Friday, October 29, 2021

The Tomb of Dracula #01

In 1971, the Comics Code Authority eased its rules and regulations on horror comics publications. A lot of editors started testing the waters with different heroes and supernatural villains. Marvel Comics decided this would be the perfect chance to explore a more traditional vampire character. Discovering Bram Stoker's Dracula property in the public domain, the publisher developed The Tomb of Dracula. This series lasted from April 1972 until August 1979. I decided to check out the series debut. It was written by Roy Thomas and Stan Lee and penciled by Gene Colan.

Frank Drake inherited $1 million of his late father's money. He explains to readers that it took him a mere three years to blow all of it. Drake's lover is Jeanie, a beautiful woman who doesn't care about his lost fortune. When Drake talks about an old castle with his best friend Cliff, all three characters end up in a real estate quest. 

Drake explains to Cliff that he's actually related to the original Count Dracula. The lineage of his family can be traced back to the original Dracula family. When his ancestors moved out of Romania, they changed their name to Drake. What's left behind is an old diary and a monolithic castle in Transylvania. Drake's father failed in his attempts to sell the "cursed" property. Cliff suggests that this is a golden opportunity for Drake to cash in on his iconic Dracula heritage and open the castle as a tourist destination.

When the book begins, these three people struggle through the rain trying to locate the castle. When they stop in an old inn, they discover that none of the bar's customers are willing to discuss the castle. After failing to find a sufficient means of transport, an old man agrees to bring them by horse and carriage to the property. But, just outside of the castle, he becomes skittish and drops them on the road.

The narrative increases its pace with a heightened sense of dread. As the three investigate the ancient, abandoned castle, the tension and intrigue becomes a thick veil. In the castle's cellar, Cliff discovers an old skeleton with a wooden stake piercing its dry, brittle bones. Is this one of Drake's ancestors? When Cliff disturbs the skeletal remains, he awakens a fiendish vampire. Is this the Hellhound known as Count Dracula?

While this issue doesn't capture the true essence of a Hammer Horror film, the colors and the atmosphere certainly pay homage to the traditional vampire tale. As a story of origin, Lee and Thomas excel in creating a captivating story that is not as horrific as the legend of vampires itself. I understand that subsequent issues invoke a Hammer Horror feel, but for the most part this issue is a dramatic pairing of adventure and romance. By today's "scary" horror standards, The Tomb of Dracula pales in comparison. However, as a nostalgic return to a more innocent age, I loved it.

Get the complete collection as an ebook HERE

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Sam Dakkers #01 - Scream Street

Before authoring the successful Pete McGrath mysteries, Mike Brett (1921-2000) wrote a two-book crime series starring a hard-luck bookie named Sam Dakkers for the Ace Doubles imprint. Both books have been reprinted - again as doubles - by Oregon publisher Armchair Fiction. I recall enjoying the second book, The Guilty Bystander, so I figured I’d try the first installment, Scream Street, from 1959.

Sam the bookie is our narrator, and the opening paragraph finds him witnessing a guy bashing a lady’s face on a corner sidewalk. A geyser of blood and the sickening thud of a human skull bouncing off concrete begin the action for both Sam and the reader. Against his better judgement, Sam comes to the lady’s aid by dispatching the thug and bringing the lady back to Sam’s apartment and temporary safety. The girl’s name is Joan and she had been lured to a warehouse by the thug who tried to rape her under some very odd circumstances. Could there be an organized rape ring at work?

Stemming from this encounter, one violent confrontation leads to another for Sam. Dead bodies begin to pile up resulting in Sam running from both the thugs and eventually the police. Yes, this is one of those noir novels where the protagonist needs to solve a mystery to save his own hide from a presumption of guilt. Sam is an unlikely hero who gets his ass kicked, stomped and shot in nearly every chapter. For Sam, this ordeal is less about a quest for justice and more about keeping his bookmaking business intact. Catching bullets and saps to the back of his head is a small price to pay for Sam’s return to normalcy.  

Sam is a very fun character to follow as he bumbles toward a solution. Without question, Scream Street isn’t a crime fiction classic, but it was a light and easy read that never fails to hold the reader’s attention. One quibble: the paperback ends with the obligatory scene with the villain delivering an unbroken monologue explaining the criminal scheme from beginning to end rather than just plugging our hero with a bullet and moving on. Even in 1959, this was a played-out literary trope.

But who cares? You’ll be smiling through every page of this cliche-filled short novel. That counts for something. Check this one out if you want a quick and breezy read. Get the book HERE

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

In Deep (aka Whiteout!)

British author John Franklin Broxholme (1930-2000) used the pseudonym Duncan Kyle to author a number of high-adventure novels in the 1970s and 1980s. Typically, his novels includes individuals that become unlikely heroes during a dangerous situation. My first experience with Broxholme is his 1976 novel In Deep. It was originally published in hardback and then later re-titled and published as Whiteout!.

Presented in first-person narration, In Deep stars Canadian sales executive Harry Bowes. He's representing his employer's advanced machinery, the high-performance TK4. The vehicle is an advanced hovercraft built for harsh, frosty environment. After successful trials in Canada, Bowes and the TK4 have been transported to Greenland's ice cap. At 7,000 foot heights, the blizzards and Arctic winds will prove to be fierce competition for the new TK4.

Bowes is in this wintery Hell to introduce the vehicle to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This is a group of 300 men stationed at Camp Hundred, a research station that is mostly underground. Readers are thrust into the camp's routine as Bowes becomes acquainted with the officers and gains some camaraderie with the men. But, these introductions and sales presentations are severed quickly. Thankfully, In Deep isn't about a sales pitch or a test drive. It's a mass murder mystery.

Like a 1980s slasher flick, the men at Camp Hundred are meeting grisly deaths. Someone is killing these men one by one while simultaneously cutting their supplies. The well is poisoned, reactors destroyed, runway lights extinguished and food is contaminated. At first, Bowes and the camp believe these events are freak accidents. But, as the bodies begin to pile up, it seems that a killer is on the loose and Bowes may be the next victim.

In Deep was nearly a one-sitting read for me. That's unusual considering my busy schedule with work, family, this blog and podcasting. But, Broxholme's narrative is just so addictive. It's the traditional murder mystery, but placed in this unusual location. Often, I was reminded of John Carpenter's excellent survival horror classic The Thing. This isolation and atmosphere is permeated with impending doom. Bowes becomes the credible hero, but thankfully the author creates this character in an average way. There's nothing special about Bowes other than his determination and will to survive.

If you love high-adventure, but have grown tired of stolen Nazi gold or rogue agents, Broxholme's In Deep is written just for you. Highly recommended! Get the ebook HERE

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Girl with No Place to Hide

Between 1958 and 1961, Philadelphia native Marvin H. Albert (1924-1996) employed the pseudonym Nick Quarry to write a six-book series starring a hardboiled Manhattan private detective named Jake Barrow. The series has been largely lost to the ages until a recent resurrection by Stark House imprint Black Gat Books. The third installment, 1959’s The Girl with No Place to Hide, is back as a mass-market paperback for modern readers to read and enjoy.

Jake is our narrator for this taut 185-page mystery. After leaving a strip club at 2:30 in the morning, our hero witnesses a woman – a real dish, by the way – being dragged into an alley by a thug. Jake dispatches the mauler, saves the damsel in distress, and brings her to his apartment for safekeeping. Her name is Angela, and she’s filled with secrets. Angela is convinced, with good reason, that someone is trying to kill her. However, she doesn’t trust Jake enough to share the complete story. Jake steps out of his apartment for a few minutes before returning to find that Angela has disappeared.

Without a paying client, Jake takes it upon himself to find Angela and learn who is trying to kill her and why. He makes a logical leap that her threat is somehow tied to a grisly murder of a newspaper ad man around the same time and leverages his relationships with NYPD homicide to get the inside scoop. There’s a side plot involving a middleweight prizefighter with an approaching title bout. There’s also wiretaps, heaving breasts, thugs who kill, thugs who need killing, dirty cops, love triangles, torture, extreme violence, and 1950s stylized sex. No joke, this paperback has something for everyone, and the influence of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer shines brightly throughout every page.

As a character, Jake is a hardboiled archetype who loves the ladies, booze, and using his gat when pushed too far. Albert is an unsung hero of the paperback original era who was equally proficient in the crime and western genres, and The Girl with No Place to Hide presents the author at the absolute top of his game. The mystery and its solution were perfectly crafted with enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing until the satisfying solution. Let’s hope this reprint sells like hotcakes, so Stark House/Black Gat bring back more Jake Barrow mysteries. Highest recommendation.


Although The Girl with no Place to Hide is the third installment in the Jake Barrow series, the paperbacks can be read in any order. Here’s the original series order – all published under the Nick Quarry pseudonym by Fawcett Gold Medal:

1. The Hoods Come Calling (1958)
2. Trail of a Tramp (1958)
3. The Girl with No Place to Hide (1959)
4. No Chance in Hell (1960)
5. Till it Hurts (1960)
6. Some Die Hard (1961)

Get the book HERE

Monday, October 25, 2021

The Dawn Tide

Author Victor Rousseau Emanuel (1879-1960) was a British novelist that authored a number of short stories for the early magazines and pulps. He used pseudonyms like Victor Rousseau, H.M. Egbert, and V.R. Emanuel for publications like Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, Super-Detective, Weird Tales, and Argosy. Under the pseudonym Lew Merrill, he authored more sexually suggestive work. It's under this name that I first discovered the author. I found the May, 1944 issue of Speed Adventure Stories online and it contains a short story by Emanuel called "The Dawn Tide". 

On Eastern Canada's St. Lawrence Gulf Coast, Yvette and her husband Armand are lighthouse keepers. The windswept coast is battered by brutal storms and piercing ice, making life very difficult for 27-year old Yvette. To complicate matters more, her husband Armand lost the use of his leg in WW1. Thus, Yvette is mostly administering all of the lighthouse's functionality. When faced with a German prisoner, her burden becomes an overbearing weight she's forced to contend with.

Due to WW2, the lighthouse serves as a beacon for many Allied ships coming and going. Most of these ships are floating prisons for German prisoners of war. On a clear night, Yvette hears a man screaming for help in the treacherous sea. When she brings the man inside, she learns that he is an escaped German prisoner. 

The man introduces himself as Volksmann, then becomes increasingly belligerent when he discovers there's only one bottle of brandy on shore. The tension increases when the man states he will be stealing one of their boats the next day for an escape attempt to New York. Armand is crippled and can do very little to stop this German soldier. But, when Volksmann drags Yvette upstairs to rape her, the story takes a very violent, yet thrilling turn.

Merrill's descriptive locale really enhances this moody, suspense thriller. The idea of these two people trapped with a maniacal Nazi soldier is terrifying. The author's use of Yvette as the primary hero is admirable considering the 1940's era. It's stylish, unique and a compelling read. You can read the story for free right HERE.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Paperback Warrior Primer - Orrie Hitt

Orrie Hitt (1916-1975) was a suburban family man in upper New York who was quietly one of the most successful creators of sleaze paperbacks in the 1950s and 1960s. His plots were largely noir fiction with a heavy dash of non-graphic sexuality and bad decisions driven by greed and lust. During his life, he authored upwards of 150 novels before dying penniless. As a tribute to his life and literary work, Paperback Warrior offers an extensive look at author Orrie Hitt:

Hitt was born in Colchester, New York in 1916. When he was 11 years old, his father committed suicide. Hitt obtained a job at a hunting lodge in upstate New York to make ends meet while his mother worked as a hotel chambermaid. Meanwhile, Hitt was a high school student. As a sophomore, he advised his teacher that he wanted to be a writer, and his teacher did what all good teachers do – she shattered his dreams by telling him that he was never going to make it as a writer because his English language skills were unsatisfactory and that he was too much of a dreamer.

While working at the lodge, Hitt gained hunting and outdoors experience. Hitt sold his first articles about hunting as a high schooler to hobbyist magazines. When he became a senior, he and his former English teacher both submitted articles to an educational book company. Hitt's article about shooting was accepted, and his teacher’s submission was rejected. 

After Hitt's mother died, he became an orphan. Later, he joined the Army at age 24 and served in some capacity in WW2. After his military service, Hitt married Charlotte Tucker on Valentines Day, 1943, and together they eventually had four daughters. In the years following the war, Orrie worked as an insurance salesman, a radio disc jockey, a roofing and timing salesman, a frozen food salesman, and a handyman. He had about 16 jobs during that post-war period, and he wasn’t writing much because he needed the steady paycheck to feed his wife and growing family of daughters. During that period of time, he relocated to Iceland for a year to work at a hotel. This job afforded him a lot of downtime, so he used it to write his first novel, I'll Call Every Monday, published by Avon in 1953. 

It’s clear that Hitt was a fan of James M. Cain, and a lot of his books were re-workings of Cain’s Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. The formula is that a drifter falls in love with a married woman. Together, they conspire to kill her heel of a husband so they can obtain the husband’s money. Of course, things go sideways, as they do anytime you fall for a murderous wife. That’s the template used by lots of writers in the 1950s, and Hitt went to that well many times in his own writing.

Hitt returned to upstate New York and became a full-time novelist. He set his manual Remington Royal typewriter up on the kitchen table and worked the entire day cranking out 90 words per minute. He lived on iced coffee and Winston cigarettes and he wrote book after book. He was a faithful husband and attentive father while all day, every day, he wrote about guys who were duplicitous heels who couldn’t keep it in their pants. In real life, Hitt was nothing like the characters he wrote about in his books. 

Early in his career, Hitt developed relationships with “adults only” publishers like Beacon and Midwood who bought and published his books. Hitt found a good niche for himself as a writer of sexy fiction – often sexy crime fiction – but his publishers played up the sex and down the noir. Hitt was trying to make a living, so he kept writing the books he knew how to write and receiving advances of $250 to $1,000 per book for his paperbacks. His sleaze publishers gave him a lot of freedom to write what he wanted because they knew that they were just going to slap a silly sleaze cover on his books. 

Between the years of 1953 and 1970, Hitt had about 150 original novels published under his own name and a variety of pseudonyms. There is a robust collector’s market for sleaze fiction, and his original paperbacks tend to get top dollar. The most affordable options are the reprint houses like Stark House Press, Prologue Press, and Automat Press. 

Here's a "buyer's guide" on some of Hitt's novels:

If you want a James M. Cain style novel about the protagonist falling for a young woman married to an older rich guy where they plot to murder the husband:

- The Cheaters (1960)
- Dial M for Man (1962)
- Two of a Kind (1960)

Novels starring a young woman trying to survive by using her body to pay the bills: 

- Campus Tramp (1962)
- Four Women (1961)
- Trapped (1954)

Novels that expose the behind the scenes world of prostitutes and their tragic origin stories:

- Trailer Tramp (1957)
- Nude Doll (1963)
- Naked Model (1962)
- Girl of the Streets (1959)
- Party Doll (1961)

Hitt also wrote under several pseudonyms including Kay Adams, Joe Black, Charles Verne, and Nicky Weaver. Between 1953 and 1960, Orrie Hitt was producing about 20 books per year. His productivity slowed down gradually thereafter. By 1964, he was down to about four books a year, then three, then one. He essentially just ran out of ideas. The book contracts disappeared and his money ran out. A lifetime of working 12 hour days at his kitchen table drinking iced coffee and smoking cigarettes caught up with him. In 1979, he died in debt in a veteran’s hospital at age 59. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Harrow Lake

Hailing from New Wales, Kat Ellis writes young adult horror fiction. Her novels Breaker and Blackfin Sky were published by Running Press Kids. Through Penguin Random House, Ellis has authored Wicked Little Deeds (aka Burden Falls) and Harrow Lake. I haven't had any experience with the author. But, my teen daughter let me borrow Harrow Lake and the premise immediately grabbed me.

Years ago, fictional screenwriter and director Nolan Nox created a horror movie known as Nightjar. The film was about a small town that is nearly destroyed by a landslide. Trapped inside the town, the residents begin eating each other to survive. Nightjar became a cult classic built off the tragedy associated with the film. Nolan shot the movie in a small Indiana town called Harrow Lake, a place where he met his wife, Loralei. During the filming, a crew member disappeared within the town's complex cave system. Fans link this unfortunate disappearance with the film's terrifying plot.

Ellis demands the reader's attention within the first few pages of Harrow Lake. In these non-linear pages is an interview with Nolan about the film, the tragedy and the fact that his own daughter, Lola Nox, has gone missing in the mysterious little town. After this interview segment, the author begins the narrative by going back one year before the interview takes place. 

Lola's mother ran away from her and her father years before. Lola and Nolan have a great relationship, but that is put in jeopardy when Lola finds her father stabbed on their apartment floor. With a long rehab at the hospital, Nolan sends Lola to Harrow Lake to temporarily live with her grandmother. 

Once Lola arrives in Harrow Lake, strange things begin happening. Her quirky grandmother keeps mistaking Lola for Loralei. Lola finds a strange girl always watching her. There's a myth that a creature called Mr. Jitters haunts the town. Beyond physical things, Lola talks to an imaginary friend named Mary Ann, but she could be a ghost. Things in Harrow Lake are very, very odd. 

As a 300-page hardcover, Ellis mostly keeps the reader engaged through a small-town mystery surrounding Lola's mother and her mysterious relationship with Harrow Lake. There's a looming problem regarding Lola's grandmother and some hints that the Mr. Jitters myth is a legit supernatural creature. Enhancing the narrative are Harrow Lake residents that Lola befriends, although she's very introverted and private. Throughout the story, Lola's communications with Nola are severed, creating a sense of isolation and abandonment.

My main issue with the book is that it is written in present tense. This style of narration has gained in popularity, but is an acquired taste. I like the first-person narration, but I don't necessarily want to be in the moment with Lola as she's living this rather abstract existence before my very eyes. This isn't to suggest Kat Ellis isn't a good writer or that the narrative is lacking, it's just not my preference. The presentation subtracted from the overall enjoyment. Otherwise, Harrow Lake is interesting, slightly scary and often disturbing. Get a copy HERE

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Death Hunter

Steve Frazee was a prolific western author that served as president of the Western Writers of America. Before authoring full-length paperbacks in the 1950s, Frazee was a heavy contributor to the western and adventure pulps of the 1940s. We've covered several of his books and stories here on Paperback Warrior, so I was happy to locate another of his short stories. "The Death Hunter" appeared in the July, 1952 issue of Adventure Magazine.

When the story begins, Buchanan (no relation to William Ard's character) is boarding a train toting a hunting rifle. But, he doesn't plan on hunting game. Instead, his target is a man named Roy Sargent. In the backstory, readers learn that Buchanan served in WW2 with a fellow named McKee. During a fierce shoreline battle, Buchanan became badly wounded. McKee saved Buchanan by hefting him over his shoulder and racing for the safety of a boat. Because of this, Buchanan feels he owes McKee his life.

Months ago, Sargent trespassed on McKee's farm, hunting birds. McKee kindly asked him to leave, but there was a disagreement. When McKee was found shot to death, clues pointed to Sargent as the murderer. After a police inquiry, there wasn't sufficient evidence to prosecute Sargent. When Buchanan finds that Sargent is headed upstate on a hunting trip, he decides he will bring about his own form of justice.

Frazee's dark tale is one of revenge, but it teaches an important lesson on trust and forgiveness. The story takes some unexpected turns with character development that quickly escalates as these two characters find themselves in the depths of the wilderness. I was pleasantly surprised by the story's finale and really loved what Frazee was able to accomplish over such a small word count. 

You can read a copy of this story, as well as the entire magazine, HERE.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Chandler: Red Tide

James Steranko (b. 1938) could be considered a true Renaissance man. Early in his life he became a talented illusionist, magician and musician. By 1966, Steranko's comic book pursuits led to the iconic Stan Lee and Jack Kirby of Marvel Comics. He penciled and inked issues of
Strange Tales, Nick Fury, Captain America, X-Men, etc. In 1969, Steranko began painting covers for paperbacks and pulps, including Wildcat O' Shea and The Shadow

In 1976, Steranko's love of crime-noir and pulp-fiction led to a graphic novel called Chandler: Red Tide. Steranko penciled, inked and authored the book in a very specific format. Each page features 26 lines of text with two panels of art above each page. This is not to be confused with a standard graphic novel or comic because there are no dialogue bubbles. For all purposes, this is a unique novel with accompanying artwork, similar to a vintage pulp magazine. 

Set in the 1940s, Chandler explains to readers that he was originally a professional boxer. After a knockout defeat, Chandler stopped boxing and fought in the Mexican Revolution, became an arms dealer and eventually moved to New York City to become a skip tracer for a bail bondsman. Later, he became a special investigator for the District Attorney's office. When the new administration arrived, he was bounced. Now, he works on 47th as a private-detective, complete with a sexy secretary, long coat, and a Colt. 45.

An older gentleman named Todd approaches Chandler about finding a murderer. Todd explains that he was a guest on a yacht off of New York Harbor when a gangland slaying took place. Unfortunately, he was one of a handful of witnesses that saw the gunman. Now, the witnesses are being killed off and Todd is next. Chandler can’t protect Todd because his murder has already happened. Todd was poisoned, and, according to medical professionals, has 72-hours to live. Nearing his demise, Todd offers Chandler a stack of bills to find his murderer before he dies.

Chandler is a glorious nod to the early, hardboiled private-eye stories and novels. The hero's name is a tribute to Raymond Chandler, but the book's most striking resemblances are Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op and Carol John Daly's Race Williams. Chandler possesses all of the genre tropes: sleuth, big appetite, attractive, fighter. He is quick with a gun, smooth with the ladies and uses a lot of stealth and intuition to locate clues.

On a frenzied, shortened timeframe, Chandler paws through leads and interviews various people connected to the ship. The cold trail eventually leads to an old flame named Ann. Chandler rekindles a spark with her, but begins to suspect Ann's motives and network of associates. 

With intense gunplay, sexiness and a bold hero, the narrative moves quickly through New York’s brightly lit streets. The vivid artwork panels purposefully align with each page's dialogue and scene, enhancing what was already a rock-solid and compelling story. 

Unfortunately, as remarkable as Chandler is, it didn't meet sales expectations. A planned story-arc for Penthouse never came to fruition and Chandler was shuffled into forgotten history. If you can get your hands on this masterpiece, pay whatever the asking price is. Steranko’s Chandler kicks total ass. Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, October 18, 2021

Invisible Fences

Norman Prentiss is a Maryland author that has appeared in Baltimore's City Paper, Writer Online, and Southern Poetry Review. He won a Bram Stoker award in 2009 for his short story "In the Porches of My Ears". His work includes The Fleshless Man, Four Legs in the Morning and The Narrator. His novel, Invisible Fences, won a Stoker Award in 2010 for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction.  The story was published by Cemetery Dance and is available in both physical and digital versions.

Invisible Fences begins in the post-hippie 1970s and features a young boy named Nathan and his slightly older sister Pam. Their mother suffers from agoraphobia, the fear of the outside. Her sickness leaves a deep etching in Nathan and Pam's growth. The idea of an "invisible fence" is created by their father through the use of scary stories or horrifying events that securely keep the family from exposure to the horrors of the outdoors.  

As the narrative advances through the years, it's an emotional roller coaster through Nathan's childhood and eventually the transition into adulthood. As a man, Nathan is now experiencing a hefty emotional weight related to something from his past. He also is burdened with taking care of his parents, which leads to some recollections of his early childhood and the things that happened.

For the most part, Invisible Fences is revealed to readers through a murky, broken looking glass. That is the main reason this 150-page novel works so well. It requires some imagination from the reader while also forcing them to arrive at their own conclusions. Was there something evil outside? Did Nathan and Pam's parents protect them for a reason? Or, was it all a cautionary tale from challenged parents? Prentiss asks these questions in a subtle and clever way. The book's emphasis on growing and evolving is important. Invisible Fences forces us all to face dark truths. 

As a short novel, Invisible Fences is extraordinary. If you love dark, emotional rides that span a lifetime, then Norman Prentiss will amaze you with his storytelling gift. This was a non-stop page turner. Highly recommended. Get your copy HERE

Friday, October 15, 2021

Terminator Salvation: Cold War

I've enjoyed the entire series of Terminator films. I remember watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day on VHS back in the early 90s and was astounded by the storyline and special effects. I experienced mixed reactions on Terminator 3 but overall, I thought it served its purpose. Those two films are important for my review of Greg Cox's Terminator Salvation: Cold War (2009). This novel is set in the time period between the second and third films. This was the day Skynet started World War 3. Cox chooses the year 2003 to place the story's action.

The book's narrative includes a Russian submarine firing on Alaska in retaliation for Moscow's bombing. The submarine Commander hears an urgent message broadcast by John Connor (the series hero). The radio message explains Skynet's hostile takeover and the need for humanity to unite to combat the machines. Later, the Commander and his crew team up with the Resistance forces to fight Skynet. 

The events in the book occur over a 15 year period. Additionally, Cox's narrative also simultaneously presents events in 2015 from the perspective of a Russian resistance force in the Alaskan wilderness. They are attempting to destroy a Skynet train that is transporting uranium to Canada to improve weapons.

The book describes some awesome scenes of T-600 machines fighting the Russians in the snow and forest. I think this would have looked fantastic on film while also presenting a different look to the franchise. The book also includes the familiar Hunter-Killer machines and some really unique snowmobile Terminators - T-600 torsos mounted on snowmobile treads. 

Greg Cox is no stranger to movie and television tie-in novels. He has authored books in franchises like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, Underworld, Roswell and many others. I felt that with Cold War, Cox was able to deliver an alternative look at the Terminator machines while still creating an action-packed story. If you are a fan of these films or graphic novels, you should find this book enjoyable. Get a copy HERE

Thursday, October 14, 2021

The Association

Bentley Little (b. 1960) was born in Mesa, Arizona. He earned degrees in communications and comparative literature at California State University Fullerton. His first novel, The Revelation (1990), won a Bram Stoker Award for best novel by a new author. Since then, Little has averaged nearly one horror novel per year since 1990. I've had the opportunity to read many of his novels, including The Association. It was originally published in 2001 by Signet and most recently has been reprinted by Cemetery Dance.

In the opening chapters, Barry and Maureen move from Los Angeles into a gated suburban community in Utah. Upon moving into their new house, Barry and Maureen receive a book of "conditions, compliance and restrictions" regarding the Homeowners Association that they are required to comply with. Unfortunately, with the hustle and bustle of moving in and becoming situated in their new home, the couple fails to read it. They are later shocked when they discover what type of community they are residing in. 

The HOA contract prohibits the two from hosting any minorities in their house. Caucasian is the only prohibited race. Additionally, no one that is gay is allowed to be residents or guests in the community. Further, both Barry and Maureen are prohibited from reproducing offspring. The two quickly find that they aren't allowed to work from home (Barry is a writer). They also find that they must arise bright and early to clear off any pine cones, dead grass, twigs and branches from their property each day. They are prohibited from planting any shrubs, they aren't allowed to paint and they can't include any family photos as home decor. 

These outrageous rules and regulations require that each house must have a camera inside that is monitored by the HOA. Barry and Maureen are subjected to sexual harassment and the HOA is allowed to use deadly force whenever a resident breaks the rules. The local police aren't allowed jurisdiction inside, prompting a legal war between the town and the HOA.

Like Little's The Store (1998), The Policy (2003) and The Resort (2004), The Association follows the same formula - corporations wielding authority on unsuspecting people. The novel's sadism is turned down compared to Little's other works, but there are still some violent and unsettling scenes for readers. If you are familiar with this author, you'll find no surprises. The Association is a disturbing horror novel with a unique perspective on home buying.

Get a copy HERE

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Cop with Wings

In 1950, Bruno Fischer became a success story with his bestselling novel House of Flesh. Prior to that, Fischer was concentrating on writing full-length mysteries while also contributing to the dime magazines and pulps. He authored hundreds of stories in the 1930s and 1940s for magazines like Dime Mystery, Dime Detective, and Black Mask. I recently located a July, 1946 issue of Mammoth Detective and was happy to find a Bruno Fischer story inside. 

Fischer's "Cop with Wings" is a 5,600 word short story with illustrations by H.W. McCauley. In the story, Van Sheridan is the protagonist, a bold detective sergeant working in a crime-infested town. The city's town hall and most of the businesses and interworking are controlled by a savvy criminal named Peter Holland. Sheridan has butted heads with Holland before, but on this night it's over something unexpected.

Tonight, Van Sheridan and his girlfriend Emily are in Peter's house asking for his marriage blessing. Confused? Emily is Peter's daughter. Van Sheridan is forced to swallow his pride, accept a partial defeat, and ask his nemesis for a marriage blessing. Peter is outraged by the request and angrily advises Emily that she won't receive a penny of his fortune if she marries Van Sheridan. Further, Peter swears that he controls the city's police force and that Van Sheridan will be fired. After the heated argument, Emily asks Van Sheridan to leave the house and that she will discuss the affair with Peter alone.

As Van Sheridan is leaving the house, he overhears Peter telling Emily that she is "messing around with other men..." Contemplating the accusation, Van Sheridan strolls the streets and decides to go back to the house. In the drive, Van Sheridan overhears Peter yelling at someone before the booming sound of a gunshot. Racing into the house, Van Sheridan discovers Emily is standing over a dead man. Shockingly, he also sees Peter holding the smoking gun.

This was such an effective story and Fischer's writing is top-notch. I found the character development as a smooth presentation that changed the roles significantly by the story's end. Fischer's ability to transform this simple "whodunit" into a riveting mystery is reliant on the key statement of "...other men." Just that simple piece of dialogue creates a completely different narrative. The reader is aligned with Emily, but then doubt and suspicion quickly sweep in to create emotional confusion. This is just brilliant writing and I loved the way it was presented. You can read this story for free HERE.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Mansion of Evil

By the middle of the 20th century, publishers began experimenting with their consumers by offering different formats for books. Instead of relying on a slim comic book, the idea of a "graphic novel" developed. The idea was to offer more text and story, essentially creating a longer comic book narrative. These new graphic novels wouldn't possess the standard internal advertisements and predominantly were one-shots. They weren't necessarily part of a long, continuous series. With this new marketing, the dominant paperback publisher of the time decided to test the waters.

In 1950, Fawcett Gold Medal published their one and only graphic novel, Mansion of Evil. This 129th Gold Medal paperback was authored by Joseph Millard, a talented writer who wrote science-fiction, mystery, and westerns. His most popular literary work was the Man with No Name, an eight book series of westerns based on the three Spaghetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood.

In a clear tribute to author Brett Halliday (real name Davis Dresser), Millard's protagonist in Mansion of Evil is Beth Halliday. She works as an exhibitor at Melton's Art Gallery. Her fiance is a high-profile reporter named Larry Brennan. Beth's most recent art auction is the work of a notable painter named Maxwell Haimes. The artist stays out of the spotlight and remains secretive to many of his closest associates.

When Beth and Haimes are introduced, Haimes becomes excitable and slightly unstable. He advises Beth that she resembles his former wife. Additionally, he explains that his former wife, who was accused as a gold digger, was run off by his agent, leaving him heartbroken. A large portrait painting of her is left unfinished, but due to the remarkable resemblance Beth has to his wife, he can use her as a model to finish this masterpiece. 

In a fast-paced sequence of events, Haimes grabs Beth and promises to pay her $500 if she will quickly accompany him to his studio to finish the painting. Beth accepts the proposal, but becomes frightened when Haimes advises that she will be gone a few days and that she can't return to her apartment to pack any of her belongings. Escalating the fear, Haimes drives Beth to a mansion in the country - a mansion that he claims no one knows he owns.

Millard's mystery novel is a combination of suspense and horror with an overlapping central question - who is Laura? Readers are teased throughout the narrative as Haimes continues to refer to Beth as "Laura". Soon, Beth is spiraling into a sea of chaos as Haimes promises two associates that he will be throwing Beth down a massive staircase to prove her death was an accident. When a nurse sedates her, Beth realizes she's about to die in this mansion of evil. 

Millard's problem is that he doesn't provide enough information to keep the reader hooked. He ends each chapter with some captivating event that suggests all will be revealed in the next chapter. But, Millard hesitates to offer any answers to so many puzzling questions. It's written as though readers are waiting a full month before the next issue. Instead, it's just a page turn to the next chapter. I'm not sure why the story was structured this way or the reason why Millard leaves the carrot dangling for so long. By the time everything is revealed, I had lost all vested interest.

If you love mysteries where readers are totally baffled by the events for two-thirds of the book, then Mansion of Evil will please you. I needed something more to keep the pages turning. Instead of answers, there were just more questions. No thanks. You can read this book for free HERE.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 95

On Episode 95, we explore author Steve Fisher's pulp titles like Captain Babyface, Sheridan Doome and Big Red Brennan. We also delve into Fisher's full-length novels and his transition into Hollywood. Tom reviews the new Stark House Press reprint of Lorenz Heller's 1959 novel Crime Cop. Eric gets Gothic-crazy in Sanford, Florida and talks about his shopping experience at the Daytona Beach Flea Market. Listen on any podcast app, stream below or download HERE

Listen to "Episode 95: Steve Fisher" on Spreaker.

Friday, October 8, 2021


Jon Bassoff teaches high school in Colorado. He's also a novelist with eight published books, including The Disassembled Man, which is scheduled for a film adaptation starring Emile Hirsch. My first experience with Bassoff is his debut book, Corrosion, originally published in 2013. It now exists in both physical and digital versions through Down & Out Books. 

Corrosion is a powerful crime-fiction novel with comparisons to Cormac McCarth (No Country For Old Men). I can't say I've ever read a book quite like it. The story is set in a rural mountain town amidst disparity, depression, and poverty. The beginning of the book is from the viewpoint of Joseph Downs, a disfigured Iraq war vet who drifts into town and meets a whore named Lilith. Lonely and broke, Joseph finds acceptance in the arms of Lilith and will do anything to keep her. 

The middle of Bassoff's narrative switches the time-period and perspective. This portion is from the viewpoint of Benton Faulk, a young boy living in this small town seven years prior to Downs' arrival. His father is deranged and his mother is dying. Faulk escapes his miserable life by obsessing over a waitress named Constance while also fantasizing about becoming a war hero in Iraq. 

These two characters, and their experiences, eventually cross paths and the end result is a moving piece about loneliness and rejection. It's hard to describe any other portions of the book for fear of spoiling your enjoyment. That would be a terrible disservice to you. I highly recommend Corrosion, it's a solid first effort from an author that you should be reading. 

Get a copy HERE

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Reckless #01 - Reckless

Maryland native Ed Brubaker (b. 1966) is both an artist and comic writer. It would be difficult to browse any comic book store and not find a title written by him, or one to which he has at least made a contribution. Serial titles such as Captain America, Batman, Daredevil, X-Men and Sandman occupied Brubaker for more than thirty years. Beyond superheroes, Brubaker loves crime-fiction and what he describes as those painted cover paperbacks that his father liked to read. Due to his love of the crime-fiction genre, Brubaker teamed up with prolific U.K. artist Sean Phillips (Hellblazer, Judge Dredd) to write a number of awesome graphic novel titles like Sleeper and Criminal. One of their most recent collaboration is a graphic novel series called Reckless. I'm starting with Reckless Vol. 1., which was published in December of 2020 by Image.

The first thing you need to know is that Reckless was written for the 1970s and 1980s men's action-adventure and crime-fiction fans. If you love David Morrell, Robert B. Parker, Jon Messmann, and Lawrence Block, Reckless is for YOU. The basic premise is quite simple. Ethan Reckless is the lone hero who performs complicated tasks for money. It's not that different than the 1940s and 1950s private-eye books, but Reckless isn't a licensed detective and he is mostly working illegally. Reckless is similar to Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder character in that regard. The icing on the cake is that these books are set in California in the early 1980s.

Ethan Reckless became an FBI agent in the early 1970s. In flashback scenes, Brubaker explains that Reckless was working undercover to infiltrate a group of Vietnam War protesters. Mostly these groups were peaceful, but this particular assembly is planning on bombing large portions of the city. When Reckless attempts to stop a bombing, he's caught in the blast. The explosion creates some facial scarring and Reckless loses portions of his memory. After that incident, Reckless eventually finds himself at odds with his fellow FBI colleagues. He eventually quit with three years of pension. Once that ran out, Reckless began solving problems for people. In the early days he describes his "office" as just him and his surfboard.

Fast-forward to Los Angeles in 1981 and Reckless now works out of an old abandoned theater. He has a phone number that people can call to report their problems. His female punk rock assistant handles the calls and offers Reckless the job selections. Reckless is shocked when Rainy advises him that someone on the phone is asking for Donovan Rush. This was his old undercover name when he was working the protest bombings. 

After obtaining a time and place, Reckless arrives at a roadside diner to find that his old flame Rainy is the one asking for him. She was one of the protesters that Reckless fell in love with prior to the explosion. She explains that she was involved in a bank robbery in 1974. The group stashed the money with a promise that they would all lie low for a few years until the heat died down. Once she was able to locate her partner, Rainy learned that the money is gone and he's now living a posh life in northern California. She wants Reckless to retrieve the $100,000 she's owed from the robbery.

Reckless is a stylish throwback to the books we read, review, and love here at Paperback Warrior. It's smack-dab right in our wheelhouse. This first volume is 150 pages and is just a well-written, action-packed narrative with plenty of twists and turns. The art is exceptional with plenty of violent details - this isn't for the squeamish. The bank heist is really just a small portion of the book, instead the storyline weaves in and out of the FBI investigation, CIA drug runners, a phenomenal origin, sex, and a gritty, Hell-bent revenge angle. If you've been reading Paperback Warrior reviews (or listening to the show), trust me when I tell you to read this book. You won't be disappointed.

Note - The second volume of the series is called Friend of the Devil and is set in Los Angeles in 1985. Like the first volume, there's retroactive storytelling from the 1960s and 1970s that play a prominent role in the 1985 job. The third book is called Destroy All Monsters and will be released in October of 2021. Get the book HERE

Wednesday, October 6, 2021


Philip Ketchum (1902-1969) was a top pulp contributor throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Using the pseudonym Carl McK Saunders, Ketchum authored over 100 hard-boiled stories featuring Captain John Murdock, a detective destroying crime rings in fictitious Central City. In the late 1930s, his 12 installment fantasy series Bretwalda was featured in the pages of Argosy. In the late 1940s, Ketchum made the transition to full-length fiction and turned to the western genre. With dozens upon dozens of paperbacks for publishers like Popular Library, Eagle, Fawcett Gold Medal, and Ace, Ketchum is admired for his high-quality western storytelling. The first experience I had with him was his 1967 western novel, Wyoming. The book was initially published by Ballantine.

After the Civil War, Dan Morgan headed west to carve out a frontier living. In Wyoming, Morgan finds a beautiful stretch of wilderness and starts building a home. After clearing land, planting potatoes and constructing a small cottage, Morgan bought horses and livestock. After settling in, two gunmen step onto his property and shoot him. The men burn the cabin and steal his animals.

Shocked by the heinous events, Morgan is left with nothing and forced to walk through the wilderness. He had previously stumbled on an old wagon road and a widowed woman named Cora. At that time, Cora explained that her husband had been killed and that she had no place else to go. She defiantly declined Morgan's help and settled in to wait for help by her wagon. Unarmed, with no supplies or horse, Morgan makes his way back to Cora's wagon to ask for assistance.

Morgan and Cora make a deal. She will provide him everything she has...but herself. In exchange for the horse, wagon, supplies, and valuable gun, the two will form a business partnership. She will help Morgan rebuild in exchange for 50% of the farm's eventual profits. Between a rock and a hard place, Morgan accepts the deal. After the two rebuild the cabin and begin to settle in, the riders come after Morgan again. This time, Morgan and Cora flee to Wyoming City as their cabin and supplies burn again.

Ketchum is a fantastic storyteller and I was glued to the action and propulsive plot. Morgan's desperation to make a living in a rugged wilderness is admirable. When he finds that a land baron named Gilby is cheating potential landowners, the book's second half ratchets up the gunfire and intensity. 

Perhaps the most intriguing portion of Ketchum's presentation is the role Cora plays. Unlike Louis L'Amour, Ketchum places more responsibility and value on his female characters. Instead of the traditional hero coming to the aid of the widowed woman, Ketchum spins the narrative. Cora and Ketchum don't immediately have a romantic relationship (if ever), but instead are relying on each other as 50/50 business partners. Cora is iron-willed, independent to a fault, and a tremendous fighter. In the mid-20th century, western authors didn't place a strong emphasis on female characters. I really liked Ketchum's "against the grain" direction.

Overall, Wyoming is a fantastic western chock-full of violence, action, mystery, and a unique character development. It also questions the protagonist - is he vengeful or self-righteous? While not as crafty, I think Ketchum is comparable to Arnold Hano. The two authors have a more abstract presentation of the traditional western formula. Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

After the Fade

Few authors have the uncanny ability to tell stories with a mesmerizing authority. Ronald Malfi has that gift and uses it to show us chilling displays of morbid art. From supernatural works like Floating Staircase and The Narrows to the gritty rural dilemmas presented in Skullbelly, Malfi demands your attention. It demands that you sit still while the madness inject itself into your conscious. Like the parasites in After The Fade that slowly inject their stingers into helpless prey. It is this slow deterioration of Malfi's characters that mirrors our own descent as readers. Malfi provides instantly likeable characters that we can bond with, while bringing their demise in what amounts to as a "must see" of downfall and doom.

In After The Fade, originally published by Delirium in 2012, the author introduces us to a small tavern filled with a Cheers style cast of characters. Who wouldn't drink with old Mr. Peebles, the stereotypical drunk sailor with an eye for forgotten bar tabs? How about flirting with forty something bar keep Tori, cute as a button and tough as nails? Malfi introduces us to main character Tommy, a musician who invites his girlfriend Lauren to the tavern for the big break-up only to find that the world outside has been invaded by hordes of insect-like predators. 

Malfi patiently waits for us to become attached to these characters and then brings on Armageddon quickly and efficiently. This is a valuable trait that Malfi utilizes with remarkable success. It is the bonding before bombing us. We know it's coming... but Malfi makes us watch. 

After The Fade is a novella constructed around the question, "what happens after the music fades?" Is the silence an outro or really an intro? How comfortable are we with the thick silence after the fade?
Malfi presents these questions with an idea that certainly is influenced by the age old concept of taking average people and putting them in extraordinary circumstances. 

The struggles of confined survivors have been presented often in horror culture, yet Malfi still has that unique ability to provide a different perspective on the plight of humanity. That is what transforms a really good horror author into a powerhouse of style and substance. After The Fade proves all of this and indeed provides an uncomfortable and chilling silence after the last sentence is read. Malfi does not disappoint. Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, October 4, 2021

Demons in Darkness

Gerry Conway (b. 1952) is a prolific comic book and screenplay writer. On screen, Conway has written or produced countless shows ranging from G.I. Joe to Perry Mason. In comics, he authored DC’s Justice League of America for eight years and helped create the Punisher character for Marvel. I’ve seen and read a lot of Conway’s work, but I wanted to try one of his text-only short stories. Thankfully, I found one called "Demons in Darkness". It was published in the fifth issue of Dracula Lives! (1985). This was a magazine published by Marvel Comics imprint Curtis. The story includes frightening artwork by Pablo Marcos (The Mighty Thor, The Avengers).

"Demons in Darkness" is presented in first-person narration from Mason, a young man living in the small town of Tarrington, Rhode Island. Mason is working in a cozy hotel when a guest appears asking for accommodations. The man is dressed in a long black cloak and signs the register as Blake. Mason's boss Lucas seems to be hypnotized by Blake immediately. Who is this strange guest?

When Mason discovers that Blake's suitcase is actually a coffin, he begins to rely on vampire mythology. After a daytime investigation, he learns that Blake is actually the iconic, fiendish Transylvanian vampire known as...Dracula. Mason discovers that Blake/Dracula has hypnotized part of the small town on a quest to find the location of an old abandoned mill. In the backstory, Mason explains the significance of the mill and its rumored connection to the supernatural. Will this small Rhode Island town host an epic showdown between the living and the dead?

Conway's story is a rich, traditional horror tale that features one of the most iconic vampires of all-time. Since Marvel is the parent company, this version of Dracula is the same one featured in the admired, lengthy comic series The Tomb of Dracula (1972-1979). Mason's first-person narration is written in a way that matches the character's young age, making this a more personal account of these horrifying events. If you loved Stephen King's Salem's Lot (1975) or the film Fright Night (1985), "Demons in Darkness" is a must-read. Get these issues for Kindle HERE

Friday, October 1, 2021

To Tame a Land

From 1950 to 1987, Louis L'Amour produced some of the finest westerns of all time. Considered America's storyteller, L'Amour's novels and short stories have been transformed into audio books and successful films. A number of his first paperback books were published by Fawcett Gold Medal. I recently bought the first edition of To Tame a Land. It was published by Fawcett in 1955 and was L'Amour's 13th career novel.

After his mother died, Rye Tyler and his father join a wagon train journey across the harsh Midwest. During the trip, Rye's father is murdered by Native Americans after being abandoned. A savvy and experienced cowboy takes Rye under his wing and mentors him into manhood. Rye learns how to shoot, fast-draw, hunt, play poker and farm, all of the necessary skills a young man must possess to survive in the late 1800s. Eventually Rye meets a young girl named Liza and the two develop an enduring friendship.

After shooting a man in self-defense, Rye is forced into a life of solitude in the mountains. L'Amour's narrative allows readers to follow Rye's transformation from innocent boy to hardened frontiersman. Rye's fast-draw earns him a deadly reputation that he re-enforces in numerous towns. Rye's life becomes a prosperous one as he joins a cattle drive, becomes a cattle owner, and then later becomes a town marshall. But, his true quest is locating Liza's whereabouts. When he learns she has been taken by outlaws, Rye becomes a savage hunter.

At 143 pages, To Tame a Land feels more epic than its shorter length. In many ways it's the proverbial coming-of-age story, the traditional "make a man out of him" through violence and upheaval. I found that L'Amour's writing seemed misplaced with many storylines and outcomes packed into the propulsive plot. It's as if L'Amour didn't really know what the story was but had several ideas that intertwined. Because of that fragmented presentation, To Tame a Land is one of the rare L'Amour novels that I didn't care for. There's better westerns out there. 

Get the book HERE