Monday, January 25, 2021
Friday, January 22, 2021
The narrator of Like Mink, Like Murder is a milkman named Sam Baynard in the town of Dexter City (Population: 100,000). Sam is an ex-con whose past catches up with him when a hot babe named Elva tracks him down in Dexter City. She and Sam were crew members working for a gangster named Kohzak until Sam got nabbed robbing a jewelry store. Sam kept his mouth shut, served his prison time and then landed a straight job delivering milk to squares.
Sam used to be in love with Elva, who’s the main squeeze of Kohzak the gangster. For his part, Sam blames both Elva and Kohzak for his incarceration and just wants to be a milkman and assimilate into legit society. Unfortunately, Kohzak insists on Sam’s help to pull off a payroll heist, and he’s not the kind of mobster who takes no for an answer. Will Sam succumb to the pressure and return to a life of crime? Will he finally get into Elva’s britches? What about his promising future in the fast-growing field of dairy delivery? These are the dilemmas Sam and the reader navigate over the course of this 35,000 word paperback.
The writing in Like Mink, Like Murder was a bit clunky in the opening chapter, but things smooth out considerably thereafter and begin to feel like a normal Whittington potboiler. There’s a real emotional core at the center of the novel as Sam is torn between the straight life of a milkman and the potentially lucrative life of a stick-up man. Whittington did a great job ratcheting up that tension throughout the short paperback.
Where does Like Mink, Like Murder rank in the library of Whittington’s work? I’d say it’s a solidly better-than-average Whittington novel - likely due to the edits made by Wilson 50 years after the paperback’s original conception. Whoever gets the credit, if you dig a tightly-wound crime noir suspense novel, you’re sure to enjoy this one quite a bit. It’s part of a three-pack of Whittington’s lost works released by Stark House and a great value for your money. Highly recommended.
Buy a copy HERE
Thursday, January 21, 2021
The book begins by introducing readers to young Billy Oakes. He's a country boy living in the hills of northwestern Georgia. When he isn't hunting animals for food, he's maintaining an incestuous relationship with his sister. Billy's mother is dead and his father is in the pen for murder. Other than his intimate relationship with sis, Billy's only other relative is a cousin named Daniel. Years ago, Daniel witnessed Billy brutally murder someone. Fearing for his own life, Daniel and his wife Sarah fled to Lakeport, NY. After years of living in rural Georgia, the maniacal Billy hops a freight train in hopes of forming a domestic new life in New York with his cousin.
Holland is a serviceable writer, but he forces readers into a killer's deranged mind. Aside from saying just a few words, Billy remains a silent, savage animal that eats raw meat and lives in the dark urban tunnels beneath the city's bridges. On the toughest streets in town, Billy embarks on a bloody rampage where he slashes randomly chosen victims with a razor sharp knife. Lakeport's law-enforcement become baffled by the spontaneous killings, but Daniel recognizes Billy’s signature style and the condition he leaves the bodies in. Fearing that Billy has discovered where he and Sarah live, Daniel reports his suspicions to the police only to be turned away by what they feel is a silly speculation. As the book builds to a finale, Billy and Sarah prepare to confront Billy alone...once and for all.
The Hunter certainly had the potential to be great. However, the story-line is just so basic with very little development. I feel that the author really lost his way in leading readers to some sort of emotional connection between Billy and Daniel. Aside from a single-paragraph flashback, there's very little connecting these two men. With Holland leaning heavily on Billy's murderous path to Daniel, the story could have been enhanced with a more charismatic bad guy. Billy is such a primal killer that there's just not enough dialogue or sensible thinking for readers to really understand the character.
My biggest disappointment with Holland's story is that a much better concept is served to readers as a minor side-story. Daniel has a black neighbor named A.L. with this really awesome backstory of being an undefeated boxer who was framed and later imprisoned. Upon his release, A.L. begins saving his money to invest in the city's crumbling real-estate. His idea of flipping houses is a real positive take on urban development and overcoming adversity and racism. When the mostly-white police force tries to pin the killings on A.L., he fights back and becomes a local hero for the black community. This is the story the author should have been telling us all along. It deserved to be a full-length novel. Instead, Holland settled on this weird “killer stalking the city” formula that just never became exciting. Don't be fooled by this paperback's vigilante cover art. The Hunter came up empty handed.
If you feel like you still want to own this book, buy a copy of it HERE
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
The paperback opens with U.S. Navy Reserve Lieutenant Dave Young hitchhiking his way to Norfolk, Virginia to report for duty. A stranger named Larry Wilson gives Dave a ride and during the trip, Larry knocks Dave unconscious with a tire iron. Dave awakens in a hospital bed with his head wrapped in bandages. The nurses are under the impression that Dave is actually Larry and claim that he was in a car accident alone. It quickly becomes clear that Larry staged the accident with the intent of switching clothing and identities with Dave. Moreover, the car containing unconscious Dave was on fire and almost exploded. Bottom line: Dave was never supposed to wake up in the hospital or at all.
While still sedated, Dave is discharged from the hospital with his face wrapped in bandages and sent home with Larry’s estranged wife, Elizabeth. She seems to have an understanding about what’s just happened and admits to Dave that this is her first kidnapping. I won’t spoil the hidden agenda here that has swept poor Dave into all this intrigue, but it’s compelling as hell. This is one of those novels - like Hamilton’s Line of Fire - that is filled with revelations as the story unfolds. Dave finds himself enmeshed in the the type of impossible quandary that Alfred Hitchcock would have loved.
Dave’s core dilemma is this: Larry Wilson is a pillar in the community. Who would believe that Larry would have staged an unprovoked attack on Dave, a stranger he picked up on the road? What would the police think if told this story by a man wearing Larry’s clothing and wristwatch? Dave figures correctly that - despite having done nothing wrong - the unlikely situation makes him look guilty of something, including desertion from the Navy. Meanwhile, where’s the real Larry?
Beyond that, there’s not much else I want to tell you about Night Walker - other than you should get a copy and read it ASAP. It’s a fun thrill ride of changing loyalties with tons of plot twists along the way. It’s the thinking man’s suspense novel you deserve. Fans of his work will recognize Dave’s cool-under-pressure commitment to logic and reason as Hamilton’s early attempt at finding the voice he later used for the Matt Helm books.
Hard Case Crime was smart to reprint Night Walker. Some other enterprising reprint house should take the initiative and get Hamilton’s other stand-alone books back in print. The guy was a national treasure and deserves to be remembered. Recommended.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Set in the early 1700s, the book is written in first-person as Oxford student Miles Wentworth explains how he transformed from hardworking academic scholar in London to struggling on the battered rocks of Maine's Boon Island. The first 30-pages has Miles befriending a young actor and fisherman named Neal. Miles' father is a judge and quickly Neal, and his financially burdened father Swede, become family friends to the Wentworths.
One evening Neal is attacked by a sexual predator after a performance. During the assault, Neal stabs and kills the man. In an effort to protect Neal from a murder charge, Miles and Swede hide the man's body. Miles' father proposes that the best course of action would be for Neal, Swede and Miles to join the crew of a British ship called The Nottingham under family friend Captain Dean. The ship is headed to Maine on a long exporting trip and the time away from London will insure that Miles, Neil and Swede aren't caught up in a murder investigation.
During the first few days on board the Nottingham, the heroic Captain Dean must contend with a loud-mouthed bully and his three friends. Over the journey, the tension reaches a boiling point and the inevitable physical confrontation begins. The scuffle leads to the Nottingham being shipwrecked on the icy mound of rocks called Boon Island. This is where the bulk of this survival narrative lies.
Like Robinson Crusoe or Treasure Island, Boon Island is an exciting nautical tale that transitions into a harrowing survival yarn. While the first 30-pages is extremely literary, with many discussions on English playwrights and poetry, the slow-burn was absolutely worth it. While the sea-journey consumes a few chapters, Roberts really finds his feet as the book's emphasis revolves around the shipwreck. The novel evolves into a daily diary as Miles translates the horrors of arctic temperatures, wind-swept seas, battered rocks and the consistent strife between the ship's crew.
The author's intimate, more personalized account provoked me into asking myself asking if I could survive the same horrifying events that these men endure. It would take a lot of strength and willpower. Thankfully, Captain Dean steals the show and is the essential “white-hat hero” who fits perfectly into the men's action-adventure formula. With his rugged fortitude, combined with Miles' loss of innocence, the book is a showcase of different human behaviors and perspectives under the harshest conditions. Beyond the human suffering, the book's most amazing strength is that it is a real-life testimony to the events that actually happened to these men. As a historical tale, Roberts bases his fiction on fact. That makes the last few pages a rewarding ending as we learn about the real-life characters and what became of their life experiences after Boon Island.
If you love survival stories, nautical adventures or even novels dedicated to the human spirit, Boon Island is a sure-fire winner. Despite the terrible tragedy, Roberts conveys so much excitement and anticipation into his calculated narrative. This is just a literary classic and one that makes me want to track down more of the author's work.
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Monday, January 18, 2021
Friday, January 15, 2021
Bones Will Tell is a good example of the shudder-pulp writing style of the early 20th Century. Fischer cut his teeth on this sub-genre and masterfully weaves together elements of horror, mystery and intrigue. The story is about two 12-year old kids who dare to climb over the wall bordering what many consider to be the town's “old dark house.” Rumors are abound that the owner herself is a mysterious widow who lost her husband decades ago. Whether he is dead, missing or still alive somewhere in the house enhances the lore of the property. With this seemingly haunted house bordering a dreary swamp, the author's imagination runs wild when the two kids discover a dead body laying in a damp flower bed.
Like any old-fashioned horror tale, the kids report their findings to the police who fail to find any evidence of a corpse. When the kids' testimony becomes questioned, the criticism shifts to the kids' unwarranted trespassing. In order to prove their innocence, the kids jump over the wall again the next night. This second-half of the story escalates the narrative into a more frightful, murder mystery as the body count increases.
In today's more desensitized views of horror, homicide and grizzly details, Bones Will Tell will pale in comparison. In many ways this is like a Scooby-Doo or Hardy Boys installment where the murderer can be anyone under the sheet. The pretense that the old house is haunted is quickly dismissed as the true culprits are revealed. Anyone familiar with the formula won't find many surprises here. It's an early work by Fischer and his writing style reads like a juvenile mystery. It's hard to judge his true talents based on these types of stories, but there's enough meat on the bone to witness his early potential. As a bonus to Keene's Dead in Bed, this is a winning combination warranting the $12.95 sticker price.
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Thursday, January 14, 2021
The Tokey Wedge paperbacks are light-hearted - yet hardboiled - private detective stories that don’t take themselves too seriously. Tokey himself is 5’6” and 140 pounds. His narration and the plotting reminds me of Richard Prather’s Shell Scott books. In this case, Tokey is hired as a bodyguard for a wealthy woman named Janice going through an ugly divorce and receiving cryptic threatening letters. The splitting couple both live at a resort they co-own called The Wagon Wheel. Tokey moves into the resort, so he can be closer to his client and determine who, if anyone, is trying to kill her.
At the lodge, we quickly meet the Nymphos. To be fair, it not clear that any of them have been clinically diagnosed with nymphomania, but every woman Tokey encounters at the lodge is beautiful, stacked, and hot to trot. By 2020 standards, the novel has some retrograde attitudes toward women as sex objects. However, the book is pure escapist fiction from 1959, so no actual women were objectified in it’s creation. You should know by now if this is your thing or not. The paperback is sexier than most 1959 crime novels but nowhere close to graphic or explicit by today’s standards.
Amid the flirty hijinks and sexual innuendos, there is a decent mystery to be solved at Nympho Lodge, and Tokey proves himself to be a competent, funny, and tough private detective. At times, it felt like a dirty Agatha Christie book with a finite number of people in a lodge getting killed off one by one while our intrepid investigator gets laid and solves the mystery. For comparison purposes, I enjoyed spending 174 big-font pages with Tokey Wedge far more than I’ve ever liked a Shell Scott paperback. Nympho Lodge isn’t a mystery masterpiece, but it’s definitely a lot of sexy fun.
Grizzly Pulp did a marvelous job packaging the physical product of this paperback. The pulp paper is soft and readable. The novel comes with a removable black cover masking the lusty sleaze art, so you can read on a crowded city bus without inviting the side-eye from squares. My only criticism is that there were lots of line-break errors in the text and several other typos. It was nothing that stopped me from enjoying the story, but the Grizzly Pulp proofreader shouldn’t rely on optical character recognition programs to do all the work.
Mostly, I’m thrilled that an enterprising, grassroots publisher has brought Tokey Wedge back to life. This is a fun series that deserves a second chance at building a readership. Recommended.
Buy a copy HERE
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
The book introduces readers to Jeff McQueen, a best-selling horror author who writes a series of heroic werewolf stories. In the opening pages, McQueen experiences a fiery car wreck in California that results in the death of his young son. Later, McQueen's literary agent Oliver reveals to him that his last two mystery novels didn't sell well and the publisher wants him to return to his horror roots. McQueen, mourning with his wife and young daughter, understands that he's in debt to the publisher and needs to rebound from the tragedy quickly. To fast-track the next novel's conception, Oliver books the McQueen family in a century old Gothic mansion called Elmwood Estate in rural Massachusetts.
Once the McQueen family settles into the new locale, Jeff begins to experience childish laughter in the hallways, bizarre hallucinations and a multitude of visions stemming from his son's death. In the estate's sprawling garden lies a number of statues and monuments that his daughter “befriends”, only Jeff fears that these monuments are sinister in nature. In the small town, the McQueens discover that there are no children present. All of these eerie elements combine to make Naha's Breakdown a haunted house thriller with a core mystery – what's the secret behind Elmwood Estate?
At just over 200-pages, Breakdown is a quick page-turner that falls into the cozy “move into the haunted house in New England” sub-genre. While not particularly violent or gory, the book has a thick and foreboding atmosphere that suggests death is merely a chapter away. As the book progresses, Jeff's descent into madness is parallel to his heavy alcohol abuse. This plays havoc for the skeptics who ponder whether Jeff is really seeing things or is it just the booze?
As a serviceable haunted house entry, Breakdown is sure to please. I found some of the aspects scary, but overall I was more enamored with Jeff's relationship with his young daughter and the fight for his sanity and soul. Overall, this is an easy read with plenty of reward. If you can locate an affordable copy, don't hesitate to loosen the purse strings. It's a smart purchase.
Buy a copy of this book HERE
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Ryne Lanark is a Chicago cop with a hidden agenda. Before joining the force, he was an acclaimed actor until his family was slaughtered by street punks during a New Years Eve thrill-kill session. The murderers were never caught, and Ryne made revenge his life’s mission. Rather than going full-on vigilante, Ryne joined the police and worked his way up to Lieutenant where he regularly goes undercover as a “decoy” to catch and abuse violent criminals.
Ryne doesn’t play well with other cops. Attempts to foist a partner upon him generally end in fistfights or worse. After being sent to Precinct 13 - the last-chance stop for screw-up cops - he is assigned his first female partner, a young looker named Shannon. Over time, the relationship takes the exact story arc you’d expect in a 1980s police procedural.
Meanwhile, the White Glove Murderer is menacing Chicago by raping, surgically disfiguring, and murdering victims. The crimes are particularly gruesome and graphic - even by fictional serial killer standards. As you’d expect, Ryne wants a piece of the investigation. Again, the case follows precisely the story arc you’d expect. It’s not bad, but it also lacks the fun, over-the-top pulpiness that Pinnacle Books delivered to readers a decade earlier.
Mostly, I liked Decoy. It was a well-crafted police procedural mystery with two interesting lead characters. Walker was a fine, if workmanlike, writer 30 years ago capable of delivering a paperback consistent with late-1980s cop-action standards. If that sounds like your thing, you’ll dig this book. I’m probably more at home in the world of 1950s and 1960s crime fiction, but I enjoyed this detour to 1989 well enough. Recommended.
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Monday, January 11, 2021
Friday, January 8, 2021
In the book's opening pages, Frazee states that the book's narrative is taking place in 1890. However, this was either a ploy by Fawcett to make this sound like a traditional western novel or simply an error on the author's part. I believe the year is actually 1790. Many of the book's characters discuss their fight against the British and most of America's midwest and western regions remain unsettled throughout the narrative. Further, the book's cover (always the best resource) clearly shows the main character, Bushrod Gentry, carrying a flintlock musket.
Gentry, a white man who was raised by the Shawnee, is a lone-wolf vagabond who has journeyed all over the east and mid-west sections of untamed America. With his musket, tomahawk and knife, Gentry tries to make peace when he can, but doesn’t hesitate to scrap with ruthless settlers and the savage Mingo tribe. When the book begins, Gentry is in the backwoods of Kentucky fighting three Mingo warriors. After being cut on the arm, Gentry finds himself aided by a young woman named Mary Stuart. And this is when his real trouble starts.
Gentry is taken back to Mary's hillbilly clan, which is really just a group of Irish drinkers that share a log cabin with an old Native American named Oykywha. At first, Gentry is happy to meet the group, share a meal and then bed down alone in the clan's shed. The next morning, Gentry is ready to hit the wooded trail again hoping to make it to “the Shining Mountains” one day. Gentry has no use for a woman and explains this to Mary. However, Mary can't shake her desire for Gentry, and she attempts numerous stalling techniques and eventually attempts to propose to him. Gentry, fearing for his very life, finds himself foolishly hogtied to the clan and dealing with a rambunctious, sexually-charged girl. With that plot, Frazee cleverly converts this pioneer western into a traditional femme fatale story. Think of Orrie Hitt meets Zane Grey.
Many Rivers to Cross had me chuckling throughout the 170-page book. Gentry is a hilarious character and I couldn't help but sympathize with his situation. After being thrust into a shotgun wedding, Gentry's life becomes complicated and highly-stressful. Marriage, obsessive impulse, sexual energy and a frenzied escape are just some of the ingredients that make Frazee's narrative so riveting and enjoyable. This one is a real classic and one of the funniest western novels I've read in a long time. Hunt a copy of this one down. It's worth the time and money.
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Thursday, January 7, 2021
Like the name suggests, the novel's premise is about a U.S. PT44 torpedo boat in action in World War 2's Pacific Theater. The main character is Captain Walt Kenyon, an admirable hero who commands his small crew to perform at their peak despite the overwhelming odds. In the book's exciting opening pages, Kenyon's crew shoot down a Japanese “Zeke”, a common Japanese fighter craft formally called the A6M Zero. After discussing the plane's placement and mission, the crew then intercepts a Japanese Destroyer in a harrowing firefight.
While these early hit-and-run exercises are a pleasurable reading experience, South Pacific Fury thankfully settles into a central plot. A Coastwatcher named Cook has become trapped on Golo Island, now completely occupied by enemy forces. After months of relaying strategic codes and instructions, the Navy doesn't want to abandon him. Orders are given to Kenyon's crew to circumvent a large Japanese fleet in an effort to successfully rescue Cook from behind enemy lines.
In some ways this reminded me of the excellent novel Skylark Mission, written by Marvin Albert under the British-sounding pseudonym Ian MacAlister. Like that adventure, the exploits of Cook surviving on the island and avoiding detection are carefully inserted into alternating chapters that really helped me escape the small confines of Kenyon's boat. This novel of “land and sea” ratcheted up the suspense and action through the use of both perspectives.
South Pacific Fury is an outstanding work of war-fiction and, to the detriment of my wallet, has led me down the rabbit hole of Macdonnell's body of work. Highly recommended!
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Wednesday, January 6, 2021
It’s been six-years since Lee Scarborough left the world of football, and now he’s down on his luck trying to sell his car to earn some cash. He meets a hot chick named Diana with a proposition. The girl knows where there’s a stash of $120,000 in stolen money, and she wants Lee’s help to recover it. As Diana explains, a banker named Butler disappeared two months ago leaving a $120,000 cash shortage behind at the bank. Diana’s theory is that Mrs. Butler murdered her embezzling husband, disposed of his body somewhere, and has hidden away the $120,000 for a rainy day.
Diana’s plan is to ensure Mrs. Butler is away from her house for a couple days while Lee tosses the place in search of the stashed cash. Lee negotiates a split for a sizable portion of the loot if he finds the cash. Things go sideways almost immediately and Lee becomes an inadvertent kidnapper of Mrs. Butler while the path to victory becomes more and more complicated.
The shifting alliances throughout the novel are entertaining, and the interplay between Lee and Mrs. Butler has some of the best dialogue of Williams’ career as a writer. However, the plot meandered quite a bit and wasn’t always up to the high standard previously established by Williams. A Touch of Death is in the middle-tier of Williams’ non-maritime books. It’s certainly not the best of his work (that would be River Girl) but it’s definitely worth your time.
A Touch of Death was also released as Mix Yourself a Redhead (U.K.) and Le Pigeon (France).
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Tuesday, January 5, 2021
The paperback opens with out narrator, Mark “Mitch” Mitchell, on trial for stealing a classified technical report on atomic guided missile technology from his employer at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Flashbacks from the trial tell the backstory of how the patriotic young scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project suddenly finds himself on trial for treason.
Essentially, it’s blame the dame.
Mitch has an eye for the ladies. Meanwhile, the agency keeps a close eye on him to ensure he doesn’t get loose-lipped about his nuke job while endeavoring to get laid. Mitch does a fine job of compartmentalizing such things until he meets Marie at a dance club. From the moment they meet, there is an erotic compatibility that the author describes in vivid - but never graphic - detail. Suffice it to say that Mitch is completely intoxicated by Marie’s charms.
Three weeks after meeting, Mitch and Marie are engaged to be married. The internal security people at the Atomic Energy Commission are skeptical of Marie from the beginning. Why can’t they find anything about her past? It’s like she appeared out of nowhere. The marriage moves forward over the protestations of the agency cops.
You don’t have to be a genius to draw a straight line between the opening courtroom scene with Mitch on trial for mishandling classified materials and the flashback involving his suspicious wife who materialized into his life from nowhere. Is it possible that Marie duped Mitch and made off with the secret missile plans?
The trajectory of the legal case comprising the first quarter of the book was nonsensical and made me wonder if the author ever met an attorney. However, if you’re able to suspend your disbelief, there’s a great spy thriller inside the pages of this thin paperback with delightful and unexpected twists and turns around every corner. The paperback’s main villain is a corpulent giant called The Dutchman, who is one of the finest villains I have ever encountered in a vintage paperback. Both the dialogue and action scenes are also particularly good throughout the novel.
Brute Madness is a remarkably good time. It probably won’t be your favorite book ever, but it’s way better than it had to be to satisfy both 1961 readers and those rediscovering the paperback 60 years later. Recommended.
Ledru Baker Jr. Bibliography:
And Be My Love (Fawcett Gold Medal 1951)
The Cheaters (Fawcett Gold Medal 1952)
Preying Streets (Ace Books 1955)
“The Queens Bedroom” - Novelette from Tales of the Frightened magazine (August 1957). The publication was edited by Lyle Kenyon Engel and illustrated by Rudy Nappi.
Brute Madness (Novel Books 1961)
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