Monday, July 25, 2016

Rabe on (It's a crazy feeling)

I'm about to begin reading Time Enough to Die, which Donald Westlake called the only good novel of the six books by Peter Rabe that featured a tough guy and political fixer named Daniel Port. (Westlake regarded Rabe as a formative influence on his own crime writing. He just didn't like the Port books much.) In the meantime, here's a post from back when I first read Rabe.
================
 I'm a book and a half into my career as a Peter Rabe reader, and I've reached two tentative conclusions: 1) Rabe was an heir to early Dashiell Hammett, and 2) He worked psychology into his novels a hell of a lot better than Ross Macdonald did.

Rabe had a master’s and a doctorate in psychology. He incorporated psychology in his crime novels with an expert’s knowledge and an author’s restraint. Macdonald, on the other hand, at least in The Galton Case, was more like a yammering cultist on the subject.

The Hammett connection is more pertinent, though, to a discussion of Rabe’s The Box and Kill the Boss Goodbye. (I’m told that only one or two of Rabe’s novels appeared with a title he suggested. The Box is one of them. I would bet a dozen Montreal bagels that Kill the Boss Goodbye is not.) Each novel reminded me a bit of Hammett’s portrayals of men doing their jobs. More particularly, each portrays with cool detachment, deadly power struggles at the head of a criminal or quasi-criminal enterprise, in the manner of Red Harvest. But they read more like Patricia Highsmith's The Tremor of Forgery, no surprise given that both that book and The Box are set in North Africa.

(A post on the Violent World of Parker Web site discusses Donald Westlake and an essay he wrote about Rabe. Read Westlake on Rabe in the Westlake nonfiction volume The Getaway Car. Read more about Rabe at Mystery File and Stark House Press.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

Labels: , , , , ,

30 Comments:

Blogger Bill Crider said...

I like THE BOX a good bit, but KILL THE BOSS GOOD-BY is my favorite Rabe novel.

February 27, 2015  
Blogger RTD said...

I am persuaded. I must find and read some Rabe books, especially now that I am reconfiguring my blog as a CDM only blog (i.e., crime-detective-mystery fiction only). BTW, when I get some momentum in the new configuration, I look forward to your input and the input of your thousands of loyal followers.

February 27, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bill, I was pleased to learn that Donald Westlake, a big Rabe fan, considered The Box and Kill the Boss Good-bye. The more paperback originals I read, the more I come to believe that the occasional slapdash writing one finds are a result of working conditions rather than native talent. At their best, Rabe, Charles Williams, and Harry Whittington could write crime fiction as well as anyone, including the authors who have attained some measure of "literary" respect today. I am loving Kill the Boss ....

February 27, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

RTD, just choose your Rabes carefully, keeping in mind the comment above that many paperback original writers' output was of uneven quality. But the books under discussion here are excellent. If you don't take my word for it, listen to Bill Crider, who knows a hell of a lot about paperback originals, and Donald Westlake.

February 27, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

I haven't read Rabe, but I'm going to guess you're right about who came up with that second title.

February 27, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, the title's tone and the book's are not at all similar. I guess Gold Medal and the other paperback-original houses wanted to grab readers' attention, in the manner of magazines and newspapers. I think the books were probably distributed and sold more like newspapers than like the way books are sold today.

February 27, 2015  
Blogger Declan Burke said...

I binge-read about five Peter Rabe books 10 years ago - terrific stuff. Kill the Boss Good-By is the one that sticks in my memory, possibly because of the title ... Must dig him out again soon.

February 28, 2015  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

You win the bagels bet, Peter. The other one is A House in Naples.

February 28, 2015  
Blogger Rick Ollerman said...

Kill the Boss was definitely named by Gold Medal. Babe referred to it by describing the main character or by recalling his name.

As for distribution, Fawcett had become a big distributor, namely for NAL, when they test-floated distributing their own books, something they were contractually forbidden to do. These were the first Gold Medals, fee which essentially magazine article reprints.

Nobody squawked. So they went ahead with original novel gfs s ovels, the first being John Flagg's The Persian Cat. This was the first GM original fiction release.

The collapse of the magazine distributors, which effectively ended the pulp era, and the loophole Gold Medal found by publishing paperback originals (PROs) that didn't infringe on ?their commitment to distribute other publisher's books, gave us the whole classic PBO movement.

February 28, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Many thanks, Rick. That's a lot of information to digest, but already it illuminates much for me.

February 28, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, as it happens, A House in Naples was the Rabe novel that failed to hold my attention a few years ago. Maybe novels about sitting around in Mediterranean climates did not always work for him. Or maybe I missed something. But I'd certainly consider giving it another look now.

February 28, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Declan: Nice to hear from you, and I hope all is well. I am doing some binge-reading of Rabe now, and I hope to acquire some more of his books in the next few hours.

Perhaps your recollection vindicates publishers' strategy of giving paperback originals those lurid titles. As it happens, I bet you'd recall Kill the Boss Goodbye even if if had been titled A Mid-Level Gangster's Story or The Middle-Aged M.n Without the Dragon Tattoo. The book is that good.

February 28, 2015  
Blogger RTD said...

Peter (et al), I am taking the bait by getting some Rabe books from my library: I have put "holds" on 2 books (each with 2 novels included) -- Blood on the Desert and A House in Naples (2005); Anatomy of a Killer and A Shroud for Jesso (2008). I wish other titles were available, but I live in a corner of the world in which I am fortunate that the library has anything other than the latest Michael Connelly, Jonathan Kellerman, Sue Grafton, and their many clones. I hope the Rabe selections will be worthwhile. (Irony: the anti-robot word is "SOUTH" which is where I now languish.)

February 28, 2015  
Blogger RTD said...

Peter, I hope you (and your many dozens of followers) will take time to visit the newly reconfigured Beyond Eastrod:

http://beyondeastrod.blogspot.com/

Formerly a "literary" blog, B/E is now 100% crime-detective-mystery fiction, and I hope you and your legions of blogging friends will navigate to B/E every now and then. Hey, crime is more fun with accessories and accomplices!

(If I have already pestered you with this "announcement," please feel free to have me arrested, convicted, and imprisoned.)

February 28, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

RTD, make sure you look for the right Rabes. I have one Rabe-loving friend who loves A House in Naples. I, on the other hand, tried it and did not like it much. Pay attention to what Bill Crider and Rick Ollerman have to say. They are far more widely read in paperback originals than I am. And I posted a link to your reconfigured blog on my blog roll yesterday.

Languishing in the South might be a suitable state for reading A House in Naples.

February 28, 2015  
Blogger RTD said...

Thanks, Peter, for the heads up and the link/acknowledgement. I'll let you know about the Rave reading experience, and I will check out Crider and Ollerman.

February 28, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You might also want to read Donald Westlake on Rabe in the Westlake nonfiction collection "The Getaway Car." That might be a good guide to your Rabe reading; Westlake praises Rabe's excellent books but also criticizes the weaker ones.

February 28, 2015  
Blogger Rick Ollerman said...

Naples is a Rabe book for only after you've drunk the Kool-Ade. The same with the Manny DeWitt series where Rabe tries a sense of humor that seems like it was translated from 16th century Ottoman literature or something equally bizarre. It just doesn't though there are some clever plots. They're those literary train wrecks that you can't quite pull away from.

The Westlake piece is good in general but he really doesn't like some of what I think are Rabe's best books. For instance, he loves Kill the Boss and talks about his influence on him. But he doesn't like the first Daniel Port book, which is shame.

I think it is one of his best, about a fixer, a guy who works for a crime boss who won't let him leave. Why? Not only does he know too much, but he's smarter than the Boss. This type of character could be boss if he wanted to, because he's that capable. Mostly he's smart, which keeps him from being fully trusted by anyone.

Peter offered that Rave was a descendant of early Gannett. Here Rave gives us a more fully realized version of Ned Beaumont. Wade Miller does much the same with his guy from Devil on Two Sticks.

Out of the four books recently mentioned, Anatomy is a fascinating portrayal of the crumbling psyche of a hit man, pressed in to service too soon after his last job, and goes to pieces, slowly, after the slightest of physical contact with the victim. No one else could have written this book.

Westlake loved Blood on the Desert and is a deeply absorbing picture of spy vs spy in the deserts of Africa, quite out of the way of normal channels.

Jesse is another organized crime book with themes of being an outsider and underappreciated. Brilliantly plotted.

There is absolutely no doubt that Dave's psychological background informed his writing. In fact he denied it but I hope he simply meant it wasn't done on purpose.

I'm poking on this little tablet too much next to a wife who sounds like she's vacuuming through her nose. Just let me offer this: one rainy day go out and rent the movie Tobruk. Marginal script at best, filled with plot holes, etc.

Then read Dave's media tie-in novelization. He gives real characters where the movie gave you cardboard ones, he adds to the plot in ways that fill the holes in the movie.

The end result is that Rave gives you something you've never seen before, a tie-in novel that is not only better than its source but is actually one of Rabe's best efforts when you allow for the source material. Far too easy to dismiss, it being a tie-in, but you'd be missing out.

I'm afraid autocorrect may have butchered this post but hopefully the points are discernible.

February 28, 2015  
Blogger Rick Ollerman said...

Again I'm out of town and pecking on a tablet. Auto correct is making nonsense out of the names and abbreviations I've used.

How the bell do you turn this off? Argh.

March 01, 2015  
Blogger Rick Ollerman said...

(I got my autocorrect turned off. Sorry for garbled posts earlier.)

March 01, 2015  
Blogger RTD said...

Rick, thank you for the detailed Rx for Rabe. That helps a lot.

And, yeah, autocorrect can be a real pain in the arse . . . Hang in there.

March 01, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Rick, I noticed that one of your posts referred to Peter Babe, but all is forgiven. I have fought with auto-correct in my time. Interesting, too, that you should mention Beaumont. I had said that The Box and Kill the Boss Goodbye reminded me of Red Harvest. I then finished reading Kill the Boss ... , and I noticed similarities to The Glass Key as well.

I should also mentioned that a Rabe-loving friend has justrecommended the Daniel Port novels to me.

March 01, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Besides, "Dave" is a pretty good code name for "Rabe," though I broke the code quickly.

March 01, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Peter Rave: The Man With a Thousand Names!

March 01, 2015  
Blogger Rick Ollerman said...

Did you notice how "Hammett" came out "Gannett"? Geez. Well, it's gone now, I'm back in town, and I can type on a real computer for a while. Without sounding drunk or psychotic.

March 01, 2015  
Blogger Rick Ollerman said...

Oh, and if you read "Red Harvest" by Hammett and "Dig My Grave Deep" by Rabe and then "Devil on Two Sticks" by Wade Miller, you'll see some sort of evolution of this "fixer" type of character. Personally, I find the idea of the brains behind the boss, a man who could take over but has just that much of a different character, fascinating.

If you can think of more "fixers" in crime fiction, please shout them out. I'd love to research them--assuming they're out there--and possibly do an essay on that type of character.

March 01, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Aha! I was wondering what the hell Gannett was supposed to be. I chalked that up to the mysterious workings of a creative but overworked mind--maybe you were turning into Fell in Kill the Boss ...

I interviewed Megan Abbott right after she won a Edgar for Queenpin. She talked about her fascination with male mentor stories in crime fiction, and how she wanted to write such a story but with woman as protagonists. I'd guess that The Glass Key and Kill the Boss Good-Bye are part of that tradition she had in mind. Despite differences in how the boss-mentor relationship plays out, and of its prominence in the overall plot, the relationship is a big part of both books.

March 01, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In re Megan Abbott and Peter Rabe, Megan wrote another novel called Bury Me Deep, whose title bears more than a passing resemblance to Dig y Grave Deep.

March 01, 2015  
Blogger Rick Ollerman said...

Gannett was the autocorrected Hammett pn my tablet. No, really, I don't even drink.

March 04, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Rick: I believe you don't drink. Those comments may have had an occasional surreal touch, but all the strange words were spelled correctly.

By the way, I'll probably make a post in the next few days about Charles Williams, who impresses me to no end, and whose books I am enjoying greatly.

March 04, 2015  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home