Thursday, February 13, 2014

Two Recent Reads

It's cold, the weather is sucky, and winter has ceased to be fun and instead is just damned tiresome. Even fans of cold weather and snow are fed up and waiting for spring. Today I was off work because a foot of snow fell, and right now we're having a mix of rain and ice pellets, with more snow and freezing temperatures expected tonight. Joy.

So there's a lot of reading to get done....

The second of Bowen's Molly Murphy series, Death of Riley was quite enjoyable. Molly, a new immigrant from Ireland, is set to make her own way in the world, and decides to be a private investigator, planning to specialize in helping immigrants like herself locate lost relatives. After a disastrous spell as a lady's companion, she attaches herself to a slightly shady private eye and convinces him to take her on as an apprentice. Pretty soon, though, he dies horribly, and she sets off to solve his murder.

Molly's quest takes her into New York's bohemian underbelly, where as an unconventional and independent woman finds herself allies and friends. The depiction of that milieu is charming, especially the sympathetic lesbian couple who take her under their wing, and an egotistical-yet-charming playwright who becomes a good friend. And Bowen brings reality into the story as well, with real people like anarchist Emma Goldman, and real events like the assassination of President McKinley.

Not great lit-ra-choor, but an enjoyable mystery novel. Bowen does tend to have people trust and like and do huge favors for Molly at the drop of a hat, but at least this time it made some sense.

The City Condemned to Hell was the story, really, but I can't help but think of it only as The Octopus. This was an experiment in pulp publishing; this was supposed to launch a entire magazine dedicated to the struggle between a hero (the oddly-named Skull Killer) and a villain (The Octopus). It only lasted one issue. Later on, a second story featuring the Octopus was tweaked and the villain's name changed to The Scorpion, and was used in another attempt to launch a villain-centered pulp magazine that lasted only one issue. Villain-centered pulps never did take off fully.

A mystery ailment is attacking the people of New York, turning them into twisted, mutated monsters. A hospital is set on fire, and a certain Dr. Skull is held responsible. Dr. Skull is really one of a couple of secret identities of a young, heroic doctor who is also the heroic Skull Killer, who bumps off gangsters and other lawbreakers. The mystery ailment causes chaos and then the villainous Octopus announces over the radio that those requiring treatment to come to him; apparently he seeks a monopoly on health care!

It's energetic, I'll give it that, but sometimes I found it slipshod and incoherent. It tries to do too much sometimes, without giving it the structure and internal logic that Doc Savage and The Shadow had. If the disease had some explanation as to its nature, I missed it. It's cured by the end, so at least there's that. The identity of the Octopus is never revealed, and obviously they meant for this to be an ongoing thing. There's even a few hints of a mystical/occult origin for the villain, but again, never delved into and probably intended for sequels. This was not the best, I have to say. So-so, even on the level of hokum, and its reached exceeded its grasp, I think. Still, interesting for students of pulp literature who want to look into the failed experiment of villain-centered pulps.

So what are you reading lately?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

~~ as you did ask, I've just finished the latest Inspector Wexford by Ruth Rendell.
I do like your style of writing and enjoy your blog. thanks