It's you and me, baby, ’til death do us part. What's your name again?
Here's a quick quiz for you. Is the following passage from a crime novel or a romance? There was one truth between us, one truth that would never be untrue. Whatever this animal thing inside me was, there was something inside her that was a mate for it. I felt that nothing could ever change that. It had to be brought alive again. It had to live and burn its own fire and be electric with its own voltage.
Those lines are from Richard Himmel's 1950 thriller I'll Find You, aka It's Murder, Maguire, first in a series of books starring mobbed up Chicago lawyer Johnny Maguire. The passage illustrates something we've noted before—that crime novels and romance novels sometimes intersect. Fictional tough guys occasionally fall head over heels in love, and when they do, the prose describing that love—in some author's hands—can be as overwrought as what you'd find in any romance novel.
In this story, Maguire, who must be one of the dumbest smart characters in crime fiction, falls for a deceased friend's wife who later fakes her own suicide. While the police believe she's dead, he never buys it, and risks his career and safety to locate her. He finds her living under a new identity and refuses to let her get away from him again—which is exactly as stalkerish as it sounds, considering he barely knew her before she vanished. She eventually submits to his overbearing attentions, but sadly, malign actors may ruin their love story.
It's surprising to us that there was a sequel, but Himmel's crime-romance must have struck a nerve with the reading public. It didn't strike one with us, but we didn't dislike it. We felt that it was eye-rollingly saccharine, and we found Himmel's dialogue a bit stilted. On the plus side, Maguire is funny at times, and his friend-with-benefits relationship with a supporting character named Tina has the potential to be engaging, assuming she hangs around. We'll see what develops in book two.
Dance? This jukebox plays only the collected speeches of Harry S. Truman and if you don't like it there's the damn door.
We had a few different ways we could have gone with the music in this jukebox. Austro-Hungarian military marches. Hawaiian ukulele classics. Bavarian beerhall oompah. Even the soothing sounds of cicadas and crickets. We had options. But as far as the actual book goes, James Ross's They Don't Dance Much deals with misadventures in and around a North Carolina roadhouse. You know the drill: guy takes a job but the job almost takes him. Basically, a destitute Depression-era farmer scores employment at a just-opened roadhouse, but when the owner becomes financially overextended, he conceives of desperate measures to obtain cash—namely robbing a friend rumored to have $20,000 buried on his land.
Burying money might not make sense to some. Stop us if you know this, but back during the Depression if a bank went under the customers generally lost their deposits. Those who went broke were often ridiculed for not being savvy enough concerning the bank's fiscal health. Today we call that victim blaming. It was only when the U.S. government took the evil socialistic step of guaranteeing deposits that people's life savings became safe. Thank you, Mr. Roosevelt. But the point is, burying a fortune on one's own land is not an outlandish plot device. And considering how modern banks have devolved into robbery franchises, we're almost ready to consider it ourselves. Please don't e-mail asking for our address.
Anyway, stealing the money turns out to be doable, though not pleasant, for our farmer-bandit, but everything after that is—shockingly—a country fried clusterfuck. This is our first James Ross book and we were pretty satisfied. It feels like something that could have inspired Blood Simple. As a novel set in the south it has the usual pitfalls for those who don't want to be subjected to something like one hundred racial slurs, however there's no doubt the language is accurate for the place and time. We heard people speaking like that when we were last in North Carolina, and that was not terribly long ago. In any case, you've been warned. And lastly, the cover art is by Stanley Meltzoff, who we've featured only once before, here.
I hear the falcon is nice and all, but darlin’, these ankle strap pumps of yours are to die for.
Of the many covers for Dashiell Hammett’s classic The Maltese Falcon, this version painted by Stanley Meltzoff is one of our favorites. It’s from 1945 and is a dust sleeve for a paperback, a rarity that explains why it goes for $100 and up, generally. We’ve even seen it listed for $250. Beneath the Meltzoff sleeve is a cover by Leo Manso, the famed collagist and abstract artist, which he first painted for the 1944 paperback edition. You can see an example of that here. The Meltzoff sleeve was supposedly controversial at the time due to the Brigid O’Shaughnessy character removing her bra. We didn’t notice that at first, to tell you the truth—our eyes moved right to that triangle of darkness where we see Sam Spade’s hands as he assesses a pair of red pumps. Lovingly, we think. Almost like he wants to keep them. Or are we reading too much into this one?
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1987—Andy Warhol Dies
American pop artist Andy Warhol, whose creations have sold for as much as 100 million dollars, dies of cardiac arrhythmia following gallbladder surgery in New York City. Warhol, who already suffered lingering physical problems from a 1968 shooting, requested in his will for all but a tiny fraction of his considerable estate to go toward the creation of a foundation dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
1935—Caroline Mikkelsen Reaches Antarctica
Norwegian explorer Caroline Mikkelsen, accompanying her husband Captain Klarius Mikkelsen on a maritime expedition, makes landfall at Vestfold Hills and becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Today, a mountain overlooking the southern extremity of Prydz Bay is named for her.
1972—Walter Winchell Dies
American newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell, who invented the gossip column while working at the New York Evening Graphic, dies of cancer. In his heyday from 1930 to the 1950s, his newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, he was read by 50 million people a day, and his Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people.
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