Banned from publication in the U.S. due to its mature subject matter, Solomon's Vineyard is a tense, hard-boiled work starring Karl Craven, a non-nonsense guy who predates detectives like Lew Archer and Mike Hammer. Craven is out to rescue a wealthy heiress from a twisted cult. The novel's famous opening passage: "From the way her buttocks looked under the black silk dress, I knew she'd be good in bed. The silk was tight and under it the muscles worked slow and easy. I saw weight there, and control, and, brother, those are things I like in a woman. I put down my bags and went after her along the station platform" - explains why this was too hot for domestic publication. (Initially published in 1941 in the UK, a heavily bowdlerized version came out in the '50s, but the less said about that one the better.)
Narrator Kevin Kraft fully embodies prototypical tough guy Karl Craven with his cynical, unflappable tone in this notorious crime story. Originally banned from U.S. publication in the 1940s for its frank depiction of sexuality, this story follows amoral private investigator Karl as he is embroiled in a case involving a religious cult. It seems like a cut-and-dried situation to Karl until his partner is murdered and he gets mixed up with all kinds of shady characters. Listeners will enjoy Kraft's snappy delivery and the noir feel of his performance.
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Classic Pulp Fiction...with a wink and a nudge.
Yes. The book is very "film noir", so it's fun to hear that stylized tone in the narrator's voice. You don't get that from reading a book like this, only from listening to it or watching movies like "The Maltese Falcon". The narrator did a good job capturing the film noir style, which made it more enjoyable than reading it.
Yes. As the author says in the foreward , "This is a wild one. Maybe the wildest yet. It's got everything in it...". And it's true! Gangsters, a bootleg-running religious cult and ladies of the night. Kidnapping, murder and gun fights. Corruption, S&M and human sacrifice. I think the author's intent was to get every cliche of the Pulp Fiction genre in the book, without appearing cliche. For example, during Prohibition, they start to play craps in the back room or a speakeasy, with the corrupt police chief a player among others, and Karl makes a big deal out of calling the house out of their crooked game with rigged dice, just to impress the local redhead Ginger he just me and is trying to make, Then the local gangster, who is Ginger's boyfriend comes in and bitch slaps Karl and humiliates him in front of Ginger. The whole thing is so trite, it's funny when you think about it. But it reads like a drama, it doesn't make you roll your eyes. In fact It's great fun to see how this out of town Private Investigator is going to solve all the crimes and come out clean. It kept me on the edge of my seat as all the subplots converged in a dramatic finale that showed our man, Karl Craven, was the smartest man in the room all along.
Karl Craven (and all the many believable female voices Kraft created for Karl's numerous amorous encounters.) Karl was at once brave and foolish, both masculine and ridiculous. A loner and a self-proclaimed ladies man, he struggles with eating to much, and seems almost oblivious about his massive weight ("The scale said 240. That was about 20 pounds too much"). Full of street smarts, his own common sense sometimes seems ridiculous. For example, when a girl tells Karl that he is tough, Karl says "that's cause I was in the army". LOL. An edgy man with a honest conscience, he is still a product of his time (and perhaps his profession) and is slightly racist, as when he refers to the hotel porter as a "negro" or as he talks about his recently murdered partner: "Oke Johnson was the smartest Sweede I knew." And then shortly after, true to his contradictory style, he calls him a "dumb Sweede"! Karl is so infatuated with himself and what he does that he reads G-man comic books. And he hates the goody-goody Boy Scout type Agents, but loves the "wonderful" G man who's always rescuing his girl from the gangsters. Karl is like a perpetual adolescent. He says almost forgivingly forthright about his feelings, like "I decided I would kill him when I got through with the job. That made me feel better. " The first time he deals with the local cops he calls them "dumb cops", and when he beats at the salesman who is hitting on a girl in the bar he says "I hate salesman. And cops."
I was probably more scared than "moved" in this book. The ending and rescue from the human sacrifice of the religious cult was very exciting. I was full of tension and suspense when the gangsters attack the speakeasy by rolling a flaming car into the speakeasy full of trapped people. This is not an "emotional" book, so I guess the closes thing to being "moved" was being disturbed, as when an innocent girl is beaten to death for "talking" about the corruption.
The author, Jonathan Latimer, is a noteworthy Hollywood Screenwriter and crime novelist (google him) who also ghost wrote for those blacklisted during the McCarthy era as well as for the Perry Mason TV shows. In "Solomon's Vineyard", Latimer strikes a very good balance between writing a darn good pulp fiction crime novel with commenting on the genre itself without passing over into parody. The reader (listener) really has to pay attention to catch the subtle jibes the book makes at itself and it's style. For example, I think it's funny that everyone of that era is presumed to know how to play craps. Ginger, a 21-year-old girl at best from the mid-west, seems to know all about how to play craps. And Karl knows how to spot rigged dice and makes a big display out of it. The gangster in this book, Pug Banta, is described as having long arms, short legs and club foot, but has Ginger as his girl, one of the prettiest girls in town. I mean, a club foot? It's practically comical! But never for a second does Latimer denigrate the genre with his insightful pokes.
- Michael Kentby