Showing posts with label Terry Harknett. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Terry Harknett. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Edge #04 - Killer's Breed

The Edge series by George Gilman (Terry Harknett, 1936-2019) promises to be “The Most Violent Westerns in Print,” but the fourth installment, Killer’s Breed from 1974, is actually a flashback origin story documenting Edge’s adventures fighting in the American Civil War.

The paperback begins in the Post-Civil War era when Josiah “Edge” Hedges finds himself recuperating from a near-death experience where his life as a Union soldier is flashing before his eyes for the heart of the novel.

And with the turn of the page, the reader is back in June 1861 along the Ohio-West Virginia border with Union Cavalry Lieutenant Joe Hedges. He’s serving under Major General George McClellon and his troops are marching into the Battle of Phillipi in what is now West Virginia, the first land combat of the war. The author describes the fighting scenes with vivid portrayals of violence and gore, just like he does in the western novels of the series.

From battle to battle Edge rides with his unit, and the reader gets to watch him harden as person while making smart tactical decisions for himself and the men under his command. It’s difficult to understate the skull-crushing violence and spattered blood and brain tissue depicted in the pages of each battle. Consider yourself warned.

Overall, this was a very satisfying war novel that did a fine job depicting the chaos and brutality of battles on the ground. It wasn’t much of a western, but if a gory fictional chronicle of Civil War combat sounds appealing, you can’t do much better.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, July 5, 2019

Stark #01 - Funeral Rites

UK publisher Sphere launched in 1966 and rose to prominence with the 1976 printing of “Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker” by Alan Dean Foster (as George Lucas). But, action-adventure readers know the publisher's work through the myriad of 'Conan' and 'The Executioner' releases. The publisher gained the rights to release Don Pendleton's Executioner series, beginning with “War Against the Mafia” in 1973. Losing the series to rival English publisher Corgi, the company emulated 'The Executioner' motif for a new series entitled 'The Revenger'. 

The Revenger would run for 12 total books, the first ten written by Terry Harknett ('Adam Steele', 'Edge', 'Apache') and the last two by Angus Wells ('The Eagles', 'Jubal Cade'). The house name used by Sphere is Joseph Hedges. Later, Pyramid Books acquired the rights to reprint the books in the US but changed the series name to 'Stark' to avoid confusion with another The Revenger series written by Jon Messman. 

“Funeral Rites” is the debut novel of the series and was released in the UK in 1974 with a printing in the US a year later. The book introduces us to the criminal John Stark, a prison inmate in England. He robbed an electronics company while being employed by a criminal organization called The Company. To keep Stark quiet behind bars, they promise to continue the heroin drop into Stark's lover Carol. The Company henchmen aid Stark in his escape from prison so he can continue to do jobs for them.

After these events transpire in chapter one...this book turns into a real turd. 

Stark is brought to sea and reunited with his arch enemy Ryan. Oddly, Ryan provides Stark a bedroom and a nympho named Sheri. In my opinion, Stark loses credibility when he pounds away at Sheri while thinking of the love of his life, Carol. This just seems incredibly selfish, but considering the lack of depth in the book it makes sense the character is easily disliked. Shockingly, Ryan leaves Stark alone so he can set fire to the boat and escape with Sheri.


The author completely loses direction and focus and dedicates the next 100-pages to Stark sleeping, eating...and sleeping and eating. He goes on tangents about how Stark is ravished from hunger but there's no reason for it. He has money and there's food all over London! Ryan, being the book's villain, does nothing. Instead, the author has our antagonist thinking about his lover Jay and how he misses his vibrator. Ugh. In one astonishing, scene Ryan has a mistress flail him with a tree branch before “impaling” herself on him. It's absolutely bonkers.

Action? Well, there's a little here and there. In one wild scene we have Stark's Colt Python against the bad guy's Tommy – with Stark obviously the immortal hero. In a hilarious scene Stark accidentally elbows Jay, knocking him into a sink where he bleeds to death. To get answers to some question (I stopped following the senseless plot), he thrust Sheri's face into the wound while threatening to drown her in the gash if she doesn't tell the truth. Ridiculous.

I hated this book. And it isn't because the English spell “Pajamas” as “Pyjamas” or that they insult the good guys here by calling them a “Tinker's Cuss” (?). No, it isn't that. This character has absolutely no talent. Stark is a thief who was caught. End of story. There's nothing else to it. The Company wants to capture him, there's a bad guy named Ryan, a lover named Carol Burnett (!) and an effort on the author's part to bury 120+ pages in dialogue and trivial descriptions of tea cups and wall d├ęcor. 

How this series lasted 12 entries is beyond me. Why Pyramid felt the need to reprint it, God only knows. For me, this series lasted one book.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Adam Steele #04 - Valley of Blood

It was the cover art that got me intrigued enough to read this 'Adam Steele' western. For once, the cover is perfectly faithful to a scene in the story--- in fact, it’s the most eye-opening scene in the book--- so let’s take a look.

Our hero has come to a frontier town controlled by a greedy rancher and his henchmen. Four masked hardcases corner Steele one night. We know that these are the same creeps who’d gang-raped the book’s helpless young leading lady a couple of chapters back. Things go badly for Steele at first (he takes a punch to the stomach and a kick in the crotch), until he suddenly produces a three-inch “tie pin.” With it, he swiftly skewers the testicles of one bad guy, whose shrieks of agony distract the others long enough for Steele to get the drop on them. A fast gunfight leaves that trio dead, and Steele blows the head off Punctured Testicle Guy for good measure. Next, he strips all four of the thugs nude and hangs their bodies on a barbed-wire fence before castrating them.

I’ll leave it to others to speculate where the author’s fascination with groin trauma comes from, but the over-the-top violence isn’t a surprise. The book is credited to George G. Gilman, but the author is Terry Harknett, the British pulpster who wrote these 'Adam Steele' books along with the even more brutal 'Edge' westerns. Steele has a bit more humanity than Edge, but that’s not saying much considering what a stone-cold sociopath Edge is, and he shares Edge’s habit of cracking a bad pun at the end of most chapters.

Harknett’s characters exist in a stark spaghetti western landscape. That gives his stories a somewhat different flavor than what you get with conventional westerns by American authors. Tough-guy heroes are nothing new, but in these books the hero has a hard, cold core like an under-baked potato. The same traditional themes of good versus evil are here, but there’s an emotional detachment which makes it hard to really care about anyone, or about what happens to them. That’s just as well, because the author is fond of killing off virtually every named character in a given novel, and it happens here too.

Even the unfortunate leading lady gets killed off, casually and pointlessly. A beautiful young widow who’d helped him earlier in the book, Steele pauses to reflect on why he nevertheless feels nothing for her. “Sorry, ma’am,” he muses, “But I’m looking for the best and you were banged around too much.” Maybe it’s just as well that Steele doesn’t pause for reflection very often.

It all winds up in an action climax, but I found the ending pretty unsatisfying, and apart from the spasms of colorful violence this is a fairly dreary, downbeat book. The pacing is reasonably brisk and I was grateful for the brevity of its 148 pages, but reading “VALLEY OF BLOOD” just isn’t much fun.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Edge #05 - Blood on Silver

Working under the pen name George G. Gilman, Terry Harknett had a handful of good ideas in mind for his new 'Edge' western, “BLOOD ON SILVER”. He created a couple of unique characters (one is a giant Zulu in a derby, and the other is a kill-crazy Quaker whose thundering speech is peppered with “thee” and “thy”), along with two or three very strong action sequences.

But as it is when children pound on the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to make them fit, these elements don’t really come together very well, and the plot lacks cohesion. As soon as you get a feel for the story, it’s suddenly about something else, and before you’ve really made the adjustment, it’s turned into something else again. 

It could be argued that nobody reads an 'Edge' novel for the story. This series is famous (or notorious) for its over-the-top gory violence, and I guess there were Edge readers who salivated over the grisly depictions of pain and suffering the way Longarm readers sought stimulation in the extensive sex scenes. You pretty much have to expect violence in a paperback western, and usually that sort of action keeps things lively. But the Edge novels are something else. Virtually every character the reader encounters, no matter how trivial, will be killed off in excruciating ways, and innocent bystanders often get it worse than the bad guys. There’s a difference between two-fisted action and brutality porn, and this series leans toward the latter.

In the opening pages of “BLOOD ON SILVER”, for instance, Edge watches indifferently from the safety of a barn as an entire wedding party is slaughtered by the Quaker and his gang. It’s a powerful sequence. But Harknett cranks it up to eleven. Before it’s over, the bride has been seized, stripped, tied upside down to the pulley rope of a water well, nearly drowned over and over, then tortured with a lit cigar (you can guess where that cigar is ultimately applied as the lusty gang crowds around to watch), before she’s finally killed. 

Again, for some readers this will be the visceral highlight of the book. For the rest of us, it’s nasty overkill which gets in the way of enjoying the story. Harknett isn’t a hack. He can deliver action, color and suspense without soaking everything in blood, as his 'Adam Steele' series proves. But Pinnacle Books demanded crazy violence for the 'Edge' series. (Why? For readers in prisons and psych wards?) So we get exactly that.

There are other idiosyncrasies on display here. One is the author’s insistence on ending every chapter with somebody (usually the humorless Edge) making a wincingly unfunny wisecrack. There’s also a little sloppiness here and there, as when Edge watches a wagon load of silver disappear into a lake and mutters, “Hi-yo silver, away” in a story set decades before the Lone Ranger was created.

For a really good 'Edge' western, try the third book, “APACHE DEATH”. It’s plenty violent, without wallowing in pointless sadism, and everything that’s good about this series is distilled into that novel. The things that work a bit less successfully can be found in “BLOOD ON SILVER”.