Friday, November 27, 2020

Thanksgiving Rewind #5

We conclude our week of classic shows with the most popular Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode ever: "The Casca Controversy" where we investigate allegations of plagiarism in one of the most popular series of all time. Buckle in and listen HERE

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving Rewind #4

Happy Thanksgiving! Our Paperback Warrior rerun today is Episode 20 where we covered Ed McBain's popular 87th Precinct series coupled with Lawrence Block's "The Girl with the Long Green Heart." Check it out HERE

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Thanksgiving Week Rewind #3

Throwback Week Continues! Episode 14 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast was our first attempt at investigative journalism where we blew the lid off the practice of utilizing ghostwriters to draft series novels. We also reviewed novels by Wade Miller and Chet Cunningham. Listen HERE

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Thanksgiving Week Rewind #2

On this installment of our classic rewind week, we go back to Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 7 where we examined the crime-noir work of Richard Matheson, along with reviews of books by John D. MacDonald and William W. Johnstone. Check it out right HERE

Monday, November 23, 2020

Thanksgiving Week Rewind #1

We are celebrating Thanksgiving week by revisiting some of Paperback Warrior Podcast’s classic episodes. Today we present our show debut - before we had any idea what we were doing. Be gentle with us as we discuss Lawrence Block, The Penetrator and more in this humble podcast beginning. Check it out right HERE

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Hottest Fourth of July in the History of Hangtree County

I’ve always regarded Clifton Adams (1919-1971) as a hardboiled author who happened to set most of his novels in the historic American West. Western fiction practitioners like Louis L’Amour mastered the setting and adventure of the Old West, but Adams focused on the malfeasance and skullduggery of the inhabitants. Case in point: The Hottest Fourth of July in the History of Hangtree County from 1964.

The novel begins early in the morning of July 4, 1892 in the town of Elbow, Oklahoma with excited children lighting off firecrackers in the town’s wagon yard driving the townsfolk’s dogs bananas. Marshal Ott Gilman awakens to face the long, hot day ahead. Despite the heat and drought making life difficult for ranchers in booming Oklahoma territory, everyone is excited for a day and night of patriotic rowdy merriment following the afternoon parade. The territory has been growing faster than the municipality can handle, and it’s clear that one Marshal and an aging deputy aren’t enough to police the entire town swelling with drunken cowhands and ranchers.

Early in the day, two gun-toting hardcase brothers named Pete and Willy Prince ride into town in anticipation of the celebration. After menacing the town’s barber, the outlaws learn that their family’s old nemesis, Marshal Gilman, is the law in Elbow, and the brothers have an axe to grind. The dispute goes back a few years to Texas, and it has more to do with the older Prince brother, Nick. The younger brothers send word to Nick that they’ve located Marshal Gilman, and Nick is taking a train from Oklahoma City with another family member to settle the score. For his part, the Marshal seems determined to avoid an altercation with the Prince boys - a passive stance that can only last so long in a violent western paperback.

The backstory about why the Prince brothers are hell-bent on seeing Marshal Gilman dead by nightfall is a revealed little by little throughout the short novel. As the day gets hotter and the brothers get drunker, the violence - both threatened and real - reaches a boiling point. The steps the Marshal takes to ensure he’s not the one greeting July 5 in a pine box also serve to ratchet up the paperback’s tension to a wailing siren.

The arrival of the train carrying Nick and the violent confrontation thereafter are pure gold. The cast of vivid supporting characters is also top-notch. Overall, The Hottest Fourth of July in the History of Hangtree County is a perfect winner, if you like your westerns told through the prism of a hardboiled vendetta story. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, November 19, 2020

John Easy #01 - If Dying Was All

Pop-culture historian and multi-genre author Ron Goulart wrote four novels and three short stories starring a swinging Hollywood private eye named John Easy in the 1970s. Thanks to Mysterious Press, the novels remain in print today, so I’m starting the series with the first installment, If Dying Was All, from 1971.

An Oscar-winning screenwriter named Mr. McCleary hires Easy to solve a family mystery. The client’s daughter Jackie committed suicide by jumping into the Pacific Ocean five years ago, yet Mr. McCleary just received a letter from the girl. Fortunately for the plot, Jackie’s body was never recovered. In the letter, Jackie says she’s in trouble, but she can’t come into the open just yet. Jackie drops a lot of inside info, and the handwriting looks right. Convinced that his twentysomething daughter is alive and in trouble, the old man hires Easy to find Jackie.

Easy isn’t convinced Jackie is alive, but he follows logical leads - gossipy news clippings, the post-office, her friend-group, etc. This brings him in the orbit of many quirky California types, but Easy is himself is rather generic. In fact, he makes fictional detectives like Mike Shayne and Johnny Liddell seem downright charismatic in comparison. Instead of imbuing Easy with personality, Goulart chooses to make him a competent professional among scads of California stereotypes (“The classical string quartet at the cafe is nude!”).

Man, this was a by-the-numbers tedious and boring book. It’s possible that Goulart was trying to lampoon the private eye genre, but he forgot to actually make it funny. Characters do wacky California things like grab Easy’s crotch while he’s interviewing them, but these attempts at promiscuous edginess fell flat to me. The entire novel is just a series of interviews Easy conducts with witnesses and possible suspects who may have knowledge of Jackie’s death or disappearance. By the time we arrive at a solution to the central mystery, I was way past caring.

If any of this sounds like your thing, please just read any of the Carter Brown mysteries. He did the same thing so much better. If Dying Was All isn’t even bad enough to be noteworthy. The novel is blessedly short, so you won’t need to suffer through much tedium to reach the ending. Better idea: just skip it altogether.

Buy a copy of this book (if you must) HERE

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

This Crowded Earth

Although he is best known for horror fiction including Psycho, Robert Bloch (1917-1994) was a multi-genre talent with several crime, suspense and science fiction paperbacks as well. This Crowded Earth was a short novel from 1958 that originally appeared in Amazing Stories Magazine exploring the repercussions of rampant overpopulation in the dystopian future of 1997.

As a single man, Harry Collins is only allotted a one-room apartment in a smothering futuristic Chicago with a population of 38 million. Every sidewalk and elevator ride is a crushing mob of humanity. A simple commute to the office for a few miles is a two-hour ordeal. The overpopulation itself is caused by a lack of war and disease that has pushed human life expectancy well into the 90s. A public policy decision that economically rewards couples for having children as well as a lack of meaningful immigration restrictions further exacerbates the population explosion. Basically, everything sucks.

Bloch does a great job of world-building in the opening chapters while giving the reader the same sense of claustrophobia experienced by every character in the novel. A nervous breakdown lands Harry in a government sanitarium with plenty of living space, tons of green land and woodsy trails to stroll. There’s also a flirtatious nurse who seems to really dig our boy. It all seems too good to be true.

Harry’s bubble is burst when he is visited on the asylum grounds by a mysterious stranger who shares the truth about his current living situation. I’m not going to give it away here, but nothing at the facility is what it seems. Suffice it to say that Harry’s mental well-being is the last thing on anybody’s mind on the campus.

There’s a fantastically paranoid early-novel twist that leads to a larger public policy prescription that is both bonkers and offensive to modern sensibilities. The politically-incorrect “solution” to the overpopulation problem is so nuts that even if I spoiled it for you, you wouldn’t believe me. I wish Bloch were still alive, so I could ask him if he meant it to be funny. It’s certainly creative and audacious.

It’s clear that Bloch was a man of ideas, and boy-o-boy does he shoehorn a lot of ideas into this short novel. Many are harebrained, but others are interesting. The plot fascinated me, but there wasn’t a ton of action. If you’re looking for a science fiction shoot-em-up, this isn’t the story for you. I have no particular expertise in speculative fiction, but I genuinely enjoyed the heck out of this one. I’m glad that it remains available from paperback reprint publisher Armchair Fiction.

It’s interesting to read a science fiction novel from 60 years ago predicting how awful the world would be 20 years ago. We have our own unique problems today, but none are as dire as the fiction of This Crowded Earth, and that’s a relief. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Malay Woman

A.S. Fleischman (Avron Zalmon Fleischman, 1920-2010) was a notable children's book writer whose fiction concentrated on the art of magic. From 1948-1963, Fleischman also wrote crime-fiction for leading paperback publishers like Fawcett Gold Medal and Ace. I adored his 1963 novel The Venetian Blonde and was anxious to try one of his earlier books. Flieschman had a penchant for setting his adventure and crime-noir novels in exotic Asian locales so I decided to try the Far East novel Malay Woman originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1954.

The book begins in a Singapore airport and introduces Jock Hamilton, a once thriving rubber plantation manager who is desperately attempting to catch an outbound flight to Melbourne. In his first-person narration, Hamilton explains to readers that he's a fugitive wanted for allegedly killing his wife. Of course, he's innocent but his circle of friends and allies have shrunk since the killing. After the police begin searching the airport, Hamilton escapes onto the street and eventually sneaks onto a steamship headed to Malaysia. But Hamilton doesn't realize he's jumped from the pan into the fire.

The middle section of Fleischman's narrative is a captivating crime-noir set within the ship's sleeping quarters. After hiding in a closet to avoid detection, Hamilton overhears two hired killers planning a hit on a wealthy woman named Kay. As a fugitive from justice and an illegal passenger, Hamilton isn't clammoring to report the conversation to the authorities. Instead, he seeks out the woman named Kay to warn her of the killers. Eventually the action relocates to the hot steamy jungles of Malaysia, but I won't connect the narrative's beacon points for you.

Within the hotblooded femme fatale plot, Hamilton reunites with an old friend at a rubber plantation. The problem is that Jock Hamilton may have fallen in love with Kay but his friend's girlfriend Monique is begging for Hamilton's Jock. She blackmails him into a sexual affair by threatening to notify the authorities and Kay of his fugitive status. The entire third act could have written by Orrie Hitt or Gil Brewer.

While I didn't like Malay Woman nearly as much as The Venetian Blonde, it was still a memorable crime-noir laced with adventure and intrigue. Fleischman is such a skillful storyteller and his words just flow accross the pages so easily. I couldn't put the book down in hopes of learning Monique's motives and Hamilton's ultimate fate as the burdened hero. In three acts, Fleischman manages to weave a number of crime-fiction tropes into an enjoyable and enthralling read. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 16, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 70

Paperback Warrior Episode 70 features an overview of the Richard Blade series of sexy sword-and-planet adventures. Also: Phoenix Force! Howard Hunt! Clark Howard! Gor! Lyle Kenyon Engel! And more!  Listen on your favorite podcast app or at paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 70: Richard Blade" on Spreaker.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Hunter's Blood

Tennessee native Jere Cunningham co-wrote a number of made for television movies including Judgment Night (1993) starring Donald Sutherland. Before his move to Hollywood, he authored a handful of suspense and horror novels. Cunningham's first book, Hunter's Blood, was published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1977. It was adapted into a low-budget film in 1986. I disliked the movie but was anxious to find a copy of the original paperback.

Mason, David, Al and Ralph live successful, lucrative lives in the posh suburbs of Memphis. Each year the four men journey to a rural area to hunt deer, reminisce about the good ol’ days and complain about women. This year, Al informs the group that he has recently purchased a secluded, dense stretch of Arkansas timberland. The massive 400-acre spread has been closed to the public for decades.

Before arriving at the dirt paths and trails that lead into the deep forest, the group stop by a trashy roadside bar where they have a fight over ugly women and cheap beer with the local rednecks. The fight eventually spills into the parking lot as the parties hop into vehicles and attempt to outrace one another. Oddly, once the hunters descend into the forest, the beer-swilling hicks hit the brakes and do a U-turn back to town. The city boys condemn the locals as yellow-striped cowards. Little do they know that the act of cowardice was actually stark-white fear.

After camping overnight by the fire, Mason and David wake up and begin trailing a whitetail deer through the foliage. It's here they discover a pile of animal heads and entrails scattered on the forest bed. A short while later, both men stumble into a makeshift camp where Neanderthal men and women are gutting animals and playing with bones and skulls. The shocking scene evolves into Mason fighting to survive and eventually disarming one of the men. This leads to a clash as the hunters are eventually attacked and “hunted” by these violent and strange forest-dwellers.

Cunningham's novel is clearly influenced by the 1972 blockbuster film Deliverance (there's even a comparison to it on the book's cover). I'd also speculate that the author watched Tobe Hooper's 1974 cult-classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre as well. The idea of primitive people living in the backwoods of America's most rural areas was a pop-culture trend that was highlighted by Wes Craven's 1977 film The Hills Have Eyes. Hunter's Blood isn't as extreme or horrific as either of Craven or Hooper's nightmarish imagery, but it's close.

The author's use of the dark forest as a backdrop elevates the intensity and suspense. While the Neanderthals aren't cannibals, they are terrifying as macabre, savage hunters that hack and slash through their victims. In the book's opening chapters, there's an enticing promise that somewhere in the forest lies an abandoned mining town. This addition to the narrative really hammers home the book's climactic finale.

While the book's early dialogue scenes and bar-brawl action was presented as crude and immature, the novel's second half was wildly entertaining. The chase scenes were riveting and each of them seemingly ended in some sort of brutal, bloody mayhem that was consistently rewarding and satisfying. The author never takes things too seriously and the end result is a fun, shocking and memorable reading experience. I'll probably read this crazy book again and again.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Secret Mission #01 - Peking

Don Smith’s Secret Mission series ran for 21 installments between 1968 and 1978. The novels star an international businessman named Phil Sherman who takes dangerous assignments from the CIA, and the books tend to be way better than you’d expect from the publisher, Award Books. Although the series can be read in any order, today we visit the first installment, Secret Mission: Peking.

When the reader first meets our narrator Phil, he’s preparing for an exhibition in Prague where he hopes to sell his products - “electronic computers” (remember, it’s 1968) - to some communist bloc countries. A shadowy U.S. Government operative requests that Phil sell a very specific IBM computer to a Czech electronics broker who would then sell it to Red China. The computer is destined for a Chinese atomic research facility to facilitate the manufacture of a nuclear bomb.

What the Chinese don’t know is that the computer Phil is selling contains a hidden bomb trigger designed to level the Chinese atomic facility (recall that computers were a lot bigger back then.) However, even after the sale is consummated, the U.S. government is not done with Phil. Something is wrong with the computer’s inner workings (besides the bomb trigger), and they need Phil to travel into Red China and fix the giant IBM.

Reluctantly, Phil travels to Peking, and we get a very enjoyable “amateur thrust into the world of spies and intrigue” plot. Phil is a delightful narrator, and a sexy Chinese translator is assigned to accompany him on his mission. Can Phil fix the computer and have it installed in the Chinese atomic weapons facility? More relevantly, can he set the trigger and get out of Peking before things start exploding?

Despite some slow stretches and a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion, Secret Mission: Peking was a solid first-installment and definitely worth reading. It’s not as cartoonishly-exciting as a Nick Carter: Killmaster novel, but it’s more fun than a cerebral John LeCarre espionage potboiler. Phil Sherman is an excellent narrator to take the reader on this suspenseful ride. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Edge #01 - The Loner

“The Most Violent Westerns in Print” was a marketing gimmick utilized by Pinnacle Books for their long-running and wildly successful western series Edge. The books were written by British author Terry Harknett (1936-2019) under the pseudonym George G. Gilman and ran 61 total installments from 1972 through 1989. Harknett also authored a number of other western series titles including the equally successful Adam Steele. In 1989, Harknett even wrote the first of three crossover novels featuring Adam Steele and Edge together serving as the co-heroes. With all that said, I've enjoyed Harknett's various titles over the years and decided I would find out just how violent this Edge series is. I'm starting with the character's debut in Edge #1 - The Loner.

This first book in the series is an origin story explaining how Josiah Hedges became the violent western vigilante Edge. The opening pages features Hedge's innocent young brother Jamie anxiously awaiting his brother's return to their Iowa farm. Hedge has been away fighting in the American Civil War as a noble Captain in the Union Army. After years of sending his paychecks back home, Hedge and Jamie hope to use their savings to expand the family farm. Once Jamie spots some former Union soldiers riding towards his homestead, he begins to expect the worse. His brother isn't with them.

The first two chapters of The Loner isn't for the squeamish. Hedge's compatriots in the Union have been watching him send money back home. They realize he has a sizable officer's pay, and they realize how easily they can acquire this money for themselves. Leaving before Hedge, these six violent criminals arrive at Hedge's farm and immediately shoot Jamie's dog in cold blood. Next, they shoot Jamie in the knee before stringing him up to a tree for torture. Jamie refuses to tell the men where the money is, so they kill him (finally) and burn the Hedge farm to the ground. Hedge arrives to find his brother's broken and bloody corpse among the farm's burning inferno. Retrieving the money from it's hidden location, Hedge rides out to kill the bastards.

The Loner is an intense, stereotypical western that checks off nearly all the western tropes: stagecoach robbery, jailbreak, Indian shootout, horse-stealing, hanging, saloons, revenge and the mandatory madams of the wild, wild west. Hedge, or what most people across the frontier hear as "Edge", is immediately likable and ends nearly every scene with some sort of sarcastic wisecrack. When a sheriff is decapitated, Edge cracks, “Guess you just lost your head, Sheriff.” Sometimes this deterred from the concept that Edge is in mourning for his brother and is hellbent on revenge. However, his savage use of a straight-razor, repeating rifle and Remington pistol reinforces the idea that Edge is a man to take seriously. 

As a series debut, The Loner delivers everything readers want. There's a clear direction for the character, a reason to exist and a defined plot that helps propel this character into endless action and stories for years to come. As a pure western, Harknett delivers the goods in grand style. Nearly every chapter is a bloody testament to violent, old-west storytelling. It's also what any men's action-adventure fan would expect from a publisher like Pinnacle. I'm excited to realize I have 60 more installments to explore. Yee-haw!

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Parker #02 - The Man with the Getaway Face

Richard Stark was the popular pseudonym of Donald Westlake, and his Parker heist-adventures may be the best series of the genre. The second book in the series is The Man with the Getaway Face from 1963, a direct sequel to the opening installment, The Hunter.

Evidently in the 1960s, there was a burgeoning underground industry of plastic surgeons who would change your face if you were on the run from the mafia or the law. Earl Drake did it. Mack Bolan did it. And in the opening scene of Parker #2, our hero has the procedure to stay one step ahead of the mob bosses he upset in the previous book.

The action quickly shifts to new-face Parker being invited to execute an armored car heist with a five-man crew. The original plan was garbage, so Parker agrees to help only if he can rework the scheme and streamline it to a three-man job with bigger shares for each participant.

For the first time in the series, the reader gets to see Parker’s methodology in the planning and execution of a heist. The author walks us through the site survey, bankrolling, gun purchases, vehicle acquisitions and the post-heist location choices. We also get to meet the unreliable team members who sometimes gravitate to this line of work. In this case, the wild card is a dame named Alma who Parker suspects is planning a double-cross.

The heist story forms the core of an excellent Richard Stark heist novel, but there’s an important side plot about someone tracking Parker through his plastic surgeon to settle a score. There’s also a detailed summary of the events from the previous novel, and The Outfit isn’t done with Parker. As such, you should definitely read The Hunter first. Consider yourself warned.

The Man with the Getaway Face is another outstanding installment in this nearly-flawless series. I’m really looking forward to reading the third novel, The Outfit, which ties up loose ends from the first two books. After that, you can pretty much read the series in any order. For the uninitiated: Jump in. Trust me, you’re going to love this series.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 9, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 69

The Paperback Warrior Podcast recognizes Veteran’s Day on today’s episode on World War 2 Adventure Fiction. Also: Stephen Mertz, Max Allan Collins, G.H. Otis, Edward S. Aarons, and more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com, or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 69: World War 2 Fiction" on Spreaker.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Passage by Night

Passage by Night began its publication history as a 1964 release by Hugh Marlowe. The real author was a Brit named Henry Patterson who eventually became famous under his more-successful pseudonym of Jack Higgins. Thereafter, Passage by Night was reprinted under the Higgins name where it remains available today.

The paperback’s hero is Harry Manning, a British charter-boat captain in the Bahamas. However, Manning is more than your typical bleach-blonde boat bum. He used to own a successful salvage business in Havana, and the business was stolen from him when Fidel Castro’s revolution brought a corrupt flavor of communism to Cuba. As a result, Manning is now relegated to taking American tourists scuba diving and spear-fishing in the Bahamas to make ends meet.

It’s somewhat important to keep in mind that when the novel takes place in 1964, the Bahamas was a British crown colony and did not gain its independence until 1973. Manning has a romantic relationship with a Cuban refugee he rescued at sea named Maria Salas, who is currently performing as a singer on the Bahamian island of Spanish Cay. One evening, Maria boards a commuter plane hopping between islands, and the tiny aircraft explodes over the water. Manning is left without a girlfriend but with a mystery to solve. Why would anyone assassinate a Cuban exile torch singer?

The journey to the truth begins as a rather standard - but very compelling - mystery with Manning visiting logical leads on Nassau to discover the identity and motive of the killer. All roads lead to the Isle of Tears, a Cuban concentration camp for political prisoners, and the paperback evolves into a balls-out action thriller right up to the twisty ending.

Passage by Night is an enjoyable, if inconsequential, Caribbean maritime adventure with lots of scuba diving scenes sprinkled through the plot. The paperback benefits from being extremely short, so there was never time for the book to become slow, muddled or confusing. I don’t expect to recall much about it in a year other than it being a perfectly fun diversion for a few hours - or in other words: an easy recommendation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Unmasking Allison V. Harding: The Forgotten “Queen” of Horror

Weird Tales was a popular pulp fiction magazine specializing in horror and dark fantasy stories from 1923 to 1954. Between the years 1943 and 1951, the magazine published 33 tales of terror by an unknown author named Allison V. Harding. Mysteriously, Ms. Harding disappeared from writing altogether after her last submission to the pulp. No more stories. No paperback original novels. It’s like she never existed.

In June 2020, an excellent reprint publisher called Armchair Fiction released a compilation of 16 stories from Weird Tales titled Allison V. Harding: The Forgotten Queen of Horror. The publisher claims that Harding was actually a woman named Jean Milligan who lived from 1919 to 2004, a fact backed up by business records from the offices of Weird Tales showing that Ms. Milligan was paid for the stories bearing Harding’s name.

So Jean Milligan was the talented horror author behind the Allison V. Harding name, right?

Interestingly, it’s not that simple.

A blog called Tellers of Weird Tales did some valuable legwork in 2011 calling the Milligan-Harding connection into question. The evidence is laid out below.

It turns out that Ms. Milligan was married to a mainstream author named Lamont Buchanan who wrote serious books about baseball and American history. Meanwhile, his bride was never known to write anything before or after the eruption of 33 stories using the Harding pseudonym.

Evidently, Mr. Buchanan also had a steady paycheck during the relevant window of time. What did he do? He was the Associate Editor of Weird Tales. If Mr. Buchanan wrote stories for his employer’s magazine, it would have been standard practice to utilize a pseudonym for those stories to not clog up the masthead with his own name. Moreover, he was an author of serious books who wouldn’t want his brand sullied by overtly writing for the pulps. Is it possible that Mr. Buchanan was actually Allison V. Harding and he submitted the stories as if they were coming from his non-author wife?

If these suspicions are valid, why would Mr. Buchanan use a woman’s name for his horror story pseudonym? I can only speculate, but during the key years, the Weird Tales Managing Editor (Mr. Buchanan’s boss) was Dorothy McIlwraith, a woman. This egalitarian editorial hierarchy might have been the perfect place to have a faux female contributor of stories for the consumption of the magazine’s mostly male readership.

It’s also possible that Mr. Buchanan was double-laundering his stories through both the Harding pseudonym and his wife’s name as the submitter. Maybe his boss, Ms. McIlwraith, didn’t even know that her subordinate was the man behind the stories. If so, that’s a fun little scam worthy of a pulp magazine story of its own.

The best way to put this conspiracy theory to a test is to have Paperback Warrior read a sample of the stories and determine if they were written by a man or woman.

Here are the capsule reviews of the three stories we DNA tested:

The Frightened Engineer

In this Lovecraft-inspired story, a turnpike construction project is derailed by Hill 96. Under normal circumstances, dynamite and earth-moving equipment would be used to grade the hill for the highway. In this case, it’s almost as if Hill 96 does not want to be disturbed - as if it were alive. This was a very fun story - like a good Twilight Zone episode - but not particularly terrifying.

The Underbody

The anthology’s cover art is the illustration that originally accompanied this story in Weird Tales. It’s about a boy who finds a man stuck in the soil of a shallow hole behind his house. When the boy brings his father out to see the man in the hole, he’s disappeared. The boy takes to calling the reappearing dirt-man, Mr. Mole. This story was legitimately unsettling and scary - exactly what I seek in pulp horror.

The Damp Man

This was the author’s most popular story spawning two sequels appearing in Weird Tales. A female swimming champion turns to a male reporter for help because she is being stalked by a frightening large man in a dark suit. The stalker is absolutely vile, moist, and menacing. Great horror story.

DNA Test Results:

There is no way hell that these stories were written by a woman of 1940s America. The first two stories have no female characters at all, and the even the third story is told through a male’s eyes. Furthermore, “The Frightened Engineer” has many technical details about turnpike road construction, a stereotypically manly pursuit in the 1940s.

Another large factor supporting this conclusion is that these stories are really good, even excellent. Without question, a female author was capable of excellence. However, I’m not buying for a second that the talented author of these stories threw her typewriter out the window without authoring another published word for the next 53 years of her life.

Regardless of the true authorship, pulp horror fans will enjoy the Armchair Fiction collection of Allison V. Harding stories. Whether or not the author is the “Queen” of horror is up for debate, but the quality of these stories is not. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

13 French Street

Gil Brewer’s 1951 paperback, 13 French Street, was also his most popular book. The paperback sold over a million copies and sustained multiple printings from Fawcett Gold Medal in the U.S. and foreign publishers abroad. The short novel’s reputation as a sex-drenched story of lust and betrayal made me crack it open for a sample and the pages just kept turning.

Our narrator is Alex Bland, and he’s on vacation visiting his old war-buddy Verne. Upon arriving at Vern’s house at 13 French Street in a fictional southern town, he is greeted at the door by Verne’s impossibly sexy and flirtatious wife Petra, a dame who just oozes promiscuity. Although Alex has never met Petra before, they know each other from letters (aka: paper emails) they’ve exchanged over the past five years. You see, Verne isn’t much of a letter writer, so he had his sexy wife write the letters to keep in touch with his best pal. (Note to dudes with sexy wives: Bad idea.)

Things are awkward for Alex from the moment he arrives. Verne has aged poorly and does a bad job feigning enthusiasm regarding Alex’s visit. Petra can’t help but make bedroom eyes at Alex every time their gazes lock. Finally, a pretty chamber maid confides in Alex that he’d be well-served to keep his bedroom door locked at night.

Thing escalate exponentially when Verne needs to go out of town on business leaving Alex to his “vacation” at the house with Petra. Verne’s elderly witch of a mother lives in the house, and she keeps a close eye on Petra while her son is gone. However, that doesn’t stop Petra from trying to seduce Alex every time the old lady’s back is turned. If you enjoy your vintage paperbacks filled with sexual tension, this one is definitely for you.

Eventually, the old lady’s chaperoning becomes more and more troublesome, and you can imagine where that goes. It takes about halfway through the paperback before 13 French Street becomes a full-fledged crime noir novel in which bad ideas beget further moral slippage. It’s also compelling as hell, and the pages keep flying by - making it abundantly clear why this book was such a sensation nearly 70 years ago.

To be sure, there is some retrograde treatment of women in this book that wouldn’t fly today, but 1951 was a very different world. While I still think that The Vengeful Virgin was Brewer’s masterpiece, 13 French Street isn’t far behind. It remains a lusty noir classic with a femme fatale you won’t forget. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Bourbon Street

G.H. Otis was a pseudonym employed by Otis Hemmingway Gaylord Jr. (1924-1992), a Colorado native, advertising executive and World War 2 veteran. He used the Otis pen-name for two hardboiled crime novels originally published by Lion Books in 1953 titled Bourbon Street and Hot Cargo. Both of these paperbacks have been reprinted together in one volume by Stark House Books, so I’m starting with Bourbon Street.

Our narrator is Digger, a down-and-out bookmaker in New Orleans’ French Quarter occupying “an airless room in a crummy hotel.” However, the way Digger sees it, things are looking up. He’s devised a brilliant idea to make some money, and all he needs is an audience with the local mob boss to pitch his foolproof plan. The Big Man is a careful sort who has a lot of gatekeepers, including a particularly rough hood named Twigg. Navigating these obstacles comprises much of the paperback’s first quarter.

Otis draws a vivid picture of French Quarter life with snippets of real history and landmarks, and the humid atmosphere runs thick throughout the novel. Eventually, Digger is given an audience with The Big Man, and he’s able to pitch his scheme. The plan is basically a simpler means to smuggle opium and other contraband into Louisiana using a boat moored in the Gulf of Mexico. Digger has devised a ruse that will keep law enforcement blind to the shipments, and he wants to bring the local mob boss in on the deal to ensure he doesn’t wind up sleeping with the crawdads.

The problem is that Digger refuses to give up his many small-time side hustles - bookmaking, craps games, etc. His moonlighting causes problems with his mafia silent partner causing tensions and violence to reach a roiling boil. Will Digger need to betray his friends to climb up the New Orleans crime ladder?

I wanted to like Bourbon Street - I promise I did. Unfortunately, it was pretty sub-standard, and the plotting was off-track. Otis was a good writer, but it took way too long for Digger to implement his plan, and then the story fell into a maritime rut. The novel’s femme fatale arrives really late in the story, and she’s more trouble than she’s worth from the very beginning. Bourbon Street is a good first draft in need of an editor to guide the author through some structural plotting alterations. It wasn’t an awful read, but you deserve better.

Purchase a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 2, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 68

Episode 68 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast features an in-depth look into Don Smith’s “Secret Mission” spy series. Also: Shopping trips! Richard Stark! Jack Higgins! Scary Hillbilly Fiction! And much, much more! Listen on any podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE 

Listen to "Episode 68: Don Smith" on Spreaker.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Black Ice

Pat Graversen (1935-2000) began writing horror and suspenseful short-stories in the late 1970s. Her first novel, Invisible Fire, was published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1981. She later signed with Zebra Books and authored a number of “child in peril” horror novels including Dollies (1990), Stones (1991) and Sweet Blood (1992). I have owned her 1993 novel Black Ice for a number of years, and finally took the time to read it.

This horror story begins where most horror novels begin – the old Satanic ritual routine. In the prologue, three kids in 1928 climb into a dark dusty attic and perform the ritual inside of a scrawled out pentagram using chicken blood, an upside down crucifix and black candles. Afterwards, one of the kids is possessed into some sort of demon that makes him an invalid for the rest of his life.

In the opening chapters, single-mom Cassandra “Cassie” McCall and her eight-year old son Jess arrive in the sleepy town of Winter Falls, Connecticut. Throughout the book Cassie remembers growing up in the area and experiencing a harsh and physically abusive relationship from her father Colin (he was one of the creepy Satanic blood-slurping kids from the prologue). Colin's heath has deteriorated and now he's an invalid living at the local hospital. Cassie, in dire straits financially, uses this opportunity to return home for a fresh start.

Winter Falls is haunted by an old children's tale of three little girls who drowned in the town's lake. Through the years, their rotted corpses are seen sporadically by horny teens and delirious old men. While playing too close to the lake's center, Jess falls in and becomes trapped under the ice for 20-minutes. After he is resuscitated, both Jess and Cassie begin experiencing strange connections to the lake. Through Jess, readers learn that the three dead girls have awakened and they summon him to do bizarre things. Once the town's citizens begin drowning on dry land, Cassie realizes that her invalid father may have a connection to Winter Falls' ghostly tale.

This is my first experience with Pat Graversen and I find that her writing style is similar to Ruby Jean Jensen. In fact, both authors were similar in age and each of them authored “child in peril” horror novels for Zebra. Considering satanic rituals, drowned kids and a five-fingered body count, one would assume Black Ice is scary. It isn't. Instead, the book's strength is the portrayal of Cassie as a single-mom and her unwavering bond with Jess. The chapters became fairly predictable as Jess frequently disappears and both Cassie and her love interest search the woods and lake for him. There's a little mystery thrown in about a secret locked box but it wasn't the grand revelation the author probably intended.

Black Ice is a suitable 1990s horror offering from a publisher that seemingly perfected these types of genre novels consistently month after month. If you enjoy John Saul and the aforementioned Ruby Jean Jensen, you'll probably love this traditional ghost tale. At 255-pages, the narrative is a little slow but builds in enough atmosphere and engaging characters to keep the pages turning. It isn't a mandatory read, but a good way to waste the day.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Death Merchant #13 - The Mato Grosso Horror

Popular men's action-adventure publisher Pinnacle added Death Merchant to their publishing catalog in 1971. The series was penned by Joseph R. Rosenberger and stars a CIA agent named Richard Camellion who uses a variety of disguises and weapons to infiltrate and eliminate enemy forces. The series ran 70 installments through 1988 and I periodically reading a random installment every few months. As such, I grabbed the 13th installment from my shelf, The Mato Grosso Horror, published in 1975.

Rosenberger uses a tried-and-true staple of men's action-adventure as the basic plot. The concept, used quite frequently in pulps and magazines, is that Nazis escaped Germany at the end of WW2 and emerged years later in secluded, exotic locations. These Nazis still swear allegiance to Hitler and haven't abandoned their quest to enslave the human race. To further their cause, the Nazis have mutated villagers and natives into freakish super soldiers that they hope to use as the Fourth Reich's secret weapon. Taking all of this into consideration, the Death Merchant has been ordered to enter the steaming jungle of Brazil to eliminate the newest swarm of jungle Nazis.

The narrative has Israeli intelligence reporting the quest for Reich Glory stemming from the vast, mostly unexplored Brazilian interior of Mato Grosso. Richard Camellion partners with a squad of American Green Berets to enter the jungle and destroy the Nazi lab. In doing so, the author places the Death Merchant in precarious situations fighting a cannibal tribe for weeks. In fact, nearly every chapter of this installment features Camellion and his allies fighting tribal enemies – like wave after wave of tribal enemies. This is really fun for a few chapters, then becomes an endless game of Duck Hunt as Camellion mows down the baddies.

The Mato Grosso Horror is a fun, action-packed novel that features a weak enemy simply being assaulted and killed by the Death Merchant. If that's your thing, then by all means you'll absolutely love this early series installment. I'm complacent enough to enjoy a mass slaughter twice a year and this adventure surely delivers the blood 'n guts one would expect from a long-running kill 'em all series like this one. Death Merchant wins...again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Trapped

Author Edmund Plante received a brief mention in Grady Hendrix's excellent Paperbacks from Hell book showcasing 1970s and 1980s horror paperbacks and their impact on pop-culture. Plante authored at least seven horror novels from 1979-1993, yet my first experience with the author is his novel Trapped. It was originally published in 1989 by BMI, a subsidiary of Dorchester Publishing/Leisure Fiction.

The novel begins with the Hunter family arriving at a secluded mountain cottage for a brief summer vacation. Husband Keith had an affair months ago and the marriage is on the rocks. Thankfully, his forgiving wife Maggie is using this valuable vacation time as marriage therapy in an effort to re-create a harmonious bond with him. Along with Keith and Maggie is their teen children Brice and Toni, Toni's friend Lisa and Maggie's elderly mother Vivian.

The family's first night at the cottage proves to be an eventful one. An ominous cylindrical craft lands on the property and by morning the family packs up and attempts to leave and notify the authorities. But the Hunters find themselves seemingly trapped by a clear dome-like structure surrounding the property. After attempting to smash through the dome with the car, the family realizes they now must contend with whatever is inside the craft. By nightfall, the Hunters are attacked by colorful, winged aliens that seemingly can control their minds and actions. It's this struggle between creature and man that is central to Plante's storytelling. Or, at least it should have been.

Trapped had the potential to be a fantastic survival-horror novel. Plante easily could have fallen into a George Romero scenario where the holed up family members have to board up the doors and windows while supplies begin to dwindle. The author even could have thrown a weather element in to heighten the atmosphere and isolation. Instead, he attempts to be clever and ruins what should have been an entertaining horror novel.

While there are plenty of attacks and many futile attempts to escape, the story just doesn't make any sense. These aliens apparently only come out at night, but there's no plausible explanation regarding why sunlight is their weakness. Due to this, the family just lives and breathes normally during the day – lying around and attempting to be happy during the day. I didn't really feel any sense of urgency from the characters. They don't board up any windows or doors aside from a front window that was broken by one of the creatures. They don't block the fireplace or use any real weapons other than a lamp and a fireplace poker. I hated these characters so much because of the sheer lunacy they all possessed. Just when I could celebrate one of their deaths at the hands of winged demons, the author resurrects the characters all over again.

Then there's Keith.

Due to the alien's control over Keith, they make him concentrate on sex. Because of Keith's dilemma, he immediately begins eyeing his daughter's best friend Lisa. I couldn't ascertain whether Lisa was being controlled or not, but she's begging for action, and Keith gives it to her twice – once while his daughter spies from the trees. Because of this (Keith's sex with a teen, not Toni's voyeurism), there's even more friction between Maggie and Keith. As a reader, I became so frustrated with their family drama.

Due to the author writing entire chapters from the perspective of the “mother alien”, there was no suspense or mystery to the attacks. The reader is just forced into a boring family drama with no real direction or urgency. At 344-pages, the sheer horror of this book is the likelihood that someone like me could be seduced by the intriguing, albeit terrible, cover. I was conned out of $2.95 for this pile of trash and I pray that this review serves as a warning to others: Judge a book by its cover. Trapped is terrible.

If you must own this, please buy it HERE

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Ben Gates #03 - Kill Now, Pay Later

Robert Terrall (1914-2009) served in WWII and later wrote for Time and the Saturday Evening Post. After becoming a full-time writer, Terrall used the pseudonym John Gonzales to author a three-book series starring crime-fighting journalist Harry Horne. Arguably, Terrall's claim to fame came when Mike Shayne creator and author Davis Dresser departed the successful private-eye series. Terrall took over the reigns and authored another 25 installments using the series house name Brett Halliday. From 1958-1964, Terrall also authored a five-book series of mysteries starring private-eye Ben Gates using the pseudonym of Robert Kyle. My first experience with the series is the third installment, Kill Now, Pay Later, published by Dell in 1960 and later reprinted by Hard Case Crime in 2007.

In the book's beginning pages, New York City private-eye Ben Gates is working a ritzy wedding for an insurance company. The job is simple: guard the wedding presents and keep the tipsy guests from making off with the family jewels. After Gates is teased by a sultry female guest, he mistakenly drinks a handful of sleeping pills hidden in a mug of hot coffee. Gates falls into snoozeland while the groom's mother is shot and killed in a robbery attempt. The thief is also killed, but there's more to the story.

After Gates awakens, he is questioned by the groom's family and a hard-nosed cop named Lieutenant Minturn. The police think Gates was in on the grab, and the officer seems to have a personal vendetta against private-eyes in general (not uncommon in crime-fiction). A combination of events puts Gates into the driver's seat of the investigation.

First, a newspaper article is published about the murder and points out that Gates was asleep through the debacle. Gates wants to redeem himself and discover who was serving him loaded coffee. Second, Mr. Pope, the wealthy groom's father, brings Gates into the family circle. He explains to Gates that the police and family aren't aware that $75,000 was stolen from his safe during the murder. He wants the money back and hires Gates to find it.

I really love this Ben Gates character. He's the middle ground between serious Lew Archer and comedic Shell Scott. The author's witty dialogue and candor enhance the story and character, making them both instantly enjoyable. Gates doesn't necessarily chase women, but he isn't one to turn away from a hot undercover romp. In Kill Now, Pay Later, there are a number of sexy women attempting to lure Gates into bed or simply remove him from the investigation. While mostly a loner, Gates does rely on a few supporting characters throughout the procedure including a colleague named Davidson.

If you love these urban detective novels, there's plenty to enjoy here. Kill Now, Pay Later is another solid private-eye novel that stands out in the crowded field of mid-20th Century crime-fiction. Ben Gates’ charisma is leveraged by the author to really define the storytelling experience. Based on the high level of quality here, I'll be searching for the remaining series installments.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, October 26, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 67

On Episode 67 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we delve into the history of Weird Tales pulp magazine and the mysterious true identity of a “female” horror author from that era. Also: Perry Rhodan! James Herbert! Calvin Clements! Bookstore finds! And much more! Listen on your favorite podcast app or PaperbackWarrior.com or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 67: The Weird Tales of Allison V. Harding" on Spreaker.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Satan Takes the Helm

Popular screenwriter Calvin Clements authored three nautical-themed paperbacks in the 1950s – Barge Girl, Hell Ship to Kuma and Satan Takes the Helm. After enjoying my first experience with Clements, Hell Ship to Kuma, I was on the hunt for his other two nautical titles. Thankfully, Stark House Press timed their newest release perfectly. Satan Takes the Helm, originally published in 1954 by Fawcett Gold Medal, is the newest publication of Stark House's imprint Black Gat Books. Needless to say, I was thrilled to obtain a copy.

In the opening chapters, Martin Lewandowski is a rugged freighter captain searching for work on the San Francisco docks. A timely job tip leads him to a hotel room and an interview with a woman named Joyce. Martin explains to the reader that Joyce isn't particularly pretty, but is blessed with a stunning body. Surprisingly, this is an important part of the narrative. When Joyce inquires about Martin's non-vocational skills and personal attributes, the interview takes a slight detour. Caught up in the moment, Martin kisses Joyce which apparently seals the deal. Martin is then hired as the chief officer on the Trader, an Asian freighter that is currently helmed and owned by Captain Sloan, Joyce's horribly disfigured, aging husband.

After Sloan provides a touching, personal account of his life on the old ship, Martin begins to appraise the boat's sea-readiness. After given full permission to whip the crew into shape, the narrative's first half begins to resemble the early stages of the proverbial sports underdog story. Martin condemns the lackadaisical effort by Sloan's crew to maintain the ship's peak performance, but he also questions their loyalty and work ethic. He's determined to rebuild the Trader into a worthy sea vessel in return for 10% of the profits. However, before you conjure up images of Gene Hackman transforming a looser Hoosier into a champion, Clements injects a femme fatale archetype into the novel's story. Suddenly, this venturesome nautical tale begins to resemble the classic crime-noir.

The author, or the original publisher, chose the perfect book title for this crime-driven story. Satan Takes the Helm is exactly that. As an angel, Martin appears to have rescued Sloan from the red ink that threatens to drown his operation. But once this mysterious, seductive married woman offers up her body, Martin's clear path to sterling leadership and lucrative profit becomes overgrown with evil vices. As the narrative unwinds, Martin's admirable persona has transformed into a guilt-ridden spiral of madness and regret. Is his role on the Trader divine intervention or inglorious malice? That's the slippery edge that Clements navigates.

Satan Takes the Helm is an adventurous nautical tale that surprisingly serves as a sexy and crafty crime-noir. As readers ride the choppy waves, the characters become more dynamic and mentally unbalanced. It's this sort of downward spiral from the promised land to the depths of Hell that made writers like Day Keene and Gil Brewer literary superstars. Calvin Clements uses that tried-and-true formula and places it in a unique setting. The combination makes for a compelling, thoroughly enjoyable story that completely validates the decision to reprint the vintage paperback for modern audiences. Clements rightfully sails again and you should get on board.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Hatch #01 - Hatch's Island

Author Don Merritt (real name Donigan), born in 1945, worked as a scuba diver, fishing boat captain and sailing instructor. After obtaining a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa, Merritt published his first novel, One Easy Piece, in 1981. The suspenseful thriller was the first of seven total novels the author has written. Typically his books fall into a "romantic, suspenseful tragedy" and oddly that's where his three-book series of Hatch novels lies. Hatch's Island (1986), Hatch's Conspiracy (1987 and Hatch's Mission (1987) form a short-lived series of action-adventure novels published by Bantam. After acquiring all three books recently, I decided to take the plunge to see what Hatch is all about.

The book's prologue introduces the reader to protagonist Captain Franklin Jefferson Hatcher. In it, “Hatch” is serving in the U.S. Army's Special Forces in the jungle highlands of Laos. While it's never really clear what the group is doing, Hatch and company live with a small village where some combatants bed down the young women. Hatch has fallen in love with a young woman named Mai and the two are expecting a child. While he's out on patrol, guerrilla fighters ambush the team and Hatch is shot repeatedly and left for dead. The enemy then converges on the village and kills everyone in heinous fashion. Hatch crawls back to the village to find that Mai has undergone a terrible surgery where a rat has been fatally inserted into her womb.

The book then fast-forwards 15-years where readers learn that Hatch quit the Army and went AWOL in 1965. To escape U.S. intelligence, Hatch is now living as a quiet hermit on the tiny fictitious island of Tuva in the South Pacific. Despite Bantam's action-oriented book cover, Hatch has long gray and black hair with an equally long beard. He's spent the last 10-years living in a run-down warehouse where he stores his emptied whiskey bottles, fishes and generally trades things like shovels for boat propellers. The idea that Hatch is the Rambo-type action hero from the front of this book cover is terribly misleading.

While walking through the jungle, Hatch stumbles upon a 17-year old girl named Kukana being raped by an unknown man. After threatening the man with a knife, the girl runs back home to notify her father, the island's pseudo-mayor. After walking the man through the jungle at knife-point, Hatch is ambushed by two other men and they break a bunch of bones and leave him for dead for the second time in this book. Although it's never explained, the three men are arrested and locked up. Later, Kukana's father takes the men far into the ocean in their own boat and drops them with the instructions that a three-day swim will get them to the next island.

The middle portion of the novel focuses on Hatch's healing and Kukana's overwhelming passion for her newfound hero. In total dedication to the island's warrior and savior, the whole town builds Hatch a new house and awards him the fishing ketch that his three attackers previously owned. Further, due to Hatch's courage and fighting prowess, they want to make Hatch the island's sole police force and give him the 17-year old Kukana as a wife. Hatch repeatedly says no, but eventually caves to the pressures of the new boat and house. And the girl.

I'm not spoiling anything for you. The last third of the book circles back to Hatch's attackers and connects them to a mercenary force that may know Hatch's identity from the war. Further, they may or may not be the same people that raped and killed his lover Mai years ago. They may or may not inform the Pentagon that they have found the missing Hatch who was feared dead. The book's plot lines eventually intersect which brings about the book's explosive narrative and eventual fiery finale.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I didn't like this novel. Perhaps if the book cover had depicted a old long-haired man walking along the beach with a boat propeller I would have been pleasantly surprised with the action. Instead, I bought an action novel and was unpleasantly surprised that it's mostly a crafty, suspenseful (albeit violent) love story. Hatch is rather one-dimensional and the only characters that I enjoyed reading about were the three criminals. The book's ending and connections to the Pentagon left me a little curious as to where the next book takes readers. For that reason alone I might courageously take a peek at Hatch #2’s opening chapters hopeful for a better book. In the meantime, I'm drifting as far as I can from Hatch's Island.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Piece of this Country

Thomas Taylor (1934-2017), a West Point graduate, was a Captain in the U.S. Army and served in the 101st Airborne Division during the Vietnam War. After an intense engagement with a Viet Cong battalion, Taylor was awarded the Silver and Bronze Stars as well as a Purple Heart. After his service, Taylor graduated from University of California, Berkley and became a writer. His work includes a number of non-fiction volumes on military history and combatants' first-hand accounts as well as fictional novels like A-18 (1967). My first experience with Taylor is his 1970 military fiction novel A Piece of this Country.

The paperback is set in 1965 during the U.S.'s early involvement in the war. Sergeant Roscoe Jackson is an African-American fighting with the ARVN (Army of Vietnam) near the Laos border. Jackson is a short-timer with just four months of active duty remaining before he returns to the U.S. As a husband and father of four, Jackson is anxious to leave the hot and steamy jungles and get back to Maryland. However, after being offered the dangerous job of overseeing the remote and isolated Fort Cougar, Jackson decides he wants to pursue an officer's rank. To obtain it, he'll need to work closely with a South Vietnamese leader to fortify the base and protect it from waves of Viet Cong.

Thomas Taylor's military combat experience is deeply ingrained into this violent and exciting narrative. Jackson tells readers that he keeps his matches inside of condoms, carries hornet spray and wears his poncho backwards. It's these little, descriptive things that make the story come alive with detail. The artillery fire, mortars and minefields are the book's soundscape, drowning Jackson in a sea of emotions as he contemplates his family's financial stress and discrimination back home in the U.S. Through mail correspondence with his wife, Jackson learns that she has a blood disorder and can't work. Further, his oldest son seems to have chosen a criminal path to overcome racial and financial struggles. Knowing that an officer's rank will pay more, Jackson's decision to re-enlist is a costly one.

Once Taylor arrives at Fort Cougar, he begins to formulate a strategy. His collaboration with Vietnamese commander Dai Uy Nguyen involves building escape tunnels while engaging the enemy on small jungle patrols. After numerous attacks on their ranks, Jackson begins to question Nguyen's allegiance. The book's fiery finale places the smaller American and South Vietnamese forces against wave after wave of enemies as they await aerial support from afar.

I really enjoyed so many aspects of A Piece of this Country. It contains so many memorable scenes. There's a powerful dialogue between Jackson where an enemy soldier tells him to leave Vietnam. He explains, “I'm trying to liberate my south. Why don't you liberate yours?” referring to Jackson's race and southern heritage. In another, Jackson explains that he has heard artillery fire so much that he isn't sure that weather-related thunder even exists in Southeast Asia. There's a humorous scene where Jackson trades two Mike Shayne novels to a fellow soldier in exchange for a nudie book. It's all of these realistic things that enhance the propulsive plot points and emotional characters.

If you love military fiction then you'll certainly enjoy A Piece of this Country. Anyone interested in Thomas Taylor's career and proud military lineage should check out both Taylor and his heroic father Maxwell Taylor's Wiki pages to learn more. I'm anxious to read more of this author's work.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Solomon's Vineyard

The Hype

The legend of Jonathan Latimer’s 1941 novel Solomon’s Vineyard is likely more famous than the book itself. Here are the facts:

In 1940, Chicago journalist and crime fiction author Jonathan Latimer (1906-1985) wrote a hardboiled novel called Solomon’s Vineyard with lots of sex and violence. It’s about a hard-drinking private eye seeking to rescue a woman from a bizarre religious cult. Because of the era, no one cared about the boozing or considerable violence, but the sex (tame by today’s standards) made U.S. publishers nervous. As such, they declined to make the book available to American readers.

British publishers were more forward-leaning and released the novel in 1941, and it became a minor literary hit. In 1950, a censored version retitled The Fifth Grave was released for U.S. audiences with the juicy and scandalous stuff about the narrator’s sex drive (he’s drawn to female butts) removed. When cheap paperbacks became the rage, U.K.’s Great Pan books reprinted the original version - along with other Latimer books - to the further delight of British readers. Meanwhile, the uncensored version of Solomon’s Vineyard never received a U.S. printing until 1983.

In all fairness, it’s more likely that the novel merely slipped through the cracks rather than continued censorship by shadowy puppet masters. The publishing world can, at times, have short memories and resurrecting a novel that had been a hit in England four decades earlier just wasn’t anyone’s priority. It’s fun to say that Solomon’s Vineyard was “banned in the U.S. for 42 years,” but the truth is more benign. It wasn’t until 1983 before it occurred to a wise reprint house to release the unexpurgated original manuscript.

Since then, the novel has been reprinted multiple times as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook. You should have no problem finding a reading copy.

The Review

Karl Craven is Solomon’s Vineyard’s narrator, and he’s a private detective cut from the same cloth as Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or the Continental Op. Think of this generation of fictional characters as Hardboiled 1.0 before Mickey Spillane redefined the genre.

As the novel opens, Craven arrives by train into the fictional town of Paulton from his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri during the sweltering summer heat. On his way to the hotel, he notices a distant set of buildings around a temple surrounded by green fields and grapevines. He’s told that the compound belongs to a religious colony known as Solomon’s Vineyard populated by a thousand crazies awaiting the resurrection of their dead founder, an alleged prophet named Solomon.

Craven was summoned to Paulton by his business partner, Oke Johnson, who was in town working a case. When Craven arrives at Oke’s rooming house, he’s greeted by the local police advising him that his partner has been murdered. Oke was trying to recover a missing girl from the nearby religious cult, and he died without leaving behind any notes or reports. As such, Craven needs to recreate the entire investigation himself, snatch the dame, and get away safely while solving Oke’s murder in the process.

What follows is quite a journey of sex, violence, and corruption. Paulton is a town under the control of a gangster named Pug with the police serving as his toadies. There’s a possible relationship between the local mob and the cult that may provide Craven the leverage he needs to rescue the girl living at the Vineyard. The adventure finds Craven descending into a series of real binds without an obvious path to success. Also, if you like a violent fight scene, the one at the end is total aces.

I have a general bias against crime fiction of the 1940s, but Solomon’s Vineyard is the exception. This book is awesome - even if it owes quite a bit to Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest. Craven is such a badass main character (he even reads Black Mask Magazine in his hotel) that I wanted to spend more time with the guy. Unfortunately, the author never developed Craven into a series character, but Latimer wrote several unrelated novels throughout his career. I look forward to exploring Latimer’s body of work more fully. Solomon’s Vinyeyard is a close-to-perfect novel. Highest recommendation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, October 19, 2020

Paperback Warrior - Episode 66

On Episode 66 of The Paperback Warrior Podcast, we return to our Men’s Adventure roots with a discussion of several rare and iconic series titles in the hard-core action genre. Tom also tells a shocking and controversial book hunting story you won’t want to miss. Listen on your favorite podcast app, PaperbackWarrior.com, or download directly HERE


Listen to "Episode 66: Men's Adventure Shootout" on Spreaker.