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.