Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Paperback Warrior Unmasking: James Marcott & Spike Andrews

In 1975, Fawcett Gold Medal published a stand-alone action-crime paperback called “Hard to Kill” by James Marcott. The enjoyable novel concerned a jailbreak expert named Richard Decker hired by a crime lord to spring a high-profile criminal from prison. The book was a fun read, but it wasn’t a commercial success. It never saw life beyond the initial 8,000 copy print-run. Copies remain available in used bookstores, and are often traded among vintage paperback collectors and readers, but it has mostly fallen into obscurity.

And the world never heard from James Marcott again – whoever he was. 

Jump forward to 1982. Warner Books had a hit on their hands with the ‘Dirty Harry’ paperbacks and wanted to create a buddy-cop series along the same lines as part of the publisher’s new “Men of Action” brand. This was the genesis of the C.A.T.: Crisis Aversion Team series by Spike Andrews. The books featured frenetic action, sex, and violence to satisfy the men’s adventure market that was thriving in the early 80s. The plan was to release a monthly C.A.T. book and watch the cash pour in. Unfortunately, due to floundering sales, new editors at Warner Books decided to cancel publication after only releasing three installments.

And the world never heard from Spike Andrews again – whoever he was.


Connecting the dots between James Marcott and Spike Andrews required a deep dive into U.S. Copyright records that listed the name Duane Schermerhorn as the man behind both pseudonyms. Some further Google searches located a man by that name in Canada who is now a highly-regarded local photographer. Could this be the same guy? It seemed like a promising lead as “Hard to Kill” took place in Toronto – an unusual setting for an action novel at the time.  I found a Flikr page showcasing Schermerhorn’s photos and sent him a message through the app to find out if he was hidden author I was seeking.

Hours later, I received a message from Schermerhorn confirming that we was, in fact, the man behind the James Marcott and Spike Andrews pen names.

 “I had been a reader of mysteries all my life,” he explained, “and when I graduated from college, I decided to try my hand at writing them. I tried a number of different genres - eccentric amateur detective, private eye, innocent guy caught in a conspiracy - but it wasn't until I tried the anti-hero genre that I got a work published.” 


Schermerhorn created Richard Decker as a logical series character. “When I conceived ‘Hard to Kill,’ I was modeling the character, and to a large degree the story, on Richard Stark's Parker books. That series was, to my mind, the pinnacle of the anti-hero stories. I was thrilled to be accepted by Fawcett, and was very much aware of their role in the field. I was particularly fond of John D. MacDonald's books, and thought that most of Donald Hamilton's books in the Matt Helm series were better than their hardcover equivalents. It was, of course, a fantasy of mine to join the ranks of the legendary paperback-original writers.”

Both Schemerhorn and his literary agent were excited at the prospect that the Decker series may have a future “After I submitted the second manuscript in the series, my agent told me that there was interest in making the first into a movie with Roy Scheider playing the lead. Nothing materialized, which isn't uncommon for these sorts of projects.” 

Schemerhorn wrote a total of three books in the Decker series but after “Hard To Kill” failed to catch fire, there wasn’t much interest in publishing the other two books. They never saw the light of day and exist as pages collecting dust among the author’s unpublished works.

Even though Decker failed to make Schemerhorn – or James Marcott, rather – the next Richard Stark, it wasn’t all a loss. “It got me a New York literary agent, which was a big step forward.” This publishing industry contact opened the door to Warner Books who was looking for a buddy cop series, and the C.A.T. series was born. 

“I met with the editor to understand what sort of series this was to be.  He wanted a high-volume series, with books being published every couple of months.  This sort of pace basically cannot be maintained by a single writer, so there was to be at least two in the C.A.T. series - more if the series took off.  The two of us were contracted to write three books each. I wrote 1, 3, and 5 and a writer in North Carolina [George Ryan] was to write 2, 4, and 6.”

Schemerhorn wrote the ‘bible’ for the C.A.T. series to ensure continuity among the other authors who would one day be brought on board as the series achieved the literary status of The Executioner and The Destroyer. “After the release of C.A.T. #1, the editor sent a note requesting more sex and violence. So in #3, I raised the level to near-parody,” Schemerhorn confessed. “I wrote all three of the books I was contracted for and I assume my co-author did the same. But the series didn't do well, and I think only the first three were actually published.”

And that was the end of the C.A.T. series. Books 1-3 came and went without much fanfare and only exist today as collector’s items for men’s adventure paperback fanatics. Books 4-6 never saw publication, and it’s unlikely that they will ever be read by anyone. 

“After awhile, my interest in the genre waned and I moved away from novels. I wrote short stories, a screenplay, a play, and many poems. I had limited success - published poems and a play that was workshopped - but not enough to earn a living as a writer. So I left the profession all together.” Schemerhorn shifted gears in his artistic pursuits and found success as a photographer whose work is currently shown in Canadian art galleries.

The C.A.T. books were work-for-hire gigs for Warner Books, so Schemerhorn did not maintain the intellectual property rights to the characters, the stories, or the books that he sold to the publisher. “Hard to Kill” is a different story. Fawcett Gold Medal permitted authors to keep the rights to their work, which is why we still have the Matt Helm and Parker books available to us today as reprints.  As such, Schemerhorn still owns the rights to “Hard to Kill” as well as the two unpublished books in the Decker series. With the eBook and self-publishing revolution of the past decade, is it possible that the world may see the full Decker series available for modern readers?

“Yeah, it does sound interesting and appealing. I'd have to look into what all is involved. But I think I might have a look.”
Fingers crossed.

Acknowledgement: 


After jumping through the hoops and doing the online research to unmask Mr. Schemerhorn, I was embarrassed to see that the work had already been done by the excellent Trash Menace blog in their review of C.A.T. #1. So, a humble hat tip in to our colleagues over there for beating us to the scoop. Cheers!