Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tropical Noir

Signet Books - September 1962
A Very Private Island by Z.Z. Smith contains one of those preposterous scenarios that can only seem to happen in noir fiction. Rogue drifter Walter Brent has a habit of getting into trouble with women. He's on the run to Mexico and is passing through Houston when he witnesses a murder in a darkened alley. The killer turns out to be millionaire David Warren. Warren isn't too eager to have a witness running around loose, but doesn't have the stomach for another killing on his conscience. Instead, he forces Walter, at gunpoint, to drive with him to Corpus Christi where they board Warren's private boat and take it to Warren's private island he calls Mi Tierra.

Warren has decked out Mi Tierra with the latest in modern conveniences, the finest liquors, cigars, books, music, you name it. It also comes with a personal servant, Isaac on hand to keep things running while Warren is away. Warren tells Walter that he will remain on Mi Tierra as a permanent guest until one of them dies first. Walter makes a couple fruitless attempts to escape the island but quickly discovers that his chances of getting back to the mainland without a boat are impossible. And so things go for awhile. It's not a bad life; prisoner on a lush island surrounded by luxury, but Walter is used to having a babe around to keep his bed warm at night. He's soon so torqued up that he's nearly out of his mind. Enter...David Warren's niece, Sally Parmer. Sally has decided to show up on Mi Tierra to get over the grief of recently losing her husband to murder.

Sally is one of those frigid flame type of dames who ignite their men slowly. It doesn't take long for the lust to boil over on Walter's part. Only Sally seems oblivious to his intentions, at first. Then, things get twisted.

This was the sort of novel I grew up on after graduating from The Hardy Boys and The Three Investigators books. Tawdry paperbacks with creased covers, that smell like cigarettes. I loved them then, and I love them now. And this one by Z.Z. Smith is a fine example of that kind of book.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Garage Classic - The Soul Shakers

Here is a cool tune from 1966, "It Really Works" (Patterson - Thomas, Bo Mac Music, BMI) performed by The Soul Shakers. It was recorded in 1966 for Ace label. The flipside is "Catch That Girl" which is another cool tune. I like this one though because, to my ears, there is a definite Brian Wilson feel vibe going on here. Plus the drumming is terrific.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Trouble with Blonde Ice

Assignment - Stella Marni is the fourth entry in the long running spy novel series featuring CIA agent Sam Durell, and the first one in the series I've read. Over the years I've run across many of these Edward S. Aarons novels in used bookstores without ever giving one a chance.

Assignment - Stella Marni, 1957 Fawcett Publications, Inc.
I'm not sure why it took me so long to read a Sam Durell novel, but am glad I finally did. I wanted to go with an early one to get a feel for the character at the outset of a series, and typically like the 1950's settings with these older novels. Plus, I liked the cover for this one a lot. Who wouldn't? One look at this beauty and you know that trouble is right around the corner.

The novel is really more of a mystery disguised as a Cold War caper. Someone has been forcing Eastern European refugees to renounce their new way of life in America for safe return to their home country, in this case, Hungary. This is cause for a big time fail for the American propaganda machine, not to mention an embarrassment to the cause, but not exactly James Bond stuff to make a reader pant with anticipation. Hence, the blonde babe on the cover.

The novel begins with Sam Durell asked by a fellow CIA operative Art Greenwald to look into the background of Stella Marni, the latest person wishing to publicly renounce her citizenship and return to her homeland. It seems Art's brother, Frank Greenwald, has flipped head over heels for Stella and may be throwing his life away for a poisoned apple. Durell agrees to investigate Stella, knowing that he's out of his jurisdiction and authority to do so. It quickly turns out that Art's misgivings about Stella is right. In short order, Frank is found brutally murdered. Art is also attacked and left barely clinging to life, while Stella has disappeared along with rogue FBI agent Harry Blossom, who has apparently gone native in his obsession for Stella. Durell soon learns the hard way that anyone who steps into Stella's web ends up in a bad way.

It's clear that Aarons knew how to the keep the pace brisk, and the action tight. There's plenty of action and gore along with liberal doses of sexual obsession and deadly games. Things did not spin wildly out of control as sometimes they do in spy capers, nor is one's suspension of disbelief too sorely tested. There are moments here and there that the novel shows its age, but that comes with the territory. So, all in all, it looks like I've found a new series to get into with this one.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New! Improved!

One from the vinyl vaults that I like to put on the turntable now and again is Blue Cheer's 3rd album, New! Improved! Blue Cheer, released in 1969 on Philips Records.

This record represents a change of line-up for the band, with the departure of guitarist Leigh Stephens for Randy Holden and Bruce Stephens taking over guitar duties. In a sense, the record is one of two bands, with all of Randy Holden's tracks on side two and Bruce Stephens on side one. Randy Holden's tenure with the band was a short one, lasting about a year and represented on only three tracks on this album. Two of those tracks are Blue Cheer classics, written and sung by Holden, with long, sonic solos on both. Side one is pretty good too, much more polished than the "Summertime Blues" sound on Vincebus Eruptum. Holden wasn't particularly happy with his time in the band however, feeling that the band's chaotic lifestyle and drug dependencies left little to no time for it to rehearse and work together as a cohesive unit. Blue Cheer would go on to make more records and tour without Randy Holden.

I got my copy used a couple years back. It's clear by the cover that it had a long history sharing space with any manner of bongs, beer, cigarettes and shag carpeting. Still, the vinyl inside is in fine shape and sounds great. Attached is their take on a Bob Dylan classic with Dick Peterson, Paul Whaley, Bruce Stephens and Burns Kellogg in the line-up.

Back cover for my copy, tape and all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Noose in Hell

"She had washed the blood off her face but she was still a long way from being a beauty. Her face was swollen, her lips were split and puffed all out of shape. But she had found a clean blouse from somewhere to replace the one I had torn off her - and in her hands she had a bottle of whisky."

 Copyright 1951 Fawcett World Library - 3rd Printing Jan 1964

The above passage reads like it could be from any one of dozens of Gold Medal noirs from the 1950's. Clifton Adams's terrific noir western, A Noose for the Desperado is as bleak and fevered as any of the best of the noir classics. I've read a couple of Adams's westerns and all of them were good. I'm sure at some point they'll get a spotlight in TRF, but today it's this dusty gem. The story is a sequel to The Desperado, which I have not read. There isn't a real need to have read that one to enjoy Noose anyway as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps Tall Cameron would be more of a sympathetic character with the first novel's background to go from, but here he's someone right out Jim Thompsonville as a man completely unhinged by violence and bloodshed. He trusts no one and will sell his very soul to maintain his freedom from the lawmen and outlaws gunning for him, all stemming from a murder in self defense. Tall hooks up with another rider by the name of Bama, whose stark outlook on life is kept drowned in whisky. They both get involved in a plot to raid a smuggling party south of the Arizona border. No one is trustworthy, and life isn't worth a spent slug in the desert south of Ocotillo. If you like crime, noir and westerns, you'll like this one. It's not too hard to find in used bookstores or online, and is well worth the hunt, pardner.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Back from New Orleans

I've been neglecting things at TRF for the past week as we've done a quickie vacation to New Orleans. Had a great time there and got to check out some cool bars and restaurants. Also took in a "haunted tour" of the French Quarter, where I learned that I resemble a ghost of a confederate soldier who hung himself instead of facing torture at the rack. Went on a tour of some plantations, which is not my thing so much, but interesting. Walked the Garden district and checked out the mansions, dined on some porkbelly at Herbsaint. Dodged revellers on Bourbon St. after the Saints beat the Falcons. . .well, dodged most of them anyway. I did let a scantily clad babe with a black and gold bodypainted fleur-di-lis across her bare chest run drunkenly into me. Had grilled oysters at the ACME Oyster House. Also discovered a new (new to me!) cocktail called a Sazerac, which is a combination of rye, simple syrup, absinthe and bitters, garnished with a twist of lemon. It was a fun trip, but it's nice to be back home, without mentioning that drudgery known as my day job.

Sazerac on my first night
Remains of dinner on my last night

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"a flying gas..."

A record I've been getting into more and more lately is Incredible Kaleidoscope by The Kaleidoscope on Epic Records from 1969. The album is composed of only 7 songs, culminating in the 12 minute epic "kitchen sink" instrumental "Seven-Ate Sweet". This was their third album and a nice showcase for their amazing blend of influences - folk, Eastern, blues, blue grass, psychedelic rock - you name it. The lineup on this record include: David Lindley (guitar, violin, banjo and vocals), Soloman Feldthouse (guitar, oud, clarinet, caz, jumbus, vocals and feet) say what?, Templeton Parcely (violin, organ and vocal), Stuart Brotman( bass, vocal), Paul Lagos (drums, vocal), along with a guest artist, Max Buda on harmonica. All in all, it's an entertaining record and like the blurb says above, a flying gas. Attached is "Cuckoo" which is the first song on side two. Enjoy.

As a blurb in the liner notes say, ". . . has never been hastily ushered from hysterical mobs." TeenSet

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

He's Deadly - He's Daring - He's Dynamite!

No, not that guy running for public office (insert whatever name you want here) whose attack ads make you insane. Instead, we're talking about Cabot Cain, "the deadliest vice-avenger of all time" as quoted from the cover of Assault on Kolchak by Alan Caillou, the first of six Cabot Cain adventures, published in 1969.

Avon Books - 1969

I picked this paperback up at a used bookstore for a dollar. I knew nothing about the author, Alan Caillou, nor the character from the cover, Cabot Cain. Instead, I grabbed it purely from the crazy cover, especially with that wild psychedelic tie flying over his shoulder, probably just before he's about to kick some Nazi bastard's throat in. One of the things I learned about our six-and-a-half foot hero Cabot Cain, is that he doesn't carry a gun. He prefers to work with his hands. That and he's a martial arts expert and all-around genius.

For example, in an early scene in the novel Cain is presented with a magnificent Hungarian necklace from the 16th century. After looking at it for a moment he recognizes it as part of a collection from King Ulaszlo the 2nd, and that the collection of jewelled pieces from which the necklace is from had been been broken up some two hundred years ago. When his client comments on Cain's remarkable knowledge of obscure Hungarian history, Cain simply replies that it's all on record for anyone who bothers to read. Oh, and he identifies a fake jewel by its chemical compound. Nifty trick, that.

But I'm sort of getting ahead of myself here. The plot of the novel involves these missing jewels, stolen from the Zrinyi family during World War II when their palace was occupied and looted by Nazi's. Now, some twenty five years have passed, and pieces of the Zrinyi collection are finding their way into the black market. Cain is hired to retrieve the rest of the collection, and assassinate the man responsible for the crimes inflicted on Zrinyi family, the evil and twisted Vladimir Kolchak. It seems that Kolchak has also left his mark on the Zrinyi family by siring the beautiful Leda Zrinyi after raping her mother. It is assumed that Kolchak, having disappeared after the war, is in hiding somewhere in South America and is maintaining his living standards by selling off his ill-gotten gains. With this all quickly established in the first few chapters, the adventure begins.

Eventually Cain finds Kolchak, in a mountain fortress in Brazil. Kolchak is as vile as ever, having surrounded himself with luxury, wealth and a small private army of willing soldiers and assassins ready to follow his command. He's also got a sadistic kinky streak a mile wide. One he's all too ready to use once he discovers his own daughter, Leda, is in Cain's corner. Cain's got his hands full on this assignment.

I really enjoyed this novel by Alan Caillou. At first Cain might come across as a bit of a pompous arse, but you quickly get to like the guy and root for him. His obvious talents are usually described with a neat dose of irony. In one instance, after swimming part of the Amazon, clearing jungle traps, and climbing the side of a cliff, Cain tells us he's out of breath, and that he must make a point of keeping himself in better shape. No kidding! And Cain often refers to a bit of arcane knowledge in his grasp from when he taught just such a subject at Stanford, or Oxford, or some such place. And the action is plentiful, as is the suspense, I found myself reading each chapter looking forward to what came next. All in all, it was a pretty fun read. Enough so that I went back to that old bookstore and snapped up the rest of the Cabot Cain novels they had. Good find!


Saturday, November 3, 2012


In an earlier post I showed a couple of covers for some old Creepy and Eerie magazines I have. One of the artists mentioned was Sanjulian and at the time of that post I knew pretty much nothing about him. Well, the other night as I was posted on Halloween duty, handing out candy to the neighborhood's little monsters, I happened to be thumbing through Eerie #53 when I came across a profile of Sanjulian. I thought I would share it here.

Sanjulian - Buck Blaster and Thelma Starburst - Eerie #76 
Sanjulian was born in Barcelona and by the age of 16 began working at the publicity offices of 20th Century Fox, painting billboards for movies among other promotional duties. It was during this time of his life that he decided to dedicate his talents to become a painter. He attended the Superior School of Art in San Jorge, Spain. His art later would be seen in galleries throughout Spain, then onto the paperback book covers for Dell, Avon and Signet to name a few. His first cover work for Warren Magazines, according to the profile, was for Vampirella #12.

Sanjulian - Vampirella #12 - Warren Magazines

At the time of the profile referred to from my issue of Eerie magazine (January 1974 - Eerie #53) Sanjulian had painted almost 25 covers for Warren Magazines issues of Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. As anyone can see in the examples above, Sanjulian's work is one of the reasons why these old magazines and paperbacks from that time are so cool. I thought it would be fun to add what I'd read about Sanjulian to the blog. I'm sure there is plenty more that could be added to the little bit I have here.