Showing posts with label Jon Messmann. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jon Messmann. Show all posts

Friday, May 5, 2023

Mistress of Orion Hall

We keep reading and reviewing the robust body of literary work by the talented author Jon Messmann. From men's action-adventure titles like Nick Carter:Kill Master, The Revenger, and The Handyman, Messmann was a total success story, contributing to hundreds of paperback titles while creating one of the highest selling adult-western series titles of all-time, The Trailsman. While he was busy entertaining red-blooded American men, Messman also authored romance novels and gothic-suspense paperbacks for the ladies. Using the name Claudette Nicole, Messmann authored more than a handful of these books for the top tier paperback publisher of the time, Fawcett Gold Medal. 

Cutting Edge Books have released nearly all of Messmann's romance, vigilante, nautical-adventure, and gothics, including The Mistress of Orion Hall. It was originally published by Fawcett in 1970, and has remained out of print until now. This new edition of the novel is available in both paperback and ebook versions with updated cover art. 

The book begins in an interesting way, the death of the book's title character, the Mistress of Orion Hall. But, this was simply an early flashback to “long ago” when a woman was killed in a massive mansion by men in shrouded hoods. Needless to say, the book quickly moves to present day Vermont by introducing the protagonist, a young woman named Lisa. 

Like any good gothic paperback premise, Messmann knows that he needs a reason for the young female character to inhabit a large mansion on a rocky seaside bluff. Lisa needs to be an unemployed nurse, teacher, or nanny, or a newlywed returning home with her dashing new husband. Oddly, this one is fairly simplistic. Lisa speaks Greek and her Aunt Maggie is reopening the family's long abandoned mansion in Cyprus. She needs Lisa to come and live at the mansion and become a language translator for the many guests destined to stay at the luxury house. 

The journey with Maggie to Cyprus is met with a number of deadly occurrences. First, Lisa is nearly killed on the ship trying to save her aunt from falling overboard during a storm. Once she arrives at the mansion, she is pushed over the cliff and nearly perishes on the rocky coastline. An auto accident occurs as well, leading Lisa, and Maggie, to suspect that the mansion is either haunted or someone is attempting to stop the house's grand opening. 

In some ways, this traditional gothic tale reminded me of Frank Smith's gothic titles written under the pseudonym Jennifer Hale. The idea of the main character discovering an old painting of a woman who looks just like her is a common genre trope. Smith used it as a main plot point in his 1973 novel The Secret of Devil's Cave. With the central mystery of who, or what, is stalking the Orion Hall inhabitants, Messmann carefully walks the balance beam of presenting a physical murderer or a supernatural entity. If you've read one gothic or read them all, the answer is always the same. But, kudos to the author for allowing some nautical action to play a big part in the book's finale. Interesting enough, when Messmann unveils the answer to the mystery, it resembles a plot he used for his 1972 action-adventure novel A Bullet for the Bride

Like most of Messmann's literature, The Mistress of Orion Hall is another entertaining novel that follows paperback traditions of the time. Whether it has aged well is in the eye of the beholder, but I found it to be on par with his other gothic titles. Cutting Edge Books has nearly all of them at affordable prices, so there is plenty to choose from. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Bloodroots Manor

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Deadly Deep

Jon Messmann created and authored the long-running adult western series The Trailsman. He authored series titles like The Revenger and Jefferson Boone: Handyman. He also wrote novels in genres like gothic, romance, and espionage. At the height of the Jaws frenzy, Messmann authored an aquatic horror novel called The Deadly Deep. It was published by Signet in 1976. 

The book stars a journalist named Aran, who specializes in complex scientific discoveries. He has a unique talent of describing these highly intelligent theories and results in an easily understandable language for casual readers. This talent has led to Aran being a notable journalist and literary awards winner. But, Aran is about to take on his most difficult writing assignment – chronicling the end of the world. 

Across the globe, the fishing and tourism industry is suffering serious setbacks due to violent deaths in oceans and rivers. The cases range from people swallowed by whales, consumed by lobsters, or severely bitten by an array of historically docile fish. There is no central location for the occurrences, although Aran specializes his research in the American Northeast. There are a number of controversial theories from professionals in various lines of work, but no one has the answer. Does Aran?

What I really loved about The Deadly Deep was the very last page. It closed a chapter of my life that I never want to remember. I believed Messmann was the invincible wordsmith, a literary hero of epic proportions. But, this novel proves he was less than perfect, which is totally acceptable considering the amount of novels he cranked out year after year. 

In 220 pages of plodding, directionless writing, Messmann places his protagonist on the phone with various authorities agreeing or disagreeing with numerous theories on aquatic animals and trends. There are attacks sprinkled throughout the narrative, but these characters are never properly introduced, so their dismemberment by crabs doesn't have much meaning. At one point I expected some hero to jump in and save the day, but the whole novel is just endless discussions about sea life. 

The Deadly Deep is deep boredom. Don't waste your time. This one is nothing short of awful. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, July 11, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 97

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

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Logan #02 - Killers at Sea

Jon Messmann authored comic books before moving into men's action-adventure paperbacks in the late 1960s. He contributed installments to the spy-fiction series Nick Carter: Killmaster as well as creating and writing his own titles like The Revenger, The Trailsman, and The Handyman. In 1970, Messmann wrote two novels starring a begrudged boatman named Logan. Thanks to Brash Books and Cutting Edge, two publishers that have concentrated on releasing brand new additions of Messmann's literary work, I had the opportunity to read the first book, the eponymous Logan. Enjoying the novel, I'm back to the well again with the book's sequel, Killers at Sea

Messmann moves the action from Panama to the quiet South Carolina coast for this second Logan adventure. The battle-scarred protagonist receives a letter from an old friend in the fictional one-horse town of Kingdom Point. Upon his return, Logan discovers an elderly man's body lying on a secluded beach. Before he can notify the authorities, the bullets start to fly. The dead man's young friend, a gorgeous woman named Julie, begins taking potshots at Logan believing he is the murderer. Wrestling the gun away from Julie, Logan is then forced to kill one of three savage tough-guys that arrive at Julie's house. 

Like a mid 20th century crime-noir novel, Logan unexpectedly finds himself a murder suspect and must prove his innocence. In doing so, Logan is forced to contend with the group of criminals that killed the old man searching for something valuable he possessed. Now, the criminals believe that Logan somehow knew the old man and has the goods. But, how does Julie fit into this robbery and murder? 

Killers at Sea isn't quite as effective as its predecessor, but still retains the same ingredients. Lots of sex, gunplay, and violence that reminded me of the Netflix original show Ozark. While Logan's signature is his fast boat, The Sea Urchin, most of the book's violence surprisingly occurs on dry land. Messmann's plot development moves at light speed, never pausing for lengthy dialogue. It's a sacrifice of character building in exchange for the pure adrenaline rush brought on by the hero's struggle.

With Logan's sexual prowess, “big” Colt Python, sleek speedboat, and savage instincts, Killers at Sea is a fun romp through the wild formula of men's action-adventure. Recommended.

Notes – Despite the book titles, I honestly feel as though Messmann wrote Killers at Sea first, then followed it up with Logan. In reading both books, Killers at Sea is a looser outline of the character. First, a little more backstory is revealed with Logan's charity in Sister Mary Angela. This has the genre tropes of an origin tale. The Logan installment briefly mentions Sister Mary Angela as if readers are already familiar with that character. Second, I'd venture to say that Messmann's writing isn't as good in Killers at Sea as it is in Logan, as if he was still working out the hero's characterization.

There is also the character of Julie, which I find interesting. In this book, Julie is Logan's lover and she experiences violence and criminality before Logan ditches her on an island on the last page. In the opening pages of Logan, he is arriving back at his boat with a girl named Julie. If this isn't the same person, why name two female characters the same? The Julie in the Logan novel doesn't really say much to reveal her past, and she quickly leaves Logan when bullets start flying. It was as if the Julie chapter of Logan's life had reached its conclusion. 

The end result is that Killers at Sea was first, Logan second. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Logan #01 - Logan

Jon Messmann created the long-running and highly successful western series The Trailsman, as well as other series titles like The Revenger and The Handyman. We have explored numerous novels by Messmann and mostly love all of them. Both Brash Books and Cutting Edge have performed a remarkable public service by reprinting most of Messmann's bibliography in brand new editions with modern artwork and short essays about his work. 

Cutting Edge's most recent release is the two-book Logan series, a character that Messmann created in the style of John D. MacDonald's popular Travis McGee series. Messmann authored both Logan and Killers at Sea under the pseudonym Alan Joseph. These books were originally published in 1970 and have remained out of print until now. I'm beginning with the series debut, Logan.

Not much is known about Logan other than he has some sort of combat history, owns a speedy boat simply called Sea Urchin, and is kind of a jerk. In the briefest of backstories, Messmann hints that Logan has experienced some sort of tragedy in his life that makes him this despondent, rather miserable person. But, he has a soft heart for charity, namely a nun named Mary Angela in Kenya. When Logan completes odd jobs, like chartering or salvaging, he sends most of his earnings to her with a letter thanking her for prior help. 

In Panama, a man asks Logan to perform a job for $10,000. Not liking the guy, or the vagueness of the task, Logan kicks him off of his boat. Later, Logan returns to his boat with a beautiful young woman only to find a corpse on the downstairs deck. The Panamanian police arrive and all fingers point at Logan as the prime suspect. He's been framed.

An emissary from the Peruvian government arrives at the jail and advises Logan they can make the charges go away if he simply agrees to the $10,000 job. He explains that their government is having a problem with a left-wing revolutionary group led by a man named Panico. Peru feels that they have finally killed Panico, but need positive ID. The body has been buried in a remote village and Peru feels as though one of their men will easily be spotted by guerrilla forces. A man like Logan can travel to the village by water under the disguise of a hunter or trapper. Once there, Logan's companion, a Peru woman who dated Panico, can make the positive ID. Mission over, collect $10K. Simple, right?

Messmann is in his wheelhouse with this high-octane, action-adventure yarn. Like his characters Jefferson Boone: Handyman and Skye Fargo, Logan is the author's formulaic, bull-headed man's man. He's handy with the ladies, gets laid a lot, and offers no lasting promises or commitments. In terms of rebellion and angst, Logan is 110% against-the-grain. He chooses painful opposition over smooth conformity despite the overwhelming odds. But, he always wins. 

Thankfully, Cutting Edge realizes Messmann's storytelling talent and have re-introduced these fun novels for a new generation of readers. As a nautical escape, Logan succeeds with it's fast-paced, calculated action. There's an ample amount of sex and violence contained in Messmann's propulsive plot to please fans of popcorn action-adventure fiction. There's nothing to dislike about Logan, and I'm looking forward to this book's sequel, Killers at Sea

Fun Fact – Papillon Books used this book's original cover art for their 1974 private-eye novel Wake Up Dead by William Wall. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, May 13, 2022

A Bullet for the Bride

We've covered a great deal of Jon Messmann's literary work, like vigilante novels in The Revenger series, The Trailsman westerns, his Claudette Nicole gothics and Jefferson Boone: Handyman international thrillers. While Messmann's series titles are the most widely recognized, he did write a small number of stand-alone novels for a variety of publishers. Brash Books (and subsidiary Cutting Edge) have performed a wonderful public service by releasing most of Messmann's out of print novels in brand new editions. So, I was excited to acquire Messmann's stand-alone novel A Bullet for the Bride. It was originally published by Pyramid  in 1972 and now remains available through Brash Books with a brand new afterword from Bloody, Spicy, Books writer Roy Nugen.

Despite the book's original cover, A Bullet for the Bride is not a moody private-eye murder mystery. Pyramid clearly wasn't aware of John D. MacDonald's sensational houseboat hero Travis McGee. Or, any houseboat heroes for that matter – William Fuller's Brad Dolan, J.L. Potter's Jeff Tyler or, Messmann's own boating hero Logan, star of Logan (1970, 2022 Cutting Edge) and Killers at Sea (1970, 2022 Cutting Edge). As Nugen suggests in his afterword, this book was clearly designed to be the debut of a series, but it never came to fruition.

The book stars Captain Ed Steele, a retired CIA operative that now lives a fairly peaceful life on The Squid, a houseboat docked in the Gulf of Mexico. Steele still performs part-time jobs for his former CIA boss Byron. These are normally surveillance jobs or tasks that require Steele's efficiency with a boat. But, Steele is surprised when a woman named Cam Parnell calls him on the phone saying that she got his name from Byron. 

Parnell, as hot as a July firecracker, wants Steele to do a private-eye job. She wants to know why her super wealthy father's new girlfriend, whom she absolutely despises, is running what appears to be a fake company. Hesitantly, Steele learns that the woman's name is Grace White, a wealthy, sexy older woman that is apparently running a successful exporting business. After Parnell seduces Steele into the job, he discovers that White's business may be a front for an arms-dealer. 

I love Messmann's quick-pace and his flawless formula of placing a lone hero against the odds. The chemistry between Parnell and Steele was like lightning in a bottle, a sexy combination of youth, experience, and wealth within the backdrop of Florida's posh beachfront mansions. I also found it interesting that Steele's backstory has him chasing a mysterious man. That story probably would have played itself out in future installments, but they never happened. Instead, Messmann used a variation of this for his successful Trailsman series, where the lone hero Skye Fargo is chasing three murderous men. 

Jon Messmann's stirring narrative - laced with boat chases, gun-play and fisticuffs - pairs perfectly with the rich, sexual ambiance of the 1970s. A Bullet for the Bride is truly a marriage made in Heaven. 

Get the book HERE.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Revenger #02: Fire in the Streets

Paperback Warrior continues to devour the literature of Jon Messman. We've covered his series titles like The Trailsman, Handyman, Canyon 'O Grady, The Revenger, and even his gothic stand-alone novels under various pseudonyms like Claudette Nicole. My first experience with the author was the debut novel in The Revenger series. Inspired by Don Pendleton's The Executioner, the Signet series began in 1973 and ran six total volumes. The entire series has been reprinted in new editions by Brash Books with an introduction by yours truly. 

The book begins with some flashbacks to the events that occurred in the series debut. The quick story is that New Yorker Ben Martin is a Vietnam veteran who experienced the death of his son by mobsters. Avenging his son's murder, Martin became a one-man army and destroyed the local mob. At the end of that novel, he left his wife to pursue an indiscreet lifestyle using the new name of Ben Markham (Messman had never intended the series to continue). 

Now, it's explained to readers that Ben has lived in the Chicago suburbs for a year. He began working for Alwyn Beef Products and worked his way up to a senior manager due to his experiences as a grocery shop owner. But, Ben is attacked one evening at work by enforcers working for mobster Nick Carboni. After killing the attackers, Ben returns home and starts to question his life. In his own headspace, Ben realizes that he has always wanted to kill again, to right the wrongs, and fight evil. But, in a reversal, he also wants to live a normal existence that isn't smeared in blood. 

What makes The Revenger so great is that Messman doesn't deliberately set out to create a hero for readers. It's never just a good guy with a gun. Like the debut, he slowly has unfortunate events consume Ben's life. It is like an erosion of sanity that reveals Ben's hard-hitting talents. He's meant to kill the bad guys, and he has the skills and talents based on his experiences in Vietnam, but he is hesitant. Slowly, Ben is pulled into this mystery and must fight again.

Ben's employer is a friend, but he's also a terrible gambler. After losing a great deal of money in the gambling rackets, Carboni has struck a deal with him. The mob will infiltrate his business and in return, Carboni wipes the IOUs off the table. Once Ben learns the reasons for the attack, he puts together an elaborate plan to wipe out the mob at strategic locations. From rooftops, he begins assassinating key personnel with different European rifles, weapons he leaves at the scene to confuse Carboni. But Messman also has Ben fistfighting with mobsters as well as a fiery car chase on the highway. 

What makes this story unique is that it involves three separate women that are experiencing individual struggles directly related to Ben's mission. Carboni's wife is resistant to her husband's criminal behavior and wants out. When Ben's friend and co-worker is killed, he falls into a friendly relationship with the man's widow. But, Ben's love interest in the story is his employer's wife, a defiant woman that knows her husband is a gambling junkie. These three women are liberally featured throughout the 135-page narrative. 

Fire in the Streets is just as good, or better, than its predecessor and rivals some of Pendleton's best single-digit efforts on The Executioner. Imitation is the best form of flattery and Messman clones a Mack Bolan styled story while also injecting a great deal of emotional drama. It's violent when it needs to be, and Ben proves to be a capable hero when the gunfire begins. The end result makes The Revenger simply fantastic.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Circle of Secrets

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 14, 2020

Handyman #01 - The Moneta Papers

Along with authoring entries in the Nick Carter: Killmaster series, Jon Messman kept a productive schedule in the 1970s with a successful series run with Revenger before achieving commercial success with the popular adult western series The Trailsman. Perhaps one of the best of Messman's literary career is the six-volume paperback series Jefferson Boone: Handyman. It was published by Pyramid Books and debuted in 1973 with The Moneta Papers. The entire series has been reprinted in new editions by Brash Books with an introduction by yours truly.

Jefferson Boone is a silky, posh hero that works inconspicuously with the U.S. State Department. His father was a career diplomat and had mentioned to his son that the department needed a behind the scenes “handyman” that can plug holes for America's foreign allies. Working with a government liaison named Charley Hopkins, Boone is offered a variety of international assignments that conveniently pads out the series. The first assignment that's revealed to readers is The Moneta Papers, a carefully construed Italian mission that features a real estate transaction as the launching point. But, as readers quickly learn, there's nothing ordinary about this property purchase.

Boone's female friend Dorrie is a wealthy European playmate working to secure her fourth marriage. Dorrie owns a number of remote islands that remain as a lease-to-purchase for the U.S. Government. After a number of years, Dorrie has finally agreed to gift the islands to the U.S. provided they can arrange a paper transaction. The problem is that every delivery man has been murdered in route to secure the transaction. The suspect? Dorrie's fiance Umberto, a spoiled kid who has aligned himself with a career politician that aspires to be the next Mussolini.

Boone's first endeavor is to learn if Dorrie is involved with the failed delivery attempts. Second, Boone must investigate Umberto's past and current political allies. Using disguises, a fast Ford Mustang and his snub-nosed .38, Boone embarks on a perilous mission to learn the truth. Messman's writing incorporates Formula 1 racing, various shootouts, a Swiss Alps skiing adventure and sexcapades (albeit more topical than descriptive) to propel the narrative.

Fans of James Bond and Nick Carter should like Messman's protagonist. While Boone is an international, intellectual hero, the author carefully avoids pure snobbery. In fact, Boone's budding romance with a small-town Indiana school teacher helps ground the hero with more American wholesomeness. By 1973, it was a crowded market for these types of globe-trotting champions. Thankfully, Messman's series and character stand the test of time. This was an excellent novel.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 28

In the newest Paperback Warrior Podcast episode, we discuss John D. MacDonald's iconic Travis McGee character, including a review of the series' ninth installment, "Pale Shade for Guilt". We also evaluate the debut novel in Jon Messman's Handyman series, "The Moneta Papers", and have an impromptu look at Lawrence Block's Chip Harrison novels. Stream wherever fine podcasts are presented or stream below. Direct downloads are HERE. Listen to "Episode 28: Travis McGee" on Spreaker.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Trailsman #01 - Seven Wagons West

Author Jon Messman had a very busy schedule in the 1970s. Authoring novels in the Hotline, Revenger, Handyman and Nick Carter: Killmaster series titles, Messman was a bright spot on the vigilante and espionage radar. It makes sense that by the time 1980 rolled around, the author was ready for a change of pace. Beginning with Seven Wagons West, Messman wrote a majority of the first 200 installments of The Trailsman adult western series for Signet using house name Jon Sharpe. Astonishingly, that was only half the series. The Trailsman ran through 397 novels from 1980 through 2014, the last half written by a rotating blend of authors. These books can be read in any order, but my first experience is the debut.

Seven Wagons West introduces readers to Skye Fargo, a gruff frontiersman who rides an unnamed horse, fires a Remington .44 the title suggests...escorts clients on the winding trails of the untamed west. The character's backstory is fairly simple. His father was a road agent for Wells Fargo. While young Skye was away on chores, his parents and kid brother were murdered by three bank robbers. Skye took “Fargo” as his last name as an ode to his father's profession. He now searches the Western Frontier for his family's killers while working his day job as a trailsman.

In this installment, Reverend Rogers and his wife Constance have learned of a silver mine in Wisconsin territory. They hire Fargo to guide the congregation on a month long journey through Sioux country. The goal is to establish a church in the wilderness and Fargo is being paid well – in women. On board the wagon train is a single babe named Julia, the reverend's sexy wife and third pickings, a weathered woman named Dulcy. It's an adult western series, so Fargo slips in a number of timely lays on the outskirts of campsites. Wagons ho!

In terms of gun action, which is primarily the second reason why anyone reads these things, Fargo tangles with a few bandits that attempt to rob the caravan. There's also a Sioux raiding party to contend with and of course, outlaws who are privy to the location of the silver mine. Fargo is established as an intelligent hero, often out-cunning enemies before firing a round. As a seasoned traveler, his skills are showcased in triumphant fashion.

Whether it's fixing busted axles, mending wounded horses or caring for neglected wives, Fargo proves to be the capable long-term paperback hero. Whether that remained fresh for nearly 400 books remains to be seen. But, based on the number of readers, books sold and the quality of writers, the story became a tremendously successful cookie cutter formula for the demanding publisher. As a series debut, Seven Wagons West doesn't move the needle in terms of originality or innovation, but it's thoroughly enjoyable and recommended for new fans of the series like myself.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, October 14, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 15

Welcome to our western-themed episode of Paperback Warrior. Eric visits through Half-Price Books' flagship store in Dallas as well as a diverse local shop called Lucky Dog. Tom presents a feature on the Adult Western genre as well as a review for "Epitaph for a Tramp.” Eric covers the first installment of "The Trailsman" and hangs out with Paperback Warrior's number one fan. (Music by Bensound) Stream below or anywhere where quality podcasts are offered. Download directly at: LINK Listen to "Episode 15: Adult Westerns" on Spreaker.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Canyon O'Grady #01 - Dead Men's Trails

Writing as Jon Sharpe, author Jon Messman was the primary architect and ghostwriter behind the popular adult western series, ‘The Trailsman.’ In 1989, Signet Books launched a new series called ‘Canyon O’Grady’ also using the Jon Sharpe house name, so it only made sense to have Messman pen the inaugural installment.

The premise of the Canyon O’Grady books is pretty interesting, and it’s quite similar in structure to Longarm. Canyon is a “U.S. Government Agent” who gets his investigative assignments directly from U.S. President James Buchanan. For instance, in Book 2, POTUS asks Canyon to protect the man working on a new invention called “the machine gun” before the device falls into the wrong hands. Book 5 finds Canyon working double duty to protect political rivals Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln from terrorists seeking to disrupt the next U.S. presidential election.

When asked the difference between a federal marshal and a U.S. Government agent, Canyon explains: “A federal marshal arrests people and brings them in. Sometimes he does some law-keeping. Mostly, though, he’s the arresting arm of the federal government. A government agent tracks down trouble and troublemakers anywhere and everywhere. Federal marshals have a territory. I go anywhere the trail takes me.”

The first book in the series takes place along the wild and lawless Kentucky-Tennessee border in 1859 where Canyon is undercover on a special assignment from the President involving the mysterious death of Meriwether Lewis of Lewis & Clark fame 50 years earlier - a cold-case homicide that becomes a manhunt and a treasure hunt.

Shortly after his arrival into a small Kentucky town, Canyon witnesses a targeted murder of a man who might have some answers regarding Lewis’ death. It turns out that the victim is one of several close associates suffering assassinations at the hands of hired hit squads because of a shared secret in their past. Only one of the group has survived and his comely daughter wants Canyon to find her reclusive and hidden father before it’s too late.

Because this is an adult western, you can count on regular breaks in the action for some mandatory graphic sex scenes. It took 37 pages for Canyon to get laid in the debut, so you know the author was really committed to the main plot. However, never fear - there’s also a substantial amount of cinematic and grizzly violence to keep the pages flying by.

Messman includes lots of details and backstory regarding our hero. Canyon was conceived in Ireland and born in the U.S. His father was an Irish revolutionary fleeing British rule with a price on his head. Canyon was classically educated by wise and learned Catholic friars and often quotes ancient Greek poets and sings Irish folk songs. He rides a beautiful palomino horse named Cormac after the Irish king of the 8th Century.

A fair amount of the novel is Canyon traveling through the wilderness accompanied by a beautiful girl in search of her father. They encounter many obstacles along the way requiring Canyon to save the girl’s bacon from mountain lions and rapey fur trappers. At times, the intensity of the violence approaches the level of the Edge series when the bullets begin to fly and the blood starts to flow. Meanwhile, the central mystery regarding the assassinations is remarkably compelling for a pulpy paperback.

The Canyon O’Grady series lasted for 25 books before folding in 1993. The authors changed hands with Chet Cunningham writing several and Robert Randisi delivering the final eight books. Canyon O’Grady and Skye “Trailsman” Fargo actually team up in Trailsman #100. As for this first episode, it’s an outstanding debut that makes the reader want to dig deeper into this fascinating hero. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Revenger #01 - The Revenger

There’s no denying that Don Pendleton’s 1969 premier of The Executioner series was the prime catalyst for the gritty, vigilante vengeance sagas. The early 70s was a fertile time period, growing numerous series’ that commonly referenced “er” ending titles (i.e. Butcher, Penetrator, Enforcer). Author Jon Messman had contributed to the genre as early as 1968 with five Nick Carter: Killmaster novels over a two-year period. After his own failed series, Hotline, Messmann was placed on a Signet debut called The Revenger in 1973. As Glorious Trash scribe Joe Kenney points out, initially this was probably a one-off novel that escalated into six total volumes. The book exhibits no signs of a continuation and is missing advertisements for the next book. There isn’t a display indicating The Revenger is the first of a series. These are typical publisher traits inviting readers to stick around for the next installment – with their cash in hand. Regardless how it was intended, The Revenger is pure quality. The whole series now exists as a brand new edition through Brash Books.

Today, this plot has run its course and may have been treading familiar ground even in 1973. It’s the revenge yarn we’ve read and watched since the early pulp adventures and westerns. Messmann utilizes it really well by exploring the human emotions while simultaneously providing a very vulnerable “executioner”. Ben Martin is ex-military and served in Vietnam as a killer for various US branches including the CIA. In brief recollections, the reader tells us how Ben would wait patiently in rice patties or filthy jungles for days awaiting perfect shots. His skills were valuable and Ben served his time well. 

In the book’s opening pages, we see Ben as a produce shopkeeper in lower Manhattan. He’s happily married to Donna (they make love a lot) and they have a small son, Ben Martin Jr. Ben’s shop is experiencing the typical Mafia protection racket, this time extended by the Gennosanti family. They want payment for protection or the store owners will experience…stiffness. When they knock on Ben’s door, he sticks an envelope opener through a guy’s hand and disarms them. Coolly, he calls the police who ultimately are pressed by the attorneys to let the enforcers just walk.

This particular family is managed locally by Joe Colardi. The Colardi family presents itself as fine, upstanding citizens and attend PTA meetings and donate large sums to the school. Generally, they are well liked. Beneath the surface, Joe is under pressure to deliver results for the Don of the Gennosanti family. With Ben refusing to pay, roughing up his goons and generally resisting the mob’s presence, Colardi has Ben’s son kidnapped. After a brief phone exchange, Ben agrees to negotiate with the Colardi crew if they can safely return his son. Unfortunately, they accidentally allow the boy to walk off of a rooftop to his death. Colardi loses his mind knowing that the Don won’t be happy of the negligence and the kidnapping, which was unbeknownst to him.

The second half of the book starts to resemble The Executioner debut War Against the Mafia. Ben becomes a bone-chilling assassin, seemingly dismissing life, marriage or any semblance of normality. His only purpose is to kill the mob. Like Bolan’s first planned assault, Ben purchases long guns and optics from a sporting goods store and camps out in the city taking out targets. Ben kills 13 enforcers in a few short hours and puts Colardi on the run in a city he has sworn to rule. Eventually, the Don becomes involved with a strategic plan to eliminate Ben’s explosive vendetta. The finale occurs on an early morning Ferry trip as Ben faces Colardi and Don’s enforcers.

Overall, this book works exceptionally well as the typical revenge yarn. It keeps a a brisk pace considering there is seldom any gunfire exchanges. Ben is the believable action hero - making mistakes, carelessness, vulnerability. In this book, he’s simply a human doing very human things. Emotions, debating strategy, recalling experiences while still trying to communicate with his wife Donna post-tragedy. The breakdown from human to cold assassin is a slow burn, but a morbidly entertaining one. The book’s bloody closing pages sort of recycles Ben Martin’s life. Killer to family man to killer…and perhaps family man again? If only it were a stand alone novel. Five more entries prove that isn’t the case. Messmann would later go on to write most of the first 200 volumes of The Trailsman while dabbling in other genres like science-fiction and horror.