Showing posts with label Disaster. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Disaster. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Killer Blizzard

Before pursuing a career in journalism and public relations, Dan Jorgensen studied creative writing at Colorado State University, where he wrote his first book, Killer Blizzard. The novel was published by Major Books in 1976 and lives today as a Kindle Unlimited selection.

The paperback opens with a violent prison break with a pair of inmates escaping into the wintery night. It’s a good evening for an escape because police and emergency services are otherwise occupied while buckling down for the arrival of a blizzard — a Killer Blizzard, in fact!

We also meet a lovely young couple named Rollie and Jean, who live in a farmhouse. Rollie is a highway patrolman, and Jean’s job is being pregnant. As luck would have it, shortly after Rollie leaves for his Killer Blizzard patrol, the half-frozen, escaped inmates stumble into the farmhouse demanding refuge from pregnant Jean.

Meanwhile, Patrolman Rollie is dealing with a series of blizzard-related emergencies on the roads while his wife is forcibly hosting the two hoods. The paperback nicely balances the weather-disaster genre with a criminals-on-the-run noir as the chapters toggle back and forth quite well.

The author was clearly influenced by Fawcett Gold Medal paperback original novels of the 1950s and 1960s. His writing is straightforward and uncomplicated with no-frills linear plotting. There’s just enough character development to understand everyone’s motivations, but it never slows down the action.

The novel builds to an exciting climax that is quite satisfying to read, and it went in directions I wasn’t necessarily expecting. All-in-all, this was a pretty good read. Don’t spend a fortune acquiring it, but if you are seeking a vintage paperback to enjoy with your Kindle Unlimited subscription, you’re sure to enjoy Killer Blizzard

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Atlantic Fury

Author Hammond Innes would spend months researching and visiting obscure parts of the world in preparation for his adventure novels. Typically, Innes likes to keep things frosty, evident with his novels The White South, The Land God Gave to Cain, and Fire in the Snow. Thus, the northern hemisphere was a popular destination, including the rocky Outer Hebrides islands, positioned off the west coast of mainland Scotland. This rugged, rural terrain is the backdrop for Atlantic Fury, a mid-career novel originally published by Collins in 1962. 

The first thing you need to realize about Atlantic Fury is that the book's ending is revealed in the novel's first few pages. The account is written in first-person perspective by Donald Ross, an artist and former seaman who explains that a major military disaster occurred at sea and courtroom drama transpired. Ross's narrative reveals the results of his investigation into the wreck and what prompted his participation.

In the novel's first act, Ross is unexpectedly visited by a Canadian gentleman named Lane. He explains that his wife is running in second-place to inherit a ton of money from a deceased relative. The current leader is a guy named Major Braddock, but all attempts to reach him have been met with cold silence. It appears that Braddock just isn't that interested in the will, but can't be excluded without proof of death. Interestingly enough, Lane explains to Ross that he has evidence that proves that the real Braddock actually died years ago in a boating disaster. The man pretending to be Braddock now is Ross's brother Iain. That's a real pitch, but what makes it a curveball is that Ross's brother died years ago. Did Iain fake his own death and become the deceased Braddock to fool authorities?

I would imagine that this type of story has been told before, the one where the guy condemned to the gallows figures out a way to swap identities. However, Innes does what he does best by incorporating all of the harrowing elements to create the perfect escapism – roaring storms, nautical disaster, brutal survival, and the obligatory harsh and unforgiving landscape. Innes understood his audience and what was needed to delight his loyal fan base. It's like Lionel White providing thieves and bank jobs to please the readers of his riveting heist novels. But, Innes captures a certain lonely and tragic essence with the characters he creates.

Ross exhibits a deep longing for the fictional Laerg, an island making up a part of the Outer Hebrides chain. His attempts to reach it is either counter or parallel to his minimalist lifestyle depending on perspective. Ross is a single starving artist living in a small apartment, yet longs for Laerg's isolated, uninhabitable landscape of perilous rocks and beaches. It's also a trip into his past to determine his brother's connection to the island. If Laerg is a solitary confinement, then Ross is just bringing his sheltered lifestyle to another place. Or, does the island represent some sort of artistic freedom, liberating Ross from his confined space? Examining the other novel's strengths may reveal certain characters that would rob you of reading pleasure. 

Atlantic Fury isn't top shelf Innes, but for any other high-adventure author it probably is. Innes was simply that good and proves it with a stellar catalog. There's plenty to like about the novel considering the central mystery, as revealed as it is, and the abstract, unique adventurers. Recommended. 

Buy the book HERE.

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Wrecking of Offshore Five

Ronald Johnston is a British author who specializes in novels about catastrophes at sea. Books like Collision Ahead (1966), Disaster at Dungeness (1964), The Angry Ocean (1968), and The Eye of the Needle (1975) all concern large ocean liners and their crew facing perilous storms, tsunamis and fiery collisions. Not surprisingly, my first experience with the author is The Wrecking of Offshore Five, a catastrophic oil rig adventure. It was originally a hardcover release in 1967 and was printed in paperback by McFadden-Bartell at 1970.

In the book, Offshore Five is a British oil platform which is drilling in the icy North Sea. Roger Bright is the leader behind the operation and is counting on his crew to uncover the oil before the leases expire and the operation returns to Danish control. After many weeks of excavation and testing, the platform doesn't discover a drop of oil. While Bright is furious with the outcome, nothing can prepare him for the disaster that awaits him.

When a trawler sails around the platform, a German mine left from World War II is discovered. After a poor attempt to divert the mine to open water, the ship's master inevitably makes a miscalculation and pushes the mine into one of the underwater legs supporting the rig. The blast breaks the foundation of the platform and the entire rig plunges into the dark depths of the ocean.

Much of the novel's narrative is dedicated to the rescue of two survivors who are trapped in an airtight hut on the platform. Johnston puts the reader in the undersea jail with the two survivors - a hardworking Texan and a British scientist. On the surface, Bright directs the press, the rescue operations and the various personnel who will attempt to bring the two men safely to the surface.

Like any good disaster adventure, the premise is either rescue, survival or both. The Wrecking of Offshore Five provides a stereotypical formula that prepares the reader for impact, then introduces complete chaos. The underwater rescue and the events leading to it are enjoyable and Johnston's writing is serviceable. There is nothing spectacular in this novel and it is certainly not a masterpiece of literature. But, if you need a thrilling and fast page-turner for a day or so, it's worth a read. Nothing more, nothing less.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Case of Jennie Brice

Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote a number of mystery novels, short stories, plays and poetry during a writing career which lasted from 1908 to 1952. She was often referred to as the American version of Agatha Christie. I've recently discovered her work and was delighted with her 1925 novel The Red Lamp. Striking while the iron is hot, I soon decided to read another, The Case of Jennie Brice. It was initially printed as a hardback in 1913 and later reprinted by Dell as a paperback in 1960.

The novel is set in Rinehart's own hometown of Allegheny, Pennsylvania (part of Pittsburgh) and stars a widowed woman named Ms. Pittman. In a first-person account, Pittman explains to readers that she lives in Pittsburgh's flooded neighborhood and runs a boarding house for tenants. As an experienced riverside resident, Pittman began moving residents and property from the lower floor of the building to the second floor. Cleverly, she also ties a small boat to her staircase bannister so she can simply sail down the hall and out into the city when the waters rise. 

Two of Pittman's tenants are a married couple, writer Philip Langley and actor Jennie Brice. As the dense rain descends on the city, Pittman begins to hear the couple arguing. The next morning, the boat is found cut and then re-attached to the bannister and there are bloodstains on the rope. In addition, Jennie Brice is missing. Did she leave Langly or was she murdered? When police locate a headless body near the river, the public consensus is that this is the body of Jennie Brice. 

As one can imagine, The Case of Jennie Brice ultimately became a complex murder mystery as well as a jury trial. Pittman teams up with a former NYC homicide detective named Howell to determine if Brice is really dead. Throughout their investigation, they learn that the couple were harboring a dark secret (for that time-period) and there may be suspicious grounds for Philip to kill his wife. A beautiful mistress, a mysterious guest, a wounded dog and Pittman's separated family all play roles in Rinehart's compelling story. 

The author's brilliant setting really enhanced this moody murder mystery. The very thought that the house is flooded and that Jennie Brice could be drowned in the den below was fascinating. There is also a disturbing tension throughout the house as Pittman begins to suspect other murderers inside. Rinehart creates an equally entertaining subplot with Pittman's relationship with her estranged siblings and niece. The two plots marry perfectly and are enhanced by the final act of the book, the inevitable courtroom drama.

I've never read anything like this before. With its wildly innovative story, the development of the propelling plot and captivating characters, I found it to be a better, although quite different, reading experience than The Red Lamp. Highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Angry Mountain

From 1937, Hammond Innes launched a career as an iconic writer, which dominated him as a cornerstone of high adventure fiction. Averaging a book per year, The Angry Mountain was the author's 14th novel, originally published in 1950. The book uses the natural disaster subtype of action-adventure, this involving an authentic volcano called Mount Vesuvius. 

In The Angry Mountain, Innes features former Royal Air Force pilot Dick Farrell. In WW2, Farrell fought the Germans only to be shot and captured along with his comrades Reece and Shirer. As a prisoner of war, Farrell was brutally tortured at the hands of a German surgeon. After an immense barbarity, Farrell's leg was cut off at his knee. Reece and Shirer broke out of the camp and Farrell was liberated at the end of the war. 

At present, Farrell is working for a British machine tool company. The company sends him to Czechoslovakia where he meets a former British intelligence agent that he worked alongside with during the war. After a strange sequence of events, Farrell discovers that this former agent is taken into custody as an enemy of the state. After being questioned by the communists, Farrell finally travels to Italy to convey a message to Reece and Shirer. But once there, he realizes that his German tormentor is still alive and has taken the identity of Shirer.

Needless to say, there are a lot of dense storylines that prevail throughout The Angry Mountain. Farrell's memory of the atrocities of war, his disability due to the torture and his personal anguish on failing his countrymen all tie into his paranoia that somehow this German torturer has returned to his life. The bulk of the narrative features Farrell spending his days with a beautiful dancer named Countessa Vale as the two frolic through the countryside. Eventually, the entire cast of characters ends up in Vesuvius where the active volcano erupts. 

The first half of The Angry Mountain introduced a diamond smuggling scheme that I really expected to take off. Instead, the book's second-half is a frantic escape from the volcano as Farrell is forced to become the hero and placed in a position to recover the sanity that he feared was once lost. In many respects, Farrell is the same kind of imperfect hero that appears in a number of Hammond Innes novels, only this one both emotionally and physically endangered. 

As a compelling read, Hammond Innes delivers a smooth prose that easily flips the pages. Although not a masterpiece, The Angry Mountain has enough story, character development, forward motion and mystery to keep it interesting. For that reason, it is well worth your time.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Hurricane

Gardner F. Fox (Gardner Francis Cooper Fox, 1911-1986) was a prolific comic book writer who created, or co-created, many legendary characters like Flash, Hawkman, Batgirl and Justice League. Beyond the comic industry, Fox authored stand-alone novels for original paperback publishers like Fawcett Gold Medal, Ace, Signet, Monarch and Belmont Tower. The author contributed to numerous genres including Western, Fantasy, Spy and Romance. My look at Fox's work this month is his career late natural disaster novel called Hurricane. The book was published in paperback format in 1976 by Leisure Books.

The book takes place in the course of a summer in a Northeastern beach hamlet named The Point. This small tourist retreat is comprised of rich residents who work hard and play harder. Fox's story explores a handful of families and the sexual games they play with secret lovers.

Lawyer Trevor Whitehead is having a torrid affair with a neighbor while his wife Connie manages to seduce her son's teenage best friend. Corporate banker Bob Hume offers his hot wife Leona to rich clients in exchange for financial accounts. These are the two plots that explode with passion, lust and sex as Fox skillfully exposes these corrupt characters.

Despite the title of the book, the storm is not mentioned until page 137 of 200. It finally arrives a mere 40 pages before the book comes to an end. Readers looking for a white-knuckled natural catastrophe thriller will find that the "hurricane" is really the sexual chemistry that pervades the surf side. While hurricane survival and rescue attempts consume the last pages of the book, the book is mostly just a sex affair with these characters jumping from bed to bed. 

If you love a romance novel with great sex, Hurricane is sure to please. It did not meet my personal expectations and for the most part left me disappointed by the lack of storm action despite its marketing attempt. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Snowbound Six

Perhaps one of the greatest disaster movies of all time was the 1974 blockbuster The Towering Inferno. Led by an all-star cast, the film was partly adapted from the novel The Tower by Richard Martin Stern (as well as The Glass Inferno by Thomas Scortia and Frank Robinson). It was the author's best-seller and led him to write other catastrophic novels such as Wildfire (1985), Flood (1979) and Tsunami (1988). With June temperatures soaring in Florida, I sought to cool off with Stern's 1977 novel Snowbound Six. As you might suspect, the theme is a blizzard.  

In the opening pages, Warner Harlow, his wife and their two teenagers are traveling a steep mountain road into the high peaks of the fictional New Mexico town of Santo Cristo. Warner plans to spend a few days hunting elk with a friend as the family rest and relax in winter heaven. However, a massive storm front has moved in with heavy snowfall. The drive up the mountain stalls as the family finds themselves lost in whitening confusion. Luckily, a Vietnam War veteran named Ben is hiking in the mountains and finds the family in desperate need of assistance. Together, they head towards a cave, hoping to survive the storm.

While the Harlows are dealing with cave survival, an American Senator and his mistress, Lila, crash a small plane into the mountains. Ben hikes to the damaged plane hoping to find a working radio and survivors. The Senator is found dead and the radio is smashed. Lila, nearly injury free, accompanies Ben back to the cave to make up the snowbound six. 

The novel obviously spends the majority of the time on the cave survivors and their quest to endure the harsh blizzard. However, the characters double when Stern introduces a rescue team of experienced mountaineers and survivors. Their efforts to climb the mountain in the hope of a rescue predominate most of the second half of the book. Although each of the characters had their own identity, traits and skills, I always had trouble remembering who the characters were and their positions across the mountain range.

Stern's writing is good, and I thought his dialogue sequences were amazing. The only fault I have in his writing style is the fragmented presentation. The story features paragraphs or half-pages dedicated to a scene, place or character. An example, may be Billy attempts to gather wood for the fire followed by a half-page of Ben talking to Lila before another half-page or paragraph of something happening within the town. It could have been the editor's or Stern's decision, but the final outcome was rather choppy.

Despite the formatting and editing of the book, Snowbound Six was a great novel filled with high adventure and a tense atmosphere. If natural disaster books are your thing, it's a simple recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 14, 2021

Cyclone

Whether it's horror or adventure, disaster fiction has a dedicated following of fans and enthusiasts. Throughout the twentieth century, readers were compelled to read about natural disasters, ocean collisions, post-apocalyptic creations and weather-related disasters. Maybe this genre has the same kind of vibe as the rubber-necker pushing his head through the car window to see the horrible wreck on the road. It was this sort of curiosity that led me to open Cyclone, a 1975 Manor paperback by an author named Eric Nilsen. 

The book starts with a commercial bus full of passengers arriving in the small town of Garfield, TX. On board is a cast of colorful characters ranging from a rodeo cowboy, a school teacher, a farmer, and an old grizzled sailor. But Nilsen's two main characters are on board as well, an undercover Denver detective named Bowman and his prey, a drug dealer named Palermo. Bowman knows Palermo is holding a suitcase filled with $500K worth of heroin, which will eventually lead to a drug trade empire. But, the bus driver is forced to stop in this dusty rural town because of tornado reports. 

After Nilsen introduces the bus and its passengers, two more characters join the story - Garfield police officers Roblez and Youngblood. These two lawmen are in a scramble to move most of the small town into the civic auditorium before the deadly cyclone touches down. While the passengers and cops move around in the backstory, a radio DJ named Bob runs the town's radio station from across town. He dishes out the hits and the weather reports for readers and the town's inhabitants.

Like most disaster films and books, the setup has to be perfect. The idea of caring about the characters who are in danger allows for a more emotional experience. For the most part, the first 30 or 40 pages of Cyclone set up the inevitable destruction very well. When the tornado begins to rage, the book takes off.

Roblez and Youngblood are both involved in a number of rescue attempts, the most fascinating being a nine-year-old girl trapped beneath a wrecked trailer. There's also Bob's lonely ordeal at the radio station and his efforts to report the chaos. Meanwhile, the municipal auditorium and a local dive bar are full to capacity and the stressed human interaction ends up turning into violence. At the end of the book, Bowman's quest to bring Palermo to justice is carefully closed, but with a surprise.

Cyclone isn't a must-read disaster novel. But, considering this is an unknown author and Manor is one of the lowliest publishers of disposable fiction, it was a fun read. With the lack of profanity and detailed violence, it reads like a long Scholastic book. Or, what would have made a fast-paced made-for-television movie of the week. If you find a cheap enough copy it's worth a read.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Rain of Terror


Douglas Sanderson (1920-2002) was born in England and moved to Canada in 1947 after serving with the Brits during WWII. In Canada, he manufactured breakfast cereal, sold jewelry and sang in nightclubs to make a living before becoming a full-time novelist in 1952. His hardboiled crime and thriller paperbacks - 25 novels in all - were mostly published under the pseudonyms of Martin Brett and Malcolm Douglas, and Stark House Books has been reprinting Sanderson’s work slowly over the past few years. The latest re-release is a trade paperback compiling two Fawcett Gold Medal novels from 1955 - Prey by Night and the subject of today’s review, Rain of Terror.

Jake Abbott is an American living in Rome working as a news reporter for a wire service. He’s got a lucrative side-hustle introducing suckers to a counterfeit art dealer named Mr. Turrido. For his part, Turrido is a diminutive and foppish member of high society who made his money through theft, pimping, and fraud. The author does a fantastic job of painting Turrido as a particularly reprehensible villain.

Anyway, Jake is sick of dealing with Turrido’s arrogance and decides to quit his association with the irritating wannabe mobster. This leads to a Chapter One fight with the American beating and humiliating the Sicilian. Turrido swears vengeance on the insolent Jake and dispatches an 18 year-old toady named Angelo to find and kill the man who dishonored him.

Meanwhile, Jake has been banging his newspaper boss’ wife (with all the guilty feelings associated with that) and is trying to end that relationship. So, when an assignment arises to travel to a mountain village where a flood has killed 32 people, Jake jumps at the opportunity to escape the drama of Rome and cover a natural disaster in progress. He hops a train into the flood zone without the knowledge that Angelo the teenage killer is following him close behind. Complicating matters further, his boss’ wife - her name is Grace - also traveled to Piscoli so she could be with her secret lover.

Upon arrival at the town, the rain is still falling in buckets, and the village’s survival is threatened as the aqueducts and bridges become overwhelmed. The author does a nice job interspersing the “disaster movie” segments with the manhunting and relationship drama stuff. There are some great scenes including one in a tunnel that reminded me of the kind of horror that Stephen King would produce decades later.

My one complaint with Rain of Terror was that there are too many subplots. The assassin storyline was great. The love triangle was great. But then we also have an art theft, a 16 year-old waif, a political power struggle in the flooding town, two mid-novel murders to solve and more. Some of these subplots overtake the assassin story and transform the novel into a pretty standard whodunnit. That’s a lot for the hero to deal with as the water is rising, but it’s also a lot for the reader to digest at once in a thin Fawcett Gold Medal paperback. It was a bit like playing whack-a-mole at times

It’s interesting to read a “man on the run from an assassin” book where the motive is an old-country honor killing. It’s also interesting that the assassin is a wet behind the ears teenager trying to prove himself to a loathsome boss. I wish the author had developed that storyline more fully rather than shoehorning in all those competing plotlines.

Despite my quibbles, Rain of Terror is a solidly-good read, and Sanderson was a quality writer who knew how to keep a story moving. This definitely won’t be the last of his novels for me. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE