Showing posts with label Norman Daniels. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Norman Daniels. Show all posts

Friday, June 16, 2023

Spy Hunt

Paperback Warrior features a fairly robust section for author Norman Daniels (real name Norman Danberg, 1905-1995), including a podcast feature on his life and literary work. While I enjoy a variety of his crime-noir paperbacks, I feel like he was best served as a spy-fiction writer, or at the very least, international conflicts concerning the military. His best work is probably the eight-book espionage series Man from A.P.E.starring American secret-agent John Keith. That series debut, Overkill, was published by Pyramid in 1964. But, as a template for that series, Daniels authored a stand-alone secret-agent novel called Spy Hunt. It was published in 1960 by Pyramid and now exists as an ebook by Fiction Hunter Press.

In Spy Hunt, readers are introduced to Jeff Stuart, a CIA operative working directly for Colonel Piper. In the book's riveting opener, Stuart walks into his office and discovers a man pointing a gun at him. The next chapter explains how Stuart ended up in this situation. With very little rest, Stuart was ordered to fly round-trip from Washington D.C. to Hong Kong to retrieve a document from an unnamed man. Tired from jet lag and little sleep, Stuart walks into his office, sees the man with the gun, and is ordered to give the document up. 

Stuart complies with the man's orders, surrenders the document, and then on the brink of exhaustion, hunts his enemy down to retrieve the document. He then takes his enemy back to his office to torture him for information. At the point of pulling the trigger to execute the man, Colonel Piper's people arrive and inform Stuart that this was just a training exercise. Piper wanted to be sure that Stuart could operate in a stressful/no sleep situation. Also, if he could pull the trigger. Stuart proved capable. 

Stuart's next assignment is legit. An American scientist has been captured by the Russians and the American government wants to shut him up. To avoid the scientist singing American secrets, the CIA wants Stuart to pose as a Cuban in Moscow undercover as a weapons buyer for Castro. He is to kill the scientist at the first opportunity, then escape the country with no American assistance or aid. Stuart understands that the mission will probably be suicide (complete with those deadly poison capsules on his body), but he's sworn to the agency.

The author's variables in the story make the narrative come alive with mystery, excitement, and a sense of urgency. Stuart's nemesis is a female Russian agent hoping to seduce and kill him. On the flip side, the Russians invite the scientist's wife to Moscow for a cordial face to face visit. Stuart uses her as an inside track to the prison where the scientist is being held. These two women, both on opposite ends of the spectrum, create sexual tension and deadly encounters as Stuart treads water to kill his target and escape Russia alive. 

Spy Hunt was absolutely terrific, but I do feel that Daniels' second-half narrative was way too long. Despite the book's length of a mere 150 pages, the second-half is a road trip survival adventure as Stuart drives through the countryside receiving aid from begrudged laborers. The finale was fantastic, but it was cumbersome for 35-40 pages. Regardless, Daniels voices Stuart's third-person narrative, and the story for that matter, like a solid Matt Helm installment by Donald Hamilton. Or, as I alluded to earlier, a building block for his Man of A.P.E. series. If you love a good globe-trotting Cold War affair, then Spy Hunt is highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Showdown

Norman Danberg (1905-1995) was a prolific multi-genre paperback author under the name Norman Daniels. He utilized the pseudonym Peter Grady for a hardcover western called Showdown in 1963 — later credited to Norman Daniels for the subsequent paperback release by Lancer Books. 

The novel is set in a small town misnamed Tranquility. The town was once tranquil, but it has fallen into anarchy, lawlessness, and dysfunction. Feuds, disputes, and grudges are settled with shootout duels on Main Street, where the townsfolk gather to watch as if it were a sporting event. Just as Daytona and Indianapolis are known for auto racing, Tranquility is known for its public gunfights and public hangings. The fans love it, and it’s great for business at the local saloon.  


Jase Quinlan and Dan Ingram are ostensibly best friends. However, Jase recently went on a trip to visit his brother, and Jase’s whore of a girlfriend has taken up with Dan in Jase’s absence. No bueno. Of course,  all this culminates in one of Tranquility’s famous gunfights, and Jase gets the worst of it. 


All of this is a setup for the arrival of Jase’s Texas cowboy brother, Cass. He received word that his brother was gunned down in one of Tranquillity’s bloodsport events, and he’s come for revenge. The first meeting between Cass and Dan is fascinating reading and sets the tone for the novel, which is way smarter and more nuanced than you’d expect. Cass also has another agenda for coming to Tranquility which is one of this novel’s delightful surprises. 


Norman Daniels is always a safe bet for solid, if unremarkable, pulp fiction. In Showdown, he threw aside the trappings of the genre and authored a novel about the power of human decency packaged as a simple old-west vendetta tale. While the western genre has always been about frontier justice, Showdown also works as a fable making a case for due process and the rule of law. 


Showdown is an interesting western novel if you’re looking for something completely different. There’s not much action or violence, but the story and the themes are unique and the writing is solid. Recommended. 


Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Masked Detective #01 - Alias the Masked Detective

Before he ventured into three decades of paperbacks, Norman Daniels was one of pulp’s most published authors. Along with writing adventures starring The Purple Scar, The Eagle and Phantom Detective, he used the byline of C.K.M. Scanlon for a late pulp arrival The Masked Detective. The magazine's first issue, featuring “Alias the Masked Detective”, was published in 1940 and would run 12 total issues (a 13th story appeared in Thrilling Mystery). Daniels wrote the first few issues before handing the project off to Sam Merwin Jr., W.T. Ballard and other work-horse authors of that era. I purchased The Masked Detective Archives Volume 1 from Thrilling Publications, published in 2017 and featuring reprints of the first three Masked Detective stories.

Essentially, The Masked Detective is a standard vigilante named Rex Parker. Unlike other pulp heroes of the time, Parker isn't a wealthy entrepreneur or district attorney. Instead, Parker is a newspaper reporter who practices martial arts in his spare time. Using the French art of la savate, Parker routinely gives Hell to a plastic mannequin in his apartment. When his friend and newspaper colleague Winnie Bligh witnesses his fists of fury on the dummy, she suggests that he utilize his skills to fight the city's rising crime problem. Parker agrees and the two decide that an eye mask (black bandanna with eye holes) and some make-up could transform the easily identifiable Rex Parker into the unidentifiable night vigilante The Masked Detective!

Along with the origin tale, “Alias the Masked Detective” also features Parker's first crime-fighting adventure. A criminal named Carson is “accidentally” knocking off professors, art critics and antique collectors thinking that they are rival gangsters. But are these accidental murders really just cases of mistaken identity? After this sequence of murders continues, Parker, Bligh and a homicide detective named Gleason team up to root out the real motive. There's a dense backstory about an art exhibit and precious jewels, but I didn't really care. Instead, I wanted a fist and feet vigilante flurry as Parker progresses to the inevitable fight with Carson.

I found this debut issue to be a really swift read with a propulsive narrative that was quite compelling. Beyond the far-fetched hi-jinks, which one has to overlook when reading this stuff, the story was presented in a gritty, violent way. In the opening pages, a professor is shot six times in the stomach and then two more times point blank in the skull. This was 1940, nearly 27-years before Mack Bolan began violently “executing” Syndicate snakes. When guys like Doc Savage and The Avenger mostly tend to repress lethal blows, Parker proves to be the opposite. As also seen in The Black Bat, Daniels isn't afraid of a little bloodshed.

If you love this era of pulp storytelling, there's no reason why The Masked Detective isn't in your library already. This was well-executed and just a real pleasure to read. You can buy a copy of this awesome omnibus HERE.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Black Bat #01 - Brand of the Black Bat

Thrilling Publications, also known as Standard Magazines, created a number of pulp characters  including Green Ghost, Crimson Mask and The Phantom Detective. Beginning in July 1939, the publisher introduced The Black Bat (not the 1933-1934 character) in their magazine Black Book Detective. This character was created and written by Norman Daniels (under the name of G. Wayman Jones), a prolific author who cut his teeth on early short stories featured in pulps including All Detective, Shadow Magazine and Detective-Dragnet. The Black Bat character appeared from 1939 through 1953, encompassing a total of 64 issues. After enjoying many of Daniels' crime-noir paperbacks, I was anxious to read his pulps. I'm beginning with the very first Black Bat story, "Brand of the Black Bat", published in July, 1939 and featured in Thrilling Publications' The Black Bat Archives Volume 1 from 2017.

In this origin tale, the author introduces readers to Tony Quinn, a highly successful District Attorney working in an unnamed metropolis. In the opening pages, Quinn's home is burglarized by a destitute man named Silk. Oddly, once Quinn discovers this intruder in his bedroom, Silk explains that he can hear someone else in the house. After Quinn receives Silk's apology, he places him in a closet and welcomes the next intruder, a hired killer who works for a notorious criminal named Snate. After the man attempts to kill Quinn, Silk reacts and assists Quinn in killing the assassin. Quinn then hires Silk to be his bodyguard.

Later, when Snate is on trial for murder and extortion, his goons kill a witness in the courtroom in a wild melee of violence. During the exchange, Quinn is splashed with a deadly acid leaving him blind and horribly disfigured (think of Batman's Two-Face character). Snate is found innocent, and all of the charges are dropped. This entire debacle leaves Quinn and Silk searching for justice. Thankfully, a mysterious woman arrives at Quinn's house and orders him to a small rural town for a highly secretive eye-surgery.

After completing the surgery, Quinn finds that his eyes have become nearly telescopic. He can see things in the most vivid detail including the ability to see in the dark. Using his known disability, Quinn takes on the secret disguise of a hero named Black Bat (complete with facial mask and cape) while still being the very blind public figure of Quinn. This dual identity keeps him from being identified as this heroic nighttime vigilante.

Norman Daniels has a lot of fun with this wacky pulp tale. Origin stories are always important and I think the author did a fantastic job making Quinn's journey from civilian to crime-crusader into a compelling story. The Black Bat's first case brings him full circle to Snate, an inevitable showdown between hero and villain. Unlike Doc Savage, Quinn doesn't avoid killing. His weapons are two guns that he uses with pinpoint accuracy. Shockingly, Daniels' includes a ton of violence to make The Black Bat a really gritty read. There's torture by blowtorch, stabbings, beatings and gunfire. I was surprised at the level of violence and death, but appreciated the gritty realism to combat the far-fetched fantasy. Eventually Quinn builds a team that is similar to those of The Avenger and Doc Savage. It isn't necessarily about the lone hero, but the collective teamwork used to investigate and eliminate the wrongdoers.

If you love this early pulp-fiction era, The Black Bat should be mandatory. It's a fun, over-the-top hero story filled with violence and intrigue. With the affordable price on these reprints, I definitely recommend Volume 1 which chronologically collects not only this story but also "Murder Calls the Black Bat" and "The Black Bat Strikes Again." There's also an introduction by acclaimed pulp collector Tom Johnson (RIP).

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Walk the Evil Street

Norman Daniels, real name Norman Danberg, utilized a number of pseudonyms throughout his long and prolific career. His Gothic mysteries were often penned under Angela Gray, Suzanne Somers and even his wife's name, Dorothy Daniels. His Black Bat pulps were written under the name G. Wayman Jones. Daniels' literary work produced well over 15 different pseudonyms, so it was with no surprise that I found him using the name David Wade for a crime-noir titled Walk the Evil Street. The story was originally published by Magazine Productions Inc. in 1952 and reprinted in paperback format by Berkley Diamond in 1960.

Andy Mason is an Army veteran turned hard-nosed reporter. After numerous award-winning articles on crime, drugs and pushers, Mason gains the attention of an older former racketeer named Sam. The famed criminal invites Mason to his mansion with an unusual proposal.

The pitch, and the book's premise, is that Sam is now in his dying days, bound to his bed. He explains to Mason that his son Houleman is gay (frowned upon in 1952) and that his daughter Joyce is now a heroin addict. He's a widow and feels that his life has become a disappointment. Sam asks Mason to take Joyce to his rural Connecticut cabin to crack her habit and make her go clean. In exchange for unhooking her from the horse, Sam will provide Mason his entire diary collection. These books outline his past criminal activities and all of the associates that were involved in his enterprise. Feeling like this could be his career pinnacle, Mason accepts.

Daniels really excels by creating a sexual tension between Mason and Joyce. In addition, the author introduces Sam's daughter-in-law, a sex-starved nympho who was forced to marry the gay guy. However, Walk the Evil Street isn't a Gil Brewer styled sensuous love affair. By taking the job, Mason finds himself in a murder mystery when a body is found that connects Mason, Sam and his son. After fully contemplating the consequences, Mason begins to suspect that there's more to Sam's proposal than he originally thought. With the combination of Joyce's drugs, the nympho's appeal, Sam's dangerous past and a killer on the loose, Norman Daniels has plenty of slack to tie a great story together.

While the plot gets a bit convoluted, I found Walk the Evil Street as a solid crime-noir with a protagonist I really liked. Despite Joyce's drug addiction, I found her to be an exceptional character that the author clearly developed as the narrative tightened. With the plot's many aspects and character motivations, the narrative rarely left me bored or inattentive. I even appreciated the author's brief nods to Sam's pulpy past as a notorious 1930's gangster. It coincided well with Daniels' early pulp-fiction endeavors with the likes of The Black Bat and The Masked Detective.

Walk the Evil Street is another solid effort by Norman Daniels. He was a workhorse but rarely sacrificed quality for quantity. If you are new to the author, there's no reason not to start here. Highly recommended.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Killer Tank (aka Strike Force)

Norman Daniels found enormous success authoring various pulp characters like The Masked Detective, The Black Bat, Phantom Detective and even Doc Savage. After the pulps gave way to paperback originals, Daniels transitioned into a prolific author of crime-noir, romance, television novelizations and military-fiction. In 1965, Daniels wrote the WWII novel Strike Force for low-end publisher Lancer. In 1969, the equally low-brow publisher Magnum reprinted the novel as Killer Tank with the sales tag of “In the blazing tradition of Guns of Navarone.” Loving most of Daniels' literary work, as well as military-fiction, was enough motivation to spend a few bucks on this old paperback.

The book is set in Germany during WWII. The U.S. military formulates an idea that they can create a huge, powerhouse diversion on the German border. Using a number of planes, tanks and troops, they will fake an impending invasion and engage the enemy just long enough for a team of 30 tanks to slip in over the border and become a mobile task force. This task force, led by Colonel Hagen and Sergeant Dixon, will orchestrate hit-and-run attacks on German forces, towns, bases and airstrips. By disguising the tanks as German, and using old, overgrown roads, the force plans on creating as much undetected destruction as possible. The problem with that strategy? Hagen and Dixon despise each other.

The adventures of a WWII tank battalion operating in Germany can be an entertaining read with enough attention to the action. What makes Killer Tank different is that Daniels creates this really interesting back story between Hagen and Dixon. Through the first 100-pages the readers can easily determine that the two have history with each other. But, when Hagen begins to romance a beautiful French woman, Dixon becomes Hell-bent on destroying any hopes for Hagen's happiness. What is the history between these two American commanders? How could anything warrant this much hatred and animosity? I won't ruin the story for you, but the tension and suspense eventually percolates to a hot, boiling inferno. Just when I thought I had it figured out, the last few pages came out of left field with a right hook. I was dumbfounded.

With the focus on character development and a thick tension between Dixon and Hagen, Killer Tank serves as a hybrid of WWII and crime-noir storytelling. While I wasn't necessarily bored with the plotting and pace, I will say that Daniels never fully commits to either genre. When I wanted a more serious action novel the story slowed to a conversational tone. When I needed the characters to come to blows, the military action consumed the story. I couldn't quite walk the high beam that Norman Daniels built for me. The balancing act didn't work as well as I had hoped for. But, nevertheless Killer Tank is an entertaining read that probably could have been improved with a few precise touch-ups to the storytelling. You won't hate it, but I'm not sure how necessary this paperback really is. There are far better crime-noir and WW2 books out there.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 15, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 78

Episode 78 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast explores the life and work of Norman Daniels. Also covered: Tokey Wedge, Jack Lynn, Bradford Scott, Walt Slade, Jim Hatfield, Bill S. Ballinger and more! Listen on any podcast app or www.paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE.   

Donate to the show HERE

Listen to "Episode 78: Norman Daniels" on Spreaker.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Married to Murder

Married to Murder began its life as a novella by Norman Daniels (real name: Norman Arthur Danberg, 1905-1995) from the March 1949 issue of Popular Detective. It has since been compiled into an anthology of Daniels’ work by ebook reprinter The Pulp Fiction Book Store.

Dan Adair is revolted by his new wife Janet. Dan suspects that Janet murdered his crippled brother Russ a week earlier, but Janet is pretending that she never knew the man. Russ went over a cliff in his wheelchair on the outskirts of his sprawling estate falling to his death. The prevailing theory is that Russ killed himself or died in an accidental fall, but Dan doesn’t believe that for a moment. Now Dan has moved into his brother’s mansion with his new bride in hopes of getting to the bottom of the situation.

At the time of Russ’ death, Dan was engaged to Janet. His theory is that she killed Russ, so Dan (and presumably his new wife) could inherit Russ’ portion of the family’s wealth. There’s some decent physical and circumstantial evidence to indicate that Janet had been to the mansion around the time Russ died - something she denies. If Dan can prove that his blushing bride killed his brother, his intention is to murder Janet and take his revenge. But is it also possible Janet’s plotting to kill Dan to have the estate to herself?

As pulp magazine mysteries go, Married to Murder is a propulsive and compelling read. There are several action set-pieces, and Daniels’ writing is economical and solid. If you’re somewhat familiar with 1940s pulp fiction, you know the direction the mystery is headed, but it’s still an enjoyable ride. This story is definitely a fun way to kill an hour.

For reasons unclear to me, The Pulp Fiction Book Store doesn’t sell its ebooks on Amazon.com. Instead, their entire library is sold directly for download from their website HERE. Loading the MOBI file into my Kindle was easy enough and well worth the effort. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Man from A.P.E. #01 - Overkill

Norman Daniels (real name Norman Danberg, 1905-1995) was a prolific American author who successfully shifted from pulp magazines to paperback originals in the 1950s. After long running pulp series titles including The Black Bat, Daniels saw a resurgence in his popularity by authoring novels in multiple genres. Whether it was crime-noir, military-fiction or a Gothic-romance, Daniels was considered a good - never great - always consistent author.

Perhaps his most widely known paperback work is his Man from A.P.E. spy series of the 1960s. Now, before you think this is a collection of theories and essays on evolution (man from ape, get it?), remember the time frame. By the 1960s, Ian Fleming's James Bond character had become marketing gold. Every publisher and author was cashing checks from the creation of Bond spy-clones. Norman Daniels was no different. He authored eight installments of his espionage series from 1964-1971.  My first experience with the Man from A.P.E. books is the debut, Overkill, published in 1964 by Pyramid.

In Overkill, readers are told that A.P.E. stands for American Policy Executive, a clandestine agency of the U.S. government relatively unknown to America's other intel agencies. The organization uses a select network of spies across the globe to fight terrorists and criminal-masterminds. Really, it's a series of "the good guy Americans fighting those Russian and Chinese baddies." The star of the series is a character named John Keith, an A.P.E. secret agent that goes by the code name Darius. In Overkill's second half, it is disclosed that Keith was a language arts major in college and is able to speak several languages fluently (suspiciously similar to Jack Higgins' spy-character Paul Chavasse from 1962). This comes in handy in negotiations with allies and criminals worldwide.

In this series debut, Keith is assigned the task of locating a missile in Albania. After talking with his Russian sources, Keith learns that years ago Russia provided the Albanians a catastrophically-dangerous medium-range missile. The Albanians hid the missile and refuse to return it to Russia. Through network chatter, Russia and the U.S. discovered that four Chinese scientists are headed to Albania to work on sanitation issues. Of course, this is really a front for China to assist Albania in assembling the missile and destroying parts of Moscow in hopes that the world will blame the U.S. Smartly, Russia has bought the cover story and are allowing the Chinese scientists to cross their country to perform their task. The idea is that the Russians can follow the scientists and discover the missile's secret location. What's Keith's role? He is to work with the Russians in fighting a common enemy.

Personally, this read like a less action-packed Nick Carter: Killmaster paperback. Daniels plays it straight and doesn't provide a funny nickname for Keith's .45. Like Carter, Keith gets laid while on assignment and generally spends most of the job just interviewing people and avoiding hot water. There are some fisticuffs, some gunfire and a compelling investigation as Keith tries to locate the important missile (it could have easily been a gemstone, a world-changing document, a defector, or a KFC recipe) that doesn't really matter in the narrative itself. The journey is important, and Daniels does a serviceable job making this as exciting as it can be. I loved the book's final pages and the inevitable showdown between Keith, his ally and the Russian agents. For that alone, Overkill is well worth the price of admission. I'd certainly read another installment. You would, too.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Kelly Carvel #01 - The Rape of a Town

Earlier this year, I read a novel called The Captive by Norman Daniels (real name: Norman Danberg, 1905-1995). I enjoyed it so much that I've upset my bank account by acquiring all the Norman Daniels books I can find. It's no easy task considering the price of these vintage titles and the abundance of his books written under various pseudonyms. My most recent acquisition is his 1970 novel, The Rape of a Town, published by Pyramid Books.

The book stars a former L.A. Police Captain named Kelly who recently quit the force due to the city's flawed justice system. In the opening chapter, Kelly is invited to a swanky Beverly Hills party hoping to find an employment connection. It's here where his life takes a drastic turn when he is introduced to a woman named Merryl Atwill.

Merryl's brother Carl was involved in a large investment firm with a partner named Mander. After a long-term partnership, Mander murdered Carl and explained to the authorities that Carl was sleeping with his wife. After Mander was tried, the case was thrown out over a legal bumble. Now, Merryl wants her brother's killer brought to justice. But instead of thrusting this one case at Kelly, she introduces the idea of having Kelly serve a team of backers looking to right the wrongs of the legal justice system. With a panel consisting of attorneys, U.S. Senators, police chiefs and other high-ranking professionals, Kelly will seek out the cases that were thrown out of court and determine how to avoid these failures in the future. It's a unique concept that the author will expand upon in the book's two sequels. 

The entire narrative consists of Kelly becoming the police chief in a tiny town called Vineland, an hour north of his old stomping ground in Los Angeles. But once he arrives, the entire police force quits. Kelly's investigation into Carl's murder, the company the two founded and Mander himself quickly become dead weight in the watery narrative. As the town's Fourth of July celebration commences, Kelly learns the reasoning behind the police force's departure. An entire criminal army has invaded Vineland and the police were all paid to leave. It's up to Kelly to solely defend the town in a climactic finale that helped compensate for the book's rather lackluster narrative.

Norman Daniels is a great writer and The Rape of a Town introduced some clever ideas. Unfortunately, it appeared that the author had three distinct novel ideas and just needed a reason to combine them. The idea of a “vigilante” task force is sadly never really developed in this novel.  The initial idea of Carl's murder investigation is minimal but thankfully resolved by the book's end. The best concept is the lone police officer facing a mob of criminals, but the author only dedicates the last few chapters to it.

Overall, The Rape of a Town was a satisfying read but definitely requires some patience from the reader. Despite it's psychedelic artwork, Daniels provides a gritty, violent crescendo to please men's action-adventure readers. The book had two sequels - One Angry Man (1971) and License to Kill (1972). 

Note – This novel was featured as a book bonus called “The Town that Battled a Hoodlum Army” in the April 1971 issue of MEN with illustrations by the great Samson Pollen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Captive

American author Norman Daniels (real name Norman Danberg, 1905-1995) is best known for re-introducing pulp hero Black Bat in 1939. Daniels authored a number of short stories featuring the character for Black Book Detective. Arguably, Black Bat was the catalyst for DC Comics' iconic Batman. Along with Black Bat, Daniels contributed stories for dozens of pulp magazines like Shadow, Gangster Stories, Thrilling Publications and All Detective. The author's post-pulp career was immensely successful as Daniels utilized a number of pseudonyms to write crime-noir and adventure paperbacks for a variety of publishers. My introduction to Daniels is the 1959 Avon paperback “The Captive”.

Jeff Castle is a WW2 veteran who now lives a quiet life in Africa as a big-game hunter. Upon hearing that his estranged grandfather is dying, Castle arrives on New York's East Side to pay his respects. After stopping in at a local bar for a drink, Castle is seduced by a sultry woman named Alma. After an afternoon of lovemaking at the woman's apartment, Castle steps out to buy a few drinks. Upon his return he discovers that Alma has been strangled to death. In my crime-noir experiences, “The Captive” was shaping up as a stereotypical “innocent man flees the corpse” novel. Thankfully, Norman Daniels had some interesting variations in store for the reader.

After fleeing the scene, Castle vows to find Alma's murderer. But Castle's quest for vengeance is sidelined when his grandfather advises him that he's the sole heir to his vast fortune. The heart of the estate is 60 small hotels and inns scattered throughout the state. As if it was a dire warning, Castle's grandfather, on his deathbed, pleads that nobody will take the fortune and asks Castle to fight for what is his. Questioning his grandfather's dying wish, Castle begins investigating the hotels he now owns. Shockingly, he discovers that all of the properties are full-staffed brothels.

Digging into the accounting ledgers, Castle discovers a complex earning schedule of rental income and the proceeds from properties' illegal affairs. After attempting to remove prostitutes from one of the larger hotels, Castle is brutally tortured and beaten in a cold dark basement. The Syndicate warns Castle that he may own the properties, but they control and operate all of the affairs. As the plot thickens, Castle learns that Alma's murder may have ties to the Syndicate's warning. In his quest to avenge Alma's murder, Castle finds that he's fighting the mob head-on.

First and foremost, Normal Daniels is an average writer. When compared to mid-20th century contemporaries like Charles Williams, Gil Brewer or John D. MacDonald, there is an obvious shortfall in the prose’s quality. Daniels' dialogue sequences are the heaviest casualty. With that being said, “The Captive” is still an engaging, thoroughly enjoyable literary work. The pace is brisk and both Castle and a few side characters are really engaging. I particularly enjoyed the author's connection from mobsters to the big-game hunting that Castle is familiar with. In a way it reminded me of the 1951 novel “The Killer” by Wade Miller (Robert Wade, Bill Miller). The narrative's twists and turns through Castle's new estate left me curious and wholly surprised. Further, I was ecstatic to find Daniels flesh out a familiar opening concept.

With “The Captive”, Norman Daniels pulls no punches – this is a violent crime yarn from cover to cover. Sadly, like many stellar crime novels of this period, the book has yet to be reprinted for new generations. Do yourself a favor and track down a copy. You can buy a used copy of the book HERE.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Boomerang Blade

Before he wrote full novels in every conceivable genre, Norman Daniels was a prolific author of short stories for the pulp magazines. The March 1936 issue of “Secret Agent X Detective Mysteries” features a story by Daniels titled “Boomerang Blade” that was once available as a stand-alone eBook and currently exists within a Radio Archives audio reprint of the entire magazine.

“Boomerang Blade” is not a ‘Secret Agent X’ story but rather a hardboiled tale starring ex-boxer turned ex-cop turned taxicab driver, Jason McGee. After fixing a flat tire one night, McGee accepts a job driving home a drunk from a nightclub with a generous fare covered by a local underworld boss. After arriving at the requested destination, McGee learns that the drunk is actually a corpse with a chest wound. Before he can figure out what happened, McGee is forced to convince his former police colleagues that he’s not a murderer. When that fails, McGee gives the cops the slip and takes it upon himself to solve the murder and clear his name.

The 1930s tough-guy vernacular is a lot of fun to read 83 years later - like opening a suspenseful time capsule. The “murder suspect clearing his own name” plot is a trope that’s been done a thousand times, but for all I know, it was fresh and innovative in 1936. In any case, Daniels keeps the story moving and McGee is a great companion on the wild ride this short story provides. If you’re looking for a 15-page pulp diversion, “Boomerang Blade” is certainly worth your time. Recommended.

Buy a copy of Secret Agent X #24 March 1936 HERE