Monday, September 30, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 13

We close out the month of September with a feature on Max Allan Collins and his series of books starring the hitman Quarry. Tom reviews "Quarry's Choice" from 2015 and Eric tackles the 23rd installment of 'The Butcher' series, "Appointment in Iran". Tom and Eric look back at the best of September and offer a sneak peek at October's lineup of reviews. Stream the show below or on any popular streaming service. Direct Downloads LINK Listen to "Episode 13: Quarry" on Spreaker.

Tragg's Choice

Clifton Adams (1919-1971) wrote over 50 books and 125 stories using various pseudonyms including Clay Randall and Matt Kinkaid. Most of Adams' literary work is westerns although he did author a small number of crime novels. The Oklahoma native and WW2 veteran won two coveted Spur awards for his western novels “The Last Days of Wolf Garnett” (1970) and “Tragg's Choice” (1969). One of his most successful creations was the 'Amos Flagg' series, published between 1964-1969. My first experience with Clifton Adams is “Tragg's Choice,” originally released by Ace and the subject of this review.

With “Tragg's Choice,” I think the most prevalent sentiment expressed by Adams is guilt. It's an overpowering burden that's not only shifted between characters, but a consistent characteristic worn by each personality. Within the dust and grime of dry Texas, Adams writes at a fevered pace, driving these contestants through a blazing whirlwind of deception, greed and violence while carrying a freight-train of guilt. Like Arnold Hano's “The Last Notch” (1958) and Ralph Hayes' “Gunslammer” (1973), “Tragg's Choice” is the embodiment of the perfect frontier tale.

Ten years ago, US Marshall Owen Tragg hunted and killed infamous outlaw Jody Barker. That event thrust Tragg into the national spotlight, eventually leading to his resignation from law enforcement. In the vein of a traveling sideshow, Tragg spent a decade traveling the country as a lecturer, hesitantly donning a flamboyant “rhinestone” cowboy look costume with tassels and strings and re-telling the epic confrontation. This silly (and somewhat fictitious) spectacle paid the bills, but now after ten years, most people have forgotten Jody Barker and Owen Tragg.

Adams first introduces the reader to Tragg's eventual counterpart, a lowly sodbuster named Morrisey. In the opening pages, Morrisey stumbles upon a wounded cattleman. The dehydrated man begs Morrisey to mercifully locate a doctor for his broken leg and to provide water. Once Morrisey realizes the man has $200, he simply camps out nearby and lets the sun slowly do the murdering. Basking in his change of luck, Morrisey plans to travel back to his wife to impress her with his newfound fortune. It's on a stagecoach through the desert that Morrisey meets Tragg.

From here, there's plenty of white-knuckle suspense to be had. Avoiding any potential spoilers, Morrisey and Tragg eventually stumble upon a bounty hunter named Callahan who is chasing after a woman named Jessie Ross. While Tragg is saddled with his past and the grief of killing a man, Jessie Ross is carrying her own emotional baggage arising from turning in her outlaw boyfriend for a share of a rich bounty. Callahan is on her tail hoping to learn the outlaw's whereabouts so he can beat Jessie to the reward. Collectively, the four learn a great deal about each other on this ill-fated trip through the desert.

While my review seems a little incomplete, trust me when I say it's for your own good. This is a western masterpiece and the perfect introduction to Clifton Adams. There's plenty of gun-play to be found within this emotional examination of guilt and greed. I've always enjoyed authors tinkering with the human condition by taking everyday people and placing them in extraordinary conditions - the essence of noir fiction. It is this premise that allows Adams to excel. You won't find many westerns as good as this. As an inexpensive, fairly popular paperback, do yourself a favor and make “Tragg's Choice” your next choice. You won't be disappointed.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, September 27, 2019

Lt. Clancy #01 - Mute Witness

Robert Lloyd Fish (1912-1981) was an Edgar Award winner who authored over 30 crime novels under his own name as well as the fishy pseudonym of Robert L. Pike. His 1962 paperback, “Mute Witness,” was loosely adapted into the 1968 Steve McQueen film, “Bullitt.” I’ve never seen the film and probably won’t, but Hollywood’s endorsement of the paperback was enough for me to give it a shot.

I understand that the film is iconically set in San Francisco where cars shoot sparks as they leap over every hill, but “Mute Witness” is a car chase free mystery novel set in New York City. Specifically, the 52nd Precinct where NYPD Lieutenant Clancy (no first name is provided) is assigned to guard a witness who will soon be testifying before the State Crime Commission. The D.A. wants this witness alive when the Commission meets, and the suspicion is that the mafia wants the witness permanently muted. Clancy is an odd choice to project-manage this bodyguard assignment since he has historic problems with his department’s management that cost him a promotion and forced him to transfer and languish in the 52nd Precinct.

In this case, the protectee is Johnny Rossi, a high-level hoodlum running a regional crime racket who is prepared to spill his guts to the New York Crime Commission. Rossi is holed up inside a small uptown hotel and has agreed to have plain-clothes protection until its time for his testimony. That’s where Clancy comes in. You see, this is more than just an assignment for the talented cop - it’s his shot at redemption. Clancy doesn’t understand Rossi’s motivation to testify, nor is it his concern. As long as Rossi makes it to court in one piece, Clancy can declare victory and get on with his career.

It wouldn’t be much of a crime novel if the cops just played gin rummy with the hidden mobster for 180 pages. Of course, someone tries to kill Rossi while he’s being protected by Clancy’s guys. Clancy must determine the source of the compromise and identify the syndicate assassins hired to do the job. In that regard, “Mute Witness” is a real mystery with actual clues, red herrings, and a solvable solution.

The author creates a real sense of urgency because Clancy must solve this case before a certain deadline or everything goes to hell. An interesting element to to the plot is that in order to solve the case in a hurry, Clancy forgoes sleep. His deprivation creates physical exhaustion coupled with a decline in his mental faculties over the course of the paperback. We’ve all been there when we are working too hard without any sleep, but Fish does an outstanding job of making this exhaustion real for both Clancy and the reader.

Fish wrote a few short stories and three novels in his Lt. Clancy series - all using the Robert Pike pseudonym. The full paperbacks are:

- "Mute Witness" (1962)
- "The Quarry" (1964)
- "Police Blotter" (1965)


By the time, Hollywood made the movie “Bullitt” in 1968, Fish was finished with the Clancy character. My research indicates that Clancy and Bullitt have zero in common anyway. Hollywood just took the novel’s basic plot outline, added some car chases, and moved it to San Francisco with essentially a different lead character. After the film’s success, Fish wrote a series of novels using the Pike pseudonym starring a fast-driving, turtleneck-wearing, San Francisco detective named Reardon. “Bullitt” fans looking for more of the same should probably just check out the “Reardon” novels.

However, fans of smart NYPD police procedural mysteries in the vein of Ed McBain will absolutely love the intelligent twists and turns of “Mute Witness.” The paperback has been reprinted a ton under the original title and as a “Bullitt” movie tie-in while also remaining available as an affordable eBook.

Highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Broken Angel

Floyd Mahannah (1911-1976) never had a successful literary career, but his small body of work is still highly respected by crime-noir fans and enthusiasts. With just six full-length paperback novels to his credit (one of which was just a condensed version of another), Mahannah also contributed to a number of magazines like Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Manhunt, Adventure and Argosy. His 1957 novel, “The Broken Angel”, has been reprinted by Stark House Press with an introduction by author Bill Pronzini ('Quincannon', 'Nameless Detective'). The reprint also includes six of the author's short stories.

The book stars newspaper editor Roy Holgren as a hapless fool who's fallen in love with his secretary, the sultry and suspicious Sara. The two have been fooling around for a few months, with just enough intimacy to propel Roy's infatuation with the young woman. But, this is a crime novel and soon enough Roy finds that Sara has skipped town, ditching him and his marital aspirations. Leaving behind a letter, Sara states that she is on the lam from police pursuit and that she'll miss Roy.

The narrative expands as Roy receives a second letter from Sara just four days later. She has the audacity to ask him for $200 and leaves an address for her location. Roy, still chasing love, arrives at the address to find Sara is now residing in a hospital after a vicious assault by a man named Wes Wesnick. Sara, fearing Roy may be her only help, unveils her compromising position in a murder heist.

Sara was once a nurse named Sharon Albany. After falling in love (read that as lust) with her married employer, plastic surgeon Bantley Quillard, there was a mysterious murder of his wife, Iris. The question of whether Sara killed the woman in a jealous fit of rage is a dominant plot point. Roy doesn't know, Sara refuses to elaborate and the devil's in the details. But, aside from one messy murder that Sara is avoiding, the real quandary lies in an opportunity for Roy. Sara knows where Mace Romualdo is living. Mace is a wanted suspect in a major jewelry heist in San Francisco. It's up the ante for Roy when he learns that the jeweler's insurance company will pay ten-percent of the insured value for any jewelry that is returned or found, plus a $25,000 bonus. If Roy can bring Mace to the police, he could solidify a life with Sara, who may or may not be a seductive killer.

“The Broken Angel” reads like a Day Keene novel but has enough foreboding doom to capture Cornell Woodrich. It's a brooding take on mistrust and ill-fated love, with a number of characters that are equally flawed and unworthy. Should anyone benefit from the reward money? I'm not terribly sure, but Mahannah certainly makes for an entertaining, albeit convoluted, crime story. I didn't have the opportunity to read or review the stories included in the Stark House reprinting, but based on just the quality of “The Broken Angel”, this one is sure to please genre fans.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Murder Takes a Wife

James Arch Howard (1922-2000) was a World War 2 pilot who later earned a doctorate in psychology. He also wrote crime novels in his spare time under his own name as well as using the pseudonym of Laine Fischer. To the extent that he is remembered at all, he’s known for the Steve Ashe series of four mystery paperbacks between 1954 and 1957. His first stand-alone crime thriller was “Murder Takes a Wife,” a Pocket Books original from 1958 that’s available now as an affordable ebook.

Narrator Jeff Allen is a hit-man with a specialty of killing wives at the request of their husbands - usually to save the client’s some future alimony. He charges $10,000 per hit, plus expenses, and he’s very good at his job - never working more than five jobs per year. In the shocking opening scene, Jeff tosses a radio into a tub during his target’s bubble bath and then stages the scene to look like an accident. It’s the kind of brutal, Manhunt-esque opening that really grabs the reader by the throat and demands attention.

Like the Max Allan Collins character “Quarry,” Jeff is a smooth professional who gets close and ingratiates himself into the lives of the women he’s engaged to kill. Sometimes, he gets laid. Unlike Quarry, Jeff prefers to stage his murders as accidents. It’s also interesting to read the utter lack of compassion he feels for the women he kills - referring to them as tramps and leeches.

After finishing a brutal murder, Jeff relocates and falls in with a group of wealthy Fort Worth businessman with wives worth killing. Jeff gently nudges these country club types toward the idea of offing their wives to create some liberation from the bonds of marriage. The long sales cycle takes up most of the book, and the reader becomes immersed in a bit too much interpersonal drama among the couples. Using his cover as a wholesale pharmaceutical salesman, Jeff is very good at getting inside this group of friends, so the manipulation can begin.

This all culminates in some interesting murders, and a conclusion that I didn’t find particularly satisfying. However, the author is clearly a real talent, and I now want to explore his Steve Ashe series. Overall, I’m not upset to have read “Murder Takes a Wife,” but don’t confuse it with a masterpiece of the genre.

Acknowledgment:

Special thanks to the excellent blog, The Rap Sheet, for providing biographical background on the author.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Edge of Panic

Henry Kane (1918-1988) authored over 60 novels, some utilizing pseudonyms like Anthony McCall, Kenneth McKay and Mario Sagola. His most successful character was 'Peter Chambers', a Manhattan playboy private eye that appeared in over 30 of Kane's novels. As a new Kane reader, my first experience with his writing is the early stand-alone title “Edge of Panic”, originally released by Dell in 1951 for a quarter.

“Edge of Panic” is the stereotypical crime-noir novel that possesses a tried and true formula that heaped huge rewards for many crime novelists of the 50s and 60s. The concept? Well, it's fairly elementary. The drunken man simply wakes up with a corpse. Even prolific crime novelist Day Keene titled one of his novels after the familiar prose - “Wake Up to Murder” (1951). Depending on the author, even an over-utilized plot can still be entertaining.

The book's protagonist is Harry Martin, an ordinary family man working as a successful insurance agent in New York City. For those unfamiliar with the insurance industry, agents are typically rewarded with lavish trips and bonus awards that are sometimes saturated with alcohol depending on how high the numbers bounce off the monthly quota. Martin has prospered at Alliance Mutual and in the past enjoyed many sales conferences with Scotch and the company's vice-president Quigley. After meeting his wife Alice and becoming a father, his wild and woolly days are in the rear-view. Now it's pork chops, club soda and nights with the newspaper.

After a client's husband passes away, Quigley brings the policy and it's cash payout to Martin with an invitation to catch up over drinks. Martin's plan is to meet with a wealthy female client later that night, so he takes Quigley up on the offer. After several glasses of Scotch (a mainstay beverage in Kane's novels), Martin starts to become woozy. With endless pouring, Martin goes on a full bender before departing for his prospective client's apartment.

Soon, Martin passes out only to awaken a few hours later in the woman's apartment...and she's been bludgeoned to death! Disoriented and drunk, Martin is dismayed to find he is holding a bloody hammer. Petrified that he's committed a murder, Martin flees the scene and holes up with a friend across town. Surprisingly, the book's changes gears and places Alice into a primary role. She works against the dragnet to learn more about her husband's activities while attempting to convince the authorities of Martin's innocence.

This is a breezy crime novel that works well within the “drunk finds a corpse” niche. While not terribly original (or innovative), Kane delivers the goods in a propelling way. While never dull or lifeless, the mystery takes a few twists and turns before culminating in the inevitable reveal. Overall, a pleasing, well-told crime novel from one of the genre's most consistent writers.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, September 23, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 12

In this episode, Tom discusses the career of crime-noir author Milton Ozaki, including his 1958 paperback "Case of the Cop's Wife". Eric continues his WW2 theme from last week with a review of 1979's "Sergeant Hawk" by Patrick Clay. Tom takes us to the Macon County Line with a book buying road trip in Georgia. Listen below or download directly LINK. Also, stream on any popular streaming service. Listen to "Episode 12: Milton Ozaki" on Spreaker.

Soldier of Fortune #17 - Bloodbath

After a decent run during the 1970s, the “Soldier of Fortune” series by Peter McCurtin (1929-1997) discontinued in 1978 after nine installments. He resurrected the series and main character in 1984 for nine more paperbacks over the course of 15 months with cheap photo covers. I grabbed a copy of the 17th book in the series, “Bloodbath,” from 1985, but I could never figure out if it was written by McCurtin or a ghost writer because Ralph Hayes and Paul Hofrichter also wrote books in the series under McCurtin’s name. Leisure Books never bothered to register the copyright on the paperback, and the eyewitness trail has gone cold. In either case, the paperback was almost certainly edited by McCurtin based on his plot outline, and the writing sure feels like his.

The Soldier of Fortune narrating the series is Jim Rainey, a badass for hire to whatever cause and hellhole has the cash to pay for his combat expertise. “Bloodbath” opens with Rainey on vacation in Hawaii where he witnesses the explosion of a Honolulu children’s hospital - an act of terror so unthinkable even Rainey is briefly shocked by the destructive carnage. A meeting with police discloses that the bombing was likely the work of the Hawaiian Liberation Army, a Polynesian terror group seeking to drive the Yankees off the island chain and restore the monarchy to the lineage of King Kamehameha. Oh yeah, they’re also commies. 

Because Rainey is a merc in close proximity to the explosion, he’s immediately considered a suspect by local police. They don’t have enough to hold him, but he is ordered not to leave the islands and placed under tight surveillance. With his reputation and honor to protect, Rainey decides to hunt down the terrorists himself to clear his name. So, with the simple turn of the page, Rainey the death dealer becomes Rainey the gumshoe with a dastardly crime to solve. 

After finding and wasting (Mack Bolan-style) some of the revolutionary foot soldiers, Rainey decides that the only way to dismantle the Hawaiian sovereignty group is to get hired as a mercenary by them - a busman’s holiday for the paid warrior. Once he has infiltrated the terrorist group, the novel’s action slows down with lots of planning and bickering among the Hawaiians and their Caucasian hired muscle. The climax of the paperback speeds things up considerably with the kind of carnage-filled conclusion you’d expect. 

As with every book McCurtin ever touched, “Bloodbath” is just pure popcorn fun. The conversational tone and first-person narration from Rainey is something unique in the men’s adventure genre. The author’s knowledge of Hawaii’s geography and culture almost certainly came from a World Book Encyclopedia and a Fodor’s Travel Guide, but you don’t read books in the ‘Soldier of Fortune’ series to walk away fully informed about divisive issues, even ones as silly as Hawaiian sovereignty. You come to the series for, well, a Bloodbath. By that metric, this paperback certainly delivers. Recommended. 

Addendum:

The series order of the 1984-1985 installments is puzzling since the nine unnumbered books were released over a 15-month span and historical records are spotty. The Vault of Evil Pro-board lists a helpful - but speculative - series order with each novel’s setting. I revised their list based on my own research utilizing the publisher serial numbers of the books. 


01. Massacre At Umtali (1976) - Rhodesia
02. The Deadliest Game (1976) - Argentina 
03. Spoils Of War (1977) - Lebanon 
04. The Guns Of Palembang (1977) - Indonesia (by Ralph Hayes)
05. First Blood (1977) - Panama (by Ralph Hayes)
06. Ambush At Derati Wells (1977) - Kenya (by Ralph Hayes)
07. Operation Hong Kong (1977) - Hong Kong (by Ralph Hayes)
08. Body Count (1977) - New Guinea (by Ralph Hayes)
09. Battle Pay (1978) - Caribbean (by Ralph Hayes)
10. Golden Triangle (1984) - Vietnam 
11. Yellow Rain (1984) - Afghanistan
12. Green Hell (1984) - Ireland 
13. Moro (1984) - Phillipines 
14. Kalahari (1984) - South Africa
15. Death Squad (1985) - Nicaragua 
16. Somali Smashout (1985) - Somalia (by Paul Hofrichter)
17. Bloodbath (1985) - Hawaii 
18. Blood Island (1985) - Western Samoa (by Ralph Hayes)

British printings of the series were marketed under the series name “Jim Rainey: Death Dealer,” but I’m unclear how many of the 18 originals were printed for U.K. release.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, September 20, 2019

Paperback Warrior Unmasking: Mantee

I like boxing stories. I like Plantation Gothics. As such, I was excited to read “Mantee” by Robert J. Hensler from 1969. Based on the cover blurb, it’s about a black slave who becomes a boxing champion. Mandingo meets Rocky! What’s not too like?

Then I saw this posting on the Internet from the author’s son, Eric:

“My father wrote this book. He’s not proud of it or the other pulp he cranked out in the sixties but it kept food on the table for our little family. Before you judge too harshly, remember that somebody had to demean themselves to write this in the first place. Just a quick note to give a glimpse behind the curtain...”

Wow.

At first this review/apology made me re-shelve the book. I read for entertainment and escapism, not to open the old wounds of a nice family’s shame. Upon further reflection, I needed to know if this book was something truly worth causing inter-generational embarrassment. Curiosity clawed at me every time I walked by my library. To be sure, plantation fiction was a salacious and tawdry sub-genre that leveraged America’s discomfort with topics like racism, inter-racial sex, and the repugnant stain of slavery on our nation’s past. However, I don’t think these books are racist. The slaves are almost always drawn in a sympathetic light, and their evil masters generally get their comeuppance in slave uprisings forming the novel’s climax.

I couldn’t find much info about the author, and my initial attempts to contact his son failed. I know Hensler wrote an innocuous-sounding book about Washington, D.C. during his career, but I was unable to identify any other pulp fiction bearing his name. None of the vintage fiction experts I consulted knew of the guy. If he wanted this chapter in his life to be forgotten, he’s done a fine job staying under the radar for the past 50 years.

Anyway, onto the plantation book:

“Mantee” takes place on Alabama’s 250 acre Rosebriar Plantation in 1859 - four long years before emancipation- where the slaves pick cotton and take whippings from the dysfunctional Darby family. The cast of characters is an array of stereotypes. Benson is the patriarch who rules his land with an iron fist. Evangeline is his compassionate abolitionist wife. Lance is the cruel heir who loves to order up whippings. Marlena is the horny daughter - physically excited watching the muscular black bodies suffer abuse.

On the slave side of the plantation, Mantee is the biggest, strongest, and most handsome of the indentured blacks on the property. The comely Marlena is hot-to-trot and fascinated by the idea that Mantee likely has an enormous dong. You can see where this is headed. There’s a whole mess of slaves who fill every archetype required by the genre, and Hessler wastes no words detailing the rape and torture of slaves in graphic detail. After awhile, these scenes became rather stomach-turning and I can only imagine that they served to pad the page count and thicken the paperback to a market-friendly length. The consensual and non-consensual sex scenes were extra pornographic and extra long - even compared to other plantation novels.

Accused of rape, Mantee becomes a runaway slave leaving his torturers behind. It is during his flight that he encounters a series of white saviors and eventually the sport of boxing. The fight scenes are absolutely fantastic and resemble early MMA in their brutality rather than the gloved Queensbury Rules we know today. Once the boxing story kicked in, the author really brings his A-game.

To be sure, “Mantee” is an imperfect novel. The author’s choice to write the dialog in a phonetic southern dialect wore thin pretty quickly. I would have also preferred more punches thrown and fewer girls deflowered along the way as the sex scenes became tiresome and repetitive. Nevertheless, the paperback never failed to hold my attention, and I mostly found myself enjoying Mantee’s adventures - vertical and horizontal. Plantation novels were written to be salacious, but these fictional dramatizations will inevitably bring readers greater empathy for the people forced to suffer through this shameful chapter of American history.

And that’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

After I completed the “Mantee” review above, I finally heard back from the author’s son, Eric Hensler. He reports that his dad is still around at age 86.

“Our family grew up everywhere. New York, California, Texas, New Mexico, Connecticut, and Florida,” Eric said. “Within those states, we lived in more cities than can be counted without aid from him which is, unfortunately, not to be had at this point.

The reason for all the moving around? “His primary career was in radio,” Eric explained . “He was, I suppose you might say, an itinerant DJ. Rarely staying at any one station for more than six months, full of a wanderlust insatiable. Or such was the case until the early 1970s. At that point, he attached himself to WSST in Largo, Florida and stayed for nearly 20 years. He rose through the ranks and for his second decade there, he was the general manager.”

“My father never held particular political positions or otherwise,” Eric said. “He was an experimental man and a pragmatic one at the same time. He wrote hippie-porn, plantation fiction, poetry, non-fiction and on and on it went. He has published well over 50 books but the difficulty lies in that he used many different pen names. So many, in fact, that I have done much hand-wringing in trying to compile a bibliography. He is still alive, but unfortunately, he has advanced dementia and is of little help in this regard.”

Eric pointed me in the direction of a 1977 Pocket Books novel titled “Washington, D.C.,” a title so generic that it’s hard to find much information about it. Eric explained that it was the only other work of fiction released using his real name. I did find a single online review of the book that described the novel as being about power, sex, and sixties-style revolutionaries who want to blow everything up but are too inept.

Eric explained that a lot of his dad’s books were published under pseudonyms, including “Robert Scott, R.J. Scott, Arjay Scott and so on.”

Bingo! This explains a lot.

There were a bunch of Bee-Line erotic novels written under the pen name of Arjay Scott that are clearly the work of Robert Hensler. They had lurid titles like “Circus of Flesh” and “Fornacation, Inc.” His novel “Diabolical Chain” features the tagline: “Hollywood Voluptuaries in an Orgy of Lust...and Blood!” Most of his Bee-Line porno books have non-descript covers with no art. However, his paperback “The Swapping Game” features an attractive photo cover with some decent graphic design.

My personal favorite of Hessler’s titles was “The 27-Foot Long Love Machine.” However, my enthusiasm was dampened when I learned that the Love Machine in question was a camper van. His erotic fiction work for Bee-Line explains the author’s comfort in writing long, graphic sex scenes in “Mantee.”

“All of the pulp of any ilk that he did publish was through his agent, a man who went by the name Jay Garon,” Eric said. “We heard his name and saw the checks all the time when I was a boy.” I learned that Garon, who died in 1995, represented several working authors of pulp fiction around that era, including Michael Avallone, author of the Ed Noon mystery series.

Eric has heard rumors that his mother may have a box of dusty old books from dad’s writing career. “I need simply to convince my mother to direct me to it. She, you see, is a devout Christian and wants nothing to do with them, but as he fades, she softens to anything to do with his life and history,” he said.

Like many senior citizens in his condition, Hensler has good days and bad days. Eric told his father about the upcoming Paperback Warrior feature, “I explained what was going on to my father and he smiled and said he would like to read it. He was clearly amused, at least for a few moments until slipping back into his unfortunate fog.”

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Dennison's War #04 - King of the Mountain

'Dennison's War' was a mid-80s men's action-adventure series published by Bantam. The books were written under house name Adam Lassiter by Steven M. Krauzer, a journeyman author who contributed four novels to the 'Executioner' series as well as penning the nine-volume western series 'Cord' (with William Kittredge). My jumping on point is the fourth entry, “King of the Mountain”, for no real reason other than the book's catchy cover art.

The idea behind the series is fairly straight-forward. Dennison is a US ex-military operative and Vietnam veteran. During the war he worked under Peter Chamberlain (probably CIA) and had a team of six to ten hardened warriors. Now Dennison's retirement consists of freelance opportunities to support Chamberlain on various assignments where an unofficial military presence is needed.

During the harrowing curtain jerker, armed commandos ascend a windswept, snowy mountainside in Glacier Park, Montana. The team quickly kills the US Secret Service squad before entering a posh ski-lodge to capture the US Vice-President. Then a call goes out to Washington D.C. that the team wants a chopper loaded with gold, a Russian prisoner and Dennison brought to the lodge in exchange for the Vice-President. That call then gets routed through command channels until it reaches Chamberlain. The reader must suspend his disbelief that anyone would bother to kidnap a Vice President. You might as well kidnap the White House pastry chef if you really want to make an impact in Washington. 

Chamberlain wants Dennison and his team to take out the bad guys and rescue the VP. But things get a little more convoluted when a backroom deal buys another team that ultimately wants to sacrifice Dennison's crew to the enemy while making the greedy grab and go during the crossfire. This plot-twist was used five years later in the fourth 'Eagle Force' novel “Red Firestorm”, which coincidentally was also published by Bantam and also used a snowy mountain setting for the action. It also used the same cover model for both books – Jason Savas. Go impress your friends.

“King of the Mountain” has a great beginning. The middle of the book is a long flashback scene involving Dennison and Chamberlain's operations in Vietnam and the double-cross by US operative Mitchell Horn, who is the villain of the book. Most of Krauzer's writing is of the espionage/spy variety which is surprising if you are looking for a simple 'Phoenix Force'/Able Team' sort of novel. At the standard 190-pages, the book seems a bit more dense than the average shoot'em up. It's not an easy read, but a worthwhile one if you really concentrate on the action. I'd be interested in reading more of the series.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Paperback Warrior Primer: The John Raven Mysteries

Considering the enormous success of series staples like “Mack Bolan,” “The Butcher,” and “The Penetrator,” it would make sense that publishers would want to steer their marketing and branding efforts into the look and feel of the Gold Eagle or Pinnacle product lines. Brutish bullies, fast cars and the damsel in distress surrounding bold fonts, a serial number, and an immortal gun-toting hero. These elements are the centerpiece of the book’s plot, so why not run with that for the marketing flair? Back in the day, every bookstore and pharmacy in America had a prominent display of these book covers depicting all of the above hallmarks of the 70s and 80s costume party known as the Men's Action-Adventure genre.

This packaging approach was an economic success story for a lot of publishers. But what exactly could publishers do when they didn’t really posses written content suitable for a Men’s Action-Adventure series? That seemed to be a problem confronted by Berkley Books back in the day, and they had an interesting solution to this lack of supply.

In 1981, book shoppers may have seen a new action hero adorning their paperback aisles. His name was Raven, and Berkley released “Raven #1 – Raven Settles a Score” in the US with a tag line that introduced “The playboy ex-cop in the sizzling new action series.” The cover design certainly dressed the part with the scantily clad woman, a sleek car, and a turtleneck-clad hero with gun-in-hand. New subscribers had a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor with this alluring new series. The problem with “Raven #1” is that it wasn't a new series at all. In fact, this novel was actually the sixth book in a pre-existing series originally marketed as the 'John Raven Mysteries' – and the story was a far cry from the cover’s promise of an extraordinary action-hero debut.

'Raven' author Donald MacKenzie received most of his official education at a hodgepodge of England, Canada and Switzerland's school systems. However, like so many of writers, his true education came through life experience. MacKenzie was jailed numerous times - once in the U.S. for five years and another time in England for three. In fact, his life was so tumultuous that he wrote two autobiographies chronicling his checkered past - “Fugitives” (1955) and “Gentlemen at Crime” (1956). He began writing stand-alone crime novels in the late 1950s, with titles like “Manhunt”, “Knife Edge” and “Double Exposure.” But it wasn't until 1974 that he really hit his stride.

The 'John Raven Mysteries' ran from 1974 through the writer's death in 1993. The series comprised 16 total entries about an ex-British Inspector named John Raven. It was published in England by Macmillan and featured standard and unremarkable mystery novel cover designs that bore zero resemblance to the gun-toting bold font and Raven branding that Berkley invented for this benign series. To their credit, the bland covers of the original novels made no attempt to deceive or rook their intended audience. The plots themselves are more international man of mystery stories. There's plenty of espionage, international escapades and a sense of heightened alert – but John Raven just isn't an action hero in even the broadest definition of the genre. They were more like Tom Clancy writing Sherlock Holmes starring Spenser. Not exactly 'Hawker' or 'The Revenger' as Berkley conveyed the series in their deceitful packaging.

The grift behind “Raven Settles a Score” was simple enough for Berkley. After obtaining the license from British publisher MacMillan, they falsely staged the books as a new American series by dressing them up in packaging dripping with testosterone. The publisher either didn't know the chronological order of the original stories, couldn't get the rights to the earlier books, or simply just didn't care. It appears that Berkley simply slapped a #1 on whatever book was handy to score some quick cash from ill-informed male book shoppers looking for some action.

Berkley’s opening shot, “Raven Settles a Score,” begins with a walk down memory lane among series regulars John Raven and Inspector Jerry Soo. The whole scene is confusing to the uninformed reader with talk about a recent marriage, Soo's current happenings and the presumed defeat of a villain named Drake. Later, some alliances form that were clearly the bi-product of some incidents in prior books from the British Raven mystery series. Any reader believing this was truly the opening episode in a new series is bound to be lost. To hamper things even more, the “Settles a Score” reference in the book's title actually refers to the prior book altercations between Raven and his nemesis, Drake - a malevolent figure in this book that Soo/Raven both want to defeat for the greater good. Again, there's very little action and most of the book is simply positioning characters in key locations where Korean Embassy officials are hiding bad deeds while utilizing drug squad members as cover. There's a damsel in distress, but she’s buried in dialogue and never actually seems to need Raven’s help all that much. In fact this whole novel (or the 95-pages I could tolerate) is really just a ton of dialogue among a humongous cast of characters with very little explanation or entertainment value.

Apparently, Berkley's ruse didn't generate an enthusiastic reaction among readers. The publisher ran only four titles before canceling the whole debacle:

Raven #1 - Raven Settles a Score (originally 1979's sixth entry)
Raven #2 – Raven in Flight (oddly the second novel from 1976)
Raven #3 – Raven After Dark (renamed from 1980's fifth book, Raven Feathers His Nest)
Raven #4 – Raven and the Paper Hangers (originally the seventh title from 1980)

The entire 'John Raven Mysteries' series:

Zaleski's Percentage (Macmillan, 1974)
Raven in Flight (Macmillan, 1976)
Raven and the Ratcatcher (Macmillan, 1977)
Raven and the Kamikaze (Macmillan, 1977)
Raven Feathers His Nest (Macmillan, 1980); US title Raven After Dark
Raven Settles a Score (Macmillan, 1979)
Raven and the Paperhangers (Macmillan, 1980)
Raven's Revenge (Macmillan, 1982)
Raven's Longest Night (Macmillan, 1984)
Raven's Shadow (Macmillan, 1984)
Nobody Here by That Name (Macmillan, 1986)
A Savage State of Grace (Macmillan, 1988)
By Any Illegal Means (Macmillan, 1989)
Loose Cannon (Macmillan, 1991)
The Eyes of the Goat (Macmillan, 1992)
The Sixth Deadly Sin (Macmillan, 1993)

Buy "Raven Settles a Score" HERE

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Woman Chaser

By 1960, author Charles Willeford (1919-1988) had already been an orphan at age 8, a school dropout at age 13, a U.S. Army combat veteran, a U.S. Air Force airman, a published poet and novelist. His writing always seemed more literate, humorous, and philosophical than his hard-boiled fiction cohorts. His seventh novel was submitted with the title “The Director” and was published in 1960 as “The Woman Chaser.”

The novel is narrated by a smooth-talking Los Angeles used car salesman turned lot owner named Richard Hudson, and it is written in a first-person narrative style in which Hudson regularly breaks the literary fourth wall to explain to the reader that he is writing this book using flashbacks and narrative hooks he learned from watching movies. At times the hilarious meta-narrative style begins to resemble Kurt Vonnegut which I really like, but your mileage may vary. There’s also lots of sexist content that makes the book a true throwback to its era: “Women are made for bed, and men are made for war,” a character observes. They certainly don’t write them like that anymore. You get to decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Anyway, the book is so much fun to read, you almost lose track of the fact that the plot doesn’t really get off the ground until about halfway through the paperback. Richard is a fan of movies and decides that he’s got what it takes to write and direct a feature film. His step-father is connected within the industry and finds a studio that will back a production based on Richard’s harebrained plot synopsis. Anyone with an interest in film-making will find the paperback utterly fascinating.

“The Woman Chaser” is a great read but not much of a crime novel. It’s written in a hardboiled style, but it’s ultimately just the story of a schemer trying to get a movie made and released. To be sure, it is one of the best books I’ve read this year, but it’s not the kind of gun-fighting bloodbath we normally cover here. It’s just a damned interesting paperback by a crime novelist adapting his noir style to a mainstream plot with a dark ending.

Despite the publisher’s title, there’s really not much woman chasing happening within the pages. To be sure, the narrator gets laid, but not much cardio was involved in making it happen. Overall, “The Woman Chaser” was an excellent novel that I can highly recommend without reservations. But you should know what you’re getting before you purchase a copy for yourself.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, September 16, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 11

We're on the road to adventure! This episode, Eric discusses author Jack Higgins including his WW2 novel "The Dark Side of the Island" from 1964. Tom reviews "The President is Missing!", a 1967 book by Henry A. Milton. Eric tells listeners about hitting the jackpot at a flea market shop in Florida. Listen below or download directly LINK. Also, stream anywhere that offers podcasts. Listen to "Episode 11: Jack Higgins" on Spreaker.

Jason Striker #01 - Kiai!

In the early 1970s, every kid in America wanted to learn Kung Fu. From the magazines to the comics, martial arts as a whole were growing in popularity. With the rise of prominent Chinese film star Bruce Lee (Real Name: Lee Jun-fan), pop culture became fertile ground for martial artists to achieve their creative freedom. With Bruce Lee's “Enter the Dragon” (1973), the idea of exotic martial arts tournaments became a consistent theme within the genre. To capitalize, Berkley Medallion released the debut 'Jason Striker' novel, “Kiai!”, in 1974. It was the beginning of a six-book run that showcased an American “Master of Martial Arts” battling international criminals. The series was written as a collaborative effort between Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes. I decided to tackle the debut novel to see how much time and energy I wanted to invest in the short-lived series.

“Kiai!” introduces former Green Beret Jason Striker as a financially strapped Judo instructor. His protege, Jim, is scheduled to compete in a world class tournament held in Nicaragua. However, in a freak dojo accident, Jason accidentally injures Jim. Fearing judo would not be properly represented in the tournament, Jason agrees to replace Jim as a contestant.

This exotic martial arts tournament is held in Nicaragua and broadcast globally on television. It's a contest that pits representatives from various fighting styles into a no-holds barred tournament to win cash and firmly establish their style is superior. In many ways, it's “Enter the Dragon” minus the interesting parts. But more so, a lot of the tournament resembles an early prototype of what would later become the legitimate mixed martial arts sport. In 1974, styles didn't clash. Kickboxers, Muy tai fighters, Wrestlers, Boxers, Karate Masters and Judo specialists generally didn't fight opponents of other styles. This tournament forces each contestant to fight combatants of each style, sometimes twice, in an elaborate points system. As a fan of 90s mixed martial arts, I found this tournament to be somewhat innovative despite “Enter the Dragon” establishing the idea in the US.

Beyond just the wear and tear of fighting over the course of several weeks, “KiaI!” really fails to deliver anything else worthwhile. There's some side-stories regarding a multi-millionaire hiring Jason to teach his sexy daughter judo, a competition with a rival judo instructor and some intrigue behind the tournament, but none of this is remotely compelling. The end result is a first-person narrative from a rather weak protagonist. Kudos to the authors for not making Striker vulnerable and very human instead of over-the-top pulp. However, it isn't enough to warrant a search for any other books in the series. Like 'Ninja Master', I'll take a dive to avoid any of these.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, September 13, 2019

Peter Crane #01 - Red Heroin

Jerry Pournelle (1933-2017) was primarily known as a successful science fiction author, science fact writer, and compiler of SF anthologies. However, his first published novel was a spy thriller from 1969 titled “Red Heroin” that was originally published under the pseudonym Wade Curtis and has since been reprinted under the author’s proper name. In addition to multiple paperback printings, the short novel is also available as an eBook and an audiobook from the usual suspects.

Paul Crane is a civil engineer in Seattle whose friend Danny was just named Chief of Police in the small town of Lathrop, Washington. It’s a part-time gig, and Danny wants Crane to be his part-time deputy. Neither guy has any police training, but the town’s mayor wants a couple cops on staff to arrest a drunk every now and then or ticket a speeder on weekends. The job doesn’t pay, but Crane will get a badge that can be used to get out of speeding tickets, so he agrees to help Danny. Soon thereafter they head out to Lathrop for a night of police hijinks in a small town.

It doesn’t take long for the two quasi-cops to find themselves in the middle of a real bloodbath of trouble. The violence propels Crane into the hands of the CIA who recruit him as an operative for an assignment. The upshot is that the Red Chinese are funding their U.S. intel operations by refining poppies into heroin for the American market. It’s a twofer for the Chinese: Drug sales generate U.S. dollars for espionage operations while also getting a generation of American youth hooked on the junk. The Agency wants Crane to get himself recruited as a smuggler for the Chinese while actually serving as a double agent for the CIA.

The transition from unqualified cop to unqualified spy was a bit clunky and requires some suspension of disbelief, but the payoff is great. The CIA wants Crane to ingratiate himself with a leftist student group at the local university hoping that will be the gateway to the Chinese commies. The plan is for Crane to spread the word that he’s buying a boat to attract the student radicals into utilizing him to smuggle the Chinese heroin from Canada.

Along the way, Crane meets a hot hippie chick tied into the student group. Between off-page lovemaking sessions, he really begins to fall for her. Is she just a sincere do-gooder or a tool of Chinese spies? His CIA contact agent for this assignment is a sassy young woman with real sex appeal as well, and her character was my favorite in the novel.

If Pournelle wasn’t such a well-known author, I’d really suspect that “Red Heroin” was pseudonymous work by Donald Hamilton, author of the ‘Matt Helm’ series. His knowledge of hunting rifles and their loads - along with sailing - rivals Hamilton’s own expertise, and the first-person narration has the matter-of-fact, logical self-confidence of many Hamilton protagonists. It’s likely that Pournelle was a fan of the Matt Helm books and set out to write “Red Heroin” as a Helm tribute with a very different origin story. It was also a novel steeped in realism - unlike, say, a ‘Nick Carter: Killmaster’ adventure. When things get violent towards the climax, there’s a gritty realism to the carnage that made for satisfying reading.

“Red Heroin” is a thinking-man’s espionage novel rather than a high-speed action killfest, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The sequel “Red Dragon” (unrelated to Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lector novel) came out in 1970, and I will definitely check it out. This first Paul Crane adventure is an easy recommendation and probably the best book of its ilk that I’ve read in quite some time. The paperback deserved a better cover from the various publishers, but it’s what’s inside that counts.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Avenger #01 - Justice, Inc.

Wanting to capitalize on the success of 'The Shadow', publisher Street & Smith imagined a masked hero that would essentially be a hybrid of their own pulp hero, 'Doc Savage' and 'The Shadow'. Using Doc Savage authors Lester Dent and Walter B. Gibson for advisors, the publisher hired author Paul Ernst (1899-1985) to write 'The Avenger' pulp magazine from 1939-1942. The character would later appear in “Clues Detective Magazine” (1942-1943) and a 1943 issue of “The Shadow Magazine.” Launching the series in an era of the pulp demise, The Avenger was well liked but seemed an unnecessary edition to an already crowded pulp hero market.

“Justice, Inc.” was the debut Avenger story, appearing in September 1939 and later reprinted in paperback novel format by Paperback Library in 1972. In 1975, DC Comics published a comic called “Justice, Inc.” starring The Avenger. The 1972 paperback debut is my first experience with the character. While enjoying Doc Savage, and other pulp heroes, I managed my expectations expecting the novel to be a failure.

Much to my surprise, I absolutely loved this book. “Justice, Inc.” contains many of the rewarding elements I enjoy from the 1950s and 1960s crime-noir novels. In fact, I'd speculate that beyond the Avenger's fantastic ability to morph his facial features, this is essentially just a crime novel with a pulp gimmick.

The paperback introduces us to protagonist Richard Benson, a wealthy, seasoned adventurist who has settled into a life of domestic tranquility. While commuting via a commercial flight to Montreal, Benson's wife and young daughter seemingly disappear while Benson is in the lavatory. As he begins asking passengers and staff questions, they inform him that he was the only passenger that boarded the plane. Pulling a gun from his side, Benson is knocked unconscious by the co-pilot wielding a fire extinguisher.

Awakening from a three-week coma, Benson finds that his face is now paralyzed. This paralysis allows him to shape his facial skin and muscles into new forms. The paralysis holds the tissues in place, allowing him the ability to easily transform himself into different facial disguises. After his hospital release, Benson begins interviewing and probing for answers to learn where his family were taken. After talking with a number of airline employees, the only consistent story is that Benson was on the plane alone. Knowing this is inaccurate, Benson teams with a Scottish airline mechanic named Fergus MacMurdie and a giant of a man named Algernon “Smitty” Smith.

Using his new allies and disguises, Benson senses there is a criminal element to his family's tragedy. After learning that many wealthy stockholders have gone missing, Benson goes to work on the perpetrators with two weapons. “Mike” is a .22 caliber short pistol and “Ike” is a slender throwing knife. Both are used to stun the enemy, but Benson is opposed to killing. The novel is a swift read consistent with crime fiction tropes – the crime, notable suspects, gunfights, car chases and the obligatory mystery. Without giving away too much, let's just say Benson doesn't necessarily find all of the answers. The unresolved elements provide the motivation to create a crime fighting trio based in New York City as the launch of the pulp series.

Warner Brothers’ Paperback Library reprinted all 24 Avenger titles in paperback from 1972-1975, including 12 additional stories authored by Ron Goulart. Although I'm not a big pulp enthusiast, Ernst's suspense and rapid-fire delivery was very entertaining. I've purchased a number of these paperbacks and I'm really excited to learn more about the series and characters. I'm sure it's sacrilege, but I enjoyed “Justice, Inc.” more than the two 'Doc Savage' titles I read. Long live The Avenger!

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Peter Styles #01 - The Laughter Trap

Judson Philips (1903-1989) was a New England mystery writer who began his career writing stories for the pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. He was well-positioned to transition into the paperback original fiction market of the 1950s when most of his novels were credited to his successful pseudonym Hugh Pentecost. Between 1964 and 1982, he authored an 18-book mystery series starring investigative journalist Peter Styles that was published under his own name and reprinted with men’s adventure packaging by Pinnacle Books in the 1970s.

The primary setting of the first installment, “The Laughter Trap,” is a remote upscale ski resort in Vermont’s Green Mountains. A year earlier, Styles lost his leg and his father in an automobile accident on the winding road leading up to the lodge. Two men in a dark sedan - one of them cackling with laughter over the roar of the engines - forced Styles’ car over an embankment killing his father in the passenger seat and costing Styles a leg. The police never found the other car or its joy-killer occupants and justice has become a bit of an obsession for Styles over the past year. In any case, our one-legged hero has returned to the mansion on the hill to help rehab his damaged psyche.

On his first night at the resort, Styles hears distinct laughter in the distance that convinces him that the driver of the car who forced him off the road a year earlier is presently a fellow guest at the resort. The madman may have also slaughtered two women in their cabin bringing law enforcement to the resort to investigate. Efforts to locate the laughing maniac at the crowded but secluded ski resort form the central mystery of the novel.

The first thing that jumps out at the reader when beginning the paperback is that the novel is written in first-person, but the narrator is not Styles. Instead the story is told by Jim Tranter, and the origin story of Tranter’s relationship with Styles is covered in Chapter 3 (no spoilers here). It’s a pretty advanced literary technique that one can compare to Dr. Watson’s narration of the Sherlock Holmes books or Archie Goodwin telling the Nero Wolfe stories. As a result of this narrative choice, much of the on-page gumshoe work is done by Tranter, not Styles.

Notwithstanding the lurid Pinnacle cover art, “The Laughter Trap” is just a pretty basic mystery novel, not an “exciting world of violence and suspense” as promised. The handful of murders that occur in the paperback are plenty gruesome, but they mostly happen off-page. The whodunnit trope of a bunch of people trapped in a winter lodge with a murderer among them is a tale as old as time, yet the author does a nice job with the plotting and the solution is satisfying enough.

Styles and Tranter are interesting characters, and I wouldn’t mind reading more books about them. You’ll probably like this book as long as you know what you’re getting - a basic murder mystery, not an action-packed paperback spectacle.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Fred Fellows #02 - Road Block

Hillary Waugh (1920-2008), a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master and a Navy Air Corp veteran, began writing his first novel, “Madam Will Not Dine Tonight,” in 1947. The book propelled Waugh's literary career forward and was followed by over 45 novels of mystery and suspense between 1947 and 1988. Along with series creations like 'Homicide North', 'Simon Kaye' and 'Sheridan Wesley', Waugh authored 11 novels starring a small town Connecticut police chief named Fred Fellows. The series debut, “Sleep Long My Love”, was published in 1959 and adapted for the screen under the title “Jigsaw” in 1962.

My first experience with Waugh and his Fred Fellows character is the second installment, “Road Block”, published by Popular Library as a “Crime Club Selection” in 1960. The series can be read in any order, but there is a brief mention in “Road Block” recalling Fellows' murder investigation from the debut. The really interesting aspect of Waugh's writing is the emphasis on procedure. Known for his extensive detailing of investigations, the author divides “Road Block” into two point-by-point halves – one as a heist in planning and the other as the subsequent investigation of the heist.

The first 80-pages solely chronicles the actions of the criminals. Unlike his contemporaries, Waugh doesn't switch the perspective to various characters or alternate chapters between characters. The first half of the book centers around a criminal trio of Pete, Lloyd and Joe. During a temporary stop between jobs, Lloyd talks with a security guard in Stockton, CT (conveniently the jurisdiction of Fred Fellows) over beer. For $5,000, the guard is willing to leave a door unlocked at a nearby manufacturing plant. Lloyd's goal is to rob the payroll of its weekly $93,000 delivered by armored truck to a precise location within the plant. The trio then spends 40 or so pages planning the heist and building a crew to enact the plan.

The second half of the book, aside from one chapter, is solely devoted to Fred Fellows and his staff. After the reported heist, Fellows works closely with the state troopers to bottleneck Lloyd and his cohorts before they reach the expansive Merritt Parkway. While ordering the mandatory road blocks, Fellows interviews plant employees and guards to determine how the heist was executed and to forecast which back roads Lloyd will utilize for the getaway.

While certainly enjoyable, “Road Block” didn't overly impress me. I found it to be more of an event timeline (like “Dragnet”) than an actual story. Unless “Sleep Long My Love” served as an origin story, I felt that this second installment should have provided some backstory on Fred Fellows, as brief as that might be. His police procedures, including the geographical deductions, were entertaining but I never deduced that Fellows was necessarily the star of the show. In terms of police procedural novels, Waugh certainly isn't Ed McBain (Evan Hunter). “Road Block” was an easy, quality read, but this isn’t a series I'd necessarily pursue further.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, September 9, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 10

It's our 10th episode! On this show we'll discuss author Carter Brown's career and his novel "The Loving and the Dead". Eric reviews a 70's team-commando novel called "Killer Patrol" and Tom talks about his "wipe out" shopping spree in Chicago. Stream it below, listen on any popular streaming service or download directly LINK Listen to "Episode 10: Carter Brown" on Spreaker.

The Big Bite

In his day, Louis Trimble (1917-1988) was a highly-regarded Seattle author of mystery, western, and science fiction novels. Like many writers of the era, he increased his output and avoided over-saturating the paperback market by using multiple pen names. He published three crime-adventure novels using his ‘Gerry Travis’ pseudonym, the last of which was titled “The Big Bite,” initially released in hardcover in 1957 and then as half of an Ace Double paperback in 1958 (paired with “The Deadly Boodle” by J.M. Flynn). “The Big Bite” remains available today as an eBook - for some reason still under the Gerry Travis name.

The short novel opens with a small boat in Mexican waters beginning a nighttime voyage with an unconscious man aboard named Orvil Curtis. The crew’s mission is to abandon Orvil on a thorny little island in the midst of brackish, fetid waters. It’s not entirely clear what’s going on at first, but it’s apparent that this Orvil fellow is in a rough spot and will probably not survive the island. The crew leaves Orvil to die and reports back to their boss, the sexy female captain of the ship using the name Natalie.

We are then introduced to our hero, Paul Knox, an independently-wealthy spy with a private corporation called World Circle that serves as an adjunct intelligence service to many righteous nations. It turns out that unconscious Orvil from the opening scene was a World Circle operative. Knox learns that Natalie, the female boat captain in Mexico, is a Soviet agent working to destabilize Cuba while setting up the island nation for a commie takeover (farfetched, I know.).

Using the cover of an insurance investigator on a missing person case, Knox travels to the Mexican coastal village to investigate his missing colleague and the enigmatic female boat captain. There’s not a ton of action, and things get rather convoluted with the jockeying for position among the cast of spies, opportunists, and liars in the Mexican town. The sizable cast of characters and amount of subterfuge at work made for a muddled plot, but Knox’s search for the truth about Orvil’s disappearance was a satisfying thread that I enjoyed immensely.

“The Big Bite” felt more like a mystery than an espionage adventure - minimal gunplay but plenty of cocktail parties filled with lies and half-truths among the attendees. Trimble’s prose is pretty excellent, and debonair spy Paul Knox is a cool hero who never appeared in any other books, to my knowledge. That’s a shame because he deserves a way better plot than this one delivered.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, September 6, 2019

Blood Patrol

Very little is known about the literary career of former U.S. Army Special Services Security Agent George Fennell. In 1970, his men's action-adventure novel “Blood Patrol” was published by Pinnacle. At the time, the publisher wanted a war novel, and like so many paperbacks of its time, “Blood Patrol” featured a very familiar marketing pitch. The cover suggested that the contents were comparable to the successful 1961 film “The Guns of Navarone”, based on Alistair MacLean's 1957 novel. Fennell's novel is really nothing of the sort, but Pinnacle reprinted it in 1974 with an alternative, team-based commando cover hoping for a more lucrative return.

I don't know if Fennell had any plans for a series, but a sequel was released in 1970, “Killer Patrol”. That book was also auspiciously reprinted by Pinnacle in 1974, with mercenary-styled artwork and the promise that this installment was the second in a new exciting Mike Brent series. In “Blood Patrol”, the main character's name isn't mentioned until page 202...and it's Gunner Brent. That leads me to believe these were just two novels penned by a part-time author. Pinnacle's marketing scheme was probably just to release the two books as a series knowing there was never a third installment. Those gullible to invest blue-collar wages on this promising new series were probably disappointed to learn there were no more titles.

My experience with “Blood Patrol” is rather lukewarm. The novel begins with five American soldiers working for a man named Blaine, who in turn works in the Pentagon under some sort of secret, backdoor security operation. None of this is explained and maybe it doesn't have to be. We have five guys armed to the teeth parachuting into Ethiopia to kill a Russian operative. 1-2-3-Kill!

The novel's opener has Brent, in first person presentation, directing his crew with an emphasis on a wily German named Hans that states “Herr Kapitan” after everything he says. It's incredibly frustrating and I was praying this is one of those novels where team members can actually die. Unfortunately, Brent loses part of the team but Hans sticks to him like glue...for all 271-pages. After failing to secure their supplies during landing, the group must fend off dehydration, Russian sympathizers and a mission that's been compromised due to the 75 to 5 odds that Blaine failed to relay.

Fennell and his readers have a great deal of fun in the first 100-pages. There's a villager tortured and burned alive, an exhilarating firefight in the mountains and a lot of gritty, dusty fighting between warring factions. The second half of the book was drastically different and failed to maintain the momentum. In one goofy scene, Brent is captured, interrogated and then raped by a whip-snapping blonde cave wench. I think the author and I disagree on the definition of torture.

“Blood Patrol” is a light, easy read with plenty of action and bravado for seasoned adventure fans to enjoy. After the book's solid opening sequence, I thought it became too silly too fast. 'Able Team', 'Phoenix Force' and 'S.O.B.' all have die-hard fans for this type of literary fiction. If you enjoy that type of story, and I certainly do for the most part, you'll have some fun here. It's zany, over the top and brutally violent.

Buy a copy of this BOOK here

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Murder Me for Nickels

Peter Rabe was the pseudonym of Peter Rabinowtitch (1921-1990), a staple of the Fawcett Gold Medal line of yellow-spine crime fiction paperbacks during the 1950s and 1960s. In recent years, many of his classic novels have been reprinted by Stark House Books, including 1960’s “Murder Me for Nickels,” currently packaged as a double along with “Benny Muscles In” from 1955.

“Murder Me for Nickels” is narrated by Jack St. Louis, the right-hand man of Walter Lippit, the owner of every jukebox in every tavern for a 35-mile radius. Back in 1960, a musical artist getting a disc in the local jukebox was a big deal and fame often followed closely behind. This, of course, opened the door to payola, free sex with torch singers, supply-chain issues, and the kind of drama that could feed a crime novel like this one.

The paperback doesn’t waste any time getting into the plot. Walter’s regional jukebox monopoly is challenged by an electrician named Benotti, whose strong-arm tactics force bar owners into placing Benotti’s jukeboxes in their establishments. Jack and Walter aren’t racketeers, but Jack is perfectly willing to kick ass to protect Walter’s turf. But who is this Benotti? Is he just an opportunistic poacher or is the mob moving into the song-for-a-nickel business?

Like a lot of Rabe’s novels (such as “The Box”), “Murder Me for Nickels” is really about a power struggle in an insular community. The combatants - in this case jukebox vendors - jockey for position and the the upper hand with the tactics escalating over the course of the paperback.

Rabe is a very good, dialogue-heavy writer, and his characters are vivid and interesting. However, I’ve always found his plotting to be slow and “Murder Me for Nickels” is no exception. A paperback with this interesting set-up and clever characters shouldn’t have been this dull. I couldn’t help wishing it was Richard Deming, Lou Cameron - or even Milton Ozaki - painting on the canvass of a jukebox turf war. It would have been a much better novel.

Buy a copy of this book HERE