Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Cash Madigan #01 - The Buried Motive

Bruce Cassiday was one of those authors who transitioned nicely from the pulp magazines to paperback original novels in the 1950s. He wrote a few Flash Gordon books in the 1970s and a host of other genre novels under an army of pseudonyms. He also wrote a biographies of Dinah Shore and Betty Ford, if that’s your bag. For awhile, he served as the fiction editor for Argosy Magazine and the brains behind many of their “book bonus” features.

Cassiday also authored two crime novels in the “Cash Madigan” series (if two books can even be called a series) - both released in 1957. One was half of an Ace Double titled “The Buried Motive” and the other was “While Murder Waits,” published by Graphic Books. The intended series order probably doesn’t matter, so I am hereby declaring “The Buried Motive” as Cash Madigan #1.

Cash is a Manhattan “bonding investigator,” a career that surprisingly doesn’t require a leather vest or a ball gag. Instead, he investigates employee embezzlements for a big company that insures employers against such losses. Cash’s job is to chase down the embezzler and recover enough stolen money to make his employer whole after the claim is paid. He’s basically a collection agent for an insurance company.

“The Buried Motive” assignment brings him to the small farming town of Gotham, Missouri to meet with an informant. The stool pigeon has info to provide Cash regarding the whereabouts of an embezzler who disappeared with $200,000 in payroll funds from a New York manufacturing company insured by Cash’s employer.

Upon Cash’s arrival in town, he reports to the trailer of his informant only to find that someone has butchered him with a carving knife. Although the logical suspect is the missing embezzler, Cash is quickly arrested for the stoolie’s murder. A baloney alibi from the town cutie springs him from police custody, but Cash remains in town to solve the murder, find the embezzler, and recover the missing dough.

Cash is a stereotypical wisecracking, tough-guy private eye in the mold of Shell Scott or Mike Hammer. The first-person narration is easy to read and follow, and Cassiday’s plotting is solid, if unremarkable. The mystery was pretty basic and nothing you haven’t read before. There’s murder and blackmail and deceit and missing money and if you haven’t read a warehouse of private eye paperbacks already, “The Buried Motive” will seem fresh and interesting. However, if you read a lot of these types of books, you’ll probably find this one to be just an average outing.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Man From W.A.R. Inc. #01 - Mission: Third Force

California author Michael Kurland is one of those guys who has published novels in several different genres. He wrote a successful series of mystery novels in the Sherlock Holmes universe starring Professor Moriarty. He also has a sizable back catalog of science fiction and alternative history titles spanning 1964 to 1990. Of greater interest to Paperback Warrior is his “The Man from W.A.R. Inc.” action series that lasted three installments from 1967 to 1969.

W.A.R. Inc. is Weapons, Analysis, and Research Incorporated, a for-profit American company that provides training and logistical support around the world to clients (mostly small nations) desiring greater stability. The hero of the series is W.A.R. Inc. employee Peter Carthage, who uses the skills he honed in U.S. Army Intelligence to fight evil for profit. “Mission: Third Force” from 1967 is the first Carthage novel in the trilogy.

The campus of W.A.R. Inc. contains a giant underground fortress beneath New Jersey farmland for drills and experimentation. The corporate lair is unimaginably high-tech...for 1967. The unintentionally hilarious descriptions of the equipment includes space age technology including “digital tape recorders” storing mountains of data. The “modem mercenaries” of W.A.R. Inc. are primarily research and development types as
well as consultants - not unlike the cadre of “Beltway Bandit” defense contractors we have today. The weapons developed in the company’s “dirty tricks” department are cool as hell and seem to be borrowing a page from the James Bond films.

Peter Carthage is one of three people in the firm with the title of “Expediter.” In this first adventure, he is sent to the fictional Southeast Asian kingdom of “Bonterre,” formerly a French colony in Indochina. The author basically took the colonial history of Vietnam and superimposed it over a Thai-style constitutional monarchy to conjure up Bonterre. Anyway, the country is experiencing instability caused by guerrilla insurgents from the kingdom’s northern province as well as the shadowy influence of a right-wing “Third Force” also seeking to topple the current government from within.

The Bonterre ambassador wants Carthage to train his armed forces in combat and intelligence to be used against the guerrillas while establishing a link between the insurgents and the traitorous Third Force. Carthage puts together a multi-disciplinary team of colorful fellow employees for the training engagement and spearheads the investigation into the Third Force himself.

The result is a ton of fun to read. Carthage is basically Sherlock Holmes in a third-world guerrilla warfare environment. He uses clues and deduction to unearth Third Force operatives among Bonterre’s military and government class. And when the time comes to kick-ass, he and his crew justify their hourly billing rate. It’s also a hilarious book, but not in the cartoonish way of the fake spy novels of the late 1960s. Instead, the author peppers the dialogue with clever wisecracks and sarcastic remarks from Carthage and his crew causing me to laugh out loud more than once. The novel also has a good sex scene but nothing particularly graphic.

Kurland’s writing and plotting is exceptionally well-done - although the climactic ending felt a little rushed. The story moves forward with vivid characters and no dull moments. I’m frankly surprised this series wasn’t a greater commercial success justifying more than three installments. In any case, I’m overjoyed to have acquired all three books in the series. Snapping up these paperbacks should be a no-brainer for any vintage adventure fiction fan. Highly recommended.

This book was discussed on the fourth episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast: Link

Monday, July 29, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 4

The newest episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast is out now! In Episode 4, we discuss the brand new Stark House “Manhunt” magazine compilation. Also, we check out the “Man from U.N.C.L.E” influence on spy fiction and offer two new reviews. We close out the month of July with our top three book picks of the month. Don't miss it! Follow the show on any streaming service as well as below:

Listen to "Episode 04: It’s a Manhunt!" on Spreaker.

The Best of Manhunt

Running from 1952 to 1967, “Manhunt Magazine” was the premier American journal for hardboiled crime short fiction. The publication was originally conceived as a showcase for the literary aesthetic popularized by the work of Mickey Spillane and succeeded in finding a market for the finest crime fiction authors of the 20th century.

The Best of Manhunt” is a 2019 anthology from Stark House Press containing 384 pages of stories from - and essays about - the legendary “Manhunt Magazine.” The non-fiction pieces were written by Lawrence Block, Jeff Vorzimmer, Scott & Sidney Meredith, and Barry Malzberg. More importantly, the anthology reprints 39 short stories from a who’s-who of mid-20th century crime fiction.

Reviewing 39 short-stories in one article wouldn’t be satisfying for the reader or reviewer, so allow me to provide some perspective on a sampling of the short works by authors we regularly cover here at Paperback Warrior.

“Mugger Murder” by Richard Deming

“Mugger Murder” is the first of two Richard Deming short stories included in “The Best of Manhunt” (the other is the fantastic “Hit and Run”). It originally appeared in the magazine’s April 1953 issue, and is narrated by police reporter named Sam. It’s a tidy little story about a coroner’s inquest surrounding a murder in an alley that may or may not have been committed in self-defense during a mugging. I think the story would’ve made a great first chapter to a novel, but it stands well enough on its own. Fans of Mack Bolan and vigilante fiction will really appreciate this one. Deming is an unsung master of crime fiction, and this story is a bite-size taste of his talent.

The Scrapbook by Jonathan Craig (Frank E. Smith

Jonathan Craig was a pseudonym used by Florida author Frank E. Smith. He wrote both noir and police procedural crime fiction with a sizable catalog of both short stories and full novels. “The Scrapbook” is from Manhunt’s September 1953 issue, and it’s the most dark and sinister story I’ve read by the author. Old Charlie has been working in a warehouse for years hauling boxes. He’s got his eye on Lois, a sweet young tease working at the same business. He thinks she’d be a nice addition to the scrapbook of women hidden in his home - all of whom are victims of sex killings coinciding with Charlie’s annual vacations. That’s all I’ll tell you here, but this is one of those stories that puts you smack dab into the mind of a real psycho, and it’s not a tale you won’t forget anytime soon.


Night of Crisis by Harry Whittington

While many of Harry Whittington’s novels remain in print, his short story output is awfully hard to find these days. For this reason, it’s a real treat to see this short story from October 1956 made the cut. “Night of Crisis” is about a guy named Jim who witnessed a tavern robbery that evolved into a homicide. The cops are grilling Jim rather hard for a guy who claims to be an innocent bystander to the crime. Upon arriving home, Jim’s wife and baby are missing. Could these things be related? This is one of the longer stories in the paperback, and it’s pretty suspenseful, not bad. However, it’s not one of the stronger stories in the anthology nor is it up to Whittington’s high standards.

Frozen Stiff by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block wrote the Forward to the Stark House anthology reminiscing about his experiences with Manhunt when he was a young and struggling writer. The editors also included a clever short story from the future mystery Grandmaster called “Frozen Stiff” from June 1962. It’s a diabolical little story about a butcher who wishes to attempt suicide by locking himself in the walk-in freezer following his terminal cancer diagnosis. He wants his devoted wife to enjoy the life insurance proceeds without being crippled by medical bills. Of course, ending one’s life in that manner is easier said than done. As expected, this is a great little story and a perfect way to kill 15 minutes.

Conclusion

I’ve only dipped my toe into the water of this anthology, but I can already assess that this may be the greatest short story compilation I’ve ever owned. It’s certainly the one most in keeping with Paperback Warrior’s fiction obsession. The stories are brutal and filled with final-page twists - or in other words: essential reading. Highest recommendation.

Fun Fact Postscript:

Stark House’s “The Best of Manhunt” (2019) isn’t the first Manhunt anthology. In 1958, Permabooks released a paperback called “The Best From Manhunt” edited by Scott and Sidney Meredith. Don’t waste your money on the vintage paperback (like I did) because all 13 stories and the introduction are included in the new Stark House compilation - along with 26 additional tales. Another reason to buy the new one: So they’ll release a Volume Two...

This book was discussed on the fourth episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast: Link

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Specialists

“The Specialists” was a 1969 action-suspense paperback by Lawrence Block that was originally released by the Fawcett Gold Medal imprint and has been reprinted several times over the past 50 years, available today as a $5 eBook. The novel was written by Block as the first in a series, but the author never wrote a second book with the characters leaving the novel as a stand-alone footnote to a storied career as a mystery grand-master.

Fans of team-based men’s adventure series titles (The A-Team, Able Team, Phoenix Force) will feel right at home with “The Specialists.” They are a group of Vietnam vets using their special forces and infiltration skills against organized criminals on the streets of America. They steal bad money from bad men and use the funds to finance their operations and private lives. When an opportunity arises, they receive a telegram from their leader, paraplegic Colonel Roger Cross, and the five ex-soldiers under his civilian command report for duty ready to kick some ass and make some cash.

In the book’s opening chapters, we meet the members of the team going about their separate lives as they begin receiving telegrams telling them to drop everything and report for duty (“Avengers assemble!”). To society, they are a rare stamp dealer, an encyclopedia salesman, a travel agent, a short-haul mover, and a professional gambler. This time around their target is a slimy mobster who owns banks he regularly robs to collect the insurance proceeds. The banks also serve as a money laundering vehicle for juice loans and other ill-gotten gains. He’s the kind of villain who receives oral sex from a paid hooker while keeping a pistol pressed up against her head - just for kicks.

The plan to defang the racketeer banker and take his money was audacious and complex - probably more so than was necessary but always in service of the plot and page count. Block’s writing is serviceable but not the top of his game, but the characters he created in this one are enjoyable enough to keep the pages flying by. The adventure’s conclusion was typical of the genre, and the ride along the way made for a fun trip.

Block never wrote a second book in the series, but it seems that everybody and his brother explored the same idea over the subsequent decade. If you set aside your normal high expectations for a Lawrence Block novel and walk into “The Specialists” looking for a slightly smarter version of The A-Team, you’ll probably walk away satisfied. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Decoy #01 - The Great Pretender

In 1974, Signet debuted a short-lived series entitled 'Decoy.’ The concept was in the vein of 'Death Dealer' and offered a hero who would don disguises for the government to foil criminals. The debut novel, “The Great Pretender,” was a commercial failure and Signet would cancel the series after the second entry, “Moon Over Miami.” Series author Jim Deane never made a large footprint in the men's action-adventure genre. Other than Decoy, the only other known work is the 1972 sex-book “The Mistress Book,” later re-titled as “The Fine Art of Picking Up Girls.” Classy guy.

Series protagonist Nick Merlotti is a high-profile criminal known to the public as The Great Pretender or the Clown Prince of Crime. Specializing in theft, Merlotti's most acclaimed work was stealing a priceless museum painting and inserting his own photo in its place. Eventually he was captured and prosecuted, but Merlotti's talents led to prison escapes, only to be re-captured again.

In the opening chapter of “The Great Pretender,” Merlotti is approached by the feds and asked to infiltrate mobster Gianfreddo's circle. In an effort to locate the police officers who are tipping off the mafia, Merlotti's skill-set is apparently in demand. With absolutely no backstory on Merlotti, the author lazily explains that our hero has a computer brain allowing him to quickly quell and escape conflicts, decipher the most complex problems and perform a heroic display of self-defense tactics. There's no mentioning  of Merlotti's past until page 134 of 166 – he's a former U.S. Marine. Partnering with Merlotti is a “gadget whiz” named Waves who will assist in recording and monitoring the mission.

The second chapter has Merlotti surrounded by mounds of titties on a New York beach. Picking Jane at random, the two flirtingly swim before heading to Merlotti's temporary residence to bone six times before dinner and once more afterwards. His sexual prowess is extraordinary, leading Merlotti to “ball” Jane repeatedly, as well as another babe named Faye. None of this is particularly interesting.

In a one of the most incomprehensible strategies you'll find in a men's action-adventure, Merlotti hatches a plan to intercept a yacht filled with heroin intended for Gianfreddo. By stealing the heroin, he'll then go to Gianfreddo and explain he didn't know it was intended for the mob kingpin and then give it back to him to earn respect and trust. To do this, he plans on just borrowing a U.S. Coast Guard cutter and a machine gun. There's absolutely no mention of how he manages to steal a government boat or where he obtains a machine gun (there's not even a mention of what kind of firearm it is). The next chapter just has Merlotti on the Coast Guard boat with a machine gun. The plan works out perfectly and Merlotti easily intercepts and steals the boatload of heroin, which is revealed to be a load of sugar.

Meeting with Gianfreddo, Merlotti explains that he stole the shipment of heroin for the feds in an effort to infiltrate Gianfreddo's empire. In a reversal of the mission, Merlotti explains that he now knows Gianfreddo knew about his plan all along and lured him in with the sugar (huh!?!). Now, Merlotti offers to work for Gianfreddo to reveal the informants that the feds have planted to spy on Gianfreddo's operation. This is baffling – if the feds already had informants within Gianfreddo's ranks, why did they even need Merlotti? Regardless, Gianfreddo accepts Merlotti's offer. Only Merlotti then goes back to the feds and explains that he has told Gianfreddo of the plan and that he will use this as his advantage to find the police leak. This narrative is both confusing and moronic at the same time - no small feat.

The focus of the book's last 100-pages is simply Merlotti interviewing various cops to discern who's being bribed by Gianfreddo. In a shocking sequence of events, Merlotti decides the best course of action is to dress the part of a city social worker, visit every cop's residence and perform a sex survey with their spouses. By asking detailed questions like how many times they perform oral sex, favorite positions and what bedroom fetishes they desire, Merlotti will be able to quickly inspect the homes to determine who has lavish décor, because surely if they have expensive draperies, they are on the take. Wow!

Jim Deane's short-lived literary career is completely explained by the piss-poor storytelling in “The Great Pretender.” In fact, I would speculate the book's title was a recycled adjective that the author had received by publishers when submitting drafts. This novel makes very little sense due to it's overly complicated plot-development. Further, there are entire dialogue scenes where quotes with characters are mistakenly inserted into scenes where the character isn't even in the room or a part of the scene. At one point Merlotti speaks to Faye in a restaurant but she's not even in the building! Instead, he's talking with mobsters while Faye is at her place. Did Signet edit this or just publish a shitty first draft, sight unseen?

“The Great Pretender” is hereby inducted into Paperback Warrior's Hall of Shame. The only positive aspect is the phenomenal cover art, which may have been created by Jack Faragasso, a popular paperback artist who worked for Pinnacle, Lancer, Signet and Belmont among others. Based on the overwhelming failures of this novel, there is zero chance I'll ever read the sequel. You shouldn't either.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Parker #08 - The Handle (aka Run Lethal)

The 8th entry in Donald Westlake’s series about a professional thief named Parker (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark) is ‘The Handle’ from 1966. The book was also released under the title “Run Lethal.” For those of you who don’t moonlight with a heist crew, a “handle” is slang for the suitcase of proceeds from a successful robbery - usually cash, sometimes jewels. By this point of the series. Westlake really hits his stride and takes some creative leaps forward in developing the violent world of Parker into a universe unto itself.

This time around the target location is a casino on a small island in the Gulf of Mexico. The island is ostensibly Cuban territory, but that’s more of a legal nicety than a police concern. For all practical purposes, the island and it’s casino are the domain of Wolfgang Baron, a German who has been in exile since picking the wrong side during WW2. Baron is a king on his island - making a mint without oversight from any government or the mob.

Predictably, The Outfit isn’t too pleased with Baron’s lack of a financial tribute. A mafia leader friendly with Parker presents our anti-hero with an opportunity: destroy Baron’s entire operation and keep the money (“The Handle”) as compensation for his efforts. Parker accepts the deal and gets busy amassing the right crew for the job, including stage actor, Alan Grofield, who returns to the series following his debut in Parker #5: “The Score.” Grofield is my favorite side character in the Parkerverse, and I suspect that he was Westlake’s favorite as well. In the intertwined Richard Stark chronology, Grofield stars in four spin-off books of his own beginning with “The Damsel,” which takes place immediately after “The Handle.”

Some pesky FBI agents with their own agenda begin nosing around the heist planning in Galveston, Texas. Watching Parker and the crew run circles around the feds made for some fun reading, and the heist itself was among the most explosive action sequences in the series thus far. Overall, “The Handle” is an excellent entry that fans will definitely enjoy reading. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Super Cop Joe Blaze #01 - The Big Payoff

'Super Cop Joe Blaze' was a short-lived, three volume series of novels released in 1974 by Belmont Tower. The overwhelming success of 1971's “Dirty Harry” film influenced publishers to place strong-arm police heroes at the forefront of a literary movement. The first Joe Blaze novel, “The Big Payoff”, is written under a house name of Robert Novak. However, there is compelling evidence that points to Nelson Demille as the real author.

Demille's similar series, 'Ryker', released it's first two volumes the same year. Ryker's debut, “The Sniper”, erroneously places “Blaze” in place of “Ryker” within portions of the text. I'm imagining Demille wrote the second Joe Blaze volume as well, “The Concrete Cage”, before the publisher handed the title to Len Levinson ('The Rat Bastards') to conclude the series with third entry “The Thrill Killers.” Honestly, none of this is terribly important as Joe Blaze is introduced to readers as just another strong cop in New York City with no backstory. It's a rather apathetic method of creating a new series for readers, but it doesn't necessarily detract from a good story.

Sergeant Joe Blaze and his partner Nuthall arrive at the scene of a gruesome call girl murder. In typical procedural formula, Blaze interviews witnesses and reports his findings to Captain Coogan. While working the case, another call girl is found murdered in the same fashion. Fearing a sex killer has targeted New York's oldest profession, Blaze and Nuthall track the suspect to a moving company and begin honing in on his whereabouts and his likely next target.

At just 153-pages, the novel never has much to offer readers other than the standard police procedural as Blaze works the case. However, the three action sequences that break up the narrative are written at a frenzied pace, consuming 8-10 pages of fist-fighting, car chasing and shooting. While Blaze is described as a football player, 6'3” with a commanding presence, the book's strength is Blaze's love for his community and colleagues. In a surprisingly endearing moment, Blaze provides money to the widow of a fellow officer. When Nuthall asks about the payment, Blaze explains that with his salary and donations from fellow officers, he is financially supporting the families of nine officers previously killed in the line of duty. That's an unexpected but welcome addition to a men's action-adventure paperback.

With a one-dimensional storyline and very little depth, “The Big Payoff” is average cop fiction that's enjoyable despite its overly bad reviews. This certainly isn't the quality of  an “87th Precinct” novel, but for a quick, rather elementary read, it certainly should find a place in your paperback rotation. I'll probably seek out the remaining books in the series based on my experience here.

Note – An unofficial series entry was published as an eBook in 2015 as “Super Cop Joe Blitz: The Psycho Killers”. The author is mysteriously listed as Nelson T. Novak.

This book was discussed on the third episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, July 22, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 3

In this episode we discuss the literary works of crime-noir writer Jonathan Craig, including his “The Girl in Gold” novel. We also look at the ‘Super Cop Joe Blaze’ series from the early 1970s and its mysterious author. Tom tells us about a locked room treasure house in Detroit that is sure to please fans of vintage paperbacks. (Credit to Bensound for the epic intro music). Stream the episode below or through these services: Apple, Google, Spreaker, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, YouTube, Castbox or directly download the episode HERE.



Listen to "Episode 03: Jonathan Craig" on Spreaker.

Pete Selby #11 - The Girl in Gold

Kansas City native Frank E. Smith wrote over 100 novels and 300 short stories during his writing career. Most of his crime fiction was published under the pseudonym Jonathan Craig, including ten police procedural novels in his Pete Selby-Stan Rayder series during the 1950s and 1960s. These paperbacks were later rebranded as ‘The Sixth Precinct’ books in the 1970s for a re-release. I recently discovered that there may be other stories in the series buried among the author’s magazine work.

The last Pete Selby novel was “Case of the Brazen Beauty” in 1966, but it appears that Smith resurrected his popular police detective characters again in September 1970 for a novella titled “The Girl in Gold” published in “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.” The 20-page story was also included in three Hitchcock anthologies:



- Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Grave Business (1975)
- Alfred Hitchcock’s Borrowers of the Night (1983)
- Portraits of Murder (1988)

My theory is that Smith revisited the characters for this 1970 novella knowing that Belmont-Tower would soon be reprinting the Selby novels as “The Sixth Precinct” series. Smith was likely hoping that “The Girl in Gold” would spark a renewed interest in the series that hadn’t seen publication in four years. Or maybe he just felt creatively drawn to revisit some old friends.

In any case “The Girl in Gold” is a fun read and a worthwhile entry into the series. The story begins with a boy flagging down Selby and Rayder to show them a man who landed in the alley behind a Manhattan hotel - presumably having come from the open third-floor window above. Because this is a murder mystery story, suicide and accidental death are quickly ruled out.

A visit inside the hotel identifies the deceased as Harry Lambert, and his room on the third floor uncovers a hotel glass with lipstick on the rim. Jewelers cases in the room are suspiciously missing the gold and diamonds they once contained. With a probable motive and the gender of the suspect, the detectives have clues to leverage in order to solve the case within 20 pages.

Like a normal police procedural, the reader rides along with Selby and Rayder as they interview witnesses and suspects until the clues lead them to a likely solution. There was a neat little hardboiled twist in the final scene that tipped this short story from good to great. Overall, “The Girl in Gold” was a worthwhile diversion from an author who I continue to enjoy.

This story and a Jonathan Craig feature are both on episode three of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

Buy a copy of this story HERE

Friday, July 19, 2019

Leo Guild #01 - Guild

Edward Gorman (1941-2016) authored over 60 novels in a wide variety of genres ranging from horror to crime. His many pseudonyms included E.J. Gorman, Daniel Ransom and Robert David Chase. Some of his most beloved literary contributions are westerns, notably the four volume 'Leo Guild' series published between 1987 and 1991 by Ballantine.

The series debut, “Guild,” introduces readers to bounty hunter Leo Guild. In a backstory, we learn that Guild was a lawman who accidentally killed a young girl while pursuing criminals (like Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder). Mercifully, Guild is found innocent of murder and is released to face his own demons. Burdened by heavy guilt while seeking retribution, Guild is now a middle-aged bounty hunter in the 1890s.

The story begins with Guild escorting a prisoner into the small town of Danton. Guild stumbles onto a murder mystery as a local banker is found dead. The culprit seems to be a drunken ex-circus performer named Earle, but Guild has second thoughts after talking with the man's young friend, Annie. Having no real allies, Guild agrees to look into the murder for Annie but is surprised to find that Earle has apparently committed suicide by hanging himself. Fearing that the law may be covering up the real murderer, Guild's pursuit of justice makes up the novel's narrative.

Like many westerns before and after Guild, the plot introduces the stereotypical villain in a rich playboy named Frank. As the son of wealthy land developer Mason Cord, Frank's silver spoon is Danton's bank. Guild learns that Frank had gambled and lost four-thousand dollars to Earle. Further, Frank is apparently draining the bank's assets in a frivolous attempt to purchase liberal amounts of both whiskey and prostitutes. This overwhelming evidence points Guild's guns at Frank in hopes of bringing justice and peace to Annie and her slain friend.

While telling a familiar tale, Gorman writes with enough conviction to captivate readers. I read  the 184-page novel in nearly one sitting, as evidence of the book's easy flow. There's a number of interesting characters – the rehabilitating criminal Maloney, the endearing widow Ruby, lovable Annie and of course our sole hero, the darkly complex Leo Guild. For action fans, Gorman injects a fair amount of gun play, but the storytelling and character development is the real trophy here.

“Guild” is a rock solid treat for western fans.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Crooked Window (aka Blood Lust Orgy)

In 1956, Harry Whittington wrote a manuscript called “The Crooked Window” that went unsold for a decade until March 1966 when it was adapted into a Nightstand Book called “Blood Lust Orgy.” The original 30,000 word novella was later published in Shell Scott Mystery Magazine’s November 1966 issue under the original title. I found a copy of the Shell Scott magazine containing the novella at a nice price on eBay whereas the lusty paperback tends to fetch insanely-high collector prices.

Readers expecting an actual orgy of blood and lust will probably be pretty disappointed, but “The Crooked Window” is a compelling mystery story typical of the digests of the late 1960s. It opens with Bill dropping off Marge at a local department store while he waits in the car for her. She needs to do some shopping before they return to their motel to resume daytime boning. Oddly, Marge never emerges, and Bill wonders why his girlfriend is taking so long.

Through a flashback montage, we learn that the relationship between Bill and Marge is a forbidden love. Marge is a married woman in an unhappy and abusive relationship. Her heel of a husband won’t give her a divorce, so her romance with Bill is driven underground. They meet periodically in secret to enjoy a few stolen hours together, and that’s exactly what they were doing when Marge inconveniently disappears inside the department store.

After verifying that Marge is nowhere inside the store, Bill is forced to make some tough decisions. Should he get the police involved? After all, he really as no legitimate standing in her life in his capacity as secret boyfriend. As day turns to night, Marge’s husband eventually calls the cops. Her disappearance becomes big local news, yet Bill remains paralyzed with fear - not wanting to step forward to reveal what he knows to police for fear of exposing Marge’s extra-curricular romance. The moral dilemmas and mysterious happenings unfold from there.

Again, this is a decent mystery but nothing particularly special. It’s not much better or worse than the stories you’d find in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine around that same era. Most importantly, “The Crooked Window” just isn’t up to the caliber of Harry Whittington’s greatest hits, and it’s certainly not worth the price bonehead collectors have been paying for rare copies of “Blood Lust Orgy.” If you can find a copy of the digest cheap, you should certainly buy the magazine and read the story. Just control your expectations and don’t expect a masterpiece.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Dusky MacMorgan #01 - Key West Connection

Randy Wayne White became a New York Times bestselling author with his 25-book ‘Doc Ford’ series. Launched in 1990, the modern series stars a government agent turned marine biologist who fights crime in the Caribbean. However, before White went mainstream, he authored two men's action-adventure paperback series in the 1980s – 11 novels in the 'Hawker' series written as Carl Ramm and seven for the 'Dusky MacMorgan' series under the name Randy Striker.

In 1980, publishing heavyweight Signet was seeking a vigilante-styled series that would hopefully capitalize on the tremendous success of Mack Bolan. The publisher envisioned a hero with a distinct set of characteristics: Vietnam vet, Key West resident, handsome, and freakishly strong - consistent with 70s and 80s action-adventure pop-culture. They wanted the series to extend into a mammoth amount of volumes split up between four rotating authors.

A Signet editor spotted a short-story by White in an issue of Outside Magazine. As a possible candidate to join their writing foursome, the publisher pitched their paperback he-man hero to White and asked for three chapters. White, a Florida coastal resident and charter boat captain at the time, ran with the idea and wrote the series' first volume, “Key West Connection,” in just nine days. The publisher loved the book and quickly declared White to be the sole author of the project. The 'Dusky MacMorgan' series didn't gain enough sales success, but ran a total of seven installments from 1981-1982. The series served to provide some adequate writing experience for White, who would begin the longer-running 'Hawker' series for Dell in 1984.

In “Key West Connection”, readers are introduced to MacMorgan on his fishing vessel Sniper. Through some backstory segments we learn that MacMorgan was a child circus performer who lost his family in a big-top fire. Joining the Navy Seals at age 16, MacMorgan would go on to serve three combat tours in Vietnam. Retiring from service, he married an actress named Janet, moved to Key West and fathered twin sons. Now, MacMorgan runs a successful fishing charter for snowbirds looking for warm weather sport.


After hearing that his best friend Billie Mack had been murdered, MacMorgan tracks the killers to Mack's captured boat. In a graphic, violent display of MacMorgan's experience, he quickly catches the killers and learns they are drug runners for a corrupt U.S. Senator. Building a small empire in South America, the career politician targets MacMorgan's family, blowing up the family car and killing Janet and their two sons. Their deaths are the catalyst for MacMorgan's vendetta against the Senator and later the various crime rings in and around the Caribbean.

White writes at a tremendous pace and provides an average revenge styled thriller. Looking at the series longevity, White has MacMorgan team with a shadowy government agency to exploit and terminate island criminals. “Key West Connection” sets the bar fairly low but introduces a handful of characters that aid in making the story a little more dynamic. White describes MacMorgan as a “duck and fuck” series – the hero dodges bullets and screws a heroine in alternating chapters. I'd speculate that's about par for the course in terms of 80s men's action-adventure paperbacks. I prefer White's 'Hawker' series based on my small sample size of Dusky MacMorgan. I disliked the Hawker series debut, “Florida Firefight,” but later installments improved markedly. Maybe MacMorgan will find some traction and improve in later books. I'm in no real hurry to find out.

This novel was featured on the second episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast on July 15, 2019. 

Buy a copy of this novel HERE

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Bodyguard #06 - The Model Body

Richard Reinsmith (sometimes spelled Richard Rein Smith) authored several science fiction and romance novels under pseudonyms including Damon Castle, Ann Taylor, and Dan Elliott. He also wrote a tie-in novel in 1985 titled “Tarzan and the Tower of Diamonds.” His foray into the 1980s men’s adventure gold rush consisted of eight books in ‘The Bodyguard’ series published by low-end paperback houses, Tower and Leisure Books. Because series order really doesn’t matter here, my entry point is the sixth installment, “The Model Body” from 1984.

The bodyguard narrator, Ray Martin, is hired to protect a nymphomaniac model and porn magazine publisher that someone is trying to kill. Heather is a redhead version of Marilyn Monroe who has recently survived two attempts on her life, and Ray needs to make sure the third attempt doesn’t hit the target. The secret to Ray’s success is a type of ESP that helps him detect when an attempt on his client’s life is about to happen. The author doesn’t overdo the psychic stuff. The early-warning system seems to work like Spidey-Sense and is intended to illustrate that Ray is a next-level kinda bodyguard.

As attempts on Heather’s life continue, it becomes clear that Ray’s smartest course of action is to identify and neutralize the person behind the killers rather than acting as a hockey goalie for bullets headed toward his client. The investigative aspect of “The Model Body” places the novel squarely into the realm of private detective fiction and reminded me of a Carter Brown mystery where a professional investigator is thrust into a world of sexual eccentrics to solve a mystery. In this case, Ray is plunged into a subculture of pornography, S&M dungeons, and snuff films to discover who wants his client dead.

And mostly it worked. The first-person narration is decent and conversational. Ray is a brave and competent hero. To be sure, there are some really dumb elements to the book. For example, Ray goes to great pains to explain that carrying one Beretta in each hand is somehow a good idea. This, of course, is moronic. There’s a reason you don’t see real cops and soldiers blasting away with two pistols at the same time. Ray also gets laid a lot in fairly graphic detail and not always in service of the plot. At times, this felt like fan-service filler meant to pad the page count.

Here’s the bottom line: Don't special order this paperback from afar. Don’t buy a copy encased in plastic from a fine books dealer. Don’t choose this paperback for your monthly book club selection with your fancy friends. However, if you find a copy at a yard sale for a buck or less and you want a big-font, non-challenging read, you’ll probably enjoy “The Model Body” just fine.

Addendum

The Bodyguard series consist of:

1. Bury the Past (1979)
2. The Blonde Target (1980)
3. An Extra Body (1980)
4. Somebody to Kill (1983)
5. A Body in Paradise (1984)
6. The Model Body (1984)
7. Nobody’s Perfect (1984)
8. A Body for Christmas (1984)

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, July 15, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 02

In this episode, Tom and I discuss the origins of the paperback book in 1939. Our feature is the widely successful publisher Fawcett Gold Medal, a cornerstone of crime-noir in the 50s, 60s and early 70s. We also look at “Black Wings Has my Angel” by Lewis Elliott Chaze and the debut ‘MacMorgan’ novel by Randy Wayne White. Play the episode below or stream at any of these services: Apple, Spreaker, Stitcher, Soundcloud, Radio Public, YouTube and Castbox.


Listen to "Episode 02: Fawcett Gold Medal" on Spreaker.

Siberia 10

Clark Howard (1932-2016) wrote 16 novels, six books of non-fiction and two collections of short stories during his 40-year career. As an amateur boxer and juvenile delinquent, Howard bounced around in his mid-teens before eventually joining the U.S. Marine Corps at age 17. During his three year tour in Korea, Howard was one of only eight survivors in his platoon during the Battle of the Punchbowl. His experience in the USMC led to a number of Howard's war stories including “Siberia 10,” published by Pinnacle in 1973.

Siberia 10 is a fictional USMC stockade in San Diego, California. In the novel's opening pages, Private Zangari escapes from the prison in a rather clever ruse that leads to his eventual capture on the steps of a local newspaper. This opening chapter explains to readers that Siberia 10 is run by brutal leadership, recounting violent everyday experiences for American soldiers.

The political climate inside is a tumultuous storm where black prisoners have formed a faction of Black Panthers. These soldiers have filed a formal complaint with the NAACP charging that they are recipients of racially charged abuse from the white guards. Simultaneously, the white prisoners have formed a petition stating they are being brutalized by the black prisoners. All of this comes under the watch of officers that spend their days drunk, womanizing, gambling and abusing the camp’s prisoners.

Chapter two introduces the book's protagonist, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Hannon. His first appearance is in the Dai Tet countryside of Vietnam running a strategic seek and destroy operation on the Vietcong. After being dismissed from his platoon, Hannon is summoned to Washington D.C. and introduced to an unnamed Commandant. For validity, the Commandant reads Hannon's own resume to Hannon, highlighting his superior fighting strength and leadership in Korea, Manilla, Cuba and Vietnam. The Commandant promotes Hannon to the temporary rank of Brigadier General and asks him to assume the new leadership at Siberia 10. While deeply troubled by the stockade's black eye in the media, the Commandant wants the USMC to fix their own mistakes before the panic escalates. Hesitantly, Hannon accepts the job.

As a seasoned paperback enthusiast, I've consistently came across various literary works that prompted me to think of movie adaptations. That idea was etched in my mind throughout my reading experience of “Siberia 10”. This 300-page novel demands to be a successful television show. There are numerous story threads woven into the larger story arc of Hannon rehabilitating Siberia 10. These threads ultimately consume the narrative, but they are so intriguing and engaging that I was hooked like a housewife watching the soaps.

Hannon's role as the new General begins with a whirlwind of opposition, in-fighting and subordination. After making the necessary adjustments to his staff, Hannon begins life lessons for a dozen or more supporting characters. His stout stance of duty and brotherhood serves like a fiery pulpit sermon on the importance and legacy of the USMC. It's patriotic, stirring and American. Hannon's treatment of Siberia 10 is reminiscent of coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) spurring that small Indiana school into champions in the 1986 film “Hoosiers.” It's an effective feel-good story about overcoming race, cultural differences and adversity that works just as well in 2019.

As an action-adventure piece, this isn't “The Great Escape” or “Papillon” by any means. While firmly entrenched behind bars, the novel's only action sequences are some boxing matches, an occasional brawl and some described brutality. Instead, the novel works like a more aggressive take on Richard Booker's 1968 book “MASH.” There are numerous comedic moments, an abundance of sex and the typical coarse language of a war novel. Like Clark Howard's “The Last Contract”, also published in 1973, the author proves to be a masterful storyteller no matter what approach he takes. I will probably read “Siberia 10” again...and again. It's that good.

Buy a copy of this novel HERE

Friday, July 12, 2019

Black Wings Has My Angel

Lewis Elliott Chaze (1915-1990) was an American WW2 veteran, journalist, and mainstream novelist who crafted a Fawcett Gold Medal crime novel in 1953 titled “Black Wings Has My Angel” that is regarded as one of the finest noir novels of the 1950s. The book has been reprinted several times over the past 66 years under the original title and as “One for the Money” and “One for My Money.” Stark House Books has brought the paperback back from literary hibernation along with the excellent “One Is A Lonely Number” by Bruce Elliott.

The novel opens with our narrator, using the name Tim Sunblade, finishing up a roughnecking job on a Louisiana river and ordering a whore to be delivered to his hotel room for some recreation. He’s surprised when the bellhop brings him Virginia, a stunning beauty with a taste for sex and money. After a few days of energetic banging, Tim decides to bring her on the road with him figuring that he can always ditch her at a rest stop if her company becomes tiresome. Virginia is quite possibly the most conniving femme fatale in the history of the noir genre. She’s truly a character you’ll never forget.  

Through his narration, we learn that Tim once received an expensive university education and is currently a fugitive following a daring prison escape. His road trip with Virginia takes them to Colorado, and the reader begins to get glimpses of what Tim has in mind: a daring heist. The plan is revealed in bits and pieces - Denver, an abandoned mine shaft, and a trailer large enough to fit an armored car. As a cover, Tim and Virginia set up shop in a solid working-class neighborhood posing as a married couple for the planning phase of the operation.

The heist itself was pretty good and the aftermath is legitimately compelling with periodic explosions of extreme violence. There’s plenty of bloodshed and betrayal to hold your interest, and the novel’s conclusion is genuinely sick, dark, and fantastic. For the entire ride, Chaze’s writing strikes a conversational tone and has many thoughtful insights about the human condition. At times his prose is rather beautiful and literary - a step above most of the writing in this genre.

Overall, I really don’t have a bad word to say about this compact and entertaining piece of noir history. It’s really up there with the classics of the genre, and we should all be thankful that Stark House has bought this important work of literature back into print. This is a must-read. Highly recommended.

This novel was featured on the July 15, 2019 episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Matthew Scudder #01 - Sins of the Father

Lawrence Block's most prolific and successful series character is Matthew Scudder. Throughout a 43-year span, the author wrote 17 novels, a short-story collection and a novella about the alcoholic ex-New York City detective. Many fans speculate that the Scudder novels are reflective of Block's own past struggles with alcohol. In Writer's Digest, Block wrote that when he created Scudder, "I let him hang out in the same saloon where I spent a great deal of my own time. I was drinking pretty heavily around that time, and I made him a pretty heavy drinker, too. I drank whiskey, sometimes mixing it with coffee. So did Scudder."

The series debuted in 1976 with the successful novel “The Sins of the Fathers.” In the book's opening pages, we find Scudder as a rather tortured soul bearing life's deep scars and the weight of a burdensome guilt. An alcoholic divorcee, the ex-New York City detective now lives as a recluse in the low-rent section of Hell's Kitchen. Scudder's fall from grace occurred when his bullet, intended for a fleeing criminal, went astray and killed a young girl. After leaving his family and career, Scudder now accepts jobs, and referrals from his former Lieutenant, as an unlicensed private investigator.

In a coffee shop in Midtown, Scudder meets with the father of a recently slain young woman. He asks Scudder to look further into his daughter's murder despite the open and shut appearance of the case. The woman was shredded with a straight razor by her male roommate. After the murder, the man was found wandering the street half-naked, covered in blood and speaking in gibberish about raping and murdering his own mother. After his arrest, the man committed suicide in his cell.

Speculating that there is a clear culprit exposed, Scudder hesitantly accepts the job and promises to do a thorough examination of the evidence and report his findings to the woman's father. Block then pairs the reader with Scudder's investigation, structuring this 180-page novel into a familiar police procedural. We become spectators as witnesses, suspects and motives are inspected. As the plot thickens, the narrative expands into psychological suspense that propels the procedural process into an exciting murder mystery.


“The Sins of the Fathers” represents a transition between the wild 1960s crime noir into the more graphic and intense 1970s crime-fiction market. Lawrence Block captures America's moral erosion, the tearing down of the family structure and the wholesome ideals that came before it. Here, the author profiles the murderer as a homosexual necrophiliac with mother figure fascinations. Perhaps I'm pulling the wrong thread, but Block's deeper analysis of religion, guilt, family relations and youth are abstract, yet on-point for what was ultimately the new normal of the 70s.

With this series debut, Block has created a worthy, yet flawed protagonist who will compel readers to delve more and more into the series. While not a hard-hitting action formula, Scudder's tenacity and grim approach is more than enough to keep readers invested in Block's storytelling. This is a sold first step in what will become one of crime-fiction's most treasured series titles from a master of the genre.

The discussion of the novel was featured on the Paperback Warrior Podcast on July 8th, 2019 (LINK).

Buy a copy of this novel HERE

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Penetrator #14 - Mankill Sport

Chet Cunningham remains one of my favorite authors of pulpy men’s adventure fiction, but I’ve had trouble connecting with his popular series ‘The Penetrator’ written under the pseudonym of Lionel Derrick. The series ran for over 50 installments and was launched to capitalize on the success of Don Pendleton’s ‘The Executioner.” Cunningham’s take on the serial vigilante genre was mostly silly and over-the-top and usually not very good. For me, it’s always been a challenge to remain focused on the written page when I’m so busy rolling my eyes.

“Mankill Sport” from 1976 is the 14th installment in the series, and I was seduced by the plot synopsis which touts the book as a 1970s take on Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” in which a hunter stalks men through the deep woods as prey. It’s a premise that has been re-worked dozens of times over the past century, and I was curious to see what Cunningham would do with the concept. The book review is below and a discussion of the novel was featured on the Paperback Warrior Podcast on July 8th, 2019 (LINK).

For the uninitiated, Mark Hardin is The Penetrator, a half-Cheyenne former U.S. Army killing machine with a brilliant mind and expert marksman skills. As “Mankill Sport” opens, Hardin is two-and-a-half years into his one-man war in crime and has achieved folk hero status among millions of groupies worldwide. Early in the paperback, he receives an assignment from his mentor to target a Detroit drug lord and big game hunter named Johnny Utah.

At his best, The Penetrator recalls Detective Comics’ Batman - no super-powers but well-resourced, violent, and quick access to cool gadgets. The first half of “Mankill Sport” has Hardin following Utah’s trail across North America to force a deadly confrontation. Because it’s disclosed on the book’s cover, I’m comfortable telling you that Utah’s hobby is kidnapping innocent people and hunting them through the thick Canadian woods like animals, and the climax of the novel finds Hardin in the role of Utah’s prey. Can The Penetrator turn the tables and transform the hunter into the hunted?

I’ve read several paperbacks in ‘The Penetrator’ series, and this one is the best of the batch I’ve sampled. The premise is derivative as hell but it’s extremely well-executed and ultra-violent. Moreover, the entire series is available for purchase on your Kindle for super cheap. I can’t necessarily endorse other books in the series, but “Mankill Sport” is essential reading for men’s adventure fans.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Jigsaw

Everybody has at least one book they can write in their lifetime, right? I've heard that statement dozens of times. Apparently author Robin Sherman heard it as well. The former real estate agent contributed to the men's fertile action adventure genre in 1973. “Jigsaw”, her only known literary work, has the stereotypical attire that would accompany genre pieces of that era. It's published by Pinnacle (home of 'The Executioner') with a cover painted by the talented Gil Cohen ('The Executioner'). Is “Jigsaw” a diamond in the rough, a treasure buried in decades of used books? Or, simply a one-time use better served as kindling for your campfire?

Sadly, “Jigsaw” falls into the fire-starter category. 

The novel is set in London and consists of a crime syndicate using a stolen weapon to destroy government embassies. With a disposable narrative that begs for 'Killmaster', Sherman's writing is a complicated, contrived work that burdens readers with pages upon pages of cumbersome backstory on characters that have very little plot value. Each chapter is broken down into character conventions – brief history, identity and some connection - no matter how trivial – to the central theme. While readers are begging for a propelling story, Sherman focuses her efforts on mindless introductions. 

While not intended (who knows?), there are some enjoyable moments. In a humorous scene the chief intelligence officer for an unnamed British agency has his secretary randomly pick one of three agent files. As if performing a magic trick, the woman chooses rookie agent Brendon McCallie. For an important mission, like say government embassies exploding daily in London, the only solution to the problem is by choosing an agent randomly. It is a paradigm of how disposable the writing really is.

While there are some gripping action sequences, it's too little too late to save what is ultimately a dumbed-down effort. As of the time of this writing, Sherman had plans for a crime novel about a “racketeering” tennis player. Just roll your eyes and scan the shelves for something better.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, July 8, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 01

It’s the debut of the Paperback Warrior Podcast! In this episode, we’ll provide an introduction to our hosts Eric and Tom. Together, we look at the show’s primary focus on vintage fiction and our introductions to the genres. We’ll discuss the goldmine of paperback treasure, the famed Chamblin’s Book Mine in Jacksonville, Florida, as well as two novels - "Sins of the Fathers" by Lawrence Block and "Penetrator #14" by Chet Cunningham. Plus we look ahead at the upcoming episodes and highlight some content featured right here on our flagship site, paperbackwarrior.com. Stream the episode below or on Stitcher. Android users will find us on the Radio Public app. You may also visit us on the following services:

Spreaker, Soundcloud, YouTube, Direct Download, Castbox Listen to "Episode 01: Welcome to Paperback Warrior" on Spreaker.

John Marshall #01 - Shades of Gray

The John Marshall spy/assassin series lasted five installments between the years 1976 and 1981. The pseudonym used for these Pyramid Books was “Mark Denning,” but the actual author was John Stevenson (1926-1994). Genre fans may recognize Stevenson as the author of three ‘Nick Carter: Killmaster’ books as well as two of the ‘Sharpshooter’ novels by Bruno Rossi. Oddly, the series continued for an additional two books released only in Italian, but it’s unclear who wrote the foreign-language installments.

John Marshall is a CIA assassin allegedly adept in killing using a variety of methods (a Killmaster, if you will), and this skill set is particularly remarkable because he is missing his left hand. His assignments come from Mr. Cramer, his corpulent CIA supervisor and cantankerous father figure. The setup for the series has one foot firmly planted in the Matt Helm tradition and another in Edward S. Aarons’ CIA corporate structure.

Unlike most literary spies, Marshall isn’t chiseled and dashing. He’s a few pounds overweight, his hair is thinning, and his face isn’t particularly handsome. He gets laid, but it’s mostly off-the-page. The fact that his left hand was replaced with a hook doesn’t really add or detract from the story in any noticeable way.

In the series debut, “Shades of Gray,” Marshall is given two simultaneous assignments in San Francisco. First, he needs to figure out who is shipping combat tanks to South America. Second, Mr. Cramer gives Marshall a seemingly unrelated - and unofficial - assignment to locate and eliminate an unknown subject who is blackmailing Cramer’s niece. The blackmail plot is about 80% of the novel with the tank smuggling being almost an afterthought to our hero. Those unfamiliar with “books” might be surprised to learn that these two plot lines overlap and converge later in the novel, but I totally saw it coming.

The setup is well-done and the main character is cool enough. The problem Is that the plot is a bit of a snooze, and it’s really not much of a spy novel at all. Marshall is investigating two rather mundane mysteries as if he were a basic - and rather inept - private eye rather than a CIA killing machine.

By the time the novel ends, it was difficult to care much who was behind either scheme. Mostly, I was glad for it to be over. I may try another book in the series in the future, but it’s definitely not a priority after this tepid debut. Buyer beware.

Postscript: 

Thanks to the always-excellent “Spy Guys and Gals” website for doing the heavy-lifting and the background research regarding this series and author.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, July 5, 2019

Stark #01 - Funeral Rites

UK publisher Sphere launched in 1966 and rose to prominence with the 1976 printing of “Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker” by Alan Dean Foster (as George Lucas). But, action-adventure readers know the publisher's work through the myriad of 'Conan' and 'The Executioner' releases. The publisher gained the rights to release Don Pendleton's Executioner series, beginning with “War Against the Mafia” in 1973. Losing the series to rival English publisher Corgi, the company emulated 'The Executioner' motif for a new series entitled 'The Revenger'. 

The Revenger would run for 12 total books, the first ten written by Terry Harknett ('Adam Steele', 'Edge', 'Apache') and the last two by Angus Wells ('The Eagles', 'Jubal Cade'). The house name used by Sphere is Joseph Hedges. Later, Pyramid Books acquired the rights to reprint the books in the US but changed the series name to 'Stark' to avoid confusion with another The Revenger series written by Jon Messman. 

“Funeral Rites” is the debut novel of the series and was released in the UK in 1974 with a printing in the US a year later. The book introduces us to the criminal John Stark, a prison inmate in England. He robbed an electronics company while being employed by a criminal organization called The Company. To keep Stark quiet behind bars, they promise to continue the heroin drop into Stark's lover Carol. The Company henchmen aid Stark in his escape from prison so he can continue to do jobs for them.

After these events transpire in chapter one...this book turns into a real turd. 

Stark is brought to sea and reunited with his arch enemy Ryan. Oddly, Ryan provides Stark a bedroom and a nympho named Sheri. In my opinion, Stark loses credibility when he pounds away at Sheri while thinking of the love of his life, Carol. This just seems incredibly selfish, but considering the lack of depth in the book it makes sense the character is easily disliked. Shockingly, Ryan leaves Stark alone so he can set fire to the boat and escape with Sheri.


The author completely loses direction and focus and dedicates the next 100-pages to Stark sleeping, eating...and sleeping and eating. He goes on tangents about how Stark is ravished from hunger but there's no reason for it. He has money and there's food all over London! Ryan, being the book's villain, does nothing. Instead, the author has our antagonist thinking about his lover Jay and how he misses his vibrator. Ugh. In one astonishing, scene Ryan has a mistress flail him with a tree branch before “impaling” herself on him. It's absolutely bonkers.

Action? Well, there's a little here and there. In one wild scene we have Stark's Colt Python against the bad guy's Tommy – with Stark obviously the immortal hero. In a hilarious scene Stark accidentally elbows Jay, knocking him into a sink where he bleeds to death. To get answers to some question (I stopped following the senseless plot), he thrust Sheri's face into the wound while threatening to drown her in the gash if she doesn't tell the truth. Ridiculous.

I hated this book. And it isn't because the English spell “Pajamas” as “Pyjamas” or that they insult the good guys here by calling them a “Tinker's Cuss” (?). No, it isn't that. This character has absolutely no talent. Stark is a thief who was caught. End of story. There's nothing else to it. The Company wants to capture him, there's a bad guy named Ryan, a lover named Carol Burnett (!) and an effort on the author's part to bury 120+ pages in dialogue and trivial descriptions of tea cups and wall décor. 

How this series lasted 12 entries is beyond me. Why Pyramid felt the need to reprint it, God only knows. For me, this series lasted one book.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Rudd #01 - Vice Cop

To the extent that crime fiction author Richard Deming is remembered today, it’s for his many TV tie-in novels (Dragnet, Mod Squad, Starsky & Hutch) or his one-legged P.I. character, Manville Moon. However, he also wrote an interesting three-book series of hardboiled police procedurals starring Matt Rudd, a vice cop in the fictional city of St. Cecilia. The three Rudd novels are “Vice Cop” (1961), “Anything but Saintly” (1963), and “Death of a Pusher” (1964) - all of which are available today as cheap eBooks. 

In a 1960 interview, Deming said that his Matt Rudd character (real name: Mateuz Rudowski) was originally designed to steal market share from Richard Prather’s Shell Scott series. Other than both detectives solving mysteries in sexually-charged environments (Rudd is, after all, a Vice Cop), they really aren’t all that similar - other than the fact that first-person narration and the fact that both heroes get laid. For my money, Deming was a far better writer than Prather.

“Vice Cop” begins with a citizen showing up at the police station to report a society dame who hosts “marijuana parties” with sex orgies at her home attended by the idle wealthy. Because the world was a very different place in 1961, the department assigns Rudd to begin dating a sexy reefer user in an undercover capacity, so he could score an invite to this recurring pot party in a private home. (Your tax dollars at work, 1961 America.)

Although the premise is stupid by today’s standards, Deming is still able to weave this into a credible crime novel. As long as you can see this as a historical artifact, “Vice Cop” is a minimally compelling police procedural story with well-written prose and a highly-likable blue-collar main character in Rudd. He’s a funny, and self-deprecating cop who makes you wish you were his drinking buddy. Narration this good makes the 175 pages fly by, but it still wasn’t much of a great novel.

Last year, I read and reviewed the second book in the Matt Rudd series, “Anything but Saintly.” It was a far superior effort than “Vice Cop” and more worth your time. You can probably just skip this one and try some of Deming’s better works. After all, life’s too short to read so-do crime fiction.

Buy a copy of this book HERE