Friday, May 29, 2020

Your Friendly Neighborhood Death Peddler

Paperback Warrior has admired Jimmy Sangster's literary work for some time now. Both of his John Smith spy-thrillers, The Spy Killer (1967) and Foreign Exchange (1968), received positive praise as well as 1967's Touchfeather. Most of the British author's work has been resurrected and reprinted by Lee Goldberg's Brash Books imprint. We were delighted when another of Sangster's reprinted novels hit our mailbox - 1971's Your Friendly Neighborhood Death Peddler.

The novel introduces a young guy named Anthony Bridges. He's a 29-year old, unmotivated, unemployed deadbeat. What the British would call a layabout. Anthony served a short-service commission in the British Army after graduating college. He spent a few years in the documentary business, flunked as a sales rep and is now enjoying unemployment while living with his girlfriend Lillian. Originally, the plan was just to bang Lillian and crash on her sofa a few days. But the days turned into weeks that turned into months. Now Anthony is tired of Lillian, who's a nympho, but he has no job, no home and no money. But, Lillian has fallen in love with him and Anthony doesn't have a Plan B. So she decides to take Anthony back to her childhood home to meet the parents.

Anthony discovers that Lillian's parents are uber rich. We're talking million dollar paintings in the study and a full staff tending to every need. Realizing Anthony's misplacement in the family's traditions and planning, Lillian's Dad has a private conversation with Anthony and makes a proposal - stop screwing Lillian and leave her apartment in exchange for a job. A good job with the opportunity to make thousands. Anthony then receives a card with a number on it and reluctantly calls it a few days later. The brisk, mysterious response is simply “Lunch. 12:30”.

In a hysterical sequence of events that's like something from Alice in Wonderland, Anthony travels down the rabbit hole and accepts an undisclosed job in the small African country of Lamboola. The deal is he will make 1% on commissions and $6,000 a year tax free. He also has a lavish expense account and the opportunity to travel internationally. Anthony accepts the deal and has no Earthly idea what the job actually entails.

In reality, Anthony has accepted the job as newest sales rep of illegal weapons to third world countries. The problem is that Anthony is a bumbling idiot with weaponry or sales experience or political connections. Not exactly the attributes needed to sell weapons to revolutionaries. When Anthony is asked to sell thousands of weapons - rifles, anti-aircraft weapons, explosives, tanks, basically anything useful to overthrow government - to a valuable client in Lamboola, Africa, he accidentally mistakes the names and sells the weapons to the valuable client's enemy. By doing so, he systematically creates a third-world revolution that topples the local government.

First and foremost, this book is hilarious. It's an absolute must read. Just following Anthony's disastrous showing as a weapons sales rep is worth the sticker price. For action, there's plenty. Sangster mixes peril on the high seas with numerous gunbattles and torture. Sangster does a fantastic job just poking fun at countries and their endless quests for violence and superiority. Sangster doesn't hold back, he throws China, Russia, the US and England under the bus in a lighthearted and entertaining manner.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Death Peddler uses the author's unique sense of witty, off the cuff writing to mock Earth's morbid fascination with weapons, power and greed. It's a humorous, albeit violent, deep-dive into third world politics and the zillionaires that finance it. In other words: an absolute must read.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Night of Violence (aka The Trapped Ones)

Louis Charbonneau (1924-2017) was primarily known as an author of science fiction and horror, but his second novel from 1959 was a straight-up crime thriller titled Night of Violence that was also released as The Trapped Ones. The novel remains available today as a paperback reprint, ebook and audiobook.

Lew Cutter’s car has a blown out tire outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. This presents a particular problem because Lew is traveling with $50,000 in stolen cash with a pair of deadly California hoodlums named Lefty and Pete on his trail. Lefty is a particularly deadly sort - a former baseball pitcher who can throw hand grenades through windows with terrifying accuracy.

The author introduces the reader to a handful of other characters who converge upon the downscale Hideaway Motel. There’s a traveling salesman, a family of four with a horny teenage daughter, a couple of lovers looking for a place to screw, Lew, his pursuers, and others. The girl working the motel’s front desk is an adorable character involved in her own relationship drama with the establishment’s owner. The author uses short chapters that cut from one character’s third-person perspective to another. It’s an effective storytelling technique that satisfies the reader’s hotel-based voyeurism. You finally get to find out what’s actually happening behind the closed doors of the other rooms at the inn.

In his science fiction work, Charbonneau is known for his claustrophobic settings where action unfolds among characters in, say, a cramped space station. This is also the dynamic at work in Night of Violence. The author gathers these characters into a small, remote motel, lights the fuse, and lets the sparks fly. Charbonneau was an outstanding writer with a knack for building tension, which helps a lot.

Downsides? There’s a lot of character development and relationship drama among the guests and staff that unfolds for much of the paperback before the violence commences. This didn’t bother me at all because the cast was genuinely interesting, but understand that the novel isn’t a 180 page bloodbath. Well, not entirely.

Night of Violence is a terrific, fast-moving novel with a bunch of interesting characters being moved around a finite space like chess pieces by a confident and competent author. There’s really nothing to dislike about this taut little paperback. I can certainly recommend this motel story without reservations.

Addendum:

Friend-of-the-blog and bestselling author James Reasoner informs us that Louis Charbonneau also wrote western novels under the name Carter Travis Young. Now, go forth and read!

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Survivor of Nam #01 - Baptism

Author Donald E. Zlotnik (born 1941) published over 300 weekly newspaper columns for two metro-Detroit newspapers. Most of Zlotnik's paperback novels are based on his harrowing, and highly respected career in the United States Army Special Forces. Zlotnik's 31 months in combat during the Vietnam War was commemorated by the awarding of three Bronze Stars, The Soldier's Medal and The Purple Heart. Beginning in 1986, Zlotnik began authoring military “fiction” novels based on his own experiences in Southeast Asia. The first was a stand-alone novel, Eagles Cry Blood (1986), followed by a four-book series titled Survivor of Nam (1988). Zlotnik followed with another run of combat-related novels, the five-book Fields of Honor (1990-1992) series. My first experience with the author is the debut novel of the Survivor of Nam series, Baptism, published by Popular Library.

Baptism introduces a handful of characters that will play dominant roles throughout the Survivor of Nam series. The chief protagonist is Private First Class Woods, a wet-behind-the-ears grunt who's introduced on the first page when he arrives at a U.S. Army airfield in Saigon. Zlotnik's sense of realism is reflected in the smallest of details, like the rubber around a transport vehicle's windows with a crisscross of tape to avoid glass shards in the event of an attack. You can immediately sense the horror, fear and remembrance in the author's writing style. After Woods partners with PFC Barnett, the two become close friends as they brave the first days in Vietnam. After being ordered to the 1st Cavalry Division in deadly Qui Nhon, the two soldiers are asked if they want to volunteer for MACV Recondo School. They jump at the chance and the book's opening chapters details the duo's training in small, heavily-armed long range reconnaissance patrols into enemy territory.

Upon graduation, the two soldiers, along with a handful of consistent characters, immediately experience their first battles. Victorious, Woods/Barnett's recon force is dropped along the borders of Laos and Cambodia, where the South Vietnam border touched Laos and North Vietnam. The mission is border surveillance, but U.S. Intelligence instructs the team to drop innovative, unique listening devices along the routes spreading from the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It's here where the bulk of the action lies, eventually separating Woods while readers learn that Barnett has been captured. At 185-pages, the book ends with a cliff-hanger that provoked me to research the second book in the series. Sure enough, it picks right up with Barnett's experience as a prisoner-of-war in the aptly titled installment P.O.W.

First and foremost, this is a work of fiction. Many readers, like myself, will ponder the decision to read Vietnam War fiction when so much non-fiction exists. There's a vast abundance of grunts, snipers, tunnel rats, pilots and tank commanders that have recounted their battle experience in explicit, detailed (often with photos) autobiographies. I think the fictionalization of true stories helps to separate the horror from reality and makes for a more enjoyable read. Your mileage may vary.

Baptism focuses on Woods (18) and Barnett's (17) coming of age experiences in the volatile jungles of Vietnam and is worth the sticker price. But, the author creates a number of engaging, side stories that further enhance the reading experience. There's a Black Panther member in the patrol unit that may be killing off white soldiers. There's a black market story-line involving guns, drugs and money with the supply detail with ranking members in the recon force caught in the crossfire. Zlotnik gives readers plenty to absorb and enjoy, and the book reminded me of a good young adult novel - albeit with added graphic sex, violence and profanity.

Overall, Baptism was an effective, but admittedly disturbing, first installment. The characters were compelling, the action propulsive and the author's combat experiences were conveyed to readers through the characters and story. I've already purchased the second installment and have the remaining two in my shopping cart. I absolutely loved this book, and I think you will too.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Mike Shayne #65 - Last Seen Hitchhiking

Mike Shayne began his life as a fictional private detective in a 1939 novel written by David Dresser under the pseudonym of Brett Halliday. After about 50 novels by Dresser, the series was handed over to a number of ghostwriters including Robert Terrall, who also wrote the Ben Gates mysteries under the pen name of Robert Kyle. As Mike Shayne was nearing the end of his run in 1974, Terrall authored the 65th novel-length installment, Last Seen Hitchhiking, a book that takes Shayne to some very dark places.

Meri Gillespie is a 23 year-old grad student hitchhiking north from Miami - a mode of transportation she’s been using without incident since she was 14. She ignores news reports of a maniac killing female hitchhikers on Florida highways and takes a ride from a sour-smelling young man. Just her luck, he injects poor Meri with a needle rendering her unconscious in the passenger seat of his station wagon.

Meri awakens naked and strapped to what appears to be a gynecologist’s examination table with her feet belted into stirrups. The kidnapper explains that he is a med student seeking to use Meri in his own research involving human sexuality - specifically unlocking the female orgasm with an unwilling participant. If you’re gathering that this is a bit more graphic and extreme than Michael Shayne circa 1945, you’d be right. The scenes where Meri is forced to submit to her captor’s wishes are far more graphic than we normally read in vintage crime paperbacks. Consider yourself warned.

Before getting kidnapped, Meri had been banging her college professor (consensually), and the relationship had gone south. As Meri was leaving to hitchhike to an ex-boyfriend’s place in Fort Myers, she stole a valuable artifact of great academic significance from the professor who hires a female private investigator named Frieda to recover the artifact. The lady gumshoe quickly learns that Meri never made it to Fort Myers and brings Mike Shayne into the case suspecting foul play on the highway. After all, there’s a maniac in Florida snatching up female hitchhikers.

The Florida Highway Patrol has been notified of Meri’s disappearance, but it doesn’t seem like they’re doing much. Working as partners, Mike and Freida trace logical leads to see if Meri’s disappearance was a targeted attack by someone looking to obtain the valuable artifact that Meri swiped from the professor. It’s an interesting literary tactic because the reader is told in the opening chapters the precise awfulness that actually befell the young coed - making the normal investigation seemingly fruitless. How will Mike and Freida connect the dots to find the creepy sex-researcher holding Meri and the artifact?

The story regarding the sex-fiend kidnapper of hitchhikers was awesome. It was a fantastically perverted cat and mouse game. The subplot about the missing artifact was a distraction that felt like filler to me. It was a weird dichotomy to have Shayne so concerned about an archaeological treasure and be seemingly unconcerned about the missing hitchhikers for much of the paperback. Interestingly, Freida was one of the best female detectives I can ever remember reading. She far outshines Shayne in his own book.

Despite these reservations, I still thought Last Seen Hitchhiking was a pretty good Mike Shayne installment. I’ve always found Shayne to be rather generic, and this one was no different in that regard. The biggest asset for the novel was a villain who will really make your skin crawl, so this late-series installment is an easy, if not full-throated, recommendation. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 45

Paperback Warrior Episode 45 is our All-Spy Spectacular where we discuss the best fictional spies of 20th Century fiction including Matt Helm, James Bond, Evan Tanner, Boise Oakes, and much, much more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 45: All-Spy Spectacular" on Spreaker.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Danny Fontaine #01 - As Bad As I Am

William Ard wrote a two-book series starring Danny Fontaine - an actor turned ex-con trying to make a life for himself in New York City. Those books were As Bad As I Am (1959 - also released as Wanted: Danny Fontaine) and the second book, When She Was Bad (1960). Ramble House has released the two Danny Fontaine books in a single trade paperback as Two Kinds of Bad with a helpful introduction by Francis M. Nevins. I’ve been dying to explore the first Fontaine book, and the reprint made it an easy lift.

As Bad As I Am opens with 30 year-old former stage actor Danny Fontaine being paroled from prison where he just served five years for beating a muscle-man to death because the meathead was being rough with a girl. We learn early in the novel that Danny’s Achilles heel is his desire to help women - regardless of legalities, and this affliction has landed Danny in jail before. Because of this, a condition of Danny’s parole is that he can’t date or have sex with a woman for the 18 month term of his supervised release.

Danny warms up to the idea of getting back into acting, and, of course, meets a girl in the process. Her name is Gloria, and the aspiring actress is the hottest little dish - and sweetness personified. When Danny becomes a murder suspect, Gloria is the one he turns to for shelter and a base of operations to establish his innocence. Late in the novel, they turn to a Manhattan private eye named Barney Glines to help clear Danny’s name.

Earlier in his career, William Ard wrote two books under the pen name of Thomas Wills starring a private eye named Barney Glines. Those two books were: You'll Get Yours (1952) and Mine To Avenge (1955). Later, when Ard began the Danny Fontaine series, Glines becomes a major character in the short-lived franchise. Ard basically created his own little Marvel Universe of overlapping series titles shared between his own name and a pseudonym.

In any case, Private Eye Barney Glines is, by far, the best character in this Danny Fontaine debut. He’s a funny, self-confident, can-do guy who takes control of the situation and helps navigate Danny out of his mess. It’s not a fast-moving thrill-ride of a paperback, but I still enjoyed As Bad As I Am. Ard was an awesome writer and he unfolds his plots really well - even when there’s not much action taking place. The dialogue and characters were vivid and real. I’m told that in the second book starring Danny, When She Was Bad, the jailbird becomes a private investigator working for Barney’s firm. I can’t wait to read it and tell you about it.

William Ard probably would have written more books starting Danny Fontaine after the second installment, but the 37 year-old author died of cancer in 1960 ending a promising career as an edgy and innovative voice on the crime fiction landscape. For my part, I’m just thankful that some of his work remains available today. Ard was a powerhouse talent in a crowded field, and he deserves to be remembered.

Fun-Fact:

The title As Bad As I Am comes from a traditional Scottish toast:

Here’s to you, as good as you are,
And here’s to me, as bad as I am;
As bad as I am and as good as you are,
I am good as you are, as bad as I am.

Buy a copy of the two-book compilation HERE

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Mike Ballard #01 - Brute in Brass (aka Forgive Me Killer)

Brute in Brass was a 1956 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback by Harry Whittington (1915-1989) published at a time when the prolific Florida author was at the top of his game. He probably was paid $2,000 for the novel with the promise of bonuses if the paperback saw multiple printings. In 1987, Black Lizard Books reprinted a handful of Whittington books including Brute in Brass under Whittington’s original manuscript title Forgive Me Killer.

Mike Ballard is a vice cop currently under investigation for corruption. This presents an immediate problem because he is also a bag man and fixer for a mobster nightclub owner with plenty of secrets. Mike’s got a girlfriend of sorts he set up in an apartment who’s not getting the emotional connection she desires. She wants to be his wife - anyone’s wife, really - but Mike likes the current no-strings arrangement.

Mike travels to a prison to see a death row inmate named Earl Walker who maintains his innocence of the murder that landed him on the electric chair waiting list. During the investigation, Mike was the only cop who didn’t beat Walker to elicit a confession, so he’s the one Walker begs to help save his life. Mike also has his eye on Walker’s comely wife, which is the real reason he agrees to help.

As you may have gathered, Mike is kind of a heel. But he’s one of those heels that you kind of like because he’s smart, tough and blunt - a good, but somewhat dirty, cop. He also evolves over the course of the novel to locate the decency within himself while solving a fascinating mystery and navigating a minefield of personal and professional problems.

Brute in Brass was another winner among Whittington’s 170 identified novels. The hero, Mike Ballard, is a badass fighter who should have starred in a series of his own.

Trivia:

There’s a theory that Mike Ballard was intended by Harry Whittington to be a series character - the key to a crime fiction author’s commercial success in the 1950s and now. He wrote a second Ballard novel called Any Woman He Wanted, but it was rejected by Fawcett Gold Medal.

The sequel was finally published in 1961 by second-tier paperback house Beacon under the pseudonym Whit Harrison. By then, any momentum toward making the protagonist a franchise was gone, and Whittington never tried again to launch a series of his own.

Any Woman He Wanted (Mike Ballard #2) remains available as a reprint from Stark House Noir Classics (HERE). Watch Paperback Warrior for a review coming soon. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE