Showing posts with label Lou Cameron. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lou Cameron. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Drop Into Hell

Lou Cameron (1924-2010) mastered so many genres of written entertainment from comic books to westerns to mysteries and so on. Drop Into Hell was a 1976 WW2 combat adventure “in the breathtaking tradition of Allistair MacLean” released by Fawcett Gold Medal.

The year is 1944 and Paratrooper Captain David Evans has been given a secret mission. Hitler has developed a new super-tank and fighter jet that could cause some real problems for the Allied Forces. The plan? Hit Germany’s fuel refinery capabilities, leaving the Kraut’s new war machines with their gas tanks on empty.

The specific target is a refinery that shares space with a Red Cross Hospital housing injured American and British POWs. Conveniently for the novel, the hospital/refinery is right next door to a Concentration Camp filled with Jews and Gypsies working as slave labor in the refinery. Bottom line: Bombing the refinery into the stone ages isn’t an option.

Enter Paratrooper Dave and his crew of commandos, which includes the mandatory American Indian soldier. Their mission is to parachute into Nazi turf, sabotage the refinery, and get back across the lines safely into the warm embrace of the Allied forces. The problem? No one really has any idea how to get the saboteurs out of Germany once the damage is done.

The entire paperback is a very smooth and easy read as the cast of characters tackle problems and obstacles along the way. However, the novel‘s action lagged a bit in the middle. For my money, I think Len Levinson’s The Sergeant series is a stronger choice, but if you’re looking for Allistair MacLean Lite, this paperback will more than suffice. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Good Guy

During his productive career as an author, Lou Cameron (1924-2010) transcended genres from crime fiction to westerns to war adventures. In 1968, Cameron tried his hand at a mainstream political thriller called The Good Guy that promises “an exciting shocker with a double-twist finish,” so I buckled in for what was sure to be a wild ride.

The paperback’s conversational narrator is a doctor of behavioral psychology working as an advertising consultant named Woody Legion. He’s the guy you hire to manipulate the minds of the public if you’re trying to get them to change their favorite soda pop. His field of expertise is called “Motivation Research,” but it really amounts to political dirty tricks - picking out the perfect unassailable lie about the opposition that will alienate the candidate from the electorate.

Enter presidential candidate and freshman congressman Rex Vane. Before Vane became a politician, he was an actor in the westerns who parlayed his fame as a “good guy” into the the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s worth noting that real-life movie cowboy Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California in 1967, so I’m guessing that this was fresh on Cameron’s mind while creating the fictional version in the paperback.

In any case, Woody gets hired to work his psychological black magic as a part of Vane’s campaign. He leaks carefully-chosen false information about Vane’s primary opponent and watches his poll numbers deteriorate. He performs his analysis with giant IBM computers while his staff wears white lab coats. It’s pretty much what people in 1968 thought the future would look like today when algorithms would be making our judgement calls.

There are many problems with The Good Guy as a novel. As a narrator and main character, Woody is not a likable guy with a good personality. Even discounting his dishonorable profession, he’s not the kind of person you want to accompany for 224 big-font pages. For a political thriller, The Good Guy is almost completely devoid of thrills. It’s a boring book because Cameron never took the time to get the reader invested in the characters or the high-stakes of the election. It’s like he wanted to write a fictional expose regarding the dirty tricks that accompany modern politics. 52 years later, these revelations are all rather ho-hum.

The author makes an attempt to emulate an actual breakneck thriller in the paperback’s last 30 pages, but the whole thing was rather contrived and didn’t follow the novel’s own internal logic. This book was just awful. I’m normally a fan of Lou Cameron, but don’t bother with this stinker. The Good Guy was just A Bad Book.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Code Seven

During his life, Lou Cameron (1924-2010) was one of the most reliably solid authors in the men’s adventure, crime, war, and western genres. His 1977 police fiction paperback “Code Seven” has a cover blurb that promises the book to be “All the crunching excitement of Walking Tall” while the back cover guarantees “a nerve-sizzling suspense novel.” As a fan of Cameron’s writing, crunching excitement, and sizzling nerves, I was excited to dive into this one.

Sean Costello is the new chief of police in the fictional city of Flamingo Beach, Florida, a town of about three square miles. His new job is a chance at redemption for the chief who was recently fired from his police gig in New Jersey - ostensibly due to budget cuts. He’s an honest cop singularly dedicated to keeping his little town safe despite a lack of resources or much staff.

In police parlance, “Code Seven” is a meal break, which is an odd choice for a title. In the paperback, Cameron’s character claims it means “off duty” which, I suppose, is close enough for government work. The relevance of title has something to do with the romance that develops between Costello and a wealthy widow in his new hometown. This story-line seemed rushed and not entirely credible, but that wasn’t the centerpiece of the paperback, anyway. The point is that Costello is so busy putting out small fires that he’s never truly off duty.

For the majority of the book, Costello deals with the normal, everyday headaches, threats, and small mysteries of the job: drunks, a floater, a mouthy runaway, a suicide attempt, a stalker case, etc. The police procedural aspects of the novel seemed realistic enough to me, so either Cameron did some homework or he’s good at faking it. However, I kept hoping that the many disjointed plot threads would eventually form a linear story for the reader to enjoy or a mystery for Costello to solve.

Unfortunately, a main plot never really comes together. Some of the smaller mysteries presented as subplots are solved, and some tie into each other. However, it was an odd novel filled with nothing but subplots - almost as if Cameron wanted to write several different short stories about this interesting cop in a small, coastal town. The author apparently shuffled these stories into one disjointed book rather than selling them individually to the mystery digest magazines? Just a theory.

Cameron’s writing is predictably good, but an odd editorial decision left the book without chapter breaks. There are white-spaces representing scene changes throughout the paperback, but all 219 pages are basically one long chapter. As a reader, this was more irritating than I anticipated it would be.

Despite the myriad of problems with the book, it never failed to hold my attention since many of the subplots were rather interesting. I just wish Cameron’s editors sent him back to the typewriter for a few more rounds of drafts and forced him to develop a compelling main plot. “Code Seven” could have been a great cop novel instead of the mess he left behind.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 26, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 08

In this episode, we discuss Frank Gruber's 1964 crime-mystery "Swing Low, Swing Dead" and Lou Cameron's police fiction novel "Code Seven" from 1977. Tom talks about his book shopping in San Antonio, Texas and offers listeners a tutorial on how to affordably acquire paperbacks. Stream it below or through any popular streaming service. Direct downloads: Link 

Listen to "Episode 08: Buying Affordable Paperbacks" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

File on a Missing Redhead

During his career, Lou Cameron wrote all sorts of men’s adventure fiction, but his 1968 paperback, “File on a Missing Redhead” was a pretty straightforward - and excellent - whodunnit police procedural mystery. Because it’s a Cameron paperback, you know in advance it’s going to be well-written, tightly-plotted, and entertaining as hell.

Our narrator is Lt. Frank Talbot, a Detective with the Nevada Highway Patrol. Talbot is called to a Las Vegas auto wrecking yard where the corpse of a young woman is found stuffed into the forward trunk of an abandoned Volkswagen Beetle. The first order of business is identifying the victim - no small task because of her decomposition and the fact that her fingers and teeth had been removed and her face smashed to bits. The best lead is that her beautiful head of red hair was still in tact.

Things quickly get personal for Talbot when his ex-girlfriend surfaces claiming that a female skip-tracer she knows with fiery red hair has recently come up missing. This investigative path brings Talbot inside the world of professional skip-tracers and the insider’s view into that industry was fascinating to the uninitiated reader. But is this missing skip-tracer the same person as the redhead in the trunk?

The reader never really gets to know Talbot much as a person. He’s a reliable narrator and a fantastic police detective, but he is not given much of a personality outside of his ultra-competent investigative skills. As Talbot follows clues in a pretty straightforward homicide investigation, it becomes clear that he’s on the trail of an honest-to-goodness psychopath working in the seamy underbelly of Las Vegas casino life. The plot twists and turns making for a wild ride, and Cameron’s take on hardboiled detective narration is top-notch throughout the paperback.

I suspect that Cameron may have wanted to bring Lt. Talbot back more for additional novels, but “File on a Missing Redhead” likely wasn’t a gangbusters hit, relegating it to just another late-period Fawcett Gold Medal stand-alone paperback original. That’s a shame because it’s a fantastic police procedural packed with many interesting factoids - a rare mystery where you’ll walk away having learned a thing or two - right up to the mystery’s twisty resolution.

More unfortunately, this superb novel has not been reprinted or digitized since it’s 1968 release, so you’ll have to play detective yourself to track down a used copy. It’s worth the hunt as this one’s a total winner. Highly recommended.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Angel's Flight

Before his 2010 death, Lou Cameron was the author of over 300 genre novels. He was a post-war pulpster who specialized in tawdry action stories with tightly-wound plots. Think 'Longarm'. Think 'Renegade'. Lou Cameron knew his way around a standard story arc. This fact is what makes Cameron’s 1960 debut novel, “Angel’s Flight”, such a delightful curiosity. Although it was released as a Gold Medal crime novel - and was recently re-released by Black Gat Books - the story captures the tone and scope of literary fiction. Yes, it seems Lou Cameron started out aspiring to be serious author writing a serious book. And it worked.

Although “Angel’s Flight” is a lean 233 pages, the story spans about 17 years time between 1939 and 1956 - from the jazzy Great Depression to the dawn of rock-n-roll. Our guide through this era is our narrator, an honest and earnest journeyman jazzman named Ben Parker. Ben’s narration is written in a be-bop jazz lingo that was later adopted by James Ellroy in “American Tabloid” and “The Cold Six Thousand”. The prose sings throughout the readable novel.

Parker’s foil is the vapid and conniving fellow jazzman, Johnny Angel, whose ambition for success well outpaces his musical talent. Like many of the colorful characters in Parker’s life, Angel comes and goes. He starts out as an irritant and evolves into an existential threat.

Angel’s Flight is a real masterpiece of storytelling that holds your attention even though there isn’t much of a standard story arc. It feels like the literary equivalent of a Martin Scorsese movie - like “Goodfellas” or “Wolf of Wall Street” - that tracks a single character through the ups and downs of a remarkable life. This storytelling approach is surprising coming from Lou Cameron, whose body of work relied on an economical approach to plotting. Cameron’s knack for creating colorful characters is on high-display, and readers will come to adore Ben Parker and the women and friends who float in and out of his life.

Although the novel has murders, mafia, payola and betrayals, it’s doesn’t feel like a normal Gold Medal crime novel. It feels more weighty and significant - like a story of the jazz age that needed to be preserved because it captured an important era in America’s cultural history. To that end, Black Gat Books has done America a real favor by preserving this piece of important art.

Highly recommended.