Monthly Archives: April 2016

Review: THE EHRENGRAF FANDANGO by Lawrence Block

The Ehrengraf Fandango is the twelfth short story featuring the lawyer Martian H. Ehrengraf. He has a small room at his home reserved for attorney-client meetings. The room is a bit reminiscent of such a room at a police station as both the table and the chairs are bolted to the floor. The surroundings lean towards the austere and Ehrengraf may or may not be recording everything that goes on in the room. It is not exactly clear from the start that he pushes the legal boundaries hard if not flat out obliterating them. That talent comes in handy with his latest client, Cheryl Plumley, as the story begins.

The entire world knows she fired the gun that killed three people in a house on Woodbridge Avenue. She has no memory of actually going into the home and shooting Mary Beth and Richard Kuhldreyer as well as their neighbor, Patricia Munk. While her only explanation other than sheer madness for the crime would be satanic intervention, Ehrengraf has a much more down to earth explanation. Not only does he know how he can help her with the case, he has a few other ideas to help her and her future.

Along with a touch here and there of subtle humor, The Ehrengraf Fandango by Lawrence Block is a complicated multiple case mystery. The Plumley case is just part of a much larger tale in this work. Martian H. Ehrengraf is a lawyer who bends the law to suit himself and enjoys the fruit of his labors in the process. He only defends innocent clients and he never loses a case. If you need his services it is always best to pay his free promptly and without delay.

Also present at the end of the book is the original introduction to the first story, The Ehrengraf Defense, written by Edward D. Hoch for the 1978 initial appearance in Ellery Queen’s mystery magazine. That is followed by two different afterwards from the author, first in 1994 and then 2014. Those pieces by Hoch and author Lawrence Block provide intriguing details about the dapper lawyer, the other eleven tales in the series, as well as publishing in general.

Material was picked up to read and review when the author made it free back in January.

Kevin R. Tipple ©2016

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Gunfire Ridge is the fourth installment of the Bodie Kendrick Bounty Hunter Series. It opens with Kendrick in the company of a soiled dove in the town of Ford’s Bottom. The quiet is disturbed by the pounding on their room door, followed by threats, and very soon gunfire. When the lead stops flying and the dust has settled a bit town marshal, Cotton Mayhew, makes it clear that the bounty hunter has overstayed his welcome in these parts. Thanks to the Sheriff up in Laramie already having authorized his bounty pay at the local bank, Kendrick can collect his monies due him and head on out of town immediately.

That would be just as well as for all involved as some folks are no doubt coming to town to settle a score with Kendrick. Today’s attempt at killing him traces back to an event earlier in the series and the far flung family members, of which there are quite a few, seem to be of no mind to let things go. Kendrick also has work to do near Pine Ridge, Nebraska and would like to get out of northern Colorado before the winter snows set in. That is going to be a way easier said than done in Gunfire Ridge.

Gunfire Ridge: Bodie Kendrick Bounty Hunter Book 4 is another good one.  Starting with Hard Trail To Socorro, Rio Matanza, Diamond In The Rough and now Gunfire Ridge, the very good reads in this series are well worth your time. Kendrick is a man’s man— he loves hard, he drinks hard, and he works hard. When killing needs to be done he does it as that is the cards he was dealt. A very good western series where there is plenty of action and adventure with a hint of romance and mystery thrown in the mix. Award winning author Wayne D. Dundee simply can’t write a bad story. This is another good one.

According to Amazon I picked this up in early April 2015. I have no idea now if it was a free read or I used funds in my Amazon Associate account. I suspect the latter.

Kevin R. Tipple ©2016

THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT (1947) by Fredric Brown

I’m tempted to call this novel mystery fiction’s version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It’s not a wholly accurate description, and I’m sure there are a lot of folks who’d take me to task for it, but The Fabulous Clipjoint may be the closest thing in spirit — though without the comedy — to Mark Twain’s masterwork that the genre has.

At eighteen, Ed Hunter is older than Huck and a good deal more worldly. When his father is beaten to death, the apparent victim of a random mugging, he wants answers but knows he‘s out of his depth when it comes to getting them. He therefore enlists the help of his father’s brother Ambrose, a carnival barker savvy in the ways of the mean streets. In teaming up with Uncle Am to solve what they eventually determine is a deliberate murder rather than an impersonal mugging, Ed undertakes his own Huck-like voyages of discovery through the streets of Chicago and thus performs his rite of passage.

The characters, with perhaps one or two exceptions, are neither all good nor all bad. Most exhibit morally gray behaviors and attitudes. The story itself is as “naturalistic” as any I’ve ever read in the genre, a superb example of the kind Raymond Chandler alluded to when he wrote about Dashiell Hammett (and by extension other good pulp writers) giving “murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse.” Anthony Boucher called it “a singularly effective job of portraying people as they are and murder as it is — a solidly compelling story.” But while it contains its share of dark moments and situations, and has a strong sense of place, Brown’s style — though eminently readable — is relatively pedestrian, lacks the brooding lyricism that infuses, for instance, a David Goodis novel.

The Fabulous Clipjoint has been marginalized as a minor classic for many years. Recently, an article by Dick Adler argued for the elevation of its stature. Read it for yourself to decide if Fredric Brown merits being ranked with Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald, and Jim Thompson.

©2009 Barry Ergang

Derringer Award-winner Barry Ergang’s fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. Visit his website: Some of his work is available at Amazon and at Smashwords.

THE JUGGER (1965) by Richard Stark

The late Donald E. Westlake was a versatile writer whose output ranged over a number of  fields. But it is crime fiction for which he is most famous, for which he was deservedly acknowledged by the Mystery Writers of America as a Grand Master, and in which  he wrote under his own name and under a variety of pseudonyms. Under his own name he will always be remembered as one of the greatest exponents of the comic crime novel with titles that include The Hot Rock, God Save the Mark, I Gave at the Office, What’s the Worst That Could Happen?, and Two Much.

As Richard Stark, probably his best-known pseudonym, he produced a very successful series of ultra-hardboiled novels, several of which were filmed—see The Thrilling Detective website for more information. The books starred Parker, a professional thief: “Once or twice a year, Parker was in on an institutional robbery…It wasn’t out of humanity that he limited himself to organizations, it was just that organizations had more money than individuals….

“Parker wasn’t a single-o. He always worked with a pickup group gathered for that single specific job. Every man was a specialist, and Parker’s specialties were two; planning and violence. Other men were specialists in opening safes or scaling walls or making up blueprints from nothing more than observation, but Parker was a specialist at planning an operation so it run smoothly, and at stopping any outsider who might be thinking of lousing things up.”

The premise of The Jugger, the sixth book in a series which does not necessarily have to be read in order, is fairly simple. Joe Sheer is a jugger, a safecracker, living in the small town of Sagamore, Nebraska under the name Joseph Shardin. Now retired, he sometimes acts as an intermediary between Parker and others in his particular line of work. He writes to Parker who, when not pulling heists, lives in Miami under the name Charles Willis, an identity he has painstakingly constructed over a period of years. Sheer’s first letter indicates that he’s in some kind of trouble, that he’ll handle it, but that Parker shouldn’t try to contact him until the matter is settled. A month later a second letter arrives, this one asking for Parker’s help. Parker packs a bag and, as Charles Willis, goes to Sagamore. He does so not out of loyalty or friendship toward Sheer—there is nothing noble about him; he does so for the sake of self-preservation. “Joe Sheer could crucify Parker, he could nail him to the wall with a hundred nails…He knew him by his old face…He knew Parker’s cover name, he knew twenty or twenty-five jobs Parker had been connected with, he knew enough about Parker to skin him alive.”

Simple premise, right? All Parker has to do is find out what kind of jam Sheer is in and either help him out of it or kill him to protect himself. But not long after he arrives in Sagamore, things quickly become complicated. Sheer is dead, but nobody will level with Parker about how he died. A man named Tiftus, who “claimed to be a lock man” whom “Parker had never worked with…because he was too unreliable” shows up at Parker’s hotel room, wanting to partner to find something valuable he’s certain Sheer had hidden somewhere.

Parker goes to Sheer’s house to look around for himself and is knocked unconscious by someone wearing a burlap bag for a mask. Not long afterward, Tiftus is found dead—in Parker’s hotel room. Now Parker must deal with the corrupt Captain Younger, local head of the police department, and the honest, earnest state police investigator Regan—while trying to tie up loose ends, absolve himself of a connection to Tiftus’s murder, find the actual killer, and ditch an unwanted new associate.

To say anything more would be to spoil the excitement in this taut short novel. The Jugger is as hardboiled as anything Mickey Spillane ever wrote, but without the posturing. Parker is cold, efficient, and ruthless, the complete anti-hero. He lets nothing and no one stand in his way when he’s trying to accomplish something. Even readers who think they’re inured to fictional criminal activities might be surprised by  some of Parker’s. Although he’s repellent to anyone with moral sensibilities, he’s so intriguing that readers who go for noir fiction will want to follow his adventures, a testament to Westlake’s authorial skill.

As the quoted passages demonstrate, the author doesn’t waste words, doesn’t indulge in the kind of verbal pyrotechnics that can dilute and obstruct a narrative. Thus, the story’s relentless pace infuses it with a raw power. The no-nonsense style reflects Parker’s no-nonsense approach. A further testament to the author’s skill is his ability to portray breathing, individualized characters—this despite the fact that the reader is given background information only about Parker and Captain Younger.

The Jugger will not appeal to readers who only like stories about heroes with noble codes of honor and conduct, nor will it appeal to readers who dislike onstage violence. Fans of rapid-fire hardboiled fiction will greatly enjoy and possibly even love it. To them I highly recommend it.