Thursday, March 21, 2019

Chopper Cop #01 - Chopper Cop

'Chopper Cop' debuted in 1972 as a Popular Library paperback. Author Paul Ross is actually Dan Streib, the man behind 70s action oriented series' like 'Killsquad', 'Hawk', 'Steve Crown' and 'Death Squad'. The series would last three installments with Streib writing the first two. While the cover, font and badge logo would indicate a high-paced action formula fitting of Streib's writing style, the end result is an entirely different type of story. Personally, I think this was probably a grand misplacement of what literary power-broker Lyle Kenyon Engel envisioned when hiring Streib. Engel would later denounce the author, furthering the theory that the supply didn't meet the demand.

Think of series debut, “Valley of Death”, as an eerie, Gothic investigative novel. Odd I know, but Streib's use of heavy sea fog, moonlit graveyards, old mansions and an abandoned mining town are the perfect backdrops for this dense thriller. They are almost characters themselves, springing up from time to time to introduce darkness and death.

No, this isn't the long-haired, biker riding “Easy Rider” that's depicted on the book cover, but our hero Terry Bunker does dress the part. He works for the California Governor, sort of a special operative piece that is utilized by leadership as an official State Department of Criminal Investigation...investigator? He receives requests from the Governor to solve crimes. He's extremely successful, allowing him to refer to leadership as “hey guv” despite hatred from his departmental peers.

The debut mystery is a rather grim one; young wealthy women are committing suicide in San Francisco and Sacramento. Yet, they are reaching out to their loved ones posthumously through bizarre phone calls or supernatural apparitions lurking just outside the window. The crime? Whoever is behind the ghostly apparitions are ransoming the return of these resurrected dead girls for millions of dollars. The culprit might be a strange seaside cult that's sacrificing drugged women for cash. But that doesn't explain the seemingly life after death undertaking of these heists.

Bunker isn't as funny as say...Kolchak, Fox Mulder or Carter Brown's bumbling detective Al Wheeler. But he's no Shaggy either. This character is vulnerable, even scared at times as he navigates ghosts and graves to find the criminal leader. But he can get the job done. It's a slap in the face to readers looking for a hard-edged, bone-breaking chopper cop. But once you can forgive the creator, this is a really fun mystery that had some longevity. I could see this sort of thing working on multiple levels, whether supernatural or just a “crime of the week” featuring some abstract scenario. Unfortunately, the struggle between publisher and author led to this being canned shortly thereafter. I'm on the hunt for book two.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Good Time Girl

Don Kingery (1924-2014) was an award-winning newspaper reporter and columnist in Southwest Louisiana with a career spanning over 50 years. He also played for the Detroit Lions during the early days of the NFL. Along the way, he also authored four paperback originals between 1956 and 1960 with plots in the same vein as James M. Cain and Erskine Caldwell. His final novel was a swamp noir paperback original titled “Good Time Girl” from 1960 published by Dell.

The novel opens in the aftermath of an alleged rape in rural Louisiana that is quickly becoming a major news story. Our narrator is Jack Candless, an alcoholic New Orleans newspaper reporter who travels to cover the salacious story while struggling with his own sobriety.

Cora Sill, age 19, claims that she was raped by a farmhand named Boad Gentry while the girl was swimming in an irrigation canal. Cora’s claim that Boad swam underwater to attack her has earned him the nickname “the frog man rapist” from newspapers seeking to sensationalize the story.

Upon arrival in the small town swarming with media, Jack comes to the conclusion that there may be more to the story. First, the police chief is a moron who couldn’t find his ass in the shower with a map. Second, Boad claims that he’s innocent and was set up by Cora when he hopped into the canal after she called for help. Meanwhile, the police chief seems to be enjoying his newfound celebrity too much to actually investigate the crime. Because this was written over 50 years before “believe all women” was a thing, Jack decides to look deeper into the crime himself.

The rape story becomes more problematic once it becomes clear that Cora is, in fact, the town’s titular Good Time Girl. Moreover, there’s a lot of economic incentive for the police, the media, the attorney, and Cora’s family to have the rape story be true. The moral bankruptcy of the news media in this novel is fascinating and creates the core of the moral dilemma for Jack. Fake news creates unintended consequences that, in turn, create new victims. It’s also remarkable how so many of the same issues surrounding the public’s rush to judgement and the problems involving unsubstantiated claims of victimhood are still being debated 60 years later.

“Good Time Girl” is well-written but it’s not without problems. For starters, there are far too many characters for a 160 page novel, and the paperback is fairly devoid of action or real suspense - but has plenty of melodrama. It’s a book about moral quandaries in the news industry and the eternal battle between a slavish devotion to accuracy and the quest for a good story. The fact that the book was written by a long-time newsman helps push this book just into the recommended column for me, but it shouldn’t be confused with a noir masterpiece. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

No Law Against Angels (aka The Body)

Beginning in 2017, Stark House Press began releasing the Al Wheeler series by author Alan Yates, better known as paperback extraordinaire Carter Brown. These 1950s mysteries are easy reads about a West Coast lieutenant who assists the commissioner on difficult whodunits. Stark House released the first volume in 2017, containing Wheeler entries 1-3. That followed in 2018 with the 4-6 installments. In March of 2019, books 7-9 were released. When choosing an affordable Stark House collection ($20 paper, $6 digital), pay no mind to series order because there isn't one. Al Wheeler is a cop. There's beautiful women. A crime needs to be solved. These aren't labor intensive. 

Wheeler is summoned by the commissioner to assist an arrogant homicide detective named Hammond. Wheeler, always holding Scotch, is to locate the murderer of two women found dead in San Francisco alleyways. The only clue is that each have a snake tattoo and they are from out of town. Never a strongman, our bumbling sleuth somehow backs himself into a call girl racket that involves mortuaries, hair salons and a hilltop mansion that might hold the answers.

The scenic coastline provides a beautiful backdrop for Wheeler's actions. The investigation eventually leads to fisticuffs, but not before both Wheeler and Hammond verbally spar on who's right and wrong. Of course Wheeler is attempting to get laid, but never settles to just pay for it (a prostitute practically wants to pay him!). It's when he meets the stunning goddess Jo Dexter that his sex-drive hits overdrive. But this is the tame paperback kingdom of the 1950s, so that sort of thing is more suggested than described. 

Carter Brown is firmly master of his domain and proves it with “No Law Against Hair-Dye”....I mean “Angels”. This was a gripping, short read that I read in nearly one sitting. Al Wheeler is hilarious with his endless sarcasm, never completely in control but somehow being three steps in front of the bad guys and the reader. This is absolutely entertaining and a must read.

Note - This U.K. book was released in the US in 1958 as "The Body".

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, March 18, 2019

Ian Ludlow #2 - Killer Thriller

“Killer Thriller” is the 2019 follow-up to Lee Goldberg’s comedic action bestseller, “True Fiction” about Ian Ludlow, a men’s adventure novelist who is unexpectedly thrust into the life of a bona fide action hero. Like the first installment, the novel straddles the line between being a parody of the Jack Reacher-style of adventure paperbacks and delivering a genuine kick-ass thrill-ride of a novel.

The character of Ian Ludlow is a fictionalized version of Goldberg himself - a TV mystery scriptwriter turned successful novelist. In fact, Goldberg began his career writing the macho “.357 Vigilante” series using the pseudonym of Ian Ludlow. “Killer Thriller” begins with Ludlow on a book tour hyping his latest testosterone-fueled novel, and Goldberg does a nice job of getting readers up to speed on the events of “True Fiction,” so no one is left behind.

Because Ludlow’s fiction has an uncanny way of becoming fact, he is approached by the CIA to become an operative using his writing job as cover. And because this is a fun - and sometimes silly - action novel send-up, Ludlow is soon in the mix with an international conspiracy to cripple America in a manner similar to a novel Ludlow is currently outlining.

The backdrop of “Killer Thriller” is a potential trade war with China during an internal U.S. policy debate over free trade vs. protectionism. Meanwhile, Chinese interests are putting a giant thumb on the scale with political assassinations in the U.S. and the kidnapping of Hong Kong’s best and brightest business minds. Production is also beginning in Hong Kong on a film based on Ludlow’s recurring character, which gives Goldberg a chance to poke some fun at Hollywood preposterous adaptations of outlandish contemporary men’s fiction and the influence of the China market on modern Hollywood.

As with the first installment, there are tons of Easter eggs in the novel for genre fanatics. For example, the movie studio adapting Ludlow’s novel is “Pinnacle Pictures” - presumably a nod to the iconic 1970s paperback house. Current events also get a send-up with a billionaire fictional U.S. President tweeting too much while alienating our NATO allies.

Joined by his hot and heroic lesbian sidekick Margo, Ludlow is off to China to monitor the adaptive filming of his old novel while researching the plot of his next one. As expected, he gets swept up in a real-life Chinese conspiracy that eerily mirrors his own plot outline for an unwritten novel.

Like it’s predecessor, “Killer Thriller” is a helluva lot of fun to read. The plot and action sequences are both absurd and absorbing. If you’re a fan of men’s action novels and their film adaptations, you are the intended audience for this love letter to our genre. Time will tell how many times Goldberg will be able to go to this same well, but I’m all-in for the Ian Ludlow thrillers. Highly recommended.

Buy this book HERE

Friday, March 15, 2019

Super Bolan #04 - Dirty War

In Don Pendleton's “Death Squad” (1969), the second of the long running vigilante series 'The Executioner', we are introduced to Mack Bolan's Vietnam colleagues - Bill Hoffower, Tom Loudelk, Angelo Fontenelli, Juan Andromede, Gadgets Schwartz, Pol Blancanales, Jim Harrington and George Zitka. While it's a short-lived cameo, this death squad assists Bolan with a Mafia hit that goes south. While the entire team is nearly wiped out, it was an interesting concept that would eventually lead to more team-based action in its affiliates like Able Team, Stony Man and Phoenix Force.

Pendleton would pen 37 of the first 38 Executioner novels before handing Gold Eagle the rights to produce the books using a myriad of authors. The stipulation that the author's name be printed on the copyright page is important, allowing fans like myself an easy peek at the book's creator without having to roll the sleeves up for a paper trail (I'm talking to you Killmaster). After 60 volumes of 'The Executioner' (titled 'Mack Bolan' at this point), Gold Eagle decided that they could increase the profits from $2.25 per book to $3.95 by increasing the size to 350+ pages under the 'Super Bolan' series. These were simultaneously released at the same time Executioners were flooding the market, providing plenty of paperback Bolans to meet reader demands.

Writer Stephen Mertz was a Pendleton prodigy and by the early 1980s was knee-deep in the Bolan universe. His resume and experience with Bolan provoked a “retcon” idea of re-imagining earlier events in Bolan's life. Thus, “Super Bolan #4 – Dirty War” is written as a time capsule piece depicting events that would happen to the character during his second tour in Vietnam. The idea of a sprite young Bolan in the hands of a veteran author like Mertz is altogether intriguing. The stars aligned to even have veteran artist Gil Cohen design the cover, the ultimate Bolan fan's dream.

The book begins in the present day as Bolan is thinking back to his Death Squad's unfortunate deaths. He's on a Mafia hit of his own and thinking back to his time in Vietnam as sergeant and the various missions that his men performed. In a unique chapter one, 30-yr old Bolan is at Pittsfield Municipal Airport in Massachusetts with his family. We know this would be the last time he would see his parents/sister and Mertz writes this into the narrative. Bolan has premonitions that he won't see his family again. Kudos to the author for also allowing some backstory on Mack's father Sam and his early fights with the mob enforcers. At one point, before Mack's departure, Sam is attacked and Mack comes to his aid. It's this aspect that I don't think was conveyed by Pendleton – that Mack knew what was happening back home prior to the first few letters arriving on his second tour. In this re-imagining, he knew all along. 

The action heats up in Vietnam as we see Bolan and his death squad liberating a young woman and child from a NVA stronghold near the Cambodian border. It's intense cat-and-mouse tactics that mirror Bolan's solo fights much later in life. But here we have Bolan as squad leader, effectively orchestrating the Hell that is unleashed on the NVA base. In a neat fan experience, Mertz provides a cameo of pilot Jack Grimaldi. Familiar readers will know that Grimaldi and Mack originally meet in Executioner #10, later to become longtime allies within the Stony Man group. Retconning that exchange, Mertz has Grimaldi rescue the Death Squad from the NVA fight and pilot the group to safety. While Grimaldi and Bolan never officially meet here, both are respectful to each other leading Grimaldi to think to himself, “I wonder if our paths will ever meet again”. This is fun stuff. 

“Dirty War” eventually tangles with plenty of firefights and escapes, building in a hot lead assault on Bolan's camp, a hunt and destroy mission and the eventual escape from enemy patrols in Cambodia. At 376-pages, it never gets too exhausting with dialogue or slow motion. This is 80s Bolan – 1,2,3,Kill at its finest. Mertz is clearly having a lot of fun with the concept and adds tremendous depth to the characters that made up that original Death Squad. Without giving away the spoilers, we know that Gadgets and Pol would survive that Mafia battle and go on to form Able Team (launched in 1982 by Gold Eagle).

Fans of the Bolan universe, this is simply mandatory reading. It's fun, indulgent and clever. It's clearly designed for the series' fans but should be considered an important part of the Bolan origin story. If you are new to the series, I would start here and then work into Executioners 1 and 2. But regardless of order, just read it.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Lady Gunsmith #6 - Roxy Doyle and the Desperate Housewife

Thanks to the guiding hand of creator and author Robert Randisi (writing as J.R. Roberts), the Gunsmith series of Adult Westerns has the most consistently high-quality stories of the genre. Not coincidentally, it’s also the only long-running series still around today. In 2017, Randisi launched a spin-off series starring Roxy Doyle, the ‘Lady Gunsmith’, and two years later, we are now six installments deep into the series.

Book six is playfully titled “Roxy Doyle and the Desperate Housewife,” and the plot initially leans on the series’ central thread - Roxy’s search for her missing bounty hunter father. She finds herself chasing a rumor to a small Wyoming town where dad was allegedly headed. This being an Adult Western, Roxy wastes no time getting laid as soon as she gets off the trail before settling in to wait for her father’s arrival. 

While Roxy is on the lookout for Dad, a woman named Jane arrives in town looking for Roxy. Once they meet, Jane discloses that she’s been married to Roxy’s elusive father for a few months, and they live just a short ride away. The next morning Roxy rides to the town Jane described, and no one there knows anything about Jane or Roxy’s dad. Why would this strange woman give Roxy a bum steer? Is she really Roxy’s step-mom?

The mystery moves to Idaho and is unraveled over subsequent chapters among traditional Western action. I won’t spoil the details here, but it involves a ton of cash from a bank robbery and a gang of outlaws seeking to recover the loot. There are double-crosses galore culminating in a satisfying conclusion leaving Roxy to ride another day. 

Lady Gunsmith #6 is a quick and entertaining read - short chapters, lots of dialogue, plenty of graphic sex and explosively violent action. Randisi is a seasoned literary entertainer, and he’s got the Adult Western formula down pat. His series books are crafted in such a manner that they don’t require sequential reading, so “Roxy Doyle and the Desperate Housewife” is as good an entry point as any. Recommended.

Purchase this book HERE

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Death House Doll

Author Day Keene, real name Gunard Hjertstedt (1904 -1969) wrote over 50 novels and is often placed in the top echelon of crime fiction along with Gil Brewer, Harry Whittington (he shared an agent with Keene) and David Goodis. Keene's “Death House Doll” was one of ten books the author released over the two-year span of 1953/1954. It's an astonishing feat for any writer, especially considering the magnitude and levels for which Keene was writing. Released by Ace in 1953, the book was re-printed by Prologue Books in 2012 in both physical and digital versions. 

The novel concerns a Chicago woman on death row who was convicted of fatally shooting a diamond salesman. Her only opportunity to escape the chair is Army Sergeant Mike, her lover's brother that made a promise he's determined to keep. As the book opens, Mike visits inmate Mona and advises that his brother, in a dying breath, asked Mike to look after Mona and their baby. Unbeknownst to him, Mona was forced into prostitution by mobster Joe LaFanti after Mike's death. She might have gone one step further and taken the rap for the murder. But why plead guilty all the way to death row? What precious life is worth more than her own?

Keene writes at a whirlwind pace, consistently placing “Death House Doll” and its readers one step from the determined Captain Corson, the lead on Mona's conviction. While Mike gets further entangled in Mona's case he becomes the enemy to both LaFanti and Corson, both convinced that he's the benefactor of the murder – the man's diamonds weren't found with the body. With this much treasure still escaping the bad guys, LaFanti puts his men on Mike in a rough and tumble action spree that seemingly envelopes the book's second-half. 

“Death House Doll” is another fine example of Keene's writing style – a blend of mystery, action and compelling characters. While Mike is the distinct good guy, the other characters have enough depth to blur the lines between right and wrong. It isn't necessarily cookie-cutter in its presentation, instead thrusting the story into the hands of readers in the same fashion as Mona's surprising circumstances are heaved onto Mike. We, along with Mike, never have a moment of composure. The race is on to free Mona, or at least find the definitive answer to the diamond murder. It's a dense narrative with a number of plot threads, but this author is a smooth read and knows his audience. 

Engaging, entertaining...Keene absolutely delivers the goods. Again.

Buy a copy of this book HERE