Showing posts with label William Fuller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label William Fuller. Show all posts

Friday, February 4, 2022

Brad Dolan #01 - Back Country

William Fuller worked on freighters and farms, served as a newspaper reporter, and was an infantryman during WWII. It was during the early 1940s through the 1950s that Fuller's short stories were purchased by the likes of Sky Aces, Adventure, and Argosy. Like Steve Fisher, Fuller found success in the slick magazines like Collier's, McCall's and even Esquire. With the onset of paperback publishing, Fuller began writing full-length novels in the 1950s, beginning with 1954's Back Country. It was an enormous success for Dell and Fuller. 

The novel, the first of six to star a vagabond hero named Brad Dolan, sold a half-million copies. Long out of print, Stark House Press has resurrected Back Country as part of their Black Gat Book imprint. The reprint features a comprehensive and insightful look at the series by esteemed scholar and author Bill Pronzini. As a fan of Fuller's Brad Dolan character and his only stand-alone novel, The Pace That Kills, I was excited to learn that Back Country was being reintroduced to modern readers.

Brad Dolan served in both WW2 and Korea, an experience that led to harsh imprisonment in a German camp as a prisoner-of-war. Banged up after the wars, Dolan is driving across inland Florida en route to the southern beaches of Miami. Along the way, his car gives out and he becomes stranded in a small, fictional Florida town called Cartersville. It is one of those map dots that features a war monument, a dusty park or two, the obligatory noisy railroad, and old men playing shuffleboard until they die. Dolan reminds readers and himself, “This is the Florida the tourists never see. This is small town anywhere.

In a sweltering bar, Dolan downs a cold brew and offers to buy a woman a drink. After a minor scuffle, Dolan is hit with a sap. He then finds himself crawling through a Japanese jungle and raking fire across huts. He then wakes up and realizes he's still in the one-horse town, only he now sees it on the wrong side of iron bars. The Cartersville police then beat him up and he spends days in a daze. Eventually, the one horse that owns the town shows up – Mr. Rand Ringo. 

Ringo reviews Dolan's past and realizes his operation could benefit from his talents. He pays Dolan a wad of cash, provides lodging, and tells him to just hang around until he needs him. The hanging around part just so happens to involve Ringo's wife in Dolan's new bed. If that isn't enough grief, Dolan befriends Ringo's sexy twenty-something daughter. But, eventually the rubber hits the road and Dolan is asked to bounce on an African-American named Sam Foster. Ringo lets Foster run some illegal gambling in the black section of town, but all the games are rigged. Sam has been tinkering with the scam and trying to earn an honest living. After Dolan talks with Sam, he realizes Ringo is a toxic influence on Cartersville. It's a criminal infestation that has to stop.

Fuller's novel is a product of the times and is filled with a lot of racist comments and attitudes. But, as Pronzini points out in the introduction, Dolan and the author aren't endorsing racism or that attitude.  Dolan's nemesis...Cartersville's the racist law-enforcement controlled and created by Ringo. In the book's furious finale, Dolan and Sam are forced into the street to face a mob of angry white people Hellbent on a hanging. Dolan's wits, determination, and cool factor win the day, but it's a memorable fight. 

Back Country's first half is cloudy with a lot of dialogue about God, the purpose of life and social philosophy. These conversations place Dolan on an intellectual plane that ran counter to what my beliefs and expectations were of the book. But, the price of admission is well worth it. The novel's second half is a whirlwind of emotion and violence, saturated in Fuller's scrappy storytelling. It isn't pretty, but it doesn't have to be. Back Country isn't a main street crime-noir. It lives up to its name. Back Country is a crossroads of dastardly villains, despicable authority, and a lot of lyin' and cheatin' no good son of a guns. Thankfully, Brad Dolan is back in the house.

Friday, October 2, 2020

The Pace That Kills

William Fuller was a merchant seaman, an infantryman and a drifter before becoming a full-time novelist in the 1950s. His claim to fame is the six-book series of crime-noir novels starring a Miami playboy named Brad Dolan who drifts along the Florida coast in a houseboat. Shell Scott author Richard Prather describes Fuller as “literate, hard-paced violence, remindful of James. M. Cain.” Aside from the Dolan series, Fuller wrote one stand-alone novel, The Pace That Kills (1956). 

The novel is set northwest of the Florida Everglades, just shy of a rural, dense area known as 10,000 Islands. It's this swampy area where Danny Rivers escapes two cops in route to prison. His fugitive trail leads back to his small hometown. Ducking police surveillance, hounds and road blocks, Fuller's narrative incorporates Rivers' attempts to commandeer vehicles, rob people and murder on his way back home. While this is the most exciting portion of the novel, the author spends a great deal of time creating characters and small town life for the reader.

Through various subplots, readers are introduced to a motel and restaurant owner named Harry and his alcoholic wife Marge. There's also Harry's brand new waitress, a beautiful drifter named June, who quickly becomes the talk of the town. There's also the town's most wealthy citizen, his mistresses and cheating wife. There's a host of other supporting characters that are vividly collected in current and past time lines. All of the town's citizens have a common thread – they have all been touched in one way or another by Danny Rivers. As the news broadcasts about Rivers' escape increases, the town begins to brace for Rivers' imminent return home.

William Fuller's The Pace That Kills is a southern Gothic that mixes Paul Cain and Erskine Caldwell into a warped version of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. I didn't find much of it particularly interesting, but I appreciated Fuller's southern-fried style. It works as a small town scandal story or as a "heated, adulterous bedroom community with secrets" novel. If that's your sort of thing, then this is a recommended title. I was hoping Fuller would further develop Rivers' actual crime and the heist money that was tucked away in a secret place unbeknownst to the town. While that plot thread eventually comes to fruition, it's too late in the book to have a sizable impact. The end result is just another crime-noir novel that's written well, but is devoid of any real substance. Readers may want to just stick with Fuller's Brad Dolan series.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Brad Dolan #05 - Miami Manhunt

Between 1954 and 1959, Florida author William Fuller wrote six Brad Dolan mystery paperbacks for Dell about an American playboy who finds mystery and adventure while bumming around the Caribbean in his rickety houseboat. “Brad Dolan’s Miami Manhunt” is the fifth book in the series from 1958, but there’s no particular reason why they need to be read in order.

As a hero, Dolan is a can-do guy in a laid-back shell. His only ambitions are “blue water, sunshine - and freedom.” In practice, Dolan funds his freedom by doing some low-level smuggling throughout the Caribbean - mostly guns, booze, smokes, and people. As required, he’s got an eye for the ladies and very specific feelings about the appropriate breast size. And while he’s unlikely to ever get booked on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” he’s quick with a funny wisecrack at just the right times.

In this Miami-based adventure, Dolan finds himself on vacation while his boat is being repaired. Upon arrival at his hotel, he meets a stripper with all the correct proportions who asks him to help recover money that her dead husband squirreled away before his demise. Faster than you can say “Travis McGee,” Dolan is on the case. The stripper - Marta is her name - thinks she knows where the money is stashed, but bad guys are after her to get that information. She offers to split the dough - a cool quarter million - with Dolan, which will help fund his roustabout lifestyle for years into the future.

Almost right away, things go sideways. Dolan is tailed by an unknown shadow and he is questioned by police for a crime he didn’t commit. The hidden cash is somehow tied into an airline pilot who recently went missing in a Caribbean banana republic, and Dolan turns gumshoe to get the straight dope on the pilot’s disappearance in hopes that it will open the door to the hidden fortune. 

I don’t know much about the author, William Fuller, but he was likely very different than most of the genre paperback scribes of the 1950s. The back of “Brad Dolan’s Miami Manhunt” has a photo of the impossibly handsome, shirtless, muscular writer with the bio, “Like his fictional creation, Fuller’s been around himself - merchant seaman, hobo, movie bit player, infantryman on Guam, Leyte, and Okinawa. He now lives in Winter Haven, Florida.” It sounds like Fuller lived a remarkable life and channeled his experiences into his fiction.

At 160 stubby Dell pages, this Brad Dolan adventure wasn’t a huge time-commitment, but it was a lot of fun to read. Given Fuller’s looks, charisma, and talent, the real mystery may be why he remains largely unknown today. At the very least, it was good enough to motivate me to seek out the other five books in the series. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE