Showing posts with label Cutting Edge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cutting Edge. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Return to Vikki

John Tomerlin (1930-2014) was a screenwriter and novelist — mostly in the science-fiction genre — who authored a Fawcett Gold Medal heist novel in 1959 called Return to Vikki. The exciting paperback has returned from the dead as an ebook, paperback, and audiobook from Cutting Edge Books.

Frank Shelby lives an idyllic suburban life with a good job and a pretty wife. This is all upended one day when his past comes knocking from his prior life back east in the form of a mob henchman. You see, before he was Frank Shelby, he was a master thief named Connor, now a wanted man and a fugitive. Frank’s wife has no clue about her husband’s double-life.

The visitor makes him a deal: travel back to Manhattan to meet with a mob boss about “one more job” or deal with the police and the repercussions of his old life. Making up an excuse to his wife, Frank travels back east to learn more.

Before he knows it, Frank finds himself at a mob-owned titty-bar called Club Xanadu only to find the titular Vikki dancing on stage. Frank and Vikki used to be an item before Frank dipped out and left the criminal life without saying goodbye to Vikki. Once he finally gets an audience with the mob boss, it is explained that the job requires “stealing an entire bank” — not robbing it, stealing it.

The mobster further explains that what he’s talking about is a bank that is moving across New York City from one location to another. This will involve packing up the vault and all of the assets and physically moving it across the city. It will take a man like Frank, with a particular set of skills to pull off a heist this audacious. The racketeer makes Frank an offer he can’t refuse, and the planning begins.

Along the way there’s a murder frame-up, a random beating, and extensive sexual temptation. Perhaps there was a bit too much happening, and the paperback would have been better with less mid-novel clutter and a greater focus on the heist planning and execution? In any case, it’s never particularly hard to follow.

Never fear, the novel gets back on track for the final act of the heist and its aftermath. The robbery itself is creatively-executed and the moral dilemmas surrounding it were completely compelling. The aftermath has an audacious action set piece and a killing evoking an early James Bond film.

Overall, Return to Vikki was a remarkably good - and twice mispackaged - heist novel that fans of Lionel White and Richard Stark will enjoy immensely. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Apache Wells

According to the Cutting Edge Books author page, Robert Steelman (1914-1994) worked for the Army as a civil electronics technician from 1936-1949 before publishing his first of many westerns in 1956. According to the author's papers at the University of Wyoming, one his earliest manuscripts was originally titled Road to the Wells. It was published by Ballantine in 1959 using the revised title Apache Wells. Cutting Edge Books have released a new version of the book in both ebook and paperback formats.

It's 1876 and seventeen-year old Joey is traveling with a wagon train across Arizona Territory. Along with his older brothers Saul and Dave, Joey's destination is the fabled golden land of California. While the perilous trek is long and dusty, the most dangerous aspect of the trip is found within. Both Saul and Dave become embroiled in a bitter rivalry concerning Saul's young wife Eda. Confined in a hostile territory ripe with Apache attacks and savagery, Dave and Eda depart to city life in Tucson, leaving Saul enraged. He decides to forego the trip to California and instead begins to carve out a homestead in Apache Wells.

Steelman's plotting is superb when Joey is forced to choose sides between his warring brothers. After an argument with Saul, Joey heads to Tucson where he is robbed by a prostitute and her pimp. Left penniless, he heads back to Saul to help him defend his newly built homestead against the raids of Apache attacks. This propulsive plot device delivers a frantic pace as readers are thrust into these violent encounters. Saul is forced to protect his young brother while also attempting to build a fortified defense against the raiders. There is an exceptional amount of detail spent on planning and defending the attacks, which I found added a tremendous sense of realism. 

However, the other plot point that Steelman cleverly balances is a familiar one – the inevitable traditional western story of land grabbing. In this case, it's a land baron that is controlling the town's businesses and assets. He needs Saul's newly acquired land to host his new shipment of cattle. When Dave agrees to side with the land baron, Joey finds himself in a fight to either protect Saul from Dave and other hired guns or from negotiating with Saul to leave the land and homestead he's fairly earned.

Apache Wells is a terrific tale that highlights the importance of family, responsibility, and commitment. Steelman's prose is written in cowboy dialect that is similar to Zane Grey or Walt Coburn. While that rich cowboy-speak may be off-putting to some, I thoroughly enjoyed the authenticity. Additionally, I liked the minor hints of Biblical components and theology as well as the various humorous bits sprinkled in courtesy of a cagey old mountain man. Thanks to Cutting Edge Books for re-introducing this great western to newer generations.

Collector's Note – Ballantine published a second printing in 1965. My version is the 1972 paperback by Ballantine with a cover by Frank McCarthy. The most admired version of the book is probably the 1975 Ballantine paperback with a painted cover by Boris Vallejo (Conan, Red Sonja).

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, September 8, 2023


Jack Sheridan was a novelist of the early 1950s whose work has been rediscovered thanks to new editions from Cutting Edge Books. This includes his 1951 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback original, Thunderclap.

The main character is a nomadic laborer named Britt Callum who can never hold down a job because he inevitably gets in a fight and clobbers the other guy a bit too hard. After a one-punch knockout in an Oklahoma bunkhouse, the human giant is back on the road hitchhiking and looking for a place to land.

He settles in rural Wichita Falls, Texas where he encounters a short ex-boxer named Rigger who appears to be the town’s drunken bully. Early in the novel, there’s a vivid fistfight scene showcasing the author’s capacity to be a damn fine action writer. For his part, Rigger is a powderkeg of hot-tempered, little-man violence and every scene awaits his next eruption.

One thing leads to another, and Big Britt finds himself working for Little Rigger and living at his wheat farm. As soon as Britt arrives at Rigger’s dilapidated acreage, he meets Rigger’s wife, Marcy. And as soon as the author describes her round, firm breasts, you know exactly where this story is headed.

Rigger has a brother named Newt who also lives on the farm. As bad and dangerous as Rigger is, Newt is ten-times more dangerous and conniving. Newt is the first to notice the vibes between Britt and Marcy, and the minefield of Britt’s current existence is underscored.

In 1951, Thunderclap was a commercial success selling over 500,000 copies and multiple printings with two cover variations. The people of Wichita Falls didn’t care for the way their town was portrayed as a redneck shithole populated by dusty bar-fighters, but such is fiction, right?

This is a novel with a great beginning and a gruesome conclusion, but a plodding middle. The “will they, won’t they” dilemma between Britt and Marcy occupied nearly the entirety of the book to the extent that I was left thinking that Harry Whittington or Gil Brewer would have just killed off the bastard Rigger much sooner setting up the novel’s tension.

Thunderclap is also a rather depressing novel, like a blues song or murder ballad set to prose. These are some hard-luck characters scraping by with a meager existence. The upside is that Sheridan is a very good writer, and I never considered walking away from the book because I needed to know what would become of these four tragic characters.

As long as you know what you’re getting (i.e. not a crime noir, more of a rural melodrama), you’ll probably like Thunderclap just fine. The Texas setting is vivid, the characters are well-drawn, and the writing is solid. It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but a compelling timepiece certainly worth your time. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Steve Bentley #05 - Murder on her Mind

The fifth Steve Bentley novel is Murder on Her Mind, originally published by Dell in 1960. The novel, authored by Howard Hunt using a pseudonym of Robert Dietrich, has been reintroduced to modern audiences in an exciting new version by Cutting Edge Books. It exists in both paperback and digital as well as an inclusion in the massive Steve Bentley omnibus Bentley for Hire.

As a reminder, Bentley is a former U.S. Treasury agent who experienced combat in The Korean War. Now, he works as a successful accountant in Washington, D.C. and spends his free time sailing his boat on the Potomac River. The author positions the Bentley character like an amateur private-eye with plenty of intelligence, street smarts, quick wits, determination, and tenacity. In some ways, Bentley always reminds me of the popular Chester Drum character created by Milton Lesser (better known as Stephen Marlowe). So, it is no surprise that these books normally start with a client walking into Bentley's office needing favors beyond the typical IRS hustle. 

Chula Marques enters Bentley's office wanting an accounting sheet prepared for her father, a Baltimore resident and former revolutionist from an unknown banana country. Bentley is skeptical to become involved with this sort of international diplomat, and his fears are realized when he's handed counterfeit money. Because of Bentley's prior experience rooting out counterfeiters for the U.S. Treasury, he can easily identify saggy president eyes on American currency. 

Bentley dismisses Chula, but her memory stays with him. He visits the local club where she performs, and has a run-in with her drunk and disorderly husband as well as the bandstand leader who may be having an affair with her. Bentley is also approached by a newspaper reporter that represents a sensational publication that focuses on the hottest D.C. scandals. They want the scoop on Chula and her father.

All of this is entertaining enough to read, but the author understands his consumer's needs. One morning, Bentley receives a phone call from Chula that her father is missing. His last known whereabouts is a small shoreline town in Maryland. When Bentley arrives at the beach cottage (a popular staple in crime-noir) he discovers the dead reporter. Someone killed the reporter to put the hush on whatever they feel was blabbed to or by Bentley. So, if the journalist has been whacked, it is only a matter of time before someone tries to hush Bentley. 

Howard Hunt's plot is a little convoluted with some stolen jewels, a gunrunning enterprise, and the ins-and-outs of his relationship with Chula. The most entertaining aspect of the story for me was the abrasion between Bentley and a local criminal kingpin named Renzo. The story-line featuring Bentley squaring off with Renzo's two hitmen was worth the price of admission. Also, uncommon to this series, is a rather foul mood conveyed by Bentley. The imagery of the hero hoisting a rifle and walking down the beach to possibly kill his pursuer was just so vivid and memorable. Hunt was really on his game with this novel. 

If you love intriguing private-eye novels with interesting characters and an intense, calculated story, then by all means Murder on Her Mind should be your next read. While Hunt is often unfairly dismissed by crime-fiction fans, I continue to find his literary work exceptional. The Steve Bentley series is the best representation of the Howard Hunt formula and this is no different. Highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, June 30, 2023

The Short Night

Leonard S. Zinberg (1911-1968) was best known for his work under the pseudonym Ed Lacy, but he also employed other pen names, including Russell Turner for a 1957 noir paperback called The Short Night. The novel has been reprinted by Cutting Edge Books for modern audiences.

Our narrator is a former first-baseman and current baseball scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers based in Vero Beach, Florida named Lester “Red” Dolsan. As the novel opens, he’s just arrived in Manhattan two years after the suicide of his wife. Dolsan is good with money and has a pad in NYC that he hardly ever uses because he’s always on the road - mostly in Puerto Rico recruiting promising Latino shortstops.

Before email and voicemail, people wrote letters on paper or used phone answering services to take messages — also on paper. Going through the messages and letters awaiting him in New York, Dolsan learns that a woman he knew briefly from his past named Peggy was trying desperately to reach him. The flashback of their meet-cute is pretty great, so I won’t spoil it here.

When Dolsan tries to find Peggy, she has largely disappeared. Some amateur gumshoe work starts to fill in the blanks about why she was looking for him months ago. His need to locate Peggy is serious, and the more he searches, the deeper he finds himself enmeshed in the mystery of her disappearance.

Lacy (he’ll always be Ed Lacy to me) is an awesome writer, and his dialogue is among the best of that era. Dolsan is a tough, hardboiled knight-errant with a heart of gold. You’ll really enjoy spending time with this character. In fact, all the characters are vividly-drawn and endlessly-interesting. I’m baffled why this mini-masterpiece was published by a back-bench paperback house using one of the author’s disposable pseudonyms. This book is really something special.

The novel’s central mystery (“What happened to Peggy?”) has a delightfully-clever solution that I couldn’t see coming. Dolsan’s reaction to the dilemma once he solves the mystery also made for some fine reading. Do your best to avoid plot details, and you’ll be delighted throughout this wonderful treat of a paperback. Highest recommendation. 

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.

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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The Cheaters

Ledru S. Baker Jr. served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WW2. In 1951, his short literary career began with the bestselling Fawcett Gold Medal paperback And By My Love. He followed with three more novels before his death in 1967. Cutting Edge Books has released nearly all of Baker's works, including The Cheaters, originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1952. The book is available in both digital and physical editions as a stand-alone or as part of the Ledru Baker Jr Reader, an omnibus also containing Brute Madness and And Be My Love

Orchestra musician and bandleader Jack Griffith works at a posh Hollywood night club that is controlled by the Syndicate, specifically a Mafioso named Moss Morrison. One evening, Griffith is summoned to a meeting with Morrison and offered a peculiar proposal. Morrison wants to divorce his wife, a hot ticket named Mardi, but needs something on her to avoid a huge payout in alimony. Sensing his wife's attraction to Jack, Morrison offers Jack a large sum of money if he can swindle Mardi into a romantic fling. Griffith accepts the deal, but after meeting Mardi he falls in love with her. 

Just when you think Baker's smooth prose is surely leading into the overused “innocent man on the run” formula, the talented author switches the narrative entirely. Instead, Griffith figures out the whole setup while falling in love with a clever and sexy waitress. When she's taken captive by the Mob, Griffith recalls his WW2 days of fighting the Italians in brutal, bloody combat. With an iron-fisted vengeance, Griffith takes the fight to the Mob.

Baker's writing is exceptional and injects a heavy dose of realism and violence for a 1952 novel. The Cheaters mixes the grit and grime of Donald Hamilton (Matt Helm) with the sarcastic afterglow of Mickey Spillane (Mike Hammer). Baker's writing is just so engaging and produces a strong, emotional reaction. An example:

    They looked up, and their startled faces gave me all the time I needed. I shot the first one through the head; his skull and hair rose magically. I snarled and turned to the other one as the noise and blast of the gun, the smell in the room and the power I received from the recoil took me away from Los Angeles and threw me back to the Po Valley.

    I swung the gun toward the other one. He had risen, and his hand was pawing inside the coat when I said: “Hell's waitin'! Good-by!” at the same instant that I fired.

    The first shot threw him back into the chair. The second one caught him in his throat and ripped out the back of his head. I guess it did, because there were little pieces of bone on the window like flys trapped on flypaper. 

If you have a penchant for strong, “fight or die” heroes forced into inevitable violence, then The Cheaters will surely hit you like a ton of bricks. This is uncompromising, unwavering crime-fiction.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Carnival Girl

Cutting Edge Books has performed a marvelous job preserving mid-20th century fiction. The publisher's new editions of classic titles by the likes of Howard Hunt, Ovid Demaris, Ralph Dennis, and March Hastings position these vintage, sometimes expensive literary works, into the spotlight for a whole new generation of crime-fiction and mystery fans. 

One of the authors that Cutting Edge has focused on is Stuart James, an underrated crime-noir author that also served as a staff writer and sports reporter for magazines and newspapers. James also became an editor for Midwood Books, a subsidiary of paperback powerhouse Tower Publications. I thoroughly enjoyed the Cutting Edge editions of James' novels Frisco Flat (1960) and Judge Not My Sins (1951). I was happy to discover another Cutting Edge title, Carnival Girl, authored by Max Gareth, a pseudonym employed by James. The novel was originally published in 1960 by a small, low-budget publishing house called Chariot Books, home of other underrated novelists like Arthur Adlon and John Burton Thompson

Norma is a gorgeous Midwestern girl raised by an alcoholic single mom. When she's nearly raped by her drunken stepfather, Norma runs away from home. In the book's opening pages, readers find Norma at an Indiana diner using her last dime for food and coffee. Thankfully, the waitress displays some pity, and arranges for her to catch a ride “west” with a truck-driving customer. However, Norma doesn't realize that the waitress earned an extra tip by selling her to the highest bidder. On a lonely stretch of blacktop, the trucker rapes Norma before she escapes to a nearby farm. After being sized-up by a farm laborer, she manages to escape what is perceived as an attempted rape by flagging down two people traveling with the carnival.

The carny duo (slang for employees of a carnival) convinces Norma that she can make it in the carnival as a stripper. Back then, a fan favorite at rural, small town carnivals is the peep show, where men and boys with enough coins could enter a tent to watch naked women dance. Norma learns a few tricks and before long she is the carnival's number one attraction. But, she draws the attention of three specific men.

Speed is the good guy daredevil that performs motorcycle tricks. He falls in love with Norma, but she doesn't have the same feelings for him. Instead, Norma is lusting after Lee, the bad boy carnival drummer. There's also a man named Frank, who pitches Norma a lot of cash to come to St. Louis to work his nightclub. But, she later learns that Frank is in deep with the Mob and if she takes his job, she'll be passed around as a prostitute making a meager living lying on her back for criminals. It's a twisty, hot triangle with innocent Norma caught in the middle. 

With Carnival Girl, Stuart James completes a vivid, often disturbing character study of this young, unfortunate woman and her abrupt, violent end of innocence. Like Judge Not My Sins proved, James was such a clever storyteller with an uncanny ability to make his characters lifelike. By using a common crime-noir trope, the traveling carnival, James is able to submerge this inexperienced character into a world of depravity. Norma is a living doll thrust into dangerous situations and guided by seedy men with below-the-belt motivations. 

Carnival Girl isn't the proverbial happily ever after story of love on the run, but instead a more provocative look at young men and women pursuing carnal desires no matter the cost. It is these types of stories that made Stuart James such a talented, organic storyteller. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Bloodroots Manor

Author Jon Messmann cut his teeth writing for the Golden Age of Comics before moving into full-length novels. At the height of men's action-adventure fiction, Messmann created and authored the vigilante series The Revenger, the Travis McGee-styled Logan books, and the enormously popular adult western series The Trailsman. But, Messmann also capitalized on the gothic paperback craze of the 1960s and 1970s. As Claudette Nicole and Pamela Windsor, Messmann authored a number of gothic mystery and romance novels for Fawcett Gold Medal and Pyramid. Cutting Edge Books has published a number of Messmann titles in new editions, including his gothic paperbacks like Bloodroots Manor. It was originally published by Fawcett in 1970 and has been out of print for more than 50 years.

Nancy Hazleton married a man named Dirk and the two set off for a “happily ever after” life in New York. But, Dirk refused to become intimate with Hazleton and often placed her in audacious stunts to impress his friends. In a wild chain of events, Nancy realizes that Dirk has been attempting to murder her throughout their short marriage. During a life or death struggle, Nancy escapes Dirk's wrath and he plunges to his death. Nancy is placed into a mental hospital to rehabilitate.

After regaining her mental stability, and working through her horrendous past, Nancy becomes enrolled in an interior design school. Upon graduation, Nancy is hired by a man named Samuel Howell to redesign his spacious country house. As the book begins, Nancy is riding a train to Deepwell Junction in the rural mountains of Kentucky. When she arrives late at night, she is shocked to discover that Deepwell Junction's train station is an abandoned husk. Further, the directions leading to Howell's estate lead Nancy to a large abandoned house that's severely damaged. To escape a thunderstorm, Nancy takes shelter inside of the old dwelling. In a terrifying sequence, a horribly disfigured man emerges from the shadows and attacks Nancy in the house. She attempts to escape through the forest and collapses. Is this a nightmare or reality?

At 150 pages, I read Bloodroots Manor in one sitting. Messmann was such a craftsman and he builds this narrative into a crescendo of mystery and white-knuckle suspense. Nancy's exploration of the mysterious town, the Howell family legacy, and her relationship with a local historian all add small ingredients to the much larger mystery. Messmann conveys a real sense of isolation and panic as Nancy contends with the idea that she may have been lured into a deadly trap. Each chapter felt like one more step to some grisly discovery. 

If you love the traditional, atmospheric haunted house tale and the “evil thing down the hall” type of storytelling, then Bloodroots Manor is an easy recommendation. With its cursed heirs, family secrets, phantoms on the hillside, and cavernous mansion, this one has everything we all love about the old fashioned gothic novel. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, December 12, 2022

The Pursuit of Agent M

DeWitt Samuel Copp (1919-1999) authored fiction and nonfiction books with themes relating to military history, aviation, the Cold War, and espionage. His experience in the Army Air Corps during WWII, and role as a flight instructor pilot provides a unique realism to his writing. Copp also served in the Central Intelligence Agency and taught history and civics at St. Luke's School in Connecticut. 

Copp's literary work includes Notebooks, a three-book series of action-adventure novels written under a pseudonym of Sam Picard. As Nick Carter, Copp authored two novels in the Nick Carter: Killmaster series. The talented writer penned a screenplay for an episode of One Step Beyond, a Twilight Zone-esque anthology show on ABC and scripted episodes for other television programs like Three Musketeers, Kraft Theatre, and Lux Video Theatre

His spy-thriller The Pursuit of Agent M has been recently released in a new edition by Cutting Edge in digital and physical formats. The book was originally published as a hardcover in 1961 by Hammond and in paperback by Popular Library a year later. It has remained out of print until now. 

Agent M is Mark Costain, an American spy working for the CIA under the name Mark Vorak. His cover is that he is an engineering director at a Czechoslovakian company that manufactures rockets and missiles. In the time-period of the book's release, Czechoslovakia was a communist country controlled entirely by the very red Soviet Union. 

When readers first meet Costain, he is desperately struggling through the cold, harsh landscape of Czechoslovakia attempting to reach the freedom of the Austrian border. In close pursuit is the Czech military, who have positioned Costain as Public Enemy #1. Considering the novel is a man-on-the-run suspense-thriller, the book's simplistic title is perfectly fitting. 

The Pursuit of Agent M is presented in four acts that feature Czech characters aiding Costain's escape. In the first act, Costain meets an old man tending to his sheep. The brief relationship examines Costain's confession that he was stealing government secrets. The wise old man, who hides Costain from the military, doesn't chastise Costain over killing a police officer. Instead, the old man is infuriated over Costain's “theft” of government intelligence. This surprising response to theft versus murder is an intriguing debate. 

Costain's second meeting is with a poet-philosopher that lives in a one room apartment. The poet insists that he isn't Costain's enemy and allows him safe harbor with food and rest. The only repayment requirement is for Costain to hesitantly listen to the poet's readings asking for praise. When the poet risks death for Costain's getaway, Copp's narrative is morally uplifting, showing readers a most basic human principal. 

The third act, and arguably the most exciting, features Costain's hostage, a woman that is revealed to be the mistress to Krupina, a Czech official coincidentally leading the manhunt to find Costain. This sequence is a fevered, tight-laced portion of Copp's narrative that focuses on the woman's relationship with Krupina, and her efforts to assist Costain as a way to extract revenge on her lover. These events are central to a rural farmhouse with plenty of cat-and-mouse tactics between Costain, Krupina, and the mistress that they both are relying on. It's a brilliant premise that leads to Costain's retrieval of an aircraft, that eventually leads to disaster. 

The book's final act is a resounding resolution that introduces key characters that are paramount to Costain's original mission in Czechoslovakia. The characters include a young woman, Lisa, that shares a romantic chemistry with Costain. It's this satisfying conclusion that breathes a new life into the story, revealing Costain's experiences during WWII, both as a pilot and a prisoner-of-war. The circle becomes complete as Copp presents a roaring sequence of events that spring from a treacherous doctor and his association with the communist government. It's a unique twist on the story relevant to Costain's employer and the horrifying atrocities committed while serving as an undercover agent in the German Gestapo. 

The Los Angels Times said, “The writing and style of the book are superior”, when reviewing The Pursuit of Agent M. I would wholeheartedly agree with their praise as Copp's writing was certainly unique, charismatic, and often endearing. The book, rightfully categorized as a spy-thriller, contains a remarkable amount of emotion - human endurance, philosophy, the consequences of war, moralistic thinking, and personal indebtedness. It's a mature approach to the old-fashioned Cold War, espionage thriller that leaves a strong, noticeable effect on readers. 

As a casual, man-on-the-run story, the novel can be enjoyed as pure escapism, but it would be a travesty to ignore Copp's fundamental, underlining messages sprinkled throughout his work. It really sets him apart from his other military-fiction and espionage contemporaries of that era in a Hemingway style – invigorating circumstances propelling human need and suffering. Whether there is a happy ending is in the eye of the beholder. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Paperback Warrior Primer - Howard Hunt

There is already a lot that can be said about Howard Hunt. He was both a WW2 veteran, a spy, a Hollywood screenwriter, war correspondent, and a criminal. His life has been fictionalized by the film industry, his exploits chronicled by numerous non-fiction books about the infamous Watergate incident, and his possible involvement in the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Even Hunt himself wrote non-fiction books about his own life. While all of these things are fascinating, the purpose of this Paperback Warrior Primer is to examine some of his literary highlights. You can dig the hole deeper through any number of other resources. He authored at least 88 novels, most featuring lurid covers that we appreciate.

Everette Howard Hunt Jr. (1918-2007) was born in Hamburg, New York. He attended the prestigious Brown University and later began writing for Life as a war correspondent. Later, Hunt joined the Navy, serving on the USS Mayo during the early days of WWII. After, he went to the Army Air Corps and then finished his military stint with the OSS, the nation's wartime precursor to what is now known as the CIA. Beginning in 1949, Hunt was an officer for the CIA, performing 21 years of international counter-intelligence until 1970. During this entire time, Hunt was writing novels.

His first book was East of Farewell, published in hardcover by Alfred Knopf in 1942. The book reads like a true biography as Hunt recounts the day-to-day life upon a Fletcher-class destroyer. Hunt also used his Army Air Corps experience to write his second novel, Limit of Darkness. It covers a single 24-hour period in the "life" of a Navy torpedo bomber squadron on Guadalcanal in 1943. With the success of these two novels, Hunt won the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, which provided him a grant to help fund his writing career and provide blocks of time where he can pursue his art form. 

During the 1950s, paperback original novels became extremely marketable by publishers. Hunt was in the perfect position to take advantage of this publishing craze by writing and selling a lot of books under his name and various pseudonyms. 

As John Baxter, Hunt authored the two novels A Foreign Affair and Unfaithful in the mid-1950s. 

Using the name Robert Dietrich, Hunt authored 12 total novels, but 9 of these make up the Steve Bentley series. Hunt produced nine series installments between 1957 through 1962 as Dietrich. He revisited the series in 1999 under his own name with one additional installment featuring the titular hero at an advanced age. In the novels, Bentley is a Washington D.C. accountant that stumbles into a lot of crime inside the Nation's Capital. Mostly, these crimes are solved by doing favors for clients or business associates. But often, they just conveniently appear in strip clubs, bars, and even by the roadside. Bentley is easily likable and shares a lot of stereotypical genre tropes with the popular private-eyes of the era - he drinks a lot of alcohol, engages in various relationships with women, owns a boat, former military, and can fight, shoot straight, and speak the truth. Paperback Warrior has a number of reviews about the series HERE. Some of the Steve Bentley books have been released in brand new editions by Cutting Edge Books, including an ebook omnibus containing a majority of the series. Cutting Edge also offers the stand-alone Dietrich novels One for the Road, Be My Victim, and The Cheat

1. Murder on the Rocks (1957)
2. End of a Stripper (1959)
3. House on Q Street (1959)
4. Mistress to Murder (1960)
5. Murder on her Mind (1960)
6. Angel Eyes (1961)
7. Curtains for a Lover (1961)
8. Calypso Caper (1961)
9. My Body (1962)
10. Guilty Knowledge (1999, as Howard Hunt)

As David St. John, Hunt authored a nine-book series starring CIA operative Peter Ward. These books were published between 1965 through 1971, and then later were reprinted under Hunt's own name in the 1970s to capitalize on his newfound fame connected with Watergate. In this series, Ward is helping Soviet scientists defect, dodging enemy assassins, chasing sensational cults, and investigating assassinations of foreign leaders. It's stereotypical spy-fiction of the era, but enjoyable nonetheless. Hunt also used the David St. John pseudonym to author the 1972 novel The Coven, a stand-alone thriller about a Washington D.C. attorney navigating witchcraft and murder. 

1. On Hazardous Duty (1965)
2. Return from Vorkuta (1965)
3. The Towers of Silence (1966)
4. Festival for Spies (1966)
5. The Venus Probe (1966)
6. One of our Agents is Missing (1967)
7. The Mongol Mask (1968)
8. The Sorcerers (1969)
9. Diabolus (1971)

Hunt's Gordon Davis works are all stand-alone novels. Paperback Warrior reviewed Where Murder Waits HERE and Hard Case Crime reprinted House Dick in 2009 using the name E. Howard Hunt. A majority of the Gordon Davis paperbacks were reprinted by various publishers under Hunt's name, once again to capitalize on Watergate.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon was running for re-election. A group of men beholden to the President was caught burglarizing the Democratic National Committee headquarters – President Nixon’s opposition party – at a hotel called The Watergate in Washington, DC. One of the burglars caught was Howard Hunt. It became known as the Watergate Scandal and one of the central questions was: What did the President know about this burglary and when did he know it? The burglary led to the resignation of President Nixon. Howard Hunt, among others, was incarcerated for his part in the burglary and served 33 total months in federal prisons in Pennsylvania and Florida. While in prison, Hunt suffered a minor stroke. 

The prison stint did not dampen Hunt's literary career. If anything, it improved his sales. Publishers were able to list a front-cover blurb that connected the author's name with one of the greatest scandals in U.S. history. Once he was released from prison, Hunt began writing consistently, but also realized that his prior pseudonyms were being converted to his real name.

In 1985, Hunt created an action-adventure series starring Jack Novak, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency. The series ran seven total novels from 1985 through 2000. 

1. Cozumel (1985)
2. Guadalajara (1990)
3. Mazatlan (1993)
4. Ixtapa (1994)
5. Islamorada (1995)
6. Izmir (1996)
7. Sonora (2000)

While he was authoring the Novak series, he also authored three-stand alone action-adventure novels using the pseudonym P.S. Donoghue from 1988-1992 - Dublin Affair, Sarkov Confession, and Evil Time.

On January 23, 2007, Howard Hunt died from pneumonia in Miami. He is buried in Prospect Lawn Cemetery in Hamburg, New York.

You can read all of our Howard Hunt reviews and listen to a podcast episode dedicated to the author HERE.

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.

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, July 27, 2022

Steve Bentley #04 - Mistress to Murder

Mistress to Murder, the fourth installment in the Steve Bentley series, was published in 1960 by Dell. The book's author, E. Howard Hunt, wrote the series using the pseudonym Robert Dietrich. Bentley is former military and runs a successful accounting business in Washington D.C.'s turbulent political beltway. While dabbling with stocks and blondes, Bentley always finds himself as a pseudo private-eye working random cases that fall into his lap. In the aptly titled Mistress to Murder, now available in a brand new edition by Cutting Edge, Bentley becomes entangled with a wealthy international family in the posh D.C. suburbs. 

From a rural stretch of Northern Virginia blacktop, Bentley sees a young woman fall from her horse. After running to her aid, Bentley is stopped by the woman's chauffeur. Helping the woman into the car, the chauffeur becomes aggravated with Bentley's assistance and nearly K.O.'s him with one punch. Thankfully, Bentley memorizes the vehicle's license plate. Later, back at his home, Bentley discovers that the woman secretly placed a necklace in his pocket.

Consumed with the woman's odd behavior and injury, Bentley hires his old PI friend, and series staple, Artie to locate the vehicle's residence. It belongs to Baron Alejandro Esquivel, located in the high-end district of Georgetown. Bentley goes to the home, receives a cool welcoming, and meets Esquivel's young wife Anita, which eventually leads to a quick make-out session. Bentley pries himself away from Anita and is re-introduced to 19-yeard old Megan, the woman Bentley helped previously. Megan behaves normally, is “sick in bed” due to the fall, and both Anita and The Baron are keeping watch. But, Megan slips a note to Bentley asking him to meet her that night.

At the meeting, Bentley learns that Megan, and her half-sister Anita, are originally from Venezuela. Their father, the original Baron, was partners with Esquivel in a shady, yet lucrative, business. Long story short, their parents were suspiciously killed, Esquivel became the new, yet fraudulent Baron, married Anita and now the three of them live unhappily ever after. Anita cheats on Esquivel and Megan is the princess trapped in the castle. But, the wrench in the gears is a string of pearls that are internationally coveted and now owned by Esquivel. They are a sort of collector's piece worth well over $100K. Like these things tend to go, murders begin, the pearls are stolen, and Bentley is caught up in the deadly ruckus.

Hunt borrows similar plots of the first two Bentley novels. In the series debut, Murder on the Rocks, the plot involves a precious emerald, a South African ambassador and two women searching for the stone. In the series second installment, End of a Stripper, a man being dragged from a strip club discreetly places a small camera in Bentley's pocket. The camera is then traced back to the man and the purpose of the novel. However, Hunt writes Bentley so well that the recycled elements can be easily overlooked. 

Mistress to Murder, and the Steve Bentley series as a whole, is excellent crime-fiction written by an experienced, seasoned pro. While Bentley doesn't receive the same fanfare as other private-eye literary heroes, I think his steadfast willingness to do good things for people in peril is unmatched. The crimes are detailed, the characters dynamic, and the pace is flawless. All of the elements contribute to Mistress to Murder's success. This is just another great novel proving that this series is a cut-above your average gumshoe procedural. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 97

On Episode 97, Eric and Tom collaborate for a comprehensive feature on Jon Messmann, the prolific author and creator of The Trailsman series, The Revenger, The Handyman, and numerous Nick Carter: Killmaster novels. Eric also reviews Messmann's stand-alone action-adventure novel, Bullet for the Bride. Tom reviews a vintage crime-fiction paperback called The Mob Says Murder by author Marvin Albert and Eric offers insight on his new projects with Brash Books and Cutting Edge. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 97: Jon Messmann" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Nude in the Sand

The 1950s and 1960s publishing industry experienced a trend of authors and readers embracing swamp-noir, a concept that features the average man being tempted by a seductress in the backwoods of a rural southern town. Charles Williams and Harry Whittington both excelled in this type of storytelling, which led countless other low to mid-echelon authors to try their hand. Louisiana author and WW2 veteran John Burton Thompson (1911-1994) authored these types of novels. As expensive collectors items now, these vintage paperbacks demand a hefty dollar. 

Thankfully, Cutting Edge Books have gained the rights to Thompson's literary work and have made a number of his novels into new editions for an affordable price. After enjoying his 1962 novels Kiss or Kill and Swamp Nymph, I decided to take another swig with Nude in the Sand. It was originally published by Beacon in 1959. 

The most entertaining aspect of Nude in the Sand is that there isn't a main character. Instead, Thompson uses the novel to tell many different stories about the backwoods shenanigans of several different characters that have merely six degrees of separation. By the book's end it all wraps together cohesively in a satisfying conclusion that crosses these mini-stories over (and under) each other. 

Lecia is a 20 year old vixen living with her mother on a run-down farm. Hope and aspiration are shooting stars rarely glimpsed and never caught. In a bid for money, Lecia's mother sells her off to a wealthy man named Alex who takes the two to his sprawling estate. Lecia is destined to be the despondent, pregnant housewife pushing out babies to create Alex's dynasty. The problem is that Lecia despises Alex due to his violent sexual craving and his affairs with a black slave.

Across the fields is Abe, a retired wealthy man of nobility that has a young black lover named Charline. Readers learn Abe's history with Charline, how he funded her college education, cared for her needs, and is now secretly engaged in a relationship with her. Abe and Charline frequent a hunting cabin where the two intimately share their love. But, Abe understands the age difference and the fact that the town will be thrown in a violent upheaval if their interracial love affair were to be exposed. 

Abe's nephew Merrit is a college graduate and artist that hasn't quite found his footing yet. Abe allows Merrit to live on his estate and find himself. Instead, Merrit finds an imprint in the sand made by the nude Lecia. Over time, Merrit becomes obsessed with the imprints and starts to make a bronze statue of this unknown woman. Lecia doesn't realize that her daily visits to this jungle swimming hole are being captured by the imprints she makes in the sand. Eventually, Merrit and Lecia learn of one another and are connected through Abe. When Lecia's husband Alex begins making moves on Charline, the narrative becomes more complex and enticing – Abe vs Alex over Charline. Merrit lusting for Lecia despite her marriage to Alex. There's also another side story of a male slave that hates Alex for raping other slaves. 

With this many moving parts, it would be hard for any author to excel at all of these concepts and designs. But, Thompson is such a great writer and purposefully develops this plot into a burning bed of affairs, relationships, violence, and raging sex. The novel certainly possesses enough tropes to make it a swamp-noir, but at the same time it also works as a plantation novel, or what some refer to as a “slave gothic”. Alex's violent encounters with the strong, more domineering slave named Bruce makes for a humorous, albeit savage, thread in the story's web of self-pursuit and sexual gratification. Abe's relationship with Charline is nurturing, but is laced with strong dialogue that reflects the civil unrest of a country at war with itself in the mid 20th century. 

Nude in the Sand is a riveting, hot-blooded account of sexual affairs running rampant in the Deep South. With colorful characters and multi-faceted, interlocking storylines, John B. Thompson creates a whirlwind suspenseful romance novel ripe with violence and racial unrest. Fans of Charles Williams, Harry Whittington, and Erskine Caldwell should find plenty to like. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.