Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: Noir

Review: Sleazy characters star in Thompson classic thriller

0
Nothing More Than Murder
Jim Thompson
Mulholland Books; Reprint edition, 2014
240 pages
$15 Trade paperback  $4.99 Kindle

You kill someone. You plot it out with two accomplices, your wife and your lover.  You trust one of them—your lover—to handle the details smoothly.  You look forward to the insurance money the killing will bring you.  It will be your escape from a life that’s harried you for years.  The business is going downhill.  So is your marriage.  This is the way out.

The murder is accomplished.  It went off according to plans.  But people are talking. You’re worried.  No, you’re scared.  People ask you questions.  Business people conspire against you. They know. 

Your lover becomes clutching.  She’ll spoil everything.   But there’s something you can do.  There must be.  You have to get an idea and fast. You get the shakes.  The chills.  Death is closing in.

Immersed in this absorbing story, you’ve just put yourself into the shoes of Joe Wilmot. He’s a scheming movie theater operator who rationalizes swindling and laments his uneven past. For a time he’s consumed by lust, then fear.  He muses about death, how he hates his wife’s incompetence.  Yeah, she owned the theater, but he hustled his ass off to make it work. Does he love her?

Wilmont’s story, told by Joe himself in a sardonic sometimes angry first person narrative, is suspense writer Jim Thompson’s early novel, Nothing More Than Murder, published in 1949. This first financial success was followed by The Killer Inside Me, and later, The Grifters, the most well-known of his 30 novels.  Some critics place Thompson in the same category as Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain, pioneers of hardboiled crime stories.  Nothing More Than Murder demonstrates a dark view of life present in other Thompson novels.

Wilmot and his wife Elizabeth Barclay run a movie theater in a small town.  By ignoring union rules, shortchanging and overworking his lone projectionist, putting his competition out of  business via a back-room deal, cutting corners, cheating suppliers and schmoozing locals and city officials, Wilmont keeps the theater making money.  Although he’s operated the theater for ten years, it still bears his wife’s name.  One of the things that bothers Wilmot.  One of many.

Carol Farmer is the couple’s innocent and seemingly unnecessary house maid, hired by Barclay to relieve her of household chores.  “If there was ever a woman  you wouldn’t look at twice she was it,” Wilmot explains to readers saying she was cockeyed and pigeon-toed.  But one day when Farmer is showing Wilmot a suit that Barclay gave her, he changes his mind.  She was so buxom as to be top-heavy, he says. 

“She looked like hell. She looked like a sack of bran that couldn’t decide which way it was going to fall.”

But the more he looked, the more she attracted him. “She looked cute-mad and funny-sweet.  She looked like she’d started somewhere and been mussed up along the way.

“She was a honey.  She was sugar and pie.  She was a bitch.”  Later, in the restrained language of the 1940s, he describes having sex with her.

Barclay knows about her husband’s affair and she hatches an insurance scheme, agreeing to leave Wilmot and Farmer in exchange for the insurance money.  With a similar insurance scheme, Nothing More Than Murder differs markedly from Cain’s Double Indemnity particularly in the way the fraud is organized and executed.

Nothing More is a suspense rather than a detective novel, but it’s one with a number of mysteries, a pursuit and twists and turns and it’s sprinkled with clues to the outcome. Some of the clues come from the details of running a movie theatre.  Unfortunately, Thompson includes too much theatre operations minutia, of little interest to twenty-first century readers.

Eventually, the details of the trio’s plan tumble out of control.  Wilmot tries to find a way out, but threats are multiplying: associates seeking payback, a nosy insurance investigator, Farmer’s insecurity.

At first Thompson’s narrator sounds as if he’ll be as smart-alecky as a noir private eye.

“She smiled, kind of like an elevator boy smiles when you ask him if he has lots of ups and downs.” 

But soon the tone darkens.  Wilmot sympathizes with Farmer whose impoverished background has brought her to work for Barclay.

“…I knew how she felt because, I’d felt the same way. I knew what it meant to be nothing and to want to be something. And to be scared out of your pants that someone is going to knock you down—not because of what you’ve done but because you can’t strike back.  Because they want to see you squirm, or they have a headache, or they don’t like the way your hair is parted.”  

The book moves forward and back in time as Wilmot recalls his life in reform school, his courtship and marriage to Barclay and his relationship with Farmer.   Occasionally it’s a stream of consciousness narrative such as this dark digression in the middle of an unrelated narrative about  Wilmont’s fascination with Farmer.

“There was a lot of stuff on the radio and in the newsreels and newspapers.  People getting run over, blown up, drowned, smothered, starved, lynched.  Mercy killings, hangings, electrocutions, suicides.  People who didn’t want to live.  People who deserved killing. People who were better off dead.”

These seemingly unrelated dark thoughts represent a technique he uses to great effect in later novels.

Having a dishonest, wholly unsympathetic narrator is an occasional noir technique and Thompson executes it with skill.  Even if you don’t like Wilmont, you are captured by his plight and his panic as the story drags you through to its conclusion.

—-

I read this book in a 2017 reprint edition from Book Revivals Press, but it is no longer listed on the publisher’s website, nor available at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  The Book Revivals Press edition had not only a few typos but also hundreds of dashes that were turned into hyphens creating awkward hyphenated words.   Perhaps this is why it’s no longer available.

—-

Jim Thompson (1906 –1977) bounced around in various jobs after college at the University of Nebraska.  Like many successful noir writers he began writing short stories for pulp magazines in the 1930s.  He joined the Federal Writers Project, but was forced out in 1939 because he had become a communist.  After some unsuccessful books,  he found his first big success with Nothing More than Murder. He followed that with The Killer Inside Me, The Grifters and others. Later in his career he wrote for television and motion pictures.

 

 

Author talks about new noir novel ‘Vice City’

1

Author S.A. Stoval lives in California’s San Joaquin Valley.  She’s an attorney, writer and video game enthusiast.  Her new novel is a modern take on the venerable mystery noir genre. Here she explains the book and talks about the somewhat unusual point of view she chose.

What is your new book about and what prompted you to write it?

My novel, Vice City, is a noir thriller. I wrote it (true story) as a personal novel for one of my friends. I even dedicated the novel to her (because, hey, it was written for her!).

In the beginning, she told me she wanted an interesting, gritty story with a romance sub-plot. For years she’s told me she loves my gritty style of narration, so I decided to go with it. I wrote her chapters like installments of a TV show, delivering every other night for a few weeks.

Vice City is a crime thriller where the main character, Pierce, is a mobster, and each chapter shows another day in Pierce’s life as he slowly realizes it’s crumbling around him. A rival gang is moving in, the ruling structure of his crime family is falling apart, and Pierce wants out before things go to hell in a handbasket (pardon my language).

My friend loved it. And then my husband said he also loved it. Then I approached an agent and he loved it—so here we are today! Thanks go to my good friend and her odd request!

You write in first person, present tense. What made you choose that style?

I like first person, present tense because it feels more immediate—the action is happening right now, this isn’t a story that happened years ago.

Additionally, first person is great if the main character has a lot of voice and personality. Their attitude colors the whole feel of the novel. A story told by a jaded old veteran feels a lot different than a story told by a wide-eyed high school student, that’s for sure, and my protagonist is a guy with a lot of colorful things to say about the world.

And since my novel, Vice City, is more of a noir novel, it’s fitting that’s it’s told from the viewpoint of a single person, rather than a detached third person narrator.

Why did you choose to write a crime (mystery) novel?

I know a great deal about law and crime. I worked with drug addicts in court and love gritty dark-atmosphere stories, and crime lends itself to that without losing realism.

How did you choose the title for your book? Did it come to you right away, before you started writing the story, or did it come later?

The main mobster family has the last name ‘Vice’ so it seemed fitting (since they’re the ones running the underworld scene). And Vice City is easy and catchy. What’s not to like?

How does your legal background influence your novel?

Like I said before, I know a good deal about law. Specifically, I’ve worked with a lot of criminals (especially reformed criminals—people coming off probation or getting out of jail/prison). I really like redemption. I think humans are capable of changing (and we often do) so I’ve always admired people with criminal backgrounds who decide to turn it around for the good of themselves and their family.

I think seeing that resolve and human spirit in the court room has helped with my novel. Pierce is a guy who wants to move onto a better life, and that’s true to the men and women I saw walking out of a court with a new lease on life.

How did you come up with the names of your characters?

I like names that look distinct from others (so that it’s never confusing who is who). The five major characters in the book have very different names from one another: Pierce, Miles, Guinevere, Jayden, and Big Man Vice. Can’t mistake those names!

Does your book come with a strong message or moral?

The entire novel has a message of redemption and forgiveness. Pierce is a man who regrets most of his life, and his new protégé is a man just beginning a life of crime. Pierce tries to convince the guy that life on the streets isn’t a real life at all, and it’s a theme I greatly enjoy.

Without giving away too much, what’s your favorite part of the book?  What part did you enjoy writing the most?

My favorite part is the ending. It’s always the ending, actually. Every book I’ve ever written. I love epic resolutions, tense stand-offs, and poetic confessions of love. Vice City doesn’t have all of those, but it gets close.

Who are some of your favorite authors, genres?

My favorite genres are science-fiction, fantasy, and thrillers. Ironically, I wrote Vice City for someone who wanted romance with a plot, but I don’t read romance (I’m sorry to everyone who loves it) so I ended up writing a gritty crime thriller with a romance side-plot. Oops?

My favorite author of all time is Robert A. Heinlein.

——–

S.A. Stovall grew up in California’s central valley with a single mother and little brother. Despite no one in her family having a degree higher than a GED, she put herself through college (earning a BA in History), and then continued on to law school where she obtained her Juris Doctorate.

As a child, Stovall’s favorite novel was Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. The adventure on a deserted island opened her mind to ideas and realities she had never given thought before—and it was the moment Stovall realized that story telling (specifically fiction) became her passion. Anything that told a story, be it a movie, book, video game or comic, she had to experience. Now, as a professor and author, Stovall wants to add her voice to the myriad of stories in the world, and she hopes you enjoy.  Visit her at https://sastovallauthor.com/

Get Vice City at Amazon or Barnes and Noble

 

Missing persons case filled with twists, turns at dawn of Pearl Harbor

1
Maximum Moxie, A Maggie Sullivan mystery
M. Ruth Myers
Tuesday House   Sept. 2016
$3.99 Kindle  $11.99 trade paper
262 pages

Book reviews, particularly for suspense novels, often begin by describing all the action of the first few chapters.  I’m not going to do that here.

In the first chapter of Maximum Moxie, Ruth Myers’ fifth PI novel in the series, Loren Collingswood walks into Maggie Sullivan’s office with a problem.   He’s a founder of a technology company and one of his most brilliant employees has disappeared.  The missing engineer is the key to a new project the company is scheduled to introduce in a week. And Collingswood says he’s been getting maximum-moxiestrange phone calls.  But, he says, “It can’t have anything to do with Gil [the missing employee].  It can’t have anything to do with me.”

Whether the calls are related to the disappearance remains to be seen, but the rest of the scene in Sullivan’s office contains an unconventional surprise you’ll have to discover yourself.

Ultimately,  Sullivan gets the missing persons job.  Now, before you get the wrong idea about a technology company, remember that Sullivan started out as a private eye in 1930s Dayton, Ohio. This book is set in the first week of December 1941.  Technically, that’s one of the surprises—but by no means the only one—in the first chapter.  But never mind, it’s mentioned on the back cover, so the date is no spoiler. The impending war gives the novel an extra sense of uncertainty and realism and provides a hint that the mysterious technology project might have military applications.

Searching for the missing engineer, Sullivan, a scrappy 5-foot-2-inch, 27-year-old, has to first determine if Gil Tremain is a kidnap or murder victim, a blackmailer, thief or traitor. Is he alive or dead?  As Sullivan knows, if Tremain is in peril, the sooner she locates him the greater her chances of not finding him dead.  Continue Reading →

%d bloggers like this: