Friday, May 29, 2020

Your Friendly Neighborhood Death Peddler

Paperback Warrior has admired Jimmy Sangster's literary work for some time now. Both of his John Smith spy-thrillers, The Spy Killer (1967) and Foreign Exchange (1968), received positive praise as well as 1967's Touchfeather. Most of the British author's work has been resurrected and reprinted by Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman’s Brash Books imprint. We were delighted when another of Sangster's reprinted novels hit our mailbox - 1971's Your Friendly Neighborhood Death Peddler.

The novel introduces a young guy named Anthony Bridges. He's a 29-year old, unmotivated, unemployed deadbeat. What the British would call a layabout. Anthony served a short-service commission in the British Army after graduating college. He spent a few years in the documentary business, flunked as a sales rep and is now enjoying unemployment while living with his girlfriend Lillian. Originally, the plan was just to bang Lillian and crash on her sofa a few days. But the days turned into weeks that turned into months. Now Anthony is tired of Lillian, who's a nympho, but he has no job, no home and no money. But, Lillian has fallen in love with him and Anthony doesn't have a Plan B. So she decides to take Anthony back to her childhood home to meet the parents.

Anthony discovers that Lillian's parents are uber rich. We're talking million dollar paintings in the study and a full staff tending to every need. Realizing Anthony's misplacement in the family's traditions and planning, Lillian's Dad has a private conversation with Anthony and makes a proposal - stop screwing Lillian and leave her apartment in exchange for a job. A good job with the opportunity to make thousands. Anthony then receives a card with a number on it and reluctantly calls it a few days later. The brisk, mysterious response is simply “Lunch. 12:30”.

In a hysterical sequence of events that's like something from Alice in Wonderland, Anthony travels down the rabbit hole and accepts an undisclosed job in the small African country of Lamboola. The deal is he will make 1% on commissions and $6,000 a year tax free. He also has a lavish expense account and the opportunity to travel internationally. Anthony accepts the deal and has no Earthly idea what the job actually entails.

In reality, Anthony has accepted the job as newest sales rep of illegal weapons to third world countries. The problem is that Anthony is a bumbling idiot with weaponry or sales experience or political connections. Not exactly the attributes needed to sell weapons to revolutionaries. When Anthony is asked to sell thousands of weapons - rifles, anti-aircraft weapons, explosives, tanks, basically anything useful to overthrow government - to a valuable client in Lamboola, Africa, he accidentally mistakes the names and sells the weapons to the valuable client's enemy. By doing so, he systematically creates a third-world revolution that topples the local government.

First and foremost, this book is hilarious. It's an absolute must read. Just following Anthony's disastrous showing as a weapons sales rep is worth the sticker price. For action, there's plenty. Sangster mixes peril on the high seas with numerous gunbattles and torture. Sangster does a fantastic job just poking fun at countries and their endless quests for violence and superiority. Sangster doesn't hold back, he throws China, Russia, the US and England under the bus in a lighthearted and entertaining manner.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Death Peddler uses the author's unique sense of witty, off the cuff writing to mock Earth's morbid fascination with weapons, power and greed. It's a humorous, albeit violent, deep-dive into third world politics and the zillionaires that finance it. In other words: an absolute must read.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Night of Violence (aka The Trapped Ones)

Louis Charbonneau (1924-2017) was primarily known as an author of science fiction and horror, but his second novel from 1959 was a straight-up crime thriller titled Night of Violence that was also released as The Trapped Ones. The novel remains available today as a paperback reprint, ebook and audiobook.

Lew Cutter’s car has a blown out tire outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. This presents a particular problem because Lew is traveling with $50,000 in stolen cash with a pair of deadly California hoodlums named Lefty and Pete on his trail. Lefty is a particularly deadly sort - a former baseball pitcher who can throw hand grenades through windows with terrifying accuracy.

The author introduces the reader to a handful of other characters who converge upon the downscale Hideaway Motel. There’s a traveling salesman, a family of four with a horny teenage daughter, a couple of lovers looking for a place to screw, Lew, his pursuers, and others. The girl working the motel’s front desk is an adorable character involved in her own relationship drama with the establishment’s owner. The author uses short chapters that cut from one character’s third-person perspective to another. It’s an effective storytelling technique that satisfies the reader’s hotel-based voyeurism. You finally get to find out what’s actually happening behind the closed doors of the other rooms at the inn.

In his science fiction work, Charbonneau is known for his claustrophobic settings where action unfolds among characters in, say, a cramped space station. This is also the dynamic at work in Night of Violence. The author gathers these characters into a small, remote motel, lights the fuse, and lets the sparks fly. Charbonneau was an outstanding writer with a knack for building tension, which helps a lot.

Downsides? There’s a lot of character development and relationship drama among the guests and staff that unfolds for much of the paperback before the violence commences. This didn’t bother me at all because the cast was genuinely interesting, but understand that the novel isn’t a 180 page bloodbath. Well, not entirely.

Night of Violence is a terrific, fast-moving novel with a bunch of interesting characters being moved around a finite space like chess pieces by a confident and competent author. There’s really nothing to dislike about this taut little paperback. I can certainly recommend this motel story without reservations.

Addendum:

Friend-of-the-blog and bestselling author James Reasoner informs us that Louis Charbonneau also wrote western novels under the name Carter Travis Young. Now, go forth and read!

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Survivor of Nam #01 - Baptism

Author Donald E. Zlotnik (born 1941) published over 300 weekly newspaper columns for two metro-Detroit newspapers. Most of Zlotnik's paperback novels are based on his harrowing, and highly respected career in the United States Army Special Forces. Zlotnik's 31 months in combat during the Vietnam War was commemorated by the awarding of three Bronze Stars, The Soldier's Medal and The Purple Heart. Beginning in 1986, Zlotnik began authoring military “fiction” novels based on his own experiences in Southeast Asia. The first was a stand-alone novel, Eagles Cry Blood (1986), followed by a four-book series titled Survivor of Nam (1988). Zlotnik followed with another run of combat-related novels, the five-book Fields of Honor (1990-1992) series. My first experience with the author is the debut novel of the Survivor of Nam series, Baptism, published by Popular Library.

Baptism introduces a handful of characters that will play dominant roles throughout the Survivor of Nam series. The chief protagonist is Private First Class Woods, a wet-behind-the-ears grunt who's introduced on the first page when he arrives at a U.S. Army airfield in Saigon. Zlotnik's sense of realism is reflected in the smallest of details, like the rubber around a transport vehicle's windows with a crisscross of tape to avoid glass shards in the event of an attack. You can immediately sense the horror, fear and remembrance in the author's writing style. After Woods partners with PFC Barnett, the two become close friends as they brave the first days in Vietnam. After being ordered to the 1st Cavalry Division in deadly Qui Nhon, the two soldiers are asked if they want to volunteer for MACV Recondo School. They jump at the chance and the book's opening chapters details the duo's training in small, heavily-armed long range reconnaissance patrols into enemy territory.

Upon graduation, the two soldiers, along with a handful of consistent characters, immediately experience their first battles. Victorious, Woods/Barnett's recon force is dropped along the borders of Laos and Cambodia, where the South Vietnam border touched Laos and North Vietnam. The mission is border surveillance, but U.S. Intelligence instructs the team to drop innovative, unique listening devices along the routes spreading from the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It's here where the bulk of the action lies, eventually separating Woods while readers learn that Barnett has been captured. At 185-pages, the book ends with a cliff-hanger that provoked me to research the second book in the series. Sure enough, it picks right up with Barnett's experience as a prisoner-of-war in the aptly titled installment P.O.W.

First and foremost, this is a work of fiction. Many readers, like myself, will ponder the decision to read Vietnam War fiction when so much non-fiction exists. There's a vast abundance of grunts, snipers, tunnel rats, pilots and tank commanders that have recounted their battle experience in explicit, detailed (often with photos) autobiographies. I think the fictionalization of true stories helps to separate the horror from reality and makes for a more enjoyable read. Your mileage may vary.

Baptism focuses on Woods (18) and Barnett's (17) coming of age experiences in the volatile jungles of Vietnam and is worth the sticker price. But, the author creates a number of engaging, side stories that further enhance the reading experience. There's a Black Panther member in the patrol unit that may be killing off white soldiers. There's a black market story-line involving guns, drugs and money with the supply detail with ranking members in the recon force caught in the crossfire. Zlotnik gives readers plenty to absorb and enjoy, and the book reminded me of a good young adult novel - albeit with added graphic sex, violence and profanity.

Overall, Baptism was an effective, but admittedly disturbing, first installment. The characters were compelling, the action propulsive and the author's combat experiences were conveyed to readers through the characters and story. I've already purchased the second installment and have the remaining two in my shopping cart. I absolutely loved this book, and I think you will too.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Mike Shayne #65 - Last Seen Hitchhiking

Mike Shayne began his life as a fictional private detective in a 1939 novel written by David Dresser under the pseudonym of Brett Halliday. After about 50 novels by Dresser, the series was handed over to a number of ghostwriters including Robert Terrall, who also wrote the Ben Gates mysteries under the pen name of Robert Kyle. As Mike Shayne was nearing the end of his run in 1974, Terrall authored the 65th novel-length installment, Last Seen Hitchhiking, a book that takes Shayne to some very dark places.

Meri Gillespie is a 23 year-old grad student hitchhiking north from Miami - a mode of transportation she’s been using without incident since she was 14. She ignores news reports of a maniac killing female hitchhikers on Florida highways and takes a ride from a sour-smelling young man. Just her luck, he injects poor Meri with a needle rendering her unconscious in the passenger seat of his station wagon.

Meri awakens naked and strapped to what appears to be a gynecologist’s examination table with her feet belted into stirrups. The kidnapper explains that he is a med student seeking to use Meri in his own research involving human sexuality - specifically unlocking the female orgasm with an unwilling participant. If you’re gathering that this is a bit more graphic and extreme than Michael Shayne circa 1945, you’d be right. The scenes where Meri is forced to submit to her captor’s wishes are far more graphic than we normally read in vintage crime paperbacks. Consider yourself warned.

Before getting kidnapped, Meri had been banging her college professor (consensually), and the relationship had gone south. As Meri was leaving to hitchhike to an ex-boyfriend’s place in Fort Myers, she stole a valuable artifact of great academic significance from the professor who hires a female private investigator named Frieda to recover the artifact. The lady gumshoe quickly learns that Meri never made it to Fort Myers and brings Mike Shayne into the case suspecting foul play on the highway. After all, there’s a maniac in Florida snatching up female hitchhikers.

The Florida Highway Patrol has been notified of Meri’s disappearance, but it doesn’t seem like they’re doing much. Working as partners, Mike and Freida trace logical leads to see if Meri’s disappearance was a targeted attack by someone looking to obtain the valuable artifact that Meri swiped from the professor. It’s an interesting literary tactic because the reader is told in the opening chapters the precise awfulness that actually befell the young coed - making the normal investigation seemingly fruitless. How will Mike and Freida connect the dots to find the creepy sex-researcher holding Meri and the artifact?

The story regarding the sex-fiend kidnapper of hitchhikers was awesome. It was a fantastically perverted cat and mouse game. The subplot about the missing artifact was a distraction that felt like filler to me. It was a weird dichotomy to have Shayne so concerned about an archaeological treasure and be seemingly unconcerned about the missing hitchhikers for much of the paperback. Interestingly, Freida was one of the best female detectives I can ever remember reading. She far outshines Shayne in his own book.

Despite these reservations, I still thought Last Seen Hitchhiking was a pretty good Mike Shayne installment. I’ve always found Shayne to be rather generic, and this one was no different in that regard. The biggest asset for the novel was a villain who will really make your skin crawl, so this late-series installment is an easy, if not full-throated, recommendation. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 45

Paperback Warrior Episode 45 is our All-Spy Spectacular where we discuss the best fictional spies of 20th Century fiction including Matt Helm, James Bond, Evan Tanner, Boise Oakes, and much, much more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 45: All-Spy Spectacular" on Spreaker.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Danny Fontaine #01 - As Bad As I Am

William Ard wrote a two-book series starring Danny Fontaine - an actor turned ex-con trying to make a life for himself in New York City. Those books were As Bad As I Am (1959 - also released as Wanted: Danny Fontaine) and the second book, When She Was Bad (1960). Ramble House has released the two Danny Fontaine books in a single trade paperback as Two Kinds of Bad with a helpful introduction by Francis M. Nevins. I’ve been dying to explore the first Fontaine book, and the reprint made it an easy lift.

As Bad As I Am opens with 30 year-old former stage actor Danny Fontaine being paroled from prison where he just served five years for beating a muscle-man to death because the meathead was being rough with a girl. We learn early in the novel that Danny’s Achilles heel is his desire to help women - regardless of legalities, and this affliction has landed Danny in jail before. Because of this, a condition of Danny’s parole is that he can’t date or have sex with a woman for the 18 month term of his supervised release.

Danny warms up to the idea of getting back into acting, and, of course, meets a girl in the process. Her name is Gloria, and the aspiring actress is the hottest little dish - and sweetness personified. When Danny becomes a murder suspect, Gloria is the one he turns to for shelter and a base of operations to establish his innocence. Late in the novel, they turn to a Manhattan private eye named Barney Glines to help clear Danny’s name.

Earlier in his career, William Ard wrote two books under the pen name of Thomas Wills starring a private eye named Barney Glines. Those two books were: You'll Get Yours (1952) and Mine To Avenge (1955). Later, when Ard began the Danny Fontaine series, Glines becomes a major character in the short-lived franchise. Ard basically created his own little Marvel Universe of overlapping series titles shared between his own name and a pseudonym.

In any case, Private Eye Barney Glines is, by far, the best character in this Danny Fontaine debut. He’s a funny, self-confident, can-do guy who takes control of the situation and helps navigate Danny out of his mess. It’s not a fast-moving thrill-ride of a paperback, but I still enjoyed As Bad As I Am. Ard was an awesome writer and he unfolds his plots really well - even when there’s not much action taking place. The dialogue and characters were vivid and real. I’m told that in the second book starring Danny, When She Was Bad, the jailbird becomes a private investigator working for Barney’s firm. I can’t wait to read it and tell you about it.

William Ard probably would have written more books starting Danny Fontaine after the second installment, but the 37 year-old author died of cancer in 1960 ending a promising career as an edgy and innovative voice on the crime fiction landscape. For my part, I’m just thankful that some of his work remains available today. Ard was a powerhouse talent in a crowded field, and he deserves to be remembered.

Fun-Fact:

The title As Bad As I Am comes from a traditional Scottish toast:

Here’s to you, as good as you are,
And here’s to me, as bad as I am;
As bad as I am and as good as you are,
I am good as you are, as bad as I am.

Buy a copy of the two-book compilation HERE

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Mike Ballard #01 - Brute in Brass (aka Forgive Me Killer)

Brute in Brass was a 1956 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback by Harry Whittington (1915-1989) published at a time when the prolific Florida author was at the top of his game. He probably was paid $2,000 for the novel with the promise of bonuses if the paperback saw multiple printings. In 1987, Black Lizard Books reprinted a handful of Whittington books including Brute in Brass under Whittington’s original manuscript title Forgive Me Killer.

Mike Ballard is a vice cop currently under investigation for corruption. This presents an immediate problem because he is also a bag man and fixer for a mobster nightclub owner with plenty of secrets. Mike’s got a girlfriend of sorts he set up in an apartment who’s not getting the emotional connection she desires. She wants to be his wife - anyone’s wife, really - but Mike likes the current no-strings arrangement.

Mike travels to a prison to see a death row inmate named Earl Walker who maintains his innocence of the murder that landed him on the electric chair waiting list. During the investigation, Mike was the only cop who didn’t beat Walker to elicit a confession, so he’s the one Walker begs to help save his life. Mike also has his eye on Walker’s comely wife, which is the real reason he agrees to help.

As you may have gathered, Mike is kind of a heel. But he’s one of those heels that you kind of like because he’s smart, tough and blunt - a good, but somewhat dirty, cop. He also evolves over the course of the novel to locate the decency within himself while solving a fascinating mystery and navigating a minefield of personal and professional problems.

Brute in Brass was another winner among Whittington’s 170 identified novels. The hero, Mike Ballard, is a badass fighter who should have starred in a series of his own.

Trivia:

There’s a theory that Mike Ballard was intended by Harry Whittington to be a series character - the key to a crime fiction author’s commercial success in the 1950s and now. He wrote a second Ballard novel called Any Woman He Wanted, but it was rejected by Fawcett Gold Medal.

The sequel was finally published in 1961 by second-tier paperback house Beacon under the pseudonym Whit Harrison. By then, any momentum toward making the protagonist a franchise was gone, and Whittington never tried again to launch a series of his own.

Any Woman He Wanted (Mike Ballard #2) remains available as a reprint from Stark House Noir Classics (HERE). Watch Paperback Warrior for a review coming soon. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Eagle Force #06 - Berserker

The 1980s proved to be a successful era for author Dan Schmidt. Beginning in 1986, Schmidt began contributing to the Mack Bolan universe with an astounding 40-installments across The Executioner, Stony Man and Mack Bolan product line. The busy author also launched a series of team-based combat novels called Killsquad that ran 10-books from 1986 through 1988. Of the author's extensive catalog of violent, bloody literary works, perhaps my favorite was the Eagle Force series. Like Killsquad, it was a team-based combat series and featured four ex-CIA members working as freelance mercenaries. The series lasted nine novels from 1989-1991 and was published by Bantam. I've slowly been collecting these books over the years and I was happy to finally locate the sixth installment, 1990's Berserker.

The first five novels of the series tied up some loose ends involving Eagle Force leader Vic Gabriel and his quest to learn how his father was betrayed and killed on covert operations in Vietnam. The climactic conclusion to that story arc was the emphasis of Ring of Fire. Berserker is the first of the series to feature a full-length action mission without the backstory baggage.

In the book's first chapter, a seemingly invincible man commences to sprint across the White House grounds. Using just brute strength and a primal rage, the man begins tearing at the frantic Secret Service men while absorbing a barrage of bullets. After the carnage, the chapter reveals that the man's furious assault was a final experiment performed by the KGB under top secret clearance from Soviet High Command. Project Berserker, in collaboration with East Germany, was created to modify human soldiers into savage, flesh tearing combatants that can be used to destroy villages, small cities and most importantly, military installations. It's like Marvel Comic's Weapon X program that created the Wolverine character...but only really, really evil. And communist.

Dan Schmidt utilizes the vile Berserkers as the perfect enemy for his rejuvenated Eagle Force. However, the author creates a number of fire-fights and smaller battles as foreplay before the bullet-orgy with the Kremlin and Project Berserker. The first of these battles is with a tactical mercenary unit calling themselves the German Fury. The mid-section of Schmidt's narrative focuses on Eagle Forces assault on a remote Greek island and their action-packed gunfight with the SPETSNAZ, an elite Soviet fighting force.

Berserker is another exciting installment of the Eagle Force series. The author's commitment to “brand new” adventures after five prior novels of backstory - using annoying recollections presented in italic fonts – was a much needed change. Because of that, readers receive 132-pages dedicated to Eagle Force versus Soviets, mercs and beastly soldiers. It's over-the-top, slightly deranged and completely unrealistic, three traits that make Dan Schmidt's writing so much fun. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Good Guy

During his productive career as an author, Lou Cameron (1924-2010) transcended genres from crime fiction to westerns to war adventures. In 1968, Cameron tried his hand at a mainstream political thriller called The Good Guy that promises “an exciting shocker with a double-twist finish,” so I buckled in for what was sure to be a wild ride.

The paperback’s conversational narrator is a doctor of behavioral psychology working as an advertising consultant named Woody Legion. He’s the guy you hire to manipulate the minds of the public if you’re trying to get them to change their favorite soda pop. His field of expertise is called “Motivation Research,” but it really amounts to political dirty tricks - picking out the perfect unassailable lie about the opposition that will alienate the candidate from the electorate.

Enter presidential candidate and freshman congressman Rex Vane. Before Vane became a politician, he was an actor in the westerns who parlayed his fame as a “good guy” into the the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s worth noting that real-life movie cowboy Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California in 1967, so I’m guessing that this was fresh on Cameron’s mind while creating the fictional version in the paperback.

In any case, Woody gets hired to work his psychological black magic as a part of Vane’s campaign. He leaks carefully-chosen false information about Vane’s primary opponent and watches his poll numbers deteriorate. He performs his analysis with giant IBM computers while his staff wears white lab coats. It’s pretty much what people in 1968 thought the future would look like today when algorithms would be making our judgement calls.

There are many problems with The Good Guy as a novel. As a narrator and main character, Woody is not a likable guy with a good personality. Even discounting his dishonorable profession, he’s not the kind of person you want to accompany for 224 big-font pages. For a political thriller, The Good Guy is almost completely devoid of thrills. It’s a boring book because Cameron never took the time to get the reader invested in the characters or the high-stakes of the election. It’s like he wanted to write a fictional expose regarding the dirty tricks that accompany modern politics. 52 years later, these revelations are all rather ho-hum.

The author makes an attempt to emulate an actual breakneck thriller in the paperback’s last 30 pages, but the whole thing was rather contrived and didn’t follow the novel’s own internal logic. This book was just awful. I’m normally a fan of Lou Cameron, but don’t bother with this stinker. The Good Guy was just A Bad Book.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 18, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 44

On Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 44, we plunge into the life and career of crime fiction author Ed Lacy with lots of reviews and revelations. We’ll also check in with Wolfpack Publishing and a special review of Protector #1 by Rich Rainey. Listen on any podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 44 - Ed Lacy" on Spreaker.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Matthew Scudder #03 - In the Midst of Death

Beginning in 1976, prolific author Lawrence Block launched a 17-book series starring former New York City detective Matthew Scudder. The series provoked two movie adaptations – Eight Million Ways to Die (1986) and A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014). Despite being the second series installment published - one year before Time to Murder and Create (1977) - Block considers In the Midst of Death (1976) the series' third entry. After enjoying the prior novels, I was anxious to return to the dark streets of Hell's Kitchen again.

In the Midst of Death provides a slight shift in the murder mystery formula. In it, Scudder is asked to do a favor for $2,500. But, unlike the prior novels, this one isn't setup as a murder case right away. Instead, a NYPD cop named Jerry Broadfield has been accused of extorting money from a prostitute. When he asks Scudder for help, Broadfield explains that he was in the middle of working with the city on exposing the department's corruption. Broadfield, and Scudder by proxy, believes that the extortion charges are an attempt to silence him. Scudder is skeptical to side with Broadfield, or do the favor, fearing that the truth isn't entirely clear. Later, when the prostitute is found murdered in Broadfield's apartment, Scudder's investigation becomes way more complicated.

Block's dark portrait of Scudder is one of the many enjoyable facets of this series. With In the Midst of Death, Scudder strains at the ties that bind – his former life with the NYPD and the remaining responsibility that he feels he owes the brotherhood. Broadfield's exposure of the department and his fraternity of peers, put Scudder on a balance beam of ethical repercussions. Broadfield's push to clean up the corruption and Scudder's protective nature of the business and its inner sanctum – despite how corrupt it might be. The author also weaves in a romantic fling with Broadfield's wife in a brilliant parallel of what Scudder experienced with his former wife – dissatisfied family, neglected marriage, disposable fatherhood. Scudder knows where the Broadfields are headed, but knows he can't save their marriage anymore than he could save his own.

In the Midst of Death is another gripping, extremely enjoyable installment in the series. Lawrence Block is an incredible storyteller and the book's last sentence left me reeling. Some authors strive their whole lives to leave readers with a lasting impact. For Block, it's a common occurrence.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Rain of Terror


Douglas Sanderson (1920-2002) was born in England and moved to Canada in 1947 after serving with the Brits during WWII. In Canada, he manufactured breakfast cereal, sold jewelry and sang in nightclubs to make a living before becoming a full-time novelist in 1952. His hardboiled crime and thriller paperbacks - 25 novels in all - were mostly published under the pseudonyms of Martin Brett and Malcolm Douglas, and Stark House Books has been reprinting Sanderson’s work slowly over the past few years. The latest re-release is a trade paperback compiling two Fawcett Gold Medal novels from 1955 - Prey by Night and the subject of today’s review, Rain of Terror.

Jake Abbott is an American living in Rome working as a news reporter for a wire service. He’s got a lucrative side-hustle introducing suckers to a counterfeit art dealer named Mr. Turrido. For his part, Turrido is a diminutive and foppish member of high society who made his money through theft, pimping, and fraud. The author does a fantastic job of painting Turrido as a particularly reprehensible villain.

Anyway, Jake is sick of dealing with Turrido’s arrogance and decides to quit his association with the irritating wannabe mobster. This leads to a Chapter One fight with the American beating and humiliating the Sicilian. Turrido swears vengeance on the insolent Jake and dispatches an 18 year-old toady named Angelo to find and kill the man who dishonored him.

Meanwhile, Jake has been banging his newspaper boss’ wife (with all the guilty feelings associated with that) and is trying to end that relationship. So, when an assignment arises to travel to a mountain village where a flood has killed 32 people, Jake jumps at the opportunity to escape the drama of Rome and cover a natural disaster in progress. He hops a train into the flood zone without the knowledge that Angelo the teenage killer is following him close behind. Complicating matters further, his boss’ wife - her name is Grace - also traveled to Piscoli so she could be with her secret lover.

Upon arrival at the town, the rain is still falling in buckets, and the village’s survival is threatened as the aqueducts and bridges become overwhelmed. The author does a nice job interspersing the “disaster movie” segments with the manhunting and relationship drama stuff. There are some great scenes including one in a tunnel that reminded me of the kind of horror that Stephen King would produce decades later.

My one complaint with Rain of Terror was that there are too many subplots. The assassin storyline was great. The love triangle was great. But then we also have an art theft, a 16 year-old waif, a political power struggle in the flooding town, two mid-novel murders to solve and more. Some of these subplots overtake the assassin story and transform the novel into a pretty standard whodunnit. That’s a lot for the hero to deal with as the water is rising, but it’s also a lot for the reader to digest at once in a thin Fawcett Gold Medal paperback. It was a bit like playing whack-a-mole at times

It’s interesting to read a “man on the run from an assassin” book where the motive is an old-country honor killing. It’s also interesting that the assassin is a wet behind the ears teenager trying to prove himself to a loathsome boss. I wish the author had developed that storyline more fully rather than shoehorning in all those competing plotlines.

Despite my quibbles, Rain of Terror is a solidly-good read, and Sanderson was a quality writer who knew how to keep a story moving. This definitely won’t be the last of his novels for me. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Butcher #07 - Death Race

The Butcher was a Pinnacle series of men's action-adventure novels that ran 35 installments from 1970 through 1982. While it's a bit confusing on who wrote the novels, the series is mostly authored by either James Dockery or Michael Avallone under the house name of Stuart Jason. While I despised The Butcher debut, Kill Quick or Die, I loved the 23rd entry, Appointment in Iran. I've always enjoyed action novels set in Alaska, so I was curious about the “cold weather” premise of the series' seventh novel, Death Race, published in 1973.

The novel's first 14-pages outlines the origin of The Butcher – real name Bucher (one word). He was a Syndicate killer who left the mob and then became a high-priced target for his former employers. Bucher joined a secret branch of U.S. Intelligence called White Hat and now serves his country by globetrotting to foreign locales and eliminating criminals. For Death Race, Dockery places the quick-draw crime-fighting hero in southwestern Alaska to complete a rather bizarre assignment.

White Hat has learned of a grave threat at a remote military installation called Dewline. The outpost is maintained as a joint venture between Canada and America to provide an advanced warning in the event of an enemy's attack by land, sea or air from the northern part of the world. The shadowy organization informs Bucher that Dewline's key personnel have been murdered and replaced by sinister doubles. Bucher is to learn why and how this invasion began and to provide pertinent details to White Hat regarding how to alleviate the situation.

Bucher makes the journey by snowmobile to the remote outpost. There, he infiltrates the facility as a research scientist and begins to dig into the details about the facility's origin, it's key components and the ultimate betrayal of American and Canadian intelligence. Dockery's utilization of Bucher's Syndicate killing power is vividly displayed as he targets the sinister doubles and fights the resistance man to man. Eventually, Bucher is able to eliminate....wait! Hold up. Let me stop right here.

The above paragraph was wishful thinking on my part. Here's what really happened...

Upon arrival in an Alaskan village called Kasynguk, Bucher visits a woman named Sonya Rostov hoping to learn about her brother's murder at Dewline and his subsequent replacement with an “evil twin”. However, Bucher falls in love with Sonya and leaves her house twice over the scope of 184-pages. Dockery spends pages and pages having Bucher confess his wants and needs to the needy, sexually-starved Sonya. Bucher and Sonya do the nasty at her place and at a relaxing bath house. Eventually, Bucher decides to marry Sonya and the two engage in an Alaskan ritual that most of the world calls a wedding ceremony. Bucher plans to leave White Hat and live off of his savings, learn to fish and bump uglies with Sonya for the rest of his life. Oh, and he leaves her house once to go to Dewline and kill an old foe named Dr. Wan Fu who fakes his own death in the syndicate because he had an extra brain growing on the side of his head that made him wicked and motivated him to attempt to destroy the lower 48 states by taking over Dewline while raising ravenous dogs to devour humanity. Yeah, Bucher goes and shoots that guy.

Death Race is a waste of paper. I wouldn't trust it to be a beer coaster for fear that it's awe-inspiring stupidity could somehow poison my beer and make me as stupid as the book's storyline. My personal bucket list entry #2 of “Visit Alaska” has been ruined by this preposterous, insanely written piece of literary garbage. It's clouded my frosty, wonderful visions of this snowy beautiful region of Earth and replaced it with the memory of this literary Hell. Reading Death Race was a race to the final page begging for the awfulness to end. Counting pages, counting paragraphs, counting the number of words to reach the end of a page. I took one for the team and read what could be one of the worst books of the series. Kill Quick or Die, as shitty as it was, could have been written by John Steinbeck compared to the steaming pile of trash known as Death Race. Stay away readers...for God's sake stay away. Hall of Shame...open the doors wide for this fat load of crap.

Buy a copy of this beer coast...book HERE and don't tell anyone you own it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Paperback Warrior Greatest Hits #01 - Mike Hammer #1: I The Jury

For the first ten days of May, Paperback Warrior is celebrating vintage fiction with a countdown of our ten most popular reviews ever - determined by you, our readers.

Like my review of the treasured 87th Precinct series, I'm going in as both a series rookie and an intimidated literary critic for Mike Hammer. Mickey Spillane's gritty, violent gumshoe was perhaps the last of the pulp fiction detectives. The series debuted in 1947 with I, the Jury, loosely influenced by Carrol John Daly's detective Race Williams. Spillane, who cut his teeth on comic books, originally intended Mike Hammer to be comic strip detective/hero Mike Danger. After failure to find a buyer, Spillane wisely transformed Danger to Hammer and wrote I, the Jury in six days. By 1953, it had sold over three-million copies.

Private detective Mike Hammer fought in the Pacific campaign of World War II. At the beginning of I, the Jury, Hammer walks onto a crime scene to see his friend and former war buddy Jack Williams lying in a pool of blood. Williams was belly shot with a .45 and died slowly as he crawled to his nearby rod (guns are frustratingly called rods). Hammer vows to find the killer and the novel's mystery is laid out within the first chapter.

My issue is that Hammer really contributes nothing terribly productive through the entirety of the book. He interviews a few suspects, has a mattress romp with a set of twins and seriously dates a psychiatrist named Charlotte. We're introduced to Hammer's quirky secretary Velda (who's obsessed with Hammer) and a police ally named Pat. Through a plodding narrative of character introductions, the reader can already nail the killer down. But Hammer is clueless, and bumbles his way through interviews while pointing guns at elevator attendants. His threats are seemingly meaningless and by the book's ending the killer's identity is practically plastered over each locale while Hammer chases cold leads. 

There's no doubt that the loud mouthed, profane Hammer is a catalyst for the more violent heroes we embraced in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. Respect is intended and well earned...I just need to find a Hammer novel that reels me in. In surface research, the general consensus is that the series really takes off after this novel. I'll certainly attempt another read, but may switch my mindset to anticipate what I'm ultimately getting in a Hammer book. Chronologically, I, the Jury is followed by the Spillane abandoned novel Lady, go Die, which was written/finished by Max Allan Collins and published in 2012. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 11, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 43

On Paperback Warrior Episode 43, we countdown the blog’s 10 most popular reviews chosen by our readers. Tom discusses new finds by old authors Robert Colby and Andrew Frazer. Eric laments the horror of moving thousands of vintage paperbacks and shelves to a new home. Listen on your favorite podcast app, PaperbackWarrior.com, or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 43: Top 10 Review Countdown" on Spreaker.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Paperback Warrior Greatest Hits #02 - Parker #06: The Jugger


For the first ten days of May, Paperback Warrior is celebrating vintage fiction with a countdown of our ten most popular reviews ever - determined by you, our readers. 

Most of the novels in the Parker series by Richard Stark (a pseudonym of Donald Westlake) are straight-up crime stories that follow Parker and a crew of professional thieves through the planning, execution, and aftermath of a big-dollar heist. However, the sixth installment of the series, The Jugger from 1965, is a very different kind of adventure for Parker: an actual mystery to be solved.

The mystery concerns an elderly colleague of Parker’s named Joe Sheer. Fans of the series will recognize the name because Sheer was a former “Jugger” (the underground parlance for a safecracker) who left his career behind for retirement. For several of the early installments in the series, Sheer serves as an answering service for Parker. If someone wants Parker to join a crew for an armed robbery, calling Sheer will get the message delivered.

After receiving an uncharacteristic and worrisome letter from Sheer indicating he was in trouble and needed help, Parker travels to Sheer’s adopted hometown only to learn that Sheer recently died of natural causes and was buried right before Parker’s arrival. For reasons mostly of self-preservation, Parker sets out to learn Sheer’s actual cause of death and the problems that prompted the letter sent to Parker. 

Along the way, Parker encounters a police chief with an unprofessional interest in Sheer’s life as well as a fellow thief also investigating Sheer’s final days. Could there be a missing fortune to recover? Why would Sheer break normal protocols and send such a worried letter to Parker? What was Sheer’s actual cause of death?

The excellent website, The Violent World Of Parker, disclosed that The Jugger was Westlake’s least favorite installment in the series. This is where I part ways with the author. Although I wouldn’t recommend starting the series with this installment, I found the novel to be fascinating and the mysteries driving the plot forward were completely riveting. Bearing witness to one of my favorite anti-heroes in crime fiction shift gears and play detective was a fascinating change of pace.

Although the plot is completely unique within the series, the format of The Jugger remains true to the Stark formula. The action follows Parker through third-person narration until the Part Three flashback where the perspective changes and the motives of others are revealed to the reader. In this case, the payoff (i.e. solutions to the underlying mysteries) is outstanding.

If you’re considering skipping this one for fear that a mystery novel starring Parker may lack the visceral brutality of other volumes, rest assured that there is plenty of bloodshed for you to enjoy here. In fact, Parker’s solution to one of the book’s central puzzles concludes with an act of brutality so extreme and unexpected, it will stay with you for quite awhile. You’ll know what I mean as soon as you read it.

If you’re in the mood for a traditional heist novel, perhaps The Jugger isn’t the best choice. If, however, the idea of an exciting crime novel exploring the occupational hazards of being a criminal safecracker in retirement sounds interesting, you’ll probably enjoy this one as much as I did. It’s a shame Westlake didn’t like The Jugger, but he wrote it for you and me, not for himself. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Paperback Warrior Greatest Hits #03 - Black Eagles #1: Hanoi Hellground

For the first ten days of May, Paperback Warrior is celebrating vintage fiction with a countdown of our ten most popular reviews ever - determined by you, our readers. 

I’ll be honest with you. I’ll only read one or two thick doorstop books a year, because I hate taking the risk that I’ll be trapped in the middle of a long-ass book that isn’t going anywhere. And at 330 pages and a tiny typeface, Hanoi Hellground is more than twice the length of the standard action/adventure series novel. But I’ve had a lot of luck with Vietnam War pulp lately, and I love the grinning skull covers on these Black Eagles novels, so I tore into this series’ debut. Fortunately, the book keeps moving from start to finish.

It’s basically The Dirty Dozen in Vietnam. An elite squad is put together for special combat missions, and the first assignment is to seize a huge pagoda complex way up in North Vietnam, kill all the military bigshots inside, find a hidden code descrambler there, and get out of the country with it after blowing up the place. 

The pagoda is the headquarters of an evil, ambitious general who curries favor with his superiors by maintaining it as a party palace where they can do all the nasty things they can’t get away with in Hanoi. Most of those things happen behind closed doors and involve underage boys, but the general himself is fond of the ladies. (As the Black Eagles close in on the night of the raid, he’ll be busily boinking a young commie cutie; his heat-seeking moisture missile will deliver a payload six separate times, a feat which even Longarm might envy.) 

The book is a little schizophrenic. On the one hand, it wants to be a serious military/espionage story, and it’s loaded with lots of details about weapons, strategy, Vietnamese culture and so forth. For example, a sequence where the squad learns high-altitude parachuting isn’t covered in a couple of sentences, but in page after page of exacting detail. 

But then on the other hand, the book wants to be pulpy, and after a few mundane chapters one sordid shocker after another pops up. Some of them are lurid, like the female commando who dates a hated communist enemy just to castrate him and stuff his package into his mouth as he bleeds to death. Some are tragic, like the innocent Vietnamese tribesmen who are captured by the communists and tortured with electrodes attached to their scrotum. And occasionally they’re just psychotically evil, as when the communists punish nuns by forcing excrement down their throats, all for the crime of sheltering the orphans of non-communists. There’s a lot of excess here, and not all of it is fun to read. But like they say, war is hell.

Writing under the pen name of John Lansing, author Mark K. Roberts is clearly trying a different approach than the one employed in his lightweight, sexy White Squaw westerns. For the most part, Hanoi Hellground works. I liked all the combat action, and the inventive ways in which the Black Eagles deal with various perils on this mission. There was also ample backstory material on each member of the team, which helped flesh them out. (I still wasn’t really able to keep all thirteen of these guys separate and distinct in my mind, but that’s probably my fault rather than the book’s. I was still able to differentiate them as The Black Guy, The Hispanic Guy, The Jewish Guy, The Vietnamese Defector Guy, etc.) 

There was one glaring flaw in the story. The pagoda is situated up in the mountains of northern North Vietnam. There’s no good, level place there for an Army helicopter to land, so the Black Eagles have to parachute down, about a day’s hike away from the target. Okay, fine. Once the mission is completed, they have 48 hours to reach a secret pickup location in a flatter area, where a chopper will land and carry them out of the country. But that pickup location is hundreds of kilometers away, down in the southern part of the country. Huh? There’s no other out-of-the-way place in all of North Vietnam where a chopper can land? That’s insane. But it gives the author a good excuse to extend the book by eighty pages or so, as the Black Eagles desperately hijack vehicles and race south, trying to elude the enraged North Vietnamese who are right on their heels, and hopefully get to the pickup location before it’s too late. Some of the book’s best material is in these eighty pages, including a brutal showdown with the depraved general on a racing locomotive, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.

Yes, the novel is longer than it needs to be. But it’s lively enough, and there’s some great action in it, so I didn’t mind much. Roberts did a good job with it. And although he didn’t write any of the later books in the series, I’m looking forward to exploring the later chapters of the Black Eagles saga… none of which are nearly as lengthy as this one was.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Paperback Warrior Greatest Hits #04 - Quarry #01: The First Quarry

For the first ten days of May, Paperback Warrior is celebrating vintage fiction with a countdown of our ten most popular reviews ever - determined by you, our readers. 

Esteemed author Max Allan Collins is a heavy contributor to the gritty hard-boiled line of mystery fiction. His well-respected creations include Nate Heller, Nolan, Mallory and the subject at hand, Quarry. The Thrilling Detective blog cites Quarry as the first hired killer series, predating Loren Estleman’s Peter Macklin and Lawrence Block’s Keller. Collins released the debut, The Broker (aka Quarry), in 1976. After four more novels, and a ton of fan mail requests, the author began releasing series installments again in 2006.  Contrary to The Broker as sequentially the first Quarry novel by publication date, it isn’t the chronological beginning. Quarry’s fictional accounts begin in this origin novel, The First Quarry (2008), and seemingly ends with The Last Quarry (2006). But aside from those bookends, the series can be read in any order from 1976 through last year’s entry, Quarry’s Climax. Thus, the explanation behind the numbered order featured here at Paperback Warrior. We are using a chronological reading sequence to encompass our review of the entire series.

Collins introduces our killer on a frosty December night in 1970. Quarry is a 5’-10”, 155-pound average build and a former U.S. Marine sniper. His experiencing killing Vietcong for low money has now extended domestically with a new business model and booming sales potential. In a brief recap, the reader learns that Quarry returned home after ‘Nam only to find his bride under a mechanic in the sack. In the blunt revenge tactic, Quarry catches the mechanic under a car…and ruthlessly kicks the jack out. The murder is widely publicized, but Quarry somehow gets off. This book’s opening pages has Quarry camped in a new suburban neighborhood in Iowa City performing surveillance. The homework is an effort to kill a college professor named K.J. Byron, ultimately Quarry’s first job offer in this new career opportunity.

An assassination service headed by the name The Broker offers Quarry the assignment to kill Byron after learning about his cold-blooded mechanic murder in the media. The Broker receives kill-jobs from needy clients which are then commissioned to hitmen. In what would become a staple of the series, The Broker simply calls our narrator “Quarry” with no indication if it’s meant as a first or last name. Regardless, this unnamed trait is formula for the genre, evident in Dashiell Hammet’s Continental Op and Bill Pronzini’s Nameless Detective. To size up Quarry’s expertise, the first assignment is killing this professor. The client’s daughter, Annette, has been collaborating with Byron on a book in exchange for working her young pupil hips and lips. While this is enough to maintain any fatherly vendetta, the larger piece is a manuscript outlining mafia action Annette has witnessed in the family business. Killing Byron and destroying the manuscript is imperative…but proves to be an arduous task for Quarry.

In true hard-boiled fashion, this first-person narrative has the protagonist displaying the sturdy antihero archetype. He’s completely void of morality, often breaking conventional ethics and driven by self-interest. While bravado fueled novels like Don Pendleton’s War Against the Mafia defines rigid boundaries and a sense of right and wrong, Collins leaves Quarry dissolute; youth gone wild in all it’s moral erosion. Quarry sleeps with the client’s daughter and the professor’s wife, endangering an already fragile working relationship. He sucker-shoots, lies, cheats and steals to overcome his lack of physical superiority (noted in one scene where he can’t fight two African-American mobsters). As the elementary assignment becomes further entangled in scorned love and rival gangs, Collins is quick to remind us the web isn’t a complex weave. His quick summaries of busy, violent chapters are stylishly funny - “The good news was the girl wasn’t dead. The bad news was everything else.” Quarry is wicked and never out of morbid one-liners for the reader. He’s likable but deadly, repulsive but delightful and the “good” bad guy we all want to win.

For the lack of a better term…Quarry simply kills.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Paperback Warrior Greatest Hits #05 - The Spy in a Box

For the first ten days of May, Paperback Warrior is celebrating vintage fiction with a countdown of our ten most popular reviews ever - determined by you, our readers. 

Author Ralph Dennis, who passed away in 1988, is mostly remembered for his 12-book series of hardboiled Hardman novels. Brash Books, owned by New York Times bestselling authors Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman, have meticulously culled the author's published and unpublished catalog to re-introduce many of these novels to a new generation of crime-fiction fans. Along with Dust in the Heart (2020), Spy in the Box is another unpublished manuscript that Lee Goldberg unearthed from the author's archives. After extensive editing, the book now remains as another published testament of Ralph Dennis' talents as a storyteller.

The book places readers in the political upheaval of 1980s Costa Verde. Protagonist Will Hall works for the CIA as an experienced diplomatic operative. His assignment is uncovering the layers of bureaucracy tearing the small Latin American country apart. Hall's view is that the U.S. should support the moderates, led by presidential candidate Paul Marcos. His opposition is the rebels, backed by both Cuba and the Soviet Union.  After securing a firm relationship with Marcos, Hall is ordered to meet with the right wing party of landowners and mining interests. As a courtesy to Marcos, Hall arrives for an impromptu meeting to advise him that meetings will commence with the right wing. However, Hall arrives just in time to see Marcos assassinated by what he believes is the CIA. Discouraged and jaded, Hall returns to Washington and promptly retires.

Hall settles into a life of normalcy in his North Carolina mountain home. His serenity becomes short-lived when he reads that a bogus expose has been submitted to the newspaper. Falsely published under Hall’s by-line, the article exposes the assassination of Marcos including personal details that only Hall possesses. When Hall reports that the article was not authored by him, his entire life turns upside down. The CIA, press, and former colleagues have seemingly framed Hall, tossing the former operative into an intriguing cat-and-mouse game that he's forced to play to clear his name...and stay alive.

Like The War Heist (originally MacTaggart's War), Ralph Dennis manipulates a lot of characters and settings to present his unique story. What begins as the proverbial “frame job” story, where many spy and espionage thrillers thrive, eventually evolves into an elaborate power play between industry giants. Instead of suits and ties, it's Uzis and Ingrams. The author's character development of Hall is his strong suit, an attribute that is important given the amount of characters that bob and weave in and out of the narrative. There's a brief love interest, an international mystery and a tailspin on the moral compass – bad, badder, baddest. Thankfully, these characters sometimes blur the boundaries of what is perceived as traditional heroes.

With Spy in the Box, Ralph Dennis crafts an unconventional spy thriller with compelling characters that springboard into action. As more and more of the author's work is unearthed, Dennis is finally receiving the literary accolades he deserves.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Paperback Warrior Greatest Hits #06 - Doc Savage #01: The Man of Bronze

For the first ten days of May, Paperback Warrior is celebrating vintage fiction with a countdown of our ten most popular reviews ever - determined by you, our readers. 

Predominantly, my Paperback Warrior musings are catered to 70s and 80s fiction, but I’m leaping through time to cover this iconic pulp warrior. Shamefully it has taken me 41 years on Earth to read my very first Doc Savage title. Over the years I’ve discovered the character while browsing a multitude of media including novels, comics, magazines and audio. For some reason, I just never had any interest in delving beneath the surface until now.

Doc Savage Magazine was first published in March, 1933 via Street & Smith publishers. Street & Smith was a New York company formed in 1855. It released its first pulp, The Popular Magazine, in 1903. By the mid-20s the pulp market had exploded, led by what many claims as the “Big Four” – Argosy, Adventure, Blue Book and Short Stories. Street & Smith publishing agent Henry Ralston and editior John Nanovic had a hit on their hands with The Shadow and were pursuing a second title. They pitched their Doc Savage hero concept to author Lester Dent with a dangling carrot of $500-$750 paychecks per book. It was a triumphant transaction that led to Doc Savage appearing a whopping 181 times for the magazine and related media. In 1964, the title regained popularity with Bantam reprinted each magazine as an individual novel. The books were handsomely presented with new artwork by James Bama and listed under house name Kenneth Robeson. These books are mostly out of chronological publishing order except the first – The Man of Bronze.

As the forerunner to the modern superhero, The Man of Bronze starts the series as the obligatory origin story. It begins by introducing us to Doc Savage and his “Fabulous Five” team members. Each are introduced by name and what their overall skill is. Monk is a strong type that doubles as an industrial chemist. Ham is an accomplished attorney with a sword cane. Renny is the team’s brawn and construction engineer. Long Tom is an electrical wizard and Johnny rounds it off as the team’s archaeologist, complete with magnifying lens over his damaged left eye. Savage himself is sort of the conglomerate of all his team’s skills, only he has perfected each due to a strenuous two hours daily spent exercising his body and mind. Author Lester Dent describes Savage as a physical specimen with a chiseled “bronze” body.

Savage and his teammates served together in WWI, yet it wouldn’t be until Philip Farmer’s 1991 novel, Escape from Loki, that the full details are explained. The group is assembled on the 86th Floor of what is presumably New York’s Empire State Building after learning of the murder of Savage’s father. Doc, in distress, learns that his father was poisoned while exploring a remote location called Hidalgo in Central America. During the assembly, a red-handed assassin attempts to assassinate Doc. Through the book’s opening chapters, the group run from building to building chasing the assassin before learning that Savage’s father left a hidden message behind. This message pushes the book’s focus to the team traveling to Hidalgo to investigate not only the murder, but the land that has been willed to Doc.

From one fast-paced frenzy to another, Dent presents a riveting adventure for the team. From deep underground caves and primitive villages to sea and air battles, The Man of Bronze covers a lot of ground and, for the 1930s, took the imagination into foreign and exotic lands. Collectively, the team uses all of their resources to foil the enemy and solve the inevitable mystery. Who’s the assassin? Why did he murder Doc’s father? All of this comes to fruition in a climatic, mountainside finale that finishes one chapter while introducing elements that will be key in future editions. The author’s clear boundaries of good and evil are questionable in 2017, but one has to remember this was written in a much simpler time with black and white social and cultural outlines. It’s easy to dismiss the fantasy and incredible writing style, often putting Doc Savage at Godlike strength and mind, but that’s the whole idea, right? It isn’t really supposed to make sense.

It’s written as an escape from the factory work and mundane daily rituals. For my own interpretation, Savage is one-part Indiana Jones, one-part Bruce Wayne and one-part Captain America. His skillset or power? I think it could easily just be perfection. He’s seemingly human perfection. Who wouldn’t want to be this bronze, intelligent hero? I say bring on book two – The Land of Terror. I can’t get enough of this stuff.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Paperback Warrior Greatest Hits #07 - Cuba: Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter

For the first ten days of May, Paperback Warrior is celebrating vintage fiction with a countdown of our ten most popular reviews ever - determined by you, our readers. 

After the pulp magazines disappeared, they were largely replaced by a more gritty and realistic magazine genre collectively known as Men’s Adventure Magazines (MAMs). These glossy, color publications featured stories and artwork by the same people servicing the men’s paperback original market in the 1950s and 1960s. Magazines like Adventure and Real Men were filled with colorful illustrations and stories designed to appeal to working class men returning home from the wars of the Mid-20th Century.

The Men’s Adventure Library Journal is a labor of love for Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle with a mission of preserving the salacious stories and art from the MAMs in beautiful-themed compilations that both entertain and put the stories in some historical context. Their latest release is Cuba: Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter, and it’s a total pleasure to read and own.

One of the conceits in MAMs is the fictional story presented as non-fiction, and several of the Cuba stories in this volume fall into that category. “Brotherhood of the Scar” is a fictional story from a 1959 issue of Adventures for Men by Jack Barrows that falsely claims to be “an eye-witness story of an ex-GI who was brutally tortured by Batista’s savage Gestapo and lived to join the secret underground army that swore vengeance at any price.” The story itself is a 33-page torturous bloodbath that will make fans of the men’s adventure series paperbacks of the 1970s and 1980s feel right at home.

Another highlight was “Kiss the Skull of Death My Beautiful Muchacha” allegedly by Linda Rogers as told to Jim McDonald (actually a work of complete fiction by McDonald). The story originally appeared in the September 1965 issue of New Man with graphic cheesecake art by the great Norman Saunders lovingly reproduced in this anthology. The soft-core sex opening grabs the reader as the American female nightclub singer is ravished by her Cuban lover during Fidel’s revolution. One thing leads to another and our heroine is captured and turned over to “El Toro” for torture and interrogation. This is exciting and lurid stuff for men of any era. 

The stories collected and preserved here were an important part of America’s literary history and the Men’s Adventure Library Journal guys are doing important work keeping this stuff available. Arguably, the violent and sexy art of this genre was just as historically significant as the stories themselves. Fortunately, the editors of “Cuba” have reproduced scads of cover art and interior illustrations to further give the stories further context and provide a feast for the reader’s eyes.

More information about the MAMs can be found at the website menspulpmags.com, and all of the themed reprint books compiled thus far can be bought on Amazon. In the meantime, Cuba: Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter is an essential anthology for fans of sexy, blood-on-the-knuckles fiction and illustration art. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 4, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 42

On Episode 42 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we do a deep dive into the life and work of author William Ard (aka Jonas Ward) as well as a review of Clifton Adams’ DAY OF THE GUN and much, much more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, Paperback Warrior.com or download directly here (LINK).


Listen to "Episode 42: William Ard" on Spreaker.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Paperback Warrior Greatest Hits #08 - Spenser #01: The Godwulf Manuscript

For the first ten days of May, Paperback Warrior is celebrating vintage fiction with a countdown of our ten most popular reviews ever - determined by you, our readers. 

The beloved Spenser series of private eye novels originated in 1973 with The Godwulf Manuscript. Parker wrote 40 entries in the series until his death in 2010. His last Spenser was Sixkill, published posthumously, and an unfinished manuscript entitled Silent Night, later completed by literary agent Helen Brann in 2013.

Spenser is often cited as Parker's take on the Southern California private eyes of the 1930s and 40s, modernized for the 70s audience and positioned in Boston. The series is hardboiled, with an intense, fast-moving pace that eventually caught the eye of the television lens in 1985. ABC's Spenser: For Hire starred Robert Ulrich as the Boston gumshoe, and gained some footing with audiences for three seasons, 66 episodes and four films for Lifetime. Joe Mantegna would later capture the role for three television movies on the A&E network. Parker once described the impact of the television show on his work as “no more effect on my writing than Monday Night Football.” (TV Guide June 20, 1987)

Very little is revealed in terms of Spenser's backstory. In this debut novel, we learn that he was a former cop who was fired for insubordination. The first name is never revealed for the length of the series, but questions about the last name are quickly erased as Spenser introduces himself to a college dean; “It's with an S, not a C. Like the English poet, S-p-e-n-s-e-r.” There's mention of an estranged lover and that he was in the military in Korea. His office is in Boston, he drives a rag-top convertible, works out, has a penchant for cooking and loves beer. You now know just as much as the next Spenser fan.

The first assignment has Spenser hired by a Boston university to locate stolen property referred to as The Godwulf Manuscript. The culprit is suspected as SCACE, a far-left fringe group just looking for a cause in the form of the Student Committee Against Capitalist Exploitation. Spenser gets a lead on a young student named Terry Orchard, who is later found drugged with a smoking gun beside her dead boyfriend. The Boston PD, who really hate Spenser, finger Orchard for the crime but Spenser has reason to believe that the person who stole the manuscript is behind the murder. The investigation leads our main character through the bowels of the university, from a drug dealing professor to a local mobster, while carefully traipsing through the posh neighborhoods of Boston tracking Orchard's family and friends.

This is a speed-read at 180 pages, high on action and intensity, fueled by Parker's remarkable writing style. The author writes Spenser in the first person, but the truly incredible part of his technique is relaying to the reader everything Spenser sees in these characters and places. It's almost a left to right visualization that easily placed me in the sticky gumshoes of this captivating man named Spenser. The masters can do this well and Parker proves he's easily in that elite company.

Further, Spenser's witty and sarcastic dialogue is priceless. Whenever he faces stiff superiors (although he boldly dismisses any hierarchy), he throws out delightful one-liners like, “Can I feel your muscle?” or his own profession's ridicule like, “The ones with phones are in the yellow pages under SLEUTH”. In some ways I can't help but think Spenser had an impact on Max Allan Collins' creation of the equally sarcastic Quarry or maybe how X-Files creator Chris Carter developed FBI agent Fox Mulder (who, in his own right, had some great dialogue with superiors).

Based on my limited experience of reading just this one lone Spenser novel, I could foresee easily reading 10-12 of these in quick succession over a short period of time. I have 40ish novels to enjoy, so I'm going to pace myself. The Godwulf Manuscript is one of the best of the best.

Buy a copy of this book HERE