Friday, August 04, 2023

Blue Mascara Tears - James McKimmey

The original 1965 Ballantine edition of James McKimmey’s novel BLUE MASCARA TEARS sports one of my favorite Ron Lesser covers (see below). If I’d seen this on a spinner rack back then, I would have had to buy it. As it is, I just read the new Stark House reprint of the book, in a double volume with 24 HOURS TO KILL, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. So this is my second McKimmey novel, but it certainly won’t be my last.

BLUE MASCARA TEARS is a hardboiled cop novel centering around Inspector Jack Cummings, who works in a big city that I think is probably San Francisco, although McKimmey doesn’t ever specify that. Cummings is investigating two cases, the murder of a gambler who was gunned down in his hotel room by an intruder who stole a wad of money from him and the rape of a neighborhood teenage girl. At the same time, he’s carrying out a vendetta of sorts against gangster Knocko Cutter, whom Cummings blames for the gambler’s murder even though he has an alibi. Knocko is protected by higher-ups in the police department, so Cummings has to battle that corruption, too, as he tries to get to the bottom of the two cases.

This book races along until about two-thirds of the way through when it suddenly appears that Cummings has solved everything. Ah, but then there’s a suspicious suicide that Cummings believes is murder, and in a way the whole thing starts again. The suspense ratchets up more and more until McKimmey really had me turning to the pages to get to the very emotional ending.

BLUE MASCARA TEARS is an excellent novel with a complicated protagonist. Is Cummings right about Knocko Cutter’s involvement with the crimes, or is he too obsessed with getting the gangster and letting that cloud his judgment? Is he so afraid of the corruption rubbing off on him that he sees it where there isn’t any? These questions lurk in the back of the reader’s mind, and even Cummings sometimes questions his own objectivity. This is a pretty philosophical book for a hardboiled crime novel, but McKimmey never lets it bog down with navel-gazing. It stays tough and fast all the way through. I give it a high recommendation, especially since you can get it in that double volume with an equally compelling yarn, 24 HOURS TO KILL.



Fred Blosser said...

Somewhere (where, I don't remember now), John D. MacDonald had high praise for James McKimmey. I believe THE LONG RIDE was the only McKimmey I've ever read, very much the same kind of novel that JDM wrote in the '50s.

Stark House said...

"This man can manipulate tension…in ways that are beginning to alarm me."—John D. MacDonald