere's lawyers botched the sentencing phase of her trial by failing to introduce mitigating evidence about her mental health, sexual abuse as a child and physical abuse in a previous marriage” and that “[...] her trial lawyers, John Howes and Jack Wilkins, had been ineffective during the penalty phase”. Now that she is no longer on Death Row, Virginia will (as of 2010) be eligible for parole in 23 years.

Images (as always, found on the web):
Top: The book cover. (Duh.)
Next: The world's best mom herself,
Virginia Larzelere.

Fiction: Fatal Undertaking

Fatal Undertaking
(Frank Kane, Dell, 1964)

Dead at 56 on November 29th, 1968, Frank Kane is a mostly forgotten pulp detective writer of the two generations preceding his death. A onetime scriptwriter for radio and television, he wrote stories for both radioland’s The Shadow and such television series of yesterday as Mike Hammer and The Investigators. His best books are his straight crime novels, those not featuring his regular character, the New-York-based Private Dick named Johnny Liddell, such as Syndicate Girl, a hard-boiled story in which the hero actually commits murder and frames someone else so as to bring down the syndicate.
Not that his Liddell stories are that bad, however. Especially the early volumes of the series are an entertaining, quick and violent read, and considering that Kane eventually wrote 29 Liddell books in all, the quality is actually remarkably consistent. The biggest problem of the Liddell books are that they are simply too hard boiled, too jaded, with the characters spouting one hard-edged, sarcastic sentence after the other, forever without irony but to such an extreme that it seems as if it should be ironic. Fatal Undertaking is no exception. From “He took a dive out the window and there was no water in the pool” to “I don’t like strange guys making passes at you, especially with an ice-pick”, Liddell has a well-turned sarcastic phrase for every situation, as do most of his friends (rather unlike the bad guys, who seldom seem to have any humor). Can be fun for awhile, but after a few chapters, it can also get annoying. That said, it must also be told that Fatal Undertaking, as easy and painless to read as it is, is nonetheless not one of Kane’s best books. A true product of its time—it was published in 1964—the story involves everything from Cuban agents to Nazi war criminals, with Liddell hot to find out who sent the hit man that almost killed Mugs, his favorite female reporter. His search takes him from the East Side to Venice to Paris and back to the Big Apple before, like all Kane’s books, all loose ends tie themselves nicely together into a hangman’s knot, with all the (surviving) good guys happy and all the bad guys either dead or worse off than dead.
Competently written and tightly plotted, the last chapter of Fatal Undertaking, like all of Kane’s books, leaves no questions left unanswered. As a Thriftstore Find, the book is worth its price, especially since it features another excellent, long-legged cover by Ronnie Lesser, whose work is often mistaken for that of Robert McGinnis. But at e-Bay prices, a definite pass for anyone other than a true collector.

True Crime: Bad Girls Do It –An Encyclopedia of Female Murderers

Bad Girls Do It – An Encyclopedia of Female Murderers
(Michael Newton, 1993, Loompanics)
Another fun book about murderers, but as the title says, this one concentrates on the women of the world. Most have been covered elsewhere, but not all in one volume. Don’t be fooled, men, women are wily and wicked, ready to put poison in you soup as they are to spend your paycheck. Yes sir, this book is a good argument for going gay. (Jes’ kidding, folks.)
Written in a clear, concise and readable style occasionally flavored by a tad of dry humor, the book is good both for perusing and quick reference. Newton even does the rare thing of revisionism, taking a stance different to the most common narrations, as is most obvious in his telling of the story of the infamous and legendary Erzebet (Elizabeth) Bathory and his view on the crimes of Charlene Adelle Gallego (neé Williams), who was released on parole four years after the publication of this book. Strange that he didn’t also take the story of Ma Baker to task as well, but he leaves her out of the book completely. There are enough unbelievable stories in the book for ten months of television movies; it seems strange that more of them haven’t found their way onto the TV screen. The story of Vera Renczi screams to be filmed, as does that of Stella Williamson, among others.
An easy, entertaining and fun read, and relatively cheap and easy to get on eBay, now that the legendary and infamous Loompanics publishing house has gone out of business.

Images (top to bottom, all found on the web):
The book, obviously enough.
Vera Renczi, supposedly. My bet is that it is less a photo of the real woman than a new, posed shot for some Romanian print advertisement.
Bottom: The legendary Countess Bathory in her prime.

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