Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Quick Shots: Blaster #1: "The Girl with the Dynamite Bangs" by Lou Cameron


It says number 1 on the cover, but there was never a number too. This Lou Cameron novel taunted me for a year before I found a copy that was cheap-enough to justify a "one and done" series. I like Cameron's stuff, in fact one of the first things that ever saw print with my name on it was a review of a "Renegade" adult western in Justin Marriott's fantastic fan-zine "Hot Lead." Lou Cameron was a prolific writer with a lot of books under his belt, westerns, crime, ti-ins, even comics. For books like this he's got a nice professional blue-collar--room style that's pretty fun-loving at times. It's very much a modern (at the time) take on Dick Walker aka Captain Gringo in the Renegade series, it gives you the same thrills, sex and the tongue-in-the-cheek appeal.

The titular "Blaster" is Boomer Green. You can tell he's a demolition expert since both of his nicknames describe explosions. Actually he's never called Blaster, I wonder if Cameron wanted the series to be called "Boomer." They did this multiple nickname bit a lot in 70's Men's adventure books. Boomer is a colorful lead character, sarcastic, eager to bed the ladies, packs a .25 caliber Baby Browning in his shirt pocket, and blow shit up. He's down in Brazil to break up a massive log-jam for a drug-addicted Ex-Nazi, his maybe-Nazi daughter and his drunk son. Boomer finds himself at the estate of the said Nazi's when it becomes clear that all is not right. Forces conspire against him, questions are raised about motives, people try and kill him. But that's all in a days work for Boomer so he takes it in stride. Cameron builds the tension well, Boomer literally planting the bombs as the book builds to explosive climax.

Cameron's an old pro and this is a "good-time" book. It's got a pleasant south-of-the-border adventure vibe with great jungle scenes, a bit of a "plantation novel" vibe with the household and the servants, and the action is handled expertly. The mystery of the forces against Boomer are built up nicely and dispatched nicely. Sorry for the spoiler, but like is the main character going to die in a book with a #1 behind the title? Cameron was a step above a lot paperback writers of the era and it's a shame there wasn't anymore Blasters, I'd read 'em.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

"Inside Out" 1975 Movie Reivew


I haven't done a movie review in quite a while, though I've watched a ton of them; don't you worry. My triumphant return to movie criticism is about a little seen 1975 caper picture called "Inside Out" starring Telly Savalas, Robert Culp and James Mason. I've been going a little crazy on the manufactured on demand DVD's, which is a godsend for odd little pictures to see the light of day on DVD. I've ordered "The Scorpio Letters" starring Alex Cord based on the Victor Canning novel, "The Double Man" starring Yul Brenner, Rod Taylor in John Gardner's "The Liquidator," "Assignment to Kill,"  "Avalanche Express" with Lee Marvin and Robert Shaw, and "Inside Out." I've been picking up various MOD titles since Warner's and MGM started putting them out. It's nice to cross off films that have been nagging at me to buy/watch for years. 

First off my main interest in this movie is the stars. I'm a big fan of Telly Savalas and Robert Culp. James Mason too, I mean you can't dislike James Mason. I'm such a big Telly fan that I have a vintage Kojak action figure. I was first stuck by him with "On Her Majesty Secret Service," he's truly the only Blofield that counts. Certainly the only one that is Bond's true equal; Donald Pleasence may have crafted the image of the character but he's quiet and demure and Charles Grey, whew boy...nah. Telly's nature swagger, toughness and intelligence came through in his Blofield. He's a presence on screen. He obviously is most famous for "Kojak," but he's works better on the big screen, he's bigger then life. He's a lot of fun in "Inside Out," playing a WWII-vet turned con-man/thief, a true hustler who doesn't worry about little things like money when there's five-star hotel rooms to stay at and manicures to get.  He's playing Telly but that's what I want to see. 

Now Robert Culp was a lot more then just an actor. As a director and (co)writer he made on of my favorite private-eye movies "Hickey and Boggs." It's a real shame he didn't get to direct again because he knew story telling. Obviously I enjoy him as Kelly in "I Spy," it's easily one of the best spy shows of the 60's, being low-key and less flashy then some of it's competitors it counts on good story and interaction and fine adventure to hook it's audience. It's a real-shame that Bill Cosby turned out to be such a slimy-bastard because it sure puts a smudge on Culp's career. The Culp written episodes of "I Spy" are some of the best. In "Inside Out," he plays a career criminal talked into returning to the life for the big score. He plays it a lot like Kelly facing the danger of it with a twinkle in his eye.

The movie? Eh, it's okay. The plot is a lot of paperback-fiction fun, basically there's lost Nazi gold (I seriously never get tired of Nazi gold stories) and in order to get to the gold they have to break the only old Nazi-man who knows its whereabouts out of a military prison. Jason Mason plays James Mason with a slight German accent since he's the ex-commandant of a German military prison where Telly once was imprisoned. Mason comes to Telly with the scheme remembering him as a crafty fellow. Telly ropes in Culp and the as with most heist pictures rounds up a couple more for their team. One is G√ľnter Meisner who was in Willy Wonka and played a Nazi's a lot in the 70's although he was actually in a death camp during the war, he's a welcome face; an actor you've seen a lot but wouldn't know his name (I do cause I'm a weirdo) and Doris Kunstmann as a nurse who Culp falls in love with after one boinking session, a morning-after game of chess and a silent montage lover's stroll. Plus Aldo Ray as a convenient buddy of Telly who is running the American's shift at the prison. The plan involves having Meisner, who's character is an actor, play Adolf Hitler and trick the old Nazi-man into giving the location of the gold. It's a fun scene and makes little sense when you think about it. The gold is unfortunately hidden in East Germany, though further complicating matters.

The main problem is that it's far too light-weight, there's never a hint of real danger, even when folks die. You never once wonder if our team will get the gold. Everyone goes along with the plan with like no hesitation, risking their lives and careers for the hint of the treasure. Every obstacle is meet with near instant solving and the few ties a "tension" falls flat. It's a shame it's a fun premise (which is totally ripped-off for "Wild Geese II") and has a good cast which looks like their were having fun making it, but the lack of real stakes makes it ultimately a little forgettable. It's a nice way to waste a couple of hours but I wouldn't seek it out unless you love Telly and Culp like I do.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

"A Slaying in September" and "A Drug Called Power" by Ian Mackintosh or a Quest Fullfilled

Ian Mackintosh created "The Sandbaggers" simply one of the finest espionage shows ever produced. It's a taut, pot-just-about-to-boil-over show about the ins-and-outs of gritty "real-life" spying. Nothing fanciful or romanticized, it paints a dreary, bleak portrait of Cold War Era bureaucracy and high cost of human life, it's on the free TV app Tubi right now. So, go watch it.

The beer might have helped.
Mackintosh was a Navy man who wrote TV and novels and then disappeared mysteriously over the Gulf of Alaska which has all the makings of a spy novel as their on conspiracy theories of defection and Mackintosh's past as a secret agent.. I had never read one of Mackintosh novels but drooled over them online for many years. His first novel "A Slaying in September" was published by Robert Hale in 1967 and was quickly followed by four more books until 1970. Three of the novels star Tim Blackgrove a English private eye/gunman/troubleshooter guy who's out for revenge against big drug pushers.Past his initial burst of novels he wrote adapations for his shows "The Sandbaggers" "Wilde Alliance" and "Warship."

Tim Blackgrove Series/Early Novels:

"A Slaying in September"  (1967)

"A Drug Called Power" (1968)

"The Brave Cannot Yield"  (1970)

Non-Series: 

"Count Not the Cost" (1968)

"The Man from Destiny" (1969)

All of these books are near impossible to find; they rarely come up online for sale and when they do you better be willing to crack open your piggy bank and then your neighbors and then maybe rob a bank or something. I don't know the that the demand for novels like this is strong enough for their price tags sometimes. I knew unless I got extraordinarily lucky I'd never own one. And I still don't.

One day the light bulb popped on  above my head to try an Inter-Library loan for the Mackintosh books. I don't know why I hadn't before, I try it every so often with the impossible to find books. My library will only let you do three-inter-library-loans at a time and I tried for the full Tim Blackgrove series and came up one short. But hey, make lemonade. Both the books required fairly heavy fees to check out due to their scarcity but I'm good a spending money on books.They came in fairly short order from the east coast to the mid-west; one from Cornell University and the other from the New Jersey School of Medicine and Dentistry! Both are in rough shape and one was nearly falling apart but by god, I'd get to read them.


 "A Slaying in September" was Mackintosh's first novel AND it shows. Basically the daughter of a buddy (who's in love with Tim) gets murdered by a drug smuggler and Blackgrove goes a murdering. The few reviews of the these books online at Existential Ennui and Mystery File are not particularly kind  to the books, marking them for reading in more of the "interesting" category then the "good" category. I've said it before but my tasters burnt out long ago for "bad" books, if I can half-way laugh at the book and have a good time with it, it was a worthy read. Where do Mackintosh's first novel land? 

It's borderline.

Parts of the book are exactly what you want in a late-60's Executioner-type pulp novel (even though it predates the first Executioner) then there's long passages of love-lorn Tim Blackgrove feeling sorry for himself or falling head-over-heels instantly for a woman, then chiding himself for doing just that. But when he's on the hunt and actually paying attention to his revenge-quest it's a crackerjack story. Blackgrove can be totally remorseless and violent dispatching baddies with his Luger and his .22 Walther. Then it slides right back into the flowery love stuff. Mackintosh must have been a romantic and then cured of it by the time he wrote "The Sandbaggers," its a stark change from his later work. And it's very paperback-convenient in terms of plot. Tim doesn't do any detecting, just beatings and shootings and casually meeting the right people. Over all, push come to shove, right down the line, with a gun to my head I would say that I liked it. I read in nearly a sitting. I'd be very glad to own a copy of it BUT I don't know if I'd ever reread it, so yeah.


So with the fist book down, I moved to the second novel "A Drug Called Power," where 'ol Tim meets the rich, bored Sue Dell and in a page-and-a-half has transformed her from a casual drug-user to a international Drug-commando. The call themselves, wait for it: T.W.I.N.S. that is Trans-World Independent Narcotics Squad. Yeah, baby! That's not quite as cool as U.N.C.L.E. but it's very much in the paperback Spy world. The books are an odd mesh of old-school hard-boiled P.I., secret agent and vigilante stuffed in a tea bag and sipped in the proper British manor. Sue does really liven the story up and gives the gloomy Tim someone to talk too. This novel in particular reminded me of a lost pilot to a good old ITV Action series, like "The Saint," "Department S" or "The Protectors" as the T.W.I.N.S. get roped into working for MI5 to stop a supervillain from blackmailing the world with poison. This one's more a crackling boy's-own-type adventure. I got flashbacks of reading Sexton Blake/Norman Conquest adventures during my time with these two books, I'd bet Mackintosh was fan.

Overall I liked the second better and I'm going to try the Inter-library loan for the remaining two stand-alone's cause I'm a gluten for punishment and I'd read the final "The Brave Cannot Yield" in a heartbeat.  I can't say they are good books, but they are both interesting in contrast from his later work and as shut-off-your-brain adventures. It's a quest that ends after years of searching the internet and it feels a little like a tiny door has been closed, its a good thing there's a mountain's worth of books I need to read, so crossing these of the list isn't the worst thing.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Quick Shots: The World of Tim Frazer by Francis Durbridge


Francis Durbridge wrote a lot of radio and TV scripts that were hugely popular in England at the time. His most known creation the sleuth Paul Temple was the star of the printed page, radio, TV, and films, so, a multi-media super-star, if you will. Back when I was driving an armored car and tangling with excessive boredom driving a four-wheeled safe I listened to a lot of audio books and eventually got into some old time radio programs. I particularly enjoyed "I Love a Mystery" by Charlton E. Morse and the British hero Dick Barton. So, somewhere along the way I read about Durbridge and Paul Temple. The radio show I listened to was fun in a old fashioned mystery/cliffhanger kind of way but I never sought anymore out. 

SO, many years later I stumbled about his Hodder printing of "The World of Tim Frazer" another popular Durbridge hero, this one a engineer on the skid who gets roped into the espionage game. I immediately snatched it up and promptly forgot about it for another year or so.  I've been on a British thriller kick and rediscovered Frazer's adventure while searching the shelves for something else. I started reading the first chapter and suddenly time sorta melted away and I was halfway through the book in one sitting. 

Tim Frazer is looking for his runaway business partner Harry Dentson who owes him money when he's approached by Ross of a super secret spy agency inside the government. Ross wants Dentson for his own reasons and deputizes (or the secret agent equivalent) Frazer to hunt him down. The book is very much of his time, "the amateur spy" sub-genre is one you won't really come across much these days. I guess people are more cynical and writer's find it hard to believe that an every-man would blindly trust a government espionage agency and go risk their lives. It's also full of twists and turns, nearly every chapter ends with a shocking revelation or cliff-hanger, just the way a radio show would entice you to listen again tomorrow or a TV show keeps you from flipping channels during commercials. 

It's a lot of good stuff. Wily garage mechanics, timid model-ship builders with nagging wives, dead Russian sailors in quaint English towns, low-slung Jaguars running around, dives, knives appearing in people's back, eccentric painters, and a stage actress all play a part in the search for Harry Dentson. It all sort of makes sense if you tilt your head the right way and Tim Frazer is a solid leading man. I'm sure I'll forget most of the plot in a week or some, but I'll remember the fun I had reading it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Quick Shots: Montenergrin Gold by Brian Ball

 


Brian Ball is a primarily known as a writer of science fiction, but also wrote a handful of thrillers. "Montenegrin Gold," is a stand alone but he also wrote a two book series about a English tough-guy named Keegan who gets roped into spy shenanigans. I have a budding collection of  "sci-fi writers writing thrillers" books because I find it interesting when a writer tries wholly different genres. Michael Moorecock's Jerry Cornell books, Harry Harrison's Tony Hawkins and Robert Sheckley's Stephen Dain books to name a few. I've found they are usually a lot of overlooked and vastly underrated. It must be a bit of a mental relief to only have to come up with plot and characters and not full fantasy realms or vastly different alien worlds. Cloak and Daggers are a bit simpler then laser swords and ray-guns.

My edition of this book is from the Walker British Mystery imprint, it's a distinct book with a slightly bigger size which is kind of annoying when stuffing them onto my over-flowing shelves but the quality of the books is top-notch, I always look for their distinctive red spines in used book stores. They reprinted great books from the likes of Desmond Cory,William Haggard and Simon Harvester; among others. I've never been let down by a Walker British Mystery book.

"Montenegrin Gold" is a fairly straight-forward British thriller, it's short fun in a "boy's adventure" kind of way but does lay on some serious overtones. Charles Copley's having a rough go of it, he's fired, his wife leaves him for his boss (whom she's already cheated on him with) and his dad has just died. Shiftless and unsure what to do Copley ends up finding out that his father was a British spy during W.W.II and has left behind some diaries of his activities that (of course) bad guys want because it could lead to hidden gold! Along the way Copley meets the beautiful daughter of one of his dad's spy buddies, watches his son get murdered, goes round and round with the cops, tangles with an old but deadly Nazi-turned-New-York-janitor, gets smashed on the head and drinks a lot. 

It's a pleasant easy but thrilling read, the way that few American writers can seem to produce. The British thriller is it's own genre that plays by its own rules. Ball hits all the right notes and creates a solid, failable lead in Copley, truly an every-man thrust into a adventure, first out of boredom then out of pure revenge. I actually read the book on a lazy, rainy Saturday afternoon and that seems to be what the book was written for.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Pieces of a Hero by William Overgard



 I'll start this like a bad speech: the dictionary describes as Bawdy (n) "humorously indecent talk or writing." "Pieces of a Hero" by William Overgard is bawdy in the best sense. It got me think that a lot of my favorite novels are bawdy, "Solomon's Vineyard" by Johnathan Latimer, "The Art of Redemption" by Bob Truluck  and "The Last Good Kiss" by James Crumley to name a few, they all have a pleasant low-rent, barroom language and are bursting at the seams with tongue-in-cheek machismo. "Pieces of a Hero" is a Men's Adventure-tall-tale by way of a Aiport-sleaze novel. It's great. It's so great that three chapters in I went out (to the internet) and bought nearly every book he wrote. 

William Overgard is better known as a cartoonist, having worked on newspaper strips like "Steve Roper and Mike Nomad" and "Kerry Drake." As well as his own strips, he also was a screenwriter who worked on the "Silverhawks"and "Thundercats" cartoons in the 80's. He wrote on of my favorite 70's TV-Movies "The Last Dinosaur," starring a particularly surly Richard Boone out to kill the last (of course) dinosaur. It's said that "Terry and the Pirates," the classic newspaper strip, had a big impact on Overgard's life. It seems too, it's readily apparent that Overgard was a fan of High-Adventure. 

The title hero is Hero Haggity (yes, its his real name) a giant of a man who's lost plenty of pieces, an eye, a hand and most of a leg. It doesn't slow him down none, he's a war hero with medals upon medals who's tougher then a two dollar steak and somehow as lovable as a teddy bear. He packs a .38 in an up-side shoulder holster and a Broom-Handle Mauser machine pistol on his hip, plus a couple of different prosthetic hands and a spare leg or two. He started his military career at the tender age or 14 and fought in WWII, Korea AND Vietnam. He left the U.S. government payroll and is a mercenary. The front of the book proclaims that it'll soon be a movie starring Lee Marvin. Would have been pretty perfect casting, he's not quite a big as Hero is but he's larger than life enough. Overgard's comic strip past is evident, Hero is a comic character on the page.

As I've said on the blog before, I'm a sucker for mercenary stories. Peter McCurtin's Solider of Fortune books and John Benteen's Fargo are old friends. Both Fargo and Rainey would probably like to go out drinking with Hero, fight along side him and avoid being on the opposite sides. But this is a bigger novel then any Fargo tale, nearly triple the page count. Its the biggest book I've read in a while by a long shot but I enjoyed every page. Overgard's writes in a clear and light style a contrast to the characters and plot, reminding me chiefly of Ross Thomas, which high praise coming from this buckaroo. Both Overgard and Thomas set up warring factions of characters and then let them duke it out both physically and mentally. Double-crosses, triple-crosses, schemes and bouts of colorful violence is sprinkled throughout the book which is built with style and wit.

Hero is hired to train a group to blow up a sugar mill in Cuba by the owner of the mill. Hero knows its a screwy place to start but the money is good and he can take his new girlfriend the enormous breasted burlesque dancer Happy along for the ride. Happy is the second lead and she's just as much fun as Hero. She's a surprisingly tough and smart character who may not always make the best decisions, but she's just as much of a survivor as Hero. Colorful characters include the Black mercenary Sam Spade (or so he calls himself) who's a lot more then he seems, the crusty sea captain, the diminutive would be General and son of the sugar mill,  the crafty transgender madam who put a lot of the pieces of the scheme together and forms a fun friendship with Happy along the way, plus the sadomasochistic sugar mill owner and his band of international mercenaries and freedom fighters. Everyone is out for themselves and clash on every page. Things of course don't go the way they are planned, the hallmark of a good book.

 If I had a hall of fame this would be in it. It really does feel like an adult version of a newspaper adventure strip, a genre I'm very fond off. Overgard keeps you engaged at every chapter break, tempting you to just flip the page and keep reading. Just like he would have in keeping you in suspense till the next newspaper came out. The book is wildly UN-P.C. which could put some people off but all of Overgard's characters come off as real people (save Hero) not as stereotypes. Its easy to bore the reader when you flash to the side characters in a novel, especially one as fun as Hero, but I never felt bored hanging out with the rest of the cast. I'm glad I have nearly all his novels coming my way cause I have a new favorite author to add to the list.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Quick Shots: One Angry Man by Norman Daniels



Norman Daniels had a long career writing whatever "pulp fiction" was at the moment. He hooked onto trends and put out what would sell, all the while producing quality, albeit workman like books. My kinda guy. He created the pulp hero The Black Bat, wrote The Phantom Detective, novels featuring The Avengers (the British spies, not the costumed people) plus stand alone work in the Gold Medal mold and his own 60's spy series with John Keith the Man from A.P.E. He tried a couple of other series out along the way The Baron books, which have nothing to do with John Creasey's The Baron and the Kelly Carvel novels.

"One Angry Man" is the second in the Carvel trilogy, I've read the first one and enjoyed it but didn't review it because it was done with much more style and grace over at Paperback Warrior so head over and check that one out. Kelly Carvel is your standard paperback tough guy ex-cop division. Fed up with the justice system he chucked his badge. He didn't take up as a private eye, instead he got mixed up with The Committee of Ten, a group of big-wigs who want him to act as a personal avenger for injustice. It's a nice series set-up, one that could have gone on much longer then it did. With all the money and connections Carvel has it easier then some of our 70's vigilante heroes, but it's a nice slice of spy on your vigilante sandwich.

"The Rape of a Town" (1970)

"One Angry Man" (1971)

"License to Kill" (1972)

Carvel's one angry man because in the small town where he's police chief (it's part of the fist book) there's a big-time drug pusher. He decides to take him down, along the way he gets help from The Committee of Ten, the Mafia, his number one lady Merryl, and his cop buddy. The action is a little sparse, but well written and brutal when it happens. Carvel is more of schemer, putting chess pieces where he wants them and battling it out across the board. There's kidnappings, threats, courtroom scenes, rude waiters, drugging, shoot-outs and hokey drug language. It's a lot of fun.


The books' a little stiff in spots though, Daniels was clearly an old pro trying his hand at the latest trend, which he pulls off mostly. It's a little out of time; reading like it was written in the early 60's instead of the 70's at places. But with this much time past, what's ten years? "One Angry Man" moves quick, is filled with thrilling stuff and finishes well. You'll probably have a good time with any Daniel's book, I know I do.