Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Wolfpack Publishing. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Wolfpack Publishing. Sort by date Show all posts

Friday, May 7, 2021

The King of Horror & Other Stories

Paperback Warrior has a thing for Stephen Mertz. That admiration comes partly from the fact that the M.I.A. Hunter novels were my first introduction to the men's action-adventure genre. Since we started this blog, we have mostly focused our reviews of Mertz's work on military and vigilante fiction like Mack Bolan, Tunnel Rats and the M.I.A. Hunter novels. Thanks to Wolfpack Publishing, a collection of Mertz's short fiction stories has been compiled under the title The King of Horror & Other Stories. This multi-faceted examination of Mertz's fast-paced style offers a blend of genre offerings that display the author's diversity.

While I enjoyed the entire collection, here are some highlights:

“Last Stand” features Blaze and Kate, a unique pair of mercenaries who are married to each other. This gritty duo travels the world, accepting contracts to guard stagecoaches, participate in various revolutions or just killing selected targets. After a long career of blood and bullets, Blaze and Kate eventually saved up enough to retire to Mexico. When the story begins, they are both attempting to cross the border, but are ambushed by Native Americans. Through 11 action-oriented pages, the two of them attempt to shoot their way out only to be plagued by wave after wave of warriors. It's really a last stand for Blaze and Kate as Mertz places these characters in an extreme position to test their love for each other. This is an effective story that shows the powerful force of love through overwhelming adversity.

Like “Last Stand”, the Vietnam War story “Fragged” again showcases Mertz's interesting outlook on marriage and the ties that bind. “Fragged” features Cord McCall, an investigator working for the U.S. Criminal Investigation Division in Saigon. McCall investigates homicide, desertion, robbery and other crimes committed within military ranks. Interestingly, McCall's wife is also in Vietnam as a war reporter. The two find themselves in Firebase Tiger, a military installation where McCall is responsible for a homicide investigation. A lieutenant-colonel in the 13th Infantry Battalion was killed by a hand grenade in his own barracks. It is up to McCall to determine if this is an enemy penetration or if someone within the battalion committed the murder. It is a great return to the golden age of the mysteries of the locked chamber – which, why, where, how. Also, there is Mertz's signature of sandbags, guts and bloody warfare. These two characters also appear in another included story called “Chez Erotique” as well as Mertz's novel Saigon Homicide.

Mertz says that “Talon's Gift” is the nastiest story he has ever written. It's not so much nasty as it is violently shocking. The narrative features a suburban couple named Talon and Evie. When Evie departs to the movie theater, Talon begins to spin the cylinder of his .38 while explaining to readers (and himself) that Evie has been unfaithful. There's some backstory on the neighborhood and the couple's neighbor Pete. The most intriguing part for me was Talon's profession. I won't spoil the fun for you. It's an enjoyable read. 

The book's centerpiece is “The King of Horror”, a short-story that Mertz penned about his friend and longtime author Michael Avallone (1924-1999). In many ways the main character, established horror author Rigley Balbo, is Avallone. Mertz's line, “A man who was cheated and pushed aside by these grubby, Johnny-come-lately punks and their million-dollar contracts and their New York Times bestsellers”, perfectly describes the peaks and valleys of Avallone's career. In first person narration, Balbo explains that he was an A-lister early in his career before the publishing market dried up. Crummy distribution, poor advances and strangled sales have plagued Balbo's career for a decade. Needless to say, Balbo's household name tarnished along with the relationship with his publishing agent. Like one of those old Alfred Hitchcock stories, Balbo has a plan to get even with his agent, a grand scheme that will vengefully heal his heart and mind. However, Mertz pitches a wicked curveball to delightfully wreck Balbo's plan. I loved this story and it's one of those rare “industry insider” stories that jerks the curtain on the hectic and turbulent publishing world.

There are so many great stories in this collection, from Mertz's tribute to the pulps with “The Lizard Men of Blood River” to the slick and violent “The Death Blues”. The compilation showcases all of Mertz's skill and passion - violent storytelling with a powerful sense of love, loss and regret. It was a real treat to find Mertz submerged in many different genres and styles. King of Horror & Other Stories is a real showpiece of skill and craftsmanship. If you've never stepped out of Mertz's Mack Bolan world, this is your certified encouragement to delve into this author's deep literary catalog. It's a dive worth taking.

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Monday, January 17, 2022

The University #01 - Sympathy for the Devil

Sympathy for the Devil is the first in the series of espionage novels by contemporary New York author Terrence McCauley. The novel was originally released in 2015 but has found new life as the inaugural release by Wolfpack Publishing’s newly-acquired imprint Rough Edges Press.

The novel stars spy James Hicks (not his real name). He’s employed by an odd organization informally known as The University. It was created by an executive order during the Eisenhower Administration to operate outside the official intelligence community to protect the USA without federal (or ethical) oversight or funding.

The University gains its power through the recruitment of high-value “Assets” — people with secrets to hide that the agency blackmails into providing expertise, information and resources. Hicks recruits these reluctant assets with information gleaned from The University’s futuristic data analytics computer called OMNI. More on that later.

The day-to-day work of The University is to embed its agents inside suspected terrorist groups with the hopes of preventing acts of terror before they happen. Hicks runs The University’s New York office and oversees these operations. For this series debut, Hicks is dealing with a group of radical Islamic Somalis operating out of a Long Island taxi stand. Somehow the Somalis figured out that they were under investigation, and they stage an ambush targeting Hicks and killing a well-placed undercover operative.

There’s a lot of world-building to give the reader a feel for the intel environment in which The University operates. Nearly the entire first half of the novel is Hicks setting the stage, recruiting help and gathering resources for the mission at-hand. In the novel’s second half, Hicks employs technology, informants, enhanced interrogation and gunplay to investigate the bad actors behind the Somali cell.

My biggest criticism is the author's over-reliance on the agency’s OMNI computer system. The system is all-knowing, all-seeing and completely unrealistic — much like the one in the 1998 Tony Scott film Enemy of the State. The problem is that this trope robs the main characters of problem-solving within the plot. A digital, crystal ball like OMNI takes the story out of the world of hardboiled gritty realism and into the realm of paranoid sci-fi. The computer system also relegates Hicks to the sidelines and in front of a computer screen for much of the novel.

Despite these structural flaws, I mostly enjoyed riding along with Hicks on this adventure. The author is at his best when writing scenes filled with violent action, and there are several of these peppered throughout the paperback - mostly toward the end. When he leaves his laptop behind, Hicks is a great hero and the author is a fine writer.

While I didn’t love Sympathy for the Devil, I’m intrigued enough by the character and the agency to continue with the series. McCauley can write his ass off when he allows his action characters to do action stuff. Mostly, I trust the editorial hand of Wolfpack Press to shepherd this series in the right direction. For that reason, I’ll probably be back for more. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Fey Croaker: A Paperback Warrior Primer

Author Paul Bishop is a 35-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. Receiving “Detective of the Year” accolades twice, Bishop starred as the lead interrogator on the ABC reality show “Take the Money and Run” developed by marquee name producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Along with his 15 published works, Bishop also is the writer and editor of the essential reference work “52 Weeks 52 Western Novels – A Guide to Six-Gun Favorites and New Discoveries”.

With his commendable career in law enforcement, Bishop writes with conviction and authenticity. His experiences are easily conveyed in his artistry, evident in his five-book literary series starring LAPD Detective Fey Croaker. The first novel, “Kill Me Again”, was published by Avon Books in 1994. It introduces us to the seasoned Fey, a West LA detective and supervisor of the homicide unit. It was the top detective spot in the division and she's the first woman to hold the job.

Bishop explains, “I based Fey in part on two of my long term, very experienced, female detective partners. Walk into any LAPD detective squadroom and you'll find one or more versions of Fey. She's got some hard earned miles on her. She street savvy. She knows how to fight dirty, not just politically, but physically, and is more than willing to kick your ass if you take her on. She's forty with a string of bad marriages, bad choices, and bad boooze behind her. She expects and demands a lot of her people, but in return she is loyal to a fault and will fight like a tiger for them. Basically, she's about as far from a twenty-something, hard-bodied, high heel wearing, female TV detective as you can get”.

Just shy of 300-pages, “Kill Me Again” is a riveting mystery procedural that has plenty to unpack in terms of the central character. While Bishop expands the murder case, he slowly allows readers a more intimate view of this rather complex character. From her early career rise, tumultuous love-life and murky childhood, there's a lot to offer beyond a stand-alone story.

Bishop, detailing the character's beginnings, explains, “By the time I was ready to write Kill Me Again, I already had a handful of novels published. Two were connected, but the others were all stand-alones. Career wise, I felt I needed a series character strong enough to carry at least four books. In creating Fey Croaker, the protagonist of Kill Me Again, I plotted out a four book personal story arc for her. I knew exactly what position I wanted her to be in personally at the end of each of the first three books, forcing her to deal with everything that had come before in book four. Each of the four books would have a standalone plot, but there would be a through story dealing with Fey's abusive upbringing, which would come full circle and to resolution in book four”.

Beginning with “Kill Me Again”, Fey's relationship with her father is shown as a key role in her development as a detective, rising through the promotions after 16-years in the unit. As a sexually molested child, the novel provides brief passages explaining Fey's protection of her brother and her abuse from both her father and family friend. It's a prickly family tree, cultivated by sorrow and regret, and written with a grainy sense of realism.

“At the time, I was also working full throttle in my career with the LAPD. As a detective, I spent almost all my career, 30 out of 35 years, investigating sex crimes from indecent exposure to child molest to rape to sexual homicide and everything in between. I was always aware of how victims processed the assault emotionally. There were those whom it destroyed, and others who were never able to break the cycle of victimhood. But I was fascinated by those who flat refused to be defined by something beyond their control. They were determined not to just be survivors of sexual assault, but victors over it. They struggled and they fought and they failed and they picked themselves up again. I admired these incredible individuals, and this was what I wanted to exemplify through Fey Croaker”, explains Bishop.

“Fey is a high functioning detective, but a low functioning human. She is aware of this and ferociously fights those emotional forces that have threatened to cripple her since she was a child...As the omnipotent author, I was going to give her a chance at redemption if she could lead me there over four books.”

“Kill Me Again” received a sequel in “Twice Dead”, published in 1996 by Avon. Following the mystery-procedural formula, the novel centers around an NBA athlete charged with murder. Later, the book was later re-titled as “Grave Sins”. In 1997 the third novel, “Tequila Mockingbird” was published by Scribner in hardback and by Pocket Books in paperback. The same publishers produced the series' fourth entry, “Chalk Whispers,” in 2000. A 68-page novella was released in 2014 entitled “Pattern of Behavior", which was also included in Bishop's short story compilation of the same name. All of the books have been republished in digital formats, including Kindle, by Wolfpack Publishing.

Bishop concludes, “The greatest compliment I've received as an author is when either female law enforcement personnel or individuals who have been through the ringer of sexual assault approach me at a writing function, sometimes with tears in their eyes, and ask, 'How do you know this?' 'How do you know what it's like to be a woman on this job?' Or in the case of one woman, 'How do you understand what it feels like to be a child of the silence?' My answer is always the same, "Fey told me..."

Fey Croaker Purchase Checklist

1. "Kill Me Again" (1994 Avon)
2. "Twice Dead" (aka "Grave Sins" 1996 Avon) 
3. "Tequila Mockingbird" (1997 Scribner/Pocket Books)
4. "Chalk Whispers" (2000 Scribner/Pocket Books)
5. "Pattern of Behavior" (2014 Wolfpack)

Wednesday, March 23, 2022


Horror author Ronald Malfi seems to have made his way into the mainstream. I recently found a copy of his haunted house novel Little Girls sitting on an end cap at Target. I remember singing the author's praises in the 2000s and I'm happy his literary career is beginning to take off. In the early days, Malfi was published by the likes of Dark Fuse and Samhain Publishing. I had been saving Borealis for a rainy day. It's an 80ish page novella originally published in 2009 by Samhain and the weatherman says we are in for a storm. The time has come.

The book begins with a man named Bodine urgently driving a young girl to a rundown Las Vegas motel. Immediately, something is amiss with this bizarre child. She tells Bodine she doesn't have a name and doesn't have any parents. She's giddy, mischievous, and just downright scary. Shockingly, Bodine retrieves a handgun from his waistband with the intention of murdering the girl. The scene then transforms into the morning after with the town's sheriff finding Bodine's brains on the bathroom wall in an apparent suicide. The girl is gone and that was twelve years ago.

Present day, protagonist Charlie Mears is smelling the diesel fumes of a fishing trawler. He's been on board the Borealis for seven days pulling cages of crabs from the seabed. It's a hard blue-collar life made even harder by the harsh landscape. The crew is in the icy Bering Sea, hundreds of miles from the coasts of Alaska. After a long day of trawling, Charlie looks out into the glaciers and spots a young naked woman running on the ice. The crew stops to make the rescue.

On board, fed, warmed, and clothed, the crew provides her the Captain's quarters. But one crew member says something isn't right about her, that he has a bad feeling in her presence. When they ask the woman what her name is, she coldly explains she doesn't have one. She also can't explain where she came from. When one of the crewmen is found dead, the story takes a darker turn. Who is this woman? Or, better yet, what is this thing?

I've always loved cold weather stories that include nautical adventure or survival. That also includes atmospheric horror novels or movies set in frosty locations. As a fan of John Carpenter's film The Thing (based on a movie that was based on a short story), I found that Malfi's storytelling skills possess that same tone – the isolation, cold fear, and survival element. This little girl – young woman -  is just so damn creepy and it gave me chills when she tells Charlie things about his life that she has no way of knowing. The story also reminded me of Stephen King's great screenplay Storm of the Century. Malfi's escalating tension into total panic works on so many levels. It's visceral violence, psychological horror, and haunting suspense all aboard a stationary broken boat. The perfect nightmare.

I wish Borealis was still available for purchase. At the time of this review, the novella remains out of print. Wolfpack Publishing, Brash Books, Stark's your chance! This story deserves an audience.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Levon Cade #01 - Levon's Trade

Chuck Dixon is a famous comic book writer whose work on Marvel’s Punisher series is regarded as a masterwork of the medium. Since then, he has been writing novels, including a popular vigilante series starring Levon Cade. The series debut from 2014, Levon’s Trade, has recently been reprinted by Wolfpack Publishing. 

The novel opens in a depressed Huntsville, Alabama. Levon Cade is lucky to have a gig as a graveyard shift security guard on a construction site. The novel wastes no time establishing that Levon is a no-joke badass as he disarms and dispatches two thugs shaking down a Guatemalan laborer at the site. 

We learn that Levon is a man with a particular set of skills learned during his shadowy time in the military. Joe Bob is Levon’s boss who does some homework and figures out that there’s more to his security guard than meets the eye. Joe Bob’s daughter is a college student in Tampa who has gone missing, and he hires Levon to find her. Levon’s got his own troubles involving an expensive custody battle over his daughter. Bottom line: he needs the money, and accepts the gig. 

Levon travels to Florida to investigate, and the reader is given further glimpses into our hero’s character and capabilities. He’s a quiet and stoic badass with an almost supernatural ability to appear, disappear, and fight - like a ninja in blue jeans. As he gets closer to the truth and his Russian prison gang adversaries come into greater focus, the author avoids the temptation of delivering a cartoonish or over-the-top action story, instead opting for gritty realism. 

Anyone who has ever read a Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child and wished it was written with the lean economy of a 200-page paperback from the 1970s will be very pleased with Levon’s Trade. Dixon writes in extremely short, punchy chapters with no irrelevant diversions. The characters are developed through their actions, not through the pages of introspective thought and inner monologues. Levon Cade is a Pinnacle Books action hero for the 21st Century. 

There appears to be nine books thus far in the Levon Cade series - all offered at affordable prices with attractive covers. If the other books maintain the same level of pace and quality as this debut, it may be the best contemporary men’s adventure series on the market. As large publishing houses demand bloated 400-page novels to sell at Walmart and airport magazine shops, it’s a breath of fresh air to read a series that remembers what made the genre great. Chuck Dixon is the real deal, and Levon Cade is the modern hero we deserve.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Pro #01 - The $3-Million Turn-Over

Richard Curtis was a successful literary agent and author who wrote nearly fifty works of fiction and nonfiction. In 1974, Curtis authored The $3-Million Turn-Over, the debut of a four-book series starring sports agent Dave Bolt. Like the “newshound heroes” of the mid-20th Century, the idea of an amateur solving crimes and murder mysteries works like a quasi private-detective novel. Wolfpack Publishing has just reprinted The $3-Million Turn-Over for modern readers.

In the series debut, readers learn about series star Bolt through a few dialogue sequences scattered throughout the book. He was born in Texas, excelled at collegiate sports, served a stint in the Army and then became a successful wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. Other than being very athletic, Curtis wisely chooses not to validate Bolt as stereotypical 1970s action hero. The Pro is a mystery series with some action sprinkled in to lure prospective shoppers. After a horrific ankle injury ends his career, Bolt engages in a two-year swim in the bottle before rehabilitating and finding work in the Cowboys front office. This eventually leads to a sports agency deal that now finds Bolt representing a number of clients across all major sports.

Bolt's office is in NYC, a rather busy place that's kept in order by sexy secretary Trish. As the novel opens, Bolt receives a call from the father of a top basketball recruit. IL star athlete Richie Sadler wants to discuss contracts with Bolt. It's this early portion of the book that really caters to basketball fans. In 1974, when this book was published, the NBA and ABA were two separate leagues. The two competed with each other for fans, TV rights and endorsement deals. Bolt, along with Richie's family, has an interesting discussion about the two possibly merging and teams like the Nets eventually becoming NBA properties. All of this is marvelous to read considering the merger actually came to fruition two years later.

While all this is insightful and engaging as a sports read, readers want crime. As a precursor to the heist, Bolt begins contract negotiations on behalf of Sadler. The asking price is a lofty three-million for two years (preposterous in 1974) but it's done for a reason. This price is important because soon the Sadlers receive a ransom call demanding three-million in cash or Richie dies. Afraid to risk the FBI's help (the first place I would have turned to personally), Bolt and Richie's sister Sondra tangle in the sheets and streets trying to locate Richie's whereabouts. The book has Bolt combing NYC, Harlem and the city's outskirts while the ABA commissioner puts together the needed funds.

The Pro reads like Robert B. Parker's Spenser in that it is loosely a PI series with northeastern ties. Further, Bolt displays some of the same characteristics that make Spenser engaging – sports car, humor, drinking, sex. Arguably, those traits are found with most detectives in fiction, but I found incredible similarities. These novels also work as a sort of precursor to Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar series of mysteries starring a former basketball star turned sports agent and “accidental detective.” The author even thanks Richard Curtis in the acknowledgment page of the series debut Deal Breaker (1995).

The Pro series would later focus on hockey, baseball and football – America's most popular sports. Curtis also wrote at least one other sports related novel, a stand-alone called The Sunday Alibi which was published under the pseudonym Ray Lilly.

Buy a copy of The $3-Million Turnover HERE

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Blood Red Sun

Stephen Mertz cut his teeth writing hard-nosed action-adventure fiction set in Don Pendleton's Mack Bolan literary universe. In the 1980s, while penning some of the very best Executioner novels, Mertz expanded the scope of his writing by elevating genre fiction into a much broader scale. That successful experiment was Blood Red Sun, a novel first published in 1989 by independent publisher Diamond Books, a company funded by The Destroyer author Warren Murphy. The book was later reprinted by Crossroad Press in 2012, and is now available in a sleek, revised new edition from Wolfpack Publishing.

Unlike many WWII military-fiction novels, Blood Red Sun is unique in its premise and timeline. The narrative takes place in September, 1945, after Japan's formal surrender to the Allied forces following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The book's protagonist is savvy Sergeant John Ballard, a thirty-five year-old fighting man who has spent the majority of the war engaged in combat in the Pacific Theater. What's left of his unit is ultimately just two men, Tex Hanklin and Wilbur Mischkie, both of which play important roles in Ballard's next assignment – preventing the assassination of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur.

In the book, Japan's surrender leads to a fragmented state of affairs for the country's military leadership. Within the ranks of the upper echelon, conspirators exist to prevent Japan's formal surrender to MacArthur. These conspirators refuse to accept defeat and feel that Japan's Emperor, Hirohito, is doing an injustice and disservice to the proud Japanese people. The schemers, all defined as opposing forces of Hirohito, are secretly building their own alliances to counter each other. It's essentially a den of snakes that also involves a proud Japanese flying Ace named Baron Tamura. The Baron's portion of the narrative involves his niece Keiko, a twenty-four year-old woman sympathetic to the Allied force initiative. Keiko also plays a prominent role as a potential love interest for Ballard. 

As a fan of Stephen Mertz's pulpy writing style, and his masterful grip on men's action-adventure writing, I was savoring the opportunity to read Blood Red Sun. Mertz draws on his prior experiences and strengths to create the story. As a fan of his M.I.A. Hunter series, I could see some similarities. 

The characters Ballard, Hanklin, and Mischkie reminded me of M.I.A. Hunter trio of Stone, Wiley, and Loughlin. Like a great M.I.A. Hunter novel, the same type of setup presents itself here when Ballard's team enters the Japanese jungle to retrieve a military leader. They rely on a small band of Filipino guerrillas to help them with the mission. This same sort of scenario was often used as Stone's team entered Asian jungles with an assist from Laos, Cambodian, or “South Vietnamese” guerrillas. Mertz even introduces ninjas into the story, an element that M.I.A. Hunter co-writer Joe Lansdale seemed to fixate on, shown in the series' fourth installment, Mountain Massacre. Additionally, the characteristics of Tex Hanklin was similar to Stone's Texan teammate Hog Wiley. 

These similarities to other Mertz creations doesn't make Blood Red Sun unoriginal or any less enjoyable. Quite the contrary. In fact, it illustrates how Mertz is cohesive and continuous, using his strengths and experiences as a genre storyteller to broaden the narrative. In fact, this is Mertz's most ambitious novel as it incorporates a lot of fine details surrounding WWII, the political landscape of Japan and the U.S. during that era, and famous, historical figures that are featured as characters in the story. Mertz takes some liberty with these characters, but left me feeling as though what he presented in terms of command, dialogue, and behavior, was probably art imitating real life.

In terms of action-adventure, Blood Red Sun has it all. The white-knuckled scenes of Ballard storming a landing strip with all guns blazin' was ripped right out of the pages of a vibrant Men's Action-Adventure Magazine. Mertz's descriptions of walls descending in bullet-hail, prison breaks, Kamikaze dives, ninja attacks and jungle warfare are balanced well with the political, backroom brawling conducted by various Japanese and American military leaders. 

Mertz's novels like Blood Red Sun are positioned on a grander international scale like The Castro Directive (Cuba) and The Korean Intercept (Asia), but still possess the men's action-adventure tropes that make the books way more enjoyable than a bestselling Tom Clancy ghostwritten tech-thriller. Mertz's literary mojo is authentic, extremely enjoyable, and saturated with human emotion that easily conveys to his readers. Blood Red Sun is a scorching red-hot read and I highly recommend it. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Concho #01 - The Ranger

According to Wikipedia, Charles Gramlich teaches psychology at Xavier University. Born in 1958, Gramlich grew up in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. His first published novels were in the late 1990s, with his influences ranging from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Louis L'Amour. Gramlich has authored fantasy titles like Swords of Talera and Wings Over Telera. In addition to writing in genres like sci-fi, mystery, and romance, Gramlich used Wolfpack Publishing's house name A.W. Hart to author an ongoing modern western series called Concho. My first experience with the author and the series is the debut, The Ranger.

The series stars Concho Ten-Wolves, a 6'-4” former Army Ranger that now works the Rio Grande border as a Texas Ranger. His heritage is African-American and Kickapoo Native-American. He lives on the Kickapoo reservation and has an on again, off again relationship with a woman named Maria. His uncle Meskwaa is the stereotypical funny guy and there's also a rat snake named Maggie.

As the novel begins, Concho receives a call for law-enforcement assistance at the local shopping mall. Inside, members of a terrorist group called The Aryan Brotherhood have executed five people and taken numerous hostages. With no back-up force, Concho takes his two handguns, a 30-06 rifle and a bow and arrow into the mall to make the save. In an exciting battle, Concho kills a number of terrorists with random weapons and ultimately becomes the hero.

After a verbal beat-down, Concho is relieved of his duty for a week, but not suspended. But, he is retained by the local sheriff's office when two bodies are discovered. One of the men is the Chief of the Tribal Police and the other has a distant relationship with Concho. Through flashbacks, readers gain an introspective understanding of Concho's upbringing, his military service, and glimpses of a failed relationship with his biological father. These elements help define the character and make for an interesting “open-book” concept that should propel the series. 

Concho's investigation into the two deaths leads him into conflict with the reservation, the casino's criminal network, and ties to a Native-American gang called The Bloods. The murder mystery leads into some deadly territory where Concho finds himself a target. After surviving house fires, car accidents, and flying bullets, the Texas Ranger finds himself forced to solve the crime or literally die trying. 

The Ranger is laced with over-the-top, unbelievable action sequences that should cater to fans of 80s action films. You have to suspend your disbelief and just accept that this fictional hero can accomplish anything. His NFL linebacker frame adds credence to the fact that he can receive, and dish out, physical punishment. In some ways, the book reads like a Dirty Harry paperback by Leslie Alan Horvitz and Ric Meyers (house name Dane Hartman). The hero rides tall, shoots straight, and speaks the truth – a modern day cowboy trapped in the present. 

As a series opener, there's plenty of potential to make this character a little more dynamic or, even fragile. If you like contemporary westerns, then Concho may be your next read. 


1. The Ranger
2. Hot, Blue, and Righteous
3. Path of Evil
4. Crescent City Blues

Friday, June 3, 2022

Cody's War #01 - Dragonfire!

Between 1982 and 1986, Stephen Mertz authored a number of gritty Mack Bolan installments that are considered some of the best of the series. He also created and authored installments of the M.I.A. Hunter series as well as the Kilroy mysteries and music-based novels like Hank and Muddy and Jimi After Dark. Recently, he launched a brand new action-adventure title called Cody's War. I'm always up for a rip-roaring, Mertz mule-kicker, so I chose to read the series debut, Dragonfire!. It's out now through Wolfpack Publishing.

Readers learn through backstory that CIA Agent Jack Cody experienced a personal tragedy when his family was killed by a terrorist bomb. Now, Cody seeks out the most perilous jobs in a quest to kill himself in the line of duty. Thus, his unconventional methods have earned him the nickname “Suicide Cody”.

In the book's opening chapters, Mertz introduces readers to his newest paperback warrior by placing Cody on a small, U.S. submarine en route to the Ocean Song, a recreational yacht containing a wanted Islamic terrorist named Hadi Abu. As Cody emerges from the tiny craft, there is a prophetic message in one simple line of text: “Cody lifted himself through the hatch, into the storm.” It kicks off the novel, the character's mission, this series debut, and puts readers in the harness seat as the author thrusts readers into the action.

On the Ocean Song, Cody disposes of the baddies, captures a valuable female accomplice, and faces off with one of the early Final Bosses. Abu, refusing to go quietly into submission, gets the 'ole one-two punch - a shotgun amputation and decapitation. Cody then thrusts the captive over his shoulder to ascend a swinging ladder to a helicopter spewing out M60 rounds into the Ocean Song's violent, but foolish crew. Wham! Bam! Thank you Uncle Sam.

After the fast-paced opening scene, Dragonfire! settles into a brisk pace as the next mission unfolds. A Chinese scientist is attempting to defect to America and is receiving assistance from a covert CIA agent. As one can imagine, the defection requires stealth support from resistance cells within Red China, an underground pathway that has already smuggled out the scientist's wife. This resistance cell, oddly enough, is backed by the Triad, China's version of the Mob. 

The exchange is set that will place the scientist on a road to freedom. However, when the final deal goes down, the CIA man is killed and the scientist is taken captive by a Major Zhao. It turns out, Zhao is working on a coup attempt from within the Chinese military. He will use Dragonfire, the scientist's deadly weapon, to shift the momentum and overthrow the Chinese government in a quest for world dominance. It's a pulp-fiction “take over the world with the biggest bomb” strategy that isn't far removed from an Ian Fleming (James Bond) or Michael Avallone (Nick Carter, Ed Noon) styled plot. 

U.S. President Harwood informs his close cabinet that Cody is The President's Man and has been for the three predecessors before him. Harwood elaborates, “He's as well-known in this office as he's unknown to the general public.” So, Harwood gives the orders to Cody's CIA controller and possible love interest, Sara Durell (an obvious ode to Mertz's favorite spy hero in Sam Durell). She meets with Cody, provides the rundown, and hooks him up with an embassy handler named Beth in Hong Kong. The mission is to locate the scientist while investigating the disappearances of an American fighter-jet and submarine, which readers already know were targeted, zapped, fried, and vaporized by Dragonfire. Cody's ultimate goal is to prevent Earth from falling under the bombastic spell of an even viler Chinese dictator.

Needless to say, Mertz is in full rock 'n roll mode with Cody's War. Dragonfire!, while being a modern, sophisticated shoot 'em up, is a throwback to the two-fisted, barrel-chested, bullet-belted heroes of the 1970s through the 1990s. Cody isn't completely exposed in this book, leaving a lot of his past in the dark. But, I love the madness to his motive and the idea that he is longing for his own death while fighting to save the lives of others. There's very little humor (if any) as Cody drills down to the bone marrow to find and eliminate targets. This keeps the book on the rails and moving towards a destination. Readers know the stops. I also love literary-longevity. Mertz has created a durable series hero that he can simply drop into the endless abundance of current Earthly war-zones. Plus, there's the whole “Sara 'n Cody” romance that can build up over time. 

In the introduction to Conan of the Isles, L. Sprague de Camp wrote about a lecture he attended on writers. I think this sort of sentiment describes talented authors like Stephen Mertz:

“A lecturer lately has said that, if a fiction writer wants sales, he should write exclusively either about politics or sex. A novel like The President's Boyfriend ought to be a lead-pipe cinch. There are still, however, many readers who read, not to be enlightened, improved, uplifted, reformed, baffled by the writer's obscurity, amazed by his cleverness, nauseated by his scatology, or reduced to tears by the plight of some mistreated person, class, or caste, but to be entertained.”

Whether he's throwing rounds downrange with a literary creation or blowin' the blues harp in a smoky dive, Mertz is an entertainer. With his newest fictional hero, this remarkable scribe ventures down another pathway to offer up another enjoyable, rock-solid good guy during a time when humanity needs more good guys. Jack Cody is that guy.

Cody's War Checklist

1 Dragonfire!
2 Camp David Has Fallen!
3 The Fires of Allah
4 Day of Reckoning
5 The Last Refuge
6 Cody's Return
7 Lethal Assault
8 Final Strike
9 Afghanistan Payback
10 Hellfire in Syria 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, January 20, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 44

On Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 44, we plunge into the life and career of crime fiction author Ed Lacy with lots of reviews and revelations. We’ll also check in with Wolfpack Publishing and a special review of Protector #1 by Rich Rainey. Listen on any podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 44 - Ed Lacy" on Spreaker.