Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Shadow & Me: "The Romanoff Jewels" by Maxwell (Walter Gibson) Grant


I was the perfect age for The Shadow in 1994. I had been poised (brainwashed) by Hollywood to lap up the glamorous adventure of arguable the most famous of the old-school Pulp Heroes. I was four-years old in the theater mesmerized by Tim Burton's "Batman," then I got caught up in Dick Tracy fever the following year. Then more Batman and The Rocketeer plus the discovery of Indiana Jones. See? I already had molded myself into pretty much the same guy I am today, just smaller. A couple years later I found out about The Phantom too. "The Shadow" was to be the next Batman. Though, really Batman was still the next Batman. I got the action figures, trading cards and I remember really wanting the lunchbox. The picture starred Alec Baldwin, John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Ian McKellen, Peter Boyle AND Tim Curry, which is a seriously stacked cast and was stylishly directed by Russell Mulcahy. I loved (and still do) every minute of it. Sadly, it didn't really click with audiences and didn't produce a couple of sequels. The movie is a amalgamation of the different versions of The Shadow. The radio version of The Shadow was different then the magazine version and so on. The fluid nature of the character is only fitting as The Shadow is full of surprises. The Shadow wasn't new to movie theaters though, a handful of almost uniformly bad B-pictures that pretty much ignore all the cool-stuff about The Shadow and focusing on bad-mysteries. Though the 1940 serial is a lot of daring-doo fun.

Later in my book buying travels I discovered some of the reprints, this was about the same time I was finding out about Doc Savage, Man from UNCLE paperbacks, and stuff like The Saint and The Avengers, Steed and Peel that is. Again, the perfect age around middle school to dive into the dark and wild world of The Shadow. I never had (until the last couple of years) finding Doc Savage books in the wild, hell I actually just bought 70 issues of the actual pulp printed magazine in a garage fifteen minutes from my house. But that's a different story. The Shadow was harder to find and it sucked cause I liked him a bit more then Doc. Later I found The Spider and I like him a bit more then everyone. So, though I love The Shadow, I've really only read only a few of them. I've collected quiet a few now and am going to make an effort to get them read. 

Sometimes when I got too many options I make it too hard on myself in deciding. I got a stack of Walter Gibson's books and they all look good enough to eat, so which one do I start? I found myself at an impasse one morning looking at all the pulp on my shelf. I googled some titles got mixed answers and finally just picked out the one that had a cool cover and the word "Kremlin" on the back. "The Shadow #9: The Romanoff Jewels."

The Shadow exists in a wonderfully mysterious world that no longer exists, well, it probably never actually existed at all. That's the way The Shadow would want it. It's a world of looming danger, quick action and mysticism that perminated the "real" world. It's also a place of hard-bitten gangsters, spies, and all the other stock pulp characters. The world of the Shadow feels like there's peril in every drop of darkness. A golden dagger will fly at you, your drink will be poisoned or a burst of Tommy-Gun will perforate you. "The Romanoff Jewels" is probably no-one favorite Shadow story. Not that it's bad, it's wonderful. But with every long running character there's ups, downs and middles. This feels like a middle to me. There's the trappings of The Shadow. Booby-traps, dark allies, enemy agents, bombs, legendary lost treasure and double-running-to-triple crosses. It's a whole lot of exciting amusement. Gibson is a master of the cliff-hanging chapter, making just flip through the pages. "The Romanoff Jewels" is a fine (short) book, but if you haven't read a Shadow before you might want to try another one. I remember liking "Murder Trail" a lot, it's full of Zeppelins. Can't go wrong there. 

Now, okay there's an Elephant in the room, or maybe it's just a shadow of one sulking in the corner. This last year James Patterson along with (in smaller print) Brian Sitts brought The Shadow back. I had been following the development of this book since it was announced. I can't say I was super hopeful about it. I really don't like to rag on anyone but James Patterson doesn't really do anything for me. I've tried to understand what the mass-appeal is but his work doesn't click with my sensibility. Which is odd cause it's clearly a form of pulp. I did enjoy one of his earlier books "The Midnight Club," but now that he opened his Patterson factory and just mass-produces novels written by others the cocktail is so deluded it won't even get you tipsy. "The Shadow" is so watered down and thin it reads like a YA novel and it's "near future" setting feels like an easy-out for something when you have no idea what to do. It feels like The Shadow was dropped into an already written manuscript about something else. The whole book feels like a non-commit and it's a shame. I tried it from the library when it was first released. I didn't finish it. Then my addled-brain convinced myself to buy it to try again. I didn't finish it then either. It'll be on the shelf with the rest of The Shadows though.

"The Shadow" is cooler then Batman. There I said it. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: "The Spy Who Didn't" by Jack Laflin

See Steve Holland's ear?

I have pretty much accumulated every book Jack Laflin ever wrote without really trying. That's the way book collecting works sometimes. I found some a the local book pusher for cheap, others picked up in lots on eBay, and one in a truck stop. Not that it's a tall order he only wrote 10-ish novels. Belmont Tower pushed him in the late 60's with high-camp style covers that we obviously a cash-in for the "Batman" tv series. The covers are great and star everyone's favorite male model Steve Holland as the super-duper CIA agent Gregory Hiller. But what about what's under dem covers?

Gregory Hiller is a CIA agent, a Russian CIA agent. A defector turned "No. 1 troubleshooter," which is what I'm going to put on my business cards. Actually he came to America with a little plastic surgery (to look like Steve Holland, who wouldn't?) to impersonate a top man. But he found out he liked the good 'ol U.S. of A and switched sides. It's a nice, interesting backstory that sets him apart from the crowd of Bond-impersonators of the 60's paperback world. Well, so Old Greg is on vacation when he helps a old-man on the run and ends up in a insane asylum being tortured by a Nazi and a Nazi She-Devil. After an escape and a detour to Mexico Greg uncovers dastardly Nazi plots involving sunken Spanish gold, bombs, Man Mountains, the beautiful lady kind of Israeli agents, fights the Ku Klux Klan plus Nazi's in a giant cave AND kills a very notable bad-guy.

Laflin wrote a fun book. More than anything it reminded me of something out of an "Ace G-Man" pulp. Greg Hiller, despite his Russian origins, just screams AMERICA! He works with the FBI and local cops and just comes across less of a International Man of Mystery and more of a working stiff government man with a blazing walnut-stocked .357 Magnum. It makes you wonder what pulp magazines Laflin read a kid. All-in-all it's a romp of a novel, I'm sure Laflin's tongue was at least slightly in his cheek, so the pop-art covers actually fit the contents of the book. How's that for judging books by their covers? 

Laflin wrote the five book Gregory Hiller series, a YA book about football, a 70's horror/disaster novel about killer bees, finally a entry in the The Adjusters series (coincidently the only on that series published under the author's real name) and that was it. Except maybe a hardcover book in 1991 called "Serpent in Paradise" but I haven't figured out if it was the same Laflin. Fill me in if you know the unclassified truth! I'm going to try his Adjusters novel next to see if he molded himself in line for that series or just wrote a Greg Hiller book under a different guise. 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Fredric Brown-Gumshoe's Ed and Am Hunter Part 1: "Death Has Many Doors"

Mickey Spillane counted Fredric Brown as his favorite writer. There's even a clip 
on YouTube where him and a few other writers like, oh Ed McBain and Robert B. Parker are chatting with Dick Cavett where he name drops Brown and the first Ed Hunter book "The Fabulous Clipjoint." Spillane, besides being a fine writer had good taste (as I sip a Miller Lite) too. Being a teenager who had a strong affinity for mystery novels, I read Clipjoint at the perfect time in my life, around eighteen or nineteen. Same age as Ed Hunter as he solves his first mystery: the death of his father with the help of surrogate father his carny Uncle Am. It was one of the cornerstone books that I built a life-time of reading and writing on. I imagine I feel the way about "The Fabulous Clipjoint" the way other folks think of "Catcher in the Rye." I always thought Holden Caulfield was a dink, but that might have been the point.

Most the Fredric Brown's I have in my collection are pretty rough, all loose bindings and tattered covers. I get the feeling that most folks who read Brown are like me. They reread 'em. They live with 'em. Top that off, they're hard to come by. My local bookstore has a big warehouse sale every now and then. Last weekend I got to go to the first one I'd been too since that darn Covid. I got three big bag of books stuffed to the brims. The two scores of the day were a first-printing Nicolas(Len Levinson) Brady's "Shark Fighter" and the final piece of my Ed Hunter puzzle: "Death Has Many Doors." 

The Ed and Am Hunter series morphs as it goes on with the boys starting as amateur detectives and carnival workers, then as detectives working for Starlock Detective Agency before finally breaking off and setting up their own agency. After the fairly straight-forward coming-of-age/detective tale of the first novel the books can get kind of wild and quirky but always grounded in reality. 

In "Death Has Many Doors," the fifth book in the series the boys are business on their own when a mysterious woman comes through the door with a death threat looming over her head. A death threat from, get this, Martians. From Mars. Ed's a bit of a mush-heart and tries to help the women and for his trouble ends up sleeping in the next room as she dies in the night. He doesn't buy that her heart problem killed and spends the rest of the book trying to figure out what the hell happened. That is, after getting hired via the phone by a, get this, Martians, from mars. After that there's red herrings, more death, long and short drinks, skinny dipping, friends made through boxing, skip-tracing, ray-guns, and science experiments that produces a satisfying (if a bit far-fetched in a wonderful way) conclusion.

There's no other books like the Ed and Am Hunter books. They tell seemingly outlandish stories in a very well thought-out, matter of fact style. Parts are very close to the "procedural" style of Joe Gores and Ed McBain. Parts show Brown's love of science-fiction. Then there's parts that run along the same lines as a Mike Shayne or Johnny Liddell novel. It's a wonderful cocktail of a story. Am Hunter's a little more colorful then Ed but when it boils down to it, they are simply honest, blue-collar working stiffs trying get by. They are all of those things, but wholly Brown's own thing. The "motive" of the murder is pretty easy to figure out if you've knocked around detective novels before but the "how" is a little better buried. Not counting Clipjoint this maybe my new favorite of the series but "The Bloody Moonlight," where the guys tangle with a werewolf is another high-water mark. Hell, I'm going to have to reread 'em all again. Cause look, they're all wonderful books and now they are easily obtainable via eBook. The originals have sometimes (not fully) been reprinted and still command a pretty penny. But they're worth it.

Stay tuned for the Great Hunter Re-Read. 

Monday, October 4, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: Charlie Chan Returns by Dennis Lynds

I'll just get out of the way. Charlie Chan the character, the movies, the show, the cartoon, the comic book and the mystery digest paint a very positive few of the Chinese detective. He's always the smartest man in the room and is a very personable, a likeable master sleuth when most of them are rather cold and calculating. All that aside they are work produced in a time with a straight-up dumbass-backwards view on Asians in general. They can be offensive. At least in the novels where there's no white man playing the Chinese detective from Honolulu. I will admit, I watch and enjoy the films; looking past the "yellow face" but I'm sure many people can't and they are probably right. When I read the book I just imagined Keye Luke as Chan and it worked great.

This is a curious case. Not the mystery (though it is very solid) but translating the golden-era detective Chan to groovy 70's New York where he gets tangled up in big case with the help of his son Jimmy, a NYPD detective. There's a fish-out-of-water quality to the idea of a very old fashioned man in the land of discos, dirty politics and rock 'n' roll clubs. So, its like Charlie Chan replacing Telly Savalas as Kojak. The novel does have a "made-for-TV-movie" feel probably because it's based on a un-filmed script by Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander. And, all that aside it somehow it works! 

It works because Dennis Lynds is a pro's-pro. The man could write seemingly anything. Take in point the last novel I read by him was "Night of the Shadow" a 60's-set adventure for the pulp-hero The Shadow, casting him as a super-spy in "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." mold. He also wrote Nick Carter: Killmasters, Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigators books for the YA market, Mike Shayne's, Mack Bolan's and more! Plus he (as Michael Collins) wrote fantastic private-eye series about a one-armed detective named Dan Fortune and other mysteries under various names. I was eager to see how he tackled a Chan novel.

Surprise, surprise, Lynds wrote a nice, light fun mystery novel. The character of Chan is more like his film counterpart then the Earl Derr Biggers novel-Chan. Complete with "wise-sayings," and "Number BLANK Sons." Jimmy Chan, is a suave two-gun packing police man who isn't above having his visiting 'ol pop help him on a case. And it's a doozy, Victor Cosmo may or may not be blackmailing a group of famous/powerful people and he get's blown up in shower for it. Chan's on the scene having accepted the right (or wrong) dinner invitation. The cast of suspects are fun, there's a mayor candidate, a noted mystery writer, a respectable Kathrine Hepburn-type actress, a ditzy lover, and a Salvador Dali-ish artist. Then there's shot-gunnings, car chases, burglaries, a heist, mysterious ledgers, tape-recorded death threats, fun-jabs at the mystery genre and hand grenades. It's a lot for a slim volume but it all flows smooth.

PLUS its got one Bantam's glorious 70's covers from when they republished the Bigger's novels. If you like the old movies you're sure to enjoy it, if you're a Chan purist you might not. It's been years since I've read one of Bigger's novels. I remember enjoying but found it sort of stuffy in that grand old way that golden age mystery fiction is. "Charlie Chan Returns" is a 70's detective show in print and if you're like me that's one of your jams. This isn't the only Dennis Lynd's penned Chan adventure. Pulled from the short-lived Chan Chan Mystery Magazine, "Charlie Chan in the Temple of the Golden Horde" has been republished by Wildside Press a few years ago, along with one by Bill Pronzini and Jeffery Wallmann, Both are readily available on Amazon as eBooks and paperbacks. "Charlie Chan Returns" is out of print but not too expensive. Now, I'll just have to read Michael Avallone's novelization for "Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen," I'm sure it'll be better then the flick!

Friday, October 1, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: Too Soon Dead by Michael Kurland

It may seem like I'm on a bit of a Michael Kurland kick, having just reviewed "Mission: Tank Force." Might be true, though I have read and wrote two other reviews (plus the one on the site) which are saved for an upcoming publication by that man-about-town Justin Marriott. Either way, yeah I'm on a Michael Kurland kick. That War Inc. novel got me to order this novel and hell, this novel got me to buy the other one in the series. So, watch out for that soon I suppose. 

When my wife and I first got married we lived in a third-floor apartment in a brownstone from the early 1920's. It was a grand kind of place. Though like all of us it showed age and wore many scars. She (my wife, not the building) went though years of bad health, which is thankfully better now. But those first years were pockmarked with many nights where she simply had to go to bed nearly right after she got off work. So, what is a guy like me to do with free evenings? Obviously I read but I also got very into B-Mystery movies from the 30's and 40's. Cause I'm a hip guy like that. Mr. Moto, Charlie Chan, Mike Shayne, Boston Blackie, The Lone Wolf, The Saint, The Falcon, etc. etc. The hardwood, built in bookcases and grand fire place made the apartment feel like a set of one of those movies. I miss the joint, of course you could also feel the wind blow through the windows, so maybe I don't. Anyway, it's a format I truly love in movies, i.e. around an hour chock full of humor, mystery and various shenanigans. "Too Soon Dead" is a lot like a 30's B-Movie because you see it's full of humor, mystery and various shenanigans. 

It's 1935 and Alexander Brass is a heavy-weight newspaper columnist, kinda a Damon Runyon-type with stories about nightlife and colorful criminals. His employee Morgan DeWitt is the Archie Goodwin to Brass's Nero Wolfe and narrates the tale in a flippant style, see he's a budding novelist plagued with writing doubts. Though Brass is a lot more active than Nero, he does keep Morgan and his assistant, the unflappable Gloria around him to do the leg-work. A man comes to Brass with the blackmail kind of pictures but not actually to blackmail anyone then quickly leaves all mysteriously. Brass sends a newspaperman out to follow the man but then they both end up brutally dead and Brass is on the case. The plot happily twists and turns with various jams and scraps. Being the 30's there's Nazi (the dicks) involvement, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart land an autogiro, brass-knuckle'd punches, there's fictional writers for "Black Mask," safes are blown, safes are looted, communists pop in, there's tons of consumed sandwiches, dirty pictures and burlesque dancers. All da good stuff. Interestingly enough this book also mentions Hassan-i Sabbath or The Old Man in the Mountain and his cult of killers which heavily played into "Mission: Tank Force," wonder if it pops up in any other of Kurland's work.

This 250-ish page hardback also made me long for the days when that was a standard hardback word count. Not the overly bloated books today. And they wonder why people don't read as much, who can hold onto a 700-800 page book for long enough to read it. I'd have to start going to the gym to do that. I reminded me of stacks of digested Donald Westlake and Stuart Kaminsky novels from libraries. Michael Kurland is rapidly becoming one of my go-to-guys. I enjoyed this book a lot, maybe not quite as much as his War Inc. novels but that's splitting hairs. I'll have to dip my toe into his Moriarty books next. Thankfully both in this series have been fairly recently republished so they aren't hard to come by. 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Michael Avallone's The Man from Avon and Other Book Selling Men of Action Plus Bettie Page

I had a fever when I picked up "The Man from Avon," man. I felt like a heap of crap, I needed me a pick me up and in that fevered state I figured I was in the perfect mindset to visit the "Nooniverse." Okay, "The Man from Avon" isn't an Ed Noon story but the wild antics and undisputable laws of the Nooniverse apply to the entirety of Michael Avallone's work. So, just go with me here, okay? Plunge into the weird. 

Ironically it was his novelization to "Cannonball Run" I read first without knowing who the author was, but that's another story of misspent muscle-car driving youth. Then I knew his name before I had knowingly read one of his books though the seemingly always snarky "online critics" of his work. Their words made it sound like his writing was bad, but hell, it sounded SO good. After that I actually discovered who/what a Avallone book actually was via a four-pack of dollar used books one day at my local dealer. Two Ed Noon's, his Man from U.N.C.L.E. and finally "The Man from Avon." I was hooked. The years past and I discovered Avallone wrote all the stuff I like, hard-boiled private eyes, Men's Adventure vigilantes, super spy-fi spies, tawdry little noir-types, novelizations, and most of all PULP! 

It had been too long between readings of Avon for me to remember much about it. I just remember finding it to be a bunch of fun bounded together between paper. Jerry McKnight is the top salesman for Avon books which works as the perfect cover for his actual job as the Government's top super-duper secret agent hunting down them pesky U.F.O.'s. Jerry is a little more idolized then my old buddy Ed Noon. Noon is a bit of a regular schlub thrown into the crazy, mixed-up action. Larry is Steve Holland with a case full of books. After a very real U.F.O. is seen by a sexy librarian in Old Bridge, New Hampshire Larry is parachuted down with different sexy lady with his Avon case in tow to investigate. The book actually owes a lot to the Operator No. 5 pulp tales, stalwart hero against a seemingly fantastic enemy. It boils into a cross-country chase full of strangely electrocuted victims, U.F.O. chases, spy-fi weaponry, beautiful virgins, characters named Gil Kane, odd city-wide blackouts, and valuable information about Avon book's products. Seriously, if you dig old paperbacks (who doesn't?) this part of the book is worth the price of admission. Clues hidden in rejected of Robin Moore's "The Green Berets," discussions of John Creasey's The Baron, spy books and even John D. MacDonald. Not to mention a little about how the book selling business actually worked back then. It's only let down by a slightly rushed ending, but still a more than worthy entry into Avallone's library.  

You'd think this would be the only example of spy/bookseller in the paperback world, but a year later in 1968 Sphere book across the pond put out "The Man from Sphere" by John Gaunt. This is a bit more traditional (from perusing) Bond-like spy tale about a hero named Galahad Brown. I'll report back on this one. But here's where it gets even wilder, there's another HIDDEN (sorta) Larry McKnight adventure.

"A Rep for Murder" stars Avon salesman Larry McKnight Jr. on the trail of a missing (naturally beautiful) romance novelist and running from a murder rap. Larry Jr. isn't Steve Holland, he's a bumbler trying to save his skin, job and trying not to dishonor the McKnight name. This book was written as a promotional "not for sale" item for Avon's 50 year anniversary it appears on some bibliographies of Avallone, but not all. The book is clearly a work of Avallone's its wild, wacky that barrels forward at break-neck speed and its full of wonderful old mystery clichés. Avallone seemed to have a lot of fun writing it. Plus there's tons of references to Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder, Ed McBain's 87th Precinct and other great Avon titles. It's a hoot, very much like Avallone writing on of those 40's mystery B-Movies.

Want more? Larry McKnight shows up again! This time in Michael's son David Avallone's work on the Bettie Page comic book put out by Dynamite. In fairness, I received this graphic novel from David Avallone himself, not to review but as a thank you for sending him a harder to find Ed Noon for eBook transfer. And I'm very happy I did, Vol. 1 is a blast! McKnight is Bettie Page's boss as she works for the government as a spy hunting down wild villain's, filming a sci-fi movie, clashing with cults, and basically being a wry comic book hero which is enough for me. It's a rollicking good time and it's nice that old McKnight is still kicking around. Also check out David's work on the Elvira comic, its just as good and enjoyable. I need to catch up with more of his work as he's written both The Shadow, Zorro AND Doc Savage! Too cool. Though a Ed Noon comic book would be something...*cough* *cough*

Can you tell I like Michael Avallone? He was a one-of-a-kind writer and that's something commendable, not many authors have a voice strong enough to to be instantly recognizable. I like one-of-a-kind writers, just like I like one-of-a-kind people, they kind of folk you can yak at for hours and hours. Reading an Avallone is sorta like listening to a buddy spin a yarn at you. Do yourself a favor pick up a Avallone and have a good time. And don't trust just any online reviewer...

Oh, wait...

Thursday, September 23, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: The Man from WAR #2: Mission: Tank Force by Michael Kurland

An early morning cat induced wake-up call and a pending COVID test gave me plenty of time stretched out on the couch on a crisp fall morning with no pressing engagements. Although suddenly from a shelf in my office a book started yelling at me. A few years ago I read a book called "Mission: Third Force" and it knocked my socks off. That is if I was wearing socks, usually I don't. Anyway, Michael Kurland wrote that book as the start of a three book (should have been longer) series about Peter Carthage a, uh, troubleshooter or agent for Weapons Analysis and Research, INC. The second book was calling me this morning. I've only resisted this long in reading it by shear will power because now there's only one more W.A.R. book to enjoy. I read the book cover-to-cover, so I suppose I did have a pressing engagement. 

Michael Kurland has written a fair amount books, a lot of science fiction and novels about Sherlock Holmes arch-rival Moriarty among stand-alone's. Stuck in the late-60's boom of spy-fi novels is this three book series that is very different from the sea of Bond-clones. Peter Carthage works for W.A.R. which is a company that provides weapons of war, training and plans for their clients. Also will fight them for the right price. Say, like in "Mission: Tank Force" you are Sheik in a country that just struck oil and your British protection is running out and there's vultures circling, you can call W.A.R. and they can help you out. Carthage and his comrades got to such a place to teach a fresh country the art of tank warfare and battle opposing force as radically different as a former Nazi and a supposedly the supposedly 900-year old Hasan Sabbah and his drug-induced army of killers. The action is tight and well throughout but it's the fun, devil-may-care employees of W.A.R. that are the real draw. Their banter and friendship is palpable and the dialog is witty and crisp. Along the way, there's tank-fights, drugging's, ambushes, trick shooting snakes, and beautiful women hitch-hiking in the desert. 

Kurland writing Moriarty novels is a easy stretch, the W.A.R. books have a old-fashion quality of sweeping adventure but bring to mind examples like Alexandre Dumas to Manning Coles' Tommy Hambledon and Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mixed the with adventurous spirit of Leslie Charteris's early Saint novels. But more importantly they are just incredibly fun, well-written examples of different type of espionage fiction. This a series that could have last ten more books or could easily be picked up today and continued. The first two seem to available cheap as eBooks and paperbacks reprints. The originals sport of great paperback artwork and can be found fairly cheap too, so either way just GO OUT AND BUY 'EM!

Friday, September 17, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: Race Against Time #5: Duel for the Samurai Sword by J.J. Fortune

Many years ago when I was shorter I very much enjoyed my school's libraries. I think that's where a lot of my life-long book reading journey started. Also my book "hoarding," I distinctly remember checking as many books out as I could and not reading all of them before they had to go back. It started in elementary school, but what I vividly remember is my small town's middle school library. The white metal shelves in the middle and up along the walls, the shining metal built in book ends, goofy posters of Garfield telling me reading was cool and all the various sized books. There I found Sherlock Holmes and The Three Musketeers (among many others) and I always had my nose in one of those paperback-hardback Frankenstein's. I read contemporary ones too, R.L. Stine's Fear Street (and the knockoffs) and the fairly new Hardy Boys Casefiles (as I have reviewed on here before) and Nancy Drew Files both of which started in the 80's as the slightly older more "mature" version of the characters. To be fair I only read the Nancy Drew one's to help me figure out what girls were. I guess it helped. I married a woman who loves Nancy Drew, go figure. But also random books like the "Race Against Time" series which had haunted my brain all these years. 

I had vague notions of a novel about a kid and his Indiana Jones-like Uncle who rushed around the world having adventures, but couldn't remember much past that. No titles or the author. Just something lost in the my book-addled mind. Then BINGO one day while checking the new arrivals at one of my local bookstores a tiny-little spine caught my eye. "The Duel for the Samurai Sword," the 5th novel in the series called "Race Against Time" by J.J. Fortune. The gist of the series is that a kid named Stephen and his Uncle Richard Duffy get into adventures and have to race against the clock to return Stephen home before his parents find out about all the derring-do they do, do. I don't remember any sword fights or hunts for Atlantis or having a cool gadget watch when I was getting baby-sat. Shame.

Richard Duffy is a supposed to be an engineer but mostly he had been a high-flying adventurer over the years, doing a bit of this and that. Basically whatever needed to make a good plot. Like in "Duel for the Samurai Sword" where he had spent some time learning Kendo from Master Ohara in Japan and eventually becoming the Master's prized pupil. But there's always an evil guy in the dojo, Sakuma who's so bad he turned into a Yakuza boss. Well, the Master is dying and he wants to give the sword to Uncle Duffy, but Sakuma wants it and is willing to kill for it. So, yeah what we have here is a full-tilt chase, Stephen and his Uncle just trying to stay out of Sakuma's grasp until their plane leaves. Along the way the Master's daughter is kidnapped, we learn a little about Japanese culture, have car chases and tons of fighting. One of the more entertaining aspects of this series is that Stephen is a movie buff and often compares things to movies. Really, I mean this is a young adult book that name drops 1978's "The Yakuza" starring Robert Mitchum. Probably the only one too. Shame. 

Obviously this ain't a deep book, but it's pleasant, quick and breezy. A nice palate cleanser between bloodier books. That being said it's very much a Men's Adventure series albeit for a younger crowd. The series last 10 books which is fairly commendable for books with no I.P. like The Hardy Boys, but the print runs must have been short cause they ain't the easiest to track down, they are a lot of fun if you do though.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Serial Reflections: John Easy by Ron Goulart

California is a crowded place to be a Private Eye, especially in the 70's. You have all the sons and daughters of Marlowe beating the trail down, what could an author do to stand out? Answer: Be Ron Goulart. Goulart is a seasoned professional. He was a seasoned professional in the 70's writing the continuing adventures of Kenneth Robeson's The Avenger, Vampirella, Flash Gordon, Lee Falk's The Phantom, not to mention his detective work in the fields of Golden Age comic books and pulps. Then there's his wild and wacky sci-fi adventures. In the middle of this he set his own P.I. creation upon the paperback world: John Easy.

Easy's a easy going guy. He packs a .38 in a shoulder holster, has an office and a suffering secretary, tools around in his dusty VW Bug and finds beautiful women, catches murderers and encounters oddball characters that populate a semi-surreal California. He's a archetype-character with enough foibles to be interesting but no tragic backstory or dark secrets that plague more modern heroes. He's just a semi-regular guy who who'd you like to ride shotgun with on some crazy adventures. The 70's oozes from the pages of these slim paperbacks. They are half-way between a Carter Brown and a Ross MacDonald, but fully Goulart's own voice. Goulart knows all the tricks, his collection "The Hardboiled Dicks" is could be a text book in a correspondence course on writing punchy crime fiction. House within that tome is stories by greats like Frederick Nebel, Richard Sale, Lester Dent (one of his two GREAT Oscar Sail stories), Raoul Whitfield, and others. But I bet the one Goulart liked best was Norbert Davis's tale about the shady Max Latin. Davis could be hard-boiled and hilarious in the same sentence. The Easy books are sort of like that but filtered for modern (70's) audiences. Easy's can crack wise and crack skulls and pick up the dames while doing it.

  • If Dying was All (1971)
  • Too Sweet to Die (1972)
  • The Same Lie Twice (1973) .
  • One Grave Too Many (1974)

The 70's were a weird time for private eyes. They were morphing from the cookie-cutter paperback heroes built on the Marlowe or Hammer pre-made mix of the 50's and 60's. Some got more psychological and dived deep into "why" people commit crime. Some took "The Executioner" cue and had numbers on the covers and lots of action, rarely were the main characters in these books actual detectives but say "The Sharpshooter" by Bruno Rossi still worked like a P.I. novel just with more blood and guts. Others like Easy, Brad Lang's Fred Crockett, L.V. Roper's Renegade Roe, Alan Reife's Tyger and Cage books stuck more to the formula and produced the next wave of paperback heroes like Brett Halliday's Mike Shayne, Henry Kane's Pete Chambers, or Richard Prather's Shell Scott. These are meat and potatoes characters. All of them could have headlined a weekly TV show coming on right after "Mannix." After Robert Parker happened a lot of these types of characters dried up and the wave of Spenser/Hawk knock-offs flooded the market, some of them are great, a lot are lame.

Easy is a 70's guy, he's got a little of the left-over groovy 60's vibe. I appreciate book covers, but I think what's in the book is more important but MAN, the covers of these book nailed the tone and fell of these novels. The turtlenecks, the sports jackets, ascots and sultry women. Goulart did a lot of work in short periods of time. His "ghost-written" work is a bit hit or miss but when his heart was in a novel it's a lot of fun. The Easy books are uniformly quick fun reads with decent mystery plots and fast bursts of action. I could have read ten more of them if Goulart had written them. Later he wrote a series of books where Groucho Marx is a detective which I should probably read as I'm a sucker for Golden Age of Hollywood mysteries. He also wrote a wonderful stand-alone called "The Weissman Originals" about a slippery detective named Rudy Navarro who with the help of art dealer Briggs tangles with the mafia on the trail of original art stolen by those asshole Nazi's during W.W.II. Also check out "Ghostbreaker" a half of an Ace Double that collects his humorous take on the paranormal investigator genre. 

The book are easy to get a hold of as an ebook or audio book but they can be a little harder to track down in their original form. It took me a few years of occasionally looking to find the final book (and the only one who's cover sticks out like a sore thumb) but I've never paid more than 5 bucks (including shipping) for one, so don't break your bank.  

When I see the anyone talk about the Easy books (hell, a lot of Goulart's work) it's to knock it as fast hack-work. I don't see it, Goulart is just writing quick and clean with his tongue in his cheek. I suppose a lot of people aren't in on the joke (or just don't find it funny) but if your in the right mood any of is books will give you a hour or so's worth of fun. Who could ask for more?

Monday, August 9, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: Tokyo Zombie by Yusaku Hanakuma

I do enjoy a good zombie tale. In fact my high school years were a marvelous time of countless watching's of "Dawn of the Dead" the 1978 one, "Evil Dead" (close enough to zombies) and "Return of the Living Dead" plus the sequels and rip-offs. From Italian fare like "Zombi" to a couple of truly bonkers Japanese pictures called "Stacy" and "Wild Zero" which my local library had for some awesome unknown reason. But by the time Brad Pitt is starring in a zombie picture I kinda got bored with the whole thing, save yearly watching's of "Dawn" and "Return." So, who knew lurking in the depths of that same public library was this little manga called "Tokyo Zombie" that's just as bonkers and loveable and some of my favorite zombie-tales.

"Tokyo Zombie" is a pleasantly juvenile take on zombies, martial arts, pigs, class relations and the apocalypse. It stars two jiu-jitsu experts Fuji and Mitsuo who accidently kill their boss and go bury him in the garbage-made mountain called Dark Fuji which is the epicenter of the rise of the zombies due to toxic waste. Interestingly what happens next is a much crazier version of what George A. Romero would do himself later with "Land of the Dead." The rich stay in control and live in a walled city and use the lower class as slaves. Which is probably fairly actuate. Sigh. Any-who. In "Tokyo Zombie" the rich are bored and their only entertainment is zombie fights, professional-wrestling style bouts between human fighters and well, zombies. There's fighting, pig-first revolution, good dogs, zombies, gore, wild death and mutilation. Drawn in a intentionally in a style called "Heta Uma" which means "good - but bad." It's very cartoony and simple way that is still very effective. It's a lot of fun and not an ounce of it is serious. 

Yusaku Hanakuma doesn't have any other translated work which bums me out. If you like zombies or weird and wild comics this is a lot of fun and a real quick enjoyable read. I'm a late bloomer when it comes to Manga. I guess I've always felt a sense of being overwhelmed. Where I grew up with the glut of American comics as a kid and feel some sort of foot-hold; manga is the undiscovered country and "Tokyo Zombie" proves that I need to dive deeper. Also it proves that libraries are pretty rad. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: Mutants Amok #1by Mark (David Bischoff) Grant

The 90's were a weird time for Men's Adventure fiction, a lot of the gun-ho stuff with mercenaries and vigilante's had fallen to the waste side. They were replaced by more and more Science-Fiction themed series. No doubt a natural progression from the post-apocalyptic series of the 80's. There were series like "PSI Man," by Peter David, "Horn" by Ben Sloane, "Cade" by Mike Linkader, "Tracker" by Ron Stillman, etc. etc. I guess everything had to be "high concept" for the extreme decade. "Mutants Amok" came around in 1991 and it's definitely a wild take on the the apocalypse. Mark Grant was a house name for David Bischoff for books 1-4. Dischoff was mostly known as a sci-fi and tie-in writer, penning novelizations for "Gremlins 2," "The Blob," "The Philadelphia Experiment," and working on properties like "Alien," and "Space Precinct" along with his own work. 

"Mutants Amok" reads like an R-Rated Saturday morning cartoon of my youth. Strong-jawed hero takes younger hero-in-training under his wing in a world full of mutants, robots, explosions, fighting and airplanes. If it had included dinosaurs it would have hit every 90's trope. It's got a comic book quality too it only with more sex and gruesome violence. In some ways it also reminds me of a Troma movie on the page, "Class of Nuke 'em High" gone wild; only a slightly more restrained. Thirteen year old Roy would have loved it with all his little heart. Thirty-four year old Roy still loves it with all his normal-sized heart. 

There's mutants running amok in "Mutants Amok." It's got a bit of a "Planet of the Apes"-vibe as there's a ruling class of mutants, divided by work/class, much like Orangutans, Chimpanzees and Gorilla's with a slave-class of humans in the Apes movies. Bischoff takes the ball and runs with it, crafting a wild and wacky world of some shaky-logic and every-damned-thing-plus-the-kitchen-sink full of mutant guts. It's clear that his tongue's in his cheek because its just SO goofy and light hearted. Our hero is Max Turkel who is a badass human rebel out to fuck up some mutant shit. He's side-lined throughout a lot of the book due to a plane crash, so he mentors Jack Bender a human slave who has a secret tree house hideout. The slow-build of Max and Jack's budding friendship/mentorship takes up the middle of the book. There might be too much of it; the book gets a bit sluggish in the middle. Plus there's quite a bit of "world building" to get through, luckily that's all mutanty-gory-fun. But with the kidnapping of Jack's girlfriend Jenny the book slides right into a climatic action scene with multi-armed Mutants (guns in all four hand, 'nach) and ninja mutants with swords. Bullets' fly, robots get cut with samurai swords and mutants get ran over.  Basically the book screams at you: "THIS IS A LOT OF FUN!"

And you should agree.


The book does end on a bit of an "Empire Strikes Back" note with Brain-General Torx (which makes me thinking of Brain-Guy from MST3K) who's been hunting Max down the whole book hauling Max off and Jack pledging to go save him and (maybe) rescue his lady Jenny. It's a nice grabber for the next book "Mutant Hell" but its also kind of a let-down to have this much of a "on the next episode of..." kind of ending. Luckily I have book #2 but that's it and these suckers are pricy and hard to find, a bit of a wet blanket.


All that aside, this was a helluva lot of dumb fun and I enjoyed every page of it. The sex, the action, the mutants, even the thinly veiled Hobbits called "Fobbits," that showed up at absolute random" all gave me exactly what I wanted out of a book titled "Mutants Amok." It's a shame that these haven't been reprinted in this modern age of "Paperbacks from Hell"-level appreciation of wild and wooly books these seem ripe for eBooks at least, considering the price they go for online.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

A Trip to Fear Street - "Lights Out" and "The Surprise Party" by R.L. Stine

Sorry again for the gap between this post and the last. I've cranked out a 90-something page feature length movie script for the microscopic production company I'm involved with over the last few weeks which has taken my whole attention. This one has a good chance of being our first full-length picture, a transition for us from short films to the big guys. I'm incredibly excited about it, now all I have to do is re-write and re-write it some more then probably write the novelization because that's a dream of mine. And all that's before we start the long, arduous process of actually MAKING the movie. But it'll be painfully fun and I can't wait. What kind of movie is it you ask? A horror movie. After my co-producers and I decided that we wanted a horror feature I decided to ease myself into it with some books.

Besides it seems like every summer I get in the mood for some horror in my life. I usually read a few horror books and take in more then a few horror flicks. Last year I took a trip down memory lane with one of R.L. Stine's YA horror novels, "Broken Date." It was like an old friend at the door with a six-pack of free beer. There was a point in my young life where I probably read more R.L. Stine then anything else. All from the school library in those little rebound paperback/hardbacks. Horror movies got me into reading and writing later via Joe R. Lansdale, but R.L. Stine was an important foundation to my love of horror and really thriller/suspense fiction in general. Everyone my age seemed to have read at least one "Goosebumps" or "Fear Street" or at least owned them for the covers, like my best friends who's long shelf full of "Goosebumps" made me envious as a child. Mostly cause, sigh, he didn't ever read them. Some people. 

So I started buying Stine's YA books, cause I didn't have enough books to buy. I'm mostly trying to track down his Fear Street titles (damned nostalgia, making them harder to find then they used to be as everyone my age seems to be buying them up) and other YA horror titles released in Stine's wake. I no longer remember which of the individual titles I read back in the day but images still are stuck in my head 20 plus years later, a testament to the impact of Stine's writing skill. When I started looking into the YA horror movement of the late 80's-early 90's I was shocked to see how many books written. Authors like Christopher Pike, John Peel, Diane Hoh, Joseph Locke, plus YA novels based on such R-Rated horror films like "Halloween," "Friday the 13th," and "A Nightmare on Elm Street." Crazy time. They also are some of the last examples of beautiful painted covers on mass market paperbacks. 

And obviously Netflix's new trilogy of R-Rated "Fear Street" movies wetted my appetite for these books. It's a very fun, throwback horror bunch of movies by the way so check them out!

Fear Street #12 "Lights Out" is one that I sort of remember from my
younger days, mostly because it had a total "Friday the 13th" vibe (going to far as to namecheck the series) since it takes place at a summer camp. I probably read it before I had ever seen a Jason Voorhees movie but like all 90's kids I was aware of all of the popular monsters/slashers of the era. It stars Holly who's a scaredy-cat in a teenage girl's body. She's totally un-prepared to be a camp consoler at her Uncle's Camp Nightwing but does it to help him out. Once there she's frightened by bugs, snakes, the woods, the other mean girl consolers and then by the murder of her boss. There's spooky vandalism, Nacy-Drewing, things that go bump in the woods, lots of teenage angst romance (which even bored me when I WAS a teenager) and a slam-bang finale. The "mystery" of who's the murderer and would-be-camp-killer is kinda obvious, but hey it's a YA book. Stine writes cleanly and is a master at the chapter cliff-hanger. He knows his audience and delivers a book full of fun if your in the right mood or of the right age. 

The second trip is for book #2 "The Surprise Party." A year after the death one of their friends (shot by a rifle the woods, yeek) teenager Meg is trying to throw a party for her friend Ellen who's coming back to visit. BUT someone doesn't want the party to happen, cue threatening (home) phone calls, lunch bags full of blood (actually paint) and then some light attempted murder. There's spooky woods, jokes at Freddy Krueger's expense and a "Dungeons and Dragons"-like game at could be the root of some spooky stuff. It, like "Lights Out," functions more as a mystery/suspense novel then out-and-out horror. There's no supernatural element in either of them, but they both move along like a well-oiled machine of impending dread. I think by book #12 Stine had the formula down better and it's overall a little tighter then "The Surprise Party," but I might have just enjoyed the camp/slasher vibe of "Lights Out" better.

Look, the only reason for me to read these is pure nostalgia. Without I have no idea how much I'd actually enjoy them. It's interesting to be at the point in my life where cyclical nature of pop culture is focusing on the 90's. It also just makes me feel old. I enjoy reading them for the same reason I still like The Hardy Boys Casefiles series: they remind me of simpler times and the tell un-cluttered stories that are pure fun at full speed. "Fear Street" and "Goosebumps" before it set me on a path of loving horror fiction and monsters in general and for that I'll be thankful. 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

My buddy Mike Hammer and "Complex 90" by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

There a far too few writers like Mickey Spillane around, in fact there was only ever one writer (not author) like Mickey. He was a true American original who enthralled countless readers since his days writing them funny books (i.e. comics) but with the creation of Mike Hammer, Mickey found himself a winner and when I found both Mickey and Mike I found a life-long companion. Back when I was getting into private eye fiction and surfing the web for any recommendations I didn't know how to feel about Mickey. Too many folks looked down on him, some did it blatantly, some hid behind a bit of sarcasm or humor and then some folks flat-out loved him. There didn't seem to be a middle ground, which seems to fit the world of Mike Hammer and Mickey Spillane since they are men of extremes.

So, like I'm one to do I bought any Mickey Spillane I could find but held off reading him. Would Mike Hammer be too tough? Well, yeah he's the toughest S.O.B. Noir-Superman ever put on the page read "One Lonely Night" and see what I mean. Would the much degraded prose of Spillane be too much for me to take? Pssh. Other then my personal preference for short chapters, Mickey is one of the most compulsively readable writers I'd ever come across in my literary travels. 

I found myself in a hotel room, well a cabin by a lake with a Ex who'd be a fitting femme fatale antagonist. Earlier in the day, I had done what I usually do when I hit a strange town: find a used bookstore. This used bookstore wasn't actually very good. But there on the floor leveling a rack full of copies of "Twilight" was "The Erection Set." That might be hyperbole, but the dusty copy of the Mickey-stand-alone was the only thing I had to read in that cabin and femme fatales are finicky so I had time to kill. Man, I burned through that book, Dogeron Kelley and his problems that involved sexy-sex, guns, murder, and money were all I needed to be a life-long Mickey-fan, Mickey's-then wife naked on the cover didn't hurt either. I soon ran through the Mike Hammers and the rest (read "The Deep" and thank me, its underrated) and I even plowed through some of his Tiger Mann novels (I have one or two left for later consumption) who as enough like Hammer to work for me. 

CONFESSION TIME. I'm not too hot on Raymond Chandler. Or Ross MacDonald. Whoops. My bad. Sorry and all that. Marlowe's only seems to exist on the page to be a sad momma's boy/drunk man's ideal self-image and a bit of a whimp (how many times can he have his gun taken off him and still afford a new one) too boot. Lew Archer should have figured out the pattern to all of his cases real soon, cause surprise rich families suck. That may all seem harsh, but never fear! I do have complete collections of MacDonald and Chandler's work and every now and then feel romantic enough to crack one of their spines. I can absorbed the fine prose and long-winded prose just fine. Plus they've made damned fined films out of them. I digress. I bring them up cause they are two-parts of the "Holy Trinity" of mystery writers. The other? Hammett. I'm a Hammett man through and through, he never wrote a bad sentence and oozed reality. He was tough when he needed to be and sentimental with the perfect ratio. Now Mickey didn't deal in "real," Hammers (and the rest of his work) seems to exist in a wild world hard-boiled, comic strip and noir clichés working in perfect unison. Hammer is a man to have as a friend, I mean. If something happened to you at least the baddies would eat slugs from a .45 for their trouble. So, my personal "Holy Trinity" is Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane and John D. MacDonald, cause you can't not love Travis McGee.

Like a lot of people I preferred the early stuff back when Hammer was a young WWII vet and his trigger finger was itchy as hell. "One Lonely Night" is Mickey and Mike at his pinnacle, followed closely "My Gun is Quick" and "Kiss Me Deadly." His later stuff is just as readable but the fire had died down a bit. I'm not saying you'll be disappointed but it's not where I'd start. As a old-friend "The Snake" or "Survival Zero" goes down easier. Still, you'll have to try to not be entertained with one of Mickey's books in your hands. 

All your real-life heroes die. As a writer, Mickey is one of my personal heroes. We probably wouldn't have seen eye-to-eye on everything but we would have hopefully enjoyed a beer together (maybe even a Miller Lite) and had a good time. Even if I never met Mickey, it feels like I knew him. There's too much Mickey in the books for you not to get some notion of the guy. When Max Allan Collins (another immensely readable author if there ever was one) a long-time fan and friend of Mickey took up the mantle to complete all the manuscripts, fragments, parts and pieces that Mickey left when he died, I was excited. Max is the only guy for the job. I bought them all, but they sat on the shelf. Maybe I was intimidated again. I read the stand-alone's and loved 'em, but the Hammer's were left unread. All your real-life heroes die, but your fictional ones only sometime do. 

I was at a crossroads again. Not shacked up in a cabin with a cut-rate femme fatale, but a nervous night-before a wife's surgery. It wasn't the first but like any husband worth his salt you get a case of nerves from planned injury to your spose. Spoiler, it turned out fine but I needed a old friend to keep me company in a waiting room. "Complex 90" seemed to leap into my hand. By howdy, some things a kismet. The book is a quasi-sequel to "The Girl Hunters," a novel I haven't read in ten years or more. Luckily my Blu-ray copy of the movie version was waiting in the wings which I watched in the middle of reading the book. Mickey Spillane IS Mike Hammer, Max encourages you to picture Mickey as Mike when you read the book in the preface. "The Girl Hunters" the movie is top-shelf Hammer-on-film too (it's free on Tubi right now too) so check it out. 

"Complex 90" is a rollicking action novel chock full of 60's flavor, i.e. Russian agent with stainless steel teeth who's boiling hot enough for you to forget he teeth look like the bumper of a Buick. Hammer is older and mellower, sure, but he does kill over 45 people over the course of the book. Jeez. Gotta slow down some time, I suppose. Velda is right there with him, backing him up like a .32 to a .45 and being one hell of a woman too boot. Pat Chamber, Art Rickerby and Hy Gardner pop up plus some new backup in the form of Korean War vet Des Casey. The baddies are obviously the Communists, out for blood and to save face for Hammer's whoomphing of them across Europe or maybe more. It's a Mickey book so the plot twisty and turns like a mountain road. Max seamlessly weaves in his own high-caliber work and practically wraps the whole thing up in a pitch-black noir bow. I haven't had this much fun with a book for a while. 

This book has probably sent me down a Mickey rabbit-hole. I've already starting picking up the Titan Mass Market reprints to replace my smattering of trade paperback and hardcovers for the Max/Mickey collaborations. Cause a Mike Hammer novel feels at home in a mass market paperback. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: T.H.E. Cat - Dell Comics

"T.H.E. Cat" was a one-season wonder starring Robert Loggia in 1966. Loggia starred as Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat (get it?) a former high-wire acrobat/jewel thief turned bodyguard/crimefighter. The show was created Harry Julian Fink who later gave us Dirty Harry, so yeah give the dude a medal. T.H.E. is a bit of a odd duck, it's a 30-mintute B&W in the era of longer adventure series like "The Wild, Wild, West," "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." and "I Spy." It's more in the 50's style of adventure show like "Peter Gun" (actually it borrowed a good bit from Peter Gunn) with its shorter format and moody atmosphere. Still there are decidedly 60's touches i.e. a martial arts-using anti-hero, the James Bond-espionage flavor and the Barris-customized Corvette Stingray that's too cool for school. Sadly it's never going to officially released on home video, the original negatives have been lost to the sands of time, leaving only a few rough prints that are on YouTube (that's how I watched it) which is all sorts of terrible. It's a good companion series with "Honey West" which rides the same line of crime/spies/adventure it does. (Honey West plays in later in the story)

Being in prime "tie-in novel" time it's odd that "T.H.E. Cat" didn't receive at least one adaptation or original tie-in book. The character really would have lent himself to novels. Too bad Ace didn't pick up the license so it could share spinner racks with "It Takes a Thief" and "Man from U.N.C.L.E." novels. Thankfully Dell comics did step-up and release 4-issues of the further adventures of Cat.

Besides the first issue each comic contains two stories pretty much splitting the book down the middle. The entire run was written by Mickey Spillane's buddy Joe Gill and the art was handled by Jack Sparling and Tony Tallarico, who obviously had only a couple of images of Robert Loggia at their disposal. Sometimes it a fairly good likeness but a lot of the time it's generic-almost-Loggia-hero-type. I've read quite a bit of Joe Gill's comic work like "The Peacemaker," "Judo Master," "Sarge Steel" and "Vengeance Squad." The latter being a favorite, as the back-up feature is Nicolas Cutti and Joe Stanton's Michael Mauser, P.I. which is my favorite comic private eye. Gill is a really solid writer of comic high-adventure and tough guy antics. Throughout of the stories T.H.E. Cat is thrown up against Russian spies, mob bosses, and crime czars. Plus there's baddies with names like King Leer and Goliath Byrne. He saves his girlfriend Maria, like, a lot but also stops sabotage and murder attempts, recovers stolen paintings from dirty beatniks, breaks INTO prison and even does some mountaineering. Cat's swings around like Batman throughout most of the stories; Gill takes full advantage of Cat's acrobat background. Since you don't have to worry about things like stunt-men, physics and TV budgets in comics Cat's death-defying is much grander with wild stunts, helicopters, boat explosions, high-steel fights, etc. etc. Even if it's a much freer interpretation in terms of action, the comics capture the noir-ish-swashbuckling tone of the show very well. Each issue was cover-to-cover fun, if you like action comics without folks in silly costumes I think you'll enjoy them immensely. 

The comic really makes me yearn for a series of paperback originals staring T.H.E. Cat full of exotic locales and deadly villains. Maybe in some alternate dimension. We get get a Moonstone Comic team-up with Honey West which I need to get, they seem like a natural duo. There WAS a novel from Moonstone where Win Scott Eckert and Matthew Baugh partnered the pair up again, but it seems to be nearly impossible to track down. SIGH. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

Quick Shots: The Inquisitor #6: Last Rites for the Vulture by Simon (Martin Cruz Smith) Quinn

Like the spy missions that happen in his Inquisitor novels Martin Cruz Smith disavows any knowledge of their existence, basically anyway. It always surprises me how established author treat their early works, I suppose they are worried about tainting their brand with (in their mind) lesser material. I enjoyed the way Randy Wayne White handled it when he got his Dusky MacMorgan books republished. He simply wrote a introduction telling folks not to expect his "better work" but have fun with them, then had them published again in their original format: the near perfect mass-market paperback.  I have heard rumors that Charles Ardai has been trying to get Smith to reprint one of them as a Hard Case Crime novel which would have been fun, especially if it was back in the early days before the imposed hardback/trade-paperback era of HCC began. But Smith wouldn't let it happen.  C'est la vie.

Frank Killy (AWESOME NAME) is an Executioner, Penetrator or Death Merchant with a difference. He works for the Catholic Church. He's a suitably paperback-tough guy with a solider/CIA past who is the Church's investigator or strong arm man, free of pesky rules like "no sex" and "no murder" that other church employees have to follow. It's certainly a fresh set-up for a Men's Adventure series that surely stood out from the crowd. Ultimately it lasted six installments which is a better than some, but a lot worse then others. The book itself is a slightly odd mix of colorful Men's Adventure and plodding detection. In some ways it prefigures Smith's later books and shows his roots as a guy who wrote some Nick Carter Killmaster books. Killy's a pretty good hero, slight smart-ass, he acts like he should and talks like he should, beds women like he should and is just generally a bad-ass, though Smith could have given him more opportunities to show himself as a ass-kicker. 

"The Last Rites of the Vulture" starts off very strong with a nice, clean professional take on two hit-men killing a Monk in Italy. It shows Smith's skill as a writer who well and thought out this hit is. He easily and quickly tells you all you need to know about the killers and their target; a Monk who is surprisingly tough to kill. After the Monk's death (made to look like a natural death) Killy's Priest boss and him go out to investigate and the ball is rolling. There's detective work on Killy's part that uncovers that the Monk was an old bootlegger and mobster who went off to WWII and changed, dedicating his life to being a Monk. Which all is tied into a real estate scheme. It really reads more like a hard-boiled international mystery, I got reminded of Stephen Marlowe's Chester Drum books a lot. Killy is an okay hero though he's fairly "generic he-man" without any extra spice to make him more memorable, save a couple witty remarks. Really the only thing that sets the books apart is the Catholic thing, which only tangentially applied here. There's some fun action set-pieces with hang-gliders, car and sharks and then with escapes and hole digging with dead turtles. It's all very well written, smooth but somehow just lacks the spark that I look for in Men's Adventure novels that set them apart from the crowd.

I've seen on more then one place on the internet where this series is wrongly thought to be a horror/adventure series. On the same lists at "Satan Sleuth," "Sabat," "Chill" and the likes. One wonders if this would have been a better use of the Catholic Church angle. A stalwart Mack Bolan-for-the-church vs. demonic forces plus a little international intrigue. May have been good, who knows? Martin Cruz-Smith really has nothing to be ashamed off with this books series. They unfortunately go for a high price because there's no reprints and Smith has got fans. If you didn't have to pay more then $5 to $10 bucks I'd say grab them but I wouldn't empty your wallet for them as you might be a little let down. I'm glad I stumbled into some cheap copies and I do read one every few years but unless I luck into the rest of the series I can live without them.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: The World's Greatest Superheroes Present Superman by Martin Pasko, George Tuska and Vince Colletta

Mass Market Paperback-sized comics reprints are definitely a thing of the past. I have a fondness for the them based on a well-thumbed copy of "The Untold Legend of the Batman" which is a reprint of a Len Wein, Jim Aparo and John Byrne three-issue run that sorta retells bits of the Golden/Silver Age Batman stories. I LOVED IT. It was such a great entry-point for a Batman-obsessed kid like me, giving me a lot of the groundwork to figure stuff out when I picked up new issues of various Batman titles. Now I don't really search them out, but I pretty much buy whatever paperback-sized reprints I see. 

So, a while back I stumbled into this book, a Daredevil reprint, a Batman "Choose Your Own Adventure" style book, and one of the Denny O'Neill/Neal Adams Green Arrow/Green Lantern run. This Superman book caught my eye because the stories were from the newspaper strip which I have never seen anything from. Plus during the pandemic I showed my wife the 1978 "Superman" and have continued on to "Superman II." She's enjoyed both, but I have fears for showing her the next two in the series what with Nuclear Man and Richard Pryor. Back to the matter at hand. I would have loved a daily newspaper comic full of superheroes like Batman, Robin, Superman, Black Lightning, Aquaman, Flash and Wonder Woman. Sure would have beat "Kathy" and "Family Circus." The strip contained is written by Martin Pasko who I've only ever read work from his brief stint on "Swamp Thing." Plus I've always like Colletta and Tuska too. 

In this slim volume Superman pals around with Wonder Woman, The Flash and Aquaman. They hang out in their satellite HQ and save the world from the oldest living man Vandal Savage. Savage is a surprising villain for being in a newspaper. I'd have imagined they would have stuck with Lex Luthor or Brainiac but it was a pleasant surprise. There's natural disasters, hidden traps in icebergs, dumping on Aquaman, hypnotized Wonder Woman and Superman being the big-blue boy-scout he is. They whole story plays like a slightly more sophisticated episode of "The Super Friends." Newspaper Strips when collected sort of start and stop, obviously because they are designed to be read in spurts. It can be a little jarring at times. This one is a bit smoother than others though. If you go in expecting to spend a couple of minutes (seriously they can be read real quick) enjoying silly superhero hijinks then you'll enjoy it. But it's certainly not a "serious" superhero book. I really prefer my superhero comics to be a bit "lighter" I want to have fun with these characters, so this is just perfect. 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Quick Shots: "The Death Specialists" by Gary Paulsen

When I look back on my reading life there's several several authors that seemed to jump-start me onto my present reading path. In high school Joe R. Lansdale got horror-movie-obsessed me to read mysteries with Hap and Leonard which led me down many a dark and dangerous alley on the page, of course. Then Ralph Dennis got me interested in those numbered paperbacks from the 70's where guns were blazing and women were loosing their clothes on the page of course. But way before that in a reading lull in middle school I read Gary Paulsen's "The Hatchet" and books were cool to me suddenly. "The Hatchet" is a book a lot of people my age have a strong affection for, a lot of folks say that Paulsen really only connects with young dudes, but my wife read "The Hatchet" and everything else she could by Paulsen then too. I also own several actual hatchets because of the book, you know just in case. So, when I found out that earlier in his career he penned a Men's Adventure book called "The Death Specialists" I knew I had to read it being a sucker for mercenary tales and the early paperback originals of established authors. 

"The Death Specialists" is a Major book, the publisher, not a reflection of the novel itself. It's a solid, workman like novel with flashes of Paulsen's clean writing brilliance. He also had another Major book called "The Implosion Effect," it says so right on the cover, so that's on my radar now. I'd imagine Paulsen had read Frederick Forsyth's "The Dogs of War" a couple of years before; they both have a emphasis on the planning of the mission and a similar general feel, though "The Death Specialists" is definitely the B-movie version. Without Paulsen's nature talent the book would really be a third-rate version of Peter McCurtin's "Soldier of Fortune" novels but it was stronger then it should be coming out of a fairly small/bad publisher. 

I'm pretty sure the protagonist is unnamed throughout the book, I might have missed it at the beginning but it was half way though the book before I realized I didn't know his name. Glancing back through I didn't see it. So I could be wrong, but it would make sense because anonymity is a big deal to this Merc. No pictures, no witness, he'll kill to keep himself unknown. The Merc (as I'll call him) is really a hard-boiled character, quickly killing though he does worry about his conscious creeping in. He's a cipher of a lead and the rest of the characters are only roughly sketched out. One of the more intriguing characters is The Quiet Man of the group nicknamed Hatchet (shades of Paulsen's later fame) who specializes in infiltration and quiet kills. Hatchet likes to put himself in a trance and is a lousy shot, but uber-deadly with his name-suggesting hatchet. The mission is to destroy a oil refinery in Central America by the very company that owns it and that's heavily guarded. It's a general suicide mission with a ticking clock-deadline but the moneys too good to pass up. To accomplish his goal the Merc gathers a team ('natch) that's fairly colorful but standard i.e. pilot, heavy gunner, infiltration, grunts etc. etc. There's some well placed and researched (as far I know) tactics and gun talk and their plan to take out the refinery is nice a pulpy-paperback fun. Along the way they tango with the CIA, a little sex, parachuting, battle the CIA, endure some mild torture, fight it out with a nasty 'ol Nazi and his private army and kill a couple of folks in public toilets.  

"The Death Specialists" seems to have been the first in a proposed series, there's a nice tag for their next mission at the end but sadly it never came to fruition. Major Books was a fly-by-night kinda joint it seems so who knows what happened. Paulsen elevates the whole thing, but it does kind of drag in the middle with all the planning and then get wrapped up a bit too quick. Maybe he was getting close to his agreed upon word count, but it sorta feels lop-sided. All in all thought it's a solid-little piece of work, which has never been reprinted or anything to my knowledge but it deserves a look if you're into gritty 70's mercenary tales. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Operation Hang Ten #3: Too Mini Murders by Patrick (George Snyder) Morgan

The Operation Hang Ten books are one of those high-priced series that I'm sure most people have bought just for the covers or the novelty. They're nice covers and it's also got a surfing angle that appeals to the surfers out there, further adding to the scarcity. But it's a shame as they're pretty good. They were also a Lyle Kenyon Engle joint, a paperback "packager" who came up with Nick Carter's Killmaster make-over as well as Dracula Returns, The Baroness, Chopper Cop etc. etc. Engle hired writer George Snyder to flesh out what I assume was some sort of "Mod Squad" riff about a surfer/spy that was at least sort of based on Snyder's first novel "Surfside Sex" from Neva books, which is desperately want to own/read. It lasted for ten books, which is decent run. Hell Chopper Cop only got 3.

George Snyder wrote a lot of books, he provided seven Nick Carter Killmaster adventures, contributed for  two for the short-lived Grant Fowler spy novels for Award books, a stand-alone Manson cash-in "The Hippy Cult Murders" as Ray Stanley and a then later in life he had three series running with characters named Ray Rumble, Logan Sand and Mac Tuff. The Bay Rumble books seem like a modern riff on the Operation Hang Ten books, I have the first but haven't tackled it yet. I'm a fan, he kind of gets a bad rap on the internet which mostly stems (I think) from the price of the Hang Ten books and what a readers expectations are. Cause he's the rub: The adventures of Bill Cartwright agent of Operation Hang Ten aren't really the swinging spy novels they are packaged to be. No, they are hard-boiled detective yarns. So, if you spend a lot of money for a musty old spy paperback and get very little spying, you might be disappointed. Go into them thinking of them as Hi-Tech Detective novels and you'll have a good time. 

Bill Cartwright is a young "anti-establishment" type-via in a Frank Sinatra sorta way. He's a millionaire  because of the accidental death of his parents who spent his inheritance wisely on a Hemi-powered Woody station wagon and a swingers trailer complete with a "computer" that does everything from making ample amounts of scotch and sodas to watching TV. Also on a small custom built .22 Magnum semi-automatic pistol which he keeps nestled in the small of his back when he's (as he puts it) "manhunting." With all this cool stuff he gets set-up as a private eye by Operation Hang Ten a vague crime-fighting organization that's basically the light beer version of U.N.C.L.E. He's also kinda an arrogant jerk with a MAJOR eye for the ladies. He's a weird mix of the old-school version of tough guys and a modern (well, late 60's) "cool dude." But his young age does give the books a breath of fresh air and a different tone from the majority of the Men's Adventure of the time. He can talk hot rods, surfing, and other "youth" activities. I do think the name "Bill Cartwright" doesn't scream secret agent/spy, more like middle-aged rancher. It probably would have been cooler to switch the characters name and the pseudonym Patrick Morgan. At least you'd have a Morgan/pirate connection that would have tied into the surfing/ocean theme. Maybe its just because both my dad's and father-in-law is named Bill is why is a little hard to swallow.

In the third adventure "Too Mini Murders" Bill has to figure out why the pretty daughters of TOP GOVERNMENT MEN are dying. Psst. It's because of secrets. Bill gets tangled up with a few women, battles a Red China agent who acts more like a mob boss and his goons who act exactly like goons. There's some drag-racing, killing with a spear-gun (but not how you think) fights, shootings, grizzly murders and a lot of women getting beat-up, but not by Bill at least but it's a bit excessive. Bill goes around pissing off the cops and "the man," and bitching about the conforming culture that he's bucking against. It's a solid, tight little crime adventure novel, nothing fancy but it goes through the motions in a pleasant way, then rockets into a nice action-packed finale where grenades, hot rods, submarine sabotage and cliff-side crashes all play a part. 

I do have a question to yell out into the vastness of the internet. According the George Snyder himself he was only responsible for seven out of the ten Hang Ten novels:

1. "Hang Dead Hawaiian Style"

2. "Too Mini Murders"

3. "Deadly Group Down Under" 

4. "The Cute and Deadly Surf Twins" 

5. "Scarlet Surf at Makaha" 

7. "The Girl in the Telltale Bikini" 

8. "Beach Queen Blowout"

Which leaves these three unaccounted for:

6. "Topless Dancer Hangup"

9. "Death Car Surfside"

10. "Freaked Out Strangler"

Now, the book that got me hooked on the series was "Death Car Surfside," a non-Snyder penned on, it's been a while I don't really remember a striking difference between the ones that Snyder wrote and "Death Car Surfside," so I wonder who really wrote them. I doubt that Snyder wouldn't fess up to writing all of them if he actually did, but whoever wrote them must have read some of the Snyder's work. So, big mystery. Anyone have any leads? Drop me a line if you do. Inquiring minds (me) want to know. 

Anywho, the Operation Hang Ten books rank highly in my favorite Men's Adventure series list. Their a lot of fun non-sense in the best sense. They feel like novelizations for a favorite old TV show...wait....hold on....go to Google and search "Christopher Stone Operation Hang Ten" and marvel at some pictures. ABC commissioned a 30-minute pilot in 1973 (the same year the book series ended) and it looks pretty good. "Star Trek" vets Gene Coon and Herb Solow were behind the scenes and Stone looks like the guy on the paperback covers. From the pictures it looks like they swapped the Woody and camper for a groovy RV and the vague hints of plot gleaned from here and there makes it seem like Bill would have been more in the "undercover cop" variety. Still I'd love to see it, so few movies or TV were pulled from the paperback-racks of the era, it'd be interesting to see how it fared. Back to the books, if you find one snap it up but maybe don't pay a premium price cause if you're patient you can find them at a decent price, a handful of mine came from different eBay lots and don't be surprised to find water damage. Damn surfers. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Quick Shots: The White Cad Cross-Up by William F. Nolan

William F. Nolan is mostly known as the guy who wrote "Logan's Run," the book not the movie. He wrote a lot books. Including books where the real life "Black Mask Boys" i.e. Hammett, Chandler and Erle Stanley Gardner solve their own (fictional) mysteries. Then more "Logan's Run" books, a series of Sci-fi/P.I. books about a detective names Sam Space, lots of biographies, a good deal of work for film and TV (including a TV movie called "Sky Heist" that I now have to watch because Stephanie Powers is married to Frank Gorshin (!) and the they rob 10 million in gold with a helicopter) and the Challis series. The Challis series mostly involves a California private eye named Bart Challis, but there's some stories about his brother Nick too. In what is a cosmic blunder these pitch perfect paperback private eye novels only ever appeared in hardback and the odd chapbook. 

The plot is convoluted as all get out. It's a tale of double-cross, murder set-ups, astray Cadillacs, old gangsters complete with Molls, groovy 60's California sub-cultures, gun-fights and fisticuffs, no cliché is left unturned and it boils down to a HOOT! Hanging out with Challis is fun. He a wise-ass who gets more broken bits and head trauma that any man can take. He shoots his .38 straight and drives his Covair Sprint around with abandon, questioning, roughing up and bugging people until the plot is clear enough to see for miles ahead. The action comes at you fast and its well-told, the dialog bouncing pleasantly back and forth from wit to old welcome tough guy banter. Nolan's tongue has to be in his cheek with these yarns, he knew the format and style of the hardboiled school well and it's fairly obvious that Challis and all of his concussions aren't meant to be a gentle poke on the conventions. It's not an all-out parody or even a really comic novel, like say a Shell Scott, it just has a knowing "aren't we having fun" tone.

A nice surprise.
William Nolan is a pretty solid writer, I remember enjoying "Logan's Run" when I read it years ago, but I never sampled much more of his work, save his teleplay for "The Norliss Tapes"  the best "reporter hunting vampire" TV movie this side of "The Night Stalker." It's a shame that's there's only really two novels, this one and "Death is for Losers" the rest being novellas and short stories. Maybe if Challis made the leap to softcover because that's really where all this fun hokum is meant to be. Hardback mystery fans might not have taken too well to some light camp mixed with their tough-guy antics or be completely appalled at the sex and violence, instead going back to their softer Lew Archer novel. Paperback readers would have lapped it up, it would have set nicely on a shelf next to a Ron Goulart John Easy book, Mike Shayne or a Pete Chambers. To steal a line for Joe R. Lansdale, it's private eye action, as you like it.