Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Star Trek - Log One

Author: Alan Dean Foster
First Published: 1974
Pages: 184pp
Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

It wasn't too long ago that I reviewed another book by Alan Dean Foster. Splinter of the Mind's Eye was his story based upon the intent of George Lucas to produce a lower budget sequel to Star Wars if it didn't do well in theatres. Well we know how that panned out, so Foster's Star Wars sequel remains a quirky novel in the expanded universe for fans of the franchise.

Before Lucas approached him, Foster also took on what was to become another science fiction cinematic and televisual franchise. Star Trek: The Original Series had been cancelled fours years previously (in 1969) but was proving immensely popular via syndication. This resulted in the shows creator, Gene Roddenberry, to decide to continue the series in an animated form. To the delight of fans, much of the original cast returned to provide voice-overs for their original characters. Show writers David Gerrold and D. C. Fontana characterised The Animated Series as a fourth season of The Original Series.

Star Trek: The Animated Series, aired as "Star Trek" and as "The Animated Adventures of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek" from 1973 to 1974 consisting of 22 episodes over two seasons. Set in the 23rd century, with Earth as part of a United Federation of Planets, it followed the adventures of the Starfleet vessel USS Enterprise as it explored the galaxy.

Oath of Blood - Wolfs Head #1

Author: Arthur Frazier (aka Kenneth Bulmer)
First Published: 1973
Pages: 108pp
Publisher: New English Library

Any book that opens Page One with a man being skewered by the broken mast of a sailing ship in the middle of a storm has to be good right? Well, I'm happy to say Oath of Blood by Arthur Frazier lives up to its gory opening scene and delivers a fantastic little novel about the clash of the Saxons, Normans and Vikings during the 11th century (1066 to be precise).

Arthur Frazier was one of many pen names used by the prolific Kenneth Bulmer. He authored many classic novels and much-loved series such as the science fiction of Dray Prescot (as Alan Burt Ackers), the maritime exploits of Abercrombie Fox (as Adam Hardy),  Roman adventure The Eagles (as Andrew Quiller),  U-boat adventures (as Bruno Krauss), Falklands war novels (as Adam Hardy) and adaptations of the TV series The Professionals (as Ken Blake).

I have had mixed experience reading Bulmer recently. I wasn't impressed with Dray Prescot - you can read my review here. But I had a better time reviewing the Adam Hardy opener for Strike Force Falklands. I'm glad to report with Oath of Blood he has finally won me over with his writing - this is a tour de force of a novel, brimming with authentic detail and history of the period. He introduces us to characters that make an impression and seem very real. The action is bloody, visceral and dirty with maiming, decapitations, severed limbs and brain-splattering axe fights scattered throughout. But mixed into the mayhem is a story of love and friendship which promises an epic story to come.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

The Man with a Thousand Names

Author: A. E. Van Vogt (aka Alfred Vogt)
First Published: 1974
Pages: 141pp
Publisher: DAW

Well this was an interesting read. Something a bit, er, different from what I was expecting. If you have never read a Van Vogt science fiction book, be prepared for a Marmite experience!

 A. E. Van Vogt, was born Alfred Vogt, in Manitoba, Canada in 1912. Raised by descendants of Dutch lineage, he became one of the most recognisable names in Sci-Fi literature and influenced such writers as Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison. During the course of his writing career he became one of the most popular figures of the 20th century's Golden Age of science fiction.

However, this was not the genre that Vogt began with. His first foray into the literary world started with true confessions stories for pulp magazines such as Tue Story. He changed track by the end of the thirties and inspired by the Astounding Science Fiction magazine and James W. Campbell, submitted a story entitled Vault of the Beast which was rejected. However, with encouragement and a further submission, his first published sci-fi story for the same magazine was called Black Destroyer* which appeared in the July 1939 issue.

Vogt quit his job and went full time as a writer in 1941. His most famous novels were written in a purple patch between 1941 and 1944. Most of these appeared in serialised form in various magazines before being released in paperback. He moved to California in 1944, and took on his pen-name as his legal name whilst applying for American citizenship.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Eye of the Zodiac (Dumarest of Terra #13)

Author: E. C. Tubb (aka Edwin Charles Tubb)
First Published: 1975
File size/Pages: 561KB / 176pp
Ebook Publisher: Gateway
Ebook Date: September 2011

Disclaimer: I have the DAW paperback version (pictured left) of this novel, so did not actually purchase the eBook).

So after picking up a few Dumarest of Terra books quite cheap at a used bookstore I decided to give one a go. I had heard that you could plunge into any of the books in the series without necessarily reading them in publication order, or in having any knowledge of the overall arc.

E. C. Tubb was born Edwin Charles Tubb in London, England in 1919 and never moved during his lifetime. He began writing in his youth, contributing to many science fiction magazines over the years. The Dumarest Saga is the most well known creation out of the 140 novels he published, however he also had a considerable contribution to the novelisations of the Gerry Anderson's television series Space: 1999, adapting eleven of the scripts into three paperbacks, and most significantly authoring three completely original novels,  Alien Seed (1976), Rogue Planet (1976) and Earthfall (1977) set within the first season continuity. Under other names Tubb was also the author of eleven western novels, a detective novel and a Foreign Legion novel. His other science fiction series of note was the Cap Kennedy series, this did not fare as well in his native land as it did elsewhere, and only six of the seventeen books were published in the U.K. under the title banner of F.A.T.E. using the pen name of Gregory Kern.

Friday, 22 November 2019

Claws of Steel (SS Wotan)

Author: Leo Kessler (aka Charles Whiting)
First Published: 1974
File size/Pages: 1595KB / 192pp
Ebook Publisher: Benjamin Lindley
Ebook Date: December 2014

Disclaimer: I have the Futura paperback version (pictured left) of this novel, so did not actually purchase the eBook).

It's time to check in with our German comrades of the Assault Battalion 'SS Wotan' in Leo Kesslers' third instalment of the Second World War series. This book, Claws of Steel was the third to be published, but is actually the sixth book if you want to read them in chronological order (preceded by Forced March and The Sand Papers). This time we join Von Dodenburg, Shulze, Schwarz, Metzger, and their commanding officer Grier (The Vulture), recovering from their time out on the Eastern Front after facing the horrors of a bitter winter fighting the Russians. Unfortunately Hitler has further plans for attempting to thwart the Red Army so The Bodyguard, as they are known, are set for another terrible experience.

Claws of Steel opens with a scene set in the Wolf's Lair, involving Hitler and his senior commanding officers planning out their next steps in the counter-attack on the Eastern Front. It is 1943, and the Nazi line has been punctured by the Russians - The Fuhrer needs a response and he needs it desperately as it is looking like the Americans will be joining the fight in Italy soon. He comes up with Operation Citadel. An attempt to pierce the Russian line and flank their troops that have been ensconced in Pokrovka, Prokhorovka and Kursk. He will use the combined forces of Model's XI Army from the north and Hoth's IV Panzer Army from the south in a pincer move that her likens to "crushing the life our of the Soviet serpent with two huge claws of steel".

Wednesday, 13 November 2019


1985 Sphere edition
Author: Peter Tremayne (aka Peter Berresford Ellis)
First Published: 1984
File size/Pages: 1149KB / 192pp
Ebook Publisher: Endeavour Venture
Ebook Date: July 2017

Disclaimer: I have the Sphere paperback version (pictured left) of this novel, so did not actually purchase the eBook).

Peter Berresford Ellis is most famous for his bestselling Sister Fidelma historical mystery series. But before he came up with his Celtic-Nun fictional detective, Ellis wrote a number of books in the thriller and horror genre using the pen-names of Peter MacAlan and Peter Tremayne respectively. Beginning in 1977 as Tremayne, he expanded the Dracula and Frankenstein mythos with books like The Hound of Frankenstein and Dracula Unbound. He progressed into his own creations with his most famous book of the seventies, The Ants (1979), and followed up with titles such as Zombie (1981), The Morgow Rises! (1982) and Snowbeast! (1983). As you may notice some of his novels during this time seemed to be trying to corner the market in the "book titles ending with an exclamation mark" category.

The full list of these (a nice little sub-category all of their own) are as follows;

  • The Morgow Rises!
  • Snowbeast!
  • Swamp!
  • Angelus!
  • Nicor!

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Heirs of the Force (Star Wars Young Jedi Knights #1)

Author: Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta
First Published: 1995
Pages: 217pp
Publisher: Boulevard/Berkley

This review is the first in a new category of occasional articles that will cover a paperback book that I think should be released as an eBook, or cannot understand why it isn't already an eBook. They will be tagged with the 'Paperback' label, and will be collected on the "Not Digital?" page. Our first entry continues my current interest in the early Star Wars fiction franchise.

I have a problem with Star Wars books. Most of the ones I've tried to read, I just couldn't get into. Try as I might, they just don't grab me in the same way that books from other science fiction franchises do, such as Star Trek or late 20th century Doctor Who. Over the years I've tried the odd book or two but far too many of them ended up abandoned and unfinished gathering dust somewhere in the back of the bookshelf and then eventually being taken to a charity shop or traded in at a used bookstore.

I think my issue is that I cannot sustain an interest in the main characters of Star Wars, Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie etc. I am fundamentally underwhelmed by their new exploits and the lack of engaging character development. I struggle with the new characters introduced in each book, including each new villain of the week (none on them seem as impressive as The Emperor or Darth Vader). I tried to read Timothy Zahn's The Thrawn Trilogy twice and never even reached halfway through the first part on each occasion. Then I attempted to read The Corellian Trilogy by Roger MacBride Allen and ended up falling asleep every time I sat down to read it.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Splinter of the Mind's Eye (Star Wars)

eBook cover
Author: Alan Dean Foster
First Published: 1978
File size/Pages: 6475KB / 306pp
Ebook Publisher: Del Rey
Ebook Date: June 2011

With the recent release of the final trailer for The Rise of Skywalker movie, I find myself thinking more and more about Star Wars. What will Episode 9 bring to the table? Will it be a fitting end to the Skywaker saga? Will it divide the fan base as much as The Last Jedi seems to have done, or will it bring them together once again?

Star Wars has always played a large part in my life. I was eleven years old in 1977, so you can imagine the impact it had on me as a yound person. I was the target audience in perfection. My father took both myself and my younger brother (who is still drawn to it as much as I am) to see the orginal Star Wars at our local cinema. My friends had already seen it and were so enraptured I had to watch it so I could join in on all the exciting discussions. I still have this amusing memory of our father announcing, "Well that's that all over then, put your coats on!" when Luke, Han, Chewie and Leia finally escaped the Death Star. "Dad! There's still more to go!" I shouted in response. So he had to sit there for at least another 20mins or more through the whole trench run scenes - he wasn't impressed. If it had starred John Wayne he'd have sat through another bloody two hours!

When I had sat through the film a couple more times (with friends only - parents weren't allowed to come with us during the next sittings as we'd had enough of them and only went to daytime showings), and when I had exhausted all the numerous magazines and comics available to me (anyone remember those strange magazines that unfolded into a poster?) there was a Star Wars void in my life. So imagine the excitement when a few months later Splinter of the Mind's Eye appeared on bookshelves. Wow! A new story about Luke Skywalker, with Darth Vader on the cover, I have to have that! Over the years since then the Star Wars franchise in fiction has grown into something called the 'expanded universe'. Many dozens of books followed Splinter. Then, when George Lucas sold his creation to Disney, they announced that everything was going to change and that the expanded universe was now not 'canon' and should be treated as stories that could be regarded as legendary tales, hence 'Legends' was applied to all the pre-Disney published novels and comics.

Thursday, 31 October 2019


eBook cover
Author: Guy N. Smith
First Published: 1980
File size/Pages: 473KB / 207pp
Ebook Publisher: Black Hill Books
Ebook Date: February 2011

When I finished reading Bamboo Guerillas, the first Guy N. Smith book to appear on Digital Bibliophilia, I really did not think I would be reviewing a third Smith book within five months. I was not very impressed with that first novel, however I gave Cannibals a chance and thought it was better, so I thought why the hell not give a him a third try. I'm glad I did, as Deathbell is a significant improvement on both those earlier novels.

Written in 1980, it would appear that Deathbell could have been written before GNS embarked on a crazy schedule of six books in the next twelve months. I fear (no pun intended) for the quality of those books - that is a lot of books for one person to release. However, 1980 itself consisted of three other novels; Thirst; Satan's Snowdrop and Caracal, so who am I to criticise!

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Viper Squad (Point Team #2)

eBook cover
Author: J. B. Hadley
First Published: 1985
File size/Pages: 945KB / 207pp
Ebook Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Ebook Date: September 2009

The are are two important things to note about this book review. The first is that I made a terrible mistake when I started reading Viper Squad by J. B. Hadley. There are three books in the series under the banner "A Point Team Adventure" and I thought I was reading the first book in the series! It turns out I was reading the second book. I should have started with The Point Team - damn I hate it when that happens!

The second thing of note is that this eBook version of a 1985 paperback published by Warner Publishing was re-released in 2009 by Grand Central Publishing. They have made an absolute hash of the content with some of the worst formatting I have ever seen in a book sold in the Kindle Store. A total disgrace to the author and the book they wave written. Really, I have no idea what goes on in the publishing industry in regards to converting paperbacks to eBooks but someone really took their eye off the ball here and have put out a seriously low quality product. I suspect Grand Central considered that the amount of customers to potentially purchase this book would be low and therefore it was not worth the attention to detail it deserves. Thanks a bunch Grand Central Publishing.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

The Spirit

eBook cover
Author: Thomas Page
First Published: 1977
File size/Pages: 2864kb / 197pp
Ebook Publisher: Valancourt Books
Ebook Date: August 2019

There is a point while I was reading The Spirit by Thomas Page that I had flashbacks to the fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I won't spoil anything, but if you read the novel, or have already read the novel, it might happen to you too.

I read the re-print version by Valancourt Books, which has come about via the enormous success of their coffee table reference book Paperbacks From Hell by Grady Hendrix with contributions from Will Errickson. For anyone wishing to further explore the horror realm I strongly recommend a visit to Will's blog, Too Much Horror Fiction - there is a  link on this page in the "Blogs I Follow" section in the sidebar. I'm always visiting it for inspiration, checking out cover-scans and reviews.

The Spirit was authored by Thomas Page, born in Washington, DC in 1942, this was his second novel and followed the science fiction novel The Hephaestus Plague - a story about the discovery of a fire-making beetle with an amazing scientific secret that was made into the film Bug by William Castle. Page wrote The Spirit, but was unhappy with the end product and the introduction to this edition of the novel has a great introduction by Grady Hendrix covering the history of the the book and how its author came about finally finishing it.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Gun Law at Hangman's Creek (Shane and Jonah #1)

Author: Cole Shelton (aka Roger Norris-Green)
First Published: 1978(?)
File size/Pages: 3201kb / 111pp
Ebook Publisher: Piccadilly Publishing
Ebook Date: October 2019

October is a good month if you follow the release schedule of Piccadilly Publishing. Of the ten eBooks being published, three of them are the first novels in new series. It's always good to get in at the beginning of a run of books that you are following, so I have decided to give all three a chance beginning with Gun Law at Hangman's Creek, the opener for the Shane and Jonah sequence, which  I am led to believe via Wikipedia ran up to 25 novels.

The Shane and Jonah stories were authored by Roger Norris-Green, writing as Cole Shelton. As of the time of writing I've not been able to track down a list of the novels or their publication dates, but my guess is they began during the late seventies. Roger was born in Brighton, UK and emigrated to Australia with his parents when he was only thirteen years old. The family settled in the south of the country where Roger eventually began his writing career by submitting short stories to his school's magazine. He went into advertising and became successful enough to run his own agency. Following his marriage, and a period of study that led him to become a lay preacher in the Christian faith, Roger started writing professionally for the Cleveland Publishing Company. As well as writing around 140 westerns for Cleveland and Black Horse he has also published six novels about the Copper Coast and Christian faith books.

Monday, 14 October 2019

The Doomsday Bag (Ed Noon #20)

Ebook cover
Author: Michael Avallone
First Published: 1969
File size/Pages: 477kb / 141pp
Ebook Publisher: Story Merchant Books
Ebook Date: March 2014

I decided to test whether or not you could just pick up an Ed Noon mystery novel and wade in regardless of the number of the book in the series. I had been disappointed with Avallone's Satan Sleuth opener Fallen Angel, but I was already a fan from my youth via his Planet of the Apes and Man from U.N.C.L.E. novels and had promised to look into Ed Noon in the Satan Sleuth review so had to give him a second chance - I figured he earned it just for being Michael Avallone! So I had a browse through the Kindle store at the Ed Noon books that were available (pretty much all of them) and settled on one that had a slightly different, but original looking, cover scan with a naked lady and a classic James Bond pose.

The Ed Noon series ran from 1953 to 1990 comprising of over thirty novels. Noon debuted with The Tall Dolores in 1953, where his character begins his career as a down and out private investigator with a small office in Manhattan, New York which he refers to as his 'Mouse Auditorium'. He is ably assisted by secretary Melissa Mercer. By the sixties Avallone made a strategic move to tie in with the current trend of spy-related media and Noon became the go-to-guy for the President of the United States when ever he needed some investigative work done without the knowledge of the Secret Service or the FBI. Ed Noon became the "Spy to Mr President" and his capers veered more into that world, getting more and more outlandish as the years went by.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Doctor Orient (Doctor Orient #1)

Author: Frank Lauria
First Published: 1970
Pages: 224

Doctor Orient is the first in a series of Occult Adventure books by Frank Lauria. Published in 1970, the books are imbued with a strong sense of the late sixties and seventies, groovy cars, clothes made of exuberant materials, flamboyant characters that use words such as " jive", disco queens, rock chicks and pop idols.

The titular hero, Dr Owen Orient has been practising magic to defend against the dark arts for many years. But his youthful exterior belies the hidden depths to his former 'selves'. Along with his assistant, Sordi, he lives a relatively quiet life in New York below the radar of the paparazzi and the suits in government.

The opening novel centres around a favour requested by one of Orient's friends and former psychic students, Hap Prentice a former baseball player. Hap contacts Orient and requests that the Doctor conducts a telepathic investigation into the condition of his current girlfriend, Malta. Malta has been locked in a state of demonic possession for some time and Hap cannot revive her, physically or mentally. Orient agrees to help and they transport her to his house for further examination.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

The Pass Beyond Kashmir

Author: Berkely Mather (aka John Evan Weston Davies)
First Published: 1960
Pages: 252

This is another thriller reprint in eBook format from Ostara Publishing, in their Top Notch Thriller range. My review of The Eliminator by Andrew York was from the same company. They have been putting some very good novels into the  platform.

The Pass Beyond Kashmir was written by Berkely Mather, a thriller writer whose reign during the sixties has somewhat been forgotten all these years later by the general public.

His first novel-length thriller was The Achilles Affair, published in 1959 when he was 50 years old. It was critically lauded - Ian Fleming was quoted as describing it as “one thriller which I can unreservedly recommend”. However, with his second book, The Pass Beyond Kashmir, he drew on his mysterious experiences in India and it established Mather as one of the top thriller-writers of the period. He went on to have fifteen fiction novels published into the eighties.

Mather was born in Gloucester, England in 1906 and died in 1996. His writing career tailed off in the early eighties when he completed a family saga trilogy. The success of The Pass Beyond Kashmir brought him a lot of attention, notably from Ian Fleming, who suggested that Mather should write the script for the first James Bond film, Dr No. A script was already in existence by that time, so Mather took a look and lightened it considerably, injecting some camp satire into the character of Bond. As we all know, under other writers, this was exaggerated enormously in later films. Although he was offered a percentage of the take for his work, Mather disastrously decided to accept a flat fee.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Return to the Planet of the Apes #1 - Visions from Nowhere

Author: William Arrow (aka William Rostler)
First Published: 1976
Pages: 183

Planet of the Apes was massively popular in the UK when I was still in primary school. I can remember being with my classmates and re-enacting chase scenes from the 1974 television series in the playground. I had dark curly hair and my best friend was blonde. So we had to be Peter Burke and Alan Virdon, with someone else playing the part of chimpanzee Galen - whilst every other boy in our year pretended to be part of General Urko's gorilla army and chase us down repeatedly. We used to regularly be 'caught' in the gorilla's nets and tumble over and over on the dirty concrete. Those were the days!

By 1975, the short-lived TV series had gone (I was devastated) and was replaced by a children's animated series, Return to the Planet of the Apes. This new venture did not fare very well and lasted only 13 episodes. I'm pretty sure, at that time in my life, I was of the same opinion that it wasn't very good, and the animation was "rubbish". I would have much  preferred the TV series back and already had copies of the novelisations by George Alec Effinger (one of my favourite genre authors by the way). A number of novelisations of the animation episodes were released, I have no memory of seeing them in the UK, so when I recently was made aware that they were available in eBook format I decided to indulge myself in some nostalgia.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

The Eliminator (Jonas Wilde #1)

Author: Andrew York (aka Christopher Nicole)
First Published: 1966
Pages: 196

In my last blog I reviewed the first Jonathan Anders novel Operation Destruct by Christoper Nicole. This book was aimed at the young adult market in the early seventies. It sparked my interest in Nicole's other work and pretty quickly I landed upon a series of espionage novels he wrote under the pen name of Andrew York (one of Nicole's many many pseudonyms) that involve the character of British spy Jonas Wilde.

There are nine books in the series, all of the with very similar titles ending in "..ator", such as The Dominator, The Predator, The Deviator etc. Published regularly between the years of 1966 and 1975, ending with final book, The Facinator. They were published in the U.S. by Berkley Medallion Books with some great artwork covers. I could not find any U.S. Berkley version of the The Eliminator other than the film tie-in pictured below. If anyone has a copy, I'd love to see it?

Friday, 13 September 2019

Operation Destruct (Jonathan Anders #1)

Author: Christopher Nicole
First Published: 1969
Pages: 209

There is an old saying, "never judge a book by its cover". George Eliot used the phrase in The Mill on the Floss in 1860. It was further popularised in a 1946 murder mystery novel by Edwin Rolfe and Lester Fuller, Murder in the Glass Room, when they had a character utter "You can never tell a book by its cover." It feels most appropriate for Operation Destruct by Christopher Nicole.

I was drawn to this novel by the rather attractive cover with its title design vaguely reminiscent of Doc Savage paperbacks by publisher Bantam Books. A seated man that looks to me like actor Lee Majors with a pistol in his hand, an attractive young woman behind him, and a burning boating slowly sinking. Looks like it might be up my street I thought. A little investigation turned up information; there are three Jonathan Anders books in the series by Dell. This being the first, the second being Operation Manhunt and third Operation Neptune. All three were produced with the same composition (see foot of this blog entry). I think you'd agree they are quite attractive.

Monday, 9 September 2019

High Citadel

Fontana (1990)
Author: Desmond Bagley
First Published: 1965
Pages: 255

After being disappointed with Alistair MacLean's Bear Island, I was slightly reticent to jump immediately into a book in a similar thriller vein by his contemporary, Desmond Bagley. However, it seemed that from everything I read in Facebook groups, comments about Bagley were all positive with examples such as, "never read a bad one" or "always enjoyed his books". I had nothing to worry about surely?

In fact, Desmond Bagley's first novel, The Golden Keel, published in 1963, was the the first book I ever read on an ereader. It was probably free! I remember enjoying it, but the memory is clouded; the experience of reading an eBook for the first time and the wonder of how this new type of device would effect my reading in the future overwhelms any detail of the novel. Bagley died in 1983, roughly twenty years before electronic paper was incorporated first into the Sony Librie. I wonder what he would have thought of ereaders? He took an interest in computer programming during his lifetime, and was an early adopter of personal computing to aid his work as a writer, perhaps he would have embraced it?

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Bear Island

1973 Fontana edition
Author: Alistair MacLean
First Published: 1971
Pages: 280

In 1971 Alistair MacLean was on a bit of a roll. He had just come off the back of the books Puppet on a Chain and Caravan to Vaccares* (both of which had originally been planned to be film scripts rather than novels) reaching highs of No.5 and No.6 on the New York Times bestsellers list. After six consecutive years of an annual release from 1966 to 1971 MacLean fans would have to wait until 1973 for the next fiction story from the master storyteller.

The main protagonist of Bear Island is named Marlowe, a nod to Chandler perhaps? Rather aptly it is a murder-mystery. It was to become the last novel that MacLean wrote in a first-person narrative style.

Bear Island takes place in two key locations. A converted fishing trawler named The Morning Rose, and the ubiquitous Bear Island, the southernmost island of the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago. A frozen and inhospitable place - perfect for some rip-roaring action and adventure (if only that were true).

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Author: Mike Ripley
First Published: 2017
Pages: 465

Something a bit different for this latest blog. Whilst browsing through Amazon UK I came across this book and instantly knew I would have to get it.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was written by Mike Ripley, author of the award-winning 'Angel' comedy thrillers. Between 1989 and 2008 he was crime fiction critic for the Daily Telegraph newspaper and then the Birmingham Post, reviewing over 950 crime novels. He was also a scriptwriter on the BBC's television series "Lovejoy". Mike is the series editor of the Ostara Crime and Top Notch Thrillers imprints, which is reviving novels that will be of interest to thriller, spy and high adventure fans around the world. He is also responsible for the "Getting Away With Murder" column on www.shotsmag.co.uk. Most recently, Mike completed the Albert Campion novel left unfinished on the death of Pip Carter (husband of British golden age crime author Margery Allingham) "Mr Campion's Farewell" and he has continued the Campion series with a further six original novels.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a fantastic study of the boom in British thrillers between the 1960s and the end of the 1970s. Between these times British born authors ruled the thriller fiction scene across the world. Ripley examines the background to this phenomena, providing an interesting, fun and informative journey from its roots with such authors as Hammond Inness, Eric Ambler and Ian Fleming.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Dive in the Sun

Author: Douglas Reeman
First Published: 1961
Pages: 258

Dive in the Sun is the first Douglas Reeman novel I have read. However it is not the first book by the same author as he also penned many books under the name of Alexander Kent. I'm sure some of you will recognise that name as the author of the Richard Bolitho series of books about naval warfare during the eighteenth century. What may not be so well known is that the Kent pen name originated from his boyhood friend and naval officer who was killed during the war.

Reeman was born in 1924 into an army family living in Surrey, UK. He served as a young man in the Royal Navy during the last few years of the Second World War and saw action in both destroyers and motor torpedo boats in the North Sea, the Arctic as well as the Mediterranean. He experienced being sunk and blown up on more than one occasion by the enemy. He also served in action during the Korean War. Clearly the man had the experience to back up his talent for writing war fiction. He begun writing in the late fifties, and was rewarded with a three book deal with Hutchinson & Company beginning with A Prayer for the Ship.

Reeman wrote twenty-eight Bolitho books and almost forty other novels of modern naval action and adventure under his own name. All these books are still in print, and are extensively available in eBook format across the world. Publishers estimate around 34 million copies have been bought.

Sunday, 11 August 2019


eBook cover
Author: Guy N Smith
First Published: 1986
Pages: 208

There is something about the depiction of 'common-folk' in old horror films that always makes me laugh. Maybe that was always the intention of the movie makers - to provide some light relief before and between the scarier moments. All good films such as those produced by the original Universal Monster or Hammer House of Horror studios gave the viewer an example of the well meaning but misguided locals, or the terrified villagers cowering behind closed shutters of their cottages and German expressionistic inspired buildings.

Guy N Smith serves up this type of atmosphere in spades, making it the central point of the plot in his 1986 novel, Cannibals. While reading I couldn't shake off the feeling I have when I'm watching something like Universal's 1935, The Bride of Frankenstein, or Hammer's 1961 offering, The Curse of the Werewolf, where a group of villagers pick up their torches and pitch forks and gather into a mob to hunt down the 'monster'. (Smith even has one of his characters use a pitch fork at one point which was a nice touch).

Smith populates his village with suitably colourful characters, and he gives them their heavily accented speech patterns. At the beginning of the novel the speech text seemed over done and comical - and it was this that set me off with my old horror movie comparison. Thankfully, I was able to set this aside and enjoy the blood-curdling ride Guy had in store for me with his story.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Mute Witness (Bullitt)

Author: Robert L Pike (aka Robert L Fish)
First Published: 1963
Pages: 175

The usual disclaimer here - I recently acquired this in physical format for a very cheap price, although the copy I bought is the 1969 Penguin Books version that ties into the 1968 film Bullitt (more on the that later) and not the edition pictured to left which is currently available online at a staggering £100!

Robert L Pike was a pseudonym used by the American writer Robert L Fish (clearly he had a sense of humour).  Born in 1912, Cleveland, Ohio, Fish began his working life as an engineer, before moving to South America and eventually taking up writing crime stories. He contributed to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and won the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allan Poe Award for best first novel in 1962, for The Fugitive (no connection to the TV series). According to Wikipedia he also used the name Lawrence Roberts but I have not been able to track anything down in that name yet.

Mute Witness is set in New York in the early sixties. It follows a few days in the life of Lieutenant Clancy of the 52nd precinct.

It's Friday 9:10am. Currently covering for his superior Captain Wise who is sick at home, he is summoned to the Criminal Courts Office by the District Attorney, a man by the name of Chalmers. He is not to be messed with; Chalmers and Clancy have recent history which resulted in Clancy's demotion so they are off to a difficult start. Chalmers orders Clancy to look after a witness for him. A member of the mob is turning evidence and has travelled from the west coast to New York to testify in order to work out a deal with the DA. Chalmers is very keen to make a name for himself with this case. He tells Clancy he must ensure the safety of the witness until the trial the following Tuesday and gives him the address of where the witness is holed up in a low rent hotel.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

The Kubla Khan Caper (Shell Scott)

Author: Richard S Prather
First Published: 1966
Pages: 123

Disclaimer - I read this in physical format. I have had this in paperback in the Four Square edition to the left for a while sitting on my bookshelf, so I had a quick scan online and what do you know it is out on eBook. In fact it appears every single Shell Scott book is available in eBook including some possibly that debuted in the Shell Scott Mystery Magazine. That's around forty books.

This is another book first published in 1966. Have I said 1966 was a great year? I think I have. Well I'll say it again in case you didn't hear the first time. 1966 was a great year. It is a great year to set a book!

The Kubla Khan Caper was the 31st book in the series, written by Richard S Prather between 1950 and 1987 (although most prolifically during the fifties and sixties). Shell Scott breathed life in the 1950 novel Case of the Vanishing Beauty, aged thirty, and never aged a day till the final novel, Shell Shock, published during Prather's lifetime in 1987. A final book called The Death Gods was published posthumously. It's also interesting to note that one of Prather's non-Shell Scott books was refitted to become the book Shell Scott and the Scrambled Yeggs. I'm sure he was not the only writer to experience this process and I wonder if that particular story reads any differently to the other instalments?

Saturday, 27 July 2019

The New Cover Gallery

My favourite Achilleos cover
I have always been a collector of paperback books. When I was very young the first books I started to collect were the Doctor Who adaptations published by Target. With their brilliant cover artwork by Chris Achille
os, and written mainly by people involved in the television series itself, authors like Ian Marter, Robert Holmes, David Whittaker and Terrance Dicks, who contributed massively to the series - these books started to take up precious space in the bedroom at home I shared with my brother.

As my tastes broadened I started to pick up others books, most of which have proved the test of time from the seventies and eighties, like Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes and Sci-Fi books by Asimov, Clarke and Phillip K Dick. The various covers would always have an attraction. The way collections would either be styled or numbered meant you could admire them even after reading, and ordering them on my few shelves (scratch-built by my father) was always a great past-time.

Over the years my tastes have changed - but I have never abandoned my love for a good-looking paperback cover. I'm still attracted by bright designs, great artistry and a consistent format for a seres of books by the same author. I have books that I am not necessarily eager to read, but love the design; a good example would be the Mary Russell / Sherlock Holmes books by Laurie R King, published by Alison and Busby here in the UK - great covers - whenever I see one I don't own I just have to have it.

Alas, the amount of room, and the cost of owning every book that you would love have are incompatible. Well it is for me. I'm sure it is for many of you. So, what can I do about it? Well, I can collect those great covers digitally. I am doing this with Pinterest. I have added a page to the Digital Bibliophilia blog, it is called the Cover Gallery and can be viewed by using the menu link at the top of the blog. It is a direct representation of the 'latest saves' from the official Digital Bibliophila Pinterest account I have created, so that if you want to follow my growing collection you can.

Please feel free to browse as much as you want - I'd love to grow the collection as much as possible, and hope to include many different genres into it over time. I will add 'collections' (known as Boards on Pinterest) to arrange the covers into series as I go along.

I hope you enjoy this new part of the blog.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Operation Exocet (Strike Force Falklands #1)

eBook cover
Author: Adam Hardy (aka Kenneth Bulmer & Terry Harknett)
First Published: 1984
Pages: 143

The cover of Operation Exocet, the first book in the Strike Force Falklands series, shows the author as Adam Hardy. Hardy was the pseudonym used by the writing partnership of Kenneth Bulmer and Terry Harknett. I recently reviewed a book by Bulmer; Transit to Scorpio (Dray Prescot #1). I was less than impressed, being mainly confused and bewildered by his writing style. Harknett is the author of wildly popular and successful western fiction such Edge and Apache. I've read Edge, and it is fantastic.

I knew Bulmer was the co-author before starting this book. But I was intrigued with my reaction to the Dray Prescot novel. Why did I just not get this? Bulmer was a prolific writer and many readers love his work - is there something wrong with me? Was it just a blip? I just had to try another novel, so I opted for this one. Would Harknett have an influence? Would Bulmer's style overpower Harknett?

Saturday, 13 July 2019


Author: Louis L'Amour (born Louis LaMoore)
First Published: 1967
Pages: 140

Okay, so the first thing I should own up to is that I did not read a digital version of this book. Those readers that follow the same Facebook groups as me, may have seen that I was recently able to acquire a fairly large collection of books by L'Amour in the UK Corgi editions. This is the first of those I have decided to read. I don't think I would be exaggerating if I said that the vast majority, if not all, of L'Amour's books are readily available in eBook format. So I don't feel like I am cheating on the premise of this blog by reviewing after reading a paperback edition. And I will say now, that I fully intend to repeat this stance going forward. I am not a 'digital only' proponent - I love paperbacks, I collect them in modest amounts, and cannot ever see that stopping. But the reason I read more digital than I used to is because of a) a lack space in my home, b) to save money, and c) to avoid giving my partner an asthma attack (she can hardly spend much more than 10 minutes in most UK second hand books these days, so having a house full of old books needs to be avoided). I will always purchase a vintage paperback if the price is competitive in comparison to an eBook, and I will mention that in all my blogs. But the overriding principle is that an eBook should be available. In this case, my L'Amours worked out at less than £1 per book, whereas on Amazon UK, a single L'Amour could cost between £1.50 and £4.50 each.

With that out of the way, let's concentrate on Matagorda by arguably the most famous Western writer on the planet (anyone disagree with that?). L'Amour (1908 -1988) was born Louis LaMoore, in Jamestown, North Dakota. Hailing from French ancestry through his father and Irish through his mother, he travelled the world and finally settled in Oklahoma in the early 1930's where he changed his name to Louis L'Amour and settled down to become a writer.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Death's Head (SS Wotan)

Author: Leo Kessler (aka Charles Whiting)
First Published: 1974
Pages: 192

I was surprised how much I had enjoyed the opening title of the SS  Wotan series by Charles Whiting, writing as Leo Kessler. SS Panzer Battalion set the scene very competently for the long running SS Wotan series, introducing us to the soldiers and officers of The Bodyguard. This second book (chronologically that is) takes Von Dodenburg, Shulze, Schwarz, Metzger, and their commanding officer The Vulture, out to the Eastern Front to face the horrors of battling the Russians during a bitter winter.

Surprisingly Death's Head starts with a botched invasion of England, with the SS Wotan battalion being repelled by the British, leaving them weary, devastated and Von Dodenburg in a field hospital with a mild head wound. Whilst there he is treated by a sympathetic nurse, the Belgian, Simone Vannenberg. Upon recovering he continues a brief romance with her. She is an interesting character - despite her sympathies to the injured soldiers of the Reich, she is honest enough to admit that she stills regards them as her enemies. Von Dodenburg is eventually well enough to rejoin Wotan on active duty and they part.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Tears of Blood (Crow #3)

Hanging out with Tom Petty
Author: James W Marvin (aka Laurence James)
First Published: 1980
Pages: 128

The last time we caught up with Crow in 'Worse than Death' he had come to the rescue of a wagon full of cavalry officers wives and drivers escorting them across country. It didn't end particularly well for most of the characters, Indians and settlers alike were pretty much dealt rough justice by both parties. In Tears of Blood, Laurence ?James, writing as James W Marvin gives us another neat twist in the tale, meaning that this Crow story is significantly different enough to the previous two to make if fresh and engaging. It makes we wonder precisely why this series only lasted for eight paperbacks, because so far I am enjoying them greatly and I'm now wondering if I should ration myself and spread out reading the rest?

I raced through Tears of Blood. It was just as good, if not slightly better than the previous installment; which I felt was a good sequel to the opening novel. We are as ever introduced to Crow through the familiar framing device of an old man talking to an unknown person- who it now seems to be confirmed is supposed to be The Writer. The old man gets a little bit more flesh as well, and I'm pretty convinced the intention eventually was to drop hints that he is actually Crow  - let's see if the length of the series allows that to develop, and if my instinct is right?

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 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).

Monday, 27 May 2019

Bamboo Guerillas

1st Edition
Author: Guy N Smith
First Published: 1977
Pages: 144

Most people will think of the 'Crab' series of horror novels from the seventies and eighties when you mention the name Guy N Smith. The Crab books were very popular and their glorious covers were instantly attention grabbing and unforgettable. Personally, my own encounter with him came about through his novel The Locusts, another novel in the same vein but with.... well.... locusts. I still have one clear memory of a sequence in that book. I think it was a tramp who decides to take refuge in a car in order to avoid the oncoming swarm of insects. There is no escape, and he is consumed horrifically, with detailed description by Smith of the man having his testicles eaten before he loses consciousness. As a school-boy teenager that left quite a impression! I took the book in to school and it became quite a hit with my class, being passed around avid readers for a number weeks before I got it back all creased and bent.

Bamboo Guerillas was published in 1977, only a year after the first Crab novel, and just a few years after Smiths first few werewolf novels. It is quite a departure, being basically a Second World War story set in British Malay (now part of the federation know as Malaysia).

According to one of Smith's entries on his blog, he was asked to write a new War series and eventually ended up writing two stories of which only this first part was published. He was told by his editor to "go over the top, there are no boundaries in these books". I can confirm he did not hold back! I get the impression Guy N Smith is not someone that you have to tell something twice to. Give him an inch and he will run a mile as they say. This book is bonkers!

Friday, 24 May 2019

The Wench is Wicked (Al Wheeler Mysteries #1)

Author: Carter Brown
First Published: 1956
Pages: 128

Carter Brown sold a hell of a lot of books in his lifetime. We are talking in the region of a 100+ millions. That is outstanding. During the fifties and sixties this guy lorded over the paperback world like no other. At his peak he was writing 20 books a year, with sales in the US alone reaching towards 350,000 per book! If you don't believe me just do a simple search on your internet browser. Its staggering.

What adds to this phenomenal achievement is that he was actually born in Essex, a county of the United Kingdom, before emigrating to Australia - the guy never even set foot in America till he was an established author, but the majority of his works were set in American towns and cities (or fictional versions of them)!

Brown, real name Alan G Yates, was prolific. As well the Al Wheeler series he also wrote various others, among them novels starring characters such as Andy Kane, Rick Holman, Danny Boyd, Mike Farrell, Larry Baker and Zelda Roxanne. Some of his books sported fantastic Robert McGinnis covers. Many others have images of famous females from the sixties and seventies like Joan Collins and Elke Sommer on them. I would recommend a visit to the Carter Brown website to learn more.

I read The Wench is Wicked, book 1 of the Al Wheeler series. I purchased a great edition in eBook format by Stark House which actually consists of the first three Wheeler stories. The physical and digital editions has a pretty great cover in my opinion and I've included it here. It cost me £4.49, and I think that's pretty fair for three stories considering the other versions I saw.

The story revolves around Lieutenant Al Wheeler's investigation of a murdered Hollywood screenwriter. The body is discovered by a motor-cycle cop, seemingly dumped in a pit. Wheeler is sent to take a look by his station boss, and this pretty quickly links up to a film crew making a Western movie in the area. They are all staying in the same hotel in town. A Hotel with a shooting range out back (I kid you not). One of the stars is a very famous and glamorous woman - Wheeler get interested. Wheeler gets interested in all the women (especially the blondes). He's also interested in ta nightclub singer he has been chasing for a while. Wheeler is popular with the 'gals'.

What follows is a neat, tightly plotted little mystery. Brown's text and dialogue are great. I love this type of detective fiction, and you can certainly see why it resonated with so many people at the time. You can sense the beginnings of noir and hard-boiled fiction; wise cracks; witty banter between detective and suspects; the embittered station captain; corrupt district attorneys and sleazy secrets that everyone is trying to hide pepper the story throughout. Reading a book that is over 60 years old and yet makes you feel like you are part of that time and space is rewarding.

Wheeler winds his way through the investigation with panache and charm, leaving you in no doubt who is in charge. Any action, and there isn't really that much to be fair is well handled. But this is not about the guns and the fist-fights, this is about the characters and their flaws. It might not take a genius to work out who the killer is - but you will certainly feel it was well worth the effort after finishing.

I'm looking forward to reading the next two Wheeler stories - but like my first encounters with Chandler, I will want to savour them.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Worse Than Death (Crow #2)

Author: James W Marvin
First Published: 1979
Pages: 149

I feel like I need to review a novel that isn't the first part of a series - just so that you don't get the idea I'm going to create a blog consisting solely of Number/Issue One's!

The second installment in the Crow series sees our anti-hero coming to the aid of a besieged group of cavalry wagon trains consisting of a rag-tag group of troopers and their officers wives. It's a very different take on the first book, in both setting and situation. James W Marvin pits Crow against a blood thirsty band of Indians as well as the backdrop of a freezing winter environment in this improvement on The Red Hills.

All the elements from the previous book are still here; Crow's lean long-haired black garbed appearance; the trademark sawed-off shotgun; a totally inept commanding officer; a slice of torture, and a spicy sex scene (more on that later!). However, this time everything feels a bit more polished in its execution on reflection when compared to #1 (except the low key ending perhaps?) and I loved the way that having this set during such a bitterly cold climate added to the plight of the characters.

We begin with the obligatory opening scene of two characters in Abelene, Kansas discussing Crow (an old-man Crow and the author perhaps?). They are discussing Crow's response to the quote, "a fate worse than death", with the old man saying that Crow said there is NO fate worse than death and never to forget it.

Skip back in time, and we are introduced to a wagon train full of cavalry wives and womenfolk travelling across Dakota Territory. It consists of the rather pompous wife of Captain Hetherington, who is leading the band as his first independent command of any sort (you know that's not going to endear him to Crow right?), and the virginal daughter of Lieutenant Shannon.

Hetherington doesn't disappoint for long of course, and takes it upon himself and his small charge to try and kill or capture the local Indian Shoshone Chief, Many Knives. Many Knives is on the war path; he's bolstered by the recent victory of Crazy Horse and wants to make a name for himself. Needless to say things don't turn out well for the Captain or most of his troops.

Enter our anti-hero. Reluctantly. He can see a great massacre is on hand if he doesn't intervene and so decides to assist whats left of the ladies and the wagon drivers to defend their small party, trapped by the Shoshone on one side and the raging icy waters of the Moorcock River on the other. They are trapped and surrounded, and the bitter weather is beginning to take its toll.

Marvin sets the scene nicely, everything is set up for a great piece of action, which we do get. There is another great intro to Crow - his dispatching of three young braves is ruthless. We get a truly ghastly torture by the Shoshone, and the tension mounts as people begin to freeze to death as the Indians mount attack after attack. Despite the action throughout it felt like there was less of the ultra-violent description than before. But this doesn't take anything away, I still got my money's worth.

And oh yes, Crow gets his way, with both women at the same time in this story - of course, they were all so  cold it just made sense - in order to generate some heat you know what I mean?

Worse than Death is better than The Red Hills, I enjoyed the story a bit more this time, with the added environmental aspects it felt like Crow was fighting not just men,  but also mother nature.

As with all the books in this series, currently published by Piccadilly, this one cost a mere £0.99 in eBook format. There were a few spelling slip ups, but nothing major to  report, the quality control seems to be of a high level and won't spoil your reading experience in my opinion.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

The Red Scarf

Author: Gil Brewer
First Published: 1955
Pages: 170

Wow, where do I start with this one. What an amazing book. Gil Brewer is well known among fans of hard boiled novels for writing about characters who find themselves trapped in a difficult position and slide further and further down a rabbit hole of lies and deceit - the further down they fall, the more their situation seems unrecoverable by the reader. In The Red Scarf, Brewer skillfully plunges his antagonist, Roy Nichols, down a warren that you feel he will never be able to climb out of. I was rolling my eyes and groaning as Nichols makes decisions that I just knew were going to increase the velocity of his decent - you feel like grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and screaming "Just tell someone the truth!" or "For God's sake, don't do that!", but deep down you know it will spoil the fun you are having reading about his desperate attempts to wriggle free of any of the consequences of his previous actions.

Roy Nichols and his wife Bess, live in a struggling Motel in Florida, hoping that an abandoned highway nearby will have its construction resumed, so that it will help lift them out of the debt they find themselves in after all their business investments. Roy travels across country to seek some financial assistance from his brother. After coming up empty handed he decides to save money and hitch-hike back to Florida. This leads him to meet the decidedly odd-acting couple, Vivien and Teece. Vivien in particular seems rather strung out, flirting and toying with Roy right in front of Teece. Both of them reek of booze and despite his initial miss-givings Nichols accepts a lift from Vivien.

During the ride, it transpires that the pair have absconded with a briefcase stuffed full of cash from the Mob; Teece being a courier, and Vivien seemingly having influenced him into taking the dangerous step of keeping the cash and running off with her. The case is identified through the fact that Vivien has tied her bright red scarf around the handle. The three of them continue drinking in the car, there is a incident, and Roy is left with a moral dilemma.

What follows is a brilliant story following Roy back to his Motel home and wife Bess, determined to somehow save their livelihood whilst juggling all the set-backs and complex situations he finds himself in; facing the torment of lying to his wife, trying to avoid detection from the police investigator, and desperately trying to outwit the man the Mob send out to recover their cash.

Brewer was a master. This novel never lets up and Brewer never lets you down. I was hooked all the way and am really pleased I finally got around to picking this up to read. Highly recommended as an essential piece of noir fiction.

I purchased the Stark House edition of this novel. It is bundled together with another Brewer story, A Killer is Loose. It cost me £3.75 in total, well worth every penny. Even the cover is decent for an eBook.