Showing posts with label Len Levinson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Len Levinson. Show all posts

Monday, April 12, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 86

On Episode 86 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we explore team-based action adventure series including Phoenix Force, Alpha Team, SOBs, and so many more. This is a jam-packed episode that men’s adventure paperback fans won’t want to miss. Listen on any podcast app or or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 86: Action-Adventure Teams" on Spreaker.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Camp

The Camp is a 1977 men's action-adventure paperback that was published by Belmont Tower under the name of Jonathan Trask. It came to fruition as a story idea from author and Belmont Tower editor Peter McCurtin. According to a Glorious Trash article, McCurtin wrote the first 30ish pages and handed the project to author Len Levinson to finish. In that same article, Levinson stated he couldn't remember why the transition happened and that he recalled that McCurtin left the publisher around that time. Sadly, the book has never been reprinted and remains as an expensive used paperback on internet bookshelves.

The novel begins with muckraking reporter Phil Gordon arriving at a small cabin in a rural stretch of northwestern Maine. On a much needed vacation from ousting politicians, Gordon re-connects with an old Native American friend named Jimmy Jacks. Jacks explains to Gordon that his three adult sons have gone missing around a strange military installation known as Camp Butler. Jacks elaborates that piercing screams resonate from the facility, and the whole area is saturated in barbed wire, killer dogs and pain. Intense pain.

Gordon, always chasing a good story, partners with Jacks to break into the secluded installation. Once inside, they find that imprisoned hippies (you read it correctly) are being victimized by torturers. This point is explicitly rammed home when readers and Gordon discover hippies tied to stakes and used as bayonet practice. Far out. Eventually, Gordon and Jacks tangle with some troops and a pack of killer canines before escaping into a cave. After a few days, Jacks goes home, and Gordon returns to Washington.

Levinson's narrative propels readers into Washington D.C.'s political circus as Gordon discreetly blows the whistle on the U.S. Army’s hippie torture camp to Congress. After receiving the backing of a U.S. Senator, a unique proposition is arranged that allows Gordon, a former Green Beret Captain, to re-enlist in the Army with a colorful fruit salad and specific orders to report to Camp Butler. Once inside the camp, Gordon gains a first-hand, personal account of the military's strong-arm tactics, bizarre regiments and murderous atrocities. He also discovers that much of the U.S. Government is under the control by a secret cabal of ultra right-wingers.

It's clear that Levinson really enjoyed writing The Camp. It's wild, wacky and bizarre...but for all of the right reasons. It's an enjoyable book that incorporates the era's pop-culture movement of investigative reporters as the proverbial hero. Possibly Levinson - or McCurtin - were inspired by the 1976 film All the Presidents Men and the idea that a determined journalist can expose governmental corruption. Regardless, I perceive The Camp as being a pulpy nod to the men's adventure magazines (MAMs) that recreated vile, sadistic military bases for the heroes to liberate. It's that over-the-top thrill-ride that makes The Camp so much campy fun.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, November 1, 2019

Super Cop Joe Blaze #03 - The Thrill Killers

“The Thrill Killers” was the third and final installment in the short-lived 'Super Cop Joe Blaze' series from Belmont Tower. All three novels were released in 1974 under house name Robert Novak. The authors of the first two books are a mystery, with some guessing it was either Nelson DeMille or Paul Hofrichter. However, it's a fact that Len Levinson ('The Rat Bastards') authored “The Thrill Killers.” Len advised Paperback Warrior that it was his fifth published novel and it is “probably a little rough around the edges.”

In an interview with the Glorious Trash blog, Levinson admits that “The Thrill Killers” wasn't originally a Joe Blaze novel. The first two books feature Sergeant Blaze working with his partner Nuthall and Captain Coogan. Neither of those two characters are in “The Thrill Killers.” Instead, Nuthall is swapped for a character named Olivero. Additionally, this third installment unveils that Blaze is divorced from a woman named Anna. The main character remains gruff and savage although he's now packing a Browning 9mm instead of the old-school revolver he survived with in the series' first two books. The displaced continuity is simply because Levinson had written a totally different character for an unnamed series. Belmont Tower editor Peter McCurtin insisted that Levinson just change the name to Joe Blaze and submit it. Thus, “The Thrill Killers” forever exists as a Joe Blaze novel.

Under the skilled hands of Levinson, Joe Blaze #3 is written as more of a police procedural. There are a number of suspects, locations and side-stories that add a more dynamic, mystery approach compared to the “all guns, all glory” approach to the prior novels. In this installment, New York City's nurses are being targeted by two sexually charged lunatics. The perps rape women in a VW van before cutting the victims’ throats and dumping the bodies. Levinson's writing has never been for the squeamish, and this is no exception.

Blaze dons his gumshoes and hits the streets searching for clues while breaking every rule in the book. His hot-headed temperament leads to bar fights, gang assaults and a fairly intense parking garage shootout. Between eating sausage and pepper sandwiches, he has a one night stand with a middle-aged woman and ponders his life as a cop. There's an elevated violence in Levinson's writing style, with pushers and peddlers adding a seedy, authentic element to the trashy New York streets of the 1970s. Surprisingly, the book's finale is in a courtroom...imagine that.

Overall, “The Thrill Killers” was an entertaining conclusion to this quite satisfying police series, and it’s an easy recommendation to readers of violent adventure fiction of the 1970s. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Sergeant #4: The Liberation of Paris

During his career, Len Levinson wrote two iconic 1980s series titles documenting World War 2 combat adventures. ‘The Rat Bastards’ books written as John Mackie covers a team of misfits kicking Japanese ass in the Pacific. ‘The Sergeant’ series, written as Gordon Davis, follows maverick American infantryman Clarence J. Mahoney though the major battles of the European theater of war. Both are brilliantly-executed, but for my money, I think ‘The Sergeant’ is a slightly stronger series, mostly because Mahoney is such a colorful character. Your mileage may vary.

Book four of ‘The Sergeant’ series is “The Liberation of Paris” - originally published in 1981 - and as the novel opens, we join Mahoney and his sidekick, Edward Cranepool, in Summer 1944. They are enjoying some rest and recuperation time far from the front lines with Mahoney fighting in a G.I. boxing match defending the honor of the 15th Regiment. I love literary boxing scenes, and Levinson recounts every bruise-inducing blow like a pro.

The action cuts from Mahoney and his roughneck compadres to General Dwight D. Eisenhower who is planning exactly how the Allied forces are going to kick the Krauts out of Paris. Politically, it’s important that French Army fighters be seen as the ones liberating Paris, but they will be joined with a phalanx of French-speaking American soldiers, including Mahoney and Cranepool.

For the Paris mission, Mahoney is placed with a group of hand-picked U.S. specialists right out of central casting. We have black soldier Leroy Washington and Jewish-American fighter Mark Goldberg. You get the idea. Mahoney seems mostly excited about visiting the legendary whorehouses of Paris after the mission is completed. He’s also the one they rely upon to mow down any and all enemy combatants between the French front line and Paris.

We also get to know General Dietrich von Choltitz of Hitler’s army who heads the occupying force in Paris. Hitler has ordered the General to burn the city to the ground before letting it fall to the enemy. Choltitz is hesitant to preemptively destroy Paris, so the Fuhrer sends along a deadly piece of weaponry from Germany’s eastern front that could alter the direction of the war and push the Allies back to the English Channel. The German’s nickname this weapon, “Karl.” Not all the Germans are enthusiastic about destroying the city they’ve grown to love, and the interplay among several factions of the German occupiers made for some fascinating and dramatic reading.

Can Mahoney make it to Paris before Superweapon Karl does? Will the Hitler loyalists thwart the their soft-hearted countrymen in their goal to level the city? Will Mahoney get to bang a French whore after the job is done? I’ll try not to spoil it for you, but the fact that the people of Paris don’t currently conduct their lives speaking German might be a clue as to how this plays out. 

As with most historical fiction, it ain’t the destination, it’s the ride. And Levinson gives the reader an exciting ride all the way to Paris in this violent race to save Europe and its treasures. “The Liberation of Paris” is a fantastic war story filled with vivid characters (including cameos by Ernest Hemingway and Adolf Hitler), action set pieces, and graphic sex. It’s also a great entry point into the series if you don’t anticipate reading them all, and it’s currently available for a buck as an eBook from Piccadilly Press. Even if you’re not a history buff (I’m definitely not), the propulsive adventure will keep the pages turning until the end. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Doom Platoon

“You've got to hate those Germans, Albright. You've got to want to split their skulls and drink their blood. You've got to want to cut out their intestines and chew on them. And gouge out their eyeballs. And stomp on their balls. If you can get yourself in that frame of mind, boy, then maybe you'll be a soldier.”

And that is the essence of Len Levinson's “Doom Platoon”. Take it or leave it, but this is a cold bloody war novel about cold bloody war.  Straight to the point with no restraints, no apologies and no substitutes. It was written under the name Richard Gallagher and published by Belmont Tower Books in 1978. It was Levinson's first war novel, and after Zebra Publishing's president Walter Zacharius read it, he asked the author to pen a series about WWII in Europe. Thus, the stellar nine book series 'The Sergeant' was born, followed later by the equally magnificent 16 book run of 'The Rat Bastards'. 

But, “Doom Platoon” dug those trenches and sets the tone for what is Levinson's best skill – telling the reader about the gruesome, terrifying and utter devastation of war and the men who wage it. 

The book begins on December 16, 1944 with a platoon of the 25th Regiment reeling from a fierce campaign in Hurtgen Forest. This fighting force has been offered “rest” on the French front line in the Ardennes Forest. But, rest is not in the forecast as intense shelling begins to annihilate the troops. The main character is the gritty and defiant Sergeant Mazursky, 29-years old and an absolute badass. After surviving the shelling, Lieutenant Smith receives the impossible command of using his platoon as a rearguard action against an entire German Panzer division. 40 guys against the embodiment of mechanized warfare. The strategy is for the platoon to use a ridge line, concealment and heavy boulders as a defense. This high ground will allow them to immobilize the two front tanks, blocking the road and stalling the whole division until noon. This gives the rest of the regiment enough time to escape to Dillendorf to protect a precious oil reserve. The captain instructs Smith that it can be done, but later in private advises him that at noon he should surrender. It's a no win, no way out situation.

The “Doom Platoon” lives up to its name, taking the suicide mission under Sergeant Mazursky's brutish leadership. The end result? I can't tell you, but I will say that this book is constructed more like three different types of novels. The first is the rearguard battle with the Panzer division. The middle story, the best, is a prisoner-of-war epic, including the obligatory torture, famine, death and escape attempt. The last portion is a war-torn romance with the lust and sex just as graphic as Levinson's descriptions of war. These three parts make up a wholly enjoyable book that blends war, romance (really just a bunch of horny people screwing at the end of the world) and prison escape. While Levinson keeps it engaging with a number of war tragedies (we get introductions of characters that receive violent deaths a page later), he still injects a ton of humor. Morbidly so. I'd read the book again just to hear Mazursky insult Private Norwicki's dick, gun and girlfriend all over again. His BAR cleaning episode is just priceless stuff.

At the end of the day, Levinson is a master storyteller, on top of his game with “Doom Platoon”. Why his books never took off, why he isn't a household name or why he isn't rich is anyone's guess. “Doom Platoon” is about as good as it gets. Pick a tattered old paperback up somewhere, order it on Abe Books or go digital and buy it online for a few bucks.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Sergeant #03 - Bloody Bush

The only thing I didn’t care for about “BLOODY BUSH” was the title. Otherwise, this third entry in 'The Sergeant' series not only equals the first two books in excellence, but surpasses them in terms of narrative power and character development.

The first book, “DEATH TRAIN”, introduces us to Sgt. Clarence Mahoney and brings us along on an undercover demolition mission of his in Nazi-occupied France. That mission gets wrapped up surprisingly quickly, so then we tag along as he helps members of the French resistance fight back when the Germans besiege their headquarters. The action is solid and the storytelling is superb, and Mahoney is such a fascinating character that he himself is the best thing in the book. A gruff, cigar-chomping Superman in dirty fatigues, he’s all but invincible as the Germans throw everything they have at him. 

(The Mac Wingate series, which would debut a year later, chronicles the adventures of another American undercover he-man demolition expert tirelessly fighting the Nazis. Remarkable coincidence or cynical rip-off?) 

The Sergeant’s second book, “HELL HARBOR”, avoids the bifurcated narrative of “DEATH TRAIN” and tells one epic war adventure story, sending Mahoney deep into the revolting sewers of Cherbourg on a mission to prevent the Germans from blowing up a key harbor installation. Now Mahoney is more human, more nuanced, and more vulnerable. The story is cohesive but the plot isn’t very rigid. It’s related as a series of incidents, some combat-driven and some character-driven. The first book set the bar pretty high, but “HELL HARBOR” is even better.

And now “BLOODY BUSH” is the best one yet. Hoping for less risk to life and limb, Mahoney has transferred to a regular Army platoon and the secret missions are over. It’s July 1944, and the D-Day landings have been successful, but now the Americans need to push out of Normandy into the interior of France, and into the jaws of the waiting German army.

WWII buffs will appreciate how skillfully the novel blends fact and fiction, as the novel deals with both the Battle of the Hedgerows and the Battle of St. Lo. It’s not all about endless warfare, either; the narrative also involves Erwin Rommel and the plot to assassinate Hitler. In fact, Rommel, Hitler and George Patton all play extended supporting roles in this story. 

But you don’t have to be a history nut to enjoy this book. It’s classic masculine pulp, with lots of exciting combat sequences as well as some colorful confrontations between Mahoney and an arrogant army captain (I enjoyed these even more). Good war fiction pulls the reader into the action on an intellectual level, but really top-notch war fiction makes you feel it in your gut, with vivid details of everything from the flying dirt and shrapnel to the exhaustion, the fear and the sinking apprehension that today is your last day on Earth. The way the ground vibrates beneath a soldier during an artillery barrage, the panic and the adrenaline that take over in hand-to-hand combat, the psychological impact of weak leadership as opposed to confident leadership… it’s all here, painting the experience of war in both the broad strokes and in the little details. 

Author Len Levinson (writing as Gordon Davis) nails all of this with his usual skill. Even better, he further explores Mahoney’s complex persona, refining the characteristics we already knew about and developing a few new ones. Mahoney can bust a fellow soldier’s jaw in one chapter, kneel in prayer and carry a Bible under his shirt in another chapter, usurp a superior officer’s command in yet another chapter, and nevertheless there are no contradictions in him, just complexity. It’s rare to find such nuance in pulp fiction. It’s extraordinary. And so is this series. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Rat Bastards #04 - Meat Grinder Hill

Never pick a fight with a guy named Nuttsy. That’s a key takeaway in “Meat Grinder Hill”, the fourth novel in the outstanding 'Rat Bastards' series by “John Mackie” (actually, Len Levinson). 

As with all of the earlier books, this is a top-notch WWII adventure set during the grueling fight to take Guadalcanal from dug-in Japanese troops. The situation this time forces the exhausted Americans to make one final push to capture the last remaining enemy stronghold on the island. Unfortunately, that stronghold is up in the hills, camouflaged and surrounded by dense jungle, and defended with banks of lethal machine gun nests. The Americans can’t see it, and anyone venturing too close gets chopped to pieces by the machine guns. Worse, the stronghold is oddly impervious to mortar rounds or aerial bombing. Oh, and the Japanese will defend it to the last man.

The reader knows why all the shelling has failed to obliterate that stronghold. Our protagonists in the recon platoon will have to find out the hard way, and that means with a hell of a lot of vicious and frequently desperate combat. Nobody’s a Superman here, and one key character will fall in battle. The action is relentless, and it’s charged with foreboding and suspense. The book isn’t a downer by any means, but it doesn’t let you remain a disinterested bystander either.

As a counterpoint to all the carnage, we leave Guadalcanal from time to time to see what’s happening on another island, where two men from the platoon (two of the best characters in this series) are recovering in an Army field hospital. One is an old war dog who’s restless and almost empty inside, believing that his place is on the battlefield and that he doesn’t belong anywhere else. He might be right. The other guy is at the opposite end of the scale, interested in nothing but seducing nurses and extending his reprieve from the war any way he can. (This leads to some erotic grappling that’s just as heated as the action back on Guadalcanal.)

Most of the guys in this book aren’t so lucky. The struggle against the Japanese is grueling, bloody and miserable. One soldier hopes to affirm his masculinity with feats of combat glory, but glory is in short supply on Guadalcanal. Frustrated and still hungry to prove his manhood, he turns his attack to the aforementioned Nuttsy, which proves to be both a bruising and enlightening experience, but fate isn’t finished with him yet.   

“Meat Grinder Hill” puts its characters through the wringer, but it’s much kinder to you, the reader. The men in the recon platoon get chewed up and spit out by the war. You, on the other hand, get a muscular, exciting adventure, which is all the more effective because you’re slogging through it right alongside these guys, with easy access to their hearts and minds. That makes all the difference. The 'Rat Bastards' aren’t the little green plastic army men you played with as a kid. You’ll know ‘em and love ‘em, and--- like me--- you’ll soon be reaching for the next book in this series. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Rat Bastards #03 - River of Blood

This third novel in the 'Rat Bastards' series maintains the very high standards of the first two. The guys are still on Guadalcanal, still fighting the Japanese, and still getting the job done. But the mental and physical burdens get heavier all the time, and we’ll see several of them begin to break down.

The men are individually haunted by fears that they won’t survive the next firefight, that their women back home no longer care about them, that the Army won’t give them the material support they need, and that each new assignment is more impossible than the last. They’re rats trapped in a maze from which there’s no exit.

Don’t get the idea that this book is just some sort of downbeat psychological study. It isn’t. The action comes at you almost continuously, and it’s gritty, tense and exciting. It’s because the author has skillfully brought us into the hearts and minds of these men that we care about what happens to them, in and out of combat. And that’s why this novel is vastly better than your typical 'Abel Team' or 'Phoenix Force' bang-bang shoot-‘em-up story. You won’t be just observing the action. You’ll be in it with them. 

The cover says the author is John Mackie, but it’s really Len Levinson, and I’ve yet to read a book of his that was less than outstanding. He’s the gold standard. However, this book isn’t for everybody. If you’re concerned that graphic depictions of hand-to-hand jungle combat might make you queasy, or if references to “Japs” might be upsetting, you should read something else. (I suggest HOP ON POP; my toddler loves it.)

This is a novel grounded in both reality and humanity. Of course, it’s still pulp fiction, and the magnitude of the action is enhanced for dramatic effect. That’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. You want history? Read a history book. You want a hell-for-leather, gut-churning, heart-pounding war saga that’ll keep you sweating through the action and devouring chapter after chapter way past your bedtime? You want RIVER OF BLOOD. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Sergeant #02 - Hell Harbor: The Battle for Cherbourg

It’s a little odd that there were so few series dealing with World War II. What could be a more natural setting for stories with action, heroism, bloodshed and explosions? And WWII-themed stories had been in seemingly every issue of the men’s adventure magazines, the predecessors of the paperbacks. Even in comic books, there were more than a dozen long-running series set during the war.

I can only think of two standout paperback series centered on WWII, and both of them were written in their entirety by Len Levinson: 'The Sergeant' (under the name Gordon Davis) and 'The Rat Bastards' (as John Mackie). Just two! But you know, maybe it’s really not so surprising that these series had so little competition. Levinson set the bar so high that few writers could hope to match them. 

The Sergeant’s debut novel, “Death Train”, recounts a couple of episodes in the combat career of Sgt. C.J. Mahoney. Gruff, pugnacious and snarky, he’s not your traditional lantern-jawed hero, but he sure gets the job done. The title refers to the first of these episodes, in which Mahoney is tasked with disrupting German supply lines by sabotaging the rail network of occupied France. The second episode finds him with some resistance fighters, holed up in a French village suddenly overrun by German tanks. I thought the first story was a little more effective than the second, but they were both superb.

The next novel is even better, presenting a handful of wartime episodes of varying lengths. In “Hell Harbor: The Battle for Cherbourg”, Mahoney is a much more fully-developed character. He’s still a grizzled war dog, chomping his cigar and addressing friend and foe alike as “Asshole,” but in one remarkable extended episode, we discover there’s far more to him than that. The context of how that happens is the last thing you’d expect. Mahoney’s recovering in a London hospital but manages to steal an officer’s uniform one night, and sneak out of the building in hopes of visiting a popular brothel. I can’t say anything more without giving away too much, but trust me--- this is the episode that will linger with you the longest. And there’s not a shot fired in it!

There’s certainly plenty of combat action in the other episodes, and the book’s title refers to the last of them. Based in an impregnable fortress, the Germans are going to blow up the harbor at Cherbourg by remote control, just to keep it out of the hands of the Americans, who need it to land critical supplies and reinforcements. Mahoney and a squad are assigned the seemingly impossible task of preventing the harbor’s destruction. A lesser author would turn Mahoney into a combat Superman, storming the fortress and drilling every German in sight, emerging triumphant. What happens instead is unexpected, harrowing and even a little disgusting, but it’s also pulp action at its best. 

It’s also believable, and that’s important. Of course it’s fiction, but everything in the novel happens in the real world, not in the Mack Bolan fantasyland of invulnerable action heroes with unlimited heavy ammunition. Sometimes I’m in the mood for that stuff, and it’s fine as far as it goes. But what’s more compelling, more memorable and more rewarding is what Len Levinson serves up in “Hell Harbor”. Put this one on your shopping list.      

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Rat Bastards 01 - Hit the Beach!

'The Rat Bastards' was a 16-book run of World War Two action-adventure novels. It was written by Len Levinson under house name John Mackie (one of his 22 pseudonyms) and follows his first, similar series, 'The Sergeant'. Where 'The Sergeant' was set in Europe, this series is set in the South Pacific. 

The first book in the 'Rat Bastards' series, “Hit the Beach!”, released by Jove in 1983, introduces its characters as they arrive at Guadalcanal for what will be an incredible ordeal of desperate hand-to-hand combat. The events in the book span only a couple of days, but the intensity of the fighting is conveyed extremely well by the author, who also has a gift for rendering realistic dialogue. Our Rat Bastards platoon kills a staggering number of Japanese soldiers, far more than a critical reader can really accept, but that goes with the territory.

And what bloody territory it is! 

The magnitude of gory violence here makes Edge look like Gene Autry, but it’s blended with some well-crafted suspense and atmosphere too. Len Levinson is clearly right up there with Don Pendleton for creating powerful, visceral pulp. Outstanding. 

The entire series is available as ebooks through Amazon (along with 'The Sergeant' series). The author does recommend reading them in order to preserve the story.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Rat Bastards #02 - Death Squad

Len Levinson's (as John Mackie) 'The Rat Bastards' series began with “Hit the Beach!”(1983), an outstanding wartime action/adventure novel, careening from the harrowing to the exhilarating and back again like a roller coaster. It wasn’t very likely that the follow-up novel could be just as good, and it isn’t. 

It's better! 

Although “Hit the Beach!” was tense and exciting, it was also episodic, lacking a real plot. It's simply about a combat platoon on Guadalcanal fighting back waves of Japanese soldiers. But the sequel, “Death Squad” (1983), is a story with a clear beginning, middle and end, and that structure gives it more power. It’s pulp fiction, but it’s extremely well-written, and the characterizations, dialogue and pacing are all superb. 

In this novel, the platoon has survived the meat-grinder of “Hit the Beach!” and heads out on a highly dangerous reconnaissance mission over to the far side of the island, where they’ll be isolated deep behind enemy lines. Their task is to find out where Japanese supplies and reinforcements have been landing. 

The mission gets off to a good start but the guys are in for a very rough time and before it’s over there will be snakes, snipers, capture, crocodiles, torture, torpedoes and always (always!) relentless action, bloodshed and suspense. Every time you think you know what’s about to happen, you’re hit with a surprise and just when the adventure seems to be over, there’s a spectacular extended climax that tops everything. 

Good luck finding a pulp action/adventure novel better than “Death Squad”. War is truly hell for the Rat Bastards, but it’s a 200-page thrill ride for the reader.