Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Freedom Trap

Desmond Bagley (1923-1983) was one of the first high-adventure authors to join Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean as the stars of the genre. I loved all of Bagley's novels I read, including 1970's Running Blind. In that book, the protagonist has fled a Russian spy named Slade. In the Freedom Trap, released a year later, Slade is presented again, although this is a totally different story. The two books could be considered companions, but are not directly linked to one another. I liked Running Blind so The Freedom Trap sounded like the most logical Desmond Bagley novel to read next. 

The book features a South African burglar by the name of Rearden. In the opening pages of the book, Rearden comes to London for the first time. It's here that he is asked to meet a mysterious man named MacKintosh and his sexy secretary Mrs. Smith. Mackintosh offers Rearden a sizeable sum to steal a packet of diamonds from a London mailman. Although it sounds absurd, I was surprised and convinced by MacKintosh's explanation that the diamonds (in the 1970s at least) were just posted in simple envelopes. Rearden accepts the job and in a few chapters the letter carrier is assaulted, Rearden is richer and MacKintosh has a handful of sparkling diamonds. The entire heist is performed flawlessly - no witnesses, smooth transaction. But later that night, two London detectives come to the door to arrest Rearden on assault and robbery charges. Did MacKintosh sell Rearden out?

The first 80 pages of this book are dedicated to theft and subsequent arrest. It was enjoyable, profoundly convincing and well written. As good as it was, the second act was absolutely terrific. Rearden pleads his innocence through the initial interrogation, sensationalized trial and the mandatory sentence. The judge begs Rearden to come clean on where the diamonds are. Rearden, refusing to cooperate, defiantly proclaims his innocence while the judge sentences him to 20 years in prison. 

After a year in the pen, a convicted mobster insider offers Rearden an agreement. For 20 grand, a mob-backed criminal squad can get Rearden out of jail. The cool part of it? They specialize in getting people out of prison for money. And they know he can afford it. If Rearden agrees to this deal, he could be free. But if he pays, he has no way of knowing if this team even exists. In the worst case, he pays the money and is caught fleeing. His 20-years would probably double. What the hell does Rearden do?

The Freedom Trap is one of the best books I've read in a long time. The first and second acts were just tremendously well written and just so much fun to absorb and understand. The conclusion of the novel was somewhat abrupt and seemed rushed, but it never really harmed what is otherwise a remarkable reading experience. Moreover, the Slade link between Running Blind, and The Freedom Trap is certainly there, but by all means the two books are independent titles. Highest recommendation available.

Note - The book was adapted into a theatrical film in 1973 starring Paul Newman. The title used for the film was The MacKinstosh Man. Fawcett reprinted the paperback under that title as well.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Cap Kennedy #01 - Galaxy of the Lost

E.C. Tubb (Edwin Charles Tubb, 1919-2010) was a British author that specialized in westerns, science-fiction and fantasy. With more than 140 novels to his credit, most of Tubb's literature has been written under pseudonyms such as Carl Maddox, Eric Storm, George Holt and Alan Guthrie. During five decades, Tubb, used a total of 58 pen names. Not surprisingly, he used the name Gregory Kern for his 1970's space opera series, Cap Kennedy. The series consisted of 16 installments in the United States from 1973-1975. These were published by the popular science-fiction brand DAW. As well, a volume in German was written in 1976 and published in 1983. While the series was titled Cap Kennedy in America, the first six volumes of the series were released in the U.K. under the title F.A.T.E. 

In the series debut, Galaxy of the Lost, the author explains that Earth has entered an Interstella era. Due to the colonization and exploration of many planets in the galaxy, many alien races, ambitious outcasts, and dissident human sects now exist. To protect the Earth, a system of mobile aid laboratories and construction authorities (M.A.L.A.C.A.) patrol the peripheral galaxies, in search of anything that could disrupt the utopia. To help this organization is Free Acting Terran Envoys (F.A.T.E.) that investigates the issues and limits any potential threats. Captain Kennedy is considered among the best F.A.T.E. agents. Here's the team:

Captain Kennedy - He is a brave, fearless fighter who uses his vast interstellar knowledge to investigate problems. He's a playboy, slightly arrogant and resembles the stereotypical 1960s fictional secret-agent. 

Penza Saratov - He is a male alien with superhuman strength and works with Kennedy's team as an engineer. He was raised on a planet with three times the gravity of Earth and is described as a physical giant. 

Vim Chemile - The team's navigator. He's tall and thin and supposedly from a former alien race. He has feline and lizard features and can disguise himself like a chameleon.

Professor Jarl - Neatly dressed human that works as the brains behind the team's missions. 

In the opening chapter, Kennedy is summoned to a meeting with a senior trade officer. It is explained that a ship named Wankle has sent out a distress call while traveling on a popular trading route in a faraway galaxy. After probing for more information, Kennedy learns that it is the fourth vessel to apparently disappear after sending an alarm. The premise is that those vessels just disappear out of space. There is no visible damage, no material left behind and no signs of any surviving crew members. It compares to some kind of Bermuda triangle phenomenon.

To investigate these strange events, Kennedy and Saratov agreed to join the next freighter, Hedlanda, headed to this particular location. Journeying just a few hours behind will be the Mordain, Kennedy's ship piloted by Jarl and Chemile. On board the Hedlanda, Kennedy and Chemile conduct typical crew, ship and supply investigations to determine what makes these vessels viable targets for some kind of foreign entities. Before they find the answers, the entire ship enters some sort of space vacuum and is deposited in a frosty dark salvage the planet governed by steel anonymous robots. Which galaxy where they relocated to?

Before buying a second-hand copy of Galaxy of the Lost, I had read lukewarm reviews for this series. Some complained that it was mostly juvenile and a mediocre version of the massively popular Perry Rhodan series. Even though I haven't read Rhodan, I can say surprisingly, that Cap Kennedy is great. 

At 125 pages, it is a very short book, yet full of action. The bulk of the narrative features Kennedy, Saratov and a few surviving crew members scrambling along this unknown planet's icy, black surface trying to survive. There is a sense of claustrophobia, a looming threat, and a sense of real isolation and fear. I imagined these tentacled robots as being rather nightmarish in appearance. The author does a great job with the cat-and-mouse chase of man versus machine through abandoned ships and salvage in this monstrous junk yard. I didn't find this to be juvenile in the least. There's some profanity, early sexual innuendo and a great deal of violence throughout. In other words, I'm searching for the second series installment as I write this. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 28, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 91

Episode 91 is a special Father's Day episode! Eric and his father, Chris discuss the life and literary works of William W. Johnstone. We delve deep into Johnstone's prolific career, determine the identity of J.A. Johnstone and examine the publishing mysteries surrounding the Johnstone name after his death. The two discuss The Last Mountain Man, Rig Warrior, Out of the Ashes, Matt Jensen, The Eagles and so much more. Tom calls in with commentary on Johnstone's contemporary thrillers like Stand Your Ground and Black Friday. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE 

Donate to the show HERE

Listen to "Episode 91 Draft" on Spreaker.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Bodies Are Dust (aka: Hell Cop)

Bodies Are Dust (aka: Hell Cop) is a nasty little crime noir novel from 1931 that’s been out-of-print for over 60 years. A new imprint called Staccato Crime (a division of Stark House) has resurrected the collectible rarity by the pharmacist-turned-author-turned-screenwriter Pincus Jacob Wolfson (1903-1979) for a 2021 reprint. The book contains informative essays by Jeff Vorzimmer and David Rachels on the paperback's historical context.

Our narrator, Inspector Buck Saffiotte, is a big city police detective hooked on booze, babes, and graft. He’s a political animal who was hoping to be police commissioner until a recent election broke in an unexpected direction. For now, he’s running a station house in the city’s theater district, a neighborhood riddled with speakeasies and whorehouses. His partner is a Jewish cop he calls The Yid, and Saffiotte is emotionally abusive to his housekeeper. He forces her to serve him breakfast every morning along with whatever whore spent the previous night with him.

Saffiotte is a real sonofabitch, but he’s also our guide through this 200 pages of depravity - so you better learn to live with him. The unnamed city is a character unto itself, and it reminded me of the Frank Miller graphic novel (and movie) Sin City. It’s a rat-filled, fetid sore of a slum where Italian immigrants sell rotting vegetables on busted pushcarts. Wolfson’s descriptions are vivid and stay with you as the pages fly by.

In the novel’s opening half, we follow Saffiotte through a morass of characters involved with frauds, swindles, sex and graft. It was all very compelling, but nothing resembling a storyline develops until the paperback’s second half when our anti-hero gets involved with The Yid’s new wife. There’s also a fixed boxing match, a bank embezzling fugitive, and an old friend’s death to be avenged. It’s all rather compelling, but it still doesn’t equal much of a plot.

Overall, Bodies are Dust was a solid read considering it is a 1931 novel. For my money, I still prefer 1950s noir, but it’s fair to view this one as a hardboiled classic from an era when the genre was still finding its feet. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Where Eagles Dare

In addition to being a catchy anthem of heavy metal and a hit movie, Where Eagles Dare is perhaps also Alistair MacLean's most beloved literary work. The Scottish writer enjoyed a prolific career with such incredible novels as Ice Station Zebra (1963) Breakheart Pass (1974) and The Guns of Navarone (1957). So, choosing the most recognized and loved MacLean novel is rather difficult. But, Where Eagles Dare, originally published in hardback in 1967, definitely seems to stay timeless with generations of fans and readers.

This World War II adventure novel begins in high altitude as a group of Allied paratroopers prepare their descent into Bavaria, Germany. The team is led by British Major John Smith and the objective of the mission is rather vague in the first chapters of the book. The beginning of MacLean's narrative has the group embark on the perilous landing high on a snowy Bavarian mountain range. After one of the members is mysteriously killed on the ground, Smith suspects there may be a traitor in the ranks. In addition, Smith conceals key information from the team regarding the radio transmissions and hides that another team member jumped from the aircraft to secretly accompany the mission.

The majority of this novel unfolds over a 24-hour period. Ultimately, the mission unveils itself as a retrieval assignment. A U.S. General who devised part of the strategy of the Western Front was captured by the Nazis. He is being held at the Gestapo headquarters in a castle named Schlos Adler. The Allied team has to disguise itself as German soldiers and infiltrate the castle. In doing so, they will save the General and preserve the opportunities of the Allies to continue building the Western Front. 

Needless to say, MacLean's novel flourishes with a number of high adventure scenes in the mountains, numerous car chases and gun fights. The iconic cable car scene from the book's cover is impressive and consumes much of the book's furious finale. However, my favorite aspect of MacLean's story is simply the secret agent formula of these men convincing many senior officials in Germany that they are indeed German. There is such tension in some of these intimate scenes involving a myriad of characters. 

There are also entertaining and funny exchanges between Smith and the U.S. Army Ranger Lieutenant Morris Schaffer (represented by Clint Eastwood in the movie adaptation) who help to lighten the mood. As one would expect, there are so many twists and turns that the story evolves into a completely different type of mission. In doing so, these two consistent and likeable characters really dominate most of the book's narrative.

Where Eagles Dare is as good as it's supposed to be. This is the iconic, captivating novel of high adventure that has been promised. Highest recommendation available. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Dive in the Sun

Douglas Reeman (1924-2017) is a British author of nautical fiction, mostly about the Second World War. Before becoming a writer, Reeman served as a Midshipman at the young age of 16 and participated in heavy combat in the North Atlantic and was present at D-Day. He was injured twice during the war before joining the Metropolitan Police and later the Royal Naval Reserve, where he remained Lieutenant-Commander. In early 1958, Reeman launched a successful career writing realistic nautical adventure stories, some under the pseudonym of Alexander Kent. My first experience with this author is his second novel, Dive in the Sun, originally published in 1961.

Lieutenant Ralph Curtis' mission is to pilot a miniature submarine on the Italian coast to detonate a massive dock used for German infiltration and deployment. Three men will provide assistance to Curtis - Duncan, Taylor and Jervis. Once the wharf is ready to explode, Curtis will retreat from enemy waters and end up with a larger transport submarine. This mission will require supreme leadership, but Curtis is in doubt due to the recent loss of one of his men in battle. Feeling responsible, Curtis now struggles with weariness and self-confidence in his own abilities.

The first 50 pages of the book carry out the mission as well as the initial retreat. However, having planned the exit incorrectly, the miniature submarine is damaged. With no periscope or radar, the men decide the best course of action is to go further down the coast, beach the submarine and take their chances on foot hoping that Allied forces will begin a coastal assault and eventual rescue. The middle chapters of the book focus on Jervis captured on the coastline and inevitably questioned by Italian and German forces. Hoping to free Jarvis, the three men find an unlikely ally in a young Italian woman with a secret agenda.

As one might expect, Reeman's writing is permeated by realism and gravelly violence. Before going into the book, I hoped that the technical aspects of underwater nautical service would not take precedence over the rapid adventure of WW2. Fortunately, Reeman keeps the plot propelling forward with many changes in the story and the locale. From the initial shore survival mission to a swirling nautical adventure, Reeman delivers the action in spades. 

I also found Curtis's imperfect character intriguing. The emotional rollercoaster he had to endure in terms of loss, regret and self-doubt were extraordinary. His chemistry with the three men, the mysterious woman and the decisions he is forced to make solidified what was already a strong story. 

In terms of comparison, I would speculate that this particular book could be compared to Hammond Innes - imperfect hero, war-related plot, nautical adventure, sweeping locales, etc. But, most of these tropes could be attributed to any of the high adventure style writers of the early to mid-twentieth century. In this case, Douglas Reeman is another wonderful voice to turn to when you're looking for the next great adventure novel.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

James Bond #02 - Live and Let Die

British author Ian Fleming created what is generally believed to be the most popular secret agent of all time, James Bond. The series began in 1953 with Casiono Royale, an origin novel that introduced Bond's continuous war with Russia's counterespionage agency SMERSH. Nearly a year after Casino Royale's publication, Live and Let Die was released. It's the second novel in the James Bond series and features many elements that were dissected and added to the Bond films For Your Eyes Only (1981) and License to Kill (1989). 

In Live and Let Die, Bond is ordered by M to investigate a villain named Buonaparte Ignace Gallia, otherwise known as "Mr. Big". The dense plot has Mr. Big as an African-American voodoo priest utilizing 17th century gold coins to fund operations for SMERSH. In the opening chapters, Bond's investigation leads him to Harlem, New York.

Partnering with CIA agent Felix Leiter (who also starred in Casino Royale), Bond locates Mr. Big in a lavish nightclub. But, the two are quickly captured by the villain and Bond finds himself being tortured by Mr. Big while having his fortune read by a beautiful woman named Solitaire. After Bond's finger is brutally broken, the British agent and Felix manage to escape. But once they arrive in St. Petersburg, Florida to search for Mr. Big's warehouses, Fleming escalates the violence and tension. In a horrifying manor, Felix is written out of the book (and possibly the series) and Bond gains an assist from Solitaire in fighting the vile villain. 

I challenge anyone to say this is a worthy sequel to Casino Royale. While I didn't hate the book, I found it to be absurd even in the often wacky world of fictional espionage. Mr. Big is a strange villain and the book's multiple locales warranted a more epic storyline. Instead, Bond fights Mr. Big in nightclubs, a giant aquarium and an underground oceanic cavern in lieu of a high-wire spy act. While Fleming obviously spotlights the action, the plotline left something to be desired. If you can swallow the far-fetched story, Live and Let Die is still a pleasurable reading experience.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Wrecking of Offshore Five

Ronald Johnston is a British author who specializes in novels about catastrophes at sea. Books like Collision Ahead (1966), Disaster at Dungeness (1964), The Angry Ocean (1968), and The Eye of the Needle (1975) all concern large ocean liners and their crew facing perilous storms, tsunamis and fiery collisions. Not surprisingly, my first experience with the author is The Wrecking of Offshore Five, a catastrophic oil rig adventure. It was originally a hardcover release in 1967 and was printed in paperback by McFadden-Bartell at 1970.

In the book, Offshore Five is a British oil platform which is drilling in the icy North Sea. Roger Bright is the leader behind the operation and is counting on his crew to uncover the oil before the leases expire and the operation returns to Danish control. After many weeks of excavation and testing, the platform doesn't discover a drop of oil. While Bright is furious with the outcome, nothing can prepare him for the disaster that awaits him.

When a trawler sails around the platform, a German mine left from World War II is discovered. After a poor attempt to divert the mine to open water, the ship's master inevitably makes a miscalculation and pushes the mine into one of the underwater legs supporting the rig. The blast breaks the foundation of the platform and the entire rig plunges into the dark depths of the ocean.

Much of the novel's narrative is dedicated to the rescue of two survivors who are trapped in an airtight hut on the platform. Johnston puts the reader in the undersea jail with the two survivors - a hardworking Texan and a British scientist. On the surface, Bright directs the press, the rescue operations and the various personnel who will attempt to bring the two men safely to the surface.

Like any good disaster adventure, the premise is either rescue, survival or both. The Wrecking of Offshore Five provides a stereotypical formula that prepares the reader for impact, then introduces complete chaos. The underwater rescue and the events leading to it are enjoyable and Johnston's writing is serviceable. There is nothing spectacular in this novel and it is certainly not a masterpiece of literature. But, if you need a thrilling and fast page-turner for a day or so, it's worth a read. Nothing more, nothing less.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Case of Jennie Brice

Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote a number of mystery novels, short stories, plays and poetry during a writing career which lasted from 1908 to 1952. She was often referred to as the American version of Agatha Christie. I've recently discovered her work and was delighted with her 1925 novel The Red Lamp. Striking while the iron is hot, I soon decided to read another, The Case of Jennie Brice. It was initially printed as a hardback in 1913 and later reprinted by Dell as a paperback in 1960.

The novel is set in Rinehart's own hometown of Allegheny, Pennsylvania (part of Pittsburgh) and stars a widowed woman named Ms. Pittman. In a first-person account, Pittman explains to readers that she lives in Pittsburgh's flooded neighborhood and runs a boarding house for tenants. As an experienced riverside resident, Pittman began moving residents and property from the lower floor of the building to the second floor. Cleverly, she also ties a small boat to her staircase bannister so she can simply sail down the hall and out into the city when the waters rise. 

Two of Pittman's tenants are a married couple, writer Philip Langley and actor Jennie Brice. As the dense rain descends on the city, Pittman begins to hear the couple arguing. The next morning, the boat is found cut and then re-attached to the bannister and there are bloodstains on the rope. In addition, Jennie Brice is missing. Did she leave Langly or was she murdered? When police locate a headless body near the river, the public consensus is that this is the body of Jennie Brice. 

As one can imagine, The Case of Jennie Brice ultimately became a complex murder mystery as well as a jury trial. Pittman teams up with a former NYC homicide detective named Howell to determine if Brice is really dead. Throughout their investigation, they learn that the couple were harboring a dark secret (for that time-period) and there may be suspicious grounds for Philip to kill his wife. A beautiful mistress, a mysterious guest, a wounded dog and Pittman's separated family all play roles in Rinehart's compelling story. 

The author's brilliant setting really enhanced this moody murder mystery. The very thought that the house is flooded and that Jennie Brice could be drowned in the den below was fascinating. There is also a disturbing tension throughout the house as Pittman begins to suspect other murderers inside. Rinehart creates an equally entertaining subplot with Pittman's relationship with her estranged siblings and niece. The two plots marry perfectly and are enhanced by the final act of the book, the inevitable courtroom drama.

I've never read anything like this before. With its wildly innovative story, the development of the propelling plot and captivating characters, I found it to be a better, although quite different, reading experience than The Red Lamp. Highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Angry Mountain

From 1937, Hammond Innes launched a career as an iconic writer, which dominated him as a cornerstone of high adventure fiction. Averaging a book per year, The Angry Mountain was the author's 14th novel, originally published in 1950. The book uses the natural disaster subtype of action-adventure, this involving an authentic volcano called Mount Vesuvius. 

In The Angry Mountain, Innes features former Royal Air Force pilot Dick Farrell. In WW2, Farrell fought the Germans only to be shot and captured along with his comrades Reece and Shirer. As a prisoner of war, Farrell was brutally tortured at the hands of a German surgeon. After an immense barbarity, Farrell's leg was cut off at his knee. Reece and Shirer broke out of the camp and Farrell was liberated at the end of the war. 

At present, Farrell is working for a British machine tool company. The company sends him to Czechoslovakia where he meets a former British intelligence agent that he worked alongside with during the war. After a strange sequence of events, Farrell discovers that this former agent is taken into custody as an enemy of the state. After being questioned by the communists, Farrell finally travels to Italy to convey a message to Reece and Shirer. But once there, he realizes that his German tormentor is still alive and has taken the identity of Shirer.

Needless to say, there are a lot of dense storylines that prevail throughout The Angry Mountain. Farrell's memory of the atrocities of war, his disability due to the torture and his personal anguish on failing his countrymen all tie into his paranoia that somehow this German torturer has returned to his life. The bulk of the narrative features Farrell spending his days with a beautiful dancer named Countessa Vale as the two frolic through the countryside. Eventually, the entire cast of characters ends up in Vesuvius where the active volcano erupts. 

The first half of The Angry Mountain introduced a diamond smuggling scheme that I really expected to take off. Instead, the book's second-half is a frantic escape from the volcano as Farrell is forced to become the hero and placed in a position to recover the sanity that he feared was once lost. In many respects, Farrell is the same kind of imperfect hero that appears in a number of Hammond Innes novels, only this one both emotionally and physically endangered. 

As a compelling read, Hammond Innes delivers a smooth prose that easily flips the pages. Although not a masterpiece, The Angry Mountain has enough story, character development, forward motion and mystery to keep it interesting. For that reason, it is well worth your time.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 16, 2021


Gardner F. Fox (Gardner Francis Cooper Fox, 1911-1986) was a prolific comic book writer who created, or co-created, many legendary characters like Flash, Hawkman, Batgirl and Justice League. Beyond the comic industry, Fox authored stand-alone novels for original paperback publishers like Fawcett Gold Medal, Ace, Signet, Monarch and Belmont Tower. The author contributed to numerous genres including Western, Fantasy, Spy and Romance. My look at Fox's work this month is his career late natural disaster novel called Hurricane. The book was published in paperback format in 1976 by Leisure Books.

The book takes place in the course of a summer in a Northeastern beach hamlet named The Point. This small tourist retreat is comprised of rich residents who work hard and play harder. Fox's story explores a handful of families and the sexual games they play with secret lovers.

Lawyer Trevor Whitehead is having a torrid affair with a neighbor while his wife Connie manages to seduce her son's teenage best friend. Corporate banker Bob Hume offers his hot wife Leona to rich clients in exchange for financial accounts. These are the two plots that explode with passion, lust and sex as Fox skillfully exposes these corrupt characters.

Despite the title of the book, the storm is not mentioned until page 137 of 200. It finally arrives a mere 40 pages before the book comes to an end. Readers looking for a white-knuckled natural catastrophe thriller will find that the "hurricane" is really the sexual chemistry that pervades the surf side. While hurricane survival and rescue attempts consume the last pages of the book, the book is mostly just a sex affair with these characters jumping from bed to bed. 

If you love a romance novel with great sex, Hurricane is sure to please. It did not meet my personal expectations and for the most part left me disappointed by the lack of storm action despite its marketing attempt. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Snowbound Six

Perhaps one of the greatest disaster movies of all time was the 1974 blockbuster The Towering Inferno. Led by an all-star cast, the film was partly adapted from the novel The Tower by Richard Martin Stern (as well as The Glass Inferno by Thomas Scortia and Frank Robinson). It was the author's best-seller and led him to write other catastrophic novels such as Wildfire (1985), Flood (1979) and Tsunami (1988). With June temperatures soaring in Florida, I sought to cool off with Stern's 1977 novel Snowbound Six. As you might suspect, the theme is a blizzard.  

In the opening pages, Warner Harlow, his wife and their two teenagers are traveling a steep mountain road into the high peaks of the fictional New Mexico town of Santo Cristo. Warner plans to spend a few days hunting elk with a friend as the family rest and relax in winter heaven. However, a massive storm front has moved in with heavy snowfall. The drive up the mountain stalls as the family finds themselves lost in whitening confusion. Luckily, a Vietnam War veteran named Ben is hiking in the mountains and finds the family in desperate need of assistance. Together, they head towards a cave, hoping to survive the storm.

While the Harlows are dealing with cave survival, an American Senator and his mistress, Lila, crash a small plane into the mountains. Ben hikes to the damaged plane hoping to find a working radio and survivors. The Senator is found dead and the radio is smashed. Lila, nearly injury free, accompanies Ben back to the cave to make up the snowbound six. 

The novel obviously spends the majority of the time on the cave survivors and their quest to endure the harsh blizzard. However, the characters double when Stern introduces a rescue team of experienced mountaineers and survivors. Their efforts to climb the mountain in the hope of a rescue predominate most of the second half of the book. Although each of the characters had their own identity, traits and skills, I always had trouble remembering who the characters were and their positions across the mountain range.

Stern's writing is good, and I thought his dialogue sequences were amazing. The only fault I have in his writing style is the fragmented presentation. The story features paragraphs or half-pages dedicated to a scene, place or character. An example, may be Billy attempts to gather wood for the fire followed by a half-page of Ben talking to Lila before another half-page or paragraph of something happening within the town. It could have been the editor's or Stern's decision, but the final outcome was rather choppy.

Despite the formatting and editing of the book, Snowbound Six was a great novel filled with high adventure and a tense atmosphere. If natural disaster books are your thing, it's a simple recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 14, 2021


Whether it's horror or adventure, disaster fiction has a dedicated following of fans and enthusiasts. Throughout the twentieth century, readers were compelled to read about natural disasters, ocean collisions, post-apocalyptic creations and weather-related disasters. Maybe this genre has the same kind of vibe as the rubber-necker pushing his head through the car window to see the horrible wreck on the road. It was this sort of curiosity that led me to open Cyclone, a 1975 Manor paperback by an author named Eric Nilsen. 

The book starts with a commercial bus full of passengers arriving in the small town of Garfield, TX. On board is a cast of colorful characters ranging from a rodeo cowboy, a school teacher, a farmer, and an old grizzled sailor. But Nilsen's two main characters are on board as well, an undercover Denver detective named Bowman and his prey, a drug dealer named Palermo. Bowman knows Palermo is holding a suitcase filled with $500K worth of heroin, which will eventually lead to a drug trade empire. But, the bus driver is forced to stop in this dusty rural town because of tornado reports. 

After Nilsen introduces the bus and its passengers, two more characters join the story - Garfield police officers Roblez and Youngblood. These two lawmen are in a scramble to move most of the small town into the civic auditorium before the deadly cyclone touches down. While the passengers and cops move around in the backstory, a radio DJ named Bob runs the town's radio station from across town. He dishes out the hits and the weather reports for readers and the town's inhabitants.

Like most disaster films and books, the setup has to be perfect. The idea of caring about the characters who are in danger allows for a more emotional experience. For the most part, the first 30 or 40 pages of Cyclone set up the inevitable destruction very well. When the tornado begins to rage, the book takes off.

Roblez and Youngblood are both involved in a number of rescue attempts, the most fascinating being a nine-year-old girl trapped beneath a wrecked trailer. There's also Bob's lonely ordeal at the radio station and his efforts to report the chaos. Meanwhile, the municipal auditorium and a local dive bar are full to capacity and the stressed human interaction ends up turning into violence. At the end of the book, Bowman's quest to bring Palermo to justice is carefully closed, but with a surprise.

Cyclone isn't a must-read disaster novel. But, considering this is an unknown author and Manor is one of the lowliest publishers of disposable fiction, it was a fun read. With the lack of profanity and detailed violence, it reads like a long Scholastic book. Or, what would have made a fast-paced made-for-television movie of the week. If you find a cheap enough copy it's worth a read.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, June 11, 2021

Strictly Poison and Other Stories

Charles Boeckman (1920-2015) learned to play clarinet and saxophone through listening to records and studying fingering boards. His musical talent made it possible for him to play and write New Orleans jazz for 70 years. However, it was not his only occupation. Boeckman sold his first short story in 1945 and contributed regularly to Alfred Hitchcok's Mystery Magazine, Manhunt and pulps like Detective Tales, All-Story Detective and Dime Mystery. In the 1980's, he partnered with his wife Patti to write 25 love novels. 

In 2015, Bold Venture Press of Florida captured 24 short stories from the author in a massive volume entitled Strictly Poison and Other Stories. The book consists of four pages of commentaries by Boeckman shortly before he died. In addition, the publisher includes small cover pictures of many digest magazines and pulps that these stories are harvested from. I listed some capsule reviews from some of my favorite stories:

"Should a Tear Be Shed?" was originally published in 1954 by Malcolm's. It is a success story that focuses on the rise of a tap dancer named Lawrence Terrace Jr., a young man that suffered a brain injury when a truck ran him over. When a shyster named Jess Norvell catches Lawrence dancing by a bar jukebox, he puts together a scheme. First, he befriends Lawrence, then has an insurance policy placed on the young man for $50,000 (double indemnity for an accident) with himself as beneficiary. The next logical step is to get Lawrence accidentally killed. However, Jess' girlfriend, Candy, does not endorse the scheme and repeatedly tries to warn Lawrence that Jess is using him for financial purposes. Like any good story of suspense, Boeckman intensifies the tension with multiple attempts at murder. It's an explosive, though not surprising, climax. I loved the story and read it twice.

"I'll Make the Arrest" was one of Boeckman's most successful stories. It appeared in the very first issue of Manhunt (Jan 1953), one of the most highly-regarded digest magazines. The story was also adapted to the television program Celebrity Playhouse in 1956. This is an unusual story involving a police detective named Mike O'Shean tracking down the killer of a beautiful female celebrity. O'Shean has a particular need to locate the killer and, despite the title of the story, has no intention of arresting him. I love how Boeckman, in first person narrative, advises readers of O' Shean's motives: "I went down into the night and where it was dark and alone; I checked my gun because I was going to kill this boy who had strangled Pat." But, the author throws the obligatory curveball and it was a twist I didn't see coming. This was so unique and Boeckman delivered it perfectly with a smooth prose.

Boeckman's musical career contributed to "Run, Cat, Run", a 1949 story initially published in Dime Mystery. The story is about a trumpeter named Johnny Nickle fleeing a murderer. It's a suspensive tale about the musicians who appeared on a hit record called Jazz Date. Unfortunately, all the musicians on the album died mysteriously but Johnny. While frantically jumping from one town to another, Johnny manages to make ends meet by performing dive bars and jukes. But his luck runs out in Texas when a lady with a gun walks into his hotel room. Is she the killer? Or is she also running from a murderer? The story comes to a close on the shore of Corpus Christi Bay. I have always enjoyed novels and stories in the music industry and Boeckman used this aspect well. "Run, Cat, Run" was a real high point to me.

I wouldn't have the blog space to write spacious reviews on all of the high-quality stories included in this volume. Fantastic entries like "Ybor City" (1953 Manhunt), a gritty revenge story set on Florida's Gulf Coast or the wickedly humorous "Strictly Poison" (1945 Detective Tales) is worth mentioning. Even Jacksonville, Florida, otherwise known as the Paperback Warrior headquarters, plays host to the murderous terror of "Class Reunion" (1973 Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine). 

In the early 1950s, renowned writers such as Day Keene, Gil Brewer, Harry Whittington and Talmage Powell moved to Florida's Gulf Coast. Boeckman spent several weeks getting together with his colleagues at Day Keene's house to talk about the industry. I feel that Boeckman deserved to be there with crime-noir royalty. He was just a fantastic storyteller and had a knack for portraying broken and financially strapped characters in his story. Whether they were avenged, killed, successful or simply unlucky was in the imagination. Thankfully, Boeckman had it in spades.

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Thursday, June 10, 2021

Mike Macauley #02 - City Limits

Will Oursler (1913-1985) was an American author, lecturer, radio commentator and the son of notable novelist Fulton Oursler. Over Oursler's career, he authored a number of non-fiction works as well as crime-fiction novels under his own name as well as Gale Gallagher (Chord in Crimson, I Found Him Dead). 

Using the pseudonym Nick Marino, Oursler wrote the book One Way Street in 1952. It was the first of two books featuring tough Assistant District Attorney Mike Macauley. The second Macauley novel, City Limits, was originally published in 1958 by Pyramid and then later reprinted again in 1963. It is currently available as an affordable ebook via Wildside Press. Although Nick Marino's name is on the cover of City Limits, my research indicates that the novel was authored by Richard Deming. Apparently Oursler wrote the outline for the book and either gave it to Deming by way of an agent or publisher. The ultimate result is City Limits is by Richard Deming under the pseudonym of Nick Marino.

Assistant D.A. Mike Macauley lives and works in an unnamed city in Missouri. Mike's friend and colleague Harry works for the city's vice squad. In the book's opening pages, Harry is on the stand providing testimony on his collar of a prostitute named Gloria Townsend. After beating the rap, Gloria phones Macauley and offers information on the location of a call girl racket outside the city. She asks Mike to meet her near the area in a country and western bar. When Mike arrives, he finds Gloria nearly beaten to death in a bathroom stall and a dense coverup from that town's sheriff.

Investigating the beatings and the testimony of Gloria, Mike finds himself in a perplexing position. The call girl ring is run outside of city limits and outside of Mike's jurisdiction. Furthermore, Mike's administration, including Harry and the police, may be involved in this prostitution scheme and is continuously fighting Mike's efforts to stop the operation. His only ally is Gloria when the two of them find themselves as targets by the ring's hired killers.

There's a lot to like about Deming's fast-paced narration. There is violence, romance, a profound mystery and a number of outlaws and shady ladies. I found Mike's position as Assistant D.A. a suitable replacement as a stereotypical private detective. Like a Mike Hammer, Mike Shayne or Johnny Liddell, Mike's quest for justice contains the typical protocol - working with a sexy secretary, finding allies within the local law-enforcement and beating the streets searching for clues and answers. There is also a bureaucratic examination of the chain of command between the prosecutor's office and the police.

Overall, this was another fantastic crime-fiction novel by Richard Deming. I'm not sure how this compares to the first Mike Macauley novel considering it was written by a totally different author. I can only say that I loved this character and thoroughly enjoyed City Limits.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Like Wild

Eric Allen (1916-1986) was a travel writer whose work appeared in magazines and newspapers - mostly in Oklahoma and Arkansas - during the 1960s. He also wrote upwards of 30 books - mostly westerns - and served as the president of the Western Writers of America in 1969 and 1970. His fourth novel was a Florida-based hardboiled swamp noir paperback called Like Wild originally published in 1963 by Monarch Books and currently available as a $3 ebook.

Quint is a soldier returning from overseas to resume his life in the Florida swamp town of Chadd City. His intention is to start a business selling wholesale lumber and marry Trudy, the sweetheart he left behind before his deployment. While on the bus ride home through the mangrove thickets and gator bogs, a sultry seatmate with swelling breasts is being super-flirtatious with Quint.

Before Quint joined the Army and left Chadd City, he was a pathetic cracker from the swamp, but Uncle Sam matured him into a man with ambition and a plan to make something of himself. His home is run by a powerful and corrupt town boss, and we quickly learn that the flirty dame on the bus is the boss’ wife returning from the beach. Quint has a particular axe to grind with the powerful local who was responsible for sending Quint’s father to prison where the old man eventually died.

However, the core drama here is about land. Quint owns many acres of cypress wilderness swampland that he wants to harvest for his lumber business. Meanwhile, the town boss has his eyes on that land for his own purposes, and his lusty wife is caught in the middle with her own agenda. The struggle between the men is a tense powder keg leading to an inevitable explosion of winner-take-all violence.

As if one femme fatale isn’t enough, Like Wild gives us a second: Trudy’s 17 year-old kid sister Lorrie, a saloon waitress who is hot to trot for Quint since his return. In the swamplands, 17 is practically an old maid, and Lorrie is not a woman who intends to let her best years go to waste.

Allen is an amazingly good writer, and I marvel that this compelling crime novel was once packaged as a low-end sleaze paperback. The author’s descriptions of hand-to-hand fistfights are among the best I’ve ever read, and the characters are vivid and fully-formed. Most swamp noir is pure dreck, but Like Wild is a definite winner.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Luck of the Spindrift

Although Frederick Schiller Faust (1892-1944) used pseudonyms like Walter Butler, David Manning, Even Evans, and George Baxter, he’s mostly known as Max Brand. As a cornerstone of western-fiction, Faust’s popular western stories and novels as Max Brand have been idolized by genre fans for 100 years. Outside of the genre, Faust (as Brand) authored the Dr. Kildare series as well as a handful of historical swashbuckling novels featuring a character named Tizzo. Also, as Brand, Faust wrote the nautical adventure novel Luck of the Spindrift. It was originally published in 1941, just three years prior to his death during WW2.

In Luck of the Spindrift, readers are introduced to Samuel Culver, a philosopher and graduate from Harvard. In the opening pages, Culver is working a blue-collar job at a shipping warehouse. After being fired by his employer, Culver dwells in his one room San Francisco apartment surrounded by hundreds of books that he’s collected and studied. Later, he runs into a stray dog that has become separated from its owner. Little did Culver know that the dog was about to take him on a nautical journey to the majestic South Seas. 

Asking around about the whereabouts of the dog’s owner, Culver is led to a docked ship called the Spindrift. On board, various crewmen suggest that the dog belongs to a man named Valdez. Before Culver can gain a better understanding of Valdez’s location he’s knocked unconscious and dragged below deck. Awakening hours later, Culver realizes he’s in-route to the South Seas with the criminal crew of the Spindrift. 

Brand’s nautical adventure is mostly spent with Culver befriending some of the crew and later learning to work for Burke, the ship’s devious captain. At 200 pages, three-fourths are spent with simple day-to-day activities on the ship. Authors like Calvin Clements and Hammond Innes can make these occupational details compelling. Unfortunately, Brand’s prose lacks some interesting aspects other than a violent flogging.

Despite Luck of the Spindrift promising high-seas adventure, the narrative is mostly a slow-burn with a lack of real action or a logical story. Often I found myself confused regarding the purpose of Valdez and the purported treasure. If you enjoy nautical adventure, Brand’s novel may be tempting. Buyer beware, there’s not a lot to really absorb or enjoy. Stick with Brand’s well-respected western storytelling instead. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 7, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 90

It's Episode 90 and we're bringing you a two-fisted 1970s WW2 paperback series called Sgt. Hawk by Patrick Clay. Also, Tom hits the road hunting for books in Alabama while Eric checks out new books from Justin Marriott and Robert Deis. Also, Robert Silverberg, John Jakes, William W. Johnstone, Warren Murphy and disaster fiction! Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE

Donate to the show HERE 

Listen to "Episode 90: Sgt. Hawk" on Spreaker.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Alfred Hitchcock's Down by the Old Bloodstream

Summer is here, and that means short stories. With so much going on - vacations, outdoor activity, beaches, sports, etc. - I don’t always have time to direct my attention to a full novel, but there’s always room for a short story. The vintage paperback collections from Dell Books bearing the Alfred Hitchcock brand are a reliable source for great short fiction. Today, we’ll spend some time with Down By the Old Bloodstream from 1971, a collection of stories from the 1960s featuring many Paperback Warrior favorite authors.

“The Happenstance Snatch” by Fletcher Flora

The paperback describes this one as a “novella” but it’s only 24 pages long - make of that what you will. The story is about Banty, a degenerate gambler who loses a bunch of money he didn’t have at the poker table. The winner is a hard case who gives Banty until morning to raise the dough... or else.

Rather than raising the money somehow, Banty and his pal Carny (our narrator) decide to hightail it to an abandoned farm to hide out. En route to the cabin, the boys stop at a rest stop and a foxy girl sneaks into their back seat and falls asleep without them noticing until they’re 100 miles down the highway. After discovering the girl, the two decide to hold her for ransom as a solution to Banty’s problems.

This is a great story with a fantastic guessing game and a clever plot twist finale. If you enjoy a good kidnapping story, check this one out.

“Lucky Catch” by Ed Lacy

Jimmy is a patient in a mental institution who is being released for a weekend - without supervision - to visit his mother. Mom is a domineering sort with obsessive tendencies, so Jimmy plans to take in the city a bit - maybe see a movie or a ball game - before checking in with the old lady.

Blowing off some steam at the baseball game, something happens that makes all Hell break loose. Jimmy is confused and targeted by others, leading to an act of violence. The story ends abruptly with Jimmy gaining an understanding of what he walked into. It’s not a great story, but it’s very short. You don’t need to spend much time before you get to the O’Henry-style ending.

“The Monster Brain” by Richard Deming

Quinn is an insurance fraud investigator who receives his leads from a corporate computer that spits out suspected fraudulent claims - something commonplace today that must have seemed space-age when this 1966 story was first published. In this case, the computer spits out a cluster of rare Typhoid deaths in one town with policies all sold by the same agent with a $10,000 death benefit. Quinn gets the assignment to figure out: coincidence or fraud?

Quinn performs some pretty realistic forensic accounting to develop a suspect for this epidemiological mystery and travels to the small town in search of the truth. This is a diabolically-clever mystery with a satisfying conclusion and a twist ending further cementing Deming’s legacy as an unsung hero of the crime fiction genre.

The Wrongo by Michael Brett

Oakes is a hotel detective and former vice cop. One day in the lobby, he spots a hot chick in a short white dress with a deep tan. His training and experience tells him she’s a pro working the hotel to separate lonely rich dudes from their money. Once you’ve been doing this for a while, you get a knack for spotting the “wrongos.”

Oakes keeps an eye on the girl at the hotel bar until she latches on the wealthy pigeon she’s going to fleece. Oakes takes the gentleman aside and warns him that he’s walking into a bad - albeit attractive - trap. The guest is skeptical of the professional assessment and tells Oakes to buzz off. This sets up a clever, but short, con-artist story that was a lot of fun to read through the final twist.

Overall Assessment:

These four stories alone - there are 14 in the paperback - make this anthology an easy recommendation. The Hitchcock brand name is responsible for bringing a lot of great short works into print, and Down By the Old Bloodstream is an outstanding entry in this paperback series of curated stories. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, June 3, 2021

James Bond #01 - Casino Royale

The best-known fictitious undercover agent of all time is James Bond. The character was created by British writer Ian Fleming (1908-1964) and appears in 14 of Fleming's novels between 1953 and 1966, two after his death. Beginning in 1981, authors John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Fualks, Jeffery Deaver and others continuously added new original novels in the series. The character became an icon of cinema with 27 films in total featuring the secret agent. Needless to say, you can take a deep dive into the character's history and pop-culture phenomenon on your own time. This review is dedicated to the very first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, published in April, 1953 by Jonathan Cape.

James Bond, 007 is an agent of the British Secret Service (MI6) and works for a superior simply named M. Through brief explanations, readers learn that Bond served in WW2, and later books state he was a Royal Navy officer. The 007, pronounced "double-o-7", is partly a symbolic name that the agent killed an enemy of the state. Bond and his colleagues receive various weapons and trainings from Branch Q, a research and development department.

In this first novel, Bond receives a mission from M to join a high stakes baccarat game at the Royal-les-Eaux in northern France. He's assigned a female companion named Vesper Lynd and an American CIA agent named Felix Leiter as support. The mission is to bankrupt Le Chiffre, a stateless man who brings financial advantages to the Russian counterespionage agency SMERSH. After Le Chiffre lost most of his fortune on a brothel front, he joins this lucrative card game in an effort to recoup most of the money. If he loses, SMERSH will probably kill him.

The first 70 pages of Casino Royale are extremely slow with much of the story transfixed with the art of baccarat. Through pages and pages of card playing, Bond attempts to win the game and at one point gains a large sum of money from Felix. Although this first half doesn't provide a captivating story, Fleming definitely shines in the second half of the novel.

Bond's romantic relationship with Lynd builds into a crescendo. Bond is considering leaving the espionage business and marrying Lynd. He even dreams of settling in a suburban environment where foreign adversaries simply do not exist. It is this very humane aspect that makes this book and this character so interesting. Once Bond leaves the casino, Fleming ratchets up Casino Royale with car chases, gunfire, a long and breathtaking torture sequence and the required violence to emphasize that Bond is fighting some truly bad people.

Like Donald Hamilton's Death of a Citizen, there's a savage scene where James Bond evolves into the British agent that we know today. It is the mythology of a very human person transformed by violence into a living and breathing weapon. Hamilton did it with Matt Helm. Pendleton did that to Mack Bolan. Fleming does it with expertise with James Bond. The final sentence of the book is one of the strongest lines in fictional history - in my opinion.

Whether you saw the comedy movie version of Casino Royale or the modern remake with Daniel Craig, nothing is comparable to the book. Considering the first half is rather lackluster, the strength of the second half more than makes up for the failure. The last line of the book introduces themes and villains that Bond will contend with for the life of the series. As an origin tale, Casino Royale delivers on all fronts. Highest possible recommendation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Red Lamp

Often called the American Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958) wrote over 50 novels, most of which are considered traditional murder mysteries. She's often credited with inventing the “Had I but Known” mystery style where the chief protagonist conducts behavior that is connected with a crime, thus prolonging the action of the story. She's also noted for the phrase “The butler did it” from her 1930 mystery, The Door. My first experience with the author is her 1925 novel called The Red Lamp, also known as The Mystery Lamp.

Presented as a rather lengthy journal, The Red Lamp's premise is the haunting of an enormous mansion called Twin Hollows. The journal's author, William Porter, inherits this sprawling mansion in a rather mysterious way. His uncle Horace was found dead inside the mansion apparently in mid-sentence of a letter he was penning to someone. His death is suspected to be an accidental fall, but there's a sense that foul play could have been involved. William and his wife Jane decide to spend the summer residing in the mansion's guest house. They later rent the mansion to an elderly man named Bethel and his steward named Gordon.

This kick-starts a supernatural whirlwind of murder, intrigue, and deception.

During the initial weeks of both William and Jane living in the guest house, there is a mysterious outbreak of sheep murders. Later, strange signs are found painted around the house and surrounding areas depicting a circle with an inner triangle. The first deaths begin with a local cop investigating the slayings followed by more people with close ties to Porter. As the deaths, attacks and strange occurrences continue, the common denominator is the house itself. Porter and various caretakers and staff experience ghostly apparitions and noises that seem to be transfixed on a red lamp that casts a bloody hue on the house. Are these apparitions of a supernatural origin? Or, is this town and it's inhabitants spiraling into madness?

The Red Lamp is a hybrid of horror and mystery, never consuming either genre but lying somewhere in the fringes. The claustrophobic, paranoia aspects of Porter's mind saturates the narrative, again simply a diary in its presentation. Like Lovecraft, this cold, unsettling fear erodes the sanity of the book's central character. The unnatural nightly noises and the lamp's omnipresence captures the essence of a truly disturbing horror novel. However, Rinehart attempts to lighten the mood occasionally with Porter's sarcasm and self-parody of his own situation.

Whether the book is a dense, slowly evolving mystery or a horror tale is in the eye of the beholder. While I found the book longer than need be, I still found myself drawn to this eerie, freakishly compelling novel. At 250-pages of smaller print, it's a good workout for committed readers. My first Rinehart experience was rewarding enough to warrant the purchase of three more of her books – The Circular Staircase (1908), The Window at the White Cat (1910) and The After House (1914). In other words...look for more reviews of her work in the coming months.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Mercy Island

Author Theodore Pratt (1901-1969) was born in Minnesota and later moved to New York, where he worked as a play reader and a writer for the The New Yorker and The New York Sun. He developed his writing skills into a full-time career that included more than 30 novels, some of which were written under the pen name of Timothy Brace. In 1941 his first novel, Mercy Island, was published in hardcover. The film was also adapted for cinema the same year by Republic Pictures. In 1956 the book was published in paperback format by Dell with attractive artwork by Verne Tossy.

Pratt was known to present most of his novels in Florida and the surrounding region. This trope is heavily used with Mercy Island with its Florida Keys tropical location. In the book's opening pages, readers learn that Ramsey, his wife Leslie and an acquaintance named Foster have hired a fishing charter. In an act of reckless abandonment, Ramsey demands that the boat's captain takes the three of them into a choppy stretch of water in a rural portion of the Keys. After catching a big fish, Ramsey's stubbornness with the captain and his companion Wiccy leads to the boat becoming grounded on an isolated tropical island.

Mercy Island's first act is similar to a Burno Fischer short story called "Hostesses in Hell", originally written under the name Russell Grey and published in the March-April 1939 issue of Terror Tales. In the story, a sailor and seven women arrive on a tropical island to escape a devastating storm. Fischer wrote his story like a complete horror tale where Pratt only bypasses the edges of terror. In Mercy Island, the five characters venture onto the island and finds a small house nestled in the dense foliage. There are signs of a turtle that's been disemboweled and eaten as well as indications that more than one person lives in the house. As Ramsey, Leslie and Foster travel further into the house, they begin to realize that the captain and his mate share a secret about the island.

To share anything beyond this premise would be an injustice to prospective readers. Pratt's characters display a number of immoral sins ranging from desire to arrogance. Ramsey's dispute with Foster is adjacent to his battles with the only resident of the island. This is a highly effective melting pot of suspense throughout the first half of the book. The second half was rather slow with a story that seemed to concentrate on island survival, hunting and fishing. As interesting as the characters were, the story itself just fizzled out. I found myself jumping through pages just to escape the boredom of this lackluster island. Mercy Island isn't a tropical destination anyone needs to visit. Read at your own risk.

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