Thursday, March 31, 2022

Inspector Sands #02 - The Iron Gates

Along with her contemporaries like Dorothy B. Hughes, Charlotte Armstrong, Dolores Hitchens and Helen Nielsen, California native Margaret Millar helped solidify the presence of talented female mystery authors in the 1940s and 1950s. She wrote over 25 original novels, mostly as stand-alone works. However, her first three novels starred a Canadian sleuth named Dr. Paul Prye and she repeated that creation with another Canadian detective, Inspector Sands. 

The Toronto homicide detective starred in Wall of Eyes (1943) and The Iron Gates (1945), as well as a short story called "The Neighbors Next Door" in a 1954 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I chose to read the latter novel based on an article by Curtis Evans (via Stark House Press) praising the book. It has been reprinted multiple times in hardcover, paperback, and most recently as an audio book. It was also printed in the U.K. as Taste of Fears.

In The Iron Gates, Millar's prose is pure psychological suspense. In the book's opening chapters, Lucille Morrow is mourning the unusual death of her friend Mildred. These scenes are beautifully written and drape the imagery in a white pane of frosted glass reflecting Lucille's loss and mental anguish. It's a hazy precursor to what eventually occurs later in the book as a historical flashback or retelling. 

Later, readers learn that Lucille is now married to a retired physician named Andrew, Mildred's previous husband. She is the stepmother of his two adult, but childish, kids and the in-law to his worrisome sister, all of which reside in the same house. Due to the death of Mildred, and Andrew's replacement of her with Lucille, there are strict dividing lines in the household based on suspicions and shifting judgments. These alliances and strategic family placements play into the novel's central themes of jealousy and lust.

Inspector Sands becomes involved in the narrative when Lucille goes missing. There's early discussion between characters about a nearby park where a grisly murder took place. There's a cautionary tale told about a wandering ax-man preying on park guests. The idea that Lucille is missing, the nearby murder, Mildred's prior death and this strange ax-man all play into the mystery. Sands doesn't know what to believe and finds the family obtuse about Lucille's whereabouts. Only Andrew seems genuinely concerned about her well-being, opening up a string of guesses on which family member committed murder.

The book takes an interesting twist for the second half. Without spoiling the plot development, a major character ends up in a mental asylum behind “iron gates”. Her reason for being there is cloudy, leaving Sands and a detective to investigate the events surrounding her confinement in the asylum. Most of the book's second half does take place in the asylum as the character interacts with other mental patients and the hospital's staff. I enjoyed these parts of the story, but felt it was a little distracting at times. The behavior of the patients and their involvement in the main character's psyche definitely contributes to the story's development, but it's a marathon. 

As a psychological suspense novel, Millar conveys a lot of emotion in her writing. I enjoy the shading she provides as she draws out each character for the reader to suspect. As I learn more and more about female mystery authors of the 20th century, my research always leads to Millar. She was a a real talent and sadly isn't as relevant now. Her work is mostly forgotten aside from a few reprint houses still preserving her novels. Her spouse, Ross MacDonald, the creator of the California detective Archer, is in more abundance, but honestly Millar may have been the one to read all along. 

The Iron Gates was optioned for film to Warner Brothers and allegedly Millar wrote the screenplay. It was to star either Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck, but the film never came to fruition. This novel remains rather timeless and would make for a great modern film with it's real world complexity. My vote is for director David Bruckner (The Night House, The Ritual). Anyone have his number? 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Old Man's War

Old Man’s War by California author John Scalzi is one of those books that often appears on lists of the "Greatest Science-Fiction Books of All Time." The novel was first published as a serial and released as a book in 2005. The novel was nominated for a Hugo Award and inspired multiple sequels.

Here’s the set-up:

It’s about 200+ years in the future, and Earth is engaged in a forever war with several alien races in colonized interstellar space. However, Earth’s military doesn’t want strong, young soldiers. Instead, they want senior citizens for reasons the novel will make clear to you when you read it. If a volunteer oldster serves in combat for two years and survives, the senior is awarded a sizable plot of land on one of the many colonized planets. They also get some life-extending medical procedures, so they don’t keel over on the battlefield. Extending life in exchange for dangerous combat is a good deal for the elderly looking into the Great Beyond.

Enter John Perry, our narrator. He is a 75 year old widow living in Ohio that is now joining the military. The idea of extending his life and leaving Earth behind forever seems like a good idea. The catch is that you can never return, nor can you have any contact with the people you leave behind. As a result, information about combat as part of the Colonial Defense Force is spotty. You need to sign on in a leap of faith to learn the whole scoop.

The geopolitics of Earth’s space colonies are pretty fascinating and also best left explained in the novel. Same for the inventive physics devised by the author to catapult senior citizens into the far reaches of space. I also wasn’t expecting how funny the book would be. The narrative voice of John Perry reminded me of Andy Weir’s novels The Martian and Hail Mary. It’s the kind of science-fiction that doesn’t ask too much of the reader as the world-building is so smooth and effortless to read.

The Colonial Defense Force has many of the hallmarks of our own military culture with intensive training by intense drill sergeants. It’s only when the oldster soldiers are briefed on their mission and the enemies they will be encountering that it becomes clear that this isn’t going to be a walk in the park. By the time you actually get to combat battles, you’re in for a real treat (think of the film Starship Troopers).

The many battle scenes will please action-adventure paperback fans, and this is a perfect novel for people curious about science-fiction who don’t know where to begin. Overall, Old Man’s War is an absolute winner and I look forward to exploring the sequels. 

Get the book HERE.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

A Handful of Hell: Classic War and Adventure Stories by Robert F. Dorr

Back in 2016, Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle teamed up for a book titled A Handful of Hell: Classic War and Adventure Stories by Robert F. Dorr. It is part of the duo's The Men's Adventure Library, published by New Texture. We've covered a number of these volumes, including I Watched Them Eat Me Alive, Barbarians on Bikes, and Cuba: Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter. Deis remains active with this project as well as his Men's Adventure Quarterly publication co-edited by Bill Cunningham. 

In A Handful of Hell's opening pages, Deis explains that he had received an email message from Dorr in November, 2009 concerning the recently-launched blog. Dorr had explained, with exclamation, that he wrote hundreds of articles for the men's pulp adventure magazines and wasn't aware that there was still a large fan base for those vintage publications. Deis was aware of Dorr's work and the two struck up a friendship which led to the creation of this book.

The book includes a 20 page chapter written by Dorr titled “My Plan Was To Be a Writer and an Adventurer...” Dorr writes that he had two main interests since childhood, the Air Force and writing. His first paid publication was in Air Force Magazine's November, 1955 issue. Although he couldn't be an Air Force pilot due to a hearing impairment, Dorr still served in the military in a very unique role. He enrolled in Army Language School and studied the Korean language for 20 months. He was then sent to Korea to listen to North Korean radio communications between 1958-1960. 

After his military stint, Dorr actively pursued writing and sold “The Night Intruders” to Real for their April, 1962 publication. He states in the book that this was the first of what became several hundred men's pulp adventure stories. Thankfully, Deis and Doyle include the story in this volume. In fact, the duo collected 17 stories (by my count) that are written by Dorr and culled from vintage magazines like Stag, Man's, Bluebook, Male, Real, and Man's Illustrated. Handful of Hell also includes color scans of the magazine covers and interior artwork that accompanied these original stories. That in itself makes the book wildly entertaining, but I'm a reader and here are a few short reviews of included stories.

“5 Downed GIs Who Gutted Ambush Alley”

This story was featured in the June, 1967 issue of Men. The setting is South Vietnam's Ia Drang Valley, a hotbed of violence controlled by The People's Army of North Vietnam. San Diego native Sid Reeder and his crew plunge into the valley when their chopper is shot down. As the helicopter lies upside down, the soldiers inside formulate a plan. The enemy forces are descending from the hillside to destroy what's left of the downed chopper. They have to choose whether they want to call in support and risk another chopper being shot down or just call in the coordinates and go on killin' and dyin'. When Reeder thinks about the helicopter's two ground-to-air rockets, he comes up with a new plan. I loved the story and the frantic pace in which it is told. Dorr showcases a distinct understanding of helicopter aviation and protocols and is able to transport that to the printed page in a way that isn't technically jarring for the reader. This was such a great story.

“The POW General Who Tried to Kill Himself”

In the November, 1965 issue of Man's, Dorr tells this real-life account of U.S. Major General William F. Dean's harrowing ordeal as a prisoner-of-war in North Korea. Dorr explains to readers that Dean was on the run through the Korean countryside after narrowly escaping incoming enemy forces. Separated from his men, Dean's journey took him through jungles, fields, and villages desperately searching for food and medial supplies. Eventually, he's betrayed by a Korean and turned over to the North Korean People's Army. After months of starvation, dehydration, and lack of medical treatment, Dean reached the point of physical torture. After endless rounds of interrogation, for weeks and weeks, Dean is instructed that he will be tortured to gain information about American forces, locations, and strategies. Dean knows that he has reached a tipping point where he may divulge information under the harsh treatment. His only rescue is suicide. Honestly, this is really a tough story to read considering the levels of violence and torture. However, Dean's real life account is vividly told by Dorr as a tribute to his perseverance, patriotism, and internal fortitude. Dean is an American hero and I love that Dorr had the courage to write this. It's a true testament to human endurance and honor. Note - For more information, read Dean's autobiography titled General Dean’s Story.

“The Impossible Raid”

Stag, January 1966 featured this WW2 aviation story about a solo run by a lone B-17 bomber piloted by Captain Barry Helm. His mission is to utilize thick fog to make a daring bombing run on a German base. By targeting a large fuel supply, the bombing can create maximum damage to the Germans. But, in order to execute this nearly impossible assignment, the bomber must enter the airspace at tree level. This avoids field-swept radar that picks up higher elevation aircraft. Combining the low entry level with the thick fog makes it a valiant opportunity to strike a major blow to the German offense. This is just a classic, simple aviation tale that utilizes Dorr's descriptive storytelling. I liked the story's presentation from both the American forces as well as the Germans. In a short story, the narrative's presentation of events in the air and on the ground was just so epic and compelling.

You can buy this book and other collections HERE. Don't forget to check out Men's Adventure Quarterly for even more fantastic vintage stories and artwork.

Monday, March 28, 2022


Arthur Gordon (1913-2002) was a Yale graduate and Rhodes scholar that fought in WW2 and later became an editor for slick magazines like Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, and Guidepost. His family has a rich lineage in Georgia. His aunt created the Girl Scouts organization and his great-grandfather started the Central of Georgia Railroad. His literary work includes the military-fiction novel Target Germany, A Song Called Hope, and an acclaimed biography about Norman Vincent Peale. 

My focus is on his only crime-fiction novel, Reprisal. It was originally published in 1950 as a hardcover by Simon & Schuster. Its success warranted a second printing by the publisher. In 1951, the novel was published in paperback by Pocket Book (#801) with a cover by Harvey Kidder (he painted the cover of another book we reviewed HERE).

The book's synopsis, printed on the back cover, peaked my interest. It says:

My name is Nathan Hamilton. I am black. My wife has been lynched! God knows what they did to her before they tied her to a tree and riddled her body with bullets. The killers were tried by jury. They were acquitted. Every white man in Hainesville knows that these men are guilty. But the town wants to forget. I can't forget. They lynched my wife because they know they could get away with it! They were sure nothing would happen! But something can happen. Something will happen! I'm starting for Hainesville tonight. There's a loaded gun in my valise with a bullet in it for each man who had a hand in the murder of my wife!

The book begins in a courtroom as the judge and counsel tensely await a jury's verdict. Three white men are on trial for the heinous murder of four African-Americans in the small, southern town of Hainesville. When the jury reconvenes, they find the men not guilty despite evidence that proves otherwise. The judge provides a verbal scolding to the courtroom and cautions the jury that he's ashamed of the justice system and the events that have unfolded to allow the men to walk free.

Gordon then begins introducing various characters and side stories that ultimately make up Hainesville. The main character is Melady, a brave reporter from the North that's covering the trial and its aftermath. He attempts to remain somewhat neutral early on, but by the book's end, he becomes heavily involved. Unity is another star, a receptionist who is involved in a relationship with a very bad man named Shep. Perhaps the most influential character is Yancy, an admirable African-American undertaker that tries to be the peacekeeper in the black section of town. Threading the characters is Nathan, a black man now living in New York after his wife was raped and murdered in Hainesville. Once he learns of the trial's outcome, he travels south with a gun.

There is way too much to unpack in one simple blog review. Reprisal is nearly 300-pages and has a character list that seemed a mile long. It's a lot to keep up with, almost like watching an entire season of Game of Thrones while running an org chart. There are affairs, attacks, backwoods justice, romantic relationships forming and ending, scandals, jobs, families, news-hounds, and so forth. It's daunting at times, but the investment is worth it. All of the stories tie together to present a turbulent era in the deep South. 

Surprisingly, Reprisal isn't as well known as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird, predating it by 10 years. That could be due to the length, the complexity of the characters, or the amount of sheer violence that Reprisal possesses. The central theme is revenge, similar to a dusty western tale as the protagonist hunts the killers. There are no real heroes, only misfortune and death told in a doom 'n gloom style by Gordon. Shockingly, I found passages that I re-read numerous times due to their similarities to what we still experience today. Reprisal is a prophetic, iron-fist look at the heart-wrenching extremes humans seek to hurt one another. While never preachy or condescending, Gordon presents a fictional account of real-world violence, then and now, that leaves a distinct mark on the reader. It's a powerful novel.

Reprisal was adapted to film in 1956, but unfortunately it was poorly devised. The setting changed to the 1800s and the entire narrative was modified into a western revenge tale. Sadly, Reprisal has never been reprinted.

Note - The hardback version of the book shows the main character as a white man. It is evident that the cover is depicting Nathan as he is retrieving the pistol from his valise. I assume it was too controversial to put a black man with a gun on the hardcover? 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, March 25, 2022

Paperback Warrior Primer - Nick Carter: Killmaster

The character of Nick Carter (or Nicholas Carter) was created by Ormond G. Smith and John R. Coryell in 1886. Smith was heir to the New York City publisher Street & Smith, the early catalyst for dime novels and pulp fiction as far back as 1855. Smith wanted a private-eye or detective character similar to Old Sleuth or Old Cap Collier to star in various forms of media. The first Nick Carter literary appearance began in New York Weekly, September 18, 1886, in a story called "The Old Detective's Pupil" or "The Mysterious Crime of Madison Square." The serial ran 13 total installments with the setting mostly being Victorian-Edwardian New York.  

Carter is described as 5' 4" and having bronze-skin, gray eyes, dark hair and a square jaw. The character was trained by his father, Old Sim Carter, to fight criminals, essentially becoming the opponent of global evil. He's a genius that is inhumanly strong and a master of disguise. The character was so popular with readers that Street & Smith created the Nick Carter Weekly dime novel series. These stories would later be reprinted as stand-alone titles under New Magnet Library. 

With its premier issue on October 15, 1915, the Nick Carter Weekly publication transitioned into Street & Smith's new Detective Story Magazine (just 10-cents twice a month!). The magazine ran 1,057 total issues, most of which concentrated on short crime-fiction with appearances from pulp heroes like The Shadow. The magazine's first 20 years featured covers by illustrator John A. Coughlin. In 1935, the magazine began suffering financial stress and officially stopped publishing in 1949.

Between 1924 and 1927, Street & Smith attempted a revival of the Nick Carter character in the pages of Detective Story Magazine. These stories also featured many of the same villains that Carter had faced in the prior Nick Carter Weekly publication (Dazaar the Arch-Fiend, Dr. Quartz, etc.). It seemed as if Carter's appearance in literature was over in 1927, but due to the success of The Shadow and Doc Savage, Street & Smith revived the character again. Between 1933 to 1936, the Nick Carter Detective Magazine was published. These stories introduced Carter as a more traditional hard-boiled detective. 

Beyond the page, two Nick Carter shows were featured on radio. Nick Carter, Master Detective radio show aired on Mutual Broadcasting System from 1943 to 1955. Nick Carter's son was the star of Chick Carter, Boy Detective from 1943 to 1945, followed by a film in 1946 under the title Chick Carter, Detective.

In 1908, the French film company Eclair ran a six-episode series starring Pierre Bressol as Nick Carter. Two French films were released, Nick Carter va tout casser (1964) and Nick Carter et le trefle rouge (1965). In Germany, four silent Nick Carter films were released: The Hotel in Chicago (1920), The Passenger in the Straitjacket (1922), Women Who Commit Adultry (1922), and Only One Night (1922). In the US, MGM released a trilogy of Nick Carter films: Nick Carter, Master Detective (1939), Phantom Riders (1940), and Sky Murder (1940). A television show called The Adventure of Nick Carter filmed one pilot, later released as an ABC movie.

The pulp version of Nick Carter continued in comic book form, with appearances in The Shadow, Army & Navy, and Doc Savage comics from 1940 through 1949. There was also a 1972 Italian comic strip and a Nick Carter comic book series from 1975. It lasted 12 issues and stars a character named Nick Carter that is a British soldier in WW2. However, it is not related to the Nick Carter spy series.

Little did fans know that a British secret-agent named James Bond would play a part in reviving the literary character 37 years later.

In the 1960s, Lyle Kenyon Engel began his plunge into paperback publishing. He was heir to his father's magazine publishing company, but sold that to become a publicity agent (supposedly one of his clients was the Today Show) and also a producer of children's records. To make an impact in publishing, he revived the familiar character of Nick Carter to capitalize on the 1960s spy fiction market. 

Nick Carter: Killmaster debuted in 1964 as a marketing attempt to cash-in on Ian Fleming's James Bond. The character was reinvented as a secret agent instead of a detective or private-eye. These novels were to be international adventures with a more robust approach compared to the serials, pulps and dime detective magazines. Basically, everything prior to 1964 was erased and this series was a complete reboot.

The general theme is that Nick Carter is an American secret-agent or spy working for an organization called Axe. The organization's leader is David Hawk. Axe and Hawk work closely with the American government and Hawk answers to "The Chief", presumably the U.S. President. Carter is referred to as N3 and we know there are other agents like him, also known as an N/number combination. In the first book, Run Spy Run, readers learn that Carter served in WW2 and also worked for OSS, the pre-cursor to what is now known as the CIA (like Matt Helm). Read our review of the book HERE.

One of the predominant characteristics of this version of Nick Carter is the three weapons he uses in the field. In the debut novel, it is explained that Carter took a Luger handgun from a German SS officer he killed in Munich during WW2. Carter named the gun Wilhelmina and it's included in nearly every novel. Hugo is the name for his Italian stiletto. He also carries a marble sized gas pellet that goes by the name Pierre. Carter can twist each half of the marble in separate directions and it will release a deadly toxin within 30-seconds, giving Carter enough time to flee the area. 

The Nick Carter: Killmaster series became immensely successful, running from 1964-1990 and offering 261 total novels. Each book on average sold 115,000 copies. Ironically, the series just lists Nick Carter as the author. The real authors aren't credited on the book's copyright page, a painful trademark of the series that frustrates readers, fans and collectors to no end. Engel typically split 50-50 with the authors he hired. He demanded lightning fast work, sometimes novels written in less than three weeks to meet furious deadlines. These books were released monthly, first by Avon and then later by Charter.

Notable author statistics:

- Valerie Moolman authored or co-wrote 11 novels between 1964 and 1967.

- Michael Avalone authored or co-authored 3 novels in 1964

-Manning Lee Stokes, of Richard Blade fame, wrote 18 novels

-Popular crime-fiction author Lionel White authored one Nick Carter book, the 18th installment from 1966. This was his second foray into spy fiction. He also wrote a stand-alone novel called Spykill under the name L.B. Blanco.

- Jon Messmann wrote 15 installments. Messman was a heavy contributor to action-adventure paperbacks. He was behind the popular adult western series The Trailsman along with the short-lived series titles Handyman: Jefferson Boone and The Revenger.

- George Snyder did 8 installments. He also wrote novels for the Grant Fowler series.

- Ralph Hayes authored 8 volumes in the series. He is known for his John Yard: Hunter series and Check Force among others.

- Martin Cruz Smith wrote 3 installments. Smith is primarily known for his Arkady Renko series that is still current to this day. The 1983 film Gorky Park was an adaptation of that series debut.

- Surprisingly, Chet Cunningham only wrote 1 book, # 72 Night of the Avenger, that was co-authored with Dan Streib

- Dennis Lynds authored 9 and his wife at the time, Gayle Lynds, wrote another 4. I've read one of Dennis Lynds' novels and I really enjoyed it. It was #211 Mercenary Mountain and it is reviewed HERE. Many will know Dennis Lynds as American author Michael Collins. He wrote the popular Dan Fortune series before his death in 2005.

- Saul Wernick wrote 5. Many remember him as writing the first Mack Bolan novel after Don Pendleton sold the series to Gold Eagle. 

- David Hagbert authored 25 books. He is primarily known for his CIA series starring Kirk McGarvey

- Death Merchant creator Joseph Rosenberger wrote 1.

- Jack Canon is the heaviest contributor with over 30 installments. I lost count, but I think it was 35. Not to be confused with Nelson Demille pseudonym Jack Cannon. 

- Robert Randisi authored 6 in the series. He's a respected western writer who also wrote 3 Destroyer books as well.

- Joseph Gilmore wrote 8.

- There are numerous authors that authored three or less that I haven't mentioned, but you can find a detailed list on or Wikipedia.

- There is yet another Nick Carter series that ran from 2011-2019 called Project. It's written by Alex Lukeman and again features a starring character named Nick Carter that is an anti-terrorist sort of hero. Again, not related to the Nick Carter spy series.

Lyle Kenyon Engel would go on to create Book Creations in the 1970s. Ultimately, it was a cash cow and a rather unique company. Engel would create a series, imagine the story, hire authors to write it and even create book cover art. Then he sold these to various publishers. He was the paperback king and died a multi-millionaire in 1986. 

You can listen to the Paperback Warrior Podcast episode dedicated to Nick Carter HERE and the episode spotlighting Lyle Kenyon Engel HERE.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Singer Batts #01 - Hue and Cry (aka Room for Murder/The Murder of Marion Mason)

Thomas B. Dewey originally worked in Hollywood at a correspondence school called Storycraft. In 1942, he moved to Washington, D.C. to be an editorial assistant for the U.S. State Department during WW2. As a side hustle, Dewey began writing paperback original novels. Along with stand-alone titles, Dewey created three series titles – Mac, Pete Schoefield, and Singer Batts. In fact, his very first novel introduced the character of Singer Batts, a hotel owner in a small Ohio town that solves mysteries. It was called Hue and Cry in the U.S. and The Murder of Marion Mason in the U.K. Later, it was reprinted under the title Room for Murder. The book now exists in a bundle through Wildside Press with the other three series installments. 

Dewey uses Rex Stout's strategy, and authors before him, to create a narrator that tells the tale of the formidable hero. Like Archie Goodwin's narration in Stout's Nero Wolfe detective series, Dewey uses a  character named Joe Spinder to narrate the story starring Singer Batts. The setup is quite simple: 

Batts is a thirty-something scholarly fellow that has recently inherited the Hotel Preston from his late father Emory. The hotel is in the sleepy mid-western town of Preston, Ohio. The town's goofy marshal is Pete Haley, a friend of the hotel's staff. Batts resides at the hotel and leaves all of the heavy lifting to the hotel's manager and story narrator, Joe Spinder. The staff includes capable night clerk Jack Pritchard, sleepy day clerk Old Harry Baird, and janitorial laborer Nancy Wheeler. 

Before all of the murdering, sleuthing, and solving, Spinder describes Batts in the opening pages: “Never wait for Singer Batts to ask a personal question. He doesn't operate that way. You live your life, he'll live his. It's only when there's something he thinks he's got a right to know that he'll ask questions. Then he'll ask plenty. Questions to drive you crazy.”

The book begins with two drunk young men being wrangled into the hotel by Pete. These are good 'ole boys that tipped a few too many bottles and Pete doesn't want to lock them up and ruin their family's good graces. Instead, he wakes up Joe and Batts and works out an arrangement for the boys to sleep it off in the hotel. The night gives way to the day and Joe leaves for errands in town. When he returns, there is a mob of people outside of the hotel and a corpse inside. A young woman named Marion Mason has been stabbed to death in her room.

Batts has the armchair detective tendencies, but isn't intimidated enough to just stay seated. When three lawmen from the state arrive, including the District Attorney, Joe goes into overdrive explaining the prior night's activities, the short list of guests, and that Marion Mason is new in town and a school teacher. But, Dewey paints the lawmen and the D.A. as the bad guys. They point fingers at Joe and things escalate into a physical brawl. The author doesn't beat around the bush and places a deadline on the novel: 24-hours to find the real killer or Joe is taking the fall. 

Joe mentions other cases that Batts has solved, including one or two that foiled the same D.A. But, Batts doesn't want to solve crimes. He's content living in his small bedroom and just gazing through the window. Joe eventually talks him into action and the two start the investigation by interviewing various town citizens, including two specific men that Marion slept around with. 

The case takes the mandatory twists and turns by leading readers out of Preston and into some seedy places out of town. The action and violence was a step up from what I expected and I really enjoyed Joe's wisecracking demeanor as the storyteller (he's really the show's star). He reminds me of Al Wheeler in the Carter Brown mysteries. Also, the language was surprisingly profane considering this is a 1944 novel. 

Managing my expectations, I went into Dewey's first novel thinking it may be a quirky small town hotel mystery. It is, but it's written very well as Dewey proved he could write crime-fiction with the best of them. I really enjoyed this first Singer Batts novel and I'll check in at the front desk for three more nights: As Good as Dead (1946), Mourning After (1950), and Handle with Fear (1951). 

Get the ebook HERE.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022


Horror author Ronald Malfi seems to have made his way into the mainstream. I recently found a copy of his haunted house novel Little Girls sitting on an end cap at Target. I remember singing the author's praises in the 2000s and I'm happy his literary career is beginning to take off. In the early days, Malfi was published by the likes of Dark Fuse and Samhain Publishing. I had been saving Borealis for a rainy day. It's an 80ish page novella originally published in 2009 by Samhain and the weatherman says we are in for a storm. The time has come.

The book begins with a man named Bodine urgently driving a young girl to a rundown Las Vegas motel. Immediately, something is amiss with this bizarre child. She tells Bodine she doesn't have a name and doesn't have any parents. She's giddy, mischievous, and just downright scary. Shockingly, Bodine retrieves a handgun from his waistband with the intention of murdering the girl. The scene then transforms into the morning after with the town's sheriff finding Bodine's brains on the bathroom wall in an apparent suicide. The girl is gone and that was twelve years ago.

Present day, protagonist Charlie Mears is smelling the diesel fumes of a fishing trawler. He's been on board the Borealis for seven days pulling cages of crabs from the seabed. It's a hard blue-collar life made even harder by the harsh landscape. The crew is in the icy Bering Sea, hundreds of miles from the coasts of Alaska. After a long day of trawling, Charlie looks out into the glaciers and spots a young naked woman running on the ice. The crew stops to make the rescue.

On board, fed, warmed, and clothed, the crew provides her the Captain's quarters. But one crew member says something isn't right about her, that he has a bad feeling in her presence. When they ask the woman what her name is, she coldly explains she doesn't have one. She also can't explain where she came from. When one of the crewmen is found dead, the story takes a darker turn. Who is this woman? Or, better yet, what is this thing?

I've always loved cold weather stories that include nautical adventure or survival. That also includes atmospheric horror novels or movies set in frosty locations. As a fan of John Carpenter's film The Thing (based on a movie that was based on a short story), I found that Malfi's storytelling skills possess that same tone – the isolation, cold fear, and survival element. This little girl – young woman -  is just so damn creepy and it gave me chills when she tells Charlie things about his life that she has no way of knowing. The story also reminded me of Stephen King's great screenplay Storm of the Century. Malfi's escalating tension into total panic works on so many levels. It's visceral violence, psychological horror, and haunting suspense all aboard a stationary broken boat. The perfect nightmare.

I wish Borealis was still available for purchase. At the time of this review, the novella remains out of print. Wolfpack Publishing, Brash Books, Stark's your chance! This story deserves an audience.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Strip for Murder

Dolores Hitchens was born as Julia Clara Catherine Dolores Robbins (1907-1973) in San Antonio, TX. After graduating from the University of California, Hitchens worked as a nurse and a teacher before turning to writing. She authored two novels starring Lt. Stephen Mayhew and 12 novels starring sleuth Rachel Murdock under the pseudonym D.B. Olsen. She also wrote under the pseudonyms Noel Burke, and Dolan Birkley. Her railroad detective fiction, co-authored with her husband Bert Hitchens, is highly respected, but using her own name, she had a remarkable career writing stand-alone mystery-suspense novels from 1951 through 1973. My first experience with Hitchens is Strip for Murder, a 130 page novella originally published in Mercury Mystery Magazine in 1958. Stark House Press has reprinted the novella along with two shorts originally appearing in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

Mark Bellew is employed as a Theatrical Representative. It sounds like a respectable job title, but in essence it's the “pimp” level on the corporate ladder. Bellew markets a variety of strippers, or exotic dancers, for various parties and social functions. If you are hosting a post-golf tournament men's party (in the 1950s) at the lodge, Bellew service's may be enjoyable. There's no hanky panky hi-jinks because Bellew keeps it on the up and up - quality T&A from entertainment veterans. At least until someone is raped and murdered.

Hitchens' protagonist is an Army veteran and prior boxer named Warne that works as an insurance detective. His office is conveniently next door to Bellew's and the two are acquaintances. One day, in a panic, Bellew confesses to Warne that he is receiving anonymous, threatening letters reminding him of an unfortunate incident from 20 years ago. Bellew explains that the incident occurred when he hired a young woman for a men's party. The woman advised Bellew that she was a professional stripper and could take care of herself, but after her performance, she stayed around a little too long and was raped by one of the men. A few days later she committed suicide by jumping out of a high-rise building. The ominous letters prophetically state that the same thing will happen again.

Warne takes the case and looks into the young woman's family history and what her life was like before her suicide. The woman's father is now filthy rich and his adopted son is an arrogant macho-man with a fast car and hot wife. The son makes for a great villain and the perfect adversary for the wise, tougher, and much older Warne. But, the real investigation begins when the letter-writer's prophecy comes to fruition. Bellew's most recent booking leads to a professional stripper named Candy jumping to her death from an apartment building. Is Bellew somehow behind the two deaths? Or, do the two girls have some criminal relationship that's separated by 20 years? 

Hitchens uses Warne as the hero, but she also presents separate events featuring Bellew and a determined reporter named Robinson. The mystery shapes up nicely and offers some enjoyable, yet perplexing questions. I loved the twists and turns of the plot and was slightly surprised when the killer was revealed. I also really enjoyed Warne's budding relationship with Bellew's adorable secretary. 

Dolores Hitchens was the real deal and Strip for Murder is another testament that mid 20th century women mystery writers were just as talented and brilliant as their male counterparts. Hitchens creates a riveting murder mystery complete with shady ladies, fast cars, and an admirable, competent hero to uncover the hidden truth. The storytelling is violent, fast-paced and brimming with conspicuous characters that make it a memorable and pleasurable reading experience. 

Get the book HERE.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Rebel Wench

Gardner F. Fox (1911-1986) began writing for the comic book industry in 1937. Throughout his prolific literary career, Fox authored over 4,000 comic books and helped create characters like Hawkman and Flash. While reaching an iconic level within comics, Fox also wrote over 150 paperback originals encompassing genres like science-fiction, fantasy, western, and romance. I recently purchased a Historical Fiction ebook bundle from the Gardner Francis Fox Library. Included was Rebel Wench, originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1955. The book is also available as a paperback reprint and also exists in digital through Wildside Press.

Despite the book's cover, the protagonist of Rebel Wench is Billy Joe Stafford, a plantation owner embroiled in the American Revolutionary War in 1781. In the character's history, readers learn that he is a third generation farmer that was taught to hunt and survive at an early age by a Native American. Stafford is respected by the slaves, including his lifelong servant and friend, Old Gem. His marriage to Laura Lee developed a large rift in 1777 – Stafford joined the Continental Army to fight for independence and Laura became a Tory in support of Great Britain. 

The “rebel wench” of Fox's story is Deborah Treat, a beautiful spy working with the rebels under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan. In the opening chapters, Stafford rescues Deborah from the clutches of an evil brawler, a villain that appears repeatedly throughout the narrative. After dismissing Deborah as a prostitute, he soon learns that she is a sharpshooter, a cunning strategist, and a fierce lover. As an aid to Morgan's Rifles, Stafford and Deborah team up to infiltrate British forces controlled by Cornwallis. 

Central to the plot is a striking love-hate relationship between Stafford and his wife Laura. Stafford wants Laura to join the rebellion, but she's in love with a British Colonel who hopes to take over the plantation once Stafford is killed. There's a bit of heated intrigue surrounding a lavish party where Stafford and Deborah pose as siblings to expose plans created by Cornwallis. In sultry style, Fox seduces readers with a few tepid sex scenes, most of which concern Laura's bedroom romps with both Stafford and the Colonel. My interest was the historical aspect and, for the most part, Fox fills the gaps with a great history lesson on battles and guerilla fighting between armies and divisions up and down America's Eastern Coast. 

Rebel Wench would have easily appealed to the 16 year old boy in the 1950s or American soldiers serving abroad. With plenty of gunfights, fisticuffs, beautiful women, and galloping horses, Gardner Fox absolutely knew his storytelling strengths and what his fans were expecting. If you control your own expectations, there's nothing to dislike about this fun adventure. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, March 18, 2022

The Art Studio Murders (aka Dark Memory)

Philadelphia native Edward S. Aarons was a graduate of Columbia University, a WW2 veteran, and successful author. He wrote nearly 100 short stories between 1930 through the 1950s, but he's recognized for the two phases of his career. The first is his early crime-fiction, 20 novels published by the likes of Graphic, Avon, Fawcett Gold Medal, and Phoenix. The second phase is the Assignment series starring CIA operative Sam Durrell. I've been steadily plowing through Aarons' crime-fiction novels, mostly written as Edward Ronns, which brings me to his 1950 original paperback The Art Studio Murders. It was also published with various cover art as Dark Memory.

Henry Dana is a painter living in an art studio in New York City. After attempting to take the subway back home, Dana plunges from the platform and is nearly killed. When he wakes, Dana feels like this was no accident and believes someone is trying to kill him. Later, he discovers that his paintings have been slashed and he's attacked by an unseen intruder in his studio. An acquaintance named Lori calls Dana one evening and tells him she knows the identity of his attacker. But, in a familiar genre trope, she dies before Dana can gain the name.

Like Aarons' own career, the book has two very different stages. The first act takes place in New York with Dana avoiding death while also acquiring a lower commission for a painting. These scenes involve Dana's agent and friends, and introduces a “fatal attraction” scenario where his married friend Kay tries to seduce him. There's the typical police angle where they think Dana is under a lot of mental stress and his paranoia is wreaking havoc on his social existence. 

The second stage is something I've talked about in numerous reviews of the author's work. This is all about location. In the second act, Dana decides to leave the city and head to Kettle Island, Connecticut to rekindle an old love affair with a recently divorced woman named Sarah. But, Dana's friends follow him to the island to enjoy a short vacation. Dana effectively brings his killer with him to the island. The author uses a harrowing thunderstorm to trap the characters on the island. Like most of his crime-noir novels,  Aarons' uses a waterfront setting as an integral part of the story – an abandoned lighthouse, windswept beaches, shoreline cottages. 

The Art Studio Murders works as a suspenseful stalker novel. In the city, Dana's experiences with the killer in the darkened studio was like a horror movie scene. Aarons ups the ante by recreating that suspense in the second act, only making it more atmospheric and frenzied. The only real issue I had with the book is there are too many characters. In the early chapters, there are eight characters to contend with. Thankfully, the book has been reprinted by Armchair Fiction and the publisher has a handy checklist with short descriptions of each character. 

The Armchair Fiction reprint is a twofer including The Art Studio Murders and an absolute gem by Mary Roberts Rinehart called The Case of Jennie Brice. I reviewed the latter work for Paperback Warrior HERE. There's no reason not to buy the reprint considering it's two great novels in one. At the time of this writing you can buy the reprint for $13 HERE

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Champions Wear Purple

Oklahoma native Clifton Adams authored over 50 full-length novels and around 125 short stories for the magazines and digests. His first professional sale was the short story “Champions Wear Purple”, published in Adventure in January, 1947. Being a huge fan, I tracked down a copy of the magazine online and was surprised to find that it is an Oklahoma Wildcatter boxing story. Loving both boxing and Clifton Adams, it was a match made in Heaven.

In the story, an unnamed narrator tells the reader that he's an oil-rig worker on the Woodard Wildcat. With his throat as “dry as an Arizona test hole”, he strolls into Bert Harrison's Beer Hall to tip a few pints with his co-workers. While there, a young man walks into the bar carrying an Army duffel-bag. When he orders a glass of water, the narrator steps in and offers him a drink. But, the kid says he doesn't drink, but would like to locate a man named Winters.

The narrator takes a moment to explain to “The Kid” that Winters is the old guy sitting by himself at the bar reading an out of town newspaper. The narrator explains to the reader that Winters has never been known to say a nice thing and the only time he opens his mouth is to curse at someone. The Kid walks over to Winters and introduces himself as Lee Robertson. He explains to the old man that he was in France fighting the Germans with a guy named Pete. Before he died, Pete told Robertson to find Winters because he could make a fighter out of him. Winters, shocked and dismayed to learn that Pete was killed, yells at Robertson and told him to get out. 

The narrator, feeling sorry for Robertson, chases him down in the street and offers him a job on the oil-rig. While Roberson contemplates joining the crew, the narrator advises readers that Winters and Pete were like father and son, and that Winters was Pete's boxing trainer. Upon the verge of becoming the light-heavyweight champion of the world, the war came along and took Pete away. Now, Pete is dead and Winters is left to ponder what might have been. Robertson agrees to join the oil-rig crew, but also takes an offer to fight in the town's arena. 

Robertson becomes the local boxing hero and a real friend for the wildcatters. They make Robertson their new hero and he earns their accolades by knocking out the competition on regular Wednesday night fight cards. Winters on the other hand despises Robertson and won't offer a single word of encouragement to the young man. At the bar one night, the bets begin rolling when Winters finally says, “There's a man in Hobartsville he can't beat.” Winters bets all of them that Robertson will lose to the fighter. The match is then set and Robertson discovers that the Hobartsville fighter is a former pro that almost became a world champion. With his respect and fistfuls of cash on the line, will Robertson beat this seasoned, experienced opponent?

There was so much to enjoy about this story and I love how it all ties into a purple ring robe. In just a few pages, Adams forces the reader to care about these characters. There are a number of underlying elements that make this story exceptional. First and foremost, the idea that Winters only hates Robertson due to Pete dying. He nearly begs for it to have occurred the other way around with Pete living and Roberson dying. Second, I love that Robertson, despite being floored by Winters' disrespect, still soldiers on and continues his dream. The in-ring action was superb with a number of rounds described in great detail. If you love boxing, you will appreciate these swift scenes. 

From the narrator's cool, laid-back presentation to Robertson's fighting skills, "Champions Wear Purple" is a real treat. Despite it being his first published work, it is easy to spot Adams' storytelling talents. He was destined for greatness and this story is just a small preview of what was to come. You can read the entire Adventure issue, including this story, for free: 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Paperback Warrior Primer - Thomas B. Dewey

Paperback Confidential by Brian Ritt is my favorite reference book about vintage crime-fiction. In browsing the book (published by our good friends at Stark House Press), I was able to locate a lot of information about an underrated author named Thomas B. Dewey. He authored 36 novels and a handful of short stories between 1944 and 1969. He also wrote a number of stand-alone novels using the pseudonyms Thomas Brandt and Cord Wainer. For this Primer, I'm using the information I discovered in Ritt's book, so all credit goes to him.

Thomas B. Dewey was born in Ekhart, Indiana in 1915. Dewey graduated from Kansas State Teachers College in 1936 and attended grad school at the University of Iowa. After grad school, he moved to Hollywood to find his fortune working for a correspondence school called Storycraft. In 1942, he moved to Washington, DC to be an editorial assistant for the U.S. State Department during World War 2. While working as a writer and editor for the State Department, he began writing novels as a side hustle. 

Dewey's first published novel, Hue and Cry, was published in 1944. It was also released under the titles Room for Murder and The Murder of Marion Mason. The protagonist was a character named Singer Batts, a hotel owner and Skakespeare fan living in Preston, Ohio. He partners with his hotel manager, Joe Spinder, to solve the book's mystery. Dewey (or readers) liked the character so much that he wrote three other novels starring him - As Good As Dead (1946), Mourning After (1950), and Handle With Fear (1951). The books and character are similar to that of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series with Spinder serving as the narrator like Archie Goodwin's role in the Nero Wolfe books. You can obtain the four Singer Batts books through Wildside Press HERE

In 1945, Dewey leaves the State Department to go back to Los Angeles to work in advertising. It’s there that he marries his first wife, Maxine Morley Sorensen, in 1951. It was during his advertising years that he launched his most popular series starring a Chicago private eye named Mac – the reader never gets to know his full name. The first Mac book, Draw the Curtain Close, was published in 1947. It took Dewey six years before the second Mac installment was published, Every Bet's a Sure Thing. Our review of the book is HERE. Remarkably, the Mac series continued for 17 novels with the last installment being The Taurus Trap in 1970. 

Mac is often described as “The Compassionate Private Eye”, a true statement that also understates that Mac can, and does, kick some serious ass when called upon to do so. His compassion as a character really humanizes him in the body of his first person narration. But these books shouldn’t be confused with soft-boiled cozy mysteries. They are top-notch private eye stories. I’ll be reading and reviewing more Mac books here at Paperback Warrior, and he may turn out to be my favorite private-eye series. Wildside Press has reprinted most of these for $5 or less per book HERE.

Dewey quit his job in advertising to write full time in 1952, a steady gig he continued until 1971. In 1957, Dewey launched his third series character, a San Fernando Valley private-eye named Pete Schofield. The first book in the series was And Where She Stops (1957). That series continued for nine total installments through 1965’s Nude in Nevada.  The gist of the series is that Schoefield solves crimes with his adorable redhead wife Jeanne. Once again, Wildside Press has these available as well HERE

The usual trajectory of an author of this era is to write a lot of stand-alone novels, hone their craft, and then launch what they hope will be a successful series. Dewey did it backwards launching three successful series titles right out of the gate and keeping Mac and Pete Schofield alive at the same time.

He did write a handful of stand-alone novels – a couple under his own name - but he also deployed two pseudonyms in the 1950s. This was a pretty common way either to get some extra work on the side without your publisher knowing or to ensure that you aren’t flooding the market and hurting your own brand.

Dewey’s last novel was published in 1969, and then it appears he retired from writing fiction at the age of 54. In 1971, he became a professor of English at Arizona State university, where he taught writing. In 1972, he married his second wife Doris L. Smith, and the author died nine years later in 1981 at age 66.

Hollywood never adapted his work for the big screen, but two of his novels were made into TV episodes:

Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre
"Runaway" (1964)
Based on “A Sad Song Singing” 

"Death's a Double-Cross" (1971).
Based on the novel Every Bet's a Sure Thing

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Burglar

As a career midpoint, The Burglar exemplifies everything we've grown to appreciate and admire about David Goodis. It was originally published as a paperback original by Lion Books and later reprinted by Black Lizard, Simon & Schuster, and a host of others. Goodis wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation, making it Goodis' only solo authored screenplay to actually be produced. The film was released in 1957 and starred Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield. In 1971, the French continued their fascination with the author by remaking the film with Omar Sharif and Jean-Paul Belmondo in starring roles. 

In flashback sequences, readers learn that Harbin experienced a poverty-ridden childhood. After his mother and father both die, Harbin hits the road and is picked up by a professional thief named Gerald. Harbin learns to become a skilled burglar under Gerald's tutelage. After Gerald is killed, Harbin is left to raise Gerald's young daughter Gladden. Over 18 years, Hardin's role transforms from Gladden's older brother to father, bringing the novel to the present with Hardin at age 34 and Gladden now 24. 

The opening chapters is a suspenseful heist as Harbin and his crew (two men and Gladden) rob a large mansion on Philadelphia's Main Line. The take is a whopping $100K in emeralds. But, the robbery didn't go as planned due to Harbin being interviewed by police outside of the mansion. Harbin miraculously explains his way out of the situation, but the police take note of his whereabouts. 

Back at the crew's “home”, a place deemed The Spot, Harbin makes the decision to send Gladden to Atlantic City for a few days while their hot status cools down a bit. While wasting the days, Harbin strolls around Philly with no real destination in mind. He contemplates the next move and his relationship with Gladden. But, a knockout named Della approaches Harbin at a bar and the two immediately hit it off. 

After a few chapters, Harbin and Della are in love and have the proverbial “white picket fence” lifestyle planned in the Pennsylvania countryside. The problem is multifaceted – Harbin has a criminal background that he needs to share with Della, he has a complicated relationship with Gladden that needs unraveling, and he has to leave the burglary business and his crew. The first one is easy, the second is an emotional implosion and the third becomes central to the book's propulsive plot.

As always, Goodis is one of the masters of crime-noir storytelling (arguably the very best) and The Burglar is about as good as it gets. The characters are dynamic, with each one facing extreme adversity while carrying heavy burdens. Both Della and Gladden are in love with Harbin, but his decision to choose one not only has a lasting impact on his own life, it controls the fate of the heist crew. There is the obligatory “running from the law” plot threads that keep the narrative at a brisk pace.

I like the author's subtext that theft is like a drug. It brings these characters emotional peaks and valleys while insuring they avoid the rat-race of a 9-to-5 job. At one point Harbin admits he has nothing he wants or even desires. He can't locate any material objects to buy with his $7K in walk-around money. Much less, where to spend his share of $25K from the most recent heist. It's not about the money, it's the adrenaline rush. 

If you just love a great story, The Burglar is absolutely fantastic. As a mid 20th century crime-noir, it's sheer perfection. Tangled love, the burden of criminality, greed's fascinating tug-of-war, flawed justice, the price of happiness, these compelling, prevalent plot-points just go on and on. Excellent books create meaningful discussion and The Burglar does just that. Highest recommendation. 

Get the book HERE.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Two-Gun Law

Robert J. Hogan (1897-1963) is mostly associated with his creation of the pulp-aviation series G-8 and his Battle Aces. After serving in WWI, Hogan worked in the aviation industry while writing for the pulps from 1930 through 1957. It's hard to locate information about Hogan's work beyond G-8 or his Smoke Wade creation. But, Hogan wrote a number of original western paperbacks like Brand of Cain, Renegade Guns, and Two-Gun Law. Pageturner's Buckskin Editions imprint have reprinted six of Hogan's western novels as affordable ebooks including Two-Gun Law. It was originally released as Law for La Mesa, a complete novel featured in Giant Western October, 1950. Lancer later reprinted it in paperback as Two-Gun Law

Rod Gordon was born and raised in the southwestern frontier town of La Mesa. Growing into an adult, Gordon had become a fast gunman and a reckless youth. To stop Gordon's inevitable criminal path, his father sent him back east to study law. Maturing, and learning the mantra that “every man is innocent until proven guilty”, Gordon returns to La Mesa to begin his law practice. His first client is an elderly man named Blue Harmon.

Harmon explains to Gordon that his ranch is being seized by the town bank, specifically a man named Colonel Ball. Harmon has paid taxes and has the official rights to keep his ranch, but due to some crooked politics Ball has proven the tax receipts are missing, thus the delinquency. Harmon is now dispossessed of the ranch so Gordon takes the case pro bono. After talking with Ball, Gordon explains that Harmon simply misplaced the receipts and needs more time. Before Gordon is able to elevate the case, Harmon's foreclosure leads to a shootout. Harmon is killed and Gordon is furious.

As Gordon begins to dig into the town's most recent history, he learns that Ball has repossessed many of the ranches and farms. La Mesa's citizens have been misled, cheated, bullied, and forced into poverty due to Colonel Ball's criminality. But, Ball wants to work with Gordon and explain that the whole business is on the up and up. Further, Ball wants his beautiful daughter Maxine to marry a civilized, noble professional like an attorney. While Ball plays matchmaker for Gordon and Maxine, the town turns on Gordon. They think Gordon has sold out to Ball and is now a part of an evil criminal alliance.

Hogan's western falls into the genre's trope of “land baron takes over the town.” Hundreds of stories and books fall into this category, but Hogan's writing style is exceptional because he molds it into a compelling crime-noir. Two-Gun Law reads like a Clifton Adams novel (oddly Adams also has a western with the same title) with the traditional western formula laced with crime-fiction elements. There are some footprints of Hogan's pulp writing as the characters display a seemingly supernatural ability to shoot precisely. But, it never really interferes with the story. I love the little nuances that the author includes. 

When Gordon finds the corpse inside Harmon's house, a nearby neighbor named Loony is playing a mouth harp and singing "The Dying Cowboy" (also known as "Cowboy's Lament"). Readers immediately think the song represents Harmon's death. But, in brilliant foreshadowing, the song is really a prophetic tune for Loony himself. I also really liked that Gordon, the wild-and-woolly gunman turned attorney, hangs his six-guns on his office wall. As the town turmoil increases, Gordon retrieves the guns from the wall and reflects how heavy they seem now. It's a parallel to Gordon's heavy burden as town savior. 

If you have a Kindle, $3 is well worth the price of admission for Two-Gun Law. If you want paper, affordable copies of the Lancer version are still out there. As an introduction to Hogan's writing, I was really impressed with the book and I'm looking forward to reading more of these Buckskin Edition reprints. 

Buy the ebook HERE.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Men's Adventure Quarterly #04

Robert Deis and Bill  Cunningham have been doing God's work with their Men's Adventure Quarterly publication. It's an old-school throwback to the men's action-adventure magazines (MAMs) of the early to mid 20th century. The magazine's debut was in 2021 and featured westerns as the theme. The second issue focused on espionage and the third installment contained stories around vigilantes. This fourth installment is “The Jungle Girls Issue!” 

In the opening pages, Deis authors “It's a Jungle Girl Out There!”, a great article examining the origins of the “jungle girl” stories in fiction, magazines, and comics. Deis cites two of the genre's earliest works, H. Rider Haggard's 1886 novel She and William Henry Hudson's 1904 novel Green Mansions. I enjoyed the timeline Deis presents from these novels, including Edgar Rice Burroughs' Jungle Girl in 1932 and the 1940s/1950s movie serials and comics starring Nyoka the Jungle Girl. The introduction expands into the variations and eras of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. It was a real education for me learning the concept of “jungle girl” and its place in literature and pop-culture.

The magazine dedicates 50+ pages to model, author, traveler, and icon, Jane Dolinger. Deis interviews Lawrence Abbott, author of the book Jane Dolinger: The Adventurous Life of an American Travel Writer. Throughout the interview, Abbott provides Dolinger's history from pin-up model to her books like The Head with the long Yellow Hair (1968) and Jaguar Princess (1964). It was interesting to learn her backstory, the travels, and about her marriage. Many of her articles and columns are reprinted, including "I Helped Shrink a Human Head" (Champion 09/1959), "I Found the Jaguar Princess" (Adventure 04/1965), and "The Jungle Killers Who Fight for Women" (All Man 05/1963). I found "Around the World with Jane and Camera" (Wildcat 07/1966) as a terrific insight into her traveling experiences in rural locations and hostile jungles. She led an incredible life and the magazine is loaded with gorgeous photos of her (NSFW).

Like prior issues, this issue is saturated with reprinted stories and art from vintage men's action-adventure magazines. First off is “The She-Wolf of Halmahera” (Spur 09/1959), a first-person account by Leonard Kelcey (not a real guy) who explains to readers his harrowing experiences in Indonesia tracking down a she-wolf/vampire seductress. “Yank Explorer Who Ruled Guatamala's Taboo Tribe” (For Men Only 08/1959) features cover art by the talented Mort Kunstler, which in itself is worth the price of admission, and interior art by one of my favorites, Gil Cohen. The story is written by Donald Honig, an author that Deis spotlights in the story's introduction page. Other stories include “Borneo's Topless Army” (True Adventures 10/1966, art by Vic Prezio and Basil Gogos) and “Forbidden Amazon Female Compound” (Stag 04/1968, art by Mort Kunstler).

The book includes pages upon pages of vintage MAM artwork, including a variety of stunning models from the era. There is also an article on Marion Michael, a German model and actress that starred in films like Liane, Jungle Goddess and Native Girl and the Slaver. The editors include lobby card and movie poster artwork featuring Michael as well as a number of photos. 

Men's Adventure Quarterly #04 looks absolutely fantastic on paper (wink wink). As an educational tool, Deis and Cunningham provide an academic approach to this genre and I learned a great deal more about the MAM industry and culture. Each issue of MAQ continues to improve and expand while also rekindling the same fires stoked by the legions of creators, artists, writers, publishers, and fans that came before it. Deis and Cunningham's collaboration is pure dedication to the spirit and heart of MAMs and I absolutely applaud their efforts. 

Get the book HERE.