Ever have something, or maybe just a fragment of something, get caught inside your head where it sort of rattles around for years, maybe decades? It never really comes to the fore as something important enough so that you have to deal with it, but neither does it completely go away.
For a writer, like me, these loose bits of memory or observation or whatever they are, often turn up in a story as a character trait or maybe even a full-blown character, perhaps a descriptive passage, and once in a while even the basis for a plot or at least a title.
Sometimes these vague things never really amount to anything … just faint bits of something from the past that float to your awareness every now and then, and then float away again.
For a long time, the opening passages of LUST IS NO LADY fell somewhere in one of those categories for me. I remembered reading about a detective getting caught out in some remote place where a small, low-flying airplane dropped a load of bricks as it swooped overhead, smashing the hell out of his car and nearly killing him. This would have been back in the middle '60s and the story was the featured fiction piece in one of the many men's magazines available back then. I don't mean a skin rag, I mean the kind of men's magazine that had adult jokes and cartoons and plenty of cheesecake, to be sure, but also articles and tough-guy fiction geared toward men and male interests. I wasn't exactly yet a man at that point, but I nevertheless had some shared interests.
I don't remember the name of the magazine and for the longest time I couldn't remember the title of the story, its byline, or the name of the detective in it.
Many years later, while reading the descriptive blurbs for a list of hardboiled paperbacks, I came across mention of the plane-dropping-bricks scene and found out it was from LUST IS NO LADY, one of Mike Avallone's Ed Noon books. By that point I had become very familiar with the Avallone byline. Not through just his Ed Noon books and stories, but also through his various TV and movie tie-ins and a few of his "adult" novels. In fact --- and somewhat surprisingly, considering my fondness for and focus on all things PI or private eye-like --- it wasn't until THE FEBRUARY DOLL MURDERS that Noon earned a spot on my radar. Prior to that, what already had the Avallone byline on my radar were works like STATION SIX-SAHARA, THE DOCTOR'S WIFE, and the MAN (and GIRL) FROM U.N.C.L.E. tie-ins. After that, it was my happy task to search for the prior thirteen Noon books I'd missed and keep an eye out for the new ones yet to come … along with the rest of Avo's output. Still, it took me until only recently to track down LUST --- currently having been re-issued as an eBook.
LUST IS NO LADY (aka THE BRUTAL KOOK), is one of the stronger entries in the Noon series. Just incidentally, it marks the end of what might be called Noon's "more traditional detective mystery" period. After that, starting with the aforementioned FEBRUARY DOLL MURDERS, Noon became more of a globe-trotting quasi-superspy (reporting directly to the President of the United States for certain cases), clearly influenced by the James Bond/spy craze that was casting a shadow over everything in those days. The plots and characters got progressively wilder --- not necessarily less entertaining, mind you, but nevertheless a departure from the direction of the series as it started a decade-plus earlier.
Not that LUST (nor most of the Noon books, for that matter) is lacking in wild plot twists or distinctive characters either. Start with being air-bombed by bricks out in the wilds of remote Wyoming; mix in a nude deaf mute Indian maiden found staked out in the desert and left for vulture bait; add in a blind old Indian man (the maid's father) tortured to death and his corpse found hanging by the neck; season with a hidden stash of gold, a cast of men and women (all quite lovely, just incidentally) living secretly in a ghost town-like camp, and top off the whole works with a psychotic dwarf. Propel it all along in Avallone's energetic, somewhat quirky --- yet always compelling, in the sense of making you want to keep turning the pages --- writing style, and you have a corker of a tale. The mystery of the lost gold is solved in a basic, but still rather clever manner, and the final denouement where the psycho dwarf "gets his" is quite satisfactory. A bit of a change of pace for Noon, as far as setting, though still satisfying as a tried-and-true PI yarn.
Added Personal Note: Starting in the late 1980s, and on until his death in 1999 --- via numerous letters and phone calls, and during one memorable 3-day stretch at a Bouchercon (Philly, I think it was) --- I got to know Mike Avallone fairly well. I'll always cherish the friendship.
Most of this was at a time after he had quit selling very well and was on the outs with a lot of people. This stemmed, he steadfastly maintained, from his being black-listed due to having had the audacity to loudly and publicly question royalty statements from one of the more powerful publishing houses. I'm in no position to comment first-hand on the matter, since it all took place before my arrival on the scene, but I've come to believe that Mike's claims were legitimate. "But nobody would stand up with me," he often said. "Not only that, none of 'em would even hold my coat while I fought the fight."
Which, of course, did nothing to stop Mike from continuing the fight and airing his grievances to anybody who'd listen --- friend and foe alike. Much of this he did via the U.S. mail, firing off scores of letters to anybody and everybody. (All of this was long before e-mail or Twitter, of course --- and, lord, wouldn't he have been a holy terror if he'd had those at his disposal in his lifetime?).
I got a ton of Avo-grams. After our meeting at the Bouchercon he always called me "Big Bear", never anything else. While the letters I got were always friendly (except for the times he would chew me out for not writing back often enough), they still often contained a rant or two about somebody or something that had him currently pissed off.
He'd also phone me once in a while, referring to this in follow-up letters as "ameche time" or "when we last talked on the ameche" … i.e. in reference to Don Ameche who starred in a movie about the life of Alexander Graham Bell.
Avo was an original. "The Fastest Typewriter in the East" he called himself, and lived up to it. This, along with his unique slant on looking at things (like "ameche time") and using that same kind of quirky perspective and trivia references in his writing, made for some passages that came out as, shall we say, less than literary gems. Yet at all times he was damned readable and, like I said before, always kept the story moving and kept you wanting to turn to the next page.
No matter what else, I have little doubt that writing peers in my age bracket read plenty of Avallone and I suspect we all learned a trick or two from him. It saddens and angers me now that there are some who only see fit to acknowledge his name by digging up "Avallone-isms" and poking fun at them.
He sure as hell deserves more respect than that.
The fastest typewriter in the east doesn't clatter any more. The silence leaves us all less entertained.
I miss Avo.
Damn it, I wish I would have written back and called back more often when I had the chance.