Thursday, February 18, 2021

Quick Shots: The New Adventures of Frankenstein #1: Frankenstein Lives Again by Donald F. Glut

Unlike Popular Library's "Frankenstein Horror Series" this 70's paperback Frankenstein series, actually stars Frankenstein. And yes, I'm going to call the monster Frankenstein cause that part of my brain stayed ten-years-old. Any-who, monster-fan, filmmaker, and writer of books, comics, TV and movies Donald F. Glut took up the mantle to tell a absolutely buckets of fun Frankenstein pulp novel. I'm a big fan of Universal Monsters and 70's paperbacks, so this like Robert Lory's Dracula series is like just tailor made for me. They exists in the right pocket of thrills and chills for me, not out-and-out horror tales, but a gothic-type horror but with adventure mixed in. It's a monster-kid book, pure and simply, like I can picture the characters in "The Monster Squad" having these on their bookshelf back home when they are off kicking Wolfman in the nards. 

Dr. Burt Winslow thinks that Dr. Frankenstein really did make the monster and that Shelly's novels is actually fact. So, being a pure-paperback hero with a bank account full of spendable cash he takes off across the globe to Ingolstadt, Germany to buy the Castle of Frankenstein and then brave the frozen tundra to find the big 'ol Frankenstein-ice-cube to haul him back to revive him, tackling Inuit's who believe the frozen Frankie is a god. After a short trip Burt and his love interest Lynn are in the castle with Frankie and the villagers in town are about to boil over with torch-carrying fury. Plus a traveling mesmerist baddie named Dartani and his ghoulish muscle Gort are in the mix. Like a lot of dudes who mess with monsters, Burt immediately regrets his decision what with Frankenstein going on his customary rampage right after waking from his slumber. It all comes to an enjoyable head at the end, with fun action and nods to the classic story.

Glut certainly knows what a monster-fan wants and fully delivers. The book suffers from some "early writing" by an author, it doesn't detract enough to ruin it. Mostly in the form of easy plot convenience and some shallow character stuff. But it swiftly moves along like a real fun B-Movie with a big budget. The originals releases are by the British publisher Mews and aren't the easiest to get. Mine came from all over the world, but the covers were just too damned gruesomely pretty for me to resist. Luckily, Pulp 2.0 has recently republished the whole series, plus the continuations that Glut had written over the years into two big omnibuses that looks great, I'll have to pick them up and Glut's Brother Blood, a Blacula-inspired novel that looks too cool for school. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Quick Shots: Flash Gordon: The Ice Monster by Al Williamson

This slim paperback is chock full of adventure. I've always been a fan of Flash Gordon, an early exposure to the character as being as part of the foundation of "Star Wars" and the 1980 film with the killer soundtrack. Now days "Star Wars" is fairly boring to me, but I still love Flash. Images of the old serials and the comic strips may flash (get it) in my head, but the foundation of my love of the character was the novels in the Avon paperbacks that were mostly written by Ron Goulart. They were fairly close adaptations of the comic strip itself, albeit with Goulart's own wild humor creeping in every now and then. I picked my incomplete collection at a my local library's big book sale, the kind where you fill up bags for a couple of bucks. I remember I got a big stack of Tarzan and Doc Savage novels at the same time. Then I spent a good chunk of  a years worth of summer days blowing through the year after graduating high school and going to college reading them before and after work. I was THAT cool. So, the three characters are tied together in my mind.

Al Williamson is a damned good and The Ice Monster a full-throttle thrill ride. It basically comprises of three short tales that sort of strung together. After starting with a "previously on Flash Gordon" catch-up were plunged right into the adventure. Flash, Dr. Zarkov and Dale are on a mission to Mongo for the mineral Radium to use back on Earth. but so they go and have a mini-vacation while Barin has the radium loaded onto their ship. But surprise an Ice Monster pops up. Flash saves a princess and then gets involved in some castle intrigue involving an anti-aging serum. It's a solid little adventure but probably the least of the three in the book. "The Mole Machine" takes up the middle of the book and it's probably my favorite. Zarkov and Flash take a ride in his new mole machine to the center of the Earth which is wet and monster filled. But save another princess and is taken prisoner by the King, he's happy to have them but they can't return cause us top-dwellers ruin everything. But with some fisticuffs and after redirecting a river of lava they leave anyway. It was a fun "Journey of to the Center of the Earth" tale and I'm a real sucker for those. The final tale is "Death Trap on Mongo" and if your were wondering when Ming showed up its here (sorry to ruin the thin disguise) it's a neat little tale in the classic Flash mold. Dale gets zapped to Mongo and Flash and Zarkon rush to save her only to find the place is a madhouse after other prominent citizens are zapped away. Ming's behind it, there's some nice sword-fighting and swash-buckling and then it's over.

The whole paperback-sized graphic novel is something that takes a little getting used too. The format isn't the best and it's easy to see why it didn't last too long. It's simply not big enough. But I love 'em anyway, having burned through Dick Tracy and some of the Mighty Crusader reprints I guess I got used to it. It's a slim book and a SUPER fast read, seriously well under an hour but its' a lot of bang for you buck. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

The Hardy Boys Casefiles: Cult of Crime by Franklin D. (Steven Grant) Dixon

An early icy morning must have made me feel nostalgic because for some reason I pulled this Hardy Boys novel off the shelf from a stack of them. The Casefiles series was my gateway into the Hardy Boys and probably wetted my appetite for mystery fiction in general. They are very much a product of their time, late 80's-90's but that's the right time for my nostalgia button so it worked out. The whole series is aimed slightly higher age-wise than the original run of books, wanting to hook early teens with a bit more action and a spy angle. I read them checked out from school libraries in the form of the kinda-Frankenstein paperback/hardback that libraries used to do. Between the Casefiles and a probably bad in retrospect Canadian TV series from the same time-frame I 've been a Hardy Boys fan ever since. Though I haven't read one in ages or pretty much any "young adult" fiction. 

I found out that comic author Steven Grant wrote for the series a while back which peaked my interested. I'm a fan of his "2 Guns" comic and his work on the Punisher. Veteran pulpster Ron Goulart also wrote a couple and I'll probably have to read one of his next, I always enjoy Goulart's work. It's fitting that both of these two writers have Men's Adventure/comic-booky backgrounds because the Casefiles series has a definite feel of a teen's Men's adventure series. Frank and Joe have a tricked out van with all the electronic gizmos, get into a ample fist-fights, handle a gun or two and get chased around to take down the bad guys. While still hitting all the right buttons for a Hardy Boys tale, their large group of friends and their private detective father who never seems to do much.

"Cult of Crime" is about a cult (obviously) and a rescue mission to save a (maybe?) unwilling friend of Frank and Joe. Frank starts by going undercover into a cult where that their friend has joined and who their father Fenton had tracked down. The girl is 18 so Fenton couldn't bring her home, but Frank and Joe being the Hardy Boys decide to step in and take matters into their own hands. Along the way they get framed for murder, hop a train, met a crazy old hermit draft-dodger/smuggler and take his under ground tunnels to safety, fight off murderous cult-members/criminals, try and stop a riot and bank robbery and then uncover a deep dark family secret. It's sort of like a teenage Race Williams novel with a bit of a Lew Archer book mixed in. I read it in an hour or so between sips of a lot of coffee and had a lot of fun. Steven Grant keeps the pace moving in a breakneck-cliffhanger style and if I didn't read it when I was a kid, I missed out cause I would have loved it. It was nice to step back from the blood-and-guts for a minute and enjoy a tamer version of all of the stuff I enjoy. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

The Big Black by Symon (Ken Follett) Myles

Off the bat, this is a very hard book to track down and super expensive when you do. When I read and reviewed the first "Apples" Carstairs thriller from a young Ken Follett I wasn't sure I'd ever track down the remaining two in the series, I can rarely match wallets with "serious" book collectors and a big name like Follett bring them out. This copy of the second Apples book popped up on eBay as a buy-it-now but still out of my price range and it didn't sell for a while. The seller must have gotten impatient to unload it and dropped the price for an auction. Long story short after a small bidding war I ended up with it, paying more then I like to pay for a old paperback but well under what I suppose the book is worth. The downside now is that there's still "The Big Hit," the third book in the trilogy roaming out there. The only copy readily available online having Follett's signature and is well past three-hundred dollars. Maybe lightning will strike and I'll end up lucky with the final book in the series. Or maybe Follett's staunch resistance to reprinting them will wain. He might need to repair his car again which is the whole reason the books exists in the first place, a busted down car and a need for cheap paperbacks. Which is the sort of stuff I love to hear about.

Apples is a quasi-vigilante and rich guy. He's got a successful business that he rarely has to do anything keep up, two girlfriends to keep him company, fancy clothes and a sweet Jaguar. He's also got a squirrelly background as a street-kid, crime reporter and general dude-in-the-know. He's a rank amateur in the world of vigilantism, he's no Mack Bolan, Sharpshooter or Lone Wolf. Being an Englishman there's no packing heat and as he says in the this book a "pen-knife would ruin the lines on his suit," but what he lacks in hardware he makes up for by being both VERY lucky and pretty plucky. I very much enjoy the first book in there series when a lot of more reputable firms like Paperback Warrior didn't care for it at all. It didn't dawn on my why I liked it so much until I was knee-deep in the second book. I was picturing "Jason King" actor Peter Wyngarde as Apples and envisioning a low-rent groovy English crime-caper B-Movie while I read. Which would have just be amazing.

The most 70's author photo ever
The plot of "The Big Black" is a bit convoluted and rambling, seat of the pants writing, surely, but a lot of fun. There's photos of Apples and his two girlfriends in bed, minor threats of blackmail, major threats of blackmail, gun-running, random shagging, running from the law, trips around Europe, Apples kills a few people with nice improvised weapons (a razor stuck in an APPLE, get it?) and murdering of the a company via the stock market. Apples jumps at the chance to play cops and robbers after spending time in the country with his daughter who was the jumping-off-point of the revenge of the first book and is recovering from a drug overdose. Overall this is a stronger book than the first entry, it's played pretty much all for fun thrills without the melodrama involving his daughter that sort of bogged down "The Big Needle." It's a very interesting "avenger with style," series, as the ad for the series in the back puts it, a rank amateur matching wits and brawn against far more capable villain's. It's a really solid little time-capsule of a caper novel, light-hearted with dollops of hard violence.  

Follett really has very little to be embarrassed about, it's a very fine example of 70's crime-pulp and a lot hipper (at the time) then it's contemporaries. He nails the groovy nature of the time and the sleazy bars and greasy pubs. There's far worse out there and it might be fun for his audience to get a full introduction to Apples Carstairs, if only in ebook or perhaps a nice omnibus. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Quick Shots: Shark Fighter by Nicholas (Len Levinson) Brady

The art of the cash-in book or movie is something that always peaks my interest. "Jaws" was a massive success in 1975, it caused a tidal wave (nice little pun there) of imitators, some of them quite good, others very bad. But who am I to judge? I like Jaws 4: The Revenge. But I LOVE "Shark Fighter" by Len Levinson. I rarely read a book twice, but I did just that to write this review. I shit you not, I bought my copy of the pretty hard to find original paperback at a truck stop that sells used books to truckers. I've found some good stuff there, I guess truckers really like the blood 'n' guts like me. I read it in like one siting and enjoyed the hell out of it. So, the other day I just sort of pulled it off the shelf to take a gander at it and found myself reading it all over again. 

"Shark Fighter" star Sam Taggart former frogman for the Navy and present shark hunter and professional beach bum. He's a chain-smoking sex machine who can't help himself and always puts his head in the lion's mouth. He'll piss off anyone, the cops of the small island he calls home, his various lady friends, he's friends with pimps, prostitutes and will do just about anything for a buck including diving for sunken drugs for gangsters. You know, a good guy. His mainline is hunting sharks for meat for the fancy hotels on the island to sever to their guests. It's a living, keeping him in pot, booze and keeping his boat afloat. Things all change for him when he gets hired to fight two sharks on TV for a two million bucks and also falls in love.

This is a loose-structured novel, the first half is just hanging out with Sam on his various hard-boiled escapades, bouncing from danger to sex to boozing and smoking and back again. Normally this might make me loose interest in a novel, but Levinson is very good at making you wonder what will happen next in a rollicking bar-room stale sort of way. Even when the little mini-episodes of the novel seemingly finish Sam's dropped quickly into another jam. Levinson also gives all the side characters enough little quirks and personality to quickly establish exactly what kind of people they are, knowing how pleasantly evil the cops on the island are builds up a nice sense of danger for Sam, they might kill him or skin him or drop an anvil on his head at anytime. The sex is spicy and the action shows Levinson's work under Peter McCurtin at Belemont writing Sharpshooters and Marksman's and the like. This is really what a pulp-paperback is all about, sure things don't always hang together nicely and some characters that seem important just drop from the narrative without much thought, but isn't that life?