Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Larry Kent #751 - Spanish Harlem

Larry Kent was a hardboiled New York private detective in a long-running series first published in Australia. Many of the novels were written by an American immigrant to Australia named Don Haring, including #751 Spanish Harlem from 1974 currently available from reprint publishers Bold Venture Press (paper) and Piccadilly Press (ebook).

The novel begins with PI Larry Kent being forcibly brought to see a gangster who runs the numbers game in Spanish Harlem. The racketeer’s teenage son has disappeared from a military academy in Georgia, and he needs Larry to find the boy. Kidnapping? Murder? Mob feud? No one knows.

Larry travels down to Dixieville, Georgia, where Greystones Military Academy stands. The missing boy - his name is Phillip - is the “best pass catcher” on the Academy’s football team, so the school is anxious to have him back in pads. Based on the description of the boy’s field position, I gather the author wasn’t much of a football fan himself. It doesn’t take long before Larry is being menaced by a parade of walking southern stereotypes who try to beat him and call him a “nigra lover.”

All roads lead to a racist domestic extremist group called the Sons of the South, who wear white sheets, engage in arson, advocate for sterilization of blacks, etc., etc., etc. Of course they have the local sheriff in their back pocket. Rescuing the missing boy is more complicated than you’d expect and plunges Larry into organized criminal politics among Black Harlem, Spanish Harlem and The Syndicate.

This is a middle-of-the-road Larry Kent novel. It’s not one of the great ones or one of the incomprehensible ones. It’s a bit generic and reminded me of a Mike Shayne mystery without much sex or action. The whole novel is pretty weighted down in racial politics, which became pretty tiresome given today’s never-ending discussions of race. By now, you know if this is your thing or not. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Tarzan #01 - Tarzan of the Apes

Many of the classic, more mainstream series titles or novels we discuss here at Paperback Warrior are presented from the perspective of a brand new reader. Novels from the likes of Ian Fleming, Jack London, Robert E. Howard, etc. have been devoured by millions of readers through many generations. However, for the most part they remain brand new to us. Aside from various media – comics, movies, television, non-fiction analysis – these classic literary works are a paradise of undiscovered gems. Slowly, we pull these classics from the rainy day stash to read and review. Thus, I've now arrived at Edgar Rice Burroughs' acclaimed 24 book series of novels starring the iconic Tarzan.

Tarzan of the Apes originally appeared in magazine format in the October, 1912 issue of All-Story. It was first published as a hardcover in 1914 and then later as a paperback by Ballantine in 1963 (with a cover painting by Dick Powers). It's a rather long novel at 220 pages of smaller paperback font size, making it a thorough and comprehensive origin story to kick off the series. 

The book begins with explanations that John Clayton (known as Lord Greystoke or Viscount Greystoke) is a British Lord that has accepted an assignment by the British Colonial Office to investigate racial relations in West Africa. While excited for his new career boost, Clayton also feels dismayed that he must bring his pregnant wife Alice to a harsh landscape. En route to their destination, the crew of their passenger ship overthrows the Captain and nearly kill Clayton and his wife. Thanks to crew leader Black Michael, the couple is spared. Instead of being thrown overboard, Black Michael leaves them on the shores of a dense coastal jungle. In essence, the Claytons are marooned on a dangerous, unfamiliar island in the middle of nowhere. Death seems inevitable.

Through the book's first chapters, the narrative highlights the Claytons early determination to beat the odds. As the months go by, and a rescue seems unlikely, the hopes and determination begin to fade. Enclosing their meager existence is the menacing jungle wildlife, complete with roaring lions, ferocious apes, and other predatory animals. After Alice is nearly killed by an ape, she becomes emotionally unhinged. One year after giving birth to the couple's son, she dies from emotional distress. With great difficulty carrying the immense, lonely burden, Clayton simply gives up and is soon killed by a tribal king ape named Kerchak. A motherly ape named Kala, who just lost her own child, rescues the baby boy and raises him as her own. Thus, his name becomes Tarzan, which means “White Skin” in  the ape language. 

As one would expect, the middle chapters are the proverbial coming-of-age narrative concerning Tarzan's childhood and transformation from the tribe's weakling to the savage “King of the Apes”. It's action-adventure focused as Tarzan becomes a skilled hunter, fighter, and leader of the tribe through various battles with other apes and wildlife. Tarzan spends his calm moments at his parents' small, makeshift cottage going through various trinkets and books, learning more about his own race and why he is different than the apes. He teaches himself to read and write based on the numerous baby books the Claytons had packed for their trip. Through these quiet moments, Tarzan takes the necessary steps to slowly evolve into a civilized man.

A couple of decades pass and then a new crew finds themselves marooned on this same island. This is how Tarzan meets young Jane Porter, his love interest and future wife. Ironically, Tarzan's cousin is one of the members of the party, William Clayton, son of Lord Greystoke (Tarzan's uncle). This portion of the narrative was really fragmented and uneven, with a number of characters involved in events in different locations on the island. Eventually, Jane is rescued by Tarzan after discovering his parents' cottage. She falls in love with him, but realizes he isn't civilized enough and would be unhappy anywhere other than the jungle. The book's finale concludes with Tarzan learning a modern way of existence through a French soldier named D'Arnot. The story's ending is a bit of a cliffhanger as Tarzan learns of his Clayton/Greystoke heritage, but withholds the information in an effort to allow Jane to marry William without complications.

Overall, Tarzan of the Apes was a fun reading experience, but I would be remiss if I didn't express that I was a little underwhelmed. After the lofty literary praise I've read about the book in my lifetime, I felt that the narrative was unnecessarily dense in spots. Further, there were way too many characters in the book's third act to enforce any sort of isolation or loneliness within the tight narrative. The action-adventure aspect was still intact, but only marginally so. I also felt that Tarzan's development from savage to civilized man was rushed too quickly. I really disliked the ending with the Wisconsin farm, Jane's economic situation, and the convenient forest fire. None of the elements conveyed the same enjoyment I experienced within the rural, dangerous jungle. Arguably, it was too cavalier, but I completely understand it is a product of the time. 

With both its racial awkwardness and dominant masculinity paired with Burroughs documented eugenics support, Tarzan of the Apes doesn't age particularly well. The misguided beliefs about African culture was uncomfortable at times, but again, I do understand this was a controversial era with bad choices and uneducated world views. To read any early to mid-20th century literature does require some patience in that regard. But, I was generally pleased with the book's pacing, the main character, and some of the early events with the mutiny of the ship. I liked it enough to want to read the second installment. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Pay the Devil

There's no doubt that Jack Higgins, real name Henry Patterson, is a household name and one of the cornerstones of the second generation of action-adventure novelists. By the mid-1970s, most of the author's literary work from the late 1950s through the 1970s was re-published as paperbacks under the name familiar name of Higgins. Patterson's 1963 hardback novel, Pay the Devil, was one of the few novels absent from the 1970s reprints. Oddly, the book wasn't released until 2000. It was revised and published as a paperback by Berkley. 

While most of the author's novels are written as modern, high-adventure novels typically placed in the same time period as their publishing date. Pay the Devil is mainly set in 1865, just one year after the American Civil-War. The hero, Irish-American Clay Fitzgerald, is introduced in the book's prologue (which I believe was written decades later as an addition to the book's reprint) as a Confederate Brigadier General. This exciting prologue has Fitzgerald and his tattered band of rebels receiving orders that General Lee is surrendering the Confederacy at Appomattox, Virginia. Knowing the war is now over, Fitzgerald and his men come to the aid of a young man who is being lynched. These early pages show readers that Fitzgerald is not only a respectable man of action, but also a trained battlefield surgeon. These elements are both important to the narrative. 

After the surrender, Fitzgerald learns that his Uncle has died in Ireland and that his inheritance is waiting. The book then resumes the action one-year later as Fitzgerald and his friend Josh arrive in the Irish town of Drumore. There they learn that Fitzgerald's inheritance is a moderate amount of money and a burned estate. After an exchange with some of the residents, Fitzgerald learns that the town is essentially being bullied by Sir George Hamilton. As a servant to the British, it's Hamilton's job to keep the Irish poor and famished. Fitzgerald, fearing the Irish will never gain independence, assumes a neutral role. But after seeing the town's exhaustive efforts to fight back, Fitzgerald dons a costume and assumes the identity of a folk hero vigilante named Captain Swing. As this masked rider, Fitzgerald fights for the people. 

This was a really different Jack Higgins novel. While not a traditional western, it's more like Higgins' version of Batman. While there's plenty of action, Fitzgerald's role as caregiver to the poor really defines the character. By day, Fitzgerald can rub shoulders with Irish and British aristocracy, but at night his surgical skills and fighting demeanor resembles a pulpy sort of hero. With a saber and Dragoon, this character represents nobility and pride, a continuation of his background in the American Civil-War – one war just exchanged for another.

As a fan of Higgins, I can't find anything not to like about Pay the Devil. I am a little puzzled on why this novel wasn't reprinted decades earlier. Perhaps the author's iconic World War II and nautical themes were so overpowering that publishers didn't wish to risk his literary dominance at that point. While it's a different time period, the author's heroes are nearly interchangeable. This book should please the author's immense fanbase, but also could serve as a pulpy alternative western for lovers of Lone Ranger, Masked Rider, and other old west adventures. 

Buy the eBook HERE.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Path to Savagery

According to Mystery File, Robert Edmond Alter authored over 40 stories for magazines and digests like Mike Shayne, Man from UNCLE, Argosy, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and Manhunt. He wrote two novels that were published by Fawcett Gold Medal, Swamp Sister in 1961 and Carny Kill in 1966. Both of those were reprinted by Black Lizard in 1993. We reviewed Swamp Sister in 2020 and it failed to impress us, but we went back to the well again with Alter’s novel Path to Savagery. It was published posthumously by Avon in 1969, three years after Alter's death. The post-apocalyptic novel was adapted into the 1979 Sony Pictures film The Ravagers starring Ernest Borgnine and Richard Harris. 

The book is set about 20 years after a global nuclear war. What's left are large swaths of wilderness, packs of wild dogs, and large cities that have mostly been ransacked. On the coasts, some of these cities are now marshy islands due to excessive flooding from broken seawalls. Civilization now exists in three classes. Flockers guard their food, water, and weapons and exist in packs. Neanderthalers are your common savages that use barbarism on a quest for dominance. The Loners are guys like Falk, the book's protagonist, that simply exist as troubadours scouring the countryside for supplies in an effort to live a peaceful existence. But, Falk packs a .45 and a Thompson submachine gun in case things get hairy. 

The first thing you need to know is that Path to Savagery is nearly awesome. It begins and ends with total awesomeness. What's in the middle is just plain 'ole great. Alter's pace is sometimes sluggish, but at 174 pages he spends productive time on characterization, something that was not afforded to him writing shorts. His descriptions were so vivid and real. For example, in the book's opening pages, Falk finds a dark, cavernous mansion that's been ransacked and abandoned. Bad guys follow him inside, hoping for a quick and quiet kill. Alter's descriptions of Falk fighting the enemy in the dark mansion's bedrooms and hallway were exhilarating. I loved that Falk couldn't see his attacker's faces until they were illuminated by his gun's muzzle flashes. 

Falk moves through the bogs and brambles and stumbles upon a woman named Faina, which he buys for the night using spare tobacco. Faina becomes a supporting character and surprises Falk when he reaches a flooded coastal city. In what becomes the book's central location, Falk and Faina find a large, multilevel department store. The store has different sections like sporting goods, housewares, furniture, camping, clothing, etc. This large department store becomes a hunting ground when Falk and Faina discover it is occupied by a large band of Flockers. 

Without spoiling too much of the story, Falk and the leader of the Flockers, a strong, combative man named Rann, enter a contest of survival. Each of them enters the department store naked without weapons. Once inside the enormous store, they can use anything they find as a weapon to hunt and kill their opponent. Falk and Rann's battle will determine the winner of the tribe's sexiest woman. Falk has a prior connection with the lady, so his efforts to kill Rann are elevated. Rann is fighting to hold his place as tribal leader. 

Needless to say, the idea of living in an abandoned shopping mall is a neat one. Alter makes fun use of this combat arena and adds in some surprising elements that add a dose of horror to the narrative. There is a crime-fiction ingredient as well when Rann conspires with another Flocker to secretly murder someone. The book's premise borders on both science-fiction and post-apocalyptic, making this alternate version of Earth a pretty scary place. 

Despite reading tons of doomsday fiction, and viewing an equal assortment of genre films, I was thoroughly pleased with the book's innovation and ideas. Alter really had a great thing going and I can't help but think this would have been a series if he would have lived long enough to tell it. Unfortunately, Path to Savagery is all we have of this great concept. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Razorblades in my Head

According to his Amazon bio, Donnie Goodman runs the YouTube show The Horror Hypotheses and loves reading, book shopping, and playing video games. The Central Virginia native is a fan of Paperbacks from Hell and enjoys writing. His short stories have appeared in anthologies like Gorefest and Served Cold. In June of 2021, Goodman self-published his short story collection The Razorblades in my Head with a colorful and terrifying cover by Justin T. Coons. As a fan of horror and a native of Central Virginia myself, I was drawn to this macabre collection. 

The book is 140 pages long and features 12 shorts, original black and white cover sketches, and notes from the author on what inspired each story. I'm not a short story enthusiast, but Stephen King's Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, and Nightmares & Dreamscapes were always on hand throughout my childhood. I appreciate the art form, but prefer novellas if it isn't a full-length. That being said, Goodman's work was really enjoyable. This is his first collection and I would imagine some of these stories have been with him for a long time. 

Here are a few stories that I found as real highlights of Goodman's storytelling talent:

“The Stranger in the Squared Circle” is about Goodman's love of professional wrestling, entertainment that he describes as “the last bastion of true performance art in modern culture.” I love wrestling as well, so the idea of a vampire story set in the wild world of independent wrestling was appealing. It's written in first-person by an indy wrestler named Luke (indy meaning not contracted to one of the bigger organizations like WWE). He's a veteran of the indy circuit and starting to draw bigger money in Japan. So, it's with great hesitancy that he agrees to fill in at a local show from an old wrestling promoter named Jim. The gig is at a small, but packed venue, where Jim hoped to have a big main event. But, the headliner has gone missing in Mexico, so Jim wants Luke as the replacement. But, his opponent is a mysterious international wrestler called The Stranger, a performer Luke isn't familiar with. Jim shows Luke a video tape of an archived performance where it appears that The Stranger has supernatural agility and strength. It also looks like The Stranger legitimately kills his opponent. The Stranger may be the strangest opponent he has ever faced. The story is perfectly plotted with a great beginning, a compelling narrative, and a rousing finale. If this is a sign of things to come, Goodman is going to be a rock star. 

“The Old Bay King” is set on Virginia's eastern shores and features two likable, struggling crabbers that owe a loan-shark named Otis. Hoping to eventually make ends meet, they head north looking for a big haul. At sea, they discover an old abandoned ship. Inside are human remains and a huge box of solid gold covered in ancient writings. The two haul the box back to their ship, but run afoul of Otis and his enforcers. When he attempts to take the gold, all Hell truly breaks loose. Again, this was written in first-person and is one of the longer stories featured. I loved the atmosphere and characters, and Goodman's pacing was fantastic. This is Goodman at the top of his game.

“Hourglass” is an example of what Goodman feels is true horror - “a gated community with a homeowner's association.” I've been there and done that, and couldn't possibly agree more. This story reminds me of Bentley Little with its dark nod to the funny side of horror. It's a fairly simple story about a group of suburban men that make violent sacrifices in their garage. It's symbolic of greed and the sense of entitlement in pursuit of self-interest. I loved the story and it is set in a community called Greenfields, a place that Goodman uses in another story about killer snowmen called “Magic in the Hat.”

Razorblades in my Head represents an author that is passionate about literary horror. His stories resonate with a deep, disturbing look at our culture and the negative impact it creates. From snooty gated community residents to post-apocalyptic visions, Goodman isn't afraid to cross multiple sub-genres. This collection includes spatter-punk, crime-fiction, traditional horror, and the Creepy Pasta styled shorter shorts. I love his imagination, passion, and talent and to coin an overly-used phrase...he could be the next big thing. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022


Norman Danberg (1905-1995) was a prolific multi-genre paperback author under the name Norman Daniels. He utilized the pseudonym Peter Grady for a hardcover western called Showdown in 1963 — later credited to Norman Daniels for the subsequent paperback release by Lancer Books. 

The novel is set in a small town misnamed Tranquility. The town was once tranquil, but it has fallen into anarchy, lawlessness, and dysfunction. Feuds, disputes, and grudges are settled with shootout duels on Main Street, where the townsfolk gather to watch as if it were a sporting event. Just as Daytona and Indianapolis are known for auto racing, Tranquility is known for its public gunfights and public hangings. The fans love it, and it’s great for business at the local saloon.  

Jase Quinlan and Dan Ingram are ostensibly best friends. However, Jase recently went on a trip to visit his brother, and Jase’s whore of a girlfriend has taken up with Dan in Jase’s absence. No bueno. Of course,  all this culminates in one of Tranquility’s famous gunfights, and Jase gets the worst of it. 

All of this is a setup for the arrival of Jase’s Texas cowboy brother, Cass. He received word that his brother was gunned down in one of Tranquillity’s bloodsport events, and he’s come for revenge. The first meeting between Cass and Dan is fascinating reading and sets the tone for the novel, which is way smarter and more nuanced than you’d expect. Cass also has another agenda for coming to Tranquility which is one of this novel’s delightful surprises. 

Norman Daniels is always a safe bet for solid, if unremarkable, pulp fiction. In Showdown, he threw aside the trappings of the genre and authored a novel about the power of human decency packaged as a simple old-west vendetta tale. While the western genre has always been about frontier justice, Showdown also works as a fable making a case for due process and the rule of law. 

Showdown is an interesting western novel if you’re looking for something completely different. There’s not much action or violence, but the story and the themes are unique and the writing is solid. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 23, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 96

The boys are back in town! On Episode 96, Tom brings you all of the action at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Con from Lombard, Illinois and reviews a vintage Robert Colby paperback called Kim. Eric examines the birth of the Sword & Sorcery genre with Robert E. Howard's Kull character. He also delves into the Lancer paperbacks, Conan, graphic novels and magazines. Listen on any podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com or download directly: https://bit.ly/3lt5NOS

Listen to "Episode 96: Windy City Pulp & Paper and Robert E. Howard's Kull" on Spreaker.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Too Early to Tell

Between the 1930s and 1950s, John D. MacDonald authored over 500 short stories for the pulp magazines and digests. Often, he used pseudonyms so he could appear multiple times in the same issue.  Shortly after moving his family to Florida, and before his first paperback original was published (The Brass Cupcake, 1951 Fawcett), MacDonald's fight story “Too Early to Tell” was published in the October, 1950 issue of Adventure. The story and entire issue is available for free HERE.

The story is presented in first-person narrative by Lew, a gym rat that is friends with an older, veteran fight-trainer named Micky. At a rough local dive bar, Micky watches an irritating kid named “Junior” badmouth the patrons, then proceed to waylay a half-dozen men before being sapped. Micky drives the drunk and dazed kid home and then later gains his life story.

Junior's real name is Harkness Willoughby Franklin the Third and he's living with a sizable emotional burden. His father died, his mother remarried and they moved to California where she started a new family. Considering Junior a forgettable bad apple, his mother sends him to a private school in Massachusetts. Over the years, Junior has asked to visit the family, only to be rejected and then promptly receiving a check in the mail. Now, Junior is mad at the world and Micky thinks he can channel that negative energy into boxing.

Most fight stories simultaneously spin a rags-to-riches lesson on responsibility, humility, determination, and internal fortitude. MacDonald's story is interesting because Junior is never a likable protagonist. That's what makes this so unique and engaging. The story, approximately eight pages in length, contains Junior's rise through the ranks to attain the coveted title shot. But, there's a side-story involving the sister of Micky's former protegee falling for Junior despite his angry, emotional barricade.

If you love in-ring action, MacDonald delivers a great, climactic bout in the story's conclusion. With its clash of characters, fighting, and emotional undertakings, “Too Early to Tell” was an enjoyable reading experience.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Time War

Lin Carter (Linwood Vrooman Carter, 1930-1988) was a longtime science-fiction and fantasy fan. Along with his writing mentor, L. Sprague de Camp, he authored a number of Conan novels either as original tales, or by finishing original, unfinished drafts by Robert E. Howard. He also contributed edits to Howard's Kull character while also creating his own series titles like Gondwane, Terra Magica, and Thongor of Valkarth. Carter only authored a few stand-alone novels, one of which is the science-fiction novel Time War. It was originally published by Dell in 1974 with an amazing cover by Frank Frazetta. It was reprinted by Wildside Press in 2021 in both physical and digital editions. 

John Lux is a scientist, industrialist, entrepreneur, and a military veteran. He's also the target of an invisible assassin. In the book's opening pages, John is shot at by an invisible force that somehow lifted his own revolver from his desk drawer. In another murder attempt, John is nearly run over in the street by a maniacal driver. Why is he being targeted for assassination by this intelligent, murderous entity?

After visiting a local friend and professor, John awakens the next day to learn the man is dead and the police are searching for him as the prime suspect. On the run from the police and an assassin, John learns more about his nightmarish predicament from a strange woman who claims she is from the future. Her explanation of John's trials and tribulations is similar to that of Skynet and John Connor, two time-traveling opponents that battle through the years in the popular Terminator franchise of movies, books, and comics.

In the future, Earth's population is pampered in a sprawling urban metropolis known as the Living City, governed by a super computer. It is here that civilization has spiraled into a luxurious world where every want and need is supplied by the city. Because of this slothful lifestyle, humans have evolved into simply existing with no ability to think for themselves. They can no longer survive without the assistance of the computer, thus the development of this long-lasting parent-child nurturing. Instant entitlement and gratification is the way of existence.

John learns that this computer has built a cocoon around the city, a nearly impenetrable shield that protects everything and keeps this rather elementary form of living intact. But, a rebellion created a Weapon Machine to destroy the computer, only it is stuck inside the shield with no way to penetrate the exterior, and no method of retreating. To John's surprise, he learns he is the only human in existence that has neuro-radiontic powers. In essence, he is a time-traveling superhuman that can teleport himself anywhere. Since his powers are new and underused, this dormant skill can only be utilized if his body is facing an emergency. Thus, these future agents are attempting to kill John to awaken his ability to teleport. If he can teleport through time, and through this city shield, he can bring the Weapon Machine to its destination and liberate humanity.

The author's note from Carter states that he authored Time War as an affectionate tribute to author A.E. van Voget, a contributor to the Golden Age of mature science-fiction led by John W. Campbell Jr. and his Campbellion revolution. In doing so, Carter inputs a lot of startling social awareness into his precognitive narrative on mankind's modern dependence on technology. Much of Carter's future, filled with frivolousness and a rudimentary need for immediate satisfaction, resembles our present. While it isn't preachy or chastising, Time War certainly predicts and warns of many present day struggles.

As an action-oriented science-fiction novel, I found the narrative was busy and bogged down with explanations of what, when, where, and how. There just wasn't enough space to allow the anticipated front-cover action to develop properly. I encourage short novels, but the 150 page count was too short in this instance. If you love a dense, smart story, then Time War should be a wonderful experience. Those of you looking for a soaring stellar war should look elsewhere. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

News of the World

After graduating from University of Missouri-Kansas, author Paulette Jiles (b. 1943) was employed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Her original novels and poetry collections include Waterloo Express (1973), Blackwater (1988), and The Late Great Human Road Show (1986). After extensive travels, Jiles settled in San Antonio, TX in 1991. My first experience with the author is her western News of the World. It was published in 2016 by William Morrow and adapted to film in 2020 by Universal Pictures and Netflix International. The movie, starring Tom Hanks, won Academy Awards in 2021 for Best Cinematography, Score, Production Design and Sound. I've never seen the film, because I'm a reader not a watcher. 

The key to fully experience News of the World is understanding the time period and place in which it takes place. The book is set in 1870 and begins along the border between Texas and Indian Territory. Texas is a political hotbed after Republican Edmund Davis was elected in 1869 as the state's governor, barely defeating Democrat Andrew Hamilton. Tensions were high, the Texas State Police had privileged power, and a civil rights commitment had been made. The introduction of public printers made way for state journals and newspaper to provide official notices. It was a Reconstruction period for Texas.

The book's main character is Captain Kidd, a 71 year-old man and veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War. After becoming a widow, Kidd began traveling the country reading national and international newspapers for a dime a listener. His business isn't a lucrative one, so Kidd becomes interested when he's offered money to transport a young girl named Johanna.

Johanna's parents were killed by Kiowa warriors when she was six. After four years of being a captive, she is freed from the Kiowa and placed in the hands of a man named Johnson, who then hands her off to Kidd to take the girl back to her only relatives, an aunt and uncle in Castroville, TX. Johanna's experiences with the Kiowa result in her being a wild child with very little possession of the English language or modern customs. She speaks fluid Kiowa, minimizes animals to food, eats with her hands, and wears primitive clothing. She's a fish out of water with Kidd.

Like any great mono myth, Kidd's journey through Texas brings elements of danger and adventure that transform the elderly individual into the unlikely hero. Kidd must carefully navigate the political landscape, balancing a bipartisan stance while contending with fierce supporters of both Hamilton and Davis. He's also threatened by perverse men who want Johanna for their harem or themselves. When he's not being asked to provide a fee for traveling through towns, he's dealing with Johanna's struggles with communicating with him or her complete recklessness and rebellion. Kidd has a lot to deal with throughout the book's narrative. 

News of the World isn't an action-packed western, but it does have one of the better gunfights I can recall. In fact, Jiles offers a lot of surprising insight on guns, ammunition, load sizes and feet-per-second velocity that I found especially interesting. The gunfight between Kidd and a group of criminals is innovative with the alternate strategy of using dimes in shotgun loads. Beyond this scene, the narrative is mostly verbal jousting. Jiles is much more literary than traditional western storytellers.

This novel provides an excellent history of Texas during this tumultuous time period and compares to today's political rivalries between the parties. As Americans, we continue to fight with each other over allegiances to parties and this book proves that nothing has really changed in 150 years. It probably never will. But, Jiles also provides insight on the historic alienation experienced by children captured by Native Americans and then returned years later to modern society. Jiles credits Scott Zesch's The Captured as an influence. 

Overall, I was deeply moved by News of the World and the relationship formed between Kidd and Johanna. As the centerpiece of the novel, I found it remarkable. I look forward to reading more of Paulette Jiles including her 2010 novel Color of Lightning, which also features the Kidd character.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Logan #01 - Logan

Jon Messmann created the long-running and highly successful western series The Trailsman, as well as other series titles like The Revenger and The Handyman. We have explored numerous novels by Messmann and mostly love all of them. Both Brash Books and Cutting Edge have performed a remarkable public service by reprinting most of Messmann's bibliography in brand new editions with modern artwork and short essays about his work. 

Cutting Edge's most recent release is the two-book Logan series, a character that Messmann created in the style of John D. MacDonald's popular Travis McGee series. Messmann authored both Logan and Killers at Sea under the pseudonym Alan Joseph. These books were originally published in 1970 and have remained out of print until now. I'm beginning with the series debut, Logan.

Not much is known about Logan other than he has some sort of combat history, owns a speedy boat simply called Sea Urchin, and is kind of a jerk. In the briefest of backstories, Messmann hints that Logan has experienced some sort of tragedy in his life that makes him this despondent, rather miserable person. But, he has a soft heart for charity, namely a nun named Mary Angela in Kenya. When Logan completes odd jobs, like chartering or salvaging, he sends most of his earnings to her with a letter thanking her for prior help. 

In Panama, a man asks Logan to perform a job for $10,000. Not liking the guy, or the vagueness of the task, Logan kicks him off of his boat. Later, Logan returns to his boat with a beautiful young woman only to find a corpse on the downstairs deck. The Panamanian police arrive and all fingers point at Logan as the prime suspect. He's been framed.

An emissary from the Peruvian government arrives at the jail and advises Logan they can make the charges go away if he simply agrees to the $10,000 job. He explains that their government is having a problem with a left-wing revolutionary group led by a man named Panico. Peru feels that they have finally killed Panico, but need positive ID. The body has been buried in a remote village and Peru feels as though one of their men will easily be spotted by guerrilla forces. A man like Logan can travel to the village by water under the disguise of a hunter or trapper. Once there, Logan's companion, a Peru woman who dated Panico, can make the positive ID. Mission over, collect $10K. Simple, right?

Messmann is in his wheelhouse with this high-octane, action-adventure yarn. Like his characters Jefferson Boone: Handyman and Skye Fargo, Logan is the author's formulaic, bull-headed man's man. He's handy with the ladies, gets laid a lot, and offers no lasting promises or commitments. In terms of rebellion and angst, Logan is 110% against-the-grain. He chooses painful opposition over smooth conformity despite the overwhelming odds. But, he always wins. 

Thankfully, Cutting Edge realizes Messmann's storytelling talent and have re-introduced these fun novels for a new generation of readers. As a nautical escape, Logan succeeds with it's fast-paced, calculated action. There's an ample amount of sex and violence contained in Messmann's propulsive plot to please fans of popcorn action-adventure fiction. There's nothing to dislike about Logan, and I'm looking forward to this book's sequel, Killers at Sea

Fun Fact – Papillon Books used this book's original cover art for their 1974 private-eye novel Wake Up Dead by William Wall. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Conan - The Phoenix on the Sword

In 1929, Robert E. Howard submitted a story called "By This Axe I Rule" to magazines like Argosy, Weird Tales, and Adventure. The story starred King Kull, the hero of Howard's published story, "The Shadow Kingdom", which is arguably the grandfather of the sword-and-sorcery genre. "By This Axe I Rule" received the same cold shoulder as 10 of Howard's other Kull manuscripts. Instead of giving up on the story, Howard modified the manuscript to include a different king, a dark haired barbarian called Conan. The story was re-titled as "The Phoenix on the Sword" and published by Weird Tales in December, 1932.

The story begins with an outlaw named Ascalante formulating a plot to assassinate King Conan of Aquilonia, a country that has turned against their king due to his foreign heritage. The Rebel Four (Volmana, Gromel, Dion, Rinaldo) all feel as though they are employing Ascalante's services. In reality, Ascalante plans on betraying the killers so he can seize the crown for himself. Ascalante's ace-in-the-hole is Thoth-Amon, an evil wizard he has enslaved to do his bidding.

A number of events occur that aid King Conan in escaping the assassination. A dead sage (ghost?) appears before Conan and warns him of the plot, allowing the barbarian king to prepare for their arrival. Additionally, this dead sage singes Conan's sword with the symbol of the phoenix, a tribute to a God named Mitra. At the same time, Thoth-Amon gains back a magical ring he lost years ago. To exact revenge on Ascalate for enslaving him, he conjures a large ape-like creature to venture out to hunt and kill Ascalante. All of this culminates in a bloody and vicious fight in Conan's throne room as he battles the Rebel Four, Ascalante, and sixteen of his rogue warriors. 

Obviously, there's a lot to digest over the course of this 9,000 word short story. In the manuscript's original form as "By This Axe I Rule", the magic element is absent, replaced with a simpler approach of Kull being warned of the assassination plot by a slave girl. Perhaps the story was too simple for Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright. Thus, Howard injects a magical pageantry to the tale, mystifying readers with political intrigue, monstrous mayhem, and a violent hero to cheer. The story is beautifully constructed with all of these moving, intricate parts blended together to create an artistic apex. This is Howard in brilliant form. "Phoenix on the Sword" is a mandatory read for any action-adventure fan. Perfection. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, May 13, 2022

A Bullet for the Bride

We've covered a great deal of Jon Messmann's literary work, like vigilante novels in The Revenger series, The Trailsman westerns, his Claudette Nicole gothics and Jefferson Boone: Handyman international thrillers. While Messmann's series titles are the most widely recognized, he did write a small number of stand-alone novels for a variety of publishers. Brash Books (and subsidiary Cutting Edge) have performed a wonderful public service by releasing most of Messmann's out of print novels in brand new editions. So, I was excited to acquire Messmann's stand-alone novel A Bullet for the Bride. It was originally published by Pyramid  in 1972 and now remains available through Brash Books with a brand new afterword from Bloody, Spicy, Books writer Roy Nugen.

Despite the book's original cover, A Bullet for the Bride is not a moody private-eye murder mystery. Pyramid clearly wasn't aware of John D. MacDonald's sensational houseboat hero Travis McGee. Or, any houseboat heroes for that matter – William Fuller's Brad Dolan, J.L. Potter's Jeff Tyler or, Messmann's own boating hero Logan, star of Logan (1970, 2022 Cutting Edge) and Killers at Sea (1970, 2022 Cutting Edge). As Nugen suggests in his afterword, this book was clearly designed to be the debut of a series, but it never came to fruition.

The book stars Captain Ed Steele, a retired CIA operative that now lives a fairly peaceful life on The Squid, a houseboat docked in the Gulf of Mexico. Steele still performs part-time jobs for his former CIA boss Byron. These are normally surveillance jobs or tasks that require Steele's efficiency with a boat. But, Steele is surprised when a woman named Cam Parnell calls him on the phone saying that she got his name from Byron. 

Parnell, as hot as a July firecracker, wants Steele to do a private-eye job. She wants to know why her super wealthy father's new girlfriend, whom she absolutely despises, is running what appears to be a fake company. Hesitantly, Steele learns that the woman's name is Grace White, a wealthy, sexy older woman that is apparently running a successful exporting business. After Parnell seduces Steele into the job, he discovers that White's business may be a front for an arms-dealer. 

I love Messmann's quick-pace and his flawless formula of placing a lone hero against the odds. The chemistry between Parnell and Steele was like lightning in a bottle, a sexy combination of youth, experience, and wealth within the backdrop of Florida's posh beachfront mansions. I also found it interesting that Steele's backstory has him chasing a mysterious man. That story probably would have played itself out in future installments, but they never happened. Instead, Messmann used a variation of this for his successful Trailsman series, where the lone hero Skye Fargo is chasing three murderous men. 

Jon Messmann's stirring narrative - laced with boat chases, gun-play and fisticuffs - pairs perfectly with the rich, sexual ambiance of the 1970s. A Bullet for the Bride is truly a marriage made in Heaven. 

Get the book HERE.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Counter-Terror #01 - Hour of the Wolf

The Counter-Terror series, authored by Robert Leader under the pseudonym Robert Charles, was published between 1974 through 1980. The eight-book series was released by Robert Hale in England  and by Pinnacle in the U.S. I enjoyed Leader's stand-alone novel Sea Vengeance, so I was anxious to try this Counter-Terror series debut, Hour of the Wolf. It's compared to the fiction of authors like Eric Ambler and Frederick Forsyth.

After the deadly terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics in 1972, lots of authors began writing “counter terrorist” series and novels. Hour of the Wolf is spawned from that horrific act as a group of Palestinian refugees are banded together in an international terrorist plot. The Wolf is Abdel Rahmin Marani, a veteran of war during Black September in 1970. His quest for bloodshed is an effort to bring attention to Palestine's refugee camps and the atrocities he feels are committed there. 

To combat worldwide terror, a Counter-Terror team is created by the British military. It is coordinated through international channels that involves French and Italian Intelligence, West German State Police, the British military and features the series star, Detective Inspector Mark Nicolson in New Scotland Yard. Collectively, this team will work within their own agencies and divisions, but will also share intelligence on terrorism. The goal is to lower the walls of their own respective authority in an advancement of security, preparation, and planning. 

Hour of the Wolf is less than 200 pages, but divided into three separate parts to fit the trilogy narrative. The first part is the Wolf's recruitment and planning, the second is set in Japan, and the final part situated in London. The operation is rather simple. 

Due to the IRA's frequency of attacks to liberate Northern Ireland, the British population has become desensitized. Shootings, bombings, and senseless murder is so common that the attacks aren't creating the desired impact or reinforcing the message. A small cell of the IRA agrees to detonate a bomb in Japan to gain notoriety in another part of the world. In return, the Japanese terrorist group The Red Army will attack a large population of Jews at an Israeli airport. To complete this nightmare trifecta, the Palestine Liberation Army will attack London. 

The first thing to know is that Hour of the Wolf is pretty darn good. It isn't your rudimentary team-commando series. There's a great deal of intelligence, inner-workings, and networking that takes place over the course of the narrative. It isn't necessarily a slow-burn, but it's not a standard Phoenix Force shoot 'em up. Like Sea Vengeance, the author provides a lot of historical data to cement each character's position. These history lessons were informative, bringing to light the refugee camps, the displacement of non-Jews in that region post-WW2, and the Middle East struggles that still affect the modern world today. 

As a compelling espionage thriller, Hour of the Wolf delivers the goods. While the team members will change, I'm interested in learning more about Mark Nicolson and his ordeals and trials as this series further explores international terrorism. It's a series I'm really excited about, so I'll be searching for the other installments.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

World's Scariest Places #03 - Helltown

After enjoying horror novels like Suicide Forest, The Mosquito Man, and The Sleep Experiment, I was anxious to read another book by Jeremy Bates. The Canadian-Australian author has two unique series titles – World's Scariest Legends and World's Scariest Places. The idea is that Bates uses some sort of urban legend or supposedly haunted place as the main element of these stand-alone novels. His 2015 novel Helltown is set in the abandoned town of Boston Mills, OH. 

The actual urban legends concerning the small town of Boston Mills, OH are pretty darn creepy. The real town, simply called Boston, was closed by the U.S. Forestry Department in 1974. The reasoning was the need to preserve forests in Summit County. The inhabitants were paid to leave and what remains is an abandoned town, complete with old buildings, rural roads, barricaded bridges, and some really wild legends. The white church in town looks to have upside-down crosses on its exterior. There's an abandoned school bus in the forest said to be haunted. Supposedly, a clan of wild cannibals resides in the town and prey on visitors. Toxic gas, disease, and rumors of giant pythons make it sound appealing enough for the occasional tourist to quench their thirst for adventure and mystery. Over the years, Boston is now deemed Helltown.

Bates uses a lot of these myths and legends in his horror narrative. The book is set in 1987 and features Boston Mills as a small community of rednecks that are still living in the town despite the fact that most of the population left 13 years earlier. These rednecks kill rabbits with dynamite, watch a lot of television, drink cases of beer daily, hang out a local bar, and worship Satan. That's right. Satan. 

Like a classic 80s horror flick, a group of kids are heading into Boston Mills on Halloween night, hoping to discover ghosts or chainsaw-wielding maniacs. Their car is run off the road by a hearse and the survivors find themselves on the run from crazed rednecks looking for rape, violence, and satanic sacrifice. The book's main characters are two good hearted girls, an ex-Army vet struggling with PTSD, an urban explorer and the whacked-out doctor that's behind the murder and mayhem. Bates uses the church, school bus, rural location, pythons, and crazy cannibal elements of the town's dark mythology to create his nightmarish horror novel. 

I think Jeremy Bates has a great thing going. These two series titles are just so much fun and have enough sex, violence, and gore to satisfy fans of Edward Lee and Bryan Smith without going full-blown splatterpunk. Bates' writing is provocative and deeply disturbing, but it isn't unreadable. He has a real talent to skirt the boundaries of absolute madness without pushing the reader over the edge. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022


With 17 novels and dozens of short stories to his name, Robert Colby remains one of my favorite authors of the paperback original era. Kim was a 1962 hardboiled private-eye mystery mispackaged as a sex novel by Monarch Books. It remains available today from two separate reprint publishers - Wildside Press and Prologue Books.

The narrator is Miami private detective Rod Striker whose practice involves helping wealthy clients with personal problems. His latest client is rich Aunt Martha, who is concerned about her 22 year-old niece, Kim. She’s engaged to a nice boy, but she had a fling with a local strip club pimp named Eddie Tarino who runs a sex-for-pay boat between Miami and the Bahamas. Tarino wants Kim on board as his personal escort and is threatening her fiancĂ© and aunt with physical harm if Kim doesn’t comply. Aunt Martha wants Striker to drag Tarino into a dark alley and beat him until he begs for mercy and promises to stay away from Kim. 

Rather than beginning the assignment with violence, Striker decides to visit Tarino and talk some sense to the pimp. The meeting of these two Alpha Males is really something special, and Striker discovers that there’s way more to the story than his client initially understood. He also follows up with Kim, who —as expected — is a dish to end all dishes The author’s description of her cans will stay with me forever.

Striker has a partner at his PI agency named Myra. She’s a beautiful 29 year-old ex-cop from Los Angeles. The author does a great job describing her to make every man reading the novel fall in love with her. Striker and Myra are occasionally romantically involved, although the relationship is mostly business. Much later in the novel, the first-person narration switches from Striker to Myra. I normally hate that crap, but it worked this time because they’re both awesome characters. 

A mystery arises for Striker and Myra to solve:  Who is pulling the strings behind this manipulation of Kim? There are sex scenes along the way, and they’re white-hot in a 1962 kinda way. To be clear, this is a first-class hardboiled mystery with two great leads. The paperback had some pacing problems in the second half, but the twisty conclusion was straight aces. 

Bottom Line: Another winner from Robert Colby. Go ahead and add this one to your reading queue. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Burnt Offerings

Horror luminaries Stephen King and Bentley Little have both acknowledged Burnt Offerings as an influence on their writing. The novel, authored by Robert Marasco, was originally published in 1973 and adapted into an MGM film in 1976. The book is available now as a reprint through Valancourt Books with an introduction by Stephen Graham Jones. 

In the book, Ben and Marian Rolfe live in the crowded city of Queens, New York and are barely surviving the day to day hustle and bustle of work, marriage, and parenthood. The city is consuming them, eating away their existence and crushing their dreams and aspirations. Ben realizes this isn't a place to raise their young son David. In hopes of a fantastic family summer, Marian begins searching the classified ads for a summer place they can rent with their meager budget. Ben works as a professor, so Memorial Day through Labor Day affords them the opportunity to get away from it all. 

Marian locates an advertisement for a summer house in upstate New York. It's an appealing invitation of private beach, pool, dock, magnificent views, and the price, while not disclosed, suggests it might be affordable. The three drive up for the weekend to visit the place and negotiate with the owners. Their arrival proves to be disappointing. 

The house, which is a 30-room mansion, is in disarray. The once lush landscape is now dead, the exterior is crumbling, and the inside is dusty, ancient, and clearly neglected. But, it has potential and could be a great way to spend a summer vacation. The house is owned by Mrs. Allardyce and her elderly son and daughter. The deal works out to just $900 for the whole summer - a bargain if there ever was one. The only catch is that the Rolfes will be sharing the house with Mrs. Allardyce, a frail, sickly woman that lives in the west wing of the house. Her children explain that she doesn't leave her room and rarely makes an appearance. The Rolfes just need to leave a tray of food for her three times per day. This burden isn't that heavy.

Once the Rolfes settle into the house for the summer, their family ties begin to deteriorate. Marian begins to spend more and more time on the west wing cleaning. Ben begins a descent into madness, peaking as he attempts to drown David in the pool. Marian and Ben's relationship unravels, but oddly, the house begins to come alive with new paint and landscaping. The house is growing as the Rolfes sacrifice their happiness and love. Who's the master and servant? Is the house haunted? Is Mrs. Allardyce even real? These are the questions that arise throughout the book's haunting narrative.

American Nightmares: The Haunted House Formula in American Popular Fiction, by Dale Bailey, compares Burnt Offerings with a later novel, Anne River's Siddon's The House Next Door and of course, the staple of 1970s haunted house fiction, Jay Anson's The Amityville Horror. I've now read all three, and while I still prefer Anson's dark and twisted narrative, Marasco's work is much grimmer and intelligent, dwelling on a biblical emphasis of sacrifice and loyalty. There's a deep social subtext to Marasco's storytelling – the price of happiness, humanity's lust for material things, the financial burdens of average Americans, the limits of sacrifice, and the strains of the family dynamic in modern culture. 

The family's descent into despair is a heart-wrenching spectacle for readers, especially considering these characters are so easily likable in the book's opening chapters. The mystery involving the west wing was captivating, leading me to question whether some of the events happening were real or just a malevolent facade. Mrs. Allardyce's identity was like a dangling carrot, suspended for readers to finally uncover in the book's closing pages. The house, a character unto itself, was remarkably detailed to enhance the transformation from ruin to prosperity. 

Stephen King, as he acknowledged, probably owes a great deal to Marasco for the success of his 1977 novel The Shining, published just four years after Burnt Offerings. Like Marasco's plot, King replaces the Rolfes with the Torrance family, equally introduced as a strained married couple raising their young son. King transfers the location of a 30-room mansion in upstate New York to the empty Overlook Hotel in Colorado. Ben Rolfe is struggling with a text, like Jack Torrance's frustrated efforts to finish writing a manuscript. Marasco utilizes a deep swimming pool as an eventful place where young David faces death. King uses the mysterious hotel room 217 to captivate Danny Torrance (and a bathtub to be technical). Alternatively, Marian's fascination with the door to Mrs. Allardyce's room is similar to Danny often approaching 217's door. In other words, I hope King cut Marasco a check. 

Burnt Offerings is an abstract horror novel, working on a psychological level that is crafted with expertise. As an entry in the overpopulated “haunted dwelling” sub-genre, it is easily in the upper echelon of mandatory reads along with the aforementioned The Amityville Horror, The House Next Door and pioneering efforts like Richard Matheson's Hell House, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, and Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. Unfortunately, Marasco didn't pursue another horror novel that I'm aware of. To quote John Carpenter, “I guess everyone's entitled to one good scare.” 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, May 6, 2022

Sea Vengeance

British author Robert Leader (b. 1938) had worked as a Merchant Marine, bartender, and a factory worker before becoming a full-time novelist. He wrote over 200 short stories and sold them to magazines like Reveille, Titbits, London Evening News and London Mystery. He found success authoring a series of 10 espionage thrillers starring British agent Simon Larren. Collectively, British publisher Robert Hale published over 40 of his novels, most authored under his real name or pseudonyms like Robert Charles or Robert Brandon. Some were exported to the U.S. by Pinnacle. My first experience with the author is his 1974 novel Sea Vengeance. It was published in the U.S. by Pinnacle with a cover by Phil Marini.

The first few chapters of Sea Vengeance plays out like the exciting 1992 Steven Seagal action film Under Siege.  Chief Officer John Steele, a Korean War veteran, is working on board the Shantung as it departs embattled Saigon en route to peaceful Singapore. The large ship features eight cabins, each containing a diverse variety of passengers. Within a few hours, Steele and the crew discover that the group of Buddhist monks on board are actually Viet Cong hijackers. They kill a few of the Shantung crew and severely injure its Captain.  

With the ship under command of a Viet Cong leader named Thang, Steele works in stealth to capture weapons and free passengers. His betrayal comes from an unlikely suspect, a lover he has met on board named Lin Chi. Together, Chi, Thang, and the Viet Cong have plans to use the ship to rescue a number of their allies from a small prison camp off the coast of  battle-torn Vietnam.

At 182 pages, Sea Vengeance is brimming over with exciting danger and intrigue. Steele proves to be the capable hero – admirable, courageous, and willing to sacrifice his life for others. As a propulsive action yarn, the scenes with Steele secretly working “behind the enemy” to secure the ship was really engaging. With the author's vast experience on merchant ships, I found some of these scenes had a sense of realism. While Steele's struggles with the Viet Cong on the ship were effective, page turning events, I applaud the author's introspective commentary. 

The combatants in the Vietnam War are presented positively by the author, both condemnation and worthy appraisal provided through a philosophical look at war and its aftermath. This isn't a stretch from Leader's wheelhouse considering he has written a number of non-fiction books on religion, philosophy, and his travel experiences. He certainly has the credentials and education to provide thought-provoking dialogue between these volatile characters. I found that to be one of the biggest highlights. 

If you enjoy Vietnam military history, or love a great nautical or war story, then Sea Vengeance is highly recommended. I found it to be similar to Australian author James Edmond Macdonnell's series of World War 2 novels starring Captain Walt Kenyon. Just don't be surprised with some of the heavy dialogue sequences. While it doesn't bog the narrative down, it may slow the excitement for those of you looking for just head-on carnage. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 5, 2022

James Bond #04 - Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever is the fourth installment of Ian Fleming's wildly successful James Bond series of spy-thrillers. It was originally published by Jonathan Cape in the U.K. in 1956. The novel's central theme is diamond smuggling, a criminal operation that intrigued Fleming enough to not only use it as a plot, but also a non-fiction book he wrote in 1957, The Dimaond Smugglers. In 1971, the novel was adapted into the seventh James Bond film. 

In the book's opening chapters, Bond and his superior M engage in a deep discussion about the diamond industry. At the time, England was importing diamonds from Africa and then selling large amounts to various international companies and countries. It made up a large percentage of the country's income and represented what would ultimately be one of the largest diamond exporting operations. One of the largest buyers, House of Diamonds, has reduced their purchases of English diamonds, creating a financial gap in the Brits lucrative business. 

It's explained that House of Diamonds is a legitimate business owned and controlled by an American mob family named The Spangs. M, and the Special Branch, suspect that a criminal element has been introduced which is creating the rift. House of Diamonds surely must be obtaining their diamonds by smuggling them in at a cheaper price. M wants Bond to investigate the operation by infiltrating the smuggling ring into New York and Las Vegas under the disguise of a common burglar named Peter Franks. He wants Bond to engage in the job and then converse with a woman named Tiffany Case, one of the gang members involved in the smuggling.  

Bond's journey is quite epic, first beginning in New York to retrieve the smuggling money owed on the latest smuggle. His payer is a gang leader named Shady Tree. He explains that their operation doesn't just pay out the full payment for security reasons. To fulfill his payout to Bond, aka Peter Franks, he orchestrates a number of rigged gambling ventures that will produce fragmented payments. The first payout is an exciting stretch at a rigged horse race in Saratoga. Then, a rigged blackjack game in Las Vegas dealt by Tiffany. But, Bond flips the score and pays off the jockey to disrupt the payoff and then wins too much money at blackjack.

If I provide anything else pertaining to the story, it's going to provoke you to skip Ian Fleming and just read me. I'd never forgive myself. Here's the thing, read Diamonds Are Forever if you want to see Bond deeply entrenched in hardboiled danger. Fleming throws everything but the kitchen sink at readers: intrigue on a ship, danger in the desert, a train-car chase, torture, romance, and gunplay. The chemistry between Tiffany and Bond was perfect with both needing something from each other. Former American CIA agent Felix Leiter returns to this book and I found his addition to the story effective. My only real complaint is the “cowboy” appearance of one of the Spangs and the longer than necessary ending. Otherwise, Bond absolutely wins again. Recommended. 

Buy the book HERE.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Freakshow

According to his Goodreads profile, Bryan Smith has authored more than thirty horror and crime novels and novellas. His crime-fiction book 68 Kill was adapted into a critically-acclaimed film in 2017. Smith also co-scripted an original Harley Quinn (Batman) story for DC Comics' House of Horrors anthology. I first discovered the author in the mid-2000s by reading his mass-market horror paperbacks like House of Blood and Deathbringer. His 2007 horror novel The Freakshow was originally published by Leisure and has now been reprinted by Grindhouse Press in multiple formats. 

The Freakshow is splatterpunk with the obligatory copious amounts of sex (mostly rape), gore, and violence prevalent over the science-fiction and dark fantasy elements. The novel's concept is that supernatural beings from a netherworld are playing a game where they control humans to do just about anything imaginable. These “things” are losing their home world, so they want ours. By conquering humans through assimilation, they can move from the netherworld into ours. 

These beings are sort of like Clive Barker's Cenobites from his novella The Hellbound Heart and the franchise of films. They have a variety of appearances and abilities and aren't necessarily good or evil, thus the “angels to some, demons to others” sentiment of Barker's stories is the theme of The Freakshow. Because of the variation, Smith's imagination runs wild. There's a two-headed succubus leader, a robotic clown, sexually depraved humans (if you can call them that), rolling heads that chomp flesh, you get the general consensus.

It's hard to find any characters to really cheer other than Heather, a young woman in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend and dealing with an ailing mother. She is the main character, but that's a loose term considering the book has a dozen or more characters. Mostly these characters are disposable and make for rape and torture targets. The story presents characters that are fighting the freakshow invaders or working for these supernatural beings. Mostly, the characters just dwell on perverse sex and creative ways to kill or maim each other. There's no respect for any higher authority beyond their own self-interest 

Overall, I found the book to be slightly better than average. With Smith's literary work, I manage my expectations, knowing that his narratives are saturated in over-the-top violence and gore. There's nothing wrong with that, but I normally like my horror to be more psychological than physical. If a unique, violent bloodbath is your thing, then The Freakshow will surely please you.

Note – Brian Keene's Urban Gothic and this book tie-in to a novel called Suburban Gothic, authored by both Keene and Smith. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.