Saturday, 25 January 2014

BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL BY ELLIOTT CHAZE

Black Wings Has My Angel (aka One For The Money) is one of the most legendary of the early original novels published by Gold Medal Books (in this case in 1953), when Gold Medal was the acme of the pulp paperback lists, and just a few pages in you can see why. The narrator is washing off four months worth of roughnecking on an Atchafalaya River when the hooker is delivered to his room in a cheap hotel in a cheaper town called Krotz Springs. She's a looker, and even he can see she's well beneath her class in Krotz Springs. And when he makes a joke she says, 'Never joke with a tired tramp. No one gets as tired as a tired tramp.' It's love, or something like it, at first sight.

He tries to leave her behind, and she tries to leave him, even taking his money, but they cannot stay apart He calls himself Timothy Sunblade, and she's Virginia but the names don't matter, except as metaphor, because neither person is what their names say they are. He's got a plan, for a big heist in Denver, and eventually she comes along for the ride, and they shack up in a suburban tract house, playing young marrieds while he cases the job and sets it up.

This has everything there is to love about noir and pulp. The terms are often misused and confused for each other, but there the mix of the elements is perfect: the inevitability of bad luck and fate is as powerful as Greek tragedy, but the characters are out of the darkness beneath that post-war American dream. When Chaze sticks them into 50s suburbia, it's like pouring acid into a volatile mix about to explode. And it does. The only thing worse than waiting for the job to happen, and risking the murder that goes with it, and the betrayal that lurks within the natures of these characters, the only thing worse than that is having the job succeed, and then trying to live out your dreams, knowing the nightmares that were tailing you are still on your tail.

Chaze's prose is relentless, delivered in a first-person narration with surprising sensitivity to nuance, but with no gift-wrapping of the narrator's own character. In best pulp fiction mode, he's rendered almost helpless by Virginia's femme fatale, but he's the master of his own fate to some degree, and that is precisely the degree to which he cannot escape from his desire for her. It ends as you might expect, with storms and a mine shaft down which dreams plummet to their death. Compulsive reading.

Black Wings Has My Angel (b/w One Is A Lonely Number by Bruce Elliott)
Stark House 2012, $19.95 ISBN 9781933586434

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