Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Boysie Oakes #06 - Traitor's Exit

British author John Gardner (1926-2007) enjoyed a literary career that flourished with a number of spy and espionage thrillers. The prolific author was chosen by Ian Fleming's estate to author 14 'James Bond' novels, successfully maintaining Fleming's approach and tone. While the James Bond empire kept Gardner gainfully employed throughout the 80s and 90s, his first foray into the spy genre was an eight-book series starring lovable, but intentionally incompetent British spy 'Boysie Oakes'. The debut, “The Liquidator”, was published in 1964, but my first taste is the sixth series installment, “Traitor's Exit”, originally published in 1970.

From what I gather, “Traitor's Exit” is unlike any other book in the series. In fact, Boysie Oakes isn't even the main character. Instead, the story is told in the first person by Rex Upsdale. Rex is a low-caliber author barely surviving off of royalties produced by his own spy series, “Gascoigne”. His bills are a Mount Everest of bad debt, and he's still holding out for anyone in Hollywood to actually adapt his series to film instead of signing worthless movie option contracts. Let's say that Rex isn't turning away any knocks on the door. Thankfully, after authoring a controversial magazine article about an authentic British spy named Kit Styles, Rex receives two visitors.

Kit Styles was the golden boy of British spies. Unfortunately, he defected to Russia during the Cold War, spilling numerous state secrets and propelling Russian momentum. The DI-5 (England's version of the CIA) have offered Rex the deal of a lifetime. They offer to pay off all of the author's debt, a check for $10K and the promise to never ask for favors again. But, what could possibly warrant this sort of cash? They want Rex to fly to Russia and interview Styles for a magazine article. Easy, peasy...who's got the checkbook?

Gardner's clever writing is a satirical look at the spy genre both from the stance as an author and reader. Rex describes his “Gascoigne” series as an exploitation on the spy boom, stating that anyone who could write got on the bandwagon. He even boasts that he wrote the second book in the series standing on his head. I think this is Gardner's unique insight into the era's publishing industry.

Once trouble arrives, which introduces Boysie Oakes into the plot, Rex often has a fantasy novel running through his mind as a form of mental escape. It's a unique writing style by having the reader not only engaged in “Traitor's Exit”, but also the swanky private-eye story that's running through Rex's thoughts (which is an obvious ode to Raymond Chandler). Gardner is also very conscious of his peers, with having two characters in the book namedrop 'Modesty Blaise', 'Matt Helm' and 'Callan'. Often Rex asks (screams) for these fictional characters to assist him in the most dire situations. Gardner is clearly having a blast with the story and characters. His presentation and dark humor is reminiscent of Jimmy Sangster, who penned two spy novels called 'Touchfeather'. It's these types of books that Gardner views as tongue in cheek.

Overall, this was just a fantastic, very funny novel with plenty of action-adventure to please the serious diehards. “Traitor's Exit” will be the perfect entrance into John Gardner's stellar work. This one is a must.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 11, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 19

In this episode, we have a hardboiled discussion regarding censorship in our favorite genres. Eric reviews “Bloody Jungle” by Charles Runyon and Tom covers “Modesty Blaise” by Peter O’Donnell. You don’t want to miss this one! Stream below or on your favorite podcasting service. Download the episode directly at (LINK)

Listen to "Episode 19: Hardboiled Censorship" on Spreaker.

Paul Chavasse #04 - Midnight Never Comes

Household name Jack Higgins, real name Henry Patterson, achieved mega-success with his novel “The Eagle Has Landed” in 1975. Selling 50 million copies, consumers then flocked to his books, prompting savvy publisher Fawcett Gold Medal to conceive a clever marketing design. Fawcett reprinted a much earlier series of hardback books starring British secret agent Paul Chavasse in 1978. The mainstream literary community didn't realize these novels were written by Harry Patterson under the pseudonym Martin Fallon, originally published between 1962 and 1978. The Fawcett series had new artwork and the author's name as the more familiar Jack Higgins. Thankfully, it wasn't just a cash grab because these books truly deserved a bigger audience.

In the series debut, readers learned that Paul Chavasse is a British operative working for a special organization called The Bureau. Paul works under the direction of Bureau Chief Mallory and takes on jobs that are too tough for MI-5 or Secret Service. There's not much history that is pertinent to the story. However, we learn that Paul's parents were French and English, he's fluent in most languages, and has been with The Bureau for 10 years going into “Midnight Never Comes,” the fourth series installment.

The novel opens with Paul weak and broken after an ill-fated assignment in Albania chronicled in the series third novel, “The Keys to Hell”. Paul has gunshot wounds and broken bones that haven't healed. Yet, The Bureau wants him to pass an endurance and shooting test. Ultimately, Paul fails and is seemingly put out to pasture. While on leave of absence, Paul reflects on his career and life and wants out of the espionage business. However, all of that is turned upside down in the opening chapters.

While in London, Paul finds himself in the middle of a robbery at an Asian restaurant. After Paul saves the restaurant and a young woman, the business owner volunteers to replenish Paul's stamina and health using ancient traditions. A few weeks later, Paul is as good as new and even passes the endurance test for The Bureau (which results in an exhilarating plot twist). His newest assignment is to stop a wealthy Australian terrorist named Donner from acquiring a new rocket prototype. The mission's locale is the northwest section of Scotland, a rural and rugged coastline with thick fog, battering winds and locals who love to kill strangers.

“Midnight Never Comes” is a more subdued Chavasse novel and downplays the globetrotting intrigue. The book reads like a rural adventure crossed with an unusual Gothic sensibility. In fact, Higgins paints the atmosphere with a cold mist and sets the climactic finale in an crumbling lakeside castle. Is it a spy novel or the next 'Doc Savage'?

Thankfully, readers will be delighted with the storytelling and suspense. Higgins seems to really enjoy this character and it's a triumphant installment in a highly rewarding series. I can't say enough good things about it. Either buy the originals, or pick up the mass market reprints from the 2000s.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, November 8, 2019

Vendetta

Joseph Gilmore's biggest contribution to the men's action-adventure genre is the 'Nick Carter: Killmaster' series. Beginning with “Strike of the Hawk”, Gilmore authored eight series installments from 1980 through 1985. According to Glorious Trash, Gilmore also wrote “Operation Nazi – USA” under the name James Gilman. My only experience with the author is his 1973 vigilante-styled paperback “Vendetta”, published by Pinnacle. The novel was re-printed in 1976 with the pictured cover art.

New York patrolman Alex Braley is on a mission to knock off key players in the illegal drug distribution game. While most 70s vigilante novels begin with the protagonist's loved ones being murdered, Gilmore takes an abstract approach. Instead, there's a brief explanation that one year ago Gilmore's wife got hooked on drugs and died from a poisonous batch. There's not a single individual or crime ring to avenge, so Braley starts with the top drug distributors and works his way down. Thus, the book begins with Braley hogtying a higher echelon gang leader before delivering the brutal kill shot to the cranium.

Like Robert Lory's 'Vigilante' series, Braley conducts himself like a straight-laced citizen to his friends, peers and co-workers while secretly planning mob hits. He utilizes a local book shop to purchase mystery and crime novels. In one hilarious scene the store owner condemns the 'Perry Mason' novels and proclaims that Mickey Spillane and Don Pendleton are far superior. Braley normalizes his everyman persona. He plays golf and racquetball, and as the narrative becomes a bit more dynamic, Braley even delivers a West Coast hit while portraying to co-workers that he was on a much-needed vacation in Bermuda. That's ballsy.

During the the Los Angeles killing, Braley falls in love with a single mom. This relationship begins clouding Braley's vigilante mentality. While delivering fatal blows to the Syndicate, it is Braley's love interest that starts to align his fake persona with reality. Soon, the NYPD begins sniffing Braley's trail to determine if he is the mob assassin. Gilmore takes the action from the West Coast, into Seattle, New York, Vermont and even Europe in a grand globe-trotting pursuit.

But is any of it really original or engaging?

Not particularly. In fact, this is like Pendleton's Bolan without the originality. As the pages turned, I was reminded again on how good Don Pendleton's 'The Executioner' novels are and the direct, albeit phony, comparison Gilmore makes to that innovative series. “Vendetta” isn't a terrible novel. Depending on how many 70s men's action-adventure novels you read in a year, this novel may perform better than expected. For me, I'm averaging 10-12 books per month and understand there are far better novels of this variety.

“Vendetta” is cookie-cutter, middle of the road fiction. Take it or leave it.

Buy a copy HERE

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Wasteworld #03 - Angels

Laurence James and Angus Wells were both prolific UK authors that were at the core of the Piccadilly Cowboys group of western, action and science-fiction writers. The four-book series entitled 'Wasteworld' launched in 1983 to capitalize on the nuclear hysteria of the 1980s. It's a post-apocalyptic series written by James, Wells, or a combination of both. While the verdict is still out on who actually authored the series, it was certainly a great run of action-adventure titles. After a rough start with the debut, I enjoyed the subsequent novel “Resurrection” immensely. Does the third book capture that same enjoyment?

1984's “Angels” begins with hero Matthew Chance gathering supplies to continue his journey to Salt Lake City. His wife and kids are residing in a spiritual encampment, and Chance has traveled from New Orleans to Texas throughout the course of the first two books to free them. Still in Texas, Chance has now met up with a scraggly scavenger and his snarling dog. After an intense encounter, the two agree to work together to secure a souped up Dodge Charger across town. Unfortunately, its guarded by the Nightpeople (think of those sand creatures from Star Wars). I won't ruin the fun for you, but the authors inject some terror into this car heist.

However, the bulk of the narrative revolves around a sadistic group of Hell's Angels bikers and their ill-will towards Chance. Like a twisted scene from David Alexander's 'Phoenix' series, the bikers force Chance into a motocross nightmare featuring spikes, chains, traps and guns. It's an exhilarating sequence that propels Chance into another adventure that reaches fruition by the book's finale. I was surprised to find that “Angels” climaxes in a cliff-hanger requiring top dollar for the fourth and last paperback of the series.

I've ran the gauntlet of 80s post-apocalypse paperbacks like 'Swampmaster', 'Phoenix', 'Roadblaster', 'Deathlands', 'Survival 2000', 'Last Ranger', etc. I'd say I've enjoyed this series more than any of them. You will too.

Note – Wells/James inserts a reference to Cuchillo, an Apache warrior that starred in the 'Apache' series of 1970s westerns penned by a combination of Laurence James, Terry Harknett and John Harvey. This mirrors the cameo appearance that Cuchillo makes in James' 'Deathlands' series. Wild!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Bloody Jungle

Author Charles Runyon experienced commercial success with his fourth published work, 1965's crime-fiction novel “The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed”. The Korean War vet followed up that novel a year later with a rather unique literary choice. Like Harry Whittington, Runyon authored a single fictional novel about the Vietnam War, “Bloody Jungle.” It was published by Ace with cover art by famed western pulp artist Gerald McConnell.

Lieutenant Clay Macklin is a battle-hardened Green Beret stationed at Phu Duc, near the Cambodian border. As the novel opens, both Macklin and his demolition Sergeant Bill Cranor locate a North Vietnamese defector crawling through the base's outer perimeter. Under some distress, the defector warns Macklin and company that a battalion of NVA soldiers have regrouped and are heading to Phu Doc the next night. With only 34 US personnel on base, the team feels that the NVA will slaughter the team and the 2,500 sympathetic villagers.

In an early plot twist, Macklin and select riflemen are separated from the base as Phu Duc is overcome with NVA. Stranded miles from the nearest US camp, Macklin drags a wounded man into a small village where he befriends a young woman and her baby. Here, Macklin learns more about the attacks and where the NVA are campaigning next. As the narrative explores Macklin's harrowing journey, Runyon enhances the storytelling with a budding romance between Macklin and the villager.

“Bloody Jungle” has many twists and turns on its ultimate road to Hell. I can't spill much of the second half of this novel, but it's a real powder-keg ready to explode. Runyon takes readers through jungle battles, base bombings, torture sequences, romance and even some detective work in downtown Saigon. At only 160-pages, the action is nearly non-stop and extremely violent. This isn't a novel for weak stomachs...but I think readers familiar with the author's work realize there is a violent temperament in many of his characters. Overall, this is an expensive, rare paperback that deserves a reprinting.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Negative of a Nude

Former World War 2 paratrooper Charles E. Fritch (1927-2012) was mostly known as an author of science fiction short stories, but he also served as editor of “Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine” from 1979 to 1985. He wrote a couple crime novels under the pseudonyms of Eric Thomas and Christopher Sly, and half of an Ace double from 1959 titled “Negative of a Nude” under his own name.

Mark Wonder, our narrator, is a Los Angeles private eye taking pictures of a philandering husband on the beach with a younger woman. He meets a hot redhead named Cherry, who turns out to be an off-duty stripper, and takes her back to his place. Just as Mark is about to get lucky with the babe, a crazy sequence of events occurs (no spoilers, here), and Mark finds himself without the girl or the film from his camera bag.

Meanwhile, Mark has another photographic-related mystery to solve. A new client is being blackmailed by someone threatening to release nudie pics of the client’s wife. The client wants the Mark to identify the blackmailer and recover the negatives before the wife’s private parts become a public record.

Of course, the mysterious photographic happenings evolve into a murder mystery with a wrongfully-accused man needing to clear his name. Mark is a very enjoyable, wise-cracking private eye to join for 140 pages, and the novel is sexy, breezy, enjoyable fun. There were a few to many characters to keep track of, but mostly I enjoyed the heck out of “Negative of a Nude” and want to read more of Fritch’s work.

Postscript

Author James Reasoner worked with Charles Fritch when Reasoner was a regular contributor to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. Reasoner recalls, “Sam Merwin Jr. was the editor when I broke in there, followed by Larry Shaw, who came and went so fast I never had any contact with him, then Chuck [Fritch] for the rest of the magazine's run. Chuck was Sam's assistant when I started and I assume was still there for Shaw's brief tenure before taking over himself. Wonderful, wonderful guy. He got out of editing after MSMM folded and wound up working at the California DMV for many years. I reconnected with him on-line the last couple of years of his life and was glad I did. He also wrote short stories under the name Chester H. Carlfi, an anagram of his real name.”

“Negative of a Nude” has slipped into the public domain and reprints are available in hardcover or paperback from Fiction House Press, a company that really should be sending Paperback Warrior free review copies of their excellent output. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 4, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 18

You’re in for a real treat this episode as Tom discusses his favorite series of all time, the Matt Helm books by Donald Hamilton. Eric reviews “Death Squad #1” by Dan Streib while Tom covers the inspiration for the movie “Bullitt” starring Steve McQueen, a paperback titled “Mute Witness” by Robert Pike. Stream below or on your favorite podcast service. Download directly at (LINK). Listen to "Episode 18: Matt Helm" on Spreaker.

Killer Patrol

Author George Fennell is a former US Army Special Services Security Agent. While little is known about him, he did author a two-book series starring US Army Special Forces Captain Mike Brent. Both were printed by Pinnacle in 1970 and caters to the men's action-adventure consumer who enjoys cover art riddled with bullets, bombs and bravado. I enjoyed the debut book, “Blood Patrol” and was hoping that the sequel would be just as enjoyable. Did it deliver the goods?

“Killer Patrol” drops Mike Brent and his first Lieutenant Hans Schmidt (the only two survivors from the debut) into Costa Verde for a Latin American undercover adventure. The US is facing backlash from the United Nations due to a revolutionary band of guerrillas using signature American firearms, the M-16 and M-60. However, US intelligence is reporting that these weapons are being manufactured by Russia and supplied to the fighters as a means to smear the US name while maintaining communist influence in the region. Brent and Schmidt are assigned to trace the supply train and destroy it.

If I were asked to introduce genre newbies to 70s men's action-adventure, I'd certainly entertain “Killer Patrol” as a logical choice. It's short, explosive and maintains a furious pace. Further, it runs the gambit of every mandatory genre trope – sex, espionage, gunfights, explosions. But, it's also so symbolic of the genre. Consider this: in one fell swoop, Fennell delivers an underwater detonation of a submarine, a climactic train battle, a nautical boat battle, interrogation/torture (they are the same in these types of books), a prisoner escape and an aerial battle while still dedicating the entire third chapter to sex. Incredible!

While “Blood Patrol” was nearly perfect, the last chapters of the novel suffered with too much stimulation in one place. Here, Fennell seems to have a little more space with moving targets in a coastal country. The dialogue exchanges between Fennell and Schmidt are darkly hilarious, but still conveys a violent aura. In terms of violence, this one rivals any Bolan body-count by allowing the heroic duo to utilize a variety of firearms. It's like one of those video games where the player just grabs victim's guns and keeps charging on.

“Killer Patrol” is fun, over-the-top and insanely addictive. Unfortunately, these two books comprise the entire series. Pinnacle canceled the novels shortly after publication. I'll never fully understand how a series like 'Death Merchant' could be wildly successful while these novels just fell by the wayside. It's one of the more frustrating aspects of reading these old books. Nevertheless, you'll have a blast with this short-lived series.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, November 1, 2019

Super Cop Joe Blaze #03 - The Thrill Killers

“The Thrill Killers” was the third and final installment in the short-lived 'Super Cop Joe Blaze' series from Belmont Tower. All three novels were released in 1974 under house name Robert Novak. The authors of the first two books are a mystery, with some guessing it was either Nelson DeMille or Paul Hofrichter. However, it's a fact that Len Levinson ('The Rat Bastards') authored “The Thrill Killers.” Len advised Paperback Warrior that it was his fifth published novel and it is “probably a little rough around the edges.”

In an interview with the Glorious Trash blog, Levinson admits that “The Thrill Killers” wasn't originally a Joe Blaze novel. The first two books feature Sergeant Blaze working with his partner Nuthall and Captain Coogan. Neither of those two characters are in “The Thrill Killers.” Instead, Nuthall is swapped for a character named Olivero. Additionally, this third installment unveils that Blaze is divorced from a woman named Anna. The main character remains gruff and savage although he's now packing a Browning 9mm instead of the old-school revolver he survived with in the series' first two books. The displaced continuity is simply because Levinson had written a totally different character for an unnamed series. Belmont Tower editor Peter McCurtin insisted that Levinson just change the name to Joe Blaze and submit it. Thus, “The Thrill Killers” forever exists as a Joe Blaze novel.

Under the skilled hands of Levinson, Joe Blaze #3 is written as more of a police procedural. There are a number of suspects, locations and side-stories that add a more dynamic, mystery approach compared to the “all guns, all glory” approach to the prior novels. In this installment, New York City's nurses are being targeted by two sexually charged lunatics. The perps rape women in a VW van before cutting the victims’ throats and dumping the bodies. Levinson's writing has never been for the squeamish, and this is no exception.

Blaze dons his gumshoes and hits the streets searching for clues while breaking every rule in the book. His hot-headed temperament leads to bar fights, gang assaults and a fairly intense parking garage shootout. Between eating sausage and pepper sandwiches, he has a one night stand with a middle-aged woman and ponders his life as a cop. There's an elevated violence in Levinson's writing style, with pushers and peddlers adding a seedy, authentic element to the trashy New York streets of the 1970s. Surprisingly, the book's finale is in a courtroom...imagine that.

Overall, “The Thrill Killers” was an entertaining conclusion to this quite satisfying police series, and it’s an easy recommendation to readers of violent adventure fiction of the 1970s. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Lady is Transparent

Carter Brown, real name Alan Yates, was an English-born Australian writer who authored over 300 short mysteries. His stirring, sultry formula starred three interchangeable investigators in Al Wheeler, Danny Boyd and Rick Holman. Occasionally his work would dabble in supernatural themes that were easily debunked and solved in the book's finale. “The Lady is Transparent”, published in 1962 by Signet, adheres to that consistently fun formula.

Lieutenant Al Wheeler becomes a ghostbusting investigator after receiving a call from the county sheriff. There's been a murder on an eerie locale called Old Canyon Road at the top of Bald Mountain. With a fiery crescendo of thunder and lightning, Wheeler arrives at the sweeping Gothic mansion in the forest. His welcoming host is Justine Harvey, a beautiful vixen adorned in a skimpy white gown. Wheeler's lust for the woman nearly supersedes his assignment.

Through a spacious network of halls and rooms, Justine leads Wheeler to an immensely large door that's locked from the inside. Justine explains that her family heard a scream from inside, and they feel that “The Gray Lady” killed Henry Slocombe behind the door. Wheeler, ignoring the folklore, shoots the lock out and indeed finds Slocombe dead in bed with wounds that appear to have been created by a wild animal.

Confined in the locked room mystery genre tropes, Wheeler interviews all of the home's residents. He learns that wealthy Ellis Harvey owns the home. Ellis has allowed his brother Ben to reside there along with Justine, her equally attractive sister Martha, and a planned groomsman for Martha in George Farrow. Wheeler concentrates his efforts on learning more about Martha's dead lover Slocombe and Ellis' arrangement for Martha to marry George.

The supernatural aspect of Carter Brown's novel is The Gray Lady, the ghost of a dead woman who haunts the room where Slocombe was murdered. Further, Slocombe was entranced by the folklore and kept a tape recorder running in the room. The audio results are surprisingly convincing – there was definitely a mysterious woman in the room. The questions abound – who is she, how did she get in and is she truly the dead woman's ghost?

At 120-pages, “The Lady is Transparent” delivers the patented Carter Brown experience. With Wheeler's obligatory scotch and skirt-chasing, he stumbles his way through a locked room/haunted house mystery permeated with scorned love, jealousy and greed. It's an atmospheric, entertaining quick read that delivered what the author intended – a sexy, whodunit romp.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Double Cross Squadron

It appears that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Bantam Books launched their “Bantam War Book” line of military-fiction paperbacks. In my research, Lyle Kenyon Engel packaged previously published novels from Ballantine and Bantam into reprints catering to military history fans and readers. In some cases these were brand new titles as with 1982’s “The Double Cross Squadron” by unknown author William Parker Evans. Copyright research seems to support the theory that Evans was a real person, but there's no evidence to suggest he wrote any other books. Whether Evans or someone else authored this book is anyone's guess. We may never find the answer, but what we do know is that “The Double Cross Squadron” kicks total ass.

The novel follows five special agents working for British intelligence in 1941, months after the Battle of Britain. These men, and one woman, are led by John King and have been intensively trained to be pilots in Germany's Third Reich Air Force. Hitting the Germans internally, through a strategic network known as Operation Eros, the “Double Cross Squadron” gain access to important German secrets used to thwart the Nazis. Interestingly, as much as this looks and feels like a daring WWII adventure tale, it's really a heist book in disguise.

King and company learn that the Nazis are importing a large shipment of industrial diamonds from Amsterdam. The Allies need the diamonds to continue manufacturing weapons – whoever has the most industrial diamonds can make the most sophisticated weaponry. An elaborate plan is hatched to intercept the diamonds during transfer. To make a successful getaway, King disguises himself as a German Commander, risks his team's lives, and jeopardizes the network of underground operatives that support him.

I can't give away too much in this review because I don't want to rob you of the enjoyment you'll surely receive by reading this novel. Evans, whoever he might be, is a superb writer and transforms what could have been a rather dry, complicated spy story into a fun, easy-read paperback ripe with humor and compelling characters. The author creates a unique “casino for spies” that really helps lighten the mood. Also, there's an unforgettable knitting scene between four Nazis in a bar...believe me you don't want to miss that.

“The Double Cross Squadron” should be on your shopping list. I'm hoping the other Bantam War Books are as equally entertaining. This one was a real treat and deserves a wider audience. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Rogue Sergeant

Lawrence Cerri (1923-1987) wrote a number of war novels in the 70s and early 80s under the pseudonym Lawrence Cortesi. As a veteran himself, serving in the South Pacific Theater during WWII, Cerri's literary work is somewhat technical, constructing timelines, battle plans and scenarios within the detailed ranks and divisions that participated. While fictional, this New York author had a real expertise of the subject matter, relying on veterans and families' accounts to document his novels. My first experience with Cerri is the 1979 Belmont Tower paperback “Rogue Sergeant”.

The protagonist is battle-ridden Private Mike Renna, a three-year veteran of WWII. Distinguishing himself with a Purple Heart, the Silver Star and a Bronze Star, Renna was promoted three times to Sergeant. Each time Renna went AWOL, refused orders or generally just refused to conform to military hierarchy. From Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge, Cerri's novel is really just a five-month account of Renna's service.

“Rogue Sergeant” isn't the rousing men's WWII adventure novel I was expecting. Most of the action takes place during the book's last 20-pages. If this was a lightweight, early Belmont novel at 154-pages, the author may have effectively gained a foothold. But at 220-pages, this is a slow-burn chore as Renna gains an injury and recuperates repeatedly through the plodding narrative. Thankfully, the only saving grace is a romance tale buried in the counterfeit bravado – not a real attribute here at Paperback Warrior.

Other than this novel, I have one other Cerri paperback, 1978's “Escape from Mindanao”. Based on the quality of “Rogue Sergeant”, I'm in no hurry to read it.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, October 28, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 17

Episode 17 presents an investigation into the wildly popular sub-genre of Plantation Fiction, sometimes referred to as Slavery Gothics. Eric is proud to present his newest addition to the Paperback Warrior Hall of Shame. Eric reviews a 1973 Pinnacle novel called "Brannon!" by Daniel Streib. Tom investigates the mystery behind a 1969 boxing/plantation fiction novel called "Mantee". Stream it below or download directly (LINK). You'll find the episode and show wherever great podcasts are streaming. Listen to "Episode 17: Slavery Gothics (Plantation Fiction)" on Spreaker.

Talk of the Town

Before “Cosmopolitan” was a women’s magazine dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of the female orgasm, it was a publication for the whole family featuring short fiction across several genres. In April 1958, “Cosmopolitan” ran a short story by crime-noir author Charles Williams titled “Stain of Suspicion.” The story was later expanded into a full novel as “Talk of the Town.” Subsequent editions of the paperback reverted back to the original title.

The book opens with Chatham getting into an accident in a small Northern Florida town that leaves him stranded for a few days while his car is being repaired. He meets Georgia, the town’s comely hotelier who is getting harassing phone calls accusing her of murdering her late husband. Through narration, we learn that Chatham is a recently-divorced former San Francisco police officer exiled from the force for excessive brutality. Being stranded for a few days in a motel with a damsel in distress is an easy set-up for him to play the hero.

More than other paperbacks by Charles Williams, “Talk of the Town” is an actual mystery novel with an investigator, suspects and a solution. There are really two mysteries to be solved here. First, who is trying to wreck the health, sanity, and financial security of Georgia through a targeted campaign of obscene accusations and harassment? Second, who actually murdered Georgia’s husband and why? It seems that the whole town has it out for this perfectly pleasant woman. Is she really blameless?

While “Talk of the Town” is clearly a well-written novel, it lacked the great characters that makes me love the work of Charles Williams. This was just a pretty basic mystery novel rather than the superior femme fatale noir from earlier in his career or the maritime adventures of his later works. The small-town mystery itself was pretty ho-hum for my taste and lacked the biting edge of a smutty 1950s crime paperback.

Charles Williams remains one of my favorite authors, but you can safely skip “Talk of the Town” without missing much unless you are seeking to be a total completist. You won’t hate the book, but it was pretty substandard when placed alongside the author’s best moments.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, October 25, 2019

Sick Heart River (aka Mountain Meadow)

Scottish author John Buchan (1875-1940) was a Unionist politician, a Member of Parliament for Scottish Universities and a Governor General of Canada. While his career flourished in diplomacy, Buchan used this time to simultaneously focus on his literary work. His critically acclaimed novel, “The Thirty-Nine Steps”, was published in 1915 and adapted for cinema in 1935 by Alfred Hitchcock. My first introduction to Buchan is his last published work, “Sick Heart River”, which was titled “Mountain Meadow” in the US. It was released in 1941 posthumously and bears a striking resemblance to Buchan's personal life.

Like Buchan, the book's protagonist is Scottish-born attorney Edward Leithen, a member of parliament and a seasoned diplomat. Leithen is diagnosed with Tuberculosis, a devastating disease that decimated Europe and the Americas during the 1800s. Refusing to enter a sanatorium for treatment (which typically resulted in a 50% morality rate), Leithen has premonitions of dying in the wilderness, specifically a meadow in upper Quebec that he fondly remembers from his travels. Coincidentally, a longtime friend asks Leithen to assist in locating a man named Galliard who has abruptly abandoned his prosperous business career for a remote section of Canada.

After learning more about the man's past and the wife he's left behind, Leithen decides that he wants to accomplish one final job while allowing the forces of nature to bring his demise. Partnering with Hare Indians (natives of Canada) and a tracker named Lew, the group embarks on a journey through upper Canada and into the outer regions of the Arctic Circle. On the quest, the group discovers that Galliard has joined Lew's brother in a stretch of wasteland called Sick Heart River.

Leithen's background in Canada, notably the Quebec region, pairs well with the Buchan's own experiences. Saddling Leithen with a chronic condition and placing him in the author's footsteps appears to foreshadow Buchan's own unfortunate death in 1940. But unlike Leithen, Buchan's death was the result of an accident. How did he write this mortality tale with so much authenticity? I don't know. But what I can tell you is that this novel was probably intended for a much different reader than myself.

“Sick Heart River” is a book weighted with deep philosophy and a euphoric sense of nature and its surroundings. I would imagine that at the time of release, readers probably knew what to expect from this talented author. My confusion lies in the bizarre marketing scheme created by Pyramid Books in 1968. Utilizing the original US title of “Mountain Meadow”, the publisher featured the painted cover (pictured) that showcases the novel as an adventure story with the intriguing invitation of “A bizarre manhunt becomes a trek into terror.” It's a clear attempt to capture men's action-adventure enthusiasts under a false pretense. The back cover synopsis adds fuel to the fire: “...pitted the strength of his body against the hellish frozen world and the even more hellish violence of man.” Pyramid was attempting to create everything from nothing.

If you are in search of a great wilderness adventure tale involving a manhunt, track down “Duel in the Snow” by Hans-Otto Meissner. It's far superior to this watered down story. “Mountain Meadow” is nothing more than a dying man's journey into the wilderness and his reflections on life, nature and morality. It is written well, but unfortunately it’s also a plodding and dull work that left me counting down the pages.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Liz

Frank Kane is primarily known as the author of the popular series of novels and short stories from 1944 though 1965 starring private eye Johnny Liddell. He also wrote a handful of stand-alone novels including 1955‘s “Liz” and 1958’s “Syndicate Girl,” both of which have been re-released by Stark House in one volume.

Liz Allen is a voluptuous young woman - a drifter on the road at age 19. When we meet her, she’s in the county lock-up being whipped with a belt at the hands of a corrupt sheriff. Kane knew exactly what he was doing by writing the scene both shockingly violent and pruriently erotic. The tables quickly turn, and the sheriff learns that revenge is a bitch - named Liz!

Kane knew damn well that his target audience for this one were horny, twisted dudes like you and wrote for that audience. Check this out from the opening scene:

“She was long-legged, full-hipped. Her breasts were round, firm and pink-tipped, her stomach flat. The whiteness of her thighs and buttocks was marred by the angry red welts left by the strap.”

After escaping the clutches of the evil sheriff, Liz makes her way to a roadhouse where she lands a job as a “bar girl” pushing drinks and avoiding companionship with lonely men looking to cop a feel. The bar has cabins out back in case Liz and the other bar girls want to hustle a few bucks on the side. It's here where she arouses small-town horndog Gunson. She convinces him to drive her out of town on his dime. Gunson and Liz soon become natural born killers, cruelly robbing and killing a hotel manager before Liz chances upon an opportunity to ascend the criminal hierarchy.

A Syndicate kingpin pays Liz to become a woman named Lorna Andrews. Under the guise of a swanky "cigarette girl" (she hip-sways brand cigarettes to patrons), Liz seduces a federal prosecutor into an uncompromising situation. With the set-up, newspaper photos are secretly taken and the prosecutor is ridiculed and ruined by the press. The Syndicate wins, but Liz isn't through with the game.

We quickly learn that Liz is no pushover and she’s done playing the victim to predatory men. In fact, she’s kind of a badass worthy of the men’s adventure genre. Using connections and experience, Liz climbs the Syndicate ranks through a vast array of sex, violence and smooth bribery.

I was struck by the intensity of the vengeful violence in a book that was originally marketed as a sexy sleaze paperback. The reality is that “Liz” felt like Mack Bolan meets Thelma & Louise. Kane's penchant for barbaric violence is balanced with salacious sexual teasing. Liz rarely puts out, which works as a magnetic conservative charm. The enjoyment for the reader is pondering this consistent question: Is she just sexing him up for the slaughter?

“Liz” is recommended as a unique crime-noir, a hybrid of tantalizing sexual desires thrust into a treacherous Mob crossfire. Kudos to Stark House Press for offering another hard to find paperback to the masses. This one is hard to beat.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Doc Savage #12 - Quest for Qui

“The Quest of Qui” was originally published as the July, 1935 issue of “Doc Savage Magazine”. When Bantam Books reprinted these classic stories in paperback novel format, this title became #12 in their series (July 1966). It was written by Lester Dent under the house name of Kenneth Robeson.

Tourists aboard a yacht called Sea Scream find what appears to be a Viking Dragon Ship off the coast of Long Island, NY. Venturing closer, they discover the ship's passengers resemble Vikings and they are holding a beautiful blonde as prisoner. The mysterious discovery leads to the threat of violence when the Vikings exchange boats with the Sea Scream's passengers. The Viking ship, and it's passengers, arrives safely back to harbor while the Sea Scream goes missing.

In the opening chapters, Johnny (William Harper Littlejohn) finds some clues that suggests the Viking ship may have sailed near the Labrador Coast, an arctic area in the Canadian Northeast. He flies solo to the area and discovers a wounded man and a bunch of bad guys. Escalating the mystery further, the rest of Doc Savage's “fabulous five” crew are all attacked in New York by phantom like entities that throw knives and spears. What!?!

After aligning with a wealthy business owner, Savage and company fly to Labrador searching for Johnny, a missing plane and some evidence that the theft of the Sea Scream is connected to the personal attacks the team experienced. Once there, the gang fights with greedy criminals, dwarves, and Vikings while trying to survive the harsh conditions.

I can't help but feel as though Dent just gets in his own way while writing this story. After the entire 119-pages, I still don't understand any of it. Why? Because Dent spends most of his time fixating on the adventure without explaining any of it. Who are the criminals? Why are the Vikings ageless? What is the mysterious glowing liquid found in the New York harbor? Why and how are invisible entities attacking the team? None of this is explained. It's as if Dent just wanted to get out in front of this story and provide atmosphere, wild adventure and an epic fight...without actually designing a coherent plot.

I'm just a casual Doc Savage fan and have enjoyed prior installments. But this novel was really difficult to enjoy within the murky haze of an undeveloped plot. Whoever said the most beautiful view comes after the hardest climb never read “The Quest for Qui.”

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Modesty Blaise #01 - Modesty Blaise

The character of Modesty Blaise was conceived as a comic strip in 1963 by British writer Peter O’Donnell. The success of the strip landed O’Donnell a film deal, and he wrote an early draft of the screenplay starring his sexy, female spy for a movie that was eventually released in 1966. A year before the movie’s release, O’Donnell adapted his unproduced screenplay into the first of 11 Modesty Blaise paperback novels in this highly-regarded series.

Unlike a lot of action series paperbacks that join the fully-formed main character in progress, “Modesty Blaise” is a true origin story of the female gang leader turned spy. Modesty grew up an orphan in a Baltic refugee camp and worked her way into the position of a wealthy, international organized crime leader before retiring to Great Britain at age 26. Modesty’s unusual skill set, gained from running a clandestine network, comes to the attention of the British Special Intelligence Service (SIS) who want to recruit her as an operative.

At the paperback’s opening, SIS bosses travel to Modesty’s opulent London penthouse on a recruiting mission, and the reader is treated to a run down of her remarkable biographic history. The government guys have an ace-in-the-hole: her long-time friend and former sidekick, Willie Garvin, is being held in a prison in a far-flung banana republic and will likely be hanged in a week. They provide Modesty with the details on Willie’s confinement in exchange for a favor to be named later. This is the perfect tactic to use on Modesty - as opposed to, say, blackmail - because of her sense of loyalty and honor.

Modesty’s first order of business is to plan and execute a prison break to free Willie (the sidekick, not the whale). It’s important to note that Modesty is a badass similar to Scarlett Johansson’s version of Black Widow from the Marvel movies. Once reunited, Modesty and Willie share that they are both bored-as-hell with retired life and want to get back into the action. Maybe the favor that the British clandestine service wanted can liven up their lives?

The government’s assignment for Modesty involves a massive shipment of diamonds to a middle-eastern Sheik in trade for a sizable shipment of oil. The Brit intel chief is worried that there are plans afoot to hijack the diamonds and wants Modesty to use her middle-eastern underworld connections to determine if such a plot exists and to thwart it before the diamonds are stolen. It’s this storyline that provides the core of the novel.

Quite ignorantly, I always lumped the ‘Modesty Blaise’ series in with the slew of moronic, female James Bond parodies - like ‘The Baroness’ or ‘Cherry Delight: Agent of N.Y.M.P.H.O.’ However, it’s clear that O’Donnell had a real vision for his character that went beyond a T&A spy lampoon, and his writing is superb. Without question,Modesty is a sexy operative, but her debut adventure is never cartoonish (oddly, considering the character’s comic strip origin), pandering, or stupid.

I don’t want to spoil much else, but I will say that the villain of this Modesty Blaise prose debut was extremely well-drawn, sadistic, and violently unhinged. This debut really does everything right, and I’m excited to read the next installment.

Based solely on the debut, here’s where the series stands in the larger spectrum of 20th Century spy-adventure series:

Modesty Blaise is...

- Way better than ‘Nick Carter: Killmaster’
- One notch better than the ‘Sam Durrell Assignment’ books by Edward S. Aarons
- Slightly better than ‘Malko’ by Gerard de Villiers
- Solidly better than Don Smith’s ‘Secret Mission’ series
- Light years better than ‘The Baroness’ by Paul Kenyon
- A good deal better than the ‘Joe Gall’ books by Philip Atlee
- A little bit better than The Man from U.N.C.L.E. novels
- Not as good as the first 10 ‘Matt Helm’ books by Donald Hamilton

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, October 21, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 16

This episode delivers an informative feature on Richard Stark's iconic anti-hero "Parker". Tom also reviews the fifth entry in the Parker series titled "The Score". Eric takes his first look at the 1980s action series "The Specialist" by John Shirley. Additionally, Tom tells viewers about his acquisition of exciting vintage crime-noir. Stream below or download directly (LINK).  Listen to "Episode 16: Parker" on Spreaker.

Paul Chavasse #01 - Testament of Caspar Schultz (aka Bormann Testament)

Henry Patterson, better known as best selling author Jack Higgins, achieved fame and fortune with his massive hit “The Eagle Has Landed” (1975). The book sold over 50 million copies and was adapted for film in 1976. However, men's action adventure enthusiasts are aware that Patterson was writing novels under pseudonyms like Martin Fallon, Hugh Marlowe and James Graham long before his commercial success – 34 of them in fact. As Fallon, Patterson penned a seven-book series starring British spy Paul Chavasse. By 1978, Fawcett Gold Medal had acquired the publishing rights to the series and reprinted them with new covers featuring the lucrative household name of Jack Higgins. My first experience with the series is “The Testament of Caspar Schultz,” the 1962 debut that was revised and re-released in 2006 as “The Bormann Testament.” My reading copy is the original.

The book introduces us to British secret agent Paul Chavasse during his fifth year of service to The Bureau. Paul's employer is a special organization formed to handle the dirtier, more complicated jobs that MI-5 or Secret Service won't touch. The character's history is told through flashbacks that are typically presented at various lengths in each series installment.

Paul's father was French and died fighting in WW2, and his English mother is retired on Alderney Island. Paul, an academic, gained a Ph.D in modern languages and became a university lecturer. In 1955, a friend of his had a sister who had married a Czech. After the war her husband died and she wanted to return to England. The communists wouldn't release her so Paul made the trip and freed her...somehow. Injured in a Vienna hospital, Bureau Chief Mallory discovered Paul and eventually offered him employment as an operative, a role that Paul excelled at.

“The Testament of Caspar Schultz” is a personal memoir written by Schultz recounting his experiences in WW2 as a German SS officer. Escaping authorities and war crime trials, Schultz lives out his dying days penning a detailed manuscript that uncovers key figures in Germany's political scene and their roles as Nazis during the war. Obviously, Israeli intelligence wants the manuscript, but Schultz was content with keeping it until his death. His valet, a man called Hans Muller, attempts to cash in by offering the manuscript, unbeknownst to Schultz, to a German publishing house. That stirs the Nazi underground, forcing Muller to try an English publisher. An operative posing as a London publisher learns of the manuscript and offers the details to The Bureau.

Chavasse's assignment is to locate Muller and retrieve the manuscript. Higgins' narrative is an explosive one, forcing Chavasse to fend off Nazi sympathizers who are also chasing the documents. Pairing with Israeli Intelligence and a beauty named Anna, Chavasse's work takes him throughout Germany and France following clues and dodging bullets.

Higgins is a marvelous storyteller and this hero's quest isn't just a run-of-the-mill series of chases. Known for his vulnerable heroes, Chavasse is a caring, sympathetic character who proves he's not immortal. Often, Chavasse relies on allies or sheer luck to solve immediate problems. Chavasse is written in a way that displays some weaknesses while not diminishing the validity and strength of the character. I think that ability to deliver such nuance is a testimony to the author's talent.

This novel and series aren't overly complicated or contrived. This is the spy and espionage series you are looking for that doesn't require a lot of analysis or notes. It's wildly entertaining and highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, October 18, 2019

Web of Murder

“Web of Murder” was a Fawcett Gold Medal crime novel written by Harry Whittington at the top of his game in 1958. The 128-page paperback found new life in 1987 as one of a handful of Whittington’s works reprinted by Black Lizard Books with a great introduction by Whittington himself. For reasons unclear to me, “Web of Murder” was not part of the recent slew of Whittington novels digitized for Kindle consumption, so you’ll need to seek out a paperback to enjoy this one.

And you should! It’s a fast-moving femme fatale noir story about a guy who wants to kill his wife, so he and his mistress can enjoy the dead wife’s money. Charley Brower is a criminal defense attorney, and his secretary is a strawberry blonde looker named Laura. Cora, his frigid fatty wife, is a bit of a pill and sexually uninteresting to our narrator. However, she’s the one with the money in the marriage - inherited from her miser of a father after his death. Charley fantasizes of Cora dying, so he can begin enjoying life with her money instead of having it doled out to him a couple bucks at a time like a kid getting an allowance.

Charley keeps thinking that if only he could get sexy Laura alone for a weekend, he could screw her, get it out of his system, and resume some normalcy. He also knows that’s not how it works, and so does the reader. One day alone at the office, he makes his move on Laura, and it’s received warmly. The next thing we know, Charley and His secretary are banging like a broken screen door with great regularity while tubby, rich Cora stays at home knitting and preparing dinner while Charley “works late.”

Of course, you can see where this is heading. But with Harry Whittington, that’s not the point. It’s the flawless execution of these standard plot outlines that made the guy the King of Paperbacks. So, the idea of killing Cora becomes a topic of conversation between the illicit couple. How would they do it? How could they get away with it? Could they really be together thereafter?

Charley’s foolproof plan to make himself a rich widower is plenty elaborate, and the idea of having 24/7 access to a naked and willing Laura makes the extensive planning seem worthwhile. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback original if there weren’t some twists, turns, and bumps in the road. Whittington handles the narrative smoothly like a pro who’s done this a million times before.

You may see the twists and turns coming, but it’s impossible to deny that this is top-notch Whittington and a fantastic quick read. In fact, if you haven’t read any of Whittington’s classic paperbacks, I think “Web of Murder” would be an excellent place to start. It’s expertly-plotted with some gruesome violence, an erotic edge, and the quality of the writing is unparalleled. What more can you ask for? Highest recommendation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Nick Carter: Killmaster #211 - Mercenary Mountain

Dennis Lynds (1924-2005) authored nearly 80 novels in his career, achieving an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Primarily a mystery fiction writer, Lynds found his most successful character to be 'Dan Fortune', a private detective series that produced 19 installments from 1967 until 1995. As William Arden, Lynds created the 'Kane Jackson' series and as Mark Sadler, the 'Paul Shaw' novels. Surprisingly, my first taste of Lynds talents isn't an acclaimed detective series.

Lynds wrote nine volumes of the 'Nick Carter: Killmaster' series, beginning in 1974 with #91: “The N3 Conspiracy” and concluding with #222: “Blood of the Falcon” in 1987. In 1984, his spouse Gale Lynds, a successful author in her own right, made it a family affair by penning four novels in the series beginning with #190: “Day of the Mahdi”. The subject of this review is Dennis Lynds' 1986 series entry #211: “Mercenary Mountain”.

The novel's opening chapters feature a ragged villager falling into the dusty Ethiopian dirt. After a small dispatch of Ethiopian soldiers pass, the villager stands and rapidly ascends a dense hillside. Assembling a sniper rifle, the villager spots his target - a civilian wearing a U.N. emblem. The soldiers then drag a weak and clearly tortured victim into the clearing and the civilian fatally shoots him. The villager then shoots and kills the U.N. disguised civilian before soldiers begin their pursuit. Eliminating enemies as they approach the hillside, the fearful General calls off the search and the squad departs. The villager, who we now realize is Nick Carter, removes a small cylinder from the civilian's arm and then realizes the tortured man was a CIA operative. In the dirt, the operative had scrawled a clue: “MAMBA”.

Carter telephones AXE's David Hawk to report his findings, including the message and the murder of the CIA man. Hawk asks Carter to investigate, and this leads to a whirlwind of action as Carter teams with a mysterious band of aged fighters, a leftover WW2 French brigade that's part gangster, part thief and part hero. The narrative's focal point is Carter's investigation of multiple thefts of American aid. Who's stealing the supplies destined for the Ethiopian people? Who are the thieves selling the aid to? The clues all point to a grand army of mercenaries operating in Africa under the name The Black Mamba Brigade.

I'm not one to flock to the Killmaster series, but there's no denying Dennis Lynds is a tremendous talent. He goes to great lengths to really push this novel into a sweeping, epic adventure. Carter's weary alliance with the resistance group kept me fully engaged, including his love interest with fighting beauty Chantal. With a nearly nonstop action approach, Lynds propels the team throughout Africa while fighting jailers, mercenaries, Ethiopian soldiers and the criminal network. While the climactic finish retained some pulp flavor, it wasn't completely over the top theatrics.

If you are new to the series, or just simply a casual fan like myself, seek out the Dennis Lynds series novels. You won't be disappointed.

Dennis Lynds:

91: The N3 Conspiracy (1974)
103: The Green Wolf Connection (1976)
113: Triple Cross (1976)
206: The Execution Exchange (1985)
211: Mercenary Mountain (1986)
213: The Cyclops Conspiracy (1986)
215: The Samurai Kill (1986)
219: The Master Assassin (1986)
222: Blood of the Falcon (1987)

Gale Lynds:

190: Day of the Mahdi
194: The Mayan Connection
199: Pursuit of the Eagle
203: White Death 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Raker #01 - Raker

Have you ever started a men’s adventure paperback just knowing it’s going to suck? The ‘Raker’ series was a failed, two-books outing from Pinnacle published in 1982 under the pseudonym of Don Scott. The actual author was Lee Hays, whose prior claim to fame was writing TV tie-in novels for ‘Columbo’ and ‘The Partridge Family,’ so he must have thought that landing an original Pinnacle series was his ticket to the big time.

The cover art for the paperback did nothing to instill confidence as it depicts a very Aryan looking Raker exchanging gunfire with black people under the tag-line, “The American Hero Who Believes in America First.” Presumably, the lady with the bullet headed for her Afro is from Canada or Sweden. The plot synopsis on the back did little to assuage the sickening feeling as I opened the big-font, humongous margins, 185-page novel.

Raker works for a shadowy organization called The Company - sometimes called The Department - in New York City. It’s not clear if this is a governmental entity or a private outfit. He receives his assignments and a briefcase full of cash with an unnecessary level of spy tradecraft. The current assignment is to investigate the ambush murders of several police officers across the nation over the past five months. All of the murders have occurred in black neighborhoods, so at least we are starting with a promising lead. Raker’s job is to investigate the killings and neutralize the almost certainly black threat.

The author may or may not have been personally a bigot, but he sure wrote a book for that audience. In Raker’s universe, the “coloreds” live like animals. A wrong number to Raker’s phone sounds like a “fruit,” and Raker imagines the caller wearing a tight t-shirt, a bracelet, and an earring. On his commute to work, Raker notices a “Jap with a camera.” Chinese-Americans are “chinks” and probably reds. Raker is basically Archie Bunker meets Charles Bronson. Could this have been intended as parody? Somehow I doubt it. Parody books have some element of fun, and “Raker” is just a loathsome drag.

Raker does have a college-educated - Harvard, in fact - black man who serves as his partner or informant - the business relationship isn’t clear. His name is Lawson, and it’s explained to the reader that he’s a real Oreo - black on the outside but white on the inside. Lawson is the perfect partner for Raker because he can “talk black, speak jive” but otherwise he’s without black “speech, gait, or behavior.” Lawson’s theory is that the police assassinations are the work of the Black Liberation Army (BLA), and Raker tells him to hit the streets and uncover the truth. A better author would have made the BLA thing a red herring and developed a clever twist at the end, but that would have involved way too much effort for the untalented Mr. Hays.

Raker is a badass, and the reader is reminded of this fact several times in the first few chapters. If I were writing the book, I might have shown the reader how tough and cool Raker is by having him do some tough and cool stuff, but that’s not how this author rolls. In order to anticipate the time and location of the next cop killing, Raker does some guesswork coupled with social engineering in which he places some calls to police stations pretending to be a black man while talking like Amos-n-Andy.

The novel is essentially a parade of liberal and minority strawmen for Raker to hate and occasionally kill. A flashback to his college years depicts anti-war protestors as flag burning domestic terrorists looking to “off some pigs” and smoke reefer. All this is done without the gentle nuance and subtlety that William W. Johnstone’s ghost writers bring to the right-wish fulfillment school of men’s adventure fiction.

Here’s the thing: even if “Raker” wasn’t filled with tone-deaf racial tropes, the paperback would still suck. The action sequences were lame and tired, and the pacing of the novel was an abomination. Raker spends the majority of the paperback driving around, meeting with potential sources with pages upon pages of talk, talk, talk to fill out this paltry, crappy book. Every now and then, he gets to break a mugger’s arm, but those scenes felt like they were added in later drafts to appease Pinnacle editors dumb enough to pay Mr. Hays for an action novel.

“Raker” was easily the worst book I’ve ever read to completion. We read a lot of cheesy, bad books at Paperback Warrior, but I can’t recall one as joyless as this piece of literary excrement. There was a sequel published - also in 1982 - called “Raker #2: Tijuana Traffic.” However, I’d rather jog home from my own vasectomy than read a single word of it. You’re on your own.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Spenser #02 - God Save the Child

The debut 'Spenser' novel, "The Godwulf Manuscript", was released in 1973. The series launched a successful career for author and creator Robert B. Parker. With a spotlight on private eye Spenser, the author used traditional genre tropes but shifted the setting from Southern California to the Boston metropolis. Parker followed up the debut in 1974 with the series second installment, "God Save the Child".

Like “The Godwulf Manuscript”, its successor follows the gumshoe formula of Spenser accepting and investigating a theft. Instead of a valuable manuscript, the prize is a wealthy couple's son. 15 year-old Kevin Bartlett is missing and his parents hire Spenser to locate the boy. With a $500 retainer and a $100 daily fee, Spenser accepts the case and immediately hits a brick wall. The Bartlets seemingly know very little about Kevin and have sacrificed parenting to chase other goals. Kevin's mother is an alcoholic who chases men by hosting lavish parties. Her husband is a workaholic and generally dismisses the dysfunctional family to pursue more wealth.

Spenser strikes up a relationship with Kevin's guidance counselor, Susan Silverman, a love interest that will stay consistent as the series continues. Susan feels Kevin has gender identification issues and has an unsupported upbringing. As Spenser chases clues, a ransom note appears asking for $50,000 to return the boy safely. Once the family provides the funds, strange, macabre packages arrive hinting that Kevin may have been murdered. It is this turning point that propels the narrative into a more complex criminal investigation. Spenser aids the police and family while aligning with another series mainstay, Lieutenant Healey.

What I enjoy about Spenser, and Parker's writing style, is triumphant in this second installment: the over-indulgent, yet entertaining blend of sarcasm and humor that defines the character. With the familiar genre necessities – mystery, intrigue, love and sure-fire luck – Parker succeeds once again with an addictive, enjoyable thrill-ride for mystery readers.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, October 14, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 15

Welcome to our western-themed episode of Paperback Warrior. Eric visits through Half-Price Books' flagship store in Dallas as well as a diverse local shop called Lucky Dog. Tom presents a feature on the Adult Western genre as well as a review for "Epitaph for a Tramp.” Eric covers the first installment of "The Trailsman" and hangs out with Paperback Warrior's number one fan. (Music by Bensound) Stream below or anywhere where quality podcasts are offered. Download directly at: LINK Listen to "Episode 15: Adult Westerns" on Spreaker.

Malko #02 - Operation New York

The Malko spy series (known in France as the S.A.S. series) lasted for exactly 200 installments published between the years 1965 and 2013. The paperbacks were written in French by Gerard de Villiers and have been translated into several languages with 120 million copies in print. A dozen of the early installments were translated and published by Pinnacle in the 1970s with a new numbering scheme. Pinnacle’s Malko #2 from 1973 was “Operation New York,” originally released in 1968 as S.A.S. #11.

Malko Linge is a Harvard-educated Austrian prince who accepts espionage assignments from the American CIA to generate income for the renovation and restoration of his family’s royal castle in Austria. The opening scene in “Operation New York” is too awesome to spoil here. In general, Malko is accused of being a former Nazi war criminal and death camp administrator during WW2. The accusers have compelling proof that Malko is actually the Nazi fugitive Rudi Guern, and none of Malko’s words will change their mind.

In order to get to the bottom of the matter, Malko flies to Europe to gather information about the real Nazi which only seems to muddy the waters and amplify the suspicion that Malko and Guern are the same man. Despite the title, the overwhelming majority of the paperback takes place in Europe, not New York, as Malko investigates the life and possible whereabouts of Guern. While seeking witnesses or other substantive proof that he and the the Nazi are not one in the same man, he attracts the attention of actual Nazis and actual Nazi hunters.

One of the fun literary tricks de Villiers employs in his Malko books is the use of real people as fictionalized characters in the novels. One Pinnacle paperback has Henry Kissinger playing a sizable role and one of the later installments available as a reprint from Mysterious Press features Vladimir Putin as a significant character. In “Operation New York”, Malko interacts with holocaust survivor and real-life Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal in a particularly cool scene.

The action and violence in “Operation New York” is outstanding. The story never has time to get dull, and the author dreams up some very cool spy stuff that I’ve never read before. Even the basic plot of hunting a fugitive Nazi to prove you’re not the guy is a pretty darn innovative plot in a genre filled with retreads. This second adventure is another straight-up winner, and I’m going to be really bummed when I run out of English-language editions of this fantastic series. Malko is the real deal.

Fun Fact:

The Malko books remain in print in Italy under the series name “Segretissimo.” I just really like the sound of that.

Buy a copy of this book HERE