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.

Over the last year I have reviewed 51 eBooks and 9 paperback-only novels on the site. The most common categories covered were Crime (11), Action Adventure (10), Western (10), Sci-Fi (9), Horror (8) and Spy (6). The single most often read author was, rather surprisingly, Kenneth Bulmer (whom I hated the first time round!), closely followed by Guy N. Smith and Charles Whiting.

I wanted to also do some sort of retrospective, but didn't want a 'Top 10' because I find it too hard to rank books I like at that level of detail - hence why you'll never find a rating score on any of my reviews. Instead I have presented my personal highlights of the last twelve months, books that I highly enjoyed and have left indelible marks in my memory.

So, in order of publication date, we have:

The Red Scarf
Author: Gil Brewer
First Published: 1955
Pages: 170

In The Red Scarf, Brewer skillfully plunges his antagonist, Roy Nichols, down a rabbit warren that you feel he will never be able to escape from. Hitch-hiking home to Florida he becomes embroiled in the misfortunes of a couple running from the Mob with a suitcase full of cash. A totally gripping story masterfully told.

The Plague of Silence
Author: John Creasey
First Published: 1958
Pages: 190

Department Z agents investigate the mysterious deaths of villagers in a sleepy English town. Seemingly struck down after a violent reaction to a mosquito bite that causes paralysis and the inability to speak. A fun mixture of John Wyndham and James Bond. One of a long line of "Dr Palfrey" thriller stories.

The Name of the Game is Death
Author: Dan J Marlowe
First Published:  1962
Pages: 142

Simply brilliant crime noir following a bank robbery that ends up with the protagonist, Drake, trying to locate his missing partner in crime who has not been heard of in a whilesince they parted in the aftermath of the robbery. The only problem is - his partner has all the cash from their heist. Wonderful character driven plot that begins a series of books starring Drake.

Passport to Oblivion
Author: James Leasor
First Published: 1964
Pages: 224

Solid British spy novel that introduces the reader to Dr Jason Love. A practising GP from England who is recruited to travel to Tehran and make contact with agent "K" who has missed his last few communique deadlines. Posing as an expert in Malaria, Love makes for a very ametuerish spy, he is no James Bond, he makes mistakes and would much  prefer to enjoy a good run out in his classic Cord sports car.

High Citadel
Author: Desmond Bagley
First Published: 1965
Pages: 255

A classy and  master thriller writer tells a tale of a disparate group of travellers who crash land in the jungles of a South American country, only to find themselves being hunted down by local militia looking to assassinate their ex-President who has returned to regain power. A thoroughly good read, packed with inventive action scenes and good character building. Bagley knows his stuff. You won't be disappointed.

Without Mercy
Author: Louis Masterson (aka Kjell Hallbing)
First Published: 1971 (English), 1966 (Norwegian)
Pages: 129

Book 1 of 83 volumes. Written by Norwegian Kjell Hallbing, Morgan Kane is a Texas Ranger who likes to gamble. This opener involves a lot of story packed into its limited page count. This is one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. There is quite a bit of developement for Kane, and the supporting characters are also very well served. Its no surprise that the series ran for such an enormous number of books.

The King's Death
Author: Arthur Frazier (aka Kenneth Bulmer)
First Published: 1973
Pages: 108

A fantastic adventure series set in 1066, and covering events such as the Battle of Hastings. Book 2 gets mentioned here as I really enjoyed the bloody battlefield description of the aforementioned encounter between the Saxons and and the Normans. Filled with pantomime villains and gory violence, the Wolfs Head series looks to be a classic Boy's Own tale with added gusto.

Atlanta Deathwatch
Author: Ralph Dennis
First Published: 1974
Pages: 156

This just drips with atmosphere. You'll believe its 1974 again with the start of the Hardman books. Atlanta Deathwatch introduces Jim Hardman and his partner, Hump Evans. Ex-cop Hardman is asked to look into the death of a college girl by a local black mafia head honcho. A mixture of Live and Let Die and Starsky and Hutch, it is a joy to read from beginning to end. And these boys sure can drink!

The Spirit
Author: Thomas Page
First Published: 1977
Pages: 197

Reads like a cult-movie from the late seventies. Take a wandering American Indian looking for his spirit-name, a thrill-seeking rich hunter-business man, a Saqsuatch rampaging across America, and then combine it with a finale set in a holiday Ski-resort and you have a wonderful mix of action and horror that is difficult to put down.

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

The best Western I have read in the last 12 months. Piccadilly Cowboy, Angus Wells' beautifully succinct violent depiction of the tale of Jared Hawk. His story of Hawk being paid to get four people to California, whilst they are threatened by hired killers is an examplar in how to write a pulp western paperback. Hawk is fleshed out nicely and the action never seems to stop. Hard to beat.

The Conduct of Major Maxim
Author: Gavin Lyall
First Published: 1983
Pages: 310pp

Gavin Lyall's writing style is what impressed me the most. Despite this being the longest book of the year, it never felt so. Maxim, a Downing Street security advisor, is asked to help an AWOL squaddie, who has become involved in a shooting in East Germany. The plot twists and turns and never slows the pace of action or the intricate scheming of the British Secret Services.

What have we lined up for the future? Well I'll certainly be re-visiting more instalments of some of the series listed above. Included in those will also be more books in the SS Wotan sequence (they didn't quite make it into the highlights list), more Westerns for sure (Hawk, Morgan Kane, Crow and a few more), and hopefully a few from British authors that don't get the attention they deserve these days.

Finally, I just want to say an enormous thank you to everyone who has read Digital Bibliophilia over the last year. It has been a wonderful experience keeping a blog going for this length of time. I didn't think I would be able to do it. But the number of comments and likes that I have had from people in Facebook groups, especially Men's Adventure Paperbacks of the 20th Century, the Vintage Paperback and Pulp Forum, Western Fiction Reviews and Men's Adventure Magazines and Books has kept me enthused all this time. I couldn't do it without your feedback and support.




Paperback Warrior said...

Congratulations on the anniversary. Keep up the great work!

Shaun Osborne said...

Thanks Guys!