Showing posts with label Peter McCurtin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Peter McCurtin. Show all posts

Friday, April 7, 2023

Soldier of Fortune #3 - Spoils of War

Author Peter McCurtin launched the Soldier of Fortune series of men's action-adventure novels in the 1970s starring Jim Rainey, a Vietnam War veteran who became a mercenary. The series ran from 1976 through 1978, and was resurrected for a continuation from 1984 through 1985. Mostly, the series was authored by McCurtin, but Ralph Hayes also penned seven installments. I've had a blast reading the series and continue the enjoyment with the third installment, Spoils of War, written by McCurtin and published by Tower in 1977. 

The series begins with Rainey on a business trip in Jerusalem. In and out of getting laid by a beautiful language expert, Rainey learns through the grapevine that a notorious assassin named Maltese has been hired by an unknown banana country to kill him. These opening chapters have Rainey prowling the streets finding informers that could lead him to Maltese instead of the other way around. In the fast-paced, explosive early chapters, Rainey and Maltese square off in a hotel and those scenes alone are worth handling a filthy old paperback for an hour or two. 

These books have a pattern similar to the Assignment series by Edward S. Aarons. The hero is hired or assigned an international case involving the overthrow of a dictator, protecting a targeted leader, or quelling a rebellion. The pattern is the hero learns the history of the conflict, scouts the lay of the land, and then hires locals to train for assistance in stopping the global danger. 

In Spoils of War, Rainey takes a $3,500 per month job to fight for the Christians in Lebanon. The Lebanese government is experiencing a conflict between the Muslims and Christians (no shit) that they want to keep as peaceful as possible. But, the Muslims have been angered so they have captured a Christian village and have begun to systematically execute villagers each day until their demands are met. Lebanese's central government doesn't want to involve their military for fear of panic and hysteria. So, a discreet operation to retake the village and kill the Muslims is where Rainey's services are required. 

Needless to say, this series is exceptional and McCurtin's plotting is superb. Not only is the curtain jerker skirmish fantastic, but once the plot unveils with Rainey's newest gig, the novel hits a new level. What I love about these books is Rainey's interaction with the local governments and training killers. I also really admire Rainey's attitude that he will fight for any side if the money is right. But, his golden rule is once he's accepted and committed to one side, he is never convinced or lured to the enemy with more money. He is a man of his word and I find that admirable. 

Spoils of War is brutally violent, fast-paced, and chock-full of gunfire, fisticuffs, traitors, assassins, murder, and some surprising dialogue on the absurdity of these types of wars. If you love men's action-adventure novels, you need to be reading this series. Recommended!

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, November 11, 2022

The Assassin #01 - Manhattan Massacre

Peter McMurtin authored the three-book series The Assassin for Dell in 1973. Double-dipping into the cookie jar, the author was also employed to write and edit for rival publisher Belmont. McMurtin cleverly used the character he created in this The Assassin trilogy for his long-running The Marksmen series for Belmont. In The Assassin, the character is Robert Briganti while in The Marksmen the name is simply changed to Philip Magellan. Same guy, same origin. Not to totally sweep-kick readers, but some of McMurtin's Sharpshooter series would feature the same character sprinkled in occasionally as Johnny Rock. 

This first installment of The Assaassin, titled Manhattan Massacre, plays out like your standard 1970s revenge yarn. There's nothing separating it from an early Bolan, or something akin to Death Wish, The Revenger, The Vigilante, etc. In this origin tale, Robert Briganti is introduced as a former trick shooter that worked the carnival circuit. Later, he began selling arms internationally for a firearms company while having some sort of connection to the CIA. Becoming a family man, Briganti settled down in Connecticut to run a sporting goods store.

A mobster named Joe Coraldi stops into Briganti's store and asks for a favor. He advises Briganti that his particular portion of the empire needs weapons. The deal is Briganti will be paid well, Coraldi gets the boom-boom and all is fair in war. But, Briganti declines the generous offer. Coraldi leaves, then later has his goons shoot up Briganti's car on the highway, shredding wife and kid and somehow sparing Briganti. 

Then, two-thirds of the narrative has Briganti arming himself and going after each of the men who murdered his family. The deaths are bloody carpet-soakers with the obligatory leaky heads and destroyed diaphragms. The funny stuff is that Briganti is running around with a monster boner and nearly explodes with one touch from a New York hooker. McMurtin also introduces a wild character named Mwalimu that provides a 14-page lecture to students about alternative history. His take is that Christopher Columbus was black and the reason the slaves willingly came to the U.S. was to get laid by white women. It's nuts, but ties into Briganti's final ploy to kill Coraldi. 

If Manhattan Massacre is a sign of things to come, then I'm in for an obnoxious, over-the-top kill-thrill as I waddle my way through two more Assassin entries before stepping over to The Marksmen. If the target is to be entertained with disposable fiction, then McMurtin scored a bullseye. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Sharpshooter: Killing Machine

The publishing industry for men's action-adventure paperbacks in the 1970s was a fertile ground to create house names, marketable characters and engaging series titles in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Marketing these books became a cash grab for whomever depicted the best guns and chests on the cover. That wild west mentality created one universal problem for publishers – time. As the production schedule moved at light speed, deadlines and quality became real antagonists. Nothing exemplifies that problem more than Belmont Tower's 1970s series trio 'The Assassin', 'The Sharpshooter' and 'The Marksman'.

Ignoring some very positive reviews from other critics, I've managed to avoid these three titles for a very specific reason. Literary critic and scribe Lynn Munroe outlines the entire history of these three titles HERE and explains that these books weren't published in the correct sequence. Shockingly, some of the books weren't even published under the correct series name. You may find
“The Sharpshooter Johnny Rock” starring as “The Marksman” or vice versa. You'll conjure up a headache of epic proportions by simply attempting to make sense of it all.

In order to provide insightful commentary here at Paperback Warrior, I've decided to read these books and offer individual reviews solely on the book itself. I may loosely mention continuity, but my main emphasis is story content (as it should be). My first endeavor is the 'Sharpshooter' debut novel “The Killing Machine”, authored by Peter McCurtin ('Soldier of Fortune', 'Sundance') and published by Belmont Tower in 1973.

The novel explains that the owners of Rocetti Designs were killed by a grenade after refusing to cooperate with the mob. In the book's prologue, their son Johnny, now heir to the company, miraculously survives a drive-by shooting that kills Johnny's brother and sister-in-law. In a thirst for vengeance, Johnny Rocetti is now “The Sharpshooter” known as Johnny Rock. By procuring enough wealth from the family business, Johnny now vows to hunt and kill the mobsters that murdered his family.

By 1973, every author and publisher wanted to recreate the success of Don Pendleton's 'The Executioner'. Essentially, “The Killing Machine” is a Mack Bolan clone - but an enjoyable one. Johnny's marksman ability in Vietnam is utilized to crush a northeastern Mob family. Like Pendleton's strategy with Mack Bolan, McCurtin has Johnny pitting two rival factions against each other. With the two warring families consistently mired in chaos and paranoia, Johnny's guerrilla snipe and run tactic is successful. Assisting Johnny is the voluptuous Iris, a widow in black who is wielding her own revenge against the mob.

While certainly not original or particularly clever, McCurtin's writing is an enjoyable, fast-paced blend of violence, mob politics and sexual foreplay. The heated chemistry between Iris and Johnny was a welcome addition, and I particularly enjoyed the rural landscape of Vermont as a unique backdrop for a mob-vigilante story. Overall, those of you who loved the pre-Gold Eagle era of Mack Bolan should find plenty to enjoy with “The Killing Machine”.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Soldier of Fortune #02 - The Deadliest Game

The 'Soldier of Fortune' series was published between 1976 and 1985 with a brief hiatus in the early 80s. The series was created and edited by Peter McCurtin (1929-1997), a talented action-adventure scribe who also authored 10 of the series' 18 installments. The premise is very simple: anti-hero Jim Rainey is a professional soldier for hire whose loyalties always lie with the side who signs the checks. “The Deadliest Game” (1976) is the series' second novel and finds Rainey hunting terrorists in Argentina.

Political extremists calling themselves the Cordoba Committe are terrorizing the Argentinean city of La Boca. While visiting a friend named Quinlan, Rainey finds himself in the terrorists' crossfire at the War Ministry Annex. After teaming with Quinlan to kill the baddies, the country's president offers Rainey $5,000 if he can dispose of the terrorist cell. Rainey accepts under the condition that he has complete autonomy in his methods. However, the president still wants Rainey to adhere to some military rules of engagement and assigns him an ex-Nazi leader named Richter to assist.

The book's early chapters features Rainey recruiting the vilest of mercenaries for the job. Playing off of 1967's “The Dirty Dozen” (and “Garrison's Gorillas” television show), Rainey eventually incorporates military criminals into his small Army. But aside from the Cordoba Committe, Rainey's stiffest opposition is Richter, an old war horse who favors uniformed parades over modern day guerrilla tactics.

I've always loved McCurtin's writing style, and this novel nicely showcases the author's talent. His first-person narrative adds a unique perspective to what is quintessentially a team-based combat book. In the hands of another author, Rainey's character could have been one-dimensional with the familiar formula of 1-2-3-Kill. Thankfully under McCurtin's prose, both Rainey and the supporting characters are far more dynamic. McCurtin's colleague, author Ralph Hayes, wrote seven of the series' installments under McCurtin's name, and I think they are equals in terms of storytelling.

Despite the average finale, I found “The Deadliest Game” to be a riveting, high-caliber read. The novel was released by both Tower and Belmont in the U.S. and features two different covers. For a complete bibliography and some additional series background, check out the Paperback Warrior review for the 17th entry “Bloodbath” HERE.


Buy a copy HERE

Monday, January 13, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 26

On episode 26 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, Tom explains the allure of The Saint series by Leslie Charteris, including a review of “Alias The Saint.” Eric covers Soldier of Fortune #2 by Peter McCurtin , and the guys have impromptu discussion about the work of Shepard Rifkin and Louis L’Amour. Listen on any podcast app or stream below. You can also download the episode directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 26: The Saint" on Spreaker.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Soldier of Fortune #17 - Bloodbath

After a decent run during the 1970s, the “Soldier of Fortune” series by Peter McCurtin (1929-1997) discontinued in 1978 after nine installments. He resurrected the series and main character in 1984 for nine more paperbacks over the course of 15 months with cheap photo covers. I grabbed a copy of the 17th book in the series, “Bloodbath,” from 1985, but I could never figure out if it was written by McCurtin or a ghost writer because Ralph Hayes and Paul Hofrichter also wrote books in the series under McCurtin’s name. Leisure Books never bothered to register the copyright on the paperback, and the eyewitness trail has gone cold. In either case, the paperback was almost certainly edited by McCurtin based on his plot outline, and the writing sure feels like his.

The Soldier of Fortune narrating the series is Jim Rainey, a badass for hire to whatever cause and hellhole has the cash to pay for his combat expertise. “Bloodbath” opens with Rainey on vacation in Hawaii where he witnesses the explosion of a Honolulu children’s hospital - an act of terror so unthinkable even Rainey is briefly shocked by the destructive carnage. A meeting with police discloses that the bombing was likely the work of the Hawaiian Liberation Army, a Polynesian terror group seeking to drive the Yankees off the island chain and restore the monarchy to the lineage of King Kamehameha. Oh yeah, they’re also commies. 

Because Rainey is a merc in close proximity to the explosion, he’s immediately considered a suspect by local police. They don’t have enough to hold him, but he is ordered not to leave the islands and placed under tight surveillance. With his reputation and honor to protect, Rainey decides to hunt down the terrorists himself to clear his name. So, with the simple turn of the page, Rainey the death dealer becomes Rainey the gumshoe with a dastardly crime to solve. 

After finding and wasting (Mack Bolan-style) some of the revolutionary foot soldiers, Rainey decides that the only way to dismantle the Hawaiian sovereignty group is to get hired as a mercenary by them - a busman’s holiday for the paid warrior. Once he has infiltrated the terrorist group, the novel’s action slows down with lots of planning and bickering among the Hawaiians and their Caucasian hired muscle. The climax of the paperback speeds things up considerably with the kind of carnage-filled conclusion you’d expect. 

As with every book McCurtin ever touched, “Bloodbath” is just pure popcorn fun. The conversational tone and first-person narration from Rainey is something unique in the men’s adventure genre. The author’s knowledge of Hawaii’s geography and culture almost certainly came from a World Book Encyclopedia and a Fodor’s Travel Guide, but you don’t read books in the ‘Soldier of Fortune’ series to walk away fully informed about divisive issues, even ones as silly as Hawaiian sovereignty. You come to the series for, well, a Bloodbath. By that metric, this paperback certainly delivers. Recommended. 

Addendum:

The series order of the 1984-1985 installments is puzzling since the nine unnumbered books were released over a 15-month span and historical records are spotty. The Vault of Evil Pro-board lists a helpful - but speculative - series order with each novel’s setting. I revised their list based on my own research utilizing the publisher serial numbers of the books. 


01. Massacre At Umtali (1976) - Rhodesia
02. The Deadliest Game (1976) - Argentina 
03. Spoils Of War (1977) - Lebanon 
04. The Guns Of Palembang (1977) - Indonesia (by Ralph Hayes)
05. First Blood (1977) - Panama (by Ralph Hayes)
06. Ambush At Derati Wells (1977) - Kenya (by Ralph Hayes)
07. Operation Hong Kong (1977) - Hong Kong (by Ralph Hayes)
08. Body Count (1977) - New Guinea (by Ralph Hayes)
09. Battle Pay (1978) - Caribbean (by Ralph Hayes)
10. Golden Triangle (1984) - Vietnam 
11. Yellow Rain (1984) - Afghanistan
12. Green Hell (1984) - Ireland 
13. Moro (1984) - Phillipines 
14. Kalahari (1984) - South Africa
15. Death Squad (1985) - Nicaragua 
16. Somali Smashout (1985) - Somalia (by Paul Hofrichter)
17. Bloodbath (1985) - Hawaii 
18. Blood Island (1985) - Western Samoa (by Ralph Hayes)

British printings of the series were marketed under the series name “Jim Rainey: Death Dealer,” but I’m unclear how many of the 18 originals were printed for U.K. release.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 12, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 06

On this show we'll discuss the mysterious career of author and publisher Peter McCurtin. We examine McCurtin's "Escape from Devil's Island" as well as two new reviews - "Duel in the Snow" by German author Hans Meissner and the debut Malko novel "West of Jerusalem" by Gerard De Villiers. (Music credit to Bensound). Stream the episode below or on services like Spreaker, Apple, Google and Stitcher. Download the show HERE.

Listen to "Episode 06: Who is Peter McCurtin?" on Spreaker.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Soldier of Fortune #01 - Massacre at Umtali

During his literary career, Peter McCurtin served as an author, editor, collaborator, and house name. When McCurtin’s name appears on a paperback cover, his actual input into the final product is often shrouded in mystery. With regards to the 1970s iteration of his Soldier of Fortune series, paperback anthropologist Lynn Munroe has done the heavy lifting for us. Books 1-3 were written by McCurtin the man, and books 4-9 were ghostwritten by Ralph Hayes as McCurtin the house name and edited by McCurtin the editor.

The ‘Soldier of Fortune’ paperbacks star - and are narrated by - mercenary Jim Rainey, and each novel finds Rainey in another war-torn hellhole engaging in combat-for-pay. The series was rebooted by McCurtin in the 1980s - also starring Rainey - but I confess that I haven’t done my homework on the backstory regarding that string of novels.

The series kicks off with “The Massacre At Umtali,” from 1976, and a helpful prologue brings ignorant readers like myself up to speed on the history of colonialism, racial strife, and civil war in Rhodesia where the novel’s action takes place. Rainey is our narrator, an ex-marine from Beaumont, Texas, who is engaged to serve as the leader of an anti-insurgent force of mercenaries serving the Rhodesian Army (white European colonialists) fighting terrorist guerrillas (black African insurgents) for $2,000 per month.

McCurtin writes Rainey’s narration in a pleasing conversational style, so it feels like you’re listening to a badass buddy in a tavern telling you about a foreign adventure he experienced. Rainey puts together a slapdash team of fellow mercenaries (“fuck ups and killers”) for his anti-terror mission, and watching the misfit fighters come together as a team was a particularly cool aspect of the story. The mission itself involves finding and removing a particularly reprehensible terrorist leader hiding in a jungle stronghold.

This book has it all: badass main character, fascinating setting, instant readability, and blood-soaked violence. The racial characterizations in the novel are a product of an earlier time - 1976 - that probably wouldn’t fly today, and the morality of European colonialism in Africa is never questioned. However, nuanced social criticism isn’t what you’re looking for in a Belmont Tower shoot-em-up paperback from that era. This cheap-o novel is intended solely for pure escapism, and it succeeds in that mission. This is a remarkably exciting war story with some great twists and turns along the way. 

As for me, I’m all-in for this series. I’m particularly looking forward to see what author Ralph Hayes does with the concept in later volumes. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 19, 2018

Escape from Devil's Island

Irish born Peter McCurtin moved to America in the early 1950s. After co-owning a bookstore, he launched his writing career with “Mafioso” in 1970. While his novels were typically westerns and mob-inspired action, he wrote the WW2 prison novel “Escape from Devil's Island” in 1971 for Belmont. It was republished with alternate artwork in 1974 to capture “Papillon” movie fans from the prior year. Ironically, that book cover not only mentions “...in the savage tradition of Papillon!” but features artwork of two men bearing the likeness of Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. The novel and movie are both based on the real life Henri Charriere's time in the French Guyana penal system.

The novel introduces us to the notorious Devil's Island in the late 1930s French Guyana. Both Captain Boudreau and Colonel Gamillard run the prison, both sadistic foremen that seemingly enjoy their time lopping off heads at the guillotine. As one prisoner meets his demise, American inmate Gendron is introduced to the reader. He was a former Marine Lieutenant working at the Paris Embassy when he was approached by a wealthy businessman to become his personal bodyguard. Gendron ends up in the sack with the man's young wife, a fight ensues and Gendron shoots and kills the man. But, there's early hints that maybe Gendron was just covering for the vengeful lover and took the time. He's now the only American in the prison colony, and an easy target for Colonel Gamillard and the inmates.

Make no bones about it, “Escape from Devil's Island” is emphatically brutal. It's surely not written for sensitive readers, and this author utilizes homosexuals as villains – unfortunately. It's a product of the time, and like a lot of jailbreak books, it features gay rape in some extremely violent scenes. When choosing factions, there's a gay rapist union backed by sadomasochist officer Ducharme. The group, backed by Boudreu and a Belgian ex-boxer named Radisson, target Gendron. This culminates in one of the best fisticuffs I've read in a while (13 pages worth!), leading to a brutal “tiger cage” month for our protagonist. 

Inevitably, we know this is a jailbreak novel. As the pacing picks up, Gendron makes the decision to escape. Staying on the island is certain death, and there are rumors of the Nazis occupying the prison in the coming days. Alliances are made, plans are constructed and soon there's an exciting gun fight in the works. 

The bottom line - McCurtin delivers one of the better escape novels I've read. Adventure, survival, gun fights and brawls are the chief ingredients that make this sort of book rise above the norm. At an easy 150-pages and manageable font size, there's no reason not to work this one into your “need to read” list.

Buy this book HERE