Sunday, August 23, 2009
Black Lizard Lounge #4: THE OUT IS DEATH
The fourth installment of my ongoing occasional look back at some vintage Black Lizard paperbacks from the late 1980s and early '90s (for the others, just click on "Black Lizard Books" in the labels at bottom).
THE OUT IS DEATH by Peter Rabe
BLACK LIZARD EDITION: December 1988
ORIGINAL PUBLICATION: Fawcett Gold Medal, 1957
THE STORY: Ex-mobster comes to the aid of an aging safecracker being manipulated by a gang of young thugs.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Classic hard-boiled pulp from one of the masters.
I've written about Peter Rabe before, most recently for one of Patti Abbott's Forgotten Book Fridays. THE OUT IS DEATH was Rabe's third novel featuring masterless hood Daniel Port (I think it's the third, they were written and published in such a short period of time that it's hard to tell). A sort of American ronin, Port first appeared in 1956's DIG MY GRAVE DEEP, and TOID continues his adventures after leaving "The Stoker Mob" in some unnamed major American city. An amoral gangster battling even worse bad guys, Port is one of the predecessors of Donald E. Westlake's Parker, who would come along six years later, in 1962's THE HUNTER. Westlake often sang Rabe's praises in interviews, and rightly so. Along with Dan J. Marlowe, Rabe was one of the architects and greatest practitioners of post-war hard-boiled paperback-original noir.
In THE OUT IS DEATH, Port tries to rescue an old and infirm safecracker named Dalton from the clutches of a brutal young thug named Corday, who wants Dalton to go on one last job for him. It's a generational thing, as it turns out, with old school gangster Port going up against the '50s-style juvenile delinquents of Corday's gang. Doesn't take much to figure out who comes out on top. Suffice it to say that there were five Port novels in all, the last being 1959's TIME ENOUGH TO DIE. Black Lizard reprinted three and most have remained out of print since, though some are now showing up on Kindle.
TOID does bear similarities to Westlake's 1965 Stark novel THE JUGGER, the sixth book in the series, in which Parker travels to Nebraska to find out what happened to his contact and go-between, an aging safecracker named Joe Sheer, who's fallen prey to a corrupt small-town cop (in that sense, THE JUGGER also owes a debt to Marlowe's THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH). In THE JUGGER, though, Sheer is dead before Parker arrives (and Parker was prepared to kill him as a security measure anyway). In TOID, Port comes to Dalton's aid in time to save him from that fate, though he also has selfish reasons for getting involved, including Corday's va-va-voom girlfriend.
Here's a slice of classic Rabe understatement, as Port barrels his way through some thugs blocking his exit from a nightclub:
Port headed for the nearest exit guarded by only one man. The band stopped before he made it, and the sudden quiet was unearthly. After the silence there was bedlam again; chairs scraped, people laughed, and a buzz of voices rose from the tables.
The kid at the door saw Port coming, but he didn't expect much from a man running away.
Then the kid's arm was suddenly bent double. The pain grew like a fire running up his arm and bursting hot and big in his shoulder.
"It hurts less if you walk," said Port's voice close beside him, and they moved out of the door and into the alley.
If, like me, you've read and reread all the Stark books many times over (and sadly, there will be no more), be on the lookout for Rabe's Daniel Port novels. They're worth the effort.
Next time at the Black Lizard Lounge: Lionel White's THE KILLING (aka CLEAN BREAK)