Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Down in the Valley

With over 19 pseudonyms and over 350 novels, few have rivaled James Reasoner's blueprint on men's adventure fiction. Along with penning a number of adult western titles like 'Longarm' and 'Trailsman', Reasoner wrote a number of short stories for magazines and compilations. One of those, “Down in the Valley”, first appeared in “Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine” in September, 1979. In 1997 the story was included in the “American Pulp” compilation edited by Ed Gorman, Bill Pronzini and Martin Greenberg. 

“Forty-three men huddled in the back of the truck, cold and afraid. There was no moon and the canvas flaps on the side cut out what little starlight there was. It was pitch black inside and none of the men knew where they were headed.”

Beginning any literary work with that opening paragraph just demands that your audience sit up and pay attention. I was actually thumbing through this compilation and was immediately roped in by simply glancing at those few lines. Who are the men? Where are they headed?

Reasoner's story features a truck driver named Flood driving a truckload of illegal aliens from Mexico to San Antonio. The backstory has Flood, a bitter blue collar laborer, leaving his wife and newborn baby to pursue better money, fancy women and tasty whiskey. While his illegal pipeline work as a human trafficker is lucrative, he's found the women are harder to come by.


The story's second character displays the same determination, yet reaches for a different goal – working anywhere other than hot fields. Ramon has a lover in Mexico named Elena and he's pursing the American dream – regardless of which color the collar is. Exhausted from laboring in the hot sun, Ramon wants to escape to America to achieve his own goals and has paid Flood hard-earned money to deliver him to San Antonio. 

The night-time dash across the boarder evolves into hot-pursuit. Reasoner conveniently places a sting operation into the mix with state patrol officers coordinating a roadblock. Flood's off road driving will be put to the test as Ramon simply awaits his fate. As the story reaches a crescendo, we realize just how closely paralleled the two characters are and how far they will go to achieve success. 

At under 10-pages, Reasoner orchestrates a quick and overly entertaining short story. “Down in the Valley” should appeal to action fans but the heart of the story is providing insight on both Flood and Ramon. The author proves that we all may be headed to the same destination, sometimes on the same path, but the measures we use to reach success varies substantially.

Buy a copy of this compilation HERE

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Floater

“The Floater” is a police procedural novella by Jonathan Craig (real name: Frank E. Smith) that first appeared in the January 1955 issue of “Manhunt Magazine” and predates Craig’s similar ‘Police File’ and ‘Sixth Precinct/Pete Selby’ series titles from the same era. The novella has been reprinted by Black Cat Mysteries (a Wildside Press imprint) as a 99-cent eBook.

The story is told by NYPD homicide detective Jim Coren who, along with his partner, Paul Brader, is assigned the case of an 18 year-old female who washed ashore near Manhattan’s Pier 90. The author includes all sorts of interesting forensic science trivia about floaters that seems credible enough to me. The evidence convinces the fictional detectives that the girl was murdered before she was dumped in the water.

The officers follow a logical trail to determine if any missing persons match the demographics of the young floater. There’s something about a “Jonathan Craig” police procedural that’s so pure and logical that they’re always a pleasure to read. The detectives don’t have the colorful, fully-formed personalities of Ed McBain’s detectives of the 87th Precinct, but that approach places the evidence, procedures and suspects front-and-center. You can also count on the female victim of his stories to be involved in deviant or promiscuous sexual activity, and “The Floater” is no exception.

I’d be interested to know why the author was writing NYPD police procedurals during the same era for the ‘Police File’ series, the ‘Sixth Precinct/Pete Selby’ series and stand-alone stories like this one? Wouldn’t it have been better branding to pick one hero and ride him until he drops? It’s not like all these NYPD protagonists were differentiated in any meaningful way.

Sadly, Frank E. Smith died in 1984, so I’ll never get the chance to ask him about his career and the literary choices he made. It doesn’t seem as if he granted many interviews during his life or that anyone has made an exhaustive study of his writing. He was probably just one of those hard-working Florida authors at the time grinding out stories to feed his family. Anyway, the bottom line is that “The Floater” was a great story, and you should read it. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Texan Came Riding

Frank O'Rourke (1916-1989) was a Denver native who received his call for writing during WW2. His first novel, “E Company”, was released in 1945. He went on to write over 60 novels, three of which were adapted for film - “The Bravados”, “A Mule for the Marquesa” (film name “The Professionals”) and “The Great Bank Robbery”. My first sampling of his work is the 1958 Signet paperback “A Texan Came Riding”.

A hired gun named John Kearney arrives in the southwestern border town of Taos with a stack of letters. He presents these letters, some written by attorneys, judges and even a governor, to town sheriff Adolfo Montez. Kearney is searching for a criminal named Charles Malcolm, who's chosen Taos as a place to park all of his wealth. As the owner of the mine and half of the area farms, Malcolm is a significant citizen. While never fully explained to the reader, apparently Malcolm raped a woman in the mid-west and cheated hundreds of God fearing farmers out of land and stock. 

We are introduced to Charles Malcolm and quickly realize he's a lunatic. Further, he keeps a witch by his side to cast spells and curses on his enemies. Malcolm has laid over half of the women in town, some carrying his offspring over to Mexico, others...well he doesn't even know about. His most prized possession is Rachel Perez, who's he most recently knocked up and placed at a nearby ranch. 

Kearney aligns with a sheep herder named Ed Shaffer, Rachel and sheriff Montez to uncover Malcolm's corruption in the town. Discovering an important upcoming transaction between Malcolm and businessman Don Roberto proves to be the key to uncovering Malcolm's corruption. The book's finale has Malcolm on the run as Kearney and his allies hone in.

Despite its mere 128-pages, “A Texan Came Riding” is an exhaustive effort to digest. The narrative is just implausible. Kearny has authoritative letters from  various branches of jurisdiction citing Malcolm is a criminal. Why isn't he apprehended by the law? Why would Kearney, a rancher from Nebraska by trade, even be involved in this whole debacle? There's pages and pages of dialogue – displayed in lengthy paragraphs – between Malcolm, his witch and Don Roberto. Further, Kearney doesn't display any heroic traits whatsoever. Did I mention there is a damn witch in this book? 

“A Texan Came Riding” is terrible. I weep for the cover artist that designed this reprint. The contents doesn't match the impressive cover.

Buy this book HERE

Friday, April 19, 2019

For Money Received

The short fiction of Kansas native Fletcher Flora (1914-1968) was a regular fixture in “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine” in the 1950s and 1960s as well as dozens of Hitchcock-branded anthologies. Wildside Press has compiled many of Flora’s greatest hits in two eBook compilations for the ridiculously low price of a buck-a-pop. “For Money Received” is a 31-page novelette that originally appeared in the October 1964 issue of AHMM. It was also included in the Hitchcock anthologies “Meet Death at Night” (1964) and “Murderer’s Row” (1975) and most recently in “The Second Fletcher Flora Megapack” from Wildside Press.

The story is narrated by cut-rate private investigator Percy Hand whose business is so slow that his receptionist is an electric buzzer. One day he’s visited by new client with an unusual request. Mrs. Coon believes her husband is being blackmailed by his mistress. The fact that her husband is straying doesn’t pose much of a problem, but the wife won’t settle for blackmail and hires Percy to get to the bottom of the matter.

An easy job soon becomes complicated after the secret lovers somehow spot Percy and give him the slip. Percy needs the money and must figure out a way to salvage this engagement and get to the bottom of the blackmail scheme that becomes a murder case. Percy is a great main character because he’s unusually focused on his own professional ethics - a challenge when engaging in the dirty business of tailing a cheating spouse. He’s also a legitimately funny and sarcastic narrator with a great self-deprecating nature, and I found myself laughing aloud several times over the course of this single-sitting mystery.

Flora is a fun author, and I suspect that shorter fiction plays to his strengths. “For Money Received” is a clever bit of short fiction that won’t change your life but serves as a great introduction to this largely-forgotten author’s body of work. It’s an easy recommendation and a breezy way to spend an hour. I also learned that Percy is the main character in other short stories and Flora’s full-length novel called “Leave Her to Hell” from 1958 that’s been reprinted by Stark House. I intend to check that one out soon. 

Buy a copy of this story HERE

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Flight to Darkness

In April, 2018, Stark House Press released a reprinting of Gil Brewer's 1952 novel “Flight to Darkness” and his 1954 book “77 Rue Paradis”. The two works are packaged together with a forward from Dr. Rachels, an English Professor at Newberry College that edited Brewer's short story collection, “Redheads Die Quickly and Other Stores” (2012 University Press of Florida). 

After Gil Brewer's wildly successful 1952 paperback, “13 French Street”, the author could have reserved time and effort for a monumental follow-up novel. Unfortunately, he didn't. Despite cautionary warnings from his literary agent, Brewer wrote “Night Follows Night”, later re-titled to “Flight to Darkness”, in a mere three days. I think the fact that he wrote this novel in such a short amount of time speaks volumes – it's an absolute stinker. 

My only prior experience with Gil Brewer was the ordinary crime novel “The Red Scarf”. Enjoyable enough, “Flight to Darkness” was not. It's a cumbersome narrative revolving around Korean War veteran Eric Garth. The book's opening pages explains that Eric has been hospitalized in a sanitarium due to frequent dreams and visions of killing his brother Frank with a wooden mallet. Bizarre, yes. The source of the dreams and visions is a battlefield incident where Eric thinks he murdered another soldier despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, that the man was killed by enemy gunfire. 


During his hospital stay, Eric falls for the cunning and beautiful Leda Thayer, his nurse. Her attraction to Eric stems from his family's wealth. Eric and his brother Frank, whom Eric hates, are the sole inheritors of the family's thriving loan business. Leda practically tells Eric she's only in it for the money, but often love is just headed for tragedy and this story is no different. 

Upon his release, Eric and Leda head to Alabama to vacation in a lakeside cabin. There, Eric is drug out of bed and arrested for a hit and run. The blood and hair matches Eric's fender. But Eric doesn't remember any of this and proclaims his innocence. He's taken to the local sanitarium where he lives for a number of weeks before escaping. His destination is the family's home in western Florida. There he learns that Leda has married Frank! 

Soon, Frank is found murdered with...a wooden mallet. All signs point to Eric as the killer and he soon goes on the run to prove his innocence...again. Hit and runs, wooden mallets, scrupulous lovers, lots of money – these should be the ingredients for a wild crime fiction novel. Unfortunately, the story is just tossed together and none of it really makes much sense. Granted, I'm not a huge fan of riding with a lunatic. It's why I don't read novels by the likes of Jim Thompson or Richard Laymon. The idea that Eric is probably insane really ruins it for me. I like my novels to involve normal, everyday characters that are thrust into insane situations. Because of that, “Flight to Darkness” was a real chore to read. I'm not terribly excited to open the next Brewer novel. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Black Friday

“Black Friday” is a 1954 short novel - originally published by Lion Books - by Philadelphia noir master David Goodis, an author who has become more appreciated since his 1967 death than he ever was when he was alive. He’s often called the “king of the losers” because his stories have such a grim, downbeat tone and his heroes are often drawn from ranks of skid row bums.

Hart is one such protagonist - slowly freezing to death on the streets of Philadelphia while trying to decide whether to mug a hobo for his overcoat, commit suicide or just keep shivering. His frigid wandering brings him to a man lying on the sidewalk bleeding to death from a gunshot wound. The stranger parishes after giving Hart the his wallet loaded with cash. However, the killers aren’t far behind, and Hart becomes their focus as they pursue him for the wallet and its contents.

This pretty simple setup brings Hart into the hideout of a heist crew that includes a violent ex-boxer and a buxom platinum blonde who immediately shows a sexual interest in Hart. As the story unfolds, we learn more about Hart’s background and it turns out he wasn’t always such a bum. He attended University of Pennsylvania and at one time owned a yacht. He’s on the run for a crime he either did or did not commit (no spoilers here) in New Orleans, so hiding out with this crew is actually pretty good timing. The big question is will Hart join the crew or just use them as a way-station en route to freedom?

Be warned: this is a dark and violent paperback that goes in some unexpected directions with beatings, murder, dismemberment, a sad skinny woman and a horny fat woman. It’s also sexy as hell in a non-graphic 1950s fashion. Goodis writes the novel is a dispassionate third-person, so the reader is really a fly on the wall watching the tense mayhem unfold and making guesses about characters’ secrets. There’s not a ton of action in the novel’s second act, but the interpersonal dynamics in the hideout never failed to hold my interest.

All this leads up to a compelling conclusion, and Goodis’ writing is particularly solid. “Black Friday” has been reprinted several times since its release 65 years ago. The 2006 edition may be of particular interest to Paperback Warrior readers as it contains several bonus stories Goodis wrote for the pulp and digest magazines. However you do it, don’t skip “Black Friday.” It’s something special.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Vengeance Rider

Lewis B. Patten (1915-1981), began his writing career in the 1940s. His first novel, “Massacre at White River”, was published in 1952. It was the first of more than 90 western novels, three of which won Golden Spur Awards. “Vengeance Rider”, the subject of this review, was originally published by Berkley Medallion in 1962. Since then the novel has been reprinted multiple times with different covers. 

Despite the lack of witnesses or evidence, rancher Ross Logan was convicted of killing his wife Ruth. Logan was sentenced to 15 hard years in prison. In Patten's opening pages, Logan is released from confinement after serving his full sentence. From high atop Cheyenne Ridge, Logan looks down at his condemner, the small town of Vail and what was originally his sprawling Horseshoe Ranch. He is determined to locate Ruth's killer and seek redemption from his former friends and peers. But as we quickly learn, the town has no interest in Logan's proclamation of innocence. They have simply moved on.

Out of money, food and supplies, Logan goes to work for the new operator of Horseshoe Ranch, a brutal man named Caine. Smitten with Caine's much younger wife, Lily, Logan begins earning just enough money and food to bide some free time to investigate Ruth's murder. Patten's panel of suspects seems promising: town founder Tobias Vail, judge Millburn and Logan's longtime friend Phil – all who have vested interests in Horseshoe Ranch.

The most likely suspect is Millburn, who was Logan's attorney 15-years ago. After Logan's conviction, Millburn sold the neglected Horseshoe Ranch cheaply to Caine to raise enough money for Logan's legal fees. But, after investigating the books, Logan learns that Millburn had Caine quickly sell the ranch back to him. Could Millburn have set the whole thing up to acquire the ranch for pennies on the dollar?

Determined to prove Millburn is the culprit, Logan begins to connect the dots while secretly meeting with Lily. Soon, Logan finds that's he's under arrest for yet another murder – Caine's! On the run from a posse and the law, Logan now must find who has killed Ruth and Caine or face the gallows. 

I can never provide enough praise for Lewis B. Patten. I've now read a handful of his western novels and all of them have been top notch. While never overly violent, Patten is a bit more subdued with “Vengeance Rider”. Here, the author uses a popular crime fiction element – the convicted defending their innocence – and places it in the harsh American West. Brimming with fights, romance and the thrill of the chase, Patten's “Vengeance Rider” works exceptionally well as both a western and a crime novel. Read it, you'll love it!

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Butcher of Calais

Although he has written a handful of contemporary action novels, Jack Badelaire is best known for his World War 2 adventure fiction. His books generally fall into established series titles - most notably ‘Commando’ and ‘The Revenants,’ but in 2019, he treated readers to a stand-alone novella marketed under the ‘Commando’ brand that will appeal to fans of 1970s vigilante paperbacks like Don Pendleton’s ‘The Executioner’ series.

The story takes place in Calais, France in 1940 as the German forces are bombing and invading. A French math teacher named Andre Bouchard is hiding out with His wife. Yvette, and their young daughter in their modest apartment steering clear of German artillery shells and street-level fighting. It takes no time at all for the town to fall to the Nazis while Andre and his family hide safely away.

A few weeks later, thinks are returning to normal under Nazi occupation. Andre returns to teaching math, and Yvette resumes operation of her bakery when Andre’s school day is interrupted with some terrible news. His wife and daughter have been murdered at their bakery by unidentified German soldiers seen leaving the bakery in a rush. Andre also learns that this wasn’t just a wartime looting gone bad. Yvette was killed in a brutal manner filled with degradation and suffering while his daughter’s head was caved in by the butt of a German Army rifle.

The author does a great job conveying the grief and loss Andre feels accompanying the murders of his family members. It doesn’t take long until grief turns to rage as Andre becomes determined to find the men responsible for the deaths of his loved ones and send them straight to hell along with as many German invaders as possible. What we really have here is “Death Wish in Occupied France,” and the result is a satisfying vendetta tale filled with violent comeuppance. As the Germans take measures to prevent further slaughters of their troops, some thorny moral dilemmas arise for Andre. Could this vigilante action serve as a spark for open rebellion among the French living under the thumbs of Nazi overlords? Or is Andre’s crusade costing more innocent lives?

It’s been ages since I’ve read a book this exciting. At 97 lean pages, it’s a fat-free treat for fans of classic men’s adventure fiction. Even if you’re not a history buff or have any particular interest in WW2, there’s a lot to enjoy in this expertly-crafted “hunt the bad guys” novella. I’m told that the main character makes appearances in other books in Badelaire’s ‘Commando’ universe with “The Butcher of Calais” serving as a stand-alone prequel of sorts - justifying the abrupt ending.

If you don’t want to get bogged down in a large WW2 series with overlapping plotlines, this novella provides a self-sufficient story that can be read and enjoyed with no preconditions. Consider this fantastic short work of war fiction essential reading with a highest recommendation.

Buy a copy of this Ebook HERE

Friday, April 12, 2019

Spur #28 - Kansas City Chorine


'Spur' was a long-running adult western series that ran for 40+ books. The main character is Spur McCoy, a former Union Captain and now an early agent of the U.S. Secret Service. He works out of the St. Louis office and accepts assignments for any crimes west of the Mississippi River. The series can be read in any order and author Dirk Fletcher was veteran writer Chet Cunningham ('Canyon O'Grady', 'Avenger', 'Jim Steel'). Entry #28 is “Kansas City Chorine”, published December, 1993.

The book finds a wrongdoer named Jack T. Galde pulling bank jobs across the Kansas prarie. His methods are fairly elementary – establishing an identity in the small town, then robbing the bank before blowing it up. His destination is simply the next town so he can pull the heist all over again. After Galde's five robberies and a handful of murders, Spur is assigned the case.

The neanderthal porn is overwhelmingly prevalent. The development of characters is about as deep as a golfer's divot. The methodology used to find young women to seduce is simply “if there's hair I'm there”. Galde is suffering from a mother figure syndrome, provoking him to rape and pillage anything with breasts (including grinding on a horse's ass). Our hero isn't much better, fondling a young woman on the trail that...just needs fondling. These things never happen to me.

The narrative places Spur in the same town as Galde's next heist. The lady of the night is the Kansas City Chorine herself, Patrice, whom Spur beds in four explicit scenes. Besides that action, Spur just sort of meanders around town long enough to locate the hotel room Galde is residing in. Oddly, instead of just arresting him there, he sleuths around town hoping to find the man. He wastes too much time and finds that Galde, using a preacher's identity, has robbed the bank, a widow and stolen Patrice. The hunt is on as an incompetent Spur battles a tornado to find his woman.

I've read two Spur novels, this one and “#15 Hang Spur McCoy!”. I might speculate that as the series continued the quality diminished. This book was just lethargic and lousy for all of the reasons I listed above. I might try another Spur title later on but this one has put the series on the back burner of my neighbor's stove. I'm done for now.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Savage Love (aka Native Girl)

During the 1950s, Harry Whittington was so prolific that he employed a cadre of pseudonyms to keep his sales flowing to a variety of paperback publishing houses. His 1952 novel “Savage Love” was published under the pen name Whit Harrison and was later reprinted in 1956 under Whittington’s own name as “Native Girl.” It remains available today as a cheap ebook (free with Kindle Unlimited) under the original title and the pseudonym.

“Savage Love” takes place on the pre-statehood Hawaiian Island of Maui where Coles has just relocated at the urging of his friend Victor who is married to a “native girl” named Lani. From the first page, the reader can smell trouble ahead for these three when Coles, our narrator, describes Lani as a “goddess molded out of fiery golden flesh.” When he accidentally walks in on Lani undressed in front of a full-length mirror, the poor bastard becomes smitten and obsessed with his best buddy’s wife.

Victor owns a pineapple and sugar cane plantation and hires Cole as an overseer of the business operations. When Victor is attacked by a hostile employee, he is waylaid and consigned to rest and recovery under the care of the plantation’s domestic help. However, you’d hardly know the difference between Victor at work and Victor at rest as he is an advocate of the laid back island lifestyle. This enables Cole and Lani to spend some quality time together as Cole learns the ins-and-outs of the business.

As the narrative progresses, we learn more about Cole’s background and the real reason he was willing to leave his girlfriend and accounting career behind on the U.S mainland to start a new life on Maui. The temptation Cole feels for Lani is a white-hot lust coupled with the appropriate guilt and reservations that eventually lead to an explosion of violence and murder. Nobody writes a femme fatale story like Harry Whittington except for maybe James M. Cain. And “Savage Love” probably owes more than a little to Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice” from 1934.

“Savage Love” is seldom cited as among Whittington’s best work, and that’s a shame. This book is a familiar fatal attraction story transplanted into an exotic setting with a Hawaiian temptress, but it’s also a satisfying piece of noir melodrama from a master of the genre. I’d put it up there with Cain’s “Postman” and Gil Brewer’s “The Vengeful Virgin” as among the best of this type. The fact that it remains available as an eBook costing you next to nothing should push smart readers over the edge to pick up this underrated classic. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Paperback Warrior Unmasking: Interview with Ralph Hayes

At 91 years of age, Michigan author Ralph Hayes is still writing men's action-adventure novels. With a resume boasting nearly 100 books, he's experienced five fruitful decades of published work in the US, UK, Germany, Finland, Sweden and Italy. At the time of this writing, Hayes has just released his newest novel, a gritty western titled “Wanted: Dead or Alive” for Black Horse, his publisher of the last 10 years.

In a series of letters, Paperback Warrior had the opportunity to interview the living legend about his career, his paperbacks and what the term “genre fiction” means to him.

While employed as a successful Michigan attorney, Hayes married a highly-regarded artist. Her passion and interest in the arts inspired Hayes to relinquish his law practice in 1969. The couple moved to Key West, and Hayes began a torrid affair with his typewriter, one that stuffed the paperback shelves with multiple series titles such as 'The Hunter,’ 'Agent of Cominsec,’ 'Stoner' and 'Soldier of Fortune.’ In fact, Hayes created and/or contributed to seven individual series' including the wildly popular 'Nick Carter: Killmaster' paperbacks.

“I didn't start writing seriously until 1969. A story of mine originally appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in 1967 called ‘The Gumdrop Affair.’ It was later included in two separate college textbook anthologies. I've sold almost 40 short stories to literary quarterlies, men's magazines and mystery magazines,” Hayes said.

When asked if any of his shorts were later re-worked into novels, the enthusiastic author was quick to point out that his short stories don't turn into novels. “I would never try to broaden a short story tale into novel length,” he explained. “Short stories are an art form apart, and in no way inferior in importance to the novel. On the other hand, when an editor asked me to cut a couple of scenes from a novel, I later developed those scenes into short stories. Writer's Digest asked me once to do an article telling other writers how I went about it.”

Hayes' robust bibliography includes riveting, exotic locales that are par for the course in the men's action adventure genre. Ranging from vigilante globe-trotting adventurers to mercenaries, Hayes has a unique sense of realism within his writing. “I have been to East Africa twice. I've also been to South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia and Morocco,” he said. “I have also been around Europe by both moped and car. I've went to Hong Kong and Peru to visit Machu Picchu. All of this with my artist wife, now deceased, whose art is in private collections all across this country and Europe.”

His earliest series, 'The Buffalo Hunter', starring western protagonist O'Brien, can be sourced back to its 1970's debut paperback “Gunslammer,” also known as “Secret of Sulpher Creek.” That series, which Hayes still contributes to, parallels the author's career from 1970 until now and encompasses 11 total novels. “Rugged, intimidating. Rawhides. Can't read or write but speaks several Indian tongues. A perfect wild-country survivalist,” described Hayes when asked to characterize his cowboy hero to unfamiliar readers.

The author lists his 'Buffalo Hunter' novels as some of his best work, but he is particularly fond of a 1979 book entitled “Hostages of Hell.” “This is based on a real-life terror attack on a US embassy. My research for the book included actual correspondence with the US ambassador in Khartoum,” he said.

From 1967 through the early 80s, Hayes wrote over 60 novels. The 1970s were a particularly  productive era for the author, growing series titles like Buffalo Hunter, The Hunter, Check Force, Stoner and Agent of Cominsec for familiar publishing houses like Manor, Leisure/Belmont Tower and Zebra. By the early 80s, one can see his writing reduced to just a few stand-alone novels, most as historical romance pieces.

“When publishing took a nose dive in the mid-eighties, we returned to Michigan where I resumed my law career, but still doing some writing,” Hayes explained. By 1992, Hayes began producing westerns again with two stand-alone paperbacks for Pinnacle. Just seven years later, Hayes would experience another productive era, penning westerns for UK publisher Black Horse, an imprint of Robert Hale Publishing.

“The recently published westerns at Robert Hale and Crowood have been newly-written novels, starting with ‘The Tombstone Vendetta’ about Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral. ‘The Last Buffalo,’ ‘Fort Revenge’ and ‘Coyote Moon’ form a trilogy of O'Brien the Buffalo Hunter stories that make up one long saga, and I suspect ‘Fort Revenge’ is about the best of that genre,” he said.

The author, who cites his favorite writers as Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, John Le Carre and B. Traven, has a lot to say about what people perceive as genre fiction. “The idea that genre fiction is somehow inferior in quality to so-called mainstream fiction, and is not as literary, is artificial bull-puckey,” Hayes said. “Mainstream also is genre, psychological studies, social issues, etc. are all genres, and most of that is not as entertaining as other genres. Entertainment is the primary objective of all fiction, the other, lesser goal being enlightenment, which should never dominate the story. If you have a cause to espouse, the proper literary form is an essay or a non-fictional book.”

Hayes continued, “In drama, all of Shakespeare's plays were genre. Jane Austen's novels are genre. Poe's stories are genre. All in this developed use of the word. ‘The Sun Also Rises’ is genre, and ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ is also, in my revised classification system. People who like to maintain the 'mainstream is superior' notion would rank ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ above Jane Austen's ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ a love story or light romance. But it isn't. The love story is better, both in entertainment and enlightenment.”

In conclusion, Hayes has a diverse bibliography that includes period pieces, mystery, adventure, vigilante, romance, science fiction and thriller - all thought-provoking and entertaining in their own right. “So, lets dispense with mainstream and literary as description of fiction and categorize all works as some kind of genre,” he said.

Ralph Hayes Bibliography

AGENT OF COMINSEC

1. The Bloody Monday Conspiracy - 1974 Belmont Tower
2. The Doomsday Conspiracy - 1974 Belmont Tower
3. The Turkish Mafia Conspiracy - 1974 Belmont Tower
4. The Hellfire Conspiracy - 1974 Belmont Tower
5. The Nightmare Conspiracy - 1974 Belmont Tower
6. The Deathmakers Conspiracy - 1975 Belmont Tower

THE BUFFALO HUNTER

1. Gunslammer (aka Secret of Sulpher Creek) - 1970 Belmont Tower
2. Four Ugly Guns - 1970 Belmont Tower
3. The Name is O'Brien - 1972 Lenox Hill
4. Hellohole - 1973 Leisure/Belmont Tower
5. Treasure of Rio Verde - 1974 Remploy
6. Vengeance is Mine - 1978 Manor
7. Five Deadly Guns - 1984 Ulverscroft
8. Revenge of the Buffalo Hunter - 1992 Pinnacle
9. The Last Buffalo - 2013 Black Horse
10. Fort Revenge - 2013 Black Horse
11. Coyote Moon - 2015 Black Horse

CHECK FORCE

1. 100 Megaton Kill - 1975 Manor
2. Clouds of War - 1975 Manor
3. Judgment Day - 1975 Manor
4. The Peking Plot - 1975 Manor
5. Seeds of Doom - 1976 Manor
6. Fires of Hell - 1976 Manor

* DANIEL BOONE: LOST WILDERNESS TALES

1. River Run Red (as Dodge Tyler) - 1996 Leisure
2. Algonquin Massacre (as Dodge Tyler) - 1996 Leisure
3. Death at Spanish Wells (as Dodge Tyler) - 1996 Leisure
4. Winter Kill (as Dodge Tyler) - 1996 Leisure
5. Apache Revenge (as Dodge Tyler) - 1997 Leisure
6. Death Trail (as Dodge Tyler) - 1997 Leisure

* Ralph Hayes states he wrote a number of these books as Dodge Tyler. Author John Edward Ames wrote the last six installments of the 12 book series. 


THE HUNTER

1. Scavenger Kill - 1975 Leisure/Belmont Tower
2. Night of the Jackals - 1975 Leisure/Belmont
3. A Taste for Blood - 1975 Leisure/Belmont Tower
4. The Track of the Beast - 1975 Leisure/Belmont Tower
5. The Deadly Prey - 1975 Leisure/Belmont Tower

NICK CARTER: KILLMASTER

65. The Cairo Mafia - 1972 Award
67. Assault on England - 1972 Award
68. The Omega Terror - 1972 Award
70. Strike Force Terror - 1972 Award
73. Butcher of Belgrade - 1973 Award
78. Agent Counter-Agents - 1973 Award
86. Assassin: Code Name Vulture - 1974 Award
88. Vatican Vendetta (with George Snyder) - 1974 Award

SOLDIER OF FORTUNE (as Peter McCurtin)

4. The Guns of Palembang - 1977 Belmont Tower
5. First Blood - 1977 Belmont Tower
6. Ambush at Derati Wells - 1977 Belmont Tower
7. Operation Hong Kong - 1977 Belmont Tower
8. Body Count - 1977 Belmont Tower
9. Battle Pay - 1978 Belmont Tower
Vol. 2 9. Blood Island - 1985 Leisure

STONER

1. The Golden God - 1976 Manor
2. Satan Stone - 1976 Manor
3. All That Glitters - 1977 Manor
4. King's Ransom - 1978 Manor

STAND-ALONE NOVELS

The Wayward August of Virgie Tats (?)
Black Day at Diablo (?)
The Visiting Moon (science-fiction) 1971 Lenox Hill
Treasure of Rio Verde (western) - 1974 Remploy
Love's Dark Conquest (romance) - 1978 Leisure
Forbidden Splendor (romance) - 1978 Leisure
Dark Water (thriller) - 1978 Leisure
By Passion Possessed - 1978 Leisure
The Killing Ground (as John Hardesty) - 1978 Leisure
Savage Dawn (romance) - 1979 Jove
The Big Fall (?) - 1979 Zebra
Hostages of Hell (action) - 1979
Adventuring (western) - 1979 Jove
Golden Passion (romance) - 1979 Leisure
Dragon's Fire (romance) - 1979 Leisure
The Promised Land (romance) - 1980 Leisure
The Sea Runners (action) - 1981 Leisure
A Sudden Madness (mystery) - 1981 Leisure
Last View of Eden (thriller) - 1981 Leisure
Charleston (romance) - 1982 Zebra
Drought! (romance) - 1982 Zebra
The God Game (thriller) - 1983 Leisure
The Scorpio Cipher (thriller) - 1983 Leisure
Sheryl (romance) - 1984 Leisure
Deadly Reunion (mystery) - 1984 Leisure
Illegal Entry (romance) - 1984 Leisure
Mountain Man's Fury (western) - 1992 Pinnacle
Mountain Man's Gold (western) - 1993 Pinnacle
Tombstone Vendetta (western) - 2010 Black Horse
Texas Vengeance (western) - 2016 Black Horse
Rawhide Justice (western) - 2016 Black Horse
Lawless Breed (western) - 2017 Black Horse
The Way of the Gun (western) - 2018 Black Horse
Wanted: Dead or Alive (western) - 2019 Black Horse

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Ed Rivers #04 - Start Screaming Murder

One of the best parts of reading vintage paperbacks from the Mid-20th Century is bearing witness to how societal norms of behavior have changed. From the expression of brutal racial stereotypes to slapping women when they become hysterical, we’ve come a long way as a culture over the past 60 years. So, when I read the back cover of Talmage Powell’s “Start Screaming Murder” from 1962 and saw that the story finds hardboiled private eye Ed Rivers “consorting with midgets and freaks,” I needed to know more.

Between 1959 and 1964, Powell wrote five paperbacks starring Rivers, one of the many hardboiled fictional heroes that arose in the wake of Mickey Spillane’s commercial success with his Mike Hammer series. The Ed Rivers novels can be enjoyed in any order, and the series is now available as affordable eBooks for today’s readers.

Rivers is a wisecracking agent for the Tampa office of the Nationwide Detective Agency. After coming home one evening to find a sexy, three-foot woman named Tina in his apartment, Rivers explains to the reader that Tampa is a winter home for many carnival workers, so the town has a lot of “little people” waiting for their employers to get back on the road in the Spring. Anyway, Tina is a hot little dish who hires Rivers to protect her from a sap-wielding admirer - a former carny - who won’t take no for an answer. Tina can’t go to the police because she’s worried about negative publicity affecting her ability to give up the carny life and segue into Hollywood productions.

To his credit, the author resists the impulse to make Tina into a cartoonish joke because of her size (the way, say, classic pro-wrestling always did). Instead, Tina is a fully-realized character with intelligence, feelings, and aspirations. She’s a woman who needs the help of a protector, and Rivers is there to play that role for her.

“Start Screaming Murder” begins as a classic manhunt tale with a stalwart, but flawed, hero hunting a villain for the purpose of kicking his ass and delivering a warning to stay away from little Tina. It pretty quickly becomes a murder mystery - the kind where the hero needs to solve it himself to clear his own name and reputation. The action later evolves into part maritime adventure infused with some Cuba intrigue.

Overall, what we have here is a better-than-average private eye novel consistent with the genre conventions of 1962. It’s not going to be the best book you’ve ever read, but it’s an enjoyable diversion for a few hours. I’d even re-visit more Ed Rivers novels if in the mood for a straight-up P.I. story. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, April 8, 2019

Sam Durell #33: Assignment-Bangkok

Between 1955 and 1976, Edward S. Aarons wrote 42 installments of his series starring a Cajun CIA field operative named Sam Durrell in a variety of international assignments. My limited experience with the series is that they can be enjoyed in any order, so I picked up 1972’s “Assignment-Bangkok” purely for the prospect of a fun spy adventure set in Thailand.

The assignment itself involves bringing home a CIA colleague named Mike Slocum who has gone dark somewhere in the jungles of Northeast Thailand where Durell sent him to scout for a new threat emanating from Red China. Before hitting the Thai jungles to find and recover his missing operative, Durrell must spend some time in the capital city of Bangkok gathering leads...and some operational support.

The formula for many of the “Assignment” novels finds Durell assembling unlikely people in his orbit to complete the mission, and “Assignment-Bangkok” seems to be built on that same platform (kinda like the Blues Brothers getting the band together). The team he assembles includes a Buddhist monk who is actually a CIA sleeper agent living a life of contemplative meditation and a female industrialist with a personal stake in Slocum’s well-being. 

The assignment becomes intertwined with the refineries in the Golden Triangle turning opium into heroin, and the armed factions who want to ensure their operations continue uninterrupted. Within this subplot, there’s a compelling mystery as Durell works to identify the drug lord while staying one step in front of corrupted local officials.

As a series hero, I’ve always found Durell’s personality to be rather wooden. He’s not nearly the fully-realized character of James Bond or Matt Helm. But the Cajun is smart, competent, and patriotic protagonist who is thrust into several difficult and life-threatening situations in this Thai adventure that he navigates quite well. Aarons’ writing is well-researched and never dull, and he has a knack for creating an interesting supporting cast of characters to support and oppose Durell. Overall, “Assignment-Bangkok” is the best Durell novel I’ve read to date, and anyone with an interest in Thailand-based Cold War adventures will be pleased with this installment. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, April 5, 2019

Murder Twice Told

If you haven’t read the first dozen books in Donald Hamilton’s ‘Matt Helm’ series, drop everything and please do so. When you’ve completed this mission, you’ll have fallen in love with Hamilton’s writing and will undoubtedly begin exploring his stand-alone novels. This will eventually lead you to 1950’s “Murder Twice Told” and presumably this review. We’re glad you’ve made it this far.

“Murder Twice Told” is actually two novellas by Hamilton that originally appeared in magazines during the 1940s before they were compiled into one paperback. I’ll address each story individually.

“Deadfall”

“Deadfall” originally appeared in “Collier’s
Magazine” in 1949 and is about a chemist named Paul Weston who works for a Chicago-based petroleum corporation. One day, two FBI agents come to see Weston at work to ask him about a missing woman named Marilyn who vanished two years earlier. After denying any knowledge about the woman’s disappearance, Weston is fired from laboratory job.

It turns out that Weston knew Marilyn when he worked at a government lab and Marilyn was on the clerical staff at a nearby office. They struck up a relationship until Marilyn disappeared. Now, it’s suspected that she was spying for foreign powers and collecting boyfriends who’d spill government secrets to her. Weston claims he didn’t give Marilyn any secrets, but the benign relationship has formed a black cloud of suspicion over Weston’s head for the past two years while making steady employment a real challenge.

After swearing to the FBI that he hasn’t seen Marilyn in years, she suddenly resurfaces in his life, and things get very interesting. This is a serviceable spy/murder story, and it’s fun to read early Hamilton during his humble beginnings. The author’s knowledge of guns, women, and great dialogue are on full display, and fans of the author will feel right at home reading this mini-novel. This isn’t top-tier Hamilton - more comparable to his “Assassins Have Starry Eyes” novel - but mediocre Hamilton is still better than most of the stuff I read and review here. Therefore, I can endorse “Deadfall” without reservations.

“The Black Cross”

Although it’s the second of the two stories in the paperback, “The Black Cross” was released first in “The American Magazine” during 1947. It’s also also the longer of the two novellas in “Murder Twice Told.”


The story opens with a car accident on a windy road between Washington and Annapolis sparked by a disabled truck on the road. After awakening in a hospital room, Hugh Phillips recounts to the police that he was trapped in the overturned car and witnessed his wife stumble over to the truck driver blocking the road. Hugh claims the mysterious trucker abruptly struck her twice with what appears to be a “black cross” before driving his rig driving away. Now, his wife is dead and the police don’t seem to believe a word of Hugh’s story.

With this odd setup, the reader hooked. Nothing about Hugh’s story makes sense. Why would a broken-down trucker murder an innocent woman? And what’s with this black cross? Why are the police so hell-bent on making sure Hugh’s version of events goes no further than his own hospital room? And what’s the agenda of a witness who surfaces to corroborate key parts of Hugh’s unlikely story?

While dealing with the grief of his deceased bride, Hugh begins to go through her belongings at home and learns some unsettling - and undisclosed - things about her. These clues deepen the mystery of her death and make him wonder how much he really knew about his own wife. Could these secrets provide any insight into the bizarre circumstances of her spontaneous murder?

In “The Black Cross,” Hamilton does a remarkable job of doling out information to the reader a little at a time as a mosaic forms regarding the circumstances of an unusual homicide. It’s the superior of the two stories in this paperback, and I found myself surprised that it was never adapted for the screen as it was the type of story Alfred Hitchcock often used as the basis for his films. Moreover, “The Black Cross” has the kind of twisty ending that Hitchcock would have loved. I know I sure did. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Death Trap

Author John D. MacDonald penned over 50 thrillers, including his long-running salvage-consultant series 'Travis McGee'. He's widely considered one of the greatest crime-fiction writers of all-time. This 1954 novel, “Death Trap”, was his 18th stand-alone crime novel, an astounding number considering it was written 10-years before the successful 'Travis McGee' debut.

The book is written in the crime noir format of first-person. Our protagonist is Hugh, a former war veteran who's on a much-needed vacation from his engineering job in Spain. While planning to fish in California, he takes a detour after reading some disparaging news in a national newspaper. The brother of his former lover, Vicky, is about to be executed for murdering a teen girl in a small college town in Illinois. Hugh, feeling the man is innocent, vows to uncover the truth.

After a tearful reunion with Vicky, Hugh begins to understand the layout of this sleepy college town. The citizens are declaring murder, the verdict was guilty and the torches are well-lit. With just 10-days before the date with the chair, Hugh begins to uncover the town's corruption in a riveting whodunit. All signs point to Vicky's brother, convincing me that the kid should fry. Surprisingly, Hugh discovers a mysterious rape and drowning at a lakeside cabin years before the crime. This mystery is tantalizing, but the connection is blurred. Can Hugh put the two time-frames together? If he can, how does he convince the frenzied town?

John D. MacDonald's literary sales are over 70-million for a reason. The prolific writer spins the typical murder – tramp killed on a lonely backstretch, but this ordinary event is catapulted into a myriad of violence, blackmail, intrigue and ultimately...entertainment. The author keeps us turning the pages, surveying the clues and coming to our own conclusions before swaying us with another exciting chapter of “unveil the next surprise”. I can't say enough good things about “Death Trap”. I've loved every book MacDonald has written and this one is no exception.

Buy this book HERE

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Goldfish Have No Hiding Place

James Hadley Chase was the thriller fiction pen name of British writer Rene Raymond (1906-1985) who authored around 90 novels under the Chase pseudonym with a career spanning from 1939 to 1984. He’s a European author whose books primarily take place in the U.S., and his paperbacks usually feature cheesy covers with uninspired photos of sexy 70s babes. Is it possible that the quality of the story inside surpasses the nondescript cover?

“Goldfish Have No Hiding Place” is a 1974 novel taking place in the upscale suburb of Eastlake. Steve Manson is a 38 year-old magazine editor with an anti-corruption mandate who is married to Linda, a glamorous social climber with expensive tastes. He’s spread thin financially largely because Linda has no sense of money or how much shopping one can justify on a $30,000 per year salary. As the novel opens, he has a $3,000 overdraft in his checking account and a wife who won’t stop spending.

Steve’s personal problems go from bad to worse when he is visited by the owner of a local boutique. It seems that the store’s new security system recorded a video of Linda shoplifting a bottle of perfume. The proprietor threatens to go to the cops unless Steve pays the man $20,000 in cash the next day. Normally, Steve would go to the police to report the blackmailing, but he’s in the process of exposing the chief of police for suspected corruption in his magazine. He rightfully fears that his complaint may not have a sympathetic audience with the suburban police.

The book’s title is a metaphor used early in the novel by Steve’s boss. The idea is that if Steve is going to attack the corrupt and dishonest in his magazine, he will be like a goldfish in a glass bowl and must live with unimpeachable ethics and total transparency regarding his personal behavior. Needless to say, Steve and his wife have trouble living up to this ideal, and Steve’s problems compound considerably as the story unfolds.

Giving away any of the twists and turns in “Goldfish Have No Hiding Place” wouldn’t be fair, but there are plenty of great surprises along the way - particularly when the blackmail story becomes a murder mystery. Although this was a 1974 paperback, it was written in the exact same style and plot structure as a 1950s Fawcett Gold Medal crime novel. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this tidy suburban noir written with competence and confidence by an author who has done this before. Put this one in the win column. Highly recommended. Buy this book HERE.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Meet Me at the Morgue (aka Experience with Evil)

Kenneth Millar (1915-1983) is a popular crime novelist better known as Ross Macdonald. The author wrote the highly regarded ‘Lew Archer’ detective series for three decades. To break the constraints of the detective model, he wrote a stand-alone novel entitled “Experience with Evil” in 1954, later reprinted as “Meet Me at the Morgue”. 

The author's concept was to create an everyman hero that solved crimes in California, paralleling Madonald's Archer character only this time using a parole officer in lieu of detective. I'm not sure the idea sparked any new ideas for Macdonald. Apparently the publisher couldn't find enough variation to create another series. Hence “Meet Me at the Morgue” is a stand-alone novel that should satisfy the author's fans.

The book places parole officer Howard Cross into the mix of a complex ransom plot involving a wealthy family's son. Cross's client, Fred Miner, is the prime suspect and his last known appearance was with the child. However, Cross primarily wants to defend the man despite Miner's prior conviction of manslaughter. When a ransom note arrives asking for the payout, Cross teams with the FBI and police in trailing the money. When the ransom funds are stolen from the instructed destination, the crime splits into two sections – finding the kidnapper and discovering who stole the ransom money from the kidnapper/family. 

At the standard 170ish pages, this crime novel works well despite it's robust cast of characters. It can be dense in spots, provoking me to use a pad and pen to notate how the characters related to each other. I found Cross a capable, well-suited problem solver but there's a messy point in the finale that left me a little bitter. Despite those flaws this is an excellent novel and a great introduction to Macdonald's writing.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, April 1, 2019

Missile Island

In 1967, Publishers Export Co., Inc., a small San Diego paperback press that specialized in mostly-gay porno novels, tried to broaden its horizons by launching a series of spy novels marketed as “Dan Walker Chillers,” presumably to sell some books to the ‘Nick Carter: Killmaster’ audience. The books were written by someone named Don Gilmore using the pseudonym of Gil Davis, and today they are hard-to-find paperback rarities priced exorbitantly high by used book dealers.

Dan Walker is a businessman and former Naval Intelligence Officer who takes periodic assignments from the CIA where he saves the world and gets laid. In “Missile Island,” Walker is called upon by the U.S. President to investigate reports that Santana Island in the Caribbean is being developed as a commie missile launch site. Bear in mind that this book was written and published when the Cuban missile crisis was still fresh on everyone’s minds.

The Agency provides Walker with a map of the island and a briefcase bomb to destroy as much of the missile facility as possible. His cover is that of a tourist at one of the island’s luxury resorts populated by sunbathing bikini beauties. His search for the missile site brings him into contact with surveillance operatives on bicycles and Voodoo-loving locals. While in the Caribbean, Walker gets laid a lot in graphic detail. But in all fairness, the sex scenes aren’t any more explicit or plentiful than your average ‘Coxeman’ or ‘Baroness’ novel, and it’s important for spies to find a healthy work-sex balance. There are also some scenes of brutal violence - extreme stuff - that serve as a counterbalance to the regular sex scenes.

What we have here is a competent and enjoyable spy thriller with a likable hero on a fun, high-stakes Caribbean adventure filled with regional stereotypes and genre tropes. At times, it got a little “madcap” for my tastes, but your mileage may vary. In other words, this ain’t Robert Ludlum. It’s really the espionage equivalent of a Longarm Western paperback where an enjoyable story takes a break every now and then for the hero’s sexual release and then resumes thereafter as if nothing happened. If you find this book in the wild at a reasonable price, you should buy it and read it. However, it’s probably not worth the $35 tag I recently saw online. I had fun reading “Missile Island,” and as long as you know what you’re getting, you will too. Recommended.

Addendum:

The three Dan Walker Chillers by Gil Davis are:

Valley of the Doles (1967)
Assignment: Tokyo (1967)
Missile Island (1967)

The publisher behind the Dan Walker books also attempted two similar series titles.

The Mark Castle series by Carl Marcus:

Cable Address: Roma (1966)
Cable: Vienna (1967)

The Nails Fenian series by Hal D. Steward

The Spy and the Pirate Queen (1967)
Assassin’s Hide-Away (1967)

Finally, special thanks to the Spy Guys and Gals website for assisting me with the research on this odd corner of the espionage fiction world. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE