Friday, May 31, 2019

Last Contract

Clark Howard (1932-2016) was a longtime favorite for readers of 'Ellery Queen' and 'Alfred Hitchcock' mystery magazines. Writing for over 40 years, his literary output comprised of 16 novels and two published collections of short stories. He was no stranger to film as his work “The Arm” and “Six Against the Rock” were both adapted to film. My first undertaking of Clark Howard is his fifth published novel, “Last Contract” released in 1973 by the iconic staple for 1970s men's action adventure paperbacks, Pinnacle Books.

Howard provides a gripping, introspective look at a professional assassin named George Trevor. A former Korean War vet, Trevor has garnered a lucrative payroll by providing his services for a shadowy agency called The System. After 17-years and 27 kills, Trevor begins experiencing self-reflection on his career. The catalyst? Welcoming a starving alley cat into his home as a companion.

As though it was predestined, Trevor experiences a bursting ulcer while on an assignment to kill a Greek shipping magnate. His inability to complete the assignment, coupled with a lengthy hospital stay, adds greater perspective to his life. The pampering bedside manor of a nurse named Claire expands into a fruitful relationship that leaves Trevor in love and longing for a retirement in Florida. The only obstacle is his resignation from a killer-for-hire agency that doesn't typically accept retirement requests.

The author's own experiences shooting rocket launchers in the Korean War adds a sense of authenticity to Trevor's fictional past. In alternating chapters, the reader learns about Trevor's harrowing experiences as a soldier fighting in the infamous “Punchbowl,” one of the last major battles between American and Korean/Chinese forces. Trevor’s subsequent capture and torture in a Chinese prison camp isn't for squeamish readers. However, this gritty realism adds greater validity to Trevor's character.

“Last Contract” is a poignant look at a man who questions himself while navigating the  bumpy downward slope from a career pinnacle. Action fans may find themselves skeptical of a domesticated hero, but don't let the paperback’s first half fool you. Trevor's attempts to escape The System are riveting, action-packed and encompass a majority of the book's closing act. It's an altogether different offering from the Pinnacle brand but propels itself forward with many of the genre's more familiar tropes. I absolutely loved this book and already have a wish list of pricey Clark Howard paperbacks waiting to devour my extra funds.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Massacre Ridge

Lewis B. Patten was a consistent western author that wrote over 90 titles. His novel, “Massacre Ridge”, was released in 1971 by Signet. It was a fertile time for Patten as he released six books that year. The author takes a slightly different approach with this book. It's a fictional account of the real-life 1866 Fetterman Fight between troops and Native Americans in present day Wyoming along the Bozeman Trail.

While using the historical figures of the battle, like Colonel Carrington and Colonel Fetterman, the main character is the fictional civilian named Jess Paddock. He's an everyman laborer that assisted in building Fort Phil Kearny despite the constant barrage of Sioux attacks. Along with building the fort, Paddock voluntarily serves Carrington as a scout reporting on Sioux patterns and strategies. 

As the laboring finishes, Paddock realizes the only reason to continue residing at the fort is Molly, a young widow that he's fallen for. The two have plans to marry and that time is fast approaching. As the two talk about the safe passage from the Fort, Paddock is drawn into a dense battle plan to defend the fort from ongoing attacks. 

Carrington's aggressive strategy is to bait the Sioux with a wood cutting detail. When they are attacked, which is normal, Colonel Fetterman and Lieutenant Bingham will ride to relief and then pursue the Sioux along the typical escape route through two hills and across two valleys. Carrington will lead a flank attack that will catch the Native Americans between Fetterman's force and his own. Paddock disagrees with this approach and advises the Army that the Sioux are much smarter than that and they are simply baiting the troops for a counter-attack. 

Paddock opposing this battle strategy is a big part of the book. Patten places the character into the battles, both as a scout watching from a far or inserted into the intense action. Western fans will be pleased that Patten creates a villain for Paddock as well. Early in the book, Paddock wins big off of Sergeant O'Mara during a night of poker. The ridiculed sergeant fights with Paddock throughout the premise, adding another level of action to what is already a satisfying thrill. 

“Massacre Ridge” is another outstanding western tale from Lewis B. Patten. I couldn't be more pleased with it. If you haven't tried this author yet...please find a used book store and grab one of his many western paperbacks. It's money well spent.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Four for the Money

Megaseller Stephen King dedicated his own noir work, “The Colorado Kid,” to fellow author Dan J. Marlowe deeming him the “hardest of the hard-boiled.” Marlowe was a turbulent writer who penned one of the best crime-noir books in history, 1962's caper novel “The Name of the Game is Death.” Marlowe also wrote seven stand-alone paperbacks published by Fawcett Gold Medal between 1962 and 1969, and “Four for the Money” (1966) might be one of the best of that period.

The book introduces us to Jim “Slick” Quick, a former card hustler serving his last days in prison. Upon his release, Quick drives to Desert City, Nevada to plan a casino heist, but he won't be a sole perpetrator this time. Behind bars, Slick compiles a team from a trio of fellow inmates who are all within months of their parole:

Blackie - the former gunman is the muscle of the crew supplying the seed money to fund the job,

Smitty - the safe cracker with the technical know-how to get to the loot,

Johnnie - a young kid from the prison exercise yard who overhears the plan and demands a piece of the action.

The fictional town of Desert City is nestled between Reno and Las Vegas. It’s a smutty cesspool of casinos and hotels that makes a perfect target for a robbery. While planning the heist, Slick obtains a job as a draftsman for the county and meets a lover named Nancy. He begins to get rather comfortable in his cover as a legit citizen.

As the weeks and months go by, we begin to see two very different versions of Slick. One persona is heist strategist planning the casino robbery and subsequent escape. But the second is an endearing reformed criminal who is cautiously planting roots as a straight member of society with a career and a girl. Once the gang arrives, Slick’s internal conflict provides the emotional core of the novel.

Marlowe is once again masterful. His ability to navigate the criminal mind while developing lovable, timeless characters is simply awe-inspiring. The chemistry between Slick and Johnnie, for example, is reminiscent of John Steinbeck's “Of Mice and Men.” We can foresee the tragedy looming in the distance, but we just can't look away. While readers may be disappointed by the lack of action and gunplay within the paperback's first 140-pages, the author's exposition on the likelihood of a criminal truly reforming is a treasure worth seeking. “Four for the Money” is a paperback classic from one of the genre's most talented storytellers and should not be missed. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Day I Died

Lawrence Lariar was a cartoonist who edited a popular series of anthologies in the 1960s reprinting the best cartoons of the year. Less famously, he also wrote crime novels under the pseudonyms Michael Stark, Adam Knight and Marston la France - as well as under his own name. “The Day I Died” is a 1952 stand-alone crime adventure published as a Signet paperback under Lariar’s name. The novel is currently available as an eBook from Mysterious Press.

The premise of “The Day I Died” was too delicious for me to leave unread on my shelf. Tom Coyle is a loser with no reason to go on living. Today, he’d be diagnosed with depression and properly medicated. In 1952, he’s just regarded as a sad sack and his desire to end it all seems quite reasonable. Rather than committing suicide, Tom makes a devil’s bargain with a local underworld boss. The mobster takes out a life insurance policy on Tom and gives him $10,000 to live large for the next four months. After a period of cash-rich debauchery, an “accident” will occur ending Tom’s life and quietly giving the mobster a healthy payday.

With the exception of the insurance company, everybody wins, right? Tom is spared another day living a life he hates, but he gets to taste the good life he otherwise couldn’t afford for a few months Meanwhile, the godfather makes a tidy profit from the insurance proceeds. What could go wrong?

Plenty, as it seems. During his four month countdown to death, Tom finds love, begins to enjoy himself, and has second thoughts about his death wish. For the first time in his life, Tom actually wants to live. However, the gangster isn’t excited at the prospect of extinguishing the deal. Can Tom do anything to cheat his own contracted death?

Chronic depression is serious business, and the author does an admirable job of illustrating the hopelessness of Tom’s mental state for the book’s first half. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for a pleasant or exciting reading experience. It takes way too long for Tom’s devil’s bargain with the mobster to happen, and the reader is stuck bearing witness to his intense sadness for far too many pages before Tom receives the money and the ability to enjoy himself for a bit.

Once Tom starts to party in the Miami sunshine with the mob’s money, the reader is forced to endure a tedious relationship drama with a series of overlapping love triangles. Simmering in the background is an underworld rivalry with stakes never made completely clear. Lariar essentially takes a cool idea and pisses all over it with wooden characters, a meandering plot, and tepid action. By the time the big twist ending happened, I was too bored to care. I was ready to see Tom just die to end the misery of this wasted opportunity of a novel.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 27, 2019

Wake Up Dead

“Wake Up Dead” is a 1974 private-eye novel by a shadowy and unfamiliar author named William Wall. A thorough search online failed to reveal any other known works. Locating the author's identity is a conundrum considering the book's publisher is equally as opaque. The paperback was issued by Papillon Books, copyright Aware Press, Inc., a 70s publishing house that dabbled in a handful of genre related titles like “Mr. Tomorrow,” a post-apocalyptic work by soft-core erotica author Con Sellers. Further, the publisher recycled the “Wake Up Dead” cover from a 1970 Belmont paperback entitled “Logan” by Alan Joseph. It's a bold move considering the paperback cover art fails to match any of the novel's actual content.

The book's protagonist is private investigator Tony Boyle, an apathetic sleuth with a declining business. Accustomed to his wealthy, affluent lifestyle, Boyle is yearning for business to pick up when in walks Marsha Vickers, a stunningly beautiful woman seeking to retain Boyle's services. Her wealthy Uncle Johnny, beneficiary of a lucrative trust fund, has been missing for several days. Concerned for his safety, she engages Boyle to find Uncle Johnny.

After a day of inquiries, Boyle learns that Marsha has received a ransom call from Uncle Johnny's kidnapper. The price is $25K for his safe return. Marsha must consult the trustee to obtain the ransom money. During this exchange we learn that Uncle Johnny only receives $1,500 per month, a rather paltry stipend considering the vast fortune in the trust. Once the money is placed at the drop site, Uncle Johnny is released. As Boyle starts to question the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping, there’s evidence to suggest maybe the whole thing was a scam.

There's an enormous plot twist regarding Uncle Johnny, the $25K and the kidnapper, but It would be cruel to spoil your surprise here. Suffice to say that Boyle's assignment isn't finished once Uncle Johnny is returned. Instead, the book's second half is centered around Boyle's investigation of Uncle Johnny's day-to-day life to provide greater clarity and answers.

Like all good crime stories, there are gambling debts, an enforcer and pages upon pages of clues for the determined reader to work through before the solution is revealed. The punch-line wasn't overly original, but it was probably entertaining enough to satisfy fans of Carter Brown's whodunits. If that’s the caliber of mystery you enjoy, you may like “Wake Up Dead.” If you demand more from your crime fiction, you can safely skip this largely derivative effort.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, May 24, 2019

The President is Missing

President Bill Clinton and novelist James Patterson had a 2018 hit with their bestseller “The President is Missing,” (ghostwritten by David Ellis), but there was another book with the same title released in 1967 by Henry A. Milton. I was unable to learn anything about Milton other than finding that the copyright is in his name (i.e. likely not a pseudonym), and the paperback was published by Banner Books, a Hearst Corporation subsidiary.

Oddly, our friend Bob Deis at informs me that Milton wrote a “Fiction Book Bonus” titled “The Day the President Disappeared!” for the April 1961 issue of “Bluebook Magazine.” It’s impossible that a book published in 1967 was adapted into a short story six years earlier - with key characters’ names changed. The magazine story has no reference to the related novel while still claiming to be a book bonus. It’s likely that Bluebook published the short story by Milton who then expanded it into a full novel six years later. Moreover, it was not unusual for Men’s Adventure Magazines of the era to misrepresent original short stories as “Book Bonus” articles. Oddly, it seems that Bluebook’s misrepresentation succeeded in conjuring a book into existence years later.

Anyway, here’s the review:

It’s the weekend before an important summit with the Russians, and the President (the author never gives him a proper name) is at Camp Victory (a fictional Camp David with way crappier security) working on his speech and relaxing before the meeting. His beleaguered third-string press secretary Mike McDowell, the novel’s protagonist, is leading the skeleton crew of staff at the camp who didn’t get the quiet weekend off, and no one is expecting any action. 

Not so fast! After noticing an unmanned door to the President’s quarters that should have had a Secret Service posting, Mike sheepishly goes inside to discover, you guessed it, The President is Missing! Please note that the President is also missing from the narrative. This is one of those episodes of The West Wing featuring the staff hashing out a problem without the boss around, which, I suppose, is sorta the whole point of the paperback.

Also missing is an enigmatic university professor who plays Gin Rummy with POTUS on lazy weekends like this. The timing of the President’s disappearance is both inconvenient and mysterious. Could this have something to do with the upcoming summit with the Russians? A coup from within the administration? Perhaps a romantic affair? It’s up to Mike and the tight circle of people in-the-know to solve the mystery before it leaks to the press and sparks a national crisis.

For such a high-stakes situation, the book itself is pretty devoid of action. It’s more like an Agatha Christie mystery with a bunch of people in a remote lodge trying to figure out whodunnit and what was done. I kept thinking that Mack Bolan would have handled the situation quite differently. By the time the solution to the President’s disappearance is revealed, I was past the point of caring all that much. I enjoy both politics and mysteries, but I just can’t stand being this deeply bored. As such, file this one in the “don’t bother” pile.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 23, 2019

M.I.A. Hunter #08 - Escape from Nicaragua

After seven installments of Stephen Mertz's 'M.I.A. Hunter' series, the popular title takes a slight shift into a new direction. Beginning with this eighth entry, “Escape from Nicaragua,” we discover Mark Stone's combat hardened trio working in unison with the U.S. government, a rather unique turn of events considering Stone had been targeted by the CIA and FBI.

In the last novel, “Saigon Slaughter,” Stone has a revelation about his team's future. It's 1987 (the series was written in the 80s) and the Vietnam War has been over for 14 years. The idea of malnourished prisoners of war still alive in Vietnam's harsh climate is a stretch. Further, Stone's network of intelligence has become sporadic and inconsistent. His admirable missions of saving prisoners of war may be finished. In that book's rowdy finale Stone rescues American prisoners from Saigon and conveniently returns them during a U.S. summit with Vietnam.

“Escape from Nicaragua” has a sense of continuity by mentioning these prior events in the novel's opening pages. Now, the CIA and FBI have stricken Stone's trio from the record books in what is perceived as an exchange for their labor. U.S. government agencies, impressed with Stone's fortitude, will now contract his team for messy freeing two CIA operatives from a Nicaraguan prison.

Those of you excited about this new series direction, and the enticing idea that Stone might be assassinating drug lords, dictators and communists while utilizing upgraded intel, should really hold your applause. “Escape from Nicaragua” doesn't really present itself as anything other than a recycle of the prior seven books. Stone's team hits Honduras for intel, then penetrates the Nicaragua jungle to align with freedom fighters who assist the trio in liberating the prisoners.

Seasoned magicians say the rabbit don't come easy. I'd say the same for “Escape from Nicaragua.” The magic of transforming this series into a “Phoenix Force” styled mercenary unit apparently isn't easy. The collaboration between series creator Stephen Mertz and a relatively unknown writer named Arthur Moore lends a sense of familiarity to the novel, but the plot never really pushes the envelope. The series, while certainly delivering action-packed goods, should have turned the corner on this eighth novel. Looking ahead to the next installment, “Invasion U.S.S.R.,” appears to have a similar theme – Stone freeing a U.S. journalist from a Soviet prison. I'm hoping for the best.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Backwoods Tramp (aka A Moment to Prey)

In 1959, Harry Whittington submitted for publication a crime noir novel titled “Never Find Sanctuary” that Fawcett Gold Medal published as “Backwoods Tramp” with a salacious cover indicative of the soft-core sleaze of the era. When Black Lizard republished the paperback in 1988, it was given the title “A Moment to Prey” with an insightful introduction from Whittington detailing his highs and lows of his writing career.

Due to an unusual series of events I won’t spoil here, former Major League Baseball pitcher Jake Richards is hot on the trail of an armed payroll robber named Marv Pooser who just scored $100,000 in a daring heist. A promising clue brings Jake to Pooser’s hometown in rural Florida - nearby the author’s own hometown of Ocala. The locals in the mosquito-infested town are suspicious of strangers and don’t take kindly to an outsider asking questions about Pooser, so Jake is greeted with a backwoods-style ass whooping.

Meanwhile, Lilly is a hot little swamp chick selling fried fish at her family’s restaurant in the same part of rural Florida. She’s got issues of her own and has always wanted more than the constant sexual harassment she must endure from the restaurant’s clientele. Referring to Lilly as a “Backwoods Tramp” is wholly inaccurate after the reader bears witness to what happens to a local man who tries to manhandle the girl. Circumstances thrust Jake and Lilly together - figuratively at first - but you can see where that’s headed. After all, she’s the kind of girl men get obsessed over.

Jake enlists Lilly’s help in finding Pooser, and that’s when things go bonkers. Pooser is one of the most vile, devious and reprehensible villains in crime fiction. In fact, this whole paperback is pretty crazy. Crazy sexual. Crazy tense. Crazy violent. Because it’s Florida, deadly snakes and man-eating gators play a key supporting role in the mayhem leading up to the beat-the-clock climax.

Fawcett Gold Medal was selling consumers a bit of swampland of their own by packaging “Backwoods Tramp” as a sexy seduce-the-swamp-girl paperback. What readers inevitably found was a menacing rural noir filled with violence, darkness and double-crosses. Or, in other words, top-notch Harry Whittington at his most twisted. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Fey Croaker: A Paperback Warrior Primer

Author Paul Bishop is a 35-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. Receiving “Detective of the Year” accolades twice, Bishop starred as the lead interrogator on the ABC reality show “Take the Money and Run” developed by marquee name producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Along with his 15 published works, Bishop also is the writer and editor of the essential reference work “52 Weeks 52 Western Novels – A Guide to Six-Gun Favorites and New Discoveries”.

With his commendable career in law enforcement, Bishop writes with conviction and authenticity. His experiences are easily conveyed in his artistry, evident in his five-book literary series starring LAPD Detective Fey Croaker. The first novel, “Kill Me Again”, was published by Avon Books in 1994. It introduces us to the seasoned Fey, a West LA detective and supervisor of the homicide unit. It was the top detective spot in the division and she's the first woman to hold the job.

Bishop explains, “I based Fey in part on two of my long term, very experienced, female detective partners. Walk into any LAPD detective squadroom and you'll find one or more versions of Fey. She's got some hard earned miles on her. She street savvy. She knows how to fight dirty, not just politically, but physically, and is more than willing to kick your ass if you take her on. She's forty with a string of bad marriages, bad choices, and bad boooze behind her. She expects and demands a lot of her people, but in return she is loyal to a fault and will fight like a tiger for them. Basically, she's about as far from a twenty-something, hard-bodied, high heel wearing, female TV detective as you can get”.

Just shy of 300-pages, “Kill Me Again” is a riveting mystery procedural that has plenty to unpack in terms of the central character. While Bishop expands the murder case, he slowly allows readers a more intimate view of this rather complex character. From her early career rise, tumultuous love-life and murky childhood, there's a lot to offer beyond a stand-alone story.

Bishop, detailing the character's beginnings, explains, “By the time I was ready to write Kill Me Again, I already had a handful of novels published. Two were connected, but the others were all stand-alones. Career wise, I felt I needed a series character strong enough to carry at least four books. In creating Fey Croaker, the protagonist of Kill Me Again, I plotted out a four book personal story arc for her. I knew exactly what position I wanted her to be in personally at the end of each of the first three books, forcing her to deal with everything that had come before in book four. Each of the four books would have a standalone plot, but there would be a through story dealing with Fey's abusive upbringing, which would come full circle and to resolution in book four”.

Beginning with “Kill Me Again”, Fey's relationship with her father is shown as a key role in her development as a detective, rising through the promotions after 16-years in the unit. As a sexually molested child, the novel provides brief passages explaining Fey's protection of her brother and her abuse from both her father and family friend. It's a prickly family tree, cultivated by sorrow and regret, and written with a grainy sense of realism.

“At the time, I was also working full throttle in my career with the LAPD. As a detective, I spent almost all my career, 30 out of 35 years, investigating sex crimes from indecent exposure to child molest to rape to sexual homicide and everything in between. I was always aware of how victims processed the assault emotionally. There were those whom it destroyed, and others who were never able to break the cycle of victimhood. But I was fascinated by those who flat refused to be defined by something beyond their control. They were determined not to just be survivors of sexual assault, but victors over it. They struggled and they fought and they failed and they picked themselves up again. I admired these incredible individuals, and this was what I wanted to exemplify through Fey Croaker”, explains Bishop.

“Fey is a high functioning detective, but a low functioning human. She is aware of this and ferociously fights those emotional forces that have threatened to cripple her since she was a child...As the omnipotent author, I was going to give her a chance at redemption if she could lead me there over four books.”

“Kill Me Again” received a sequel in “Twice Dead”, published in 1996 by Avon. Following the mystery-procedural formula, the novel centers around an NBA athlete charged with murder. Later, the book was later re-titled as “Grave Sins”. In 1997 the third novel, “Tequila Mockingbird” was published by Scribner in hardback and by Pocket Books in paperback. The same publishers produced the series' fourth entry, “Chalk Whispers,” in 2000. A 68-page novella was released in 2014 entitled “Pattern of Behavior", which was also included in Bishop's short story compilation of the same name. All of the books have been republished in digital formats, including Kindle, by Wolfpack Publishing.

Bishop concludes, “The greatest compliment I've received as an author is when either female law enforcement personnel or individuals who have been through the ringer of sexual assault approach me at a writing function, sometimes with tears in their eyes, and ask, 'How do you know this?' 'How do you know what it's like to be a woman on this job?' Or in the case of one woman, 'How do you understand what it feels like to be a child of the silence?' My answer is always the same, "Fey told me..."

Fey Croaker Purchase Checklist

1. "Kill Me Again" (1994 Avon)
2. "Twice Dead" (aka "Grave Sins" 1996 Avon) 
3. "Tequila Mockingbird" (1997 Scribner/Pocket Books)
4. "Chalk Whispers" (2000 Scribner/Pocket Books)
5. "Pattern of Behavior" (2014 Wolfpack)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Boomerang Blade

Before he wrote full novels in every conceivable genre, Norman Daniels was a prolific author of short stories for the pulp magazines. The March 1936 issue of “Secret Agent X Detective Mysteries” features a story by Daniels titled “Boomerang Blade” that was once available as a stand-alone eBook and currently exists within a Radio Archives audio reprint of the entire magazine.

“Boomerang Blade” is not a ‘Secret Agent X’ story but rather a hardboiled tale starring ex-boxer turned ex-cop turned taxicab driver, Jason McGee. After fixing a flat tire one night, McGee accepts a job driving home a drunk from a nightclub with a generous fare covered by a local underworld boss. After arriving at the requested destination, McGee learns that the drunk is actually a corpse with a chest wound. Before he can figure out what happened, McGee is forced to convince his former police colleagues that he’s not a murderer. When that fails, McGee gives the cops the slip and takes it upon himself to solve the murder and clear his name.

The 1930s tough-guy vernacular is a lot of fun to read 83 years later - like opening a suspenseful time capsule. The “murder suspect clearing his own name” plot is a trope that’s been done a thousand times, but for all I know, it was fresh and innovative in 1936. In any case, Daniels keeps the story moving and McGee is a great companion on the wild ride this short story provides. If you’re looking for a 15-page pulp diversion, “Boomerang Blade” is certainly worth your time. Recommended.

Buy a copy of Secret Agent X #24 March 1936 HERE

Friday, May 17, 2019

I See Red

Sterling Noel (1903-1984) was an American author and journalist whose 1950s body of work includes two respected novels, “I Killed Stalin” (1951) and “We Who Survived” (1959). His mystery and crime fiction entries included “Empire of Evil” (1961), “Prelude to Murder” (1959), “Intrigue in Paris” (1955, aka “Storm Over Paris”) and “Run for your Life” (1958). His literary work has been largely preserved thanks to modern reprints from both Armchair Fiction and Wildside Press. My first exposure to Noel's writing is the 1955 novel, “I See Red,” which was originally published as an Ace Double along with Dale Clark's “Mambo to Murder.”

Pete LaSalle is a former American spy who has retired to Fort Myers, Florida to try his hand in the shrimping business. In the book's opening pages, he receives a strange guest who claims to know about LaSalle's secretive past. The visitor wants LaSalle to assist a U.S. counter-espionage agency in locating a missing atomic scientist. LaSalle, comfortable in his retirement, immediately declines but eventually gets lured back into the intrigue for intensely personal reasons.

The author draws upon a reliable genre trope when LaSalle is falsely-accused of a murder relating to the assignment, considerably increasing the stakes for the mission’s success. The action heats up as LaSalle eventually partners with his beautiful ex-wife as the setting shifts to New York City and eventually Mexico in search of the missing scientist. The bulk of the book is extremely violent and hard-boiled as hell. Upon arriving in New York, LaSalle employs some brutish techniques - not for the squeamish - to get people talking. This leads to an exciting finale with twenty pages of pure action that produces an astounding body count...for 1955.

“I See Red” is an awesome work of mid-century action-adventure fiction. Interestingly, Ed Lacy's 1959 novel “Blonde Bait” shares a very similar opening premise. I also found that Dan J. Marlowe's 1969 book, “Operation Fireball,” emulates a lot of the book's second-half story-line wherein the hero recruits hardmen to boat down the east coast and liberate the prize from a Latin American compound. These plot devices later emulated by respected authors left me respecting Sterling Noel's innovative and influential work immensely, and any reader looking for an exciting paperback will find that “I See Red” definitely delivers the goods.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Soldier of Fortune #06 - Ambush at Derati Wells

The cover of “Ambush at Derati Wells” from 1977 credits Peter McCurtin as the author, but the novel was actually written by veteran action-adventure scribe Ralph Hayes. McCurtin was undoubtedly the editor for the entire “Soldier of Fortune” series although he only wrote the first three installments. Interestingly, in the British editions, the series was called “Jim Rainey: Death Dealer.”

The series is narrated by Jim Rainey who is an armed mercenary selling his combat services to the highest bidder in Earth’s most dangerous places. In this sixth episode, Rainey is in Kenya where he receives a tip from a dying man about an air shipment of valuable guns that recently crashed near Derati Wells, a remote location in Northern Kenya near the borders of Sudan and Ethiopia where “nobody seemed to die of old age.” Rainey figures that the weapons were being flown to an Ethiopian rebel group, and there’s money to be made in reaching the crash site first.

Hayes presents the wilds of Africa as being filled with deadly, thieving black people itching to rob and maim Rainey without provocation. On the other hand, Hayes certainly knows his way around violent fight scenes. In the first chapter, Rainey wastes a foul-smelling native attacker by plunging a screwdriver into the African’s ear during a frantic life-or-death fight. I enjoyed the hell out of the action sequences, but they’re not for the faint of heart, nor could a book like this with villainous caricatures of African bushmen ever be written and published today’s more genteel and sensitive times.

After a false start, Rainey returns to Nairobi where he learns of a rebel group seeking to overthrow the dastardly junta controlling Ethiopia. The rebels could sure use all those guns in the wrecked airplane, and they would be suitable buyers if Rainey can just get his hands on the cargo. However, the junta has also sent representatives to get the guns before the rebels do (hence, the ambush in the title). Also in their way is an African tribe who likes to take the testicles of intruders as trophies. Can Rainey lead his crew - including a sexy, hot-to-trot blonde - through the jungle to the crashed plane while keeping his nuts firmly attached?

If men’s action-adventure fiction of the 1970s is your jam, you’re going to love this book. It has everything you like - sex, violence, action, and politically-incorrect villains just itching to be killed. If you’re looking for realistic depictions of foreign cultures and War College combat tactics, this one’s not for you. Predictably, Ralph Hayes delivers the goods for readers interested in a paperback diversion to a simpler, and more violent, literary era. Recommended.

Buy this book HERE

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Butcher #01 - Kill Quick or Die

The 35-book series 'The Butcher' was conceived by the Don King of the paperbacks – Lyle Kenyon Engel. Like many of these 70s and 80s action-adventure yarns, a series of literary works about a hot-headed, globe-trotting gruff crime fighter was really par for the course. Based on the overwhelming success of Pinnacle's own 'The Executioner', Engel formed 'The Butcher' in 1970 as a Pinnacle property possessing a rotating author schedule under house name Stuart Jason. Aside from Lee Floren's contributions to books 10 and 11, James Dockery wrote the first 26 novels. Michael Avallone authored the last nine.

“Kill Quick or Die” is the series debut and provides the obligatory origin. Bucher has enforced Syndicates for a number of years, but has a change of heart and leaves the rackets. Joining a mysterious crime-fighting organization called White Hats, Bucher receives assignments to battle international crime rings. In doing so, he must contend with the Syndicate and the lucrative contracts they offer for his demise. 

Our introductory mission is tracking down a Chinese scientist named Dr. Fong who's invented some type of micro-transformer that holds a lot of energy. If the bad guys can gain access to it's power, they control Earth...somehow. None of it really makes any sense, but the reader tags along as Bucher fights the baddies in places like Atlanta, Cairo and Israel. 

Meeting a former lover named Tzsenya, the two team-up on a Middle Eastern conspiracy to pipeline wealthy terrorists into the US. Bucher aims to stop the pipeline, but wants to learn how the pipeline works. Putting Dr. Fong and the micro-transformer horseshit aside, Bucher finds a torture fiend named Lobertini who melts his prisoners in the bowels of an old castle. Thus Fong, Lobertini, escaping the hitmen and avoiding Tzsenya's lovemaking invites (Bucher doesn't mix pleasure and business) is the entire premise of the novel. 

Normally, this sort of thing we could file under 'Killmaster' and for the most part just have a lot of silly fun. Unfortunately, Dockery is underwhelming as a storyteller. His abstract writing style (read that as flaky) has more in common with Joseph Rosenberger, another author that I steer clear of. With “Kill Quick or Die”, and subsequent entires, Dockery uses pulp language to describe 70s action. Our hero routinely says things like “Shuck your heater” or jabs with “Son of camel filth” insults. Dockery describes shots like comic books – Koosh! 

Overall, the plotting is so convoluted that I stopped caring by page 100. It's a literary minefield of bad writing. “Kill Quick or Die” is simply bad fiction. Here's the pot calling the kettle black – why would anyone spend time reading bad fiction when there's hundreds of golden gems of the 50s, 60s and 70s left to explore? I weep for the time I've wasted on so-called genre classics like 'The Butcher'.  

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

She'll Hate Me Tomorrow

Richard Deming (1915-1983) was a crime fiction author born in Iowa who, as an adult in upstate New York, was one of the core contributors to “Manhunt” magazine and the early years of “Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.” In addition to over 300 published short stories and novelettes, he also wrote several full-length novels. His work is largely kept alive today through digital reprints of his short stories by Wildside Press and his novels by Prologue Books. “She’ll Hate Me Tomorrow” was a mid-career crime novel for Deming published by Monarch Books in 1963 that remains available today as an eBook.

Stella Parsons is a 23 year-old looker fresh out of secretarial school who lands a job with an attorney representing a Chicago crime boss. One day the mobster decides that the attorney, among others, knows too much about a recent murder and has the lawyer killed. It quickly becomes clear that Stella is also in danger for the unpardonable sin of having taken dictation from her boss detailing the client’s misdeeds.

With mob assassins on her tail, Stella takes off to the fictional Midwest city of St. Stephen where she lands a job as a coat check girl at an after-hours gambling joint. The proprietor is a gambler named Clancy Ross who’s been able to operate his joint free of influence from the local syndicate - thanks to an uneasy peace treaty with the local boss. When the Chicago mob sends a hit man to St. Stephen in search of Stella, Clancy needs to decide whether to protect his coat check girl or to serve her up.

Clancy the gambler is a fantastic, white knight hero for both Stella and the reader. He’s funny, self-deprecating, competent, and capable of extreme violence. I wanted to spend more time with him than the 143-page paperback allowed. Watching him solve problems with a direct and confrontational approach was a real pleasure, and I wish Deming could have figured out a way to bring him back for more adventures.

By the time the 1960s rolled around, Deming’s writing had improved markedly. He also seemed to have more latitude to be graphic in his sex scenes, which I appreciated. “She’ll Hate Me Tomorrow” is a lousy title, and I’m not really sure what it means in the context of the story. Regardless, this is a top-tier crime fiction paperback that’s absolutely worth reading. It’s also among Deming’s finest work. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 13, 2019

Traveler #05 - Road War

John Shirley is a dynamic author who is mostly known for his science-fiction, fantasy and media tie-in novels. His 1999 horror collection, “Black Butterflies”, won coveted Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild awards. As John Cutter, Shirley wrote the 11-volume vigilante series 'The Specialist' and eight volumes of the post-apocalyptic series 'Traveler'. Book five, “Road War”, was released in 1985 by Dell and could be the best that the 'Traveler' series' has to offer.

At the end of the fourth book, “To Kill a Shadow”, the series mythos of Traveler fighting Vallone/Black Rider reached its conclusion (for now). The novel's climax had Traveler meet another road warrior named Link and the two formed an uneasy alliance. The opening pages of “Road War” features the two survivors racing across the Nevada desert in the Meat Wagon (a fortified van). When they hit the dusty town of Dirt, the premise of this installment is unveiled.

In a wild and wooly bar aptly called The Fallout Shelter, an old deranged miner hops up on the bar and starts throwing out maps. The reason? He's growing senile, hates all of the bikers and gangs and wants to see all of them kill each other. The maps spark a treasure hunt for the old man's loot. With that much gold, Traveler and Link know they can buy a lot of supplies for their roaming. 

In what would be a visual feast on the big screen, Traveler and Link race across the desert fighting warring factions of Road Wasps (female biker psychos), Road Rats (male biker psychos), Glory Boys (fake military) and mutant cannibals. Our Travelers use the Meat Wagon (with The Stooges on full blast) as a battering ram, consistently running and gunning through waves of hostile forces on a quest to arrive at “X Marks the Spot”. From fighting off man eating villagers to a showdown in an old mining town, the book's locations are just as big as the characters. 

While a thrill-ride, easily pleasing fans of post-apocalyptic novels, “Road War” is reminiscent of the similar series 'The Last Ranger'. The first four Traveler novels lacked the characters, action and romance of 'The Last Ranger', but by book five it seems like Shirley has righted the ship. Gone is the metaphysical aspects that drowned the last book, replaced by high-powered barbarian road carnage that one would expect from the book's title. This is one of the better books of the post-apocalyptic genre. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Friday, May 10, 2019

Scratch a Thief

John Trinian (1933-2008) is the pseudonym of Zekial Marko who was born as Marvin Leroy Schmoker. And if you think that’s confusing, one day I’ll tell you the story of Salvatore Lombino. As an adult in San Francisco, Marko ran with the Beat Generation writers, including Jack Kerouac, but his own writing gravitated towards the type of genre fiction that Paperback Warrior readers will find quite familiar. This includes his 1961 novel, “Scratch a Thief,” which was later adapted into the 1965 film “Once a Thief” featuring Ann Margaret and Jack Palance.

Eddie Pesek is a Hungarian-American in San Francisco trying to make ends meet working low-level jobs to support his wife and daughter at home. The problem is that Eddie has a past. Years ago, he was part of a heist crew along with his brother and a few other hardcases when a job went sideways, and Eddie shot a cop in the belly. This resulted in Eddie’s arrest and incarceration for a few years before he was granted parole. In any case, Eddie is now living a crime-free life as a legit citizen.

Eddie might be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with Eddie. His brother resurfaces in his life wanting him to come aboard for one big score. Meanwhile, Eddie is being harassed by the cop he shot years ago which makes it hard to hold a steady job. Will Eddie succumb to the familial and financial pressures and rejoin his brother’s heist crew? Can he shake the obsessed cop always looking over his shoulder?

“Scratch a Thief” is a better-than-average heist novel. It’s well-written and Eddie’s dilemmas seem real and consequential. However, if you’ve read more than a couple novels in the same genre (“The retired thief back for one last score!”), there won’t be many surprises in this one. I enjoyed it plenty as I was reading, but I can’t imagine recalling much about it in the future. Richard Stark, Dan Marlowe, and Lionel White all did basically the same thing with more style, but if you’ve burned through those authors, this Trinian paperback would be the next tier.

“Scratch a Thief” has been reprinted by Stark House as a double along with Trinian’s “House of Evil” about a Hollywood sex cult, which looks like a pretty good read as well, if you’re into Hollywood, sex, and cults. The new edition also features a lengthy introduction by Ki Longfellow who knew the author well. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 9, 2019

M.I.A. Hunter #07 - Saigon Slaughter

Stephen Mertz and Joe R. Lansdale collaborated once again on this seventh entry in the 'M.I.A. Hunter' series. Released by Jove in 1987, “Saigon Slaughter' is the first of the series to feature a new moniker, 'Stone: M.I.A. Hunter'. Coincidentally, this book features a prelude to what will ultimately dominate the second half of the series. 

Protagonist Mark Stone has spent his post-war life rescuing M.I.A./P.O.W.s from southeast Asia. The mission for “Saigon Slaughter” remains the same, rescuing three American soldiers from a Saigon prison. Vietnam, refusing to admit they still have prisoners, has agreed to an international summit with U.S. Senator Harler in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Stone hopes to free the three prisoners and present them to the summit. 

The series revelation is around page 43 as Mark Stone self-reflects on the missions and his foreseeable future. He realizes that the intel regarding missing prisoners of war has dwindled, and that everyone from the KGB, CIA and FBI has included him on the hot sheets of most wanted. The rescue of American prisoners in Vietnam and Laos had become a fool's errand. Knowing this, Stone, guided by creator Stephen Mertz, will eventually move his team into a mercenary role starting with the next novel, “Escape from Nicaragua”. 

“Saigon Slaughter” features all of the action-oriented intensity of the prior novels. While never really understanding the ratio of Mertz and the rotating co-authors, this book seems to focus a lot of attention on Hog Wiley. It features the typical humorous banter between Wiley and Loughlin while they support Stone's penetration into Saigon. The three align with a network of resistance fighters including Asian beauty Mai. 

The book's entrance and eventual escape from the prison features all of the firefights we've come to expect. Enhancing the action is some fierce underground tunnel action as well as a clever ruse to lure an evil general into purchasing Mai as a prostitute. With backing support of Stone, Mai is able to gain key intel on where the prisoners are being held. Experienced readers know the liberation will occur, but how Stone's trio breaks in is always the greatest pleasure. 

This was the third and final contribution from Lansdale. Overall, another exciting Stone adventure that will please genre fans.

Note - There is another "Saigon Slaughter" featured in the 'Black Eagles' series. It was released in November, 1984 by Zebra. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Wild Wives

Charles Willeford (1919-1988) was a heroic and decorated U.S. Army veteran who served in World War 2, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He continued with his military career after the war, and began writing in his free time while still enlisted. “Wild Wives” was released in 1956 and was his third published novel - originally packaged by Beacon Books as a double along with his 1953 debut, “High Priest of California.” Over the past 63 years, “Wild Wives” has been reprinted several times and is available today as a one-dollar eBook.

The short novel is a narrated by a low-rent San Francisco private eye named Jake Blake. His new client is Florence Weintraub, the voluptuous and promiscuous daughter of a prominent local architect. Daddy has hired a couple of goons to tail Florence and ensure she stays out of trouble. She hires Jake to help her shake the surveillance for a couple hours of unsupervised living. The prospect of a $25 daily fee is a payday too tasty for Jake to decline, so he accepts the gig.

While working the assignment, things abruptly shift gears from a remarkably-good private eye novel to a simply-amazing femme fatale noir story. If you read enough of these books, you learn the basic formula, but I never knew where this sexually-graphic story of action and violence was headed. In fact, I’m trying to remember the last crime novel I’ve read that was this awesome.

I recall reading “High Priest of California” years ago, and I’m comfortable saying that “Wild Wives” is a superior novel in every way. Willeford’s writing is excellent and it’s clear he was having a lot of fun with the tropes of the hardboiled detective genre (“She clung to me like jello in a molding tin.”). It’s difficult for me to recommend this short paperback with more enthusiasm than I already have. I wish I had enough dollars to buy the eBook for all Paperback Warrior readers and assign this to you as mandatory reading. For the love of all things holy, drop what you’re doing and read this novel. Highest recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Executioner #70 - Ice Cold Kill

British author Peter Leslie (1922-2007) was a talented writer who penned a number of various literary works in his lifespan. Writing five novels in the popular television tie-in series Man from U.N.C.L.E., Leslie also penned a three book trilogy, Father Hayes, about a Catholic priest battling demonic forces. Along with a trilogy of Chicago gangster novels, Bruno Farrell (as Ed Mazzaro), action fans might remember Leslie best as a heavy contributor to the The Executioner series. Beginning with Ice Cold Kill (1984), Leslie went on to write seven The Executioner titles as well as five giant size Mack Bolan entries. 

Ice Cold Kill offers an interesting assignment for Bolan. The Grand Duchess Rytova, an exile from Czarist Russia, asks Bolan to penetrate the Soviet Union and rescue an esteemed scientist. The scientist, Korsun, has created a complex computer that makes deductions that mirror the human brain. In effect, it can make inspired guesses bases on a infinite number of unrelated data. In reality, none of this really matters. We want to see Bolan kill bad guys.

The interesting aspect to the assignment is that Korsun's identity hasn't been fully established. All Rytova and Bolan know is that Korsun wants to defect from the Soviet Union to China, expecting to serve the cause of communism better. Bolan must escort her out of the country but also persuade her to defect to the west. Bolan's persuasion isn't typically in verbal debate. This mission adds a deeper depth to the typical run 'n gun. 

Leslie provides a ton of fireworks through this 180-page advenute. From breaking into the Soviet Union, meeting Korsun (which turns out to be a surprise for the reader) and escaping, there is plenty of action sequences to please genre fans. Aside from the normal episodic delivery, Ice Cold Kill is much better than average and a firm entry in this long-running endeavor.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Scarred Man

By the time the 1970s rolled around, the quality of output from the Fawcett Gold Medal paperback imprint had decreased noticeably. The publisher that practically invented the paperback original was getting its clock cleaned by upstart violent adventure houses like Pinnacle Books anchored by series titles including ‘The Executioner’ by Don Pendleton. Fawcett Gold Medal needed to change with the times or disappear into obscurity.

Enter Basil Heatter.

During this life, Heater wrote 20 suspense and adventure novels - many with maritime themes, including the successful “Virgin Cay” for Fawcett Gold Medal in 1963. However, a decade later when the demands of the market called for bloody paperback vengeance, Heatter delivered his publisher “The Scarred Man.” It’s a violent and shocking revenge story about a mild-mannered attorney forced to hunt and kill the motorcycle punks who raped his wife, and it’s a successful entry in the vengeance genre.

William Shaw is a Manhattan corporate lawyer who is given some vacation time after a client prevails in a $40 million dispute. William and his wife head down to Florida, purchase an old wooden boat, and begin the repairs needed to sail to the Bahamas together. Through William’s first-person narration, Heatter does a great job conveying to the reader just how much William loves Stacey. She is everything to him.

One day they take a break from sanding, patching, and painting their boat and rent a Honda motorcycle to cruise through the Everglades of South Florida. William is in heaven riding with Stacey behind him, her arms wrapped around his torso. Out of nowhere, they are forced off the road by three motorcycle punks looking for kicks as they beat William’s body and face with a chain. As he’s fading into unconsciousness, William sees the naked ass of a leather-clad ruffian lowering himself onto Stacey while she is being restrained by the other thugs.

William awakens in the hospital (this is still the very beginning of the paperback) to find his face has been mutilated from the attack. He’ll be left with a nasty scar that will also provide the basis for the novel’s title. Stacey has also survived the attack - sedated and severely traumatized from the sexual assault. Unfortunately, neither William nor Stacey recall enough descriptive details to be useful to the police in identifying the attackers. It’s just another unsolved violent crime for the books.

Because this is a 1973 men’s adventure paperback written in the wake of “Death Wish”’ and “The Executioner,” it comes as no surprise to the reader that William decides to hunt and kill the barbarians on bikes who scarred his face and shattered his bride. William’s plan for infiltrating the biker gang subculture is pretty clever, and I won’t spoil it here. The bulk of the novel consists of the investigative steps undertaken by William to locate and get close to his wife’s assailants. As you might expect, neither motorcycle nor hippie youth culture get a particularly fair shake in the story, but this is a vendetta paperback, not a sociology textbook. You get what you pay for, and there’s no shortage of scenes featuring explosive violence.

I have no idea if “The Scarred Man” was a commercial success for Fawcett Gold Medal. I suspect that if it sold well, we would have seen “Scarred Man 2: Mississippi Mayhem”, but no such sequel exists. The stand-alone novel is better written than most entries in the 1970s vigilante genre and, at moments, packs a real adrenaline punch for the reader. Some of the dialogue with bikers and hippies was a bit cartoonish and stereotypical, but that’s par for the course in this genre. Because the novel is out-of-print, you’ll need to find yourself a copy on the used paperback market where it remains available at fairly reasonable prices. If violent revenge fantasies are your thing, “The Scarred Man” is certainly satisfying reading. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, May 3, 2019

A Trap for Sam Dodge

The king of the paperbacks, Harry Whittington, released “A Trap for Sam Dodge” as part of an ACE double in 1961. It was packaged with Lee Floren's “High Thunder”, but the book was later reprinted by ACE with Whittington's “Valley of Savage Men”. It's another rock-solid western entry from a master of the genre. 

The book begins as Sam Dodge returns to the small town of Bent River. Dodge had originally ran for sheriff in the town, opposing his friend Miles Ringo. Ringo eventually won the election and Dodge left town. Now, Dodge has returned for Ringo's funeral, and to find some answers to his mysterious murder. 

Dodge learns that Ringo was shot in the chest by an unknown assailant behind the horse corral. Dodge feels that Ringo was smart and deadly fast with a gun. No one could have shot Ringo face to face. There has to be more to the murder than what Marshall Sid Kane explains. Heaping even more intrigue onto the crime is the fact that Kane is now dating Ringo's widow Mae. So soon? Dodge feels that Kane, Judge Wilkes and land baron Kurt Duvall all had a hand in Ringo's murder. 

Whittington spins this western entry into the proverbial “whodunit” and why. While there's a great deal of crime mystery in the presentation, the author still injects a surprising amount of action into the narrative. While Dodge discovers the truth, he's forced to outgun Duvall's hired hands while also protecting two Mexican farmer's from Duvall's aggressive land grab. 

While firmly entrenched in the “land baron bullies the town” formula, Whittington adds enough surprising elements to make this a delight to read. It's short, fast-paced, engaging and ultimately a one-sit read. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Brock Callahan #02 - Day of the Ram

Between 1955 and 1992, William Campbell Gault authored 14 novels starring Hollywood private investigator - and former L.A. Rams guard - Brock Callahan. I’m told the books stand-alone well enough, so I’m starting the series with the 1956 second installment, “Day of the Ram,” a hardboiled mystery that brings Callahan back into the world of NFL football.

It’s pre-season for the L.A. Rams who just beat George Hallas’ Chicago Bears in an exhibition game thanks to the leadership of rookie quarterback, Johnny Quirk. Brock knows a thing or two about pro-football and believes that it’s entirely possible that Quirk could be one of the immortals of the game. As such, he’s surprised when Quirk shows up at his office seeking to engage Brock’s investigative services. Quirk has received a vague but threatening letter that may have been from an underworld sports gambler seeking to manipulate his performance on the field, and he wants Brock to get to the bottom of the situation.

Brock loops the police into his investigation and is relegated to nighttime protection detail of the football prodigy. When the stakes increase with a murder, Brock begins investigating in tandem with the police causing the working relationship to become strained, and the story becomes a rather commonplace private eye mystery with clues, suspects, red herrings, and tough-guy stuff.

I can’t imagine anyone enjoying this book if they don’t have an interest in NFL football. If that’s your bag, the inside information presented to the reader about nuances of the game and players’ lives will be a fascinating window dressing for a pretty straightforward, by-the-numbers mystery story. Of particular interest is the league’s determined efforts to keep the sport free of underworld gambling influence, so it doesn’t wind up like boxing.

Brock is a likable character - tough but self-deprecating and fiercely loyal to his new girlfriend, Jan, who plays a recurring and evolving role in Brock’s life over the entire series of paperbacks. Overall, there’s nothing really to dislike about “Day of the Ram” - particularly for fans of private eye mysteries and the NFL. Recommended.


Here is the series order for the Brock Callahan books:

1. Ring Around the Rosa (1955, also titled: Murder in the Raw)

2. Day of the Ram (1956)

3. The Convertible Hearse (1957)

4. Come Die With Me (1959)

5. Vein of Violence (1961)

6. County Kill (1962)

7. Dead Hero (1963)

8. The Bad Samaritan (1982)

9. The Cana Diversion (1982; crossover with the author’s other series character, Joe Puma)

10. Death in Donegal Bay (1984)

11. The Dead Seed (1985)

12. The Chicano War (1986)

13. Cat and Mouse (1988)

14. Dead Pigeon (1992)

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Dead Low Tide

“Dead Low Tide” was John D. MacDonald’s sixth published novel. The 1953 Fawcett Gold Medal release is a tasty bit of Florida noir that predates his iconic Travis McGee series by over a decade and remains a fresh and exciting crime thriller 66 years later. The book is still in print currently with a loving introduction by Dean R. Koontz.

The narrator of “Dead Low Tide” is the extremely likable Andy McClintock, an over-qualified clerk with a business degree from Syracuse working for a Florida gulf-coast home-builder named John Long. One night, Andy is visited by his boss’ wife at home. Mrs. Long is concerned that her husband has recently been behaving strangely and asks Andy to snoop around and determine what’s happening. Andy is taken aback by both the visit but reluctantly gets roped into helping her.

The paperback’s back-cover synopsis reveals that Mr. Long is murdered with Andy as the primary suspect. Of course, it falls upon Andy to solve the crime and save his own hide. It’s a setup you’ve read before, and the author’s execution of the basic murder mystery format is predictably solid. The appeal of this vintage paperback is that MacDonald’s writing is top-notch, and the reader really gets to know and love Andy through the first-person narration. MacDonald touches on many of the themes he explores decades later in the Travis McGee books - most notably the ins-and-outs of real estate development on Florida’s coasts. Moreover, he makes it interesting, and you walk away knowing a thing or two you didn’t know before.

MacDonald creates a vivid supporting cast particularly in the form of Andy’s buxom neighbor with whom he used to sleep before they decided to just be friends and confidantes. The hapless police chief, the intrepid local reporter, and the clever town attorney are also examples of superior characterization in this thin, fast-moving novel.

I’ve been working my way through MacDonald’s stand-alone novels and the quality varies wildly. “Dead Low Tide”’ is a definite winner in the bunch - perhaps the best I’ve read thus far. The central mystery is compelling but not groundbreaking. However, the writing is so good that you won’t want it to end. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE