Showing posts with label D.C. Man. Show all posts
Showing posts with label D.C. Man. Show all posts

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, 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.