Showing posts with label Plantation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Plantation. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Slave Island

Author Simon Finch was born in Rio de Janeiro, where his father served in the Diplomatic Corps. Finch was educated abroad before attending university in England for studies in Classical History. His first three novels consist of the Vesuvio Trilogy, including Golden Voyager (1978), Pagan Voyager (1979), and Voyager in Bondage (1981). Avoiding any heavy lifting, I opted to try Finch's stand-alone novel Slave Island, which was originally published by Souvenir Press in 1983 as a hardcover, then later in 1984 in paperback by Pan with an amazing cover by Gino D'Achille.

The 300-page paperback begins in Boston with Billy Peake, a young English colonial, awaiting a shipment of Mexican silver to arrive on a convoy ship. However, the ship's captain and a local businessman named Easton conspired to swindle Peake out of the cargo. After convincing Billy to rut out all of his frustrations at the local whorehouse, the two get Billy drunk and throw him on a ship destined for Africa's slave coast. Two days later Billy awakens to find himself in bondage. 

Arriving in Africa, Billy is placed into caged slavery and forced to mate with a young white woman named Jenny. At first Billy refuses, but as time marches on the two do the wild monkey dance and get it on. Then, the two are forced to walk with a parade of slaves across the continent to an island north of Madagascar named Slave Island. It's a prison dedicated “for the worst Arabian, Turk, and European scum, a Tower of Babel in the ocean for more sinner than saints.”

I know what you're thinking – this sounds awesome! A wild adventure ripe with jungle savagery, the inevitable fight to the death on an island prison, nautical battles, and a revenge plot as Billy fights his way to freedom in the Hellish heat of Slave Island. Well, scratch all the excitement off that excursion list. This literary cruise is headed to a penis extravaganza led by a phallus-obsessed captain named Simon Finch.

I mentioned the page count earlier. Out of those 300 pages, approximately 200 is dedicated to just straight, plain 'ole porno. I'm fairly certain Finch is making up for something because nearly every word is “phallus”, “penis”, “meat”, “sheathed manhood”, “prick”, “throbbing member”, “shaft” or just “dick”. I thought author Dan Streib was fascinated with genitalia, but he's no stiff competition for Finch. This dude is dialed into dick in a big boner way. 

Look, Savage Island is mostly what I would consider a plantation novel or a slave gothic. Lots of African American men being sold into slavery and forced into wild sexual encounters with lonely white women. If that's your thing, you may dig this. There's also plenty of cathouse antics, tons of rape, and some wild (I mean wild!) stuff with dicks being sliced off and stuffed with sand and then being placed on sticks to...well you get it. Maybe 100 hundred pages is the rough and tumble adventure stuff, which is where I like it, and I mostly just skipped all the graphic sex. If you like the plantation stuff, Slave Island is probably a must. There's nothing particularly discouraging about Finch's writing other than his unhealthy fixation on dick. I'm not reading a word of the author's other stuff and will count Slave Island as a one-time sentence. I'm sure I'll never be a repeat offender.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Nude in the Sand

The 1950s and 1960s publishing industry experienced a trend of authors and readers embracing swamp-noir, a concept that features the average man being tempted by a seductress in the backwoods of a rural southern town. Charles Williams and Harry Whittington both excelled in this type of storytelling, which led countless other low to mid-echelon authors to try their hand. Louisiana author and WW2 veteran John Burton Thompson (1911-1994) authored these types of novels. As expensive collectors items now, these vintage paperbacks demand a hefty dollar. 

Thankfully, Cutting Edge Books have gained the rights to Thompson's literary work and have made a number of his novels into new editions for an affordable price. After enjoying his 1962 novels Kiss or Kill and Swamp Nymph, I decided to take another swig with Nude in the Sand. It was originally published by Beacon in 1959. 

The most entertaining aspect of Nude in the Sand is that there isn't a main character. Instead, Thompson uses the novel to tell many different stories about the backwoods shenanigans of several different characters that have merely six degrees of separation. By the book's end it all wraps together cohesively in a satisfying conclusion that crosses these mini-stories over (and under) each other. 

Lecia is a 20 year old vixen living with her mother on a run-down farm. Hope and aspiration are shooting stars rarely glimpsed and never caught. In a bid for money, Lecia's mother sells her off to a wealthy man named Alex who takes the two to his sprawling estate. Lecia is destined to be the despondent, pregnant housewife pushing out babies to create Alex's dynasty. The problem is that Lecia despises Alex due to his violent sexual craving and his affairs with a black slave.

Across the fields is Abe, a retired wealthy man of nobility that has a young black lover named Charline. Readers learn Abe's history with Charline, how he funded her college education, cared for her needs, and is now secretly engaged in a relationship with her. Abe and Charline frequent a hunting cabin where the two intimately share their love. But, Abe understands the age difference and the fact that the town will be thrown in a violent upheaval if their interracial love affair were to be exposed. 

Abe's nephew Merrit is a college graduate and artist that hasn't quite found his footing yet. Abe allows Merrit to live on his estate and find himself. Instead, Merrit finds an imprint in the sand made by the nude Lecia. Over time, Merrit becomes obsessed with the imprints and starts to make a bronze statue of this unknown woman. Lecia doesn't realize that her daily visits to this jungle swimming hole are being captured by the imprints she makes in the sand. Eventually, Merrit and Lecia learn of one another and are connected through Abe. When Lecia's husband Alex begins making moves on Charline, the narrative becomes more complex and enticing – Abe vs Alex over Charline. Merrit lusting for Lecia despite her marriage to Alex. There's also another side story of a male slave that hates Alex for raping other slaves. 

With this many moving parts, it would be hard for any author to excel at all of these concepts and designs. But, Thompson is such a great writer and purposefully develops this plot into a burning bed of affairs, relationships, violence, and raging sex. The novel certainly possesses enough tropes to make it a swamp-noir, but at the same time it also works as a plantation novel, or what some refer to as a “slave gothic”. Alex's violent encounters with the strong, more domineering slave named Bruce makes for a humorous, albeit savage, thread in the story's web of self-pursuit and sexual gratification. Abe's relationship with Charline is nurturing, but is laced with strong dialogue that reflects the civil unrest of a country at war with itself in the mid 20th century. 

Nude in the Sand is a riveting, hot-blooded account of sexual affairs running rampant in the Deep South. With colorful characters and multi-faceted, interlocking storylines, John B. Thompson creates a whirlwind suspenseful romance novel ripe with violence and racial unrest. Fans of Charles Williams, Harry Whittington, and Erskine Caldwell should find plenty to like. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 17

Episode 17 presents an investigation into the wildly popular sub-genre of Plantation Fiction, sometimes referred to as Slavery Gothics. Eric is proud to present his newest addition to the Paperback Warrior Hall of Shame. Eric reviews a 1973 Pinnacle novel called "Brannon!" by Daniel Streib. Tom investigates the mystery behind a 1969 boxing/plantation fiction novel called "Mantee". Stream it below or download directly (LINK). You'll find the episode and show wherever great podcasts are streaming. Listen to "Episode 17: Slavery Gothics (Plantation Fiction)" on Spreaker.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Paperback Warrior Unmasking: Mantee

I like boxing stories. I like Plantation Gothics. As such, I was excited to read “Mantee” by Robert J. Hensler from 1969. Based on the cover blurb, it’s about a black slave who becomes a boxing champion. Mandingo meets Rocky! What’s not too like?

Then I saw this posting on the Internet from the author’s son, Eric:

“My father wrote this book. He’s not proud of it or the other pulp he cranked out in the sixties but it kept food on the table for our little family. Before you judge too harshly, remember that somebody had to demean themselves to write this in the first place. Just a quick note to give a glimpse behind the curtain...”


At first this review/apology made me re-shelve the book. I read for entertainment and escapism, not to open the old wounds of a nice family’s shame. Upon further reflection, I needed to know if this book was something truly worth causing inter-generational embarrassment. Curiosity clawed at me every time I walked by my library. To be sure, plantation fiction was a salacious and tawdry sub-genre that leveraged America’s discomfort with topics like racism, inter-racial sex, and the repugnant stain of slavery on our nation’s past. However, I don’t think these books are racist. The slaves are almost always drawn in a sympathetic light, and their evil masters generally get their comeuppance in slave uprisings forming the novel’s climax.

I couldn’t find much info about the author, and my initial attempts to contact his son failed. I know Hensler wrote an innocuous-sounding book about Washington, D.C. during his career, but I was unable to identify any other pulp fiction bearing his name. None of the vintage fiction experts I consulted knew of the guy. If he wanted this chapter in his life to be forgotten, he’s done a fine job staying under the radar for the past 50 years.

Anyway, onto the plantation book:

“Mantee” takes place on Alabama’s 250 acre Rosebriar Plantation in 1859 - four long years before emancipation- where the slaves pick cotton and take whippings from the dysfunctional Darby family. The cast of characters is an array of stereotypes. Benson is the patriarch who rules his land with an iron fist. Evangeline is his compassionate abolitionist wife. Lance is the cruel heir who loves to order up whippings. Marlena is the horny daughter - physically excited watching the muscular black bodies suffer abuse.

On the slave side of the plantation, Mantee is the biggest, strongest, and most handsome of the indentured blacks on the property. The comely Marlena is hot-to-trot and fascinated by the idea that Mantee likely has an enormous dong. You can see where this is headed. There’s a whole mess of slaves who fill every archetype required by the genre, and Hessler wastes no words detailing the rape and torture of slaves in graphic detail. After awhile, these scenes became rather stomach-turning and I can only imagine that they served to pad the page count and thicken the paperback to a market-friendly length. The consensual and non-consensual sex scenes were extra pornographic and extra long - even compared to other plantation novels.

Accused of rape, Mantee becomes a runaway slave leaving his torturers behind. It is during his flight that he encounters a series of white saviors and eventually the sport of boxing. The fight scenes are absolutely fantastic and resemble early MMA in their brutality rather than the gloved Queensbury Rules we know today. Once the boxing story kicked in, the author really brings his A-game.

To be sure, “Mantee” is an imperfect novel. The author’s choice to write the dialog in a phonetic southern dialect wore thin pretty quickly. I would have also preferred more punches thrown and fewer girls deflowered along the way as the sex scenes became tiresome and repetitive. Nevertheless, the paperback never failed to hold my attention, and I mostly found myself enjoying Mantee’s adventures - vertical and horizontal. Plantation novels were written to be salacious, but these fictional dramatizations will inevitably bring readers greater empathy for the people forced to suffer through this shameful chapter of American history.

And that’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

After I completed the “Mantee” review above, I finally heard back from the author’s son, Eric Hensler. He reports that his dad is still around at age 86.

“Our family grew up everywhere. New York, California, Texas, New Mexico, Connecticut, and Florida,” Eric said. “Within those states, we lived in more cities than can be counted without aid from him which is, unfortunately, not to be had at this point.

The reason for all the moving around? “His primary career was in radio,” Eric explained . “He was, I suppose you might say, an itinerant DJ. Rarely staying at any one station for more than six months, full of a wanderlust insatiable. Or such was the case until the early 1970s. At that point, he attached himself to WSST in Largo, Florida and stayed for nearly 20 years. He rose through the ranks and for his second decade there, he was the general manager.”

“My father never held particular political positions or otherwise,” Eric said. “He was an experimental man and a pragmatic one at the same time. He wrote hippie-porn, plantation fiction, poetry, non-fiction and on and on it went. He has published well over 50 books but the difficulty lies in that he used many different pen names. So many, in fact, that I have done much hand-wringing in trying to compile a bibliography. He is still alive, but unfortunately, he has advanced dementia and is of little help in this regard.”

Eric pointed me in the direction of a 1977 Pocket Books novel titled “Washington, D.C.,” a title so generic that it’s hard to find much information about it. Eric explained that it was the only other work of fiction released using his real name. I did find a single online review of the book that described the novel as being about power, sex, and sixties-style revolutionaries who want to blow everything up but are too inept.

Eric explained that a lot of his dad’s books were published under pseudonyms, including “Robert Scott, R.J. Scott, Arjay Scott and so on.”

Bingo! This explains a lot.

There were a bunch of Bee-Line erotic novels written under the pen name of Arjay Scott that are clearly the work of Robert Hensler. They had lurid titles like “Circus of Flesh” and “Fornacation, Inc.” His novel “Diabolical Chain” features the tagline: “Hollywood Voluptuaries in an Orgy of Lust...and Blood!” Most of his Bee-Line porno books have non-descript covers with no art. However, his paperback “The Swapping Game” features an attractive photo cover with some decent graphic design.

My personal favorite of Hessler’s titles was “The 27-Foot Long Love Machine.” However, my enthusiasm was dampened when I learned that the Love Machine in question was a camper van. His erotic fiction work for Bee-Line explains the author’s comfort in writing long, graphic sex scenes in “Mantee.”

“All of the pulp of any ilk that he did publish was through his agent, a man who went by the name Jay Garon,” Eric said. “We heard his name and saw the checks all the time when I was a boy.” I learned that Garon, who died in 1995, represented several working authors of pulp fiction around that era, including Michael Avallone, author of the Ed Noon mystery series.

Eric has heard rumors that his mother may have a box of dusty old books from dad’s writing career. “I need simply to convince my mother to direct me to it. She, you see, is a devout Christian and wants nothing to do with them, but as he fades, she softens to anything to do with his life and history,” he said.

Like many senior citizens in his condition, Hensler has good days and bad days. Eric told his father about the upcoming Paperback Warrior feature, “I explained what was going on to my father and he smiled and said he would like to read it. He was clearly amused, at least for a few moments until slipping back into his unfortunate fog.”

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Titus Gamble

A freed slave returns to his East Texas hometown as the town’s new lawman. Will the townsfolk be able to set aside their prejudices and allow the black constable to keep the peace? No, this is not a novelization of “Blazing Saddles” but rather the 1977 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback original, “Titus Gamble” by Peter Gentry, a pseudonym of collaborators Frank Schaefer and Kerry Newcomb.

Titus Gamble began his freedom as a teenage runaway slave fleeing the Shannon Plantation in Brennanburg, Texas after a sexual encounter with the master’s comely daughter. Hungry and exhausted, Titus stumbles upon a Union encampment with a small regiment of black soldiers among them. Titus figures this is the best way to create distance between himself and his pursuers and joins the Union Army to fight the rebs.

The action then cuts four years later, and we meet the Brennan family, owners of the Shannon Plantation. The Civil War is over and the plantation’s black servants are no longer regarded as slaves. Drium is the Brennan patriarch, and his two sons - Rury and Dub - have returned from the war where they fought for the Confederacy. Dub got the worst of it and returned from the war with one fewer arm than when he enlisted. Finally, we meet Fianna, the red-haired Irish-American daughter who has taken on the role of matriarch since her mother’s death.

Early in the paperback, the reader is given clues that the Brennan family is a dysfunctional bunch. For starters, Fiona seems to get her kicks by traipsing around the mansion wearing next to nothing and staging nipple slips to drive her one-armed brother crazy with incestuous lust. Then there’s Rury whose idea of a good time is to ride over to Shreveport and murder freed slaves in their sleep.

The black laborers on the Shannon Plantation continue to work despite their freedom in exchange for food, clothing, housing, and small wages. This dependency arrangement barely sustains life for the newly-freed and serves to keep them in their place as sure a whip did when they were another man’s property. Other blacks survive by subsistence farming on plots of land forcibly taken from plantation owners by Union soldiers and provided to freed slaves to give them a fresh start as homesteaders. You can imagine that the plantation owners whose lands were seized in this arrangement aren’t thrilled with their new neighbors.

Due to a Civil War casualty, the town of Brennanburg is in need of a lawman to keep the peace. The military governor of the State of Texas names black (actually mulatto, but same difference to the local whites) war hero Titus for the position. The town residents aren’t enthusiastic about this appointment, and this is where the book shifts into the familiar territory of a Western novel. Titus strives to wrangle lawless poor blacks in the shantytown by the river while avoiding a lynching by the town’s conniving whites loyal to the wicked Shannon Plantation.

“Titus Gamble” is a plantation drama in addition to a Western novel, and it treads on well-established ground for the slavery gothic paperbacks. The shame and secrets that arise from forbidden interracial sex is the fuel that drives much of the interpersonal conflicts. There is also a good bit of violence and intrigue among the characters. It’s clear that the authors studied the ‘Blackoaks’ and ‘Falconhurst’ novels of Harry Whittington (writing as Ashley Carter), and they do a great job of re-creating that story structure. Like Whittington’s books, the writing here is superb and the plotting is compelling and easy to follow.

The plantation gothic paperbacks provide modern readers a prurient glimpse into the ghastly culture of American slavery in a manner that never glorifies or belittles the horror inflicted on the victims. “Titus Gamble” uniquely shines a light on the difficulties that southerners - white and black - had while adjusting to the new normal in the early days of reconstruction after the Civil War settled the issue of slavery’s legality.

This was a good novel but not a perfect one. The authors’ habit of writing the black dialogue phonetically (“He got hisse’f a followin’ a’ rowdies an’ de lahk, campin’ down by de riber...) made for a cumbersome read at times. The authors also tended to use a lot of tortured metaphors in the perfectly graphic sex scenes (“The delicate umber forest of her womanhood...His tumescent shaft...,” etc.).

Meanwhile, the action scenes are vivid and brutal - filled with gunplay, knife-fighting, and bare-knuckle brawling. The novel really succeeds as a Western about a new constable working to civilize a lawless town against great adversity.

“Titus Gamble” is an entertaining page-turner by a highly-talented writing pair. I was never bored, and I learned quite a bit about the era. This isn’t a masterwork of historical fiction, but you won’t regret the time you spend reading about the adventures of this unlikely hero. Recommended.


“Titus Gamble” is available to buy on the Amazon Kindle or borrow via the Kindle Unlimited program under the authors’ real names. You lose the vivid 1977 cover art, but you’ll avoid the awkward glances from people around you. Your call.

Buy a copy of "Titus Gamble" HERE

Friday, June 8, 2018

Generation of Blood

After the book “Mandingo” became a sensation in 1958, there was a slew of commercially-successful historical slavery exploitation novels. These books of varying literary merit illustrated the loathsome aspects of the American slave trade while horrifying and titillating readers with stories of brutality and sex in the treatment of the slaves. In the 1960s, interracial sex was a taboo topic, and these paperbacks made lust, desire, and rape among masters and slaves the centerpiece of both the cover art and plots. Many of the novels culminate in violent slave rebellions where the brutality tables are turned on the white masters.

I can’t attest to the historical accuracy of these books, and their quality varies widely. I do know that some respected men’s adventure authors wrote in the genre under pseudonyms including Harry Whittington, Lou Cameron and Norman Daniels. The slavery exploitation books I’ve read have been page-turners that were better written than the lusty covers would ever have you expect.

All of this brings me to the stand-alone plantation novel, “Generation of Blood” by I.A. Grenville published in 1969 by unremarkable New York paperback house Leisure Books with pretty amateurish cover art. Unlike many of the expansive slavery gothics, this one is a tight 188 pages. The real identity of I.A. Grenville remains a mystery to me. It is almost certainly a pseudonym, but none of my normal sources for unmasking pen-names provides any meaningful leads. I found references indicating that the book was also released under the names “Stud Slave” and “Karindu” and I know it was also translated into foreign languages for overseas markets. It’s a well-written novel that suffers from poor plotting.

The story begins at a slave auction in Charleston, South Carolina. Young plantation owner William Holloman and his overseer of operations James Curtis are looking to buy a handful of slaves to bring back to their cotton farm. The awkward Holloman also wants to buy some female slaves to periodically have sex with at home. Among the handful of slaves purchased include the giant Karindu, a fresh-off-the-boat African of strength and intelligence far superior to the other offerings. It becomes clear early on that Karindu will be the hero of the story with Curtis as the cruel villain and Holloman as the pathetic villain.

You need to re-calibrate your modern sensibilities to read and tolerate this paperback as the n-word appears on nearly every page without fanfare or shock value. And because sex is front and center in the story, you get to enjoy detailed descriptions of the anatomy of Karindu and the other slaves. The cruelty and humiliation that the slaves endure at the hands of Curtis is also described in graphic detail with no whipping left to the imagination.

So, this cheap-o paperback touches all the same bases as it’s superior genre offerings (for my money, Harry Whittington writing as Ashley Carter is the high-water mark here), but the plot and pacing are an absolute mess. It takes half the book for the daisy chain of slaves and masters to even get back to the plantation where the action and drama begins. At times, it aspires to be a porno novel, but the sex scenes are neither hot or compelling. The power dynamics at the plantation are all mostly ridiculous as well.

It’s difficult enough to endorse this genre with any enthusiasm, but this disposable paperback was clearly a low-end cash grab seeking to capitalize on a brief literary fad. I never figured out who wrote it, but I can’t blame him for wanting to remain anonymous. Don’t bother with this one.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Blackoaks #01 - Master of Blackoaks

After the commercially successful 1966 “Man From Uncle” novel generated practically no money in his pocket, Harry Whittington went to work as an editor in the US Department of Agriculture, working for the Rural Electrification Administration. "I'd reached the low place where writing lost its delight.” (quote from author Ben Bridges blog).

In 1974, at age 59, Whittington quit his government job and went back to writing full-time. From his small but elegant house overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, he wrote his comeback novel, “Master of Blackoaks” (1976), a Deep-South 'slave gothic' written as Ashley Carter (Whittington's own name appears on the copyright page).

“Master of Blackoaks” was a hit. It's also an awesome book. Family drama, intrigue, violence, mucho sex and social commentary abound as the drama unfolds among members of the Baynard Family and their slaves on the struggling Alabama plantation known as Blackoaks.

The book reminded me of Ken Follett's “Pillars of the Earth” with all the characters jockeying for position to achieve divergent goals. The plantation violence is raw and in-your-face. The sex scenes are well executed. The slaves, masters and interlopers are vivid characters.

The book tackles difficult questions about race and culture without ever being racist or showing a lack of compassion for those swept up in the morally repugnant culture of slavery. The economic realities of the plantation life were explained well in the story as the masters of Blackoaks struggled to survive.

The book spawned three sequels that I can't wait to read.

Whittington learned propulsive plotting from his Gold Medal crime and western novels. Although this isn't an action novel, he brings the same discipline to this lost masterpiece. Despite the cover, it's not a romance novel. It's a literary novel with crazy family drama swirling for nearly 500 hard-to-put-down pages.

Hat tip to Ben Bridges on the background regarding the creation of this book and Pete Brandvold for alerting me to its existence.

Blackoaks #02 - Secret of Blackoaks

First off, don't even think about reading this 500+ page plantation “slavery gothic” drama unless you've read and recall the first book of the series, “Master of Blackoaks” (1976). You'll be lost.

In the second 'Blackoaks', “Secret of Blackoaks”, crime and western author Harry Whittington (writing here as Ashley Carter) tells another compelling story of love, lust and violence among slaves and masters on the Alabama plantation of Blackoaks. This book begins about a year after the previous installment's conclusion. The novel is broken off into six sections with each focusing on a handful of characters from the first book.

There's a lot of travel happening in this volume - with action occurring in Tallahassee and New Orleans. Much of the drama concerns the Fulani slave brothers Blade and Moab with the central antagonist being plantation master Styles Kendric - in full, unhinged villain mode.

The story-lines were generally strong with the exception of one character's side adventure to New Orleans that felt a bit like page filler. But even that section pays dividends with a dramatic twisty conclusion.

There's also more action (think “Django Unchained”), graphic sex and violence than we saw in the first novel and the introduction of some fantastic new characters - including an abolitionist veteran in a decaying nearby plantation who may or may not be helping slaves find escape and freedom. A feisty new slave also enters the mix providing a reality check on the horrors of the institution to complacent counterparts.

Overall, this was another great outing from the King of the Paperbacks. If you read and enjoyed Blackoaks #1, you're sure to enjoy this installment. And with the strong and violent ending of this second book, you'll be dying to tackle the follow-up novel.