Monday, October 5, 2015


Trap, by George E. Jones
No month stated, 1955  Graphic Books

I think there’s a good possibility this Graphic Books paperback original might be a spoof of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer books. Sort of like The Big Enchilada a few decades early. It’s all played on the level, just a hardboiled tale narrated by a cop hunting down a killer, but it features enough inversions of famous incidents from Spillane’s work that you have to wonder.

The first clue is our narrator, who basically comes off like Mike Hammer if he were a cop. His name is Steve Colt and he’s based in Hollywood, apparently on the Homicide beat. George E. Jones (no idea whether a real person or a house name; the book’s copyright Graphic) does us no favors with any setup material; in fact it took me about thirty pages to even be sure Colt was a cop. He comes off more like your stereotypical hardboiled private eye, taking what cases he wants, drinking all the time, gracing everyone with a perpetual sneer, and more concerned with pursuing his own vengeance than upholding the law.

Colt carries a .38 Special which he has named “Slim.” Somehow it not only has a safety but also can be loaded with a “clip.” But more importantly Colt is fond of, uh, fondling his gun, and even kisses it on the “nose” occasionally. When you factor in that Colt also spends the entire novel fending off the advances of a busty redheaded knockout, you have to ask yourself if there’s more to this guy’s story. Especially when the entire last quarter of the novel occurs in the “twilight world” of gays and drag queens, with Colt even “pinching the cheek” of a gay waiter who takes a shine to him.

Colt’s latest case has him investigating the murder of Jan Sherry, a hotstuff stripper whom Colt has known since she was just a kid, or something. She’s been shot point-blank by a .38 and a handful of witnesses saw a dark-haired woman entering her apartment building shortly before the shooting. Jones throws us straight into it with no setup of the characters Colt interrogates, among them Ronnie Champagne, the aforementioned redheaded knockout, who is not only Jan’s friend but a stripper herself, the two ladies working at the same club. Then there’s Cal Sherry, Jan’s brother, a two-bit actor who never got his big break, and finally there’s an older, married dude who was carrying on an affair with Jan.

From the get-go Ronnie’s practically begging Colt to spend the night with her, but he keeps fending her off. Why? Eventually he explains it to us that he suspects Ronnie – after all, a woman was spotted entering the building the night of Jan’s death – and thus he doesn’t want to get involved with her in case she’s the killer. And yet he has no qualms with sleeping on her couch one night! As I say, “hmmm.” Now Ronnie as expected is super hot and stacked, but strangely the word “breasts” is rarely used in the book. Instead Ronnie’s knockers are constantly referred to as “thirty-nines,” as in her bust size, which actually comes off as more pervy: “Her thirty-nines were practically in my face,” and etc.

Cal Sherry offers Colt five thousand bucks for the murder of whoever killed his sister, and Colt takes him up on the offer – yet another opening bit that made me keep wondering if this dude was a cop or what. And truth to tell Colt spends most of the novel bossing around his superior, Captain Buck Washburn, which made it all the more confusing. But eventually the autopsy reveals that Jan Sherry was doped up on heroin at the time of her death. Ronnie and Cal insist that Jan wasn’t a user, and Colt agrees; he figures she was forcibly doped. Gradually this leads him to the world of Willie Muscato, infamous drug kingpin of the LA area.

But in between fending off horny Ronnie (at one point Colt gets her all worked up and makes her think he’s about to do her, then tells her to scram because he has to get up early the next morning!), Colt also gets his ass kicked a whole bunch, usually from Muscato’s henchmen, in particular the awesomely-named Toenails Gennock. In fact, Toenails beats Colt to a pulp twice! Through it all Colt hardly ever whips out “Slim,” and his first kill is over halfway through the novel, as he attempts to escape Toenails and gang; he breaks some dude’s neck as they’re rolling down a cliff.

Colt also isn’t much in the Mike Hammer mold, or perhaps it’s another indication of the spoofish nature of it all, because he himself doesn’t even take out any of the main villains. When Toenails for example meets his expected fate, he’s taken out off-page by the villain of the piece – though Colt does get to shoot up an entire house of (apparently unarmed) transvestites in the final pages. As for Willie Muscato, Colt delivers him a savage beating that’s almost a prefigure of Gannon. I’m talking the dude’s entire nose smashed off his face and everything! It’s easily the most graphic sequence in the novel.

Jones builds up a genre-mandatory convoluted plot about Willie Muscato’s coke empire bankrolling some sort of white slavery racket, or something, with the strippers in Jan and Ronnie’s club being “forced into prostitution” and whatnot. Ronnie herself is not part of it, though Jones tries to make both the reader and Colt unsure if she’s really part of the plot or not. Though Colt never does give in to her, he assures us on the final page that he’s about to go give the now-cleared Ronnie a thorough screwing. Sure he is!

But as mentioned the last half of the book veers away from the white slavery angle and goes right for the gay stuff. Colt spends a lot of time “checking leads” at a gay bar, and in fact it’s here that he comes upon the revelation that the “woman” who was seen entering Jan’s apartment building was likely a man in drag. This gay bar stuff, by the way, really does come out of nowhere, and the word “queer” is repeated like a zillion times in the last thirty pages. There’s some funny stuff, though, like Colt watching a pair of drag queens calling each other “You sweet bitch, you.”

Colt’s also gotten wind of a “Tillie,” apparently the name of the mysterious woman who is shoehorning in on Willie Muscato’s cocaine empire and might also be the person who killed Jan. And “Tillie” does turn out to be a transvestite, with Colt and his cop pals descending on Tillie’s headquarters in the early morning hours and blowing everyone away. The final moment of the novel also seems to me a spoof or ripoff of the infamous finale of Mickey Spillane’s Vengeance Is Mine (“Juno was a man!”), as Colt blows away the man who poses as Tillie. And speaking of whom, practically any moron could’ve quickly figured out who this dude was.

Jones nails the hardboiled vibe, whether by accident, intent, or even mockery, with tough-guy threats from Colt like, “There’ll be nothing but blood and brains running down the gutter,” when vowing to find Jan’s killer, to goofy-but-great pulp lines like, “The negligee she was wearing was as thin as last week’s pay check.” The book also is a bit more hip than I’d expect a 1955 pulp novel to be, with rampant talk of marijuana (“tea”), heroin, and even mainlining coke.

All in all, Trap (the title doesn’t really make much sense, by the way, unless it refers to Jan’s plight with the forced prostitution bit), while not perfect, turned out to be exactly what I wanted: just a quick-reading slice of hardboiled pulp.

1 comment:

Stephen Mertz said...

When a genre gets done to death, such as hardboiled private eyes in the 1950s, it is indeed sometimes difficult to tell the difference between parody and those writing with a straight face.