Showing posts with label A.S. Fleischman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label A.S. Fleischman. Show all posts

Friday, September 2, 2022

Blood Alley

In 1955, Blood Alley was simultaneously published as a novel and released as a film by Warner Brothers. The premise is that a U.S. Merchant Marine named Wilder is freed from a Chinese prison by a village hoping to utilize his services to escape to British-controlled Hong Kong. The book was authored by A.S. Fleischman, a popular Fawcett Gold Medal writer who specialized in exotic Asian locales to place his action-adventure novels like Shanghai Flame (1951), Malay Woman (1954), and Danger in Paradise (1953). The book was considered “cinematic”, thus Hollywood gained a copy of the book prior to its release and agreed that Blood Alley would be a great film. Fleischman was asked to write the screenplay, thus both formats were released simultaneously. 

Thankfully, Stark House Press has published a majority of Fleischman's novels, including Blood Alley, which is out now through the subsidiary Black Gat Books. 

The book is a nautical adventure tale as protagonist Wilder captains a steamship through a perilous coastal waterway. In the book's beginning, Fleischman is liberated from a long stint in a Chinese prison. The first few chapters focus on the escape, the journey to the village, and his days spent as a clandestine village local. Wilder learns that the village, through bribery and firepower, were able to spring Wilder, but at a price. Wilder is to transport the villagers to Hong Kong, an island that was controlled by the British government for 99 years (which reverted back to China in 1997).

Fleischman inserts a romantic connection for Wilder in the form of Cathy, a British woman who is anticipating that her father, the village doctor, will be able to join Wilder's quest for freedom. Part of the book is the build-up to learn of the doctor's fate and the impact on Cathy's choice to continue the trek to Hong Kong. The voyage is ripe with gunfights, patrol boat chases, and conflicts on the ship as Wilder is placed in a number of territorial and village disputes. The largest portion of the novel has Wilder battling his own ship, a relic from a bygone era that is forced to do the impossible. 

Despite the fact that Blood Alley was a Hollywood flop, even with iconic John Wayne as the star, Fleischman's novel is a better representation of the story. It's a short, fast-paced novel that doesn't necessarily rely on a lot of characters and backstory. I enjoyed Wilder as the narrative's main star, but the chemistry with Cathy was an enthralling, enjoyable element. Nautical-fiction fans won't be disappointed with the plot's development. It's a sequence of terrific visuals that offers up the breathtaking escapism that the genre demands. That alone makes Blood Alley an easy recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Danger in Paradise

Stark House Press continues to reprint the literary work of A.S. Fleischman. The talented Navy veteran, magician, and author began writing genre paperbacks in 1948, a career that led into his more prominent role as a children's storyteller. Among his westerns, movie novelizations, and crime-fiction, the genre that most feel was Fleischman's strong suit was exotic adventure. Novels like Shanghai Flame, Counterspy Express, Malay Woman, and Blood Alley are set in and around Asian locations. In 2018, Stark House reprinted Fleischman's Malay Woman and Danger in Paradise as a two-in-one with an introduction by David Laurence Wilson. Having read, reviewed, and enjoyed Malay Woman, I was excited to read 1953's Danger in Paradise to experience more of the author's thrilling exotic adventures.

Jefferson Cape is a Montana native that works as an international geologist in the Far East. After a long voyage across the Java Sea with a crazy Australian captain, Cape is happy for a day stop in Buleleng, Indonesia. The temperature is red hot, the beer is hotter, and the mosquitoes are like a thick drapery of disease and despair. But, Cape is on dry land, at a bar, enjoying these tiny moments when a beautiful woman approaches him for an unusual request.

The woman explains that she has a very tiny package that she needs to export out of Buleleng. It's a business card with Russian wording on the back. She explains that this has to do with terrorists in the country and arms trading. She wants him to carry it back to the states and deliver it to the CIA. Unfortunately Cape agrees and his entire world comes crashing down. The woman seemingly disappears and Cape finds himself stranded and on the run from a Chinese gunman, a powerful businessman, and terrorists as his ship sails away. His only ally is a sexy, mysterious woman, but she somehow knows the lady from the bar and is connected to this whole deadly fiasco. 

Danger in Paradise wasn't as entertaining as I had hoped. I felt that Fleischman had too many ideas and couldn't really flesh them out in a uniform way. In fact, in the first couple of pages, Cape looks at the woman in the bar and says, “Okay, I'll bite.” I felt like this was Fleischman after writing a couple of the early pages for a plot he hadn't quite constructed yet. He's reminding himself that he has this American man in a bar meeting a mysterious woman. Where can he take this rudimentary idea? Unfortunately, he takes it too far.

At 160 pages, the narrative is saturated in chase sequences that left me bewildered about which characters were after each other. I wanted the story to be explained quickly so I could enjoy the twists and turns, but once it was unveiled, I needed some story elements concealed to keep it interesting. Gunrunning, terrorists, exotic locales and shady ladies should be an easy story to tell. But, Danger in Paradise drowns in the details and becomes a convoluted chore. Of course, Fleischman can write his tail off, but the end result left me exhausted. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 87

On Episode 87 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we discuss the work of A.S. Fleischman. Also: Ronald Malfi, Barry Malzberg, Thrift Store Outing, Todhunter Ballard, Mountain Man, Eric Corder, and more! Listen on any podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE 

Listen to "Episode 87: A.S. Fleischman" on Spreaker.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Straw Donkey Case

Beginning in 1948, author A.S. Fleischman developed the knack for writing. After a stint in the U.S. Navy, the author enjoyed a successful career authoring original crime-fiction paperbacks as well as children's fiction and even non-fiction books about stage magic. He graduated from San Diego State college, so it makes sense that his first published novel, The Straw Donkey Case, is set in San Diego. The book was published in 1948 by Phoenix Press as a digest-sized paperback originally sold for 25-cents.

A man named Mr. Ranson walks into Max Brindle's office looking for a good private-eye. Ranson explains that he is immensely wealthy and lives on a clifftop mansion with his niece and two nephews. Ranson “feels” that one of his family members is attempting to murder him to gain an early inheritance. After Brindle asks for evidence supporting his paranoia, Ranson produces no tangible proof and is asked to simply leave well enough alone. However, after Ranson pays Brindle a sizable sum of money to have dinner with his family, the private-eye's appetite increases.

After the uneventful dinner, Brindle proposes to Ranson to simply change the will to no financial distribution if he does dies by unnatural causes. Ranson agrees and shows up at Brindle's office the next day to declare that the will has been changed. The next day Ranson's body washes up on the beach as an apparent accidental fall from the cliffs. A few hours later, Ranson's well-endowed niece appears in Brindle's office wanting his services. She is inheriting millions but wants Brindle to prove that Ranson was murdered. If he was, she gets nothing. If it is an accident, the money is rightfully hers. Brindle tries to convince her to leave it as an accident and become a millionaire but this family proves to be a stubborn breed. Brindle takes this bizarre and abstract case.

By 1948, the crime-fiction paperback market started shifting to more mature stories for readers. The armchair sleuths and knit-quilting mysteries had slowly evolved into hard-hitting private-eye tales that displayed profanity, more sexual innuendo and an elevation in violence. The Straw Donkey Case isn't I, the Jury (Mike Hammer's debut), but it shares some of the same similarities. Brindle's secretary is in love with him and he's too busy to properly sex her up (or just doesn't want to). Like any good private-eye, Brindle is smart, but temperamental, and occasionally just walks into trouble before properly scouting the situation. He was far ahead of me on characters and motives but the narrative does move around a lot for readers. While the story isn't remarkable, it's a unique premise that expands into a compelling international thriller.

There's a reason why Fawcett Gold Medal was seducing Fleischman a few years later. Based on just this debut, it's easy to determine that the author was something special. Beginning in 1951, Fleischman would embark on a series of Fawcett paperbacks set in Asia's tropical locales. Most critics agree that these Far-East novels are the best of his career. However, The Straw Donkey Case is recommendable. To my knowledge there's no reprint of the book and that needs to change. Stark House and Cutting Edge...I'm talking to you.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Yellowleg (aka The Deadly Companions)

Mostly known for his children's novels, A.S. Fleischman also authored a number of genre paperbacks between 1948 and 1963. The plots typically possess the crime-noir tropes of the era – beautiful women, innocent men on the run, gun play and money. Like Day Keene, Fleischman only authored one western in his career, Yellowleg. The book was published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1960 and later re-titled to The Deadly Companions to match the 1961 film adaptation. The novel was later reprinted by Stark House Press in 2012.

Yellowleg is simply the name given to the book's protagonist, a man introduced as wearing a McClellan hat and yellow-legged pants, both leftovers from the American Civil War. As a former Union serviceman, Yellowleg has spent the last eight years of his life trying to find the Confederate soldier that scalped most of his head off. When the book begins, Yellowleg is paired with a young cocky gunfighter named Billy and a veteran survivalist named Turk.

Once the trio arrive in Gila City, New Mexico, Billy and Turk begin discussing a bank heist. Yellowleg wants no part of it, instead he's in town to see an ex-battlefield surgeon. Due to a rifle ball buried in his scarred shoulder, Yellowleg's gun hand isn't as slick and accurate as it once was. It's right after this medical consultation that Yellowleg attempts to shoot a fleeing bank robber. His shoulder gives out and the shot drifts off target killing a young boy. Later, the boy's grieving mother Kit sets off by wagon to the town of Siringo to bury her son beside his dead father. Yellowleg, accepting responsibility for the death, sets off with Turk and Billy to follow the woman and keep her safe. Across this hostile, barren wasteland, the trio not only must contend with a grief-stricken maniacal woman but also warring Apache warriors...and each other.

Like Arnold Hano's 1958 classic western The Last Notch, much of Fleischman's narrative is psychological. There's action and violence mixed into the customary revenge formula, but it's few and far between. In some novels that can be a very bad thing. Not with Fleischman. Instead, he uses this thick, wrenching atmosphere to drain the humanity from the thick-headed, bullish character of Turk. The character of Billy is written in a way that's symbolic with the gunslingers of the west – arrogant, proud, tense and sexually charged. When he isn't groping, he's practicing killing. The mourning mother Kit is a modern woman escaping the downtrodden life of showgirl, bar-room maiden and servant. Her defiance to all that have beaten, betrayed and wronged her is a resounding, triumphant portion of the narrative – intended or not.

Yellowleg, rightfully so, has his own tale to tell. The curse for revenge, his wasted years, his complacency to just accept that his life is only worth living if he can avenge his loss. The fact that he remains under the hat, in the same war-torn clothes of his past, is truly a symbol for Yellowleg's own life. The cloak of revenge that he tightly wears chokes out any happiness or meager satisfaction. His past is the only living he does.

Fleischman carefully constructs the narrative to highlight each character and their ultimate weakness. As a western, it's layered with adventure and sprinkled with enough firefights and gunplay to appease the casual genre fan. Beyond being a great western, it's just a great novel about humanity and the endless struggle with ourselves. If you love Arnold Hano and Clifton Adams, then you'll love this. It's by far one of the better westerns I've read.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Malay Woman

A.S. Fleischman (Avron Zalmon Fleischman, 1920-2010) was a notable children's book writer whose fiction concentrated on the art of magic. From 1948-1963, Fleischman also wrote crime-fiction for leading paperback publishers like Fawcett Gold Medal and Ace. I adored his 1963 novel The Venetian Blonde and was anxious to try one of his earlier books. Flieschman had a penchant for setting his adventure and crime-noir novels in exotic Asian locales so I decided to try the Far East novel Malay Woman originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1954.

The book begins in a Singapore airport and introduces Jock Hamilton, a once thriving rubber plantation manager who is desperately attempting to catch an outbound flight to Melbourne. In his first-person narration, Hamilton explains to readers that he's a fugitive wanted for allegedly killing his wife. Of course, he's innocent but his circle of friends and allies have shrunk since the killing. After the police begin searching the airport, Hamilton escapes onto the street and eventually sneaks onto a steamship headed to Malaysia. But Hamilton doesn't realize he's jumped from the pan into the fire.

The middle section of Fleischman's narrative is a captivating crime-noir set within the ship's sleeping quarters. After hiding in a closet to avoid detection, Hamilton overhears two hired killers planning a hit on a wealthy woman named Kay. As a fugitive from justice and an illegal passenger, Hamilton isn't clammoring to report the conversation to the authorities. Instead, he seeks out the woman named Kay to warn her of the killers. Eventually the action relocates to the hot steamy jungles of Malaysia, but I won't connect the narrative's beacon points for you.

Within the hotblooded femme fatale plot, Hamilton reunites with an old friend at a rubber plantation. The problem is that Jock Hamilton may have fallen in love with Kay but his friend's girlfriend Monique is begging for Hamilton's Jock. She blackmails him into a sexual affair by threatening to notify the authorities and Kay of his fugitive status. The entire third act could have written by Orrie Hitt or Gil Brewer.

While I didn't like Malay Woman nearly as much as The Venetian Blonde, it was still a memorable crime-noir laced with adventure and intrigue. Fleischman is such a skillful storyteller and his words just flow accross the pages so easily. I couldn't put the book down in hopes of learning Monique's motives and Hamilton's ultimate fate as the burdened hero. In three acts, Fleischman manages to weave a number of crime-fiction tropes into an enjoyable and enthralling read. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, September 18, 2020

The Venetian Blonde

Brooklyn native A.S. Fleischman (Avron Zalmon Fleischman, 1920-2010), authored his first book in 1939 at the age of 19. In 1941, Fleischman joined the U.S. Navy Reserve and served near the Phillippines and China during WW2. After graduating from San Diego State, the author began writing children's books as Sid Fleischman. During his literary career, Fleischman wrote over 40 children's books, a feat that earned him critical praise with industry peers. However, what brings the author to Paperback Warrior is his short career as a crime-fiction and adventure writer.

Between 1948-1963, Fleischman wrote 10 genre fiction books that saw publication with the likes of Fawcett Gold Medal, Phoenix Press and Ace. His 1955 novel Blood Alley was adapted for cinema starring John Wayne and Lauren Bacall. My first experience with Fleischman is his last full novel, The Venetian Blonde, published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1963.

The book stars Skelly, a former card-sharp who made a fortune dealing loaded hands to a Boston money man named Braque. After years of swift hands, Skelly's fingers fail Braque to the tune of $125,000. Unable to repay the error, Skelly begins to dodge Braque and his hired guns, a runaway trail that leads him to Venice Beach, California in hopes of a new start. But after trying a small hand of backroom poker, Skelly realizes his hands just aren't fast enough any longer. He needs a brand new con. Enter Evangeline.

Skelly, using the name Appleby, attempts to reconnect with an old friend. His wife, Evangeline, advises that her husband is out of the country on business. After learning of Skelly's financial woes, Evangeline throws him the perfect pitch. You see, she's a fake witch. A spiritualist. A medium. She dupes people out of money by faking the old smoke and mirrors séance trick. She's a cunning, greedy woman who runs the con game at the professional sounding Institute of Spirit Research. Here's the swindle: Evangeline has located an old millionaire who recently lost her nephew in a drowning accident. Evangeline proposes to Skelly that they collaborate on an unusual scheme. They can bring the millionaire's nephew back to life for a cool million. Skelly laughs at the proposal...until Evangeline shows him a mysterious young man she has locked away upstairs. Could this really be the drowned nephew?!?

My first experience with A.S. Fleischman was an absolute blast. Think of the heist formula perfected by the likes of Dan J. Marlowe or Lionel White and saturate it in Carter Brown's comedic seasoning. It's clear that the author emulates some of the writing style he used with his children's books, but adding all of the coarse characteristics one would find in a crime-noir novel of the 1960s – sex, murder and fraud. I also really enjoyed the nod to the western's hero's flaws. Skelly is essentially the fast gun who isn't quick enough anymore to compete with the buck-wild up and comers.

Skelly and Evangeline are both looking for that one big payoff so they can escape the con game business. They both want to walk the righteous path, but to do so they must put one fraud in front of the other. It's a deceitful path allowing the characters to really shine in their element. Fleischman also includes a homely but attractive beachnik. Think of the Times Square beatniks and their soundtrack of Jack Kerouac over groovy jazz. Replace it with a beach of your choice to the tunes of Jan & Dean. That's really the setting of The Venetian Blonde, a unique location and historical time period that just adds more originality and imagination to Fleischman's impressive adult-fiction send-off. In his last noir act, Fleischman delivered a memorable and masterful performance.

In 2016, Stark House Press reprinted this novel as a double with the author's 1952 crime-noir Look Behind You, Lady. You can buy a copy of that book HERE.