Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lawrence Block - The Naked and the Deadly

So far I've enjoyed everything I've read by Lawrence Block, so when I saw his collection One Night Stands and Lost Weekends at the bookstore several years ago there was no hesitation on my part for slapping my money down. I've always been a big fan of mid-century crime fiction, but had yet to read Block's short stories from that period. Stories that originally appeared in magazines like Manhunt. Manhunt is one of those magazines that had to have been a real treat for crime fiction fans. I never seem to find old copies of it in the used stores, the way one can with Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, or Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I've got only one issue of Manhunt in my possession, and I found it in a library book sale of all places.

"The Naked and the Deadly" is a novelette featuring private eye Ed London. The case is one of those where the gorgeous doll walks into the P.I.'s office (in this case, Ed London's apartment) and offers him a job that seems way too sketchy for a wise man to get caught up in. In this case, London is hired to pay off a blackmailer whose been putting the screws to our mysterious babe, Rhona Blake. Ms. Blake insists that one payoff to the blackmailer will be sufficient. To sweeten the deal, she pays London two grand, and a roll in the hay. It must be stories like this that had all kinds of book geeks signing up for criminology correspondence courses back in the day. London is a smooth operator. He drinks cognac and smokes a pipe. He can also smell bullshit, even when it's handed to him smothered in expensive perfume. He takes the job, shows up at the agreed upon payoff joint, and takes a ride with the blackmailer into a shootout. Barely escaping with his life, London returns home to his apartment, with the payoff loot, his retainer, and a whole lot of questions for his client, Ms. Rhona Blake. The next morning, London gets a visit from a sleazy lawyer offering him 10 grand to find a client's wayward daughter. The lawyer shows London a picture of the daughter, Rhona Blake, as if you didn't already know that was coming. When London refuses to take the job, the lawyer leaves him with one of those thinly veiled threats that suggests more trouble for London.

"The Naked and the Deadly" first appeared in the October 1962 issue of Man's Magazine. I liked reading it, even though I sort of knew where it was going, having read tons of crime stories with sketchy babes who fall way too easily into the detectives's beds. But that doesn't make these stories any less fun.

I was able find a picture of the the October '62 issue of Man's Magazine online. It's got a cool cover depicting John Glenn as a fighter pilot. Also it features a story about wife swapping. Hmmm...I didn't think that really took off until the 70's, but what the hell do I know anyway. It's kind of sad, knowing that I can't swing down to the nearest drugstore and find magazines like this anymore on the racks.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Amazing Stories - May 1950

This issue Amazing Stories contains the short novel "Slaves of the Crystal Brain", by William Carter Sawtelle. I'm pretty certain that Sawtelle is a pseudonym, but don't ask me why. In addition, there are 8 other stories giving a whole lot of bang for your quarter back in 1950.

Amazing Stories, May 1950 - cover by Arnold Kohn
This is just the sort of cover that would have hooked me had I been perusing the news-stands in 1950. That and the title, "Slaves of the Crystal Brain" which is a grabber. The story is a decent one that moves at a fairly rapid clip, about a demonic crystal brain hidden under the streets of Chicago in the year 1972. It controls a horde of slaves, in fact normal citizens who've been kidnapped and given "treatment" that saps their identity. Agent Joe January of Federal Security Bureau uncovers the plot of the Crystal Brain during one of his routine security checks on scientist William Atkinson. Seems a couple of renowned scientists have disappeared without a trace, resulting in the security checks of all remaining scientists of note. While visiting Dr. Atkinson's lab, January is told by Atkinson that he knows what's behind the odd disappearances of other scientists. Before he can divulge much further, a black orb appears in the lab and descends upon the unfortunate Dr. Atkinson, erasing him from existence. This black orb is impervious to bullets and any other weapon that January can hurl at it. Also, it seems to have the uncanny ability to eavesdrop on January's intentions. Meanwhile across the city, plucky (well she's described as "wren like" and wearing a dress that needs no extra padding!) Nancy Howard is eavesdropping on her boss, Mr. Lorton, as he converses with someone, or something, behind his fortress-like office on the top floor of his skyscraper. Lorton is one of those almighty bigshots who manages to control most of the city through his wealth and influence. Nancy Howard is convinced that Lorton is behind the disappearance of her brother, one of the missing scientists. Too bad for her, she's right. Lorton discovers her spying on him, and sends her to the Crystal Brain for treatment. You can bet that January and Lorton's paths will cross, in addition to lots of black orbs doing their nasty business at the control of the Crystal Brain. And you can bet that January and Nancy Howard will meet, and when they do, sparks will fly!

This is one of those stories that has way more escapism than any science in it. It's non-stop action, with plenty of cliffhanger chapters to keep the reader hooked. Also, there is just a touch of blood and gore, in addition to titillation, to place the whole thing firmly in the pulp camp.

This issue of Amazing Stories was edited by Howard Browne, which leads me to believe that Sawtelle (whoever he is) was also behind a couple other stories in the magazine. Robert Bloch turns up here for a pithy short story "Tooth or Consequences" about a vampire taking a trip to the dentist. "If This be Utopia" by Kris Neville is one of those claustrophobic stories of a society run amok with security for the health and safety of its citizens.

All in all, some fun stuff, old school style.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dreams Die First - Harold Robbins

"I have a contagious fungus," I said. "Sort of vaginitus of the hands."

Having gotten my Christmas duties done for the holidays, I found I had the whole day yesterday to do nothing but read another trashy bestseller from the typewriter of Harold Robbins. Dreams Die First, was the third book I started in the past week, and the first one finished. I don't know if that says more about my reading skills, my tastes, or just my state of mind for the holiday season, that I was able to knock this 408 page novel down in less than two days.

Pocket Books, September 1978
What I can say is that this is one of the more off the wall "bestsellers" that I've had the joy of reading. I've never read a mainstream commercial work of fiction before that has as many uses of the C-word in it for describing the anatomy of a woman's body. That and a plot that falls down all over itself with randomness and silliness; more so than the previous novels Harold Robbins novels I've read. Once again, this book must have had a place in a lot of bookshelves in the late 70's if the sales figures for Robbins's novels are to be believed. My question is, who exactly was reading them? Men, women, or horny teenagers?

The plot concerns an ex-Green Beret who decides, through the "help" of his shady uncle, to get into the publishing business. We meet our hero, Gareth Brendan, as he wakes up in his apartment next to a naked young man, with no memory of the night before. Gareth is unemployed and out of prospects. He tells us he's a Vietnam veteran who was forced to pull an extra year in the military to keep from bad mouthing the war, or something like that. Gareth's bio is sort of made up along the way, as if Robbins wasn't exactly sure himself. Gareth gets a ride from his loan-shark, referred to as "the Collector" to the unemployment office where he flirts with pretty clerk named Verita. Outside, Gareth gives his last unemployment check to The Collector, and is offered the possibility of a job by the Collector's boss, Lonergan. With no other means of support forthcoming, Gareth agrees to meet Lonergan personally after midnight that night. Until midnight, he'll spend the evening in Verita's bed giving her multiple orgasms.

Lonergan's offer to Gareth involves taking over an underground street rag named Hollywood Express that's fallen on hard times. Lonergan figures that he'll use the Hollywood Express for a money laundering operation. Gareth decides that he might as well turn the Hollywood Express  into a porno rag and make a lot of money. Oh yeah, and it turns out the Lonergan is Gareth's uncle. Oh yeah, and Verita is a CPA, but can't work as an accountant because "Chicanas" can't get work as Accountants. Oh, and Verita also has a law degree, but that isn't needed until later on in the plot. Also, Gareth is the son of rich mother living in Bel Air. Anyway, all that comes in handy as Gareth turns the Hollywood Express into a successful weekly porn magazine, with the help of some shady characters connected to a group "back east." Also, it turns out the boy Gareth woke up next to on page one of the novel is the son of a Christian guru type celebrity named Reverend Gannon, who is okay with all the hedonistic life-styles practiced by his son Bobby (who is gay) and his youth group, as long as they're cool with Christ in the meantime. The whole plot is a "seat of the pant's" ride with the distinct feeling that Robbins was literally making shit up as he typed. There is the insider's look at the business of publishing porno, a sex cult, tons of pure coke inhaled, Mexican drug lords, a gay "terrorist" organization, a Latino gang run by Verita's cousin, who also happened to serve with Gareth in Vietnam, and some shootouts, lots of sex, sex therapy, a couple of karate chops, some gay torture, and yes, by the end of the novel, true love overcoming all.

All the characters display the compulsion and self control of your average teenager, only with lots of money and  freedom with which to pursue their whims. Everyone falls in love instantly and has explosive orgasms throughout.

Now that I think about it, maybe all those readers back in the 70's were teenagers between Stephen King novels...who knows. As for me, will I read anymore Harold Robbins? Yeah, you can probably bet on it.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Case of the Vagabond Virgin

Out of the more than 100 Perry Mason novels, I think I've read about a dozen. I've yet to be disappointed in them, forgiving the thin characters and the sometimes repetitive dialog. Instead I admire the puzzles and the twists, just like any other whodunit fan out there would. Oh, and not to mention the usually wonderful covers these capers came wrapped in.

Pocket Books, 1953
Published in 1948, The Case of the Vagabond Virgin is sort of a neat little case, in which Mason's client, John Racer Addison, picks up cute little hitchhiker, Veronica Dale (the vagabond virgin of the title) and winds up being charged with the murder of his business partner, Edgar Z. Ferrell. Veronica has a knack for making men fall all over themselves in fatherly devotion to the protection of her innocence, in spite of the fact that she's got this habit of picking up rides with strangers. Addison, a wealthy manager of a department store, is no different. He's a blowhard, pompous, arrogant, pushy, and a dunce when it comes to babes like the "virginal" Veronica Dale. Also in the mix is a sleazy little blackmailer named Eric Hansell, who seems to conveniently know just the opportunity needed to put the squeeze on guys like Addison. The case follows some pretty typical twists, involving forged checks, an impostor, confusing timelines, tricky business transactions, and a couple of dames who have no problem lying through their lipstick. And of course, the neat courtroom shenanigans that these books are famous for.

Mason has been around forever in books, movies, and television. I can't help but see Raymond Burr as Mason whenever reading one of the novels. Same with William Hopper as Paul Drake. But I'll admit that I have to force myself to envision someone besides Barbara Hale when it comes to Mason's assistant, Della Street. Hale never did it for me in the TV shows. Instead I'd rather picture a babe more resembling Modesty Blaise. It's an effort, but I'm up to the task.

Artist Robert McGinnis
Now this would be a Della Street no guy could ignore!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Scenes of the future that never was...

Collection of cool science fiction paperbacks that I've recently purchased. I love covers like these and wish there were more of them in my library. One of the most annoying things some booksellers do is paste their price stickers on them, which was the case with a couple of these. That's why the scarring on the cover of Get Out of my Sky. Thankfully, that didn't happen to any of the others. Paperbacks like these are wonderful old soldiers, that have survived decades in the desert, beaches, pools, winters, summers, planes trains and highways of America.

Away and Beyond - A.E. van Vogt

A.E. van Vogt is at his best in small doses. I've given some of his "novels" a go and typically bail on them before the halfway point. The problem, as has been well documented by way more scholarly types than myself, is that the novels are patch-worked up from previously published stories, often resulting in a confusing mess. Yes, moments of pulp glory will occasionally "pop!" (with exclamation points added just in case you're dozing off) but not to the benefit of a particularly enjoyable reading experience.

Jove/HBJ Edition - November 1977
His short stories are where he shines, glitters, pops and zooms at his best. You can usually get through them fast enough without thinking about them too hard. Which is a good thing. They don't stand up to critical scrutiny at all. There is all sorts of cool shit happening, but not a hell of a lot of it ever makes any sense.

I picked up this collection, along with a couple other vintage science fiction collections, for the measly price of a buck at a store closing down business. I'd read a few of van Vogt's stories in other collections, and outside of "Black Destroyer" and "Vault of the Beast" don't remember any of them. This collection opens with "Vault of the Beast" which I hadn't read in more than 30 years. I have to admit that the beginning of the tale really hooks you, where we meet a stowaway alien aboard a space freighter returning to earth. If you've seen The Terminator 2 you've got a pretty good idea of what the alien is capable of. And here in 1940 he's just as murderous in his mission to find a mathematician from Earth who can solve a riddle of the ultimate prime number, which will release a godlike alien trapped in a massive vault on Mars. Got it?

"The Great Engine" is about a war veteran who finds a piece of what may be part of an engine that propels a starship. There is government conspiracies in this one that get a little flaky, and something of a love story as well. "The Great Judge" is one of those tales that take place in a future Utopia where freedom of thought is frowned upon. "Secret Unattainable" is probably the best story in the book, told through a series of letters and correspondence about a scientist building the ultimate weapon for the Nazis in WWII. A.E. van Vogt has a tendency to shift POVs and scenes unexpectedly with jarring effects. Here in "Secret Unattainable" that habit is nullified by the epistolary method used. "The Harmonizer" is an alien plant, I think, but I wouldn't swear on it because I bailed out early. Maybe I'll go back and finish it. Same with "Heir Unapparent" where a galactic emperor has been poisoned by someone in his court. I didn't really care, so I didn't hang with the story. "The Second Solution" is reminiscent of "Black Destroyer" with a telepathic alien "monster" and her offspring stowing away on an Earthbound spaceship. There is reference made to a war with the Rulls, a wormlike like race of invaders wherein the ezwals, telepathic monsters like the ones on the spaceship, could possibly serve as allies and...oh, don't think about it too much...just dig the chase and bloodshed instead. "Film Library" is a "Twilight Zone" kind of story where short movies in 1946 somehow get switched for movies made in 2011. It's kind of fun, and ends with a scientific sounding gobbledy-gook explanation of how time is relative to a moment here and simultaneously somewhen else and...yeah, it's really not important. "Asylum" is pure pulp fever-dream with space vampires and horny babes, and bloodsucking and alien chases, and suppressed identity hoohaw that is pulled out of the air. It's long, but short enough to not fall apart.

That's the deal with this collection. A.E. van Vogt's books and stories are really easy to find in used bookshops. He remained in print well into the 70's. Maybe there was a lot of nostalgia for the pulp adventure and wonders of his his stories. Sophisticated readers today can appreciate their place in the genre's history. Other readers will be bored and unimpressed. You just got to be in the mood for them, and you'll have fun. Like candy, best in small doses.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hot Blooded

Quick post today with a picture of some really cool books from back in the day when you could find a horror section at Barnes and Noble. I remember buying these as they came out, up to around Volume 8 or so. It would have been around then that the horror section at B&N got axed, and the only writers found were King, Koontz and Laurell Hamilton. Oh yeah, and the never-ending output of V.C. Andrews. I saw later that the Hot Blood books were reissued in trade paperback, but without the garish covers. My own favorite of this trio is Hotter Blood, mostly because this collection was made up of all original stories, unlike the first volume, Hot Blood, which contained reprints. Not that Hot Blood isn't good. It is. Stories by greats such as Harlan Ellison, Ramsey Campbell, and Theodore Sturgeon among others. My one gripe (a minor one) is that there are few stories from the women in the field offered up. That changed in the volumes to come.

A Hot Threesome
These collections introduced me to new writers in the field whose books I would then go seek out in various bookstores around town. Writers like Ray Garton, Bentley Little and Thomas Tessier. They also contained a spirit of fun about them, like mini-grindhouse flicks, without the sketchy freaks who sit too close to you...unless that's your thing.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

CREEPY #29 - Sept 1969

Hands down, the best thing about this issue of CREEPY from 1969 is the cover by Vic Prezio.

CREEPY #29 - Warren Magazines, Sept 1969, cover by Vic Prezio
I really like the sexy, sinister with a hint of sleaze vibe going on here with Prezio's cover. I can just imagine plunking down 50 cents for this issue, then trying my best to keep my mom from finding it and throwing it out. Yes, back in the day, mothers had no problem throwing out our prized possessions. I remember finding a couple vintage paperbacks in the garbage that I'd taken from my grandmother's house on one of our trips, but that's another story. Since I was only in 1st grade in 1969 I'm fairly certain I had more interest in Hot Wheels than ghoulish chicks like the one shown here. That would come later.

The table of contents includes the cover story, "The Summer House" by Ernie Colon (art) and Barbara Gelman. Colon's art takes some limited psychedelic (for black & white) turns in a few panels, but nothing as cool as the cover happens in the story. "Angel of Doom" by Jeff Jones (art) and Archie Goodwin is a caveman/fantasy tale that's over and done and forgotten. These and other tales are kind of humdrum, nothing special until "The Devil in the Marsh" which is credited to Jerry Grandenetti (art) and Don Glut (story). I say they're credited in this particular issue, but I'm pretty certain the actual story is by H.B. Marriott Watson. Watson was an obscure Australian writer of mostly adventure and romance tales back in the late nineteenth century. Popular in his day he's pretty much forgotten now. I just happen to own a collection of his supernatural tales, of which "The Devil in the Marsh" is one. It was first published in 1893 and is pretty much the same story appearing almost 70 years later in CREEPY. I didn't see any mention of his name in the credit however.

Art by Keith Minnion (2004) in the Ash-Tree Press colletion
Art by Jerry Grandenetti / story by Don Glut for Warren Magazines 1969
All in all, it's an okay issue for CREEPY, but just okay. I don't think I'm alone in believing they got more daring in later issues, some of which I'll be sure to look at here. Still, there's nothing like opening one of these vintage mags and smelling the paper and digging the work produced for horror fans back in the day. And no pesky mother clucking her tongue at you, telling you how this stuff will turn you into a degenerate perv.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Last of the Beatniks

It's been a slow couple weeks here in The Ringer Files but I managed to get in a pretty interesting read in John Trinian's The Savage Breast. Unfortunately it wasn't in a format found in a cramped used bookstore in a forgotten corner of town. But that's the purist in me. Instead I discovered it via e-book thanks to Prologue Books.

This was an opportunity to read something by an author I wasn't familiar with. I selected it from a handful of writers that were new to me. Some years back, after I was finished with college, I was into a Beat Lit phase thanks to one of my English professors promoting them in a scholarly tome that only his students read. The Savage Breast falls into this movement, in a way. It's a study of a young, wealthy, and appropriately impulsive young woman, referred to throughout as D.B. D.B. is bored, rich and probably none to bright, having gotten herself roped into a drab marriage with another young man of means named Gordon Fitzroy. D.B. has dumped Gordon in a whirlwind of drinking and hooking up with a bohemian crowd out of North Beach. Enough hints are dropped that it's the early sixties, but it could easily be the height of the Beat Movement judging by the semi-artistic pursuits of the characters, namely tempestuous composer Harry Dazier, who D.B. sees in a dive bar one night. D.B. and Harry fall for each other among the ruins. Harry, following the tormented artists creed, wants nothing to do with D.B.'s money. D.B. doesn't want her wealthy father's interference with her life. Gordon Fitzroy, D.B.'s husband, decides that he'll get even with everyone through a flimsy attempt at blackmail. And out there in the fringes is Harry's weird brother, Sandro, depicted on the cover above. And yes, he's handy with a whip.

It's an entertaining book, being not quite a crime novel, and not quite a beat novel. It has some interesting observations and moves like a pre-psychedelic artflick in the mind's theater. And, thankfully, there is no excruciating dialog that so often turns up in books of this sort. It's not the great lost beat novel, but it's a decent visit to the scene for a couple hours on a rainy weekend.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Gene Szafran

Any fan of Science Fiction paperbacks from the 70s will recognize the work by Gene Szafran (11 April 1941 - 8 January 2011). His work graced a series of paperbacks by Robert Heinlein, Robert Silverberg and dozens of others. Below are three covers from my personal bookshelf of his covers. And I'm going to admit that I bought these three books purely based on the covers. Not that I wouldn't have bought the Richard Matheson collection anyway. I think they're a nice example of some sexy psychedelia - barring the silhouette of the middle-aged cat on Vital Parts.

Again, my crappy photography doesn't do the covers justice. If you're interested in seeing a whole lot more of Gene Szafran's work, check out the link provided.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"The Sound Your Eyes Can Follow"

One of my favorite things to do is dig through old vinyl records in various thrift stores around town. I don't go looking for that rare collector's item that I can resell for a small fortune. Instead I look for music that's going to get played on my stereo at home in my small living room, for an audience of no one but myself. A few weeks ago I was perusing through a stash of records in the back of a hidden thrift store, enjoying some of the vintage covers found therein when I found three records by Esquivel and his Orchestra.

I'd heard of Esquivel before from various "Space-Age Bachelor Pad" collections that I'd picked up in CDs back in the nineties. But this was my first time finding a couple of his albums on vinyl. My first thought is that they were probably trashed, warped and fried, but a quick look at each showed no obvious scratches or warps. My next pleasant surprise was that the woman behind the counter only charged me a buck each for them. Had I been in some hipster cave near a college campus I would have no doubt been asked to shell out an outrageously inflated amount by some pierced and tatted twit only half my age, all for the cost of being cool. Thankfully that wasn't the case. I've got a special trunk of gripes for shop-keepers who think that anything older than 1982 automatically relegates it to "vintage" status, and therefore want to charge folks far far more than the item would ever be worth in the best of conditions. (I'm thinking of one old bookstore owner who slapped a $35 sticker on a 1970's Harlan Ellison paperback with half its back cover torn away!) I see that shit and I let my friends know. But I'm going off the rails here. This is supposed to be about Esquivel and his stereo wizardry.

This is music for hi-fi geeks who probably had the best stereo systems of the day and the worst luck at getting willing women to come in for a listen.

Anyway, somewhere in the nineties there was a resurgent interest in these old records, with their zooming crescendos, exotic instruments, bird-calls, whistles, zu-zu's and feminine breathlessness nuzzling the eardrums. And there is no shortage of stuff out there; from the likes of Esquivel, Martin Denny, Les Baxter, Pete Rugolo, Alvino Rey, Dean Elliott and gang. A whole swath of lounge, exotica and space-age music found an audience all over again. Happy listening...

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Captain Future

The character was created back in 1939 and made famous by science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton. Captain future is the brilliant orphan, Curtis Newton, born on the moon to parents Elaine and Roger Newton. Curtis's parents had moved to the lunar surface, along with Roger Newton's partner Simon Wright, to do their research in isolation, leaving behind the hassles and power struggles that prevailed on Earth. Events turn against them in the form of evil Victor Kaslan, who murders Curt Newtons parents.

Curtis Newton is then raised by android Otho, a giant robot named Grag, and The Brain, the disembodied brain of Simon Wright, floating in case of transparent metal complete with lenses for eyes, and electrodes for hearing. Curtis Newton is raised under a vigorous regimen, not unlike another pulp hero Clark Savage, Jr. to grow up to became hero of the universe, Captain Future!

Captain Future starred in his own pulp magazine, shown above, from 1940 to 1944, when he moved to star in Startling Stories for a series of shorter adventures from 1945 to 1951. Later, in the 1960s, Popular Library reissued some of Captain Future's adventures in paperback. I picked up three of these paperbacks earlier this summer at a used bookstore in Mesa.

I read Quest Beyond the Stars over the weekend and got pretty much what I expected out of it; that is, an entertaining, old-fashioned, adventure in space kind of story. The plot could have easily been a western or a sea adventure story. These were most likely written with adolescent readers in mind. Nothing too racy or violent, with the usual imaginative awe that Edmond Hamilton is known for.

Later, in 1978, Captain Future was an Anime hero that ran for 52 episodes, according to Wikipedia. I've not seen any of these episodes, nor was I even aware they existed until I decided to do this post. Nor did I realized that's Captain Future on a wall poster in Leonard's and Sheldon's apartment on The Big Bang Theory. Goes to show, old Captain Future really gets around.

The original pulp stories are readily available for e-readers. No reason fans of pulp heroes wouldn't enjoy them today.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

World Without Women - Day Keene and Leonard Pruyn

World Without Women has one of the dopiest heroes in it that ever took center stage in a cheap pulp paperback that I've ever read. Published by Gold Medal Books in 1960 and written by Day Keene and Leonard Pruyn, World Without Women is a tasteless and misogynist look at what happens when a mysterious "illness" wipes out most of the world's women in a matter of weeks.

Reed and Connie Renner have just returned from a year-long getaway to the the Galapagos islands, conveniently missing out on firsthand experience of the mysterious disease that wipes out most of the female population on the planet. Their trip to the islands was an attempt to rekindle their marriage. Instead, they've learned that, while they like each other a lot, they're both way too shallow to get along with each other in marriage. They return in their boat, dock it, and drive home to their mansion on the coast of California. They think things are strange because the usual throngs of people about are nowhere to be seen. On the way home they pass a high school that is surrounded by a mob of scruffy men held cordoned off by a bunch of cops and soldiers. Two girls leave the high school under heavily armed protection by the soldiers. Reed decides he's going to help out and asks a nearby cop what's going on. The cop hits him and tells him to get lost. Reed and Connie then go home to make cocktails and dinner. Reed attempts to call his lawyer partner Matt Healy a number of times but can't reach him. Off he goes to buy steaks at the grocery store, where he asks a male clerk if America is at war. The reason Reed wonders this is because he sees no women shoppers; just a bunch of dejected looking slobs buying alcohol and frozen dinners. He returns home, calls Matt Healy again and, finally reaching him, learns that all the women have died. Learning that Reed's wife Connie is alive and well, Healy arranges a team of soldiers to set up camp on the Renner's front lawn. This has to be done because all the men in the city have turned into a bunch of lust-mad perverts who'll stop at nothing to get a woman.

Society without women has gone to shit. Martial law prevails. Any man who touches or attempts to force himself on any surviving woman who is not his wife will be shot on sight. Surviving women are quarantined in their homes, and are told to "stay fresh and attractive" for their husbands so that maybe they'll reproduce. All women of child-bearing age are ordered to comply with their husbands' demands, and also undergo monitoring by a newly formed Potential Mothers Survivors agency (PMS).

Events progress, Reed and Matt attempt to rescue the wife of their building's elevator operator from gangster Tony Acaro's fortified house. Reed performs a citizen's arrest, instead of just shooting the sleazy gangster, even after it's clear that Acaro has held women captive there as playthings for him and his goons. On the way home from their little adventure, Reed suggests that he and Matt Healy get Connie and get all dolled up and go out for dinner at Chasen's. Matt Healy has to explain to the dolt that it's against the law for women to go out "all dolled up." Besides, Chasen's isn't around anymore. And furthermore, he's secretly had a crush on Connie for years, and doesn't think he'll be able to sit around looking at her breasts over a steak and martinis and not want to kill Reed.

Later in the novel, Reed Renner is selected by the authorities to go to Mercerville and visit the women's prison there and talk to the Warden in charge. Seems the warden is a female survivor named Kathy Cervantes who was a childhood friend of Reed's. Reed always wondered why Kathy Cervantes never put out for him when they were teenagers, and this is his big chance to find out. He quickly learns that Kathy is a lesbian, and not into men at all. He learns this by using techniques perfected by guys like former congressman and mayor, Bob Filner; like putting his hand up her skirt and grabbing at her breasts. Of course she doesn't respond, because she's a lesbian, and well, that explains it. It's not that Reed Renner is an asshole after all! It's determined that Kathy Cervantes can no longer run the prison, because she's a degenerate lesbian. She then commits suicide by stripping off her clothes and running out into the throngs of lust-mad men surrounding the prison. This makes Reed Renner sad, but at least he now knows why Kathy was never in to him before as kids. Time to go back to L.A.!

Meanwhile, back at the coastline mansion, Connie (remember Connie Renner, Reed's wife?) decides she's had enough of taking sleeping pills and feeling sorry for herself. She bakes a cake for Reed's birthday. Only Reed is busy with the end of the world and all that crap, which just pisses her off all over again.

Reed returns to L.A. and learns that Tony Acaro has been let out of jail, and is out for revenge. He's going to get Connie Renner, just you wait! And then...oh, what the hell, why bother?

This was an interesting idea squandered into a really dumb novel. I'm not sure who it would have appealed to, outside of pinheads like Rush Limbaugh. And it's too bad, because Day Keene is usually a reliable writer of paperback thrillers. He was way off his game on this one. As for Leonard Pruyn, I don't have any information on him. On to something better next time.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Green Wound Contract - Philip Atlee

Back into the spy realm again with Joe Gull, The Nullifier. This goes back to Gall's first contract with the CIA outside of his military and official duties. Apparently the Bay of Pigs fiasco left a bad taste, forcing Gall to turn in his cloak and dagger for a quiet solitude in the Ozarks. But, as with most spies, coming in from the cold is only ever a temporary reprieve, and Joe Gall accepts an "unofficial" contract to return to the game and take out a little bit of vengeance on a baddie known only by the name Asmodeus.

The Green Wound Contract is pretty much like the other Joe Gall capers by Philip Atlee. The plot is a schizophrenic seat-of-the-pants ride that allows our hero to observe, remark, kill, drink, smoke and screw his way through a series of events that seem to have no rhyme, reason or connection to the contract he'd accepted. The assignments are just excuses for Joe to land somewhere, stir up shit and skedaddle when it hits the fan. In this case, Joe is contracted to follow a suspect known as Raul Delgado into Laredo TX from Mexico. Delgado was formerly a doorman at the DeFarge Clinic in New Orleans. The same clinic where the sister-in-law of a senator had tucked herself away to recover from addictions to drugs and sex. Seems the lady, Hester Larkin, has a taste for the wild side of the street, in both her men and her drugs. Unfortunately she's married to a Texas fat-cat by the name of Mack Larkin. It's Mack who is brothers with the senator. And it's Mack who is being blackmailed by someone known as Asmodeus who seems to know all the intimate details of Hester Larkin's sleazy adventures...oh yeah, and Raul Delgado (remember him?) was seen helping Hester Larkin leave the Defarge Clinic...but I may have already mentioned that. Anyway, this same Raul Delgado is a suspect in the murder of a couple of Cuban nationals who had been making plans to overthrow Castro. Joe Gall's old buddy, Felix Rosas, was a witness to Raul Delgado's gunning down of the Cubans. Only just before Raul Delgado is to appear in court, Felix Rosas is blinded by a bottle of poisoned eye drops. Whew...

Okay, now that you got all that, forget about it. Why? Because Raul Delgado ends up high-stepping himself to death in the middle of a busy afternoon on the streets of Laredo when a packet of heroin he was smuggling in his intestine bursts. Exit Raul, and exit a grounded plot.

1963 Fawcett Publications

But plot doesn't matter so much in a Joe Gall novel. It's the voice, the locales, the scenes, the writing that carries these novels along. In no time flat, Joe Gall is hooking up with a babe named Barb he meets in a bar, along with her football-player-gone-to-seed boyfriend. Seems that Barb has taken an interest in Joe's laconic cigarette smoking demeanor, and agrees to meet him in his hotel room that evening for some hot sex before he takes off to New Orleans to investigate the DeFarge Clinic. This is important, because Barb will keep popping up throughout the novel, and things don't turn out well for her by the time the contract is fulfilled. And as for Barb's boyfriend? Well he runs into the nasty end of a clawed hammer in, of all places, the DeFarge Clinic. There is also a race riot, a black-jack wielding nun, an assassin blues guitarist, a bunch of "Arab-gowned goons" and a couple of screwy chicks to make things interesting along the way.

Was it good? Oh yeah!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Inside - Dan Morgan

I haven't read a lot of science fiction since I was a teenager, and most of that was classic pulp by the big names in the business: Asimov, Heinlein and their contemporaries. I had a brief Philip K. Dick period in the early 80's when it was easy to find paperback copies of his novels in just about any bookstore. Unfortunately, I no longer have those paperbacks. On the few occasions I run across them in used bookstores the prices asked are eye-popping and more than I'm interested in shelling out.

Recently I've picked up a handful of "vintage" science fiction paperbacks by authors I'm not familiar with. My selection process is an easy one; if it's got a cool cover and low cost, I'll take it. That's pretty much how I ended up with Inside, by Dan Morgan.

Berkley Madallion Books, December 1974
I don't know who the cover artist is, but I liked it immediately. The description on the back didn't really give much of an idea of what the book was about, but there wasn't a hint of the dragons and wizards that seemed to invade a lot of 70's science fiction, so I took it.

The story focuses on three main characters: Gerry Clyne, Laura Frayne and Michael Davidson. Laura and Michael are psychologists, in charge of monitoring and "programming" inmates of an asylum, known as Inside, on the planet Mars. The asylum is a domed city where the inmates have undergone a reconditioning of sorts, leaving them to believe that they're survivors of a nuclear holocaust living within a protected dome on Earth. For reasons never particularly clear (at least not at first) the head chief in charge of Inside, a character by the single name of Moule, has decided that the inhabitants of the asylum be programmed to maintain a state of mutual warfare with each other, much like the cold war ideologies we all grew up with here on good old Earth. A small faction of the overseers who report to Moule, including Michael and Laura, have decided that Moule's ideas are reckless and harmful to the inmates of Inside. They hatch a scheme to insert a gadfly of sorts, and this is where Clyne comes in, to overthrow the status quo of Inside, thereby proving the failure of Moule's philosophies. Clyne is one of those renegade types who respect no authority but they're own, which is why he's getting his ass shipped into the Inside from Earth. But Michael sees in Clyne the perfect tool to program for his own purposes of disrupting the cold war stalemate that Moule has designed for Inside. But wait...things may not be as they appear to Michael and Laura, and just when you think you see the men behind the curtain pulling the levers, another curtain opens, turning your preconceived notions of what's real and what's not, upside-down.

It's a bit confusing at first, but Morgan has a capable manner of pulling the reader into the plot, often through narrative summary, and through alternating chapters delivered through the three main characters' points of view. There is a ton of head games, through programming, brainwashing, erasing, and even murder, that gives a fellow a distinctly creepy feeling that, given the opportunity, the same powers that be here and now would go for in a hot instant. Spying, surveillance, and telling one who their enemies should be, have an uncomfortable ring of familiarity, given the current mindset our world powers display today.

In that respect, the novel succeeds in what it sets out to do. That is, question our loyalties and our beliefs, particularly when they're provided to us in comfortable little packages. Driving around most cities in America today, one can make not to far of a leap and imagine little domes of warfare dotting the landscape, serving no purpose but to maintain a status-quo for the few controllers pulling the strings.

But you don't have to believe me...I'm just a guy who likes old books with cool covers.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Saturday Morning Psychedelic - Blues Magoos

Actually they're more a blend of garage and psych than purely psychedelic, but they did have the gumption to put "psychedelic" in the title of their first album for Psychedelic Lollipop on Mercury Records in 1966. I think it's a great title, myself. Tells you right away what you're getting when you flip that vinyl on the turntable and have the kids gather around to dig the sounds...

The album features their original hit, "(We Ain't Got) Nothing Yet" among a selection of originals and covers, including "Tobacco Road" (J.D. Loudermilk) and "I'll Go Crazy" by James Brown. The whole record is a gas, to borrow an ancient term, and I was happy to find a nice copy of it on vinyl recently.

Line up on the album is Ralph Scala - "Quiet, Shy, Good-Looking, plays his organ while singing." Ronnie Gilbert - "Loud, Funny, Lazy, plays bass." Peppy Thielheim - "An Idol, Lovable, '17', Drop-out, plays rhythm guitar." Mike Esposito - "Psyched Out, Warm, Friendly, Rich, plays lead guitar. And Geoff Daking - "Blond, Beautiful, Straight, plays drums."

Linked here is their song "Sometimes I Think About" written by Gilbert-Scala-Thielheim-Esposito and produced by Bob Wyld and Art Polhemus.  Noted here is that the liner notes taken from the album cover say that it's Thielheim and not Thielhelm as I've seen elsewhere. Perhaps someone who knows more than I do will correct me on that.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Skull-Face by Robert E. Howard

Why defy me, who am Kathulos, the Sorcerer, great even in the days of the old empire? Today, invincible! A magician, a scientist, among ignorant savages! Ha ha!

Howard does homage to Sax Rohmer with a nod to the Cthulhu myths of H.P. Lovecraft in his novelette, "Skull-Face", which first appeared in Weird Tales in October, November and December of 1929. His most famous creation, Conan, was in the wings, yet to be published. Readers of Weird Tales had already been introduced to his other characters, Kull and Solomon Kane.

The story kicks off with a hashish dream, where our hero, Stephen Costigan, lies strung out in an opium den named Yun Shatu's Temple of Dreams. In the dream, Costigan sees what is described as a yellow skull, reptilian in shape, talons for fingers, eyes blazing in deep sockets staring down at him. The skull observes that Costigan makes for an interesting specimen. Behind the skull, Costigan sees a vision of loveliness that floats in stark contrast to the horror and evil before it, but that is all. Soon, Costigan wakes from the dream back to his miserable life as an addict. It's revealed in a quick series of flashbacks that Costigan has succumbed to the lure of hashish through the intervention of a mysterious beauty who "lures" him into the Yun Shatu's opium den. A benefactor sees to it that he's supplied with all the hashish he wants. Costigan knows that he should be concerned about this. Nothing is free and there is surely a cost that must be paid for his addiction. Sure enough, it's revealed to him that he's been selected to act as the dark agent for Kathulos. Kathulos speaks to Costigan through a screen that hides his features. His servants bring Costigan to him and provide him with an elixir that staves the maddening hunger for the drug that has imprisoned him. Also, there is the beautiful Zuleika to keep Costigan occupied:

"I am Zuleika--that is all I know. I am Circassian by blood and birth; when I was very little I was captured in a Turkish raid and raised in a Stamboul harem; while I was yet too young to marry, my master gave me as a prisoner to--to Him."

"And who is he, this skull-faced man?"

"He is Kathulos of Egypt - - that is all I know. My master."

Costigan soon learns that his duty to his new master is that of assassin. He is sent out on his first assignment to kill Sir Haldred Frenton at his estate in London, disguised as a gorilla!

This is pulp, folks. And it's pulp in full glory! Turns out that Kathulos isn't just some evil doctor making mischief against polite society. He is a descendant of "the Old Ones" who thrived in Atlantis thousands of years before the continents were populated. His body was entombed in a coffin where it remained beneath the ocean for thousands of years, before it was released to float to the surface where it was discovered by a sailing vessel. My recap here doesn't do the tale justice. It's something better left for the fan of pulp to discover for themselves.

Soon Costigan defies the orders of Kathulos and joins forces with Scotland Yard's John Gordon. Hair-raising adventure ensues.

Fans of pulp adventure should have fun with this one. A word of warning however. It's pretty racist stuff considering the depiction of the villains and our heroes' attitudes to other cultures. It's a product of its time and that has to be recognized going in to it.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Blow Up

Blow Up, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, is one of those ultra cool movies that I love. It's been a number of years since I've seen it, but it's one of those few movies that'll have scenes replay in my mind from time to time, like celluloid ghosts pulled from hiding by the most random of moments in one's daily life. I wouldn't pretend to know what it's about and what it means, so forget about any deep analysis from me here. Just one fan's admiration is all you're going to get here. That and a recommendation to seek it out and see for yourself it if you haven't already done so.

Released in 1966, Blow Up is a snapshot of a swinging, mod London; a time and place I would have loved to experience for myself. It's an "art film" whose story is deceptively simple. A photographer, played with laconic cool by David Hemmings, takes pictures of what appears to be a pair of lovers in a park. The woman involved discovers him doing so and is none to happy about it. She wants the film and the pictures. Later, while developing the photographs, he notices something odd about them. Within the frames, it seems the film has captured a body, and a murderer. The lovers' embrace is ambiguous, open to seeing it as either passionate or sinister. The more Hemmings tries to blow up the photographs, the less we can distinguish what is contained in them. That evening, after a lively romp with two birds, he goes back to the park alone and discovers a body there. When he returns to his studio he find's that it's been broken into and ransacked of his prints and negatives (echoes of the legendary "men in black"). By now, the viewer is hooked, and this is where the film really kicks.

To give any more away would take the fun away from the uninitiated who've yet to experience it for themselves. One may find it either invigorating, or frustrating. Perhaps both. That's what's fun about films like this. One scene I'd like to share however, is the famous one below where we're treated to a nightclub performance by The Yardbirds, featuring a young Jeff Beck and a pre-Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page. The audience's reaction to what's happening onstage is priceless.

I've also seen Antonoini's  L'Avventura and love it as well. Perhaps I have an attraction for ennui and mysteries without solutions.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Alien - Raymond F. Jones

I have to admit that the only reason I purchased The Alien by Raymond F. Jones was for this crazy cover. I especially like the “bachelor pad space age babes” depicted on it, with their cute glass bubble helmets and their skimpy outfits. All that’s missing on them is those torpedo bras that graced pulp babes back in the day. And dig their somewhat wary gazes at what is assumed to be The Alien, standing in naked majesty before them. And all the men are toting weapons ready to blast this cat into the cosmos, while the women linger there. Also, is it me, or doesn’t the Alien look astonishingly like Kevin Bacon?

Belmont Books - September 1966
I’d never heard of this “classic of Science Fiction” before, but Raymond F. Jones’s name seemed vaguely familiar. Turns out, he wrote This Island Earth, which was a pretty cool movie as I remember it. A quick look at his bibliography shows that he’s also written a fair amount of stories for the pulps in the 40s and 50s.

The Alien tells the story of a strange and massive crystalline “time capsule” discovered by archaeologists in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It seems that the asteroid belt contains evidence of an inhabited planet destroyed many thousands of years ago. Through a serious of half-life dating technology it’s determined that this crystal and the other relics found among the asteroid belt date back to at least half a million years ago. Among the team of scientists studying these finds is Delmar Underwood, a man whose disillusionment with earth has prompted him to follow a life out among the dunes of space. His companions include a team of “semanticists”, capable of deciphering codes and languages of the pasts, chief among whom is a Dr. Dreyer. The discovery of the crystal is reminiscent of that famous plot device used in 2001, A Space Odyssey. Only the cool thing about this time capsule is that it houses the remains of . . . The Alien!

Our scientists discover that the crystal is engraved with a cryptic series of symbols and codes, invisible to the naked eye. Previously, all efforts to crack the meaning of these hieroglyphics had proven futile. What's needed is some kind of galactic Rosetta Stone to provide the key. Luckily for our gang, a mathematical key is found on the time capsule, and soon enough Dreyer and Underwood are able to decode the meanings of the symbols, leading to a method for opening the capsule and unlocking its contents.

It’s like the discovery of an ancient Egyptian tomb, untouched for centuries and is all pretty exciting. Only instead of a preserved mummy we have a preserved alien being that lived 500,000 years in the past. And best of all, our archaeologists discover the key to resurrecting this self proclaimed, godlike being.

Should they do it? Well, what do you think, man? How else are we going to get this crazy scene depicted on the cover?

I thought the novel was a pretty cool ride. It’s got plenty tension throughout. It has a love angle to it, political conspiracy, warring factions, philosophical angst, a galactic confrontation, a trip to another planet, a space chase, and a final showdown between good and evil. There is the usual wonky science that you’ll get with books of this type, but I can forgive it considering the time it was first published (1951). So yeah, I would recommend it to fans of pulpy science fiction. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Wednesday Night Garage - Trouble by The Music Machine

"Trouble" by Sean Bonniwell, performed by The Music Machine. More well known for their hit "Talk Talk" this is the second song off The Music Machine's first album in 1966. It's also my favorite of theirs - at least of the songs on this record. Unfortunately the album is loaded with cover songs that the label insisted go on the record in lieu of their own material. "Kids want to hear songs they know!" I would have preferred a disc of all original material, which would have been all written by Sean Bonniwell. This song has a nice ratty guitar lick through it that I love. Also a nasty bass in the break.

In their early gigs they performed one song after another without breaks for talking and bullshitting around. They embodied their name literally as a Music Machine, night after night. Their look was simple. They all wore black, all had black hair, and each wore one black glove. The glove always make me think of that Spinal Tap title, "Smell the Glove."

Other musicians in addition to Sean Bonniwell here include, Ron Edgar (drums), Mark Landon (guitar), Keith Olsen (bass) and Doug Rhodes on organ.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Murderers - Fredric Brown

Yesterday's post about The Beat Generation brought to mind this cool novel, The Murderers by Fredric Brown.

Fredric Brown was one of those writers who could spin a compelling story in just about any genre he chose. One of his most famous stories is "Arena" which appeared in Astounding Magazine back in 1944. I'm betting that anyone who has ever read "Arena" has never forgotten it. It was also the basis for a Star Trek episode. His science fiction novels include What Mad Universe and Martians, Go Home.  Brown is also well known for a series of mystery novels featuring carnival showmen Ed and Ambrose Hunter, beginning with The Fabulous Clipjoint.

I found The Murderers in a used bookstore and was instantly intrigued. Here was a novel by Brown I've never heard of, and needless to say, I snapped it up "toot sweet!" And boy, was it a good find!

Bantam, September 1963

The novel is told first person by a down-on-his-luck, or what I should just say, an unemployed "beat" actor making the rounds of kicks and highs in 1950's Hollywood.

"Honey, you got a stick or two?" she asked. "I can't look any more wine in the face, but I could sure use a blast." She came over and put her arms around me, wriggled against me. "I'm worth it when I'm on weed."

Okay, before anyone has a chuckle at the dialog, remember that this novel was first published in 1961 and Fredric Brown was not above using a tongue-in-cheek approach to building up his characters before wrecking their worlds.

Anyway, it's a little potheaded kitten like this one that tips our narrator, 27-year-old Wally Griff, down his little trip into trouble. But that's really just an excuse. Wally doesn't really need a reason for anything he does. He's one of those characters built for 50's noir. And there is a moment in the novel where Wally recalls the Kenneth Patchen poem, "The Murder of Two Men by a Young Kid Wearing Lemon-Colored Gloves" just before he makes that left turn down the twisted path to Endsville. The poem makes a neat analogy for this ride of kicks and kills among the lowest rung of Hollywood's players, actors, musicians and beatniks. It's that cool, baby.

And if you're curious to hear the poem referred to above, here's a video I found of it on YouTube, for your pleasure.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dick Contino and Daddy-O's

I shook, twisted, stomped, gyrated, flailed, flashed, genuflected, wiggled, strutted and banged my squeezebox like a dervish orbiting on Benzedrine, maryjane and glue. James Ellroy - "Dick Contino's Blues.

A couple weeks ago I caught this old B-flick, The Beat Generation, on TCM. With a screenplay by Richard Matheson (yes, the legend, Richard Matheson) I figured it would be good for a few chuckles late at night with a beer and potato chip meal for company, and for the most part I was right. It was pretty much as expected, a somewhat entertaining, somewhat derisive stab at the beat movement that was popular at the time it was made. Cheesy dialog, buffoonish characterizations and Mamie Van Doren slinking around make  it go down without getting too "wrapped up in the conformity of it all,"dig. Also showing up for the fun was Jackie Coogan, Louis Armstrong, a verse blowing Vampira, and...late in the movie...Dick Contino.

Dick Contino's role is limited to a singing cat at a bongo beach party thrown by nihilistic serial rapist Stan Hess (played to the hilt by Ray Danton) that becomes a sort of slapstick escape 'n chase scene, complete with rhumba line dancing, bongo banging and wrestling!

Watching Dick Contino perform "Don't Bug Me, Daddy-O" reminded me of another flick, Daddy-O, from 1958, starring Dick Contino. That movie, from what I remember, is fairly entertaining and bad enough to have gotten the MST 3000 treatment.

And, what does all this have to do with Ellroy's "Dick Contino's Blues"? Well, I'm gonna tell ya. It's just my way of recommending a couple of flicks and a pretty cool novelette that folds, spindles and mutilates 1950s L.A. hipsters, B-movies, pinkos, lefties, perverts, beatniks, fast cars, loose women, and a psycho or two, into one neat little package complete with its own soundtrack.

See what your grandparents shook their fists at, then tell 'em about it next Sunday at church. They'll be impressed.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Roy Orbison - Mystery Girl

Written by Bono and The Edge for Roy Orbison's album Mystery Girl, "She's a Mystery to Me" is a great Roy Orbison performance and pretty cool video directed by David Fincher as well.

Dig that Rockabye Bear - The Rockabye Contract

Last year in my used bookstore travels I found a whole slew of "Contract" novels by Philip Atlee featuring Joe Gall aka The Nullifier. Joe Gall is a freelancer, who takes assignments on contract. He works alone, reports to no one, and plays by his own rules.

Fawcett Gold Medal, 1968
Gall is one of those guys who is a walking expert on everything from atomic science to yoga. He's also a hell of a tiger in the sack. He would need to be, based on the picture of Joe seen in the top left corner above. The back cover also shows a series of photos of Joe puffing on a cigarette (probably a Lucky Strike) and blowing the smoke laconically over his shoulder. In case you missed it, he's cool. And deadly.

Actually, he is pretty cool. The novels, including this one, are all told in first person. Based on the couple I've read you can pick them up in any order and not worry about a continuity to the series. The Rockabye Contract begins with Joe Gall arriving in Greenwich Village to meet with a young hot folksinger named Hester Prim, who performs topless.

A Miss Hester Prim, who had just come on stage, was wearing a short black vinyl skirt and black boots. Strands of her flaming hair had been taped over the nipples of her breasts, and she handled the twelve-string Gibson like a ukulele. Hester was a big girl, several inches over six feet.

In addition to describing Hester, we also get Joe Gall's opinion of hipsters and hippies and folkies, seen through the eyes of a cynical assassin who's a bit self conscious of having aged in places they "couldn't find on a map." And it's just the kind of asides that keep the novel moving. Joe is a sociologist of sorts, much like another contemporary, more famous Gold Medal hero, Travis McGee.

Joe's assignment, as far as Hester Prim is concerned, is to act as her manager as they tour Europe. Beyond that, he's not exactly sure what the contract entails. But things happen quickly. To sum up: he flies with Hester to London, then on to Germany where he must learn why two agents have disappeared investigating a seemingly innocent toy factory with ties to a certain Caribbean dictator who has a taste for young virgins. In the process Joe gets to lay a spanking on Hester (nice!), is chased by German police through an apartment building, is captured and kidnapped on to a plane full of mannequins and flown to an unknown location in the Caribbean. He's then held neck deep in a pit full of mud. After executing an escape, Joe Gall tangles with the dictator's thugs, foils an assassination plot and is followed by...an explosive toy koala bear. And yes, he get to bed the hot Hester Prim. Who said spying ain't fun?

Well, maybe real spying isn't so fun, but this book sure was, if you don't try to think about it too hard.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Willie Nelson - A song for Father's Day

My dad, Ronald C. Reichenbaugh, passed away back in 1988, he was 49 years old. There hasn't been a day when I don't think of him at some point, something I'm sure that most of us who've lost a parent at such a young age all do. We had our issues. I don't think there is a son and father in the history of the world who hasn't butted heads. I can see now that, different as I was convinced then that my dad and I were, I'm carrying pretty much the same restless soul he did. He channeled it into his photography, and I put it into my writing. Another thing we had in common, is we could both spot the prettiest woman in a crowd. Invariably we'd pick the same one. He had ideas about things that probably went against conventional standards of the time, and sometimes he didn't let what others thought stop him. And, though it was frequently difficult to be around each other then, I could appreciate where he was coming from. Now that I've reached the years he did, I understand it a little bit more.

Anyway, I thought I'd post this song by Willie Nelson in his memory. Willie Nelson's songs were something I heard often in the house growing up. My dad and I had wildly different taste in music, and the last thing I would have ever done then is admit that I kind of liked the Willie Nelson music he played. But I did.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Key to the Suite - Where the Boys All Go

My perspective on John D. MacDonald's novel A Key to the Suite comes from 6 years of working at a resort in Scottsdale Arizona back in the first half of the nineties. MacDonald's novel is set in a resort in the early sixties and follows the shenanigans of a handful of conventioneers as they maneuver, plot, climb and back-stab each other up and around that corporate ladder that we've all been sold a bill of goods on. This is the "organization man" at his ugliest, and by the end of the novel, no one comes up smelling pretty.

My association with conventions begin as a resort security officer, pulling night shifts guarding showroom displays and convincing drunks that the turn-down girls were not there to do anything more than turn down sheets and leave mints on the pillows. Later I had the (no-so-great) pleasure of preparing the resort billing for conventions, which mostly meant debating how much on average a person may consume at an open bar staffed by bartenders looking out for their 18% gratuities. That and insisting that no, I was not able to make the golf charges look like meeting room rental charges. And you haven't lived until you've been stampeded over in the restrooms by a convention meeting that has just let out; with all the windy cacophony of spitting, farting and horking rattling off the tiled stalls and porcelain urinals.

But enough of all that. Here's a look at MacDonald's cynical 1962 pot-boiler.

Fawcett Gold Medal, August 1980
The huge hotel, now being brushed and polished by the maintenance crews, was like some bawdy, obese, degenerate old queen who, having endured prolonged orgy, was now being temporarily restored to a suitable regal condition by all the knaves and wenches who serve her. 

Enter into this setting is one Floyd Hubbard, an earnest, seemingly decent enough guy in his early thirties, looking to do the right thing by his bosses as he makes his way up the executive ladder. He's tagged right away as an ax-man by the rest of the joes attending the convention, most notably by a charmer named Fred Frick. Frick is looking out for his boss in crime, Jesse Mulaney. Mulaney is one of those bullshit artist, hail-fellow-well-met kind of backslappers who's managed to coast his way into a slot beyond his talents, brains and capabilities. Mulaney probably isn't the worst guy you'd want to know, but his antics have become such that the lords on mahogany row have deemed his usefulness to the corporation lacking. Frick, on the other hand, is one of those slimy creatures that MacDonald creates so well, the sort of guy with a greasy grin and yellow teeth and a phone number in his little black book that could fix any situation, legal or illegal. Frick's big idea is to hire a flooze to show up and rock the high and mighty Floyd Hubbard off his pedestal and tarnishing his sterling reputation. Once the execs back home see that Floyd pilots a tin horse, they'll hardly take any advice from him about the worthiness of good old Jesse Mulaney. That's the plan anyway.

The girl is Cory Barlund. Cory is a high priced call girl of very selective standards. She has no problem turning down a client, no matter who he is or how much cash he wants to drop. Cory is sent to Frick by her "madame", a shadowy babe known as Alma. Alma has supplied many of the guys with ladies of free spirit from her stables, and knows that Cory, in spite of being a bit of a pain in the ass, is just the girl for the job Frick has in mind.

...The busy, important man, sweets, does better with a high-level pro. All the questions are answered before you start. If he wants to do the town, he'll know she'll look good enough and dress well enough to take anywhere. And she won't get plotzed or chew with her mouth open or leave him for somebody else in the middle of the evening. He knows just how the evening is going to end up, and he knows she'll be good at it, and he knows there won't be any letters or phone calls or visits a couple of weeks or months later. It's efficiency, sweets. Modern management methods. 

That's the philosophy here anyway. Too bad things just don't work out as planned.

This novel is as good as any of MacDonald's novels, which means it's a pretty damn good read. Some of the dialog and mores may be a bit dated, but that's the fun of reading old books like this. You get a glimpse into a world that existed at one point in time outside our own. Something to ponder next time you're on Spring Break.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Ramones - Howling at the Moon

Produced by David A. Stewart, "Howling at the Moon" is a classic should-have-been-a-monster song for the Ramones from their 1984 album Too Tough To Die. Couple notes about the song; Ben Tench (familiar to fans of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) adds his talents to keyboards. It features a somewhat rare guitar break in it. Also the song had some small exposure as a video on MTV. But by small exposure, I mean almost no exposure compared to the other crap on MTV's rotation back then. It was written by Dee Dee Ramone and dedicated to Vera Ramone. Why this song didn't explode from radios that year, I have no idea. I'm trying to remember what bullshit songs were hits back then and I'm drawing a blank. No doubt some dreck by Phil Collins instead. Enjoy...

Monday, May 27, 2013

Some Good-Old Noir - Web of Murder

"You'll never be so lonely as on a highway driving with a corpse in the back seat." - Harry Whittington in Web of Murder

Black Lizard Books, 1987

Harry Whittington, along with Gil Brewer, is one of my top favorite original paperback writers from fifties and sixties, and Web of Murder is a good example why. Out of the dozen-plus novels I've read by Whittington it's one of the best. It's a simple story of lust and murder, told hundreds of times over the centuries that, from Whittington's typewriter is a tight, taut little masterpiece of noir.

Charley is a lawyer with a semi-successful practice and big plans for himself, beginning with a seat on the bench. He's married to Cora, a stay-at-home wife who has just inherited $500,000 from her father's estate. Unfortunately, Charley is no longer interested in marriage with Cora. He's got his mind on his smoldering secretary, Laura. Laura has lit a torch in Charley that he'd almost forgotten he had after years married to Cora. Only trouble is, Cora refuses to give Charley a divorce. She's made up her mind that she's keeping him. Charley wants Laura and that $500,000 under Cora's throne. How to get rid of Cora and keep the money without the police and the insurance companies sniffing after him and Laura is going to be a problem. But Charley's a smart guy. He's no chump. He's seen plenty of fools try to get away with murder only to get snarled up in their own carelessness. No, Charley's got to be smart, Charley's got to be careful. If he's going to get away with it, he's got to plan everything out, just right, and then he'll have the money, the girl, and everything else with it.

Of course we all know in stories like this, that things aren't going to play out for Charley like he'd hoped. For one thing, there's Victoria, a wealthy socialite who, through Charley's help, shucked her ex-husband while earning herself a nice payoff in the process. Now Victoria would like to have Charley warming her bed for longer than just a weekend. There's also Frank Vanness, a dogged cop who insists that no one gets away with murder as long as he's on the case. And Laura, who says she loves Charley, but is beginning to have second thoughts on this whole murder thing, unless Charley hurries up with it. And finally there is Lou Recsetti, a slimy character who keeps popping up where ever Laura goes, like a bad thought.

The plot spins and the web tightens, things fall apart and violence erupts. You know, just another week in suburbia.

This novel was originally published in 1958 by Gold Medal, but it's been reprinted several times since. If you like this kind of thing, then I would make it a point to find a copy. Unlike Charley, you won't regret it.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Slaughter - "Don't hand him no jive!"

Slaughter from 1972, directed by Jack Starrett and starring Jim Brown, Stella Stevens and Rip Torn is one of those classic 1970s action movies that you don't see a lot of any more unless you deliberately seek them out. Maybe there should be a cable channel that shows nothing but classic action genre flicks from the decade...

Anyway, Jim Brown plays Slaughter, an ex-Green Beret who returns home to find who is behind the car-bombing death of his parents and kill their ass. His father was reputed to have shady ties, and it doesn't take long for Slaughter to discover that local mobsters were behind the hit. While questioning a lady friend of his dad's, an attempt is made on Slaughter's life. The lady is gunned down but is able to give Slaughter a name before dying. Slaughter reacts quickly enough to dispatch  one of the goons, and promptly gets arrested for murder afterward. Instead of facing punishment, Slaughter accepts a deal by the agent in charge of investigating the local mafia, in return for leading them to the big hood in charge. It's one of those scenes you have to just go with and accept. Slaughter heads to Mexico where he meets his partner on the case, a quirky dude named Harry. They're looking for a criminal big shot named Mario. Slaughter meets up with a moll named Ann, played by a hot Stella Stevens, and the two of them immediately fall for each other's excessive charms. Meanwhile, a psycho named Dominick, played by Rip Torn, is making his play to take over the criminal real estate run by Mario. Mario comes off as something of a ponce more than a bad-ass, and is gunned down by Dominick and his goons while practicing on his tennis game. Slaughter goes through bad guys, gets chased through alleyways by cars, gets in knife fights on rooftops, guns down hoods in the street, shoots up a casino and beds the hot Ann in his free time, culminating in an explosive showdown with the psycho wild-haired Dominick.

I liked this movie a lot, and enjoyed Jim Brown's performance as Slaughter. He carries the role in a charismatic style that will easily have audiences rooting for him. The man's got swagger to the nth degree in this flick and is one bad-ass Motherf***er to boot! The plot has holes, but there's plenty of sex and action to overlook them, not to mention tons of terrific dialog. Rip Torn is a bad guy that you can't wait to see get his ass handed to him. Stella Stevens was in a number of movies from this time and basically played the same role in each one, but is enjoyable to watch.

The film was successful enough to lead to a sequel, Slaughter's Big Rip-Off, which I'll have to catch.