Showing posts with label Fawcett Gold Medal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fawcett Gold Medal. Show all posts

Monday, February 28, 2022

The Big Bounce

Between 1953 and 1961, Elmore Leonard (1925-2013) authored his first five career novels and all were westerns. Leonard played his first hand of crime-fiction in 1966 with a relatively unknown novel called The Big Bounce. He shopped it to a variety of publishers and they all declined. In 1969, Fawcett Gold Medal published the book simply because it had been adapted to film the same year starring Ryan O'Neal and Leigh Taylor-Young. The movie was a flop, so Hollywood tried again in 2004 with a cast including Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman, and Charlie Sheen. It was such a disaster that Leonard described it as the “second-worst movie ever made”, alluding to the fact that the first one was the worst. Despite the publication and theatrical horror associated with The Big Bounce, I decided to read it. I wish I had those hours back.

The book begins with three men watching a video tape of migrant worker Jack Ryan (no relation to Tom Clancy) executing a home-run swing with a baseball bat on his crew leader's face. Readers later learn that Ryan was a former Baseball Player and has now spiraled down the labor ladder to the position of Seasonal Picker of Cucumbers in a lakeside region of Michigan. Ryan and acquaintances (he never had friends) rob a lake-house and steal $750 from wallets and purses. Ryan fears that the other guys will get caught simply because the box they placed the wallets and purses could be found.

After being fired from his job for smashing the foreman with the bat, Ryan is hired as a Handyman by a resort owner named Mr. Majestyk (oddly, no relation to the character Leonard created five years later). Ryan spends time in his new position avoiding an average-looking female guest who desperately wants to get lai....wants to have her window fixed. Ryan hooks up with Nancy instead, a young seductress who is banging two men, one of which is the owner of the cucumber farm. Ryan and Nancy run around shooting glass objects while planning to steal the payroll money from the farm.

I have no Earthly idea why anyone in Hollywood wanted to make a film from this novel. Or, why anyone would want to attempt it again. The book is mindless with its lack of plot structure and features one of the most uninteresting protagonists I've read. I nearly gave up reading it twice, but just kept pushing onward out of respect for Elmore Leonard. There isn't anything remotely compelling about the story, the character development, pace, or dialogue. If you must read everything Leonard wrote, then I guess you owe it to yourself to experience the good and the bad. Beyond that, avoid this book!

Buy a copy of the 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. Get the book HERE.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Matt Helm #04 - The Silencers

Matt Helm is starting to stir the place up. After dismissing the first two installments of this Donald Hamilton spy series, I knew I owed it to myself to just keep reading these titles. Thankfully, the author's western traditionalism elevated the third book, The Removers, and I found myself liking it. While I've always been critical of Helm's actual heroism, I still love Hamilton's hard-boiled storytelling. The dialogue is snappy, the complex wrinkles of international espionage are smoothed over, and these stories seem to improve more and more. Needless to say I was happy to pursue the series fourth installment, The Silencers. It was published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1962 and now exists as a reprint in physical, digital and audio.

On the last page of The Removers, Mac instructed Helm that his next assignment would involve a rural mountainside retreat. In the opening pages of The Silencers, Helm has completed this mission (details were never revealed) and is now on his newest job in New Mexico. Mac instructs Helm to cross the border into Mexico to extract a female agent code-named Sarah (she was a minor character in the series debut, Death of a Citizen). There, he teams up with another agent named Pat LeBaron to find Sarah working as a stripper in a rowdy bar in Juarez. After making eye contact with Sarah, the room explodes in violence as she is fatally stabbed (mission failure) and LeBaron is shot to death (secondary mission failure). But, Helm manages to get Sarah's sister Gail to safety. 

In talking with Mac, Helm learns that Sarah had sold-out the U.S. to become an asset for a foreign enemy. Upon her death, she had a microfilm of stolen secrets ready to provide to the enemy. Luckily, Gail has the microfilm and Helm seduces her out of her clothes to find it. In a motel room, Helm is attacked by two bad guys, but learns they are working for another U.S. agency that doesn't necessarily want to coordinate their efforts with Mac's department (CIA vs FBI feud). 

Mac advises Helm that the main bad guy is a spy named Sam Gunther, a man Gail describes as a smooth talking cowboy. The two pursue Gunther into Carlsbad, California and learn that he has aligned with top scientists to launch a missile into a group of politicians and scientists running highly-publicized seismic tests in the area. Got it? It took me a while. But, all of this is told in a rapid-fire pace that places Helm in fights with various foreign agents and an awesome finale in an old ghost town church.

There's nothing to dislike about The Silencers and, once again, the series shows improvement. In a minor way, this Helm assignment was like a Nick Carter: Killmaster installment with the layers of over-the-top action and stereotypical criminals. There's a little more comedy inserted in between fights, leading some fans to believe Hamilton was displaying a fondness for Richard Prather. I could sense some similarities, but Helm is a far cooler character than silly 'ole Shell Scott

The Silencers is another great installment to this highly respected series. Helm and I started off on the wrong foot, but after that mess with his wife (The Revengers), I'm starting to like this guy. Hamilton writes with conviction and energy, and doesn't necessarily drown the reader in details. He does just enough to make Helm a hero, but doesn't overdo it. The end result makes it a fantastic reading experience and a worthy Bond opponent (if the literary world needed one). Get a copy HERE

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The Skin Game

Frank Bonham (1914-1988) is best remembered as an author of young adult fiction and westerns from the pulp era into the advent of paperback originals. However, he also authored three crime novels, including The Skin Game, originally released by the prestigious Fawcett Gold Medal imprint in 1962.

Our main character is a former cop turned Parole Officer named Sam Garrett. He’s provided the task of supervising a parolee named Gene Foreman, a man Sam knew years ago when they were both police officers. Gene is technically a sex offender who was recently released on parole from prison after serving 26 months. It’s not as bad as it sounds. He was consorting with a girl who said she was 19 but was actually 17 and - boom - he’s automatically a statutory rapist.

A cop named Donovan has a real hard-on for Gene and wants to bring him in as a suspect for a recent sex crime. Sam doesn’t think Gene did it, but is duty bound to bring his old friend in for police questioning. The problem? Gene abandoned his apartment and is nowhere to be found. Parole Officer Sam needs to locate his old friend before he violates the terms of his parole and further cements his status as a suspect in Donovan’s investigation.

The stakes escalate exponentially when the police learn of a sexual thrill-killer who gets women to pose for naked photographs before brutally murdering them. With Gene completely off the grid, the police naturally gravitates to him as a suspect. Is it possible that this ex-cop has a screw loose and is indiscriminately killing sexy babes while on parole? That’s one of the mysteries encapsulated in this 160-page paperback. There are some unexpected twists along the way, and the novel isn’t always about what it seems.

For a guy who only dabbled in the Fawcett Gold Medal style of crime noir fiction, Bonham nailed the style and plot structure very well. There was plenty of sexual titillation, and characters who aren’t what you think they are. The Skin Game has been reprinted by Cutting Edge, which is a good thing considering it’s a solid example of what made mid-20th century paperbacks something really special. Get the book HERE

Monday, January 3, 2022

Matt Helm #03 - The Removers

Ian Fleming's mega-star James Bond influenced a number of spy fiction titles, including Assignment and Nick Carter: Killmaster. One of the most popular is the Matt Helm series authored by Donald Hamilton. It ran from 1960-1993 with 27 total books. I was lukewarm on the series first two installments, but the character still intrigued me enough to warrant further pursuit. I grabbed a copy of The Removers, the third installment of the Matt Helm series. It was originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1961 and remains readily available today in audio, digital and physical reprints.

In Death of a Citizen, the series debut, Helm is married to a woman named Beth and has three children. He's a former OSS agent (the early CIA) that established a writing career and a sense of normalcy after retirement. But, events drag him back into the spy business and he rejoins his former department. I didn't particularly like the book, despite its enormous popularity, and felt that it was incomplete. The idea that Helm simply left his wife and kids (and has an affair nonetheless) didn't sit well with me. Thankfully, The Removers circles back to his family and completes the origin tale in its entirety.

The Removers begins by explaining that Beth Helm is now remarried and lives on a cattle ranch in Reno, Nevada with her kids. She's now Mrs. Lawrence and her husband is a British chap that has a shadowy past. Helm receives a letter from Beth asking him for a favor. Thus, the opening chapter has Helm in Reno preparing for an uncomfortable meeting with his ex-wife. However, Helm also receives word from his boss Mac that a young agent is working an assignment in Reno and may need a light assist. 

Helm learns from Beth that her husband was involved in a prior business similar to Helm's. Because of some sort of past event, shady people are threatening the family. Helm takes it all with a grain of salt until he meets Beth's husband Logan. Helm's theory is that Logan isn't really British, but is legitimately some sort of skilled professional capable of defending Helm's kids and ex-wife. In fact, Logan politely, but sternly, advises Helm to leave the ranch and never look back. 

The star of the show is Moira, a young and sexy woman that physically distracts Helm. The two get it on, and in doing so Helm learns that Moira is the daughter of Big Sal Fredericks, a Reno mobster. Fredericks is employing a foreign spy/enforcer named Martell, a man that Mac warns Helm about. After learning that Logan Lawrence is a former gun for Fredericks, Helm begins to connect the dots. Logan left the business, but Fredericks needs him for one more run to Mexico to recapture stolen heroin. Logan refuses, thus the not-so-gentle rub.

All of this ties in beautifully and creates a really engaging story. Helm engages in some awesome dialogue, never comically witty, but maintaining a hard-edged coolness. The action scenes are fairly swift and keep the narrative flowing into a much longer finale that is soaked with violence. Oddly, it was told with a sense of western traditionalism. The hero rides to the rural cabin in the woods to fight the unruly bad guys that have raped and captured his woman. But, that hero isn't really Helm. 

In a clever way, Hamilton mirrors Helm's origin story by telling a similar tale with Logan Lawrence. In this case, Lawrence is the one married to Beth and is called back into action after violent events begin to intrude into his retirement. Arguably, Logan is the real hero.

My main beef with Matt Helm is that he personifies the hardened tough guy. He talks tough, his first-person perspective is menacing, and he genuinely has old war stories or missions that he shares to validate his callous command. But, he never actually does much fighting. In the first two books, Helm doesn't really get the job done and people unexpectedly die. In this book, Helm watches Moira get abused by two women until her own dog makes the save and kills the would-be-rapists. Helm is knocked in the head outside of his motel room and then captured by Martell and Fredericks. 

In the finale, Logan is shot in the leg and placed on the sofa. Helm is tied up and has to listen to his ex-wife being raped in the next room. He has the audacity to question why one-legged, bleeding Logan isn't doing anything about it. The book's rowdy conclusion has Logan saving Helm's life. But, for whatever reason it all just works and Hamilton's prose is so damn cool. I loved the timeline and pacing, the brilliant conclusion of Moira (the obligatory spoiled sex kitten), Beth's neediness, the escalated violence, and Logan's expertise in disposing of the bad guys. Helm should have been the hero (and maybe he is somehow?), but I can settle for him as a co-partner.

I've already started the fourth volume, The Silencers. In the opening chapters, Helm is sent on a mission to Mexico to save a female agent. Wouldn't you know it...she's stabbed to death in front of him. But, it's written so well that I don't even care how inept the hero is. I'm sure an alternate hero will rise to the occasion. Buy a copy of the book HERE

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Travis McGee #01 - The Deep Blue Good-by

Crime-fiction author John D. MacDonald began the Travis McGee series with three novels, including The Deep Blue Good-by, originally published in 1964 by the powerhouse publisher of the time, Fawcett Gold Medal. The novel introduces McGee as a salvage consultant that helps clients recover stolen funds. The deal is that if McGee can successfully make the recovery, he keeps a percentage plus additional funds to cover expenses accrued. MacDonald's niche is that McGee performs most of these jobs in and around the Floridian coast on his houseboat, the Busted Flush. I've enjoyed MacDonald and wanted to explore this popular character a little more. I'm starting with the “official” series debut, The Deep Blue Good-by.*

In the book's opening chapters, McGee's newest lady “friend” asks what he does for a living. McGee explains the nature of his business to her and soon gains a referral in the form of a young, voluptuous dancer named Cathy Kerr. McGee's new client is rather reserved and quiet, but explains that her father served in WW2 and had been sentenced to prison for killing another soldier. Prior to his capture, Cathy feels that her father buried something valuable in the building materials of his house in the Florida Keys, but it was stolen by a man named Junior Allen. Her father is now dead, the valuable thing is still missing and Cathy is dancing for peanuts. McGee explains the terms of the deal and becomes involved in an enthralling mystery.

The search leads McGee to Lois Atkinson, a woman who was abused and robbed by Junior Allen and left in a near-death state. McGee, with the aid of the good doctor, nurses Lois back to heath and learns even more about this dubious Mr. Allen. McGee and Lois eventually form an emotional bond that spills over into sex – Lois requiring security and McGee seemingly recovering from some ailments of the past (the series will later hint at his military career, lost loved ones, etc.). 

McGee embraces the mantle of the noble hero, bent on punishing Junior Allen for the atrocities he's committed and the young lives he's ruined. McGee's investigation is multifaceted - what is the valuable thing, how did Cathy's father obtain it, where is it now? The job combs a great swath of area from Florida to New York and points in between. The more McGee learns, the more vicious and terrifying Allen becomes. The inevitable confrontation leads to a boat chase and a spectacular fight scene on board.

Like James Bond, or any popular fictional hero, one can jump into numerous rabbit holes online to learn more about the character and the series (movies, color scheme, boat, etc.). We even covered the character on a podcast episode here, so there's a lot to explore if you are interested. I went into the novel thinking it would be a fun, sexy splash in the water with comparisons to a more violent Shell Scott. I couldn't have been further off. 

This was more like Lawrence Block's early Matthew Scudder novels, just a little more sexy. Junior Allen proved to be a calculated, sick psycho with a penchant for power grabs. McGee's clients are victims, some more scarred and disgruntled than others. I truly felt a sense of obligation to these victims, as if McGee was righting a personal wrong for me. The ending was an emotional roller coaster that left me gutted. The closing scenes with McGee and Cathy had such an impact, and set the tone for the character. He's the hard-boiled hero, but thankfully it's complex. 

Sexy, violent, captivating, and mysterious, The Deep Blue Good-by is a masterpiece that you need to read right now. Or, reread it again. There's an obvious reason for the fuss...Travis McGee is the real deal. 

* MacDonald authored the first three Travis McGee novels in quick succession and submitted all of them to the publisher at the same time. To my knowledge, no one really knows which was the very first. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Monday, November 22, 2021

The Mob Says Murder

Albert Conroy was one of the cadre of pseudonyms employed by Philadelphia native Marvin H. Albert (1924-1996) to flood the market with his innovative crime and western novels of the mid-20th century. As far as I can tell, he wrote 14 paperbacks as Albert Conroy/Al Conroy between the years 1952 and 1972, including a stand-alone crime-noir paperback from 1958 titled The Mob Says Murder.

Eddie Driscoll is six years into his state prison life sentence for a fatal bank robbery he didn’t commit. In his day, he did plenty of bank holdup jobs, just not the one that landed him in the pen. Driscoll spends his days pining away for his wife who left him and remarried a year into his sentence. Nevertheless, he remains infatuated and in love with the memory of her soft flesh against him.

One day, Driscoll gets an unexpected visitor in prison. It’s a spicy Mexican dame is pretending to be his cousin delivering a cryptic message that Driscoll interprets as an invitation to bust out of the prison with the help of unknown friends on the outside. This evolves into an early-novel breakout that's about as good as any pulp fiction jailbreak I’ve ever read. Before you know it, Driscoll goes from lonely and horny inmate to a most-wanted fugitive.

The person pulling the strings to orchestrate Driscoll’s shaky freedom is a mobster named Bruno Hauser who runs a nightclub and illegal gambling joint called The Ocean Club. Hauser has a problem - the anti-crime governor has been sending state law enforcement goons to Hauser’s joint to bust up the place and interrupt business. Hauser’s solution? The governor must go. Interestingly, the same governor was once the prosecutor who wrongfully put Driscoll away for life. After his guilty verdict six years ago, Driscoll swore revenge on the prosecutor, and Hauser is hoping to utilize Driscoll as an assassin to remove their shared enemy from office permanently. After all, busting a guy out of prison means he owes you a big favor, right?

Albert has crafted another crime-noir masterpiece here. I thought I knew where the plot was headed based on the cover art spoiler, but it quickly became clear that the artist and copywriter had never read the book themselves. The novel’s characters are vivid and the dilemmas - both practical and moral - are taken seriously by the author. The relationships between the characters are especially well-drawn and add a dose of humanity to this ultra-violent and sexy 141-page lost classic. The plot is perfectly constructed and the dialogue is crisp. There’s really nothing to dislike about this novel.

The Mob Says Murder is another work of pulp literary greatness by Albert. The more I read from him, the more I’ve come to believe that he was a uniquely excellent writer of his era and a step above his peers. For reasons unclear to me, I don't believe this one has ever been reprinted since it hit the spinner racks in 1958. Maybe someone will read this review and do something about that. It’s really something special. Get a copy HERE

Friday, November 19, 2021

Paperback Warrior Primer - Clifton Adams

Clifton Adams was a wine connoisseur that loved jazz music and Oklahoma history. He also wrote a bunch of violent, gritty novels about heroes and outlaws. He won two coveted Spur Awards and was admired by many of his contemporaries. Popular crime-noir author Donald Westlake cited Adams as an influence on his beloved Parker series of heist novels. We've reviewed many of Clifton Adams' novels and we hope today's Paperback Warrior Primer will prompt you to explore his robust bibliography. 

Clifton Adams was born in Comanche, Oklahoma in 1919. He began writing at an early age. However, his writing development paused when he joined Hell on Wheels, officially known as the U.S. Army's Second Armored Division. During WW2 he served as a tank commander in both Africa and Europe. 

After WW2, he utilized the G.I. Bill to attend University of Oklahoma to study professional writing - a degree that focused on making a living as a writer. It was there that he won the “Oklahoma Writer of the Year” award. In his acceptance speech he said, “There’s only one way to approach the kind of writing I do - and that’s as a business. I’m not selling art. I’m selling entertainment.”

And with that idea as his North Star, he succeeded. In his career, he wrote 50 full-length novels and 125 short stories the magazines and digests. His first professional sale was the short story "Champions Wear Purple", published in Adventure in January 1947. His first novel, Desperado, is often cited as his finest work. It was originally released as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback in 1950. It was a monster hit and spawned a sequel in 1953 called A Noose for the Desperado. Both books remain available as reprints from Stark House Press

Besides the two Desperado books, his only other recurring character was Amos Flagg, a western series written under the pseudonym of Clay Randal. The series ran from 1964 to 1969 for seven installments. He also wrote five stand-alone novels under the Clay Randal name between 1953 and 1963. He also wrote six westerns between 1958 and 1963 under the name of Matt Kinkaid. Celebrating his western writing, he won two Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America - 1969 for Tragg’s Choice and 1970 for The Last Days of Wolf Garnett.  

While most of his literary work falls into the western genre, he also wrote crime-fiction. Whom Gods Destroy and Death's Sweet Song were both published in 1953 by Fawcett Gold Medal. His 1956 crime-noir, Never Say No to a Killer, was published by Ace under the pseudonym Jonathan Gant. All three of these books have been reprinted by Stark House Press. He also used the Gant name to author The Long Vendetta, published in 1963 by Avalon. Under the name Nick Hudson he authored The Very Wicked, published in 1960 by Berkley. 

Clifton Adams died from a heart attack in 1971 in Comanche, Oklahoma. According to our research, the author's papers are kept at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. For more information, listen to the Paperback Warrior Podcast episode about Clifton Adams HERE.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Circle of Secrets

Jon Messman proved to be a prolific and diverse author throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He created the wildly successful The Trailsman series of adult westerns, contributed installments in the Nick Carter: Killmaster spy series as well as authoring his Handyman and Revenger series of men's action adventure novels. Messman also wrote horror and stand-alone thrillers, but surprisingly, he also authored gothic romance novels under the pseudonyms Claudette Nicole and Pamela Windsor. After reading a lot of Messman's work, I decided to try one of his Nicole gothics, Circle of Secrets. It was published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1972.

Kim Morrison and Mary Ellen met and became friends in college. Years later, the two still remain long distance friends and communicate through letters and phone calls. Oddly, Mary Ellen only talks to Kim after midnight and maintains a bit of secrecy concerning her personal life. On their most recent phone call, Mary Ellen seemed distressed, motivating Kim to pack her bags to make a visit. The next day, Kim receives the deed to Mary Ellen's house, a beautiful old plantation home off the coast of Georgia. The property, known as Starset, has been passed down from generation to generation, and apparently Kim is the new owner. But, what's going on with Mary Ellen?

Kim's visit to Georgia is plagued with issues. She receives an ominous telephone call warning her to stay away from Starset. Within a few miles of Starset, someone shoots Kim's tire. Further, there are multiple attempts to murder her using things like rattlesnakes and faulty stairs. Kim discovers that Starset has remained empty for years and there is no sign that Mary Ellen has recently lived in this house. After further investigation, Kim discovers an old gravestone on the property...and Mary Ellen's name is on it. Mary Ellen has been dead for three years! Has Kim been communicating with a ghost this whole time!?!

Circle of Secrets is a more of a murder mystery than a gothic. Traditionally, these gothic novels describe the house in so much detail that they become a character. In those books, most of the suspense and intrigue occur inside the walls of the lavish mansion or castle. Messman still includes the mansion (and vulnerable woman), but he places most of the mystery outside of the house. Like a toned down detective novel, Kim interviews the minister, coroner and town residents about Mary Ellen's mysterious death. Slowly, the book evolves from the ghostly tease to a flat-out crime-noir mystery. However, Messman rips the rug out from under the whole thing on the very last pages. It becomes a frustrating open-ended finale where readers can draw their own conclusions on who, or what, is terrorizing Kim. 

If you can purchase a copy of Circle of Secrets on the cheap, then I recommend it. It's a murder mystery cloaked by gothic drapery with great artwork and colors. Additionally, Messman is such a great writer that even this average read is enhanced by his storytelling magic. 

Buy the brand new edition from Cutting Edge Books HERE.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Girl with No Place to Hide

Between 1958 and 1961, Philadelphia native Marvin H. Albert (1924-1996) employed the pseudonym Nick Quarry to write a six-book series starring a hardboiled Manhattan private detective named Jake Barrow. The series has been largely lost to the ages until a recent resurrection by Stark House imprint Black Gat Books. The third installment, 1959’s The Girl with No Place to Hide, is back as a mass-market paperback for modern readers to read and enjoy.

Jake is our narrator for this taut 185-page mystery. After leaving a strip club at 2:30 in the morning, our hero witnesses a woman – a real dish, by the way – being dragged into an alley by a thug. Jake dispatches the mauler, saves the damsel in distress, and brings her to his apartment for safekeeping. Her name is Angela, and she’s filled with secrets. Angela is convinced, with good reason, that someone is trying to kill her. However, she doesn’t trust Jake enough to share the complete story. Jake steps out of his apartment for a few minutes before returning to find that Angela has disappeared.

Without a paying client, Jake takes it upon himself to find Angela and learn who is trying to kill her and why. He makes a logical leap that her threat is somehow tied to a grisly murder of a newspaper ad man around the same time and leverages his relationships with NYPD homicide to get the inside scoop. There’s a side plot involving a middleweight prizefighter with an approaching title bout. There’s also wiretaps, heaving breasts, thugs who kill, thugs who need killing, dirty cops, love triangles, torture, extreme violence, and 1950s stylized sex. No joke, this paperback has something for everyone, and the influence of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer shines brightly throughout every page.

As a character, Jake is a hardboiled archetype who loves the ladies, booze, and using his gat when pushed too far. Albert is an unsung hero of the paperback original era who was equally proficient in the crime and western genres, and The Girl with No Place to Hide presents the author at the absolute top of his game. The mystery and its solution were perfectly crafted with enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing until the satisfying solution. Let’s hope this reprint sells like hotcakes, so Stark House/Black Gat bring back more Jake Barrow mysteries. Highest recommendation.


Although The Girl with no Place to Hide is the third installment in the Jake Barrow series, the paperbacks can be read in any order. Here’s the original series order – all published under the Nick Quarry pseudonym by Fawcett Gold Medal:

1. The Hoods Come Calling (1958)
2. Trail of a Tramp (1958)
3. The Girl with No Place to Hide (1959)
4. No Chance in Hell (1960)
5. Till it Hurts (1960)
6. Some Die Hard (1961)

Get the book HERE

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Pop. 1280

Jim Thompson (1906-1977) is a celebrated author of noir paperbacks from the 1940s through the 1950s. I've struggled with his writing style and haven't latched onto that one Jim Thompson novel that inspires me enough to fully appreciate his literature. Many point to Pop. 1280 as one of his finest works. It was originally published in 1964 by Fawcett Gold Medal and has been reprinted numerous times since. 

Nick Corey is Sheriff of Potts County, a rural riverside town with a population of 1,280. Corey sleeps late, drinks at work, accepts bribes from the local whorehouse and rarely carries out police work. He's the ultimate scoundrel. After years of being verbally and physically abused by two town pimps, Corey requests the aid of a nearby county sheriff named Ken Lacey. Corey sits down with Lacey to explain his dilemma. After ridiculing Corey, and providing a lot of racist comments, Lacey instructs Corey to become deadly aggressive. 

When Corey comes back to town, he takes Lacey's ill-informed advice to heart. He shoots and kills both pimps and tosses their bodies into the river. These murders push Corey to continue this vicious aggression and put caution to the wind. Corey also begins having an affair with his wife's friend Rose while simultaneously engaging in a sexual relationship with a town woman named Amy. Throughout Thompson's speech, Corey plans and kills people while ensuring his re-election in the upcoming vote.

If Pop. 1280 is Thompson's masterpiece, then I have little hope that I will ever like the author. I hate novels where I must reside in the mind of a psychopath. The novel is presented in the first person of Corey's perspective and I just wanted to escape his model of thinking. While these types of "ride with the killer" novels are popular, I just can't seem to enjoy them. With the killer, and the killer's intentions, in full display, there is no real mystery or suspense. It's like trying to get the toothpaste back in the tube. Once it is out, it's out.

Like most of Thompson's novels, every character is a worthless human being devoid of any common decency. I didn't have any reason to love anyone, and I didn't care what happened to them. I need a well-written narrative with characters that I can identify with and sense a kind of connection with. I need to care about the characters. Thompson provides none of that. Instead, his objective is just to create excessive characters that are profane, too sexual and have very little common sense. In poor taste, he passes these characters off as an inbred race of rednecks.  

I know I don't understand the full significance of Thompson's writing and what makes it truly unique. That's okay, I don't have to understand it or like him. His dialogue, murderous viewpoint and morally flawed characters attract generations of worshiping fans. I'm glad he has a fan base. After trying to enjoy a handful of his novels, I probably will never open another one. This kind of literature seems beneath me. There are remarkable books from remarkable authors. From my perspective, Jim Thompson is not one of those. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Don't Speak to Strange Girls

Harry Whittington was a master of crime-noir, but wrote novels in many different genres like romance, sleaze, slave gothics and westerns. I've mostly been attracted to his crime novels and westerns, but I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and try something different. I decided to purchase his 1963 paperback Don't Speak to Strange Girls. It was originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal and now exists as an ebook by Prologue Press.

Clay Stuart is a 45 year old movie star living in Hollywood, California. Clay is from a poverty-stricken family in Nebraska and now lives a life of luxury. He's experienced decades of marquee film success as a leading man in war and westerns. In the first few pages, Clay attends the funeral of his longtime wife, Ruth. Back in his spacious mansion, Clay begins to receive the encouragement and greetings of his dedicated staff. His business manager is Marty, his agent is Marc and his assistant Kay deals with the rest. The trio urge Clay to mourn, but to get back to work as soon as possible. It will do him some good. 

Clay doesn't go back to work. Instead, he grieves with bottles of alcohol and a sense of displacement. His wife is dead. What happens now? Marty and Marc both attempt to cheer Clay up with hunting trips, prostitutes and a script for a new western called Man of the Desert. Even Clay's studio execs want him back. But Clay is despondent and can't find a reason to rise and exist each day. That's when Joanne Stark arrives.

The initial introduction is made over the telephone. One day, Clay responds to the phone and a young woman mysteriously charms him. Her questions are rather innocent, but she has a self-confidence that most women do not possess when chatting with celebrities. Clay wants to know how she obtained his unlisted number and she flirts around the answer. Eventually, he bids her farewell and dismisses the call as a starstruck fan who got lucky with a Hollywood insider. She'll never call again. But she does. And, for the first time in a long while, Clay feels excitement again. He gains a thrill that he hasn't experienced in decades. Joanne Stark is an amazing individual... by phone. Should they meet?

Against the advice of almost everybody, including his wise old butler, Clay invites this young woman into his home. When Joanne shows up, Clay is astounded by her beauty. She's like a living, breathing doll. Her behavior is both seductive and innocent, a rare combination which causes a reversal of roles. Clay is infatuated with Joanne. She explains that she has a love for Clay since she was little and that she wants what he has. She wants to become an actress, she wants to be famous, she wants to be rich.

Despite Kay's judgment, Clay and Joanne start a fire that burns for weeks. Both are madly in love and Clay, who could be Joanne's father, feels young again. As Whittington's narrative expands, Clay begins to suspect that Joanne may be using him to gain a shortcut into Hollywood. But he's so in love, he doesn't care about it. Is he able to maintain a one-way relationship with this young, beautiful woman? Once she gains her own fame and fortune, why will she still need Clay? After Clay's agent looks into Joanne's small town history, things begin to look rather bleak for Clay's future. This woman is a wildcat.

Whittington can write his ass off and Don't Speak to Strange Girls is exceptional. There's so many introspective aspects to the story that make it so compelling. Whittington wants to know what we could do for fame and fortune? He examines the Hollywood elite and how it compares to the daily lives of average Americans. It's a fish out of water story, but it goes both ways - Joanne caught up in the filthy rich and Clay adjusting to a younger generation. When each is exposed to the other's social world, it triggers a chain reaction that affects their emotions in several unusual ways.

Like the films A Star is Born and (ahem) Pretty Woman, Don't Speak to Strange Girls brilliantly exposes the consequences and fallout when the average human consumes too much too quickly. It's elementary, but not in the hands of Harry Whittington. Instead, it's one of his greatest novels and it doesn't contain a single murder. Well, maybe just that one near the end. But you should find out on your own. That's a pretty big invitation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Arm

Clark Howard authored short-stories for digest magazines like Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock. Beginning in 1967, Howard began writing full-length novels of crime-fiction and action-adventure. As a big fan of Howard's writing, I was anxious to learn that his literature has been reprinted in digital format by Mysterious Press. After reading several of his mid-career novels, I wanted to check out his first book to see how they compare. I purchased The Arm, a crime-noir novel originally published in hardcover in 1967 and then later reprinted as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback in 1970. In 1987, the novel was adapted into a film called The Big Town starring Matt Dillon, Tommy Lee Jones and Diane Lane.

J.C. Cullen, nicknamed "Cully", is a hayseed plow boy from Evansville, Indiana. In the book's opening pages, Cully arrives at a Chicago bus terminal with a battered briefcase and a curiosity for the big city lights. You see, Cully has what the gambling industry likes to refer to as "the arm". He's a craps thrower that can seemingly control the dice and make them dance. After racking up small town money, a retired gambler named Hooker refers Cully to a gambling racket in Chi-Town. Upon arrival, Cully follows his directions to a man named Ferguson.

In a room in the back of a bar, Cully learns that Mrs. Ferguson runs a craps gambling racket. The way it works is that Cully is provided a few hundred dollars each afternoon and it is his responsibility to play that money in illegal craps games all over the city. Why does Cully need Ferguson or a racket? Because Ferguson, and her blind husband (more on him in a moment), know where all the craps games are played and they have protection from the police to look the other way. In return, Cully has free money to bet, but his take of all winnings is 20%. The Fergusons keep 70% and 10% goes to Hooker, the referral source.

After just a few nights, Cully begins winning nearly every game and soon earns thousands of dollars. While Cully is working for the Fergusons, he's free to play games on his days off. Cully begins ascending through various levels of entry and intermediate level play. Eventually, Cully begins playing at a professional level, again illegally, where his peers are just as talented as he is. With a unique method of quick mathematical deduction, Cully starts winning tens of thousands of dollars in his free time. And seriously pissing off Chicago's finest craps shooters.

Remember Mr. Ferguson? His story is that he was once as good as Cully. But, a poor sport threw a pan of acid at him after a sizable loss. The incident burned Mr. Ferguson's eyes and permanently blinded him. The attacking player ran off and since then Mr. Ferguson has paid $100,000 to detectives and players hoping to locate him for some much needed payback. The only clue was that this man possessed a heart tattoo on his inner wrist. This ties into Cully because he meets a player that matches Mr. Ferguson's attacker. This revelation brings Cully to a crossroads - does he need favors and credit with Mr. Ferguson enough to sentence this seemingly nice player to death?

Beyond the narrative's grimy expose on backroom gambling and Cully's important decision making Cully's fiercest rival is a man named Cole. His main squeeze is a knockout stripper named Lorry. Cully becomes infatuated with the woman and soon finds himself in a dangerous, heated affair that elevates his competition with Cole. But when she pitches a murder scheme on him, Cully must decide if Lorry's love is worth the price of murder.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I loved this book. The Arm has so many crime-fiction elements, but also ties in a familiar genre trope with illegal gambling. Clark Howard's biography stated that he loved watching the craps shooters in and around Memphis and other parts of the deep south. His affection for the game bleeds onto the pages, from the pool halls and bars to the mental dynamics of dice rolling. I found myself down the YouTube rabbit hole learning more about craps shooting and its history.

Cully's evolution from poor country boy to rich city slicker was just a real pleasure to read. Like any fish out of water story, there's the inevitable downfall. When Howard reverses Cully's fortunes, it's done in a way that is similar to the author's future literary works - violent and unrestrained. In many ways, this could be Howard's best novel. That's surprising considering it was his full-length debut. 

If you love crime-fiction or just an abstract rags to riches story, The Arm delivers in spades. It's probably one of the better books I've read this year. I urge you to track down a used paperback or just snag the affordable digital version. You won't regret it.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Night Squad

Philadelphia author David Loeb Goodis (1917-1967) wrote excellent crime novels about skid row losers rising above their alcoholism and misfortune to find justice and normalcy in their violent world. Although Goodis never achieved fame in the U.S. during his life, the French had a keen appreciation for his particular brand of noir. Night Squad was his 1961 paperback original from Fawcett Gold Medal that has been reprinted by Stark House Noir Classics as one of three novels in a trade paperback reprint.

Five weeks ago, Corey Bradford was canned from his job as a police officer for taking bribes from lawbreakers. After the death of his honest police officer father, he was raised by a wino mom in the skid row alleys he now calls home. As we join him, Corey is a boozehound stewbum sleeping on the streets of a city that’s never given a name. Goodis is a master at atmospheric descriptions of the slime-filled slum called the Swamp where rats crawl in the bedroom windows and gnaw on sleeping babies in their cribs. Yes, it’s one of those kind of novels.

The Swamp is under the thumb of a gangster named Walter Grogan, who hires Corey to figure out who is trying to kidnap him. There are several violent set-pieces where Corey is thrust into action trusting his wits and police training to save his own skin as well as his client’s hide. For his part, Grogan is a muscular 56 year-old athlete with a 24 year-old trophy wife who is hot to trot for Corey. If Grogan had any inkling that Corey and his temptress bride were up to anything, it’s a safe bet Corey would disappear to the bottom of the city’s lake.

And then there’s the Night Squad itself. They are a shadowy team of cops operating out of City hall beyond the strict boundaries of the law and police oversight. They are willing to reinstate Corey and return his badge in order to nail Grogan. There’s some great backstory explaining the Night Squad’s hard-on for Grogan that includes one of the most violent vignettes I’ve read in ages. Can Corey serve two masters and rebuild his life?

To be sure, there are a few slow sections, but mostly Night Squad is a pretty exciting, yet thin, paperback with some crazy-violent scenes, backstabbing, torture, gunplay, hot dames, a treasure hunt, and a shot at redemption. Upon reflection, it’s a nearly perfect crime-noir paperback and another win for Stark House, the imprint at the top of the reprint game. Read this one ASAP. Get it HERE

Monday, August 23, 2021

The Slasher

Ovid Demaris is a mid-20th century author who wrote both true crime and crime-noir. Most of his novels have been reprinted by publishers like Stark House Press and Cutting Edge Books. In recent years, I have read and collected his writing. Thankfully, a friend gave me a tattered copy of the author's Fawcett Gold Medal paperback The Slasher. It was originally published in 1959. As far as I can tell, it was never reprinted.

The novel introduces Stanley Palke, a psychopathic lunatic who terrorizes a Californian city. Palke is gay and has a fondness for naval men and merchant seamen. This "slasher" usually picks up men from local dives or bars and then brutally attacks them with a knife. In the first pages of the book, the police find four dead sailors trapped in a car immersed in water. These appear to be Palke's victims.

Whereas the novel occasionally presents events from Palke's point of view, most of the narrative is from Paul Warren's perspective. Like any "downward spiral" story, Warren has developed an alcohol problem. He ends up being fired from his reporting job due to his inability to stay sober for his newspaper assignments. Feeling as if his life is over, Warren spends his days drinking in bars and refusing his wife's help. The stars unfortunately align when Palke spots Warren in a local dive and offers to buy him a drink. Warren awakens the next day in the hospital after being brutalized by Palke. 

The Slasher is mostly a crime-fiction book that highlights two homicide investigators attempting to locate Palke. As fun as that was, I think I enjoyed the more personal account of Warren's downfall. The fact that this suburban husband and father could socially and financially plunge to the depths of alcoholism and suicidal tendencies was riveting. While Demaris is mostly known for his books on organized crime, I felt he presented this emotional story in a way that was easily relatable to readers. 

The Slasher also features some really mature moments that were shocking to me considering this is a 1959 paperback. Palke's flirtation with men wasn't something that was common in literature or film for that time period. While not terribly graphic, Demaris presents some material that was probably taboo or controversial at the time. At one point Palke insinuates that heterosexual men all have a homosexual tendency at one point or another. Warren's wife even reflects on a personal relationship she had with another woman. Beyond that, the sexual crimes were disturbing. Palke's stabbing was comparable to intercourse, each penetration becoming a sexual crescendo that eventually leads to castration. This is all pretty bold stuff for 1959. None of this is really illustrated with the book's cover. Instead, the artwork suggests that the killer is preying on voluptuous women instead of men.

If you like crime-fiction, there's no reason that you won't enjoy The Slasher. Considering all of the elements at work here, Demaris is able to inject quite a bit into a relatively short 172-page novel. From graphic violence, sexual innuendo, police procedures and the aforementioned "riches to rags" personal story, The Slasher is a multifaceted, enjoyable paperback. Get the ebook HERE

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Hold Back the Sun

Robert Carse (1904-1971) was a New Yorker who worked as a merchant seaman before becoming a writer and novelist. In the 1920s, he used his experiences at sea to write a number of adventure tales for the pulps. Under his own name he wrote historical and nautical fiction. He also contributed to the romance genre with books like  The Flesh and the Flame (1960), Cage of Love (1960) and End to Innocence (1964) for Monarch. Perhaps his best-known literary work was written under the pen name of John Vail. It is this name that is featured on his Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks The Sword in His Hand (1953), The Dark Throne (1954), Blond Savage (1955) and Sow the Wild Wind (1954). My first experience with the author is his Fawcett Gold Medal novel, Hold Back the Sun, originally published in 1956 with a cover by poster artist Frank McCarthy.

Hank Gatch and his team are smugglers. Using Gatch's 83-foot ship The Soledad, his illegal operation ships goods between the coast of France and North Africa. His reputation as an experienced smuggler is what appeals to a young Israeli named Yevna. Her horrifying experiences at the Auschwitz concentration camp motivated her to defend Israel from the Muslim Brotherhood. Along with her brother, she's aiding resistance and freedom fighters with firepower. She hires Gatch to help her negotiate with an arms dealer to acquire a stash of weapons.

Carse's narrative is constructed around Gatch's team running and gunning around North Africa in an attempt to avoid port authorities and the Brotherhood. Beyond the initial job, Gatch is employed by Yevna's brother to secure another large shipment of firearms on a coastal reef. Along the way, Gatch and Yevna fall in love. 

Hold Back the Sun is just an average read. There's nothing terribly exciting about the story, but it is written well enough to please most readers. I found that the narrative was really just connecting map dots as the team traveled to each destination performing tasks. The romantic chemistry between the two main characters was Carse's main interest, evident from Fawcett's front cover: "By day they fought, by night they loved." From a nautical fiction stance, the technical aspects reminded me of another, much better Fawcett Gold Medal paperback - 1968's A Great Day for Dying by Jack Dillon.

At just 140 pages, Hold Back the Sun is a satisfactory read, but just manage your expectations. Despite the alluring cover art, the story is a little stale. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 2, 2021

The Extortioners

Ovid Demaris (1919-1998) wrote nearly 20 novels of crime-fiction as well as 14 non-fiction books about crime. The author has been reintroduced to new generations of readers with publishers like Cutting Edge Books and Armchair Fiction reprinting his work. The author's fifth career novel, The Extortioners, was originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1960. Since then, it has been reprinted as an e-book by Hauraki Publishing in 2016 and by Armchair Fiction in 2019 as a double with Henry Kane's 1954 paperback Laughter Came Screaming.

Hugh Dewitt has endured many hardships and tribulations on the road to becoming a millionaire. Dewitt, who frequented gambling joints, experienced the loss of his young son in an auto accident. The insurance payout insured Dewitt's family for life, allowing him to invest and buy into the lucrative oil industry. Dewitt's friend and business associate is Neil Gordon, a man he trusts and confides in. Together, the two have grown a small empire.

In the opening pages of the book, Dewitt organizes a party in his large mansion. Angelo Rizzola, Dewitt's former bookie, learns about the party and appears uninvited. Both Dewitt and Gordon are shocked by his appearance, but eventually discuss old times over a few drinks. Angelo insists on investing in Dewitt' business. Hesitant about discussing business with Angelo, he volunteers that his company will be selling a 2% overriding royalty that pays about $5,000 per month. He cannot guarantee that it is still for sale and he has no idea if Angelo can even buy it. All Angelo hears is the payout and states he can come up with the needed funds.

Where does a criminal get a loan? The mob. Without any guarantee that he can even purchase the royalty, Angelo calls a dangerous mob organizer named Jimmy Gracio. Angelo explains the deal and Jimmy immediately says they can share the buy-in, although neither of them know the price. Jimmy has graduated from mob enforcer to organizer and now owns stock in multiple hotels and corporations. This is his chance to finally allocate funds to the oil industry. He tells Angelo to set it up. The problem? The royalty offer has already taken place and has been approved by the company for another person to buy it. 

The author's extremely violent narrative begins with Angelo endlessly calling Dewitt's secretary asking for a callback. Next, both Angelo and Jimmy begin working on Gordon in person and by phone. After numerous threats, Gordon advises Angelo that he knows nothing about the proposed deal and that Dewitt was just saying anything at the party to get Angelo to leave. There's no royalty for sale and Angelo will need to chase another business venture. Angelo relays this to Jimmy and all Hell breaks loose.

Jimmy feels like a victim of discrimination and starts threatening Gordon and Dewitt. Once he targets Dewitt's family, the business associates make the unfortunate mistake of going to the police. The story breaks out into a crescendo of bloodshed and suspense when Jimmy starts using years of experience to extort the family. Is it possible for Dewitt to escape this fiasco alive?

Like Ride the Gold Mare, The Long Night and The Enforcer, The Extortioners is laced with brutality. Demaris was an expert on organized crime and pulls no punches in describing their threatening methods. In some ways this story reminded me of John D. MacDonald's The Executioners (twice filmed as Cape Fear). The endless physical and psychological abuse of attorney Sam Bowden and his loved ones by Max Cady is similar to this story, though MacDonald's novel was published three years before The Extortioners

Aside from a mediocre novel here and there, Ovid Demaris was a rock solid crime-noir author. In my personal experience, The Extortioners is his best work. With two reprint options available, there's no reason you shouldn't be reading this.

Buy the e-book HERE and the paperback HERE

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Woman is Mine

Harry Whittington preferred to sell his novels to Fawcett Gold Medal because the paperback imprint paid more and sold more units than rival publishers. As a result, his best works were published with the telltale yellow spines, including his 1954 thriller, The Woman is Mine.

Minnesotan Jeff Patterson is on vacation alone on a Florida beach unwinding after an Army stint in Korea. The single woman in the next cabana has been catching his eye. His first attempt to chat her up lands with a thud. The woman actually seemed terrified and guarded. Later that night, she attempts suicide only to be saved by Jeff. What gives with this girl?

Back at Jeff’s cabana, he doesn’t get much information from her other than her name is Paula and someone is out to get her. Just as she lets her guard down and decides to share her story with Jeff, men with a warrant arrive to take her away. The man at the door explains that he’s a psychiatrist, and the girl’s name is really Mrs. Joyce Glisdale. He explains that she’s a delusional paranoiac requiring sedation and a forcible return to the psychiatric facility from which she escaped. Before Jeff can discern the truth, the men are gone with Paula/Joyce in custody.

This is one of the best setups, I can recall for a 1950s suspense thriller. Someone isn’t telling the truth here. Is she really a lunatic named Joyce or a scared victim named Paula being kidnapped by weird dudes? For his part, Jeff is smitten and sets out to find out the truth about Paula/Joyce and the mysterious sanitarium where they are holding her. The more he snoops around, the fishier the shrink’s story seems.

Jeff’s amateur sleuthing is a total pleasure to follow. Every step closer to the truth opens a new door that begs several other questions. The novel recalled the popular movies by Alfred Hitchcock, and the suspicious and guarded sanitarium reminded me of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island. All of this leads to a revelatory conclusion that ties up the mysteries in a creative and satisfying manner.

The Woman is Mine is one of the finest Harry Whittington novels I’ve read and I’m baffled why the literary arms race to reprint Whittington’s greatest hits has left this paperback behind. With a bit of searching and know-how, used copies from 1954 are available from online sellers of vintage paperbacks. This one is worth the effort and expense. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

When Eight Bells Toll

The mid-1960s may be the best period for adventure writer Alistair MacLean. From 1963, the Scottish native released Ice Station Zebra, When Eight Bells Toll and Where Eagles Dare within three years. The three novels also became successful film adaptations featuring such leading men as Rock Hudson, Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood and Anthony Hopkins. Having read and enjoyed Where Eagles Dare, I wanted to acquire more novels by MacLean. I decided on When Eight Bells Toll. It was originally published in hardback and as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback.

When Eight Bells Toll is presented as a first-person account by a character named Phillip Calvert. He works for the British Secret Service and his direct report is Rear-Admiral Sir Arthur Arnford-Jason, which thankfully is shortened to the nickname Uncle Arthur for the bulk of the book's narrative. After several cargo ships were hijacked in the Irish Sea, Calvert is sent undercover to investigate.

As the narrative unfolds, readers realize that secret service agents were planted on these ships because of the cargo - millions of gold bullion. Calvert and his partner Hunslett explore Scotland's Torbay Island in the guise of marine biologists. There's a number of suspicious characters, including a wealthy Lord, a former actress and a shipping magnate. While Calvert is getting closer to the hijackers, he finds himself a target. 

MacLean's story is unlike high adventure novels like Where Eagles Dare and The Guns of Navarone. In fact, I'd label When Eight Bells Toll a detective novel with adventure tendencies. The story follows a private detective formula with inquiries, interviews, shady ladies and mysterious characters. There are a lot of shootouts, underwater adventures and nautical nuances to turn it into a real page turner. Calvert is a likeable hero and the support casting was diversified enough to add a lot of twists. 

Whether you like gumshoe crime novels or nautical adventure, When Eight Bells Toll will appeal to you. Alistair MacLean's career reached a production peak at this point in his career, and this is just another chapter in his remarkable talent as a storyteller. Read it now, please.

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Driscoll’s Diamonds

Crime-noir author Marvin Albert (1924-1996) began writing stylish, high-adventure novels in the 1970s under the pseudonym Ian MacAlister. It was a commercialized combination of successful writers such as Ian Fleming and Alistair MacLean. I especially liked Albert's writing style and I've been on an adventure-fiction kick of late. It was this motivation that led me to try out the 1973 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback Driscoll’s Diamonds.

In the middle chapters of the book, it is explained that the mercenary Driscoll, his partner Royan and three other hardmen ambushed diamond smugglers in Africa. Following the shooting, the diamonds were successfully stolen and the gang fled the scene. En route to the getaway plane, Royan betrayed the group and killed all but Driscoll. In the bloody exchange, Driscoll took the diamonds, left on the plane, but then crashed near a shore in the Middle East. Having survived the accident, Driscoll’s diamonds were stuck in the pilot's seat that was now underwater. 

Albert's narrative is a sprawling adventure yarn as Driscoll attempts to reclaim the diamonds from the sunken aircraft. He is in love with a woman named Shana and both have a big future planned based on recovering the diamonds. Unfortunately, Driscoll and Shana are both taken hostage by Royan and several hardened mercenaries. They have to lead Royan to the diamonds in return for their lives. Driscoll knows that he and Shana are dead anyway, so he's fighting tooth and nail along the way. There's a multitude of escape attempts, gun battles and the obligatory tough guy talk as Royan and Driscoll recount some of their old missions together. 

I loved this novel and found it better than Albert's other Middle East scavenger hunt novel, Valley of the Assassins. Driscoll and Shana are two admirable characters and I liked the heated tension between the various characters. There's a surprise when two other parties join the hunt, but I'm going to leave that unexplained in the hope that you read this book. If you love desert climates with tough men betraying other tough men looking for dirty money, then you are going to love Driscoll’ Diamonds. It's a gem.

Buy a copy of this book HERE