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.