Friday, March 27, 2020

The Mercenaries #01 - Black Blood

British author John Harvey's most notable literary work is a series of police procedural novels starring Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick. The series began in 1989 with Lonely Hearts and ran an impressive 13 installments through 2014. In the early 1970s, Harvey wrote two biker-adventure novels under the name Thom Ryder and also authored a three-book WW2 series called Death Shop. My first experience with the author is his The Mercenaries series of team-based combat novels written under the pseudonym Jon Hart. The series ran five total installments with the debut paperback, Black Blood, published in 1977 by Mayflower.

Black Blood has an auspicious beginning as the author introduces a character named Dick Thompson, a young boy who's being brutalized by his peers. After the beating, Thompson returns home where he discovers his mother is having adult-relations with a man. As Thompson runs out of the house, he collides with his father. Fast-forward to present day and we find Thompson working in Africa as a mercenary. Through thick foliage, Thompson spies a black woman breastfeeding her baby. Cautiously, Thompson enters the hut, rapes the woman, threatens her baby at knife-point and then leaves. The odd thing is that Thompson is a Lieutenant in the author's band of mercenaries called Five Commando.

I was hoping for something remarkable considering Harvey's respectability as a talented author. However, once another character was introduced as antisemitic and the son of a Nazi soldier who assisted in the mass extermination of Jews, I was immediately turned off. With Black Blood, the author's idea was to establish an action-adventure series starring criminals. Five Commando is made up of despicable characters that are led by a cunning negotiator named Major Kane. The debut mission is Kane's contract with an African leader who is attempting to resist a strong rebellion. After hiring Kane's mercenaries for 70 pages, Five Commando kills all of the rebels and take on a second mission of protecting a monastery of nuns. By the 100th page, I had completely lost interest.

At 125-pages, this book was the pits. The writing was disjointed and unnecessarily gory. Often I had trouble placing where the team members were in battle and in some cases I couldn't ascertain whether Kane had just five Mercenaries or five-hundred. There were brief portions of the narrative where team members are interacting with other allies. This was extremely confusing from a reader's perspective and left me disenchanted with the storytelling. The end result is a low-brow fictional effort that shouldn't be in your hands on or on your bookshelf. We have a special place for these abysmal literary efforts – the Paperback Warrior Hall of Shame. Black Blood, welcome to your permanent home.

The Life, Literature, and Death of Ron Haydock: A Paperback Warrior Unmasking

I recently bought a large lot of vintage paperbacks on eBay. The bundle of books was priced right, and my lowball offer was honored by the seller - much to my joy and amazement. Among the stacks of Fawcett Gold Medals and Ace Doubles was an oddity I’d never seen before: a pseudo-sleaze paperback with a plot synopsis hinting at it being a sexy caper novel titled “Scarlet Virgin” by someone named Don Sheppard. While the packaging of this tawdry-looking paperback does nothing to inspire confidence in its quality, the story behind the author is noteworthy and worth exploring.

The first thing to understand is that the paperback is an April 1962 printing by low-end publisher, Pike Books of Van Nuys, California, distributed by an outfit called Paragon News. The photo of the cover model was taken by Bob Pike, who I presume was the owner of this less-than-prestigious publishing house, and I bet that snapping pictures for sexy paperbacks was his favorite perk of the job.

However, the real interest here is the author. As you may have gathered, the writer here is not, in fact, someone named Don Sheppard. A bit of internet digging answered the first question of this sleazy authorship mystery: Who the hell was Don Sheppard?

According to U.S. Copyright records, the real author was Chicago native Ron Haydock, and if you’re not familiar with that name, please allow me to get you up to speed. First, go ahead and listen to the song “99 Chicks” by Ron Haydock and The Boppers. It’s available on Spotify or you can just check it out here:


That’s a pretty awesome song, right? The rockabilly single was released as a 45 RPM in August 1959 by Cha-Cha Records. It wasn’t much of a hit, but the disc remains a rarity sought-after by collectors. The group performed the song on an episode of “Chicago Bandstand” before Haydock left his Windy City hometown to chase fame in Hollywood.

A lifelong fan of horror movies, Haydock began editing a column in a film-buff magazine called “Famous Monsters of Filmland” published by Forrest J. Ackerman before launching his own knock-off publication that ran from 1961 to 1964 called “Famous Monsters of the Films.” He also co-hosted a weekly Los Angeles talk radio show geeking out over horror films. 

His knack for writing prose opened the door to a career as an author. He wrote two sleaze novels for Bob Pike published in March and April of 1962: “The Flesh Peddlers” and the aforementioned “Scarlet Virgin” - both released under the pen-name Don Sheppard. If he received the going rate at the time, it’s likely that Pike paid Haydock about $500 per manuscript. Maybe less. Over the subsequent six years, Haydock continued his career as a novelist by co-authoring 11 straight-up porno books under the name Vin Saxon, a pseudonym he shared with Jim Harmon. His body of work from this era includes “Caged Lust,” a 1967 effort in which, if the cover is any indication, a zoo gorilla has carnal relations with at least two lusty babes. The novel was also released under the name “Ape Rape.”

Haydock also acted in a handful of schlock cinema B-movies in the 1960s, including “Rat Pfink a Boo Boo” from 1966 with a soundtrack featuring several of Haydock’s songs. He co-authored the screenplay and acted in two roles in the film, including one credited to “Vin Saxon,” the pseudonym he used to publish the
gorilla porn novel.

As his dreams of Hollywood success faded, Haydock returned to Chicago in 1967 to work on his music career. He also wrote some stories for “Creepy” magazine and drafted the copy for the backs of a 55-unit trading card series issued by Topps in 1968 called “Land of the Giants,” cards that fetch a pretty penny on the collector’s market today.

Haydock briefly returned to acting in the 1971 horror film, “Blood Shack” directed by his long-time friend and collaborator, Ray Dennis Steckler. He continued to be part of the world of horror film fandom by serving as associate editor and writer of a short-lived publication called “Monsters of the Movies” that came and went in 1974.

“I'm out for kicks in life, doing whatever I want whenever I want, on the move like there's no tomorrow, I'm living like there's only today,” Haydock said. “Yeah, that was the right word for what I wanted out of life - kicks. And I never had to look very far or very hard to find them. Somehow, they always managed to find me.”

The details aren’t entirely clear, but 1977 was a bad year for the author, actor, musician, and film fan. His mental health began to slip and on August 14, 1977, he was walking down an interstate highway exit ramp in San Bernardino County, California when he was struck and killed by an 18-wheeler truck. He had been visiting his filmmaker friend Steckler in Las Vegas and was in the process of hitchhiking his way to L.A. when the accident occurred. He died two days before Elvis Presley met his own too-soon demise. Haydock was 37. Presley was 42.

Haydock is buried in Resurrection Catholic Cemetery near Midway Airport on Chicago’s south side. In 1996, Norton Records compiled 28 of Haydock’s songs and demos - previously released and unreleased - into a career retrospective CD called “99 Chicks.” The 29-track compilation remains available today on every major music streaming service.

His literature, however, remains lost to the ages. That is until a deep-discount eBay paperback lot brought “Scarlet Virgin” by Don Sheppard into my library and life.

The 158-page, big-font paperback is narrated by Biff Elliott, a 34 year-old “knight of the world” who was a freelance soldier in the Cuban revolution and experienced “wild times in the Orient.” As the novel opens, Biff finds himself held at gunpoint by a sexy redhead who is convinced he’s someone else. One thing leads to another, and Biff is thrust into a fantastic adventure involving a primitive society worshiping a megalomaniac white man as their god, and a missing idol that could unravel the whole enterprise. As you can imagine, the short novel is full of kinky nymphs for Biff to boff along the way.

This Paperback Warrior Unmasking would be so much better if it turned out “Scarlet Virgin” was a lost classic that demanded wider readership. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Haydock’s writing is fairly amateurish and in desperate need of an editor. The narration is littered with sentence fragments and exclamation points as an indicator of something exciting happening. I think he was trying to emulate a Doc Savage styled adventure, but the whole thing felt very rushed and poorly outlined.

The best thing that can be said about “Scarlet Virgin” is that it could have been a good first draft of a novel in the hands of the right publisher, but Pike Books clearly didn’t care enough to spruce it up. Ron Haydock deserved better.

The biggest upside of this forgotten little book is that it prompted me to learn quite a bit about this ambitious young man who wanted to make it big in the arts before his life was cut short. Haydock said that all he wanted out of life were kicks, and I hope he found some along the way. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Paperback Warrior Unmasking: Who Is Jack Baynes?

Jack Baynes was a pseudonym employed by Fawcett Crest for four paperback original crime novels starring Chicago private eye Morocco Jones published between 1957 and 1959. Recent eBook reprints of the novels brand the books as the War Against the Mafia series, a name that rings more than a few bells for us. Neither the original 1950s paperbacks or the 21st century eBook reprints answer the critical question:

Who the hell was Jack Baynes?

Bertram Baynes Fowler (1893-1981) was an editor and writer at the Christian Science Monitor with an interest in history and economics. He was also a popular public speaker on social science topics in the 1930s and 1940s. He wrote several non-fiction works advocating the formation of cooperative institutions such as credit unions and food co-ops as an alternative to the top-down approach of corporatism. Fowler viewed cooperative organizations as a way to split the difference between cutthroat capitalism and centralized government socialism at a time when America was struggling with those questions in the wake of the Great Depression and World War 2.

In the world of fiction, Fowler left only a few footprints behind. He sold two short stories to the pulps in 1936 using the pen name B.B. Fowler. In August 1936, Dime Mystery Magazine published his novelette School for Madness. He also delved into horror fiction with his story Huntress from Hell published in the October/November 1936 issue of Horror Stories magazine.

Diving into inconsequential paperback crime fiction during the late 1950s must have been a fun diversion for the writer, particularly with the commercial success Mickey Spillane was achieving at the time with his Mike Hammer stories. Recall that in the 1950s, paperback originals were lowbrow pop culture for the masses. As such, a writer and thinker whose ideas were often cited in economics journals would understandably want to publish his violent and tawdry fiction under the veil of anonymity that the Jack Baynes pseudonym provided Fowler.

The copyrights were never renewed on the Morocco Jones series which created an opportunity to bring these now public domain books back to digital life for an enterprising reprint house called Deerstalker Editions. The publisher is owned by Jean Marie Stine, a former editor at Leisure Books and assistant to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. On her blog, she says that she changed the titles of the Morocco Jones series because the originals “seem to have been created by an inattentive editor.”

The order and title variations of the Morocco Jones series are:

1. Meet Morocco Jones (1957). Reprinted as Morocco Jones and the Syndicate Hoods

2. Hand of the Mafia (1958). Reprinted as Hand of the Syndicate

3. The Peeping Tom Murders (1958). Reprinted as The Syndicate Murder Cult

4. The Case of the Golden Angel (1959). Reprinted as The Syndicate’s Golden Angel

Buy the books HERE

Morocco Jones #01 - Meet Morocco Jones

The Morocco Jones books by pseudonym Jack Baynes are a four-installment series debuting in 1957 written by a newspaperman and non-fiction writer named Bertram B. Fowler (1893-1981). The actual title of the debut remains a source of great debate. I’m guessing the full title is Meet Morocco Jones in the Case of the Syndicate Hoods but the spine of the original paperback simply reads Meet Morocco Jones. A recent eBook reprint re-titles the novel, Morocco Jones and the Syndicate Hoods. Same difference, I suppose.

The book opens with our hero, Morocco Jones, opening a private investigative agency in Chicago along with two colleagues from their spy days together. As Morocco explains to an old flame, “We have wealthy clients who pay well for the return of missing jewels, of embezzled funds; for straightening out a crooked caper. It's duck soup after the old days, honey."

Unfortunately, it’s not going to be that easy for Morocco this time. A commie spy named Bardo has a score to settle from the group’s European Cold War days and resurfaces in Chicago with a goal of killing Morocco and his partners. Even more vexing, Bardo is coopting hoodlums from the Chicago syndicate to be his local muscle. It’s a war against both the commies and the mafia in one, easy-reading volume.

Another wrinkle is that the three ex-spy partners had a fourth member of the team back in Europe named Chris who went missing years ago. It seems that Chris went through extensive plastic surgery to change his appearance and is now also lurking in Chicago. This tired gambit has been done before in adventure fiction and feels a little lazy to me. Chris’ resurfacing as someone else is clearly somehow related to Bardo’s resurfacing, but how?

Morocco is not the boss of his own P.I. agency. He answers to the General who ran the spy agency before they all retired two years earlier. The General is a hard-nosed boss who says things like, "And, so help me, Morocco, I'll eat you for breakfast if you slip." Based on the exigency of this current mission, the three have been reinstated as U.S. government operatives until Bardo is permanently exterminated.

This first literary adventure in the series is basically a hunt-and-kill mission for Morocco, but he has to run down clues like a normal private eye to find Bardo and his syndicate protectors. He leaves a sizable body count in his wake in a bloodbath of carnage more extreme than most 1957 paperbacks. The action scenes were top-notch but there are far too many characters and untidy plot threads in this otherwise short paperback. It’s easy to get lost at times, which should never happen in a short paperback.

Fowler’s writing is serviceable without ever being flashy. He would have fit in perfectly among the Pinnacle Books serial vigilante authors of the 1970s. Overall, this opening Morocco Jones adventure is definitely worth your time, but it is unlikely to be the best book you read this year.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Run to Morning

Bestselling author Henry Patterson (known as Jack Higgins) reached superstar status with his 1975 novel The Eagle Has Landed. However, beginning as early as 1959, Patterson began authoring a number of action-adventure novels using pseudonyms like Martin Fallon, Hugh Marlowe and, of course, Jack Higgins. Patterson wrote four novels under the name James Graham, including 1974's The Run to Morning. This novel was also released that same year under the title of  Bloody Passage. As if things couldn't get any more complicated, the combination of Higgins, Graham and Fallon were all listed as author names for the many various printings of this novel under the two titles. Considering all of the publishing and marketing strategies, did the author deliver a worthwhile reading experience?

The book begins with one of the most effective opening paragraphs that I can recall:

“The first shot ripped the epaulette from the right hand shoulder of my hunting jacket, the second lifted the thermos flask six feet into the air. The third kicked dirt at my right heel, but by then I was moving fast, diving headfirst into the safety of the reeds on the far side of the dyke.”

From that opening segment, readers are introduced to Oliver Grant, a man with a unique profession. After developing a skill-set of freeing captives during the Vietnam War, Grant now runs a successful, illegal business of breaking into international prisons and liberating select prisoners. His clientele are wealthy businessmen, politicians and criminals (there's a fine line between the three) that pay top dollar to free associates, family and friends. When Grant is asked to break into a Libyan prison for a corrupt businessman named Stavrou, he politely declines fearing the regime's vicious dictatorship. But shortly after his declination, Grant's blind sister Hannah is kidnapped by Stavrou's cartel and held as a bargaining chip.

The first 100-pages of The Run to Morning features Grant's realization that Stavrou's step-son is being held in a notorious, cliff-side prison that is reputed to be impenetrable. To assist with the mission, Grant recruits a former U.S. Army Green Beret, a skilled mountain climber and a boat captain. Complicating Grant's teamwork is a vile henchman named Langley, a man that reports directly to Stavrou, and Stavrou's lover Simone. Once the escape is underway, Grant begins to believe that the whole operation is just a set-up. But why? That's the question as readers plunge into the riveting second-half narrative.

While The Run to Morning had some gaping plot holes, it's still better than 90% of the books I read and review. Higgins' storytelling style and his ability to construct these international espionage adventures make for an exhilarating reading experience. The narrative's recruitment stage was intriguing with the addition of Langley and his effect on Grant's mission. The love interest angle between Simone and Grant was an evolution, eventually revealing its true nature. The Simone character was a slow development and from a reading experience, the author's patience was a key component to her impact on the story.

From exciting nautical chases, explosive gunfire and a brilliant prison raid, The Run to Morning was another thrilling addition to Higgins' impressive catalog. Highly recommended!

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Bad Day at Black Rock

The genesis of this paperback is a bit confusing, so do your best to follow along. In 1946, “The American Magazine” published a short story called “Bad Time at Honda” by Howard Breslin (1912-1964). The story must have been well-received because it was adapted into a screenplay by Don McGuire and Millard Kaufman for a 1955 movie starring Spencer Tracy called “Bad Day at Black Rock.” Before the movie was released, the screenplay was then adapted into a Fawcett Gold Medal novelization by Michael Niall released in December 1954. Here’s the catch: Michael Niall is a pseudonym for Howard Breslin, the guy who wrote the original short story in the first place. The good news is that the novel “Bad Day at Black Rock” is nowhere near as confusing as the paperback’s origin story.

It’s the Summer of 1945 and a passenger train stops in the small, Western desert town of Black Rock. The only passenger to disembark is John Macreedy, and you can be forgiven if you picture him to look a lot like Spencer Tracy. The mere fact that the streamliner stopped in the dust-plagued and shabby town is a big deal because no passenger train has stopped in Black Rock for four years. Suffice to say, this isn’t a place accustomed to strangers.

Macreedy is greeted with hostility and distrust from Black Rock’s permanent residents. This is a story of dueling secrets. The people of Black Rock clearly have something to hide. Conversely, Macreedy’s real purpose in town is initially a mystery to both the guarded townies and the reader. I’m not going to spoil it here, but Macreedy has travelled to Black Rock to solve a mystery and right a wrong that never should have happened. But is he a private detective? A government agent? A lone vigilante?

The town’s boss is named Reno Smith, a vividly-drawn character filled with menace and power beneath a veneer of charm and reasonableness. Although this was basically a contemporary story of the 1940s, the paperback has the vibe and structure of a novel set in the Old West - a stranger blowing through a dusty town with a secret headed for a violent confrontation with the existing power structure among the tumbleweeds.

A book like “Bad Day at Black Rock” succeeds or fails based on the strength of the secrets the characters eventually reveal, and the solutions here are pretty satisfying. Although the paperback is only 143 pages, there was quite a bit of filler added to create some bulk to what was probably a perfectly lean short story. The final confrontation was solid and also recalled the explosion of violence found at the end of most Western novels.

Overall, “Bad Day at Black Rock” was a decent, if unremarkable, diversion. I predict that it won’t be your favorite book, but you also won’t regret the couple hours it takes you to finish it. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Empty Trap

“The Empty Trap”, published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1957, is a shorter, stand-alone crime-fiction novel by John D. MacDonald. It's patterned like a traditional western yarn, albeit more savage and uncontrollable in a contemporary setting. While the story's most violent portions occur in Mexico, MacDonald leads his readers into the dry, scorching Nevada town called Oasis Springs. It is here where “The Empty Trap” snares Lloyd Wescott and his beautiful lover Sylvia.

In the novel's opening pages, readers are immediately introduced to Lloyd. But it's a brief introduction. You see Lloyd has skimmed nearly $100,000 from his employer, a crooked Casino calling itself The Green Oasis, and he's now a broken shell of a man about to meet death. Harry's three brutish enforcers have gang raped Sylvia to death and viciously burned and beaten Lloyd in an effort to retrieve the money. In the opening 19-pages (not for the squeamish), Lloyd is placed into a Pontiac and pushed off of a high cliff. But unbeknownst to the enforcers, Llloyd survives.

Like a rugged Spaghetti Western, Lloyd is found by an old Mexican and brought to the man's large village. The impoverished villagers slowly nurse Lloyd back to health. With his disturbing new appearance – splintered teeth, broken facial bones, spider-web of scars – Lloyd contrives a plan to avenge Sylvia's murder...and his own.

MacDonald weaves his short narrative into a series of backstories. The reader is brought full circle from Lloyd's beginnings as a hotel manager to his affair with Harry's sultry wife Sylvia. It's a timeless retelling of a man's quest to avenge the death of a loved one, but MacDonald squeezes a lot of originality out of the familiar story. Lloyd's affection for his employer's wife helps the reader identify with a flawed character (as opposed to the popular crime-fiction trend of alcohol addiction). The novel's bloody beginning sets the tone for what is ultimately a very gritty and violent tale of theft, misfortune and loss. Readers know exactly what's behind the curtain jerk, but will still be impressed by MacDonald's magic.

"The Empty Trap" proved to be a fulfilling reading experience. Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Penetrator #01 - The Target Is H

Powerhouse publisher Pinnacle capitalized on its own success with 'The Executioner' with a wildly successful, over-the-top vigilante series entitled 'The Penetrator'. Beginning in 1973, the series launched with “The Target Is H”, the first of 53 installments published under the house name of Lionel Derrick. However, the series was masterminded by journeyman author Chet Cunningham ('Avenger', 'Pony Soldiers'), who wrote the even numbered volumes. The odd numbers were penned by Mark K. Roberts ('Soldier for Hire', 'Liberty Corps.'). I decided to check out where it all began - Penetrator #1: “The Target is H”.

The novel introduces series protagonist Mark Hardin and the events that led to his war on organized crime. Hardin excelled in sports, eventually lettering in wrestling, basketball and football in high school. On the cusp of a lucrative NFL contract, Hardin refuses to cooperate with gambling junkies during his last collegiate game and experiences a horrific back injury that ends his athletic ambitions (there's more to the story but I'm no spoiler). Hardin then joins the U.S. Army and finds that he is a remarkable soldier. After numerous medals, Hardin's military career ends with an exceptional record and an honorary discharge.

While hoping to find the gambling junkies that ended his sports career, Hardin and his girlfriend Donna Morgan run into a heroin distribution ring in Los Angeles. Too close to the fire, Donna is murdered and Hardin finds himself aligned with her uncle, Professor Hawkins, and a talented Native American named Red Eagle. As a trio, they launch a crime-fighting crusade from a desert fortress called The Stronghold.

This series debut consists of a number of guerrilla firefights between Hardin and a mob family led by Don Pietro Scarelli. Mark Roberts writes like Don Pendleton's clone, firing off an admirable Mack Bolan knockoff in Mark Hardin. Despite the book's cover (and most of the series for that matter), Hardin isn't some suit-wearing spy that's chasing brutes and babes. In fact, I was surprised that Hardin is mostly concealed in black fatigues without any bodacious beauties. It's all action, from car chases on windswept, desert roads to infiltrating the mob in a slick ambush. Roberts presents three distinct firefights that were above average for a 1970s vigilante paperback...and that's saying something.

Overall, “The Target Is H” was a stellar first entry in what would amount to be a tremendously successful run of men's pulpy action-adventure novels. This one is a must read and thankfully Chet Cunningham's estate have made the first 26 installments available as affordable ebooks.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, March 23, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 36

In Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 36, our field correspondent witnesses a book purge at a legendary bookstore. Who got the axe? We discuss big news regarding Max Allan Collins’ Nolan books and a vexing problem concerning John Boland’s Gentlemen series. Eric reviews a Doc Savage book by Philip Jose Farmer, and Tom covers The Captain Must Die by Robert Colby. Stream below on your favorite podcast app. Direct downloads HERE:

Listen to "Episode 36: Max Allan Collins' Nolan" on Spreaker.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Living End

Frank Kane's body of work is primarily highlighted by the Johnny Liddell series of books and short-stories. While that private-detective series was extremely successful from 1944-1965, Kane composed a number of high-quality stand-alone crime-fiction titles including Key Witness (1956) and Syndicate Girl (1958). While most of the author's work is iron-fisted, hard-boiled crime novels, there are two distinctions: Juke Box King (1959) and the subject at hand, The Living End (1957). Both of these titles are centered around the music business with an emphasis on radio and the disc-jockey profession. With Kane's crime-fiction experience, he's able to fit these stories into a gritty crime-noir experience for readers. The Living End was originally published as a paperback by Dell and has been reprinted by Stark House Press subsidiary Black Gat Books in 2019.

The book showcases the fictional rise of music industry upstart Eddie Marlon. As readers are first introduced to Eddie, he's interviewing at a music publisher called Devine Music. After playing a rather deadpan song for the publisher, Eddie is offered an internship working as an assistant to a popular radio DJ named Marty Allen. The gig has Eddie lining up the “platters” of records during early morning hours. Marty takes an immediate liking to Eddie and the two form a teacher-student relationship throughout the book's opening chapters.

Soon, Eddie learns about the era's most notorious music scandal, the art of payola. In the 1950s and 1960s, the music business was saturated in the crooked business of record labels and publishers paying disc-jockeys to play their songs and records repeatedly. Music historians described it as a way to train radio listeners to like certain songs due to repeated listens (a radio tactic still being used in some degree today). By limiting airtime for independent artists and low-budget recordings, high profile labels were able to continue their success through the disc-jockey manipulation. Marty isn't completely opposed to the racket, but he also isn't a complete-pushover. He continues to reward the independent and local artists with airplay on the station. Eddie, looking for career shortcuts, begins slipping in song rotations for more money while avoiding artists and labels that don't provide payment.

Like any great “rags to riches” story, The Living End presents Eddie's epic journey from lowly assistant to disc-jockey king. Eddie's crooked path to fame and fortune cleverly parallels crime-fiction's popular trope of a low-level criminal's ascension to kingpin or notorious mobster. In fact, Kane's narrative is steeped in crime-fiction traditions with an addition of jukebox racketeering within the Mafia. Eddie's backdoor alliance with a New Jersey Mob was a welcome addition to what was already a top-notch, straight-laced crime thriller.

Music fans will appreciate the deep-dive on payola and its origins in Mid-20th Century pop-culture. Crime-noir fans will find Eddie Marlon's criminal transformation, financial spiral and eventual descent into madness a compelling read. Frank Kane's phenomenal storytelling is seemingly timeless, with The Living End still viable and relevant in 2020. Many thanks to Black Gat Books for reprinting Kane's remarkable stand-alone novel.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

The Executioner #11 - California Hit

After the deadpan narrative in “Vegas Vendetta”, the ninth installment of 'The Executioner' series, I was alarmed that author Don Pendleton had reached a subdued complacency. Thankfully the subsequent entry, “Caribbean Kill”, delivered what most would expect from these early installments – white-knuckle action laced with gunfire. After taking a year hiatus from Pendleton's novels, I was excited to read the series' 11th volume, “California Hit” (1972).

Bolan arrives in San Francisco to extinguish Roman DeMarco's criminal empire. Targeting the Capo Mafioso, Bolan sets his targets on DeMarco's two most loyal generals. As the book opens, there's a sense of familiarity as Bolan stakes out a mob dwelling called The China Gardens. In a blitzkrieg of explosives, Bolan eliminates dozens of enforcers before being ushered to safety by a bodacious Asian woman named Mary Ching. While on the run from a special police task force called Brushfire, Bolan roots out a Chinese criminal cell that is aligning with the mob to force a power struggle within the Mafia ranks. That's a lot to unpack for any reader.

Pendleton's narrative has a lot of forward momentum but mostly these battles have become commonplace within the series. Surprisingly, the most gripping portions were dedicated to characters from Bolan's past. For example, the novel's 10th chapter is titled “Alpha Team”. This of course is a tie-in to Bolan's firefighting team in Vietnam called Team Alpha. It is also the name of a successful spin-off series that debuted in 1982.

“California Hit” also brings to light the fact that Bolan served in some capacity during the Korean War. I'm not mathematically gifted but I think Bolan would have been too young for that campaign. Regardless, these history lessons are connected with one of Bolan's former squad members, Bill Phillips. It's Phillips that opposes Bolan's mission by attempting to quell the flames with his Brushfire team of anti-Bolan personnel. There are a number of cameos or mentions throughout the novel – Leo Turrin, Gadgets Schwarz, Rosario Blancanales and Bolan's brother Johnny.

While “California Hit” won't make any Bolan “best of” lists, it is about par for the course for the series' double-digit entries. There's a number of characters, narrative threads and series' characters to keep readers briskly flipping the pages. The book's last few paragraphs introduces the next mission – protecting Johnny in Bolan's hometown of Pittsfield. I'm excited to see how it plays out in “Boston Blitz”.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, March 21, 2020

So Wicked My Love

Following a prosperous writing career in the pulp magazines, Bruno Fischer became a crime-fiction success story. His novel House of Flesh sold 1.8 million copies, leading to a successful run of 10 books authored by the German-American throughout the 1950s. His 1954 novel, So Wicked My Love, was published by Fawcett Gold Medal. It originally appeared in a condensed form in the November, 1953 issue of Manhunt magazine. Crime-fiction scholars will often point to the novel as one of Fischer's best. Opening the book, I was hoping to agree.

When readers first meet Ray, he's a dejected, emotional wreck laying on Coney Island's sandy beach. His girlfriend Florence rejected his marriage proposal and ring the night before, explaining to Ray that she may still be in love with another man. As Ray ponders his life post-Florence, he spots a woman he once knew walking along the shore. Ray re-introduces himself to a beautiful vixen named Cherry and almost immediately becomes an accomplice in armed robbery and murder. Wicked love indeed.

After reading a brief newspaper headline about an armed car robbery, a mysterious woman and a band of criminals, Ray's one night out with Cherry proves to be a cornucopia of dark discoveries. He learns that Cherry has a car trunk filled with stolen cash and three violent men on her trail. Ray gives Cherry the engagement ring he bought Florence and the two decide to flee with the money together. But after a deadly, violent encounter with two of the three men, Ray drops the money at an abandoned farm house and anonymously calls the police to pick it up. Ray then reconvenes with Florence and the two become married and live happily ever after. Considering all of these riveting events happen in the book's opening pages, readers quickly sense that Bruno Fischer has an abundance of intrigue, suspense and violence left to explore.

Ray's lusty encounters with Cherry aren't explicit, but they're an enticing invitation for readers to take the journey with these ill-fated lovers. As Ray's average life becomes more complicated, readers can foresee the impending doom in Fisher's narrative. By its very definition, the idea of this average blue-collar man being trapped in a web of murder, robbery and blinding lust is crime-noir in its most rudimentary form. It's also the same ritualistic formula utilized by a mastermind crime-fiction veteran like Fischer to mesmerize readers, fans and literature scholars. From a reader's stance, it makes for an fantastic reading experience. So Wicked My Love is so wickedly good.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

7 Deadly Sinners

Between 1959 and 1961, Charles E. Fritch (1927-2012) wrote a quasi-series of five private eye paperbacks in which the main character’s name changed regularly as well as the pseudonyms used by Fritch when publishing the novels. In various installments, the protagonist’s name was Mark Wonder, Christopher Sly, or Nicholas Gamble while the author names were Charles Fritch, Christopher Sly, Eric Thomas, and Christopher Brockden. It’s a mess to understand and unsurprising that the books never took off commercially. The series order, heroes, pseudonyms and publishers are all hashed out below in the addendum to this review.

The fourth book in the series (although they can be read in any order) is “7 Deadly Sinners” by Christopher Sly, starring private detective Christopher Sly from 1961. The novel is currently available as a trade paperback reprint from Wildside Press restoring Charles Fritch’s own name as the author. Fritch went on to have a successful career as the editor of 'Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine'.

Christopher Sly (the character, not the pseudonym) is a wisecracking Hollywood private eye with an assignment any red-blooded man would relish: he needs to guard seven starlets for a local movie studio to ensure they stay out of trouble before a publicity tour. The catch is that one of the seven beauties was a girlfriend of a deported mafioso. The syndicate wants to find her to ensure she remains silent forever about what she knows. The problem is that nobody knows which of the seven ladies is the girlfriend.

While Sly’s overt assignment is to keep all seven women alive, his secret mission is to identify the mobster’s ex-girlfriend. His only clue to get this done is the knowledge that she has a diamond-shaped birthmark down near her lady-parts. Yes, you read that right. Sly’s needs to discreetly examine each of the seven to determine which woman is the mob’s target and take extra care to keep her alive thereafter. His preferred method is seduction, but other opportunities arise as well. Okay, I’ll grant you that this is a stupid and contrived premise, but it’s basically a lighthearted sex-romp mystery in the same manner as a thin 'Carter Brown' or 'Shell Scott' novel.

This is a very horny paperback with a fair amount of sexually explicit content. We get lots of moaning animal sounds, heaving breasts, and expectant thighs, but the descriptors seldom take it to the next level. The sex scenes - and there are quite a few - are more graphic than a Shell Scott book but less explicit than a 'Longarm' Western. The original publisher, Athena Publications, was a sleaze fiction paperback house that pushed the limits far more than the Ace Double housing Fritch’s 1959 private eye novel, “Negative of a Nude.”

The twisty solution to the paperback’s central mystery is so painfully obvious that any reader will see it coming from a mile away. The ending was also abrupt as if Fritch hit his contractual word count and just stopped writing. Despite its simplicity, “7 Deadly Sinners” was a mostly fun, low-impact read. Only you can decide if the $8.49 price tag for the paperback reprint is worth the cost of this mindless diversion. Paying much more for a bawdy murder mystery really would be a crime.

Addendum: Charles Fritch’s P.I. Series Chronology

- Negative of a Nude by Charles Fritch (1959), Ace Double starring P.I. Mark Wonder

- Strip For Murder by Eric Thomas (1960), Kozy Books starring P.I. Christopher Sly

- Psycho Sinner by Eric Thomas (1961), Athena Books starring P.I. Mark Wonder

- 7 Deadly Sinners by Christopher Sly (1961), Athena Books starring P.I. Christopher Sly

- Fury in Black Lace by Charles Brockden (1962), Carousel Books starring P.I. Nicholas Gamble

Purchase a copy of this book HERE

Friday, March 20, 2020

Steve Ashe #02 - I Like It Tough

I was thrilled to see that Cutting Edge Books has chosen to reprint James A. Howard’s fantastic Steve Ashe novels as ebooks and new-edition paperbacks. The four-book series from 1954-1957 stars a rough and ready pilot-boxer-reporter unafraid to fight dirty. The series served as an early prototype for the kinds of serial vigilante adventures popularized by Pinnacle Books in the 1970s. “I Like It Tough” from 1955 is the second Steve Ashe adventure, and it’s probably best for the series to be read in its proper order.

The story opens with Steve regaining consciousness in a Colorado hospital room a day after using his body to stop some bullets during the climactic ending of Steve Ashe #1: “I’ll Get You Yet.” The opening chapter does a thorough job of bringing readers up to speed on the events of the first novel. As such, if you read Book 2 first, you’ve just spoiled Book 1 for yourself. The short version is that Steve successfully dismantled the upper-echelon of the Denver syndicate. Are they gone forever? Or will The Outfit regroup?

A package bomb arrives at the hospital room killing Steve’s girl, so we know that Steve’s one-man war against the mafia definitely isn’t over. Steve’s new eye-for-an-eye target is Vito Gaesinni, a mobster filling the void left by the dead wise guys from the previous novel. The path to find Vito brings Steve to Los Angeles and into the orbit of some interesting side characters who become part of Steve’s manhunt plan. As with the first novel, the fact that Steve’s career as a journalist has zero relevance to the plot. He’s just a badass adventurer cleaning up the streets of L.A.

Early in the novel, Steve befriends (and lays) a prostitute with a heart of gold named Sylvia. Vito had paid Sylvia for sex and companionship in the recent past, so the hope is that she can provide Steve some insight into his prey. In Los Angeles, he connects with a psychologist operating a sanitarium treating a narcotics-addicted magazine illustrator with a sexy personal secretary. The scourge of drugs - particularly the terrifying and insidious “marijuana” - lurks in the background of the paperback and takes a human toll on many of the characters.

There’s a legitimate mystery to solve in the heart of “I Like It Tough,” and it involves a shadowy corporation paying the bills for the drunken illustrator and their possible connection to the narcotics trade. Is it a publishing industry outfit licensing illustration art? Or a mob front insuring the silence of people who know too much? The vendetta story and the mystery compliment each other nicely throughout the violent, fast-moving pages leading to a climactic conclusion.

I have no idea if Don Pendleton ever read the work of James L. Howard, but they were certainly flying in the same airspace 20 years apart. “I Like It Tough” is another winner in the short-lived Steve Ashe series. Thank heavens these books are back in print as this series certainly deserves to be remembered. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Run for Your Life

Bruno Fischer was born in Germany in 1908 and emigrated to the U.S. at age five. He wrote for the pulps in the 1930s and 1940s, and transitioned seamlessly into the paperback original market of the 1950s with the majority of his output published by the Fawcett Gold Medal imprint. I’ve found his writing to be reliably excellent, so I was pleased to find a ratty paperback of 1960’s “Run for Your Life,” one of his many novels that has not yet been digitized and released as an ebook.

Our narrator Willie Farrington has lived a posh life. He grew up wealthy and avoided WW2 combat because of his influential family who made their fortune in the railroad industry. Willie estimates that he’s worth around $50 million, and modern readers should keep in mind that this was in 1960 when that was a lot of dough. Willie lives on a sprawling Arizona ranch with his spoiled, cheating wife, and is visiting New York City as the novel opens.

An unusual sequence of events finds Willie dresses like a bum in Central Park in the middle of the night without any money. Mistaking him for a vagrant ruffian, a young woman named Nina solicits Willie to break into an apartment and recover a manila envelope containing documents. Willie accepts the engagement to see if he actually has the capacity to be good at something other than writing big checks.

Willie enters the apartment while Nina waits outside, and if you’ve never read a Fawcett Gold Medal crime novel before, you’ll be surprised to learn that there is a murdered body inside the place. Willie also finds the envelope he was tasked to recover, and it’s filled with what appears to be sensitive national security documents. The cops arrive, and Willie finds himself running for his life along with Nina just like the paperback’s title promised.

If you’re thinking that this all sounds a little contrived, you’d be right. The mid-novel revelation disclosing the reason for the murder and the significance of the envelope is pretty lame and as a straight-up mystery whodunnit, “Run for Your Life” fails. However, as a pursuit and survival adventure paperback, it’s pretty darn good.

By 1960, Fischer was a pro at pacing an exciting novel that keeps the pages turning, and who doesn’t like a well-told couple-on-the-run story? The obstacles Willie and Nina are forced to navigate on their road to freedom and redemption make for some genuinely-exciting reading, and by that measure, “Run for Your Life” is worth your time. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Barbarians on Bikes: Bikers & Motorcycle Gangs in Men's Pulp Adventure Magazines

When it comes to post-apocalyptic and men's action-adventure, Paperback Warrior has featured a number of reviews of books featuring bikers and biker gangs. From sprawling doomsday sagas like 'The Last Ranger' and 'Outrider' to gritty vigilante novels like 'Hell Rider', the inclusion of motorcycles and their riders is a consistent aspect of the freewheeling warrior spirit.  While most of our attention has been given to the 80s and 90s action paperbacks, in all actuality the motorcycle-fiction genre reached a fevered success much earlier. Between the 1950s to 1970s, men's action-adventure pulp magazines featured wild, colorful and over-the-top biker paintings and illustrations. The stories themselves ranged from harrowing military feats to Hell's Angels styled escapism for blue-collar males. It was an immensely popular and competitive market for the publishing industry.

Esteemed scholars Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle (The Men's Adventure Library, have collaborated on a number of historic accounts and publishing trends in vintage Men's Pulp Adventure Magazines (MAMs). Their 2016 coffee-table archive is dedicated to the biker sub-genre within the publishing industry of the mid-20th Century. Titled “Barbarians on Bikes: Bikers & Motorcycle Gangs in Men's Pulp Adventure Magazines” (New Texture), this 130-page book chronicles hundreds upon hundreds of magazine covers, gate-fold spreads and a brief introduction that cites 1947's “cycle-rally-gone-wild” in the Northern California town of Hollister as a real-life catalyst for America's fascination with biker culture. The book also features an analysis by author Paul Bishop, a former LAPD detective and author of the terrific 'Fey Croaker' detective series.

While I enjoy book and magazine covers, my expertise is typically dedicated to the in-between pages. I love reading and reviewing great fiction, but have a soft place in my heart for the artwork adorning all of these great paperbacks. It's rewarding to find that same passion lies within Robert and Wyatt's labor of love. The astronomical prices of vintage magazines, combined with the rarity of finding intact 70-year old magazines, makes “Barbarians on Bikes” a must-have for anyone that appreciates the action-adventure culture (films, comics, magazines, paperbacks). The high-quality, full blown scans of these hard-to-find magazines is an all-you-can-devour eye candy buffet. Personally, this book is about as close as I'll ever come to holding and owning these vintage and antiquarian men's magazines.

“Barbarians on Bikes” showcases Bob and Wyatt's undying love for a time and place in history that we'll never experience again. Their dedication and hard work unearthing these historic treasures for today’s generation are an absolute delight. For readers, collectors, historians and anyone else remotely interested in men's action-adventure literature, pulp magazines and motorcycles, “Barbarians on Bikes” is mandatory for your home library or coffee-table.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

The Vengeful Virgin

With over 30 novels in a career that spanned 1951-1970, WW2 veteran Gil Brewer is considered a cornerstone of crime-fiction. His mid-era novel, “The Vengeful Virgin”, was originally published by Fawcett’s Crest imprint in 1958. Cited as one of Brewer's strongest works, Hard Case Crime reprinted the novel in 2006 with new cover art.

Jack Ruxton is a young owner/operator of a floundering television retail and repair shop. His life drastically changes the day he meets Shirley Angela, a primary caregiver for an elderly invalid named Victor. In a combination of desperation and hot-blooded lust, Shirley asks Jack to assist her in killing Victor. The payoff? About $300,000 that's been promised to Shirley in the event of Victor's passing. With a tumultuous tuition, Jack's life becomes an education on sex, greed, jealousy and murder. Does he make the grade?

With “The Vengeful Virgin”, Gil Brewer may have hit his high-water mark. The story's placement on Florida’s Gulf Coast parallels the author's own residence in sunny St. Petersburg. Like his contemporaries in Dan Marlowe, Day Keene and John D. MacDonald, Brewer makes use of a crime-fiction staple: the Florida waterfront cabin. It's here where the book reaches its violent crescendo, the crossroads of regret and guilt through the murky haze of hard liquor. Brewer's tale incorporates all of the genre tropes but still remains remarkably engaging and timeless. The paperback showcases the downward spiral of a man's ruin, lovers on the run and the inescapable, ever-consuming law enforcement dragnet.

In its utter simplicity, “The Vengeful Virgin” is a riveting masterpiece and should not be missed. It’s absolutely essential reading for fans of the genre.

Purchase a copy HERE

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Jason Savas: Unmasking the Hero

Beginning in the Mid-20th Century, model Steve Holland found plenty of opportunities to influence the look and feel of men's action-adventure poaperbacks. Transitioning from a mediocre acting career, Holland went on to become the “Face That Launched a Thousand Paperbacks”. Collaborating with artist James Bama, Holland would be the face of pulp icons Doc Savage and The Avenger and later era heroes including Richard Blade and Mack Bolan. After Holland's immense impact on the genre from the 1950s through the 1970s, a new face began to emerge, seemingly a successor to Holland's photo-realistic throne.

That man was Jason Savas.

After years of rigorous investigation, Paperback Warrior was finally able to locate Savas. In a revealing interview, we discussed his childhood, modeling career and his current endeavors as an aspiring Hollywood screenwriter.

Jason Savas currently lives in the same New York City apartment he was born in. Surrounded by his large collection of sports memorabilia, the 65-year old explained that athletics at an early age led to his eventual introduction into the lucrative world of modeling.

“My mother put me into the dojo when I was six-years old. I studied Judo and practiced it for a long time. I was a jock and competed in Judo tournaments and then in high school I did wrestling and lacrosse. I wanted to be a jock, and jocks played college sports. I wanted to play professional sports. This was 1977 and I had long hair down to my shoulders. My girlfriend in college was with me and we were walking by a poster or sign of a model and she said you look like that guy up there.”

After graduating from the City College of New York (C.C.N.Y.), Savas found himself walking through Central Park and bumped into a former wrestling competitor from high school named Joe. Little did Savas know that this quick exchange would effect the next 11-years of his life.

“Joe told me he had become a model and said I could do it too. He gave me a name and a number. We ended up going to the beach and someone took some photos. I stumbled into fashion modeling during the summer of 1979 and was lucky enough to work almost everyday for years after signing with Wilhelmina Model Agency. My earliest work consisted of trade publications...newspaper and magazines...catalogs, designer press kits and magazine work such as G.Q. and Men's Wear doing both editorial and advertisements. I was still new to the industry and both surprised and excited by the wide variety of modeling work available.”
In December 1979, Savas began modeling for the first of several Gianni Versace ads and by 1980, he was all over the fashion world posing everywhere from cigarette ads to cosmetics. But in 1981, Savas also found himself doing a different type of modeling.

“I found myself in a studio shooting a book cover. It was very strange because I had never done illustration work and it was different. I got to wear a costume and it was over in a flash because a shoot only lasted one hour and you were done. Very simple, but fun. Then I started doing more and more book covers. I guess I took over the reins from Chad Deal [a popular 1980s cover model]. I did over 1,000 covers and interestingly, I did more romance novels than action or western. Romance was the largest market and many times we got to wear period clothes which makes it even more fun. The one-hour shoots allowed a modeling agency to slip us into several photo shoots a day and/or in between 'real modeling' jobs. Book covers were a bit like play acting. I enjoyed shooting the covers because you never worried how you looked because you would be painted.”

Savas explained that these shoots originated with the publisher contacting the modeling agency and requesting a certain type of model – rugged, blonde or dark hair. He stated that 99% of the time the illustrator was present at the shoot. Once the photos were taken, the illustrator would then paint the photo and insert various location settings. For the majority of Savas' career, he paired with photographer Robert Osonitch.

“Robert Osonitch was the king of illustration photographers. He had the operation down pat for every type of shoot: lighting, back drops, clothes. His studio had a major wardrobe collection and he was an excellent director as well.”

Savas adds, “I own one oil on Masonite, 20” x 30” without the type (pictured) that I bought from the artist Steve Assel. He used me many times for western covers, including a half-dozen Louis L'amour stories. He was an excellent artist and I enjoyed working with him. Also there is a vast difference in talent among the artists, very noticeable. It seemed to me that Harlequin used the lesser artists while Zebra, Warner, Fawcett and several other companies had more money to pay for the better artists.”

The model's painted photo can be found on a majority of Stephen Mertz's 'M.I.A. Hunter' series published by Jove. He is also featured on noteworthy action-adventure series like 'Avenger', 'Eagle Force', 'Out of the Ashes', 'Vietnam Ground Zero' and a number of stand-alone titles like “Black Moon”, “The Raid” and “Long Ride Home.”

“I have a list of over 1,000 covers and probably found close to 250 physical books mostly in airports. One of the Harlequin romance writers, who lived in Iowa, requested me several times and showed up to a shoot one day. We became friends and she gave me a book cover of myself in nine different languages.”

After his 11-year modeling career, Savas invested in a business and his passionate sports memorabilia hobby (click HERE to see videos of his vast collection). He even authored his own action-adventure novel titled “The Messenger” in 1999. These days, Savas is hard at work writing screenplays and hopes to find some Hollywood interest.

Find a paperback featuring Jason Savas? Email us a photo or the book's title at

Scott Jordan #01 - Bury Me Deep

Between 1947 and 1981, attorney-turned-author Harold Q. Masur (1909-2005) wrote 11 installments of a successful mystery series starring attorney-turned-private-eye Scott Jordan. The books come highly recommended, so I’m beginning at the beginning with the first novel, “Bury Me Deep,” originally released in the March 1947 issue of “Mammoth Detective Magazine” and then re-edited into a Pocket Books paperback in the early 1950s. The novel remains available as a $3 ebook for modern readers who like to consume their vintage paperbacks digitally.

As depicted on the cover, the “Bury Me Deep” opens with narrator Scott Jordan coming home from a trip to find an unknown hot blonde in lingerie curled up on his couch drinking a brandy. After talking for a minute, Scott learns that her name is Verna, and she is very drunk. Scott dresses the girl, pours her into a cab, and sends her on her way without ever learning how she came to be there in the first place.

The next morning Scott is awakened by the police. The cops have the cabbie in tow who immediately identifies Scott as the man who put Verna into his taxi. It turns out she died a few minutes later - apparently poisoned. The police logically assume that Scott was somehow involved and bring him to the station for questioning. After convincing the police that he’s not a murderer, Scott collaborates with them to get to the bottom of the situation.

“Bury Me Deep” is an enjoyable enough mainstream mystery typical of the 1940s American output, and Masur was a decent writer who honed his skills in the pulps. The problem is that American crime fiction really hadn’t grown a set of balls by 1947 (with Dashiell Hammett’s 'Continental Op' being a rare exception). As such, Scott Jordan owes more to Perry Mason than Mike Hammer, whose debut, “I The Jury” was first published the same year. I’d be interested in reading later-era (say 1950s and 1960s) novels in the Scott Jordan series to see if the character evolves and the stories become edgier. Until then, the debut is a pleasant enough diversion but nothing more.

Addendum - The Scott Jordan Series:

1) Bury Me Deep (1947)
2) Suddenly a Corpse (1949)
3) You Can't Live Forever (1951)
4) So Rich, So Lovely, So Dead (1952)
5) The Big Money (1954)
6) Tall, Dark and Deadly (1956)
7) The Last Gamble (1958; aka The Last Breath)
8) Send Another Hearse (1960)
9) Make a Killing (1964)
10) The Legacy Lenders (1967)
11) The Mourning After (1981)

There are also over 25 short stories starring Scott Jordan that appeared in magazines including Manhunt, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Several of these are compiled in the collection “The Name Is Jordan” from 1962.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Kiss or Kill

Between 1950 and 1969, Louisiana native and WW2 veteran John Burton Thompson (1911-1994) authored and sold around 75 books. His paperbacks were considered to be so racy at the time that NYPD raided city bookstores and seized over a thousand copies of paperbacks written by Thompson and others. Thereafter, much of his writing was done using pseudonyms to remain marketable to skittish booksellers. By today’s cultural standards, the sex in Thompson’s work wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, and Lee Goldberg’s new publishing imprint, Cutting Edge Books recently put that to the test by reintroducing Thompson’s 1962 paperback “Kiss or Kill” back into print.

Our narrator is Jack McKnight looking back on his adolescent years when he was raised by his evil mother and his wicked half brothers from his mom’s previous relationship. His mother and siblings are bitter that dad left half the estate to Jack, his only biological heir, before dad’s early demise. His teen years are filled with disdain from mom and savage beatings from the brothers.

Young Jack has an ally in his late father’s best friend, Mr. Palmer, who explains the birds and the bees to Jack and seems genuinely invested in the young man’s well-being. As Jack pursues a variety of romances while moving into adulthood, there’s a lot of great fatherly advice that Mr. Palmer bestows upon Jack about life and women. I can’t remember a more satisfying “young man and adult mentor” relationship in any book I’ve read in ages.

However, there’s an real air of menace lurking in the background of this paperback. Jack’s mother and half-brothers become increasingly unhinged, and Jack worries with good reason that they are plotting to murder him to take over his half of his father’s estate. The violence - real and threatened - escalates throughout the novel building to a bloodbath of a climax.

“Kiss or Kill” is a really odd book. There are scenes of shocking violence, but it’s not an action novel. There are hot scenes of seduction, but it never felt like a graphic sleaze novel. There are a few genuinely romantic storylines, but it’s certainly not a romance novel. And so on. It’s really a fictional autobiography of a compelling character overcoming a difficult upbringing and becoming a man. In that sense, it’s a very mainstream novel masquerading as a tawdry 50-cent paperback.

Although this is pretty far afield from the classic crime-adventure novels we normally cover here at Paperback Warrior, I can enthusiastically recommend “Kiss or Kill” to anyone who enjoys a good vintage coming-of-age tale. Thompson is a way better writer and storyteller than either iteration of the novel’s packaging would lead you to believe, and I look forward to exploring his body of work in greater depth. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Max Thursday #03 - Uneasy Street

Popular crime-fiction author Wade Miller was actually a collaborative pseudonym utilized by two writers – Bob Wade (1920-2012) and Bill Miller (1920-1961). While the two mostly concentrated their efforts on stand-alone titles, they did launch a successful six-book series in 1947 starring private-eye Max Thursday who works cases in and around San Diego, California. The series debut, “Guilty Bystander”, was adapted to film in 1950 and switched the location from San Diego to New York City. I've always enjoyed the Wade Miller brand, so I'm sampling this series with the third installment, “Uneasy Street”, published by Signet in 1948.

It's December 23rd and our private-eye protagonist wants a quick job before the Christmas break. Instead, an older client named Syliva Wister engages Thursday to transport a music box for her. However, after being told where to deliver the goods, Wister is murdered and Thursday immediately becomes the prime suspect. Teaming with series ally Lieutenant Clapp, Thursday hopes to clear his name while also determining what's so special about the music box. Who wants it? What secrets does it contain?

As much as I hoped to enjoy this novel, I found it incredibly dull. The authors incorporate dozens of characters and involve them with a handful of crimes. By page 80, I was dumbfounded by PI fiction's two important elements – the client and the mission. These should be easily defined but in this case it's a moving target. The plot becomes a confusing chain-reaction of bribery for nude photos, a stolen painting, international smuggling and murder. It was so dense I couldn't tell the murdered from the murderer. I think the authors were flying by the seat of their pants – winging it all the way.

If you are a Wade Miller completest, maybe this is worth owning. It’s also available as a cheap ebook. However, be prepared: “Uneasy Street” was a quite uneasy read. You may just want to leave it alone.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, March 16, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 35

It’s time for Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 35. In this episode, we discuss the meaning of noir fiction as a jumping off point for a career retrospective on Bruno Fischer. We discuss the weird menace subgenre of pulp fiction, and Eric reviews “Crime Commadoes by Peter Cave. We are on all podcast platforms or you can stream below. Download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 35: Bruno Fischer" on Spreaker.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Few Die Well

“After the success of “I Killed Stalin”, Sterling Noel (1903-1984) settled into a niche of writing international espionage and crime-noir fiction with a distinct emphasis on atomic energy and its protection from various Communist regimes. “Few Die Well”, published in 1953 by Dell, continues that same trend.

The book introduces Jeff English, an American spy who's employed by a defense contractor named Bureau X, the same agency Noel utilized in his “I Killed Stalin” narrative. English's leash is long when it comes to not only defending US intellectual property, but seeking and destroying Communist cells throughout the world. In one unfortunate mix-up in Teheran, English, posing as a Frenchman, kills two Soviet agents and is placed on a hit list by the Russians. The assassin is a man named Constantine Bardor, a determined Russian who never forgives or forgets.

English's most recent assignment is to assume the identity of a U.S. Army Captain named Randall McCarey and infiltrate an atomic laboratory in New Jersey. His mission is to kill a scientist who is collaborating with the Russians and spilling state secrets. To do this, he must contend with a number of Russian informants who have been implanted among the facility's 900 residential laborers. Noel's harrowing narrative has English essentially living with the enemy while locating the leaks and attempting to make the facility more impenetrable in the future. Once Bardor appears to settle the old score, English and a few allies are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. It's a fun position for the readers, but a rough ride for the good guys.

“Few Die Well” is an absolute treasure. Without giving away too many spoilers, Noel's slower character development regarding a love interest is effective. It's this element that adds a personal touch to what is otherwise a violently cold, calculated mission to fight Russian agents and Communist sympathizers. It's certainly a period piece, explicitly reflecting the heightened Cold War era in a methodical, action-oriented way. Noel knows his audience, loves this style of writing and delivers another top-notch spy entry.

Note – In one humorous parody of Noel's newfound success, he describes English reading a “rip-snorting and impossible spy-chiller called ‘I Killed Stalin’ by somebody by the name of Sterling Noel.” It's enjoyable to see authors have fun with their fans.

Buy a copy of this book HERE