Monday, August 31, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 59

Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 59 features a discussion of William McGivern with a review of his classic, Night Extra. We also discuss Armchair Fiction, Sterling Noel, William O’Farrell, Milton Ozaki, Reporter sleuths, Michael Brett and more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 59: William P. McGivern" on Spreaker.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Burns Bannion #01 - Kill Me in Tokyo

The Burns Bannion series about a Karate-loving American private eye in Japan lasted for eight installments between 1958 and 1967. The author was listed as Earl Norman, a pseudonym for Norman Thomson, who actually lived in Japan during the American occupation following WW2. The first installment in the Burns Bannion series, 1958’s Kill Me in Tokyo, has been reprinted as an ebook by an enterprising outfit called Fiction Hunter Press.

Bannion is an enjoyable and conversational narrator guiding the reader through this fun adventure. As the novel opens, he explains to the reader his experience as a karate student in Japan. Remember that in 1958, Karate was something new and exotic to Americans providing today’s readers an interesting perspective from the future. Bannion is fresh out of the U.S. Army and disinclined to leave Tokyo - mostly because he’s got a hankering for Asian chicks, particularly a stripper named Princess Jade.

One night at the nudie bar, an American drunk mistakes Bannion for a private eye and hires him to find his lost love, a girl named Mitsuko. The money is good and Bannion is pretty well-connected in Tokyo, so he rolls with it. His transformation into becoming a private eye is guided by stereotypes of fictional gumshoes. He knows he needs to get a trench coat and a weapon, for example. Guns being illegal in 1958 Japan, Bannion opts for his karate hands. The author was clearly having some fun within the tropes of the hardboiled PI genre. There’s even a reference to a private eye in Los Angeles with short white hair and a broken nose that’s clearly a shout-out to Richard Prather’s Shell Scott.

Norman also avoids the temptation to make his novel a Fodor’s Guide to 1958 Tokyo despite clearly having a keen insider’s view of the city. There’s just enough local flavor to keep the setting interesting without boring you with National Geographic details as Bannion searches for the missing Japanese girl dodging karate kicking killers along the way.

I loved this book. The plot wasn’t amazing or innovative, but it was well-written and a helluva lot of fun. Bannion is a great companion, and nearly every chapter has him either kicking ass or getting his ass kicked in martial arts fights while bedding down Asian women along the path to a solution. Copies of the Bannion books are pretty scarce in the wild, so I’m really hoping that Fiction Hunter Press makes some dough on this first installment, so they can digitize the other books in the series.

Addendum:

The Burns Bannion series:

Kill Me In Tokyo (1958)

Kill Me In Yokohama (1960)

Kill Me In Shinjuku (1961)

Kill Me In Atami (1962)

Kill Me In Shimbashi (1959)

Kill Me On The Ginza (1962)

Kill Me In Yokosuka (1966)

Kill Me In Roppongi (1967)

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Monster From Out of Time

Bram Stoker Award winner Frank Belknap Long (1901-1994) was part of the “Lovecraft Circle” of fantasy writers that included contemporaries like Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. While primarily focusing on horror and science-fiction, Long also authored a number of fantasy and adventure novels. My first experience with the author is his fantasy novel Monster From Out of Time, published by Popular Library in 1970 with cover art by the famed Frank Frazetta.

In the book's prologue, an engineer named Ames is working a construction zone on a shoreline in Mexico. A young woman named Tlacha is watching the man's labor when a ravine opens in the ground and seemingly swallows Ames in a blinding light. Hoping to retrieve Ames, the young woman is enveloped by the light and disappears.

In Chapter One, this same catastrophic event happens again, only to a scientist named Dorman and his girlfriend Joan. The two are sunbathing on the coast when they witness a large underwater behemoth rise from the depths. Hoping to identity the creature, Dorman and Joan are swallowed by the light and find themselves deposited in a strange place surrounded by ice and snow. After nearly freezing to death, the two eventually find Ames and Tlacha and the couples share their stories and improvise a plan to survive.

Monster From Out of Time is clearly influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series. It follows the proverbial “fish out of water” concept of the average person thrust through time into another world. The concept typically features a central survival element that ascends into an exploratory adventure for the traveler. Long utilizes that same idea for the four main characters. Instead of another world or planet, the location is the Ice Age.

From my research, the general consensus is that Monster From Out of Time isn't a fair representation of Long's literary skills. In fact, many people disliked the novel and found it saturated with dialogue. At 127-pages, I would nearly agree. There is some action, loosely depicted on the cover, but it comes near the very end of the lean paperback. The characters are just average, and the narrative is a slow-burn.

If you collect these types of stories, or just want this for the artwork, I totally get it. For me, I'm more focused on the book's content, and this book just wasn't very good. If someone has a better suggestion for Long's fantasy novels, I'm all ears.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Ride the Gold Mare

While spending a majority of his career penning non-fiction, Ovid Demaris authored a number of crime-fiction novels. While I've had mixed reactions to Demaris' literary work, I enjoyed his 1959 novel The Long Night. Hoping for another positive reading experience, I read the author's first novel, Ride the Gold Mare, published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1957 and reprinted by Cutting Edge Books in 2020.

The book stars Phil Lambert, a tenacious Hollywood reporter whose focus is the city's deadly heroin distribution network. In the novel's opening pages, a crooked cop named Fusco violently kills a drug pusher. The murder is witnessed by two druggies who flee the scene of the crime. Lambert learns of the murder and suspects that Fusco may be tied to the Syndicate. In an effort to break the story, Lambert tries to stay ahead of Fusco in learning the whereabouts of the two witnesses.

At this early career stage, Demaris was clearly influenced by Jim Thompson's writing style. Ride the Gold Mare is saturated with characters who remain rough around the edges and undesirable. Weepy and Doris, for example, are both losers who never stray far from the gutter begging for drug money. There's a stripper longing for love, a wife begging for faithfulness, a dealer skimming off the top and an average man positioned on the brink of the vast criminal underworld.

Much of the narrative focuses on the aforementioned Sergeant Vince Fusco of the Los Angeles Narcotics Squad. In essence, he is the consummate villain, a narcissistic dirty cop who clashes with the public he’s sworn to serve. In many ways, he's the prototype for the sadistic mob killer that Demaris would later create and utilize for his 1960 novel The Enforcer.

Among the miscreants, delinquents, hookers and dealers, the cast of characters is bleak, created with a sense of depravity by the author. The narrative is littered with profanity, drug use and sexual aggression that is somewhat uncommon for a 1957 Gold Medal paperback. Like John D. MacDonald's 1960 novel The End of the Night, Ovid Demaris' Ride the Gold Mare is a brutal look at youth gone wild with no safety barriers or censorship. It's an epic, violent clash between lawbreakers that swirls into a compelling, fast-moving crime-noir read from beginning to end. The book is a fantastic first-effort from an author who simply excelled in this genre. 

Note - Ride the Gold Mare is also part of a four-book compilation entitled California Crime. The omnibus is available from Cutting Edge and features three other crime-noir novels authored by Demaris - The Enforcer, The Long Night and The Hoods Take Over.  

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Best of Manhunt: Volume 2

In 2019, Stark House Press generated a commercial and critical hit with the release of The Best of Manhunt, an anthology of stories from the legendary 1950s crime fiction digest. Knowing a good thing when they see it, the reprint publisher has compiled a second volume of blood-on-the-knuckles tales from the popular magazine’s heyday for an August 2020 release.

By way of background, Manhunt began publishing in January 1953 capitalizing on the success of a new breed of hardboiled authors with Mickey Spillane leading the pack supported by muscular authors including Evan Hunter and David Goodis willing to make five cents per word for their stories. While the magazine’s run stretched into 1967, everyone knows that the publication largely lost its way by the mid-1960s. As such, the new anthology front-loads the content with stories primarily form the 1950s.

Before the stories, the reader is treated to a series of essays about Manhunt Magazine by scholars Peter Enfantino, Jon L. Breen, and Robert Turner followed by over 400 pages of twisted, violent short fiction. Anthology editor Jeff Vorzimmer intentionally sought out many “deep tracks” from the magazine’s history choosing many authors who never achieved paperback stardom. There’s a lot to enjoy in stories by John M. Sitan, Roy Carroll, and Glenn Canary who share the pages with heavy hitters including Bruno Fischer, Donald E. Westlake, and Erle Stanley Gardner.

Reviewing an anthology is always a challenging task - particularly in a literary buffet filled to the brim with this much quality. Here are some thoughts regarding a handful of noteworthy stories in the collection:

As I Lay Dead by Fletcher Flora (February 1953)

Fletcher Flora brings the reader a perverse and twisted little tale. Cousins Tony and Cindy work each other into a sexual lather while oiling each other’s skin on the man-made beach. Meanwhile, their wealthy, fat grandpa floats in the lake nearby. It occurs to the lusty twins that if something happened to grandpa, they’d be free - and financially-set - to run away to Acapulco together where the booze, sun and screwing never stops.

Flora’s novels are often tinged with a heavy dose of non-graphic sexuality, and “As I Lay Dead” amplifies that aspect of this writing. Murder, blackmail, and double-crosses are also on the menu making for a perfect story. Whatever you do, don’t skip this one. It’s everything that dark crime fiction should be. With over 160 published short stories to his name, I can’t help but think this might be his best magazine work.

Shakedown by Roy Carroll (April 1953)

Roy Carroll was a pseudonym for Robert Turner, a short story guy who started in the pulp magazines. His literary agent was Scott Merideth, who curated a lot of the talent that appeared in Manhunt. It was at Merideth’s urging that Turner shifted his style from over-the-top pulp writing to the gritty and realistic crime digest format.

“Shakedown” is narrated by Van who has just knocked up a chick at work and has no intention of doing the right thing by the poor girl. He comes up with the idea that she should bang their boss, pin the pregnancy on him, and be set for life as the old man’s wife.

As you can imagine, the plan goes very wrong when the boss doesn’t take kindly to being shaken down by a knocked-up employee in his typing pool. If you can handle some 1950s misogyny with your crime fiction, you’re going to enjoy this one just fine.

One More Mile to Go by F.J. Smith (June 1956)

I could find next to nothing about author F.J. Smith other than the fact that several of his stories appeared in various Alfred Hitchcock anthologies. “One More Mile to Go” is a rare third-person narration from the pages of Manhunt. A small-town Louisiana shopkeeper strangles his nagging wife in her sleep and needs to hide the body somewhere (a recurring theme in Manhunt).

Along the way to the body stash site, he’s pulled over by a state trooper, and the interaction feeds the tension of the situation. It’s a good, simple story. Nothing revelatory, but certainly not a waste of your time.

The Geniuses by Max Franklin (June 1957)

Richard Deming is the only author to appear twice in the anthology with one story under his own name and this one under his Max Franklin pseudonym. “The Geniuses” is about two teenage thrill-killers long before murderous youth was a regular occurrence in American life.

Bart and Edward are high-IQ college kids who find themselves to be social pariahs among their campus peers. A conversation about how one might craft the perfect murder takes a nefarious turn when they begin experimenting with these ideas on a classmate. It begins as an intellectual exercise and then becomes deadly real high-wire act. Under any name, Deming is a solid talent and was rightfully among the bedrock of the Manhunt talent pool.

Girl Friend by Mark Mallory (September 1957)

Mark Mallory was a pseudonym for Morris Hershman who did a lot of writing in the mid-20th Century in the science fiction, war and crime genres. He was also a regular contributor to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

“Girl Friend” is a diabolical little story told as an interrogation transcript of a 14 year-old girl accused of murder. As the story unfolds, the kid appears to be the daughter of a prostitute pressed into service herself. Her mom would command top dollar for the girl by telling the clients she was a twelve year-old virgin. As the nightmare narrative shifts into a murder confession, the brilliance of this nasty little story really takes shape. Despite the disturbing set-up, don’t skip this gem.

Midnight Caller by Wade Miller (January 1958)

Wade Miller was the popular collaboration of Robert Wade and Bill Miller that produced so many outstanding crime and adventure novels in the paperback original era. “Midnight Caller” is a short-short story - only two pages long - about a woman being menaced by a sexually-aggressive intruder in her bedroom. It’s a tense little story with a fun punch line at the end.

Paperback Warrior Verdict:

The Best of Manhunt 2 is another masterpiece of short fiction that will be an essential part of any hardboiled library. I’m hoping that it’s another monster success for Stark House to justify more volumes in the future. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 24, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 58

On jam-packed Episode 58 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we discuss author Jack Pearl as well as many other topics including: Cancer perks! Ed McBain! Maltese Falcon! Len Deighton! Ace Doubles! Christmas in August! And much, much more. Listen on your favorite podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 58: Jack Pearl" on Spreaker.

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Crooked Circle (Too Many Murderers)

Before writing house-name adventure paperbacks in popular series titles including The Aquanauts, Nick Carter: Killmaster, John Eagle: Expeditor and Richard Blade, author Manning Lee Stokes (1911-1976) was already successful in a variety of genres. In 1951, Graphic Books published his paperback original crime novel titled The Crooked Circle, and the book was re-released by the same publisher as Too Many Murderers in 1955. The novel has found new life as a modern trade paperback from Oregon publisher Armchair Fiction.

Our narrator is a 40 year-old, rather unsuccessful ex-cop turned private eye named Steve Paget in fictional Steel City, USA (think Cleveland or Pittsburgh). Against all odds, Steve lands a new client, an eccentric rich guy named Jeff Torrance, who wants to pay Steve good money to have sex with Torrance’s pretty and long-legged wife. I won’t spoil the reason behind this indecent proposal, but after some in initial resistance, Steve agrees to the undercover seduction for a $100,000 fee. Business is business after all, and Mrs. Torrance is a tasty little dish.

Along the way, Steve gets beaten with a wrench and must contend with a dead body that could derail his future plans. Most of the action in the novel’s second half takes place on a remote estate where Steve is pretending to be a guest of the Torrance family looking for an opportunity to seduce the lady of the house and complete his mission. There are long stretches in the paperback where not much happens, and Steve fails to have enough charisma to fully carry the story devoid of any action.

Things pick up quite a bit as we near the climax and the double-crossing gamesmanship among the cast escalates. A murder plot is hatched that becomes a somewhat brilliant and cinematic set piece worth the wait. The Crooked Circle was a decent novel but nothing special until the satisfying ending. It’s interesting to read Stokes’ work before he became a go-to series-novel hired hand. If you can stand some uneven pacing at the paperback’s midsection, the reward at the end is pretty great.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Devil May Care

Childhood friends Robert Wade and H. Bill Miller were responsible for the most successful collaboration in vintage genre fiction. Together they wrote around 33 novels under the Wade Miller and Whit Masterson pseudonyms selling around 15 million copies of their mystery and adventure paperbacks. Many have said that their finest work is their eighth book, Devil May Care from 1950, recently reprinted by Stark House as a double paired with Sinner Take All from 1960.

The hero of Devil May Care is Biggo Venn, a fortysomething soldier of fortune working the speaking circuit for $50 per gig telling globetrotting adventure stories to meeting hall audiences. After a speech in Cleveland, Biggo reconnects with his old friend with a business proposition for the aging mercenary.

The feds deported a Sicilian mobster named Tom Jaccalone who is now living comfortably in Mexico. Biggo is hired to deliver a letter to the mobster that will exonerate him and allow Jaccalone to return to the U.S. legally and resume his racketeering. The letter is a signed confession from someone else admitting to the crime that caused Jaccalone to be deported from the U.S. The gangster is willing to pay $20,000 to get his hands on the letter, and Biggo just needs to deliver the confession to Mexico and earn some easy cash. Of course, Biggo accepts the gig.

The action shifts to Mexico, and the mission turns out to be more complicated than originally represented. Biggo’s point-of-contact for the exchange is murdered. It seems the mobster who took over Jaccalone’s U.S. rackets following his deportation isn’t excited about the prospect of a possible exoneration and repatriation resulting from Biggo’s delivery. This leaves Biggo in Mexico caught in the crossfire between two rival gangsters - both of whom want the letter Biggo is carrying. One has $20,000 for Biggo, and the other has a bullet with his name on it.

In Mexico, Biggo falls in with an impossibly sexy bar hostess named Jinny. There’s also a local Mexican torch-singer that Biggo wants who seems to run the town. Whether these women are friends or foes is a twisty question as the plot develops. Meanwhile, a rival mercenary from Biggo’s past also surfaces in the same Mexican town on the Baja Peninsula to repeatedly throw a monkey wrench in Biggo’s plans.

Overall, Devil May Care is a fine novel. Some of the treatment of the fictional women in the paperback would never fly today, so consider yourself warned if that type of thing bothers you. It’s also a bit padded and slow in the middle section as Biggo hangs around Mexico becoming involved in relationships while waiting to make contact with his buyer.

But once the climactic ending begins, things get great very quickly with lots of cool plot twists and turns. Overall, I’m sure you’re going to like Devil May Care quite a bit, and I completely understand why many say it’s the strongest Wade Miller release. Recommended.

Fun Fact:

Devil May Care was the 9th novel published by the legendary Fawcett Gold Medal paperback imprint. The book never had a second life after multiple Gold Medal printings throughout the 1950s, so the Stark House reprint is a big deal. Buy a copy HERE

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Valley of the Assassins

Using a combination of the names Ian Fleming (James Bond) and Alistair MacLean (Where Eagles Dare), author Marvin Albert (1924-1996) conceived the pseudonym of Ian MacAlister in the early 1970s. The prolific author of crime-fiction, tie-in novels, and westerns authored many books under his own name as well as the names of Al Conroy and Nick Quarry. Conveniently, at the height of the 1970s high-adventure market, Albert used the MacAlister pseudonym to write four genre novels. I enjoyed his 1973 WW2 adventure Skylark Mission, so I was anxious to read Valley of the Assassins, another of Albert's stand-alone paperbacks published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1975 under the MacAlister name.

The novel introduces a boater named Eric Larson. While being a part-time adventurer, Larson spends most of his life around the Persian Gulf escorting tourists, gun-runners and exiles into and out of Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. In the opening pages, Larson discovers three bodies lying on a series of rocks in the islands known as the Arabian Nights. After learning that two of the men are dead, Larson nurses the remaining man back to health and delivers him to authorities in Iraq. Unbeknownst to Larson, the man hides a treasure map on Larson's boat.

Later, Larson is attacked on board his boat by two dagger-wielding assassins. After disposing of the killers, Larson discovers the map and goes down a rabbit hole following the treasure and a secret cult of assassins that can be traced back to 1072 AD. Larson teams with a Kurdish woman named Darra, the daughter of a famous freedom fighter. He also reluctantly agrees to an alliance with an Iranian cop and together the group embarks on a mission to locate the treasure.

Albert's intentions with this book are solid. The makings of any good desert adventure story would surely include a Middle Eastern treasure hunt involving Kurdish rebels and a secret order of assassins. However, the narrative crawls slowly and incorporates way too-many history lessons of the region. Of the novel's 190-pages, only 30-pages really have any action or movement. The author simply regurgitates what he likely learned from National Geographic for much of the book.

I never felt invested in the main character’s success or well-being and found the academic nature of the prose boring. This is a very different book from the high-adventure, high-octane action of Skylark Mission. I still have two more of these Marvin Albert/Ian MacAlister novels to read, but now I'm in no hurry.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Sin for Me

As a key contributor during Fawcett Gold Medal's paperback gold rush, the 1950s and early 1960s proved to be a fruitful time for Gil Brewer. Novels like 13 French Street (1951), Flight to Darkness (1952) and The Red Scarf (1955) cemented his place among John D. MacDonald, Day Keene and Jim Thompson as cornerstones of essential crime-noir fiction. As his career soared, his personal life descended into the murky waters of alcohol abuse and depression.

By 1962's Memory of Passion, Brewer had found himself nearing rock bottom, and the author experienced his first major gap between titles as fans waited four years for 1966's The Hungry One. A new publishing imprint, Banner Books, secured original titles from Harry Whittington, David Goodis and Gil Brewer in hopes of building a successful brand. In Brewer's case, that arrangement led to only two books, The Tease and Sin for Me, both published in 1967. Those two novels proved to be the end of Brewer's successful literary career. He would continue writing a few more years under house names doing series work and television tie-in novels, but Sin for Me was essentially Brewer's last crime-noir paperback. Both of Brewer's Banner novels, The Tease and Sin for Me, have been reprinted by Stark House Press as a double with an introduction by scholar David Rachels

Whether intentional or not, Sin for Me reads like a fast-paced western tale. It's a wild manhunt story through the forests and mountain ranges of Colorado. But unlike a dusty, violent cowboy saga, Sin for Me is classic Brewer – a femme fatale story involving greed, sexual desire and bad people. Really bad people.

The book's main character is real-estate agent Jess Sunderland. He's recovering from a bitter divorce from Germaine, a sexy, mountain-bred seductress. To rebound, Sunderland now works for an old colleague named Brownie. In the opening pages, Sunderland receives a call from a beautiful woman named Caroline Jones. After having Sunderland show her numerous houses for sale throughout Denver, she finally confesses the true nature of her business. She was involved in a Florida bank heist with Germaine's new husband. After the heist, Jones was abandoned and finds herself estranged from the money she helped steal. Now she wants Sunderland to assist her in locating the stolen money at Germaine's residence. Like many of Brewer's flawed and doomed protagonists, Sunderland agrees.

Brewer thrusts readers into a chase for stolen loot through Denver and the rural outlying areas. The characters are introduced quickly and often I had to re-read pages to determine which character belonged to which portion of the story. There's a fraud investigator from Jacksonville, Florida, Germaine's backwoods family members, and the various criminals who have tasted the money along the road to misfortune. The finale comes in the form of a western scene – rifle fire from mountain passes between burly men vying for the riches.

As a finale to Brewer's successful crime-noir career, Sin for Me is rather disappointing. The plot moves briskly and introduces too many characters whose cameo appearances clutter the story's elementary dynamics. There was a bank heist. The robbers turned on each other. Sunderland wants the money. It's a simple approach that could have remained rudimentary even given Sunderland's desire to have Germaine back in his arms. However, the book's rushed pace and shallow characters left something to be desired. Like any Brewer novel, it's a fun reading experience but one that could have been better. Packaged with the far superior The Tease, Stark House Press has balanced the great and the average together at an affordable price. It's definitely worth the money, but buy the reprint for The Tease

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 17, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 57

On Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 57, our feature is on the life and work of Richard Himmel with a review of his sexy spy paperback The Chinese Keyhole. Also discussed: Flipping books for cash! Harry Whittington! Ashville, North Carolina! Sleaze fiction! The Mantrackers by William Mulvihill! And more vintage fiction hijinks! Listen on your favorite podcast app or at paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE Listen to "Episode 57: Richard Himmel" on Spreaker.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Mona (aka Grifter's Game)

Ten-time Edgar Award winner Lawrence Block rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s with his Evan Tanner and Matthew Scudder novels. It’s noteworthy that, like Donald Westlake, Block’s early literary work was soft-core porn titles published under pseudonyms like Sheldon Lord, Lesley Evans and Jill Emerson. The first book published under his own name was Grifter's Game. The book was originally titled The Girl on the Beach (Block explained that it had a Brewer/Williams/Rabe feel), but Fawcett Gold Medal changed the title to Mona when they published it in 1961. In 2004, Charles Ardai's Hard Case Crime imprint republished the book as Grifter's Game, as the imprint’s very first release.

The paperback introduces an adept conman named Joe Martin. As we meet Martin, he's arrogantly embracing the receipt of a hotel bill while secretly telling readers that he doesn't have the funds to cover it. After skipping out on the bill, Martin heads to Atlantic City where he steals a suitcase, and identity, from a man called Leonard K. Blake. After settling into a two-week stint at a posh seaside hotel, Martin's silver lining begins to tarnish – he discovers Blake had a lucrative amount of heroin tucked into the suitcase. Martin's hopes of running another successful con becomes even more convoluted when he meets the young, beautiful Mona Brassard.

Lawrence Block's writing - even at this early stage - is so tight and effective. The book doesn't possess an ounce of filler or padding. Instead, the compelling plot speeds along as Mona and Martin's heated passion intensifies. The convincing narrative offers an unusual balance beam for readers to walk – cheer on Martin's criminal behavior or hope that all of the characters face a downfall. With no distinct heroes, I was still invested in the characters’ slow, spiraling descent through robbery, murder and adultery. Block's ending gave me chills, a monumental feat considering it was originally published 60-years ago.

Mona is a masterful crime-noir that proved Lawrence Block was something truly special even 60-years ago. Today, his writing is just as good. Do yourself a favor and read this author. Become familiar with his work. Tell others about it. The affordable Grifter's Game version by Hard Case Crime is a must-have and a great starting point to embrace this author's bold and impressive crime-fiction.

Buy a copy HERE

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Killer Mine

After a string of remarkable 1940s and 1950s bestsellers, author Mickey Spillane became a Jehova's Witness and took a long hiatus from writing. Upon his return, Spillane continued his popular Mike Hammer installments. However, he also started writing stand-alone novels and novellas like 1965's Killer Mine. This 80-page work was packaged with the stand-alone novella Man Alone in 1968 and published by Signet under the title Killer Mine. After nearly a year of reading full-length novels, I decided to tackle the Killer Mine novella for a change of pace.

The story is set on a seedy side of Chicago and introduces readers to Lieutenant Joe Scanlon, a tough-as-nails cop who grew up in the area before joining the fight in World War 2. Post-war, Scanlon worked his way up the ladder and moved on to a less crime-ridden part of the city. However, after four homicides are found to have a common thread, the brass ask Scanlon to return to his old stomping ground to find the killer.

Like any good police procedural, the narrative incorporates interviews with eye-witnesses, friends and peers that appear hazy when it comes to morals, ethics and doing the right thing. Scanlon's partner is surprisingly a female cop who works juvenile delinquents, but she's brought into the case as a disguise to allow Scanlon to appear that he is married and returning back home. Once Scanlon's dives into the details, he learns that all four murdered men were once his childhood friends. To solve the mystery, Scanlon recounts portions of his childhood to the reader in a race to find the killer.

At 80-pages, Killer Mine works well as a brisk police procedural. Like Mike Hammer, Scanlon is quick to violence, throwing his hefty girth around mobsters, hoodlums and whores to gain clues and information about the victims and the killer. Ultimately, whether any of it is interesting is probably based on your love of procedural books. While Killer Mine isn't a run 'n gun action extraordinaire, it's still compelling enough to turn the pages. As a good afternoon distraction, you could certainly do much worse.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Skylark Mission

Marvin Albert (1924-1996) was a prolific author of men's action adventure, western, mystery and crime-fiction novels. The Philadelphia native wrote a number of detective, mafia and western novels under the pseudonym Al Conroy. He also wrote a six-book series of private-eye novels starring Jake Barrow under the name Nick Quarry. In the 1970s, Albert capitalized on the high-adventure genre of British thrillers made famous by the likes of Alistair MacLean. Using the very British sounding pseudonym of Ian MacAlister, Albert authored four stand-alone high adventure novels – Strike Force 7, Valley of the Assassins, Driscoll's Diamonds and the subject of this review, Skylark Mission. The paperback was published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1973.

The 175-page novel is divided into four parts – The Trap, The Mission, The Trek and The Assault. The opening chapters introduces readers to a man named Sam Flood, a merchant sailor aboard the S.S. Fleming  (an ode to the James Bond author?) during World War 2. The freighter is attempting to sail through the Vitiaz Straits, a guarded canal thick with Japanese torpedo boats. The destination is northern Australia, a temporary safe haven from enemy-occupied New Guinea and New Britain. After the ship is struck and sunk, Flood and two-dozen passengers are forced to navigate back by sailboat to a Japanese torpedo base in the New Britain jungle. The opening act climaxes when Flood escapes the base and makes a daring run through the jungle to find an Australian widow named Nora. Together, the two contact allied forces from a Coast-Watcher's tower.

The bulk of the narrative follows protagonist Captain Mike Shaw and his partner Corporal Neal Miller as they embark on a do-or-die mission to destroy the Japanese base. By doing so, they can liberate the prison camp and provide a safe zone for the fleeing fleets to safely journey to Australia. The author's depiction of the fighting-man Shaw is enhanced by the character's need to avenge his wife and children's deaths at the hands of Japanese forces. As an older character, his skills and abilities are balanced well with the much younger, more able Miller. To help offset some of the doom and gloom, Albert places a comedic character into the narrative, a drunken former WW1 flying ace named Qualey. Once the mission unfolds, the story flirts with the romantic pairing of Shaw and Nora – two widows horribly affected by war with a saving grace found within each other.

Skylark Mission is popcorn fiction done right. Albert is a terrific writer, and his ability to skirt the surface of this action-packed narrative is a testament to his storytelling. While being laced with WW2 atrocities, the book doesn't weigh down readers with a lot of emotional baggage. The emphasis is high-adventure, fisticuffs and blazing gunfire to please men's adventure readers and fans. In emulating the British style, Albert's delivery recalls a Jack Higgins novel, complete with a propulsive narrative and just enough variance in characters to keep readers invested in their destiny and fate. In other words, it simply doesn't get much better than Skylark Mission.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Swamp Nymph

Swamp noir was a popular American sub-genre of the 1950s and 1960s born from the idea that the rural backwoods was teeming with sexy, duplicitous babes seeking to take advantage of city slickers who crossed their paths. In 1962, sleaze-fiction maven John Burton Thompson (1911-1994) got into the act with Swamp Nymph, a short novel that has recently been reprinted by Cutting Edge Books. 

Charles Carraway III is a 30 year-old wealthy scion of a chemical company who just caught his wife showering with her tennis partner in his mansion filled with servants. He responds in kind by forming a sexual relationship with his Swedish maid - a coupling that, for various reasons, can never be more than a fling. To escape all the problems of the world, he heads south to Louisiana in his private plane for a much-needed vacation. 

The Swamp Nymph in question isn’t introduced until well into the paperback. Her name is Shayne, and she’s a 19 year-old beguiling beauty living near the Amite River in rural Louisiana. She was sexually assaulted at a young age and has avoided the company of men ever since despite a desire for love and intimacy. Thompson does a nice job of making Shayne sympathetic and attractive to male readers who will want to rescue this girl from her own past. 

For nearly the whole novel, the plot toggles between the Charles story and the Shayne story. The book is really not about their romance because they don’t even meet until 85% into the novel. The entire plot is just a series of life events and romantic near-misses that eventually bring them to the same swamp community at the same time. 

It’s hard to tell from the cover of these swamp paperbacks if a particular book is a crime-noir novel in disguise (like Harry Whittington’s Backwoods Tramp) or just a standard soft-core sex story. Swamp Nymph is definitely not a crime novel, and the sex scenes are so tepid that they’d hardly raise an eyebrow today. It’s really the story of When Charles Met Shayne and it takes a pretty basic, rather lengthy and mostly unremarkable route to get there. 

Thompson was a better writer than his genre deserved, but his plotting in Swamp Nymph was a slow road to nowhere. I didn’t hate the book, but life is short. You deserve to be reading better books than this one.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 10, 2020

Paperback Warrior - Episode 56

You don’t want to miss Episode 56 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast. We tackle the career and work of Charles Williams. Also discussed: Vechel Howard, Howard Rigsby, Gil Brewer's Sin for Me, and a discussion of the films and fiction of S. Craig Zahler. Listen on your favorite podcast app, at paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 56: Charles Williams" on Spreaker.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Betty Zane (aka The Last Ranger)

The books of Zane Grey (real name Pearl Zane Grey, 1872-1939) are considered to be a cornerstone of western fiction. His best-selling novel Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) may be the most popular western of all time, a genre-defining work that has been adapted to film five times. As a longtime fan of westerns, I often found Grey as being an antiquated voice with whom I couldn't connect. However, after many years of passing by his books on the shelves, I decided to try his very first novel, Betty Zane. It was originally published in 1903 and later reprinted for modern audiences in 1974 as The Last Ranger.

Betty Zane is the author's attempt to organize and recount his own family's history. Grey's great-grandfather, Colonel Ebenezer Zane, is memorialized in Wheeling, WV for his imperishable defense of Fort Henry on September 11, 1782. The novel, while not exactly a western tale, describes the rugged frontier life of early pioneers. Their labors, triumphs and intestinal fortitude is described in the days leading up to that violent, awe-inspiring event in American history. The novel is a fantastic historical presentation that can be enjoyed as a stand-alone title, but the characters continue in Grey's sequels, The Spirit of the Border (1906) and The Last Trail (1909). These books make up what is often referred to as Grey's Frontier Trilogy or Ohio River Valley Trilogy.

Despite it's original title of Betty Zane, the novel features an assortment of characters who reside at Fort Henry, a border settlement on the eastern side of the Ohio River. On the western side lies numerous Native American tribes and their French allies. Ebenezer Zane has four brothers residing at the fort with him, Silas, Andrew, Jonathan and Isaac, as well as one sister, Betty. The book also introduces the McColloch and Wetzel family as well as a love interest for Betty in Alfred Clarke. All of these characters form the fabric of this settler’s tale. The reader bears witness to them defending the fort, attacking nearby tribes or - in Isaac's case - escaping from the Wyandot tribe.

Perhaps my favorite character in this book, and probably the entire trilogy, is Lew Wetzel. In the introduction to Spirit of the Border, the author candidly describes the character:

“He was never a pioneer but always a hunter after Indians. When not on the track of the savage foe, he was in the settlement with his keen eye and ear always alert for signs of the enemy.”

The author's astute perception of Wetzel as a hunter is important. While the real-life characters that make up Betty Zane are resilient, Wetzel is a different breed. In any violent vigilante or Syndicate-themed novel of the 60s, 70s or 80s, one would be hard pressed to find a more barbaric, ruthless aggressor than Lew Wetzel. His hardened soul binds his fate as a man who knows no other way. He repeatedly turns away Betty's advances and explains that he only exists as a forest predator, never to be domesticated or ruled. The characterization is emphasized in the book's closing pages as Wetzel rips off his hunting shirt and cleaves his enemy to death with an axe. To quote Grey, “...he had forgotten that he was defending the Fort with its women and its children. He was fighting because he loved to kill.”

Zane Grey was learning to write a novel and was probably frustrated that Betty Zane wasn't a smooth telling. Despite its fragmented delivery, the novel is loaded with action and busy frontier life. From Betty's adventures in helping in the fort's defense to Isaac's capture and imprisonment, the narrative comes to life extremely well and makes for an easy, pleasant reading experience once readers adjust to Grey's writing style. In pairing the plot with the history of the country, the tumultuous territory and the hardened people that lived there, Grey's novel is a true testament to both the early settlers and the Native Americans. Both parties were desperately grasping for independence in a rugged, unsettled frontier and that sentiment is echoed masterfully by Grey's novel. Betty Zane is an absolute classic.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Pack (aka The Long Dark Night)

Horror novels of the 1970s often had an irresistibly cheesy quality about them, but that doesn’t foreclose the possibility that the books were genuinely scary and well-crafted. David Fisher’s The Pack from 1976 was popular enough to sustain multiple printings and inspire the film adaptation The Long Dark Night in 1977. Today, The Pack has received a resurgence in popularity thanks to a reprint by Valencourt Press as part of the publisher’s Paperbacks from Hell series of reissues.

The prologue begins at the end of the summer season on Burrows Island across New York’s Long Island Sound. A family has a “summer dog” named Jake adopted to keep the kids occupied during their extended vacation on the island. Rather than taking Jake back to the city for the winter, dad ties the pup to a tree (no, really) leaving him behind while the family ferries off the island. The hope is that Jake can work himself free of the rope and fend for himself in the wild. It’s a heartbreaking scene that made me feel that these humans deserve whatever is coming their way.

Evidently, the abandonment of domesticated dogs is not unusual on the island. The orphaned pups form a pack of newly-wild Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters, German Shepherds, Collies and more to hunt deer and survive on the Island throughout the harsh winter. The author went to great pains to make the ferocious pack of hounds among the sweetest breeds on Earth. Seeing the setup, you know this paperback is going to be a whole lot of fun and probably not take itself too seriously.

We then meet the Hardman family. They’re Manhattan fancies who are bringing their kids - as well Dopey the basset hound - to the island for a two-week winter vacation with the knowledge that the place will be darn-near deserted in the snowy off-season. Larry Hardman is a reasonable fellow, and his wife Diane is a spoiled Bloomingdales shopper who I wanted ripped to shreds by wild toy poodles from the moment she was introduced. Larry’s parents live year-round on the island, so three generations of the Hardman clan will be reunited on this trip before the killing begins.

There’s not much fat or foreplay in this paperback. Things go sideways and get bloody rather quickly and the mayhem keeps coming thereafter. The Pack has fantastic tension - mostly due to the threat the mad dogs pose to the family’s most vulnerable members. As a horror novel, it’s not particularly realistic but there’s nothing supernatural happening here either. The paperback reminded me of Cujo meets Night of the Living Dead with vivid characters being called to unlikely acts of heroism.

I could quibble with this or that within the paperback, but why bother? The Pack was a successful thrill ride and a lot of fun to read. Too much analysis would spoil things, and this bit of disposable escapism was meant to be enjoyed. Kudos to Valencourt Press for making it available to modern audiences. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Hawker #07 - Detroit Combat

The seventh installment of Randy Wayne White's Hawker series was published by Dell in 1986. Authored under the pseudonym of Carl Ramm, Detroit Combat once again places the series protagonist in a vigilante role. Unlike the prior novels, this entry excludes the mysterious butler Hendricks (my favorite character) and Hawker's wealthy boss Hayes. Other than just a brief mention about a prior conversation, Hawker's instructions and mission has already been established by the novel's first page.

In the opening chapters, readers find James Hawker stripping at a suite in a downtown Detroit office building preparing to have sex against his will. He's there to investigate missing girls, an assignment brought to him by Detroit police because legal obstacles have blocked their path to justice. These women are being captured and forced into sex slavery and trafficking by a woman known as Queen Faith. This downtown suite offers a portion of the puzzle – a discreet porn studio where Hawker has tracked one of the missing girls.

Whether intended or not, the opening chapters have Hawker captured by the sex slavers and forced into a porno shoot with an ugly female sporting a purple mohawk and a penchant for violent sex. At gunpoint, Hawker is forced to accept fellatio before finally breaking his restraints and liberating the girl from the sex racket.

After further investigation, Hawker teams up with two detectives to learn the whereabouts of Queen Faith. In the narrative's interesting, non-violent sections, one of the female detectives attempts to arrest Hawker for his vigilante justice. The two square off in a heated debate over the pros and cons of police procedures. Of course she's ultimately thrown into the novel as a mattress for Hawker, but kudos to White for examining vigilante justice in a debate forum.

Anyone who's familiar with the series, or these types of rapid-fire lone-justice novels, know the pattern and formula. Detroit Combat isn't any different and White proves to be a capable writer throughout the series. The book's fiery finale, set in an enormous mansion, delivers the expected thrills in grand fashion. The book is a testament to the elementary approach to the series: Hawker is a few-brains, all-bullets action-adventure series.

Easter Egg:

The author places a character in the book named Randy White. In one scene, it is said that White "wrote the book on the subject".

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Easy Gun

Elmer Merle Parsons enjoyed a career as a script writer, newspaper editor and author. While in prison for grand theft auto and check fraud, Parsons developed his writing skills, eventually selling his first novel, Self-Made Widow, to Fawcett Gold Medal. His crime fiction output was published using the pseudonym Philip Race, and his three western novels were under the name E.M. Parsons. The last of these, The Easy Gun, was published in 1970 by Fawcett Gold Medal.

The Easy Gun is a unique western as it never fully discloses any clear-cut hero or villain. True accounts of America in the 1800s reflect a striking contrast to fictional western storytelling. In most cases, there were no white or black hats – no heroes or villains. Just simply people enduring and surviving in a merciless place and time in history. Parsons positions his novel's key characters on neutral ground. Little Easy is a confused, troubled young man, and Long Gone Magoffin is a successful businessman saddled with enormous misfortunes.

In the book's beginning, readers find Little Easy in an El Paso jail cheating his fellow cellmates out of money, guitars and pride. After a few days of debauchery, Easy finds himself headed to a long-term prison sentence. However, his father, Big John Easy, pleads with the judge to allow his son one more opportunity to find righteousness. That opportunity involves a large herd of Mexican cattle that John has found and agreed to sell to Long Gone Magoffin, a cattle dealer. John and the judge agree that Little Easy's rightful place is on the range roping cattle instead of liquor and cards. Little Easy departs jail and heads to the range to count cows.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Unfortunately, Big John makes many of the same mistakes that his son does. After Magoffin finds that the cattle are covered in ticks, he refuses to purchase them. Big John, in a drunken rage, confronts the cattle dealer and demands his money. Magoffin, being sensible, attempts to talk Big John off the ledge. A fight ensues and Magoffin is forced to fatally shoot Big John. When word reaches Little Easy, he sets out to avenge his father's murder despite the misinformation that it was a cold-blooded slaying.

Parsons utilizes many of the same elements that makes his crime-fiction engaging – gambling scenes, flawed heroes and villains and numerous characters that serve as a backdrop for his protagonists’ interactions. Once the action moves to a dusty town called Ellsworth, the reader is thrust into an emotional conflict: is Easy justified in his quest for vengeance or is Magoffin the cool-headed businessman that made a tough, but right, choice? I think both characters represent the late 1800s – Easy as the more primitive, unsettled frontiersman and Magoffin the embodiment of the progressive modern west.

Regardless of where your allegiance lies, The Easy Gun is a fantastic story. Sadly, it was published the year of Parsons death. With just a trio of westerns notched on his gun, I imagine that Parsons could have delivered a lot of quality stories given more time. Nevertheless, The Easy Gun is a testament to his talent.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 3, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 55

Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 55 delves into the world of heist fiction with a discussion of Lionel White. Also discussed: Annoying Price Stickers! Louis A. Brennan! Music to Accompany a Good Book! Donald Westlake! Skylark Mission by Ian MacAlister! And much, much more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE: Listen to "Episode 55: Lionel White" on Spreaker.