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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, June 10, 2016

A Thrill a Minute in Vic Valentine's Latest Caper

Hard-Boiled Heart

By Will Viharo

 254 pages 

(Gutter Books LLC; November 29, 2015)

ISBN-10: 1939751195
ISBN-13: 978-1939751195

It’s hard to say whether Will Viharo’s series peeper Vic Valentine is a private dick who moonlights as a booking agent for strippers or a booking agent that follows clues and solves crimes as a sideline. 

Whichever it is, the guy is a blast and a half in both occupations -- though not exactly a world-beater in either.

In fact, Valentine is more of a “wood” worker than a detective or impresario: at moments of sexual stress, he grabs for his pole more often than a second-story fireman. And Vic suffers a lot of moments of sexual stress.

Hard-Boiled Heart, Valentine’s latest caper, finds him drowning in a sea of troubles with an actor chum, Charlie, who floats the idea of making a picture based on some of Vic’s adventures.  This proposal – which seems more talk than concrete proposal – appeals to the dick, whose private investigation license  is two years out of date and whose burlesque artist connections have – pardon the term – petered out.

“To tell the truth, I didn’t even know why I was still in this racket at my age,” Valentine confides to the reader. “I knew I was a loser, at least according to the metric applied to your average person in today’s celebrity-conscious society. I no longer harbored any ambition for anything beyond mere survival, because that was the most I thought I could accomplish.”

Did I mention Vic is perpetually depressed and anxious for any way out of his daily grind? To a guy in those circumstances, becoming the focus of a real-live motion picture – maybe even its hero – has to sound pretty damned good.

The only problem is, a burlesque queen is cacked at the strip joint where Vic and the actor are meeting, and Vic finds good time Charlie, drunk on his ass, standing over her body.

Vic hustles him away and they split town to avoid the cops, Charlie because he is too drunk to know any better, Vic because he figures his movie deal is blown if Charlie gets busted for murder one. 

They end up in Seattle, where the brunt of the action takes place. En route, there are more murders, gorgeous babes of the strip-joint variety, physical assaults on Vic and some of the most colorful characters since James Cameron created the blue-skinned Na’vis of Pandora for his movie “Avatar.”

Viharo plays a lot of the book for laughs and Hard-Boiled Heart has more wise cracks than the steam room bench at the Mensa Club gymnasium. Some examples:

* The very first lines in the novel are: “I wear my heart on my sleeve, like a broken cufflink. I’m glad it’s there. It reminds me I’m still alive.”

 * When Vic first meets Charlie, he asks the actor if he has won any awards. Charlie says, “I guess you haven’t followed my career too closely.” 

“For a detective, I’m pretty bad at following anybody,” Vic replies. “One reason I’m semi-retired.”

* “I like to drink,” Charlie tells Vic at one point, “immediately furnishing evidence of this declaration by downing three shots of whiskey in a row, chased by a pint of beer. Only it wasn’t much of a chase. Charlie and his booze weren’t going anywhere soon.”

You get the drift.

Nobody in this book is as much fun as Vic Valentine. He gets to be the narrator of his own story, telling the tale in first person. He gets spurned by the hottest women, gets beat up by the worst bad guys and even gets the choice lines.

Let me tell you, buddy: most of those lines will at least make you smile or chuckle. A lot of them are laugh-out-loud funny.

A particular treat is mining the story line for inside jokes based on popular culture.

Viharo is a film buff and is righteously hip to music, books and art. Hard-Boiled Heart shows this in spades: the first corpse we encounter is Sophie Starfire, a burlesque performer whose real last name is Chinaski -- the pseudonym that poet and storyteller Charles Bukowski used in several of his first person tales.

In another section, Vic and Charlie scarf Voodoo Donuts while passing through Portland; there is a reference to “Godfather III” in one sequence; a bloody homicide on Seattle’s Space Needle brings a quip about “The Parallax View”; Even “Angel Heart,” the Mickey Rourke satanic noir flick, gets its name dropped.

The novel gives you are real sense of time and place as well. The initial action is in San Francisco’s Bimbo’s 365 Club, a storied night spot that served as a background location for Chris Isaak’s Showtime comedy program in 2001. It proceeds through numerous locations In California, Oregon and Washington state, and specific sites are mentioned with sufficient detail to give the reader the feeling he or she has visited there.

Author Will "The Thrill" Viharo

Viharo has turned out a novel that delivers a good time to anyone in the mood for some absurdity and a lot of humor. For these and Viharo’s other titles – including another Vic Valentine novelLove Stories are too Violent for Me, and the book with my favorite title in the entire world, A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge – check his website.

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