Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Soldier of Fortune. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Soldier of Fortune. Sort by date Show all posts

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

Monday, September 23, 2019

Soldier of Fortune #17 - Bloodbath

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum:

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


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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, 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

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, 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

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

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

Sunday, June 16, 2013

M.I.A. Hunter #01 - M.I.A. Hunter

I collected the 'M.I.A Hunter' series when I was in high school. I believe at one point I had the entire sixteen book run and had read a majority of them. The novels started in the mid 80s amongst a frenzied media and pop culture environment that was obsessed with Vietnam action. That time frame through as late as the mid 90s contributed heavily to the Vietnam war scripts and post 1973 theatrics. Films like 'First Blood', 'Rambo 2', 'Full Metal Jacket' and 'Platoon' scored well on the top tiers. The media degraded into B films like the 'Missing In Action' series before becoming completely stagnant with blowhards like 'Platoon Leader' (Michael Dudikoff!) and 'Siege At Firebase Gloria'.

The late 70s and 80s was a rather controversial period of time to discuss the Vietnam War in terms of its prisoners of war. There was a huge portion of society that firmly believed US troops were still being held in Vietnam. Contrived images of soldiers in tattered uniforms suspended in bamboo cells were firmly etched in pop culture ('Missing In Action', 'Uncommon Valor'). The other side of the fence felt all of this was simply fantasy and that the majority of these supposed P.O.W.s would have been pilots whose age and extreme living conditions in Southeast Asia would have limited their lifespans. Depending on which opinion you have the numbers are really alarming. 1,300 Americans are reported as missing in action to this day. Were they killed? Exported to the Soviet Union? Worked as slave labor? Who can really speculate at this point considering Vietnam has been open for trade and tourism for twenty years now.

The first installment of the 'M.I.A. Hunter' series is simply called "M.I.A. Hunter" and it was released by Jove in 1985. These books were created and written by Stephen Mertz, who occasionally, due to time constraints and deadlines would employ other writers to work off of his outlines or draft - Joe R. Lansdale, Michael Newton, Chet Cunningham and Bill Crider under house pseudonym Jack Buchanan. The series followed the trend of having larger than life book covers and marketing catch phrases.

The book begins in a Vietnamese military base just shy of the Laos border. Three American POWs are being held in bamboo cages under very harsh conditions. One of the prisoners, Bradford, manages to escape and is eventually seen by a Laos freedom fighter before being re-captured. The freedom fighter relays the information about the American POW to a CIA operative who eventually gets the information to Bradford's wife. This sets the stage for Bradford's wife to contact the MIA Hunter and our first mission is now set; find Bradford and bring him back alive.
 
Mark Stone is a former Green Beret and Vietnam Vet who spent some time as a prisoner himself. He runs a business for hire that rescues P.O.W.s all over the globe. He has a network of associates that assist with travel, firearms and overall logistics. Stone relies on two fighters with his missions, big Texan Hog Wiley, a former team mate of Stone's in 'Nam and a former British SS named Terrance Loughlin. Stone is your default main character. Wiley would be the big strong brawler. Loughlin is a more technical character with an explosives background. The book is written in a way that focuses on each character during battle and what they are contributing. Often, Wiley is shown brawling, Stone is organizing the battle and Loughlin is conveniently off planting charges.
 
After taking on the job of rescuing Bradford the team journey into Bangkok to acquire weapons and intel from a network associate. A battle ensues with some operatives apparently clued into Stone's global antics. This part of the story was rather frustrating because nothing comes to fruition. What government is after him and why don't they just shut him down? Maybe this is a story that runs the series. Anyhow, the team eventually meets up with a Laos freedom fighter and two other Americans who serve as transportation. After a few clicks down river the group battle a boat patrol of Vietnamese and quickly dispatch them. Stone finds the prisoners and frees them in a huge firefight with the Vietnamese camp. Retreating out of the camp consists of more gunfights and in the book's finale a "last stand" scenario that plays out in a remote Laos village (briefly reminds me of 'Seven Samurai'). 
 
The novel, written by Mike Newton, reads briskly and fits the mold of action adventure under 200 pages. It is fairly obvious that this book sets the tone for future installments and that the central core will always be Stone, Hog and Loughlin as the primary killing force of the series. Authors can easily deposit these three fighters in Vietnam, the Soviet Union, China and the Middle East to rescue prisoners in a cookie cutter action formula sure to please mercenary and soldier of fortune hounds. The series always had great cover art, was made at the height of 'Rambo' type films and seemed readily available at grocery stores, pharmacies and book stores back in the day. Sales had to be decent considering sixteen installments were created.
 
After being out of print for two decades a reissue has been authorized. These Kindle editions feature generic - read that as horrible - artwork and weigh in at $2.99 each. I prefer the $1.00 paperback versions no matter how worn out they are. Look for new books being released by Mertz as well. 

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Hunter #02 - Night of the Jackals

The prior 'Hunter' novel, debut “Scavenger Kill”, introduced us to former Green Beret John Yard. In that book, Yard is presented as a wealthy entrepreneur who guides big game hunts in the Nairobi area of Africa. He teamed with his colleague, African police officer Moses Ngala, to stage the first “vigilante” styled hunt and kill. The target was an unscrupulous pharmaceutical company headed by a gelatinous villain named Lavalle. “Scavenger Kill” was on an international scope, ranging from Canada to London. I liked Ralph Hayes ambition to write in a more epic fashion and he continues that trend with this second series installment. 

“Night of the Jackals” begins at Camp Pritcher Army base in Georgia. It's a special forces training facility ruled by a notorious Hitler-like Captain named Ernst Rohmer. The opening has a young black man, Wendell Jefferson, ordered to do the old “dig a grave and then fill it back in” routine. His superior, Sergeant Pruitt, issues an abundance of thunderous racial slurs and threats, provoking Jefferson to attack him. The end result is imprisonment in the stockade.

Wendell's brother, Aron, a decorated Vietnam veteran, visits the stockade demanding to know what has happened. He quickly discovers Pruitt's racism and that Rohmer is running the base. It's here where we learn that Rohmer had fought for the Third Reich, and later contracted his services all over the globe as a commanding soldier of fortune. Aron experienced Rohmer's atrocities in Vietnam firsthand and questions why the Army would want a cutthroat dictator training it's men (the reader does too).

Later, a drunken Pruitt and Rohmer fatally beat Wendell in his cell. They politically escape punishment, track down Aron and leave him battered and near death. How does this connect to 'The Hunter'? Aron and Moses Ngala (the series' co-hunter/hero) are old friends. Aron knows Moses is in law enforcement, so he reaches out to him (in a weird scene where it seems Aron ran into Moses by accident). Regardless, Moses and the series protagonist, John Yard, discuss the events from the prior book and decide to do another vigilante job to kill Rohmer and end his reign of terror.

Without spoiling too much of the second half, Yard and Moses travel from Africa to Paris trailing Rohmer. The result has both of them fighting for the Syrians over the Israel border. It's a wild chain of events that completely spins “Night of the Jackals” from vengeful vigilante to espionage thriller before covering a battlefield saga and planting the story in a brutal prison. Author Ralph Hayes hits every single sub-genre of Men's Action Adventure in one fell swoop.

Like his 'Stoner' series, the action shares some of the same exotic locations – African deserts and villages like Lagos and Nairobi. Hayes has mastered “prison fiction”, perhaps building off of 'Buffalo Hunter' debut “Hellhole”, a gritty western set in a ruthless Mexican prison. Additionally, 'Stoner' installment “The Satan Stone” mirrors that same prison scenario in Africa. Now, the finale of this novel has both Yard and Moses inside a violent prison-styled base ran by the sadistic Rohmer. It's repetitive, often using the same sequence of events, but Hayes does it so well that it's the story we want him to tell. At this point in time, this author could be my favorite of the genre. It's a bold statement, but I'm not searching the used stores this hard for any other author.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Monday, January 22, 2018

Winner Take All

Mark Steele is an out-of-work Man of Adventure bumming around San Francisco when he hears a knock at the door. The man on the other side of the door is a stranger - but one who looks exactly like Steele. This is the opening scene of James McKimmey’s 1959 Dell paperback, Winner Take All. This obscure crime novel has been given a second life through a 2018 re-release from Stark House Press. This new re-issue is packaged with a 1957 “innocent man accused” novel called Perfect Victim, also by McKimmey, as well as a 2004 interview with the author by “Noir Originals” scribe and author Allan Guthrie. 


It turns out that Steele’s doppelgänger is a heretofore unknown twin brother who was separated at birth. And while Steele lived a hardscrabble life fighting in wars and taking care of himself, Byrd planted his flag into the privileged trappings of the idle rich - trust funds, women, booze, and gambling. As hardboiled genre fiction fans might expect, the reason that Byrd seeks out Steele was not for a tearful brotherly reunion. He comes with an offer: Can Steele pose as Byrd to negotiate a settlement on a large gambling debt owed to the mob? Seeing an opportunity to turn a buck and find some action, the braver brother accepts, and the story is off and running.

It would have been easy for McKimmey to structure the novel differently - by having the non-violent brother drafted to take the place of his soldier-of-fortune twin and find his own manhood in the process. Instead, the author puts us into the mind of the brother who is more comfortable in a world of violence and unpredictability, and that adds to the fun of this one. While the set-up of this short novel is rather contrived, the execution is superb - mostly due to the author’s skill with first-person crime novel narration. The book has all the trappings of the hardboiled crime stories of the paperback original era - thuggish mobsters, a sexy femme fatale (or two) and twisty double-cross plot devices. It’s a blast of a story - violent, sexy, and compelling - and well worth your time. 

Friday, August 4, 2023

Crossfire Trail

When I browse “best of” lists associated with the literary work of Louis L'Amour, a few books seem to always make the list – Hondo, Flint, The Sacket Brand, The Haunted Mesa, and Last of the Breed. Aside from those, every third or fourth list seems to incorporate his 1954 western novel Crossfire Trail (Ace). This could be due to the 12.5 million viewers that tuned into the 2001 made-for-cable television movie of the same name that featured Tom Selleck. I've always heard good things about the book, so I decided to finally give it a read.

The book begins with protagonist Rafe Caradec (last name Covington in the film), a soldier-of-fortune,gambler, journeyman, aboard a ship bound for San Francisco. His friend Charles Rodney has just been beaten nearly to death by the notorious ship captain. In his dying breath, Rodney reminds readers, and Caradec, that he paid a businessman named Barkow the money owed for his Wyoming ranch. Rodney has paperwork that he has left for Caradec to deliver to his widow, Ann. Then, Rodney dies, and Caradec and some fellow shipmates escape the vessel and head to Wyoming to deliver the news.

When Caradec arrives in the small Wyoming town of Painted Rock, he discovers that Ann has been fed a lie by a group of businessmen who all have a reason to own Rodney's ranch. First, they advise her that the ranch wasn't paid for. Second, they have explained to her that her husband was killed by a Sioux war party a year earlier. When Caradec attempts to explain the truth to Ann, she refuses to listen to his “lies”. 

The plot propels as Caradec, in a quest to uphold his promise to Rodney, must fight the businessmen responsible for the corruption and lies. There's Barkow, now Ann's fiance, along with another vile villain named Dan Shute and the obligatory hired gunmen that murder anyone disputing Painted Rock's form of justice. 

Crossfire Trail is an expanded version of a short-story called "The Trail to Crazy Man", originally published in the July, 1948 issue of West (under a pseudonym of Jim Mayo). There's plenty of action, fisticuffs, fast-draws, and a love interest that anchors the narrative firmly in the “traditional old-west formula”. While it was predictable with the familiar L'Amour trope of “gunman protects widow and ranch”, the writing was superb as always. There's nothing to dislike about Crossfire Trail and I thoroughly enjoyed the banter between Caradec and his friends. As an added bonus, there is a side-story of Caradec rescuing a young Sioux woman, a plot point that serves dividends later. 

If you love traditional western storytelling, chances are you've probably already read Crossfire Trail. If not, I recommend it as your next cowboy yarn. 

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

Friday, May 12, 2023

The Diamond Boomerang

There are a lot of vintage paperback authors that have military experience. I don't believe there is any authors we've discussed here that can match the experience and military level of Lester Taube. He began his military career in a horse artillery regiment. Later, he served as an infantry platoon leader during WW2 and participated in combat in Okinawa and Iwo Jima. During the Korean War, Taube served as a company commander and intelligence officer. During the Vietnam War, he was stationed in France and Germany as a general staff officer working in intelligence. Taub retired as a full colonel, moved to France, and began writing books. Based on my count, I believe he has eight total novels published. The only experience I have with him is his 1969 novel The Grabbers, which was later published in paperback by Pocket Book under the title The Diamond Boomerang

Dan Baldwin's tragic past is cleverly revealed in the middle of The Diamond Boomerang. Until that point, readers are left guessing as to the reasons Baldwin is drinking his life away. In the book's opening pages, Baldwin is in a North African bar broke and broken down. In first-person perspective, Baldwin looks up from the gutter he's been flung into and sees Tom the Trooper. Baldwin has a little nickname for everyone and everything. Thus, Tom the Trooper plays a big part in the book's engaging narrative.

Tom the Trooper offers Baldwin a mercenary job on a diamond heist in Southwest Africa. There is a large diamond cartel that controls seemingly endless fields of diamonds that spew out of an underground vein. The fields have so many diamonds that the cartel has to destroy or dump them in the ocean for fear of saturating the market and reducing value. Tom the Trooper, Ahmed the Arab, and Miss Steel Tits are in on the heist. After successfully placing the boat along the coast, the foursome evades the cartel's intricate security system and grabs the diamonds. Everything goes well. Until it doesn't. 

Like a great western story, the bad guys double-cross the main character and leave him shot up in the desert to die. In one of the best action sequences I've read in a long time, the foursome tangle with the security guards in high-speed chases, helicopter gunning, nautical escapes, and plain 'ole praying. But, the narrative unfolds when Tom the Trooper attempts to kill everyone to escape solely with the goods. Only, he didn't kill Baldwin dead enough. The author introduces an amazing little side story that puts Baldwin on death's door to fight with hungry vultures. Let me say for the record, I've never read a better story of a dying man fighting a vulture. That’s saying a lot considering I’ve read Robert E. Howard’s “A Witch Shall Be Born”. I read those pages twice just because it was so damned entertaining. If you read nothing else in this book, read the man versus vulture chapter.

The novel's first half is absolutely perfect and written in an unusual way with Baldwin telling the story in proverbs and bizarre analogies. Like these:

“Their miners are herded more rigorously than permanent members of a Georgia chain-gang, indentured longer than Greek whores in an Arab harem, and kept under closer observation than reigning movie stars.”

The book is saturated with this sort of thing, and either you will love it, like I did, or absolutely despise it. There probably isn't a middle ground. But, the second half of the book is a little more serious and on the nose. The second half is like a James Bond story as Baldwin meets the cartel leaders and falls in love with a woman connected to the whole thing. Baldwin then takes an assignment to find Tom the Trooper and recover the diamonds that he helped steal. This second half takes place in London on urban streets, swanky mansions, and high-rise apartments. It's a sharp contrast to the “soldier of fortune” storytelling in the book's opening half. I found that swerve slightly abrasive, but it still totally worked for me.

If there is that one book that symbolizes everything we love and adore here at Paperback Warrior – obscure, awesome books that no one has ever heard of – it is The Diamond Boomerang. It's probably the best book I've read this year and punctuates an author's name that I will search for in every dingy basement and dusty bookstore I find.

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

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Devil May Care

Childhood friends Robert Wade and H. Bill Miller were responsible for the most successful collaboration in vintage genre fiction. Together they wrote around 33 novels under the Wade Miller and Whit Masterson pseudonyms selling around 15 million copies of their mystery and adventure paperbacks. Many have said that their finest work is their eighth book, Devil May Care from 1950, recently reprinted by Stark House as a double paired with Sinner Take All from 1960.

The hero of Devil May Care is Biggo Venn, a fortysomething soldier of fortune working the speaking circuit for $50 per gig telling globetrotting adventure stories to meeting hall audiences. After a speech in Cleveland, Biggo reconnects with his old friend with a business proposition for the aging mercenary.

The feds deported a Sicilian mobster named Tom Jaccalone who is now living comfortably in Mexico. Biggo is hired to deliver a letter to the mobster that will exonerate him and allow Jaccalone to return to the U.S. legally and resume his racketeering. The letter is a signed confession from someone else admitting to the crime that caused Jaccalone to be deported from the U.S. The gangster is willing to pay $20,000 to get his hands on the letter, and Biggo just needs to deliver the confession to Mexico and earn some easy cash. Of course, Biggo accepts the gig.

The action shifts to Mexico, and the mission turns out to be more complicated than originally represented. Biggo’s point-of-contact for the exchange is murdered. It seems the mobster who took over Jaccalone’s U.S. rackets following his deportation isn’t excited about the prospect of a possible exoneration and repatriation resulting from Biggo’s delivery. This leaves Biggo in Mexico caught in the crossfire between two rival gangsters - both of whom want the letter Biggo is carrying. One has $20,000 for Biggo, and the other has a bullet with his name on it.

In Mexico, Biggo falls in with an impossibly sexy bar hostess named Jinny. There’s also a local Mexican torch-singer that Biggo wants who seems to run the town. Whether these women are friends or foes is a twisty question as the plot develops. Meanwhile, a rival mercenary from Biggo’s past also surfaces in the same Mexican town on the Baja Peninsula to repeatedly throw a monkey wrench in Biggo’s plans.

Overall, Devil May Care is a fine novel. Some of the treatment of the fictional women in the paperback would never fly today, so consider yourself warned if that type of thing bothers you. It’s also a bit padded and slow in the middle section as Biggo hangs around Mexico becoming involved in relationships while waiting to make contact with his buyer.

But once the climactic ending begins, things get great very quickly with lots of cool plot twists and turns. Overall, I’m sure you’re going to like Devil May Care quite a bit, and I completely understand why many say it’s the strongest Wade Miller release. Recommended.

Fun Fact:

Devil May Care was the 9th novel published by the legendary Fawcett Gold Medal paperback imprint. The book never had a second life after multiple Gold Medal printings throughout the 1950s, so the Stark House reprint is a big deal. Buy a copy HERE

Friday, March 25, 2022

Paperback Warrior Primer - Nick Carter: Killmaster

The character of Nick Carter (or Nicholas Carter) was created by Ormond G. Smith and John R. Coryell in 1886. Smith was heir to the New York City publisher Street & Smith, the early catalyst for dime novels and pulp fiction as far back as 1855. Smith wanted a private-eye or detective character similar to Old Sleuth or Old Cap Collier to star in various forms of media. The first Nick Carter literary appearance began in New York Weekly, September 18, 1886, in a story called "The Old Detective's Pupil" or "The Mysterious Crime of Madison Square." The serial ran 13 total installments with the setting mostly being Victorian-Edwardian New York.  

Carter is described as 5' 4" and having bronze-skin, gray eyes, dark hair and a square jaw. The character was trained by his father, Old Sim Carter, to fight criminals, essentially becoming the opponent of global evil. He's a genius that is inhumanly strong and a master of disguise. The character was so popular with readers that Street & Smith created the Nick Carter Weekly dime novel series. These stories would later be reprinted as stand-alone titles under New Magnet Library. 

With its premier issue on October 15, 1915, the Nick Carter Weekly publication transitioned into Street & Smith's new Detective Story Magazine (just 10-cents twice a month!). The magazine ran 1,057 total issues, most of which concentrated on short crime-fiction with appearances from pulp heroes like The Shadow. The magazine's first 20 years featured covers by illustrator John A. Coughlin. In 1935, the magazine began suffering financial stress and officially stopped publishing in 1949.

Between 1924 and 1927, Street & Smith attempted a revival of the Nick Carter character in the pages of Detective Story Magazine. These stories also featured many of the same villains that Carter had faced in the prior Nick Carter Weekly publication (Dazaar the Arch-Fiend, Dr. Quartz, etc.). It seemed as if Carter's appearance in literature was over in 1927, but due to the success of The Shadow and Doc Savage, Street & Smith revived the character again. Between 1933 to 1936, the Nick Carter Detective Magazine was published. These stories introduced Carter as a more traditional hard-boiled detective. 

Beyond the page, two Nick Carter shows were featured on radio. Nick Carter, Master Detective radio show aired on Mutual Broadcasting System from 1943 to 1955. Nick Carter's son was the star of Chick Carter, Boy Detective from 1943 to 1945, followed by a film in 1946 under the title Chick Carter, Detective.

In 1908, the French film company Eclair ran a six-episode series starring Pierre Bressol as Nick Carter. Two French films were released, Nick Carter va tout casser (1964) and Nick Carter et le trefle rouge (1965). In Germany, four silent Nick Carter films were released: The Hotel in Chicago (1920), The Passenger in the Straitjacket (1922), Women Who Commit Adultry (1922), and Only One Night (1922). In the US, MGM released a trilogy of Nick Carter films: Nick Carter, Master Detective (1939), Phantom Riders (1940), and Sky Murder (1940). A television show called The Adventure of Nick Carter filmed one pilot, later released as an ABC movie.

The pulp version of Nick Carter continued in comic book form, with appearances in The Shadow, Army & Navy, and Doc Savage comics from 1940 through 1949. There was also a 1972 Italian comic strip and a Nick Carter comic book series from 1975. It lasted 12 issues and stars a character named Nick Carter that is a British soldier in WW2. However, it is not related to the Nick Carter spy series.

Little did fans know that a British secret-agent named James Bond would play a part in reviving the literary character 37 years later.

In the 1960s, Lyle Kenyon Engel began his plunge into paperback publishing. He was heir to his father's magazine publishing company, but sold that to become a publicity agent (supposedly one of his clients was the Today Show) and also a producer of children's records. To make an impact in publishing, he revived the familiar character of Nick Carter to capitalize on the 1960s spy fiction market. 

Nick Carter: Killmaster debuted in 1964 as a marketing attempt to cash-in on Ian Fleming's James Bond. The character was reinvented as a secret agent instead of a detective or private-eye. These novels were to be international adventures with a more robust approach compared to the serials, pulps and dime detective magazines. Basically, everything prior to 1964 was erased and this series was a complete reboot.

The general theme is that Nick Carter is an American secret-agent or spy working for an organization called Axe. The organization's leader is David Hawk. Axe and Hawk work closely with the American government and Hawk answers to "The Chief", presumably the U.S. President. Carter is referred to as N3 and we know there are other agents like him, also known as an N/number combination. In the first book, Run Spy Run, readers learn that Carter served in WW2 and also worked for OSS, the pre-cursor to what is now known as the CIA (like Matt Helm). Read our review of the book HERE.

One of the predominant characteristics of this version of Nick Carter is the three weapons he uses in the field. In the debut novel, it is explained that Carter took a Luger handgun from a German SS officer he killed in Munich during WW2. Carter named the gun Wilhelmina and it's included in nearly every novel. Hugo is the name for his Italian stiletto. He also carries a marble sized gas pellet that goes by the name Pierre. Carter can twist each half of the marble in separate directions and it will release a deadly toxin within 30-seconds, giving Carter enough time to flee the area. 

The Nick Carter: Killmaster series became immensely successful, running from 1964-1990 and offering 261 total novels. Each book on average sold 115,000 copies. Ironically, the series just lists Nick Carter as the author. The real authors aren't credited on the book's copyright page, a painful trademark of the series that frustrates readers, fans and collectors to no end. Engel typically split 50-50 with the authors he hired. He demanded lightning fast work, sometimes novels written in less than three weeks to meet furious deadlines. These books were released monthly, first by Avon and then later by Charter.

Notable author statistics:

- Valerie Moolman authored or co-wrote 11 novels between 1964 and 1967.

- Michael Avalone authored or co-authored 3 novels in 1964

-Manning Lee Stokes, of Richard Blade fame, wrote 18 novels

-Popular crime-fiction author Lionel White authored one Nick Carter book, the 18th installment from 1966. This was his second foray into spy fiction. He also wrote a stand-alone novel called Spykill under the name L.B. Blanco.

- Jon Messmann wrote 15 installments. Messman was a heavy contributor to action-adventure paperbacks. He was behind the popular adult western series The Trailsman along with the short-lived series titles Handyman: Jefferson Boone and The Revenger.

- George Snyder did 8 installments. He also wrote novels for the Grant Fowler series.

- Ralph Hayes authored 8 volumes in the series. He is known for his John Yard: Hunter series and Check Force among others.

- Martin Cruz Smith wrote 3 installments. Smith is primarily known for his Arkady Renko series that is still current to this day. The 1983 film Gorky Park was an adaptation of that series debut.

- Surprisingly, Chet Cunningham only wrote 1 book, # 72 Night of the Avenger, that was co-authored with Dan Streib

- Dennis Lynds authored 9 and his wife at the time, Gayle Lynds, wrote another 4. I've read one of Dennis Lynds' novels and I really enjoyed it. It was #211 Mercenary Mountain and it is reviewed HERE. Many will know Dennis Lynds as American author Michael Collins. He wrote the popular Dan Fortune series before his death in 2005.

- Saul Wernick wrote 5. Many remember him as writing the first Mack Bolan novel after Don Pendleton sold the series to Gold Eagle. 

- David Hagbert authored 25 books. He is primarily known for his CIA series starring Kirk McGarvey

- Death Merchant creator Joseph Rosenberger wrote 1.

- Jack Canon is the heaviest contributor with over 30 installments. I lost count, but I think it was 35. Not to be confused with Nelson Demille pseudonym Jack Cannon. 

- Robert Randisi authored 6 in the series. He's a respected western writer who also wrote 3 Destroyer books as well.

- Joseph Gilmore wrote 8.

- There are numerous authors that authored three or less that I haven't mentioned, but you can find a detailed list on spysandgals.com or Wikipedia.

- There is yet another Nick Carter series that ran from 2011-2019 called Project. It's written by Alex Lukeman and again features a starring character named Nick Carter that is an anti-terrorist sort of hero. Again, not related to the Nick Carter spy series.

Lyle Kenyon Engel would go on to create Book Creations in the 1970s. Ultimately, it was a cash cow and a rather unique company. Engel would create a series, imagine the story, hire authors to write it and even create book cover art. Then he sold these to various publishers. He was the paperback king and died a multi-millionaire in 1986. 

You can listen to the Paperback Warrior Podcast episode dedicated to Nick Carter HERE and the episode spotlighting Lyle Kenyon Engel HERE.