Aug 142014
Body Rub, by Mark Andrews No month stated, 1976  Leisure Books Offering everything I wanted from The Savage Women and more, Body Rub is yet another Leisure paperback original that trades on sin and sleaze. “Massage parlors were a front for prostitution…and worse,” goes the blurry cover blurb, and you’ll never guess what that “worse” entails – that’s right, my friends, Satanism!! Running to
Aug 072014
The Deadly Spring, by J.C. Conaway No month stated, 1976  Leisure Books J.C. Conaway, the man who as “Jake Quinn” gave the world the Shannon series, returns to Leisure Books under his own name and delivers a trashy horror-mystery hybrid that comes off like a proto-version of William W. Johnstone’s The Nursery. Unlike the Shannon books, stuff actually happens here, and it’s all pretty wild
Jun 192014
The Savage Women, by Mike Curtis No month stated, 1976  Leisure Books Taking the battle of the sexes to extreme proportions, this obscure Leisure paperback original is almost a masterful work of lurid sleaze, but not quite. While it’s definitely sick and sleazy, filled with graphic and sadistic detail, it comes off as a little plodding due to its repetitive nature. It’s a super-hot August
Mar 312014
Motive For Murder, by Edson T. Hamill No month stated, 1975  Leisure Books It doesn’t feature a series title or volume number, but this was actually the seventh volume of the Ryker series. Not that it much matters, as Motive For Murder works as a standalone novel, likely turned out by a writer new to the series – given the research of Justin Marriott in Paperback Fanatic #28, I’m assuming
Mar 032014
Shannon #3: The Mindbenders, by Jake Quinn January, 1975  Leisure Books As half-assed and leisurely-paced as its predecessors, the third and final installment of the Shannon series once again sees our titular hero more concerned with downing whiskey and scoring with his hooker girlfriend. Meanwhile an Anton LaVey-styled “medium” is implanting mind-control devices in the heads of UN employees
Feb 102014
The Immortal, by John Tigges No month stated, 1986  Leisure Books John Tigges published several horror paperbacks through Leisure Books in the ‘80s; I’ve picked up a few over the years, but this is the first I’ve read. Like most other Leisure horror novels The Immortal runs to a fat 400 pages, but it’s got super-big print and Tigges’s writing is so pulpy and melodramatic that you’ll finish
Dec 262013
Z-Comm #3: MIA, by Kyle Maning No month stated, 1989  Leisure Books If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night and asked yourself, “Hey, what if David Alexander had written a volume of MIA Hunter??”, then wonder no more, as this third installment of Z-Comm answers that very question. Unexpectedly though in MIA Alexander (once again posing as “Kyle Maning”) cuts back on the crazed
Nov 252013

Night Of The Phoenix, by Jack Cannon
September, 1989  Pocket Books
(Original publication June, 1975  Manor Books)

In 1989 Nelson DeMille decided to bring his Ryker series back into print, crediting himself as “Jack Cannon” with a note to the reader explaining that these editions were “revised and updated” by the author himself. The note to the reader also provides a little backstory on these books, briefly stating that the series started as Ryker with Leisure books before moving over to Manor and becoming Keller.

As part of the revisions New York “hero” cop Joe Ryker is here only referred to as such, and never as “Joe Keller.” It’s my theory that DeMille left Leisure because he got pissed off that editor Peter McCurtin published Ryker #3 under DeMille’s name, even though it was written by Len Levinson. Len explained this to me that McCurtin’s thinking was that Leisure owned not only the series but the rights to the author’s name. Doesn’t sound legally accurate to me, I mean DeMille was a real name, not a house name, but what do I know, it was the ‘70s.

But anyway shortly after this DeMille split from Leisure and went over to Manor, changed “Joe Ryker” to “Joe Keller,” and continued writing the series, which ran for a total of four volumes. Counting the two Ryker volumes DeMille published with Leisure (actually they published three by DeMille, but more on that below), that means the Joe Ryker/Keller books ran a total of six volumes, all of which were reprinted by Pocket in these “revised and updated” editions. Night Of The Phoenix originally appeared in 1975 as the third volume of Manor’s Keller series, but was the fifth (and thus penultimate) volume of the ’89 Ryker reprints.

Even this is screwy, though; as Marty McKee notes, Leisure actually published Night Of The Phoenix as the fourth volume of Ryker, titling it The Agent Of Death. Marty mentions that this Leisure edition features different character names than the Manor edition and also lacks a prologue which features so memorably in the Keller version of the tale (fortunately, the prologue is also in this Pocket reprint). So as Marty states, sly DeMille must’ve gotten paid twice for the same book…though if Len Levinson’s comments to me are any indication, DeMille probably didn’t get paid for either book, Manor and Leisure being notoriously reluctant to pay their authors.

Now that all that is out of the way, on to the novel itself. Night Of The Phoenix is along the same lines as the other DeMille Ryker I’ve read, The Hammer Of God. (A problem with all of these Ryker and Keller books is they're so goddamn expensive on the used book marketplace – hell, even the Pocket reprints are expensive, in some cases moreso than the original editions!) Rather than focusing on the action this genre is known for, DeMille instead delivers a police procedural that’s heavier on dialog and character.

And speaking of character, Joe Ryker is once again an arrogant, obnoxious prick, belittling coworkers and degrading superiors. Whereas Len Levinson made Ryker a whole lot more likable, DeMille’s (original) interpretation of the character is a hateful bastard, as repulsive as can be. Like Narc #4, this is another cop novel that takes place in the sweltering heat of a New York summer, and DeMille relishes in letting us know how sweaty and stinky his protagonist is – and talking about obnoxious, there are a few scenes where Ryker notes his own stink and will spread his arms so that others can smell him! So like I said, he’s a pretty repulsive guy.

As mentioned this Pocket reprint retains the prologue which was in the original Manor edition but removed from the Leisure edition. And truth be told, this prologue is the highlight of the novel; I could’ve read an entire novel about CIA assassin Morgan as he sits in ambush in some swamp deep in ‘Nam, targetting any unfortunate NVA or VC who might come his way. There’s a dark comedy afoot as we learn that Morgan is paid per kill, and, like Death Race 2000 or something, he’s paid in accordance to how important the person is he’s killed.

It’s late in the war and a CIA rep drops into the swamp to tell Morgan he’s no longer employed; the CIA rep further informs Morgan that he’s made the personal decision to kill Morgan and take the few hundred thousand dollars he’s amassed over the years in his Swiss Bank account. But Morgan ends up killing the rep and, stranded in the swamp (his sole companion a Vietnamese girl he wounded earlier due to a misfire and spent the rest of the night raping), begins walking his way out of the jungle.

This brings us to the “present,” clearly 1989 in this updated Pocket edition; I’m curious how much exactly DeMille revised, but the original Manor edition being so pricey I’m unable to compare the two printings. Anyway Ryker is called onto the case when a gruesome corpse is discovered; a former CIA agent is found sitting in his bathtub, killed by leeches. DeMille brings to life the nightmarish scene, with Ryker and his fellow cop “friend” Lindly looking in horror at the fat leeches as they float around in the bloody water – a scene which finishes on a bizarrely humorous cop movie-style joke when Ryker pulls one of the leeches out of the water and reads it its rights.

When the guy’s wife is later blown away by a sniper, Ryker is convinced something’s going on…his first clue being how his “stupid chief” superiors at the precinct sort of brush over how the Feds immediately swooped onto the crime scene and took away all of the evidence. Then CIA rep Jorgenson shows up and informs the cops that a rogue CIA assassin from the ‘Nam era is back and is hunting down the men who set him up. The assassin is of course Morgan, and Jorgenson delivers Ryker et al a background story that’s a little different from the “facts” as presented in the prologue. But then, Jorgenson makes it clear that he’s in the business of lying, thus making Ryker even more distrustful of the man and the entire situation.

But as mentioned Night Of The Phoenix is narratively identical to Hammer of God in that the novel is basically a dialog-heavy police procedural with none of the action or suspense a reader might want. There isn’t even much of a lurid element, other than the grisly crime scenes Ryker investigates, for example a later sequence where another former CIA agent who betrayed Morgan is found hanging above a building, the skin flayed from his corpse. As for sex, there isn’t any of that either, even considering a nonsensical bit where Ryker and his new partner Lentini hire a hooker for the night, even bringing her onto one of the crime scenes the next morning!

For the most part Night Of The Phoenix is comprised of Ryker snapping at his colleagues and superiors that there’s more to the Morgan case than meets the eye; he of course runs afoul of Jorgenson, who makes veiled threats that Ryker “knows too much.” Ryker’s certain that a member of Jorgenson’s CIA team is a turncoat, someone who is feeding Morgan intel, but Jorgenson continues to backpedal and spread mistruths. After a while Ryker’s also certain he and his partners will come under fire, so in one of the more unusual “plot twists” I’ve ever read in one of these novels, he decides to hell with it and goes on vacation!

For vacation Ryker settles on a rural farmland owned by his ex in-laws in Chicago. Both of them “old unconverted Nazis,” they live on a compound guarded by dogs and the old man has an arsenal in his basement, complete with machine guns, subguns, and even gatling guns. There’s a part where Ryker, Lindly, and Lentini look over the weaponry, suspecting they might need it when the inevitable CIA squad comes after them – Ryker has gone on vacation so as to escape any death squads that might be sent after him, but when Lindly follows after him Ryker knows the cat’s out of the bag and his hiding place has been uncovered.

But man, DeMille can’t be bothered to write an action scene. Forget about Chekov’s dictum; DeMille shows us a whole lot more than just a rifle above the mantle, but doesn’t use them in the third act or any other act. When the squad does show up that night, all we get is a somewhat tense scene where Ryker et al hear the dogs barking outside; they see some headlights; and then the car drives away! The next morning, despite finding all of the dogs dead, Ryker just decides to leave, telling Lentini to go start up the car…and Lentini’s killed in the ensuing blast, the CIA of course having wired the car to blow. You see, Ryker’s an idiot in addition to being an asshole.

Please skip this paragraph if you want to avoid the novel’s surprise. As the murders continue, Jorgenson doles out more info, like the fact that Morgan is a leper. Ryker starts to wonder how a guy with such a supposedly-ruined face could get around the city without anyone noticing him. And like Ryker you soon begin to suspect Jorgenson himself. This turns out to be the reveal – Jorgenson is actually the murderer, and he doles out the tale for Ryker at the very end of the novel. Long story short, Jorgenson himself was part of the CIA team that screwed Morgan over, and also as coincidence would have it Jorgenson happened to be on the base a jungle-ravaged Morgan stumbled into after surviving his betrayal in the prologue sequence. So Jorgenson finished off Morgan himself (throwing him out of a helicopter!) and now, these years later, has decided to cash in on the Swiss Bank account, after getting the various serial numbers from his old turncoat pals. So in other words the promised tale of a leper-faced CIA assassin running amok in NYC is denied us, DeMille once again going for more of a “realistic” approach. Dammit!

While it skimps on the action and the sleaze, Night Of The Phoenix is still rather well-written, with DeMille bringing his characters to life, in particular his slimy protagonist. There’s good dialog and funny stuff too, though nothing on the un-PC level of Hammer of God. Speaking of which I don’t think DeMille removed too much of such material from this revised edition, as evidenced in an early scene where Ryker goes on about how black people hate cold weather. It’s just that in this installment Ryker’s moreso just a regular asshole instead of a racist and sexist asshole.

I’d like to read more of DeMille’s Ryker and Keller novels, whether in the original editions or these “Jack Cannon” reprints, but the prices for them are too prohibitive. However the post-DeMille Ryker novels from Leisure, credited to Edson T. Hamill, are fortunately much more affordable, so I’ll be reading them next.

Oh, and as for these Jack Cannon/Pocket reprints, each of them have similar covers, of this shades-wearing "cool" cop who in no way shape or form resembes Ryker or anyone else in these books.  In fact, the covers look like stills from the sequel to Cobra that Sylvester Stallone never gave us.
Jul 112013

Trouble Is My Business, by Jay Flynn
No month stated, 1976 (incorrectly states "1967")  Leisure Books

This was the second of two novels Jay Flynn wrote about tough San Francisco street cop Sgt. Joe Rigg; the first one was Blood On Frisco Bay. And like that previous book Trouble Is My Business is for the most part a listless affair churned out by a drunk and disinterested author, a book that ranges from endless digressions on inconsequentialities to super hardcore sex scenes straight out of Penthouse Letters.

Flynn constantly refers back to the events in Blood On Frisco Bay, so one would do well to read that first before reading this book. At any rate Rigg’s life is mostly the same, he still works the docks in San Fran and still only wants to be a street cop, despite having been “technically” promoted to a lieutenant after what went down in the previous book. We also learn that Rigg is best buds with “The Cowboy,” aka the new President of the US, clearly implied here as being Ronald Reagan (he’s a stern Conservative Republican who used to star in Westerns), which I found interesting given that in reality Reagan wasn’t elected for another four years.

Really though the book is almost a complete retread of Blood On Frisco Bay, but if anything even more listless and unconcerned with forward momentum. At least that previous book livened things up every once in a while with violent action scenes that had no relation to the main plot. Trouble Is My Business doesn’t even have that, instead focusing more on Rigg’s mundane daily life. But yet again like that first book, this one starts off with a bang, as Rigg witnesses a cold-blooded murder in broad daylight, on a busy street, as a dude with a Bowie knife hops out of a car and chops off a lawyer-type’s hand, snatching the guy’s attache case and squealing off in his car before anyone can react.

After discovering that the murdered man, Blackton, was a CPA who handled hush-hush deals for wealthy clients, Rigg just sort of moves on with his life…instead of delivering a taut, blood-soaked thriller, Flynn instead thinks that we want to hear all about the new litter of puppies just delivered back on Rigg’s Trumpy houseboat! Along with that he gives us more scenes with Annie Dale, Rigg’s now live-in girlfriend, who actually has much less narrative time in this one. The puppies are courtesy a dog the Cowboy gave to Rigg, knocked up by Croc, Rigg’s massive Irish Wolfhound “partner.”

Eventually the book takes on the tone of a police procedural, just a really boring one. Rigg goes around tracking clues and meets up with various of Blackton’s clientele. Flynn here works up a massive land-buying conspiracy scheme that almost makes the plot of Chinatown seem easy to follow, but it all fizzles out into a basic scheme – namely, Cuba-funded counterfeit US dollars. It takes forever for Rigg to discover this, though, but in the meantime he’s too busy getting orally pleasured by the daughter of one of Blackton’s clients and a super-hot and super-horny female Treasury agent who is working undercover as the man’s maid.

I should mention here that all the women in this novel are super-hot and super-horny. Flynn has what appears to be an obsession with three-ways time out, with Rigg constantly being propositioned by two girls at once. And if he’s too tired or spent to handle them, they’re more than happy to go at it with each other! I would imagine though that all this is just a recurring joke…serioulsy, there are numerous scenes where the girls will want to do Rigg, who sends them away because he’s exhausted or needs to work, and Flynn will go into great graphic detail on how the girls will just flop on top of each other and go at it.

But if it’s an in-joke, it gets old quick. It got boring fast to see how one-dimensional the women were. I understand and even appreciate the fact that these old pulp novels trade on the conceit that women are mostly there just to look sexy and screw the protagonist…and in fact I want to bang my head against the wall when I read all the lame, whiny-assed complaints about ‘70s novels you will encounter in reviews on the internet, where modern-day losers will bitch about the “misogyny” and “racism” of 1970s novels. You get the idea that these people would be better served watching shit like Dancing with the Stars or How I Met Your Mother instead of venturing into the choppy waters of ‘70s pulp, but I digress. Long story short, even I got a little annoyed with how the women in Trouble Is My Business were only there to proposition Rigg or to go down on one another.

Meanwhile the main plot drags on with little (non-sexual) action. Other than one hilariously arbitrary scene early on where Rigg stops a convenience store robbery, the only action sequence Flynn delivers is one right after Rigg’s been blown by the undercover maid and the client’s daughter, as someone pulls off a driveby shooting at the client’s house. Rigg, naked, chases after and fires at the car with a heavy-caliber pistol. But that’s it, that’s all we get on the action front, until the climax of the book.

And again like the previous book, Flynn kills more time with the unwelcome presence of the Cowboy, who despite being the President just heads on over to SanFran to hang out with Rigg on his Trumpy! And returning with him is Tina Holmes, Rigg’s callgirl friend who is now the Cowboy’s main squeeze (she informs Rigg with delight that she’s finally gotten the Cowboy to give it to her via rear entry, by the way). And guess what, Annie and Tina are immediately propositioning Rigg, only to go down on one another when he tells them he needs his rest.

Even the (anti)climax is a recursor to Blood On Frisco Bay; not only does the main villain turn out to be a gorgeous foreign lady, but Rigg is again called in at the last second so as to stage a half-assed raid on the villain’s just-discovered lair. In this case the lady is Catarina, a beautiful Cuban woman who is the ex-wife of Blackton’s land-developing client; the entire attache case mystery turns out to be a MacGuffin, as the counterfeit US currency was the true evil here…apparently Blackton had photos of the printing plates in his attache case, and Catarina wanted those photos back. Instead her goons killed Blackton, thus getting Rigg on the case.

Flynn does deliver a fairly good fight between Rigg and the Bowie-wielding maniac, who actually appears in maybe five pages of the book. (I was under the impression that Trouble Is My Business was about a knife-wielding “sex killer,” so I guess I must’ve confused it with some other sleazy ‘70s cop novel.) But the finale is over and done with posthaste – and Catarina, the mastermind behind it all, gets maybe three pages narrative time and is only introduced into the text toward the very end. She has none of the memorable (or sadistic) qualities of the female villain in the previous book.

This was it for Joe Rigg, whose adventures ended with this second volume. Though honestly one could argue that his adventures never even really started – these two books were snoozefests for the most part, not even saved by the XXX-rated stuff. However it must be said that Flynn actually can write, especially when it comes to dialog, as he has a particular gift for funny lines. But man if he’d only combined that writing skill with a good, forward-moving plot, he really would’ve had something.
Jun 102013

The Sharpshooter #8: No Quarter Given, by Bruno Rossi
July, 1974  Leisure Books

No Quarter Given plunges the Sharpshooter series right back to its grimy, nasty roots. Once again we have what might've been intended as an installment of the Marksman series, with “hero” Johnny Rock acting more like Philip Magellan as he kidnaps mafioso, tortures and mutilates them, and then murders them in cold blood – that is, when he’s not indulging in his penchant for disguises or taking some new weapon or knockout drug from his “artillery case.”

Lots of online searching has yielded zero information about who wrote this volume, but the style is close enough that it might be Russell Smith. Maybe without the nutzoid spark of Smith’s books, but with that same deadpan, grisly sense of humor, where things are plainly laid out in the narrative before jumping wildly to exclamatory sentences of death and destruction. There’s also a huge focus on maritime stuff, with portions of the book coming off like “US Navy 101,” and this is something else I’ve often noticed in Smith’s novels.

As expected, the book opens with absolutely no reference to the previous volume, which was courtesty Len Levinson. Rock is now in Norfolk, Virginia, on his way to DC to clear up the mob corruption there. (Also Rock is for the most part referred to as “Rock” throughout, with only one “Magellan” goof – but then, it’s actually a double goof, as the author writes “Magella.”) But as we open Rock is in a Norfolk bar watching a stripper named Mimi; the place serves as a cathouse, the women forced into prostitution, and Mimi pounces on Rock because she instantly figures out that he’s a good guy and can save her from this hell.

The place is overseen by mob boss Joey “Niente” Barbagallo, a prick who runs a veritable empire but poses as a bartender at a local watering hole. Niente was in the Navy for twenty years (cue lots of Navy material here) and has used his connections to set up a black market ring across this part of Virginia. He also sets up Navy VIPs and then exploits their families when the Navy dude’s life is wrecked, usually indenturing the daughters into forced prostitution, which happens to be Mimi’s sad story.

Rock immediately decides that Niente and his goons will all die. He breaks Mimi out of there, and for the rest of the novel she acts as his sidekick – a pretty horny sidekick, of course. It’s only after Rock has, uh, “rocked” Mimi all night that the girl informs him she’s a mere 16 years old! Rock just sort of brushes this off, marveling more over the fact that she could easily pass for an older woman. Otherwise Mimi is a fun character, easily adapting to Rock’s crazy lifestyle and helping him out on his recon missions.

There’s barely any action for the most part, instead these rushed descriptions of Rock and Mimi shuttling from one place to another as they get a lockdown on Niente’s empire; this includes a bit where they pose as a Navy officer and his mistress, but they’re abducted by a trio of mobsters who themselves are posing, as reps for a swinger’s club. After blowing away the three gunmen, Rock and Mimi head on to the club anyway, and we’re vaguely informed of the debauchery within, of the live sex shows performed on stage, mostly by juveniles (the author must really have something for pushing this particular boundary), while the audience is given beds of their own to watch the stage shows, Rock and Mimi going at it on their matress.

The author really fills pages with long sequences from Barbagallo’s point of view, down to the most mundane aspects of his life, from how his apartment is furnished to his conversations with his stooges. Rock doesn’t get in much action and only takes out a handful of mobsters, often saving Mimi from danger. (There is though a sadistic part where a trio of gunmen momentarily capture the pair and one of the guys jams the friggin barrel of his pistol up Mimi’s behind!) Also there are many scenes where for whatever reason Rock will appropriate a disguise, like a long bit where he and Mimi go to great lengths to look like street bums.

For once this particular author does bother to wrap up the tale, with Rock somehow bullshitting his way into a prison and arranging for the release of Mimi’s father; there follows a protracted scene where the man divulges how he was set up to the media. Rock ensures the guy doesn’t implicate Barbagallo, as Rock wants to deal with the bastard personally; after blowing up the mobster’s two bars he kidnaps a few of his stooges, jamming their half-dead bodies in the trunk of his car for no explained reason. Finally the whole group is dealt with in a perfunctory exploding of another Barbagallo club. It’s an anticlimatic end, but at least it’s an end.

Rayo Casablanca, over at his Sick Hipster blog, wonderfully (and accurately) summed up the Sharpshooter series: “These books feel like they were written by off-duty mall security guards.” Maybe he was thinking of this installment in particular. Here are a few excerpts from No Quarter Given that really made me chuckle:

Barbagallo opened the door to this room. He closed it immediately. He turned. He went to the left, to the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator. It needed defrosting so badly it was literally screaming. Except for a six-pack of beer it was empty. Down on his knees he performed a nightly ritual of trying to figure out why the light bulb behind the freezing unit didn’t work. As usual he gave it up, slamming the door. -- pg. 80

With lightening[sp] speed, Rock’s left fist slammed into the second man’s bewildered face. Blood spurted from his nose instantly. Then Rock chopped him savagely on the neck until his knees buckled and he slipped down to the floor. Rock swung the Beretta with the brute force of an express train. He realized in a flashing second that the blow had killed the man! -- pg. 130

After double-checking everything, planting three hi-blast grenades in Mimi’s ratty looking purse and arming himself with the Llama and the Beretta, Rock gripped two sad, worn shopping bags heavy with all the junk he could find in the apartment.

“Let’s go, slut!” he grinned. -- pg. 109