"At the overnight stop in North Platte, Nebraska, Bill Wayne didn't copy the other tourists in the party when they bought postcards to mail to friends. He was running a little low on friends these days. Once he had classed five guys as friends but they had picked up a habit of doing things behind his back, like shooting at it. The only wish-you-were-here postcard he wanted to send them was a picture of a cemetery." -- from Say It With Bullets
Bill Wayne is on a bus tour of the Old West, but he's not in it for the advertised relaxation. Conveniently, the Treasure Trip makes stops in the five cities where his five Army buddies live. At least, they were his buddies until one of them shot him in the back and left him for dead.
Now he's going from city to city (Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Reno, San Francisco, and Los Angeles) to talk with each of the men (Russ, Ken, Frankie, Cappy, and Domenic) to try and find out who did the shooting. Of course, if the first one doesn't spill, Bill will just have to kill him, and each one in turn until he gets to the bottom of things. A pretty simple plan, really.
It's too bad he didn't take into account pretty blonde tour guide Holly Clark, a girl from his past who is very interested in getting reacquainted. Interested enough to dog his every footstep, and observant enough to eventually put some pieces together.
And if that weren't bad enough, Holly's latest suitor is Cheyenne deputy sheriff Carson Smith, who has taken to following her throughout the tour. How is a man supposed to get anything done in this kind of situation?
Author Richard Powell (A Shot in the Dark and the Andy and Arabella Blake series) is not Dick Powell the actor, but Say It With Bullets would have been an ideal vehicle for the actor in his heyday (see Murder, My Sweet and others). It has a great blend of humor and tension in almost equal amounts (Bill Wayne is a terrific narrator, very self-aware and quick with a quip) that more than makes up for its somewhat predictable conclusion. And the characters all have wonderfully human foibles, including a dash of unexplained jealousy that even the jealous person doesn't quite fathom.
A descriptive taste of each of the cities adds to the experience, and Say It With Bullets is also incredibly fast-paced. In fact, I had intended on it being my current coat-pocket paperback, savoring it intermittently in waiting rooms and in line at the checkout. But Richard Powell's tale, to paraphrase a pop standard, "made me [finish it]. I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to do it...." (My only quibble has to do with its being the fifth reprint in a row to come from the Hard Case Crime archives. I preferred the previous mix of old and new -- even though they're all new to me.)
As noir goes, there's a bit to enjoy about SAY IT WITH BULLETS, Release Number 16 (with a 'bullet' at least in the title) in the largely stellar run of Dorchester Publishing Company's "Hard Case Crime" imprint. There's Bill Wayne, a wronged man left for dead with a bullet to the back who's come back to the post-War states after his fellow servicemen who were guilty of the crime. There's a shifty girl-from-his-past named Holly Clark, a teacher-and-tour-guide who willingly (but unwittingly) becomes his sidekick and probable partner-in-crime-of-vengeance. And there's even a fortune in buried treasure at the bottom of a mountain lake for the first sucker willing to risk all odds to find it.
Outside of that, "Bullets" fails to fire. Hawked by Hard Case editors as their first 'comic' entry in the series, the novel fails to really reach the level of comedy but admirably achieve smartaleckyness early on and never loses touch. Through Wayne's eyes, the world is a place where nothing is quite as it seems when the men he's hunting start dropping off like flies ... but not by his doing (though, in noir stories, he's bound to get blamed for it ... and he does!). With the sole exception of some terrific zaniness in the book's second half (Wayne visits a small-time casino to hide out from all of the local folks chasing him only to find he can't lose at games of chance, bringing only more and more eyes on him), author Richard Powell does steward's work of keeping this tale quick but only slightly dirty.
The book's cover advertises "first publication in 50 years," and, after reading it, one might be able to figure out why. It's good, but it isn't THAT good that it needed resurrecting alongside other tales from the Hard Case logo.
on October 17, 2013
It only takes a few notes to know if you'll like a song, just a few frames to know if it's your kind of movie, just a glance to know if you are going to be nuts about a gal. Powell sold me on this book before I finished page one and I stayed sold until I reached the conclusion the very same evening. This book takes you on a high speed journey and there simply aren't any brakes.
In this case, the publisher's blurb on the cover gets it right. Bill and five buddies were doing business in China when the war ended. The Reds were taking over in 1949 and they had to scram but someone, one of his buddies, put a bullet in Bill's back and they left him for dead as the Communists took over. Four years later, Bill recovers from his wounds and returns to the States. Immediately, someone shoots him. Someone, someone he thought was his buddy, is out to knock him off.
Bill decides he'll look his buddies up in Cheyenne, in Salt Lake, in Reno, in San Fran, and in LA. He's got a .45 and if he doesn't get answers he likes someone else is gonna take a bullet and be left for dead. He signs on with a western bus tour that stops in these cities. He's got an alibi now -- just a crazy tourist.
He's too bent on revenge to notice the hot blonde tour guide is someone from his childhood, too crazy with anger to convince her he belongs with the middle aged slobs on the bus trip. Maybe he's getting paranoid. Wouldn't you if someone kept trying to kill you?
Powell writes like someone's hot on his heels. A fantastic piece of literature. Wow!
on March 11, 2006
Hard Case Crime successfully recreates the excitement of a time when print was the primary source of entertainment. The covers, the design, and the engaging stories, take the reader back to a time when crimes were solved by guts, brains, brawn, and the occasional beauty mixed in just for inspiration. I can't wait until the end of the day to escape into the shadows these writers imagined so well in these stories.
Richard Powells "Say it with Bullets" is not only gripping, and entertaining, but the author has a sense of humor that just doesn't quit. I found myself chuckling and laughing out loud as I made my way through the mystery.
Turn off the television and get comfortable for this one. you won't want to put it down.
on October 2, 2015
A recent trip to Disney World gave me some time to read on the drive and before lights out, so what better books to grab than some Hard Case Crime books that fit right in the palm of your hand. SAY IT WITH BULLETS is a hard-driving Richard Powell novel from 1953 that tells the hard-luck story of Bill Wayne, a man left for dead in China after the war. Who left him for dead? Ah, that’s the mystery! He was shot in the back by one of his four partners in the rush to get out of China. Bill wanted to take refugees – the other four had gold on their minds. Bill argued and was left for dead. Flash forward four years and Bill gets on a Western bus tour with stops at all four of the men’s homes – Salt Lake City, Cheyenne, Reno and LA. A beautiful tour guide from Bill’s past and a well-built Wyoming sheriff try and complicate matters, so in the end our hero may have to SAY IT WITH BULLETS! Fun yarn that not only tells a serviceable mystery but also paints the early 1950s tourism business as a lot of fun!
Back in 1949, Bill Wayne ran a cargo business with some of his buddies. As China falls to the "Reds", he asks his friends to load the plane with refugees. Instead, they find a black marketeer and a shipment of "medical supplies". Bill protests and someone shoots him. He's left for dead as the Communists come through.
Now, Bill's back. He's tracked down his so-called friends and he's determined to get the truth out of them by any means necessary. Happily, they're all distributed in the Southwest, so he can visit them all (and keep a low profile) by the simple strategy of joining a tour group.
Despite the book's constant movement, Say It with Bullets truly is a basic cozy. Bill surprises his first friend, only to witness (and be framed for) their murder. The pattern continues and the bodies pile up at regular intervals with a carefully measured portion of red herring meted out in every chapter. Can Bill and his Pretty Blonde Tour Operator sidekick/foil find the real murderer? Who knows Bill is back? Why are they framing him? And, most importantly, will Bill and P.B.T.O. ever kiss?
Despite being at the heart of a mass of slayings, there's never really any danger - Mr. Powell clearly preferring romantic tension to any other kind. The who of the whodunnit is also broadcast from the very beginning as the story follows the essential form of any mystery: pick the least likely suspect and wait for them to start monologuing. Say It with Bullets is also littered with slapstick moments - a straight out of Off-Broadway gambling spree in Reno topping the list. The book's real plot is plain to see: this isn't about Bill getting his revenge, its about Bill getting to the point where he doesn't care. Stop looking for the truth and smootch the girl in front of you. And eventually, banally, Bill does. Next stop, happy ending!
Say It with Bullets is lighter fare. There's something bizarrely counter-intuitive about wanting the protagonist to quit his quest. Not because he's wrong or because the mission is patently self-destructive, but merely because it is an obvious mess and Bill never seems competent enough to handle the disaster he's unleashed. Why exactly the P.B.T.O. falls for him is unclear (Mr. Powell settles on the "I fancied you when I was a little girl" non-motive that's the last refuge of the desperate entanglement), but Bill's clearly batting out of his league. This is by no means an unreadable or unpleasant book, but is a diversion without either the weight or the significance of many others in the Hard Case Crime series.
on May 30, 2006
Say It With Bullets is one of those books mystery lovers have talked about since it first appeared 50 years ago. Because it has been out of print so long, copies were extremely hard to come by, making this one something of a Holy Grail among mystery fans.
Well, now, courtesy of Hard Case Crime, the book is back in a handsome paperback edition. This is a great story of revenge yet told with many humorous touches. Bill Wayne, the avenger of the story, returns to the States to determine which of his army buddies shot him in the back and left him for dead. On a bus tour through the states, he tracks down each of his friends and has his revenge. The only problem is he has to cover his tracks from a nosey sherrif and the tour guide whom he is falling in love with. The tension builds nicely in this one, there are moments of great humour although the novel is not the comic romp it is touted as being, nor does it intend to be. The return of Bullets has already garnered much attention. In fact, Hollywood has just optioned it as a movie. So, don't miss this one. If you're a mystery fan, this one will scratch you right where you itch.
on February 24, 2014
As far as I know, no one ever made this 1953 crime novel into a film, but someone could have, probably should have. Alan Ladd or John Garfield could have starred as Bill Wayne, the flyer shot and left for dead by one of five "pals" in China as the Communists were edging out the Nationalists. By the time he awoke from what was supposed to have been the big sleep, nursed back to health by a couple of Chinese peasants who hid him from the Reds, his "buddies" had absconded with their plane, heading for the US of A. Seven years later, Bill's back in the States, gets written up in the local paper, and then someone takes a shot at him. It wasn't good the first time, when he was left face down in a pool of his blood at a Shanghai airfield, but he'd put all that behind him; he never wanted to see his former friends again...until that second shot came out of the darkness.
The would-be killer had to be one of the five, but why? That's the question that eats at him...and who? Bill finds out where the five lads now live, then joins a guided bus tour that goes through all five cities. Safety in numbers, he thinks. A reason for being there should events go awry, and they do. As he visits his first man,Russ, he gets brained by a tire iron, and when he wakes up Russ is dead, shot with Bill's gun and someone has gone through the trouble of pulling off one of his jacket buttons. A very neat frame. Someone, likely one of the remaining four, wants to get rid of his partners, and Bill makes the perfect little patsy for the crime...soon to be crimes shortly after he pulls into Reno.
The narrative of this fast-moving crime novel is crisp and clean, the characters well portrayed, from Bill Wayne, who is his own worst enemy, to Holly, who can't seem to keep her nose out of Bill's business, to Frankie, the weak link of any chain who is forever trying to coax jackpots from slot machines. The dialogue propels the story without resorting to cliches or melodrama. Powell deftly weaves together many disparate plot elements, including a lost plane filled with gold, into a gripping adventure laced with suspense.
on May 1, 2013
I've been making my way through the Hard Case Crime backlog, and I'll admit I had my doubts about this one. The title sounded like a bad Sylvester Stallone movie, and the premise could be charitably called preposterous: WWII vet Bill Wayne takes a bus tour across the American West, ostensibly to relax, but he is really tracking down his former Army buddies to find out which one shot him and left him for dead.
But this book turned out to be a lot of fun. Like a good Quentin Tarantino movie, this book revels in the over-the-top excesses of the noir genre, but it's mostly tongue-in-cheek. The tale is propelled by witty narration, strong dialogue and credible action sequences. The author writes against many of the typical stereotypes. Bill Wayne is not the usual brooding, intelligent, self-reliant archetype that you normally see. He mopes, stumbles, and bumbles through much of the action, and it is clear to the reader (if not always to the protagonist himself) that Bill has started something he cannot control. Meanwhile, his love-struck dame proves time and again to be faster, smarter, and more resourceful than the man she moons after.
The book suffers somewhat from an abrupt and predictable ending, but it all adds up to a few entertaining hours of reading, at least.
on August 8, 2006
Admittedly, the premise of "Say It With Bullets" is completely absurd and riddled with the kind of coincidences that would spoil other works begging more serious regard. The hilarity of the first chapter coupled with many tongue-in-cheek nuances peppered throughout is a clear signal that the author understands this, if not by all members of his audience. Bill Wayne, searching for the unknown army buddy who has twice shot and left him for dead, has booked a pre-packaged bus tour of the West that just happens to hit each of the cities his friends have settled in. Bill imagines this as the perfect cover for dodging the man who's after him while making his other pals talk, but he hasn't counted on the unwanted romantic attention of the beautiful tour guide who happens to be from his past. Bill is intent on deadly serious business while his fellow pleasure-seeking tourists are left confounded over his anger and intent to be left alone. Once you've laughed through this premise, the action moves breathlessly forward, delivering a unique blend of traditional noir mixed with humor and a grand finale reminiscent of Hitchcock. Though no one, obviously including the author, really aspires for this material to reach the status of a genre classic, "Say It with Bullets" remains satisfying entertainment and is a joyful rediscovery.