Aug 222014
 
Recently Stark House reprinted two more of Robert Silverberg's early Sixties soft-core novels, LUST QUEEN and LUST VICTIM, so strictly speaking I don't know if you can call these books forgotten, but it wasn't that long ago they were. Bill Crider wrote about LUST QUEEN on his blog a while back. Today I'm taking a look at LUST VICTIM. This novel was originally published in 1962 under the
Feb 282014
 
Like many of the novels in the various imprints published by William Hamling's black box empire, ESCAPE TO SINDOM is essentially a crime story. Val Sparkman is a professional criminal—a con man, a forger, a thief, a killer when he has to be. A bit of bad luck lands him in a small-town jail in Iowa. The local lawmen don't really have a clue who they've locked up, and Sparkman knows he has to
Feb 072013
 
Or actually a review of half of it. I wrote a review of this collection of stories from vintage men's magazines for a Finnish cultural magazine and I asked the published if I could see a PDF of the book in advance, since I wouldn't have had time to buy the book via web and wait for the copy to arrive. And I haven't had time since to read the rest of the book, but I definitely will when I've got some extra money to order the print book.

Okay, to the book. I posted the table of contents earlier, now I read the first half of the book and some extra stories. My reaction to the stories was somewhat mixed: the concept of the stories is often better than the execution. (Well, who didn't know that already..?) The idea of half-crazed Nazis torturing gorgeous and half-naked women in the castles of Germany is always good fun, but as far as the stories go, I'm not sure whether I'd care to read lots of them. One here and there is passable, but dozens of these...?

There are some good writers and good stories in the bunch, make no mistake about that. Robert Silverberg's crazy "Trapped by Mau Mau" (Exotic Adventures 1959) is a very good hardboiled adventure story, even though it's racist as hell. Robert F. Dorr's "Bayonet Killer of Heartbreak Ridge" (Man's Magazine 1964) is very well told, a snappy true-war story set in the Korean War. Harlan Ellison's "Death Climb" (True Men Stories 1957) is just a crime story, there's nothing about it to claim it's a true story, but it's pretty good - noir set on a mountain!

There were some disappointments: Lawrence Block's "She Doesn't Want You" (Real Men 1958), which is a rather bland account of prostitutes who are really lesbians. This wouldn't do as journalism anymore, even though I'm willing to admit that today's journalism at times resembles the vintage men's magazines very much. They might only do it better today. Same goes for Walter Wager's "Please God, Help Me Break Out" (Male 1958), which just tells what happened to a famous soldier (forgot the name already, sorry!) during the WWII. Jim McDonald's (real identity unknown) story has a great title: "Grisly Rites of Hitler's Monster Flesh Stripper" (Man's Story 1965), but it's actually a quite bland "re"-telling of odd incidents. You would think a writer would want to pepper these stories with some narrative hooks, but that clearly wasn't the case. And it has not enough sadism! By 2013, the teasing element has somewhat worn out. (Someone might say of course that's sad, but that's the way it goes.)

There were also stories by Bruce Jay Friedman (oddly humorous piece about a tiger in a zoo trying to eat another tiger in another cage) and Walter Kaylin (weird story about an exotic dancer acting as a tribal chief in the darkest Africa) that were of interest. The book is also spiced up by interviews with Wager and Mario Puzo, but unfortunately no story by Puzo. Wager's interview is more interesting (albeit too short!) than his story.

There are more books coming out from New Texture and I'm all for it, though I was a bit critical on this. I'll be reading the rest of the book one of these days and I'll also blog about it. Meanwhile you can take a look here.

Jan 142013
 
The long-awaited collection of vintage stories from the Golden Age of men's adventure magazines called Weasels Ripped My Flesh is out soon! I received the table of contents in PDF form last week and I can tell the book looks dandy! The editor of the book, Bob Deis (who maintains the great Men's Pulp Mags blog), has done good work with his colleagues, Josh Friedman and Wyatt Doyle (who's also the mastermind behind the New Texture publishing house that's putting this out).

Here are the table of contents, posted with Bob's and Wyatt's permission. It's too bad they didn't get a permission to reprint any of Mario Puzo's men's magazine stories, but there's an interview with him about him hacking away for the mags. I believe the last piece in the ToC is an essay on men's mag (and the writer, Bruce Friedman, is I believe the father of Josh Alan Friedman). 

I think this looks cool.

Mike Kamens: Weasels Ripped My Flesh [MAN’S LIFE, September 1956]
Gilbert Nash: "Beat" Girls: Worshippers of Zen and Sin? [UNTAMED, February 1959]
Walter Kaylin: Bar Room Girl Who Touched Off a Tribal War [MALE, June 1966]
Lawrence Block (as Sheldon Lord): She Doesn’t Want You [REAL MEN, June 1958]
Harlan Ellison: Death Climb [TRUE MEN STORIES, February 1957]
Robert F. Dorr: Bayonet Killer of Heartbreak Ridge [MAN’S MAGAZINE, October 1964]
Bruce Jay Friedman: Eat Her... Bones and All [MALE, December 1954]
Robert Silverberg (as Norman Reynolds): Trapped by Mau Mau Terror [EXOTIC ADVENTURES, 1959]
Josh Alan Friedman: Walter Wager Interview
Walter Wager: Please God, Help Me Break Out [MALE, November 1958]
Vic Pate: Chewed to Bits by Giant Turtles [MAN’S LIFE, May 1957]
Jim McDonald: Grisly Rites of Hitler’s Monster Flesh Stripper [MAN’S STORY, March 1965]
George Majari: Calypso: Is It Pornography in Hi-Fi? [GUSTO, October 1957]
Robert Silverberg (as David Challon): 50 Days as an Amazon Love Slave [SIR!, November 1959]
Josh Alan Friedman: Mario Puzo Interview
Walter Kaylin: The Stewardess ‘Call Girl Slave’ Ring [FOR MEN ONLY, December 1971]
Jane Dolinger: Girl Crusoe [ESCAPE TO ADVENTURE, March 1959]
Ken Krippene: I Married a Jungle Savage [SIR!, November 1959]
Dr. Robert H.: I Went Insane for Science [MAN’S MAGAZINE, August 1956]
Robert F. Dorr: "Ghost Bear" That Terrorized a Town [MALE, February 1975]
Lawrence Block (as Sheldon Lord): Just Window Shopping [MAN’S MAGAZINE, December 1962]
E. C. Schurmacher: I Was a Slave of the Savage Blonde [HUNTING ADVENTURES, 1956]
Joanne Beardon: I Went to a Lesbian Party [ALL MAN, May 1964]
Carl Evans: Monkey Madness [MALE, August 1953]
Bruce Jay Friedman: Even the Rhinos Were Nymphos

Sep 032012
 
In his blog I too rarely read Peter Rozovsky has started a new series of posts: he looks into the classic American hardboiled crime fiction. Here are his posts on Lionel White, Edward Anderson (Thieves Like Us), James M. Cain, Dan J. Marlowe and Robert Silverberg (admittedly a small one) and finally Dan J. Marlowe (again!), Paul Cain and Jim Thompson. He has also some other fascinating posts on different subjects, go read them all!
 Posted by at 8:10 pm
Apr 112012
 
My latest column for the Los Angeles Review of Books was published last week. The article was called, "The Criminal Kind: Voyeuristic Pleasures." Here are the books I reviewed:

Kings of Midnight by Wallace Stroby
"At their best, crime novels provide more than the voyeuristic pleasure of looking in on a lifestyle that us law-abiding citizens will never know first-hand: they offer a refractive glance back on our own world. In her own way, Crissa Stone is a modern-day hero for an America still recovering from the economic collapse. There’s an honesty and integrity to her work ethic that separates her from the fold."
And She Was by Alison Gaylin
"A moody, densely layered mystery whose emotional notes are as affecting as the plot points are enthralling. Gaylin excels at getting us into her protagonist’s complex (and crowded) mind."
Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale
"Imagine the literary love child of Carson McCullers and William Faulkner, but way more twisted, with a penchant for dismemberment, and a hell of a lot funnier. That’s Joe R. Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water in a nutshell."
The Next One to Fall by Hilary Davidson
"Don’t let the exotic Peruvian backdrop fool you: this is in no way a picturesque walk in the park — or through the Incan ruins, as the case may be. From its doom-laden opening line (“Standing at the edge of the mountain, I imagined what it would feel like to let go”) to its unexpectedly savage finale, The Next One to Fall is driven by the noir impulse towards oblivion."
Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm
"Dead Harvest is a wild and unpredictable ride that only gets more bold as the narrative unfurls, and now that the foundation for the series is set, I’m excited to see what hurdles Holm has set for Thornton in the sequel, The Wrong Goodbye, already slated for October 2012."
Blood on the Mink by Robert Silverberg
"What saves the book from becoming an orgy of excess, however, is Silverberg’s stylistic restraint, and his attention to detail and craft. Blood on the Mink is by no means as extreme as something by Mickey Spillane. Silverberg’s style, at least here, is more reminiscent of the cool precision of a Peter Rabe. When it comes to action, there’s a remarkable balance of clarity and brute force to his choreography"
Mar 212012
 
Charles Ardai and Hard Case Crime have given us another nearly lost treasure in BLOOD ON THE MINK, the only hardboiled crime novel by science fiction legend Robert Silverberg (unless there are more like this still hidden in the pages of the crime digests of the late Fifties and early Sixties, and we can only hope that's the case). This one was written for a magazine that went defunct before it could be published, but Silverberg sold it a couple of years later to one of his other markets, TRAPPED, where it appeared in the November 1962 issue under the pseudonym Ray McKensie. As Silverberg explains in his afterword to the novel, it turns out that was the final issue of TRAPPED, which is a shame because this novel could well have been the first of a series.

The narrator is a federal agent named Nick whose specialty is undercover work. In BLOOD ON THE MINK, he takes the place of a Los Angeles hood who comes to Philadelphia to make a West Coast distribution deal with a counterfeiting ring. Nick's real objective is to find the engraver who's responsible for the printing plates being used to turn out nearly perfect counterfeit bills. In order to do this he has to maintain his dangerous charade while several different factions vie to come to an agreement with the head of the counterfeiters.

Naturally, there are a couple of beautiful women involved, the mistress of the boss counterfeiter and the daughter of the engraver, and both dames wind up putting Nick in even more peril before the assignment is over. Fistfights, shootouts, and explosions punctuate the narrative, and Silverberg delivers it all in terse, fast-moving prose with a firm hand on the various strands of the plot.

Quite a few of Silverberg's erotic novels are crime yarns in disguise, but he's in full hardboiled mode in BLOOD ON THE MINK and I thought it was great. Like I said above, I wish there were more of these books

The Hard Case Crime edition sports a fine cover, as well as including a couple of Silverberg's equally excellent short stories from the crime digests, "Dangerous Doll", another story bylined Ray McKensie, from the March 1960 issue of GUILTY, and "One Night of Violence", originally published as by Dan Malcolm in the March 1959 issue of GUILTY. With a lot of Silverberg's early SF and some of his erotica back in print, it's time for some enterprising publisher to bring out a massive collection of his crime stories as well. I'd certainly buy it.

And speaking of buying, BLOOD ON THE MINK will be available in early April, but you can pre-order it now. If you like top-notch hardboiled crime novels as much as I do, I highly recommend you do so.

Mar 172012
 

I recently received a box in the mail. It was from a life-long friend, a gent named Bill Plant who is responsible (or maybe irresponsible) for shaping much of my taste in literature. While Bill and I remain close friends, we aren’t in the habit of sending each other gifts on the spur of the moment, so I had no idea what was in the box. It could have been anything from a head to…well, anything. After making sure that it wasn’t ticking, crying, or leaking, I commenced to open it, a formidable task since Bill apparently used three rolls of scotch tape to seal it. After some effort, I folded the flaps back, pulled out some newspaper packing, and…well, I’ll confess, The Kid got just a little misty-eyed.

The box was full of books. Paperback books. From the 1950s. They were marked up and in one case a little chewed up and some of them had the binding falling loose and they all had that sweet scent of slow but inevitable decomposition. In other words, every one was a little treasure. These were USED, used books. Bill deals in antiques, and will buy items such as books in inexpensive lots in the hope of finding an acorn or two among the Buena Sierra. Collectors, alas, aren’t much interested in paperbacks that are dog-eared, or have had a crayon taken to them, or that have been labeled, using an indelible marker, with a five cent price tag.  took a bunch of such and sent them to me. I don’t think I’ve had a better present in quite a while. It reminded me of one Christmas, some fifty years ago, when my mother ordered a bunch of science fiction paperbacks for me from the gone but not forgotten S & SF Bookstore in New York. It was a laborious procedure back then --- check books off an order list, write a check, send the whole kit and  caboodle off in the mail and wait six weeks for delivery --- since the only “Amazon” most folks knew then was either 1) a river in South America or 2) Irish McCalla. But when that box arrived, it was special. And so was this one.

So what would I possibly want with such a litter of mutts? The idea of it, pure and simple. These were books that had been read and re-read before being consigned to a cellar or an attic or the back shelves of a used bookstore.  Most of it was science fiction. There were Ace Doubles in that box. Ace doubles. These consisted of two covers and two novels bound into one; read one, flip it over, and there was another novel waiting for you.  Hard Case Crime is going to publish two Lawrence Block novels in the doubles format in May 2012, and I can’t wait. But these were the original thing. A few short story collections were in that box, and included forgotten stories by famous authors (“Death of the Senator,” by Arthur C. Clarke, for one). There were a couple of early and forgotten novels by authors who have gone onto better things (Robert Silverberg’s THE PLANET KILLERS); and some soft core science fiction porn (are porn paperbacks even published anymore?). Then there was a copy of GALACTIC DERELICT by Andre Norton, one of the first science fiction books I ever read.

Yes, there were a couple of mysteries and thrillers as well. I was six years old when Marjorie Carlton wrote ONE NIGHT OF TERROR. It got past me the first time but I’m going to read it this year. And there were a couple of Carter Brown novels in that box.  Most of the ladies who contribute to The Kill Zone are probably too young to remember Carter Brown. but gentlemen, certainly most of you do.  “Carter Brown” was the pseudonym for Alan Geoffrey Yates, and there was a time when he ruled the revolving wire paperback racks. Who could forget those Signet covers? I fogged up my eyeglasses in many a drugstore perusing the wares of those gaudy damsels while pretending to look for Mad Magazine paperback collections. I have discovered, belatedly, that the stories aren’t bad either.  It occurred to me a couple of nights ago, while reading   NO BLONDE IS AN ISLAND, that I had never actually read a Carter Brown book until now. I had committed many a cover to memory, however.

Some of the older paperbacks are now appearing in e-book format.  I discovered recently that all of those Edgar Rice Burroughs' books which I purchased with my allowance a half-century ago are available in Kindle format, and for free; and there are even three Carter Brown books up for sale. It just isn’t the same, however. The smell and the small, non-adjustable print and the feel of paper and ink aren’t there. It’s like having a rabbit and a hat that sit next to each other without any involvement or relationship: there’s no magic. That may sound strange --- if pressing a couple of buttons and having an entire book appear in a wafer thin tool that you can slip in a coat pocket isn’t magic, then what is? --- but it’s true. We get something, true, but also we give something up.

So. If you had a friend as good as mine (and Bill, I know you read these posts, and you remain the best), and that friend sent you a box such as I received, what books would you want to find in it? What would bring a smile to your face, and a tear (or five) to your eye?

Feb 162012
 
Old smut paperbacks have been seeing quite of a renaissance in the last couple years: there have been lots of blog posts about them, there are Facebook groups for them and associated stuff (try this) and what's the most important thing, there have been quite a few reprints. One of the most interesting of them has been the collection of Robert Silverberg's two sleaze paperbacks, called Gang Girl/Sex Bum. It's a very good book which I recommend highly, if you're into noirish and nasty little crime stories.

Gang Girl was first published as a Nightstand book in 1959 and it was one of the first of Silverberg's many sleaze novels. It's a juvie book, about a 16-year old (!) girl trying to break into a new gang and making her way up to the top. Some of the sex scenes are downright nasty, especially the gang rape scene that goes on and on. The ending is very noiry and fits the bill. Sex Bum, from four years later, is a better book in my opinion, though Gang Girl is not bad in any sense of the word. Sex Bum, this time a Bedtime book, tells about a young guy living in a hicksville wanting bad to make it into the mob. There are lots of sex scenes, but coupled with the crupulousness of Johnny Price they make a chilling read - this guy feels like he's stepped out from the pages of Jim Thompson of Jason Starr. The ending is very chilling.

These books were written fast to make fast money (and money Silverberg made: he bought a big house in Greenwich Village with the money he got writing these books!), and it shows somewhat. There are some meaningless characters in Sex Bum, and Gang Girl suffers somewhat from being too episodic, but I don't mind, as both books are also immensely readable. As there's also a foreword by Silverberg himself and an afterword by Michael Hemmingson, plus a 3-page bibliography of Silverberg's smut books, this books comes very highly recommended. Can't wait for this to arrive.

More stuff about Silverberg's sleaze books here.
 Posted by at 3:05 pm