Thursday, November 14, 2013

Michael Avallone's LUST IS NO LADY (Review & Commentary)

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.


Tom Johnson said...

I knew Mike for many years. A swell guy. Like you, he often aired his problems with me. But he was a good friend.

Walker Martin said...

I was friends with Mike Avallone also and I also remember him at the Philadelphia Bouchercon in 1989. I've posted a article about our friendship titled "Remembering Mike Avallone" at

I miss him a lot also.

RJR said...

My first Avallone Ed Noon was also The February Doll murders. Years later I met him in his agent, Jay Garon's, Penthouse at a party. After that we had a hot and cold relationship. He could be interesting snd funny, and he could be volatile and, well, downright nutty. But he WAS an original.


wayne d. dundee said...

Thanks for commenting, gentlemen.
Yeah, Avo could be abrasive at times. But it sounds like we all agree that he was memorable to know and, especially in person, he could be charming and witty and immensely fun to be around.
Walker - I'd love to read your "Remembering Mike Avallone" but I can neither link to it via the http address you give above nor find it in the archives on your blog. Any other suggestions on how I might be able to access it?

Walker Martin said...

Wayne, probably the easies way to read my "Remembering Mike Avallone" article would be to go to and type in Mike Avallone Walker Martin. You should get a listing of links, the top one or two should be the Mystery File piece.

You will find it of interest since I wrote it in response to several comments about how difficult Mike was, etc. I never saw this side of him at all during our 10 year friendship.

James Reasoner said...

Mike and I never talked on the phone, but we traded what must have been hundreds of letters. I have to give him a lot of credit, not only for all the hours of entertainment his books gave me but for making me realize an author could have a distinctive voice.

By the way, I love the cover of THE FEBRUARY DOLL MURDERS. I still remember buying it off the paperback rack in Buddie's Grocery Store.

Walker Martin said...

Good point about Mike's distinctive voice, James. He really sounded like Ed Noon when he would discuss things. He had an astounding memory for quotes from old movies and he loved baseball. I was with him at a NYC paperback convention when he heard the news of the death of Robert Bloch. It was just about the only time I ever saw him struck silent. He was crushed.

He told me the blackball story also and was very disappointed in the book industry for not treating him more fairly. His letters were really distinctive also and he was puzzled near the end of his life when some people stopped replying.

I told him about the email revolution which was sweeping snail mail out of existence but I don't believe he ever really got into computers. He was one of a kind.

wayne d. dundee said...

Walker - I was able to read your piece on Mike and found it very enjoyable, along with the comments that it initiated. Same for a couple of past review posts from James, which got responses from many of the same folks (again true for this current comment stream). It's heartening to see that Mike maintained a sound following - I guess I'd sort of lost track of that.
Also, I'm really glad you commented here, Walker, and made mention of your "Remembering Avallone" piece. Frankly, because of the "Avallone-isms" I'd seen on your site a time or two, I had you pegged for one of Mike's detractors. I'm glad to see that was in error.

RJR said...

James, yes, the cover of DOLL caught my teenage eye on the stands!


Walker Martin said...

Actually Wayne, the Mystery File site is hosted by Steve Lewis, a long time fan and reviewer of crime fiction. I just contribute online articles to it as a guest blogger.

I guess the Avallonisms were started by Bill Pronzini in his GUN IN CHEEK book. Mike Nevins and others have picked up on the idea and carried it on.

Thinking about my friendship with Mike Avallone, I guess we never got into arguments because he and I were always talking about collecting pulps and vintage paperbacks. Every now and then he would blast another writer and complain about being blackballed but for the most part he was always very upbeat and friendly with me.

One night at Pulpcon he kept us in stitches for hours with quotes and jokes from the movies. Once he got going, there was no stopping Mike.