Saturday, January 28, 2023

SPILLANE - King of Pulp Fiction

 

SPILLANE – King of Pulp Fiction

A Biography

By Max Allan Collins & James L. Traylor

Mysterious Press

337 pgs.

 

After reading this book, our initial reaction was that we’d actually been given the history of not one person, but two. Writers Collins and Traylor deftly interweave the story of both the real Mickey Spillane with that of his most famous fictional character, Mike Hammer. With both Collins and Traylor bonafide fans of both, what results is a truly intimate reflection of two equally fascinating and complex beings.  

Now allow us to backtrack a wee bit. In the early 60s we were in high school discovering so many different writers who forever change our lives. From Edgar Rice Burroughs to Robert E. Howard, Ed McBain to Richard S. Prather and Donald Hamilton. All were found the twenty-five cents paperbacks we devoured weekly. Way more interesting fare than what was dished out in our literature classics. Somehow, among all this reading, we missed Spillane until 1961 when we read a book called “The Deep.” It was a fast paced thriller and kept our attention all the way to the socko ending that pivoted entirely on the very last word. As a budding writer, that trick mesmerized us. Who was this Spillane guy who could so control a narrative that it hinged totally on a single word. Thus over time we began learning more and more about the writer and his tough guy private eye, Mike Hammer. Keep in mind; we’d yet to read a single Hammer book. 

We have vague memories of the Miller Lite TV commercial spots with Spillane and the curvy blonde and it was obvious he was spoofing himself. He seemed like a fun, likeable guy. In 1982 we saw the second film adaptation of “I Jury” with a young, rakish Armand Assante as Hammer. A far cry from the trenchcoat and pork-pie hat Hammer splashed all over his paperback covers. Still, we really like the film for what it was. No great classic of cinema, but an enjoyable way to spend a few hours in the theater.

No, our first actual introduction to Hammer and through him Spillane, came much later when Max Allan Collins began completing manuscripts the writer had left behind at the time of his death. We’d begun this review blog by then and Collins was most generous in either sending copies of these titles or having the publishers do so. Within a few short years, we found ourselves immersed in the tough, nourish world of Mike Hammer and we loved every second of it. Collins always included post-notes detailing which parts of the each book Hammer had done and which he’d added. His obvious sincerity in the tasks he’d undertaken only made us appreciate Spillane all the more. Thus sparking a true curiosity as to who this guy really was?

All of which leads us to “Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction.” Here is a complete accounting of one of the most talented, intriguing and complicated human beings to ever walk the planet. From his days in the military during World War II, to his initial forays into writing fiction from short stories for the pulps to comic books. It’s all here. His sudden rise to success with the first six Hammer books, to his persecution at the hands of the literary elite unmerciful in their criticisms. To them he was an unsophisticated hack who got lucky. Nothing could be further from the truth. Spillane was a product of his times, from childhood through the war years and their aftermath. Like the country he loved would never be same again, neither would the writer and the fiction he created totally reflected America’s changing mores.

The chronicling of Spillane’s frustration with Hollywood, it is clear all he ever wanted was to the Hammer from his pages on that giant silver screen. That it didn’t happen early on ultimately led him to assume the role much to delight of his millions of readers. Like his stories, in “The Girl Hunters” Spillane didn’t let them down. Which speaks volumes to his character as well. From bouts with various religions to several marriages, this biography rolls long like moonshiner’s coupe over lots of back country rutted roads. It’s all here, the fun, the heartache and eventually a man content with his own life at the end. Perhaps his greatest triumph after all.

“Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction” is an insightful read celebrating one of the greatest writers of all time. A tip of the fedora to Collins & Traylor. Masterful.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

VAMPIRE SEIGE AT RIO MUERTO

 

VAMPIRE SEIGE AT RIO MUERTO

By John M. Whalen

Flying W. Press

Available at Amazon

230 pgs

 

When New Mexican rancher, Don Pedro Sanchez’s only daughter is turned into one of the undead by an outlas vampire named Kord Manion, he’s forced to end her existence by driving stake through her heart. His anger unabetted, he then hires monster hunter Mordecai Slate to find Kord Manion, capture him and bring him back. Don is consumed by a twisted obsession to punish the vampire with his own two hands.

Because of the generous offer of gold, Slate reluctantly takes the job; though he’s never had to bring back one of his prey back alive. It is a cause for concern. Ultimately he finds the outlaw’s hideaway in a small Mexican village. The then manages to kidnap Kord from older brother Dax Manion, who leads a crew of seven vampire riders. Locking Kord half comatose in a chained coffin in the back of his wagon, Slate then starts his long desperate journey back to Don Pedro’s hacienda. 

Along the way he crosses paths with a lovely young woman and while helping her escape three Mexican outlaws, is wounded. Half unconscious from the loss of blood, Slate and Marie, the girl, detour to the nearly deserted town of Rio Muerto where they hope to find a doctor and refuge. Slate is all too aware his time is running out. He knows Dax Manion and his posse are hot on his trail. 

“Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto” is a fast paced, action packed weird western thriller that never lets up for a second. Whalen is deft at creating iconic western figures as if they had just stepped out of a 1950s black and white movie. By adding the horror element, he weaves a wonderfully original pulp adventure that is a joy from the first page to the last. The result is a truly great read.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

BROOKLYN KNIGHT by C.J. Henderson

 

BROOKLYN KNIGHT

By C.J. Henderson

Tor Books 2010

335 pgs

 

Writer C.J. Henderson (December 26, 1951 – July 4, 2014) was an American writer of horror, hardboiled crime fiction, and comic books. His comics work includes books for Marvel Comics and Valiant Comics. His best-known work in the hardboiled genre was Jack Hagee detective series and his supernatural detective Teddy London series, as well as many other short stories and novels featuring many characters from Lovecraftian  fiction and Kolchak: The Night Stalker, as well as his own.  

He was also a friend. Thus, after all these years, we picked up his two Piers Knight books of which “Brooklyn Knight” was the first. It is a terrific pulp adventure filled with many of the tropes Henderson frequented in his fiction. Knight is the curator of a museum in Brooklyn as the tale begins and in classic form, he is getting acquainted with his new assistance, a lovely redhead from Montana named Brigit Elkins. It reminded me us of I.V. Frost’s first meeting with the sexy Jean Moray. Bridget is awed by the grandeur of New York as Knight gives her a whirlwind tour starting from the observation lounge of the Empire State Building. She little realizes she’s about to join him in a fantastic adventure that will determine the fate of all mankind. 

An ancient evil entity desires to enter our world/dimension, but to do so it must find an ancient artifact known as the Dream Stone; which of course is located in the museum. When a group of mercenaries attempt to steal the stone, they are thwarted by Knight who just happens to be an occult magician possessing his own unique and powerful talent. In the battle, Knight comes face to face with his opponent; another practioner bent upon achievement the Elder Gods wishes. 

The action is fierce and fast paced while at the same time, Henderson’s characterization of both Knight and Bridget is somehow tender. There is sensitivity to these characters we’d not seen in his earlier works and found it totally endearing. Having only completed two Piers Knight books before his passing, we will be very eager to read and review the second; hopefully before the end of the year. Meanwhile, if you’re an old C.J. Henderson and have yet to meet Piers Knight, get with it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

THE PEARL HARBOR MURDERS

 

THE PEARL HARBOR MURDERS

By Max Allan Collins

Thomas & Mercer

213 pgs

 

Collins’ story begins on the 5th of December, 1941 in Honolulu, Hawaii, where famed writer Edgar Rice Burroughs is residing with one of his sons, Hulbert “Hully.” Tensions on the island are high, as recent political events indicate the high probability of a war with Japan. Still, most of the Army and Navy’s commanding brass are unwilling to believe that the fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor could be the target of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Burroughs, and a few of his friends, believe otherwise, seeing the obvious vulnerability of all those fighting ships crammed together in one harbor. Never mind the various army airbases across the island having their aircraft lined up side by side like ducks in a shooting gallery at the circus.  

The one distraction in this charged atmosphere is the plight of two young lovers. Bill Fielder, a sailor aboard the U.S.S. Arizona, is in love with a band singer of Japanese descent named Pearl Harada and wants to marry her. Being one of Hully’s friends, he confesses his father, an Army General, is racist and will most likely object to him marrying the girl. Meanwhile, Pearl approaches Burroughs senior, requesting he help her get an audience with Bill’s father. Burroughs agrees, feeling genuine sympathy for the couple. But before this can happen, Pearl is murdered on the beach outside his bungalow. 

At first Burroughs and son believe her death was the result of the romance but as they begin to investigate, they come to suspect Pearl may have been aware of certain espionage activities by other Japanese residents. Enough to get her killed. 

Once again, Collins spins a gripping mystery set against one of history’s most infamous moments, the attack on Pearl Harbor. Beginning his tale two days earlier, Collins is able to build the suspense moving forward through time until the dawn of the 7th, the “Day of Infamy” and then he powerfully depicts the actual attack and its devastating destruction of the U.S. fleet and death of thousands of Americans, but military and civilian. Amidst this chaos, the creator of Tarzan closes in on a brutal killer. An ironic counterpoint to the destruction unfolding all around him. 

“The Pearl Harbor Murders” is brilliant. Not only for its historical setting, but Collins deft portrayal of one of the most beloved and cherished American writers of all time. The book is a treat we recommend it soundly.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

SERGEANT PRESTON OF THE YUKON

 

SERGEANT PRESTON OF THE YUKON

By Martin Grams Jr.

OTR Publishing LLC

(www.MartinGrams.biz)

123 pages

 

In this self-published book, award winning cultural historian, Martin Grams Jr. pays homage to one of early radio and television’s most popular heroes, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. Working from the first 16 radio scripts written Detroit’s WXYZ station by writers Tom Dougall and Frank Striker, Grams adapts them to prose form. He takes us readers on a trip back to the wild and wooly frontier days of the Yukon when gold was first discovered in the frozen north. 
 

Here is the stalwart Sgt. Bill Preston, his faithful dog, Yukon King as well as a supporting cast to include Canadian Pierre LeRoux. Each story is set against the rugged, unforgiving Yukon with locations such as Frozen Gulch, Skagway and awson. Names that echo romance and adventure. Gram’s prose is straight forward, without flowery embellishing adding to the rugged drama of each story. It’s his first venture into fiction writing and we certainly hope not his last.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

AVENGERS OF THE MOON

 

AVENGERS OF THE MOON

(A Captain Future Novel)

By Allen Steele

Tor Books – Pub 2017

300 pages

 

In early part of 1939, veteran sci-fi pulp writer Edmond Hamilton met with Leo Margulies, Better Publication’s editorial director, to discuss the creation of a new title, Captain Future. The lead character of Curt Newton, a super-scientist who lived on the moon and went by the name Captain Future. The original idea for the character may have come from Mort Weisinger. Captain Future's companions in the series included an enormously strong robot named Grag, an android named Otho, and the brain of Simon Wright, Newton's mentor. Joan Randall, Newton's girlfriend, was also a regular character.  

Margulies announced the new magazine at the first ever World Science Fiction Convention held in New York in July 1939 and the first issue, edited by Weisinger, appeared in January of the following year. It would last for seventeen issues and is still today considered one of the finest hero pulps ever produced. Still old heroes never die and in 2017, sci-fi author Allen Steele took it up on himself to revive the series and thus write brand new adventures of Captain Future and the Futuremen.  

It appears (and we could be wrong) he’s written a total of four, this being the first. Of course Steele could have merely reinvented the entire concept and given us new characters and been unimpeded with what Hamilton had done. Instead, to our delirious delight, he merely adapted the originals to work in era compatible with our current knowledge of science and space exploration. This is a full blown origin story built on a Hamilton tale that was only hinted at the magazine stories. The Futuremen are all here, and Steele has given them unique personalities as are classic Captain Future villains from the pulp days.

In “Avengers of the Moon,” a young Curt Newton is after the man who murdered his parents. With the aid of the Brain, Otho and Grag, his hunt leads him to uncover a nest of radicals plotting a revolution on Mars against the Solar Coalition. Steele pacing is perfect and if you love old fashion space operas, it is high time you met Captain Future. For the record, we found out copy in a second hand book store. It’s the kind of treasure any pulp lover would love.

Monday, December 05, 2022

LEVON'S TRADE

LEVON’S TRADE

By Chuck Dixon

Rough Edges Press

192 pgs

 

A little over a year ago, Chuck Dixon sent us a copy of his novel “Levon’s Time,” the seventh in this series about Levon Cade, an ex-Marine who crosses paths with lots of bad people; much to their woes. We’d been aware of the series, but hadn’t had the opportunity to check it out. The best way to describe Levon Cade is pretty much a redneck cousin to both Jack Reacher and Mack Bolan. He’s a good man, a patriot and devoted father. Delighted with that book, we picked up volumes eight and nine as they were published. Becoming enthusiastic fans, we put on the breaks. Before going any further with this character, it was high time we went back and started at the beginning. Thus we attempted to purchase Volume One from Amazon only to discover it wasn’t available.  

We dropped Dixon an e-mail to that fact and he was surprised. Come to find out, Amazon had screwed up, and book one should have been listed as available. He wasted no time in correcting that snafu. We in turn immediately ordered Volumes One and Two. And here we are with this review. Readers should understand, regardless of my friendship with the author, my reviews are based solely on the book’s quality. If a book stinks to high heaven, we simply don’t review it. The world has enough junk in it without us adding more.  

“Levon’s Trade” is a power packed action thriller that hits the ground running. We’re introduced to Cade, a widower whose wife died of cancer and left him with a 7 year daughter named Merry (short for Meredith). She is living with her maternal grandparents who are suing the courts for full custody. Their argument is that Cade suffers from PTSD and is a danger to the child. Of course the claim is bogus, but the grandparents are wealthy and will use that wealth to forestall the court’s verdict until Cade can no longer to afford to contest them. In short, he’s in desperate need of quick cash.  

Which is where the plot intertwines with Job Bob Wiley, a rich construction entrepreneur whose daughter, Jenna, has vanished without a trace while on Spring Break in Florida? Tampa police come up empty in their investigation and an anxious Joe Bob believes his daughter has been kidnapped. Suspecting Cade’s mysterious military background might have included special ops, Wiley offers him five thousand dollars to go and find his girl.

From that point on, Levon Cade becomes a ruthless manhunter trained by the most efficient military force in the world, the U.S. Marines. In no time at all, he picks up the trail leading to several criminal networks made up of foreign immigrants who consider American law enforcement agencies amateurs. Not so Cade. He’s a one man army they can’t stop. “Levon’s Trade” is lean in its prose, Dixon never wasting a single word to tell his story. One scene races into the next until the gun blasting climax explodes across the final pages. It’s a fantastic debut of a truly great action hero.

Do yourselves a favor, dear readers, don’t make our mistake and wait to discover him. You’ll only regret it in the end.  Now onto book two.