Monday, October 23, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: The Executioner #276: Levithan by Don (Gerald Montgomery) Pendelton


It's hard to believe that this is the first adventure of Mack Bolan I've reviewed here on the blog. The true Men's Adventure paperback boom started with our man, Mack. Sure, there's Bond roots, there's Mike Hammer roots, Matt Helm roots. But the idea of the numbered book with the continuing bloody adventures of a singular man pretty much started with War Against the Mafia. Book #1 is a stone-cold classis a slim masterclass in action writing. Then obviously after 30-something books Don Pendleton was a little done with Bolan and Gold Eagle stepped in with a plethora of ghostwriters. Some fantastic, some not-so-much. Thinking about it, I rarely dig my toe into the Bolan universe, I guess I think of them a bit to "normal" in the action-adventure field and I usually crave the wilder/weirder tales. 

That's called a lead-in. 

Probably like any series that gets into the high 200's things are bound to get a little odd. That's exactly what began to happen with the Bolan books (might have to read more of this late-period ones) and Bolan found himself fighting more sci-fi-type villains and more outlandish plots. So, in Levithan Mack Bolan fights Cthulhu. Oh, and Hunter S. Thompson is there too. 

The plot is kinda out there, more akin to a Destroyer novel (Remo kicked Cthulhu in #139 Dream thing) but it's Bolan who gets roped into heading off to a converted oil platform to take care of this monster that keeps killing people. The people are bad dudes, the mafia has team-up with a drug kingpin plus the evil CIA to turn the platform into a sovereign nation to allow all the drugs/prostitution they can get. Only a nearby evil cult has taken offense, and their tentacle-packed ancient god is angry and killing everyone on the platform. A lot of the book reads like a B-Horror movie with a secluded cast and a rampaging monster. 

To stop it Bolan is sent in with Dr. West from Miskatonic University (watch Re-Animator if you don't get that reference) and FBI Mallory Harmon who is an X-Files-kind of FBI agent. Harmon is the real star of the book. It's like an episode of an old TV show where they are trying to do a spin-off and the main characters take a backseat. Between her, Dr. West, the Hunter S. Thompson stand-in and the villains, Bolan doesn't have a lot to do. Harmon has surer footing in the weird trappings of the story and Bolan is just sort of "there." Not saying that he doesn't blow plenty of bad guys away with his Desert Eagle, but it was clear that Montgomery was more interested in Harmon and her underwear. There's lots of talk and scenes/descriptions of her underwear. Including her introductory bit where she blows away a Hills Have Eyes-type clan in her bra and panties. Then stands around talking to her FBI colleagues without dressing.

The guys from Able Team show up to help, Bolan's brother has a small B-story and there's stuff with the evil cult too. There's a lot of stuff jammed into this 200-ish page books. Which is ultimately it's down fall. I've heard rumor that it was supposed to be a longer Super Bolan book then got cut down which would make sense. Montgomery can spin a yarn though; I can't say I was ever bored with it. The action is rolls along quickly and the pages flew by so whatever quibbles I had; they were easy to get over. 

I imagine this bend on the Executioner series was a weird one for diligent readers to take at the time and it doesn't really seem like they ever got this odd again. Let me know if they do though! I had a fun time with this one and its Halloween season so it's nice to read about monsters and people with machine guns fighting them. Spooky.

Friday, October 13, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: Friday the 13th Part 3: 3-D by Micheal Avallone

For those who are going to read this in the future just have it known that I timed something out right in life and got this review of a FRIDAY THE 13TH film done and out on...dun, Dun, DUN...Friday the 13th. Hold your applause. This is ground zero for Jason Vorhees in the written word, which is a little surprising to me since the novelized just about everything back in the day. I've covered a few of the YA novels here but this is the first grown-up Jason novel I've read.

This one's got a bit of bad reputation within the Friday fans, most of them don't seem to think my man Avallone got the tone right of a Friday film. And, yeah, they are probably right. This is exactly the reason why I LOVED this book. I'd imagine that most fans of the movies had never read one of Avallone's works before (they're missing out) and they don't quite understand what Avallone puts down when he writes a book. 

You have to look at this way, over coffee or a beer Michael Avallone tells you the story of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 3-D and he tells it to you in HIS voice, with little asides, mind wanderings and also probably sticking his finger out almost directly in your eye during the 3-D parts. He doesn't resort to just a bland retelling of a screenplay in a different form, he spins a Michael Avallone yarn with the screenplay as a jumping off point. 

Case in point: the novel starts off with a quote from THE SATAN SLUETH! Avallone's sadly too short series about Phillip St. George III who battles the occult and other monstrosities, a little like SCOOBY-DOO for adults who like whiskey and cigarettes. So, The Satan Sleuth is cannon for Jason to fight now? Where's that book? This sort of thing is fairly common in Avallone's work, his best-known character that loveable private eye Ed Noon shows up in The Butcher when Avallone was writing them too. It's part of why I love his work, but I'd bet it flew over the heads of the kids and teenagers who only wanted to read about dismemberment then and now. 

Now, I also LOVE the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies. For my money they are the sturdiest, meat and potatoes slasher pictures of the 80s. They sort of blend together in my mind sometimes, but I don't think they ever sink to the lows of some of the entries in the other slasher franchises of the time. Having just participated in a podcast where we watched every HALLOWEEN movie from the original to the 2nd Rob Zombie film, I can tell you the highs might be higher with HALLOWEEN, but the lows are much, much lower.

The novelization follows the movie pretty closely, though there are difference since Avallone was working off of an earlier script. Some kids come to Crystal Lake to stay for the weekend, but uh-oh Jason is there. Part 3 is the one where Jason finally gets his hockey mask and were everything is right in the world. Buts it's a "faceless white mask" in the book, still better than a burlap sack. It's slice and dice, and crush and stab past that. Avallone breezes through the book and seemingly had a good time with it. Even though I doubt slashers where his thing. Having read some of his other works in the horror genre like THE COFFIN THINGS and his work in the gothics, he was more traditional in his horror taste I mean he did ghost write for Boris Karloff after all. 

Michael Avallone is one of my favorite writers, I can't seem to dislike a book of his so I'm biased but if you go in with the right mindset, I think it'll be a good time for the reader. Problem is this, like every 80's slasher franchise novel is ridiculously hard to come by and very expensive when you do. Being an Avallone fan this was a my "white whale" for quite a while before I bite the bullet and scooped it up for around $50 which wasn't the worst deal sadly. I'm glad I did though. Sometimes in collecting you have to open your wallet to make the itch go away.

Oh, and no, no parts of this book required 3-D glasses. 

Thursday, September 28, 2023

DOUBLE SHOT: Vigilante #6 by V.J. (Robert Lory) Santiago & Shannon #3 Jake (J.C. Conaway) Quinn

I haven't been reading enough for this blog lately, being swamped with work, life and filmmaking. Also, I'm about to start writing reviews of vintage horror paperbacks for a publisher's website, so most of my reading has been heading that direction. So, those are my excuses, folks. Anyway, the idea behind this little exercise was to kick that problem in the butt. So, I turned to my slim-little friends, the paperbacks in the Men's Adventure field to cure me of what ails me. I intended to read three or four, but I got two. Whatta ya goin' do? 

Up first was Vigilante #6: Washington, D.C.: This Gun for Justice, talk about a full title. I've been reading these books out of order, which is pretty stupid since they have a strong sense of continuity and take place in a relatively short time period, which makes me sort of an idiot when you stop and think about it. But there's enough refences to keep me up to speed, besides I know the basic formula of a Death Wish-clone. 

The Vigilante series is a Robert Lory joint. He's really one of my go-to paperback writers of the 70s, between this series, the Dracula Returns books and his work on John Eagle, Expeditor (and no John's not in shipping) because he is really very reliable and tells quick moving, well balance action stories...usually...

Joe Madden is the titular Vigilante. He's a business guy and Korean war vet *dun-dun-da* is pushed too far with the brutal murder of his wife. After that he takes to killing criminals with his Mauser HSc and his .38 Colt. One of the hooks is that Joe has to travel for work, so it's like one big road-trip around the country murdering villains. This entry finds him in Washington D.C. and up against the most 70s bad guy: The evil cult leader. 

I love evil cult stories, which is why I picked this volume to tackle. The problem is that Lory seems bored with this series (this proved to be the last entry) and the book suffers. He was clearly had more interest in the evil cult leader than Madden at this point and sends healthy chunks of the book with the bad guy's evil plan involving Mafia goons, drugs and brainwashing. Madden plays second-fiddle but is pretty fun when he's around, beating up people, shooting people, saying cool one-liners, but he's simply just not in the book enough to safe it. So, I guess the series kinda goes out with a whimper, but I'm still happy about tackling the early books because Lory is a great action-writer. If nothing else, it made me want to dip back into his Dracula books for Halloween...

With the slight disappoint in Vigilante heavy on my mind, I went ahead and went with a sure-fired hit: Shannon #3, a novel in a three-book series put out by Leisure books, the mark of quality. Kidding. I have a fondness for these weird little experiments that didn't go far, more so than the Men's Adventure books that were popular. They are always so off-kilter or off-model. Or just bad, depending on your opinion. 

The Shannon books are by a guy who's not really the "Jake Quinn" on the cover, but a dude named J.C. Conaway who wrote a bunch in the 70s under various names including some under his own. He's not everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoy his laid-back take on the whole blood and guts book business. Patrick Shannon is a spy/private eye working for an organization named Morituri who lives in a swank apartment with his buddy/valet Joe-Dad and tools around in a Porsche when he's not banging ladies and drinking large quantities of booze. Everyone and then he solves a crime, oh and he writes fictionalized books based on his adventures. Whatta life. 

Shannon has a problem with brain-washed spies in the U.N. in this one and that this crazy dude named Garth who has some ESP and hypnotism powers that he amplifies with radio receivers implanted in his victim's skull. Shannon's on the case! And that's what these books are, private eye cases gusseted up for the jet-set spy world. Shannon drinks, investigates, drinks, questions people, eats, drinks, talks to the coroner, drinks, goes to a play, drives around, drinks, sexes, etc. etc. These really have more of a "hang-out" feel rather than an action-packed thrill ride. but Joe-Dad and Shannon are fun to hang out with. That being said, it does end with a nice car chase and a wonderfully gory death. 

These remind me a lot of Martin Meyer's Hardy series, which I love, and a lot of people seem not too. They have the same slightly goofy hi-tech private eye meets couch potato feel. I understand that these aren't for everyone, but you can do worse. 

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Doughnut Legion by Joe R. Lansdale and MIA Hunter #4: Moutain Massacre by Joe R. Lansdale and Stephen Mertz

I've long been on record with my love of the work of Joe R. Lansdale, like here and here. He's incredibly influential to me as a writer of various things from screenplays right down to blog posts and probably even the occasional text message. I found his work early in life when my brain hadn't gotten all of its little squiggles and his stuff expanded and warped those little squiggles. Thank God, am I right? I'm bad about reading new books though, those fresh off the printing press books kind of novels. But I did this time when I found the newest Lansdale opus The Doughnut Legion at my local library. Gee, that helps 'ol Joe out doesn't? I promise I'll buy it when it comes out in softcovers. Promise. 

Any which way, The Doughnut Legion is one I've been looking forward to once I heard its slightly off-center premise which involves a UFO-loving cult, spooky encounters, evil killers and even a face-stealing chimp which is usually dressed in a little outfit. All of that is solid gold, my friends. 

Our main hero is Charlie Garner an ex-cop and an ex-private eye turned writer who is visited one night by the ghost (or projection or hallucination) of his ex-wife indicting that she's in danger. She is a flighty woman who's gotten mixed up with The Saucer People, a cult that all but runs a small Texas town and does in fact, run the local doughnut chain. I mean it's a mystery novel, so Charlie drags his brother Felix, the strongman ex-therapist turned private eye into the mess. Felix drags his main squeeze the lawyer Cherry into the fray as well and we're off to the races. Like always, the characters shine so bright that you can barely read the page it's so bright. Besides are main crew we get the wonderful wannabe reporter Scrappy, the bored chief of police and his awesome dog Tag. Hopefully this a start of a series to get to spend more time with these people because they deserve it.

It's a book chock full of murders, tough talk, tragedy, shootings, punching's, chimp-related dismemberment, fun banter and a solid mystery with a nicely evil thug of a villain at the top of the heap. I read the book in two-sittings which is common when I crack a Lansdale, the book is so smooth the pages glide on by. It reminded me of the works of Fredric Brown, especially the Ed and Am Hunter books with its quasi-supernatural/sci-fi bits which is something not a lot of folks do then or now. It's more than just a fun read, so don't be like me and go buy it and give Joe some cash. 

I was still in the mood for Lansdale, so I decided to trek back to the earlier and pseudonym years. Back in the day the always readable Stephen Mertz had a series he created called M.I.A. Hunter where Mark Stone went back over to 'Nam and had some action and adventure. In the style at the time, he filled out the ranks with some other writers, like Joe and fellow Texan and awesome writer Bill Crider. Some years later Subterrain Press put out a big thick fancy numbered hardcover of the three novels Stephen and Joe worked on together. It's long out of print and I've long wanted it. So, about mid-way through The Doughnut Legion I decided to treat myself and picked up a copy. Even though I have the whole run in paperback. That's the life of a book-nerd, folks. And I didn't help Joe or Stephen either, since I bought it second-hand. I'm a terrible fan. 

#4 Moutain Massacre is the one I chose to read, mostly cause it had ninjas. I'm a sucker for dogs, ninjas, cold beer and hot ladies. The M.I.A. Hunter books are an off-shot of the 80's in general, Mack Bolan, Chuck Norris, Rambo and the lot. Missing POW's where a big thing back then, hell Stephen kinda kicked off the craze with The Executioner #43 Return to Vietnam. In the intro Joe makes it clear that he, while respected the kind of writer that could work quickly and efficiently within the Men's Adventure field, that he was always uncomfortable writing within the set confines of about anything. But like most authors could use the cash it would generate. He bought a Plymouth Horizon that was then referred to as "the MIA Hunter Car." 

Joes got nothing to be embarrassed about Mountain Massacre reads like an author (or authors) having a lot of fun. Working from an awesome and tight Mertz outline Joe lets hisownself seep into the book in the right measure. Stone and his buddies Terrence and Hog Wiley are over in 'Nam rescuing folks when they get mixed up with some mystical bandits that live in the hills and act all ninja-y. They are shocked to find out that some of the bandits are American ex-GI's. Later they get a gig to the tune of a cool million to find a rich man's son who's a POW and since that'll help save a lot of guys and Stone's a cool dude, they take the gig, and they get mixed up with the bandit/ninjas again in obviously action-packed ways. 

Hog Wiley is the stand-out "Lansdale character" here. He's an East Texas giant of a man who could exist in a lot of other Joe books. What I'm saying is he's a hoot and a half. The banter of with the team foreshadows stuff like Hap and Leonard and even Charlie and Felix from The Doughnut Legion. The action of course is fast and furious, and Joe's martial arts skill come in handy. The ninja stuff also seems to run alongside The Doughnut Legion, the fringe-touches of the supernatural that run through Joe's work. 

All in all, both books rock and roll for different reasons and they both show that Joe is Joe no matter what. The Doughnut Legion is out now, and the M.I.A. Hunter books are all available as nice eBooks, so really there's no excuse for missing out on some quality entertainment. 

And sorry for the lengthy time between reviews, I'm about neck-deep in pre-production of a feature-length film called Arrive Alive, that starts shooting in less than two weeks. I wrote and am producing the picture, which is a throwback to 70's crime films and Gold Medal paperbacks. This might mean a slow-down in the book reviews in the next couple of months, but I'll certainly be trying to get some book time. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: A Fistful of Empty by Benjamin M. Schutz

Benjamin M. Schutz was a part of the post-Spenser private eye renaissance of the 80's, but seemingly got a little lost in the shuffle. Before I went totally nuts for buying books on the internet, I remember looking for some of his books for ages. I'm sure I found out about him, and his private eye Leo Haggerty from the Thrilling Detective Website and it sounded good. Eventually I tracked down the first in the series Embrace the Wolf and enjoyed in enough to buy the books when I found them, but not to do my searching. See, this is me saying I'm stupid. 

Leo Haggerty is a PI working in Washington DC, with a steady girlfriend, Samantha, who's a novelist and a much more dangerous bounty-hunting buddy named Arnie. The set-up looks familiar to those who have tested out Robert B. Parker's Spenser (or a lot of post Spenser cash grabs) but when I read the first book, I remember thinking that Schutz was a good enough writer to shake the set-up up and do his own thing. Haggerty isn't above fisticuffs or a shoot-outs, but does stop and play with the notions of moral repercussions of his actions. More Lew Archer than Mike Hammer. Which of course, was a central part of a lot of the 80s-90s detectives. Kinder and gentler, but eh, you still have to have some thrills in your thrillers, so gunfight!

So, Embrace the Wolf was a nice paperback detective book, and he wrote a handful more (one winning a Shamus) before he wrote A Fistful of Empty. And boy howdy, what a book A Fistful of Empty is. For a fifth book in a fairly standard series, it's a complete destruction of the formula. I kinda wish I read them through to see what impact the change had, but c'est la vie. It's a big stake-up and a ballsy move. 

Leo makes a choice one night to go help Arnie on a bounty hunting gig. It's partly a macho "get your brothers back" thing, it's partly a knee-jerk to being behind a desk too long and craving a little excitement but what it really is the ultimate bad decision that changes the course of his life and those around him. See Samantha really wanted him to come home and in choosing Arnie there's a crack forming. Then with something hidden in Arnie's car during the arrest leads to a brutal attack on Samantha that haunts the novel to the murder of the "super-badass" Arnie and leaves Leo fully culpable for the revenge that is on his mind as he goes on the run to figure it all out. 

The Arnie/Leo function is a lot like that of Spenser/Hawk. You can have a nice shiny hero with a moral compass who functions fine in society but still give the bloody vengeance of a Hammer as long as you have an outlier who doesn't feel like they owe anything to society and who's personal code is more important that of the masses. That's an 80s thing which isn't really in the Men's Adventure of the 70s. Revenge ruled then, and I think a lot of writers liked that immediate catharsis but felt like couldn't let go of the Marlowe-knight-type. 

With Arnie dead and his girlfriend shattered by the attack, Leo has to be by himself as he lives nearly on the run from mysterious killers and figure out just why this has all happened to him. He also has to deal with the fact that it was all ultimately his fault but not just going home to Samantha one night. The mystery is nicely complex, the villains are nasty, some outright and the rest are just nasty with their indifference to human life. The secondary characters that Schutz populates the novel with are all interesting in their own way, from research lab techs to computer hackers, to evil Neo-Nazi's to corporate assholes. The central McGuffin is nice and simple, yet big and it all unfolds at a hectic pace. 

A Fistful of Empty was a helluva book that should get a lot more attention. Leo is a fine, flawed hero and what was particularly refreshing is that Samantha is a woman-character who was just as well-written. Her feelings and actions ring true, and it'll break your heart a little. Schutz wrote one more Leo book after this and then turned to short stories mostly which I immediately bought. This is one of the finest private eye detective novels I've ever read. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: Red by Jack Ketchum

Jack Ketchum has a legacy as an extreme author, extreme horror that is. I first encountered his work in my early-20s after getting my hands on a copy of Off Season, his version of the old Sawney Bean tale (directly covered in L.A. Morse's Flesh Eaters) of cannibals in the woods. I had known of the books reputation before I read it, but it didn't quite prepare me for the book. It's one of two books (the other being Joe R. Lansdale's The Nightrunners) that truly unnerved me. It's a wild, short, gory, rollercoaster ride through backwoods terrors. It gave me a viewpoint of Ketchum's work, a narrow viewpoint, think he only did EXTREME HORROR.

But slowly I began to pick up his work wherever I found it; Ketchum has never been easy to find in my neck of the woods. I bought them because I knew I liked his style, but I always just stuck on the shelf for the "another day." I got Red in a bundle with a few more of his early 2000s Leisure reprints, which are pretty neat because most of them have a bonus short story or novella in them, but they do have sort of lackluster covers. Give and take. Most of them actually have stickers indicting that they eventually wound up at Dollar General for a buck. That would have been a bargain, I tell ya. 

Remember when those bad guys killed John Wick's dog and he went apeshit on them in revenge? Yeah, Red did that first, just not to the extreme over-the-top action of the John Wick movies, but it is interesting to note. SO much so that I didn't realize it as I read the book, only making the connection talking to my wife about it when she brought it up. Avery Ludlow is an old man with an old faithful dog fishing one day when some teenage boys senselessly shotgun the dog to death. As an animal lover I felt Avery's pain there. The dog Red means a lot to Avery and the randomness of the attack shakes him. 

Red's an onion of a book. Slowly we begin to understand why the dog Red meant so much to the widowed and Korean war vet Avery and why he would go through such lengths to be a modicum of justice for it. Avery does a little detective work and then works through all the normal channels talking to the boy's father the rich guy McCormick who's a slightly shady real estate developer type, to going to the police, to suing, to a television news story, only to come up empty on all fronts. Then the paperback stuff happens, retaliations fly, there's arson, .38s and .44 Magnums, and it all comes to down to a white-knuckle thrilling finale, but mostly what the book does is use a thriller-plot to give a little mediation on grief, justice, and real evil. It's a different Ketchum then I found in Off Season which gave the same thrills, but a lot less of the heart. Avery is a whole person not just a hero-lead and it's easy to follow him along as you turn the pages. 

In a lot of ways, it reminded me of a John D. MacDonald Gold Medal stand-alone or a Donald Hamilton stand-alone. Clean writing, good characters, paperback excitement, evil villains, and solid action with consequences. Red is a terribly sad book, but very sweet in its own way. Red got me to buy the rest of Ketchum's back catalogue and the movie adaptation of Red staring Brian Cox, that's how good it was. It's an easy to find book so do yourself a favor, huh?

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: Roses Are Dead: Macklin #2 by Loren D. Estleman

I read the first Macklin book shortly before I started this blog, and it was a wonderful slice of an 80's action movie...only the printed page. I wasn't unfamiliar with Loren D. Estleman, having read a handful of his long-running Amos Walker private eye series, and enjoyed them but it was Kill Zone and his Detroit based hitman Macklin that really sold me on his writing. The Macklin books are sorta lost in the shuffle of Estleman's better known work. Work that includes crime novels, westerns, light mysteries and seriously like 31 books about Amos Walker. That's impressive. 

Macklin was a hitman for the local mob but by Roses Are Dead, he's working solo and getting divorced. Not that the divorce means much to him, work and surviving is the only things that matters to Macklin. He's also got a recently clean son who wants to join the family business. After agreeing to play bodyguard a woman whose psychotic-ex is stalking her someone tries burn Macklin up with a flame-thrower. So, Macklin's got some problems. 

Macklin's on the run from kung-fu killers, ex-KGB killers with mercury tipped bullets, the psycho-ex who likes knives too much, cops, and the Feds. So, that leads to gunfights, fistfights, murder, cars exploding, twists and turns. Macklin is a pretty taciturn lead but he's enjoyable in cold professionalism, much more of action hero of a 50s/60s Gold Medal paperback than a lot of those that were kicking around in the 80s. I can sense a little bit of Matt Helm in Macklin, but less cracks about women wearing pants.

Estleman is great writer, the plot chugs along with precision, the action quick and hard and the intrigue of it all is thoroughly interesting. Roses Are Dead is a little bit of a let-down from the awesome Kill Zone, but really, they're two different kinds of books. Kill Zone was a lot more of a straight action novel whereas Roses Are Dead is a crime thriller with a fair amount of action. A small distinction, but a distinction, nonetheless. I'm excited to see where the series goes, he wrote 3 in quick succession in the 80s but then returned to it in the early 2000s.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: The Destroyer #44: Balance of Power by Warren Murphy

Gotta love Remo and Chuin. During my teenage reading years, I first discovered Gregory MacDonald's Fletch books and devoured most of them. The Fletch books had a very distinctive cover design and Signet must have noticed when they put out Warren Murphy's Trace books because they aped them pretty spectacularly. It worked because I bought them based on covers alone. But, as the old adage goes, it's not the cover that needs to be judged, it's the inside. I quickly preferred Trace to Fletch and became a long-time Warren Murphy fan.  

I wasn't reading Men's Adventure then, but I couldn't help but notice Murphy's name on these Destroyer books. So, Remo and Chuin were some of my earliest guides into the world of Men's Adventure fiction. I was in good (deadly) hands. Then I tracked down the movie "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins" and I was completely sold and I have become the man you see before you today.

I read a Destroyer fairly regularly, pretty much choosing from the stacks based solely on the copy. But I searched out Balance of Power because it had a few interesting behind the scenes tidbits going on. Like a lot of Destroyers, we start with the story in progress with "guest star" of the book getting into trouble before Remo and Chiun show up. This "guest star" is Barney Daniels, a burned out, completely drunken ex-CIA agent who had a rough experience in a South American country but all the torture he was submitted too has left him with a form of amnesia. But a mysterious woman wants Barney to kill a civil rights leader and all that ties into the South American country and his now forgotten past. Spies and their problems, am I right?

Remo and Chiun play second fiddle to Barney and his story. They only pop into first try and kill him, then try and protect him, track the progress and occasionally kill random baddies, and then lend a hand during the finale. That's the only bummer about this book. But it all makes sense when you find out that a good chunk of the book was a previous attempt by Murphy and Sapir to put a new series called "Black Barney" and when that didn't sell Murphy eventually handed it off to Molly Cochran to turn it into a Destroyer tale. The pieces surprisingly fit together fairly well and tell a pretty impactful simpler, less fantastical Destroyer book. I'm fairly sure this was Cochran's first work in the series, and she proves herself admirably. Barney is an entertaining character, reminding a little bit of Digger or Trace as a super-spy.

All in all, I read this one because I knew of its history and was curious to see how it all laid together and what the "lost Murphy/Sapir series" was like. And surprise, I liked it. I would have liked to have read a 70s spy series by Murphy and Sapir written in-between Destroyers, Digger and the like. It's not favorite Destroyer and I wouldn't recommend it to a new-comer but it's a solid/interesting entry if you have read a bunch of them. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: Evan Tanner #6: Here Comes a Hero by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block is one of the those writers that can't write a bad book. Between his Scudder books, his Burglar books and everything in between his literary output has long been a staple of my reading diet. Often lost in the shuffle is his short-run series about Evan Tanner, the thief who couldn't sleep and sometimes spy and just about everything else. He's got a lot of times on his hand, you see. In the scheme of Block's career these madcap adventures are bit of a sidenote simply sliding into obscurity because of the vastness and quality of his later work. Similarly afflicted is his equally as wonderful Chip Harrison series.

After shrapnel destroyed the sleep center of his brain Evan took to joining oddball organizations, learning languages, reading and getting into trouble. All those things make for a good spy, only Evan isn't actually any sort of secret agent. But his boss at the super-duper secret no-name espionage agency doesn't know that. Evan recounts his adventures in the same light, easy going-style that Block also used for his later Bernie Rhodenbarr mysteries. He also ghost-writes term papers...for a price.

In Here Comes a Hero (also known as Tanner's Virgin) Evan falls for the titular virgin (depending on edition) before she decides to move on and ends up being sold into slavery. Guess who has to go save her? Evan's on the trail after a call from the virgin's mother and quickly finds himself London and proving he's fairly hard-boiled despite his nearly-comic narration. After that it's a travelogue quest full of colorful slave-traders, '55 Russian Chevrolets, Russian hit squads, brothels, and the prerequisite gun fights and fist fights. Part of the fun of a Tanner book is that Block is sure to write a lot of the parts that are easily glossed over in other books i.e. sleeping. No sleeping during travel, no sleeping in the bed of night when the rest of the characters are, and Evan is stuck reading some bad plays in a actors flat or feigning sleep on a ship full of Russian spies. 

It's interesting to think that these were on the spinner racks next to Gold Medal's other spy novels staring the likes of Matt Helm and Sam Durell, they're so similar yet light years apart. This is a re-read but it's one of those that I had read so long ago that I barely remembered any bits from it, it's nice for these series that I really love to be able to eventually reread them almost fresh again. Block has been one of my favorite writers forever and every book of his I read reproofs it. I also have strong affection for these Jove editions of the Tanner books as they are obviously apeing the Berekly/Charter edition of the James Bond books that were out at the same time and were some of my first Bond reads. Ah, nostalgia.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: Crockett #3: Brand of Fear by Brad Lang

I can think of nothing more relaxing to do in my leisure time than picking up a 70's Leisure Book. See what I did there? I was in the mood for some private eye action and settled in with Brad Lang's Crockett series. I've had the first two for a long time after reading about them on the Thrilling Detective Website back in the day. I think the third one, "Brand of Fear" was a newer pickup, and it seems to be a harder to track down on. I'm pretty sure it came home to me via an eBay lot. Anyway, I finally decided to read one of them and I picked the third one to start, go figure. 

Brad Lang's Fred Crockett series was short lived, three books from 1975 to 1976 with a "hippie detective" gimmick. Crockett's got long hair, ya see. Crockett is a younger detective with the trappings of his age bracket. He casually smokes weed, hangs out in dive bars, drives a GTO, etc. etc. He may be younger but he's an ex-cop with a criminology degree who packs a 4" Smith and Wesson .38 in a shoulder holster and can crack wise with the best of them. He's a lively, different but comfortably familiar paperback detective. 

"Brand of Fear" is a blackmail novel. You know where that leads, don't you? Murder. Or various murders. Crockett is hired by a guy named Beacher who's getting squeezed for cash because of a compromising photo that proves that he is gay. To complicate the matter the man he's with in the photo is a prominent figure. Crockett's on the case and when the blackmailer turns up dead and Beacher is arrested, only Crockett can prove his innocence. Along the way there's gunfights with mob-guys, hitman, sleaziods, lots of oddball underworld-types, parties, hippies, prostitutes, tough talk, casual sex, getting knocked-out and all the rest of the fun stuff. 

You can tell Lang was younger than most of the paperback writers of the era. Casual mentions of Spock from "Star Trek," pinball halls and Crockett watching his favorite TV cop show, "Baretta." Not to mention the fairly ahead-of-the-time treatment of the gay characters in the book. Sure, a few slurs are used, but that miles ahead of how gay characters are usually treated in that era. Especially when you think that it was packaged as an action series for macho men. 

Brad Lang's got a nice midwestern, young thing going, and I couldn't help but think of Max Allan Collins early work in the Nolan series. The writing is tight and reads quick. I breezed right through the book and had a helluva time with it. It didn't break the mold, but it tweaked it enough to be consistently interesting. It's a shame Lang didn't continue the series or continue writing. These are ripe of reprints.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: The Dead Man #1: Face of Evil by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin

The Dead Man series harkened back to the old school way of putting out a Men's Adventure series: multiple writers cranking out wild and wholly action tales as fast as they could. Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin co-created it and then got some great writers to write the continuing adventures of Matthew Cahill and his axe. It's a wonder its's taken me this long to getting around to this series because the names attached read like a list of my favorite authors, Goldberg himself, Christa Faust, James Reasoner, Bill Crider etc. etc. Plus, their wonderfully short and to the point. I'm slow on the uptake, folks. 

Matthew Cahill is a good guy/widower who works at a lumber mill who loves his father's axe and watches out for his no-good best buddy, Andy. Andy gets fired and Cahill quits in protest and then ends up going skiing with his new love interest Rachel and ends up dying in an avalanche, which is just some bad luck. Cut to a few months later when he's found frozen and then miraculously wakes up and feels fine, only being dead that long has to have side effects right? 

It does. Cahill can now see the evil in a person as it festers and rots them like a zombie in his eyes. Sort of like the sunglasses in "They Live." Then there's the series big-bad the uber villain Mr. Dark who seems to be pulling all the strings. Luckily Cahill's a cool cat and real good with his axe and proves to be a very likeable protagonist. Then when his buddy Andy falls into the evil around him Cahill is the only guy around to take care of the problem.  

"Face of Evil" is clearly the "pilot" to the series. These are the hardest to write and get through all the set-up and explanation and still make it light, interesting and fun. Rabkin and Goldberg handle it all with professional skill. It never really bogs down in too much detail and keeps the tone fairly light and fun for all the gruesome goings-on. It has that comfortable syndicated action show from the 90s vibe. A little "Incredible Hulk," a little "Fugitive" or "The Invaders" mixed up with the over-the-top vibe of "Tales from the Crypt." 

These books a super easy to get ahold, go to Amazon and you can get them on Kindle, Audible, or in three-in-one bind-up paperbacks like I did. These would be perfect little snacks in-between longer novels. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: Come the Night by Nick (Shaun Hutson) Blake

This little paperback from hell has a lot in common with the "Video Nasties," the list of banned videos in the U.K. in the 80s. It sorta got banned and it sorta started out as a novelization for a "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" movie. Here's the fairly detailed history of it. Star the publishjer didn't get the film rights to "Texas Chainsaw" and because who wouldn't want to write a book with Chainsaw in the title, they just had Hutson come up with his own story. So, Hutson wrote a book called "Chainsaw Terror," which got a little publishing run, but the title scared bookstores so the book quickly became "Come the Night." 

Shaun Hutson then made a name for himself with extreme horror novels like "Assassins," and "Slugs" and this book drifted into the realm of "expensive bestselling authors now pricey early work." It did eventually get republished in a three-pack with two others of his pseudonym novels which can be found fairly cheap. I have several of Hutson's other books but haven't ever gotten around to reading them, so it just made sense to start at the beginning of his career.

Now, the main reason I wanted to check this one out was the vague "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" connection, one of my favorite films and horror series. There isn't enough fine literature about chainsaws in my mind. Also, this is on the few 80s horror paperbacks that comes in a slim little package, not the bloated page-count that your usually think of with the fellow Paperbacks from Hell. After digesting William W. Johnstone's "The Devil's Kiss" I needed a thinner read. 

Okay, so the sleaze drips off the pages of this book. It's very must in the vein of the grindhouse cinema that was the jumping off point for the book. Think William Lustig's "Maniac" or Wes Craven's "Last House on the Left." Edward is the chainsaw wielding maniac of the book. When he was a younger his father killed his mother for cheating on him and Edward saw it all. That'll make ya crazy right there. Also, he's secretly in love with his sister and together they live in the soundproof (it's mentioned a lot) house where they grew up and the grisly murder took place. Edward continued his father's handyman business which means he's got a lot of sharp tools down in his see where this is going. But the sister wants to leave their odd/abusive relationship and when she makes moves too Edward blows his top, kills her and then finds he likes it and turns his sights to prostitutes.  

Then midway through Hutson figured out he needed a protagonist who doesn't hack women to bits and starts up with a hard-boiled-type reporter who's working on a story about the sleazy side of Soho in London and figures out that someone is killing the women he's met. So, together with a "hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold" the reporter and the hooker start investigating, not to mention fall in love. This all comes to a head in a truly thrilling little climax. The whole book is chock full of gross imagery, gruesome acts and a little bit of sex to liven things up. 

This is a super misogynistic, slimy horror tale. So, don't go in expecting fair treatment of women or really anything better than a first draft of the nastiest things Hutson could think of. If you're interested in checking it out, I'd suggest the three-pack novel and wouldn't bother paying the high prices for the other editions. But that being said it's still a fairly fun and thrilling ride. It really lives up to its original title "Chainsaw Terror."

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The Devil's Kiss by William W. Johnstone (Devil #1)

This is my first William W. Johnstone, so me and him have something in common because this was HIS first published book. To be fair, I have tried to read him before a couple of times to no avail. That doesn't mean much, I'm a chronic starter of novels, I often get distracted by the new (to me) shiny book that I just got in the mail or found at the local used bookstore. A lot of the time I got back before too long and finish the half-read book up. Then sometimes I stop reading because the book ain't grabbing me. So, I never went back to the Johnstone books I had started, one being his stand-alone "The Death Master" and the other being one of his "Ashes" books. 

Now, William W. Johnstone is interesting to me. He's a MONSTER in the realm of paperback fiction. Every bookstore I go to has a glut of used westerns by him. Besides that, he's so that, that he continued to write even have he died. That's dedication, folks. Obviously other people write under his name now, though it's SUPER-DUPER TOP SECRET who exactly puts fingers to keyboard to produce the new Johnstone's for Wal-Mart's excuse for a book aisle. It's going to be one of those nice paperback mysteries that will haunt paperback aficionados for years to come.

I had tried my hand at his action fiction, and it didn't take. Besides now being mostly known he also it a big name in 80s/90s horror paperbacks. You know, Paperbacks from Hell. The wild Zebra covers helped build his reputation in terror fiction. Seriously hit the Google search up and take a gander at some of the wildest/weirdest book covers ever. Now the words inside the covers seem to have split the trashy-horror-loving public. Total love him or hate him thing. The rise of horror book collecting has also driven up the price of his books like SKY-HIGH, so if you see one buy one. I can't help but to shed a tear for all the over-priced book I might never get too own because of Paperbacks from Hell, not that I don't love it at the same time.

So, now I have finished a Johnstone book, the first in his series about the Devil being a dick called "The Devil's Kiss." What do I think?


First off. Good book or good book. This is an italics "good" book. It's not patricianly a well-written book, it actually has quite a few big problems and isn't one I would recommend for many people. First off, I'm surprised I even tried it out, the 400-plus page count would usually be a deal-breaker for me. And when I read about "The Devil's Kiss" online a lot of the complaints were about the first 200-ish pages. It takes a lot of time for Johnstone to muster up the steam to make it up to the Men's Adventure-type ending. There's a BUNCH of telling, not showing. Conversations about conversations just had or conversations about what just happened. Plus, the common problem in of horror of people just not quite fathoming that the supernatural has invaded their everyday life when the signs a pretty clear. Goes with the territory.  

Sam Balon (Bolan? Calling Mack Bolan?) is a priest with a commando background and besides a cheating wife is the perfect specimen of man without any other problems, save his attraction to the hot-female lead who's already in love with him when the books start's and wants to make babies. I couldn't help but think of Guy N. Smith's Sabat with a background like that, but I digress. Sam is actually a pretty likeable lead, besides his annoying habit of mentally scolding himself at every turn. That being said, you what this kind of priest in your town when the devil's minions show up. The kind of priest that packs a Colt .45 and totes a Thompson Sub-Machine gun. The secondary characters, like the reader are wholly focused on how impressive Balon is, you can't help but think Balon is unstoppable. Or is he? 

The Devil's best friend is Black Wilder which is an awesome band name. He's devilish (see?) and one smooth operator who fears no one...expect SAM BALON, YO! It's one of those ancient things where destiny has pushed them into this epic battle one last time. I mean, except the sequels I suppose, though those star Balon's son. Black Wilder has been posing an archologist to dig up the evil tablet needed to do evil junk. He finds it and where off to the races. He's got all his hell spawn circle of friends, tempting witches and ghouls of all sorts, but he's got the classic "intellectual" Bond-villain thing going on and is one of the most interesting characters in the book. 

"The Devil's Kiss" has got a hundred late-night B-movies in its DNA. The town turns all funky under the instant magic spell of the devil and turns into hedonistic cult members who screw, kill and basically act like dicks to anyone they please. Tons of weird sex stuff that I would have rather never had pictured in my head as I was reading and tons of violence. So, there's werewolf-ish creatures, zombies, an evil cult, the devil, priests in love, war stories, hot witches, small town culture, dead teenagers at make-out-point, truck purchases, truck chases, etc. etc. Plus, a lot of erotic stuff. All of which reads like Johnstone had a few copies of Penthouse around to cull ideas from. 

This is the opposite of the "literary horror" that was brewing at the time and to come into full bloom in the 80's. No Charles L. Grant "quiet horror" or Peter Straub telling ghost stories, not even up to the level of a Stephn King calendar story. It's over-the-top and in your face with its (Johnstone's) funky version of religious people, sex, monsters and violence. It's a B-Movie cocktail or an extra-long EC Comics tale. 

Overall, the book was a hoot. A crazy, not well-written smorgasbord of zany "serious" horror fiction. That's not a knock-on Johnstone, he's obviously a readable author. Just look at his bibliography. The whole thing is just so EARNST that it becomes laughable, action-packed-gruesome-laughable. I got the next two books in the Devil Series, so be on the lookout for those horrors. 

Thursday, January 12, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: Seven Days to Disaster by Jonas (Paul Glen Neuman) Flagg and Geoffrey Graves

Major is one of my favorite paperback publishers. As a publisher they always seemed to make offbeat choices though, I don't know if it was deliberate or just lack of oversight, but out of them you get series like Kirby Carr's Hitman, or attempted series like Joseph Gillman's "Operation Nazi- USA." So, who knows sometimes being loose and goofy is an asset. 

That brings us to "Seven Days to Disaster" by Jonas Flagg and Geoffery Graves. Jonas Flagg was really Paul Glen Neuman who also worked on "Black Eagles," "They Call Me the Mercenary" and "The Phoenix Force." He has a handy-dandy website where you can find out that this was indeed planned to be another series for Manor, but the folded before that could happen, though there are two other books already written. I couldn't track much down about Geoffrey Graves though.

Hadrian Whipp (love it) is our hero. He works for one of those shadowy peacekeeping/crime-busting outfits who need someone with the skill and guts to tackle the dangerous problems without the fuss of the legal system. The disaster in "Seven Days to Disaster" is a hidden atomic bomb in L.A. and Whipp is sent down to take care of it. 

In a refreshing change of pace, the villains on the novel aren't the cookie-cutter Bond-ish villians. No, just regular working stiff who's after losing a government contract decide that the best course of action is to highjack plutonium and ransom Los Angles. Those whacky bad guys. For their trouble they get Whipp on their tail and what that leads to lots of murders, car chases, colorful side characters, explosions and the like. Whipp is an interesting lead, he's a smart-ass but he also REALLY likes his job shooting bad guys, imagine a lighter Richard Camellion, which is funny because also on his website Neuman says that he wrote a screenplay for a "Death Merchant" movie. Now that's something I'd like to see.

For all the murders and derring-do this is a pretty light novel with nice humor, and it works to its advantage, the pages breeze by. There's a little too much backstory for random characters and asides, which is pretty common for an early book. I would have preferred to spend more time with Whipp then some of the rest. That being said I had a lot of fun with it, it's not reinventing the wheel but takes it for a pleasantly bloody turn. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

QUICK SHOTS: The Magic Wagon by Joe R. Lansdale

Champion Joe has darn-near taught me all I know about writing. The man makes it look so easy it can make you wanna spit. Never seems to write a dull bit, never sounds like anyone other than hisownself and cranks out work like a veteran pulpsmith. I've went on and on about how much Lansdale's work means to here and got real wind-baggy about it. So, I won't be boring you about it again. I like his darned books, got it?

"The Magic Wagon" is a slim-little thing; it's a western not like you've ever read before or since, I'd imagine. Where else do you have mummies, sharpshooters, an orphan named Fogg and Albert, an ex-slave traveling the west with a chimp named Rot-Toe? Oh, and this is how the thing starts:

"Wild Bill Hickok, some years after he was dead, came to Mud Creek for a shoot-out of sorts."

Yup. C'mon that's solid gold. Lansdale is the closest thing to Samuel Clemmons in a white linen suit we got today. Albert and Fogg are buddies and they travel with Billy Bob who may or may not be the illegitimate son of Wild Bill with a Medicine Show. They got a nasty storm that by some bag mojo has been dogging them for a long while when they end up in Mud Creek, Texas.

You may remember Mud Creek from Lansdale's Zombie-Western "Dead in the West." Weird stuff seems to happen down in Mud Creek. Anyway, it's an episodic novel where we learn bits and pieces about the characters. It's full of Lansdale, hitting a lot of his hallmarks like the supernatural, racism, tall-tales and colorful language. He really makes you care about Albert and Fogg, then you'll simultaneously like and hate Billy Bob. Lansdale's real good at that. But what will happen when that evil-old cloud catches up to 'em in Mudd Creek? Can't be good.

In that link above you can read my review of Ray (Lansdale) Slater's "Texas Night Riders," Lansdale's attempt at conventual western. I liked "Texas Night Riders" a lot, but this is him shaking off any sort of mental shackles and writing what he wants. He's returned to westerns a few times, I'm thinking about reading his "Lost-Lansdale" book "Blood Dance," which seems to be a conventual western to a point then swerves into something a bit wilder. 

Look, it's a great book, give it a go. If I explained more about it, it would sorta spoil some of the magic (get it?) of the book.