03 January 2008

San Francisco Noir

Richard S. Prather's 1952 The Peddler and Charles Willeford's 1955 Pick-up are both set in the City by the Bay. The Peddler--Hard Case's December 2006 pick--starts like a bad mafia movie with too many Italian surnames and too many "dem, dees and dose" dialogues. Actually, the tough guys talk like tough guys: "This sticker will go through you like you were butter. I oughta kill you, you sonofabitch, for talkin' to me like that." Eventually the adventures of our protagonist, Tony Romero, become compelling as we watch his meteoric rise, and by the time of his all-too-predictable fall, we are hooked. It is a tribute to Mr. Prather's skill in creating character and sustaining the pace. This is a man who has sold 40,000,000 books! There's an interesting Prather interview on the Don Pendelton website (The Executioner series). He died in February of 2007. I always enjoy reading books set in my favorite city, and Pick-up is way down low on the mean streets. Mr. Willeford's fictional world is a dark spiral of alcoholism, depression, and violence. The shock ending takes a little getting used to, but the overall hypnotic power of the book is undiminished. If you want hard-boiled, look no further. My copy of Pick-up is a 1987 Black Lizard (Vintage Crime) paperback that I picked up this summer at Powell's. Interestingly, Pick-up makes the grade for the Library of America, being included with Chester Himes, Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith and David Goodis in their American Noir of the 1950s collection of novels. A tribute to Willeford's life and career can be found here. He died in 1988.

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