Saturday, June 8, 2024

Sea Curse

Robert E. Howard earned $17 when he sold his story “Sea Curse” to Weird Tales. The magazine published the story in the May 1928 (Vol. 11 Number 5) issue with a Curtis C. Senf cover. This selection falls into the category of Howard's horror/weird stories and has been featured in dozens of publications over the past 94 years including Marchers of Vahalla (Sphere 1977), The Howard Collector (Ace 1979), and Shadow Kingdoms (Wildside 2004). My reading of the story is from a paperback titled Eons of the Night, published by Baen in 1996 with a Ken Kelly cover.

“Sea Curse” is set in the small coastal village called Faring. Howard used this same town for his stories “Restless Waters” (pub 1969, aka “The Horror at the Window”), “Out of the Deep” (pub. 1967), and his poem “A Legend of Faring Town” (pub 1975). Don't be thrown off by the impression that these stories are somehow connected. They aren't. The characters are specific to just the story and never spill into the other tales.

The story begins as readers learn of old Moll Farrell, a rumored witch that has very little to say to anyone, minds her own business, and makes a living from gathering clams and driftwood while raising her young niece. This is a fishing town, which brings lots of weathered sailors in and out of the harbor. Unfortunately, two of the very worst hang around Faring – John Kulrek and his pal Lie-lip Canool. Off-page, Kulrek rapes and kills Moll's niece, casting her broken little body into the raging sea. 

After a few days, the young girl drifts to shore, cold and lifeless. Word quickly makes it to the village and they all run to the coastline. Standing over the dead girl, a drunken Kulrek raises his drink and says, “A health to the wench's ghost!”. Immediately, Moll Farrell screams a curse on Kulrek with the main point being addressed to Canool:

“You shall be the death of John Kulrek and he shall be the death or you! You shall bring John Kulrek to the doors of Hell and John Kulrek shall bring you to the gallows-tree! I set the seal of death upon your brow, John Kulrek! You shall live in terror and die in horror far out upon the cold grey sea!”

Kulrek and his small crew set sail at dawn on a long voyage. Months later, Canool arrives in town and tells the village that Kulrek deserted ship in Sumatra after a fight with the skipper. 

Later, the narrator of the story, a “harum-scarum” lad (no name provided) and his friend Joe are out in the water in a thick white fog. They hear the sounds of a large boat, but can't make out the direction. They spend hours drifting through the fog honing in on the sound of the oars. They finally locate a gloomy rotten galley and climb aboard the rickety planks. I won't ruin the surprise for you, but they discover a horrifying sight that ties into Kulrek's desertion and departure from Canool. Moll Farrell's curse comes to fruition in a terrifying climax.

I can't say enough great things about this Robert E. Howard horror story. While the idea of a curse being wielded to avenge the loss of a loved one or friend is overused in these types of stories, the format works perfectly for this eerie tale. Howard's writing is so descriptive with the veiled sea, grey fogs, and the shivering end of the wharf. I love the way he presents the story's most emotional and moving aspect, the grisly discovery of the young girl. He does it in such a smooth, elegant way that hits like a fist on a hollow coffin:

“All the while beyond the shoals, we heard the never-ceasing droning of the heaving, restless grey monster, and in the dim light of the ghostly dawn Moll Farrell's girl came home. The tides bore her gently across the wet sands and laid her almost at her own door. Virgin-white she was, and her arms folded across her still bosom; calm was her face, and the gray tides sighed about her slender limbs.”

That is just such a powerful description that contrasts with the loud-mouthed drunken rage of the girl's killer. As Moll Farrell screams the curse, Howard digs in deep with rage and despair clashing with insults and warnings for the two sailors. It's nothing short of brilliant. 

If you love nautical stories, then you'll be seduced by the coastal atmosphere of Faring and the chill of this ghostly seaside tale. Highest possible recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Stark House Anthology Vol. 01

Stark House Press put together four fantastic anthologies of magazine stories from Manhunt, and to celebrate the publisher’s 25th Anniversary, they are releasing another short fiction anthology from a wider variety of 20th Century crime fiction sources. As such, it should come as no surprise that The Stark House Anthology is a masterpiece.

Editors Rick Ollerman and Gregory Shepard canvassed digests including Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Magazine, Manhunt and many obscure publications to curate this collection that appears to be genetically-engineered to appeal to Paperback Warrior readers.

The anthology boasts 30 stories from crime fiction royalty including Harry Whittington, Fletcher Flora, Fredric Brown, Gil Brewer, and Peter Rabe. They also included a never-published short novel called “So Curse the Day” by Jada M. Davis, author of the 1952 paperback One For Hell.

At 458 pages, you’re bound to find something to enjoy here. Reviewing a short story anthology is a fool’s errand, but here are some quick blurbs of stories I read on my first pass-through.

The Tormented” by James McKimmey

The story originally appeared in the August 1967 issue of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Magazine. The setup is simple. Vince Ecker is a redneck hunter. David Farrel is an over-educated clerical worker. Somehow, they go hunting together on land owned by a wealthy investment tycoon, and Ecker learns where the tycoon stashes his cash. Sounds like it’s time for a heist. As expected, this is a very well-orchestrated crime story consistent with McKimmey’s longer works.

“Nothing in My Way” by Orrie Hitt

Orrie Hitt was the best sleaze-fiction author of his era because his best works were often sexy crime novels incognito. This short story was from Smashing Detective Stories July 1955 issue. The story is about a man who fakes his death for the insurance money and then surgically changes his face so no one will recognize he’s still alive. But in order to enjoy the life insurance money, he needs to get it from his no-good, slutty widow. This is a fantastic story with a great twist ending. Make this one a priority.

“Secretaries Make Such Nice Wives” by A.S. Fleischman

This is probably the shortest story in the book. Taken from the Toronto Star Weekly in 1946, it’s a fun little tale about a man and his wife who are taken hostage and forced to drive the bad guy across the border from Tijuana to San Diego. The driver needs to alert the border police without tipping off the carjacker. The story is just setting up a decent punchline at the end. It’s definitely worth the five minutes of your time it will take you to read it.

“The Geek Girl” by Day Keene

This delightful tale of carny-noir by Day Keene was originally published in Australia’s ADAM magazine in 1953, so we are lucky to find it resurrected here. Opening day of the Carnival passing through Langley is here, and our narrator Morgan (“the talker”) walks the reader through the advance work that makes the road show possible. In town, he meets a beautiful mute girl in trouble with the law and hires her to be a trumped-up geek exhibit on the midway. The story of the geek girl is not a crime story as much as it’s a dramatic and compelling carnival vs. corrupt townie story. But don’t skip this one. It’s a lost classic.

Final Assessment

The editors clearly put a ton of work into The Stark House Anthology and it shows. For 25 years, the publisher has been unearthing and reprinting the finest paperback novels of the 20th century. I hope they continue to compile short fiction from the era because this collection is a total gem. Highest recommendation. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Conan - Savage Sword of Conan #01 (Curtis)

At one time, Curtis Magazines was Marvel Comics' distributor and an affiliated company. Under this imprint, Marvel launched a number of magazine formatted titles that weren't regulated by the Comics Code Authority. It was Marvel editor-in-chief Editor Stan Lee's vision to enter the black-and-white magazine market to compete with Warren Publishing, a company that had found success with more taboo themes (bare butts and breasts) in their Eerie, Creepy, and Vampirella titles. 

The first of the Curtis books was Savage Tales, published in May 1971 – complete with a John Buscema cover of Conan holding a severed human head. Publisher Martin Goodman (founder of Timely/Marvel) didn't want to publish these types of books and insisted that Savage Tales cease publication after just one issue. Goodman left Marvel in 1972, setting the stage for Roy Thomas and the company to revamp their magazine line, launching more Savage Tales issues in October 1973 as well as a Marvel Monster Group brand with titles like Tales of the Zombie, Dracula Lives!, and Monsters Unleashed

This brings us to the focus of this review, Conan the Cimmerian, which was created by author Robert E. Howard. When Savage Tales began republication in October 1973, the title's second issue through the fifth (1973-1974) all featured Conan stories and the character on the front page. Due to the success of the character in these books, and the Conan the Barbarian color comic that launched in 1970, the company decided that Conan's market worth supported his own magazine. 

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian was launched in August 1974 and ran consistently until July 1995. There were 235 issues and one annual during the book's impressive 21 year run. The series, especially the early issues, have all been collected in massive trade and omnibus editions from Marvel, Dark Horse, and even Titan. While I don't condone scanned copies, you can easily find the entire run scanned for digital devices for a few bucks if you don't want to bend and turn your purchased paper collections. Additionally, I see the used magazines in comic shops and book stores for $5-$20 each. I'm just saying they are around if you want to read them. 

The Savage Sword of Conan #01 has a Boris Vallejo cover and features seven sections:

“Curse of the Undead-Man” - Roy Thomas/John Buscema and Pablo Marcos
“A Hyperborean Oath” - Roy Thomas
“Red Sonja” - Roy Thomas/Esteban Maroto/Neal Adams/Ernie Chua
“Conan's Women Warriors” - Fred Blosser
“The Birth of Blackmark” - Gil Kane
“An Atlantean in Aquilonia” - Glenn Lord
“The Frost Giant's Daughter” - Roy Thomas/Barry Smith

In addition, three pages of artwork - Alfred Alcala/Esteban Maroto/Roy Krenkel.

In "Curse of the Undead-Man", Roy Thomas freely adapts Robert E. Howard's horror story "Mistress of Death" into a Conan offering. The Cimmerian hero is in Zamora waiting to join "some teetotaling general's army" and finds a trio of painted ladies looking to party. He is encouraged to look for gold in the city (read that as stealing) and is ambushed by three mysterious robed figures. A moment later he is attacked again by four ruffians and Red Sonja comes to his aid. 

Sonja explains that earlier that day the King of Zamora ordered a public execution of a sorcerer named Costrano. After the death, Costrano's apprentices schemed a way to resurrect the sorcerer. Conan stumbles on the sorcerer's severed jeweled-finger in the alley and throws it on the ground. The finger makes its way to Costrano's corpse and he is resurrected by the power of the ring. 

Later, Conan and Red Sonja team to fight Costrano and rescue a young woman he is attempting to sacrifice on an altar. The story ends with some playful joking between the two heroes.

This was an average Conan story with the typical ingredients - sorcerers, thieves, and swordplay. I'm not familiar with Howard's story, so I can't compare the two. For these pages, I specifically enjoyed the darker inks on page seven and the facial expressions on page ten. The gatefold pages on 18-19 of Conan leaping at the enraged Costrano is absolutely beautiful and worth the price of admission.

"A Hyperborean Oath" serves as an introduction to the magazine courtesy of Roy Thomas. He explains that the magazine will mostly consist of comic adaptations of REH stories.

"Red Sonja" begins with a recap of the events from Conan the Barbarian #24 (1972). In that story, "The Song of Red Sonja", Sonja tricked "a northern barbarian" named Conan into helping her gain the Serpent-Tiara. However, the jewelry was transformed into a giant dragon-thing that forced the two to team together to defend themselves. 

In this "Red Sonja" story, the narrative continues as the she-devil returns the Serpent-Tiara to the man who hired her to retrieve it, King Ghannif of Pah-Dishah. However, instead of paying Sonja for the job, he imprisons here to be part of his harem. Through the story, Sonja initially tries to fight for her freedom, but eventually conceives a plan to seduce Ghannif. After killing the King, she fights to the death with his loyal follower, a swordsman named Trolus.

This was an entertaining story that featured far better illustrations by Maroto, Adams, and Chua of Red Sonja than Barry Smith's version. She looks much younger here and more athletic. Plus, Smith's weird silver chain mail is replaced with more of a swimsuit attire. This would be the same look that artist Frank Thorne would use in 1978. The fight scene was great and I loved the dialogue between the two warriors. It was an early dive into Red Sonja's character and her efforts to avoid killing Trolus. She attempts to convince him to do the right thing and understand a better future. But, these things always end in death. 

In "Conan's Women Warriors", Conan devotee Fred Blosser provides a written commentary on the various women that have appeared in Conan literature and the Conan the Barbarian comics. The article contains paragraphs on Valeria, Belit, Yasmina, Salome, and of course, Red Sonja. 

Gil Kane's Blackmark was originally published by Bantam in 1971 (S5871) as a 119-page graphic novel paperback. It was scripted by Archie Goodwin and sold for .75 cents at the time. Some consider it to be the first American graphic novel, but I think Fawcett Gold Medal's 1950 paperback Mansion of Evil earns that award. The publisher had a limited number of copies they produced to test the waters for a graphic novel paperback. The book failed to make a splash and was shelved. Its contents was formatted to stretch to magazine-size pages (basically three paperback pages on one magazine page) and made it into the Savage Sword of Conan. The first part appears in this issue.

The author explains that Earth was devastated by nuclear weapons years ago. A new Earth has been formed from the ashes consisting of wastelands sprinkled with nomads, gangs, and small kingdoms housing castles and farms. The wealthy have a power source that allows travel by boat. The poor are left to travel on foot, often contending with harsh elements and even harsher humans. There are also mutants, monsters, and telepathic beings in this new Earth. 

The story begins with a couple, Marnie and Zeph, traveling by horse and wagon across the precarious landscape of Demon Waste. When they stop for the night, Zeph leaves to find supplies and Marnie is left to her thoughts of being infertile and the possibility of motherhood escaping her. 

Out of the darkness two men ride up on horseback, one of which is a wounded leader named King Amarix. They explain to Marnie that Amarix had been cast out by his own people due to believing old science can make Earth live again. As Amarix lay dying by the firelight he psychically uploads all of his knowledge and thoughts into Marnie. He tells her that she can take the knowledge, and his money, and spread into the community in hopes for a better future. He also magically makes Marnie fertile again. 

Later, Zeph and Marnie make it to a farming town and have a child. But, Zeph realizes that Marnie was "cursed" by Amarix, a man he feels is nothing but a demonic witch. Zeph calls the baby Blackmark and this portion of the book ends. Next issue it continues with "Death and Destiny..."

I really enjoyed this portion of the book and loved the smaller panels of artwork. Gil Kane is a legend in the comic book world and his art never ceases to amaze me. The story is ripe with Christianity tones. Marnie is a Virgin Mary, being blessed by God (Amarix) to birth a Messiah that will save the world. The idea that Amarix was shunned by his own people is reminiscent of Israel's failure to obey God, casting him out in favor of endless idols and pagan worship. I'm anxious to see where the story goes from here.

Glenn Lord's "An Atlantean in Aquilonia" is an essay on Robert E. Howard's Kull. This is a great history on the character with an emphasis on Kull's influence on Conan's conception. I actually used a lot of this article in my review of King Kull and also the podcast episode dedicated to the character. You can listen HERE

The final story here is a reprinting of "The Frost Giant's Daughter" from Savage Tales #1. You can read my review of Howard's story HERE. This may be the most popular adaptation of the story in comic format. Barry Smith's pencils are just superb and perfectly illustrate the savageness of the fight on the icy tundra. The fight with Hymdul in the opening pages and the first up-close look at the Frost Giants on page 70 are real highlights of the entire issue. This is an iconic piece of Conan literature and the adaptation is awesome. I do have to say I love Cary Nord's art in the Dark Horse version as well. Both are fantastic.

There you have it. The first issue of The Savage Sword of Conan. The two original stories here were enjoyable, but the reprinting of the Blackmark and "The Frost Giant's Daughter" were real highlights. From a Conan collector's standpoint, additional written commentary from Glenn Lord on Kull and the conception of "The Phoenix on the Sword" was a great addition as well.

Next up is issue two featuring "Black Colossus", a King Kull story, more Blackmark, and a history of sword-and-sorcery by Lin Carter. See you there! 

Get a copy of the giant omnibus collecting these early issues HERE.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Devil Wind

It’s 1985ish and I’m a young adolescent walking around our local K-Mart department store with my $5 allowance for the week. I’m typically scoping out the latest Hardy Boys installment, those cool “modern” ones with the explosive painted covers, or an R-rated movie novelization (living in the bible-belt, R-rated flicks were off the table, so my only option was to read the novelizations). But today…I see the incredible covers for a series of young-adult horror paperbacks called Dark Forces. I snag Devil Wind, the fourth installment, and camp out in my porch rocker to consume black magic, the occult, and the Dark Forces. I don’t recall the quality of the book, but I do remember enjoying it and picking up a few other books in the series before moving on to Stephen King, John Saul, and Dean Koontz.
Bantam published 15 Dark Forces young-adult paperbacks from 1983-1984. These were all stand-alone novels - roughly 160 pages – that challenged for market superiority among the crowded ranks of Point Horror, Goosebumps, Private School, and prolific author Christopher Pike (Kevin McFadden). That guy was everywhere. The series was authored by a rotating blend of writers including Scott Siegel, Les Logan, Bruce Coville, and Jane Polcovar. The collaboration of Paul Alexander and Laurie Bridges produced three series installments - Magic Show, Devil Wind, and Swamp Witch

For funsies, I tracked down a copy of Devil Wind and gave it an adult spin nearly 40 years removed from my first experience with the book.
The novel stars Peter Wardwell, a high schooler living in the small coastal New England town of Northport Bay. In the book’s opening pages, readers learn that a dilapidated house was recently demolished, and Peter found an old whistle in the rubble. With his new whistle, and his family’s boat, he takes his sweetheart Mary Jane (human not plant) to a small, hidden cove he discovers down the coast. Mary Jane immediately gets the creeps there and the place reeks of rotted flesh. But Peter insists they stick around and soon pulls out his whistle and takes a blow. A thick fog rolls in and the two become separated. Peter falls into a deep slumber and Mary Jane is rescued by a salty sailor. The two soon find Peter and bring him back home. Only, this isn't really Peter.
Over the course of the book readers experience Peter’s transformation from a kind American boy into a Satanic warlock from the 1700s. You see Northport Bay experienced a curse from Simon Wardwell, Peter’s great-great-gr….you get the point. Simon died in the little cove, along with his sadistic followers. But, when Peter blew the whistle, his body was possessed by this creepy Satan-worshiper. Between Mary Jane, the salty sailor, and a wise old woman in town, they must stop Peter from raising Hell on Northport Bay on Halloween.

As a breezy horror paperback, Devil Wind is a lot of fun to read. The four key characters made a great team-up to fight the forces of evil, complimented by the authors' emphasis on character development (despite the short page count). It's a young-adult novel, so don't expect any Jack Ketchum or Bryan Smith slaughterhouse action. Instead, the storyline is your classic small-town horror that places average people into extreme situations. I got the vibe of John Carpenter's excellent The Fog, so if that's your palette, then this should please any age group. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Conan - Conan Volume 1: The Frost Giant's Daughter and Other Stories (Dark Horse)

In 2003, Dark Horse Comics launched their first Conan title after acquiring the rights to the character. Prior to the Dark Horse debut, Conan was featured prominently in Conan the Barbarian, Savage Sword of Conan, Conan the King, and Conan the Adventurer published by Marvel and Curtis. Dark Horse would later lose the character's licensing in 2018, returning the Cimmerian hero back to Marvel. As of this writing, Titan now owns the rights.

Like Marvel, Dark Horse launched several Conan titles and gained the rights to reprint the prior Marvel issues as omnibus editions. Under the Dark Horse brand, the titles Conan (2003-2008), Conan the Cimmerian (2008-2010), Conan: Road of Kings (2010-2012), Conan the Barbarian (2012-2014), Conan the Avenger (2014-2016), and Conan the Slayer (2016-2017) were created as brand-new comics created by a variety of writers and artists. Additionally, several mini-series titles were released over the course of the 14-year Dark Horse run.

I read several of these Dark Horse books when they first appeared, but eventually switched my reading to the stuff that normally appears here at Paperback Warrior – crime-fiction, action-adventure, and westerns. 2024 marks 20 years since Dark Horse published Conan #1, so I thought I would rewind, reread, and review these titles in order, beginning with the first series, Conan. Dark Horse has conveniently placed most of their Conan issues into trade paperback and hardcover editions. My first review is Conan Volume 1: The FrostGiant’s Daughter. This book includes Conan #0 through #7 (one-half of issue #7) and it was published in 2005. You can get the book for about $25 retail.

The issues collected in the book were drawn by Canadian artist Cary Nord, who stuck around to sketch most of the title’s first 44 issues. In an interview with the book’s writer, Kurt Busiek, Nord explained that he got into Conan through the Savage Sword of Conan magazine. In describing the Hyborian Age, Nord stated, “The world of Conan is visually stunning. Conan journeys through every environment you can imagine, encounters dozens of new cultures and races of men, sexy women, fantastic villains, apes, dragons, monsters, and he kicks ass through it all!”. His artistic style draws influences from Barry Smith and Frank Frazetta, two iconic artists associated with the Conan franchise.

Boston native Kurt Busiek wrote nearly all the title’s 51 issues, drawing from his 20 years of comic experience at the time. Busiek broke into comics in 1983 by writing a back-up story in Green Lantern. If you can name the title or character, there is a good chance Busiek contributed. He has worked for Dark Horse, DC, Wildstorm, Image, Marvel, Topps, Dynamite, and Eclipse. Prior to Conan, his most praised work was the team-up with Alex Ross to pen the Marvels limited series in 1993.

Another major addition to the book is the inking by Dave Stewart. One can easily see his careful treatment of Nord’s sketches. The inking, also done with computer, doesn’t cover up Nord’s lines and allows some interesting contrasts between the gray and darker tones. Often, Stewart will leave some aspects of Nord’s art faintly inked to suggest different scenes or story tones.

Surprisingly, the book kicks off after Conan’s death. In the first issue, which was #0 "The Legend", a Prince and his servant Wazir find an underground chamber that housed King Conan’s riches, complete with a large statue of the character seated on a throne. Later, Wazir recounts to the Prince that the Nemedians kept meticulous records and displays a scroll. On it is the familiar slogan, “Know, O’Prince, that between the years with the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities…”. The scroll serves the reader by outlining the various lands and their historic tribes and people including Aquilonia and the coming of Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand. This page is a partial splash page with astounding art and inks. This issue ends with Wazir continuing to tell the Conan history to the Prince, which on the last panel begins with Conan at 16 years of age and venturing into the lands of the Aesir.”

The next portion begins with Conan #01 "Out of the Darksome Hills" and sets up how Conan became aligned with the Aesirs at the beginning of Robert E. Howard’s 1934 story, “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter”. Busiek is careful to gently explore the periods of time in between Howard’s stories. The writer makes it very clear in the letters section of these early issues that his focus is on the Howard stories with a complete disregard of Lin Carter and L. Spraguede Camp’s contributions (or anyone else for that matter). In “Out of the Darksome Hills”, the title page is a glorious splash of Conan decapitating a Vanirmen as he attempts to rape a young woman.

The story features the Vanirmen raiding an Aesir village, nearly burning it to the ground and slaying the women and children. The Aesir warriors are gone, so Conan, who just happens to be in the area, comes to the village’s aid in fighting off the Vanirmen. Later, Niord, the tribal leader arrives, and after Conan battles an Aesir, he invites Conan to spend the night in storytelling with booze. When Niord’s daughter Henga goes to Conan at night, Henga’s admirer Sjarl becomes secretly angry and begins to plot with another warrior on a way to betray Conan and either kill him or trade him as a slave. The following morning, a fully armored Conan joins the Aesir as they journey northward to attack the Vanirmen. Conan’s appearance here decked out in armor resembles the Barry Smith and Alfredo Alcala drawing on page 18 of Savage Sword of Conan #2. 

The book’s next section is issue #02 “The Frost Giant’s Daughter”. I won’t go into too much detail of the story, as you can read my review of Howard’s 1934 story HERE. But this comic adaptation stays very true to the original Howard story with beautiful artwork by Nord. He captures the ivory-skinned woman perfectly, with an emphasis on her eyes and the glowing sheen that captivates the weary hero. There is a gigantic splash page that introduces the two frost giants and rivals even the version from Savage Sword of Conan. I prefer the original treatment, but this is really something special between Nord and Busiek.

The events of issue two spill over into the opening pages of #03 “At the Back of the North Wind”. Like the early issues of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian, the young Conan is wearing a horned helmet in these early Dark Horse stories. The opening pages feature a conversation between Conan and Niord that addresses the helmet. After Conan’s protective gear is broken in battle, he borrows some of the Aesir’s tools to fix the helmet. Niord scoffs at the idea and suggests Conan should just get another. The Cimmerian responds that the helmet was created by his father, a blacksmith, and then explains that his father said a man who treated his tools well would get good service from them in return. It is a really touching aspect that proves Conan is somewhat sentimental, exposing his human condition versus savage destroyer.

The next morning, Conan helps the Aesir with tracking a band of Vanirmen who have escaped pursuit eastward. Behind the scenes, Sjarl plans to ambush Conan and sell him to a slaver. The Aesir eventually catch up to the Vanirmen and begin the slaughter. However, the Vanir leader Tir offers himself up as a surrender, volunteering to be executed so his men can be enslaved instead of killed. Once the execution is complete and the prisoners are chained, all Hell breaks loose as the group of tired warriors are attacked by armored warriors wielding giant hammers (they resemble the crazed post-apocalyptic warriors of Mad Max: Fury Road). They soon overpower the group, Conan is betrayed by Sjarl, and the issue ends with the unconscious hero being drug on a sledge through the wind and snow. It’s a powerful finale that resonates with so much turmoil and iron-fisted fortitude. Yet, Conan’s downfall ultimately was a woman.

The next section is issue #04 “Gates of Paradise”, featuring a drugged Conan imprisoned in a monolithic castle. The series thus far featured a through story of Conan aspiring to reach the land of Hyperborea, a place that the hero envisions as a utopian paradise where people can live eternally in a state of bliss and pleasure. However, Hyperborea’s creature comforts are only enjoyed by the sorcerers that rule the castle, a group of ancient beings that live eternally by capturing people, drugging them, and forcefully taking their souls. Due to the centuries of living this harmonious lifestyle, the sorcerers jump from the castle’s walls to their death in a ritual called the Day of Farewell.  

Conan is rescued from his drugged stupor by a Turanian woman named Iasmini. She provides a yellow lotus plant for the hero to grind up and drink. Soon, Conan schemes a way to free himself and the prisoners by giving the plant discreetly to the prisoners. This was such a colorful part of the storyline with the inking containing brilliant shades of green, yellow, and purple to match the tone. It is a graphic narrative that just transforms the pages into something truly special. While the storylines are different, the concept of Conan co-existing in a prison of slaves reminds me of  Roy Thomas’ “Lair of the Beast-Men”, a story featured in Conan the Barbarian #2. The Thomas story has more of an Edgar RiceBurroughs feel than Robert Howard, and oddly enough Nord harnesses that ERB vibe at the end of this issue and the beginning of the next.

In the title’s fifth issue, "Ashes and Dust”, Conan looks like Tarzan with his near-nakedness and muscular physique. The start of the story even features Conan fighting four hungry lions. When the hero makes his escape from that side of the castle, Busiak takes a moment to fill the reader in with the history of Hyperborea from the viewpoint of the supreme sorcerer. Other than the history of the land, there isn’t a lot that happens in this issue. The pages end with Conan and the prisoners rebelling and taking the attack to the sorcerers and their army.

The aptly titled “Day of Farewell” closes out this trade with the title’s sixth issue. The first page is an incredible splash of Conan’s face and right shoulder as he screams, “At them, men of Asgard! At them, free warriors!”. The eyes and blood-spattered hair convey so much brutality and savageness. This is Conan! The issue is action-packed as the Cimmerian fights the Hyperborean hordes to free himself and his fellow prisoners. There is a bit of sadness when Conan discovers that Iasmini sacrificed herself to free him. Page 13 is visually incredible as Conan’s back is against the edge of the castle’s walls, suspended hundreds of feet in the air. Page 19 is equally stunning with the hero surrounded by darkness and gloom while staring at the bones and corpses of the many who have jumped from the castle. Oh, and there are giant ants that Conan begins fighting. Page 22 emphasizes a part of the story where the Northmen believe that their burned bodies rise in the air on smoke, as if climbing a stairway to the realm of the gods. This is a splash page as Conan is burning the corpses and staring upwards out of the gruesome chasm. The book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger (or cliffclimber?) as Conan begins scaling the walls to go and kill the sorcerers. This trade does go into the first 14 pages of issue #7, but I stopped here because I want to read issue 7 in its entirety. I'm OCD like that. 

Unlike Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian, which I love, I felt that Busiak sticks more to the gritty Robert E. Howard storytelling. Conan isn’t cartoonish, nor is he the Hollywood “Ah-nold”. He is a grim-faced serious character that uses a combination of sharp cunning and backbreaking strength to overcome the most challenging obstacles. If I haven’t already overstated it, Nord’s artwork is marvelous and captures the Barry Smith look and feel of Conan – the Barry Smith that had reached his own identity after being heavily influenced by Jack Kirby in the early Conan the Barbarian issues. Both Smith and Frazetta had a unique wildness that Nord captures perfectly while also doing something wholly different when combining Dave Stewart’s phenomenal inks.

I forgot how good these issues were and I’m looking forward to reading more of them. Hopefully, you are on board for the journey through the Conan comics, including Marvel and Titan. 

Buy a copy of this volume HERE.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Return to Vikki

John Tomerlin (1930-2014) was a screenwriter and novelist — mostly in the science-fiction genre — who authored a Fawcett Gold Medal heist novel in 1959 called Return to Vikki. The exciting paperback has returned from the dead as an ebook, paperback, and audiobook from Cutting Edge Books.

Frank Shelby lives an idyllic suburban life with a good job and a pretty wife. This is all upended one day when his past comes knocking from his prior life back east in the form of a mob henchman. You see, before he was Frank Shelby, he was a master thief named Connor, now a wanted man and a fugitive. Frank’s wife has no clue about her husband’s double-life.

The visitor makes him a deal: travel back to Manhattan to meet with a mob boss about “one more job” or deal with the police and the repercussions of his old life. Making up an excuse to his wife, Frank travels back east to learn more.

Before he knows it, Frank finds himself at a mob-owned titty-bar called Club Xanadu only to find the titular Vikki dancing on stage. Frank and Vikki used to be an item before Frank dipped out and left the criminal life without saying goodbye to Vikki. Once he finally gets an audience with the mob boss, it is explained that the job requires “stealing an entire bank” — not robbing it, stealing it.

The mobster further explains that what he’s talking about is a bank that is moving across New York City from one location to another. This will involve packing up the vault and all of the assets and physically moving it across the city. It will take a man like Frank, with a particular set of skills to pull off a heist this audacious. The racketeer makes Frank an offer he can’t refuse, and the planning begins.

Along the way there’s a murder frame-up, a random beating, and extensive sexual temptation. Perhaps there was a bit too much happening, and the paperback would have been better with less mid-novel clutter and a greater focus on the heist planning and execution? In any case, it’s never particularly hard to follow.

Never fear, the novel gets back on track for the final act of the heist and its aftermath. The robbery itself is creatively-executed and the moral dilemmas surrounding it were completely compelling. The aftermath has an audacious action set piece and a killing evoking an early James Bond film.

Overall, Return to Vikki was a remarkably good - and twice mispackaged - heist novel that fans of Lionel White and Richard Stark will enjoy immensely. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Message from a Ghost

Those of you familiar with our goth reviews will recognize the name William Ross, a Canadian author that wrote hundreds of novels in the genre including over 30 books in the Dark Shadows television tie-in series. His pseudonyms include Marilyn Ross, Clarissa Ross, Dan Ross, Dana Ross, Laura Brooks, Lydia Colby, and a host of others. I've read over a handful of the Ross goths and the mileage varies. I decided to try his 1971 stand-alone novel Message from a Ghost, authored under his Marilyn Ross pseudonym and published by Paperback Library. 

The book is set in present day 1971 and features a rich protagonist named Gale Garvis. Her father died and left both her and her sister Emily millions, including a robust house in Connecticut. As the novel begins, Gale is returning home after winning several high-profile swimming competitions and discovers that Emily has become a superstitious hippie. The free-spirited sister has invited another hippie to live with the family and this deadbeat smokes all day and plays with the Ouija board. Practical sister Gale isn't having any of it and demands that the hippie beat it (there's also fear that the hippie will do anything to support his marijuana fix!). He soon skedaddles, but not after delivering a stern warning that the estate's attorney is out to kill both Gale and Emily. The girls' dead father told him guessed it...the 'ole Ouija board.

After a heated argument with Emily, Gale is encouraged to take a two-week vacation at a resort. The author makes good use of this transition by surprisingly positioning the story in a different location outside of the cavernous mansion. At the resort, Gale befriends a married couple, but also sees the evil drug-induced hippie working there in the shadows. Gale strikes up a number of other flirting friendships with stockbrokers and attorneys, including a brief exchange with a mobster. 

After the two weeks, Gale is persuaded to allow the married couple to drive her back to her home in Connecticut. But, the idea was a ruse to drug Gale. She wakes up in an old abandoned theater to the sounds of an organ. She sees the married couple and another bad guy from the resort and they are all behaving like lunatics. Things escalate when a deviant midget shows up wearing a mask and toting a gun. What is the “message from a ghost”?

William Ross's novel is really three different books – the first with the hippie stuff in Connecticut, the wining and dining at the resort, and the third as a sort of creepy prison-break story. While they all connect, it reads like three different books. The situation with Gale kidnapped in the old theater is obviously the best of the three. This last act features a number of near-escapes, a little gunplay, the crazy midget, and a sense that this nice woman could be raped and bludgeoned all exist to tighten up the narrative. There's also the possibility that a dead actress's ghost may be haunting the building. But, if you know your gothics, the supernatural is typically super rare. The reason for Gale's kidnapping hooks the readers, but the final reveal is preposterous. 

If you enjoy William Ross's traditional “beauties running from the big house”, then this is a fresh change of pace that combines goth with a mystery crime-fiction element. Message from a Ghost received loud and clear – get the book cheap or free for a satisfying read. Otherwise, you may regret the few bucks you did spend when the final reveal occurs. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 8, 2024


According to his bio, William E. Vance (1911-1986) taught creative writing and worked for the Federal Aviation Administration in Utah. The author's short stories first appeared in the early 1950s in magazines like Argosy and Esquire. He turned to paperback originals, penning over 40 novels including western and crime-fiction. Using the pseudonym George Cassidy, he authored more racy romance novels including The Flesh Market, Wanton Bride, Assignment: Seduction, and Sin Circus. Stark House Press chose his 1962 novel Bait to reprint as Black Gat Books #59.

Melody Frane is 17 years old and living in a one-room shack on an Arizona migratory farm. Daily, she performs hard labor and arrives home to hear the rhythmical sounds of a squeaky mattress holding her drunk mother and a hoodlum. Melody wants out, and she has the knock 'em dead good looks to rise above her sorrowful lifestyle. Her meal ticket might be Harry Ransome. 

Harry is the town's wealthy entrepreneur, holding the keys to the city through real estate, investments, and solid business savvy. However, most of his success comes from swindling young women like Melody as special concessions to close the big deal. When Harry propositions Melody for the big plays, she hesitantly accepts. Soon, she's wining and dining in Los Angeles while attending a performing arts school that hopes to firm up her mind and soul to deliver the goods. She's forced into uncompromising situations with Harry and his business associates while pining for the real love of her life, a hard-working pilot that works for Harry.

Bait was originally published by Beacon, a sleaze publisher that mostly offered very tepid sex scenes (what we would consider PG-13 today) peppered through a gripping human conflict story. Author Charles Boeckman wrote some of the best Beacon paperbacks as Alex Carter, and Bait sort of falls into the same overall theme. Vance presents the glitz and glamour of the high-dollar white-collar, but underlines it with a blue-collar “fish out of water” story of a small-town girl pressured into unfamiliarity. As a breezy read, take the Bait and enjoy. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Edge #04 - Killer's Breed

The Edge series by George Gilman (Terry Harknett, 1936-2019) promises to be “The Most Violent Westerns in Print,” but the fourth installment, Killer’s Breed from 1974, is actually a flashback origin story documenting Edge’s adventures fighting in the American Civil War.

The paperback begins in the Post-Civil War era when Josiah “Edge” Hedges finds himself recuperating from a near-death experience where his life as a Union soldier is flashing before his eyes for the heart of the novel.

And with the turn of the page, the reader is back in June 1861 along the Ohio-West Virginia border with Union Cavalry Lieutenant Joe Hedges. He’s serving under Major General George McClellon and his troops are marching into the Battle of Phillipi in what is now West Virginia, the first land combat of the war. The author describes the fighting scenes with vivid portrayals of violence and gore, just like he does in the western novels of the series.

From battle to battle Edge rides with his unit, and the reader gets to watch him harden as person while making smart tactical decisions for himself and the men under his command. It’s difficult to understate the skull-crushing violence and spattered blood and brain tissue depicted in the pages of each battle. Consider yourself warned.

Overall, this was a very satisfying war novel that did a fine job depicting the chaos and brutality of battles on the ground. It wasn’t much of a western, but if a gory fictional chronicle of Civil War combat sounds appealing, you can’t do much better.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Never Forget, Never Forgive

Washington State native Clayton Fox (1920-2008) wrote for the pulp Westerns and then transitioned into paperback original novels. He eventually became a writer for the TV show Rawhide. Two of his non-western novels were published as Ace Doubles, including Never Forget, Never Forgive from 1961.

Our hero is small-town police detective Thaddus Zilch. He lost his previous job for coming down too hard on racketeers, so he’s giving it another shot with a different Sheriff in a different town nestled in Washington State logging country. He’s a good narrator and a pretty excellent cop.

Within 30 minutes of his new job starting, a skeleton is found in the woods, and Zilch is assigned the case. There is a bullet hole in the skull from a .22 caliber rifle. The location of the hole means murder or hunting accident, so Zilch has a cold case to solve.

Meanwhile, Zilch meets Connie, the pretty owner of the local diner. He learns that a decade ago, three men raped Connie and left her pregnant with her now 10 year-old son. She was never able to identify the rapists, and the whole town knows her tragic story. Zilch quickly (a little too quickly, to be honest) falls in love with Connie, who is still dealing with the psychological scars left behind from her attack.

Little by little, evidence seems to mount that the skeleton in the woods may have been one of Connie’s rapists. It’s a pretty interesting mystery for Zilch to solve involving forensic science and a decade-old vendetta. As the romance between Connie and Zilch intensifies, he is forced to face the possibility that Connie has gone full-on Death Wish upon her rapists. This is the central mystery of the novel.

I really liked this book - mostly because the writing and the characters were uniformly terrific. My only criticism was that the murder mystery itself was so, so easy to solve. The author telegraphed the twist ending early in the novel making it the most tepid surprise I can recall. Despite this, I genuinely enjoyed the paperback and will seek out other works by Clayton Fox. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Earl Drake #11 - Operation Deathmaker

Earl Drake, the successful action hero created by Dan J. Marlowe (1917-1986) began his literary life as a violent crook in 1962. Over time, the character was pressed into service as a U.S. Government secret agent, which brings us to this 11th installment from 1974, Operation Deathmaker.

Drake’s girlfriend is Hazel, and she’s been part of the series for a long time at this point. Melissa, Hazel’s college-age niece, is visiting Los Angeles on a vacation. When Drake is dropping her at the airport, Melissa is kidnapped by a team of professionals.

Because of his tenuous legal history as a fugitive from justice, Drake chooses to not involve police and to recover Melissa himself. This opens the door to sleuthing, chases, car-bombings, wiretaps, tradecraft and lots and lots of men’s adventure action — all anchored by Marlowe’s excellent, seasoned writing.

Unlike Drake’s heist books or his spy books, this one is Drake recovering a kidnapped girl on a very personal mission. It’s an excellent stand-alone mystery-adventure that doesn’t not require much character history from the series.

Is the kidnapping a ransom job to swipe some of Hazel and Drake’s loot? Or is this a vendetta mission to make Drake suffer? Or did young Melissa stage this kidnapping for her own reasons? These are the options Drake explores along the way.

Drake’s hunt for this missing girl takes on the qualities of a procedural mystery for much of the paperback and then an action-filled, violent vendetta novel for the climactic conclusion. It’s a damn fine men’s adventure paperback that almost - but not quite - lives up to the heights of the series’ opening two novels, The Name of the Game is Death and One Endless Hour. In any case, this one is an easy recommendation. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Martin Collins #01 - The Colonel

Patrick A. Davis is a U.S. Air Force veteran and former commercial airline pilot who began writing military-based conspiracy thrillers in 1998 before finding a series character named Martin Collins for a three-book run. The debut is called The Colonel from 2001.

Our hero and first-person narrator is widower Martin Collins. When we meet him, he is living in rural Northern Virginia with a grass airplane runway while enjoying his retirement from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. He took a job as Chief of Police in a town of about 2,000 residents and a seven-man police department. When Martin left the federal government, he promised his boss he would come back as a consultant investigator for the rare homicide investigation that arose involving Air Force personnel.

Martin is called back into service coinciding with the discovery of a brutal murder in Arlington, Virginia of a U.S. Air Force Colonel named Margaret who was slaughtered in her home along with her two young children. The case is assigned to a local homicide detective named Simon Santos who requests Martin’s assistance in the investigation.

Simon is a fascinating character. He’s a dapper multimillionaire polymath who works as a police detective for the thrill of the chase. Other cops resent him but respect his mental firepower. Reading about the personal wealth and opulence he leverages to solve cases is a ton of fun.

Martin is partnered with a pretty and smart young investigator named Amanda. They take care of most of the fieldwork and consult periodically with Simon who plays the Sherlock Holmes/Nero Wolfe role in the ensemble. The victim’s job was in the Pentagon’s airplane safety inspection unit, not exactly at the tip of the spear for likely murder targets.

The publisher packaged the paperback to mimic the look of a W.E.B. Griffin military fiction novel (Griffin also blurbed the paperback), but The Colonel is more of a tight police procedural. Davis’ writing is filled with “inside Washington” skullduggery and political corruption reminiscent of James Cody’s The D.C. Man series from the 1970s.

The murder solution was twisty and well-conceived and there was plenty of bloody, murderous violence to please the men’s adventure crowd. There was really nothing to dislike about this series debut, and it’s an easy recommendation for fans of political-intrigue and police procedural mysteries. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Hangman's Territory

Jack M. Bickham (1930-1997) wrote predominantly westerns during his career while also teaching writing at the University of Oklahoma. Hangman’s Territory was half of a 1961 Ace Double later reprinted as a stand-alone paperback.

Our hero is Eck Jackson and he’s on his way to Rimrock, Montana at the request of a friend. The town has been taken over by Ebeneezer Taunt, who is acting as a self-appointed judge, jury and executioner along with a phalanx of gunmen. Taunt has a hard-on for hanging and has erected a six-rope gallows in the center of town to kill a half-dozen men with one lever pull. To bolster the credibility of his fiefdom, Taunt is importing an Ohio lawyer named John Powers to be his public prosecutor.

When we meet Powers, he’s actually an honest and earnest lawyer who accepts the job remotely with a legitimate interest in bringing law and order to a western town. He packs up his wife and heads west to become a public servant to the people of Rimrock. Will he buy-into Taunt’s perverted version of justice or will he stand up for what is right?

Bubbling under the surface of the tensions is a conflict between sheep herders and cattle farmers. Both groups want to use the same public lands for grazing, but the valley upon which the town sits just isn’t big enough to accommodate both the cattle people and the sheep people. In the world of western fiction, this is what is known as a “range war” when things turn violent. For his part, Judge Taunt, his lawman, and his hangman are all siding with the cattlemen.

The comic relief of the novel lies in the character of Boom Boom O’Malley, a redheaded ruffian explosives man who dresses in crazy outfits and is always looking for a fight. The author renamed and rebranded the character later in his career for his Wildcat O’Shea successful series of westerns written under the name Jeff Clinton (Hat Tip to the Six-Gun Justice website for also noticing the same thing).

The author brings all the characters together for an actioned-packed conflict that’s both exciting and violent. Overall, this was a very satisfying, quick-read western and an easy recommendation to fans of the genre. Bickham was a pro whose books deserve to be reprinted and remembered.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Bamboo Camp #10

According to his obituary in The Washington Post, author Franklin M. Davis Jr. (1918-1981) served with U.S. armored forces in Europe during WWII. He earned a Bronze Star as an operations officer in the armored regiment and later commanded a tank-infantry force. In 1967, Davis joined the 199th Light Infantry Brigade for combat in the Vietnam War. He was wounded in action and won a Purple Heart and four decorations from the Republic of Vietnam. He retired as an Army Major General. 

What better author than Davis to write harrowing adventure paperbacks like Spearhead (1957), A Medal for Frankie (1959) and Kiss the Tiger (1961). As a longtime combat specialist, Davis used his experience to write over 10 paperbacks in the 1950s and 1960s. My first experience with the author is his 1962 Monarch (#236) WWII novel Bamboo Camp #10. Knowing nothing about the author, I admit I purchased the book due to artist Bob Stanley's captivating cover art. 

This relatively short paperback (143 pages) features protagonist Harley Frazier, a U.S. Army Lieutenant, who is mired in the war-torn jungles of the Burmese Campaign during WWII. As the novel begins, Frazier and his men are attempting recon in the dense swamps and fields. They find one of their men brutally tortured, murdered, and hung like a scarecrow as a warning to any foes of the Japanese. After some back and forth action, Frazier's forces are cut to pieces in a grueling firefight. With no way to repel the hordes of Japanese soldiers, Frazier and the few remaining men are forced to surrender.

The rest of the book is reminiscent of any good prison-break story. Frazier and the men are transported long distances and arrive at a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, just like the title suggests. Frazier learns there are 300 prisoners broken up into groups of 20-30 men in various camps. Thankfully, Frazier befriends the Australian forces and quickly learns the ropes to survive in the brutality of captivity. As time goes on, and his health continues to decline, Frazier and the Australians hatch a plan to escape.

I love the author's descriptive storytelling and the quick pace of the action. However, one of the real highlights to his story is the relationship between Frazier and his superior, Lieutenant Captain Macey. In a 15 page side-story in the middle of the book, Davis tells readers about Frazier and Macey growing up in the same city and attending school together. Later, when both join the military, they end up on the same base. Frazier meets a beautiful woman named Zona and the two strike up a friendship. Frazier learns that Zona is actually married to Macey. The two learn that Macey is having numerous affairs with various women in town, so Frazier and Zona engage in a heated secret romance of their own. 

The element that Davis uses for the book's narrative, and the inspiration for Frazier to live, is the fact that he feels he must protect Macey. He feels that his romance with Zona means that he owes Macey his life. Additionally, as Frazier weakens and borders on bad health and near-death, his memories of Zona eases the burden and forces him to fight the good fight to escape his torturous conditions.

I absolutely loved this book, although it doesn't really cover any new ground in terms of the traditional prison-break story. There are a few torture scenes, but nothing too graphic. Davis creates two prison leaders that are evil and fully committed to debauchery. They make perfect enemies for Frazier and the heroes. In some ways, with the jungle atmosphere, the book is similar to the dozens and dozens of Vietnam War POW/MIA novels. In other ways, it seems like a longer tale that would fit snugly in the pages of a Men's Action-Adventure Magazine (MAMs). Again, that Bob Stanley cover art is just so awesome. Bamboo Camp #10 is recommended for readers and collectors.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Flesh Parade

In the 1960s, Lawrence Block wrote many, many sleazy sex paperbacks under a variety of pseudonyms. Most were pretty mediocre, but some were kind of excellent in their own way. Flesh Parade is one of the good ones. It was published in 1962 under the pseudonym Andrew Shaw, and remains available today as a paperback, e-book, or audiobook.

Our “hero” is 21 year-old Tony Cross, and he is fresh out of the U.S. Air Force and looking to start a new life pumping gas or changing tires in his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia. He sees a pretty girl at the bus station, and decides to go to Cleveland with her in hopes of an encounter.

Along the way, Tony gets off the bus to get laid, and temporarily settles down in a small town. There he is propositioned by a bartender to commit a smuggling crime in and out of Canada with a woman the bartender assigns him. On this trip, he discovers the wonders of marijuana.

In a normal Lawrence Block novel, this would have been the spark for a series of criminal misadventures. However, this is a 1960s sex book written under a pseudonym. The paperback is really a coming-of-age story about a guy choosing to travel across the country getting laid at every stop. He does some pretty immoral things along the way, and the listener reader is left wondering if he will find any kind of ethical redemption or even love?

As far as plots go, it’s actually fairly weak. The sex scenes are plenty hot for the era and somewhat disturbing at times. Tony is not a good person, and you should not be rooting for him. He leaves a trail of broken hearts and broken lives behind and treats women as conquests. But he’s a dysfunctional character in a completely interesting way.

The reason you should read and enjoy this novels because the writing is very crisp. It’s noticeably a Lawrence Block novel, almost a darker prototype for the Chip Harrison books from slightly later in his career. The pages flew by and left the reader wondering how Tony would get out of one mess only to find himself enmeshed in another.

Flesh Parade is not a sleaze fiction masterpiece. If you’re looking for that, check out the novels of Orrie Hitt. But I think you could do a lot worse than this book. It was compelling as hell and you should check it out if you’re into this type of thing. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.