Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Comanche Kid

James Robert Daniels is a professional actor and director that performed and wrote for theaters like Shakespeare and Company, Cleveland Play House, Kansas City Repertory, and Asolo. He performed at the Kennedy Center, and contributed to Shakespeare festivals in Illinois, Texas, and Oregon. Daniels served in the infantry in the Vietnam War, and used some of his military experience in his first novel, The Comanche Kid. The western was published in 2021 by Cutting Edge Books

The book begins with one of the more powerful opening paragraphs I've read:

It was early spring when the ocotillo was in bloom that the raiders come down on us and killed everyone but me and Sally. I remember the ocotillo because the tiny red blossoms looked like splattered blood, even though the rains had washed most of the real blood into the earth by then. 

The narrator is Jane Fury, a 16 year-old girl who survives a Comanche attack that savagely kills her parents and brother. In the melee, her sister Sally is taken captive. After burying her family, Jane tracks down some of the murderers, killing four of the raiding party with her father's rifles. Her primary goal is to find and kill her mother's rapist and murderer, a Comanche warrior deemed One-Eye.

After five action-packed chapters, the novel settles into a literary, coming-of-age tale when Jane, disguising herself as a 14 year-old boy (nicknamed The Comanche Kid), herds her family's remaining cattle into a larger and longer cattle drive. The comparisons to Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove are probably found here, the inevitable long and winding trail drive that forces the cowboys, and Jane, into battles against nature, each other, and the Comanche tribe. In this regard, I would also compare it to Ralph Compton's successful Trail Drive series.

On the Six-Gun Justice Podcast, Daniels explained to host and author Paul Bishop that he was influenced by Clair Huffaker's The Cowboy and the Cossack. The concept of a long cattle drive developing characters, personalities, and story helped define the style and framework of The Comanche Kid. Additionally, the author explained that the copious amounts of profanity in his book was something he personally experienced during his military career. Cowboys used coarse language, and the book is more realistic because of it. Daniels' love of Shakespeare is a large portion of the book's dialogue, central to a character nicknamed Shakespeare and his romantic chemistry with Jane.

My personal takeaway from The Comanche Kid is twofold. One, the book is certainly a traditional western tale, falling into one of only a handful of possible genre plot devices - the cattle drive. I enjoyed the thirst for revenge and the extraordinary action sequences that brought the revenge to fruition. But, it's a long journey between points A and B, and by page 300 I was simply worn out. I think I needed something a little more to keep me turning the pages. 

Thankfully, the second, and most prevalent aspect, is that The Comanche Kid is a conversation between Jane and God. This was the unique, most compelling portion of the book. Jane was raised as a God-fearing Christian, but struggles with her beliefs and faith after her family's murder. Throughout the book, she questions God, demands that her questions be answered, and walks a balance beam of faith and non-belief. I thought this challenge for forgiveness, retribution, and the struggles of devotion carried the narrative into a thought-provoking realm of enjoyment.  

If you enjoy sweeping, more epic western novels, then The Comanche Kid is your ticket to escapism. Daniels provides a sense of stirring adventure while successfully capturing an authentic, violent portrait of life on the frontier. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Jerry Long #01 - Code Three (aka Dead Shot)

James M. Fox was actually Johannes Matthijs Willem Knipsheer, a Dutch author born in 1908. He moved to Los Angeles after WWII and started writing mystery novels. His best known work is the Johnny and Suzy Marshall series, published between 1943-1957. My first experience with Fox is his three book series of police procedural novels starring Detective Sergeant Jerry Long. To test the waters,  I tried the series debut, Code Three, originally published in hardcover by Little Brown in 1953. It was published as a paperback in 1955 by Bantam under their Pennant Mystery brand (P79). At some point the book was also published as Dead Shot

Jerry Long, and his partner Chuck Conley, are called to the scene when a dead body is found under a tree in the park. The dead guy's gruesome appearance suggests he had been given the boots by some tough guys and then dumped. The only identification is a tattoo, which prompts Long to call his buddy at the precinct's records department to inquire about it. 

The dead guy is identified as a local bookie, so Long pursues the guy's ex-wife, a fleeing woman named Jenny, to get some answers. When he drives up to her apartment, guns explode and the woman runs for safety. Later, Long connects the clues that lead to a powerhouse mobster named Manny. Where the book gets really interesting is that Long, who's a city detective, collides with the county sheriff's office. The tug-of-war is one of those “you're traipsing on our turf” territorial disputes. However, Long finds evidence that Manny is controlling the county cops, which forces him on the outside of the investigation. 

Code Three reminded me of a 1958 paperback called City Limits, the second installment of the Mike Macauley series written by Richard Deming using the pseudonym Nick Marino. The central plot of the city versus county law enforcement is similar, complete with the mobster and the hero colliding. Typically, these story elements are often found in crime-fiction detective novels. Adding to the gritty, hardboiled style, I found Fox's writing similar to Mickey Spillane – blood and guts, tough guy talk with fisticuffs, babes, and cold steel. 

My major drawback to Fox's Code Three is the story seems jumbled, fragmented, and often dense in the details. I had a very hard time understanding what was happening, and couldn't quite comprehend the flow of events. Even at a relatively short 120 pages, I struggled to finish this book. I found myself counting pages, which is a surefire signal that I'm completely lost. I love the main character, found his tactics compelling, but the plot development and presentation was jarring. I'm not giving up on Fox with just a small sample size. But, surely you can do better than Code Three if you want to sample the author's work. Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Jerry Long Series

1. Code Three (aka Dead Shot) 1953
2. Free Ride (1957)
3. Dead Pigeon (1967)

Monday, August 29, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 100

It's the 100th episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast! Tom and Eric discuss their favorite moments from the show's past three years as well as the life and literary work of pulp and crime-fiction author Cleve Adams. Reviews include a Matthew Scudder installment by Lawrence Block and a 1957 vintage paperback called Sin Pit. Listen on any podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE. Additionally, you can watch the video version of this episode on YouTube HERE.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Timothy Dane #03 - The Diary

William Ard (1922-1960) was a popular author of mystery and western fiction during the 1950s whose nine-book series starring Timothy Dane remains highly regarded today. The series can be read in any order and Fiction Hunter Press recently re-released the third installment, 1953’s The Diary, as a $3 ebook.

Dane is a fairly typical 1950s Manhattan private-eye who is summoned to the home of a wealthy industrialist seeking to engage his services. The client has an attractive 18 year-old daughter named Diane whose diary was stolen. The old man isn’t particularly worried about this, but his daughter is freaking out and wants a PI on the job — so here we are. The suspect is a Spanish Harlem Mexican hood, who apparently stole the journal while doing some work at the estate.

When Dane makes his jaunt into Spanish Harlem, he quickly learns that the gig isn’t going to be as easy as he thought. Lurking in the background of the mystery is the specter of big-city politics and a race between two candidates to recover the diary and its secrets. There’s also a murder, and that’s the real mystery to be solved. Could the contents of a teenage girl’s diary be worth committing a homicide?

Dane’s engagement evolves into a bodyguard duty looking after the horny Diane, and there’s some sexy seduction within the pages of this 69 year-old paperback. Overall, this was a rather enjoyable, if insubstantial, private-eye mystery. While the Timothy Dane series isn’t the high point of Ard’s body of work, The Diary is a solid installment from a prolific young author whose life was cut short way too soon. It’s good to see publishers keeping his body of work alive. 

Buy a copy of the eBook HERE.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Visual Feature - David Goodis

Major announcement from the Paperback Warrior camp. After nine years of hard work, dedication, and consistency, we are making some changes. First, Episode 100 is broadcasting this Monday, August 29th. To celebrate this milestone, and to mark our next evolution, the episode will be offered in our normal audio version, available on multiple platforms. However, we've entered the film making business.

Episode 100, and hopefully future episodes, will simultaneously launch as videos available on YouTube and our blog at paperbackwarrior.com. Think of these as interactive, documentary styled films that accompany our audio. You wouldn't want to see us just talking into a microphone, so instead, we've created films showcasing books, pulp magazines, MAMs, author photographs, connected places, and tons of vivid artwork. The video matches the audio, offering you a more interactive experience. In other words...we are conquering vintage paperbacks in a whole new way.

In addition to our new episodes, we are creating and offering Visual Features on some of our favorite authors. These short films highlight our prior podcast features in a brand new way, complete with a visualized experience. 

Seeing is believing, so we have our very first Visual Feature online now! It's on respected crime-noir superstar David Goodis. You can watch below on YouTube, or at paperbackwarrior.com. Direct link is HERE.

Be sure to hit that SUBSCRIBE button.

World's Scariest Places #05 - Mountain of the Dead

We've covered books by horror author Jeremy Bates, most notably his World's Scariest Places series of stand-alone novels. Each book in this series is based on a particular place that is closely associated with a tragedy, haunting, or unexplained event. Case in point is the Dyatlov Pass Incident, one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the 20th century. Bates uses this incident and location to place his horror-adventure novel Mountain of the Dead, originally published in 2018 via Ghillinnein Books. 

The book is partially presented in first-person narrative by Corey, a bestselling author of non-fiction. He recounts his harrowing expedition to Russia's frosty Northern Ural mountains, one of the most inhabitable regions on Earth. Corey, and his filmmaker buddy “Disco”, journeyed to the region to research the Dyatlov Pass Incident, a 1959 mystery involving nine Russian hikers that experienced gruesome deaths that can't be explained even within the scopes of modern science and forensics. 

In between Corey's portions of the novel, Bates weaves in events from 1959 concerning the actual hikers that were killed in the incident. Bates takes liberties with the incident and victims to create his own version of the murders, complete with Cryptozoology, actual photos, and a rather doomy title for these chapters counting down the amount of days left to live. It's quite fascinating. 

At 420 pages, approximately 15 characters, and two different timelines, Mountain of the Dead may seem intimidating. Oddly enough, it all blends together seamlessly to create one of the better horror novels I've read in some time. Corey's account of what happened to him in Siberia, the underground laboratory, hideous experiments, and ultimate encounter with the horrors of the Dyatlov Pass Incident were simply awe-inspiring. There's a real sense of adventure that envelopes the story as Corey is partnered with a female scientist, a hunter, and a remote guide to explore and locate the history of the events deep in the rural, icy mountain range. Likewise, Bates presents this same snowy adventure with the original nine hikers in 1959's trek through the high-mountain wilderness. 

As if Bates needed any further elements to propel the plot, there is a through-story arc regarding Corey's girlfriend and the tragedy that affected her years ago. Through life fragments and story pieces, readers learn about her life and, by the book's final chapters, her fate. So, there's an embedded mystery within the mystery. It's wildly clever, unique, and entrancing. 

Jeremy Bates is extremely successful and remains one of the bestselling, self-published authors of his genre. Books like Mountain of the Dead are testimonies to his success as an original, believable, and tremendously entertaining author. I love this guy. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Traded Wives

Celebrated jazz musician and author Charles Boeckman authored crime-fiction short stories and novels using his own name through the mid 20th century. However, using the pseudonym of Alex Carter, he authored racy, sexually-charged romance paperbacks for publishing houses like Beacon. I've enjoyed his writing, especially his Alex Carter novel Boy-Lover (1963). I recently purchased another Carter novel, Traded Wives. The book was published in both the US and Canada simultaneously in 1964. The American version was published through Beacon (8711X, cover artist unknown). The Canadian version by Softcover Library (S95157) recycled Clement Micarelli's painting from Orrie Hitt's 1962 novel Love Thief.

The novel presents three couples and a single woman living in a new housing community called Garden Acres. Each of the couples is struggling in various ways that revolve around intimacy. Boeckman depicts each marriage through revolving chapters that explain each character's backstory, the evolution into marriage, and the physical wants, desires, and jealous rage within this sexual suburbia. 

Debbie and Bobby have just moved into Garden Acres after graduating from high school and becoming pregnant. Their parents are wealthy, respectable contributors to the community that can't afford any negative influences. They immediately force the two kids to become married and quickly convert the couple into expecting, stereotypical middle-class suburbanites. The problem is that Bobby is still running around with the town's young hotties and Debbie isn't thrilled to be settling down after bedding down the senior class's male students. That's a real problem.

Charles is an alcohol distributor and sales rep that travels the back roads of America selling booze. He smokes cigars, drives a Cadillac, and has a loud-mouth that mostly spews dirty jokes. After meeting backwoods country girl (and virgin) Barbara Lee, he talks her into marriage and they quickly move into  the thriving sexual landscape of Garden Acres. Barbara Lee wants to pursue a college education and learn more about the modern world. After conquering Barbara Lee, Charles sets his eyes on his neighbor Cheryl. 

Tony is a white-collar guy living the American dream – playing golf on the weekends, mowing green grass, and relaxing in the shade with his newlywed wife Cheryl. The problem is that Cheryl isn't into sex, thus creating a physical barrier between the two. Tony is sexually frustrated with Cheryl and she is equally angered with his insistence on intimacy. 

Boeckman was just such a great storyteller of these noir novels. Despite the titles and covers, these novels aren't any different from a Nora Roberts novel today. There are no graphic sex scenes or much (if any) profanity. In cinematic ratings, these are probably PG-13. But, that doesn't make them any less intriguing or enjoyable. 

The story-lines are detailed with plot and character development that's simply superb. The narrative thrusts these unhappy couples into a wild mix of sex, fantasy, and appeasement. Debbie with Tony and Bobby, Cheryl with Tony, Charles with Cheryl, and Bobby with a divorced, sexually starved woman named April. It's a mingling of affairs and it's fantastic. I also enjoyed the “crime-noir” aspect of Tony, Charles, and Cheryl's love-triangle. It becomes violent and engaging and is probably the real highlight of the novel. The end result is that Traded Wives is highly, highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 22, 2022

Resident Evil #01 - The Umbrella Conspiracy

Resident Evil is arguably the greatest survival horror media franchise of all time. The Capcom video game, known as Biohazard in Japan, began its life in 1996 on the very first Sony Playstation. Countless sequels were created across multiple generations of gaming systems. Six live-action films were produced, a television show, animated films, comic books, and novels. With novels as our primary focus, I picked up a Pocket Books paperback called The Umbrella Conspiracy, the first of a seven-book Resident Evil series published between 1998-2004 and authored by S.D. Perry, daughter of Steve Perry (Conan, Star Wars, Matador).

The first thing you need to know about The Umbrella Conspiracy, and this book series, is that you don't need a Resident Evil education to read and enjoy this. This series starts at the very beginning and mostly consists of novelizations of the video games. This first book is a novelization of the very first game, so those of you unfamiliar with the franchise can start right here. Don't be intimidated.

Raccoon City is a small town with an urban area, lots of dense forest, and rural fields. But, this quiet little community is experiencing an unusual number of vicious homicides. People are found dead in the Victory Lake area, mutilated as if mauled by a savage animal. Rumors run rampant, the police have no solid leads, so a special force is brought in to help solve the case - S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue). This division is made up of highly trained, paramilitary specialists that are privately funded.

The S.T.A.R.S. unit is divided into two teams, Alpha and Bravo. While there are a lot of members in the unit, the ones that really matter to this series are Alpha's Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Rebecca Chambers, Barry Burton, and Albert Wesker. If you enjoy all of those 70s and 80s team-commando paperbacks, then this group should be easily likable. The members realize that everything has been searched at Victory Lake, but there is a large abandoned mansion, the Spencer Estate, at the foothills of The Arklay Mountains that may hold some answers.

Wesker sends the Bravo team in by chopper, but soon they radio back that the helicopter has crashed in a secluded area. Alpha team is sent in by chopper and immediately discover that some of Bravo have been attacked and mutilated. Soon, the team is attacked by ravenous, skinless dogs. In an effort to stay alive, Chris and others flee through the forest to the Spencer Estate. Inside, they find that it isn't abandoned at all. Instead, the mansion is filled with research equipment, labs, and evidence of hideous experiments. When Chris is attacked by a zombie, the proverbial sh#t hits the fan.

I absolutely loved this book. I immediately finished the last page and hopped online to order the second installment, Caliban Cove. From an action-adventure stance, this book is loaded with firefights in all parts of the mansion. There's the undead to contend with, a traitor in the group, and monsters galore as the team navigates the cavernous house in search of clues. As a horror novel, it works on a violent, gory level as the survival horror introduces puzzles and traps for the squad to solve. 

While there isn't much to really complain about, I did get confused often as the point of view changes to different squad members throughout the house. Rarely are they all together in the same room. Instead, the book feels slightly “epic” at 260 pages due to the constant change in characters. I really enjoyed both Rebecca and Jill, and from what I understand they make a big impact in future books. In researching the series, it appears that Wikipedia has the series listed as:

1 The Umbrella Conspiracy (1998) Novelization of Resident Evil (1996) video game

2 Caliban Cove Original novel (1998)

3 City of the Dead (1999) Novelization of Resident Evil 2 (1998) video game

4 Underworld (1999) Original novel

5 Nemesis (2000) Novelization of Resident Evil 3 (1999) video game

6 Code: Veronica (2001) Novelization of Code: Veronica (2000) video game

0 Zero Hour (2004) Novelization of Resident Evil: Zero Hour video game 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Dark the Summer Dies

Walter Untermeyer Jr. (1915-2009) was a New York lawyer and a WW2 Navy veteran who only authored two books in his life. His first paperback, Dark the Summer Dies, from 1953 has been reprinted by Stark House as part of a trio of vintage femme fatale noir novels from Lion Books. 

Our narrator is an affable, wet-behind-the-ears, 18 year-old kid named Tony who is working at a swanky country club pool as a swim and dive instructor for the summer. The poolside babes are always wearing next-to-nothing and it’s making the poor boy horny as Hell. Sadly, his sweet high school girlfriend doesn’t put out. 

At the club, Tony meets a super-hot flirtatious married woman named Vicky, whose husband is frequently away on business trips. You see what’s coming? Of course you do. She invites Tony over to enjoy a porterhouse on the grill, and you know the steak isn’t the only meat getting tenderized that night. 

When writing in Tony’s voice, Untermeyer mimics the colloquial tone of Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye, a successful novel released two years earlier. His plotting, however, needs some serious help. The paperback is a relationship drama about pushing the limits of social norms and sexual taboos, but not much happens for most of the book. It’s certainly not a crime novel, and the “shocking” ending will land with a thud to anyone accustomed to reading actual shocking paperbacks from the era. 

I wanted to like this novel with every fiber of my being, but it was pretty lousy — despite some well-written prose. The Stark House collection containing this book also includes Sin Pit by Paul S. Meskil, an absolute masterpiece of the femme fatale noir genre, so it’s probably still worth your $20. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Island of the Pit

According to Goodreads, Irish author James Gribben (1915-1986) authored plays, short stories and novels under his own name and also under the pseudonyms Kingsley West and Vincent James. There isn't much information online, but I did locate a paperback he wrote under the James name called Island of the Pit. It was originally published in England by Ernest Benn, Ltd in 1955 as a hardcover, later published by Messner in the US in 1956. My version is the 1957 Popular Library (800) paperback, although it was reprinted a second time in paperback by Digit Books (R379) in 1960. 

Joe Trasker and his wife Helen have been casually sailing the Pacific Islands the last two years. On their return trip to the US, they stop by an inhabited island to buy supplies for the voyage. It's here that Joe is reunited with an old war buddy named Kane Hadley. In the brief backstory, readers learn that Joe is disabled due to mortar-shell fragments in his leg. Kane was the guy that carried Joe to safety while under fire.  

After a night of drunkenness, Joe and Helen start their return trip, but unfortunately make an invite to Kane to join them. Kane accepts, and then things grow chaotic over time.

Kane has an affection for Helen, and she becomes uncomfortable in his presence. Joe notices that Kane hasn't gotten over the war, as if he still misses the action. The three of them discover an abandoned island, and upon further inspection, learn there is gold laced throughout the rocky terrain. Kane, who has experience as both a smuggler and gold miner, insists that they stop for a few weeks and get as much gold as they can carry. Joe and Helen are simple people, and don't have a deep desire for wealth. Kane is the opposite, lusting for gold so he can buy another boat to capture more gold.

Island of the Pit is a character study of two very different people and their conflicts with insecurity, greed, jealousy, and other weak conditions of the human spirit. Kane's discovery of the gold, combined with his own restless demeanor, is a negative combination that's further hampered by his attraction to Helen. This greedy darkness envelopes Kane's thoughts and actions, eventually transforming him into a lethal aggressor. 

Gribben's writing is so descriptive and I really enjoyed his use of lighting to depict the story's mood. There are a number of passages where light is used to foreshadow coming events. It's a really unique presentation that helped broaden the limited setting of these three characters on a deserted island. I also enjoyed the commentary on marriage and the “less is more” message that reinforced Joe and Helen's position as the wiser, level-headed supporters. They truly want to rehabilitate Kane, but realize that his self-interest is too prevalent. 

Island of the Pit was just a real pleasure to read. It's a smart, emotional journey that's compelling despite the predictability. The descriptive writing style, dynamic characters, and social commentary were well worth the price of admission. You owe it to yourself to track down this lost gem. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Pilot's Daughter

Audrey J. Cole in a former nurse and current contemporary thriller writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Reviews for her 2021 aviation hijacking potboiler were universally favorable, and the Kindle sample sucked me into the story. 

An aircraft cleaner is blackmailed into stashing a package containing a handgun onto a Seattle aircraft bound for Honolulu. Eventually, the hijacking occurs, and the terrorist’s demands are different than the ones we’ve seen before. Leave it at that as I don’t want to spoil it for you. 

We also meet a bunch of the passengers, including a spoiled socialite and a homicide detective. The action unfolds in the air with an awesome fight scene and close-up gun-fighting, resulting in the deaths of the pilots and the need for someone to fly and land the plane in Hawaii. 

Cora is a recent widow who is on the flight to Honolulu. She’s en route to American Samoa to attend a ceremony honoring her dead husband who recently perished in a helicopter crash while doing relief work. We quickly learn that her dad was a pilot, so the title of the novel gives it away that she’s an important character. 

As information about the terrorists comes to light, it becomes clear that the reader’s assumptions about the motives and ideologies is a barrel of red herrings. Not every passenger is who they claim to be, and the surprises and twists are doled out slowly over the course of the terrorist-adventure-mystery. 

The adventure story of getting the plane safely on the ground — allowing the main characters to find romance on Earth — was genuinely exciting and worth your time. However, the real agenda of the hijackers was a major let-down and required a suspension of disbelief that made me question if the author really stuck the landing. 

Overall, The Pilot’s Daughter is a well-written aviation adventure by an author worth discovering. If you don’t take it too seriously, you’ll probably have a lot of fun reading it. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Haiti Circle

Our coverage of beautiful women running from scary places continues with The Haiti Circle, a 1976 gothic paperback with the name Marilyn Ross on the cover. The author is really William Edward Daniel Ross, a prolific Canadian writer that authored over 50 gothics in the 60s and 70s. A few of his books have been published as audio books recently by Paperback Library with narration by Romy Nordlinger. 

In The Haiti Circle, a woman named Agnes is suffering from the recent loss of her mother. After a nervous breakdown, Agnes journeys to Haiti for a vacation and a life reset. It is here that she meets a Creole doctor named Martinez, who immediately falls in love with her. Understanding she is a teacher, Martinez introduces Agnes to wealthy widow Mr. Dodge and his daughter Germaine. Agnes learns that Germaine's mother committed suicide by jumping from the high walls of Seacrest, the family mansion. Now, Germaine is in need of a tudor and caregiver.

Once Agnes starts her new job, she begins hearing rumors of voodoo rituals on the island. There are a number of shady characters living at Seacrest, so speculations runs rampant on which white people are involved in the voodoo cult. Agnes is targeted by some sort of curse that places a tarantula in her bed and bats in her room. Further, Agnes sees a “zombie” outside of the mansion and learns it is a link to a prior suicide before the Dodges took ownership of Seacrest. 

Ross uses essentially the same character as the female protagonist in each of his novels. Agnes is the same cookie-cutter character as Jan (Phantom Manor), another Jan (Dark Legend), Victoria (Dark Shadows series), and Stella (Fog Island) – teacher/tudor, vulnerable, single, unsuspecting. The mysteries are numerous, which makes the book a little more tolerable. Also, the idea of a zombie and the whole voodoo-cult-thingy is just wacky enough to make the book interesting. I had a few guesses on who the culprit was, but the ending surprised me. 

The Haiti Circle is one of the better Ross novels I've read. Recommended for its spooky ambiance, a number of compelling characters, and a surprise ending. I also enjoyed the audio book version, although I'm tired of Nordlinger's narration. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 15, 2022

The Old Man and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) is one of the most popular, influential and respected authors of all-time. He was involved in WWI and WWII, won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and was a world traveler. I confess I've never read Hemingway and felt that he may be too literary for my tastes. But, as I read more and more classic literature, I've become less intimidated by the greats and find a deep appreciation for their literary work. Thus, my first Hemingway experience is one of his last great works, The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway wrote the novella in 1951 while in Cuba and it was published in 1952 by Scribner. It was adapted to film three times.

I believe The Old Man and the Sea's beauty lies in its simplistic prose. Hemingway, known for avoiding wasted motion, tells a very rudimentary story that is exactly what the title implies. It's a simple fishing story about a very old man, seasoned by the sea, attempting to capture the big one. 

The protagonist is Santiago, an experienced fisherman that has gone through a rather uncanny streak of fishing 84 straight days without catching a fish. His peers have come to think of him as unlucky. His only real friend, it seems, is a young boy named Manolin, who is Santiago's protegee. The boy takes care of Santiago by bringing him bait, food, and covering him up when he gets cold. The two share a common interest in American baseball, specifically the New York Yankees and Joe DiMaggio. 

Santiago ventures out to sea again, only this time he goes further out into the gulf stream, where he uses four fishing poles. Eventually, Santiago captures the biggest fish of his life, an 18 foot marlin that may weigh more than 1,000 pounds. The issue is that Santiago has spent two nights at sea, far from home, and now must transport this huge fish. There's a wound to his hand, lots of sharks, and the hot sun to contend with on the return journey. 

This is a very light adventure story that has an underlining premise that shines through. Hemingway's writing addresses aging, but also alienation. Santiago is originally from Spain and speaks a form of Spanish that isn't necessarily welcome in Cuba. His unlucky streak and age makes him very different than his peers, ousting him to the fringes of his own society. The story also speaks of human kindness and the idea that human companionship is a cycle. Santiago was there for Manolin when he was younger, now Manolin is there for him when he is older. It is really quite beautiful and Hemingway tells the tale in his own remarkable, signature, way. I hope to read more Hemingway. 

Buy a copy HERE.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Gun Hell

Riley Ryan only wrote one novel in his life, but he gained some mileage. His sole novel was a western that began its shelf-life as The Dakota Deal, originally published by Lion Books in 1954. It was later reprinted by Lion Books again as Gun Hell. In 1966, it was published by Tower as The Oath. It was translated into Swedish and released as Blod for Blod. Most recently, it has been published by Cutting Edge Books as Gun Hell and also included in the publisher's compilation Big Bold West 12. Why so many printings? It's an unusual western. 

Johnny Burr makes a habit of burying his guns. In fact, he buries them and then shortly has a revelation and digs them back up. Readers learn he does this a lot. But, Burr is conflicted on what he wants in life. Should he attempt to live a happy existence free from his past or ride the trail for vengeance? That's the conflict that saturates Ryan's narrative.

In flashback sequences, Burr recounts the night that his farm was burned by bandits and his wife was raped and killed. During the attack, Burr sliced the bandit leader on the chest, leaving several deep gashes. These cuts were a mark, and now Burr is hunting for the scarred man. But, he isn't a violent guy, and generally isn't cut from the same cloth as your typical paperback hero. So, it's unique in the way that the hero is weak and discouraged. 

Like most westerns, Ryan uses the old western trope of a range war as the battleground for Burr and the bandits to settle the score. There's the Big Horn and Little Horn ranges, one filled with livestock, but very little water, the other the exact opposite. The range war erupts near Fargo, North Dakota and Burr finds himself employed by both ranches as he hones in on his wife's killer. There's a load of violence at the end, and occasional skirmishes leading to the finish. There's also a romantic relationship introduced that brings Burr full circle – bury the guns or fire them.

If you enjoy range war westerns and unlikely heroes, then Gun Hell should be a rewarding reading experience. It's certainly different, but carries the same traditional staples as the typical mid-20th century western. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Judge Not My Sins

As I documented in my Frisco Flat review, Stuart James was a staff writer for True and Popular Mechanics as well as a sports reporter for the Delaware Valley Advance. He authored original paperbacks for lowly publishing houses like Tower and Monarch. Thankfully, some of his novels have been dusted off and resurrected thanks to Cutting Edge Books. Enjoying their new edition of Frisco Flat, I chose to read Judge Not My Sins next. It was originally published in 1951 by Midwood.

What I enjoyed the most about James' narrative may be something he didn't intend for me to enjoy all that much – pulp story writing deadlines and publishing. David Markham, the book's protagonist, is a 34 year old pulp writer living in New York City. He wants to write the great American novel, but his agent encourages him to grow as a writer and take the necessary stepping stones to achieve greatness. He puts David through the paces, first with newspapers, then on to writing for the pulps, and then articles as he moves into a better market. But, readers are introduced to David as he navigates the world of pulp fiction, the middle rungs on the tall literary ladder. 

David's life is at a crossroads. He's become complacent with writing pulp fiction, a problem he analyzes by suggesting he has already “written the same damned story fifty times” and to write another will simply require changing the characters. His agent says the writing is very good, it isn't literary garbage, and that “blood 'n guts” sells. Money is the reason David clicks the typewriter keys. He's married, although separated. He has two kids, but he only sees them once a month. His paychecks mostly go to his wife and their mortgage. All of these headaches catapult David into the arms of a mentally deranged woman named Leslie.

Like a Gil Brewer or Orrie Hitt novel, Judge Not My Sins develops into a devilish relationship study. Leslie is gorgeous, lives with her dog, and meets David for a one-night stand at a bar. David becomes engrossed with the woman and finds himself hopelessly falling in love. But, Leslie doesn't like David's commitments to his wife and kids. She also doesn't understand his writing career and what he hopes to achieve. As she beckons chaos and confusion, David's agent and wife prove to be responsible and less pretentious. It's this storm of emotions that drive David to the brink of madness while competing to meet five writing assignments and a movie novelization, his so-called “big break.” 

Based on publishing houses and lack of a household name, it's so easy to write Stuart James off as a hack sleaze writer. But, his career deserved better. He's such a great author and injects a personal insight into this novel, what is essentially a book about the writing experience. I'm sure that the career turmoil and rejections riding David were all firsthand experiences James suffered throughout his journey. 

Judge Not My Sins is a powerful look at self-absorption, complacency, mental illness, and the complexities of marriage and divorce. It's a paper life, but its life. I'm not sure why James wasn't able to break into the middle echelon of paperback writing (at the very least), but based on this book alone, he deserved a better hand than he was dealt. Hopefully, this new shuffling of the deck by Cutting Edge Books will deal him a win. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Cut Me In

According to Stark House Press, the publisher that reprinted Cut Me In (1959) via their subsidiary Black Gat Books, Jack Karney was born in New York in 1911 and specialized in crime-fiction. He was married with three children and spent his entire life in the same Lower East Side neighborhood in New York City. He tried out for the police department, but ultimately ended up working in the Civil Service within the District Attorney's office. He authored a number of titles like Tough Town (1952), Cop (1952), and Knock 'em Dead (1955). As Mike Skelly he authored the novel There Goes Shorty Higgins (1953). Cut Me In is my first experience with Karney's work.

This novel is similar to other 1940s and 1950s crime-fiction where the rise from rags to riches becomes a captivating look at criminality. Like Benjamin Appel's The Life and Times of a Tough Guy (1960) and Ed McBain's Big Man (written as Richard Marsten, 1959), Jack Karney centers his narrative on Coley Walsh, a young beat cop working the New York streets. His wife died, and now he raises his crippled son while living with his mother on swing shifts. Coley's righteous path becomes corrupt with the simple longing for a patrol car and a promotion to investigator. Coley decides to cut some corners on the way to the top.

While working the beat, Coley saddles an armed robber that is fleeing from the police. In a devilish conversation, Coley learns that the police precinct is corrupt with several key personnel working hand-in-hand with the Syndicate. They run the protection rackets, gambling joints, and swindle politicians to do their bidding. Coley conceives the idea that he should assemble a small group of police officers willing to push the Syndicate out. But, these criminal elements would then be replaced by Coley and his guys. Instead of looking out for the Syndicate, they should become a new Syndicate. 

Through 200 pages, Karney documents Coley's rise through the ranks from small time to the big man. The most compelling portions concern Coley's relationship with a small business owner named Joseph Cantor and his adopted daughter. Coley looks out for Cantor, and understands he represents everything right about America – work hard, build a legitimate owner-operator business, serve the community. In creating his criminal empire, Coley realizes guys like Cantor are prime targets for protection rackets, thus an emotional conflict arises within Coley's pursuit of fortune. It's this conflict that really propels Karney's well-written narrative.

Cut Me In was a wonderful reading experience laced with criminal plans, fall-guys, payoffs, heartbreaks, and violence. Karney's writing style relies heavily on dialogue to tell the tale, and the author created enough diverse characters to keep the story alive and moving. The book's beginning and ending are its strongest parts, with the finale a real barn-burner with flourishes of action and cool-headed resolve. The balance was exceptional, and a difficult feat considering the moving parts. Karney was a pro and Cut Me In must surely represent some of his best work. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Blood of my Brother

Roll out the red carpet. Vacuum it. Fluff it a little with the heel of your shoe. Why? The festivities are about to begin. The Hall of Shame is receiving its newest member, the 1963 paperback Blood of my Brother, written by the very talented Stephen Marlowe (real name Milton Lesser). Only, Marlowe didn't want to use his name for this turd. Instead, he used the name C.H. Thames. To rub salt in the wound, Armchair Fiction reprinted this book. 

In the opening chapter, spoiled college kid Johnny Baxter is with an unknown person cracking a safe in a mansion. Next chapter, Johnny is found floating in the ocean. Dead. His car went off of an embankment and crashed into the lake. Johnny's father is devastated and regrets some of his fatherly decisions in life. Johnny's step-brother Dave is a modest attorney in town and the star of the family. He goes to identify the body and believes his brother was murdered. 

Dave believes there is foul play because Johnny's car is turned the wrong way in the lake. That's it, that is the big piece of evidence. Pay no mind to the flask, the fact that his brother was an alcoholic, the reckless lifestyle, the fast Jaguar. Just the wrong direction in the lake. The next 129 exhausting pages consist of Dave interviewing the college faculty, Johnny's roommate, the fraternity brothers, and Johnny's father. Readers already know that Johnny was stealing money from his father, so that little little morsel is quickly chewed up and dismissed. Second, if Dave can't figure out that Johnny's roommate, Tony, is the killer, then there is no reason for him to be an attorney. Here's some clues:

1 – Tony is flatass broke. 
2 – Tony has clothes and jewelry belonging to Johnny.
3 – Tony has a freakin' gun under his bed.
4 – Tony won several medals for killing a ton of bad guys in the Korean War.
5 – Tony tells lies.
6 – Tony seems jealou....nevermind, you get the idea. TONY IS THE DAMN KILLER! 

But, Dave interviews hundreds of people and discovers that Johnny has cleverly blackmailed every one of them. He's taken photos of them doing the humpty-hump, caught them in elaborate forgeries, threatened to report cheating to the faculty, and on and on. It's ridiculous to think Johnny Baxter has this many blackmailing schemes in the works and that this little California college is hosting this many blackmailing schemes. These people aren't that interesting. But, none of it matters! Pages 12 through 141 serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever. You can read the first 12 pages and the last 9 and that's the book. Open, shut, the end. A pointless endeavor. My suspicion is that Marlowe knew this book sucked. That's why he didn't want his name associated with it. I also think that he gave his readers a secret code so they would stay away from this novel - the title. The acronym is B.O.M.B. 

It brings me great pleasure to return this book to its little plastic book condom, complete with a piece of sticky scotch tape across the horizontal flap. I have no plans to ever open it again. I'm placing it in our virtual purgatory for bad books. Thus, the Hall of Shame remains open. This book does not. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 99

On this last double-digit episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, Tom and Eric delve into the life and career of an underrated crime-fiction author named James McKimmey. Tom talks about a new Day Keene reprint and Eric discusses two brand new Stark House Press editions. Reviews include a 1984 spy novel called The Girl from Addis by Ted Allbeury and House of Evil, a 1954 crime-noir by Clayre and Michael Lipman. Listen on any podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 99: James McKimmey" on Spreaker.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Dark December

According to Wikipedia, Alfred Coppel, real name Jose de Arana-Marini Coppel (1921-2002), served as a fighter pilot in the United States Army Air Forces during WWII. The Oakland author then began a prolific writing career using pseudonyms like Alfred Coppel, Robert Cham Gilman, and A.C. Marin while writing for pulp magazines. Coppel is mostly known for science-fiction, but he also authored action-adventure and espionage. He transitioned into full-length original novels, including his bestseller, Thirty-Four East, about the Arab-Israeli conflict. My first experience with the author is his post-apocalyptic novel Dark December, published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1960. 

U.S. Major Kenneth Gavin spent WWIII in an underground bunker in Alaska. From that safe and secure location, Gavin was a “missile-man”, a launch pad operator in charge of firing nuclear warheads at the Soviet Union and other foreign enemies. After two long years of global destruction between warring countries, the military, and ordinary life, has crumbled. Sensing no real purpose to the missile launches, Gavin is released from his service in Alaska.

It is Gavin's intention to travel south into San Francisco to finally reunite with his wife and daughter. It has been months since he had spoken with them and he just wants to return home. But, the journey won't be easy. Most of the population has descended into anarchy, with diseases, malnutrition, and radiation being catalysts for humankind's ruin. There is still a military presence available, so Gavin aligns with a military patrol led by Major Collingwood, an arrogant, mentally unstable superior that feels right at home within the destruction and chaos. When Gavin witnesses Collingwood ordering a group of bandits to be executed, the two come to a disagreement. The end result – Collingwood swears he will murder Gavin. 

Escaping from Collingwood, Gavin meets up with a young woman and a boy and the three form a partnership to travel safely through California. Unfortunately, they run into a fanatical group of teenagers that have a penchant for torture and depravity. When Gavin discovers they have a Soviet pilot locked in a shed, he learns just how dark and sadistic civilization has become.

Alfred Coppel does everything right in his nightmarish look at a bombed out America. It's the traditional monomyth featuring the lone hero on a quest through a perilous landscape, essentially the oldest storytelling formula. Coppel's examination of humankind's descent into sadism and nearly Neanderthal behavior is the book's real strength. Gavin is the unconventional hero, a man who has seemingly killed millions with the press of a button, but now can't cope with the idea of taking another life. His journey through the wasteland, as a pacifist, is really a unique twist on what would otherwise be an “all guns blazing” survival tale like the numbered men's action-adventure titles that would arrive 20+ years later – The Survivalist, Deathlands, The Last Ranger, Phoenix, etc. Coppel's writing is more insulated, concentrating on human psychosis or the boundaries of sanity when threatened with extinction. It's smart.

If you enjoy post-apocalyptic novels, then this is an easy recommendation. But, if you enjoy books ranging from Lord of the Flies to novellas like Heart of Darkness, then this should be an appealing, disturbingly entertaining read as well. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Thirty Pieces of Lead

It's hard to believe that just down the road from me, here in the Sunshine State of Florida, the Nazis invaded. It's a little known fact, something that isn't often discussed in the history books. But, on June 16th, 1942, a submarine assisted four German spies to step on the sands of Ponte Vedra Beach, just south of Jacksonville. Their mission was to destroy bridges and the parts of the railroad system using dynamite. Thanks to the efforts of the FBI, they were captured and executed before their mission was accomplished.

Using this unique piece of history, Frank Kane, author of the successful Johnny Liddell private-eye series, constructed a short-story called "Thirty Pieces of Lead" for the September, 1945 issue of Crack Detective Stories. To my knowledge the story has never been reprinted, but you can read it for free HERE or scrolling below.

At the story's beginning, an Italian prisoner-of-war named Musico is being interrogated by a Gestapo colonel. Musico has served time in a concentration camp, along with his mother and wife. The bullish interrogator suggests that Musico was separated from them at some point, and would probably wish to visit with them again. Musico tells himself that he already knows the fate of his loved ones. But, he plays along. The colonel explains that a group of highly trained professionals is planning a landing on the American coastline, and they want Musico to assist them. In return, Musico will get to see his wife and mother again. 

Musico is an ex-mob runner that ran bootleg products out of Chicago ten years ago. Musico tells the colonel to call his old mob boss, and explain the landing operation and ask that they pave the way with the police and Coast Guard. To insure the request is legit, Musico provides his interrogator a password so the mobster will know the request came from him. Musico says the mob has no loyalty to America and will work with the Nazis. Further, Musico volunteers to join the landing in an effort to accomplish the mission and to see his loved ones again. But, Musico has a clever plan for revenge in mind. 

At just a few pages, this story has so much life in it. It explodes with detail and ties into this little piece of history in a really unique way. I love the mobster aspect to it, and the idea that the mob and the Nazis are featured in the same story – two despicable factions that are being combated by this courageous, yet defenseless prisoner. Short stories can really be hit or miss, but this one was a sure-fire winner. Recommended!

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

A Night for Treason

Before John Jakes struck gold with his Civil War epic North and South, he was a paperback author for dudes like us. A Night for Treason was a 1956 spy thriller that was released as an Ace Double with many subsequent reprints over the years. 

Our hero is an American secret agent named Max Ryan. The novel begins with an exciting action set-piece with Max hijacking a truck filled with military supplies. It’s a violent and fast-paced opening that sets the tone for this short, peppy paperback. 

We are quickly introduced to our villains: a shadowy European-based organized crime and intelligence cabal known only as The Combine seeking to steal American industrial secrets for its own profit and benefit. The focal point for this showdown between The Combine and Max’s agency is an Atomic energy conference hosted on the estate of an Air Force colonel. It’s up to Max to figure out who the technology thieving Combine spies are among the guests and neutralize them without getting whacked himself. 

The Air Force colonel has a sexy, 26 year-old niece named April who is the hostess of the conference and a pivotal player in the weekend’s intrigue. John Jakes keeps the narrative exciting with well-crafted action scenes every few pages. His plotting is basic but serviceable. 

Overall, this early work from a future famous author is about as good as one of the better Nick Carter: Killmaster installments. If you can score a cheap copy of A Night for Treason, you won’t regret reading it. However, it’s unlikely you’ll remember it for long after you’ve moved onto the next paperback in your stack. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Whiteout #01 - The Snow

Flint Maxwell is an Ohio native and author of horror and fantasy titles. He's authored a post-apocalyptic series called Jack Zombie, co-wrote the Midwest Magic Chronicles novels, and contributed to the short-story collection 25 Gates of Hell featuring horror authors like Brian Keene. The author's own short-story collection, The Bitter Cold, was published in 2018. My first experience with the author is his 2020 five book series of post-apocalyptic novels, Whiteout. I'm starting with the series debut, The Snow, published in multiple formats by Dark Void Press.

Through first-person perspective, readers are introduced to Grady Miller, an Ohio firefighter that experienced a harrowing tragedy that left a little boy dead. Trying to recover from the trauma, Grady pals around with his two childhood friends, Stone and Jonas. The three buddies want to celebrate July 4th in tradition in a lakeside cabin at fictional Prism Lake. The festivities of drinking beer and telling stories is fun for the trio, and the author conveys their friendship and inner-loyalty to the printed page quite well. However, “The Three Musketeers” are about to experience outright horror.

The three awaken to find that it's snowing. On the fourth of July. In Ohio. Once the snow starts falling, it never stops. The friends soon learn that the radio stations and internet are out and soon the power begins to fade. As a blizzard soaks the landscape, the three also learn that their fears, the things that trouble them the most, are becoming real things outside. The dead kid begins calling to Grady from the snow. Dark figures are seen in the distance. Spiders as large as cars start crawling. It's a nightmare scenario. But, is it any good?

For the most part I enjoyed the book for what it was. This is clearly the origin tale, and it ends right when the action begins to escalate. The setup was appropriate, the characters introduced, and doomsday ushered in to create the backbone of the series. I found it to be truly scary at times, but for the most part it's just gloomy and depressing. Like most post-apocalyptic tales, the team-building is a necessity and the survivors have to possess some sort of past tragedy to overcome in the post-apocalypse. It suspiciously reminded me of Christopher Golden's more superior novel Snowblind, which has nearly the same concept.

I plan on reading the next installment soon. I found The Snow to be enjoyable enough to warrant an extended look at the series. Flint Maxwell is creative, has a plan, and forms the story well. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Monday, August 1, 2022

The Big Steal

Irish author Athwill William Baker used pseudonyms like Howard Baker, W. Howard Baker, W.A. Ballinger, John Long, Desmond Reid and Richard Williams to write crime-fiction, science-fiction, and espionage novels. He began his career as a journalist, joined the Army during WWII, and later became the editor in charge of Panther Books. He's mostly remembered for his contributions to the serial police procedural Sexton Blake, inspired by Sherlock Holmes. He also authored a 16 book series starring Richard Quintain, a British Secret Service agent. My first experience with the author is his stand-alone caper novel The Big Steal. The book was published in 1964 and has been printed a total of four times, each with different artwork and different publishers.

Sep Ryder was an Italian veteran of WWII that fought for the Fascists and personally knew Mussolini. Due to his violent behavior, and military record, he was placed in the mental institution Broadmoor by the British government. However, he escapes the facility and puts together a plan to rob $2.5 million from Heathrow Airport. But, he needs a team.

Baker writes this short novel as one long series of introductions. We meet Phineas Norton and his wife Marcia and quickly learn that Ryder and Marcia are having an affair. Then there is Bill Simmons of the Daily Post, his ex-wife, guys named Bruno and Clifford, and the list goes on and on. The plan is for Phineas to become a passenger on board one of the aircraft landing at Heathrow. He will warn the crew that he has a bomb on the plane. This puts the entire airport on lockdown and a lot of people on the ground preparing for the plane's arrival – ambulances, cops, journalists, etc. While all of this commotion is happening, Ryder and his drivers, gunmen, and strong guys will rob the place and drive an ambulance out of town. Phineas then will tell them he made the whole thing up. Because there is no bomb. Until there is one.

This book was mostly enjoyable and could have been something special if the cast of characters was cut in half. The pacing was a frenzy of activity, propelling the plot and creating a lot of drama, intrigue, and excitement for the book's payoff. But, there's just so many characters that it was hard to keep track of histories and where all of these people are in the plan. I spent a majority of my reading experience confused, but Baker's writing was really good and kept me interested. In the future, I'd like to read another Baker novel to compare quality. Lukewarm recommendation for The Big Steal

Buy a copy of this book HERE