Friday, April 19, 2019

For Money Received

The short fiction of Kansas native Fletcher Flora (1914-1968) was a regular fixture in “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine” in the 1950s and 1960s as well as dozens of Hitchcock-branded anthologies. Wildside Press has compiled many of Flora’s greatest hits in two eBook compilations for the ridiculously low price of a buck-a-pop. “For Money Received” is a 31-page novelette that originally appeared in the October 1964 issue of AHMM. It was also included in the Hitchcock anthologies “Meet Death at Night” (1964) and “Murderer’s Row” (1975) and most recently in “The Second Fletcher Flora Megapack” from Wildside Press.

The story is narrated by cut-rate private investigator Percy Hand whose business is so slow that his receptionist is an electric buzzer. One day he’s visited by new client with an unusual request. Mrs. Coon believes her husband is being blackmailed by his mistress. The fact that her husband is straying doesn’t pose much of a problem, but the wife won’t settle for blackmail and hires Percy to get to the bottom of the matter.

An easy job soon becomes complicated after the secret lovers somehow spot Percy and give him the slip. Percy needs the money and must figure out a way to salvage this engagement and get to the bottom of the blackmail scheme that becomes a murder case. Percy is a great main character because he’s unusually focused on his own professional ethics - a challenge when engaging in the dirty business of tailing a cheating spouse. He’s also a legitimately funny and sarcastic narrator with a great self-deprecating nature, and I found myself laughing aloud several times over the course of this single-sitting mystery.

Flora is a fun author, and I suspect that shorter fiction plays to his strengths. “For Money Received” is a clever bit of short fiction that won’t change your life but serves as a great introduction to this largely-forgotten author’s body of work. It’s an easy recommendation and a breezy way to spend an hour. I also learned that Percy is the main character in other short stories and Flora’s full-length novel called “Leave Her to Hell” from 1958 that’s been reprinted by Stark House. I intend to check that one out soon. 

Buy a copy of this story HERE

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Flight to Darkness

In April, 2018, Stark House Press released a reprinting of Gil Brewer's 1952 novel “Flight to Darkness” and his 1954 book “77 Rue Paradis”. The two works are packaged together with a forward from Dr. Rachels, an English Professor at Newberry College that edited Brewer's short story collection, “Redheads Die Quickly and Other Stores” (2012 University Press of Florida). 

After Gil Brewer's wildly successful 1952 paperback, “13 French Street”, the author could have reserved time and effort for a monumental follow-up novel. Unfortunately, he didn't. Despite cautionary warnings from his literary agent, Brewer wrote “Night Follows Night”, later re-titled to “Flight to Darkness”, in a mere three days. I think the fact that he wrote this novel in such a short amount of time speaks volumes – it's an absolute stinker. 

My only prior experience with Gil Brewer was the ordinary crime novel “The Red Scarf”. Enjoyable enough, “Flight to Darkness” was not. It's a cumbersome narrative revolving around Korean War veteran Eric Garth. The book's opening pages explains that Eric has been hospitalized in a sanitarium due to frequent dreams and visions of killing his brother Frank with a wooden mallet. Bizarre, yes. The source of the dreams and visions is a battlefield incident where Eric thinks he murdered another soldier despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, that the man was killed by enemy gunfire. 

During his hospital stay, Eric falls for the cunning and beautiful Leda Thayer, his nurse. Her attraction to Eric stems from his family's wealth. Eric and his brother Frank, whom Eric hates, are the sole inheritors of the family's thriving loan business. Leda practically tells Eric she's only in it for the money, but often love is just headed for tragedy and this story is no different. 

Upon his release, Eric and Leda head to Alabama to vacation in a lakeside cabin. There, Eric is drug out of bed and arrested for a hit and run. The blood and hair matches Eric's fender. But Eric doesn't remember any of this and proclaims his innocence. He's taken to the local sanitarium where he lives for a number of weeks before escaping. His destination is the family's home in western Florida. There he learns that Leda has married Frank! 

Soon, Frank is found murdered with...a wooden mallet. All signs point to Eric as the killer and he soon goes on the run to prove his innocence...again. Hit and runs, wooden mallets, scrupulous lovers, lots of money – these should be the ingredients for a wild crime fiction novel. Unfortunately, the story is just tossed together and none of it really makes much sense. Granted, I'm not a huge fan of riding with a lunatic. It's why I don't read novels by the likes of Jim Thompson or Richard Laymon. The idea that Eric is probably insane really ruins it for me. I like my novels to involve normal, everyday characters that are thrust into insane situations. Because of that, “Flight to Darkness” was a real chore to read. I'm not terribly excited to open the next Brewer novel. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Black Friday

“Black Friday” is a 1954 short novel - originally published by Lion Books - by Philadelphia noir master David Goodis, an author who has become more appreciated since his 1967 death than he ever was when he was alive. He’s often called the “king of the losers” because his stories have such a grim, downbeat tone and his heroes are often drawn from ranks of skid row bums.

Hart is one such protagonist - slowly freezing to death on the streets of Philadelphia while trying to decide whether to mug a hobo for his overcoat, commit suicide or just keep shivering. His frigid wandering brings him to a man lying on the sidewalk bleeding to death from a gunshot wound. The stranger parishes after giving Hart the his wallet loaded with cash. However, the killers aren’t far behind, and Hart becomes their focus as they pursue him for the wallet and its contents.

This pretty simple setup brings Hart into the hideout of a heist crew that includes a violent ex-boxer and a buxom platinum blonde who immediately shows a sexual interest in Hart. As the story unfolds, we learn more about Hart’s background and it turns out he wasn’t always such a bum. He attended University of Pennsylvania and at one time owned a yacht. He’s on the run for a crime he either did or did not commit (no spoilers here) in New Orleans, so hiding out with this crew is actually pretty good timing. The big question is will Hart join the crew or just use them as a way-station en route to freedom?

Be warned: this is a dark and violent paperback that goes in some unexpected directions with beatings, murder, dismemberment, a sad skinny woman and a horny fat woman. It’s also sexy as hell in a non-graphic 1950s fashion. Goodis writes the novel is a dispassionate third-person, so the reader is really a fly on the wall watching the tense mayhem unfold and making guesses about characters’ secrets. There’s not a ton of action in the novel’s second act, but the interpersonal dynamics in the hideout never failed to hold my interest.

All this leads up to a compelling conclusion, and Goodis’ writing is particularly solid. “Black Friday” has been reprinted several times since its release 65 years ago. The 2006 edition may be of particular interest to Paperback Warrior readers as it contains several bonus stories Goodis wrote for the pulp and digest magazines. However you do it, don’t skip “Black Friday.” It’s something special.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Vengeance Rider

Lewis B. Patten (1915-1981), began his writing career in the 1940s. His first novel, “Massacre at White River”, was published in 1952. It was the first of more than 90 western novels, three of which won Golden Spur Awards. “Vengeance Rider”, the subject of this review, was originally published by Berkley Medallion in 1962. Since then the novel has been reprinted multiple times with different covers. 

Despite the lack of witnesses or evidence, rancher Ross Logan was convicted of killing his wife Ruth. Logan was sentenced to 15 hard years in prison. In Patten's opening pages, Logan is released from confinement after serving his full sentence. From high atop Cheyenne Ridge, Logan looks down at his condemner, the small town of Vail and what was originally his sprawling Horseshoe Ranch. He is determined to locate Ruth's killer and seek redemption from his former friends and peers. But as we quickly learn, the town has no interest in Logan's proclamation of innocence. They have simply moved on.

Out of money, food and supplies, Logan goes to work for the new operator of Horseshoe Ranch, a brutal man named Caine. Smitten with Caine's much younger wife, Lily, Logan begins earning just enough money and food to bide some free time to investigate Ruth's murder. Patten's panel of suspects seems promising: town founder Tobias Vail, judge Millburn and Logan's longtime friend Phil – all who have vested interests in Horseshoe Ranch.

The most likely suspect is Millburn, who was Logan's attorney 15-years ago. After Logan's conviction, Millburn sold the neglected Horseshoe Ranch cheaply to Caine to raise enough money for Logan's legal fees. But, after investigating the books, Logan learns that Millburn had Caine quickly sell the ranch back to him. Could Millburn have set the whole thing up to acquire the ranch for pennies on the dollar?

Determined to prove Millburn is the culprit, Logan begins to connect the dots while secretly meeting with Lily. Soon, Logan finds that's he's under arrest for yet another murder – Caine's! On the run from a posse and the law, Logan now must find who has killed Ruth and Caine or face the gallows. 

I can never provide enough praise for Lewis B. Patten. I've now read a handful of his western novels and all of them have been top notch. While never overly violent, Patten is a bit more subdued with “Vengeance Rider”. Here, the author uses a popular crime fiction element – the convicted defending their innocence – and places it in the harsh American West. Brimming with fights, romance and the thrill of the chase, Patten's “Vengeance Rider” works exceptionally well as both a western and a crime novel. Read it, you'll love it!

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Butcher of Calais

Although he has written a handful of contemporary action novels, Jack Badelaire is best known for his World War 2 adventure fiction. His books generally fall into established series titles - most notably ‘Commando’ and ‘The Revenants,’ but in 2019, he treated readers to a stand-alone novella marketed under the ‘Commando’ brand that will appeal to fans of 1970s vigilante paperbacks like Don Pendleton’s ‘The Executioner’ series.

The story takes place in Calais, France in 1940 as the German forces are bombing and invading. A French math teacher named Andre Bouchard is hiding out with His wife. Yvette, and their young daughter in their modest apartment steering clear of German artillery shells and street-level fighting. It takes no time at all for the town to fall to the Nazis while Andre and his family hide safely away.

A few weeks later, thinks are returning to normal under Nazi occupation. Andre returns to teaching math, and Yvette resumes operation of her bakery when Andre’s school day is interrupted with some terrible news. His wife and daughter have been murdered at their bakery by unidentified German soldiers seen leaving the bakery in a rush. Andre also learns that this wasn’t just a wartime looting gone bad. Yvette was killed in a brutal manner filled with degradation and suffering while his daughter’s head was caved in by the butt of a German Army rifle.

The author does a great job conveying the grief and loss Andre feels accompanying the murders of his family members. It doesn’t take long until grief turns to rage as Andre becomes determined to find the men responsible for the deaths of his loved ones and send them straight to hell along with as many German invaders as possible. What we really have here is “Death Wish in Occupied France,” and the result is a satisfying vendetta tale filled with violent comeuppance. As the Germans take measures to prevent further slaughters of their troops, some thorny moral dilemmas arise for Andre. Could this vigilante action serve as a spark for open rebellion among the French living under the thumbs of Nazi overlords? Or is Andre’s crusade costing more innocent lives?

It’s been ages since I’ve read a book this exciting. At 97 lean pages, it’s a fat-free treat for fans of classic men’s adventure fiction. Even if you’re not a history buff or have any particular interest in WW2, there’s a lot to enjoy in this expertly-crafted “hunt the bad guys” novella. I’m told that the main character makes appearances in other books in Badelaire’s ‘Commando’ universe with “The Butcher of Calais” serving as a stand-alone prequel of sorts - justifying the abrupt ending.

If you don’t want to get bogged down in a large WW2 series with overlapping plotlines, this novella provides a self-sufficient story that can be read and enjoyed with no preconditions. Consider this fantastic short work of war fiction essential reading with a highest recommendation.

Buy a copy of this Ebook HERE

Friday, April 12, 2019

Spur #28 - Kansas City Chorine

'Spur' was a long-running adult western series that ran for 40+ books. The main character is Spur McCoy, a former Union Captain and now an early agent of the U.S. Secret Service. He works out of the St. Louis office and accepts assignments for any crimes west of the Mississippi River. The series can be read in any order and author Dirk Fletcher was veteran writer Chet Cunningham ('Canyon O'Grady', 'Avenger', 'Jim Steel'). Entry #28 is “Kansas City Chorine”, published December, 1993.

The book finds a wrongdoer named Jack T. Galde pulling bank jobs across the Kansas prarie. His methods are fairly elementary – establishing an identity in the small town, then robbing the bank before blowing it up. His destination is simply the next town so he can pull the heist all over again. After Galde's five robberies and a handful of murders, Spur is assigned the case.

The neanderthal porn is overwhelmingly prevalent. The development of characters is about as deep as a golfer's divot. The methodology used to find young women to seduce is simply “if there's hair I'm there”. Galde is suffering from a mother figure syndrome, provoking him to rape and pillage anything with breasts (including grinding on a horse's ass). Our hero isn't much better, fondling a young woman on the trail that...just needs fondling. These things never happen to me.

The narrative places Spur in the same town as Galde's next heist. The lady of the night is the Kansas City Chorine herself, Patrice, whom Spur beds in four explicit scenes. Besides that action, Spur just sort of meanders around town long enough to locate the hotel room Galde is residing in. Oddly, instead of just arresting him there, he sleuths around town hoping to find the man. He wastes too much time and finds that Galde, using a preacher's identity, has robbed the bank, a widow and stolen Patrice. The hunt is on as an incompetent Spur battles a tornado to find his woman.

I've read two Spur novels, this one and “#15 Hang Spur McCoy!”. I might speculate that as the series continued the quality diminished. This book was just lethargic and lousy for all of the reasons I listed above. I might try another Spur title later on but this one has put the series on the back burner of my neighbor's stove. I'm done for now.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Savage Love (aka Native Girl)

During the 1950s, Harry Whittington was so prolific that he employed a cadre of pseudonyms to keep his sales flowing to a variety of paperback publishing houses. His 1952 novel “Savage Love” was published under the pen name Whit Harrison and was later reprinted in 1956 under Whittington’s own name as “Native Girl.” It remains available today as a cheap ebook (free with Kindle Unlimited) under the original title and the pseudonym.

“Savage Love” takes place on the pre-statehood Hawaiian Island of Maui where Coles has just relocated at the urging of his friend Victor who is married to a “native girl” named Lani. From the first page, the reader can smell trouble ahead for these three when Coles, our narrator, describes Lani as a “goddess molded out of fiery golden flesh.” When he accidentally walks in on Lani undressed in front of a full-length mirror, the poor bastard becomes smitten and obsessed with his best buddy’s wife.

Victor owns a pineapple and sugar cane plantation and hires Cole as an overseer of the business operations. When Victor is attacked by a hostile employee, he is waylaid and consigned to rest and recovery under the care of the plantation’s domestic help. However, you’d hardly know the difference between Victor at work and Victor at rest as he is an advocate of the laid back island lifestyle. This enables Cole and Lani to spend some quality time together as Cole learns the ins-and-outs of the business.

As the narrative progresses, we learn more about Cole’s background and the real reason he was willing to leave his girlfriend and accounting career behind on the U.S mainland to start a new life on Maui. The temptation Cole feels for Lani is a white-hot lust coupled with the appropriate guilt and reservations that eventually lead to an explosion of violence and murder. Nobody writes a femme fatale story like Harry Whittington except for maybe James M. Cain. And “Savage Love” probably owes more than a little to Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice” from 1934.

“Savage Love” is seldom cited as among Whittington’s best work, and that’s a shame. This book is a familiar fatal attraction story transplanted into an exotic setting with a Hawaiian temptress, but it’s also a satisfying piece of noir melodrama from a master of the genre. I’d put it up there with Cain’s “Postman” and Gil Brewer’s “The Vengeful Virgin” as among the best of this type. The fact that it remains available as an eBook costing you next to nothing should push smart readers over the edge to pick up this underrated classic. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE