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.

Buy 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

Monday, February 18, 2019

Soldier of Fortune #01 - Massacre at Umtali

During his literary career, Peter McCurtin served as an author, editor, collaborator, and house name. When McCurtin’s name appears on a paperback cover, his actual input into the final product is often shrouded in mystery. With regards to the 1970s iteration of his Soldier of Fortune series, paperback anthropologist Lynn Munroe has done the heavy lifting for us. Books 1-3 were written by McCurtin the man, and books 4-9 were ghostwritten by Ralph Hayes as McCurtin the house name and edited by McCurtin the editor.

The ‘Soldier of Fortune’ paperbacks star - and are narrated by - mercenary Jim Rainey, and each novel finds Rainey in another war-torn hellhole engaging in combat-for-pay. The series was rebooted by McCurtin in the 1980s - also starring Rainey - but I confess that I haven’t done my homework on the backstory regarding that string of novels.

The series kicks off with “The Massacre At Umtali,” from 1976, and a helpful prologue brings ignorant readers like myself up to speed on the history of colonialism, racial strife, and civil war in Rhodesia where the novel’s action takes place. Rainey is our narrator, an ex-marine from Beaumont, Texas, who is engaged to serve as the leader of an anti-insurgent force of mercenaries serving the Rhodesian Army (white European colonialists) fighting terrorist guerrillas (black African insurgents) for $2,000 per month.

McCurtin writes Rainey’s narration in a pleasing conversational style, so it feels like you’re listening to a badass buddy in a tavern telling you about a foreign adventure he experienced. Rainey puts together a slapdash team of fellow mercenaries (“fuck ups and killers”) for his anti-terror mission, and watching the misfit fighters come together as a team was a particularly cool aspect of the story. The mission itself involves finding and removing a particularly reprehensible terrorist leader hiding in a jungle stronghold.

This book has it all: badass main character, fascinating setting, instant readability, and blood-soaked violence. The racial characterizations in the novel are a product of an earlier time - 1976 - that probably wouldn’t fly today, and the morality of European colonialism in Africa is never questioned. However, nuanced social criticism isn’t what you’re looking for in a Belmont Tower shoot-em-up paperback from that era. This cheap-o novel is intended solely for pure escapism, and it succeeds in that mission. This is a remarkably exciting war story with some great twists and turns along the way. 

As for me, I’m all-in for this series. I’m particularly looking forward to see what author Ralph Hayes does with the concept in later volumes. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, February 15, 2019

Sleep With the Devil

Gunard Hjertstedt (March 28, 1904 - January 9, 1969), better known by pen name Day Keene, wrote over 50 novels and is widely viewed as a literary giant within the crime genre community. “Sleep With the Devil” is a mid-career book published in 1954 by Lion. In April of 2017, Stark House Press re-printed this novel as a three-in-one alongside “Joy House” (1954) and “Wake Up to Murder” (1952).

Keene introduces us to the charismatic Ferron, an enforcer for a NYC loan shark named Bennett. Ferron's unwavering commitment has most recently been evident with his deadly beating of a young African American debtor. Now, Ferron is contemplating killing his boss Bennett and doing the proverbial “take the money and run” routine. The only issue is a connection to his greasy lover Lydia, who unfortunately can't live without him.

As we begin to digest Keene's malefactor, we soon realize that there's a deep dynamic with this character. Ferron has an entirely new life in creation under the identity of Paul Parrish. Unlike Ferron, Parrish is a devout Christian bible-seller that lives in a the tiny upstate New York town aptly titled New Hope. There, he's to wed the virgin beauty Amy under the giving but watchful eye of her wealthy father Wayne. Once the wedding bells ring, Ferron/Parrish will inherit a productive farm, new car and the beautiful Amy. 

Keene weaves this intoxicating narrative together with barbed wire. Ferron is the seedy, vile criminal we love to jeer, yet Keene miraculously prompts the reader to cheer him on, hopeful that in just the right amount of moonlight this bad guy goes straight. While a fish out of water tale in its own right, the author's talent to blend the crime with passion, purpose and redemption is brilliant. I really enjoyed this book and I'm thankful that Stark House Press felt the same. This is a much-needed reprinting of a classic.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Big Red's Daughter

John McPartland (1911-1958) was born in Chicago and served in World War II and the Korean War. He joined “Life” magazine in the 40s and later penned a number of hard-boiled novels for publishers like Fawcett Gold Medal. One of his earliest novels, “Big Red's Daughter”, was released in 1953 and later re-printed by numerous publishers. Most recently the king of reprints, Stark House Press, released the book as a double with the author's most notable work, “Tokyo Doll”. 

McPartland incorporates a lot of 1950s teen angst into this rocky romantic thriller. There's a number of firm elements at play – hot rods, rebellious youth, drug use and plenty of snot-nosed kids from my 42-yr old vantage point. The main character is Jim Work, fresh out of service in Korea and drifting around the California coast. After a fender bender and some punches, Jim follows wealthy punk/bully Buddy Brown and his hot girlfriend Wild Kearny (Big Red's Daughter) to a party house. 

After refusing to pay for Buddy's car repairs (Jim wasn't in the wrong), the two square off in a fistfight where Buddy beats the Holy Hell out of Jim. However, Jim's real pain comes from his heart – he's fallen in love with Wild at first sight. In a rather wild chain of events, Wild's father arrives hoping to meet her newest boyfriend Buddy. But, Wild is ashamed of him so she introduces Jim – good looking war veteran - as her boyfriend. It turns out Big Red is a former longshoreman and controls some dock rackets. He's a pretty big deal.

Soon the truth is out about Buddy and Wild's relationship. After Big Red knocks Buddy's block off, Buddy storms off into the night. Wild and Jim go out for drinks only to return and find that Buddy has killed a young friend of Wild's with scissors – of all things. After knocking Wild unconscious in the struggle, Buddy scrams. In the tradition of “whoever smelt it dealt it”, the police are called and immediately point to Jim as the killer. All of this happens in the first-half!

The second-half is a whirlwind of action that blends a jailbreak, manhunt, extraordinary fights and suspense. As Buddy, Jim and Wild run from the law, there's a new story-line introduced about heroin trafficking. With all of these stirring elements, the author builds the action to match location. In the beginning, with more low-key action, the setting is shore-side in Carmel. But, as the action and intensity increases, the location is heightened to the cliffs and mountains above the sea. It's a clever design.

With “Big Red's Daughter” we see author McPartland certainly flirting with greatness. He wrote 11 novels in the 1950s and four screenplays. Dying at the young age of 47, I think McPartland's career didn't reach appropriate heights. Nevertheless, we have some fine novels as a testament to the strength of McPartland's writing. I certainly recommend this book, but at 128-pages you may want to purchase the Stark House double to gain “Tokyo Doll” with your money. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Enforcer #04 - Kill Deadline

Andrew Sugar's fourth entry in 'The Enforcer' series was released in 1973 by Lancer. The entire series was purchased and later reprinted by Manor. All of those reprints featured newly commissioned artwork except “Kill Deadline”. Further, Manor released this novel out of it's original series order, confusing readers by stamping #6 on the cover and misspelling the author's name. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the series premise, I highly recommend clicking on the Enforcer tag below to better understand why this vigilante series contains science-fiction elements. While not a traditional vigilante yarn, the idea of a company, such as Rosegold Institute, financing a war on crime certainly dresses the part. “Kill Deadline” expands on that formula and offers a fairly simplistic mystery for readers to digest.

The premise is that a wealthy entrepreneur is being assassinated on the tenth of each month by The Calendar Killer. These corporate executives represent successful companies that have refused to sell out or cooperate with the Mob. The latest victim is a friend to the institute, Daniel McBane. Upon his assassination, the company's controls are willed to Richards, who was injured during the murder. Our favorite “enforcer”, protagonist Alex Jason, conceives the idea of replacing Richards with a clone body that Jason inhabits. The mission is to lure the assassin out into the open so Jason's skill-set can capture or kill the hitman. 

Like the book's opening pages, which promises an inevitable confrontation between Jason and his nemesis Lochner, the mystery is fairly simple – locate the hitman and the eventual connection between his organization and Lochner. Along the way Sugar's writing introduces some new allies while surprising readers with a shocking death (that even I had to read twice!). Overall, this series is a brilliant undertaking and a really clever spin on the 70s men's action adventure staple. While it was short-lived, at just six total books, this author makes the most of the concept and writes spectacular fiction that is overwhelmingly entertaining. This is a mandatory read for action enthusiasts. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

You Can Call It Murder

In 1959 and 1960, NBC-TV aired a private eye show called “Markham” starring Ray Milland that ran for 59 episodes before cancellation. At the time, a young Lawrence Block was hired to write an original TV tie-in novel starring Markham that was finally released in 1961 - after the show had already been canceled. The paperback was originally published as “Markham: The Case of the Pornographic Photos,” but has since been re-released under Block’s original submitted title, “You Can Call It Murder.”

New York P.I. Roy Markham is engaged to find a missing 20 year-old girl named Barb who cleaned out her bank account and disappeared from her New Hampshire college. Her wealthy father is worried and wants Markham’s help to find his little girl. Barb runs with a fast crowd and loves to spend her daddy’s money, so its really just a question of what bad decision she’s made this time.

As always, Block’s writing is superb and Markam’s first-person narration recalls his early Matthew Scudder novels. Clear thinking, logic, and good detecting bring the P.I. closer to the novel’s solution. Markham isn’t a hardboiled detective cracking skulls along the way, but the underlying mystery takes him into the seamy underbelly of society giving the short novel enough gritty reality to keep the pages turning.

Although it was inconsequential upon its release, the original 1961 Markham paperback is now a collector’s item and will cost you a small fortune to buy. The paperback has been reprinted several times as “You Could Call It Murder” with rather generic covers that are readily available. Moreover, Block has been generous with his back-catalog and made the book available on Kindle for five bucks. Whatever the medium, this highly-enjoyable early novel is definitely worth your time. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Wolfer

Giles A. Lutz (1910-1982) was a prolific western contributor that penned 64 novels in his lifetime. Within his robust bibliography, he also utilized the names James B. Chaffin, Wade Everett, Alex Hawk, Hunter Ingram, Reese Sullivan and Gene Thompson. As Brad Curtis he wrote 11 erotic novels for sleaze publishers like Monarch. My first sampling of the author's work is western entry “The Wolfer”. The novel was originally released in 1968 by Tower and then re-printed with different packaging in 1972. 

“The Wolfer” is indeed the main character, an inexperienced and hot-headed rancher named Hobart. During a snowy Montana night, Hobart has a disagreement over a woman and becomes entangled in a drunken brawl with an Army captain. After slipping on ice, Hobart is knocked unconscious and awakens to find the captain knifed in the back. Accused of murder, shackles are slapped on and Hobart is sent to death row. Only this is the 1800s and death row is essentially a 24-hour recollection period before execution. The reader knows who really killed the captain, but it's up to Hobart to find the truth. 

After escaping jail, Hobart heads into a lonely, barren stretch of wilderness deemed The Breaks. It's a hodge podge of harsh men and women who have escaped society's ills by living in Canada's southwestern region. Hobart, stripped of all assets, seeks solace with a pack of wolf hunters. He learns to hunt for wolf hides while attempting to right the wrongs and clear his name. Despite the tag-line, he is not as merciless as the wolves he hunts. 

Even the most barren used book stores will typically have a rather large inventory of old, tattered westerns. It's a big genre filled with countless authors and titles. I'd like to think of “The Wolfer” as just another average western. Lutz isn't cutting edge by any means, offering readers a blunt edge narrative that's just plain dull. While building a story-line around this western rancher, we're immediately turned off by the character's neediness. He requires so much maintenance, from borrowing food, shelter and money to eventually losing fights he altogether should be most western stories. 

Again, this is my first experience with Lutz and I'm sure he is a terrific writer. I have a stack of the author's books in my collection, but based on the small sample size of “The Wolfer” I'm in no rush to read the next one.

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Friday, February 8, 2019

To Find Cora

In 1963, Harry Whittington sold a book titled “To Find Cora” to a sleaze publishing house after the novel had been rejected by Fawcett Gold Medal. The book was later released under the salacious title - “Cora Is A Nympho.” Three years later, the plot was slightly revised and re-sold as “Flesh Snare” by J.X. Williams published with a tawdry - and misleading -S&M cover.

In 2009, Stark House reprinted “To Find Cora” in a three-book compilation along with two other Whittington rarities and a fascinating introduction by David Laurence Wilson detailing Whittington’s foray in the 1960s porno book market. By today’s standards, the sex in “To Find Cora” is extremely tame, but it remains a damn fine noir novel that modern readers will no doubt enjoy.

“To Find Cora” is narrated by Joe who is searching for his estranged wife after she left him following a domestic dispute. We quickly learn that fights between Joe and Cora were not unusual occurrences, so nobody takes Joe seriously as he’s trying to find his bride following her disappearing act. The other issue is that Cora is quite a looker, and the working theory is that she’s found another man. This doesn’t dissuade Joe who is certain he can win Cora back if he can just speak to her for a few minutes.

Joe’s obsessive hunt for Cora brings him to a desolate Oklahoma farmhouse on a hot tip. Instead of Cora, Joe finds a young couple named Hall and Vy who are hiding out from the law. Vy is a lusty vixen fully disillusioned by her man while turning her eyes on Joe. Meanwhile, Hall is a savage paranoiac who won’t let Joe leave for fear that he’ll notify the police. As such, Joe finds himself taken prisoner in the couple’s farmhouse hideaway.

I can only imagine that readers looking for a cheap porno novel after purchasing “Cora Is A Nympho” or “Flesh Snare” were super confused as they were thrust into this suspenseful noir - almost horror - novel. Overall, “To Find Cora” is in the upper echelon of Whittington’s paperbacks. There’s a central mystery, a duplicitous and alluring femme fatale, a psychotic adversary, and an unstable tinderbox of violence waiting to explode. It’s both a hard novel to put down and an easy recommendation for you.

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Johnny Killain #02 - Killer with a Key

Dan J. Marlowe's fans will quickly point to 'Earl Drake' as the author's finest work. However, before creating that 60s-70s series, Marlowe had a five-book run of hotel detective novels starring protagonist 'Johnny Killain'. The first, “Doorway to Death”, released in 1957 via Avon, followed by this sequel, “Killer with a Key”, the same year. 

Killain's detective work runs parallel  with the night shift duties at Hotel Duarte, an older establishment in New York City. The series debut convinced readers that Killain is the real deal – a no nonsense, tough guy that worked for the pre-cursor of the CIA during WWII. So, when Killain's ex-wife, Ellen Saxon, is found murdered in his hotel...we know heads will roll.

The novel's narrative has Killain rescue his ex-wife from a hail of bullets. After physically ripping a car door handle off in the firefight, Killain manages to hide Ellen in a hotel suite. It's only a matter of time before Killain finds her strangled to death on the bed. The culprit points to Killain's friend and co-worker Vic, but Vic may be taking the heat for another party. 

What Marlowe perfected in the series debut was the interplay between hot-headed Killain and the NYPD. Here, it is duplicated in the same fashion with equally entertaining results. While Detective Cuneo runs afoul of Killain's private investigation, he needs Killain to do the dirty work his department won't allow. The narrative follows Killain's hardboiled trail as he navigates an underworld of insurance rackets. The murder puts him at odds with not only the police, but friends and allies that may be involved in running a fraudulent business out of the hotel. 

While not as action-packed as Marlowe's Earl Drake, this series more than makes up for it with the lovable cast of characters. The hotel's staff, including Killain's lover, enhances the story with familiar faces that plays like an episode of “Cheers”. The heart of this story and series is Johnny Killain – the smart, loud, fist-fighting man's man. And, as billed, Marlowe is exceptional. This one is a recommended read for crime novel enthusiasts.

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Pete Selby #8 - Case of the Laughing Virgin

“The Case of the Laughing Virgin” by Jonathan Craig (real name: Frank E. Smith) is the eighth mystery-adventure starring NYPD Detective Pete Selby and his partner, Stan Rayder. The paperback was originally released by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1960 with a cheeky, swinging cover and was re-released in April 1974 by Belmont Tower as #6 in the “Sixth Precinct” series with a decidedly more menacing illustration.

There’s really no reason to tie yourself into knots trying to reading the series sequentially - particularly since the 1970s publisher couldn’t figure out the proper order anyway. This short installment begins with Selby (our narrator) and Rayder pulling a hysterical naked girl down from the roof of a Greenwich Village brownstone - only to discover her dead lover inside the apartment with three bullet holes in his chest. Did the naked lady plug her boyfriend? Sometimes in life it’s that easy but rarely in crime fiction.

Selby and Rayder logically put the pieces of what unfolded at the apartment together to generate logical leads in the case. It’s a pure police procedural and the paperback follows the course of the investigation with a brisk pace that is seldom boring. Also, sex is humming in the background of nearly every scene but no one seems to get laid here.

Over the course of 160 pages, the author does a great job of making 1960 New York City come alive, particularly when the investigation leads the police into the world of underground stag film production and sex clubs. Moreover, the interplay between the two police partners is pure gold. The problem is that this novel isn’t particularly exciting. It’s a serviceable police procedural where Selby and Rayder go from interview to interview running down logical leads. There was really nothing to grab the reader in a story about two honest cops doing their jobs very well.

I’m not giving up on this series. I regard Jonathan Craig as an unsung master of crime fiction, and I know he can do better. If you dive into the Pete Selby Sixth Precinct series, start with a different installment. For me, this one failed to deliver.

We have a Jonathan Craig feature on our third episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Utah Blaine

“Utah Blaine” is a 1954 western by genre heavyweight Louis L'Amour. It was originally released as part of an Ace double under the pseudonym Jim Mayo (the second book was “Desert Showdown” by Samuel A. Peeples as Brad Ward). In 1957, the novel was adapted for the silver screen by director Fred F. Sears and starred Rory Calhoun. 

The book, set in Arizona's Verde River Valley, introduces us to protagonist Utah Blaine in heroic fashion. Blaine, unarmed, listens closely as a vigilante army strings up rancher Joe Neal. Seemingly dead at the end of a noose, Blaine rescues Neal and learns he owns a large cattle outfit named The 46. After hiring a vigilant army to prevent cattle rustling, the valley's ranchers soon found the tables had turned – the army, greedy and chomping at the bit, selfishly wants the ranches. Blaine's reputation of slick gunfighter appeals to Neal, so the two come to an agreement to have Blaine run the 46 and fight Neal's battles for him. There's a large monetary reward and a head of 500 cattle if Blaine can get the job done.

This is traditional L'Amour at his finest. At a brisk 164-pages, the novel is absolutely loaded with gunfights. In what seems like a “Game of Thrones” chessboard of ranches, Blaine shakes out a dozen or more characters, each with their own agendas, skill-sets and history. It's these characters that each represent alliances and historical feuds involving money, land and...shockingly...even pretty women. While often I had to keep a scorecard on the dead and still-living, this book was  an exhilarating read. L'Amour's silver star shines bright with “Utah Blaine”. 

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Monday, February 4, 2019

One for Hell

Jada M. Davis (1919-1996) was a newspaperman in West Texas who saw plenty of crime and corruption in his day coinciding with the oil boom that transformed the character of sleepy small towns unprepared for rapid growth. His unique vantage point over the underbelly of society clearly sparked his imagination for the 1952 Fawcett Red Seal crime novel, “One For Hell.” The paperback was reprinted by Stark House in 2010 and remains available today as a trade paperback and eBook at reasonable prices.

The novel’s protagonist is Willa Ree, like the author, a man with a feminine-sounding name. He’s a flat-broke drifter and ex-con who bails out of a freight train in search of sustenance in the oil boomtown of Breton. Upon arrival, Ree meets a corrupt local city councilman who arranges for Ree to be hired by the local police force as a plain clothes detective with the understanding that Ree will keep the graft money flowing in the right direction.

Ree embraces the lifestyle of a crooked cop with real gusto, and the reader quickly realizes that he is a genuinely bad guy - not a charming antihero but a complete heel driven by greed and ambition. Ree’s government-sanctioned crime spree is plenty entertaining and involves a fair share of shocking, bloody violence that keeps the pages turning. So be warned: he’s a reprehensible guy and does some awful things within the pages of this paperback.

The novel’s main flaw is that there’s hardly anyone to root for among the graft-addicted politicians and crooked cops running the town. The fairly large supporting cast - as well as their wives and mistresses - are a loathsome bunch prone to bashing in each other’s heads when they interfere with each other. Can Ree rise to the top in such a filthy environment? Moreover, should we even be rooting for this guy?

“One from Hell” reminded me of the 1983 Al Pacino movie “Scarface” in that both stories track the rise of a sociopaths through the twists and turns of burning criminal ambitions. The Jada Davis paperback isn’t a crime-fiction masterpiece - the plot meanders too much for that - but it is a compelling and violent character study that is definitely worth checking out. Recommended.

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Friday, February 1, 2019

The Late Mrs. Five

Richard Wormser (1908-1977) was a prolific pulp fiction writer, penning 17 'Nick Carter' adventures for Street & Smith before releasing a novel under his own name - “The Man with the Wax Face” (1934). Along with writing TV adaptations and screenplays, Wormser wrote over 20 crime and western novels. In 2017, Stark House released two of Wormser's classics as a double reprinting - “The Body Looks Familiar” (1958) and “The Late Mrs. Five” (1960). Both are prefaced with an introduction by esteemed Texas writer Bill Crider, one of the last things the author wrote before his death in February of 2018. 

“The Late Mrs. Five” is my first introduction to Richard Wormser. The book is a superb example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When we first meet protagonist Paul Porter, it's on a lonely stretch of mid-west flattop. Porter, a divorcee, is making the territory pitches as a factory rep for terracers (like a farm plow). In the small farming town of Lowndesburg, Porter stops to check on a display model of the terracer and to talk shop with a client, Mr. Gray.

Upon his arrival he learns that Mr. Gray has gifted his retail business to his son-in-lawn, town sheriff Otto McLane. After a quick inspection, McLane encourages Porter to talk with the wealthy businessman John Hilliard. In route, Porter shockingly spots his estranged ex-wife on main street. Up until this point Porter has no idea of her whereabouts...and very little interest after a bitter divorce that's robbed him of his life savings. After the surprise discovery, Porter continues to Hilliard's residence only to find it vacant.

Later that night, Sheriff McLane arrests Porter for killing his ex-wife! Coincidentally, she had remarried Hilliard and was murdered the same date as Porter's visit to the home. McLane puts the finger to Porter despite a solid alibi. Aligning with McLane's daughter, Porter is forced to run in a frantic attempt to solve the murder. As the pace quickens, the cast of characters are examined by Porter and the reader as the whodunit mystery races to an exhilarating reveal. 

Wormser blends a familiar prose – innocent man accused of murder – with small town charm. This hybrid of “Our Town” crossed with “Perry Mason” works brilliantly despite its shortcomings. We've read it before, but Wormser is an entertaining story-teller and works wonders with this elementary plot. The addition of shyster attorney Henry Lighton smooths out the morbid aspect of murder into a humorous subtext on the legal system's backward motions (paralleling present day). “The Late Mrs. Five” is highly recommended for someone just wanting a classic whodunit that isn't affixed to the names Gardner and Christie.

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