Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Fey Croaker: A Paperback Warrior Primer

Author Paul Bishop is a 35-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. Receiving “Detective of the Year” accolades twice, Bishop starred as the lead interrogator on the ABC reality show “Take the Money and Run” developed by marquee name producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Along with his 15 published works, Bishop also is the writer and editor of the essential reference work “52 Weeks 52 Western Novels – A Guide to Six-Gun Favorites and New Discoveries”.

With his commendable career in law enforcement, Bishop writes with conviction and authenticity. His experiences are easily conveyed in his artistry, evident in his five-book literary series starring LAPD Detective Fey Croaker. The first novel, “Kill Me Again”, was published by Avon Books in 1994. It introduces us to the seasoned Fey, a West LA detective and supervisor of the homicide unit. It was the top detective spot in the division and she's the first woman to hold the job.

Bishop explains, “I based Fey in part on two of my long term, very experienced, female detective partners. Walk into any LAPD detective squadroom and you'll find one or more versions of Fey. She's got some hard earned miles on her. She street savvy. She knows how to fight dirty, not just politically, but physically, and is more than willing to kick your ass if you take her on. She's forty with a string of bad marriages, bad choices, and bad boooze behind her. She expects and demands a lot of her people, but in return she is loyal to a fault and will fight like a tiger for them. Basically, she's about as far from a twenty-something, hard-bodied, high heel wearing, female TV detective as you can get”.

Just shy of 300-pages, “Kill Me Again” is a riveting mystery procedural that has plenty to unpack in terms of the central character. While Bishop expands the murder case, he slowly allows readers a more intimate view of this rather complex character. From her early career rise, tumultuous love-life and murky childhood, there's a lot to offer beyond a stand-alone story.

Bishop, detailing the character's beginnings, explains, “By the time I was ready to write Kill Me Again, I already had a handful of novels published. Two were connected, but the others were all stand-alones. Career wise, I felt I needed a series character strong enough to carry at least four books. In creating Fey Croaker, the protagonist of Kill Me Again, I plotted out a four book personal story arc for her. I knew exactly what position I wanted her to be in personally at the end of each of the first three books, forcing her to deal with everything that had come before in book four. Each of the four books would have a standalone plot, but there would be a through story dealing with Fey's abusive upbringing, which would come full circle and to resolution in book four”.

Beginning with “Kill Me Again”, Fey's relationship with her father is shown as a key role in her development as a detective, rising through the promotions after 16-years in the unit. As a sexually molested child, the novel provides brief passages explaining Fey's protection of her brother and her abuse from both her father and family friend. It's a prickly family tree, cultivated by sorrow and regret, and written with a grainy sense of realism.

“At the time, I was also working full throttle in my career with the LAPD. As a detective, I spent almost all my career, 30 out of 35 years, investigating sex crimes from indecent exposure to child molest to rape to sexual homicide and everything in between. I was always aware of how victims processed the assault emotionally. There were those whom it destroyed, and others who were never able to break the cycle of victimhood. But I was fascinated by those who flat refused to be defined by something beyond their control. They were determined not to just be survivors of sexual assault, but victors over it. They struggled and they fought and they failed and they picked themselves up again. I admired these incredible individuals, and this was what I wanted to exemplify through Fey Croaker”, explains Bishop.

“Fey is a high functioning detective, but a low functioning human. She is aware of this and ferociously fights those emotional forces that have threatened to cripple her since she was a child...As the omnipotent author, I was going to give her a chance at redemption if she could lead me there over four books.”

“Kill Me Again” received a sequel in “Twice Dead”, published in 1996 by Avon. Following the mystery-procedural formula, the novel centers around an NBA athlete charged with murder. Later, the book was later re-titled as “Grave Sins”. In 1997 the third novel, “Tequila Mockingbird” was published by Scribner in hardback and by Pocket Books in paperback. The same publishers produced the series' fourth entry, “Chalk Whispers,” in 2000. A 68-page novella was released in 2014 entitled “Pattern of Behavior", which was also included in Bishop's short story compilation of the same name. All of the books have been republished in digital formats, including Kindle, by Wolfpack Publishing.

Bishop concludes, “The greatest compliment I've received as an author is when either female law enforcement personnel or individuals who have been through the ringer of sexual assault approach me at a writing function, sometimes with tears in their eyes, and ask, 'How do you know this?' 'How do you know what it's like to be a woman on this job?' Or in the case of one woman, 'How do you understand what it feels like to be a child of the silence?' My answer is always the same, "Fey told me..."

Fey Croaker Purchase Checklist

1. "Kill Me Again" (1994 Avon)
2. "Twice Dead" (aka "Grave Sins" 1996 Avon) 
3. "Tequila Mockingbird" (1997 Scribner/Pocket Books)
4. "Chalk Whispers" (2000 Scribner/Pocket Books)
5. "Pattern of Behavior" (2014 Wolfpack)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Boomerang Blade

Before he wrote full novels in every conceivable genre, Norman Daniels was a prolific author of short stories for the pulp magazines. The March 1936 issue of “Secret Agent X Detective Mysteries” features a story by Daniels titled “Boomerang Blade” that was once available as a stand-alone eBook and currently exists within a Radio Archives audio reprint of the entire magazine.

“Boomerang Blade” is not a ‘Secret Agent X’ story but rather a hardboiled tale starring ex-boxer turned ex-cop turned taxicab driver, Jason McGee. After fixing a flat tire one night, McGee accepts a job driving home a drunk from a nightclub with a generous fare covered by a local underworld boss. After arriving at the requested destination, McGee learns that the drunk is actually a corpse with a chest wound. Before he can figure out what happened, McGee is forced to convince his former police colleagues that he’s not a murderer. When that fails, McGee gives the cops the slip and takes it upon himself to solve the murder and clear his name.

The 1930s tough-guy vernacular is a lot of fun to read 83 years later - like opening a suspenseful time capsule. The “murder suspect clearing his own name” plot is a trope that’s been done a thousand times, but for all I know, it was fresh and innovative in 1936. In any case, Daniels keeps the story moving and McGee is a great companion on the wild ride this short story provides. If you’re looking for a 15-page pulp diversion, “Boomerang Blade” is certainly worth your time. Recommended.

Buy a copy of Secret Agent X #24 March 1936 HERE

Friday, May 17, 2019

I See Red

Sterling Noel (1903-1984) was an American author and journalist whose 1950s body of work includes two respected science-fiction novels, “I Killed Stalin” (1951) and “We Who Survived” (1959). His mystery and crime fiction entries included “Empire of Evil” (1961), “Prelude to Murder” (1959), “Intrigue in Paris” (1955, aka “Storm Over Paris”) and “Run for your Life” (1958). His literary work has been largely preserved thanks to modern reprints from both Armchair Fiction and Wildside Press. My first exposure to Noel's writing is the 1955 novel, “I See Red,” which was originally published as an Ace Double along with Dale Clark's “Mambo to Murder.”

Pete LaSalle is a former American spy who has retired to Fort Myers, Florida to try his hand in the shrimping business. In the book's opening pages, he receives a strange guest who claims to know about LaSalle's secretive past. The visitor wants LaSalle to assist a U.S. counter-espionage agency in locating a missing atomic scientist. LaSalle, comfortable in his retirement, immediately declines but eventually gets lured back into the intrigue for intensely personal reasons.

The author draws upon a reliable genre trope when LaSalle is falsely-accused of a murder relating to the assignment, considerably increasing the stakes for the mission’s success. The action heats up as LaSalle eventually partners with his beautiful ex-wife as the setting shifts to New York City and eventually Mexico in search of the missing scientist. The bulk of the book is extremely violent and hard-boiled as hell. Upon arriving in New York, LaSalle employs some brutish techniques - not for the squeamish - to get people talking. This leads to an exciting finale with twenty pages of pure action that produces an astounding body count...for 1955.

“I See Red” is an awesome work of mid-century action-adventure fiction. Interestingly, Ed Lacy's 1959 novel “Blonde Bait” shares a very similar opening premise. I also found that Dan J. Marlowe's 1969 book, “Operation Fireball,” emulates a lot of the book's second-half story-line wherein the hero recruits hardmen to boat down the east coast and liberate the prize from a Latin American compound. These plot devices later emulated by respected authors left me respecting Sterling Noel's innovative and influential work immensely, and any reader looking for an exciting paperback will find that “I See Red” definitely delivers the goods.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Soldier of Fortune #06 - Ambush at Derati Wells

The cover of “Ambush at Derati Wells” from 1977 credits Peter McCurtin as the author, but the novel was actually written by veteran action-adventure scribe Ralph Hayes. McCurtin was undoubtedly the editor for the entire “Soldier of Fortune” series although he only wrote the first three installments. Interestingly, in the British editions, the series was called “Jim Rainey: Death Dealer.”

The series is narrated by Jim Rainey who is an armed mercenary selling his combat services to the highest bidder in Earth’s most dangerous places. In this sixth episode, Rainey is in Kenya where he receives a tip from a dying man about an air shipment of valuable guns that recently crashed near Derati Wells, a remote location in Northern Kenya near the borders of Sudan and Ethiopia where “nobody seemed to die of old age.” Rainey figures that the weapons were being flown to an Ethiopian rebel group, and there’s money to be made in reaching the crash site first.

Hayes presents the wilds of Africa as being filled with deadly, thieving black people itching to rob and maim Rainey without provocation. On the other hand, Hayes certainly knows his way around violent fight scenes. In the first chapter, Rainey wastes a foul-smelling native attacker by plunging a screwdriver into the African’s ear during a frantic life-or-death fight. I enjoyed the hell out of the action sequences, but they’re not for the faint of heart, nor could a book like this with villainous caricatures of African bushmen ever be written and published today’s more genteel and sensitive times.

After a false start, Rainey returns to Nairobi where he learns of a rebel group seeking to overthrow the dastardly junta controlling Ethiopia. The rebels could sure use all those guns in the wrecked airplane, and they would be suitable buyers if Rainey can just get his hands on the cargo. However, the junta has also sent representatives to get the guns before the rebels do (hence, the ambush in the title). Also in their way is an African tribe who likes to take the testicles of intruders as trophies. Can Rainey lead his crew - including a sexy, hot-to-trot blonde - through the jungle to the crashed plane while keeping his nuts firmly attached?

If men’s action-adventure fiction of the 1970s is your jam, you’re going to love this book. It has everything you like - sex, violence, action, and politically-incorrect villains just itching to be killed. If you’re looking for realistic depictions of foreign cultures and War College combat tactics, this one’s not for you. Predictably, Ralph Hayes delivers the goods for readers interested in a paperback diversion to a simpler, and more violent, literary era. Recommended.

Buy this book HERE

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Butcher #01 - Kill Quick or Die

The 35-book series 'The Butcher' was conceived by the Don King of the paperbacks – Lyle Kenyon Engel. Like many of these 70s and 80s action-adventure yarns, a series of literary works about a hot-headed, globe-trotting gruff crime fighter was really par for the course. Based on the overwhelming success of Pinnacle's own 'The Executioner', Engel formed 'The Butcher' in 1970 as a Pinnacle property possessing a rotating author schedule under house name Stuart Jason. Aside from Lee Floren's contributions to books 10 and 11, James Dockery wrote the first 26 novels. Michael Avallone authored the last nine.

“Kill Quick or Die” is the series debut and provides the obligatory origin. Bucher has enforced Syndicates for a number of years, but has a change of heart and leaves the rackets. Joining a mysterious crime-fighting organization called White Hats, Bucher receives assignments to battle international crime rings. In doing so, he must contend with the Syndicate and the lucrative contracts they offer for his demise. 

Our introductory mission is tracking down a Chinese scientist named Dr. Fong who's invented some type of micro-transformer that holds a lot of energy. If the bad guys can gain access to it's power, they control Earth...somehow. None of it really makes any sense, but the reader tags along as Bucher fights the baddies in places like Atlanta, Cairo and Israel. 

Meeting a former lover named Tzsenya, the two team-up on a Middle Eastern conspiracy to pipeline wealthy terrorists into the US. Bucher aims to stop the pipeline, but wants to learn how the pipeline works. Putting Dr. Fong and the micro-transformer horseshit aside, Bucher finds a torture fiend named Lobertini who melts his prisoners in the bowels of an old castle. Thus Fong, Lobertini, escaping the hitmen and avoiding Tzsenya's lovemaking invites (Bucher doesn't mix pleasure and business) is the entire premise of the novel. 

Normally, this sort of thing we could file under 'Killmaster' and for the most part just have a lot of silly fun. Unfortunately, Dockery is underwhelming as a storyteller. His abstract writing style (read that as flaky) has more in common with Joseph Rosenberger, another author that I steer clear of. With “Kill Quick or Die”, and subsequent entires, Dockery uses pulp language to describe 70s action. Our hero routinely says things like “Shuck your heater” or jabs with “Son of camel filth” insults. Dockery describes shots like comic books – Koosh! 

Overall, the plotting is so convoluted that I stopped caring by page 100. It's a literary minefield of bad writing. “Kill Quick or Die” is simply bad fiction. Here's the pot calling the kettle black – why would anyone spend time reading bad fiction when there's hundreds of golden gems of the 50s, 60s and 70s left to explore? I weep for the time I've wasted on so-called genre classics like 'The Butcher'.  

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

She'll Hate Me Tomorrow

Richard Deming (1915-1983) was a crime fiction author born in Iowa who, as an adult in upstate New York, was one of the core contributors to “Manhunt” magazine and the early years of “Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.” In addition to over 300 published short stories and novelettes, he also wrote several full-length novels. His work is largely kept alive today through digital reprints of his short stories by Wildside Press and his novels by Prologue Books. “She’ll Hate Me Tomorrow” was a mid-career crime novel for Deming published by Monarch Books in 1963 that remains available today as an eBook.

Stella Parsons is a 23 year-old looker fresh out of secretarial school who lands a job with an attorney representing a Chicago crime boss. One day the mobster decides that the attorney, among others, knows too much about a recent murder and has the lawyer killed. It quickly becomes clear that Stella is also in danger for the unpardonable sin of having taken dictation from her boss detailing the client’s misdeeds.

With mob assassins on her tail, Stella takes off to the fictional Midwest city of St. Stephen where she lands a job as a coat check girl at an after-hours gambling joint. The proprietor is a gambler named Clancy Ross who’s been able to operate his joint free of influence from the local syndicate - thanks to an uneasy peace treaty with the local boss. When the Chicago mob sends a hit man to St. Stephen in search of Stella, Clancy needs to decide whether to protect his coat check girl or to serve her up.

Clancy the gambler is a fantastic, white knight hero for both Stella and the reader. He’s funny, self-deprecating, competent, and capable of extreme violence. I wanted to spend more time with him than the 143-page paperback allowed. Watching him solve problems with a direct and confrontational approach was a real pleasure, and I wish Deming could have figured out a way to bring him back for more adventures.

By the time the 1960s rolled around, Deming’s writing had improved markedly. He also seemed to have more latitude to be graphic in his sex scenes, which I appreciated. “She’ll Hate Me Tomorrow” is a lousy title, and I’m not really sure what it means in the context of the story. Regardless, this is a top-tier crime fiction paperback that’s absolutely worth reading. It’s also among Deming’s finest work. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 13, 2019

Traveler #05 - Road War

John Shirley is a dynamic author who is mostly known for his science-fiction, fantasy and media tie-in novels. His 1999 horror collection, “Black Butterflies”, won coveted Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild awards. As John Cutter, Shirley wrote the 11-volume vigilante series 'The Specialist' and eight volumes of the post-apocalyptic series 'Traveler'. Book five, “Road War”, was released in 1985 by Dell and could be the best that the 'Traveler' series' has to offer.

At the end of the fourth book, “To Kill a Shadow”, the series mythos of Traveler fighting Vallone/Black Rider reached its conclusion (for now). The novel's climax had Traveler meet another road warrior named Link and the two formed an uneasy alliance. The opening pages of “Road War” features the two survivors racing across the Nevada desert in the Meat Wagon (a fortified van). When they hit the dusty town of Dirt, the premise of this installment is unveiled.

In a wild and wooly bar aptly called The Fallout Shelter, an old deranged miner hops up on the bar and starts throwing out maps. The reason? He's growing senile, hates all of the bikers and gangs and wants to see all of them kill each other. The maps spark a treasure hunt for the old man's loot. With that much gold, Traveler and Link know they can buy a lot of supplies for their roaming. 

In what would be a visual feast on the big screen, Traveler and Link race across the desert fighting warring factions of Road Wasps (female biker psychos), Road Rats (male biker psychos), Glory Boys (fake military) and mutant cannibals. Our Travelers use the Meat Wagon (with The Stooges on full blast) as a battering ram, consistently running and gunning through waves of hostile forces on a quest to arrive at “X Marks the Spot”. From fighting off man eating villagers to a showdown in an old mining town, the book's locations are just as big as the characters. 

While a thrill-ride, easily pleasing fans of post-apocalyptic novels, “Road War” is reminiscent of the similar series 'The Last Ranger'. The first four Traveler novels lacked the characters, action and romance of 'The Last Ranger', but by book five it seems like Shirley has righted the ship. Gone is the metaphysical aspects that drowned the last book, replaced by high-powered barbarian road carnage that one would expect from the book's title. This is one of the better books of the post-apocalyptic genre. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE