Thursday, December 31, 2015

Dog Soldiers - Robert Stone

"I've been waiting my whole life to fuck up like this."
"Well," Elmer said. "You made the big time. Congratulations."


Ballantine Books, 1975
Were Americans ever really naïve or is that just something that our collective modern myth tries to convince us of. Personally, I don’t think so. The 60s is a just a duplicitous reflection of history that’s become cliché. The reality depends on where one stood at the time. Were you in the back of the bus? In a segregated school? Were you going to Stanford? Were you one of the multitude (if you believe most aging boomers) at Woodstock waking up to Jimi Hendrix? Or were you carrying a weapon in a jungle on the other side of the world? I was born in the early 60s so none of the tropes were in my radar. For me the 60s was Captain Kangaroo on TV. Coming to age in the 70s I’m the first to admit that my mind went into shutdown mode whenever some pampered suburbanite started waxing poetic about their rebellious youth living a life somewhere between Easy Rider and Woodstock. Especially when I knew they voted for Reagan and both Bushes.I thought most of the crap I heard second hand about the 60s was bullshit slung around by old farts trying to relive some kind of life they saw in the movies. I probably sound the same to others generations after me. 

So we have Dog Soldiers, a novel deemed by critics to be an allegory of the waning 60s. Or really, was that Robert Stone’s intention with this book? I have no idea. Clearly it’s a product of his experiences. My recollection of the 70s, when this novel takes place, is of television, skateboards and school. Then girls, sports, pot, going to movies and part-time work at Winn Dixie. I was sheltered from the ugliness of the world mostly, given that ugliness still seeped into the ‘burbs in spite of our parents’ best and failed efforts. So this book is a look at a time and place involving a couple of young wasted lives pursuing a fool’s dream with heroin. The deck is stacked against them, as it is for most of us in this crazy country of movies, music and jingoism. You want to read a good and sordid book about drugs and dreams, then you’ll like this book. I liked this book. I probably read it at the right time in life. Had I read it when I was 25 I might not have cared.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Kubla Khan Caper - Richard S. Prather

From where I lay in lazy ease on a poolside chaise lounge, I could see a gaggle of Bikini-clad Hollywood houris squealing and splashing in the water. On the blue-tiled deck across the pool from me half a dozen bare-midriffed nautch girls wiggled, doing what comes nautchurally.

Pocket Books - 1967
Oh man, that's painful. But that's just what you'd expect from our pal Shell Scott. For anyone who doesn't know, Shell is a tough and randy Hollywood private eye who never lets a tomato escape his attention in the pursuit of solving the various "capers" he's involved in. Published in 1966 The Kubla Khan Caper is approximately the 31st appearance of Shell Scott in Richard Prather's series. I say approximately because along the way he was featured in a few collections, including Three's a Shroud and Have Gat - Will Travel. His 1st appearance was 1950 in The Case of the Vanishing Beauty and continued clear to 1987's Shellshock. He's the kind of guy who'll definitely stand out in a crowd with his white hair, white inverted V-shaped eyebrows, scar over his right eye and a bullet-clipped ear. All that and a total horndog for any lusciously curved twist, dame, tomato, skirt, babe, dish, doll, cutie, etc, who crosses his path. And believe me, cross his path they do. Which is all part of the charm of these novels. Certainly written as something of a satire of the whole paperback private-eye genre, these novels still have enough tough-guy violence and mayhem to please fans of Mickey Spillane.

Here in The Kubla Kahn Caper, Shell is hired, initially, to locate a missing beauty contestant, Jeanne Jax, for the grand opening of a desert resort named The Kubla Khan. Shell's cover is to act as a judge for the beauty contest, a job he considers himself more than qualified for. His client is Ormand Monaco, the managing director of the Kubla Khan. Monaco is adamant that Shell Scott carry out his investigation for the missing girl with the utmost discreetness, as any adverse publicity could damage what is intended to be a lavish grand opening, full of all the celebrities and dignitaries appropriate to such an event. Shell Scott is no more than an hour or so into the investigation when the missing Jeanne Jax turns up dead, gunned down in her sports car on the side of a desert road that leads from Monaco's home. Also dead is the reclusive millionaire owner of the Kubla Khan, Ephraim Sardis. It turns out that Jeanne Jax was intent on getting in touch with Ephraim Sardis about something, only someone put a stop to it by putting them both on ice. The same someone who's taken a couple wild shots at Shell Scott when he arrives on the scene in his robin's-egg blue Cadillac. Now what had been a missing person case is a murder. Monaco is promptly arrested for the killing of Jeanne Jax and insists that Shell Scott find the true murderer before the grand opening beauty pageant takes place in 24 hours. Scott's got his hands full, what with interrogating a slew of kooky contestants, a shifty hotel manager, and various assorted heavy types including a jealous-minded green giant of a man named Bull Harper.

Along the way we've got fights, make-out sessions, a two-page rant against girdles(?!), a nude foot-chase, mucho cocktail guzzling, plenty of eye candy and babes, dames, dishes, tomatoes...you get the picture.

Up close she was all velvet and fire, skin like silken umber, the eyes still dark and almost brown, but with lots of green in them, the color of wet moss, or the sea, or emeralds in shadow. They were big and round and that look of constant surprise in them gave her an air of virginal innocence--when you looked at her eyes. But a breath below was where the virgin died and a bawd was born. 

I think these novels are a blast. Certainly they're dated and so goofy that you can't believe you're reading them, but they're also way too much fun to put one down once you start it. Most of them are now available on e-reader format, which is a good thing. More fun though is seeking out the vintage paperbacks, which are still relatively easy to come buy. Happy hunting!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Astounding Science Fiction - The Naked Sun

Hers was a triangular face--rather broad at the cheekbones--which grew prominent when she smiled--and narrowing to a gentle curve past full lips to a small chin. Her head was not high above the ground. Baley judged her to be about five-feet-two in height. (This was not typical. At least not to Baley's way of thinking. Spacer women were supposed to lean toward the tall and stately.) Nor was her hair the Spacer bronze. It was light brown, tinging toward yellow, and moderately long. At the moment, it was fluffed out in what Baley imagined to be a stream of warm air. The whole picture was quite pleasing. 

Astounding Science Fiction - Oct, Nov and Dec 1956
cover artists Richard Van Dongen and
Frank Kelly Freas
A couple years ago I happened upon an old stack of Astounding Science Fiction magazines in a local comic book store. I browsed through them and discovered that three of them contained the full serialized novel of Isaac Asimov's The Naked Sun. And this for only a few dollars each! It was a no-brainer to take them home with me. Last weekend I had the opportunity to finally crack them open and read the novel in its entirety, It was pretty much what you'd expect from a classic Sci-Fi writer like Asimov, clear and swift story telling, compelling psychology, a dash of science, and a cracking-good puzzle. Oh yeah, and the random nerd flourishes that Asimov couldn't seem to prevent from popping up in his writing. For example, the Spacer babe in the above passage as having a "head not high above the ground" instead of just being petite. He was, after all, a scientist. I should also mention that this Spacer babe was also naked, which sent our hero Plainclothesman Elijah Baley into stuttering fits.

For anyone who doesn't know, The Naked Sun is the second in a series of Sci-Fi mysteries featuring Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw solving a seemingly impossible murder among an alien setting. They're Asimov's versions of locked-room mysteries in that the crimes seem to violate his famous Three Laws of Robotics. If you don't know what the Three Laws of Robotics are, my friend, you are woefully behind in your science fiction education.

The crime in this novel is the murder of a Dr. Rickain Delmarre on one of the Outer Worlds known as Solaris. The cool thing about Solaris is that the entire human population of the planet numbers about 20,000, give or take one or two (you know, what with the murders and all!) The robot population of Solaris is 200,000,000, or one human per ten thousand robots. Each human has been conditioned since birth to live alone amount his or her own estate on a parcel of land with a slew of robot servants. Communication is done through a means termed viewing, which is a sort of three dimensional "televised" process, so realistic that it's become a complete substitute for personal contact. In fact, residents of Solaris find personal human contact as horrific, or unthinkable. Yes, marriages are assigned and population is controlled by means of rare physical joining, but such things are deemed unspeakable in polite society. It's in this setting that Dr. Delmarre was murdered by blunt-force trauma, which means some human being (not a robot as that would violate the First Rule of Robotics) had to get near Delmarre. The only witness to the crime was his robot servant, which somehow violates the Second Rule of Robotics in that no robot can allow harm to come to a human. The only possible suspect is his wife Gladia Delmarre, who shared his estate. But how could she have done it? The Delmarre's have no children, and contact between the two of them was done only through viewing. The concept of marriage, as Earth knows it, is non-existent on Solaris.

As for Earth, Elijah Baley's home turf, well its inhabitants live in crowded "caves of steel" deep beneath the surface of the planet. The idea of dwelling on the surface is so far from day to day concept that most of the Earth's population have developed an agoraphobia that prevents them from functioning outside their overcrowded underground cities. So you have a study in extreme opposites with Earth and Solaris, which causes fits for our detective hero Elijah Baley and his robot partner Daneel Olivaw. Well, not for Olivaw since he's a robot, a highly programmed humanoid robot who could easily pass for human if not for being bound by the Three Laws of Robotics.

The novel is a lot of fun for mystery fans, as well as classic science fiction fans. I've yet to read anything by Asimov that wasn't enjoyable. This murder plays within the rules of Robotics, and along the way we get a study of Asimov's thoughts concerning over-population, robotics, psychology, and sociology. That and a handful of eccentric characters bound by their own human weaknesses and prejudices. In addition to the Asimov novel, the magazines also contain stories by Robert Silverberg, Poul Anderson, Algis Budrys and others whose work I'm not yet familiar with. All three of the issues were edited by John Campbell Jr. and the artwork throughout is appropriately retro for sci-fi nerds like me. I'm sure these later issues of science fiction mags are readily available to collectors and for reasonable prices. Combined I got these issues for less than what I would have paid for a new paperback copy of anything current in Barnes & Noble--parish the thought!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Richard Brautigan - The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966

When I first met Vida she had been born inside the wrong body and was barely able to look at people, she wanted to crawl off and hide from the thing that she was contained within.

Pocket Book edition 4th printing 1975
I guess, after a half century on this planet, it's about time that I would get around to reading something by Brautigan. I found this one in a used bookshop some time back, and remember someone once telling me about Trout Fishing in America. He didn't really sell Trout Fishing, nor Richard Brautigan, well enough to get my interest revved up. I was into the beats at the time and not really aware of hippie-lit as such. I was also going through a series of relationships with women who didn't know me beyond a surface level, which resulted in nothing except unread poetry. 

So I read this one on a single Friday several weeks ago and enjoyed it. Not really sure what the message is, or if there really is a message behind it. Is Vida's spiritual escape from the most gorgeous body in the world a symbolic abortion? Is the Librarian and Vida's leaving the womb of the library of unread books a symbolic abortion? Is their farewell to a life of lonely solitude an abortion? 

Simply, it's about a librarian working in a library of "unwanted" books written by anyone with the desire to create such a thing. One day a girl shows up at the library with about about her book about hating her own body. She's the most beautiful girl in the world, with hair as black as a bat's. She stays with the librarian and the two of them make love. Eventually she is pregnant, and she and the librarian agree to go to Tijuana where she can get an abortion. They enlist the aid of the librarian's associate who provides them the name of a doctor to see. They go to Tijuana and...

The novel is delivered in simple prose with no fancy tricks, no self-aware indulgence that writers often go for in novels about nothing. So you have a novel about nothing, where there exists a place for books that will never be read and two lovers who share a relationship of uncertain prospects. And they're fulfilled. 

I liked this book. I can see why people would be drawn to Brautigan's novels. But I have a hunch that novels like this one are now passe, considering the glut of pseudo-lit memoirs and zombie novels that clog the shelves in Barnes & Noble. I stopped going to Barnes & Noble a few years ago, when I noticed that they starting looking more like a Toys-R-Us than a bookstore. I wonder if your typical college lit major would bother with a novel like this one, or appreciate its simplicity. 

I also have In Watermelon Sugar on my stack of books to read next year. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Destroyer #32 - Killer Chromosomes

Sheila stood up tall, a growl rumbling deep in her throat. She saw Remo and smiled, a broad predator's smile, that expressed neither happiness nor joy, merely satisfaction over finding the next meal so neatly served. 

Pinnacle Books, March 1978
I've read a handful of Destroyer books by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy and I think they're fine as entertainment. But none have really stuck with me, and I'm not a huge fan of the goofy banter that goes on between Chiun and Remo for much of the adventures. But I did like this one a lot, from the goofy cover to the pulpy creature-feature story inside. Killer Chromosomes reminded me of The Wasp Woman (1959) in many ways. Completely different story, of course, but mainly for its spirit. I haven't seen The Wasp Woman in a couple of decades, so it could just be an onset of senility dredging up its memory while reading Killer Chromosomes.

The novel begins at a press conference of sorts, as Dr. Sheila Feinberg attempts to explain research she's doing involving human genetics and chromosomes. Her goal is to improve the human condition somehow. Her audience is none too pleased with her work, fearing that messing around with human genetics is the surest way to bad things like "plagues and monsters" and other scary stuff. In this case, their fears are sort of realized, as in frustration Dr. Feinberg consumes a couple of test-tubes of the stuff she's been tinkering with in her laboratory. Yup, bad things then happen as our lady mad scientist turns into a "she-tiger" like creature who feeds on human flesh! She also changes appearance into a smoking hot babe in the process. The result of her feeding is that victims remaining alive afterward themselves turn into hybrid creatures who will feed in turn. So, yes, in no time flat our fat and dopey citizens will turn into hordes of flesh-eating tiger-men (and tiger-women) running rampant. Call on Remo Williams to put a stop to it all, somehow.

Remo approaches the mission with the typical sardonic wit and nonchalance that we're used to from him. Only he's never come up against anyone quite like Dr. Sheila Feinberg. Nor has she ever met anyone near like Remo Williams. And when they meet for the first, believe me, fur flies! Remo barely manages to survive, as Sheila Feinberg escapes, licking her own wounds and harboring a burning desire to mate with our hero and have his litter.

As Remo convalesces in hiding he begins to revert back to the dullard, slack ways of your average out-of-shape lummox that Chiun despises. The art of Sinanju seems to evaporate from his control, causing Chiun to consider pulling Remo out of the game entirely. Meanwhile, Dr. Sheila Feinberg is in heat and stalking her pray, and will stop at nothing to get him.

Yeah, it's all pretty goofy, but I liked it. I liked it enough that I'll give more novels in the Destroyer series a go. After all, they were and still are hugely popular among a legion of fans. They're even available in e-format for newer readers who missed out finding the original books in the newstands.

Monday, November 23, 2015

79 Park Avenue - Harold Robbins

"She's a special kind of broad," Joker quoted. "A whore with a code of ethics."



D'ya miss me out there? It's been a while since I've made a post, but I've been itching to get back here. It wasn't like I wasn't keeping up with trashy good fun, but October and November has been crazy busy for me. But you don't care about that, you're here because of the babe on the cover above, right? I'm sorry that I don't have this issue of the 79 Park Avenue by our pal Harold Robbins. I have the Pocket Books edition instead, printed in the 80's I think. The novel itself is one of Harold Robbins's earlier ones, first published in 1955, back when he had to keep the sleaze and language in check. No one in this novel gets called the "c" word, which is a nice change from some of his later novels. Also the sex, while there is a lot of it, is delivered in "fade-to-black" type of scenes. Still, the novel is risque enough for its time, and is a whole lotta melodrama to boot.

The story here is all about Maryann Flood, often referred to as a "hot-blooded polack" by some of her lower-class gentlemen friends. Maryann is on trial for running a high class escort service through Park Avenue Models, Inc., The girls of Park Avenue Models, Inc. are available for photography jobs, art exhibits, showrooms, runways, etc, but the real revenue comes from what the girls will do for their well-heeled clients behind closed doors. Everything is cool until one of the models dies in the hospital from a botched abortion. An investigation into the young woman's background leads officials back to Maryann Flood, president of Park Avenue Models, Inc. The book begins as Maryann is on trial for running a house of prostitution, bribery, and extortion. And, as things tend to go in books by Robbins, the lead prosecutor, Mike Keyes, just happens to be the same guy who was head-over-heels for Marja (Maryann) back when they were teenagers growing up together in the slums.

You know the drill. Boy from the slums makes good, girl from the slums goes bad. Only Marja isn't really the bad girl everyone has made her out to be. We get her story through three main sections of the novel. Her teenage years, her young adult years as she makes a living as a stripper and escort, and her mature years as the widow of a mobster with an escort agency of her own.

Marja quickly learns that a girl with no prospects has to take advantage of the stuff God gave her, if she wants to get anything out of life. Her stepfather is one of those creeps who always manages to spy on her as she's undressing, the guys at school are only interested in her for one thing, and her new boyfriend Ross doesn't seem to give a damn about her unless she's around to make him look like a bigshot in front of his hoodlum friends. What's a girl do? Meanwhile, there is Mike Keyes, working at the newstand and studying his schoolbooks all the time, pining away for Marja. Trouble is, Marja is dating his bigshot pal Ross. Only what Mike Keyes doesn't know is Marja digs Mike right back. Ah, teenage love. And things go like this, with Marja building a rep for being a fast girl, working as a dancing girl for extra bread, dating Ross, being friends with Mike and dodging her creepy stepfather's advances until one terrible night when she's raped by her stepfather. Marja reacts like any tough chick would, and cuts the bastard up with a razor. And is promptly shipped off to a reform school.

Part two of the novel picks up after Marja is released from reform school. She hooks up with another girl, Evelyn, who also did time in the reform school, and together with Evelyn's sleazy boyfriend Joe, head south to Florida for sun and fun. Evelyn and Marja (now known as Mary) have this little lesbian act in the burlesque circuit going that brings in the dough for Joe to spend. They honed the act together in reform school trying to cool their jets from not having any boys around for attention. Mary gets tired of the scene with Evelyn and Joe and meets a rich playboy named Gordon Payne one day on the beach. Gordon flips for Mary. He doesn't care that she works nights and seems to have no history. None of that matters to him. He's in love L-U-V and he wastes no time in proposing to Mary. Mary considers Gordon's proposal, remembering her love for Mike Keyes back in New York, and all, but decides things aren't going to get any better than they would with Gordon. What the hell, she'll be in the society pages and no more riding the sleazy strip circuit with Evelyn and Joe. The thing is, Evelyn and Joe got other ideas, like maybe a little blackmail from our rich and foolish playboy. They show up with pictures of Mary and Evelyn together, thinking that Gordon might be willing to by them for safekeeping from the society pages. And just like that, Mary's life with Gordon goes up in smoke. Left high in dry in Miami, she resorts to escort jobs to earn her way back to New York, where she's quickly busted by a vice detective for prostitution.

Part three of the novel brings Ross and the gang back. Ross is working his way up in the syndicate, and still has the hots for Marja. Mike is overseas doing the soldier-boy gig, fighting Hitler. Marja knows the score, and a girl's gotta eat you know, so she eases herself into gigs as a call girl. Ross has a stake in a new playground in Nevada, this little town called Las Vegas. Only Ross has been burning bridges and blowing dough from his pals in the syndicate. It's in this 3rd part of the novel that Robbins seems to have grown tired of the book, and collapses events up into a series of quick scenes of convenience. The characters get thinner and the dialog carries the tale. Everyone gets slapped a lot, and a couple of people get killed off. All of which leading to the final scenes in the trial which kicked the book off. We never really see Marja as president of Park Avenue Models, Inc. It's as if Robbins was ready to pack the story in and get it off to the publisher.

All in all, pretty much what you'd expect from an early Robbins novel. It ain't Faulkner by any means. The novel also made it into a mini-series back in the seventies. I remember it on TV but never watched it. Don't know if it's available online.




Thursday, October 8, 2015

Secret Strangers - Thomas Tessier

He had been kind of a secret stranger in their lives, someone who could accept love and apparently give it in return, a person they knew mainly in terms of their own expectations, and didn't really know at all. 


Dark Harvest 1st Edition 1992
 Secret Strangers by Thomas Tessier would likely be found in the horror shelves of the bookstore, only because Tessier is primarily known for his horror novels. But I'm telling you, this is straight up noir, and I mean depraved nasty twisted noir. I found a copy of this book some years back and knew it was coming home with me.

Tessier's best known novel is probably The Nightwalker, about a Vietnam veteran in London who may or may not be a werewolf. Then there is his ultra-disturbing Finishing Touches about a plastic surgeon's descent into a world of S&M and death. Both novels are horror books for adults and better than anything you'll likely read by the "bigger" names on the horror shelves.

Then there is Secret Strangers, from 1990. I may be in small company by really liking this one. It's one of those novels that gets its painted fingernails into you and squeezes you out to the finish. There are literally pages that make you want to turn away. And it's a classic study of an idea that seems good at the outset yet ends up spinning wildly out of control and spilling havoc on its participants.

Heidi Luckner is a 17 year old high school student, living in an upper class community named Clearville, a town of ten thousand people outside of New York City. Heidi's life is in upheaval after her father, John Luckner, goes missing. Her father's disappearance is the first of many cracks that inexorably crumbles her world. Still, she's got her job at an upscale deli, her best friend Bella who's always there for her, and her boyfriend Gary who drives a black Camaro IROC, But without her father's income and support, her mom will have no alternative but to sell their home and move from Clearville. Something Heidi will not accept.

One night, Heidi is babysitting for her neighbors, Jane and Richard Seaton. The Seatons are those yuppie types who seemingly have it all, a beautiful home, exciting careers, beauty, health and vitality. After putting their young daughter Carrie to bed, Heidi does what probably most teenage girls might do if given the opportunity and goes snooping through their home. Fueled by mix of envy and curiosity, Heidi becomes almost a voyeur into Richard and Jane's privacy, and discovers something horrible. A set of Polaroids depicting sex acts between Richard and Jane Seaton, and what looks like teenaged children. Heidi is stunned and immediately places the pictures back into their hiding place. But the images of Jane Seaton in the pictures are too deeply etched into her psyche. Days go by and Heidi smokes Lucky Strikes, hangs out with her boyfriend Gary, fights with her mother...and thinks of the Seatons and their secrets. She reaches out to Jane as though building a relationship with a confidant, an older woman who can giver her advice and friendship. She's strangely attracted to Jane's confidant facade that masks a dark perversion, And then, when asked to house-sit for the Seatons over a holiday weekend. Heidi steals the photos, and with them, papers of coded symbols.

Heidi figures she'll start small, maybe twenty five thousand dollars. After that, she'll ask for more, tightening the screws and bleeding the Seatons out of their wealth. They can afford it. The Seatons are rich. Only Heidi is going to need some help. She can't blackmail them alone. So she turns to Gary as an accomplice. At first things seem like they're going to go as planned. Heidi can get money from the Seatons, find an apartment and stay in Clearville and keep her friends. Only plans never go down as imagined over cigarettes and sex in the back of a Camaro.

This is one of those "river of blood" kind of plots, where intentions, both good and bad, result in the worst outcomes. One has gone so far into the depravity and horror that to turn back is as far a journey as it is to see it through to the end. The players behind the suburban lawns are far more dangerous and powerful than Heidi, our teenage girl "hero" could have foreseen.

It's too bad this book isn't more well-known, or easier to find. It's a terrific nasty ride into darkness that leaves scars. If you run across a copy of it, read it. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Terror Tales - June 1974

"Hello! I'm going to tell you about this dream of mine! It is only a dream, of course, but I have it a lot. Night after night, the same dream. And maybe you'll find it interesting, too! And dreams do come true sometimes, don't they? Now about my dream..."  


Eerie Publications, Vol 6 No 3 June 1974
Cover by O.A. Novelle
Back in the early 70's you couldn't help but see these crazy covers littering the magazine racks in the local supermarket. Usually near the MAD and CRACKED magazines. They sprouted like toadstools in a Florida lawn, a new one seemingly every week. Gruesome, gory, bloody and awesome. I used to wonder what kind of person bought stuff like this. Freaks? Psychos? Murderers? I knew there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell that my mom would let me take one of these suckers home.

TERROR TALES, HORROR TALES, TALES of VOODOO, WITCHES TALES. Slobbering ghouls hovering over dismembered bodies, torture, blood-dripping fangs...the worst depravity you could show your friends at in school. Yes, these magazines went there. On the covers, at least. As for the contents, well...

These magazines were put out under the editorship of Myron Fass, who saw an opportunity and jumped on the coattails of the "horror" trends that Warren Publishing was cashing in on with CREEPY and EERIE. The only thing needed was material and a cover that'll grab the kids. The material was filched from the volumes of pre-code horror and crime comics. Covers were courtesy of artists like Bill Alexander, Chic Stone, Vilanova, OA Novelle, to name a few. And these covers have to be seen to be believed! Eerie Publications would pretty much take a story and add some minor touches or changes here and there, and slap that baby out into the stands. Typos and misprints and numbering were an afterthought. What mattered was getting the product out. Titles, stories, art, you name it, was up for grabs with these magazines. And what the hell? it wasn't like a kid my age at the time would know that a story had been ripped off from something twenty years previous. And it's not like the pre-code horror comics didn't "borrow" their stories from other sources as well.

Cheap and fast was the MO with these publications. And thumbing through one now 40 years later you can readily tell it's not the product that Warren Magazines was producing. None of the stories in my issue shown here are credited. Nor is the art, unless you happen to catch a signature on one of the panels.

As for the stories. Well, they're okay. None of them reflect the cover art and likely never did. Nary a single story features a "bigfoot" creature raking its claws into a hot babe in the blue dress. But whose complaining. The kids shelling out 75 cents just wanted the goods, man.

The whole sordid story of Eerie Publications can be found in this terrific book that comes with a high recommendation from me. It's a perfect Halloween gift for that special ghoul in your life.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Lone Star and a Saloon Called Hell - Wesley Ellis

Here was this man, tough guy cold-blooded killer, being reduced to a groveling worshiping worm before her feet. Perversion worked in her mind and excited her, and this was not the first time, either, where her fantasy and warped desires became reality. There were no limits to what Jessie's mind could conjure, no limits to what her heart could desire. Perversion and pure lust sated is degrading and ugly, and it leaves you feeling ashamed and degraded, Jessie knew. 


Jove Books - July 1994
Holy crap, was this book insane! I thought I knew what to expect, sort of, when I picked this one up to read. I'd read an earlier book in the Lone Star series and enjoyed it. But that adventure, while cool pulp, has nothing on this one. Perversion and Lust...yes, there is plenty of that. Violence and mayhem...yes, even more of that to boot.

The plot is a simple one, as it should be. Jessie and Ki are traveling deep into Wyoming to find a young friend of theirs named Billy Johnson who's been accused of murdering a no good woman. The victim's father has hired a passel of bounty hunters to bring Billy in, dead or alive. Jessie once knew Billy as a wild young boy growing up, and hopes that she can find him before the bounty hunters do.

Jessie's mood is as heavy as the winter mist that's settled over the land. She's weary, tired and beaten down by the evils of life and the seemingly pointlessness of it all. In other words, she's in a deep existential angst. So deep that her partner and friend Ki is worried that she'll not recover from it. As the two of them seek out Billy they come across a bounty hunter named Barabbas. Barabbas is one of those battle-scarred "angel of death" types in black who lives by the gun. He's got a swath of wanted posters in his pouch, including one for Billy Johnson. He tells Jessie and Ki that Billy isn't worth the effort of bringing in, but that the hombres after Billy are. So, he promises Jessie and Ki that he'll leave Billy alone, but that he's getting the men who are after Billy. With that, an uneasy alliance between Jessie and Barabbas is formed.

Soon, the three riders reach the town where Billy is rumored to be hiding out. A town shrouded in perpetual fog and twilight. A town named Apocalypse, And in it, a saloon named Hell.

Okay, you know a saloon named Hell isn't going to be the sort of establishment where one partakes of mint juleps over a game of Bridge and witty banter. It's named Hell for a reason. Because it's full of the worst low-down varmints, lowlifes and whores imaginable. And as bad as the saloon's denizens are, even worse is the bastard that runs it. A giant Indian named Bull.

Bull had a body as muscular as any Jessie had ever seen. Indeed, every muscle in his body rippled as he strode out from behind the bar. There he stood, hands on his hips, proudly displaying the biggest cock Jessie had ever seen. It hung to his knees. His eyes laughed as he said, "Like what you see?"

Yup, that's right my friends. Down to his knees. We know this because Bull doesn't wear any clothes. Just walks around in all his naked glory. And by the time Bull makes his grand entrance we've already been witness to a half naked red-headed spitfire whipping a man to death before blasting him in half with a shotgun. Then, moments later, Jessie and Ki blast four more miscreants into oblivion. In the meantime, Bull sits and gets serviced by the hot redhead with the whip. This type of scene repeats itself day after day, between bouts of hot sex that Jessie shares with Barabbas and Bull.

And then, oh yeah, there's this reason they came into town in the first place. This kid named Billy Johnson, who's supposedly hiding out in town somewhere. Remember Billy? I wasn't sure Jessie did. Because Jessie seems none too interested in finding Billy once she's got a taste of that trouser(less) snake that Bull's swinging around. More killing, more bloodshed, more cowpokes shitting their pants as they die. I mean this saloon called Hell is pretty much a slaughterhouse.

Then, finally, the outlaw posse arrives in town looking for Billy. And they go by the name the Four Horsemen. And hell reigns down upon them all, or something like it.

So...did I like it? Actually, yeah I did like it. It's definitely X-rated and pulpy as all get out. I spent maybe a dollar on it and got my dollar's worth from it. And here's the thing. I kind of want to check out another one of these Jessie Lonestar novels, just to see if she's really that same moody, horny little twist she was in this one. Kind of like a goth girl with whip and lasso in hand who's more than ready to shove her ass into some no good varmint's face and have him kiss it before filling him full of hot lead. We'll see.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Saturday Vinyl - Ultimate Spinach

ULTIMATE SPINACH is growing...expanding and exploding with myriad consciousness, laughter, feelings, thoughts, ideas...Barbara looking out at the world through a pierced retina, always the Jolly Green Earth Mother to us all...Richard continues his forever search for the eternal black horse...while Keith races, enlightened, out of the nineteenth century looking like a modern Diogenes on a ten-speed bicycle.

MGM Records SE-4518 1968
Yes! You're in for a heaping dose of 60's psychedelia here when you got liner notes that start like that! Ultimate Spinach's first album is one of those records that I've never gotten tired of playing. Probably because I don't play it too often. But when I do, I always enjoy it.

Released in January of 1968 their 1st album is probably their best known and most successful. It actually got as high as number 34 on the Billboard 200. Coming out of Boston and marketed as part of the "Bosstown Sound" intended as the east-coast response to the San Francisco sound, the band was Ian Bruce-Douglas on vocals, player of most of the instruments, songwriter and guru of the band. Well maybe guru is a fancy way of calling him the band's leader. He also wrote the liner notes for this album. Lengthy liner notes that continue in style to what you have above. The other members were Barbara Hudson on vocals and guitar, Keith Lahteinen on drums, Richard Nese on bass, and Geoffrey Winthropon on guitar and sitar.

The record is composed of nine cuts, with each song explained, well kind of explained, in the liner notes. I'm sure I've read the songs' notes, but really, one doesn't have to read them to enjoy the songs. It's the usual 60's tropes here, and nothing earthshaking. Youthful earnestness and anti-establishment rebellion combined with poetic angst swimming in a lot of keyboards and guitar, and you get the idea. That said, the songs, all of them, are pretty good if you're a fan of psychedelic music.

Gateway sleeve, liner notes by Ian Bruce-Douglas

Later in the year, Ultimate Spinach released a second album, but personnel changes and burnout were dampening the thrill. Psychedelic music travels best in short and brilliant journeys. It's not something you're going to pack for a long trip with. In 1969 the band released a third album which crashed right out of the gate. By the end of the 60's the band was no more.

You can check out their songs in all the usual places. I've seen their first two albums occasionally in the used record stores. I screwed up not buying the second one when I had the chance, but it'll show up again some day. As for their third record, well...I think I'll stick to the ones the band liked.





Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Butcher #31 Death in Yellow - Michael Avallone

The black marble eyes held only cruelty. Savoring the moment. "The arms, dear man, are forced into a cauldron of boiling water. Water so hot as to scald a man to death. But this is only for the arms--and when those arms are removed from the water, one can literally peel the skin from them as one peels a tender grape in the field. You see? So like the taking off of gloves from one's hands. Hence, The Gloves. Chinese riverboat pirates discovered this gem of torment in the middle of the fifteenth century, I think. It has been a staple of punishment ever since. You will not be able to shout out your agony loud enough, Butcher. Wait and see."


Pinnacle Book, June 1981, cover artist Fred Love
Yikes! Things look bad for The Butcher! As you can see by this explosive cover, The Butcher is up against a modern (sort of ) version of "The Yellow Peril" in his 31st adventure Death In Yellow.

This one is pure pulp adventure! Written by Michael Avallone under the house name Stuart Jason, this is the type of adventure that Doc Savage or The Spider might have gotten mixed up in. Minus the hot sex of course. The chick in the cover presents some major trouble for The Butcher, the kind of trouble ol' Doc Savage wouldn't have fallen for.

What happens is Butcher is hired by The White Hat agency (a branch of the government so secret that not even the President knows of its existence!) to look into a plot that involves a nerve gas being experimented on somewhere in the wilds of Florida. Butcher arrives in Miami and before he can hail a cab he's recognized by a hit man known as Needle Nick Olivier. Readers of the series know that The Butcher is a former mafia boss who bailed out of the criminal underworld. In effort to make amends he now works for "the good guys" as an operative of White Hat. Only, as we're reminded of in the beginning of every Butcher adventure, no one leaves the Mafia and lives! So part of the fun of this series is the Butcher having deadly run-ins with various hit-man goons looking to cash in on the open million dollar bounty for his head.

So where was I? Oh yeah, in Miami as the Butcher dispatches another goon who's recognized him. Needles Olivier is barely cooling on the carpet when Butcher hires a cab to chase after a sedan that appears to have been waiting for Needles. Turns out it's Butcher's lucky day, because the sedan belongs to an odd pair of ne'er-do-wells named Rollo Lewinson and his hot-to-trot sidekick Gorgeous Jean Johanesson. Seeing how easily Butcher dispatched Needles Olivier, Rollo Lewinson offers Butcher an opportunity to team up with him and Gorgeous Jean on a caper with millions. A caper involving a secret government project involved with a weapon to end all weapons. See what I mean by luck? Just like that The Butcher has hooked up with a couple of crooks going after the same thing he is. And besides, Gorgeous Jean is a major league nympho!

The flaming red sweater rose to half-mast, pulled to the crest of twin breasts which rose like howitzers from her chest. Bending, she cupped his head once more and urged herself forward until his face was buried in the spill of her ample flesh. There was nothing he could do but play her wild game. "Bite me--" she murmured huskily, swaying as she stood before him, gently crushing herself into him. "---go on--they're yours...suck, Butcher, suck...eat me, Baby..."

Enough to make a southern gentleman stand up and whoop a rebel yell!

There is more S&M sex, and a whole lot of chop-socky Kung-Fu fighting with cats as fast as lightening to come for the Butcher as he tangles with a villain who models himself after Fu Manchu himself. There are beatings, sex, explosions, a femme fatale or two, guns, chases, tortures, double-crosses, flying fists, feet and teeth, It's some crazy shit going down and it's all a ton of pulpy good fun.

And you know you're in for a good time when you got breasts compared to howitzers!



Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Dreaming Jewels - Theodore Sturgeon

They caught the kid doing something disgusting out under the bleachers at the high-school stadium, and he was sent home from the grammar school across the street. He was eight years old then. He'd been doing it for years. 

1st Edition 1950
I'm not sure how anyone can put down a novel with a terrific opening line like that. It's famous with S-F fans and Theodore Sturgeon aficionados from what many consider his best novel. I haven't read enough to call anything a classic over anything anything else. I'll let others do that for me. But I have read plenty of Sturgeon's short stories to assume that I'd enjoy one of his novels. The Dreaming Jewels was a good one to start with.

The kid in the opening sentence is Horton Bluett, referred to throughout as Horty. I'm going to leave what he's caught doing under the bleachers a mystery so as not to spoil the fun for those who haven't read this novel. In brief, Horty Bluett has a miserable home-life as the adopted son of a couple of despicable parents who only took him in to improve their political standing among the community. Horty has no friends except another little girl, Kay Hallowell, who is nice to him in school. At home, his only companion is a jack-in-the-box toy he names Junky. Junky has been with Horty since his first year in the orphanage, Junky also has these two crystals for eyes...and Horty has developed a strange, otherworldly symbiotic bond with Junky.

After a terrifying beating and injury at the hands of his father, Armand Bluett, Horty takes Junky and escapes his home for a life on the road. He's quickly picked up by a group of sympathetic carnies named Havana, and his companions Bunny and Zena. All three are little people, and are returning from an errand in Horty's hometown. Seeing Horty's injury, Zena decides to take Horty back to their carnival and let him stay there as part of their act. To accomplish this, Horty will disguise himself as a female little person. The carnival is run by the intimidating Pierre Monetre, known as Maneater by the carnies who work for him. Monetre was once a brilliant young doctor and surgeon, until he fell into disgrace thanks to a tragic death under his care, followed by unjust accusations. Since then, Monetre has formed a deep hatred for mankind, in addition to pursuing some strange and secret experiments of his own involving some crystals he found once years before in a forest. Crystals that have remarkable powers. Crystals just like the ones that serve as Junky's eyes.

And with that setup, readers of The Dreaming Jewels are tossed into a blend of dark fantasy, science fiction and horror. There are moments here that reminded me of Ray Bradbury, but Sturgeon is perhaps more fearless and daring than Bradbury. There are themes of abuse, adultry, obsession and murder here that, while found in Bradbury's work as well, are revealed in disturbing tones. Much like those found in Sturgeon's short fiction.

The Dreaming Jewels has been reprinted dozen's of times and is probably easy enough to find out there. If you haven't read it, you're in for a good time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dying Inside - Robert Silverberg

We spring toward the bed. Still stiff, I top her and take her. Gasp gasp gasp, moan moan moan. I can get nothing on the mental band. Suddenly she goes into a funny little spasm, intense but quick, and my own spurt quickly follows. We curl up together, cuddly in the afterglow. I try again to probe her. Zero. Zee-ro. Is it gone? I think it's really gone. You have been present today at an historic event, young lady. The perishing of a remarkable extrasensory power. Leaving behind this merely mortal husk of mine. Alas.

Ballantine Books, October 1973. Cover by Philip Kirkland
This is the third novel by Robert Silverberg that I've read in the past year. The others being A World Inside and Hawksbill Station. All three novels are excellent, and I can't recommend them highly enough. It's amazing when you consider the output that Robert Silverberg accomplished at the time. I've come late to reading Silverberg's novels. It should have been a natural progression from Asimov and Clarke. I'd like to blame Walden Books at my local mall when I was growing up. At some point their meager Science Fiction section got invaded by elves, dragons and runes...and I scrammed for the Mystery section. My bad, I should have looked harder for the good stuff hidden behind the hobbits and wizards. Thank God for used bookstores.

As for Dying Inside, I'm not sure I'd call it a Science Fiction novel. It's got a cover that's cool, but has nothing to do with the novel it masks. To my mind it's more of a psychological study of an unpleasant man who believes he's losing his power to read minds. It would be right at home in the Lit section, but that's not how publishers like to work. Anyway, that's the plot. But it's much deeper than that simple summary. It's the study of a man bearing his soul, warts and all, to an unknown observer (the reader? an old love? God?) and exposing his fears and insecurities not just of losing his power to probe minds, but of love, family, career and life. David Selig makes a meager living ghosting term-papers for distracted undergrads. He's brilliant enough to have made a hell of a life for himself. Instead, he lives in a cheap apartment in a bad part of town hammering out essays for students at $5 bucks a page. He ambles through life mourning the past, the loss of his girlfriend, the animosity of his sister, and the rootlessness of life. A rootlessness he blames on the diminishing strength of his ESP. Clearly there are a number of ways to interpret the novel, which made reading it such an exhilarating experience. It's a snapshot of America in the 60's and 70's, it's a study of psychology, and a portrait of the lost. Give it to an earnest undergrad in American Lit today, and let them run with it.

Anyway...I really liked it as you can tell.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Virgin Planet - Poul Anderson

Kathleen slipped off her mantle and let it fall at her feet. She wasn't wearing anything beneath. She stood up straight, throwing her shoulders back and bosom forward. Well she's got to make the most of what she has! thought Barbara. But then, driven by a stubborn realism: What she has isn't so bad. Not really. She's too thin, but nothing haggard about her. She has the muscles to bounce around as readily as anyone.

cover by Emsh - 1959
Okay, I'll give everyone a second to cool off...'cause that's about as hot as anything is going to get on Virgin Planet by Poul Anderson.

Look, I'm not going to rag on this novel...well, maybe I will a little bit, because I came into it without high expectations. But, even giving this novel the benefit of a low hurdle to clear, I still think it's pretty much a stinker. Okay, it's from 1959, and its appeal had to have been for a sea of sci-fi dorks (much like I was once!) still in their teens and waiting for their first slobbery kiss from that cute girl by the Bunsen burner in chem lab...but dang! No wonder "virgin" is prominent in the title!

Briefly, the plot concerns a space adventurer, Davis Bertram, who goes exploring in the Delta Capitis Lupi sector of the galaxy and winds up veering off course to land on...the Virgin Planet! Virgin Planet is an outpost populated only by females. How this happened was 300 years earlier, an expedition of females was on it's way to an outpost somewhere in the another part of the galaxy and got blasted off course by a vortex of some kind to end up on a lone planet in said Delta Capitis Lupi System. Since there are no men around to procreate with, the babes on Atlantis (that's the name they've given their planet) carry on their race by a process of cloning. The cloning is overseen by a caste of "doctor-priestesses" who in effect run the planet. Meanwhile the females of Atlantis wait for the return of man as a kind of race of godlike beings who will rescue them from...well, they're just waiting for man to return, that's all.

So this is the setting that our hapless hero, Davis Bertram, finds himself in when he lands on Atlantis. First he's captured by a warrior babe named Barbara Whitley who takes him back to her village. She doesn't recognize Davis as a man because he doesn't fit the mythical descriptions of "Man" handed down in 300 years of religion. But he makes for an interesting "monster" because he's flat-chested and has a dingus where no one else does. No mention is made by Anderson of any kind of phallic substitute that a planet of women would have developed an interest in...and that's the first of many issues I had with the novel.

Anyway, the captured Davis manages to convince Barbara that maybe he is a man after all. He does this mostly by managing to get her hot and bothered whenever she's around him. Of course, she doesn't understand these weird "urges" she has.The elders aren't convinced though, and are debating having him killed as a "monster" or sent to "the doctors" for further study. Into the mix is Barbara's look-alike cousin Valeria, who is much more tough and warrior-minded than Barbara...and just as hot! Soon, our little gang is off gallivanting around Atlantis having run-ins with other villages and tribes of women. Everyone uses dialog sprinkled with "yipes" and "ulp" and "oof" to the point of distraction. Davis never manages to seal the deal with Barbara or Valeria, or anyone else for that matter, because Poul Anderson is more interested in setting up "Three's Company" type scenarios of confusion and hi-jinx. Eventually, a representative of the "Doctors" shows up and determines that if Davis is the real deal, then their status as rulers of the Virgin Planet is moot. So, Davis Bertram has to go!

And there you are. It could have been a far more interesting novel had Poul Anderson given a few ounces more thought and consideration into the potentials provided by such a setting. Instead, we're treated to a lot of running around and nonsense. This novel is also part of the Psychotechnic League series of novels that are loosely coordinated in Anderson's output. That's fine. This one is plenty for me, thanks.

So, yipes and away...for now!

Beacon edition
 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Ticket to Hell - Harry Whittington

The door swung open, spilling light around him when he released the knob. The smell of gas was strong. He thrust the door wide open and entered the cottage. It was furnished precisely as his was, but in greater disarray. The man and the woman had been here for some time or were extraordinarily messy. Makeup and lotions littered the dresser top, both men's and women's clothing were strewn all over the chairs. The green bathing suit was wadded on the rug. Near it, in a wide open expensive housecoat, the girl was sprawled. 

1987 Black Lizard Books, cover art by Jim Kirwan
And with that scene our hero Ric Durazo shifts into third gear on his ride into hell in Harry Whittington's 1959 novel, A Ticket to Hell.

I chose to show the Black Lizard Books issue of this novel, since it's the version that I read. Back in the late 80's Black Lizard Books re-issued a number of classics, notably Jim Thompson, David Goodis, and Harry Whittington. The Whittington novels came with an essay entitled "I Remember it Well" that Whittington wrote in 1987. In it, Harry Whittington looks back on his long career as a paperback novelist. I grab these Black Lizard Books whenever I see them. Thanks to them, writers like Thompson and Whittington found new audiences in the 80's and 90's.

A Ticket to Hell is a lean and nasty little novel about a guy with nothing left to lose finding either oblivion or redemption in the ass-end of a desert town deep in New Mexico. It begins as Ric Durazo has just picked up a hitch-hiker in a forlorn desert wasteland. The hitcher is one of those hopped up beatnik types, "jazzing" to their own tune. It's only a few minutes into the ride that he makes the mistake of pulling a gun on Ric, and finding out what road-rash feels like firsthand as Ric boots him back out onto the desert asphalt. It's one of those scenes that foreshadow the kind of journey Ric is going to experience as he reaches his final destination on Highway 58 in Los Solanos, New Mexico.

The motel is named La Pueblo. It's one of those respites from the road that dotted desert highways before the interstates took the adventure out of driving across the country. Cabins among the cactus and sage, corralled around a blue-lit pool where weary travelers smoke and drink whiskey as they plot their various paths in life. The kind of roadside motel with an office manned by a distracted middle-aged Joe and his younger, horny wife. The sort of wife that takes an immediate notice of Ric as he checks in. It's not long before she's offering Ric some personal R 'n R. Only Ric isn't interested. Across from his cabin is a young couple driving a new Cadillac. The girl appears cool, bored and rich and wears a revealing green bathing suit as she lounges by the pool. Her husband is too slick and good-looking for his own good, and spends his time knocking back highballs and shoving the babe in the green bikini around.

Ric has enough problems of his own to pay them all much attention. He's got a broken heart, a tired head, and a suitcase full of money. He's got a history of losing, and a life without a future. And he's in Los Solanos because he's got an appointment to keep. And it's while he's waiting for the phone to ring when he see's the too-handsome young husband from the cabin across the way attempt to kill his beautiful young wife.

A Ticket to Hell is the kind of noir tale that breezes by in a few hours of reading. It's got the kind of plot that moves so fast you don't spend any time looking for the lapses in logic. It's not rational and no one does anything that a "normal" person would do. But that's the fun of it all. Otherwise the motel would be a Red Roof Inn, infested by families from Florida and Kansas with their noisy fat kids yelling in the hallways and splashing in the pool. And that's a nightmare of a whole different order. One that nobody would ever write books about.






Friday, July 3, 2015

Some Slips Don't Show - A.A. Fair

For a moment they faced each other, then suddenly there was a tangle of arms and legs, a slapping, scratching, and panting. Then they were wrestling. They went over on the floor. No one paid any attention to modesty or the rules of fair fighting. They thrashed their legs and arms about in wild abandon. They used words which ladies were not supposed to know. They pulled each other's hair. They ripped clothing.

Pocket Books August 1970

Um...pardon me while I grab a beer and some potato chips until our ladies are finished! ...Oh yeah, I'm putting the spotlight on a nifty little caper from A.A. Fair, or rather Erle Stanley Gardner, featuring detectives Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. This novel was originally published in 1957 and lasted through numerous reprints, as most of Gardner's novels did. It's my first introduction to the Cool - Lam detective due and I liked it enough to go out and look for others. Plus, I have a thing for those 70's era paperbacks with the random babe on the covers, like the one shown here.

This is one of those novels that comes with the Cast of Characters printed at the beginning, much like many of the Ellery Queen's and Perry Mason's did. Good thing too, because I'm getting on into my middle-age and I appreciate a nice list of names to keep track of. Especially in a book where the plot takes off in so many directions you wonder how the hell it's gonna get all wrapped up by the last page. But no worries, friends, Erle Stanley Gardner was a pro at this.

As for the plot, well it goes something like this: Bertha Cool and Donald Lam are hired by a wimpy cat named Barclay Fisher to look into a little mess he's gotten himself into. Seems on a recent sales trip to San Francisco, our Mr. Fisher whooped it up too much and woke up from a blackout in the apartment of a young lady named Lois Marlow. Lois was hired to attend the sales convention as one of those curvaceous beauties who ensure drinks are poured and egos are stroked and deals get made. She was specifically tasked to make sure Barclay Fisher enjoyed himself to the fullest. Well, all is well and good, except our pal Barclay Fisher is married to an uptight and righteous cold dame named Minerva. Minerva Fisher can't abide drinking, smoking, cursing and, most of all, philandering! Barclay Fisher feels bad enough that he got tangled up with a sweet young thing like Lois. But now someone by the name of George Cadott has been sending him letters threatening to reveal his midnight cavorting to Mrs. Fisher. If only Bertha Cool and Donald Lam could do something to prevent these letters from reaching his wife, he'd be ever so grateful.

Donald Lam flies up to San Francisco where he meets with Lois. Lois quickly became my favorite character in the novel. She's got beauty, brains, and plenty of cynicism to spare. She also knows how to flash the nylons to cloud men's minds. She reveals that her old flame, George Cadott, has been following her around and getting all sanctimonious on her lifestyle. She's not surprised that Cadott is sending threatening letters to Barclay Fisher. But Lois insists that Cadott isn't interested in blackmail since Cadott has inherited a boatload of dough from his deceased grandfather. Donald Lam's search for Cadott quickly leads to Horace and Caroline Dutton. Caroline Dutton is George Cadott's cousin, and also happens to be Lois Marlow's nosy neighbor. Too goddamn nosy as far as Lois is concerned. She just wishes they'd all take a slow boat to China and leave her the hell alone.

Can you see where all of this leads? Why to a dead body of course! Not only a dead body, but a missing diary linked to a possible murder, and finally a recent kidnapping case. Things progress with a lot of smart-aleck patter and cracking wise. Legs flash, booze is consumed, knuckles pop and capers ensue! In other words, this novel is a lot of fun for the reader looking to spend a few hours dodging the summer heat.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Coven - Carter Brown

She put her drink down, then came up onto her feet without hurrying. There was a brief hiatus while she unbuttoned the belt tied tight around her waist, then she slid the black silk robe down over her creamy shoulders and let it drop to the floor. Underneath she was only wearing bikini-sized white silk briefs that straddled the curves of her hips tighter than a second skin. I watched, fascinated, as she cupped the taut swell of her breasts in both hands and lifted them slightly, so their swollen tips pointed directly at me. 



Signet - April !971 - Cover by Robert McGinnis
The Coven sports a cover by Robert McGinnis that probably deserved a slightly better novel to go with it. I'm not saying it's a bad novel, because it isn't. It is a fast, entertaining romp about a group of "hippies" with too much money and too much time on their hands who turn to satanic rituals to get their kicks. But it leaves you with that feeling you might have after consuming a can of Pringles by yourself. Pizza flavored Pringles at that.

Rick Holman is a sort of Hollywood private dick, or fixer, or something of that nature, who is hired by an affected British actor named Hector Mulvane. Hector is married to a young and hot little twist named Brenda, who does things like answer the door in a bikini while sipping a martini. Mulvane wants Holman to find out what his two rotten offspring, Kirk and Amanda, are up to. Kirk and Amanda are the sort of Hollywood brats who like making trouble and getting attention. Hector Mulvane is worried that his two kooky kids are running around California cooking up some sort of scandal that'll sully his upcoming knighthood. Amanda has let a number of photos get around showing her in the buff while performing a pseudo-satanic-witchcraft ceremony. Hector thinks her brother Kirk is somehow behind the photos. Kirk is a headcase who has a history of drugs and violence behind him. Kirk was also Brenda's boyfriend before she dumped him to marry Hector. It's all quite sordid, don't you know...

Brenda suggests that Holman look up Amanda's pal Marie Pilgrim. Marie is one of those loopy sexpot starlet wannabes who run around Hollywood with Kirk and Amanda. Holman pays a visit to Marie and finds Kirk hanging around her pad smoking joints and playing the sullen and troubled lothario bit, which includes slapping chicks when they make with the whining. Kirk claims he has no idea where his sister Amanda could be, but he'll do Holman a favor and go find her. He splits, leaving Holman and Marie alone long enough to banter with each other (and the reader) into fits of sexual desire before agreeing to go look for Amanda together.

They all end up in a town named San Lopar, where they meet a foppish eccentric named Pete Cronin. Pete and the gang were all pals at one point. Now Pete takes to hanging out in his weird mansion painting disturbing pictures of death and violence. Pictures so dark and depraved that he refuses to show them to just anyone, but only to people he deems worthy of appreciating his perverse talent. Also in the mix is a beach-bum pothead named Ed Koncius. Ed hangs out in his beach-pad, in a slack-jawed stupor thanks to the copious amounts of pot he consumes. Ed also had a thing going with our twisted brujita, Amanda Mulvane...Remember, Amanda Mulvane and her tarty little pics that started this whole thing?

Well, before you know it, Holman is rapped on the noggin and awakes to witness a satanic ritual featuring red-robed participants and one naked Marie Pilgrim splayed out on an altar surrounded by black candles. It's all too fuzzy for Holman, because he's been drugged and then blindfolded before the ceremony ends. The next morning, a woozy Holman and Marie Pilgrim awake to find that someone has slit Ed Koncius's throat. For Marie, it's a sickening reminder of another ceremony that went bad, leaving a young chick named Shirley Rillman, naked and dead on the beach thanks to a slit throat. Who killed Ed, who killed Shirley Rillman, and where are Kirk and Amanda?

Ah, it's hippies, it's drugs, it's satanic rituals and murder! All the things that sent Ma and Pa Jones into apoplectic fits of fear and loathing back in the late 60's.

Carter Brown's novels are kind of a gas. I've only read a few but I've enjoyed them just fine. I'm sure you will be seeing more of them here in the future.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pale Gray for Guilt - John D. MacDonald

"Drop out of the world. Hallucinate. Turn on. Dig the sounds and colors and feels. Be at one with the infinite something or other. I can't lay too big a knock on them, you know. In another sense I'm a dropout. I don't pay for my tickets. I jump over the turnstiles."

Fawcett Gold Medal

Travis McGee returns in his 9th adventure in the McGee series. Pale Gray for Guilt is a bit different from the previous McGee novels, in that there is less focus on the action, and more on vengeance via a long complicated con job on a couple unscrupulous developers along the Florida coast.

The novel is a bit slow getting its groove on, with the first 50 pages or so introducing us to Tush Bannon, Travis McGee's old football pal. Bannon has set up a marina and motel in Shawana County, Florida. He's having a tough go of making things work. His ten acre property is right in the middle of a potential commercial development. Investors like Preston LaFrance and Gary Santos are after Bannon's stake. Santos is a Miami bigshot who is staking a claim on 200 acres of land surrounding Bannon's quaint little digs. LaFrance is a shady real estate man with family connections in the Shawana County Commissioners Board. As a combined force, they make life hell for Bannon with the intention of forcing him to sell out on the cheap. They could care less that Bannon will end up broke and ruined. But Bannon is stubborn. He holds out against the odds. Then one day Bannon's body is found under a an engine block in his marina, along with sloppy evidence that he committed suicide. McGee smells a rat, a bunch of rats in fact, and takes it upon himself to make those rats pay.

The plot involves a complicated version of "the Pigeon Drop" wherein McGee and his pal Meyer set up apposing investment interests on Bannon's land and the area around it. MacDonald had an MBA from Syracuse, and he puts that background to good work in this novel. You can tell he's having fun with it. Perhaps too much fun as there are times that the con gets pretty complicated. But MacDonald is such a fine writer that he's able to maintain the interest and suspense, along with a desire to see the bastards get theirs before the last page is turned.

Par for the course with the Travis McGee series, you get a lot of asides picking at the threads of the social fabric of the times, in this case Florida in the late 60's. There are also the he-man-hairy-chested observations on the fairer sex. Perhaps things get a bit too wordy here and there. Characters tend to drop long monologues when a few terse sentences would suffice. But those are small quibbles. And thankfully, MacDonald hasn't forgotten to include a twisted psychopath into the plot before the end. Better late than never in this case.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Embrace the Wind - Blaine Stevens

He drew her down upon a mat of sea oats and wild grass. She lay in his arms and opened her lips to his kiss. She tasted so good! An ache of need shivered through him. He pressed himself upon her, feeling the heat rising from her thighs as if from a bubbling cauldron. His hands closed on her breasts. For a long, mindless time, he nursed and caressed and fondled them as if he could never love her enough. With his finger he traced her lips and slipped it between her teeth. She sucked frantically on his finger, breathing raggedly and writhing against him.

Jove, January 1982
What the...? Have I gone all gushy in my reading tastes? Well, no, not exactly. I'm sharing a book I picked up a week ago written by none other than one of my favorite noir novelists, Harry Whittington. Known as the "King of Paperback Writers" Whittington wrote scads of novels under various names, including a bunch of historical romances like the one shown here. This one was published in 1982 and one of three novels under the Blaine Stevens name. Who knows, your grandmother might have a handful of Ashley Carters and Blaine Stevens on her bookshelf. For me, it's another reason to admire those old-school writers like Harry Whittington. Writers write, and in those days, if one had to make a living writing, then producing books outside one's comfort zone was necessary. There was no time waiting for the muse to strike.

I haven't yet read this one. It's part of a handful of Whittington's historical romances from the late 70s and early 80s that I've picked up in the past few months. I'll probably get around to reading it at some point. I'm such a big fan of his noir novels that I'd like to see his approach to writing in the Romance genre. He also wrote a handful of "nurse romances" under the name Harriet Kathryn Myers. Also some sweet vintage sleaze paperbacks that I wouldn't mind finding.

This one, like many of his novels, takes place in Florida, "the pirate coves of Spanish Florida" to be precise. Whittington spent years living and writing in the St. Petersburg area of the Florida gulf coast, so he knows the area well. At the very least, judging by the excerpt above, it promises to be a good steamy one!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

BANG, baa-rOOM and HARP - Dick Schory's New Percussion Ensemble

Stop coddling your Hi-Fi Set!

RCA Victor LPM - 1866, released 1958
This is one from my small but growing Exotica - Space Age - Lounge collection of LP's that I've got on the shelf. I saw this one and bought it purely for the cover and was not disappointed.

Recorded on June 2nd and 3rd, 1958, in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, BANG BaarOOM and HARP is cacophony of percussive instruments performing various tunes arranged by the likes of Skitch Henderson, Bobby Christian and Dick Schory. It sounds fantastic on the turntable, as the record bounces through tunes like "Baia", "September in the Rain" and "The Sheik of Araby" to name a few.

The extensive liner notes by Bob Bollard on the back of the cover give a detailed rundown of the recording process, and includes what he calls "an approximate instrument inventory", of which I'll name a couple here:

3 Vibraphones, 2 Xylophones, 4 Gongs, 8 Timpani, Boo Bam, Timbales, Bongo Drums, Banjo, Harp, Auto Brake Drums, 2 Slapsticks, 2 guitars, 1 Anvil, Coo-Coo Whistle, Siren Whistle, Slide Whistle, Piano, Chromatic Cowbells (take that, Blue Oyster Cult!) and 3 Snare Drums! That's not even half of the list provided.

Fans of Space Age will likely dig this platter. I don't know if it's available on CD, but I imagine with a little hunting one might snag a copy of the album somewhere.




Sunday, April 19, 2015

Play It Hard - Gil Brewer

He watched as she unbuttoned the flaring throat of the dress with nimble fingers, worked the zipper over her hip, then yanked the dress up over her legs. In a moment she stood before him in a black bra, black panties that were skin tight, a white garter belt, and the pink-hued nylons high on her smooth, firm, swollen thighs. "Like?" she asked softly.


Um...yeah. Me like! And there is plenty scenes like this in the pages of this neat little thriller from Gil Brewer!

Play It Hard is a perfect example of why Gil Brewer is one of my top favorite writers of mid-century noir. Books like this one move at a such a fevered pace that there is no time to slow down and realize just how far-fetched the plot is. That doesn't matter. The only thing that counts is getting to the last page and finding out who's going to end up living, dead, or trapped in some kind of existential-psycho-noir nightmare from which there is no escape.

Steve Nolan, our hero, wakes up from the depths of an alcoholic fugue to discover that the woman he just married is an impostor. She's now someone else, someone who says she's Jan Nolan, his new bride of one week, the same girl he met only two weeks before on an isolated beach on the west coast of Florida. But Steve knows she's not the same Janice Ellen Mary Lunsford that he married. She's a liar, an impostor. Problem is, no one believes him. No one claims to have seen the real Jan Nolan. It seems that Steve is suffering from a bout of amnesia brought on by a nervous breakdown of some kind. His doctor, Earl Paige, doesn't believe him. His Aunt Eda doesn't believe him, and neither does his pal, Detective Bill Rhodes. They tell him to get some rest, lay off the booze and go home to his new bride Jan Nolan. Is Steve crazy? Is he the victim of some kind of plot? And what happened to the real Janice Nolan?

Steve spends a large portion of the novel trying to retrace his steps that led up to the blackout resulting in having a stranger replacing his new bride. There are snatches of memory: a hideaway motel on the beach, a man with thick eyebrows sharing a booze-filled night, a motel manager who claims not to have seen the real Jan Nolan. There is also Steve's best gal, Claire Borroughs, the sweet girl next door who Steve dropped for a two-week engagement and marriage to a woman with no history.

And then, a body turns up. The body of a young woman tortured, raped and beaten to death. A young woman who exactly matches the description of the real Jan Nolan. Just what happened in this breakdown induced fugue-state of Steve's? Now Bill Rhodes and the other homicide detectives want to know. And who is this devil-eyed vixen in Steve's bedroom?

Giving away anymore of the plot would take the fun out of reading it for yourself. This is exactly the kind of book that polluted my young impressionable mind when I was a teenager. The sort of book that convinced you there were only two kinds of dames out there, Good ones and Bad ones. The sort of novel that writers like Brewer excelled at.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sin Hellcat - Andrew Shaw

I saw Jodi again the other day. She's a whore now making twelve thou a year, doing quite well at it.


Nightstand Books, 1962
Unfortunately, I don't actually own the awesome paperback shown here, Instead, I got to read Sin Hellcat in a collection published by Subterranean Press titled Hellcats and Honeygirls. I started with Sin Hellcat in the collection purely because I love the title. Written by Lawrence Block and Donald E. Westlake in 1962, Sin Hellcat tells the story of a regular joe named Harvey, who runs into his old pal Jodi, years after their college days. Harvey is now a Manhattan Ad-man and Jodi is a high priced call girl. Jodi Gives Harvey a throw, on the house for old times sake. Harvey is married and lives in the suburbs with his wife Helen. Helen is one of those frigid dames who can kick on the heater in the house just by uncrossing her legs. Jodi reminds Harvey of the all the women he's had since college, and kick-starts a forgotten zest for life that has been missing since living in the 'burbs with "wifey-wife" Helen. You get the picture?

Each chapter ends on a cliffhanger as Block and Westlake wrote each other into a plot-line that the other had to reconcile with. For the reader, that means a lot of flashbacks to Harvey's conquests in the passion pits of his youth. All this while dangling a kidnapping caper that Jodi has hatched for some fast bread. Something involving a criminal on the lam in Brazil. Racy for its time, this novel is a nice example of the sort of book that truckers and traveling salesmen would have read in motels and truckstops. A neat little romp, with lots of legs and heaving breasts and plenty of caustic observations about marriage and mistresses, and the idiotic things men do to chase them. All delivered by a couple of young pros, early in their careers, writing to pay the bills.

I love tawdry little novels like this. I can't help it. I have no doubt that if I was riding the white-line in the early 60's I would have been hauling a slew of these paperbacks in my dufflebag. I would have lived on cans of Underwood Deviled Ham and stale Wonder Bread just to feed my addiction for these sorts of paperbacks. There are worse things in life, right?

This collection also includes A Girl Called Honey and So Willing. I believe you can easily order them for kindle readers now, as Lawrence Block has made them available once again for today's lusty little bookworms.

Otherwise, get yourself the Subterranean Press book, with this beautiful Glenn Orbik cover.

Subterranean Press, 2010. cover by Glenn Orbik, 2010

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Wycherly Woman - Ross MacDonald

She placed one hand on her breast. Her fingers were pale and speckled like breakfast sausages. All of her flesh was lardlike: if you poked it the hole would stay. Some of it had run like candle wax down her ankles and over her shoes.

Bantam Books

Ross MacDonald (Kenneth Millar) didn't write easy novels. I've yet to read a Lew Archer book whose plot could be described in just a few short sentences. It's like trying to tell someone the plot of Inland Empire. This novel, from 1961, about mid-point in the series, proves no different. Basically I can give you a rundown of the first half of the book just to give you an idea of the tangled thread of menace that saturates the Archer novels.

Homer Wycherly hires Archer to find his missing daughter, 21 year old Phoebe. Phoebe was last seen 2 months prior, when Homer was scheduled to leave on a transatlantic cruise. Phoebe was on the ship with him, when Catherine Wycherly (Phoebe’s mother and Homer’s ex-wife – The Wycherly Woman of the title) shows up and causes a scene. According to Homer, Phoebe left the ship with Catherine and is not seen again. Homer insists that Archer not contact Catherine Wycherly, that she is out of the family and couldn't possibly have anything to do with Phoebe's disappearance. 

Archer smells bullshit with regards to Catherine Wycherly, but promises Homer to not contact Catherine, unless the case leads to her. Archer begins by going to Boulder Beach College, where Phoebe attended classes. He meets Phoebe's landlady, Mrs. Doncaster. Mrs. Doncaster didn’t approve of Phoebe, whom she considered to be a spoiled child. Archer then talks  to Dolly Lang, Phoebe’s roommate. Dolly informs Archer that Phoebe had been seeing a boy named Bobby. She also tells Archer that Phoebe’s parents had received a set of letters from an anonymous sender spilling that Catherine Wycherly was having an affair. Dolly says that Phoebe blamed herself for the letters but didn't let on why. Homer admits to reading the letters and destroying them, telling Archer they have nothing to do with Phoebe.

Archer then goes to San Francisco, against Homer's wishes, where he tracks down Catherine Wycherly’s last known address to an abandoned, gated house. The house is empty but before Archer can explore any further he’s chased off by a gun toting tough guy. He then goes to talk to Carl and Helen Trevor. Helen is Carl’s sister. Helen tells Archer she knows nothing of Phoebe’s whereabouts, nor of Catherine Wycherly’s whereabouts. Good riddance too, Helen adds. Archer learns from Helen that Catherine had recently sold her house (the Mandeville House) by hiring a shady realtor Ben Merriman, and hasn’t been seen. Carl Trevor gives Archer recent photos of Phoebe. Archer pays a visit to Merriman’s office where he runs into Merriman’s wife, who hasn’t seen Merriman. Archer learns that Ben Merriman is the same gun-toting goon who had earlier chased him off Catherine’s property. A goateed hipster shows up demanding to see Merriman, and says that Merriman has been been messing around with his girlfriend Jessie. Mrs. Merriman kicks him out. Archer drives back to the Mandeville house and this time finds Merriman’s beaten and bloodied body inside it. Now the shit is really starting boil. He returns to Merriman’s office where he learns that Merriman fleeced the house’s owner Captain Mandeville by underselling the house to disk jocky, who in turn sold it for a large profit to Catherine Wycherly. Captain Merriman further tells Archer the he believes Catherine Wycherly has been staying at The Champion Hotel.

See what I mean by plot? But we ain't done yet!

The Champion Hotel is a dump. Archer discovers that Catherine Wycherly has been staying there until just the previous night, when she departed suddenly with another unidentified man. He investigates Catherine’s room and see’s Phoebe’s name scrawled on a dusty window. He bribes the bellman and learns that Catherine left with another man for a place called the Hacienda Inn. He also learns that Catherine had a visitor who she fought frequently fought with. The bellman identifies Ben Merriman from picture Archer shows him. Archer then shows him a picture of Phoebe, but the bellman can't admit to having ever seen her. 

So, Archer goes to the Hacienda Inn where he finds a drunken Catherine in the lobby bar. Catherine strikes up a conversation with Archer and Archer plays along. Then Catherine notices Archer’s gun and tries to hire him to kill Ben Merriman. The two of them go back to her casita where she puts the move on Archer. Instead of reciprocating, Archer rebuff's her advances. Sullen and bitter, she passes out drunk. Archer revives her and tries to learn where Phoebe is. She doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to care, and she denies wanting to have Ben Merriman killed. Archer leaves the room and is jumped by a goon wielding a tire iron. 

All of these events have only brought us to the halfway point of the novel. That Ross MacDonald can lay down a plot like this, over and over almost entirely through dialog, while keeping the pace both suspenseful and readable, is testament to his skill as a novelist. MacDonald is often compared to Raymond Chandler (who isn't?) and Dashiell Hammett, but outside of California as a setting their novels, there really is no comparison. MacDonald's books, especially from the late 50s on, are much deeper and better structured. The decay of the family through past sins is the common theme of the novels, Bad guys and murder are only side ingredients to the inevitable fall of innocence through hubris and corruption. Sounds all English major, doesn't it?