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 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. 



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

#1 “The Murder Club”

#2 “Vendetta!”


(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”


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

#1: “Landshark”

#2: “Piranha, Piranha”