Vintage Pulp Jan 18 2024
DOWN FOR WHATEVER
I came to the bar to have a double—and look. They're about to come over here now.


1955's Sweet and Low-Down was originally published as 17 and Black in 1954. The copy we bought is very worn. We looked for a better scan online to use, as we'll sometimes do, but every example we saw was equally abraded until we found one on Amazon, which you see above. It's a pretty nice cover, though uncredited. Is all the wear and tear on copies of this book an indication that it's read and re-read often, and therefore is good? That's certainly what we hoped.

The story, written by Polish born author Alexander Warchiwker writing as Jack Waer, is about Jim Foster, who runs an illegal casino in Hollywood but flees south of the border after taking a rap for his partners. They later ask him to open another casino in Mexico City. He's willing to oblige—for a bigger percentage—but during the opening gala the murder of a local one percenter spoils the party. It's an intriguing set-up for a novel, although it starts slowly. Luckily Waer's writing style maintains interest. For example:

The first time I called, the bim with the sultry voice let on she didn't have any idea who I wanted—said I had the wrong number. When I dialed back her memory was better. His nibs came to the phone. I found out that the vicers were off on a fresh trail. They were out for a pair of Internal Revs who were suspected of collecting a split from the top wigs in the commie crowd. I was as stale as a warmed over soufflé.

Strong approach there. A book this slang heavy goes in for a lot of off-color language, unsurprisingly, and being set in Mexico means there's racist invective. We could not in any way blame you for deciding to take a pass. There are plenty of vintage crime novels that visit Mexico without donning a Klan hood. We're not put off by a smidgen of salty language, but there's a limit—we don't think Foster ever used a non-slur to refer to a Mexican character, even when speaking of his so-called friends.

In any case, he needs to solve the murder, and he does precisely that, and solves another couple of mysteries too. Much of the book takes place within the casino, which would be fine if Waer managed to keep the stew at a hard boil, but his narrative cools considerably toward the finale, and the story drags. The end makes clear that the book was supposed to be a launching point for more novels, and the fact that it wasn't says everything you need to know. But if you find it cheap and don't mind the language, sure, what the hell, give it a read.
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
May 23
1934—Bonnie and Clyde Are Shot To Death
Outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who traveled the central United States during the Great Depression robbing banks, stores and gas stations, are ambushed and shot to death in Louisiana by a posse of six law officers. Officially, the autopsy report lists seventeen separate entrance wounds on Barrow and twenty-six on Parker, including several head shots on each. So numerous are the bullet holes that an undertaker claims to have difficulty embalming the bodies because they won't hold the embalming fluid.
May 22
1942—Ted Williams Enlists
Baseball player Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox enlists in the United States Marine Corps, where he undergoes flight training and eventually serves as a flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida. The years he lost to World War II (and later another year to the Korean War) considerably diminished his career baseball statistics, but even so, he is indisputably one of greatest players in the history of the sport.
May 21
1924—Leopold and Loeb Murder Bobby Franks
Two wealthy University of Chicago students named Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr. murder 14-year-old Bobby Franks, motivated by no other reason than to prove their intellectual superiority by committing a perfect crime. But the duo are caught and sentenced to life in prison. Their crime becomes known as a "thrill killing", and their story later inspires various works of art, including the 1929 play Rope by Patrick Hamilton, and Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film of the same name.
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