Friday, July 29, 2022

The Deadly Deep

Jon Messmann created and authored the long-running adult western series The Trailsman. He authored series titles like The Revenger and Jefferson Boone: Handyman. He also wrote novels in genres like gothic, romance, and espionage. At the height of the Jaws frenzy, Messmann authored an aquatic horror novel called The Deadly Deep. It was published by Signet in 1976. 

The book stars a journalist named Aran, who specializes in complex scientific discoveries. He has a unique talent of describing these highly intelligent theories and results in an easily understandable language for casual readers. This talent has led to Aran being a notable journalist and literary awards winner. But, Aran is about to take on his most difficult writing assignment – chronicling the end of the world. 

Across the globe, the fishing and tourism industry is suffering serious setbacks due to violent deaths in oceans and rivers. The cases range from people swallowed by whales, consumed by lobsters, or severely bitten by an array of historically docile fish. There is no central location for the occurrences, although Aran specializes his research in the American Northeast. There are a number of controversial theories from professionals in various lines of work, but no one has the answer. Does Aran?

What I really loved about The Deadly Deep was the very last page. It closed a chapter of my life that I never want to remember. I believed Messmann was the invincible wordsmith, a literary hero of epic proportions. But, this novel proves he was less than perfect, which is totally acceptable considering the amount of novels he cranked out year after year. 

In 220 pages of plodding, directionless writing, Messmann places his protagonist on the phone with various authorities agreeing or disagreeing with numerous theories on aquatic animals and trends. There are attacks sprinkled throughout the narrative, but these characters are never properly introduced, so their dismemberment by crabs doesn't have much meaning. At one point I expected some hero to jump in and save the day, but the whole novel is just endless discussions about sea life. 

The Deadly Deep is deep boredom. Don't waste your time. This one is nothing short of awful. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Matt Helm #05 - Murderer's Row

Murderer's Row, the fifth installment in Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm series of spy-fiction, was published in 1962 by Fawcett Gold Medal. The novel was loosely adapted into a film of the same name in 1966. I've mostly enjoyed the series and Hamilton's writing, so I'm continuing in proper order with this installment.

Like the last entry, The Silencers, the next dangerous mission involves a female agent working for the same three-lettered, clandestine organization as Helm. Mac, Helm's boss, explains that the coast of Virginia – Chesapeake Bay – is experiencing an elevated amount of foreign vessels. The theory is that the area is hosting a trafficking operation with foreign powers extracting key personnel from the U.S., including a top-rated scientist with important knowledge regarding American security. The agency wants to locate the scientist and either retrieve or kill him.

A female agent has been inserted into the operation to gain intelligence, however, her perceived credibility has been compromised. Mac, and the agency, need her to regain credibility through nefarious means. Helm is to travel to her hotel room and dish out a scolding punishment from the agency, a savage, violent beating to whip her into shape. The room is bugged by the bad guys, so they will hear and see the beating and realize that this agent does in fact work for the U.S. and is being reprimanded for her poor performance. Mac's last agent, a young rookie sensation, failed miserably on the assignment. Helm is pulled from a Texas vacation to do the job right. Mostly, it all goes accordingly until the female agent unexpectedly dies during the beating.

Helm “killing” a fellow agent creates a tidal wave of issues for him and the agency. Mac attempts a retrieval, and at one point Helm is set-up in an attempt to bring him back to Washington. Helm wants to complete the mission, his superiors feel he is unable to. Against orders, and without support, Helm eventually finds the scientist's daughter, and gets tangled in a wild set of circumstances where he pretends to be a mob hitman named Petroni. There's a dense, complicated family affair between the woman, the scientist, and a bitter married couple. Individually, they each want to pay Helm/Petroni to kill another family member. Surprisingly, Helm accepts the jobs.

Hamilton really threw a curveball into this series installment by creating a unique, nearly comedic approach to the typical spy formula. The female agent dying during the beating was shocking, but where Helm goes after that opening event was just so bizarre and entertaining. Helm's insertion into a high-level, deadly family dispute was amazing, especially considering he agrees to kill two family members for money. It's all for show, of course, but the means to an end is an exciting chain of events that eventually leads from hotels to back-roads, then jail to a boat, then a massive hurricane that bounces the characters around during the book's rousing finale. It was superb pacing and plot development. 

Murderer's Row is probably a high-point in the Matt Helm series. It has a really clever storyline, a plausible sequence of extraordinary events, and a deep character study of the family dynamic and the strenuous ties that bind. This one is just fantastic and highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Steve Bentley #04 - Mistress to Murder

Mistress to Murder, the fourth installment in the Steve Bentley series, was published in 1960 by Dell. The book's author, E. Howard Hunt, wrote the series using the pseudonym Robert Dietrich. Bentley is former military and runs a successful accounting business in Washington D.C.'s turbulent political beltway. While dabbling with stocks and blondes, Bentley always finds himself as a pseudo private-eye working random cases that fall into his lap. In the aptly titled Mistress to Murder, now available in a brand new edition by Cutting Edge, Bentley becomes entangled with a wealthy international family in the posh D.C. suburbs. 

From a rural stretch of Northern Virginia blacktop, Bentley sees a young woman fall from her horse. After running to her aid, Bentley is stopped by the woman's chauffeur. Helping the woman into the car, the chauffeur becomes aggravated with Bentley's assistance and nearly K.O.'s him with one punch. Thankfully, Bentley memorizes the vehicle's license plate. Later, back at his home, Bentley discovers that the woman secretly placed a necklace in his pocket.

Consumed with the woman's odd behavior and injury, Bentley hires his old PI friend, and series staple, Artie to locate the vehicle's residence. It belongs to Baron Alejandro Esquivel, located in the high-end district of Georgetown. Bentley goes to the home, receives a cool welcoming, and meets Esquivel's young wife Anita, which eventually leads to a quick make-out session. Bentley pries himself away from Anita and is re-introduced to 19-yeard old Megan, the woman Bentley helped previously. Megan behaves normally, is “sick in bed” due to the fall, and both Anita and The Baron are keeping watch. But, Megan slips a note to Bentley asking him to meet her that night.

At the meeting, Bentley learns that Megan, and her half-sister Anita, are originally from Venezuela. Their father, the original Baron, was partners with Esquivel in a shady, yet lucrative, business. Long story short, their parents were suspiciously killed, Esquivel became the new, yet fraudulent Baron, married Anita and now the three of them live unhappily ever after. Anita cheats on Esquivel and Megan is the princess trapped in the castle. But, the wrench in the gears is a string of pearls that are internationally coveted and now owned by Esquivel. They are a sort of collector's piece worth well over $100K. Like these things tend to go, murders begin, the pearls are stolen, and Bentley is caught up in the deadly ruckus.

Hunt borrows similar plots of the first two Bentley novels. In the series debut, Murder on the Rocks, the plot involves a precious emerald, a South African ambassador and two women searching for the stone. In the series second installment, End of a Stripper, a man being dragged from a strip club discreetly places a small camera in Bentley's pocket. The camera is then traced back to the man and the purpose of the novel. However, Hunt writes Bentley so well that the recycled elements can be easily overlooked. 

Mistress to Murder, and the Steve Bentley series as a whole, is excellent crime-fiction written by an experienced, seasoned pro. While Bentley doesn't receive the same fanfare as other private-eye literary heroes, I think his steadfast willingness to do good things for people in peril is unmatched. The crimes are detailed, the characters dynamic, and the pace is flawless. All of the elements contribute to Mistress to Murder's success. This is just another great novel proving that this series is a cut-above your average gumshoe procedural. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Devil's Collector

Between 1975 and 1980, Robert Colby (1916-2006) authored six stories starring a mercenary vigilante named Brock — all published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. The stories — along with a previously-unpublished installment — have been compiled into a single volume called The Devil’s Collector.

Each of the stories is titled “Paint the Town…” followed by a color. So, the first story is “Paint the Town Black” and the last one is “Paint the Town Aquamarine.” When we meet Brock in the opening story, he’s dressed as a fancy dandy walking into a roadhouse bar in a seedy part of town. After attracting all sorts of attention from the rough characters inside, Brock leaves the tavern and walks toward the city.

Of course, some hoods accost the soft target on the street, and Brock goes Charles Bronson on the punks taking their money in the process. Later in the story, he dispatches another thief while also swiping the cash and explaining, “There is a tax on evil…and I am the collector.”

Colby was clearly influenced by the men’s adventure vigilante paperback craze of the 1970s, when he crafted the first story. His innovation was making the vigilante a foppish gentleman seeking to line his own pockets with crime money rather than a ‘Nam vet with a vendetta.

In later stories, Brock graduates from street punks and begins targeting con-artists, counterfeiters, and thieves. These stories (including “Green”) are more con-man tales where Brock’s cleverness wins the day, recalling the Saint series by Leslie Charteris. In other stories (“White”), he’s more of a Travis McGee salvage consultant who recovers stolen loot for a victim while extracting his “tax” for himself.

Overall, The Devil’s Collector is an innovative short story collection with a unique lead character given room to evolve over seven stand-alone stories. You may or may not want to mainline all these short works back-to-back. I think the collection would be more satisfying as a palate cleanser between longer pieces. In any case, call it a winner. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 98

Gil Brewer is a fixture of mid-20th century crime-fiction, and on this episode, Eric and Tom discuss his life and career. Tom tells listeners about a new collection of short-stories by Robert Colby and Eric highlights the career of crime-noir writer James M. Fox. Reviews include a post-apocalyptic novel that was the basis for the 1979 film Ravagers and a Manning Lee Stokes classic. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 98: Gil Brewer" on Spreaker.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Invitation to Violence

During his literary career, Lionel White (1905-1985) was a master of the heist caper novel, with over 35 books to his name before his death in Asheville, North Carolina. Invitation to Violence was a 1958 paperback that has recently been reprinted by Stark House with an informative introduction by paperback scholar Cullen Gallagher. 

As the novel opens, Vince Dunne is a 19 year-old hoodlum pulling off an elaborate jewelry heist with his crew. As usual, the author does a tremendous job bringing the reader along for the ride. As often happens in paperback heists, things go crazy sideways when the cops arrive and the whole joint becomes a shooting gallery. Vince narrowly escapes the chaotic crime scene with the bag of jewels. 

Meanwhile, our “hero” (of sorts) is Gerald Hanna, an insurance actuary and all-around square. Fate brings Gerald into the orbit of Vince as the young thief is making his escape from the heist gone sour. While driving home from his Friday night poker game, Gerald finds himself in the middle of the shootout between the cops and the hoods. Young Vince jumps into Gerald’s car and forces the insurance man at gunpoint to be his getaway driver. As they are escaping the scene, a wayward bullet ends Vince’s life, leaving Gerald driving away with a dead heist man and an assload of hot jewels in his passenger seat. 

In a moment of impulsive greed, Gerald dumps the Vince’s lifeless body on the side of the road and drives home with the dead man’s pistol and the stolen jewels. Gerald initially takes shelter in his tiny apartment with the hot rocks that everybody spends the rest of the novel seeking. 

We are introduced to a small cadre of side characters, including  Gerald’s pain-in-the-ass fiancĂ© and Dead Vince’s genuinely sweet twin sister. There are cops and robbers on the hunt. The author toggles between the third-person perspectives of all these competing parties jockeying for the truth and the jewels. 

I enjoyed Invitation to Violence quite a bit. It’s not the best Lionel White offering due to the lack of much violence, action or plot twists, but the machinations of all these characters positioning themselves to come out ahead was very compelling. The ending was tidy and largely satisfying making this one an easy recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

High Priest of California

Charles Willeford (1919-1988) began his career authoring novels while serving in the U.S. Air Force. His most popular literary work starred Miami Police Homicide Detective Hoke Moseley. Before that series, Willeford concentrated his efforts on crime-fiction novels that blur the genre's boundaries. Fans and scholars point to Willeford as an author that doesn't necessarily write “genre”, similar to science-fiction author Philip K. Dick's novels that defy a specific genre. The most striking evidence to support this theory is Willeford's first published novel, High Priest of California. It was published by Royal Books in 1953 as a double with Talbot Mundy's Full Moon. Later, it was published by Beacon as a double with Willeford's Wild WivesHigh Priest has been reprinted by Phocion Publishing as a $2 ebook.

Russell is a San Francisco used car salesman that embraces his bachelor life. He owns 50 suits, lives in a small apartment, and spends his time reading highbrow literature, deciphering chess movements and translating long, archaic words into modern use while playing stacks of classical music and jazz records. But, Russell has another hobby. He toys with vulnerable women.

At a nightclub, Russell meets Alyce and asks her to dance. He can sense that she's not comfortable under the loud music and lights, so he suggests they go someplace quiet and talk. Russell learns that Alyce was married for several years, single now, works as a cashier and lives with a roommate named Ruthie and several cats. She's an odd bird, but she's slightly attractive. 

As the days go on, Russell begins a strained relationship that seems one-sided. Alyce enjoys Russell's company, but refuses intimacy. Things become weird when Russell notices she won't let him inside her apartment. On some dates, he has to drop her off a block away. One night he surprises Alyce and forces his way inside. He's shocked to find that she may have been lying to him the whole time. A man is in her apartment, sitting comfortably in front of the television and behaving like a small child. What's Alyce's secret?

Willeford constructs High Priest of California as a character study. Russell isn't a lunatic, but he has a number of mental issues that are catalysts for his disturbing behavior. While Alyce should be the faulty, deceitful character, Willeford flips the narrative to see which bizarre character can outdo the other. There's a sense that right and wrong are somehow contained in the same scenario, a challenge to the moral code and a misdirection for the moral compass. Willeford plays the characters to tilt, warring them with each other with a type of psychological jousting. Other than Russell's innocent housekeeper, every character has a dark side that either elevates or suppresses their otherwise meager existence. 

High Priest of California might be the strangest novel you will ever read. But, at the same time, it could be the one of the most compelling. Russell proves to be one of the most complicated protagonists in my recent memory - a multi-layered, mentally bent character with no empathy blessed with an uncanny power of persuasion. It's Willeford's main ingredient, and the main reason to read this unconventional crime-noir. If that's your thing, this book is a necessity. Buy the eBook HERE.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

A Friend of Mary Rose

I read and reviewed a 1963 suspense novel, The Make-Believe Man (1963) by Elizabeth Jane Phillips. The author wrote this novel, and many others, under a pseudonym of Elizabeth Fenwick. That novel was issued in a new edition in 2022 as a twofer with another of Phillips' novels, A Friend of Mary Rose, originally published in 1961 and the subject of this review. This edition also features an introduction by literary scholar Curtis Evans. 

Mr. Nicholas is a blind, 83 year old man that lives with his son and daughter-in-law. The three of them are moving across town and, as the book begins, the movers are loading up the truck. In keeping Mr. Nicholas out of harm's way between the boxes, handcarts, and movers, Nicholas is ushered into a neighbor's house for safekeeping. Long story short, he spends the night there to reconvene with his son the next day. 

Nicholas has some trunks in the attic that he is really fond of. In hopes they have been successfully moved, Nicholas decides to wait until the neighbor is asleep to journey back to the empty house to investigate. When he enters this dark, empty house in the middle of the night, he hears footsteps in the attic. After wandering up the stairs, and into the attic, he discovers a young girl there. She warns him that a harmful man is downstairs in the house and he is searching for her. Nicholas realizes he's walked into some sort of twisted nightmare with this strange girl and this unknown intruder. 

I wanted this to be something it's not. A Friend of Mary Rose squanders the opportunity to be this white-knuckle, suspenseful tale of cat-and-mouse between a blind guy, a young girl he's trying to protect, and an intruder. It would have been the ultimate home-invasion story, a plot that would loosely be used in the 1966 play Wait Until Dark, which was adapted into the classic Audrey Hepburn thriller. But, Phillips' doesn't capitalize on this plot thread, but instead just jogs in place with little forward progress. By the book's end, I had become fatigued with the plot development and the safe space Phillips created for these very vulnerable characters. 

As a twofer, The Make-Believe Man is a more superior novel and worth the price of admission. A Friend of Mary Rose is a free bonus that isn't a mandatory read, but may be worth exploring if you like Phillips' brand of writing. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Penetrator #03 - Capitol Hell

We've covered the first two Penetrator novels, authored by Mark K. Roberts (odd numbered installments) and Chet Cunningham (even numbered installments) using the pseudonym Lionel Derrick. This was a long-running men's action-adventure series published by Pinnacle in the style of The Executioner and The Butcher (among others). Mostly, this is just fun escapism that's completely disposable. The series is available in audio book format through Books in Motion, narrated by Gene Engene or Kevin Foley, which is typically how I enjoy this series, and in digital by Wolfpack.

In the series third novel, Capitol Hell, Mark Hardin (The Penetrator) witnesses a car crash involving a Mob goon. The criminal's dying breath whispers the word “SIE”, which leads Hardin to a special Washington D.C. club called Societe International d'Elite. This reminded me of Ian Fleming's Moonraker, when James Bond is invited to join the posh club at Blades in London. Hardin not only wants to learn more about the club and its relation to the dead mobster, but also who assassinated the press secretary to the President of the U.S., which just so happened to be Hardin's buddy. 

There's an oddball cast of club members that have established a secret club within the club. They dress in robes, partake in weird chants, and have obligatory plans to take over the world. This club nonchalantly provides hypnotic drugs to the VP and have a strategy to blow-up Airforce One, which is utterly ridiculous. Also, once the club takes control of the U.S. (and I guess the Speaker of the House, Senate leader, and Secretary of State) they will force more military chaos in Latin America to increase their profits.

For the most part, Capitol Hell is a fun ride filled with outrageous moments of unintentional hilarity and wild action-adventure. Hardin is nearly indestructible, gets laid by two women, and fights this clandestine cult-club on a golf course and in old Williamsburg, Virginia. His tools of the trade are his trusty Colt Commander .45 and a dart gun (1 dart for sleepy, 2 for death!). These books tend to connect to each other in small ways, and Capitol Hell connects to the last two events in Los Angeles and Vegas. It isn't necessary to read them in order I suppose, but why not? If you are taking the trouble to track down the series, buy them in sequential order. 

Get the eBook HERE.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Matthew Scudder #04 - A Stab in the Dark

It is revealed in A Stab in the Dark (1981), Lawrence Block's fourth Matthew Scudder installment, that a psycho-killer wielding an ice pick savagely murdered eight young women. Scudder recalls the murders, a killing season that paralleled Scudder's own service with the New York Police Department. But, nine years have passed, Scudder is now an unlicensed, unemployed private-eye doing investigative work for favors or money. He's surprised when the murders are brought to his attention again by a stranger named Charles London.

London approaches Scudder in a diner and introduces himself using a reference from Detective Francis Fitzroy, one of Scudder's previous co-workers on the force. London explains that his daughter, Barbara, was the sixth victim of the “Ice Pick Murderer”. London reminds Scudder that recently a criminal was retrieved by the police that confessed to being the killer. He possessed enough pertinent information about the crimes to legitimately be the infamous killer. However, he presented enough testimony to convince the police that he did not kill Barbara.

In mournful fashion, London advises to Scudder that he is grieving again, as if her murder just happened considering the negative identification of her killer. He expresses that he feels a deep remorse for the way her investigation was treated, and how he has been blindly shuffled to different departments about re-opening her cold case. The police suggest there isn't enough evidence to warrant a new investigation, but London is experiencing mental anguish knowing that someone else killed Barbara for a reason that's simply unknown. He pays Scudder to look into it despite Scudder's warning that this could be a waste of time.

Scudder's trail is ice-cold, and weaves in and out of Barbara's prior life – former neighbors, husband, employer, and friends. It's a slow-pace, with a tepid action scene mixed in, but these Scudder novels emphasize mood, a certain darker ambiance than your typical gumshoe fisticuffs. Block drapes the novel in darkness and a bleak atmosphere that envelopes Scudder's own revered past and its similarities to another ex-cop named Burt. There is also brief comparison to a female artist named Jan, who suffers from alcoholism and a strained relationship with her kids.

A Stab in the Dark is another outstanding installment in the Matthew Scudder series and further proof that Lawrence Block is one of a kind. His character shading, plot development, and crime methodology are superb. If you aren't reading Block...well then you just aren't reading. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, July 15, 2022


Cleve Adams (1895-1949) was originally a pulpster that broke into writing in the 30s, along with contemporaries like Raymond Chandler and Cornell Woolrich. Adams was the co-founder of a Hollywood literary club called The Fictioneers, made up of other authors like Erle Stanley Gardner, Richard Matheson, and Frank Bonham. Adams transitioned from the pulps into paperback original novels. His serialized pulp story Sabotage, starring private-detective Rex McBride, was converted into a novel version in 1940. It has been reprinted several times, including this 1957 Signet reprint with cover art by Robert Schulz. It can also be found as a trade paperback offered by Altus Press.

The Alliance of Southwest-Pacific Underwriters, which is an insurance company, hire McBride to investigate a high number of costly incidents in Palos Verde, California. The company has insured a construction company to build a large dam. The problem is that the company is bleeding money now due to workers being killed on the job, faulty machinery, and numerous other expensive setbacks. 

McBride is considered one of the most repugnant heroes of detective-fiction, with many readers and literary scholars pointing to Adams' racist, fascist, rude, and disparaging characteristics. In Sabotage, McBride gets black-out drunk, quits the job after nearly dying (sort of), and makes passes at every female character. However, Adams presents it in a non-abrasive way that came across innocently enough as nothing more than a humorous flavor. 

Unlike the shining stars of detective-fiction, often mantlepieces of brave perfection, McBride is an average guy that routinely gets beaten, arrested, and caught – with his pants down. I think this heavily flawed, often hilarious character is a shining star of imperfection, thus making him immensely enjoyable. His abstract investigation leads through a spiral-network of shady characters and brutish town cops, but somehow makes sense by the book's conclusion. 

Sabotage is over-the-top, pulpish, and completely unnecessary. That's why it's a necessity to read if you love this era of crime-fiction. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Paperback Warrior Primer - Day Keene

Along with the likes of Gil Brewer, Talmage Powell, Charles Williams, and Lionel White, Day Keene is considered a staple of mid-20th century crime-fiction literature. Keene was one of the most prolific authors of that era and authored a slew of paperback originals during the 1950s and 1960s. His body of work is still respected today, evident with the number of reprint houses clamoring for his estate or orphaned novels. In this Paperback Warrior Primer, we are presenting an overview of his life and career:

Day Keene's parents arrived in the U.S. as immigrants from Sweden. Gunart Hjerstedt was born shortly after in Chicago in 1903. Hjerstedt would later use a modified version of his mother's maiden name of Daisy Keeney to establish his legal name as Day Keene.

Keene became a traveling stage actor in the 1920s, performing under the names of Keene and his Hjerstedt name. His notable role was Rosencranz in a traveling production of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. In 1931, Keene was living in New York and sold his first story to the pulp magazines. His first sales were to Detective Fiction Weekly and West magazine. He returned to Chicago later in the 1930s and started writing for radio shows, including Little Orphan Annie and Kitty Keene, Inc., a program about a female private detective that first aired on CBS and later the Mutual Radio Network from 1937-1941. 

In 1938, Keene relocated from Chicago to St. Petersburg, Florida with his second wife, Irene, who had been a Chicago school teacher. For a while, Keene attempted writing radio scripts remotely, but eventually shifted all of his creative energy to penning stories for the pulp magazines. Keene's writing slowed for a time in 1942 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in Pinellas County, Florida.  

During his pulp fiction era of 1940 to 1952, Keene authored 250 published short stories. He sold another 16 short stories to the digests after the pulp magazines died off in the 1950s. He used the pseudonym John Corbett for stories when there was already a Day Keene story appearing in the issue. Ramble House has a number of Day Keene's short stories compiled into trade paperbacks. You can get them HERE. In the late 1940s, Keene relocated to Los Angeles and subsequently bounced between there and St. Petersburg. 

The birth of the paperback original was a catalyst for Keene to switch from short stories to full-length novels. Keene's first novel, Framed in Guilt, originally released as a hardcover - but then quickly re-released as a paperback from Graphic Books. As an aside, Framed in Guilt was released in Great Britain under the title Evidence Most Blind and remains in print today from Stark House Press. In 1951, Keene collaborated with Gil Brewer to write the published novel Love Me and Die

The recycling and expansion of short stories into full novels was common during that time. Keene sold a story called “She Shall Make Murder” to Detective Tales in November 1949. That became the basis for the Keene novel, Joy House, that was written in 1952, rejected by multiple publishing houses, and finally published in 1954 by Lion Books. The novel has also been reprinted by Stark House Press and remains available today. The editor of the novel at Lion Books was none other than Arnold Hano, and our review of that book is HERE. His story "Wait for the Dead Man's Tide" was featured in the August 1949 issue of Dime Mystery. It was later re-worked into the novel Dead Man's Tide, which was reprinted by Stark House Press.

Early in his career as a writer, Keene signed on with a literary agent named Donald MacCampbell, who also represented a fellow St. Petersburg, Florida author named Harry Whittington. Keene and Whittington became lifelong friends and socialized in the same Florida writing clique as Gil Brewer and Talmage Powell. Using MacCampbell, Keene's novels were first offered to Fawcett Gold Medal, who had right of first refusal. If they declined the novel, it would be shuffled down the hierarchy to other publishers like Lion, Ace, Avon, Pyramid, and Graphic Books. In the 1960s, Keene switched from shorter crime-fiction novels to denser, more mainstream novels like L.A. 46 and Chicago 11.

Keene died in North Hollywood, California on January 9, 1969. 

In his life he wrote about 50 novels, over 250 short stories, and 1500 radio scripts. Thanks to reprint houses like Stark House Press, Armchair Fiction, and Wildside Press, many of his greatest hits are still available today.

You can read all of our reviews of Day Keene's novels, including our podcast feature, HERE. For further reading, we recommend Cullen Gallagher at Pulp Serenade. Gallagher wrote an excellent introduction called "Run for Your Life: Day Keene's Wrong Men" for a Stark House Press reprint, which was the source material for this Primer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Masked Rider Western #07 - Iron Horse Gunsmoke

Donald Bayne Hobart (1898-1970) began his career writing song lyrics and poems for romance magazines. His most popular literary work was the 19-year run of Whistling Waddy stories in Argosy. But, Hobart also wrote many novellas for the western pulp Masked Rider Western. My first experience with Hobart is his novella “Iron Horse Gunsmoke”, which appeared in Masked Rider Western, July 1938. The novella was also released as a paperback by Curtis Books in 1965 with a Steve Holland cover. Thankfully, Bold Venture Press has made many of the Masked Rider Western issues available today as affordable reprints. In their series order, this novella is in Masked Rider Western #07 (2022).

Wayne Morgan is the former cowpoke turned masked vigilante that fights the typical western criminals like outlaws, cattle thieves, and land barons. He rides a horse named Midnight and partners with a Native American named Blue Hawk.

In “Iron Horse Gunsmoke”, the bad guys are buried in a feud between the railroad and the ranchers. The C.W. Railroad is clanging steel across the dusty mesa as modern ingenuity tames the wild, wild west. Like all of the traditional beef ranchers, they are opposed to bringing in the trains. However, the two factions benefit from each other. Trains make the beef sell faster and can deliver supplies quickly. The railroad needs cargo to haul, thus the ranchers are valuable. Each gain something from the other. 

In an effort to create abrasion, elevate hostilities, and stall work, someone leading a team of masked raiders is inflicting casualties and damage to the railroad and the Bar O. Each party feels that the other is responsible, thus a war brews between these two industries. Hoping to settle the feud and find the culprit, Morgan goes undercover as a cowpoke for the Bar O. As a covert operative, the fast-draw, eagle-eyed gunslinger can hopefully save the day.

Like Norman Daniels, Johnston McCulley, Gunnison Steele, and Walter Tompkins, Hobart proves he can write a Masked Rider Western tale with the best of the pulpsters. There's a lot of over-the-top action, brawls, and tough-guy talk to sop up the story, which in itself is just a traditional pulp told numerous times with different characters. 

“Iron Horse Gunsmoke” never slows down, racing through the narrative from the opening run 'n gun scene through the book's finale. If you like western pulps, then you'll love what Bold Venture Press is doing with these classic Masked Western Rider novellas. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Street Hawk #01 - Street Hawk

Street Hawk was an ABC television show that aired 14 total episodes in 1985. Many considered it to be Knight Rider on a motorcycle, but that isn't entirely accurate. As a mid-season insert in January, the show had to compete with powerhouse prime-time soap Dallas, which spelled its doom. Despite broadcasting in 42 countries, and possessing a robust, crossover line of toys and merch, the show majorly flopped. But, this isn't TV Warrior, we cover books. 

Target Books of London acquired the licensing of Street Hawk in 1985, and published four paperback novels:

1. Street Hawk by Jack Roberts
2. Cons at Large by Jack Roberts
2. Golden Eyes by Charles Gale
3. Danger on Target by David Deutsch

I was just nine when the original Street Hawk premiered, and while I remember watching it (infatuated with the intro music) and owning the toy cycle, I don't remember any of the particulars. So, Roberts novel, which is an adaptation of the show's pilot episode, was fresh and new to me. The books are somewhat hard to find, but I was ecstatic to find the first paperback at a used bookstore.

Jesse Mach is a motorcycle cop that runs daredevil competitions in his spare time. Mach and his partner are in a California desert when they ride upon a drug trafficking operation. Mach's partner is killed and Mach becomes disabled and loses his mobility. Forced to take a desk job for the police department, Mach is motivated to find the drug runners that ruined his life and murdered his partner. 

Mach's chance for revenge is introduced by a research engineer named Norman Tuttle, who works for the Federal Institute of Law Enforcement Technological Development. Tuttle explains to Mach that he is overseeing Operation Streethawk and Mach has been chosen by the institute to be the test driver. He invites Mach to a clandestine laboratory in the inner-city. It is here that he has developed a sophisticated all-terrain vehicle that, upon first glance, resembles a motorcycle. The vehicle can travel up to 300mph and has laser cannons. The bike's accessory is a high-end helmet that has cameras and GPS. Additionally, Mach is adorned with wrist cannons and the institute properly heals his leg.

In pulpy fashion, Mach has a day job in the department's public relations office and contends with a manager named Sandy that was once a journalist. But during his free time, he investigates the drug running operation and its connections to corruption within the department. Sandy and Mach form an investigative team, but she isn't clued into Street Hawk. By the book's finale, Mach has mastered the machine and can successfully use it to fight crime.

There's really nothing to dislike about this short action-adventure paperback. If you loved the 80s “super vehicle” shows like Knight Rider, Airwolf, and Blue Thunder, then you'll bring out your fan-boy soul by reminiscing about Street Hawk. The book has enough character development and crime-fiction elements to make it enjoyable. I liked the love interest hints between Sandy and Mach and the humorous “mad scientist” predictability of Tuttle. Overall, this was just a lot of fun and totally unnecessary. That's why it is great. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, July 11, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 97

On Episode 97, Eric and Tom collaborate for a comprehensive feature on Jon Messmann, the prolific author and creator of The Trailsman series, The Revenger, The Handyman, and numerous Nick Carter: Killmaster novels. Eric also reviews Messmann's stand-alone action-adventure novel, Bullet for the Bride. Tom reviews a vintage crime-fiction paperback called The Mob Says Murder by author Marvin Albert and Eric offers insight on his new projects with Brash Books and Cutting Edge. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 97: Jon Messmann" on Spreaker.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Johnny Liddell #06 - Bare Trap

Inspired by the countless private-eye novels and shorts, original paperbacks (and some hardcovers) began appearing featuring heroic detectives solving the outrageous cases. There was Mike Shayne, Mike Hammer, and Lew Archer leading the way. Frank Kane's New York private-eye Johnny Liddell was among the publisher's top echelon, The series ran a total of 29 novels and a multitude of short stories, beginning with 1947's About Face (aka Fatal Foursome). I've read a handful of the novels and mostly enjoy them. I have a slew of the series paperbacks, so I picked Bare Trap to read next. It is the series sixth installment and was originally published in 1952. It was later reprinted in 1965 by Dell with different cover art. 

Liddell is finishing up a case in San Francisco when he receives a phone call from series staple and love interest Mugsy. She asks if Liddell can take on a new case in Los Angeles before he flies back home to New York. A young actor named Shad has gone missing and his agent wants the investigation to be hush-hush. If they hire a local PI, the missing kid could make the papers and create a career misstep. With a chance to visit Mugsy in LA, Liddell takes the case.

Shad's agent is a guy named Richards, a fat loudmouth that explains that Shad is set to inherit a ton of money when he reaches the age of 21. There's hints that the kid is in some trouble, but Liddell thinks the disappearing act will solve itself. A few hours later, Liddell finds the kid riddled with bullet holes in the back. 

Liddell's case transforms from a missing person's gig to a murder investigation. With the assistance of Mugsy, a local inspector, and a prolific columnist, Kane's hero runs a convoluted gauntlet of blackmail and deception. The road leads to Richards running a badger scheme where he uses a local honey to photograph high-profile Hollywood celebs. He then uses extortion tactics to push the celebs into writing IOUs, which Richards then turns into gambling debts to repay back the mob to settle his own sheets. Got it? 

Frank Kane was notorious for recycling plots and Bare Trap is no different. In the series debut, About Face (Fatal Foursome), Liddell is hired to find a missing actor in Hollywood and receives help from a journalist and a coroner. The 'ole extortion bit using photographs or videos is an overly used genre trope, most notably Mickey Spillane's third Mike Hammer novel, Vengeance is Mine. Yet, there's a really abrasive tone to the novel – actresses with cut throats, multiple beatings, numerous fist and gun fights, a knife attack, and tons of shady characters - to keep the reader fully invested. While never particularly dense, I still had to consult a short list of characters to remember who everyone was. 

Detective stories can be run of the mill, familiar, and stereotypical, but they still provide a lot of enjoyment for crime-fiction fans. Bare Trap is no exception. 

Buy the eBook HERE.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Stolen Tongues

Stolen Tongues is a 2017 horror novel by California native Felix Blackwell. The novel was an outgrowth of a serialized story on the NoSleep Reddit page, and has become a viral hit thanks to fans raving about his work on social media. There’s also a film adaptation and a prequel novel in the works. 

The book opens with a prologue that will scare your pants off (pants required). Our narrator is a writer named Felix Blackwell and he is house sitting in a remote cabin with his girlfriend, Faye. While at the cabin, they are menaced by an unseen force in a tension-filled scene. Because the novel doesn’t end with the prologue, our protagonist couple lives to fight another day. Bottom line: Don’t skip the prologue. 

Chapter one begins with the same couple, now engaged, headed to another remote cabin atop a Colorado mountain (these people never learn!) for a romantic getaway. The thick woods behind the cabin has plenty of hiking trails that crisscross the frozen mountain jungle. The whole thing sounds legitimately lovely and genuinely romantic until you remember you’re reading an acclaimed horror novel. 

The nearby town of Pale Peak is rich in Rocky Mountain Native American history and traditions. The tales of the tribes that once inhabited Pale Peak are rooted in mystery and mysticism. They were a ritualistic people who have disappeared from modern life, leaving only their artifacts behind. 

Of course it takes no time at all before the happy couple starts hearing ghostly voices being carried by the wind outside the cabin. Nothing menacing, at first — but you just know it’s going to escalate. The author also effectively and terrifyingly plays with the idea that night terrors, sleep walking and sleep talking can be used as conduits for malevolent entities to infiltrate your life. 

The haunting continues after the setting changes, and Felix is determined to get to the bottom of things — even if it means a crash course in Native American mysticism. As is often the case, the paranormal explanations for the haunting are way less satisfying than the haunting itself. 

I’d say the first two “haunted cabin” sequences in Stolen Tongues may have been the scariest prose I’ve read in decades. The rest of the novel exploring the source of those two haunts was fine, but nowhere near as compelling or terrifying as the novel’s twin openers. In any case, the author has placed himself on the map as a horror novelist to watch in the future. I look forward to seeing what he does next. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Nude in the Sand

The 1950s and 1960s publishing industry experienced a trend of authors and readers embracing swamp-noir, a concept that features the average man being tempted by a seductress in the backwoods of a rural southern town. Charles Williams and Harry Whittington both excelled in this type of storytelling, which led countless other low to mid-echelon authors to try their hand. Louisiana author and WW2 veteran John Burton Thompson (1911-1994) authored these types of novels. As expensive collectors items now, these vintage paperbacks demand a hefty dollar. 

Thankfully, Cutting Edge Books have gained the rights to Thompson's literary work and have made a number of his novels into new editions for an affordable price. After enjoying his 1962 novels Kiss or Kill and Swamp Nymph, I decided to take another swig with Nude in the Sand. It was originally published by Beacon in 1959. 

The most entertaining aspect of Nude in the Sand is that there isn't a main character. Instead, Thompson uses the novel to tell many different stories about the backwoods shenanigans of several different characters that have merely six degrees of separation. By the book's end it all wraps together cohesively in a satisfying conclusion that crosses these mini-stories over (and under) each other. 

Lecia is a 20 year old vixen living with her mother on a run-down farm. Hope and aspiration are shooting stars rarely glimpsed and never caught. In a bid for money, Lecia's mother sells her off to a wealthy man named Alex who takes the two to his sprawling estate. Lecia is destined to be the despondent, pregnant housewife pushing out babies to create Alex's dynasty. The problem is that Lecia despises Alex due to his violent sexual craving and his affairs with a black slave.

Across the fields is Abe, a retired wealthy man of nobility that has a young black lover named Charline. Readers learn Abe's history with Charline, how he funded her college education, cared for her needs, and is now secretly engaged in a relationship with her. Abe and Charline frequent a hunting cabin where the two intimately share their love. But, Abe understands the age difference and the fact that the town will be thrown in a violent upheaval if their interracial love affair were to be exposed. 

Abe's nephew Merrit is a college graduate and artist that hasn't quite found his footing yet. Abe allows Merrit to live on his estate and find himself. Instead, Merrit finds an imprint in the sand made by the nude Lecia. Over time, Merrit becomes obsessed with the imprints and starts to make a bronze statue of this unknown woman. Lecia doesn't realize that her daily visits to this jungle swimming hole are being captured by the imprints she makes in the sand. Eventually, Merrit and Lecia learn of one another and are connected through Abe. When Lecia's husband Alex begins making moves on Charline, the narrative becomes more complex and enticing – Abe vs Alex over Charline. Merrit lusting for Lecia despite her marriage to Alex. There's also another side story of a male slave that hates Alex for raping other slaves. 

With this many moving parts, it would be hard for any author to excel at all of these concepts and designs. But, Thompson is such a great writer and purposefully develops this plot into a burning bed of affairs, relationships, violence, and raging sex. The novel certainly possesses enough tropes to make it a swamp-noir, but at the same time it also works as a plantation novel, or what some refer to as a “slave gothic”. Alex's violent encounters with the strong, more domineering slave named Bruce makes for a humorous, albeit savage, thread in the story's web of self-pursuit and sexual gratification. Abe's relationship with Charline is nurturing, but is laced with strong dialogue that reflects the civil unrest of a country at war with itself in the mid 20th century. 

Nude in the Sand is a riveting, hot-blooded account of sexual affairs running rampant in the Deep South. With colorful characters and multi-faceted, interlocking storylines, John B. Thompson creates a whirlwind suspenseful romance novel ripe with violence and racial unrest. Fans of Charles Williams, Harry Whittington, and Erskine Caldwell should find plenty to like. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Mike Hammer #03 - Vengeance is Mine

In 1980, the top 15 list of all-time US fiction bestsellers included seven novels by Mickey Spillane. That's a true testament to the power and popularity of Spillane's iconic private-detective, Mike Hammer. As I make my way through Spillane's bibliography, I found that the Mike Hammer debut, I, the Jury (1947) left much to be desired. However, the book's sequel, My Gun is Quick (1950), was nothing short of amazing with its masterful prose soaked with realism, impending doom, and emotional anguish. Appreciating that particular masterpiece, I held off on reading another Mike Hammer novel for over a year. Now, the time has come for the third series installment, Vengeance is Mine. It was originally published in 1950 as a hardcover by E.P. Dutton and has been reprinted countless times in multiple formats. 

“The guy was dead as Hell. He lay on the floor in his pajamas with his brains all over the rug and my gun in his hand.”

That's the opener to Vengeance is Mine. Thankfully, the remainder of the book remains just as heavy and unforgiving. Throughout this violent, twisting narrative, Spillane slaps readers with Hammer's hardest case yet, one that pays with redemption instead of cash. The plot concerns Hammer awakening after a night of drinking with his friend, Chester Wheeler, dead. Hammer isn't a murder suspect because the police feel that his friend simply committed suicide. But, Hammer knows he always carried six loads in his gun, and two shots were fired. The circumstances lead to Hammer contending with the DA and using his police ally Pat to find a teardrop in the ocean. Who killed Wheeler?

Hammer's investigation leads through a swamp of political blackmail and conspiracy within the slimy walls of a sin palace called The Bowery. It is here that Hammer meets a sexy dancer named Connie and a bit player named Dinky, an old nemesis that Hammer previously shot. Connecting the dots proves to be difficult considering all roads leading to Chester Wheeler are closed. Anyone involved with Wheeler's past is wearing bullet holes or broken necks. But, Hammer is consistently moving forward as he vengefully fights for his dead friend.  

Vengeance is Mine features Hammer's secretary Velda more involved than ever in the investigation. It's also the first novel where she fatally shoots a bad guy. Both Hammer and Velda become more intimate, but Hammer is still plagued by flashbacks and memories of Charlotte Manning, a lover from the series debut, I, the Jury, that he had had to shoot and kill. Like the prior novels, Hammer is also still suffering from PTSD from his war experience. I felt that the emotional baggage added more depth to the character, making Hammer a more dynamic hero when compared to his contemporaries in Johnny Liddell and Mike Shayne.

While not as good as My Gun is Quick, Vengeance is Mine is still an absolute masterpiece and another fine example of Mickey Spillane's extraordinary storytelling. It just doesn't get much better than this. Highly, highly recommended.

Note –  Supposedly, Spillane bet his editor $1,000 that he could write a book that, if the last word was left out, would change everything in the narrative that had happened before. The editor took the bet and lost (credit to author Stephen Mertz for sharing that). 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, July 4, 2022

The Pavilion at Monkshood

British novelist Anne Arundel (1910-1993) utilized pseudonyms like Anne Buxton and Katherine Troy to author romantic suspense novels. Her bibliography includes over 40 novels penned from 1937 through 1983. My first experience with her is the gothic novel The Pavilion at Monkshood. It was originally published by Ace in 1965 under Arundel's popular pseudonym Anne Maybury. 

The novel is set in the obligatory British countryside on a secluded estate called Monkshood. Jessica Lothian, a 20 year old servant, has been summoned by the Herriot family to reside in the home and to look after Aunt Julie and cousin Claudine. Technically, Jessica is a Herriot on her father's side, but nevertheless she seems to function as a sort of “Cinderella” character during her time on the estate. Claudine is the horrible, self-absorbent “sibling” who mocks and scorns Jessica relentlessly. But, the idea is that Jessica will soon marry a dignified young man named Kurt in a fixed, arranged marriage. While Jessica doesn't dislike Kurt, she has no intimate feelings for him.

Throughout the narrative, the Herriots and a close family friend are plagued by a mysterious stalker. This stalker is harmless enough in the beginning, occasionally spying on family members, taking heirlooms, and moving around others. Jessica becomes obsessed with locating the identity of the stalker. But, things turn deadly when the stalker pushes a young woman off of a cliff. Jessica's probe into the mysterious stalker's past leads her to an old tunnel that connects the mansion with a pavilion hosting a bizarre statue of the ancient god Pan. 

Through 190 pages, the narrative covers Jessica's interest in the family friend, his business arrangements with growing a fleet of schooners, and a backstory of the Herriot family enduring the loss of their daughter. Aunt Julie's behavior borders on psychosis and there's a number of dances and evening dinners for readers to wattle through. 

I've read other reviews of Maybury's novels and they mostly point in the direction of traditional romance. Mostly The Pavilion at Monkshood is a straight-up romance novel with all of the upper-crust white lace and long tassels. But, the stalker portion of the story was intriguing to me and panned out just right to allow for a storybook ending. There is a Lifetime Movie of the Week aura to the plot, but it didn't discourage me. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a dress in distress. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, July 1, 2022


James McKimmey (1923-2011) was a Nebraska native that studied architecture at the University of Nebraska. Later, he served in the 102nd Infantry Division during WW2 and returned home to write fiction for magazines and pulps. His first novel, The Perfect Victim, was published by Dell in 1957. McKimmey would go on to write westerns, science-fiction, and more crime-fiction, some of which have been reprinted by Stark House Press as twofers that we've covered here at Paperback Warrior. In 2016, Stark House reprinted The Long Ride and Cornered! as a twofer. We loved and reviewed The Long Ride and it was just a matter of time for us to read the second novel, Cornered!. It was originally published by Dell in 1960.

Tony Fearon ran a California mob family for years. Instead of allowing his premier gunman, Bill Quirter, to shoot his chief rival, Tony took it upon himself to deliver the killing blow. Inexperienced and enraged, Tony didn't think of witnesses, so he missed the beautiful Ann Burley, who just happened to be walking by. Tony went to prison based on Ann's testimony, and as Cornered! begins, Tony is a few hours away from eating cyanide via California's taxpayers. However, the cool caveat is that Tony has placed a hit on Ann. If Bill (the best gunman west of the Mississippi River) can track down and murder Ann before Tony dies, Tony will filter out a password through the prison so Bill can locate a cool $50,000 for the job. Tony will die happy knowing that the woman who put him behind bars is being killed on the same day. Alternatively, if Bill can't get the job done, Tony will go to his grave as a begrudged man and Bill will be $50,000 poorer (and still unemployed). Cool premise, huh?

I challenge anyone to find me a book with an opening chapter as exciting and memorable as this one. McKimmey's first chapter has Bill and a partner outside of the small Nebraska town of Arrow Junction. It's snowing, both are in a bad mood, and the target is within a few miles. However, a simple accident leads to a furious gunfight in a small gas station and Bill finds himself alone and on the run from the cops. After scampering around in the cold, Bill locates a small diner for shelter. Inside, he points a gun at the customers and stands his ground. 

Like The Perfect Victim, McKimmey has this uncanny talent of turning the reader into an everyday citizen of Small Town, USA. Over the course of a few hours, I became a citizen of Arrow Junction and felt like the town pastor, doctor, restaurant owner, station attendant, and fill-in sheriff were all people I've grown up with and had a fond fellowship for. McKimmey is just that good as he smoothly thrusts readers right into the action. In some ways, the book's plot development and through-story reminded me of Bill Pronzini's thuggish writing style. It's gritty, action-packed, and develops into a real slobber-knocker by the book's finale.

Cornered! is one of the best books I've read in ages. Any other plot points or insider wisdom would just ruin the experience for you. Do me a favor – get the book, read it, post comments below. In the meantime, I'm on record to provide the highest possible recommendation for James McKimmey and Cornered! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.