Thursday, March 18, 2021

Earl Drake #5: Operation Breakthrough by Dan J. Marlowe

Dan J. Marlowe is correctly regarded as paperback royalty.  "The Name of the Game is Death" and "One Endless Hour" are stone cold classics (they work best as one bigger-novel) that are hard touch. In them we are introduced to Earl Drake (under a different name) a hard-case criminal who gives Richard Stark's Parker a run for his money. To top it off Marlowe's got a run in the 60's for Gold Medal with a great string of standalone hardboiled work that are nearly all great. Marlowe's real-life story is a paperback novel too full of amnesia, spanking women, local politics, bank robbers, death and drink. I'm not going to get into that too much, as there's much better places that delve into Marlowe's world. What I find interesting is that Marlowe seemed to work with a co-author a lot of the time. Apparently credited co-author on "The Raven is a Blood Red Bird" William C. Odell ( a Colonel in the U.S. Airforce) worked with him on the early Drake books at least, as his entry on the U.S. Naval Institute website credits him as wining a Edgar award that was surely the award the Drake novel "Flashpoint" won. Some online sources cite Fletcher Flora as the co-author to the stand-alone "Vengeance Man" as well. Then there's his noted working with convicted bank robber-turned-writer Al Nussbaum. I get the vibe that Marlowe played things fast and loose in life. I need to track down Charles Kelly's "Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe" and maybe all my questions will be answered.  

So, maybe Fawcett Gold Medal wanted another spy series to go with the adventures of their other series espionage characters and for some reason thought the cold-blood bank robber Chet Arnold, er, Earl Drake would be a good fit. Or maybe Marlowe just wanted to write about spies as he had done before in some of his stand-alone work and wanted to ride the wave of the good vibes from "The Name of the Game is Death." Who knows. Either way Drake became a freelance spy working under a shadowy Government man named Karl Erikson. This era of the Drake books is often kinda dismissed in comparison to his early work which is a shame. The first Marlowe book I read was one of the last Drake novels and it certainly turned me onto Marlowe's writing. The 70's were a weird time for Gold Medal, the emphasis had definitely shifted from standalone's to series work, probably trying to get all that "Executioner" money. There were ongoing series entries in stable series like Matt Helm, Sam Durrell and Joe Gall, plus upstart series like Daniel Da Cruz's Jock Sargent books. I won't even get into the "The Godfather" knockoffs they stuffed the spinner racks with. So, where does Earl Drake land? For my money he's the best Gold Medal spy of the 70's. Sure they're not up there with Marlowe's earlier glory but they are certainly strong works of Men's Adventure. 

"Operation Breakthrough" starts off with a slam-bang heist, barrels through a "man on the run" story, then spy shenanigan's to a break out yarn. Earl Drake is a slick lead character with a nice man-of-a-thousand-faces-gimmick. He's stuiably tough and dangerous with his .38, but he's still a bit of a fish out of water when it comes to spying. This gives him a realistic-vibe, not making him a perfect superman, plus a bitchin' girlfriend names Hazel who's cool under pressure. Marlowe tosses full characters down on the page with ease and short work, all the side-characters seem real or real in a pulp way anyway. There's a continuing story going on here too; you probably need to read the early ones in order; as there's a lot references to past escapades.  If I remember correctly the later books are pretty stand-alone. This is really no-frills top-shelf Men's Adventure. 

Monday, March 8, 2021

Quick Shots: Scott Mitchell #4: Neon Madman by John Harvey

British author John Harvey is most famous for his Charlie Resnick Nottingham-based police procedurals. They are almost uniformly loved. I haven't ever read one as police procedurals is a sub-genre I just haven't ever latched onto. But Harvey got his teeth cut in the Piccadilly westerns, the English brand of American western novels by of the Spaghetti western. Books like George Gilman's Edge and Adam Steele. Harvey wrote some in the "Apache," "Hart: The Regulator," "Hawk," and more. He also wrote the W.W.II series "Deathshop," which I have but haven't gotten too. But what I got here is the forth book about Scott Mitchell a British hard-boiled private detective. All four books were written in a two year gap from '76 to '77. That's some fast-writing (especially cause that's not all the books her wrote in those years) and it kinda shows but that's also part of the charm of it. 

Mitchell is fairly low-rent doing divorce work mostly and being self-deprecating. He's hired to get picture (the dirty kind) of a woman by her husband. He does it and then promptly get his ass kicked and sliced in his office by two thugs who may or may not be involved. Well, like any private eye worth his salt Mitchell sticks his nose into dirty deeds at the center and the cool woman who seems to have stepped out of a 40's film-noir. Along the way Mitchell gives his knuckles a workout, chases down leads, talks to people, tangles with a sadistic killer with one glass eye that he pops out and plays with; when he's not slicing with his switchblade, gets beat up some more by cops and just generally does the paperback-P.I. thing. You can tell Harvey can write wearing some of his aspirations on his sleeve. He and me are both fans of the "Out of the Past," the finest example of film-noir. Plus Mitchell is a nicely sardonic character who's wit and observations carry the book

"Neon Madman" didn't reinvent the wheel, it didn't even put a new hub-cap on it but it was pleasant in a comforting way. It's a standard second-tier private eye novel transplanted to England. Something in the Frank Kane, Henry Kane or Michael Brett vein. The pages flew by over a couple of hours in two days stretched out on a couch with a nice cuppa black coffee. I have no complaints about reading it, but it struggled to remember much of the plot a day or two later, so there's a lot of what you need to know. The original printings are super scarce and pricey. They do sport some pretty nifty photo-covers; some of the best examples of that style of cover, but probably aren't worth the price. Mysterious Press reprinted all four in two-doubles and they are available as ebooks for more reasonable prices.  I did enjoy it enough that I'm glad I have some other examples of Harvey's early word to digest but I probably won't rush into them.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Quick Shots: Jeff Pride #2: The Duplicate Stiff by Archie O'Neil

Archie O'Neil's Jeff Pride series has been with me for years. It's a simple story: I picked up a couple of cheap books years ago cause of the cover and promptly buried it in a sea of other books. Flash forward to man years later when Paperback Warrior reviewed the first book in the series and it got my off my duff to see what this series is all about. Go over to Paperback Warrior to read about who Archie O'Neill really was and just generally enjoy a much slicker kind of book review of the first book, which I also read, really dug it and then went out (to the internet) and picked up the rest of the books.

I got to admit the reason why I didn't read the series before is that Jeff Pride is a travel agent. It was hump I couldn't traverse. An action-packed mystery solved by a travel agent? Meh. Chalk it up to my prejudice against people who book tickets, I guess. Anyhoo, Jeff Pride is a lot more then simple trip planner, no he's got a background as an "international private investigator" (where do I apply?) for an outfit called Phoenix Security from which he's semi-retired from. He's also got Cherry. Cherry is one of them dames who only exist in the minds of men. She's hot-stuff, witty and wants Pride's bod. BUT she's also his ward (like Batman and Robin) after her father died and asked Pride to watch after her and Pride isn't that creepy. Cherry is a lot of fun and her and Pride have a nice plutonic Nick and Nora vibe of bickering going on. Pride's or O'Neill's sarcastic nature and wit really propel the books past a lot of the standard fare that used to clutter book racks. 

In "The Duplicate Stiff" Pride is in his Paris office and in walks trouble or more accurately trouble (in lady form) bumps into him on the street and causes a stir. She wants Pride to help save her husbands neck with his company after the man he hired had been embezzling. Pride wants nothing to do with but gets dragged into after a murder rap hangs over his head. The plot is nicely standard, like a Taco Bell in a different town. There's a few women for Pride to boink, a seedy/dangerous Private Eye to tangle with, colorful friends, gunfights, car chases and a hardnosed French cop. The Paris scenery and Pride's relationship with Cherry combined with his Pride's glib telling of the facts give the book a nice flare. Jeff Pirde would have been right at home at 60's brand of Gold Medal Paperbacks is Archie O'Neill started writing them sooner. He could have shared drinks with Chet Drum, Constaine and McCall or Shell Scott and fit right in.

Though Shell would have tried to lay the mack on Cherry. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Quick Shots: The New Adventures of Frankenstein #1: Frankenstein Lives Again by Donald F. Glut

Unlike Popular Library's "Frankenstein Horror Series" this 70's paperback Frankenstein series, actually stars Frankenstein. And yes, I'm going to call the monster Frankenstein cause that part of my brain stayed ten-years-old. Any-who, monster-fan, filmmaker, and writer of books, comics, TV and movies Donald F. Glut took up the mantle to tell a absolutely buckets of fun Frankenstein pulp novel. I'm a big fan of Universal Monsters and 70's paperbacks, so this like Robert Lory's Dracula series is like just tailor made for me. They exists in the right pocket of thrills and chills for me, not out-and-out horror tales, but a gothic-type horror but with adventure mixed in. It's a monster-kid book, pure and simply, like I can picture the characters in "The Monster Squad" having these on their bookshelf back home when they are off kicking Wolfman in the nards. 

Dr. Burt Winslow thinks that Dr. Frankenstein really did make the monster and that Shelly's novels is actually fact. So, being a pure-paperback hero with a bank account full of spendable cash he takes off across the globe to Ingolstadt, Germany to buy the Castle of Frankenstein and then brave the frozen tundra to find the big 'ol Frankenstein-ice-cube to haul him back to revive him, tackling Inuit's who believe the frozen Frankie is a god. After a short trip Burt and his love interest Lynn are in the castle with Frankie and the villagers in town are about to boil over with torch-carrying fury. Plus a traveling mesmerist baddie named Dartani and his ghoulish muscle Gort are in the mix. Like a lot of dudes who mess with monsters, Burt immediately regrets his decision what with Frankenstein going on his customary rampage right after waking from his slumber. It all comes to an enjoyable head at the end, with fun action and nods to the classic story.

Glut certainly knows what a monster-fan wants and fully delivers. The book suffers from some "early writing" by an author, it doesn't detract enough to ruin it. Mostly in the form of easy plot convenience and some shallow character stuff. But it swiftly moves along like a real fun B-Movie with a big budget. The originals releases are by the British publisher Mews and aren't the easiest to get. Mine came from all over the world, but the covers were just too damned gruesomely pretty for me to resist. Luckily, Pulp 2.0 has recently republished the whole series, plus the continuations that Glut had written over the years into two big omnibuses that looks great, I'll have to pick them up and Glut's Brother Blood, a Blacula-inspired novel that looks too cool for school. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Quick Shots: Flash Gordon: The Ice Monster by Al Williamson

This slim paperback is chock full of adventure. I've always been a fan of Flash Gordon, an early exposure to the character as being as part of the foundation of "Star Wars" and the 1980 film with the killer soundtrack. Now days "Star Wars" is fairly boring to me, but I still love Flash. Images of the old serials and the comic strips may flash (get it) in my head, but the foundation of my love of the character was the novels in the Avon paperbacks that were mostly written by Ron Goulart. They were fairly close adaptations of the comic strip itself, albeit with Goulart's own wild humor creeping in every now and then. I picked my incomplete collection at a my local library's big book sale, the kind where you fill up bags for a couple of bucks. I remember I got a big stack of Tarzan and Doc Savage novels at the same time. Then I spent a good chunk of  a years worth of summer days blowing through the year after graduating high school and going to college reading them before and after work. I was THAT cool. So, the three characters are tied together in my mind.

Al Williamson is a damned good and The Ice Monster a full-throttle thrill ride. It basically comprises of three short tales that sort of strung together. After starting with a "previously on Flash Gordon" catch-up were plunged right into the adventure. Flash, Dr. Zarkov and Dale are on a mission to Mongo for the mineral Radium to use back on Earth. but so they go and have a mini-vacation while Barin has the radium loaded onto their ship. But surprise an Ice Monster pops up. Flash saves a princess and then gets involved in some castle intrigue involving an anti-aging serum. It's a solid little adventure but probably the least of the three in the book. "The Mole Machine" takes up the middle of the book and it's probably my favorite. Zarkov and Flash take a ride in his new mole machine to the center of the Earth which is wet and monster filled. But save another princess and is taken prisoner by the King, he's happy to have them but they can't return cause us top-dwellers ruin everything. But with some fisticuffs and after redirecting a river of lava they leave anyway. It was a fun "Journey of to the Center of the Earth" tale and I'm a real sucker for those. The final tale is "Death Trap on Mongo" and if your were wondering when Ming showed up its here (sorry to ruin the thin disguise) it's a neat little tale in the classic Flash mold. Dale gets zapped to Mongo and Flash and Zarkon rush to save her only to find the place is a madhouse after other prominent citizens are zapped away. Ming's behind it, there's some nice sword-fighting and swash-buckling and then it's over.

The whole paperback-sized graphic novel is something that takes a little getting used too. The format isn't the best and it's easy to see why it didn't last too long. It's simply not big enough. But I love 'em anyway, having burned through Dick Tracy and some of the Mighty Crusader reprints I guess I got used to it. It's a slim book and a SUPER fast read, seriously well under an hour but its' a lot of bang for you buck. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

The Hardy Boys Casefiles: Cult of Crime by Franklin D. (Steven Grant) Dixon

An early icy morning must have made me feel nostalgic because for some reason I pulled this Hardy Boys novel off the shelf from a stack of them. The Casefiles series was my gateway into the Hardy Boys and probably wetted my appetite for mystery fiction in general. They are very much a product of their time, late 80's-90's but that's the right time for my nostalgia button so it worked out. The whole series is aimed slightly higher age-wise than the original run of books, wanting to hook early teens with a bit more action and a spy angle. I read them checked out from school libraries in the form of the kinda-Frankenstein paperback/hardback that libraries used to do. Between the Casefiles and a probably bad in retrospect Canadian TV series from the same time-frame I 've been a Hardy Boys fan ever since. Though I haven't read one in ages or pretty much any "young adult" fiction. 

I found out that comic author Steven Grant wrote for the series a while back which peaked my interested. I'm a fan of his "2 Guns" comic and his work on the Punisher. Veteran pulpster Ron Goulart also wrote a couple and I'll probably have to read one of his next, I always enjoy Goulart's work. It's fitting that both of these two writers have Men's Adventure/comic-booky backgrounds because the Casefiles series has a definite feel of a teen's Men's adventure series. Frank and Joe have a tricked out van with all the electronic gizmos, get into a ample fist-fights, handle a gun or two and get chased around to take down the bad guys. While still hitting all the right buttons for a Hardy Boys tale, their large group of friends and their private detective father who never seems to do much.

"Cult of Crime" is about a cult (obviously) and a rescue mission to save a (maybe?) unwilling friend of Frank and Joe. Frank starts by going undercover into a cult where that their friend has joined and who their father Fenton had tracked down. The girl is 18 so Fenton couldn't bring her home, but Frank and Joe being the Hardy Boys decide to step in and take matters into their own hands. Along the way they get framed for murder, hop a train, met a crazy old hermit draft-dodger/smuggler and take his under ground tunnels to safety, fight off murderous cult-members/criminals, try and stop a riot and bank robbery and then uncover a deep dark family secret. It's sort of like a teenage Race Williams novel with a bit of a Lew Archer book mixed in. I read it in an hour or so between sips of a lot of coffee and had a lot of fun. Steven Grant keeps the pace moving in a breakneck-cliffhanger style and if I didn't read it when I was a kid, I missed out cause I would have loved it. It was nice to step back from the blood-and-guts for a minute and enjoy a tamer version of all of the stuff I enjoy. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

The Big Black by Symon (Ken Follett) Myles

Off the bat, this is a very hard book to track down and super expensive when you do. When I read and reviewed the first "Apples" Carstairs thriller from a young Ken Follett I wasn't sure I'd ever track down the remaining two in the series, I can rarely match wallets with "serious" book collectors and a big name like Follett bring them out. This copy of the second Apples book popped up on eBay as a buy-it-now but still out of my price range and it didn't sell for a while. The seller must have gotten impatient to unload it and dropped the price for an auction. Long story short after a small bidding war I ended up with it, paying more then I like to pay for a old paperback but well under what I suppose the book is worth. The downside now is that there's still "The Big Hit," the third book in the trilogy roaming out there. The only copy readily available online having Follett's signature and is well past three-hundred dollars. Maybe lightning will strike and I'll end up lucky with the final book in the series. Or maybe Follett's staunch resistance to reprinting them will wain. He might need to repair his car again which is the whole reason the books exists in the first place, a busted down car and a need for cheap paperbacks. Which is the sort of stuff I love to hear about.

Apples is a quasi-vigilante and rich guy. He's got a successful business that he rarely has to do anything keep up, two girlfriends to keep him company, fancy clothes and a sweet Jaguar. He's also got a squirrelly background as a street-kid, crime reporter and general dude-in-the-know. He's a rank amateur in the world of vigilantism, he's no Mack Bolan, Sharpshooter or Lone Wolf. Being an Englishman there's no packing heat and as he says in the this book a "pen-knife would ruin the lines on his suit," but what he lacks in hardware he makes up for by being both VERY lucky and pretty plucky. I very much enjoy the first book in there series when a lot of more reputable firms like Paperback Warrior didn't care for it at all. It didn't dawn on my why I liked it so much until I was knee-deep in the second book. I was picturing "Jason King" actor Peter Wyngarde as Apples and envisioning a low-rent groovy English crime-caper B-Movie while I read. Which would have just be amazing.

The most 70's author photo ever
The plot of "The Big Black" is a bit convoluted and rambling, seat of the pants writing, surely, but a lot of fun. There's photos of Apples and his two girlfriends in bed, minor threats of blackmail, major threats of blackmail, gun-running, random shagging, running from the law, trips around Europe, Apples kills a few people with nice improvised weapons (a razor stuck in an APPLE, get it?) and murdering of the a company via the stock market. Apples jumps at the chance to play cops and robbers after spending time in the country with his daughter who was the jumping-off-point of the revenge of the first book and is recovering from a drug overdose. Overall this is a stronger book than the first entry, it's played pretty much all for fun thrills without the melodrama involving his daughter that sort of bogged down "The Big Needle." It's a very interesting "avenger with style," series, as the ad for the series in the back puts it, a rank amateur matching wits and brawn against far more capable villain's. It's a really solid little time-capsule of a caper novel, light-hearted with dollops of hard violence.  

Follett really has very little to be embarrassed about, it's a very fine example of 70's crime-pulp and a lot hipper (at the time) then it's contemporaries. He nails the groovy nature of the time and the sleazy bars and greasy pubs. There's far worse out there and it might be fun for his audience to get a full introduction to Apples Carstairs, if only in ebook or perhaps a nice omnibus.