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.