Showing posts with label Harry Whittington. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Harry Whittington. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

A Woman Possessed

A Woman Possessed was a 1961 paperback by Harry Whittington, writing as Whit Harrison. The book is a crime noir paperback packaged as a sleaze novel for the original Beacon Books release. Fortunately, it’s been reprinted as a double by Stark House along with 1952’s Prime Sucker. The new edition includes an insightful introduction by pop culture scholar Cullen Gallagher.

As with the best of Whittington’s novels, he wastes no time getting into the plot. Convicted murderer Dan Ferrel is an inmate on a prison road gang swinging a grass sling to cut down the weeds along the steamy highway. Nobody else knows that Dan is expecting company. Namely, a woman named May who should be roaring up any minute in a blue car to facilitate his escape from the shotgun-toting guards.

Of course, the escape happens and Dan is on the run. May is smitten for Dan, but it’s clear that Dan is just using his psychological hold over May to manipulate her into facilitating his getaway. Dan has another woman on his mind - an old flame with whom Dan has a score to settle.

The second plot thread involves Dan’s brother, Paul. He’s the good kid of the family who is going to attend medical school and make something of himself. Paul just started dating a night club singer — always a disreputable profession in these books — and the songbird is pressuring Paul to join her in a heist, so they can be together with a little cash for a change.

The prison guard overseeing the road gang is Virgil Hawkins, and he’s a gun-crazy psychopath just looking for a reason to kill an inmate. When Dan escapes the road gang, Virgil takes it as a personal affront and takes vacation time to hunt Dan himself. This was a great storyline that I wish the author had further developed.

This is top-tier Whittington: Violent, exciting and compelling. The Beacon Books imprint also means sex scenes a few notches more graphic than the usual 1961 fare. There’s really nothing not to like about this one, and thanks to Stark House, you can read it without spending an arm and a leg. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

A Woman on the Place

A Woman on the Place was a 1956 Ace paperback by Florida’s “King of Paperbacks” Harry Whittington (1915-1989). The book has been reprinted over the years and remains available as an affordable ebook from Prologue Press.

The Johnsons are simple, struggling orange farmers living in the scrub country of Central Florida. Will is the father fighting to survive with his handicapped wife and stepson in tow. Debts are mounting and a rare freeze may kill this season’s crop. Will’s creditors aren’t interested in excuses, they just want to be paid. There’s disagreement among family members about whether a harvest for the orange juice concentrate company is the right business move.

A pair of uninvited — and undesired — house guests suddenly arrive from Alabama. Tom is the white-trash, deadbeat cousin of Will’s wife, and he brought his abused ragamuffin bride Rosanne with him. Of course, Rosanne is a real looker, and the relationship with her domineering husband is super-dysfunctional. Naturally, Will is intrigued by the Alabama girl, especially when compared to his wheelchair-bound shrew of a wife.

A Woman on the Place is a weird novel for Harry Whittington as it doesn’t fit nicely into any of his normal genres. My theory is that in 1956, paperback editions of novels of hardscrabble life in the rural south by Erskine Caldwell, William Faulkner and John Faulkner were selling quite well. This was Whittington’s attempt to take a crack at an agrarian melodrama with literary aspirations. As a result, the pacing is really, really slow with none of the noir snappiness readers of his crime-fiction have come to expect.

To be clear, there is a killing and stuff happens, but it was all too boring to generate much interest in the characters’ well-being This is what happens when a writer abandons his strengths and chases the marketplace over originality. Harry Whittington was better than this novel, and you deserve more. Don’t bother. 

Buy a copy of the eBook HERE.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Mourn the Hangman

Harry Whittington's second contemporary novel was 1951's Murder is my Mistress, published by Graphic as #41. One year later, Whittington was featured again by the publisher with Mourn the Hangman, Graphic #46. The book was reprinted by Prologue in 2012 in paperback and digital editions.

Steven Blake and Bruce Bricker own Confidential Investigations, a private-eye business based in Gulf City, Florida. Their most recent job placed Blake undercover as a laborer for Arrenhower, a manufacturer with a government contract to produce airplane parts. Blake's job was to infiltrate the company to discover evidence that the company is a contract profiteer (using government money to buy supplies to make products for a competitor). After Blake locates proof, he drives back to Gulf City and reports it to his partner. When Blake returns home, he finds his wife has been murdered. Instead of calling the police, Blake runs smack-dab into another crime-noir plot of “innocent man on the run from the police after finding a corpse.”  

In this average Whittington novel, Blake is determined to locate his wife's murderer. The suspect list includes his partner, his wife's former lover, and Arrenhower's CEO. As Blake dodges the law, he becomes the primary target for a motivated police lieutenant. When the net tightens, Blake runs to Jacksonville to escape hired gunmen. Fast cars, a seductress, an ex-fighter, and corporate fraud all prove to be real highlights of Whittington's plot. The emotional, moral centric theme is personal loss and sworn vengeance. 

At 150 pages, the book's pace is just too quick to really allow readers to settle into the story. Cheers to Whittington for keeping it breezy, but I wanted to learn more about Blake's involvement with Arrenhower and his backstory as a former homicide detective.

Mourn the Hangman proves that Whittington was still perfecting his storytelling skills in the early 1950s. By 1955, Whittington had nearly 20 full-length, original novels on his resume, including many written under pseudonyms. His catalog varies and this novel is just another Whittington book, nothing more, nothing less. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Wild Oats

Florida’s King-of-Paperbacks Harry Whittington (1915-1989) had four paperback original novels published in 1954. One of those included a juvenile delinquent book called Wild Oats that promised “The story of a young girl’s moral degradation.”  The novel was originally published by Uni Books and is now available as a reprint from Armchair Fiction. 

Amy has a troubled background. Her father left her mother for another woman and moved to Tampa, leaving his wife and Amy behind. As the novel opens, 15 year-old Amy is hitchhiking to Tampa to be with her estranged dad. She lands a ride with a creepy trucker who tries to rape her until a trooper intervenes and sends her back home to mom. 

Both Amy and her mom are relatively new residents in the small Florida town of Duval, a sleepy hamlet divided into a caste system with a distinct class-based pecking order. Amy and her divorced mother are toward the bottom, but Mama is hell-bent on some social climbing. Her bright idea is for Amy to befriend the high school’s Alpha-girl, a bitchy teen named Clarice.

Amy quickly befriends the wealthy Clarice and begins to slide into delinquency - booze, cutting school, and pressure to engage in sexual activity as an initiation into Clarice’s No Virgins girl gang. The sex stuff is all off-page and more repugnant than titillating. On the other side of this teen malfeasance is a nice high school boy who thinks Amy is just swell. 

I kept waiting for something interesting or edgy to happen, but the whole thing felt like an After School Special about the dangers of peer pressure. At best, Wild Oats is an interesting artifact from the juvenile delinquent paperback fad. However, the novel is beneath both Harry Whittington and you. Don’t bother. 

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.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 93

On Episode 93, Eric presents the life and literary work of Edgar Award-Winning author Clark Howard. Eric reviews many of Howard's novels, including his 1970 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback The Arm. Tom reviews the 1959 paperback debut of the Psi-Power series and Eric reveals an embarrassing debt. Listen on any podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 93: Clark Howard" on Spreaker.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 92

The Paperback Warrior Podcast rolls into August with Episode 92. On this episode, Eric explains the life and literary work of crime-fiction author Ovid Demaris. Eric talks about his recent gothic paperback bonanza, a visit to the psychic capital of the world and his recent health scare. Tom pops in to discuss the life of the paperback king himself, Harry Whittington, including a review of the author's 1954 novel The Woman is Mine. Listen on any podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE:

Listen to "Episode 92: Ovid Demaris" on Spreaker.

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

Monday, March 29, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 84

Welcome to Paperback Warrior Episode 84! Our feature this week is Robert Terrall, who wrote mysteries as Robert Kyle, John Gonzales, and Brett Halliday. Also discussed: Nursing Noir, Manhunt Companion, E. Howard Hunt, Robert Bloch and more! Listen on your favorite podcast app or paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE

Donate to the show HERE

Listen to "Episode 84: Robert Terrall" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Murder is my Mistress

After a decade of short-stories, Harry Whittington's first contemporary novel was published in 1950. A year later, the author's fruitful career was in full swing with a handful of original paperbacks including Murder is My Mistress. The book was published as Graphic Mystery #41 and has never been reprinted.

The book introduces housewife Julia Clarkson. She's living an unexceptional existence as a suburban wife and mother in the small town of Elm City. Julia is married to a respectable wealth manager named Roy, and the couple has two teenagers. In the opening pages, Julia barely avoids a deadly accident when her tire blows out on the highway. After consulting with her local mechanic, she discovers that someone may have slashed the tire. Fearing that her husband's career and schedule could be impacted by her distress, Julia continues her normal routines. But, after the family's stove explodes and kills their housekeeper, Julia's trepidation is validated. Someone is trying to kill her.

Considering this is 1951, the book emphasizes a heroic feminism. Whittington positions Roy to be non supportive, merely representing the family's breadwinner without possessing the genre tropes of a strong male protagonist. Julia keeps her rather turbulent past from Roy in a way that protects him and his insecurity, a stark contrast from the typical crime-noir. As the book reaches the revelation point, Whittington does pair Julia with a smart detective named Bellows. But again, he's really second string to Julia's leading role.

By 2021, we've watched or read this sort of story before. The woman on the run from some sort of abusive past. The genre's highlight may have been Nancy Price's 1987 novel Sleeping with the Enemy, later adapted into a successful film starring Julia Roberts. Oddly, I found some aspects of this story (revenge on the prosecutor) reversed for John D. MacDonald's 1957 novel The Executioners, later adapted to film twice as Cape Fear.

Regardless of subsequent literary works, Whittington does deliver a fantastic story in Murder is my Mistress. Even the title is a clever nod to a plot point. With a unique hero, a brisk pace and the core mystery, Whittington proved he was a masterful storyteller early in his writing career. There are better Whittington books, but this early novel certainly set the table for what was to come. If you can afford the high-priced used paperback, it's certainly worth your time.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 22, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 79

Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 79 delved into the life and work of Edward S. Aarons. Also discussed: Richard Neely, Harry Whittington, Reprints, Men of Violence, Men’s Adventure Quarterly, and more! Listen on any podcast app or download directly HERE 

Donate to the show HERE

Listen to "Episode 79: Edward S. Aarons" on Spreaker.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Like Mink, Like Murder (aka Passion Hangover)

Like Mink, Like Murder was a 1957 Harry Whittington novel that only received a French-translated printing (as T’as Des Visions!) after failing to find a U.S. publisher. The book was later heavily-adapted into a 1965 sleaze paperback called Passion Hangover. Whittington’s original manuscript has been lost to the ages, but literary scholar David Laurence Wilson reverse-engineered the sleaze paperback into something resembling Whittington’s original vision for a Stark House re-release.

The narrator of Like Mink, Like Murder is a milkman named Sam Baynard in the town of Dexter City (Population: 100,000). Sam is an ex-con whose past catches up with him when a hot babe named Elva tracks him down in Dexter City. She and Sam were crew members working for a gangster named Kohzak until Sam got nabbed robbing a jewelry store. Sam kept his mouth shut, served his prison time and then landed a straight job delivering milk to squares.

Sam used to be in love with Elva, who’s the main squeeze of Kohzak the gangster. For his part, Sam blames both Elva and Kohzak for his incarceration and just wants to be a milkman and assimilate into legit society. Unfortunately, Kohzak insists on Sam’s help to pull off a payroll heist, and he’s not the kind of mobster who takes no for an answer. Will Sam succumb to the pressure and return to a life of crime? Will he finally get into Elva’s britches? What about his promising future in the fast-growing field of dairy delivery? These are the dilemmas Sam and the reader navigate over the course of this 35,000 word paperback.

The writing in Like Mink, Like Murder was a bit clunky in the opening chapter, but things smooth out considerably thereafter and begin to feel like a normal Whittington potboiler. There’s a real emotional core at the center of the novel as Sam is torn between the straight life of a milkman and the potentially lucrative life of a stick-up man. Whittington did a great job ratcheting up that tension throughout the short paperback.

Where does Like Mink, Like Murder rank in the library of Whittington’s work? I’d say it’s a solidly better-than-average Whittington novel - likely due to the edits made by Wilson 50 years after the paperback’s original conception. Whoever gets the credit, if you dig a tightly-wound crime noir suspense novel, you’re sure to enjoy this one quite a bit. It’s part of a three-pack of Whittington’s lost works released by Stark House and a great value for your money. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy HERE

Thursday, September 24, 2020

God's Back was Turned

Here at Paperback Warrior, we continue to delve into the literary works of Harry Whittington. While some of his books have been reprinted by the likes of Stark House Press, Black Lizard and Prologue Crime, many of his published works remain completely out of print decades after their original publication date. I recently acquired God's Back was Turned, a 1961 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback written under Whittington's real name (not one of his many pseudonyms). The paperback has yet to be reprinted, so I needed to know if it’s a lost treasure. I quickly tugged the book out of it's sleeved home and began reading.

The book's setting should be a familiar one to Harry Whittington fans – central Florida. It's in this rural stretch of farm country where the backwoods, uneducated family of Cooks live. The father is a stern redneck farmer named Shack. His bone-headed family is a myriad of assorted personalities, each of them remaining close to a neanderthal state of grace.

There's the obese Sister Helen, a character that is described as the “fattest woman ever seen outside of a circus.” She plays the part of cook, maid and mother-figure to the family. Brother Calvin is a replica of his father Shack, a stubborn farm-hand who possesses the most rudimentary approach to life. Brother Jaime is mute, a disability that theoretically stems from his mother dying during his delivery. His inability to speak is linked to his guilt of “killing her by being born.” And then there's Brother Walter.

Brother Walter left home 12-years ago to become a traveling preacher. At the pinnacle of his success, Walter's various congregations reached into the tens of thousands. His pulpit soapbox testimony was the proud voice of a sinner who's reached a state of immortality (and immense wealth) due to God's good graces. To reinforce that Holy stature, Walter uses the old poisonous snake-handling trick. In doing so, he “faith heals” thousands of afflicted attendees. However, with every well-funded ministry crusade, there's a deep rooted scandal. After a Miami newspaper, backed by a committee on evangelical validity, condemns Walter's mission as a scam, the once wealthy religious superstar returns home. That's where the novel begins.

Brother Walter's reunion with the family doesn't go as expected. Instead, the newspaper declaring Walter's fall from grace is shown to his  father and siblings. Caught up in the joy of having Walter home in his shiny Cadillac, the family is awe-struck by Walter's picture in the paper. They are oblivious (or illiterate) to the fact that the entire article has waylaid their Brother Walter into financial distress and forced obscurity. Instead, they throw a grand party and declare that Walter has returned home to heal Jaime the mute. That's right, sham artist Walter is going to make his brother speak using the devout word of God. Walter, who fails to convince the family that his road show was a ruse for rubes, is forced to watch hundreds of cars descend onto the farm to witness the Greatest Miracle of their Lifetime.

While all of this is happening with the Cook family, Whittington also introduces two other characters that consume large portions of the narrative. The first is Tom Balscom, an old farmer who’s close friends with the Cooks. In fact, Tom's prior wife (wife number two for the box-score) was Sister Hazel, the oldest Cook daughter who ran away from Tom and disappeared forever. After frequenting a truck stop diner, Tom falls in love with a young waitress named Willie Ruth. In layman terms: Old farmer Tom falls in love with the hot, apron-wearing, very young waitress vixen named Willie Ruth. He brings Willie Ruth to the Cooks to show her off and is immediately scolded by Shack for marrying this sultry Goddess. While Willie Ruth prepares for her inevitable date with destiny – a marriage consummation on a creaky old bed with Old Farmer Tom – she starts making eyes with Jaime.

The other character is a black sharecropper named Lucian Henry. He's married with eight kids and is the proverbial “white hat good guy” of the story. Lucian just wants to whistle and plow fields with his best friend, a mule named Lisse. But, there's Miss Lovely, a gorgeous red-blooded, very white nymph that has a hankering for the help - a theme that Whittington explored later in his plantation sagas. Despite her father's scolding, Miss Lovely refuses to leave the help alone. The author's narrative is like a vice-grip, slowly sucking Lucian into a sexual vortex controlled by Miss Lovely. His path is simple: ignore her advances and keep working or give into his desires and then consequently face the obligatory torture and death by a very white lynch mob.

You can probably tell by this point that God's Back was Turned is a really fun book. It's clear that Harry Whittington's imagination was running buck-wild. The novel combines the author's love for a good love story, his sensual writing style, his experience with the Plantation Gothic genre and his forte of utilizing crime-noir tropes to tell a good story. I want to emphasize that this isn't a traditional crime-noir novel. Nor is it a romance novel. It's an unusual hybrid of styles that made Whittington so unique. Like a good Charles Williams swamp-nymph novel, Whittington's use of the rural landscape and its host of flavorful characters is a winning formula that is just so enjoyable. Harry Whittington was the king of the paperbacks for a reason. While this novel is expensive, it may be worth pursuing as a special treat for yourself. Don't turn your back on this one.

Friday, September 11, 2020

A Ticket to Hell

Independent publishing company 280 Steps opened their doors in 2014. The upstart publisher acquired the rights to many out-of-print pulp classics and crime-noir as well as original novels by newer authors. Unfortunately, like many independents, the publisher closed their doors in 2017 and their back catalogue was extinguished from the internet. The company’s short-lived existence led me to several out-of-print Harry Whittington novels including Any Woman He Wanted, You'll Die Next, A Night for Screaming and a 1959 novel titled A Ticket to Hell. It was originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal and was reprinted in 1987 by Black Lizard. With a strong recommendation from my Paperback Warrior colleague, I decided to check the book out.

The novel begins with one of the best opening scenes I've read. The main character, Ric, is speeding down a dusty, rural stretch of New Mexico highway in a Porsche. He just picked up a hitchhiker, but after the young man pulls a gun on him, Ric casually slows the car to 35-mph and boots the kid onto the burning pavement. After a full day of driving, Ric stops at a dingy roadside motel to wait for a mysterious phone call.

The reader soon learns that Ric is running from someone and has a mysterious appointment  scheduled with a man he's never met. The problem is that the time and date are unknown to Ric, so he's held hostage by simply waiting for the bedside phone to ring. In doing so, he's visited by the motel owner's wife who's itching to get laid. Ric declines twice, but later becomes mesmerized by a beautiful young woman across the motel's parking lot. When the woman's male companion attempts to kill her, Ric intervenes. By doing so, he complicates his own agenda at the motel.

A Ticket to Hell is a smart and multi-layered paperback that finds Harry Whittington excelling within his familiar storytelling – person on the run, rural small town, sex and murder. Whittington mostly sticks to the formula, even borrowing some elements of his western writing and injecting it into this full-throttled crime-noir. I was really invested in Ric's murky past and the mysteries that he harbored. I found myself quickly flipping the pages in a mad dash to learn Ric's full story. The end result was expected, but the pleasure lies in the journey. A Ticket to Hell was yet another top-notch thriller penned by the king of the paperbacks.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 8, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 47

On Paperback Warrior Episode 47, we explore the multimedia empire of Private Eye Michael Shayne and review a rare Harry Whittington book from 1959. Join the discussion on your favorite podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE: Listen to "Episode 47: Mike Shayne" on Spreaker.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Mike Ballard #01 - Brute in Brass (aka Forgive Me Killer)

Brute in Brass was a 1956 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback by Harry Whittington (1915-1989) published at a time when the prolific Florida author was at the top of his game. He probably was paid $2,000 for the novel with the promise of bonuses if the paperback saw multiple printings. In 1987, Black Lizard Books reprinted a handful of Whittington books including Brute in Brass under Whittington’s original manuscript title Forgive Me Killer.

Mike Ballard is a vice cop currently under investigation for corruption. This presents an immediate problem because he is also a bag man and fixer for a mobster nightclub owner with plenty of secrets. Mike’s got a girlfriend of sorts he set up in an apartment who’s not getting the emotional connection she desires. She wants to be his wife - anyone’s wife, really - but Mike likes the current no-strings arrangement.

Mike travels to a prison to see a death row inmate named Earl Walker who maintains his innocence of the murder that landed him on the electric chair waiting list. During the investigation, Mike was the only cop who didn’t beat Walker to elicit a confession, so he’s the one Walker begs to help save his life. Mike also has his eye on Walker’s comely wife, which is the real reason he agrees to help.

As you may have gathered, Mike is kind of a heel. But he’s one of those heels that you kind of like because he’s smart, tough and blunt - a good, but somewhat dirty, cop. He also evolves over the course of the novel to locate the decency within himself while solving a fascinating mystery and navigating a minefield of personal and professional problems.

Brute in Brass was another winner among Whittington’s 170 identified novels. The hero, Mike Ballard, is a badass fighter who should have starred in a series of his own.

Trivia:

There’s a theory that Mike Ballard was intended by Harry Whittington to be a series character - the key to a crime fiction author’s commercial success in the 1950s and now. He wrote a second Ballard novel called Any Woman He Wanted, but it was rejected by Fawcett Gold Medal.

The sequel was finally published in 1961 by second-tier paperback house Beacon under the pseudonym Whit Harrison. By then, any momentum toward making the protagonist a franchise was gone, and Whittington never tried again to launch a series of his own.

Any Woman He Wanted (Mike Ballard #2) remains available as a reprint from Stark House Noir Classics (HERE). Watch Paperback Warrior for a review coming soon. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Hell Can Wait

Although he authored more than 170 novels during his 40-year career, only a small fraction of Harry Whittington’s books are available today in any format. I’m hoping that one day the Whittington Estate can marry up with an enterprising publisher to keep the author’s back catalog alive through modern reprints and ebooks. They can start with Hell Can Wait, a 1960 paperback that hasn’t seen the light of day in 60 years.

Our narrator is Greg Morris and he has come to the backwoods town of Koons Mills with a score to settle. Over a year ago, Greg’s wife was killed in a car accident caused by the town’s boss, Saul Koons. At a subsequent civil trial, Koons arranged for false testimony to get himself off the hook and convince the court that the accident was Greg’s fault. After spending a year away mourning the loss of his wife, Greg is back in Koons Mills hell-bent on justice and revenge.

Upon arrival, Greg gets his ass kicked by a group of Koons’ employees while the town’s sheriff declines to interfere. It becomes clear that no one has any interest in helping Greg bring down the town’s patriarch and primary employer. If Hell Can Wait had been written by Don Pendleton, Greg would have gotten his satisfaction with a long gun and a sniper scope. But this is a Harry Whittington paperback, so what does he do? He tries to seduce Koons’ saucy young wife.

Hell Can Wait is a slow-burn of a novel but very compelling. It’s more of a mainstream revenge story than a normal crime fiction paperback. Well, the ending was pure noir, but I won’t spoil it here. Greg is a menacing and rather creepy character for a protagonist, and Koons is a very nuanced villain whose behavior is a bit odd throughout the book - until the twisty ending explains all. At no point did I really know where the plot was headed, which is saying a lot in a genre that usually abides by fairly rigid formulas.

Overall, I can recommend Hell Can Wait as a fun puzzle-box of a vintage paperback. It’s not quite top-tier Harry Whittington, but it will certainly be on your mind long after the last of the 144 pages are done. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, April 6, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 38

Episode 38 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast presents a feature on the life and work of post-apocalyptic fiction author Jan Stacy including a review of the first installment in his Doomsday Warrior series. We also discuss some recent purchases as well as a review of the Harry Whittington classic, A Night for Screaming. Please check us out on any podcast app, streaming below or direct download HERE

Listen to "Episode 38 - Jan Stacy and the End of the World" on Spreaker.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Doomsday Mission

The king of the paperbacks, Harry Whittington, is often described by fans as a master of crime-noir. The talented author penned a number of crime-noir and suspense novels, but also contributed to other genres like romance, sleaze, plantation (slave gothics) and westerns. But, like his contemporary Charles Runyon, Whittington authored just one military fiction novel, “Doomsday Mission”, published by Banner in 1967.

The book begins as a chopper touches down in the Phuoc Long Province, a heavily trafficked area along the Cambodian border during the early days of the Vietnam War. U.S. Army Lieutenant Robert Edwards and three sergeants emerge from the helicopter and meet with 40 Vietcong defectors intent on assisting US factions. The plan is to march up the Ho Chi Minh Trail into a village ripe with North Vietnamese Army (NVA) underground supply tunnels.

Lieutenant Edwards is a rookie combatant who immediately clashes with his three sergeants. They want to navigate this long trek to the side of the road, hacking through dense foliage in lieu of walking a visible path. Edwards refuses and the large platoon is immediately under heavy fire from the NVA. The narrative's pace is simply driven by the various gunfights and skirmishes the platoon encounters. By presenting the story in that fashion, it comes across uneven and disjointed.

Any author who maintained a high-volume of literary works like Whittington will surely deliver variable quality. In this instance, “Doomsday Mission” just isn't very good. The characters were never developed enough for an invested reader to care about their future. Additionally, there is a 10-page story arc that features one of the sergeants bathing a Vietnamese woman in a seductive fashion. It was an ill-advised attempt for the author to break from the action.

You can read much better Harry Whittington books than "Doomsday Mission".

Purchase a copy of this book HERE

Friday, December 13, 2019

Strangers on Friday

Paperback Warrior is fertile ground for plenty of insight into Harry Whittington's literary work. A portion of his body of work has been released as digital reprints over the last two decades. Yet, there are so many paperback originals written by Whittington, or one of his many pseudonyms, that a sizable portion of his writing remains out of print to this day. My case in point is the crime-noir “Strangers on Friday”, which was published by Zenith in 1959. It's a rare paperback that demands top dollar among collectors.

“Strangers on Friday” embodies many of the elements that made the author so spectacular and popular. Whittington's novel features small-town corruption, beautiful (but distressed) women, an embedded mystery and a lone hero. Of course, all of it is constructed perfectly while showcasing the psychological impact on the characters.

In other words, “Strangers on Friday” kicks total ass.

Mac Rivers is a WW2 veteran, a widow and a man without a purpose. Searching for something to live for, Mac hops the first available bus and strikes up a long conversation with a beautiful young woman. Without a destination, Mac steps off of the bus with the woman in the tiny mountain hamlet of Roxmount. Mac is surprised (experienced readers aren't) when the unnamed woman invites Mac for drinks and then a late night sleepover at the local motel. After a night of lovemaking, Mac journeys out for breakfast only to find himself arrested for killing a police officer the night before.

Sleeping with women before knowing their name is a “cart before the horse” endeavor that typically doesn't lead to an arrest. Mac didn't kill anyone, but in this case his alibi is condom thin. Mac, searching for this unnamed woman, eventually leads the sheriff to the local bar where he had drinks with the woman. She isn't there, but in sheer desperation he randomly points out another beautiful woman and claims she's the one. When the sheriff asks her to confirm Mac's story...she does! What kind of town is this?

Whittington cleverly weaves political corruption, robbery and a whodunit into this fast-paced, riveting narrative. Nothing is as it seems, the characters behave in a puzzling manner. Mac is thrust into the challenging role of “drifting trouble-maker” to make sense of it all. It's a tired cliché but it works wonders under Whittington's unique design. With this much mystery and intrigue, thankfully there's still an expansive plot to fit in the obligatory fisticuffs, car chases and gunfire. Despite the misleading cover, this is a crime-fiction novel and a damn fine one. Whether it is worth the collector’s high price tag is a painful dilemma. If you love his work, I'd say it is mandatory. If not, just give it a few decades for the affordable ebook.

Buy a copy of this book HERE