Nov 272014
 
Hawker #1: Florida Firefight, by Carl Ramm May, 1985  Dell Books One of those men’s adventure series that goes for high dollars now, thanks to the current fame of the author, Hawker ran for 11 volumes and, if this first volume is any indication, was pretty good. Unfortunately, given those inflated prices, I’ll only be reading the handful of copies I came upon last year at a Half Price
Jul 082014
 
I was very sad to see the Burke series end, but was confident Andrew Vachss would still give me the best entertainment and food for thought in fiction with his new Cross series. That series doesn't beat this new series featuring ex-Legionnare Dell though. With this guy and his love, former Médecins Sans Frontières nurse Dolly Mr. Vachss has found the perfect guides into the world of sexual violence and the advocates for justice for the abused, just like Burke and his crew were.
When a teenage girl shoots a fellow student in the hallway people try to compare it to Columbine. The girl's not talking at first, but Dell sets out to investigate her reasons for shooting the student and discovers their hometown has a dark secret.
This story is a perfect combination of court room drama and vigilante justice as Dell enlists the aid of a lawyer and a really cool and original forensic psychologist to find out the truth.
Great, dark and chilling hardboiled prose, the best dialogue Vachss has written so far and a lot to think about.
A winner.
Apr 072014
 
Paperback 760: Dell 696 (1st ptg, 1953)

Title: Slan
Author: A.E. Van Vogt
Cover artist: Uncredited, aarrgh!

Yours for: $20

Dell696

Best things about this cover:
  • "I Was a 22nd-Century Gun Moll!"
  • Her mouth! Is she talking? Hissing? Shouting "Slan!"?
  • I have seen the future. It is full of 8th graders' atom diagrams.
  • Pretty bold to paint right on top of a well-used bandage.
  • Quintessential mid-century sci-fi cover art. Iconic. Beautiful. Perfect.

Dell696bc

Best things about this back cover.
  • Why aren't people named "Groff" any more? Or "Jommy"?
  • Idea: Western / Scifi epic with a hero named "Slim Tendrils"…
  • I'm guessing that's not "Jommy" on the cover. But who knows what the future holds…

Page 123~

The impression smashed into fragments. Granny.

That has to be the weirdest two-sentence sequence in literary history.

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Mar 262014
 
Paperback 757: Dell 223 (1st ptg, 1948)

Title: Hammett Homicides
Author: Dashiell Hammett
Cover artist: Gerald Gregg

Yours for: $30

Dell223-1

Best things about this cover:
  • Taste the (lead) rainbow!
  • Uh, guys? I think it's probably dead now.
  • I see a pretty butterfly.
  • Gerald Gregg is my favorite early, semi-abstract, non-sleazy cover artist.

Dell223bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • [ahem] … MAPBACK!
  • So iconic—Hammett's S.F.!
  • Sausaleto? What the?! … aw, I can't stay mad at you, mapback! Come here!

Page 123~ (opening paragraph of "The Main Death")

The captain told me Hacken and Begg were handling the job. I caught them leaving the detectives' assembly room. Begg was a freckled heavyweight, as friendly as a Saint Bernard puppy, but less intelligent. Lanky Detective-Sergeant Hacken, not so playful, carried the team's brains behind his worried hatchet face.

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Jan 272014
 
Fear Itself, by Ric Meyers June, 1991  Dell Books About a decade after writing Ninja Master, Ric Meyers turned out this now-forgotten trilogy that seems very much inspired by Sam Raimi’s film Darkman. But whereas Raimi was sure to keep his story action-packed and darkly comedic, Meyers unfortunately delivers what is for the most part a padded, tepid, and uninvolving story – a definite
Jan 252014
 
Paperback 736: Dell 186 (1st ptg, 1947)

Title: She Ate Her Cake
Author: Blair Treynor
Cover artist: Uncredited [Gerald Gregg]

Yours for: $12

Dell186

Best things about this cover:
  • Hell yeah she did! Good for her.
  • She ate her cake, then stood near the window and shot at birds.
  • Pretty dang racy for a '40s Dell cover.

Dell186bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • Mapback!
  • Chickens! 
  • I'm not sure where to go after "Chickens." Not sure how you top "Chickens."

Page 123~

"Well then, why not come back to Los Angeles when I leave? You can go places with me. Now that Al is gone, I'm Mr. Big."
"Yeah, Mr.-Big-on-the-Lam."

Yeesh, I've heard better gangster patter at crossword puzzle conventions. Come on!

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Jan 092014
 
Traveler #3: The Stalkers, by D.B. Drumm September, 1984  Dell Books Sort of picking up from the events of the previous volume, this installment of the Traveler series, once again courtesy John Shirley, sees our titular protagonist movin’ on down the road, where he’s promptly ambushed by mutant horrors called “Bloats” which string him up with another captive and then line up for dinner. As
Dec 122013
 
Traveler #2: Kingdom Come, by D.B. Drumm July, 1984  Dell Books Yet another post-nuke pulp series from the ‘80s, Traveler is one I remember checking out from my local library as a kid (they actually had men’s adventure novels on a spinner rack!). I think I read the first volume, but they didn’t have any others and so I never bothered buying the later volumes at WaldenBooks, as even then I
Nov 112013
 

Making U-Hoo, by Irving A. Greenfield
November, 1973  Dell Books

Another of those early ‘70s sex novels Dell Books specialized in, Making U-Hoo is courtesy Irving A. Greenfield, who again delivers a fast-moving narrative that, while not being especially memorable in the plot department, definitely delivers some memorable sex scenes. In the ‘60s Greenfield served as “Vin Fields” for porn imprint Midwood, so he certainly had the experience under his belt (so to speak) to capitalize on the sex novel boom of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s.

The playful title is apt – the characters in this novel “make yoo-hoo” in both the literal and the figurative sense. Sales for a previously-low tier soft drink called U-Hoo (a citrus-lime soda clearly modelled on Sprite) have gone through the roof, basically destroying the profits of larger soft drink manufacturer SDA (read: Coca-Cola). Protagonist and sometimes narrator Bart Sherriff, a consulting ad whiz, is called in by SDA to find out what’s going on.

I say “sometimes” a narrator because most of Making U-Hoo is in third-person, but Greenfield will arbitrarily jump into Bart’s perspective for several first-person sequences. Sometimes it’s when he’s meeting with clients, other times when he’s just walking around (strangely though, none of the actual sex scenes are written in first-person), so there seems to be little rhyme or reason to the perspective changes.

Bart Sherriff is a totally ‘70s protagonist; he’s in his 30s and lives in a swinging bachelor pad in Manhattan complete with a round bed and a stereophonic system that’s hooked into a fancy lighting system, so that various colors will flicker in accordance with the mood of the music. He’s such a successful advertising man that he rents out his services, charging high dollars for his consultations. Just as importantly, so far as the narrative goes, he’s also a big success with the ladies, able to score with ease.

We see Bart handling a few accounts before he’s called in by SDA president Knowles to handle the U-Hoo situation. Knowles states that the problem threatens the national economy, and it’s so bad that people are bootlegging U-Hoo, buying it off shelves and reselling it at a massive upcharge. After accepting the job Bart realizes he’s being followed, and soon discovers that the Feds are on the case, shadowing his every move.

Not that this prevents him from sleeping with the first of three conquests in the novel, this being a gorgeous blonde SDA secretary named Sandy, who just started working at SDA, is happy to go home with Bart, and is obviously an FBI agent (though it takes Bart a while to realize this). In the ensuing sex scene Greenfield takes us completely into the shagadelic ‘70s, with the couple engaging in explicitly-rendered sex on Bart’s round bed while stroboscopic lights flash around them.

Greenfield lazily works up a mystery here, but the novel is moreso in the light humor vein, with no violence or deaths or anything of that nature. In fact when Bart is confronted by a pair of FBI goons he’s easily able to fool them into thinking he himself is a G-Man, and then gets the guys drunk and sends them on their way. This after the trio have watched a televised speech from the President (clearly Nixon, though he isn’t named – and there’s a fair amount of President-bashing throughout the novel, again firmly rooting it in its era), in which the President informs the country of the “soda conspiracy” and requests that everyone buy a can of pop the next day.

It’s his ruse to further throw off the Feds that leads Bart to his next conquest, a brunette model named Lois. The focus of the most sex scenes in the novel, I guess Lois is the closest we get to a female protagonist. Bart calls in a crazy friend to throw a costume party in Bart’s apartment, so Bart can take off in the fray and leave the Feds to wonder what happened to him. He tells his crazy friend to bring along anyone he knows; one of these people happens to be Lois, who offers her place to Bart as a safe place to stay, and thus moments after meeting each other they rush back to her place to screw. Ah, the ‘70s.

Greenfield serves up another pages-long sex scene here, miles beyond the metaphor and analogy-ridden purple prose you’d encounter in say the Baroness series, with graphic depictions baldly rendered…though not with the outrageous aspects of Harold Robbins or the boring, repetitive, and mechanical sex descriptions you’d find in a vintage sleaze novel like Flowers And Flesh. One thing I’ve noticed though about Greenfield is his tendency to always mention what his female characters taste like, if you catch my drift.

Making U-Hoo runs at 251 pages of fairly big print, and I figured most of those pages would be given over to sex scenes, but that’s really not the case. In fact Greenfield seems determined to deliver an actual story, one that’s couched in goofy humor and the occasional sex scene. Most of the novel is focused on Bart’s inner monologues and his thoughts and feelings on various things as he traipses around ‘70s New York City tracking down clues. However the U-Hoo “conspiracy” stuff is not given enough weight or focus to classify the novel as a thriller or anything of the sort. Again, it’s more of a comedy.

In fact the whole mystery angle is rendered moot in the reveal, when Bart meets Flosie, a black masseuse. While giving Bart a handjob she casually informs him that she’s behind the “conspiracy,” having spread the word that the black community should “get whitey” by buying up one brand of soda and then gouging the market with inflated resale prices. Bart thanks her by paying to have sex with her, having already broken off his days-long relationship with Lois. In fact the women just abruptly drop out of the narrative once Bart’s done with them, and Greenfield intentionally or not builds ill will against his protagonist, as it’s clear that these women develop feelings for Bart, particularly Lois, but he could care less.

I’m sort of on the fence with Making U-Hoo; I enjoy Greenfield’s writing and the dialog he gives his characters, but the plot is middling and forgettable. However the book works as a nice capsule of early ‘70s New York and the fashions of its hipper denizens, which always results in high marks from me. I guess I’d end by saying you should maybe check it out if you come across it for cheap, but it’s not worth going to great lengths to hunt it down.
Oct 172013
 

Cross-Country, by Herbert Kastle
December, 1975  Dell Books

This was Herbert Kastle's last hardcover book for a few years, at least here in the States; after this novel he was relegated to paperback originals (until Ladies of the Valley, which came out in hardcover in 1979). Which is fine by me, as I much prefer paperbacks. But anyway at least Cross-Country was a memorable way to go out, Kastle returning to his crime fiction roots but leavening the tale with the hot and heavy sex scenes he’d been writing since 1968 in his steamy, Harold Robbins-style potboilers.

The novel opens with the discovery of Judith Keel’s mutilated corpse – Keel, a gorgeous blonde who worked as an assistant in an ad agency, has been hacked up in horrible fashion in her Manhattan apartment, her severed arms chained to the headboard of her bed and her body tossed on the floor and further desecrated. From this we jump to Evan Bley, a top ad man at the agency Keel worked for, and Kastle immediately lets us know that this guy likely killed Judith; Evan’s stopping off in a topless bar for a quick drink before getting in his Jaguar and leaving New York forever.

But Evan’s picked up by a stacked brunette with an Australian accent; the lady is named Lois, and she instantly deduces that Evan’s planning to ditch town and she wants to go with him, especially when Evan informs her he’s planning a cross-country drive to Los Angeles. After getting bombed out on the bar’s potent drinks, Evan wakes to find himself sprawled out on the backseat of his own car, Lois in the passenger seat…and some bearded freak behind the wheel. This turns out to be John, Lois’s ex-boyfriend, and thus begins the major twisted thread of this twisted novel.

In one of the most brazen acts of coincidence I’ve ever read in a novel, Kastle gradually reveals that, unbeknownst to one another, each of these strangers knew Judith Keel. Thus, since each of them have shady, lawless backgrounds and insane tendencies, each of them are actually suspects as Keel’s murderer. Before we get to that though we have a long, tense sequence in which they keep going up against one another, Evan feeling like he’s been swindled, what with the sudden appearance of John, who comes off like a creep who’s planning to steal Evan’s car and/or slash his throat while Evan’s sleeping. Kastle is a dark comedy master and this sequence is filled with it, as Evan and John keep trying to one up one another.

Meanwhile we are introduced to the hero of the tale, such as he is: Detective Eddie Roersch of the NYPD, a 30+ year veteran of the force who, at a heavyset and weathered 55, feels like life has passed him by and that he’ll never get the recognition or the pay he deserves. Despite having more collars than any other detective in his precinct, Roersch has never been promoted to Lieutenant, let alone Captain.

Beyond the job Roersch’s personal life is in disarray, given the death seven months ago of his wife of three decades. Not that Kastle makes much of Roersch’s widowhood; he’s already sort of moved on, scoring sex from a high-class hooker named Ruthie who happens to live on the same floor as Roersch’s Manhattan apartment. In exchange for not busting her Ruthie gives Roersch freebies, but over these past few months Roersch has found himself thinking of Ruthie as more than just a free lay.

Assigned the Keel case, Roersch very quickly deduces that Evan Bley is the top suspect. The majority of the Roersch sections follow a police procedural format, with Roersch tracking clues and leads. Soon enough he has what he figures is a cut and dry case against Bley. But this is a Kastle novel, and there are no white hats; seeing as how wealthy Bley is, Roersch decides that instead of tracking him down and arresting him, Roersch will instead build a solid case against Bley, find him, and tell him he can either go to the chair or pay Roersch a few hundred thousand dollars, and Bley will go free.

Evan Bley, though, is pretty sick. Not really sick, but tormented, having grown up with an overbearing mother who burned a permanent scar into young Evan, having once discovered him masturbating in the bathroom. In one of those bizarre yet (darkly) humorous scenes he excels in, Kastle has the mom go apeshit, beating young Evan and then, believe it or not, pulling down her skirt and graphically showing him that it’s her time of the month and blaming it all on him! Well, you won’t be surprised to know that this has had some definite ramifications on Evan, who nonetheless considers himself a “monster.” Kastle himself builds a pretty damning case against Bley as being Judith Keel’s murderer, but Bley’s fellow passengers are screwed up too.

John has his own sob story background: he’s from a wealthy background but has been drifting around the country for the past decade. In another dark comedy flashback we see how when John was a young boy his dad went balistic when he found out that John’s mom was sleeping around, a crazed scene that sees a poor dog kicked around until it’s hamburger. Lois too is fucked up, being raped by her father when a teenager and from there finding brief comfort in the arms of other women; but lesbian affairs are completely against her nature, she constantly chastizes herself. Having been in the States for the past few years she makes her meager living dancing in bars or working in massage parlors, but she dreams of becoming a famous actress. When she finds out that Evan has contacts in the industry, she latches on to him.

What’s weird is how Kastle builds a familial relationship for these three whackjobs. First though there’s the tension, both of the danger and the sexual variety; Lois coming on to Evan, much to John’s frustration. And you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy, given how Lois so brazenly rubs it in his face that she’s over him and now wants Evan – who is not only better looking and in better shape, but has more money and a bigger dick. In fact Evan’s size is often brought up, particularly in the first of several highly graphic sex scenes between him and Lois – as I wrote above, Kastle with this novel returned to the crime fiction genre he’d written in the early ‘60s, but here he’s free to give vent to his most explicit ideas. There’s some hardcore stuff throughout Cross-Country, and no detail is spared.

As the trio moves on through the Midwest they become closer, Lois feeling like the glue that holds them all together (sometimes literally). But she’s moved on from John and wants Evan for herself, so in another lurid sequence they manage to pick up an attractive but stupid redneck girl named Alma-Jean, who works in a clothing store. More drinking, drugs, and group sex ensues, but Lois, who has lesbian tendencies she tries to subdue, loses control of herself on the girl.

Another demonstration of Kastle’s skill, this sequence goes from erotica to horror as it devolves into bad vibes all around, Lois storming off and Alma-Jean hitting the road, sick of these “freaks,” with John trying to find her before she can get away. Kastle plays this game throughout where we know that one of the trio is a murderer, but which one? They all have their issues, and they all have their chances in the narrative to commit murder – and sure enough, later on we learn that Alma-Jean’s mutilated body has been discovered in a dumpster outside the hotel, and it could’ve been any one of the three who killed her.

Roersch, still in New York, begins to doubt his blackmail scheme, once news of Alma-Jean’s death comes to him. This means that, along with Judith Keel and two other murdered girls, four people have been killed by Bley (Roersch’s only suspect; he doesn’t even know about Lois or John), and how could Roersch live with himself if he allowed a monster like that to escape justice? Meanwhile Roersch goes on with his life, finding that his feelings for Ruthie, the hooker next door, have increased to the point where he wants the blackmail money from Bey so as to provide a better life for her and her prepubescent daughter.

Cross-Country is more of a slow burn affair, and lacks the dynamic characterization and plotting of Ladies of the Valley. It is however a much darker tale (believe it or not), with practically every character fucked up to some degree. But the writing is as strong as ever, with Kastle fully bringing his rejects to life; he remains locked in each perspective when featuring each character, and brings you enough into their worlds that you can at least understand them, if not like them. Save for Lois, who comes off as more self-centered and annoying in her sequences, and I get the feeling Kastle had a hard time writing about her, as there isn’t much there.

The action only picks up toward the climax, when Roersch feels he’s successfully put together his case (after visits with Roersch’s still-domineering mother, now old and alone, as well as a private eye named McKenney, who tailed Judith Keel for Bley) and heads for a confrontation with the man in the Grand Canyon, having got hold of Bley’s planned travel route through AA (Bley being a member). But we see that it’s all come to a head for our depraved trio, as well, as during another group sex session things again become nightmarish, with bad vibes leading to a startling but expected bit where John buggers Evan – who despite his shock realizes he enjoys it.

Please skip this paragraph if you don’t want the novel’s surprise spoiled. As mentioned above, Evan, John, and Lois could each have been the murderer of Judith Keel, as well as poor Alma-Jean and some other women back in New York. Gradually though I figured out which of the three it was, mostly due to a bit of foreshadowing Kastle delivers early in the book; Roersch, considering the horrible nature of the Keel murder, figures it had to have been a man behind it, as female murders of such brutality are few. He can only think of the Countess Bathory. From this I soon figured Kastle was foreshadowing that Lois was actually Keel’s murderer (and all the other girls besides). And Lois does indeed turn out to be the killer, as revealed at the very end. As yet another example of his writing skill, you can go back to the sequences from Lois’s POV and see how Kastle has so masterfully left clues therein. But my problem here is that after this reveal Lois immediately “acts crazy,” blithely recounting her murderous deeds to Roersch as she perches above a chasm in the Grand Canyon. The way her character acts here in the climax is so separate from how she acted throughout the rest of the novel that it comes off like a cheap cop-out; however Kastle does cover himself by having Lois already feeling a sort of psychotic break thanks to discovering Evan’s homosexual tendencies the night before. Now learning that Bley’s a “goddamn closet queen,” her hopes for Hollywood stardom are dashed, and she’s gone around the bend. But still, it comes off as too much, too late.

This was the first of a loose trilogy featuring Roersch; he appeared in Kastle’s next two novels, both of them as mentioned paperback originals: The Gang (1976) and Death Squad (1977). Finally, there was a film adaptation of Cross-Country, released in 1983; there’s no DVD, but it came out on VHS (glad I still have a VCR player!). One of these days I might check it out, just to see how far it strays from Kastle’s novel – one thing I do know is they changed it so that Judith Keel was Bley’s wife, which I guess they thought would add more tension and suspense.