Showing posts with label Lionel White. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lionel White. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Time of Terror

The kidnapping-heist crime novel The Time of Terror by Lionel White (1905-1985) was first published as a hardcover in 1960 and later abridged to fit the page count as an Ace Double paperback in 1961. The original text of the novel has been reprinted by Stark House Press and paired with 1958’s Too Young to Die.

Long Island, New York couple Christian and Elizabeth (“Call me, Bet!”) are living the suburban American dream. Christian has a good job with an electronics business he helped found, and Bet spends her days raising her two little kids with the help of a live-in nanny and housekeeper.

We also meet 38 year-old Frank Mace, a downtrodden guy in a downscale New York suburb. Frank is a laid-off factory worker whose family has left him. Frank feels that the only answer to turning his life around is an immediate influx of cash. As such, Frank decides to rob a supermarket without formulating much of a coherent plan.

Upon arrival at the grocery store, Frank encounters an unattended little kid - Bet’s kid - and snatches the boy up concocting a kidnapping-for-ransom scheme on the fly. And away we go with a wild paperback crime yarn.

In the opening chapters of The Time of Terror, the author adopts the conversational narration style employed in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels where the third-person omniscient narrator has personality and provides commentary - even acknowledging that there is a reader to whom he’s speaking. It makes for a fun read, and White has the chops to do it well.

The perspective shifts between the police, the local newspaper, the FBI, the victim family, and our kidnapper are quick and well-executed. The plot developments are of the forehead-slapping, one-damn-thing-after-another variety and you’ll have a hard time looking away from this slow-motion noir trainwreck of a crime story.

Overall, it was a pretty great book. The first half a stronger than the second half, but White never disappoints. If you enjoy heists-gone-wrong paperbacks, you can safely add this one to your reading list.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Paperback Warrior Episode 101 - Steve Frazee

It's a new era as Paperback Warrior storms into the next 100 episodes. #101 features a look at western and action-adventure author Steve Frazee's life and career in the pulps and paperbacks. Tom explains to listeners his cash-grab scheme using his local library and Eric discusses his recent western paperback acquisitions. Additionally, horror author Ronald Malfi, crime-fiction author Lionel White, and sci-fi writer Robert Silverberg. Watch the show's video HERE, stream audio and video below, or download the audio directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 101 - Steve Frazee" on Spreaker.

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.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Paperback Warrior Primer - Lionel White

Lionel White (1905-1985) wrote a lot of heist and caper books for Fawcett Gold Medal and other paperback houses beginning in 1953. He was a big influence on Donald Westlake's acclaimed Parker series and Quenton Tarantino's classic film Reservoir Dogs. Many of his books have been reprinted as doubles by Stark House Press, and each of those has an introduction discussing different aspects of his work and life. For biographical information, no one is better than author Ben Boulden from Utah who dug into census and other records to piece together information from Lionel White’s shadowy life. Boulden wrote the introduction to the Stark House double collecting Lionel White’s Hostage for a Hood and Operation-Murder, and his piece called "Lionel White: The Caper King" is my primary source for this Primer.

Lionel Earle White was born in Buffalo, New York in 1905. His father was a superintendent at a car manufacturing facility. When he was a teenager, his family relocated to San Joaquin, California following his father's new job. White dropped out of high school after his sophomore year and began to work menial jobs. At some point, he was able to obtain a job as a crime reporter in Ohio in 1923. In 1925, White relocated to the Bronx in New York City to work as an editor for True Confession magazine. By 1930, he obtained a position as a proofreader for one of the newspapers in New York City. He continued working as an editor and was earning $4,000 per year by 1940. In 1943, he joined the U.S. Army, but was released after just five months.

When White was 47 years old, his career as a published writer began. His debut was the digest-sized book called Seven Hungry Men. It was later reworked into his novel Run Killer Run. His first mass-market paperback was The Snatchers, published in 1953 by Fawcett Gold medal. That novel was adapted into the film The Night of the Following Day. After The Snatchers, White became a productive writer with nearly 40 novels published between 1953 and 1978. In 1966, he used the pseudonym L.W. Blanco to write the espionage novel Spykill. In 1966, he co-wrote The Mind Poisoners, the 18th installment in the Nick Carter: Killmaster series. His 1963 novel The Money Trap and his 1955 novel Clean Break were both adapted to film.

Lionel White passed away in Asheville, North Carolina at age 80. He left behind a legacy that serves as a triumphant cornerstone of crime-noir literature. For more information on Lionel White, visit our review link HERE and listen to our podcast episode HERE.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Big Caper

Lionel White was a master storyteller who specialized in heist crime-noir. Several of his novels have been made into movies starring the likes of Marlon Brando and Glenn Ford. Director Quentin Tarantino credited White’s work as inspiration for his critically-acclaimed 1992 film Reservoir Dogs. I've been thrilled with every novel I've read by this author and I was excited to read what many consider one of his finest works, The Big Caper. It was published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1955 and adapted for film in 1957.

The book stars a WW2 veteran named Frank who finds himself befriended by a crafty bank robber named Flood. One thing leads to another and Flood eventually proposes his boldest scheme to Frank. The idea is that a professional heist crew, featuring an arsonist, a safe-breaker, two drivers and two gunmen, will rob a large bank in the small Florida town of Indio Beach. The millions will be split up and this triumphant caper will be Frank's first (and hopefully only) criminal foray and Flood's last. But, like any good ol’ fashioned bank blow-out, there's a wrench in the gears that proves to be a fatal flaw: Flood's girlfriend Kay.

Flood's proposal is that Frank and Kay become merry citizens of Indio Beach months before the heist. The two are to fake it as a married couple and submerge themselves into American Suburbia. Frank opens a thriving gas station where he smiles and pumps gas and fixes the town's auto problems. Kay is the proverbial happy housewife and makes plenty of canasta and bridge club dates with the couple's friends. After a few months of successful socializing and law-abiding living, Frank and Kay learn to fake it so well that the whole farce becomes reality. The two fall in love with each other and begin questioning their motives to gain happiness through a criminal enterprise. In a clever twist, White asks readers to ponder the real definition of happiness. Kay grows to fear and despise the controlling Flood, and Frank becomes wary of the plan and its proper execution. The Big Caper spirals into a character study of everyday people placed into a viper's den of greed and criminal exploits - the very essence of crime-noir.

White's narrative settles into a routine, customary tour of small town life in the book's opening half. The storytelling is key with the author providing many vivid images of this tiny Florida community. There's an ensemble cast of characters that are supportive of Frank and Kay's role as happily married do-gooders. But, once the professional criminals hit town, the novel's second half becomes a ticking time-bomb as Frank and Kay countdown to their date with destiny. White is willing and patient to deliver the goods, but he primes readers with a plethora of possibilities on which directions Frank and Kay turn. It is this nervous anticipation that makes The Big Caper such an entertaining and pleasurable reading experience.

I just can't say enough good things about this author and his stellar body of work. What a remarkable legacy to leave behind for generations of readers to enjoy and celebrate. When compared to Lionel White's contemporaries, this author remains in the very top echelon of mid-20th Century crime-noir creators.

Note – Dan J. Marlowe borrowed this novel's plot for his equally entertaining 1966 novel Four for the Money. In it, a former card-sharp and ex-convict migrates to a small Nevada town and integrates himself into the community. He awaits the professional heist crew who he plans to assist in knocking over the town's casino for millions. But, he finds that his pleasurable small town life, and lover, might override his need for crime.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 3, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 55

Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 55 delves into the world of heist fiction with a discussion of Lionel White. Also discussed: Annoying Price Stickers! Louis A. Brennan! Music to Accompany a Good Book! Donald Westlake! Skylark Mission by Ian MacAlister! And much, much more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE: Listen to "Episode 55: Lionel White" on Spreaker.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Snatchers

Lionel White (1905-1985) was an unsung hero in the world of crime caper fiction. His first novel was The Snatchers from 1953, a thin paperback later adapted into the film The Night of the Following Day in 1968 starring Marlon Brando and Rita Moreno. The book has also been re-released as a double (along with his Clean Break) by Stark House Books.

Cal Dent is a planner. Like Richard Stark’s Parker, Dent is the guy who conceives a caper and brings a crew together to get it done. This particular job involves the kidnapping of a seven year-old rich girl on New York’s Long Island. The abduction itself happens off-page in chapter one and seems to go well. The assigned crew members bring the little girl and her sexy nanny to the hideout to begin the ransom negotiations.

Of course, the FBI and the media get involved, and the kidnapping becomes one of the biggest stories since the Lindbergh baby case. Meanwhile, there’s sexual tension at the hideout with the crew’s only female member and a couple of the hoods on the job. Add an affable local cop sniffing around, and you’ve got a tension-filled, high-stakes thriller.

White takes the time to draw a vivid picture of the individual members of the five-person kidnap and ransom crew. Some are sympathetic while others are twisted and dangerous. There’s a lot of waiting around in the hideout dealing with obstacles that arise. I found it suspenseful and fascinating, but it wasn’t exactly a breakneck bloodbath of an adventure until the final act. Rest assured, the climactic ending was absolutely worth the wait.

It’s hard to believe that The Snatchers was a first novel for Lionel White as he really was something special right out of the gate. Moreover, his body of work that followed was consistently excellent. Don’t sleep on this debut paperback. Place it in the “must read” pile. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Mexico Run

Lionel White was a successful crime-noir writer and journalist. From 1952 through 1978, the New York City native authored 36 novels, some of which have been adapted to international cinema. While crime-fiction was certainly his forte, White specialized in an entertaining sub-genre – the heist. The New York Times deemed White as the “king of capers” and noirish filmmaker Quentin Tarantino credited the author as an influence on his cult crime classic “Reservoir Dogs”. While the author's 1950s work is substantially the best of his career, the talented scribe proved that he still had some literary strength in the 70s. At age 69, White authored “The Mexico Run”, a clever twist on the caper novel published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1974.

Mark Johns is a Vietnam vet who's fresh out of the service. Saving $18,000, Johns was encouraged by a fellow soldier to start running marijuana from Mexico into southern California. As the book begins, Johns is making the arrangements to meet a distributor of Acapulco Gold (a popular 1960s high class grass). His plan is to buy several kilos from a Mexican wholesaler and transport it using his friend Angel's fishing boat. After all of the planning and prepping, Johns is ready for the real thing. However, once he meets 17-year old Sharon, the whole thing begins to crumble.

After saving her from a savage boyfriend, Johns is forced to drag Sharon into his Mexican drug run. Using his Army buddy's contacts, Johns meets up with a crooked police officer named Captain Morales. The plan comes together that Morales gets 25% of the profit and will help smooth things over – as a respected officer of the law – so Johns can make the run. But, it's only after Johns successfully transports the dope that he finally realizes he's caught in a wicked trap – Morales wants Sharon badly and promises to keep her safe as long as Johns will start running narcotics. When Angel is imprisoned on a fake murder charge, Johns must either accept his fate as a drug-running mule for Morales or somehow escape from the game and still save Sharon and Angel.

Instead of dwelling on one bank heist, White expands the narrative with a complex game of drug running missions through customs. It's a fresh and enjoyable prose that left me breathless with possible outcomes. There's a remarkable twist at the end that hit me like a lead pipe, a feat that is next to impossible considering the volume of fiction I'm digesting weekly. From seedy motels to abandoned coastal villas, White takes advantage of atmosphere and environment to create his riveting portrait of betrayal and intrigue.

As of this writing, “The Mexico Run” isn't available as an e-book. That could be the biggest crime of all. Buy a used copy and breathe new life into a long lost classic.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 10, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 30

On our 30th episode, it's a Fawcett Gold Medal All-Review Extravaganza! We discuss vintage paperbacks by John D. MacDonald, Lionel White, Dan J. Marlowe, Basil Heatter and more! We are available on all podcast platforms or stream below. Download directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 30: Fawcett Gold Medal All-Review Extravaganza" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Operation - Murder

Lionel White (1905-1985) was a crime fiction writer with a specialty in heist novels. However, his work never achieved the commercial success or historical longevity of Richard Stark’s heist fiction. My theory is that because White never gravitated towards a series character (a’la ‘Parker’), readers never developed any particular brand loyalty toward his writing despite its sustained excellence. The upside of a stand-alone paperback is that the stakes are way higher for the main character. In any novel, the hero could live or die or be imprisoned because the author has no use for him after the final page.

“Operation - Murder” is a 1956 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback original by Lionel White that has been re-released by Stark House as a double packaged with “Coffin for a Hood.” The new collection also features an introduction by talented Utah author Ben Boulden who does some remarkable detective work uncovering details of White’s shadowy life.

The novel opens with Tina Scudder riding in a bus through the Rocky Mountains to the sleepy town of Twin Valley. She’s come a long way to rendezvous with the man she married ten days earlier after meeting the enigmatic charmer on the ski slopes. Her new husband, Frank, told her to meet him in the frozen hamlet, so they can be together at last on a never-ending honeymoon.

Meanwhile, we learn that there’s been a bank robbery - with shots fired and a deputy hit - in a nearby town. If you’ve never read a vintage crime novel before, you might be surprised to learn that newlywed Frank is connected to the robbery crew - the leader, in fact.

We also learn that there is a money train coming through the mountains replenishing banks with cash along its 600-mile route. There’s a couple guards on board keeping the $6 million safe, but an approaching snowstorm runs the risk of stopping the train right around Twin Valley. Could the relatively modest bank robbery have been just a warm up for the big score of knocking over the money train? You betcha. The planning and execution of a train robbery 100 years after such crimes had gone out of fashion was a great pleasure of “Operation - Murder.”

White keeps things moving for the reader with a compelling ensemble cast and regular third-person perspective changes. The setting of a snowed-in mountain town brimming with the potential for extreme violence makes for a suitably claustrophobic backdrop for this compelling heist paperback. The inclusion of the innocent Tina into the snowy shitstorm of violence and mayhem makes for a nice twist.

Overall “Operation - Murder” is a by-the-numbers 1950s heist paperback written by an author who had the formula mastered by this point of his career. The paperback doesn’t especially break new ground in the genre, but it’s extremely well-executed and worth your time. Mostly, I’m just glad that the novels of Lionel White are being kept alive over 60 years later. He was a master of the genre and “Operation - Murder” is a fine entry into his body of work.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, September 7, 2018

Hostage for a Hood

“Hostage for a Hood” was a 1957 paperback by under-appreciated crime novelist Lionel White who specialized in fantastic heist and caper stories. The book has been reprinted for 21st century readers by Stark House as a double along with White’s “The Merriweather File” from 1959 and an introduction by Brian Greene.

“Hostage for a Hood” opens with a simple car accident - a bit more than just a fender-bender - in the suburban community of Brookside. The accident involves doting housewife Joyce Sherwood (and her poodle) striking a car containing Harry Cribbins and Karl Mitty (dressed as policemen) who are en route to meet others for their meticulously-planned armored car robbery. The tension of heist day is compounded by the accident, and the crooks kidnap Joyce to ensure that their robbery happens on the required timetable.

White employs a clever “time jumping” style in this one - like Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” - where the events of the novel aren’t always portrayed in exact chronological order. There’s also a good bit of third-person perspective jumping as well. It’s an effective storytelling trick that keeps the reader hungry to learn what brought the characters this far. White was an immensely talented writer, so the narrative is never confusing, and readers won’t be lost along the way. The story ping-pongs from the planning of the heist, to the missing person’s investigation, to the robbery’s aftermath where the thieves find themselves with an attractive, yet unexpected, guest for their getaway.

Cribbins and Mitty are colorful and well-drawn hoodlums. Cribbins is a criminal mastermind of sorts (think Richard Stark’s Parker), and Mitty is his hulking, dimwit sidekick. A handful of secondary characters - some important, others not - round out the robbery crew for this well-orchestrated caper. Through White’s adept perspective changes, the reader is also treated to an excellent police procedural story, as well as the tale of Joyce’s husband searching for his missing bride. I found the scenes with the police and the husband piecing the puzzle together to be among the most satisfying of the novel.

The tension of the story increases the longer the holdup crew occupies the safe house with their hostage. All this is builds to a violent conclusion, and the resolution is handled perfectly. It’s hard to read Lionel White without comparing his work to Richard Stark, and “Hostage for a Hood” can hang with the best of the heist sub-genre. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Marilyn K.

Stark House has reprinted two Lionel White crime novels in one volume. This is a review of “Marilyn K.”, the first novel in the collection. “Marilyn K.” is a tight little 1960 crime thriller the man who penned the novel “Clean Break”, later adapted into Stanley Kubrick's film “The Killing” (which, in turn, later inspired Quentin Tarantino's “Reservoir Dogs”). “Marilyn K.” is told in a first-person, conversational style and is an easy read. Our hero is Sam Russell, an ex-Marine who stops his car to pick up a beautiful woman on the side of the road (Marilyn K.) along with a suitcase full of cash. Because this is a Lionel White book, you can be safe to assume that complications arise inhibiting Russell's eventual possession of both the girl and the cash. Plenty of man-on-the-run action, hot sex and bloody violence unfolds. A fairly-easy-to-spot twist ending resolves the story before anything becomes tedious. In short, a great read from an unappreciated master of the genre. To purchase this novel, including White's "The House Next Door", click here.