Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Those Across the River

In addition to being a comedian nicknamed Christoph the Insultor, Christoher Buehlman (b. 1969) is a renowned horror author, television writer, playwright and a poet. The Tampa, Florida native has written six novels for publishers like Tor, Berkley and Ace. My first experience with the author is his debut novel, Those Across the River, published by Ace in 2011.

The book takes place in 1920 and features Frank Nicols, a man who inherited an estate in a rural part of Georgian farmland. Part of this estate is an old plantation which previously belonged to his cruel great-grandfather. Frank struggles with a number of things, none of which is more enormous than his physical and mental scars from violent trench warfare in World War I. His dreams are tormented by the cruelties of war and his waking hours are spent with his fiancĂ© Eudora. 

As Frank learns the quirks of a sleepy nearby town, he stumbles upon a bizarre local tradition. Every season the town sends pigs across the river to a vast, rural forest. Frank is puzzled about why this ritual takes place and what is on the other side of the river in this dark forest. Further, he learns that during this time most of the town's locals board up their doors and windows.

Buehlman's story extends into this frightening segment where Frank, eager to find answers, wanders deep into the forest in search of answers. There he finds a naked boy. When the boy's sinister smile appears, it shocks him to see that the child's teeth are sharpened. From that moment on, Buehlman's propulsive plot plunges readers into this horrific town secret.

Weighing in at roughly 360 pages, Those Across the River had me glued to each and every word. I just could not put this book down, each page overflowing with rich storytelling that had so much character development and compelling background. From the military flashbacks to prior relationships, Buehlman makes readers truly care about the fates of these characters. The central mystery of what afflicts this small Georgian town is worth the cost of entry. Highly recommended.

Get a copy HERE

Monday, August 30, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 93

On Episode 93, Eric presents the life and literary work of Edgar Award-Winning author Clark Howard. Eric reviews many of Howard's novels, including his 1970 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback The Arm. Tom reviews the 1959 paperback debut of the Psi-Power series and Eric reveals an embarrassing debt. Listen on any podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 93: Clark Howard" on Spreaker.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) is a beloved author with a lasting legacy that includes both screenplays, short stories and novels. His literary works crossed multiple genres like fantasy, science-fiction, horror and speculative fiction. I can remember reading a few of his shorts in grade school and promising myself, I would explore the author's bibliography. 30 years later, I've decided to read one of his most popular novels, Fahrenheit 451. It was originally published in 1953 and has been reprinted countless times over the years. It was adapted to film in 2018 starring Michael B. Jordan.

At 165 pages, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is set in a Dystopian future that reflects much of our daily lives today. In this rather bleak future, people have become seemingly anonymous. Most of the population spends a majority of their lives in their residence watching endless programming on their "wall video". Social interaction is limited and emotional feelings are suppressed. 

The main character is Guy Montag, a fireman who works for the government destroying anything deemed unacceptable by his employer. This is mostly books (and sometimes the people that possess them) and the homes they live in. Instead of the typical fireman extinguishing fires, Bradbury spins it and firemen in this society burn freedom. "It was a pleasure to burn" is Montag's opening statement, a statement that implies that he is enjoying his job and its sense of power and authority. 

When Montag meets a creative thinker named Clarisse, his entire perspective begins to change. She urges him to question his own existence and its purpose. Why do we burn books and live in a predictable world with little variance? With the seed planted, Montag begins to break down the barriers to expose not only his own freedom but others. 

The closing pages of Part One is absolutely remarkable. If you don't want to read this novel, at the very least I recommend reading a thought-provoking portion of the narrative. A Fire Chief explains how society arrived at this anonymous and cold existence and why his firemen burn books. I could probably write an essay on this part of Bradbury's novel. If you read nothing else, read that.

The book's prediction of flat screen TVs and earbuds is just the tip of the iceberg. The social commentary is mesmerizing and really kept me awake just analyzing the final closing pages. Bradbury's classic novel is an eerie prophecy that predicts so many aspects of our current day-to-day. It's an important reminder that freedom should never be taken for granted. At the same time, it's a tutorial on how to avoid Fahrenheit 451's nightmarish future.

Get the book HERE

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Too Many Bones

Ruth Sawtell Wallis (1895-1978) obtained her English degree from Radcliffe College in 1919. Later, she went on to graduate studies in anthropology and was employed by the University of Iowa. Wallis started writing mystery novels in 1943, often with her expertise in anthropology to improve her characters and stories. My first experience of Wallis is her first novel, Too Many Bones. It was first published by Dodd Mead in 1943 and re-printed by Dell in 1946. In 2020, Stark House Press reprinted the novel as two-in-one with her 1945 mystery Blood from a Stone.

Too Many Bones features a young anthropologist named Kay Ellis. In the opening pages, readers learn that Kay was referred to the small Midwestern town known as Hinchdale for employment. It is here that she will assist Dr. John Gordon with a unique research on famous bones at the Henry Proutman Museum. In the early 1920s, a large collection of ancient skeletons was smuggled out of Germany. Known as The Holtzerman Collection, these skeletons offer valuable insight into the culture and ancestral behavior of a village of mountainous Romanian people. In a rather bizarre turn of events, this famous bone collection was bought by a millionaire residing in this little rural town in the heart of America. Upon his death, his widow Zaydee Proutman inherited the museum.

When Kay arrives, the museum director is discouraged to learn that his new employee is a female. After some back and forth negotiation, Kay wins the job despite Zaydee's snobbish opposition. Over the weeks, Kay learns about the city - its quirks and subtleties - and her role as Gordon's assistant. As Kay and Gordon begin to have romantic chemistry, she discovers that Gordon and Zaydee are intimately involved. 

In a local restaurant, Kay is repeatedly distracted by a drunk vagabond named Randy. He advises Kay that he was Zaydee's lover and that she threw his life into chaos and left him heartbroken and penniless. But, when Randy's charred body is found in a car, Kay looks like the most likely suspect. The rope begins to tighten when Zaydee goes missing. The readers know that Kay is not the killer, but the chauvinistic sheriff is determined to pin two murders on her. Is it possible for her to find the real killer before she's arrested?

The first half of Too Many Bones is dedicated to Hinchdale and its eccentric residents. It's also a fish out of water story as Kay attempts to settle into this small town. To Kay's chagrin, she is often delegated to the positions below her level of education as an expert in statistics and anthropology. Much of this is due to Zaydee, a pompous, bigoted and dominating millionaire who exists simply to spend her late husband's fortune. She's perfectly designed to be the instant villain you love to hate. 

There are great characters in the storytelling, including touching and sincere attention to two African-American characters. It was rare for the period and a testament to Wallis as a warm and intelligent female author who fought for diversity. The central mystery, once developed, is similar to a cozy locked room mystery. There are suspicions, alibis, pointed fingers and fiery tension as Kay begins to analyze her colleagues, friends and neighbors. Wallis also displays a great sense of humor with some truly outrageous and funny scenes injected into the twisted narrative.

Too Many Bones is a fun murder mystery in a little town with endearing characters and a captivating storyline. Although it was published in the early twentieth century, forensic science and the use of anthropology are parallel to today's crime fiction. Wallis was ahead of her time and Too Many Bones exemplifies that.

Get the book HERE

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Come With Me

Come With Me is the latest novel by horror fiction author Ronald Malfi. For this selection, he steps away from supernatural fiction to present the reader with a story of human grief and loss unfolding within a “hunt-the-serial-killer” procedural mystery.

Our narrator is Aaron, a man who discovers that his deceased reporter wife - her name was Allison - was secretly on the trail of a serial killer. For reasons he doesn’t understand, Allison’s amateur gumshoe work was kept a tight secret from Aaron and others in her life. Learning this does little to heal the crushing grief and loneliness Aaron feels for his bride’s death. After all, they had an awesome marriage. Why would she keep this obsession a secret?

Aaron takes up the hunt to learn more about his wife’s hidden infatuation and becomes enmeshed in the maniacal mystery himself. I would compare Come With Me favorably to the work of Harlan Coben or Linwood Barclay in which secrets of the distant past are brought to light by an everyman in the present.

The first half of the book is a slow-burn, but Malfi is an excellent and vivid writer, so the reader is never bored. The second half speeds up quite a bit as our narrator begins putting the pieces together and approaches a solution. At 400 pages, it could have used some trimming and would have been more impactful at a lean 300 pages.

There was a whole sub-genre of serial killer books after Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs, and Come With Me can be counted as a late-entry in that category. Would-be amateur sleuths and fans of the current true crime podcast craze will also find themselves in familiar territory with this novel.

Overall, there’s nothing here not to like. The writing was superb. The protagonist was likable and sympathetic. The mystery’s solution and climactic ending were both very satisfying. It’s an easy recommendation for fans of contemporary suspense and mystery fiction. Get a copy HERE

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Night Squad

Philadelphia author David Loeb Goodis (1917-1967) wrote excellent crime novels about skid row losers rising above their alcoholism and misfortune to find justice and normalcy in their violent world. Although Goodis never achieved fame in the U.S. during his life, the French had a keen appreciation for his particular brand of noir. Night Squad was his 1961 paperback original from Fawcett Gold Medal that has been reprinted by Stark House Noir Classics as one of three novels in a trade paperback reprint.

Five weeks ago, Corey Bradford was canned from his job as a police officer for taking bribes from lawbreakers. After the death of his honest police officer father, he was raised by a wino mom in the skid row alleys he now calls home. As we join him, Corey is a boozehound stewbum sleeping on the streets of a city that’s never given a name. Goodis is a master at atmospheric descriptions of the slime-filled slum called the Swamp where rats crawl in the bedroom windows and gnaw on sleeping babies in their cribs. Yes, it’s one of those kind of novels.

The Swamp is under the thumb of a gangster named Walter Grogan, who hires Corey to figure out who is trying to kidnap him. There are several violent set-pieces where Corey is thrust into action trusting his wits and police training to save his own skin as well as his client’s hide. For his part, Grogan is a muscular 56 year-old athlete with a 24 year-old trophy wife who is hot to trot for Corey. If Grogan had any inkling that Corey and his temptress bride were up to anything, it’s a safe bet Corey would disappear to the bottom of the city’s lake.

And then there’s the Night Squad itself. They are a shadowy team of cops operating out of City hall beyond the strict boundaries of the law and police oversight. They are willing to reinstate Corey and return his badge in order to nail Grogan. There’s some great backstory explaining the Night Squad’s hard-on for Grogan that includes one of the most violent vignettes I’ve read in ages. Can Corey serve two masters and rebuild his life?

To be sure, there are a few slow sections, but mostly Night Squad is a pretty exciting, yet thin, paperback with some crazy-violent scenes, backstabbing, torture, gunplay, hot dames, a treasure hunt, and a shot at redemption. Upon reflection, it’s a nearly perfect crime-noir paperback and another win for Stark House, the imprint at the top of the reprint game. Read this one ASAP. Get it HERE

Monday, August 23, 2021

The Slasher

Ovid Demaris is a mid-20th century author who wrote both true crime and crime-noir. Most of his novels have been reprinted by publishers like Stark House Press and Cutting Edge Books. In recent years, I have read and collected his writing. Thankfully, a friend gave me a tattered copy of the author's Fawcett Gold Medal paperback The Slasher. It was originally published in 1959. As far as I can tell, it was never reprinted.

The novel introduces Stanley Palke, a psychopathic lunatic who terrorizes a Californian city. Palke is gay and has a fondness for naval men and merchant seamen. This "slasher" usually picks up men from local dives or bars and then brutally attacks them with a knife. In the first pages of the book, the police find four dead sailors trapped in a car immersed in water. These appear to be Palke's victims.

Whereas the novel occasionally presents events from Palke's point of view, most of the narrative is from Paul Warren's perspective. Like any "downward spiral" story, Warren has developed an alcohol problem. He ends up being fired from his reporting job due to his inability to stay sober for his newspaper assignments. Feeling as if his life is over, Warren spends his days drinking in bars and refusing his wife's help. The stars unfortunately align when Palke spots Warren in a local dive and offers to buy him a drink. Warren awakens the next day in the hospital after being brutalized by Palke. 

The Slasher is mostly a crime-fiction book that highlights two homicide investigators attempting to locate Palke. As fun as that was, I think I enjoyed the more personal account of Warren's downfall. The fact that this suburban husband and father could socially and financially plunge to the depths of alcoholism and suicidal tendencies was riveting. While Demaris is mostly known for his books on organized crime, I felt he presented this emotional story in a way that was easily relatable to readers. 

The Slasher also features some really mature moments that were shocking to me considering this is a 1959 paperback. Palke's flirtation with men wasn't something that was common in literature or film for that time period. While not terribly graphic, Demaris presents some material that was probably taboo or controversial at the time. At one point Palke insinuates that heterosexual men all have a homosexual tendency at one point or another. Warren's wife even reflects on a personal relationship she had with another woman. Beyond that, the sexual crimes were disturbing. Palke's stabbing was comparable to intercourse, each penetration becoming a sexual crescendo that eventually leads to castration. This is all pretty bold stuff for 1959. None of this is really illustrated with the book's cover. Instead, the artwork suggests that the killer is preying on voluptuous women instead of men.

If you like crime-fiction, there's no reason that you won't enjoy The Slasher. Considering all of the elements at work here, Demaris is able to inject quite a bit into a relatively short 172-page novel. From graphic violence, sexual innuendo, police procedures and the aforementioned "riches to rags" personal story, The Slasher is a multifaceted, enjoyable paperback. Get the ebook HERE

Friday, August 20, 2021


Dennis J. Higman is a relatively unknown author from Idaho. After a deep dive online, the only information I could gather is that he wrote the horror novel Pranks in 1983 and a romance novel titled Laura Jordan in 1987. I love Halloween and vintage horror novels, so I was excited to borrow my friend's paperback copy of Pranks. It was published by Leisure, and not surprisingly, it's a horror novel that takes place on Halloween night. 

When the novel begins, residents of the small, cozy island town of Horsehead Point prepare for the night's Halloween festivities. There is a sense of isolation on the island, which is in Puget Sound off the foggy shore of Washington. It's here that young Bucky, Harry and Jeff are middle-schoolers running rampant on testosterone, boredom and a desire for reckless abandonment. While most of their misbehavior consists of a few Valium pills and nudie books, it is Bucky that proves to be psycho.

Despite Jeff and Harry's hesitation, Bucky ends up killing two elderly people on Halloween night. Higman's narrative showcases a police procedural that mistakenly rules the murders as accidents. But, Bucky's school teacher Jan feels that the child exhibits unusual behavior by drawing disturbing images of people being tortured. Once she talks with Bucky's mother, she learns that he has a history of psychotic behavior. Jan's father is also suspicious of the two deaths and feels that there may have been foul play involved

At a robust 431 pages, it's clear that Pranks could have been much shorter. I was hoping that this novel would possess some of the "killer kids" genre tropes of vintage horror paperbacks. While I was entertained, the idea of a child killing two elderly people and attempting to cover it up was not exactly a terrifying story. In some respects, Pranks may be more of a juvenile delinquent novel from the 1960s. 

If you manage your expectations, Pranks is an enjoyable crime-fiction novel. The fact that the book's cover is themed for Halloween has no impact on the actual story. While I wish the book was trimmed considerably, I have no regrets reading it. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Hold Back the Sun

Robert Carse (1904-1971) was a New Yorker who worked as a merchant seaman before becoming a writer and novelist. In the 1920s, he used his experiences at sea to write a number of adventure tales for the pulps. Under his own name he wrote historical and nautical fiction. He also contributed to the romance genre with books like  The Flesh and the Flame (1960), Cage of Love (1960) and End to Innocence (1964) for Monarch. Perhaps his best-known literary work was written under the pen name of John Vail. It is this name that is featured on his Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks The Sword in His Hand (1953), The Dark Throne (1954), Blond Savage (1955) and Sow the Wild Wind (1954). My first experience with the author is his Fawcett Gold Medal novel, Hold Back the Sun, originally published in 1956 with a cover by poster artist Frank McCarthy.

Hank Gatch and his team are smugglers. Using Gatch's 83-foot ship The Soledad, his illegal operation ships goods between the coast of France and North Africa. His reputation as an experienced smuggler is what appeals to a young Israeli named Yevna. Her horrifying experiences at the Auschwitz concentration camp motivated her to defend Israel from the Muslim Brotherhood. Along with her brother, she's aiding resistance and freedom fighters with firepower. She hires Gatch to help her negotiate with an arms dealer to acquire a stash of weapons.

Carse's narrative is constructed around Gatch's team running and gunning around North Africa in an attempt to avoid port authorities and the Brotherhood. Beyond the initial job, Gatch is employed by Yevna's brother to secure another large shipment of firearms on a coastal reef. Along the way, Gatch and Yevna fall in love. 

Hold Back the Sun is just an average read. There's nothing terribly exciting about the story, but it is written well enough to please most readers. I found that the narrative was really just connecting map dots as the team traveled to each destination performing tasks. The romantic chemistry between the two main characters was Carse's main interest, evident from Fawcett's front cover: "By day they fought, by night they loved." From a nautical fiction stance, the technical aspects reminded me of another, much better Fawcett Gold Medal paperback - 1968's A Great Day for Dying by Jack Dillon.

At just 140 pages, Hold Back the Sun is a satisfactory read, but just manage your expectations. Despite the alluring cover art, the story is a little stale. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Zorro #01 - The Curse of Capistrano (aka The Mark of Zorro)

Johnston McCulley (1883-1958) was a prolific author for the pulps. He created characters like The Crimson Clown, The Green Ghost and Black Star. On August 9th, 1919, All-Story Weekly presented the first of five installments of "The Curse of Capistrano" (aka "The Mark of Zorro"). It was the first appearance by the Western hero Zorro. McCulley kept writing Zorro stories for decades. The hero became a phenomenon of pop culture with TV shows, movies and graphic novels all dedicated to the masked man. 

In 2016, Florida's Bold Venture Press began reprinting all of the pulp adventures of Zorro. These have been compiled in 6 massive volumes. I'm staring with Zorro: The Complete Pulp Adventures Vol. 1. It contains an original serial "The Curse of Capistrano" plus two short stories, "Zorro Saves a Friend" (Argosy, 11/02/1932) and "Zorro Hunts a Jackal" (Argosy, 04/22/1933). In addition, two informative pieces are included regarding the series location as well as Zorro's appearances in cinema and television.

"The Curse of Capistrano" takes place in the early 19th century in California. This was before California joined the United States. As a result, the state was governed by Mexico. In the story, the Spanish missions and ranches are often terrorized by Mexican soldiers, notably Sergeant Gonzales and Captain Ramon. A masked man dressed in black and calling himself Zorro (The Fox) assists the people in their fight against the tyranny. 

When Zorro helps a young woman named Lolita, the story starts to tighten. Lolita's parents have requested that she locate a proper suitor to marry. Don Diego Vega, a wealthy man living with his father, attempts to swoon Lolita and asks if she will marry him. The problem is that Lolita has her eyes fixed on the dashing Zorro and now her heart is beating for him. However, Lolita doesn't realize that Vega is Zorro. When Captain Ramon forces himself on Lolita, Zorro comes to the rescue, further emphasizing her attraction for the lone hero. Later, Zorro comes to the aid of his friend Fray Felipe while also being hunted by the Mexican army. 

McCulley's story blends romance with action into a Western-style story. The dry and dusty Pueblo of Los Angeles is the perfect place, further enhancing Western themes. Zorro's mission to assist the downtrodden and fight government politicians is crucial to the plot. The first half was a bit slow but the second half was ripe with action, violence and a frantic pace as Zorro performs hit and run tactics through the city. It was interesting that McCulley doesn't reveal that Vega is Zorro until the end of the story. It's no surprise to the reader as there are so many clues that signal Zorro's identity.

If you are a dedicated Zorro fan or just a casual reader, this omnibus is essential reading. The thrilling adventures of this masked hero showcases everything we know and love about the pulps. Buy a copy of this volume HERE.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021


Sandra Shulman (b. 1944) is a British author who specializes in gothic and horror novels. Typically, her works involve evil sects, worshippers of Satan, and old deserted castles. Using the pseudonym Lisa Montague, Shulman authored three novels of historical romance for Harlequin Masquerade. The author also wrote a number of non-fiction books about astrology, dream interpretation and the punishment of women through history. I read a thread online that suggested that she also wrote novels for the television series Dark Shadows. My first experience with Shulman is her second career novel, Castlecliffe, first published by Paperback Library in 1967. The novel was later reprinted by the publisher with different cover art in 1971.

In 1798, the French politician and military commander Napoleon Bonaparte placed an army on the coast of the English Canal. The threat of invasion tormented the British for six years and was eventually rescinded as a result of France's conflicts with Egypt and Austria. It is this era that Castlecliffe exists, a historical period that peaked in fever as England seemed to await the "inevitable" invasion. 

20-year old Sophy Marlowe has been a student in Brussels. Her father was killed in the Middle East and her inheritance comes to fruition on her 21st birthday. Upon specific instructions from her father, Sophy is to be placed under the care of her guardian, a close friend of her father named Eastlake, at his large manor called Castlecliffe on the English Moors. Sophy's father also makes it clear that he is not a fan of Eastlake's doctor and friend, Rashid.

Just on the outskirts of Castlecliffe, Sophy and her fellow passengers are attacked on a coach road by a highwayman named Midnight. This masked man has a brief fondness for Sophy and promises not to hurt her. When Sophy arrives at Castlecliffe, Midnight comes to her overnight and advises her to leave the castle immediately. He warns that it isn't safe to stay at the castle and that her guardian is a dangerous man. Sophy ignores Midnight's warning and proceeds with his stay. But the words of Midnight may have a ring of truth when she sees a man bent and disfigured lurking in the dark outside the castle.

Shulman's narrative introduces two romantic interests, a military captain who is smitten with Sophy and Rashid's young nephew. Both seem like safe allies, but again Midnight cautions her. The mysteries abound when Eastlake shows no interest in Sophy nor does he have any real information about her father. They were supposed to be best friends, so why doesn't he have stories or historical accounts of their time together? Rashid is also a mystery as a crazy scientist carrying out heinous experiments on animals. He often condemns Sophy and, at some point, seems intent on killing her.

Like Shulman's other novels, the idea of a satanic sect arises when Rashid, the captain and a wealthy woman are found wearing rings depicting goat horns. They invite Sophy to join their "science club" but Sophy fears that the group is practicing some sort of witchcraft in secret. The greatest mystery may be the heritage itself. Rashid and Eastlake aren’t aware of any specific inheritance and her father's documents simply state that she will not collect any information about this inheritance until her 21st birthday. This date is November 1, usually a Gaelic holiday called Samhain.

Castlecliffe is a more of a horror story than a gothic one. The satanic panic inside the castle, strange creatures wandering through the countryside and the disfigured thing are all frightening and indicative of a traditional horror story. The romanticism of these three men (captain, nephew, bandit) coveting Sophy is a central concept, but it also provides a good dose of action-adventure. Midnight's fights with the English are exciting and I really liked the idea of Sophy dressing in disguise as a male. This is another staple of Shulman's writing. In her 1971 novel The Florentine, that book's main character disguises herself as a man to seek revenge. In addition, the idea of the French possibly invading England at any moment just adds to the tension. 

If you enjoy gothics then you will surely love Castlecliffe. But beyond that, this is just a great story with an intriguing mystery, perfect pacing (it's a countdown to her birthday) and small ingredients of a selection of genres. With slightly less than 160 pages, the narration is a quick read with enough intensity to keep the pages moving. I urge you to find a copy.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 16, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 92

The Paperback Warrior Podcast rolls into August with Episode 92. On this episode, Eric explains the life and literary work of crime-fiction author Ovid Demaris. Eric talks about his recent gothic paperback bonanza, a visit to the psychic capital of the world and his recent health scare. Tom pops in to discuss the life of the paperback king himself, Harry Whittington, including a review of the author's 1954 novel The Woman is Mine. Listen on any podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE:

Listen to "Episode 92: Ovid Demaris" on Spreaker.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Gulf Coast Girl (aka Scorpion Reef)

Gulf Coast Girl, by Charles Williams, has a rather complicated publication history. The novel was released in condensed form in the September 1955 edition of Manhunt under the title "Flight to Nowhere". That year MacMillan published it as a hardback entitled Scorpion Reef. Pan published the paperback version under that title in 1958. In 1955, Dell published the book as Gulf Coast Girl with cover art by Robert Maguire. Dell then reprinted it again under that title in 1960 with cover art by Robert McGinnis. In 1972, it was reprinted by Pocket Books as a paperback titled Scorpion Reef and currently it is that title as a $4 ebook offering through Mysterious Press.

Bill Manning is a 33-year old salvage diver that attended M.I.T., served in the U.S. Navy and authored a few adventure stories. While working in the little town of Sanport, Florida, Manning is approached by a young Scandinavian woman who presents herself as Mrs. Shannon Wayne. She wants to hire Manning to dive in a lake to retrieve her husband's lost shotgun. Manning accepts the job, but is skeptical of her real intentions.

At the rural lake location, Manning locates and returns the shotgun, but knows it was a setup. Mrs. Wayne, who is really Mrs. Macaulay, is attacked in the lake house by three men seeking her husband. When Manning defends her from the assailants, the whole story starts playing out. 

Mr. Macaulay is a salvage insurance underwriter that stole $750,000 in diamonds from a shadowy criminal enterprise. That crime-ring is led by a smooth operator named Barclay. While attempting to escape by plane, Macaulay ends up crashing the plane into the ocean. He escapes with his life, but the plane, and the diamonds, sink into a big area called Scorpio Reef. The Macaulay couple has been on the run from Barclay for months. 

A few high-tension events happen that lead to both Barclay, and his cohort Barfield, forcing Manning and Mrs. Macaulay to sail them to Scorpion Reef. Using Mrs. Macaulay's knowledge of the aircraft's vague location, they will force Manning to dive for the diamonds. Once the diamonds are found, Manning and Macaulay will be killed and the criminals will win back their stolen wealth. 

Providing more information on this story would be a disservice to those of you who have not read it. This was the author's first foray into nautical adventure and serves as a precursor to his novels like Aground (1961), Dead Calm (1963) and And the Deep Blue Sea (1971). However, Williams cut his teeth on crime-noir novels that typically featured sexy female accomplices lulling an innocent man into the jaws of unlawful violence. This is the central feature that makes Gulf Coast Girl so exciting.

The author's twisted narrative is interwoven with violence, sexual chemistry and this thick and disturbing feeling that something very bad will happen to these characters. Barclay's lethal threats, enforce the fact that this nautical voyage is indeed a one-way endeavor. Because of Williams' excellent character development, I really cared about the fate of these two admirable characters and felt touched by the emotional love story embedded in the crime-noir.

As an exhilarating nautical adventure or a straight-laced crime-fiction novel, Gulf Coast Girl is such a pleasure to read. Charles Williams was a master storyteller and this novel showcases that talent tenfold. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Anne Whitlow #01 - Moura

Like her contemporary in Phyllis Whitney, Virginia Coffman (1914-2005) was a cornerstone of gothic fiction in the middle of the twentieth century. The author was born in San Francisco and graduated from University of California, Berkeley in 1938. After college, Coffman worked as a fan-mail secretary and in public relations for studios like Monogram, RKO and Columbia. She eventually moved to Nevada and became a full-time novelist. She authored over 100 books, mostly gothic romance or gothic suspense. Her 1959 novel, Moura, is considered a highlight of contemporary gothic fiction. It has been reprinted numerous times and exists today in physical and digital editions. The bestselling novel also inspired four sequels.

The book begins in England in 1815 and stars an Irish woman named Anne Wicklow. Wicklow is employed as a housekeeper at Miss Nutting's Academy of Select Young Females, a type of boarding school. In the opening pages, Miss Nutting and three teachers are away, leaving discipline and schooling to Anne. One of her charges, Palla Florin, is from France and has recently arrived at the school. But, late one night her uncle, Edmund Moura, arrives at the school and notifies Anne that Palla is to be shipped back to her French home, the eponymous Castle Moura. Anne approves the request and shortly afterwards Palla leaves.

Weeks later, Anne begins receiving letters from Palla providing status updates. The letters begin on a positive note, but over time they become more desperate and darker. Anne, worried about Palla's health, decides to visit Castle Moura. Once there, she learns from Edmund and his servant Achilles that Palla has a lung disease and isn't at Castle Moura any longer. However, Edmund makes a lucrative offer to Anne to remain at the castle as the housekeeper. Unfortunately, she accepts.

Castle Moura is as dark as a mortuary drape. The Moura family is fairly disorganized so Anne spends a great deal of time exploring and cleaning the castle. But there's some weird stuff going on in the workplace. For example, there's packs of wolves that patrol the castle walls at night, prohibiting anyone from traveling after dark. A young servant is found dead and there are signs of a ghostly apparition haunting the dark corridors. Moura learns from a visitor that the preceding maid disappeared in the castle and that the Mouras may have been involved in her disappearance. When Anne makes a horrifying discovery in an upstairs bedroom, she learns that she may be a prisoner in this house of horror.

I really enjoyed this classic gothic tale. The central mystery of Palla's whereabouts is combined with Anne's own fear that something evil is lurking within the castle's walls. I found the surprise reveal quite satisfying and felt it really shaped the narrative going forward. Location, atmosphere and mysterious characters enhance the story, combining both horror, suspense and romance into a whirlwind of intrigue. I can certainly understand the book's popularity. Considering there's more to this story and its characters, I've already purchased used copies of the second and third installments.  

Anne Whitlow Series

1. Moura (New York, Crown 1959)
2. The Beckoning (New York, Ace 1965 and as The Beckoning from Moura 1977)
3. The Devil Vicar (New York, Ace, 1966; revised edition as Vicar of Moura 1972.)
4. The Dark Gondola (New York, Ace, 1968; and as The Dark Beyond Moura 1977)
5. The Vampyre of Moura (New York, Ace 1970)
6. Return to Moura (1999, same as The Devil Vicar)

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Gull #01 - That Man Gull

In detective novels, there have been instances where the protagonist was not necessarily a private investigator. In these stories, the characters can work as a newspaper reporter (Night Extra), accountant (Steve Bentley) or lawyer (City Limits), but still display the same features of a hard boiled detective. The same can be said for the espionage genre, with professions like arms-dealers (Your Friendly Neighborhood Death Peddler), bank-robbers (Earl Drake) and private-eyes (Chester Drum) submerging themselves into the global spy industry. That formula applies to Vladimir Gull. This was a six-book series of novels starring a freelance language translator authored by Anthony Stuart. The books were originally published in hardcover and then reprinted as paperbacks by Fawcett Popular Library beginning in 1981. I'm starting at the beginning with the series debut, That Man Gull.

Vladimir Chaikov was a soldier in the Russian Red Army before defecting to England in the late 1950s. Now, as Vladimir Gull, he's a freelance language translator that often accepts assignments working for the United Nations. In the book's opening pages, this is where readers find Gull. He's working in a small sound booth at a global meeting for foreign powers. Each country's chosen representative or leader is wearing a headset with their understood language being fed in by the interpreter. When Gull finds a gun to the back of his head, he's forced to relay a Soviet Union message to the English speakers. In the message, which is heard by China (for some reason), Gull relays that the Soviet Union and the United States have reached a peaceful agreement based on their concerns over China. Gull is then forced to read a list of war crimes committed by China before finally being knocked unconscious.

Upon his awakening, Gull learned that most of the hostilities had abated and that China had been informed of the false message. But, Gull has a suspicion that his former lover may have something to do with the scheme. The idea is that the message may intrigue China enough to purchase stolen Russian information. Stuart's narration puts Gull in Bucharest in search of that woman. On the way, he gets laid, chases a former CIA agent and avoids any action that could make That Man Gull interesting.

Stuart's writing is similar to that of Howard Hunt in that the novel contains extensive descriptions of European specialties, wines and culture. The writing is good, but there is simply not enough history here to enable Gull or his lovers to produce anything engaging for the reader. Often, I ended up counting the pages or jumping through long sequences of dialogue that have no impact on the story. At 220 pages, the book is likely 70 pages too many. Despite the cover of the book, the "hero" does not like firearms and at one point holds one, but is not familiar with it to actually use it. He even appears excited when he loses his weapon. These are not attributes that give me hope that the other five books are any better.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Delaney #01 - Blind Justice

Charles Herbert Shaw (1900-1955) was an Australian journalist and author. In 1952, Shaw's first novel, Heaven Knows Mister Allison, became an international bestseller and he sold the film rights to Eastern Film Enterprises, Inc. In 1953, Shaw used the name Bant Singer to write You're Wrong, Delaney, the first of four novels starring a drifter named Dennis Delaney. The book was published as a hardcover by Collins in Europe. In the United States it was published as a paperback by Pyramid as Blind Alley.

Delaney is a card sharp that has ran pool rooms and small gambling circuits for a number of years. As a WW2 veteran, he can run roughshod over any players that become drunk or out of line. For the last year, Delaney has been working for a criminal named Martini. As the book begins, Delaney has fled to a town 100-miles away in Black Springs. It's here that he's being questioned by a police detective named Keough about his possible involvement in Martini's slaying. Delaney explains that he had a physical struggle with Martini's right-hand man, Peters, but that beyond that he has no knowledge of this man's death.

Keough, who is immediately likable, lets Delaney go under the strict rule that he cannot leave Black Springs while the investigation is still underway. Hard up for a dollar, Delaney finds the local pool hall and chums around with a man he calls Fats. Fats leads him to an illegal gambling scene where Delaney has Fats use loaded dice to win the duo a wad of cash. But, when Fats tries to leave with the money, Delaney tracks him into an alley. It's here that Fats is lying face down in what appears to be a drunken blackout. Delaney grabs the money and an envelope and heads to a hotel room. In the morning, he learns that Fats are dead. Now, Keough could possibly pen both Martini and Fats on Delaney.

With 190 pages of small print, there's plenty beyond Delaney just trying to clear his name. He falls in love with a maid named Kathy while trying to extort money from a bride named Elaine. Fats were having an affair with the woman and that valuable information was found in the envelope. For 500 bucks, Delaney won't say anything about the affair. Otherwise, Elaine's husband will be notified.

Shaw's writing style is really catchy. He writes it in the first person, but Delaney's narrative is more a story. According to The Australian Dictionary of Biography, Shaw wrote in a 'terse and laconic prose. It's really clever and funny with Delaney's downtrodden perspective on life and his experiences. While the series is described as being "detective-fiction", I can't really imagine Delaney as a detective. I'd like to obtain the other books in the series just to learn what Delaney is actually doing with those books. He's not a cop or a detective, more like a con artist similar to Frank Gruber's Johnny Fletcher. But for now, all I have is just this series debut and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Series Order:

1. You're Wrong Delaney (aka Blind Alley) 1953
2. Don't Slip, Delaney (1954)
3. Have Patience, Delaney (1954)
4. Your Move, Delaney (1956)

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 9, 2021

Teen-Age Mobster (aka The Life and Times of a Tough Guy)

Benjamin Appel (1907-1977) grew up in Hell's Kitchen, NY, and attended the University of Pennsylvania and New York University. He authored over 20 novels between 1934 to 1977. Most of his crime-fiction involved the tough urban streets of New York City. One such example is the juvenile crime novel Life and Death of a Tough Guy. It was originally released in 1955 and republished by Stark House Press. In addition, Avon released the book as Teen-Age Mobster in 1960.

The book starts with the introduction of the main character, Joey Kasow, when he is four years old. He lives in Hell's Kitchen among the gangs and the criminal underworld of that era. Because of his speed, his father has him running errands throughout the city. But Joey, being Jewish, is at times taken by his peers and subjected to humiliating jokes and violent beatings. After running afoul of a young group of bullies, Joey takes his beating, but is later accepted by the pack. As the story progresses, Joey grows up with those children and establishes a street gang called 1-4-Alls. 

At the age of 15, Joey and some of the 1-4-All gang join a larger, more violent gang called The Badgers. This group is run by small-time hoods that become a staple in Joey's life. These seasoned criminals turn Joey and his friends into small-scale robbers working in department stores. This involves training the kids on how to avoid the retail cops and how to make a swift grab by consistently displaying an innocent face. 

Ultimately, Joey's rise to criminal superstardom involves the armed robbery of department stores and grocery stores. In January 1920, all bars and saloons of the nation were closed as a result of prohibition. The Badgers' gambling, whore and holdup money begin to seem elementary compared to the big bucks of running moonshine. Appel's narrative begins to tighten up as Joey Kasow becomes the gangster known as Joey Case. His rise to criminal stardom, his eventual struggles with a friend and former gang-associate Georgie and his love interest in a young woman named Sadie are all important elements of the story.

There's nothing not to dislike about this rags to riches story. It possesses many of the juvenile delinquent genre offerings of the era. As a biography of this fictional Joey Kasow character, Appel's narrative is often violent with historical references to Al Capone, Dutch Schultz and Thomas Dewey. If you like early mobster fiction or this notorious era of American history, I think you will enjoy Appel's novel. I'm not a huge fan of the run 'n gun 1920s and 1930s, so Teen-Age Mobster didn't quite grasp my attention as well as crime-noir novels set in later time periods. As a quick read, I mostly enjoyed it.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, August 6, 2021

Ben Corbin #1: Sgt. Corbin’s War

Among the over 100 books he authored employing a variety of pseudonyms, Con Sellers (1922-1992) wrote a six-book series starring a soldier-turned-CIA operative Ben Corbin under the pen name Robert Crane. The series debut was 1963's Sgt. Corbin’s War and it takes place long before the hero became a spy. 

It’s late in the Korean War, and U.S. Army Sergeant Ben Corbin is an unusual asset for the military. Having been born and raised in Korea by American missionaries, Corbin speaks the Korean language fluently, has a keen understanding of cultural norms, and a spitting hate for North Korean commies. As such, he’s the guy chosen to interrogate North Korean prisoners of war, something he does with a cruel and torturous glee. He’s also an unlikely hero in the novel’s opening scene as he removes the fingernails of an enemy P.O.W. with a sharpened bayonet. Regardless of your opinions on torture, it’s a rough read. 

Corbin has a pessimistic view of U.S. military leadership and believes that the war effort needs a hand-picked unit comprised of a few G.I.s and trusted Republic of Korea soldiers unbound by the red tape of a formal command structure. It would be a unit that could really take it to the NoKos without the handcuffs of the pesky Geneva Convention rules of war. He pitches this idea to a General who grants him low-key permission to form a unit to kill the enemy without any micromanaging. With that blessing, Corbin’s Invader Security Force is born. 

As Corbin begins hand-picking his fighting unit, his first stop is a sexy Korean woman named Kim Chuni, who was a key figure during the resistance against the Japanese rule over Korea that ended in 1945. Nowadays, she’s a black marketeer and underworld figure. Her ostensible job in Corbin’s war unit is interpreter, but her real role is providing intel on the ground as well as having regular sex with Corbin. The rest of Corbin’s Army is Korean fighters and hard-case Americans with a distaste for authority and a taste for blood. 

The battle scenes are vivid, violent and well-written. However, much of the paperback is dedicated to Corbin feeling deeply between the worlds of his Korean upbringing and his American blood. He’s also struggling with the legacy of a strict religious father whose evangelism left deep scars in Corbin. The overwritten trajectory of the romantic partnership of Corbin and Kim mostly left me cold as well. 

Overall, Sgt. Corbin’s War was just okay. Our friends at Spy Guys and Gals website say it’s the highlight of the series. As such, I don’t see much need to dive deeper into the world of Ben Corbin

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Ghost Bullet Range (aka Blood on the Saddle)

One of the most collectible pulp magazines of all time is the August 9, 1919 issue of All-Story Weekly. This publication featured the first of a five-part series called "The Curse of Capistrano". It was the first appearance of the wildly popular western hero known as Zorro. The character and story were created by Johnston McCulley (1883-1958), a World War I veteran from Ottawa, Illinois. Not only did McCulley create Zorro, but he excelled in the pulps by creating characters like The Crimson ClownThe Green Ghost and Black Star. Additionally, McCulley wrote hundreds of short stories and novelettes including Ghost Bullet Range. This novel first appeared in the September, 1942 issue of West. In 1944, Avon released the book as a paperback titled Blood on the Saddle. The book is now available in both softback and ebook version through Florida independent publisher Bold Venture Press.

Ghost Bullet Range features an experienced and highly respected trail boss named Phil Banniton. When readers first meet Banniton, he's in a firefight on the Kansas plains just outside of Dodge City. The fight stems from a quarrel the prior night over beer, poker and a gallon of testosterone. After Banniton won some money off of Sid Boyd, he becomes a target on the range. This gunfight is just an introduction to Banniton to insure readers that he's of the “admirable white-hat traditional western hero” variety. 

Later, one of Banniton's old friends shows up with a message. The Diamond W ranch, owned by Andy Walsh, is being bullied by a nest of land baron vipers. Banniton's reaction to this emotional message is mixed. Walsh raised Banniton and had groomed him as the ranch's successor. But the two had a falling out and Banniton resigned his position at the ranch. Banniton not only severed ties with Walsh, but also extinguished the romantic relationship he was having with Walsh's daughter Ella. Banniton still feels a sense of obligation to Walsh. Additionally, one of Banniton's best friends was murdered on the ranch. These emotions all play a part in Banniton's participation to defend the Diamond W.

McCulley's narrative moves at a brisk pace and is loaded with nonstop action. Banniton's investigation into who is killing off the Diamond W ranch hands is an interesting part of the story. As the body count grows, the only clue seems to be the vague words "spotted steer" that is often whispered by dying men. The trouble comes in waves as Banniton faces this mysterious killer, a rival ranch and a nemesis that's pressuring Walsh to sell the ranch cheaply.

There's nothing to really dislike about Ghost Bullet Range. As an early 20th century western, it contains all of the likable aspects of the genre - noble hero, savage range war, damsel in distress and the evil rival rancher. The spotted steer clue resulted in a rather disappointing revelation, but this wasn't a deal breaker. McCulley's propulsive pace placed these characters in many different locations throughout the story. As a reader, I never found myself confined to a saloon, ranch, prairie or house. The action is a spread out to deliver a more epic presentation.

If you like classic westerns, Ghost Bullet Range is sure to please. Buy a copy of the book and support independent publishing HERE.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Where Are the Children?

With decades of bestsellers, Mary Higgins Clark (1927-2020) was considered the queen of suspense. Of her 51 novels, the majority contained women in precarious situations, both physically and emotionally. In 1964, she began writing four-minute radio scripts before expanding into novels. Her first book, Aspire to the Heavens, is a fictional account of George Washington's life. After that flopped in 1968, she transcended into the suspense genre. Her second novel, Where Are the Children?, was published in 1975 as a runaway best-seller. 

Years ago, young California native Nancy Harmon was arrested for allegedly smothering her two children in the backseat of her car. After their bodies were dumped in the ocean, a sensational trial swept the nation. In court, Nancy's character became questionable and a key witness, one of her husband's students, would have been the condemning voice. After jury members were overheard in a restaurant declaring her guilty, a new trial was ordered. The key witness surprisingly skipped town and was never heard from again. Nancy was never convicted, her husband committed suicide, and then she disappeared out of public view.

Now, decades later, Nancy has a new life in the quaint coastal town of Cape Cod. It's here that she's married to a real estate broker named Ray. The couple have two young children and are living a blissful, uneventful life. Besides her husband and one of his sales agents, the town isn't aware that Nancy Eldredge is the same Nancy Harmon that became a media sensation years before. 

In the opening pages of the book, readers learn that a psycho has leaked the secret surrounding Nancy Eldredge to the local paper. However, his request was that the local newspaper holds the story until her birthday. Clark's novel takes place on the day of Nancy's birthday, a heartbreaking 24-hour thriller. Not only did the psychopath plan to leak the story to the press, he also planned to kidnap her two children in a sadistic repeat of the shocking events from years ago. When Nancy discovers that her two children have disappeared from the backyard, chaos ensues and the whole town wonders where the children are.

Admittedly, I was skeptical to read a novel by Mary Higgins Clark. Throughout my childhood, I remember my aunts and grandmothers reading her books and would often see the overly dramatic commercials for numerous television adaptations. Despite my recent obsession with gaudy gothic paperbacks, I still believed that Clark may just be a bit too hokey for me. I now realize I did Clark and her fans a serious disservice. Where Are the Children? is fantastic.

The novel certainly has a surplus of suspense, but it also has everything that readers of detective novels will be able to profit from. The likable town sheriff plays an important role and provides the appropriate procedural techniques under the most unfavorable conditions. With an ice storm obstructing the investigation, there are intense interrogations, detailed manhunts and roadblocks to keep the characters and readers busy.

I also thought the mystery of Nancy's entire life was absolutely fascinating. She had more information on the death of her family in California, and this element is cleverly concealed for most of Clark's story. That trial's mysterious key witness also plays a large role with an extortion gamble similar to a good mid 20th century crime-noir. Who is the psychopath, what is his relationship with Nancy and will he succeed are all questions that consume the central framework of the book. 

Despite all the preconceptions you have about Mary Higgins Clark, you really need to read one of her novels. I strongly recommend Where Are the Children? But beware, it's violent, disturbing, scary and a consuming page-turner. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Psi-Power #01: Brain Twister

Using the joint pseudonym of Mark Phillips, science fiction authors Randall Garrett (1927-1987) and Laurence Janifer (1933-2002) collaborated on a three-book series starring an FBI agent chasing psychic spies that began with 1959’s Brain Twister (Original Title: That Sweet Little Old Lady). The novel was nominated for a Hugo Award and remains available today under the authors’ real names.

Brain Twister takes place in the distant future of 1971 where we join our hero, FBI Special Agent Kenneth Malone, nursing a hangover when he is interrupted by his boss summoning him to save America from a dire threat. Malone is 26 years-old and has been an FBI agent for three years. In that time, he’s cracked some pretty big cases and is regarded as the director’s secret weapon to combat this current threat.

The U.S government has conducted research involving telepathy, and has developed a machine to detect telepathic activity and mind reading. It’s like a smoke detector for psychic energies, but it doesn’t pinpoint who the psychic is or where he’s located. The machine just identifies that a particular individual’s mind is being read.

While experimenting with the new machine on a secret installation in Nevada, the scientists discover that someone is invading the brains of other scientists working on a highly-classified project involving space travel. The base has been penetrated by a telepathic spy, and the FBI needs Malone to ferret him out of hiding and neutralize him before U.S. government secrets fall into the wrong hands.

So what we have here is a pretty cool setup for a science fiction espionage mystery. The execution will be familiar to fans of police procedural crime novels. Malone embarks on a perfectly logical investigation utilizing FBI manpower to shag leads bringing him closer to the truth. Without giving too much away, he enlists the help of an unlikely ally in completing his mission, causing the book to veer into some wacky places.

There are some genuinely funny scenes and too many overly-silly ones. At times, it reminded me more of a Donald Westlake madcap crime caper than a hardboiled novel of the future. The solution to the mystery owed more to Sherlock Holmes-style deduction than psychic intervention. Overall, this old paperback was a lot of fun to read, and I’m looking forward to the second installment. Recommended.


The chronology of this series is a little confusing as the three novels were originally serialized in sci-fi digest magazines and then re-titled for paperback releases with no indication they were part a series.

1. Brain Twister - Originally “That Sweet Little Old Lady” (1959/1962)
2. The Impossibles - Originally “Out Like a Light” (1960/1963/1966)
3. Supermind - Originally “Occasion for Disaster” (1960-1961/1963)

Your best bet may be dishing out $2 for all three books on your Kindle HERE

Monday, August 2, 2021

The Extortioners

Ovid Demaris (1919-1998) wrote nearly 20 novels of crime-fiction as well as 14 non-fiction books about crime. The author has been reintroduced to new generations of readers with publishers like Cutting Edge Books and Armchair Fiction reprinting his work. The author's fifth career novel, The Extortioners, was originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1960. Since then, it has been reprinted as an e-book by Hauraki Publishing in 2016 and by Armchair Fiction in 2019 as a double with Henry Kane's 1954 paperback Laughter Came Screaming.

Hugh Dewitt has endured many hardships and tribulations on the road to becoming a millionaire. Dewitt, who frequented gambling joints, experienced the loss of his young son in an auto accident. The insurance payout insured Dewitt's family for life, allowing him to invest and buy into the lucrative oil industry. Dewitt's friend and business associate is Neil Gordon, a man he trusts and confides in. Together, the two have grown a small empire.

In the opening pages of the book, Dewitt organizes a party in his large mansion. Angelo Rizzola, Dewitt's former bookie, learns about the party and appears uninvited. Both Dewitt and Gordon are shocked by his appearance, but eventually discuss old times over a few drinks. Angelo insists on investing in Dewitt' business. Hesitant about discussing business with Angelo, he volunteers that his company will be selling a 2% overriding royalty that pays about $5,000 per month. He cannot guarantee that it is still for sale and he has no idea if Angelo can even buy it. All Angelo hears is the payout and states he can come up with the needed funds.

Where does a criminal get a loan? The mob. Without any guarantee that he can even purchase the royalty, Angelo calls a dangerous mob organizer named Jimmy Gracio. Angelo explains the deal and Jimmy immediately says they can share the buy-in, although neither of them know the price. Jimmy has graduated from mob enforcer to organizer and now owns stock in multiple hotels and corporations. This is his chance to finally allocate funds to the oil industry. He tells Angelo to set it up. The problem? The royalty offer has already taken place and has been approved by the company for another person to buy it. 

The author's extremely violent narrative begins with Angelo endlessly calling Dewitt's secretary asking for a callback. Next, both Angelo and Jimmy begin working on Gordon in person and by phone. After numerous threats, Gordon advises Angelo that he knows nothing about the proposed deal and that Dewitt was just saying anything at the party to get Angelo to leave. There's no royalty for sale and Angelo will need to chase another business venture. Angelo relays this to Jimmy and all Hell breaks loose.

Jimmy feels like a victim of discrimination and starts threatening Gordon and Dewitt. Once he targets Dewitt's family, the business associates make the unfortunate mistake of going to the police. The story breaks out into a crescendo of bloodshed and suspense when Jimmy starts using years of experience to extort the family. Is it possible for Dewitt to escape this fiasco alive?

Like Ride the Gold Mare, The Long Night and The Enforcer, The Extortioners is laced with brutality. Demaris was an expert on organized crime and pulls no punches in describing their threatening methods. In some ways this story reminded me of John D. MacDonald's The Executioners (twice filmed as Cape Fear). The endless physical and psychological abuse of attorney Sam Bowden and his loved ones by Max Cady is similar to this story, though MacDonald's novel was published three years before The Extortioners

Aside from a mediocre novel here and there, Ovid Demaris was a rock solid crime-noir author. In my personal experience, The Extortioners is his best work. With two reprint options available, there's no reason you shouldn't be reading this.

Buy the e-book HERE and the paperback HERE