Friday, July 19, 2019

Leo Guild #01 - Guild

Edward Gorman (1941-2016) authored over 60 novels in a wide variety of genres ranging from horror to crime. His many pseudonyms included E.J. Gorman, Daniel Ransom and Robert David Chase. Some of his most beloved literary contributions are westerns, notably the four volume 'Leo Guild' series published between 1987 and 1991 by Ballantine.

The series debut, “Guild,” introduces readers to bounty hunter Leo Guild. In a backstory, we learn that Guild was a lawman who accidentally killed a young girl while pursuing criminals (like Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder). Mercifully, Guild is found innocent of murder and is released to face his own demons. Burdened by heavy guilt while seeking retribution, Guild is now a middle-aged bounty hunter in the 1890s.

The story begins with Guild escorting a prisoner into the small town of Danton. Guild stumbles onto a murder mystery as a local banker is found dead. The culprit seems to be a drunken ex-circus performer named Earle, but Guild has second thoughts after talking with the man's young friend, Annie. Having no real allies, Guild agrees to look into the murder for Annie but is surprised to find that Earle has apparently committed suicide by hanging himself. Fearing that the law may be covering up the real murderer, Guild's pursuit of justice makes up the novel's narrative.

Like many westerns before and after Guild, the plot introduces the stereotypical villain in a rich playboy named Frank. As the son of wealthy land developer Mason Cord, Frank's silver spoon is Danton's bank. Guild learns that Frank had gambled and lost four-thousand dollars to Earle. Further, Frank is apparently draining the bank's assets in a frivolous attempt to purchase liberal amounts of both whiskey and prostitutes. This overwhelming evidence points Guild's guns at Frank in hopes of bringing justice and peace to Annie and her slain friend.

While telling a familiar tale, Gorman writes with enough conviction to captivate readers. I read  the 184-page novel in nearly one sitting, as evidence of the book's easy flow. There's a number of interesting characters – the rehabilitating criminal Maloney, the endearing widow Ruby, lovable Annie and of course our sole hero, the darkly complex Leo Guild. For action fans, Gorman injects a fair amount of gun play, but the storytelling and character development is the real trophy here.

“Guild” is a rock solid treat for western fans.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Crooked Window (aka Blood Lust Orgy)

In 1956, Harry Whittington wrote a manuscript called “The Crooked Window” that went unsold for a decade until March 1966 when it was adapted into a Nightstand Book called “Blood Lust Orgy.” The original 30,000 word novella was later published in Shell Scott Mystery Magazine’s November 1966 issue under the original title. I found a copy of the Shell Scott magazine containing the novella at a nice price on eBay whereas the lusty paperback tends to fetch insanely-high collector prices.

Readers expecting an actual orgy of blood and lust will probably be pretty disappointed, but “The Crooked Window” is a compelling mystery story typical of the digests of the late 1960s. It opens with Bill dropping off Marge at a local department store while he waits in the car for her. She needs to do some shopping before they return to their motel to resume daytime boning. Oddly, Marge never emerges, and Bill wonders why his girlfriend is taking so long.

Through a flashback montage, we learn that the relationship between Bill and Marge is a forbidden love. Marge is a married woman in an unhappy and abusive relationship. Her heel of a husband won’t give her a divorce, so her romance with Bill is driven underground. They meet periodically in secret to enjoy a few stolen hours together, and that’s exactly what they were doing when Marge inconveniently disappears inside the department store.

After verifying that Marge is nowhere inside the store, Bill is forced to make some tough decisions. Should he get the police involved? After all, he really as no legitimate standing in her life in his capacity as secret boyfriend. As day turns to night, Marge’s husband eventually calls the cops. Her disappearance becomes big local news, yet Bill remains paralyzed with fear - not wanting to step forward to reveal what he knows to police for fear of exposing Marge’s extra-curricular romance. The moral dilemmas and mysterious happenings unfold from there.

Again, this is a decent mystery but nothing particularly special. It’s not much better or worse than the stories you’d find in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine around that same era. Most importantly, “The Crooked Window” just isn’t up to the caliber of Harry Whittington’s greatest hits, and it’s certainly not worth the price bonehead collectors have been paying for rare copies of “Blood Lust Orgy.” If you can find a copy of the digest cheap, you should certainly buy the magazine and read the story. Just control your expectations and don’t expect a masterpiece.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Dusky MacMorgan #01 - Key West Connection

Randy Wayne White became a New York Times bestselling author with his 25-book ‘Doc Ford’ series. Launched in 1990, the modern series stars a government agent turned marine biologist who fights crime in the Caribbean. However, before White went mainstream, he authored two men's action-adventure paperback series in the 1980s – 11 novels in the 'Hawker' series written as Carl Ramm and seven for the 'Dusky MacMorgan' series under the name Randy Striker.

In 1980, publishing heavyweight Signet was seeking a vigilante-styled series that would hopefully capitalize on the tremendous success of Mack Bolan. The publisher envisioned a hero with a distinct set of characteristics: Vietnam vet, Key West resident, handsome, and freakishly strong - consistent with 70s and 80s action-adventure pop-culture. They wanted the series to extend into a mammoth amount of volumes split up between four rotating authors.

A Signet editor spotted a short-story by White in an issue of Outside Magazine. As a possible candidate to join their writing foursome, the publisher pitched their paperback he-man hero to White and asked for three chapters. White, a Florida coastal resident and charter boat captain at the time, ran with the idea and wrote the series' first volume, “Key West Connection,” in just nine days. The publisher loved the book and quickly declared White to be the sole author of the project. The 'Dusky MacMorgan' series didn't gain enough sales success, but ran a total of seven installments from 1981-1982. The series served to provide some adequate writing experience for White, who would begin the longer-running 'Hawker' series for Dell in 1984.

In “Key West Connection”, readers are introduced to MacMorgan on his fishing vessel Sniper. Through some backstory segments we learn that MacMorgan was a child circus performer who lost his family in a big-top fire. Joining the Navy Seals at age 16, MacMorgan would go on to serve three combat tours in Vietnam. Retiring from service, he married an actress named Janet, moved to Key West and fathered twin sons. Now, MacMorgan runs a successful fishing charter for snowbirds looking for warm weather sport.


After hearing that his best friend Billie Mack had been murdered, MacMorgan tracks the killers to Mack's captured boat. In a graphic, violent display of MacMorgan's experience, he quickly catches the killers and learns they are drug runners for a corrupt U.S. Senator. Building a small empire in South America, the career politician targets MacMorgan's family, blowing up the family car and killing Janet and their two sons. Their deaths are the catalyst for MacMorgan's vendetta against the Senator and later the various crime rings in and around the Caribbean.

White writes at a tremendous pace and provides an average revenge styled thriller. Looking at the series longevity, White has MacMorgan team with a shadowy government agency to exploit and terminate island criminals. “Key West Connection” sets the bar fairly low but introduces a handful of characters that aid in making the story a little more dynamic. White describes MacMorgan as a “duck and fuck” series – the hero dodges bullets and screws a heroine in alternating chapters. I'd speculate that's about par for the course in terms of 80s men's action-adventure paperbacks. I prefer White's 'Hawker' series based on my small sample size of Dusky MacMorgan. I disliked the Hawker series debut, “Florida Firefight,” but later installments improved markedly. Maybe MacMorgan will find some traction and improve in later books. I'm in no real hurry to find out.

This novel was featured on the second episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast on July 15, 2019. 

Buy a copy of this novel HERE

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Bodyguard #06 - The Model Body

Richard Reinsmith (sometimes spelled Richard Rein Smith) authored several science fiction and romance novels under pseudonyms including Damon Castle, Ann Taylor, and Dan Elliott. He also wrote a tie-in novel in 1985 titled “Tarzan and the Tower of Diamonds.” His foray into the 1980s men’s adventure gold rush consisted of eight books in ‘The Bodyguard’ series published by low-end paperback houses, Tower and Leisure Books. Because series order really doesn’t matter here, my entry point is the sixth installment, “The Model Body” from 1984.

The bodyguard narrator, Ray Martin, is hired to protect a nymphomaniac model and porn magazine publisher that someone is trying to kill. Heather is a redhead version of Marilyn Monroe who has recently survived two attempts on her life, and Ray needs to make sure the third attempt doesn’t hit the target. The secret to Ray’s success is a type of ESP that helps him detect when an attempt on his client’s life is about to happen. The author doesn’t overdo the psychic stuff. The early-warning system seems to work like Spidey-Sense and is intended to illustrate that Ray is a next-level kinda bodyguard.

As attempts on Heather’s life continue, it becomes clear that Ray’s smartest course of action is to identify and neutralize the person behind the killers rather than acting as a hockey goalie for bullets headed toward his client. The investigative aspect of “The Model Body” places the novel squarely into the realm of private detective fiction and reminded me of a Carter Brown mystery where a professional investigator is thrust into a world of sexual eccentrics to solve a mystery. In this case, Ray is plunged into a subculture of pornography, S&M dungeons, and snuff films to discover who wants his client dead.

And mostly it worked. The first-person narration is decent and conversational. Ray is a brave and competent hero. To be sure, there are some really dumb elements to the book. For example, Ray goes to great pains to explain that carrying one Beretta in each hand is somehow a good idea. This, of course, is moronic. There’s a reason you don’t see real cops and soldiers blasting away with two pistols at the same time. Ray also gets laid a lot in fairly graphic detail and not always in service of the plot. At times, this felt like fan-service filler meant to pad the page count.

Here’s the bottom line: Don't special order this paperback from afar. Don’t buy a copy encased in plastic from a fine books dealer. Don’t choose this paperback for your monthly book club selection with your fancy friends. However, if you find a copy at a yard sale for a buck or less and you want a big-font, non-challenging read, you’ll probably enjoy “The Model Body” just fine.

Addendum

The Bodyguard series consist of:

1. Bury the Past (1979)
2. The Blonde Target (1980)
3. An Extra Body (1980)
4. Somebody to Kill (1983)
5. A Body in Paradise (1984)
6. The Model Body (1984)
7. Nobody’s Perfect (1984)
8. A Body for Christmas (1984)

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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.

This novel was featured on the July 15, 2019 episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

Buy a copy of this book HERE