Review: Gun in Cheek by Bill Pronzini

Justin’s glance dropped to the gracefully formed cleft which separated breasts made as stout and round as summer melons. Then he appraised the contour of her hips and legs and felt a queerness coursing through his veins–for this was a woman!

–from One Man’s Crime by Lynton Wright Brent

Gun in Cheek, Bill Pronzini’s affectionate look at what he calls “alternative classics”–awful but often quite enjoyable crime novels–is a book that you simply must own. I don’t know when or where I acquired Gun in Cheek, but I do know that my latest pass through it is at least my third and possibly my fourth. I also know that it won’t be my last, which goes to show you how incredibly enjoyable and re-readable Gun in Cheek is.

He poured himself a drink and counted the money. It came to ten thousand even, mostly in fifties and twenty-fives.

–from The Violent World of Michael Shayne by Brett Halliday

Pronzini apparently has read (and has total recall of) every crime novel ever published. From the first chapter on amateur detectives, where you’ll read the unforgettable stories of “Wanna woo-woo?” and the motion-picture theory of crime detection and prevention, to the last chapter on short fiction with a focus on alternative great Robert Leslie Bellem (“She swayed towards me, a sob swelling in her perky pretty-pretties”), Pronzini takes the reader on a delirious tour of purple prose, improbable plots, outrageous characters, and ridiculous tough-guy slang.

Along the way, he covers PIs, police officers, British detectives, the Yellow Peril, Gothics, thrillers, and much more.

It was then that I saw the coagulated blood on the left temple and clotted matter that had seeped from the bullet hole into the coverlet.

I knew the man was dead.

–from Naked Villainy by Charles G. Hodges

Every chapter–hell, nearly every page— of Gun in Cheek has something to make you laugh out loud, scratch your head, or drop your jaw in astonishment. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Notes: Pronzini also penned a sequel, Son of Gun in Cheek, and a companion volume devoted to the Western, Six-gun in Cheek.

Gun in Cheek was published in 1982 and reprinted in 1987 by Mysterious Press. Used copies are available dirt cheap on Amazon, so go get one!