Monday, October 3, 2022

Paperback Warrior Episode 101 - Steve Frazee

It's a new era as Paperback Warrior storms into the next 100 episodes. #101 features a look at western and action-adventure author Steve Frazee's life and career in the pulps and paperbacks. Tom explains to listeners his cash-grab scheme using his local library and Eric discusses his recent western paperback acquisitions. Additionally, horror author Ronald Malfi, crime-fiction author Lionel White, and sci-fi writer Robert Silverberg. Watch the show's video HERE, stream audio and video below, or download the audio directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 101 - Steve Frazee" on Spreaker.



Friday, September 30, 2022

Skin

Before his death in 2006, Mickey Spillane told his wife to give all of his unfinished manuscripts to Max Allan Collins with the assurance, “He’ll know what to do.” Since then, Collins has polished, edited, and completed several of these novels and stories for publication. “Skin” is a 36-page Mike Hammer story that Spillane began in 2005 and was finally published in 2012 after completion by Collins.

The novel opens with Mike Hammer driving back from instructing at an upstate New York Police Academy with his best friend, NYPD Officer Pat Chambers. Interestingly, the authors have aged Mike and Pat and placed the old men in a modern setting with cell phones and computers.

While driving home, Mike notices the remains of a dead body along the side of the road. He stops and sees that the body is completely pulverized with nothing but a human hand intact. It’s almost as if the body fell out of an airplane or was gnawed into pulp by wild animals.

The hand in the pile of guts begins Mike’s journey to find the killer - even finding a sexy, nightgown-clad client in the hunt. As Mike approaches the truth, the authors employ some fairly terrifying horror-fiction elements. The climax is a bloodbath of brutal violence and street justice - the most exciting conclusion I’ve read in ages.

“Skin” is an edge-of-your-seat suspense thriller starring a famous aged detective still capable of making the pages fly by for the reader. As a fan of Collins’ work, I definitely saw his fingerprints all over the prose, and I’m genuinely curious what the division of labor was between these two crime fiction legends in this unlikely collaboration.

Leaving aside the mystery of primary authorship, “Skin” is one of the most satisfying pieces of ultra-violent fiction I’ve read this year. It’s an easy entry-point for those unfamiliar with Mike Hammer, yet there are plenty of series Easter eggs for long-time fans to enjoy. “Skin” is simply a masterpiece of short crime fiction. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Highest recommendation. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Cop on the Corner

Before becoming a mainstay of grim, noir fiction in the paperback original era, David Goodis (1917-1967) was a prolific writer of short stories for the pulp magazines. A handful of these early works has been digitized for modern audiences, including “The Cop on the Corner” from the September 1947 issue of Popular Detective Magazine.

Elrick is a tubby beat cop who spends most of his time on foot patrol loafing and chewing the fat with his friend who runs the newsstand on the corner. One day, their eternal conversation is interrupted by a couple kids who just found a dead body riddled with bullets in a nearby alley. Elrick immediately recognizes the corpse as a local gangster whom Ekrick knows from way back when the racketeer was a lowlife juvenile delinquent running the streets with criminal abandon.

Because of Elrick’s unique knowledge of the dead mobster’s history and associates, he hatches a plausible theory regarding the identity of the murderer. This presents the corpulent copper with an idea to solve the case himself, which will likely earn him a raise and a promotion to the Detective Bureau.

Elrick’s investigation takes him to a skid row alcoholic dame who he believes provides a key to unlocking the mystery of the dead hoodlum. Of course, none of this is as easy as it seems, and Elrick’s fallibility as an investigator leads to a well-crafted scene of bloody violence and a twisty solution.

The plot twist punchline was typical of the endings seen a decade later in the pages of Manhunt, a crime digest that printed several Goodis stories and novellas. “The Cop on the Corner” remains a fantastic read that shows Goodis at the top of his short story game before moving to longer works. If you can score a reading copy, you’ll be happy with your decision.

For reasons unclear to me, “The Cop on the Corner” is not available on Amazon, but it is available at Barnes & Noble for the hundreds of people on earth with Nook devices. There are also scanned and transcribed copies floating around the internet, including HERE.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Fairy Tale

Another Stephen King 600 pager has arrived, 20 years and 27 books after he suggested his retirement to the Los Angeles Times in 2002. It's aptly titled Fairy Tale, because it is one. But, like the most wicked Game of Thrones episode, King morphs Grimm's into a psychotic, rambunctious, and sinister story involving electrified zombies, dead mermaids, homicidal giants, and brutal “to the death” sporting events. It's The Running Man meets Snow White as only the King of Horror can deliver.

Fairy Tale is mostly presented as three parts – the introduction to the main character up until he leaves this world (yep, that happens), the monomyth journey through the other world, and then prison. In typical King fashion, this probably could have been condensed into 300 pages, but it takes the author three pages just to make a cup of coffee. Apparently, it just needs elaboration.

The book is presented in the first-person by an older version of Charlie Reade (sounding like Charlie McGee of Firestarter) describing the harrowing events that transformed his life when he was 17. He swears no one will believe his story, including you, the Constant Reader. This story begins with Charlie explaining how his mother was killed on a wobbly bridge by an errant motorist. Charlie and his father sail into years of mourning, capsizing with his father's descent into the seas of alcoholism and regret. These early pages chronicle alcoholism well, complete with the AA stance and the narrow road to sobriety. It's the feel-good uplift. 

Charlie's life changes when he hears Howard Bowditch's dog barking. Bowditch is the stereotypical spooky old guy that lives in the crumbling Psycho house in the neighborhood. Charlie comes to the aid of Radar, a fun German Shepherd that leads him to rescue his owner Bowditch from the a long fall from a ladder – if rescuing means calling the rescue squad and promising to keep Radar. Soon, Charlie finds himself at the aid of Bowditch. The lonely old man has no one else and Charlie needs to mature from star athlete and childhood prankster to a civilized caring youngster. The two strike up a bond and Charlie agrees to be Bowditch's care guide, prescription deliverer, carpenter, landscaper, dog feeder, friend, and gold hauler. Gold?!?

It turns out that Bowditch has a big 'ole secret he keeps hidden in the wood shed. If you want to know the secret and not necessarily spoil the fun, continue to read the next THREE paragraphs. If you want to skip to how I felt about the book, feel free to skip these THREE paragraphs. 

Bowditch has something like $100,000 in gold nuggets he keeps in a safe. He asks Charlie to visit a local jeweler associate who will buy some gold nuggets so that Bowditch can pay off his hospital bill and also pay Charlie for his services. Where is this old recluse gaining this kind of loot? After a few chapters, Bowditch explains to Charlie that there is a secret world inside of his woodshed. Due to some rather dire circumstances, Charlie steps into the shed and descends into another world.

Charlie soon learns that the other world, seemingly hundreds of feet under Bowditch's property, is a cursed fairy tale land. Yeah, there's mermaids, kings, princesses, giants, talking horses, and lots of gold, but there is also a visible doom and gloom that has enveloped the entire kingdom. People are no longer whole, like Charlie, but instead are missing things like mouths or ears. They have seemingly lost these things due to a corrupt hierarchy that have awakened an evil thing in a Hellish well. Keep in mind that King wrote Fairy Tale during the pandemic in 2020. Considering his white-hot hatred for Republicans (he's from Maine for God's sake!), it's easy to see his inspirations for the novel – cursed land, an ill civilization, a corrupt monarchy, fighting the establishment, contending with the maaaaaaaan. You get the idea.

But, the land is important to Charlie because it possesses a sundial that can be used to reverse aging, a side-story that involves Radar's old age and debilitating physical condition. Charlie loves the dog so much that he is willing to battle through unknown terrors to turn the clock back on Radar's dog years. I'd do the same for my beloved canines Lily, Rose, and Carly. Maybe my hedgehog too. Regardless, this journey to the sundial involves a lot of adventure that eventually places Charlie in prison and forced to fight to the death in gladiator-styled sporting events. Wild and wacky stuff. 

So, does this Happily Ever After thing really work for Stephen King and his loyal fan base? Yeah, probably. It has similarities to so many of his other books and the formula he uses of parallel worlds. He used the idea for Lisey's Story, Rose Madder, The Talisman, and obviously the massive series of Dark Tower fantasy novels. Plus, there are countless short stories by the author that involve some sort of unlikely hero flirting with the idea of another world within our own. The question everyone asks is if Fairy Tale has any Dark Tower references. Yes, but nothing overly striking. I've only read the first three Dark Tower novels, but nothing detracts from Fairy Tale if you aren't familiar with Roland's epic journey. 

I appreciated King's references to plenty of Paperback Warrior material, specifically Dan Marlowe's The Name of the Game is Death, Cornell Woolrich's The Bride Wore Black and The Black Angel, as well as mentions of Ray Bradbury and H.P. Lovecraft. King loves his vintage fiction as much as we do. In fact, it's hard to ignore the comparisons to other “underground world” literary works by the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lin Carter, and Jules Verne. Fairy Tale fits right in, but cleverly shifts the heroism to a less muscular man instead of the typical barrel-chested jungle crawler. 

Overall, I enjoyed Fairy Tale but won't ever read it again. It was too long, contained a ton of characters, and the story was formulaic and predictable. King is no longer at his artistic apex, but can still write his ass off and pull off crime-fiction, horror, science-fiction, and fantasy with the best of them. Fairy Tale was probably written more for himself than his Constant Reader. During 2020's unrest, a year that will forever alter human history, writing this novel was probably a means of catharsis for the author. It's King's Fairy Tale. For us, it's just a story about a boy and his dog.  

Thursday, September 22, 2022

"The Importance of Being Ernie"

Carroll John Daly (1889-1958) is rightfully credited with inventing hardboiled crime fiction in the pulp magazines with his characters Three-Gun Terry and Race Williams. He also wrote his share of straightforward mystery stories, including “The Importance of Being Ernie” from the June 1952 issue of Thrilling Detective Magazine.

Our narrator George Norton befriends the local repairman, a reclusive old man named Ernie. George quickly learns that Ernie has a special gift that transcends his ability to fix broken lamps. When George summarizes any mystery novel while talking to Ernie, the old man can identify the murderer every time.

George is so impressed with Ernie’s armchair detective skills that he tells the local police and a local private investigator that they should utilize Ernie’s services to solve vexing crimes. However, neither of the professional investigators approached have any interest in indulging Ernie and bringing him on-board as a consultant.

A local murder springs Ernie into action and the cops get to see his Sherlockian skills of deduction up-close. Does he really have a gift or is there something else going on here?

This is a delightful little story with a couple great twists at the end and is definitely worth your time. It’s been scanned and made available on the internet for modern audiences — just Google the title and author. Alternatively, an outfit called Radio Archives has reprinted the entire magazine from that month and made it available for sale HERE.

Friday, September 16, 2022

The Guns of Navarone

Alistair MacLean's The Guns of Navarone was an eight-part WW2 serial that first appeared in the September 22, 1956 issue of Saturday Evening Post. It was compiled into a hardcover novel in 1957 by Collins. It was then printed in paperback in 1957 by Perma (M-4089) and reprinted multiple times since then. The book was adapted into a blockbuster film in 1961 by Columbia. In 1968, MacLean reunited some of the characters for the book's sequel, Force 10 from Navarone. That book was adapted to film in 1978. Never seeing the movies, my voyage into this story begins with MacLean's original novel, The Guns of Navarone

On the fictional island of Kheros, 1,200 British soldiers are marooned. Off the nearby Turkish coast, the Nazis have installed massive, radar-controlled guns that can fire upon any Royal Navy ships attempting to rescue them through the deep water channel. The only hope of rescuing these British troops is by eliminating the guns. That's where Captain James Jensen steps in.

Jensen's plan is to recruit an international special ops team that can climb the staggering 400-foot cliff to penetrate the island's defenses and detonate an explosive device. The team is led by Mallory, an excellent mountain climber with plenty of military experience in Crete. He is in command of an explosives expert, a savage fighting-man, an engineer, and a navigator. It's the perfect team for this harrowing journey through the snowy mountains into the mouth of Hell. 

Having read MacLean's Where Eagles Dare (1967) first, The Guns of Navarone seemed similar in nature, but missed the cloak-and-dagger style. MacLean makes up for it in a big way by adding a hefty load of high-adventure action. At nearly 300 paperback pages, this novel has nearly everything, including mountain climbing, boat battles, gunfights, hand-to-hand combat, drama, and an exhilarating pace that glues the reader to these epic challenges. 

The most interesting aspect of MacLean's storytelling is that he is constantly evolving these characters by placing them in extreme situations. The characters the reader meets at the novel's beginning are grossly changed by the last page. The experiences of war, overcoming adversity, and the trials and tribulations of defying death itself affects these men. I really enjoyed watching the transformation and specifically how Mallory's leadership was modified when faced with an injured team-member. 

Lastly, as a fan of David Morrell's Rambo II character (read my review), it was fun drawing comparisons to MacLean's character of Andrea. The description that Mallory provides of this seemingly immortal, savage fighter, was similar to Colonel Trautman's description of Rambo. Andrea's exploits throughout the novel fighting the Germans, mostly as a loner hero, was a true highlight. I'm not sure this novel is quite the same without the addition of Andrea. It was an integral portion of the story.

The Guns of Navarone is an absolute masterpiece of high-adventure, and I give it the highest recommendation. You won't be disappointed with the story, plot development, or characters. MacLean deserved the heaps of praise his early and mid-career novels received. He was a master craftsman and you owe it to yourself to read one of his best. Whether this one is as good, or better, than Where Eagles Dare is up for debate. I love them both equally.

Note - British author Sam Llewellyn was commissioned to write two additional sequels - Storm Force from Navarone (1996) and Thunderbolt from Navarone (1998). I've read disparaging remarks about those two novels. 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Operation Destruct

Christopher Robin Nicole (born: 1930), author of over 200 books, was born in Guyana and settled in the Channel Islands nestled between England and France. He wrote a three-book espionage series starring Jonathan Anders — all currently available as affordable ebooks — with the first installment being Operation Destruct from 1969. 

Jonathan is a 23 year-old chess prodigy and skin-diving enthusiast in southern England. He works for an antiquarian book dealer that is actually a front for a secret counter-espionage agency of the British government. He’s a rookie operative who, as the paperback opens, hasn’t really been tested in the field. This is his first assignment. 

The Ludmilla is a boat — a Russian trawler — that recently sunk in the English Channel in 30 feet of water with no recovered survivors. The intelligence service tasks young Jonathan with traveling to the island of Guernsey near the shipwreck to determine why a Russian fishing boat was there in the first place and what contributed to its sinking. 

There’s a good likelihood that a British sleeper agent posing as a Soviet marine biologist was aboard the Ludmilla. The boat clearly contained Soviet secrets that sparked the shipwreck, and Jonathan’s assignment is to quietly learn the score. The setup for this one is a total pleasure, and the writing quality far surpasses a normal 180-page 1969 spy paperback. 

Guernsey is an interesting setting for much of the novel. The island is located in the British territorial waters of the English Channel between England and France. It was German-occupied during WW2 and is filled with underground bunkers and fortifications like a honeycomb across the island’s eight-mile length. During the war, the Germans were expecting Guernsey to be the site of an allied invasion, but we opted to hold the D-Day festivities in Normandy, instead. The residents are known as Guernseymen, but that was 1969 — I’m sure there’s another term, now. 

In a world filled with paperbacks starring self-assured, confident spies, Jonathan is a pleasure precisely because he is green, uncertain of himself, and wet behind the ears. He’s thrust into his first field assignment alone with only his wits guiding him to sink or swim (sometimes literally). 

The book’s opening scenes and exciting conclusion are both awesome. However, there’s a good bit in the middle that was rather dumb and at times almost descended into parody. I’d still recommend the novel because the ending is so interesting and unlike other books you will read in the genre. Overall, Operation Destruct is an easy recommendation, and I look forward to the next book in the trilogy.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Paperback Warrior Primer - Howard Hunt

There is already a lot that can be said about Howard Hunt. He was both a WW2 veteran, a spy, a Hollywood screenwriter, war correspondent, and a criminal. His life has been fictionalized by the film industry, his exploits chronicled by numerous non-fiction books about the infamous Watergate incident, and his possible involvement in the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Even Hunt himself wrote non-fiction books about his own life. While all of these things are fascinating, the purpose of this Paperback Warrior Primer is to examine some of his literary highlights. You can dig the hole deeper through any number of other resources. He authored at least 88 novels, most featuring lurid covers that we appreciate.

Everette Howard Hunt Jr. (1918-2007) was born in Hamburg, New York. He attended the prestigious Brown University and later began writing for Life as a war correspondent. Later, Hunt joined the Navy, serving on the USS Mayo during the early days of WWII. After, he went to the Army Air Corps and then finished his military stint with the OSS, the nation's wartime precursor to what is now known as the CIA. Beginning in 1949, Hunt was an officer for the CIA, performing 21 years of international counter-intelligence until 1970. During this entire time, Hunt was writing novels.

His first book was East of Farewell, published in hardcover by Alfred Knopf in 1942. The book reads like a true biography as Hunt recounts the day-to-day life upon a Fletcher-class destroyer. Hunt also used his Army Air Corps experience to write his second novel, Limit of Darkness. It covers a single 24-hour period in the "life" of a Navy torpedo bomber squadron on Guadalcanal in 1943. With the success of these two novels, Hunt won the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, which provided him a grant to help fund his writing career and provide blocks of time where he can pursue his art form. 

During the 1950s, paperback original novels became extremely marketable by publishers. Hunt was in the perfect position to take advantage of this publishing craze by writing and selling a lot of books under his name and various pseudonyms. 

As John Baxter, Hunt authored the two novels A Foreign Affair and Unfaithful in the mid-1950s. 

Using the name Robert Dietrich, Hunt authored 12 total novels, but 9 of these make up the Steve Bentley series. Hunt produced nine series installments between 1957 through 1962 as Dietrich. He revisited the series in 1999 under his own name with one additional installment featuring the titular hero at an advanced age. In the novels, Bentley is a Washington D.C. accountant that stumbles into a lot of crime inside the Nation's Capital. Mostly, these crimes are solved by doing favors for clients or business associates. But often, they just conveniently appear in strip clubs, bars, and even by the roadside. Bentley is easily likable and shares a lot of stereotypical genre tropes with the popular private-eyes of the era - he drinks a lot of alcohol, engages in various relationships with women, owns a boat, former military, and can fight, shoot straight, and speak the truth. Paperback Warrior has a number of reviews about the series HERE. Some of the Steve Bentley books have been released in brand new editions by Cutting Edge Books, including an ebook omnibus containing a majority of the series. Cutting Edge also offers the stand-alone Dietrich novels One for the Road, Be My Victim, and The Cheat

1. Murder on the Rocks (1957)
2. End of a Stripper (1959)
3. House on Q Street (1959)
4. Mistress to Murder (1960)
5. Murder on her Mind (1960)
6. Angel Eyes (1961)
7. Curtains for a Lover (1961)
8. Calypso Caper (1961)
9. My Body (1962)
10. Guilty Knowledge (1999, as Howard Hunt)

As David St. John, Hunt authored a nine-book series starring CIA operative Peter Ward. These books were published between 1965 through 1971, and then later were reprinted under Hunt's own name in the 1970s to capitalize on his newfound fame connected with Watergate. In this series, Ward is helping Soviet scientists defect, dodging enemy assassins, chasing sensational cults, and investigating assassinations of foreign leaders. It's stereotypical spy-fiction of the era, but enjoyable nonetheless. Hunt also used the David St. John pseudonym to author the 1972 novel The Coven, a stand-alone thriller about a Washington D.C. attorney navigating witchcraft and murder. 

1. On Hazardous Duty (1965)
2. Return from Vorkuta (1965)
3. The Towers of Silence (1966)
4. Festival for Spies (1966)
5. The Venus Probe (1966)
6. One of our Agents is Missing (1967)
7. The Mongol Mask (1968)
8. The Sorcerers (1969)
9. Diabolus (1971)

Hunt's Gordon Davis works are all stand-alone novels. Paperback Warrior reviewed Where Murder Waits HERE and Hard Case Crime reprinted House Dick in 2009 using the name E. Howard Hunt. A majority of the Gordon Davis paperbacks were reprinted by various publishers under Hunt's name, once again to capitalize on Watergate.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon was running for re-election. A group of men beholden to the President was caught burglarizing the Democratic National Committee headquarters – President Nixon’s opposition party – at a hotel called The Watergate in Washington, DC. One of the burglars caught was Howard Hunt. It became known as the Watergate Scandal and one of the central questions was: What did the President know about this burglary and when did he know it? The burglary led to the resignation of President Nixon. Howard Hunt, among others, was incarcerated for his part in the burglary and served 33 total months in federal prisons in Pennsylvania and Florida. While in prison, Hunt suffered a minor stroke. 

The prison stint did not dampen Hunt's literary career. If anything, it improved his sales. Publishers were able to list a front-cover blurb that connected the author's name with one of the greatest scandals in U.S. history. Once he was released from prison, Hunt began writing consistently, but also realized that his prior pseudonyms were being converted to his real name.

In 1985, Hunt created an action-adventure series starring Jack Novak, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency. The series ran seven total novels from 1985 through 2000. 

1. Cozumel (1985)
2. Guadalajara (1990)
3. Mazatlan (1993)
4. Ixtapa (1994)
5. Islamorada (1995)
6. Izmir (1996)
7. Sonora (2000)

While he was authoring the Novak series, he also authored three-stand alone action-adventure novels using the pseudonym P.S. Donoghue from 1988-1992 - Dublin Affair, Sarkov Confession, and Evil Time.

On January 23, 2007, Howard Hunt died from pneumonia in Miami. He is buried in Prospect Lawn Cemetery in Hamburg, New York.

You can read all of our Howard Hunt reviews and listen to a podcast episode dedicated to the author HERE.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Night Hunter #01 - Night Hunter

According to Wikipedia, Robert Holdstock (1948-2009) was a British author that specialized in science-fiction, horror, and fantasy genres. He won several literary awards for his novel Mythago Wood in 1984 and 1985, the first in a fantasy series about an ancient forest. Along with series titles like Berserker, Raven, and The Professionals, Holdstock authored a six-book supernatural series called Night Hunter using the pseudonym Robert Faulcon.

The series debut, The Stalking, and its sequel The Talisman, were published as a hardcover omnibus in 1987 by London's Century Hutchison. However, the series also debuted the same year in individual paperbacks by Charter. My wife purchased the debut, The Stalking, which is simply titled Night Hunter for this paperback edition, and provided it to me as a birthday gift. 

Daniel Brady has a research position in England's Ministry of Defense. He lives an average life with his wife and kids in a Berkshire suburb. However, as the book begins, Brady and his wife both sense that something is in their house. They feel something watching them. Further, Brady's wife even experiences this unseen entity at her job. So, the book begins with a really creepy overtone. 

Brady's entire existence is turned upside-down when a group of cult members, apparently possessing supernatural abilities, breaks into his house, rape his wife, and then capture his family. Severely injured in the attack, Brady succumbs to a coma and spends weeks in the local hospital. He awakens to answer questions from the detective, and in turn, learns that no one knows where his family is.

It turns out that the weird cult has been providing the rape 'em and grab 'em traveling gig for a long time. There are other survivors out there. Brady swaps his story with a woman named Ellen, and the two form a relationship that doesn't strictly focus on intimacy. Instead, Ellen shows Brady that he has psychic powers and proves to him that he can fight this menacing cult. With his newfound X-Men powers, Brady sets out to kill the cult and find his family.

This book had potential and started out fantastic. When Brady awakens from the coma, the author unfortunately shifted the novel from horror to fantasy, complete with long sections on spells, archaic rituals, and protection rings. It was like reading a card-playing game's tutorial on how to level up your character. These sections were tedious, dull, and lacked excitement. I was hoping for a cool hybrid of horror and action-adventure, but that wasn't the case. I was thoroughly unimpressed with Night Hunter. 

Monday, September 12, 2022

Layover in Dubai

Former Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Fesperman was a foreign correspondent who travelled the world covering international events. He’s been racking up genre fiction awards since he became a novelist in 1999 drawing upon his knowledge of far-flung locales. My first exposure to his work was his 2010 thriller, Layover in Dubai

The novel begins in April 2008 as we join 28 year-old American corporate auditor Sam Keller at a crowded bar in Dubai during a layover with a colleague en route to Hong Kong. The bar is filled with hookers from every nation propositioning him for sex, and Sam finds the whole scene rather glum instead of erotic. 

Sam is a conservative and an analytical fellow with a lust for adventure. His employer is a big Pharma company similar to Pfizer. Sam is traveling with an older colleague named Charlie. In a Chapter One flashback, we learn that the Corporate Security Director has pressured young Sam into spying on Charlie during this overseas trip during the Dubai stopover.

Things go sideways pretty quickly when a gruesome murder occurs. Sam knows more than he’s willing to share with the police until his corporate masters arrive to provide guidance and support. We also meet two rival Dubai police detectives who are the best characters in the novel.  

Throughout the paperback, Fesperman’s plotting is generally solid, but drags a bit in the middle. He doles out relevant facts judiciously through a combination of flashbacks and investigative revelations. Young Sam is not the only character with a hidden agenda driven by a large, shadowy bureaucracy, and the gamesmanship of the various characters was a pleasure to read. There’s a lot of interesting cultural tidbits sprinkled throughout the novel. You walk away from the book with a better understanding of cosmopolitan Dubai culture and the battle between modernity versus Emirati tradition. 

Layover in Dubai successfully straddles a corporate thriller with a straight-up murder mystery enhanced by the modern, exotic setting in the Arab world. The young executive swept up in workplace intrigue recalls John Grisham’s The Firm in a foreign land. If the interesting setting for a modern-ish thriller appeals to you at all, you’re sure to enjoy this one. Recommended. 

Friday, September 9, 2022

Hawkwood

Andrew P. O'Rourke (1933-2013) was a judge and County Executive of Westchester Country, New York, He was also the Republican candidate for New York governor in 1986, eventually losing to Mario Cuomo. Along with his political aspirations, O'Rourke pursued a short writing career in the 1980s. He authored two men's action-adventure novels, The Red Banner Mutiny (1985) and Hawkwood (1989). Discovering the latter novel at a used bookstore, I was intrigued enough by the artwork to tackle this 275 page Bantam novel. 

The novel's opening chapter is one of the more suspenseful sequences I've read in a long time. The set-up is that a man and his family have been targeted by Mob killers. These opening pages play out as a cat-and-mouse game where the assassins are in the man's house hunting the family from room to room. But, the man has a trap door that leads through the walls to a hidden staircase. In an attempt to escape with his family, they are caught in the basement and systematically murdered. 

Next, a Vietnam veteran named Gerald H. Wood is on a plane recalling his most recent assignment, disabling an alarm system. Readers quickly put together that Wood clipped the electronic system so the Mob assassins could kill their target. Through a backstory that runs about 50 pages, readers are introduced to this titular hero. Wood graduated from college earning an engineering degree. Rather than pursue that lucrative career, he enlisted in the military and attended Officer Candidate School. Later, he became a Green Beret and gained himself 15 months in Vietnam. In the military he met and fell in love with a kingpin's daughter. Welcome to the family.

Hawkwood becomes a rather epic, sweeping character study when Wood becomes disenchanted with the Mob lifestyle. His wife wants a divorce, but Wood realizes divorce to the Mafia is more like death. In a convenient way, Wood is transporting four-million bucks on a commercial airliner when the plane crashes. Wood barely escapes death, but finds the disaster the perfect cover to flee the Mob. Using the cash, Wood takes the name of John Hawkwood, a historically famous Englishman turned mercenary. The book's second-half deposits Hawkwood in Argentina, and through a wild series of events, he's thrust into a war between Argentina and England in the Falkland Islands. 

Obviously, there is a lot to unpack in Hawkwood. The origin portion of the novel is similar to Mark Roberts' introduction of Mark Hardin, the protagonist of The Penetrator series. There are some similarities with that title as well as James Dockery's presentation of Bucher in The Butcher series. The idea of a man on the run from the Mob is a popular one and O' Rourke does it well. The author is able to bridge together a number of major storylines, as well as transition the novel from a vigilante style, containing a few typical genre tropes, to a mercenary military adventure. Those are all positives.

The only negative aspect to Hawkwood is a deep transition into a type of Tom Clancy tech-thriller with time spent on analysis of the Argentina/English war and some of the military history associated with the highly contested Falkland Islands. I felt this removed Hawkwood from the action, and displaced a lot of the momentum and character building. I also found the ending fitting, but it certainly was a finale that could have created a series. The character's transformation, and setup, would have made for a sequel and future series installments if the author or Bantam wanted to pursue a continuation. 

Hawkwood should appeal to fans of 70s and 80s action-adventure titles like Death Merchant, The Butcher, and The Penetrator. While slightly more literary, it has all of the genre tropes that those hefty series titles possessed. Recommended.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Joe Broderick's Woman

In the 1970s, Hollywood became fascinated with the large transport truck, aka “big rig”, “18-wheeler”, “tractor-trailer” or simply “Mack”. Films like Smokey and the Bandit (1977), White Line Fever (1975), Breaker! Breaker! (1977), and Convoy (1978) captured the heart and soul of the blue-collar truck-driving man, albeit with plenty of zany, over-the-top action hijinks that elevated the profession into a type of comic book heroism. The genre swerved into the men's action-adventure lane on occasion, prompting series titles like William W. Johnstone's Rig Warrior (1987) and Bob Ham's Overload (1989). 

Manor Books published an action-adventure-trucker novel titled Joe Broderick's Woman. It was released in 1978 and was authored by a possible “one 'n done” author named John H. Arbor. My internet search produced no other results for the author. Based on the quality of the book, I was hoping Arbor had written more. 

Joe Broderick is the owner and operator of a trucking company in Baltimore called Broderick Lines. Joe is former military and now lives a peaceful and successful life delivering the goods to a hard-earned book of business. In the novel's opening pages, readers gain a glimpse of the trucker lifestyle as more of a business with a secretary, driving crew, and various clients adding shipments to schedules. Not exactly Lincoln Hawk stuff (Over the Top, 1987).

Unbeknownst to him, Joe is married to a mobster's former mistress, a nice woman named Aletha. The two met a few years ago after Aletha successfully escaped the clutches of Sartorius Roth, a New Jersey kingpin. Aletha created a new life for herself, but warned Joe that she has a shady past and that someday her past may catch up to her. Now, pregnant, domesticated, and totally in love, Aletha is finally found by Roth's hired hands. While Joe is at work, the goons break into his house and capture Aletha. 

Arbor's narrative is a three-way presentation consisting of the inner workings of Roth's empire and his right-hand man attempting to unseat him. This presentation also includes Roth's reunion with Aletha and the sentence he serves her. There's some graphic violence and rape as Aletha is thrown to the wolves as a sex servant for Roth's men, ultimately losing her sanity in the torture and abuse. The second presentation is that of Roth's current mistress, a woman named Rosalyn. She is skeptical of Roth reuniting with Aletha and wants to keep her position of power. The third storyline is Joe's hunt for Roth and his plans to rescue Aletha.

As a B-grade action novel, Joe Broderick's Woman wins on all levels. It has a great storyline that isn't far removed from the typical vigilante stories we all love – The Executioner, The Revenger, etc. It's brutal when it needs to be, emotional at the right times, and hard-hitting as a Mack truck when the bullets start to fly. I really liked Joe's character and his progressive relationship with a former mob girl named Darla as well as his team-up with a former military veteran named Hap. The vengeance angle never seemed forced to me, which is a testament to Arbor's patient writing style. It all comes to fruition in due time. 

Whether John H. Arbor is a real guy or not remains to be seen. His style is reminiscent of Jon Messmann, but I don't believe Arbor was a pseudonym he used. With Manor publications, unmasking the identity of authors and artists is like trying to locate an honest representative in Congress. We may never find the answer. But don't let the mystery keep you from enjoying Joe Broderick's Woman. It's an entertaining 1970s beat 'em up that crosses lanes with trucker pop-culture. Recommended.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Hunting Shack

James Dickey's 1970 outdoor-survival novel Deliverance was adapted into a film by the same name in 1972. Both were widely successful and prompted numerous imitations. In the publishing world, it was books like Hunter's Blood (1977), Shoot (1973), Deer Hunt (1976), and Wilderness (1979) that carried out the suspenseful cat-and-mouse chase through the wilds of North America. These books typically challenged the American male, average or otherwise, with extreme, barbaric situations in the wilderness. There were a lot of 1970s books with this same premise, and I always try to pick them up when I spot one in the wild. Thankfully, I stumbled on The Hunting Shack, a 1979 paperback published by Dell authored by Gunnard Landers.

The book is set in the rural, icy landscape of a Wisconsin winter. Six average men venture into the wilderness for an annual, weeklong hunting trip. They have a small shack they utilize as lodging, and there's a rivalry between the men on who can land the biggest buck and drink the most alcohol. Midweek, the guys head to the closest town and bed down prostitutes as a way to escape the boring nine-to-five suburbia Hell. But, one of these six men does a little something different every few years.

Throughout the book's 220 pages, readers are thrust into the mind of Glenn, a dentist that joins his five friends each year for the hunting trip. But, Glenn journeys out on his own, away from the other hunters, and routinely kills another hunter. The narrative mentions two hunters being killed in the area in the past, and, as the book begins, Glenn is targeting another hunter. This time, his prey is one of his friends, an experienced hunter named Norm. 

Author Gunnard Landers often used harsh, rural landscapes as a backdrop for his novels. Landers, a Wisconsin native, rancher and Vietnam War veteran, authored a series of books starring an undercover game warden named Reed Erickson. These books take place in places like Minnesota and Alaska. With Landers' skills as a storyteller richly embedded in this sort of sportsman escapism, The Hunting Shack excels in a lot of different ways. 

The novel serves the survival-horror genre with its psychotic portrait of a deranged killer. The concept of a murderer among friends, collectively facing a rugged forest and snowy blizzard, was really entertaining. As a character study, the book centers on Glenn and Norm, two men who are both tiring of their tameness and bridled lifestyle. But, the book is also a wild and crazy look at a lot of stereotypical horny men just simply breaking rank and having a good time. There is a copious amount of sex and drinking, often graphic, as well as some of the typical juvenile banter between middle-aged hunting buddies. There is also a focus on two young prostitutes prospering with their good fortunes over the course of one sweaty, hot evening at the shack. 

The end result is that The Hunting Shack was a pleasurable reading experience that provided plenty of escapism, and presented some fun, although disgusting, beer-belching deer slayers. The book's finale was worth the price of admission and, overall, certainly possesses a Deliverance vibe. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Killinger #01 - Killinger (aka The Turquoise-Yellow Case)

I read something online the other day that said Hell will be attempting to insert a USB into your computer for eternity. The catch is that no matter which side you place up, it will never properly fit. While that form of Hell would certainly warrant good behavior for a lifetime, I have a different version of Hell. It would require the condemned party to be placed on a small deserted island for eternity with an indestructible copy of Keith Parnell's paperback novel, and Hall of Shame inductee, Killinger

The front-cover blurb of the 1980 Pinnacle version, placed cleverly beside a rifle-toting, fit-as-a-fiddle Steve Holland, says this about Killinger:

“He likes his wine good, his women bad, and his enemies dead.”

What it fails to mention is that the book is nearly 250 pages in length and that anyone subjecting themselves to one page of this nonsense will suffer unimaginable horrors. This is Roadblaster bad, which is the epitome of bad literature. Whether it slides into the fiction-abomination, smelly cesspool as that novel is in the eye of the beholder, or nose of the sniffer. 

Jedediah Killinger III is retired and lives on a large yacht called Sybaris, docked in uneventful Santa Barbara, California. The boat has a secretary, a Japanese houseboy, 13 flavors of ice-cream, wood carvings of sexual positions, and lots of wine and fresh fish. In his spare time, he works as a maritime insurance investigator. Which brings him into an assignment to look into a shipping junk called Katja that was damaged at sea. Conveniently, the damaged vessel is docked near his own boat.

Killinger's investigation is basically just trying to bed down the daughter of the vessel's owner. He never leaves the dock area, has no actual purpose in the book, and just stands by eating, drinking, and partaking in intercourse with various characters. But, there's a heavy wooden crate on the damaged vessel and two people desire the crate. 

The plot is so dull and boring that it pains me to even outline it here. Two criminals, K.Y. Smith and Count Vaclav Risponyl, both want the crate. But, they feel like they must steal the crate. Think of the old roadrunner and coyote cartoon. There's elaborate attempts to steal the crate, which requires a giant crane, that end in disaster. These attempts are unintentionally comical, convoluted, and completely uninspiring. It's like how a great action installment, like Executioner or M.I.A. Hunter, would have a plot like this for about a half-page just to further the actual plot. Unfortunately, Parnell uses this simple plot for a full 250 page novel. 

Killinger should be avoided at all costs. It's tough, because Pinnacle released two versions, one in 1974 with a different cover and title as The Turquoise-Yellow Case, obviously cashing in on John D. MacDonald's nautical private-eye series Travis McGee and its color-coded naming convention. The 1980 version is simply Killinger. To add lemon juice to the wound, there is a second Killinger novel called The Rainbow-Seagreen Case. Essentially, three opportunities for you to have a Hellish reading experience. Stay alert in the book stores for this literary danger. Handle with care. See something, say something. 

Monday, September 5, 2022

Snapshot, 1988

I can remember a time, long ago, when you had to mention that author Joe Hill was Stephen King's son. No one knew who the Hell Joe Hill was. But, times have certainly changed, progressions made, and, despite that I just wrote about the King connection, it is no longer necessary. Joe Hill is a household name. He's created his own successful bibliography, his own creations – his own empire. 

Hill's novel NOS4A2 (2013) was a hit, prompting AMC to create a television series based on it. The same could be said for his novel Horns (2010), which was adapted into a film starring Harry Potter (or Daniel Radcliffe if you must). At the time of this writing, Black Phone has just disconnected from theaters, a film based on Hill's eponymous 2004 short-story. Hill excels in the graphic novel format as well, with popular series titles like Locke & Key (2008-2013), which was adapted into a series by Netflix, and Basketful of Heads, the first in a new DC imprint called Hill House Comics, shepherded by the author.

After reading Hill's novels Heart-Shaped Box (2007), NOS4A2 (2013), The Fireman (2016), and short-story collection 20th Century Ghosts (2005), I've developed a fondness for the author's writing style. After recently watching Black Phone, I went all-in on Joe Hill. I'm watching Locke and Key, downloaded a few of his comics, and just read the novella Snapshot, 1988, the subject of this review. It was originally published by the literary magazine Cemetery Dance, October 2016. It was later published as Snapshot in the collection Strange Weather (2017), along with three other novellas written by Hill. In 2016, Universal purchased the rights to the story for a future film release. 

The story is told in present day, first-person narrative by Mike Figleone. He's recounting for the reader the events that happened to him at the age of 13, way back in 1988. Michael is like the nerdy kid from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. He's a complete whiz-kid, a future Silicon Valley heavyweight. His mother is a bestselling author that ran away to Africa, leaving just Mike and his Dad to fend for themselves.

One day, Mike escorts his senile senior neighbor Shelly back to her house. She complains to him that she's been plagued by a “Polaroid Man”. Of course, Shelly's husband, and Mike, know this statement is just connected to her dementia. But, Mike runs into the Polaroid Man at a gas station the same day. Through a wild series of events, Mike finds a man that can take your picture with a special kind of camera. But, each photograph taken erases parts of your memory. Maybe Shelly's on to something with this whole Polaroid Man paranoia. 

Snapshot, 1988 is a gem. It blends horror, fantasy and science-fiction into the perfect cocktail. The message on dementia and growing old wasn't lost, and, while not being preachy, reminds us of the true terror of big-tech and of future things to come. Mike is easily lovable and offers up some funny, candid commentary that's just right on the nose. It's easy to overdose on 80s nostalgia with so many movies, reboots and throwbacks saturating pop-culture. Thankfully, Hill doesn't overdo the era and offers just enough to keep the story from being indulgent. 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Snapshot, 1988 also features cameo appearances from Hill's other work, most notably Black Phone and Locke and Key. If you aren't aware of those creations, then these Easter Eggs will just roll on. Also, like his prior work, Hill connects to his Dad with a mention of the Stand by Me soundtrack, an obvious nod to King's novella The Body, which the movie was based on. 

Overall, there's nothing to dislike about Snapshot, 1988, and there's nothing left to elaborate on without spoiling the plot. Take my word for it, the novella is darn near perfect and highly, highly recommended. Take a shot.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Blood Alley

In 1955, Blood Alley was simultaneously published as a novel and released as a film by Warner Brothers. The premise is that a U.S. Merchant Marine named Wilder is freed from a Chinese prison by a village hoping to utilize his services to escape to British-controlled Hong Kong. The book was authored by A.S. Fleischman, a popular Fawcett Gold Medal writer who specialized in exotic Asian locales to place his action-adventure novels like Shanghai Flame (1951), Malay Woman (1954), and Danger in Paradise (1953). The book was considered “cinematic”, thus Hollywood gained a copy of the book prior to its release and agreed that Blood Alley would be a great film. Fleischman was asked to write the screenplay, thus both formats were released simultaneously. 

Thankfully, Stark House Press has published a majority of Fleischman's novels, including Blood Alley, which is out now through the subsidiary Black Gat Books. 

The book is a nautical adventure tale as protagonist Wilder captains a steamship through a perilous coastal waterway. In the book's beginning, Fleischman is liberated from a long stint in a Chinese prison. The first few chapters focus on the escape, the journey to the village, and his days spent as a clandestine village local. Wilder learns that the village, through bribery and firepower, were able to spring Wilder, but at a price. Wilder is to transport the villagers to Hong Kong, an island that was controlled by the British government for 99 years (which reverted back to China in 1997).

Fleischman inserts a romantic connection for Wilder in the form of Cathy, a British woman who is anticipating that her father, the village doctor, will be able to join Wilder's quest for freedom. Part of the book is the build-up to learn of the doctor's fate and the impact on Cathy's choice to continue the trek to Hong Kong. The voyage is ripe with gunfights, patrol boat chases, and conflicts on the ship as Wilder is placed in a number of territorial and village disputes. The largest portion of the novel has Wilder battling his own ship, a relic from a bygone era that is forced to do the impossible. 

Despite the fact that Blood Alley was a Hollywood flop, even with iconic John Wayne as the star, Fleischman's novel is a better representation of the story. It's a short, fast-paced novel that doesn't necessarily rely on a lot of characters and backstory. I enjoyed Wilder as the narrative's main star, but the chemistry with Cathy was an enthralling, enjoyable element. Nautical-fiction fans won't be disappointed with the plot's development. It's a sequence of terrific visuals that offers up the breathtaking escapism that the genre demands. That alone makes Blood Alley an easy recommendation.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Predator - Concrete Jungle

Nathan Archer was a pseudonym employed by science fiction and fantasy author Lawrence Watt-Evans for the publication of a 1995 media-tie in paperback, Predator: Concrete Jungle. The book was based on the 1989 Dark Horse Comics graphic novel with the same title by Mark Verheiden, which was based on the popular 20th Century Fox movie franchise.

The story is set in New York City during a severe August heat wave. Our heroes are two jaded NYPD homicide detectives named Rasche and Shaefer. The pair used to be narcotics officers, and they were transferred to the murder detail after some excessive force issues. If you’re a fan of fictional excessive force, this is the novel for you.

One night, a gang summit is ambushed and the cops make it to the tenement to find skinned gang-banger corpses hanging upside-down from the ceiling joists with their blood draining onto the floor below. It’s a grisly scene, and the cops fail to initially understand the severity of the threat. Of course, I knew who did it, but I had the benefit of seeing the cover of the paperback.

Rasche and Shaefer are stereotypical 80s movie cops at war with their own ignorant management hell-bent on covering up and minimizing the pending bloodbath to be unleashed on the city. The U.S. Army also gets into the containment and the denial act with all the ineptitude you’d expect from a genre story resting heavily on action movie tropes.

The upshot, as you know, is that Predator monsters from outer space are hunting humans in New York City armed with invisibility shields, energy cannons, pocket nukes, and deadly blades to filet their prey. Fans of the original Predator movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger will be pleased with some Easter eggs tying this novel directly to the inaugural film.

The writing is mostly satisfactory. The action scenes are vivid and bloody in a plot that moves at a fast clip over 300 big-font pages. The dialogue is embarrassingly bad, but never bad enough to give up on the paperback. If the concept behind this media tie-in paperback appeals to you on any level, I promise it won’t disappoint. Recommended. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Comanche Kid

James Robert Daniels is a professional actor and director that performed and wrote for theaters like Shakespeare and Company, Cleveland Play House, Kansas City Repertory, and Asolo. He performed at the Kennedy Center, and contributed to Shakespeare festivals in Illinois, Texas, and Oregon. Daniels served in the infantry in the Vietnam War, and used some of his military experience in his first novel, The Comanche Kid. The western was published in 2021 by Cutting Edge Books

The book begins with one of the more powerful opening paragraphs I've read:

It was early spring when the ocotillo was in bloom that the raiders come down on us and killed everyone but me and Sally. I remember the ocotillo because the tiny red blossoms looked like splattered blood, even though the rains had washed most of the real blood into the earth by then. 

The narrator is Jane Fury, a 16 year-old girl who survives a Comanche attack that savagely kills her parents and brother. In the melee, her sister Sally is taken captive. After burying her family, Jane tracks down some of the murderers, killing four of the raiding party with her father's rifles. Her primary goal is to find and kill her mother's rapist and murderer, a Comanche warrior deemed One-Eye.

After five action-packed chapters, the novel settles into a literary, coming-of-age tale when Jane, disguising herself as a 14 year-old boy (nicknamed The Comanche Kid), herds her family's remaining cattle into a larger and longer cattle drive. The comparisons to Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove are probably found here, the inevitable long and winding trail drive that forces the cowboys, and Jane, into battles against nature, each other, and the Comanche tribe. In this regard, I would also compare it to Ralph Compton's successful Trail Drive series.

On the Six-Gun Justice Podcast, Daniels explained to host and author Paul Bishop that he was influenced by Clair Huffaker's The Cowboy and the Cossack. The concept of a long cattle drive developing characters, personalities, and story helped define the style and framework of The Comanche Kid. Additionally, the author explained that the copious amounts of profanity in his book was something he personally experienced during his military career. Cowboys used coarse language, and the book is more realistic because of it. Daniels' love of Shakespeare is a large portion of the book's dialogue, central to a character nicknamed Shakespeare and his romantic chemistry with Jane.

My personal takeaway from The Comanche Kid is twofold. One, the book is certainly a traditional western tale, falling into one of only a handful of possible genre plot devices - the cattle drive. I enjoyed the thirst for revenge and the extraordinary action sequences that brought the revenge to fruition. But, it's a long journey between points A and B, and by page 300 I was simply worn out. I think I needed something a little more to keep me turning the pages. 

Thankfully, the second, and most prevalent aspect, is that The Comanche Kid is a conversation between Jane and God. This was the unique, most compelling portion of the book. Jane was raised as a God-fearing Christian, but struggles with her beliefs and faith after her family's murder. Throughout the book, she questions God, demands that her questions be answered, and walks a balance beam of faith and non-belief. I thought this challenge for forgiveness, retribution, and the struggles of devotion carried the narrative into a thought-provoking realm of enjoyment.  

If you enjoy sweeping, more epic western novels, then The Comanche Kid is your ticket to escapism. Daniels provides a sense of stirring adventure while successfully capturing an authentic, violent portrait of life on the frontier. Recommended.