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.