Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Peter McCurtin. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Peter McCurtin. Sort by date Show all posts

Monday, February 18, 2019

Soldier of Fortune #01 - Massacre at Umtali

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 12, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 06

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

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

Monday, September 23, 2019

Soldier of Fortune #17 - Bloodbath

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum:

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


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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Soldier of Fortune #02 - The Deadliest Game

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

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

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

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

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


Buy a copy HERE

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

Friday, April 7, 2023

Soldier of Fortune #3 - Spoils of War

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Soldier of Fortune #05 - First Blood

The Soldier of Fortune series ran from 1976 through 1985 consisting of 18 total installments. The series also ran for a limited run in the U.K. under the name Jim Rainey: Death Dealer. The books are mostly written by Peter McCurtin, however Ralph Hayes authored seven of these books under the McCurtin name. I've always enjoyed the series and Ralph Hayes' work so I was looking forward to reading First Blood, the fifth Soldier of Fortune novel. It was published by Belmont in 1977.

Like the second novel, The Deadliest Game, the book begins with mercenary-hero Jim Rainey visiting an old Vietnam War buddy named Daniels in Panama. Rainey’s purpose is to testify before the U.S. Army as a character witness to defend Daniels' recent assault on an anti-American Panamanian citizen. But just as Rainey joins Daniels, the two find themselves targets of a hit-and-run assassination attempt by the ruthless terrorist group Canal Reclamation Organization (basically a group of armed citizens fighting America's occupation of the Panama Canal). When Rainey and Daniels fight back, it puts them both on the radar of the U.S. Army – an official court-marshal of Daniels and the warning for Rainey to leave town. When Rainey, Daniels and an M.P. named Hollis leave a secured portion of the base, the CRO attacks the trio and takes them prisoner.

The bulk of Ralph Hayes' narrative is the imprisonment of these three men and their cruel treatment at the hands of the CRO. If you have a weak stomach, First Blood's graphic details of eyes being removed, testicles being squeezed and various body parts being severed will probably ruin your Brazilian Steakhouse experience. Despite Rainey's negotiations, Daniels and Hollis are brutalized into writing statements declaring the US occupation as tyrannical. Further, Rainey is ordered to execute the two men. Without ruining the enjoyment for you, let's just say Rainey eventually teams with the C.I.A. in an effort to bring down the CRO in the book's furious, exhilarating closing chapters.

We've reviewed four other Soldier of Fortune novels here at Paperback Warrior and the consensus remains surprisingly consistent – these books kick total ass. Regardless of Hayes or McCurtin, the series delivers plenty of action, violence and compelling story-lines to keep readers enthralled. Further, for a series of this nature, the first-person narrative is truly unique and welcome. You just can't go wrong with the Soldier of Fortune books and First Blood is another fine addition to a solid catalog of titles.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Sharpshooter: Killing Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 19, 2018

Escape from Devil's Island

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

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

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

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

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

Buy this book HERE

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Soldier of Fortune #06 - Ambush at Derati Wells

The cover of “Ambush at Derati Wells” from 1977 credits Peter McCurtin as the author, but the novel was actually written by veteran action-adventure scribe Ralph Hayes. McCurtin was undoubtedly the editor for the entire “Soldier of Fortune” series although he only wrote the first three installments. Interestingly, in the British editions, the series was called “Jim Rainey: Death Dealer.”

The series is narrated by Jim Rainey who is an armed mercenary selling his combat services to the highest bidder in Earth’s most dangerous places. In this sixth episode, Rainey is in Kenya where he receives a tip from a dying man about an air shipment of valuable guns that recently crashed near Derati Wells, a remote location in Northern Kenya near the borders of Sudan and Ethiopia where “nobody seemed to die of old age.” Rainey figures that the weapons were being flown to an Ethiopian rebel group, and there’s money to be made in reaching the crash site first.

Hayes presents the wilds of Africa as being filled with deadly, thieving black people itching to rob and maim Rainey without provocation. On the other hand, Hayes certainly knows his way around violent fight scenes. In the first chapter, Rainey wastes a foul-smelling native attacker by plunging a screwdriver into the African’s ear during a frantic life-or-death fight. I enjoyed the hell out of the action sequences, but they’re not for the faint of heart, nor could a book like this with villainous caricatures of African bushmen ever be written and published today’s more genteel and sensitive times.

After a false start, Rainey returns to Nairobi where he learns of a rebel group seeking to overthrow the dastardly junta controlling Ethiopia. The rebels could sure use all those guns in the wrecked airplane, and they would be suitable buyers if Rainey can just get his hands on the cargo. However, the junta has also sent representatives to get the guns before the rebels do (hence, the ambush in the title). Also in their way is an African tribe who likes to take the testicles of intruders as trophies. Can Rainey lead his crew - including a sexy, hot-to-trot blonde - through the jungle to the crashed plane while keeping his nuts firmly attached?

If men’s action-adventure fiction of the 1970s is your jam, you’re going to love this book. It has everything you like - sex, violence, action, and politically-incorrect villains just itching to be killed. If you’re looking for realistic depictions of foreign cultures and War College combat tactics, this one’s not for you. Predictably, Ralph Hayes delivers the goods for readers interested in a paperback diversion to a simpler, and more violent, literary era. Recommended.

Buy this book HERE

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Buckskin #01 - Rifle River

Leisure released the debut 'Buckskin' novel in 1984, the height of the adult western boom. The series would run for 42 entries and 10 giant editions. Speculation is aplenty on who wrote a majority of the series, but fingers point to Mitchell Smith as penning the first 12-14 books. After that, names like Chet Cunningham, Lawrence Cerri, Peter McCurtin, David Keller, Dean McElwain and Mary Carr are in the conversation as contributors to the series.

Buckskin is loosely based on the real “Buckskin” Frank Leslie (1842-1927), a former U.S. Army scout, gambler, rancher and gunfighter. The debut novel, “Rifle River”, introduces our protagonist Frank Leslie as a drunken fighting man who accidentally shoots and kills the love of his life in an alcohol-fueled frenzy. After antics with icons like Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok and Doc Holliday, Leslie eventually changes his name to Fredrick Lee and uses his profits to purchase a horse ranch in Montana.

Right out of the chute, the book really takes off in what we would assume is the typical “rehabilitating cowboy trying to settle down against unfavorable odds” formula. Instead, author Mitchell Smith does some extraordinary things with the western genre. Immediately we sense that this Buckskin character may be a different type of hero in a really unique series.

First, Buckskin brutally beats a young Native American boy who takes a shot at him on the ranch. Shooting the boy's horse out from under him (typically frowned upon), Buckskin wallops the kid with the leather until the servant/cook loosely intervenes. Second, Buckskin rapes a woman. In case you glanced past that – BUCKSKIN RAPES A WOMAN (again...frowned upon – even back then). In fear that the local deputy will arrest him, he sends the lawman an envelope of cash to let him walk free (severely frowned upon). Remember, Buckskin is the guy on the cover selling the books. It's his series.

Oddly, all of the above unpleasantness is written in a way that doesn't appear to be designed to offend the reader. The story here is that the local land baron wants to acquire the Montana ranch. It controls the river flow downstream to other seedy cattlemen that want nothing more than control and power of the water. Buckskin advises the ranchers that he is not damming the river, but this is the 1800s and gunpowder is more convincing. The neighbor's sultry sister is raped...absolutely raped...but towards the end of the incident she starts to enjoy it. This is an adult western and Buckskin proves to her, and three prostitutes, that he aims to please. Take it or leave it, that’s what happened. Don’t shoot the messenger.

“Rifle River” has tremendous staying power as a traditional western – feuding cattlemen, quick draw gunfights, an epic back-alley boxing match and the obligatory hanging. All of these elements should please genre fans. However, the series creator clearly has an anti-hero flavor in mind for this character. Buckskin, while brooding over poor decisions, still continues to make additional poor decisions. It is this aspect of “Rifle River” that leaves you either placing Buckskin as a vile villain or an unlikely hero in a gray chapter of western fiction. If anything, it proves that some westerns don’t fall easily into the black vs. white, good vs. evil formulation that cemented the genre foundation. Buckskin is something completely different in a genre not known for its originality.  I'm intrigued enough to search for the next installment.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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, February 5, 2020

Death Merchant #70 - The Greenland Mystery

During the 1970s and 1980s, men's action adventure fiction offered a robust selection of serial titles like 'The Destroyer', 'The Executioner', 'The Penetrator' and 'The Butcher'. The catalyst was Pinnacle Books, a successful mass market paperback publisher that catered to male consumers and readers. Beginning in 1971, Pinnacle added 'Death Merchant' to their impressive catalog of titles. The series was written by Joseph R. Rosenberger and featured a character named Richard Camellion, a globe-trotting CIA agent. Along with his cunning military tactics, Camellion was a master of disguises, allowing him to infiltrate hostile forces both as a spy and a combatant. The series ran 71 installments from 1971 through 1988 including a double-sized novel, “Super Death Merchant: Apocalypse”. While I've read Rosenberger's other literary work (“Geneva Force”), my first experience with 'Death Merchant' is oddly the last book of the series, “#70 The Greenland Mystery”.

Like “The Polestar Incident”, which was the series' 21st installment, “The Greenland Mystery” features an extraterrestrial storyline. This isn't the first action-adventure series to introduce the possibility of aliens into the mix. The Executioner #84 and #273 both featured Mack Bolan fighting a Black Ops team around the mysterious Area 51 in Nevada. In this novel, Camellion and his partner Quinlan are assigned to an exploratory station in Greenland. Once there, Camellion learns that the research scientists have discovered an alien city buried deep in the ice.

With Rosenberger's writing style, readers are accustomed to the author's bizarre narratives and deep political analysis. The idea that aliens crashed in Greenland and built a city isn't particularly swerving out of Rosenberger's lane. The CIA is worried that the pesky Russians will invade the research facility and scavenge any alien technology that exists. Camellion, Quinlan and a small team of agents scout the facility and create ambush spots along the perimeter. Once the obligatory invasion begins from the Russians, it's up to Camellion's team to hold the line and protect the resources.

My issue with Rosenberger and Death Merchant is that the battle scenes are overly technical. Readers should be enjoying the “rock'em sock'em” action instead of the author theorizing that the 12.7 DshK is more powerful than the 14.5 KPV MG. It's overindulgent to describe every firearm on the battlefield down to the ballistic metrics. I just read the second installment of Peter McCurtin's 'Soldier of Fortune' and it is vastly superior to ‘Death Merchant’ simply because the focus is on developing characters and story instead of an armory.

When the action heats up, “The Greenland Mystery” is just an average read. If I could carve off 80-pages of technical nonsense, these books would be far more appealing. After reading this installment, I've reassured myself that having just three Death Merchant books on my bookshelf is more than enough. The series has its fans, I'm certainly not one of them.

Purchase a copy of this book HERE

Monday, January 13, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 26

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

Friday, April 17, 2020

Counterspy #01 - Apostles of Violence

Beginning in 1955, French author Maurice Gabriel Brault (1912-1984) began writing espionage novels under the pseudonym M.G. Braun starring French Secret Service Agent Al Glenne. The series was wildly popular and went on for around 75 installments over the next 24 years. Between 1962 and 1966, four books from the series were translated into English and released by Berkley as the Counterspy series. So, while 1962’s ApĂ´tres De La Violence is the 25th installment in the French Al Glenne novels, Apostles of Violence is #1 in the English language Counterspy series.

As the novel opens, our hero and narrator, Al Glenne, is in Caracas, Venezuela visiting another French special agent named Theo who is stationed there with sexy Latinas serving his every need. However, this is no vacation. A satellite equipped with a deadly laser weapon belonging to either the Americans or the Russians (the French aren’t certain) has crashed in the Venezuelan jungle. Al and Theo need to recover the space weapon before it falls into the wrong hands. Theo sent for Al because if his experience in jungle fighting, and also because Al is the star of the book series.

Theo explains to Al (and the reader) that it’s important for France to find out whether the satellite belongs to the Americans or Russians. Meanwhile, French scientists are 15 years behind in the field of laser technology. If Al and Theo can bring back the laser, the French will be able to catch up within a few short months. The presumption is that the Americans, the Russians, and the Brits are all aware of the fallen satellite’s location, and the race is on to find it first.

After reading a lot of American and British spy novels, it’s interesting to read one in which the hero is looking after the self-interest of a completely other country. The French team of Al and Theo parachute into the jungle, find the
satellite crash site, and begin their dangerous journey back to safety. The gunfire in the distance gives them no sense of comfort that it’s going to be a simple trip. Even scarier, are the Venezuelan Indians living in the woods shooting arrows at everything that moves.

As you might expect, the French team encounters a voluptuous Brazilian girl to be their guide through the jungle to the crash site. As they encounter teams from other countries, it’s the Americans who behave like aggressive jackasses. This may bother some American readers, but I found it very interesting and allowed for the idea that not every American behaves in a righteous and honorable manner at all times. As the multi-national group begins being murdered one-by-one, it’s up to Al to get to the bottom of the situation, so he’ll be alive to star in future series installments.

American readers will be tempted to compare Counterpsy to another long-running, popular French series with limited English paperback reprints: the Malko books by Gerard de Villiers. While Malko books are more cloak and dagger espionage adventures, Braun’s Apostles of Violence is a much simpler jungle combat story with a genuine mystery woven into the plot. The Counterspy books are narrated by Al Glenne, and that first person combat-based mission recalled Peter McCurtin’s Soldier of Fortune series. I’d also favorably compare the series to Edward Aarons’ Assignment series starring Sam Durrell.

At 143 big-font pages, Apostles of Violence wasn’t a heavy lift. It was an action-packed, very straightforward, and linear paperback with very little character development or emotional flab. The translation was so smooth that you’d never know it was originally written in French. The heroes were plenty heroic and the villains were heels, and the novel was a lot of fun to read. Best of all, the paperback had a killer twist ending that no one will ever see coming. Overall, I liked it quite a bit, I intend to acquire and read the three other English reprints in the series. Recommended.

Fun Fact:

The English translations of the Counterspy novels are credited to Ralph Hackett, but this is a pseudonym for the real translator, Lowell Blair. In the middle of the 20th century, Blair was a busy guy translating important works of French literature into English, including The Count of Monte Cristo and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’m guessing that he regarded the Counterspy paperbacks as beneath his austere talents, so he performed the translation under a fake name? The actual rationale for this decision is a secret lost to the ages.

Acknowledgment

Thanks to the always excellent Spy Guys and Gals website for providing the background on this series.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Paperback Warrior Unmasking: Interview with Ralph Hayes

At 91 years of age, Michigan author Ralph Hayes is still writing men's action-adventure novels. With a resume boasting nearly 100 books, he's experienced five fruitful decades of published work in the US, UK, Germany, Finland, Sweden and Italy. At the time of this writing, Hayes has just released his newest novel, a gritty western titled “Wanted: Dead or Alive” for Black Horse, his publisher of the last 10 years.

In a series of letters, Paperback Warrior had the opportunity to interview the living legend about his career, his paperbacks and what the term “genre fiction” means to him.

While employed as a successful Michigan attorney, Hayes married a highly-regarded artist. Her passion and interest in the arts inspired Hayes to relinquish his law practice in 1969. The couple moved to Key West, and Hayes began a torrid affair with his typewriter, one that stuffed the paperback shelves with multiple series titles such as 'The Hunter,’ 'Agent of Cominsec,’ 'Stoner' and 'Soldier of Fortune.’ In fact, Hayes created and/or contributed to seven individual series' including the wildly popular 'Nick Carter: Killmaster' paperbacks.

“I didn't start writing seriously until 1969. A story of mine originally appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in 1967 called ‘The Gumdrop Affair.’ It was later included in two separate college textbook anthologies. I've sold almost 40 short stories to literary quarterlies, men's magazines and mystery magazines,” Hayes said.

When asked if any of his shorts were later re-worked into novels, the enthusiastic author was quick to point out that his short stories don't turn into novels. “I would never try to broaden a short story tale into novel length,” he explained. “Short stories are an art form apart, and in no way inferior in importance to the novel. On the other hand, when an editor asked me to cut a couple of scenes from a novel, I later developed those scenes into short stories. Writer's Digest asked me once to do an article telling other writers how I went about it.”

Hayes' robust bibliography includes riveting, exotic locales that are par for the course in the men's action adventure genre. Ranging from vigilante globe-trotting adventurers to mercenaries, Hayes has a unique sense of realism within his writing. “I have been to East Africa twice. I've also been to South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia and Morocco,” he said. “I have also been around Europe by both moped and car. I've went to Hong Kong and Peru to visit Machu Picchu. All of this with my artist wife, now deceased, whose art is in private collections all across this country and Europe.”

His earliest series, 'The Buffalo Hunter', starring western protagonist O'Brien, can be sourced back to its 1970's debut paperback “Gunslammer,” also known as “Secret of Sulpher Creek.” That series, which Hayes still contributes to, parallels the author's career from 1970 until now and encompasses 11 total novels. “Rugged, intimidating. Rawhides. Can't read or write but speaks several Indian tongues. A perfect wild-country survivalist,” described Hayes when asked to characterize his cowboy hero to unfamiliar readers.

The author lists his 'Buffalo Hunter' novels as some of his best work, but he is particularly fond of a 1979 book entitled “Hostages of Hell.” “This is based on a real-life terror attack on a US embassy. My research for the book included actual correspondence with the US ambassador in Khartoum,” he said.

From 1967 through the early 80s, Hayes wrote over 60 novels. The 1970s were a particularly  productive era for the author, growing series titles like Buffalo Hunter, The Hunter, Check Force, Stoner and Agent of Cominsec for familiar publishing houses like Manor, Leisure/Belmont Tower and Zebra. By the early 80s, one can see his writing reduced to just a few stand-alone novels, most as historical romance pieces.

“When publishing took a nose dive in the mid-eighties, we returned to Michigan where I resumed my law career, but still doing some writing,” Hayes explained. By 1992, Hayes began producing westerns again with two stand-alone paperbacks for Pinnacle. Just seven years later, Hayes would experience another productive era, penning westerns for UK publisher Black Horse, an imprint of Robert Hale Publishing.

“The recently published westerns at Robert Hale and Crowood have been newly-written novels, starting with ‘The Tombstone Vendetta’ about Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral. ‘The Last Buffalo,’ ‘Fort Revenge’ and ‘Coyote Moon’ form a trilogy of O'Brien the Buffalo Hunter stories that make up one long saga, and I suspect ‘Fort Revenge’ is about the best of that genre,” he said.

The author, who cites his favorite writers as Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, John Le Carre and B. Traven, has a lot to say about what people perceive as genre fiction. “The idea that genre fiction is somehow inferior in quality to so-called mainstream fiction, and is not as literary, is artificial bull-puckey,” Hayes said. “Mainstream also is genre, psychological studies, social issues, etc. are all genres, and most of that is not as entertaining as other genres. Entertainment is the primary objective of all fiction, the other, lesser goal being enlightenment, which should never dominate the story. If you have a cause to espouse, the proper literary form is an essay or a non-fictional book.”

Hayes continued, “In drama, all of Shakespeare's plays were genre. Jane Austen's novels are genre. Poe's stories are genre. All in this developed use of the word. ‘The Sun Also Rises’ is genre, and ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ is also, in my revised classification system. People who like to maintain the 'mainstream is superior' notion would rank ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ above Jane Austen's ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ a love story or light romance. But it isn't. The love story is better, both in entertainment and enlightenment.”

In conclusion, Hayes has a diverse bibliography that includes period pieces, mystery, adventure, vigilante, romance, science fiction and thriller - all thought-provoking and entertaining in their own right. “So, lets dispense with mainstream and literary as description of fiction and categorize all works as some kind of genre,” he said.

Ralph Hayes Bibliography

AGENT OF COMINSEC

1. The Bloody Monday Conspiracy - 1974 Belmont Tower
2. The Doomsday Conspiracy - 1974 Belmont Tower
3. The Turkish Mafia Conspiracy - 1974 Belmont Tower
4. The Hellfire Conspiracy - 1974 Belmont Tower
5. The Nightmare Conspiracy - 1974 Belmont Tower
6. The Deathmakers Conspiracy - 1975 Belmont Tower

THE BUFFALO HUNTER

1. Gunslammer (aka Secret of Sulpher Creek) - 1970 Belmont Tower
2. Four Ugly Guns - 1970 Belmont Tower
3. The Name is O'Brien - 1972 Lenox Hill
4. Hellohole - 1973 Leisure/Belmont Tower
5. Treasure of Rio Verde - 1974 Remploy
6. Vengeance is Mine - 1978 Manor
7. Five Deadly Guns - 1984 Ulverscroft
8. Revenge of the Buffalo Hunter - 1992 Pinnacle
9. The Last Buffalo - 2013 Black Horse
10. Fort Revenge - 2013 Black Horse
11. Coyote Moon - 2015 Black Horse

CHECK FORCE

1. 100 Megaton Kill - 1975 Manor
2. Clouds of War - 1975 Manor
3. Judgment Day - 1975 Manor
4. The Peking Plot - 1975 Manor
5. Seeds of Doom - 1976 Manor
6. Fires of Hell - 1976 Manor

* DANIEL BOONE: LOST WILDERNESS TALES

1. River Run Red (as Dodge Tyler) - 1996 Leisure
2. Algonquin Massacre (as Dodge Tyler) - 1996 Leisure
3. Death at Spanish Wells (as Dodge Tyler) - 1996 Leisure
4. Winter Kill (as Dodge Tyler) - 1996 Leisure
5. Apache Revenge (as Dodge Tyler) - 1997 Leisure
6. Death Trail (as Dodge Tyler) - 1997 Leisure

* Ralph Hayes states he wrote a number of these books as Dodge Tyler. Author John Edward Ames wrote the last six installments of the 12 book series. 


THE HUNTER

1. Scavenger Kill - 1975 Leisure/Belmont Tower
2. Night of the Jackals - 1975 Leisure/Belmont
3. A Taste for Blood - 1975 Leisure/Belmont Tower
4. The Track of the Beast - 1975 Leisure/Belmont Tower
5. The Deadly Prey - 1975 Leisure/Belmont Tower

NICK CARTER: KILLMASTER

65. The Cairo Mafia - 1972 Award
67. Assault on England - 1972 Award
68. The Omega Terror - 1972 Award
70. Strike Force Terror - 1972 Award
73. Butcher of Belgrade - 1973 Award
78. Agent Counter-Agents - 1973 Award
86. Assassin: Code Name Vulture - 1974 Award
88. Vatican Vendetta (with George Snyder) - 1974 Award

SOLDIER OF FORTUNE (as Peter McCurtin)

4. The Guns of Palembang - 1977 Belmont Tower
5. First Blood - 1977 Belmont Tower
6. Ambush at Derati Wells - 1977 Belmont Tower
7. Operation Hong Kong - 1977 Belmont Tower
8. Body Count - 1977 Belmont Tower
9. Battle Pay - 1978 Belmont Tower
Vol. 2 9. Blood Island - 1985 Leisure

STONER

1. The Golden God - 1976 Manor
2. Satan Stone - 1976 Manor
3. All That Glitters - 1977 Manor
4. King's Ransom - 1978 Manor

STAND-ALONE NOVELS

Virgin Tate (romance) 1962 Vega
Black Day at Diablo (?)
The Visiting Moon (science-fiction) 1971 Lenox Hill
Treasure of Rio Verde (western) - 1974 Remploy
Love's Dark Conquest (romance) - 1978 Leisure
Forbidden Splendor (romance) - 1978 Leisure
Dark Water (thriller) - 1978 Leisure
By Passion Possessed - 1978 Leisure
The Killing Ground (as John Hardesty) - 1978 Leisure
Savage Dawn (romance) - 1979 Jove
The Big Fall (?) - 1979 Zebra
Hostages of Hell (action) - 1979
Adventuring (western) - 1979 Jove
Golden Passion (romance) - 1979 Leisure
Dragon's Fire (romance) - 1979 Leisure
The Promised Land (romance) - 1980 Leisure
The Sea Runners (action) - 1981 Leisure
A Sudden Madness (mystery) - 1981 Leisure
Last View of Eden (thriller) - 1981 Leisure
Charleston (romance) - 1982 Zebra
Drought! (romance) - 1982 Zebra
The God Game (thriller) - 1983 Leisure
The Scorpio Cipher (thriller) - 1983 Leisure
Sheryl (romance) - 1984 Leisure
Deadly Reunion (mystery) - 1984 Leisure
Illegal Entry (romance) - 1984 Leisure
Mountain Man's Fury (western) - 1992 Pinnacle
Mountain Man's Gold (western) - 1993 Pinnacle
Tombstone Vendetta (western) - 2010 Black Horse
Texas Vengeance (western) - 2016 Black Horse
Rawhide Justice (western) - 2016 Black Horse
Lawless Breed (western) - 2017 Black Horse
The Way of the Gun (western) - 2018 Black Horse
Wanted: Dead or Alive (western) - 2019 Black Horse