Friday, February 28, 2020

S-Com #01 - Terror in Turin

By the early 1970s, the team-based commando theme had become a popular market for men's action-adventure paperbacks to explore. The idea probably stemmed from military fiction, but became increasingly more prevalent after Don Pendleton's second 'Executioner' installment, “Death Squad”. By the 1980s, the sub-genre hit its pinnacle with titles like 'S.O.B.', 'M.I.A Hunter' and 'Phoenix Force” among others. To capitalize, Warner Books launched their “Men of Action” line of paperbacks and one of their creations was an obligatory team-based series called 'S-Com' (short for Strategic Commandos). The publisher hired freelance writer Robert McGarvey to author all six volumes under the house name Steve White. The series debut, “Terror in Turin”, was published in 1981.

The five-member team is led by Stone Williams, a Yale graduate who excelled as a soldier in Vietnam and later inherited his father's lucrative business. After contemplating a mercenary life, Williams forms S-Com to fight the good fight internationally. The team is rather diverse:

Myles – African-American who served with Williams in 'Nam. Martial arts.

Leah – Israeli, the only female member.
Acrobatic and uses throwing stars.

Lucky – Cuban defector. Explosives.

Rod – Australian mercenary. Comedic big man.

The “Terror in Turin” stems from a terrorist group called “Seventh Mao Force”. It's leader, Vincent Teresio, introduces readers to his communist ideology by blowing up an Italian post-office. Partnered with his girlfriend Gina, Teresio then murders Turin's police chief before shoplifting celebratory bread and wine from a nearby grocery store. However, readers quickly learn that the terrorist group is actually just one guy – Teresio. The explosives used to demolish the post-office were just some sticks of dynamite stolen from a construction site. In fact, other than an AK-47, Teresio has no fighting ability or any other weaponry. How could the author possibly validate such a weak foe for a team of five hardened heroes?

Teresio targets the owner of an Italian auto company, Salvatore DiGrazia. In a botched kidnapping, Teresio grabs Salvatore's daughter Maria and scampers off to his crumbling residence to make the ransom call - $50 million in cash for Maria's safe return. With the police written as just foolish fodder, Leah becomes involved and the entire team quickly hits Turrin to stop the terrorist. Due to the author's weak villain, the majority of the book focuses on S-Com picking a fight with the local mob. While the team searches for a formidable foe, Teresio spends his days playing grab-ass with Maria while threatening rape. Thankfully, on page 154 the team actually confronts Teresio and the whole book mercifully concludes on page 159.

Needless to say, “Terror in Turin” is the first Hall of Shame entry of 2020. Don't waste your life reading a page of this nonsense. I've already sacrificed enough time for the both of us. This series is abysmal.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Travis McGee #09 - Pale Gray for Guilt

The character of Travis McGee was the most successful creation of Florida crime fiction icon John D. MacDonald. The McGee series lasted for 21 installments from 1964 to 1984. Like most long-running series titles of that era, the earlier entries are known to be better than the later ones. MacDonald was smart cookie and wrote the books so they can be read in any order. Today, we’ll tackle the ninth McGee paperback, “Pale Gray for Guilt” from 1968.

McGee is a self-described beach bum living on a Florida houseboat called The Busted Flush named after the poker hand that won him the boat. To the extent that he works at all, he’s a “salvage consultant” who helps people find things they’ve lost - usually money or people - in exchange for a piece of the recovery. In practice, he functions as an unlicensed private eye (or “knight errant”) for friends and their referrals. In many of the books, McGee has a sidekick named Meyer, an underemployed economist and fellow armchair philosopher who often joins McGee on his escapades. That’s pretty much all you need to know to jump into the series at any point.

“Pale Gray for Guilt” opens with McGee going to visit a friend of his nicknamed Tush who owns a low-end motel and river marina with his wife Janine not far from the Bahia Mar marina where McGee resides on his own boat. Tush is having financial difficulties, and there’s a major land developer who wants Tush and Janine’s leveraged property. The evil corporation up the road is polluting the river and wants to dredge the waterway to make room for barges. However, these plans are contingent on Tush and Janine getting out of the way.

It’s important to understand that the environment and corporate development of Florida’s coastal waterways were major bugaboos for MacDonald. Many McGee books have the character pontificating about this issue, and it’s clear that McGee is speaking with MacDonald’s voice. Some of MacDonald’s stand-alone novels address this issue head-on, and “Pale Gray for Guilt” is the McGee paperback that makes corporate greed and land development the enemy of the righteous and the apparent motivation for murder.

As the foreclosure documents are being served upon Tush, his body is found at his marina dead from an apparent suicide. Upon learning this, McGee refuses to believe his friend would kill himself and sets out to find the killer and save the property for the distressed widow Janice. The legal and business machinations McGee employs to stymie the foreclosure are plenty clever. The author had an MBA and enjoyed strutting his business acumen for many storylines through this career as a fiction writer.

The problem with white collar crime stories involving land deals and stock price manipulation is that it can make for some dry and technical reading. The middle section of the novel has a lot of that, and if such things are uninteresting to you, there are 20 other McGee novels that aren’t as mired in business machinations.

Once he gets back to the actual murder investigation, the plot is materially more satisfying. The boots on the ground investigation into the causes and perpetrators of Tush’s death make for a fun mystery novel. McGee’s sidekick for this adventure is a plucky love interest named Puss (I know, I know) who adds some value to McGee’s fieldwork. His normal sidekick Meyer also gets a piece of the action in the paperback’s second half.

Under no circumstances should “Pale Gray for Guilt” be your introduction to the Travis McGee series. It’s just too slow to hook a new reader. However, if you are acclimated into McGee’s world and open to a financial crime murder adventure, you’ll probably enjoy this one just fine.

Buy a copy of this novel HERE

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Sharpshooter: Killing Machine

The publishing industry for men's action-adventure paperbacks in the 1970s was a fertile ground to create house names, marketable characters and engaging series titles in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Marketing these books became a cash grab for whomever depicted the best guns and chests on the cover. That wild west mentality created one universal problem for publishers – time. As the production schedule moved at light speed, deadlines and quality became real antagonists. Nothing exemplifies that problem more than Belmont Tower's 1970s series trio 'The Assassin', 'The Sharpshooter' and 'The Marksman'.

Ignoring some very positive reviews from other critics, I've managed to avoid these three titles for a very specific reason. Literary critic and scribe Lynn Munroe outlines the entire history of these three titles HERE and explains that these books weren't published in the correct sequence. Shockingly, some of the books weren't even published under the correct series name. You may find
“The Sharpshooter Johnny Rock” starring as “The Marksman” or vice versa. You'll conjure up a headache of epic proportions by simply attempting to make sense of it all.

In order to provide insightful commentary here at Paperback Warrior, I've decided to read these books and offer individual reviews solely on the book itself. I may loosely mention continuity, but my main emphasis is story content (as it should be). My first endeavor is the 'Sharpshooter' debut novel “The Killing Machine”, authored by Peter McCurtin ('Soldier of Fortune', 'Sundance') and published by Belmont Tower in 1973.

The novel explains that the owners of Rocetti Designs were killed by a grenade after refusing to cooperate with the mob. In the book's prologue, their son Johnny, now heir to the company, miraculously survives a drive-by shooting that kills Johnny's brother and sister-in-law. In a thirst for vengeance, Johnny Rocetti is now “The Sharpshooter” known as Johnny Rock. By procuring enough wealth from the family business, Johnny now vows to hunt and kill the mobsters that murdered his family.

By 1973, every author and publisher wanted to recreate the success of Don Pendleton's 'The Executioner'. Essentially, “The Killing Machine” is a Mack Bolan clone - but an enjoyable one. Johnny's marksman ability in Vietnam is utilized to crush a northeastern Mob family. Like Pendleton's strategy with Mack Bolan, McCurtin has Johnny pitting two rival factions against each other. With the two warring families consistently mired in chaos and paranoia, Johnny's guerrilla snipe and run tactic is successful. Assisting Johnny is the voluptuous Iris, a widow in black who is wielding her own revenge against the mob.

While certainly not original or particularly clever, McCurtin's writing is an enjoyable, fast-paced blend of violence, mob politics and sexual foreplay. The heated chemistry between Iris and Johnny was a welcome addition, and I particularly enjoyed the rural landscape of Vermont as a unique backdrop for a mob-vigilante story. Overall, those of you who loved the pre-Gold Eagle era of Mack Bolan should find plenty to enjoy with “The Killing Machine”.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Larry Kent #794 - Hello Dolly...Goodbye

By 1974, Australia’s sexy and violent Larry Kent series was reaching the end of its 800 installment run. In fairness, the first 500 or so were magazine novellas before the series switched to independent short paperbacks in 1965 while continuing with the same sequential numbering. The character of Larry Kent was an American hardboiled private eye similar to Mike Hammer, but he occasionally drifted into espionage work in the tradition of Chet Drum. Today we join Kent in a more traditional P.I. mystery called “Hello Dolly...Goodbye,” the 794th entry in the series. This one was written by an American named Don Haring who emigrated to Australia after WW2 to write a slew of the Larry Kent adventures before his 1981 death in Honolulu at age 58.

The short novel really starts out on the wrong foot as I had to read the first chapter three times to understand the setup. The writing was stylistically fine but extremely unclear. Here’s what I could figure:

Kent is engaged by an NYPD detective on behalf of the department to solve the mystery of two police officers who recently disappeared. One of the missing cops is the kid brother of the detective who hires Kent. That much is clear. The missing officers were investigating a list of names, but the relevance of the list is unclear. The client cop mentions that the list has something to do with a mob from Chicago “interested in aliens.” I assume they meant foreigners and not E.T. Kent also mentions the Secret Service, but there was no indication of why, and the agency is never mentioned again in the novel.

Another thing unclear to me was the era. This paperback was published in Australia in 1974 and takes place in New York City. However, on page one of the novel a character says, “This cop is a client...Write down in your clients’ book. Twentieth of May, eighty...” Does this book take place in 1980? The future? Everyone in the book used a 1940s vernacular and wears fedoras. There’s also a reference to Sonny Liston, an American boxer who competed from 1953 to 1970. I don’t know what to make of any of this, and I guess it really doesn’t matter. The paperback just felt very unstuck in time in addition to the opaque plot.

Anyway, Kent begins working his way down the list of names just like missing cops did. The first name is a famous television personality named Grant Kelso. Unfortunately, Kelso gives Kent the slip before anyone could explain the plot to me. Eventually, he learns that the list of names are all millionaires who belong to a fraternal organization called The Nations Club. Some members are tied into a group that is, in fact, moving people in and out of the U.S. in a scheme that was never entirely clear.

In the author’s defense, there are lots of great scenes in “Hello Dolly...Goodbye” in which Kent is either kicking ass or getting his ass kicked. The hardboiled P.I. patter is amusing and borders on parody at times. Moreover, the collaboration scenes between Kent and the police were also fun to read. Kent shoots and fights his way closer to the truth regarding the two missing cops, but the eventual solutions were rather unsatisfying.

I recently read Larry Kent #642: “Curves Can Kill,” from 1965, and it was awesome - one of the most satisfying private eye-espionage mashups ever. It was also written by Haring when he was clearly at the top of his game. The only thing I can figure is that the Larry Kent series was winding down by 1974, and Haring began just phoning it in to fulfill his contractual obligation because “Hello Dolly...Goodbye” is a total mess. However, I’m not giving up on Larry Kent because I’ve seen how good the series can be. Going forward, I’m going to avoid 1970s installments unless I get a solid tip on a particularly good one from that era.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 24, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 32

This week we are doing a deep-dive into the life and work of Richard Deming, including a review of his novel, “She’ll Hate Me Tomorrow.”  The first installment of the “Able Team” series is also reviewed, and Eric discusses his brush with fame when he finally spoke to Men’s Adventure cover model Jason Savas about his remarkable career in the publishing industry. Stream the episode below or your favorite podcast app. Download the episode directly HERE.
  Listen to "Episode 32: Richard Deming" on Spreaker.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Special Operations Command #01 - Special Operations Command

'Special Operations Command' was a six-volume series of men's action-adventure novels authored by James N. Pruitt and published by Berkley. Pruitt was a former U.S. Army Green Beret master sergeant and winner of the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars and five Purple Hearts. The Vietnam War veteran also wrote three stand-alone novels of military fiction as well as a short-lived series of NASCAR fiction paperbacks. My first experience with the author is the eponymous series debut “Special Operations Command” from 1990.

In this series opener, the author introduces the two core members of “SOCOM”, Major B.J. Mattson and Lieutenant Commander Jacob Mortimer IV. In backstory segments, readers learn that Mattson is a career soldier with multiple campaigns as a Green Beret in Vietnam. Mortimer is a distinguished Navy Seal with a majority of his battle experience in Latin America and the Middle East. The two have united under General Johnson's plan to create a diverse, superstar team that can analyze, lead and execute international missions for the U.S. military. While Mattson and Mortimer will perform a supervisory role, they are both willing to suit up for the team's first mission.

In the oil-rich, Ecuadorian town of Lago Agrio, Cuban commie fighters penetrate a dictator's fortress in hopes of kidnapping Juan Garces, the Minister of Finance. In a frenzied (and extremely perverted) exchange, the fighters end up killing Garces and instead foolishly kidnap the U.S. Counsel General. Later, in an attempt to return the Counsel General unharmed, the group of fighters are setup by Ecuador’s dictator who hopes to capitalize on the kidnapping. By creating turbulence between the U.S. and Havana, he hopes to enrich his pockets with more criminal funds while the spotlight is firmly on the hostage ordeal. Once he detonates one of his own oil fields, SOCOM is called in to negotiate.

Unlike other team-commando based entries such as 'Eagle Force' or 'Phoenix Force', Pruitt showcases a hint of techno-thriller writing. Most of the book's action is presented as board room meetings and briefings from a high level. Eventually the boots hit the dirt, but for the most part they remain unsoiled as planning and execution remain the narrative's focal point. Due to the author's vast military experience, occasionally some sequences were lost on me. This wasn't a major disconnect, but still distracted me from the story.

“Special Operations Command” was an enjoyable debut for a series that I look forward to exploring periodically. With only six novels, I may read one a year just to preserve the enjoyment. If you are a men's action-adventure reader looking for something to split the difference between Chet Cunningham and Tom Clancy, this series and author may be exactly what you're seeking.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Johnny Maguire #01 - I’ll Find You

Between 1950 and 1958, prominent interior designer Richard Himmel (1920-2000) wrote five novels starring a hard-nosed Chicago lawyer named Johnny Maguire with the first being “I’ll Find You” (U.K. title: “It’s Murder, Maguire”). Both the cover art and synopsis sell the novel as a melodramatic romance, but the reality is that Himmel wrote something likely to please readers of well-written hardboiled crime who are also comfortable with some romance and human drama in their stories.

“I’ll Find You” begins with Johnny being rousted out of bed by the cops. A female client named Cynthia that he’d attempted to romance was dead, and Johnny was the last person to see her alive. As narrator, Johnny recounts the trajectory of their brief relationship (“She needed some rough stuff, she needed a guy like me to let her have it, to give it to her good.”) that became an obsession to the horndog lawyer. Here’s the thing: Cynthia had Johnny, as her attorney, bring her $200,000 cash the night of her death, and she supposedly committed suicide by walking into Lake Michigan in the pitch darkness with all that cash. Neither her body nor the money were ever recovered making it the most Fawcett Gold Medal demise in the history of death.

Johnny is a very funny narrator and a self-deprecating lawyer. He explains to the reader that he was a night school guy, and he shares an office on Chicago’s State Street full of low-end punk attorneys, poseurs who use fancy stationary to create the illusion of successful practices. He’s a ladies man, dead broke, and completely honest - with one exception. You see, Johnny does some legal work for a local mob boss in Chicago. Nothing serious, but Johnny knows that his client is seriously bent. His relationship with the racketeer makes for an interesting subplot that gets intertwined with the missing girl story.

Naturally, Johnny begins to suspect that maybe Cynthia’s “suicide” was staged, and he can’t get her out of his mind. The plot is really about Johnny conducting an investigation into Cynthia’s disappearance - and possible suicide - based solely on his romantic obsession with her. The mystery brings Johnny down to Florida in search of the truth. To be fair, there’s a lot of romantic content in the Florida part of the book, and if that’s problematic for you, skip this one. If you’re willing to buy the idea that a guy will turn the world upside-down for a woman he hardly knows based on a hunch she’s alive and in trouble, you’re bound to enjoy this short, well-written paperback.

Richard Himmel was an outstanding writer, and “I’ll Find You” is a quality book. It must have been a successful title for the publisher as the paperback went through five print runs between 1950 and 1955. That’s good news for you decades later because there should be ample old copies for you to find and read today. And you should. This is one of the better genre novels - call it romantic suspense- from the dawn of paperback originals. If it helps, disregard the overwrought romantic cover art and focus on the revolver sticking out of Johnny’s pocket. Recommended.

The Johnny Maguire series by Richard Himmel:

I’ll Find You. Gold Medal, 1950
The Chinese Keyhole, Gold Medal, 1951
I Have Gloria Kirby, Gold Medal, 1951
Two Deaths Must Die, Gold Medal, 1954
The Rich and the Damned. Gold Medal, 1958

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Hawk #01 - The Deadly Crusader

Along with the nine-book run of 'Counter Force' (1983-1985), author Daniel Streib's most successful contribution to men's action-adventure was the 14-volume 'Hawk' series (1980-1981). The series' debut, “The Deadly Crusader”, was published by Jove and introduces an international hero named Michael Hawk. While the novel's artwork was alluring, consumers may have been misled by the character's dangerous profession. Instead of a globe-trotting spy spewing hot lead, this hero is a freelance reporter chasing hot scoops.

The novel begins by explaining that Michael Hawk was voluntarily arrested after breaking into a Russian psychiatric hospital. His prison experience was a planned expose on the happenings in and around the Iron Curtain. In the book's opening chapters, Hawk is returned to the US via a cruise ship headed to a sunshine-drenched Greek island where Hawk begins writing down his prison experiences while delighting in the riches of horny young female tourists.

By page 70, Hawk finds himself wandering around on the Greek island when a shootout occurs leaving one man dead. In an attempt to learn who was killed, Hawk attracts the attention of a wealthy dictator and soon finds his own life in jeopardy. Once his weekend lover is killed, Hawk demands to know more about the mysterious island and the dictator. Streib's narrative, while stretched sinewy thin, offers some insight to the character's backstory while attempting to propel the current story arc forward.

Needless to say, “The Deadly Crusader” is an uneven and thin narrative to explore. In fact, through the book's 187 sluggish pages, very little actually happens. The author's story never comes to fruition simply because nothing is ever explained to the reader. Streib just assumes readers understand all of the story's nuances through telepathy. In fact, I'm not sure this began as one full story. My theory is this book is a culmination of broken stories that were never finished and instead were just sewn up here to resemble something approximating a series debut. I speculate that Jove, who already had a smash hit on their hands with 'Nick Carter: Killmaster', thought they could fool their consumers into buying another “similar” series, so they concocted the idea of Hawk. Regardless of Hawk’s creative Genesis, this paperback is terrible and I can't imagine the series improved thereafter.

Purchase a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Parker #10 - The Green Eagle Score

By the time 1967 rolled around, Donald Westlake had really found his groove with the novels he wrote under the name Richard Stark starring a hard-nosed, emotionless thief named Parker. The commercial success of the series had far outpaced the popularity of the comedic crime novels Westlake authored under his own name, and the quality of the Parker stories showed no indication of deteriorating. That was also the year that Parker’s 10th paperback adventure, “The Green Eagle Score,” hit spinner racks.

The story opens with Parker and his woman sunning themselves on a Puerto Rican beach when a visitor from Parker’s past arrives with a business opportunity. Fusco is fresh out of the joint after doing a three-year stretch and his ex-wife is dating a U.S. Air Force paper-pusher named Devers. The relationship between Fusco, Devers, and Ellen the ex-wife is surprisingly cordial, and they’ve stumbled upon an opportunity for a $400,000 payroll heist at an upstate New York Air Force base. Pulling a theft on a military installation poses some logistical hurdles, so they need an expert planner like Parker to make it happen.

Parker has the appropriate misgivings about working with amateurs, but he leaves the beach and his girl behind, so he can assess the viability of the score in New York. As always, Parker is the consummate, stoic professional, and his time spent in New York casing the base and weighing the pros and cons of the heist make for some predictably outstanding scenes.

Westlake shifts the third-party perspective quite a bit in this installment, and along the way the reader is treated to scenes where ex-wife Ellen repeatedly overshares with her therapist unwittingly tipping the shrink to the upcoming robbery and getaway plan. Could this create a problem for the crew down the line?

There’s a lot of build-up and character drama leading up to the heist. I found it all very interesting, but it wasn’t exactly action-packed. Once the execution of the job is underway and the plan goes sideways, fans of the series will feel right at home. Overall, this wasn’t the best Parker novel, but that’s only because of the high watermark set by the rest of the series. If “The Green Eagle Score” was a stand-alone novel, it would be regarded as a masterpiece of the heist genre. Instead, it’s just an average installment in a masterpiece of a series. You should definitely read it, but be aware how it stacks up in the Richard Stark canon. Recommended.

Postscript

An exciting book bonus abridgment of “The Green Eagle Score” was printed in the July 1968 issue of “For Men Only” magazine under the name “The Young Bedroom Raiders” with some sweet men’s adventure magazine illustrations.

You can check out some screen grabs of the piece at: LINK

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 17, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 31

Saddle up for a wild ride as Paperback Warrior presents an All-Review Western Roundup. We discuss and review our favorite westerns including authors like Richard Matheson, Larry McMurtry, Louis L'Amour, Ralph Hayes and more! The hosts also discuss their favorites of the adult western genre including an epic crossover event featuring adult western heroes. Stream the episode below or your favorite streaming platform. Direct downloads are HERE.

Listen to "Episode 31: All-Review Western Roundup" on Spreaker.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Handyman #01 - The Moneta Papers

Along with authoring entries in the 'Nick Carter: Killmaster' series, Jon Messman kept a productive schedule in the 1970s with a successful series run with 'Revenger' before achieving commercial success with the popular adult western series 'The Trailsman'. Perhaps one of the best of Messman's literary career is the six-volume paperback series 'Jefferson Boone: Handyman'. It was published by Pyramid Books and debuted in 1973 with “The Moneta Papers”.

Jefferson Boone is a silky, posh hero that works inconspicuously with the U.S. State Department. His father was a career diplomat and had mentioned to his son that the department needed a behind the scenes “handyman” that can plug holes for America's foreign allies. Working with a government liaison named Charley Hopkins, Boone is offered a variety of international assignments that conveniently pads out the series. The first assignment that's revealed to readers is “The Moneta Papers”, a carefully construed Italian mission that features a real estate transaction as the launching point. But, as readers quickly learn, there's nothing ordinary about this property purchase.

Boone's female friend Dorrie is a wealthy European playmate working to secure her fourth marriage. Dorrie owns a number of remote islands that remain as a lease-to-purchase for the U.S. government. After a number of years, Dorrie has finally agreed to gift the islands to the U.S. provided they can arrange a paper transaction. The problem is that every delivery man has been murdered in route to secure the transaction. The suspect? Dorrie's fiance Umberto, a spoiled kid who has aligned himself with a career politician that aspires to be the next Mussolini.

Boone's first endeavor is to learn if Dorrie is involved with the failed delivery attempts. Second, Boone must investigate Umberto's past and current political allies. Using disguises, a fast Ford Mustang and his snub-nosed .38, Boone embarks on a perilous mission to learn the truth. Messman's writing incorporates Formula 1 racing, various shootouts, a Swiss Alps skiing adventure and sexcapades (albeit more topical than descriptive) to propel the narrative.

Fans of 'James Bond' and 'Nick Carter' should like Messman's protagonist. While Boone is an international, intellectual hero, the author carefully avoids pure snobbery. In fact, Boone's budding romance with a small-town Indiana school teacher helps ground the hero with more American wholesomeness. By 1973, it was a crowded market for these types of globe-trotting champions. Thankfully, Messman's series and character stands the test of time. This was an excellent novel.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Larry Kent #642: Curves Can Kill

Between 1954 and 1974, there were hundreds of novellas and paperback original novels produced in Australia starring hardboiled New York Private Eye Larry Kent. The series was published by the same company that brought the world the Carter Brown mysteries and packaged with salacious cover illustrations similar to the Hank Janson books. The primary authors were Don Haring and Des Dunn, but all the books were released under the house name Larry Kent. Piccadilly Publishing has been reprinting Larry Kent’s adventures as affordable eBooks while maintaining the original cheesecake cover illustrations. I’m starting the series with #642: “Curves Can Kill,” a 1965 installment written by Don Haring.

The character of Larry Kent started as a newspaper reporter in 1950 on a popular Australian radio drama called, “I Hate Crime.” The popularity of the radio show launched the novellas and eventually the novels. Kent’s character became a private investigator in the mold of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. As time went on, the writers borrowed a page from Stephen Marlowe’s Chester Drum and Michael Avallone’s Ed Noon when the hero began accepting espionage assignments from the CIA in selected novels. A variation on this “private eye as spy” gambit is the storyline at work in “Curves Can Kill.”

The action opens with Kent tied to a chair being worked over by a Romanian goon wanting to know what Kent knows about “Z Detail.” Unfortunately for the wisecracking Kent, he doesn’t know much, so he must continue to suffer the abuse - from both fists and a switchblade - with no reprieve. It’s a brutal and violent opening scene that will play well for readers who like their pulp fiction more extreme than Carter Brown could ever offer.

Fortunately, we don’t need to sit through 120 pages of Kent being carved up with a switchblade. He is rescued and finds himself in the hands of Z Detail, an America-friendly private intelligence outfit with close ties to the CIA. The Z-boys want to hire Kent as a contract operative for the vast sum of $300 per week.

His first mission as a contract operative for Z Detail involves befriending a woman in New York. Kent’s version of befriending looks a lot more like a Carter Brown novel, and the swinging sixties attitude toward women is on full display. None of this would fly today, but that’s part of the fun of vintage fiction. Anyway, the woman has access to a secret that Kent needs to learn, and giving any more info away would spoil the fun for you. Suffice to say that all this eventually ties back to the Romanian goons who tried to filet Kent in the opening chapter.

This is one of those great books that kept surprising me with the quality of the prose and story. I had been misled to believe that the Larry Kent series was disposable fiction with a production schedule too aggressive to be among the outstanding works of pulp fiction. Instead, as I read “Curves Can Kill,” I found myself repeatedly muttering, “Wow, this is really good.” Fans of violent spy-mysteries with major twists and turns will love this book as much as I did.

There are some slow sections but no boring ones in this Larry Kent mystery-adventure. It all leads up to a shockingly violent bloodbath of a climax - one of the finest I’ve read in ages. Overall, I was very impressed by this paperback, and I’m excited to read some more. With over 800 installments, we are unlikely to run out of Larry Kent content in this lifetime. It’s great to discover a new series with an endless amount of content to enjoy. Highly recommended.

Purchase a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Chase (aka Pursuit/Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry)

“Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” was a 1974 film that capitalized on America's car chase fascination spawned by cinema hits like “Bullitt” and “The French Connection”. The movie became a cult hit, leading fans to learn more about the film's source material, a crime-fiction novel by Richard Unekis titled “The Chase”. The book was originally published in 1963 by Gollancz, then again in 1964 by Signet under the title “Pursuit”. Once the film was released, the novel experienced another identity crisis with a re-release under the name “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” by publisher Panther. Oddly, it was Unekis' only literary work.

The first thing to realize is that “The Chase” novel is vastly different from its theatrical counterpart. In fact, Dirty Mary isn't even a character in the book. Instead, the film features two ex-convicts, Grozzo and Rayder, robbing a small midwestern grocery store and subsequently trying to outrun the dragnet. Unekis utilizes 1968's explosion of muscle cars (V8s in smaller frames), the rural dirt roads of America's farmland and more modern police techniques as opposed to one-dimensional road block snares. In a way, the book is a technical manual of procedures which eventually leads to its own mediocrity.

The actual heist was way more compelling than the subsequent 100 pages of car chases. The author's description of the grocery store's management and payroll practices was intriguing. In essence, it was the perfect target for an appealing $80,000 grab and go robbery. While the store manager is featured sporadically in the book's beginning, he becomes wasted fodder as the narrative moves from heist to fast getaway. On film, flinging gravel and the sounds of tires screeching and engines roaring probably made for an entertaining 90-minutes. But high RPMs don’t necessarily make for a riveting page-turner.

There are far better crime-fiction and heist novels than “The Chase”. In fact, a greatly improved version of this same story is Hillary Waugh's 1960 novel “Road Block” reviewed HERE. If you still feel the need to pursue this story, the film is probably a better use of your time than the paperback.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Croc

David Hagberg died on September 8, 2019 at age 76 in Sarasota, Florida. In addition to a successful spy-fiction career under his own name, he also wrote 22 top-flight installments in the ‘Nick Carter: Killmaster’ series and 6 paperback Flash Gordon novels. In 1976, low-end paperback publishing house Belmont Tower released an early-career Hagberg thriller called “Croc” under the pseudonym (or truncation), David James.

In the 1970s, the public’s imagination was captured by urban legends about kids flushing baby crocodiles down the toilet and the reptiles growing to giant size in the sewers by feasting on rats and other vermin. Hagberg’s fictional take on this trope stars New York City Division of Sewer Maintenance workers Peter Boggs and Marian Fascetti who handle maintenance and upkeep of the labyrinth of tunnels under the Big Apple streets. Boggs has been doing the job for 35 years and has grown cautious over time whereas Fascetti is the young, hotshot risk-taker of the pair with a beautiful and pregnant wife at home.

In the first chapter, the partners are investigating a cave-in in an old tunnel where runoff flows into the Hudson River. Always the cowboy, Fascetti goes beyond the debris pile to investigate further when he is eaten by a giant reptilian creature while Boggs watches from a safe distance. It’s a bloody, scary and violent scene that sets up the novel’s action for 211 big-font pages.

For reasons not entirely clear, Boggs doesn’t tell his boss that his partner was just eaten by a 30-foot subterranean crocodile. He lies about the dead man’s whereabouts and keeps the existence of the monster a secret. It’s implied that this has something to do with Boggs’ alcoholism and the idea that no one would believe him if he tells the truth. His reaction and the cover-up weren’t entirely realistic to me, but then I remembered I’m reading a 1976 paperback about a dinosaur-sized crocodile in the sewers, so I should probably shut up and pick my battles for realism elsewhere.

Hagberg trots out the genre tropes for this one. We have the 38 year-old college-educated supervisor always riding Boggs’ ass about this and that. We have a screw-up cop assigned to investigate the missing workers in the sewers. We have the investigative reporter from the New York Post hip-deep in the story (and sewer water) determined to get the full scoop.

It’s also important to remember that Hagberg wrote “Croc” during the height of the “Jaws” craze, and he borrows a lot of the same themes, including bureaucratic skepticism of the threat, for this reptile-based thriller. The good news is that Hagberg had great plotting skills even in this early effort.

As the paperback’s cover art and basic premise indicates, “Croc” is a helluva lot of fun to read, and the story is never dull or repetitive. Providing the reader goes into it with the right attitude, there’s a lot to enjoy in this underground labyrinth of glorious tension and violence. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 10, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 30

On our 30th episode, it's a Fawcett Gold Medal All-Review Extravaganza! We discuss vintage paperbacks by John D. MacDonald, Lionel White, Dan J. Marlowe, Basil Heatter and more! We are available on all podcast platforms or stream below. Download directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 30: Fawcett Gold Medal All-Review Extravaganza" on Spreaker.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Doomsday Mission

The king of the paperbacks, Harry Whittington, is often described by fans as a master of crime-noir. The talented author penned a number of crime-noir and suspense novels, but also contributed to other genres like romance, sleaze, plantation (slave gothics) and westerns. But, like his contemporary Charles Runyon, Whittington authored just one military fiction novel, “Doomsday Mission”, published by Banner in 1967.

The book begins as a chopper touches down in the Phuoc Long Province, a heavily trafficked area along the Cambodian border during the early days of the Vietnam War. U.S. Army Lieutenant Robert Edwards and three sergeants emerge from the helicopter and meet with 40 Vietcong defectors intent on assisting US factions. The plan is to march up the Ho Chi Minh Trail into a village ripe with North Vietnamese Army (NVA) underground supply tunnels.

Lieutenant Edwards is a rookie combatant who immediately clashes with his three sergeants. They want to navigate this long trek to the side of the road, hacking through dense foliage in lieu of walking a visible path. Edwards refuses and the large platoon is immediately under heavy fire from the NVA. The narrative's pace is simply driven by the various gunfights and skirmishes the platoon encounters. By presenting the story in that fashion, it comes across uneven and disjointed.

Any author who maintained a high-volume of literary works like Whittington will surely deliver variable quality. In this instance, “Doomsday Mission” just isn't very good. The characters were never developed enough for an invested reader to care about their future. Additionally, there is a 10-page story arc that features one of the sergeants bathing a Vietnamese woman in a seductive fashion. It was an ill-advised attempt for the author to break from the action.

You can read much better Harry Whittington books than "Doomsday Mission".

Purchase a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, February 6, 2020

My Old Man's Badge

Pennsylvanian Charles Weiser Frey (1910-1963) authored six crime fiction books during the 1950s under the pseudonym of Ferguson Findlay. The first of these was his 1950 novel, “My Old Man’s Badge” that was also re-released in 1959 as “Killer Cop.” The story was adapted into a 30-minute episode of the long-forgotten TV show, “Suspense,” and (most relevantly) recently reprinted by the good people at Black Gat Books for modern consumption.

Our narrator Johnny Malone is a rookie New York City street cop. The heroic thwarting of a robbery in progress thrusts Johnny into the position of detective long before the promotion would have happened otherwise. Johnny continues to live in the shadow of his late father - also a handsome Irish cop - who was killed on the job 14 years earlier when Johnny was 11. The crumb who shot Dad was never caught and revenge becomes the driving force of “My Old Man’s Badge” now that Johnny has made detective.

The cops know that it was a German national named Rudy Hoffmann who killed Johnny’s dad, but they never caught the elusive kraut. The German’s backstory is fantastic - one of the most compelling bad guy origin stories I can recall from this era’s fiction. When Johnny is informed that the killer is back on the New York streets, living in the shadows, and gunning for Johnny, the young detective asks to be assigned the case to bring Hoffmann to justice. As such, the reader is treated to a vendetta story swathed in a police procedural wrapper.

Chasing the only lead he has, Johnny goes undercover as a Bowery bum living among the human refuse looking for clues. Hoffmann has an axe to grind with the Malone family, and Johnny wants to neutralize the German before he gets killed just like his father. The path from Johnny to Hoffmann is a circuitous one, and Johnny joins a dope-distribution gang in his undercover capacity to generate leads.

The beginning and end of “My Old Man’s Badge” are both excellent - among the best scenes you’ll read. The middle, however, dragged a bit for me. Johnny’s descent into the undercover life of crime was a bit convoluted and the plot had way too much gangland drama in the dope ring. Things get back on track once Johnny finds his dad’s killer, and the climactic, but predictable, ending is extremely well done.

Overall, the paperback is definitely worth your time, but it could have used a stronger editorial hand 70 years ago. In any case, I’m glad I read it, and Black Gat should be lauded for resurrecting the novel.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Death Merchant #70 - The Greenland Mystery

During the 1970s and 1980s, men's action adventure fiction offered a robust selection of serial titles like 'The Destroyer', 'The Executioner', 'The Penetrator' and 'The Butcher'. The catalyst was Pinnacle Books, a successful mass market paperback publisher that catered to male consumers and readers. Beginning in 1971, Pinnacle added 'Death Merchant' to their impressive catalog of titles. The series was written by Joseph R. Rosenberger and featured a character named Richard Camellion, a globe-trotting CIA agent. Along with his cunning military tactics, Camellion was a master of disguises, allowing him to infiltrate hostile forces both as a spy and a combatant. The series ran 71 installments from 1971 through 1988 including a double-sized novel, “Super Death Merchant: Apocalypse”. While I've read Rosenberger's other literary work (“Geneva Force”), my first experience with 'Death Merchant' is oddly the last book of the series, “#70 The Greenland Mystery”.

Like “The Polestar Incident”, which was the series' 21st installment, “The Greenland Mystery” features an extraterrestrial storyline. This isn't the first action-adventure series to introduce the possibility of aliens into the mix. The Executioner #84 and #273 both featured Mack Bolan fighting a Black Ops team around the mysterious Area 51 in Nevada. In this novel, Camellion and his partner Quinlan are assigned to an exploratory station in Greenland. Once there, Camellion learns that the research scientists have discovered an alien city buried deep in the ice.

With Rosenberger's writing style, readers are accustomed to the author's bizarre narratives and deep political analysis. The idea that aliens crashed in Greenland and built a city isn't particularly swerving out of Rosenberger's lane. The CIA is worried that the pesky Russians will invade the research facility and scavenge any alien technology that exists. Camellion, Quinlan and a small team of agents scout the facility and create ambush spots along the perimeter. Once the obligatory invasion begins from the Russians, it's up to Camellion's team to hold the line and protect the resources.

My issue with Rosenberger and Death Merchant is that the battle scenes are overly technical. Readers should be enjoying the “rock'em sock'em” action instead of the author theorizing that the 12.7 DshK is more powerful than the 14.5 KPV MG. It's overindulgent to describe every firearm on the battlefield down to the ballistic metrics. I just read the second installment of Peter McCurtin's 'Soldier of Fortune' and it is vastly superior to ‘Death Merchant’ simply because the focus is on developing characters and story instead of an armory.

When the action heats up, “The Greenland Mystery” is just an average read. If I could carve off 80-pages of technical nonsense, these books would be far more appealing. After reading this installment, I've reassured myself that having just three Death Merchant books on my bookshelf is more than enough. The series has its fans, I'm certainly not one of them.

Purchase a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Saint #06 - Alias the Saint

With novels, novelettes, and short stories spanning from 1928 to 1997 (not to mention movies, TV, comics, and radio), The Saint is one of the most enduring characters in thrilling adventure fiction. Even more amazingly, all this literary output was done under the authorship of just one man, Leslie Charteris (1907-1993), until 1964 when ghost writers started carrying the load for the popular British series. Many of the paperbacks in the series are actually two or three novellas packaged together in one volume. Today, we’ll tackle “Alias the Saint” from 1931, a collection of three novellas that originally appeared in “The Thriller” magazine in the U.K.

Simon Templar is The Saint, a nickname derived from his initials, ST. Always a charming and debonair sophisticate with a cheeky sense of humor, the character evolved over the years from a vigilante and gentleman thief (a’la Robin Hood) to a spy and all-purpose global adventurer. He solves mysteries, executes elaborate heists, wastes Nazis, and charms lots of babes. Worldwide law enforcement, particularly Scotland Yard, wants him behind bars and they are always present to warn the folk hero thief to behave himself when he arrives in their territory. However, the cops aren’t shy about enlisting his help when they are in need of a superior mind. Most of the books and stories have been reprinted many times, so you should have no problem finding loads of content if Simon Templar is up your alley.

Here are capsule reviews of the three novellas comprising “Alias The Saint.”

“The Story of a Dead Man”

This was the first published novella in The Saint series. We get to meet Inspector Teal of Scotland Yard, a recurring character in the series whose professional goal is to lock up the legendary Simon Templar. For that reason, Teal is appropriately skeptical to find Templar working in a benign London office job like a legit citizen. Templar’s droll interactions with both Teal and his coworkers make for some funny reading, and Charteris’ writing style is head-and-shoulders above his American pulp contemporaries.

By today’s standards (or even 1950s standards), the pacing is a little off. There’s way too much time setting up the characters before the mystery plot begins. Once it does, it’s a messy little tale of a dead swindling businessman. The story is more than a little confusing thanks to too many characters and subplots, but the characters are vividly drawn, and the prose is superb. It took some focus and re-reading to ensure I didn’t lose the thread.

In this one, Templar is more Sherlock Holmes than James Bond, but he gets to kick ass a couple times in the narrative coupled with some lethal gunplay. In the introduction to a newer edition, the author said that “The Story of a Dead Man” definitely isn’t his best work, but neither is it his worst. I certainly enjoyed it enough to move onto the next novella.

“The Impossible Crime”

Simon Templar has his eye on a guy running an import business who may also be a heroin smuggler for a fugitive Chicago mobster. The smuggler receives calling cards (the stick figure logo with the halo) from The Saint, so he’s understandably nervous. An opening scene in which The Saint visits the terrorized smuggler recalls something American readers may recognize from The Shadow or The Spider stories of the same era.

This core of the story is a locked-room mystery in the tradition of John Dickson Carr. Interestingly, Templar is asked by Scotland Yard’s Inspector Teal to assist in the investigation of a man shot to death in a locked room with no sign of a weapon. The victim happens to be the smuggler Templar has been investigating on his own leaving us with a whodunnit and a howdunnit.

There’s some decent gunplay, a sub-plot involving s kidnapped girl, and some genuinely funny quips from Templar. The locked room mystery is solved - twice, in fact - and the payoff is clever as hell. Overall, “The Impossible Crime” still feels a bit dated, but it’s a far better story than its predecessor in this collection.

“The National Debt”

A female chemist is kidnapped and forced into indentured servitude by some crooks with an evil plan, and The Saint goes undercover to investigate the matter and rescue the woman. The challenge is that the woman doesn’t seem to want to leave. Is she hypnotized? Drugged?

More interestingly, the question remains what the kidnappers want with the chemist and what is she developing for them? It’s a mystery to be solved by Templar, and it’s also the strongest of the three stories in this collection despite a rather abrupt conclusion. The action veers a bit into Doc Savage territory without becoming too cartoonish on the journey.

Conclusion

It would be totally unfair to judge a wildly popular mystery-adventure series that lasted 70 years on the basis of this collection of the character’s first novellas. However, I actually enjoyed this introduction to Simon Templar even if the novellas failed to live up to the promise of the lurid cover art found on reprints decades later.

The Saint is a fantastic character, and I’m excited to read more of his later adventures after Charteris found his footing. I’ve been told that “The Saint in Miami” from 1940 is a high watermark in the series. Watch this space in the future for more on this iconic series.

You can buy 'Saint' novels HERE

Monday, February 3, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 29

Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 29’s feature is about Australia’s popular Larry Kent series. Eric reviews S-Com #1, and Tom presents an early rarity by David Hagberg. The guys also ponder what makes a paperback “vintage” as well as an impromptu discussion of Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch series and non-fiction reference books. Stream it below or on your favorite podcast app. Direct downloads are HERE.

Listen to "Episode 29: Larry Kent" on Spreaker.