Monday, December 28, 2020
Monday, December 21, 2020
Friday, December 18, 2020
Altus Press/Steeger Books has compiled several of the stories in two separate volumes with vivid cover art from the original Dime Detective Magazine stories. I bought a copy of Volume 1, and it contains 10 Allhoff novellas - each story about 40 pages long with an introduction by pulp historian Ed Hulse.
Here’s the setup for this twisted series:
Three years before the first installment, Inspector Allhoff was a top Manhattan cop - the best mind in the department. During a raid on a mob hideout, Allhoff was shot and crippled because of a screw-up by a rookie patrolman named Battersly. The young officer is forced to live with the fact that he is responsible for Allhoff being rendered a double-amputee.
Stay with me because it gets better:
The NYPD doesn’t want to lose Allhoff’s investigative talents, so they quietly keep him on the payroll and set him up in a decaying apartment near the police station. They assign Allhoff a partner to run down the leads devised by the crippled genius to solve difficult crimes and mysteries. The partner? Former patrolman Battersly, the man responsive for Allhoff’s crippled condition. It would be an understatement to say that the relationship between the two men is strained. The psychologically-damaged Allhoff is sadistic and cruel to the young officer, and Battersly is wracked with guilt for the mistake he made years earlier. Despite this dysfunctional pairing, impossible crimes get solved.
The stories are narrated by an older cop named Simmonds who also assists Allhoff with paperwork and bears witness to the tortuous cruelty directed at Battersly. Imagine if Sherlock Holmes was an embittered legless lunatic who solved crimes while psychologically torturing Watson at every opportunity, and you get the idea behind the Allhoff series.
In the first story “Three Men and A Half” (1938), the setup for the series is laid out nicely by Simmonds for the reader. A visiting homicide detective from Chicago seeks Allhoff’s help with a vexing murder case disguised as a suicide. Allhoff dispatches Simmonds and Battersly to gather evidence from the crime scene and bring it to Allhoff’s apartment. Some impressive deduction combined with a clever bluff smokes out the killer when all the suspects are gathered to hear Allhoff’s accusing monologue. It’s a good Sherlock Holmes-styled mystery but not action-packed at all.
By necessity, Allhoff is essentially an armchair detective, so the rare pulpy violence is left up to Battersly and Simmonds who manage the fieldwork. This works well because D.L. Champion was an excellent writer - way better than must of his pulp cohorts. The mysteries he devised for the Allhoff stories are clever and well thought-out.
“Suicide in Blue” from 1940 was the tenth published Allhoff mystery and the final story in this first collection of cases. There has been a spate of murders lately among people who previously received extortion letters. The police commissioner requests Allhoff’s help in uncovering the truth about these mysterious killings. The solution to this one was pretty darn smart.
If you can stomach an unpleasant wretch of a main character, you’ll probably really enjoy the Allhoff stories. They’re not action stories, but the deduction-based mysteries are smart and well-written. Once again, the reprint publisher did a great job resurrecting a lost character series, and the world is a better place for it.
Buy a copy of this book HERE
Thursday, December 17, 2020
Our narrator is a Southern California tow-truck driver named Ed Hawkins who suffered an injury to during WW2 resulting in an artificial plastic jaw holding his contorted face together. Somehow he landed a nice wife and a beautiful son despite his disfigured face. When Hawkins learns that a local big-shot lawyer with political connections was caught a few towns away molesting a high-schooler whose parents opted not to press charges, his mind turns to blackmail.
While contemplating the shakedown, Hawkins spends time rationalizing the morality of his actions. In doing so, he breaks down the fourth wall and challenges the reader’s own assumptions about right and wrong. It’s an interesting literary gambit employed by Hano, who’s an excellent conversational writer with a distinct literary voice.
As you might expect, Hawkins’ scheme meets some serious bumps in the road. The blackmail story was compelling, and I couldn’t figure out where it was going. Suffice to say, there’s a hot-to-trot dame involved and plenty of rather dark twists along the way. Be forewarned: The final act got rather weird and uncomfortable. I won’t give it away here, but I’m still trying to decide if the conclusion worked for me or not. There was also a local politics subplot that was hard to follow, but didn’t take up much space.
Overall, I enjoyed So, I’m a Heel. Hano is a solid author, and you’ll never be bored with his plotting. Despite some unusual turns, he wrote an effective story with a memorable lead character that’s certainly worth your time.
Buy a copy of this book HERE
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Jeff Pride is a former international private investigator turned travel agent (back when that was a thing) who bounces around the world with his sexy Asian-American secretary-sidekick Cherry. Cherry wants to get romantic with Jeff, but he thinks that would be unwise for a number of valid reasons that I’ll let Jeff explain to you when you read the book. Cherry’s flirtation with her boss is a running gag in the novel and presumably the series. In any case, she’s a perfect sidekick character for a novel like this.
As the paperback opens, Jeff is in his Israeli hotel room when he awakens to find the corpse of a guy in a suit lying on the ground next to his bed. An altercation in the room brings Israeli police into the picture. The cops take Jeff’s passport pending further investigation. For his part, Jeff figures that the situation arose from his heroic past rather than his benign current job as a travel consultant.
The killing, violence and skullduggery all concerns a missing art piece - a ceramic rose hand-crafted by Leonardo da Vinci. Dangerous people think that the dead guy in the hotel delivered it to Jeff who actually knows nothing about the damn thing. One thing leads to another and Jeff agrees to get back into the investigation game and find the ceramic rose.
I really enjoyed The DaVinci Rose primarily because Jeff Pride is such a great narrator. The action took the character all over Israel balancing a treasure hunt adventure with a hardboiled mystery. I’m looking forward to reading the next installment. Recommended.
Buy a copy of this book HERE
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
Invasion from 2500 takes place in contemporary 1964 America. While Korean War veteran Jack Eskridge is driving through the desolate rolling hills of South Dakota, the night sky illuminates with a flash. Jack witnesses the formation of an illuminated arch from which armored men and war machines begin emerging. The author’s description matches the paperback’s cover art by illustrator Ralph Brillhart perfectly. A good cover brings the author’s vision to life, and anything else is just generic packaging - a wrapper thrown on a product with no thought or care. In this case, the artist clearly read the book and understood his role.
It doesn’t take long - only a couple pages - before this invading force of high-tech soldiers wearing gas masks functionally take over large U.S. cities while most Americans are cowering in their homes. The invaders’ airships spray a gas on populations to overcome resistance while Jack and a hitchhiker attempt to outrun the invaders.
The reality concerning the identity of the invading force is pretty much given away in the paperback’s title - a tactical mistake since their origin was a big second-half revelation. The oppressors from the future have some insidious plans for the good people of 1964 that I won’t give away here. Fortunately, an underground resistance similar to what arose in France during WW2 forms to oppose the invaders. If you’re into cool time-travel paradoxes, there’s more than a few in this short paperback.
Overall, Invaders from 2500 is a simple, but very exciting, work of vintage fun. It’s a great gateway drug into the world of science fiction for readers approaching the genre from a background of action-adventure pulp fiction. With breakneck action from start to finish merged with cool time travel ideas, this old book is a real winner.
Buy a copy of this book HERE
Monday, December 14, 2020
Friday, December 11, 2020
One for the Road begins in the Florida gulf coast town of De Soto, populated by mosquitoes, sea turtles, and rich widows. The old dames are the draw for our narrator, a con-artist and Korean War vet named Larry Roberts, who grew up a poor orphan and has decided to spend his adult life remedying that by latching onto a rich sugar mama and then disappearing with her money. He meets a 40 year-old wealthy woman named Sophie with a smoking hot body and a decent face. Even better: her husband has been dead for a year.
So Larry is a bit of a heel and a misogynist. He’s also charming, clever, funny and unrepentant. You hate yourself for liking him as much as you do - especially when he’s conning money out of an otherwise nice and loving lady. Getting rich quick and dishonestly isn’t a noble pursuit, but it definitely makes for compelling reading. As the paperback progresses, a cool gambling subplot becomes a major source of tension and anxiety for both Larry and the reader before settling into a rather typical femme fatale story.
The coolest things about this thin paperback were the innovative story arcs and vivid settings. Larry covers a lot of ground in the novel, which basically weaves three separate plots into an overarching narrative. I read a lot of these books, and I had no idea where this one was heading. The plotting was just masterful.
Of the Howard Hunt books I’ve read, One for the Road is the best of the bunch by a country mile. There’s sex, violence, duplicity and intrigue. I’m thrilled to see this paperback has made a comeback for modern audiences. This is the vintage novel you deserve. Highly recommended.
Buy a copy of this book HERE
Thursday, December 10, 2020
The paperback doesn’t waste any time getting into the action. It’s Friday evening in Suburban Boston, and Josephine is abducted by a strange man with a gun in a restaurant parking lot. He forces himself into her car and tells her to drive home. We quickly learn that his name is Arthur Dawson, and he escaped from a New Hampshire prison two days earlier.
The dynamic between Josephine and Arthur is interesting. She’s more concerned about her reputation in the community than she is for her own safety. As such, her initial plan is to comply with her captor in hopes that he doesn’t harm her, gets a meal, and moves onward without her. Of course, it doesn’t work out that way.
Because it’s a Midwood book, there’s lots of sexual tension that arises between Josephine and Arthur. She’s a virgin with a big rack. He hasn’t been with a woman in nine years. You get the picture. Eventually, he takes her on the road to evade the cops, and a romantic interest develops. In fact, The Captive is more of a well-written romance than a violent thriller or a sex-drenched sleaze paperback.
The Captive was compelling, but there wasn’t much meat on the bones. It’s a quick read and never dull - just insubstantial. If you can find it cheap, you may like it, but certainly don’t spend too much on this lightweight distraction of a novel.
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Our narrator is UCLA college professor Paul Cameron, and he’s hearing voices in his head. He first assumes it’s a form of madness, but it sounds like his mind is somehow intercepting a transmission not intended for Paul’s inner ear. It’s nothing particularly coherent - mostly just sentence fragments and phrases without much context. However, things get scary for Paul when he overhears the voice in his head declare, “Someone is listening.” Is Paul the someone? If so, who is the speaker? The bits and pieces Paul catches over the next few weeks make it clear that whoever is speaking is desperate to find and eliminate Paul for listening to a conversation he was never intended to hear.
It’s the not-too-distant future, and America is gearing up for its second manned mission to Mars. Both cover art variations of the paperback give away that the Martians are the hostile menace that Paul is intercepting. Science fiction has always had a bias towards alien invasions using gleaming spaceships, but the author of Corpus Earthling has a different vision of hostile invaders - one arising from the tropes of demonic horror fiction - invasion through possession.
When Paul’s mind isn’t occupied by interstellar eavesdropping, it’s focused on his sexy new neighbor, Erika and his seductive student Laurie. For a guy trying to save the world from a Martian invasion, he spends a lot of time also trying to get laid. I’ve never been in his position, so I probably shouldn’t judge.
If you’re familiar with the story structure of a typical 1960 crime noir novel, you’ll feel right at home with Corpus Earthling. The paperback has mystery, melodrama, non-graphic sex, action, a femme fatale, a religious cult and a manipulative foe. It definitely draws from a pulp fiction tradition as opposed to the overly-smart SF epics of Robert Heinlein or Frank Herbert. Overall, the short paperback was a lot of fun to read, and further cemented Louis Charbonneau as one of my favorite new discoveries of 2020.
Buy a copy of this book HERE
Tuesday, December 8, 2020
The paperback begins with Steele riding shotgun on a stagecoach headed through the perilous Guadalupe Mountains. With a location between American Arizona, New Mexico and Mexican Sonora, the dusty trail is ripe with thieving bandits and savage Native Americans. Within the opening pages, the stagecoach is attacked by a woman and a band of gun-slinging outlaws. They've caught wind that a cache of money is hidden on the coach and want it all for themselves. Steele, who isn't aware the coach was carrying this vast fortune, is robbed along with the passengers, dragged into the desert and left to watch as the bandits ride off with the loot and his signature weapon, the lever-action rifle given to his father by Abraham Lincoln.
Like a blockbuster Hollywood action flick, nearly every chapter of this novel is another over-the-top, rip-roaring adventure with Steele holding his hat on tight while dodging bullets, knives and despicable killers. Determined to retrieve his rifle, Steele heads through the desert with a knife hoping to locate and ambush the gang. Along the way he's captured by Mexican guerrillas, fights Apache warriors, tangles with the Mexican Army before eventually finding himself jailed by a small-town sheriff hellbent on hanging our hero.
I can't help but think that each of these adventure segments in this narrative could have been entire books on their own. Harknett has so many ideas to explore and he seamlessly weaves them all together to make for one highly engrossing and entertaining story. Like his other literary work, the author pulls no punches or knife-thrusts. Gun Run is filled with men, and plenty of women, being tortured, gutted and shot in a rather macabre and grizzly style. No one does westerns quite like Harknett and this book is another exhibit of his crowd-pleasing roughshod style. Highly recommended!
Buy a copy of this book HERE
Monday, December 7, 2020
Friday, December 4, 2020
Phoenix Force's debut novel, Argentine Deadline, was authored by science-fiction writer Robert Hoskins using the house-name tandem of Don Pendleton & Gar Wilson. The novel is the quintessential origin tale centered around Mack Bolan's recruitment of five super-soldiers:
David McCarter – British commando expert with a background as an SAS officer.
Gary Manning – Canadian explosives expert.
Rafael Encizo – Cuban-American expert with a penchant for underwater warfare.
Yakov “Katz” or “Yak” Katzenelenbogen – French-Israeli battle-scarred warrrior.
Kelo Ohara – Japanese martial arts expert.
The introductions to the characters is summarized in the narrative as a round-table first-time meeting with Bolan to discuss the team, long-term goals and the group's first mission. These five commandos are tasked with locating and liberating seven members of a joint peace-keeping think-tank. These men, and one woman, were invited to romantic Argentina by the country's over-taxed government. But instead of a warm welcome and an open exchange of ideas, the scholars are abducted by the terrorist group Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP) and taken into captivity as bargaining chips in a robust ransom scheme.
What I really enjoyed about this series debut is the central idea that Phoenix Force is fully backed by the government and utilizes a number of weapons caches and military offshoots to accomplish their mission (or die trying). The book's main stars are McCarter and Manning, a fighting duo who does much of the heavy lifting throughout the narrative. Nearly all of the characters star in solo missions that incur heavy firefights in the quest for information. These solo missions are really effective in displaying each character's strengths combined with their background.
While I felt that the villains were a little weak (but much stronger than something like S-Com), the narrative and plot-points were a real pleasure to consume. Argentine Deadline is a far more superior series debut than Able Team's Tower of Terror, which was released in the same month. I'm sure I will have plenty to like and dislike about both series titles as I navigate further into the expansive Bolan universe. But with a firm opening foothold, Argentine Deadline is a solid step in the right direction.
Buy a copy of this book HERE
Thursday, December 3, 2020
The entire paperback takes place over about 12 hours in Honolulu, Hawaii. Jim Egan is a brutal but effective white Honolulu Police detective who’s always ready to bruise his knuckles on a mugger’s jaw. For Egan, it’s less about his professional duty and more about revenge. Years ago, his wife was raped and knifed in front of his house in Waikiki. Since then, the detective has never been the same and finds himself in a perpetual Dirty Harry mode.
Meanwhile, Ki Auna is a young and handsome undercover Hawaiian cop with a personal charm, high IQ, and ability to build rapport that makes him successful. He’s also terrified of the ocean, which presents a real life obstacle when you live on an island surrounded by the churning sea. When Egan and Ki are paired up to investigate a major embezzlement from a local import-export company, we find ourselves in a typical buddy-cop story where two opposite personalities work towards a logical solution with plenty of cultural tension in the mix.
At the paperback’s outset, an undersea earthquake in Chile triggers a set of tsunami waves working their way west across the Pacific Ocean headed for Hawaii (Reviewer Note: This happens frequently in real life. Most of the time, it’s a false alarm. In 1960, it was deadly). The killer tidal wave headed for Hawaii gives Cassiday the opportunity to ratchet up the tension with an impending doomsday scenario humming in the background among the police procedural stuff.
But what about the girl in the trunk? The cover promised a naked blonde corpse in the back of a sedan. What gives? Well, that happens as well, but it takes a few chapters for the financial crime caper to evolve into a dead naked lady story. Is the embezzler also a lady killer? Or is something more sinister afoot? It’s up to Egan and Ki to solve the crime and catch the bad guy before Oahu is washed away by a tidal wave.
The author throws a variety of subplots including one involving the chief of detectives whose daughter embraces the counter-culture of Hawaiian sovereignty and the hippie grifters fronting the movement. Meanwhile, Egan’s brutal treatment of Waikiki muggers is stirring up controversy with the local newspaper that the department doesn’t need. The ensemble cast assembled reminded me of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct meets Hawaii Five-O.
To his credit, Cassiday gets Honolulu culture and topography pretty accurate with all the right landmarks in all the right places. He also does a commendable job of profiling the mixed-plate of various ethnicities comprising Hawaii’s local populous. Honolulu’s real urban problems - muggings, poverty and racial unrest - were spot-on, and the paperback never falls into the trap of overplaying the focus on beach culture with cartoonish Hawaiian characters. Somehow, Cassiday grasped local culture with great accuracy.
A few years ago, I read and reviewed a 1957 Bruce Cassiday paperback called The Buried Motive that I felt was sub-par. I’m glad I gave the author another shot as The Girl in the Trunk is a far superior novel in every way. It’s a well-written murder mystery, police procedural, tropical island adventure, and disaster novel rolled into 189 pages. What’s not to like?
Wednesday, December 2, 2020
The novel's action is set in 1942 in the highly contested Philippines. Historically, three years later the U.S. would commit to Operation Victor V to fully liberate the country from Japanese occupation. In the book's opening pages, the American battered 7th Bomb Group are packing up to fly out 200 airmen from the northern area of the country. Afterwards, they will destroy the runway and remaining supplies, so the enemy forces can't offensively utilize them.
Cortesi's narrative begins to unfold when the bombing is are just set to depart. Through radio chatter, they learn that 600 American and Philippines guerrilla fighters have somehow miraculously escaped from the heavily fortified northern country of Luzon (Manila) and are headed their way for reinforcements, supplies and much needed rest. Faced with an extreme decision, the group can't wait for the large force to arrive and they can't obtain aerial support large enough to recover 600 servicemen. Forced to abandon the group, they radio to the servicemen that if the soldiers can somehow make it another 100 miles to the southern coast, they will find gunships that can safely carry them to Australia.
Escape from Mindanao is only 190-pages but is epic in design and presentation. The book works from four different perspectives – the airmen forced to leave the advancing group, the ground forces that make up the 600 determined travelers, Japanese commanders and the wife of one of the guerrilla fighters. Together, the story is weaved together through these various segments. Cortesi's strength as an aerial and nautical storyteller helps to navigate what otherwise would be a rather complicated narration. The novel's various plot elements became a smooth, easily entertaining read.
Escape from Mindanao should be well received by military fiction fans but can also work as a stylish jungle adventure. It's dynamic, rather unique and action-soaked both on the ground and in the air. After the rather dull Rogue Sergeant experience, I'm glad I have found favor with Lawrence Cortesi. He has a robust body of work, and I'm now anxious to explore it further.
Buy a copy of this book HERE
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Between 1947 and 1960, Stewart Sterling (a pseudonym of Prentice Winchell) authored an eight-book series starring Manhattan hotel detective Gil Vine, the security man and troubleshooter at the high-end Plaza Royale. Since the series order doesn’t matter, I’m starting with the fourth installment, Alibi Baby from 1955.
The novel opens with Gil being summoned to a suite on the hotel’s expensive 32nd floor. The suite was rented by two twentysomething sisters. While one sister was out nightclubbing, the sister who stayed behind claims to have been sexually assaulted by a strange intruder in her hotel room. She provides Gil with a description of her rapist before she is sedated and taken to the hospital.
This presents a professional and ethical dilemma for Gil. He understands that rape is serious business, and the right thing to do is call the police. However, with no signs of forced entry, the hysterical girl’s story doesn’t make much sense. Moreover, Gil’s job is to protect the guests as well as the reputation of the Plaza Royale. Another wrinkle is that the girl’s description of the rapist matches the guest across the hall, a multi-millionaire French oil magnate. Inconveniently, the Frenchman is nowhere to be found when Gil knocks on his door.
The author provides fascinating insights into the hotel business and the legalities surrounding the hotel detective role. In fact, Sterling co-authored a non-fiction tell-all book about the career titled, I Was a House Detective. Without question, much of his research for that book worked its way into his Gil Vine novels. You learn about the hierarchy of hotel waiters with room service at the top and temporary banquet servers at the bottom. The hotel’s telephone switchboard operator is a nosy but fantastic source of information for Gil as he tries to get to the bottom of the alleged sexual assault.
Alibi Baby is a competent whodunnit mystery novel where nothing is as it initially seems. Gil Vine is an affable narrator, and it’s fun to have a guy working to solve a violent crime who is neither a private eye or a cop. The book has been reprinted on Kindle and Audible, and fans of intricate hardboiled mysteries will certainly enjoy this one. Recommended.
Buy a copy of this book HERE