Showing posts with label Brian Garfield. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brian Garfield. Show all posts

Friday, March 4, 2022

The Hit

After authoring westerns for a decade, Brian Francis Wynne Garfield began writing crime-fiction in the 1970s. His pinnacle may have been 1972's Death Wish, but books like Relentless and The Three-Persons Hunt were stellar genre entries. Based on my research, 1970's The Hit may have been Garfield's first traditional crime-fiction novel. 

At the relatively young age of 30, Simon Crane spends his days as an amateur geologist in the desert. Before his complacent lifestyle, Crane was an Army Intelligence Lieutenant, a collegiate baseball player, a newspaper reporter and a cop. On the beat, Crane was “accidentally” shot by his partner during a hardware store holdup. After taking two .357 bullets in the thigh, Crane is now on early retirement and disability, allowing plenty of time for rockhounding.

Crane's life is turned upside down when his former love interest, Joanne, shows up at his door with an incredible tale. She is employed as a secretary for one of the front businesses ran by the Aiello-Madonna-DeAngelo mob. Along with playing with Aiello's files, she occasionally allowed him to bed her down in his downtime. Due to the intimacy, Joanne knew that Aiello had over three-million dollars in his secure safe as well as incriminating evidence on lawmakers, politicians, mob members, and even herself. When she arrived at work that morning, Aiello was missing and his safe was open and empty. 

Shortly after explaining to Crane that she doesn't know what to do about her situation, two mob enforcers appear and search Crane's house for any evidence that Joanne may be hiding. Doing the smart thing, Crane and Joanne go to DeAngelo and Madonna and explain that they had absolutely nothing to do with Aiello's murder. DeAngelo doesn't believe them and feels that Joanne sold out the mob and now she's been fed to them as the scapegoat. DeAngelo issues a deadly deadline: 48 hours to either bring the money back or prove that they didn't kill Aiello.

Garfield's short novel contains gambling, mobsters, double-crosses, car chases, and the obligatory “body buried at a road construction site”, all main ingredients of any great crime-fiction dish. The mystery aspect could be the fact that Crane is attempting to find the answer to save his own life. This is a genre trope of many 1940s and 1950s original paperbacks.

The Hit showcases Garfield re-creating the magic of crime-noir and makes both Crane and Joanne likable heroes throughout the propulsive plot. While there are a lot of characters to remember, the storyline and development isn't overly complicated or convoluted. Instead, this is just another good Brian Garfield novel with enough gritty violence and perplexing mystery to satisfy seasoned genre fans. 

Get the ebook HERE.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Sam Watchman #02 - The Threepersons Hunt

Brian Garfield (1939-2018) wrote westerns throughout the 1960's. Beginning in the early 1970s, the author began writing crime-fiction, highlighted by Death Wish in 1972, I loved his 1972 thriller Relentless, featuring Sam Watchman, an Arizona state police officer. Luckily, Garfield revisited the character with his 1974 novel The Threepersons Hunt. I purchased the Fawcett Gold Medal paperback edition hoping for the same reading pleasure as Relentless.

Watchman is a Navajo and has been working as a State Trooper for a decade. He has a strong track record but has not been promoted. His curiosity is peaked when his direct supervisor offers him a special assignment. A prisoner named Joe Threepersons escaped from prison and is suspected of returning to his Apache Reserve. The agreement is that Watchman will be assigned a temporary detective role that can potentially shift to a full-time role if he can successfully retrieve the prisoner. Simple, right? The problem is that Watchman and Threepersons come from two different Indian tribes. Historically, Navajo and Apache do not mix well. As such, the work may become very dangerous for Watchman.

Threepersons originally went to prison for a murder he happily confessed to. His wife and young son profited financially from his captivity by receiving substantial sums of money. These funds were used to invest in a business and the child's future expenditures at college. Did Threepersons take the fall so his family could become financially independent? Before Threepersons escaped from prison, he learned that his wife and son were killed in a car accident. Watchman's pursuit of Threepersons evolves into an elaborate murder investigation.

The placement of Sam Watchman in this big investigation is different from the high-action formula of Relentless. I love both books, but I think Watchman is more in his element with the procedural style story. There are many shootings and action to satisfy the readers, but I really enjoyed the complex mystery. Central to the story is a legal battle between the Indians and a large cattle ranch belonging to a businessman with close ties to Threepersons. Garfield's characters reflect greed, deadly intent, sexual desire, poverty and revenge. There are plenty of characters, but that's not enough to make the plot dense or confusing. 

In some respects, Watchman is like Craig Johnson's Longmire character. Both are astute with a penchant for solving issues with logic and proof. Still, the two are capable of holding their own when it comes to the inevitable struggle. I also compare Watchman with the Dakota character of Gilbert Ralston. It could be the rural rocky areas or the interaction among the Native American tribes. I wanted Garfield to follow up on a third novel starring Sam Watchman. I think there was so much potential with that character. Regardless, The Three Persons Hunt is a real pleasure to read. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Sam Watchman #01 - Relentless

Author David Morrell's 1972 action-thriller “First Blood” was a runaway hit, eventually adapted to film in 1982 and kick-starting the 'Rambo' franchise that's still thriving today. Attempting overnight success, many authors and publishers exploited the idea and began releasing similar novels featuring wilderness pursuits, small town sheriffs and ex-military survivalists. As good as author Brian Garfield is, I've got solid evidence that his 1973 Fawcett Gold Medal novel “Relentless” may have been imitating the “First Blood” literary phenomenon.

Navajo Native American Sam Watchman patrols a 150 mile stretch of rural Arizona with his white partner Sam Stevens. The two receive a call that the nearest town, San Miguel, has experienced a bank heist and Watchman's friend has been killed. The five robbers escape town using a plane, but end up crashing in the Utah mountains during a blizzard. Watchman, Stevens and an FBI agent named Vickers journey into the rugged, frosty wilderness to capture them.

Garfield's presentation is through Watchman and the kindhearted criminal Walker via alternating chapters. The narrative explores Walker's criminal history and how he's involved with a band of ex-Green Berets and $900K in stolen cash. Less is known about Watchman, but the author takes an easy path by creating a riff between the local Watchman and the “city slicker FBI know-it-all” Vickers. Watchman is a lovable, capable and valid hero, yet a lot of emphasis is placed on his unending confrontation with Vickers.

The “First Blood” connection is fairly easy. Walker and the criminals, all ex-military, are the hunted prey instead of Rambo. The “First Blood” small town corrupt sheriff Teasle is noble Navajo State Trooper Watchman. Rambo's intelligent, cunning and somewhat sympathetic Colonel Trautman is the arrogant, foolish FBI agent Vickers. The characters and setting is emulated, just shuffled with reverse roles.

So, the question I ask myself: Is the book enjoyable knowing the author is borrowing from “First Blood”? The answer is a resounding YES!

“Relentless” is a high-speed pursuit complete with rugged adventure, violence, emotional distress and psychological suspense. The tension between Walker and the cutthroats is managed at just the right level, stretching the puppet strings between the characters and their  own moral decency. Further, Vickers and Watchman's psychological warfare is an intense chess match that helps deepen the story-line of “country bumpkin versus city slicker”. The action-adventure genre tropes are well established – blizzard, high adventure, plane crashes, car chases, bank robberies, guns and a damsel in distress. It's a playbook that Brian Garfield uses to elevate this simple heist novel into an effective action-thriller.

There are plenty of “First Blood” impostors - some good and some bad. Hell, David Morrell borrowed the concept from Geoffrey Household's 1939 novel “Rogue Male”. Is anything truly original besides “Beowulf”? Probably not. But that shouldn't keep you from enjoying a popcorn paperback like “Relentless”. The novel was adapted as a CBS made-for-television movie in 1977 and Garfield wrote a 1974 sequel starring Sam Watchman - “The Threepersons Hunt”. Both of these novels are still in print today and also exist in ebook format.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, July 1, 2019

Target Manhattan

Brian Garfield died on December 29, 2018 at the age of 79, but he left behind a legacy of important work in the American action-adventure fiction cannon. His obituaries primarily focused upon the fact that he wrote “Death Wish” and “Hopscotch,” but he also authored several great westerns as well as many paperback originals that never received the Hollywood treatment.

After learning of his death, I felt moved to read one of his 70 novels, and I chose 1975’s “Target Manhattan,” which was originally released under the pseudonym Drew Mallory. Today, the short book is available from Mysterious Press under Garfield’s own name, and it’s well worth your time. 

The entirety of “Target Manhattan” is written in the form of transcripts from interviews conducted by a special commission established by the New York Civil Defense Emergency Control Board in the aftermath of a significant “disaster” in New York City. The reader is left to gain an understanding of the scope of the tragedy and the manner the events unfolded from the contents of the formal testimony comprising the book. It’s a brave literary approach that would have failed in the hands of a lesser author.

The incident in question - as depicted on the original Ballentine paperback cover art - involves a lunatic pilot in a WW2-era bomber plane circling Manhattan and threatening to bomb the city unless he receives a $5 million ransom. The scheme to get away with the dough is rather brilliant until he runs up against some pretty clever civil servants who hatch their own plan to stop him.

Beyond that, telling you any more about what happens would be book reviewer malpractice. However, I’m comfortable saying that this book is an unheralded classic of the suspense genre - a real, old-school, high-stakes disaster movie on paper. The government response sequences addressing this exigent threat reminded me a lot of the original “Independence Day” movie, and the after-the-fact interview format of the novel reminded me of Max Brooks’ “World War Z” novel. Perhaps the aircraft spec talk was a bit much for me as a layman, but it never distracted from the story.

Brian Garfield, you are missed - but your work lives on forever. And this one comes highly recommended.

Buy a copy of the book HERE