Sunday, March 27, 2016
Nice private eye-type story by Mr. Ross in his second appearance on this page.
Hugh Brewster is a disillusioned psychology professor who becomes an investigator for a security company. One of their clients is a movie studio and when the son of a minor star is kidnapped Brewster is sent into the desert where filming had been going on location to try to solve the dilemma.
The local cops aren't much help and the studio boss isn't willing to contribute to a ransom: "I'm not hanging out a sign saying I'm a soft touch." But the worst part is thatno one is calling with a ransom demand. If they don't want money than all the other possibilities are grim.
The story is good all the way through but what I loved was the ending, a cold conversation between Brewster and his boss that reminded me of Hammett's Continental Op chatting with the Old Man.
Sunday, December 27, 2015
By the time the Washingtons moved into the house two doors away late last summer, Loukas and Athena Demopoulos had lived next to Helen Schildkraut for nearly five years.
Dang, that is a good opening sentence. Clear, a bit complex, and instantly predicting the conflict that is to come.
Lou and Athena have retired after running their Greek restaurant for decades. Lou's hobby is antiques. He doesn't collect them, he just wants to buy low and sell high. But then he discovers that his elderly neighbor Helen has a house full of them. And Helen has no relatives, no favorite charities, no one to leave her precious belongings to. So Lou and Athena set out to become really good neighbors and wait for Helen to pass away.
But then the Washingtons -- remember them? They appear in that crucial first sentence and then disappear for most of the story -- move in on the other side, and they are good neighbors too.
This is one of those rare stories I reread as soon as I finished it, because there was so much in it I wanted to see what I had missed.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
My fellow SleuthSayers blogger, Stephen Ross, lives in New Zealand, but his latest story is set firmly in the England of the early 1960s.
The narrator is a hardware salesman. Don't think hammers and nails. We're talking about weaponry here. And Pussycat, one of his good friends, announces he wants to buy a rifle. He plans to shoot a pumpkin. Well, that's harmless enough, except he wants to hide in a tree and shoot at the pumpkin when it is on a stick ten feet off the ground.
"It seems to me," I remark, "that your pumpkin had the size and shape of a human head. Are you planning to shoot somebody?"
Pussycat doesn't answer. But he does remark later that he hates the Beatles. "They're what's wrong with this miserable country."
Is he planning to kill a Beatle? Or is something else going on?
I should say I guessed the punchline, so to speak. I think anyone who shares certain characteristics with me would.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
As I recall, Donald E. Westlake said that the essence of the private eye story can be found in the etymology of the phrase hardboiled dick. "Hardboiled," meaning a tough person to deal with, comes from the American army during World War I. "Dick," meaning detective, comes from Quebecois rumrunners during Prohibition. So the private eye story begins where the newly cynical veterans of the Great War met organized crime spawned by Prohibition.
Meaning, among other things, that the P.I. story dates from an era long past. So is it too dated to be of interest anymore? Let's see what James. L. Ross manages to do with it.
The story has a very traditional beginning. A woman's ring has been stolen. She wants it back but more importantly, she wants to know if her boyfriend is the thief.
How many motifs of the P.I. story show up om those two sentences? The female client. A hidden agenda behind a seemingly simple assignment.
But this is clearly a very modern story. For one thing the client quite casually explains that the boyfriend is the guy she sees when her fiance is out of town. And she works for a Wall Street firm that specializes in computerized trades based on miniscule momentary gaps between values of stocks. Finally, the nameless P.I. hero is also dealing with "my wife's boyfriend."
Not something Sam Spade had to worry about.
Of course, the ring just turns out to be the tip of the iceberg. There are murders, and theft, and corruption; areas where Mr. Spade would feel quite at home.
The P.I. story seems to be adjusting just fine.