Written by Ivan Infante — Mike Chance is what you might call a nasty piece of work. He has made his way from America’s East Coast to West, and has ended up in downtown Los Angeles in 1938. His first act is to dress up as cops, roust an illegal card game, scatter the guilty players, and pocket the cash on the table. His fellow reprobates are fat Doug and little Benny who, as the dealer in the card game, was in on the scam from the word go. No pulp novel set in the LA of the late 1930s would be complete without a scantily-clad blonde, and she is introduced early in the piece. She manages to throw herself in front of Chance’s car, but is well enough to hit him with a sap when he bends over her to see if she is OK.
When Chance comes to, he is surrounded by tough guys. There’s Tino, who works for mob boss Spinelli, and three nameless heavies who Chance calls Big, Bigger and Biggest. It turns out that the girl is Spinelli’s daughter and that he wants her back. What follows is a complex game of bluff and double bluff. Has the girl been kidnapped? If so, by whom? Can Chance and Benny (sadly, fat Doug ‘swallows lead’ before he can play much more of a part) find the girl and claim Spinelli’s ransom? Several gruesome killings and countless cigarettes later Chance manages to steal the prize, but finds she is a long way from being an innocent victim.
Mike Chance himself actually detracts from the book. He is tough, rough, unscrupulous and violent. He seems to have no moral compass. For instance, he butchers a barber for no other reason than the poor man has a true crime magazine which contains his likeness. He tries to steal a car, and when the hapless owner intervenes, Chance smashes the man’s head against the pavement until he’s dead. A hard man needs to have some redeeming feature, a cause they are fighting for, or some underlying integrity in the face of adversity, but Chance inhabits a moral vacuum. Half-way through the book, I was thinking, albeit wishfully, that if Chance were to perish under a hail of bullets, it would be no bad thing.
Infante does tell a good story. The pace of this pulp throwback never lets up, and it reads like a screenplay for a 1930s ‘B’ movie. In fact, it is remarkably cinematographic, and all the way through I could see stagey Hollywood sets, tough guys in cheap suits and snap-brim hats, lighting cigarettes and jumping in and out of wonderful cars. Fans of The Big Sleep, either on the screen or the printed page, will love the fact that the author’s Twitter name is @EddieMarsAttack. If the great Howard Hawks were still with us, I am sure he would have snapped up the options on this story for a silver screen version.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars