Friday, May 20, 2022

Texas Night Riders and Other Drive-In Books: Early Pulp of Champion Mojo Storyteller Joe R. Lansdale


I've touched on, more than once, that Joe R. Lansdale is a corner stone in want has made me the reader (and writer) that I am today. Probably, much to his chagrin if he ever caught word. It's an odd relationship reader/writer, it's all a once more personal and less personal of a connection than say being struck by a movie star. You spend a lot of time inside someone else's head when you read a book, but you don't see them, you don't know how they move or what they sound like. After middle school's worth of reading Alexandre Dumas, James Bond and The Saint novels, I had switched my recreation time to horror flicks and vintage muscle cars. The bloodier and the faster the better. 

Somewhere down the two-lane blacktop, I got wind of "Bubba Ho-Tep" which put together of two of my favorite horror-guys, Bruce Campbell and the director Don Coscarelli and it was taken from a short story by a fella named Joe R. Lansdale. An old Elvis fighting a mummy in an East Texas nursing home? Hell, I was sold. My local library had a copy of "Writer of the Purple Rage" that the novella was contained in and boy-howdy I was hooked. Soon, I read most of his stuff I could lay my hands on. Some of them in by dashboard light in my hot rod 1968 Plymouth Fury coupe. I must have been out on the highway avoiding The God of the Razor and staying out of weird Drive-In's. 

Lansdale was the first writer I encountered that seemed to understand life in the small-town/country way with a vernacular to match to boot. I knew guys and gals in flesh in blood like the ones in Lansdale's words. When I read a Hap and Leonard novel, I imagine my late-father as Hap, he was cut from the same country-boy/hippie cloth. An ass-kicker too, 'natch. I guess Lansdale taught me that writing can sound like anything, that it doesn't have to come from the pen of an English ex-spy or some other stuffed-shirt. And he wrote all the things I liked, mystery, horror, sci-fi you name it and it all sound exactly like Joe R. Lansdale talking to you, spinning yarns making you laugh and then turning it on its head and making a shiver run up your spine.

"Texas Night Riders" came out in 1983 from Leisure books with Lansdale writing under the name Ray Slater and it's an all-out tale of western revenge in under 200 pages. Before this he wrote a porn novel called "Molly's Sexual Follies" as Mark Simmons (with Brad W. Foster) and his shattering novel "Act of Love," which is one helluva book. Then came out with a one-two punch of "The Magic Wagon" and "The Nightrunners." Whew. Anywho, "Texas Night Riders" might seem like a typical western. Farmer Jubil Rains used to be a solider in the Confederate army and now is living peacefully with his wife and son...you see where I am going with this, right? 'ol Jubil has his son murdered before his eyes by three bandits and plugged buried alive in the coffin of his recently deceased wife. Well, Jubil does what most cowboy heroes would do and straps on his six-guns and heads out with revenge on his mind. Along the way he comes across the baddies now leading a pack of the titular Texas Night Riders, masked riders out to push people off of their land. Jubil takes up with big time farmer, Brennan and his men in order to kill the nasty Thorton who ran his son through with a saber.

Jubil is a fairly conventual western-type hero, a quiet man out for personal revenge. Lansdale's leads are usually more colorful and interesting characters, but this after all was written for a Leisure pulp-paperback and Lansdale gave them a pulp-paperback hero. He's certainly not a bad character, he's just Clint Eastwood on the page. Thinking about it, what more do you need? This is still clearly a Lansdale novel; his quirks and themes seep in through the mud and the blood. The farmer's daughter, Mattie is a tough lady, like a lot of Lansdale's ladies, who can handle the action with aplomb. While all the side characters are stock players, Lansdale makes them tough, funny and wild in their own ways. And the action is all Lansdale, brutal and wild and at times reaching his early "splatterpunk" levels of gore. There's a hint of horror in the mix, early on the town drunk refers to Jubil as a zombie, all dead inside but walking. There's a bit of "The Night of the Living Dead" as the Night Riders siege a walled-up farm in the dead of night. It's not a book that is going to be amongst the best of Lansdale's work, but it's a fascinating look into the foundation of the writer he became and what was always in there. 

A couple of years later Lansdale returned to the western, albeit with a less traditional tale with "Dead in the West," starring a rascal of a preacher-man named Jebediah Mercer who lands himself in Mud Creek, TX to try to get some soul saving done. It's a good thing he's a pistol-packin' preacher cause soon the dead start to rise, and he's got to stand up and fight. "Dead in the West" is a wonderful little book, seriously little, the only drawback is that there's ain't much of it and you want more of it. It seems like it's ripped out of the pages of "Weird Tales," a fever dream about putting Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Roy Rogers and George A. Romero in a blender then spill it out over a typewriter. Little tips of the cowboy hat to "The Necronomicon" and such put you in the right mindset. The voice is (as always) pure Lansdale. It's funny, it's profane, its gross and blood. So, you know...pure Lansdale and boy howdy how I had fun with this one.

Then a few little years later Lansdale took the western vibe into the apocalyptic future filled with zombies in "On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with the Dead Folk." It's a novella which is its only downfall, there should be more of it, there should be a near endless supply of stories in this world. I read this many, many years ago and in rereading it (and knowing more and more about Men's Adventure fiction) now it makes me long for a Lansdale M.A. series penned in the 80's about this bounty hunter named Wayne and his '57 Chevy wandering the new terrifying west. It's a place of (somewhat) domesticated Zombies, lawless border towns, the vague aftermath of the "Chevrolet/Cadillac war" and all measure of scoundrel. If you're not aware Lansdale did contribute to the "M.I.A. Hunter" series with always excellent Stephen Mertz but if Lansdale had had his own series product the Post-Apocalyptic Men's Adventure genre would have been the one, he was most suited for, even over an action series or an adult Western. Sigh. If only. A reader can dream. The novella itself is top-shelf, naughty, vulgar, non-stop action fun piled to the brim with exuberance and wild little touches. Shit. There need to be more of it.

There's no other writer like Joe R. Lansdale. I'd imagine there's folks that wouldn't dig what he is putting down. There are always wrong people in the world. In digging further in his back log I'm stuck by the ferocity of his work. Not just what he puts on the page, then emotion behind it. They read like something he HAD to put down on paper. The young and hungry author syndrome. Lansdale has kept the spark throughout the years, though he's gotten a bit more respectable and written some books that a truly brilliant, easily better then pretty much whatever the "big literary" books are (I'm looking at you, "The Bottoms" and "The Ticket") but he always never lost his spark of weirdness, thank God.   

Thursday, May 12, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: "Crab's Moon" by Guy N. Smith

 

After reading my last Guy N. Smith I couldn't resist more. I usually try to break up my reading/reviewing to not clutter it up with the same author otherwise this might turn into a Michael Avallone blog. I'm getting on a major horror kick (it usually happens as summer approaches) and my thirst for monster mayhem was unquenchable as now I'm both writing a monster novel and in the very, very, very, early stages of a possible low-budget feature length horror film being made from a script I wrote. I'm also opening a vintage toy and bookstore, so my time is limited for reading and I know that when I pick up one of Smith's book the fat is trimmed, and the pace is cranked to eleven making for a pleasant coupla hours of blood, guts and killer animals.

So, Guy's legendary Crabs series. I mean who wouldn't dip their toe back in the world of cow-sized killer crabs first? The Crabs series is what Smith is most known for, seven books spanning from 1976 to 2019 plus a few chap books, some short stories and even a graphic novel. Oh, and an "unofficial" movie adaptation "Island Claws" written by The Creature from the Black Lagoon himself, Ricou Browning. That's a helluva run. They are unfortunately, like a lot of groovy horror novels, hard to come by. I lucked into a few of the Dell editions over the years and then paid a lot for some of the others. "Crabs: The Human Sacrifice" still lurks out there on the shores of bookshop shelves for me to find. The crab with the knife really whets my appetite. I really should have done my research since "Crab's Moon" is a semi-prequel/direct-sequel to the first "Night of the Crabs." It takes place during the first invasion of the crabs, but just in a different place. The problem is I only just got "Night of the Crabs" and haven't cracked it yet. It was a bone-head move, I thought I was going to save #1 for a special reading occasion I guess. 

Anyway, I read "Crab's Moon." The Guy N. Smith hallmarks are there, sex, violence, and gore as we bounce around between a few groups of generally unlikeable people trapped on an amusement park island that the military is defending from big 'ol crabs. There are terrible millionaires you hate, love triangles, distrust of authority, big guns plus explosions, one-night stands, dirty hippies, and delicious crab meat. It's a fast and fun read, but since the hero of "Night of the Crabs" ya know sorta wins that book, this one is a little anti-climatic. It's still fun enough to read, it'd be fun to read it back-to-back with #1. Now, these are pure-pulp and crammed with some terrible people which makes it delightful when bad things happen to them, don't go in expecting a hero or a heroine to love. Women especially have a rough go in these books, women characters are generally only there for sex and then to die. That's just a warning if it would bother you. Smith is playing with tropes and that there is some big-time low-brow horror tropes. 

Guy N. Smith is just one of my go-to guys. Should probably be one of YOURS too.

Friday, May 6, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Feast of the Swamp Goblin by Lewis Stone

I can honestly say this is the first book I have directly read as a result of scrolling Instagram. I'm fairly sure that I was looking (and drooling) over some Guy N. Smith covers (he's popping up a lot lately for me) and saw the title "Feast of the Swamp Goblin" all in a gooey-looking font and after finding out it was a short work of pure-pulpy-horror I knew I had to give it a try. I hadn't ever heard of Lewis Stone before but, I mean "Feast of the Swamp Goblin, c'mon. That's a book screaming to be read. 

The novel is subtitled "A Horror B-Book" and that's what it is: a B-horror-movie on the printed page, or a direct-to-video-monster movie between two covers. It's a classic set-up. A group of college students go out into the woods to have some fun (i.e., booze and sexy sex) to blow off steam...unfortunately Swamp Goblin. There's a nerd, a slightly-more-cool nerd, a jerk-ass jock-type and his annoyed girlfriend plus a Ripley-woman. To top-that-off you have a grizzled hunter who is well, hunting the Swamp Goblin for his own reasons. These are all stock characters; Stone gives you enough to care a little about them and at least most of them are nicer than a lot of the assholes that seem to get killed in old horror novels. There's plenty of gore and the monster-attack scenes are well spaced within the book, not too long but not a constant barrage either. 

Speaking of Guy N. Smith, the nerd character is reading Smith "The Slime Beast," which Swamp Goblin seems to share a lot of D.N.A. with. It's a nice little touch. Stone writes in a clean, unpretentious style and keeps the pace up. All things that I look for in a book. It's a short book, more like a novella so if you like old school 70s/80s paperback horror or monster movies give it a go. It got me to order Stone's other Horror-B-Book, "The Campbell Lake Summer Camp Massacre," which seems like a nice and fun slasher tale. I rarely read any "new" books, so this was a nice change of pace. 

Monday, May 2, 2022

Me, Ralph Dennis and Hardman #8: The Deadly Cotton Heart

They're like an old bar-friends at this point, familiar on the surface but the details of past encounters are lost. That's the Hardman novels now. It's a wonderful thing, I almost get to read them again for the first time. Ralph Dennis's Hardman books were a turning point for me in a lot of ways. They made me realize that there might be good shit (real good shit) in those old paperbacks with numbers on the covers. They clued me in to detective novels in settings that weren't New York or L.A. And they taught me a lot about clean, tough writing with hard-bitten action that moves swiftly, makes sense but isn't too showy. They're all gems. Dennis should have been a major mystery writer after knocking out twelve of 'em in the FOUR YEARS. That's some damned fine writing to be squeezed out between beers in that short of a time span.

Jim Hardman and Hump Evans. Yeah, it's a bit funny when you say it out loud. I can see why some folk might have past them up, not quite Pepperoni Hero level of goofy names but it's just shy of it. The awesome action-packed covers were a bit of a lie too. Hardman wasn't a squared jawed man of action, but a pudgy ex-cop who I suspect looked a lot like Ralph Dennis. Hump was pitch perfect on the covers though. There was action but it's not an "Executioner" or a "Death Merchant." It's a dark alley in a Men's Adventure world. Spillane but a bit less of a fever dream. Hammett in leisure suits. What the Hardman books really are, and they are the closest thing to a pulp-version of the work of James Crumley. C.W. Sugrue and Milo Milodragovitch would throw back massive amounts of booze with Hardman and Hump. 

I've said before I came to mystery fiction via Joe R. Lansdale, Lansdale does an intro for Brash Books reprints (doing the Book God's work), and he says that there's a little bit of Hardman and Hump in my good buddies Hap and Leonard. I've known plenty of beer-drinkers and hell raisers. See, I'm a Kansas guy. That ain't the south, we're kind of a different breed up here. John Brown, flat-fields, western scenery and all that. But you grow up in a small town in Kansas you know guys like Hap and Hardman. Hell, my dad was like Hap in a lot of ways: an overgrown hippie country boy, I guess I didn't fall too far from the tree. You don't often get authentic take in crime fiction about a guy who you've sat next to on a bar stool and drank the heart of a fine spring day. 

Back then I had been on the hunt for the Hardman books for a while, tipped off by the always useful Thrilling Detective Website, but even back then they were hard to come by. Now it's nearly impossible. I found myself in Jacksonville, Florida in a fine Hawaiian shirt bumming my way around a conference on sports broadcasting that I had no business being there for. But the ride was mostly free and so was a lot of my time. I stumbled around town, rode a monorail and found myself in a book shop. At the end of the trip, I left with a nearly overflowing suitcase full of books. A lot of them were by Ralph Dennis. I scored most of the series in one foul swoop and read three or four of them that weekend in a hotel bar or a conference hall while fleecing cocktail shrimp. They seemed like the book I had wanted to write since I started liking private eye fiction (I've written a couple, I'll get around to getting it printed this year, hopefully) and there it had been done for years. 

"The Deadly Cotton Heart" was read in that lost-booky weekend. Luckily that was many moons ago and most of it was lost in my brain, so it was a nearly new book for me. Boasting one of the best titles in the series "Cotton Heart" is a strong entry in a very strong and consistent series. Jim is asked to play the part of an out-of-town-killer for a police sting operation. He doesn't want to, and he's got the right idea cause that's where the trouble starts. The sting goes wrong, puts Hump and Jim in the hot-seat and sets them off looking for a missing wife. They head on down to Tennesse to get into more trouble with a road-side madam, local police, racists, and an old murder. It's a pleasant twisty little action/mystery the way they don't make 'em anymore. 

It's nice to know I got all of the Hardman's to re-read again and again. They were getting hard to come by, but the always excellent Brash Books re-released them not too long ago in handsome paperbacks and eBooks. Ralph Dennis was sadly under-appreciated in his own time, but luckily nowadays he's getting the love he deserved, thanks to Lee Goldberg and Brash Books. Hardman and Hump are companions for my writing life, I often think of Ralph Dennis's clean, hardboiled writing when I'm doing my typing and I try to learn something.

Monday, April 18, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: John Mayo #3: Satanic Apocalypse by Guy N. Smith

When if first watched "Garth Margenghi's Darkplace" several years ago I was in on the joke. In one of those wonderful twists of fate I had recently discovered the mutant crab infested, werewolf and other assorted monsters of the world of Guy N. Smith. Like any sensible reader when I discovered that there was a series of books about giant crabs killing naughty folks across the U.K. I knew it had to be mine. "Darkplace" stars Mathew Holness (someone just give him buckets of money to make things, okay?) as a, well, hack horror writer of the 80's vintage. Margenghi is based on a few other writers of the very British style of horror, but Guy N. Smith is probably the main inspiration. And I think it's a loving tribute. Holness seems to have a real passion for the 70s/80s paperback world, check for "A Gun for George" some wonderful, loving jabs at the world of Men's Adventure. Oh, do yourself a favor and watch "Darkplace" too.

Now, I love Guy N. Smith's work. There's no pretention. The pedal is always to the metal. The ideas a wild and BIG. It's pure and nasty brand of pulp. It's especially how I like my horror fiction which has the tendency in this post Stephen King world to be bloated and overwrought and sadly often devoid of giant crabs. "Satanic Apocalypse" snuck up on me, for some reason I had completely missed that he had written a three-book series about a mysterious spy/government fixer named John Mayo who wears a big black fedora and often finds himself mixed up in the occult realm of espionage. While waiting for the first book to arrive from England I got a jump on the series with the third book, one of Smith's last published works via Amazon prime. It's a nice little mass-market sized paperback from Sinister Horror Company. So, they can still make 'em the right size, hmm.

John Mayo is a retired spy-guy who lives with an understanding girlfriend, his hat and a .38 revolver. Other than that, we get the briefest of backstory about a gruesome murder of his family you don't know much else about him. Of course, I'll probably learn more when I read book #1. He gets turned loose on an assignment to stop a home-grown terrorist cell who's been committing random acts of murder. Oh, and they have a devil-worshipping leader. Oh, and he's supposed to find a missing lady. Now here's the rub. This is a particularly good book? Probably not. Everything falls into Mayo's lap with very little effort on his part. He just happens upon the baddies, the girl and everything at every first available opportunity. Is it a fun book? YES. There's a bit of action, there's a bit of satanism, some bombs, some gruesome murders, forest fires, talk of fedoras and even a miniature version of the "animal on the muck killing everyone having sex" novel that Smith is famous for. I could almost see the paperback cover "Guy N. Smith's WILD BOAR." 

Guy N. Smith's work isn't for everyone. This one might not even be for his usual audience, as that there's really no "horror" going on here. It's really just a Men's Adventure novel in a horror-books-clothing. I'm excited to try out the other Mayo books, there a little like Sabat-light. The origin of the character is fun too, Smith just saw a guy at a wedding refusing to take his hat off in the church. Then the guy gave Smith the hat! Character's are everywhere.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Ed Noon Double Feature: High Noon at Midnight & Death Dives Deep by Michael Avallone

Every now and then you got to dive into the Nooniverse. In the plethora of literary private eyes there's none like Ed Noon, a true man for all seasons and problems. One the same time he's an old school tough-guy detective out of "Dime Detective" and sometimes he's a Don Quixote in the world spies, evil scientists, femme fatales, crooks, cops and even Presidents. He's all of that as well a movie and baseball buff who has soft heart and a (luckily) hard head. Ed Noon is a wonderful filter for Avallone's passions and obvious love of fun, action/mystery yarns. 

I found Ed a long time ago, when I was in high school with a short stack of used paperbacks. They were in rough/falling apart shape and patched with tape. A lot of Avallone's books in used bookstores seem to be a rough shape. I think these were read, passed around and read again. That's a nice compliment to a writer. Over the years I've managed to get a pretty complete set (a couple still illudes me, dammit) but it's not the easiest run to collect as Avallone and Noon bounced between publishers from Perma and Gold Medal to longer runs at Signet and Curtis. Like the back and forth of publishers the series conforms itself to the paperback trends at the time. 50's hardboiled detective novels that morphs itself into a P.I./Spy for the President that transforms itself if a kooky 70s mystery series full of quirks and pulpy death into a transcendent novel of an alien invasions, Gary Cooper and forgotten indemnities. 

If you're new to Ed Noon "High Noon at Midnight" isn't the book to start with though it's one of the pinnacles of the series. Ed's taking a vacation when a little man comes up to him on the plane and offers him a job as an assassin. Then the little man is knifed in the back. Then the plane explodes. That's just the beginning. Ed's flung into a world of androids, impending invasions, alien abductions, evil asylums, fembots, growing old, Gary Cooper as the voice of the good in the world, socks to the jaw and the love of old friends. Ed spends a lot of the books not knowing if he's sane or not, if what is happening is ACTUALLY happening or if he just fell off the rockers. Scenes flow back and forth in time and space as Ed's broken brain (with the help of Cooper) tries to do what he does best: stick the pieces of the puzzle together. The chorus line of Don Quixote, The Three Musketeers et. all is a highlight, Ed getting a pep talk from his childhood (and adulthood, Ed never grew up) heroes to make it through is a nice touch.

Noon is different from most paperback private eyes in that he's not the ultra-tough Hammer-type, nor is he the therapist-turned-detective that Archer is. He's got a little both in there, but mostly he's just a regular joe thrown into wild situations straight out of the pulps.  Even the proposed alien invasion kind of works like one of the many invasions of "Operator 5" pulps. "High Noon at Midnight" also has echoes of Avallone's previous works the mind-controlled Noon adventure "Shoot it Again, Sam" and the spy-adventure "The Man from Avon" which tackles dem pesky aliens. Avallone surely had them in the back of his brain as he wrote what would be the final Ed Noon. Though there are rumblings about an unpublished sequel "Since Noon Yesterday" that might surface someday. I read it too early. I might have been too young and dumb, but on this second read it just struck me how it's such a wild and fittingly melancholy final chapter in the series. 

Back when Ed Noon had a red, white and blue direct line to the President to get his adventures he got sent a funky manuscript straight out of "Argosy" in "Death Dives Deep." This was one of the books that I got in first round of Ed Noon madness back when I was a teenager. I had always fondly remembered it as it was one of those books that broke me out of my reading rigidness. At the time I pretty much just wanted straight-private-eye-mysteries of the hardboiled variety. I had passed through my secret agent phase and wanted something like Mike Hammer all the time, with the occasional Shell Scott palate cleanser. I went into the Noon's thinking that they would be a little like Shell. Of course, they aren't, they're ain't nothing like an Ed Noon. Back then I still preferred the older Perma/Gold Medal/Ace Double era of Avallone's work. Now I'm all about how weird and wild it got as he crossed over into the Curtis run. Those are pure id on the page. 

"Death Dives Deep" starts out with a little manuscript that starts all the trouble. It's a wild sea-tale of adventure with gold and killer mermaids. IT'S FUCKING GREAT. You can pull it straight out of the book and run it as a short story without any trouble. Makes me wonder if that's where it started. The Prez sends it to Noon and the yarn spins from there. Some of the Spy-era Noon's read a lot like Spillane's Tiger Mann books (cockeyed of course) where a lot of the espionage takes place in the jungles of the New York City with blazing .45's. By the time we get on the way to Florida by the femme fatale-super-villainess the book is almost over, but it's a slam bang ending. Along the way we tackle The Bermuda Triangle angle, various murders, an FBI shanghai, the Communist threat, Noon's love of the one-of-a-kind Melissa Mercer and a President in critical condition. There's a lot of stuff packed in here. This is where the Noon's really start a more experimental stage. What's started here is the nugget of what "High Noon at Midnight" expanded on. It's the kind of progression that rarely happens in a long running series. It keeps the later ones just as fresh and vibrant as the early ones, just in different ways. 

I mean, I can go on and on about Michael Avallone and Ed Noon. They taught me a lot about writing, about an author's voice and series character writing. Avallone wrote a ton of books. I pretty much always get some joy out of them, but so were obviously for paychecks and that's no dig. People turn their noses down on professional pulpster/paperback writers. That's a lot of crap, it's incredibly hard to write for money AND still make it entertaining. He proved it time and time again from "Mannix" to "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." to "Friday the 13th." Will I ever get to the "Patridge Family" novels he wrote? Hell, maybe. I'm re-reading to avoid reading the final unread ones on the shelf, saving them for some mythical rainy day or sunny backyard with a cold beer read. A day with some friends between the pages. 

Monday, March 28, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Dracula #2: The Hand of Dracula by Robert Lory

The Pinnacle Dracula series is a true time capsule. One of the earlier reviews on the blog (look how much stuff I crammed in those early ones) for #1 Dracula Returns tells the tale of how it came to be and some of the pop culture of the 70's that made it ripe for the bloodsuckers return. It took me quite a while to get back to the series, which I blame on the smooth writing of the "Vigilante" book I just read by Lory and last book I did, The Protector #1 for whetting my appetite for supernatural shenanigans. 

There was a resurgence of the Universal Monsters in the 90's when I was a kid. There's always a resurgence of those dudes every generation or so, can't keep the dead buried. I had coloring books, a dancing Frankenstein Halloween decoration and watched them on TCM on October 31st. They weren't scary to me, but they were unnerving, like looking back through time, releasing it wasn't what you thought it was and that the dark held secrets. But most importantly they thrilled me. In the late 90's Burger King of all places put little action figures in with their kid's meal. Boy, howdy. My own little Wolfman to maul Star Wars guys? A Frankenstein to lift up G.I. Joes and toss 'em around? A Creature from the Black Lagoon to lurk in my swimming pool? I was a monster kid.

In middle school I read them in the wonderful library hardback editions of paperbacks. Dracula, Frankenstein, "The Jewel of the Seven Stars," The Phantom of the Opera, even Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." I'm glad I read them, but they weren't exactly what I wanted. I wanted more thrilling stuff. Harder stuff. Afterall R.L. Stine didn't have any Frankenstein's stomping around Fear Street. It's almost quaint the years before the internet took its stranglehold on everyone and information could leap down your throat. I simply didn't ever find what I was looking for back then. Maybe a couple of Ghost Rider comics, back that was a stretch. 

If I was a kid in the 70's and found Robert Lory's Dracula series, I would probably keeled over right there. Not to mention that I could have been reading Marvel's "Tomb of Dracula" at the same time. This is what I wanted, stirring adventure, technicolor Hammer Horror, monsters, ghouls, criminologists, and a smooth utterly ruthless Dracula. The first book "Dracula Returns" was a total blast of funky action and horror. Lory put enough of his own spin on Dracula to make him stand out from the fistfuls of interpterion's of the character and his supporting cast was stock characters, sure, but fun stock characters. This is pulp, after all. 

"The Hand of Dracula" was released the same year as the first one, probably pretty close together to build an audience. This one shows a lot of Lory's crime fiction writing in it as there's a central mystery about the death of the Criminologist Dr. Harmon's niece that involves spooky funeral homes and C-Grade Manson families. Our cast is there, Drac, Dr. Harmon, Harmon's assistant the Men's Adventure-type hero Cam and then the shapeshifting Ktara who is bound to the Count. There are murders, human sacrificing, night-time Drac attacks, bets with vampires, super-stronger hunchbacks, the mafia and frat pranks that all boils into a nice big finale.

I'm a little cooler on book #2 then #1. There's a little too much wheel-spinnin' and convolution. The Manson-family angle is too drawn out and the crime/mystery part is a little bloated too and there's far too little Dracula. But Lory is a pro who is better than just "good," there's a nice sprinkling of wry humor and gruesome action. I think the book is probably just maybe fifteen-twenty pages too long. The series (as far as the covers tell me) gets a little wilder as goes on with Vikings, lost worlds, and zombies which is probably a good call, people who pick up this series are looking for a monster mash. I got my first book in Lory's Horrorscope series, and I'll have to dive into that one before too long because it's got movie sets and robot minitours. I mean, yeah. 

Monday, March 21, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: The Protector #1: The Brotherhood of Evil by Irwin Zacharia

My obsession with the little paperback publisher (and possible Mob-front) Carousel continues. There's just something so sleazy/charming about their books. The cartoony covers, the "first books" vibe of authors learning their craft and the scarcity of books themselves is all incredibly appealing to the weirdo me. Irwin Zacharia is my favorite of their stable (sorry Chet Cunningham and Mike Newton) simply because of the enthusiasm that pours off the page. I know nothing about Zacharia (if you know anything PLEASE COMMENT!) other then he wrote some slim paperbacks for Carousel and one about baseball for Major. But he certainly had a wild style all his own and plenty of kooky ideas that really set his books apart from their brethren. This is pure pulp, people, straight up and winking. 

The Protector series is a wild one. I.M. Reddy is the Protector (although so far in the books he's never called/or calls himself The Protector) is a big gutted, Sumo wrestling, low-rent private eye whose cases always run into the supernatural. Throughout the book it was hard for me not to imagine John Candy in the 80's as Reddy raining blows down on cult members, making it with chicks and enjoying some nice meals. "The Brotherhood of Evil" deals with a Voodoo scheme to buy up businesses and take over Haiti to build a totalitarian version of Las Vegas that is patrolled by a Zombie Army. THAT OLD STORY, HUH? Along the way there's plenty of voodoo dolls, drugged cult orgies, punks with knives, wisecracks, hotel hijinks, and pizza. Reddy is a lot of fun as a narrator, reminding me a little of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" and Roger L. Simon's Moses Wine in a blender. He takes all the supernatural stuff in stride and just treats it as another day in the office but acknowledges the oddness of it all. It's also pretty refreshing to have an overweight hero who is totally fine with is body and uses his bulk to his advantage. Plus, he still gets the ladies! 

The first Zacharia I read "Reddy or Not" has a rundown on the three series he wrote for Carousel (I'm looking for The Landshark books, the final Protector and the first Vendetta. If you have 'em for sale let me know!) and he put out a lot of material in a short period of time and then just vanished. That is unless he started writing under a different name, he was already writing as Sarita Irwin, so who knows. With today's market for supernatural detectives, it would be great to see these get reprinted, even if it was a Wildside Press kindle Megapack. The books have a wonderful shaggy-dog 70s version of a "Weird Tales" series. Again, let me know if you got books or information, I'd love both.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Quick Shots: Richard Dragon Kung-Fu Master #1 Dragon's Fists by Jim (Dennis O'Neil & James R. Berry) Dennis

Here's an odd little one. "Kung-Fu Master Richard Dragon: Dragon's Fists" was published by Award Books in 1974. My copy is a Tandem British edition, so it was published across the pond as well. It was written by two guys who aren't named Jim Dennis but are actually noted comic book writer Dennis O'Neil and comic-strip creator James R. Berry. It's one of those "infamous" Men's Adventure paperbacks since it didn't launch a series of books but rather comics based on the character. It's been well covered by the Cadillac of paperback reviewing over at Paperback Warrior. I'm more like the Yugo. To give you non-car people context to that remark, me and three other guys once picked up the Yugoslavian car and moved it three spaces over. As for quality, it was a light weight. 

I had been wanting to read this one because of the odd backstory, my love of O'Neil's comic writings and I mean it's a 70's Bruce Lee cash-in. Those three things are hard to beat. After the book came out Dragon made the switch to comics. I assume because it was quicker and easier to write comic scripts then other novels for O'Neil and Berry. Also, Marvel had a couple of martial arts (Shang-Chi and Iron Fist) characters and DC probably needed to drum up some competition. O'Neil was already working there so why not just do the book he wrote? Still, it's an odd origin for a comic book character. Though I guess Shang-Chi's original dad was Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu, so I guess shit was just weird in the 70s.

"Dragon's Fist" is sadly really hard to come by and that makes this following statement harder to write its nearly hands-down the best martial arts book from the 70's that I've read. Only some entries in the "Black Samurai" series are in competition with it. It's a damned shame that this is out of print and probably never will be, I'm sure the various entanglements legalities of DC Comics/Warner Bros will prevent that. I got lucky paying only $15 to get it shipped from England to me, so keep your eyes peeled and you might snag a reasonably priced copy. As much as I liked it, I would pay the crazy prices that I see for it. 

Richard Dragon (his real name, some people get all the luck) is a master of a special kind of martial art that combines the best of all the ways. After a criminal way of life, he finds himself being taught by O-Sensei and given a new, better lease on life. He's got a few friends, a dojo in New York and as soon as the book opens, he's got a lot of trouble. See O-Sensei's brother is murdered, and his niece is kidnapped by an evil dude named The Swiss. The ball is rolling for kung-fu fights galore, sex, death, deadly martial arts weapons, funny-named organizations like GOOD, and fire truck chases. Dragon is a stoic kind of guy but the amble (sometimes too much) flashbacks of his life round him out nicely for a Men's Adventure hero. With the origin out of the way I imagine that if there was a book #2 it would have been a corker. 

Despite the multiple flashbacks O'Neil and Berry show their comic book roots by making the book barrel to the end and it's a glorious cinematic ending, which doesn't always happen in M.A. fiction. Humorously Dragon stays at a hotel where a Sci-Fi convention is going on and there's some soft jabs at the "Buck Rogers-people" in attendance, an audience they both probably knew well. Also, the treatment of the female characters is pretty bad which is always a bit of a let-down for me, but it goes with the territory. The book really shines when it comes to action and Kung-fu mysticism. It feels like a lost 70's kung-fu movie. I could just almost see George Lazenby in his Hong Kong years starring in the adaptation. Sigh. 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Big Brain #2: The Beelzebub Business by Gary Brandner

I didn't think it would take me too long to get back to the Big Brain books after I read the first one a while back. It was far too groovy of a series to sit on the shelf for long. Gary Brandner is famous for writing "The Howling" and other horror titles but clearly had an affinity for mystery/thriller fiction as well. The Big Brain series gets a little flack for not being what the covers advertise. There is a sci-fi/fantasy element to the novels, but really, they work more a spy/mystery first and foremost with the fantasy being used a set-decoration. They do
ooze 70's though which is part of the appeal to me. They sort of feel like novelizations to a lost TV show of the era, something put into production to compete with "The Six Million Dollar Man" or "The Incredible Hulk." Where the thrills/action weren't exactly a mile a minute, but the ideas were big and well, groovy. 

With Colin Garret's origin out of the way "The Beelzebub Business" kicks off immediately as he's called by the super-secret Agency Zero to use his mental-super-powers to figure out what is causing so much trouble in Washington in the form of brain-washing and satanic shenanigans. The devil-worshipping/cult plot is one of my favorites when it comes to Men's Adventure and luckily for me it was all over the place in the 70's. Seems like every series character tackled a cult at some point in their action hero careers. Basically, Big Brain is a big 'ol nerd, a walking super-computer (70's style) who's brain power is so strong he can worm his way into other folks brains. Sorta like ESP. His powers are better defined (and rarely used) in this book of the series. He doesn't want to fight or get into dangerous situation but (obviously) finds himself in fights and dangerous situations. After being whisked away to D.C. he meets perky, pretty wanna-be spies in bitchin' Barracudas, tangles with long-haired hippies in dirty hippie vans, shows us novel ways of using squirt guns, fights mind-controlled killers, sleeps with a witch and blackmails his way to the solution of the problem. It struck me that Brandner might have been trying to update Sherlock Holmes for the era of "Chariots of the Gods" and "The Bionic Woman." Big Brain is supposed to be a capable cold-calculating investigator-type, he is more prone to failure then Holmes so maybe I'm wrong but the vibe of "consulting detective" and the faux-supernatural element sets my Sherlock-sense tingling. 

Look, it's a lot of fun if you're in the right mind set. If you go in looking for a "Death Merchant" or some straight-up science-fiction, you'll be disappointed. If you want your spy novel tinged with some fantasy and packed with two scoops of 70's mysticism, you'll be happy. The 2nd one is a lot of more streamlined then the first, since the back story is out of the way and since the origin of Big Brain isn't all the exciting, I'd recommend skipping that one and reading this one first then retracing your steps. I'm excited and sad that there's another entry left, "Energy Zero" but it's the last Big Brain escapade out there. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: The Destroyer #38: Bay City Blast by Warren Murphy

It had been far too long since I had hung out with Chiun and Remo. Back in my late teens/early twenties the pair was one of my gateway drugs into the world of Men's Adventure being that I was a fan of Warren Murphy's "Trace" books and then there's all the James Bond connection with the 1985 "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins" movie (which I love) that doubled my interest. It took me a couple paperbacks to get a handle on what "The Destroyer" is. Sure, it was funny, it was violent, it was wacky and yet still very dangerous. Once I got that it was all of those things and smack dab in the realm of pulp fiction, I devoured a bunch of them. Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir truly created something wonderfully and unique in The Destroyer, something that rarely comes along or rarely stays around. Being unique and/or off-beat is practically a death sentence in pop culture. But the glorious House of Sinanju lives on even to this day.

"Bay City Blast" is one of the more infamous entries in the series. I know I read it back in the day but couldn't resist trying it again now that I'm much more in tune to what Murphy was satirizing. Now I got a few years of plowing through these musty, dusty paperbacks potboilers. For those outta the 'know' #38: "Bay City Blast" pokes some fun at the other Pinnacle paperback heroes i.e. The Executioner, The Butcher and The Death Merchant. When I first read it, I hadn't sampled any of those three series, but nowadays I have several entries of each under my belt and can fully appreciate the joke. Even the title is a riff on "The Executioner" sub-titles. 

The template of a "Destroyer" is well established by this point and Murphy is using it to his full advantage. Basically, there's a once thriving bay city that has a sudden, seemingly Mafia-connected benefactor buying up stuff, helping folks and muscling his way into the mayor's seat to create a Crime-City USA. Remo and Chiun are set (as a personal favor to their boss "Emperor" Smith) to go check in on it but aren't turned loose to wreak havoc and knock out the baddies. Around the same time a rich weapons designer decides he has had enough of the criminal element of Bay City and starts putting together his special team of vigilantes out of random people's he's met. There's Mark (Mack Bolan) Tolan, pyscho 'Nam vet fueled by the thirst for murder, of like anyone. Al (The Butcher) Baker, a scheming low-level mobster wannabe and devoted fan of "The Godfather." And finally, Nicolas (The Death Merchant) Lizzard a bad actor with a penchant for disguises which are mostly unconvincing cross-dressing.  They take to calling themselves The Eraser and the Rubout Crew and sending people the ends of pencils as warnings. Murphy really rips into Pinnacle's other heroes. It made me wonder how the authors/publisher felt about this one being published. Remo and Chiun are called back to Bay City after a fun scene of shark fishing to act as bodyguards and to track down The Eraser. There's great banter, a Ruby Gonzolas cameo, tank fights, punching sharks, fun with ping-pong balls and spot on parody of the super-series take on the Men's Adventure genre.

In the companion book, "Inside Sinanju," there's a top ten of Murphy and Sapir's favorite "Destroyer" novels, this on doesn't quite make the list but it gets an honorable mention. It's pretty high up on my list of personal favorites. If you have a sense of humor about your action/adventure this is a sure bet. And I'll echo the sentiments of all those who came before more, avoid the first two entries in the series as your entry point. They ain't like the rest. If you want some sort of origin story there's a novella called "The Day that Remo Died," that does the origin better than #1: "Created, the Destroyer." Or the novelization of the movie "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins" does a pretty good job setting up the world. "The Destroyer" books are kinda polarizing, you love 'em or you hate 'em. They are pure pulp, having more in common with the adventures of Doc Savage or Tarzan or The Spider then The Executioner. I think it's the series biggest strength and why it's still plugging along after all these years. I guess it's all about expectations, don't expect non-stop action. Expect well-told bursts of action, a lot of bickering, day-time soap operas, big dollops of satire and strap yourself in for a good time. 

Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy's Top Ten:
1. #3: Chinese Puzzle
2. #7: Union Bust
3. #14: Judgement Day
4. #20: Assassin's Pay-off
5. #18: Funny Money
6. #26: In Enemy Hands
7. #30: Mugger Blood
8. #32: Killer Chromosomes 
9. #41: Firing Line
10. #48 Profit Motive

Honorable Mentions: #19: Holy Terror, #22: Brain Drian, #44: Balance of Power, #10: Terror Squad, #6: Death Therapy, #17: Last War Dance, #23: Child's Play, and #38: Bay City Blast.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Jonny Quest - The Unfilmed Screenplay by Fred Dekker

I'm one of those movie-nerds who love the "almost was." The abandoned, works-in-progress, rumored, un-finished flicks that could have been. If multi-universe theory is correct, somewhere they might actually exist. But on our plane of existence some only survive as leaked scripts on the internet. Some are fully lost to time.

Back in the 90's Jonny Quest had a minor comeback with a new animated series. I was the right age and right on board. I had the toys, comic books, the Pizza Hut promotional giveaways and more. The new animated series was kinda weird to me even back then. But proving that I've been the same guy I am now as I was back when I was 10 what I really liked was the original series that I got on VHS for Christmas that year. I've always been two or three steps in the past. It helps that the 1964 series is one of the most perfect, pulpy, fun animated shows ever made with flawless design and over-the-top adventures. I'm a life-long fan of the character, design and world. 

Fred Dekker made two of my favorite monster movies, "Night of the Creeps" and "Monster Squad." He's one of those filmmakers who should have a much bigger career. Stupid "Robocop 3." When I found out a few years ago that Dekker had written a screenplay for a "Jonny Quest" movie in the 90's for Richard Donner I immediately winced at the loss to the world that this movie didn't actually exist. It's gold! The director of "Superman" and "The Goonies," teaming up with Dekker to make a big, adventurous Quest movie set in 1964, c'mon! I would have bought two. Sadly, Hollywood is about as fair as a barroom knife fight. 

Well, I stumbled onto the script and poured over it. As a guy who writes screenplays, (not like, professionally so don't get impressed) they can be a little dry to read since you're really just reading the backbone of what a movie COULD be, not what it would/should be and they're not for everyone's reading enjoyment. That being said Dekker delivers a lively script, not only in terms of the action of the movie but in the actual writing. A few little jokes here and there to keep a reader interested goes a long way in screenwriting.  

"Jonny Quest" is an origin tale for our core group of heroes (and villains) it starts off with a bang with spy-fi shenanigans with Race Bannon and Jezabel Jade before Race gets his post guarding the Quests. After that the ball is in play for the rest of the script, barley slowing down for anything. It really would have made a helluva picture. Robot spies, monsters, crazy vehicles, spies, mercenaries, Nazi's, jet packs, death traps, lost cities, a big MacGuffin, sunken U-boats, jungle treks, daring escapes and most importantly HIGH ADVENTURE!  

One of the best aspects of the script is Dekker's handling of Jonny himself, he comes across very real, still a kid but also an adult and flawed. It's not surprising considering how well Dekker captured being a kid in "Monster Squad." Jonny's not a squeaky-clean sitcom kids but one who swear, like girls, danger and has Ultraman action figures. There's some nice character stuff with Dr. Quest and Jonny as they both try and figure out how to be together after the death of Jonny's mom which help make the rather stuffy Dr. Quest have some growth. Plus, Jonny and Race's buddy dynamic is well (and quickly) fleshed out. Obviously, they have to go to India at some point and pick up Hadji who steals a lot of the scenes he's in. Oh, and yeah Bandit is a rascal. Not to mention the slippery Jade and the perfectly evil Dr. Zin plus Nazi's to round things out. The script pulls some of the best bits from the original series, smooshes them together and amps up the wiseacre-ness. 

This is post "Raiders of the Lost Ark" pure 90's-style movie writing. It barrels along from action-set-piece to action-set-piece, but this was before CGI overwhelmed the industry. You can't just have a computer-generated swarm of nasty baddies appear at in the end in a beam of light piercing the sky and call it good. Richard Donner would have been perfect for this picture. It's got a bit of the earnestness of "Superman," some edge like "Lethal Weapon," wrapped up in "Goonies" blanket. All at once it would have been a perfect 90's update and yet still very true to the 60's incarnation of the series. If it was made today, I doubt it would have the soul and care behind it that this script did. Which is clear on the final page where it was dedicated to Doug Wildey, the genius who started it all. 

Damn. What could have been.



Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Long Cut: Jerry (Laurence James & John Harvey) Bronson's "The Cut"


This one's a long quest through dusty bookshop shelves, the deepest depths of internet bookstores, saved searches and typing the same thing again and again, "cut jerry bronson" into various search engines and eBay. I've looked for it in about any place that sells used books for something like eight years. It's funny how things go. I found out about this book from the Glorious Trash blog review of it. It sounded right up my alley, but it was nowhere to be found. Glorious Trash is something of a trendsetter, some of the books he writes about gets scarce/expensive quick. So, this little sleazy private eye tale written by two Brits that was too hardcore to get published across the pond got published by Pinnacle in a (probably) low-run print became my white whale. I've always wanted to read it but as the years stretched on it became more about the hunt, the thrill of discovery. The patter of my heart when I got an email informing me something on a "wish list" was now available. Would it be "Cut" by Jerry Bronson? Never was.

Now, being a bookman, I got a fairly large list of "wants." And some of even the hardest to track down have shown up at least once or twice in my years of looking. Sometimes for high prices, sometimes for four bucks. I haven't always snapped them up at the high prices, I'm a cheap bastard after all but I knew I'd probably burn a hole in a credit card, if need be, to own "Cut." I assume the book didn't sell and was remaindered for a few copies that are floating around since Pinnacle was a pretty big wide-reaching publisher. Couple that with Glorious Trash's review and the authors own cache, whoever had them wasn't selling them. 

Laurence James was very prolific, writing biker books, science fiction, westerns, post-apocalyptic fiction, War stuff and even horror. He's mostly known for his work on the Deathlands series and The Apache books. I have a bunch of his work, but this is the first time I've read anything by him, at least half-by him anyway. Knowing he wrote the more extreme parts of the narrative his days writing the "Piccadilly Westerns" is apparent, as it sort of reads like a 70s update of the wild ways of the Piccadilly Westerns. John Harvey is now a respectable writer having written the popular Charlie Resnick procedural novels. But he started in the paperbacks, writing, you guessed it, westerns, war books, and crime fiction. I reviewed an entry in his Scott Mitchell books, a British private eye who's a tough cookie. Together they came together and switched alternated chapters to write this book as Jerry Bronson. And it seems like they had a good time doing it because this one funky novel. 

Finally, I got my hands on a copy (Thanks Stan!) via some good-natured trading among a fellow enthusiast. It had to travel from Canada to the U.S. and after sending some money to the wrong person for shipping I eventually found it in my mailbox on one cold and snowy night. Would it be as good as I wanted it to be after this long of a search? Seems impossible. 

The opening is one of the sleaziest things I've ever read, a wild killing on a porn set. Off to a good start. Then we meet Regan, a .44 Magnum packin' asthmatic private eye in California. I'm with it so far. And soon I forgot my expectations and rolled along with the wild, slap-dash, kooky tale of Snuff films, Boris Karloff stand-ins, hippie-communes, gory action and sexy sex. It's a novel brimming with first-draft energy and two authors trying to one-up each other every chapter. A chase and murder in Disney world? Random sex with ugly old prostitutes? Beheadings? .44 magnum blasts? Kicks in the nuts? It's a got it all and more. It does all sort of hang together enough to make sense from A to Z, it's not the most polished (or fleshed out) but James and Harvey were pros at quicky paperbacks. 

Reagan is a big 'ol nasty "Dirty Harry"-type, ex-cop turned private eye after he blows away the punk that sound the junk that made his wife O.D. he misses his wife, but mostly he just drinks, bangs ladies and shoots people. In a nice running-joke a lot of the chapters open with Reagan hungover after the previous night's escapades. He's nominally searching for a socialite's runaway sister and pretty much immediately finds her without a lot of effort other then stopping for gas and making conversation. But being a mystery that's not the whole story. It shifts from a more mystery format into a full-blown Men's Adventure thriller as it goes. Reagan's a bastard and a hardcase but that's the kind of guy you need when dealing in snuff films. 

It has an exploitation film vibe, probably because filmmaking is an integral part of the plot. I can easily imagine it in a grindhouse of 42nd street or in a drive-in in the south. I doubt they could have gotten Karloff for the baddie though even though that's who I pictured throughout. The whole thing has its tongue squarely in in its cheek. So, was it worth the wait and the hunt? Yeah absolutely....for me anyway, I can certainly see most folks not caring for it. It's crazy violent, sexist and certainly in need of some coherent editing. It's probably the most sordid book I've ever read from Pinnacle, who probably bought it because they were putting out work by both James and Harvey in the Apache series at the same time but it's clear they didn't devote much more time to it other than slapping the most awesome photo covers on it ever.

One chapter of my book hunting is closed now. It's nice and it's sad. Now, I'll probably fall into a copy of "Cut" in my local used bookstore tomorrow. That's the way it goes sometimes. Luckily as far as hunting goes, I still have plenty to search for. Some of which I'm not even sure if they were published. That's part of the fun of this era of paperback publishing. It's wild and unpredictable just like the novels they put out. 

Monday, February 21, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Vigilante #4: Knock, Knock You're Dead by V.J. (Robert Lory) Santiago

So, it's the 70's and someone kills your wife, whatta ya do? Go a vigilante rampage, of course. In the wake of the one-two-punch that was Don Pendleton' The Executioner and Brian Garfield's "Death Wish" the paperback racks had plenty of vigilantes to pick from. They ranged from a wilder pulpier version like The Penetrator with dart guns and trips to space or down-beat and grimy tales of The Sharpshooter or The Revenger. Every publisher was giving them a shot (pun intended) and even Pinnacle, the home of Mack Bolan at the time, threw more revenge at you with six-book series: The Vigilante by V.J. Santiago. Santiago was actually Robert Lory who's mostly known these days as the author of the groovy Dracula Returns books. He also wrote a number (of the better) tales in the John Eagle, Expeditor books as well as some Sci-Fi that looks pretty sweet. 

"Knock, Knock You're Dead" is the fourth book in the series and it stars Joe Madden who (in the timeline of the books) just THREE WEEKS ago lost his wife and began his quest for vengeance. I have read the first in the series "An Eye for an Eye" which acts has his Death-Wish-Origin-Story (and enjoyed it) where it all starts, but I guess I didn't know or remember that the series runs together that tightly, almost like Mike Barry's Lone Wolf or Gilbert Ralston's Dakoata books where they a more like one long epic novel, as opposed to serialized adventures. 

It's interesting in the differences of approach to various series. I would think that a less "serial approach" would be better. That way any of the books is a jumping off point for a reader. But the "long novel" form can make for a richer reading experience, following someone in short order as they go do Men's Adventuring. Well, either way I guess it got me to buy the rest of 'em to fill in the gaps, so its effective. 

This entry takes Madden to Chicago (each book's got a different locale) where he is using his job as an engineer to look over security in a bank (huh?) and running into some 70s-type terrorists who are bombing buildings in the city. I don't remember Madden being quite this nutzo in the first volume, so there must a sliding-scale going on here in terms of his vigilante actions. It makes sense, no sane person goes around blasting away punks. Either way Madden is all-about the murder now. He's practically chomping at the bit to take out the baddies and inflict pain on those he deems worthy of it, it's not exactly pleasant at times, venturing into the sexual arena, so fair warning. I do like how he's not a professional killer or anything. He was in Korea and is fairly smart, being an engineer, but that's it. Not a spy or a cop or even a Green Beret. He doesn't have access to an arsenal of weapons; his two guns: a snub-nose .38 Colt and a .32 Mauser HSc, come for dead enemies or purchased from low-level mob guys along with the bullets. It's a nice little touch of realism in the wild-ass antics of this book. There's plenty of shootin and bombin' though along with waitress/prostitutes, conniving businessmen, career opportunities in the mafia, and various tough-guy antics. The book is pretty sleazy but it being a Pinnacle it's not quite a sleazy as say a Manor book or a Belmont Tower. 

I really dug the lean writing style Lory puts to use here. Some of his other work, I'm looking at you Dracula is a bit more "stuffed" being like 20-30 pages too full for an adventure paperback of the time. The Vigilante books stand up and run to the finish. This one is a little needlessly complicated, but nothing too bad. I look forward to taking on the rest of the novels in the series, I'll probably start from #2 and go on in order from now on, though. It's not 100% necessary to read it #1 through #6, it's pretty easy to pick up what happened in the other books (it's a Men's Adventure novel, so you know, mayhem), you won't be too lost if you pick up a middle entry. Like all the Men's Adventure paperbacks, these are slowly rising in prices. I picked up the few I already had for next to nothing, a buck or two max. Now they are running closer to 10 to 15 a piece and these ones have never been reprinted (yet) so you'll have to track the paper copies down if you want to give them a try. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Fargo #7: Valley of the Skulls by John (Ben Haas) Benteen

It's really damned surprising that it's taken me this long to talk about a Fargo novel on the blog. I've really had a blind spot in my reading history with westerns, it's something I plan on working on this year (because of a project I'm working on) and I'm sure you (the reader) will see more and more westerns being reviewed, especially because I've been buying 'em the bucketful. John Benteen was the guy that started turning me around on westerns. Not that I ever disliked them, I just usually got my western fix from the movies. But it's nearly impossible not to like Fargo if you are into action/adventure fiction. The series is damned near perfection after all. 

Ben Haas was a writer who could do about anything, westerns, Doctor romances, espionage tales, sports, fantast, humor, a pro's pro. He could do them all well too. I don't think it was possible for him to not string the right lines together. And after a try-out writing Lassiter #5 "A Hell of a Way to Die," Haas turned his gunsights toward creating his own hero, I use the term loosely, in Fargo for Belmont-Tower. Now, I'm sure most of you know that Fargo owes a lot to Fardan as played by Lee Marvin in 1966's "The Professionals." Right down to the campaign hat. Plus Frank O'Rourke's novel its based on. But there's more Fargo's, so who's winning?

"The Valley of the Skulls" is in the wild and wooly Fargo mold. It sends the soldier of fortune down to Mexico at the behest of an asshole millionaire in order drag the millionaire's son-and-a solid gold cannon out the jungle from a temple of skulls build by the ancient Mayans. To do it he joins up with a dangerous English gunman and his private army, tangles with the decedents of the Mayan's, the nature of the jungle, asshole sons of asshole millionaires, scientist just trying to do stuff for science, pretty scientist daughters and falls in love with a cannon. Along the way he gets plenty of opportunity to use the cut-down Fox shotgun that Teddy Roosevelt gave him and his Colt .38 Army, not to mention the solid gold cannon. Fargo is a real hardcase, but he's nearly superhuman in his capabilities in every situation, but never much worried about 'ol Fargo, it's his enemies you got to worry for. 

The only problem with this book is that it ended. Well, it did seem a little rushed towards then end (it's a pretty thin spined entry in the series) but Haas still managed to wrap everything up nicely. If you are kind of put off by westerns, I'd still recommend Fargo to you. Sometimes the books are more traditional westerns and sometimes they are pure adventure stories. They feel to me like a spiritual cousin to Peter McCurtin's Jim Rainey-Mercenary books. An ultra-tough man goes around the globe with guns and problems to solve for hard cash. Haas is one of the best paperback writers. The original editions are sometimes hard to track down (there's a few individual titles that seem to be more common) but luckily Piccadilly Publishing has republished the Haas books in the series (there's a few outliers) as eBooks. The also published "A Hack's Notebook" Haas's unfinished autobiography that is a fun, interesting read that should be on your bookshelf. Oh, the all the Fargo's should be too.

Monday, February 14, 2022

The Vampire Chase by Stephen (Stephen Mertz) Brett


One of the first books I reviewed on the blog was Stephen Mertz's "Some Die Hard" along with James Reasoner's "Texas Wind," as they both private eye yarns (the finest form of literature in my mind) and came out from Manor books. Manor is a publisher that I've grown to really enjoy for the years. Like a lot of smaller publishers back then it's really a crapshoot about what you get when you open a Manor book. Either you get something great like "Texas Wind" and "Some Die Hard" or get a particularly bad stinker. When I wrote about Mertz first book, I didn't realize that he wrote another one for Manor. Then I found myself in this truck stop on the highway that has a back room full of used books for truckers. It's not the first time I've found book-gold amongst motor oil, beef jerky and packs of No-Doz. Running my eyes along the spins, I spot the familiar Manor logo on the top of the spine and then see the "Stephen Brett" handle. Then it all clicks. I shuffle it in with my sparkling water and Doritos and get out of there with my treasure. Sometimes Christmas comes early.

Mertz's is a pro; I've enjoyed his writing longer than I knew who he was when he was working on the Mack Bolan's. His Bolan #43: "Return to Vietnam" is one of my favorite Bolan books (including Pendleton's) that I read after a vague reference to it online back when I was consuming a lot of 80's action movies, like "Missing in Action" and "Let's Get Harry." Mertz pretty much kick started the whole "got back to 'Nam and get the P.O.W.s thing," that was mainstay in action cinema. Then he went on to create "The M.I.A. Hunter" books with a similar set-up. He's a trendsetter. 

His second novel "The Vampire Chase" is a horror-tinged 70s set rock 'n' roll roller-coaster mystery. Steve Madison is an ass-kicking troubleshooter of a record label who pulls musicians out of jams and keeps things quiet. It's a refreshing hook/set-up for a detective book. This book is pure 70s rock 'n' roll radio. The Animals, The Who, Jimmi and Janis get name-checked, it's warm and welcoming for a guy like me who grew up with 70s hippie-musician parents. Madison and his .44 Magnum are turned loose to stop a series of brutal "vampire" murders. Now despite the groovy mustachioed vampire on the cover, there's no supernatural element the book. Occult, ritual Vampire slayings and Satan-worship? Sure. It's a really just a crackling (and well done) mystery about who in a set of characters on a rock tour is killing and drinking the blood of groupies along the way. I'm not ruining anything, no one suspects that the killings are actually a real vampire. And despite the Dracula cover it's clearly marked "mystery" on the spine. I think it's a little stronger of a book that Mertz's first Manor "Some Die Hard," (still love it) at least in pace. "The Vampire Chase" puts the pedal down on the first page and keeps it there until the final one.

In classic P.I. fashion Madison gets conked on the head a lot, folks try and set up for murders, run him over with trucks and slash him up as he plays head games with his group of suspects to rip the mystery apart. Not to mention tangling with crazy rock stars, ex-girlfriends, and new pistol-packing lady-friends. Madison is ex-musician himself and a through and through tough guy, but he isn't above getting emotionally involved. Speaking of Don Pendleton and Mack Bolan. I think there's a bit of Bolan in Madison. The rage he feels about the slayings of women, his own firmly set morals about the nature of "justice" and though it starts as a paying gig it soon becomes a quest of vengeance. It makes sense as Pendleton had a big impact of Mertz's writing career. Also, Pendleton was so good you probably ought to pay attention to what he was laying down. Not to mention there's a little bit of Mike Hammer in the mix too. There's even a little tip of the fedora to "One Lonely Night" in there near the finale. 

I can't tell you enough how much I enjoyed this book, I read in a couple of sittings. "The Vampire Chase" is a lot of fun for fans of private eye mysteries as well as Men's Adventure. The mystery is very solid, keeping you on your toes right till the end and the action comes frequent. The original Manor paperback (like a lot of Manors) is scarce, unless maybe if you hang out at truck stops. Luckily not only is "The Vampire Chase" is available as an eBook from Wolfpack Publishing, but there's also a paperback available as well. So, you have no excuse for not rushing out and buying it. And not only that 25 years later Mertz wrote the follow up "Fade to Tomorrow!" I'll be buying that here real quick.

Here's a bonus, I obviously love book as in the back of the novels, this one has an ad for "Dachau Treasure" by Anthony DeStefano another Manor I enjoyed as well as other quality Manor books.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: "The Jade Figurine" by Bill Pronzini

Bill Pronzini has been a part of my reading life for a lot of years way in my teens devouring mystery fiction. I got started with his Nameless Detective books which were so good I rarely complained that they weren't action packed and I think a lot of my love and interest of pulp magazines come from Nameless's love and interest in pulp magazines. Pronzini has written a lot of mysteries, suspense work, and even westerns. He obviously has a has an affinity for hard-boiled tales, but rarely seems to get the opportunity to write them. His "A Run in Diamonds" (originally published as by Alex Saxon) is one of the great "lost Men's Adventure" series only getting one book and some short stories dedicated to Carmody, a tough jack-of-all-trades in a tough world. With Jeffery Wallmann he wrote "Day of the Moon," a wonderful hybrid of a detective novel with the flavor of Richard Stark's Parker books. And as Jack Foxx, Pronzini wrote two books about Dan Connell, a former pilot and smuggler trying to stay out of trouble (and failing) in Singapore.

"The Jade Figurine" owes some groundwork to "The Maltese Falcon." A tough guy lead stuck in the middle of a several double-crosses over a valuable statuette. Plus, one of the bad guys is real fat. Other than that, it's a comfortable tale of murder and smuggling in an old B-Movie sort of way. Dan Connell is on the outs, working day labor and drinking beer in Singapore when an old buddy comes to Dan and wants him to smuggle him out of the country. Dan doesn't do that anymore and there's the start of a well-crafted crime tale with a dash of exotic-locale adventure story mixed in. Dan is beaten, shot, double crossed, accused of murder and runs afoul of the police all in under 200 pages. Books used to know how to do it. What's wonderful about "The Jade Figurine" is that Pronzini knows all the cliches and trappings involved in these kinds of stories, he manipulates them and twists them around to create a fresh take but doesn't break the mold. There's plenty of local color, slippery characters and a strong twisting story that could have run as a serial in the pages of "Black Mask." It actually reminded me a bit of Raoul Whitfield's Jo Gar stories which I hadn't read when I first read the book back in my teens with its mixture of hardboiled first-person narration and foreign land intrigue. 

Wonder how much I paid?
There's really nothing wrong with this book. I don't think Pronzini is capable of writing a book novel. Every single one I've ever read had a flow clean flow, made perfect sense and moved along quickly. I'm going to have to take a long at the second Connell book "Dead Run" before too long and maybe an early Nameless or two. I recall really enjoying "Undercurrent," the third in the series and I just happened to come across a nice old paperback in the wild. Hmm. Decisions. Decisions. Seriously go read "The Jade Figurine" now. It's easily available as an eBook or reprint under Pronzini's real name.