Friday, 13 July 2012

BOOK REVIEW

Run, Mann, Run! By James Keenan (1975)

This novel is my contribution to Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase. Hop over and check out the fine mix of reviews by other bloggers.

“It was a hot day in Dornville when Mann drove in; it got a lot hotter when he was framed for murder!”

Run, Mann, Run! by James Keenan is probably the most forgotten book I am writing about since enrolling in FFB. There is absolutely nothing about either this novel or its author online, as far as I know, except for its availability on a handful of book retail sites. Even then, there are no images of the book cover or the author. I have no idea who James Keenan is or if he has written other books. My copy of the paperback (left) simply begins and ends with his story (Major Books, Chatsworth, California).

However, my search did throw up a book and a film that sounded exactly like this title, only it wasn’t the same. The book Run, Man, Run is a crime novel written by Chester Himes in 1966 and is about racism in New York City. The film of the same name is a spaghetti western directed by Sergio Sollima in 1968. Note the missing ‘n’.

The Mann in Keenan’s story is Perry Mann, an ex-Vietnam soldier, who travels hundreds of miles to a dark cabin in the hills of Dornville, a sleepy Ozark town, to meet his close friend and business partner, Pearl Dobson. The two men served in Vietnam together and have been crop dusters in Salinas, California, after the war till, one day, Dobson leaves for the hills where he grew up, to make millions for himself and his friend. Mann finds Dobson strapped to a chair and tortured to death. His grandparents and their dog have been shot dead too.

Mann, a tall, lean man in his late twenties, drives down to Dornville to report the murders and steps right into hell he hadn’t bargained for. His nightmare begins as soon as he comes face to face with Deputy Sheriff Merl McKinstry who is built like an ox and is crooked as a fish hook. He controls everything and everyone in the county whose folks, including the attorney general and the judge, are too terrified to oppose his mean and wicked ways. If McKinstry says “Squat!” people squat.

McKinstry had his henchmen, fellow deputies, kill the Dobsons and later set their cabin on fire because he had found out Pearl Dobson’s secret — a hidden cave called Witch Cave on the Dobsons property that has uranium deposits worth millions of dollars. McKinstry frames Mann for the murders but doesn’t kill him because he thinks the brave young man knows the exact location of the cave.

Mann finds no friends in Dornville whose inhabitants don’t like strangers in their midst, especially those accused of murder. His attempt to escape from the town, with the help of the lovely Penny Gay Parsons, who McKinstry boasts he has had since she was fourteen, fails, and he is back at the sheriff's mercy. Mann is unarmed and uses only his wits and fists to get out of situations.
 

McKinstry’s grand visions of rolling in money, however, come to a naught when Margaret Nome, a tall and handsome woman and the editor of the local paper, enters the scene. Her agenda is as sinister as that of the sheriff: she wants Witch Cave all to herself. The cave is her route to riches and a new life far away from Dornville.

Maggie Nome kills McKinstry in cold blood and pins the blame on Perry Mann who then sets out to clear his name and get out of Dornville with Penny Gay.

Run, Mann, Run! reads like a western novel. The small county has an attorney general, a judge, and a sheriff, but no law. Mann tries to escape because Penny Gay’s timid father warns him that McKinstry’s hoods are going to lynch him. The people of Dornville are not law-abiding citizens; they are a mob willing to hang anyone they are told is guilty of crime. The county, set among the hills, is reminiscent of a western town in many ways, with its small establishments like a telephone office, a beer parlour, a little grocery, and a Missouri Pacific depot with only one train a day.

James Keenan portrays a stark picture of Dornville, a town more dead than alive. You don’t want to be there even if you were elected mayor. In contrast, Perry Mann is a man of virtue, of grit and purpose, whose singular aim is to avenge the murders of Pearl Dobson and his grandparents without taking the law into his hands. In the end Mann doesn’t run, he stands his ground.

Run, Mann, Run! is a rather predictable story with an unpredictable end, that is if you haven’t guessed it halfway through. While it is well-written and fairly gripping, I wouldn’t recommend it as a must-read.

So, does anyone know who James Keenan is?

10 comments:

  1. Prashant, You have made me curious about this author. I had never heard of him, but a bit of internet hopping showed the following.

    James Keenan was the author of one nonfiction book (SELF HELP THROUGH HYPNOSIS) and the coauthor of another (ACUPUNCTURE AND YOUR HEALTH). Both were published in 1974 by a publishing house based in Chatsworth, California, as was RUN, MANN, RUN!

    Another site noted that "J. J. Montague" was a pen name of James Keenan. Montague had at least six titles published by various publishing houses, all based in Chatsworth, California, between 1974 and 1975. The most noted of these books were at least three in the "Black Swan" spy series. The Black Swan was female spy Shauna Bishop who used sex to accomplish her missions. (Around that time, there were a lot of similar paperback series copied from a formula set down by Ted Marks and his "Man from O.R.G.Y." series; the "Cherry Delight" series written under the house name of "Rod Gray" is probably the best-known series of this ilk using a female spy.)

    Anyway, the three books that definitely belong to the Black Swan/Shauna Bishop series are THE CHINESE KISS (1974), THE CONG KISS (1974), and THE FRENCH KISS (1974).

    From the title, a fourth book (THE JUDAS KISS, 1975) may well be part of that series.

    The remaining two books, THE SWEET TASTE OF SHERRY (1975) and THE GIRLS CAME C.O.D. (1975), also seem to be sex novels. In fact, THE GIRLS CAME C.O.D. was published under the Brandon House imprint, one well-known for sex novels.

    Of course, "J. J. Montague" may well have been a house name used by various authors, but there is a definite link between the six books published under that name and the three published under the James Keenan name.

    All the above leads me to believe that Keenan was a free-lance writer taking any work that came his way.

    Many of my reference books are in storage and I have found no personal information about Keenan through my brief web search, other than he may have been born in 1948.
    Perhaps someone else has a copy of HAWK'S PSEUDONYMS handy and may be able to glean some more info.

    As always, I enjoy your FFB posts.

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  2. A really intriguing find Prashant and some of Jerry's information is really fascinating - there are so many paperback originals lost to literary respectability that it is always good to see one get its due online - well done mate.

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  3. An online bookseller's catalog says that this is a pirated edition of John McPartland's novel I'LL SEE YOU IN HELL (Gold Medal 571, 1956). McPartland's book takes place during the Korean War but the plot and characters and text are otherwise exactly the same. Here's what the entry syas: "Reprint of "I'll See You In Hell" by [John] McPartland. It isn't known if McPartland used this name to resell an old book or if the small time publisher simply stole McPartland's book without paying him any royalties. Other than updating the book from the Korean War to Vietnam, it is a word for word reprint."

    I'm not at home or else I'd do a thorough check of Hubin's Crime Fiction Bibliography to find out who was using what pseudonym. Or if the above is just someone's misinformation.

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  4. A mystery within a mystery, Prashant.

    This sounds like the sort of story that Lee Child might concoct for Jack Reacher although Reacher wouldn't stand for being pushed around by any hick sheriff. Never has. Never will. :)

    I recommend Lee Child's books to you, by the way, if you haven't read them. Action thrillers the way action thrillers ought to be.

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  5. Charles, I hadn't either till I chanced upon it at my secondhand bookstore. Not a bad read.

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  6. Jerry, thanks very much for taking the trouble to find out stuff about James Keenan. I spent the better part of a day searching online but all in vain. I can't imagine the author of RUN, MANN, RUN! writing about hypnosis and acupuncture; perhaps, he might have been commissioned to write them. The "J.J. Montague" pseudonym doesn't ring a bell either though his books may have been published by Major Books, Chatsworth (as you point out), which also published the one I read. HAWK'S PSEUDONYMS? I need to look out for that one.

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  7. Thank you, Sergio! This was just one of those off-the-cuff novels I picked up for variety and because nobody else was going to buy it. There is nothing new about a man being framed for murder, though. I have had the good fortune of buying many such paperbacks that are, indeed, floating in the literary black-hole. It's a bit like a treasure hunt for me. Needless to say, these novels are often well-written and good reads too.

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  8. John, thanks very much for this intriguing piece of information about the book. I'LL SEE YOU IN HELL would be an equally apt title for this book. It's highly possible that McPartland reissued it under a new title or that a publisher might have reprinted it behind his back. I guess the only way to find out is to lay your hands on the 1956 novel and compare it. My copy of RUN, MANN, RUN! does seem like a reprint of an earlier novel because it is a bad reprint and all it has is the one story. There is no dedication or a list of other books by the same author or even the author's copyright. The story ends in blank pages. Also missing are the blurbs introducing other books. I'm curious to read HUBIN'S CRIME FICTION bibliography. Thanks for mentioning it.

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  9. True, Yvette, though Jerry and John have taken pains to solve the mystery of the mysterious author. I have heard and read a lot about Lee Child and his character Jack Reacher on various sites and blogs, including yours, and would like to read his work as soon as I can. I love action thriller, both books and films. Perry Mann does get pushed and shoved around quite a bit but then he's a very brave fellow with a heartfelt conviction that he'll triumph in the end. I mean, he's just an ordinary guy who finds himself in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

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