Friday, June 5, 2020

The Cops

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Dead Girl Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Concubine

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Adaptation:

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 1, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 46

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

Friday, May 29, 2020

Your Friendly Neighborhood Death Peddler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Night of Violence (aka The Trapped Ones)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum:

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Survivor of Nam #01 - Baptism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Mike Shayne #65 - Last Seen Hitchhiking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 25, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 45

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

Friday, May 22, 2020

Danny Fontaine #01 - As Bad As I Am

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun-Fact:

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

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

Buy a copy of the two-book compilation HERE

Thursday, May 21, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trivia:

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Eagle Force #06 - Berserker

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Good Guy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 18, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 44

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

Friday, May 15, 2020

Matthew Scudder #03 - In the Midst of Death

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Rain of Terror


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Butcher #07 - Death Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 11, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 43

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

Sunday, May 10, 2020

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, May 9, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE