Thursday, December 29, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Bats Out of Hell by Guy N. Smith

It was love at first sight when I first discovered the work of Guy N. Smith. Gruesome deaths, pulp characters, giant monsters and all other sorts of horror tropes flowing from the pen of one man who knew what I liked in a horror novel: a short bloody page count. He's a man who wrote the book versions of the B-Movies of my teenage (and all years after) years, horror without pretension. Obviously, I discovered him through his Crabs series but the more I read his other works the more I appreciate his own unique brand of pulp monster mayhem. Though I love them now, I surely would have been head-over-heels if I had read them at 14. Ah, missed opportunities. 

"Night of the Crabs" followed in the wake of James Herbet's "The Rats," but like any good paperback writer, once he had some success, he kept the pages flowing. So, more crabs and more other rampaging animals. Enter: Bats. Using the same template that made "Crabs" a success "Bats Out of Hell" is a different animal (pun intended) with different set up and execution. 

The set-up is simple Professor Brian Newman is working on some science stuff and accidently creates a big 'ol nasty virus that lives instead of the bats he works with. Cue a nasty accident involving cheating on his girlfriend and a bout of being a real asshole (trademark Guy N. Smith) he knocks the cage over and lets the bats out. Doh. What comes next is MASSIVE TERRIBLE DEATHS told in short vignettes as England is overrun by the plague that the bats carry. All the while Brian and his lady-friend try and fail to come up with an antidote. The vignettes show us the mayhem and bloodshed that the bats cause. It racks up the body count but leave our main characters intact for as long as possible. Smart horror writing, right there.

The book almost turn into a post-apocalyptic novel as things keep getting worse and then it wraps up...or does it? I mean, don't go in expecting anything but a fun monster book and you'll be in for a nice couple of hours. Guy N. Smith's work grows on you, I remember being slightly confused by the fractured, sometimes abrupt style at first. But a couple of his books later I find myself craving it. It's the British version of the cheap horror paperback that is perfect for my tastes. Besides Guy N. Smith won a pipe smoking contest. What more do you want from an author?

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Track #4: The Hard Way by Jerry Ahern

Jerry Ahern was one of the big names in the 80's when it came to Men's Adventure. He was a REAL PERSON to boot, not a house name which considering his output is impressive. But to be fair it seems like he kept it in the family having help from his wife Sharon. On top of all of the M.A. fiction, he regularly wrote for gun magazines and non-fiction work. Busy fella. 

He's probably most known for the post-apocalyptic series "The Survivalist" but I've never sampled that one. My favorite series is his books as Axel Kilgore "They Call Me Mercenary" which are some of the most fun 80s tales of mercs on missions outside of "The A-Team." His other series "The Takers" interests me and I'm sure I would have read it before now, but they are simply really fat books. Every time I think about picking them up off the shelve, I see all the skinny books that I could breeze through. Gotta keeps this blog-content up, folks. 

But "The Takers" are why I choose Track #4 to be my first Track novel. See it's a Gold Eagle-crossover novel where the stars of "The Takers" Josh Culhane and Fanny Mulrooney end up meeting Dan Track for an adventure at a Men's Adventure Writing Conference that turns into a total "Die Hard" scenario. Couldn't resist that.

I'm pretty sure I've read somewhere (don't quote me) that the Track books were Ahern's least favorite of his own work which always stopped me from picking one up, even though over the years I pretty much ended up owning the whole series without trying. Dan Track is one of those vigilante crime-fighter for shadowy organization who goes around and troubleshoots. He's a perfectly fine character, with more liveliness than a lot of series heroes, but I can see where Ahern was coming from if he counted it as his least favorite series. 

Because though the book stars Dan Track it only really picks up when Culhane, Mulrooney and the motley crew of adventure writers are on the page and when Track's front and center your counting pages until you can get back to the rest. Though Track's banter with his buddy George is pretty fun. This really felt like a Cannon Films movie where Chuck Norris played Track and Michael Dudikoff played George. It's got a straightforward plot, terrorists in hotel with Track outside coming in with blazing guns and the authors playing John McClane inside. Ahern's a total pro when it comes to the banter and action so the pages just flip on by.

Like I said before, Ahern wrote for gun magazines and was an expert on guns, knives and holsters. SO...there's a lot of "gun-porn." I don't mind the constant refences to model numbers and holster brands. I'll take it any day over some of the ballistic mathematics in other series. And at least Ahern knew his stuff so it's not all made-up crap. If you don't have a tolerance for "gun-porn" Ahern's stuff probably isn't for you.

Track #4 made me want to read his Taker novels more than the continuing adventures of Dan Track. Not saying I never will but I'm sure I'll pull out a Hank Frost adventure or "WerewolveSS" over it. This one is a lot of fun, the bickering authors tackling terrorists with machine guns and gumption is a special kind of treat for the Men's Adventure Fan. 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Quick Shots: Bronson #2: Streets of Blood by Philip (Len Levinson) Rawls


The Bronson books are sorta infamous in the world of M.A. fiction for their blatant Charles Bronson/"Death Wish" swiping. There was a fair share of "Death Wish"-riffing back in the 70s, but none were so bold to steal Charlie's name for it. The series was started by an unknown author, but the next two (and final) were written by Len Levinson and Joseph Chadwick, respectively. I've never tracked down the first book, but from what it sounds like a total weirdo wrote it and it's pretty much all rebooted here with #2. Manor Books ran a tight ship, people.

Len Levinson is a helluva writer. I've never been disappointed with a book with his name on the cover or hidden behind one of those "house names." He can seemingly write anything (often does) and while staying within the framework of series or style he's writing in; he can inject enough of his own personality to bring something special to the book. "Shark Fighter" is not only one of my top two favorite Men's Adventure novels, but also its grown to be just one of my favorite anything's. Before you ask, my other favorite Men's Adventure books is "The Death of the Fuhrer" by Ronald Puccetti. 

So, Len (can I call you that?) yeah, so Len just kind of did his own thing with "Streets of Blood" and besides sharing the same character name with #1: "Blind Rage" this is a new start for the series. Chadwick apparently followed Len's book for #3. There you go folks who HAVE to start with the first book in a series, if you happen to have "Streets of Blood" but not "Blind Rage," do yourself a favor and immediately read this AWESOME BOOK!

Richard Bronson is BRONSON. He's an engineer whose wife and kids were murdered in the first book who's taken to being a street level-vigilante. He's got a Browning Hi-Power (noice) with a silencer, a sawed-off shotgun and years of training as a Green Beret in 'Nam to get by with. And boy does he. The action in "Streets of Blood" is sporadic, but it's interspersed with fun character work. And when the action does show up it is told cleanly and violently. The main crux of the novel is that Bronson eventually kills the wrong mugger and ends up with a Mafia contract on his head. Meanwhile a badass cop is on his tail, also on his tail is the foxy model that lives next door. Problems, huh?

I read this one in nearly one sitting, the pages just flew by. Bronson is a fairly nice guy who a vigilante and you can see why the other characters stick their necks out for him. The mafia bad-guys are solid mafia-bad guys, and the muggers are appropriately slimy. There's solid doses of 70s throughout and the patent crazy side-characters in a Levinson book. It's interesting because Len's work on The Sharpshooter series treads similar ground, but Bronson is a lot different. Whereas Johnny Rock a/k/a The Sharpshooter is mostly a crazed killer, Bronson is pretty level-headed...except for the killing bad dude's thing. 

Unfortunately, this is one of those EXPENSIVE paperbacks that I review here. I came up lucky a while back and found my copy for fairly cheap online. Somewhere in the $10-$15 range. I also remember I received it during a move, and it got delivered to my old house and I had to go do a little "porch pirating" to retrieve it. A clandestine mission for sure. A lot of Len's stuff has been reprinted and is easily picked up, so at least go read "Shark Fighter" or his new memoir "In the Pulp Fiction Trenches." Or anything really.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: The Owl by Robert Forward

Robert Forward, as in forward momentum I assume because "The Owl" is all about making you run through the pages. Ya'll like action? How about some mystery? Sex? Violence? Yes, of course you do. Why else would you read a blog like this? Anyhow, Bob Forward has a long history writing for animated T.V. shows like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Rambo: The Force of Freedom, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, even Super Dave. In the haze of writing some of mine and your favorite 80's cartoon's he squeezed out two novels about Alexander L'Hiboux aka "The Owl," a L.A. crimefighter with who doesn't sleep and likes public transport.

Lying somewhere between Norvell Page's The Spider and Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, The Owl is "justice for hire," not really a classic P.I. but not a moralistic "Batman-type." He's a guy who wanders the streets as a scourge to the bad guys with a killer reputation and since he doesn't sleep, he's got a lot of time on his hands to be badass. He's an 80's off-the-grind, bulletproof-jacket wearing, Peacemaker-packin' version of Race Williams. You hire him and turn him loose.

The teenage daughter of a guy gets her face blow-torched and dies, the father wants vengeance and for a price, The Owl is on the case. Along the way there's a lot of shooting, chasing, murder, sneaking around, bus rides, shady bars and the slowly unfolding backstory of The Owl. Forward really never lets The Owl take a breath, even after some bullet-holes The Owl is up and back on the case which is a nice twisting and turning tale of smuggling, blackmail and death. 

There was even a T.V. movie with Highlander-star Adrian Paul, which I watched after reading the book. Which really didn't capture the feeling. You'd need a full-80's-era motion picture budget and mood to capture the full impact of the book. I couldn't help thinking of the late-80's T.V. adaptation of Mike Grell's Sable while watching, which was full of the big ideas of the AWESOME comic but lacked the dollar signs to fully realize it. But as an aficionado of that era of action shows, it wasn't too hard to sit through, feeling like comfort food for my action-junkie soul. 

"The Owl" is a nice mixture of the narrative thrust of a Spillane novel with the trappings of some of the 70's Men's Adventure heroes and a much bigger dollop of pulp heroes. As I was reading, I was also reminded of F. Paul Wilson Repairman Jack series, albeit without the supernatural stuff. Forward is a fine writer who write clean so you never get hung up as your gliding through The Owl's violent adventure. It's a shame there's only one more novel in the series "The Scarlet Serenade" which was never published in the U.S. (I have a NEL paperback) until Lee Goldberg's wonderful Brash Books reprinted them both. So, their easy to pick up and enjoy...which I'm sure you will. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Traveller #1: First, You Fight by D.B. (Ed Naha) Drumm

As you all know, dear reader, the 80's Men's Adventure world were all about the end of the world. Least it seems so in hindsight. Blame the cold war. Blame "Mad Max." Blame whatever. Post-Apocalypse paperbacks cluttered the spinner racks, so much so that I've avoided them for the most part because there were too many to choose from and besides there were plenty of private eye, mercenary and secret agent books to occupy my time. But eventually I got more and more curious. I dipped my toe in with the "Mutants Amok" series and liked the water just fine. 

So, a Traveler book was my next choice. The Traveler books stars, uh, The Traveler a guy in the wastelands with a booby-trapped mini-van full of weapons, a murky Special Ops past and not-so-sunny deposition. These were Dell's take on the genre, and they got Sci-Fi writer Ed Naha to pen the first volume. Horror and sci-fi writers tackling these post-apocalyptic novels just seem natural, mutants and gore abound. Naha is an interesting dude having written movies like "Troll" and "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," but also novelizations for "Ghostbusters II" and the first couple "Robocops." As far as The Traveler books go, he traded off with John Shirley to pen the series. 

"First, You Fight" is a solid set-up to the series. You get enough backstory and set-up to carry Traveler through his adventures. I'm sometimes worried with #1's in series like this that have to establish a lot of "world building," but Naha breezes through it. Naha also has an easy-to-read style and keeps the actions popping up throughout the narrative. The story is basically "Yojimbo" or if you will, "Fistful of Dollars, or as I say, "Red Harvest." 

Traveler ramps (literally) is his action-van into a small town that is doing pretty well considering the rest of the U.S.A. is a real nightmare zone of road-mutants. There's two Big Bosses and Traveler doesn't like either of them, so he plays them against each other for his own benefit and along the way grows a little as a person. He re-finds his purpose in life and might even like playing the hero. There's gory kills and heaps of crossbow and knifing action, plus gunfire and explosions. Noice.

I'm going to read more of them, that's for sure. I'm looking forward to the Shirley penned episodes, since his stuff is usually pretty good, "The Specialist" is a nicely underrated "Executioner"-clone, but I did really enjoy Naha's clean writing style. The books themselves are also nicely slim, without the bloat of some of the 80's Men's Adventure paperbacks that became the norm.

Coulda used more mutants, though...

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Dark Chant in a Crimson Key: A Mongo Mystery by George C. Chesbro

 When I was a younger man, we'd go to Oklahoma City to visit my grandma which was always nice but like a lot of family visit-trips, it was also very nice to get away from your family for a while. When I was getting to be book crazy, I looked up all the used bookstores in the phone book (aging myself) and my mother and me would take a circuit. On one of these such trips I found myself with a copy of "Shadow of a Broken Man" by George C. Chesbro starring the world-renowned criminologist, former circus performer/martial artist turned private eye Dr. Robert "Mongo the Magnificent" Frederickson, who also happened to be a dwarf. I cracked that book open and it in turned cracked my mind open. 

It was dizzying display of spies, assassins, horror, detecting, action and suspense as Mongo, in true private eye fashion, doggedly unravels a mystery. I read it in one sitting at my grandma's house and was immediately hooked and it was one of those first tastes of genre-bending fiction that showed me that not all detective stories had to be like all the others. And Mongo is such a wonderful character, stubborn, loving, loyal, smart as hell and a tough cookie to boot. His supporting cast grew over time, and they are all as colorful and interesting as him. Eventually I read the books to hang out with friends. The Mongo books slip in and out of genres, sometimes straighter mysteries, sometime fantasy, sometimes horror, or sometimes they're international espionage tales. There's a Mongo for every mood. 

But they were hard to come by, Chesbro was never a best seller and though the series lasted a long time there never was a lot of copies floating around, I guess. Or people just kept 'em. But I slowly got quite a few of them, but eventually I got distracted by other books and then suddenly it dawned on me one day that I had all these Mongo's to read.

"Dark Chant in a Crimson Key" really starts in 1986 with a book by Chesbro called "Veil" which was supposed to kick off a Men's Adventure series about a badass ninja-ish 'nam vet named Veil Kendry. Well, his published basically thought the book was too "high-brow" for the M.A. market and asked him for a rewrite. He liked "Veil" so instead he just wrote a different book. Enter John "Chant" Sinclair. A badass ninja 'nam vet out to be badass. As David Cross, he got three books out of the series and published "Veil" too boot. Sweet deal. The Chant books are top shelf, nearly ignored Men's Adventure books.

Veil showed up in the Mongo books eventually (which is where I know him from) and with "Dark Chant in a Crimson Key" so does Chant. I plucked this one off the shelf simply because it was a mash-up of all his series characters and I thought it'd be a fun ride. 

And, hey, I was right.

Mongo is hired by a rich guy who controls a charitable organization who just got ripped off by the Master Criminal John Chant who used his cunning and master of disguise skills to funnel money and then brutally murder some people. Mongo is simply hired to go see how Interpol is doing on the investigation and takes the job mostly to have a nice Swiss vacation. But since this is a mystery/action novel he's soon in the middle of the trouble between an ancient Japanese cult of killers and the mysterious Chant. 

Before too long his brother Garth, Veil and his lady friend/snake-expert are all there and backing Mongo up as he hunts Chant and slowly peels the onion of the supposedly ruthless killer. It's a short book that is always interesting, even if the middle is bogged down in a little too much talking. But when Chant shows up the pages light on fire. There's constant danger, ninja mysticism, CIA skullduggery and easy banter. Chesbro seemed like he had a lot of fun with this one.

I've been meaning to read "Veil" for years and now that I've reacquainted myself with Chesbro's world I'd imagine I'll get to it quickly. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: TNT by Doug (Loup Durand & Pierre Rey) Masters

Oh, boy. Yeah, I got there. The TNT books are kinda mythic in the Men's Adventure circle. They are wild, dangerous, almost irresponsible adventure fiction with grotesqueness of Bosch painting, the antics of James Bond on acid wrapped up in a flat clinical style of writing. If you didn't know, the books originally were published in France in the 70s and written as Michael Borgia by the dynamic duo of Loup Durant and Pierre Rey. Both were authors before and after the TNT books and I think both of them had their tongues in their cheeks.

Somehow in the 80s Charter books decided to translate them an publish them for the over-stuffed Men's Adventure spinner racks. Bless 'em. I would have loved being a fly on the wall for that meeting, because the stuff in #1 alone is so wild that it's hard to believe that they considered it a smart move. But they did and again, bless 'em. There are 9 books in French and Charter got 7 of them out in English before cancelling the series. Now they are the book equivalent to a "cult movie" or maybe the "midnight movie" of Men's Adventure Paperbacks. They are for those with slightly (or more) perspectives on what they will accept from stories like this. TNT is all at once extremely adult, violent and downright disturbing in parts but at the same times it's goofily an over-the-top superhero-type story. Strange bedfellows. 

We start with an oft mentioned POV scene from a crab as it watches Anthony Nicolas Twin about to be caught in a nuclear explosion. TNT (Tony Nick Twin, get it?) is a super-reporter or something who after the explosion can see in the dark and bone chicks, like, really well. Then the evil CIA comes and blackmails him with TNT's mentally handicapped daughter to go kill a nut-job scientist at the end of a near-impenetrable death maze. Dante and the seven rings of hell, folks. There's some truly nasty shit in this part of the book, almost too much for me to keep reading but luckily the worst isn't really described and the flat tone of the writing sorta deludes the impact.

TNT is a non-character. The cover art aping "The Terminator" is kind of accurate as he's a stone-wall of a dude who says little and just sort of is let loose. He doesn't deliver one-liners or even seem to smile much, granted he's in a dire situation the entire time but don't expect a lively character. Yet I was interested in what was HAPPENING to him and his nonplused way of dealing with it. The narrative rockets forward and really keeps you guessing.

Book translations are a tricky thing. I wonder what was left on the "cutting room floor" or what was lost in the general French-zeitgeist when it was put into English. Was it funnier? Was it more extreme? Did TNT have a personality? I'll never know, unless I start my night-time subliminal lessons in French. I quite like the also French series about the police/spy guy San-Antonio (by San-Antonio) which was very popular and trashy with its own created language of "street slang." Now those are some books that you have dynamite your way into. Did TNT have some sort of lost hook? 

Loup Durand and Pierre Rey got together to do this series but also separately published other "straighter" tales of adventures, crimes and trashy airport novels. Quite a few of these were put out in English as well. The TNT books seemed to be the work of two guys trying the hardest to top each other in extremes. The TNT books must have been fairly popular since it even spawned a comic books version in France. The Doug Masters pseudonym is just hilarious to me. Some dude named Doug writing the wildest Men's Adventure books ever? Hard to buy.

So, I had already read this book. This go-around was the re-read to tackle the whole series since I just finally finished collecting all of them which is no easy feat for your wallet. I don't know if these could be republished today, there's certainly things in this book what would simply never fly today, so your only hope is finding the 80's editions. They are out there with regularity, just expensive price tags. I got lucky on quite a few of the individual titles but had to fork over some cash to complete it. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A Tale of Two "Challengers of the Unknown" by Ron Goulart

After the passing of Ron Goulart a while back, I knew it wouldn't be too long before I pulled one of his books off the shelf and gave it a whirl. He's one of my go-to-guys for light, fun adventuring and mystery. Besides being a helluva readable wordsmith he was a great historian and his books on the pulps and collections are top-notch. "The Hardboiled Dicks" sparked my love of Black Mask and Dime Detective. Then you got his John Easy books, his entries in The Avenger books, mysteries starring Groucho Marx, the Vampirella's...I could go on and probably will.

Goulart was a long-time comics fan and historian. It just makes sense that he adapted comics into novels, The Phantom, Flash Gordon, Captain America, the Hulk...and The Challengers of the Unknown. I stumbled upon the Challengers via Joseph Loeb and Tim Sales's "The Challengers of the Unknown Must Die" which is a FANTASTIC run on these pretty much forgotten characters. So, The Challengers are basically big monster/bad guy fighters who go out and be adventurers to help people after almost dying and living on "borrowed time." There's Prof, Rocky, Ace, Red and June. It's a clean set up for comic booky-adventures. The early comics were drawn by Jack Kirby and a little later the set-up might have helped the Fantastic Four along, too. The Challengers don't really have a big footstep in the DC universe anymore (or ever really) so it's kinda surprising that this got a paperback. I mean, where's Cave Carson's book?

Goulart was an old hat at this kind of derring-do when he tackled this book, and it shows. It's a well-oiled machine of a pulp novel. Little bit of mystery, little bit of globe-trotting, little love-stuff, action and banter. There's enough of a hook for each character for them to bicker at each other and enough bad guys for them to fight. Basically, they go down to down to South America to get tangled up with a swamp monster and a political hot-bed of armies, spies and presidents and it just zooms right along to a fairly wide conclusion. 

Look, none of this was taxing. It's a simple, clear-cut pulp novel. Doc Savage could have had this adventure, the weird late-60's Shadow could have had this adventure. Or Goulart's own take on The Avenger team. It's not going to change your life, but you'll have a brisk little thrill-ride for an hour or so and that's what you need sometime. Goulart was an unpretentious writer, just out to entertain you. It's probably not his best book (those John Easy books are hard to beat) but if you were wondering what a 70s TV movie of the Challengers of the Unknown might have been like, here ya go. And that hits a lot of the right buttons for me.

Funny thing happened to me on the way to writing this review: I needed TWO COPIES of this slim Dell paperback to get it done. Why, you ask? Well, my first copy stopped with thirty pages to go and filled the page count with the previous thirty pages like it was VCR stuck on rewind. So, I had to wait for the mail to send me another copy for my resolution. It was like a proper Cliffhanger Serial. That's the first time I have ever had anything like that happen with a paperback and I was especially surprised that it was a Dell and not a Leisure or Manor book that did it. 

Anywho, Goulart is just one of those divisive writers. I love his work, or mileage may vary. But isn't that just the way it goes?

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

A Trip to King Country and The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

I think most readers at least sample Stephen King. From the ones that are supposed to be "high-brow" with their "literature" to the "casual reader," who just want a nice story. And the thing is that he works for pretty much everyone. I know that there's people out there that don't like his work. I just haven't met many and I'm sure they would all be those kinds of folks who "don't like horror." Well, here's one for them. A simple tale of a mysterious death. I was all aboard the Hard Case Crime train when "The Colorado Kid" came out, pretty much buying all of them as they came out and reading most of them as I got ahold of them. 

But I didn't read King's. I don't know why. I was fan, I mean I was fan from my teenage years when I spent a few months pouring through his early back catalog. He's nostalgia for me and a lot of people, capturing a bit of time in our life when horror movies and books were everything. Simple times of blood, gore, thrills, chills and shattering suspense. Salad days. The King books were in my house for as long as I can remember. My mother was a fan, so there they sat, fat little paperbacks with bold colors and dark black covers. Striking images that are lodged in my mind from way back as a child. Back when you wanted a little spookiness in your life, but the actual stuff was far TOO SCARY. 

Man, that monkey on the "Skeleton Crew" cover. Boy howdy, what a creepy little fucker.

It sort of boggles my mind I didn't read this sooner. Maybe it was that his newer stuff post-90's didn't really connect with me, maybe I didn't like that it was a mystery novel by the master of horror. Maybe I'm just an idiot. 

I am.

"The Colorado Kid" is a mystery novel. Well, it's a novel about the nature of mystery. About why people seek the mysterious in their life. The book takes place in Maine ('natch) and is about three reporters, two old men and one young woman and a mystery ('natch) within the framework of the novel. The titular "Colorado Kid" shows up under odd circumstances on a beach, a near impossible occurrence since we find out his only have hours to travel from Colorado to Maine. King throws curveball after curveball at you, solutions that mess up your reader's sleuthing and he probably likes the idea of you (the reader) scratching your head at the tale. 

As I said this is about WHY people try to figure things out. It's about the characters, like all of King's books, the characters are the draw, and the rest is just fine fun. Dave, Vince and Stephanie sit around and talk the whole book and that's why it's engaging. They are people you'd like to get some lobster rolls or a coffee with and bullshit. There's no action, there's not really much suspense and the murder happens "off screen" but it's a thrill-ride, nonetheless. 

In his afterward King says that this would be a divisive novel. I can see that, the "solution" which I won't spoil is either going to work for you or it's just not. But that's the nature of mystery. King's an institution. I imagine it's weird to be a man and an institution, but he does it with humor and grace. I enjoy hearing him speak as much as I do hearing his characters talk. If you take the novel as a long afternoon coffee with Mr. King, I think you'll enjoy it more.

I haven't read the other two Hard Case Crime King books; they seem to lean into his more usual territory i.e., spooky shit. But that won't stop me from trying them out. This one was pleasant little trip into King Country, man, it's nice to be able to read a Stephen King in a couple of hours. That doesn't come around much. 

Friday, September 16, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: To Kill a Dead Man by Charles Runyon

Charles Runyon is one of those authors I had been meaning to read for, I don't know, ten plus years. I never seemed to luck into any of his books but in the sphere of Gold Medal Paperbacks a lot of people praised his work, so I was always on the lookout. Luck struck at the local libraries book sale where I scooped up a lot of his Gold Medals and this Major release. Runyon seems to be more remembered for his work in science fiction and that seemed to be what he preferred. Knocking off the crime stuff for the cash. Sounds criminal.

I got a soft spot for Major books. They aren't usually for everyone. There's a lot of weird and funky sometimes not-quite good books honestly. This isn't one of them. This is a rock-solid crime novel. Boy howdy, I know it was for the cash, but Runyon did lay down the good. Makes me wonder how it landed at such a low-tier publisher. It's easily better than a lot of what Fawcett put out in the 70's or Dell or Pyramid or Popular Library. Maybe it was just too hard-boiled, because this is rough and tumble book. At first glance it seemed like it could have easily been in the 50s-60s run of Gold Medals. But then it hits some lurid twists that are right out the 70s-era paperback. 

Johnny Quill is the right-hand man/paid killer for a mob guy named Fabius. It starts with that old gem: someone who needs to die has their buried treasure and the villains want it. Quill is sent to kill 'em good. But quickly transforms in an "on-the-run" book once he meets Norma the dead man's woman. Then it's a siege novel on a small tropical island. All the while Quill proves that he's a hard-man. We're talking Earl Drake or Parker hard. He doesn't hesitate to survive and doesn't much think about what he's had to do, i.e., murder of the innocent. His relationship with Norma is the center of the book and it's one not of conventional "love" but passion, boredom, necessity and eventually a recognition that she's as much of a survivor as he is. 

Oh, and there's a bunch of action. The siege is compelling and well thought out. Quill goes around killing and collecting an armory like he's in a video game as Fabius and his boatload of goons waits offshore and send waves of reinforcements. Both trying to figure out how to get to what is SO close but nearly impossible to get to kill their troubles away. Fabius is a sick and slick villain who's smart and taught Quill everything he knows; they spend much of the book at loggerheads because they are too similar in nature.

This one NEEDS to be republished. If it was published by a bigger company, I'm sure it'd have a little cult following, instead of being a footnote and outlier in Runyons bibliography. If you like Drake, Parker or Quarry, seek this one out. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Slimer by Harry Adam (John Brosnan and Leroy Kettle) Knight

My brain is heading into horror. Halloween is around the corner and it's the holiday for me. That means horror books and movies. So, get ready for that True Believers! Horror paperback collecting is a true minefield of high costs and hard-to-find titles. You can still squeak out a lot of deals on Men's Adventure, but book sellers all seem to think everything is a "Paperback from Hell" and price accordingly. And, hell, I end up paying them. 

"Slimer" by Harry Adam Knight or actually John Brosnan and Roy Kettle is one of those expensive ones. It also had a good reputation past having a bitchin' cover, supposedly the book actually delivered. I was intrigued. Now, "Slimer" has been republished and is quite easy to pick up in trade-paperback or as an eBook. But that just wouldn't do for a paperback weirdo for me. With a little patience I tracked down a "reasonably priced" Star books copy from England. In hindsight, I'm very glad I did. There's something intangible to reading a slightly batted mass-market sized book, especially in the sleazy action or horror variety. It's like seeing "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" at the drive-in, it's in its natural environment. 

So, "Slimer" is not about the Ghostbusters pet ghost. A triple-set of couples are stranded on a lifeboat in the ocean after a problem with attempted drug smuggling plan. They end up on a deserted oil rig...that doesn't pump oil but is actually a genetic research facility trying to come up with a cure for radiation poisoning. But since this is a horror novel, they've obviously made a MONSTER. Brosnan and Kettle DELVIERED, man. This was a rollicking horror tale that rarely gets done these days. Horror writers/filmmakers in the striving to "legitimize" the genre often forget that horror is supposed to be FUN. Screaming in terror is the flip side to uproarious laughter, after all. 

The characters are stock-jobs. There's an evil guy, a leader guy, a weak guy and then their girlfriends who are all sort of interchangeable. This being an 80s horror paperback the women have it rough. Once they all get to the oil rig, the story unravels like a lot of awesome movies mashed together and dripping with slime. There's "Alien" in there. "The Thing" is mixed in, plus some "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "The Blob" for good measure. And some Shark action. BOOM, all that means flame-thrower and M-16 action, gnarly kills, goo, shaky science, drugs and desperate plays. 

It all really shouldn't work, but the authors roll it all together and comes out like a tasty horror-burrito. It's a perfect horror B-Movie on the page and that's not an easy thing to pull off. I'm very happy that I have another "Knight" book "The Fungus" to tackle before too long. If you go in expecting "The Stand" or "It" you might be disappointed, but just roll with the punches and have a good time with brain half-way off and I imagine any horror-hound would enjoy "Slimer." 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

DOUBLE SHOT: Friday the 13th: The Camp Crystal Lake Series by Eric (William Pattison) Morse

Imagine the big three horror-movie slashers, Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger, take a road-trip in some sort of evil-Mystery-Machine and end up on R.L. Stine's Fear Street. Be a fun time for all, I'd bet. But it sorta happened as all three of the gruesome killer got their own series of YA horror novels. These are books I wish I knew about when I was younger, but, hmm, for some reason I don't think they made it to the Scholastic Book Fair. Everything that was once adult became kid-friendly in the 80s and 90s, Toxic Avenger, Tales from the Crypt, even Rambo. I guess it makes sense that Jason, Mike and Freddy did too. Makes me wish that there was a Saturday Morning Cartoon starring Stephen King (as himself) where he tackled all the monsters and evil around his Castle Rock home. Yeah, through in a dog and a van and you got solid gold.

Anyway, the books are hard to get. Like ridiculously hard to get. As I've done a lot of major collecting in the Men's Adeventure/Mystery genres and know I'm really turning my attention to horror, which is proving to be a most welcome challenge to track things down and keep as much money in my wallet as possible. Just got to keep hunting.  

I started with the fourth and final (sorta) book in the series. "Road Trip" finds a group of cheerleaders and football folks trapped on a dark and stormy night at and around Camp Crystal Lake, which sounds like pretty standard stuff, but it's executed (get the pun?) well. This time we mostly follow Summer who's head-over-heels for bad-boy football-player Slick along with a group of dispatchable teenagers, a football coach and one NERD! Since this is a 90's YA horror the Nerd is obviously picked on by everyone, including the Coach and it just gets worse when they blame him for getting their van crashed and stuck on the aforementioned dark and stormy night. So, when the nerd finds the cursed hockey mask of Jason Voorhees, it's pretty easy to see where this is going. 

Along the way there's a detour that seems right out of a Gold Medal paperback or EC comic. A local police officer has kidnapped his wife and her lover with murder on his mind. He drags them out into the woods with a hockey mask, which is a nice little twist at first you might think that the trooper is the latest curse victim/killer. His plan is to kill them both, stage it like a Jason-inspired killing since obviously the whole area is freaked out by Jason, ya know, since everyone keeps getting killed by him. It's a pretty adult story-line for a YA novel and a welcome way to get away from teenage drama for a few pages. Then the novel turns into the slasher picture we wanted as the nerd is transformed by the hockey mask into a hulking Jason-ish killer and starts beating everyone with a tire iron. There's some nice fight scenes, fakes outs and some bits of gore. It's a solid story to go out on, but the series really could have gone on longer...

I read #4 first, just because it was the only one I had, I did have some luck via my good friend Inner-Library Loan and ended up with a copy of #2 "Jason's Curse" which is really a direct sequel to the first book "Mother's Day" (which I haven't read) so there seems to be a thru-line within the series and considering the movies hopped around so much, a little stability is nice. Morse does give you enough dig in with the story without reading the others. AND IT'S AWESOME.

Kelly is out for some Jason-revenge. Bad things happened to her brother in #1 and she's honing her skill to go hunt Jason down for good. Her plan to take her big 'ol hunting knife and pistol out and set traps gets a little muddled when her boyfriend and another couple insist on tagging know because of needing victims. Well, lucky for Kelly a mentally challenged man finds the mask and becomes a hulking killer right before she decides to go so, she has someone to hunt. We bounce back and forth between the conflicted killer trying to grapple with his horrible actions but unable to control himself and slaughtering folks that were mean to him, the normal YA boyfriend/girlfriend drama and Kelly doing a "Home Alone" at Camp Crystal Lake with deadly traps. 

This is a really gnarly book for a YA novel, grisly deaths and a nihilistic tone really set it apart from the regular books from folks like Christopher Pike or Diane Hoh that I read back in the day and well, now still too. Morse actually captures the dark vibe of the films and only waters it down enough to get it published. It's like Splatterpunk for teens. It's a damn shame these are so hard to come by and like have no chance of ever being republished since the "Friday the 13th" rights are so screwed up. I'll be hunting down the rest and probably spending a small fortune on them. Such is life. 

...oh, yeah. There's a fifth unpublished one which is free on the authors website. I guess I'll read that one next. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: "Operation Nazi: U.S.A." by Joseph Gilman

Now what we got here is one of my White Whales. Between a general interest in the books that Manor put out back and the day and the tantalizing review of this book of the Glorious Trash blog, I knew this was a book for me. Unfortunately, it's one of those uber-expensive paperbacks that are to find and harder to afford or should I say justifying the price for. Whenever Joe Kenney over at Glorious Trash reviews something the price seems to jump up!

So, I finally found a copy at price I was willing to pay. I still paid a lot, don't get me wrong. But hey, money is just for buying books, right? RIGHT? Anyway, don't tell my wife. Joseph Gilman wrote a couple more books under his own name and then a couple of Nick Carter: Killmasters in the 80s but that's about the extent of my knowledge on him, other than now I'm a fan. I'll get this out of the way right off the bat, this is one of those tongue-in-cheek affairs that I enjoy so much. It's wildly over-the-top and Gilman seems to be having a ball with it. If you don't care for that kind of thing, it might not be your book.

This is the story of a Rain Allison who is also known as the Scorpion and his duties as a member of the Peacemakers, one of those hidden government assassination/trouble-shooting outfits that would be absolutely terrifying in real-life. He came into this outfit back-ass-wards and so convoluted that it's not really worth mentioning other than its wild, he was an insurance salesman and I like it. Rain is a badass who fucks up a lot. He's got that whole 70's-Post-Billy Jack-Native American-badassery going on only with a lot more firepower and his own "War Wagon" that has more gadgets than Bond's Aston Martin. 

He's out to stomp down some Nazi's which is one of my favorite things to read because fuck Nazi's. It's a race-against time novel only the race changes a couple of times. Rain drives around, kills Nazi's, pines for his lost love, talks about Native American stuff and his war-hero father, there's a kung-fu fight, an armored car-car chase, skinning people alive, the threat of poisoned water, revolvers with silencers. 

Oh, it's a total BLAST! It at times it almost reads like a companion novel to Kin Platt's Hitman series. They share a similar tone and wry approach to the conventions of the genre. The plotting is a lot stronger in Gilman's book then the last Hitman I read. It's also first-person narration which, coming from Hard-Boiled Detective Fiction, is my first love. Rain is a fairly funny narrator who still delivers the action and thrills. It does seem like the set-up to a series, though it does have a definite end. I wish there were more, my wallet doesn't but I do. So, I'll have to make do with Gilman's Nick Carter's one of which stars a female assassin named Raina out for vengeance...hmm...interesting. 

Thursday, July 28, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Mind Masters #5: Recycled Souls by Ian (John Rossman) Ross

"The Mind Masters" series is one of those sets where I went on a tear and bought them all before reading any. The groovy-psuedo-Sci-Fi-70s-paperback is a weakness of mine, plus the covers, I mean THOSE COVERS. These books fit in that little niche of the 70s with stuff like "The Six Million Dollar Man," "Big Brain" or "The Enforcer" that took the vigilante/secret-agent formula and energized it with the fantastic. After "Mad Max" in the 80s it was really taken over by the "post-Apocalyptic" sub-genre when you got mutants, lasers, and robot and such.

The 70s as a decade had a big interest in the "mystic" and paranormal. So, Mind Masters is all about Britt and his ESP powers. He's also a badass race-car driver and a 'nam vet, 'natch. It's a gimmick that really sets the books out apart from the others on the spinner rack at the time, yet it's also trying to comfortably assure the reader that it's got a lot of the same ingredients as an "Executioner." It really doesn't, though. Here's one of the biggest oddball choices in the series. It's written in the Present Tense. It's pretty jarring until you get used to it and I'm not really 100% sure it works for an action novel. The rata-tat of present tense sort of cuts the action/tension off at the knees. A little purple prose goes a long way, this reads fairly flat. Like a court transcript of a Mack Bolan. 

"Recycled Souls" is a novel of a lot of big ideas, it's got lesbian armies, sharks, jet-skies, sinking piers, torture, motorcycles and Britt can go all "Scanners" on the baddies. Sounds like a blast, right? It would be if Rossman really committed to writing a pulpy novel jam-packed of action, but what he mostly gives you is long conversations between character yakking about all the cool shit. The action really doesn't start until the very end, and it's done pretty quick. Though its handled well when it is there and is pretty awesome.

So, I got them all and didn't really care of this one. I liked it enough to finish it which is saying something because I don't muscle through bad material. It got a lot of interesting things going on, but the present tense and ratio between explaining and showing need to be tipped the other way. Rossman obviously cared about these books, a lot of them a quite a bit fatter than the standard M.A. paperback and he had some wonderful ideas for the story, just for whatever didn't execute them to their full potential. 

Will I read another "Mind Masters?" Probably, I simply chose this one because it was shorter than the other ones. But this is the final chapter and maybe Rossman was just out of steam. Also, the rest of the series is under John Rossman's real name, this one switched to the pseudonym Ian Ross, maybe he was hoping to farm out some work, but Signet wasn't having it. 

Monday, July 18, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Digging Dirt: Seeking the Bog Beast by Richard H. Levey

Atlas Comics was a pretty wild little comics publisher back in the 70s. It was basically a spite-comics-book-company out to stick it to Marvel comics when Stan Lee was made president instead of the original owner's son. Gotta love spite. Anywho, previously I have reviewed Targitt by Richard S. Meyers which was the first in a continuation/reboot of the old Atlas line but now as novels. Well, novellas. Atlas was interesting because though it was trying to be Marvel comics, instead of superheroes as it's foundation the whole universe was really grounded in the supernatural and horror. Dracula's, Demons, various monsters even a Vampirella knock-off. Which made it extra groovy. I enjoyed "Targitt" a lot, so it was eager to see what Atlas's very own Man-Thing/Swamp Thing character The Bog Beast's novel was all about. 

I've long been a fan of both Swamp Thing and Man-Thing. I played with Swamp Thing action figures when I was a kid and fell in love with Steve Gerber's run-on Man-Thing early in my comic days. Plus, ya know...monsters. I can't get enough of 'em. I have quite a few Atlas comics but not any issues of The Bog Beast. Lucky for me they are basically retold in the narrative of "Digging Dirt." Bog Beast isn't exactly a swamp monster like the other guys but it's pretty close. He's all goopy and covered in tar and gnarly looking. He's from an underground society and is sent up to see what humans are like. Surprise we're awful.  

This is Richard H. Levey's first foray into narrative work, he like his main character in "Digging Dirt" comes from a reporter background. Basically, the novel is two short re-telling's of the first couple of Bog Beast comic tales with a wraparound story involving a journalist's hunt for the creature in modern times. The first half of the novel tells of The Bog Beast's appearance on the film set of a monster movie and the disgruntled effects man who's trying to sabotage the film. After that The Bog Beast hooks up with some 70s radicals and goes on the lamb. Along the way there's shootings, monster-moider, floods, tar-pits, reclusive filmmakers, carnies and evil (are there any other kind?) movie moguls. 

The first half of the book is far superior to the last half, which is to mostly say the first comic that Levey was adapting was much cooler then the second one. The wraparound segments work fine, and the journalist is a nice, slightly snarky "Kolchak" kinda guy. The second half is a step down and the ending leaves a little to be desired. A couple of radicals and a carnival just aren't quite as interesting as a Hollywood mystery, a Ray Harryhausen-stand-in, and a lost starlet. But all in all, it was a lot of fun, really feeling like what the comics were trying to emulate: a schlocky 70s monster movie and those pretty much always leave something to be desired.  

These Atlas books are too cool for school, they seemed to have got out "Targitt," "Digging Dirt," a comics reprint of their Devilna character, a short story collection, and one more new original in "Wrecage" which has some unused ideas from the legendary Steve Ditko. There's scant information about this revival online, so I don't know if more is planned or not. I hope so, I'm really digging them. 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Max Roper #1: The Pushbutton Butterfly by Kin Platt

Whoa, I dipped right back into Kin Platt territory. I recently read and reviews one of his Hitman series and I guess his work was still on my brain when I put on my helmet and went down to the book mine that is my library to dig out something to read. I sorta forgot I had finally tracked down the Pyramid paperback edition of the first in his Max Roper series. The Roper books were hardcovers originally, so they are a little classier with more effort and thought put into them his rush-job Hitman books. Not that I'm not a fan of rush-job novels. Stream-of-consciousness can produce some wild shit. The Roper's where the first Platt books I ever read, though it's been about 15 years since I read one. Yikes. Time. 

The later Roper mysteries have a sports gimmick. They each revolve around a different sport, baseball, horse-racing, basketball etc. etc. I'm not too much into sports other than baseball, so that's what probably kept me from diving back into the series. The first two are devoid of any athletics, besides fisticuffs that is, so I was interested in trying #1. Max Roper is one of those private eye/spy-types, an agent for a big national security firm called EPT. A little more high-tech than your average gumshoe but still very much a hard-boiled-school guy. He's appropriately tough, appropriately fond of women and booze, appropriately dumb when the plot calls for it and appropriately sarcastic. My kinda guy. 

I have a real fondness for the 70's era detective novel, you get the hippie angle, a lot of cult/spiritual communes, drugs and just a general shmear of grooviness. This one's got all that. Roper is assigned to find a missing rich-man's daughter (classic) and what follows is a twisting tale of murder, drugs, hippies, communes, stolen cars, switchblades, moider and quite a bit of Roper getting drugged. Platt is a good writer, he's got a fun, slightly tongue-in-cheek style that doesn't take itself too seriously. Probably a hold out from his comic book days. This novel reads like it was a newspaper detective comic strip. Roper could hang out with Rip Kirby or Secret Agent X-9 without skipping a beat.

These kinds of novels are comfort food for my soul at this point. When they are done slickly it's just page after page of feeling at home on those mean streets. This one's "light" hardboiled mystery, not quite as loopy as a Shell Scott but nowhere as tough as a Mike Hammer, its somewhere along the lines of one of M.E. Chaber's Milo March books. I had a good 'ol time with this one, though it's a little longer than it needed to be. This is a 170-page mystery in a 240-page package. Roper and Platt spin their wheels a bit too much in the middle, but they are both pleasant enough to pal around with, so I didn't mind too much. 

All the Roper books have been eBooked by Prologue and that's pretty sweet. Pick one of them up if you're a fan of Mike Shayne or Carter Brown and I'll probably enjoy yourself. Platt had a nice, clean style of writing. He could spin a good version of the standard mystery/adventure story with wit and style and make it look simple.

Monday, July 11, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: The Phantom Detective: The Daggers of Kali by Robert (E. Hoffmann Price) Wallace - UPDATED

The Phantom Detective is probably no one's favorite pulp hero. Though he must have been plenty of folks back in the day because he outlasted the greats, i.e. The Shadow and Doc Savage. I have a feeling this is mostly because he's not as outlandish or, well, memorable, giving his tales a mildly flavorful punch but generally more palatable for a general audience. No, wild adventures or exotic mysticism, they seem to run toward straight mysteries. At least in the ones I have read, there's tons of Phantom tales and I'm no expert. 

I came to the Phantom Detective via a couple of the old Cornith paperbacks purchased with a fistful Doc's one day at a flea market. I tried one and found it lacking in the pulpiness I was craving. I think I mistakenly assumed that all Pulp Heroes were like The Spider. After that I took to reading other kinds of tales from the pulps and later when I tried the Phantom again I liked him a bit more. Sometimes you need to figure yourself out.

What Secret Agent X and Operator 5 did for the espionage tale; The Phantom Detective does for the golden age mystery. The Phantom (as he's called in the text, sometimes confusing me into thinking he's wearing purple tights) tales are a lot of the time fairly straight pulp mystery tales with sprinkles of the fantastic. When I first started reading them, that wasn't what I wanted from a pulp novel. I don't think I read very good ones either. The Phantom Detective had a rotating authorship and as any M.A. aficionado knows, that breeds inequality. 

Awesome authors like Norman A. Daniels, Ray Cummings and D.L. Champion wrote for the series but E. Hoffmann Price was the writer behind "The Daggers of Kali" and it was him that made me finally pull another Phantom off the shelf. I dig a lot of his work, especially the occult detective Pierre d'Artois series and his adventure tales in the spicy magazines. He's an interesting author who lived an adventurous life himself and it comes through in his work. I was curious what he would do with (to me) fairly bland Phantom Detective. 

And what did he do? He delivered the most slam-bang Phantom Detective novel I've read. Easily my favorite in the series so far. There're mysterious stolen (maybe cursed) daggers, multiple lock roomed mysteries, superweapons, missing scientist daughters, mobsters, villainous characters with names like The Tiger and The Baron, deadly cults, daring escapes and tons of disguises. The pedal is all the way through the floorboard on this one as Price grabs your collar and pulls you along with the ups and downs of the Phantom as he rushes around and plays hero. The Phantom Detective's I've read often suffer from a lacking villain; Price avoids that with the Tiger. He's nasty and an equal to The Phantom in brains and brawn. Price knows to keep the clues, fighting and knockouts coming quickly and writes the action in a clean and crisp way and pushed the narrative to a satisfactory conclusion. In short, he's a pro.

The Phantom Detective is probably a C-List pulp hero. I certainly would rarely pick up one of his adventures as opposed to a nice Norvell Page Spider or even an apocalyptic Operator 5, but I'm glad I finally read another one. Maybe I've been too hard on The Phantom in the past, or maybe this is an outlier. I wouldn't recommend him for your first pulp novel but it's pretty good when you've ingested as much of it as I have. The Phantom Detective has been reprinted quite a bit so it's easy to tracks down a sample for testing.


Welp, folks. I was wrong. Apparently, Malcom Wheeler-Nicholson wrote this adventure of The Phantom Detective. I was corrected by none-other than pulp maestro Will Murray, so you know he's correct. I'm going to leave the review the way it is because I'm sorta lazy and I'm working on the next one, but I had to put an amendment on here to show that I don't know much, and I'll have to read something else of Wheeler-Nicholson's and do him justice. Thanks. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Hitman #3: The Girls Who Came to Murder by Kirby (Kin Platt) Carr

I took me a bit to get back to The Hitman series by Kin Platt writing as Kirby Carr. I read the first two fairly close together and they are some of my first blog reviews. Ah, memories. Kin Platt was an interesting guy, noted YA author, comic book writer and artist and novelist of this series, a couple of standalones and the Max Roper mysteries. Other than the cold hard cash, I often wondered while reading this one why exactly he was writing the Hitman books. The publisher Canyon was pretty low on the totem pole, and he was publishing the Roper books and his YA work at the same time at nicer publishers. It seems odd that he couldn't get a Men's Adventure series off the ground at a better joint like Pinnacle or Popular or even Curtis. Ah, mysteries. 

Platt had a sense of humor though, that's what really shines through in the Hitman books. They whole thing is SO over-the-top its wild, not to mention totally depraved and oozing with a thick layer of sleaze. Mike Ross is the Hitman, a 'Nam vet who is a super-badass with an ancient martial arts teacher as his only real buddy. He comes back from 'Nam and sets up as a Pulp Hero from the 30's basically. Imagine Norvell Page's The Spider in an avocado and wood paneled world and you have a taste of what The Hitman is. Ross wears an all-black "Commando" suit, drives around in a custom action-van with his MAB 9mm and his little Erma Luger .22 he shoots anyone he deems to be an evil doer. He does have a little crisis of faith in this book when he has to kill a bunch of teenage/college-age woman. But he quickly gets over that.

This is one of the Manson/Cult plots that are pretty prevalent in M.A. fiction of the time. A guy name Harvey barely has to utter a word or lift a finger and a score of teenagers go out and kill for him. Which is far-out to him since he really didn't even ask them too. But he's really just a douche who wants women and cash. All the while there's a sub-plot about Raj Bab, a young Indian who hit his head and who was sold by his parents to be taken to America by a conman to become a guru, basically. This plot here goes nowhere, disregard. So, Ross investigates both by going to a show and just basically shooting every hippie he comes across. Once the book is done, you realize that nothing much happened and what has happened just barely had the dots connected enough to make sense. Platt either had a deadline or an upcoming vacation to get to while pounding this one out on the keys. 

All that sounds like a dig, and it is. But hell, I still enjoyed the book. Platt's writing is always pretty interesting, the satire and humor helped me move right through the pages. I wish there was more Ross in the book, he's easily the third lead in the story and it suffers from that. But these aren't long or challenging books to tackle. I will say this is the weakest of the Hitman's I've read, I missed the slightly supernatural angle of the first couple and the full-blown action. This one has a more private-eye/detective feel then a Spider adventure. I think I'll try "The Impossible Spy, the stand-alone Platt did as Carr next which is about psychic espionage. And sleaze, I bet it's also about sleaze. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Hardy #2: Spy and Die by Martin Meyers

Martin Meyers five book Hardy series is a bit of a divisive lot of books for folks. Let's be fair, the (AWESOME) covers promise a lot of action-packed Men's Adventure and the books themselves are light mysteries, so there's no truth in advertising. I discovered the books via the always compelling Thrilling Detective website when I was specifically looking for funny mystery novels after tackling a lot of Shell Scott's and Dan Turner's. But they ain't no Executioner novel. Martin Meyers only wrote the five Hardy books and the novelization to the movie "Suspect" under his name, with his wife they wrote some historical mysteries novels. 

Patrick Hardy is a guy always bordering on pudgy who a self-confessed coward. He's also a New York private eye who lives with a bunch of books, carefully skimmed TV guides for old movies, a VW Bug and a big dog named Sherlock. Also, he's the recipient of an experimental Army program that has trained his reflexes to be a highly trained hand-to-hand combatant when he's scared. If someone attacks him, he might be scared shitless, but his body simply reacts with precision fighting moves. He mostly thinks about sex, movies and food, the order isn't important, but sex pretty much always wins out. So, yeah, these a sorta smut books. Everything it super tame but sex is one of the big selling points. The action, as it were. They are the in the Carter Brown/Ted Mark mold with an obvious love of mystery fiction behind them. The whole "government experiment" thing kind of sticks out, I wonder if it was an afterthought to try to get a little bit of action without changing Hardy too much. Though it's an interesting little touch.

"Spy and Die" was one I remember particularly liking because it as an espionage angle and I'm a sucker for when private eyes do some spying. Hardy is hired by a good-looking woman ('natch) to find out about a man or may or may not be her uncle who just died and left her a big inheritance. Between late-night movies, odd culinary concoctions and trips to the doctor and various bedrooms Hardy gets embroiled in secret agent shenanigans. There's a villainous Countess who works as a spy and fashion photographer, assorted spies and goons, fairly random sex, a few fairly nice fight scenes, lots of lounging and nice and daring finale. Hardy goes out an ask's questions or send his buddy to do some investigating and such but a lot the time we hang out with him and enjoy his lifestyle. Through the Hardy books I discovered some movies I liked and fantastic authors like Manning Coles. 

Maybe folks are just jealous of Hardy when they put him down on the internet, sure the books are slight, and the plot may not hang together the best. But Hardy is engaging, and it was probably my ultimate single-post-adolescent fantasy, women, food, booze, books, old movies, a dog and being a private eye. These are goofy, caper mysteries with their tongue in their cheek. If you are in the right mind-set; you'll have fun but just don't expect a "Death Merchant" or a "Hardman" and you'll have some fun. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: .357 Vigilante #2: Make 'em Pay by Ian (Lee Goldberg) Ludlow

Before I really paid too much attention to the Men's Adventure genre, I did know about Pinnacle's short-lived .357 Vigilante books. I knew them because I was a fan of Lee Goldberg (especially "The Man with the Iron-On Badge) and I somehow figured out he wrote them. So, the first book in the had been on my shelf for a long time. When I started to figure out M.A.-fiction is what I was looking for, I promptly cracked open the spine and had a good 'ol time with it. It took a bit before I tracked down the other two Pinnacle put out and it's taken even longer to tackle them. Sometimes my stupidity astounds me.

Lee Goldberg took on the VERY authorly-name of Ian Ludlow when he started writing the .357 Vigilante series back in the day. Later he would write books ABOUT his pseudonym with the Ian Ludlow series. Which stars Ludlow as a thriller writer pushed into living one of his book plots, but that's a different story. Brett Macklin is the .357 Vigilante or actually really, he's Mr. Jury. Mr. Jury seems to be Lee's preferred series title since that's what they are republished as. Brett's got a grudge against crime to the murder of his policeman father; with his dad's revolver he dispatches fast judgement when the law fails. By the 80's this was old-hat within the genre. You already had The Executioner, The Reprisalizer, two The Revengers, The Sharpshooter, The Marksman, and so on, but Lee made the genre conventions work for him. The Mr. Jury books are probably about the most fun you can have doing so vicarious vigilanting. 

"Make 'em Pay" is about a the vilest of subject, entering Andrew Vachss territory. Even the cover is super tough to look at. But, as you know dear reader: a vile villain only makes the outlaw justice more satisfying. Brett goes up against a nasty porn-killer who rapes, murders and (of course) is untouchable by the courts. Brett's an everyman protagonist. He's got no tough-guy past or special training, just a pilot with a gun and some luck. He's also not as insane as say, Mike Barry's Lone Wolf and questions his violent actions. It gives enough introspection to make it easy to root for him. It's pretty refreshing compared to the other heroes of Men's Adventure fiction, a lot which are, well, sorta just big 'ol assholes. There's plenty of smooth and fast action that builds to a nice high-energy "action-movie" finale, colorful characters, some Hollywood in-jokes, different ways to use ice cream and a lot of fun banter. 

The .357 Vigilante series is top-shelf 80's adventure fiction. There's a reason Goldberg is still a successful author and it's fantastic that these books are still in print now through Brash Books, including the never released 4th novel. And I'm not just saying all this because I've done a little writing work for Brash Books *cough* "A Bullet for a Bride" by Jon Messmann *cough* or anything, they are just good books.  

Monday, June 6, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Hunter #2: Operation Alpha Death by Norman Conway

Coming out of the same publisher as the awesomely odd Kirby Carr Hitman books, the two-book Hunter series by Norman Conway really stands out amongst its competitors. I mean, what other books in the Men's Adventure genre feature clowns, no wait, Action Clowns, yeah, so prominently? None, because I suppose all other authors (including me) are cowards. Anywho, Canyon Books was an off-shoot of Major Books which was all probably some sort of Mafia-dodge. It seems to be the case with a lot of these small-time publishers. I could be wrong, but whatever Canyon put out some weird books, so Pulp-God bless them. 

I was at work and bookless on a slow day. Luckily my store *cough* Robot Roy's Toys and Books *cough* is well stocked in the stuff I like. Hell, my name's in the store name. So, after trying to get into a Death Merchant, I gave up and pulled "Hunter #2: Operation Alpha Death" off the shelf, not expecting much and promptly read it in whirlwind. I have both books in my personal collection, but only a copy of #2 to sell or I would have read #1 but it didn't prove to be a big deal. 

Super-badass lawyer-turned-mystic avenger-turned-carnival owner is taking a break from the carnie life in the mountains of a Ruritanian country when he spots a good-looking woman (naturally) and a kid running from an army patrol unit out for blood. He does that badass thing, saves them and then the ball is rolling. Hunter, you see was a lawyer who went up into the mountains in China (I think) to learn the mystic arts, like the Green Lama or Iron Fist to come back and do good for the world also to run the circus he inherited. So, Hunter and the folks he saved hold up in his rented borderland mountain villa and Hunter gets some visions of his Master-guy who tells him he's got a mission, if he should choose to accept it. Then ANOTHER circus with another mystic-avenger type leading it rolls up to help out. Whew.

Along the way there's nearly non-stop action and intrigue. Mountain escapes, ice bridges, commando raids, tough carnies, random psychic ability and ACTION CLOWNS! Seriously this a wild book just crammed full of tropes and tall tales. I loved it, I'm all in for this kind of funky action-stuff. Conway's tongue must have found his cheek, it's full of exuberance for pulp-fiction. Now, it's not going to change your life, but it's worth a couple of hours of reading it and at least it's different. Majorly different.

Now, who was Norman Conway? Was he Norman Conway? The Internet Speculative Fiction Database website credits Conway as Fleming Lee who ghost-wrote The Saint for Leslie Charteris, ISFDB is pretty good most of the time and The Spy Guys and Gals website echos this. But the Catalog of Copyright Entries for 1975 credit "Operation Alpha Death" as Norman Conway pseud. of Mark Rust. Though #1 "Operation Omega" is indeed credited to Fleming Lee in the Catalog of Copyright Entries for 1974. So, I guess Fleming Lee had some wild ideas, wrote book #1 only to not write #2. Enter Mark Rust. It seems odd that Canyon would hire someone else to write #2. I'm sure it didn't sell in The Executioner numbers. There's plenty of #1's in Men's Adventure fictions with no #2s. Ah, publishing mysteries. 

Whoever wrote it I liked it.

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 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.