Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The Robert Bloch Centennial: Shooting Star/Spiderweb


(The material in this post originally appeared in somewhat different form on April 24, 2008 and May 27, 2008.)

I love the old Ace Doubles. The Westerns and the science fiction doubles were fairly common in this area when I was a kid, and I read a bunch of them. But for some reason I never saw any of the mystery doubles until 1981, when I came across a couple of shelves of them in a junk store. Needless to say, I grabbed them all.

There have been efforts to revive the Ace double novel format over the years, but the Hard Case Crime release of Robert Bloch’s SHOOTING STAR and SPIDERWEB may be the most successful yet. Of course, both of these novels were actually first published as Ace Doubles, although not back to back with each other.

The narrator of SHOOTING STAR is Mark Clayburn, a Hollywood literary agent/private eye. I don’t think I’ve ever come across that particular combination before, and it makes Clayburn different from other private eyes who specialize in cases involving the movie industry, such as W.T. Ballard’s Bill Lennox and Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner. Bloch’s familiarity with the pulp magazine markets gives this element of the novel a welcome touch of realism. There’s also a little tuckerizing going on, for example an undertaker named Hamilton Brackett. And the whole thing is told in an appealingly breezy, fast-moving style.

Unfortunately the plot, which involves Clayburn trying to find out who murdered a cowboy movie star so that the producer who hires him can sell the dead star’s old movies to television (shades of Hopalong Cassidy), never develops into anything more than a very generic private eye plot. I kept waiting for Bloch to come up with a twist on a par with making his hero a literary agent as well as a detective, but that never happens. The writing is smooth and Mark Clayburn is a likable character, but the other characters never came alive for me. SHOOTING STAR isn’t a bad book, and I enjoyed reading it, but it’s certainly a minor entry among Bloch’s novels.

SPIDERWEB is the other half of the Robert Bloch double from Hard Case Crime. I enjoyed SHOOTING STAR, but SPIDERWEB is a darker, better book, I think.

The narrator is Eddie Haines, a radio announcer from the Midwest who heads to Hollywood in the early Fifties with the intention of being a success as a TV show producer, or an announcer if he can’t sell his pitch for a TV series. Of course, neither of those goals works out, and he’s on the verge of killing himself in despair when he meets Professor Otto Hermann, a “psychological consultant” to the movie community who’s actually a swindler and conman. Hermann recruits Eddie to join his group of henchmen and gives him a new identity as the author of a successful self-help book. Eddie realizes that the professor is a crook and that he’s turning into a crook himself, but everything still goes along fine until the professor decides to target a state senator for blackmail and use the senator’s niece as part of the plot. It just so happens that Eddie has fallen in love with the niece . . .

In noirish fashion, things get worse from there, as Eddie tries to do the right thing but it won’t quite seem to work out. Bloch keeps the story perking right along, but under the smooth prose and snappy patter is a pretty bleak look at Southern California and gullible humanity itself. SPIDERWEB is a fine novel, and Hard Case Crime has done a good thing by bringing it back into print.

5 comments:

Keith West said...

I read these when Hard Case published them. Rather enjoyed them.

George said...

The only publisher that has really embraced the old ACE DOUBLE format is ARMCHAIR FICTION ahttp://www.armchairfiction.com/

Brad Smalley said...

Ive been loving the Hard Case Crime series since i picked up the Michael Crichton books.

Jerry House said...

Great stuff!

Todd Mason said...

I still need to unbox and read my copy...and I wouldn't mind having the short story collection that was the original Ace Double with SHOOTING STAR...thanks for this and the Avallone pointer...