Vintage Pulp Mar 5 2019
ASSASSINS HAVE SORRY EYES
Maybe all those stars are why none of the killers can seem to nail this chump.


Donald Hamilton's 1965 novel Assassins Have Starry Eyes was originally published in 1956 as Assignment: Murder. This could have been better. The lead character here, Dr. James Gregory, is a tough-guy physicist who sits so much he “wears his pants shiny,” yet has no problem physically outmatching adversaries in various deadly situations. We'll buy it, since the author asks it, but there's another issue with Dr. Gregory—he's a dick, all the more so as the narrative wears on.

Some sharp edges are to be expected, since people are trying to kill him—possibly due to his involvement in a government project tasked with creating an atomic super weapon—but he's snide and superior even in his interior dialogues and reminiscences. He especially hates peace protestors because they simply don't understand the need for world-threatening super weapons. Bah! Morons!

Books with difficult men are often fun, but it's clear Hamilton thinks he's writing Dr. Gregory not as an anti-hero, but as a no-nonsense everyman. The guy was impossible for us to like. We finished Assassins Have Starry Eyes mainly to see if he got his brains blown out. As for Hamilton, his writing is fine, so maybe he'll do better with a different character (like Matt Helm, who he's remembered for creating). We'll try one down the line. 

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Vintage Pulp Oct 17 2018
DEAD OF NIGHT
I go out walkin'... after midnight... out in the moonlight...


Crime writers all face the same task of dumping their heroes into hot water in new and interesting ways. In Night Walker Donald Hamilton shoves his protagonist into a bizarre situation and it all begins with him merely hitchhiking after dark. The next thing he knows he's hurt, housebound, and forced to assume a dead man's identity. If he doesn't continue the charade serious consequences could result, with prison being the least of them. But of course, as in any decent thriller, there's always the promise of great rewards, in this case the dead man's beautiful wife Elizabeth, or possibly the dead man's young mistress Bonita. There's a funny line of dialogue in this one when a character refuses a cigarette:

Don't take it out on Philip Morris. He hasn't done anything to you.”

Ah, the 1950s, when men were men and cigarettes weren't coffin nails. And another staple of 1950s genre fiction is commie hysteria, also a major component of this book. But that's fine—every literary era has its archetypal villains. The book's fatal flaw is that the latter portion contains long monologues of the bad guy explaining his evil plot, due to the fact that Hamilton hasn't constructed the narrative for the hero to suss it out for himself. Tedious doesn't even begin to describe this sort of writing. Overall Night Walker is middling work from Hamilton, passable in the first half, but a bit taxing in the second. Good thing this 1964 edition from Fawcett's Gold Medal was cheap. And the cover art is nice. It's by Harry Bennett.



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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
March 26
1997—Heaven's Gate Cult Members Found Dead
In San Diego, thirty-nine members of a cult called Heaven's Gate are found dead after committing suicide in the belief that a UFO hidden in tail of the Hale-Bopp comet was a signal that it was time to leave Earth for a higher plane of existence. The cult members killed themselves by ingesting pudding and applesauce laced with poison.
March 25
1957—Ginsberg Poem Seized by Customs
On the basis of alleged obscenity, United States Customs officials seize 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" that had been shipped from a London printer. The poem contained mention of illegal drugs and explicitly referred to sexual practices. A subsequent obscenity trial was brought against Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who ran City Lights Bookstore, the poem's domestic publisher. Nine literary experts testified on the poem's behalf, and Ferlinghetti won the case when a judge decided that the poem was of redeeming social importance.
1975—King Faisal Is Assassinated
King Faisal of Saudi Arabia dies after his nephew Prince Faisal Ibu Musaed shoots him during a royal audience. As King Faisal bent forward to kiss his nephew the Prince pulled out a pistol and shot him under the chin and through the ear. King Faisal died in the hospital after surgery. The prince is later beheaded in the public square in Riyadh.
March 24
1981—Ronnie Biggs Rescued After Kidnapping
Fugitive thief Ronnie Biggs, a British citizen who was a member of the gang that pulled off the Great Train Robbery, is rescued by police in Barbados after being kidnapped. Biggs had been abducted a week earlier from a bar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by members of a British security firm. Upon release he was returned to Brazil and continued to be a fugitive from British justice.
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