Saturday, August 1, 2020

Review: Talk of the Town

Talk of the Town Talk of the Town by Charles Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fast-paced, with plenty of action. Less character development than a lot of Williams's books and the barest of plots. That's okay, though, as it rips along from one complication to the next. The basic story is a stranger comes to town and has the bad luck to get in a car accident. In the three days it takes to get his car repaired he becomes enmeshed with a woman whom the whole town suspects murdered her husband. The stranger, however, is an ex-cop and he just can't help himself from investigating, which quickly turns the town against him, too. Will he survive long enough to solve the murder? That's the question the novel poses. All the action takes place over three days and there is barely a let up from start to finish.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Review: Memory of Passion

Memory of Passion Memory of Passion by Gil Brewer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Over and over as I was reading this book I would break out into spontaneous gleeful and admiring laughter because Brewer was so twisted, so out of control, and yet so in control of this propulsive bit of tease and deny pulp fiction. Totally channeling Poe and Woolrich at their obsessive best, Brewer, with a blistering style of short sentences and short paragraphs takes the foreplay of tension to the limit. The light is red, the tachometer is at the line, the tires are smoking - won't this light ever turn green?! - and then Brewer releases the clutch (plot twist!) and we blast forward and then quickly skid to a stop and do it all over again, engine racing at an impossibly high idle. Over and over and back and forth between multiple obsessed points of view. Bill, who thinks Karen, his old girlfriend, has contacted him after 22 years. Karen/Jean, stalker, stalking Bill. Walter, serial killer, stalking Jean. Louise, Bill's wife, having an affair. From one to the next we go, but always, the narration is from the view point of extreme obsession. Don't expect depth in this psychological noir. The minds, driven by Brewer's breakneck prose pacing, are racing way too fast!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Review: Deadly Chase

Deadly Chase Deadly Chase by Carter Cullen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Great set up here as Robert Craig, our private investigator protagonist, deliberately ODs on barbiturates to get admitted to a psych ward so he can track down a bank robber held within. Cullen does a great job of building the tension throughout as he keeps moving the cheese so that Craig has to continuously adjust his strategy and tactics for recovering the loot from the robbery. Several interesting characters are introduced both as helpers and foes: an ex-cop in the psych ward, a psyche ward nurse, a gunsel for the mob, an insurance investigator, a shady PI (Ad Sharkey!), an independent charter pilot, and all these characters enliven the second half of the book. The tension and action keeps escalating to the end.

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Review: Like Mink Like Murder

Like Mink Like Murder by Harry Whittington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sammy decides to go straight after being in prison for four years for robbery after being enticed by Elva, who he is totally obsessed with, and her partner in crime Collie. He has a good job as a milkman and a steady girl when Elva shows up to tempt him back into a life of crime. A relentless cop shadowing him and a disapproving future father-in-law push him either further. An everyman, sexual obsession, a fem fatale or two, and a psychopath are common ingredients in Whittington’s crime/noir novels and this is another fine example of his work. The dialog practically pops off the page, like you’re watching a movie, and the plot screams at a breakneck pace. Yet another terrific novel from a very dependable author.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Review: Handle with Fear

Handle with Fear Handle with Fear by Thomas B. Dewey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was determined not to like this book. First, the main character Singer Batts (super dorky name) is a Shakespearean scholar and amateur criminologist. This sounds even less interesting than Nancy Drew. Second, the eccentric Batts has a partner that does his leg work and who also narrates the story, just like Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, which seemed way too derivative to me. A slew of characters are quickly introduced which I initially found confusing, however I stuck with it. Turns out that the book is great. Sure it’s got plenty of similarities to Rex Stout’s oeuvre. The plot is just as complex and satisfying, however it’s also way more violent. Batts and partner Joe Spinder get beat up or shot regularly, and it has quite a high body count for a story that I feared might have devolved into a tepid cozy mystery. Dewey wrote two other little known crime series, the detective named Mac, and the Pete Schofield books. The Singer Batts books are even less known, and unjustly so. I’m going to have to read the other three Batts books now.

The Singer Batts Mystery MEGAPACK contains all four novels for only $0.99 USD

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Review: Vixen Hollow

Vixen Hollow Vixen Hollow by Jim Harmon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The description on the back cover of this 1961 sleazer suggests that Mike Sloan is a murder suspect and to save himself he goes on a one-man crusade to find the murderer. If only that were the actual plot of the book. It's not. Mike Sloan is a cartoonist with a palsied hand from a car crash that killed his wife. He's banking on collecting on his insurance policy so he returns to his home town: Vixen Hollow. It's all scattershot from there. He chases women and is chased by juvenile delinquents. Some murders happen but he is not investigating them or on a one-man crusade. I speed read this while tending to the barbecue. It's poorly written with no redeeming qualities. Not recommended.

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Sunday, July 19, 2020

Review: Pale Gray For Guilt

Pale Gray For Guilt Pale Gray For Guilt by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John D. MacDonald was on the top of his game with this the 9th in the Travis McGee series. One of the best in the whole 21 book series. Part of what makes this so good is that it has hardly any social commentary (the usual MacDonald pontificating with McGee as his mouthpiece) and it also does not feature the usual McGee patching the wounded girl-bird back together. What we have here is McGee out for revenge after one of his oldest and best friends is driven to bankruptcy and then murdered. McGee and Meyer execute several cons worthy of The Sting and then MacDonald again delivers a long intense climactic sequence that was his hallmark. The denouement tags both McGee and Meyer in a surprising way. Really enjoyed reading this again. Has all the best of MacDonald's writing and none of the worst.

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Saturday, July 18, 2020

Review: Comanche Vengeance

Comanche Vengeance Comanche Vengeance by Richard Jessup
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Starts off brutal when Sarah Phelps finds her two small children raped and murdered by Comanches. She buries them and then burns down her house and barns and rides off searching for her husband's body. After she buries him she rides after the Comanches seeking vengeance. Sarah Phelps is a dynamite character. She's tough, driven, whip-smart, and a crack-shot. Grudgingly she accepts help from Gibson Duke and the two of them track the Comanches and every chapter brings at least one new test on her quest for vengeance. They battle outlaws and Comanches multiple times. Get captured and escape. There's buffalo hunts and blizzards. She goes to hell and back to get her scalp, and to also discover love again. Awesome western, one of the best that I can ever remember reading.

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Friday, July 17, 2020

Review: Pariah

Pariah Pariah by J.R. Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clint Adams, The Gunsmith, befriends a young widow who feeds and shelters those in need, some of whom are undesirable to the townsfolk, and they treat her like a pariah. She shelters a young Chinese woman who has escaped from a powerful slave trader and he means to have them both killed at any cost. Adams vows to help the women, and of course lay them, and seek vengeance on the murderous slave trader. Robert Randisi, who wrote all 460 entries in this series, is a remarkable storyteller, somehow managing to write consistently entertaining novels on a monthly basis year after year. You always know what you’re gong to get with a Gunsmith book. I’ve never read a bad one, and maybe they don’t exist. Arguably the best of the Adult Western series titles.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Review: To Find Cora

To Find Cora by Harry Whittington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After sultry wife Cora walks out on him again, Joe is obsessed with finding her and gets a lot more that he bargained for. Whittington excelled at stories about ordinary guys getting involved with psychopaths and fem fatales and here Joe gets snared with a brutal and paranoid drunk named Hall and his partner Viola, a sexy and ruthless dish, who have been hiding out in a remote farmhouse until the heat dies down from Hall’s embezzlement. The first person narrative is heavily dialog driven and it absolutely crackles with aggression, hatred, and delusional aspirations. I loved the way that Whittington took a simple plot and embellished it by injecting some unexpected characters and some pretty outrageous twists that I didn’t see coming. Another top notch story from a master of the crime-noir genre. Recommended.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Review: Valley of Violence

Valley of Violence Valley of Violence by Edwin Booth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clay Nichols comes back to the family ranch just in time for an outlaw family to kill his father, shoot him and leave him for dead, and then take over the ranch. Clay falls in love with the woman who nurses him back to health not knowing that she is the daughter of the outlaw that killed his father. The author does a fine job with pacing and plot as Clay has to figure out how to confront the outlaws without alienating the lovely daughter. I really loved the dynamic of the nearby town filled with believable characters and the fascinating perspective of the outlaw family, with half of them gone corrupt and evil, and the others weak and complacent. Booth wrote for the pulps and was a very skilled writer. Recommended.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Review: Last Gun at Cabresto

Last Gun at Cabresto Last Gun at Cabresto by Ray Hogan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rancher Cole Rinnegar is summoned to a distant town by his brother who is being secretly cared for by a beautiful bakery owner. His brother explains that he has robbed a bank and hidden the money before three outlaws critically wounded him. His dying wish is for Cole to retrieve the money and give it back to the bank. The outlaws and others know that Cole’s brother has the money hidden and they are clever and ruthless in seeing if Cole has the money, or is going to get it. Lot of nice twists and action keep the mere 89 pages flying as Cole accepts his mission and finds out that it is far more complex and dangerous than it seemed. Ray Hogan was a top-notch Western writer and this is a fine example of his work.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Review: The Slime Beast

The Slime Beast The Slime Beast by Guy N. Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s like a novelization of a silly ‘70s monster B-movie that never existed. An entertaining, albeit simplistic plot, is hindered by characters without depth, clunky dialog, and sex scenes more awkward than any Adult Western. I’m willing to overlook all this however as long as it’s a story worth reading, and it is. Sure, it’s not well written at all, but it's short, easy to read, and a lot of fun. I liked it okay.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Review: The First Quarry

The First Quarry The First Quarry by Max Allan Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The First Quarry doesn’t dwell on an origin story but rather shows the young hitman being fully formed as a cold-blooded and intelligent killer as he accepts his first assignment after being recruited by The Broker - killing a college professor and destroying his manuscripts. The story takes place in Iowa in the early 1970s, the years that I came of age, and I was impressed and highly amused by all of the pop culture references from that era. Quarry is an amazingly likable anti-hero, he’s smart, funny, personable, and can be a complete smart ass. He’s also ruthless, amoral, and calculating. Loved the dialog and the plot, which throws curveball after curveball in a startling sequence of twists that make the book nearly impossible to put down. Reading the rest of the books in this remarkable series is high on my list. Recommended.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Review: Hot Lead, Cold Justice

Hot Lead, Cold Justice Hot Lead, Cold Justice by Mickey Spillane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Burn ‘Em” Burnham, a psychotic protege of Quantrill, has a vendetta against Trinity Sheriff Caleb York. He plans to rob a Las Vegas bank with his cohorts, kill York, and then hide out in Trinity during a deadly New Mexico blizzard. Faithful deputy Tulley is gunned down, accidentally mistaken for Caleb, and York seeks vengeance. Spillane created the resourceful, noble, and somewhat mysterious character of Caleb York and he’s in great hands with Max Allen Collins. Love interest Willa Cullen and other colorful characters of Trinity are back giving the story great depth and heart. The blizzard was almost a character itself, infuriating travel, and causing havoc, death and devastation. This tightly written page-turner should appeal to all readers of crime and thriller novels, not just fans of historical fiction. Highly recommended.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Review: Battle At Rattlesnake Pass

Battle At Rattlesnake Pass Battle At Rattlesnake Pass by Tom West
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mike O’Brien's father is accused of rustling cattle and is killed. Hot-headed O’Brien shoots the fella that killed his father and gets himself tossed into Yuma for five years. Upon release he heads home to Jackass Wells where he is branded as a rustler and shunned. When cattle starts disappearing everyone assumes that it’s his doing. O’Brien befriends a crippled gunslinger and falls for a sheepherder’s daughter as he tries to defend his honor and identify the rustlers. This half of an Ace Double was written by Tom West, who wrote a lot of them. Although copyrighted in 1965 his use of cowboy lingo and vernacular is impressive, much like the pulpsters of a earlier era. Good story and well written. Definitely a throwback to to pulp novellas, even ending with a wedding. Good enough to keep me reading more from Tom West when the mood strikes me.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Review: Hell Harbor: The Battle for Cherbourg

Hell Harbor: The Battle for Cherbourg Hell Harbor: The Battle for Cherbourg by Gordon Davis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sergeant Mahoney and his team are ordered to prevent a harbor from being blown up in Nazi occupied Cherbourg, France. One important thing that sets The Sergeant books apart from other military action stories is that Len Levinson, writing as Gordon Davis, in no way glorifies the war or fighting. The fighting is a necessary evil and the war is an utter atrocity. A highlight for me was the long sequence of Mahoney and his seduction of an army nurse. Rather than an impersonal and sleazy seduction, as found in most action books, it spoke to the desperation and loneliness of the men and women fighting overseas for a cause bigger than themselves. Mahoney looks back with longing at his short time spent with Shirley and what might have been if it wasn’t for the damn war. Sure Mahoney is still kind of an asshole, he’s human and with the failings of many of us, but he’s also loyal and honorable and that goes a long way to make him a compelling character rather than a macho military caricature. Another excellent entry in the series.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Review: Longarm and the Voodoo Queen

Longarm and the Voodoo Queen Longarm and the Voodoo Queen by Tabor Evans
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The US Deputy Marshal called Longarm is assigned to an undercover operation to solve the murder of a lawman who was investigating smuggling activity in New Orleans. A bit of good luck brings Longarm into the employ of one of the two warring smugglers, and the company of a seductive and wealthy woman - and unfortunately her unseemly brother. Longarm befriends an alluring Cajun swamp woman who becomes his ally and lover, a very likable and amusing character. Lots going on here with warring smugglers, zombies, a Voodoo Queen, and Mardi Gras festivities all nicely tied together into a propulsive and cohesive mystery plot. This novel was written by James Reasoner, a writer whose work I admire, and surely one of my favorites in the series.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Review: A Key to the Suite

A Key to the Suite A Key to the Suite by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark, disturbing and brutally insightful look at corporate politics and business conventions that mostly continues to ring true to to these current times. Most remarkable is the cast of characters that are all flawed to various degrees and the terrific dialogue between the characters that really bring them, and their agendas to light. A compelling and memorable read.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Review: Northfield

Northfield Northfield by Johnny D. Boggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An original and brilliant retelling of the James-Younger gang assault on a bank in Northfield Minnesota in 1876. Each chapter is told in the first person by a different person that was somehow involved in the failed robbery that resulted in several deaths and injuries. I love how Boggs was able to give a unique voice to each of the characters, from a little girl who’s father was killed in the robbery to the violent outlaws, some of whom were surprisingly intelligent and utterly fascinating. You can tell that Boggs did a lot of research to make this as historically accurate as possible. A remarkable achievement and a terrific read. Recommended.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Review: The Partridge Family: The Haunted Hall

The Partridge Family: The Haunted Hall The Partridge Family: The Haunted Hall by Michael Avallone
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Michael Avallone wrote a lot of TV tie-ins and other work-for hire but he was no hack. This nicely crafted short novel tells the story of a single mother and her five children as they fight for survival in a house long abandoned by an insane arsonist, a man who intends to reclaim his property - in flames! The story focuses on eldest daughter Laurie, who's sexual obsessions with Duke, leader of a violent band of young squatters, and Jerry, a heroic film actor, drive the tight plot, as the musical family prepares to perform at at an outdoor concert event. In general I found the novel rather juvenile, and clearly intended for a younger audience. The short book has a distinct "Goosebumps" vibe, but with a startling amount of dated American slang and pop culture references. Rating this on the "Goosebumps" scale, I give this three stars. Your milage may vary.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Review: Case of the Cop's Wife

Case of the Cop's Wife Case of the Cop's Wife by Milton K. Ozaki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The cop’s wife is inadvertently abducted during the getaway of a heist, and to further complicate things she’s getting ready to give birth at any minute. Her husband, the cop, is a hard-nosed robbery detective which lends itself to the police procedural feel of the book rather than a typical heist story narrative. The entire books takes place in a few hours and the compressed time keeps things moving at a breakneck pace. The criminal characters were very well drawn and the dialog between them was strong point as the novel shifts viewpoints from the police investigation to the criminal’s flight and hide-out. Yet another excellent Gold Medal crime book.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Review: Valley of Vultures

Valley of Vultures by Paul Edwards
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Manning Lee Stokes, probably best known for his Nick Carter: Killmaster books, authored this book, the fifth in the Expeditor series. It's a wild spy adventure with John Eagle, undercover and unarmed, traveling to Ecuador to investigate a suspicious resort that promises youth to rich old men. Eagle soon uncovers testicle-transplanting Nazis, nymphomaniacs, grown-up Hitler youth, and a little lesbian porn filmmaking throw in for good measure. Stokes is in fine form here compared to his previous Expeditor efforts, the first two books in the series, which had a fairly high snore factor. This book is engaging and very well written throughout. The last quarter of the book shifts gears and sends Eagle on a second mission to Ecuador, fully armed this time, to deal with Hitler's son - of all people. Eagle befriends a horny and hilarious native girl who provides some appreciated levity in this mission, which surprisingly turns out to be just as engaging as the first. Definitely the best in the series so far. This book is big-ass Buick great!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Review: The Double Take

The Double Take The Double Take by Roy Huggins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Roy Huggins, the legendary Hollywood producer and screenwriter, started his career as a detective novelist. He was clearly a follower of Raymond Chandler - not a bad thing. Wise cracking PI Stuart Bailey gets involved over his head in this nicely plotted crime caper, meeting a slew of interesting characters, getting beat up, and doggedly chasing the twisting clues to a satisfying conclusion. The novel is certainly on par with the best of the 1940s era hard-boiled PI books that I've read. He later adapted this book for a film called I Love Trouble starring Franchot Tone which is very underrated. Someone has put it up on YouTube. Not a great print but it's watchable, and definitely worth watching.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Review: Double Wide

Double Wide Double Wide by Leo W. Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A washed up and dejected baseball pitcher named Whip Stark now lives in a makeshift trailer court in the Arizona desert with an oddball bunch of trailer tenants. When a friend’s amputated hand appears on his doorstep he puts on his amateur detective cap and gets involved in a complex web of murders, drug cartels, and baseball scandals. A female TV reporter ends up partnering with smart-alecky Whip and I really liked the witty banter between them. The subtle and clever humor throughout the whole book is a real joy. Whip Stark is a terrific character with an interesting backstory that explains how a young baseball phenom ended up in a rundown desert trailer - and he also loves the same vintage crime books that I do. Nicely plotted and paced and entertaining as hell. I loved it. Recommended.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Review: Go, Honeylou: A Pete Schofield Caper

Go, Honeylou: A Pete Schofield Caper Go, Honeylou: A Pete Schofield Caper by Thomas B. Dewey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Married couple Pete and Jeannie Schofield are a lot like Nick and Nora Charles, except Pete is more hard-boiled and Jeannie is a lot more frisky. The novel is a screwball detective romp with Pete getting beat up, and the women undressing for various reasons as they attempt to unravel a caper that includes murder, kidnapping, prostitution, a disputed inheritance, and $250,00 in hidden cash. Lots of playful banter between the married couple, and a solid plot that takes place during an assignment to transport a young Texas beauty from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with stops in Bakersfield and other locations. Fun stuff in the tradition of the Richard S. Prather and Craig Rice stories.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Review: Some Must Die

Some Must Die Some Must Die by Gil Brewer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Gil Brewer is renowned for his over-the-top noir paperback originals, all brimming with violence and sexual obsession. His lone attempt at writing a Western proves to be a drawn-out and aggravating novel that tells the story of six unlucky characters snowbound in a cabin with a saddlebag full of stolen money. This trope provides the conflict and forwards the minimalist plot. The characters showed illogical restraint when it came to violence when a killing or two could have resolved the conflicts and ended this dirge fifty pages early. This may have worked better as a short story or novelette. Stick with Brewer's crime novels, which may be inconsistent, but often burn as brightly as the best of the crime fiction of the era.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Review: The Thousand Mile Case

The Thousand Mile Case The Thousand Mile Case by J.R. Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clint Adams, The Gunsmith, helps out a stranger in an unfair shootout, killing a few men, although the stranger and the men hunting him all end up dead too. Clint wonders why the men chased the stranger 1000 miles across the country, and why he was forced to kill men that he didn’t even know. Clint journeys to the town were the men came from and starts investigating, although his efforts are initially rebuffed by the cautious townsfolk. The Gunsmith books are all heavily dialogue driven and are typically action-packed mystery stories. This is a good one. An enjoyable and easy read - perfect escapist fare.

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Saturday, April 18, 2020

Review: Lament for Julie

Lament for Julie Lament for Julie by Robert Colby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A past love triangle finds Julie married to Steadman, with Corwin the odd man out. Tough guy Corwin holds no grudge and they remain close friends. Steadman goes to sea and when he returns he finds that wife Julie has been killed in a suspicious hit-and-run. Steadman starts investigating and ends up dead in an apparent suicide. Corwin assumes that they have both been murdered and comes back to town for answers and vengeance. Corwin turns out to be a proto-vigilante type, driven and violent, who suspects and then ingratiates himself with the rich and corrupt Vollmer family that runs the town, and then proceeds to get laid and kick some serious ass. A propulsive plot with several interesting characters and plenty of sex and violence are my low-brow expectations for a great book and this one covers all the bases. Recommended.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Review: The Wrecking Crew

The Wrecking Crew The Wrecking Crew by Donald Hamilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Matt Helm is assigned to work undercover as a photographer with an attractive journalist in Sweden in order to locate and assassinate a man called Caselius. The first two thirds of the book mostly sets the stage for the final third, which really kicks into high gear with plenty of action, clever twists, and double crosses. Hamilton’s writing is superb, chock full of clever observations and a dazzlingly intricate plot. I would have liked a little less of Helm and the journalist endlessly taking photos and trading barbs in the middle third, which I found only mildly amusing, but not enough to detract from the terrific novel as a whole.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Review: Rails West

Rails West Rails West by Logan Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Logan Stewart is a pseduonym of Les Savage Jr., a notable and prolific writer of pulp western stories and novels. This novel is 160 pages of Gold Medal goodness telling the story of Scott Walker. a civil war soldier, presumed dead, searching for his family only to find them robbed of their land, his father driven insane with vengeance, and his girlfriend married to his brutal brother. A shoot out with the land baron sends the family on the run as outlaws. Scott, who is separated from the rest, gets work building the rails going west before becoming sheriff of the last boom town on the rail line, where his family, the rowdy rail workers, and the land swindlers all come together for an explosive climax. A fast moving and very entertaining read.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Review: So Fair, So Evil

So Fair, So Evil So Fair, So Evil by Paul Connolly (Tom Wicker)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"So Fair, So Evil" is an ambitious Southern Gothic and psychological thriller narrated by main character Frank Sinclair, an engineer and northerner, who marries into a rich, old-wealth family in the American Deep South. Frank goes off to the Korean War and ends up in a mental hospital where he learns that his wife Dolly has been killed in an apparent suicide. Determined to prove that his wife was actually murdered, Frank returns home causing an enormous disruption amongst the large cast of idle rich folks populating the grand Southern family estate. These pretentious snobs never accepted Frank as one of their own, and they alienate him, perhaps to distance themselves from his lowly heritage, or to keep hidden the deep secrets that they themselves harbor. The novel does a nice job of portraying the rich and powerful families of the mid 20th century American Deep South while providing a good murder mystery. Kinds of reminds me of a Jim Thompson story as if written by William Faulkner.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Review: Valley of Skulls

Valley of Skulls Valley of Skulls by John Benteen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Fargo series tell the tales of early 20th Century adventurer and solider of fortune Neal Fargo. They aren’t Westerns as the covers suggest. In this installment Fargo is hired by a rich old blowhard to rescue some Mayan treasures and the excavation team, which includes his son, from the jungles of Central America. Fargo forges an uneasy alliance with old friend Darnley and his team of ruffians who Fargo thinks are likely to kill him and keep the fortune, which he now realizes includes a solid gold cannon of priceless value, for themselves. The well-oiled plot rolls along at breakneck speed with colorful dialog and plenty of action. The Fargo adventure books are perfect escapism for our times, easily consumed and tasty as a hot delivered pizza.

It's now a available as an inexpensive ebook from Amazon.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Review: Massacre at Umtali

Massacre at Umtali Massacre at Umtali by Peter McCurtin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Set in 1970s Rhodesia and telling the story of a mercenary named Rainey who has been engaged to lead a ragtag team of hired killers to capture a terrorist kingpin who recently massacred civilians in a village called Umtali. There is quite a bit of 1970s Rhodesia information and geopolitical discussion which was interesting until the point that it got boring. Fortunately the book escalated into high gear quickly and left no doubt that hardcore action was the emphasis of the tale. Rainey is faced with a difficult dilemma at one point, which was a nice touch and added significantly to the story. An engaging and highly testosterone-fueled adventure that should appeal to readers of 1970s military action fiction.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Review: Body for Sale

Body for Sale Body for Sale by Richard Deming
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Resourceful and cunning ex-cop Tom Cavanagh blackmails his adulterous boss into giving him a sales director job which starts the ball rolling in this terrific rollercoaster of a noir. Not much more that I can say about the plot without spoiling so I’ll just say that this efficiently plotted gem is full of surprising twists and is impossible to put down. Another forgotten noir essential that deserves to be read. Highly recommended.

Available as an inexpensive ebook from Prologue and Wildside Press.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Review: Thunder Wagon

Thunder Wagon Thunder Wagon by James Reasoner and L.J Washburn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sheriff Cole Tyler and the other endearing citizens of Wind River, a Wyoming settlement, are threatened on multiple fronts, railroad worker labor unrest, a possible Indian uprising, and robberies whose victims have their ears cut off. Appearances by a Chinese cook and his family, and the US Calvary only serve to add to the tension. Even though there is a lot going on here the authors smoothy tie the events and characters into a nicely cohesive narrative that tie up the loose ends in a satisfying conclusion. I’m fond of books that revolve around a town and it’s cast of interesting characters and their individual stories. Thunder Wagon is a great example of this type of storytelling. I’m looking forward to book three in the series.

Buy the ebook here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Review: Girls' Dormitory

Girls' Dormitory Girls' Dormitory by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

More thoughtful than sleazy, Girls Dormitory tells the story of rich college girl Peggy, her money hungry roommate and lover Helen, who is also a prostitute, and horny Jerry the pimp and dormitory handy man who makes time with several of the rooming guests possibly impregnating one of them. The writer really stirred the pot with multiple plot lines and the female character's shifting sexuality, however the pacing is strong and the story kept my interest. Sex is only implied and never described, frequently using the chapter ending device "Show me you love me." And (s)he did.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Review: A Trap for Sam Dodge

A Trap for Sam Dodge / High Thunder A Trap for Sam Dodge by Harry Whittington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sheriff Miles Ringo is gunned down and Sam Dodge comes back to town to find the killer of his old friend. Turns out that Sam and Ringo were once competing for the same girl and the same job, and Sam lost on both counts, inspiring him to leave town to start a ranch.  Sam Dodge has a plan to draw out the killer but ends up creating a trap for himself. Courtroom drama ensues with a nice twist and an unexpected ally. Whittington delivers another propulsive crime thriller with Sam Dodge acting as the detective and protagonist. Sam’s relationship with the steadfast doctor and the soiled dove’s daughter were a couple of highlights for me. Recommended.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Review: Tears Are For Angels

Tears Are For Angels Tears Are For Angels by Paul Connolly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paul Connolly is a pseudonym for Tom Wicker, a notable writer of political non-fiction and NY Times journalist for over 30 years. Wicker started out writing paperback originals for Gold Medal, all sadly out of print. This novel "Tears are for Angels" is much more than a typical pulp crime book. It tells the story of a man who has fallen into the deepest pits of despair and his struggle back, motivated first by vengeance, and then by love. The novel is fast paced with clever and surprising twists, and plenty of sex and violence.

UPDATE: Stark House Press has just brought this superb book back into print. Available here from their Black Gat imprint.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Review: The Silver Tombstone

The Silver Tombstone The Silver Tombstone by Frank Gruber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A pair of somewhat silly grifter buddies Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg find themselves immersed in a caper involving a disputed silver mine, a mysterious old book, and a corpse in their car. An amusing romp in the style of of other 1940s hard-boiled-lite mysteries such as those by Craig Rice and Brett Halliday, propulsive plotting, witty banter, and humor. I'll keep my eye out for other books in this series, which are mostly out-of-print and unjustly forgotten.

This book is long out-of-print and not likely to be reprinted. I created these ebooks from scans that I found online. Download and enjoy.

EPUB - The Silver Tombstone - Frank Gruber.epub
MOBI - The Silver Tombstone - Frank

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Review: The Executioner: Vegas Vendetta

The Executioner: Vegas Vendetta The Executioner: Vegas Vendetta by Don Pendleton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mack Bolan stops off in Vegas to relieve the Mafia of a load of cash and ends up rescuing undercover cop Carl Lyons who tells Bolan about some sinister mob activity in town. Bolan decides to stick around, help out a comedian that has been targeted, and take down a Casino-Resort that is mobbed up. The hip 70’s idioms were a gas, the police are called “the fuzz” and independent women are “Women Libbers”. Bolanverse regulars Hal Brognola, Jack Grimaldi, and the deadly  Talifero brothers all make appearances too. Another lean and muscular action thriller in the long running series that is difficult to put down.

Available for Kindle

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Review: Take A Step To Murder

Take A Step To Murder Take A Step To Murder by Day Keene
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Kurt Renner needs money to keep his motor court in business while the expressway interchange gets built. He devises a truly repugnant plan to blackmail a rapist’s rich father, but things don’t go as planned. A rollercoaster of events keeps the book rolling at breakneck pace, and although I liked the plotting, I found that the lack of any sympathetic characters took the heart out of the book. I didn’t really care if Renner succeeded in saving his motor court. Not one of Keene’s better books.

View all my reviews

Review: Strangers in My Bed

Strangers in My Bed Strangers in My Bed by Allen O'Quinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good example of rural swamp noir, and a solid coming-of-age story, as kindly brother Willie tries to pick up the pieces when bad brother Elroy comes home from college and creates a unholy mess of everything. Although the title and cover blurbs promise some sleaze the book is not nearly as salacious, consisting of horny hillbillies talking about sex in metaphorical terms with no gratuitous or graphical depictions. The books touches on the discrimination of urban Southerners against the uneducated backwater folks, and some pretty disturbing examples of racism in the Deep South. A talented writer, Mr. O'Quinn wrote three backwoods/swamp novels for Gold Medal and then disappeared. Another great cover by Barye Phillips.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Review: The Paperback Fanatic issue 43

The Paperback Fanatic issue 43 The Paperback Fanatic issue 43 by Justin Marriott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Plenty of insightful reviews of Fawcett Gold Medal paperback originals from reviewers that are well informed and not particularly wordy, a couple of paragraphs per review. Recommended for all lovers of Gold Medal books.

View all my reviews

Monday, February 17, 2020

Review: Hot Lead, Cold Justice

Hot Lead, Cold Justice Hot Lead, Cold Justice by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Burn ‘Em” Burnham, a psychotic protege of Quantrill has a vendetta against Trinity Sheriff Caleb York. He plans to rob a Las Vegas bank with his cohorts, kill York, and then hide out in Trinity during a deadly New Mexico blizzard. Faithful deputy Tulley is gunned down, accidentally mistaken for Caleb, and York seeks vengeance. Spillane created the resourceful, noble, and somewhat mysterious character of Caleb York and he’s in great hands with Max Allan Collins. Love interest Willa Cullen and other colorful characters of Trinity are back giving the story great depth and heart. The blizzard was almost a character itself, infuriating travel, and causing havoc, death and devastation. This tightly written page-turner should appeal to all readers of crime and thriller novels, not just fans of historical fiction. Highly recommended.

Pre-order it on Amazon

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Review: A Woman For Henry

A Woman For Henry A Woman For Henry by Allen O'Quinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tensions between moon-shining swamp brothers Henry and Del are heightened when Del brings home salacious saloon bride Morna from New Orleans, and a complex plot to ruin Henry's operation begins to unfold. Morna is a formidable femme fatale, brimming with overt sexuality and a boldness that Henry finds difficult to resist, although he secretly pines for local good girl Joanne. Well written enough to make me seek out another book from this very obscure author. Great cover art by Barye Phillips.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Movie Review: Range War (1938)

William Boyd
Not really a range war per se, but rather a greedy land baron trying to sabotage railroad construction that threatens his toll range business model. There's no Gabby Hayes or Andy Clyde here, just horndog Lucky Jenkins and Speedy, a fella that talks slow and who provides some comic relief. Hoppy is engaged by the railroad to track down the bandits that have been stealing the payroll and no surprise, they are under the auspices of the greedy land baron. Like all Hopalong Cassidy movies this one is fun and entertaining, and perhaps more a little more violent than most.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Review: The Searching Rider

The Searching Rider The Searching Rider by Harry Whittington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A farmer named Kraylor mounts a lone, suicidal revenge mission against a trio of outlaws that murdered his young son. His wife Hetty implores old flame Matt Logan to go after Kraylor before he gets himself killed. This revenge novella is a razor sharp page-turner set amongst the backdrop of a compelling love triangle. Matt Logan is seriously conflicted. Letting Kraylor die would leave Hetty to himself, and of courser Kraylor wants no help from his wife’s former flame. This emotional turmoil propels a fairly standard revenge plot into something transcendental. The action-packed climax is a highlight as well. Recommended.

I don't see this Ace Double half being reprinted anytime soon so I created ebooks from scanned images that I found online in the name of digital preservation. Download them here:

EPUB - The Searching Rider - Harry Whittington.epub
MOBI - The Searching Rider - Harry

Friday, January 24, 2020

A new ebook project

My friends at the Paperback Warrior blog had high praise for this Harry Whittington story - THE SEARCHING RIDER, which made up half of Ace Double D-510. I was able to find a really good scan of the story online and I converted the images to text using an OCR program called Tesseract. After running the text through a Perl script to remove page numbers, titles and linefeeds I then copied the text into MS Word, did a few Replace All changes to fix some oddball characters and ended up with a pretty clean document. I'll still have to go through the painstaking process of comparing the source scan to the Word document and fixing a lot of other stuff. The best part of that is that I get to read the book, plus it will be digitally preserved in a true book format. Anyway, the screenshot above shows the source image on the left, and the target document on the right. I'm a bit constrained on time so it might take a while.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Review: The Law at Randado

The Law at Randado The Law at Randado by Elmore Leonard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A young and and inexperienced deputy sheriff named Kirby Frye has his skills tested when a rich and arrogant rancher and some citizens of Randado conspire to entrust themselves with lawmaking and executions while he’s away. The narrative is nicely dialog driven with plenty of colorful and insightful conversations, especially between Kirby and his mentor and his boss Sheriff Danaher. The descriptive prose is taut and compact so get ready to use your imagination when it comes to how the characters and locations look. There were several tense sequences with a fair amount of gunplay, although I found the final conflict a bit strained. In general an exciting and propulsive read that I recommend.