Showing posts with label Fawcett Gold Medal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fawcett Gold Medal. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Return to Vikki

John Tomerlin (1930-2014) was a screenwriter and novelist — mostly in the science-fiction genre — who authored a Fawcett Gold Medal heist novel in 1959 called Return to Vikki. The exciting paperback has returned from the dead as an ebook, paperback, and audiobook from Cutting Edge Books.

Frank Shelby lives an idyllic suburban life with a good job and a pretty wife. This is all upended one day when his past comes knocking from his prior life back east in the form of a mob henchman. You see, before he was Frank Shelby, he was a master thief named Connor, now a wanted man and a fugitive. Frank’s wife has no clue about her husband’s double-life.

The visitor makes him a deal: travel back to Manhattan to meet with a mob boss about “one more job” or deal with the police and the repercussions of his old life. Making up an excuse to his wife, Frank travels back east to learn more.

Before he knows it, Frank finds himself at a mob-owned titty-bar called Club Xanadu only to find the titular Vikki dancing on stage. Frank and Vikki used to be an item before Frank dipped out and left the criminal life without saying goodbye to Vikki. Once he finally gets an audience with the mob boss, it is explained that the job requires “stealing an entire bank” — not robbing it, stealing it.

The mobster further explains that what he’s talking about is a bank that is moving across New York City from one location to another. This will involve packing up the vault and all of the assets and physically moving it across the city. It will take a man like Frank, with a particular set of skills to pull off a heist this audacious. The racketeer makes Frank an offer he can’t refuse, and the planning begins.

Along the way there’s a murder frame-up, a random beating, and extensive sexual temptation. Perhaps there was a bit too much happening, and the paperback would have been better with less mid-novel clutter and a greater focus on the heist planning and execution? In any case, it’s never particularly hard to follow.

Never fear, the novel gets back on track for the final act of the heist and its aftermath. The robbery itself is creatively-executed and the moral dilemmas surrounding it were completely compelling. The aftermath has an audacious action set piece and a killing evoking an early James Bond film.

Overall, Return to Vikki was a remarkably good - and twice mispackaged - heist novel that fans of Lionel White and Richard Stark will enjoy immensely. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Earl Drake #11 - Operation Deathmaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Little Sister

Robert Martin (1908-1976) wrote a fair amount of crime and mystery paperbacks under his own name as well as the pseudonym Lee Roberts. Little Sister was a 1952 stand-alone Fawcett Gold Medal hardboiled private-eye paperback that has been reborn as a Black Gat reprint, including an insightful introduction by Bill Pronzini.

Our narrator is Private Detective Andrew Brice, and he is summoned to a new client meeting at a large estate. His client is a wealthy, attractive woman named Miss Vivian Prosper who has just gone through a financially-advantageous divorce. Vivian shares the lakefront mansion with her little sister, Linda — and since the novel is called Little Sister, you probably saw that coming.

Little Sister Linda is a 17 year-old whiskey-swilling hellion, and she stands to inherit a pile of money from a trust fund soon when she reaches 18. Linda intends to marry a 30 year-old gas station attendant, and Big Sister Vivian wants PI Brice to break up the romance because the loser boyfriend is clearly just trying to get his claws on the trust fund cash.

All of this is conveyed in the Chapter One meeting between Brice and Vivian. The reader sees where this is going, and then Little Sister Linda arrives home in her convertible, drunk-as-a-skunk with a dead body in the trunk. And THAT’S how you start a private eye paperback.

As a licensed professional, Brice is duty bound to report the corpse in the trunk to the police, but sexy Vivian has other ideas. Could the prospect of getting laid with the seductive divorcee possibly convince our PI to dispose of the body with no police involvement? That’s the kind of thing that could turn a hardboiled private eye mystery into a femme fatale crime noir paperback.

You’ll need to read the book to find out how Brice handles this and other dilemmas he confronts throughout this lean paperback. The plot eventually settles into a pretty standard PI mystery with Brice interviewing one witness after another until the situation becomes both more clear and more messy as red herrings arise. It’s all well-written with a sexy undercurrent thanks to the seductive sisters at the eye of the storm and the fact that every female interviewee throws themselves at Brice.

The climactic conclusion is a scene where the villain, now revealed, explains the motivation and execution of the murder in painstaking detail while holding a gun on Brice. It’s an overused trope in mystery fiction, but well-executed in this case.

And that’s the thing with Little Sister. This paperback breaks zero new ground for a private eye mystery of the 1950s. However, if you’re in the mood for a completely traditional and readable genre paperback, you could do a lot worse. It’s about as good as a better-than-average Mike Shayne novel. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, September 8, 2023


Jack Sheridan was a novelist of the early 1950s whose work has been rediscovered thanks to new editions from Cutting Edge Books. This includes his 1951 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback original, Thunderclap.

The main character is a nomadic laborer named Britt Callum who can never hold down a job because he inevitably gets in a fight and clobbers the other guy a bit too hard. After a one-punch knockout in an Oklahoma bunkhouse, the human giant is back on the road hitchhiking and looking for a place to land.

He settles in rural Wichita Falls, Texas where he encounters a short ex-boxer named Rigger who appears to be the town’s drunken bully. Early in the novel, there’s a vivid fistfight scene showcasing the author’s capacity to be a damn fine action writer. For his part, Rigger is a powderkeg of hot-tempered, little-man violence and every scene awaits his next eruption.

One thing leads to another, and Big Britt finds himself working for Little Rigger and living at his wheat farm. As soon as Britt arrives at Rigger’s dilapidated acreage, he meets Rigger’s wife, Marcy. And as soon as the author describes her round, firm breasts, you know exactly where this story is headed.

Rigger has a brother named Newt who also lives on the farm. As bad and dangerous as Rigger is, Newt is ten-times more dangerous and conniving. Newt is the first to notice the vibes between Britt and Marcy, and the minefield of Britt’s current existence is underscored.

In 1951, Thunderclap was a commercial success selling over 500,000 copies and multiple printings with two cover variations. The people of Wichita Falls didn’t care for the way their town was portrayed as a redneck shithole populated by dusty bar-fighters, but such is fiction, right?

This is a novel with a great beginning and a gruesome conclusion, but a plodding middle. The “will they, won’t they” dilemma between Britt and Marcy occupied nearly the entirety of the book to the extent that I was left thinking that Harry Whittington or Gil Brewer would have just killed off the bastard Rigger much sooner setting up the novel’s tension.

Thunderclap is also a rather depressing novel, like a blues song or murder ballad set to prose. These are some hard-luck characters scraping by with a meager existence. The upside is that Sheridan is a very good writer, and I never considered walking away from the book because I needed to know what would become of these four tragic characters.

As long as you know what you’re getting (i.e. not a crime noir, more of a rural melodrama), you’ll probably like Thunderclap just fine. The Texas setting is vivid, the characters are well-drawn, and the writing is solid. It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but a compelling timepiece certainly worth your time. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Satan is a Woman/13 French Street

Stark House Press just released a reprint from Gil Brewer compiling his first two original novels — both from 1951 - Satan is a Woman and 13 French Street. The volume also features an informative introduction from David Rachels.

Satan is a Woman from 1951 was Brewer’s first original novel and the beginning of his publishing relationship with the Fawcett Gold Medal imprint. The narrator is Larry, the manager of a tavern on the coast in St. Petersburg, Florida. 

Larry’s a legit businessman, but his brother Tad is not. Tad recently killed two dudes in Tampa, and now the cops are looking for him. Tad is hiding out with Larry, and Larry is forced to lie to protect his brother — a problem he never invited. As Tad’s legal jeopardy worsens, it becomes clear that Larry needs to come up with money — a lot of it — for an attorney to save his big brother.

One afternoon a knockout blonde walks into Larry’s sleepy tavern. Her name is Joan Turner, and she’s a New Yorker who just rented a cabin next door to Larry’s bungalow. Everything about this initial interaction gives Larry the green light to make a move. Of course, you realize there must be a catch. After all, this is a Gil Brewer novel and you may have noticed the title…

Joan’s true colors come out gradually and watching Larry compromise his own ethics little by little was fascinating to read. There are some great plot twists that I won’t spoil for you here. Suffice it to say that this is a top-notch femme fatale noir story among the best Brewer had to offer.

Brewer’s second 1951 paperback, 13 French Street, was also his most popular book. The paperback sold over a million copies and sustained multiple printings from Fawcett Gold Medal in the U.S. and foreign publishers abroad. The short novel’s reputation as a sex-drenched story of lust and betrayal drew me in, and the pages just kept turning.

Our narrator is Alex Bland, and he’s on vacation visiting his old war-buddy, Verne. Upon arriving at Vern’s house at 13 French Street in a fictional southern town, he is greeted at the door by Verne’s impossibly sexy and flirtatious wife Petra, a dame who just oozes promiscuity. Although Alex has never met Petra before, they know each other from letters (paper emails) they’ve exchanged over the past five years. You see, Verne isn’t much of a letter writer, so he had his sexy wife write the letters to keep in touch with his best pal. (Note to dudes with sexy wives: Bad idea.)

Things are awkward for Alex from the moment he arrives. Verne has aged poorly and does a bad job feigning enthusiasm regarding Alex’s visit. Petra can’t help but make bedroom eyes at Alex every time their gazes lock. A pretty chambermaid confides in Alex that he’d be well-served to keep his bedroom door locked at night.

Things escalate exponentially when Verne leaves town on business, leaving Alex to his “vacation” at the house with Petra. Verne’s elderly witch of a mother lives in the house, and she keeps a close eye on Petra while her son is gone. However, that doesn’t stop Petra from trying to seduce Alex every time the old lady’s back is turned. If you enjoy your vintage paperbacks filled with sexual tension, this one is definitely for you.

Eventually, the old lady’s chaperoning becomes more and more troublesome, and you can imagine where that goes. It takes about halfway through the paperback before 13 French Street becomes a full-fledged crime noir novel where bad ideas beget further moral slippage. It’s also compelling as hell, and the pages keep flying by - making it abundantly clear why this book was such a sensation nearly 70 years ago.

To be sure, there is some retrograde treatment of women in this book that wouldn’t fly today, but 1951 was a very different world. While I still think that The Vengeful Virgin was Brewer’s top masterpiece, 13 French Street isn’t far behind. It remains a lusty noir classic with a femme fatale you won’t forget. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 5, 2023

Trouble-Texas Style

In 1964, Fawcett Gold Medal published Trouble-Texas Style, a crime-noir paperback that sported a Robert McGinnis cover and an unfamiliar author name of John Bramlett. My research suggests that the author was really John Pierce. However, I can only speculate that it is the same John Pierce (1910-2002), that was a famed American engineer that invented the term “transistor”. Pierce was a pioneer in electronics, information theory, and pulse-code modulation while working at Bell Laboratories. More importantly, for Paperback Warrior fans, Pierce authored 13 books and numerous short-stories, mostly science-fiction, using the name J.J. Coupling and John R. Pierce. 

In full disclosure, I can't directly link Trouble-Texas Style to Pierce, but it would make sense that this is the same guy. He also authored one other Fawcett Gold Medal paperback under the Bramlett name, 1967's The Devil in Broad Daylight. In a Cal Tech document, it suggests that Pierce had developed second thoughts about how his name on stories and science-fiction magazines would affect his employers. So, the additional pseudonym of Bramlett may have been chosen for crime-fiction. It's a stretch, but it's all I have. Additionally, there are some technical aspects to Trouble-Texas Style on drilling and the various equipment and leases required at the time. Perhaps Pierce's engineering background played a role in the writing.

Harry Miller grew up in Carlyle, Texas, a small shoreline town where people spend their time drinking and fishing. In the book's opening pages, Miller is in Houston brooding over his recent divorce, unemployment, and an empty apartment. A guy named Fowler approaches Miller and attempts to convince him that Carlye still has wells that will produce oil. When he shows Miller the locations, it is evident that Miller's childhood friend Roy Boatner previously tapped the wells dry and allowed the leases to expire. But, Fowler claims otherwise and wants Miller to accompany him back to Carlyle to do a few introductions and show him the lay of the land. Miller is hesitant, but Fowler offers to pay him, so he goes along for the ride.

On the way, Miller leaves Fowler in an attempt to inform Roy of the tapped out wells and the possibility of more production. When Miller finally locates Roy in a small town, the two pick up their friendship and Roy offers Miller a job. From the dialogue, these two have been on and off friends for decades – Roy found success in oil drilling and Miller has mostly floundered. Awakening at a roadside motel, Miller discovers that Roy has walked outside to start the car. When Miller peers out, he sees Roy's car violently explode into a fireball. Someone killed Roy, but why? The mystery lies in who, and what, was behind the explosion. 

Witnesses place Miller as the prime suspect, so he journeys down the fugitive road in a familiar “man on the run” premise. But, the author is clever enough to realize this story has been told numerous times in the pulps and crime-noir novels. Instead, he builds this smooth, calculating narrative that blends events from Miller and Roy's past and their friendship with another childhood friend named Alice. Overall, there are roughly 15 characters in the book, so notes were required. But, it wasn't a heavy lift. Instead, the characters all relate to each other in a cohesive manner that drives an intriguing story. 

Trouble-Texas Style is a terrible title. But, the book is a darn masterpiece that reminded me of John Ball's writing style with a touch of John D. MacDonald. Selfishly, I would love to see this novel brought to life on the big screen, preferably with a script written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton (Slingblade). If you love moving mysteries that are saturated with magnificent characters, then track down a copy of this vintage paperback as soon as possible.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, April 28, 2023

The Rest Must Die

Kendell Foster Crossen (1910-1981) was a popular author that created and wrote the crime-fiction series Milo March and the pulp superhero Green Lama. He contributed to a number of genres, including radio scripts for series titles like The Saint and Mystery Theater. Crossen used a variety of pseudonyms like M.E. Chaber, Clay Richards, Christopher Monig, and Bennett Barley. I am a huge fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, so I was attracted to Crossen's The Rest Must Die. It was published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1959 under the pen name Richard Foster. 

The author introduces readers to a handful of characters in the opening pages of the book. The locale is New York City and the two main protagonists are Bob, an advertising agency for Chaber, Crossen, and Monig (get it?), and a longshoreman named Joe. These are the guys you want on your team when a nuclear bomb wipes out the entire city. Conveniently, Bob and Joe, who don't know each other yet, each head to subway stations when they hear the siren wail of a bomb warning.

Inside Penn Station and 53rd Street Station, the survivors huddle together and listen to the ominous sounds of seven nuclear bombs pound the city into dust. Thankfully, Bob, Joe, and a dozen other survivors possess the wherewithal to understand that nothing above ground exists and that their only hope of survival lies in organizing roughly 3,000 people into small groups, each assigned to a group leader. 

The book's first half, roughly 90 pages, was mesmerizing as survivors traveled the subway on foot gathering supplies from the basements of pharmacies and department stores. Like any good post-apocalyptic novel, the true terror is humanity itself. It only takes a couple of days before people begin to spiral into savage depths of greed. The groups begin to war with each other, but the biggest threat is a mobster and a cop who team-up, oddly enough, to create a faction loaded with a supply of guns the mob had kept in a hidden underground locker. It's up to Bob and Joe to hunt down the faction's members and eliminate them. 

As you can imagine, I loved this book. It really has everything a good doomsday novel needs to be memorable and exciting. The bombs, fallout, radiation, rationing, dividing, conquering, it's all right here in these 200 pages. The novel still remains relevant today with many of the survivors dividing based on preconceived notions of stereotypes and former jobs. Bob is quick to notify everyone that whoever they were in a former life no longer matters. Despairingly, he reminds the survivors that they are now simply subway residents with no family and no home. By minimizing, Bob is able to calm most of the surviving population. It was so elementary, but a brilliant reminder that life resets often. The book's not-too-preachy message is that there's never an ending, only a reset and continuation. Sort of like Jeff Goldblum's Jurassic Park mantra - "Life Finds a Way". 

The Rest Must Die is an easy recommendation for anyone that loves post-apocalyptic fiction. It's a realistic look at how humanity is quick to turn on each other when the chips are down. But, the author laces the message with a lot of action and excitement. It simply doesn't get much better than this.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, March 3, 2023

Catspaw Ordeal

Edward S. Aarons struck gold in 1955 with the first of his successful espionage series starring CIA operative Sam Durell. This is considered the second, more prosperous half of Aarons' writing career. The first half consists of roughly 20 crime-fiction and mystery novels authored under his own name and the pseudonym of Edward Ronns. We've slowly consumed Aarons' crime-fiction work here at Paperback Warrior, and continue that trend with a look at the author's 1950 paperback Catspaw Ordeal, published under the name Edward Ronns. It was published by Fawcett Gold Medal at least twice, once in 1950 as #133 and again in 1958 as #766, both with different cover art. It was also published by Phantom in 1954 and Gaywood Press in 1952, both of these with variations of the 1950 Fawcett cover by William Downes.

Danny Archer is a 29-year old former Navy veteran that has settled down in Southwich, Connecticut on the Long Island Sound. Archer is married to a woman named Roz and the two have reached a complacent part of marriage, void of excitement or interest. Archer is not only tied to Roz via marriage, but he also works for her father, a guy named Stanley, who runs a local factory. All of this normal suburbia boredom is shattered when Archer's old flame shows up.

Secretly, Archer has never really gotten over Della Chambers. When she arrives in town, Roz immediately senses that Archer can't resist Della's magnetic pull. When Roz leaves town for a few days, Archer finds himself in a murder investigation. In his own home, Archer finds a dead guy huddled over his office desk. Della is somehow involved, but also a man named Burke Wiley, Archer's old shipmate that supposedly died when their ship was sunk in WW2. Archer believes either Wiley or Della killed the man, but then things become even more complicated when Wiley explains a counterfeiting plot that could make them all super wealthy. 

Obviously, there is a lot going on in this relatively short 170-page paperback. Archer's marriage complications are front and center, but the moving parts begin to tear away part of the protagonist's own sanity. He begins to question his past, and the how his work at the factory is somehow tied into Roz and this seemingly dead-man-from-the-grave, Wiley. But, the core of Aarons' complex plot is a murder mystery. The cops have targeted Archer as the prime suspect, but he can't quite explain where these other characters tie into his personal ordeals at home. It makes for a fascinating, whirlwind of possibilities as Archer walks a balance beam of right and wrong. 

Like most of Aarons' crime-fiction, he uses the same locale and atmosphere. His novels are typically quiet, rural lakeside or oceanfront cottages and houses draped in a thick fog that is symbolic of the criminality slowly descending on the main character or their close friends and family. These locations are nearly always the American Northeast, which makes sense considering Aarons' grew up in Pennsylvania and lived in Connecticut (also the home of Fawcett Gold Medal). While Catspaw Ordeal isn't the best that Aarons' early crime-fiction has to offer (try 1953's The Net for a must-read), it is more than serviceable and a pure pleasure to read. Recommended.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Come Night, Come Evil

Jonathan Craig (Real Name: Frank E. Smith, 1919-1984) was a Florida resident who socialized with Harry Whittington and Gil Brewer as he was writing over 100 novels and 300 short stories during the paperback era. Come Night, Come Evil was a stand-alone crime noir novel from 1957 published by Fawcett Gold Medal.

The novel opens with Jeff Colby being released from prison into the hands of his loyal wife, Laurie. They have every intention of building a life together and putting Jeff’s legal problems behind them. Unfortunately, Jeff has been assigned a fat, slimy parole officer named Carl Munger, who corners the couple in the prison parking lot during the discharge and immediately begins making Jeff’s life miserable.

Munger is a loathsome bully who extorts a kickback from Jeff’s parolee job wages. Jeff is forced to comply with no backtalk because of Munger’s unilateral authority to revoke Jeff’s parole and send him back to prison to finish his sentence.

Why was Jeff in prison at all? Best to let the novel tell that story as it’s a pretty compelling flashback. Suffice to say, it was a bum rap, and Jeff would like to exonerate himself now that he’s out on the streets. And the only way he can stay out is to appease Munger and his inappropriate demands. Finding the people who set Jeff up and understanding their motivation is the central mystery of the paperback.

The problem is that there are a few other mysteries muddying up the plot in this 128-page paperback. The writing is solid, and some of the characters are written extremely well. Despite that, Come Night, Come Evil is a pretty mediocre affair. If you’re looking for top-shelf Jonathan Craig, proceed directly to So Young, So Wicked. Unless you’re trying to read them all, this one can be easily bypassed. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The Cheaters

Ledru S. Baker Jr. served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WW2. In 1951, his short literary career began with the bestselling Fawcett Gold Medal paperback And By My Love. He followed with three more novels before his death in 1967. Cutting Edge Books has released nearly all of Baker's works, including The Cheaters, originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1952. The book is available in both digital and physical editions as a stand-alone or as part of the Ledru Baker Jr Reader, an omnibus also containing Brute Madness and And Be My Love

Orchestra musician and bandleader Jack Griffith works at a posh Hollywood night club that is controlled by the Syndicate, specifically a Mafioso named Moss Morrison. One evening, Griffith is summoned to a meeting with Morrison and offered a peculiar proposal. Morrison wants to divorce his wife, a hot ticket named Mardi, but needs something on her to avoid a huge payout in alimony. Sensing his wife's attraction to Jack, Morrison offers Jack a large sum of money if he can swindle Mardi into a romantic fling. Griffith accepts the deal, but after meeting Mardi he falls in love with her. 

Just when you think Baker's smooth prose is surely leading into the overused “innocent man on the run” formula, the talented author switches the narrative entirely. Instead, Griffith figures out the whole setup while falling in love with a clever and sexy waitress. When she's taken captive by the Mob, Griffith recalls his WW2 days of fighting the Italians in brutal, bloody combat. With an iron-fisted vengeance, Griffith takes the fight to the Mob.

Baker's writing is exceptional and injects a heavy dose of realism and violence for a 1952 novel. The Cheaters mixes the grit and grime of Donald Hamilton (Matt Helm) with the sarcastic afterglow of Mickey Spillane (Mike Hammer). Baker's writing is just so engaging and produces a strong, emotional reaction. An example:

    They looked up, and their startled faces gave me all the time I needed. I shot the first one through the head; his skull and hair rose magically. I snarled and turned to the other one as the noise and blast of the gun, the smell in the room and the power I received from the recoil took me away from Los Angeles and threw me back to the Po Valley.

    I swung the gun toward the other one. He had risen, and his hand was pawing inside the coat when I said: “Hell's waitin'! Good-by!” at the same instant that I fired.

    The first shot threw him back into the chair. The second one caught him in his throat and ripped out the back of his head. I guess it did, because there were little pieces of bone on the window like flys trapped on flypaper. 

If you have a penchant for strong, “fight or die” heroes forced into inevitable violence, then The Cheaters will surely hit you like a ton of bricks. This is uncompromising, unwavering crime-fiction.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

The Monster from Earth's End

William Fitzgerald Jenkins (1896-1975) was a prolific writer of early 20th century fiction, including numerous science-fiction, adventure, and western stories for the pulps. He used pseudonyms like William Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald Jenkins, and Louis Carter Lee. Some of his science-fiction and pulp literary work was written under the pen name Murray Leinster. My first experience with the author is his 1959 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback, The Monster from Earth's End, written by Jenkins as Leinster. In 2019, it was reprinted by Gateway as an affordable ebook.

Gow Island (not a real place) lies just 600 miles from the Antarctic ice-cap. Because of its location, the island serves as a supply depot for researchers, scientists, and employees stationed in the Antarctic. Gow Island's population of 19 people are employees that re-supply, stock, and fuel vessels that make sporadic layovers en route to their destination. Visitors arrive on a weekly basis, but normally leave within an hour. Thus, these few island inhabitants live a rather slow, sheltered life under the guidance of the island's administrator, and book protagonist, Drake. 

In the opening pages, Gow Island receives a radar message that a plane housing seven passengers and three crewmen will be arriving from Gissell Bay, Antarctica to refuel before heading back home. On board the plane are items retrieved from the icy surface – several penguins, soil samples, and some vegetation. However, Drake and company receive a disturbing, terrifying call from the plane as it approaches the island – someone, or something, is attacking the crew and gun shots are fired. For several moments there is radio silence, then the plane lands on Gow Island's airstrip on its belly. When Drake and co-workers approach the plane they hear one lone gunshot. Opening the plane's door, they are shocked to discover the pilot shot himself in the head on the runway and the rest of the crew has simply vanished. 

The Monster from Earth's End works well as a survival horror novel. The personnel on the island contend with moving the plane off of the airstrip, but also what exactly happened to create these strange circumstances. The pilot's body is moved to a warehouse, but later than night Drake hears something moving inside the building and discovers the pilot's corpse is missing. There are twigs on the plane that seem to possess some form of intelligence. As the crew's dogs begin to die horrible deaths, and an employee goes missing, the power to the island is cut. Something wants to kill its prey in the dark, far from the light. 

I can vividly recall watching John Carpenter's 1982 horror classic The Thing when I was a kid and being absolutely petrified with fear. That film was a remake of the 1951 movie The Thing from Another World which was based on the science-fiction novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell (written as Don A. Stuart). In many ways, The Monster from Earth's End sort of fits into that same universe. So much that a Wildside Press collection called Short Things featured shorts written by a selection of authors that tie into The Thing storyline. One of those short stories was "The Monster at World's End", authored by Allan Cole, which was obviously a nod to this novel. 

If you enjoy this sort of survival horror, then The Monster from Earth's End is surely a must-read. I was a little underwhelmed by the “monster”, but the pace and atmosphere of the story kept me firmly entrenched in the novel's narrative. There are some truly creepy moments, but often I felt the book hadn't aged well over the course of 60 years. Your mileage may vary, but I recommend reading the book to make up your own mind on its longevity and legacy.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Monty Nash #01 - The Bloody Medallion

According to Spy Guys and Gals, Richard Telfair was a pseudonym used by Richard Jessup (1925-1982). Jessup authored westerns, pulp stories, and espionage, but was mostly known for his novel The Cincinnati Kid, which was adapted to film starring Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson. My first experience with Jessup is The Bloody Medallion. It was the first of five spy-fiction novels starring Montgomery Nash, a U.S. operative working for the Department of Counter Intelligence. The Bloody Medallion was originally published in 1959 by Fawcett Gold Medal and has since been reprinted in both digital and paperback versions. 

It is explained to readers that Nash works in the European section of the DCI and has a background as an attorney and WW2 veteran. This European section is made up of two-man teams that blanket the continent taking the war to the people who would make war with the US. His partner is a guy named Paul Austin. In the early pages, Nash receives a cryptic phone call from Austin with map coordinates and an odd message. Later, the DCI pulls Nash in and explains to him that Austin has changed sides and defected to the Soviet Union. As Nash digests this shocking news, he discovers that the agency has targeted him as a possible collaborator in Austin's defection. Grabbing a gun and a hostage, Nash escapes the agency to clear his name while also attempting to learn more about Austin's betrayal.

Nash tracks Austin's last known whereabouts to a mistress named Helga. With her, Nash learns of a secret society that fought the Nazis in Poland with the help of the Russian army. Each member of the society wears a special medallion that contains a piece of cloth that was dipped in the blood of their fallen comrades in a fateful battle. This secret society now fights international enemies of Russia, with America and other European allies being their chief targets. Just like Austin, Nash falls for Helga and decides to infiltrate the society to learn more about Austin's fate. Jessup's narrative is captivating as Nash learns the society's secrets while also agreeing to assist them in a plot to destroy a drug czar. But, to accomplish the mission he needs to dodge the DCI hitmen and place trust in Helga, a woman who holds a number of valuable secrets. 

I really enjoyed my first experience with Monty Nash. He writes in a hard-boiled, pulpy way which is unusual considering this is a spy-fiction novel. Nash is extremely violent, and I was left awe-inspired when he obliterated a maid's skull with a .45 bullet. His methods are heavy-handed, and not far removed from some of the savage tenacity possessed by Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm. If you love espionage thrillers with double-crosses, dastardly villains, sexy women, and Cold War hysteria, then the Monty Nash series is a mandatory read. I'm anxious to read the next installment. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, September 16, 2022

The Guns of Navarone

Alistair MacLean's The Guns of Navarone was an eight-part WW2 serial that first appeared in the September 22, 1956 issue of Saturday Evening Post. It was compiled into a hardcover novel in 1957 by Collins. It was then printed in paperback in 1957 by Perma (M-4089) and reprinted multiple times since then. The book was adapted into a blockbuster film in 1961 by Columbia. In 1968, MacLean reunited some of the characters for the book's sequel, Force 10 from Navarone. That book was adapted to film in 1978. Never seeing the movies, my voyage into this story begins with MacLean's original novel, The Guns of Navarone

On the fictional island of Kheros, 1,200 British soldiers are marooned. Off the nearby Turkish coast, the Nazis have installed massive, radar-controlled guns that can fire upon any Royal Navy ships attempting to rescue them through the deep water channel. The only hope of rescuing these British troops is by eliminating the guns. That's where Captain James Jensen steps in.

Jensen's plan is to recruit an international special ops team that can climb the staggering 400-foot cliff to penetrate the island's defenses and detonate an explosive device. The team is led by Mallory, an excellent mountain climber with plenty of military experience in Crete. He is in command of an explosives expert, a savage fighting-man, an engineer, and a navigator. It's the perfect team for this harrowing journey through the snowy mountains into the mouth of Hell. 

Having read MacLean's Where Eagles Dare (1967) first, The Guns of Navarone seemed similar in nature, but missed the cloak-and-dagger style. MacLean makes up for it in a big way by adding a hefty load of high-adventure action. At nearly 300 paperback pages, this novel has nearly everything, including mountain climbing, boat battles, gunfights, hand-to-hand combat, drama, and an exhilarating pace that glues the reader to these epic challenges. 

The most interesting aspect of MacLean's storytelling is that he is constantly evolving these characters by placing them in extreme situations. The characters the reader meets at the novel's beginning are grossly changed by the last page. The experiences of war, overcoming adversity, and the trials and tribulations of defying death itself affects these men. I really enjoyed watching the transformation and specifically how Mallory's leadership was modified when faced with an injured team-member. 

Lastly, as a fan of David Morrell's Rambo II character (read my review), it was fun drawing comparisons to MacLean's character of Andrea. The description that Mallory provides of this seemingly immortal, savage fighter, was similar to Colonel Trautman's description of Rambo. Andrea's exploits throughout the novel fighting the Germans, mostly as a loner hero, was a true highlight. I'm not sure this novel is quite the same without the addition of Andrea. It was an integral portion of the story.

The Guns of Navarone is an absolute masterpiece of high-adventure, and I give it the highest recommendation. You won't be disappointed with the story, plot development, or characters. MacLean deserved the heaps of praise his early and mid-career novels received. He was a master craftsman and you owe it to yourself to read one of his best. Whether this one is as good, or better, than Where Eagles Dare is up for debate. I love them both equally.

Note - British author Sam Llewellyn was commissioned to write two additional sequels - Storm Force from Navarone (1996) and Thunderbolt from Navarone (1998). I've read disparaging remarks about those two novels. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Blood Alley

In 1955, Blood Alley was simultaneously published as a novel and released as a film by Warner Brothers. The premise is that a U.S. Merchant Marine named Wilder is freed from a Chinese prison by a village hoping to utilize his services to escape to British-controlled Hong Kong. The book was authored by A.S. Fleischman, a popular Fawcett Gold Medal writer who specialized in exotic Asian locales to place his action-adventure novels like Shanghai Flame (1951), Malay Woman (1954), and Danger in Paradise (1953). The book was considered “cinematic”, thus Hollywood gained a copy of the book prior to its release and agreed that Blood Alley would be a great film. Fleischman was asked to write the screenplay, thus both formats were released simultaneously. 

Thankfully, Stark House Press has published a majority of Fleischman's novels, including Blood Alley, which is out now through the subsidiary Black Gat Books. 

The book is a nautical adventure tale as protagonist Wilder captains a steamship through a perilous coastal waterway. In the book's beginning, Fleischman is liberated from a long stint in a Chinese prison. The first few chapters focus on the escape, the journey to the village, and his days spent as a clandestine village local. Wilder learns that the village, through bribery and firepower, were able to spring Wilder, but at a price. Wilder is to transport the villagers to Hong Kong, an island that was controlled by the British government for 99 years (which reverted back to China in 1997).

Fleischman inserts a romantic connection for Wilder in the form of Cathy, a British woman who is anticipating that her father, the village doctor, will be able to join Wilder's quest for freedom. Part of the book is the build-up to learn of the doctor's fate and the impact on Cathy's choice to continue the trek to Hong Kong. The voyage is ripe with gunfights, patrol boat chases, and conflicts on the ship as Wilder is placed in a number of territorial and village disputes. The largest portion of the novel has Wilder battling his own ship, a relic from a bygone era that is forced to do the impossible. 

Despite the fact that Blood Alley was a Hollywood flop, even with iconic John Wayne as the star, Fleischman's novel is a better representation of the story. It's a short, fast-paced novel that doesn't necessarily rely on a lot of characters and backstory. I enjoyed Wilder as the narrative's main star, but the chemistry with Cathy was an enthralling, enjoyable element. Nautical-fiction fans won't be disappointed with the plot's development. It's a sequence of terrific visuals that offers up the breathtaking escapism that the genre demands. That alone makes Blood Alley an easy recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Matt Helm #05 - Murderer's Row

Murderer's Row, the fifth installment in Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm series of spy-fiction, was published in 1962 by Fawcett Gold Medal. The novel was loosely adapted into a film of the same name in 1966. I've mostly enjoyed the series and Hamilton's writing, so I'm continuing in proper order with this installment.

Like the last entry, The Silencers, the next dangerous mission involves a female agent working for the same three-lettered, clandestine organization as Helm. Mac, Helm's boss, explains that the coast of Virginia – Chesapeake Bay – is experiencing an elevated amount of foreign vessels. The theory is that the area is hosting a trafficking operation with foreign powers extracting key personnel from the U.S., including a top-rated scientist with important knowledge regarding American security. The agency wants to locate the scientist and either retrieve or kill him.

A female agent has been inserted into the operation to gain intelligence, however, her perceived credibility has been compromised. Mac, and the agency, need her to regain credibility through nefarious means. Helm is to travel to her hotel room and dish out a scolding punishment from the agency, a savage, violent beating to whip her into shape. The room is bugged by the bad guys, so they will hear and see the beating and realize that this agent does in fact work for the U.S. and is being reprimanded for her poor performance. Mac's last agent, a young rookie sensation, failed miserably on the assignment. Helm is pulled from a Texas vacation to do the job right. Mostly, it all goes accordingly until the female agent unexpectedly dies during the beating.

Helm “killing” a fellow agent creates a tidal wave of issues for him and the agency. Mac attempts a retrieval, and at one point Helm is set-up in an attempt to bring him back to Washington. Helm wants to complete the mission, his superiors feel he is unable to. Against orders, and without support, Helm eventually finds the scientist's daughter, and gets tangled in a wild set of circumstances where he pretends to be a mob hitman named Petroni. There's a dense, complicated family affair between the woman, the scientist, and a bitter married couple. Individually, they each want to pay Helm/Petroni to kill another family member. Surprisingly, Helm accepts the jobs.

Hamilton really threw a curveball into this series installment by creating a unique, nearly comedic approach to the typical spy formula. The female agent dying during the beating was shocking, but where Helm goes after that opening event was just so bizarre and entertaining. Helm's insertion into a high-level, deadly family dispute was amazing, especially considering he agrees to kill two family members for money. It's all for show, of course, but the means to an end is an exciting chain of events that eventually leads from hotels to back-roads, then jail to a boat, then a massive hurricane that bounces the characters around during the book's rousing finale. It was superb pacing and plot development. 

Murderer's Row is probably a high-point in the Matt Helm series. It has a really clever storyline, a plausible sequence of extraordinary events, and a deep character study of the family dynamic and the strenuous ties that bind. This one is just fantastic and highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Tightrope Men, The

British resident Giles Denison awakens in an unfamiliar place with vague memories of his past. When he stumbles into the bathroom, he is shocked to see the face staring back at him is not his own. The mirror's reflection, and wallet, prove that Denison is a doctor named Harold Meyrick. Upon further inspection, Denison discovers that he is in a hotel room in Oslo, Norway. Going with the flow, and hoping sanity returns, Denison heads to the front desk and learns that he's been a guest of the hotel for three weeks. Finding his car, Denison is further perplexed when he finds a small doll inside with an invitation for a meeting at a nearby popular tourist spot.

When Denison arrives at the rural, forested attraction, he's immediately attacked by three men. Barely surviving the encounter, Denison escapes with his life and is soon arrested by the Norwegian police. Thankfully, Denison finds some solace when men from the British embassy arrive to spring him from jail. They attempt to explain the bizarre circumstances surrounding Denison's newfound identity. It turns out that Dr. Meyrick was assisting British intelligence in locating hidden papers regarding a top-secret weapon. Some red agency captured Meyrick and the perfectly pedestrian Denison. Meyrick is either dead or undergoing torture, while Denison has been brain-scooped and surgically rendered to resemble Meyrick. 

Desmond Bagley's The Tightrope Men (1973) is a clever, high-speed espionage thriller with the obligatory suit 'n tie good guys fighting global terror with an unlikely hero. Denison's transformation from unwilling, shocked suburbanite into the willing and capable spy was really enjoyable. The author injects some humor and a lot of fun banter with Denison, as Meyrick, forced to engage in relationships with Meyrick's friends and a beautiful daughter. The latter becomes a real mess for Denison as he is falling in love with the woman that is supposed to be his daughter. There's reader speculation on who's in the know and who isn't when it comes to Denison's facade as Meyrick, which made for a great mystery. Of course, there's gunplay and action-adventure in the deep, rural wilderness of Finland (similar to Bagley's Running Blind taking place in the remote wilds of Iceland).    

Needless to say, Bagley rarely disappoints. The Tightrope Men is a well-crafted, superb spy-thriller with danger, intrigue, and romance at the forefront. If you love Ian Fleming, Hammond Innes, and Alistair MacLean, then you are probably already familiar with Desmond Bagley. If not, this is a perfect representation of his work. Highly, highly recommended.

Fun Fact about Paperback Warrior – I'm a bit of a Finland history buff and Bagley provides an excellent, digestible history on Finland's relationship with Russia. There's also passages regarding the Karelian Isthmus, an area in northwestern Russia, where the Finnish population was seemingly replaced with Russian. In particular, I've read poems and stories associated with Finland's National epic Kalevala. There's a great Finnish band called Amorphis that writes and performs songs associated with Finnish history and the Kalevala poems. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The Brat

The Brat, published in 1957 by Fawcett Gold Medal, was Gil Brewer's 12th career effort, a mid-era crime-noir that is misrepresented by the book's sultry cover. Fans of Brewer's sexier femme fatale novels, like The Vengeful Virgin (1958) or The Tease (1967) may be led to believe that The Brat possesses that same energy level. It includes all of the potent ingredients to make the narrative seemingly explode – wild women, lust, greed, criminality, and average men pushed from their suburban threshold into a world of madness. Like Orrie Hitt, Brewer loved this type of storytelling experience - the sexy seductress weaving a master-plan. But, The Brat doesn't utilize these ingredients to create anything magical. 

In this novel, Brewer mimics Day Keene's more simplistic approach. It makes sense considering the two were friends and even collaborated together. If I didn't know better, I would have pegged The Brat as a Keene novel. The narrative is saturated in genre tropes that are familiar to any seasoned crime-noir fan. The narrative's central element is identical to the “man awakens to find a corpse and flees from the law to prove his own innocence” concept. Only, Brewer exchanges the swanky apartment, soft bed, or suburban house with a bank.

Lee is a fairly wealthy guy before his trip into Florida swampland. It's in the sweltering jungle that he finds the sexy Evis, a backwoods tramp that he can't resist. Her family is redneck loonies, so Evis is rescued by Lee and soon the two ring the wedding bells. But, Evis’ domestication is ripe with greed and self-interest. She carves through Lee's savings, leaving the two almost destitute just a short time later. Evis, who conveniently works at the local bank, pitches Lee a heist plan. She can easily steal money from the bank's vault during her closing shift. Lee slightly agrees, but doesn't want to commit to steering into that lane yet.

Lee arrives from work one evening to find that Evis is working at the bank and she needs him to pick her up. When he arrives at the bank, there's a corpse, missing money, missing spouse, and enough evidence that suggests he collaborated with Evis to commit this criminal act. Terrified of being fried for murder, Lee hits the road to pursuit Evis. Along the way, he is tracked by a greedy sheriff that wants the money all to himself. There's also Lee's best friend that may have been Evis's side hustle to seduce into a joint heist. Lee must avoid the police, find Evis and the missing cash, and prove he is innocent. 

Brewer's novel  is one long road trip as Lee hops from destination to destination searching for clues. The pacing and plot structure never allows the narrative to breathe, making the characters one-dimensional and over-obsessive. This is Day Keene's wheelhouse and he excels at it far better than Brewer. The Brat is similar to Brewer's Sin for Me (1967) novel with its western feel and seemingly endless manhunt. If you must read everything Brewer has written, then you aren't skipping The Brat. Otherwise, there's no need to spend any time reading this less than satisfactory novel.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Earl Drake #06 - Operation Drumfire

After the success of The Name of the Game is Death (1962) and One Endless Hour (1969), crime-noir author Dan J. Marlowe found his heist hero in protagonist Earl Drake, the “man with nobody's face.” The Earl Drake series, for lack of a better name, includes 12 total novels, all published by Fawcett Gold Medal between 1962 and 1976. We've covered the first five novels right here at Paperback Warrior and continue our coverage with this sixth installment, Operation Drumfire, published in 1972.

In Operation Drumfire, readers become fairly familiar with Earl Drake's backstory. He was a professional bank robber who now works occasional assignments for a special agent named Erikson. It is never explained who Erikson works for beyond hinting at a sub rosa agency deep within Washington D.C. Drake's lover is a tenacious former barkeep named Hazel, who has a talent for gambling on horses and the skills to pilot the couple's airplane. She's also a sexy cowgirl that owns a sprawling ranch built from the fortunes of her former husband. Beginning in the series fifth installment, Operation Breakthrough, the duo is joined by an eccentric martial arts expert named Candy and his Chinese girlfriend Chen Yi.

In this book's opening chapters, Erikson visits Drake and Hazel to show them a video of a bank heist at a horse-racing track. Erikson's agency feels that a think-tank defense contractor called the Institute of Defense Analysis (IDA) may be behind it. The idea is that mathematicians inside the agency put together an elaborate plan to knock off the track. Now, due to Erikson's involvement in a meeting between senior leaders in Mexico and the US, he's touching shoulders with IDA. His growing suspicions of their abilities may lead to chaos with the meeting. He wants Drake and Hazel to infiltrate the agency by going undercover as mathematicians inside their headquarters. 

Honestly, I have no idea what is happening in this book. None of it makes any sense to me. Normally, I can stay fairly entrenched with whatever Marlowe is springing, but I'm not even sure he knew what was going on. It's like a chain of events including a Black Panthers type of military presence in Oakland that Candy must deal with. Then, Drake has to fake his math skills inside the agency while Hazel gains clues for something or another. There's an explosion somewhere and a firefight at the end. It was like Marlowe had individual events he wanted to schedule in the narrative, but had no logical way to connect them. 

But, it isn't all completely lost. Drake changes his old snub-nosed .38 revolver for an automatic .9mm. I felt this was a major change for the character, like a promotion into the big leagues. Also, one of the four main characters is killed off in this installment. Shamefully, I felt good about that. Other than those positives, Operation Drumfire is more like Operation Dumpsterfire. 

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Friday, April 8, 2022

Gold Bait

Colonel Corby spent years fighting in Korea and Vietnam before an injury ended his military career. After rehabbing at a local hospital, Corby cashed out and wanted a retirement somewhere cheap with lots of booze and sex. So, it's in Mexico that entrepreneur Max Haggard finally locates Corby, nestled between bottles of tequila and a beautiful senorita's legs. At the front door, Haggard explains that he has traveled from Korea just to find Corby. He ain't selling vacuum cleaners. What he has to offer is worth over $4 million smack-a-roos.

Haggard reminds Corby of a Korean battle at sea in which Corby, manning a small South Korean boat, managed a direct hit to sink a battleship. But, little did anyone know that the battleship held a metric ton of fun payable in small, shiny gold bricks. Those same bricks are now sitting on the seabed wherever Corby scored the hit. Haggard learned of the ship's fortune in Korea, but no one could locate any whereabouts of the sunken vessel. Only Corby can recall the coordinates After squinting at charts, Corby knows where to find it. But, he's keeping his 'ole kisser shut until they can put together a salvage job. 

Author Walter Sheldon, often writing as Walt Sheldon (once as Ellery Queen), made stacks of dimes writing pulps in the 30s and 40s. Like everyone looking for a better payday, he switched to paperback originals and dished out crime-noir, science-fiction, horror, and action-adventure novels. By the time he wrote Gold Bait, published in 1973 (Fawcett Gold Medal), he had the writing machine well-oiled. So, after consistent success, Sheldon presented Gold Bait in an experimental, different way. 

The first page of the book is a CIA memorandum from Mr. Fancy Pants to another Fancy Pants outlining Corby's possible recruitment into the organization. The memo says that the pages in the book are documents recovered from Corby, other people and agencies. The last page of the book is another CIA thingy suggesting that the documents were reviewed by enough peeps to make a final decision. The last line states that Corby is either eligible or ineligible for recruitment. I'm not telling you how it ends.

So, what are the pages inside? What do they contain? It's a conglomerate (that means buncha) of diary entries from Corby and that blonde bombshell that's on the front cover as well as letters and police reports that tell the tale of this foursome attempting to recover the sunken gold while being watched by the pesky military. Mostly, it all works out and makes this a real cool read, but I wondered how these guys had the time to write diary entries while dodging bullets, assassins, criminals, and scoundrels? 

I'm sure you just gawked at the cover and spent your $5 because it is a Robert McGinnis painting and you're a filthy savage, but if you want to open it up and read the words, I think you may get hooked on Gold Bait. I sense it could have been a series of books starring this Corby fellow blowing up people and places while pulling down panties. But, I don't think a sequel even happened and that's a real bummer. Anyhoo, Gold Bait is recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, March 21, 2022

Rebel Wench

Gardner F. Fox (1911-1986) began writing for the comic book industry in 1937. Throughout his prolific literary career, Fox authored over 4,000 comic books and helped create characters like Hawkman and Flash. While reaching an iconic level within comics, Fox also wrote over 150 paperback originals encompassing genres like science-fiction, fantasy, western, and romance. I recently purchased a Historical Fiction ebook bundle from the Gardner Francis Fox Library. Included was Rebel Wench, originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1955. The book is also available as a paperback reprint and also exists in digital through Wildside Press.

Despite the book's cover, the protagonist of Rebel Wench is Billy Joe Stafford, a plantation owner embroiled in the American Revolutionary War in 1781. In the character's history, readers learn that he is a third generation farmer that was taught to hunt and survive at an early age by a Native American. Stafford is respected by the slaves, including his lifelong servant and friend, Old Gem. His marriage to Laura Lee developed a large rift in 1777 – Stafford joined the Continental Army to fight for independence and Laura became a Tory in support of Great Britain. 

The “rebel wench” of Fox's story is Deborah Treat, a beautiful spy working with the rebels under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan. In the opening chapters, Stafford rescues Deborah from the clutches of an evil brawler, a villain that appears repeatedly throughout the narrative. After dismissing Deborah as a prostitute, he soon learns that she is a sharpshooter, a cunning strategist, and a fierce lover. As an aid to Morgan's Rifles, Stafford and Deborah team up to infiltrate British forces controlled by Cornwallis. 

Central to the plot is a striking love-hate relationship between Stafford and his wife Laura. Stafford wants Laura to join the rebellion, but she's in love with a British Colonel who hopes to take over the plantation once Stafford is killed. There's a bit of heated intrigue surrounding a lavish party where Stafford and Deborah pose as siblings to expose plans created by Cornwallis. In sultry style, Fox seduces readers with a few tepid sex scenes, most of which concern Laura's bedroom romps with both Stafford and the Colonel. My interest was the historical aspect and, for the most part, Fox fills the gaps with a great history lesson on battles and guerilla fighting between armies and divisions up and down America's Eastern Coast. 

Rebel Wench would have easily appealed to the 16 year old boy in the 1950s or American soldiers serving abroad. With plenty of gunfights, fisticuffs, beautiful women, and galloping horses, Gardner Fox absolutely knew his storytelling strengths and what his fans were expecting. If you control your own expectations, there's nothing to dislike about this fun adventure. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.