was an in-between time in mass-market hard-boiled crime fiction, at least the variety written by men. Black Mask was nearly dead, and Manhunt had not yet appeared. Raymond Chandler was almost done writing, and Mickey Spillane was one book into his career.
Into the breach stepped The Body Beautiful
by Bill S. Ballinger
, who liked the letter b
. (The novel's predecessor is The Body in the Bed
, and their protagonist is a private investigator named Barr Breed.)
|Photo by your humble|
blogkeeper of a kind of
sign Bill S. Ballinger
might well have seen in
Appearing as it did in between two well-defined eras, The Body Beautiful
looks like a pastiche of trends, motifs, and narrative techniques from the 1920s through the 1950s. Breed is a tough dick who clashes with the cops, one of whom is a friend. The Body Beautiful
contains at least one passage as chilling as anything Jim Thompson wrote, but the story takes place in and around a theater, decidedly a nod to an earlier era.
At the resolution, the dick gathers all the suspects at the theater, and he relates in detail how he had solved the crime, like Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon
. But the crime and its rational solution are more in the manner of a traditional mystery.
Breed and occasionally other characters say "coulda" and "woulda" and "gotta" and "lotta" and "kinda" and "outa" and "musta;" you know Ballinger and audience shared a common grounding in the tough-talking 1920s and '30s. The novel is also shot through with the yearning romanticism of the 1950s David Goodis sort.
|And I like to think Barr Breed might have had|
drink here. This one's also by your humble
Ballinger does almost all of this well. (My only complaint concerns the climactic revelation scene, where we know tension is high because Breed/Ballinger keep telling us tension is high.) Ballinger could plot well; the mystery was nicely laid out and would have kept me turning the pages had I not been reading an e-book. Ballinger also knew his way around a theater or else did a convincing job persuading me that he did. The backstage details made for terrific color and background.
OK, now you know Bill S. Ballinger. Your next job is this: Sum up 1940s hard-boiled crime writing in just a few words
The Body Beautiful
is part of a useful, exciting list published by 280 Steps
. The catalogue includes new books, older ones both neglected and not, and critical works. I've been reading their editions of Harry Whittington, and I have a few more of their titles lines up.
© Peter Rozovsky 2015
Labels: 280 Steps, Bill S. Ballinger, noir photos, photography