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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Cool eBook about a Hot Redhead and her Boy Toy Caught up in a Dish Best Served Cold

By Phil Beloin Jr.
(92 pages)
ISBN: 1502899639
(Publisher: All Due Respect Books, Oct. 29, 2014)
Ebook sold by Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Phil Beloin’s novella, Revenge is a Redhead, is a perfect example of the so-called New Pulp: a long story that could easily have appeared in Black Mask, Argosy or one of the other pulp magazines that dominated newsracks in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s.

It is colorful, lurid and violent, coupling a sinister and cynical world view with a transgressive type of justice that is meted out vigilante-style by the book’s first-person protagonist, Rich.

And it does it in a terse narrative that pulls up a few pages short of novel length.

The only real difference between Beloin’s tale and, say, a Black Mask Continental Op story by Hammett or a Dime Detective John Dalmas yarn by Raymond Chandler is the fact that it is  tricked out with the New Pulp technology – as an eBook, the 21st Century equivalent of the cheap pulp paper periodicals of the 30s, 40s and 50s.

It features a corrupt milieu, an exotic villain, and enough tough talk to provoke a dozen barroom fights. Best of all, the book has plenty of raw action: Beloin has studied at the knee of writers like Chandler, who once said whenever an action writer can’t think of what to do, he should send a man through the door with a gun in his hand. His advice is still serviceable more than fifty years later.

Also like many of the Old Pulps, Beloin’s story has a wise-ass streak as wide as the Mississippi.

For example, Beloin goes Chandleresque on our asses when he introduces Cherry Pop, a sexy female who is menaced by the baddies, but – as a prostitute and stripper – understands the world of crime well enough to guide the book’s clueless but game protagonist through it.

Author Phil Beloin, Jr. goes Chandleresque
on our asses...
“You see some [exotic dancers] that are real skanky, man, not worth a dollar for nothing, but the redhead up there had something the others didn’t. Her skin was popping with freckles, the legs stretching long and hard, and that chest was mocking Sir Isaac.”

The description has just the right tone: the “real skanky” line is grounded solidly in the underworld Rich ends up groping through; the double negative (“not worth a dollar for nothing”) marks him as a working class hero – or at least someone unconcerned with how much his language influences those he encounters. 

Yet the reference to Newton makes it clear Rich is not a dummy – he at least is familiar with Sir Isaac’s theory of gravitation.

Similarly this one brief passage leaves the reader with an image of the heroine that tells us she’s not just another kooch artist. Her freckles make her seem younger and more innocent than the other dancers, but her other features portray her as highly attractive in the sexual sense.

Beloin’s writing is simple but brilliant in its way. It packs what could be a lot of expository prose into a single sentence stylishly, and in a fashion that pulls the reader into the story.

The plot develops in an unusual fashion. Rich has been tossed out of the apartment he shares with his father, an alcoholic cop. He is down to his last few pennies, so broke he can’t take Cherry up on her offer of commercial sex.

Instead he goes to a local mission to find a bed for the night, is attacked and escapes, but finds that his car has been stolen. At a diner he chances to meet Cherry again and she offers him a bed for the night. As the night rolls on, they raid the shelter where he was assaulted, uncover a body-parts theft artist, a mammoth meth lab, unmask the mastermind behind the phony homeless shelter and chance upon a considerable amount of money.

Like most hardboiled crime fiction, the novella lacks an ending that is conventionally “happy,” but there seems to be some hope that Rich and Cherry will emerge from their night-long ordeal better off than they were when it began.

While the story is rather savage, Beloin keeps the reader entertained by splashes of humor to lighten his story’s darkness.

For example, while running from his attackers, Rich momentarily considers seeking shelter in a motel. The desk clerk, however, looks almost as evil as the men he is trying to evade:

“He was a heavily tattooed metal head, probably had more hardware under the counter than what a SWAT team carried into a madman’s house,” Beloin writes. “I read his gaze. He was daring me to come in—dude, I haven’t seen any action in awhile. Let’s get it on, you stupid bastard. Try stealing yourself an energy drink and the drawer. Yeah, I’ll give both…barrels in the face, asshole. I kept on going. I thought I could hear him sigh through the glass. I had ruined his shift.”

And wait until you read how Rich eventually resolves his relationship with his father! It is hilariously perfect.

Considering how short this book is, Beloin manages to load it up with action, enjoyable plot twists, memorable characters and more than a few sepulchral laughs. It’s a perfect introduction to the New Pulp and it only takes a couple of hours to read.

This is one of the maiden titles by All Due Respect Press, the independent publishing house operated by Mike Monson and Chris Rhatigan, the publishers of one of the best crime mags on the market, All Due Respect. Monson (author of Tussinland) and Rhatigan (who wrote The Kind of Friends Who Murder Each Other) are no slouches when it comes to cranking out pulpish noir themselves. If the rest of their offerings are as good as Beloin’s tale, All Due Respect is going to satisfy a lot of crime fiction fans.

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