Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Book Report: Norbert Davis

From 5 years ago...

Input = output. One of the reasons why I'm a screenwriter is because I grew up watching movies and reading books. And I still do both. Though I usually mention what movies I've seen on the blog, I seldom mention what books I've been reading... and now I've decided to post about that every once in a while.

A while back I bought a Kindle, because it weighs less than a book, and I always have these danged books in my backpack weighing me down. Even though the Kindle itself costs $139, then you have to add books, Amazon tries to keep the Kindle book price down to $9.99 for most "hardback" titles, but the real deal for me was public domain books that you'd pay $3.99 or more for in paperback are usually free or 99 cents. WAR OF THE WORLDS - $7.99 paperback, FREE for Kindle. Since one of my little projects is searching for a kick ass PD novel to adapt into a screenplay, and due to some sort of mid-life nostalgia I am re-reading a bunch of the adventure and science fiction and fantasy books I read as a kid (most of which are now public domain), it made sense to buy a Kindle. I'm re-reading a bunch of great stuff... for free. Already, the Kindle has "paid for itself" if I had to buy those books in paperback. And my aching back also wins - no heavy books in the backpack.

I still buy some books in paper, and just bought Lawrence Block's great new novel A TOUCH OF THE HARD STUFF in hardback... and had him sign it. I'll probably write a review of that book next week, but I need to mention the book I'm reading now - Block's THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART. I have an ancient paperback somewhere on the shelf, and would have stuck it in the backpack, except...

The other good thing about the Kindle and other e-readers is that sometimes books go on a limited time sale, and LONG GREEN is on sale until the 15th for only 99 cents (back in 2011). Having just paid $25 for Block's new book, under a buck is a no brainer deal. I bought it and am now reading it on the Kindle when I'm stuck in line at the post office or taking a break from the laptop.

Block writes several series: Bernie the Burglar, Matt Scudder the alcoholic detective, the new Hit Man series, swinging 70's spy Evan Tanner, and some sleazy books about Chip Harrison who is not a virgin by choice. THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART is a stand alone noir title about a con man pulling the ultimate scam, and the woman who screws it all up. If you like THE GRIFTERS, check it out! (PS: Also check out his new noir novel, GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES.)

Some other stuff I've been reading: the Norbert Davis Carstairs & Doan mysteries. Who? you say? Well, Norbert Davis was one of those Black Mask pulp writers in the 30s and 40s who specialized in funny mysteries - hey, that's exactly what I like to read! He had a few different series in the pulps (at a penny a word, you had to write for different magazines and have stories in a bunch of them every month just to pay the rent) - Max Latin, Private Eye was the series where I first discovered Davis, and when I hit my local public library when I was in High School I found the Carstairs & Doan books - 4 of them. They had been out of print forever, and it took me a while to track them down in the library system. These things are collector's items now, and you couldn't afford to buy them...

Except they're public domain, so you can get them for 99 cents each!

HOLOCAUST HOUSE is the first book in the series. The series is about pudgy smart ass private eye Doan (think Paul Giamatti) who wins a pure breed Great Dane (Carstairs) in a poker game. Carstairs is snobby, aloof, and more intelligent than any human. He is Doan's master (not the other way around) and insists on eating steak while Doan eats hamburgers. But the great thing about this odd couple of detectives is that Carstairs is the brains (often solving the cases) and Doan is the brawn (he may be pudgy, but he can fight and is great with a gun). In the first book, Carstairs is mostly off screen as Doan is sent to guard a young woman who is about to inherit millions... and seems to have no shortage of enemies. In a secluded ski lodge Doan must figure out who among the staff is really a killer. One of the great things about these books is that they are funny and breezy... and VIOLENT. Kind of a screw ball comedy directed by Sam Peckinpah.

MOUSE IN THE MOUNTAIN - this was the first of the books I read back in High School, and it's the first one where Carstairs is more than just a funny prop - he's an equal partner in the story. The two are traveling to a secluded village in Mexico on some sort of secret business involving a mobster in hiding. But after an earthquake brings much of the village tumbling to the ground and takes out the only road in or out, people begin to get bumped off. Among the suspects are an heiress, her secretary, an ex-pat artist, a revolutionary, some military guys, and a strange hotel owner (both the hotel and the owner are strange). There's a secret treasure and all kinds of other fun stuff - and Carstairs figures out who the killer is long before Doan does. This book was a lot of fun.

SALLY'S IN THE ALLEY - probably the best of the four books. During World War 2, Carstairs has become a movie star and Doan is the guy who doesn't get invited to the premieres... but does get invited by the FBI to become a Japanese spy, even though he doesn't look the least bit Asian. Seems there's a crazy prospector who has discovered enough Uranium to make a whole bunch of atom bombs, and because he hates the USA for stealing his land to make Hoover Dam, wants to sell the Uranium to the Japanese or the Germans. Carstairs and Doan go undercover as Japanese spies, and get mixed up in all kinds of wild action (including a massive flash flood - these books all have a natural disaster element) - and along with German Spies and small town cops and cowboys and Indians, there's America's #1 movie star Susan Sally and her pushy Agent, plus a guy named Blue who has a secret past and a young woman who will believe almost anything Doan tells her.

OH MURDERER MINE - If SALLY is the best in the series, this is the worst... but still lots of fun. Less of a mystery and more of a satire about college life, Carstairs and Doan are acting as bodyguards for a faculty member for reasons which aren't revealed until late in the book. One of the strange things with this book is that it begins with a professor, Melissa Gregory, instead of Carstairs and Doan, and for a while you wonder if you're reading the wrong book. The rest of the faculty are a bunch of nut-jobs who make the cast of a Coen Brothers movie look normal and bland. Once again, Carstairs is the brains of the operation and figures out the case long before Doan.

Norbert Davis never wrote any more books in the series because he committed suicide at age 40!

One of the great things about e-books is that Davis' books are available at a low price - no cost for printing and binding. I would love to see a collection of the Max Latin stories and Bail Bond Dodd stories... plus all of his pulp short stories. So, that's what I've been reading.

PS: As I said - there are a bunch of public domain titles that are FREE, and you may even find the Carstairs & Doan books somewhere for free... just not on Amazon right now. I did find the Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars books for free, and the Sherlock Holmes books, and many others for free.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Global Screenwriting - 70% of your audience does not live in the United States, probably doesn't speak English, and really doesn't care about baseball statistics.
Dinner: That grungy Pollo Loco in NoHo.
Pages: Cold still hanging in there, so all of the work on the script I was going to do today did not get done. Other things that require less brain work *did* get done, so it wasn't a wasted day.
Bicycle: Short bike ride, just to keep the blood flowing.


Anonymous said...

Yes, another Kindle convert!

As a power reader I think it's the best thing since sliced bread (or, since Sharon Stone's Parting of the Thighs).

I’m a power reader and it holds thousands of books, cheaper books! The display even feels like reading a paperback and you can increase font size. Battery life is measured in weeks, not hours.

One thing it's great for is discovering new authors (no, I'm not plugging myself) as you don't have to spend $20 on a book you know nothing about.

I honestly think it deserves a Nobel or a Hasty Pudding or something...

Leif said...

You should checked out :

It's an author who has used the kindle and other ereaders to self publish his books instead of using the traditional methods.

I know you're a screen writer and no doubt prefer writing scripts, but if you had ever thought about writing a novel or even short stories, it might be something you could pursue?

Hope it helps!

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