Thursday, October 17, 2019

Nick Carter: Killmaster #211 - Mercenary Mountain

Dennis Lynds (1924-2005) authored nearly 80 novels in his career, achieving an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Primarily a mystery fiction writer, Lynds found his most successful character to be 'Dan Fortune', a private detective series that produced 19 installments from 1967 until 1995. As William Arden, Lynds created the 'Kane Jackson' series and as Mark Sadler, the 'Paul Shaw' novels. Surprisingly, my first taste of Lynds talents isn't an acclaimed detective series.

Lynds wrote nine volumes of the 'Nick Carter: Killmaster' series, beginning in 1974 with #91: “The N3 Conspiracy” and concluding with #222: “Blood of the Falcon” in 1987. In 1984, his spouse Gale Lynds, a successful author in her own right, made it a family affair by penning four novels in the series beginning with #190: “Day of the Mahdi”. The subject of this review is Dennis Lynds' 1986 series entry #211: “Mercenary Mountain”.

The novel's opening chapters feature a ragged villager falling into the dusty Ethiopian dirt. After a small dispatch of Ethiopian soldiers pass, the villager stands and rapidly ascends a dense hillside. Assembling a sniper rifle, the villager spots his target - a civilian wearing a U.N. emblem. The soldiers then drag a weak and clearly tortured victim into the clearing and the civilian fatally shoots him. The villager then shoots and kills the U.N. disguised civilian before soldiers begin their pursuit. Eliminating enemies as they approach the hillside, the fearful General calls off the search and the squad departs. The villager, who we now realize is Nick Carter, removes a small cylinder from the civilian's arm and then realizes the tortured man was a CIA operative. In the dirt, the operative had scrawled a clue: “MAMBA”.

Carter telephones AXE's David Hawk to report his findings, including the message and the murder of the CIA man. Hawk asks Carter to investigate, and this leads to a whirlwind of action as Carter teams with a mysterious band of aged fighters, a leftover WW2 French brigade that's part gangster, part thief and part hero. The narrative's focal point is Carter's investigation of multiple thefts of American aid. Who's stealing the supplies destined for the Ethiopian people? Who are the thieves selling the aid to? The clues all point to a grand army of mercenaries operating in Africa under the name The Black Mamba Brigade.

I'm not one to flock to the Killmaster series, but there's no denying Dennis Lynds is a tremendous talent. He goes to great lengths to really push this novel into a sweeping, epic adventure. Carter's weary alliance with the resistance group kept me fully engaged, including his love interest with fighting beauty Chantal. With a nearly nonstop action approach, Lynds propels the team throughout Africa while fighting jailers, mercenaries, Ethiopian soldiers and the criminal network. While the climactic finish retained some pulp flavor, it wasn't completely over the top theatrics.

If you are new to the series, or just simply a casual fan like myself, seek out the Dennis Lynds series novels. You won't be disappointed.

Dennis Lynds:

91: The N3 Conspiracy (1974)
103: The Green Wolf Connection (1976)
113: Triple Cross (1976)
206: The Execution Exchange (1985)
211: Mercenary Mountain (1986)
213: The Cyclops Conspiracy (1986)
215: The Samurai Kill (1986)
219: The Master Assassin (1986)
222: Blood of the Falcon (1987)

Gale Lynds:

190: Day of the Mahdi
194: The Mayan Connection
199: Pursuit of the Eagle
203: White Death 

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Raker #01 - Raker

Have you ever started a men’s adventure paperback just knowing it’s going to suck? The ‘Raker’ series was a failed, two-books outing from Pinnacle published in 1982 under the pseudonym of Don Scott. The actual author was Lee Hays, whose prior claim to fame was writing TV tie-in novels for ‘Columbo’ and ‘The Partridge Family,’ so he must have thought that landing an original Pinnacle series was his ticket to the big time.

The cover art for the paperback did nothing to instill confidence as it depicts a very Aryan looking Raker exchanging gunfire with black people under the tag-line, “The American Hero Who Believes in America First.” Presumably, the lady with the bullet headed for her Afro is from Canada or Sweden. The plot synopsis on the back did little to assuage the sickening feeling as I opened the big-font, humongous margins, 185-page novel.

Raker works for a shadowy organization called The Company - sometimes called The Department - in New York City. It’s not clear if this is a governmental entity or a private outfit. He receives his assignments and a briefcase full of cash with an unnecessary level of spy tradecraft. The current assignment is to investigate the ambush murders of several police officers across the nation over the past five months. All of the murders have occurred in black neighborhoods, so at least we are starting with a promising lead. Raker’s job is to investigate the killings and neutralize the almost certainly black threat.

The author may or may not have been personally a bigot, but he sure wrote a book for that audience. In Raker’s universe, the “coloreds” live like animals. A wrong number to Raker’s phone sounds like a “fruit,” and Raker imagines the caller wearing a tight t-shirt, a bracelet, and an earring. On his commute to work, Raker notices a “Jap with a camera.” Chinese-Americans are “chinks” and probably reds. Raker is basically Archie Bunker meets Charles Bronson. Could this have been intended as parody? Somehow I doubt it. Parody books have some element of fun, and “Raker” is just a loathsome drag.

Raker does have a college-educated - Harvard, in fact - black man who serves as his partner or informant - the business relationship isn’t clear. His name is Lawson, and it’s explained to the reader that he’s a real Oreo - black on the outside but white on the inside. Lawson is the perfect partner for Raker because he can “talk black, speak jive” but otherwise he’s without black “speech, gait, or behavior.” Lawson’s theory is that the police assassinations are the work of the Black Liberation Army (BLA), and Raker tells him to hit the streets and uncover the truth. A better author would have made the BLA thing a red herring and developed a clever twist at the end, but that would have involved way too much effort for the untalented Mr. Hays.

Raker is a badass, and the reader is reminded of this fact several times in the first few chapters. If I were writing the book, I might have shown the reader how tough and cool Raker is by having him do some tough and cool stuff, but that’s not how this author rolls. In order to anticipate the time and location of the next cop killing, Raker does some guesswork coupled with social engineering in which he places some calls to police stations pretending to be a black man while talking like Amos-n-Andy.

The novel is essentially a parade of liberal and minority strawmen for Raker to hate and occasionally kill. A flashback to his college years depicts anti-war protestors as flag burning domestic terrorists looking to “off some pigs” and smoke reefer. All this is done without the gentle nuance and subtlety that William W. Johnstone’s ghost writers bring to the right-wish fulfillment school of men’s adventure fiction.

Here’s the thing: even if “Raker” wasn’t filled with tone-deaf racial tropes, the paperback would still suck. The action sequences were lame and tired, and the pacing of the novel was an abomination. Raker spends the majority of the paperback driving around, meeting with potential sources with pages upon pages of talk, talk, talk to fill out this paltry, crappy book. Every now and then, he gets to break a mugger’s arm, but those scenes felt like they were added in later drafts to appease Pinnacle editors dumb enough to pay Mr. Hays for an action novel.

“Raker” was easily the worst book I’ve ever read to completion. We read a lot of cheesy, bad books at Paperback Warrior, but I can’t recall one as joyless as this piece of literary excrement. There was a sequel published - also in 1982 - called “Raker #2: Tijuana Traffic.” However, I’d rather jog home from my own vasectomy than read a single word of it. You’re on your own.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Spenser #02 - God Save the Child

The debut 'Spenser' novel, "The Godwulf Manuscript", was released in 1973. The series launched a successful career for author and creator Robert B. Parker. With a spotlight on private eye Spenser, the author used traditional genre tropes but shifted the setting from Southern California to the Boston metropolis. Parker followed up the debut in 1974 with the series second installment, "God Save the Child".

Like “The Godwulf Manuscript”, its successor follows the gumshoe formula of Spenser accepting and investigating a theft. Instead of a valuable manuscript, the prize is a wealthy couple's son. 15 year-old Kevin Bartlett is missing and his parents hire Spenser to locate the boy. With a $500 retainer and a $100 daily fee, Spenser accepts the case and immediately hits a brick wall. The Bartlets seemingly know very little about Kevin and have sacrificed parenting to chase other goals. Kevin's mother is an alcoholic who chases men by hosting lavish parties. Her husband is a workaholic and generally dismisses the dysfunctional family to pursue more wealth.

Spenser strikes up a relationship with Kevin's guidance counselor, Susan Silverman, a love interest that will stay consistent as the series continues. Susan feels Kevin has gender identification issues and has an unsupported upbringing. As Spenser chases clues, a ransom note appears asking for $50,000 to return the boy safely. Once the family provides the funds, strange, macabre packages arrive hinting that Kevin may have been murdered. It is this turning point that propels the narrative into a more complex criminal investigation. Spenser aids the police and family while aligning with another series mainstay, Lieutenant Healey.

What I enjoy about Spenser, and Parker's writing style, is triumphant in this second installment: the over-indulgent, yet entertaining blend of sarcasm and humor that defines the character. With the familiar genre necessities – mystery, intrigue, love and sure-fire luck – Parker succeeds once again with an addictive, enjoyable thrill-ride for mystery readers.

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Monday, October 14, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 15

Welcome to our western-themed episode of Paperback Warrior. Eric visits through Half-Price Books' flagship store in Dallas as well as a diverse local shop called Lucky Dog. Tom presents a feature on the Adult Western genre as well as a review for "Epitaph for a Tramp.” Eric covers the first installment of "The Trailsman" and hangs out with Paperback Warrior's number one fan. (Music by Bensound) Stream below or anywhere where quality podcasts are offered. Download directly at: LINK Listen to "Episode 15: Adult Westerns" on Spreaker.

Malko #02 - Operation New York

The Malko spy series (known in France as the S.A.S. series) lasted for exactly 200 installments published between the years 1965 and 2013. The paperbacks were written in French by Gerard de Villiers and have been translated into several languages with 120 million copies in print. A dozen of the early installments were translated and published by Pinnacle in the 1970s with a new numbering scheme. Pinnacle’s Malko #2 from 1973 was “Operation New York,” originally released in 1968 as S.A.S. #11.

Malko Linge is a Harvard-educated Austrian prince who accepts espionage assignments from the American CIA to generate income for the renovation and restoration of his family’s royal castle in Austria. The opening scene in “Operation New York” is too awesome to spoil here. In general, Malko is accused of being a former Nazi war criminal and death camp administrator during WW2. The accusers have compelling proof that Malko is actually the Nazi fugitive Rudi Guern, and none of Malko’s words will change their mind.

In order to get to the bottom of the matter, Malko flies to Europe to gather information about the real Nazi which only seems to muddy the waters and amplify the suspicion that Malko and Guern are the same man. Despite the title, the overwhelming majority of the paperback takes place in Europe, not New York, as Malko investigates the life and possible whereabouts of Guern. While seeking witnesses or other substantive proof that he and the the Nazi are not one in the same man, he attracts the attention of actual Nazis and actual Nazi hunters.

One of the fun literary tricks de Villiers employs in his Malko books is the use of real people as fictionalized characters in the novels. One Pinnacle paperback has Henry Kissinger playing a sizable role and one of the later installments available as a reprint from Mysterious Press features Vladimir Putin as a significant character. In “Operation New York”, Malko interacts with holocaust survivor and real-life Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal in a particularly cool scene.

The action and violence in “Operation New York” is outstanding. The story never has time to get dull, and the author dreams up some very cool spy stuff that I’ve never read before. Even the basic plot of hunting a fugitive Nazi to prove you’re not the guy is a pretty darn innovative plot in a genre filled with retreads. This second adventure is another straight-up winner, and I’m going to be really bummed when I run out of English-language editions of this fantastic series. Malko is the real deal.

Fun Fact:

The Malko books remain in print in Italy under the series name “Segretissimo.” I just really like the sound of that.

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Friday, October 11, 2019

Brand of the Bullet

Orlando Rigoni (1897-1987), born in Utah, was a prolific author who contributed over 1,000 short stories to magazines and newspapers. Working in railroading, construction, mining and the Forest Service within California's Central Coast, Rigoni used his life experiences to fuel his writing. Under his own name, as well as pseudonyms including Leslie Ames, Carolyn Bell and James Wesley, the author penned several hundred novels in the war, detective, western and romance genres. My first sample of Rigoni's work is a 1970 paperback from Magnum Books entitled “Brand of the Bullet.”

The novel features interim US Marshall Mike Foster as the chief protagonist. Foster is a third generation lawman who hesitantly dons the badge in pursuit of a wanted criminal named Brag Cody. The outlaw escaped from the Rimrock jail, crippling Foster's father and killing the jailer. Trailing Cody to the town of Picaro, Foster and his longtime friend Buck find the town's saloon burning and a number of people dead. Discovering a scorched belt buckle with the initials B.C., Foster assumes Cody died in the fire.

Within a half-day's ride is Foster's extended family, including his cousin Carla. Making a quick stop, Foster learns that his family is mired in a bloody range war with the notorious Devlin clan. Like traditional western fare, the conflict stems from water and who owns the flow. Foster's family wants to dam the river, drying out the Devlins and forcing them to flee. However, it isn't that easy and soon Foster finds himself in the fight while learning more about Brag Cody's accomplice, Billy Childers.

Rigoni's action sequences are enjoyable, but nothing remarkable. “Brand of the Bullet” suffers from too many cooks in the kitchen, an overabundance of characters that don't play huge roles within the story. Due to that major flaw, the plot simply sinks into a convoluted mess that detracts from the action. My other complaint is that the author struggles writing engaging dialogue. However, he proves that there is plenty of reserved talent. For example, I love this portion of text in the opening pages:

“Mike was a lawman's son, raised in the shadow of the jail, haunted by the gaunt outline of the gallows, and burdened with a fear only the men who stand in the no-man's land between crime and the law can know.”

It's an impressive hint that Rigoni surely has better books. However...“Brand of the Bullet” sets a low bar.

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Spiral Web

Jeffrey M. Wallman wrote two installments of the ‘Nick Carter: Killmaster’ series and a bunch of novels in the popular ‘Lone Star’ adult westerns series starring a horny female gunslinger and her kung-fu sidekick. He even produced some short Mike Shayne mysteries using the Brett Halliday pseudonym. Under his own name, he authored paperbacks in the historical romance, sword & sorcery, and western genres. This, however, is a review of his 1969 mystery-espionage stand-alone paperback, “The Spiral Web.”

Our narrator is Mike Faron, who is rudely awakened in his apartment by two gunmen in Silk City, New Jersey whom he escapes by running stark naked into a police patrol car parked outside. Silk City is presented as a festering and corrupt slum borne of apathy and neglect. Faron also has a chip on his shoulder against the police relating to some mistreatment he suffered years ago. Today, Faron is a management consultant who has returned to his hometown to help his war buddy’s new business get off the ground. The company is an international courier business that services defense contractors in the greater New York City area needing to securely move documents from one place to another (This was evidently a thing before PDFs.)

One thing leads to another, and Faron finds himself falsely accused of the double murder of two women - one is a courier in his pal’s business and the other is her neighbor. His alibi is weak, and the police feel strongly they’ve got the right guy. As you’d expect, Faron gives the cops the slip and escapes with the pressing need to solve the murder himself to clear his name. If you guessed that he falls in with a capable and buxom beauty who’s willing to help him investigate the matter, you’d be right. And if you think you’ve read this storyline many times before, you’re pretty much right again.

Okay, so the basic plot is cribbed from dozens of other tales of the wrongfully-accused men on the lam. Does the author at least do some interesting things with this tired template? Not really. The “courier of top-secret documents” thing was too obviously a planted plot point early in the novel for it not to be the crux of the mystery’s ultimate solution.

Wallman’s prose is dialogue-heavy and the action moves along at a fast clip. Although the paperback is a hefty 205 pages, the font is top-of-an-eye-chart huge, so it never feels like too much of a slog. It’s not a particularly bad novel, but it’s also nothing special or particularly worth your time.

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