Friday, April 17, 2020

Triple-Shot of 70's Men's Adventure: Radcliff, The Liquidator, Shannon!

Paperback racks had a bit of a swell for the influx of "Blaxploitation" cinema in the early 70's with the likes of "Shaft," "Coffy," and "Superfly."  The good folks at Holloway House seemed to want to get in on Pinnacles "Executioner" action and brought out a couple of contenders. One being Joseph Nazel's "Iceman," a high-class pimp vigilante and Roosevelt Mallory's "Radcliff," a stone cold mafia hit-man who shouldn't be fucked with. Roosevelt Mallory should be counted along with the great work of Donald Goines and "Iceberg" Slim in the Holloway House line, or any publisher for that matter.

Reading an Iceman is a fun way to spend an afternoon, but reading a Radcliff is closer to looking down the barrel of a sawed-off double barrel, tension ratchets up and Radcliff is a whole lot of damned trouble and it don't seem to matter to him. Radcliff lives in the same type world that Richard (Donald Westlake) Stark's Parker lives a noir wasteland of thugs, dirty cops, evil men and women. "Double Trouble" is the third book in the series it's suitably gritty, a wild blast of funky 70s Men's Adventure. Radcliff is a badass assassin on the run after being set-up by the mob for killing several cops. It was a fast read that really hits all the right buttons. If you like the idea of slightly seat-of-the-pants writing writing for fast money, quick moving, very violent action and the feeling of being surrounded by shag carpet and wood paneling while reading it, then it's a book for you. It wasn't a perfect book it suffered a common problem with a lot of these books: too much build up and a rushed resolution plus some hyped stuff on the cover that didn't amount to much but it was entertaining enough to be forgiven, plus a little too much focus on the other characters when all I really wanted was Radcliff using his dual .38's to gets some payback. I got one more Radcliff and it's a shame that they are so hard to find because this was a fun hard hitting book.

Larry Powell was R.L. Brent for this medium length series called "The Liquidator," I picked up the
whole series almost accidentally before reading a single word of it, then to top it off I started with the second book cause I'm a weirdo. The good thing about most serialized 70's fiction is that they are made for you to have missed a book or two, so they explain everything you need to know in most of the volumes. "Contract for a Killing," told me Jake Brand was an honest cop who's brother is killed and he takes it personally (of course) and decides to take on the mob single-highhandedly. The Penetrator, The Executioner, The Liquidator, Lone Wolf,  Death Merchant and the like might have got the job done quicker if they had just teamed up to face the mob, but what do I know?

Brand is out of jail and looking for the hitman-dude who iced his brother and gets mixed up with the paid killers next hit, a woman who Brand wants to warn and basically use as bait to snag his killer. Brand spends the time on the run, gathering guns and whooping information out of people. Also sexing ladies. This is all standard stuff but Powell writes well and it unfolds at a nice pace, never bogging down with any filler-bullshit. Brand is a likeable enough version of the mob-killer archetype, the ex-cop/ex-con thing is a nice touch cause he's truly alone no cops or crooks would trust him. It builds to a nice ending that's a bit of a cop-out but it's that way to keep the series going. There's just enough of a ending to the volume for it to feel like a full book. Powell is now on my radar, I have a couple of Nick Carter: Killmasters he wrote and I'll have to move them up to the To-Be-Read pile. This is solid B-level stuff; it's not going to change your life but it's certainly better written then some.

Finally Shannon #1: The Undertaker is the TECHNICALLY the worst book of the three but I probably had the best time reading it. This is a utterly ridiculous book in the best ways. I think it belongs to the the unsung-genre of Men's Adventure Fiction: The Inaction Adventure book, right there with Hardy by Martin Meyers and Decoy by Jim Dean. Patrick Shannon our "hero" doesn't do much action stuff. In fact he mostly drinks, boinks ladies and fucks up until he defeats the baddies with I dunno, luck?

Jake Quinn was J.C. Conaway who wrote a bit of this type of stuff two female P.I. series that seem to be the same character roving around under different names, i.e. Janna Blake and Nookie, er, um. Also horror books, gothics, stand alones and this three book series, some under names like Jim Conaway and Ross Webb. I'll tell you I had enough fun with it that I bought a large sample of his work half way through. Why you ask? Because I'm certifiable. So, Shannon works for a top-secret spy agency, has a butler named Joe-Dad who's racial insensitive to two demographics, a penthouse, a Porsche, a untraceable Beretta and a stocked bar. Someone is kidnapping beautiful blondes of the street, starlets, figure skaters, models, that type of blonde. Shannon looses a girlfriend, snoops around, gets an old blind woman killed, looses more women, adopts a cat and plays with a god-damned Seal over the course of this novel. Also has sex with EVERY female character, including a lesbian because its the 70's and a pulp novel. Eventually (like the last 20 pages or so) he fucks up enough to get kidnapped and shipped in a coffin to a bad-guy island in a coffin and almost inadvertently saves the day tangling against a deformed villain/henchman combo and literally saving his penis. Also then has some more sex. All in all this is the stupidity, violence and twisted fun I want in a funky 70's paperback. Conaway seemed like he was "in" on the joke to me, which makes it worthwhile as pure entertainment.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Camp by Jonathan Trask but Actually Peter McCurtin and Len Levinson

One of my first reviews on here was "The Sundance Murders" by stalwart writer of ass-kickers Peter McCurtin. The book introduced Berger a hard-boiled reporter like they don't make anymore. A drunken cut-down Walther P-38 muckraker who travels to the desert and kicks up shit and ass. It was a novel after my own heart. I noted that it very much seemed like a first in a series or an installment in a series but sadly Peter McCurtin was a busy writer and editor at the time churning out his own work, ghost-written work, and editing great series like John (Ben Haas) Benteen's Fargo and everything in-between. So, I guess poor Berger got lost in the shuffle.

Jonathan Trask was Peter McCurtin, but he was mostly Len Levinson for this book. Len Levinson is a fantastic author with paperback-cred longer then your arm, working on series like "The Sharpshooter," "Ryker," "Joe Blaze" and creating  super-spy "Butler" and kick-ass W.W.II tales of "The Sargent" and "The Rat Bastards." Not to mention westerns and stand-alones of all genres. He like McCurtin is an author you can trust to give you a good time. They both seem to understand what their audience wants, their books are lean and fit with no filler and colorful characters. They do have completely different styles and voice, its fairly easy to point out either of their work even if their name isn't on the cover.

So, here's the rub. I think "The Camp" started out as a Berger novel. McCurtin wrote the first chapter, it's really clear that it's his work, it's got a lot of his ticks, old movies on TV, being more morose, heavy drinking etc. etc. The hero is now named Phil Gordon but it it starts roughly the same way with out narrator talking to us about himself. Gordon/Berger explains that he's a roving reporter who packs a Walther and ain't afraid to use it, that they work for a tabloid paper etc. etc. It's nearly word-for-word for a paragraph. I got totally deja-vu. Was this my long lost 2nd Berger novel? Well, yeah I sorta of think it is. It's a Frankenstein book with the two authors narrative styles being quickly bolted together, because after the McCurtin chapter Levinson's behind the wheel and it's his free-wheeling action/adventure with wiseacre humor peppered in. Gordon stops being McCurtin's character and becomes the slightly unhinged, slightly necrotic Levinson character. He's a happening guy with a sweet Porsche, he's good at his job, ex-army and always on the look out for trouble and women. The kind of guy you want to read about.

The Camp's long lost brother?
The plot is real nice I can see why it was saved from either being unfinished or forgotten by McCurtin and handed to Levinson who was producing some of the best work in the Belmont-Tower line. Basically Gordon goes to hang out with his old Native-American buddy in the Maine woods and finds out that there's a mysterious army installation who may or may not be responsible for the disappearance of his nephews. They look into and find the remains of tortured hippies in the camp and then nearly get killed. Gordon's now all in, he goes back home, makes some friends in high places and boinks with a attractive women within a few hours of meeting her and sets up his mission to get the story and hopefully find his friends nephews. It's got some heavy 70's political thriller vibes in the middle, a little "Parallax View," and "All The President's Men" mixed with man-on-a-mission pulp. Gordon gets help from a friendly general and sneaks into the ultra-right-wing-death-to-all-that-disagrees-with-us-murder-camp and gets a guided tour by a randomly gay army officer. Here's the only minor problem I had with the book: Gordon's in the camp for a day, sees what he's going to see  (torture chambers, murdering hippies for sport, etc. etc.) and then raises hell with grenades, rifles and the prisoners of the camp and gets the hell out. Some more time inside the camp with some build up might have been nice but then the result is the same. The ending is total awesome 70's (probably still now) paranoia with a real nice button on the end.

All in all its a fine little paperback thriller, full-tilt and lean with enough character and surprises to spend a pleasant few hours with. McCurtin and Levinson are some top-shelf guys at writing this stuff, buy anything with their names or pseudonyms on it.  There's a lot of hack-work in this genre/type of book (mostly on the best-seller list) and I long for the days of sub-200 page roller-coaster rides. Looking around after reading the book I was mildly surprised to see the price on the second hand market. It must have had a short-print run and Belemont books always seem to be pricey anyway. I got mine in a lot of books on ebay chock full of expensive McCurtin creations. It was a good chunk of change until you worked out how much the books cost individually. I guess the moral of the story is to buy books like things at Costco: IN BULK.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Baron (Bad Guy) Sinister by Joseph Milton

Going into this slim Lancer paperback I was fairly sure that the title character Baron Sinister was the bad guy. Spoiler, he was. Though sadly he was never identified as such which is a damned shame. The Baron-book is number five in a series of eight staring bored rich-guy turned super-spy Bart Gould which is a little lacking when it comes to super-spy names but Tiger Mann was taken I suppose.  Aside from the less then awesome handling of the names the book is all anyone would want from a 60's Spy-fi paperback.

Joseph Milton was Joseph Hilton Smyth and he started the series with one book "The President's Agent" in 1963 and Joseph Hilton after that Lancer had ghostwriters including the prolific Don Rico and the husband and wife team of Hal Jason Calin and Anne Calin (and possibly others) write the rest of the series under the Milton handle. But Hilton came back once and wrote under the Milton name because paperback publishing of the era was a screwy place. Apparently (if the internet is to be trusted AND its the same guy) in the 40's Hilton Smyth was arrested for being "unregistered agents of the Japanese government" by publishing a pro-Japanese stories in a magazine. So maybe spy-craft was in his veins. He also wrote some novelizations, some stand alone's, including "That French Girl" which got published by Gold Medal, Crest and a some other publishers along the way PLUS some book called "The Sex Probers," which makes me laugh.

Anywho. Bart Gould is a Bruce Wayne type only he doesn't wear the pointy ears instead he spies for the Prez. He gets roped into going to Germany to investigate the disappearances of mild-mannered government employees who hold no vital information, so they know it isn't the Ruskies. Gould was just palying with his grandfather's collection of Derringers so on a whim he packs up his suitcase and loads his trick-sleeve holster with a Williamson .41 single shot Derringer and flies to Vienna. Once there he meets up vile baddies, old flames, ropes in the tried and true reporter friend on the case, drinks, sexes, rents funky European cars, meets a slinky Nazi Femme-Fatale, shoots some dudes, gets his friend killed and goes on a mission of vengeance against a old Nazi dick-head. The climax builds and is particularly nice as it involves a snowed in castle high mountains with a dark history of witchcraft, dungeon escapes, sword fights and derring-doo. The whole package is a slim-wallop of adventure thrills that hearkens back to the classics of the Ruritanian genre like "Prisoner of Zenda"or other swashbucklers and at the same time being 60's modern. A pleasant mixture of Dumas and Fleming.

Gould comes off better then some of the heroes of the day. He's going through the spy-mill for the fun of it and is flippant in the face of  grave danger. No dour reflections on the nasty business of spying or dull inter-office politics of intelligence agencies, just plan old rock'em sock'em cliffhanger thrills. The books assumes you have read earlier entries which I had not, Gould's backstory wasn't filled out thoroughly but, eh, I didn't need it. Rich guy = spy is good enough. Gould not being a true agent gives the narrative a lot of wiggle room, the secondary characters aren't secret agents, mostly made up of his friends accumulated over years rich play-boying and he has to act more like a private eye to get his information with no government contacts abroad.  It's a nice mix of a lot of pulpy-genres.

This is pretty much what I want when I pick up a spy-fi book. It's not the absolute best iteration of
this genre, not as high as a Malko or a Man from W.A.R. book by Michael Kurland, those sorta of stand lone from the pack. "Baron Sinister" lagged a bit in the early pages but cranked up the juice rather quickly and could have had a bit more of the main villain and made him a bit more dastardly. But those are small quibbles in a book that can be read in a couple of hours. As a guy who's been buying secret agent books since he was a teenager, I think I've had this particular book for like fifteen-years and never read it until now which I can say about WAY too many books. I amassed several other of the series and I look forward to reading more Bart Gould adventures and of course buying the rest of the books. The thrill of the hunt.

Monday, March 16, 2020

French Wold Newton Vol. 1: "So Late, Monseiur Calone" by Alain Page

Fleuve Noir, the French publisher of cheap crime novels has been around since 1949 producing the kind of quick, tough reads Gold Medal did in the U.S. in fact it reprinted a fair share of them along with producing it's own home-grown version of gritty crime stories. The tidal wave of James Bond hit them early, so early that Jean Bruce's OSS-117 globe-traveling super-spy beat Bond to the punch. So, OO7 and OSS-117 were hits and they floodgates opened. Some where along the way, I think there was a specific imprint denoting Espionage books with the line. I'm not too clear as I don't speak French and the on-line info is sketchy. I'd be grateful to anyone with more knowledge on the subject to speak up. Book-nerds UNITE!

Years ago I found a shelf full of Gerard de Villier's Malko novels for cheap while on a road trip. I didn't buy all of them because I had never heard of it before. That decisions haunts me as it took a lot of time and money to track down the rest of the books. It also explains why I'm a book pack-rat, "when in doubt, buy it" that's my motto. Well, Malko led me to to The French Wold Newton a tantalizing glimpse at a whole world of unknown Pulp to me. Spies, adventures and detectives abound. But to my dismay (and hours upon hours of internet searching) I had found the precious few had ever been translated. It was a search I would dive into every now and then and it would inevitably yield no results.  Sure, a couple of OSS-117's made it to America, a handful more seem to be published in the England, Malko tried to make a big splash with Pinnacle in the 70's but not enough were published for my taste buds. M.G. Braun's super-spy Al Glenne got 4 books in the 60's. Not quiet a spy but a groovy Indiana Jones-type named Bob Morane got some English translations, Frederic Dard's super-cop San-Antonio got some too. If you want to count Germany in too, Mr. Dynamite by C.H. Guenter and Jerry Cotton both got too few translations. But sadly the righteous Kommassar X seems to not have.

But there was more with awesome names like Mr. Suzuki, Nick Jordan, Coplan (who I knew from so Eurospy films) Angel Face, The Monocle, The Lone Wolf, TTX-75 and the list goes on. M.G. Braun who wrote the fun Al Glenne series also wrote a series about a husband and wife team of detectives and one day I stumbled upon an online listing for a double-novel with an Alain Page crime book on the flip side. The money just flew out of my wallet and I had it coming from England. Once I got the book I dived deep trying to find out if there was more. The publisher "Two in One International Publishers, London" did indeed publish more then the single volume. Soon I had two in Crime Thriller category and FOUR in the Spy Thriller category. All of them are translated volumes of Fleuve Noir books from the 50's and 60's. They were published in seemingly small numbers in England in odd sized little double novels like Ace used to do, only bigger. The cover art is swipes from the original artwork and they feature a "who's who" of French spies and tough guys. As I can tell I have all the published books, but who knows? Again let me know I always have money for books burning a hole in my pocket.

BUT now, are the books any good? I spent a fair amount on my little French-Spy-Fever kick...without reading any of them. That's how I roll, dive head first and they took a while to come to me from across the globe and my interested would up getting tied up else where and they sat on my shelve for a few months. Fickle, I am. I watched on of the OSS-117 Eurospy flicks on Blu-ray the other night and my appetite was whetted for cheap espionage thrills. I random selected a Calone novel by Alain Page to start my expedition and what did I find? A lot of fun.

Colane is a French secret Service ace assigned to figure just who keeps killing regional directors of the service. Colane gets the job after his boss dismisses the notion asking the Americans or the British the aid of Matt Helm or James Bond and the French born heroes Matt (by F. Chabrey) and Coplan are busy. Luckily Colane just wrapped up an assignment and is available, they also mention Napoleon Solo and Colane kids that he might join U.N.C.L.E. some day.  The book had me right there, I was a long for the ride. After that their were plenty of derring-doo and the threat of another Russian revolution that kept the ball up in the air. Alain Page was very prolific as a novelist besides Calone he created a Raffles or Lupin type gentlemen thief Terence Lane, alias L'Ombre and wrote for the movies and even eventually directed. Also a bunch of stand-alones in the Fleuve Noir line.

It moves lighting fast and is over in a sub-200 page count, it moves a little too quickly sometimes and I had to really concentrate to get the names connected to characters who run from one bloody attack to a secret rendezvous to a hide-out to send some coded messages. Translated work depends a lot on the translation so some of my problem might have been a result of that. But it wasn't too distracting. Colane himself seems like the classic Eurospy film lead, i.e. he's a right bastard who smiles all the way through while doing terrible things. His treatment of a female enemy agent is beyond harsh and cruel. Top it off he doesn't think twice about it, actually he's very casual about everyone's terrible deaths, what a nice guy. Thought you probably want a rat-bastard as your secret agent. I decided I thought Calone was completely unlikable dick-hole right as the last page got flipped, the book was over faster then my mind could make itself up. As much as I didn't like Calone as a guy he certainly worked as a bad-ass through out the narrative and it was enjoyable see what he's be up to next. This is all conjuncture but I get the feeling that Calone is 2nd-trier French-Pulp secret agent, more a stock character then an actual character.  If I was able to read another Calone, I MAY think twice but I'd probably read it anyway just to see how much of an ass he can be.Would I recommend it? Meh. It would be a hard sell to most people, if the history behind the book interests you enough and you've had your fill of Nick Carter and want a taste of something similar but slightly different, then yeah I would.

This is an on-going deep-dive on this super obscure characters (in the U.S. anyway) and it's been fun so far to compare to compare to their American and British compatriots. So stay-tuned.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

For Everyone's Eyes Only: Bond in Short Form

Ian Fleming's James Bond has left a huge stamp on my life. After seeing 1995's "Goldeneye" in the theater my love of super secret agents was firmly ignited. I wanted more and I dove deep. There was more movies? I rushed to Blockbuster (dating myself) and found myself discovering Sean, Roger, Timothy and even George. There were James Bond books? I dove in. Past the character I found out about Leslie Charteris "The Saint" via Roger's show. "The Man From U.N.C.L.E?" I'm there. Hundred of hardback and paperback hero-spies later eventually it led me to the spawn of Bond, the Men's Adventure paperbacks.

Gotta have a retirement plan.
I'm at the point now where my young adult readings of the Ian Fleming have dulled with age. They aren't clear in my mind, save a few that I have listen on audio book. It's time for a reread of the novels. But there was a bit of unread Fleming I had never experienced: the short stories, collected in "For Your Eyes Only" and "Octopussy." The slim paperbacks have sat unread on various shelves of mine for years mostly likely because I didn't want the party to end. The various continuation novels for James Bond are a mixed bag. Kingsley Amis's almost scratched the itch, it's certainly the top of the heap. John Gardner's work was strong sometimes and then very weak a lot of the time but his Boysie Oakes books are absolutely BRILLIANT. I fear his heart wasn't always in it. Raymond Benson straddled the line of movie/book very well, they seemed like novelizations to unmade films. The smattering of "modern" authors that try their hands at Bond has also left me cold. I didn't finish Sebastian Faulks or William Boyd efforts, literary authors produce poor escapist-ism which is what Bond ultimately is. Jeffery Deaver's didn't interested me in the least. I will have to try Anthony Horowitz's take on Bond, as I have read and immensely enjoyed the first of his Alex Rider books. I would have been absolutely obsessed with them if I was a middle schooler when I read it, but as an adult it still pack a good old-fashioned punch. I  So, before my toe dips into rereading (something I VERY rarely do) I figured I should finish what I started many years ago. The two books came to my coffee table where I have bounced between the two.

The starter story in "From a View to a Kill" is near perfect distilled Fleming. The hallmarks are present, food and drink talk, feisty (though not funny named) women, the hints of real-life espionage blended with the absolute fantastical villainy and of course the well researched locales. Bond is wasting time thinking about the perfect day drink in Paris after a botched job and gets involved with a mysterious murder of a motorcycle dispatch rider with secret papers. Along the way he meets a crazy-driving .22 packing station agent named Mary. Along the way he poses a dispatcher rider giving us a little motorcycle talk, has some action with his fists and his "long barrelled Army .45" and sieges a hidden base brilliantly disguised. All this is in 23 pages, the short page count only hinders one aspect of the brilliance of Fleming: his villains. There's indefinable ones here, simply "evil agents." It's not too much of a knock, the things moves along too quickly for you to notice too much. No part of Roger Moore's "View To a Kill" pulls anything from this short. No Grace Jones in sight.

I do think Fleming grew tired of Bond but understood it was his cash-cow to milk. Bond changed as a character as Fleming grew older, the vigor ran low. The Bond of "Moonraker" is not quite the Bond of "You Only Live Twice." I prefer the earlier pulpier stuff, but the later more literary Bond's are surely better books, I just have skewed taste-buds. Any-who, the title cut to "Octopussy" is light on Bond, he stands around and basically listens to a story. It's a find story that sweeps right to a very Fleming ending but it probably would have been stronger as a standalone tale. Bond is basically playing the policeman part of the story coming to bring someone in. It's an awkward fit. It did give me a lust for a Fleming series of Scotland Yard mystery/adventures. Nearly all of his literary output is comprised of Bond it would have been interesting to have had a stand-alone or another series character to compare to OO7. A more hard-boiled detective operating a near-Bond world of evil masterminds and global conspiracies would have been killer, all wrapped in nice Pan paperback covers? Good gravy, one can dream.

The film version  of "The Living Daylights" is one of my favorites, the short story in "Octopussy" is
also one of my favorites. I do believe I read it a million years ago, but I could have just been experiencing flashbacks from the film as it's fairly faithfully recreated as the pre-title sequence. It's the strongest entry in this collection. Bond is sent to Berlin to act as a counter-sniper to protect a defection. It's a few days spent in Berlin and restless nights waiting for the moment of action. Bond of course sends it eating eggs, drinking and wandering. He also reads "Verderbt, Verdammt, Verraten" a fictional German pulp novel with a half naked woman on the cover, which is about the trials and horrible tribulations of a German woman. It's a nice parallel to the female character in the short, which we learn absolutely nothing about but would have had a hard-go of it because of her circumstances. The story builds into a fine piece of action and we see Bond being as temperamental as ever, cursing his rank and the stuffed shirt the service stuck him with as a sniper spotter.

"The Hildebrand Rarity" is a tight nautical noir of a James Bond story. I enjoyed it but it didn't scream James Bond to me. Bond ends up on the yacht of Milton Krest (the name popped up in the film "License to Kill, gotta squeeze every drop out) and gets entangled in murder. Not really wanting to get himself involved with an investigation Bond does a little evidence tampering then sails off with the dead man's wife who may have killed him. That's the most Bond thing to do. A lot of these stories just feel like the pre-title sequence or a chunk of the middle of a Bond movie, they make you wonder about the rest of the story. That's damned fine short tale telling, Fleming paints broad pictures with short word counts.

I'm going to save "For You Eyes Only," "Risico," "Property of a Lady" and "Quantum of Solace" for another time. Oh, I'll get "OO7 in New York" out of the way real quick here at the end. Bond's in New York to tell a agent that her boyfriend's bad news bears and his recipe for scrambled eggs is actually pretty good. The story is super short and actually fairly humorous. Fleming was a guy who could write. The Bond shorts aren't going to change your life, they are pretty much only there for when you've ran through all the books and don't want to touch a Gardner. None of them are objectionable, they may be forgettable which is worse. Fleming was better in long form when he could take his time and talk about what people should eat and wear and have all the deformed villains he could ever want. 

This relic of a toy has been in various Bond since middle school.


Saturday, January 11, 2020

Dracula Returns! by Robert Lory

Lyle Kenyon Engel was an idea man. A book idea man. Without him we wouldn't have Nick Carter, the Killmaster version anyway, nor would we have John Eagle: Expediator, Don Miles, The Baroness, John Jake's bloated Kent Family Chronicles, Chopper Cop, the list goes on. He was a paperback salesman who "packaged" ideas for (hopefully) long running series's of books written primarily by ghost-writers.  It was a good deal and produced some of the most fun and varied lines of paperback pulp of the 60's and 70's.

Robert Lory was a fine writer working on John Eagle books. The Eagle books read like a grown up "Jonny Quest" globe-trotting, gadgets, over-the-top villains, super-suits, cyborg yetis's; you know the good stuff. It's a very strong violent take on the "Doc Savage school of pulp. Lory's entries are particularly strong, but stalwart pulp writer Manning Lee Stokes and Paul Eiden do great work with it as well.

Along the way Engel decided he wanted a Dracula series. It makes sense Old Dracula really got around in the 70's in comics, TV, and films so it only seemed fitting for his adventures to continue only this time as a roguish evil-doer anti-hero. Plus horror/occult-themed paperback were on the rise, Guy N. Smith's Sabat books, Michael Avallone's Satan Sleuth, Jory Sherman's Chill and "The Night Stalker" had invaded the television. Even Frankenstein had "The Frankenstein Horror Series" which is sadly a Hodge-podge series of non-connected books, not the continuing adventures of Frankie. Anyway Engel turned to Lory who jumped at the chance. The first of the series is simple titled "Dracula Returns" and it's a corker.

'Ol Drac had some bad luck and ended up with a stake in the heart and a nap in his tomb. Professor Harmon is a wheel-chair bound former cop who gets an offer he can't refuse from Ktara a shape-shifting witch who like this Dracula actually comes from Atlantis. So, along with his strong-man also ex-cop assistant Sanchez they go off and resurrect Dracula with their own reasons. But Dracula needs to be a fly on a string, controlled to be useful to the mysterious Harmon. That's a problem. The Solution? A tiny stake that is implanted by Dracula's heart. The trigger to fire the stake? Harmon's psychic powers. Simple as that really. Then they are off to the races over 9 books, finding lost civilizations to fighting voodoo zombies, Dracula kept busy for a few years...Dracula, Atlantis, psychic powers, sexy witches, numbers on the covers, thrills, chills and gore. This might be the most 70's books series published.

All good "packaged" book series have to start somewhere and "Dracula Returns" acts very much like the set-up to the punch line. I find myself sometimes skipping the first book in these types of series because they can get bogged down in the world building and they usually re-cap the first book in the each following volume. While this one does have a lot of information to get out it does it fairly smoothly, but he plot suffers from all the set-up, it's about the mob and its almost instantly forgotten. Good news is you didn't pick this book to read about the mafia, they are just there to be cannon-fodder anyway so Lory gives you plenty of Transylvania and Drac's "feedings" along with tough dialog and some real fun verbal face-offs between the stoic Harmon and tired and annoyed Dracula who is just bidding his time until he can figure out how to kill Harmon and get away with it. It was fairly ahead of its time for how popular these types of fantasy/adventure books are popular now, in the wake of "The Dresden Files" by Jim Butcher; though sadly most of them are fairly bland like many books these days. The edges sanded off into a round lump of uninteresting. I guess I'm saying this books has fangs, snicker.

Harmon and Sanchez are great crime-busting team and probably could have headlined their own series. They got a little Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin vibe going on but trashier. Ktara is cool and mysterious and the shape-shifting provides some cool moments. Dracula is the star though and it's a good interpretation, though he could be in the book more. He was very "off-stage" for a lot of the novel, something hopefully the rest of the books fix. Its easy to imagine Christopher Lee (the one-true Drac) speaking the dialog. These books would have made a fine series of B-movies for Hammer or a nice weekly series maybe coming on right after "The Incredible Hulk" or spun off from aforementioned "Night Stalker."

Around the same time Marvel Comics were publishing their own tales of Dracula in "Tomb of Dracula," the birthplace of Blade, The Vampire Slayer. Once Marv Wolfman gets on the book it's a fun and funky take on the legend of Dracula with a team of Van Helsing/Harker/Dracula decedents, vampire P.I.'s, and badass slayers like Blade constantly trying to kill Dracula himself. I wholeheartedly recommend these comics. I don't think the comics influenced the books or vise-versa. It's just one of those aligning of the stars that produces two pop-culture entities that are similar at the same time. And a lot of these paperback series's of the era were pretty much just dirtier comic books without pictures.

Lory's Dracula series was a wonderful wild take on the Dracula mythos that firmly put his own stamp on it and enough distance to Stoker's original book that I think even the most hardcore Dracula fans can enjoy it. This like everything I seem to review here are fairly hard to come by and command higher prices then I'd like. Or maybe not, as I really love the hunt of tracking these books down. The books are worth it if you were a monster kid turned old, like me. I look forward to the next installment "The Hand of Dracula," where he basically faces off with the Manson Family, so I hear.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Mercs Vs. Mafia Three Gritty Reviews

I've been laid up after having had surgery on my ankle. So, I've read a lot of a books, basically one a day and they've all blended into a cocktail of mafia hardmen vs. mercenary tough guys or mercenary hardmen vs. mafia tough guys. Maybe it's the pain meds. Meh. So with all these knifing's, gun shots, parachutes, explosions, kidnap victims, codes of honor and political unrest swirling around in my addled brain I figured I'd just write a smorgasbord of a review of some of these thrilling tales of blood and thunder.

It all started with a few gunshots for Briganti aka The Assassin in "Boston Bust-Out." His wife and child were taken from him freeing him up for three books with of death, destruction and being an tough asshole. His adventures continued under a different name as Philip Magellan a.k.a The Marksman by Frank Scarpetta then kinda sorta as Johnny Rock a.k.a. The Sharpshooter by Bruno Rossi and a legion of ghostwriters. That's a whole twisty tale of 70's publishing cash-grabs and politics. But it adds to the mystic of Briganti and his quest of vengeance as he would have to use numerous alias within the book to stay one step ahead of the mafia-scum hunting him why wouldn't the misdirection bleed out on to the copy-write page and a cover. Or maybe that's the pain killers in me talking.

Any-who, Peter McCurtin was the man responsible for the Assassin which started it's life with Dell Publishing but McCurtin worked as an editor at Belemont-Tower and they must not have cared for one of their own publishing a series somewhere else, that or Dell didn't want anymore books past three and McCurtin just changed the names and continued the series at BT. Now "Boston Bust-Out" isn't going to change a person's life with it's deep seated looking at the inner psyche of a vigilante. THANK GOD. Briganti is a total unstoppable killing badass who is always a bit of a uncaring prick, but that comes with the territory of Men's Adventure fiction. One bit I liked is that he looses his cache of weapons early in the book and as he kills mafia goons he keeps picking up their fallen weapons to rebuild is stash. Sorta like he's a video game character. He loves his guns and they are talked about in full detail. He makes particularly good use of a .44 magnum and a .22-250 varmint rifle. But the gun-porn isn't as overbearing as it got to be in 80's Men's adventure or a Death Merchant, he just causally expands on his knowledge of bullets and such. The story is as thin and the paper it's printed on, but moves a nice clip from mafia-murdering to drinking vodka to mafia-murdering. He's out to fuck up the mob in every way shape and form and that's all you need to know. The whole thing is done before you know and ready for the next adventure. McCutin is a solid writer who know his business and leaves out the parts that you don't want to read about.

Peter McCurtin also created the Soldier of Fortune series about hard-as-nails mercenary Jim Rainey
who kicked ass through 18 adventures across the globe. McCurtin's name is on the front of #7 "Operation Hong Kong" but the author is really the prolific (and great) Ralph Hayes who besides writing his own series's like "The Hunter," "Cominsec," "Stoner," and "Check Force" he also wrote as McCurtin and Nick Carter for Nick Carter: Killmaster. Rainey is a mercenary who spends his non-war time as a weapons salesman and after a quick bit of revenge at the beginning. He heads to Hong Kong to sell his super-cool dart-gun (which sadly doesn't reappear) to his old Special Branch buddy where Rainey is hired be the British to quell Communist rioting and uprising. It's got the usual questionable treatment of women (be questionable I mean TERRIBLE) and old fashion politics. Hayes is a top-shelf paperback writer and "Operation Hong Kong" is a fast-paced ass-kicking tale of the the unrest in pre-handover of Hong Kong who fills the book with colorful characters and very fast action. The book is full of very hard-boiled riot scenes, GRUESOME murders and intrigue.  The book works more as a cop/espionage adventure rather then a war or men on a mission tale but Rainey is a cut-throat merc through and through and he gets gets more and more pissed as the bodies pile up and pot that is Hong Kong boils over. I'm glad I have several Soldier of Fortunes to read (all by Hayes by accident) and will have to complete my collection.

"In the Hour Before Midnight" by the legendary Jack Higgins is both a tale of the mafia and a rugged story of the mercenary life and the differences in the codes that they both live by. Jack Higgins is a helluva writer especially in this era, before he became a massive success after "The Eagle has Landed" but having wrote enough to fully form his impressive skill set. The "hero" of the book is Stacey Wyatt the grandson of a Mafia capo who became a hard-bitten mercenary by the hands of Sean Burke (Jack Higgins loves the name Sean) and how his two lives collide during a mission to rescue a kidnapped women from bandits in the treacherous kills of Sicily. Deception and dirty dealing mafioso's get in his way and he has to solve most of his problems with his quick-draw action or Kung-fu grip, maybe. In a lot of ways this books is more set-up then execution. We go through Wyatt's pain, misery and questioning his abilities after nearly being broken in a hell-hole of a prison.  The actual "mission" is over quickly and kinda doesn't amount to much, but Higgins sprinkles enough daring-do and intrigue to keep you turning the page. Higgins is a classier writer then most who put out this sort of fiction but he is still very much a pulp-mind author. He knows the pace and action are the key ingredients to his work but he executes them nearly perfectly. The idea of honor is something that he plays with frequently whether it is honor between killers, spies, soldiers on opposing sides, Higgins is obviously likes exploring the concept. After Higgins became a big time author and as he went along he had a tendency to spin his wheels and play in the sandbox sometimes. But he's such a good writer that even when he's not firing all on all cylinders he produces a book worth reading. That being said it's generally a safer bet to pick up an early Higgins. I particularly like Paul Chavasse series which is James Bond but in the rougher and tougher Higgins style. The Simon Vaughn books are also quite good, although they all seem to feature a DIFFERENT Simon Vaughn, so there's Higgins repeating himself again.