Friday, August 30, 2019

Not Comin' Home to You

Lawrence Block authored three stand-alone novels between 1969 and 1974 under the pen name of Paul Kavanagh. The third of these books was titled “Not Comin’ Home to You” and has since been re-released in several printings under Block’s own name, including an affordable eBook currently available while supplies last.

The story is loosely based on an actual 1958 murder spree conducted by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in Nebraska. Block originally thought his fictionalized version of the events would make a good screenplay, but he abandoned that idea in favor of making it work as a novel first. When the movie “Badlands” was released dramatizing the actual Nebraska murders, the idea of adapting Block’s novel for the screen was scrapped. Fortunately, the paperback lives on.

Before the lyrical title was conceived, Block originally called his crime spree tale “Just a Couple Kids.” The kids in question are Jimmie John Hall and Betty Dienhardt, two restless young people in 1974 America. When we meet Jimmie John, he is hitchhiking through Texas high on speed with nothing but the clothes on his back and no particular destination in mind. Eventually, Jimmie meets up with restless, corruptible, and virginal Betty, and the bad decisions become supercharged as the pair hits the open road together.

The main focus of “Not Comin’ Home to You” is the manipulation and gradual corruption of Betty as the body count rises in the road trip’s wake. There’s plenty of graphic sex between 22 year-old Jimmie John and 15 year-old Betty in scenes whose appropriateness has not aged well with time. However, I won’t waste your time wringing my hands concerning honor of a fictional teen girl. The loss of her innocence - in more ways than one - made for fascinating reading. The reader bears witness as Betty grows numb to the explosions of increasingly violent opportunism displayed by Jimmie John throughout the novel.

Although Block never cites it as an inspiration, it would be hard to believe that he wasn’t familiar with John D. MacDonald’s similar adolescent thrill-kill novel, “The End of Night” from 1960. One’s ability to enjoy either book relies on your willingness to spend time with young sociopaths. This is another book where there’s really no one to root for. You can feel sorry for naive Betty, but she’s no heroine.

Block’s writing and character development are predictably excellent, but this isn’t among his greatest hits. Nevertheless, the paperback is never dull and has plenty of violence. If you’re a fan of couple-on-the-run, juvenile delinquent, bloody pulp fiction, you’ll likely enjoy “Not Comin’ Home to You.”

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Stryker #01 - Stryker

William Crawford's first notable work was the infamous 'The Executioner' installment “Sicilian Slaughter”. By 1973, and after 15 successful series entries, Don Pendleton and his publisher Pinnacle had some discord regarding the future of Mack Bolan. Under fire, Pinnacle chose William Crawford (writing as Jim Peterson) as Pendleton's replacement for “Sicilian Slaughter”. The book took some liberties with the character, enraged fans, and thankfully Pendleton and Pinnacle negotiated to have Pendleton continue the series through the 38th installment.

But Pinnacle wasn't finished with Crawford.

Hoping to capitalize on the success of men's vigilante-styled fiction, like Bolan, Pinnacle hooked their cash-wagon to Crawford for a new series called 'Stryker'. Crawford, fresh off the “Sicilian Slaughter”, had just released a western-turd to Zebra entitled “Ranger Kirk” (under the clever pseudonym W.C. Rawford). Pinnacle, feeling confident that Stryker would be profitable, had Crawford write four books in the series - “Stryker”, “Cop Kill”, “Drug Run” and “Deadly Alliance” - between 1973-1975. The series was an utter failure. My research doesn't cite any specific cause for lackluster sales, but my suspicion is that William Crawford's disjointed writing style bewildered fans of men's action-adventure.

My first and only experience with the series is the debut, “Stryker”. The book's back cover has an Editor's Note promising that Styrker is the toughest guy you'll ever read about. It goes on to state, with conviction, that “this is the raw, unpolished realism of the street, where law meets crime and the stronger man (not necessarily the better man) wins.” On the book's front cover, Pinnacle assures readers that this is a revenge story about a brutal cop who's experienced the death of his wife and the blinding of his child by criminals.

It's easy to take the revenge story-line and run with it. The late 60s, 70s and 80s pop-culture was fueled on the revenge headline: “Family Murdered, Man Takes Action!” But Crawford buries the story in endless introductions to a host of characters that have no real purpose. Within the book's first 120-pages, there's so many characters and backstories that the central theme is disoriented. By the 120th page, Stryker's family is still alive and the whole narrative is bogged down by arrangements, criminal infrastructure and a dog-tired necessity to explain everyone in the room. Where's this whole vengeance thing?

The centerpiece, as lost as it is, is two bank robbers working for a mob kingpin named Sam. The two men, while not screwing each other, work a heist and hit list for Sam across the country. After Sam tangles with a bribery charge filed by Stryker's partner Chino, the two hit men are employed to kill both Sam and Chino. Only those two guys get killed off rather nonchalantly (after we read pages and pages of character backstory), and Sam employs another assassin to do the job. Eventually Stryker's family is killed (shamefully I was ecstatic when the moment finally arrived!), but the narrative then settles into a court case instead of the two-fisted, sawed-off shotgun violence I was anticipating.

William Crawford may shine in some other form of literary work. Within the confines of men's action-adventure, he's a dud. I have no intention of reading any more of the Stryker books. I've suffered so you don't have to. “Stryker” should be stricken from the record.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Code Seven

During his life, Lou Cameron (1924-2010) was one of the most reliably solid authors in the men’s adventure, crime, war, and western genres. His 1977 police fiction paperback “Code Seven” has a cover blurb that promises the book to be “All the crunching excitement of Walking Tall” while the back cover guarantees “a nerve-sizzling suspense novel.” As a fan of Cameron’s writing, crunching excitement, and sizzling nerves, I was excited to dive into this one.

Sean Costello is the new chief of police in the fictional city of Flamingo Beach, Florida, a town of about three square miles. His new job is a chance at redemption for the chief who was recently fired from his police gig in New Jersey - ostensibly due to budget cuts. He’s an honest cop singularly dedicated to keeping his little town safe despite a lack of resources or much staff.

In police parlance, “Code Seven” is a meal break, which is an odd choice for a title. In the paperback, Cameron’s character claims it means “off duty” which, I suppose, is close enough for government work. The relevance of title has something to do with the romance that develops between Costello and a wealthy widow in his new hometown. This story-line seemed rushed and not entirely credible, but that wasn’t the centerpiece of the paperback, anyway. The point is that Costello is so busy putting out small fires that he’s never truly off duty.

For the majority of the book, Costello deals with the normal, everyday headaches, threats, and small mysteries of the job: drunks, a floater, a mouthy runaway, a suicide attempt, a stalker case, etc. The police procedural aspects of the novel seemed realistic enough to me, so either Cameron did some homework or he’s good at faking it. However, I kept hoping that the many disjointed plot threads would eventually form a linear story for the reader to enjoy or a mystery for Costello to solve.

Unfortunately, a main plot never really comes together. Some of the smaller mysteries presented as subplots are solved, and some tie into each other. However, it was an odd novel filled with nothing but subplots - almost as if Cameron wanted to write several different short stories about this interesting cop in a small, coastal town. The author apparently shuffled these stories into one disjointed book rather than selling them individually to the mystery digest magazines? Just a theory.

Cameron’s writing is predictably good, but an odd editorial decision left the book without chapter breaks. There are white-spaces representing scene changes throughout the paperback, but all 219 pages are basically one long chapter. As a reader, this was more irritating than I anticipated it would be.

Despite the myriad of problems with the book, it never failed to hold my attention since many of the subplots were rather interesting. I just wish Cameron’s editors sent him back to the typewriter for a few more rounds of drafts and forced him to develop a compelling main plot. “Code Seven” could have been a great cop novel instead of the mess he left behind.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Johnny Fletcher #17 - Swing Low, Swing Dead

Between 1940 and 1964, talented pulp author Frank Gruber (1904-1969) wrote 18 novels starring down-on-his luck 'Johnny Fletcher'. Debuting in 1940, “The French Key” was a success that led to an eponymous film adaptation in 1946. Both NBC and ABC ran Johnny Fletcher mystery stories for the Golden Age of Radio. Beginning in 1964, Gruber signed a paperback deal with Belmont Tower for two more Johnny Fletcher books, “Swing Low, Swing Dead” and “The Corpse Moved Upstairs”. It appears that business arrangement led to a number of reprints of the Fletcher books for a new generation of fans. The misleading cover art paints Johnny Fletcher as a gun-toting detective instead of the bumbling, comical conman that Gruber intended.

My first experience with the series is the 1964 novel “Swing Low, Swing Dead”. While researching, I discovered that there are three fixtures with nearly every Fletcher novel. First, Fletcher's muscular sidekick Sam Cragg is featured in a bulk of the narrative and is just as important to the story as Fletcher. Two, the imprudent duo are always destitute, leading to charity from series character and hotel manager Mr. Peabody. For small favors, he allows them residence in New York's 45th Street Hotel. Lastly, the two always stumble into a mystery! That's really par for the course. Gruber takes some liberties and asks his readers to suspend their beliefs for the sake of a good story.

Discovering a craps game on the hotel's upper floor, both Fletcher and Cragg join the fun. In a fortunate streak of luck, Cragg bets borrowed money against a rock singer named Willie Waller. The musician, out of funds, bets a song manuscript against Cragg, promising it's worth hundreds of thousands. Quickly after losing the game and manuscript to Cragg, he dies from cyanide poisoning.

The bulk of the novel's 154-pages is Fletcher and Cragg determining the validity of the song and it's value. After cleared by the police of any suspicion, it's the duo's job to sell the song for the promised value. Once they stumble on a music producer and his client, a chart-topping musician named Al Donnely, they realize that either Willie's song was plagiarized or Willie ripped off the melody from Donnely. The answer Fletcher and Cragg are both seeking could be worth a small treasure due to the tune's rise to the top of the charts.

While all of this is fairly interesting from a music fan's standpoint, the idea of who killed Willie is the emphasis of this Fletcher mystery. With both Cragg and Fletcher seeking the true songwriter, they must contend with a shady record business and a scar-faced goon who might have his own motives for wanting the songwriter's identity. Again, despite Belmont's action-packed artwork...this is a lighthearted yarn - not the violent espionage or violent crime-noir story depicted on the cover.

Gruber's comedic approach connects Fletcher and Cragg to an Abbott and Costello sort of gag. The two are always counting pennies, shortchanging bartenders and begging Mr. Peabody for just one more buck. Their sole moneymaking endeavor is a snake-medicine bit with Cragg breaking chains and Fletcher selling a bogus book on how to gain super-strength in a few short weeks. “You can break chains too for a measly $2.90...no change back”. It's an entertaining short read that showcases Gruber's storytelling strength in the pulp fiction formula.

Through his characters, Gruber criticizes rock music as something that's immature and dumbed down for a new audience while praising the jazz era when music was...music. I think Gruber was probably comparing the mid-60s literary work of his new peers to the pulp fiction that paid the bills in his recent past. Regardless, Johnny Fletcher is elementary and a fun read if you keep your expectations minimal.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 26, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 08

In this episode, we discuss Frank Gruber's 1964 crime-mystery "Swing Low, Swing Dead" and Lou Cameron's police fiction novel "Code Seven" from 1977. Tom talks about his book shopping in San Antonio, Texas and offers listeners a tutorial on how to affordably acquire paperbacks. Stream it below or through any popular streaming service. Direct downloads: Link 

Listen to "Episode 08: Buying Affordable Paperbacks" on Spreaker.

Murder Squad

Not much is known about author Everard Meade. I learned he was born in 1917, and although I could find no obituary, the odds of his continued longevity aren’t promising. As far as I could tell, “Murder Squad” from 1978 was one of a handful of war and political thrillers he authored in that era. It was published by low-end paperback house Major Books of Canoga Park, California. I’m always hoping that I may have stumbled upon a lost classic of Men’s Adventure Literature, so I gave it a read.

Our narrator is unemployed Vietnam vet Mike Gordon who arrives at a secret farm quietly guarded by the U.S. Marines for a meeting with his former commanding officer. Gordon is offered a job as an independent operative for a top-secret government agency with an assignment of dismantling a Soviet operation in Italy counterfeiting U.S. currency. The Russian project has a goal of collapsing the American economy through injecting a tidal wave of funny money into global circulation. Destroying the counterfeiting operation in Italy is too thorny of an operation for the U.S. Treasury Department, so our leaders turn to the secret agency on the farm to handle the violent overseas mission.

After accepting the assignment, it’s time for Gordon to meet the team. We have a judo expert, a pistol marksman, a safecracker, an electronics expert, and a couple other guys whose skills just seem to be general badassery. Gordon is one of the fluent Italian speakers on the team, and he is trained on the manufacturing of U.S. currency by the Bureau of Printing and Engraving just in case the assignment needs an undercover man. The team is called “The Barbarians” after the warriors who vanquished Rome in the past.

As it becomes clear that The Barbarians intend to not only destroy the counterfeiting equipment but slaughter everyone involved in the engraving operation, Gordon begins to have some misgivings about the integrity of the mission. And that’s where “Murder Squad” diverges from other team-based action novels. Gordon is a man of ethics who comes to the realization that he’s joined up with a team of kill-crazy nutjobs, and he needs to figure out what to do next - a little like changing a tire on a moving car.

The author’s writing in “Murder Squad” was pretty good - nothing flashy, but serviceable. I also found the setup to be very compelling and the climax to be exciting. However, it lagged quite a bit in the middle when the Murder Squad was trying to infiltrate the counterfeiting operation in Italy. As such, the core of the paperback was fairly dull. Overall, the book was about as good as a mediocre Mack Bolan paperback - nothing special but not awful enough to hate. Should you read this one? Life is short. You can do better.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, August 23, 2019

Stool Pigeon (aka Shakedown Strip)

Author Louis Malley (1922-1962) was raised in the Bronx, Harlem and the Little Italy neighborhoods of New York City. Malley authored four gritty crime novels that paralleled his own life. As a former gang member, the books are written with a sense of authenticity. This is clearly evident with the author's 1953 novel “Stool Pigeon,” which was reprinted in 1960 as “Shakedown Strip.” In July 2019, Stark House Press reprinted the novel as the 21st paperback under their Black Gat imprint.

The book's protagonist is Vincent Milazzo, a Detective First-Grade investigating the murder of criminal heavyweight, Tony Statella. As a native of Little Italy, everyone knows Milazzo and his family, an aspect that has both advantages and disadvantages in his line of work. As a police procedural, the author weaves portions of Milazzo's personal history into the narrative. Milazzo's father was a shop keeper and often tangled with the mob. His uncle ran a factory and may have had ties to the city's underworld. His ex-girlfriend Gina was often close company for one of the city's biggest criminals, Rocky Tosco. Milazzo carries some heavy baggage with the badge.

Milazzo's focus is interviewing Statella's colleagues and cohorts, ranging from the higher echelons like Tosco to the gutter pigeons that talk for a nickel. With his partner Whiteman, the duo begins piecing together a dark web of pornography, prostitution and money laundering that seemingly connects to Tosco. However, Tosco won't talk and Milazzo starts to feel the pressure from his Chief. When Statella's murder suspect is revealed, it has a close connection to Milazzo's past and creates a fun plot twist for the reader.

“Stool Pigeon” is a good crime-fiction novel. While it bears similarities to the greats – Ed McBain (Evan Hunter) and David Goodis, it never quite reaches that skill-level. I think it is a fair assessment considering few authors could achieve that remarkable storytelling. The personal conflicts in Milazzo's life – the shedding of his wholesome identity – is probably the richest vein to explore. The blending of the character's inner turmoil with the investigation and media frenzy was a well-calculated mix that I enjoyed. Overall, you can do much worse than Louis Malley.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Quarry #01 - The First Quarry

Esteemed author Max Allan Collins is a heavy contributor to the gritty hard-boiled line of mystery fiction. His well-respected creations include ‘Nate Heller’, ‘Nolan’, ‘Mallory’ and the subject at hand, ‘Quarry’. The Thrilling Detective blog cites ‘Quarry’ as the first hired killer series, predating Loren Estleman’s ‘Peter Macklin’ and Lawrence Block’s ‘Keller’. Collins released the debut, “The Broker” (aka “Quarry”), in 1976. After four more novels, and a ton of fan mail requests, the author began releasing series installments again in 2006.  Contrary to “The Broker” as sequentially the first ‘Quarry’ novel by publication date, it isn’t the chronological beginning. Quarry’s fictional accounts begin in this origin novel, “The First Quarry” (2008), and seemingly ends with “The Last Quarry” (2006). But aside from those bookends, the series can be read in any order from 1976 through last year’s entry, “Quarry’s Climax”. Thus, the explanation behind the numbered order featured here at Paperback Warrior. We are using a chronological reading sequence to encompass our review of the entire series.

Collins introduces our killer on a frosty December night in 1970. Quarry is a 5’-10”, 155-pound average build and a former U.S. Marine sniper. His experiencing killing Vietcong for low money has now extended domestically with a new business model and booming sales potential. In a brief recap, the reader learns that Quarry returned home after ‘Nam only to find his bride under a mechanic in the sack. In the blunt revenge tactic, Quarry catches the mechanic under a car…and ruthlessly kicks the jack out. The murder is widely publicized, but Quarry somehow gets off. This book’s opening pages has Quarry camped in a new suburban neighborhood in Iowa City performing surveillance. The homework is an effort to kill a college professor named K.J. Byron, ultimately Quarry’s first job offer in this new career opportunity.

An assassination service headed by the name The Broker offers Quarry the assignment to kill Byron after learning about his cold-blooded mechanic murder in the media. The Broker receives kill-jobs from needy clients which are then commissioned to hitmen. In what would become a staple of the series, The Broker simply calls our narrator “Quarry” with no indication if it’s meant as a first or last name. Regardless, this unnamed trait is formula for the genre, evident in Dashiell Hammet’s ‘Continental Op’ and Bill Pronzini’s ‘Nameless Detective’. To size up Quarry’s expertise, the first assignment is killing this professor. The client’s daughter, Annette, has been collaborating with Byron on a book in exchange for working her young pupil hips and lips. While this is enough to maintain any fatherly vendetta, the larger piece is a manuscript outlining mafia action Annette has witnessed in the family business. Killing Byron and destroying the manuscript is imperative…but proves to be an arduous task for Quarry.

In true hard-boiled fashion, this first-person narrative has the protagonist displaying the sturdy antihero archetype. He’s completely void of morality, often breaking conventional ethics and driven by self-interest. While bravado fueled novels like Don Pendleton’s “War Against the Mafia” defines rigid boundaries and a sense of right and wrong, Collins leaves Quarry dissolute; youth gone wild in all it’s moral erosion. Quarry sleeps with the client’s daughter and the professor’s wife, endangering an already fragile working relationship. He sucker-shoots, lies, cheats and steals to overcome his lack of physical superiority (noted in one scene where he can’t fight two African-American mobsters). As the elementary assignment becomes further entangled in scorned love and rival gangs, Collins is quick to remind us the web isn’t a complex weave. His quick summaries of busy, violent chapters are stylishly funny - “The good news was the girl wasn’t dead. The bad news was everything else.” Quarry is wicked and never out of morbid one-liners for the reader. He’s likable but deadly, repulsive but delightful and the “good” bad guy we all want to win.

For the lack of a better term…Quarry simply kills.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Box 100

Frank Leonard was a former New York City Welfare Department worker turned author who was nominated for an Edgar Award in 1972 for his debut crime novel, “Box 100.” It’s not clear to me what happened to the guy, but I found some mass-market non-fiction books from the same era about male sexuality and psychiatric wards that might be the same writer. Nevertheless, the important thing to know is that “Box 100” is an interesting time capsule that captures the dysfunction of 1970s New York City in a mystery surrounding the welfare system and its inhabitants.

The narrator is Ross Franklin, a new investigator with a second-tier agency called the New York City Department of Investigation that functions as a local Inspector General’s office addressing waste, fraud, and abuse in city government. This being 1972, anonymous complaints regarding government services can be mailed to P.O. Box 100 in NYC, and it’s Ross’ job to open the mail and assess the legitimacy of the incoming complaints for their investigative value.

The cynicism of civil service workers is thick at the Box 100 department. Investigators spend their days mocking constituents and writing up fake investigative reports to create the illusion of productivity. It’s hilarious to read while also tragic to consider that such government agencies may have existed then and now.

Because Ross is the new guy at work, he decides to take his job seriously, and his first Box 100 investigation involves a simple complaint about a Brooklyn resident receiving and negotiating duplicate welfare checks in one month. Ross takes a deep dive into the NYC 1970s welfare system and the black ghettos it subsidized with the insider knowledge that only a former welfare department worker could muster. You can almost imagine the author sitting at his metal desk working his soul-crushing job thinking, “This is crazy. I should write a book about this.” You’ve probably thought that about your job too. The difference is that this guy actually wrote the book.

Ross pulls on the thread of what is essentially a check fraud case and unravels a conspiracy of corruption and double-dealing inside city government and beyond. Leonard was a good writer, but none of this really amounted to all that compelling of a story. It’s likely that the author hoped “Box 100” would launch a mystery series, but it never came to pass. The paperback just wasn’t interesting enough to generate much demand. If you find this at a thrift store for a quarter, it might be worth your time, but don’t sell your spare kidney to score a rare copy.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Super Cop Joe Blaze #02 - The Concrete Cage

“The Concrete Cage” is the second in a three-volume series entitled 'Super Cop Joe Blaze'. Belmont Tower, motivated by the success of tough guy cop films like “Dirty Harry”, wanted a vigorous, tough as nails hero for their consumers. Nothing is really explained in the series debut, “The Big Payoff”, other than Joe Blaze is a New York City Detective Sergeant who works closely with his partner Ed Nuthall and Lieutenant Danny Coogan. It's really a neanderthal sort  of police procedural, written under house name Robert Novak, who may or may not be Nelson Demille.

In this second installment, a group of ex-convicts and low-level criminals conspire to kidnap ten women randomly. The book's opening pages has the group operating in a high traffic area of the city. Using the disguise of an ambulance, the cons usher the women into the ambulance at gunpoint. After one captive defiantly refuses, she's fatally shot in the chest. The murder of the innocent woman loops Blaze into the investigation.

In standard procedural plotting, Blaze tracks down a prostitute who may have a brother tied into the gang. Using this lead, Blaze and his two colleagues find an informant connected to the kidnapping. The group plans to use the captives as a new selection of coerced hookers - women who will be utilized to fulfill the needs of a violent, more sadistic clientele. Blaze, perplexed by the crime, arrests the informant but the news is leaked to the criminals. They want the informant released back to their fold or the women will be killed individually and left throughout the city.

This novel is certainly not for the squeamish. When Blaze's negotiation with the crooks stalls, the gang begins chopping up the victims. The narrative eventually moves into a rather grim decision for Blaze and the department – give the informant back to the crooks knowing he will be violently killed, or continue to track the crime ring in hopes of disposing of it with violent force.

While not as enjoyable as the series debut, “The Concrete Cage” was an entertaining, short read. The author uses a lot of tough cop characteristics to propel the narrative – car chases, seedy apartment gun fights and brawls. Lots of brawls. I found the book's finale a little lackluster, but I'll probably stick it out and read the last novel. It is written by the talented Len Levinson ('The Rat Bastards', 'The Sergeant').

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Bullet for Cinderella

“A Bullet for Cinderella” from 1955 was John D. MacDonald’s 14th novel. When he originally submitted the stand-alone crime thriller for publication, it was titled “On the Make,” and Dell Books eventually reprinted the paperback with the author’s original title for later editions starting in 1960. Since then, the paperback has been re-released several times under both names. If you’re seeking a used copy, you should have plenty of luck - just search both ways.

The story begins with our narrator, Talbert (“Tal”) Howard, arriving in a town called Hillston and checking into a motel. When he was a prisoner during the Korean War, a fellow POW named Timmy confided that he had buried a ton of stolen cash in Hillston without providing specifics about a precise location. Timmy never made it home from the war, and Tal is now in Hillston looking for the loot.

Upon arrival, Tal quickly learns that another POW from the camp named Fitz arrived in Hillston before him. While in captivity, Tal and Fitz were enemies because Fitz refused to help his fellow American G.I.s work toward their collective survival in the camp. And now Fitz is curiously in Hillston. Could he be searching for the same buried cash as Tal?

Although “A Bullet for Cinderella” is basically a treasure hunt story, it’s not an Indiana Jones type of adventure. Instead, Tal does a deep dive into Timmy’s past to unearth logical places for burying the loot. For the reader, this gets a bit melodramatic at times as historical romances and family dramas are mined for clues, and secrets of the past are revealed. I was never bored, but understand that this is a mystery, not an action novel. To be sure, there are some grisly murders and a rather terrifying, sociopathic bad guy, but we are still firmly in mystery-suspense territory here.

A paperback like “A Bullet for Cinderella” is only as good as its ending, and MacDonald delivers a violent and compelling conclusion that will stay with the reader. I don’t think this novel was necessarily peak MacDonald, but even a second-tier book by the Florida author is a damn sight better than most of the stuff I read these days. As such, it’s an easy recommendation for you.

A feature on Richard Matheson aired on the seventh episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast: Link

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 19, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 07

On this episode we are examining the noir work of successful author Richard Matheson, who's predominantly known for his horror and science-fiction work. We have two new reviews for you, 1955's "A Bullet for Cinderella" by John D. MacDonald and William W. Johnstone's 1984 western "The Last Mountain Man". Stream the episode below or wherever podcasts are streaming. Direct downloads are HERE.

Listen to "Episode 07: Richard Matheson" on Spreaker.

Strongarm

“Strongarm” is an early stand-alone novel from esteemed crime-noir author Dan J. Marlowe (1917-1986). From 1959 until 1961, Marlowe wrote a five-book series starring hotel detective Johnny Killain. Marlowe's first stand-alone, “Backfire”, was released by Berkley in 1961. In 1962, the author penned his magnum opus with “The Name of the Game is Death”, the first of a long-running series of action-adventure novels starring heist extraordinaire Earl Drake. 1963's “Strongarm” is the second stand-alone entry in Marlowe's impressive bibliography. Written on the heels of his masterpiece, does “Strongarm” possess the same level of quality?

In Earl Drake fashion, Marlowe presents an unnamed protagonist using the alias Pete Karma. Pete graduated from Ohio State and served his father during a successful political run that colored by some minor affiliations with the mob. After his father died, Pete served in the Korean War, fighting in the Chosin Reservoir as a U.S. Marine. After his discharge, Pete joined his father's successor, Charlie Risko, in a crime-ridden political reign. This is where things really turn sour.

As an assumed enforcer, Pete is asked to rough up a labor representative suspected of conspiring with the press exposing mob interference in local politics. After a journalist is found murdered in a hotel, Risko arranges for Pete to take the fall. Sentenced to a 15-year prison sentence for a crime he didn't commit, Pete begins making plans to escape. After two and a half years behind bars, Pete alligns with Risko's rival kingpin in Tony Falcaro. Together, Falcaro and Pete escape prison with a promise from Falcaro's gang that they will always be there for Pete if he needs any future favors. This would prove to be an important commitment.

Pete goes to work in Chicago as a bartender, carefully avoiding attention while planning his vengeance on Risko, his attorney Foley and a henchman named Joe Williams. However, Marlowe really throws a wrench in the gears and switches the narrative with a surprising plot twist. While trailing Williams, Pete witnesses a fiery car crash. Among the wreckage is an arm handcuffed to a briefcase containing foreign documents and $750,000 in cash. Is Pete now the target of a number of warring factions? 

Very few crime novels of this era can match Marlowe's influential caper novel. However, like most of the author's stand-alone works, his ability and talent certainly stands out even in a crowded room of his contemporaries. I would speculate that Marlowe recycled some of this novel's elements in future works. This novel's Gussie character resembles the 70s spunky flower child Chryssie from “Operation Flashpoint” (1970). The recruitment of various Falcaro mobsters is reminiscent of Earl Drake's alliance with anti-Castro factions in “Operation Fireball” (1969). Pete's ability to remove a lower dental plate reflects the disguise Drake would use with his hairpiece. In fact, the very idea of an unnamed protagonist serving time in a mental hospital can be found in both “In the Name of the Game is Death” (1962) and it's sequel, “One Endless Hour” (1969). It's safe to assume “Strongarm” had a lot of influence on the Earl Drake novels.

In terms of early Marlowe work, “Strongarm”, along with 1966's “Four for the Money,” are mandatory reads for crime-noir fans. The more I delve, collect and read 1960s crime novels, authors like Dan J. Marlowe and John D. MacDonald certainly appear to be the cream of the crop. Do yourself a favor and buy, download or borrow this book. It's a real treasure.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, August 16, 2019

Edge of the Law

Hardboiled crime author Richard Deming was one of the stable of writers represented by literary agent Scott Meredith who regularly produced muscular and twisty short stories for Manhunt Magazine in the 1950s. Later in his career, he presumably made a good living writing TV tie-in novels for shows including “Dragnet” and “The Mod Squad.” His original, full-length novels are a bit uneven - I’ve read both brilliant ones and mediocre ones. As I wade though his body of work, my next plunge is his stand-alone novel, “Edge of Law” from 1960.

Jud Sands is a man on the run bouncing from town to town with his head on a swivel waiting to be captured or killed. His pursuer is Miami racketeer Big Mark Fallon, a man with the resources to deploy goons anywhere in America to settle the score. The riff began with a gambling dispute that escalated to a violent confrontation wherein a gunshot to the arm resulted in an amputation for Big Mark. Now, the one-armed crime boss wants a piece of Jud’s ass, and our hero isn’t interested in making good on that debt.

The road takes Jud to the fictional town of Ridgeford, a city with plenty of backroom gambling and good-looking dames for Jud to sample. It doesn’t take long until he attracts the attention of Ridgeford’s local mob boss, Rizzo Amatti, who offers Jud a job as muscle for $250 a week. Jud needs the cash and figures that his new employer may provide him some protection from his old employer, so he joins up with Rizzo’s outfit.

Jud’s first assignment is to rough up a local tavern owner who refuses to play ball with the local syndicate. While delivering a message to the non-compliant proprietor, Jud learns that his old flame from back home is now married to the bar’s owner. The warm feelings for his old sweetheart change his mind and cause him to question his loyalty to Rizzo. Suddenly, he has a decision to make: keep working for the local mobster or join up with the few small businesses seeking to resist Rizzo’s stranglehold on Ridgeford? Meanwhile, will Jud’s Miami problem catch up to him in his current powder-keg?

By this point in his writing career, Deming really was at the top of his game. His tough-guy prose is perfect and his plotting is tight as a drum. As a protagonist, Jud is a man-in-full - crooked as hell but fiercely loyal to his friends with an unbending code of ethics. The conflicts arising in “Edge of the Law” are high-stakes for the participants and genuinely suspenseful for the reader. There’s plenty of action and violence along the way to keep the tension high and the pages turning. The ending was a bit abrupt for me, but that wasn’t unusual for this era and genre.

Best of all, the vintage paperback has been resurrected as an eBook priced at about four bucks or free with Kindle Unlimited. The Kindle edition doesn’t give you the alluring paperback cover art, but the product inside is good enough that you can forego a flashy wrapper. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Azriel Uprising

Bantam Books maintained a torrid schedule of fantasy and science-fiction in the 1970s and 1980s. A lot of these literary works had more in common with the men's action and adventure line than real science-fiction. Case in point is the mislabeled 1982 post-apocalyptic novel “The Azriel Uprising”. The book is written by unknown author Allyn Thompson and features a familiar premise – American citizens attempting to survive in a nuked out United States. It has more in common with “Survival 2000”, “The Survivalist” and “Doomsday Warrior” than say...”Battlefield Earth”. Bantam Books' Science-Fiction label on the spine doesn't really do the book or it's author any justice.

“The Azriel Uprising” presents readers a 1980s America that has been nuked by the Soviet Union. The book picks up ten years after the bombing, in a United States that has now been firmly defeated by the enemy. Most of the US lies in “hot zones”, places that are no longer habitable for both survivors and the Russians. The safe-zones are parts of civilization that are now controlled and operated by the Russians in a bid to eventually control all of North America. These safe-zones feature concentration and labor camps for Americans and a skeleton of society for Soviet troops and sympathizers.

We're introduced to protagonist Donna Wallace, who uses code name Juanita, in the opening pages. She was once a prisoner in a labor camp, escaped torturous conditions and now functions as a courier relaying information to pockets of resistance up and down the East Coast. After blowing up a busload of Soviet troops in Texas, she becomes allies with a former US fighter pilot named Bo. Together, the two journey to Florida to rendezvous with a large unit of American soldiers. As a Florida resident, the recon meetings in overrun shopping malls and restaurants throughout Florida were personally enticing.

At 183-pages, the bulk of the book focuses on Donna and Bo as they travel from Florida to the Northeast gathering supplies and intel for an American resistance battle in the Gulf of Mexico. The campaign, to be launched on July 5th, will be the first to feature several organized survivor groups, including fighter jets and a Navy warship. Collectively, they hope to overrun a labor camp called Valdosta, liberate the prisoners and destroy the 1,200 man army of Soviets.

First and foremost, I've read a lot of post-apocalyptic literature. The radiation aspect, aligning survivalists and fighting the Soviets was extremely popular in 80s pop culture. “The Azriel Uprising” does nothing creative or terribly innovative for the genre or its experienced readers. The action is subdued, but still features a massive gunfight in the last 15-pages. This novel plods along like an apocalyptic road trip...yet somehow I found it surprisingly engaging.

Both Donna and Bo are likable characters and I felt I had a vested interest in all of the components. The small band of fighters reminded me of “Deathlands” to a degree, and the author's descriptive nature really painted a dismal landscape for these characters to exist (like trees and shrubs growing in an abandoned McDonalds).

With horrendous sub-genre series titles like 'Phoenix', 'Swampmaster' and 'Roadblaster', “The Azriel Uprising” is clearly a more entertaining and satisfying read.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Run for the Money

Robert Colby authored about 20 novels during his career - mostly in the 1950s and 1960s - but he never achieved the fame of his paperback original colleagues of the same era. As far as I can tell, his last published paperback was a 1973 ‘Nick Carter: Killmaster’ installment titled “The Death’s Head Conspiracy” co-authored with Gary Brandner. Thanks to the miracle of Kindle, many of his vintage paperbacks have been preserved as affordable eBooks, including his 1960 release, “Run for the Money.”

The novel opens with the daring and violent heist of an armored car from Jacksonville, Florida (coincidentally, home of Paperback Warrior Headquarters) delivering cash from the Federal Reserve to banks along the route. The crew successfully makes off with nearly a million in cash while leaving the bodies of the armored car guards behind.

We then meet our protagonist, Barry Lunsford, a sad sack living in a Florida rooming house while working a low-paying job at a department store. One day Barry finds a satchel discarded by the side of the road. Upon opening the bag, he learns that it is filled to the brim with $320,000 in cash. The reader figures that this is the stolen loot from the Chapter One heist, but neither the reader nor Barry knows why it was lying by the side of a road along the train tracks. With no real friends or family ties to Florida, Barry buys a plane ticket to Los Angeles and brings the cash with him to start a new life.

As you suspected, it’s never that easy. The robbers catch up to Barry as he’s living large with the cash in Hollywood. By this point, he has a girl, and she can be used as leverage by the bad guys to make Barry give up the dough. There’s plenty of blood and sadism to cement the idea that the bad guys are really bad guys. Can Barry figure out a way to keep the money and save the girl?

In “Run for the Money,” the author has taken a basic concept - something we’ve all fantasized about - and turned it into a compelling suspense story with some tidy twists and turns. Colby’s writing is solid, and the story is without fat or filler. The short novel flies by, and while it won’t be the best crime novel you’ve ever read, I can’t imagine anyone failing to enjoy every page of this cautionary tale. Recommended.

Postscript:

Prolific multi-genre author James Reasoner shares this story: “Robert Colby and I shared an agent during the 80s, and she got us together to work on a screenplay based on ‘Run for the Money.’ Colby was a very dignified guy, kind of reserved, but I liked him and thought this was a very good book. The agent tried to sell the screenplay but nothing ever came of it. He also wrote a series of stories in ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine’ that I liked very much."

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Duel in the Snow

Hans-Otto Meissner (1909-1992) enjoyed a writing career with three different specialties: political history books, travelogues and adventure fiction. After attending universities at Heidelberg and Trinity, the majority of his life was diplomatic work in London, Moscow, Milan and Tokyo. Utilizing his world travels, Meissner retired and began his career as a successful author. My first experience with Meissner is the novel “Duel in the Snow.” It was originally released in German in 1964. It was later re-printed and published at least three more times in 1970, 1972 and the pictured 1974 reprinting by Pyramid. Each iteration features different cover art.

In December 1941, the US was bombed by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. Six months later the Japanese targeted another US property, the island of Attu. Focusing all of their efforts on Europe, the US forgot to guard the back door, so the Japanese forces occupied the island and began constructing landing strips that they hoped to use for bombing runs on America's West Coast cities. The location of Attu is important because it lies just off the coast of Alaska. In fact, in 1935 General Billy Mitchell advised the US Congress that whoever holds Alaska will hold the world. He felt it was the most important strategic place on the planet.

The opening pages of Meissner's novel depict the quick occupation of Attu and introduces key characters to the narrative – Japanese Captain Hidaka and Alaskan game warden McCluire. With Attu's grueling weather patterns, complete with frigid temperatures and howling winds, the actual launching of fighter planes from the island was a harrowing endeavor. Meissner's fictional narrative has the Japanese forces conceiving a plan to parachute a dozen soldiers into the northern section of Alaska. Led by the talented Hidaka, their mission is to transmit the weather patterns back to leaders on Attu so they can plan air attacks accordingly. Knowing that the radio broadcasts will be intercepted by US intelligence, the Japanese team will need to consistently travel through the wilderness avoiding detection, never residing in one location for too long. Hidaka's team realizes they will never be retrieved and that this is essentially a do-and-die mission.

Learning of the Japanese mission, the US doesn't have enough resources to allocate to Alaska for a seek and destroy operation. They would need men who not only possess combat experience, but men who are familiar with this barren stretch of frosty wilderness. After assembling a small team of inexperienced Alaskan scouts, US military brass enlists Alaskan game warden and survivalist extraordinaire McCluire to lead the expedition. McCluire hesitantly agrees and the narrative is set into motion with the team hunting Hidaka through the snowy mountains.

How this novel has flown under the radar is beyond me. At a robust length of 256-pages, I was entranced. Meissner's keen ability to develop both parties into likable foes and the patience he uses to create white-knuckle suspense is just so rewarding for the reader. Under the guiding hand of another author, the book could have been rather one-dimensional. While offering the obligatory “seek and destroy” theme, Meissner introduces Alaskan history, regional and Japanese fighting customs and a surreal look at grim survival. Western fans will love the rugged Alaskan interior while military fiction (and even non-fiction) enthusiasts will gravitate to this rather unknown chapter of the war – The Battle of Attu.

No matter which sub-genre you enjoy, the overwhelming sensation is adventure. Hans Meissner has created a stunning action-packed novel that I nearly read in one sitting. I found myself re-arranging my day to avoid any stoppage in the story. I think this book will have that same effect on you. Go hunt down a copy of this extraordinary book.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 12, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 06

On this show we'll discuss the mysterious career of author and publisher Peter McCurtin. We examine McCurtin's "Escape from Devil's Island" as well as two new reviews - "Duel in the Snow" by German author Hans Meissner and the debut Malko novel "West of Jerusalem" by Gerard De Villiers. (Music credit to Bensound). Stream the episode below or on services like Spreaker, Apple, Google and Stitcher. Download the show HERE.

Listen to "Episode 06: Who is Peter McCurtin?" on Spreaker.

Malko #01 - West of Jerusalem

I was left scratching my head at the recent news that Michael Fassbender will produce and star in a Hollywood film adaptation of the ‘Malko’ series of paperbacks by Gerard de Villiers. Why Malko? Why not Mack Bolan? Why not Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm? The paperbacks I’ve seen on the used bookshelves sure don’t look like much.

The Malko series (called the S.A.S. series in France) began in 1964 and was written in French by Gerard de Villiers (1929-2013) with 200 installments and millions upon millions of copies sold. An English translation of the first book in the American numbering scheme, “West of Jerusalem” was released by Pinnacle Books in August 1973. The novel was installment #9 in France, but I get the impression that series order isn’t all that important in the Malkoverse, so I picked up a copy at the used bookstore to see what all the fuss was about.

The series hero is Malko Linge, an Austrian prince who graduated from Harvard in 1954 and has been working on a contract basis for the CIA for a decade when we join him in the 1960s. He inherited a castle in Austria that is in need of serious renovations, so he continues taking CIA gigs to generate sufficient cash flow to pay contractors. Malko’s foreign background provides the operative with instant cover and credibility while operating overseas. His public face is that of a dashing international jet-setting playboy - pretty much the truth for the Austrian nobleman. As is typical in these type of books, Malko is the best we have.

“West of Jerusalem” opens with the dramatic public suicide of the CIA director. His aides and colleagues are baffled by his mysterious demise and turn to Malko to investigate the reason. The trajectory of the case sends Malko to New York, Switzerland and beyond with plenty of action along the way. The novel has a block of key scenes in the 1960s psychedelic subculture - a setting I’ve always found annoying and cliched. There’s also some rather retrograde depictions of gay people in the story. Bear in mind, the paperback was originally published in 1967, so these quibbles are really just artifacts of the era.

Even though Pinnacle packaged the novel with a corny painted cover indicative of the publisher’s lowbrow early-1970s offerings, Malko has more in common with Ian Fleming’s James Bond than Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan. Malko is a professional spy conducting an investigative mission in order to solve a vexing mystery. There’s plenty of violent action, but it’s never cartoonish or over-the-top as we see in The Butcher or The Penetrator paperbacks. Moreover, the villain’s plan is reasonable - nothing silly like a Nick Carter: Killmaster story. There’s also a realism to the author’s writing unseen in other big-font, painted-cover paperbacks of the era. The English translation is solid with no indication that the original manuscript was written in French. Moreover, this is a CIA adventure (as opposed to a French intel service), so readers of American spy fiction will find themselves on familiar cultural ground.

With some minor quibbles, I enjoyed the hell out of this fast-moving, well-written paperback, and I now have a better understanding why the series was wildly-popular in Europe. I can’t wait to hunt down other early entries and review them for you here. Regarding the forthcoming Hollywood adaptation, I’m no longer asking why. A better question is: Why did they wait this long?

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Executioner #88 - Baltimore Trackdown

“Baltimore Trackdown” is the 88th entry in the long-running 'The Executioner' series. Written by journeyman Chet Cunningham (1928-2017), the novel was released by Gold Eagle in 1986. Cunningham contributed to a number of Mack Bolan volumes including the 79th installment, “Council of Kings”, which includes characters that later appear in “Baltimore Trackdown”. A series education isn't a prerequisite as these books can still be enjoyed in any order.

Mob kingpin Carlo Nazarione has infiltrated the Baltimore Police Department. With a vast, cascading stream of money, Nazarione and his criminal cohorts have purchased plenty of badges in their quest to run a gambling empire on the East Coast. The mob are using a veteran named Captain Harley Davis to monitor the bribery channels and to solicit new members for the crooked cop brigade. However, one of Mack Bolan's oldest and most trusted confidants, Leo Turrin, has planted an informant within the ranks. It's this collaboration that allows Bolan easy access at his new targets.

For the most part, Cunningham utilizes Don Pendleton's early template to create this rousing Bolan adventure. The paperback deploys series the series trope of a young, innocent woman who's raped and murdered by the criminals as a motivating spark for The Executioner. Bolan, as if he needs more purpose, seeks to avenge her death. Gambling halls and bars are familiar landscapes for Bolan to fulfill his mission, but it's not until page 114 where things really become interesting.

In a clever tie-in with Cunningham's work on “The Executioner 79: Council of Kings”, a hitman named Vince Carboni appears. What's unique is that there is no mention of this character anywhere in the first 114 pages aside from a line stating that Carboni has been hired to finish Bolan for good after a firefight in Portland failed to eliminate the hero. In research, this recollection links to the 79th entry where Carboni is enforcing for the Canzonari's West Coast mob. None of this really matters, just a simple way to inject Carboni into 44 pages of this book.

The author shines as Carboni and Bolan do battle on a farm in rural Maryland. The cat-and-mouse tactics are some of the best scenes in my experience with 'The Executioner' books. Carboni ultimately controls the high ground, manning a 30-06 rifle from a farmhouse window. Bolan, trapped in a shed, attempts to dodge in and out of farm vehicles, buildings and eventually rooms within the house. The battle spills into cornfields, the road and back to the farm again before this side-story finally reaches its conclusion. This battle echoes David Goodis' effective farmhouse gunfight in “Down There”, also known as “Shoot the Piano Player” (1952), only more modern and quite a bit longer.

Overall, this is an exceptional Executioner entry with very engaging narrative and characters. While over the top at times, the book has a surprising sense of realism due to its more personal presentation – urban America on the take. If you are looking for a fantastic post-Pendleton Bolan work, this makes the short-list.

This novel and the entire Mack Bolan universe was discussed on the fifth episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast: Link.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Red Radford #01 - Black Legion

John Robb (1917-1993) was a British journalist and author of science fiction, westerns, gangster thrillers, and war stories who was born with the name Norman Robson but legally changed his name to his popular pseudonym. In 1960 and 1961, Robb authored three short adventure novels starring Interpol agent Red Radford that were originally published as small hardcovers (Hardy Boys style) in England, but these definitely aren’t children’s books.

“Black Legion” is the first Red Radford novel from 1960. The novel opens at a French Foreign Legion outpost in the Sahara desert. A half-dead Arab stumbles into the Legionaries with a story too outrageous to be true. He claims that a cadre of French soldiers came to his village, gunned down two men, and forced the rest into slavery. Later, the French began hearing more rumors of fighter jets overhead and heavy artillery weapons hidden among the rocks and chasms of the desert. Who are these rogue soldiers and what are their ties to the French Foreign Legion, if any?

British Special Agent Hugh “Red” Radford, assigned to Interpol in Paris, is given the assignment to travel to Africa, embed with the Foreign Legion, and investigate these reports of a rogue detachment of Legionnaires menacing villagers in the desert. Out of an abundance of caution, Radford adopts a cover as a British-born officer of the Legion on a map-making survey. The character of Radford reminded me of a combination of Edward Aaron’s Sam Durrell and Hollywood’s Indiana Jones with a pulp hero’s earnestness.

Once in the field, it becomes abundantly clear that the mysterious fighters holed up in the massive Sahara ravine plateau have advanced war-making firepower and murderous intent. Radford and a couple sidekicks - an American and a Frenchman - set out in a helicopter to find the truth. The adversaries he encounters are diabolical and compelling as all hell with a plot that can only be stopped by the bravery and ingenuity of a spy like Radford.

“Black Legion” is a fantastic combo of a spy adventure with a compelling mystery. The international fighting force of the French Foreign Legion provides an interesting culture within which our hero operates. The novel wastes no time before plunging Radford and the reader into the bloody action and intelligent intrigue. There are suicide missions, bloodthirsty, locust-eating Arabs, and graphic knife fights. Radford is a a great hero, and the author knows his way around exciting action sequences, literary combat and vivid chase scenes filled with daring adventure for pages upon pages. There are several scenes in the novel that beg to be filmed in a big screen adaptation, and I’m surprised no one has made that happen.

Ignore the vintage packaging that recalls children’s books of the same era. There’s no way this novel was written for kids - unless your teen has a particular interest in the bad-blood arising from the French occupation of Algeria. That said, you don’t really need to know anything about the region, the history, or the politics to enjoy the hell out of “Black Legion.” Western spies battling desert lunatics is a timeless storyline that transcends any particular conflict or era. I was overjoyed to read this pulp thrill-ride and can’t wait to read the other two books in the series.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

You'll Get Yours

Although dying at the early age of 37, William Ard (1922-1960) penned over 30 novels under his own name as well as pseudonyms like Mike Moran, Jonas Ward, Ken Hamlin and Ben Kerr. As Thomas Wills, Ard wrote two novels starring private investigator Barney Glines, “You'll Get Yours” (1952) and “Mine to Avenge” (1955). Stark House Press imprint Black Gat has re-printed “You'll Get Yours” at an affordable price to attract new generations to this talented writer.

Press agent Archie St. George has summoned Glines to his office to meet aspiring actress Kyle Shannon. St. George has encouraged Shannon to explain her dire situation to Glines in hopes she will hire him to investigate. Shannon has her debut film on the cusp of theatrical release after years of modeling leggings. Shannon doesn't want the public to realize she has inherited a fortune from her dead father. Apparently women in the 1950s can't become legitimate film stars if they come from wealthy stock. So, the secret of her fortune, as well as the $100,000 in diamonds she carries in a suitcase, is being suppressed from the public until she reaches widespread appeal. Then her personal fortune will simply blend into her robust box-office earnings with none the wiser.

Glines becomes involved because someone has stolen her diamonds. Shannon, hoping the thief won't reveal the diamond's owner to the public, wants Glines to recover the jewelry. This is an elementary plot and Wiliam Ard thankfully knows it. That's why he throws a box of wrenches in the gears to surprise the characters and reader. This isn't just an average jewel heist.

The thief contacts Glines and advises he will ransom back the jewels for a meager $20K. Suspicious of the offer, Glines accepts the deal and offers Shannon's money for the box of diamonds. After looking through the box, Shannon wants to know where the real fortune is. Puzzled, Glines points out that the diamonds are indeed there. However, Shannon's real treasure were a series of nude photos that she kept secure with the diamonds...in her missing suitcase. Suspending belief, I'm buying it I suppose. Now, Glines next job is to locate the stolen pictures before the thief can ransom them to the press.

Glines’ role as investigator inevitably leads to him falling in love with Shannon. But she's in love with St. George, who alone seems to have more interest in Shannon's wealth and potential than her sultry red hair. As Glines digs deeper into the heist, he finds himself tangled in a heroin ring that leads to his own false arrest. Attempting to prove his innocence, he teams with a homicide detective to track Shannon's extortionist through New York.

For a 1952 paperback, Ard pulls no punches. There's a number of deaths, detailed drug abuse and a somewhat critical inspection of police procedure. In terms of violence...let's say 1970s and 80s men's action-adventure might be a close comparison. In one shocking scene, thugs hold Glines down while absolutely obliterating a drugged out hooker in a hail of bullets. That's bold. But what's really interesting about Ard's position is his candid look at the price of popularity. Even in today's modern times, we still see this same situation: celebrities' privacy auctioned off to the highest bidder. Then it was calendars and magazines, today it's social networks, leaked sex tapes and TMZ.

With “You'll Get Yours,” Ard proves to be a cunning architect of plotting as he scripts the perfect storm of bribery, jealousy, extortion and intrigue. The book's fiery finale asks if there is more for Barney Glines. Let's hope Stark House has the affordable answer. This novel's sequel, “Mine to Avenge,” demands a hefty price tag as an out of print used paperback online.

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Gunsmith #446 - Deadville

‘The Gunsmith’ series of adult Westerns by Robert Randisi (writing as J.R. Roberts) is the most enduring - and the last man standing - of the mega-successful adult western titles. It’s also the most consistently good, thanks to having one author and visionary at the helm rather than a rotating cast of hired guns writing under a house name. The series started in 1982 and new installments are still released on a regular schedule, so I decided to check in with a 2019 episode, “Gunsmith #446: Deadville.”

Clint Adams is The Gunsmith, a drifter hero and gunfighter who rides from town to town finding adventures and getting laid in the Old West. Over the years, Randisi has played with the idea that Adams has achieved a kind of folk hero celebrity status in the untamed American West. This has made for a fun premise in several different novels, and provides the motivation for the villains of “Deadville.”

Mayor Tom Simon of Wentworth, Nebraska has cooked up a scheme to make his crappy, dying village into an 1800s boomtown. He’s studied the success of towns like Deadwood and Tombstone and believes he’s cracked the code of their success. These towns have benefited from the violent deaths of famous gunfighters - such as Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood. His plan is to entice the famous Clint Adams into town, have The Gunsmith killed in a dramatic fashion, change Wentworth’s name to Deadville, and a tourist Mecca is born!

A few months later, The Gunsmith is lured to Wentworth under false pretenses - stopping to get laid along the way. Now, Mayor Simon’s toadies can’t just shoot Adams in the back and expect Deadville to be the next OK Corral. The killing of Clint Adams requires some drama and theatricality to make the story go viral, so he enlists the help of a gunfighting local outlaw named Bad Tony Bacon to lay the groundwork for a staged killing within city limits.

There’s a cool vibe in “Deadville” that reminds me a bit of the movie “The Truman Show.” Many of the citizens and leaders of Wentworth understand that they are creating theater to set up the sequence of events leading to The Gunsmith’s murder. The only one without any knowledge of the gag seems to be Clint Adams himself. Randisi’s writing is forward-moving and breezy with lots of dialogue and short chapters making the pages fly by. The sex scenes are graphic and very explicit, but they can be skipped or skimmed if you’re the type to blush easily.

What we really have here is a mystery where The Gunsmith attempts to understand what Mayor Simon is planning before Adams starts catching bullets with his body. Randisi is a seasoned writer of both mysteries and Westerns, so he’s on familiar ground here - particularly after authoring over 500 adult western novels. The story was very compelling but there wasn’t a lot of action outside of the bedroom until deep into the paperback. Overall, “Deadville” is formulaic as hell and probably not a great selection for your wife’s book club, but the story is a lot of fun with tons of sex and a likable stalwart hero. What’s not to like?

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 5, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 05

In this episode, we discuss the massive Mack Bolan universe, including the origin, spin-offs and legacy of "The Executioner". Additionally, Eric reviews the 88th "Executioner" novel, "Baltimore Trackdown", by Chet Cunningham. Tom reviews the newest adult western novel, "Gunsmith: Deadville", by Robert Randisi. Listen below or on streaming services like Apple, Google, Spreaker, YouTube, Stitcher, etc.

Listen to "Episode 05: The Executioner Mack Bolan" on Spreaker.

The Last Notch

Arnold Hano is an esteemed sportswriter, winning numerous accolades including 1963's Sportswriter of the Year. His 1955 non-fiction account of the 1954 World Series, “A Day in the Bleachers”, placed him in the annals of baseball history. Along with freelance work, including The Saturday Evening Post and The New York Times, Hano wrote many paperback originals under the pseudonyms of Gil Dodge, Matthew Gant, Ad Gordon and Mike Heller. Using his managing editor experience with Bantam, Hano became editor-in-chief of Lion Books from 1949-1954, developing crime-noir legends like Jim Thompson and David Goodis.

While working at Lion Books, Hano wrote a classic western tale entitled “The Last Notch”. This 1958 novel was released under the name Matthew Gant to avoid the optics of publishing himself in his authoritative role as editor-in-chief. The book was reprinted in 2017 by Stark House Press under imprint Black Gat Books. It features an introduction by David Laurence Wilson, including insights from Hano on his career and literary body of work. As of the time of this review, Hano is still writing at the age of 97.

“The Last Notch” is a western. The genre tropes are clearly evident – cattle rustlers, six-guns and fast-draws...of both iron and whiskey. However, it is written to exclude one of the centerpieces of the frontier story. There's no clear hero. No white hats to be seen. It is devoid of any strict boundaries between right and wrong, and lacks any social conventions for the characters. It's as if Hano's goal was the non-traditional definition of a hero. It's not until the book's closing pages that the moral courage is unveiled, finally allowing readers the satisfaction of some semblance of a heroic figure...as little as that may be. But I think that is where “The Last Notch” excels as an abstract western tale that defies the mandatory genre attributes.

The book's central character is an old gun-slinger named Slattery, an bi-racial killer-for-hire who has accepted his final contract - $5,000 to kill a “target to be named later”. Faces and names mean very little to men like Slattery, so he accepts the job and does what killers do - hangs out at the bar with similar men. One of them is a cold-blooded youth named The Kid, essentially Slattery's heir apparent. The arrogant young man wants to knock off Slattery and assume his position as the King of the Killers. Slattery isn't buying it and refuses to face The Kid in a gun-duel.


The territory has a newly-elected governor who is issuing amnesty to men like Slattery. In retribution for his sins, the tired gun-hand wants to kill one more time, accept “forgiveness” from the elected official and turn in his guns for a pardon. In a way, Slattery feels this act is a cleansing of the sins, a way to simply ride off into the sunset and die. The book's exciting dilemma is revealed when Slattery learns his $5,000 target is the governor himself.

Hano employs a back-story inspired by the mega-success of 1957's “Mandingo” by Kyle Onstott to paint Slattery's past as a plantation slave and his subsequent birth out of wedlock following the coupling of a white master and a black slave. The author uses the opportunity to provide adversity for Slattery, essentially shaping him into a grim-faced killer, a sweeping hand of death that just does the job and coldly forgets about the last one. Mixed into the narrative is a riveting side-story of amnesty for cattle rustlers, which cleverly crosses into Slattery's goals of killing the governor.

There are basic westerns, and then there are special westerns like “The Last Notch”. Genre authors and hopefuls would do very well to improve their plotting by simply reading the book's 14th chapter, if nothing else. While the action heats up in the finale, it's a slower, more methodical approach bordering on psychological suspense that sets this apart from rudimentary western storytelling. Kudos to Stark House Press and Black Gat for bringing this fantastic novel back into circulation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE