Showing posts with label Nautical. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nautical. Show all posts

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Sea Curse

Robert E. Howard earned $17 when he sold his story “Sea Curse” to Weird Tales. The magazine published the story in the May 1928 (Vol. 11 Number 5) issue with a Curtis C. Senf cover. This selection falls into the category of Howard's horror/weird stories and has been featured in dozens of publications over the past 94 years including Marchers of Vahalla (Sphere 1977), The Howard Collector (Ace 1979), and Shadow Kingdoms (Wildside 2004). My reading of the story is from a paperback titled Eons of the Night, published by Baen in 1996 with a Ken Kelly cover.

“Sea Curse” is set in the small coastal village called Faring. Howard used this same town for his stories “Restless Waters” (pub 1969, aka “The Horror at the Window”), “Out of the Deep” (pub. 1967), and his poem “A Legend of Faring Town” (pub 1975). Don't be thrown off by the impression that these stories are somehow connected. They aren't. The characters are specific to just the story and never spill into the other tales.

The story begins as readers learn of old Moll Farrell, a rumored witch that has very little to say to anyone, minds her own business, and makes a living from gathering clams and driftwood while raising her young niece. This is a fishing town, which brings lots of weathered sailors in and out of the harbor. Unfortunately, two of the very worst hang around Faring – John Kulrek and his pal Lie-lip Canool. Off-page, Kulrek rapes and kills Moll's niece, casting her broken little body into the raging sea. 

After a few days, the young girl drifts to shore, cold and lifeless. Word quickly makes it to the village and they all run to the coastline. Standing over the dead girl, a drunken Kulrek raises his drink and says, “A health to the wench's ghost!”. Immediately, Moll Farrell screams a curse on Kulrek with the main point being addressed to Canool:

“You shall be the death of John Kulrek and he shall be the death or you! You shall bring John Kulrek to the doors of Hell and John Kulrek shall bring you to the gallows-tree! I set the seal of death upon your brow, John Kulrek! You shall live in terror and die in horror far out upon the cold grey sea!”

Kulrek and his small crew set sail at dawn on a long voyage. Months later, Canool arrives in town and tells the village that Kulrek deserted ship in Sumatra after a fight with the skipper. 

Later, the narrator of the story, a “harum-scarum” lad (no name provided) and his friend Joe are out in the water in a thick white fog. They hear the sounds of a large boat, but can't make out the direction. They spend hours drifting through the fog honing in on the sound of the oars. They finally locate a gloomy rotten galley and climb aboard the rickety planks. I won't ruin the surprise for you, but they discover a horrifying sight that ties into Kulrek's desertion and departure from Canool. Moll Farrell's curse comes to fruition in a terrifying climax.

I can't say enough great things about this Robert E. Howard horror story. While the idea of a curse being wielded to avenge the loss of a loved one or friend is overused in these types of stories, the format works perfectly for this eerie tale. Howard's writing is so descriptive with the veiled sea, grey fogs, and the shivering end of the wharf. I love the way he presents the story's most emotional and moving aspect, the grisly discovery of the young girl. He does it in such a smooth, elegant way that hits like a fist on a hollow coffin:

“All the while beyond the shoals, we heard the never-ceasing droning of the heaving, restless grey monster, and in the dim light of the ghostly dawn Moll Farrell's girl came home. The tides bore her gently across the wet sands and laid her almost at her own door. Virgin-white she was, and her arms folded across her still bosom; calm was her face, and the gray tides sighed about her slender limbs.”

That is just such a powerful description that contrasts with the loud-mouthed drunken rage of the girl's killer. As Moll Farrell screams the curse, Howard digs in deep with rage and despair clashing with insults and warnings for the two sailors. It's nothing short of brilliant. 

If you love nautical stories, then you'll be seduced by the coastal atmosphere of Faring and the chill of this ghostly seaside tale. Highest possible recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Devil Wind

It’s 1985ish and I’m a young adolescent walking around our local K-Mart department store with my $5 allowance for the week. I’m typically scoping out the latest Hardy Boys installment, those cool “modern” ones with the explosive painted covers, or an R-rated movie novelization (living in the bible-belt, R-rated flicks were off the table, so my only option was to read the novelizations). But today…I see the incredible covers for a series of young-adult horror paperbacks called Dark Forces. I snag Devil Wind, the fourth installment, and camp out in my porch rocker to consume black magic, the occult, and the Dark Forces. I don’t recall the quality of the book, but I do remember enjoying it and picking up a few other books in the series before moving on to Stephen King, John Saul, and Dean Koontz.
 
Bantam published 15 Dark Forces young-adult paperbacks from 1983-1984. These were all stand-alone novels - roughly 160 pages – that challenged for market superiority among the crowded ranks of Point Horror, Goosebumps, Private School, and prolific author Christopher Pike (Kevin McFadden). That guy was everywhere. The series was authored by a rotating blend of writers including Scott Siegel, Les Logan, Bruce Coville, and Jane Polcovar. The collaboration of Paul Alexander and Laurie Bridges produced three series installments - Magic Show, Devil Wind, and Swamp Witch

For funsies, I tracked down a copy of Devil Wind and gave it an adult spin nearly 40 years removed from my first experience with the book.
 
The novel stars Peter Wardwell, a high schooler living in the small coastal New England town of Northport Bay. In the book’s opening pages, readers learn that a dilapidated house was recently demolished, and Peter found an old whistle in the rubble. With his new whistle, and his family’s boat, he takes his sweetheart Mary Jane (human not plant) to a small, hidden cove he discovers down the coast. Mary Jane immediately gets the creeps there and the place reeks of rotted flesh. But Peter insists they stick around and soon pulls out his whistle and takes a blow. A thick fog rolls in and the two become separated. Peter falls into a deep slumber and Mary Jane is rescued by a salty sailor. The two soon find Peter and bring him back home. Only, this isn't really Peter.
 
Over the course of the book readers experience Peter’s transformation from a kind American boy into a Satanic warlock from the 1700s. You see Northport Bay experienced a curse from Simon Wardwell, Peter’s great-great-gr….you get the point. Simon died in the little cove, along with his sadistic followers. But, when Peter blew the whistle, his body was possessed by this creepy Satan-worshiper. Between Mary Jane, the salty sailor, and a wise old woman in town, they must stop Peter from raising Hell on Northport Bay on Halloween.

As a breezy horror paperback, Devil Wind is a lot of fun to read. The four key characters made a great team-up to fight the forces of evil, complimented by the authors' emphasis on character development (despite the short page count). It's a young-adult novel, so don't expect any Jack Ketchum or Bryan Smith slaughterhouse action. Instead, the storyline is your classic small-town horror that places average people into extreme situations. I got the vibe of John Carpenter's excellent The Fog, so if that's your palette, then this should please any age group. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, December 30, 2023

A Gun for France

According to IMDB, Charles Tenney Jackson (1874-1955) wrote the novels The Golden Fetter (1917), The Show (1927), and The Eagle of the Sea (1926). Jackson also wrote hundreds of stories for magazines, including Argosy, The Popular Magazine, and Short Stories. He also penned a number of stories for Adventure, which is where I discovered his February 1943 entry "A Gun for France". I'm always in the mood for buried treasure and nautical adventure, so the illustrations by Samuel Cahan immediately spoke to me.

The story begins in Timego in the West Indies as Bill Jett stares at a sunken 65-foot yacht lying in Morani Cove. Jett was piloting the ship, along with a handful of mates, on the way up up from Trinidad. But, the engine went out and the ship was steered into the cove and then promptly disappeared under seven fathoms of water. Jett explains how the crew had picked up a Frenchman named Lenier, an escaped prisoner off the coast of a Guiana prison, and how the man had went overboard in an accident. This is important. Also, Jett's skipper is a guy named Ordel. That's important too.

Later, Jett overhears Ordel talking with a notorious rum-runner about important boxes that are still on the yacht. Apparently, the two – plus a mysterious third partner-in-crime – are arranging a dive underwater to salvage these boxes from the ship. They don't want Jett to learn of the cargo, nor do they want to reveal their nefarious doings. That's up to Jett and the readers to discover. 

At roughly 12 two-column pages, Jackson's nautical salvage-heist plays out like a grand adventure. Jett teams up with his only real ally on the island, a Malay boy that helps him discreetly uncover the plot while outwitting Ordel. The wild card is the appearance of the third partner in the trio of criminals, but as you can probably guess, it all ties back to the escaped prisoner. 

Jackson's writing did require some short note-taking, but it was a very light chore. His prose is filled with a lot of description, with the escapism reading like a tourist guide to exotic locales - 80-foot cliffs nestling the calm Caribbean and its white sands and even keels. Readers enjoy these stories because it takes them away from the dull 9-5 grind. In that regard, “A Gun for France” easily does the getaway trick. Highly recommended. 

Friday, December 29, 2023

The Island Monster

I've recently become enamored with the writings of Arthur D. Howden Smith (1887-1945), particularly his glossy magazine stories. His offering “Pirate's Lair”, published in the October 1933 issue of Blue Book, was mesmerizing as a highly-charged revenge yarn on the high seas. Thumbing through more back issues of Blue Book, I found his August 1937 novella The Island Monster and had to read it.

The first-person narrative is told by Terry O'Malley, an adventuresome newspaper reporter that globe-trots for sensational stories. While back in his office in New York, a Major Rattray walks in and introduces himself as an officer in King's African Rifles, a British Colonial Auxiliary force. With a letter of explanation, Rattray explains to O'Malley that his fiancĂ© went to work for a man named Lipscomb Hope, a scientist that focuses on breeding different types of animals together – like pythons and crocodiles. In letters that she writes to Rattray, she happily advises him that she will continue to work for Hope and that she will need to postpone their wedding arrangement. But it is just a front. Beneath the stamps on each envelope is a small hand-written message urging Rattray to come rescue her from the hideous experiments and the psychotic Hope. She's in real danger.

Rattray and O'Malley immediately form a plan to go to the Bahamas and rescue the young woman from the dastardly Hope. In doing so, they hire a pilot and yacht captain that can navigate the scientist's well-placed fortified encampment in Nassau. The foursome discuss the base's defenses, including robot machines that spit lead from watchtowers and hideous mutant pythons that patrol the churning waters leading into the base's spacious lagoon. 

It is obvious that Smith's writing is heavily influenced by H.G. Wells' 1896 novel The Island of Doctor Moreau. But, the high-adventure adrenaline remains the same as my prior Smith reading of “Pirate's Lair”. While not a revenge yarn, this is still a hard-hitting violent affair as the group battle the monsters, bomb the camp, and ultimately attempt to rescue the vulnerable beauty in distress. Aside from some racist things that were unfortunately a product of the time, this story was just so easy to read and enjoy. It's a simple formula, but Smith seems to excel when he allows himself very little to work with. The old adage of “keep it simple stupid” works just as well in 2023 as it did in 1937. The Island Monster is a recommended read for adventure fans.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Pirate's Lair

I'm always searching for the next great sea-adventure. In my quest for a good nautical romp, I started thumbing through digital copies of Blue Book from the early 20th century. I found a copy of the October, 1933 issue, featuring an incredible cover painting by Joseph Chenoweth, and decided to try a story called “Pirate's Lair”. It was written by Arthur D. Howden Smith, a prolific pulp writer for the magazine Adventure, who created a number of popular serials featuring characters like Captain McConaughy, Swain the Viking, and Grey Maiden

“Pirates Lair” introduces Captain Cahoon, a courageous New England ship-captain of the Cotuit Lass schooner. The ship is off the coast of Cuba when it is assaulted and boarded by a cutthroat crew of pirates captained by Gomez, a vicious scoundrel that the crew members call “One-Eyed”. After lining up Cahoon's crew, Gomez's men tie all 18 sailors and two boys with their hands behind their back. Cahoon knows what is to come, the dreaded “over the side” dumping as each man is thrown from the ship to drown in the ocean depths or to be mauled by hungry sharks. This part of Smith's story has such a profound impact on Cahoon and the readers – he's the last man that Gomez pushes off. As each man hits the water, splashing and gasping for air, Cahoon can hear the men's voices in his head and the mothers of the boys that asked that Cahoon look after their babies on the voyage.

The narrative moves into a more gritty, action-oriented second act as Cahoon, the last man over the side, dives deep into the water and brutalizes his lungs in a desperate swim to the pirates ship. By using a piece of their ship underwater, Cahoon is able to free his bonds. Through the evening, he swims to the shoreline to discover the pirates lair, a small village that the bastards use to drink, fight, and rape various women they have enslaved. Like a mean and gritty Mack Bolan revenge yarn, Smith's narrative explodes into a frenzy as Cahoon goes after the men who killed his crew and burned his ship. Only Cahoon isn't empty-handed. Instead, his weapon of choice is an axe.

Man, “Pirates Lair” was absolutely awesome. Smith can write his ass off and was able to inject so much emotion and doom into the opening pages that it sparked off a white-hot firestorm as the book kicked into the revenge tale. I truly felt for Cahoon's character and how much the loss of his men and ship decimated his soul. I also loved how Smith finished the story with an introspective thought as Cahoon questions the night's events. 

You can read this awesome story for free on archive.org HERE or stream it below:

Friday, December 8, 2023

Kane - Darkness Weaves

In 1970, Knoxville, TN native Karl Edward Wagner authored a short novel titled Darkness Weaves with Many Shades. It was published by Powell as a “gothic fantasy” with cover art by Bill Hughes. By 1978, Wagner had revised the book as Darkness Weaves. It was published by Coronet in Europe with a cover by Chris Achilleos. It was also published in a more popular edition the same year by Warner Books with an equally great cover by Frank Frazetta. That version was reprinted again in 1983. The ebook version was published by Gateway in 2014. The novel is also included in a large omnibus titled Gods in Darkness, which was published in 2002 by Night Shade Books with a cover by Ken Kelly.

Darkness Weaves introduces a character named Kane, who is best described by some fans as the very best elements of Robert E. Howard’s Conan and Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone. On page 163 of this 292-page paperback, Kane’s murky origin tale is told.

“Kane was one of the first true men - born into a hostile world of strange ancient beings. In this dawn world of humanity, Kane defied the insane god who had created his race – an experiment that had turned out far from the creator’s expectations. This demented elder god dabbled at creating a race of mindless creatures whose only existence would be to amuse and delight him. He almost succeeded, until Kane rebelled against this stifling paradise and spurred the young race to independent will. He killed his own brother, who sought to oppose his heresy, thus bringing violent death as well as rebellion to the infant mankind. Disgusted at the failure of his depraved design, the god abandoned his creation. And for his act of defiance, Kane was cursed with immortality – doomed to roam this world under the shadow of violence and death.”

Wagner’s villain protagonist (yes Kane is an evil guy) is born out of the combination of Biblical prophecy found in the book of Genesis – that of Satan rebelling against God and falling from grace to a cursed oblivion and that of Cain, who committed the first sin in the Bible by murdering his brother Abel. Readers learn that Kane never ages and has a fast-healing factor that is like Marvel’s Wolverine. His wounds heal at a remarkably fast pace. While Kane can surely die (we think), his skill in combat is unprecedented. No one can best him in battle, so the fatal blow to head or heart never seems to occur. In one vivid series of images presented to an evil priestess (more on her later), readers see Kane battling through toppled towers, fire-scarred cities and engaged in combat with giant demons or running up castle stairways fleeing from werewolves. It is easy to gain this feeling of epic greatness associated with the character. There is a lot to unpack here, but the author brilliantly shields the reader from Kane’s detailed past. Instead, only one tale is to be told, and Darkness Weaves presents that story – two empires colliding as Kane wrestle’s control of a navy fleet.

Without giving too much of the story away, the general premise is that two men track down Kane in a coffin-filled, rain-drenched cave to make a proposal. An island federation known as the Thovnosian Empire is ruled by a monarch named Maril. There’s a backstory of family relations and betrayal that led to Maril torturing and supposedly killing his wife Effrel after she had an affair with his nephew. But the horribly mutilated wife secretly survived and is now preparing an awesome military campaign to crush Maril and take over the empire.

Kane has a connection to this empire because they formed the federation to defeat him. In his early buccaneering days, Kane ravished these island coasts with his army of cutthroat pirates. So, who better to lead Effrel’s navy fleet than Kane? If Kane accepts the job, his reward will be a hand in the spoils of war – his own island kingdom. But, Kane secretly is planning on helping Effrel win the war so he can eventually overthrow her.

This is an epic book despite its rather short length of less than 400-pages. Wagner sets the table with some world building while also presenting histories for the major characters that make up the two warring factions. While there is plenty of action, readers do need to exercise patience while the author builds to the grand finale. There are numerous side-plots featuring characters involved with each other, fighting with one another, spying on the campaigns, and ultimately betraying family and friends in a quest for greed. The violence is gore-soaked and barbaric, but nothing extremely graphic or disturbing.

Additionally, Wagner’s writing is a mix of fantasy and sword-and-sorcery. There’s a Lovecraft-like dark fiction etched into the finer details of the plot, mainly how Effrel has a secret alliance with an other-worldly cosmic horror. This part of the story involves sacrifices, pentagrams, body-swapping, and tentacles – lots of tentacles.

Darkness Weaves is one of the very best sword-and-sorcery novels I’ve read. While soaked in all of the 1970s weirdness, it still has a unique literary escapism that reaches Shakespeare-styled revenge-drama. Wagner is an incredible writer that doesn’t give too much away with his style and presentation. I can’t wait to read even more of these Kane novels and short stories.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

The Coast of Hate

Frederick Nebel (1903-1967) was second only to Erle Stanley Gardner in total number of stories published in Black Mask. The New York native sold his first story to the magazine in 1926, launching a prolific career that included stories for Danger Trail, Dime Detective, Air Stories, Northwest Stories, and Detective Fiction Weekly among others. His pseudonyms included Grimes Hill, Eric Lewis, and Lewis Nebel. I stumbled on his nautical adventure novella The Coast of Hate, which was first published in the January, 1930 issue of Action Stories. It was also collected in a black and white omnibus of Action Stories that was published by Odyssey in 1981, complete with an introduction by the great Will Murray explaining how Action Stories was the “alternate Argosy”. You can read the issue for free on Archive.org HERE.

The novella begins by introducing readers to action-man Jack Ridlon. It is explained that Ridlon was a one-time sailing master in the island trading and shipping business. After saving and acquiring a plantation on the Borneo coast, a poor crop and a tidal wave completely flushed him out. He's now back to the drawing board as a free-lance adventurer searching for a quick fortune in Macassar, a small city on the coast of South Africa. 

In town, Ridlon meets an old businessman named McGarry. He offers Ridlon a skipper's position on a shipping schooner called the Flying Moon. The old man describes it as “...a two-masted schooner, fast and with a fair bottom. But, there's something queer in the wind behind her.” What McGarry is referring to is the death of the ship's prior Captain and the bizarre interest in the ship from a guy named McKimm. McGarry has the ship loaded up and she's ready to haul up the coast. Ridlon explains he has a girl waiting back in Singaproe and he needs the money. The two agree that Ridlon is the man for the Flying Moon and the telling of the tale begins.

The night before the ship's sail, Ridlon stirs up some action in a local dive. After a rowdy fisticuffs, Ridlon drags an old seaman named Captain Plummer out of the bar and sobers him up. Hesitantly, Plummer agrees to join Ridlon on the trip. The next day, Ridlon and Plummer discover they have some additional hands and one interesting guest, a guy named Starkey that paid for a passage on the ship. His destination isn't unusual, but his curiosity about the ship and a little clay Buddha statue peaks Ridlon's interest. What is the guy's true intention?

Nebel absolutely writes his butt off on this action-packed nautical adventure. The Coast of Hate has one of the finest pirate battles I've ever read. The action heats up in the fourth chapter, “Beyond the Jungle”, when the Flying Moon drops anchors at four fathoms on the coast of the Pahlawan Lagoon. After reaching their destination, Ridlon, Starkey, and Plummer go ashore to have dinner with a local businessman. But, when Starkey disappears, Ridlon and Plummer go on a wild goose chase to find the traveler. When they look out at their ship, they find their own crew in a fierce battle with pirates led by McKimm, the guy who was originally interested in the ship. 

The author includes violent knife fights, blazing guns, fist-fights, and jungle savagery as the crew battles McKimm's forces. Nebel is a sensational writer, penning these action sequences in a style similar to a rowdy boxing announcer on old-time radio– calling each vicious blow with a powerful bravado for the listening audience. Check out the imagery of this oceanic battle between knife-wielding combatants: 

“He plowed after him, churning the water, his knife between his teeth. It was the Ridlon of eight or ten years ago, the high-stepping young blood who had roved wild beaches, downed yellow mutinies, and fought bushmen on the raw New Guinea Coast. McKimm must have reasoned that the shore was too far away. He turned, treading water, his knife raised and gripped hard. His face was a blur in the gloom, fringed with the ripples that gleamed intermittently. Ridlon forged toward him, trailing a phosphorescent wake. They met in five fathoms, gleaming wetly. Steel flashed, missed and churned up the water. Ridlon shot his legs behind him and cannoned through. They came to grips, went beneath the surface, turned about and over and pushed their blades toward each other.”

Or, this description of the tough drunkard Captain Plummer:

“There was old Plummer, his face smeared with blood but his jaw set like a steel chisel – his hair plastered over his ears, his eyes burning fiercely. Plummer slugging his way into a knot of cursing, hard-fighting case-hards, many of whom had not so long ago thrown jibes at him in the Yellow Lantern. Plummer, stark sober was a different man from Plummer the drunkard. He was brimstone, rough on rats.”

I could probably write for days about this simple 17-page adventure tale. Frederick L. Nebel was really something special and I'm so thankful that archive.org exists to still salvage these old magazines and stories in quality scans for legions of readers. They are doing God's work when it comes to these vintage magazines. Do yourself a favor and read this awesome Nebel story, then chase down some of the independent publishers that keep publishing awesome vintage adventure stories in affordable collections.

Monday, July 31, 2023

The Bridges at Toko-Ri

James A. Michener (1907-1997) was a bestselling author who never knew the identity of his biological parents, or when and where he was born. He attended Swarthmore College and University of Northern Colorado, earning degrees in English, Education, and History. He was employed as a teacher, served in the U.S. Navy during WW2, worked as a campaign manager for U.S. Senator Joseph S. Clark, and as an editor for Macmillan Publishers.

Michener's first novel was Tales of the South Pacific (1947), a book based on the author's own experiences in the war. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1948 and was adapted into the hit Broadway musical South Pacific. His writing career flourished, eventually selling around 75 million copies with popular historical sagas like Hawaii (1959), Centennial (1974), and Caravans (1963). 15 of the author's books or short stories were adapted to the screen.

My first experience with Michener is The Bridges at Toko-Ri, a 1953 novella that was adapted to film by Paramount Pictures one year later. The film was directed by Mark Robson and starred William Holden, Grace Kelly, and Mickey Rooney. My copy of the book is a 1976 Corgi paperback, a sixth printing that shows prior publications by Bantam in 1962 and Secker & Warburg in 1953.

At 106 pages, Michener's novel explodes with tension, drama, and action as American pilots aboard the USS Savo (named after the real USS Savo Island) plan and execute bombing routes during the Korean War. The book's main character is Brubaker, a frustrated Naval Reserve officer and Naval Aviator who is an attorney back home. He isn't happy about his participation in the Korean War, but understands his talents and the contributions he can make to the war effort. In the book's opening pages, Brubaker's carrier-based jet is downed into the ocean, forcing a fellow aviator named Forney to assist in a rescue.

Both Brubaker and Forney have deep conversations with Admiral Tarrant regarding their missions, brotherhood aboard the ship, and the fact that their assignment – bombing bridges in a heavily fortified position – is a delicate, highly dangerous run that may cost them their lives. Michener injects three endearing side-stories concerning Brubaker's shore leave with his wife and kids, Forney's discovery that the love of his life is marrying someone else, and Tarrant's own struggles with the loss of his son during battle in WW2. 

The book's climactic bombing run was like something out of Star Wars or Top Gun: Maverick. The pilots must fly at low altitude through a slim valley protected by cannons and guns, destroy the targets, and then escape before the Korean fighter jets can intercept them. While the mission is mostly a success, the ending was quite surprising and left me with tears in my eyes. Michener's narrative is such a moving patriotic look at the horrors of war and the unnecessary eternal struggle that humans wage against each other. 

The Bridges at Toko-Ri was simply fantastic and the pages breezed by. It's rare to find military-fiction that is set during the Korean War, so the locale and discovery of facts and data regarding the campaign was really enjoyable. Michener is an excellent writer and I'm stoked to learn more about the man and his 40-book bibliography. According to Wikipedia, State House Press published James A. Michener: A Bibliography in 1996, compiled by David A. Groseclose. I'd like to read more about him and discover some of the real highlights of his literary work. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, January 16, 2023

South Pacific Affair

We've covered a lot of Ed Lacy's (Leonard Zinberg) crime-fiction, but his rare adventure novels have mostly gone unnoticed. I discovered a $2 ebook on Amazon called South Pacific Affair, originally published by Belmont in 1961. With a fistfight, a beautiful woman, and a boat on the cover, I was hoping this nautical adventure would provide me with an excellent escape from my average suburbia.

Lacy's first-person narrative begins rather haphazardly with protagonist Ray debating marriage with an islander girl named Ruita. They are both on the fictional South Pacific island of Numaga. After the conversation, readers are left puzzled as Ray gets intoxicated, pursues a nude fat woman, and is then punched by his co-worker/friend Eddie. It infuriates me when books begin without an explanation or clue of what the Hell is happening.

Through dialogue, readers learn that Ray and Eddie sail a small shipping vessel in the South Pacific. Their main gig is obtaining and selling copra, which is essentially the insides of a coconut. It isn't a lucrative business and the duo realize that most of their proceeds are spent on supplies, women, and booze. But, Ray is disgruntled with his life after discovering his wife having an affair with a Hollywood film producer. Disgusted with love, marriage, and the 9-5 life, he partnered with Eddie to become a seaman. Then, he met Ruita and fell in love. The issue is commitment, which sometimes isn't completely embedded in the male DNA. He's been burned already and doesn't want to make the same mistake again. 

Unfortunately, that is really all that Lacy has going for him in this book. Ray and Eddie get involved in various shipments, fight with a rival, much larger crew, and have a small bout with a ship carrying natives infected with smallpox. This isn't riveting stuff and I was expecting the narrative to develop into some semblance of an adventure story or, at the very least, incorporate some sort of crime-fiction element. These things never come to fruition and the end result is an absolute dud of a novel. Stay away. There are so many better Lacy 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, August 18, 2022

Island of the Pit

According to Goodreads, Irish author James Gribben (1915-1986) authored plays, short stories and novels under his own name and also under the pseudonyms Kingsley West and Vincent James. There isn't much information online, but I did locate a paperback he wrote under the James name called Island of the Pit. It was originally published in England by Ernest Benn, Ltd in 1955 as a hardcover, later published by Messner in the US in 1956. My version is the 1957 Popular Library (800) paperback, although it was reprinted a second time in paperback by Digit Books (R379) in 1960. 

Joe Trasker and his wife Helen have been casually sailing the Pacific Islands the last two years. On their return trip to the US, they stop by an inhabited island to buy supplies for the voyage. It's here that Joe is reunited with an old war buddy named Kane Hadley. In the brief backstory, readers learn that Joe is disabled due to mortar-shell fragments in his leg. Kane was the guy that carried Joe to safety while under fire.  

After a night of drunkenness, Joe and Helen start their return trip, but unfortunately make an invite to Kane to join them. Kane accepts, and then things grow chaotic over time.

Kane has an affection for Helen, and she becomes uncomfortable in his presence. Joe notices that Kane hasn't gotten over the war, as if he still misses the action. The three of them discover an abandoned island, and upon further inspection, learn there is gold laced throughout the rocky terrain. Kane, who has experience as both a smuggler and gold miner, insists that they stop for a few weeks and get as much gold as they can carry. Joe and Helen are simple people, and don't have a deep desire for wealth. Kane is the opposite, lusting for gold so he can buy another boat to capture more gold.

Island of the Pit is a character study of two very different people and their conflicts with insecurity, greed, jealousy, and other weak conditions of the human spirit. Kane's discovery of the gold, combined with his own restless demeanor, is a negative combination that's further hampered by his attraction to Helen. This greedy darkness envelopes Kane's thoughts and actions, eventually transforming him into a lethal aggressor. 

Gribben's writing is so descriptive and I really enjoyed his use of lighting to depict the story's mood. There are a number of passages where light is used to foreshadow coming events. It's a really unique presentation that helped broaden the limited setting of these three characters on a deserted island. I also enjoyed the commentary on marriage and the “less is more” message that reinforced Joe and Helen's position as the wiser, level-headed supporters. They truly want to rehabilitate Kane, but realize that his self-interest is too prevalent. 

Island of the Pit was just a real pleasure to read. It's a smart, emotional journey that's compelling despite the predictability. The descriptive writing style, dynamic characters, and social commentary were well worth the price of admission. You owe it to yourself to track down this lost gem. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 15, 2022

The Old Man and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) is one of the most popular, influential and respected authors of all-time. He was involved in WWI and WWII, won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and was a world traveler. I confess I've never read Hemingway and felt that he may be too literary for my tastes. But, as I read more and more classic literature, I've become less intimidated by the greats and find a deep appreciation for their literary work. Thus, my first Hemingway experience is one of his last great works, The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway wrote the novella in 1951 while in Cuba and it was published in 1952 by Scribner. It was adapted to film three times.

I believe The Old Man and the Sea's beauty lies in its simplistic prose. Hemingway, known for avoiding wasted motion, tells a very rudimentary story that is exactly what the title implies. It's a simple fishing story about a very old man, seasoned by the sea, attempting to capture the big one. 

The protagonist is Santiago, an experienced fisherman that has gone through a rather uncanny streak of fishing 84 straight days without catching a fish. His peers have come to think of him as unlucky. His only real friend, it seems, is a young boy named Manolin, who is Santiago's protegee. The boy takes care of Santiago by bringing him bait, food, and covering him up when he gets cold. The two share a common interest in American baseball, specifically the New York Yankees and Joe DiMaggio. 

Santiago ventures out to sea again, only this time he goes further out into the gulf stream, where he uses four fishing poles. Eventually, Santiago captures the biggest fish of his life, an 18 foot marlin that may weigh more than 1,000 pounds. The issue is that Santiago has spent two nights at sea, far from home, and now must transport this huge fish. There's a wound to his hand, lots of sharks, and the hot sun to contend with on the return journey. 

This is a very light adventure story that has an underlining premise that shines through. Hemingway's writing addresses aging, but also alienation. Santiago is originally from Spain and speaks a form of Spanish that isn't necessarily welcome in Cuba. His unlucky streak and age makes him very different than his peers, ousting him to the fringes of his own society. The story also speaks of human kindness and the idea that human companionship is a cycle. Santiago was there for Manolin when he was younger, now Manolin is there for him when he is older. It is really quite beautiful and Hemingway tells the tale in his own remarkable, signature, way. I hope to read more Hemingway. 

Buy a copy HERE.

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Deadly Deep

Jon Messmann created and authored the long-running adult western series The Trailsman. He authored series titles like The Revenger and Jefferson Boone: Handyman. He also wrote novels in genres like gothic, romance, and espionage. At the height of the Jaws frenzy, Messmann authored an aquatic horror novel called The Deadly Deep. It was published by Signet in 1976. 

The book stars a journalist named Aran, who specializes in complex scientific discoveries. He has a unique talent of describing these highly intelligent theories and results in an easily understandable language for casual readers. This talent has led to Aran being a notable journalist and literary awards winner. But, Aran is about to take on his most difficult writing assignment – chronicling the end of the world. 

Across the globe, the fishing and tourism industry is suffering serious setbacks due to violent deaths in oceans and rivers. The cases range from people swallowed by whales, consumed by lobsters, or severely bitten by an array of historically docile fish. There is no central location for the occurrences, although Aran specializes his research in the American Northeast. There are a number of controversial theories from professionals in various lines of work, but no one has the answer. Does Aran?

What I really loved about The Deadly Deep was the very last page. It closed a chapter of my life that I never want to remember. I believed Messmann was the invincible wordsmith, a literary hero of epic proportions. But, this novel proves he was less than perfect, which is totally acceptable considering the amount of novels he cranked out year after year. 

In 220 pages of plodding, directionless writing, Messmann places his protagonist on the phone with various authorities agreeing or disagreeing with numerous theories on aquatic animals and trends. There are attacks sprinkled throughout the narrative, but these characters are never properly introduced, so their dismemberment by crabs doesn't have much meaning. At one point I expected some hero to jump in and save the day, but the whole novel is just endless discussions about sea life. 

The Deadly Deep is deep boredom. Don't waste your time. This one is nothing short of awful. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Logan #02 - Killers at Sea

Jon Messmann authored comic books before moving into men's action-adventure paperbacks in the late 1960s. He contributed installments to the spy-fiction series Nick Carter: Killmaster as well as creating and writing his own titles like The Revenger, The Trailsman, and The Handyman. In 1970, Messmann wrote two novels starring a begrudged boatman named Logan. Thanks to Brash Books and Cutting Edge, two publishers that have concentrated on releasing brand new additions of Messmann's literary work, I had the opportunity to read the first book, the eponymous Logan. Enjoying the novel, I'm back to the well again with the book's sequel, Killers at Sea

Messmann moves the action from Panama to the quiet South Carolina coast for this second Logan adventure. The battle-scarred protagonist receives a letter from an old friend in the fictional one-horse town of Kingdom Point. Upon his return, Logan discovers an elderly man's body lying on a secluded beach. Before he can notify the authorities, the bullets start to fly. The dead man's young friend, a gorgeous woman named Julie, begins taking potshots at Logan believing he is the murderer. Wrestling the gun away from Julie, Logan is then forced to kill one of three savage tough-guys that arrive at Julie's house. 

Like a mid 20th century crime-noir novel, Logan unexpectedly finds himself a murder suspect and must prove his innocence. In doing so, Logan is forced to contend with the group of criminals that killed the old man searching for something valuable he possessed. Now, the criminals believe that Logan somehow knew the old man and has the goods. But, how does Julie fit into this robbery and murder? 

Killers at Sea isn't quite as effective as its predecessor, but still retains the same ingredients. Lots of sex, gunplay, and violence that reminded me of the Netflix original show Ozark. While Logan's signature is his fast boat, The Sea Urchin, most of the book's violence surprisingly occurs on dry land. Messmann's plot development moves at light speed, never pausing for lengthy dialogue. It's a sacrifice of character building in exchange for the pure adrenaline rush brought on by the hero's struggle.

With Logan's sexual prowess, “big” Colt Python, sleek speedboat, and savage instincts, Killers at Sea is a fun romp through the wild formula of men's action-adventure. Recommended.

Notes – Despite the book titles, I honestly feel as though Messmann wrote Killers at Sea first, then followed it up with Logan. In reading both books, Killers at Sea is a looser outline of the character. First, a little more backstory is revealed with Logan's charity in Sister Mary Angela. This has the genre tropes of an origin tale. The Logan installment briefly mentions Sister Mary Angela as if readers are already familiar with that character. Second, I'd venture to say that Messmann's writing isn't as good in Killers at Sea as it is in Logan, as if he was still working out the hero's characterization.

There is also the character of Julie, which I find interesting. In this book, Julie is Logan's lover and she experiences violence and criminality before Logan ditches her on an island on the last page. In the opening pages of Logan, he is arriving back at his boat with a girl named Julie. If this isn't the same person, why name two female characters the same? The Julie in the Logan novel doesn't really say much to reveal her past, and she quickly leaves Logan when bullets start flying. It was as if the Julie chapter of Logan's life had reached its conclusion. 

The end result is that Killers at Sea was first, Logan second. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Atlantic Fury

Author Hammond Innes would spend months researching and visiting obscure parts of the world in preparation for his adventure novels. Typically, Innes likes to keep things frosty, evident with his novels The White South, The Land God Gave to Cain, and Fire in the Snow. Thus, the northern hemisphere was a popular destination, including the rocky Outer Hebrides islands, positioned off the west coast of mainland Scotland. This rugged, rural terrain is the backdrop for Atlantic Fury, a mid-career novel originally published by Collins in 1962. 

The first thing you need to realize about Atlantic Fury is that the book's ending is revealed in the novel's first few pages. The account is written in first-person perspective by Donald Ross, an artist and former seaman who explains that a major military disaster occurred at sea and courtroom drama transpired. Ross's narrative reveals the results of his investigation into the wreck and what prompted his participation.

In the novel's first act, Ross is unexpectedly visited by a Canadian gentleman named Lane. He explains that his wife is running in second-place to inherit a ton of money from a deceased relative. The current leader is a guy named Major Braddock, but all attempts to reach him have been met with cold silence. It appears that Braddock just isn't that interested in the will, but can't be excluded without proof of death. Interestingly enough, Lane explains to Ross that he has evidence that proves that the real Braddock actually died years ago in a boating disaster. The man pretending to be Braddock now is Ross's brother Iain. That's a real pitch, but what makes it a curveball is that Ross's brother died years ago. Did Iain fake his own death and become the deceased Braddock to fool authorities?

I would imagine that this type of story has been told before, the one where the guy condemned to the gallows figures out a way to swap identities. However, Innes does what he does best by incorporating all of the harrowing elements to create the perfect escapism – roaring storms, nautical disaster, brutal survival, and the obligatory harsh and unforgiving landscape. Innes understood his audience and what was needed to delight his loyal fan base. It's like Lionel White providing thieves and bank jobs to please the readers of his riveting heist novels. But, Innes captures a certain lonely and tragic essence with the characters he creates.

Ross exhibits a deep longing for the fictional Laerg, an island making up a part of the Outer Hebrides chain. His attempts to reach it is either counter or parallel to his minimalist lifestyle depending on perspective. Ross is a single starving artist living in a small apartment, yet longs for Laerg's isolated, uninhabitable landscape of perilous rocks and beaches. It's also a trip into his past to determine his brother's connection to the island. If Laerg is a solitary confinement, then Ross is just bringing his sheltered lifestyle to another place. Or, does the island represent some sort of artistic freedom, liberating Ross from his confined space? Examining the other novel's strengths may reveal certain characters that would rob you of reading pleasure. 

Atlantic Fury isn't top shelf Innes, but for any other high-adventure author it probably is. Innes was simply that good and proves it with a stellar catalog. There's plenty to like about the novel considering the central mystery, as revealed as it is, and the abstract, unique adventurers. Recommended. 

Buy the book HERE.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Logan #01 - Logan

Jon Messmann created the long-running and highly successful western series The Trailsman, as well as other series titles like The Revenger and The Handyman. We have explored numerous novels by Messmann and mostly love all of them. Both Brash Books and Cutting Edge have performed a remarkable public service by reprinting most of Messmann's bibliography in brand new editions with modern artwork and short essays about his work. 

Cutting Edge's most recent release is the two-book Logan series, a character that Messmann created in the style of John D. MacDonald's popular Travis McGee series. Messmann authored both Logan and Killers at Sea under the pseudonym Alan Joseph. These books were originally published in 1970 and have remained out of print until now. I'm beginning with the series debut, Logan.

Not much is known about Logan other than he has some sort of combat history, owns a speedy boat simply called Sea Urchin, and is kind of a jerk. In the briefest of backstories, Messmann hints that Logan has experienced some sort of tragedy in his life that makes him this despondent, rather miserable person. But, he has a soft heart for charity, namely a nun named Mary Angela in Kenya. When Logan completes odd jobs, like chartering or salvaging, he sends most of his earnings to her with a letter thanking her for prior help. 

In Panama, a man asks Logan to perform a job for $10,000. Not liking the guy, or the vagueness of the task, Logan kicks him off of his boat. Later, Logan returns to his boat with a beautiful young woman only to find a corpse on the downstairs deck. The Panamanian police arrive and all fingers point at Logan as the prime suspect. He's been framed.

An emissary from the Peruvian government arrives at the jail and advises Logan they can make the charges go away if he simply agrees to the $10,000 job. He explains that their government is having a problem with a left-wing revolutionary group led by a man named Panico. Peru feels that they have finally killed Panico, but need positive ID. The body has been buried in a remote village and Peru feels as though one of their men will easily be spotted by guerrilla forces. A man like Logan can travel to the village by water under the disguise of a hunter or trapper. Once there, Logan's companion, a Peru woman who dated Panico, can make the positive ID. Mission over, collect $10K. Simple, right?

Messmann is in his wheelhouse with this high-octane, action-adventure yarn. Like his characters Jefferson Boone: Handyman and Skye Fargo, Logan is the author's formulaic, bull-headed man's man. He's handy with the ladies, gets laid a lot, and offers no lasting promises or commitments. In terms of rebellion and angst, Logan is 110% against-the-grain. He chooses painful opposition over smooth conformity despite the overwhelming odds. But, he always wins. 

Thankfully, Cutting Edge realizes Messmann's storytelling talent and have re-introduced these fun novels for a new generation of readers. As a nautical escape, Logan succeeds with it's fast-paced, calculated action. There's an ample amount of sex and violence contained in Messmann's propulsive plot to please fans of popcorn action-adventure fiction. There's nothing to dislike about Logan, and I'm looking forward to this book's sequel, Killers at Sea

Fun Fact – Papillon Books used this book's original cover art for their 1974 private-eye novel Wake Up Dead by William Wall. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Sea Vengeance

British author Robert Leader (b. 1938) had worked as a Merchant Marine, bartender, and a factory worker before becoming a full-time novelist. He wrote over 200 short stories and sold them to magazines like Reveille, Titbits, London Evening News and London Mystery. He found success authoring a series of 10 espionage thrillers starring British agent Simon Larren. Collectively, British publisher Robert Hale published over 40 of his novels, most authored under his real name or pseudonyms like Robert Charles or Robert Brandon. Some were exported to the U.S. by Pinnacle. My first experience with the author is his 1974 novel Sea Vengeance. It was published in the U.S. by Pinnacle with a cover by Phil Marini.

The first few chapters of Sea Vengeance plays out like the exciting 1992 Steven Seagal action film Under Siege.  Chief Officer John Steele, a Korean War veteran, is working on board the Shantung as it departs embattled Saigon en route to peaceful Singapore. The large ship features eight cabins, each containing a diverse variety of passengers. Within a few hours, Steele and the crew discover that the group of Buddhist monks on board are actually Viet Cong hijackers. They kill a few of the Shantung crew and severely injure its Captain.  

With the ship under command of a Viet Cong leader named Thang, Steele works in stealth to capture weapons and free passengers. His betrayal comes from an unlikely suspect, a lover he has met on board named Lin Chi. Together, Chi, Thang, and the Viet Cong have plans to use the ship to rescue a number of their allies from a small prison camp off the coast of  battle-torn Vietnam.

At 182 pages, Sea Vengeance is brimming over with exciting danger and intrigue. Steele proves to be the capable hero – admirable, courageous, and willing to sacrifice his life for others. As a propulsive action yarn, the scenes with Steele secretly working “behind the enemy” to secure the ship was really engaging. With the author's vast experience on merchant ships, I found some of these scenes had a sense of realism. While Steele's struggles with the Viet Cong on the ship were effective, page turning events, I applaud the author's introspective commentary. 

The combatants in the Vietnam War are presented positively by the author, both condemnation and worthy appraisal provided through a philosophical look at war and its aftermath. This isn't a stretch from Leader's wheelhouse considering he has written a number of non-fiction books on religion, philosophy, and his travel experiences. He certainly has the credentials and education to provide thought-provoking dialogue between these volatile characters. I found that to be one of the biggest highlights. 

If you enjoy Vietnam military history, or love a great nautical or war story, then Sea Vengeance is highly recommended. I found it to be similar to Australian author James Edmond Macdonnell's series of World War 2 novels starring Captain Walt Kenyon. Just don't be surprised with some of the heavy dialogue sequences. While it doesn't bog the narrative down, it may slow the excitement for those of you looking for just head-on carnage. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Borealis

Horror author Ronald Malfi seems to have made his way into the mainstream. I recently found a copy of his haunted house novel Little Girls sitting on an end cap at Target. I remember singing the author's praises in the 2000s and I'm happy his literary career is beginning to take off. In the early days, Malfi was published by the likes of Dark Fuse and Samhain Publishing. I had been saving Borealis for a rainy day. It's an 80ish page novella originally published in 2009 by Samhain and the weatherman says we are in for a storm. The time has come.

The book begins with a man named Bodine urgently driving a young girl to a rundown Las Vegas motel. Immediately, something is amiss with this bizarre child. She tells Bodine she doesn't have a name and doesn't have any parents. She's giddy, mischievous, and just downright scary. Shockingly, Bodine retrieves a handgun from his waistband with the intention of murdering the girl. The scene then transforms into the morning after with the town's sheriff finding Bodine's brains on the bathroom wall in an apparent suicide. The girl is gone and that was twelve years ago.

Present day, protagonist Charlie Mears is smelling the diesel fumes of a fishing trawler. He's been on board the Borealis for seven days pulling cages of crabs from the seabed. It's a hard blue-collar life made even harder by the harsh landscape. The crew is in the icy Bering Sea, hundreds of miles from the coasts of Alaska. After a long day of trawling, Charlie looks out into the glaciers and spots a young naked woman running on the ice. The crew stops to make the rescue.

On board, fed, warmed, and clothed, the crew provides her the Captain's quarters. But one crew member says something isn't right about her, that he has a bad feeling in her presence. When they ask the woman what her name is, she coldly explains she doesn't have one. She also can't explain where she came from. When one of the crewmen is found dead, the story takes a darker turn. Who is this woman? Or, better yet, what is this thing?

I've always loved cold weather stories that include nautical adventure or survival. That also includes atmospheric horror novels or movies set in frosty locations. As a fan of John Carpenter's film The Thing (based on a movie that was based on a short story), I found that Malfi's storytelling skills possess that same tone – the isolation, cold fear, and survival element. This little girl – young woman -  is just so damn creepy and it gave me chills when she tells Charlie things about his life that she has no way of knowing. The story also reminded me of Stephen King's great screenplay Storm of the Century. Malfi's escalating tension into total panic works on so many levels. It's visceral violence, psychological horror, and haunting suspense all aboard a stationary broken boat. The perfect nightmare.

I wish Borealis was still available for purchase. At the time of this review, the novella remains out of print. Wolfpack Publishing, Brash Books, Stark House...here's your chance! This story deserves an audience.

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.