Thursday, January 4, 2024

My Favorite Men's Adventure Novel: Death of the Fuhrer by Roland Puccetti

HOUSE-KEEPING: First off let me say sorry for letting the blog lie dormant for a while. At the end of last year, I was finishing principal photography on the first full-length crime-filled film I wrote/produced called Arrive Alive (coming 2024) and I also got a paying gig at Fathom Press to write reviews of vintage horror novels. So, please go check that out! Plus, I finished my first novel (of course it's action-packed) that will be published. All of that unfortunately has kept my leisure reading at a minimum. But I'm here to rectify that. 

And I'm going to have some spoilers in this post, you are WARNED.

There's a couple of books that hit me at the right time and place and lit a fire under my ass. It's usually something I read that puts flame to the creative fire that turns into a screenplay or (so far) unpublished books. One such back in my young days was The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley, which really started my hardboiled mystery reading. Then there was a week where the one-two-punch of Jonathan Latimer's Solomon's Vineyard and Philip Jose Farmers vastly underrated Nothing Burns in Hell fired up the little grey cells. Both of those were instrumental in some of my first (unmade) feature-length screenplays that had any merit. 

Then, up there high on the peak of my adventure fiction mountain is The Death of The Fuhrer. It's one of those "infamous" type of books. Bill Pronzini mentioned it in his Gun in Cheek book about "questionable" fiction. Paperback haunts like Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot and Glorious Trash have told tale of the wonders of the book and spread its laurels through the fans of Men's Adventure field. That's where I heard of it and immediately wanted to read it. 

See, I hate Nazi's. I hate old Nazi's, new Nazi's and Illinois Nazi's. To me they're THE cliched villain for simple fact that they are best. There's no good willing-Nazi. I never tire of reading or watching about people punching Nazi's. Great stuff, keep up the good work. If you have other ideas about this, we can step outside, and I can introduce you to my fists The Hamburglar and The Grimace. 

As you might have guessed, The Death of the Fuhrer is about Nazi-killing. It's mostly set in 1951 and Karl Gisevius is our hero here; he's sort of a jackass who does jackass-things but with the best intention: to kill the still-living Adolf Hitler. He doesn't hesitate in his goal to kill Hitler, as soon as he finds out he's on the way to kill Hitler he's on the trail. See, Hitler has lost his brain after the war. They left his body in the bunker, but his brain is now in the body of someone else. Karl is on the trail of his old buddy from before the war who was the brain surgeon who unscrewed Hitler's head, scooped out the brain and put it back in the body of someone else. 

This leads Karl to motorcycle jump through the gates of a castle and the introduction of a mess of Nazi's. Karl has dinner and gets the hots for The Baroness of the castle. Later he has sex with her, and we discover that Hitler's brain is in the sexy lady Baroness. BIG SURPISE and wildest thing I have ever seen in a widely distributed paperback, in this case a Fawcett Gold Medal book. I can see this kinda oddball thing being in a Manor or Major or Canyon book, but a Fawcett Gold Medal? Then it takes a pit-stop into a weird section of mind-controlled hero stuff, including the other infamous scene where Karl makes sweet love to a sofa. After that it's full-tilt boogie as Karl fights his way through the castle, eventually finding himself killing a guard without THE TOP OF HIS SKULL OFF, trying carefully to not spill his precious brain juice. He patches up the old noggin and finds a German Luger and starts the big Bond-ish finale.


Roland Puccetti wrote three books as far as I can find, this one, one called The Trial of John and Henry Norton and a non-fiction book entitled Persons: A Study of Possible Moral Agents in the Universe. Neither of these books seem to be in the same spirit as The Death of the Fuhrer. But all of them dealt with the brain. The Trial of John and Henry Norton seems to be a quasi-Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde type novel and then his non-fiction work was also mind-related. So, I guess you can say he had something on his mind. He was born in Illinois and died in Canada in 1995. And that's all I know about him.

The Death of the Fuhrer was actually originally published as a hardback before the Fawcett edition. It was published in England as a hardback and had a paperback edition by Arrow. It's a little pricey now that it has a small cult following but shouldn't set you back too much for the Fawcett. All the editions have wonderfully different and sometimes spoiler-ish covers, you really can't go wrong. 

Why do I like this book so much? It's a rip-roaring time of a novel. It's slightly stilted and oddly seriously written which adds to its funky flavor with its hint of authorial madness that lurks behind each page. Puccetti most have LOVED the Men's magazines at the time, this is one of the few books that matches the flavor of the sweat mags. Nazi She-Devils, mad doctors, daring escapes, torture, sex, gunfights, it's full of it all. It really seems that Puccetti indulged in whatever vice was his (hey, it was the 70s) and tried to top every story he'd ever read in an issue of Man's Life or All Man.

And, dude, he did. 

I think the shear level of creativity and out-sider art feel of the books is what ultimately full engrossed me. There's no other book like it then or now and it seems like a pure distillation of Puccetti's interests and obsessions, so it's either completely honest or it's all just a lark of a book where Puccetti was just trying to push the boundaries higher and higher to make himself laugh. Because I do think he's tongue was in his cheek when he wrote it, at least a little bit. Hopefully.

It's a book full of ideas that gave me a bunch of ideas and not a cookie-cutter novel that was trying to be like every other Alastair MacLean rip-off. I love Men's Adventure series where it's comfort food, you can read about 'ol Mack Bolan and know there at the end Mack will be fine and ready to go killing Mafioso's in the next book. It's comfort food for a blood-thirsty soul. 

But every now and then you need to shake that up with something truly unpredictable. This is on the first in the Men's Adventure field to make me want to go out and find the weird stuff. I can't help but think of the weirdo-writers like our own Joseph Rosenberger or John D. (Hal Bennett) Revere or Doug (Loup Durand & Pierre Rey) Masters. That's enemy terrorist, where anything can happen. 

What can I say? I'm an oddball and it's a book after my own oddball heart. 

Monday, October 23, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: The Executioner #276: Levithan by Don (Gerald Montgomery) Pendelton


It's hard to believe that this is the first adventure of Mack Bolan I've reviewed here on the blog. The true Men's Adventure paperback boom started with our man, Mack. Sure, there's Bond roots, there's Mike Hammer roots, Matt Helm roots. But the idea of the numbered book with the continuing bloody adventures of a singular man pretty much started with War Against the Mafia. Book #1 is a stone-cold classis a slim masterclass in action writing. Then obviously after 30-something books Don Pendleton was a little done with Bolan and Gold Eagle stepped in with a plethora of ghostwriters. Some fantastic, some not-so-much. Thinking about it, I rarely dig my toe into the Bolan universe, I guess I think of them a bit to "normal" in the action-adventure field and I usually crave the wilder/weirder tales. 

That's called a lead-in. 

Probably like any series that gets into the high 200's things are bound to get a little odd. That's exactly what began to happen with the Bolan books (might have to read more of this late-period ones) and Bolan found himself fighting more sci-fi-type villains and more outlandish plots. So, in Levithan Mack Bolan fights Cthulhu. Oh, and Hunter S. Thompson is there too. 

The plot is kinda out there, more akin to a Destroyer novel (Remo kicked Cthulhu in #139 Dream thing) but it's Bolan who gets roped into heading off to a converted oil platform to take care of this monster that keeps killing people. The people are bad dudes, the mafia has team-up with a drug kingpin plus the evil CIA to turn the platform into a sovereign nation to allow all the drugs/prostitution they can get. Only a nearby evil cult has taken offense, and their tentacle-packed ancient god is angry and killing everyone on the platform. A lot of the book reads like a B-Horror movie with a secluded cast and a rampaging monster. 

To stop it Bolan is sent in with Dr. West from Miskatonic University (watch Re-Animator if you don't get that reference) and FBI Mallory Harmon who is an X-Files-kind of FBI agent. Harmon is the real star of the book. It's like an episode of an old TV show where they are trying to do a spin-off and the main characters take a backseat. Between her, Dr. West, the Hunter S. Thompson stand-in and the villains, Bolan doesn't have a lot to do. Harmon has surer footing in the weird trappings of the story and Bolan is just sort of "there." Not saying that he doesn't blow plenty of bad guys away with his Desert Eagle, but it was clear that Montgomery was more interested in Harmon and her underwear. There's lots of talk and scenes/descriptions of her underwear. Including her introductory bit where she blows away a Hills Have Eyes-type clan in her bra and panties. Then stands around talking to her FBI colleagues without dressing.

The guys from Able Team show up to help, Bolan's brother has a small B-story and there's stuff with the evil cult too. There's a lot of stuff jammed into this 200-ish page books. Which is ultimately it's down fall. I've heard rumor that it was supposed to be a longer Super Bolan book then got cut down which would make sense. Montgomery can spin a yarn though; I can't say I was ever bored with it. The action is rolls along quickly and the pages flew by so whatever quibbles I had; they were easy to get over. 

I imagine this bend on the Executioner series was a weird one for diligent readers to take at the time and it doesn't really seem like they ever got this odd again. Let me know if they do though! I had a fun time with this one and its Halloween season so it's nice to read about monsters and people with machine guns fighting them. Spooky.

Friday, October 13, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: Friday the 13th Part 3: 3-D by Micheal Avallone

For those who are going to read this in the future just have it known that I timed something out right in life and got this review of a FRIDAY THE 13TH film done and out on...dun, Dun, DUN...Friday the 13th. Hold your applause. This is ground zero for Jason Vorhees in the written word, which is a little surprising to me since the novelized just about everything back in the day. I've covered a few of the YA novels here but this is the first grown-up Jason novel I've read.

This one's got a bit of bad reputation within the Friday fans, most of them don't seem to think my man Avallone got the tone right of a Friday film. And, yeah, they are probably right. This is exactly the reason why I LOVED this book. I'd imagine that most fans of the movies had never read one of Avallone's works before (they're missing out) and they don't quite understand what Avallone puts down when he writes a book. 

You have to look at this way, over coffee or a beer Michael Avallone tells you the story of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 3-D and he tells it to you in HIS voice, with little asides, mind wanderings and also probably sticking his finger out almost directly in your eye during the 3-D parts. He doesn't resort to just a bland retelling of a screenplay in a different form, he spins a Michael Avallone yarn with the screenplay as a jumping off point. 

Case in point: the novel starts off with a quote from THE SATAN SLUETH! Avallone's sadly too short series about Phillip St. George III who battles the occult and other monstrosities, a little like SCOOBY-DOO for adults who like whiskey and cigarettes. So, The Satan Sleuth is cannon for Jason to fight now? Where's that book? This sort of thing is fairly common in Avallone's work, his best-known character that loveable private eye Ed Noon shows up in The Butcher when Avallone was writing them too. It's part of why I love his work, but I'd bet it flew over the heads of the kids and teenagers who only wanted to read about dismemberment then and now. 

Now, I also LOVE the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies. For my money they are the sturdiest, meat and potatoes slasher pictures of the 80s. They sort of blend together in my mind sometimes, but I don't think they ever sink to the lows of some of the entries in the other slasher franchises of the time. Having just participated in a podcast where we watched every HALLOWEEN movie from the original to the 2nd Rob Zombie film, I can tell you the highs might be higher with HALLOWEEN, but the lows are much, much lower.

The novelization follows the movie pretty closely, though there are difference since Avallone was working off of an earlier script. Some kids come to Crystal Lake to stay for the weekend, but uh-oh Jason is there. Part 3 is the one where Jason finally gets his hockey mask and were everything is right in the world. Buts it's a "faceless white mask" in the book, still better than a burlap sack. It's slice and dice, and crush and stab past that. Avallone breezes through the book and seemingly had a good time with it. Even though I doubt slashers where his thing. Having read some of his other works in the horror genre like THE COFFIN THINGS and his work in the gothics, he was more traditional in his horror taste I mean he did ghost write for Boris Karloff after all. 

Michael Avallone is one of my favorite writers, I can't seem to dislike a book of his so I'm biased but if you go in with the right mindset, I think it'll be a good time for the reader. Problem is this, like every 80's slasher franchise novel is ridiculously hard to come by and very expensive when you do. Being an Avallone fan this was a my "white whale" for quite a while before I bite the bullet and scooped it up for around $50 which wasn't the worst deal sadly. I'm glad I did though. Sometimes in collecting you have to open your wallet to make the itch go away.

Oh, and no, no parts of this book required 3-D glasses. 

Thursday, September 28, 2023

DOUBLE SHOT: Vigilante #6 by V.J. (Robert Lory) Santiago & Shannon #3 Jake (J.C. Conaway) Quinn

I haven't been reading enough for this blog lately, being swamped with work, life and filmmaking. Also, I'm about to start writing reviews of vintage horror paperbacks for a publisher's website, so most of my reading has been heading that direction. So, those are my excuses, folks. Anyway, the idea behind this little exercise was to kick that problem in the butt. So, I turned to my slim-little friends, the paperbacks in the Men's Adventure field to cure me of what ails me. I intended to read three or four, but I got two. Whatta ya goin' do? 

Up first was Vigilante #6: Washington, D.C.: This Gun for Justice, talk about a full title. I've been reading these books out of order, which is pretty stupid since they have a strong sense of continuity and take place in a relatively short time period, which makes me sort of an idiot when you stop and think about it. But there's enough refences to keep me up to speed, besides I know the basic formula of a Death Wish-clone. 

The Vigilante series is a Robert Lory joint. He's really one of my go-to paperback writers of the 70s, between this series, the Dracula Returns books and his work on John Eagle, Expeditor (and no John's not in shipping) because he is really very reliable and tells quick moving, well balance action stories...usually...

Joe Madden is the titular Vigilante. He's a business guy and Korean war vet *dun-dun-da* is pushed too far with the brutal murder of his wife. After that he takes to killing criminals with his Mauser HSc and his .38 Colt. One of the hooks is that Joe has to travel for work, so it's like one big road-trip around the country murdering villains. This entry finds him in Washington D.C. and up against the most 70s bad guy: The evil cult leader. 

I love evil cult stories, which is why I picked this volume to tackle. The problem is that Lory seems bored with this series (this proved to be the last entry) and the book suffers. He was clearly had more interest in the evil cult leader than Madden at this point and sends healthy chunks of the book with the bad guy's evil plan involving Mafia goons, drugs and brainwashing. Madden plays second-fiddle but is pretty fun when he's around, beating up people, shooting people, saying cool one-liners, but he's simply just not in the book enough to safe it. So, I guess the series kinda goes out with a whimper, but I'm still happy about tackling the early books because Lory is a great action-writer. If nothing else, it made me want to dip back into his Dracula books for Halloween...

With the slight disappoint in Vigilante heavy on my mind, I went ahead and went with a sure-fired hit: Shannon #3, a novel in a three-book series put out by Leisure books, the mark of quality. Kidding. I have a fondness for these weird little experiments that didn't go far, more so than the Men's Adventure books that were popular. They are always so off-kilter or off-model. Or just bad, depending on your opinion. 

The Shannon books are by a guy who's not really the "Jake Quinn" on the cover, but a dude named J.C. Conaway who wrote a bunch in the 70s under various names including some under his own. He's not everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoy his laid-back take on the whole blood and guts book business. Patrick Shannon is a spy/private eye working for an organization named Morituri who lives in a swank apartment with his buddy/valet Joe-Dad and tools around in a Porsche when he's not banging ladies and drinking large quantities of booze. Everyone and then he solves a crime, oh and he writes fictionalized books based on his adventures. Whatta life. 

Shannon has a problem with brain-washed spies in the U.N. in this one and that this crazy dude named Garth who has some ESP and hypnotism powers that he amplifies with radio receivers implanted in his victim's skull. Shannon's on the case! And that's what these books are, private eye cases gusseted up for the jet-set spy world. Shannon drinks, investigates, drinks, questions people, eats, drinks, talks to the coroner, drinks, goes to a play, drives around, drinks, sexes, etc. etc. These really have more of a "hang-out" feel rather than an action-packed thrill ride. but Joe-Dad and Shannon are fun to hang out with. That being said, it does end with a nice car chase and a wonderfully gory death. 

These remind me a lot of Martin Meyer's Hardy series, which I love, and a lot of people seem not too. They have the same slightly goofy hi-tech private eye meets couch potato feel. I understand that these aren't for everyone, but you can do worse. 

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Doughnut Legion by Joe R. Lansdale and MIA Hunter #4: Moutain Massacre by Joe R. Lansdale and Stephen Mertz

I've long been on record with my love of the work of Joe R. Lansdale, like here and here. He's incredibly influential to me as a writer of various things from screenplays right down to blog posts and probably even the occasional text message. I found his work early in life when my brain hadn't gotten all of its little squiggles and his stuff expanded and warped those little squiggles. Thank God, am I right? I'm bad about reading new books though, those fresh off the printing press books kind of novels. But I did this time when I found the newest Lansdale opus The Doughnut Legion at my local library. Gee, that helps 'ol Joe out doesn't? I promise I'll buy it when it comes out in softcovers. Promise. 

Any which way, The Doughnut Legion is one I've been looking forward to once I heard its slightly off-center premise which involves a UFO-loving cult, spooky encounters, evil killers and even a face-stealing chimp which is usually dressed in a little outfit. All of that is solid gold, my friends. 

Our main hero is Charlie Garner an ex-cop and an ex-private eye turned writer who is visited one night by the ghost (or projection or hallucination) of his ex-wife indicting that she's in danger. She is a flighty woman who's gotten mixed up with The Saucer People, a cult that all but runs a small Texas town and does in fact, run the local doughnut chain. I mean it's a mystery novel, so Charlie drags his brother Felix, the strongman ex-therapist turned private eye into the mess. Felix drags his main squeeze the lawyer Cherry into the fray as well and we're off to the races. Like always, the characters shine so bright that you can barely read the page it's so bright. Besides are main crew we get the wonderful wannabe reporter Scrappy, the bored chief of police and his awesome dog Tag. Hopefully this a start of a series to get to spend more time with these people because they deserve it.

It's a book chock full of murders, tough talk, tragedy, shootings, punching's, chimp-related dismemberment, fun banter and a solid mystery with a nicely evil thug of a villain at the top of the heap. I read the book in two-sittings which is common when I crack a Lansdale, the book is so smooth the pages glide on by. It reminded me of the works of Fredric Brown, especially the Ed and Am Hunter books with its quasi-supernatural/sci-fi bits which is something not a lot of folks do then or now. It's more than just a fun read, so don't be like me and go buy it and give Joe some cash. 

I was still in the mood for Lansdale, so I decided to trek back to the earlier and pseudonym years. Back in the day the always readable Stephen Mertz had a series he created called M.I.A. Hunter where Mark Stone went back over to 'Nam and had some action and adventure. In the style at the time, he filled out the ranks with some other writers, like Joe and fellow Texan and awesome writer Bill Crider. Some years later Subterrain Press put out a big thick fancy numbered hardcover of the three novels Stephen and Joe worked on together. It's long out of print and I've long wanted it. So, about mid-way through The Doughnut Legion I decided to treat myself and picked up a copy. Even though I have the whole run in paperback. That's the life of a book-nerd, folks. And I didn't help Joe or Stephen either, since I bought it second-hand. I'm a terrible fan. 

#4 Moutain Massacre is the one I chose to read, mostly cause it had ninjas. I'm a sucker for dogs, ninjas, cold beer and hot ladies. The M.I.A. Hunter books are an off-shot of the 80's in general, Mack Bolan, Chuck Norris, Rambo and the lot. Missing POW's where a big thing back then, hell Stephen kinda kicked off the craze with The Executioner #43 Return to Vietnam. In the intro Joe makes it clear that he, while respected the kind of writer that could work quickly and efficiently within the Men's Adventure field, that he was always uncomfortable writing within the set confines of about anything. But like most authors could use the cash it would generate. He bought a Plymouth Horizon that was then referred to as "the MIA Hunter Car." 

Joes got nothing to be embarrassed about Mountain Massacre reads like an author (or authors) having a lot of fun. Working from an awesome and tight Mertz outline Joe lets hisownself seep into the book in the right measure. Stone and his buddies Terrence and Hog Wiley are over in 'Nam rescuing folks when they get mixed up with some mystical bandits that live in the hills and act all ninja-y. They are shocked to find out that some of the bandits are American ex-GI's. Later they get a gig to the tune of a cool million to find a rich man's son who's a POW and since that'll help save a lot of guys and Stone's a cool dude, they take the gig, and they get mixed up with the bandit/ninjas again in obviously action-packed ways. 

Hog Wiley is the stand-out "Lansdale character" here. He's an East Texas giant of a man who could exist in a lot of other Joe books. What I'm saying is he's a hoot and a half. The banter of with the team foreshadows stuff like Hap and Leonard and even Charlie and Felix from The Doughnut Legion. The action of course is fast and furious, and Joe's martial arts skill come in handy. The ninja stuff also seems to run alongside The Doughnut Legion, the fringe-touches of the supernatural that run through Joe's work. 

All in all, both books rock and roll for different reasons and they both show that Joe is Joe no matter what. The Doughnut Legion is out now, and the M.I.A. Hunter books are all available as nice eBooks, so really there's no excuse for missing out on some quality entertainment. 

And sorry for the lengthy time between reviews, I'm about neck-deep in pre-production of a feature-length film called Arrive Alive, that starts shooting in less than two weeks. I wrote and am producing the picture, which is a throwback to 70's crime films and Gold Medal paperbacks. This might mean a slow-down in the book reviews in the next couple of months, but I'll certainly be trying to get some book time. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: A Fistful of Empty by Benjamin M. Schutz

Benjamin M. Schutz was a part of the post-Spenser private eye renaissance of the 80's, but seemingly got a little lost in the shuffle. Before I went totally nuts for buying books on the internet, I remember looking for some of his books for ages. I'm sure I found out about him, and his private eye Leo Haggerty from the Thrilling Detective Website and it sounded good. Eventually I tracked down the first in the series Embrace the Wolf and enjoyed in enough to buy the books when I found them, but not to do my searching. See, this is me saying I'm stupid. 

Leo Haggerty is a PI working in Washington DC, with a steady girlfriend, Samantha, who's a novelist and a much more dangerous bounty-hunting buddy named Arnie. The set-up looks familiar to those who have tested out Robert B. Parker's Spenser (or a lot of post Spenser cash grabs) but when I read the first book, I remember thinking that Schutz was a good enough writer to shake the set-up up and do his own thing. Haggerty isn't above fisticuffs or a shoot-outs, but does stop and play with the notions of moral repercussions of his actions. More Lew Archer than Mike Hammer. Which of course, was a central part of a lot of the 80s-90s detectives. Kinder and gentler, but eh, you still have to have some thrills in your thrillers, so gunfight!

So, Embrace the Wolf was a nice paperback detective book, and he wrote a handful more (one winning a Shamus) before he wrote A Fistful of Empty. And boy howdy, what a book A Fistful of Empty is. For a fifth book in a fairly standard series, it's a complete destruction of the formula. I kinda wish I read them through to see what impact the change had, but c'est la vie. It's a big stake-up and a ballsy move. 

Leo makes a choice one night to go help Arnie on a bounty hunting gig. It's partly a macho "get your brothers back" thing, it's partly a knee-jerk to being behind a desk too long and craving a little excitement but what it really is the ultimate bad decision that changes the course of his life and those around him. See Samantha really wanted him to come home and in choosing Arnie there's a crack forming. Then with something hidden in Arnie's car during the arrest leads to a brutal attack on Samantha that haunts the novel to the murder of the "super-badass" Arnie and leaves Leo fully culpable for the revenge that is on his mind as he goes on the run to figure it all out. 

The Arnie/Leo function is a lot like that of Spenser/Hawk. You can have a nice shiny hero with a moral compass who functions fine in society but still give the bloody vengeance of a Hammer as long as you have an outlier who doesn't feel like they owe anything to society and who's personal code is more important that of the masses. That's an 80s thing which isn't really in the Men's Adventure of the 70s. Revenge ruled then, and I think a lot of writers liked that immediate catharsis but felt like couldn't let go of the Marlowe-knight-type. 

With Arnie dead and his girlfriend shattered by the attack, Leo has to be by himself as he lives nearly on the run from mysterious killers and figure out just why this has all happened to him. He also has to deal with the fact that it was all ultimately his fault but not just going home to Samantha one night. The mystery is nicely complex, the villains are nasty, some outright and the rest are just nasty with their indifference to human life. The secondary characters that Schutz populates the novel with are all interesting in their own way, from research lab techs to computer hackers, to evil Neo-Nazi's to corporate assholes. The central McGuffin is nice and simple, yet big and it all unfolds at a hectic pace. 

A Fistful of Empty was a helluva book that should get a lot more attention. Leo is a fine, flawed hero and what was particularly refreshing is that Samantha is a woman-character who was just as well-written. Her feelings and actions ring true, and it'll break your heart a little. Schutz wrote one more Leo book after this and then turned to short stories mostly which I immediately bought. This is one of the finest private eye detective novels I've ever read. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: Red by Jack Ketchum

Jack Ketchum has a legacy as an extreme author, extreme horror that is. I first encountered his work in my early-20s after getting my hands on a copy of Off Season, his version of the old Sawney Bean tale (directly covered in L.A. Morse's Flesh Eaters) of cannibals in the woods. I had known of the books reputation before I read it, but it didn't quite prepare me for the book. It's one of two books (the other being Joe R. Lansdale's The Nightrunners) that truly unnerved me. It's a wild, short, gory, rollercoaster ride through backwoods terrors. It gave me a viewpoint of Ketchum's work, a narrow viewpoint, think he only did EXTREME HORROR.

But slowly I began to pick up his work wherever I found it; Ketchum has never been easy to find in my neck of the woods. I bought them because I knew I liked his style, but I always just stuck on the shelf for the "another day." I got Red in a bundle with a few more of his early 2000s Leisure reprints, which are pretty neat because most of them have a bonus short story or novella in them, but they do have sort of lackluster covers. Give and take. Most of them actually have stickers indicting that they eventually wound up at Dollar General for a buck. That would have been a bargain, I tell ya. 

Remember when those bad guys killed John Wick's dog and he went apeshit on them in revenge? Yeah, Red did that first, just not to the extreme over-the-top action of the John Wick movies, but it is interesting to note. SO much so that I didn't realize it as I read the book, only making the connection talking to my wife about it when she brought it up. Avery Ludlow is an old man with an old faithful dog fishing one day when some teenage boys senselessly shotgun the dog to death. As an animal lover I felt Avery's pain there. The dog Red means a lot to Avery and the randomness of the attack shakes him. 

Red's an onion of a book. Slowly we begin to understand why the dog Red meant so much to the widowed and Korean war vet Avery and why he would go through such lengths to be a modicum of justice for it. Avery does a little detective work and then works through all the normal channels talking to the boy's father the rich guy McCormick who's a slightly shady real estate developer type, to going to the police, to suing, to a television news story, only to come up empty on all fronts. Then the paperback stuff happens, retaliations fly, there's arson, .38s and .44 Magnums, and it all comes to down to a white-knuckle thrilling finale, but mostly what the book does is use a thriller-plot to give a little mediation on grief, justice, and real evil. It's a different Ketchum then I found in Off Season which gave the same thrills, but a lot less of the heart. Avery is a whole person not just a hero-lead and it's easy to follow him along as you turn the pages. 

In a lot of ways, it reminded me of a John D. MacDonald Gold Medal stand-alone or a Donald Hamilton stand-alone. Clean writing, good characters, paperback excitement, evil villains, and solid action with consequences. Red is a terribly sad book, but very sweet in its own way. Red got me to buy the rest of Ketchum's back catalogue and the movie adaptation of Red staring Brian Cox, that's how good it was. It's an easy to find book so do yourself a favor, huh?