Friday, March 22, 2019

Drive East on 66

Richard Wormser (1908-1977) was a Princeton man and a pulp author who wrote 17 of the original Nick Carter books for Street & Smith (long before the Killmaster era) as well as several popular Westerns under the pseudonym of Ed Friend. He also wrote two paperback originals starring Southern California police Lieutenant Andy Bastion: “Drive East on 66” (1961) and “A Nice Girl Like You” (1963).

The premise of “Drive East on 66” is awesome. A California real estate tycoon hires Andy away from his police duties for a two weeks side job. The assignment is for Andy to drive Ralph, the businessman’s troubled 16 year-old son, to an insane asylum in Kansas. The family also hires an attractive psychology grad student named Olga as the teen’s caregiver during the trip.

Along the way, Andy notices that their car is being followed by a mysterious maroon Buick. Is the tail planning a robbery? Was it sent by dad to keep an eye on them? Or is the pursuer determined to make sure they don’t make it to Kansas alive?

Andy, Ralph, and Olga are three vividly-drawn characters for the reader to join on this thousand-mile road trip. Although Ralph’s mental illness isn’t specifically defined, it feels like he’s an autistic savant of sorts - highly intelligent but prone to unexpected outbursts. Olga is a beauty trying hard to be professional during this unusual assignment, and Andy the cop is a top-notch pro with a good sense of humor. The competent officer provides the likable narration for the 150-page pursuit mystery.

The book opens great and ends with some satisfying plot twists. There’s a bit of filler in the middle, but nothing too cumbersome. Overall, “Drive East on 66” was a good natured coming of age mystery that lacked any real edge or violence, but it was enjoyable enough if you’re not looking for a hardboiled bloodbath. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Chopper Cop #01 - Chopper Cop

'Chopper Cop' debuted in 1972 as a Popular Library paperback. Author Paul Ross is actually Dan Streib, the man behind 70s action oriented series' like 'Killsquad', 'Hawk', 'Steve Crown' and 'Death Squad'. The series would last three installments with Streib writing the first two. While the cover, font and badge logo would indicate a high-paced action formula fitting of Streib's writing style, the end result is an entirely different type of story. Personally, I think this was probably a grand misplacement of what literary power-broker Lyle Kenyon Engel envisioned when hiring Streib. Engel would later denounce the author, furthering the theory that the supply didn't meet the demand.

Think of series debut, “Valley of Death”, as an eerie, Gothic investigative novel. Odd I know, but Streib's use of heavy sea fog, moonlit graveyards, old mansions and an abandoned mining town are the perfect backdrops for this dense thriller. They are almost characters themselves, springing up from time to time to introduce darkness and death.

No, this isn't the long-haired, biker riding “Easy Rider” that's depicted on the book cover, but our hero Terry Bunker does dress the part. He works for the California Governor, sort of a special operative piece that is utilized by leadership as an official State Department of Criminal Investigation...investigator? He receives requests from the Governor to solve crimes. He's extremely successful, allowing him to refer to leadership as “hey guv” despite hatred from his departmental peers.

The debut mystery is a rather grim one; young wealthy women are committing suicide in San Francisco and Sacramento. Yet, they are reaching out to their loved ones posthumously through bizarre phone calls or supernatural apparitions lurking just outside the window. The crime? Whoever is behind the ghostly apparitions are ransoming the return of these resurrected dead girls for millions of dollars. The culprit might be a strange seaside cult that's sacrificing drugged women for cash. But that doesn't explain the seemingly life after death undertaking of these heists.

Bunker isn't as funny as say...Kolchak, Fox Mulder or Carter Brown's bumbling detective Al Wheeler. But he's no Shaggy either. This character is vulnerable, even scared at times as he navigates ghosts and graves to find the criminal leader. But he can get the job done. It's a slap in the face to readers looking for a hard-edged, bone-breaking chopper cop. But once you can forgive the creator, this is a really fun mystery that had some longevity. I could see this sort of thing working on multiple levels, whether supernatural or just a “crime of the week” featuring some abstract scenario. Unfortunately, the struggle between publisher and author led to this being canned shortly thereafter. I'm on the hunt for book two.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Good Time Girl

Don Kingery (1924-2014) was an award-winning newspaper reporter and columnist in Southwest Louisiana with a career spanning over 50 years. He also played for the Detroit Lions during the early days of the NFL. Along the way, he also authored four paperback originals between 1956 and 1960 with plots in the same vein as James M. Cain and Erskine Caldwell. His final novel was a swamp noir paperback original titled “Good Time Girl” from 1960 published by Dell.

The novel opens in the aftermath of an alleged rape in rural Louisiana that is quickly becoming a major news story. Our narrator is Jack Candless, an alcoholic New Orleans newspaper reporter who travels to cover the salacious story while struggling with his own sobriety.

Cora Sill, age 19, claims that she was raped by a farmhand named Boad Gentry while the girl was swimming in an irrigation canal. Cora’s claim that Boad swam underwater to attack her has earned him the nickname “the frog man rapist” from newspapers seeking to sensationalize the story.

Upon arrival in the small town swarming with media, Jack comes to the conclusion that there may be more to the story. First, the police chief is a moron who couldn’t find his ass in the shower with a map. Second, Boad claims that he’s innocent and was set up by Cora when he hopped into the canal after she called for help. Meanwhile, the police chief seems to be enjoying his newfound celebrity too much to actually investigate the crime. Because this was written over 50 years before “believe all women” was a thing, Jack decides to look deeper into the crime himself.

The rape story becomes more problematic once it becomes clear that Cora is, in fact, the town’s titular Good Time Girl. Moreover, there’s a lot of economic incentive for the police, the media, the attorney, and Cora’s family to have the rape story be true. The moral bankruptcy of the news media in this novel is fascinating and creates the core of the moral dilemma for Jack. Fake news creates unintended consequences that, in turn, create new victims. It’s also remarkable how so many of the same issues surrounding the public’s rush to judgement and the problems involving unsubstantiated claims of victimhood are still being debated 60 years later.

“Good Time Girl” is well-written but it’s not without problems. For starters, there are far too many characters for a 160 page novel, and the paperback is fairly devoid of action or real suspense - but has plenty of melodrama. It’s a book about moral quandaries in the news industry and the eternal battle between a slavish devotion to accuracy and the quest for a good story. The fact that the book was written by a long-time newsman helps push this book just into the recommended column for me, but it shouldn’t be confused with a noir masterpiece. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

No Law Against Angels (aka The Body)

Beginning in 2017, Stark House Press began releasing the Al Wheeler series by author Alan Yates, better known as paperback extraordinaire Carter Brown. These 1950s mysteries are easy reads about a West Coast lieutenant who assists the commissioner on difficult whodunits. Stark House released the first volume in 2017, containing Wheeler entries 1-3. That followed in 2018 with the 4-6 installments. In March of 2019, books 7-9 were released. When choosing an affordable Stark House collection ($20 paper, $6 digital), pay no mind to series order because there isn't one. Al Wheeler is a cop. There's beautiful women. A crime needs to be solved. These aren't labor intensive. 

Wheeler is summoned by the commissioner to assist an arrogant homicide detective named Hammond. Wheeler, always holding Scotch, is to locate the murderer of two women found dead in San Francisco alleyways. The only clue is that each have a snake tattoo and they are from out of town. Never a strongman, our bumbling sleuth somehow backs himself into a call girl racket that involves mortuaries, hair salons and a hilltop mansion that might hold the answers.

The scenic coastline provides a beautiful backdrop for Wheeler's actions. The investigation eventually leads to fisticuffs, but not before both Wheeler and Hammond verbally spar on who's right and wrong. Of course Wheeler is attempting to get laid, but never settles to just pay for it (a prostitute practically wants to pay him!). It's when he meets the stunning goddess Jo Dexter that his sex-drive hits overdrive. But this is the tame paperback kingdom of the 1950s, so that sort of thing is more suggested than described. 

Carter Brown is firmly master of his domain and proves it with “No Law Against Hair-Dye”....I mean “Angels”. This was a gripping, short read that I read in nearly one sitting. Al Wheeler is hilarious with his endless sarcasm, never completely in control but somehow being three steps in front of the bad guys and the reader. This is absolutely entertaining and a must read.

Note - This U.K. book was released in the US in 1958 as "The Body".

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, March 18, 2019

Ian Ludlow #2 - Killer Thriller

“Killer Thriller” is the 2019 follow-up to Lee Goldberg’s comedic action bestseller, “True Fiction” about Ian Ludlow, a men’s adventure novelist who is unexpectedly thrust into the life of a bona fide action hero. Like the first installment, the novel straddles the line between being a parody of the Jack Reacher-style of adventure paperbacks and delivering a genuine kick-ass thrill-ride of a novel.

The character of Ian Ludlow is a fictionalized version of Goldberg himself - a TV mystery scriptwriter turned successful novelist. In fact, Goldberg began his career writing the macho “.357 Vigilante” series using the pseudonym of Ian Ludlow. “Killer Thriller” begins with Ludlow on a book tour hyping his latest testosterone-fueled novel, and Goldberg does a nice job of getting readers up to speed on the events of “True Fiction,” so no one is left behind.

Because Ludlow’s fiction has an uncanny way of becoming fact, he is approached by the CIA to become an operative using his writing job as cover. And because this is a fun - and sometimes silly - action novel send-up, Ludlow is soon in the mix with an international conspiracy to cripple America in a manner similar to a novel Ludlow is currently outlining.

The backdrop of “Killer Thriller” is a potential trade war with China during an internal U.S. policy debate over free trade vs. protectionism. Meanwhile, Chinese interests are putting a giant thumb on the scale with political assassinations in the U.S. and the kidnapping of Hong Kong’s best and brightest business minds. Production is also beginning in Hong Kong on a film based on Ludlow’s recurring character, which gives Goldberg a chance to poke some fun at Hollywood preposterous adaptations of outlandish contemporary men’s fiction and the influence of the China market on modern Hollywood.

As with the first installment, there are tons of Easter eggs in the novel for genre fanatics. For example, the movie studio adapting Ludlow’s novel is “Pinnacle Pictures” - presumably a nod to the iconic 1970s paperback house. Current events also get a send-up with a billionaire fictional U.S. President tweeting too much while alienating our NATO allies.

Joined by his hot and heroic lesbian sidekick Margo, Ludlow is off to China to monitor the adaptive filming of his old novel while researching the plot of his next one. As expected, he gets swept up in a real-life Chinese conspiracy that eerily mirrors his own plot outline for an unwritten novel.

Like it’s predecessor, “Killer Thriller” is a helluva lot of fun to read. The plot and action sequences are both absurd and absorbing. If you’re a fan of men’s action novels and their film adaptations, you are the intended audience for this love letter to our genre. Time will tell how many times Goldberg will be able to go to this same well, but I’m all-in for the Ian Ludlow thrillers. Highly recommended.

Buy this book HERE

Friday, March 15, 2019

Super Bolan #04 - Dirty War

In Don Pendleton's “Death Squad” (1969), the second of the long running vigilante series 'The Executioner', we are introduced to Mack Bolan's Vietnam colleagues - Bill Hoffower, Tom Loudelk, Angelo Fontenelli, Juan Andromede, Gadgets Schwartz, Pol Blancanales, Jim Harrington and George Zitka. While it's a short-lived cameo, this death squad assists Bolan with a Mafia hit that goes south. While the entire team is nearly wiped out, it was an interesting concept that would eventually lead to more team-based action in its affiliates like Able Team, Stony Man and Phoenix Force.

Pendleton would pen 37 of the first 38 Executioner novels before handing Gold Eagle the rights to produce the books using a myriad of authors. The stipulation that the author's name be printed on the copyright page is important, allowing fans like myself an easy peek at the book's creator without having to roll the sleeves up for a paper trail (I'm talking to you Killmaster). After 60 volumes of 'The Executioner' (titled 'Mack Bolan' at this point), Gold Eagle decided that they could increase the profits from $2.25 per book to $3.95 by increasing the size to 350+ pages under the 'Super Bolan' series. These were simultaneously released at the same time Executioners were flooding the market, providing plenty of paperback Bolans to meet reader demands.

Writer Stephen Mertz was a Pendleton prodigy and by the early 1980s was knee-deep in the Bolan universe. His resume and experience with Bolan provoked a “retcon” idea of re-imagining earlier events in Bolan's life. Thus, “Super Bolan #4 – Dirty War” is written as a time capsule piece depicting events that would happen to the character during his second tour in Vietnam. The idea of a sprite young Bolan in the hands of a veteran author like Mertz is altogether intriguing. The stars aligned to even have veteran artist Gil Cohen design the cover, the ultimate Bolan fan's dream.

The book begins in the present day as Bolan is thinking back to his Death Squad's unfortunate deaths. He's on a Mafia hit of his own and thinking back to his time in Vietnam as sergeant and the various missions that his men performed. In a unique chapter one, 30-yr old Bolan is at Pittsfield Municipal Airport in Massachusetts with his family. We know this would be the last time he would see his parents/sister and Mertz writes this into the narrative. Bolan has premonitions that he won't see his family again. Kudos to the author for also allowing some backstory on Mack's father Sam and his early fights with the mob enforcers. At one point, before Mack's departure, Sam is attacked and Mack comes to his aid. It's this aspect that I don't think was conveyed by Pendleton – that Mack knew what was happening back home prior to the first few letters arriving on his second tour. In this re-imagining, he knew all along. 

The action heats up in Vietnam as we see Bolan and his death squad liberating a young woman and child from a NVA stronghold near the Cambodian border. It's intense cat-and-mouse tactics that mirror Bolan's solo fights much later in life. But here we have Bolan as squad leader, effectively orchestrating the Hell that is unleashed on the NVA base. In a neat fan experience, Mertz provides a cameo of pilot Jack Grimaldi. Familiar readers will know that Grimaldi and Mack originally meet in Executioner #10, later to become longtime allies within the Stony Man group. Retconning that exchange, Mertz has Grimaldi rescue the Death Squad from the NVA fight and pilot the group to safety. While Grimaldi and Bolan never officially meet here, both are respectful to each other leading Grimaldi to think to himself, “I wonder if our paths will ever meet again”. This is fun stuff. 

“Dirty War” eventually tangles with plenty of firefights and escapes, building in a hot lead assault on Bolan's camp, a hunt and destroy mission and the eventual escape from enemy patrols in Cambodia. At 376-pages, it never gets too exhausting with dialogue or slow motion. This is 80s Bolan – 1,2,3,Kill at its finest. Mertz is clearly having a lot of fun with the concept and adds tremendous depth to the characters that made up that original Death Squad. Without giving away the spoilers, we know that Gadgets and Pol would survive that Mafia battle and go on to form Able Team (launched in 1982 by Gold Eagle).

Fans of the Bolan universe, this is simply mandatory reading. It's fun, indulgent and clever. It's clearly designed for the series' fans but should be considered an important part of the Bolan origin story. If you are new to the series, I would start here and then work into Executioners 1 and 2. But regardless of order, just read it.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Lady Gunsmith #6 - Roxy Doyle and the Desperate Housewife

Thanks to the guiding hand of creator and author Robert Randisi (writing as J.R. Roberts), the Gunsmith series of Adult Westerns has the most consistently high-quality stories of the genre. Not coincidentally, it’s also the only long-running series still around today. In 2017, Randisi launched a spin-off series starring Roxy Doyle, the ‘Lady Gunsmith’, and two years later, we are now six installments deep into the series.

Book six is playfully titled “Roxy Doyle and the Desperate Housewife,” and the plot initially leans on the series’ central thread - Roxy’s search for her missing bounty hunter father. She finds herself chasing a rumor to a small Wyoming town where dad was allegedly headed. This being an Adult Western, Roxy wastes no time getting laid as soon as she gets off the trail before settling in to wait for her father’s arrival. 

While Roxy is on the lookout for Dad, a woman named Jane arrives in town looking for Roxy. Once they meet, Jane discloses that she’s been married to Roxy’s elusive father for a few months, and they live just a short ride away. The next morning Roxy rides to the town Jane described, and no one there knows anything about Jane or Roxy’s dad. Why would this strange woman give Roxy a bum steer? Is she really Roxy’s step-mom?

The mystery moves to Idaho and is unraveled over subsequent chapters among traditional Western action. I won’t spoil the details here, but it involves a ton of cash from a bank robbery and a gang of outlaws seeking to recover the loot. There are double-crosses galore culminating in a satisfying conclusion leaving Roxy to ride another day. 

Lady Gunsmith #6 is a quick and entertaining read - short chapters, lots of dialogue, plenty of graphic sex and explosively violent action. Randisi is a seasoned literary entertainer, and he’s got the Adult Western formula down pat. His series books are crafted in such a manner that they don’t require sequential reading, so “Roxy Doyle and the Desperate Housewife” is as good an entry point as any. Recommended.

Purchase this book HERE

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Death House Doll

Author Day Keene, real name Gunard Hjertstedt (1904 -1969) wrote over 50 novels and is often placed in the top echelon of crime fiction along with Gil Brewer, Harry Whittington (he shared an agent with Keene) and David Goodis. Keene's “Death House Doll” was one of ten books the author released over the two-year span of 1953/1954. It's an astonishing feat for any writer, especially considering the magnitude and levels for which Keene was writing. Released by Ace in 1953, the book was re-printed by Prologue Books in 2012 in both physical and digital versions. 

The novel concerns a Chicago woman on death row who was convicted of fatally shooting a diamond salesman. Her only opportunity to escape the chair is Army Sergeant Mike, her lover's brother that made a promise he's determined to keep. As the book opens, Mike visits inmate Mona and advises that his brother, in a dying breath, asked Mike to look after Mona and their baby. Unbeknownst to him, Mona was forced into prostitution by mobster Joe LaFanti after Mike's death. She might have gone one step further and taken the rap for the murder. But why plead guilty all the way to death row? What precious life is worth more than her own?

Keene writes at a whirlwind pace, consistently placing “Death House Doll” and its readers one step from the determined Captain Corson, the lead on Mona's conviction. While Mike gets further entangled in Mona's case he becomes the enemy to both LaFanti and Corson, both convinced that he's the benefactor of the murder – the man's diamonds weren't found with the body. With this much treasure still escaping the bad guys, LaFanti puts his men on Mike in a rough and tumble action spree that seemingly envelopes the book's second-half. 

“Death House Doll” is another fine example of Keene's writing style – a blend of mystery, action and compelling characters. While Mike is the distinct good guy, the other characters have enough depth to blur the lines between right and wrong. It isn't necessarily cookie-cutter in its presentation, instead thrusting the story into the hands of readers in the same fashion as Mona's surprising circumstances are heaved onto Mike. We, along with Mike, never have a moment of composure. The race is on to free Mona, or at least find the definitive answer to the diamond murder. It's a dense narrative with a number of plot threads, but this author is a smooth read and knows his audience. 

Engaging, entertaining...Keene absolutely delivers the goods. Again.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A Time to Scatter Stones

Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder series about an alcoholic ex-NYPD Detective working as an unlicensed private detective started in 1976 and has been a reliably great crime fiction character arc over the past 43 years. Scudder has more-or-less aged in real time over the course of the series which is why I was so intrigued to read Block’s 2019 take on Scudder in the new 160-page novella, “A Time to Scatter Stones.”

As we join our hero narrator, he’s still sober and still married to Elaine at age seventy-something. His bad knees generally don’t stop him from walking around Manhattan, but an ice pack is needed to ease the pain when he gets home. Block does a nice job getting readers up to speed on Scudder and Elaine’s backstories. Elaine is a former prostitute who just started attending her own support-group meetings for women who were in the life - an analogous situation to Scudder’s own AA meetings that he’s been attending for 35 years.

Elaine is sponsoring a young ex-prostitute named Ellen who recently quit escorting. The problem is that she has one client who is not taking no for an answer and insists on seeing for paid sex her despite her demure protestations. She wants Scudder’s help to make the creep lay off and go away. The stakes are increased as his behavior becomes increasingly stalky. 

The first problem is identifying the stalker because it turns out that johns don’t always give their prostitutes their real names. The second problem is that 2019 Scudder is not the same ass-kicker as 1989 Scudder. It’s fun to see a beloved PI who is physically past his prime engaging in old-school gumshoe work, as the story drives toward a satisfyingly violent confrontation and a sexy conclusion. 

I’m pleased to report that even at age 80, Lawrence Block still has his writing chops. His knack for snappy dialogue is better than ever, and his plotting is flawless. Block is a mystery fiction grandmaster and a national treasure. If “A Time to Scatter Stones” turns out to be Scudder’s last appearance, Block can rest easy knowing the journey of this beloved character ended on a high note. Highly recommended.

Purchase this book HERE

Monday, March 11, 2019

Like a Hole in the Head

The king of European thrillers might be an unrecognizable name: Rene Lodge Brabazon Raymond. That's reality, but better recognition would be the fictitious name of James Hadley Chase (1906-1985). In fact, Raymond utilized Chase, James L. Docherty, Ambrose Grant and Raymond Marshall pseudonyms to write 90 novels. Using the sound strategy of picking at random, my first Chase novel is 1970's “Like a Hole in the Head”. 

Protagonist James Benson is a Vietnam veteran and former Army sniper. With a distinguished career of 80+ kills, the retired Benson and his wife Lucy are now settling into their new home in Miami, Florida. Benson has purchased a derelict gun range in hopes that his post-military career will be a lucrative one. With only a handful of students and overwhelming repairs, the two are scraping to make ends meet.

Benson is approached by savvy businessman Savano with a rather interesting proposal. Savano claims that he is in a half-million dollar wager that his son, Timoteo, can outshoot a rival's son. One would assume Timoteo is a decent marksman, right? The fact is that Savano was a little inebriated when making the wager – his son can't even lift a rifle much less make a tremendous display of shooting. The offer is for Benson to train Timoteo to shoot. The issue is that the competitive shooting takes place in just nine days. Benson, learning that Timoteo isn't a trained shooter, refuses the job. It's a good move on his part...until money talks.

Savano is a convincing man and soon introduces Timoteo to Benson. Immediately, Benson refuses the job again knowing that Savano's son is a sissy. The boy has a sense of entitlement and a spoiled lethargy that makes him detest guns. After the meeting, Benson refuses the job...AGAIN. Savano, stating that money can perform miracles, offers Benson $25K to train Timoteo. Benson AGAIN refuses and the offer is doubled. Now, Benson knows there's just too much at stake to refuse the deal. Benson must make Timoteo his equal on the range in exchange for $50K. That's a story the reader can't put down.

But, like all of these action-thrillers, the story isn't all that it seems. In fact, this story really becomes entwined with Savano's empire and a wager that is soaked in blood instead of money. Is Savano telling the truth about the wager, or is there something way more dangerous on the line? With Lucy being used as a bargaining chip, the story takes a number of twists and turns that left me reeling. I couldn't put this book down.

I'll repeat that this is my first foray into the world of James Hadley Chase. The man is way more talented than what these sultry (trashy) covers suggest. With an enticing plot development, the author rides these characters to the grave, screaming from the hearse long after the last shots are fired. It's these characters that Chase toys with, placing ordinary people into extreme circumstances to see what will break. That's “Like a Hole in the Head”. This is a must read for action fans...but with fair warning: This book will evaporate your day.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Kidnaper

Because of the association with his mentor H.P. Lovecraft and the success of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” author Robert Bloch (1917-1994) is remembered as a horror writer, but he also did a lot of work in the crime fiction genre. In fact, I would maintain that “Psycho” is more of a suspenseful crime fiction story than a horror novel anyway, but that’s a different argument for a different day.

Bloch’s novel “The Kidnaper” was released by upstart crime fiction paperback house, Lion Books in 1954 - five years before “Psycho.” It was reprinted by Tor Books in 1988 with a horror-themed cover and a modernized spelling of the title as “The Kidnapper.” Decades later, Bloch cited the novel as among his best work.

Our narrator is Steve Collins, a freight train riding drifter and petty criminal who breezes into town and lands a job working the night shift at a factory. Steve’s not a very nice guy, and you need to be comfortable spending 180 pages with a cold antihero operating with a severely-busted moral compass. If you need a white-hat protagonist in your fiction, look elsewhere.

Shirley Mae is the four year-old daughter of a wealthy businessman in town. Steve’s new girlfriend is the kid’s nanny, and he sees this as a real opportunity to make some big cash in a kidnapping and ransom gambit. He enlists the help of his dimwitted friend in the execution of the scheme which goes very wrong, and the majority of the novel is Steve’s attempts to salvage the operation, get the dough, and get lost.

This is a seriously dark noir novel that was clearly inspired by Jim Thompson, who was doing basically the same thing at the same time. It was also an excellent book if you’re looking for something gritty as hell to read. Steve is an unapologetic sociopath but otherwise logical and level-headed, so the book doesn’t force you into a mentally ill mind for the narration as in many of Thompson’s paperbacks. Bloch does a fantastic job keeping the action moving, and the tension-filled pages really fly by.

As long as you know what you’re getting and are comfortable with untidy crimes in your crime fiction, “The Kidnaper” is an easy recommendation.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Top Man with a Gun

“Top Man with a Gun” is a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback first released in 1959. It was re-released again in 1981 with alternative cover art. The author, western enthusiast Lewis B. Patten, wrote a tremendous amount of genre entries from 1952 through 1982 including four titles alone in 1959. While “Top Man with a Gun” isn't a standout western, it continues Patten's traditional western flair for violent and grim journeys by young protagonists. 

The harrowing adventure begins with young Clay living in Lawrence, Kansas with his father and sister. Set in 1863, historians could probably guess what was about to unfold. Confederate militia, led by guerrilla fighter William Quantrill, descends on the city to root out the anti-slavery movement. The end result, known now as the Lawrence Massacre, left over 180 men dead and nearly 200 buildings burned. In the chaos, Clay is wounded and must watch his father's murder and his sister's subsequent suicide. He sees the face of the rider and vows to avenge their deaths. 

As a classic Patten, the book is straight-laced with violence, vengeance and a good sense of western brutality. As the author plunges readers into the narrative, we learn more about the man Clay is becoming. Forced to ride with his sister's boyfriend Lance, the two are engaged in combat with Union officers, forcing deserter Lance to kill one of his own men. With both Clay and Lance on the run, the novel starts to find its own footing. 

Soon, the duo rescue the beautiful Dolly from three armed criminals before heading across the frosty mid-west tundra to escape Indians, Union soldiers and law enforcement. While the first half ends with Clay and Dolly falling in love, the second half briskly moves the location to Texas and a robust cattle drive being handled by Clay and farmhands. Here the action heats up as Clay is forced to fight three men and a spoiled woman whom Clay rejected. This scorned lover's vengeance is about par for the course for a 1960s Gold Medal paperback – a fitting element that enhances this ordinary western tale. 

This is my third Patten novel to date and I've really enjoyed all three. There's similarities in Patten's writing style – the weather elements, young heroes, revenge – but they are reminiscent of just about any good western story. Plus, Patten penned over 100 novels under his name and others. Being innovative and original could be challenging under these genre tropes. Regardless, at 133-pages, “Top Man with a Gun” is an entertaining, action-packed western that didn't disappoint. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Escape from Yuma

Author Frank Castle (1910-1994) began his writing career like most of his contemporaries, writing for pulp magazines as early as the 1940s. With a number of western entries in titles like “Mammoth Western” and “.44 Western”, Castle would later venture into the crime fiction genre. Throughout the 50s and 60s the author penned paperpack novels for Fawcett Gold Medal, some using the pseudonyms Steve Thurman and Val Munroe. While being a diverse writer, his primary body of work is westerns. My first sampling of Castle is the 1969 western “Escape from Yuma”, billed by publisher Tower as a “Big T Western”.

Our introduction to Boone Wade is a rather cramped one – tucked inside the cold steel of Yuma prison. Wade, just the average Joe, was a rancher who joined criminal McGare for a one-time train robbery. The hit and run went off as expected for everyone but Wade. McGare's gang made a successful break and Wade was left behind to face the worst prison in the west.

The 24-year old has become hardened after two years of breaking rocks and succumbing to nightly beatings. So it's with great surprise that Wade finds that someone has tossed him the keys to his cell in the dead of night. After running towards the river, Wade finds a woman and her grandfather waiting with a boat to usher him to freedom. What's the price of his freedom?

Frank Castle uses a familiar crime fiction ploy to lure readers into this engaging western tale. A lawman named Rambo (Frank Castle and Rambo in the same book!) has rigged the escape from Yuma as bait to lure McGare. Rambo wants Wade to rob three trains, all fabricated to the highest degrees of safety by Rambo and his men. Once the news of the robbery, combined with the prison escape, reaches McGare's gang they will want in on the action. That's when Rambo will swoop in for the snatch and convince judges to pardon Wade. But can Rambo be trusted? Perhaps he's really a criminal himself and the train robberies are legit. That's the ultimate question as Wade is forced to choose between cooperating with what he hopes is the law or furthering his escape by fleeing into Mexico.

At 155-pages of intense action, it's hard to put this one down. I nearly read it in one sitting and found Castle's writing to be intriguing. He doesn't spill the beans until the end, using patience to make for a more entertaining finish for his readers. It's this reservation that glues the book together. Will Wade flee, fight or submit in hopes of the greater good? That's the focus of the narrative and it's enough to create a winning formula. Western and crime fiction fans should equally enjoy “Escape from Yuma”.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Richard Blade #26 - City of the Living Dead

The Richard Blade series was published under house name “Jeffrey Lord” and ran for 37 English-language installments between 1969 and 1984. Lyle Kenyon Engel’s Book Creations, Inc. launched the series in which an operative from Britain’s MI6 is transported via government technology into “Dimension X” where he inevitably wages battles and gets laid among different primitive and advanced societies. Every book ends with Blade beaming back to the U.K. with knowledge or technology meant to benefit the British empire. It’s basically James Bond meets Conan.

It’s hard to give this series a full-throated endorsement as the books are mostly pretty bad and rather cheesy. Despite that, I’ve read a handful and found myself enjoying them in a guilty-pleasure sorta way. After Manning Lee Stokes stopped authoring the series, other writers took over the formula including a science fiction writer named Roland J. Green who later wrote a handful of Conan books in the 80s and 90s. I randomly picked Richard Blade #26: “City of the Living Dead” from 1978 to give Green’s work a fair hearing.

As with all the books in the series, the novel opens with Richard Blade in an MI6 bunker far below the Tower of London while scientist Lord Leighton straps the electrodes to his skin that hurl Blade into Dimension X for the 26th time using a new device called “a computer.” The first chapter of every Blade paperback does a nice job of getting the reader up to speed and very few of the storylines carry forward from book to book. The upshot is that the series can be read in any order.

After a false start, Blade awakens in Dimension X. The cool thing about this realm is that it’s different every time, so the authors of the series usually start with a fairly blank canvass upon which they build their story for our hero. This iteration of Dimension X initially reminded me of Mongolia around the time of Genghis Khan - marauding primitive armies lead by warlords plundering peaceful villages for women and food while accompanied by unearthly monsters. Blade rescues a voluptuous female prisoner named Twana from the marauders, and she becomes his first graphic sex partner and tour guide through this strange world. Conveniently, the inhabitants of Dimension X all speak English to Blade’s ears.

Blade and Twana find an urban community surrounded by a giant wall (think “Game of Thrones”). Rumors shared by Twana are that the city beyond the wall is guarded by giant mechanical killer robots. To Blade, these legends hint at an advance society behind the wall in stark contrast to the hordes of savages living on the outside.

I won’t spoil what’s on the other side of the wall for you (the back cover gives away too many cool plot points), but suffice it to say that it’s pretty inventive. The science fiction “City of Peace” inside the walls was a nice contrast to the fantasy world on the outside. Coincidently, the central dilemma in the city thematically reminded me a bit of Pixar’s “Wall-E.” You can decide if that’s a good thing. 

I found myself enjoying Green’s imaginative writing and plotting way more than the early installments of the series by Stokes. I recognize this bucks the conventional wisdom regarding the Richard Blade adventures, but “City of the Living Dead” is my favorite among those I’ve read. The author finds a nice mid-point between the family-friendly entertainment of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ ‘John Carter of Mars’ books and the repugnant misogyny of John Norman’s ‘Gor’ series with lots of fun action and bloodshed along the way. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, March 4, 2019

Cheyenne #01 - Arrow Keeper

Author Judd Cole experienced success in the 1990s with his Native American themed western series 'Cheyenne'. Beginning with the debut, “Arrow Keeper” (1992), the series ran for 22 installments. Additionally, Cole's name appears on another series entitled 'Wild Bill', which ran from 1999-2001 encompassing eight novels. Digging into the author's past reveals that Judd Cole is actually John Edward Ames, a journeyman who has written horror titles as well as other western entries under the name Ralph Compton and Dodge Tyler. 

“Arrow Keeper” is a superb western novel that should appeal to fans of the Piccadilly Cowboys' 'Apache' series of the 1970s. While less violent and more commercially accessible to all ages, the series and its debut centers around a young Cheyenne who was raised by a white family. Centralizing the coming-of-age archetype, “Arrow Keeper” is a sweeping 1840s adventure tale set in and around Powder River, Wyoming.

The book's prologue sets the series off with a whirlwind of action between Pawnee scouts, the U.S. Army and a defending Cheyenne tribe. The battle leaves just one Cheyenne survivor, tribal leader Running Antelope's infant son. An Army lieutenant brings the baby back to Fort Bates and gifts the child to mercantile store owners John and Sarah Hanchon, who raise Matthew Hanchon as their son.

Chapter one leads into the book's narrative, the eventual return of 16-yr old Matthew Hanchon to his people. Raised by white men around Fort Bates, Matthew endures the typical racial injustice of being a lone Native American. Never learning his true origin, Matthew's experience is simply farming, devoid of any rich ancestral skill-sets. After losing a fight, and a lover, Matthew eventually runs away from home and heads into rural Wyoming to seek out his Cheyenne brotherhood.

“Arrow Keeper” really comes into its own as a “fish out of water” story. Matthew finds solace within a Cheyenne tribe but is quickly brutalized in what tribesmen feel is a ploy by the Army to place a spy in their ranks. Facing near death, the tribe's leader, Arrow Keeper, receives a vision that Matthew is indeed Running Antelope's son. Thus, Matthew must endure the trials and tribulations to become a full-fledged member of the tribe and prove his loyalty.

Ames does a fantastic job by painting the indifference between white settlers and Native Americans at this point in American history. His parallel concept of depicting Matthew's loss of a true home both with white men and Native Americans is an intriguing concept that really works under his writing style. Ames, a stirring storyteller, blends customs, rituals and chants within the narrative to provide an authentic look at the life of a Cheyenne warrior. Of course these trials and tribulations are painful, but eventually sets the stage for a rousing battle to close out this book's story-line. 

I'm really excited about this series and I've collected the first few books. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and found it's pace, historical depth and side-stories maximized what the genre is capable of in the right hands. I can't say enough good things about this book and it's series potential. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, March 1, 2019

The War Heist (aka MacTaggart's War)

Atlanta native Ralph Dennis launched the 'Hardman' series in 1974 for Popular Library. The paperback originals ran 12 volumes, finishing with “The Buy Back Blues” in 1977. In December 2018, Lee Goldberg’s Brash Books began reprinting the Hardman classics starting with the debut. Additionally, one of the other acquisitions by Brash Books was a stand-alone heist novel by Dennis originally entitled “MacTaggart's War.”

The story behind “MacTaggart's War” and it's transformation into today's “The War Heist” is a noteworthy literary accomplishment. Originally this novel was released in hardcover in 1979. The book failed to receive commercial success or critical notice, so the novel simply came and went like many new releases do. By the time the author died in 1988, Dennis was operating an Atlanta bookstore with a file cabinet full of unpublished novels adding to his published works that failed to gain traction with the reading public.

A few years ago, New York Times bestselling author Lee Goldberg began negotiating with Dennis’ estate for the publication rights to the author’s complete body of work – published and unpublished – with the initial goal of releasing the 'Hardman' series on the Brash Books imprint. After reading “MacTaggart's War” and seeing the possibilities, Goldberg edited the novel’s composition and structure – deleting entire chapters and re-arranging others - to make the book more interesting to modern thriller readers. The end result of this posthumous collaboration is what we have today, a souped-up and streamlined new novel entitled “The War Heist.” At a whopping 407-pages, this isn't your standard 170-page Fawcett Gold Medal quickie. I can’t imagine how much padding the book contained in its original form before Goldberg culled the fat and was still left with such a weighty novel.

Sadly, the end result is a pretty bland and over-plotted narrative that failed to really excite. In all fairness, I'm not a superfan of high adventure paperbacks by Jack Higgins, Desmond Bagley or Alistair Maclean, so a lengthy novel with a WW2 backdrop felt like a heavy lift from the start. The heist aspect of the plot speaks to fans of crime-noir stories of the 1950s and 1960s, but the intricate theft is cloaked in the dense wrapper of an epic novel.

The story leverages an actual event in WW2 history – a simply remarkable mission known as Operation Salt Fish. In 1940, Winston Churchill and his cabinet felt that the United Kingdom was at real risk of being overrun by Hitler’s Germany. Fearing an imminent invasion and subsequent loss, the British conceived plans to ship their liquid assets to Canada by boat for safekeeping. The idea was that Churchill and his colleagues would continue coordinating the fight against Germany from the safety of Montreal. This continuation of the United Kingdom’s governmental continuity would be funded by 2.5 billion in gold and bonds transferred across the Atlantic through a sea of German U-Boats. Miraculously, not one ship was lost in this secret transfer of assets abroad.

Ralph Dennis utilizes this remarkable piece of history as the backdrop for a fictional heist by U.S. Army personnel attempting to rob the millions in British gold from the shipment. The robust novel covers the planning, recruitment and operation to grab the loot during the transfer from boat to train on Canadian soil. There's more than a dozen characters blurring the lines between valiant heroes and despicable villains. After so much planning – spanning chapter upon chapter – the book's final 90-pages have many of the elements of a top-notch action thriller. Nevertheless, the expansive story leading up to the climax failed to fully grasp my attention, so the final payoff left me feeling weary from the long road to Canada.

Despite my own misgivings, “The War Heist” should have much greater appeal to hardcore fans of classic high adventure thrillers. Kudos to Lee Goldberg and Brash Books for re-introducing Dennis’ forgotten novels to a new generation of readers. I sincerely hope that his body of work is discovered by a modern fan base. Moreover, I'm excited to explore the other unpublished manuscripts from Dennis currently in Goldberg’s possession, and I hope that Brash Books continues their commitment to publish the author’s complete catalog in the years to come.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Hot-Shot

Kansas native Fletcher Flora (1914-1969) wrote 13 novels and 150 short stories after returning from WW2 combat. His writing generally falls into the crime fiction genre with a few diversions into the world of lesbian pulp fiction. “The Hot-Shot” is a coming-of-age paperback published by Avon in 1956. The short novel is now available in every format as a cheap eBook.

“The Hot-Shot” is narrated by Skimmer Scaggs, a dimwitted high school senior living on the wrong side of the tracks with his dysfunctional parents. One day he accidentally learns that he has a natural gift for sinking baskets on the court, and with a little coaching quickly becomes a high school basketball prodigy. The author was a high school basketball coach before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, so he knows his way around the game. As a result, the sports action scenes are vividly recounted.

For Skimmer, instant popularity and local celebrity follow his awakening as a basketball star. The school pads his grades, and he’s finally able to lay a girl in the country club set. Moreover, a dead-end future is no longer his destiny as basketball provides the ticket to get out of his lousy town and away from his crummy parents.

For most of the paperback, the coming of age narrative far overshadows the crime story revealed fairly late in the novel. The crime in question involve the dilemma of whether to shave points for a local racketeer in exchange for some steady cash and regular sex with an irresistible torch singer. The point-shaving scheme was probably innovative at the time before Northwestern University’s football team was caught by the FBI doing almost the exact same thing decades later. “The Hot-Shot” is a fun read but shouldn’t be confused with a crime fiction classic.

The writing style adopted for Skimmer’s narration almost perfectly apes that of Holden Caulfield from 1951’s “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger. Lawrence Block did the same thing years later with his Chip Harrison series with pleasing results. If you enjoy that type of first-person writing (and I do), you’ll probably enjoy this novel quite a bit (and I did). Just don’t go into it expecting a tightly-plotted hardboiled crime story. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Color Him Dead

Charles Runyon has worn a number of hats in his lifetime – Army service in Korea, farmer and industrial editor. Quitting his job to become a full-time writer didn't quite lead to the lap of luxury, but it did produce over 25 novels including Edgar Allan Poe award winner “Power Kill” (1972). Runyon's third work, Gold Medal paperback “Color Him Dead”, was released in 1963, just two years prior to what is arguably his most notable work - “The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed”. The novel has been reprinted by Prologue in both digital and physical formats. 

“Color Him Dead” introduces us to Indiana prisoner Drew. In the book's prologue, Drew has had a brutal altercation with another inmate that's placed him in isolation. When called to the warden's office, Drew learns that his mother has passed away. In that same frenzied prologue, Drew, accompanied by guards, attends his mother's funeral only to escape in a high-speed chase afterwards. In flashbacks we realize that Drew is after a woman named Edith, but it's too early for Runyon to reveal the reason. 

The opening chapters explains that Edith is now married to a Caribbean dictator named Barrington. The two reside on a rural island that Barrington rules with an iron fist. While in command of slaves, villagers and industry, Ian spends his day fornicating with the local slaves while attempting to impregnate Edith monthly. Ian's enforcer is the brutish Doxie, a cruel henchman who repeatedly beats slaves to death in an effort to impress his employer. Where does Drew fit in?

Without revealing too many spoilers, Drew and Edith once had a life together. Due to certain circumstances, Edith sent Drew to prison as an innocent man. Now that Drew has escaped prison his sole purpose in life is to kill Edith. Where the novel excels is Runyon's rather clever idea to have Edith experience amnesia. What's the fun in killing someone who doesn't actually remember the reason you're doing it? That's the focus of the narrative as Drew, shockingly, seduces Edith in an attempt to jog her brain into remembering him. As the ploy continues, Drew starts to fall in love with Edith all over again. 

While this novel may sound a little mushy and out of place on the crime rack, believe's a real barn burner. Doxie and Barrington's attempts to displace Drew is brimming with action, fistfights and an exciting gun battle in the island cliffs. Further, there's a whole second thread of action as Drew partners with two islanders to kill Barrington and end his rule. While there's a good amount of romance – and sex – between Drew, Edith and the lovely Leta, it's paralleled by an equal amount of high-octane action. Runyon's writing is fast-paced with an intriguing cast of characters to keep the pages turning. Overall, I couldn't be more satisfied with this book. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Geneva Force

Author Joseph R. Rosenberger wrote a number of men's action adventure novels throughout the 70s and 80s. His 70-book vigilante series 'Death Merchant' ranks in the highest echelons of popularity alongside 'Nick Carter', 'The Executioner' and 'The Butcher'. Prior to his death in 1993, the author had conceived a new vigilante series entitled 'Tenkiller', paralleling the same format he utilized with 'Death Merchant'. The debut, “Geneva Force” (1989 Pageant), stands as the only series contribution.

This “Geneva Force” refers to Mason Tenkiller, a globe-trotting fighting man who seeks to punish terrorist cell The Red Brigade. In the opening pages we read newspaper clippings advising that Tenkiller's wife and son were killed in a terrorist blast. But, do we know if Tenkiller has the ability to wage a one-man war on international terrorism? 

After a furious fire-fight in an abandoned German brewery, chapter two settles in with a resume showcasing Tenkiller's validity as the “Geneva Force”. He graduated from Notre Dame with a master's degree in psychology. After refusing an appointment at West Point, Tenkiller joins the Fifth Special Forces Group Airborne and serves four years in Vietnam. Later, he's recruited by the CIA and excels as a GS-12 rating and promoted to the European Terrorist Desk at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. After his family's murder in 1984, Tenkiller begins his crusade to right the wrongs of Europe. 

Rosenberger's deeper plowing was in hopes of harvesting a rogue killing machine that was courted by both the CIA and KGB. In a fertile story-line, heads of the CIA and KGB meet under the assumption that they will capture Tenkiller and force him to be a lone member of a joint taskforce used to kill targets for both agencies. It's a unique twist that aligns the two super-powers in a conventional way. This novel focuses on Tenkiller's annihilation of Red Brigade hierarchy while evading capture by the CIA and KGB men. There's even a brief reference to Rosenberger's claim to fame – the Death Merchant himself, Richard Joseph Camellion. 

By 1989, Rosenberger had clearly ran out of ideas. After two decades of cashing checks for 'Death Merchant', along with entries like 'C.O.B.R.A.', 'Kung-Fu' and 'Shadow Warrior', this series spark is simply re-imagining Camellion as the newer Tenkiller. So much that the body count reaches extraordinary heights, the gun porn outweighs the writing and this character uses wigs and make-up to hide his killing agendas. These are all consistent with the 'Death Merchant' series. So, why do we need another? Ultimately, I'm not sure if Rosenberger had any more entries drafted or submitted for this ill-conceived series. Regardless, his death just five years from this book's release would erase any further volumes of Tenkiller's fate. 

Read “Geneva Force” if you absolutely need 'Death Merchant' part 71. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 25, 2019

Man Outgunned

My father recently gave me a copy of Lewis B. Patten's “Death Rides a Black Horse”. It was my first foray into the Patten brand of western fiction. I absolutely loved the novel and reviewed it here. Running with that excitement, it was just a matter of time before I could get my hands on another of Patten's work – 1976's Signet paperback “Man Outgunned”.

The novel begins during a Fourth of July town picnic in Placita, Colorado. With it's citizens happily preparing fireworks and baked goods by a river, six escaped prisoners arrive to find the local bank barely staffed. In a gut-wrenching display, the prisoners shotgun the bankers (decapitating one) and unmercifully kill an elderly, pleading couple in the streets. During an extremely poor choice of timing, 16-year old Sally Dickerson returns to town for some cooking supplies and is kidnapped by the six outlaws.

Sheriff Morgan McGuire and his deputy Donovan soon learn about the murders and robbery and form a makeshift posse to run the outlaws to ground. Unfortunately, the outlaws are a half-day away and the posse isn't fit for a long, hard ride. With Sally's grieving father in tow, the group gallops their horses to death and lose ground finding new rides. It's here that the narrative really settles in as only McGuire and Donovan are left to run the outlaws down. I won't share an important spoiler here regarding Sally Dickerson...but this is a western and these are six hardened criminals with a 16-yr old girl. Patten doesn't hold back punches. 

In a cruel twist of fate the story loses Donovan and McGuire is left as the “Man Outgunned” against the murderers. There's a couple of really good side-stories that develop regarding a Mexican sheriff, an orphaned boy and a grieving widow. Patten threads these elements into the novel's road trip, focusing on McGuire's date with destiny while attempting to build even the weakest of alliances to fight the overwhelming odds.

If you love westerns, this is a mandatory read. Patten is absolutely a master of the craft and one of the better writers of any genre. “Man Outgunned” is one of the best books I've read in 2018 (this review being published a few months later) and another fine entry in what has become a treasured author. Buy everything the man has written. It's worth every cent.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Friday, February 22, 2019


In 1956, French hardboiled crime author Noel Calef wrote a paperback called “Elevator to the Gallows” (“Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud”) that was followed by a highly-regarded French film adaptation with a Miles Davis soundtrack. The novel was translated into English and released by Fawcett Gold Medal under the title “Frantic” in 1961. The book was not reprinted for decades thereafter and is regarded as a crime fiction rarity coveted by serious paperback collectors. Black Gat Books (a Stark House imprint) recently re-released the novel in English sparking a major literary event for fans of classic noir fiction.

Julien Courtois is a successful owner of a Paris-based import-export firm who is working late on a Friday night. He has a dutiful wife at home and a desirable secretary at work. He also owes a good bit of money to the loan shark who works one floor above his office in a high-rise urban building. In the novel’s opening scene, Julien executes an exquisitely-planned murder of the loan shark whose body is sure to be found at the office when people return to work on Monday.

The novel’s central action begins when Julien attempts to make his getaway from the office building and finds himself stuck in the building’s elevator. Remember, it’s after-hours before a weekend and there’s a corpse upstairs waiting to be found. Moreover, this is before cell phones and modern alarm systems, so Julien has a real dilemma on his hands as the minutes become hours alone inside the small elevator’s compartment.

“Frantic” reminded me of a very good episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” in which the everyday hassles of life create the twists and turns spoiling an otherwise successful crime. The translation of the prose from the French by R. F. Tannenbaum is serviceable, but it’s clear that you’re reading a translated work. In any case, the core plot is pretty great and a reader is never lost as Julien deals with his confined-space dilemma.

While Julien is confined to an elevator, the events of the short novel are not. The action shifts to Julien’s wife who is convinced that her husband’s absence is proof of an affair, and sets out to find her missing man. The central story about a killer trapped in an elevator was terrific. However, the author filled out the novel with side plots involving several couples navigating their relationship issues that made for a cumbersome read at times. I kept wanting to skim over those sections to get back to the main plot. All the storylines converge later in the novel, so I suppose the filler was ultimately forgivable.

Black Gat Books is to be commended for rescuing this novel from the dustbin of history and preserving the original cover art for this re-release. I don’t think the book was a crime fiction masterpiece, but it wasn’t dreadful either. It was interesting to see what the French version of a Fawcett Gold Medal crime novel was like, so I suppose it was worth my time. Consider this a weak recommendation.

But a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Nothing in Her Way

The industry often cites heavyweights like Keene, Brewer and Whittington as literary kings within the crime fiction genre. While never as commercially successful, author Charles Williams was equally as masterful, penning a number of 1950s paperback classics. One of these, “Nothing in Her Way” (1953), has been reprinted as a Stark House Press double with “River Girl” (1951).

The novel can be viewed in two separate halves with connecting characters and stories. Ideally, it's a heist novel with two different pitches – one involving a risky, elaborate real estate deal and the other a “fixed” horse race. The two heists are thickly woven with a robust cast of scoundrels, each with their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the rather dense, but easily digested, story arcs.

Mike (obligatory first person protagonist) and Cathy are out to avenge their fathers' wrongdoing in a botched business transaction. Their fathers worked at a building firm that reached its pinnacle of success supplying infrastructure in Central America. Both men were pinned under a rather scrupulous business arrangement that sent them both to prison while partners Goodwin and Lachlan made off as wealthy benefactors. Fast-forward 16 years and Cathy has formed a fairly spectacular heist-revenge caper.

In the book's opening pages, Mike is recruited by Cathy and a seasoned con man in Bolton. The ploy? Oddly, to con Goodwin into purchasing land he already owns from Mike. While the idea seems preposterous to Mike and the reader, the narrative explores Mike pretending to be a chemist studying sand in a small desert town – desert owned by Goodwin. How does it shake up? No spoilers here, let's just say the first half ends in a fiery crescendo of fists, bullets and a complex getaway. 

The second half, as you might have guessed, focuses on Lachlan. With Goodwin...ill-disposed...the tables are stacked to have Lachlan bet a fortune on a horse race that he perceives is fixed. The idea of a predetermined horse race seems impossible, but it's up to Mike and Cathy to don another disguise to con Lachlan into thinking it's legit. As complicated as that might be, it's further hampered by an old creditor named Donnelly wanting a piece of the stakes...or Cathy dead. 

I just can't say enough positive things about this Charles Williams masterpiece. After reading it, I immediately thought about how it would look as a film. In researching material for this review I discovered it was adapted for film already! In 1963 the book was adapted into the French comedy “Peau de banan”, which later released in the US as “Banana Peel”. Whether you track it down or not, don't skip out on this novel. The gem is available both physically and digitally and has been re-printed several times including the Stark House double.

Buy a copy of the book HERE 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Dead End

Under the pen name of Ed Lacy, author Len Zinberg wrote 28 novels between the years 1951 and 1969. In December 1958, “Mercury Mystery Magazine” ran a 100-page novella by Lacy called “Time Wounds All Heels.” The story was expanded and published as a hardcover in 1958 as “Be Careful How You Live” which was reprinted in 1959 as a paperback titled “Dead End.” It’s currently available as a cheap eBook in all formats.

As the story begins, two cops named Doc and Bucky (our narrator) are laying low in a filthy, roach-infested hideout with a million bucks cash in three ratty suitcases. How did they get there? What’s the story with all that cash?

Lacy slowplays the explanations over the course of the novel comprising mostly of flashbacks from Bucky’s youth and police career leading up to the million dollars in ill-gotten gains. The narrator cop grew up as a hard-scrabble youth with a troubled family background who learned to use his fists early in life. Eventually, he discovers police work and drifts into a life with problematic choices involving on-the-job graft.

Bucky’s moral descent is hastened once he latches onto Doc, a fellow police detective who becomes a father figure to Bucky. Doc’s expertise is making police work lucrative while also working hard to fight crime and solve important cases. All of this comes to a head when a big case brings a million bucks into the officers’ lives quite unexpectedly.

It took a bit for this novel to really grab me, but once it took off, it was a fantastic read. I suspect that the original 100-page novella was about perfect, and it was later filled out to novel length by adding flashbacks of Bucky’s youth and filler scenes delving into his complex relationship with his parents.

Either way, the crime story at the core of this novel is compelling as hell. Lacy’s writing is predictably top-notch, and the plot was never predictable. Mostly, I’m thrilled to see that there are people hard at work keeping Lacy’s fiction alive for today’s readers. This one is highly recommended for fans of fast-moving 1950s hardboiled crime fiction.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Blood on the Mink

Robert Silverberg is a successful science-fiction and fantasy author. His novellas “Nightwings” and “Born with the Dead” are among five works that gained industry acclaim as Hugo award winners. However, Silverberg cut his teeth on “non-fiction” fantasies and crime noir in his youth. These stories, penned under names like Dan Malcolm and Ray McKensie, were published by zines like “Guilty” and “Trapped”. One of those, the novella length “Blood on the Mink” (1960), was reprinted by Hard Case Crime in 2012 along with the shorts “One Night of Violence” and “Dangerous Doll”.

“Blood on the Mink” is a well-crafted peek at the inner-workings of the Philadelphia syndicate. The book, written in first-person,  introduces us to a federal agent who's donned the disguise of Vic Lowney, a successful California mob boss who's traveling to Philly to meet with a mobster named Klaus. Lowney, who's never met Klaus before, has an agenda of infiltrating Klaus' ring and nabbing a counterfeiter. Klaus' agenda is to pitch the counterfeiting idea to Lowney in hopes of selling him the fake currency for a quarter on a dollar. Easy, right? 

Things get rather complicated quickly. First, Lowney is approached by a rival New York mobster named Litwhiler. He wants Lowney to cooperate with him and steal the counterfeiter with the promise that he'll sell currency to Lowney at a reduced rate. Further, Lowney is then approached by Klaus' stacked lover with a pitch to kill Klaus, steal the counterfeiter and make a fast break. Lowney, while carefully balancing his government work with pleasure, navigates a series of twists and turns that soon incorporates another rival mobster named Chavez and the counterfeiter's beautiful daughter, Szekely. 

With all of these intricate allegiances and deceivers, is the book too dense to enjoy? No. Definitely not. Typically I struggle with a cast this robust with multiple threads. At 157-pages of large font, Silverberg takes it easy on his reader (and himself) by sticking to the facts and creating a brisk, easy read. “Blood on the Mink” shines with just enough action, dialogue and babes. In fact, I liked it so much that I read it in one sitting. While not the literary value of a Keene, Whittington or Brewer, this author sticks to the basics and delivers an excellent crime paperback. Nothing more, nothing less. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE