Larry Kent began his career in the I Hate Crime radio series, and a series of short pulpy tie-in novels were launched. The tie-in novels continued until the end of the radio show and were then resurrected with more than 400 being published through the 1960s and 70s into the early 1980s. Several of these novels have been reprinted in two-novel collections by Bold Venture Press. This reprint included Crimson Lady and Sidewalk Empire.
In Crimson Lady, Valerie Nash, a beautiful ex-flame of Larry’s, comes to him for help because men who are interested in her are winding up dead and she’s having premonitions about it because of her ESP. Larry runs into a few dead-ends but is encouraged to carry on by one of New York City’s most iconic homicide detectives, a man reverently known as “The Murder Man.”
There are some good aspects of the first novel. The opening scene and its misdirection add some interest to the story. Larry’s relationship with Valerie is a little less shallow than what would be heard on the radio program.
That said, my patience with this story was really tried in the slow early chapters. But Larry solves the case early, and then has to prove it, and protect Valerie Nash. This leads to some really tense and suspenseful moments.
The book is not good. It deals with ESP, incredibly improbable criminal pseudo-psychology and, of course (reflective of the era), mentally unstable Vietnam vets. But if you can overlook the nonsense, it’s a fair story.
In Sidewalk Empire, a beautiful ex-flame of Larry’s (notice a pattern here?), a soap opera producer, calls Larry in because someone is blackmailing her with photos of her wild drug and partying days. Larry is able to figure out that she’s being blackmailed along with other wealthy clients of an unlicensed hypnotherapist.
The first chapter sees Larry’s investigation going nowhere. In the second chapter, a leprechaun appears and gives Larry a subtle clue that renews his investigation. I made an attempt at a YouTube short. The leprechaun wasn’t the only problem with the book. The dialogue was bad, the plot was ludicrous, and the characters behaved in bizarre and foolish ways. Attempts to make Larry look like an amazing lady’s man have never been less effective or compelling than in Sidewalk Empire.
The main asset of this collection I can see is a sort of “so bad, it’s good” vibe. While The Crimson Lady isn’t nearly as bad, both stories are full of over-the-top and out-of-left-field, and poorly-executed moments that will leave many readers scratching their head. If someone decided to produce movies just for the purpose of being roasted on Mystery Science Theater 3000, faithful adaptations of Larry Kent novels would work. MST3K alum Michael Nelson might be able to do something with this reprint on his book-roasting podcast 372 Pages We’ll Never Get Back.
Beyond that, it’s tough to recommend this reprint to anyone, unless you’re really a huge fan of the radio series and are curious about the novels. While there are some good moments and the short length prevents the stories from becoming too tedious, these are ultimately unsatisfying works that annoy far more than entertain.
Rating: 2 out of 5
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