Showing posts with label Calvin Clements. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Calvin Clements. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Barge Girl

Stark House Press continues to reprint the original novels of New Jersey native Calvin Clements. During his life, Clements was in the Navy, served as a firefighter in New York City, and later perfected writing by contributing numerous scripts for television shows like Gunsmoke, How the West Was Won, and Dr. Kildare. Along with authoring short stories, he wrote four stand-alone paperbacks, two of which are paired together in a new Stark House two-in-one, Hell Ship to Kuma (1954) and Barge Girl (1953). I read and enjoyed Hell Ship to Kuma, as well as another of Clements' novels, Satan Takes the Helm (1952). Barge Girl was on my radar and thankfully has arrived in a gorgeous edition with an introduction by Timothy J. Lockhart (Smith, Pirates).

As a tugboat captain, Joe Baski tows barges around New York City. He's been on boats his whole life, including a sting as a quartermaster during WWII. But, his dream is to own a boat of his very own. Over the years, Baski has invested a few dollars every week to build what is ultimately a $50,000 boat. His next move is to quietly finish out his employment and then start his own charter business in the Florida Keys. Then came the “barge girl”, a married knockout named Stella.

When Joe first lays his eyes on Stella, he knows he must possess her. Stella's husband is much older, a weathered barge watchman that has become complacent with his boring existence. Stella wants more out of life, but feels an obligation to her husband. When she meets Joe, there is an instant attraction, a hot chemistry that refuses to burn out. Joe needs Stella for the next phase of his life and Stella wants to go, but is fighting an inner urge to be a devoted wife. 

Without spoiling your enjoyment, Clements successfully combines a love story with a suspenseful death, set against the backdrop of the 1950s shipping business. Like his prior novels, Clements still offers readers technical lessons on freighters and barges, but it doesn't distract from what amounts to be a thrilling narrative as Joe and Stella wade the waters of seduction and deceit. Fans of police procedural novels may enjoy the book's finale, complete with a pesky and thorough insurance investigator. 

Overall, Clements is simply masterful and remains one of the most frustrating authors of the mid 20th century. With only four novels to his name, readers deserved so much more than what he produced. Thankfully, I still have one more Clements novel to read, Dark Night of Love (1956) and at least 14 short-stories, all of which have been listed in the Clements bibliography at the back of Stark House's reprint. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Satan Takes the Helm

Popular screenwriter Calvin Clements authored three nautical-themed paperbacks in the 1950s – Barge Girl, Hell Ship to Kuma and Satan Takes the Helm. After enjoying my first experience with Clements, Hell Ship to Kuma, I was on the hunt for his other two nautical titles. Thankfully, Stark House Press timed their newest release perfectly. Satan Takes the Helm, originally published in 1954 by Fawcett Gold Medal, is the newest publication of Stark House's imprint Black Gat Books. Needless to say, I was thrilled to obtain a copy.

In the opening chapters, Martin Lewandowski is a rugged freighter captain searching for work on the San Francisco docks. A timely job tip leads him to a hotel room and an interview with a woman named Joyce. Martin explains to the reader that Joyce isn't particularly pretty, but is blessed with a stunning body. Surprisingly, this is an important part of the narrative. When Joyce inquires about Martin's non-vocational skills and personal attributes, the interview takes a slight detour. Caught up in the moment, Martin kisses Joyce which apparently seals the deal. Martin is then hired as the chief officer on the Trader, an Asian freighter that is currently helmed and owned by Captain Sloan, Joyce's horribly disfigured, aging husband.

After Sloan provides a touching, personal account of his life on the old ship, Martin begins to appraise the boat's sea-readiness. After given full permission to whip the crew into shape, the narrative's first half begins to resemble the early stages of the proverbial sports underdog story. Martin condemns the lackadaisical effort by Sloan's crew to maintain the ship's peak performance, but he also questions their loyalty and work ethic. He's determined to rebuild the Trader into a worthy sea vessel in return for 10% of the profits. However, before you conjure up images of Gene Hackman transforming a looser Hoosier into a champion, Clements injects a femme fatale archetype into the novel's story. Suddenly, this venturesome nautical tale begins to resemble the classic crime-noir.

The author, or the original publisher, chose the perfect book title for this crime-driven story. Satan Takes the Helm is exactly that. As an angel, Martin appears to have rescued Sloan from the red ink that threatens to drown his operation. But once this mysterious, seductive married woman offers up her body, Martin's clear path to sterling leadership and lucrative profit becomes overgrown with evil vices. As the narrative unwinds, Martin's admirable persona has transformed into a guilt-ridden spiral of madness and regret. Is his role on the Trader divine intervention or inglorious malice? That's the slippery edge that Clements navigates.

Satan Takes the Helm is an adventurous nautical tale that surprisingly serves as a sexy and crafty crime-noir. As readers ride the choppy waves, the characters become more dynamic and mentally unbalanced. It's this sort of downward spiral from the promised land to the depths of Hell that made writers like Day Keene and Gil Brewer literary superstars. Calvin Clements uses that tried-and-true formula and places it in a unique setting. The combination makes for a compelling, thoroughly enjoyable story that completely validates the decision to reprint the vintage paperback for modern audiences. Clements rightfully sails again and you should get on board.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, January 24, 2020

Hell Ship to Kuma

Calvin Clements (1915-1997) utilized his experiences in the US Navy to author a number of adventure novels and short stories. After serving in Southeast Asia, Clements would become a fireboat pilot with the New York City Fire Department. Beginning in 1959, Clements would begin writing for television shows like “Gunsmoke”, “Have Gun, Will Travel”, “How the West Was Won” and “Dr. Kildare”. His original paperback novels were nautical-themed and often set in remote locations of Asia. Fawcett Gold Medal published three of his literary works: Satan Takes the Helm (1952), Barge Girl (1953) and the subject at hand, Hell Ship to Kuma (1954).

Clements introduces readers to the fearless, but financially strapped, Captain John Roper. After a disaster at sea, Roper's former employer has relieved him of his duty. Now, Roper is a lowly ship mate looking for work in an Asian port. It's here where our protagonist meets up with Captain Murdoch and his salvage boat, The Wanderer. After a brief job interview, Roper finds his new employer to be arrogant and belligerent. But despite Murdoch's shortcomings, money talks and Roper is broke.

Life on The Wanderer proves to be a hard and cruel existence. Murdoch is a madman, often scolding the crew with Old Testament scripture while simultaneously belittling their roles on his ship. Thankfully, Roper befriends a passenger named Karen and the two have an instant attraction. Karen is journeying to the island of Kuma to become a dancer, but Roper has suspicions that she's being too naive to believe her performances will be limited to just dancing.

While all of this is somewhat interesting, the narrative itself is built around a heist. The idea is that Murdoch and the crew will cooperate with the tiny island of Kuma to steal a freighter of metal. Once they replace the freighter's labor with their own crew, they will offload the metal onto the island and then radio that the ship and it's freight has sunk. Over a two year span, they will slowly sell off the metal and split the profits among the crew. But like any good heist novel...mixing money, greed and criminals is a dangerous combination.

Hell Ship to Kuma was entertaining enough but never rises above average. For a 1954 adventure novel, I think the author prides himself too much on describing Southeast Asian ports and islands to readers who will likely never see these exotic locations. John Roper is an admirable hero and his plotting with Murdoch was an engaging read. However, the entire heist aspect doesn't come to fruition until page 100, leaving only 60 pages remaining to tell the tale that matters. Overall, Hell Ship to Kuma is worth reading if you control your expectations and don't spend a fortune on it. 

Thankfully, the good folks at Stark House Press have reprinted this novel as a twofer along with the author's Barge GirlBuy a copy of this book HERE