Sunday, December 22, 2019

Jon Messmann's "A Bullet for the Bride"

Jon Messmann was a journeyman pulp writer who could crank them out and fill the pages up. Seriously his pages are dense with words. He seemed to put effort into his work, which isn't always the case for writers that very often wrote under established house names and who's covers had numbers on them. Quite often there's a lot blank space on pages, but Messmann seemed determined to give you bang for your .95 cents. Apparently he got his star writing comics in the 40's before moving onto books. He created a couple good series in "The Revenger" and "Jefferson Boone, Handyman" and worked in the Nick Carter world and the short-live Hot-Line books. Then turned his gun-sights towards westerns and coming up with the super long running "Trailsman" series of adult westerns. That's a damned fine run of writing books.

Along the way he wrote "A Bullet for the Bride" for Pyramid books. First off it's got a terrible lack-luster cover for the kind of book it is, making the book look like a tame mystery when it's a rip-roaring sea-faring secret agent adventure. Also it's from he 70's, designed for men and has boats in it so it obviously has mention of Travis McGee on the cover which was a prerequisite it seems. It's also suffers from the 70's phenomena of explaining zero about the contents of the book on the cover instead just having a excerpt of a sex scene. I bought the book on a whim because I enjoyed Messman's other work and figured it was worth the 4 dollar eBay risk. The paperback god were smiling upon me. It's even more surprising that I read it nearly as soon as I got it. Books usually languish on my To Be Read Pile for weeks (or months or years or decades) but the stupid bride and groom on the cover called out to me, I guess. Pyramid had some great covers on Joseph (Terry Harknett) Hedges' Stark series and Michael Kurland's War Inc. books, if "A Bullet for a Bride" had some decent artwork it might have sold more. Not that I have any idea how it sold being a guy who was born well after the book was first published and having no idea if any records likes that is kept. It's just that the book is obviously Captain Ed Steele #1: A Bullet for the Bride but just without any more books to follow.

Hard-case Captain Ed Steele is a vet who skippered a boat with his CIA buddy Bryon on missions during the Korean War. After the war the CIA pays for his super cool boat The Squid; that's built like a brick shit-house but looks like an out-house on the outside and got him to pay it off by doing dirty jobs for the company. The boat is described in great detail. I know nothing about boats so I don't know if it's actually well described or just made up. I assume Messmann knew his stuff cause it all sounds like boat things. Not that I care about boats. Ed is a dick in the way that a lot of Men's Adventure fiction heroes, but not unbearable. Messmann has character habits his heroes are often a bit introspective and classically read. Jefferson Boone and Ben Martin aka The Revenger are pretty similar. Messmann knew the kind of guys he liked to write about.

Pretty rich girl, Cam hires Ed to find out if the woman her father is about to marry is really evil. Ed doesn't want the job but gets talked into by his old CIA buddy Bryon and he doesn't even buy Cam's story. BUT SURPRISE the soon-to-be-evil-step-mother is actually evil. So Ed's in hot water with killers, wins a big boat race, sleeps with Cam,gets mugged, drinks a lot of gin, rents a convertible, sails through HURRICANE and sieges a island fortress full of baddies. Along the way he picks up his buddy Domino who acts as his side-kick, shipmate and Meyers to Ed's Travis McGee.

The book is full of enough fun and color to breeze right on by. Messmann is a seasoned pro and it's obvious that he cared about this book, the boating is big part of it and while I'm not the biggest fan of nautical adventures Messmann makes these scenes thrilling, particularly the boat race at the beginning. I loved the combo of the espionage/sea adventure it was an interesting concept that could have supported a lot more salty tales. Its not without it's faults, Cam the female lead is stupid and does all the wrong things at the wrong time. The finale and the evil plan is a bit rushed bit too easily stumbled upon. But even with these few detractors it's a helluva fun book that's packed with action and some wiseacre humor. Also keep an eye out for his Handyman and Revenger series both of which are a lot of fun. He also wrote MY ALL TIME FAVORITE Nick Carter: Killmaster book: The Sea Trap.

Malko #2: Operation New York by Gerard de Villiers

In 1962 the tidal wave that was James Bond washed up a million spies ashore in film and books. The shaken not stirred cocktail that is Ian Fleming's secret agent code-name OO7 was irresistible and the public quickly wanted more and more to satisfy the spy-fi habits. Every pulp-writer worth his salt took up pen to write about some sort of agent, British, American, French,official or unofficial, private eyes became spies, cops became spies, everyone got in on the phone, it didn't matter they just hoped that they struck gold and got some of the Fleming-level recognition (and money) for the work.

Pretty much no one did.  Bummer. But a few captured energy and excitement of Fleming's early Bond novels.

MINI-RANT: With "Casino Royle" Fleming was simply trying to bring the Sapper "Bulldog Drummond" school of English thriller in to the modern post-W.W.II world of blood, guts and sex. He was writing pulp of the English variety. As he wrote he wrote with more authority and literary intentions. By the time you get to the "Blofeld Trilogy," comprising of "Thunderball," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and "You Only Live Twice" he's shattered Bond to his core and is working to rebuild him before Fleming's death. Without a doubt Fleming's greatest achievement is "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," Bond has grown up with his readers and dealt his baggage enough to fully fall in love again, after the events of "Casino Royale." Bond at this point isn't the Bond of pre-Thunderball, he's more reserved, thinks more, acts less and generally more morose. Fleming may have grown old and tired of writing tales of derring-do and beautiful women. The later books are extremely well-written and fascinating looks into the end of one of the most recognizable characters ever created. BUT to me they are simply lacking in what I want to read in escapist fiction. So, yeah if you have never read a Bond book, first off shame on you, second off don't expect the movies and thirdly start with the early books and work up through the series. I'd suggest "Moonraker," and "Diamonds are Forever." "Moonraker" has the best example of the full blown "Fleming-Sweep," of escalating action which really didn't start until the second book "Live and Let Die." "Diamonds are Forever" is the dark-horse I'll recommend cause it's kinda just Fleming going through the motions, but it's motions by this books that he's perfecte.

Okay, now that that is all out. I found myself in a quandary. I wanted more 60's spy thrills in the vein of the early Fleming's. Some series quenched the thirst quite well James Mayo's Charles Hood books were close, ditto with James Dark's Mark Hood books, the two of which I always confuse myself with. Nick Carter Killmaster by Nick Cater would certainly do but with an army of ghostwriters you never knew what you were going to get. Mark Denning's John Marshall books are shamefully unknown. In the Gold Medal World Edward Aaron's Sam Durrell, Richard Telefair's Monty Wash or Earl Drake by Dan J. Marlowe could pass the time. Recently Michael Kurland's War Inc. books proved to be excellent examples of the genre. Only Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm and Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise ever came close to the pure excitement of a Bond book.

Then I met Malko or his His Serene Highness, an Austrian Prince with a crumbling castle and bills to pay. So what does he do? A former arms dealer, he works for the CIA to pass the time and soak up some cash. Each of the Pinnacle books start off with a "dossier" on Malko, his habits, accomplishments, weapons and beverage choices etc. etc. to get you to know the man, the myth, the legend that his Malko. Over TWO HUNDRED BOOKS he, together with Turkish former-killer butler Elko and later his girlfriend/fiancee Alexandra, Malko fights killers, Nazi's, enemy agents of all nationalities, and has TONS of sex that's always told in a blatant kinky detail. Malko is the epitome of the "sex and snobbery" school that Fleming created told in a undeniably French manner.

Gerard de Villiers created Malko in 1965 at the height of Bond-mania and wrote with the gritty authority of the journalist that he was but with enough the fantasy (and sex) that readers craved. They craved it so much that he wrote and wrote and wrote right up until he died, Malko tackling each modern problem that came up in every corner of the world.  See Malko lives in a world of grimy spies and killers that de Villier's rips from real-life. de Villier's had a network of friends and sources on all sides of the espionage world, he uses real-life figures to blend realism into his escapism true to life spycraft that was read by real-life counter-espionage agents, diplomats, kings and presidents. It's a surprising mixed drink of a book. I really don't think the series should work. It's all too gimmicky, a prince spying for the CIA with fictitious versions of real people running around and car chases, and gun fights and brutal torture? It should be too much to take in.

But nope, it's perfect. The books read like hard R-rated espionage fairy tales for adults.

"Operation New York" was originally printed in French in 1968 as the 11th in the series, it was also published in English in England (makes sense) as "Black Magic in New York," which is a spiffy title. This edition was the second book that Pinnacle put out to bring Malko to the Americans. The risk with translated fiction is having a translated that can speak the language but who also can write, because when you translate you are essentially rewriting a novel. I don't speak French so I'll never know what spark I may be missing from de Villier's writing but luckily the translators working on the Malko books did a fine job in making highly readable books. No. 2 finds Malko set-up in the most spectacular way. After being drugged and tattooed the word is out that he is actually Rudi Guern an asshole Nazi who's been in hiding since after the war. Malko now has to find Guern to prove his innocence. To do this he will wade through Nazi's, nazi-hunters, women, witness horrifyingly brutal torture and perform some masochistic sex, you know for the greater good. Malko isn't the most active hero in this book, I think he was still forming as a character for de Viller's at this point or things were lost in the translation (literally) but he's durable enough and produces enough charm to keep the book moving along at a Grand-Prix level pace. According to the OUTSTANDING Spy Guys and Gals website the translator for this books was Nicholas Leonard and it may or may not be the only one he did so he might not have proven to be a good fit for the series. This book is probably not be the best place to start with the books which can be read in any order. I started with #7 "The Countess and the Spy" which was translated by Lowell Blair who did a good chunk of the series and I read it in nearly a sitting. Blair also translated a couple books in Jean Bruce's longer running OSS-117 French spy books that pre-dated Bond and Malko, but that's a tale for another time.

Pinnacle bottomed out at producing 15 translations which just really blows. One more came from Medallion Books and recently five modern books from fancy pants-publisher Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, which is far too few books for me. Unfortunately people have caught on to how good Malko is and the books (save the Black Lizard ones) are hard-to-find and pricey but they are worth it.  Maybe I just need to learn to read some French, there's a whole world of pulp existing just beyond my reach which is a shame. But I mean I have thousands of books unread in a language I can read so maybe it's for the best not to add. My shelves might not be able to take it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Serial Reflections: Ed Noon by Michael Avallone, the Private Eye to End All Private Eyes

In the year of 1953 a little book was published by Permabooks by a fellow by the name of Michael Avallone. It probably looked like a standard tough-guy private eye to the unsuspecting reading public. But it's like the Wardrobe in that book with the lion and the witch. It's a portal to a different universe: The Nooniverse. It's a wild, wacky, dangerous world in the Nooniverse. Once you enter the Nooniverse you better let the safety bar securely latch down otherwise you'll be thrown from the roller coaster. Things are hazy and dangerous and full of life and death.

Michael Avallone wrote like no person before or since. It's a hodge-podge of jokes, rants, thrills, spills, baseball, movies, pork-pie hats and blazing .45's. The plots make sense if you squint and tilt your head. The voice of Ed Noon is what you read the books for. The doged W.W.II vet who hangs in there even when shit gets weird. AND SHIT GETS WEIRD. For being in a living, breathing pulp word, Ed's a down-to-earth kind of guy. He's no Superman, but it doesn't mean he can't pull off amazing thrills, he might just stumble along the way and he'd probably rather be listening to a ball game on the radio. The reigns are on for the first few books, they just read like slightly cockeyed 50's hard-boiled detective yarns. But Avallone soon shakes the reigns loose and things get odder in the Nooniverse as it expands into the big bang.

See, Ed Noon's a pulp character through and through. He would have fit right in on the pages of Dime Detective Magazine or in the back pages of an Operator 5 or perhaps most appropriately in Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective. Avallone loved the pulps and entertainingly wrote about them in some old issues of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. It makes sense that he wouldn't try for the grim and gritty noir world that most of his fellow paperback men tried to milk. No, he blazed his own path.  Avallone always seemed to do that. It's probably why he outlasted most of them. Ed has to live in a pulp world because by say, 1970's "Death Dives Deep" he's hip deep in the Bermuda Triangle and dancing Mermaids. By that time he's the President's Part-Time Private Spy. You don't get that in many books. In 1965's "Lust is No Lady" villains in a plane try to dump a bunch of bricks on his head. "The Voodoo Murders" from 1957 put him face-to-face with (the voodoo kind) zombies! See Avallone was having himself a blast writing these. You can tell. Fun drips from the pages. In an era of generic one-note fiction detectives Ed Noon stood out from the crowd, he had his quirks and foibles. He might think a woman is too good for him, he will fall for the wrong dame, he will make mistakes and people might die and it'll bother him. He will antagonize his buddy Monk of the N.Y.P.D. Tommy guns will crack through the air. He might be in love with his secretary Melissa Mercer who keeps his Mouse Auditorium in order, but he damned sure loves his pork-pie hat and the army .45 he keeps safely in his shoulder holster (he keeps a war-trophy Walther P-38 in his desk, just in case too) bottom line Ed Noon can deliver.

It's the flexibility of the the world and character that keeps Ed fresh through 30ish books. The exact count is confusing as the wonderful Thrilling Detective website lists books I can't seem to track down and some were only printed in England. It's fitting that the amount of Ed Noon's out there is a mystery. To be able to bounce between mystery stories and spy stories probably kept Ed new and interesting to Avallone for the decades he was writing about him. Plus you can pluck a Noon off the shelf for whatever mood that strikes you.

Michael Avallone called himself "The fastest typewriter in the East" and his writing had the sense of urgency I crave from a slim paperback. Noon's don't go in for slog, they move quick and easy, flowing from the pen of a thorough professional. Avallone wrote a helluva lot of books, tie-ins for the "Man From U.N.C.L.E.," the first Nick Carter Killmaster, works in the Gothics, horror novels, some of those spicy 60's spy Coxeman novels down the line to books based on the "Partridge Family." It takes a fine writer to be able to write books across genres and to put energy into work-for-hire jobs. Avallone would write your tie-in book for "The Cannonball Run" and you know what it'll read like he wrote it. In the 70's he wrote a series called "Satan Sleuth" and while you might be disappointed if you wanted a straighter occult detective tale, but if you wanted a high-adventure Doc Savage in bell bottoms you'd be as happy as could be. When James Dockery stopped writing the Men's Adventure series "The Butcher" Avallone stepped in and wrote some of the most entertaining blood-and-guts men's adventure books ever written, a mix between Ennis Willie's Sand and Norvell Page's The Spider. All in all Ed Noon and Micheal Avallone are my kind of guys and they should be your kind of guys too.

If you're looking for a place to start I'll give you some suggestions:

For a tough-guy private eye yarn I'd read "The Crazy Mixed-Up Corpse," "The Voodoo Murders," "Meanwhile Back at the Morgue" or the one that started it all "The Tall Delores."

For some spy-fi, I'd pick up "Death Dives Deep," "London, Bloody, London," "Assassin's Don't Die in Bed." But the top-self spy-Noon for me is "Shoot it Again, Sam." It's a wild ride of brain-washing and Bogart.

Wait, you crave some science-fiction? Then you better pick up "High Noon at Midnight" where Ed may or may not be fighting off an alien invasion of cockroach-headed-beings with ray-guns. Plus Gary Cooper.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Goodnight My Love and Peeper: A Tale of Two Hyams

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Shady Lady" by Cleve Adams Plus Robert Leslie Bellem

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 25, 2019

"Dark of the Sun" 1968

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glutton for 70's punishment.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serial Reflections: Hardy by Martin Meyers

Between the Hardy books and the Hardman books I pretty much buy any books from the 70's put out by Popular Library. No doubt trying to find something that pleases me as much as these two series do. Or trying to recapture days of the my misspent youth reading them. Wait, my misspent youth was just reading musty paperbacks. Geez, nerd alert.

Patrick Hardy is a fatty who likes to eat, watch movies and read. So, he's me under a false name. He also has a big dog, a barber shop chair, VW Bug, a private eye license and an eye for the ladies. So there's differences between us, I let you figure it out. Seriously someone buy the right and cast me in the movie version.

Hardy's also a coward with a funny backstory. He was fat kind who didn't have to worry about being drafted because of his weight. Then one day he's at the wrong place at the wrong time and gets plugged in the gut and when he gets out of the hospital he's thin enough to get drafted. But he's still a coward. Enter a loopy Army plan to hypnotically train cowards to be killers when under extreme stress. It worked, Hardy can kick some ass when need be but it's all his body going on auto-pilot and it scares him shitless. Anyway the program was a bust and the Army was still probably trying to figure out that Captain America super serum so they gave up and they shipped all the guys someplace and all of them died in a accident, except Hardy. After ALL THAT he ended up being a M.P. and when he got out he set up shop in New York City as a soft-boiled private eye. Phew.

Hardy's got all that backstory. But it really doesn't amount to much in the execution of the books. They maybe a fight scene in each book where he uses his "built-in badass" feature but its over quick and doesn't amount to much and much of the leg-work and fighting comes from his actor (!) buddy Steve Mercer, with Hardy acting like a horny slacker version Nero Wolfe sitting in his barber chair petting his dog and nursing his bum knee. The rest of the books are spent with Hardy telling you what he eats, watches, reads, how he sleeps with the various women that populate the novels and how he solves whatever little mystery he's wrapped up in. Really it's a lot about sandwiches and the late show, though he gives out solid recommendations. I discovered Manning Coles excellent Tommy Hambleton spy novels from Hardy. It ran for five books, "Spy and Die" being my favorite with "Kiss and Kill" being no. 2. Contrary to the covers he never touches a gun or drives a bitchin' Firebird. 
  • Kiss and Kill 
  • Spy and Die 
  • Red Is for Murder
  • Hung Up to Die 
  • Reunion for Death 
I shouldn't like these. They should be the classic case of "covers being better then book," but I LOVE them. Hardy's got a great voice and a lot of hound-dog charm about him. I'm just a narcissist and see too much of myself in him. The books are the "cozy mystery" version of a Men's Adventure novel, they are warm and welcoming into Hardy's world of lazy crime-fighting. Martin Meyers who was an actor, didn't write much more in the Men's Adventure world, instead he concentrated on writing historical mysteries with his wife as Maan Meyers. Since historical mysteries aren't my cup of rot-gut I haven't ever tried them. BUT 'ol Hardy did reappear in the 90's in a short story in "Private Eyes" edited by Max Allan Collins that shows him as older, but still the same and the again a little later in "Crime Square," edited by Robert Randisi. Sadly Meyers died in 2014 so Hardy won't be popping up again. Too bad.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Decoy #1: The Great Pretender by Jim Deane

For some reason Decoy #1 called out to me from a pile of books that I bought in an eBay lot. I didn't buy the lot for this book. In fact I got two copies of this book out of two separate lots of paperbacks that I got. I have a problem. I haven't even read the books that I got the lots for. I'm a fucking weirdo.

I was vaguely aware of this series and from the few reviews I had read I knew the general opinion of it was low. So, I have no idea why I just picked it up and dove in. Maybe it was the stained yellow paperback that caught my eye or Steve Holland's mid-section exploding while a boat tries to kill two people get it on in the corner. I've been to parties like that. I'm sure glad I grabbed it talk about a fun and loopy ride. It should have had a "Dr. Strangelove" title, maybe "Decoy #1: The Great Pretender or Nick Merlotti Lover of Breasts and Fucking Up Fuckers." Might be too long.

The title of Decoy is a decoy itself. Decoy doesn't call himself Decoy. I don't think the word ever appear in the text. Merlotti is called "The Great Pretender," which sounds like a child's idea of a magicians name, so I can see why Signet changed it. Though a series about a professional Decoy might have been fun, even if the job itself would probably suck. It also probably sounded good next to their "Narc" books by Marc Olden as Robert Hawkes. Either way Decoy is a nice self deprecating lead who is a master criminal on the hook by the Feds playing supercop (love that word) who packs a .45, talks about breasts and wine more the necessary, has wild hair brained schemes and who can dole out the violence when need be. He also reads Mickey Spillane books and doesn't think he quite measures up to Mike Hammer. Bu eh, no one does. I'm a sucker for characters who are readers. Gee, I wonder why. There's a line of humor that runs through the book that tells me that Jim Deane was having fun writing it. It's certainly not a dour book. You don't talk about boobies every couple of pages if your trying to write the "War and Peace" of Men's adventure novels. Or maybe you do, I'll get back to you on that.

Speaking of breasts in the 60's as a result of the James Bond craze there was a spike in humorous novels about spies that are mostly just soft-core porn books, emphasize on the "soft" the books themselves are usually pretty tame for today's standards. They had names like Coxeman, Cherry Delight, The Man from S.T.U.D., The Man from O.R.G.Y., The Lady from L.U.S.T., The Girl from B.U.S.T., Miss from S.I.S.S. It seems like I could have made a few of those up, but no they are all real. Jim Deane probably liked (or wrote, I know nothing about the author) some of these. Decoy has a vibe that these books put off, light on story but thick on female anatomy. The whole package reads like a hard-boiled version of a sexcapade book, you get all the heavy petting and a fair amount of ass-kicking.

I can totally see why others didn't care for it, its definitely not for everyone. In fact it might just be for me. Like I stated previously, I'm a weirdo but I fell for it hook-line-and-sinker and I had to order #2 instantly. There's only two books in the series so that sucks.

A Run in Diamonds by Alex Saxon (Bill Prozini)

Bill Pronzini, noted mystery writer who's "Nameless" Private Detective novels are legendary. I read a score of them when I was in my teens, at the time (also now) I looked for tough action packed books that would thrill me. The Nameless (so called because Mr. Pronzini purposely didn't give the character a name) books aren't that at all. They are quite and beautifully written down-to-earth stories of a regular beer-drinking schmo who collects old Pulps and solves mysteries.  They really are top-shelve books and the series has run consecutively since the 70's. No small feat. AND they still thrilled me.

Back in the 70's he got hired to start a Men's Adventure series about a badass named Carmody who hires himself out to badass things like body-guarding, black marketing and such. He's a true hard-case, very much in the mold of a character who would have been splashed across the pages of "Black Mask." In fact, when I read this I kept thinking of Raoul Whitfield's Jo Gar, a detective in Malina who appeared in that pulp. There's no real easy comparisons between the two characters other then being tough guys in exotic ports, since Carmody's beat is Majorca. But they spiritual connection was there for me. Or maybe I just got Pulps on the brain. Either way I like these types of stories, they are sort of like a good spy story but without a lot the governmental agency hang-ups that can slow down a story about shootin' bad-dudes and scoring with gorgeous women.

Basically it goes like this Carmody gets screwed on a diamond deal and goes out for revenge with only his wits and a Beretta. All of this is told in Pronzini's typical clean style. The action is well handled and brutal. Its really a damned shame that this wasn't a long running series, it has a nice pliable central character who's morally ambiguous and could get wrapped up in all sorts of a nasty schemes only to fight his way out. It could have avoided a stagnation of plots that appear in other series such as "kill a bunch of mobsters, then later killed a bunch of mobsters."

A lot of Men's Adventure books are simply "hack work," there I said it; lazily and quickly written for a buck. Sometimes that can be its own magic and sometimes it's just shit. Others are writers still honing their craft and learning as they go. Then there's good authors doing good work in a genre that they actually seem to appreciate. Bill Pronzini is too much a writer to write hack work. The world of Carmody is instantly colorful and as real as an action book can feel. Obviously there's not a lot of deep-thinking and self-analyzing. THANK GOD. But the novel moves, makes sense and provides a lot of entertainment in a short page count. Exactly what I want.

Carmody appeared in a few short stories as well in digest around the same time and in the 90's everything that had Carmody in it was republished as "Carmody's Run" by Bill Pronzini. It had all the short stories and a shortened version of the novel, as Mr. Pronzini states in the introduction that he was a little embarrassed about his earlier writing and "cleaned it up." That's the version of the novel I read and it's lean and mean. I need to track down the original paperback and give it a read to compare. I see some mention of a book from 1999 called "The Dying Time," credited to Pronzini as Alex Saxon, but can't seem to find any other info on it. Maybe there's a lost Carmody floating out there.

Mr. Pronzini has a few A.K.A. works including a nice two-book series about a pilot named Dan Connell who gets into frays and then has to extricate himself out of. He wrote these as Jack Foxx, "The Jade Figurine" and "Dead Run," both eventually published under his own name. They read like nice old B-Movies of the 30's, 40's and 50's adventures in the South Seas with crooks, dangerous dames and killers lurking about. Equally as good is a book called "Day of the Moon" he wrote with Jeffery Wallmann about a fixer/detective for the mob named Flagg. It runs along the same lines as say a Parker novel by Richard Stark or a Quarry book by Max Allan Collins. He's also wrote a bunch of westerns and stand-alone books, if his name's on a book it's a safe bet that it'll be good. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

St. Ives (1976) Gentlemanly Bronson Badassery

Charles Bronson was THE badass of the badasses. But like all regular working stiffs he liked to take it easy now and then. St. Ives is Bronson taking it easy, he doesn't have to ride a horse or shoot a lot of people or get into TOO many fistfights. No, Bronson wanted to hang around talk-act to people like John Houseman and look at women like Jacqueline Bisset Who could blame him?

There was a time where Bronson was LITERALLY the biggest movie star in the world. He name put people in seats. It seems like such a far-away notion that a man that looks like you made him from chopped rock and who is a "presence" as apposed to an actor could really be that big. Of course it was the foreign markets that really love Bronson. He was a man's man. In an era of hard-case actors he reigned supreme over the likes of Steve McQueen or Lee Marvin, no small feat. The part that doesn't seem to be in the public perspective of Bronson is that he had a lot of laid-back charm, he showcased it some in the 70's this and "Breakout" show a different Bronson, one who gets the job done still but through being crafty as opposed to simply blowing people away. To be fair he only really had to successful gears: he could give you intense ass-kickery or laid-back ass-kickery. This is a Bronson is a author who sleeps late, eats deli meat in a cafeteria, and drives a classy vintage Jaguar. He also works a "go-between" for crooks. Transferring money for good. It pays good enough I guess to keep him in chicory coffee and very wide neck ties. But it doesn't keep him out of trouble.

St. Ives was created by an author named Oliver Bleeck who was actually an author named Ross Thomas who COULD MOTHER-FUCKIN' WRITE A BOOK. Seriously he started late in life, wrote his first book "The Cold-War Swap" in six weeks and won a Edgar for his trouble. Right out the gate. He had a colorful life of  politics, soldiering, corresponding and maybe spying. He went on to write a good number of books that are all damned good, written in a witty style of blood and guts that is hard to come by. Along the way he wrote a series about St. Ives under the fake name, but they are clearly his work. He also had to particularly good series following spies/bar-owners Padillo and McCorkle and another one about con-men Artie Wu and Quincy Durant.  

The 70's had a resurgence of love for the 40's crime/mystery film after "Chinatown" blew everyone's mind. You had "Peeper," "The Late Show,""Pulp," "The Big Fix," "The Outfit," etc. etc. A lot of them had Elisha Cook Jr. (of "Maltese Falcon" fame) in them. This one does too. He's always nice to see.  It's got a old-school ascetic with clear direction from J. Lee Thompson, who I'm forever in debt to for directing "The Guns of Navarone."  There's nasty rich people played very politely, run down hotels, cop-shops, stoolies, killers, the hero getting conked in the head; basically all its missing is a voice over from Bronson and to be in black and white.

Is it a great film? Eh, probably not. The plot is a thin-jumble on loop, parts of it are just going through the motions of "find dead-body, rinse, repeat" but I enjoy the hell out of it though. There is some good old-fashion thrilling sequences, including a elevator gag that made my wife gasp. It's nice to see Bronson have a lighter touch. Jacqueline Bisset is spunky and cool, she seems to be having fun playing Cops and Robbers. It's got call-backs to an era of cinema that I couldn't love more. Add a fantastic cast with the likes of Harry Guardino, Harris Yulin, Dana Elcair and Maximilian Schell hamming it up with a fantastically dramatic moustache. Plus bits parts by Robert Englund and Jeff Goldblum who seems gets his ass kicked by Bronson a lot. St. Ives will never be ranked in the great films of the 70's but rankings are for dicks.

I got through this whole thing without saying "No dice." Shame really.