Sunday, December 1, 2019

Ennis Willie's Sand in "Passion Has No Rule Book" or "Death in a Dead Place" if You Will

If there ever was a hardass to end all hardasses it would be Sand (one name like Madonna) Ennis Willie's Mafia killer turned quasi-hero. He shrugs off bullet wounds, beds willing busty women, uses his .45 in the way that the Men's Adventure God's intended i.e. blasting punks away and to hep wrap up the story in a brisk page count.

There was a big mystery about the identity of Ennis Willie (because it's a funky name, no doubt) with fan speculating that he could be a African-American poet named Willie Ennis or Mickey Spillane writing under a false name. Folks like Bill Crider, Ed Gorman, Max Allan Collins and Stephen Mertz dug and tried to figure it out like the mystery writers they are (and were) but it turns out he was a guy named Ennis Willie. Things work out like that sometimes.

Sand was a big-shot mobster who gets fed up with the life and wants a divorce with the mafia. It's a messy break up with the mob always pestering Sand with bullets and killers of all sorts. To top it off Sand keeps himself in trouble outside of his mafioso past.  "Death in a Dead Place" is the new much better title, as the titles were made up the publisher. It was originally published as "Passion Has No Rule Book" which is a bold face lie otherwise us deviants wouldn't have "safe words." The books starts with Sand in the gutter with a bullet hole in his gut a kindly hobo/thief named Sticky helps him out. He shows Sand around the back alleys and Sand kicks some guys asses for Sticky, so they a fast friends. Then Sticky dies by swelling up to a giant tumor. Which sounds real bad and super gross. He had stolen a case which contained a shipment of a new type biological warfare with his sticky fingers, hence the name. Sand gets minor league pissed, shoots some people and pushes the cops around (cause he's that much of a badass) to figure out what and who killed Sticky. Also he figures he's saving his own skin since he was probably infected. Along the way he spreads the disease by banging a couple of chicks, I suppose. "Death in a Dead Place" is a short book, closer to to the "complete novel" of a pulp magazine then your standard paperback and it just rollicks right along to a satisfying, if somewhat obvious ending.

Merit was strictly low-rent and by low-rent I mean smutty sex books. Sleaze is the popular "hip" word to describe it. These were books sold for a little more then say a Gold Medal Paperback or a Dell to help cover legal charges for indecency charges and sold in more adult places.  Another one of these publishers was Novel Books, which is like if a Mustang was made by Cars by Automobiles and it had a star in Tokey Wedge a shorty private eye who loved boobs and mysteries, but mostly boobs. He was the star of the Novel Books line. Sand was the star of the Merit Books line, appearing in shorts in the publishers magazines like "Rascal" and  "Best for Men." Sand was all over the place dishing it out. In the sleaze world Sand was your Mike Hammer and Tokey was your Shell Scott.

See, Sand was a helluva lot better then his publisher. Sand should have been on the regular spinner racks with a name publisher behind him and a little editorial polishing and he could have been an "Executioner" before Don Pendleton or at least a cousin to Matt Helm. But it wasn't meant to be and Sand began to become a hard-boiled legend. Until recently no Sand novel was easy to get, until Ramble House put out two awesome collections "Sand's Game" and "Sand's War" both containing novels, short stories and introductions/essays and interviews. They are fabulous packages and easily picked up. It's a shame their isn't more collections as the original paperbacks are pricey as hell and hard to find to boot and there's still more to be released. You won't read a faster paced, edge of your seat book then a Sand books. There's not an once of fat on them. They may not be prime rib, more like hamburger steak but it's well cooked.

Spillane's influence on Sand that's pretty obvious. Mickey was an influence on all paperback fiction after his first book "I, the Jury." He's on the Mt. Rushmore of Paperback Authors, the biggest head smiling and holding a Miller Lite. In short, Mickey was the man. If someone asked me what deceased person I would most like to hang out with it'd be Mickey. Maybe we'd go shoot some .45's together or drink some beer. Sand and Mike Hammer would grudgingly respect each other all while keeping their hands near their shoulder holsters. Mike Hammer could be traced back to Carroll John Daly's Race Williams, the true star of "Black Mask" magazine and I would bet that Ennis Willie read some of Daly's work too. Sand, Race and Mike all live in a nightmare urban world of gunsels, dames and imminent danger. They work for themselves and say "fuck it" to the societal laws and norms. They live by their own moral code and enforce their code with deadly fury. Sand's pure pulp gussied up for the swingin' sixties with more random nude women then any pulp story would have but just as much action and thrills.

GO OUT AND BUY THE RAMBLE HOUSE BOOKS. You won't be sorry. Sand is a minor obsession of mine and its a good obsession to have. Make no mistake these are hastily written books, hammered out with NoDoz, coffee and with the rent due but that's exactly what makes them work. The speed of the writing sucks you into the speed of the world of Sand. A world where the clock is always ticking down to the next punk with a .357 who's out to kill Sand or tracking down a carny known as The Monkey Girl or the next serial killer named Sasquatch.

Yeah that's in one of the books. Sasquatch, that's great.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Goodnight My Love and Peeper: A Tale of Two Hyams

Peter Hyams is an interesting director; largely ignored, his films are always on cusp of greatness. Above-average fairly conventional films that are done exceedingly well. He never quite made it to the upper-level of the directors club. But he made solid movies, his take on the buddy-cop film produced two of the best examples of the genre: 1986's "Running Scared" and 1974 "Busting" both stand up extremely well have interesting action and easy-going charm. Hyams career is an odd collection of films he bounces between genres and mixes them; the outer space western "Outland," the bonkers fantasy-satire "Stay Tuned" or the action-adventure-horror film "End of Days." He is also responsible for Jean-Claude Van Damme's best movies, so points for.

Hyams described himself as a "Chandler freak," he must be because he made two films within a few years of each other that are total love-letters to cheap detectives and film noirs. One is the TV movie that put him on the map: "Goodnight My Love." Which he followed up with "Peeper." They both rode the 70's wave of 40's nostalgia that gave us a number of great detective and crime movies. Hyams does love Raymond Chandler but Hogan, Boyle and Tucker seem like detectives straight out of Dime Detective magazine, not quite the knight that Chandler wrote about. Maybe detectives from the pens of Norbert Davis, Frank Gruber, or Merle Costiner, writers with a bit of the tongues in their cheeks. Maybe even Robert Leslie Bellem mixed in there for spice.

Get it? Spice? Bellem wrote for the Spicy pulps. God, I'm a nerd. 

"Goodnight My Love" is the better of the two movie, even if it shows it's television roots in production, it's got that great studio-feel and recreates 1946 pretty well. I'd love to see a nice clean print of it to see how good the film looks. Hyams is also a cinematographer and a fine one, he makes good looking pictures. Sadly the old VHS rip that's on Youtube is fairly, uh, shitty. The movie works past the format. Hogan is a grouchy P.I. played by Richard Boone is sleepy and bored. Barbara Bain is gnawing on the scenery as the femme fatale that no one buys. Victor Buono made a career out of being the 60's-70's Sidney Greenstreet and he plays the 60's-70s Sidney Greenstreet. The whole film is stolen right out from all of them by Michael Dunn as Boyle, Boone's sidekick who's a dwarf and is always hungry and underestimated. It's a standard twisting missing-person's case with twists and turns and dead bodies. Boone and Dunn play off each other well, they really remind me of Frank Grubers eccentric con-men-detective-duos. Their so down-on-their luck and can't even afford a hamburger when Bain walks in with enough cash to make their mouths water. They know she's lying but, hey, money. Boone gets conked on the head a lot and mostly tries to nap. It follows the hard-luck duo through near misses at the hands of gangsters and dangerous women. It's an fantastic little film that has unjustly has fallen through the cracks.

"Peeper" is the big-budget cousin to "Goodnight My Love," it mines the same territory 40's L.A. with a oddball detective at its helm. This oddball detective is the very British Michael Caine sporting glasses, bow-tie, fedora and lapping up murder and mayhem while on a (also) missing person's case. This one is leans on "The Big Sleep" fairly hard. It's based on "Deadfall" by sci-fi author Keith Laumer that was a contemporary (70s) private eye novel. Its odd that they'd time-jump a then-modern novel to make a period piece instead of just adapting an era correct book, but that's Hollywood for ya. Making things overtly complicated since day-one. The screenplay was by W.D. Ritcher of "Big Trouble in Little China" and "Buckaroo Banzai" fame and it's a lively script with a lot of wonderful ideas and set pieces in it, but it never matches up to "Goodnight My Love" in terms of execution. Caine is always great and he plays a British 40's private eye exactly like he should, his voice overs are spot on. Natalie Wood is amazingly charming as the Lauren Bacall part of the picture. David Thayer takes on the Sidney Greenstreet part in this one, Buono must have been busy. Timothy Carey and Don Calfa (in Peter Lorre mode) work great as a pair of goons out for Caine. The thing that is mostly remembered and its a stroke of genius is that the main titles are spoken aloud by a Humphrey Bogart impersonator. It sets the mood perfectly. It's a lot of fun to be hold, really only paling in comparison to what had came before.

You'd probably have to love the genre to understand the greatness in the to films, an outsider wouldn't appreciate the little details and call-backs. I wonder if Hyams has another 40's detective movie in him. I'd love to see it. It's his own shared universe. Tucker, Hogan and Boyle could probably all go watch a ballgame over beer, hot dogs and tea and get along fine. They are all cut from the same rough cloth. If there was a hundred movies that filled this universe I would watch them all. I've watched both movies a handful of times each and will continue to watch them. It strikes me as an long-gone era in this world of multi-media franchises, where studios made quirky little movies for niche audiences. It probably struck Hyams in the time that they didn't make movies like they did in the 40's and he tried his best to recreate it. He succeeded whole-heartily.

"Shady Lady" by Cleve Adams Plus Robert Leslie Bellem

Cleve F. Adams was a old school writer his series character Rex McBride is an old school too. Tough as a nickel steak (or something) and that can turn people off. 'Ol Cleve has been shoved to be a foot-note in the mystery field over time, mostly remembered for one quote: "an American Gestapo is goddamned well what we need.....The only way you can lick these guys is to fight as dirty as they do...bite and gouge and use a knee where it will do most good," in "Murder All Over" published in 1943. So, yeah, fucking harsh Rex. To be fair Rex's main character trait is being an asshole (or at least acting like it) and that's a fitting quote for his character but Rex plays it fast and loose so it may of may not be his true feelings. I don't know if Cleve Adams was a racist or whatever but it pretty much everyone was in the time frame, so there you go. That being said in all the other examples of his works I've never came up against anything that was overtly racist (I mean outside of the normal examples of the time period) so maybe Rex and Cleve have gotten a bad rap. Rex goes out of his way to say that a racial slur is over the line in one book. I guess everything in life and books is complicated.

That out of the way the Cleve Adams books I've read I enjoyed. The McBride books stand up and rush to the finale, boiling over in cynical ultra-hard-boiled prose that makes you feel the dingy, sweaty, rough and tumble time-frame they were set in. "Private Eye" from 1942 in particular stands out as a fantastic "Red Harvest" riff, the tough P.I. strolling into a town and mixing it up. Primo Cleve Adams and Rex McBride is the first book, "Sabotage," that's some damned fine rut-gut reading. Dashiell Hammet's shadow looms large over Cleve. He used a lot of Hammet's plots as jumping off points and plugged his own peccadilloes in them and produced some really fun books.  As John Spain he wrote the Bill Rye series that used "The Glass Key" as its starting point. BUT Cleve has a style all his own, the stories unfold smooth as butter and keep slowly getting the tension ratcheted up. Rex is a tough guy but he's no Superman. He gets in over his head, he gets worried, he gets duped and he will fall for the wrong dame. He drinks like a fish, shoots fairly fast and has an eye for the women. Now, who could resist reading that?

Cleve was a pulpster through and through and at the same time he was producing novels he was cranking out novelletes and shorts for the pulps. These were G-Man, private-eye and tough guy and gals stories. Being a pulpster and not letting a word go to waste some of his work is culled from shorter works."Shady Lady" is one of those. Now this book came out in 1955 in a Ace Double with a Harry Whittington novel. Cleve Adams died in 1949. Unfortunately no one was using a Quija board to stitch this book together.  The pulp-master to end all pulp-masters Robert Leslie Bellem put the book together for Cleve's wife, as the story goes. Bellem created Dan Turner, Hollywood detective and wrote scores of pulp magazines nearly by himself, including the comics! These are told in a wild, wacky, wonderful way of odd-ball slang, nearly-nude women and fisticuffs. The Dan Turner stories are a world onto themselves. An alternate dimension of screwball-hard-boiledness. It was this collaboration that made me want to read "Shady Lady," I had no idea how the two writers could mesh together.

"Shady Lady" is the sixth and final Rex book, published over ten years later then the previous and sadly its a minor effort. Bellem played it straight and wrote like Cleve and Cleve was dead so it never seemed to kick into high gear. There's still passages and descriptions that prove what a good writer like Cleve (or Bellem) could do. Rex is following the shady lady of the title who has connections to a dead embezzler and uncovered money. Rex is working for the reward because he owes his bookie a lot of bread. They get to the Shady Lady's home town and get wrapped up in the local election that proves to be a hot one cause plenty of people end up dead and Rex gets blamed for a few of them. There's crooked fat sheriffs, virginal sisters, a Communist taxi-driving brother, gunmen, politicians, civic ladies and dirty little secrets. It's all fairly standard, Ace Doubles are often like that but every now and then they a totally awesome. "Negative for a Nude" by Charles Fritch is a helluva Ace Double, sadly a lot of them were cash-in jobs for disposal bargain time-wasters; that's what "Shady Lady" is: a time waster. You could waste it worse there there's still enough fun and tough antics that keep the ball rolling but it just pales in comparison to early Rex books.

Monday, November 25, 2019

"Dark of the Sun" 1968

You make a movie about hard-bitten mercenaries and I'm there. You make those hard-bitten mercenaries Rod Taylor and Jim Brown? Whew. I'm in hog-heaven. My love of James Bond led me to 1978's "Wild Geese" starring the then Bond Roger Moore with Richard Harris and Richard Burton, that's one of my top-ten movies of all time and it paved the way for me to watch about anything about mercenaries with titles like "The Professionals," "The General Died at Dawn," "Dogs of War," "Men of War," "The Last Grenade," "Professional Soldier," and so on. I knew of "Dark of the Sun" for years but it alluded me. Shame on me.

Now, I'm not getting the morals of being a professional solider i.e: murder for hire basically. Throughout history there has always been a demand for them, so that's on human nature.  I enjoy mercenary fiction for the same reason I prefer private eye fiction to say a police procedural: being anti-establishment stories about the outsiders and underdogs fighting cash and maybe what's right along the way appeal to me. In the actual mechanics of the writing they usually fall into the "men on a mission" category of war-fiction which is a nice combination of a spy adventure and a war tale. You may not know who the heroes can trust, they get shot at from both sides of the conflict, double-crosses are abound, everything that can go wrong will and at least one of the characters will doubt their allegiance to the all-mighty dollar and might just do the right thing. It's all good stuff. Alistair MacLean is the father of the modern version of this type of story though he never really wrote a soldier of fortune tale, but books of high adventure like "Where Eagles Dare" and "The Guns of Navarone" certainly set the tone for most stories of professional soldiers. Besides that real-life merc and charted accountant Michael "Mad Mike" Hoare published a memoir in the late 60's called  "Congo Mercenary," and popularized the interest in the profession anew.  In the 70's through the 80's there were a few Men's Adventure series built on men in these professions like the amazing John Benteen Fargo books, Peter McCurtin's badass Soldier of Fortune, Jerry Ahern (as Alex Kilgore) kick-ass They Call Me Mercenary, Peter Buck's Mercenary, Peter Leslie's Soldier of Fortune etc. etc. Wilbur Smith wrote in the High-Adventure mold, while I haven't read "Dark of the Sun" the few that I have read a very good examples of the genre. 

Rod Taylor is a badass mercenary hired to built a train with his buddy Jim Brown to go down deep into enemy terrority and save stranded townspeople...sorta mostly they have been hired to retrieve an ass-load of mined diamonds for a Dutch company. And yeah, sure they say, save the people along the way. To do this they have an old Nazi tagging along, a drunk doctor, .50 machine guns mounted on the train, and an army regiment. Jim Brown has morals he cares about the country because he was born there but raised and taught in America. Rod Taylor is a merc through and through, he's in it for a payday and maybe a little action from Yvette Mimieux who got picked up along the way. The old Nazi is a dick who wants the diamonds for himself 'natch. Kenneth More is the drunken doctor bringing more to the part then was probably necessary but he was an old school pro and his part reflects it. Jim Brown is the moral compass of the movie and it's a part he plays well he exudes confidence, and righteousness. You know Jim Brown will always do what his morals dictate. It's a hard part to nail but he does it with ease. Rod Taylor was always a little better actor then you'd think he'd be; being that he was pure beefcake.  Rod was made for these kinds of parts and he really moved hard into action pictures after this one. He could have played most any paperback hero of the era. In fact he's the big-screen's only Travis McGee in "Darker than Amber," and Boyise Oakes in "The Liquidator," that's range folks! Plus he's who I picture when I read a Doc Savage. Taylor and Brown play off each other well with a natural unspoken macho-man friendship that anchors the film.

This must have been a shocker of a picture in '68 it's brutal and hard-boiled in a way so few movies are. I mean there's a chainsaw fight. But the truly unsettling scenes of the rape and pillage of a town that our leads have failed to save is shocking fifty years later. I know very little about the actual conflict that is fictionalized in the movie so I cannot comment on the factual basis but it's unsettling in the film. The action is of the old Hollywood two-fisted variety in the film is handled very well, lots of jumping from tall things onto various moving vehicles, heavy machine guns blast at fighter planes that strive the train, and bloody fist fights lead into chainsaw fights. Jack Cardiff was mostly a cinematographer (he lensed "The African Queen" for one) and it shows. It's a nice looking picture. Unfortunately it's not perfect the Yvette Mimieux sub-plot is forced and doesn't really go anywhere. Kenneth More's character is sorta tacked on as well and there's a bit of slog in the middle of the picture. In the hands of say Robert Aldrich, Don Siegel or J. Lee Thompson it would have been a stone-cold classic war movie, but as it stands its just a perfect little cult-type film. The problems are not out-weighed by the great stuff in it, it's a real exploding roller coaster ride of a movie. It's not quite up there with "Wild Geese" for me but it's top-tier soldier of fortune action.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Pepperoni Hero #1: Sandwiches are Not My Business by Bill Kelly

I don't know what this novel is. I don't think Bill Kelly knew what this novel was. It's too funny to be a straight novel, too hard-boiled to be a spoof, it's lays in the middle in a grey area of goofiness and danger.

Pepperoni Hero (yes, real name) is a "adventurer" maybe? I dunno, he's a guy who knows shady people and does shady things for cash. He's a Chicago Travis McGee by way of the Marx Brothers. He's got the houseboat (in Chicago!) and the requisite army badass backstory. He drink gin and sexes on a LOT of ladies. Again, Pepperoni Hero is his real name, I can't get over that. I LOVE THAT SO MUCH. I want to own a sandwich shop called "Pepperoni Heroes" and grace it's walls with the lovely artwork of this three-book series.

  • Pepperoni Hero #1: Sandwiches Are Not My Business 
  • Pepperoni Hero #2: Peanut Butter and Jelly is Not for Kids
  • Pepperoni Hero #3: Tuna Fish is Not for Eating

The series was put out by Zebra Books which put out some of the oddest examples of Men's Adventure fiction. Jerry La Plante's "Chameleon," Robert Franklin Murphy's "The Girl Factory," "Big Brain" by Gary Brandner were all oddballs on the shelf. Most of their series didn't last over three books, that is until you get to some of Jerry Ahern's output. But Zebra did one thing right, theses has some of the coolest 70's covers ever put in print.

Okay, so Pep can gamble like a madman and an old army buddy wants him to gamble with an evil brother-in-law to clean him out...for some reason. This is the plot of the novel. In order to get to the plot you read through tons of backstory and little side-missions that Pep has done. Most of these are more interesting then the novel. It's almost a Mosaic novel about Pep, it kinda of darts too and fro relating sexual escapades and ass-kickery. Then it ends, sorta but it sets up the next book Pepperoni Hero #2.

The book reminded me of Ross H. Spencer's novels of drunken stumble-bum private eyes, those two have a loose narrative and you ride along with them for the humor and the characters. They had funny names too: Chance Purdue, Lacey Lockington, Birch Kirby, etc. etc. Later I got the Pepperoni Hero vibe from "Decoy #1: The Great Pretender" by Jim Deane, rambling, sexy and goofy. Maybe if you like Warren Murphy's Digger/Trace books you might like it too, but that's a stretch if you're picky.

All that makes it sound like a bad novel, huh?

I don't know if it is. Bill Kelly could write. If he wanted to write a novel that reads like a drunk man is recounting his life to you over gin in a seedy bar, he damn-straight wrote that book. If he was doing it as a joke on the reading public, he sure did that too. Or maybe he just tossed off a book for fun after reading a bunch of John D. MacDonald and this is what he ended up with, it got published and he wrote two more. The world may never know. It's not a book for everyone, in fact I'm sure I'm in the VERY small minority that would even consider picking up #2 after reading it. But I did. I have the whole series. How cool am I?

Glutton for 70's punishment.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Manor Eyes: "Texas Wind" by James Reasoner and "Some Die Hard" by Stephen Mertz

Manor Books never hit the big time. They had a few Men's Adventure series that are worth noting,  Andrew Sugar's bat-shit crazy Enforcer, Keller by Neslon De Mille (before his name took up more space on a book's cover then art) others with names like Aquanauts,  Bronson, Kill-Squad, Kung-Fu Featuring Mace, Nookie, Mondo, etc. etc. But along the way they published the first novels of James Reasoner and Stephen Mertz (writing as Stephen Brett) both are old-school private eye novels of a the highest quality. Both authors have had good careers in books with numbers on them, Mertz in the Bolan world, plus M.I.A. Hunter and others. Reasoner in westerns mostly with series like Longarm and Trailsman. Its clear they both love their private eyes though, both books are great tributes to the characters that came before but yet build on the concept of "one man vs. them all" that is the central theme of detective fiction and put it through the lens of their respective times and places.

"Texas Wind" is the best Mike Shayne novel ever written, but of course it's not it being the only novel-length appearance of Cody a Fort Worth private investigator. I couldn't help comparing the two as Cody and Shayne are some of the best representations of the classic version of the American Private Detective out there. I think Mr. Reasoner will appreciate the Shayne reference (if he ever reads this, yeah right!) as he cut his teeth writing Shayne some of the best novelettes for Mike Shayne Mystery magazine and has an affection for the character. Shayne has gotten the tag of "generic P.I." which is unfair in my opinion as Shayne lives in a clearly written world and he himself is fairly different in setting, temperament and habits then the cliched detective, that being said Shayne was ghost written and after a while the edges of his character were smoothed away. In a lot of ways Cody is a generic P.I. on the surface, a loner with an answering service, freshly bought Remington prints for his office, .38 and a sense of right and wrong. In lesser hands the book wouldn't be as FANTASTIC as it is. Cody pounds pavement, asks question, sinks his teeth into a case about missing college student and doesn't let go. Along the way he tangles with mafioso, gets beaten, shot at and at one point has a severed finger in his glove box. Cody is Shayne with sharp edges and a breath of excited first-novel writing that is sometimes magical.

"Some Die Hard" is about Rock Dugan (GREAT NAME) a colorful Denver-based hip 70's detective trying to figure out a flying locked room mystery. Dugan's a right tough guy with a .44 magnum, a stunt-man background and a love for books. Right after you meet Dugan he's reading a Perry Mason. I love things like in books. Influences on your sleeve. Dugan has to solve the death of a man who went up in a sailplane only to come down in it dead with a knife in his chest. Probably the only locked-sailplane mystery ever. Dugan's story has the hallmarks of a classic Gold Medal private eye paperback, crooked cops, the mob, rich evil people, etc. etc. But I got the Mike Shayne vibe from it as well. See back in the early Shayne days when eye-patched David Dresser (it makes a cool author photo) was still writing them Shayne had the hard-boiled "Black Mask" edge to him tempered by a bit of the screwball and a bit of the "classic detection/locked-room" bit; i.e. gathering the suspects into a room at the end of the book and verbally spewing the tale of his investigation until the killer was apparent.  This is a humdinger of hard-boiled tale that twists and fires on all .44 cylinders. Plus it's dedicated to Don Pendleton of  "The Executioner" fame. Super side-note: Pendleton wrote a awesome P.I. series of his own about Joe Copp, so add those to your list too.

Both writers have spoken about how Manor was a screwy place to write for so that probably killed the chance of Cody or Dugan appearing in other books, much to my chagrin. Cody did appear in some short stories in various places (including, you guessed in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine) they were all collected in "Fort Worth Nights," and it along with "Texas Wind," is readily available in paperback and ebook. Though Dugan was one-and-done, Stephen Mertz does now have a series set in the 70's about a tough-guy private eye named Kilroy that can be seen as a spiritual successor to Dugan. That's a terrific series, lean and mean detective stories that a few-and-far between these days. "Some Die Hard" and the Kilroy books are all in paperback and ebook too. So, you can have a lot of quality writing at your bloody little fingers pretty quick. The original paperback of "Texas Wind" and "Some Die Hard" aren't readily available. "Texas Wind" in particular is a pricey book, I got lucky when I picked mine up from one of the massive online booksellers, I rolled the dice on a no picture Amazon listing and came up lucky. It only took like fifteen years of looking. Yeah, man I lead a life worth living.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The D.C. Man #1: Top Secret Kill by James P. Cody

Phew. Man, this was a damned good book. I read about the D.C. Man books from Paperback Warrior and have been looking for them for a while. It was worth the wait. Its an expensive series to collect and I'm a cheap bastard so it took a while to track down a couple of the book. One I got in a big lot of books from eBay and the other from Etsy of all places, sometimes looking for presents for you wife REALLY pays off. Now I have zero-to-little interest in Politics so this action-adventure series about a Washington lobbyist who kicks some ass is an unlikely love but it's SO MUCH BETTER then 90% of paperback fiction I couldn't help but fall for it.

This first book had a solid set of stock of characters including a real, vulnerable yet tough main character in Brian Peterson a troubleshooter with a military intelligence background, too all the minor characters who are all well thought out and interesting. There's nice twists on stock characters, a caring yet happily married secretary is a sharp contrast to the love-lorn secretary in many private eye novels. His reporter buddy has a real drinking problem, not just the standard "hard-drinking reporter" cliche. Peterson's got a lot of friends in all walks of life, some help him out, some get killed for their trouble. The D.C. Man's world is well-hard; full of high-class prostitutes, embassy intrigue, and foreign and domestic spies. There's clear thought out violence, mystery and a nice quest for vengeance the whole package teeters nicely between all out Men's Adventure and a good crime series.

Peterson has the prerequisite for a good Men's Adventure series: A dead family. Usually it's not a big deal for one of these tough vigilantes, their family was only there in the narrative to piss him off by dying. But Peterson's families death was average, a regular way for people to die and he didn't go on a quest for vengeance. No, he fell to pieces went to the beach drank, got fat, and banged his way through a few months then returned to D.C. to resume his lobbyist career. But his heart wasn't in it and he found a niche in cleaning up dirty little messes for politicians and the like. He's a regular broken tough guy who packs a .32 revolver with a couple other guns for backups, has a cool built in wall safe, drinks his scotch with a lime and eats a lot of steaks.

  • D.C. Man #1: Top Secret Kill
  • D.C. Man #2: Search and Destroy 
  • D.C. Man #3: Your Daughter Will Die!
  • D.C. Man #4: French Killing

I kept thinking of another book while reading this one, "Death of a Citizen" by Donald Hamilton, the first in his long running Matt Helm badass novels. It's a stone cold classic, not just in the crime/adventure/mystery category of fiction but in all of fiction. Seriously it should be read in college classes, make them a lot cooler. In "Death of a Citizen," an old spy's life is up-heaved and he has to go to work again doing dirty deeds. They both are espionage stories with a hard-boiled detective slant and characters that leap off the page. "Death of a Citizen" like "Top Secret Kill" came out of the gate as nearly perfect set-ups for a series with main characters who you wanted to follow along for years to come. Luckily, Matt Helm had a shit-load of books but sadly D.C. Man only had four. It's a shame. I haven't read the other 3 (yet) its such an interesting set-up for a series that the possibilities are endless being able to flip-flop through sub-genres.

James P. Cody author of this bloody, sexy thriller was actually an ex-priest named Peter T. Rohrbach which is a fun thing to type. The discovery of backstory was handled by Paperback Warrior, I suggest you read their article cause it's all sorts of interesting. I wish Rohrbach had more badass books in him but he didn't seem to, the rest of his writing career seemed to by about history and religion.