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.