Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Naked and the Deadly: Lawrence Block in Men's Adventure Magazines

The good people at The Men’s Adventure Library have compiled a collection of short stories and articles by Lawrence Block originally printed in Men’s Adventure Magazines. The collection is called The Naked and the Deadly, and it collects his magazine writings between 1958 and 1968. The mass-market paperback edition has a dozen stories, and the hardcover adds color art, explanatory materials and a bonus story from 1974. 

The introduction by Block explains how these articles and stories came to be. While working at the Scott Meredith agency, men’s publications would regularly call and say, “I need a 2,500-word article about a guy who survives a shipwreck,” and Block would make it happen. Trust me, it’s better when Block explains it. Bottom line: Don’t skip the intro.

Some of the stories included will be familiar to long-time Blockheads. “Great Istanbul Land Grab” and “Bring on the Girls” are extracts from existing Block novels starring his sleepless adventurer Evan Tanner. There are also three novellas starring his private detective Ed London previously reprinted in Block’s collection, One Night Stands and Lost Weekends. Puzzlingly, the book also includes a story attributed to Block’s pseudonym Sheldon Lord called “Queen of the Clipper Ships” that the author claims he didn’t write. Honestly, I don’t know why it was included in a Lawrence Block story collection at all.

Reviews of story compilations can be ponderous, so I sampled four selections for commentary:

“The Greatest Ship Disaster in American History” (Real Men, April 1958)

This is an article about an actual steamship called The General Slocum in 1904 that sailed from NYC on the East River with passengers destined for a church picnic downstream. Poor judgement results in an onboard fire that ended 1,000 passenger lives. It was a real disaster that Block brings alive in his pseudo-historical account

Block leans into his amplified version of events vividly underscoring descriptions of the burning flesh of the children on board. It’s a vivid nightmare of how human negligence can lead to mass casualties.

“She Doesn’t Want You” (Real Men, June 1958)

This is an allegedly non-fiction journalistic article about the inner-workings of the call-girl trade with the big revelation that a lot of these prostitutes are just doing it for the money and are secretly lesbians.

These faux investigative journalism pieces are hilarious in hindsight. Included are fake interviews with hookers who were perfectly straight before “the life” made them hate men and go lesbo. Block is a fun tour-guide for this silly expose that was probably pretty shocking at the time. Now it’s just funny.

“Killers All Around Me” (All Man, September 1961)

A staple of Men’s Adventure Magazines was the completely-fabricated first-person account of an experience that the magazine falsely claims is an authentic story. In this one, Block poses as C.C. Jones, allegedly telling the story of his job in the violent ward of an insane asylum.

He describes some of the crimes that landed the patients in the ward in graphic, grisly detail. He also describes the physical attacks he’s forced to ensure from the lunatics in the hospital. As always, it’s a well-written fake-expose from the author.

“Just Window Shopping” (Man’s Magazine, December 1962)

This is a straight-up fiction short story previously reprinted in One Night Stands and Lost Weekends about a Peeping Tom who likes to watch the ladies undress through their windows.

One night, he’s watching the hottest chick ever and she catches him. The reception he receives is quite unexpected. This is a nasty little story in line with the kind of stuff we used to see in Manhunt Magazine. Nothing fancy, but a sexy bit of noir worth reading.


Paperback Warrior Assessment:

Hardcore fans of Lawrence Block will enjoy this collection of his obscure oddities. It’s worth the purchase for the Ed London stories alone, if you don’t have them elsewhere. The faux journalism articles written by Block are plenty entertaining, but shouldn’t be conflated with his short mystery works.

If you’re a student of Men’s Adventure Magazine history and want the visceral experience of looking at the vivid art accompanying these articles and stories, go ahead and spring for the hardcover. The art extras and magazine commentary from the editors are a fascinating look back at this niche publishing phenomenon.

Overall, this collection from a mystery grandmaster is an easy recommendation. If you’re on the fence, take the plunge. 

To get a copy of this book, click HERE.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Beardless Warriors, The

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Friday, May 26, 2023

Six Days of the Condor

James Grady wrote Six Days of the Condor when he was 21 years-old and sold it to a publisher in 1974. Thereafter, it was adapted into the film Three Days of the Condor (Confession: Haven’t seen it) in 1975, and the book has remained popular ever since.

Ronald Malcolm is a CIA researcher in a boring desk-jockey job with an insanely-stupid purpose (it’s too embarrassing to recount here) in a Washington, DC undercover off-site. One day while picking up lunch, he returns to his office and finds that all of his co-workers have been slaughtered. It was only dumb luck that the assassins failed to hit Malcolm, whose code-name is Condor. Now, Malcolm is on-the-run in DC trying to get to safety and into the arms of the CIA Good Guys.

Grady writes the novel in a fun “third-person with a personality” voice borrowed straight from Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels. It’s an omniscient narrator with a distinctive voice who goes on tangents to give background and context to events that occurs. This fuels a really enjoyable read.

As the novel opens, Malcolm is a pretty inept operative — completely unlike James Bond, Jason Bourne or Nick Carter. He’s a bookish fellow unsuited to real fieldwork, but he’s also a rebel and iconoclast among his office peers. These instincts play into his favor during the novel’s extended cat-and-mouse game with the assassins. He takes to killing quite well as the story unfolds.

The author certainly knows how to write a bloody and violent action scene, and there are plenty to enjoy here. The novel is fast moving and exciting. However, the solution to the central mystery of the mass-killing at the CIA off-site left me cold. There were some logical fallacies large enough to drive a bus through in the bad guys’ rationale.

Overall, this is an enjoyable paperback and certainly worth reading. 21st-century reprints contain an interesting introduction by the author discussing how the book came to be and its societal impact following the hit movie. The book also spawned several sequels, including one short story collection starring the hero. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Nolan #03 - Fly Paper

Max Allan CollinsNolan series is his pastiche of Richard Stark’s Parker series. The third novel in the chronology was Fly Paper written in 1973 but not published until 1981. The book has recently been repackaged by Hard Case Crime in a twofer marketed as Double Down.

For the uninitiated, Nolan is a hard-nosed thief who makes a living pulling heists that inevitably run into problems. Much of this book’s focus is on Jon, Nolan’s comic book collecting sidekick. The action kicks off with a colleague named Breen, who has a good thing going with a parking meter rip-off scam. Breen was working the coin theft organized by the redneck Comfort family before those hillbillies shot and double-crossed Breen landing him squarely in Nolan and Jon’s orbit.

This leads to a plan to rip off the Comfort family in a heist-the-heisters kinda deal. The action moves from Iowa to Detroit in the shadow of a large comic book convention. The heist itself is really a side-dish in the paperback with the main course being the commercial airline getaway that is interrupted by a skyjacking.

Between 1961 and 1972, there were 159 skyjackings in American airspace with the majority between 1968 and 1972. It was a vexing criminal social contagion without a clear solution - similar to the problem America currently faces with mass shootings. Collins draws upon this phenomenon as the backdrop of Fly Paper when a married guy plans a D.B. Cooper style airplane heist with a parachute getaway.

When Nolan and Jon are coincidentally on the plane as the dude takes control of the jet, the plotting and action soar. These are the best scenes in a book I’ve read in ages. The creativity at work with the dilemma facing Nolan and Jon sets Fly Paper apart from other heist novels of the paperback original era.

Fly Paper is also unquestionably the best of the first three Nolan novels. The inclusion of Jon as a sidekick gives the book its own identity rather than just being a cover song from a Richard Stark Tribute Band. The skyjacking storyline was brilliant, and everything about his slim paperback leaves the reader wanting more. Highest recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Secret of Mallet Castle

The Secret of Mallet Castle was originally published with a horrific juvenile cover by Arcadia House in 1966 under William Ross's popular pseudonym Clarissa Ross. I can't bring myself to even show you that artwork here, so you'll need to check it out on your own. The book was later published by Manor in 1977 with a more traditional gothic cover under the name Dan Ross. In the middle of these publications was a McFadden-Bartell with perhaps the best cover, that was published in 1967 under the name Dan Ross. This version was also used by Paperback Classics for their 2023 audio edition (available on CD and Audible) narrated by Romy Nordlinger. 

Eve Grant is a scrub nurse working at a hospital in Ohio. She receives a strange message from a law firm indicating that an uncle she never knew of has left her an immense fortune in his will. For the record, I will inherit debts from every family member I know and don't know. These things only happen to cute paperback nurses, teachers, and nannies. The deal is that she will inherit the fortune and a large castle that was carefully constructed in Cape Cod. Her uncle is terminally ill and near death, but the law firm would like Eve to go to the castle at once to meet the man before he dies. 

Ross does a great job of characterization by having Eve hesitant to inherit the fortune, instead wishing to concentrate on her own career to make her own way. For the record, if this event happens to me, I'm capitalizing on whatever Hell the family member had to endure to earn his or her fortune. My lousy sales agent job with an insurance company can take a hike. I'll make my own way with other people's money anytime. But, Eve does visit the castle and is introduced to her uncle's wife, a snobbish older retired Hollywood actress who is angry with Eve because she gets the bulk of the money. Also, Eve is introduced to her uncle's caretaker, a former Hollywood director or agent that is slightly over-the-top and seems to have a particular disdain for Eve.

Eve's closest ally and friend in the novel is a local town surgeon, who immediately strikes up a romantic connection. But, the narrative consists of Eve being nearly killed by the caretaker, her uncle's son-in-law, and a brutish former pro-wrestler that serves as a type of house bodyguard. Unpleasant things happen to Eve to the point where she questions the motives of her uncle's people. But, where is the uncle in all of this?

Despite Eve's best efforts, she is routinely blocked from meeting her uncle. His keepers seem to have an agenda to keep Eve from physically meeting him. The mystery introduced to readers is whether her uncle is really alive. If he isn't, then who is the man they claim is in the west tower? Also, is there any actual truth to the rumors of a floating apparition in the castle hallways? Is the castle haunted, is it inhabited by murderers, or is this a figment of Eve's imagination stemming from exhaustion? 

This is one of the best gothic novels I've read by William Ross. It certainly follows the formula of a female protagonist in danger within a large structure, but there's enough variety here to make it enjoyable. Eve is a stronger character than some of the prior gothic beauties, and the twist at the end actually threw me off a little. This may also be the first gothic I've read that had the main character packing heat. Needless to say, the ending went out with a loud bang. Overall, The Secret of Mallet Castle is worth a listen or read.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, May 19, 2023


Lester Virgil Roper (1931-1998) graduated from the University of Oklahoma and became a teacher. He later served in the Kansas House of Representatives for nine years. In his spare time, Roper authored 11 total novels using the pseudonyms L.V. Roper and Samantha Lester. Action-Adventure fans may recall his 1975/1976 two-book series starring New Orleans private-detective Renegade Roe. My first experience with the author is his paperback novel Rampage. It was originally published by Curtis Books in 1973 and remains out of print. 

Roper's idea for Rampage was simply to re-write David Morrell's 1973 novel First Blood. Obviously, names and places have been changed to protect the innocent, but Rampage is First Blood, or First Rambo, or whatever we are calling it these days. Here's how Roper's version of Rambo shakes out:

Somewhere in a tiny mountain town in Alabama, a young white school teacher defiantly decides that the region's barbaric racism must end. She orders the black and white kids to sit together in class instead of being divided by the invisible segregation barrier. The town's KKK warns her to stop, but she persists. Off the page (thankfully), four KKK members enter her house, chain her to a bed, and then rape her to death.

Not quite First Blood, but just hang in there.

In Vietnam, Mark Hastings reads a letter from his wife that suggests she may be in danger for combining the black and white kids in her class. He takes an emergency leave (AWOL) and heads home to screw his sister. No, wait, that was Brother and Sister. He goes home to kill the mobsters that have ransacked his family. No, wrong. That was War Against the Mafia. He comes home to become entangled in small town injustice from a bigot cop and his posse of cops and friends. That's First Blood. Also Rampage. Sort of.

Hastings, an Army Green Beret, hitchhikes into a small mountain town in Alabama and discovers that his wife has been killed. He then targets and kills the four men responsible by using hit-and-run attacks from his wilderness hideout in the hills. He also uses a special knife (I suspect a plain 'ole K-Bar) to gut his victims.

Eventually, the town's sheriff, who is a KKK member, organizes a posse to hunt and kill Hastings in the mountains. But, Hastings uses some deadly snares to trap and kill his opponents. He also has a .22 Colt Woodsman that he puts to good use. Needless to say, there is a huge body count in this one. After the police fail to apprehend Hastings, a Colonel from a local National Guard unit comes in to sympathize with Hastings. The end has a delusional Hastings being hunted by his fellow Green Beret A-team. 

There are no doubts that Rampage is a First Blood knockoff, like 1987's Black Moon by Ron Potts. I can't fault Roper because First Blood, and the Rambo films, inspired countless profitable pop-culture ventures. Despite being unoriginal and repetitive, Rampage is pretty darn good. Roper is an excellent writer who had a knack for this sort of suspenseful, cagey action formula. He also tackles a number of deep psychological issues of the era - Vietnam, social inequality, poverty, and plain 'ole everyday abuse of power. I can't remember the page, or the exact wording, but Roper has a character cleverly comparing Hasting's possible arrest for murder in Alabama coming at a time that he's been awarded for murder in Vietnam. These statements are essential to the storytelling, as borrowed as it may be, and adds a little extra emotional "oomph".

If you love these outdoor wilderness survival novels, or enjoy a great small town vigilante romp, then Rampage is worth pursuing. Keep in mind that it is a copy of First Blood, so be sure to read Morrell's classic, more superior novel first. Rampage is a blue-light special version of it that still possesses a level of nostalgic enjoyment.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The Mall

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the concept of a shopping mall was still a relatively new thing. Who knew that an outdoor plaza of shops could magically transform into an inside oasis for buyers and sellers to mingle regardless of the weather. In America, the neighborhood shopping mall was the place to be for food, friends, arcade machines, and photos. But, it could also host a number of terrors for parents hoping to shield their children from kidnappers, drugs, and perverts. In the 1983 Pocket Books novel The Mall, authored by an unknown dude named Steve Kahn, the idea of shoppers being ransomed for money becomes a plot destined for greatness. Think of Die Hard in a mall. What could possibly go wrong?

At over 300 pages, The Mall is unfortunately a bloated pile of trash. The author introduces dozens of characters, which required a pen and paper to keep track of who's who in the sea of Saturday shoppers. The plot develops into a semi-heist novel when a guy named Prince rounds up five other people to take over the busy Green Meadows shopping mall in Connecticut. They seal up the doors with a special “as seen on television” super-duper glue, then take control of the mall's security room and chief officer. Once this is done, they simply make a demand to the local police chief that they will release the shoppers once they receive millions of dollars in ransom money. 

At some point, by like page 250, I was hoping an Able Team or Eagle Force would show up to liberate the mall in a hail of bullets and blood. But, none of that happens. Instead, the author spends pages and pages fixated on a birthday party for the mall's owner that is simultaneously taking place on an upper level while the mall is being commandeered by criminals. When a message is announced on the PA system that hijackers have overtaken the mall and are asking for millions in ransom money, 40,000 shoppers do absolutely nothing. In fact, it is mostly business as usual as long as they don't attempt to leave. It was kinda, “I'll have a slice of pizza and a TRS-80 game cartridge while I wait for the supposed carnage to end.” It was utterly ridiculous. 

My poor shopping led to a miserable reading experience. It's The Mall of Shame and our newest inductee into the Hall of Shame.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Steve Holland: Paperback Hero

Michael Stradford served as the VP of A&R for Quincy Jones' Qwest Records, represented Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in both creating, producing, and overseeing content creation, and assisted in launching a film distribution platform at Warner Bros. Pictures. He has authored numerous books, including Black to the Movies and Other Pop Culture Musings and MilesStyle: The Fashion of Miles Davis. My first introduction to Stradford was an awe-inspiring 2021 book about model and actor Steve Holland, The World's Greatest Illustration Art Model. It was a follow-up to the author's first Steve Holland retrospective, Steve Holland: The Torn Shirt Sessions

The newest entry in the Steve Holland Library is Stradford's Steve Holland: Paperback Hero, which is in our wheelhouse here at Paperback Warrior. My office is wallpapered in hundreds of paperback book spines, of which, over half are probably sporting a painted cover of Steve Holland performing a breathtaking action pose while holding a gun, riding a horse, embracing a beautiful woman, or just gazing back at me with that “friendly but I mean business” stare. Typically, I buy everything with his face on it. The paperback rule of thumb is if Holland is on it, it's at the very least readable. It's like a signature of approval from the publisher, writer, and the character he embodies. 

Steve Holland: Paperback Hero is 212 glorious pages of colorful book covers indexed by genres like Spycraft, War, Westerns, Sci-Fi, etc. In Stradford's introduction, he explains that he has over a thousand Holland covers in his database, and a 45-page checklist averaging 42 titles per page. He estimates it to roughly 1900 titles sporting cover art that featured Holland. This doesn't include covers that couldn't directly be linked to Holland, but perhaps featured a likeness. Needless to say, Stradford is the world's foremost Holland historian. 

As a fan of vintage paperback fiction, I was thrilled to read Stradford's notes on the various series titles and novels. Each section features a few series titles and a summary of quantity, run length, and a brief description of the series. For example, the first section, Spycraft, features series titles like Coxeman, Nick Carter: Kill Master, and Man from O.R.G.Y. I was thrilled to see larger than life, colorful scans of the Killsquad series, featuring paintings by the legendary Bob Larkin. The artist is also featured in many of the pages, including four large panels of Conan paperbacks.

I love author Hammond Innes, but truthfully, I was drawn to the Avon paperbacks of the late 1960s. Those covers by Frank McCarthy are simply awesome, and Stradford focuses on that run specifically, with beautiful scans of the covers and a description of McCarthy's style. Another talented author, Jack Faragasso, is spotlighted in the Sci-Fi section, with a brief history and excerpts from an interview Stradford conducted. Some of Faragasso's cover art is featured here, ranging from Michael Moorcock's Hawkmoon to Lyle Kenyon Engel's Richard Blade series. 

Fans of men's action-adventure titles like Fargo, Peacemaker, The Protector, Jason Striker, The Penetrator, and The Lone Wolf are in for a visual feast in the Tough Guys section. Artwork by the likes of Mel Crair, Ron Lesser, and George Wilson are featured in full-page panels. A surprise to me was Holland on a cover of Ian Fleming's Goldfinger, painted by Frank McCarthy. There is also a larger section detailing Holland's modeling for The Spider, complete with black and white stills used for the various paintings. 

Once again, Michael Stradford has provided an amazing, visual buffet of many Steve Holland paperback covers. The amount of full-panel book scans, diversified by different genres, really shapes the impact and historic clout that Holland made in the 20th century publishing business. It's uncanny how often he appears, but this volume details the artists and notable series titles that made it happen. Overall, this is another mandatory addition for any paperback reader and collector. Recommended! More info at

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Star Trek - Ice Trap

Listen, you can journey down any internet rabbit hole and find heaps of Star Trek information regarding movies, games, toys, comics, and novels. I'm not going to saddle you with a bunch of information about publishers, series titles, and years. Ice Trap is the 60th installment in a series of Star Trek tie-in books published by Pocket Books between 1979 to 2002. These books feature the original series characters that debuted on NBC in 1966 – Spock, Captain Kirk (William freakin' Shatner), etc. - aboard the USS Enterprise. I'm not a Trekkie, but I've watched episodes here and there of all the Star Trek shows. So, a 1992 book that looks like a “Dirk Pitt in Star Trek” adventure appealed to me. Don't fault me on my Star Trek knowledge. I'm the most pedestrian fan of any casual Trekkie circle.

The crew of the USS Enterprise is assigned the mission to investigate a missing research shuttle on the frigid ice-crusted planet Nordstral. The planet serves the pharmaceutical industry by harvesting plankton for drug use. But, the research crew has gone missing and some of the industrial workers have gone mentally insane. With McCoy, it is Kirk's job to find the sources creating these psychotic episodes. On the flip side, Uhura and Chekov dig into the whereabouts of the research shuttle by conducting interviews with the planet's inhabitants, an alien race known as the Kitka. 

Most of the book's narrative and plot development consist of Uhura and McCoy working directly with Nordstral Pharmaceutical's guides across the icy tundra. The mystery lies in the fact that one of the guides may be a murderer keeping outsiders from the precious plankton. The investigation by Kirk and McCoy deals with the scientific aspect, but as the book gains momentum into the finale a hefty action sequence unfolds with the two trying to escape a flooding ship. Also, to add a horror aspect to the action, the novel introduces a giant underwater sea monster. Can you say KRAKEN?

The book's cover suggests the author is L.A. Graf. In reality, the Graf name is a trio of authors named Julia Ecklar, Karen Cercone, and Melissa Crandall. The perspectives in the book change numerous times within each chapter, so the abrupt character switches were jarring. I found myself re-reading pages to discover which group of characters I was in the midst of. This may have been a result of rotating authors writing certain parts, or it was designed that way. But, the effect wasn't enough to ruin the adventure. Ice trap was a lot of fun to read and placed me in a Star Trek mood for more installments of the series. If you love space travel or a good icy adventure, this one is recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Conan - Black Tears

The 1968 Lancer paperback collection Conan the Wanderer begins with “Black Tears”, a short story by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. It was also featured in Orbit Books omnibus The Conan Chronicles 2. The story was later adapted by Roy Thomas and Ernie Chan in issue #38 of The Savage Sword of Conan

The story picks up right after the events in “A Witch Shall Be Born”. Conan is the chief of the Zaugir, an outlaw band of Kozak horsemen, a role he obtained by usurping their former leader Vladislav. Unbeknownst to Conan, the Zuagir have a traitor in their ranks, a former blood brother of Vladislav named Vardanes. Off page, Vardanes makes a deal with the rival Turanians to have the Zuagir ambushed on a mountain pass. 

The story begins with the Turanians lying in wait for Conan and the Zuagir to reach the pass. Once Vardanes reaches safe passage through the pass, the sky is filled with arrows as the remaining Zuagir are attacked. Thankfully, the Zuagir possess the fighting spirit to charge up the hill and crush the weak Turanians. Seeing the disaster, Vardanes rides off to escape the carnage. One enemy is left behind, a former acquaintance of Conan's named Boghra. Conan tricks Boghra into revealing that the traitor was Vardanes.

Conan is later drugged by the Zuagir and left to die in the desert. His Hellbent quest for vengeance against Vardanes wasn't widely supported by his men. After five days of riding, Conan stumbles upon a city rumored to be a myth, a place called Akhlat the Accursed. Dehydrated, Conan falls from exhaustion and is nursed back to health by two of the city's residents. They explain that the city has been cursed by a vampiric force that drains the life from every living thing. Supposedly, their religion states that a man will come to liberate the city, thus Conan is assigned a task. He must destroy the ancient enemy while also finding and killing Vardanes (who just happens to be in the city as well).

Parts of this story reminded me of Robert E. Howard's “The Scarlet Citadel”, especially the inevitable boss-fight in the city's underground tunnels. The stone statue part of the story was reminiscent of “Shadows in the Moonlight”, with a little bit of “Red Nails” thrown in with the inner-city stuff. I really enjoyed the story and found it to be a perfect companion to “A Witch Shall Be Born”. The descriptions of mountains, tunnels, and the “beast” were executed very well. I know some Conan fans really don't like Carter or de Camp's pastiche style, but as I've stated in numerous reviews, I find their work to be enjoyable. 

Depending on your timeline, this story is followed by “Shadows in Zamboula” or John Maddox Roberts' Conan and the Manhunters, which takes place in southwest of Turan.

Buy 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, May 10, 2023


Jack Pearl is a pseudonym used by Jacques Bain Pearl, a WWII veteran, an engineer, and a full-time novelist. He is one of those names that crime and military-fiction fans will drop from time to time, but no one really reads. Most of his books are out of print, and some have connections to various television franchises, which may complicate reprinting a majority of his literary work. After reading three of Pearl's novels, I quickly became a fan. He is a terrific straight-laced author that focuses on life in the military, law-enforcement, and fire-fighting. 

Paperback Warrior has a primer on Jack Pearl HERE and a lengthy feature for the 58th podcast episode HERE. While preparing for both of those projects, I was able to read synopsis' for a lot of his books. One that really intrigued me was Victims, a police procedural novel set on Christmas Day in New York City. The book was originally published in hardcover by Trident Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, in 1972 and by Pocket Books in paperback in 1973. Sadly, I believe the book is out of print now. But, you can read it for free on Archive.Org HERE. Supposedly the book was adapted into a film, but I can't locate any record of it at the time of this review.

The novel begins in a theater showing The Green Berets, starring the iconic John Wayne. During one of the firefight scenes, a man holding a shopping bag slips into a tiny room behind the theater screen. While he remembers his Vietnam War experience fighting the “Cong”, he gingerly drops the bag and presses a button on a transmitter that arms a bomb. Outside of the theater, he presses the button and the theater screen erupts into a wall of fire. Bleeding audience members panic in pursuit for the door holding burn and shrapnel wounds. The stage is set for a bomber villain.

Captain Archibald Bender commands a respectable bomb squad. At home over dinner, he is called by a local Sergeant and advised of the bombing. Through dialogue, readers learn that this is just another bombing in a string of domestic terrorism. The bombers are members of the Splinters, an independent black militant group of the Black Panthers. The bombings are a declaration of war on the whites. When Bender arrives at the station, Pearl introduces the supporting characters that will be assisting Bender in his investigation. 

Surprisingly, the book's plot isn't on the theater bombing. Instead, Pearl introduces one of the smartest plots I've read in a long time. A member of the Splinters arms a bomb on Christmas Eve inside a gigantic Macy's department store. But, in a mix-up I won't spoil for you, the bomber gift wraps the bomb to resemble a Christmas present. The idea was to drop it somewhere inside the store and allow it to detonate overnight. You see the Splinters don't want to kill anyone, they just want destruction. But, the bomber stooge accidentally places the gift-wrapped bomb inside a box of presents that are being gifted to the children visiting the store Santa. When little Donnie Evans sits on Santa's lap, he receives the little bomb. Donnie then leaves the store with his mother and carries the bomb back home and places it under the tree. Needless to say, Christmas morning for Donnie and his family will be a real blast. 

Through a string of wild events and accidents, Bender learns that a bomb is in Macy's. But, through the fast-paced interviews, interrogations, and procedural meetings, Bender still doesn't know where the bomb is and the time of detonation. The only person that can help Bender stop the Christmas bombing is the bomber himself. Pearl's introduction of the bomber and his conversations and assistance with locating the explosive device was simply brilliant. While the bomber doesn't actually know where the device is, he makes a deal with Bender to help find it. 

If you love Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, then Jack Pearl's Victims is a must-read. The procedural investigation and the collaboration of other law-enforcement personnel was similar to an excellent 87th Precinct book. The character flow was superb and the plot development was one of the best I've read. This is a suspenseful crime-fiction thriller that has a promising opener, but then delivers on the promise by the book's fiery finale. Pearl can write his ass off, and it shows in the narrative's gritty details. The clash of races, civil unrest, and the mournful regret of Vietnam War veterans were all key elements that enhanced the story. It doesn't get much better than this. Victims is a high recommendation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 8, 2023

Firebrats #02 - Survivors

Lots of married couples find it hard to live with each other. Some detest spending long periods of the day with their partner for life. Imagine going to work with your wife every day? Thankfully, Scott and Barbara Siegel aren't one of those couples. In fact, their marriage is so strong that it supported both of them living, loving, and working side-by-side. Beginning in the early 1980s, both Barbara and Scott Siegel authored books together under numerous franchises like G.I. Joe, Transformers, Dragonlance, Star Trek, and Dark Forces. The majority of their literary work is the young adult genre.

For years I've hunted for a four-book series by the Siegels titled Fire Brats. It's an odd title, but a familiar scenario. Two Americans attempt to live and survive in the aftermath of a devastating nuclear bomb attack. The books were published between 1987-1988 by Archway, a subsidiary of Pocket Books. At the time of publishing, the paperback market was ripe with post-apocalyptic titles like The Survivalist, Deathlands, and Doomsday Warrior. I've never seen a copy of any of these books out in the wild. The books are scarce, which drives up the second-hand costs. I've seen these novels fetch up to $50 on Ebay. But, has the last three series installments available to read online.

Skipping a series debut is typically frowned upon in this household, but in this case it was necessary. Jumping into Survivors, the second installment, I quickly get the gist of the series. Matt (male) and Dani (female) are teenagers that grew up in the small town of Fair Oaks. From what I gather through the characters' brief reflections, the United States was nuked by an unknown country and now its major cities and metropolis areas are piles of rubble. Dani and Matt were able to seek shelter underground, and as Survivors begin, they emerge four days later on a journey west. Apparently Dani's parents were killed, but Matt's family may still be alive in California, thus the series will follow their trek through the wastelands.

The two characters spend a night in an abandoned Burger King (in what may be Colorado), and then attempt to cross a large river on a homemade raft. The raft disintegrates and the two are briefly thrust into the raging river to become separated. Eventually, the two reunite and journey into the wilderness and find a cabin that is fully stocked with weeks of food. The place even has running water, farm animals, books, and a fireplace. This is paradise for Matt and Dani, so they decide to stay for a while.

The cabin's owner is an old man named Ordway, who surprises the kids with a pointed shotgun. He has dealt with a lot of bad guys since the bombs fell, so he immediately thinks these teens are out to rob and murder him. After marching the duo outside for an execution, Matt is able to fight the old guy. As a result, the kids wrestle his gun away and Ordway breaks a leg. After explaining they mean no harm, and that they thought the cabin was abandoned, Ordway loosens up and makes a deal with the kids. He'll train them on what they will need to know to survive in this new world. They will help him around the house for a few weeks until his leg heals. 

At 155 pages, Survivors mostly spends the bulk of the book on the two kids interacting with Ordway to learn how to make weapons, hunt, and what to eat in the forest (who knew you could eat tree bark?). The book's last 50ish pages introduces a small band of mean scavengers looking to capture/rape Dani and claim the house. The finale has the kids using slingshots and bows to defend the cabin while Ordway attempts to fend off the attackers with a broken shotgun. 

Despite being juvenile fiction, I found Survivors to be a lot of fun. It reminded me of the first Survivalist novel with the prepping techniques and education, but the quest and action is reminiscent of Survival 2000. Dani, Matt, and Ordway possess endearing qualities that make them lovable. The introduction of the bad guys was inevitable, and the final fight and pursuit was engaging and well-written. While the book lagged a little in the middle, it was a good intermission to prepare for a rowdy end. 

I look forward to reading the rest of the series and I'm grateful that someone took the opportunity to scan most of the books. They are long out of print and very few libraries or book stores carry them in their current catalogs. If you love the 1980s post-apocalyptic stuff, then Fire Brats is sure to please. In a similar fashion, you might also enjoy the dystopian 1980s series U.S.S.A., which seems to be equally hard to find and expensive. has at least one of the series' three books.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Conan - The Castle of Terror

Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp teamed together to author “The Castle of Terror”, a short story starring Robert E. Howard's Conan. The story was first published in the Lancer paperback collection Conan of Cimmeria (1969), which was later reprinted by Ace. Additionally, the story was featured in Sphere Books omnibus collection The Conan Chronicles (1989). The story was adapted into comic format in Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #105. That comic story was also collected in Dark Horse's The Chronicles of Conan Vol. 13: Whispering Shadows and Other Stories (2007).

What I enjoyed about this story is that the authors wanted to expand on Howard's “The Vale of Lost Women”, which was never published in the author's lifetime. This era of Conan's life begins after “The Queen of the Black Coast”, with the titular hero in the jungles of Kush. It is here that he becomes the tribal chief of the Bamulas, which is outlined in “The Vale of Lost Women”. Carter and de Camp further explore that concept in the beginning of “The Castle of Terror”.

In the story's opening pages, Conan is on the run across the flat prairies of Kush. It is revealed that Conan was the Bamula tribal chief for approximately one year. But, a harsh drought occurred in the region and the tribe felt that Conan was the reason for the hardship. Ousted from power and forced into exile, Conan now finds himself with dwindling supplies and chased by lions. At dusk, Conan stumbles onto a strange scene, a crumbled Gothic-styled castle atop a stretch of dead grass. The pursuing lions stop their pursuit and refuse to go near the old house. Hoping to escape the rain, Conan goes inside.

While Conan is seeking shelter in the house, a band of Stygian slave raiders is also seeking shelter from the elements. They too go inside the cavernous house. Inside, Conan has an experience of astral projection, seeing himself outside of his body. Spiritually, he's attacked by hundreds of ghosts before awakening from his trance. At the top of a staircase, Conan witnesses the slaughter of the Stygians by a hideous hundred-headed spider-like creature. Escaping the house, Conan is forced to kill the remaining Stygian.

“The Castle of Terror” includes Conan reflecting on the old stories he heard as a child about King Kull of Atlantis, one of Robert E. Howard's other characters, the prototype for Conan. Conan recalls the stories of Serpent People inhabiting the land prior to mankind, an element that plays into the Kull mythos, including the very first sword-and-sorcery story in the US, “The Shadow Kingdom”, featuring King Kull. Additionally, the idea of natives refusing to follow Conan across a type of forbidden or sacred ground was used in Howard's “The Black Stranger”, which later was morphed into Treasure of Tranicos. But, instead of natives, “The Castle of Terror” uses lions. Arguably, the Kull short story “Skull of Silence” has comparisons as well, complete with Kull charging into a monolithic black house reportedly haunted by a cosmic horror.

This may be one of my favorite stories by Carter and de Camp. I love the eerie atmosphere and its similarity to an old Hammer Horror or Universal vampire flick. The concept of weary travelers attacked by a supernatural entity in a dark castle is sometimes overused, but in this story it works really well. The descriptions of the house, the creepy atmosphere, and the sense of urgency placed on the character to escape the lions was perfectly crafted. It's a remarkable combination and a mandatory read for fans of dark fantasy and horror.

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Friday, May 5, 2023

Mistress of Orion Hall

We keep reading and reviewing the robust body of literary work by the talented author Jon Messmann. From men's action-adventure titles like Nick Carter:Kill Master, The Revenger, and The Handyman, Messmann was a total success story, contributing to hundreds of paperback titles while creating one of the highest selling adult-western series titles of all-time, The Trailsman. While he was busy entertaining red-blooded American men, Messman also authored romance novels and gothic-suspense paperbacks for the ladies. Using the name Claudette Nicole, Messmann authored more than a handful of these books for the top tier paperback publisher of the time, Fawcett Gold Medal. 

Cutting Edge Books have released nearly all of Messmann's romance, vigilante, nautical-adventure, and gothics, including The Mistress of Orion Hall. It was originally published by Fawcett in 1970, and has remained out of print until now. This new edition of the novel is available in both paperback and ebook versions with updated cover art. 

The book begins in an interesting way, the death of the book's title character, the Mistress of Orion Hall. But, this was simply an early flashback to “long ago” when a woman was killed in a massive mansion by men in shrouded hoods. Needless to say, the book quickly moves to present day Vermont by introducing the protagonist, a young woman named Lisa. 

Like any good gothic paperback premise, Messmann knows that he needs a reason for the young female character to inhabit a large mansion on a rocky seaside bluff. Lisa needs to be an unemployed nurse, teacher, or nanny, or a newlywed returning home with her dashing new husband. Oddly, this one is fairly simplistic. Lisa speaks Greek and her Aunt Maggie is reopening the family's long abandoned mansion in Cyprus. She needs Lisa to come and live at the mansion and become a language translator for the many guests destined to stay at the luxury house. 

The journey with Maggie to Cyprus is met with a number of deadly occurrences. First, Lisa is nearly killed on the ship trying to save her aunt from falling overboard during a storm. Once she arrives at the mansion, she is pushed over the cliff and nearly perishes on the rocky coastline. An auto accident occurs as well, leading Lisa, and Maggie, to suspect that the mansion is either haunted or someone is attempting to stop the house's grand opening. 

In some ways, this traditional gothic tale reminded me of Frank Smith's gothic titles written under the pseudonym Jennifer Hale. The idea of the main character discovering an old painting of a woman who looks just like her is a common genre trope. Smith used it as a main plot point in his 1973 novel The Secret of Devil's Cave. With the central mystery of who, or what, is stalking the Orion Hall inhabitants, Messmann carefully walks the balance beam of presenting a physical murderer or a supernatural entity. If you've read one gothic or read them all, the answer is always the same. But, kudos to the author for allowing some nautical action to play a big part in the book's finale. Interesting enough, when Messmann unveils the answer to the mystery, it resembles a plot he used for his 1972 action-adventure novel A Bullet for the Bride

Like most of Messmann's literature, The Mistress of Orion Hall is another entertaining novel that follows paperback traditions of the time. Whether it has aged well is in the eye of the beholder, but I found it to be on par with his other gothic titles. Cutting Edge Books has nearly all of them at affordable prices, so there is plenty to choose from. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Time Warriors #1 - Fuse Point

Before his death in 1999, David North did a lot of paperback writing for the Gold Eagle imprint, including four Executioners, two Super Bolans, two Heroes, and one Able Team. In 1991, they gave him his own time-jumping adventure series called Time Warriors that lasted three installments. The first novel in the short-lived series is called Fuse Point.

The novel opens with a chemical weapon human rights atrocity in an Iraq stand-in committed by a Saddam Hussein stand-in. It’s a well-written opening firmly previewing who our villain will be, consistent with the Gold Eagle paperback plotting style. We later find out that this Saddam is developing a chemical weapon that transforms the peaceful into psychotic, murderous loonies straight from 28 Days Later. If only there were a U.S. Government hero who could stop him…

And then we meet said hero arriving at a Bangkok Airport. His name is Black Jack Hogan, and he’s the strapping fellow who looks like Thor on the book’s cover. He’s a troubleshooter for a U.S. Government Intelligence agency — sticky situations only, please. He doesn’t even make it out of the airport before assassins dispatched by Saddam try to kill him. That’s the kind of life Black Jack lives.

During the attack, Black Jack sees an apparition of an ancient muscle-man with a giant curvy sword eviscerate one of the airport assassins. He initially writes it off to a mirage because he hasn’t read the back of the book. Dreams of the bearded warrior persist, and we learn that his name is Brom. Black Jack is able to summon Brom thanks to an experience our hero once had in Cambodia, where he was saved by Buddhist monks. Likewise, Black Jack is periodically transported back in time to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with Brom in battles against rival barbarians.

The two timelines are brought together by necessity. Saddam’s nefarious chemist is Dr. Nis, who is actually an ancient magician named Nis from Brom’s realm. Stopping Nis from destroying 1991 will, in turn, help Brom with his own Nis-related chaos in the distant past. A buddy, team-up adventure is born!

The author knows his way around bloody, violent action sequences and the plot certainly keeps moving. You’ll either love or hate the New Age mysticism baked into the plot, but you’ll never be bored. The story arc is fresh from the Gold Eagle lunchroom vending machine, but it’s a formula that worked well for over a thousand novels across dozens of series titles.

If you’ve got a hankering for a Conan-meets-Bolan collaboration, you’ll probably like this first installment in the short-lived Time Warriors series. You pretty much know what you’re getting from the cover in this competently-done, but inconsequential, men’s paperback adventure.

Note - Gold Eagle gave the same sort of deal to an author named John Barnes. Beginning in 1993, he was commissioned to write a trilogy of books called Time Raider that featured a similar premise as Time Warriors.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 1, 2023

The Bleeding House (aka The House)

Hilda Lawrence (1906-1976) was a pseudonym for Hildegarde Kronmiller Lawrence, a mid-20th century author that wrote four novels in the 1940s. Nearly all of the books feature the characters of Mark East, a private investigator in Manhattan, and two New England spinsters, Miss Beulah and Miss Bessy. My only experience with the author is her last published work, Duet of Death. This 1949 offering consists of two short novellas – The Bleeding House (aka The House) and Death has Four Hands (aka Composition for Four Hands). 

Cutting Edge Books has recently published new editions of The House and Composition for Four Hands. Each novella is featured as a paperback and also collected digitally in the omnibus Best Pulp Noir Fiction Volume Nine: Four Hardboiled Novels. I chose to concentrate my efforts on The House

The book is presented in first-person by Isobel, a young woman living in a large, cavernous mansion left to her by her late father. Her dull days are spent under the constant scrutiny of her callous mother. Her only enjoyment in life is spying on her neighbors, a group of middle-aged cousins and friends that indulge in drinking affairs that typically involve rumors of Isobel's father, her mother, and her household. 

Through's Isobel's recollections, readers learn that Isobel's father died under mysterious circumstances. He acquired a terminal illness and spent his dying days with blue-collar men at a nearby labor camp. But, his death was linked to a tragic, fiery car accident on a road between the two dwellings. 

In the book's opening chapters, Isobel begins seeing a mysterious figure in the house. Her father's dog, which she inherited after his death, senses that the stranger may be a family member. Other signs begin to appear that perhaps Isobel's father isn't really dead. Is she mentally experiencing things she desires or is something supernatural occurring? Lawrence's spongy narrative twists and turns as Isobel, and her cavalier fiance, attempt to unravel the family mystery. 

As a veteran of 60s and 70s Gothics, it was interesting to see Lawrence using that same formula 15-20 years before the genre's paperback boom. Arguably, the author was inspired by Mary Roberts Rinehart, who cleverly invented some of the genre's consistent tropes in her early 1900s fiction. Atmosphere is key to these stories, and I felt like Lawrence missed an opportunity here. Otherwise, the book's central mystery, defining characters, and the obvious Gothic overtones were a real pleasure to experience. If you enjoy these cozy mansion-mysteries, then The House is worth visiting. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Conan - Conan the Bold

John Maddox Roberts is a Vietnam War veteran that served in the US Army from 1967 until 1970. His first novel, The Strayed Sheep of Charum, was published in 1977. Specializing in historical mystery and adventure, Roberts authored the successful Ancient Rome series SPQR, published as 13 installments between 1990 and 2010. He also authored titles like Stormlands, Hannibal, Space Angel, Cingulum, Island Worlds, and Falcon. My experience with the author is his contributions to the Conan pastiche novels published by Tor. Many Conan fans point to Roberts as one of the better authors of the post-Howard era of Conan literature. Roberts authored eight total novels featuring the hero, including Conan the Bold, originally published in 1989 with awesome cover art by Ken Kelly.

In Roberts' novel, he captures Conan's life at the age of 15 or 16, shortly after events in Conan of Venarium. After the sacking of Venarium, Conan headed south and wrestled with adventures in Pictland. It is here that he suffered injuries (off page), and as Roberts' novel begins, young Conan is being nursed back to health by a nice family in southwestern Cimmeria. In an interesting encounter, Conan is off hunting and reunites with a Great Valley Pict warrior named Tahatch. In reflection, Conan recounts his experience in the Pictish wilderness and battles with the Black Mountain Picts. After a battle, Conan first met Tahatch in a cave where the two struck up a friendship and Tahatch was able to mentor the young hero in ways of wilderness survival.  

When Conan returns from his hunting trip, he finds that his family, and the girl he was potentially to wed, all massacred by a band of slave raiders. Conan vows to track the raiders down and kill each of them. The book's narrative has Conan teaming with a swords-woman named Kalya, who has her own traumatic connection to the slave raiders. Together, the duo travel through Aquilonia, Ophir, Koth, Shem, and the River Styx over the course of nine months of hunting raiders.

Roberts compiles a lot of side-stories and small adventures in this 280 page novel. Aside from presenting these two heroes, the narrative spends a lot of time on the slave raiders led by a nefarious individual named Taharka. As the plot develops from different points of view, Taharka runs a gambit of slave raiding, pit fighting, robbing, and murder. These plot jumps feature an evil sorcerer named Alexandrias that uses drugs to bolster his fighting spirit. Readers experience the pit fights between slaves, Alexandrias, and Kalya, as well as prison breaks, boat fights, the liberation of a caravan, and numerous characters, the highlight being a dagger throwing phenom named Vulpio. 

Aside from too many story elements, Conan the Bold is a fantastic pastiche novel showcasing Conan's teenage years. At times the hero seems much older than 16, with dialogue suggesting he has lived a lot longer. But, the Conan Wiki has an excellent article justifying some of Roberts' writing and that Conan could have potentially experienced a lot of these things even at such a young age. If you are looking for a great adventure novel that fits into an old fashioned traditional western revenge yarn, then look no further than Conan the Bold. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, April 28, 2023

The Rest Must Die

Kendell Foster Crossen (1910-1981) was a popular author that created and wrote the crime-fiction series Milo March and the pulp superhero Green Lama. He contributed to a number of genres, including radio scripts for series titles like The Saint and Mystery Theater. Crossen used a variety of pseudonyms like M.E. Chaber, Clay Richards, Christopher Monig, and Bennett Barley. I am a huge fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, so I was attracted to Crossen's The Rest Must Die. It was published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1959 under the pen name Richard Foster. 

The author introduces readers to a handful of characters in the opening pages of the book. The locale is New York City and the two main protagonists are Bob, an advertising agency for Chaber, Crossen, and Monig (get it?), and a longshoreman named Joe. These are the guys you want on your team when a nuclear bomb wipes out the entire city. Conveniently, Bob and Joe, who don't know each other yet, each head to subway stations when they hear the siren wail of a bomb warning.

Inside Penn Station and 53rd Street Station, the survivors huddle together and listen to the ominous sounds of seven nuclear bombs pound the city into dust. Thankfully, Bob, Joe, and a dozen other survivors possess the wherewithal to understand that nothing above ground exists and that their only hope of survival lies in organizing roughly 3,000 people into small groups, each assigned to a group leader. 

The book's first half, roughly 90 pages, was mesmerizing as survivors traveled the subway on foot gathering supplies from the basements of pharmacies and department stores. Like any good post-apocalyptic novel, the true terror is humanity itself. It only takes a couple of days before people begin to spiral into savage depths of greed. The groups begin to war with each other, but the biggest threat is a mobster and a cop who team-up, oddly enough, to create a faction loaded with a supply of guns the mob had kept in a hidden underground locker. It's up to Bob and Joe to hunt down the faction's members and eliminate them. 

As you can imagine, I loved this book. It really has everything a good doomsday novel needs to be memorable and exciting. The bombs, fallout, radiation, rationing, dividing, conquering, it's all right here in these 200 pages. The novel still remains relevant today with many of the survivors dividing based on preconceived notions of stereotypes and former jobs. Bob is quick to notify everyone that whoever they were in a former life no longer matters. Despairingly, he reminds the survivors that they are now simply subway residents with no family and no home. By minimizing, Bob is able to calm most of the surviving population. It was so elementary, but a brilliant reminder that life resets often. The book's not-too-preachy message is that there's never an ending, only a reset and continuation. Sort of like Jeff Goldblum's Jurassic Park mantra - "Life Finds a Way". 

The Rest Must Die is an easy recommendation for anyone that loves post-apocalyptic fiction. It's a realistic look at how humanity is quick to turn on each other when the chips are down. But, the author laces the message with a lot of action and excitement. It simply doesn't get much better than this.

Buy a copy of this book HERE