Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Ape Swain #03 - The Captive City

Ohio-born Daniel Da Cruz (1921-1991) served as a U.S. Marine rifleman from 1938 to 1942 before pursuing a career in journalism with an expertise in Middle-Eastern affairs. His body of work as an author includes a three-book Men’s Adventure series starring an international gunslinger-for-hire named Ape Swain. The series conclusion from 1976, The Captive City, won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original Novel. Life is short, so that’s where I’m starting the series.

First, let’s address the protagonist’s name. It’s A.P. Swain, but you can call him Ape. Everyone does. In all fairness, Ape is big, strong, and hairy - so it works on multiple levels. As the novel opens in mid-action, Ape is wearing a business suit and parachute when he bails out of a Cessna into the night sky over the Arabian desert. According to plan, Ape lands in the fictitious, reclusive and oil-rich Kingdom of Al-Akhiri. Before his death by dehydration, rescuers find our hero and deliver him directly to a fetid jail cell to await his execution by firing squad the next morning.

A flashback informs the reader that Ape has been pressed into service by a U.S. oil worker’s union to rescue over 3,700 Americans who have been held in the Kingdom for 17 years inside a city enclosed by an electric fence. The U.S. government has given up on the idea of mounting a rescue mission and seems to be actively covering-up news of this alleged concentration camp. Are the Americans inside the camp happy employees of the Arab nation’s oil operation or hostages being kept from their relatives and countrymen? This premise is beautifully-executed by the author who sets up a vexing conundrum for our hero to solve in this fast-moving adventure.

As it becomes clear what’s happening inside The Captive City, the reader must suspend his disbelief that thousands of Americans would simply be forsaken by the U.S. government. Of course, this opens the door for a hero like Ape Swain to enact a dangerous and audacious plan to discover the truth. By the time Ape makes it inside The Captive City, the suspense level is high. It reminded me of “The Others” village on the ABC TV show Lost. I won’t spoil it, but nothing is as it seems inside the fenced city. Meanwhile, the author doles out the answers judiciously with several red herrings and a fantastic payoff.

The novel’s terrific ending sets up a great new turn for the series, but it never happened. For reasons lost to history (but it’s always money), there was no Book 4 in the Ape Swain series. As such, The Captive City will go down in history largely unremembered. But those who find and read a yellowing paperback copy will recognize it as a work of genre fiction that outperformed both its predecessors and the reader’s expectations. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 29, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 50

On Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 50, we explore the life and books of Thomas B. Dewey, the Casca Controversy fallout, and a review of Hillary Waugh's Roadblock.  Listen on any podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com, or download directly HERE Listen to "Episode 50: Thomas B. Dewey" on Spreaker.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Steve Bentley #02 - End of a Stripper

E. Howard Hunt authored over 70 novels utilizing pseudonyms including David St. John, Gordon Davis, John Baxter and variations of his own name. He also used the name Robert Dietrich to write 12 novels, 10 of them featuring a fictional Washington D.C. tax accountant named Steve Bentley. The character debuted in 1957's Murder on the Rocks and continued with two to three books per year through 1962. In 1999, Hunt revisited the character with one final chapter, Guilty Knowledge. Cutting Edge Publishing has released several of them as affordable ebooks. I really enjoyed my experience with the series debut and was happy to obtain a digital copy of the second installment, 1959's End of a Stripper.

The story begins with Bentley entertaining an old war buddy at a swanky strip-club called Chanteclair. It's here where Bentley first sets eyes on a gorgeous Scandinavian stripper named Linda Lee. Enthralled with the woman, Bentley notices that a shady man is taking quick, discreet photos of Lee. After a few minutes, the man is assaulted by two bouncers and hauled outside. Right before his exit, the man furtively slides his camera into Bentley's pocket. After the show, Bentley has a private-eye friend analyze the photos only to determine they are just poorly lit, poorly planned shots of Lee. But, Bentley learns the man taking the photos was a bottom-shelf private-eye named Mousey found murdered in a nearby warehouse. After Bentley is visited with threats to return the camera, the narrative accelerates to furious pace under Hunt's talented writing skills.

With Bentley the target of the bouncers and whoever hired Mousey, the only solution is to discover the identity of the mysterious stripper. In doing so, Bentley finds himself mired in the inner workings of politics in the D.C. beltway. Using his trusted ally Lieutenant Kellaway, the duo investigate Chanteclair's ties to a wealthy criminal mastermind and his connection with a secretive U.S. Congressman.

Hunt's second Bentley thriller is an intriguing, pulse-pounding hardboiled crime-novel with all of the desirable genre tropes – sultry women, crooked men and the inevitable chase for wealth and power. End of a Stripper is a more superior offering when compared to the series debut, Murder on the Rocks. Both are excellent, but it's Hunt’s narrative that readers will find fascinating. His contemptuous views of 1959's amoral Washington D.C. serve as a prophetic message for readers in 2020. 

In an odd twist, it is Hunt himself who would later contribute to unlawfulness in our nation's capital with his involvement in the famed Watergate Scandal. Despite the author's political experiences, Hunt proves once again that he can write the proverbial hardboiled crime classic again and again. End of a Stripper may or may not be one of his best literary offerings. After all, he authored over 70 novels, so further investigation is warranted.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Killer in White

After serving as a U.S. Marine in the Pacific during World War 2 and storming Iwo Jima, Harold John “Tedd” Thomey (1920-2008) returned to the states to pursue a career as a journalist with the San Francisco Chronicle and the Long Beach Independent with a specialty in restaurant reviews. He also wrote 20 books, including a 1956 Fawcett Gold Medal original titled Killer in White.

Dr. Douglas Webb is a fraud. He pretends to be a chiropractor healing female patients with dubious therapy such as his fancy magno-therapy machine, but it’s all a scam. He doesn’t have a degree in medicine - not even one in chiropractic nonsense. He just makes it up as he goes along. Why bother? Two reasons: 1. For the money, and 2. To have unlimited sex with his unlimited cadre of adoring female patients.

So, our protagonist is a bit of a heel. His fun is interrupted by an investigator from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Federal Security Agency who figures out Dr. Webb is a non-credentialed con-man. The investigator also has reason to believe that the magno-therapy machine forming the centerpiece of Dr. Webb’s practice is also a bunch of hokum. The only way for our fake doctor to get rid of this pesky investigator is to bribe him $15,000.

The bulk of the 144-page paperback is Dr. Webb trying to raise the cash to bribe the federal agent. He does this mostly by bedding down rich ladies and then shaking them down for money while they’re still in an orgasmic haze. There are lots of subplots that the author juggles - some more interesting than others. As Dr. Webb is forced to put out fire after fire to keep his scam afloat, the novel becomes an frantic read with some great moments sprinkled throughout. The final act’s “getting away with murder” story-line was excellent and worth the wait - as was the resolution to a romance that develops throughout the novel.

Despite some minor reservations, I genuinely enjoyed Killer in White. There’s are some pretty nifty plot twists towards the end and some genuinely tense moments involving medical stuff. Thomey’s writing is serviceable and all the plot threads are neatly resolved by the end. I wouldn’t move heaven and earth to acquire a copy, but if you can snag one on the cheap, it’s definitely worth your time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Death Must Wait

Former NFL player Don Kingery had only four published novels during his short literary career – Death Must Wait (1956), Swamp Fire (1957), Paula (1959) and Good Time Girl (1960). The rest of his writing was dedicated to print journalism, a career that spanned over 50 years in and around Southwest Louisiana. His novels were of the Erskine Caldwell variety, centering around strong southern roots and a penchant for poverty-ridden family dynamics that make up the blue collar highways of rural America. Nothing expresses that literary sense more than Kingery's Death Must Wait.

Like Caldwell's superior Tobacco Road, Kingery explores criminal behavior, immorality and mental issues throughout the thick narrative of Death Must Wait. Arguably, the book's only protagonist is Jed, a poor working man who hunts and traps in a dense section of Louisiana Bayou called Morganzas Pass. His father is complacent in his family's rags-to-more-rags lifestyle, never rising above the lowest tier of low class. Often Jed's parents lament their decision to marry, breed or even rise to exist. Jed's sister is a prostitute and his brother a drunk. A sense of escapism feeds Jed's desire to flourish in the outdoors, a trade that provides the only honest wage for the family.

Kingery's narrative expands once Jed is provoked into a fistfight with a belligerent bar patron. Jed's social inadequacies, short-temper and neanderthal strength leads to his undoing. When the man Jed scuffles with seemingly dies on the bar’s sawdust floor, Jed runs to the swamps to avoid a demented, corrupt small-town sheriff who wants to secure his bid for reelection. Eventually Jed is captured and arrested, but it is his love for a young woman named Nila that stirs a cause for action. Jed must either escape or prove his innocence before the backwoods lawyer and sheriff condemns him.

Death Must Wait was an intriguing story that displays crime-noir tendencies despite the abstract approach. Jed is the common-man placed into extreme circumstances, but the author's description of this small-town existence – failures, poverty, corruption, greed, despair – is the focal point. While still retaining a crime-fiction element, the book works more as a cynical look at this era of American history and the social degradation that formed so many of the southeastern cities. If you need more crime in your fiction, Death Must Wait may not spin your wheels. But for a solid, intriguing testament about rural America and it's deficiencies, look no further than this.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

High Red for Dead (aka Murder on the Line)

Very little is known about author William L. Rohde (1918-2000). Born in Dallas, the author wrote a handful of early Nick Carter: Killmaster installments as well as crime-fiction novels like Help Wanted for Murder (1950), Uneasy Lies the Head (1957) and V.I.P. (1957). He also wrote a number of western short stories as well as one full-length paperback, The Gun-Crasher (1957). My first experience with him is his 1951 novel High Red for Dead published by Fawcett Gold Medal. It was re-printed by Fawcett in 1957 as Murder on the Line with new cover art.

The book introduces readers to Daniels, a detective for the A&N Railroad. His base of operations is the main rail station that runs through the New England lakeside community of Vicksboro. Daniels is a former war veteran and operates a real-estate practice on the side. Due to the railroad's declining profits, the owners have petitioned Washington DC to restructure the shaky company. Daniels' theory is that the owners want to sell off fast and capitalize on obtaining a large one-time sum of millions instead of the dwindling thousands they receive yearly in profit and stock dividends. When one of the railroads lobbyists is found murdered on an incoming train, it's Daniels job to locate the killer and motive.

The book has a robust cast of characters that drained my pen dry when drawing the org-chart. It's a labor to navigate the twists and turns of the railroad industry, technical wire communications and the obligatory gamblers and love interests that saturate the narrative. The author's voice is clearly an experienced train aficionado, evident from his 1940s writings in the old Railroad magazines. High Red for Dead, and its procedural investigation, would have worked better as a western with enough gruff characters, land-barons, gamblers and cheats to host any 1800s shindig. While I liked the characterization of Daniels, I felt that the author used too much technical jargon to drown readers. It was as if Rohde just assumed I knew enough about betting through railroad communication wires. Or, how land development deals works in complex lake establishments. News flash – I don't.

If you love trains and mid-century railroad politics, High Red for Dead is definitely in your lane. For my limited experience with the railroad industry, Rohde derailed me. Buyer beware.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 22, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 49

Episode 49 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast tackles a literary mystery regarding authorship of an obscure series from the 1970s that may have been written by a Catholic priest. We also discuss and review novels by Hammond Innes, Gil Brewer, and Louis Charbonneau. Listen on your favorite podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com, or download directly HERE Listen to "Episode 49: The Search for the D.C. Man" on Spreaker.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Dead Wrong

Lorenz F. Heller (1910-1965) was a New Jersey guy - and eventual Florida transplant - who authored genre books under the names Laura Hale, Larry Heller, Lorenz Heller and Larry Holden as well as TV scripts as George Sims. Black Gat Books has recently re-issued his 1957 paperback Dead Wrong originally published under the Larry Holden pseudonym.

Our narrator, ex-boxer Joe Molone, is planning to host an old friend named Harry Loomis who’s visiting town. As young men, Joe and Harry used to raise hell in the saloons of Newark, but nowadays Malone owns a modest building supply company, and Loomis works on cargo ships. Things take an early head-scratching turn when Harry doesn’t show up for their planned night of debauchery. Instead, Harry’s 24 year-old estranged daughter Claire shows up with a note from her father.

According to the letter, Harry has become fabulously wealthy from a savvy investment and wants to retire to Florida from the cargo ship business. Harry wants his daughter to be with him in Florida while Harry nurses his arthritic bones back to good health. As Joe is wondering why his old friend has stood him up, he learns that Harry has been murdered with a mysterious package missing. If you guessed that this is one of those books where the narrator has to solve a murder to clear his own name with the help of a beautiful girl, you’d be spot-on.

On the road to the truth, there are some excellent action sequences where Joe uses his fists on adversaries as if he was back in the boxing ring. Heller also creates some vivid secondary characters like the street hood with a knack for crafting edge weapons out of anything. Joe’s old flame - a nightclub chanteuse with some real street smarts - is another fantastically-drawn member of the supporting cast. These interesting, well-developed characters propel this rather standard crime-noir plot into something special and unusual. The prose is smooth and there’s no confusion in the storytelling despite many clever twists and turns leading to the tidy ending.

After reading both Dead Wrong and Heller’s A Rage at Sea, I’m beginning to feel that the author may be an unsung hero of 1950s crime fiction deserving greater recognition. Both novels were outstanding, and I’m looking forward to seeking out more of his work. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Mac #02 - Every Bet's a Sure Thing

In addition to two excellent stand-alone novels published under the Thomas Brandt pseudonym, Thomas B. Dewey (1915-1981) was the author of three successful and highly-regarded crime-fiction series titles: Singer Batts, Mac, and Pete Schoefield. Conventional wisdom is that the Mac books, which ran for 18 installments from 1947 to 1970, are the strongest of the three. I decided to start with the second book in the series, Every Bet’s a Sure Thing from 1953 - a novel currently available as a $5 ebook.

Mac (his only provided name) is a Chicago ex-cop turned private investigator who is hired to shadow a woman and two kids as they make their way from New York to Los Angeles on a train. What could be easier? You ride the train with her and keep an eye on the dame, right?

The identity of the client is a mystery to Mac, and it’s clear from the outset that this isn’t a simple domestic surveillance job. The target - her name is Harriet - gets off at every stop and uses the payphone, and local hoodlums are milling about every time she disembarks for a few minutes. Most relevantly, an prior operative who had been following Harriett is gunned down in the street as Mac takes over the cross-country surveillance during a Chicago layover. Someone in the shadows is playing for keeps.

Much of the book’s first half takes place on the train, and Mac’s curiosity gets the better of him. He gets to know Harriet and her kids along the journey. And that’s the thing about Mac that separates him from the other hardboiled private eyes from the mid-20th Century: he’s a nice guy with compassion and empathy for others. After reading hundreds of blood-on-the-knuckles mysteries with stoic heroes, having a protagonist narrator who cares about others was a breath of fresh air. Mac is no softy - he’s just human. He can kick ass and take a beating, but he does it because he wants to help others. When the paperback’s action shifts to Los Angeles, the big picture becomes clearer to both Mac and the reader.

By 1953, Dewey has been writing genre fiction professionally for nearly a decade, and his storytelling chops are solid. Mac is a fantastic narrator - self-deprecating and funny - and the reader will want to be his friend. Every Bet’s a Sure Thing is filled with delightful surprises at every turn. Don’t sleep on this one - get yourself a copy and read it ASAP. Highest recommendation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Rape of a Town

Earlier this year, I read a novel called The Captive by Norman Daniels (real name: Norman Danberg, 1905-1995). I enjoyed it so much that I've upset my bank account by acquiring all the Norman Daniels books I can find. It's no easy task considering the price of these vintage titles and the abundance of his books written under various pseudonyms. My most recent acquisition is his 1970 novel, The Rape of a Town, published by Pyramid Books.

The book stars a former L.A. Police Captain named Kelly who recently quit the force due to the city's flawed justice system. In the opening chapter, Kelly is invited to a swanky Beverly Hills party hoping to find an employment connection. It's here where his life takes a drastic turn when he is introduced to a woman named Merryl Atwill.

Merryl's brother Carl was involved in a large investment firm with a partner named Mander. After a long-term partnership, Mander murdered Carl and explained to the authorities that Carl was sleeping with his wife. After Mander was tried, the case was thrown out over a legal bumble. Now, Merryl wants her brother's killer brought to justice. But instead of thrusting this one case at Kelly, she introduces the idea of having Kelly serve a team of backers looking to wrong the rights of the legal justice system. With a panel consisting of attorneys, U.S. Senators, police chiefs and other high-ranking professionals, Kelly will seek out the cases that were thrown out of court and determine how to avoid these failures in the future. It's a unique concept that, unfortunately, the author never capitalizes on.

The entire narrative consists of Kelly becoming the police chief in a tiny town called Vineland, an hour north of his old stomping ground in Los Angeles. But once he arrives, the entire police force quits. Kelly's investigation into Carl's murder, the company the two founded and Mander himself quickly become dead weight in the watery narrative. As the town's Fourth of July celebration commences, Kelly learns the reasoning behind the police force's departure. An entire criminal army has invaded Vineland and the police were all paid to leave. It's up to Kelly to solely defend the town in a climactic finale that helped compensate for the book's rather lackluster narrative.

Norman Daniels is a great writer and The Rape of a Town introduced some clever ideas. Unfortunately, it appeared that the author had three distinct novel ideas and just needed a reason to combine them. The idea of a “vigilante” task force is sadly never really developed. The initial idea of Carl's murder investigation is minimal but thankfully resolved by the book's end. The best concept is the lone police officer facing a mob of criminals, but the author only dedicates the last few chapters to it.

Overall, The Rape of a Town was a satisfying read but definitely requires some patience from the reader. Despite it's psychedelic artwork, Daniels provides a gritty, violent crescendo to please men's action-adventure readers. After two crime-fiction offerings, I'm going to turn a corner and sample Daniels' military-fiction. He was a great writer with great ideas. I'm sure there are more gems out there other than The Captive.

Note – This novel was featured as a book bonus called “The Town that Battled a Hoodlum Army” in the April 1971 issue of MEN with illustrations by the great Samson Pollen.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Running Blind

Along with Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean, British author Desmond Bagley (1923-1983) helped create the basic conventions of high-altitude storytelling within men's action-adventure fiction. His first novel, The Golden Keel, was published in 1963 and propelled a literary career that featured a total of 16 novels, five of which were turned into feature films. As a fan of frosty fiction, I decided to read Bagley's 1970 novel Running Blind, which is set in Iceland. The novel was later adapted for British television in 1979.

In the Scottish highlands, retired British spy Stewart is visited by his former boss Slade (who also appears in Bagley's The Freedom Trap). Slade's pitch is for Stewart to deliver an important package to a gentleman in Iceland. Stewart's experience in the country and his fluency in the Icelandic language make him the perfect operative for the job. Stewart is hesitant to take the assignment post-retirement but agrees in favor of visiting the country again.

The clandestine task of deliveryman for British intelligence evolves into a deadly cat-and-mouse game when Stewart is attacked and the package is stolen. Further, Slade's dismissal of Stewart's account of what happened to the missing package leads him to believe that the whole assignment was a crafty set-up. While Stewart is still in Iceland, he learns that Slade has aligned with a Russian nemesis named Kenniken, a man Stewart shot and hoped to kill earlier in his career. As the net descends, Stewart and his lover must flee into the rural landscape of Iceland, complete with volcanoes and rivers created from melting glaciers. Once there, the two are hunted by Slade's British operatives who are unaware that their leader has defected to Russia. The whole thing makes sense at the end, but some of the finer plot points are "blind" to the protagonist and reader. That's the enjoyment.

Running Blind is an excellent adventure-espionage hybrid that is presented to readers as a first-person narrative. The author, through Stewart's eyes, explains strategies, experiences, old combat stories and the most minuscule details to aid readers. As a fan of Jack Higgins' Paul Chavasse, a spy hero used in five of the author's novels, I felt that Stewart was of the same caliber and breed – sharp, salty and seasoned. The author also included some of Iceland's history and geographical highlights, a bonus for the average suburbanite who may never venture there. At 220-pages of smaller font, I felt the book could have been shorter. But that's the drawback when you become a massive bestseller – publishers want more. Other than the length, there's isn't anything to not like about Running Blind. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 15, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 48

On the controversial Episode 48 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we discuss the history of Barry Sadler’s CASCA books and investigate allegations of plagiarism that plague the series today. You don’t want to miss this one. Listen on every podcast platform, stream below or download directly HERE: Listen to "Episode 48 - The Casca Controversy" on Spreaker.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Kiss Me Hard

Thomas B. Dewey was a prolific author that produced 36 crime-fiction novels from 1947-1966. His literary work mostly consisted of three series titles featuring heroes Singer Batts, Pete Schofield, and Mac. However, the author wrote two stand-alone novels under the name Tom Brandt, 1954's Run, Brother, Run! and the subject at hand, 1953's Kiss Me Hard. We reviewed Run, Brother, Run! back in 2018 and haven't had the opportunity to revisit Dewey's catalog until now.

Kiss Me Hard introduces main character Chris Cross as an alcoholic piano player stroking the keys in small-town Ohio. After many songs (and beverages), Cross is seduced by a woman who is escaping from her abusive husband. The woman convinces Cross to join her as she leaves the town and her spouse behind. In a stimulating scene, the woman's husband finds the two making love on the edge of town. Cross, hazy from alcohol and the frantic escalation of the night's festivities, runs away through the forest and hops a train to escape.

On the next stop, Cross hops off and finds himself in a rural stretch of farmland where a carnival is performing. It's here that he runs into a young, troubled woman who asks Cross to help her hop a train. Cross's response is priceless: “I just got off the goddamn thing.” But the decision isn't his to make. Instead, a husky, mountain of a man finds the woman with Cross and begins to become angry and belligerent to the two of them. Cross, overwhelmingly smaller than the man, uses a rock to slow his progress. Cross and this mysterious woman flee to the train and catch it in a fleeting, high-paced conclusion to the opening chapters.

The narrative evolves into a mystery as Cross tries to determine this woman's backstory. Is she a prostitute? A carnival worker? Who's the burly “keeper” of this woman? In an emotional explanation, the woman claims to be Constance Jordan. Upon reading a newspaper clipping she possesses, Cross learns that Constance was abducted at the age of 13 and the world never saw her again. Her wealthy family searched for years through a variety of law-enforcement agencies and private-eye services. The clipping reveals that the Jordan estate is worth millions and that the woman's parents died 8 years ago. The entire fortune went to the family's older daughter Jean. As Cross presses for more information, he begins to doubt the woman's insistence that she is the long lost Constance. Together, the two take a haphazard road-trip to Los Angeles to find some answers.

Chris Cross is so much like David Goodis' fall-from-grace character Eddie Lynn in the 1956 paperback Down There. He's plagued by his alcoholism, and all of his pathways lead to liquor. The booze effects most of his conscious thinking as he is driven to find money to buy booze at the cheapest source. But Cross is painfully embarrassed by his disease, often self-conscious of what others think of his shaky hands and unquenchable thirst. But he's a great piano player who's seemingly wasted his life until now. Constance provides hope and salvation for Cross. Her fortune can buy an endless supply of liquor, but as the novel progresses, Cross finds that his craving for alcohol is somehow rehabilitated by craving this mysterious woman. He wants to be her protector, but the truth behind this mysterious woman is the ultimate mystery.

While not as widely celebrated as his contemporaries, Thomas B. Dewey was a fantastic writer who threads real-world problems into the social context of his stories. Kiss Me Hard could have easily drowned in a romance-on-the-run style novel, but Dewey really turned it into something unique and special. I think you'll really enjoy it. The good news is that you don't to spend a fortune acquiring this vintage paperback. Wildside Press released the Crime and Corruption Megapack in 2016 that features this novel along with A Season for Violence (1966), Run, Brother, Run! (1954) and Empty Saddles (1962).

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Where Murder Waits

E. Howard Hunt was a CIA operative who became a bit of a celebrity by going to prison for 33 months relating to his involvement in the 1971 Watergate burglary in the service of U.S. President Richard Nixon. In all the hubbub surrounding the scandal, it became widely known that Hunt was a prolific writer of crime and espionage fiction under a myriad of pseudonyms, including Gordon Davis. Where Murder Waits was a 127-page Fawcett Gold Medal paperback from 1965 written by Hunt using the Davis name. The paperback was later released under Hunt’s own name after the author gained his notoriety.

Patrick Conroy is a Washington, DC attorney with a fancy office adorned by original paintings from classic artists. We learn that Conroy was involved in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion from 1961 that sought to overthrow Fidel Castro, a misstep that landed Conroy in a Cuban prison for a time. He takes a meeting with exiled and aging former Cuban Prime Minister Eusebio Calderon, who needs Conroy’s help.

A Cuban exile group treasurer named Claudio Barros is missing following a car accident. Barros was the custodian of $250,000 raised from the donations of dishwashers and laborers in Miami with the hope of funding an insurgency to topple Castro and deliver a free Cuba. But now, Barros is gone and so is the money. Calderon needs Conroy to investigate the disappearance and recover the missing money. The investigation brings Conroy to Panama where he meets several people basically trying to accomplish the same thing - including a CIA operative and a hot Cuban babe named Lola - as promised on the paperback’s cover.

In order to enjoy Where Murder Waits, the reader must have an interest in Cuban exile politics of the 1960s - or have a willingness to learn. It’s not the spicy Fawcett Good Medal crime novel advertised on the cover packaging, but the paperback is a fast-moving diversion that blends international intrigue with a compelling mystery. If Cuban Cold-War skulduggery is your thing, you’re sure to be pleased with this one. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Soldier of Fortune #05 - First Blood

The Soldier of Fortune series ran from 1976 through 1985 consisting of 18 total installments. The series also ran for a limited run in the U.K. under the name Jim Rainey: Death Dealer. The books are mostly written by Peter McCurtin, however Ralph Hayes authored seven of these books under the McCurtin name. I've always enjoyed the series and Ralph Hayes' work so I was looking forward to reading First Blood, the fifth Soldier of Fortune novel. It was published by Belmont in 1977.

Like the second novel, The Deadliest Game, the book begins with mercenary-hero Jim Rainey visiting an old Vietnam War buddy named Daniels in Panama. Rainey’s purpose is to testify before the U.S. Army as a character witness to defend Daniels' recent assault on an anti-American Panamanian citizen. But just as Rainey joins Daniels, the two find themselves targets of a hit-and-run assassination attempt by the ruthless terrorist group Canal Reclamation Organization (basically a group of armed citizens fighting America's occupation of the Panama Canal). When Rainey and Daniels fight back, it puts them both on the radar of the U.S. Army – an official court-marshal of Daniels and the warning for Rainey to leave town. When Rainey, Daniels and an M.P. named Hollis leave a secured portion of the base, the CRO attacks the trio and takes them prisoner.

The bulk of Ralph Hayes' narrative is the imprisonment of these three men and their cruel treatment at the hands of the CRO. If you have a weak stomach, First Blood's graphic details of eyes being removed, testicles being squeezed and various body parts being severed will probably ruin your Brazilian Steakhouse experience. Despite Rainey's negotiations, Daniels and Hollis are brutalized into writing statements declaring the US occupation as tyrannical. Further, Rainey is ordered to execute the two men. Without ruining the enjoyment for you, let's just say Rainey eventually teams with the C.I.A. in an effort to bring down the CRO in the book's furious, exhilarating closing chapters.

We've reviewed four other Soldier of Fortune novels here at Paperback Warrior and the consensus remains surprisingly consistent – these books kick total ass. Regardless of Hayes or McCurtin, the series delivers plenty of action, violence and compelling story-lines to keep readers enthralled. Further, for a series of this nature, the first-person narrative is truly unique and welcome. You just can't go wrong with the Soldier of Fortune books and First Blood is another fine addition to a solid catalog of titles.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Morgan Kane #01 - Without Mercy

It’s interesting that the lore of the American West was so universally appreciated that many foreign writers produced successful western series titles aimed at international audiences. Norway’s big entry in this literary international arms race was the 83-book Morgan Kane series that started in 1966. The author was listed as Louis Masterson, but his real name was actually Kjell Hallbi (1934-2004). His books were written in Norwegian but received English-language translations for U.K.’s Corgi imprint beginning in 1971. A handful of the early installments have been made available on Kindle at reasonable prices, so I decided to try the first one, Without Mercy (Original Title: Uten Nade).

Morgan Kane is a Texas Ranger and saloon poker player in the late 1800s American West. After successfully killing a fugitive in St. Louis, he is ambushed by fellow passengers on the train ride back to Fort Worth, shot twice, and tossed into the brush in the middle of the night. Kane awakens beside the tracks to the sound of a buzzard waiting for him to die. With holes in both his gun hand and his gut, it likely won’t be long.

The reader learns that the attack on the train was not a random act of violence but rather a coordinated bit of revenge arranged by Troy Duncan, the brother of a Texas Ranger man that Kane killed in the line of duty. Duncan leads a four-person gang that includes his brother’s widow, a comely lass with a body built for loving. After shooting Kane in the gun hand and and the gut, they assume that the toss off the moving train probably finished the job on the ambushed lawman.

In Without Mercy, the author changes third-person perspective between Kane trying to survive his injuries, to the Duncan Gang looking to finish the job, to Kane’s Texas Ranger partner trying to find and help his oldest friend. Of course, we know that Kane survives the ordeal and lives to seek revenge on the crew who tossed him from the train. However, a crippled gun hand presents the hero with quite a handicap to overcome in his quest to satisfy his vendetta.

The English translation of Without Mercy is flawlessly-smooth, so you’d never notice it was originally written in Norwegian. Moreover, the author is an excellent storyteller with a knack for pace and tension. This won’t be the best western you’ve ever read, but it was a compelling and engaging story that will make you want to further explore this interesting series in the vast world of western fiction.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 8, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 47

On Paperback Warrior Episode 47, we explore the multimedia empire of Private Eye Michael Shayne and review a rare Harry Whittington book from 1959. Join the discussion on your favorite podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE: Listen to "Episode 47: Mike Shayne" on Spreaker.

Friday, June 5, 2020

The Cops

Author Jack Pearl (real name Jacques Bain Pearl, 1923-1992) was a prolific author of movie and television novelizations. From 1962's Ambush Bay to 1967's Garrison's Guerrillas, Paperback Warrior has mostly read and critiqued Pearl's novelizations. I recently acquired an original paperback penned by Pearl, a novel titled The Cops published by Pinnacle in 1972. I wanted to see how the author crafted his own stories free of any Hollywood commitments and restraints.

First and foremost, Pearl's literary voice is quite different with The Cops. The novel is filled with racial slurs, graphic sex, profanity and more mature subject matter in comparison to the author’s comical, lighthearted novelization of the film Funny Girl (1968). Perhaps a product of the racy 1970s, The Cops focuses on the emotional turmoil of an Irish family's commitment to wearing a police badge on the violent New York City streets.

The paperback’s main character is Tony Gargan, the youngest in a long dynasty of cops. His father retired as a desk sergeant for NYPD’s Western district while his older brother Sean works as a detective sergeant on the vice squad. The author also introduces the notion that an array of uncles and cousins were constables in a long lineage of law enforcement stretching back to Ireland. However, Tony is brand new to the badge and at the book's opening, is working the beat responding to routine burglary and assault dispatches. Within the book's opening chapters, Tony is promoted to prostitution stings, a short stint with vice and a run through the violent African-American ghettos and projects.

The Cops isn't an action novel like Supercop Joe Blaze, nor is it a procedural detective story like Ed McBain's critically-acclaimed 87th Precinct series. Surprisingly, Pearl's story performs more as a crime-drama with snippets of action – a suicide jumper, an apartment fire, fighting a rapist. The bulk of the narrative is spent on the uneven, strained relationship between Tony and his brother Sean. Once Tony gains some experience in vice, he begins to suspect Tony's involvement in the mob's gambling, drug and prostitution rings. While Tony is learning the ropes, it's Sean who explains that catching the notorious criminals involves rubbing shoulders with Syndicate underlings. It's up to Tony, and the reader, to determine the validity of that statement. Pearl also introduces a pleasurable romance angle with Tony and a prostitute named Alice, a fling that will eventually play a bigger role as the book reaches its narrative climax .

Overall, The Cops was an enjoyable reading experience and provided some insight on the law enforcement vocation. The family dynamics and the strained relationships made for a teetering, balance beam approach that I found entertaining – good cop, bad cop and the wives back home. If you want a balls out, furious police thriller, The Cops isn't it. If you are looking for a more measured, emotional experience with a fictional police force, Jack Pearl has delivered the goods. I found The Cops to be an entertaining, alternate approach to police storytelling and for that very reason I highly recommend it.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Dead Girl Blues

Lawrence Block’s first published novel hit the shelves in 1958. His most recent novel, Dead Girl Blues, is a 2020 release. That means that the author has published books in eight different decades. Let that marinate in your mind for a minute. Even more remarkable: the quality of his work hasn’t slipped a bit. He’s still got the magic.

The narrator of Dead Girl Blues is - well, let’s call him Buddy - a former gas station clerk in 1968 Bakersfield, California. I say “former” because the narrator is really Buddy as an older man looking back on a series of events that occurred years ago and his life thereafter. Yes, it’s one of those books where the narrator is copping to actually writing the book you’re reading - with periodic breaks in the action for old Buddy to comment on the thoughts and actions of younger Buddy. It’s a literary gimmick that’s worked well for Stephen King throughout the years, and Block employs it well. There are several other King-esque aspects of this paperback, but they are for you to discover yourself.

One night at a roadhouse, young Buddy picks up a drunk chick and takes her to a rural road to have sex. Things go sideways quickly, and Buddy kills her and rapes her. Yes, in that order. It’s a pretty graphic scene that showcases some real daylight between Block and his cozy mystery colleagues. There will be no plucky spinster and her precocious cat solving this crime.

After the shocking opening chapter, it was hard to know where Block would take the reader. Is this a man-on-the-run story? A redemption tale? An “inside the head of a serial killer” novel? What happens thereafter is far more interesting and thoughtful than any of the obvious options, and Block delivers the goods like a wily veteran of the game.

At 218 paperback pages, Dead Girl Blues is shorter than most modern novels, but just-right for the old Fawcett Gold Medal potboilers where the author got his start. Of course, those vintage paperbacks lacked the necrophilia plot thread at the centerpiece of this new one. So times do indeed change - which, in a way, is the point of the book. Can a man ever be done with the past if the past isn’t done with him?

If you search hard enough on the internet, you’re bound to find a reviewer willing to spoil plot details of Dead Girl Blues, but I ain’t the one. I will only tell you that the book is definitely worth your time if you can stomach some extreme adult content at the outset. Block appears to be posing the question: Is a man defined by the worst thing he’s ever done? As for the answer, I’d encourage you to read the book and find out for yourself. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

M.I.A. Hunter #09 - Invasion U.S.S.R.

Stephen Mertz and Arthur Moore authored the eighth M.I.A. Hunter installment Escape from Nicaragua. The duo continue their collaboration with this ninth volume entitled Invasion U.S.S.R. It was published by Jove in 1988 and is the second series installment to feature the three “hunters” performing clandestine work for the U.S. Government.

Senator Harler, who was introduced in the seventh novel, Saigon Slaughter, now orchestrates missions for the three hunters and has a new assignment for leader Mark Stone. A journalist named Lee Daniels is being held captive in Russia. After years of receiving hot leads from his C.I.A. resource, the government asked Daniels to break into a laboratory to steal important documents. Why the C.I.A., who primarily focuses on covert operations, would ask a newspaper reporter to perform this task isn't fully explained. Regardless, it's a convenient way to insert three bad-ass characters into Russia to ride tall and shoot straight.

Unlike other series installments, Invasion U.S.S.R. is more of an investigation resembling a hardboiled private-eye case as Stone tracks the whereabouts of Daniels. It follows tried and true literary trends as the heroic trio interviews locals (hood criminals) and fraternizes in bars in a race to develop clues. These leads are conventional pathways to low-brow establishments like strip clubs, casinos and brothels. The authors utilize these false solutions to discourage the trio, often leading to a dead-end only to recycle the hunt for information again. As that portion of the narrative developed, readers check-in with Daniels periodically as he's moved from jail to jail as political bait.

What I really loved about this story was the fact that the heroes lose quite a bit. This isn't a typical “storm the jungles and find the bamboo cage”. The fact that Stone and his fighting unit can't strong-arm their way to liberation was a welcome change. In addition, the team are primarily placed in an urban setting for the first time. It was enjoyable to see the team run through apartment complexes and buildings. In a surprising moment, the trio even steals bicycles and outpedal their pursuers! It's this sort of thing that really sets the novel apart from prior installments.

Invasion U.S.S.R. is a fun men's action-adventure novel that continues the series' trend of locating and liberating prisoners. While slower than prior installments, the authors take the team out of their jungle element and mix-up the action in favor of more procedural investigation. While prior books may have been a quick cold beer, Invasion U.S.S.R. is a fine wine that needs to be digested slowly to enjoy all the flavor.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Concubine

Morris Langlo West (1916-1999) was a highly-regarded literary figure in 20th century Australia with a lifetime of awards and honors for his work as an author and playwright. Early in his writing career, he wrote adventure novels for guys like us, including 1957’s The Concubine, also released as McCreary Moves In. The novel is still in print in various formats under both titles, and it even once had a classic Dell paperback printing under the pseudonym of Michael East.

Irishman Mike McCreary is an unemployed oil driller in Jakarta, Indonesia. While reviving from an illness, McCreary is visited by a mysterious man named Rubensohn who seeks to hire McCreary for a speculative oil drilling job on a distant island that is technically part of Indonesia but ruled by a sultan. McCreary boards Rubensohn’s luxury ship and we meet the international cast of characters along for the journey after an early-novel murder puts our hero in a rough spot.

The shipmates include a gorgeous Asian female named Lisette, who serves as arm candy for the wealthy boss. Rubensohn describes her as a “decorative woman,” a term I promise to start using whenever I can shoehorn it into conversations. Anyway, as soon as McCreary and Lisette lock eyes, you just know there’s going to be trouble.

The plot veers from maritime intrigue to exotic island intrigue as the real agenda of Rubensohn becomes clear to MacCreary. There’s the sultan who must be charmed into allowing drilling on the island and an exit-buyer who will take ownership of the site if MacCreary strikes oil. And then there’s the real spoils: the girl. Always the girl.

I mostly enjoyed The Concubine, but I’m partial to fraud stories. I must admit it was really slow and rather romantic at times. The ending was also so abrupt that I was worried my old paperback had shed some pages. It’s definitely not an action novel, but West was a really good writer. Consider this a lukewarm recommendation.

Screen Adaptation:

In 1957, the British television network ITV adapted the novel for the screen in seven 30-minute episodes. The show was called McCreary Moves In and starred Alan White in the lead role. I looked around and was unable to find the mini-series anywhere online. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 1, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 46

On Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 46, we weigh the pros and cons of vintage paperback conversions to ebooks and audiobooks. We also discuss news regarding the Milo March series and review some genre fiction classics. Listen on any podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE: Listen to "Episode 46: Ebooks and Audiobooks" on Spreaker.