Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Edge #04 - Killer's Breed

The Edge series by George Gilman (Terry Harknett, 1936-2019) promises to be “The Most Violent Westerns in Print,” but the fourth installment, Killer’s Breed from 1974, is actually a flashback origin story documenting Edge’s adventures fighting in the American Civil War.

The paperback begins in the Post-Civil War era when Josiah “Edge” Hedges finds himself recuperating from a near-death experience where his life as a Union soldier is flashing before his eyes for the heart of the novel.

And with the turn of the page, the reader is back in June 1861 along the Ohio-West Virginia border with Union Cavalry Lieutenant Joe Hedges. He’s serving under Major General George McClellon and his troops are marching into the Battle of Phillipi in what is now West Virginia, the first land combat of the war. The author describes the fighting scenes with vivid portrayals of violence and gore, just like he does in the western novels of the series.

From battle to battle Edge rides with his unit, and the reader gets to watch him harden as person while making smart tactical decisions for himself and the men under his command. It’s difficult to understate the skull-crushing violence and spattered blood and brain tissue depicted in the pages of each battle. Consider yourself warned.

Overall, this was a very satisfying war novel that did a fine job depicting the chaos and brutality of battles on the ground. It wasn’t much of a western, but if a gory fictional chronicle of Civil War combat sounds appealing, you can’t do much better.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Never Forget, Never Forgive

Washington State native Clayton Fox (1920-2008) wrote for the pulp Westerns and then transitioned into paperback original novels. He eventually became a writer for the TV show Rawhide. Two of his non-western novels were published as Ace Doubles, including Never Forget, Never Forgive from 1961.

Our hero is small-town police detective Thaddus Zilch. He lost his previous job for coming down too hard on racketeers, so he’s giving it another shot with a different Sheriff in a different town nestled in Washington State logging country. He’s a good narrator and a pretty excellent cop.

Within 30 minutes of his new job starting, a skeleton is found in the woods, and Zilch is assigned the case. There is a bullet hole in the skull from a .22 caliber rifle. The location of the hole means murder or hunting accident, so Zilch has a cold case to solve.

Meanwhile, Zilch meets Connie, the pretty owner of the local diner. He learns that a decade ago, three men raped Connie and left her pregnant with her now 10 year-old son. She was never able to identify the rapists, and the whole town knows her tragic story. Zilch quickly (a little too quickly, to be honest) falls in love with Connie, who is still dealing with the psychological scars left behind from her attack.

Little by little, evidence seems to mount that the skeleton in the woods may have been one of Connie’s rapists. It’s a pretty interesting mystery for Zilch to solve involving forensic science and a decade-old vendetta. As the romance between Connie and Zilch intensifies, he is forced to face the possibility that Connie has gone full-on Death Wish upon her rapists. This is the central mystery of the novel.

I really liked this book - mostly because the writing and the characters were uniformly terrific. My only criticism was that the murder mystery itself was so, so easy to solve. The author telegraphed the twist ending early in the novel making it the most tepid surprise I can recall. Despite this, I genuinely enjoyed the paperback and will seek out other works by Clayton Fox. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Earl Drake #11 - Operation Deathmaker

Earl Drake, the successful action hero created by Dan J. Marlowe (1917-1986) began his literary life as a violent crook in 1962. Over time, the character was pressed into service as a U.S. Government secret agent, which brings us to this 11th installment from 1974, Operation Deathmaker.

Drake’s girlfriend is Hazel, and she’s been part of the series for a long time at this point. Melissa, Hazel’s college-age niece, is visiting Los Angeles on a vacation. When Drake is dropping her at the airport, Melissa is kidnapped by a team of professionals.

Because of his tenuous legal history as a fugitive from justice, Drake chooses to not involve police and to recover Melissa himself. This opens the door to sleuthing, chases, car-bombings, wiretaps, tradecraft and lots and lots of men’s adventure action — all anchored by Marlowe’s excellent, seasoned writing.

Unlike Drake’s heist books or his spy books, this one is Drake recovering a kidnapped girl on a very personal mission. It’s an excellent stand-alone mystery-adventure that doesn’t not require much character history from the series.

Is the kidnapping a ransom job to swipe some of Hazel and Drake’s loot? Or is this a vendetta mission to make Drake suffer? Or did young Melissa stage this kidnapping for her own reasons? These are the options Drake explores along the way.

Drake’s hunt for this missing girl takes on the qualities of a procedural mystery for much of the paperback and then an action-filled, violent vendetta novel for the climactic conclusion. It’s a damn fine men’s adventure paperback that almost - but not quite - lives up to the heights of the series’ opening two novels, The Name of the Game is Death and One Endless Hour. In any case, this one is an easy recommendation. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Martin Collins #01 - The Colonel

Patrick A. Davis is a U.S. Air Force veteran and former commercial airline pilot who began writing military-based conspiracy thrillers in 1998 before finding a series character named Martin Collins for a three-book run. The debut is called The Colonel from 2001.

Our hero and first-person narrator is widower Martin Collins. When we meet him, he is living in rural Northern Virginia with a grass airplane runway while enjoying his retirement from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. He took a job as Chief of Police in a town of about 2,000 residents and a seven-man police department. When Martin left the federal government, he promised his boss he would come back as a consultant investigator for the rare homicide investigation that arose involving Air Force personnel.

Martin is called back into service coinciding with the discovery of a brutal murder in Arlington, Virginia of a U.S. Air Force Colonel named Margaret who was slaughtered in her home along with her two young children. The case is assigned to a local homicide detective named Simon Santos who requests Martin’s assistance in the investigation.

Simon is a fascinating character. He’s a dapper multimillionaire polymath who works as a police detective for the thrill of the chase. Other cops resent him but respect his mental firepower. Reading about the personal wealth and opulence he leverages to solve cases is a ton of fun.

Martin is partnered with a pretty and smart young investigator named Amanda. They take care of most of the fieldwork and consult periodically with Simon who plays the Sherlock Holmes/Nero Wolfe role in the ensemble. The victim’s job was in the Pentagon’s airplane safety inspection unit, not exactly at the tip of the spear for likely murder targets.

The publisher packaged the paperback to mimic the look of a W.E.B. Griffin military fiction novel (Griffin also blurbed the paperback), but The Colonel is more of a tight police procedural. Davis’ writing is filled with “inside Washington” skullduggery and political corruption reminiscent of James Cody’s The D.C. Man series from the 1970s.

The murder solution was twisty and well-conceived and there was plenty of bloody, murderous violence to please the men’s adventure crowd. There was really nothing to dislike about this series debut, and it’s an easy recommendation for fans of political-intrigue and police procedural mysteries. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.