Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Transit to Scorpio (Dray Prescot #1)

Author: Alan Burt Akers (aka Kenneth Bulmer)
First Published: 1972
Pages: 120

At the age of about 16 or 17 in school I was forced to read Shakespeare for English Literature. I cannot remember which play it was. It might have even been a selection of his work. I would start out full of enthusiasm in each lesson, but rapidly as I started to read the strange words on the pages I would realise that I didn't understand a anything of what was going on or was being said by any of the characters. I would complain to our teacher that it was "pointless learning this stuff" and that we would "never use any of this knowledge" after we finished our education.

Reading Transit to Scorpio by Kenneth Bulmer gave me the same feeling I had all those years ago. I cannot see what the attraction is for readers of this series? I started it thinking I was about to read a classic of the Sword and Planet genre, something entertaining and full of action and adventure. What I got was a totally incomprehensible story, at times I even doubted my own sanity. I know Bulmer has written a lot of stuff, hundreds of novels apparently. And some of them are praised as classics. Unfortunately this was my first experience of Bulmer's writing (unless I've read something else of his under a different name and am completely unaware of it). Was this a very early effort? This was one of the most difficult reads I've encountered for many years.

Darkwalker on Moonshae (Forgotten Realms - Book 1)

1st Ed. cover
Author: Douglas Niles
First Published: May 1987
Pages: 380

The first novel in the Forgotten Realms series of novels begins with Darkwalker on Moonshae by Douglas Niles. It's a very competent opening story, and interesting in that the setting, the Moonshae Isles, would appear to be significantly different in style and approach to all those that followed outside this inaugural trilogy. My eBook version has an interesting introduction in which it is made clear that the author was unaware that its setting would not be taken up for the long run by TSR. This doesn't detract anything from the novel. Its setting is a pleasing mixture of Celtic myth, Lunar worship and Tolkien-like themes nicely blended with likeable characters.

In essence, this world is kept in balance by the presence of Moonwells that hold Darkness at bay, if these wells are corrupted, they become Darkwells.

The plot of this first part, centres around a small group of adolescent characters. Tristan, a Prince of the central location the harbour town of Corwell, his fathers ward Robyn, and hounds man, Daryth from a place named Calimshan. They are accompanied by various other characters during the course of the story, such as a mysterious bard, a friendly halfling, a statuesque blacksmith and a female dwarf.

The evil that threatens the Moonshae comes in the form of a dark entity, which takes various forms, both animal and human, along the way, and its fight against mother nature - in this case the "Earthmother". Some of the more engaging scenes I found were those describing the journeys and struggles of these gods and goddesses, and their minions, in the build up to the climactic showdown.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Passport to Oblivion (Dr Jason Love #1)

Author: James Leasor
First Published: 1964
Pages: 224

In my last blog entry I reviewed the Aristo Autos book, Host of Extras, by James Leasor. I was very impressed - so much so that I immediately bought a copy of the first book in his spy series featuring amateur (at least initially) espionage agent, Dr Jason Love, the general practitioner from Bishop's Combe, Somerset, England.

Its clear from the cover of the film tie-in edition and the promotional posters for the film version, Where the Spies Are, that MGM were trying to cash in on the success of Ian Fleming's James Bond movies in 1966. David Niven, cast in the starring role as Love is prominently shown wearing a very 007 white tuxedo, bow tie and carrying a sniper rifle and pistol accompanied by a bevvy of female co-stars. I especially love the 'tall-poster' version below with an artistic impression of Niven that is close to the actor himself to be recognisable, but just different enough to give Jason Love his own persona that I think I will always have in the back of my mind when reading any further books. I also like the addition of the Clouseau-esque cartoon that appears in some versions. But Love is no Bond, and the book reinforces this, making a few outright critical points about the differences.

I've not seen the film - yet - but I'm going to guess Niven plays Love with a more rakish element than his fictional version possesses. Love in the book is certainly a contented bachelor, with a fair sense of humour but not as far as I fear his screen outing might portray. I need to track down a copy to find out for myself. Anyone seen it?

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Host of Extras

Author: James Leasor
First Published: 1973
Pages: 176

James Leasor might be a name new to some readers. He was a notable writer of spy and historical fiction (as well as biographies and histories) who was enormously popular during the late fifties and  into the sixties and seventies. Probably the most famous of his books, was a second world war novel about the undercover exploits of a territorial unit assigned a mission to destroy a German secret transmitter on one of their ships in the neutral harbour of Goa. It was filmed as 'The Sea Wolves' starring Gregory Peck, Roger Moore and David Niven.

Speaking of David Niven, another of Leasor's books to be turned into a motion picture was the the first book in the very successful spy series starring the character of Dr Jason Love, Passport to Oblivion (of which I will be reviewing soon). This also starred Niven but this time playing the countryside doctor turned amateur spy, with the title changed to 'Where The Spies Are'.

A third film, taken from one of his historical novels, 'The One that Got Away' was made into a film starring Hardy Kruger, and I was very lucky to see it via the BBC iPlayer just recently. Check it out if you can - it's the trues story of a German prisoner-of-war and his continual efforts to escape the Allies.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

SS Panzer Battalion (SS Wotan)

Author: Leo Kessler
First Published: 1974
Pages: 192

I was a little apprehensive choosing to read a Leo Kessler book. I remember reading a Sven Hassel book or two in my teens; they were the only other type of book my dad would read, if he was not reading a Western novel he'd picked up or borrowed from the local library at the bottom of our road. I didn't want to revisit my youth and ruin the memory I had of reading those books (I think I most likely only ever read one or two, but there's no way I can recall which ones!). At the time they seemed incredibly 'grown-up', containing bloody violence, and also being a bit rude. I hated the thought of now finding them to be not at all as adult as I had the impression all those years ago.

I decided to choose SS Panzer Battalion, which is the first - in chronological order - of the series dubbed 'SS Wotan'. There are currently over forty books in the series. Publishers Futura have gathered some of the key novels into a small collection called the Dogs of War, of which this one is book three.

Friday, 31 May 2019

Atlanta Deathwatch (Hardman #1)

Author: Ralph Dennis
First Published: 1974
Pages: 156

The Hardman series has recently been given a fresh injection and as a result renewed attention now that is has made its way to eBook format. Written during the seventies by author Ralph Dennis, who never really got the recognition many of us think he deserves during this time. The books run to twelve in total. Dennis must have written at a phenomenal speed or the publisher decided to delay printing until there were enough ready to create a series - as the initial seven numbered paperbacks were all released in 1974. The final book appeared just a few years later, in 1977. The original paperbacks are very collectible, and have typical men's action and adventure style covers depicting an exciting scene and a character or two on them.

A striking thing about the Hardman series; these covers do not feel suited to the subject matter inside the book; once you start reading you begin to get a different impression of the characters it depicts and the style of story that you are reading. It is common belief among most fans that the covers used were a likely reason for why the series did not enjoy a much longer life than they should have been rewarded with. A casual reader in 1974 would have some justification in feeling a little short-changed after picking one up I feel.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Fallen Angel (The Satan Sleuth #1)

eBook Cover
Author: Michael Avallone
First Published: 1974
Pages: 156

It is always very gratifying when an eBook version of a paperback retains the cover of the original book. In this case Story Merchant Books have done a great job of allowing readers to retain the cover from 1974. I really appreciate it, and I wished this were the case with all pulp/cult eBooks. Sadly this is not currently the norm so we have to applaud publishers when they make the effort. I realise that, in the vast amount of cases, original work cannot be used because of copyright issues, or because the artist may be unknown or the price for using too restrictive - but bravo to Story Merchant for being able to allow us to have the artwork here.

Author of Fallen Angel, The Satan Sleuth #1, Michael Avallone is a name I remember fondly from the seventies and eighties as he penned a number of TV tie-in books that I loved, Planet of the Apes and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (he also penned a number of The Partridge Family tie-ins that might have crossed my path but we'll gloss over them if you don't mind!). Of course, Avallone is best known in pulp/action circles as the author of The Butcher book series and the Ed Noon detective stories as well as many others. Unfortunately Butcher books are not available to me in the UK on eBook, but Ed Noon is a series I may dip into at some point as it appears to have a good presence in store (again with original covers).