Showing posts with label Prison. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Prison. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Bamboo Camp #10

According to his obituary in The Washington Post, author Franklin M. Davis Jr. (1918-1981) served with U.S. armored forces in Europe during WWII. He earned a Bronze Star as an operations officer in the armored regiment and later commanded a tank-infantry force. In 1967, Davis joined the 199th Light Infantry Brigade for combat in the Vietnam War. He was wounded in action and won a Purple Heart and four decorations from the Republic of Vietnam. He retired as an Army Major General. 

What better author than Davis to write harrowing adventure paperbacks like Spearhead (1957), A Medal for Frankie (1959) and Kiss the Tiger (1961). As a longtime combat specialist, Davis used his experience to write over 10 paperbacks in the 1950s and 1960s. My first experience with the author is his 1962 Monarch (#236) WWII novel Bamboo Camp #10. Knowing nothing about the author, I admit I purchased the book due to artist Bob Stanley's captivating cover art. 

This relatively short paperback (143 pages) features protagonist Harley Frazier, a U.S. Army Lieutenant, who is mired in the war-torn jungles of the Burmese Campaign during WWII. As the novel begins, Frazier and his men are attempting recon in the dense swamps and fields. They find one of their men brutally tortured, murdered, and hung like a scarecrow as a warning to any foes of the Japanese. After some back and forth action, Frazier's forces are cut to pieces in a grueling firefight. With no way to repel the hordes of Japanese soldiers, Frazier and the few remaining men are forced to surrender.

The rest of the book is reminiscent of any good prison-break story. Frazier and the men are transported long distances and arrive at a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, just like the title suggests. Frazier learns there are 300 prisoners broken up into groups of 20-30 men in various camps. Thankfully, Frazier befriends the Australian forces and quickly learns the ropes to survive in the brutality of captivity. As time goes on, and his health continues to decline, Frazier and the Australians hatch a plan to escape.

I love the author's descriptive storytelling and the quick pace of the action. However, one of the real highlights to his story is the relationship between Frazier and his superior, Lieutenant Captain Macey. In a 15 page side-story in the middle of the book, Davis tells readers about Frazier and Macey growing up in the same city and attending school together. Later, when both join the military, they end up on the same base. Frazier meets a beautiful woman named Zona and the two strike up a friendship. Frazier learns that Zona is actually married to Macey. The two learn that Macey is having numerous affairs with various women in town, so Frazier and Zona engage in a heated secret romance of their own. 

The element that Davis uses for the book's narrative, and the inspiration for Frazier to live, is the fact that he feels he must protect Macey. He feels that his romance with Zona means that he owes Macey his life. Additionally, as Frazier weakens and borders on bad health and near-death, his memories of Zona eases the burden and forces him to fight the good fight to escape his torturous conditions.

I absolutely loved this book, although it doesn't really cover any new ground in terms of the traditional prison-break story. There are a few torture scenes, but nothing too graphic. Davis creates two prison leaders that are evil and fully committed to debauchery. They make perfect enemies for Frazier and the heroes. In some ways, with the jungle atmosphere, the book is similar to the dozens and dozens of Vietnam War POW/MIA novels. In other ways, it seems like a longer tale that would fit snugly in the pages of a Men's Action-Adventure Magazine (MAMs). Again, that Bob Stanley cover art is just so awesome. Bamboo Camp #10 is recommended for readers and collectors.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

A Woman Possessed

A Woman Possessed was a 1961 paperback by Harry Whittington, writing as Whit Harrison. The book is a crime noir paperback packaged as a sleaze novel for the original Beacon Books release. Fortunately, it’s been reprinted as a double by Stark House along with 1952’s Prime Sucker. The new edition includes an insightful introduction by pop culture scholar Cullen Gallagher.

As with the best of Whittington’s novels, he wastes no time getting into the plot. Convicted murderer Dan Ferrel is an inmate on a prison road gang swinging a grass sling to cut down the weeds along the steamy highway. Nobody else knows that Dan is expecting company. Namely, a woman named May who should be roaring up any minute in a blue car to facilitate his escape from the shotgun-toting guards.

Of course, the escape happens and Dan is on the run. May is smitten for Dan, but it’s clear that Dan is just using his psychological hold over May to manipulate her into facilitating his getaway. Dan has another woman on his mind - an old flame with whom Dan has a score to settle.

The second plot thread involves Dan’s brother, Paul. He’s the good kid of the family who is going to attend medical school and make something of himself. Paul just started dating a night club singer — always a disreputable profession in these books — and the songbird is pressuring Paul to join her in a heist, so they can be together with a little cash for a change.

The prison guard overseeing the road gang is Virgil Hawkins, and he’s a gun-crazy psychopath just looking for a reason to kill an inmate. When Dan escapes the road gang, Virgil takes it as a personal affront and takes vacation time to hunt Dan himself. This was a great storyline that I wish the author had further developed.

This is top-tier Whittington: Violent, exciting and compelling. The Beacon Books imprint also means sex scenes a few notches more graphic than the usual 1961 fare. There’s really nothing not to like about this one, and thanks to Stark House, you can read it without spending an arm and a leg. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Tortured for Christ

Right off the bat, let me just say I review vintage paperbacks. I love paperbacks. Bestsellers, Lowsellers, Nosellers, it makes no difference to me. But, I also do enjoy reading and reviewing paperbacks that were a sensation at the time of their publication. Books that flew off of shelves for no real reason other than just “you had to be there” sort of thing. 

Before you roll your eyes and think Paperback Warrior is now Paperback Priest, I'm reviewing Tortured for Christ because it is a vintage book from 1967, it was a sensation in multiple countries and languages, and for the most part it has everything I love - high adventure, military combat, WW2 history, good guys fighting bad guys, espionage prison, and escapism. So, if I'm going to read The Great Escape, If I Die in a Combat Zone, or Yet Another Voice, there's no reason to avoid Tortured for Christ. I believe everyone should have the freedom to believe what they believe and read what they want to read. Which is ultimately the premise of Tortured for Christ. If you are a believer or nonbeliever, it honestly doesn't matter. This is just a great book. 

The book is like an autobiography written in the third person by Richard Wurmbrand. As a fascinating history lesson, Wurmbrand chronicles his life growing up in Romania and the effects World War I and II had on his life and his country. The events of those wars are well documented in the book, but Wurmbrand goes behind the lines and really presents a human element to the madness of war and its effects on women, children, and families. 

Due to Wurmbrand being a Christian pastor, he immediately becomes a target of the Nazis. After World War II, his life and those of others in Romania seemed to have finally reached a bright spot. But, Stalin and communist forces took control of Romania and transformed it into a puppet government for Russia. Wurmbrand and his wife go on the run, working incognito and underground to avoid the brutal regime. Unfortunately, Wurmbrand is caught by the secret police and is shuffled through multiple prisons for 14 terrifying years.

I'm a veteran of the 70s, 80s, and 90s team-combat books, the military fictional men's action-adventure novels, the high-numbered installments of your favorite vigilante or supermerc, so I'm accustomed to heroes undergoing torture by evil governments, villains, drug dealers, etc. It isn't anything new. But, when it comes to real-life descriptions of torture, it's a different thing completely. 

The horrors that Wurmbrand endured, and his unbending faith in God, really had an impact on me. It made me question why I'm complaining about my coffee being served cold in the drive-thru lane when people like this suffered, and are still suffering, daily for various reasons. I'm not sure how Wurmbrand was able to do the things he did (which in itself might be hyperbole on his part), but the book's overall development from freedom to prison to liberation was simply mindblowing. 

If you do enjoy reading this sort of thing, I do recommend Yet Another Voice, which I reviewed, and also Faith of my Fathers, both of which depict real-life horrors of prison in North Vietnam. If you want to skip this book completely, the novel was adapted into a film this year by the same name. Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Friday, January 20, 2023

M.I.A. Hunter #10 - Miami Warzone

M.I.A. Hunter was a series of men's action-adventure novels published by Jove in the 1980s and early 1990s. The series was created by Stephen Mertz (Cody's War, Kilroy) and featured his outlines and editing with a revolving door of authors including Joe Lansdale, Arthur Moore, and Mike Newton. Crime-fiction author and popular blogger Bill Crider (1941-2018) contributed as well with his series debut, Miami Warzone. It is the 10th installment, originally published in 1988 and existing today in digital format through Wolfpack Publishing

Miami Warzone is the first domestic appearance of Mark Stone, Terrence Loughlin, and Hog Wiley, the three-man retrieval team effectively known as “M.I.A. Hunter”. The series began with dangerous missions into Southeast Asia to rescue American prisoners held captive from the Vietnam War. Stone's team was working without permission from the U.S. Government, therefore their activities were highly illegal and placed them on a C.I.A. hitlist. But, the American government caught on to Stone's skills in the same way that they caught on to The Executioner. If you can't beat them, join them. So, a U.S. Senator (Harler I think?) in book seven liberates the three hunters and places them on the federal payroll working out of Fort Bragg. You're all caught up now.

In this 10th installment, Crider introduces readers to Jack Wofford, a former teammate of Stone's during the Vietnam War. He even helped to save Stone's life during a nasty firefight at a seemingly abandoned village. In a terrific backstory, Crider tells of how Wofford's brother succumbed to drug addiction and eventually died. To avenge his brother's loss, Wofford went vigilante and began running his own one-man vice-squad. Eventually, he had enough intel and dirt on some of America's most powerful drug dealers. The D.E.A. were impressed with Wofford's talents and placed him on the payroll, similar to what happened with Stone and the C.I.A. But, on a recent undercover buy, Wofford is caught and becomes imprisoned as collateral during a Cuban and Columbian drug war. 

Stone receives a call from Wofford's wife stating that the D.E.A. isn't doing enough to free her husband. The trio takes the job to track down Wofford's whereabouts while also attempting to destroy the drug importing operation devouring Miami. The narrative has a tremendously high body count as the locations include park battlefields, a wild Everglades romp, the ultimate barfight, a mansion blowout, and even a shootout at an airport. 

M.I.A. Hunter isn't Hemingway and never professed to be. Instead, it's a rip-roar, ass-kicking team commando series with explosive action and a slight dose of testosterone humor (Hog is a riot!). As much as I loved the old fashioned “bring 'em back alive” Vietnam rescue missions, the idea of Stone and company working domestically is a nice change of pace. The last two novel locations, the Soviet Union and Nicaragua, were both excellent choices to move this series into another dynamic. Crider's writing style is ultra-violent, but also balances out with a quality story laced with crime-fiction elements, sex, and a buddy cop camaraderie. In other words, this one is a series standout. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The Executioner #104 - Devil's Horn

Remember the one where Mack Bolan becomes the star of the Chuck Norris “bring'em back” alive flick Missing in Action? Well, it never happened, but it should have based on Dan Schmidt's The Executioner installment Devil's Horn (1987), the 104th book in the series. Like a combination of Missing in Action, Rambo 2, and an installment of MIA Hunter, Devil's Horn deposits Bolan and Jack Grimaldi in a Southeast Asia Hellhole as prisoners in a drug cartel's brutal labor camp. Interested? Read on.

When Devil's Horn begins, Bolan is in The Bowery, the Lower East Side of Manhattan Island, trailing the origins of a massive amount of domestic drug imports. His trail leads to Ronny Brennan, a top-tier drug dealer with arms in various criminal factions as a Mob businessman. After Bolan destroys a drug warehouse, he pressures Brennan to reveal the source of a huge opium farm in Thailand. After a furious firefight, Bolan forces Brennan to ride shotgun as drug enforcers and low-level dealers tail the two to a local airstrip where Grimaldi is waiting. Quickly, Bolan and Brennan climb aboard as Grimaldi rockets the trio to Southeast Asia. 

With a large load of armament and equipment, Grimaldi's plane flies over the whereabouts of the drug farm. But, he gets a little too low and the plane is shot down on the outskirts of the farm. While pushing Brennan into the bush, both Grimaldi and Bolan attempt to escape the onslaught of waves of Vietnamese soldiers, hired mercenaries, prison sentries, and drug enforcers. In a scene right out of Rambo 2, Bolan and Grimaldi climb a hill to make a final stand against the invading forces. Eventually, the two are forced to surrender and are ushered into the living Hell of prison life in the jungle. 

A sadistic warlord named Torquemandan controls the Thai drug farm and has two top henchman inflicting years of punishment on the farm's prisoners. Bolan and Grimaldi discover that a large majority of the prisoners are American military prisoners-of-war that have been transported into Thailand by the Vietnamese government. Bolan also learns that there's a CIA spook imprisoned as well as many South Vietnamese prisoners that were allies to the U.S. during the Vietnam War. 

The orientation outlines what Bolan and Grimaldi will expect in their new lives. The duo will join the other prisoners as slave labor. They work from dawn until dusk scraping the sap off of poppy seeds (opium) and placing it in buckets. Their only nourishment is a handful of rice and a cup of water at dinner. Most of the prisoners are on the verge of death and are routinely beaten, whipped, tortured, and killed. Bolan is warned by the prisoners to never eat the meat that is served with the rice - it's the cooked flesh of the prisoners that are executed! After the harvest season, the prisoners will carry 100-pounds of opium on their backs and forced to march 200 miles to deliver it. Most will then be executed or die of exhaustion. 

I read Dan Schmidt's Eagle Force installment Death Camp Columbia years ago and loved it for all of the same reasons I loved Devil's Horn. I enjoy Schmidt's workmanlike writing style and his use of ultra-violent prison settings for both of these novels. Death Camp Columbia was authored just two years after Devil's Horn, and features a similar premise when the four-man mercenary team Eagle Force becomes imprisoned in a Columbian jungle Hell. It was obvious that Devil's Horn served as a template for that particular novel. 

Schmidt is an on-the-nose writer that uses a low dose of gun-porn to describe and detail the harrowing action sequences in his men's action-adventure novels. His style incorporates a violent, gory combination laced with plenty of brutal scenes of torture and dismemberment. If you need “brains bashed into pulpy matter” then Schmidt is your guy. He was an active Bolan scribe and had a great handle on the high-numbered version of the character. In Devil's Horn, Schmidt also incorporates a human element to Bolan's suffering, but also a sympathetic, endearing quality to Bolan's love of American soldiers and the overpowering need to free the prisoners-of-war. I also enjoyed both Grimaldi and Bolan's chemistry while enduring the harsh elements and horrendous torture dished out by Torquemandan's henchmen. Needless to say, good things come to those who wait. The inevitable confrontation was worth the price of admission and felt like a satisfying conclusion to one of the most violent Executioner novels I've read. Devil's Horn is an absolute must-read if you love Mack Bolan

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Thirty Pieces of Lead

It's hard to believe that just down the road from me, here in the Sunshine State of Florida, the Nazis invaded. It's a little known fact, something that isn't often discussed in the history books. But, on June 16th, 1942, a submarine assisted four German spies to step on the sands of Ponte Vedra Beach, just south of Jacksonville. Their mission was to destroy bridges and the parts of the railroad system using dynamite. Thanks to the efforts of the FBI, they were captured and executed before their mission was accomplished.

Using this unique piece of history, Frank Kane, author of the successful Johnny Liddell private-eye series, constructed a short-story called "Thirty Pieces of Lead" for the September, 1945 issue of Crack Detective Stories. To my knowledge the story has never been reprinted, but you can read it for free HERE or scrolling below.

At the story's beginning, an Italian prisoner-of-war named Musico is being interrogated by a Gestapo colonel. Musico has served time in a concentration camp, along with his mother and wife. The bullish interrogator suggests that Musico was separated from them at some point, and would probably wish to visit with them again. Musico tells himself that he already knows the fate of his loved ones. But, he plays along. The colonel explains that a group of highly trained professionals is planning a landing on the American coastline, and they want Musico to assist them. In return, Musico will get to see his wife and mother again. 

Musico is an ex-mob runner that ran bootleg products out of Chicago ten years ago. Musico tells the colonel to call his old mob boss, and explain the landing operation and ask that they pave the way with the police and Coast Guard. To insure the request is legit, Musico provides his interrogator a password so the mobster will know the request came from him. Musico says the mob has no loyalty to America and will work with the Nazis. Further, Musico volunteers to join the landing in an effort to accomplish the mission and to see his loved ones again. But, Musico has a clever plan for revenge in mind. 

At just a few pages, this story has so much life in it. It explodes with detail and ties into this little piece of history in a really unique way. I love the mobster aspect to it, and the idea that the mob and the Nazis are featured in the same story – two despicable factions that are being combated by this courageous, yet defenseless prisoner. Short stories can really be hit or miss, but this one was a sure-fire winner. Recommended!

Monday, June 27, 2022

Yet Another Voice

Reading military non-fiction is somewhat challenging for me. The fact is that these are real-life, harrowing accounts of action, adventure, and heroism, far from the fantasy escapism I like to indulge in. But, at the same time, I respect it and value its purpose in revealing freedom's cost, the sacrifices made by veterans, and the historical impact of these accounts. Sometimes they can be uplifting experiences and others a dismal journey into despair and ruin. I mostly read fiction to escape my 9-5 existence, but from time to time I delve into a non-fiction book to ground me to reality. I purchased Yet Another Voice from a friend, a 112 page Leisure paperback from 1975 that is a non-fiction account of the author's six years experience as a prison-of-war in Vietnam

Col. Norman A. McDaniel, a U.S. Air Force pilot, was shot down with his crew over North Vietnam in July, 1966. In this autobiography, McDaniel explains that he guided his parachute into enemy territory, a deadly landscape that he was completely insulated from in prior war-zone experiences. On the ground, McDaniel, armed with just a .38 revolver, attempted to radio for help before being surrounded by soldiers and villagers. Other than a neck laceration, McDaniel was mostly healthy as he was taken captive and marched miles to a makeshift prison camp. Here, he was tied, beaten, and interrogated before being shipped to one of the most notorious camps, a compound called “The Zoo”.

In a small, windowless cell, McDaniel never knew light from day, and was interrogated, physically abused, degraded, and forced to endure hours of torture at the hands of prison officials. Refusing to break, he was assimilated into prison life, which McDaniel describes as monotonous existence of staring at the wall for hours on end. Eventually, his hopes of freedom evaporate when he is re-located to the more secure and notorious "Hanoi Hilton" prison. 

McDaniel spent over six years in captivity. His experiences are well-documented in this book, but told in a casual, storytelling way. There's very little technical nuances in the book, nor is it introduced as a timeline of the author's childhood upbringing, education, and training. The first three pages jump right into McDaniel's fateful day and the years following it. The author describes encounters with other cell mates, meeting his crew in the camp, various routines, and the prison Christmas shows, which were touching moments of solidarity. The book wraps up with McDaniel's arrival back home and the struggles of acclimating back into a normal civilian life.

Beyond just being a testament of courage and overcoming adversity, Yet Another Voice is a wonderful Christian message of God's overpowering strength. McDaniel frequently discusses biblical scripture in the book and how these scriptures motivated him to not only survive the ordeal, but to establish an even closer relationship with God. As a Christian myself, I really cherished these messages to reinforce my beliefs. It was just so powerful. If you enjoy military history, or underdog stories of any kind, then Yet Another Voice is certainly worth reading. 

Note – Thanks to Bob Deis at Men's Pulp Mags for providing information on the book's cover. This painting was created by Mel Crair and was originally featured as the cover for Man's Magazine, January 1958 as a “Book Bonus” version of Bridge Over the River Kwai. It was later used as the cover for Man's Magazine, November 1961. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Escape from Five Shadows

Elmore Leonard was a prolific author of crime-fiction and thrillers. A number of his works have been adapted to film, such as Get Shorty, Rum Punch and Out of Sight. However, he cut his teeth on classic western tales and novels. One of them, Escape from Five Shadows, was first released by Dell in 1956. It has since been reprinted by a variety of publishers many times.

The main character of the book, Corey Bowen, explains how he ended up in the dusty and dry workcamp of Five Shadows. After his father died, Bowen worked as a miner and a cattle herder. Between jobs, Bowen meets another cattleman named Manring in a bar. After learning from Bowen's experience, he hires Bowen to ride along with him on a small cattle drive. Bowen reviews Manring's bill of sale and determines that he legitimately bought the cattle. However, after only a couple of days on the trail, the law comes. Bowen and Manring are charged with stealing cattle and sentenced to years of hard labor at Five Shadows. 

This Arizona prison is run by a man named Renda. The government provides Renda .75 cents a day for each of the 30 prisoners and cash for supplies. Renda keeps a majority of the money and limits the prisoners to a small diet with very little accommodations. They sleep on blankets, eat wormy food, and suffer health conditions. Renda can't afford any of his prisoners to escape, thus his criminal empire will fold. 

Throughout the book's narrative, Bowen and Manring plan a prison break. This will not be easy due to the use of Apache Scouts and trackers around the camp's outer perimeter. However, in pocket narratives, Leonard creates some inner turmoil within the camp. The superintendent's wife is planning on exposing Renda, but she's being held against her will. She proposes that Bowen kill her husband and make a run for it. At the same time, a young woman named Karla has an attraction to Bowen. She wants to expose the corruption and Bowen's innocence through the courts. What method does Bowen use - escape from violence or patiently await a new trial in a judicial system that has already betrayed him once?

Leonard's western examines political corruption - greed, deceit, and the quest for power. Bowen's decision on how to escape the prison is an interesting one. There's a lot of moving parts and the novel requires the reader's concentration. The narrative isn't laced with action, but instead relies on strong characters and an intriguing story. I found both female characters to be determined to a fault - one craving violence and the other nearly angelic. The contrast was brilliant.

If you require an action-packed prison break story, Escape from Five Shadows is unlikely to satisfy you. If you want the complexity of crime and the slow unravel of authority, this novel will deliver the goods. It's a smart, well-written novel that offers a rather unique plot for the time period. Recommended. Get the book HERE

Friday, July 30, 2021

The House of Numbers

Walter Braden, Jack Finney (born John Finney, 1911-1995) was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and attended Knox College in Illinois. Aside from being an advertising writer in New York, Finney wrote a number of novels using the name Jack Finney. Many of his literary works have been adapted for film and television, including The Body Snatchers, Good Neighbor Sam, Assault on a Queen and the subject at hand, The House of Numbers. This was the author's third career novel and was initially published in 1956.

Arnie and his girlfriend Ruth become engaged and Arnie is looking for the perfect ring. Despite having very little money, Arnie buys an expensive ring with a check that won't clear the bank. After making rounds, Arnie cashes a bunch of checks at various retailers for cash and deposits the money. Needles to say, Arnie ends up in California's San Quentin prison for check fraud. According to this novel, most prisoners had sentences that were listed as the number of years to life. In Arnie's case, he's serving five years and his criminal record is five years to life. That's important to know.

In the first chapters, the prison warden summons Arnie to his office and explains that another prisoner saw him assault a guard. Arnie did it, but thought no one was around to witness the assault. The warden threatens Arnie to explain his actions, otherwise he will accept the other prisoner's testimony as fact. Arnie refuses and he's sent back to his cell to await whatever fate he's destined for. Now, referring to this Californian law, Arnie knows that anyone with a "life sentence" that attacks a prison guard is guaranteed a death by lethal injection. Either Arnie leaves the prison as a corpse or an escaped convict. That's when his brother Ben becomes involved.

Arnie reaches out to Ben and begs that he break him out of San Quentin, one of the most fortified prisons in the country. Along with Arnie's fiance Ruth, Ben begins scouting the prison and designing a plan to liberate his brother. Ben and Ruth move into a neighborhood near the prison and learn that their neighbor is actually one of the prison guards. This becomes a real problem when the guard casually mentions to Ben that he's seen him at the prison visiting an inmate. Arnie's escape would surely be linked to Ben. 

Finney's narrative unfolds as a unique first-person presentation from both Ben and Arnie. Although the author does not necessarily specify who is speaking, the reader can instantly decipher it depending on where and with whom the character speaks. Another unique aspect of this prison break story is the means by which the escape occurs. Ben formulates a plan to break into the prison and assume the role of Arnie. This frees up Arnie's time to work on the getaway through an elaborate combination of underground excavation and warehouse work. While Ben becomes the prisoner, Arnie is essentially a free man. This adds an alluring enhancement to the narrative; will one brother betrays another? The plot thickens when Ben and Ruth develop a romantic chemistry.

The House of Numbers was a good crime novel that used some new tricks to spice up the average prison break formula. I liked the concept and the various questions it presented - will the guard rat out Ben, can the warden be trusted, is Ruth serious about her passion for Ben, will Arnie become greedy? These questions are all asked and answered over the course of the book. Getting there was really fun. If you enjoy prison break novels, The House of Numbers is a dependable selection.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, July 5, 2021

Hell Is Too Crowded

I recently read Alistair MacLean's book When Eight Bells Toll. What was interesting about that book was that MacLean structured it in a private-eye formula. It was a different but entertaining novel, although quite different from the typical high adventure tale typically associated with MacLean. This thought led me to a novel by Jack Higgins called Hell Is Too Crowded. It was written as Higgins' own name, Harry Patterson, and initially published in 1962. It was later reprinted under the Higgins pseudonym by Fawcett Gold Medal. 

Like MacLean's When Eight Bells Toll, this book is in fact a crime-noir and a different style from the typical espionage and adventure plot that Higgins normally produced. In the first chapter of the book, readers learn about the American Matthew Brady. He is a structural engineer who had worked internationally when he met a beautiful British woman. After a brief affair, Brady began sending her money in the hope that they would save for a marriage and an average suburban lifestyle. After discovering that she had left the country with the money, Brady falls into a state of intoxication and eventually collapses on a bench in London.

A pretty young woman ends up finding Brady on the bench that night and offers to take him back to her apartment. The woman is obviously a prostitute, but she appears sincere in her concerns. The two take a short stroll beside a dark cemetery and enter the second floor of a large Victorian house. As Brady enters, he notices the face of a man watching them through the bottom window. After a coffee, Brady becomes sleepy and begins to faint on the sofa. His last look before sleep is the man from downstairs looking over the woman's shoulder. 

Brady wakes up listening to the detectives talking around him. The generous woman has been horribly mutilated and Brady is the chief suspect. The police does not accept his version of the story and after several months, the narrative finds Brady in prison. Building on his experience as a structural engineer, Brady began designing an escape plan. He must find the real killer and clear his name before the hounds of justice are on his trail. 

Needless to say, the crime-noir trope of an average man waking up to a female corpse is a familiar one. The late 1940s and 1950s are ripe for stories like this. The rapid pace, mystery development and problem-solving skills of the main character reflect the likes of Day Keene. The setting, complete with graveyard and seaside house, combined with the central story also reminds me of Edward S. Aarons' early career.  

While not a Higgins adventure, Hell Is Too Crowded is still worth the effort. It was enjoyable to find the author immersed into the crime-noir genre. Further, it may have inspired Higgins to write a better, more adventuresome novel in 1971's Toll for the Brave. It has a similar storyline, but focuses more on the high adventure storytelling that he perfected. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Freedom Trap

Desmond Bagley (1923-1983) was one of the first high-adventure authors to join Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean as the stars of the genre. I loved all of Bagley's novels I read, including 1970's Running Blind. In that book, the protagonist has fled a Russian spy named Slade. In the Freedom Trap, released a year later, Slade is presented again, although this is a totally different story. The two books could be considered companions, but are not directly linked to one another. I liked Running Blind so The Freedom Trap sounded like the most logical Desmond Bagley novel to read next. 

The book features a South African burglar by the name of Rearden. In the opening pages of the book, Rearden comes to London for the first time. It's here that he is asked to meet a mysterious man named MacKintosh and his sexy secretary Mrs. Smith. Mackintosh offers Rearden a sizeable sum to steal a packet of diamonds from a London mailman. Although it sounds absurd, I was surprised and convinced by MacKintosh's explanation that the diamonds (in the 1970s at least) were just posted in simple envelopes. Rearden accepts the job and in a few chapters the letter carrier is assaulted, Rearden is richer and MacKintosh has a handful of sparkling diamonds. The entire heist is performed flawlessly - no witnesses, smooth transaction. But later that night, two London detectives come to the door to arrest Rearden on assault and robbery charges. Did MacKintosh sell Rearden out?

The first 80 pages of this book are dedicated to theft and subsequent arrest. It was enjoyable, profoundly convincing and well written. As good as it was, the second act was absolutely terrific. Rearden pleads his innocence through the initial interrogation, sensationalized trial and the mandatory sentence. The judge begs Rearden to come clean on where the diamonds are. Rearden, refusing to cooperate, defiantly proclaims his innocence while the judge sentences him to 20 years in prison. 

After a year in the pen, a convicted mobster insider offers Rearden an agreement. For 20 grand, a mob-backed criminal squad can get Rearden out of jail. The cool part of it? They specialize in getting people out of prison for money. And they know he can afford it. If Rearden agrees to this deal, he could be free. But if he pays, he has no way of knowing if this team even exists. In the worst case, he pays the money and is caught fleeing. His 20-years would probably double. What the hell does Rearden do?

The Freedom Trap is one of the best books I've read in a long time. The first and second acts were just tremendously well written and just so much fun to absorb and understand. The conclusion of the novel was somewhat abrupt and seemed rushed, but it never really harmed what is otherwise a remarkable reading experience. Moreover, the Slade link between Running Blind, and The Freedom Trap is certainly there, but by all means the two books are independent titles. Highest recommendation available.

Note - The book was adapted into a theatrical film in 1973 starring Paul Newman. The title used for the film was The MacKinstosh Man. Fawcett reprinted the paperback under that title as well.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, March 9, 2021


John Lutz (1939-2021) was a critically-acclaimed crime-fiction author who wrote a number of private-eye series titles as well as a dozen stand-alone novels. He served as president of The Mystery Writers of America as well as Private Eye Writers of America. My first experience with Lutz is a 1982 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback titled Exiled!.

The author name on the paperback’s cover is Steven Greene. Research suggests that Lutz either wrote the whole novel himself or collaborated with another author named Steven Greene. Evidence suggests that Greene was a real author who co-wrote the 1982 Signet novel Sleeping Beauties, a Robin Cook-styled medical thriller written as L.L. Greene that seems to be a collaboration between Steven Greene and Larry Levine. Lutz's official website lists the novel as “with and as by Steven Greene.” We may never know the full truth.

The novel's prologue sets the scene: a heightened level of violence in America has plagued the nation. Due to this overwhelming murder statistic, the U.S. government has created a penal colony called Pen Island. If a brochure existed illustrating it's uniqueness, it might read something like this:

Pen Island lies 100-miles off of the beautiful Pacific-Northwest Coast. At three-square miles, this lush island is populated by wildlife, plants and edible crops. The entire retreat is surrounded by shore towers that closely monitor all incoming and outgoing traffic from the island. A highly efficient security system automatically terminates any unauthorized personnel within the island's surrounding waters or in the air. Nestled within Pen Island's beautiful landscape are it's diverse residents – a unique population made up of over 1,000 convicted murderers. If your destination is Pen Island, you'll enjoy complete freedom from any law-enforcement, social barriers or pesky government employees. Pen Island is the ultimate getaway. Relax, work, make love or...murder!

In the book's opening pages, Dan Hopper is working in a small coastal town in Maine. It's here that his days are spent managing his small cabin retreat while fishing for lobster. When Dan rescues an abused stripper named Annie and her son Billie, his freewheeling existence evolves into a tight-knit family dynamic. However, the happiness is short-lived when the Hopper family is attacked by mobsters. In a grizzly chapter, Dan is forced to watch Billie brutally beaten to death. After a horrendous assault on Annie, Dan is injected with a syringe and falls asleep as the cabin is set on fire.

Dan awakens to find himself transported from Maine to the shores of Pen Island. Upon arrival, Dan is welcomed by the islanders and explained the rules. A) There's no discussion of escape at any time. Escape attempts lead to death and the idea of freedom just deflates the island's morale. B) Dan has his own hut but must collectively work with the group to grow crops, distribute water and generally become a “team player'. C) There's 900 men and only 72 women on the island. The women are required to take turns spending a week at the compound where men (and the women) can sexually release their tensions. This deters traditional rape.

After settling in, adapting to the change and overcoming the shock of witnessing his family's assassination, Dan begins formulating a plan to escape the island. His need to break away is driven by his quest for vengeance. Who set him up to be a prisoner? In order to adapt to the island, Dan has to circumvent being killed by one of the homicidal maniacs as well as learning who is really in charge. Like any prison, there's an inmate leader. In this case, it's a high-level mobster named Martindale and his enforcer, a brutal maniac named Chinko. Dan's inevitable showdown with them directly relates to his escape attempts. To reach freedom, he'll not only need to escape the island but also Martindale's clutches.

Exiled! is one of the better books I've read in a long time. This novel is just outstanding in its primitive, neanderthal display of human violence and man's complacency with it. In some ways the book formulates a Christian Christ-like pattern. A “perfect man” (Dan) is sent to a hostile world to save it. The book's overall premise is riveting and unique. Mixed into the narrative is also a brutal sporting event called The Games, a mix of rugby, football and fighting. These games help push the narrative along while still constructing alliances and escape plans. It's an exhilarating plot point that adds combative aspects to the book's presentation. There's also a fleeting romantic feel as Dan comes to the aid of not only Annie, but also a woman named Mirriam on the island. The book's closing chapters were fulfilling, but not terribly surprising. There's another aspect to the narrative that I won't reveal here, but it definitely adds a dynamic feel to the island story. It's these portions of the book that allow readers to leave the island periodically.

Whether Lutz or Greene or both authored Exile!, the end result is just a fantastic action-adventure novel with crime-noir tendencies. Used copies seem abundantly available and I encourage you to track this book down. It's well worth your investment and time. Highest possible recommendation!

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Doc Savage #183 - Escape from Loki

The idea of retroactive continuity, commonly referred to as retcon or retconning, is a popular method for new writers to add additional elements or facts to a previously published work. It's been utilized by comic writers for decades and can often be found in early pulp magazines as a way to modernize the heroes for a new generation. The most recent retcon novel I've read and reviewed was Stephen Mertz's fantastic take on Mack Bolan's pre-Executioner life in Super Bolan #04: Dirty War. On Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 25, I talked about Nick Carter retroactive continuity (erasing, ignoring or contradicting prior events) from early pulp detective to international paperback spy. So it's no surprise to find that author Philip Jose Farmer utilized this same technique for his 1991 retcon Doc Savage novel Escape from Loki (Bantam).

Philip Jose Farmer (1918-2009) was a highly respected science-fiction and fantasy author noted for his series Riverworld and World of Tiers. Farmer had a fondness for reworking existing fictional heroes into new novels and stories. From Moby-Dick and Wizard of Oz to Around the World in Eighty Days, Farmer would often fill in missing time periods or create sequels to literary works that were created by other authors. Farmer created two mock biographies of famed literary characters, Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. As a fan of the Doc Savage novels since 1933, Farmer chose to author one original series novel, Escape from Loki, which showcases the character at the age of 16 during WW1. By retconning what original author Lester Dent presented in The Man of Bronze (1933), Farmer is able to present an origin story explaining how Doc Savage originally met his beloved team members.

Escape from Loki races out of the gate as the young Doc Savage pilots one of his first aviation missions. It's explained to readers that Savage was hoping to pilot for the U.S. Air Service, but due to their planes needing machine gun installations, Savage's Colonel assigned him to a French aerial combat unit. Farmer uses this as an exciting sequence of events where Savage is shot down during dogfights over Germany. Making his way through the forest, Savage finds shelter in an abandoned farmhouse with two American soldiers. When the two immediately begin squabbling with one other, it's apparent that these men are Ham and Monk. While Savage's introduction to both of them is brief, it's a rewarding experience for Doc Savage fans to pinpoint where he met two of his most trusted allies.

After he's captured by German soldiers, Savage is subjected to a strange dinner party hosted by Von Hessel and Countess Idivzhopu. After escaping Hessel's fortified home, Savage manages to steal a German aircraft but once again finds himself captured by Germans and placed on a train of POWs. After escaping a third time, Farmer's novel reaches a heightened frenzy as Savage is forced to fight a pack of wild dogs inside a bombed out farmhouse. In what could be considered a series abomination to some fans, this 10-12 page portion of the book was an absolute highlight for me personally. Savage's violent battle with the dogs is a bloody carnage of broken legs, sliced throats and stabbings. Then, the starved, crimson-smeared Savage sits on a rooftop prepared to eat the raw carcass of a dead dog. Thankfully, there's another dog battle that leads him into a secret room where he finds that the prior owners were sacrificing infants on a Satanic altar! 

I can't help but think that Farmer was venturing off into a different style of storytelling, one that was wildly obscene yet mesmerizing. I was as equally entertained as horrified by the author's stark contrast to Dent's original work. Savage is caught for the final time and shipped to the notorious and supposedly impenetrable Loki prison camp, thus curbing Farmer's penchant for the peculiar.

The book's second-half explores Savage's life at the prison camp and his strategizing an escape from the facility. It's here that he is reunited with both Ham and Monk and the two continue there hilarious insults and banter. It's only a matter of time before Renny, Johnny and Long Tom make their introductions. Together, Savage and the five men form an escape plan while learning that Von Hessel may be performing terrifying experiments on the prisoners. In the book's finale, readers experience a small amount of pulp-fantasy that is reminiscent of Doc Savage's typical “super-powered” villains.

Escape from Loki receives an equal amount of love and disdain from Doc Savage fans. Some are alienated by Farmer's writing style and his attempts to capture the original style of Doc Savage storytelling. At the same time, fans appreciate this origin story and find that Farmer's characterization is spot-on (although universally everyone seems to agree that Farmer's treatment of both Monk and Ham was exceptional). For me personally, I've always had an average experience with Dent's original Doc Savage stories. The first half of Escape from Loki was remarkable and surpasses the better Savage narratives I've read. The second half wasn't quite as impressive with some sluggish scenes, a rushed (or even botched) ending and a halfhearted attempt at introducing Savage to his future colleagues.

Overall, Escape from Loki should be a mandatory read for Savage fans. It is clear that Farmer adored the series and attempted to treat the characters and fans with care and respect. While not perfect, the book was exhilarating at its best and easily acceptable at its worst. You deserve the opportunity to be your own judge.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Run to Morning

Bestselling author Henry Patterson (known as Jack Higgins) reached superstar status with his 1975 novel The Eagle Has Landed. However, beginning as early as 1959, Patterson began authoring a number of action-adventure novels using pseudonyms like Martin Fallon, Hugh Marlowe and, of course, Jack Higgins. Patterson wrote four novels under the name James Graham, including 1974's The Run to Morning. This novel was also released that same year under the title of  Bloody Passage. As if things couldn't get any more complicated, the combination of Higgins, Graham and Fallon were all listed as author names for the many various printings of this novel under the two titles. Considering all of the publishing and marketing strategies, did the author deliver a worthwhile reading experience?

The book begins with one of the most effective opening paragraphs that I can recall:

“The first shot ripped the epaulette from the right hand shoulder of my hunting jacket, the second lifted the thermos flask six feet into the air. The third kicked dirt at my right heel, but by then I was moving fast, diving headfirst into the safety of the reeds on the far side of the dyke.”

From that opening segment, readers are introduced to Oliver Grant, a man with a unique profession. After developing a skill-set of freeing captives during the Vietnam War, Grant now runs a successful, illegal business of breaking into international prisons and liberating select prisoners. His clientele are wealthy businessmen, politicians and criminals (there's a fine line between the three) that pay top dollar to free associates, family and friends. When Grant is asked to break into a Libyan prison for a corrupt businessman named Stavrou, he politely declines fearing the regime's vicious dictatorship. But shortly after his declination, Grant's blind sister Hannah is kidnapped by Stavrou's cartel and held as a bargaining chip.

The first 100-pages of The Run to Morning features Grant's realization that Stavrou's step-son is being held in a notorious, cliff-side prison that is reputed to be impenetrable. To assist with the mission, Grant recruits a former U.S. Army Green Beret, a skilled mountain climber and a boat captain. Complicating Grant's teamwork is a vile henchman named Langley, a man that reports directly to Stavrou, and Stavrou's lover Simone. Once the escape is underway, Grant begins to believe that the whole operation is just a set-up. But why? That's the question as readers plunge into the riveting second-half narrative.

While The Run to Morning had some gaping plot holes, it's still better than 90% of the books I read and review. Higgins' storytelling style and his ability to construct these international espionage adventures make for an exhilarating reading experience. The narrative's recruitment stage was intriguing with the addition of Langley and his effect on Grant's mission. The love interest angle between Simone and Grant was an evolution, eventually revealing its true nature. The Simone character was a slow development and from a reading experience, the author's patience was a key component to her impact on the story.

From exciting nautical chases, explosive gunfire and a brilliant prison raid, The Run to Morning was another thrilling addition to Higgins' impressive catalog. Highly recommended!

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, November 14, 2019

David Hill #01 - Prison at Obregon

Bill Adkins, an author about whom I know next to nothing, wrote a three-book series of paperback adventures starring Cessna pilot David Hill. All three novels were released in 1976 by Popular Library and were quickly forgotten after failing to make a splash. The opening installment was “Prison at Obregon,” and the cover introduces Hill as a “high-flying adventurer who’ll dare anything for the right price in cash and kicks.”

The book opens with playboy business consultant David flying his Cessna to Acapulco with a chick he hardly knows. He invited her along solely because of her great legs - a decision that makes total sense based on the author’s description of the legs. The Acapulco trip was prompted by an invitation from David’s Mexican friend who offers the small-aircraft pilot $100,000 to smuggle a load of marijuana back into the U.S. in his plane for the Mexican Syndicate.

David accepts the assignment but chickens out after drawing unwanted attention from Mexican law enforcement. This turns David from a Mexican Syndicate ally to a loose end in the eyes of some dangerous hombres. Can David’s friend to broker a peace treaty with the Mexi-mob and have everybody make some some money in the process? Can they stay one step ahead of the federales?

Adkins’ writing is pretty good, but the plotting of this series debut sure needs some work. The first half of the paperback consists of false starts and aborted missions before the actual story begins in the novel’s second half. I also found it hard to root for the hero. He’s kind of an arrogant jackass who’s good in a fistfight and between the sheets but otherwise without charm or distinction. Moreover, he’s agreed to smuggle drugs into the U.S. just for kicks. The author was clearly a Cessna pilot as each “action” scene contains pages and pages of flight details - too many for my tastes.

The last 60 pages of the book form the real story, here - and set up the conceit for the remaining two books in the series. I’m in a tough spot because I don’t want to spoil the first, largely lousy, 110 pages for you that brings us to the “good part.” Let’s just say this: as the title indicates, there’s a prisoner locked up in a Mexican jail in the City of Obregon who needs to be busted loose. The airplane smuggling hi jinx story quickly becomes a jailbreak adventure. The scenes inside the Mexican prison where characters jockey for position within the inmate hierarchy were pretty great, and I wish there were more of that in the paperback.

Overall, “Prison at Obregon” is a total mess of a novel that could have been saved by a stern editor to rework the plot into something that flowed with greater coherence. There are some cool ideas explored and some of the action sequences were solid, but not enough to save this one. I have the other two books in the series, but I’m not sure if I can stomach them. For your purposes, your time and money are best spent elsewhere.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, July 15, 2019

Siberia 10

Clark Howard (1932-2016) wrote 16 novels, six books of non-fiction and two collections of short stories during his 40-year career. As an amateur boxer and juvenile delinquent, Howard bounced around in his mid-teens before eventually joining the U.S. Marine Corps at age 17. During his three year tour in Korea, Howard was one of only eight survivors in his platoon during the Battle of the Punchbowl. His experience in the USMC led to a number of Howard's war stories including “Siberia 10,” published by Pinnacle in 1973.

Siberia 10 is a fictional USMC stockade in San Diego, California. In the novel's opening pages, Private Zangari escapes from the prison in a rather clever ruse that leads to his eventual capture on the steps of a local newspaper. This opening chapter explains to readers that Siberia 10 is run by brutal leadership, recounting violent everyday experiences for American soldiers.

The political climate inside is a tumultuous storm where black prisoners have formed a faction of Black Panthers. These soldiers have filed a formal complaint with the NAACP charging that they are recipients of racially charged abuse from the white guards. Simultaneously, the white prisoners have formed a petition stating they are being brutalized by the black prisoners. All of this comes under the watch of officers that spend their days drunk, womanizing, gambling and abusing the camp’s prisoners.

Chapter two introduces the book's protagonist, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Hannon. His first appearance is in the Dai Tet countryside of Vietnam running a strategic seek and destroy operation on the Vietcong. After being dismissed from his platoon, Hannon is summoned to Washington D.C. and introduced to an unnamed Commandant. For validity, the Commandant reads Hannon's own resume to Hannon, highlighting his superior fighting strength and leadership in Korea, Manilla, Cuba and Vietnam. The Commandant promotes Hannon to the temporary rank of Brigadier General and asks him to assume the new leadership at Siberia 10. While deeply troubled by the stockade's black eye in the media, the Commandant wants the USMC to fix their own mistakes before the panic escalates. Hesitantly, Hannon accepts the job.

As a seasoned paperback enthusiast, I've consistently came across various literary works that prompted me to think of movie adaptations. That idea was etched in my mind throughout my reading experience of “Siberia 10”. This 300-page novel demands to be a successful television show. There are numerous story threads woven into the larger story arc of Hannon rehabilitating Siberia 10. These threads ultimately consume the narrative, but they are so intriguing and engaging that I was hooked like a housewife watching the soaps.

Hannon's role as the new General begins with a whirlwind of opposition, in-fighting and subordination. After making the necessary adjustments to his staff, Hannon begins life lessons for a dozen or more supporting characters. His stout stance of duty and brotherhood serves like a fiery pulpit sermon on the importance and legacy of the USMC. It's patriotic, stirring and American. Hannon's treatment of Siberia 10 is reminiscent of coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) spurring that small Indiana school into champions in the 1986 film “Hoosiers.” It's an effective feel-good story about overcoming race, cultural differences and adversity that works just as well in 2019.

As an action-adventure piece, this isn't “The Great Escape” or “Papillon” by any means. While firmly entrenched behind bars, the novel's only action sequences are some boxing matches, an occasional brawl and some described brutality. Instead, the novel works like a more aggressive take on Richard Booker's 1968 book “MASH.” There are numerous comedic moments, an abundance of sex and the typical coarse language of a war novel. Like Clark Howard's “The Last Contract”, also published in 1973, the author proves to be a masterful storyteller no matter what approach he takes. I will probably read “Siberia 10” again...and again. It's that good.

Buy a copy of this novel HERE

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Pieces of the Game

Tracing the history of an aged paperback can sometimes prove to be problematic. Fawcett Gold Medal, creator of the paperback original novels we know today, published hundreds of titles in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Of those literary classics, a sizable number were written under pseudonyms or clever variations on the authors' real names. With 1960's adventure novel, “Pieces of the Game”, there's no clear indication of who author Lee Gifford really is. A pseudonym? A writing duo? Unfortunately, as of the publishing of this review, I can't provide any answers on the author's identity. However, what I will advise is that you stop what you are doing and locate a copy.

This novel kicks total ass.

The book begins in the then present day of 1960. World War 2 veteran and main character Jim Sheridan is working for the Great Western Importing Company specializing in lacquer and lumber. It comes as a great surprise when Sheridan is requested by his employer to originate a pearl importing business in Manilla. As a former lieutenant in and around the Battle of Bataan 13-years ago, Sheridan is unnerved by the request to re-visit old wounds but accepts the new proposal.

Nearing Caballo Bay, Sheridan meets the gorgeous Ellen, an aspiring singer who has accepted evening gigs at the Casa Grande Hotel. As an old stomping ground for Sheridan and his unit, Sheridan escorts Ellen to the hotel and meets his old ally and friend, Jacques Costeau, the hotel's owner. It's this memorable scene that offers a reflective moment from Sheridan. With just a small recollection, the reader receives a glimpse into Sheridan's past tragedies, the dismal fate of his unit and his lost lover Tulana. The book's synopsis and cover art conveys to the reader that this is a WW2 adventure novel, so these small looks at Sheridan's past serves as a teaser or pre-cursor to the action that we know will unfold. I call it literary foreplay from this skillful author.

The night of Sheridan's reunion with Costeau he finds an unexpected visitor in his room. The secretive intruder has a message disguised as a riddle inviting Sheridan to a seaside yacht to discuss pearls. Arriving at the yacht, Sheridan comes face to face with his former captor, retired Japanese Colonel Yamata. The two have a heated conversation that's a bit of a mystery to the reader at this early stage. As if on cue, Sheridan is knocked unconscious and the next 100-pages is a flashback to his life during the war.

As a young man, Sheridan was educated at Oxford and speaks a dozen languages. While on holiday in the Philippines, he falls in love with a night club singer named Tulana, but ends up joining the Allied forces and fighting with the Royal Air Force in the sweltering jungles of Bataan. As the Japanese forces surround the island, the US and Filipino forces dump all of Manilla's silver pesos into Caballo Bay along with guns, ammo and vehicle parts before surrendering. A watery, 100-foot grave for $8-million in assets (note this really happened according to US Naval Institute Proceedings, March 1958).

The Japanese transfer their enemy personnel to various prison camps in Asia, some as laborers, others just as starving prisoners awaiting death within dirty huts. Sheridan is saved from this fate due to speaking multiple languages – the Japanese insist on utilizing his skills as a translator. Knowing that Manilla's riches were thrown into the bay, Sheridan is given to Colonel Yamata to work with six US Navy divers in securing the silver. With bad equipment, grueling work loads and the threats of torture and death for failure, Sheridan's fate rests on his team's ability to locate and recover the treasure.

Lee Gifford's strength lies in his ability to tell an epic story. “Pieces of the Game” was like this grand cinematic experience. The opening events that eventually spills into a high-adventure military tale felt as if they were backed by a rich symphonic score. But the book's middle narrative is built on the slower, more emotive prison formula. The torture, confinement and survival elements are all equally important in providing a strong catalyst for the prison-break.

“Pieces of the Game” is like a deep-water, Clive Cussler treasure hunt crossed with the “The Great Escape” with enough intrigue and action to rival both. If it wasn't for Paperback Warrior's bustling publishing schedule I would have finished this and immediately turned to page one to relive the enjoyment all over again. This is one of the best books I've read in a very long time...and that's saying something.

Note:  After the publishing of this review, a blog reader and paperback enthusiast reached out to Paperback Warrior with an interesting theory on Lee Gifford. In his experience, he feels that there is a 90% chance that Gifford was actually Lou Cameron. He cites the style, punctuation and male hubris of the storytelling as a match to Cameron's first-person adventure and thrillers from this era.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

M.I.A. Hunter #06 - Blood Storm

Author William Fieldhouse utilized pseudonyms like Chuck Bainbridge and John Lansing for the action series' 'Hard Corps' and 'Black Eagles'. As Gar Wilson, he penned over 30 'Phoenix Force' novels. Fieldhouse contributed to the Mack universe with six 'The Executioner' titles and a handful of 'Stony Man' entries. In 1986, Fieldhouse stepped in as house name Jack Buchanan to draft “Blood Storm”, the sixth volume of Stephen Mertz's 'M.I.A. Hunter' series.

While many of these books focus on Mark Stone's trek into Laos, Columbia or Vietnam to rescue P.O.W.s, “Blood Storm” really expands on that idea with a more dynamic presentation. Under Fieldhouse's vision, the narrative branches out to incorporate drug smugglers, a C.I.A. kill team, a team traitor and the obligatory prisoner rescue. Mertz's editing keeps the book cemented in series mythology, but the story is a different one this time.

Due to Hog Wiley's injury in “Exodus from Hell”, Stone and Loughlin are forced to recruit a new third member for their rescue mission into Laos. A mercenary by the name of Gorman requests a meeting at a dive bar called Golden Butterfly in Thailand. Loughlin hates Gorman right off the bat, but the three come to a monetary arrangement and the mission is set. Before they can exit the bar, hardmen burst in and a raging gun fight fills up Chapter Three. Loughlin suspects Gorman is behind it, allowing the author to utilize the mystery to propel the storyline. 

After the typical weapon purchases at An Khom's house (where Stone often retrieves his intel and firepower), Stone heads off to sever a C.I.A. operation that he thinks was behind the Golden Butterfly assault. After a heated exchange with old nemesis  Coleman, Stone heads to the rescue party with Loughlin and Gorman. There's a bit of a plot spoiler here with Gorman's background, but I'm going to save it for you to discover on your own.

Soon, the rescue attempt is in full-swing in Laos. There's exciting gunplay with Laotian leader Captain Luang, including some brutal scenes of torture involving simple thorns and branches (those Inquisition guys had it all wrong). Up until this book we've seen Stone in some precarious situations but those pale in comparison to the happenings here. Mixed into the break-out are opium dealers who want to capture Stone alive to sell to the highest bidder – the C.I.A., K.G.B. or Vietnam. This all culminates into a pretty hefty storm as the book finalizes with a surprise visit from series mainstay Hog. 

The bottom line, “Blood Storm” is yet another entertaining installment of this beloved series. Mertz's series continues to gain new readers and the books have been reprinted for mass consumption in our digital age. Grab it for a buck. 

Buy a copy 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 “ 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