Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Len Levinson. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Len Levinson. Sort by date Show all posts

Friday, November 1, 2019

Super Cop Joe Blaze #03 - The Thrill Killers

“The Thrill Killers” was the third and final installment in the short-lived 'Super Cop Joe Blaze' series from Belmont Tower. All three novels were released in 1974 under house name Robert Novak. The authors of the first two books are a mystery, with some guessing it was either Nelson DeMille or Paul Hofrichter. However, it's a fact that Len Levinson ('The Rat Bastards') authored “The Thrill Killers.” Len advised Paperback Warrior that it was his fifth published novel and it is “probably a little rough around the edges.”

In an interview with the Glorious Trash blog, Levinson admits that “The Thrill Killers” wasn't originally a Joe Blaze novel. The first two books feature Sergeant Blaze working with his partner Nuthall and Captain Coogan. Neither of those two characters are in “The Thrill Killers.” Instead, Nuthall is swapped for a character named Olivero. Additionally, this third installment unveils that Blaze is divorced from a woman named Anna. The main character remains gruff and savage although he's now packing a Browning 9mm instead of the old-school revolver he survived with in the series' first two books. The displaced continuity is simply because Levinson had written a totally different character for an unnamed series. Belmont Tower editor Peter McCurtin insisted that Levinson just change the name to Joe Blaze and submit it. Thus, “The Thrill Killers” forever exists as a Joe Blaze novel.

Under the skilled hands of Levinson, Joe Blaze #3 is written as more of a police procedural. There are a number of suspects, locations and side-stories that add a more dynamic, mystery approach compared to the “all guns, all glory” approach to the prior novels. In this installment, New York City's nurses are being targeted by two sexually charged lunatics. The perps rape women in a VW van before cutting the victims’ throats and dumping the bodies. Levinson's writing has never been for the squeamish, and this is no exception.

Blaze dons his gumshoes and hits the streets searching for clues while breaking every rule in the book. His hot-headed temperament leads to bar fights, gang assaults and a fairly intense parking garage shootout. Between eating sausage and pepper sandwiches, he has a one night stand with a middle-aged woman and ponders his life as a cop. There's an elevated violence in Levinson's writing style, with pushers and peddlers adding a seedy, authentic element to the trashy New York streets of the 1970s. Surprisingly, the book's finale is in a courtroom...imagine that.

Overall, “The Thrill Killers” was an entertaining conclusion to this quite satisfying police series, and it’s an easy recommendation to readers of violent adventure fiction of the 1970s. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Doom Platoon

“You've got to hate those Germans, Albright. You've got to want to split their skulls and drink their blood. You've got to want to cut out their intestines and chew on them. And gouge out their eyeballs. And stomp on their balls. If you can get yourself in that frame of mind, boy, then maybe you'll be a soldier.”

And that is the essence of Len Levinson's “Doom Platoon”. Take it or leave it, but this is a cold bloody war novel about cold bloody war.  Straight to the point with no restraints, no apologies and no substitutes. It was written under the name Richard Gallagher and published by Belmont Tower Books in 1978. It was Levinson's first war novel, and after Zebra Publishing's president Walter Zacharius read it, he asked the author to pen a series about WWII in Europe. Thus, the stellar nine book series 'The Sergeant' was born, followed later by the equally magnificent 16 book run of 'The Rat Bastards'. 

But, “Doom Platoon” dug those trenches and sets the tone for what is Levinson's best skill – telling the reader about the gruesome, terrifying and utter devastation of war and the men who wage it. 

The book begins on December 16, 1944 with a platoon of the 25th Regiment reeling from a fierce campaign in Hurtgen Forest. This fighting force has been offered “rest” on the French front line in the Ardennes Forest. But, rest is not in the forecast as intense shelling begins to annihilate the troops. The main character is the gritty and defiant Sergeant Mazursky, 29-years old and an absolute badass. After surviving the shelling, Lieutenant Smith receives the impossible command of using his platoon as a rearguard action against an entire German Panzer division. 40 guys against the embodiment of mechanized warfare. The strategy is for the platoon to use a ridge line, concealment and heavy boulders as a defense. This high ground will allow them to immobilize the two front tanks, blocking the road and stalling the whole division until noon. This gives the rest of the regiment enough time to escape to Dillendorf to protect a precious oil reserve. The captain instructs Smith that it can be done, but later in private advises him that at noon he should surrender. It's a no win, no way out situation.

The “Doom Platoon” lives up to its name, taking the suicide mission under Sergeant Mazursky's brutish leadership. The end result? I can't tell you, but I will say that this book is constructed more like three different types of novels. The first is the rearguard battle with the Panzer division. The middle story, the best, is a prisoner-of-war epic, including the obligatory torture, famine, death and escape attempt. The last portion is a war-torn romance with the lust and sex just as graphic as Levinson's descriptions of war. These three parts make up a wholly enjoyable book that blends war, romance (really just a bunch of horny people screwing at the end of the world) and prison escape. While Levinson keeps it engaging with a number of war tragedies (we get introductions of characters that receive violent deaths a page later), he still injects a ton of humor. Morbidly so. I'd read the book again just to hear Mazursky insult Private Norwicki's dick, gun and girlfriend all over again. His BAR cleaning episode is just priceless stuff.

At the end of the day, Levinson is a master storyteller, on top of his game with “Doom Platoon”. Why his books never took off, why he isn't a household name or why he isn't rich is anyone's guess. “Doom Platoon” is about as good as it gets. Pick a tattered old paperback up somewhere, order it on Abe Books or go digital and buy it online for a few bucks.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Sergeant #02 - Hell Harbor: The Battle for Cherbourg

It’s a little odd that there were so few series dealing with World War II. What could be a more natural setting for stories with action, heroism, bloodshed and explosions? And WWII-themed stories had been in seemingly every issue of the men’s adventure magazines, the predecessors of the paperbacks. Even in comic books, there were more than a dozen long-running series set during the war.

I can only think of two standout paperback series centered on WWII, and both of them were written in their entirety by Len Levinson: 'The Sergeant' (under the name Gordon Davis) and 'The Rat Bastards' (as John Mackie). Just two! But you know, maybe it’s really not so surprising that these series had so little competition. Levinson set the bar so high that few writers could hope to match them. 

The Sergeant’s debut novel, “Death Train”, recounts a couple of episodes in the combat career of Sgt. C.J. Mahoney. Gruff, pugnacious and snarky, he’s not your traditional lantern-jawed hero, but he sure gets the job done. The title refers to the first of these episodes, in which Mahoney is tasked with disrupting German supply lines by sabotaging the rail network of occupied France. The second episode finds him with some resistance fighters, holed up in a French village suddenly overrun by German tanks. I thought the first story was a little more effective than the second, but they were both superb.

The next novel is even better, presenting a handful of wartime episodes of varying lengths. In “Hell Harbor: The Battle for Cherbourg”, Mahoney is a much more fully-developed character. He’s still a grizzled war dog, chomping his cigar and addressing friend and foe alike as “Asshole,” but in one remarkable extended episode, we discover there’s far more to him than that. The context of how that happens is the last thing you’d expect. Mahoney’s recovering in a London hospital but manages to steal an officer’s uniform one night, and sneak out of the building in hopes of visiting a popular brothel. I can’t say anything more without giving away too much, but trust me--- this is the episode that will linger with you the longest. And there’s not a shot fired in it!

There’s certainly plenty of combat action in the other episodes, and the book’s title refers to the last of them. Based in an impregnable fortress, the Germans are going to blow up the harbor at Cherbourg by remote control, just to keep it out of the hands of the Americans, who need it to land critical supplies and reinforcements. Mahoney and a squad are assigned the seemingly impossible task of preventing the harbor’s destruction. A lesser author would turn Mahoney into a combat Superman, storming the fortress and drilling every German in sight, emerging triumphant. What happens instead is unexpected, harrowing and even a little disgusting, but it’s also pulp action at its best. 

It’s also believable, and that’s important. Of course it’s fiction, but everything in the novel happens in the real world, not in the Mack Bolan fantasyland of invulnerable action heroes with unlimited heavy ammunition. Sometimes I’m in the mood for that stuff, and it’s fine as far as it goes. But what’s more compelling, more memorable and more rewarding is what Len Levinson serves up in “Hell Harbor”. Put this one on your shopping list.      

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Camp

The Camp is a 1977 men's action-adventure paperback that was published by Belmont Tower under the name of Jonathan Trask. It came to fruition as a story idea from author and Belmont Tower editor Peter McCurtin. According to a Glorious Trash article, McCurtin wrote the first 30ish pages and handed the project to author Len Levinson to finish. In that same article, Levinson stated he couldn't remember why the transition happened and that he recalled that McCurtin left the publisher around that time. Sadly, the book has never been reprinted and remains as an expensive used paperback on internet bookshelves.

The novel begins with muckraking reporter Phil Gordon arriving at a small cabin in a rural stretch of northwestern Maine. On a much needed vacation from ousting politicians, Gordon re-connects with an old Native American friend named Jimmy Jacks. Jacks explains to Gordon that his three adult sons have gone missing around a strange military installation known as Camp Butler. Jacks elaborates that piercing screams resonate from the facility, and the whole area is saturated in barbed wire, killer dogs and pain. Intense pain.

Gordon, always chasing a good story, partners with Jacks to break into the secluded installation. Once inside, they find that imprisoned hippies (you read it correctly) are being victimized by torturers. This point is explicitly rammed home when readers and Gordon discover hippies tied to stakes and used as bayonet practice. Far out. Eventually, Gordon and Jacks tangle with some troops and a pack of killer canines before escaping into a cave. After a few days, Jacks goes home, and Gordon returns to Washington.

Levinson's narrative propels readers into Washington D.C.'s political circus as Gordon discreetly blows the whistle on the U.S. Army’s hippie torture camp to Congress. After receiving the backing of a U.S. Senator, a unique proposition is arranged that allows Gordon, a former Green Beret Captain, to re-enlist in the Army with a colorful fruit salad and specific orders to report to Camp Butler. Once inside the camp, Gordon gains a first-hand, personal account of the military's strong-arm tactics, bizarre regiments and murderous atrocities. He also discovers that much of the U.S. Government is under the control by a secret cabal of ultra right-wingers.

It's clear that Levinson really enjoyed writing The Camp. It's wild, wacky and bizarre...but for all of the right reasons. It's an enjoyable book that incorporates the era's pop-culture movement of investigative reporters as the proverbial hero. Possibly Levinson - or McCurtin - were inspired by the 1976 film All the Presidents Men and the idea that a determined journalist can expose governmental corruption. Regardless, I perceive The Camp as being a pulpy nod to the men's adventure magazines (MAMs) that recreated vile, sadistic military bases for the heroes to liberate. It's that over-the-top thrill-ride that makes The Camp so much campy fun.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Rat Bastards 01 - Hit the Beach!

'The Rat Bastards' was a 16-book run of World War Two action-adventure novels. It was written by Len Levinson under house name John Mackie (one of his 22 pseudonyms) and follows his first, similar series, 'The Sergeant'. Where 'The Sergeant' was set in Europe, this series is set in the South Pacific. 

The first book in the 'Rat Bastards' series, “Hit the Beach!”, released by Jove in 1983, introduces its characters as they arrive at Guadalcanal for what will be an incredible ordeal of desperate hand-to-hand combat. The events in the book span only a couple of days, but the intensity of the fighting is conveyed extremely well by the author, who also has a gift for rendering realistic dialogue. Our Rat Bastards platoon kills a staggering number of Japanese soldiers, far more than a critical reader can really accept, but that goes with the territory.

And what bloody territory it is! 

The magnitude of gory violence here makes Edge look like Gene Autry, but it’s blended with some well-crafted suspense and atmosphere too. Len Levinson is clearly right up there with Don Pendleton for creating powerful, visceral pulp. Outstanding. 

The entire series is available as ebooks through Amazon (along with 'The Sergeant' series). The author does recommend reading them in order to preserve the story.

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Sergeant #4: The Liberation of Paris

During his career, Len Levinson wrote two iconic 1980s series titles documenting World War 2 combat adventures. ‘The Rat Bastards’ books written as John Mackie covers a team of misfits kicking Japanese ass in the Pacific. ‘The Sergeant’ series, written as Gordon Davis, follows maverick American infantryman Clarence J. Mahoney though the major battles of the European theater of war. Both are brilliantly-executed, but for my money, I think ‘The Sergeant’ is a slightly stronger series, mostly because Mahoney is such a colorful character. Your mileage may vary.

Book four of ‘The Sergeant’ series is “The Liberation of Paris” - originally published in 1981 - and as the novel opens, we join Mahoney and his sidekick, Edward Cranepool, in Summer 1944. They are enjoying some rest and recuperation time far from the front lines with Mahoney fighting in a G.I. boxing match defending the honor of the 15th Regiment. I love literary boxing scenes, and Levinson recounts every bruise-inducing blow like a pro.

The action cuts from Mahoney and his roughneck compadres to General Dwight D. Eisenhower who is planning exactly how the Allied forces are going to kick the Krauts out of Paris. Politically, it’s important that French Army fighters be seen as the ones liberating Paris, but they will be joined with a phalanx of French-speaking American soldiers, including Mahoney and Cranepool.

For the Paris mission, Mahoney is placed with a group of hand-picked U.S. specialists right out of central casting. We have black soldier Leroy Washington and Jewish-American fighter Mark Goldberg. You get the idea. Mahoney seems mostly excited about visiting the legendary whorehouses of Paris after the mission is completed. He’s also the one they rely upon to mow down any and all enemy combatants between the French front line and Paris.

We also get to know General Dietrich von Choltitz of Hitler’s army who heads the occupying force in Paris. Hitler has ordered the General to burn the city to the ground before letting it fall to the enemy. Choltitz is hesitant to preemptively destroy Paris, so the Fuhrer sends along a deadly piece of weaponry from Germany’s eastern front that could alter the direction of the war and push the Allies back to the English Channel. The German’s nickname this weapon, “Karl.” Not all the Germans are enthusiastic about destroying the city they’ve grown to love, and the interplay among several factions of the German occupiers made for some fascinating and dramatic reading.

Can Mahoney make it to Paris before Superweapon Karl does? Will the Hitler loyalists thwart the their soft-hearted countrymen in their goal to level the city? Will Mahoney get to bang a French whore after the job is done? I’ll try not to spoil it for you, but the fact that the people of Paris don’t currently conduct their lives speaking German might be a clue as to how this plays out. 

As with most historical fiction, it ain’t the destination, it’s the ride. And Levinson gives the reader an exciting ride all the way to Paris in this violent race to save Europe and its treasures. “The Liberation of Paris” is a fantastic war story filled with vivid characters (including cameos by Ernest Hemingway and Adolf Hitler), action set pieces, and graphic sex. It’s also a great entry point into the series if you don’t anticipate reading them all, and it’s currently available for a buck as an eBook from Piccadilly Press. Even if you’re not a history buff (I’m definitely not), the propulsive adventure will keep the pages turning until the end. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Rat Bastards #03 - River of Blood

This third novel in the 'Rat Bastards' series maintains the very high standards of the first two. The guys are still on Guadalcanal, still fighting the Japanese, and still getting the job done. But the mental and physical burdens get heavier all the time, and we’ll see several of them begin to break down.

The men are individually haunted by fears that they won’t survive the next firefight, that their women back home no longer care about them, that the Army won’t give them the material support they need, and that each new assignment is more impossible than the last. They’re rats trapped in a maze from which there’s no exit.

Don’t get the idea that this book is just some sort of downbeat psychological study. It isn’t. The action comes at you almost continuously, and it’s gritty, tense and exciting. It’s because the author has skillfully brought us into the hearts and minds of these men that we care about what happens to them, in and out of combat. And that’s why this novel is vastly better than your typical 'Abel Team' or 'Phoenix Force' bang-bang shoot-‘em-up story. You won’t be just observing the action. You’ll be in it with them. 

The cover says the author is John Mackie, but it’s really Len Levinson, and I’ve yet to read a book of his that was less than outstanding. He’s the gold standard. However, this book isn’t for everybody. If you’re concerned that graphic depictions of hand-to-hand jungle combat might make you queasy, or if references to “Japs” might be upsetting, you should read something else. (I suggest HOP ON POP; my toddler loves it.)

This is a novel grounded in both reality and humanity. Of course, it’s still pulp fiction, and the magnitude of the action is enhanced for dramatic effect. That’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. You want history? Read a history book. You want a hell-for-leather, gut-churning, heart-pounding war saga that’ll keep you sweating through the action and devouring chapter after chapter way past your bedtime? You want RIVER OF BLOOD. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Hell to Eternity

Edward S. Aarons started his writing career cranking out short stories for the pulps under the name Edward Ronns. The popularity of men’s paperback original novels in the 1950s gave Aarons a market to spread his wings with his stand-alone men’s crime and adventure books. His most successful venture was the Sam Durrell 'Assignment' series of spy novels that spanned over 40 installments between 1955 and 1970.

“Hell to Eternity” is an anomaly in Aarons’ body of work. It’s a 1960 Fawcett Gold Medal novelization of a screenplay (written by someone else) based on a true story from World War II. Although the events in the book ostensibly happened, the story has been filtered through the meat grinder of time and fictionalization: events occurred in 1944 that were recounted to a screenwriter 15 years later that were adapted for a book by the successful action novelist. This is good news for a reader who wants to enjoy a kick-ass war novel that reads nothing like a high school history textbook. The fact that the hero was a real guy is just an added bonus.

“Hell to Eternity” is the story of Hispanic USMC Private Guy Gabaldon and his experience at the Battle of Saipan during the war. For those without a deep knowledge of history, here’s what you need to know: Saipan is a small island in the Pacific about 135 miles from Guam and 1500 miles from Tokyo. The island was taken over by the Japanese during World War I and liberated by American troops during the sequel war. The isolated nature of this event allows the reader to enjoy the story of this battle without taking a deep dive into all the war’s machinations. It’s a bite-size story in a super-size war.

The reader is in good hands with Aarons as the storyteller. He introduces us to Gabaldon as he and his fellow Marines are positively terrified at the prospect of fighting the Japanese on the heavily-fortified island of Saipan. Flashbacks to Gabaldon’s childhood give us insight into his humble beginnings and the circumstances that taught a poor Los Angeles kid to speak fluent Japanese after he developed close relations in that immigrant community. As always, Aaron’s writing is superb, and the reader really comes to know young Gabaldon as a person while creating a rooting interest in his survival and success on this important mission.

For his part, Gabaldon is an understandable and imperfect hero. Fresh out of boot camp and scared out of his wits, he is far from a typical action star as he storms the beach on Saipan under enemy fire. He’s also conflicted as he sees Japanese soldiers dying at his feet because the immigrant community meant so much to him growing up. Flashbacks to Gabaldon’s life following Pearl Harbor and the internment of his Japanese-American friends add additional moral nuance to this exciting adventure story.

The interior of Saipan is a mountainous jungle pocked with caves deep into the woods. Those caves became fortifications and hiding places for the Japanese soldiers during the U.S. invasion. These hideouts serve as a great set-piece for Aarons to show us the way Gabaldon uses his language skills to coax enemy soldiers from the safety of their hiding places into surrender and interrogation. Meanwhile, there are plenty of bloody battles as the Marines fight Japanese Imperial soldiers armed with both guns and samurai swords. Aarons knows his way around a good action scene, and “Hell to Eternity” has plenty.

Later in life, Gabaldon went on to become a losing candidate for the U.S. Congress and the owner of a seafood business on Saipan where he lived as a civilian for 20 years before relocating to Florida for his final years. Before his 2006 death, Gabaldon wrote a non-fiction account of his war experiences called “Saipan: Suicide Island.” I don’t know much about Gabaldon’s own book, but there’s no way it’s more entertaining and exciting than Aaron’s fictionalized version of the story. “Hell to Eternity” is essential reading for fans of pulpy WW2 adventures. It will fit perfectly on the shelf next to Len Levinson’s 'Rat Bastards' series. Highly recommended.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Sgt. Hawk #02 - The Return of Sgt. Hawk

In 1979, Belmont issued the eponymous Sgt. Hawk, the first of four published novels authored by Patrick Clay featuring a gruff, tough-as-leather Marine Sergeant named James Hawk. Like Len Levinson's Rat Bastards, the series is set in WW2 on the chain of islands making up the bloody Pacific Theater. That campaign continues in 1980's Return of Sgt. Hawk, the series' second installment.

The novel begins as American Army and Naval forces are thrashing the Japanese occupied Philippine Islands. The assault is bureaucratically led by Kravanart, a bullheaded General who despises the U.S. Marine Corps. In an effort to assault the beach, Kravanart is persuaded to allow three companies, including Hawk, to hit the beachhead and engage the enemy. This heavy lift is welcomed by Hawk. Bloody, battered and shirtless, he scorches his Thompson extinguishing the bad guys while chomping on a plug of tobacco. After the assault, Hawk and the rest of the Marines are ordered to simply camp and wait while the Army and Navy clean up the mess and take the spoils.

In a small village, Hawk befriends a young American woman named Amelia and her cowardly fiance. The trouble begins when Hawk and company are left to “camp” for weeks on end simply waiting for Kravanart to allow them to fight. Eventually, tempers flare and Hawk storms a dense jungle hill, kills everything and stacks the bodies despite the orders to stand down. While the Marines are dishing out the damage, the village is captured by the Japanese forces and Amelia is taken. To complicate matters, Kravanart becomes angered with Hawk's defiance and orders an Army strike-force to search and kill the Marines.

Unlike the series debut, which combined a murder-mystery with gun-blazing action, Clay really branches out here and diversifies the narrative with a variety of subplots across multiple locations. The most interesting of these is a unique fantasy element that presents itself in what is otherwise a war-torn plot. Hawk learns that not only was Amelia captured, but that she was sold to a race of primitive men. In true Robert Howard fashion, Hawk breaks into a castle, fights enemies in a temple and even rescues Amelia from a dungeon filled with poisonous gas. There's really something for everyone – nautical adventure, military missions, shoot 'em ups, a heist, team-based combat and romance – through 225-pages of suspense and action.

I just can't say enough good things about this Sgt. Hawk series thus far. These first two installments are well-written, clever and fairly unique with a  central character who is just a tough son-of-a-bitch. His mannerisms, dialogue, finesse and firepower should appeal to fans of rough 'n rowdy action novels no matter if it's a World War or a range war. He's a lovable, violent white-hat hero clearly created by a fan of those genres. Track this one down as it is truly something special.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 29, 2023

Beardless Warriors, The

Richard Burton Matheson (1926-2013) was a multi-genre author best known for his horror and science-fiction works. In 1944, Matheson was 18 years-old when he joined an American combat division during WW2. He drew upon this harrowing experience to write his 1960 war novel, The Beardless Warriors.

The entire book takes place in December 1944 after Everett Hackermeyer from Brooklyn joins the ten-man platoon of C Company, a true fighting outfit just inside the German borders. Four of the ten soldiers are only 18 years old, including our young hero. The novel wastes no time thrusting Hackermeyer into his first combat experience nose-to-nose with German soldiers.

Instead of fearless killing machines, the soldiers of C Company are mostly portrayed as scared teens just trying to stay alive in a confusing and chaotic place far from home. When they get their first taste of combat, Matheson underscores the terrifying muddle that combat seems to an unseasoned soldier. There are moments of bravery, but very little of the heroism we often read in fictional depictions of front-line fighters.

This is a powerful novel, but not a pulpy adventure in the manner of Len Levinson’s The Sergeant or Rat Bastards books. There’s tension and excitement to be sure, but Matheson is clearly trying to give the reader a reality check rather than a swashbuckling yarn. Rather than tracking a single mission, the book reads like a ride-along over a month of an American infantry soldier behind Germany’s front lines.

Ultimately, The Beardless Warriors is a coming-of-age tale where a scared boy matures into manhood and leadership in the most harrowing circumstances. As long as you understand what you’re getting, you’re bound to appreciate the novel as a vivid account of what it was like for the young men prepared to sacrifice it all when the stakes were unimaginably high.

Buy a copy of this book HERE. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Sergeant #03 - Bloody Bush

The only thing I didn’t care for about “BLOODY BUSH” was the title. Otherwise, this third entry in 'The Sergeant' series not only equals the first two books in excellence, but surpasses them in terms of narrative power and character development.

The first book, “DEATH TRAIN”, introduces us to Sgt. Clarence Mahoney and brings us along on an undercover demolition mission of his in Nazi-occupied France. That mission gets wrapped up surprisingly quickly, so then we tag along as he helps members of the French resistance fight back when the Germans besiege their headquarters. The action is solid and the storytelling is superb, and Mahoney is such a fascinating character that he himself is the best thing in the book. A gruff, cigar-chomping Superman in dirty fatigues, he’s all but invincible as the Germans throw everything they have at him. 

(The Mac Wingate series, which would debut a year later, chronicles the adventures of another American undercover he-man demolition expert tirelessly fighting the Nazis. Remarkable coincidence or cynical rip-off?) 

The Sergeant’s second book, “HELL HARBOR”, avoids the bifurcated narrative of “DEATH TRAIN” and tells one epic war adventure story, sending Mahoney deep into the revolting sewers of Cherbourg on a mission to prevent the Germans from blowing up a key harbor installation. Now Mahoney is more human, more nuanced, and more vulnerable. The story is cohesive but the plot isn’t very rigid. It’s related as a series of incidents, some combat-driven and some character-driven. The first book set the bar pretty high, but “HELL HARBOR” is even better.

And now “BLOODY BUSH” is the best one yet. Hoping for less risk to life and limb, Mahoney has transferred to a regular Army platoon and the secret missions are over. It’s July 1944, and the D-Day landings have been successful, but now the Americans need to push out of Normandy into the interior of France, and into the jaws of the waiting German army.

WWII buffs will appreciate how skillfully the novel blends fact and fiction, as the novel deals with both the Battle of the Hedgerows and the Battle of St. Lo. It’s not all about endless warfare, either; the narrative also involves Erwin Rommel and the plot to assassinate Hitler. In fact, Rommel, Hitler and George Patton all play extended supporting roles in this story. 

But you don’t have to be a history nut to enjoy this book. It’s classic masculine pulp, with lots of exciting combat sequences as well as some colorful confrontations between Mahoney and an arrogant army captain (I enjoyed these even more). Good war fiction pulls the reader into the action on an intellectual level, but really top-notch war fiction makes you feel it in your gut, with vivid details of everything from the flying dirt and shrapnel to the exhaustion, the fear and the sinking apprehension that today is your last day on Earth. The way the ground vibrates beneath a soldier during an artillery barrage, the panic and the adrenaline that take over in hand-to-hand combat, the psychological impact of weak leadership as opposed to confident leadership… it’s all here, painting the experience of war in both the broad strokes and in the little details. 

Author Len Levinson (writing as Gordon Davis) nails all of this with his usual skill. Even better, he further explores Mahoney’s complex persona, refining the characteristics we already knew about and developing a few new ones. Mahoney can bust a fellow soldier’s jaw in one chapter, kneel in prayer and carry a Bible under his shirt in another chapter, usurp a superior officer’s command in yet another chapter, and nevertheless there are no contradictions in him, just complexity. It’s rare to find such nuance in pulp fiction. It’s extraordinary. And so is this series. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Rat Bastards #04 - Meat Grinder Hill

Never pick a fight with a guy named Nuttsy. That’s a key takeaway in “Meat Grinder Hill”, the fourth novel in the outstanding 'Rat Bastards' series by “John Mackie” (actually, Len Levinson). 

As with all of the earlier books, this is a top-notch WWII adventure set during the grueling fight to take Guadalcanal from dug-in Japanese troops. The situation this time forces the exhausted Americans to make one final push to capture the last remaining enemy stronghold on the island. Unfortunately, that stronghold is up in the hills, camouflaged and surrounded by dense jungle, and defended with banks of lethal machine gun nests. The Americans can’t see it, and anyone venturing too close gets chopped to pieces by the machine guns. Worse, the stronghold is oddly impervious to mortar rounds or aerial bombing. Oh, and the Japanese will defend it to the last man.

The reader knows why all the shelling has failed to obliterate that stronghold. Our protagonists in the recon platoon will have to find out the hard way, and that means with a hell of a lot of vicious and frequently desperate combat. Nobody’s a Superman here, and one key character will fall in battle. The action is relentless, and it’s charged with foreboding and suspense. The book isn’t a downer by any means, but it doesn’t let you remain a disinterested bystander either.

As a counterpoint to all the carnage, we leave Guadalcanal from time to time to see what’s happening on another island, where two men from the platoon (two of the best characters in this series) are recovering in an Army field hospital. One is an old war dog who’s restless and almost empty inside, believing that his place is on the battlefield and that he doesn’t belong anywhere else. He might be right. The other guy is at the opposite end of the scale, interested in nothing but seducing nurses and extending his reprieve from the war any way he can. (This leads to some erotic grappling that’s just as heated as the action back on Guadalcanal.)

Most of the guys in this book aren’t so lucky. The struggle against the Japanese is grueling, bloody and miserable. One soldier hopes to affirm his masculinity with feats of combat glory, but glory is in short supply on Guadalcanal. Frustrated and still hungry to prove his manhood, he turns his attack to the aforementioned Nuttsy, which proves to be both a bruising and enlightening experience, but fate isn’t finished with him yet.   

“Meat Grinder Hill” puts its characters through the wringer, but it’s much kinder to you, the reader. The men in the recon platoon get chewed up and spit out by the war. You, on the other hand, get a muscular, exciting adventure, which is all the more effective because you’re slogging through it right alongside these guys, with easy access to their hearts and minds. That makes all the difference. The 'Rat Bastards' aren’t the little green plastic army men you played with as a kid. You’ll know ‘em and love ‘em, and--- like me--- you’ll soon be reaching for the next book in this series. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Rat Bastards #02 - Death Squad

Len Levinson's (as John Mackie) 'The Rat Bastards' series began with “Hit the Beach!”(1983), an outstanding wartime action/adventure novel, careening from the harrowing to the exhilarating and back again like a roller coaster. It wasn’t very likely that the follow-up novel could be just as good, and it isn’t. 

It's better! 

Although “Hit the Beach!” was tense and exciting, it was also episodic, lacking a real plot. It's simply about a combat platoon on Guadalcanal fighting back waves of Japanese soldiers. But the sequel, “Death Squad” (1983), is a story with a clear beginning, middle and end, and that structure gives it more power. It’s pulp fiction, but it’s extremely well-written, and the characterizations, dialogue and pacing are all superb. 

In this novel, the platoon has survived the meat-grinder of “Hit the Beach!” and heads out on a highly dangerous reconnaissance mission over to the far side of the island, where they’ll be isolated deep behind enemy lines. Their task is to find out where Japanese supplies and reinforcements have been landing. 

The mission gets off to a good start but the guys are in for a very rough time and before it’s over there will be snakes, snipers, capture, crocodiles, torture, torpedoes and always (always!) relentless action, bloodshed and suspense. Every time you think you know what’s about to happen, you’re hit with a surprise and just when the adventure seems to be over, there’s a spectacular extended climax that tops everything. 

Good luck finding a pulp action/adventure novel better than “Death Squad”. War is truly hell for the Rat Bastards, but it’s a 200-page thrill ride for the reader.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Protector #02 - The Porn Tapes

At the close of Rich Rainey's series debut, “Venus Underground”, the reader was left wondering how Alex Dartanian and his team would continue. In that novel, ICE (Inner Court Executions) nailed a sex slavery ring involving Senator Barrington's daughter. In the final pages I assumed that The Protector would concentrate on hunting more of the slavers and possibly utilizing Barrington as a conductor in this symphony of destruction. The second book is titled “The Porn Tapes” (1983) and from the surface it looks like a continuation of the debut's rather effective, albeit disturbing, content. While equally as good (if not totally surpassing) “Venus Underground”, the concept behind “The Porn Tapes” isn't what I had in mind. Instead we have a porn star being hunted by a criminal preacher. Huh? 

Just like the prior entry, Rich Rainey absolutely excels in this team-based violence extravaganza. Similar to stellar heavyweights like Stephen Mertz, Len Levinson and Dan Schmidt, Rainey incorporates multiple members of ICE into a supreme fighting force. While team-based concepts are a dime a dozen, these authors orchestrate the violence on multiple levels, carving out meaty slabs of destructiveness to match the various traits and characteristics of the team's members. It works well for 'The Protector', enhancing this crime novel and making it an enjoyable genre read.

In surprising fashion, the novel opens with Dartanian taking on a hired gun assignment. The mission? Protect a high-profile porn actress named Melonie Grand from killers. This is a different direction from what I envisioned, but nevertheless it is a neatly trimmed opening for a somewhat elementary plot. But, things prove to be a bit more complex for Dartanian and his ICE mainstays Sin Simara, Val Wagner and Mick Porter.

As the mystery thickens on who is attempting to snuff Grand, other porn stars are getting murdered. The first half delivery is like a good hard-boiled mystery with Dartanian trying to figure it all out. The reader doesn't know who the killer is until the second half, although it's somewhat mentioned in the book's synopsis splashed across the back cover. Reverend Luke Revere is a religious hack preying on the praying, designing a multi-million dollar empire built on sex, drugs and lies. It's clear that the author finds the reality of this industry appalling and holds nothing back. Revere made an early skin flick with Grand and the movie is about to be re-issued due to Grand's new super-stardom. Revere wants to kill her and the movie distributors. 

While all of this is more entertaining than it ever has the right to be, the author incorporates a lot of information about the porn industry of the 70s and early 80s. In some ways I couldn't help but place Grand in the same scenario as Traci Lords, young, exploited but going straight without porn's backing. It's a gripping and intriguing portrait of smut, laced with sex throughout it's 200-pages and brimming over with action and mystery. Dartanian is written well while never being too cavalier or overly admirable (these guys admit enjoyment watching live sex scenes and reviewing the details of porn videos). They exhibit normalcy while stalking the bad guys. There's a little gun porn among the porn, some hard-boiled staging and a high-octane firefight for the finish. 

Next up is “Hit Parade”. I'm marching to it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Super Cop Joe Blaze #01 - The Big Payoff

'Super Cop Joe Blaze' was a short-lived, three volume series of novels released in 1974 by Belmont Tower. The overwhelming success of 1971's “Dirty Harry” film influenced publishers to place strong-arm police heroes at the forefront of a literary movement. The first Joe Blaze novel, “The Big Payoff”, is written under a house name of Robert Novak. However, there is compelling evidence that points to Nelson Demille as the real author.

Demille's similar series, 'Ryker', released it's first two volumes the same year. Ryker's debut, “The Sniper”, erroneously places “Blaze” in place of “Ryker” within portions of the text. I'm imagining Demille wrote the second Joe Blaze volume as well, “The Concrete Cage”, before the publisher handed the title to Len Levinson ('The Rat Bastards') to conclude the series with third entry “The Thrill Killers.” Honestly, none of this is terribly important as Joe Blaze is introduced to readers as just another strong cop in New York City with no backstory. It's a rather apathetic method of creating a new series for readers, but it doesn't necessarily detract from a good story.

Sergeant Joe Blaze and his partner Nuthall arrive at the scene of a gruesome call girl murder. In typical procedural formula, Blaze interviews witnesses and reports his findings to Captain Coogan. While working the case, another call girl is found murdered in the same fashion. Fearing a sex killer has targeted New York's oldest profession, Blaze and Nuthall track the suspect to a moving company and begin honing in on his whereabouts and his likely next target.

At just 153-pages, the novel never has much to offer readers other than the standard police procedural as Blaze works the case. However, the three action sequences that break up the narrative are written at a frenzied pace, consuming 8-10 pages of fist-fighting, car chasing and shooting. While Blaze is described as a football player, 6'3” with a commanding presence, the book's strength is Blaze's love for his community and colleagues. In a surprisingly endearing moment, Blaze provides money to the widow of a fellow officer. When Nuthall asks about the payment, Blaze explains that with his salary and donations from fellow officers, he is financially supporting the families of nine officers previously killed in the line of duty. That's an unexpected but welcome addition to a men's action-adventure paperback.

With a one-dimensional storyline and very little depth, “The Big Payoff” is average cop fiction that's enjoyable despite its overly bad reviews. This certainly isn't the quality of  an “87th Precinct” novel, but for a quick, rather elementary read, it certainly should find a place in your paperback rotation. I'll probably seek out the remaining books in the series based on my experience here.

Note – An unofficial series entry was published as an eBook in 2015 as “Super Cop Joe Blitz: The Psycho Killers”. The author is mysteriously listed as Nelson T. Novak.

This book was discussed on the third episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Inside McLeane’s Rangers: A Paperback Warrior Unmasking

Unmasking the author behind a pseudonym is a bit of a pastime for modern readers of vintage adventure paperbacks. Recently, the desire to play armchair detective or cultural anthropologist lead to the discovery of the real man behind the somewhat obscure, five-book McLeane’s Rangers series written under the pen name of “John Darby.” A little digging revealed an accomplished journalist who later became a well-established writer in the mystery genre after authoring several other action novels many of you have undoubtedly collected and read. 

The choice of the John Darby pseudonym and McLeane’s Rangers series name is almost certainly a nod to WW2 U.S. Army hero William Orlando Darby who was fictionalized in a movie called “Darby’s Rangers” starring James Garner in 1958. The premise of the McLeane’s Rangers series from Zebra Books is similar to Len Levinson’s “Rat Bastards” novels or any number of the “team of badasses” war fiction subgenre in which a group of misfit military men participate in fictionalized versions of famous battles. In this case, the legendary conflicts involved pivotal moments in the Allied victories over Japanese forces.

Basic internet queries came up empty for any clues regarding the real identity of author John Darby. Likewise, the writing style didn’t provide much of a lead as all the books seemed to be written in the same voice (ergo: likely a pseudonym, not a house name).

All of this begs the question: Who the hell was John Darby?


While internet search engines provided no clues, a deep dive into the U.S. Library of Congress Copyright database revealed that the MacLeane’s Rangers series was authored by someone named Michael Jahn. 

Now we’re getting somewhere. 

According to Wikipedia, Jahn was hired as the first rock music journalist for the New York Times in 1968, a job largely unheard of at big-city newspapers at the time. In that capacity, the Times sent him to cover the now-legendary Woodstock Festival in 1969 among the 400,000 muddy attendees. He remained at the Times for three years covering rock for the “Paper of Record” during a remarkable time in music history. 

Jahn later shifted gears to mystery fiction where he won an Edgar Award in 1978 right out of the gate for his novel, “The Quark Maneuver,” about a homicidal Vietnam vet. This lead to a popular mystery series starring NYPD Chief of Special Investigations Captain Bill Donovan that spanned 10 books between 1982 and 2008. His papers and manuscripts are stored at the at the Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library. 

Interestingly, no available bibliography of Jahn lists the McLeane Rangers series as part of his body of work. Luckily, I was able to track down Jahn, now 74, and ask him if he was, in fact, John Darby. 

“Guilty as charged,” he replied. “You’re the first to ever notice that they even existed.”

It turns out that McLeane’s Rangers wasn’t Jahn’s first foray into Men’s Adventure Fiction. Starting in 1975, Jahn wrote five TV tie-in “Six-Million Dollar Man” paperbacks, including the popular, “The Secret of Bigfoot Pass.” Fanboys of the Bionic Man praise Jahn’s adaptations for merging the divergent continuities of the TV series with the Martin Caiden’s “Cyborg” novels that inspired the show. 

Soon thereafter, Jahn wrote two paperbacks tied into the “Black Sheep Squadron” TV show that spun off from the movie “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” as well as a 1981 installment in the Nick Carter: Killmaster Series, “Cauldron of Hell” (#153).

All of this experience opened the door for his own original action series in 1983. “Those days I was friends with a bunch of guys who wrote military-related adventures and I had a history in the genre. Zebra Books was an imprint of Kensington, which was best known for romances. I was invited to write those but never did. I did the McCleane’s series plus four quickie novelty mysteries under another name for them. Zebra paid less than anyone but tended to like everything you did,” Jahn said. 

“When I had offered McLeane to Zebra, it seemed like a good fit. I don’t recall whose idea it was. The Zebra editor was not especially action-oriented. But I think they wanted something different than ‘Black Sheep Squadron,’ maybe an infantry thing suggestive of ‘Merrill’s Marauders.’ I was a fan of ‘Rat Patrol,’ so a handful of men was good.”


Although Jahn was the brains behind the series, the authorship remains a less-than-straightforward affair. “There was a friend of mine, an aspiring writer, who was on the verge of getting evicted and was desperate for money,” Jahn said. “I was up to my ass in work those days with lots of contracts, so I gave him McLeane’s to write and cooked up the byline John Darby. He struggled severely, and I had to re-write his work. After the first two books, I basically took the series back and finished it myself. So if the books seem a bit choppy, that’s the reason.”

Who are McLean’s Rangers? The team of American ass-kickers consists of:

- McLeane: the fearless leader of the group who takes his orders from the top and manages to have a good bit of graphic sex between adventures.

- Contardo: the violent, Brooklyn-born psycho is likely to fall into a deep depression if he doesn’t tear off someone’s face at least twice per week.

- Heinman: the hillbilly of the team earned a doctorate in Oriental Studies from Oxford. Conveniently, he’s also a martial arts expert and speaks several useful Asian languages. 

- O’Connor: the mandatory Chicago Irishman of the team is an explosives expert built like a bull with fists like hams. Spoiler alert: he’s not afraid to use them.

- Wilkins: the expert marksman of the group is also the youngest among them. He knows how to ventilate any enemy with his rifleman skills. 


During the fictional team’s time in WW2, the men covered a lot of ground:

#1 “Bougainville Breakout” - the group’s first adventure pits the Rangers against the entire Japanese garrison in Bougainville. The mission is to destroy a Japanese ammo depo invulnerable to American air attack while securing the release of a captured spy. 

#2 “Target Rabaul” - During World War II, Papua New Guinea was captured by the Japanese, and it became the main base of Japanese military activity in the South Pacific. McLeane’s Rangers are sent there to bring their jungle warfare talents to the Japanese stronghold. 

#3 “Hell on Hill 457” - McLeane and his men parachute into a heavily-fortified Japanese position around a mountain fortress that can only be dealt with using some heavy explosives. 

#4 “Saipan Slaughter” - Only McLeane’s elite commando unit has the skill and the nerve to penetrate the island of Saipan in advance of the pivotal U.S. invasion. 

#5 “Blood Bridge” - In this final adventure of McLeane’s Rangers, the team embarks on a mission to save China from a deadly invasion by the Japanese military juggernaut. 

The McLeane’s Rangers series touches all the important bases of 1980s Men’s Adventure Series Fiction - violence, drama, sex, gore, salty language, and excess testosterone. The paperbacks are generally well-written but clearly not the work of a professional historian or anyone with great inside knowledge of the U.S. Military. For example, the McLeane’s Rangers are a U.S. Marine Corps unit, yet the term “Rangers” is strictly a U.S. Army designation. For readers capable of suspending their disbelief and embracing some fictional escapism, there’s a lot to enjoy in Jahn’s version of WW2. 

For his part, Jahn is learning a lesson about the enduring legacy of Men’s Adventure Fiction of the era. “You know, there’s something going on that I never expected,” he said. “Despite my Edgar Award and the 10 Bill Donovan Mysteries, all of which were critically well recieved, what I’m being remembered for is the 70s and 80s paperbacks. There’s a whole thing about the Six Million Dollar Man. My 1982 space shoot-em-up book ‘Armada,’ which in my opinion was ripped off by the film ‘Independence Day,’ was nearly made into its own film a few years back. I’ve also been asked about Nick Carter. And now you’re asking about McLeane. This is fascinating to me.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Sgt. Hawk #01 - Sgt. Hawk

The first “Sgt Hawk” paperback was published by Belmont Tower in 1979. The novel features a heroic, gruff US Marine Sergeant leading soldiers in the South Pacific Theater of World War 2. Not much is known about author Patrick Clay, but the book was apparently successful enough to warrant three sequels - “Return of Sgt Hawk” (1980), “Under Attack” (1981), and “Tiger Island” (1982). I'm a sucker for Belmont's military fiction and “Sgt Hawk” generally receives positive reviews. I'm digging in.

Like Len Levinson's 'Rat Bastards', Sgt Hawk's platoon is made up of hardened, battle-scarred grunts with vulgar mouths. Hawk is a country boy from Mississippi, thrust into leadership by wielding an uncanny fighting spirit. In many ways, Hawk could be a misplaced western hero superimposed onto war-torn Japanese Islands. He's a lovable character with a deep accent, an attribute that helps calm the civilian population while also motivating his troops. When readers are first introduced to Hawk, he's a monumental workhorse leading his men through dense foliage to destroy a pillbox. He takes the hardest route himself before risking his soldier's lives. Hawk's that kinda guy.

After an early skirmish, Hawk and fifteen troops are offered a special assignment. As the US pinches the eastern portion of the island, US intelligence fears that the Japanese will retreat to the northwest quadrant. Hawk's role is to protect a Dutch rubber plantation, an asset being utilized by the Allies. Once Hawk arrives at the plantation, the narrative settles into the cusp of the story – Hawk's interaction with the plantation's wealthy owner and family while trying to solve...a murder mystery.

The Van Speer family have owned and operated the plantation for fifteen years and don't immediately welcome Hawk and his men. Cut-off from the rest of Europe, the Van Speers don't fully grasp the war's impact. The family's oldest daughter, Gretchen, is smitten with Hawk and the two form a budding romance over the course of a few weeks. While Hawk and his men await the inevitable conflict, they appear to have an enemy on the farm. The platoon is slowly picked off one-by-one in a macabre “Ten Little Indians” series of murders. Could one of Hawk's men be a traitor? Or, is it an early advance of Japanese forces?

Patrick Clay does a tremendous job in maintaining the suspense until the very end. I had an early theory that panned out, but it kept me guessing for the majority of the book. The author propels the narrative in a multitude of ways. The romance between Hawk and Gretchen adds depth to these characters and allows the rock-solid Hawk character to become soft for readers. The murder mystery is slowly developed and adds a touch of eerie isolation. But, when the action hits, it's non-stop brutality that comes in waves.

“Sgt Hawk” delivers a gritty, violent war tale with a unique murder mystery as an added touch. The sequels are fairly pricey and, to my knowledge, aren't available as ebooks. In particular, the third book seems to be the rarest, pitching a double-digit prices online. Against my better judgement, I spent and arm and a leg to buy the remaining books. This is an exciting series with a ton of potential, and I'm excited to review the batch.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Drop Into Hell

Lou Cameron (1924-2010) mastered so many genres of written entertainment from comic books to westerns to mysteries and so on. Drop Into Hell was a 1976 WW2 combat adventure “in the breathtaking tradition of Allistair MacLean” released by Fawcett Gold Medal.

The year is 1944 and Paratrooper Captain David Evans has been given a secret mission. Hitler has developed a new super-tank and fighter jet that could cause some real problems for the Allied Forces. The plan? Hit Germany’s fuel refinery capabilities, leaving the Kraut’s new war machines with their gas tanks on empty.

The specific target is a refinery that shares space with a Red Cross Hospital housing injured American and British POWs. Conveniently for the novel, the hospital/refinery is right next door to a Concentration Camp filled with Jews and Gypsies working as slave labor in the refinery. Bottom line: Bombing the refinery into the stone ages isn’t an option.

Enter Paratrooper Dave and his crew of commandos, which includes the mandatory American Indian soldier. Their mission is to parachute into Nazi turf, sabotage the refinery, and get back across the lines safely into the warm embrace of the Allied forces. The problem? No one really has any idea how to get the saboteurs out of Germany once the damage is done.

The entire paperback is a very smooth and easy read as the cast of characters tackle problems and obstacles along the way. However, the novel‘s action lagged a bit in the middle. For my money, I think Len Levinson’s The Sergeant series is a stronger choice, but if you’re looking for Allistair MacLean Lite, this paperback will more than suffice. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Super Cop Joe Blaze #02 - The Concrete Cage

“The Concrete Cage” is the second in a three-volume series entitled 'Super Cop Joe Blaze'. Belmont Tower, motivated by the success of tough guy cop films like “Dirty Harry”, wanted a vigorous, tough as nails hero for their consumers. Nothing is really explained in the series debut, “The Big Payoff”, other than Joe Blaze is a New York City Detective Sergeant who works closely with his partner Ed Nuthall and Lieutenant Danny Coogan. It's really a neanderthal sort  of police procedural, written under house name Robert Novak, who may or may not be Nelson Demille.

In this second installment, a group of ex-convicts and low-level criminals conspire to kidnap ten women randomly. The book's opening pages has the group operating in a high traffic area of the city. Using the disguise of an ambulance, the cons usher the women into the ambulance at gunpoint. After one captive defiantly refuses, she's fatally shot in the chest. The murder of the innocent woman loops Blaze into the investigation.

In standard procedural plotting, Blaze tracks down a prostitute who may have a brother tied into the gang. Using this lead, Blaze and his two colleagues find an informant connected to the kidnapping. The group plans to use the captives as a new selection of coerced hookers - women who will be utilized to fulfill the needs of a violent, more sadistic clientele. Blaze, perplexed by the crime, arrests the informant but the news is leaked to the criminals. They want the informant released back to their fold or the women will be killed individually and left throughout the city.

This novel is certainly not for the squeamish. When Blaze's negotiation with the crooks stalls, the gang begins chopping up the victims. The narrative eventually moves into a rather grim decision for Blaze and the department – give the informant back to the crooks knowing he will be violently killed, or continue to track the crime ring in hopes of disposing of it with violent force.

While not as enjoyable as the series debut, “The Concrete Cage” was an entertaining, short read. The author uses a lot of tough cop characteristics to propel the narrative – car chases, seedy apartment gun fights and brawls. Lots of brawls. I found the book's finale a little lackluster, but I'll probably stick it out and read the last novel. It is written by the talented Len Levinson ('The Rat Bastards', 'The Sergeant').

Buy a copy of this book HERE