Monday, December 17, 2018


“Nighfall” is a 1947 crime novel by genre great David Goodis. The book has been reprinted and released by Stark House Press along with "Cassidy's Girl and "Night Squad". Many rank this along with “Dark Passage” and “Down There” as the trio that immortalizes Goodis as a genre heavyweight. I've now read two of the three and have been extremely pleased with them. “Nightfall” is a highly-recommended embodiment of what makes this genre so addictive and compelling. 

The novel follows two distinct characters that hover around that gray area of right and wrong. One is Vanning, a thirty-something WWII veteran and successful commercial artist. The other is New York City detective Fraser, who's on the trail of Vanning and a case of stolen cash worth $300,000. How the two intersect and their roles in each other's lives is really the whole premise of “Nightfall”. It's an interesting clash of personalities and styles drizzled over the familiar “man on the run” narrative.

In back stories we learn that Vanning was unknowingly caught up in a trio of bank robbers from Seattle. The three made the cash grab and wreck their car outside of Denver. In a poor stroke of luck, Vanning comes to their aid only to find himself taken as a hostage. In a mysterious chain of events, Vanning awakens in a hotel bedroom with the suitcase and a revolver. Goodis throws the wrench in the gears by having Vanning shoot a bad guy (or was it really a good guy?) and then flee into the forest with the cash. But, in present day, we learn that Vanning doesn't have the money and has no idea where it is!

The reader is left with just enough information to propel the story but reserving the payoff until the closing chapter. Vanning is the good “bad guy”, but the real difficult decision is placed on Fraser, who's on to Vanning but believes he's an innocent spoke in this turning crime-wheel. While Fraser doesn't have a partner to relay his thoughts too, we the reader are subjected to his investigative mindset through interesting and sporadic phone conversations with his wife. Fraser contemplates his career, the investigation and whether he has internal fortitude to break the case. Vanning and Fraser are lovable opposites, but Goodis takes otherwise normal people and heaps immense pressure on them to see how they perform and interact. Oh, there's an obligatory beauty thrown in for Vanning because this is a crime novel.

Overall, “Nightfall” kept me on my toes throughout a riveting one-sit read. Goodis is just as good, or better, than advertised. I'm not sure I found any astonishing subtext or social commentary, but there are loads of sites out there that break the book down in various degrees of comprehension. Personally, I can't say enough good things about the author. Up next is “Dark Passage”...apparently the cream of the crop. 

Purchase your copy of "Nightfall" here.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The D.C. Man #03 - Your Daughter Will Die

In 1975, Berkeley Medallion Books released the third of four installments in ‘The D.C. Man’ series by James P. Cody, a pseudonym used by former Roman Catholic Priest Peter T. Rohrbach after he left the priesthood and struck out to make a fortune in the lucrative world of men’s adventure pulp fiction. Although the series never took off commercially, I really enjoyed the first two books and was exited to dive into this one.

The D.C. Man is lobbyist and Washington troubleshooter, Brian Petersen, whose practice functions as a private investigative agency generally helping out Capital Hill types with serious problems. This time around, the client is Senator Lester Rankin whose daughter appears to have been kidnapped by a leftist revolutionary group demanding a ransom. Contacting the FBI is out of the question for the Senator, so he hires Brian to broker the cash-for-daughter exchange. 

Right away, Brian believes there is more to this than meets the eye. Could this be a Patty Hearst-style fake kidnapping? Why don’t these revolutionaries want media attention for their cause? Like a regular private detective, Brian fills his time following logical leads to learn more about the kidnappers while also preparing for the upcoming money exchange.

As with the previous two D.C. Man books, Brian’s big trick is that he is so well connected with the Washington power structure - both with the official hierarchy and the folks with underground power. If you need an ex-CIA operative to bug a phone, Brian knows a guy. If you need someone to quietly launder cash for a kidnapping ransom, Brian has a connection who can make that happen. The author’s fictional version of a capital that works - if only you know the right people - is a fun city to set a mystery-adventure series. I found a particular scene noteworthy in which Brian has his C.I.A. electronics expert install a “car phone” in furtherance of the mission, technology that must have seemed pretty space age in 1975.

“Your Daughter Will Die” neatly brings together the hardboiled mystery of a meticulously-logical gumshoe who follows leads to find a missing girl and the balls-out gunplay and exploding heads of Don Pendleton’s Executioner series. Way more than the mispackaged first two installments in ‘The D.C. Man’ series, this one is a true men’s adventure novel.

And it’s also the strongest of the series’ first three paperbacks. The tension is palpable, the characters are vivid, the hero is righteous, and the action scenes are remarkably violent. If you’re only going to read one book in The D.C. Man series, let it be this unknown action masterpiece. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Where There's Fighting

Louis L'Amour (1908-1988) is considered a cornerstone of western fiction. During his prolific career he penned 100 novels and around 400 short-stories. While the majority of his work focused on the western frontier, L'Amour also wrote detective, adventure and military fiction. One of those is the WW2 short “Where There's Fighting”, which was originally published by “Thrilling Adventures” in January, 1942 and reprinted for the compilation book “Yondering”. 

The story focuses on an American fighting man joining a four-man British patrol in the Greek mountains. It's set in April, 1941 at a time when Germany invaded Greece. The British landed 57,000 troops to halt the advancement, but after only eight fierce days of combat the British needed to evacuate. To do so, they left behind smaller battalions to use as rear guard action against the pursuing forces.

The British battalion ultimately chosen to die is Ryan, Benton, Pommy and Sackworth. Both Benton and Ryan are hardened combat vets and know that their mountainside .30-caliber and rifles won't be enough to hold off the German advancement. They realize it's just a stalling tactic, one emphasized as certain death by the emotional Pommy and Sackworth. However, they find a soldier has approached them carrying a .50-caliber. Who is this strange man? Friend or foe?

The solider is American Mike Horne, who's survived a brutal guerrilla campaign in Albania. As Horne is explaining his fighting career, the British troops are in disbelief. Thus L'Amour's short-tale comes alive, a fitting representation to fit the story title. Horne explains that he goes “where there's fighting” and begins to list off an impressive resume that featured battles in Sicily, China and Libya while learning to parachute in England. What's astonishing to the Brits is that Horne doesn't necessarily stick to commands, which comes in handy as he explains cutting and running to the foursome after initial heavy fire with the Germans that night. The narrative quickens to a firefight in the mountains with the five holding off waves of Germans with two machine guns and rifles. 

At only 13-pages, “Where There's Fighting” embodies the spirited adventure of L'Amour, a troubadour in his own right who wore many hats before becoming a full-time writer. I think this character – Mike Horne - is the definition of our genre's hero. He runs to the sounds of battle, actively engaging the enemy in jungles, mountains and at sea. His last words echo the essence of L'Amour's universal fighting man:

“Then Africa, Pommy, or Syria or Suez or Russia or England. They'll always be fighting them somewhere, an' that's where I want to be.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

One Is A Lonely Number

Bruce Elliott is probably best remembered by fans of pulp fiction for writing a handful of unremarkable stories for 'The Shadow' magazine, but Stark House has rediscovered and rereleased his 1952 noir novel “One Is A Lonely Number,” originally a Lion Books paperback. The new edition is paired with “Black Wings Has My Angel” by Elliott Chaze, a highly-regarded novel that I hope to read and review soon.

The writing in “One Is A Lonely Number” begins promisingly: “It was stinking hot, Chicago hot, whore house hot. The dribble of sweat combining on both their bodies was slimy.” The vivid descriptors continue with a prostitute exhibiting “too-full breasts that slopped over each side of her rib cage.” Right away, it’s clear that author Bruce Elliott intends to bring his A-Game game to noir fiction writing.

Larry is one of ten escaped convicts from Joliet prison following nearly five years inside. After getting laid with a hooker, his next order of business is to get down to Mexico. This isn’t just a tropical place to enjoy freedom for Larry, but a necessary move for his respiratory health. While incarcerated, one of his lungs was removed due to tuberculosis, and the warm Mexican air will be easier on his taxed remaining lung.

As he makes his way down south, he finds himself in a small town enjoying the company of multiple voluptuous and willing women while working at a local bar and eatery. The female characters in this book are all filled with treachery and emotional instability. The femmes are fatale, but they never pretend to be innocent or honorable. This is also a highly sexual - if not always graphic - fugitive story, but Elliott’s excellent writing makes the misogyny sing. This dim view of fictional females isn’t unusual given the genre and the 1952 publication date, but “One Is a Lonely Number” probably isn’t the wisest anniversary gift for your new bride.

Eventually, the opportunity to commit some profitable crimes is presented to Larry, and the allure of some easy cash to stake his trip to Mexico is too attractive to decline. There’s a plot twist regarding one of the women that is a real curve ball, and Larry’s reaction to it is totally depraved. This is a book that could never have been published in today’s climate as the societal norms have shifted too greatly.

“One Is A Lonely Number” is a total blast of a crime novel. It’s weird as all hell and unlike any other book of the era that I can recall. The plot holes can be overlooked because the fast-moving paperback is just so damn full of surprises. A giant standing ovation for Stark House for bringing this lost classic back to life. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Wild Sky

The 1962 Ace Double featured Tom West's (Fred East) “Dead Man's Double Cross” and Harry Whittington's “Wild Sky”. Whittington, the king of the paperbacks, wrote about 30 westerns in his impressive career and proved he had a knack for the genre with another stellar outing in “Wild Sky”. 

The beginning of the novel introduces readers to Josh, his pregnant wife Fran and four-year old daughter Joanie. It's the young family's 33rd day of travel from the East coast, a long and perilous journey to Wyoming. Whittington paints this rather basic introduction with heightened tension, an impending doom that is evident with Josh's frequent glances over his shoulder. Soon, a young Native-American rides towards the wagon, non-pleasantries are exchanged and soon Josh and the family are riding away as the brave lies defeated with a broken arm. This brief exchange proves the validity of our protagonist – Josh is a fighter.

The family settles on a beautiful stretch of valley with Josh building a cabin and planting crops. I really enjoyed the author's descriptive narrative on hunting deer and tracking through the mountains. It's these scenes that are often ignored by western writers, something that L'Amour excelled at with his early Sackett frontier stories. Once settled, Josh reflects on why his family has retreated to the wilderness.

Back east, Josh ran a mercantile store with Fran and the two had a picturesque life together. One night while leaving work both Josh and Fran are attacked by a belligerent man named Can Kirby. It's a brief encounter, but Kirby strongly advises Josh that he will kill him soon and encourages him to start wearing a gun. Josh, at this point a pacifist, doesn't accept violence as the answer. But, this is the 1800s wild-west and Josh has a family to protect. Why has he sworn off violence? Why does he keep his pistol in a bag under the bed?

Ultimately, Whittington creates an interesting story that uses the “past catching up” theme to place Josh and his family in dire straits. We know that he can't run from his past, but it is interesting to see how it creeps up from behind. While only 103-pages, the author writes a propulsive narrative that incorporates another wilderness family to pad out the dialogue (and create alliances for the impending doom). Overall, a solid western tale worth pursuing.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Golden Hawk #01 - Golden Hawk

In order to keep up with the demanding production schedule at Paperback Warrior, I sometimes turn to audiobooks as a means to fill my idle moments by mainlining pulp fiction into my skull through my ears rather than through my eyes. I was pleased to find that the ‘Golden Hawk’ Adult Western series by Will C. Knott was available on audio, so I decided to give it a listen. 

There were nine installments in the ‘Golden Hawk’ series published from 1986 to 1988. My expectations were tempered because I wasn’t terribly fond of Knott’s work in the Longarm series (he also contributed installments to the Trailsman and Slocum brands that I haven’t read), but I wanted to see what he could do with a universe of his own to control.

The prologue introduces us to the Thompson family who are settlers en route from Kentucky to Texas with their kids, Jed and Annabelle. The family runs into a bunch of bloodthirsty Comanches who torture and murder the parents while kidnapping the children. When we rejoin Jed and Annabelle a decade later, they have been raised as slaves by the Comanche. Along the way, Jed - now known as “Scowls At The People” - learns the language and fighting skills of the savages without ever letting go of his secret hatred of the tribal war party who scalped his parents years ago.

The problem is that Annabelle - now known as “Sky Woman” - is of marrying age and Comanche trade her to Mexicans. The human traffickers resell her to another tribe where she is destined for a life of servitude and no-foreplay-porking by a native husband with a dim view of marital equity. As Annabelle is taken away, Jed promises to find and rescue her. This pledge appears to be the driving motivation behind this short novel.

But first, Jed needs a horse, supplies, and the opportunity to give his Indian enslavers the slip. The surest way to make this happen is for Jed to convince the Chief of his loyalty, so he could join a tribal war party. His bravery in the battle earns him the new name, “Golden Hawk” and an opportunity to steal a horse and leave his captor tribe.

About halfway through the audiobook, I realized that there was something missing. This was supposed to be an “Adult Western” book which means graphic sex scenes periodically occur (I see this as a feature, not a bug). Meanwhile, the audiobook has plenty of willing women that Jed encounters, but the scenes all awkwardly - and chastely - fade to black before anyone gets naked. 

Comparing the audiobook to the paperback, I now realize that I was ripped off. The audio production by “Books In Motion” of Spokane clumsily edits out all the sex scenes, yet labels the audiobook as “unabridged.” I can only assume that this was done at the direction of Knott or his estate (the author died in 2008), but this haphazard abridgment comes at a cost of important plot points and character development as the original text drew a clear distinction between Jed’s ethics and the violent way that the Comanches treat women.

So, I didn’t get my beloved Adult Western sex scenes. Cry for me. Despite this, ‘Golden Hawk’ is still a fairly poorly-plotted Western. It takes half the book for Jed to start looking for his missing sister and the book ends without safely recovering Annabelle. I can only assume that the search for the missing sister is the thread that holds these nine adventures together, but I’ll never know because I am done with both ‘Golden Hawk’ and Will C. Knott.

I sent an email to “Books in Motion” seeking comment regarding their misleading claim that the audiobook is unabridged, and they have declined to comment for this article. In any case, you can safely pass on this one. Your paperback (and audiobook) budget is better spent elsewhere.

Friday, December 7, 2018

This Man Dawson

“This Man Dawson” was a short-lived television show that aired during 1959-1960. It lasted one season and produced 33 half-hour episodes. The show was loosely spawned from the Universal Studios movie “Damn Citizen” (1958). That film utilized actor Keith Andes to portray a Louisiana State Police Superintendent. The production company liked that overall theme and changed the story-line to Andes playing a former US Marine Corps colonel, Frank Dawson, who's now the Chief of Police at an undisclosed city.

Writer Henry Edward Helseth (writing as H.E. Helseth) wrote one television tie-in to the show, the eponymous “This Man Dawson”, in 1962. The fairly unknown author previously wrote a handful of crime novels before this book's release and would later go on to write two screen-plays - “Outside the Wall” and “State Penitentiary”. His writing is fast-paced and somewhat technical in terms of the police procedural, giving “This Man Dawson” a heightened sense of realism despite it's rather pulpy overtone.

Helseth doesn't reveal much depth for Dawson other than he fought at the Battle of the Bulge, has a rigorous work ethic and has a reputation that warrants nicknames like Big Chief, Rock and Ironhand. He has several close characters that blend into the narrative including Crawford, a “kid” marine sergeant in Korea who now serves as police detective 1st grade and patrolman Fliegel, whom  Dawson refers to as his chauffeur. 

The book's beginning has both Dawson and Crawford receiving a message from a former boxer named Malone. The former Welterweight turned bodyguard asks that his client, retired mobster Welkin, wishes to meet with Dawson later that night. Unfortunately, when they arrive at Welkin's house that night they find Welkin has seemingly been kidnapped and Malone has been shot to death. Thus, Dawson's case is presented. 

The story-line runs at a furious pace and I often had to circle back to determine which character was which. There's so many faces mixed into the investigation that I was thoroughly confused in some portions (I'm foggy brained as it is). In what I can only describe as a pulpy format (with plenty of “sock'ems”), two mobsters have kidnapped Welkin for ransom money. They plan the deal to incorporate Welkin's estranged wife and his former Syndicate lieutenant. Both parties are trailed, eventually leading to an abandoned warehouse building and “File 98”, a mythical rap sheet on all the Syndicate rings in the city.

Often, this reminded me of 'Dick Tracy' with charismatic mobsters that come across as bumbling money-hungry villains. While pulpy in places, it was still distinctly a police procedural. As mentioned earlier, the pace is lightning quick and it's a one-session read at 120 pages. Helseth's writing style made me feel as if I was a lowly assistant sitting at the precinct house just watching the flurry of activity while grabbing coffee for Dawson's men. My ignorance on the case, dense brain and lack of experience probably would have forced me out quickly. But, thankfully Helseth allowed me a quick peek at these inner workings and “This Man Dawson” was an enjoyable read.