Tuesday, 22 December 2020

My New Year Challenge

As 2020 comes to end I find myself thinking about the books I've read over the last twelve months and the books I'd like to read next year. There are so many good books I would love to be able to experience. But I always end up telling myself - the best thing to do is simply choose the ones you know you will have a more than better chance of liking. Life's too short to plough diligently through something you hate (although I've broken that personal rule a few times to be completely honest).

Therefore, in 2021, I've set myself a New Year's Challenge. Over the course of the year I will be reading a series of books across four well-known genre 'universes'. But to ensure I have a pretty good chance of getting through them all, I have picked from series that I know I'm going to like - at least from personal experience in the past that is. As you clearly can see from this post's main picture I have selected from Star Wars, Star Trek, James Bond and Musashi.

All of the books are currently available in eBook format. I haven't read any of them before but they have been on my radar for a while. I tried to keep the books within the 20th Century, but had to make a few exceptions. I don't want the challenge to disrupt my blogging completely so I am restricting the challenge to a total of 19 books. Seeing as I get through roughly 50 per year, I believe this will still allow me the time to dip in and out of the challenge and still keep Digital Bibliophilia a location for a varied review site of genre fiction.

Sunday, 6 December 2020


Author: Oliver Jacks (aka Kenneth Royce)
Publisher: Grafton Books
Date: 1986
Pages: 254
Not currently available in eBook format

In one of those happy coincidences, I was attracted to a previously unknown author's book by its cover artwork, only to find out out it was actually a pen name used by an established and well-known writer.

Breakout is a thriller published in 1986 in the UK by Grafton Books. The author is Oliver Jacks, who I'd not had any previous experience of reading. Some light internet research didn't surface much of a backlog. A few other thriller/action adventure tales in the 70's and 80's but nothing outstanding or particularly well-known. It seemed that Mr Jacks penned another four books (Man on a Short LeashAssassination Day and Autumn Heroes) but had disappeared by the nineties. Jacks doesn't have much of a presence on the internet and doesn't even have a page dedicated to him on Fantastic Fiction.

However, after finishing the story, I persevered in my studies and started to notice something. Along with Jacks name I noticed a listing that coupled one of his books with the name Kenneth Royce. This rang a bell and a quick reference back to the Appendix of Mike Ripley's excellent Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang confirmed that indeed Oliver Jacks was a name used by thriller writer Kenneth Royce. It seemed I had inadvertently landed the final Jacks book in his quartet of standalone tales.

Royce was born in 1920 in Croydon, UK. He served in the British Armed Forces during the Second World War, raising to the rank of Captain. After the war he became involved in running a travel agency which afforded him the perfect position to conduct research on the background to his many books. It was with the Spider Scott series that he rose to fame. Spider is an ex-burglar who can't quite give up the temptations of crime and who is recruited to work for the secret services. Scott became known as the XYY Man due to his extra 'Y' chromosome giving him a pre-disposition towards criminality.

Monday, 16 November 2020

The Memoirs of Solar Pons

Author: August Derleth
First Published: 1951
File size/Pages: 1373KB / 251pp
Ebook Publisher: Belanger Books
Ebook Date: Jun 2018

Despite what may have been published in the 1970's, the second collection of cases for Solar Pons was actually The Memoirs of Solar Pons. So in keeping with the republished and reformatted ebooks by Belanger Books I am following their sequence and downloaded the next chronological installement of the adventures of the most famous of Sherlock Holmes successors.

Memoirs sees author August Derleth in fine form. He weaves Holmesian influences, references and homage into his second book about Solar Pons, the private detective who uses prodigious powers of observation and deduction to solve crimes in 1920's and 1930's London, from his base in an apartment at 7B Praed Street. There is even a reference to that other man of exceptional detecting talent, Dr. John Thorndyke (I'd recommend grabbing a copy of the The Red Thumb Mark or The Eye of Osiris if you can). Derleth cleverly manages to squeak in a sneaky appearance of Lovecraftian literature, which adds a bit of spice to one of the tales (see below).

There are eleven stores, one less than in Regarding Sherlock Holmes - however, these are in my opinion far superior in structure and in the telling. Derleth is able to weave more variety and greater story-building into Memoirs than he did before. The stakes are higher, the need to deduct more quickly is evident, and the supporting characters are more finely drawn. It's clear that the author had improved in his wirting skills at this time. Despite my miss-givings with the first book, this one starts well and, with only a few exceptions, holds its interest throughout. A number of the tales are longer in form, allowing for more interaction between Pons, his assistant Dr Lyndon Parker, suspects, and Police Detective Jamison.

Pons' relationship with Parker begins to take a different slant over Holmes and Watson in this collection I feel. Whereas Holmes elicits some comradeship and even a little brotherly love towards Dr Watson - Dr Parker doesn't appear to receive the same treatment from his exceptionally talented partner. There is a more critical vein running through Soalr Pons. He is only too quick to put Parker down, and seems to relish it more than Holmes ever did with Watson (or perhaps I'm more familiar with the later and have a tendancy to over romanticize it?).

Monday, 2 November 2020

Hard Target - The Zone #1

Author: James Rouch
Ebook Publisher:  Speaking Volumes
Ebook Date: Jul. 2012
File size/Pages: 513KB / 158pp
First Published: New English Library, 1980

"For two years The Zone has been alive with death, ravaged by war beyond sanity, raped with fire and poison."

So goes the blurb on the back of Hard Target: The Zone #1 by James Rouch. An alternative timeline novel where the fall of the Berlin Wall never happened and a Third World War has developed between NATO and the Soviet Union. 

There isn't a lot of information available about the author. His is (was?) British, lives in the west of England. The Zone series and three other war fiction novels appear to be his only books to date. He became a literary agent and had his own company website at one time, but that no longer exists and I can't find anything else.

Written in 1980 at the height of the late era Cold War when President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - best of chums across the Atlantic - were battling tooth and nail with Leonid Brezhnev, the Russian leader. The 'Ruskies' had invaded Afghanistan in 1979. There was even a videogame issued by Atari called 'Missile Command' in which you could play at thermonuclear war. Nuclear warfare was just the twitch of a finger on a big red button away from reality.

Playing on this atmosphere, Rouch's series of books, running up to ten installments by 1990 I believe, pit the combined NATO forces of a group of American and British soldiers together into numerous missions in the ravaged wasteland now called The Zone. 

Hard Target takes place two years after the outbreak of WWIII. There isn't any supporting history to explain the current fictional political situation, or the evolution of the contaminated land that most of the action takes place in. Rouch relies upon segments of the book that take the form of reports to HQ, or messages to the Team, to give a little back-story. However, he does cheekily recommend that the reader might want to locate some reference sources such as, "Pawns of Politics; A study of the refugee problem inside The Zone."

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Marksman and Other Stories

Author: William Campbell Gault
Publisher:  Crippen & Landru
Date: Mar. 2003
Pages: 206
Not currently available in eBook format or paperback

Marksman contains a loving end-piece by Shelly Gault, daughter of William Campbell Gault. In it, she reminisces about how her father would proudly claim that from the moment he began writing up until the early 1980's, he had sold everything he had ever written.

It's no surprise. Gault could write exceptionally well, and was quick to spot opportunities. When he saw dwindling sales of mystery fiction in the 1960's he turned his attention to writing juvenile fiction exclusively and began a long and successful period of his career. As she adds he "loved it when he heard that his titles were among the most stolen from libraries"!

Crippen & Landru have been publishing a series of books in their The Lost Classics Series since 2002. These consist of uncollected stories by great mystery and detective writers of the past. Most are published in hardback, but if you look carefully you can find some in eBook format. This particular issue is currently not available in electronic format yet.

This collection of short literature from William Campbell Gault consists of twelve tales published between 1940 and 1957 in magazines such as Clues, S&S Dectective Story Magazine, Mercury Mystery Magazine and premier titles such as Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Blackmask and Manhunt (none of which made it into 2019's The Best of Manhunt if you are wondering). The first six are stories unrelated to each other, and cover the period from 1940 to the middle fifties. A few contain detectives, but most of them involve men-about-town who are involved in strange circumstance. The second half of Marksman contains the complete collection of short tales featuring one of Gault's most famous creations, Private Investigator, Joe Puma that appeared in 1956 and 1957.

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Rough Trade

Author: Robert Silverberg
Publisher: PS Publishing
Date: Dec. 2017
Pages: 415
Not currently available in eBook format or paperback

In 2012, Hard Case Crime published Robert Silverberg's novelette Blood on the Mink, packaged together with a couple of short stories (Dangerous Doll and One Night of Violence). These stories had been written by Silverberg in the late fifties and early sixties for pulp magazines of the time. The success of the HCC paperback prompted a new interest in the authors crime back catalogue, and so in 2017, British independant publishing house PS Publishing release a limited run of his stories from the same period as Rough Trade.

This new collection contains 23 short stories (but does also include One Night of Violence from the HCC paperback) covering the years from 1957 to 1961. Most of the stories are around ten to twelve pages in length, with a few 10,000 worders increasing that to 30 page tales. All of them appeared in one of two pulp magazines that Silverberg was providing a constant stream of material too, Guilty and Trapped. As he says in one of the introductions that preface each story, for some reason Guilty was the more poular magazine despite it covering exactly the same type of crime/hardboiled/delinquent teenager type of content as its companion magazine. Both magazines were edited by the same man, W.W. Scott, to whom Harlan Ellison introduced Silverberg. Thus was born a period of his life where he supplemented his living by sending rapidly written shorts to Scott for consideration.

Silverberg left college and got married in 1956. He immediately began to write full-time - he had already started writing science fiction whilst in college, and wanted to continue to write for a living. Whilst his partner went to work, there was pressure on him to contribute to their living costs. At this time there were very few publishers issuing regular science fiction magazines, nowhere enough for Silverberg to earn good money. Needing to branch out, he began to write for many of the pulps inclinding submissions of Westerns, Sports and Mens Adventure tales. But crime was still king in the late fifties, and so he eventually began to churn out the sort of stories that he hoped would appear in Manhunt

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

The Horror on the Links (The Complete Tales of Jules de Grandin #1)

Author: Seabury Quinn
Ebook Publisher: Night Shade
Ebook Date: Apr. 2017
File size/Pages: 1109KB / 512pp
First Published: 2017 (original tales 1925-28)

Night Shade books produced a fantastic set of hardback books in 2017 that have collected all 92 tales of the occult detective, Dr Jules de Grandin by Seabury Quinn. These are handsome editions set in chronological order across five volumes. Thankfully they decided to also make them available in the eBook format.

Volume One contains a sumptuous 23 tales, across a hefty 500 pages, the first of which graced the pages of Weird Tales in 1925. The tales cover the first four years and culminate with the story featured in the December 1928 issue.

Seabury Quinn was born in Washington, USA in 1889 and died in 1969. After graduating from law school he attained the bar in the District of Columbia. Serving in World War One, he subsequently became the editor for trade papers in New York, started teaching medical jurisprudence, wrote technical articles and began submitting pulp magazine fiction stories. He continued to write for the pulps despite still remaining an active lawyer. His most famous creation was Dr Jules de Grandin.

De Grandin is a French doctor who has a particluar expertise in all matters of the paranormal and supernatural. His is a flamboyant character, wearing immaculate clothing, and always recongnisable due to his white hair and waxed moustache. His manners are also, at various times, brusque; demure; excitable; unforgiving, and ingratiating. But underneath there is a vicious hatred of evil in all its forms. It's sometimes quite surprising how ruthless de Grandin can be when dispatching his enemies - death befalls most of them.

Accompanying the French investigator is the loyal and level-headed partner, Dr Samuel Trowbridge. A Physician based in Harrisonville, New Jersey, he assists de Grandin in a succession of cases due to accidental meetings in America and abroad (The Isle of Missing Ships is a wonderful example, see below). These meetings soon dissapear as de Grandin seemingly moves to Harrisonville permanently.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

The Keep

eBook edition
Author: F. Paul Wilson
Ebook Publisher: Wilsongs
Ebook Date: Nov. 2013
File size/Pages: 1162KB / 377pp
First Published: 1981

F. Paul Wilson is an author who has made his mark. He is the author of more than fifty books. He has covered many genres including horror, science fiction and thrillers. He has also written for the comic medium, plays, television and movie treatments. He sometimes writes young adult novels. He is probably most well known for his Repairman Jack series of novels about an anti-hero involved in a age-long battle across time. His first published novel was The Healer in 1976, a Sci-Fi book that eventually became part of his LaNague Federation sequence.

In 1981 Wilson published The Keep. A horror novel involving Nazis, a Romanian Castle/Keep and an ancient vampire. This novel became the first in what is called The Adversary Cycle, which now encompasses six titles. The book was a hit, and very quickly the film rights were snapped up. By 1983 a motion picture was distributed by Paramount Pictures starring Scott Glenn, J├╝rgen Prochnow and Ian McKellen amongst others. German electronic music band Tangerine Dream produced the soundtrack (which is great if you can get hold of a copy). The film was not received very well, and is probably deserved. It has a fascinating history I'd recommend anyone looking up. I haven't seen the movie for a long time - but my own memory of seeing it as a teenager, most likely on video cassette, was that it was extremely creepy (I was most likely heavily influenced by the music if I'm honest). With that in mind, I thought I'd choose The Keep as one of the books for Horror Month here on Digital Bibliophilia.

Almost the whole of The Keep is located within or close by the Keep. Set in the Dinu Pass, high up in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania in April 1941, this ancient fortification is targeted by the Nazis as key spot to post a garrison of troops. Their orders are to guard the pass from Allied encroachment in to the Romanian oil fields that will soon be made available to them after their newly formed pact with the country. 

Monday, 14 September 2020


Author: Stephen King
Ebook Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Ebook Date: Mar. 2010
File size/Pages: 1716KB / 402pp
First Published: 1981

Now let's get something straight. Stephen King is a brilliant writer. I love to read King. Some of his books have had a major influence on my reading material over the last forty years. I think he is one of the most exceptional authors around today. His style is so comforting to read, which sounds strange to say when you are talking about a body of work that mainly encompasses the horror genre. But it just is. You can start a novel by King and instantly be sucked into the characters and places of his story. He is one of the rare authors around for who, when you see the latest book is over 500 pages, you don't think "jeez, this is gonna be a slog" - you think, "wow! this could be great, can't wait to get into that one."

I won't say, I'm a King aficionado, or even a King enthusiast. I don't race out to the bookshop to grab the first edition hardback for each and every novel to come along. But I do stop and pause when I see a new cover with his name on it, pick it up, read the back cover blurb, and think, "Is this one up my street?". Because I know if it is, then I'm gonna eventually read it cover to cover, and usually very quickly. Like a dog that hasn't eaten all day, and is sitting there drool dangling off of his jowls.

So when it came to choosing books for Horror Month, I walked past my little collection of King novels languishing on the small bedroom bookcase we have, and I thought to myself, "Which one of these haven't I read yet? Cujo. I've not read Cujo, yet. I'll have that one thank you ma'am. Let's see what Mr King was all about in 1981 Shall we." Well, it turns out he was on a high. Quite literally. And literally. Does that make sense?

When Cujo was published in September of 1981, King was coming off the back of successive hits with Carrie, Salem's Lot, The Shining, The Stand, Firestarter and The Dead Zone. He was effectively untouchable, and had even started writing under the Richard Bachman pseudonym (see reviews of The Long Walk and The Running Man) to see if his books would sell as well without the King 'label', as they did with it. He also simply wanted to just get more of his work out there, but was hindered by his publishers wishes to keep his fans on a strict diet. 

Saturday, 5 September 2020


1988 UK NEL Edition
Author: James Herbert
Ebook Publisher: Pan
Ebook Date: May 2011
File size/Pages: 893KB / 228pp
First Published: 1988

Horror Month kicks off with a right cracker from British horror writer James Herbert. There hasn't been a single book by Herbert that I didn't enjoy reading, so I was bit excited to start this once I'd decided to do a month of horror reading. I'm pleased to report that he didn't dissapoint me again. I was gripped from the first twenty pages. Haunted is a classic ghost story where the gradual build-up of an unsettling atmosphere over the course of 220+ pages had me glancing nervously at the dark corners of the living room while I was reading. 

James Herbert died suddenly in 2013, at the age of 69. It's a real shame because I feel that he had a few more great books in him, and I'd have loved to be able to read them. The last book he published was titled Ash, and acts as the final book in a trilogy about the titluar character, David Ash. Haunted is the first novel to feature Ash, a paranormal investigator.

James Herbert was born in 1943 in London, not so very far from where I myself grew up in the East End of London. He was educated locally and eventually went to work for an advertising agency. His writing success began with The Rats and The Fog in the late seventies horror boom (although to be fair, they rely on more of a scientific basis for their preimse than a supernatural one). Herbert received the Grand Master Award from Stephen King at the World Horror Convention in 2010. Herbert and King were good friends, both of them starting out with their first books at almost the same moment in time with The Rats beating Carrie by just a few months from publisher New English Library.
I was working in advertising as an art director for five years in the West End of London. I realised as soon as I was writing books full time (before I was writing them in the weekends and during any other spare time), I had to decide if it was one or the other . . . I had to make the decision to either stay in the job I loved or start this new job that I had being doing for five years which I loved even more, because I was king, I played God, characters did what I wanted them to do; whilst in advertising everything is brought down to a certain level. So that's how the career began, and because I no longer had to work in London we moved down to Sussex.

Sunday, 30 August 2020


Author: Issac Asimov
Ebook Publisher: Harper Voyager
Ebook Date: May 2018
File size/Pages: 1093KB / 241pp
First Published: 1951

The final book of Sci-Fi Month is Foundation by Grand Master Issac Asimov. Over the years I have owned many different copies of editions of this book, but for some reason never actually picked it up to read. Mostly written during the 1940's, and published as short stories in Astounding Science Fiction, a new section was added for the first collected edition as we now know it, under the title of Foundation in 1951 by Gnome Press.

Two more books followed, each consisting of a couple of novellas, and these now form the worlds famous Foundation Trilogy. After a lengthy break from writing science fiction, Asimov was lured back into the fold in the early 1980's by the clamor of fans demanding new stories in the same world - as well as a hefty advance from new publishers. This resulted in sequel books four and five, and then by the early 1990's two more prequel titles turning the sequence of books into what is now called the Foundation Series.

Issac Asimov was born in Petrovichi, Russia. Although there is no record of his actual birth in 1920, he celebrated his birthday on 2 January. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1923 with his parents, and so never learned how to speak Russian. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1928. His parents owned a number of sweet shops during his childhood years, and it was via the racks of newspapers and magazines, that his love of reading and books mostly likely took off.

He was educated in and around New York from the age of five. Whilst completing studies for two degrees, Asimov spent three years of World War II working at the Philadelphia Navy Yard's Naval Air Experimental Station, as a chemist. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1945. His military service ceased in 1946, which meant that he narrowly missed out on being part of the team for the Operation Crossroads nuclear weapons tests at Bikini Atoll.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Horror Month

I know I've not finished Sci-Fi Month yet, but I'm already really looking forward to next month. I've decided that September 2020 will be Horror Month here at Digital Biblliophilia

I know there are a lot of Stephen King fans out there from the review I did of The Long Walk, so you'll be pleased to see Cujo is coming up. I have also chosen one of King's writing partners, Peter Straub, and his novel that was turned into a movie, Full Circle. Added to this will be British horror maestro James Herbert with the first 'Ash' story, Haunted. Finally I've included cult classic The Keep by F. Paul Wilson.

See you in September for some chills! (I hope).

Friday, 21 August 2020

The Corridors of Time

Author: Poul Anderson
First Published: 1965
File size/Pages: 659KB / 204pp
Ebook Publisher: Gateway
Ebook Date: Sept 2011

The third book of Sci-Fi Month is Poul Anderson's novel The Corridors of Time, published originally in 1965. It is available for the reasonable price of £2.99 on Amazon UK.

I have quite a number of Anderson novels in my Panther Science Fiction collection, so at some point I'll want to read a few more. Unfortunately, starting off with The Corriodirs of Time was a bad choice. Hopefully this experience was just a one off. If someone can let me know if I just happend to have kicked-off with a right turkey, I'd be grateful.

Poul Anderson is a Grand Master of Science Fiction. Born in 1926, the son of a Scandinavian parents, his family soon moved to Texas where he spent most of his childhood. His father died when he was still relatively young, so his mother took the family back to Denmark. They came back to the U.S. shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, settling in Minnesota, where he attended University. His career as writer began there, with stories being published in a magazine we now are so familiar with; Astounding Science Fiction. Following graduation he became a freelance writer. After marrying, Anderson moved to San Francisco and became a major player in the burgeoning Fantasy community. He won the Hugo Award no less than seven times, three Nebula Awards, was enrolled in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2000 and had an asteroid named after him; 7758 Poulanderson.

The Corridors of Time is a novel about Malcolm Lockridge, an American ex-marine who finds himself in jail charged with second degree murder after defending himself from an attack by a group of teenagers. In defending himself, Lockridge caused one of his attackers to hit the sidewalk rather harder than intended. He is visited in jail by the stunningly attractive woman, Storm Darroway, that he immediately falls for, and who offers to support him financially and get acquitted - if he will promise to assist her with a job. Naturally he accepts, and she tells him to meet her in Copenhagen as soon as he is released - as she will not be available to see him again until then.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Rogue Ship

1975 Panther (cover by Peter Jones)
Author: A. E. van Vogt
First Published: (in book form) 1965
Pages: 205pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Not currently available in eBook format

I clearly have a very short memory. I last reviewed a book by A. E. van Vogt in December 2019, with the novel The Man with a Thousand Names. Back then, I wasn't particularly blown away by Vogt's writing style, but overall found the book a reasonably enjoyable experience. At the time I couldn't see myself reading another of his books in case I came across one of his novels that fell into his penchant for regurgitating old serialised stories from a few decades before, and link them up with interconnecting new passages (he liked to call them 'fix-ups').

Next time I decide to set myself a challenge of reading specific genres in a single month, perhaps I should double-check what I've chosen before I list them on this site! I guess it couldn't really have been that bad - otherwise I'd have subconciously rejected reading this author again?

Rogue Ship is one the novels Vogt constructed from previously issued stories into a 'fix-up' and has a complicated history. From the notes in my 1975 Panther paperback edition it started life as three seperate stories that were rewritten for this single novel. Beginning in 1947, with Centaurus II, which was first published in 'Astounding Science Fiction' (which became the magazine 'Analog Science Fact - Science Fiction'), we then move on to Rogue Ship published in 'Super Science Fiction' three years later, and lastly have a story called The Expendables published within the pages of 'IF Worlds of Science Fiction' in 1963. Drawing all three together and re-writing chunks of them to establish a more coherent plot (something that is debatable when reading a Vogt book!) he repackaged the lot into it's single title.

Rougue Ship is set in an undated future and concerns the journey of the Hope of Man, a giant space cruiser sent out to investigate the Centaurus star system in order to find a new place for mankind to settle. Back on Earth leading scientists are convinced that a cosmic event is imminent, which will pass through the Sun and  become a terrifying wave of solar radiation that will eventually cross paths with our own planet and cause such devastation that it will be the catalyst for the end of mankind on his homeworld.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Capella's Golden Eyes

First Published: 1980
File size/Pages: 645KB / 218pp
Ebook Publisher: Gateway
Ebook Date: Sept 2011

The first book of Sci-Fi Month is Christopher Evan's novel published originally by Faber and Faber in the UK back in 1980. It is available for a very reasonable £1.99 on Amazon UK.

Evans is a new author to me, I'd not heard of him, or read any of his other works before starting this. Internet searching reveals that there is very little known about him. He has a sparse Wikipedia entry that tells me he was born in 1950, a native of the south-eastern Welsh town called Tredegar. He was educated at Cardiff University from 1969 to 1972, and then Swansea University until 1974.

It's possible that he crossed paths with noted fantasy and science fiction writer Robert Holdstock whilst at university (Holdstock attended another Welsh institution, Bangor University in the late sixties and early seventies). Regardless of whether that is true, they combined to edit the Science Fiction Writers Magazine, Focus from 1979 to 1981. The magazine contained many essays on writing SF by noted persons, such as Ken Bulmer, Christopher Priest, Richard Cowper, David Wingrove (Note to self: I really must review one of his Chung Kuo books), and Holdstock/Evans. There were also stories, but it mainly served as the British Science Fiction Association's (BSFA) book for potential or established SF writers.

Evans again worked with Holdstock when they edited the anthologies Other Edens I, II and III, all published in a three-year run during the late eighties. He won the BSFA Award for Best Novel of 1993 with Aztec Century, a novel about an alternate history where the Aztec Empire conquers Britain. He has also written under the pen names of Christopher Carpenter, John Lyon, Nathan Elliott and Robert Knight. He later became a Chemistry teacher in London.

Capella's Golden Eyes was Evans first novel. The title is a reference to the twin suns of the planet Gaia, part of the Capella star system. Generations ago, man travelled to Gaia in a space vessel designed to support its occupants upon landfall. The human colonists struggled to survive, using what resources they could utilise from the land as well as the craft. Just as long-term survival was beginning to look unlikely, a mysterious alien race arrived on a nearby island to the main settlement. The aliens, called M'threnni, allowed the 'Gaians' to prosper by providing resources and guidance. They co-existed together for a short time, but then the M'threnni retreated into their helical structure and rarely ventured outside. All they asked of the settlers was that a few chosen humans would freely volunteer to live with the aliens, becoming in effect their Voices to allow communication to continue with as little interaction with the growing population as possible.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Sci-Fi Month

I thought I'd do something a bit different to liven things up. Therefore, in the month of August, I'll be attempting to read six science fiction classics that were all published in paperback by Granada Publishing under their 'Panther' banner during the 1970's and 1980's. I don't know if I will get through every one as my reading seems to have slowed down a bit this summer - but I will try my best.

As you can see above the reading list will include;
  • Foundation by Issac Asimov (1951)
  • Rogue Ship by A. E. van Vogt (1965)
  • The Corridors of Time by Poul Anderson (1965)
  • Son of Man by Robert Silverberg (1971)
  • Phthor by Piers Anthony (1975)
  • Capella's Golden Eyes by Christopher Evans (1980)
Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Horse Under Water

Author: Len Deighton
First Published: 1963
File size/Pages: 1611KB / 276pp
Ebook Publisher: HarperCollins
Ebook Date: Oct 2009

It's very remiss of me to have never read a book by Len Deighton until recently. He rates in the top ranks of thriller and spy fiction, known all over the world and a first-class international bestselling author since his first novel, The Ipcress File was published in 1962. I'll admit I was a little apprehensive about reading a Deighton novel. I had the same kind of feeling that I had experienced before reading my first John le Carre, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Top echelon spy fiction can have that effect. People are reluctant to pick them up and give them a go because they have the impression that the books are full of difficult to follow and intricate plotting. I mean these books are populated with incredibly intelligent and devious schemers of the modern world, what hope have us normal guys got in trying to decipher whatever the hell is going on in the story if the brainy characters within them can't even work out what is happening?

Deighton's early stories however, star an unnamed hero, who has been thrust into the espionage game via a grammar school upbringing. Popularised on film by actor Michael Caine in adaptations of The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain, he was christend "Harry Palmer". But in paperback, the hero remains an enigma. It means he is at the centre of everything, narrating the events as they happen to him, much like a good 40's/50's private detective. He's not one of the upper class English private school exports. It makes him that much more accessible and real.

Horse Under Water was the successor to The Ipcress File, but "Secret File No.2" has never been adapted to the screen. The Caine versions were shot out of sequence, and the poor performance of Billion Dollar Brain at the box office resulted in the second book never being made. Perhaps the multiple locations (Portugal, England, Morocco and Gibraltar) and the complex technicalities of possible underwater scenes put this story bottom of the pile in terms of costs to produce. It's a shame really, as it would have made for quite a Bond-like travelogue (which now seems to be the norm).

Sunday, 19 July 2020

The Black Hole

Author: Alan Dean Foster
First Published: 1979
Pages: 187pp
Publisher: New English Library
Not currently available in eBook format

Alan Dean Foster was busy between 1978 and 1980. Not only did he pen the adaptation of Disney's film, The Black Hole, but he was also responsible for adapting Star Trek Log Ten, Aliens and George Lucas's undeveloped treatment for a potential sequel to Star Wars, Splinter of the Mind's Eye. He was also probably considering novelisations of Clash of the Titans and Outland as well as working on titles in his Icerigger trilogy and Humanx series.

All of this work might be how Foster likes to occupy himself. Perhaps he thrived upon a busy schedule forcing him to deliver the goods. But similarly this might be the reason that his effort here is rather lacklustre? There is no denying that the source material for The Black Hole doesn't exactly set the world alight with its plot. I have not watched the film since finishing the book, to be frank- it put me off watching it completely. If Foster followed the script religiously (I don't think he did, at least in one particular key death scene his description is significantly different), then the pacing of his source material was seriously flawed from the outset. His only recourse would have been to inject new scenes to add some much needed tension and conflict. I don't think he did, whether due to indifference or lack of time, we'll never know.

The Black Hole was produced by the Walt Disney organisation. It had a long history in their archives - originally being conceived in the early seventies by writers Bob Barbash and Richard Landau as an answer to the current trend of disaster films like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. After a few failed attempts to develop the idea, Star Wars hit cinema screens across the world Disney scrambled around for a Sci-fi idea to produce in response to the demand for more space-bound adventures.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

The Jaws Log (30th Anniversary Edition)

Original 1975 Dell paperback edition
Author: Carl Gottlieb
First Published: 1975
File size/Pages: 3400KB / 227pp
Ebook Publisher: Dey Street Books
Ebook Date: Jun 2010

Staying on a Peter Benchley theme for this review, we have The Jaws Log, an account of the making of the movie from his 1974 novel.

The author is scriptwriter, Carl Gottlieb, who polished a script originally written by Benchley (there are a few other contributors that Gottlieb covers during the course of the factual story). He was originally asked to star in the film, already being friendly with director Steven Speilberg opened an opportunity to pick a role. He was sent over a copy of the script, and chose Amity town official Meadows as a role he could see himself in.

Once production started though, it was clear that Gottlieb's talents at writing would need to be utilised to add depth to the working script. When the crew moved wholesale to Martha's Vinyard, Gottlieb went with them, and eventually ended up sharing a house on the beach with Speilberg. From his time employed as both an actor onset, and as the new scriptwriter he kept copious notes and diaries. The Jaws Log was the culmination of those recordings and memories.

There is a 30th Anniversary Edition of this title available in eBook format. This also incorporates introductions and footnotes from a previous "25th Anniversary Edition" so is currently the most comprehensive version available. Pictures are included in the eBook version.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

The Deep

1977, Pan UK edition
Author: Peter Benchley
First Published: 1976
Pages: 251pp
Publisher: Pan
Not currently available in eBook format

Sometimes, when I'm falling endlessly down the internet version of Lewis Carrol's rabbitt-hole looking for a new novel to read, I come across an author whose lack of presence in eBook format is rather baffling. I've been a fan of the film Jaws since an early age (who isn't?), so it was only natural that my attention would at some point land on Peter Benchley and, at first, this led a re-watch of the film The Deep, based upon his 1976 novel. This reawakened my interest in his books, and my web browser dipped its toes warily into the depths of the world wide web, expecting to find a plethora of sunken treasure. I was genuinely shocked to discover that Jaws is the only title from Benchley available in eBook?*

*I'm aware that The Girl of the Sea of Cortez may be available in other countries.

Peter Benchley was born in 1940 in New York City in 1940. The son of a writer himself, he lived his early life flitting between New York and Colorado while his father fought in the Second World War. He graduated from Harvard College on 1961, majoring in English. He had already experienced working as a writer, due to his father allowing him to work as a part time professional. As he describes in a biographical piece on the Peter Benchley website;

But once he saw that I was interested in writing, he did a wonderful thing. For two summers, when I was 15 and 16, he paid me the going wage I might make as a gardener or a soda jerk or a club attendant, and my only duty was to sit alone in a room with a typewriter for four hours every day, or until I produced a thousand words, whichever came first. He didn’t want to read it; I never had to do anything with it. But I had to produce it. He wanted me to experience both the solitude and the discipline that are requisites of a writing life, to see if I could tolerate them. If I couldn’t, he said, I’d better start looking in another direction. As things turned out, I not only tolerated discipline and isolation, I liked them, and so, at the age of 17, I became half a professional writer: I say half because although I sent story after story to The New Yorker and other magazines, none of the stories sold. So I was a professional in that I wrote to make money, but I wasn’t a professional in that I never made any. I sold my first freelance journalism at 18, and my first fiction at 21, to Vogue magazine. 

Two early books in the sixties were based upon travels, but a stint in the U.S Marine Corps interrupted any further work. After the end of his service he began working for The Washington Post and then Newsweek. This was followed by a period as a speech writer for President Johnson. In 1969, he moved to New Jersey and began life as a freelance writer and reviewer, taking on all kinds of jobs. Following some encouragement by a editor friend Benchley decided to concentrate on honing his skills in order to publish a piece of fiction he had been considering for a while. The end result was Jaws - and the rest is publishing and movie history.

Monday, 29 June 2020

A Light in the West - Wolfs Head #3

Author: Arthur Frazier (aka Laurence James)
First Published: 1973
Pages: 111pp
Publisher: New English Library
Not currently available in eBook format

Warning: As this is part three of a six-book series there are bound to be some spoilers in this review. My reviews of the opening two books are here and here.

I had been looking forward to starting the third installment of the Wolfs Head saga for a while. The previous two had been written by the prolific Kenneth Bulmer, and he had won me over with his mixture of historical attention to detail and fast-paced visceral action. However, books three and four are penned by his stable-mate at New English Library, Laurence James, for whom I have already been particularly impressed with, due to his Piccadilly western fiction series, 'Crow'. It was with some excitement that I picked up A Light in the West this weekend in order to continue the rollicking story of the Saxon, Edric Ecgbertson and Norman Lord, Simon du Lac in medieval England.

In keeping with the previous title, The King's Death; A Light in the West follows on almost immediately after the end of the preceding book. Following their overwhelming and bloody victory at the Battle of Hastings, The Normans now rule England. Their leader, William the Bastard, has risen to be crowned King of England and has left the land in the control of his warrior-bishop Brother Odo, whilst he strengthens his role back in French Normandy for a while. Simon du Lac was awarded the demesne of Furnaceden in Kent - the family home of Edric Ecgbertson  - by his new King. He has taken his forces, accompanied by his second Guy Vermeil, and taken over the Saxon hamlet as his own. At the end of The King's Death, Simon had just killed Edric's father, Ecgbert, who had attempted a doomed retaking of Furanceden - helped only by the one-handed woodsman, Alaric, and a young boy named Nebba.

As A Light in the West begins, Edric is returning from a failed rescue of his father, and Simon is settling into his new role. He takes for his bride, Elfleda, the Saxon woman once romantically linked to Edric. Fast forward a year, and they now have a child, Agnes. Edric has arranged for his wife, Ysabel and his own two children to stay with her family back in Normandy, protected by his Viking freedman friend Beorn. This allows him to organise his band of outlaws, the Wolfs Heads, on their campaign of hate against the Norman invaders, and Simon du Lac in particular. With his family in a safe haven, Edric is free to roam the Kent countryside without fearing for their safety.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Regarding Sherlock Holmes - The Adventures of Solar Pons

Author: August Derleth
First Published: 1945
File size/Pages: 1388KB / 288pp
Ebook Publisher: Belanger Books
Ebook Date: Jun 2018

I've seen a lot of articles over the years regarding the character of Solar Pons. Most recently my involvement in Kickstarting some of the MX Sherlock Holmes books by Belanger Books meant I was included in the notification that they were also looking to republish the complete Solar Pons series as originally authored by August Derleth. At the time I didn't join in on the project, I'd already committed to a number of other products, and thought that these were a little out of my interest range.

So it was nice to find, whilst browsing Amazon UK for Kindle Unlimited books, to find that the series was now being included within this subscriber service. I added them to my shopping list, thinking that I'd save them for another time. But I soon found that I was more interested in trying out one of the first ever Sherlock Holmes pastiches that I thought I was. I've decided to start, most appropriately at the beginning, with the opening collection of short stories, titled, Regarding Sherlock Holmes, The Adventures of Solar Pons.

August Derleth was born in 1909. growing up in Wisconsin, United States. He and began writing from an early age, eventually authoring over 100 books in his time, with his first novel being published in 1930. An early adopter the macabre, he contributed to the Weird Tales magazine during his time at the University of Wisconsin. In 1939, Derleth and longtime friend Donald Wandrei, founded the Arkham House publishing company. The aim was to publish the works of another old friend, H. P. Lovecraft. As well as Lovecraft's work, Derleth also sold and published new stories of Cthulu Mythos. Some of these new tales caused friction, as Derleth claimed he had worked with Lovecraft on them. Despite this issue, the creation of Arkham House played a significant role in raising Lovecraft from obscurity and is widely considered as a seminal moment in the horror genre.

Derleth's other great love was detective fiction and especially the works of Arthur Conan Doyle involving Sherlock Holmes. Derleth was driven to correspond with Doyle and at one point asked if, because the creator had said there would never be another Holmes story, would he mind if the young writer wrote his own stories starring the Greatest Detective. Doyle categorically refused, saying he could not. Derleth at that time wrote in his diary "Re: Sherlock Holmes" at a date in the future. When that day eventually came, he went ahead and started writing them anyway. But in order to avoid any legal wranglings, he set his detective in London at No.3 Praed Street between 1919 and 1939, called him "Solar Pons" and had him accompanied by Dr "Lyndon Parker". Derleth's stories have been collected into eight volumes by Belanger Books, all of which are available in eBook format.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

A Touch of Death

Author: Charles Williams
First Published: 1954
Ebook Publisher: mysteriouspress.com
Ebook Date: Jun 2014

It can be gratifying to read a really good book. It can be thrilling to read a really great book. But it is totally captivating to read a book that has been written by a suspense novelist at the top of his game.

I have just had the pleasure of reading A Touch of Death by Charles Williams. It was an experience I will never forget. There are sequences that occur in this book that will stay with me for a long time. I suspect I will be recalling scenes from this book when I read other stories - because I'm sure there will be imitators. I am absolutely certain I will be comparing other writers to Williams, and holding him up as an exemplar to their detriment.

Charles K. Williams was a Texan, born in 1909. After leaving education he enlisted in the US Merchant Marines, where he enjoyed a ten year stint before leaving to get married in 1939. Having become an expert in electronics, he worked for RCA and at Puget Sound Navy Yard in Washington State. After the end of the Second World War he moved his family to San Francisco, where he was employed by the Mackay Radio Company. He contiued to work there until the publication of Hill Girl, his first novel, in 1951.

Williams went on to write a number of seminal books in the noir and suspense genres. Quite a few of his books have been turned into movies over the years with a fair few being foreign language films, perhaps a reflection of the superb plotting his stories contain. One of the most famous productions was for Dead Calm. It was the subject of an ultimately doomed adaptation by Orson Welles, who was the director, producer, writer and star of the abandoned 1970 project - eventually the book was made into a vehicle for Nicole Kidman in 1989.

Another title, which I remember as an extended TV-movie in 1990, was Hell Hath No Fury. Renamed, The Hot Spot, it was directed by Dennis Hopper and starred Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen and Jennifer Connelly. Apparently, Hopper decided only a matter of days before filming started, to use a 1962 screenplay that Williams had worked on with Nona Tyson rather than the originally planned script. This resulted in a much more dense noir tale that had been written for actor, Robert Mitchum in the 1960's.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Killer Take All

1961 Gold Medal edition
Author: Philip Race (aka E. M. Parsons)
First Published: 1961
Ebook Publisher: Cutting Edge Books
Ebook Date: May 2020

This review is about Killer Take All by Philip Race, not to be confused with the James O. Causey book, released a few years earlier in 1957, titled Killer Take All! Note the exclamation mark, it makes all the difference. Race's book has just been released by Cutting Edge Books in eBook format. Funnily enough I had only very recently purchased the Gold Medal original via eBay UK. for this review though, I read the eBook which comes as a double header collecting Race's two novels starring Johnny Berlin (the other being Johnny Come Deadly). The copyright is dated 1959, but my UK Gold Medal was printed 1961.

Philip Race has a fantastic story. Race is the pen name used by Elmer Merle Parsons who was born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1926. By the time he was 23 he had taken to crime and was committed to jail for burglary and grand theft in Phoenix. After serving three years in a state prison he continued to operate on the wrong side of the law and was also found guilty of fraud resulting in a further sentence of five years which he had to serve in San Quentin. Whilst there he ended up being the editor of the prison newspaper, and turned his hand to writing fiction. He actually sold his first novel to Fawcett while serving out his sentence, along with the two Johnny Berlin novels before being released in 1960.

After a few more books, Parsons went on to write for television, contributing to such shows as The Virginian, Bonanza, Ripcord, Sea Hunt, The Dakotas, Everglades, The Aquanauts and and even an episode of Flipper.

Killer Take All follows the plight of Vegas casino dealer Johnny Berlin, as he makes a stop in a small town called Edson, in northern California. He is on his way to Portland and has lost his way down a back road when he pulls over to ask directions from two cars parked up next to each other. One of the cars swiftly pulls away and as Berlin approaches the driver of the remaining car, he is confronted by the wrong end of a gun.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

The Action Man

1961, Avon edition
Author: Jay Flynn
First Published: 1961
Ebook Publisher: Stark House Press
Ebook Date: February 2019

A second Stark House Press eBook in a row for me. This one is the double-header of heist thriller books by Jay Flynn, who also wrote as J. M. Flynn. It contains 1961's The Action Man and 1959's Terror Tournament. This review will cover the first, which concerns the meticulous planning and execution of a $2M bank robbery in Peninsula City (there are references to Fishermans Wharf and San Francisco, so I suspect its supposed to be a fictitional place around the Bay Area?).

John M. Flynn was born in 1928, in Massachusetts. He worked many jobs, such as a newspaperman, bartender, editor, security guard and bootlegger. His first novel, The Deadly Boodle was published by Ace in 1958. His most popular books were those starring McHugh, all five released between 1959 and 1962. He passed away in 1986 of cancer at the age of 57.

In the very interesting introduction to the Stark House edition, Bill Pronzini opines that Flynn was a man made up of "all the schizophrenic contradictions that make up most of us". I found this book mirrored that distracted nature as well. Part bank-robbery caper story, part noir drama, it flits crazily between the two with the archetypal anti hero of Denton Farr trying to hold everything together. Flynn sounds like a character out of a mad-cap novel himself, the introduction is peppered with fantastic insights; I love this one:
One night during a heavy rainstorm, drunk on white-lightning or the like, he noticed that the ceiling of his furnished room was bulging strangely. Maybe he thought he had the DTs and demons were coming after him; maybe he was just too drunk to know what he was doing.  In any event he grabbed up his revolver and pumped five shots into the ominous bulge. Whereupon the entire ceiling collapsed and the ensuing deluge of trapped rainwater knocked him flat, broke his leg, and almost drowned him.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

The Best of Manhunt

Edited by: Jeff Vorzimmer
First Published: 2019
File size/Pages: 1441KB / 384pp
Ebook Publisher: Stark House Press
Ebook Date: August 2019

In August 2019, Stark House Press released The Best of  Manhunt, and ever since I've been wondering when I'd get a chance to delve into it and sample some of the stories on offer. The opportunity has arisen, and I'm pleased to report I wasn't dissapointed.

Thirteen of the tales contained in this compilation were originally published in 1958 in a volume entitled The Best from Manhunt. These are included in this updated version still in their original listed order. In addition, a number of short stories from 1959's The Bloodhound Anthology (the British version of Manhunt, titled Bloodhound Detective Story Magazine) have been included, making this a truly combined version of previous releases. Finally, the team headed by editor Jeff Vorzimmer, have expanded the line-up by almost three times the orignal with this edition totallying out at a massive 39 stories. you can't ask from more really (well, you could ask for further volumes I suspect).

I won't go into the history of Manhunt as there is a surfeit of introductions and histories included in the book itself. Suffice to say that Manhunt is considered the successor to pulp crime magazine Blackmask, appearing very soon after the demise of that periodical in 1951. It was very quickly attracting the best output from the best writers of the genre at the time and remains a true source of incredible quality crime fiction during its fifteen year run.

This edition is peppered with great yarns. The list of authors is like a who's who of hardboiled crime fiction literati, Brewer, Kane, McDonald, Hunter, Prather, Spillane, Deming and Westlake to name a few. I'm sure there will be something in here that pleases every reader. Below is a short list highlighting the five I enjoyed the most;

Monday, 18 May 2020

Death out of Focus

Author: William Campbell Gault
First Published: 1959
File size/Pages: 778/KB / 182pp
Ebook Publisher: Prologue Books
Ebook Date: December 2011

William Campbell Gault, sometimes known as Bill Gault, is probably best known for his two crime fiction series; one starring retired NFL footballer, Brock Callahan and the other P.I. Joe Puma. He is also strongly associated with a number of juvenile books he authored that have popular sports, such as American football, basketball and motor sports, as their background theme.

As well as these, Gault wrote a number of straight up standalone crime titles during the late fifties. Death out of Focus was published in 1959, and uses the Hollywood movie business as its central device. Prologue Books reprinted it in both paperback and eBook format in 2011.

Gault was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1910. As a writer he contributed to a large number of magazines, particularly covering sports, and was regularly published in seminal crime pulp, Black Mask. He won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1953 with the novel, Don't Cry for Me, and was still being recognised thirty years later when he won the 1983 Shamus Award for Best P.I. Paperback Original with The Cana Diversion.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Without Mercy (Morgan Kane #1)

Corgi, 1971

Author: Louis Masterson (aka Kjell Hallbing)
First Published: 1971 (English), 1966 (Norwegian)
Pages: 129

eBook Cover
When I started this blog I  thought I'd end up reviewing tons and tons of hardboiled crime novels of the sixties and seventies. That's where my interests have laid recently, and I naturally assumed that was what I would continue to read and what this blog would focus on. Instead I find myself drawn towards Western fiction? Yet again, I'm here reviewing a series of books from that genre; this one written in the greatest of the decades, the sixties. and even greater in the best year of the sixties, 1966. Of course the fact that it is the year of my birth is a complete coincidence (honest!).

The subject for today's review is Morgan Kane, and the inaugural book Without Mercy. Morgan Kane is a Texas Ranger, and eventually a US Marshall. The books were written by the Norwegian writer Kjell Hallbing, who published them under the name of Louis Masterson. They run to a staggering 83 volumes and have sold over an estimated 15 million copies worldwide.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

This Woman is Death - Hank Janson #13

eBook cover
Author: Hank Janson (aka Stephen Daniel Frances)
First Published: 1948
File size/Pages: 1077/KB / 140pp
Ebook Publisher: Telos Publishing
Ebook Date: September 2013

The Hank Janson books ran from 1946 to 1971. Along the way a few different authors took up writing duties, but  in the main most of the classic era (46 - 53) were written by creator Stehen Frances. In the early days, a few were published under his own name, but following a multi book deal they reverted permanently to being written by the lead character "Hank Janson". Apparently Frances chose Hank as the name of his hero because it ryhmed with "Yank." I guess that's a good indicator of how far Frances' creativity went eh? Doesn't bode well...

As you can imagine, with such a well established publishing history, and the ability of Frances to churn out paperbacks at the rate of one every month or so, these books are quite collectable. Add to this fact that Frances was a British writer living in England, the books being published for a British audience, and the impact of our climate and War-time on the flimsy paperback material - it makes them quite rare.

Stephen Frances was born in 1917 in Lambeth, South London. After a number of jobs, and writing a few newspaper articles, he founded a publishing company called Pendulum Publications in 1944. He used this company to publish When Dames Get Tough, and Scarred Faces. After a deal with fellow publisher, Reginald Carter, the other books were published by Carter's companies. The success of the Janson books made him a celebrity, and he was known to occassionally dress up as the Janson character in a mask and a hat for interviews. He moved to Spain in the 1950's, which meant he was absent from England when his books were subject to prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act (Carter actually went to jail). Frances was acquitted when he returned to England. He continued to write up until 1970's.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Send Angel - Angel #2

Sphere 1973 UK edition
Author: Frederick H. Christian (aka Frederick Nolan)
First Published: 1973
File size/Pages: 1085KB / 158pp
Ebook Publisher: Piccadilly Publishing
Ebook Date: November 2012

Send Angel was a pleasure to read from start to end. It felt like the perfect antidote to the ultra-violent Westerns typical of the 1970's. Slightly longer in page length. An interesting central character that isn't bent on enacting bloody revenge on every person of questionable virtues he meets because of the voilent murder his wife, mother, father, or children. A good cast of supporting characters to accompany our hero. And most importantly, a decent plot that developes nicely and is allowed some room to develop.

I had planned to read the first of the Angel books, but got a little confused about their reading order, and it seems I ended up reading either the second or third book in the nine book series, Send Angel. I say "either" because according to Piccadilly Publishing's Ebook list, Send is the second novel, but according to the U.S. publication order it is the third? Author Frederick Nolan (writing as Frederick H. Christian) lists this it as the second on his website, so I'm going to stick with that principle.

Nolan hails from Liverpool, England. Born in 1931, he moved to London in the 60's and was a reader and editor for numerous publishing houses, most significantly with Corgi. It was through this association that the opportunity to write the follow-up books to Oliver Strange's Sudden series of books came about. This gave rise to the pen name he used for the majority of his Western fiction, Frederick H. Christian. The Sudden continuation books were incredibly popular selling over a million paperbacks.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

The Big Breakout - T-Force #1

UK Sphere 1976 edition
Author: Charles Whiting
First Published: 1976
Pages: 192pp
Publisher: Sphere
Not currently available in eBook format

I've read a number of Charles Whiting's books about SS Wotan that were published under the pen name of Leo Kessler. So this time when I had a hankering for another, I decided to try something different, and sample a novel that didn't concentrate on the German side of World War II for a change. I had a look at the number of books he had written in this vein and decided to look into one of the series currently unavailable in eBook format.

Despite the fact  that a lot of Whiting's work (under his own name and those using pen names) have been published electronically, there are still a few series and individual novels that seem to be either being ignored, or just haven't got round to being converted yet. There is the Destroyer series, the Russian series (as Klaus Konrad) and the Special Boat Service series (as John Kerrigan) to name but a few. T-Force is another and consists of a four book series told from the perspective of the American military, and covers the exploits of a crack team of soldiers operating under the direct command of General George Patton during World War II and beyond. The original run of paperback books were published in a single year, 1976. I'm not sure if they saw publication in the U.S. at all, but from my own feeble attempts at internet researching - it doesn't seem to appear so. The fourth and final book in the sequence, The Last Mission is clearly labelled and described on the back cover as the final book in the quartet, so it looks like the deal with his publishers was for this limited run and nothing further ever planned.

Whiting may have based the concept of T-Force on General Patton's infamous "Task Force Baum", a secret Company commanded by Captain Abraham Baum in late 1945. Task Force Baum was given a mission to penertrate behind enemy lines and liberate the prisoners of war in camp OFLAG XIII-B, near Hammelburg, Germany. Secrecy surrounds the true nature of the operation but some believe it was designed to rescue Patton's son-in-law. It was a complete failure with most of Baum being either killed or taken prisoner themselves. All of the tanks, jeeps, and other vehicles were lost in the course of the assualt.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

A Haven for the Damned

Fawcett Gold Medal, 1962
Author: Harry Whittington
First Published: 1962
File size/Pages: 407KB / 221pp
Ebook Publisher: Stark House Press
Ebook Date: November 2019

Harry Whittington is known as either the "King of the Pulps" or "The King of the Paperbacks" depending upon your source; so it was only a matter of time before I read one of his books. Born in Ocala, Florida, he became a prolific writer of pulp fiction novels writing as many as 85 novels in a twelve year period. Most of these feature in the crime, suspense, hardboiled, and noir fiction genres. In total, he published over 200 novels during his lifetime.

A number of Whittington books were turned into motion pictures or television series. The most successful seems to have been tv-series "Lawman" airing orginally between 1958 and  1962. The list of pseudonyms he used is extensive, up to twenty it is believed. Among the house names he also wrote under is Tabor Evans for the Longarm  western series

He sold his first novel, a western called Vengeance Valley, in 1945 and never looked back. In the fifties his output was mainly focussed on producing crime fiction for Fawcett and it's one of these, A Haven for the Damned, that I read for Digital Bibliophilia. Although he submitted the finished book to the publishers in 1960, they didn't release it as a Gold Medal paperback until 1962. I suppose, as we have experienced with other highly productive writers, their enormous output needed to be rationed by holding back on printing, or releasing under pen names. If you want to read more on Whittington, I can recommend an article on the Woody Hauts Blog.

A Haven for the Damned has as its central location the ghost town of Lust on the Mexican border, where eight people converge to take part in a harrowing event. The only person that resides in the old mining town set atop a high ridge accessible only by an out of the way road, is Josh Carrdell, lifelong resident and prosepctor accompanied by his mongrel George.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Comanche! - Peacemaker #1

Author: Willaim S. Brady (aka Angus Wells and John Harvey)
First Published: 1981
Pages: 128pp
Publisher: Fontana
Not currently available in eBook format

Peacemaker is a companion book series by the same team that produced Hawk, Angus Wells and John Harvey writing as William S. Brady. As I hinted at in my review of Hawk #1 The Sudden Guns, this series has as its central hero, John T. McLain who was an influence on Jared Hawk. The Peacemaker stories appear to cover the early days of McLain, before he eventually teams up with Hawk and passes on his knowledge and advice.

That is not to say though, that McLain is portrayed as a young man in the books. In fact he is already facing early middle age, having just "signed the amnesty"with his fellow Confederates (I presume this puts the date at around 1863 as its not explicitly stated in the story). It transpires that despite being a Missouri man, McLain was enticed to join the cause after the modest farm he had established was the victim of raiders out of Kansas - reducing his home to ashes and killing his wife. He joined Bloody Bill Anderson's outfit, becoming an expert in guerilla tactics and military strategies. Making it through the Civil War unscathed, McLain went home. But the land was changed, and as his riding partner, Josey Wells, said "There ain't nothing left for us here", he acked his bags and travelled South.

This where we pick up the story with McLain. He finds himself pinned down by Nokoni Comanche Indians, with limited ammunition and even less water under a searing heat. The only thing in his favour is that the enemy are armed with just hatchets and lances. Despite the odds, he manages to survive and makes his way to the nearest settlement close to the San Antonio River, named Rio Verde. But on his approach his notices that the Mission is under seige by a large gathering of Comanche. Once he manages to gain access to Rio Verde he is quickly identified as a former Confederate by the Union Cavalry defending the small outpost. He agress to help them out, and is sent to find their commanding officer who has taken a small force out, but has yet to return, Captain Frank Donnely.