||Poisoned Pen Press
Author Ken Kuhlken
Set in 1943, The Loud Adios was the first book in what has become the Tom Hickey's California series of private investigator novels.
Private Investigator Tom Hickey, now an army corporal military policeman assigned to the U.S./Mexico border, accompanies Private Clifford Rose to a Tijuana nightclub where Clifford claims they will find his sister Wendy.
The nightclub is aptly named Hell. Wendy, dancing naked on the stage, appears so lost and innocent, Tom agrees to help rescue her from the men her brother claims kidnapped the girl.
Her captors, Tom discovers, are led by a German occultist and financed by the powerful del Monte family. He comes to believe they are plotting a coup whose purpose is to give the Nazis a base from which to attack San Diego, home of the world's largest military/industrial presence.
After Tom learns he's considered AWOL and his attempts to alert the military of the danger are treated as nonsense, he declares a war of his own.
THE LOUD ADIOS
As Clifford Rose came to, the first thing he recognized was the stink, like a drainpipe running out of hell. Then he remembered.
“Wendy,” he screamed. This time no one answered.
The big mestizo thugs dragged him through the doorway of the Club de Paris into the fog, across the dirt sidewalk and down three high steps into the muddy river. They flipped him over, threw him facedown into the mud. The biggest one kicked him with a pointed boot in the neck. The chest. The forehead. Finally the one they called Mofeto, who had sliced the gash in Clifford’s cheek, sauntered out of the club. He looked like the runt of the litter, with a sharp face, pinched mouth, starved eyes. He wore a felt hat and a baggy dark suit. His hand with the switchblade swung beside him.
Through the fog you could hear invisible gringos talking and whooping, uphill toward the main boulevard. Neon from across the street red-tinted the fog.
Clifford lay curled in the mud, waiting for the next blow. When he saw the runt step closer, he heaved himself up on one arm. Slobbering blood, he croaked, “You give her up now, hear. I got friends. You’ll see.”
The runt straightened his coat and gazed both ways again. From the side of his mouth, like a parrot, he squawked, “Oh, you got friends. Sure. We don’t want trouble.” Lazily, he folded and pocketed his switchblade, reached beneath his baggy coat, then his hand shot out, gripping a long-barreled .45 revolver. “I better kill you now.”
Clifford dropped and covered his head with his arms. He tried to push off with his legs, but they slipped in the mud and the biggest mestizo stomped and held his ankle down, while the runt bent closer until the gun barrel touched the base of Clifford’s skull. He let it rest there, then glanced up the hill.
The U.S. Marines came like a stampede.
from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Winner of the publisher's annual Best First Private Eye Novel contest, this brooding,atmospheric tale set during WW II stirs a heady brew of corruption, Nazis, a blameless young girl and a fortune in gold. PI Tom Hickey, drafted in his late 30s and deserted by a wife who deems him both too honorable and too poor, agrees to help young soldier Clifford Rose rescue his beautiful but simpleminded young sister, Wendy, from the Tijuana dive where she dances nude. Hickey, an MP stationed at the border crossing near San Diego, Calif., has useful connections. But the mission is complicated by the sinister Señor Zarp, a Nazi thug using Wendy in certain bloody rites designed to rally the local
German populace and corrupt Mexican officials in their support of the fatherland. Freeing Wendy, Clifford is killed and Hickey finds himself the guardian of an otherworldly innocent to whom he is painfully attracted. When she tells him about a mountain of gold being held by Zarp and an obscenely wealthy Mexican family, Hickey, with the aid of a few poor Indian laborers, attempts to commandeer the loot and derail a Nazi invasion
scheme. Kuhlken weaves a complex plot around a complex man, a weary hero who tries to maintain standards as all around him fall to temptation.
from the LOS ANGELES TIMES, by Charles Champlin
A book I missed when it was published late last year I (but which I find is still available) is the fifth and latest winner of the annual competition for the best first private eye novel. It is THE LOUD ADIOS by Ken Kuhlken.
Set in San Diego and Tijuana in wartime 1943. it is the first of a planned trilogy featuring a San Diego private eye named Tom Hickey, who has become an MP working the Mexican border. A young GI asks Hickey to rescue his sister, who has fallen into the
wrong hands and is dancing nude in a Tijuana club. She is childlike, perhaps retarded, a lost innocent.
The kid has been beaten up for his own efforts to save her, and very quickly Hickey gets well-clobbered, too. The action escalates to a full-scale military-like attack mounted by Hickey with a ragtag platoon of Native Americans and Mexicans, including a one-eyed cab driver who is a fine invention. The girl’s patrons prove to be a collection of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers who evidently had been planning their own forays against the United States.
What is notable about the novel is that Kuhlken has not only captured the period but also the hard-edged private-eye style that flourished in those same years, as the heirs of Dashiell Hammett emulated his laconic prose, his nonstop action and his protagonists who, like Kuhlken’s Hickey, mask their sentimentality and sense of honor with a thin
veneer of tough-talking cynicism.
Hickey puts life and savings at risk in a good cause, and, like that famous tonic water, it’s curiously refreshing. A very promising debut.
from CHICO (California) NEWS AND REVIEWS, by Michael Baumann
SONG OF INNOCENCE
The strangest thing about Ken Kuhlken’s novel, THE LOUD ADIOS, is that some of the characters come alive in ways one almost wishes they wouldn’t. At least this reader was more strongly moved by sympathy and wonder than he had expected to be on contact with three of the novel’s principal characters.
I’m neither an addict of private eye novels nor a particular connoisseur of the genre. But I’ve read enough of them to know that I don’t really care what happens to the people I’m reading about and to suspect that I’m not supposed to care. As long as the suspense generated in me keeps my eyes glued to the text and all the conflicting facts and motives
that have aroused my curiosity get explained and the loose ends tied up at last, the P.I. novelist has done his job of work and fulfilled his obligations toward me.
Kuhlken easily fulfills those obligations in THE LOUD ADIOS. But I think he does something more. Halfway through the novel, after a scene of terrible mayhem, he expands on a heretofore mysterious character and, from one moment to the next, he raises the unanswerable question of innocence. Is true innocence only possible in the totally nonmaterialistic individual, in one who may even appear to the experienced person to be
This question, which Dostoyevski had asked in THE IDIOT, will henceforth throw a long shadow over the action and add to the complexity of Kuhlken’s P.I., because Tom Hickey keeps asking that question. The innocent Wendy Rose, whose character Kuhlken
explores and illuminates, becomes a powerful and enormously attractive force; she is the cause of whatever happens in two senses: as victim of foul play whom Hickey attempts to save and as symbol of what motivates Hickey in everything he does, for he is--and has always been--in love, as we finally realize, with innocence.
Not that the book ever bogs down in pure cerebration. It is action packed: no P.I. fiction page-turning reader will be disappointed. The time of the action is World War II (April 1943); the place is San Diego-Tijuana; the political and historical background (threat of Japanese military invasion and/or Nazi takeover of Baja) plays an important
role. THE LOUD ADIOS is almost perfectly crafted and clearly written by a mainstream novelist.
Kuhlken asks himself and his readers by what values a man shall live, and he answers the question. This means Hickey does a good deal of soul searching along the way, and if he appears to be asking Little Lamb Who Made Thee? he is also asking Who Made Me? So the novel at times takes on an almost unbearable intensity, not in its mayhem but in its human beings and concerns.
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