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.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Undercover Gun (Clay Nash #1)

Author: Brett Waring
First Published:  2016 (?)
Pages: 105

"Clay Nash and his neighbor Cash Matthews were never going to be friends.

Matthews was a big, powerful rancher who always wanted more. Clay was just a homesteader, content with his lot. But when Matthews went after Clay's land—and fenced off the water Clay's cattle needed in order to survive—Clay had no choice but to declare war. It was a foolish gesture that could only end one way, and it did—with Matthews sentencing Clay to a long, lingering death on the high desert. But somehow Clay survived, and when he came back for revenge, he was a new man, a harder man, a man who showed no mercy to his enemies.

Clay Nash was Wells Fargo's secret weapon … an undercover gun."

I enjoyed The Red Hills (Crow #1), so much that I decided to try another new (for me at least) Western series from Piccadilly Publishing. At £0.99, it's hardly going to break the bank if I don't like it, I thought. I'm happy to report it wasn't a waste of my hard earned cash. Undercover Gun, number 1 in the Clay Nash series was enjoyable and a nice departure from Crow. This series is written by Brett Waring, aka Keith Hetherington, who has also written Banner the Enforcer as Kirk Hamilton. Knowing this before I made my purchase provided that extra bit of confidence that I was in for a good yarn.

This first novel sets the scene for all the novels that follow. There are 25 in the series and at the time of writing Piccadilly have published up to number 15. So don't expect any undercover gunning from Clay Nash till the final act of this opener. As you can read from the blurb, Clay is a small time rancher who just happens to living next to a much more powerful and notorious rancher in the form of Cash Matthews. Clay comes to the attention of Matthews after he dispatches a couple of his henchmen, who were looking to impart a bit of punishment on Clay for using the river on Matthews land to water his herd.

Eventually Matthews captures Clay and decides to teach him and all the other ranchers around his growing empire a lesson, by releasing Clay out into the searingly hot desert with a few hours head start before Cash and his cronies come looking for him. They expect it to be a dead cert that Clay will not get far, or last very long in the wilderness. Their a bit of sport does not go exactly their way though, as Clay has spent some time among the native Indians and has some skills of his own.

What follows is a very competent and entertaining western following the desperate attempts of Matthews to hunt down Clay Nash, and Nash's ingenuity in foiling his neighbor. The story follows a lean plot that hardly ever lacks pace and kept me engaged throughout. The violence is not as graphic as that in the Crow novel I read before this, but it is still satisfyingly detailed; Nash is a mean shot and the action scenes are really well written.

There were no sex scenes in this opening story, I'm not aware if that changes over time, but there is what could be the start of a burgeoning romance. So, if you are not in the mood for a grisly or ultra-violent western, then this might scratch you itch. Recommended.

I'm led to believe that these stories have been published previously, however I could not find any covers for old paperbacks, so the cover above is the very good cover form Piccadilly, which apparently uses the original cover? I'd love to see a picture of the originals if anyone can point hem out somewhere on the Net?

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

The Red Hills (Crow #1)

Author: James W Marvin
First Published:  1979
Pages: 128

"Know what Crow used to say about livin' by your guns? Said it made him like a kind of alchemist. Said he was the first man in history to turn lead into gold. Yeah. Meanest son of a bitch ever. Crow."

No other name. Just Crow. Dressed in black from head to toe. The meanest man in the bullet-scarred annals of the West. Nobody ever turned their back on him. A cold voice in the shadows, a vengeful angel of death ... 

Time was when Crow was a Lieutenant in the Cavalry. A time when he rode against Crazy Horse and the Sioux. Commanded by Captain Silas Menges, a bloated, drunken obscenity of an individual. Even Menges' beautiful, sensual wife, Angelina, couldn't make up for the insults Crow took from him. No one crossed Crow and Lived. No one ... "

The Red Hills is the first novel in a series about a man named Crow. Just Crow. Written by James W Marvin a pseudonym for Laurence James, the prolific British-born author who also wrote other popular Western series Apache, Herne The Hunter, Caleb Thorne and Gunslinger. Piccadilly Publishing have brought a few of these series to us in eBook format recently (Great work Piccadilly!) and I'm a happy man. I loved this. There is possibly some parallel to be had with the Edge series by George G Gilman (Terry Harknett, who actually collaborated with James on a few occasions), in that I guess this series was trying to cash in on the popularity by having a similar sort of anti-hero. Crow only lasted for eight books though, as opposed to the massive 60+ of Edge. I am looking forward to finding out if this series loses its way or get repetitive quickly. Anyone with better knowledge please feel free to comment?

Crow is introduced to us straight away and it is immediately obvious he is a total bastard. Using his trademark sawed-off double-barreled shotgun to blow the head off of a little girls pet dog just because it won't give up Crows yellow neck scarf sets the bar. This is not a man to upset. Dressed all in black, tall, lean and mean, this is a no nonsense dude.

The story (framed within the structure of an old man being interviewed - might it be Crow himself?) centers around Crows involvement as a Lieutenant in the Cavalry deep in Indian country. He is set off against a truly manic, over the top, drunken commanding officer, Silas Menges, who is hated by his troop and who Crow instantly has no respect for. Complicated into this is the addition of the Captains' wife, who pretty quickly takes a shine to our anti-hero. There follows bad decision after bad decision by the officer, poorly planned raids to attempt to rid the area of Indians, and Crow eventually getting his end off with Mrs Menges, which seals the deal for a showdown with the Captain.

It feels a little strange that Crow is presented as a no nonsense son-of-a-gun initially, but for the rest of the book we see him struggling to restrain himself from reacting to the awful actions of his senior officer. However, this provides the reader with their own feeling of frustration, and all builds up to the final climax and Crow eventually handing out his own truly ghastly revenge on Menges.

I really, really enjoyed this book, Marvin cleverly presents his plot without any fluff, delivers great, bloody action scenes, a bit of gratuitous sex, and a satisfying ending for the 'baddies'. I like the format of Westerns with an anti-hero such as Crow or Edge - that feeling of the violent 70's spaghetti western brought to novel form is great. Highly recommended.

Monday, 13 May 2019

The Name of the Game is Death (Drake #1)

Author: Dan J Marlowe
First Published:  1962
Pages: 142

"Two guys with guts and a go-to-hell-with-you-Jack regard for consequences have about three chances in ten of pulling off a big, well-planned smash-and-grab. If one of them can shoot like me... the odds are a damn sight better."

The Name of the Game is Death is the first novel in what eventually became known as the Drake series (to give it it's full name, Drake: The Man With Nobody's Face). Published by Gold Medal in 1962 and written by Dan J Marlowe, an American born 1917 in Massachusetts. Marlowe was often overlooked in the hard-boiled crime scene until recently where a resurgence in his works have brought him to the attention of a wider audience. Thank God. He was a fantastic author of noir fiction if this opening novel about the origins of Drake is to be repeated in his further books. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. From beginning to end Drake is presented as a tough criminal character who takes no prisoners and dishes out his own form of revenge in glorious prose from Marlowe. The plot is stripped back to it's bare minimum and rattles along at a fast pace.

The central character of Drake starts his narrative just as he and his partner Bunny are about to rob a bank. The execution of the bank-job does not go quite to plan and Drake and Bunny split, with Bunny taking the proceedings of the heist whilst Drake is forced to seek out medical assistance from a local doctor. Eventually the previously agreed arrangements begin to unwind as Drake loses contact with Bunny and has to travel across the US to find his partner in crime.

What follows is a fantastically character driven story of Drake embedding himself into the working life of a small town, meanwhile secretly trying to locate Bunny who has disappeared. The supporting cast spring to life, Drake shows his weakness for animals, and by the finale you are definitely beginning to root for the hero/criminal as he mets out punishment in glorious noir-ish style.

Dan J Marlowe is an author I have only just been made aware of. His writing career is short and very interesting, I'll leave it to you to find out more. But I'm certainly glad I gave him a try. I would recommend The Name of the Game is Death to anyone with a bent towards hard-boiled, noir stories. I have a massive amount of admiration for Raymond Chandler (who doesn't!), but Mr Marlowe has opened my eyes to a new man on the block.

I have shown a couple of original paperback covers in this blog. My own copy, as denotes the purpose of this blog, was an eBook readily available on good websites. It should be noted that the first two novels of the Drake series are published in eBook by a different publisher than the rest of the series (notable by their "Operation..." titles). I'm not sure why this is, if anyone can enlighten me I'd be grateful. I paid just a little over £2 and I think it was great value for money.