Thursday, December 25, 2014

Pattern for Panic - Richard S. Prather

In less than thirty seconds a cute little gal came in: mine. She was at most a couple of inches over five feet tall, which is a foot shorter than I am, but she had as many dangerous curves as the road to Acapulco. The curves were distributed on a foundation which couldn't quite be called plump, but would never get her a job in the States as a high-fashion model. Which was fine with me. She was dressed in a snug-fitting green satin housecoat, and high-heeled pumps. I guessed her age at maybe twenty, and like many Mexican women she had, in addition to those other dandy things, a healthy mass of black hair and hot dark eyes. 

Fawcett Gold Medal, 1961
Yup, that's our pal Shell Scott, Private Eye on the road to Acapulco by way of a cutie in a house of ill-repute. Exactly how he got there makes for one of the more entertaining vintage private eye novels I've read in a long while.

One can always rely on Richard S. Prather to deliver a breezy, sex and violence filled caper, and Pattern For Panic is no exception. First published in 1954 and later revised for publication in 1961 this is classic Shell Scott. This time he's down in Mexico City, in way over his head with bad guys and dangerous dames thanks to a blackmail plot that leads to a kidnapped scientist, a crooked cop, a bevy of communist spies and a kinky communist ringmaster who gets his kicks from torture.

This novel pretty much covers the bases if you're looking for some dandy pulp action to fill a rainy weekend. Shell is in Mexico City staying at the Hotel del Prado, on a little R 'n R with his local Mexican pal Amador Montalba, when he meets fellow Americans, Dr. Jerrold Buffington, his daughter Buff (yes, I pictured Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buff) and their traveling companion Monique Durand. Monique and Buff are a classic pair of bookend babes, one dark and sultry (Monique) and the other (Buff) blond and girl-next-door. The good doctor Buffington is in town to deliver a lecture on some latest medical research he's doing. They're all enjoying cocktails in the hotel Bar Nicte-Ha when a sleazy ladykiller starts laying some unwanted attention on Buff. Shell Scott decides enough is enough and offers the creep a choice of keeping all his teeth by leaving the bar, or staying and dining on a knuckle sandwich. The creep takes the hint and leaves. Moments later, a cigarette girl whom Shell Scott has had a randy eye on, delivers a note from the creep to Buff, laying out in explicate detail just what the creep would like to do with Buff as soon as her gringo boyfriend splits the scene. Well, that's all it takes for Shell Scott, knight errant to decide that our Latin Lover needs a good old fashioned ass-whipping. Fists fly, teeth rattle and in no time flat, Shell is jumped by a handful of Mexico City cops who seemed to have arrived at an awfully convenient time. He manages to knock a couple of teeth out of one over-zealous cop before getting hauled off to the clink for fighting and having in his possession a pack of marijuana cigarettes, The same pack that Scott had earlier purchased from the cigarette girl. And sure enough, the creep who started the whole thing has disappeared.

Cooling his heels in jail, Shell figures he's in for a long night, when his pal Amador shows up to offer him a job for a Countess Lopez. It seems the Countess has enough pull, thanks to her husband General Lopez, to spring Shell Scott from jail, as long as he does her a little favor in return. The Countess is being blackmailed for a set of provocative photographs and a dirty film of her in action with a secret lover. The Countess would like the film and pix returned to her toot-sweet without her husband, General Lopez, ever finding out. Because, man, if the General finds out about this film of his wife with another man...!Ay Chihuahua!  (Yes, they actually utter that expression in this book!)

Scott eagerly takes the case and barely an hour goes by before he discovers that Doctor Buffington and his daughter Buff have been kidnapped. Shell learns that Buffington had accidentally discovered a nerve agent that, in the slightest doses, could literally send its victim into fits of deadly terror. It seems that certain enemies of the free world would like to get their hands on this nerve agent. Scott also learns that General Lopez has been the target of communist spies that are trying to gain power through nefarious means in Mexico City. Could the blackmail, and the kidnapping, and Scott's frame-up job all be linked? You bet your burrito they could! And all this leads to some hard-boiled hi-jinx that keeps Shell busy for the next 150 pages!

If you haven't read a Shell Scott novel before, then do yourself a favor and grab one. They're probably easy enough to get if you look in the used bookstores. If not, many are available for e-readers. Just know going in that you're in for some campy doses of sexist humor along with your bullets and bad guys.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ellie - Herbert Kastle

So, really, what was so special about Ellie? What could happen with Ellie except more of what had happened in bed at the Forest Park Hotel? I mean there wasn’t an eighteen year old secretary who could speak better English than she could, didn’t have more polish than she had, and didn’t come off more like a lady than she did—and couldn’t, if convinced she should, do as much as Ellie could sexually. In fact what woman couldn’t?

But when I met her at La Guardia, I felt my insides jumping as she strolled lazily down the ramp. And when I walked with her to the luggage pickup and held her hand and saw the airport workers eyeing her, I felt again that this was the most beautiful little chick in all the world.

Dell, April 1974
I think all of us know that couple who can’t seem to live without each other, yet whenever they get together they turn into complete psychos. If they’d never met each other they would have gone through life on a fairly even keel, but since first hooking up have gone completely off the deep end for each other. And I’m not talking in a good way either. I’m talking full tilt psycho-boogie screaming downward spiral cray-cray! Well that’s just a taste of what you have with Nick and Ellie in Herbert Kastle’s novel Ellie. These two make Sid and Nancy look like the Pleasantville homecoming king and queen.

There isn’t really a whole lot of plot to delve into here. It’s a story of boy-meets-girl, boy and girl get together and screw their silly heads off, boy decides he must have girl, girl coyly agrees to stay with boy, and mayhem ensues.

Nick Leib, is in St. Louis on a business trip when on a whim he decides to by a coat in a men’s clothing store. Working in the store is Ellie McBaren, a twenty year old girl in a short skirt. Ellie is common and simple, attractive in a girl next door kind of way, only a couple years removed from a bubblegum chewing teenager with poor grammar skills. She is uncultured, unrefined and has a careless way of revealing too much ass under her short skirt, but Nick doesn’t care. He’s decided that he’s got to have Ellie, whatever it takes.

Nick is one of those self-described studs who can pretty much land any chick he wants, with his Porche and Manhattan apartment and bigshot salary. We get the whole shebang from Nick’s point-of-view and, believe me, by the time you’re done with the novel, there is not enough soap and hot water to wash off Nick’s crummy perspective on things. You want to get your fill of the many ways you can drop the C-word to describe a girl? Just hang out with Nick Leib for a couple chapters and you’ll get more than enough. For that matter, you want to get an idea how to fuck with some poor schmuck’s head? Well, dig how Ellie really lays the headgames down with Nick, and believe me, you’ll have a Master’s degree worth. And all that’s just for the first half of the novel. We haven’t really begun to sink with Nick and Ellie into the depths of insanity disguised as obsessive lust. In fact, obsessive lust is about as tame as puppy-love in the hearts of these two head-cases. But do yourself a favor, if you ever meet a couple like Nick and Ellie. Don't walk, but run away, as fast as you can. Especially if you'd like to carry on your life without private detectives, hit men, rapists, Molotov cocktails, sleazy doctors, and lecherous punks fouling up your scenery.  

So, did I like the novel, you wonder? Well…that’s a tough one. There is no denying how readable, how well written, it is.  Bret Easton Ellis, for all his success and fame, doesn’t come close to pushing your face into the depravity Nick and Ellie get off on. So, yes, I did like the novel. But “like” isn’t really the right word for the experience. It’s more that I admired the novel for what it set out to do. There’s no way anyone in their right mind could relate to Nick or Ellie. Yes, I suppose one could empathize for the passion they have, but only to a point. I’ve had my share of crushes, but they never went past the embarrassment of driving past the block that the object of my unrequited affections lived on. Hopefully that goes the same for most of us. It also made me glad that my relationships have all been relatively normal. Yeah, hooking up with that crazy chick does have its undeniable allure, for a little while…but crazy has a way of rubbing off on you. It’s fun for a weekend, but don’t plan on taking it to the altar. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Time Out of Joint - Philip K. Dick

Yes, he thought. I’m the man with the KICK ME sign pinned on him. No matter how hard he tries he can’t whirl around fast enough to see it. But his intuition tells him it’s there. He watches other people and gauges their actions. He infers from what they do. He infers the sign is there because he sees them lining up to kick him.

Belmont Science Fiction
First thing out of the way...this is the longest unintentional break I've taken from my postings here. I think my reasons are good though. First off, I attended NOIRCON 2014 in Philadelphia at the end of October. There I got to meet a lot of nice writers whose works I'm a huge fan of. Writers like Christa Faust, Vicki Hendricks, and Jonathan Woods to name a few. And yes, writers are kinda weird, but in a good way. Had lots of fun and am looking forward to reading all the recommendations I came home with. 

My second reason for the lapse in posts is...War and Peace. Yes, the International Heavyweight from Russia had me in a battle of wills from which I emerged triumphant! Just the thought of picking up another book seemed a betrayal of my mission which began sometime back in 1980 and as suffered through multiple failures since. This time, though, I started it and made it back alive. 

Anyway, on to the matter at hand, this nifty little pulp treasure from the mind of Philip K. Dick. This one I found used in a Zia Records of all places. Never know what treasure will turn up in the most unusual places.

Like most fans of the late writer’s work, I was introduced to Philip K. Dick’s novels via the movie Blade Runner. I remember plunking down my money to see Blade Runner back in 1982 when it was first released. My girlfriend at the time wasn't particularly jazzed about seeing it, and was audibly bored throughout the flick. I resisted her persistent urges to ditch the flick for some other movie like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial or Grease 2 instead. I’d recently discovered the novels of Raymond Chandler and was completely immersed in the noirish, dystopian world that that Ridley Scott had created for the movie. Yes, the theater was more than half empty, and yes, my girlfriend thought the movie sucked, but I didn’t care. I was hooked. (For the record, this same girlfriend managed to force me into seeing Grease 2 that summer in payback, justifying my questioning her taste in everything but boyfriends!) Blade Runner seemed to provoke everything in me that first turned me on to Science Fiction as a kid. I had to find this guy Dick’s books and check them out for myself.

That year I consumed easily a half-dozen of PKD’s novels, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the inspiration for Blade Runner. I wish now I still had those paperback novels of his that I had then, seeing as how they’re practically impossible to find now in used bookstores without getting gouged. Back then, the unsettling nature of the novels, wrapped in pulpy trappings appealed to my own unsettled personality. I won’t admit that I actually “got” the paranoia soaked in the sometimes fevered prose offered in those paperbacks, but I wasn't exactly connecting with anything else offered back then either. But that’s another story.

This is a long way of getting around to my introducing you to wonderful yet paranoid weirdness that waits for anyone picking up Time out of Joint which was first serialized in New Worlds Science Fiction in 1959 to early 1960. It’s a deceptively simple set-up for what could easily be a “cold-war comes to Main Street” novel in the 1950s. We’re introduced to Vic Nielson, a grocery store manager, his lovely wife Margo, and their young son, Sammy. Also living with the Nielson’s is Margo’s brother, Ragle Gumm. Ragle Gumm is a bachelor and mathematical genius who earns his living winning a daily contest called “Where Will the Little Green Man be Next?” offered by the local newspaper. Gumm has been winning this contest each day for almost three years, and the strain of winning is beginning to take its toll on him.

The town is described in those fine details the best writers can seemingly capture without effort. Margo drives a Volkswagen, the family watches Sid Caesar on television, Sammy has a fort in the backyard, the neighbors Bill and June Black, share cocktails and bowling invitations with the Nielsons, and The Kinsey Report has exposed suburban fantasies. One of the neighbors also drives a luxurious Tucker automobile. An unearthed classic called Uncle Tom’s Cabin by an unknown writer named Harriet Beecher Stowe is a new book club selection. No one listens to radio. Better Homes and Gardens offers recipes for chicken and peanut butter casseroles. And the mothers in the neighborhood have filed a petition to have the city demolish the old house foundations at the edge of town.

Meanwhile, Vic Nielson reaches for light switches that don’t exist. Ragle Gumm sees a gas station disappear. Sammy’s radio retrieves voices from the sky. Ragle Gumm finds a phone book with unassigned numbers. And a magazine un-earthed from the ruins at the edge of town feature an unknown movie star named Marilyn Monroe. It’s all rather unsettling for Ragle Gumm.

We have a hodge-podge of leaks in our reality, he said to himself. A drop here, a couple of drops over in that corner. A moist spot forming on the ceiling. But where’s it getting in? What’s it mean?

As the uneasiness builds, Ragle Gumm becomes entwined in a potential love affair with his neighbor June Black. Mr. Lowery from the newspaper is pressuring him to keep winning the contest. Bill Black is more and more intrusive into the Nielson’s home, and Ragle Gumm is convinced that his life as a contest winner is an empty joke. An existential crisis looms before him. His urges to run away mount. And all the while, the hints keep dropping that things are not what they seem. 

And the paranoia ever tightens. He hears his name on Sammy’s radio. He sees his picture in magazines. And every attempt he makes at leaving town is a nightmarish experience in persecution. And when was the last time you saw anyone in a Tucker?

And there ya go...Next time, I promise (?) not to take so long between posts. Even if it's only a promise to myself. Unless I happen to meet this chick Anna Karenina I've heard talk of....

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

White Witch

You never know what you'll turn up just digging through the miscellaneous record bins in the used stores. For example, a couple of weeks ago I found this cool relic from the past.

White Witch - Capricorn Records - 1972

The second I saw this cover I pretty much knew that I had to buy it. And at $5.99 it was over and done and sold. Later on I looked White Witch up online and discovered that they're from my hometown of Tampa Florida. I was in grade school when this record came out, so anything White Witch was doing at the time went way over my radar. I did have a have a favorite babysitter who might have been into them, who knows...she kind of had her finger on the pulse of the rock scene at the time. (No wonder I had a crush on her, but that's another story.)

Released in 1972 on Capricorn Records, White Witch is Ronn Goedert: lead vocals, Buddy Pendergrass: organ, piano and mood, Buddy Richardson on lead guitar, Beau Fisher on bass guitar and Bobby Shea on drums.

Musically, they're all over the map on this, their first of 2 albums. I've seen online that many people prefer their second album to this one. This record does his its "swing for the bleachers" feel about it, but you can't blame the band for that. Tampa Florida wasn't the sort of place to find fame and glory back then. I understand they opened for Alice Cooper and other big names at the time. From the music on this record it sounds like they would have been a good time live.

So, for your listening pleasure, here is a cut from White Snake named "Illusion". It's a wild one!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Doc Savage - The Red Skull

In stature, he was a giant, although proportional with such symmetry that only his relation to the size of the door in which he stood showed his bigness. His every line—the metallic tendons of his hands, the columnar cording of his neck—denoted great physical strength. The man had the gigantic muscles of Samson.

Bantam, May 1967, Cover art by James Bama

This giant is, of course, Doc Savage himself! The Red Skull by Lester Dent, under the house name of Kenneth Robeson, was the 6th Doc Savage adventure, published in Doc Savage Magazine in August 1933. In it, Doc Savage and his pals Monk, Ham, Renny, Johnny and Long Tom, take face off against a whole lot of skullduggery in the wild desert country of Arizona. It’s through the manic events in New York in the first half of the novel that wind up getting them all there, however. First, Doc Savage and his pals have to deal with assorted dead bodies and kidnappings, thanks to an hombre named Buttons Zortell and the rest of his goons. Buttons Zortell earned his moniker thanks to a pair of button-like scars on both cheeks; souvenirs of a bullet once blasting through his mouth. That’s right, a bullet through the choppers! How’s that for an identifying physical attribute? Also, Buttons and his gang all speak an interesting version of English I’ll call “Goonspeak”. Shakespeare would not be impressed, but your grandparents might.

Like all superhero capers, Doc Savage adventures are only as thrilling as their villains. We all know that Doc always triumphs over evil, so no one reads these wondering how it will all turn out in the end. They read them for the villains. In this outing we’ve got a lot of hooligans (too many!) from the Wild West who deliver each line in a mishmash patois of cowboy-gangster lingo like, “I’m the jasper what’s gonna ventilate your hide unless you spill the beans right quick!” Even Doc himself has to adopt the lingo when disguised as one of the outfit. This tough outfit works under the command of an ornery hombre that goes by the handle of Nick Clipton. Not exactly a name that’s going to put mortal fear on one’s ass, but maybe Lester Dent was running out of menacing monikers to pick from. Regardless, right off the get-go we’re clued in that Nick Clipton is a fake name for the real mastermind behind the dastardly hijinks. Ultimately we learn that only one of three likely candidates is the chief villain: Nate Raff, Richard O’Melia or Ossip Keller. The trouble is, Doc and his pals have all three of these wily tomcats hampering their investigation.

Also tossed into the mix is the gorgeous Lea Aster. Lea is Monk’s personal assistant, secretary and Girl-Friday, rolled up into one. She’s also handy with a high-heeled shoe when it comes to rapping goons on the noggin with it. Unfortunately, Lea also has a habit of getting kidnapped. Still, I liked Lea. I’m a firm believer that the boys need a strong dose of feminine guts and wiles on their side when it comes to taking down evil masterminds. Usually that’s the role that Doc’s cousin, Patricia “Pat” Savage, takes on. I don’t know how often Lea turns up in Doc Savage adventures. For all I know this was Lea Aster’s one shot at glory as this is the only Doc I’ve read with her in it.

Sounds confusing? Well, it sort of is. Events go from an abandoned Native American ruins, to a “subterranean world of red-hot lava,” to a trouble prone dam site. At stake is an “irresistible power that can level mountains!” It’s a pulp adventure that is literally all over the map. But this is why we’re fans of this stuff! It’s wild, wooly and utterly ridiculous. And we like it that way.

Lots of bullets get thrown around in this caper, in addition to fist fights, gas attacks, poisonings, repeated kidnappings of a hot damsel, and…I already said it…skullduggery! In other words, it’s a typical Doc Savage yarn from early from his career. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Nick Carter - Danger Key

The image on the screen shifted to Julie Baron. She lay strapped to a table. Beside her, Dr. Orff was preparing his surgical instruments. “This will be Dr. Orff’s first opportunity to operate without unaesthetic since Matthausen,” crooned Judas. 

Award Books, 1966
Yikes! Things look dire for Nick Carter’s girl, Julie Baron, in this 16th “Killmaster espionage chillerDanger Key.  Published in 1966 and written by Lew Louderback, Danger Key brings back Nick Carter’s nemesis, Mr. Judas. But wait, there’s more!

In this one, Carter is assigned to clean up the mess after sloppy CIA agent Ralph Benson lets alcohol and loose lips result in the death another CIA agent from a nasty hit and run out on a desolate Florida causeway. The murdered agent was assigned to monitor recent Cuban refugees. The killer being a mysterious blonde seen driving a “speeding white convertible.” A nearby fisherman witnesses the hit and makes it to the dying agent in time to hear his last words uttered through bloody lips, “Pa…okay…” What the hell does that mean? Well, that’s one of Carter’s jobs to find out.

The dead agent had been assigned to trace a certain Cuban refugee who is believed to be Mr. Judas in disguise. Judas is someone whom AXE is familiar with, and with that, Carter is called in. Carter takes over the case disguised as Ralph Benson who has been sidelined. Carter’s job as Benson is to investigate the murder of the dead agent while making enough obvious mistakes to lull the enemy agents, especially Judas, into revealing themselves and their dastardly designs on the free world.

As Benson, Carter makes the rounds of Big Pine Key, and ends up in a fisherman’s bar where he allows himself to be picked up by a wild party girl name Ingra Brand. Ingra was the girlfriend of the guy killed in the hit-and-run, and the main suspect in his death. She also drives a sporty little white convertible. Ingra’s companion is a spooky cat introduced as Dr. Orff. Carter learns that Orff is personal physician to Professor Brand, Ingra’s father, who lives in a guarded estate in a community known as Senior City. Ingra seems to swing wildly from lusty party girl to sullen wallflower, and it’s Carter’s luck that he meets her at the peak of a bad case of hot-pants. She takes him out to a lonely spot on the beach where they screw each other silly in the sand and surf. And it’s stuff right out of a bodice-ripper:

Each movement was a stab of ecstasy. She gasped suddenly, tore at his lips with her teeth. Her fingers clawed his chest. He swore softly and pulled her arms away, pinning them at her sides without losing his stride. Her movements quickened convulsively in time with his, and then in one last crazed moment they both forgot the hard sand beneath them, the distant surf, their separate identities—all but the exquisite bursting inside them as their whole beings seemed suddenly ignited, then liberated and free, floating away from the world on wave after shuddering wave of ecstasy…

Meanwhile, the two of them have been followed by the local sheriff and his deputy. They wait for Carter and Ingra to finish bumping fuzzies before pouncing. Carter manages to dispatch the deputy quickly enough with a karate chop to the throat, but has his hands full with the sheriff, who it turns out, is an expert sumo wrestler! Ultimately Carter is taken down, arrested and drugged with some kind of truth serum that makes him reveal that he’s not the real Ralph Benson. After recovering from his drugged state, Carter jumps the sheriff and kills him, and in the process discovers that the sheriff was in fact an Asian agent in disguise and not the corn-pone boob he presented himself as.

Later, Nick Carter finds the real Benson has been murdered. Worse than that, Carter also learns that while drugged up, he’d also been injected with a weird serum that enables his enemies to follow him via some kind of radioactive isotopes in his bloodstream. Senior City seems to be one of those wrinkled cities full of retirees that dot the Florida coast, but instead turns out to be chock full o’ Chinese agents disguised as chrome-topped old Caucasians thanks to plastic surgery. And all this in the first 40 or 50 pages!

As you can see, there is more plot in this novel than you can shake a stick at! In the space of 156 pages there are murders, karate chops, disguises, plenty of hot sex and cold blooded killings to go ‘round. There are also more than enough villains to fill half a dozen novels. Everything from an agent nemesis to a wheelchair bound professor, a kooky-possibly-psychotic nympho, an evil twin (yes, an evil twin!), villainous senior citizens, a reclusive billionaire with an appetite for live porn and, last but not least, an evil Nazi bastard with a taste for medical torture! Man, take your pick for a favorite evil cliché and you’ll likely find it here in Danger Key.

Luckily Carter has his main squeeze, Julie Baron show up to help him take down the bad guys. I would have liked to have seen more of Julie Baron kicking ass and taking names, but back in the 60s it seemed that women spies were used either as honey traps, or disguised as secretaries to snoop in filing cabinets. And she does her part in getting captured by the Evil Nazi, forcing Carter to go and rescue her.

It’s all in good fun! Cool 60s spy stuff for the inner spy in all of us!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Goodbye, Janette - Harold Robbins

With one leap, he caught her arm before she reached the door. He dragged her back into the room. "It seems to me, Janette, that you're acting like a baby. And you know what they do to babies when they don't behave? They get spanked!"

He sat down on a chair and pulled her across his lap face down. His hand rose and fell with an even rhythm. At first there was pain, then she felt a warmth spreading through her buttocks into her loins. Her cries began to turn to a soft moan.

Pocket Books

This dramatic little scene between father and step-daughter occurs early on in Goodbye, Janette. Published in 1981 it got a deserved spanking by critics but still managed to sell well. I ripped through it in one weekend and, while I can't say I didn't like it, I can tell you that if you're going to read only one Harold Robbins novel, this one isn't it.

The action mainly occurs in Paris and is drenched in Eurotrash bad behavior and overflowing with characters with deep pockets and shallow brains. Janette is the daughter of Tanya, a survivor of WW II prison camps. Tanya is brought to Paris by a kindly German officer named Wolfgang, who is jettisoned from the novel rather quickly. In his place is the cad Maurice, who marries Tanya as a business arrangement of sorts. Right off the bat we can see that Maurice is a dick. And so can Tanya. But then she gets a glimpse his certain special (humongous) endowment and goes weak in the knees in expectations. Maurice, in addition to being a cad, is also bi-sexual. And he gets off on sadomasochism.

In addition to having Tanya to get freaky with, Maurice also has Tanya's daughter, Janette, to molest. It's not really clear who Janette's father is, or I missed that part in the beginning of the novel. Anyway, Janette grows up into a sullen teen who shares a twisted relationship with Maurice that eventually results in her becoming a sex slave to him and his transvestite boyfriend, Jerry.

He smiled, "Remember, Janette, without pain there is no pleasure." He put his hands under her buttocks and raised her toward him. 

Janette grows into a beautiful woman, and something of a ruthless headcase, thanks to her messed up childhood. Tanya leaves the novel in a failed attempt at killing Maurice. But before she departs, she gives Janette a younger sister, Lauren. Lauren is saved from the sexual abuse by Maurice by getting to live in America with Johan, Wolfgang's old business partner. Janette, meanwhile takes over control of various business interests involving cosmetics and fashion.

There is a lot of financial skulduggery and kinky sex talk that move the novel along, but none of it particularly interesting. Okay, maybe there are a few lines I might try out the next time I'm at a swingers party, but other than that, not much worth noting. Janette isn't a compelling enough character to make you really care what happens to her. Instead one reads the book mostly to see if Robbins is going to throw more crazy sex stuff into the game like he did in the first sections of the novel. Lauren returns to Paris to visit her big sister Janette, and gets involved with a creepy English fop in a doomed relationship. She also wows the fashion world, but decides that she's not interested in making tons of money like Janette. Instead she'd rather get high on the various recipes of weed her California boyfriend perfects.

All in all, it's rich people living life without consequence, looking for their next high, their next screw or their next conquest. And in the end, it's Harold Robbins looking for his next buck. That said, I did very much enjoy Joe Kenney's take on this novel at his terrific blog, which you can also check out here.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Assignment -- Lili Lamaris - Edward S. Aarons

She began to laugh, and then to taunt him, moving suggestively around him, then pressing close to him, entwining her long legs around him. Durell swung an arm around her satin-smooth waist and forced her back to the bunk, then stepped away. His face was dark with anger. The girl looked at him, tried to laugh derisively, and choked on the sound and began to shiver and sob. Durell stood looking down at her for a long moment. His pity was gone. He felt only a dull, pulsing anger, a moment of puzzlement, a quick shift of perspective like a change in the pattern of a child's kaleidoscope when the crystals are overturned. Durell put a blanket over her and lit another cigarette and listened quietly to the sounds of her sorrow and despair. 

Fawcett Publications
We go back to 1959 with Sam Durell on this, his 10th assignment in the series that lasted until 1976, with his 42nd case. So far I've only read a few of the older Durell novels, starting about a year or so ago with Assignment--Stella Marni and I haven't been disappointed yet.

In this caper, CIA Operative Sam Durell is called to Rome to pick up where another agent, Purdy Kent, left off after getting his throat slit in alleyway. Durell doesn't have a lot of details to go on, only that he's supposed to make contact with another agent, Harvey Shedlock for further information once he arrives in Rome. Harvey Shedlock has been in the cold way too long and has developed a bad case of nerves. Purdy Kent's murder has only increased his paranoia and fear. Kent was considered a consummate professional in the spy game, and that someone was able to sneak up on him and slit his throat in an alleyway is cause for deep alarm. Durell learns from Shedlock that the dead agent had been getting close to a certain Lili Lamaris, a world famous ballerina who has recently taken up an unlikely romance with Mitch Martin. Martin is one of those "new breed" of hoodlums with strong ties to American mobsters, drug smuggling and money laundering. Money used to fund communists in their war on America. Durell's job is to pick up where Purdy Kent left off and find Mitch Martin and put a stop to his nefarious dealings. The key to finding Martin is Lili Lamaris, a somewhat naive, and it turns out, unstable young woman with bad taste in men.

Durell has barely landed in Rome when he discovers he's being tailed by a man in a green Panizza hat. Not only that, but his cover is blown when Dante Lamaris, Lili's father, shows up in Durell's hotel room with a job offer for Durell to assassinate Mitch Martin. Dante Lamaris is a shady Greek tycoon who seems to have most of the police force in his pockets. He also knows all about Durell's assignment, thanks to a blabbermouth Colonel Powelton, the military attache to the Ambassador and liaison to the CIA's K section in Italy.

So, right of the get-go we see that Durell can basically trust no one on his assignment to nail Mitch Martin's ass. And it's not going to be easy for him. He's going to get jumped, beaten, tortured, shot at, seduced, tossed in the slammer, seduced some more, knifed, and double-crossed before getting to the bottom of things. Along the way he's got to deal with a spoiled rich girl with a monkey on her back, an agent with a bad case of nerves, a psychotic killer with a fondness for knives, an evil wheelchair bound German doctor, and a hot-blooded Roman prostitute before the last bullet plugs the last evil mastermind behind this tangled caper.

Recommended for fans of hardboiled cold war spy stuff.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Tough Guys - Mickey Spillane

"A good nympho can get a lot of guys killed."

Published in 1969 Mickey Spillane’s The Tough Guys is a collection of 3 magazine stories from the early 1960s. All of them are proof that the short novel format is where Spillane shines. I’ve read a number of his novels and have almost always finished them thinking that they could have used some tightening up. Especially the ones featuring Tiger Mann, or the awful The Delta Factor, which was just plain boring.

Signet Books
These three stories rocked. This is the Spillane that kicks the teeth in, especially in “Kick it or Kill!” and “The Seven Year Kill” with their torn and frayed heroes, psychotic goons and curvalicious babes. The third story “The Bastard Bannerman” is no slouch, but compared to the other stories here it goes maybe 10 or 20 pages too long. It’s still a good yarn, but it’s up against some stiff competition in this trio.

In “Kick it or Kill!” Kelly Smith takes a trip to the country for some much needed R&R and time to heal from a leaking gunshot wound earned in the line of duty as a cop. The first day in he’s pegged for trouble by the local fuzz who try sticking their noses into his business. Then later that evening he watches two punks pushing their weight around a small diner. Kelly Smith waits maybe two minutes while they smack a local kid around before stomping their guts out in front of the other diners. He soon discovers that the pair of goons report to the local wealthy recluse, known as Mr. Simpson, who lives above town in the mansion on the hill. Not much is known about Simpson, other than he nets talent from the local girls to hire out as entertainment for his “out of town” bigshot friends. A few of these girls return from their gigs fucked up and damaged. A couple of them hooked on the funny powder. Some just go missing permanently. Kelly gets wind of some heavy syndicate guys showing up in town and floating around Simpson’s estate. Then he has some more run-ins with the goons, and saves a broken and damaged chick before making it his business to bust Simpson’s little orgies for good. Helping Kelly out is Dari Dahl the sexy owner of the motel where Kelly is staying. Dari’s kid sister, Flori Dahl, was one of Simpson’s former hired girls, cast aside only to take a swan dive off a tenement in New York. Dari’s brilliant plan involves hiring herself out as entertainment for one of Simpson’s sick ‘n twisted soirees. What follows involves kinky hi-jinks, flying teeth, broken bones and spattered brains. 

I stepped between the window and the draperies, entirely concealed, then held the folds of the heavy velvet back. It was a small theater in the round. There was a person shrouded in black tapping drums and that was all the music they had. Two more in black tights with masked faces were circling about a table. They each had long thin whips, and whenever the drummer raised the tempo they snapped them, and sometimes they simply brought them against the floor so that the metal tips made a sharp popping sound.

She was there in the middle, tied to the table. She was robed in a great swath of silk.

In “The Seven Year Kill”, Mike Hammer…I mean Phil Rocca, is recovering from a nasty hangover in a flophouse when a desperate little twist pursued by a pair of goons chooses his pad to hide out in. The goons bust in on Phil Rocca as he’s waking from a long drunk and slap him around for a couple minutes before buying his story that he has no idea about any screwy dame hiding out in his pad. The goons believe him and split. A few minutes later our lamb on the run reveals herself to Rocca with a story of returning to New York to find her father, who has contacted her by letter to come to the city and reunite. The trouble for Rocca is that the dame’s pop, Rhino Massley, is the same mobster that put the fix in on Rocca sending him into a couple year stretch in the slammer on false charges. Rocca was once a redhot journalist chasing down a story on Massley, before he got framed on a bum rap and left to swing by his editors. Will Rocca agree to help our girl find dear old dad? You bet your ass he will, just for the pleasure giving Rhino Massley a terminal case of lead poisoning. The only problem is that Rhino Massley is supposedly dead, having succumbed to TB out in Arizona while Rocca was in the pen. Not only is Rocca interested in finding Massley, but so are the syndicate boys, since Massley has hidden away all kinds of damaging records on their business. Word that he’s still alive has the rats on the loose. Lots of blood, fury and broken teeth in this one too.

The final story in the trio is “The Bastard Bannerman”. In this one Mike Hammer…there I go again…is Cat Bannerman, the bastard child of wealthy, and long deceased, Max Bannerman. Max Bannerman died when Cat was in his early teens, leaving Cat to the mercy of his uncle, Miles Bannerman and his two asshole sons, Rudy and Ted Bannerman. Cat returns to the old estate after splitting the place when he was all of 14 years old. In the meantime, Miles Bannerman and his two sons have pretty much done nothing with their wealth except use it to abuse everyone else in the town around them. Rudy in particular has built up a solid rep as a jerkoff wannabe playboy and punk. Cat returns to the manor just in time to see his favorite cousin Anita Bannerman engaged to a sketchy fop named Vance Colby. Vance Colby has ingratiated himself into the Bannerman tribe under the pretext of helping them clear up a looming scandal. He acts as mouthpiece and advocate for the family after Rudy has gotten himself tangled up in a murder of a local nightclub promoter over the promoter’s round-heeled wife. Also in the scene are a couple of syndicate muscles pushing their weight around the Bannerman estate with Vance’s blessing. It all reeks of a squeeze play in the works, with Vance standing to gain from the misery while winning the girl’s hand. Cat could care less what happens to Rudy, Ted and Uncle Miles, but decides that he owes it to Anita to help extricate her from the Bannerman web of misery. Lots of ass-kicking, slapping, slugging, and gunplay also keep this yarn popping.

If you need your dose of tough guys doing some bad shit, then look no further than this tight collection. Easy to find. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Running Girls - Cheap and sleazy...sort of.

Rex nodded, understanding, and for the first time since he had entered the room he took a good look at her. The short, lace nightgown did much for her figure, stopping just below the well rounded thighs, accentuating the length of her slender legs. The firm breasts behind the thin material were exposed almost to the pointed tips, their final wantonness barely hidden by the thin lace. 

Beacon Books, 1961
That's about as hot as this book gets, which is a bit disappointing considering it was marketed as "stimulating, pulse-quickening, and invigorating" along with other titles in their lineup. In fact, right on the spine of this paperback it reads "Women ready to give a man anything!" Dang! how many times have you seen a teaser on the spine of a novel? It's just begging you to pull it from the shelf and dive in. The cover also promises "A daring story of those wild Cuban woman fleeing to our shores - desperately seductive, and ready to give a man anything!"

But really, The Running Girls by Al James is more adventure novel than sexy novel, with its plot of Cuban counter-revolutionaries and smuggling and what-not. Actually, it's not really an adventure novel either. It's really just a novel about a hapless dupe who allows a hotblooded babe rope him into a wacky plot involving embezzled money and corrupt Cuban officials. Yeah, there is sex going on, and a lot of perky breasts, heavy breathing and hot kisses, but it all happens off the page instead of giving up the lurid details.

Rex, the novel's hero, is a mercenary pilot who, along with his Cuban partner Ferdy (short for Ferdinand) unknowingly give a ride to a teenage stowaway in their crippled DC-3 on a trip back from Haiti. Their plane is conking out over Tampa Bay, barely missing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge as they coast in to a rough landing on Davis Island. I grew up in Tampa and could totally see the bridge beneath their wings as they fly over the bay. It's one of those bridges that should be avoided if you're afraid of heights. Davis Island is one of those locales where old moneyed rich bastards in Tampa live. But I digress. Rex and Ferdy manage to land their heap to discover a beautiful stowaway hiding on board. Since she's Cuban, Rex decides he's going to turn her over to immigration authorities to have her sent back to Cuba. Ferdy argues passionately on her behalf, suggesting that they should let her disappear into Ybor City instead. This was back in 1960, way before Ybor City became the obnoxious douchebag selfie-central it's become since. At the time it was a hot spot for cigar factories, bakeries, restaurants, clubs and anti-Castro sentiment among its mostly Cuban exiles. I know this because in grade school we'd go there on field trips. Not for the counter-revolutionary stuff, but to see how cigars got made and to eat fresh onion rolls. Anyway...Rex isn't persuaded by Ferdy and Luisa's pleadings. Not even Julie, Rex's girlfriend, can sway him. But it doesn't matter because within minutes a couple of scar-faced goons show up and wave their guns at Rex, Ferdy and Julie, demanding they turn over Louisa for immediate arrest and transfer back to Cuba where she'll be executed. But before they can make off with Louisa, whose clothes are now strategically torn to reveal her hot body, they're chased away by a couple of Coast Guard officials who show up to chew Rex and Ferdy out for flying over MacDill Air Force Base without permission.

So, Rex turns Louisa over to the Immigration and goes home to have sex with Julie. Julie tells Rex that she wants marriage, but for the time being will act like a wife, or something like that. In other words, they the page though. Later, at a restaurant in Ybor City, Rex is handed a message to meet someone named Maria about a flying job. Maria, it turns out, is Louisa's older sister, and wants to thank Rex for all personal like for rescuing her from the two scar-faced thugs that afternoon. She rubs her body against Rex's in a vain attempt to get a rise out of him but...okay, she gets the rise out of him, but he remains faithful to Julie. Louisa is also there with Maria, and she would like to thank Rex as well, but just then, the two goons from earlier show up and spoil the party. They bop Rex into submission and take him, along with Maria and Louisa, out to a phosphate plant on the coast where they proceed to rape Louisa while Rex and Maria watch, tied up and helpless. Louisa then tries to fight back and gets stabbed to death in the ensuing struggle. The two thugs then run away, leaving Rex and Maria behind.

This review is getting longer than the book itself, so I'll just cut to the chase and let you know, if you haven't already figured it out, that Marie recruits Rex for some payback that somehow includes a crazy little sidejob that involves flying to Cuba and returning with some embezzled loot. Rex makes it to Cuba only to discover his plane has been sabotaged. He's captured by Cuban soldiers and thrown into jail where he shares a cell with a little scamp of a chick who is convinced that pleasuring the guards will insure her release. What follows is a mockery of a trial where everyone sharing Rex's cell is sentenced to the firing squad. Everyone except Rex that is. Instead, he's released and told to go back to the U.S. and let everyone there know that Castro is the big kahuna and isn't going away, or something like that. Rex then hangs out in the Hotel Internacional for a few days, getting waited on by a hot little Cuban gal named Lolita. Lolita makes it clear that she's to see to his every comfort and desire, but Rex keeps it in his pants since he's now in love with Maria...that's right, Maria. He came to that conclusion while waiting to get tossed in front of a firing squad. Never mind that it's because of Maria that he's nearly been executed. He's not quick on the uptake, which if you'd read this far into the novel would be more than obvious.

So, where were we? Oh yeah, in the Hotel Internacional with Lolita flashing her hot legs at Rex. Then who should show up but Julie, who has decided to fly into Cuba to find Rex. She comes up with some story like taking a wrong turn over Miami, or something like that, and ending up in Cuba. She convinces Rex to continue with his assignment of collecting the embezzled loot and taking it back to Florida to help fund Maria and the counter-revolutionaries. Rex doesn't need much convincing. He's blinded by Julie's wanton ways and quickly agrees to get the money and fly back to Tampa with it. Things go awry again, and this time both he and Julie are arrested by a pot-bellied colonel and a couple of sloppy soldiers. Rex manages to convince the soldiers to shoot the colonel instead of him and Julie in exchange for ten grand each. Then off they go...back to Tampa.

I thought I was cutting to the chase here. What the hell? I  doubt anyone is actually going to find this book and read it anyway, so I might as well let you know that Rex discovers Marie has been using him as a patsy all along. The million dollars he was sent to Cuba to get was really just money her wealthy Cuban banker boyfriend left there before he fled to the U.S. All it took was tricking Ferdy...remember Ferdy? secretly stow her sister Louisa on board Rex's plane back in chapter one. Ferdy did this because he was secretly married to Maria, only Maria turned traitor to the anti-Castro rebels to shack up with a millionaire asshole instead. The scar-faced goons were then hired by Maria to kill Louisa in front of Rex so that she could recruit Rex to fly to Cuba and get her boyfriend's dough, all in the name of the noble cause to free Cuba. And I think, but I can't swear to it, she actually put out for Rex somewhere in the whole mix of things. There's a fight and some wrestling around with guns, during which Maria gets shot in the middle of her lovely head. I don't know if her millionaire boyfriend gets killed, because a couple agents show up to save the day. Rex decides he really loved Julie first, and the two of them go off into the sunset of Tampa Bay. The end.

Yup, that's about it. The Running Girls wasn't terrible, it was just kind of dopey. It was short, it was tawdry, it was cheap...two bucks cheap, found on the shelf of a used bookstore with its spine promising "women ready to give a man anything!"

Hey what the hell, I never said I wasn't a sucker for that stuff anyway.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Fear is the Key - Alistair MacLean

“You make me sick,” I said dispassionately. “I wouldn't let you out if I could. And it was just in case I might be tempted that I left the control switch up in the rig. We've got fifteen, maybe twenty minutes to live, if you can call the screaming we’ll know living. Or, rather, the agony you’ll know.” I put a hand to my coat, ripped off the central button and thrust it into my mouth. “I won’t know a thing. I’ve been prepared for this for months. That’s no button, it’s a concentrated cyanide capsule. One bite on that and I’ll be dead before I know I’m dying.”

Fawcett Gold Medal Books
Man, our pal John Talbot is one hardcore bad ass! He’s not messing around here. He’s on a mission of vengeance and he’s not going to stop until all debts are paid, even if he’s going down too.

It’s been a long time since I've read an Alistair MacLean novel. A recent showing of Ice Station Zebra on TCM prompted me to look up one of his old novels again and give it a ride. I was not disappointed.

Fear is the Key from 1961 is from the classic earlier period of Maclean’s novels, where the plot is revealed in 1st person by the narrator through lots of dry wit and hardboiled realism. No one is to be trusted, including the narrator himself, who often withholds vital information from the reader until things come to a head in what is typically the first of several climaxes before the last page is turned.

Fear is the Key follows this classic MacLean formula brilliantly, starting off with a bang as John Talbot shoots his way out of a courthouse in Marble Springs Florida with a hostage, Mary Ruthven, in tow. John Talbot is initially presented as something of a rogue mercenary, with vague underworld connections and dealings, who is hiding out in hicksville under an assumed name until he’s busted by the local sheriff and his deputies. We quickly learn that his beautiful and stoic hostage, Mary Ruthven, is an integral figure in a plot that has been carefully planned out far in advance. A plot that includes Mary’s father, General Blair Ruthven, and his oil rig out in the Gulf of Mexico, referred to throughout as X 13. Within hours of Talbot’s escape from the courthouse, with Mary as his hostage, they run into a tough-as-nails cat named Jablonsky. Jablonsky quickly gets the drop on Talbot, only instead of returning Mary safely to her father, he decides that he can squeeze the general for some additional ransom. After some terse and wordy (one of the things you’ll discover in a MacLean novel is that characters can get talky) negotiations between Jablonsky and the General, Talbot and Mary are taken to the General Ruthven’s gated mansion on the coast. It’s there that Talbot is turned over to a couple of shady “associates” of the general, Vyland and Royale. Along with Vyland and Royale, Talbot meets a jittery “hop-head” named Larry. Larry seems way out of his league next to the cold professionalism of both Vyland and Royale, which throws Talbot off. His presence among them makes no sense, and he’s clearly a psycho on a pitstop to Kicksville USA. Larry has a habit of whickering a switchblade around Talbot, which is all a bit unsettling. Meanwhile, General Ruthven’s connection with these tough guys seems to have something to do with a salvage job off the coast of Florida. A salvage job that is right in line with Talbot’s old line of work. It takes a couple of fist fights and shoving guns in faces before Talbot is convinced that Vyland, Royale, and General Ruthven mean business in recruiting Talbot into their plans. And with that, the novel is off and running.

It’s a lot of fun discovering who the good guys are and who the bad guys are in this novel. Maclean manages to keep the suspense popping in each chapter, revealing just enough to keep Talbot and the reader off-balance throughout. In addition to the sudden, often brutal violence, Talbot manages to maintain a droll, deadpan humor while sharing the events with the reader. It all leads up to a final confrontation deep underwater in the Gulf of Mexico, trapped in a cramped and suffocating bathyscaphe, where all is revealed at last.

This is old-fashioned spy stuff at its best. Modern readers might have to adjust their expectations before jumping into a MacLean novel. For example, there is no sexy stuff going on with our icy hot babe Mary Ruthven. It’s sort of teased at through the novel that Talbot would like to take a break from all the action for a slip up her skirt, but nothing doing for our hero. I think maybe there is a brief kiss, but I’m not sure. The women in MacLean’s novels, at least the ones I've read, tend to be used as pretty scenery mostly, but usually aren't part of all the man-shit that goes down. And they still faint when the plot calls for them to. Still, Mary does manage to give Talbot a hand here and there when absolutely needed. If you want that mushy stuff, you’re better off with a James Bond caper.  

Like many of MacLean’s novels, Fear is the Key was made into a movie in the early 70s. I've never seen it, and I don’t know a thing about it other than Barry Newman stars in it. I’d probably opt for seeing Vanishing Point instead. It’s never popped up on the cable channels that I’m aware of. Maybe I’ll hunt it down at some point, and see how it compares. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pretty Things start the Seventies

Contemporaries of the Stones, Pretty Things were, for many 60s garage fans an edgier, nastier band that never got the mainstream attention they deserved. Maybe that's a good thing if fame brings bloat and complacency. After briefly playing in an early incarnation of the Rolling Stones in 1962, Dick Taylor formed Pretty Things with vocalist Phil May, and promptly released a handful of garage classics like "Rosalyn", "Don't Bring Me Down", and "Road Runner" to fans eager to slam into the stage and each other in dingy dance halls. The 60's saw the Pretties release three albums before creating what most consider their definitive classic S.F. Sorrow.

Recorded at Abbey Roads Studios, S.F. Sorrow is considered one of the first concept albums, next to The Who's, Tommy. Engineered by Norman Smith, S.F. Sorrow is a blend of psychedelic and hard rock that should have sold a mint, but was lost in a year of monster releases by The Beatles, Pink Floyd and The Kinks. Poor management, bad promotions, line-up changes and touring mishaps did little to help The Pretties earn the commercial successes that lessor bands found. S.F. Sorrow would be their last album in a decade that produced what many consider to be Pretty Thing's best material.

I was introduced to the Pretty Things about 10 years ago by a young guy working in a now gone record store in Tempe Arizona. He also told me to "stay away from their 70s stuff."

Well, I don't always listen to advice, and had heard that their first album in the 70s, Parachute, released in 1970 is considered another forgotten classic. With a lineup that includes Phil May doing vocals, Wally Waller on bass, John Povey on keyboards, Skip Allen on drums, and Vic Unitt on guitar, Parachute is another terrific record that fell under the radar for rock fans who got fed CSN, Jefferson Airplane, James Taylor and Grand Funk Railroad instead.

Here is "Cries from the Midnight Chorus" which is the 8th track on the first side of the album.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Edgar Rice Burroughs - Tarzan the Untamed

“You were not born and reared in the jungle by wild beasts and among wild beasts, or you would possess, as I do, the fatalism of the jungle.”

Ballantine Books, cover art by Boris Vallego 
Somber words for a rather dour Tarzan if you ask me. This isn't the Saturday matinee movie star Tarzan, but rather the existential loner that is the Tarzan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s 7th Tarzan adventure, Tarzan the Untamed.

Tarzan has plenty of reason to be grim in this novel. In the opening pages we witness him returning home to his estate only to find it burned and razed to the ground by a patrol of German soldiers that were lost in the jungle. Tarzan is aware of the recent start of the World War (WWI), and has rushed home to his estate to stay with his mate Jane, unaware that Jane has already unknowingly welcomed a band of German soldiers and their guides into their estate during his absence. When Tarzan arrives, he finds evidence of a deadly struggle between his faithful servants and the German soldiers. Vultures circle overhead above the dead bodies of servant and soldier alike. Tarzan rushes into what’s left of the home’s foundation to discover Wasimbu, Jane’s Wasiri body guard, crucified to a wall, and Jane’s charred corpse lying in their bedroom. Stripped of his European trappings Tarzan reverts to the jungle beast he was raised as, and swears vengeance on all German soldiers that trespass within his continent.

The earliest chapters of the novel move quickly as Tarzan tracks the surviving soldiers to a German camp where he manages to infiltrate by night to hear the officers discuss their war plans against the British. He hears a few of the men brag about a captain who’d lead a company of men into the “English Lord’s” estate, killing members of the Wasiri tribe there, crucifying their leader, and raping and murdering the lady of the estate. Tarzan waits to catch one of them alone, pounces on him like a jungle cat and demands from him the names of Jane’s killers. It was Hauptmann Schneider and Under-lieutenant von Goss, his hapless victim replies. Then Tarzan takes the man by his throat, and wrings him by the neck three times in the air before hurling his lifeless body into the jungle. Armed with the names and a single-minded determination to kill all Germans, Tarzan thus begins his “untamed” adventure.

It’s the setup for a fairly straightforward plot, you’d think. But as the novel progresses the reader is taken on events that veer wildly from the mission of vengeance that Tarzan originally embarks upon. Yes, Tarzan gets to kill plenty of Germans in aide to the British soldiers he encounters on his search for Schneider and von Goss. He also dispatches a handful of savage cannibals and a slew of inhabitants of the lost city of Xuja. Yes, there is a lost city in this novel! There is also a beautiful German double agent named Bertha Kircher and a dashing British aviator named Harold Percy Smith-Oldwick to complicate Tarzan’s untamed adventures.

The main plot of vengeance for Jane’s murder is soon cast aside for a series of adventures involving chases, rescues and escapes featuring Bertha Kircher. Tarzan constantly reminds himself that he hates Bertha because she is German. Still, he is unable to kill her outright or leave her to the mercy of the jungle because she shows a remarkable level of courage and resourcefulness. And because she is a white woman! Yes, if you’re going to read a novel that is nearly a hundred years old featuring a savage and untamed Africa during a world war, you’re going to get a dose of racial (and cultural) stereotypes. Also, the novel was originally serialized in two separate publications as “Tarzan and the Huns” and “Tarzan and the Valley of Luna” before appearing in the present novel format as Tarzan the Untamed.

One fascinating aspect of the lost city of Xuja is that it’s inhabited by a race of lunatics. Simple and childlike one moment, gibbering and maniacal the next. As we’re told, one can immediately tell they’re maniacal imbeciles because of the shape of their heads and by their abnormally long canines. Bertha Kircher and Smith-Oldwick are kidnapped and swept deep within the walled city of Xuja. Smith-Oldwick is thrown into a lion pit while Bertha is taken before Xuja’s Queen Xanila.

As Bertha Kircher’s eyes alighted upon the occupant of the room the girl gave a little gasp of astonishment, for she recognized immediately that here was a creature more nearly of her own kind than any she had seen within the city’s walls. An old woman it was who looked at her through faded blue eyes, sunken deep in a wrinkled and toothless face. But the eyes were those of a sane and intelligent creature, and the wrinkled face was the face of a white woman.

Queen Xanila than tells Bertha of her capture by the Xujan’s from a band of Arabian slave raiders that had become lost in the “desolate and arid waste” that surrounds and protects the hidden valley of Xula. There they were attacked and killed by a patrol of Xujans and Xanila was brought before the palace of Xula’s ancient king where she was wedded to him against her will. For sixty years Xanila has remained confined within the palace walls, outlasting a series of Xujan kings, until the day Bertha is brought to her as a potential replacement.

Meanwhile, Smith-Oldwick is trapped in a lion pit, while Tarzan is outside the walled city of Xuja, planning yet another rescue before he can then abandon all vestiges of modern society and return to his childhood home among the great apes.

I have to say, I've yet to be let down by Edgar Rice Burroughs’s ability to churn out an exciting suspenseful tale. With tons of suspense, rescues, blood and gore, Tarzan the Untamed, wild and loosely plotted as it may be, was just as engrossing as the other novels I've devoured by ERB. It’s been a number of years since reading one, and who knows when I’ll get around to another Tarzan adventure (maybe sooner than later) but this one is a fine example of Burroughs delivering at the peak of the Tarzan saga. 

Oh yeah, and as for Jane's demise...well come on, you got to know that she's not going to be offed like that, so early in the game!