Thursday, March 2, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: The Dead Man #1: Face of Evil by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin

The Dead Man series harkened back to the old school way of putting out a Men's Adventure series: multiple writers cranking out wild and wholly action tales as fast as they could. Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin co-created it and then got some great writers to write the continuing adventures of Matthew Cahill and his axe. It's a wonder its's taken me this long to getting around to this series because the names attached read like a list of my favorite authors, Goldberg himself, Christa Faust, James Reasoner, Bill Crider etc. etc. Plus, their wonderfully short and to the point. I'm slow on the uptake, folks. 

Matthew Cahill is a good guy/widower who works at a lumber mill who loves his father's axe and watches out for his no-good best buddy, Andy. Andy gets fired and Cahill quits in protest and then ends up going skiing with his new love interest Rachel and ends up dying in an avalanche, which is just some bad luck. Cut to a few months later when he's found frozen and then miraculously wakes up and feels fine, only being dead that long has to have side effects right? 

It does. Cahill can now see the evil in a person as it festers and rots them like a zombie in his eyes. Sort of like the sunglasses in "They Live." Then there's the series big-bad the uber villain Mr. Dark who seems to be pulling all the strings. Luckily Cahill's a cool cat and real good with his axe and proves to be a very likeable protagonist. Then when his buddy Andy falls into the evil around him Cahill is the only guy around to take care of the problem.  

"Face of Evil" is clearly the "pilot" to the series. These are the hardest to write and get through all the set-up and explanation and still make it light, interesting and fun. Rabkin and Goldberg handle it all with professional skill. It never really bogs down in too much detail and keeps the tone fairly light and fun for all the gruesome goings-on. It has that comfortable syndicated action show from the 90s vibe. A little "Incredible Hulk," a little "Fugitive" or "The Invaders" mixed up with the over-the-top vibe of "Tales from the Crypt." 

These books a super easy to get ahold, go to Amazon and you can get them on Kindle, Audible, or in three-in-one bind-up paperbacks like I did. These would be perfect little snacks in-between longer novels. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: Come the Night by Nick (Shaun Hutson) Blake

This little paperback from hell has a lot in common with the "Video Nasties," the list of banned videos in the U.K. in the 80s. It sorta got banned and it sorta started out as a novelization for a "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" movie. Here's the fairly detailed history of it. Star the publishjer didn't get the film rights to "Texas Chainsaw" and because who wouldn't want to write a book with Chainsaw in the title, they just had Hutson come up with his own story. So, Hutson wrote a book called "Chainsaw Terror," which got a little publishing run, but the title scared bookstores so the book quickly became "Come the Night." 

Shaun Hutson then made a name for himself with extreme horror novels like "Assassins," and "Slugs" and this book drifted into the realm of "expensive bestselling authors now pricey early work." It did eventually get republished in a three-pack with two others of his pseudonym novels which can be found fairly cheap. I have several of Hutson's other books but haven't ever gotten around to reading them, so it just made sense to start at the beginning of his career.

Now, the main reason I wanted to check this one out was the vague "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" connection, one of my favorite films and horror series. There isn't enough fine literature about chainsaws in my mind. Also, this is on the few 80s horror paperbacks that comes in a slim little package, not the bloated page-count that your usually think of with the fellow Paperbacks from Hell. After digesting William W. Johnstone's "The Devil's Kiss" I needed a thinner read. 

Okay, so the sleaze drips off the pages of this book. It's very must in the vein of the grindhouse cinema that was the jumping off point for the book. Think William Lustig's "Maniac" or Wes Craven's "Last House on the Left." Edward is the chainsaw wielding maniac of the book. When he was a younger his father killed his mother for cheating on him and Edward saw it all. That'll make ya crazy right there. Also, he's secretly in love with his sister and together they live in the soundproof (it's mentioned a lot) house where they grew up and the grisly murder took place. Edward continued his father's handyman business which means he's got a lot of sharp tools down in his see where this is going. But the sister wants to leave their odd/abusive relationship and when she makes moves too Edward blows his top, kills her and then finds he likes it and turns his sights to prostitutes.  

Then midway through Hutson figured out he needed a protagonist who doesn't hack women to bits and starts up with a hard-boiled-type reporter who's working on a story about the sleazy side of Soho in London and figures out that someone is killing the women he's met. So, together with a "hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold" the reporter and the hooker start investigating, not to mention fall in love. This all comes to a head in a truly thrilling little climax. The whole book is chock full of gross imagery, gruesome acts and a little bit of sex to liven things up. 

This is a super misogynistic, slimy horror tale. So, don't go in expecting fair treatment of women or really anything better than a first draft of the nastiest things Hutson could think of. If you're interested in checking it out, I'd suggest the three-pack novel and wouldn't bother paying the high prices for the other editions. But that being said it's still a fairly fun and thrilling ride. It really lives up to its original title "Chainsaw Terror."

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The Devil's Kiss by William W. Johnstone (Devil #1)

This is my first William W. Johnstone, so me and him have something in common because this was HIS first published book. To be fair, I have tried to read him before a couple of times to no avail. That doesn't mean much, I'm a chronic starter of novels, I often get distracted by the new (to me) shiny book that I just got in the mail or found at the local used bookstore. A lot of the time I got back before too long and finish the half-read book up. Then sometimes I stop reading because the book ain't grabbing me. So, I never went back to the Johnstone books I had started, one being his stand-alone "The Death Master" and the other being one of his "Ashes" books. 

Now, William W. Johnstone is interesting to me. He's a MONSTER in the realm of paperback fiction. Every bookstore I go to has a glut of used westerns by him. Besides that, he's so that, that he continued to write even have he died. That's dedication, folks. Obviously other people write under his name now, though it's SUPER-DUPER TOP SECRET who exactly puts fingers to keyboard to produce the new Johnstone's for Wal-Mart's excuse for a book aisle. It's going to be one of those nice paperback mysteries that will haunt paperback aficionados for years to come.

I had tried my hand at his action fiction, and it didn't take. Besides now being mostly known he also it a big name in 80s/90s horror paperbacks. You know, Paperbacks from Hell. The wild Zebra covers helped build his reputation in terror fiction. Seriously hit the Google search up and take a gander at some of the wildest/weirdest book covers ever. Now the words inside the covers seem to have split the trashy-horror-loving public. Total love him or hate him thing. The rise of horror book collecting has also driven up the price of his books like SKY-HIGH, so if you see one buy one. I can't help but to shed a tear for all the over-priced book I might never get too own because of Paperbacks from Hell, not that I don't love it at the same time.

So, now I have finished a Johnstone book, the first in his series about the Devil being a dick called "The Devil's Kiss." What do I think?


First off. Good book or good book. This is an italics "good" book. It's not patricianly a well-written book, it actually has quite a few big problems and isn't one I would recommend for many people. First off, I'm surprised I even tried it out, the 400-plus page count would usually be a deal-breaker for me. And when I read about "The Devil's Kiss" online a lot of the complaints were about the first 200-ish pages. It takes a lot of time for Johnstone to muster up the steam to make it up to the Men's Adventure-type ending. There's a BUNCH of telling, not showing. Conversations about conversations just had or conversations about what just happened. Plus, the common problem in of horror of people just not quite fathoming that the supernatural has invaded their everyday life when the signs a pretty clear. Goes with the territory.  

Sam Balon (Bolan? Calling Mack Bolan?) is a priest with a commando background and besides a cheating wife is the perfect specimen of man without any other problems, save his attraction to the hot-female lead who's already in love with him when the books start's and wants to make babies. I couldn't help but think of Guy N. Smith's Sabat with a background like that, but I digress. Sam is actually a pretty likeable lead, besides his annoying habit of mentally scolding himself at every turn. That being said, you what this kind of priest in your town when the devil's minions show up. The kind of priest that packs a Colt .45 and totes a Thompson Sub-Machine gun. The secondary characters, like the reader are wholly focused on how impressive Balon is, you can't help but think Balon is unstoppable. Or is he? 

The Devil's best friend is Black Wilder which is an awesome band name. He's devilish (see?) and one smooth operator who fears no one...expect SAM BALON, YO! It's one of those ancient things where destiny has pushed them into this epic battle one last time. I mean, except the sequels I suppose, though those star Balon's son. Black Wilder has been posing an archologist to dig up the evil tablet needed to do evil junk. He finds it and where off to the races. He's got all his hell spawn circle of friends, tempting witches and ghouls of all sorts, but he's got the classic "intellectual" Bond-villain thing going on and is one of the most interesting characters in the book. 

"The Devil's Kiss" has got a hundred late-night B-movies in its DNA. The town turns all funky under the instant magic spell of the devil and turns into hedonistic cult members who screw, kill and basically act like dicks to anyone they please. Tons of weird sex stuff that I would have rather never had pictured in my head as I was reading and tons of violence. So, there's werewolf-ish creatures, zombies, an evil cult, the devil, priests in love, war stories, hot witches, small town culture, dead teenagers at make-out-point, truck purchases, truck chases, etc. etc. Plus, a lot of erotic stuff. All of which reads like Johnstone had a few copies of Penthouse around to cull ideas from. 

This is the opposite of the "literary horror" that was brewing at the time and to come into full bloom in the 80's. No Charles L. Grant "quiet horror" or Peter Straub telling ghost stories, not even up to the level of a Stephn King calendar story. It's over-the-top and in your face with its (Johnstone's) funky version of religious people, sex, monsters and violence. It's a B-Movie cocktail or an extra-long EC Comics tale. 

Overall, the book was a hoot. A crazy, not well-written smorgasbord of zany "serious" horror fiction. That's not a knock-on Johnstone, he's obviously a readable author. Just look at his bibliography. The whole thing is just so EARNST that it becomes laughable, action-packed-gruesome-laughable. I got the next two books in the Devil Series, so be on the lookout for those horrors. 

Thursday, January 12, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: Seven Days to Disaster by Jonas (Paul Glen Neuman) Flagg and Geoffrey Graves

Major is one of my favorite paperback publishers. As a publisher they always seemed to make offbeat choices though, I don't know if it was deliberate or just lack of oversight, but out of them you get series like Kirby Carr's Hitman, or attempted series like Joseph Gillman's "Operation Nazi- USA." So, who knows sometimes being loose and goofy is an asset. 

That brings us to "Seven Days to Disaster" by Jonas Flagg and Geoffery Graves. Jonas Flagg was really Paul Glen Neuman who also worked on "Black Eagles," "They Call Me the Mercenary" and "The Phoenix Force." He has a handy-dandy website where you can find out that this was indeed planned to be another series for Manor, but the folded before that could happen, though there are two other books already written. I couldn't track much down about Geoffrey Graves though.

Hadrian Whipp (love it) is our hero. He works for one of those shadowy peacekeeping/crime-busting outfits who need someone with the skill and guts to tackle the dangerous problems without the fuss of the legal system. The disaster in "Seven Days to Disaster" is a hidden atomic bomb in L.A. and Whipp is sent down to take care of it. 

In a refreshing change of pace, the villains on the novel aren't the cookie-cutter Bond-ish villians. No, just regular working stiff who's after losing a government contract decide that the best course of action is to highjack plutonium and ransom Los Angles. Those whacky bad guys. For their trouble they get Whipp on their tail and what that leads to lots of murders, car chases, colorful side characters, explosions and the like. Whipp is an interesting lead, he's a smart-ass but he also REALLY likes his job shooting bad guys, imagine a lighter Richard Camellion, which is funny because also on his website Neuman says that he wrote a screenplay for a "Death Merchant" movie. Now that's something I'd like to see.

For all the murders and derring-do this is a pretty light novel with nice humor, and it works to its advantage, the pages breeze by. There's a little too much backstory for random characters and asides, which is pretty common for an early book. I would have preferred to spend more time with Whipp then some of the rest. That being said I had a lot of fun with it, it's not reinventing the wheel but takes it for a pleasantly bloody turn. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: The Magic Wagon by Joe R. Lansdale

Champion Joe has darn-near taught me all I know about writing. The man makes it look so easy it can make you wanna spit. Never seems to write a dull bit, never sounds like anyone other than hisownself and cranks out work like a veteran pulpsmith. I've went on and on about how much Lansdale's work means to here and got real wind-baggy about it. So, I won't be boring you about it again. I like his darned books, got it?

"The Magic Wagon" is a slim-little thing; it's a western not like you've ever read before or since, I'd imagine. Where else do you have mummies, sharpshooters, an orphan named Fogg and Albert, an ex-slave traveling the west with a chimp named Rot-Toe? Oh, and this is how the thing starts:

"Wild Bill Hickok, some years after he was dead, came to Mud Creek for a shoot-out of sorts."

Yup. C'mon that's solid gold. Lansdale is the closest thing to Samuel Clemmons in a white linen suit we got today. Albert and Fogg are buddies and they travel with Billy Bob who may or may not be the illegitimate son of Wild Bill with a Medicine Show. They got a nasty storm that by some bag mojo has been dogging them for a long while when they end up in Mud Creek, Texas.

You may remember Mud Creek from Lansdale's Zombie-Western "Dead in the West." Weird stuff seems to happen down in Mud Creek. Anyway, it's an episodic novel where we learn bits and pieces about the characters. It's full of Lansdale, hitting a lot of his hallmarks like the supernatural, racism, tall-tales and colorful language. He really makes you care about Albert and Fogg, then you'll simultaneously like and hate Billy Bob. Lansdale's real good at that. But what will happen when that evil-old cloud catches up to 'em in Mudd Creek? Can't be good.

In that link above you can read my review of Ray (Lansdale) Slater's "Texas Night Riders," Lansdale's attempt at conventual western. I liked "Texas Night Riders" a lot, but this is him shaking off any sort of mental shackles and writing what he wants. He's returned to westerns a few times, I'm thinking about reading his "Lost-Lansdale" book "Blood Dance," which seems to be a conventual western to a point then swerves into something a bit wilder. 

Look, it's a great book, give it a go. If I explained more about it, it would sorta spoil some of the magic (get it?) of the book. 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Bats Out of Hell by Guy N. Smith

It was love at first sight when I first discovered the work of Guy N. Smith. Gruesome deaths, pulp characters, giant monsters and all other sorts of horror tropes flowing from the pen of one man who knew what I liked in a horror novel: a short bloody page count. He's a man who wrote the book versions of the B-Movies of my teenage (and all years after) years, horror without pretension. Obviously, I discovered him through his Crabs series but the more I read his other works the more I appreciate his own unique brand of pulp monster mayhem. Though I love them now, I surely would have been head-over-heels if I had read them at 14. Ah, missed opportunities. 

"Night of the Crabs" followed in the wake of James Herbet's "The Rats," but like any good paperback writer, once he had some success, he kept the pages flowing. So, more crabs and more other rampaging animals. Enter: Bats. Using the same template that made "Crabs" a success "Bats Out of Hell" is a different animal (pun intended) with different set up and execution. 

The set-up is simple Professor Brian Newman is working on some science stuff and accidently creates a big 'ol nasty virus that lives instead of the bats he works with. Cue a nasty accident involving cheating on his girlfriend and a bout of being a real asshole (trademark Guy N. Smith) he knocks the cage over and lets the bats out. Doh. What comes next is MASSIVE TERRIBLE DEATHS told in short vignettes as England is overrun by the plague that the bats carry. All the while Brian and his lady-friend try and fail to come up with an antidote. The vignettes show us the mayhem and bloodshed that the bats cause. It racks up the body count but leave our main characters intact for as long as possible. Smart horror writing, right there.

The book almost turn into a post-apocalyptic novel as things keep getting worse and then it wraps up...or does it? I mean, don't go in expecting anything but a fun monster book and you'll be in for a nice couple of hours. Guy N. Smith's work grows on you, I remember being slightly confused by the fractured, sometimes abrupt style at first. But a couple of his books later I find myself craving it. It's the British version of the cheap horror paperback that is perfect for my tastes. Besides Guy N. Smith won a pipe smoking contest. What more do you want from an author?

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Track #4: The Hard Way by Jerry Ahern

Jerry Ahern was one of the big names in the 80's when it came to Men's Adventure. He was a REAL PERSON to boot, not a house name which considering his output is impressive. But to be fair it seems like he kept it in the family having help from his wife Sharon. On top of all of the M.A. fiction, he regularly wrote for gun magazines and non-fiction work. Busy fella. 

He's probably most known for the post-apocalyptic series "The Survivalist" but I've never sampled that one. My favorite series is his books as Axel Kilgore "They Call Me Mercenary" which are some of the most fun 80s tales of mercs on missions outside of "The A-Team." His other series "The Takers" interests me and I'm sure I would have read it before now, but they are simply really fat books. Every time I think about picking them up off the shelve, I see all the skinny books that I could breeze through. Gotta keeps this blog-content up, folks. 

But "The Takers" are why I choose Track #4 to be my first Track novel. See it's a Gold Eagle-crossover novel where the stars of "The Takers" Josh Culhane and Fanny Mulrooney end up meeting Dan Track for an adventure at a Men's Adventure Writing Conference that turns into a total "Die Hard" scenario. Couldn't resist that.

I'm pretty sure I've read somewhere (don't quote me) that the Track books were Ahern's least favorite of his own work which always stopped me from picking one up, even though over the years I pretty much ended up owning the whole series without trying. Dan Track is one of those vigilante crime-fighter for shadowy organization who goes around and troubleshoots. He's a perfectly fine character, with more liveliness than a lot of series heroes, but I can see where Ahern was coming from if he counted it as his least favorite series. 

Because though the book stars Dan Track it only really picks up when Culhane, Mulrooney and the motley crew of adventure writers are on the page and when Track's front and center your counting pages until you can get back to the rest. Though Track's banter with his buddy George is pretty fun. This really felt like a Cannon Films movie where Chuck Norris played Track and Michael Dudikoff played George. It's got a straightforward plot, terrorists in hotel with Track outside coming in with blazing guns and the authors playing John McClane inside. Ahern's a total pro when it comes to the banter and action so the pages just flip on by.

Like I said before, Ahern wrote for gun magazines and was an expert on guns, knives and holsters. SO...there's a lot of "gun-porn." I don't mind the constant refences to model numbers and holster brands. I'll take it any day over some of the ballistic mathematics in other series. And at least Ahern knew his stuff so it's not all made-up crap. If you don't have a tolerance for "gun-porn" Ahern's stuff probably isn't for you.

Track #4 made me want to read his Taker novels more than the continuing adventures of Dan Track. Not saying I never will but I'm sure I'll pull out a Hank Frost adventure or "WerewolveSS" over it. This one is a lot of fun, the bickering authors tackling terrorists with machine guns and gumption is a special kind of treat for the Men's Adventure Fan.