Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: film noir

Ride the Pink Horse for an intimate profile and emotional journey

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Ride the Pink Horse
Dorothy B. Hughes
208 pages
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road   June 18, 2013
Originally published,  1946
$1.99 Kindle

A drunken, overweight, apparently homeless man who sleeps on the ground under a dirty serape and rarely washes is the moral authority in Sailor’s life.   Referred to only by his nickname, Sailor arrives in Santa Fe, New Mexico on a bus from Chicago.  He’s tailing his boss, corrupt former Illinois Senator Willis Douglas who has gone west with a beautiful young woman and a retinue to escape turmoil generated by his wife’s murder.

Sailor’s packing a gun along with a load of prejudice and delusion.

Hot and dirty Santa Fe is filled with hayseeds and yokels.  A hick town. Sailor is repelled by the populace.  Mexicans and Indians mostly, who he refers to in vile, insulting terms.   Not out loud of course, “this wasn’t the time or place.”

He’s come to town to have a showdown with his boss who he refers to simply as the Sen.  The Sen owes him money.  The murder of Mrs. Douglas was bungled.  She died, but not according to plan.  Other members of Sailor’s Chicago gang have high-tailed it out of town, Ziggy down to Mexico where Sailor plans to meet up with him.  With cash from the senator, Sailor and Ziggy can start some business, some scam in Mexico and live high.

In Ride the Pink Horse, a 1946 crime novel by noir writer Dorothy B. Hughes, the New Mexico environs play a strong role.  The multi-ethnic culture and the small dusty western town that vexes Sailor contributes to Hughes’ heavy themes.

Before Sailor can track down the senator, he has to find a place to stay for the night in this “God-forsaken town.”  He discovers that Santa Fe—never identified by name in the book—is crowded with people in town to celebrate the Fiesta weekend.  No hotel rooms are available anywhere.  Sailor becomes frustrated, angry and disdainful but at the same time disoriented and fearful.  His suitcase becomes a heavy burden.  He’s haunted by the eyes of the Indians he passes in the street. Continue Reading →

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Avoid the shadows when night falls

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Nightfall
David Goodis
170 pages
Black Curtain Press  1947
$8.49 paperback    Kindle $  .99

James Vanning is lonely, depressed, afraid and plagued by insomnia.  In other words he’s a classic protagonist in a noir novel.

The commercial artist and World War II vet is on the run from the police and a gang of bank robbers.  He’s holed up in a small New York City apartment selling his work to ad agencies to get by and feeling sorry for himself.  As an average guy entangled in a seemingly unexplainable criminal morass, he could be a character in a Cornell Woolrich novel.  Instead he’s the creation of another respected noir author, David Goodis, noted for his mystery, Dark Passage, that became a Bogart and Bacall movie.

In Nightfall, published in 1947, Goodis imperils Vanning without letting the reader know too many details.  Except for one thing: he’s killed someone, or is convinced he did. And, he’s scared.

 “He wanted to go out.  He was afraid to go out.  And he realized that.  The realization brought on more fright.”

A few sentences later a Woolrich-style premonition: “…something was going to happen tonight.”

Vanning knows that the story of the killing, as he remembers it, is so preposterous no cop or DA would believe him. We learn bits and pieces: A Seattle bank was robbed of $300,000.  One of the gang responsible for the robbery was murdered. The money disappeared.

The story unfolds through chapters of alternating points of view, that of Vanning and of Fraser, the NYC police detective following him.  Married with three children, Fraser (we never learn his first name) has been shadowing Vanning for months and thinks he knows nearly all aspects of the artist’s solitary life.  But he worries the case may be his undoing.  His superiors are calling for an arrest and return of the money.  And Fraser has doubts.

Despite overwhelming evidence against Vanning, Fraser thinks he might be innocent.  “With what they have on him already,” Fraser tells his wife, “they can put him on trial and it’s a hundred to one he’d get a death sentence.

“They’ve got witnesses, they’ve got fingerprints,” Fraser says, “they’ve got a ton of logical deduction that puts him dead center.  And what I’ve got is a mental block.”

Vanning’s faring no better.  His memory is full of holes.  He knows Continue Reading →

Why is there a Ferris wheel on my book cover?

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By Michael Niemann

It’s admittedly an odd choice for a thriller, but let me explain.

The Wiener Riesenrad, or Viennese giant wheel, was designed and built in 1897 by British engineers to commemorate the golden anniversary of emperor Franz Josef. And it is indeed of giant proportions, 212 feet tall. However, it wasn’t the tallest in the world. The original Ferris wheel, designed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.  in 1893 for the Chicago World Columbian Exhibition, was 264 feet tall. Other illicit_trade-niemann-covergiant wheels built in London and Paris around the same time were also taller. But after a couple of decades, those other Ferris wheels had all been taken down.

By 1920, the Wiener Riesenrad was the tallest wheel in the world. It held that position until 1985 when the 289 foot Technostar wheel was opened in Japan. Currently, the tallest wheel is the High Roller in Las Vegas which stands 550 tall more than twice the height of the Riesenrad.

No Ferris wheel has played a bigger a role in popular culture than the Wiener Riesenrad. It featured in three spy thriller films, The Third Man, Scorpio, The Living Daylights, and one romance, Before Sunrise. It also made an appearance in several novels.

The wheel’s feature role in spy thrillers is not an accident. The Third Man takes place just a few years after World War II when Austria and Vienna were still divided into four sectors, occupied by Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the U.S. Obviously there was plenty of spying going on then.

The agreement that ended the occupation stipulated that Austria had to remain neutral henceforth. No wonder that during the Cold War, Vienna became a hub of clandestine meetings, shady dealings and generally a playground for spies from all over the world. That has not changed.

Inside the The Wiener Riesenrad, or Viennese giant wheel.

Inside the The Wiener Riesenrad, or Viennese giant wheel.

Austria’s neutrality also made Vienna a perfect location to host one of the United Nations headquarters. And that brings me back to my book. My protagonist, Valentin Vermeulen, works for the UN and a case of fraud brings him to Vienna. Once I had him there, I remembered The Third Man and watched the movie again. The scene featuring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton is one of the most gripping scenes in the movie. Continue Reading →

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