I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened Samuel Fuller’s Brainquake (Titan Books/Hard Case Crime, 2014) to the first page. And then I read the opening line: Sixty seconds before the baby shot the father, leaves fell lazily in Central Park. Hook goes in mouth.
Paul Page is sitting on a bench in Central Park, watching (or stalking, depending on your point of view) a beautiful woman he knows only as Ivory Face. He’ll soon learn her real name is Michelle Troy. She’s pushing her baby carriage while strolling with her husband when the explosion of a gunshot rips through the air. The husband falls to the ground, mortally wounded, and Michelle, along with everyone else in the vicinity, goes into panic mode. Paul attempts to leap from the bench to assist Michelle, but finds he’s frozen in place. His brain suddenly feels as though it is being crushed. Cacophonous flutes roar through his head. Everything around him is washed in red and pink. The pain and the noise is almost too much to bear.
He’s having a brainquake.
He has these every so often. They’ve been part of his life since boyhood. They don’t last too long, but each one feels like an eternity.
Come to find out, Page is a bagman for the New York mob. Bagmen are notoriously laconic, hardened loners, whose sense of loyalty runs deep. They’re expected to live alone, have no friends, deliver the money on schedule, and kill “pirates”, those who would wrongfully relieve them of said money. Page, who is as noir as they come, fits the job description perfectly. Except for one thing: he doesn’t dare tell his ruthless bosses about his brainquakes. It would seal his own death.
Through some nice plotting, Page becomes embroiled in the Central Park shooting and eventually links up with Michelle Troy and her baby. Helen Zara, a black NYPD detective who stands over six feet tall, is brought in to sort through the case, and we’re off and running.
Fuller, more widely known as an iconoclastic filmmaker and screenwriter, never really registered with me as a novelist. His films, such as Pickup On South Street, The Big Red One, and The Naked Kiss, have been logged as the work of a true auteur of the cinema, and I had seen most of them. But a novelist? News to me.
Turns out he’d written several novels along the path of his long career, none of which made much of a splash. But if they’re anything as noirish as Brainquake, I want to read them all.
Recommendation: Buy it here. This is an unexpected gift of high-caliber noir fiction from Sam Fuller. Besides, it’s from Hard Case Crime, so you know it’s got to be good.