Monday, July 15, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 02

In this episode, Tom and I discuss the origins of the paperback book in 1939. Our feature is the widely successful publisher Fawcett Gold Medal, a cornerstone of crime-noir in the 50s, 60s and early 70s. We also look at “Black Wings Has my Angel” by Lewis Elliott Chaze and the debut ‘MacMorgan’ novel by Randy Wayne White. Play the episode below or stream at any of these services: Apple, Spreaker, Stitcher, Soundcloud, Radio Public, YouTube and Castbox.


Listen to "Episode 02: Fawcett Gold Medal" on Spreaker.

Siberia 10

Clark Howard (1932-2016) wrote 16 novels, six books of non-fiction and two collections of short stories during his 40-year career. As an amateur boxer and juvenile delinquent, Howard bounced around in his mid-teens before eventually joining the U.S. Marine Corps at age 17. During his three year tour in Korea, Howard was one of only eight survivors in his platoon during the Battle of the Punchbowl. His experience in the USMC led to a number of Howard's war stories including “Siberia 10,” published by Pinnacle in 1973.

Siberia 10 is a fictional USMC stockade in San Diego, California. In the novel's opening pages, Private Zangari escapes from the prison in a rather clever ruse that leads to his eventual capture on the steps of a local newspaper. This opening chapter explains to readers that Siberia 10 is run by brutal leadership, recounting violent everyday experiences for American soldiers.

The political climate inside is a tumultuous storm where black prisoners have formed a faction of Black Panthers. These soldiers have filed a formal complaint with the NAACP charging that they are recipients of racially charged abuse from the white guards. Simultaneously, the white prisoners have formed a petition stating they are being brutalized by the black prisoners. All of this comes under the watch of officers that spend their days drunk, womanizing, gambling and abusing the camp’s prisoners.

Chapter two introduces the book's protagonist, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Hannon. His first appearance is in the Dai Tet countryside of Vietnam running a strategic seek and destroy operation on the Vietcong. After being dismissed from his platoon, Hannon is summoned to Washington D.C. and introduced to an unnamed Commandant. For validity, the Commandant reads Hannon's own resume to Hannon, highlighting his superior fighting strength and leadership in Korea, Manilla, Cuba and Vietnam. The Commandant promotes Hannon to the temporary rank of Brigadier General and asks him to assume the new leadership at Siberia 10. While deeply troubled by the stockade's black eye in the media, the Commandant wants the USMC to fix their own mistakes before the panic escalates. Hesitantly, Hannon accepts the job.

As a seasoned paperback enthusiast, I've consistently came across various literary works that prompted me to think of movie adaptations. That idea was etched in my mind throughout my reading experience of “Siberia 10”. This 300-page novel demands to be a successful television show. There are numerous story threads woven into the larger story arc of Hannon rehabilitating Siberia 10. These threads ultimately consume the narrative, but they are so intriguing and engaging that I was hooked like a housewife watching the soaps.

Hannon's role as the new General begins with a whirlwind of opposition, in-fighting and subordination. After making the necessary adjustments to his staff, Hannon begins life lessons for a dozen or more supporting characters. His stout stance of duty and brotherhood serves like a fiery pulpit sermon on the importance and legacy of the USMC. It's patriotic, stirring and American. Hannon's treatment of Siberia 10 is reminiscent of coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) spurring that small Indiana school into champions in the 1986 film “Hoosiers.” It's an effective feel-good story about overcoming race, cultural differences and adversity that works just as well in 2019.

As an action-adventure piece, this isn't “The Great Escape” or “Papillon” by any means. While firmly entrenched behind bars, the novel's only action sequences are some boxing matches, an occasional brawl and some described brutality. Instead, the novel works like a more aggressive take on Richard Booker's 1968 book “MASH.” There are numerous comedic moments, an abundance of sex and the typical coarse language of a war novel. Like Clark Howard's “The Last Contract”, also published in 1973, the author proves to be a masterful storyteller no matter what approach he takes. I will probably read “Siberia 10” again...and again. It's that good.

Buy a copy of this novel HERE

Friday, July 12, 2019

Black Wings Has My Angel

Lewis Elliott Chaze (1915-1990) was an American WW2 veteran, journalist, and mainstream novelist who crafted a Fawcett Gold Medal crime novel in 1953 titled “Black Wings Has My Angel” that is regarded as one of the finest noir novels of the 1950s. The book has been reprinted several times over the past 66 years under the original title and as “One for the Money” and “One for My Money.” Stark House Books has brought the paperback back from literary hibernation along with the excellent “One Is A Lonely Number” by Bruce Elliott.

The novel opens with our narrator, using the name Tim Sunblade, finishing up a roughnecking job on a Louisiana river and ordering a whore to be delivered to his hotel room for some recreation. He’s surprised when the bellhop brings him Virginia, a stunning beauty with a taste for sex and money. After a few days of energetic banging, Tim decides to bring her on the road with him figuring that he can always ditch her at a rest stop if her company becomes tiresome. Virginia is quite possibly the most conniving femme fatale in the history of the noir genre. She’s truly a character you’ll never forget.  

Through his narration, we learn that Tim once received an expensive university education and is currently a fugitive following a daring prison escape. His road trip with Virginia takes them to Colorado, and the reader begins to get glimpses of what Tim has in mind: a daring heist. The plan is revealed in bits and pieces - Denver, an abandoned mine shaft, and a trailer large enough to fit an armored car. As a cover, Tim and Virginia set up shop in a solid working-class neighborhood posing as a married couple for the planning phase of the operation.

The heist itself was pretty good and the aftermath is legitimately compelling with periodic explosions of extreme violence. There’s plenty of bloodshed and betrayal to hold your interest, and the novel’s conclusion is genuinely sick, dark, and fantastic. For the entire ride, Chaze’s writing strikes a conversational tone and has many thoughtful insights about the human condition. At times his prose is rather beautiful and literary - a step above most of the writing in this genre.

Overall, I really don’t have a bad word to say about this compact and entertaining piece of noir history. It’s really up there with the classics of the genre, and we should all be thankful that Stark House has bought this important work of literature back into print. This is a must-read. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Matthew Scudder #01 - Sins of the Father

Lawrence Block's most prolific and successful series character is Matthew Scudder. Throughout a 43-year span, the author wrote 17 novels, a short-story collection and a novella about the alcoholic ex-New York City detective. Many fans speculate that the Scudder novels are reflective of Block's own past struggles with alcohol. In Writer's Digest, Block wrote that when he created Scudder, "I let him hang out in the same saloon where I spent a great deal of my own time. I was drinking pretty heavily around that time, and I made him a pretty heavy drinker, too. I drank whiskey, sometimes mixing it with coffee. So did Scudder."

The series debuted in 1976 with the successful novel “The Sins of the Fathers.” In the book's opening pages, we find Scudder as a rather tortured soul bearing life's deep scars and the weight of a burdensome guilt. An alcoholic divorcee, the ex-New York City detective now lives as a recluse in the low-rent section of Hell's Kitchen. Scudder's fall from grace occurred when his bullet, intended for a fleeing criminal, went astray and killed a young girl. After leaving his family and career, Scudder now accepts jobs, and referrals from his former Lieutenant, as an unlicensed private investigator.

In a coffee shop in Midtown, Scudder meets with the father of a recently slain young woman. He asks Scudder to look further into his daughter's murder despite the open and shut appearance of the case. The woman was shredded with a straight razor by her male roommate. After the murder, the man was found wandering the street half-naked, covered in blood and speaking in gibberish about raping and murdering his own mother. After his arrest, the man committed suicide in his cell.

Speculating that there is a clear culprit exposed, Scudder hesitantly accepts the job and promises to do a thorough examination of the evidence and report his findings to the woman's father. Block then pairs the reader with Scudder's investigation, structuring this 180-page novel into a familiar police procedural. We become spectators as witnesses, suspects and motives are inspected. As the plot thickens, the narrative expands into psychological suspense that propels the procedural process into an exciting murder mystery.


“The Sins of the Fathers” represents a transition between the wild 1960s crime noir into the more graphic and intense 1970s crime-fiction market. Lawrence Block captures America's moral erosion, the tearing down of the family structure and the wholesome ideals that came before it. Here, the author profiles the murderer as a homosexual necrophiliac with mother figure fascinations. Perhaps I'm pulling the wrong thread, but Block's deeper analysis of religion, guilt, family relations and youth are abstract, yet on-point for what was ultimately the new normal of the 70s.

With this series debut, Block has created a worthy, yet flawed protagonist who will compel readers to delve more and more into the series. While not a hard-hitting action formula, Scudder's tenacity and grim approach is more than enough to keep readers invested in Block's storytelling. This is a sold first step in what will become one of crime-fiction's most treasured series titles from a master of the genre.

The discussion of the novel was featured on the Paperback Warrior Podcast on July 8th, 2019 (LINK).

Buy a copy of this novel HERE

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Penetrator #14 - Mankill Sport

Chet Cunningham remains one of my favorite authors of pulpy men’s adventure fiction, but I’ve had trouble connecting with his popular series ‘The Penetrator’ written under the pseudonym of Lionel Derrick. The series ran for over 50 installments and was launched to capitalize on the success of Don Pendleton’s ‘The Executioner.” Cunningham’s take on the serial vigilante genre was mostly silly and over-the-top and usually not very good. For me, it’s always been a challenge to remain focused on the written page when I’m so busy rolling my eyes.

“Mankill Sport” from 1976 is the 14th installment in the series, and I was seduced by the plot synopsis which touts the book as a 1970s take on Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” in which a hunter stalks men through the deep woods as prey. It’s a premise that has been re-worked dozens of times over the past century, and I was curious to see what Cunningham would do with the concept. The book review is below and a discussion of the novel was featured on the Paperback Warrior Podcast on July 8th, 2019 (LINK).

For the uninitiated, Mark Hardin is The Penetrator, a half-Cheyenne former U.S. Army killing machine with a brilliant mind and expert marksman skills. As “Mankill Sport” opens, Hardin is two-and-a-half years into his one-man war in crime and has achieved folk hero status among millions of groupies worldwide. Early in the paperback, he receives an assignment from his mentor to target a Detroit drug lord and big game hunter named Johnny Utah.

At his best, The Penetrator recalls Detective Comics’ Batman - no super-powers but well-resourced, violent, and quick access to cool gadgets. The first half of “Mankill Sport” has Hardin following Utah’s trail across North America to force a deadly confrontation. Because it’s disclosed on the book’s cover, I’m comfortable telling you that Utah’s hobby is kidnapping innocent people and hunting them through the thick Canadian woods like animals, and the climax of the novel finds Hardin in the role of Utah’s prey. Can The Penetrator turn the tables and transform the hunter into the hunted?

I’ve read several paperbacks in ‘The Penetrator’ series, and this one is the best of the batch I’ve sampled. The premise is derivative as hell but it’s extremely well-executed and ultra-violent. Moreover, the entire series is available for purchase on your Kindle for super cheap. I can’t necessarily endorse other books in the series, but “Mankill Sport” is essential reading for men’s adventure fans.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Jigsaw

Everybody has at least one book they can write in their lifetime, right? I've heard that statement dozens of times. Apparently author Robin Sherman heard it as well. The former real estate agent contributed to the men's fertile action adventure genre in 1973. “Jigsaw”, her only known literary work, has the stereotypical attire that would accompany genre pieces of that era. It's published by Pinnacle (home of 'The Executioner') with a cover painted by the talented Gil Cohen ('The Executioner'). Is “Jigsaw” a diamond in the rough, a treasure buried in decades of used books? Or, simply a one-time use better served as kindling for your campfire?

Sadly, “Jigsaw” falls into the fire-starter category. 

The novel is set in London and consists of a crime syndicate using a stolen weapon to destroy government embassies. With a disposable narrative that begs for 'Killmaster', Sherman's writing is a complicated, contrived work that burdens readers with pages upon pages of cumbersome backstory on characters that have very little plot value. Each chapter is broken down into character conventions – brief history, identity and some connection - no matter how trivial – to the central theme. While readers are begging for a propelling story, Sherman focuses her efforts on mindless introductions. 

While not intended (who knows?), there are some enjoyable moments. In a humorous scene the chief intelligence officer for an unnamed British agency has his secretary randomly pick one of three agent files. As if performing a magic trick, the woman chooses rookie agent Brendon McCallie. For an important mission, like say government embassies exploding daily in London, the only solution to the problem is by choosing an agent randomly. It is a paradigm of how disposable the writing really is.

While there are some gripping action sequences, it's too little too late to save what is ultimately a dumbed-down effort. As of the time of this writing, Sherman had plans for a crime novel about a “racketeering” tennis player. Just roll your eyes and scan the shelves for something better.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, July 8, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 01

It’s the debut of the Paperback Warrior Podcast! In this episode, we’ll provide an introduction to our hosts Eric and Tom. Together, we look at the show’s primary focus on vintage fiction and our introductions to the genres. We’ll discuss the goldmine of paperback treasure, the famed Chamblin’s Book Mine in Jacksonville, Florida, as well as two novels - "Sins of the Fathers" by Lawrence Block and "Penetrator #14" by Chet Cunningham. Plus we look ahead at the upcoming episodes and highlight some content featured right here on our flagship site, paperbackwarrior.com. Stream the episode below or on Stitcher. Android users will find us on the Radio Public app. You may also visit us on the following services:

Spreaker, Soundcloud, YouTube, Direct Download, Castbox Listen to "Episode 01: Welcome to Paperback Warrior" on Spreaker.