FORGOTTEN BOOKS: SHAKE HIM TILL HE RATTLES / IT'S COLD OUT THERE!
(I’VE GOT A FULL SCHEDULE AHEAD OF ME TODAY, SO I’M POSTING THIS REGULAR WEEKLY SEGMENT EARLY . . .)
Being in San Francisco for a couple of weeks, I naturally made my way to The San Francisco Mystery Bookstore. While the nature of the store has changed since original owner Bruce Taylor sold it a decade ago, I still found a few items amongst the stacks different from anywhere else.
Looking for something specific to San Francisco, I was delighted to come across a 2006 Stark House reprint collecting two down and dirty novels from the early ‘60s by Malcolm Braly – a man who spent much of his life in various federal penitentiaries, wrote most of his novels behind prison walls, and knew the life from which he drew his fiction.
Published by Gold Medal, these two books are a genius blending of Jim Thompson and Jack Kerouac – call it Beat Noir.
In his concise, but too short, introduction to this volume, the ubiquitous Ed Gorman compares Braly to Charles Willeford, which I think is on the money in most ways. However, while reading these novels, I kept thinking of another Charles – the poet of dissipation, Charles Bukowski.
SHAKE HIM TILL HE RATTLES
North Beach, San Francisco: It is the early 1960's and the beat scene is changing. The Narco Squad are coming down heavy. One particular narc, Lieutenant Carver, really has it in for Lee Cabiness. All Cabiness wants to do is jam on his sax, score some weed and hang with the action. He had a thing going with Jean but that's cooled off, and now she's going with that flashy pimp, Randozza.
One night Cabiness's friend Furg introduces him to Clair Hubler, a slumming rich girl who wants to hire them for a private party. She's got an anti-guy vibe but you never know. But all Furg wants to do is score some junk to find out what all the excitement's about. Naturally he thinks of Sullivan, the local junkie playwright. But Sullivan has a problem – Carver is using him to set up his friends.
One summer in North Beach, they all collide. That's when things get crazy, real crazy.
IT'S COLD OUT THERE
JD Bing is out from San Quentin, just trying to get by selling encyclopedias – but he's not very good at it. In fact, he's getting desperate. Kristie has just lost her airline job and is holding herself together so tight she's beginning to lose touch with reality. Grove is a quiet young man who gets by selling clever little cartoons to the papers, trying to work up his nerve to ask out Kristie.
When Bing comes around their apartment building in a last ditch attempt to sell, their lives are forever changed. Because Bing has entered a world of backstabbing winos, lonely check-kiting old men, cocktail waitressing divorcees, bullying counterfeiters, impotent ex-generals and crazy street people.
It's a California underground – life on the fringes. And as Bing soon finds out, he was safer in prison.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Malcolm Braly was born in Portland, Oregon in 1925. Abandoned by his parents at an early age, he began a life of theft. He was first sent to the Preston School of Industry near Redding, California, eventually spending the first 40 years of his life in and out of prisons, including Nevada State Prison, Folsom State Prison and San Quentin, where he wrote his first three novels. Knox Burger of Gold Medal Books immediately offered him a contract and inspired Braly to take control of his life. After his final release Braly married and settled in Roxbury, New York. After 15 years of freedom, he died in a car accident in 1980.
This is hardcore stuff – no heroes, just losers and sharks. The joy is in figuing out which is which . . . The perfect read set in an amazing city.