Saturday, November 26, 2016

Border Town Girl - John D. MacDonald

"As she sucked smoke into her lungs she looked around the room. Brown and green grass rug. Wicker furniture. Metal bed painted a liverish green. The mattress sagged toward the middle from all directions. Her two suitcases were on stands by the far wall, the lids open. A stocking dangled out of one, almost to the floor. 

Fawcett Gold Medal 

I've had this JDM paperback on my shelf for many years. Most certainly I got it from one of the handful of used bookstores in Phoenix that have now closed. Thinking about the bookstores that have closed is always a bit depressing, so pulling an old paperback off the shelf at home and escaping into a bygone time is comfort for the soul. 

Anyway, as you might notice from other reviews, or not, Border Town Girl is actually two novellas by JDM. The first one, "Border Town Girl" was originally published in DIME DETECTIVE MAGAZINE as "Five Star Fugitive" back in 1950. JDM was a master at laying down a fast-paced pulp story, and this one has all the classic elements of pulp action. The beginning is a corker. A hard-nosed moll named Diana Saybree is laying low in a motel on the border of Texas and Mexico waiting for a drug deal to go down. Diana is pure pulp slattern with her cigarettes and sexy underwear, stockings hanging from suitcase, rye on the dresser and sweaty flesh on the bedsheets. Unfortunately, before her contact from Mexico arrives she's knocked over by a hood, leaving her without the payoff dough she's been trusted with. Just south of the border is Lane Sanson, a regular Joe who had notoriety several years before for penning a bestseller about the war. Now he's on the bum, spending the last of his money on tequila and hookers. One hooker sets him up for a roll which ends up with him getting confused for the smuggler that Diana Saybree is waiting for. Enter the scene, Christy, one psycho killer ex-circus strong man who gets kinky thrills torturing his victims before snuffing them out. And Christy can't wait to get his mitts on Diana's hot little bod!

The 2nd story in the novel is simply titled "Linda" and I believe it was original to this two-fer published in 1956. Linda is described as a babe born with a "morality gene missing" who is married to all-round good guy (and hapless dupe) Paul Cowley. Paul is a plant engineer who married Linda after she returns from a wild life and shady past in California. Paul works with a hotshot sales guy named Brandon Jeffries, known to all as Jeff. Jeff and his wife Stella become social friends with Paul and Linda. Before long, Linda and Jeff start to work a plan for both couples to embark on a shared vacation to a remote beach in Florida. It'll be a kick, they promise, both couples taking in the sun, the beach, the fishing, and...well you can probably see it coming right? Betrayal and murder. This is another terrific yarn that'll have you hooked within the first few paragraphs. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Weird Menace from the Pulps!

I'm not gone but but I'm probably forgotten by now. It's been over a month! Shame on my lazy ass! I could make an excuse that I've started my 3rd novel, and that would be true, but mostly it's just getting into that time of year when things get a little crazy for all of us. But I thought I'd come back to share some thoughts on some of my favorite pulp stuff that we love around here. That is the highly inappropriate (for their time!) Weird Menace yarn. Some time back I wrote a column for Dark Moon Digest about Weird Menace, and I thought that, given the season, it would be fun to share it.  

Haffner Press, October 2010

Weird Menace tales made their unsavory reputation in magazines like Thrilling Mysteries, Dime Mystery, Terror Tales, Horror Stories, and Spicy Mysteries to name just a few. Their popularity took place in the early to mid-thirties, always featuring a semi-clad, or totally nude, damsel facing torture at the hands of a maniacal beast of seemingly supernatural origins. The trick, however, almost always strictly followed by Weird Menace writers in the demands of editors, was to reveal that the supernatural trappings were invariably grounded in reality. The monsters were unmasked to be someone introduced early in the story; an uncle, a scientist, a supposed ally and always motivated by greed, lust and madness. The hero of the story endures pain and torture almost beyond endurance to find that last reserve of strength available within him to send an iron fist crashing into the demonic visage of the monster and his minions, thereby saving his sweetheart from a terrible death devised in the most imaginative torture traps invented. Death by boiling oil, buzzing saws, flaming knives, being skinned alive…if you can imagine it, it’s probably been written about in one of these stories. These lurid torture pieces had a pretty good run for a while, before getting pushed under the counter by an audience worried about impressionable minds lapping them up. And the covers alone are worth the price of admission.

Cover by H. J. Ward

Now, many horror fans are rediscovering these wet nuggets of the past. Fun as they are, most of these stories are pretty dreadful to read. By that I mean, not well written and often monotonous in their all too obvious conclusions. But that said, there are a number of writers who turned in some thrilling stories that show just how exciting such a seemingly trite premise can be.

Hugh B. Cave is one fine example. Cave spent a lifetime, well into his nineties, turning out exiting, well written stories of all genres. Some of his best Weird Menace tales from the thirties were collected by Karl Edward Wagner into an anthology entitled Death Stalks the Night, published in 1995 by Fedogan & Bremer books. Each story in this collection remains true to the Weird Menace formula, with its square-jawed, intrepid heroes and their comely, virginal girlfriends suffering hellish torments by villains who would give modern slashers like Freddy Krueger and Leatherface a run for their money. Cave’s stories hit the ground running and don’t stop for a second to give the hero, nor the reader, a moment to catch their breath. Another compilation of Cave’s horror tales from this era can be found in Murgunstrumm and Others, published way back in 1977 and, again, collected and edited by Karl Edward Wagner. The yarns in Murgunstrumm stray a bit from the Weird Menace formula in order to find homes in magazines like Weird Tales, and Strange Tales, which were the main stomping grounds of writers like H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. But with the exception of Howard’s tales, Hugh B. Cave’s stories are as different from those writers as wine is to beer. And for my money, much as I like Lovecraft and his acolytes, I’ll take the “hellzapoppin” pace of Cave’s stories any day.

Cover by Rudolph Zirm

Another cool writer of Weird Menace stories was Science Fiction’s own Henry Kuttner. Kuttner got his start producing stories for Thrilling Mysteries and Spicy Mysteries in addition to Weird Tales and could match Cave easily in devising gruesome hurdles of torture for his heroes and heroines.

Take for example Kuttner’s story “The Devil Rides” published in 1936 September issue of Thrilling Mysteries and reprinted in 2010 in Terror in the House – The Early Kuttner published by Haffner Press. “In her mouth, held tightly in place by a strap buckled about her neck, was a bit, and reins trailed from her torn lips, dragging on the ground as she inched herself painfully forward…As he saw that to the girl’s hands and feet had been nailed horseshoes, hammered until they were narrow enough to fit.” Pretty nasty, even for today’s hardened readers.

It’s hardly the kind of thing fans of Kuttner’s Fantasy and Science Fiction stories would imagine Kuttner would come up with, considering his often whimsical tales published in those genres.

Other writers who produced some pretty kick-ass Weird Menace stories include Arthur Leo Zagat, Wyatt Blasingame, and one of my current favorites of the genre, Wayne Rogers. These old pulp stories have been finding a new audience thanks to e-Readers. Their take on horror may have been tempered somewhat by would-be censors of the day, but their brand has never really gone away. It doesn’t take a scholar to recognize their descendents in the horror comics of the 1950’s, the slasher films of the 1980’s to the torture-porn horror of the 2000’s. 

To the modern horror fan interested in looking back there is two volumes of Weird Menace tales that I highly recommend. James Reasoner has put together two nifty volumes of Weird Menace tales featuring a variety of writers bringing their talents to the old tradition. Writers like Bill Crider, Keith West, John C. Hocking, and Mel Odom to name just a few. 

Have fun! Oh, and don’t forget to bring your own barfbag.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Agatha Christie Double Feature

From the time I left school I wanted to find something, but I didn't yet know what that something was going to be. It was just something I was looking for in a vague, unsatisfied sort of way. It was somewhere. Sooner or later I'd know all about it. It might perhaps be a girl. . . . I like girls, but no girl I had met so far had been important. . . . You liked them all right, but then you went on to the next one quite gladly. They were like the jobs I took. All right for a bit, and then you got fed up with them and you wanted to move on to the next one. I'd gone from one thing to another ever since I'd left school. 

Yup, Agatha Christie knew, as does anyone else who has read enough crime fiction, that a restless and bored young man will soon find himself in deep kimchi. Especially where spooky dames are concerned!

I had a few days off work and was in the mood for a more relaxing kind of read, so I pulled a couple Agatha Christie novels off the shelf to dig into. I used to devour her novels back in Jr. High. I think I read all of the Poirot's by the time I was in 10th grade. Same thing with the Lew Archer novels. On the surface, no two private eyes could be more dissimilar than Archer and Poirot. But thinking about it now, both detectives dug into to the psychological torment of their cases instead of going around beating people up and shooting people. They were novels of dialog, questions and answers, delving into the past and unearthing secrets that lead to crimes of the present.

These two novels are stand-alones in the Christie catalog. Endless Night was published in 1968, the same year that Beggars Banquet was released by the Rolling Stones. Reading the novel, I tried to envision the narrator, Michael Rogers, in the time when "Sympathy for the Devil" might have been played in swinging London pads. And for the first part of the book I could. Rogers had the restless and dissatisfied voice of many noirish antiheroes of the 50's and early 60's. His laconic and somewhat cynical voice is music to the aficionado's ear. And you don't have to be a genius to know that, no matter how much he seems to confess to you, he's still hiding something in reserve. He thinks that perhaps he's found that something he'd been looking for when discovering the crumbling estate The Towers on Gypsy's Acre. A place abandoned and rumored to be cursed. It's even got a local gypsy woman named Mrs. Lee who promises to tell our hero his fortune if he crosses her palm with silver. Naturally she sees evil forebodings in Michael Rogers's future and warns him off Gypsy's Acre.

One day, while exploring Gypsy's Acre after a public auction, he meets Ellie Guteman. Ellie is one of those dreamy, somewhat haunted goth-girl types that walk in mystery. She and Rogers strike up a conversation over the uneasy beauty of Gypsy's Acre and soon they fall in love. Rogers learns that Ellie is an American heiress, sheltered by an army of advocates, lawyers and shifty relatives. Upon her twenty-first birthday, Ellie will have a fortune at her control. For the first time, Rogers tells us that he's found love and purpose. Ellie surprises him by purchasing The Towers, and the two of them hire an architect to rebuild the crumbling estate and live "happily ever-after."

Here is where the novel shifts gears from Gold Medal territory to Gothic Romance. The young lovers live on Gypsy's Acre in the midst of ancient curses, meddling relatives and ominous warnings to leave before unspeakable evil consumes them. Ellie injures her ankle in a fall and Greta, her childhood au pair and companion moves in with them to help run the staff. Greta is described as a Valkyrie by Rogers, who takes an immediate distrust to her. Her beauty and power are undeniable, but he resents the hold she seems to have over his new bride Ellie. It's almost all very Dark Shadows, with simmering emotions stewing in ancient curses, figures in the woods and modern threats left on dead birds. But it's a slow burning stew, with not a single murder occurring until well past two-thirds of the novel.

For the second Christie novel, I read Murder at Hazelmoor. This one is another stand-alone mystery published way back in 1931, but could have easily featured either Poirot or Miss Marple as the detective. Instead, we have a plucky young woman named Emily Trefusis doing the sleuthing. Emily has a personal stake in the mystery at Hazelmoor because it's her fiancé, Jim Pearson, who's got his neck on the chopping block as the chief suspect in the murder of old Captain Trevelyan. The murder has taken place, as proper old British murders should, during a dark winter storm. As an added bonus, the murder occurs during a séance in which our main suspects are six miles removed from the dastardly scene of the crime. The séance in this case is a game of "table turning" in which spirits tap their messages out through a series of knocks on a table. Think of a Ouija board only without a board and planchette. It's during the table turning that the spirits warn our amateur occultists that Trevelyan is being murdered. The game then breaks up immediately as its participants believe one of them is displaying remarkable bad taste. Ahh...but wouldn't you know, the spirits never lie.

Murder at Hazelmoor is the only Christie novel in which I actually solved the murder with the clues provided. I don't know if that makes me as smart as Emily Trefusis, or just lucky. And no, it wasn't just guesswork on my part. I fully expected to have been duped but the clues are there to point to the culprit. There are loads of red herrings and everyone has a reason for doing the old codger in, but only one of them done it.

Both novels are easily found in practically any used bookstore. Happy sleuthing!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Female Man - Joanna Russ

A beautiful chick who swims naked and whose breasts float on the water like flowers, a chick in a rain-tight shirt who says she balls with her friends but doesn't get uptight about it, that's the real thing. 

Bantam, February 1975
Yeah, if you think you're going to find anyone like that beautiful chick in this novel, keep looking. She's not real, or never was real, or real only in the imagination of the fool that wastes his time seeking her. I don't know which, because the passage above is a single chapter out of Joanna Russ's 1975 classic The Female Man.

I didn't say "Feminist" classic, or Science Fiction classic because I don't feel equipped enough to address this book on either of those terms. What I know about Feminist Literature could be fit into a shot glass. As for Science Fiction, yes, you'll find this novel under that category, but I think it's a limiting label. It's "science" fiction in that it has time travel and parallel dimensions but I would be tempted to just call it a novel of ideas and leave it at that. As for plots, I couldn't summarize one here for you. It doesn't matter. There isn't a point to reading a book like this to see what happens next. In fact, often in the novel, I didn't know which dimension I was in, or whose voice I was listening to. Sometimes it's clear, but there are 4 viewpoints to see through in the pages that trying to find solid purchase within any one of them is frustrating. So I let the novel present itself to me on its own terms and discovered that, once I surrendered to it, I really liked it.

There are four characters: Janet, Jeannine, Joanna and Jael. Janet is from a future (not "our" future) society named Whileaway where males have been extinct for more than 800 years. Jeannine is from a contemporary (parallel?) society wherein the Great Depression continues into the 70's. There was no feminist shift in attitudes, likely no civil protest to speak of. Woman may have jobs, but their place is to marry and have children. Joanna's (Joanna Russ?) world is "our" world as it was in the 70's, and Jael's world is that in which a war of the sexes has been waging for several decades. All four women are gathered into one time and place in the novel, and all four women are the same woman living apart in their own time and place. How they relate to each other, and what each separate dimension exposes them to is what the novel is about. And let me warn you, men, mankind, the male species, the beings with the Y chromosome, do not represent here well at all.

For example, there is Cal, who is Jeannine's fiance. Cal is something of a bore, who is likely impotent as well. Cal's relationship with Jeannine is one of convenience for him, and one of nothing for her. There is no benefit to Jeannine for having Cal in her life, beyond saving her from becoming a spinster. Then there is Davy, who is Jael's boytoy. And that is in the literal sense. Davy is a robot, designed for Jael's pleasure only. The sexes live apart in Jael's world, and the men address their sexual desires by selecting certain boys to undergo surgery to change them into something resembling females. Joanna's world has your standard run of the mill jerkoff guys in it who objectify women, fear women, blame women, hate women, desire women, and...well you get the idea. Her world is our world and the women in it have learned to play the game. More on this below. Janet's world, in the future, has managed without men for so long that they're not even missed. Janet's world comes across as perhaps the most desirable of all options. So let that sink in for moment. The best option is a world without men. Perhaps it's a debate worth having that Joanna Russ intended this as a takeaway. I don't know.

This novel was published in 1975 and a woman's role in that time is not where it is today. By those standards the novel has been regarded as some as a product of its time. But, really is it?  Consider the recent cases on the news of connected young men of means and "good" upbringing basically getting away with sexually assaulting young women. They didn't just come up with the idea of violating women out of the blue. Look at the one father who pleaded for leniency for his son for "twenty minutes of action." And for every case that makes the news there is no telling how many don't, for this very reason. Go online and see how often women are harassed about their looks. Women have yet to earn what men earn for the same job. Yes, there is an exception and an example here and there of the female CEO. But step back and look at the scrutiny that female CEO must face on a day to day basis that a male executive never would. Look at the Hollywood machine churning out big budget films every year, and the roles that women are given and the double standard of sex vs violence on film. Our adult movies coat sex in lurid and violent tones. In American suburbs children are "protected" from women who dare to breastfeed in public. If you think an angry book like The Female Man is dated, then you've probably been living under a rock.

He gave her to understand that she was going to die of cancer of the womb.
She laughed.
He gave her to understand further that she was taking unfair advantage of his good manners. 
She roared.
He pursued the subject and told her that if he were not a gentleman he would ram her stinking, shitty teeth up her stinking, shitty ass. 
She shrugged.
He told her that she was so ball-breaking, shitty, stone, scum-bag, motherfucking, plug-ugly that no normal male could keep up an erection within half a mile of her.

So yeah, I liked this book a lot. I'm glad I read it. It's challenging, it's angry. It shouldn't be forgotten so easily.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Captors - John Farris

"This is a time of revolution, moral and political revolution, as anyone who reads a newspaper knows. Most people associate revolution with violence and a period of anarchy. We've already had a little violence, which is necessary to earn recognition, but this country is well organized against the revolutionary impulse, so a major and bloody upheaval is as unlikely as it is undesirable. For one thing, there would have to be an economic basis for it, another Great Depression, a worldwide economic collapse. I think we can rule out that possibility. Therefore the revolution now taking place will remain youthful, a student revolt; the working class wont be involved at all. In fact this class is the greatest enemy the revolution has because the values of the proletariat are, as Elijah Jordan proposed, the values of institutions, not individuals." 

TOR books, September 1985
A lot of the fun I have reading these "tawdry" paperbacks from the past is seeing how little things have changed in society. Yeah, technology is full speed on the rails to hell, but its passengers, namely us, Americans from the 'burbs and the cities, are still the same miserable fucked up lot we've always been. Our hairstyles have changed, but not much else.

John Farris is one of those writers whose books are always enjoyable. He has a gift for telling a good story, whether it's horror or crime or suspense. And he's been doing it for many years. One of my favorites of his is All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By which combines Southern Gothic and Voodoo into an excellent pulpy novel that you owe it to yourself to check out if you're a horror fan. The Captors is unlike that novel, in that there is not a whiff of the supernatural to be found in its pages. Instead, it's psychological cray-cray, involving a wealthy but messed up family, a beautiful young woman, her fucked up friends and erotic shenanigans slopped all up in the house.

I've had this one on my shelf of unread books (that's the one sagging dangerously to the point of collapse!) for a long time. It's an early one by Farris, first published way back in 1969. Its story takes place in the summer of 1968, which I hear tell was quite a tumultuous year in America. No doubt, this story reflects the anxieties felt then with the war and upheaval and the seemingly impossible to cross generation gap. It tells what happens when you have a group of unbalanced and drugged up college students who take it upon themselves to claim vengeance on a symbol of the One-Percenters who've made a good living feeding of the world's unrest. A twisted game of Eat the Rich is in the offing. Wrap these ingredients up into the kidnapping of a pretty rich girl, and you have the plot of this novel. It reminded me a lot of the real life Patty Hearst kidnapping, which didn't occur until a few years after this novel was published. I expected something of a similar outcome here, sort of an erotic Stockholm Syndrome page-turner, but man, was I wrong.

"In a half-crazed and volatile world, they're allowed to sell arms and encourage aggression by doing so. If it's in our power to eliminate, completely, a source of human suffering, then we're justified, we're compelled to do it. The act of murder then becomes ethical. In a religious sense, it's holy."

I've thought about how much I could tell you of the plot without giving anything away. I hate spoiling stories for others, and this one has too many twists going for it that divulging them here would ruin the fun in reading this book. I will say it takes its time getting going. It's a slow burn of a novel for the first half, giving you the feel of the characters and their relationships with each other, instead of high drama and noise. That plays to the novel's suspense in the last half of the book. You'll get the violence and killing you've come for, but you have to be patient.

I've read several of John Farris's novels now, and I have no hesitation in recommending his books to genre fans. As with most of his books, this one can be easily had on Kindle. I've rarely seen it used, but I've seen a number of his other novels out there on dusty bookstore shelves. That's most of the fun in enjoying these old books, discovering that nothing is really new under the sun, and that your fears have already been experienced by others before you.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Deadly Edge - Richard Stark

Whatever Manny was high on--and it was clear he'd been taking some sort of drug--the peak had apparently passed during his time in the bedroom, leaving him now in a pleasant cloudy afterglow, his mind turning slowly and coming up with strange materials from the bottom of his skull. 

Berkley, 1974
One of the things that gives me pleasure is knowing that I've got more Parker novels to read. I've read about half of them now, all out of order, and have loved them all. There is nothing like entering the hardboiled world of the Parker novels to remind me of why I love the genre so much. Deadly Edge from 1971 is no exception. Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) holds true to the formula of previous Parker novels. Set up a job, complete it, divide the loot, and clean up the resulting mess that ensues. Parker is a cold-blooded professional, a man of few words, showing no emotion, and is absolutely no one to screw with.

In Deadly Edge, Parker has assembled a team of heist men to rob a rock concert. The first 3rd of the novel is spent detailing the heist with clockwork precision and detail. Parker and his partners Keegan, Briley and Morris hack their way into the concert venue through the roof. With every step of the job worked out in advance they're able to get in, steal the receipts, and out again without anyone getting hurt. Yeah, they'll have to tie up a few people, threaten a few lives, but the money is all they're after. Parker has made it his business to only work with professionals. Amateurs, hot heads, and punks have a bad way of screwing things up and costing lives. And this job goes down like a perfectly executed recipe. All that is left is for Parker and his partners is to split the take and go their separate ways.

Only something has gone wrong. Parker and his gang return to their hideout to discover that a 5th member of their team, an old timer named Berridge who decided to back out of the job due to bad nerves, has been left dead on the bathroom tiles, his skull caved in with a plumber's wrench.

From there, the novel shifts to Parker at home with his new girlfriend, Claire. She's just purchased a new house for her and Parker to share on his time off between jobs. She knows that Parker will never be domesticated, but hopes that their home together will be a refuge from his other life.

He went on to tell her the whole story, from beginning to end. He left out only two things: the names of the people he was with, because they wouldn't mean anything to her, and the discovery of Berridge's dead body in the house afterward. 

It's shortly after Parker has moved in with Claire that he gets word that Keegan is trying to reach him. Parker is disturbed that Keegan should try to contact him so soon after the job, and decides that he'll go to him in person to see what he wants. The murder of Berridge after the concert job has left unanswered questions. Maybe Keegan has learned something important. Turns out that Parker's hunch regarding Keegan was right. He did know something. Only he's never going talk again. Berridge's killer has come for Keegan. It's clear to Parker that someone with a sadistic flavor for torture and murder is after the team that knocked over the rock concert. And soon, they'll be coming for Parker and Claire. And so, my friends, we're off into Parker's World of violence and revenge.

I can't recommend these novels enough. They're all available again, after many years of only getting found in libraries and used bookstores. Stark's style is economic and lean. No literary tricks and self-indulgence going on here. Suspenseful and ruthless, these novels are some of the best in the world of crime literature.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. - Michael Avallone

The man's face was a grotesque mask of outraged flesh--hairless, nearly fleshless. At some time, this man had been in a great fire that had left his face a skull-like travesty of scarred tissue. His nose was merely a pair of twin holes studding the distance between the pit of a forehead and an ugly gash of mouth. His head was an encrustation of scarred, dead tissue. Only the browless eyes showed any evidence of life. And the expression they held was not...quite...sane.

ACE Books 1965
About a year ago I came across of handful of The Man From U.N.C.L.E tie-in paperbacks. They were fairly well-used but the price was low enough to go ahead and buy them. I have only the vaguest memories regarding the original TV show when it ran in the 60s. I am a bit surprised that it's not seen syndication repeats as much as crap like Gilligan's Island and Hogan's Heroes. There were a lot of cool shows that deserve another audience, and way too many shitty shows that never seem to go away. I can think of a few others that I wouldn't mind finding on independent/cable stations that still play old TV shows from the mid twentieth century. Most shows, like the two mentioned above, should just go the way of songs like "Shook Me All Night Long" and "Life in the Fast Lane" but you can bet they never will. Anyway...that's a rant for another time.

This novel tie-in is pretty much what you'd expect. A breezy spy romp featuring Napoleon Solo and his frequent partner Illya Kuryakin as they attempt to thwart the latest scheme of world domination hatched by the evil agency Thrush. In this adventure, the plan is a chemical attack on major cities that turns innocent citizens into gibbering lunatics before succumbing to death. The chief mastermind of said plot is the evil and scarred genius Mr. Golgatha. For most of the novel, Napoleon Solo works solo (yup!), with the occasional aid of Jerry Terry, girl spy. Actually, most of the time Napoleon Solo is rescuing girl spy Jerry Terry, as she seems to have a knack for fainting and getting shot more than doing anything heroic. Along the way, Napoleon Solo also tangles with the sexy and deadly Denise Fairmount, a colonel for Thrush, and a sexy bitch with 28 (or so) kills on her resumé. Golgotha is one of those maniacs that wears a cape and scares the crap out of his enemies with his gory face. He's also one of those evil geniuses who talk too much, long enough for our hero to figure out escape plots from his clutches. In this case, Golgotha is such a chump for Solo's bullshit that you end up wondering just how such an idiot can become the evil genius he portrays himself as. And he's not the only one who pulls boners (I couldn't resist!) in this novel. There's one scene wear Napoleon Solo can easily just shoot Golgotha in the head and being done with the whole nefarious plot to poison innocent civilians. Instead, Napoleon Solo and Jerry Terry just steal Golgotha's cape and uniform to make an unsuccessful escape! I mean, hapless henchmen get blown away without a thought, and somehow you don't just blast away the main bad guy when you got him cornered...major fail there in the plot!

Anyway, since this is just the 1st novel in about two dozen to follow, it's clearly not to be held to the highest literary standards. If our characters didn't do dumb things we wouldn't have half the stories that exist. As it is, I was able to finish this novel in an afternoon, so I can't complain about it getting a bit silly. That's probably the point of it all anyway, right?