Monday, December 31, 2018

Paperback Warrior: The State of the Blog

Paperback Warrior: The State of the Blog

2018 was a huge year for Paperback Warrior’s growth. We published 288 original entries - mostly reviews - and we ended the year with an aggressive production schedule of new content released every morning, Monday through Friday.

Here’s how our content broke down by genre:

Hardboiled Crime/Noir - 43%
Western - 17%
Vigilante - 15%
Adventure - 5%
Post-Apocalypse - 5%
Spy/Espionage - 4%
WW2 – 3%
Feature Articles - 3%
Action Teams - 2%
Pulp - 2%
Plantation - 1%

Our social media footprint has grown as well with followers on the following platforms:

Facebook - 685
Twitter - 892
Instagram - 1936

We also conducted extensive traffic analysis to learn what you like to read. You voted with your feet (well, your fingers) and visited the following ten articles more than any others in 2018:



1. Searching for the D.C. Man: A Paperback Warrior Unmasking

2. The Greatest Men's Adventure Series Ever: A Paperback Warrior Poll

3. The Adult Western Superfriends

4. Cuba: Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter

5. Inside McLeane's Rangers: A Paperbackback Warrior Unmasking

6. Earl Drake #01 - The Name of the Game is Death (Dan J. Marlowe)

7. The Loving and the Dead (Alan Yates as Carter Brown)

8. A Hell of a Woman (Jim Thompson)

9. Hardman #01 - Atlanta Deathwatch (Ralph Dennis)

10. White Squaw #02 - Boomtown Bust (Mark K. Roberts as E.J. Hunter)

Mostly we want to thank you for reading and interacting with us. We hope that you discovered some good reading and were warned away from some real stinkers. Stay tuned for some great things in 2019!

Friday, December 28, 2018

Trail to Peach Meadow Canyon

“The Trail to Peach Meadow Canyon” is a short Louis L’Amour novel (about 73 modern pages) that originally appeared in the October 1949 issue of “Giant Western” magazine. Since then, it has been reprinted several times in various L’Amour compilations. It’s also available as a Kindle eBook for three bucks.

The setup for this story is awesome. Mike Bastian is an orphan who was raised by enigmatic rancher Ben Curry as his own son. However, in addition to book smarts, Curry taught young Mike a unique set of skills including pistol marksmanship, quick draw, knife throwing, lock-picking, and safecracking. As Mike reaches adulthood at age 22, he learns the truth: his adopted father is an old-west crime lord who has personally engineered Mike to be the ultimate criminal mastermind who can take over as the new Godfather of the West.

The sheer scope of Curry’s criminal empire is staggering. He has over 100 men working for him - mostly executing Curry-planned heists far away from his base of operations in a giant mansion along the Colorado River where Curry lives like a feudal lord. However, Curry is getting old and wants to retire to his distant ranch with his estranged wife and children while enjoying his wealth for his remaining years. And he wants young Mike - who has never committed a crime in his life - to take over his underworld empire.

This creates a moral dilemma for Mike who loves Curry but is not immediately excited about immersing himself in the dark side and basically becoming Darth Vader on a horse. As an orientation to the life, Curry tasks Mike with handling the planning of an upcoming heist of a train transporting gold from the mines. What if Mike declines the offer? Will he accidentally force the hulking kingpin’s hand to wipe out his own adopted son?

All of this was shaping up to be a cross between The Godfather and Richard Stark’s Parker in the Wild West when the novel took an abrupt left turn. Mike meets a girl with whom he has a connection that presents our young hero with a new - and substantially lower-stakes - moral dilemma to solve. This causes the heist novel to quickly become a rescue-the-girl book - an exciting adventure as well, but not the book I was expecting after the great world-building L’Amour does in the story’s first half.

In any case, the author’s writing is top-notch and his descriptions of western settings and topography of the region are incredibly vivid. The book’s resolution was satisfying enough even if it wasn’t the bloodbath heist story I was expecting. In any case, “The Trail to Peach Meadow Canyon” is a quick read and an easy recommendation.

Buy this story HERE

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Track #01 - The Ninety-Nine

Gold Eagle originally had the idea for 'Track' as 'Hunter', which would have made more sense overall. At the time NBC had the 'Hunter' name branded for television, thus 'Track' is given as this series name. It had a 13-book run from 1984-1986 and had a mythology of protagonist Dan Track “tracking” down 99 stolen nukes. 

According to the “Brian Drake at Large!” blog, and comments Drake made at Trash Menace, Ahern had less than favorable opinions of the Track series. According to Drake, Ahern had publishing constraints and disliked the series' title. Perhaps his lack of enthusiasm is the driving force behind the debut's failure. “The Nintey-Nine”, the series opener, is a lethargic read that left me wishing the book length was the standard 180-pages instead of 220. It was a bear to get through. 

Dan Track is a retired Army Major and former member of the branch's Criminal Investigation Division (CID). The beginning of the book has Track undercover and under covers with arms dealer Desiree Goth. After investigating her robbery of Wiesbaden arsenal, Track decides to break cover and detain her. Unfortunately, Goth and enforcer Zulu overpower Track and the prologue's closing pages has Track fighting drug runners in a North African desert. 

Early chapters introduce us to series villain Johannes Krieger and his liberation of terrorist bomber Klaus Gurnheim. Krieger's “super power” is that he can alter his appearance to look like anyone. This Nazi sympathizer even becomes a woman in one ridiculous scene where he recruits a pilot at a gay bar. Krieger has the plans to capture 99 nuclear warheads from a military installation...because anyone can do this with a little planning, right? 

Track teams with a global insurance underwriter, Sir Abner Chesterton, and his truck-driving nephew George to stop Krieger. So, what's so bad about the veteran good guy facing the mad bomber? The fact of the matter is that it's so utterly ridiculous that it's hard to even throw out logic to enjoy simple 80s fun. In one scene we learn that an IRA terrorist has captured the top floors of a department store. They have threatened to blow up the building if their demands aren't met. Intelligence, led by a Sir Edward Hall, advises that the terrorist has 80 people AND...there's a girl in a wheelchair. It's this sort of nonsense that is maddening. As if terrorists planning on bombing a building filled with Americans isn't enough to warrant Track's attention, the author has to add a handicapped child into the equation to really heighten the sense of urgency. Why?

The ridiculous notion that Krieger can walk into a military installation and force a General to hand over nuclear warheads is just too easy. To dumb down the reading even more...NO ONE but Track, George, Chesteron and an assemblage of 10,000 black mobsters even know the warheads are missing! The finale has Track saving the city of Chicago by stopping a train but my brain checked out with 40-pages left. It was truly an exercise of internal fortitude to get through this much nonsense. Don't track 'Track'. Just leave this series alone in the wild.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

So Dead My Love

The problem with Harry Whittington is that he wrote so many books that it’s hard to differentiate his crime fiction masterpieces from the so-so paperbacks he authored for a quick paycheck. While I consider him one of my favorite authors, I find myself repeatedly acquiring and reviewing novels that just aren’t his best work.

Whittington’s “So Dead My Love” was released in 1953 as half of an Ace Double paired with Stephen Ransome’s “I, The Executioner.” At some point, “So Dead My Love” was also released in Australia under the title “Let’s Count Our Dead,” and it was also included in the 2001 “Pulp Masters” anthology edited by Ed Gorman and Martin Greenberg.

Jim Talbot is a New York private eye returning to his hometown of Duval, Florida (population 35,000) after a ten-year absence. He’s come at the request of Mike, an attorney and politician who functions as the benevolent political king of Duval. Mike needs Talbot’s help to find Mike’s missing law partner, and Talbot owes Mike a big favor from a decade earlier. Because this is a Harry Whittington novel, Talbot quickly learns that Mike is now married to Talbot’s old flame, Nita. Did I mention that she is beautiful and stacked?

Anyway, Mike seems to be a pretty honest politician, but his rival is a corrupt sheriff who controls the rackets in Duval. Could the sheriff have anything to do with the missing lawyer? Perhaps Nita knows more than she’s saying? Can Talbot navigate the corruption of Duval to learn the truth? Throw a spicy young stripper into the plot to further confuse Talbot’s loyalties, and we have a pretty traditional hardboiled mystery. 

I’d describe “So Dead My Love” as a middle-of-the-road Whittington novel. It’s nowhere near as brilliant as “A Ticket to Hell” but it’s way better than “Saturday Night Town,” for example. The mystery was legit, and Talbot was a compelling main character to follow through the twists and turns thus making this paperback a fairly easy recommendation. Don’t move heaven and earth to buy a copy, but if you can read it on the cheap, it’s worth your time.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Executioner #10 - Caribbean Kill

It's no secret that I really didn't care for the ninth installment of Don Pendleton's vigilante series 'The Executioner'. “Vegas Vendetta” was a marathon of complacency, resting on the laurels of Bolan's status as the mob killer. With that novel, the narrative was one-dimensional, relying on planning and plotting The Strip's war of attrition, but Pendleton just never got to the white-knuckle action. Or, really any action. Thankfully, the author shifts gears with the tenth volume, “Caribbean Kill”. It begins and ends with a bang.

Bolan, fresh from his Vegas hit, boards a plan and haphazardly flies it smack dab into a mob mansion on Puerto Rico's southern shoreline. Bailing before impact, the flying firebomb scorches the site, scattering Glass Bay's mob army into the jungle. The tone is set as Bolan diagnoses his situation: He had two full eight-round clips of ammo, plus six rounds in the service clip. He was literally up a tree, soaked to the skin with sticky salt water. He was hungry, and he was just about physically exhausted. Less than a quarter-mile away, an army of some fifty to seventy-five guns was methodically sweeping the periphery of the bay in a determined hunt for his person – page 32.

From some brief but captivating cat and mouse tactics, Bolan begins to diminish and demoralize the ranks, eventually catching a ride into San Juan where the majority of the book's action takes place. Bolan eventually befriends a female cop named Eve. She's running a covert scheme to take down a mobster named Sir Edward. The two become a romantic item, with the author going as far as describing Eve as the Female Executioner. They hide out with farming couple named Juan and Rosalita while the mob scours the countryside for their whereabouts. 

With the help of a pilot named Grimaldi, Bolan is able to ebb the tide. Hunting both Sir Edward and Quick Tony Lavagni (had a cameo in Executioner #05), the fight takes him through the jungle, up the shoreline and into the city streets. It's this wild-ride that's bumpy, thrilling and laced with gunfire. With “Caribbean Kill”, Don Pendleton is firing on all cylinders. Place this one up there with the series debut, “Nightmare in New York” and “Chicago Wipe-out” as early standouts.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Ed Noon #14 - "Lust Is No Lady"

During his prolific career, Michael Avallone wrote around 38 novels and countless short stories featuring his private eye character, Ed Noon. Most of the early installments are straightforward mystery novels in the bawdy tradition of Shell Scott or Milo March. Later in the series, Avallone reinvented the Noon character as a spy working on special assignments handed to him directly by the U.S. President. Toward the end of the series, I’m told that Noon tangles with UFOs and aliens. He was an all-purpose, multi-genre hero for the ages.

“Lust Is No Lady” is the 14th novel in the series - although I’ve found that they can be enjoyed in any order. The paperback was originally released in 1965 by Belmont Books and later again under the title “The Brutal Kook.” Avallone’s son, David, is a successful comic book writer who has lovingly kept the Ed Noon series available as affordable Kindle editions while preserving the original cover art wherever possible.

The story opens with Noon’s car experiencing a blowout while driving through desolate Wyoming en route to a much-needed California vacation. While preparing to change the tire, a small airplane flies out of nowhere and starts dropping bricks from the sky onto his car - destroying any hope of a roadside repair.

Setting out on foot in the blistering heat, Noon finds a half-dead, naked, Native American woman staked to the ground with vultures circling above. The language barrier prevents a full explanation, but the woman leads Noon to a small settlement in the middle of nowhere called Agreeable Wells where every person that Noon encounters behaves in a guarded and suspicious manner.

While stranded with these oddball settlers, Noon is not exactly a prisoner but not quite a guest among them. A brutal murder occurs and Noon - being a hotshot NYC private detective - lends a hand toward getting to the bottom of the situation. However, the bigger mystery to the novel involves the true reason these people are in the middle of nowhere. For much of the novel, Noon is an observer bearing witness to a feuding and duplicitous small community brimming with dysfunction and greed.

At some point during this short paperback, it occurred to me that “Lust Is No Lady” was Avallone’s attempt at placing Noon into a Western novel - albeit one with periodic attacks by a killer airplane. The good news is that this works splendidly thanks to the author’s knack for compelling storytelling and vivid characters. The action sequences - particularly the one at the book’s climax - are all expertly engineered for maximum excitement.

As long as you know what you’re getting - a big-city private detective plopped into an old west adventure - “Lust Is No Lady” is an easy recommendation. You really can’t go wrong with the Ed Noon novels of Michael Avallone.

Postscript:

Thanks to the efforts of David Avallone, an unpublished Ed Noon book called “The Walking Wounded” by Michael Avallone will finally be published. The novel was written in 1973, and features cover art by contemporary comic book artist, Dave Acosta. Keep an eye on Amazon for details about this exciting release.

Buy a copy of "Lust is No Lady" HERE

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Buckskin #01 - Rifle River

Leisure released the debut 'Buckskin' novel in 1984, the height of the adult western boom. The series would run for 42 entries and 10 giant editions. Speculation is aplenty on who wrote a majority of the series, but fingers point to Mitchell Smith as penning the first 12-14 books. After that, names like Chet Cunningham, Lawrence Cerri, Peter McCurtin, David Keller, Dean McElwain and Mary Carr are in the conversation as contributors to the series.

Buckskin is loosely based on the real “Buckskin” Frank Leslie (1842-1927), a former U.S. Army scout, gambler, rancher and gunfighter. The debut novel, “Rifle River”, introduces our protagonist Frank Leslie as a drunken fighting man who accidentally shoots and kills the love of his life in an alcohol-fueled frenzy. After antics with icons like Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok and Doc Holliday, Leslie eventually changes his name to Fredrick Lee and uses his profits to purchase a horse ranch in Montana.

Right out of the chute, the book really takes off in what we would assume is the typical “rehabilitating cowboy trying to settle down against unfavorable odds” formula. Instead, author Mitchell Smith does some extraordinary things with the western genre. Immediately we sense that this Buckskin character may be a different type of hero in a really unique series.

First, Buckskin brutally beats a young Native American boy who takes a shot at him on the ranch. Shooting the boy's horse out from under him (typically frowned upon), Buckskin wallops the kid with the leather until the servant/cook loosely intervenes. Second, Buckskin rapes a woman. In case you glanced past that – BUCKSKIN RAPES A WOMAN (again...frowned upon – even back then). In fear that the local deputy will arrest him, he sends the lawman an envelope of cash to let him walk free (severely frowned upon). Remember, Buckskin is the guy on the cover selling the books. It's his series.

Oddly, all of the above unpleasantness is written in a way that doesn't appear to be designed to offend the reader. The story here is that the local land baron wants to acquire the Montana ranch. It controls the river flow downstream to other seedy cattlemen that want nothing more than control and power of the water. Buckskin advises the ranchers that he is not damming the river, but this is the 1800s and gunpowder is more convincing. The neighbor's sultry sister is raped...absolutely raped...but towards the end of the incident she starts to enjoy it. This is an adult western and Buckskin proves to her, and three prostitutes, that he aims to please. Take it or leave it, that’s what happened. Don’t shoot the messenger.

“Rifle River” has tremendous staying power as a traditional western – feuding cattlemen, quick draw gunfights, an epic back-alley boxing match and the obligatory hanging. All of these elements should please genre fans. However, the series creator clearly has an anti-hero flavor in mind for this character. Buckskin, while brooding over poor decisions, still continues to make additional poor decisions. It is this aspect of “Rifle River” that leaves you either placing Buckskin as a vile villain or an unlikely hero in a gray chapter of western fiction. If anything, it proves that some westerns don’t fall easily into the black vs. white, good vs. evil formulation that cemented the genre foundation. Buckskin is something completely different in a genre not known for its originality.  I'm intrigued enough to search for the next installment.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Sin Pit

First published in 1954 by Lion Books, “Sin Pit” was the only known novel written by Paul Meskil. According to an introduction by academic David Rachels in a 2017 eBook re-release, Meskil was a New York crime reporter whose descriptive writing was lurid enough to catch the eye of a literary agent who encouraged him to write crime fiction. In short order, he turned in a manuscript called “Blood Lust” that was released by Lion Books as “Sin Pit.”

The narrator is East St. Louis Police Detective Barney Black who is thrust into a murder investigation involving a beautiful young woman with a .32 bullet in her skull and whip marks all over her legs. The novel is structured as a pretty standard police procedural with Barney following logical leads in a corrupt town riddled with poverty and vice.

The real appeal to this book is the character of Barney himself. At 6’2” and 210 pounds, the 32 year-old cop is hardboiled as hell. He’s not afraid to slap a witness around to start them talking or to take a belt of whiskey on the job to wash the taste of murder from his mouth. Barney is the kind of morally-compromised but highly effective police officer that James Ellroy later depicted in his classic his L.A. crime stories. Barney’s tragic backstory made him into a sociopath dedicated to holding criminals accountable solely because it’s his job and not because of a functioning moral compass.

The characters and writing in “Sin Pit” are about as good as it gets in 1950s crime fiction. When a sexy and alluring witness threatens to warm Barney’s cynical heart and generates human romantic feelings, the reader just knows that it’s not going to end well for the would-be lovebirds. The hunt for the killer takes some dark turns into the dungeon of an S&M freak and a world of darkness and corruption that exists right under Barney’s nose.

Meskil’s writing really is superb - some of the best I’ve read from the era. He makes me want to shake my fist at the heavens wishing he’d stuck with novel writing. You should definitely seek this one out if you like your noir twisted and perverse. The original paperback and reprint might be pricey, but an outfit called Automat Press has been quietly reprinting orphaned works from the era as eBooks at nice prices. Don’t let the grass grow under your feet. This one is highly recommended - a must read.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, December 17, 2018

Nightfall

“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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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.”

Buy a copy of this story in "Yondering" HERE

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

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.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

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. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Tunnel Rats #02 - Mud and Blood

There were only two books in the short-lived Tunnel Rats series by Stephen Mertz (writing as Cliff Banks), and that was a real shame because they are both exciting Vietnam War combat adventure paperbacks. In the second installment, Mertz does a great job of getting the reader up to speed about the team combatting the Vietcong’s unusual guerrilla war tactic of employing underground tunnels, so a new reader is never lost by jumping into the action without having read the preceding paperback.

“Mud and Blood” was released by Popular Library in 1990 and features the same four-man team combatting the Vietcong in the boobytrapped jungle. The foursome consists of Gaines, DeLuca, Hildago, and their Vietcong defector scout, Bok Van Tu. Together they form a highly-classified special forces team with the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Section of the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division - a team known as the Tunnel Rats.

The lean paperback wastes no time throwing the reader squarely into the action with Gaines garroting an enemy sentry before snapping his neck with bare hands. Mertz writes vivid combat violence about as well as I’ve ever read. The threat to the team’s success are the trained battalions of Vietcong soldiers who hide underground in the labyrinth of man-made tunnels - over 200 miles worth - beneath the view of the U.S. soldiers around Saigon.

Despite his relative youth as a 25 year-old, Gaines is a formidable leader naturally-suited to the close-quarters combat in the claustrophobic tunnels because of his unique upbringing exploring the mineshafts in his Montana hometown. DeLuca is a somewhat stereotypical New York Italian, and Hidalgo is a SoCal Chicano also straight out of central casting. Meanwhile Tu brings to the table language abilities and a working knowledge of the tunnel system coupled with his sincere desire for a democratic Vietnam. They all have lean bodies suitable for combat operations inside the narrow, claustrophobic tunnels.

The mission at the heart of “Mud and Blood” involves a Vietcong Captain named Quang who is hiding in the underground tunnel system with a group of his own soldiers waiting to kill American troops. The Army needs the Tunnel Rats to drive Quang and his troops out of the tunnels where they can be captured by U.S. forces.

The action occasionally shifts to Quang who has made a home and base of operations in an underground lair. The Americans have no idea that Quang’s troops are expanding the tunnel system with the intention of stretching the beneath a U.S. base - giving the enemy easy access to the heart of local U.S. Army operations. Can the Tunnel Rats stop Quang’s underground activities before it’s too late?

“Mud and Blood” is a terrific, high-stakes action novel with real heroes and a diabolical - but nuanced - villain. The combat set-pieces were written with a cinematic flair for choreographing literary excitement without being overly wordy. This is a fast-moving popcorn novel for fans of pulpy adventure fiction. 

Still an active author, Mertz has been very forward-leaning when it comes to making his historical body of work available as reprints and eBooks for modern audiences. I tracked the author down to ask him if there were any plans to reprint and digitize the two Tunnel Rats novels, and he responded that he’d need to look into who owns the intellectual property rights pursuant to the contract he signed with Popular Library nearly 30 years ago. I, for one, am hoping that these books see the light of day again solely because it would be a shame for combat adventure yarns this good to be lost to the ages. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

M.I.A. Hunter #06 - Blood Storm

Author William Fieldhouse utilized pseudonyms like Chuck Bainbridge and John Lansing for the action series' 'Hard Corps' and 'Black Eagles'. As Gar Wilson, he penned over 30 'Phoenix Force' novels. Fieldhouse contributed to the Mack universe with six 'The Executioner' titles and a handful of 'Stony Man' entries. In 1986, Fieldhouse stepped in as house name Jack Buchanan to draft “Blood Storm”, the sixth volume of Stephen Mertz's 'M.I.A. Hunter' series.

While many of these books focus on Mark Stone's trek into Laos, Columbia or Vietnam to rescue P.O.W.s, “Blood Storm” really expands on that idea with a more dynamic presentation. Under Fieldhouse's vision, the narrative branches out to incorporate drug smugglers, a C.I.A. kill team, a team traitor and the obligatory prisoner rescue. Mertz's editing keeps the book cemented in series mythology, but the story is a different one this time.

Due to Hog Wiley's injury in “Exodus from Hell”, Stone and Loughlin are forced to recruit a new third member for their rescue mission into Laos. A mercenary by the name of Gorman requests a meeting at a dive bar called Golden Butterfly in Thailand. Loughlin hates Gorman right off the bat, but the three come to a monetary arrangement and the mission is set. Before they can exit the bar, hardmen burst in and a raging gun fight fills up Chapter Three. Loughlin suspects Gorman is behind it, allowing the author to utilize the mystery to propel the storyline. 

After the typical weapon purchases at An Khom's house (where Stone often retrieves his intel and firepower), Stone heads off to sever a C.I.A. operation that he thinks was behind the Golden Butterfly assault. After a heated exchange with old nemesis  Coleman, Stone heads to the rescue party with Loughlin and Gorman. There's a bit of a plot spoiler here with Gorman's background, but I'm going to save it for you to discover on your own.

Soon, the rescue attempt is in full-swing in Laos. There's exciting gunplay with Laotian leader Captain Luang, including some brutal scenes of torture involving simple thorns and branches (those Inquisition guys had it all wrong). Up until this book we've seen Stone in some precarious situations but those pale in comparison to the happenings here. Mixed into the break-out are opium dealers who want to capture Stone alive to sell to the highest bidder – the C.I.A., K.G.B. or Vietnam. This all culminates into a pretty hefty storm as the book finalizes with a surprise visit from series mainstay Hog. 

The bottom line, “Blood Storm” is yet another entertaining installment of this beloved series. Mertz's series continues to gain new readers and the books have been reprinted for mass consumption in our digital age. Grab it for a buck. 

Buy a copy HERE

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Wench is Dead

Fredric Brown was an interesting figure in the world of pulp fiction because he had equivalent success in both the mystery science fiction genres. As a teenager, I was a huge fan of his SF work. As I grew into classic crime fiction, I was pleased to rediscover one of my favorite authors as a hardboiled noir master.

“The Wench is Dead” began its life as a short story and was later expanded into a full novel for a 1955 Bantam Books paperback release. The extreme skid row setting seems to be influenced by the work of Brown’s contemporary, David Goodis, who made a living writing gritty crime novels set among the drunks, junkies, and whores within America’s urban poor.

In “The Wench is Dead,” Brown’s narrator, Howard Perry, was a Man of Letters with a wealthy father, a good education, and a promising future in Chicago. But all that was before he discovered the allure of booze. Now, Howard is a stewbum living in a Los Angeles flop house, getting drunk as much as possible, and intermittently working as a dishwasher.

Howard has a girlfriend of sorts (more of an f-buddy) named Wilhelmina Kidder (“Billie the Kid”) who supplies him with alcohol, casual sex, and loaned money. Howard is smart enough to recognize that he treats Billie poorly and that she deserves better, but he’s the kind of wino who listens to the booze more than he listens to his own conscience. I found the evolving relationship between Howard and Billie to be the most compelling aspect of this paperback.

One day, Howard goes to see Billie hoping to score a drink and maybe get lucky. Billie sends Howard to grab a bottle of booze from a heroin-addicted mutual friend named Mame who is found murdered shortly after Howard leaves her apartment. This makes Howard the only likely suspect in the killing. Rather than enduring a torturous police interrogation, Howard - with Billie’s help - decides to remain free from police long enough to solve the murder himself.

The final solution to the crime wasn’t particularly satisfying, but the short book was an enjoyable read nevertheless. Like Goodis, Brown did a nice job of capturing the despair and hopelessness of extreme poverty and addiction while humanizing the winos and junkies generally ignored by polite society. Mostly, Fredric Brown is just a pleasure to read, and fans of his work should enjoy this story just fine. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, December 3, 2018

Hardman #02 - The Charleston Knife is Back in Town

Author Ralph Dennis began the 'Hardman' series in 1974 with "Atlanta Deathwatch". The book would kick-start a beloved 12 volume run of detective novels. Dennis used racy Atlanta as the backdrop for his two crime-fighters - Jim Hardman and Hump Evans. Recently, author and genre enthusiast Lee Goldberg acquired the publishing rights to 'Hardman' for his imprint, Brash Books.

You can read the review for “Atlanta Deathwatch” here. The second entry, “The Charleston Knife is Back in Town” (1974), features an introduction by author Joe R. Lansdale for its reprinting. It's the same intro used on the reprinting of the series debut, one where Lansdale clearly segregates the 'Hardman' series from what he considers a rather disposable 70s men's action-adventure genre (he has some disdain for adult westerns and his own work on the 'M.I.A. Hunter' titles). Lansdale is a fan of Dennis and his opening remarks about the series are
spot-on. 

“The Charleston Knife is Back in Town” starts with the obligatory heist. This time Hump Evans is invited to a posh neighborhood for a little gambling party post-prize fight. Once there, he's escorted by gunpoint to a dark room sans his $700 of WAM (that's slang for Walk Around Money). After the robbers leave and the cops arrive, Evans embarrassingly shows up at Hardman's house to explain his night's turn of bad luck. It turns out that the gambling festivities involved many underworld honchos – all taken for over $700K in assets. Heads will roll. 


Soon, Hardman and Hump are contacted by a friend's sister with a possible connection to the heist. She fears that her young nephew was behind the robbery and may be a mob target. Our two detectives accept some payment and learn that the mob is coming down hard on the robbers. They have big money in place with a demand that the heist crew be taken down...real messy. The novel is a smooth and calculating read as Hardman and Hump navigate whore houses, strip clubs and dives to track down the robbers before the hired slasher.  

This series, and its second installment, showcases this Atlanta author's penchant for the crime noir. Building the novel around the heist is a vintage staple, but the spin here is having the protagonist attempting to save the crook. The sense of urgency increases with each chapter as the hired killer devours the clues. Ultimately, you know Hardman and this knife-wielder will face off - but it's how and where they meet that makes for an intriguing development. Kudos to Ralph Dennis, and Lee Goldberg, for recognizing what makes the detective formula effectively click. This is a mandatory read.

Purchase this book HERE

Friday, November 30, 2018

Man on the Run

In 1958, Fawcett Gold Medal released a new paperback original by noir fiction master Charles Williams called “Man on the Run.” Mysterious Press has kept the book alive - along with most of the author’s greatest hits - as an eBook for fans who don’t want a 60 year-old vintage paperback disintegrating in one’s hands.

Like a lot of books I tend to read, the novel opens with the narrator jumping off a moving train and taking refuge in a nearby cottage. Russell Foley is being relentlessly pursued by the police because they think he’s a cop killer. If you’ve never read a book before, you might be surprised to learn that Foley is, in fact, an innocent man who has been wrongfully-accused. This is one of those novels where the fugitive hero must solve the murder himself to clear his own name and hopefully resume life as a free and innocent man.

Foley is assisted in his quest for justice by the sexy female owner of the cottage after she comes home like Goldilocks to find rough-looking Foley in her place. Actually, the Meet Cute was more involved than that, but I won’t spoil it for you here. Suzy is a leggy blonde looker with an unflappable and seductive nature (of course), and she comes to accept Foley’s claim of innocence. She’s a great character and the best part of the book. 

Once the relationship is formed, we have a pretty basic mystery novel here with the couple trying to solve the murder of the cop without getting Foley nabbed by the police in the process. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but there’s nothing particularly innovative here either. It’s a serviceable novel by an author capable of much better. 

It’s important to remember that Williams was among the best of his era. However, “Man on the Run” is not his best book by a long shot. If you’re looking for a quick and easy noir read, I suppose you could do a lot worse.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Desert Stake-Out

Harry Whittington (1915-1989) is the king of the paperbacks. He wrote over 200 novels and utilized nearly 20 pseudonyms throughout his career. While immersing himself in the crime genre, the author also penned around 20 westerns including this 1961 Fawcett Gold Medal novel, “Desert State-Out”. It was reprinted in May of 1989 with alternate artwork for Avon Books. 

Whittington introduces readers to Blade Merrick, a former Confederate soldier who's contracting with the U.S. Army to haul valuable medical supplies to the town of San Carlos. Beginning at Fort Ambush, Blade must venture through the hot California desert amidst the dreaded Apache...solo. Why Blade has been chosen for this mission remains a mystery until the closing chapters. The mystery, intrigue and suspense is a solid wind-up through the middle  portions of the narrative.

After a few days on the journey, Blade stops at a rocky watering hole called Patchee Wells. It's there that he stumbles on three outlaws – elderly Charley Clinton, his son Billy and the gunfighter Perch Fisher. They in turn have stumbled up on the gutshot Jeff Butler and his wife Valerie. When Blade joins the group to assist, he learns they were attacked by the Apache with a second round of attacks coming. While Blade digs the bullet out of Butler, the table is densely set for alliances and betrayals. 


The outlaws want to steal Blade's horses and supplies to head north away from the Army and Apache. Blade thinks they are the three guys that robbed a bank in Tucson. Butler's wife wants  Blade's help to return to Fort Ambush where her husband can receive proper care. She fears that the outlaws will kill Blade, rape her and make off with all of the supplies. Blade is stuck in a hard place knowing that San Carlos is experiencing a plague that desperately needs his supplies. But ultimately none of them will survive another Apache assault outnumbered and outgunned. 

First, if you are looking for the rip-roaring “Cowboys and Indians” western shootout I'm here to tell you “Desert Stake-Out” isn't it. Instead, this is a balance beam of thriller and suspense with the reader navigating the emotional states of these desperate characters. It increases tension and dread in all the right places, emphasizing how precarious the situation is for these six individuals. Just when you think you've figured it out, Whittington throws in a wild card; a grave that's been dug right there in Patchee Wells by Blade himself. Who's buried? Did Blade know these outlaws prior to meeting them at the watering hole? Little puzzle pieces are revealed as the reader sits in the rocks and dust waiting for everything to come full circle. The ending was extremely satisfying and painted a detailed portrait of this mysterious protagonist. I can't say enough good things about this one.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Case of the Cop's Wife

During a writing career that spanned from 1946 to 1960, Milton Ozaki, a Japanese-American author from Wisconsin, authored a few dozen crime novels under his own name and using the pseudonym of Robert O. Saber. The majority of his books were private eye stories, but he also wrote a handful of well-regarded stand-alone crime novels, including a 1958 paperback original for Fawcett Gold Medal titled “Case of the Cop’s Wife.”

As the book opens, we meet Chicago Police Lieutenant Robert Fury who is preparing to take some vacation time coinciding with the upcoming birth of his first child. His pregnant wife is the former Mary Ellen Quinn, daughter of a famous wealthy businessman in Chicago.

Meanwhile, a heist crew has an elaborate plan to knock over a large department store at opening time on payday when the armored truck arrives with the cash. The crew is filled with basic malevolent thugs plus a hot babe getaway driver who gets super-horny when whipped with a belt. So, there’s that.

A confluence of events involving a Chicago crime lord, rogue cops, and pregnant Mary Ellen being at the wrong place at the wrong time conspire to turn the heist into a total bloodbath. One thing leads to another and Mary Ellen - the very pregnant wife of Chicago Police Lieutenant Fury - is snatched away by one of the robbers and taken as a hostage.

The action shifts nicely from character to character with the core being Mary Ellen with the heist crew while Lt. Fury tries to find his missing bride before she goes into labor. The Chicago Police are also hot-to-trot to catch the bad guys, which makes for a nice police procedural aspect to the story.

This is exciting stuff, and Ozaki keeps the story moving with short scenes that cut from one third-person POV to another - a literary technique effectively employed by Stephen King years later. I was left with the impression that Ozaki was a way better writer than most of his contemporaries, yet oddly he’s never remembered for the quality of his plotting. I’ve heard that his stand-alone crime novels are superior to his series books, and this paperback supports that theory nicely.

If “Case of the Cop’s Wife” is a fair representation of Ozaki’s talent as an author, he really was something special. In any case, this is a terrific novel that crime-suspense-heist-police procedural fans are sure to love. It’s certainly one of the most compelling books I’ve read this year. Highly recommended.

Purchase this book HERE

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Death Squad #01 - Gang War

Dan Streib penned a short-lived two book series entitled 'Death Squad' in 1975. This Belmont Tower publication was written under the name of Frank Colter and had a similar outline as the 1975 five volume series “Kill Squad”, also written by Streib as Mark Cruz (credit to Glorious Trash blog for that tidbit of info). The idea is a familiar one – three cops take to the streets to fight crime without a uniform. The idea is that they can accomplish far more by spending their own personal time and fortunes on fighting crime than the pension/benefit loaded daytime gig. Thus the debut, “Gang War”, comes to fruition.

The novel is set in San Diego with an opening scene involving a 15-yr old girl being raped by a trio of young men. Officers Paul Scott and protagonist Mark Sanders (Mike or Mark, the author changes the first name nearly every chapter) arrive on the scene just in time for Scott to be shot to death in the groin. Another two officers, Sam Durham and Raul Gomez, arrive on the scene and all agree to either take a week off or dip into their sick-leave bank as the best course of action. 

Together, the two piece together the rape scene and trail the whereabouts of a pin that was found by the girl. It's a yacht club pin and Sanders knows the location. Once there, he stumbles on a high-society group of young Berkley kids who are all members of a violent union entitled Terrorist Liberation Army. Those chapters find Sanders and Durham on a high-speed boat chase off the coast tracking a young terrorist/rapist. Afterwards, the trio gets hit with a browbeating by their superiors.

In a scene worth expansion, Sanders beds down a young woman named Jessica, suspecting she may be an involuntary member of the group. Afterwards, Sanders apartment is bombed with the author's gory explanation of eyes and limbs flying. Knocked off in the blast is a housekeeper. Next, the trio are lured into a hostage negotiation at the city zoo where Sanders is ambushed and pushed into a deadly firefight among the zoo's many tourists. The author has one grandmother slayed with a point blank face shot while another man is mowed down by whirling helicopter blades. 

The finale has Sanders facing the last remaining terrorists in a warehouse. Shockingly, the author has a penchant for groin shots and has a woman mercilessly shot in the vagina (with the prior shot severing a breast!) and another man shot through the scrotum. That's three distinct genitalia shots if you are keeping score at home. The suspense build-up is just the idea that Jessica could be an innocent pawn in the terrorist front or the dreaded mastermind. I'll leave the conclusion for you to discover. 

Streib is an average writer at best. “Gang War” comes across as a cookie-cutter team-based vigilante yarn. Take it or leave it if you are into that sort of thing. Being only two books, I'll probably read the sequel for giggles. 

Note – Despite the cover, Sanders does not utilize a miniature lightsaber. 

Purchase this book HERE

Monday, November 26, 2018

Whom Gods Destroy

Clifton Adams (1919-1971) was primarily known as a western writer in the 1950s and 1960s, but he also authored a handful of solid noir crime paperbacks that were largely forgotten until they were resurrected by reprint publisher Stark House. “Whom Gods Destroy” from 1953 was a Fawcett Gold Medal original that has been re-released as a double along with “Death’s Sweet Song.”

Our narrator, Roy Foley, is a fry cook at a diner who receives word that his father has just died. Roy reluctantly takes a Greyhound bus back to Oklahoma to make the burial arrangements for the town’s drunken cobbler. This brings back a flood of good and bad memories from Roy’s youth that drive the plot in this thin paperback. 

A flashback chapter fills the reader in on Roy’s background. He grew up barefoot and dirt poor in the hard-scrabble part of town. Despite these humble origins, Roy was the town’s star quarterback and smarter than most of the rich kids in his school. He had a crush on the wealthy Lola and dreamed of going to college on a scholarship and making something of himself.

All this came crashing down when Lola laughed in his face at the prospect of them ever being together. Disgraced, Roy left town and never returned until it became time to bury his father 14 years later. Upon his return to his hometown, he learns that Lola is married to a highly-regarded pillar in the community.

After the Volstead Act ended prohibition in the U.S., Oklahoma was one of two states that continued to outlaw alcohol - a practice that continued for over twenty years thereafter. This kept booze bootleggers in business in Oklahoma and presents a money-making opportunity for Roy when he meets up with an old high school buddy in the smuggling business. Roy wants to get in the illegal liquor racket figuring it will make more than fry-cooking and might just show Lola that he isn’t actually white trash.

The bootlegging business is intertwined with local public corruption, and that brings Roy and Lola back into the same orbit. The hurt and hard feelings from a high school snub never fully go away and motivate Roy to climb his way up the bootlegging ladder as a form of comeuppance. His obsession with Lola never dissipates and fuels many bad decisions over the course of the novel. 

Like his other noir books, “Whom Gods Destroy” is compelling as hell. The only problem is that Roy is more than a bit of a jackass, and it’s hard to root for him knowing that everything he does is motivated by avenging hurt feelings from his adolescence. You really have to be comfortable with a seriously-flawed main character to enjoy this paperback. Even so, the plot twists and turns in delightful ways that keep the pages turning long after bedtime. Highly recommended.

Postscript:

I wish Clifton Adams wrote more crime novels in his career. I’m only aware of five:

Death’s Sweet Song
Whom Gods Destroy
Never Say No To A Killer (as Jonathan Gant)
The Very Wicked (as Nick Hudson)
The Long Vendetta (as Jonathan Gant)

Buy this book HERE