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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. . .

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Love That Dares Not Speak its Name: Homicide!

By Mike Monson

63 pages

(All Due Respect Books; January 28, 2016)

Ebook distribution by Amazon Digital Services LLC

ASIN: B01B6Z97C4

A recurring archetype in noir fiction is the remorseless killer, a moral black hole who murders when and where he feels like it. I’m speaking here of characters like Tom Ripley (The Talented Mr. Ripley and the rest of the Ripley series), Patricia Highsmith’s murderous con man, or Lou Ford (The Killer Inside Me), Jim Thompson’s psychopathic sheriff’s deputy.

Lancaster Messier, the protagonist in Mike Monson’s novella, A Killer’s Love, fits this pattern perfectly. Like Ford, Messier is a nonpareil sexual predator, vicious enough to use violence to score with both  male and female victims; But, like Ripley, he is a thief and scammer who is always looking for a chance to profit from victims with valuable worth stealing. The name of this 63-page novella, in fact, is a tip of the hat to Thompson and his famous character, Ford.

Author Mike Monson

When we first meet Messier, he is cleaning up the gore from his latest triumph, a woman named Florence Hanratty that he has killed in a six week campaign, minced into disposable chunks and wrapped neatly in plastic bags. Here is his attitude toward homicide in a nutshell:

For Lancaster Messier, the killing was always the easy part. Want to kill a bitch? No problem. It’s just a couple simple steps. Get a real sharp knife, come up behind, pull her head back by the hair and then commit. Fully commit to making the perfect deep, long, ear-to-ear cut. That’ll do it. Every time.

Next, drop Helen or Amber or Nadine or whoever the fuck, and walk away. Just let go. If you’ve done it right, if you’ve fully committed and employed the proper technique, by the time you’ve walked to the nearest sink and cleaned off your knife, the little cutie will either be slowly bleeding out, or dead already. . .

After slitting Florence’s throat and cleaning off and putting the razor-sharp buck knife in his jeans pocket, he began loading up her Ford pickup with every valuable item in the house. The first couple of times he walked through with a load of gold and diamond jewelry, or a flat screen TV, or a laptop Apple computer, he checked on Florence. The first two times, she seemed to be still breathing, which he was pretty sure meant she was slowly bleeding to death. Lancaster didn’t think this was such a bad way to die. He’d researched it and found out it was just like slowly falling to sleep—and never waking up. Before he’d developed his technique, he saw a lot of deaths that looked quite painful, especially if the poor fuck seemed to be drowning in his or her blood. (That’s right, he killed dudes too. All part of the killer-thief lifestyle.) When he went into the kitchen to get the china and the nice silverware, he checked again and she was finally dead, thank god.

On his way to dispose of Hanratty’s body parts, Messier stops to meet a fence who is going to take her valuables off his hands. The fence goes sideways, however, and Messier shoots him in the head, then robs him of more than $2,000 in buy money that the man is carrying.

That’s two grisly deaths and $20,000 worth of larceny in only 13 pages. As Messier puts it, “Not bad for six weeks work.”

The deaths of Hanratty and the fence are the last times in the book that things go the way Messier planned. He travels by bus to California, where he attempts an act of selfless altruism – simply for his enjoyment, it seems – and winds up being swindled by a down-and-out family of grifters. He loses his getaway bankroll and finds himself penniless and furious.

True to his character, he commits a murder that pays for a shellfish dinner at a shorefront restaurant. There he meets Carla, a wealthy woman with a beach house who takes him in solely for sex. The time they spend together is idyllic:

He kept squeezing, kept fucking her faster and deeper, and when he finally let go of her throat she came and came and he could feel her pussy clasp and unclasp at him tighter and faster and her orgasms went on forever and ever and time stopped and she was his angel his sweet sweet angel. His Carla.

He settles into his new life as a human sex toy and seems to lose his interest in killing.

This is where the title of the novella comes into play. During his sojourn with Carla, Messier repeatedly wonders whether he is falling in love with her, though he is reluctant to connect the word with the “strange happy feeling— the other feeling that seemed like it might be love.”

His reluctance makes sense. He eventually realizes that his “love” for her is no such thing:

Carla snuggled close to Lancaster. “Really?” she said. “Do you still love me?” “Yes,” Lancaster said, but he wasn’t telling the truth. He’d never loved her.

To say more about the plot would spoil it. Instead, simply know that a twist of fate leads Messier to resume his crime spree and his story culminates in a twist ending that will probably surprise the average reader.

Monson specializes in tales about people who have few redeeming qualities. His characters run the gamut of human amorality: grifters, cough syrup junkies, professional bank robbers, dope dealers, murderers, men and women who cheat on their mates. A Killer’s Love fits the pattern perfectly. The one thing they have in common is that all of them are transgressive: even the victims have violated normal ethical codes.

The action in this short book is brutal. The following passage covers Lancaster Messier’s meeting with a cross-dressing prostitute after the grifters rip him off for his car and wind money:

Gem pulled off the wig and set it next to her tube top. “Turn around.” She turned. Her black hair was just long enough for Lancaster to get a good enough grip with his left hand to cut her throat with the knife in his right hand. The cutting was passionate, deep, and angry. He dropped her and she fell on the bed. There was a sink in the kitchenette and Lancaster walked over to wash his knife. Above the sound of running water he heard gurgling from the bed. Shit. He looked over, and Gem was writhing and clutching at her throat with both hands.

He’d fucked up. Gem’s trachea was severed and she was suffering horribly. He grabbed her by her feet so he wouldn’t get blood on his clothes. He dragged her into the bathroom and put her body into the tub, then walked out and closed the door behind him. Good. He could no longer hear her pain.

A Killer’s Love is short and punchy. I didn’t like it as much as What Happens in Reno or Tussinland, two books that set the gold standard for nihilistic noir and cold-blooded violence. I suspect the reason is that both those books were actually novels, not novellas, and the additional length allowed Monson to explore his characters more completely.

But even a “B” list book by Monson is better than a lot of writers’ “A” list work. A Killer’s Love is nasty and violent. It is definitely worth a read.

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