Friday, August 17, 2018

The Hunter #02 - Night of the Jackals

The prior 'Hunter' novel, debut “Scavenger Kill”, introduced us to former Green Beret John Yard. In that book, Yard is presented as a wealthy entrepreneur who guides big game hunts in the Nairobi area of Africa. He teamed with his colleague, African police officer Moses Ngala, to stage the first “vigilante” styled hunt and kill. The target was an unscrupulous pharmaceutical company headed by a gelatinous villain named Lavalle. “Scavenger Kill” was on an international scope, ranging from Canada to London. I liked Ralph Hayes ambition to write in a more epic fashion and he continues that trend with this second series installment. 

“Night of the Jackals” begins at Camp Pritcher Army base in Georgia. It's a special forces training facility ruled by a notorious Hitler-like Captain named Ernst Rohmer. The opening has a young black man, Wendell Jefferson, ordered to do the old “dig a grave and then fill it back in” routine. His superior, Sergeant Pruitt, issues an abundance of thunderous racial slurs and threats, provoking Jefferson to attack him. The end result is imprisonment in the stockade.

Wendell's brother, Aron, a decorated Vietnam veteran, visits the stockade demanding to know what has happened. He quickly discovers Pruitt's racism and that Rohmer is running the base. It's here where we learn that Rohmer had fought for the Third Reich, and later contracted his services all over the globe as a commanding soldier of fortune. Aron experienced Rohmer's atrocities in Vietnam firsthand and questions why the Army would want a cutthroat dictator training it's men (the reader does too).

Later, a drunken Pruitt and Rohmer fatally beat Wendell in his cell. They politically escape punishment, track down Aron and leave him battered and near death. How does this connect to 'The Hunter'? Aron and Moses Ngala (the series' co-hunter/hero) are old friends. Aron knows Moses is in law enforcement, so he reaches out to him (in a weird scene where it seems Aron ran into Moses by accident). Regardless, Moses and the series protagonist, John Yard, discuss the events from the prior book and decide to do another vigilante job to kill Rohmer and end his reign of terror.

Without spoiling too much of the second half, Yard and Moses travel from Africa to Paris trailing Rohmer. The result has both of them fighting for the Syrians over the Israel border. It's a wild chain of events that completely spins “Night of the Jackals” from vengeful vigilante to espionage thriller before covering a battlefield saga and planting the story in a brutal prison. Author Ralph Hayes hits every single sub-genre of Men's Action Adventure in one fell swoop.

Like his 'Stoner' series, the action shares some of the same exotic locations – African deserts and villages like Lagos and Nairobi. Hayes has mastered “prison fiction”, perhaps building off of 'Buffalo Hunter' debut “Hellhole”, a gritty western set in a ruthless Mexican prison. Additionally, 'Stoner' installment “The Satan Stone” mirrors that same prison scenario in Africa. Now, the finale of this novel has both Yard and Moses inside a violent prison-styled base ran by the sadistic Rohmer. It's repetitive, often using the same sequence of events, but Hayes does it so well that it's the story we want him to tell. At this point in time, this author could be my favorite of the genre. It's a bold statement, but I'm not searching the used stores this hard for any other author.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Death Pulls a Doublecross (aka Coward's Kiss)

In 1961 - around the beginning of his crime fiction career - Lawrence Block submitted a hardboiled private eye novel to Fawcett Gold Medal called “Coward’s Kiss.” When it was finally published, someone at Fawcett changed the title to “Death Pulls a Doublecross.” Decades later when Block began reprinting his early works, he changed the title back to “Coward’s Kiss” where it remains available today as a Kindle eBook and a well-performed audiobook.

Ed London is a stereotypical hardboiled private-eye and when we meet him, he is working on an unusual assignment. He is tasked with quietly removing the corpse of a sexy female murder victim from a Manhattan apartment and then dumping the body in Central Park for later discovery by authorities.

We quickly learn exactly why an otherwise good and ethical PI would do something so uncharacteristically evil. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s a satisfying enough reason that drives the rest of the story. The other big driving storyline is a missing briefcase with unknown contents that good guys and bad guys are both trying to locate - giving the paperback the feel of a NYC treasure hunt inside a standard whodunnit.

It’s fun to read Lawrence Block’s early work with the knowledge that he went on to be a grandmaster of the mystery genre. No one would classify this book as one of his greatest hits, but you can see the greatness in its infancy. The book was never boring and had plenty of violence, gunplay, blood, and death. A nice romantic sub-plot develops and our hero gets laid a couple times. There really is something for everyone in this short paperback. 

If you’ve ever read a mystery novel before, you won’t have much difficulty solving this one. However, the joy of a Lawrence Block book isn’t the destination, it’s the ride. This one is a fun journey. Recommended. 

Postscripts

“Death Pulls a Doublecross” (or “Coward’s Kiss” if you prefer) was originally written as a TV tie-in novel based on “Markham,” a private-eye series starring Ray Milland that aired for one season in 1959–1960. Block liked the finished product so much, he never submitted the TV tie-in version and edited it as a stand-alone mystery novel for Fawcett Gold Medal.

The character of Ed London would have been a natural for a series of hardboiled mystery novels. Block never brought the character back for any more paperbacks, but London starred in three novellas published in Men’s Adventure Magazines in the 1960s. All three novellas have been compiled in Block’s collection of his early short fiction, “One Night Stands and Lost Weekends.”

The other Ed London stories are:

“The Naked and the Deadly” from “Man’s Magazine,” October 1962, reprinted in “Guy, December 1963.

“Stag Party Girl” from “Man’s Magazine,” February 1963, reprinted in “Guy,” February 1965. 

“Twin Call Girls” from “Man’s Magazine,” August 1963, reprinted in “Guy,” August 1965.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Deathwatch

Author Robb White concentrated on juvenile fiction, writing nearly 30 novels between 1935-1985 (he passed away in 1990). Along with novels, he teamed with horror director William Castle to pen screenplays, including classics like “House on Haunted Hill” and “The Tingler”, both featuring the iconic Vincent Price. Along with feature films, he wrote television scripts for “Perry Mason”, “The Silent Service” and “Men of Annapolis”. His 1956 novel “Up Periscope” was adapted to film in 1959 starring James Gardner (later to be spoofed in 1996's film “Down Periscope”). His most identifiable work is the 1972 young adult title “Deathwatch”, a Scholastic mainstay in school libraries in the 70s and 80s. The novel was adapted for film twice – 1974's “Savages” starring Andy Griffith and 2015's “Beyond the Reach” starring Michael Douglas. The fact that it received film treatments twice speaks volumes. It's simply a fantastic story.

Young Ben is a college student who works as a hunting guide in what I presume is a California desert. His client is a pompous Los Angeles businessman named Madec, who is in the desert for a week with Ben hunting bighorn sheep. In the opening chapter, Madec claims he sees horns on a mountainside and fires. Unfortunately, Madec mistakenly shot an elderly prospector. Ben hands his own rifle to Madec and hikes down the mountain to gather a sheet for the body and to drive the Jeep a little closer. Upon return to the corpse, Madec makes a plea and attempts to bribe Ben into disposing of the body and continuing on the hunt. Ben refuses and things get rather grim quickly.

Madec then leaves Ben in the desert in his underwear with no food or water. He knows Ben will never make the exhausting 40 mile trek to freedom, but will stand by and “harass” Ben. Thus, White's narrative is fully developed. Ben makes a run for it, hoping to survive harsh conditions and Madec's rifle shots. The bulk of the story is Ben's will to survive under the most extreme conditions. While catering to young adults, it cuts no corners. Ben's feet start to erode off as he walks on hot and jagged rocks, losing blood while becoming dehydrated. His saving grace is finding an old sling-shot, which he uses to his advantage to hunt and defend.

While the “hunt human prey” adventure story is compelling, the author steps up with the book's closing chapters. Seamlessly, the book changes locations from desert to sheriff's office. It's this portion that showcases more of a legal drama, recapping the events from both Ben and Madec's points of view. It's just as fascinating as the fast-paced desert survival yarn. Overall, White's “Deathwatch” is a classic adventure tale that's still in print.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

File on a Missing Redhead

During his career, Lou Cameron wrote all sorts of men’s adventure fiction, but his 1968 paperback, “File on a Missing Redhead” was a pretty straightforward - and excellent - whodunnit police procedural mystery. Because it’s a Cameron paperback, you know in advance it’s going to be well-written, tightly-plotted, and entertaining as hell.

Our narrator is Lt. Frank Talbot, a Detective with the Nevada Highway Patrol. Talbot is called to a Las Vegas auto wrecking yard where the corpse of a young woman is found stuffed into the forward trunk of an abandoned Volkswagen Beetle. The first order of business is identifying the victim - no small task because of her decomposition and the fact that her fingers and teeth had been removed and her face smashed to bits. The best lead is that her beautiful head of red hair was still in tact.

Things quickly get personal for Talbot when his ex-girlfriend surfaces claiming that a female skip-tracer she knows with fiery red hair has recently come up missing. This investigative path brings Talbot inside the world of professional skip-tracers and the insider’s view into that industry was fascinating to the uninitiated reader. But is this missing skip-tracer the same person as the redhead in the trunk?

The reader never really gets to know Talbot much as a person. He’s a reliable narrator and a fantastic police detective, but he is not given much of a personality outside of his ultra-competent investigative skills. As Talbot follows clues in a pretty straightforward homicide investigation, it becomes clear that he’s on the trail of an honest-to-goodness psychopath working in the seamy underbelly of Las Vegas casino life. The plot twists and turns making for a wild ride, and Cameron’s take on hardboiled detective narration is top-notch throughout the paperback.

I suspect that Cameron may have wanted to bring Lt. Talbot back more for additional novels, but “File on a Missing Redhead” likely wasn’t a gangbusters hit, relegating it to just another late-period Fawcett Gold Medal stand-alone paperback original. That’s a shame because it’s a fantastic police procedural packed with many interesting factoids - a rare mystery where you’ll walk away having learned a thing or two - right up to the mystery’s twisty resolution.

More unfortunately, this superb novel has not been reprinted or digitized since it’s 1968 release, so you’ll have to play detective yourself to track down a used copy. It’s worth the hunt as this one’s a total winner. Highly recommended.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Hunter #01 - "Scavenger Kill"

Ralph Hayes was extremely active in the 1970s, enterprising a multitude of action adventure series' including 'Stoner', 'Buffalo Hunter', 'Agent for Cominsec' and 'Check Force'. The prolific author contributed to the 'Killmaster' series, penning eight novels under the Nick Carter name. While little is known about Hayes, his passion for traveling is conveyed in his writing. Often his books are international endeavors, capturing the full spectrum of the story-line with multiple locations and characters. That extensive storytelling is presented in 'The Hunter' series, debuting with “Scavenger Kill” in 1975 (Leisure).

Hayes introduces John Yard, the obligatory Vietnam war veteran. As a Green Beret, Yard “knew more ways to kill a man than he cared to remember”. He abandoned the Army, going AWOL after losing the cause altogether. My suspicion is that his immense inheritance contributed to his decision to ditch and run. With a deceased uncle's fortune, Yard sets up a travel company in New York that cleverly sends rich Caucasians to Africa to hunt big game. This fuels the hunter's manhood, but also allows Yard two hands in the money-jar; the left for the travel agency and the right as the hunting guide. It's in Africa that our story begins.

Yard is leading a lion hunt with an arrogant, inexperienced sportsman that can't complete the kill. After wounding the lion, it's up to Yard to enter dense foliage and finish off the hunter's deficiency. This is an important lesson for the hunter as well as the reader. This scene plays an important role in the book's thundering finale. After the hunt, Hayes receives word that his former Army buddy, Joe Algers, has experienced a horrifying sequence of events in New York. 

Chapter Two explains the nightmarish misfortune of the Algers family. Weeks after giving birth, Holly and Joe realize the child is a hairy mutant that may not have brain activity. In what amounts to a horror novel, Holly receives confirmation from the doctor, then drowns the baby in a bath and jumps to her death. The cause for these events is a medication called Moricidin manufactured by Maurice Pharmaceuticals. Despite warning signs, the medication was still on the market and the end-result of its dosage is creating mutant babies. The owner of the company is an obese, vile villain named Maurice Lavalle. 

With plot and villain in hand, Yard and his African police-friend Moses seek the whereabouts of Lavalle. The book is presented in grand scale, scouring places like London, New York, Nairobi and Canada for clues and contacts. While not overly erotic or graphic, there are two brief sex-scenes as Yard goes “undercover” with one of Lavalle's secretaries. Often Moses follows one lead while Yard tails another – on a different continent. The two have a number of physical confrontations on their globe-trotting odyssey, culminating in explosive gun-play at a high-rise before wrapping during an action-packed river firefight. It's these final scenes that run full-circle to the book's beginnings, proving Yard, while hunting big-game, was seemingly destined to become this vigilante.

Hayes would follow this debut with four additional series installments. Yard is often teaming with Moses in the series, righting the wrongs of 70s society while still being prominent in 2018. The blunt writing style, frequent action and unyielding protagonist makes 'The Hunter' debut a prized trophy.

Friday, August 10, 2018

A Night for Screaming

Harry Whittington’s “A Night for Screaming” is a 1960 fugitive-on-the-run story told by Mitch Walker - an innocent man accused of murder - who is dodging the law and finds himself broke and hungry in a small Kansas town after being booted from a freight train the night before.

The local redneck fuzz is less of a concern to Mitch than psychotic Police Detective Fred Palmer who has been pursuing Mitch for the murder. Palmer is a fantastic character - a brilliant and brutal cop who can adeptly quarterback the pursuit, arrest, torturous interrogation, and conviction of any fugitive. When Detective Palmer arrives in Kansas to join the hunt, it’s Mitch’s worst nightmare.

Mitch takes refuge as a migrant worker on the mega-farm outside of town. The farm is staffed by hourly workers as well as forced labor consisting of local prisoners from the county. The owner of the farm is an enigmatic and fascinating character with a lusty and unstable wife who is always looking for a romp with the help.

The less you know about what goes on at the Great Plains Empire Farm, the better. This is a helluva story, and I’m not going to ruin it for you here. Suffice it to say that this one will keep you turning the pages long after you should be attending to your other human needs. Whittington wrote compelling books, and this is among his best. Today’s authors could learn a lot from Whittington’s knack for plotting a tightly-wound, fat-free story. The action in this novel is propulsive and starts from page one, and the unfolding events are never predictable. I read a lot of this stuff, and I never knew exactly where things were headed in this one.

In the beginning of the Stark House Noir Classics re-release of “A Night for Screaming,” there is a helpful bibliography of Whittington’s novels and the numbers are staggering. The Florida native wrote over 170 books between the years 1946 and 1988 making him the “King of the Paperbacks” during an important era of American literature. Stark House’s re-packaging of this classic also includes Whittington’s “Any Woman He Wanted” and an informative introduction by David Wilson. Highly recommended. Purchase a copy here.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

TNT #01 - TNT

'TNT' debuted in 1985 in the US via Charter Books. It ran seven volumes in the US, but the book's origin is in France where the idea ran for an additional two installments. In fact, this book was originally released there as early as 1978 (under “Les Sept Cercles”). Author Doug Masters is actually Pierr Rey and Loup Durand, and this US edition was translated by Victoria Reiter. Regardless of who developed it and country of origin, this book is absolutely a steaming turd. In fact, there are three levels of really horrendous turd fiction that might better explain where 'TNT' lies:

The most abysmal, senseless garbage is the top tier – 'Roadblaster'. 

The middle is a guaranteed turd but could have an enjoyable chapter. It is best represented by the series 'Phoenix'. 

The barely manageable level is 'Swampmaster'.

'TNT' is on the “Phoenix” level of underwear skid marks.

Anthony Nicholas Twin is TNT (call him Tony and it works). While we don't know how he became wealthy...he just is. The author takes great liberty with Marvel Comics and the early 1950's atomic frenzy that fueled pop culture at the time. TNT, being this rich reporter, globe hops to a barren island to photograph an atomic bombing. Miraculously, he hides behind a cement slab and survives the bombing...because concrete will definitely protect against 15 kilotons of TNT. Ask the Japanese. Because he was exposed to radiation, he becomes super-powered like Peter Parker, the Fantastic Four and Hulk. His new superpowers allow him to see in the dark, have Spidey-Sense and the ability to withstand an erection for days. That's the most important weapon...the woody. If the normal man has an erection for more than four hours, the commercials advise us to consult medical help. TNT just keeps on piledriving – so much that he brings one woman to orgasm 15 times. But, more on that later.

TNT is taken to some secluded military hospital where he lies in a coma only to awaken and t-bone the tending nurse. While we never read one single line of TNT's thoughts, we get the idea that he really has no idea who or where he is. He just mentions the term “October”, which we later learn is the name of his mentally challenged daughter. The baddie is Arnold Bennedict (get it?), a commander of some undisclosed military branch that wants to use TNT for secret missions. The first assignment? Break out of the hospital and escape. 

The middle has TNT align with some strange transcending Apaches in Mexico. There's a female character called Mercedes that makes books of human skin, enjoys lavish parties and plays with little boys using bobby pins. The author has no idea why, only that he has TNT jackhammer Mercedes until she begs for the orgasms to stop (before she dies from too many of them). Later, TNT is moved to some European castle where the military has taken October hostage. It is odd, because TNT can interact and walk with her hand in hand...but can't escape? There's a promise that the military can “heal” her, but none of it makes any sense...it doesn't have to. The authors had no idea anyone was reading this trash. TNT is asked to penetrate a compound and kill a man who can make vehicles run on water. Really?? 

Once inside he finds that this is all “The Running Man” game where levels are presented as wacky win or die routines. It is utterly absurd. He teams with a few other chosen representatives and penetrates the compound only to find there will be seven circles for TNT to win, each one consisting of cumbersome traps like insects, rotting corpses, razor blades, electricity and poisonous gas. However, the wildest part is that TNT must bring caged women to orgasm in order to advance to the next level. This tests his enormous, long-lasting erection and pushes him to his sexual peaks. My God, the horror.

At the end of the day, I'm never reading another 'TNT' novel. I made that promise with David Alexander's 'Phoenix' and I'm doing it here. I would have to contemplate the sanity of anyone holding this in high regard as a men's action-adventure entry. It is horribly written, with characters that serve no purpose or reason to exist. TNT becomes a shallow character because the reader is offered no insight on his condition or feelings. I just can't say enough bad things about this book. Stay away...for God's sake just stay away.