Monday, December 28, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode Special #04

On today’s special edition of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, Tom finds a cache of unusual westerns by “Alex Hawk.” We turn to Paul Bishop of the Six-Gun Justice Podcast to set us straight about these odd books and the enigmatic author. Listen on your favorite podcast app or at www.paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode Special #04" on Spreaker.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode Special #03

Merry Christmas from Paperback Warrior Podcast! On today’s encore episode, we go back to a show where Eric and Tom provide tips and tricks to build and organize a fantastic reader’s library of vintage paperbacks. Plus reviews of books by Jimmy Sangster and Jack Ehrlich. Listen on your favorite podcast app or paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE:

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Complete Cases of Inspector Allhoff - Vol. #01

Between 1938 and 1945, pulp author D.L. Champion (1903-1968) wrote 30 stories starring a psychopath crippled detective named Inspector Allhoff. The stories are basically a dark and twisted variation on Nero Wolfe or Sherlock Holmes stories as well as a precursor to paraplegic TV detective Ironsides.

Altus Press/Steeger Books has compiled several of the stories in two separate volumes with vivid cover art from the original Dime Detective Magazine stories. I bought a copy of Volume 1, and it contains 10 Allhoff novellas - each story about 40 pages long with an introduction by pulp historian Ed Hulse.

Here’s the setup for this twisted series:

Three years before the first installment, Inspector Allhoff was a top Manhattan cop - the best mind in the department. During a raid on a mob hideout, Allhoff was shot and crippled because of a screw-up by a rookie patrolman named Battersly. The young officer is forced to live with the fact that he is responsible for Allhoff being rendered a double-amputee.

Stay with me because it gets better:

The NYPD doesn’t want to lose Allhoff’s investigative talents, so they quietly keep him on the payroll and set him up in a decaying apartment near the police station. They assign Allhoff a partner to run down the leads devised by the crippled genius to solve difficult crimes and mysteries. The partner? Former patrolman Battersly, the man responsive for Allhoff’s crippled condition. It would be an understatement to say that the relationship between the two men is strained. The psychologically-damaged Allhoff is sadistic and cruel to the young officer, and Battersly is wracked with guilt for the mistake he made years earlier. Despite this dysfunctional pairing, impossible crimes get solved.

The stories are narrated by an older cop named Simmonds who also assists Allhoff with paperwork and bears witness to the tortuous cruelty directed at Battersly. Imagine if Sherlock Holmes was an embittered legless lunatic who solved crimes while psychologically torturing Watson at every opportunity, and you get the idea behind the Allhoff series.

In the first story “Three Men and A Half” (1938), the setup for the series is laid out nicely by Simmonds for the reader. A visiting homicide detective from Chicago seeks Allhoff’s help with a vexing murder case disguised as a suicide. Allhoff dispatches Simmonds and Battersly to gather evidence from the crime scene and bring it to Allhoff’s apartment. Some impressive deduction combined with a clever bluff smokes out the killer when all the suspects are gathered to hear Allhoff’s accusing monologue. It’s a good Sherlock Holmes-styled mystery but not action-packed at all.

By necessity, Allhoff is essentially an armchair detective, so the rare pulpy violence is left up to Battersly and Simmonds who manage the fieldwork. This works well because D.L. Champion was an excellent writer - way better than must of his pulp cohorts. The mysteries he devised for the Allhoff stories are clever and well thought-out.

“Suicide in Blue” from 1940 was the tenth published Allhoff mystery and the final story in this first collection of cases. There has been a spate of murders lately among people who previously received extortion letters. The police commissioner requests Allhoff’s help in uncovering the truth about these mysterious killings. The solution to this one was pretty darn smart.

If you can stomach an unpleasant wretch of a main character, you’ll probably really enjoy the Allhoff stories. They’re not action stories, but the deduction-based mysteries are smart and well-written. Once again, the reprint publisher did a great job resurrecting a lost character series, and the world is a better place for it. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, December 17, 2020

So, I'm a Heel

Journalist, soldier, author, and baseball fanatic Arnold Hano wrote a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback titled So I’m a Heel that was published in 1957 under the pseudonym Mike Heller. The short crime novel has been compiled into a three-book volume of Hano’s work called 3 Steps to Hell published by Stark House.

Our narrator is a Southern California tow-truck driver named Ed Hawkins who suffered an injury to during WW2 resulting in an artificial plastic jaw holding his contorted face together. Somehow he landed a nice wife and a beautiful son despite his disfigured face. When Hawkins learns that a local big-shot lawyer with political connections was caught a few towns away molesting a high-schooler whose parents opted not to press charges, his mind turns to blackmail.

While contemplating the shakedown, Hawkins spends time rationalizing the morality of his actions. In doing so, he breaks down the fourth wall and challenges the reader’s own assumptions about right and wrong. It’s an interesting literary gambit employed by Hano, who’s an excellent conversational writer with a distinct literary voice.

As you might expect, Hawkins’ scheme meets some serious bumps in the road. The blackmail story was compelling, and I couldn’t figure out where it was going. Suffice to say, there’s a hot-to-trot dame involved and plenty of rather dark twists along the way. Be forewarned: The final act got rather weird and uncomfortable. I won’t give it away here, but I’m still trying to decide if the conclusion worked for me or not. There was also a local politics subplot that was hard to follow, but didn’t take up much space.

Overall, I enjoyed So, I’m a Heel. Hano is a solid author, and you’ll never be bored with his plotting. Despite some unusual turns, he wrote an effective story with a memorable lead character that’s certainly worth your time. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The DaVinci Rose

Jim Henaghan (1919-1984) was a well-known columnist for The Hollywood Reporter with a reputation for bluntness and candor that often rustled the feathers of the showbiz industry’s establishment. He also worked as a rewrite man for Paramount and was an executive for John Wayne’s production company. Under the pseudonym of Archie O’Neill, he authored a five-book adventure series starring Jeff Pride that earned the admiration of Mickey Spillane. The first novel in the series was 1973’s The DaVinci Rose.

Jeff Pride is a former international private investigator turned travel agent (back when that was a thing) who bounces around the world with his sexy Asian-American secretary-sidekick Cherry. Cherry wants to get romantic with Jeff, but he thinks that would be unwise for a number of valid reasons that I’ll let Jeff explain to you when you read the book. Cherry’s flirtation with her boss is a running gag in the novel and presumably the series. In any case, she’s a perfect sidekick character for a novel like this.

As the paperback opens, Jeff is in his Israeli hotel room when he awakens to find the corpse of a guy in a suit lying on the ground next to his bed. An altercation in the room brings Israeli police into the picture. The cops take Jeff’s passport pending further investigation. For his part, Jeff figures that the situation arose from his heroic past rather than his benign current job as a travel consultant.

The killing, violence and skullduggery all concerns a missing art piece - a ceramic rose hand-crafted by Leonardo da Vinci. Dangerous people think that the dead guy in the hotel delivered it to Jeff who actually knows nothing about the damn thing. One thing leads to another and Jeff agrees to get back into the investigation game and find the ceramic rose.

I really enjoyed The DaVinci Rose primarily because Jeff Pride is such a great narrator. The action took the character all over Israel balancing a treasure hunt adventure with a hardboiled mystery. I’m looking forward to reading the next installment. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Invasion from 2500

Norman Edwards was a pseudonym utilized by science-fiction authors Ted White and Terry Carr for their collaboration on a 125-page paperback titled Invasion from 2500 released in August 1964 by Monarch Books. The novel is also available as a $4 ebook under the authors’ own names. 

Invasion from 2500 takes place in contemporary 1964 America. While Korean War veteran Jack Eskridge is driving through the desolate rolling hills of South Dakota, the night sky illuminates with a flash. Jack witnesses the formation of an illuminated arch from which armored men and war machines begin emerging. The author’s description matches the paperback’s cover art by illustrator Ralph Brillhart perfectly. A good cover brings the author’s vision to life, and anything else is just generic packaging - a wrapper thrown on a product with no thought or care. In this case, the artist clearly read the book and understood his role. 

It doesn’t take long - only a couple pages - before this invading force of high-tech soldiers wearing gas masks functionally take over large U.S. cities while most Americans are cowering in their homes. The invaders’ airships spray a gas on populations to overcome resistance while Jack and a hitchhiker attempt to outrun the invaders.

The reality concerning the identity of the invading force is pretty much given away in the paperback’s title - a tactical mistake since their origin was a big second-half revelation. The oppressors from the future have some insidious plans for the good people of 1964 that I won’t give away here. Fortunately, an underground resistance similar to what arose in France during WW2 forms to oppose the invaders. If you’re into cool time-travel paradoxes, there’s more than a few in this short paperback. 

Overall, Invaders from 2500 is a simple, but very exciting, work of vintage fun. It’s a great gateway drug into the world of science fiction for readers approaching the genre from a background of action-adventure pulp fiction. With breakneck action from start to finish merged with cool time travel ideas, this old book is a real winner. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, December 14, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode Special #02

In this encore episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we discuss how to build a vintage paperback collection without breaking the bank. Listen on your favorite podcast app or paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE

         

Friday, December 11, 2020

One for the Road

Conventional wisdom says that the best books by former CIA operative and Watergate burglar Howard Hunt were the ones he wrote under the pseudonym Robert Dietrich. One for the Road is a 1954 stand-alone crime-noir novel that has been re-released by Cutting Edge Press in trade paperback and ebook formats.

One for the Road begins in the Florida gulf coast town of De Soto, populated by mosquitoes, sea turtles, and rich widows. The old dames are the draw for our narrator, a con-artist and Korean War vet named Larry Roberts, who grew up a poor orphan and has decided to spend his adult life remedying that by latching onto a rich sugar mama and then disappearing with her money. He meets a 40 year-old wealthy woman named Sophie with a smoking hot body and a decent face. Even better: her husband has been dead for a year.

So Larry is a bit of a heel and a misogynist. He’s also charming, clever, funny and unrepentant. You hate yourself for liking him as much as you do - especially when he’s conning money out of an otherwise nice and loving lady. Getting rich quick and dishonestly isn’t a noble pursuit, but it definitely makes for compelling reading. As the paperback progresses, a cool gambling subplot becomes a major source of tension and anxiety for both Larry and the reader before settling into a rather typical femme fatale story.

The coolest things about this thin paperback were the innovative story arcs and vivid settings. Larry covers a lot of ground in the novel, which basically weaves three separate plots into an overarching narrative. I read a lot of these books, and I had no idea where this one was heading. The plotting was just masterful.

Of the Howard Hunt books I’ve read, One for the Road is the best of the bunch by a country mile. There’s sex, violence, duplicity and intrigue. I’m thrilled to see this paperback has made a comeback for modern audiences. This is the vintage novel you deserve. Highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Captive

Between 1969 and 1973, John J. Flannery (1934-1987) served as the Chief Secretary to Massachusetts Governor Francis W. Sargent. Before that, he quietly wrote erotic thrillers for Midwood Books under the pseudonym of John Turner including the kinky 1963 abduction thriller, The Captive.

The paperback doesn’t waste any time getting into the action. It’s Friday evening in Suburban Boston, and Josephine is abducted by a strange man with a gun in a restaurant parking lot. He forces himself into her car and tells her to drive home. We quickly learn that his name is Arthur Dawson, and he escaped from a New Hampshire prison two days earlier.

The dynamic between Josephine and Arthur is interesting. She’s more concerned about her reputation in the community than she is for her own safety. As such, her initial plan is to comply with her captor in hopes that he doesn’t harm her, gets a meal, and moves onward without her. Of course, it doesn’t work out that way.

Because it’s a Midwood book, there’s lots of sexual tension that arises between Josephine and Arthur. She’s a virgin with a big rack. He hasn’t been with a woman in nine years. You get the picture. Eventually, he takes her on the road to evade the cops, and a romantic interest develops. In fact, The Captive is more of a well-written romance than a violent thriller or a sex-drenched sleaze paperback.

The Captive was compelling, but there wasn’t much meat on the bones. It’s a quick read and never dull - just insubstantial. If you can find it cheap, you may like it, but certainly don’t spend too much on this lightweight distraction of a novel. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Corpus Earthling

Louis Charbonneau (1924-2017) was a highly-regarded author of horror, western, crime and science fiction with a knack for propulsive plotting and claustrophobic settings. My first exposure to his science fiction work is his 1960 novel, Corpus Earthling, which was adapted into an episode of The Outer Limits in 1963 starring Robert Culp. The novel has been reprinted by Oregon publisher Armchair Fiction.

Our narrator is UCLA college professor Paul Cameron, and he’s hearing voices in his head. He first assumes it’s a form of madness, but it sounds like his mind is somehow intercepting a transmission not intended for Paul’s inner ear. It’s nothing particularly coherent - mostly just sentence fragments and phrases without much context. However, things get scary for Paul when he overhears the voice in his head declare, “Someone is listening.” Is Paul the someone? If so, who is the speaker? The bits and pieces Paul catches over the next few weeks make it clear that whoever is speaking is desperate to find and eliminate Paul for listening to a conversation he was never intended to hear.

It’s the not-too-distant future, and America is gearing up for its second manned mission to Mars. Both cover art variations of the paperback give away that the Martians are the hostile menace that Paul is intercepting. Science fiction has always had a bias towards alien invasions using gleaming spaceships, but the author of Corpus Earthling has a different vision of hostile invaders - one arising from the tropes of demonic horror fiction - invasion through possession.

When Paul’s mind isn’t occupied by interstellar eavesdropping, it’s focused on his sexy new neighbor, Erika and his seductive student Laurie. For a guy trying to save the world from a Martian invasion, he spends a lot of time also trying to get laid. I’ve never been in his position, so I probably shouldn’t judge.

If you’re familiar with the story structure of a typical 1960 crime noir novel, you’ll feel right at home with Corpus Earthling. The paperback has mystery, melodrama, non-graphic sex, action, a femme fatale, a religious cult and a manipulative foe. It definitely draws from a pulp fiction tradition as opposed to the overly-smart SF epics of Robert Heinlein or Frank Herbert. Overall, the short paperback was a lot of fun to read, and further cemented Louis Charbonneau as one of my favorite new discoveries of 2020.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Adam Steele #05 - Gun Run

I've really enjoyed nearly everything I've read by British author Terry Harknett. His penchant for bloody, ultra-violent westerns can be found in long-running series titles including Edge, Apache and Adam Steele. I've been on a western kick lately with the Edge titles so I wanted to revisit Harknett's Adam Steele series. I thoroughly enjoyed the character's debut in Rebels and Assassins Die Hard from 1974. I randomly grabbed another series installment from my shelf and ended up with Gun Run, the fifth installment of the series.

The paperback begins with Steele riding shotgun on a stagecoach headed through the perilous Guadalupe Mountains. With a location between American Arizona, New Mexico and Mexican Sonora, the dusty trail is ripe with thieving bandits and savage Native Americans. Within the opening pages, the stagecoach is attacked by a woman and a band of gun-slinging outlaws. They've caught wind that a cache of money is hidden on the coach and want it all for themselves. Steele, who isn't aware the coach was carrying this vast fortune, is robbed along with the passengers, dragged into the desert and left to watch as the bandits ride off with the loot and his signature weapon, the lever-action rifle given to his father by Abraham Lincoln.

Like a blockbuster Hollywood action flick, nearly every chapter of this novel is another over-the-top, rip-roaring adventure with Steele holding his hat on tight while dodging bullets, knives and despicable killers. Determined to retrieve his rifle, Steele heads through the desert with a knife hoping to locate and ambush the gang. Along the way he's captured by Mexican guerrillas, fights Apache warriors, tangles with the Mexican Army before eventually finding himself jailed by a small-town sheriff hellbent on hanging our hero.

I can't help but think that each of these adventure segments in this narrative could have been entire books on their own. Harknett has so many ideas to explore and he seamlessly weaves them all together to make for one highly engrossing and entertaining story. Like his other literary work, the author pulls no punches or knife-thrusts. Gun Run is filled with men, and plenty of women, being tortured, gutted and shot in a rather macabre and grizzly style. No one does westerns quite like Harknett and this book is another exhibit of his crowd-pleasing roughshod style. Highly recommended!

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, December 7, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode Special #01

This week’s Paperback Warrior Podcast is a special episode without Tom and Eric! Instead, we turn the show over to our friend Paul Bishop of the Six-Gun Justice Podcast to tell you all about the vintage paperbacks of John Whitlatch. Thanks to Paul for keeping us rolling during our holiday hiatus. Listen on your favorite podcast app or PaperbackWarrior.com or download directly HERE


Listen to "Episode Special 01" on Spreaker.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Phoenix Force #01 - Argentine Deadline

In 1981, Don Pendleton's The Executioner was redefined by publisher Gold Eagle as a new series of international espionage thrillers. Mack Bolan's vigilante characteristics remained, but with the 39th installment, The New War, the series shifted to Bolan working as a government operative named John Phoenix. This seismic change in the series led to Gold Eagle introducing two new series in 1982 – Able Team and Phoenix Force. I tackled the debut Able Team book recently and wanted to give the same treatment to Phoenix Force. This time, I was hoping for a much more enjoyable reading experience.

Phoenix Force's debut novel, Argentine Deadline, was authored by science-fiction writer Robert Hoskins using the house-name tandem of Don Pendleton & Gar Wilson. The novel is the quintessential origin tale centered around Mack Bolan's recruitment of five super-soldiers:

David McCarter – British commando expert with a background as an SAS officer.

Gary Manning – Canadian explosives expert.

Rafael Encizo – Cuban-American expert with a penchant for underwater warfare.

Yakov “Katz” or “Yak” Katzenelenbogen – French-Israeli battle-scarred warrrior.

Kelo Ohara – Japanese martial arts expert.

The introductions to the characters is summarized in the narrative as a round-table first-time meeting with Bolan to discuss the team, long-term goals and the group's first mission. These five commandos are tasked with locating and liberating seven members of a joint peace-keeping think-tank. These men, and one woman, were invited to romantic Argentina by the country's over-taxed government. But instead of a warm welcome and an open exchange of ideas, the scholars are abducted by the terrorist group Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP) and taken into captivity as bargaining chips in a robust ransom scheme.

What I really enjoyed about this series debut is the central idea that Phoenix Force is fully backed by the government and utilizes a number of weapons caches and military offshoots to accomplish their mission (or die trying). The book's main stars are McCarter and Manning, a fighting duo who does much of the heavy lifting throughout the narrative. Nearly all of the characters star in solo missions that incur heavy firefights in the quest for information. These solo missions are really effective in displaying each character's strengths combined with their background.

While I felt that the villains were a little weak (but much stronger than something like S-Com), the narrative and plot-points were a real pleasure to consume. Argentine Deadline is a far more superior series debut than Able Team's Tower of Terror, which was released in the same month. I'm sure I will have plenty to like and dislike about both series titles as I navigate further into the expansive Bolan universe. But with a firm opening foothold, Argentine Deadline is a solid step in the right direction.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Girl in the Trunk

Bruce Cassiday (1920-2005) wrote books in nearly every genre, but it’s his crime and mystery fiction that have stood the test of time and inspired reprints from modern publishers. Case in point: the Bold Venture Press re-release of his 1973 police procedural, The Girl in the Trunk.

The entire paperback takes place over about 12 hours in Honolulu, Hawaii. Jim Egan is a brutal but effective white Honolulu Police detective who’s always ready to bruise his knuckles on a mugger’s jaw. For Egan, it’s less about his professional duty and more about revenge. Years ago, his wife was raped and knifed in front of his house in Waikiki. Since then, the detective has never been the same and finds himself in a perpetual Dirty Harry mode.

Meanwhile, Ki Auna is a young and handsome undercover Hawaiian cop with a personal charm, high IQ, and ability to build rapport that makes him successful. He’s also terrified of the ocean, which presents a real life obstacle when you live on an island surrounded by the churning sea. When Egan and Ki are paired up to investigate a major embezzlement from a local import-export company, we find ourselves in a typical buddy-cop story where two opposite personalities work towards a logical solution with plenty of cultural tension in the mix.

At the paperback’s outset, an undersea earthquake in Chile triggers a set of tsunami waves working their way west across the Pacific Ocean headed for Hawaii (Reviewer Note: This happens frequently in real life. Most of the time, it’s a false alarm. In 1960, it was deadly). The killer tidal wave headed for Hawaii gives Cassiday the opportunity to ratchet up the tension with an impending doomsday scenario humming in the background among the police procedural stuff.

But what about the girl in the trunk? The cover promised a naked blonde corpse in the back of a sedan. What gives? Well, that happens as well, but it takes a few chapters for the financial crime caper to evolve into a dead naked lady story. Is the embezzler also a lady killer? Or is something more sinister afoot? It’s up to Egan and Ki to solve the crime and catch the bad guy before Oahu is washed away by a tidal wave.

The author throws a variety of subplots including one involving the chief of detectives whose daughter embraces the counter-culture of Hawaiian sovereignty and the hippie grifters fronting the movement. Meanwhile, Egan’s brutal treatment of Waikiki muggers is stirring up controversy with the local newspaper that the department doesn’t need. The ensemble cast assembled reminded me of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct meets Hawaii Five-O.

To his credit, Cassiday gets Honolulu culture and topography pretty accurate with all the right landmarks in all the right places. He also does a commendable job of profiling the mixed-plate of various ethnicities comprising Hawaii’s local populous. Honolulu’s real urban problems - muggings, poverty and racial unrest - were spot-on, and the paperback never falls into the trap of overplaying the focus on beach culture with cartoonish Hawaiian characters. Somehow, Cassiday grasped local culture with great accuracy.

A few years ago, I read and reviewed a 1957 Bruce Cassiday paperback called The Buried Motive that I felt was sub-par. I’m glad I gave the author another shot as The Girl in the Trunk is a far superior novel in every way. It’s a well-written murder mystery, police procedural, tropical island adventure, and disaster novel rolled into 189 pages. What’s not to like?

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Escape from Mindanao

Author Lawrence Cortesi (real name Lawrence Cerri) authored a number of war novels in the 1970s and 1980s. Based on his own military experience in WW2, most of Cortesi's novels are geared towards aerial and nautical campaigns in the South Pacific Theater. My only experience with the author was his 1979 paperback Rogue Sergeant. I wasn't impressed with it but felt the author deserved a second chance. That opportunity came when I acquired his 1978 paperback Escape from Mindanao.

The novel's action is set in 1942 in the highly contested Philippines. Historically, three years later the U.S. would commit to Operation Victor V to fully liberate the country from Japanese occupation. In the book's opening pages, the American battered 7th Bomb Group are packing up to fly out 200 airmen from the northern area of the country. Afterwards, they will destroy the runway and remaining supplies, so the enemy forces can't offensively utilize them.

Cortesi's narrative begins to unfold when the bombing is are just set to depart. Through radio chatter, they learn that 600 American and Philippines guerrilla fighters have somehow miraculously escaped from the heavily fortified northern country of Luzon (Manila) and are headed their way for reinforcements, supplies and much needed rest. Faced with an extreme decision, the group can't wait for the large force to arrive and they can't obtain aerial support large enough to recover 600 servicemen. Forced to abandon the group, they radio to the servicemen that if the soldiers can somehow make it another 100 miles to the southern coast, they will find gunships that can safely carry them to Australia.

Escape from Mindanao is only 190-pages but is epic in design and presentation. The book works from four different perspectives – the airmen forced to leave the advancing group, the ground forces that make up the 600 determined travelers, Japanese commanders and the wife of one of the guerrilla fighters. Together, the story is weaved together through these various segments. Cortesi's strength as an aerial and nautical storyteller helps to navigate what otherwise would be a rather complicated narration. The novel's various plot elements became a smooth, easily entertaining read.

Escape from Mindanao should be well received by military fiction fans but can also work as a stylish jungle adventure. It's dynamic, rather unique and action-soaked both on the ground and in the air. After the rather dull Rogue Sergeant experience, I'm glad I have found favor with Lawrence Cortesi. He has a robust body of work, and I'm now anxious to explore it further.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Gil Vine #04 - Alibi Baby

Between 1947 and 1960, Stewart Sterling (a pseudonym of Prentice Winchell) authored an eight-book series starring Manhattan hotel detective Gil Vine, the security man and troubleshooter at the high-end Plaza Royale. Since the series order doesn’t matter, I’m starting with the fourth installment, Alibi Baby from 1955.

The novel opens with Gil being summoned to a suite on the hotel’s expensive 32nd floor. The suite was rented by two twentysomething sisters. While one sister was out nightclubbing, the sister who stayed behind claims to have been sexually assaulted by a strange intruder in her hotel room. She provides Gil with a description of her rapist before she is sedated and taken to the hospital.

This presents a professional and ethical dilemma for Gil. He understands that rape is serious business, and the right thing to do is call the police. However, with no signs of forced entry, the hysterical girl’s story doesn’t make much sense. Moreover, Gil’s job is to protect the guests as well as the reputation of the Plaza Royale. Another wrinkle is that the girl’s description of the rapist matches the guest across the hall, a multi-millionaire French oil magnate. Inconveniently, the Frenchman is nowhere to be found when Gil knocks on his door.

The author provides fascinating insights into the hotel business and the legalities surrounding the hotel detective role. In fact, Sterling co-authored a non-fiction tell-all book about the career titled, I Was a House Detective. Without question, much of his research for that book worked its way into his Gil Vine novels. You learn about the hierarchy of hotel waiters with room service at the top and temporary banquet servers at the bottom. The hotel’s telephone switchboard operator is a nosy but fantastic source of information for Gil as he tries to get to the bottom of the alleged sexual assault.

Alibi Baby is a competent whodunnit mystery novel where nothing is as it initially seems. Gil Vine is an affable narrator, and it’s fun to have a guy working to solve a violent crime who is neither a private eye or a cop. The book has been reprinted on Kindle and Audible, and fans of intricate hardboiled mysteries will certainly enjoy this one. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 30, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 71

It’s time for the Paperback Warrior Podcast Holiday Shopping Guide Episode! We discuss the dilemma of giving and receiving vintage paperbacks along with many suggestions to get you through the season.  Also: reviews of novels by Bruce Cassiday and George Gillman. Download on your favorite podcast app or paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 71: Holiday Buyer's Guide" on Spreaker.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Thanksgiving Rewind #5

We conclude our week of classic shows with the most popular Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode ever: "The Casca Controversy" where we investigate allegations of plagiarism in one of the most popular series of all time. Buckle in and listen HERE

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving Rewind #4

Happy Thanksgiving! Our Paperback Warrior rerun today is Episode 20 where we covered Ed McBain's popular 87th Precinct series coupled with Lawrence Block's "The Girl with the Long Green Heart." Check it out HERE

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Thanksgiving Week Rewind #3

Throwback Week Continues! Episode 14 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast was our first attempt at investigative journalism where we blew the lid off the practice of utilizing ghostwriters to draft series novels. We also reviewed novels by Wade Miller and Chet Cunningham. Listen HERE

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Thanksgiving Week Rewind #2

On this installment of our classic rewind week, we go back to Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 7 where we examined the crime-noir work of Richard Matheson, along with reviews of books by John D. MacDonald and William W. Johnstone. Check it out right HERE

Monday, November 23, 2020

Thanksgiving Week Rewind #1

We are celebrating Thanksgiving week by revisiting some of Paperback Warrior Podcast’s classic episodes. Today we present our show debut - before we had any idea what we were doing. Be gentle with us as we discuss Lawrence Block, The Penetrator and more in this humble podcast beginning. Check it out right HERE

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Hottest Fourth of July in the History of Hangtree County

I’ve always regarded Clifton Adams (1919-1971) as a hardboiled author who happened to set most of his novels in the historic American West. Western fiction practitioners like Louis L’Amour mastered the setting and adventure of the Old West, but Adams focused on the malfeasance and skullduggery of the inhabitants. Case in point: The Hottest Fourth of July in the History of Hangtree County from 1964.

The novel begins early in the morning of July 4, 1892 in the town of Elbow, Oklahoma with excited children lighting off firecrackers in the town’s wagon yard driving the townsfolk’s dogs bananas. Marshal Ott Gilman awakens to face the long, hot day ahead. Despite the heat and drought making life difficult for ranchers in booming Oklahoma territory, everyone is excited for a day and night of patriotic rowdy merriment following the afternoon parade. The territory has been growing faster than the municipality can handle, and it’s clear that one Marshal and an aging deputy aren’t enough to police the entire town swelling with drunken cowhands and ranchers.

Early in the day, two gun-toting hardcase brothers named Pete and Willy Prince ride into town in anticipation of the celebration. After menacing the town’s barber, the outlaws learn that their family’s old nemesis, Marshal Gilman, is the law in Elbow, and the brothers have an axe to grind. The dispute goes back a few years to Texas, and it has more to do with the older Prince brother, Nick. The younger brothers send word to Nick that they’ve located Marshal Gilman, and Nick is taking a train from Oklahoma City with another family member to settle the score. For his part, the Marshal seems determined to avoid an altercation with the Prince boys - a passive stance that can only last so long in a violent western paperback.

The backstory about why the Prince brothers are hell-bent on seeing Marshal Gilman dead by nightfall is a revealed little by little throughout the short novel. As the day gets hotter and the brothers get drunker, the violence - both threatened and real - reaches a boiling point. The steps the Marshal takes to ensure he’s not the one greeting July 5 in a pine box also serve to ratchet up the paperback’s tension to a wailing siren.

The arrival of the train carrying Nick and the violent confrontation thereafter are pure gold. The cast of vivid supporting characters is also top-notch. Overall, The Hottest Fourth of July in the History of Hangtree County is a perfect winner, if you like your westerns told through the prism of a hardboiled vendetta story. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, November 19, 2020

John Easy #01 - If Dying Was All

Pop-culture historian and multi-genre author Ron Goulart wrote four novels and three short stories starring a swinging Hollywood private eye named John Easy in the 1970s. Thanks to Mysterious Press, the novels remain in print today, so I’m starting the series with the first installment, If Dying Was All, from 1971.

An Oscar-winning screenwriter named Mr. McCleary hires Easy to solve a family mystery. The client’s daughter Jackie committed suicide by jumping into the Pacific Ocean five years ago, yet Mr. McCleary just received a letter from the girl. Fortunately for the plot, Jackie’s body was never recovered. In the letter, Jackie says she’s in trouble, but she can’t come into the open just yet. Jackie drops a lot of inside info, and the handwriting looks right. Convinced that his twentysomething daughter is alive and in trouble, the old man hires Easy to find Jackie.

Easy isn’t convinced Jackie is alive, but he follows logical leads - gossipy news clippings, the post-office, her friend-group, etc. This brings him in the orbit of many quirky California types, but Easy is himself is rather generic. In fact, he makes fictional detectives like Mike Shayne and Johnny Liddell seem downright charismatic in comparison. Instead of imbuing Easy with personality, Goulart chooses to make him a competent professional among scads of California stereotypes (“The classical string quartet at the cafe is nude!”).

Man, this was a by-the-numbers tedious and boring book. It’s possible that Goulart was trying to lampoon the private eye genre, but he forgot to actually make it funny. Characters do wacky California things like grab Easy’s crotch while he’s interviewing them, but these attempts at promiscuous edginess fell flat to me. The entire novel is just a series of interviews Easy conducts with witnesses and possible suspects who may have knowledge of Jackie’s death or disappearance. By the time we arrive at a solution to the central mystery, I was way past caring.

If any of this sounds like your thing, please just read any of the Carter Brown mysteries. He did the same thing so much better. If Dying Was All isn’t even bad enough to be noteworthy. The novel is blessedly short, so you won’t need to suffer through much tedium to reach the ending. Better idea: just skip it altogether.

Buy a copy of this book (if you must) HERE

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

This Crowded Earth

Although he is best known for horror fiction including Psycho, Robert Bloch (1917-1994) was a multi-genre talent with several crime, suspense and science fiction paperbacks as well. This Crowded Earth was a short novel from 1958 that originally appeared in Amazing Stories Magazine exploring the repercussions of rampant overpopulation in the dystopian future of 1997.

As a single man, Harry Collins is only allotted a one-room apartment in a smothering futuristic Chicago with a population of 38 million. Every sidewalk and elevator ride is a crushing mob of humanity. A simple commute to the office for a few miles is a two-hour ordeal. The overpopulation itself is caused by a lack of war and disease that has pushed human life expectancy well into the 90s. A public policy decision that economically rewards couples for having children as well as a lack of meaningful immigration restrictions further exacerbates the population explosion. Basically, everything sucks.

Bloch does a great job of world-building in the opening chapters while giving the reader the same sense of claustrophobia experienced by every character in the novel. A nervous breakdown lands Harry in a government sanitarium with plenty of living space, tons of green land and woodsy trails to stroll. There’s also a flirtatious nurse who seems to really dig our boy. It all seems too good to be true.

Harry’s bubble is burst when he is visited on the asylum grounds by a mysterious stranger who shares the truth about his current living situation. I’m not going to give it away here, but nothing at the facility is what it seems. Suffice it to say that Harry’s mental well-being is the last thing on anybody’s mind on the campus.

There’s a fantastically paranoid early-novel twist that leads to a larger public policy prescription that is both bonkers and offensive to modern sensibilities. The politically-incorrect “solution” to the overpopulation problem is so nuts that even if I spoiled it for you, you wouldn’t believe me. I wish Bloch were still alive, so I could ask him if he meant it to be funny. It’s certainly creative and audacious.

It’s clear that Bloch was a man of ideas, and boy-o-boy does he shoehorn a lot of ideas into this short novel. Many are harebrained, but others are interesting. The plot fascinated me, but there wasn’t a ton of action. If you’re looking for a science fiction shoot-em-up, this isn’t the story for you. I have no particular expertise in speculative fiction, but I genuinely enjoyed the heck out of this one. I’m glad that it remains available from paperback reprint publisher Armchair Fiction.

It’s interesting to read a science fiction novel from 60 years ago predicting how awful the world would be 20 years ago. We have our own unique problems today, but none are as dire as the fiction of This Crowded Earth, and that’s a relief. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Malay Woman

A.S. Fleischman (Avron Zalmon Fleischman, 1920-2010) was a notable children's book writer whose fiction concentrated on the art of magic. From 1948-1963, Fleischman also wrote crime-fiction for leading paperback publishers like Fawcett Gold Medal and Ace. I adored his 1963 novel The Venetian Blonde and was anxious to try one of his earlier books. Flieschman had a penchant for setting his adventure and crime-noir novels in exotic Asian locales so I decided to try the Far East novel Malay Woman originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1954.

The book begins in a Singapore airport and introduces Jock Hamilton, a once thriving rubber plantation manager who is desperately attempting to catch an outbound flight to Melbourne. In his first-person narration, Hamilton explains to readers that he's a fugitive wanted for allegedly killing his wife. Of course, he's innocent but his circle of friends and allies have shrunk since the killing. After the police begin searching the airport, Hamilton escapes onto the street and eventually sneaks onto a steamship headed to Malaysia. But Hamilton doesn't realize he's jumped from the pan into the fire.

The middle section of Fleischman's narrative is a captivating crime-noir set within the ship's sleeping quarters. After hiding in a closet to avoid detection, Hamilton overhears two hired killers planning a hit on a wealthy woman named Kay. As a fugitive from justice and an illegal passenger, Hamilton isn't clammoring to report the conversation to the authorities. Instead, he seeks out the woman named Kay to warn her of the killers. Eventually the action relocates to the hot steamy jungles of Malaysia, but I won't connect the narrative's beacon points for you.

Within the hotblooded femme fatale plot, Hamilton reunites with an old friend at a rubber plantation. The problem is that Jock Hamilton may have fallen in love with Kay but his friend's girlfriend Monique is begging for Hamilton's Jock. She blackmails him into a sexual affair by threatening to notify the authorities and Kay of his fugitive status. The entire third act could have written by Orrie Hitt or Gil Brewer.

While I didn't like Malay Woman nearly as much as The Venetian Blonde, it was still a memorable crime-noir laced with adventure and intrigue. Fleischman is such a skillful storyteller and his words just flow accross the pages so easily. I couldn't put the book down in hopes of learning Monique's motives and Hamilton's ultimate fate as the burdened hero. In three acts, Fleischman manages to weave a number of crime-fiction tropes into an enjoyable and enthralling read. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 16, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 70

Paperback Warrior Episode 70 features an overview of the Richard Blade series of sexy sword-and-planet adventures. Also: Phoenix Force! Howard Hunt! Clark Howard! Gor! Lyle Kenyon Engel! And more!  Listen on your favorite podcast app or at paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 70: Richard Blade" on Spreaker.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Hunter's Blood

Tennessee native Jere Cunningham co-wrote a number of made for television movies including Judgment Night (1993) starring Donald Sutherland. Before his move to Hollywood, he authored a handful of suspense and horror novels. Cunningham's first book, Hunter's Blood, was published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1977. It was adapted into a low-budget film in 1986. I disliked the movie but was anxious to find a copy of the original paperback.

Mason, David, Al and Ralph live successful, lucrative lives in the posh suburbs of Memphis. Each year the four men journey to a rural area to hunt deer, reminisce about the good ol’ days and complain about women. This year, Al informs the group that he has recently purchased a secluded, dense stretch of Arkansas timberland. The massive 400-acre spread has been closed to the public for decades.

Before arriving at the dirt paths and trails that lead into the deep forest, the group stop by a trashy roadside bar where they have a fight over ugly women and cheap beer with the local rednecks. The fight eventually spills into the parking lot as the parties hop into vehicles and attempt to outrace one another. Oddly, once the hunters descend into the forest, the beer-swilling hicks hit the brakes and do a U-turn back to town. The city boys condemn the locals as yellow-striped cowards. Little do they know that the act of cowardice was actually stark-white fear.

After camping overnight by the fire, Mason and David wake up and begin trailing a whitetail deer through the foliage. It's here they discover a pile of animal heads and entrails scattered on the forest bed. A short while later, both men stumble into a makeshift camp where Neanderthal men and women are gutting animals and playing with bones and skulls. The shocking scene evolves into Mason fighting to survive and eventually disarming one of the men. This leads to a clash as the hunters are eventually attacked and “hunted” by these violent and strange forest-dwellers.

Cunningham's novel is clearly influenced by the 1972 blockbuster film Deliverance (there's even a comparison to it on the book's cover). I'd also speculate that the author watched Tobe Hooper's 1974 cult-classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre as well. The idea of primitive people living in the backwoods of America's most rural areas was a pop-culture trend that was highlighted by Wes Craven's 1977 film The Hills Have Eyes. Hunter's Blood isn't as extreme or horrific as either of Craven or Hooper's nightmarish imagery, but it's close.

The author's use of the dark forest as a backdrop elevates the intensity and suspense. While the Neanderthals aren't cannibals, they are terrifying as macabre, savage hunters that hack and slash through their victims. In the book's opening chapters, there's an enticing promise that somewhere in the forest lies an abandoned mining town. This addition to the narrative really hammers home the book's climactic finale.

While the book's early dialogue scenes and bar-brawl action was presented as crude and immature, the novel's second half was wildly entertaining. The chase scenes were riveting and each of them seemingly ended in some sort of brutal, bloody mayhem that was consistently rewarding and satisfying. The author never takes things too seriously and the end result is a fun, shocking and memorable reading experience. I'll probably read this crazy book again and again.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Secret Mission #01 - Peking

Don Smith’s Secret Mission series ran for 21 installments between 1968 and 1978. The novels star an international businessman named Phil Sherman who takes dangerous assignments from the CIA, and the books tend to be way better than you’d expect from the publisher, Award Books. Although the series can be read in any order, today we visit the first installment, Secret Mission: Peking.

When the reader first meets our narrator Phil, he’s preparing for an exhibition in Prague where he hopes to sell his products - “electronic computers” (remember, it’s 1968) - to some communist bloc countries. A shadowy U.S. Government operative requests that Phil sell a very specific IBM computer to a Czech electronics broker who would then sell it to Red China. The computer is destined for a Chinese atomic research facility to facilitate the manufacture of a nuclear bomb.

What the Chinese don’t know is that the computer Phil is selling contains a hidden bomb trigger designed to level the Chinese atomic facility (recall that computers were a lot bigger back then.) However, even after the sale is consummated, the U.S. government is not done with Phil. Something is wrong with the computer’s inner workings (besides the bomb trigger), and they need Phil to travel into Red China and fix the giant IBM.

Reluctantly, Phil travels to Peking, and we get a very enjoyable “amateur thrust into the world of spies and intrigue” plot. Phil is a delightful narrator, and a sexy Chinese translator is assigned to accompany him on his mission. Can Phil fix the computer and have it installed in the Chinese atomic weapons facility? More relevantly, can he set the trigger and get out of Peking before things start exploding?

Despite some slow stretches and a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion, Secret Mission: Peking was a solid first-installment and definitely worth reading. It’s not as cartoonishly-exciting as a Nick Carter: Killmaster novel, but it’s more fun than a cerebral John LeCarre espionage potboiler. Phil Sherman is an excellent narrator to take the reader on this suspenseful ride. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Edge #01 - The Loner

“The Most Violent Westerns in Print” was a marketing gimmick utilized by Pinnacle Books for their long-running and wildly successful western series Edge. The books were written by British author Terry Harknett (1936-2019) under the pseudonym George G. Gilman and ran 61 total installments from 1972 through 1989. Harknett also authored a number of other western series titles including the equally successful Adam Steele. In 1989, Harknett even wrote the first of three crossover novels featuring Adam Steele and Edge together serving as the co-heroes. With all that said, I've enjoyed Harknett's various titles over the years and decided I would find out just how violent this Edge series is. I'm starting with the character's debut in Edge #1 - The Loner.

This first book in the series is an origin story explaining how Josiah Hedges became the violent western vigilante Edge. The opening pages features Hedge's innocent young brother Jamie anxiously awaiting his brother's return to their Iowa farm. Hedge has been away fighting in the American Civil War as a noble Captain in the Union Army. After years of sending his paychecks back home, Hedge and Jamie hope to use their savings to expand the family farm. Once Jamie spots some former Union soldiers riding towards his homestead, he begins to expect the worse. His brother isn't with them.

The first two chapters of The Loner isn't for the squeamish. Hedge's compatriots in the Union have been watching him send money back home. They realize he has a sizable officer's pay, and they realize how easily they can acquire this money for themselves. Leaving before Hedge, these six violent criminals arrive at Hedge's farm and immediately shoot Jamie's dog in cold blood. Next, they shoot Jamie in the knee before stringing him up to a tree for torture. Jamie refuses to tell the men where the money is, so they kill him (finally) and burn the Hedge farm to the ground. Hedge arrives to find his brother's broken and bloody corpse among the farm's burning inferno. Retrieving the money from it's hidden location, Hedge rides out to kill the bastards.

The Loner is an intense, stereotypical western that checks off nearly all the western tropes: stagecoach robbery, jailbreak, Indian shootout, horse-stealing, hanging, saloons, revenge and the mandatory madams of the wild, wild west. Hedge, or what most people across the frontier hear as "Edge", is immediately likable and ends nearly every scene with some sort of sarcastic wisecrack. When a sheriff is decapitated, Edge cracks, “Guess you just lost your head, Sheriff.” Sometimes this deterred from the concept that Edge is in mourning for his brother and is hellbent on revenge. However, his savage use of a straight-razor, repeating rifle and Remington pistol reinforces the idea that Edge is a man to take seriously. 

As a series debut, The Loner delivers everything readers want. There's a clear direction for the character, a reason to exist and a defined plot that helps propel this character into endless action and stories for years to come. As a pure western, Harknett delivers the goods in grand style. Nearly every chapter is a bloody testament to violent, old-west storytelling. It's also what any men's action-adventure fan would expect from a publisher like Pinnacle. I'm excited to realize I have 60 more installments to explore. Yee-haw!

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Parker #02 - The Man with the Getaway Face

Richard Stark was the popular pseudonym of Donald Westlake, and his Parker heist-adventures may be the best series of the genre. The second book in the series is The Man with the Getaway Face from 1963, a direct sequel to the opening installment, The Hunter.

Evidently in the 1960s, there was a burgeoning underground industry of plastic surgeons who would change your face if you were on the run from the mafia or the law. Earl Drake did it. Mack Bolan did it. And in the opening scene of Parker #2, our hero has the procedure to stay one step ahead of the mob bosses he upset in the previous book.

The action quickly shifts to new-face Parker being invited to execute an armored car heist with a five-man crew. The original plan was garbage, so Parker agrees to help only if he can rework the scheme and streamline it to a three-man job with bigger shares for each participant.

For the first time in the series, the reader gets to see Parker’s methodology in the planning and execution of a heist. The author walks us through the site survey, bankrolling, gun purchases, vehicle acquisitions and the post-heist location choices. We also get to meet the unreliable team members who sometimes gravitate to this line of work. In this case, the wild card is a dame named Alma who Parker suspects is planning a double-cross.

The heist story forms the core of an excellent Richard Stark heist novel, but there’s an important side plot about someone tracking Parker through his plastic surgeon to settle a score. There’s also a detailed summary of the events from the previous novel, and The Outfit isn’t done with Parker. As such, you should definitely read The Hunter first. Consider yourself warned.

The Man with the Getaway Face is another outstanding installment in this nearly-flawless series. I’m really looking forward to reading the third novel, The Outfit, which ties up loose ends from the first two books. After that, you can pretty much read the series in any order. For the uninitiated: Jump in. Trust me, you’re going to love this series.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 9, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 69

The Paperback Warrior Podcast recognizes Veteran’s Day on today’s episode on World War 2 Adventure Fiction. Also: Stephen Mertz, Max Allan Collins, G.H. Otis, Edward S. Aarons, and more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com, or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 69: World War 2 Fiction" on Spreaker.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Passage by Night

Passage by Night began its publication history as a 1964 release by Hugh Marlowe. The real author was a Brit named Henry Patterson who eventually became famous under his more-successful pseudonym of Jack Higgins. Thereafter, Passage by Night was reprinted under the Higgins name where it remains available today.

The paperback’s hero is Harry Manning, a British charter-boat captain in the Bahamas. However, Manning is more than your typical bleach-blonde boat bum. He used to own a successful salvage business in Havana, and the business was stolen from him when Fidel Castro’s revolution brought a corrupt flavor of communism to Cuba. As a result, Manning is now relegated to taking American tourists scuba diving and spear-fishing in the Bahamas to make ends meet.

It’s somewhat important to keep in mind that when the novel takes place in 1964, the Bahamas was a British crown colony and did not gain its independence until 1973. Manning has a romantic relationship with a Cuban refugee he rescued at sea named Maria Salas, who is currently performing as a singer on the Bahamian island of Spanish Cay. One evening, Maria boards a commuter plane hopping between islands, and the tiny aircraft explodes over the water. Manning is left without a girlfriend but with a mystery to solve. Why would anyone assassinate a Cuban exile torch singer?

The journey to the truth begins as a rather standard - but very compelling - mystery with Manning visiting logical leads on Nassau to discover the identity and motive of the killer. All roads lead to the Isle of Tears, a Cuban concentration camp for political prisoners, and the paperback evolves into a balls-out action thriller right up to the twisty ending.

Passage by Night is an enjoyable, if inconsequential, Caribbean maritime adventure with lots of scuba diving scenes sprinkled through the plot. The paperback benefits from being extremely short, so there was never time for the book to become slow, muddled or confusing. I don’t expect to recall much about it in a year other than it being a perfectly fun diversion for a few hours - or in other words: an easy recommendation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Unmasking Allison V. Harding: The Forgotten “Queen” of Horror

Weird Tales was a popular pulp fiction magazine specializing in horror and dark fantasy stories from 1923 to 1954. Between the years 1943 and 1951, the magazine published 33 tales of terror by an unknown author named Allison V. Harding. Mysteriously, Ms. Harding disappeared from writing altogether after her last submission to the pulp. No more stories. No paperback original novels. It’s like she never existed.

In June 2020, an excellent reprint publisher called Armchair Fiction released a compilation of 16 stories from Weird Tales titled Allison V. Harding: The Forgotten Queen of Horror. The publisher claims that Harding was actually a woman named Jean Milligan who lived from 1919 to 2004, a fact backed up by business records from the offices of Weird Tales showing that Ms. Milligan was paid for the stories bearing Harding’s name.

So Jean Milligan was the talented horror author behind the Allison V. Harding name, right?

Interestingly, it’s not that simple.

A blog called Tellers of Weird Tales did some valuable legwork in 2011 calling the Milligan-Harding connection into question. The evidence is laid out below.

It turns out that Ms. Milligan was married to a mainstream author named Lamont Buchanan who wrote serious books about baseball and American history. Meanwhile, his bride was never known to write anything before or after the eruption of 33 stories using the Harding pseudonym.

Evidently, Mr. Buchanan also had a steady paycheck during the relevant window of time. What did he do? He was the Associate Editor of Weird Tales. If Mr. Buchanan wrote stories for his employer’s magazine, it would have been standard practice to utilize a pseudonym for those stories to not clog up the masthead with his own name. Moreover, he was an author of serious books who wouldn’t want his brand sullied by overtly writing for the pulps. Is it possible that Mr. Buchanan was actually Allison V. Harding and he submitted the stories as if they were coming from his non-author wife?

If these suspicions are valid, why would Mr. Buchanan use a woman’s name for his horror story pseudonym? I can only speculate, but during the key years, the Weird Tales Managing Editor (Mr. Buchanan’s boss) was Dorothy McIlwraith, a woman. This egalitarian editorial hierarchy might have been the perfect place to have a faux female contributor of stories for the consumption of the magazine’s mostly male readership.

It’s also possible that Mr. Buchanan was double-laundering his stories through both the Harding pseudonym and his wife’s name as the submitter. Maybe his boss, Ms. McIlwraith, didn’t even know that her subordinate was the man behind the stories. If so, that’s a fun little scam worthy of a pulp magazine story of its own.

The best way to put this conspiracy theory to a test is to have Paperback Warrior read a sample of the stories and determine if they were written by a man or woman.

Here are the capsule reviews of the three stories we DNA tested:

The Frightened Engineer

In this Lovecraft-inspired story, a turnpike construction project is derailed by Hill 96. Under normal circumstances, dynamite and earth-moving equipment would be used to grade the hill for the highway. In this case, it’s almost as if Hill 96 does not want to be disturbed - as if it were alive. This was a very fun story - like a good Twilight Zone episode - but not particularly terrifying.

The Underbody

The anthology’s cover art is the illustration that originally accompanied this story in Weird Tales. It’s about a boy who finds a man stuck in the soil of a shallow hole behind his house. When the boy brings his father out to see the man in the hole, he’s disappeared. The boy takes to calling the reappearing dirt-man, Mr. Mole. This story was legitimately unsettling and scary - exactly what I seek in pulp horror.

The Damp Man

This was the author’s most popular story spawning two sequels appearing in Weird Tales. A female swimming champion turns to a male reporter for help because she is being stalked by a frightening large man in a dark suit. The stalker is absolutely vile, moist, and menacing. Great horror story.

DNA Test Results:

There is no way hell that these stories were written by a woman of 1940s America. The first two stories have no female characters at all, and the even the third story is told through a male’s eyes. Furthermore, “The Frightened Engineer” has many technical details about turnpike road construction, a stereotypically manly pursuit in the 1940s.

Another large factor supporting this conclusion is that these stories are really good, even excellent. Without question, a female author was capable of excellence. However, I’m not buying for a second that the talented author of these stories threw her typewriter out the window without authoring another published word for the next 53 years of her life.

Regardless of the true authorship, pulp horror fans will enjoy the Armchair Fiction collection of Allison V. Harding stories. Whether or not the author is the “Queen” of horror is up for debate, but the quality of these stories is not. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE