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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Scream Street

cover image By: Brett, Mike (male)
Publisher: Ace Books, Inc. (D-333)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 836: PS3553 .R334 S76 1959
Contributor: P. Ryan

General

Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: Mike Brett Geographic Locale: New York City; Paterson and Pompton, New Jersey. Locations include a warehouse, a café on 94th Street near Broadway, and a cottage at Lake Hackensack in the Black Mountains of New Jersey. Secaucus, NJ and the Lincoln Tunnel are mentioned in passing. Date of Publication: 1959  |  Original Date: 1959 Setting: urban; action occurs on the streets of New York, at the Metro Hospital, at Pete Lennix's Café Mindrin, at the (nearly) empty "rape house", a mansion in New Jersey, in the furnished apartment of murderer-prostitute Marge, and at Joan Astra's rural cottage. The milieu is primarily underworld; the characters Dakkers deals with are police, gangsters, prostitutes, and murderers. Dakkers himself is an illegal oddsmaker and Joan Astra, while not a criminal, has a gambling addiction. Motives: the primary motive is financial gain derived from a blackmail/extortion ring that films wealthy "clients" watching rapes staged for their benefit. All other crimes in this novel proceed from coverups of this blackmail scheme, including murder and intimidation of witnesses and the framing of Dakkers for these same murders committed by Lennix's gang as well as Dakkers' arson at Metro Hospital, imprisonment and impersonation of a police officer, and subsequent escape.

Plot Summary

Cruising the streets of New York City, bookie Sam Dakkers rescues a woman named Joan Astra from a savage beating at the hands of a thug named Louie Pap. Joan Astra is a witness and victim of a gang that stages rapes for the entertainment of wealthy perverts. She tells Sam that after being lured by Pap to a deserted warehouse where the rape was to occur (she successfully resists), she observed an old man in a plastic bag watching her. Shortly after rescuing Joan, Sam is visited by gangsters seeking Joan's location and his demise. Sam kills one would-be assassin, is shot twice, and awakens in Metro Hospital. With the aid of his friend, Dr. Harvey Ukell, he escapes from the police guard at the hospital and heads to the Café Mindrin, Pete Lennix's club. There he is taken captive, but with the aid of a drunken prostitute named "Bootsy from Calumet," Sam escapes, leaving one dead gangster. Bootsy finds dubious sanctuary for the hunted Sam at the apartment of a high-priced call girl named Marge. Sam learns that he is wanted by the police not for shooting a gangster, but for the murder of the man in the plastic bag -- millionaire Pierre Wentworth. Lennix reveals that the real money his gang made was not from the staged rapes, but the subsequent blackmail of the clients, who were filmed as they watched. Before being killed in a shootout with Sam, Lennix reveals that the real leader of the scheme is Marge who has already killed Bootsy. Working out a deal with the police, Sam successfully sets up Marge for a confession and conviction. For his cooperation, most of Sam's charges are dropped, except for impersonating an officer (his hospital escape) which lands him sixty days in Rikers.


Major Characters

Samuel Dakkers "Sam," adult male, American caucasian, strongly heterosexual, 32 years old, utterly bald, weighs 185 pounds and is an even 6 feet in height. He has a sensitive nose. The sight of blood bothers him not at all; cigar smoke makes him ill. Bookie -- an illegal, untaxed, independent gambling oddsmaker -- ("....horses, baseball, fights, anything." p.5)

Marge adult female, 28 years old, petite, red hair, emerald eyes, attractive, prostitute

"Bootsy" adult female, her real name is never revealed, mid-20s to early 30s, described by Dakkers as "my type of woman, a hunk of something or other, a pound of lipstick, false fingernails, false lashes, false hair, and possibly a false bosom. With it all she was good looking, definitely my type, a sex machine." (p.21); she also has the words "sweet" and "sour" tattooed over her breasts; prostitute

Pierre Wentworth adult male, gray hair, older (perhaps 65+), watches rapes from the vantage point of a plastic bag, multi-millionaire industrialist

Harvey Ukell adult male, big, affable, goofily humorous, a street kid that Dakkers sent to medical school in order to prevent him from winding up "like me," medical doctor

Louis Pap "Louie," adult male, "five ten and wide," when first encountered, his eyes are a lurid uniform red from the lye that Joan Astra has used to protect herself; thug/hired rapist employed by Pete Lennis

Joan Astra adult female, five feet seven, brunette, very attractive, nurse. Her gambling addiction makes her susceptible to Pap's offer of entry to a high stakes floating craps game at a warehouse locale, where she is subsequently assaulted.

The Commissioner adult male, never named, "a tall, thin man with a sun-tanned face and a full head of thick gray hair," commissioner of the New York Police Department

Gilus adult male, a little man "who wore a loud plain jacket and a huge black mustache that narrowed into two waxed points," gunman employed by Lennix

"Happy" adult male, described as a "friendly undetaker type," shot by "Bootsy from Calumet" before he can murder her


Weapons

lye thrown in Pap's face by Joan Astra; garbage cans hurled at hoods by Dakkers; the $175 Remington that "Rear Admiral" Dakkers phone-orders from John's Sporting Goods just in time to dispatch an assassin. Dakkers uses a .38 caliber police special donated by Joan Astra's father to shoot Pete Lennix. He also expropriates a .38 from gangsters Happy and Gilus.


Level of Violence

brutal and explicit violence, but so lurid and surreal that it seems almost an absurdist fantasy.


Sexuality

the story is drenched in salacious lip-licking sexuality but is amazingly non-erotic due to the type of individuals involved -- i.e. murderers and prostitutes and the violent context, not to mention the rape-for-view scheme. This does not faze the randy Sam Dakkers who takes the time to admire Joan's physique after she has been beaten unconscious by Pap: "...one firm pink-capped breast was completely out of her torn brassiere...I'm a bastard that way; I couldn't keep my eyes off the rest of her." (p.7)


Gender Roles

traditional. The Madonna/whore syndrome prevails: women are portrayed either as nurturing caregivers worthy of protection (Joan Astra, a nurse) or treacherous, murdering prostitutes (Bootsy and Marge). Sam is a modern knight-errant whose humor and hedonism disguise his altruism (he puts a street kid through med school and saves Joan's life ("There's something about a guy using his feet on a woman that rubs me wrong." (p.5) The real leader of the rape-per-view ring is the call girl, Marge, which is something of a role reversal.


Ethnicity

all characters are Caucasian; ethnicity is a minor factor


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

Dakkers smokes Camel cigarettes at Marge's apartment and has a whiskey drink at Joan Astra's cabin. He appears to be a sex addict rather than a substance abuser. Drugs and alcohol are presented as less insidious than gambling or sex addictions.


Law Enforcement

members of the NYPD are generally portrayed as competent and honest; however, the court system, from Dakkers' bookie's eye-view, is a joke at best. Private eyes do not figure in the plot; Dakkers is a sort of surrogate detective.


Added Features

any moralizing or sociopolitical commentary is rendered in a breezy tone that undercuts any serious implications. This is a post-McCarthy novel which shows how easy it is to frame an innocent man -- the phrase Sam uses is "schmearkase" (p.30) which carries Waffen SS implications. The description of Lennix's rape-per-view scheme with wealthy clients watching voyeuristically from a plastic bag almost sounds like a precursor to modern interactive cyber-sex, e.g. it is impersonal and involves no actual physical contact. However, due to the blackmail scheme, in the words of Pete Lennix, "the viewers became the actors." (p.100) The organization of the criminal gang is similar to other earlier 1950s crime novels which featured a Communist "cell" organization where no one knew where the orders came from, and thereby could not betray those outside their immediate cell. Social conditions are irrelevant to Sam's lifestyle "lots of dames, lots of loot, vacations in California, Las Vegas, and Havana." However, as a bookie, he has the professional gambler's disdain for gambling addicts whom he considers to be "crazy." Humor is of the incongruous or absurdist variety -- mention is made of Salvador Dali and melting clocks -- and in one scene Sam is supposed to signal the police by singing "The Yellow Rose of Texas," which he forgets. Many noir conventions are ovserved -- e.g. outsider, anti-hero, duplicitous females.


Subject Headings

New York (N.Y.)/ Murder/ Murderers/ Gambling/ Rape/ New Jersey/ Prostitutes/ Prostitution/ Blackmail


Psychological Elements

the novel possesses a nightmare quality. Dakkers, while not clinically paranoid, is involved in an illegal business that rewards functional paranoia with liberty ("I'm the kind of a guy that doesn't trust nobody.", p.92) Dakkers seems to be an adrenalin junkie as one might expect a professional gambler to be; he handles stress with panache. The members of Lennix's gang are pathological degenerates; the "man in the plastic bag" is both pathological and psychotic: "....the mind regressing, the desire to be completely enclosed, to be the unborn embryo - a return to the womb complex. He's a monomaniac. A psychiatrist would know more about it than I." (p.13)