Showing posts with label Brash Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brash Books. Show all posts

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.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Doctor Death #01 - Doctor Death

Author Herb Fisher (1932-2001), a North Philadelphia native, began writing as a sports editor for his high school. On a football scholarship, Fisher attended Temple University and majored in journalism. Nicknamed Herbie or Fish, the author gained employment at Cherry Hill's East and West high schools as an English and Drama teacher while also coaching football. 

Beginning at age 55, Fisher had enjoyed writing so much that he wrote five screenplays, a novel and two television scripts. His agent suggested that one of the screenplays would be better suited as a book. The screenplay, Doctor Death, was whittled down to an epic novel. Eventually, that was trimmed and edited into a four book series of men's action-adventure paperbacks published by Berkley. The first novel, simply titled Doctor Death, was published in 1988 with misleading cover art and blurb. After reading it, I feel strongly that Herb Fisher deserved better treatment from his publisher.

Upon first glance, Doctor Death appears to be a late 80s cash grab targeting Mack Bolan fans. The concept of a Vietnam vet returning home to become a vigilante had become stale by the late 1970s. Dozens of movies and hundreds of books utilized the formula and most of them are all entertaining to a degree. But, after reading the first 100-pages of Herb Fisher's book, I began to understand that this isn't a cookie-cutter, “law in your own hands” styled action-adventure. It's much better than that.

The book's 18-page prologue takes place in the green jungles of the Mekong Delta in 1969. Army Special Forces (Green Beret) Sergeant Kyle Youngblood is fiercely defending an American camp as a large Vietcong battalion attack. As his fellow soldiers die, Kyle experiences a range of emotions from shock to raw, animalistic anger. Using grenades, mortars, wire, and guns, Kyle is able to hold the line while bleeding from a leg wound. When a backup platoon arrives, they find Kyle unconscious and nickname him “Doctor Death.”

The first chapter places the narrative in the present day where Kyle is now a farmer in Silver Lake, Nevada. He's living a happy, quiet small town existence with his wife and two young children. Everyone in town is fond of Kyle and considers him a hometown hero. In the opening chapters, readers are introduced to the Fallon family. They reside 25-miles west of Kyle and control a large portion of the Las Vegas underworld. In a backstory, it's explained that Marty Fallon was shot by rival mobsters and paralyzed from the waist down. He controls the action from a wheelchair in his posh, enormous mansion. His sons are screw ups, but they maintain a portion of the mob action. The youngest, Buddy, is Marty's pride and joy. But, Buddy is a wild man, sort of a juvenile delinquent right out of a 1950s crime-noir. He's a buck-wild drinker, gambler, and womanizer partying through life with his father's endless supply of money.

On Kyle's trip into town to purchase supplies, he makes a poor decision to stop in Andy's Place for a quick drink. Buddy is inside, backed by two enforcers, drinking and talking smack to anyone who will listen. Surprisingly, Kyle ignores all of it as a promise to his wife that he won't fight again. But, when Buddy's Lincoln and Kyle's beat-up pickup truck collide in the parking lot, all Hell breaks loose. Kyle is happy to swap insurance cards, but Buddy wants to swap fists. Provoked into the fight, Kyle ends up injuring the two enforcers and killing Buddy. The town sheriff is owned by the mob, so Kyle is jailed even though the fight was self-defense.

The court releases Kyle on bond, but he can't escape the trouble. When Marty learns that Buddy is dead, he places a hit on Kyle and his family. Several enforcers attempt to kill his family, but Kyle survives. In the book's third act, Kyle and his family are thrown to the wolves by the local law enforcement. They allow a mob army to descend on Kyle's farm to obliterate everything standing. The book's finale has Kyle defending the farm in the same manner as he did in Vietnam. But, instead of Army supplies, Kyle is left to make an unusual defense using farming tools and household items. The final battle is nothing short of spectacular. 

Herb Fisher gets everything right with Doctor Death. Kyle is an admirable protagonist and his willingness to sacrifice himself for his family transcends from the printed page to the beating heart. I cared about these characters and raced to the end just to learn of their fates. But, it's the little details that Fisher includes that make all of the difference.

So many books and films miss key moments to build small side-stories that will later become important events later. Fisher gets it. In the beginning, Kyle learns that the store owner doesn't have the ammo he needs. Instead, he has to settle on an undesirable caliber. This will play a large role in the book's finale. Or, something as simple as Kyle aiming a rifle, but placing extra shells between each of the fingers on his left hand for easy reloading. This reinforces battlefield experience. It's a statement that Kyle is a believable hero. Fisher even adds in the fact that the sheriff doesn't remove his hat when talking with Kyle, but the deputy does. It solidifies a good relationship, an alliance, between the deputy and Kyle. These little things are important. 

While I'm sure Fisher was delighted that his books were published by Berkley, the publisher misled the consumer. Kyle isn't the “M-16 vigilante of Vegas” like the cover suggests. I recently acquired the second and third books of the series and they have equally frustrating covers. While I enjoy The Vigilante, Sharpshooter, The Executioner, and so forth, Doctor Death isn't that type of debut. It's a different presentation and style, a screenplay to the extent that it fits into a novel. In other words, make an appointment with Doctor Death and take your damn medicine. 

Buy a copy of the brand new edition HERE

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Revenger #02: Fire in the Streets

Paperback Warrior continues to devour the literature of Jon Messman. We've covered his series titles like The Trailsman, Handyman, Canyon 'O Grady, The Revenger, and even his gothic stand-alone novels under various pseudonyms like Claudette Nicole. My first experience with the author was the debut novel in The Revenger series. Inspired by Don Pendleton's The Executioner, the Signet series began in 1973 and ran six total volumes. The entire series has been reprinted in new editions by Brash Books with an introduction by yours truly. 

The book begins with some flashbacks to the events that occurred in the series debut. The quick story is that New Yorker Ben Martin is a Vietnam veteran who experienced the death of his son by mobsters. Avenging his son's murder, Martin became a one-man army and destroyed the local mob. At the end of that novel, he left his wife to pursue an indiscreet lifestyle using the new name of Ben Markham (Messman had never intended the series to continue). 

Now, it's explained to readers that Ben has lived in the Chicago suburbs for a year. He began working for Alwyn Beef Products and worked his way up to a senior manager due to his experiences as a grocery shop owner. But, Ben is attacked one evening at work by enforcers working for mobster Nick Carboni. After killing the attackers, Ben returns home and starts to question his life. In his own headspace, Ben realizes that he has always wanted to kill again, to right the wrongs, and fight evil. But, in a reversal, he also wants to live a normal existence that isn't smeared in blood. 

What makes The Revenger so great is that Messman doesn't deliberately set out to create a hero for readers. It's never just a good guy with a gun. Like the debut, he slowly has unfortunate events consume Ben's life. It is like an erosion of sanity that reveals Ben's hard-hitting talents. He's meant to kill the bad guys, and he has the skills and talents based on his experiences in Vietnam, but he is hesitant. Slowly, Ben is pulled into this mystery and must fight again.

Ben's employer is a friend, but he's also a terrible gambler. After losing a great deal of money in the gambling rackets, Carboni has struck a deal with him. The mob will infiltrate his business and in return, Carboni wipes the IOUs off the table. Once Ben learns the reasons for the attack, he puts together an elaborate plan to wipe out the mob at strategic locations. From rooftops, he begins assassinating key personnel with different European rifles, weapons he leaves at the scene to confuse Carboni. But Messman also has Ben fistfighting with mobsters as well as a fiery car chase on the highway. 

What makes this story unique is that it involves three separate women that are experiencing individual struggles directly related to Ben's mission. Carboni's wife is resistant to her husband's criminal behavior and wants out. When Ben's friend and co-worker is killed, he falls into a friendly relationship with the man's widow. But, Ben's love interest in the story is his employer's wife, a defiant woman that knows her husband is a gambling junkie. These three women are liberally featured throughout the 135-page narrative. 

Fire in the Streets is just as good, or better, than its predecessor and rivals some of Pendleton's best single-digit efforts on The Executioner. Imitation is the best form of flattery and Messman clones a Mack Bolan styled story while also injecting a great deal of emotional drama. It's violent when it needs to be, and Ben proves to be a capable hero when the gunfire begins. The end result makes The Revenger simply fantastic.

Get the new edition HERE

Friday, September 24, 2021

The Old Man's Place (aka The Hard Guys)

John Sanford (1904-2003, born as Julian Shapiro) experienced a short career in law before discovering the literature of Ernest Hemingway. In 1931, Sanford wrote his first novel, The Water Wheel, the first of three independent titles that took place in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. After reading Sanford's amazing noir novel Make My Bed in Hell (1939), I was excited to try another of Sanford's novels. Thanks to Brash Books, The Old Man's Place was re-printed this year for the modern public. This Sanford novel was originally published as a hardcover in 1935. It was subsequently reprinted by Perma Books in paperback form in 1953. In 1957, Signet published the book as The Hard Guys. The novel was adapted into a movie in 1971 as My Old Man's Place

After his mother's death during childbirth, Trubee Pell was raised by his father, Walter, on a farm near Warrensburg, New York. After abandoning an unfortunate marriage, Trubee joined the army and served during World War I. It is there that he met two low-life scoundrels - James Pilgrim and Martin Flood. The audacious trio boozed it up during the war and afterwards bummed around the U.S. avoiding labor and responsibility. Out of ideas, Pell suggests that the three of them go back to New York and shack up with his father. 

Walter lives a simple, farming life in solitude. At first he's happy to see his son, but soon realizes that tribe has changed significantly since the war. The three men physically and verbally abuse Walter. They force him to work, cook their meals and provide free lodging. While mostly drunk, the men spend their days shooting, illegally hunting and robbing. During a home intrusion, James steals a stack of nude magazines. In one of the books, he finds an ad for dating. 

Like the dating apps of today, James sends out $1 and a brief biography explaining his physical appearance and attributes. The company then forwards this information to a woman in his area. In this instance, James' letter is sent to a young woman from New Jersey named Anna. Her parents have died and she is looking for a husband and a new life elsewhere. James, who is short and fat with rotten teeth, explains in his letter that he is tall, handsome and has a large farm. When Anna arrives at the Pell farm, she is shocked to find out that James does not fit his biography. In addition, she is surrounded by three vicious and sexually charged men in a foreign place miles away from anyone.

Sanford's The Old Man's Place is a carefully designed character study bursting with tension and intrigue. I found myself so emotionally invested in these characters and their raw, primal instincts. The author creates this slow spiral into some very dark places. The ethical, morally centered Walter experiences so much loss and heartache as a father. I was able to identify with this character so much and I felt so much sympathy for him. Anna, who borders upon the angelic, is pushed into this pit of vipers of violence and moral depravity. Sanford's narrative is saturated with rage and grief and has this unusual subtext on human suffering.

Like his novel Make My Bed in Hell, John Sanford is nothing short of extraordinary with The Old Man's Place. It's darkly wonderful and honest, well ahead of its time considering the 1935 publication date. Sanford is seemingly timeless, possessing a rare skillset that rivals some of the best noir authors of all-time. My hat is tipped to Brash Books for affordably inviting modern ages to experience this sensational author.

Get the book HERE

Friday, May 14, 2021

Make My Bed in Hell

John Sanford (1904-2003) was born Julian Shapiro in Harlem, NY. After graduating from Manhattan's Fordham Law School, Sanford joined his father as an attorney, yet his career in law was short-lived after discovering art and literature by the likes of Ernest Hemingway. In 1931, Sanford authored his first novel, The Water Wheel, the first of three stand-alone titles that are set in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. This fierce and often opposing farmland was the perfect backdrop for the author's impressive storytelling. My first introduction to the author is his 1939 novel Make My Bed in Hell (aka Seventy Times Seven). In 1954, the book was published with misleading cover art as a crime-noir by Avon. In 2021, Brash Books has reprinted the book for modern audiences with an analysis by Cal State professor Jack Mearns.

While Make My Bed in Hell has a rather simple storyline, Sanford's presentation is very dynamic. In a rather unique and innovative style, Sanford writes the whole book as fragmented parts that are placed in various time periods. To add even more complexity to his prose, the author often doesn't identify which characters are talking. The reader is challenged to determine the dialogue's source instead of following a simple “he said” or “she said” formula. While I found myself perplexed at the peculiarity, the concept was a refreshing reading experience.

When the novel begins, middle-aged Aaron Platt walks a snowy path to his barn. It is there that he finds a frigid man lying in an empty stall. In what appears to be a rather cold-blooded response, Platt allows the man to shiver through the night with very little food or water. As night turns to day, Platt's past is presented to readers in jagged sequences. These are dark, extremely depressing visions of Platt's childhood, his endearing mother, and the brutality thrust upon his family by his aggressive and unyielding father. The harsh elements of childhood bullying, family abuse, death, and poverty is presented as a parallel portrait of a rugged, impoverished farming community that faces immense financial adversity.

Sanford really shined as a complex, but readable, young author that had a unique voice. Considering the wealth of literature I have devoured over 30 years, I've never read a novel like this one. Despite its 1939 conception, the book is seemingly timeless considering America's rural towns and communities that are still struggling with financial distress, lack of government funding, and an aptitude that fighting with each other is sometimes the best solution to life's most difficult oppositions. Sanford's characters are hardened by strife and the land they plow and that gritty combination affected me long after the final pages were read. Make My Bed in Hell is the main character's outlook on his tumultuous life and a fitting title for such a poignant literary novel.

Buy a copy of this novel HERE

Monday, June 1, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 46

On Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 46, we weigh the pros and cons of vintage paperback conversions to ebooks and audiobooks. We also discuss news regarding the Milo March series and review some genre fiction classics. Listen on any podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE: Listen to "Episode 46: Ebooks and Audiobooks" on Spreaker.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Your Friendly Neighborhood Death Peddler

Paperback Warrior has admired Jimmy Sangster's literary work for some time now. Both of his John Smith spy-thrillers, The Spy Killer (1967) and Foreign Exchange (1968), received positive praise as well as 1967's Touchfeather. Most of the British author's work has been resurrected and reprinted by Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman’s Brash Books imprint. We were delighted when another of Sangster's reprinted novels hit our mailbox - 1971's Your Friendly Neighborhood Death Peddler.

The novel introduces a young guy named Anthony Bridges. He's a 29-year old, unmotivated, unemployed deadbeat. What the British would call a layabout. Anthony served a short-service commission in the British Army after graduating college. He spent a few years in the documentary business, flunked as a sales rep and is now enjoying unemployment while living with his girlfriend Lillian. Originally, the plan was just to bang Lillian and crash on her sofa a few days. But the days turned into weeks that turned into months. Now Anthony is tired of Lillian, who's a nympho, but he has no job, no home and no money. But, Lillian has fallen in love with him and Anthony doesn't have a Plan B. So she decides to take Anthony back to her childhood home to meet the parents.

Anthony discovers that Lillian's parents are uber rich. We're talking million dollar paintings in the study and a full staff tending to every need. Realizing Anthony's misplacement in the family's traditions and planning, Lillian's Dad has a private conversation with Anthony and makes a proposal - stop screwing Lillian and leave her apartment in exchange for a job. A good job with the opportunity to make thousands. Anthony then receives a card with a number on it and reluctantly calls it a few days later. The brisk, mysterious response is simply “Lunch. 12:30”.

In a hysterical sequence of events that's like something from Alice in Wonderland, Anthony travels down the rabbit hole and accepts an undisclosed job in the small African country of Lamboola. The deal is he will make 1% on commissions and $6,000 a year tax free. He also has a lavish expense account and the opportunity to travel internationally. Anthony accepts the deal and has no Earthly idea what the job actually entails.

In reality, Anthony has accepted the job as newest sales rep of illegal weapons to third world countries. The problem is that Anthony is a bumbling idiot with weaponry or sales experience or political connections. Not exactly the attributes needed to sell weapons to revolutionaries. When Anthony is asked to sell thousands of weapons - rifles, anti-aircraft weapons, explosives, tanks, basically anything useful to overthrow government - to a valuable client in Lamboola, Africa, he accidentally mistakes the names and sells the weapons to the valuable client's enemy. By doing so, he systematically creates a third-world revolution that topples the local government.

First and foremost, this book is hilarious. It's an absolute must read. Just following Anthony's disastrous showing as a weapons sales rep is worth the sticker price. For action, there's plenty. Sangster mixes peril on the high seas with numerous gunbattles and torture. Sangster does a fantastic job just poking fun at countries and their endless quests for violence and superiority. Sangster doesn't hold back, he throws China, Russia, the US and England under the bus in a lighthearted and entertaining manner.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Death Peddler uses the author's unique sense of witty, off the cuff writing to mock Earth's morbid fascination with weapons, power and greed. It's a humorous, albeit violent, deep-dive into third world politics and the zillionaires that finance it. In other words: an absolute must read.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 11, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 43

On Paperback Warrior Episode 43, we countdown the blog’s 10 most popular reviews chosen by our readers. Tom discusses new finds by old authors Robert Colby and Andrew Frazer. Eric laments the horror of moving thousands of vintage paperbacks and shelves to a new home. Listen on your favorite podcast app,, or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 43: Top 10 Review Countdown" on Spreaker.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Handyman #01 - The Moneta Papers

Along with authoring entries in the Nick Carter: Killmaster series, Jon Messman kept a productive schedule in the 1970s with a successful series run with Revenger before achieving commercial success with the popular adult western series The Trailsman. Perhaps one of the best of Messman's literary career is the six-volume paperback series Jefferson Boone: Handyman. It was published by Pyramid Books and debuted in 1973 with The Moneta Papers. The entire series has been reprinted in new editions by Brash Books with an introduction by yours truly.

Jefferson Boone is a silky, posh hero that works inconspicuously with the U.S. State Department. His father was a career diplomat and had mentioned to his son that the department needed a behind the scenes “handyman” that can plug holes for America's foreign allies. Working with a government liaison named Charley Hopkins, Boone is offered a variety of international assignments that conveniently pads out the series. The first assignment that's revealed to readers is The Moneta Papers, a carefully construed Italian mission that features a real estate transaction as the launching point. But, as readers quickly learn, there's nothing ordinary about this property purchase.

Boone's female friend Dorrie is a wealthy European playmate working to secure her fourth marriage. Dorrie owns a number of remote islands that remain as a lease-to-purchase for the U.S. Government. After a number of years, Dorrie has finally agreed to gift the islands to the U.S. provided they can arrange a paper transaction. The problem is that every delivery man has been murdered in route to secure the transaction. The suspect? Dorrie's fiance Umberto, a spoiled kid who has aligned himself with a career politician that aspires to be the next Mussolini.

Boone's first endeavor is to learn if Dorrie is involved with the failed delivery attempts. Second, Boone must investigate Umberto's past and current political allies. Using disguises, a fast Ford Mustang and his snub-nosed .38, Boone embarks on a perilous mission to learn the truth. Messman's writing incorporates Formula 1 racing, various shootouts, a Swiss Alps skiing adventure and sexcapades (albeit more topical than descriptive) to propel the narrative.

Fans of James Bond and Nick Carter should like Messman's protagonist. While Boone is an international, intellectual hero, the author carefully avoids pure snobbery. In fact, Boone's budding romance with a small-town Indiana school teacher helps ground the hero with more American wholesomeness. By 1973, it was a crowded market for these types of globe-trotting champions. Thankfully, Messman's series and character stand the test of time. This was an excellent novel. Get the book HERE

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Dust in the Heart

New York Times bestselling authors Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman (founders of Brash Books) have remained steadfast in their preservation of the Ralph Dennis body of work. Dennis, a South Carolina native, was born in 1931, received a masters at the University of North Carolina and produced a steady stream of fine fiction that mostly went unnoticed by mainstream readers. Passing away in 1988, Brash Books has rekindled the fire for many of Dennis' published work, including the 12 installments of the 1970s hardboiled series Hardman. Along with re-editing and reprinting published novels like Atlanta (newly released as The Broken Fixer) and MacTaggart's War (reprinted as The War Heist), Goldberg has discovered numerous unpublished manuscripts from the Dennis archives.

The most recent Brash Books project is a Ralph Dennis manuscript penned in the 1987-1988 time-frame. This is reflected in discouraging letters Dennis wrote to colleagues about the unsold work. Dust in the Heart is a different novel and avoids the pitfalls of the men's action-adventure paperbacks of the 70s. Like his other works, it is set in the southeastern U.S., but in a fictional North Carolina town rather than his go-to of Atlanta. That's not to say it doesn't possess the author's consistent ferocity. Indeed, Dust in the Heart is perhaps Dennis' most profoundly disturbing book due to the subject matter – a serial sex-killer preying on six year-old children. Dennis' use of sodden, rural fields, counterbalanced by a dark seedy strip club, envelops the flawed hero and the reader. It's upon this black canvas that Ralph Dennis outshines his prior efforts.

The novel's protagonist is Sheriff Wilton Drake, a former Navy sailor who found his life upended by a sniper bullet in Lebanon. The bullet not only shattered his hip but his marriage, too. After fifteen years and a lot of empty bottles, we now find Drake as the proverbial small-town badge in Edgefield, North Carolina. Drake's alcoholic desires are partnered with his obsession for Diane, a stripper working at The Blue Lagoon. The author sometimes uses these as handrails as Drake climbs through procedures, small-town politics and bureaucracy to solve a young girl's brutal rape and murder. It's here, in the rain where readers first discover Drake hunched over the girl's body. As the procedural narrative tightens, another child goes missing, pushing Drake and his department to find the killer before the next victim.

There's a number of elements that Ralph Dennis uses that may parallel his own career. As essentially his last literary work, Dust in the Heart has a number of references to things that are just outside the grasp. Drake's romantic feelings are within reach, but his relationship with Diane is challenging and cold. The investigation may reveal the killer, but it's too far of a reach for a conviction. Cleverly, Dennis even uses the weather, explaining that snowfall barely touches “Edgefield”, instead pocketing just west of Greensboro every winter. The author's idea of elements within sight but out of touch could be self-reflective of the author's commercial failures as a producer of popular fiction. There's even a side-story where Drake spars with an F.B.I. Agent for credit in the newspaper. These are all indicative of the author's career missteps and failings.

Dust in the Heart is an effective, smart police procedural starring a purposefully flawed hero. While certain genre tropes are familiar, the author's ominous prose is masterful. Dust in the Heart proves that even small-town America can be the most threatening. It's this cold, sinister approach that makes Ralph Dennis' final pen-stroke his most enduring legacy.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, December 16, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 24

It’s the end of the year and the last episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast for 2019. In celebration of our inaugural year, we are revisiting the greatest books we read this year along with lots of edgy vintage paperback talk. Stream below or at your favorite podcast provider for our “Best of 2019” extravaganza. Download directly HERE Listen to "Episode 24: Best of 2019" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Spy in a Box

Author Ralph Dennis, who passed away in 1988, is mostly remembered for his 12-book series of hardboiled 'Hardman' novels. Brash Books, owned by New York Times bestselling authors Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman, have meticulously culled the author's published and unpublished catalog to re-introduce many of these novels to a new generation of crime-fiction fans. Along with “Dust in the Heart” (2020), “Spy in the Box” is another unpublished manuscript that Lee Goldberg unearthed from the author's archives. After extensive editing, the book now remains as another published testament of Ralph Dennis' talents as a storyteller.

The book places readers in the political upheaval of 1980s Costa Verde. Protagonist Will Hall works for the CIA as an experienced diplomatic operative. His assignment is uncovering the layers of bureaucracy tearing the small Latin American country apart. Hall's view is that the U.S. should support the moderates, led by presidential candidate Paul Marcos. His opposition is the rebels, backed by both Cuba and the Soviet Union.  After securing a firm relationship with Marcos, Hall is ordered to meet with the right wing party of landowners and mining interests. As a courtesy to Marcos, Hall arrives for an impromptu meeting to advise him that meetings will commence with the right wing. However, Hall arrives just in time to see Marcos assassinated by what he believes is the CIA. Discouraged and jaded, Hall returns to Washington and promptly retires.

Hall settles into a life of normalcy in his North Carolina mountain home. His serenity becomes short-lived when he reads that a bogus expose has been submitted to the newspaper. Falsely published under Hall’s by-line, the article exposes the assassination of Marcos including personal details that only Hall possesses. When Hall reports that the article was not authored by him, his entire life turns upside down. The CIA, press, and former colleagues have seemingly framed Hall, tossing the former operative into an intriguing cat-and-mouse game that he's forced to play to clear his name...and stay alive.

Like “The War Heist” (originally “MacTaggart's War”), Ralph Dennis manipulates a lot of characters and settings to present his unique story. What begins as the proverbial “frame job” story, where many spy and espionage thrillers thrive, eventually evolves into an elaborate power play between industry giants. Instead of suits and ties, it's Uzis and Ingrams. The author's character development of Hall is his strong suit, an attribute that is important given the amount of characters that bob and weave in and out of the narrative. There's a brief love interest, an international mystery and a tailspin on the moral compass – bad, badder, baddest. Thankfully, these characters sometimes blur the boundaries of what is perceived as traditional heroes.

With “Spy in the Box”, Ralph Dennis crafts an unconventional spy thriller with compelling characters that springboard into action. As more and more of the author's work is unearthed, Dennis is finally receiving the literary accolades he deserves.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, September 2, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 09

This episode features Tom's guide to building a "reader's library" for your home or office. We discuss the new reprint from Brash Books called "Spy Killer" (1967) by Jimmy Sangster and we look at "Bloody Vengeance" (1973) by Jack Ehrlich. We also look back at the month of August and some of our favorite titles. Stream it on any service, listen below or download here: Link Listen to "Episode 09: Building a Reader's Library" on Spreaker.

Foreign Exchange

The 'John Smith' spy novels were created by British author Jimmy Sangster (1927-2011) in the late 1960s. Influenced by Ian Fleming's James Bond, Sangster's espionage flair propelled "Private I" to be published in 1967 and later adapted for film. That novel featured British secret agent John Smith's exploits in a China-Russia crossover that was funny, entertaining and engaging. NY Times bestselling authors Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman reprinted the novel as "The Spy Killer" this year under their Brash Books imprint.

"The Spy Killer" finale left our spy hero in dire circumstances. Thankfully, Sangster revisited the book just a year later, publishing the sequel, "Foreign Exchange," in 1968. It was also treated to a film adaptation, and Brash Books reprinted the novel for a new generation to experience this excellent duo of espionage thrillers.

Without an immediate answer to the events that occurred in the prior book, “Foreign Exchange” begins in similar fashion as it's predecessor – John Smith working as a destitute private investigator in London. In a hilarious sequence of events, Smith agrees to assist Harvey, his office neighbor and talent agent, in a pregnancy blackmail case. A young singer named Anne has accused Harvey of knocking her up, a problem she can solve if Harvey pays her some cash. Harvey claims he didn't have relations with her, only a business relationship. This leads Smith to the club circuit where he eventually locates Anne (who is smokin' hot/isn't pregnant) and attempts to sleep with her many times. Unfortunately, Anne claims Smith just isn't her type. This sequence only absorbs 30-pages but I would have been delighted if it consumed the whole book. But this is a spy thriller, so on with the show.

Smith's financial distress is explained as a reference back to the closing pages of the prior book. With Smith flat broke (and rejected by a sultry sex-pot), it's just a matter of time before he accepts another assignment from his former boss Max, the head of the Secret Service. The Service has a Russian double-agent that they have been utilizing for years to spill false intelligence back to the Russians. For many reasons, this agent is no longer useful and they want Russia to take him off of their hands (in lieu of a public trial and prison). To do this, they want Smith to be a planted spy to be captured and imprisoned in Russia. Then, Max will wheel and deal and trade the double-agent back to Russia in exchange for Smith. For Smith, it is a month vacation in Russia and the promise of a cool $10K for doing the job. But, can Max be trusted? What if Smith is abandoned and condemned to the salt mines?

We covered David Morrell's short story “The Interrogator” (2011) [LINK] and praised it's effective, fascinating interrogation scenes. “Foreign Exchange” is boiling over with that gripping realism, with a lot of the narrative dedicated to interrogation scenes between Smith and his jailer Borensko. There's so much that Sangster builds into this fast-paced narrative. His conversational tone, dense with witty sarcasm and funny quips from Smith, enhances what is a rather dense plot. Thankfully, the author keeps the story moving well enough to allow brisk page turns - unlike, say, a technical espionage thriller that requires exhaustive notes and a deep knowledge of global alliances.

With sexy foreplay and an intriguing plot, “Foreign Exchange” is one of the best kept secrets of the spy genre. Thankfully, Brash Books has unearthed this treasure and is sharing it with the literary world.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

The Spy Killer

British author Jimmy Sangster (1927-2011) was a successful screenwriter and director, contributing to Hammer Films' classics like “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957), “Dracula” (1958) and “Lust for a Vampire” (1970). His passion for screenwriting was paralleled by his literary work. Capitalizing on the success of fellow Brit Ian Fleming's 'James Bond' empire, Sangster created the lady spy novel “Touchfeather” and the sequel “Touchfeather Too” in 1968 and 1970. Enjoying the espionage genre, the author wrote two novels featuring former British spy John Smith, “Private I” (1967) and sequel “Foreign Exchange” (1968). New York Times bestselling author Lee Goldberg has resurrected both novels for his Brash Books imprint, renaming “Private I” as “The Spy Killer.” Both are available with new artwork in digital and print versions.

“The Spy Killer” introduces readers to ex-British spy John Smith, now a lowly private-eye struggling to fulfill financial obligations to his creditors. To his surprise he obtains a paying client in the opening chapter – his ex-wife. She hires Smith to track down her new husband, Dunning, whom she fears may be having an affair with a man named Alworthy. Smith, giddy to receive money while relishing in his ex's misfortune,  agrees to tail her husband in hopes of photographing him and a lover.

Smith learns that Dunning is Principal Under-Secretary for Britain's Foreign Office and during a rather clever exercise, stumbles on the whereabouts of a meeting between both Dunning and his suspected lover, Alworthy. Arrriving at the residence with a camera, Smith is greeted by Alworthy as he bursts out of the couple's front door. Thanking Smith for arriving so quickly, the two hastily rush inside where Alworthy shows Smith the bloody dead corpse of Dunning! Alworthy, thinking Smith is a police officer, excuses himself to the kitchen while Smith awaits the police's arrival. Once there, all fingers point to Smith as they surprisingly confirm that there is no Alworthy in the house.

In jail, Smith fears that someone has blackmailed him. Through some backstory segments, we experience Smith's violent past, including the grim slaughter of a household of youths. It's a valued effort on the author's part to transcend the novel from sleuth private-eye into the international spy novel it aspires to be. As the novel moves into espionage, we learn that Smith has stumbled onto a plot by the Chinese to uncover American spies in their red state. Facing criminal charges for murdering Dunning, Smith is forced out of retirement by his notorious boss, Max. Temporarily freeing him, Max instructs Smith to find Alworthy, locate a stolen notebook and return it to Max. If the mission is a failure, Smith will either be killed or face a one-sided murder trial.

Sangster successfully runs the gambit of private-eye, murder mystery and international spy-thriller, creating enough depth and dynamics to propel “The Spy Thriller” into a suspenseful and engaging high-wire act. While utilizing a lot of moving parts, Sangster's spy hero fights and manipulates his enemies into a complex game of cat-and-mouse from London to Paris. Surprisingly, the book's strength lies in the fact that Smith is a very human, very flawed champion. His skill-set, while durable, is offset by his rather humorous clumsiness. Thankfully, this isn't the lovemaking, tuxedo-wearing international hero that saturated the market.

While not as  dominant as his contemporaries, Sangster proved he was a master craftsman. “The Spy Thriller” is exceptional. Critics agreed as both "Private I" and "Foreign Exchange" were adapted for film starring Robert Horton (Wagon Train).

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, December 14, 2018

The D.C. Man #03 - Your Daughter Will Die

In 1975, Berkeley Medallion Books released the third of four installments in The D.C. Man series by James P. Cody, a pseudonym used by former Roman Catholic Priest Peter T. Rohrbach after he left the priesthood and struck out to make a fortune in the lucrative world of men’s adventure pulp fiction. Although the series never took off commercially, I really enjoyed the first two books and was exited to dive into this one.

The D.C. Man is lobbyist and Washington troubleshooter, Brian Petersen, whose practice functions as a private investigative agency generally helping out Capital Hill types with serious problems. This time around, the client is Senator Lester Rankin whose daughter appears to have been kidnapped by a leftist revolutionary group demanding a ransom. Contacting the FBI is out of the question for the Senator, so he hires Brian to broker the cash-for-daughter exchange. 

Right away, Brian believes there is more to this than meets the eye. Could this be a Patty Hearst-style fake kidnapping? Why don’t these revolutionaries want media attention for their cause? Like a regular private detective, Brian fills his time following logical leads to learn more about the kidnappers while also preparing for the upcoming money exchange.

As with the previous two D.C. Man books, Brian’s big trick is that he is so well connected with the Washington power structure - both with the official hierarchy and the folks with underground power. If you need an ex-CIA operative to bug a phone, Brian knows a guy. If you need someone to quietly launder cash for a kidnapping ransom, Brian has a connection who can make that happen. The author’s fictional version of a capital that works - if only you know the right people - is a fun city to set a mystery-adventure series. I found a particular scene noteworthy in which Brian has his C.I.A. electronics expert install a “car phone” in furtherance of the mission, technology that must have seemed pretty space age in 1975.

Your Daughter Will Die neatly brings together the hardboiled mystery of a meticulously-logical gumshoe who follows leads to find a missing girl and the balls-out gunplay and exploding heads of Don Pendleton’s Executioner series. Way more than the mispackaged first two installments in The D.C. Man series, this one is a true men’s adventure novel.

And it’s also the strongest of the series’ first three paperbacks. The tension is palpable, the characters are vivid, the hero is righteous, and the action scenes are remarkably violent. If you’re only going to read one book in The D.C. Man series, let it be this unknown action masterpiece. Highly recommended.

All four books are available in new editions by Brash Books. You can purchase a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Hardman #02 - The Charleston Knife is Back in Town

Author Ralph Dennis began the 'Hardman' series in 1974 with "Atlanta Deathwatch". The book would kick-start a beloved 12 volume run of detective novels. Dennis used racy Atlanta as the backdrop for his two crime-fighters - Jim Hardman and Hump Evans. Recently, author and genre enthusiast Lee Goldberg acquired the publishing rights to 'Hardman' for his imprint, Brash Books.

You can read the review for “Atlanta Deathwatch” here. The second entry, “The Charleston Knife is Back in Town” (1974), features an introduction by author Joe R. Lansdale for its reprinting. It's the same intro used on the reprinting of the series debut, one where Lansdale clearly segregates the 'Hardman' series from what he considers a rather disposable 70s men's action-adventure genre (he has some disdain for adult westerns and his own work on the 'M.I.A. Hunter' titles). Lansdale is a fan of Dennis and his opening remarks about the series are

“The Charleston Knife is Back in Town” starts with the obligatory heist. This time Hump Evans is invited to a posh neighborhood for a little gambling party post-prize fight. Once there, he's escorted by gunpoint to a dark room sans his $700 of WAM (that's slang for Walk Around Money). After the robbers leave and the cops arrive, Evans embarrassingly shows up at Hardman's house to explain his night's turn of bad luck. It turns out that the gambling festivities involved many underworld honchos – all taken for over $700K in assets. Heads will roll. 

Soon, Hardman and Hump are contacted by a friend's sister with a possible connection to the heist. She fears that her young nephew was behind the robbery and may be a mob target. Our two detectives accept some payment and learn that the mob is coming down hard on the robbers. They have big money in place with a demand that the heist crew be taken down...real messy. The novel is a smooth and calculating read as Hardman and Hump navigate whore houses, strip clubs and dives to track down the robbers before the hired slasher.  

This series, and its second installment, showcases this Atlanta author's penchant for the crime noir. Building the novel around the heist is a vintage staple, but the spin here is having the protagonist attempting to save the crook. The sense of urgency increases with each chapter as the hired killer devours the clues. Ultimately, you know Hardman and this knife-wielder will face off - but it's how and where they meet that makes for an intriguing development. Kudos to Ralph Dennis, and Lee Goldberg, for recognizing what makes the detective formula effectively click. This is a mandatory read.

Purchase this book HERE

Monday, March 26, 2018

The D.C. Man #02 - Search and Destroy

The D.C. Man was a four-book action series released in 1974 and 1975 by a former Roman Catholic priest named Peter Rohrbach under the name James P. Cody. The series tracks the adventures of a Washington lobbyist and political troubleshooter named Brian Peterson who uses guns, political connections and brains to solve sensitive problems for Capital Hill big shots. One doesn’t need to read The D.C. Man books in any order as they stand well on their own, and relevant facts from the hero’s backstory are well explained in the first few chapters.

In this second installment, Peterson is hired by the attractive daughter of a US Senator to investigate the validity of her father’s recent suicide. At first, Peterson is skeptical that the Senator’s gun-in-the-mouth routine was anything other than self-inflicted, but the reader can see where this is heading once we learn that the Senator has been quietly investigating the scourge of 1970s men’s adventure fiction: The Mafia.

The setup and setting for The D.C. Man books provided the author great flexibility for story ideas - credibly toggling between espionage, crime, and political intrigue. This one is more of a straightforward private eye novel. Peterson follows leads diligently moving from person-to-person conducting interviews. Periodically, unidentified goons try to hurt or stop him, and those scenes of violence are always well-written and exciting. A sexual interest arises with a comely female character, and the resulting coupling is slightly more graphic than most crime novels from that era (but less explicit than, say, a Longarm western). In other words, there’s not much to distinguish this story from a solid, workmanlike P.I. novel starring Mike Shayne, Johnny Liddell, or Peter Chambers.

One thing that sets The D.C. Man apart from its contemporaries is the setting and era. The smoke of distrust and corruption of post-Watergate Washington, DC is thick in this story. Peterson spends a lot of physical and mental energy to figure out if the Senator killed himself because he feared the exposure of his own corruption or whether his corruption lead to his murder. The idea that the late Senator deserves a fair shake isn’t even an option for Peterson until a character confronts him about his anti-politician bias several chapters into the book. The symbiotic relationship between elected officials, their staffs, lobbyists, and the press is the fuel that feeds The D.C. Man books. This is a sexy, violent thriller for American political junkies.

By the time Peterson solves the novel’s central mystery concerning the reasons for the Senator’s death, the body count begins climbing exponentially. The brutality of each subsequent death appears to increase as our hero veers deeper into Mack Bolan territory - a lobbyist’s war against the mafia, if you will. The many action scenes are legitimately exciting and filled with gunplay and gripping suspense.

Overall, this second book in The D.C. Man series was another winner in a series that deserves more accolades than it ever received as a new release in the 1970s. Thankfully, Brash Books has reprinted all four novels in new editions with an introduction by yours truly. Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Searching For The D.C. Man: A Paperback Warrior Investigation

Was it possible that a Roman Catholic priest was secretly writing sexy spy novels on the side under a fake name during the 1970s? The search for answers brought me down a wormhole to one of the strangest – and most satisfying – searches for authorship that I’ve ever encountered.

In 1974 and 1975, Berkley Medallion released four books in a Men’s Adventure series called The D.C. Man by James P. Cody. The series hero is Brian Peterson, a former military intelligence operative who becomes a D.C. lobbyist. After a personal tragedy, his lobbying business floundered, and he reinvented himself as a gun-toting troubleshooter for elected officials with sensitive problems. If you need someone to stick a gun in the mouth of a blackmailer targeting a Senator, Brian’s your man. If a subcommittee discreetly needs to know who is leaking secrets to foreign powers, give Brian a call. The books have a nice balance of political intrigue, hard-boiled detective work, and sexy espionage action. 

When reading The D.C. Man paperbacks, the reader’s first impression is that the books are extremely well written. The first-person narration flows smoothly and conversationally, and Brian’s observations about life inside the beltway are astute and mature. They read more like Donald Hamilton’s early Matt Helm novels than, say, a disposable Nick Carter: Killmaster book. Although Berkley packaged and sold these short novels as cheap James Bond knock-offs, it’s clear that the author took real care in crafting these stories. They weren’t rush jobs written for a quick paycheck.

All of which begs the question: Who the heck was James P. Cody?

Google and Amazon searches weren’t much help initially. There was no indication that Cody wrote anything else. The D.C. Man series also never received much coverage from the various go-to blogs or Facebook groups that obsess over vintage Men’s Adventure fiction. The series just wasn’t commercially successful enough to garner much love or nostalgia 40+ years later. 

As with many mysteries, the answer of authorship was right under my nose: the copyright page of The D.C. Man paperbacks credits Peter T. Rohrbach as the writer. This was also confirmed by an entry in the 1974 Catalog of Copyright Entries: Cody was a pseudonym, and Rohrbach was the author.

In that case, who the heck was Peter T. Rohrbach?

The confusion intensified with a simple search for the name “Peter T. Rohrbach” on Amazon. That search revealed a handful of academic books about historical Roman Catholic figures and religious orders written by someone named “Peter Thomas Rohrbach.” Books such as Conversations With Christ and Journey to Carith stood in sharp contrast to the breezy covers on The D.C. Man books by James P. Cody. However, it wasn’t impossible to imagine a non-fiction writer trying to make a few extra bucks by tossing off some cheapo spy novels during the heyday of the espionage paperback original.

However, the “About the Author” in Conversations with Christ lead me to conclude that the two Rohrbachs were most likely different people:

The Rev. Father Peter Thomas Rohrbach, O.C.D., is a Carmelite priest and author. Born in 1926 and based in Washington, D.C., he has also served as an editor for the Catholic quarterly Spiritual Life. His Conversation with Christ, dedicated to our Lady of Mount Carmel, was first published in 1956 by Fides Publisher, Illinois, with the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur. Father Rohrbach's work was also printed by TAN in 2010.

There’s a lot to unpack in this short bio. The first thing was that the Rohrbach who wrote the religious books was, in fact, a Catholic priest of the Carmelite Order whose specialty is cloistered and contemplative prayer. Apparently, Father Rohrbach was a big deal in the world of Catholic academic scholarship as receiving a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur for a book is tantamount to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval from the Vatican. It’s like a Super Bowl ring for a Catholic author.

I telephoned the Carmelite rectory in Washington, D.C. on the off chance that Father Rohrbach may still be alive at age 91. The priest who answered the phone remembered Father Rohrbach and informed me that he had died several years ago. The priest was kind but informed me that no one remained whose memories of Father Rohrbach would be vivid enough to answer my questions. I dashed off an email to the Carmelites’ publishing arm on the off chance that someone there might have a lead for me.

I also spoke to author and publisher Lee Goldberg, who is no stranger to pseudonyms in adventure fiction. Goldberg began his career in the 1980s writing the .357 Vigilante series under the name Ian Ludlow and currently reprints vintage paperbacks under his Brash Books publishing arm. Goldberg was also a fan of The D.C. Man series. “I looked at these three years ago as possible Brash reprints and put our P.I. on it to find out who now had the rights. I don’t think she got any farther than you did before I had her stop and look into a different author, and we never circled back.”

A search of the 1980 edition of Writers Directory and the 2004 edition of International Who’s Who of Authors and Writers provided both clarity and confusion. The brief biographies confirmed that Peter Thomas Rohrbach also wrote as James P. Cody and was born in 1926. Both the religious books and The D.C. Man books are credited to Rohrbach in the bibliographies. The Who’s Who listing indicates that Rohrbach married a woman named Sheila Sheehan in September 1970, and neither directory mentioned Rohrbach being a Catholic priest. While it’s not completely impossible for a Catholic priest to have a wife and kids at some point, it is exceedingly rare. 

The 1980 Writers Directory listed a street address for Rohrbach in suburban Washington, D.C., and some online reverse directory searches located his wife and a daughter named Sarah, who was born in 1974 – the year of The D.C. Man’s debut. Some further searches led me to Sarah’s cell phone number, and I promptly left her a rambling voicemail asking her to call me back.

Two lucky breaks happened almost simultaneously: Sarah called me back, and a monk named Brother Bryan from the Carmelite publishing arm responded to my email. Together, they provided a portrait of the two lives of Father Peter T. Rohrbach, also known as espionage author, James P. Cody. 

First, the solution to the mystery of the seemingly married priest: Father Rohrbach left the priesthood in 1966 at the age of 40. He married Sheila in 1970, and she gave birth to Sarah a few years later. 

The pseudonym of James P. Cody has an interesting origin story. Rohrbach was actually born with the name James P. Cody, after his own father. His parents died, and young James was adopted by the Rohrbach family. “So James Cody legally changed his name to James Rohrbach,” Sarah explained. “He chose the name Peter Thomas while in the priesthood. He said it was common for priests to pick a new name.”

“He was a New York City boy to the core. He used to play stickball in the streets,” Brother Bryan recalled.  He joined the Carmelites in 1948 and was ordained as a priest in 1952. By the 1960s, Father Rohrbach found himself the “superior” of a tight group of 20 Carmelite priests and monks living, praying, and working in a Washington, D.C. rectory. 

From my dialogue with Brother Bryan, I got the feeling that Father Rohrbach was fun-loving – and maybe a tad rebellious – compared to the solemn and silent Carmelite stereotype. “One very difficult day, he knocked on my door very late at night and said ‘Let’s go to a movie.’ We did. It was “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, and the only seats at that popular show were in the first row, up front. So there we were, almost on our backs looking up at Audrey Hepburn!”

I broached the subject of Father Rohrbach’s separation from the priesthood gingerly with Brother Bryan, braced for a salacious story of a man, a woman, and forbidden love - something like The Thorn Birds. “It is not for me to conjecture,” he said. “All of us live by our decisions.” Apparently, it was a cordial separation, and Rohrbach kept in touch with his Carmelite friends long after he left the priesthood. His history of the Order, Journey to Carith, was released by the Carmelite’s publishing imprint in 1966, the same year he departed the rectory. “He left one caveat: do not change the text,” Brother Bryan said. “He seemed to love his writing.”

When I asked Sarah about her father leaving the priesthood behind, she simply said, “He told me he just wanted the intellectual freedom to write.” I found this answer interesting since the Carmelites clearly had no problem with Father Rohrbach cranking out intellectually-rigorous books about prayer and the lives of saints. Maybe he wanted to write about other things (i.e. sexy spy novels) but knew that this wouldn’t fly with the Carmelite Mothership.

Brother Bryan seemed to share my theory. “We all have our fatal attractions,” he said. “I think his was that he wanted to be a famous novelist.”

Whatever his reasons, Rohrbach quickly fell into a normal secular life. He married in 1970 and took a job teaching American History. He continued to edit a prestigious Catholic quarterly publication for years following his departure from the contemplative life. Sarah’s mother remembers Rohrbach writing The D.C. Man books when Sarah was a baby in 1974.

The D.C. Man books were published without much fanfare, and it doesn’t appear that he ever returned to genre fiction. I told Sarah that I was hoping to uncover a story about a Roman Catholic priest secretly writing sexy spy novels under a fake name, but the real story was far more complex. “I still think that may be the truth, though,” Sarah said. “He was likely at least working on them.”

Rohrbach rarely spoke to his family about The D.C. Man. The colorful paperbacks must have stuck out like sore thumbs as they sat on his home office bookshelf among the 16 books he wrote before his 2004 death. He went on to write non-fiction books about stagecoach travel and the Wright brothers, but he never returned to Men’s Adventure fiction. 

Early in The D.C. Man #1: Top Secret Kill, our hero Brian Peterson recounts his own personal trauma that informed his life thereafter. His wife and young daughter were killed in an auto accident by two teenagers hot-rodding down the street. The accident broke Brian’s spirit and The D.C. Man series can be seen as a larger story of Brian trying to recover from this trauma and regain his own humanity from the grip of intense grief. As an author, Rohrbach could have chosen any life-changing trauma he wanted for Brian, but instead he chose the loss of a wife and daughter. 

Bear in mind that this novel was written and released the same year as the birth of his own daughter to a wife that he was only able to marry because he was brave enough to deny one set of vows to take on another. It’s almost as if Rohrbach included this backstory as a message to a future Sheila and Sarah to tell them how much he loved them. That they were everything to him. That he would be lost without them.

Sarah told me that she’s only read one of The D.C. Man books, and I encouraged her to read the other novels in the series. I told her that her father really was a fine writer.

“Yes,” she said, “He was lovely with words.” 


Thanks to the relentless efforts of Paperback Warrior's Tom Simon, a retired F.B.I. agent, the entire four-book series of The D.C. Man novels have been published in new editions courtesy of Brash Books. The series debut, Top Secret Kill, features an introduction by Tom Simon. You can obtain the books HERE.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The D.C. Man #01 - Top Secret Kill

The four books of The D.C. Man series were released in 1974 and 1975, a few years after the author Peter Rohrbach (writing as James Cody) departed his previous life as a Roman Catholic priest and pursued writing as a career. The series wasn’t a great commercial success, and he never returned to the Men’s Adventure genre - a particular shame because the series introduction, Top Secret Kill, was a real gem of a debut. Thankfully, the whole series has been reprinted by Brash Books in new editions with an introduction by yours truly.

Narrator Brian Peterson is a D.C. lobbyist recovering from the emotional toll of his family’s death in a car accident. As a result of his personal tragedy, his lobbying business went into the toilet, and he now earns money as a fix-it man for Congressmen to bury or repair their personal calamities. The premise is very similar to the modern hit ABC TV show, Scandal.

In this novel, Peterson is engaged by a congressional subcommittee to quietly determine who might be leaking documents to hostile European interests. It’s an important gig for Peterson because it will render his business solvent again following the long-term lack of revenue during his mourning period. To solve the mystery, Peterson employs a vast network of contacts, journalists, and informants to help him uncover the leaker. 

The action is generally localized to the Washington, D.C. area with an investigative jaunt to Delaware to run down a promising lead. For most of the book, it reads like a well-written private-eye novel as Peterson conducts a logical investigation. Along the way, he meets a sexy German babe, and nature follows its course - but is there more to her than meets the eye?

The handful of action sequences are violent and well-written. The author isn’t afraid to let the lead fly and spill a lot of blood when appropriate. But it’s the brutal, climactic action sequence at the end that will stay with the reader long after this 190 page novel is completed. It’s almost as if Rohrbach/Cody wanted to prove to himself that he could write action sequences of extreme violence despite his recent day job as a man of peace.

Top Secret Kill was an excellent story of political intrigue with crisp writing and a fat-free plot. It serves as a great introduction to a complex and nuanced action hero who deserved a lot more adventures than the four that were published. A strong recommendation for this debut novel is a no-brainer. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.