Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Review: Drachenfels

Drachenfels Drachenfels by Jack Yeovil
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Drachenfels is both the name of an evil demon wizard and his castle. Much like the second half of Stephen King's "It", a team of adventurers are forced to regroup 25 years after defeating Drachenfels, who has risen again much like Harry Potter's nemesis Voldemort. Seeing that this book takes place in the Warhammer universe the team is made up of various fantasy races and classes like dwarves, elves, wizards, a fighter prince, and most interestingly the vampire Genevieve, the glue of continuity that holds this four-book series together. The main narrative here concerns playwright/director Detlef who has been commissioned to put on a new play by the prince commemorating the defeat of Drachenfels and in a bad move - hold it in his abandoned castle. I liked that the plot revolved around putting on a play, not a typical fantasy/vampire storyline, although it was really kind of weird too. Well written, although a bit slow for my taste, inducing some snores for bedtime readings. Anyway, I liked it enough to give it three stars.

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Sunday, September 17, 2023

Review: The Case of the Velvet Claws

The Case of the Velvet Claws The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gardner’s first Perry Mason novel surprised me because nothing takes place in a courtroom. Also, Mason behaves just like a hard-boiled detective, although he displays a sharp acumen of the law, and is deeply honor bound to be a faithful representative to his client, a gorgeous and very shifty wife of a soon-to-be-dead rich husband. Murder and suspicious wills are nothing new in the mystery genre, so Gardner mashes up some interesting subplots and twists that I didn’t see coming. Paul Drake and Della Street are here and Mason is clearly romantically involved with Della, something that was not alluded to on TV. Gardner was one of the best writers of the 20th century, and although his popularity has waned, I have never read anything by him that was less that great, this one included.

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Saturday, September 2, 2023

Review: The Moon Maid

The Moon Maid The Moon Maid by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Evidently Burroughs wrote this as a metaphorical response to American Communists, which he abhorred, although I wasn’t able to figure out the connection. Set in the not-too-distant future USA astronauts on a mission to Mars are maliciously crash landed into a crater on the moon by saboteur Orthis, a sociopath with a vendetta for hero Julian. Discovering a vast lost civilization Julian gets involved is several capture/escape set pieces, meeting the beautiful titular Moon Maid in the process and culminating in a massive battle between warring cities – and the return of Orthis. This is a fairly typical Burroughs pulp space opera/romance with an emphasis on world building and adventure. It didn’t leave me with much enthusiasm for reading the next two entries in the three book series, so it was just reliably serviceable in the ERB scale. I give it three stars.

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Sunday, July 30, 2023

Review: Remembered Sin

Remembered Sin Remembered Sin by Harry Whittington
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of Whittington’s fabled “missing 38”, this one is a sleazed up nurse romance telling the story of horny young nurse Lenora who decides to take in her down-and-out former lover and his nympho and psychotic wife into her home. This greatly displeases her crippled aunt housemate, and her current lover – the jealous Dr. Whalen. The psycho wife is nasty and delusional enough to keep her set pieces mostly entertaining and arguably the highlight of the book. Pretty decent plot with several secondary characters and a few somewhat steamy R-rated trysts. Solid writing and nicely paced so readable without having to skim, like so many other sleazers. The sex scenes are fairly innocuous and brief so don’t expect to get aroused. Can’t recommend it, although okay for the Whittington completists, and another addition to this blog’s “missing 38” reviews. I give it two stars.

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Thursday, July 6, 2023

Review: Silver Shot

Silver Shot Silver Shot by Gary McCarthy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gary McCarthy has written scores of Westerns and work-for-hire novels. This is the seventh novel in his Derby Man series, and the only one that I have read. As you may have guessed, the protagonist in this series wears a Derby style hat. Darby Buckingham is also a former boxer and circus sideshow strongman, now a writer of Western Dime Novels. Here Darby travels to a mining town and is soon followed by love interest Dolly, and a couple of comedic type sidekicks, where he gets involved with a corrupt stockbroker and con man who is duping the town, and Dolly into investing in a mining stock scheme. He’s also predictably a fine boxer and adversary for Darby in fisticuffs. So a few fistfights, some confusing stock trading, a murder or two, and some romance and jealousy ensue. Darby is an interesting character and worthy of a series. The writing, pacing, and dialog are solid, the plotting kind of seems like the author is making it up as he goes, which is fine, although some devices seemed far-fetched and unnecessary. I liked the writing and the character and would be interested in reading others in the series. I give this one three stars.

Recently republished by Wolfpack Publishing, including an omnibus of the entire series.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Review: Carla

Carla Carla by Sheldon Lord
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was Lawrence Block's first published novel. Marketed to men of that era (1958) as a sex book about a nymphomanic, but it could just as easily have been marketed under a different name and with different art and jacket copy to women as a romance. This is a censorship era book so the sex scenes are veiled and euphemistic but I'm sure it was quite scandalous at the time. There is one particularly gruesome scene, a flashback to when Carla was fourteen and her mother takes her to to get a back alley abortion, that shows off the kind of writer Block would become. Otherwise, the writing here is similar to what Orrie Hitt was writing at the same time. Page after page of shallow psychology passed off as the character's, mostly Carla's, thought processes.

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Sunday, July 2, 2023

Review: Come Destroy Me

Come Destroy Me Come Destroy Me by Vin Packer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bookworm Charlie channels a Holden Caulfield level of teenage angst and self-pity while struggling against psychopathic tendencies in this corker of a short novel. Charlie's infatuation with a neurotic older woman is the main focus of the narrative, among plenty of other relationship entanglements that include his mousy mother, horny sister, and the decent guy that they both get involved with, and who Charlie deeply resents. The author does an amazing job of getting into Charlie's head, his self-esteem, paranoia, and lack of remorse. Flash forwards clue the reader into what's going to happen so that we can observe the signs of Charlie’s descent, which everyone else in the story fails to pick up on. The author’s insights into mental illness are fascinating and thought provoking. A book that’s impossible to put down. I give it five stars.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Review: The Chessmen of Mars

The Chessmen of Mars The Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tara of Helium, young daughter of John Carter and Dejah Thoris, is serious bad-ass, killing rapists and dangerous eunuchs, and mouthing off to anyone who tries to disrespect her. Burroughs was clearly before his time when it came to bad-ass women. This pretty much follows the theme of the previous Mars stories, adventures, battles, meeting strange new Barsoom races, except this time it's Tara, and she is completely lost after being blown across the planet on her flier in a horrific wind storm, much like Dorothy in Oz. Sufficiently interesting and entertaining for a story over 100 years old, although the stilted and flowery prose of the time might be off-putting. Again the strength of the Mars books is the exquisite world building that ERB is so good at with many great examples. The story is not without weaknesses. The male hero, and love interest, goes by three different names, which can be confusing. All of the characters in the main location have names formatted like A-AAA, and similar enough to add to the confusion. It also get a bit repetitive with several capture-rescue set pieces. Pretty good book in the Barsoom series. I give it three stars.

The book is in the public domain and available here.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Review: The First Kothar the Barbarian MEGAPACK®: 3 Sword and Sorcery Novels

The First Kothar the Barbarian MEGAPACK®: 3 Sword and Sorcery Novels

The First Kothar the Barbarian MEGAPACK®: 3 Sword and Sorcery Novels by Gardner F. Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gardner Fox was amazingly prolific, writing thousands of comic books, plus a slew of novels and short stories. During the Sword and Sorcery revival in the 1960s, arguably triggered by Lancer republishing Robert E Howard’s Conan pulp stories, Fox wrote these Kothar Barbarian Swordsman stories. Sure, they’re directive as hell, and would have fit right in with Weird Tales in the 1930s, although that’s no reason to be dismissive. All five of the stories republished in these Wildside Press Megapacks are equally fun and entertaining reads. All clearly following in the Howard school of pulp fiction heroics the stories are action-packed and fast moving with no elements of high fantasy to bog things down. Reminded me a lot of video games or Dungeon and Dragons adventures when the adventurer explores a magical world, encountering monster or supernatural beings, then a final battle with the Big Bad or Boss to conclude. A terrific collection of fun and pulpy stories that are well worth the bargain ebook pricing.

The First Megapack at Wildside Press

The Second Megapack at Wildside Press

Sunday, May 7, 2023

That Old Grey Train by John D. MacDonald - PDF

Another "lost" and never anthologized John D. MacDonald story, this one from Sports Fiction Magazine, September 1947. I did some OCR and editing work on it, then exported to PDF. MacDonald was clearly a knowledgeable boxing fan, although the story is more about dealing with maturity and regrets rather than a sports adventure type of story. Bear in mind that main character is black and there is some language that may be offensive to some readers.

PDF -  That Old Grey Train by John D. MacDonald

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Review: The Killer is Mine

The Killer is Mine The Killer is Mine by Talmage Powell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Talmage Powell was another pulp writer who migrated to the mystery digests, primarily Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and of course paperback originals in the 1950s. He was also one of the Tampa group of author pals with Harry Whittington, Day Keene, Jonathon Craig, and Gil Brewer. Fine company indeed. This paperback from 1959 was Powell’s take on the immensely popular private detective genre of the era with this, the first Ed Rivers novel. A young wife attempts to engage Rivers to prove that her husband on death row is innocent, and while at first disinclined to help, he changes his mind when he is threatened to drop the case, correctly sleuthing that something fishy is afoot. Rivers doggedly seeks the truth while dodging a large retinue of forces that are throwing roadblocks and threats at him. Powell expertly rolls up a delightfully sophisticated and tightly plotted gem with a slew of interesting characters, all spouting terse and evocative dialog. A top notch detective novel and another superior entry in the pantheon of 1959 paperback masterpieces, arguably the best year ever for crime, sleaze, and detective fiction. Five stars and my highest recommendation.

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Friday, February 10, 2023

Review: Park Avenue Tramp

Park Avenue Tramp Park Avenue Tramp by Fletcher Flora
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although similar in theme and style to the late-1950s novels by Lawrence Block and Orrie Hitt, Flora's style here also has a lot of similarities to David Goodis. At times the narrative is more from within the characterizations as opposed to being description or armchair psychoanalysis and the style frequently gets poetic. Went on a bit at times with needless dialog and backstory rumination and that put me in speed-read mode for large chunks of the book, but I could say that about most of these pulps. The basic plot centers around a young woman married to rich older husband. She is a lush and has one-night stands. Her husband hires a private investigator to follow her and make sure no serious relationship develops. When it does, muscle is brought in. Interestingly, the writing is strongest during the sections when the narrative focus is turned over to the investigator. He is bitter, hateful, and fantasizes killing the husband and being with the wife. The writing in these sections is dark and totally "inside" voice and if Flora had given this character more space to act this novel had the potential to be a great crime-noir. As it is, the crime comes at the end, and although critical to plot resolution, it is a small part of the book.

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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Review: Zero Cool

Zero Cool Zero Cool by John Lange
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Zero Cool, first published in 1969, is another of Michael Crichton's early John Lange novels. This was reprinted by Hard Case Crime initially under the John Lange pseudonym. Its cool x-ray looking cover is shown with this review. (The original Signet paperback from 1969 has a lame photo cover). Hard Case later editions have Michael Crichton's name in large letters on top with a "writing as John Lange" by line below in much smaller letters. Crichton apparently revised this novel for the Hard Case Crime edition. Not sure how much was done to the body of the book, but the framing "Video Interview" prologue and epilogue he added seem completely unnecessary. The other somewhat humorous thing to note from the copyright page is that Crichton trademarked Zero Cool. Perhaps planning a movie treatment? Or a branded whats-it? Who knows. The novel itself is just so-so. The plot is intricate and constantly twisting and there is action scene after action scene and it's all quite cinematic. Unfortunately, at least to my reading taste, more than half the book consists of ridiculous dialogue that barely advances the plot. Crichton—like Carter Brown—spends five pages attempting witty repartee to impart maybe three sentences of information that moves the story along. He repeats this technique over an over throughout the novel. Plenty of colorful villains in the James Bond mold, although a bit cartoonish. Plenty of exotic settings, but they are thinly rendered. The plot? A radiologist on vacation in Spain is suddenly sucked into a Maltese Falcon-esque struggle between a bunch of criminals all trying to find a whats-it. I won't spoil the read by divulging more because then the first two thirds of the book are less compelling. The plot driver, and what keeps the pages turning, is that the radiologist protagonist doesn't know what is going on, so we get to follow along as he is batted about like a ping-pong ball between rival gangs. What is going on? Who is who? Will he survive? If you can can put up with the dialogue, or speed read it as I did, the plot will drag you along to the, finally, fast-paced and climactic ending.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Review: Bayou Nurse

Bayou Nurse Bayou Nurse by Peggy Gaddis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of Peggy Gaddis' later novels first published in hardcover in 1964 by Arcadia for the library market and it recycles numerous themes from her earlier novels. Nurse Lindsay puts her hospital career on hold to return to the bayou to care for her ailing Aunt Jennifer who had—spitefully—raised her after Lindsay's parents were killed in a fishing boat accident. Lindsay is the typical sassy Gaddis protagonist readers want to root for, but it is mean Aunt Jennifer, wheelchair confined and using her words like a cattle-prod, who steals every scene she is in. The verbal jousting between Lindsay and Jennifer are the high points. The low being the three dolts pursuing Lindsay: a doctor, a journalist, and a bayou guide. The nurse romance plot, and I won't spoil the outcome, demands that she end up with one of these guys, although to Gaddis' credit, Lindsay isn't really interested in any of them for almost the entire book. So that's the tension that keeps this one moving. Less developed is the mystery of why the journalist is sniffing around the bayou. That plot point is teased a lot but barely pursued until some thin gruel of criminal activity is surprisingly introduced to spur the novel's conclusion. It's the story not told that if it had been would have elevated this one considerably. There's a Valentine paperback edition with the title Strange Shadows of Love which tries to make this seem like a gothic novel. It isn't. Not one of Gaddis' best.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Review: Odds On

Odds On Odds On by John Lange
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Michael Crichton's first novel written under the pseudonym of John Lange while he was in medical school. It's a heist plot, with three professional criminals planning to rob a luxury hotel in Spain. Would have been a better book if it were a hundred pages shorter as there are a lot of scenes with minor characters that add flavor but really don't advance the plot. The middle of the book, where the three thieves are chatting up the hotel guests and gathering information, is basically an excuse for a bunch of gratuitous sex scenes. Nice twist at the end during the heist itself that is set-up with plenty of foreshadowing. If you strip out the extraneous parts you can see the bones of Crichton's later cinematic style here in this first novel. Plenty of good scenes and a solid story arc, just a bit bloated. Available as a Hard Case Crime reprint.

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Sunday, January 29, 2023

Review: The Night It Rained Bullets

The Night It Rained Bullets

The Night It Rained Bullets by Brian Wynne (Brian Garfield)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prolific and talented author Brian Garfield, writing as Brian Wynne, wrote several Westerns taking place in the fictional town of Spanish Flat starring hard-boiled Marshal Jeremy Six. Here the town is invaded by three exceedingly psychotic and brutal outlaws during a winter snowstorm, The arrival of a gambler with a gunslinger reputation, and a drunken rich gambling troublemaker add to the explosive situation which soon escalates out of control resulting in Six having to make some hard decisions and resort to some serious violence. I tend to like stories that take place in confined locations due to conditions that the characters don’t have control of, storms, hurricanes, etc. Tarantino’s Hateful Eight comes to mind. A single day compressed timeline ramps up the tension to a blistering pace making this difficult to put down. A fine novel and an easy four stars. 

Here's scan of it. (if you don't mind reading yellowed images in a comic reader)

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Review: The Bad Girls

The Bad Girls The Bad Girls by Bud Clifton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

EIghteen year old good girl Janey thinks she is pregnant after being raped and is convinced by bad girl Allie to skip town to avoid 1950s era shame. They travel to the sleazy section of San Francisco where they encounter gang members, pimps, prostitutes, pornographers, and crooked cops. Quickly running out of money, they are forced to make decisions that are less than honorable. Bud Clifton is a pseudonym of David Stacton who was a notable poet and historian and his writing chops are evident here. Stylistically his prose is an unusual barrage of short and concise sentences which suits the subject matter well. No one wants to read long florid descriptive prose in a sleazer. Bad girl Allie is the most interesting character and the writer does an exceptional job writing her dialog, which alternates between being a kind and faithful friend to Janey, and a rage spewing vengeful bitch to most others. The plot is more of a coming of age story and character study than a crime or mystery story, which is okay. Turned out to be less forgettable than most sleazers so I give it a solid three stars.

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Thursday, January 19, 2023

Review: Temporary Secretary

Temporary Secretary Temporary Secretary by Joan Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the novel's first sentence we learn that Audrey Owens is tall, slim, and bosomy. She's 19, and unlike the blonde in Paul Rader's cover painting, she's a redhead. Before too many pages we learn that she's only been in New York City for four weeks after having moved there from Coalsville. A recent graduate from secretarial school she is working for a temp agency because she wants jobs where she can meet men. Audrey has a Plan, which is to use, in her words, her "man-bait" body to snag a husband with a Class A future. Audrey is hired out to Carlyle Cosmetics, run by the "dominating" Sara Carlyle, who has a lesbian reputation. Audrey is assigned to VP, and Sara's fixer, Bob Dixon. Audrey wastes no time and gives it up to Bob on his office carpet the first day of her assignment. Next she beds her boss at the temp agency. Followed by a chemist at the cosmetics company. Soon she's juggling relationships with all three of these potential husbands. Not so fast, as Sara asks Audrey to bring her steno pad over to Sara's Park Avenue apartment for some private dictation. What's a girl with a Plan to do? No spoilers from me. This is a smoothly written office romance by one of Midwood's top sleaze authors, Julie Ellis. Ellis authored a massive number of sleaze novels in the 1960s under several pseudonyms before going on to a mainstream career writing gothic, plantation, and historical romances from 1970 until her death in 2006. Her main pseudonym for the sleaze books was Joan Ellis, under whose byline she wrote 46 books just for Midwood. I have most of those in my collection and enjoyed this one so will read and review some more.

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Sunday, January 15, 2023

Review: The Good Old Stuff

The Good Old Stuff The Good Old Stuff by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This collection published in hardcover in 1982 and paperback in 1983 includes thirteen stories culled from the hundreds of stories MacDonald published in the pulp magazines between 1946 and 1952. They are the stories he considered the best and worthy or republication. So that right there makes this a must read for MacDonald fans. I thought the most interesting thing about this collection were the two stories that MacDonald, in his introduction, described as having a hero “who in some respects seems like a precursor to Travis McGee.” The stories - Breathe No More and From Some Hidden Grave - both feature Park Falkner, who in looks and skills does seem similar to McGee. Falkner doesn’t live on a boat at a marina but in a mansion on a private island. These two stories are a variation on the mystery formula of locking all the suspects in a room until the guilty party is found out. MacDonald’s wrinkle in these stories is that Park Falkner picks a crime to solve based on some chivalrous criteria and then invites the suspects to his private island so he can go to work breaking them down. I enjoyed these stories and their “formula” a lot. Park Falkner, and his sort of girlfriend and crime solving partner, Taffy Angus, are intriguing characters and it is clear from the writing that MacDonald had some affection for them. A bit surprised that he didn’t write more stories around these characters, but perhaps there was only so much he could do with the formula of bringing the suspects to the island. McGee as a “Salvage Consultant” who was free to roam certainly worked better to anchor a series. MacDonald's 1957 novel A Man of Affairs employs a variation on this private island theme and his 1959 release Please Write For Details brings all the characters to a mountain retreat in Mexico. So it is interesting to see MacDonald honing his techniques in these early stories. In 1984 he released More Good Old Stuff, which collected 14 more stories and the 27 stories in these two volumes represent all the early work MacDonald felt deserved preserving. Both are worth checking out.

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Saturday, January 14, 2023

Review: The Passionate

The Passionate The Passionate by Carter Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Detective Al Wheeler encounters hot and horney twins, a dead body in a horror TV show host’s coffin, and some brutes to get beat up by. Carter Brown novels can always be counted on for plenty of wisecracks and silly sexist humor. Admittedly his plots can sometimes fall flat - the guy wrote one novel per month. Fortunately here we have a cracking good plot, a whodunit that had me as puzzled as Wheeler as the suspects and red herrings pile up. Top notch Cater Brown for sure and good one to introduce readers confused about the hundreds of CB novels of various quality. This was recently republished by Stark House Press with a couple of other titles at

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Friday, January 13, 2023

Review: Love Me - And Die

Love Me - And Die Love Me - And Die by Day Keene
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Although published under Day Keene's byline, this was Gil Brewer's first novel. As David Rachel describes it in his introduction to Redheads Die Quickly, the collection of Gil Brewer stories he edited, Keene was awash in material and commissioned Brewer to turn his novella "Marry the Sixth for Murder!," which had been published in Detective Tales, into a novel. Which Brewer did using Keene's original story as an outline. It was published in 1951 by Phantom Books in digest format, with cover art by George Gross. After reading Rachel's review of this one I had low expectations, but was still disappointed. Basically this is just a poor Raymond Chandler imitation. The plot moves randomly and the hard-boiled dialogue is clunky. It reminded me quite a bit of what Orrie Hitt tried to do (also poorly) in Love or Kill Them All, his attempt at hard-boiled under the Nicky Weaver pseudo. This one is interesting (and collectible) only because it was Gil Brewer's first novel.

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