From the massively magnificent archive….
If you’ve never seen a movie written and directed by Ed Wood—among others “Glen or Glenda,” “Bride of the Monster,” and that eternal classic “Plan 9 From Outer Space”—you’re either very young, or old but someone who has spent the bulk of his life in a cave. If you have seen an Ed Wood film, especially “Plan 9,” you understand why his works fall into the “so bad they’re good” category.
Arguably, Michael Avallone’s Ed Noon mysteries fall into that same category. The Crazy Mixed-Up Corpse is a case in point.
The novel opens with private detective Noon killing time by reading newspapers in his office, “which is also my home and a real mouse auditorium for size. Everything is relative, like they say, but every time I took my hat off it was like adding an extra piece of furniture to the place.” His P.I. license and gun have been suspended for the past year, “thanks to my peculiar talent for annoying the D.A., beating Headquarters out of big cases and generally making myself a large, unofficial nuisance.” When he receives a call from one of his best friends, Homicide Division Captain Mike Monks, telling him his suspension is over, that he can retrieve license and gun, and that Monks needs his help on a police matter, Noon intends to immediately head to HQ. He’s barely out on the street when someone in a Packard sedan opens up with a machine gun, cutting him down. When he awakens in a hospital several days later, he learns that the gunner seriously wounded him but killed a blind man and the youngest daughter of Tom Long, owner of the Chinese laundry a couple doors down from his office, who were both out on the sidewalk when the sedan drove by. Long’s six-year-old daughter suffered a wound to her left arm that will probably result in permanent damage.
Three weeks later, though still rather weak from his ordeal, Noon walks out of the hospital without having been officially discharged. He’s barely back in his office when a voluptuous blonde named Holly Hill pulls a gun on him and asks, “Where is it?” When he tells her he has no idea what she’s looking for, she orders him to strip. Still not finding the item she won’t name, she tosses his clothing out a window and departs. He has barely retrieved and donned his trousers “when a shattering explosion boomed, banged and bombarded the stillness of the night.” The explosion came from Tom Long’s Hand Laundry.
I’m not going to reveal anything more about the plot of this short, fast-paced novel beyond explaining that the title refers to a murder victim who lived next to Tom Long’s store, whose identity is a mystery, and who was murdered in a particularly grisly manner—make that manners, plural: throat cut, shot, and gutted. Noon truthfully tells Mike Monks that he’s never seen the man after seeing the morgue photos.
Needless to say, Noon is not going to sit idly by and let—or hope—the police solve the case. As he pursues it, he once again comes into contact with Holly Hill. But then there’s also her machine-gunner boyfriend Ace; an attractive waitress, Penny Darnell, who works at a restaurant Noon frequents; one very large, handsome, and dangerous specimen named Carver Calloway Drill; and a couple of other thugs working with Holly, Ace and, eventually, Drill.
If you haven’t read Bill Pronzini’s Gun in Cheek and Son of Gun in Cheek, two marvelously entertaining and often hilarious books about “alternative crime fiction”—i.e., “the neglected classics of substandard mystery writing,” as the back cover of the trade paper edition of Son of Gun in Cheek puts it—you’re missing out on a lot of fun. You’re also missing out on considerable space devoted to Michael Avallone, some of whose linguistic dubieties are in evidence in The Crazy Mixed-Up Corpse. For example, similes that either strain for effect—“My body felt as abnormal as a tuxedo in a hobo jungle”—or make little or no logical sense: “And me with a machine-gun in my mitts that was about as useful as a grizzly bear at a wedding.”
As Pronzini notes, Avallone has a tendency to belabor certain points, and I can’t help wondering if such moments were deliberately padded to achieve the required minimum word count. While reading this particular novel, the first of Avallone’s I’ve read in more than two decades, and in view of the aforementioned strained similes and other rhetorical flourishes that passed muster, I wonder if his editor at Fawcett Gold Medal called in sick whenever one of Avallone’s manuscripts arrived at the office.
There are descriptions that don’t quite work, or even make sense—e.g., “I flagged down a cab and helped Penny Darnell inside. As she settled back against the cushions, I shot the address to the cabbie and he gave me a look of shrugging envy.” [Italics mine]
The Avallone moment that’s reminiscent of Robert Leslie Bellem’s pulp stories starring Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective: “His big body had reached me and his lunch shovels went for my throat.”
The ludicrous (Pronzini cites this in one of the aforementioned volumes): “His breath was hot and sweaty.”
The contorted: when the enormous Carver Calloway Drill gets Noon into a bear hug and Noon could only feel “his steel-trap fingers sunk into my thighs and shoulders,” the reader can only wonder how many hands Drill has.
Incorrect or debatable word choices: “My insides did an adagio.”
While I personally couldn’t take a steady diet of Michael Avallone, the Ed Wood of Ed Noon and other tales, I can recommend this crazy mixed-up farce as diverting mind-candy. But as a dentist would advise about candy consumption, moderation is an imperative.
Barry Ergang © 2017, 2023
Among his other works, Derringer Award-winner Barry Ergang’s locked-room novelette, The Play of Light and Shadow, can be found in eBook formats at Smashwords.com and Amazon.com
Barry did not mention Pronzini's equally intriguing SIX-GUN IN CHEEK, which covers the western genre.ReplyDelete
Avallone evidently had a lot of fun writing these books. The uncritical reader should have a lot of fun reading them.
No, Jerry, because at that point I hadn't yet read SIX-GUN IN CHEEK. I have since and can recommend it heartily, as I suspect you agree.ReplyDelete
At the time I wrote this review, Jerry, I hadn't yet read SIX-GUN IN CHEEK. Having read it since then, I can heartily recommend it, as I suspect you'd agree, as informative and entertaining reading.ReplyDelete