Thursday, December 30, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: The Devil's Auction by Robert E. Weinberg

I've read a few books with Robert E. Weinberg's name on the cover, but "The Devil's Auction" is the first book I've read BY him. "Tough Guys and Dangerous Dames" and "Hard-Boiled Detectives: 23 Great Stories from Dime Detective Magazine" are the cornerstones of my love of pulp fiction in general. He edited tons of anthologies, fanzines, non-fiction, books and even comics plus he owned a bookstore. My kinda guy. I've collected a lot of his fiction work over the years but hadn't ever got around to checking it out. 

"The Devil's Auction" is pure-pulp. Personally, I can think of no better compliment. What we have here is a mysterious auction held every generation in a magical house deep in the woods of Illinois (!) by a seemingly unageing man. What's up for auction? Maybe immortally, maybe something else. No one knows, after all no one ever comes back from the auction. After the murder of her sorcerer father for his invitation to the auction...by a werewolf...Valerie Lancaster enlists 'nam vet and karate-college professor Alex Warner to help avenge the death of her father/his friend. There's more werewolf attacks, a golem, magic spells, straight-out-of-B-movie characters, books of spells, talismans, sexy sex, hidden history, Countesses, bodyguards, and true love. It's jam-packed. Weinberg has a nice clean, if a bit unremarkable writing style; nothing flowery or too showy just solid workman-like prose. I often struggle with horror novels. I just really prefer my main characters to be proactive instead of reactionary. So, pulp horror is the way for me to go, capable people going up against supernatural forces and this is a good example of it. 

Though written in the 80's it really has a '40s vibe going on, in fact it might have worked better as a period piece. Outside of some modern references, the centuries old mysteries and monsters makes it feel like a lost Universal Horror picture. Or a book that could have been serialized in "Weird Tales."  Weinberg's love of pulp is clear. The action moves quickly, mysteries unfold at a reasonable rate and the characters are more archetypes than "characters" but have enough personality to root for. I'm glad I already have a Wienberg library including the sequel to this "The Armageddon Box." Plus "The Black Lodge" and "The Dead Man's Kiss." None of his books seem to be available as eBooks, but there's audio by Radio Archives and the paperbacks/hardbacks are pretty easy (and cheap) to track down. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: Vendetta #2: Vendetta by Irwin Zacharia

Well, my previous adventure into the small-time publisher Carousel got me to buy a fistful of slightly overpriced paperbacks. Not that I'm complaining. Money's just money but books can be priceless. So, I got some books with titles like "Mafia Rock and Roll," "The Silent Murder," "Twins in Trouble," "After the Kill," and "Mozambique Agent" headed toward my house. Surely a stack of trashy good reading. Irwin Zacharia's "Reddy or Not" was a total blast, a genre-bending tale of a sumo-wrestling Jewish private eye fighting energy vampires. I have another one "Princess of Darkness" on deck, but I wanted to check out one of his other Carousel series first before I dipped back into the Reddy series.

Okay, so this one's got the laziest title I've ever seen. The SERIES name is Vendetta, the first book in the series is named "The Murder Club," and the second entry is just named Vendetta. I've never seen the 2nd book have the series title before. Just a nice example of the slap-dash nature of low-rent publishers. Zacharia must have had an affinity for puns and puny named. I.M. Reddy or in Vendetta Will Powers. I wonder what Landsharks real name is. Will Powers is pretty standard paperback hero in the wake of Mack Bolan. He's a 'nam vet with anger issues and a slightly unsustainable lust for killin' who worked as a private eye after he got home. But now he's a "street mercenary" working for the "little guy" against the mob or other baddies. He works for money not just ideals though. He's a bit like a one man "A-Team" as played by Mike Hammer.

Anyway, "Vendetta" is about Powers taking down some mobsters on behave of a widow whose husband was unjustly murdered. After bloodily armed robbing a mob-money drop and starting a war between a few rival gangs Powers gets wrapped up in one sectaries quest to avenge her sister after a brutal attack by her mob-lawyer boss. What follows is a lot of bits of action, scenes of worried Mafioso's, gun fights, murders, Power's endless supply of silenced (nice trick) .44 Magnums blasting people away, and an explosion or two. It's clearly the second novel, as the first is referenced and there's plenty of set-up for the next (didn't happen) instalment. The biggest problem is that you don't get to spend enough time with Will Powers himself, we bounce between sets of characters and Powers swoops in every now and then to bust a cap. It's not the best way to sell a series character.

It's a "fine" book. Nothing really too exciting or interesting, it feels like Zacharia playing it straight. Keeping his wildness (as shown in the Reddy) to a minimum. Probably for marketing reasons. It's much easier to sell a book that's right down the middle as opposed to left field. There's still sparks of goofiness and tongue in cheek sprinkled throughout enough to make it entertaining. I'd still like to read the No. 1: "The Murder Club" and the rest of Zacharia's catalog, but it'll be a long hunt since I already bought a copy of all of the ones I could find. So, if you have any you want to part with I'm sure I'll buy 'em. On a side note, this particular copy has handwritten notes indicting what time a previous reader read to before they went to bed and marking exactly where the stopped. They usually went to bed around 10:45 and sometimes stopped in the middle of a sentence to get some ZZZZZ's. It might be the oddest thing I've ever seen written in a book and it's surely the work of some psycho.  

Monday, December 20, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: The Man from C.A.M.P. by Don (Victor J. Banis) Holiday

"The Man from C.A.M.P." is a 10-book series put out by Greenleaf between 1965 and 1971 all but the final book was written by Victor J. Banis under the name Don Holliday. They are pretty revolutionary books but first a little history. So, it's the late 60's and James Bond was the hot ticket. Scores of imitators arose both in cinema, T.V. and on the paperback rack. Some were stone-serious books, but as the bloom was falling off the rose the spoofs started popping up. I think a lot of people forget how big of a thing "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." was because a lot of these spy-comedy novels more closely resembled U.N.C.L.E. than Bond. I guess it's easier to poke a little fun when you have a weekly program to tune into as opposed to a two-year wait between movies. Then there's the added sucker-punch to pop culture that was the '66 Batman show suddenly it was ever-so-hip to be in on the joke. Here's a short list that is far from complete: "The Miss from S.I.S." by Robert Trailins, "The Man from O.R.G.Y." by Ted Mark, "The Lady from L.U.S.T." by Rod Gray, "The Girl from PUSSYCAT" by Ted Mark, "The Man from S.T.U.D." by F.W. Paul, "The Man from T.O.M.C.A.T." by Mallory T. Knight...and that's just a few and honestly from the samples I've they are usually pretty lifeless affairs. Bouncing from sometimes real weird sex-scenes to limp second-thought action. If you get a "Coxeman" by Michael Avallone you're in for a good time and Clyde Allison's "The Man from SADISTO" books are pure lunacy in a great way, but pas that I haven't found any to justify their usual high prices. 

I discovered "The Man from C.A.M.P." via the SADISTO books' cover artist, the wonderful Robert Bonfils who did covers for both series. The man from C.A.M.P. himself is Jackie Holmes, a millionaire with a fleet of bitchin' vintage cars, is a master of disguise, a crime-fighting organization behind him, a killer poodle, a jeweled derringer and vast knowledge on anything that might come up. He's also gay and on the prowl. Jackie was the first gay man action hero and still really only one of a few to this day. He's a fun-loving character, he really struck me as a combination of Doc Savage and Napolean Solo as played by Peter (Jason King) Wyngarde. C.A.M.P. is a one of those general crime-fighting agencies that populate paperback books. C.A.M.P. works with other government agencies when there's a threat to gays worldwide ready for any threat. Jackie's apart of their "Police Bureau" and with a little help from his friends in the first book he teams up with T-Man to track down a synthetic diamond ring that's involved with the gay community. Along the way there's car chases in vintage Bugatti's, gun fights, torture, drugging's, tons of gadgets, fist fights, helicopters seedy bars and hair stylists. Banis keeps things moving a brisk pace, dropping action, clues and red herrings with aplomb. And yes, considering these are sleaze "porn" books there is a few scenes of gay sex and much like a Bond novel Jackie always gets his "reward" at the end of the book which is usually his straight partner. It's all very tame by today's standards but it's there, I suppose that's enough to turn some people away which is a prudish shame cause it's really a small part of the novel. 

It's clear this book was written quickly. It has a stream-of-consciousness vibe going on, but it's done in such a fun, camp (get it?) and pop art way that it's a total blast. It's an important series too, I'm sure plenty of gay men back in the day absolutely loved having an unabashedly gay hero for themselves. Past that it's one of the better written of the spy-spoofs of the era, easily ranking with Clyda Allison's top-shelf SADISTO books. I read the first one in an omnibus that came out a few years ago as the originals have a hefty price tag. But the omnibus is a great package with extras like interviews and forwards explaining all of this a lot better than I can. The whole series (the Banis ones anyway) has been either reprinted in collections or as separate editions for eBook and print-on-demand, so they are at least easily readable. Obviously, it's probably not a book for everyone, if you like your spy's serious and/or straight and can't budge on either, you're missing out. 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: Gannon #1: Blood for Breakfast by Dean Ballenger

 

The Gannon books are fairly legendary in Men's Adventure/Trash fiction circles. Hard to come by, absolutely insane and balls-to-the-wall entertaining. There's nothing quite like a Gannon book. Dean Ballenger only wrote a handful of novels, three of which are about this little "tiger" of a man with his revolver and spiked-knucks taking a bite of the rich folks for the common man. A blue-collar avenger. They are the sleaziest, most violent, batshit B-Movie that never made it to the grindhouses on 42nd street. They are Gannon. 

Either Ballenger was putting us on, or he was a dude you probably didn't actually want to meet. Little to nothing is known about him (that I can find, as always let me know what you know) other than he wrote some westerns and some stuff in the sweat mags of the day. In #1 Gannon is on a quest to skrag everyone involved in a brutal attack on his sister. He's got a quick and vague background as a Marine, cop and present security chef for a shipping yard. Other then he likes steaks and need to boink women at regular intervals you learn pretty much nothing about him. He does come from the Mike Hammer school of maim or kill and call the cops as opposed to the Johnny Rock school of kill everyone and split. He doesn't consider himself a psychopath, but that there is open to debate. The novel moves real fast, hoping from beatings, shootings, explosions, hit-and-runs, blood, sexing, and shaving and showers. It's almost episodic in a way, Gannon gets in a scrape and then extricates himself in the most violent way possible. The guts-and-gore is cranked up to ELEVEN in the books. That and the odd, 30's-40's (or just plain made up) slang adds to the fantasy quality to the novel. It just seems like a whiskey and uppers fever dream pounded out into a book for a couple of bucks. That being said it's a masterpiece in that sub-genre. Now, it's not for the faint of heart of the easily offended. I read the trashiest stuff and some of the sentences in "Blood for Breakfast" were hard to take in. Sometimes nastiness oozes out from the binding. Plus, personally I have toast for breakfast.

A lot of these type of vigilante books are made of two-camps. You got the straight knockoffs of "The Executioner" like "The Marksman" or "Soldato" or "The Liquidator" or you got the ones that are really aping Brian Garfield's "Death Wish," like "The Vigilante," or "The Revenger" doing a more 'serious' approach. They both usually tackle the mob. Gannon isn't really in either camp. Ballenger's opinion is that white-collar crooks are the ones who really need to be taught a lesson. The Mafia? Eh. It's all out class warfare. It's a kinda half-ass communist manifesto. And in terms of brutal action only Russell Smith's entries in "The Sharpshooter" and "The Marksman" are close. Barry Malzberg's "Lone Wolf" books may get fairly crazy, but I'm only one in so far. They are for a small handful of wild-book-people whose taste has long since gotten washed away by mountains of questionable fiction. That or the violent, criminally insane maybe. 

It's easy to see why some many people talk about the Gannon books, from James Reasoner on his blog, to the Glorious Trash or even the awesome filmmaker S. Craig Zahler on his Goodreads page. It's a notable book that's so off-the-wall that it would not be written today and will probably never be republished making it an enticing package. Like having the Ferrari trash fiction. They are ridiculously hard to come by. I lucked into the 2nd entry and felt compelled to finish off the series. It took me so penitence and doing but I got them all for a fairly reasonable price but well-more then I usually pay for an old paperback. Like a drug, I don't know if I'd recommend the Gannon books to someone without a cheap taste, cause they are not for everyone. I love that I have them and I'm sad there's only one more to read but mileage varies. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: The Protector #3: Reddy or Not by Irwin Zacharia

Carousel books was a little publisher back in the late 70's/early 80's. A low rent-outfit that may or may not have been a money laundering scheme (that's the rumor anyway) who tried their hand at the popular paperback genres of the day. Noted Mack Bolan author Mike Newton published a few books with them, one of which "Terror at Boulder Dam" I covered a while ago. Plus, some westerns as Mark Kozlow and the Intersect "team-mission" series as John Cannon. These a slim, quickly written and quickly published books but offer a fair amount of fun. I get the feeling with these smaller publishers there was freer range for writers. No one's looking over their shoulders and they're working so cheap they might as well entertain themselves. Or sometimes they'd just pound out wave upon wave of pure crap. Irwin Zacharia certainly seemed to be entertaining himself. He certainly entertained me. I couldn't find much out about Zacharia on the internet, so if you got in info hit me up!

"The Protector" series stars Irwin Martin Reddy, or I.M. Reddy (get it?) a 300-pound Jewish private eye who practice Sumo wrestling, is diabetic, drives a sweet Barracuda, has an eye for the ladies and packs a Louisville Slugger. Oh, and he's not really bothered by anything that goes bump in the night, demons, vampires what have you. Mack Bolan, he is not. But he's a fun, wild character to hang around with and Zacharia (as Reddy) narrates this tale of his ques to save a woman from a pack energy vampires. In standard P.I. fashion, Reddy is hired to track down the missing woman and this being #3 in the series, he's unfazed when it turns out she's been turned into odd-kind of vampire. Two fights against the supernatural will do that to you. So, Reddy tackles a bunch of near superhuman creatures (they call themselves Hellions) who live in a specifically fitted hotel to meet their quasi-vampiric needs. The Hellions basically suck out people's energy with little suction cups that appear on their body, they can shape-shift and a booger to kill. They are a neat little touch and steer the book away from the standard blood-sucker tale. The whole thing is real tongue-in-cheek, Reddy is a goofy guy who happens to be a tough SOB when he needs to be but would rather sit at home and watch a movie with a refreshing TAB cola than fight monsters. The breezy narrative style made the book fly by and I'm eagerly watching my mailbox for the other couple of Zacharia's I managed to track down. It's a wild mix of Martin Meyers Hardy books, Jory Sherman's Chill novels with a dash of Kolchak the Night Stalker.

Books like these are why I delve deep into the weird and wild world of low-rent publishers. A lot of the time I don't even finish the books but every now then I come across the gem, an uncut gem but a gem, nonetheless. Like most of these types of books, the print run was low, and the prices are kinda high, which is a shame. I pieced together this list of Zacharia's work as Zacharia anyway, there might be pseudonym work. It may or may not be complete so let me know if I'm missing anything. 

IRWIN ZACHARIA (For Carousel)

VENDETTA SERIES:

(A Mob-Avenger series about a guy named Will Powers)

#1 “The Murder Club”

#2 “Vendetta!”

PROTECTOR SERIES: 

(I.M. Reddy's fight against the supernatural)

#1 “Brotherhood of Evil” 

#2 “Princess of Darkness”

#3 “Reddy or Not”

#4 “Three to Get Reddy”

THE SHARK SERIES: 

(As far as I can tell it maybe be about a Tarzan-turned-Mack Bolan)

#1: “Landshark”

#2: “Piranha, Piranha”

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: Steve Canyon by Milton Caniff

I've said it before but I have a fondness for paperback-sized comic reprints. Sure, they are of fairly poor quality in terms of squashed panels and odd-placing. Tempo books put out a lot of books with reprints of Batman, Flash Gordon, Superman, Popeye, Conan, Beetle Bailey etc. etc. They only put out one Steve Canyon book though which is a shame because this is a lot of fun. I'm a pretty big fan of Caniff's "Terry and the Pirates" but I've only ever read a few issues of Steve Canyon reprints and they were strips where Steve was fightin' in Korea, they were okay but didn't do a lot of me. This paperback reprints (what I imagine) is a more recent (1978) pair of stories. I took to these stories a lot more then the earlier ones. 

There's two tales that run together in here. They drop you right into a continuing storyline with Steve searching for his missing wife when he spots her in a newspaper photo and he's off to Langapora to hunt her down. Along with his buddy/journalist Johnny Mink they tangle with a goofy but deadly King, scale palace walls, rescue a different women, lay on a little bit of a con-game, go inside a dragon, and even have a nice car chase. Of course at the end its open to continuation because right after than Steve's in Hong Kong getting kidnapped, tortured, being mistaken for a Russian spy, being saved by ice cream and finally having a bad experience with acupuncture. The second one is the lesser of the two stories with Steve being out of commission most of the time and being dragged around by a pretty Chinese spy who wants to defect to Russia. Steve's a nice hero, funny when he needs to be, action-ordinated when he needs to be with friends (and enemies) across the globe. That being said, I still like Terry and Pat Ryan better. Every now and then I got on a tear of reading a bunch of adventure strips and I always marvel at the quality of the art AND the writing. The writing always seems to take second place to the art when people discuss these old comics but the tales they told were just as engaging as the art. Now if someone would only reprint William Overgard's run on "Steve Roper and Mike Nomad."

I enjoyed the hell out of this book. I think I was a little bit of a "Terry and the Pirates" snob, which is just silly in retrospect since Caniff is just a master of film-noir/high-adventure mash-ups. There's some very problematic caricatures of Asians and other nationalities throughout the book that's indicative to the era. It's something that I can look past, acknowledge as terrible and I understand if others can't. Fair warning. I'd have a newspaper subscription if there was anything this adventurous on the comics page. 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: The Backup Men by Ross Thomas

Ross Thomas could really write the hell out of a book. He seemed to do it with ease. The natural banter between characters, the natural banter between himself and the reader all pours out on the page like a aged scotch neat. He's a writer's author. He never quite made it super big but instead carving himself a nice career with cloak and dagger books that were like no other. He started late in life which seems to have been a colorful life and after two weeks in his 40's he had a book down that won an Edgar. Then BANG he had a career. I personally probably gleaned a lot of my views on what a politician is based on the descriptions of the folk who hang out at Mac's Place in D.C. in Thomas's books. As I got older I haven't found that Thomas's opinions of senators, congressmen, government types or bartenders were wrong. There's not really "nice people" in his books, but you don't mind spending time with them, the way it happens sometimes in life too.

The older I get the more open to re-reading. I first read this during a snowy winter in my 20's. I remember it distinctly as I read a chunk of it in a cold 1963 Ford Fairlane that I had just driven off the road after having a run-in with a patch of ice while waiting for a tow. I guided the car through a barbed wire fence and between two trees. It was a fancy bit of sliding. It was nice company. "The Backup Men" is the third book about "Mac" McCorkle and Michael Padillo, a barman and a deadly (sometimes) ex-spy. Mac's narration probably pretty close to talking Thomas himself, at least that's the way I like to think of it. Together they own the aforementioned Mac's Place formerly in Bonn, Germany but in D.C. in this book. Padillo is around sometimes, sometimes he's off doing the spy-bit. Mac runs the bar and tells us their stories. Open on of their books and skullduggery always ensues. In this one they are roped into being body guards to a new King and his adviser as they cross the U.S. to sign some important papers about the fate of the new King's oil rich country. Along the way they get involved with the personal revenge of Wanda, sister of the dead a-team, fend off professional killers, drink copious amounts of booze, fall into and setup up various traps, meet nice-old society ladies and exchange wise-cracks. It's a book full of old friends even if this is the first time you met them. You read a Thomas not for the plot (though those are always good too) you read them to enjoy a drink and dodge a few bullets in capable hands. 

Thomas is on my Mt. Rushmore of favorite authors. He writes with a thick brush of sarcasm and wit but never sacrifices the intrigue and action. He's best when he gets to write about a duo having wild adventures like Mac and Padillo or Artie Wu and Quincy Durant but his "professional go-between" Phillip St. Ives novels (as by Oliver Bleeck) are also uniformly good, if a little slight. St. Ives got a Charlie Bronson movie made out of one of them too. His novel "Briarpatch" was just made into a TV series, staring Rosario Dawson but even now Ross Thomas is vastly underrated and bordering on being a forgotten writer. I keep him next my Donald E. Westlake novels on the shelf, so you know, close to the heart. 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: Lou Brick: The Jade Cat by George Mair

"The sharpest new suspense adventure hero since Lew Archer," the cover of this book declares. We might be in trouble folks. Since you know 'ol Lew wasn't much of an adventure hero and the only connection I can see between Archer and Lou Brick is a first name. But you can't judge a book on it's copy. So I dove head first into this book about the karate-chopping adventure hero named Brick. I had never read anything by George Mair, who was surprisingly a Scottish doctor in addition to a writer. He wrote a stand-alone or two but mostly wrote about NATO secret-agent man David Grant in a series of 10 books between 1964 and 1973. I guess spies were waning in 1974 so Mair unleashed crack investigative reporter Lou Brick onto the scene for Pyramid books, it was clearly designed to be a series but didn't make it to number 2. 

Lou Brick is big-time reporter man who's always up to his neck in danger and excitement. He's like a lot of reports in these kind of books mostly just comes off like your standard paperback private eye. He's got wise-cracks, fists and is reasonably clever. I also LOVE his name, it just screams 70's pulp. He works for a national service and is fairly famous. We get to know pretty much nothing else past this. The book moves too fast to dive into a Brick-head. Seriously this book never lets up on the throttle. Nearly ever chapter break ends in a cliff-hanger that's usually quickly resolved in the beginning of the next chapter only to set up another wild death-trap for out man Brick. He's hired to find some stocks and bonds to keep a scandal from breaking out for a rich-guy plus there's some blackmail involved all by an evil crime cartel known as The Jade Cat. There's hotel bombings, multiple helicopters destroyed, ransom pay offs, women pulling (multiple) pearl-handled pistols from their purses, a fair amount of time spent in phone booths, double crosses, the Triad and dead bodies. Pretty good for a reporter.

This is incredibly shallow book, but it's also a lot of fun. It just stands up and moves so fast that the short-comings seem to vanish in a fog of daring-do. It also has an odd "got to my word count" quick ending that's a bit of a cop-out. Brick is actually a pretty solid hero for a paperback series, likeable enough with an interesting occupation that would have set him apart from the "Executioner" clones. I recently lucked into one of Mair's David Grant books in a big lot of paperbacks from eBay. I'll have to see how that fairs because Mair certainly delivers the action. The Grant books are available as fairly cheap eBooks, but Lou Brick has never been reprinted and is a little scarce. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: The Game of 30 by William Kotzwinkle

William Kotzwinkle has had an interesting career. I've heard his name for years, usually in conjunction with "you should read 'Fata Morgana'" or "have you read Fata Morgana?" I still haven't, but "The Game of 30" did get me to buy it finally. He's perhaps best known as the guy who wrote the "E.T." novelization and it's follow-up. But he's written funny "lit" type novels, science-fiction, and other children's books along with a couple mystery novels. Hell, he even wrote the novelization for "Superman III" so yeah he wrote a Richard Pryor character too.

"The Game of 30" is about New York P.I. Jimmy McShane who's a pretty classic private eye albeit updated for the touchy-90's. He doesn't drink or smoke, but he sure wants too. He'll ogle ladies but he will feel kind of bad about it. He does pack a Beretta and uses it along with his fists, both to good effect. He's a hi-tech kind of guy with a sweet fan filled with cool gear, listening devices and Dodge Shadow with a film on the glass so it doesn't shatter. There's a lively set of secondary characters including a honest-to-god princess working as his sectary, tough cops, and a incredibly plucky (and beautiful) chiropractor tagging along for the mystery of it. The mystery is the death of an art dealer involved with smuggling in Egyptian artifacts and a lot WORSE STUFF, seriously it gets dark. His daughter wants to know why his father was injected with snake venom and killed and where an ancient scepter plays in. There's tons of twists and turns with multiple killers on the loose that all finishes strong with a slightly supernatural finale. 

To me it gives off a little bit of a newspaper comic strip vibe, kind of a darker, wilder "Rip Kirby." It's got a certain amount a of "gee-whiz" and thrilling mystery/adventure but it does take a turn for some well placed tough-guy grit. It also brought to mind the work of George C. Chesbro's Mongo novels, which is always a good thing in my opinion. I can see why people have been telling to sample Kotzwinkle's work, he's a terrific writer who zigs wehn you expect him to zag and builds an interesting world within the pages. In already got more of his work on the way to my personal library. In lesser hands the supernatural-element might have come across like a cop-out but it comes across so naturally that I just feels like the only possible outcome. It's great stuff that can be pretty easily found, so you got no excuse not to track down a copy.

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

The Great Fredric Brown Re-Read: 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 clich├ęs. 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.