Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Operation - Murder

Lionel White (1905-1985) was a crime fiction writer with a specialty in heist novels. However, his work never achieved the commercial success or historical longevity of Richard Stark’s heist fiction. My theory is that because White never gravitated towards a series character (a’la ‘Parker’), readers never developed any particular brand loyalty toward his writing despite its sustained excellence. The upside of a stand-alone paperback is that the stakes are way higher for the main character. In any novel, the hero could live or die or be imprisoned because the author has no use for him after the final page.

“Operation - Murder” is a 1956 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback original by Lionel White that has been re-released by Stark House as a double packaged with “Coffin for a Hood.” The new collection also features an introduction by talented Utah author Ben Boulden who does some remarkable detective work uncovering details of White’s shadowy life.

The novel opens with Tina Scudder riding in a bus through the Rocky Mountains to the sleepy town of Twin Valley. She’s come a long way to rendezvous with the man she married ten days earlier after meeting the enigmatic charmer on the ski slopes. Her new husband, Frank, told her to meet him in the frozen hamlet, so they can be together at last on a never-ending honeymoon.

Meanwhile, we learn that there’s been a bank robbery - with shots fired and a deputy hit - in a nearby town. If you’ve never read a vintage crime novel before, you might be surprised to learn that newlywed Frank is connected to the robbery crew - the leader, in fact.

We also learn that there is a money train coming through the mountains replenishing banks with cash along its 600-mile route. There’s a couple guards on board keeping the $6 million safe, but an approaching snowstorm runs the risk of stopping the train right around Twin Valley. Could the relatively modest bank robbery have been just a warm up for the big score of knocking over the money train? You betcha. The planning and execution of a train robbery 100 years after such crimes had gone out of fashion was a great pleasure of “Operation - Murder.”

White keeps things moving for the reader with a compelling ensemble cast and regular third-person perspective changes. The setting of a snowed-in mountain town brimming with the potential for extreme violence makes for a suitably claustrophobic backdrop for this compelling heist paperback. The inclusion of the innocent Tina into the snowy shitstorm of violence and mayhem makes for a nice twist.

Overall “Operation - Murder” is a by-the-numbers 1950s heist paperback written by an author who had the formula mastered by this point of his career. The paperback doesn’t especially break new ground in the genre, but it’s extremely well-executed and worth your time. Mostly, I’m just glad that the novels of Lionel White are being kept alive over 60 years later. He was a master of the genre and “Operation - Murder” is a fine entry into his body of work.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Brannon!

Daniel Streib (1928-1996) was a heavy contributor to the men's action-adventure genre in the 70s and 80s. After authoring a 'Nick Carter: Killmaster' novel, “The Night of the Avenger” (1973), Streib wrote a two-book series entitled 'Grant Fowler' (1971-1973) along with stand-alone titles like “Operation Countdown” (1970) and “House of Silence.” The 80s proved to be the author's most productive era with the 14-book series 'Hawk' (1980-1981), the 9-book run of 'Counter Force' (1983-1985), and two installments of 'Phoenix Force.” My first experience with Streib is a sleaze-vendetta paperback entitled “Brannon!” published by Pinnacle in 1973.

The book introduces readers to the small town of Timberland. It's a dying, rural community built from the lumbering industry by Alan Ward. The opening chapter (which is also detailed on the book's back cover) is set in 1952 and begins with four poorly-educated men that are sexually frustrated, all nearly fondling themselves in sheer boredom. The group of men, including the more mentally challenged Alfie, have a carnal desire for Alfie's hot sister Catherine. While she rejects their advances repeatedly, a new opportunity arrives.

A young American soldier named Brannon steps off the train and asks the men for directions. The group of men convince Brannon to seduce Catherine, so they can spy and masturbate from the bushes. The handsome, uniformed Brannon has no problems seducing Catherine and escorts her to a nearby lake to do the deed. However, it turns out Catherine is Alan Ward's daughter. To enhance the evening's activities, one of the men runs and tells Ward and his men that Brannon is raping Catherine at the lake. When the men arrive to assault Brannon, Catherine saves face by screaming, “RAPE!” After beating Brannon's brains out, one of the men whips out a knife and...cuts off Brannon's genitalia making “Brannon!” the first novel I've experienced where the male hero literally has no penis.

After these events, the book flash-forwards to 1973 and Brannon has become a tycoon in the paper industry despite stiff competition. Suave, wealthy and powerful, Brannon is frustrated with his...lack of a penis. He later says it's “the end of his immortality” and describes his sexual experiences as gazing at whores through windows. However, the thing that raises Brannon's interest is Timberland. Not only does he want to enact revenge on the town, but he's still madly desiring Catherine. His one encounter with the woman 21-years ago keeps him up (read that as sleepless) at night. Determined to have his revenge, Brannon erects a plan to cut off Ward's resources while also locating the group that castrated him.

It's hard to appreciate Streib's writing considering the dumbed down material the author was working with. Timberland's men are neanderthals, seemingly spending their days pondering sex. Catherine is a shallow idol, Ward's character isn't convincing and Streib seems to focus a lot of his creative direction on Alfie's sexual escapades with himself. Brannon is the only hero, but he's a racist multimillionaire that I hated.

“Brannon!” is a sleazy endeavor, yet lacks any graphic sex. It's like taking a blind man to an aquarium. Where's the enjoyment if we can't see it? “Brannon!” isn't even the bitter revenge yarn it aspires to be. Instead, it's just a limp effort that never peaked my interest. Slice this one from your reading list.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 25, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 21

In this episode, things get sleazy with a discussion on the hot genre of vintage sleaze fiction along with a review of Orrie Hitt’s 1959 classic, “The Widow.” Meanwhile Eric tells us about Ed Lacy’s “Room to Swing,” and we look back on the best books we covered during month of November. Stream below or download directly HERE. You can also stream the show anywhere that offers good podcasts. Listen to "Episode 21: Sleaze" on Spreaker.

East of Desolation

“East of Desolation” was Jack Higgins' (real name: Henry Patterson) 22nd novel, published in 1968 by Berkley and then reprinted dozens of times using different cover art. The book arrived seven years prior to Higgins becoming a mega-bestseller and household name with his 1975 novel “The Eagle Has Landed”. While booming sales never supported the material, the 1960s produced some of Higgins' finest literary work, evident with this ice-capped adventure starring brush pilot Joe Martin.

Martin is a Korean War veteran living on the coast of Godthaab, Greenland, a mere 200 hundred miles below the frigid Arctic Circle. Martin works as an independent pilot, flying supplies and passengers to various ships, hunting parties and whaling factories. It's a quiet life that allows Martin enough income to slowly pay off his aircraft. One of Martin's best clients is Jack Desforge, a Hollywood movie director that spends long holidays hunting polar bear. When we are first introduced to Martin, it is on a flight to Jack's boat to deliver a veteran movie actress to the director. There are some early sparks between Martin and the beautiful actress, a chemistry that Higgins utilizes throughout the narrative.

After returning back home, Martin is solicited by a group of people led by a woman named Sarah Kelso. Her husband's plane went missing a year ago near the polar ice-caps. On a recent university expedition, the wreckage was located and two men were found dead inside the cabin. Due to the horrific weather, the site was left untouched, and Sarah was notified. Now, Sarah has a number of reasons to find the wreckage and wants Martin's help.

The plane wreckage revealed an ID for a passenger named Martin Gaunt. Who is he? Second, her husband's body wasn't found in the plane, instead the pilot's seat was occupied by a man identified as Harrison. Again, who is he? Sarah's insurance reps, who accompanied Sarah to Greenland, want answers. They paid out a sizable amount for the death of Sarah's husband, who may or may not have died in the crash. With Martin's experience as a pilot in harsh conditions, the group want to examine the crash site and find answers.

Higgins builds a gripping, intense narrative ripe with adventure and intrigue. Like other high-adventure novels, the remote location is like a character itself, slowly imposing its will on the story. But, the narrative has a multitude of mysteries, each evolving as readers learn more about the characters and their history. Just when I thought I had the place mats aligned...the author resets the table. Needless to say, there's a lot of moving pieces...and targets.

“East of Desolation” is another exceptional novel from an author that seemingly can do no wrong. While this one avoids the author's stereotypical World War 2 connection, it still maintains a “battle” prose between warring factions. It's fun, clever and altogether a terrific read that delivers a satisfying payout. This one is recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Long Ride

James Earl McKimmey Jr. (1923-2011) achieved creative success as an author of crime novels, science fiction and the Ki-Gor series of Tarzanish pulp stories. His hadboiled novels were mostly published by Dell, and a handful of them have been reprinted by Stark House, including McKimmey’s 1961 “The Long Ride,” packed as a double along with “Cornered!” and an introduction by Bill Crider.

McKimmey was influenced by the early stand-alone work of John D. MacDonald, and this shines brightly through in “The Long Ride.” The paperback features a diverse cast of characters thrust together under dramatic circumstances where mayhem and violence unfold - MacDonald’s basic template. In this case, McKimmey came up with a completely original gambit to bring together the cast of characters.

Before Uber, ride-sharing was often organized through newspaper classified ads like this:

“Wanted: To share a ride to San Francisco with widowed lady. Call Mrs. Landry. Walnut seven five nine one.”

In “The Long Ride,” a group of seven travelers rideshare from fictional Loma City to San Francisco over several days brought together by the classified ad. The long-distance carpoolers are:

- Mrs. Landry, our vehicular hostess and driver of the station wagon

- A stone cold murderous bank robber posing as a benign retired soldier

- An unstable, one-armed, hard-luck case with $100,000 in found bank robbery proceeds

- The typist bride of the one-armed man

- A handsome, enigmatic widower with a secret reason for joining the road trip

- The beautiful divorced woman with an eye on the mystery man

- The obligatory, horny, spinster librarian

The opening chapters set the scene with a violent bank robbery and $100,000 in lost cash recovered by the one-armed innocent bystander. The idea that the bank robber and the dude who found the cash happen to answer the same classified ad confining them in the same station wagon seems to be an unbelievable coincidence that’s reasonably explained later in the narrative.

“The Long Ride” has a setup that Alfred Hitchcock would have found appealing, and I’m surprised it was never adapted for the screen. More than one passenger in the car is not who they claim to be, and those reveals make for the most satisfying elements of the paperback. Moreover, the alliances that form over the long car ride - both real and manipulative - kept me turning the pages long after normal employed people should have gone to bed.

To be sure, there are plot holes big enough to accommodate a 1950s station wagon. There’s so much about this book I’d like to say, but it would spoil the great surprises - some already ruined by the plot synopsis and introduction. Best to go into this one cold having read nothing more than this spoiler-free, Paperback Warrior review. However you do it, please check out “The Long Ride.” It’s a totally original premise that was nothing short of spectacular. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Marc Dean: Mercenary #01 - Thirteen for the Kill

British author Peter Leslie (1922-2007) authored five novels in the television tie-in paperback series 'Man from U.N.C.L.E.' as well as 12 books starring popular action hero Mack Bolan. In 1981, Leslie was hired to author a series of action-adventures for Signet with a mercenary theme. Using house name Peter Buck, Leslie wrote all nine installments of the ‘Marc Dean: Mercenary' series beginning with the debut, “Thirteen for the Kill”.

The novel begins with a crew of 40 armed mercenaries attempting to beach a small warship on a West African coast. Due to the violent storm, tide and rip-current, 20 of them perish and all of the weapons sink. Thankfully, series hero Marc Dean survives to lead the men into the jungle. After this opening segment, a flashback scene helps explain these confusing events.

The small town of Gabotomi lies where Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria meet. It's only a few hundred square miles, but it has been infiltrated by a terrorist group calling themselves the Nya Nyerere. Their goal is to create an independent territory free of all three countries. The group is Soviet trained, non-Muslim and heavily-armed on a cliff-dwelling surrounded by dense forest and a scorching desert on each side. Diplomatically, no one really cares that this band of Nomad savages have proclaimed their independence. But peacekeepers have discovered that the area sits on a fortune of diamonds, a resource they can utilize to bring peace to all three nations: divvy up the loot and divide it three (or four) ways. The Nya Nyerere are an obstacle that must be removed, so the bureaucrats meet behind closed doors and come up with a solution – hiring Marc Dean to destroy the Nya Nyerere.

Leslie writes Dean like 'Doc Savage'. He's the most athletic guy on the planet, a sharpshooter, martial arts master and a Vietnam vet. He is also a Yale graduate and plays the harpsichord masterfully. In fact, he's written in the vein of Norman Winski's 'Hitman' character, just less arrogant. He even makes love like Hitman with sex descriptions like “entering deep into her like a sword wound”. It's over-the-top silliness...but is it any good?

Not really.

I enjoy Peter Leslie's literary work on Mack Bolan titles, but “Thirteen for the Kill” was a painful reading adventure that seemed off-kilter and uneven in its presentation. There's 60-pages of Dean and company robbing an armory to gain new firearms. But, this comes after reading about the entire arms negotiation that secured the first weapons...you know the ones that sank in the ocean on page one. There's firefights galore with plenty of gunporn thrown around, but none of it was terribly interesting. The last assault on the terrorist compound involved blowing up a bridge to cut off aid from Nya Nyerere sympathizers. This exciting premise is just botched with a boring jungle fire that alters the whole mission.

Maybe this series just had some early missteps before finding a rhythm, but I'm not tapping any more shoulders to experience the dance again. While this isn't a dismal Hall of Shame contender, its pretty darn close. “Thirteen for the Kill” was an unlucky number for me.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Specialty of the House

During his 1950s heyday, mystery author Stanley Ellin (1916-1986) was racking up Edgar Award nominations the way Meryl Streep collects Oscars. He was mostly acclaimed for his short story work, and a handful of his shorts were adapted into episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” including his most famous story, “The Specialty of the House” that originally appeared in a 1948 issue of “Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.”

The story takes place at an unpretentious, dismal-looking Manhattan basement restaurant called Sbirro’s. Laffler has invited Costain to this hole-in-the-wall for the meal of a lifetime. The rap is that Sbirro’s refuses to change with the times and modernize, so the cobwebs in the restaurant’s corners have been there for 50 years. It’s also a secret restaurant that operates as a private club open to only a few in-the-know patrons. 

Upon being seated at their table, Laffler is informed by the apologetic waiter that the “specialty of the house” - a dish called Lamb Amirstan - is not being served tonight. The restaurant has no menu, and every guest eats the same multi-course meal chosen by the enigmatic owner each evening, a fact the fussy Laffler defends with an air of culinary snobbery. As the food arrives, Costain starts out skeptical but is eventually won over by the quality of the meal despite the utter gastro-weirdness of the establishment. 

As the men start dining together at the restaurant nearly every night with Costain packing on the pounds, the reader begins to suspect that there is something truly sinister happening here - otherwise, the story never would have caught the attention of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” The mystery behind the lamb dish and what exactly occurs in Sbirro’s kitchen intensifies throughout the pages of the story. I won’t give away the punchline here, but the secrets of the kitchen are left suitably ambiguous to the reader. There are enough clues along the way that your most ghastly conclusions can be supported by the preceding text. 

For his part, Ellin does a fine job of building the mystery and suspense over the course of this short story. His prose is excellent, and it’s not hard to see why he’s regarded as one of the finest purveyors of short suspense from the era. If you want to read “Specialty of the House,” you shouldn’t have a problem finding the tale in any one of several short story collections and anthologies. It’s a more subtle work of fiction that what we normally cover here (the TV adaptation was more explicit), but it’s also a fine example of mid-20th century storytelling in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Butcher #23 - Appointment in Iran

Inspired by 'The Executioner', Pinnacle released a 35-book series titled 'The Butcher' from 1970-1982. Under house name Stuart Jason, a majority of the first 26 installments were written by James Dockery. These can be read in any order and the concept is fairly simplistic: Bucher was a crime overlord of the Syndicate's East Coast Division. After personal conflicts, he left the business only to find a price on his head from the international underworld. The 23rd volume is titled “Appointment in Iran”, published in 1977 with cover art by Fred Love.

The book begins with Bucher waiting on his 21 year-old sex doll Caroline to arrive at his apartment. Instead, he receives a call from the Mob stating they have his lover and request a meeting. Weary of the invite, Bucher hesitantly accepts and walks a half-hour to a nearby bar to discuss the details. After an introductory firefight – Koosh! - Bucher meets with lower echelon hustler named Jake the Juggler before being escorted to see kingpin Sleek Pazulli.

The proposal is intriguing. Pazulli and the underworld will collectively lift the hit on Bucher for one international favor – they want an assassination performed in Iran. They give Caroline back as an opening gift, then offer Bucher the job which he accepts. Only the details of the hit won't be provided until Bucher arrives in Beirut. The whole thing seems ill-advised, especially when Caroline mysteriously tags along. What's her purpose other than being a lousy lay?

The narrative's second-half is a tight thriller as Bucher attempts to learn more about the Syndicate's involvement in the Middle East. Along the way he faces Israeli intelligence, Palestinian terrorists and the Syndicate once he discovers the identity of the assassination target (no spoilers). Dockery's best ideas revolve around Caroline. She's sexy, flirtatious and dangerous, leaving Bucher an agonizing choice on which “rod” to use.

I almost threw this whole series out after reading Dockery's horrendous 'Butcher' debut, “Kill Quick or Die”. But, the cover art for “Appointment in Iran” seduced me and I'm thankful for it. The plot is easy to follow with a smooth narrative that led me to think this was written by Michael Avallone, who authored the last nine books of the series. But, according to Spy Guys and Gals, it was written by Dockery. I verified with a few resources online and it all led to the same conclusion. Nevertheless, “Appointment in Iran” was extremely enjoyable and provides a glimmer of hope that this series does include some gems.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 18, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 20

Our feature this episode is Ed McBain’s popular 87th Precinct series coupled with Eric’s review of the first installment “Cop Hater.” Additionally, Tom covers Lawrence Block’s “The Girl with the Long Green Heart.” Stream below or on any popular streaming service. Download directly here (Link).

Listen to "Episode 20: Ed McBain" on Spreaker.

A Cry in the Night (aka All Through the Night)

Whit Masterson was a pseudonym for the literary collaborations of Bob Wade and Bill Miller, who were also prolific under their other pen name, Wade Miller. “A Cry in the Night” was a 1955 kidnapping thriller released as a Bantam paperback that was also titled “All Through the Night” in hardcover and adapted into a film starring Raymond Burr and Natalie Wood in 1956. The novel remains available today as a cheap eBook - free, in fact, if you have Kindle Unlimited.

“A Cry in the Night” opens just after midnight where our villain, a perverted sociopath, is lurking around the lover’s loop on a hill above a Southern California harbor. He’s a ghoulish creep - sneaking up to the windows of cars containing couples, so he can better listen to their passionate gasps for his own solo sexual thrills. A confrontation with a couple of lovers goes sideways, and he ends up driving away with young Liz while leaving her boyfriend unconscious in the dirt. The perv has inadvertently become a kidnapper.

When the boyfriend regains consciousness, he is disoriented and concussed. The police pick him up wandering the streets in the middle of the night and throw him in the drunk tank to await court in the morning. After realizing that he’s not just some wino, the cops begin to piece together that something sinister and awful must have happened to the missing Liz at the make-out spot. An early plot twist reveals the personal nature of the investigation for the department’s leadership.

The police characters are just awesome. There’s a pair of patrolmen who know each other so well that they can finish each other’s sentences. There’s a Lieutenant nicknamed Old Ironhead who appears to be a tactical genius dispatching police resources where they can do the most good. There’s a sex crimes detective awakened to provide subject matter expertise to save Liz before it’s too late. “A Cry in the Night” is one of the best police procedural novels I’ve ever read as it shows the teamwork involved in a proper critical incident response.

This is a compressed-time paperback in which all the action transpires over a five-hour period with each chapter designating the turning of a new hour. Third-person perspective changes allow the reader to follow the sequential events through the eyes of several characters. The writing is smooth and the pages really fly by. The cop scenes depict a logical and competent investigation conducted with great urgency. The scenes with the kidnapper and victim recall a horror novel - or, at the very least, a dark suspense story filled with menace and terror. Wade and Miller created one of the most disturbing psychos since Norman Bates.

The cat and mouse game between the police and the kidnapper comes to a satisfying conclusion at the novel's climax. I can quibble with some of the law enforcement choices made, including the involvement of a civilian in a tactical operation, but why bother? After all, it’s just pulp fiction.

Wade and Miller wrote a hell of a lot of books together, and I have only scratched the surface of their body of work. However, I can comfortably say that “A Cry in the Night” is the best of their novels that I have read thus far. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, November 15, 2019

Running Target

Steve Frazee (1908-1992) was a Colorado native and major contributor to the pulp and paperback western genre. The author wrote a number of Disney tie-in novels like “Swiss Family Robinson” and “Zorro”. He even authored a series of adventures starring television canine “Lassie”. Frazee wrote very little crime-noir other than “Running Target”, his 1957 novel published by Fawcett Gold Medal. After hunting down a copy, it's really just a simple western in disguise.

Oddly, “Running Target” doesn't feature a chief protagonist. Instead, it's an ensemble cast featuring a group of man-hunters searching a dense mountain range for four escaped prisoners. Led by the noble Sheriff Rudd, the players are:

Newton – Deputy Sheriff; pacifist who refuses to kill

Pryor – Deputy Sheriff; proud Sheriff's son

Jaynes – Voluntary Deputy; local businessman and sociopath

Smitty – Volunteer; female business owner who was robbed by one of the prisoners

Frazee's narrative style is very elementary. It is 160-pages of...man-hunting. The book follows the group as they track the prisoners through the forests. Between waking up and making coffee to the hiking and camping, the author spends extraordinary amounts of time beating around the bush (pun intended) without any story development. One could argue that the constant complaining, bickering and insults could be the focus, but why?

There's an interesting side story of Smitty carrying a small, curiously wrapped package in her bag. The author hints there will be some big reveal, and honestly this literary gambit kept me hanging in there page after page, but he pisses the whole idea away with three sentences three-fourths into the novel. Spoiler – it amounts to absolutely nothing.

Like walking barefooted on a steamy gravel road, flipping these pages was a painful, agonizing effort. But it also left me questioning a number of things. First, the fact that the armed pursuers are on horseback in the mountains makes this a traditional western. However, it's obviously set in the 1950s with the car, plane and radio that are mentioned and shown. Why even add those factors? Just call it a western and eliminate the contemporary setting. Second, could this novel have been a short-story the author originally wrote? Perhaps someone convinced him to pad the hell out of it to compose a full-length paperback. Sadly, I'd say that was probably the case as the padding was plentiful. It was probably a western too. But, Fawcett used popular paperback artist Mitchell Hooks to hook both crime-noir readers and their hard-earned money.

While I won't dismiss Steve Frazee's work, because I'm sure he has plenty of great westerns to his credit, “Running Target” has run right into our Hall of Shame. This book is an absolute turd.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, November 14, 2019

David Hill #01 - Prison at Obregon

Bill Adkins, an author about whom I know next to nothing, wrote a three-book series of paperback adventures starring Cessna pilot David Hill. All three novels were released in 1976 by Popular Library and were quickly forgotten after failing to make a splash. The opening installment was “Prison at Obregon,” and the cover introduces Hill as a “high-flying adventurer who’ll dare anything for the right price in cash and kicks.”

The book opens with playboy business consultant David flying his Cessna to Acapulco with a chick he hardly knows. He invited her along solely because of her great legs - a decision that makes total sense based on the author’s description of the legs. The Acapulco trip was prompted by an invitation from David’s Mexican friend who offers the small-aircraft pilot $100,000 to smuggle a load of marijuana back into the U.S. in his plane for the Mexican Syndicate.

David accepts the assignment but chickens out after drawing unwanted attention from Mexican law enforcement. This turns David from a Mexican Syndicate ally to a loose end in the eyes of some dangerous hombres. Can David’s friend to broker a peace treaty with the Mexi-mob and have everybody make some some money in the process? Can they stay one step ahead of the federales?

Adkins’ writing is pretty good, but the plotting of this series debut sure needs some work. The first half of the paperback consists of false starts and aborted missions before the actual story begins in the novel’s second half. I also found it hard to root for the hero. He’s kind of an arrogant jackass who’s good in a fistfight and between the sheets but otherwise without charm or distinction. Moreover, he’s agreed to smuggle drugs into the U.S. just for kicks. The author was clearly a Cessna pilot as each “action” scene contains pages and pages of flight details - too many for my tastes.

The last 60 pages of the book form the real story, here - and set up the conceit for the remaining two books in the series. I’m in a tough spot because I don’t want to spoil the first, largely lousy, 110 pages for you that brings us to the “good part.” Let’s just say this: as the title indicates, there’s a prisoner locked up in a Mexican jail in the City of Obregon who needs to be busted loose. The airplane smuggling hi jinx story quickly becomes a jailbreak adventure. The scenes inside the Mexican prison where characters jockey for position within the inmate hierarchy were pretty great, and I wish there were more of that in the paperback.

Overall, “Prison at Obregon” is a total mess of a novel that could have been saved by a stern editor to rework the plot into something that flowed with greater coherence. There are some cool ideas explored and some of the action sequences were solid, but not enough to save this one. I have the other two books in the series, but I’m not sure if I can stomach them. For your purposes, your time and money are best spent elsewhere.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Sgt. Hawk #01 - Sgt. Hawk

The first “Sgt Hawk” paperback was published by Belmont Tower in 1979. The novel features a heroic, gruff US Marine Sergeant leading soldiers in the South Pacific Theater of World War 2. Not much is known about author Patrick Clay, but the book was apparently successful enough to warrant three sequels - “Return of Sgt Hawk” (1980), “Under Attack” (1981), and “Tiger Island” (1982). I'm a sucker for Belmont's military fiction and “Sgt Hawk” generally receives positive reviews. I'm digging in.

Like Len Levinson's 'Rat Bastards', Sgt Hawk's platoon is made up of hardened, battle-scarred grunts with vulgar mouths. Hawk is a country boy from Mississippi, thrust into leadership by wielding an uncanny fighting spirit. In many ways, Hawk could be a misplaced western hero superimposed onto war-torn Japanese Islands. He's a lovable character with a deep accent, an attribute that helps calm the civilian population while also motivating his troops. When readers are first introduced to Hawk, he's a monumental workhorse leading his men through dense foliage to destroy a pillbox. He takes the hardest route himself before risking his soldier's lives. Hawk's that kinda guy.

After an early skirmish, Hawk and fifteen troops are offered a special assignment. As the US pinches the eastern portion of the island, US intelligence fears that the Japanese will retreat to the northwest quadrant. Hawk's role is to protect a Dutch rubber plantation, an asset being utilized by the Allies. Once Hawk arrives at the plantation, the narrative settles into the cusp of the story – Hawk's interaction with the plantation's wealthy owner and family while trying to solve...a murder mystery.

The Van Speer family have owned and operated the plantation for fifteen years and don't immediately welcome Hawk and his men. Cut-off from the rest of Europe, the Van Speers don't fully grasp the war's impact. The family's oldest daughter, Gretchen, is smitten with Hawk and the two form a budding romance over the course of a few weeks. While Hawk and his men await the inevitable conflict, they appear to have an enemy on the farm. The platoon is slowly picked off one-by-one in a macabre “Ten Little Indians” series of murders. Could one of Hawk's men be a traitor? Or, is it an early advance of Japanese forces?

Patrick Clay does a tremendous job in maintaining the suspense until the very end. I had an early theory that panned out, but it kept me guessing for the majority of the book. The author propels the narrative in a multitude of ways. The romance between Hawk and Gretchen adds depth to these characters and allows the rock-solid Hawk character to become soft for readers. The murder mystery is slowly developed and adds a touch of eerie isolation. But, when the action hits, it's non-stop brutality that comes in waves.

“Sgt Hawk” delivers a gritty, violent war tale with a unique murder mystery as an added touch. The sequels are fairly pricey and, to my knowledge, aren't available as ebooks. In particular, the third book seems to be the rarest, pitching a double-digit prices online. Against my better judgement, I spent and arm and a leg to buy the remaining books. This is an exciting series with a ton of potential, and I'm excited to review the batch.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Boysie Oakes #06 - Traitor's Exit

British author John Gardner (1926-2007) enjoyed a literary career that flourished with a number of spy and espionage thrillers. The prolific author was chosen by Ian Fleming's estate to author 14 'James Bond' novels, successfully maintaining Fleming's approach and tone. While the James Bond empire kept Gardner gainfully employed throughout the 80s and 90s, his first foray into the spy genre was an eight-book series starring lovable, but intentionally incompetent British spy 'Boysie Oakes'. The debut, “The Liquidator”, was published in 1964, but my first taste is the sixth series installment, “Traitor's Exit”, originally published in 1970.

From what I gather, “Traitor's Exit” is unlike any other book in the series. In fact, Boysie Oakes isn't even the main character. Instead, the story is told in the first person by Rex Upsdale. Rex is a low-caliber author barely surviving off of royalties produced by his own spy series, “Gascoigne”. His bills are a Mount Everest of bad debt, and he's still holding out for anyone in Hollywood to actually adapt his series to film instead of signing worthless movie option contracts. Let's say that Rex isn't turning away any knocks on the door. Thankfully, after authoring a controversial magazine article about an authentic British spy named Kit Styles, Rex receives two visitors.

Kit Styles was the golden boy of British spies. Unfortunately, he defected to Russia during the Cold War, spilling numerous state secrets and propelling Russian momentum. The DI-5 (England's version of the CIA) have offered Rex the deal of a lifetime. They offer to pay off all of the author's debt, a check for $10K and the promise to never ask for favors again. But, what could possibly warrant this sort of cash? They want Rex to fly to Russia and interview Styles for a magazine article. Easy, peasy...who's got the checkbook?

Gardner's clever writing is a satirical look at the spy genre both from the stance as an author and reader. Rex describes his “Gascoigne” series as an exploitation on the spy boom, stating that anyone who could write got on the bandwagon. He even boasts that he wrote the second book in the series standing on his head. I think this is Gardner's unique insight into the era's publishing industry.

Once trouble arrives, which introduces Boysie Oakes into the plot, Rex often has a fantasy novel running through his mind as a form of mental escape. It's a unique writing style by having the reader not only engaged in “Traitor's Exit”, but also the swanky private-eye story that's running through Rex's thoughts (which is an obvious ode to Raymond Chandler). Gardner is also very conscious of his peers, with having two characters in the book namedrop 'Modesty Blaise', 'Matt Helm' and 'Callan'. Often Rex asks (screams) for these fictional characters to assist him in the most dire situations. Gardner is clearly having a blast with the story and characters. His presentation and dark humor is reminiscent of Jimmy Sangster, who penned two spy novels called 'Touchfeather'. It's these types of books that Gardner views as tongue in cheek.

Overall, this was just a fantastic, very funny novel with plenty of action-adventure to please the serious diehards. “Traitor's Exit” will be the perfect entrance into John Gardner's stellar work. This one is a must.

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Monday, November 11, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 19

In this episode, we have a hardboiled discussion regarding censorship in our favorite genres. Eric reviews “Bloody Jungle” by Charles Runyon and Tom covers “Modesty Blaise” by Peter O’Donnell. You don’t want to miss this one! Stream below or on your favorite podcasting service. Download the episode directly at (LINK)

Listen to "Episode 19: Hardboiled Censorship" on Spreaker.

Paul Chavasse #04 - Midnight Never Comes

Household name Jack Higgins, real name Henry Patterson, achieved mega-success with his novel “The Eagle Has Landed” in 1975. Selling 50 million copies, consumers then flocked to his books, prompting savvy publisher Fawcett Gold Medal to conceive a clever marketing design. Fawcett reprinted a much earlier series of hardback books starring British secret agent Paul Chavasse in 1978. The mainstream literary community didn't realize these novels were written by Harry Patterson under the pseudonym Martin Fallon, originally published between 1962 and 1978. The Fawcett series had new artwork and the author's name as the more familiar Jack Higgins. Thankfully, it wasn't just a cash grab because these books truly deserved a bigger audience.

In the series debut, readers learned that Paul Chavasse is a British operative working for a special organization called The Bureau. Paul works under the direction of Bureau Chief Mallory and takes on jobs that are too tough for MI-5 or Secret Service. There's not much history that is pertinent to the story. However, we learn that Paul's parents were French and English, he's fluent in most languages, and has been with The Bureau for 10 years going into “Midnight Never Comes,” the fourth series installment.

The novel opens with Paul weak and broken after an ill-fated assignment in Albania chronicled in the series third novel, “The Keys to Hell”. Paul has gunshot wounds and broken bones that haven't healed. Yet, The Bureau wants him to pass an endurance and shooting test. Ultimately, Paul fails and is seemingly put out to pasture. While on leave of absence, Paul reflects on his career and life and wants out of the espionage business. However, all of that is turned upside down in the opening chapters.

While in London, Paul finds himself in the middle of a robbery at an Asian restaurant. After Paul saves the restaurant and a young woman, the business owner volunteers to replenish Paul's stamina and health using ancient traditions. A few weeks later, Paul is as good as new and even passes the endurance test for The Bureau (which results in an exhilarating plot twist). His newest assignment is to stop a wealthy Australian terrorist named Donner from acquiring a new rocket prototype. The mission's locale is the northwest section of Scotland, a rural and rugged coastline with thick fog, battering winds and locals who love to kill strangers.

“Midnight Never Comes” is a more subdued Chavasse novel and downplays the globetrotting intrigue. The book reads like a rural adventure crossed with an unusual Gothic sensibility. In fact, Higgins paints the atmosphere with a cold mist and sets the climactic finale in an crumbling lakeside castle. Is it a spy novel or the next 'Doc Savage'?

Thankfully, readers will be delighted with the storytelling and suspense. Higgins seems to really enjoy this character and it's a triumphant installment in a highly rewarding series. I can't say enough good things about it. Either buy the originals, or pick up the mass market reprints from the 2000s.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, November 8, 2019

Vendetta

Joseph Gilmore's biggest contribution to the men's action-adventure genre is the 'Nick Carter: Killmaster' series. Beginning with “Strike of the Hawk”, Gilmore authored eight series installments from 1980 through 1985. According to Glorious Trash, Gilmore also wrote “Operation Nazi – USA” under the name James Gilman. My only experience with the author is his 1973 vigilante-styled paperback “Vendetta”, published by Pinnacle. The novel was re-printed in 1976 with the pictured cover art.

New York patrolman Alex Braley is on a mission to knock off key players in the illegal drug distribution game. While most 70s vigilante novels begin with the protagonist's loved ones being murdered, Gilmore takes an abstract approach. Instead, there's a brief explanation that one year ago Gilmore's wife got hooked on drugs and died from a poisonous batch. There's not a single individual or crime ring to avenge, so Braley starts with the top drug distributors and works his way down. Thus, the book begins with Braley hogtying a higher echelon gang leader before delivering the brutal kill shot to the cranium.

Like Robert Lory's 'Vigilante' series, Braley conducts himself like a straight-laced citizen to his friends, peers and co-workers while secretly planning mob hits. He utilizes a local book shop to purchase mystery and crime novels. In one hilarious scene the store owner condemns the 'Perry Mason' novels and proclaims that Mickey Spillane and Don Pendleton are far superior. Braley normalizes his everyman persona. He plays golf and racquetball, and as the narrative becomes a bit more dynamic, Braley even delivers a West Coast hit while portraying to co-workers that he was on a much-needed vacation in Bermuda. That's ballsy.

During the the Los Angeles killing, Braley falls in love with a single mom. This relationship begins clouding Braley's vigilante mentality. While delivering fatal blows to the Syndicate, it is Braley's love interest that starts to align his fake persona with reality. Soon, the NYPD begins sniffing Braley's trail to determine if he is the mob assassin. Gilmore takes the action from the West Coast, into Seattle, New York, Vermont and even Europe in a grand globe-trotting pursuit.

But is any of it really original or engaging?

Not particularly. In fact, this is like Pendleton's Bolan without the originality. As the pages turned, I was reminded again on how good Don Pendleton's 'The Executioner' novels are and the direct, albeit phony, comparison Gilmore makes to that innovative series. “Vendetta” isn't a terrible novel. Depending on how many 70s men's action-adventure novels you read in a year, this novel may perform better than expected. For me, I'm averaging 10-12 books per month and understand there are far better novels of this variety.

“Vendetta” is cookie-cutter, middle of the road fiction. Take it or leave it.

Buy a copy HERE

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Wasteworld #03 - Angels

Laurence James and Angus Wells were both prolific UK authors that were at the core of the Piccadilly Cowboys group of western, action and science-fiction writers. The four-book series entitled 'Wasteworld' launched in 1983 to capitalize on the nuclear hysteria of the 1980s. It's a post-apocalyptic series written by James, Wells, or a combination of both. While the verdict is still out on who actually authored the series, it was certainly a great run of action-adventure titles. After a rough start with the debut, I enjoyed the subsequent novel “Resurrection” immensely. Does the third book capture that same enjoyment?

1984's “Angels” begins with hero Matthew Chance gathering supplies to continue his journey to Salt Lake City. His wife and kids are residing in a spiritual encampment, and Chance has traveled from New Orleans to Texas throughout the course of the first two books to free them. Still in Texas, Chance has now met up with a scraggly scavenger and his snarling dog. After an intense encounter, the two agree to work together to secure a souped up Dodge Charger across town. Unfortunately, its guarded by the Nightpeople (think of those sand creatures from Star Wars). I won't ruin the fun for you, but the authors inject some terror into this car heist.

However, the bulk of the narrative revolves around a sadistic group of Hell's Angels bikers and their ill-will towards Chance. Like a twisted scene from David Alexander's 'Phoenix' series, the bikers force Chance into a motocross nightmare featuring spikes, chains, traps and guns. It's an exhilarating sequence that propels Chance into another adventure that reaches fruition by the book's finale. I was surprised to find that “Angels” climaxes in a cliff-hanger requiring top dollar for the fourth and last paperback of the series.

I've ran the gauntlet of 80s post-apocalypse paperbacks like 'Swampmaster', 'Phoenix', 'Roadblaster', 'Deathlands', 'Survival 2000', 'Last Ranger', etc. I'd say I've enjoyed this series more than any of them. You will too.

Note – Wells/James inserts a reference to Cuchillo, an Apache warrior that starred in the 'Apache' series of 1970s westerns penned by a combination of Laurence James, Terry Harknett and John Harvey. This mirrors the cameo appearance that Cuchillo makes in James' 'Deathlands' series. Wild!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Bloody Jungle

Author Charles Runyon experienced commercial success with his fourth published work, 1965's crime-fiction novel “The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed”. The Korean War vet followed up that novel a year later with a rather unique literary choice. Like Harry Whittington, Runyon authored a single fictional novel about the Vietnam War, “Bloody Jungle.” It was published by Ace with cover art by famed western pulp artist Gerald McConnell.

Lieutenant Clay Macklin is a battle-hardened Green Beret stationed at Phu Duc, near the Cambodian border. As the novel opens, both Macklin and his demolition Sergeant Bill Cranor locate a North Vietnamese defector crawling through the base's outer perimeter. Under some distress, the defector warns Macklin and company that a battalion of NVA soldiers have regrouped and are heading to Phu Doc the next night. With only 34 US personnel on base, the team feels that the NVA will slaughter the team and the 2,500 sympathetic villagers.

In an early plot twist, Macklin and select riflemen are separated from the base as Phu Duc is overcome with NVA. Stranded miles from the nearest US camp, Macklin drags a wounded man into a small village where he befriends a young woman and her baby. Here, Macklin learns more about the attacks and where the NVA are campaigning next. As the narrative explores Macklin's harrowing journey, Runyon enhances the storytelling with a budding romance between Macklin and the villager.

“Bloody Jungle” has many twists and turns on its ultimate road to Hell. I can't spill much of the second half of this novel, but it's a real powder-keg ready to explode. Runyon takes readers through jungle battles, base bombings, torture sequences, romance and even some detective work in downtown Saigon. At only 160-pages, the action is nearly non-stop and extremely violent. This isn't a novel for weak stomachs...but I think readers familiar with the author's work realize there is a violent temperament in many of his characters. Overall, this is an expensive, rare paperback that deserves a reprinting.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Negative of a Nude

Former World War 2 paratrooper Charles E. Fritch (1927-2012) was mostly known as an author of science fiction short stories, but he also served as editor of “Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine” from 1979 to 1985. He wrote a couple crime novels under the pseudonyms of Eric Thomas and Christopher Sly, and half of an Ace double from 1959 titled “Negative of a Nude” under his own name.

Mark Wonder, our narrator, is a Los Angeles private eye taking pictures of a philandering husband on the beach with a younger woman. He meets a hot redhead named Cherry, who turns out to be an off-duty stripper, and takes her back to his place. Just as Mark is about to get lucky with the babe, a crazy sequence of events occurs (no spoilers, here), and Mark finds himself without the girl or the film from his camera bag.

Meanwhile, Mark has another photographic-related mystery to solve. A new client is being blackmailed by someone threatening to release nudie pics of the client’s wife. The client wants the Mark to identify the blackmailer and recover the negatives before the wife’s private parts become a public record.

Of course, the mysterious photographic happenings evolve into a murder mystery with a wrongfully-accused man needing to clear his name. Mark is a very enjoyable, wise-cracking private eye to join for 140 pages, and the novel is sexy, breezy, enjoyable fun. There were a few to many characters to keep track of, but mostly I enjoyed the heck out of “Negative of a Nude” and want to read more of Fritch’s work.

Postscript

Author James Reasoner worked with Charles Fritch when Reasoner was a regular contributor to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. Reasoner recalls, “Sam Merwin Jr. was the editor when I broke in there, followed by Larry Shaw, who came and went so fast I never had any contact with him, then Chuck [Fritch] for the rest of the magazine's run. Chuck was Sam's assistant when I started and I assume was still there for Shaw's brief tenure before taking over himself. Wonderful, wonderful guy. He got out of editing after MSMM folded and wound up working at the California DMV for many years. I reconnected with him on-line the last couple of years of his life and was glad I did. He also wrote short stories under the name Chester H. Carlfi, an anagram of his real name.”

“Negative of a Nude” has slipped into the public domain and reprints are available in hardcover or paperback from Fiction House Press, a company that really should be sending Paperback Warrior free review copies of their excellent output. 

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Monday, November 4, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 18

You’re in for a real treat this episode as Tom discusses his favorite series of all time, the Matt Helm books by Donald Hamilton. Eric reviews “Death Squad #1” by Dan Streib while Tom covers the inspiration for the movie “Bullitt” starring Steve McQueen, a paperback titled “Mute Witness” by Robert Pike. Stream below or on your favorite podcast service. Download directly at (LINK). Listen to "Episode 18: Matt Helm" on Spreaker.

Killer Patrol

Author George Fennell is a former US Army Special Services Security Agent. While little is known about him, he did author a two-book series starring US Army Special Forces Captain Mike Brent. Both were printed by Pinnacle in 1970 and caters to the men's action-adventure consumer who enjoys cover art riddled with bullets, bombs and bravado. I enjoyed the debut book, “Blood Patrol” and was hoping that the sequel would be just as enjoyable. Did it deliver the goods?

“Killer Patrol” drops Mike Brent and his first Lieutenant Hans Schmidt (the only two survivors from the debut) into Costa Verde for a Latin American undercover adventure. The US is facing backlash from the United Nations due to a revolutionary band of guerrillas using signature American firearms, the M-16 and M-60. However, US intelligence is reporting that these weapons are being manufactured by Russia and supplied to the fighters as a means to smear the US name while maintaining communist influence in the region. Brent and Schmidt are assigned to trace the supply train and destroy it.

If I were asked to introduce genre newbies to 70s men's action-adventure, I'd certainly entertain “Killer Patrol” as a logical choice. It's short, explosive and maintains a furious pace. Further, it runs the gambit of every mandatory genre trope – sex, espionage, gunfights, explosions. But, it's also so symbolic of the genre. Consider this: in one fell swoop, Fennell delivers an underwater detonation of a submarine, a climactic train battle, a nautical boat battle, interrogation/torture (they are the same in these types of books), a prisoner escape and an aerial battle while still dedicating the entire third chapter to sex. Incredible!

While “Blood Patrol” was nearly perfect, the last chapters of the novel suffered with too much stimulation in one place. Here, Fennell seems to have a little more space with moving targets in a coastal country. The dialogue exchanges between Fennell and Schmidt are darkly hilarious, but still conveys a violent aura. In terms of violence, this one rivals any Bolan body-count by allowing the heroic duo to utilize a variety of firearms. It's like one of those video games where the player just grabs victim's guns and keeps charging on.

“Killer Patrol” is fun, over-the-top and insanely addictive. Unfortunately, these two books comprise the entire series. Pinnacle canceled the novels shortly after publication. I'll never fully understand how a series like 'Death Merchant' could be wildly successful while these novels just fell by the wayside. It's one of the more frustrating aspects of reading these old books. Nevertheless, you'll have a blast with this short-lived series.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, November 1, 2019

Super Cop Joe Blaze #03 - The Thrill Killers

“The Thrill Killers” was the third and final installment in the short-lived 'Super Cop Joe Blaze' series from Belmont Tower. All three novels were released in 1974 under house name Robert Novak. The authors of the first two books are a mystery, with some guessing it was either Nelson DeMille or Paul Hofrichter. However, it's a fact that Len Levinson ('The Rat Bastards') authored “The Thrill Killers.” Len advised Paperback Warrior that it was his fifth published novel and it is “probably a little rough around the edges.”

In an interview with the Glorious Trash blog, Levinson admits that “The Thrill Killers” wasn't originally a Joe Blaze novel. The first two books feature Sergeant Blaze working with his partner Nuthall and Captain Coogan. Neither of those two characters are in “The Thrill Killers.” Instead, Nuthall is swapped for a character named Olivero. Additionally, this third installment unveils that Blaze is divorced from a woman named Anna. The main character remains gruff and savage although he's now packing a Browning 9mm instead of the old-school revolver he survived with in the series' first two books. The displaced continuity is simply because Levinson had written a totally different character for an unnamed series. Belmont Tower editor Peter McCurtin insisted that Levinson just change the name to Joe Blaze and submit it. Thus, “The Thrill Killers” forever exists as a Joe Blaze novel.

Under the skilled hands of Levinson, Joe Blaze #3 is written as more of a police procedural. There are a number of suspects, locations and side-stories that add a more dynamic, mystery approach compared to the “all guns, all glory” approach to the prior novels. In this installment, New York City's nurses are being targeted by two sexually charged lunatics. The perps rape women in a VW van before cutting the victims’ throats and dumping the bodies. Levinson's writing has never been for the squeamish, and this is no exception.

Blaze dons his gumshoes and hits the streets searching for clues while breaking every rule in the book. His hot-headed temperament leads to bar fights, gang assaults and a fairly intense parking garage shootout. Between eating sausage and pepper sandwiches, he has a one night stand with a middle-aged woman and ponders his life as a cop. There's an elevated violence in Levinson's writing style, with pushers and peddlers adding a seedy, authentic element to the trashy New York streets of the 1970s. Surprisingly, the book's finale is in a courtroom...imagine that.

Overall, “The Thrill Killers” was an entertaining conclusion to this quite satisfying police series, and it’s an easy recommendation to readers of violent adventure fiction of the 1970s. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE