Showing posts with label Heist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Heist. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Return to Vikki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Come Easy - Go Easy

For a guy with over 90 novels to his name, British author of American thrillers James Hadley Chase (real name: Rene Raymond, 1906-1985) had a remarkably-good batting average. As such, his 1960 femme-fatale heist noir novel, Come Easy - Go Easy, seemed like a good choice for an effortless and quality read.

Our narrator is Chet, a locksmith specializing in safes. One night he’s dispatched to a service call at the home of a rich jackass who lost his key. Chet pops the lock and sees a half-million bucks in cash just sitting in the safe. That’s the kind of thing that gets a guy thinking…

Chet mentions it to his co-worker Roy, and the guys start scheming. Anyone who reads a lot of heist novels will see that their plan is harebrained and riddled with pitfalls. And, of course, the whole thing goes sideways in the most delightful way possible. I won’t spoil it for you here, but these guys find themselves in a fabulous mess.

The book becomes a man-on-the-run novel and then the author channels Gil Brewer or Harry Whittington for the heart of the novel as Chet hides from the law in a small town among a benevolent boss with sexy young wife driving Chet to more bad decisions.

It’s a heist novel - two, in fact. It’s a prison break novel. It’s a femme fatale novel. It’s a man on the run novel. It’s everything that’s good about noir paperbacks from the 1950s and 1960s. It also the best novel by Chase - by far - that I’ve ever read. If you like the best work of Gil Brewer and Harry Whittington , this is up there with it. Don’t skip this one. I’m dead serious.

Come Easy - Go Easy has been reprinted a bazillion times over the past 60+ years, but you should buy the Stark House version which also includes his novel In A Vain Shadow and an intro by Rick Ollerman. Buy that version HERE.

Monday, October 9, 2023

The Sleeping City

“The Sleeping City” was a novella that originally appeared in the Fall, 1952 issue of Thrilling Detective. It was authored by Mary Hauenstein using the pseudonym of Marty Holland. I enjoyed and reviewed Holland's suspenseful potboiler novel The Glass Heart, and was curious to see what she could do with a hard-hitting heist plot. Both The Glass Heart and The Sleeping City are available as a twofer from Stark House Press, so it made for easy accessibility.

Wade works as a plainclothes cop and lives with his fiancĂ© Betty (separate bedrooms) in her brother's house. He's anxious to climb the career ladder, get hitched, and ultimately find a place of his own. His big break comes when the Gangster Squad's Captain Roberts offers up a sole undercover assignment. Wade is to assume the role of a Chicago hood named Cox, who is expected by a local corrupt businessman named Thompson. The theory is that Thompson is assembling a heist crew to knock off a bank.

The central portion of Holland's novella focuses on Wade easing into his role as a notorious gunman. The real Cox was nabbed at the airport by the cops, and Thompson only knows of Cox through word of mouth and referrals. So, it's an easy infiltration for Wade, as long as he can act and play the part. The idea is that Thompson, Wade, and a couple of smooth thugs are going to rob an armored truck when it picks up a large bankroll. Heist-fiction is always about assembling, planning, and executing, and Holland's approach is no different. But, there's a wrench in the gears with a beautiful woman named Madge, who is part of Thompson's crew. 

Wade falls for Madge, despite being engaged to Betty, and begins to fantasize about the two of them actually going through with the robbery and making a clean break into the High Sierras to live a life of wealthy anonymity. It's more than a romantic escape, as Wade begins to question his own meager existence and potential future suburbanite lifestyle with Betty. Holland introduces a stark balance with Wade and Madge's relationship compared to a bird with broken wings that Wade and Betty are nurturing back to health. It's really quite clever. Also, in a flashback scene, readers discover that Wade saved Captain Roberts' life during WW2, so there's a devout allegiance between the two. 

“The Sleeping City” was a superb story that included a rewarding, furious finale. Holland pulls no punches and delivered some of the best descriptions of gunplay even when compared to her male contemporaries of the time. Her vivid details like “shotgun shooting ejected shells over the shoulder” and “the .38's like little swarms of bees buzzing” added so much to these combat scenes. In terms of violence, her writing of the inevitable gunfight was similar to a much later writer, Marc Olden, who had a real knack for it. 

As a bonus in Stark House Press's reprint of The Glass Heart novel, “The Sleeping City” is a mandatory read. It contains everything we all love about heist and crime-fiction. Holland was a talented writer that is unfairly overlooked. Thankfully, Stark House Press is giving her career much love and respect. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, August 11, 2023

5 Against the House

Jack Finney's (1911-1995) best known novels are The Body Snatchers (1955), which was adapted into the 1956 popular science-fiction film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Time and Again (1970), and Assault on a Queen (1959), which was adapted into a film of the same name in 1966. My only experience with the author was his prison-break novel House of Numbers, which I really enjoyed. In the mood for heist-fiction, I chose to read his first published novel, 5 Against the House. It was published in 1954 as a hardcover by Doubleday & Company and made into a 1955 film of the same name by Columbia Pictures. It was also a serialized story featured in Good Housekeeping.

Al is a bright young kid attending college and planning for his future. His pack of friends includes fellow students Guy, Jerry, Brick, and Tina. After seeing a Brink's Security truck roll by, the guys fantasize about robbing the truck and making off with a fortune in stolen money. Unfortunately, they put the plan into a loose sketch and decide to follow the truck as it makes various stops. Needless to say, the police watch for that sort of thing and immediately pull the kids over with a warning to stop the nonsense. Which was really all it was.

But, the kids aren't smart enough to leave well enough alone. Instead, they piece together a plan to rob a Reno casino called Harold's Club. The kids have worked in and around the place holding summer jobs serving the tourists. The first half of the book's narrative consists of the plan, holdup, escape route, and so forth. The second half is the heist itself and the aftermath.

Heist-fiction is a lot of fun and Jack Finney certainly understood the ins and outs of working within this sub-genre of crime-fiction. While not as violent as a Parker or Earl Drake novel, Finney makes up for it with an intense human study of emotion – guilt, integrity, responsibility, loyalty – while defining the characters of Al, Tina, and Brick. There is a deep ravine carved in the friendship between Al and Brick, and Finney does an excellent job excavating that for the reader. Additionally, Tina's fascination with money and swanky lifestyle propels Al's participation in the narrative. It's the decisions and the aftermath that made House of Numbers so good, and I was happy to learn Finney used (learned?) those elements here.  

5 Against the House is just a great heist novel featuring likable characters and a fresh take on “take the money and run”. If you haven't tried Jack Finney yet, either this novel or House of Numbers is a great place to start.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Nolan #03 - Fly Paper

Max Allan CollinsNolan series is his pastiche of Richard Stark’s Parker series. The third novel in the chronology was Fly Paper written in 1973 but not published until 1981. The book has recently been repackaged by Hard Case Crime in a twofer marketed as Double Down.

For the uninitiated, Nolan is a hard-nosed thief who makes a living pulling heists that inevitably run into problems. Much of this book’s focus is on Jon, Nolan’s comic book collecting sidekick. The action kicks off with a colleague named Breen, who has a good thing going with a parking meter rip-off scam. Breen was working the coin theft organized by the redneck Comfort family before those hillbillies shot and double-crossed Breen landing him squarely in Nolan and Jon’s orbit.

This leads to a plan to rip off the Comfort family in a heist-the-heisters kinda deal. The action moves from Iowa to Detroit in the shadow of a large comic book convention. The heist itself is really a side-dish in the paperback with the main course being the commercial airline getaway that is interrupted by a skyjacking.

Between 1961 and 1972, there were 159 skyjackings in American airspace with the majority between 1968 and 1972. It was a vexing criminal social contagion without a clear solution - similar to the problem America currently faces with mass shootings. Collins draws upon this phenomenon as the backdrop of Fly Paper when a married guy plans a D.B. Cooper style airplane heist with a parachute getaway.

When Nolan and Jon are coincidentally on the plane as the dude takes control of the jet, the plotting and action soar. These are the best scenes in a book I’ve read in ages. The creativity at work with the dilemma facing Nolan and Jon sets Fly Paper apart from other heist novels of the paperback original era.

Fly Paper is also unquestionably the best of the first three Nolan novels. The inclusion of Jon as a sidekick gives the book its own identity rather than just being a cover song from a Richard Stark Tribute Band. The skyjacking storyline was brilliant, and everything about his slim paperback leaves the reader wanting more. Highest recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, May 12, 2023

The Diamond Boomerang

There are a lot of vintage paperback authors that have military experience. I don't believe there is any authors we've discussed here that can match the experience and military level of Lester Taube. He began his military career in a horse artillery regiment. Later, he served as an infantry platoon leader during WW2 and participated in combat in Okinawa and Iwo Jima. During the Korean War, Taube served as a company commander and intelligence officer. During the Vietnam War, he was stationed in France and Germany as a general staff officer working in intelligence. Taub retired as a full colonel, moved to France, and began writing books. Based on my count, I believe he has eight total novels published. The only experience I have with him is his 1969 novel The Grabbers, which was later published in paperback by Pocket Book under the title The Diamond Boomerang

Dan Baldwin's tragic past is cleverly revealed in the middle of The Diamond Boomerang. Until that point, readers are left guessing as to the reasons Baldwin is drinking his life away. In the book's opening pages, Baldwin is in a North African bar broke and broken down. In first-person perspective, Baldwin looks up from the gutter he's been flung into and sees Tom the Trooper. Baldwin has a little nickname for everyone and everything. Thus, Tom the Trooper plays a big part in the book's engaging narrative.

Tom the Trooper offers Baldwin a mercenary job on a diamond heist in Southwest Africa. There is a large diamond cartel that controls seemingly endless fields of diamonds that spew out of an underground vein. The fields have so many diamonds that the cartel has to destroy or dump them in the ocean for fear of saturating the market and reducing value. Tom the Trooper, Ahmed the Arab, and Miss Steel Tits are in on the heist. After successfully placing the boat along the coast, the foursome evades the cartel's intricate security system and grabs the diamonds. Everything goes well. Until it doesn't. 

Like a great western story, the bad guys double-cross the main character and leave him shot up in the desert to die. In one of the best action sequences I've read in a long time, the foursome tangle with the security guards in high-speed chases, helicopter gunning, nautical escapes, and plain 'ole praying. But, the narrative unfolds when Tom the Trooper attempts to kill everyone to escape solely with the goods. Only, he didn't kill Baldwin dead enough. The author introduces an amazing little side story that puts Baldwin on death's door to fight with hungry vultures. Let me say for the record, I've never read a better story of a dying man fighting a vulture. That’s saying a lot considering I’ve read Robert E. Howard’s “A Witch Shall Be Born”. I read those pages twice just because it was so damned entertaining. If you read nothing else in this book, read the man versus vulture chapter.

The novel's first half is absolutely perfect and written in an unusual way with Baldwin telling the story in proverbs and bizarre analogies. Like these:

“Their miners are herded more rigorously than permanent members of a Georgia chain-gang, indentured longer than Greek whores in an Arab harem, and kept under closer observation than reigning movie stars.”

The book is saturated with this sort of thing, and either you will love it, like I did, or absolutely despise it. There probably isn't a middle ground. But, the second half of the book is a little more serious and on the nose. The second half is like a James Bond story as Baldwin meets the cartel leaders and falls in love with a woman connected to the whole thing. Baldwin then takes an assignment to find Tom the Trooper and recover the diamonds that he helped steal. This second half takes place in London on urban streets, swanky mansions, and high-rise apartments. It's a sharp contrast to the “soldier of fortune” storytelling in the book's opening half. I found that swerve slightly abrasive, but it still totally worked for me.

If there is that one book that symbolizes everything we love and adore here at Paperback Warrior – obscure, awesome books that no one has ever heard of – it is The Diamond Boomerang. It's probably the best book I've read this year and punctuates an author's name that I will search for in every dingy basement and dusty bookstore I find.

Buy a copy of this book HERE. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Something for the Birds

Here's the deal. Amber Dean's real name was Amber Dean Getzin and she lived from 1902 until 1985. She wrote 17 total novels, but 10 of these were part of an amateur detective series starring Abbie Harris. What's left are stand-alone stories, mostly suspense or crime-fiction that uses odd plot devices to keep novels unique and innovative. Case in point, Something for the Birds (hardcover 1959, paperback 1961), which features bird watchers mixed up with a heist team. It's crazy. It's unbelievable. It's entertaining as Hell. 

First things first, if you love both Lionel White and Dan Marlowe's characters plotting to knock over a bank while also conspiring to knock off one or two of their own heist team, then you'll love half of this book. No question. From that perspective, Dean showcases Frank and his three teammates (2 male, 1 female) planning a bank heist in Rochester, NY. Mostly, they perform well and get away with the money. Interesting enough, they decide to mail the stolen loot to a general delivery address in the small town where they plan to chill until the heat is off. 

The small upstate New York town the heist crew picks is inhabited by a group of friends that spend their free time as “birders”. I had to look the term up, but it's basically Paperback Warrior nerdiness, only with birds instead of books. These jokers keep log books of flight patterns, migration, what bird is mating (giving the bird) to another bird, species, calls, etc. Like, totally spaced out on birds. 

One of the birders has a lazy daughter that ships a package of dirty laundry back home for washing. Inevitably, because this is a crime-fiction novel, the birder accidentally gets the box of stolen cash and the bank robbers receive the dirty clothes. The mail is so unreliable. However, the birders never stop to open the box they have mistakenly received because they are on the hunt for bird eggs. But, the robbers know the birders have the money and are suspicious that they will go to the police. Frank and his team, which are warring with each other over the botched plans, head into the forest to shoot the women. Thus, this book's second-half is a suspenseful womanhunt birdwatching adventure with some mild humor. 

Something for the Birds was a lot of fun to read and is on par with Deadly Encounter in terms of tight, concise plot development. Dean's novels possess quirky characters in unusual circumstances, performing “outside the box” hobbies or careers. She does create some reader abrasion by constantly changing character perspectives and locales. But, I was okay with the dizziness. In regard to the mailing fiasco, I believe the author had another novel with the premise wrapped around a New York Post Office, but the title escapes me.  

Overall, if you enjoy heist books and the ultimate fallout when the plan goes south, then Something for the Birds is a soaring recommendation. Don't let this one fly away.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, December 19, 2022

The Heisters

Robert Page Jones (1931-2012) authored nine stories for Manhunt Magazine during the 1960s, including one in 1961 titled “The Big Haul.” The story was expanded into Jones’ first full-length novel, a 1963 Monarch Books paperback called The Heisters. The novel was adapted into a 1967 French film called That Man George (aka L’homme de Marrakech).

Johnny Womack is a truck driver headed from a long-haul home from El Centro, California with an empty load. This is problematic because he could really use some dough. His hot, faithless wife is home with god-knows-whom and the rent is overdue.

Mechanical troubles sideline Johnny in a small California desert town where a three-man heist crew are scheming and planning an armored car knock over. The armored vehicle delivers $750,000 cash to an Army base every two weeks, and it’s just begging to be taken by the right crew. If only the crew had a reliable truck driver to join the plunder squad…

To his credit, the author does an admirable job with character development. The reader gets to spend time with Johnny and the heisters to gauge everyone’s motivations. The heist itself is exciting and well-written, and the aftermath is worthy of Lionel White or Richard Stark. He throws in a great sequence involving an armored car security guard that will knock your socks off.

The aftermath of the heist and getaway has some fantastic unexpected twists that I didn’t see coming and kept me up late turning the pages. The ending violence of this short paperback is worthy of a Quentin Tarantino movie. I can honestly say that The Heisters is one of the finest hardboiled crime caper novels I’ve ever read. It’s never been reprinted, but you should definitely seek out a copy ASAP. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Big Grab

Marvin Leroy Schmoker (1933-2008) changed his name to Zekial Marko in his adult years. It is under this name that he wrote scripts for shows like The Rockford Files, Kokchak the Night Stalker, and Toma. But, as an author of fiction, Schmoker/Marko authored seven novels under the pseudonym John Trinian. Most of these novels have been reprinted by Stark House Press as twofers, including The Big Grab. This heist novel was originally published in 1960 by Pyramid, and then later was adapted into the French film Any Number Can Win. The book was re-titled to match the film name and published again in 1963. Stark House Press has a new edition of the novel out now with another Trinian title, The Savage Breast (1961).

When the novel begins, protagonist Karl Heisler has just been released from a five-year prison stint, his third imprisonment to date. With 14 years behind bars, Heisler reflects on his life as a criminal and family man. Walking through San Francisco, Heisler thinks to himself that he has to find his old cellmate Frank Toschi. The two have a heist to plan.

In the clinger, Heisler met a wiseguy mobster who once worked at a posh Syndicate casino. On his deathbed, the mobster provides Heisler intricate details on how to rob the place. Who would even dream of stealing from the mob? Heisler dwells on the proposed heist during his last few months in the pen. With the help of his former cellmate Toschi, the two hope to knock over the casino and then split for parts unknown. 

The Big Grab reads like a typical heist novel penned by the likes of Richard Stark, Lionel White, or Dan Marlowe. Trinian's novel is compelling and driven by the details and planning of the heist. An interesting addition is Heisler wife and child – the former ready to divorce him and the latter believing that Heisler is a sales guy. Like most of these crime-fiction novels, the heist never goes according to plan. The Big Grab adds some twists and turns in the finale that added an additional spark to the predictability. 

Heisler is a dynamic main character with an abundance of emotional and family baggage. I enjoyed Trinian's rich subtext of the lifetime criminal finding himself imprisoned with civilian life and the overbearing strains of normalcy. Trinian cleverly reveals the addiction of criminality through an enjoyable, exciting prose. If you enjoy the caper or heist novel, then The Big Grab is sure to please. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, December 9, 2022

High Lonesome

High Lonesome, a 1962 stand-alone novel by Louis L'Amour is a “chase the chasers” western. It's a rarely used formula where a rider, or group of riders, is chasing after a group that is chasing after someone else. In this novel, L'Amour turns the concept on its head by including one more group of chasers. In essence, it's the posse chasing the chasers who are running down the chasers. I'll sort this out for you, and by the end you'll be wanting to read it. Trust me.

The novel, set in the American Southwest in 1881, begins with one of my favorite aspects of western storytelling, the old bank-robbing bit. Considine is the main character, a fast-draw specialist that's an outlaw. He has a four-man heist crew knocking over banks and cracking safes. The first few pages feature a robbery in progress that leads to just a few bucks. So, the foursome form a plan to head to Considine's former hometown to knock over the bank there and to even the score with an old friend that's become the sheriff. 

To balance out the criminal protagonist, L'Amour introduces an older outlaw named Dave Spanyer and his adult daughter Lennie. Spanyer has decided to become an honest man, and with his daughter the two plan to cross the barren desert wastelands to California to begin a new life. However, they run into the bank-robber group and Lennie immediately falls for Considine despite her father's disapproval. It's in this town that Considine's men rob the bank and head out of town with a ton of cash. A posse immediately gives chase, pushing Considine into an unusual mindset. 

Considine realizes that Spanyer and Lennie are surely going to be tracked and killed by an Apache war-party. So, he heads the group in that direction to contend with the Apache nation rather than fleeing over the border into Mexico. So, we circle back to the formula presented in my opener – the posse chasing Considine's crew while they pursue the Apache warriors who are chasing after Spanyer and Lennie. Got it?

Sometimes L'Amour's stories can be so basic that they border on complacency. But, High Lonesome is damn near perfect. There are so many stories weaved into this tale – the old outlaw (Spanyer) witnessing the next generation of outlaws (Considine's crew) commit to a life of crime, a life he wants to escape and forget. Lennie's attraction to Considine could be a realization of her love for her father, a need to be protected by a man with no laws. Considine's feud with his old friend is a story unto itself, which plays out nicely in the finale. Additionally, there's the question of Considine himself going honest after facing so many struggles as a criminal. 

In terms of action, it doesn't get much better than this. The last 40 pages are an absolute barnburner as Spanyer, Lennie, and Considine's gang make a final stand on top of High Lonesome, an old outlaw hideaway nestled in the steep rocky cliffs. Kudos to L'Amour for bringing in the rifles and allowing them to outweigh six-guns in the novel's final fight. I love a great six-gun showdown, but something about the long rifle always appeals to me in westerns. 

High Lonesome is one of the best vintage books I've read this year (2022) and an absolute must-read for any western fan. With its interesting blend of personal redemption, captivating life choices, gunfights, and assortment of heroes and anti-heroes, the narrative never becomes uninspiring or dull. It's a real treat when L'Amour is “on” and he was on fire for this one. Highest recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Posse from Hell

After enjoying Clair Huffaker's (1926-1990) paperback western Seven Ways from Sundown, I was anxious to read another of his books. My biggest obstacle is quantity – I just don't own many of his novels. The other ones I own are a ratty copy of War Wagon, which was adapted into the John Wayne/Kirk Douglas film, and a 1975 Futura paperback edition of Posse from Hell, originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1958. I opted for the latter in hopes that it would be as good as Seven Ways from Sundown. News flash – it was much better! 

The book's premise, set-up, and plot development arrives at the novel's first seven pages. There are authors that spend 60 pages just explaining to readers how the plot development will begin. Sometimes that is okay, but for a thin paperback western, I want to gallop quickly. Huffaker is off to the races when four violent men descend on the small, peaceful town of Paradise and unleash a blazing Hell on the population. With shotguns and revolvers, the men kill the lone Sheriff and then take over the local saloon. Like a gritty 1970s men's action-adventure novel, they begin executing these happy townsfolk one by one. After capturing a young woman, then doing what a witness describes as “dirty things to her”, they rob the bank and leave town to take the assault to the next destination, a place called Pineville.

In Chapter Three, readers are introduced to Banner Cole. He is 21 years old, but wise beyond his years. He became a U.S. Deputy Marshall a mere eight days ago. After leaving Paradise for a few days on business, he returns to find the town on fire and bodies seemingly everywhere. The town is quick to point out that he wasn't there when they needed him. They explain what happened, the death of the Sheriff (a friend of Cole's), and that these four men have captured a girl from town. Cole learns that the men are sadistic killers that escaped prison. Surprisingly, they headed in a direction that seemed unlikely. 

Cole knows the group's next stop is Pineville and that he will need a posse of at least 20 men. As he starts to ask the most capable men in Paradise's population, the message rings loud and clear – Paradise is filled with cowards. They point their fingers and claim an injustice, but will do nothing to help. The 20-man posse Cole hoped to form turns out to be just six men, one of which is an old retired military leader that is incompetent. Another is a representative of the bank, a man named Kern, that can't even ride a horse properly. 

From a sky-level, Posse from Hell's narrative is elementary. It's the good guys tracking the bad guys. But, Huffaker's assemblage of characters is absolutely brilliant. The inner workings of this posse create an interesting combination of very different men with clashing ideas. 

The old military man, Captain Brown, is incompetent and cowardly. He constantly scolds Cole on his decision making and at one point nearly has the posse kill an innocent man. Cole and Brown's clash is just brimming over with tension and hostility. Additionally, there's some racist animosity towards Cado, a Native American that Cole can rely on for tracking. Yet, Cado's greatest enemy may be the men he aligned with. Perhaps the best chemistry is developed between Cole and the wet-behind-the-ears corporate businessman Kern. Despite his failure to properly ride a horse, or even shoot straight, his courage is admirable. Facing the most abusive, violent, and torturous events in his life, Kern's heart and endurance is exceptional, proving he is just the man Cole needs. But, his shortcomings could lead to disaster.

As you can gather, I loved this book and found it exciting, purposeful, and just saturated in subtext on humanity and the trials and tribulations we all face. It's not the size of the gun, but the size of the heart. The novel's closing chapters read like an essay on our current times. The lawman in this case faces heavy scrutiny from the public, a condescending, arrogant view on decisions that could have been better in the midst of violent assaults, horrifying conditions, and a grueling attempt to keep justice prevalent. The public is quick to point out what they all would have done differently, yet none of them wanted to actively contribute to the defense of their neighbors, friends, and town. Huffaker's condemnation of hypocrisy and second-guessing professionals isn't lost on the reader, but it doesn't ruin the story either. This is an easy recommendation from me. Posse from Hell will be the best book you've read in ages. 

Note - While I'm not a classic movie fan, Posse from Hell was adapted into a film in 1961 starring Audie Murphy and John Saxon. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, August 1, 2022

The Big Steal

Irish author Athwill William Baker used pseudonyms like Howard Baker, W. Howard Baker, W.A. Ballinger, John Long, Desmond Reid and Richard Williams to write crime-fiction, science-fiction, and espionage novels. He began his career as a journalist, joined the Army during WWII, and later became the editor in charge of Panther Books. He's mostly remembered for his contributions to the serial police procedural Sexton Blake, inspired by Sherlock Holmes. He also authored a 16 book series starring Richard Quintain, a British Secret Service agent. My first experience with the author is his stand-alone caper novel The Big Steal. The book was published in 1964 and has been printed a total of four times, each with different artwork and different publishers.

Sep Ryder was an Italian veteran of WWII that fought for the Fascists and personally knew Mussolini. Due to his violent behavior, and military record, he was placed in the mental institution Broadmoor by the British government. However, he escapes the facility and puts together a plan to rob $2.5 million from Heathrow Airport. But, he needs a team.

Baker writes this short novel as one long series of introductions. We meet Phineas Norton and his wife Marcia and quickly learn that Ryder and Marcia are having an affair. Then there is Bill Simmons of the Daily Post, his ex-wife, guys named Bruno and Clifford, and the list goes on and on. The plan is for Phineas to become a passenger on board one of the aircraft landing at Heathrow. He will warn the crew that he has a bomb on the plane. This puts the entire airport on lockdown and a lot of people on the ground preparing for the plane's arrival – ambulances, cops, journalists, etc. While all of this commotion is happening, Ryder and his drivers, gunmen, and strong guys will rob the place and drive an ambulance out of town. Phineas then will tell them he made the whole thing up. Because there is no bomb. Until there is one.

This book was mostly enjoyable and could have been something special if the cast of characters was cut in half. The pacing was a frenzy of activity, propelling the plot and creating a lot of drama, intrigue, and excitement for the book's payoff. But, there's just so many characters that it was hard to keep track of histories and where all of these people are in the plan. I spent a majority of my reading experience confused, but Baker's writing was really good and kept me interested. In the future, I'd like to read another Baker novel to compare quality. Lukewarm recommendation for The Big Steal

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, July 22, 2022

Invitation to Violence

During his literary career, Lionel White (1905-1985) was a master of the heist caper novel, with over 35 books to his name before his death in Asheville, North Carolina. Invitation to Violence was a 1958 paperback that has recently been reprinted by Stark House with an informative introduction by paperback scholar Cullen Gallagher. 

As the novel opens, Vince Dunne is a 19 year-old hoodlum pulling off an elaborate jewelry heist with his crew. As usual, the author does a tremendous job bringing the reader along for the ride. As often happens in paperback heists, things go crazy sideways when the cops arrive and the whole joint becomes a shooting gallery. Vince narrowly escapes the chaotic crime scene with the bag of jewels. 

Meanwhile, our “hero” (of sorts) is Gerald Hanna, an insurance actuary and all-around square. Fate brings Gerald into the orbit of Vince as the young thief is making his escape from the heist gone sour. While driving home from his Friday night poker game, Gerald finds himself in the middle of the shootout between the cops and the hoods. Young Vince jumps into Gerald’s car and forces the insurance man at gunpoint to be his getaway driver. As they are escaping the scene, a wayward bullet ends Vince’s life, leaving Gerald driving away with a dead heist man and an assload of hot jewels in his passenger seat. 

In a moment of impulsive greed, Gerald dumps the Vince’s lifeless body on the side of the road and drives home with the dead man’s pistol and the stolen jewels. Gerald initially takes shelter in his tiny apartment with the hot rocks that everybody spends the rest of the novel seeking. 

We are introduced to a small cadre of side characters, including  Gerald’s pain-in-the-ass fiancĂ© and Dead Vince’s genuinely sweet twin sister. There are cops and robbers on the hunt. The author toggles between the third-person perspectives of all these competing parties jockeying for the truth and the jewels. 

I enjoyed Invitation to Violence quite a bit. It’s not the best Lionel White offering due to the lack of much violence, action or plot twists, but the machinations of all these characters positioning themselves to come out ahead was very compelling. The ending was tidy and largely satisfying making this one an easy recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Wyatt #01 - Kickback

The Wyatt series by Harry Disher was an Australian pastiche of Richard Stark’s Parker novels. The series has nine installments and began with 1991’s Kickback.

If you’re familiar with the Parker books, you know Wyatt’s background. He is a stoic, independent heist man in his 40s who prides himself on his professionalism among a community of scumbags and amateurs in his chosen profession. In Kickback, Wyatt is based in Melbourne, a city with ample opportunities for heist targets, although the underworld is largely under the control of the Syndicate in Sydney.

As the novel opens, Wyatt is pulling off what should have been an easy job. He is partnered with the 21 year-old kid brother of a business associate and the kid sees himself as a real cowboy. As a result of the kid’s malfeasance, the job goes completely sideways and an innocent woman winds up dead. Wyatt vows never to work with the young cowboy (who calls himself “Sugarfoot”) again, but the kid sees an opportunity to profit from intercepting the money on Wyatt’s next heist.

The novel is basically the story of Wyatt looking for that next score amid increasing financial pressure and sparse opportunities. He lands on a bent lawyer with a safe full of cash and a beautiful secretary willing to help from the inside. Can Wyatt pull off this heist, get the girl, and neutralize Sugarfoot before the whole thing goes sour?

I’ve heard people degrade the Wyatt series for “ripping off” the Parker series. However, I feel that there is plenty of room for these types of novels whether they are written by Richard Stark, Lionel White, Max Allan Collins, Dan Simmons or this very talented Australian author.

Inasmuch as Donald Westlake is deceased and we’re not getting any more books from his Richard Stark pseudonym, the Wyatt series seems to be a great way to fill that void in your life. For its part, Kickback is right in-line with the quality of an average Parker book, which is high praise. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, April 8, 2022

Gold Bait

Colonel Corby spent years fighting in Korea and Vietnam before an injury ended his military career. After rehabbing at a local hospital, Corby cashed out and wanted a retirement somewhere cheap with lots of booze and sex. So, it's in Mexico that entrepreneur Max Haggard finally locates Corby, nestled between bottles of tequila and a beautiful senorita's legs. At the front door, Haggard explains that he has traveled from Korea just to find Corby. He ain't selling vacuum cleaners. What he has to offer is worth over $4 million smack-a-roos.

Haggard reminds Corby of a Korean battle at sea in which Corby, manning a small South Korean boat, managed a direct hit to sink a battleship. But, little did anyone know that the battleship held a metric ton of fun payable in small, shiny gold bricks. Those same bricks are now sitting on the seabed wherever Corby scored the hit. Haggard learned of the ship's fortune in Korea, but no one could locate any whereabouts of the sunken vessel. Only Corby can recall the coordinates After squinting at charts, Corby knows where to find it. But, he's keeping his 'ole kisser shut until they can put together a salvage job. 

Author Walter Sheldon, often writing as Walt Sheldon (once as Ellery Queen), made stacks of dimes writing pulps in the 30s and 40s. Like everyone looking for a better payday, he switched to paperback originals and dished out crime-noir, science-fiction, horror, and action-adventure novels. By the time he wrote Gold Bait, published in 1973 (Fawcett Gold Medal), he had the writing machine well-oiled. So, after consistent success, Sheldon presented Gold Bait in an experimental, different way. 

The first page of the book is a CIA memorandum from Mr. Fancy Pants to another Fancy Pants outlining Corby's possible recruitment into the organization. The memo says that the pages in the book are documents recovered from Corby, other people and agencies. The last page of the book is another CIA thingy suggesting that the documents were reviewed by enough peeps to make a final decision. The last line states that Corby is either eligible or ineligible for recruitment. I'm not telling you how it ends.

So, what are the pages inside? What do they contain? It's a conglomerate (that means buncha) of diary entries from Corby and that blonde bombshell that's on the front cover as well as letters and police reports that tell the tale of this foursome attempting to recover the sunken gold while being watched by the pesky military. Mostly, it all works out and makes this a real cool read, but I wondered how these guys had the time to write diary entries while dodging bullets, assassins, criminals, and scoundrels? 

I'm sure you just gawked at the cover and spent your $5 because it is a Robert McGinnis painting and you're a filthy savage, but if you want to open it up and read the words, I think you may get hooked on Gold Bait. I sense it could have been a series of books starring this Corby fellow blowing up people and places while pulling down panties. But, I don't think a sequel even happened and that's a real bummer. Anyhoo, Gold Bait is recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Burglar

As a career midpoint, The Burglar exemplifies everything we've grown to appreciate and admire about David Goodis. It was originally published as a paperback original by Lion Books and later reprinted by Black Lizard, Simon & Schuster, and a host of others. Goodis wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation, making it Goodis' only solo authored screenplay to actually be produced. The film was released in 1957 and starred Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield. In 1971, the French continued their fascination with the author by remaking the film with Omar Sharif and Jean-Paul Belmondo in starring roles. 

In flashback sequences, readers learn that Harbin experienced a poverty-ridden childhood. After his mother and father both die, Harbin hits the road and is picked up by a professional thief named Gerald. Harbin learns to become a skilled burglar under Gerald's tutelage. After Gerald is killed, Harbin is left to raise Gerald's young daughter Gladden. Over 18 years, Hardin's role transforms from Gladden's older brother to father, bringing the novel to the present with Hardin at age 34 and Gladden now 24. 

The opening chapters is a suspenseful heist as Harbin and his crew (two men and Gladden) rob a large mansion on Philadelphia's Main Line. The take is a whopping $100K in emeralds. But, the robbery didn't go as planned due to Harbin being interviewed by police outside of the mansion. Harbin miraculously explains his way out of the situation, but the police take note of his whereabouts. 

Back at the crew's “home”, a place deemed The Spot, Harbin makes the decision to send Gladden to Atlantic City for a few days while their hot status cools down a bit. While wasting the days, Harbin strolls around Philly with no real destination in mind. He contemplates the next move and his relationship with Gladden. But, a knockout named Della approaches Harbin at a bar and the two immediately hit it off. 

After a few chapters, Harbin and Della are in love and have the proverbial “white picket fence” lifestyle planned in the Pennsylvania countryside. The problem is multifaceted – Harbin has a criminal background that he needs to share with Della, he has a complicated relationship with Gladden that needs unraveling, and he has to leave the burglary business and his crew. The first one is easy, the second is an emotional implosion and the third becomes central to the book's propulsive plot.

As always, Goodis is one of the masters of crime-noir storytelling (arguably the very best) and The Burglar is about as good as it gets. The characters are dynamic, with each one facing extreme adversity while carrying heavy burdens. Both Della and Gladden are in love with Harbin, but his decision to choose one not only has a lasting impact on his own life, it controls the fate of the heist crew. There is the obligatory “running from the law” plot threads that keep the narrative at a brisk pace.

I like the author's subtext that theft is like a drug. It brings these characters emotional peaks and valleys while insuring they avoid the rat-race of a 9-to-5 job. At one point Harbin admits he has nothing he wants or even desires. He can't locate any material objects to buy with his $7K in walk-around money. Much less, where to spend his share of $25K from the most recent heist. It's not about the money, it's the adrenaline rush. 

If you just love a great story, The Burglar is absolutely fantastic. As a mid 20th century crime-noir, it's sheer perfection. Tangled love, the burden of criminality, greed's fascinating tug-of-war, flawed justice, the price of happiness, these compelling, prevalent plot-points just go on and on. Excellent books create meaningful discussion and The Burglar does just that. Highest recommendation. 

Get the book HERE.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Arrow #01 - Wine, Women...and Death

According to his website, Walter Deptula Jr. graduated from Columbia University and became both a Naval Aviator and an educator at California community colleges. Along with acting, writing, and producing community theater, Deptula also authored a six book series of men's action-adventure novels in the 1970s. The Arrow series stars Franco Arronelli, known as Frank Arrow, as a professional thief living in Hawaii. The debut, Wine, Women...and Death was published by Curtis Books (a subsidiary of CBS) in 1974. 

As a young man, Arrow worked the beat in Staten Island as a patrol officer. During a bank heist, Arrow is shot in the leg while fatally shooting the thief. During the struggle, Arrow swiped $4,000 from the bank drawer. Being wet behind the ears, Arrow buys a new car and is eventually kicked from the force. Arrow then develops a long career as a self-employed thief. He is paid by clients and insurance companies to steal back stolen goods – a thief of thieves. 

In the backstory, readers learn of Arrow's most recent undertaking, but it's only later in the novel that the events are explained in detail. A criminal named Serranto, possibly working for someone, robs a prominent jewelry store. After the successful heist, Serranto hides the jewels in a tomb on a large New York estate. The insurance company hires Arrow to find the jewels and agrees to his 25% commission fee. But, Arrow learns that some of the jewels are ancient relics traced back to an early English empire. If he can retrieve the jewels, his commission will be an extremely lucrative payout. 

Deptula's middle chapters are dedicated to Arrow's preparation and planning to retrieve the stolen jewels. These chapters were written so well and reminded me of great mid-20th century heist fiction by the likes of Dan Marlowe and Lionel White. In these chapters, Deptula absolutely shines. I loved the setup, planning, disguises, team players, and ultimately the execution. It's not imitation, but clearly the author was influenced by the crime-noir masters.

Surprisingly, Wine, Women...and Death isn't just a heist novel. Instead, the events of the heist lead Arrow into an underworld of bloody violence. Someone on Arrow's team sells him out to Serranto and his fiance is murdered. In a desperate bid for revenge, Arrow must not only find and kill Serranto, but also discover who the real mastermind is. It's this part of the book that is simply a product of its time. This is straight-laced, 1970s gritty action that is probably spawned by Mack Bolan and countless other paperback vigilantes of the era. 

I loved all of the little nuances that are associated with the character. Arrow lives in a beach-side mansion and possesses all of the luxuries one would expect – private plane, helicopter, employees, a compound and a pet shark (which plays into the book's finale). While not completely over the top with gunplay, the book still packs a serious punch in terms of action-oriented fight scenes. The author's presentation of Arrow and his fiance was really important and added a personal investment for me. I wanted Arrow to kill the SOBs that tortured and killed his lover. The book made me feel something, and that's always an important factor.

While this series mostly receives lukewarm reviews online, I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed the debut. I hope to borrow or buy the final installments. In reading the author's online comments about the series, I learned that six total books were written, but CBS shut down Curtis Books after Arrow #3 was published. The remaining books are now manuscripts that I'm sure Deptula is still hoping to publish someday. Anyone interested in releasing this trio of original novels, plus three unpublished works?

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Swap

Walter Wager (1924-2004) was an American author of espionage, crime, and adventure fiction. He penned the books inspiring the movies Telefon and Die Hard 2. Under the name John Tiger, he also wrote several media tie-in novels for Mission Impossible and I Spy. His stand-alone 1972 novel Swap was a Cold War espionage heist adventure of the Vietnam war era.

The action opens in combat where American super-soldier David Garrison is 28 days away from the end of his tour in Vietnam. Garrison is a jungle fighter, parachutist, sabotage expert, and ambush maven. He’s like Rambo on steroids (make that additional steroids). Unfortunately, Garrison’s luck runs out when an enemy grenade detonates near him in the ‘Nam forest making his whole world go black.

Fortunately - for the sake of the novel - killing Garrison isn’t that easy. He is airlifted to safety - blind, mute, disfigured and paralyzed - where a U.S. Army brain surgeon named Dr. Bruce Brodsky saves Garrison’s life and mind. Garrison learns that Dr. Brodsky is “at war with war...he wants to kill death with a scalpel...it’s a personal feud.” In any case, Garrison’s war in Vietnam is over. He’s flown to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC, where a plastic surgeon gives him a new face - just like Parker, Drake, Bolan and dozens of other men’s adventure paperback heroes.  

Garrison owes his life to Dr. Brosky and seeks out the miracle medic to thank him. After tracking him down, Garrison offers him a favor - anything the surgeon wants. After some cajoling, it turns out that Dr. Brodsky actually does need help. The doctor’s grandfather is a department store tycoon in his 80s who is dying of cancer. Before the old man dies, he wants his 14 year-old great-grand-niece rescued from a Russian orphanage and brought to America to live in freedom. The problem is that back in 1972, the Soviets weren’t enthusiastic about shipping teenage orphans to capitalist America. The old man is willing to pay Garrison $250,000 to snatch the girl from her orphanage and transport her to the USA. Out of loyalty to Dr. Brodsky, Garrison accepts this impossible mission.

En route to the Soviet Union, Garrison stops in Athens and Israel and is able to dispatch terrorist plots in both countries. Once in Moscow, the difficulty of the mission becomes centralized. Grabbing a kid from a Soviet orphanage is harder than you might think. As Garrison’s plan evolves, Swap becomes a team-based heist novel featuring the obligatory Apache soldier, Georgia hillbilly, Israeli killing machine, and sexy babe. Think of them like a smarter, better-written Phoenix Force.

Beyond that, I don't want to give much else away other than to say that this book is so, so good. Wager’s writing is never flashy, and the action moves forward in a compelling, linear fashion. There are great twists and turns along the way and vivid characters who make you want to cheer and jeer. Wager successfully merges the combat, heist, and espionage genres into one, nearly-perfect paperback.  

Many of Wager’s novels have been digitized and reprinted over the past few years, but Swap has yet to be rediscovered by any of the reprint houses. This is a glaring oversight because the novel is simply awesome and will appeal to fans of early Nelson DeMille or classic Alistair MacLean high adventure. Whatever it takes, your mission is to drop everything and get yourself a copy of Swap. Highest recommendation.

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

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Freedom Trap

Desmond Bagley (1923-1983) was one of the first high-adventure authors to join Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean as the stars of the genre. I loved all of Bagley's novels I read, including 1970's Running Blind. In that book, the protagonist has fled a Russian spy named Slade. In the Freedom Trap, released a year later, Slade is presented again, although this is a totally different story. The two books could be considered companions, but are not directly linked to one another. I liked Running Blind so The Freedom Trap sounded like the most logical Desmond Bagley novel to read next. 

The book features a South African burglar by the name of Rearden. In the opening pages of the book, Rearden comes to London for the first time. It's here that he is asked to meet a mysterious man named MacKintosh and his sexy secretary Mrs. Smith. Mackintosh offers Rearden a sizeable sum to steal a packet of diamonds from a London mailman. Although it sounds absurd, I was surprised and convinced by MacKintosh's explanation that the diamonds (in the 1970s at least) were just posted in simple envelopes. Rearden accepts the job and in a few chapters the letter carrier is assaulted, Rearden is richer and MacKintosh has a handful of sparkling diamonds. The entire heist is performed flawlessly - no witnesses, smooth transaction. But later that night, two London detectives come to the door to arrest Rearden on assault and robbery charges. Did MacKintosh sell Rearden out?

The first 80 pages of this book are dedicated to theft and subsequent arrest. It was enjoyable, profoundly convincing and well written. As good as it was, the second act was absolutely terrific. Rearden pleads his innocence through the initial interrogation, sensationalized trial and the mandatory sentence. The judge begs Rearden to come clean on where the diamonds are. Rearden, refusing to cooperate, defiantly proclaims his innocence while the judge sentences him to 20 years in prison. 

After a year in the pen, a convicted mobster insider offers Rearden an agreement. For 20 grand, a mob-backed criminal squad can get Rearden out of jail. The cool part of it? They specialize in getting people out of prison for money. And they know he can afford it. If Rearden agrees to this deal, he could be free. But if he pays, he has no way of knowing if this team even exists. In the worst case, he pays the money and is caught fleeing. His 20-years would probably double. What the hell does Rearden do?

The Freedom Trap is one of the best books I've read in a long time. The first and second acts were just tremendously well written and just so much fun to absorb and understand. The conclusion of the novel was somewhat abrupt and seemed rushed, but it never really harmed what is otherwise a remarkable reading experience. Moreover, the Slade link between Running Blind, and The Freedom Trap is certainly there, but by all means the two books are independent titles. Highest recommendation available.

Note - The book was adapted into a theatrical film in 1973 starring Paul Newman. The title used for the film was The MacKinstosh Man. Fawcett reprinted the paperback under that title as well.

Buy a copy of this book HERE