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.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Digital Bibliophilia: A look back at Year One

Well - I've gone and done it. Today is the one year anniversary of the first review on Digital Bibliophilia. Even though it was for a crime comic!

Since 21 April 2019 I have done 56 reviews of genre books, the vast majority hailing from the 20th century. I wanted to celebrate in some way, so have decided to finally revamp the blog with a new theme and slight adjustment in the page settings. I hope you like it. I had been thinking about making a change for a while but was putting it off, so this feels like a good moment to finally do it.

Looking through the statistics, I can't quite believe that I am now getting over a thousand views a month. That seemed like a dream in the early days when less than 20 people were reading each review! The book that changed all that was Bamboo Guerrillas by Guy N. Smith. Suddenly a few more people visited the site and I was surprised because the book was so damn bonkers! Clearly I had underestimated the number of Smith fans there are out there.

At the same time, I also began to realise that having links to other like-minded sites was useful to generate traffic back to my own, so begun reading a lot more other review blogs and started to appreciate the wider genre reading and collecting community that's out there. I'm glad - because it has brought many books (especially reference ones) to my attention that I'd never have noticed otherwise.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

The Sudden Guns - Hawk #1

Author: Willaim S. Brady (aka Angus Wells and John Harvey)
First Published: 1979
Pages: 128pp
Publisher: Fontana

Sometimes it takes a while for me to know whether or not I am going to like a book. For novels around a 200 page length, that might take up to 50 pages before I'm sure. For even longer books it can be double that. But on very rare occasions, I start to read a book and know literally within a page or two whether I am going to really enjoy it.

I'm happy to report that Hawk: The Sudden Guns was one of those rare occasions. This was a 100% totally satisfying reading experience. The characters, the action, the setting, the atmosphere and the writing style were completely spot on - I bloody loved it.

The only problem I have with it? It's out of print and has no eBook version (that I'm aware of).

The Hawk series ran to fifteen books, published by Fontana in the UK between 1979 and 1983. Most of them sport great cover paintings by the talented Robert Adams (now known as Mike Adams - check out his website over at His art was used for books #1 to #12. The series was written jointly by Angus Wells and John Harvey, which each book alternating between the pair until book #10 when Harvey took over for a while. This might have been so that Wells could concentrate on another Western series for a while. I suspect this may have allowed Wells to write a few installments in the Peacemaker books, which are linked to the Hawk books by a common character (more on that below). Wells and Harvey remained friends for over 30 years. The list of books written by each of them are listed below.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

The King's Death - Wolfs Head #2

Author: Arthur Frazier (aka Kenneth Bulmer)
First Published: 1973
Pages: 112pp
Publisher: New English Library

Warning: there will be major spoilers in this review so I highly recommend you read Book 1, Oath of Blood before going any further. My review of the opening chapter is here.

Wolfs Head 2: The King's Death follows on almost immediately after the end of the first book. It's 1066 and Edric Ecgbertson, Beorn the freedman Viking and Edric's father, Ecgbert the Thegn of Furnaceden, are recouperating after the Battle of Stamford Bridge where they played a key role in the success of the army of King Harold. Ecgbert has suffered a grievous wound to his leg during the encounter that repelled the Norse hordes of King  Hardrada.

The Normans on the other hand, are preparing thier armies for an invasion of England. Simon du Lac of Saint Laurent, has taken over from his father, Rolf, as the head of the du Lac family. Following the death of his father, who had been reduced to a cippled and mumbling idoit after being thrown down a set of stone steps - a fate Simon believes was carried out by the hand of Edric Ecgbertson - the young Norman Lord is bent upon revenge. He is driven by this desire to join the ranks of the other high families of Normandy to back Duke William, who has a rightful claim on the English crown and who is supported by the Church to cross the English Channel and become the one and true King.

Simon also has further reason to hate Edric. Although they had parted friends, Simon believes Edric is also responsible for stealing the Lady Ysabel from his brother, Odo the Fair. Odo's face was hideously maimed by Edric, and he travelled to England with his henchman, Gilbert, to kill Edric and bring back Ysabel. Odo died in the attempt - a wounded Gilbert escaped and on his return to Castle Saint Laurent told a less than truthful tale to Simon that cemented his hatred of his former Saxon friend.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

The Naked Runner

Author: Francis Clifford (aka Arthur Thompson)
First Published: 1966
Pages: 208pp
Publisher: Hodder and Staughton

Francis Clifford has an entry in the appendix of Mike Ripley's excellent study of British thrillers of the fifties, sixties and seventies, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (read the review here). In it, he is described as having the "dubious honour of being the most highly regarded, but totally forgotten author from the Golden Age of British thriller writing."

You won't find many Clifford novels in eBook format these days. A couple were published by Top Notch Thrillers in 2011; Time is an Ambush, and The Grosvenor Square Goodbye. The rest of his back catalogue, dating between 1953 and 1979, will need to be purchased from used booksellers.

I consider myself very lucky to have found a copy of the 1966 novel, The Naked Runner from one of my favourite second hand booksellers, Scarthin Books of Cromford, Derbyshire. It wasn't the edition pictured to the left, a movie tie-in to the 1967 film adaptation starring Frank Sinatra and directed by Sidney J. Furie (The Ipcress File).

Francis Clifford was born Arthur Leonard Bell Thompson in 1917 in Bristol, England. Before joining the British Army he worked in the commercial department of a company dealing in the rice trade. This lead him to travel abroad for a number of years ostensibly in Burma between 1938 and 1939. During the war he was recruited into the Special Operations Executive, serving in India and then back in London. After leaving, he was a journalist in the steel industry, and began writing in his spare time. He started writing full-time from 1959 following the success of his first four books, which drew heavily on his wartime experiences. He wrote eighteen novels under the pen-name of Francis Clifford, most of which were very well received by reviewers at the time. Considering this reception, it's surprising that he is so under represented in modern times.