RARA-AVIS: Books I Don't Like

Thu, 7 Oct 1999 05:01:29 EDT

Hi All,

I've been away, and have been catching up on a month of digests, which makes great reading. I have a pile of books waiting for me to read, including Anderson's Night Dogs, Block's Hit Man, Stark's Comeback, Colin Harrison's Manhattan Nocturne and Jim Nisbet's Prelude...To A Scream. Some authors I know and enjoy, some new to me.

Whilst reviewing for Crime Time, I get sent books which, quite frankly, are attrocious. Vicki Hendricks' Iguana Love was one of them. Another is Kiss Me Judas by Will Christopher Baer. Both reviews were pretty vicious, which is probably why they weren't published in CT. I have included my review of Judas below. However, my question is: are there any hardboiled/noir books you hate with a passion? If so, why?

Kiss Me, Judas by Will Christopher Baer, Viking, £9.99, ISBN 0 670 88441-3 It's always a bad sign when I am writing the review before I have finished reading the book. Either the book has prompted my mind to ponder a subject, or the book has annoyed me to such an extent I can't wait to spew my vitriol. By the end of this review, you will know which is the case. I picked up a copy of Whiplash by Hank Janson yesterday because it has a great cover by Heade - a very collectible paperback. It begins: 'The guy was dead. Horribly dead. As dead as a stone gargoyle and just as ugly.' Janson was the pseudonym of Stephen Frances, and one of the top-selling English pulp writers of the Fifties. These were unpretentious writers, who knew their market and wrote to it. People say that this pulp market died, but I beg to differ. I've been sent some very pulpily-written books over the past couple of years and Kiss Me, Judas is one of them. As far as I'm concerned too many people have read Jim Thompson. They've gotten to the end of The Killer Inside Me or Savage Night or whatever where the central character goes nuts and Thompson writes fever-dreams, and these writers have thought 'that's cool.' So, they go merrily off and write bits in the same vein, leaving out all the bits that came before that contain character development, motivation, tension and sundry other things that get in the way of masturbatory fiction. Or they've read James Ellroy, especially White Jazz, with all of that stream-of-consciousness shit, or some Jerome Charyn with all his crazy, frenetic characters. However, Ellroy and Charyn, like poets, place their words like bombs, ready to go off at a later stage in the book. Their books have plots, characters, real feelings. There may even be a point to them. Kiss Me Judas, is pure titillation. This is a book about Phineas Poe, an ex-cop who has just left a mental institution, a place he found himself in after he killed his wife Lucy, or there was an accident, or she killed herself because she was dying. Poe was in a division of police internal affairs which policed internal affairs, which means he's paranoid. Poe meets a stunning girl in a red dress, Jude, pays her $200 for a fuck, and wakes up in a bath of ice, bleeding, reading a note from her saying he should telephone 911 if he wants to live. While he was knocked out, she took one of his kidneys, then stapled him up. To make matters worse, she took his gun as well. To top that, he's fallen in love with her. She obviously took his heart along with the kidney (and his common sense, too ). Jude=Judas The plot follows Poe as he meets a succession of men and women who, more often than not, get killed: Crumb, Eve, Rose, Moon, Blister, Pooh, Georgia etc. There is sex, drugs (Poe's high on drugs throughout), blood, cops, S&M, etc. Poe's ultimate aim is to reunite with Jude, so that she can either fuck or blow his brains out. The publishers call this A Masterpiece Of Modern Noir. I call it crap. It's written in a hyper supposedly-descriptive style which falls flat and breaks its nose time and time again. 'I'm cold. Religiously cold,' thinks Poe in the first paragraph. What the hell does 'religiously cold' mean? 'The scar of a bullet on my left thigh like the mouth of an unborn twin.' This description of a scar has no point, since no brothers, or twins, or the idea of duality is developed in the novel. 'The air is sour, like artificial fruit. It smells like violence.' I have never tasted artificial fruit, so I do not know if it tastes sour. And I don't know what violence smells like. Perhaps there should have been a glossary in the back of the book explaining what the writer meant by all these ill-chosen words? I enjoy good old-fashioned pulp writing because it's honest and straight-forward. Kiss Me Judas has pretentiousness emblazoned all over it. And a surprisingly limited vocabulary - virtually everything is described as being in shadow, or shadowy, whilst most things are like knives, or scars. Kiss Me Judas? My ass! Well, I certainly felt betrayed.

- paul duncan

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