Yay! It's another round of action books for ya! Most of them are solidly in the 70's-and-80's "men's adventure" paperback boom, but I included a little "roots rock" for ya, including another Spider book (remember when I told you about those?) and an Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars novel, which are really just earlier versions of the same thing.
If nothing else, you get some nifty book covers to look at, yeah?
Dennison's War: Conte's Run - Adam Lassiter (Bantom Books, 1985)
A female scientist with important missile-guidance knowledge and terrible taste in men gets kidnapped by an assassin named Vancouver, who plans to sell her to the enemy. So, mercenary boss Dennison sends in former top hit man for the Mafia, Matt Conte, to take out Vancouver and get the woman back. Sounds like an action-novel dream plot, right? The only problem is there are some extremely odd choices made carrying out what should be a badass story. Vancouver is almost comic-book-supervillain powerful; he has put a bounty on his own head just to keep himself sharp when he has to fend would-be assassins off! And when he fights them, he does it unarmed and wearing a blindfold! And still manages to decapitate them by throwing sickles and such! Then, before Conte can even face this Terminator of a guy, he sustains a bad knife wound to the leg which leaves him crippled, delirious with fever, and so weakened he can't even lift his gun. At one point he even goes to face Vancouver and throws his machine gun away because he wants to shed some extra weight! Conte would have the makings of a good kick-ass action hero, but he's incapacitated before he can do anything and survives only because Vancouver lets him go several times when he had him unconscious, just because he wanted to keep the game going. Rather than laying the smackdown, Conte needs rescuing. It's not badly written but takes its own sweet time getting to the confrontation, which is badly compromised. Conte's tough because of the damage he's able to take, but wouldn't you rather watch him dish it out? Too bad he never gets the chance. I feel a little cheated. Odd.
One Endless Hour - Dan J. Marlowe (Fawcett-Gold Medal, 1969)
Sequel to Marlowe's classic The Name of the Game Is Death, (which I previously reviewed here) this is almost as hard-assed and is another must-read for anyone into noir at its highest proof. Drake recovers from the fire that scarred him in the first book and, with the aid of some plastic surgery and makeup, passes for normal. He's got a few scores to settle, though -- which result in shotgun mayhem - and then some work to put in to get his finances in shape. He pulls off a couple of bank jobs with some partners who aren't quite up to his ruthless standards and the second one runs into some very twisted complications when the good American families he has to deal with prove to have some secrets that aren't so good at all. Very tough, cynical, and dark crime story with a protagonist that was used as the hero of the subsequent series, but it's tough to consider Drake a hero -- more of a violent psychopath redeemed only slightly by having more of a code of honor than the people around him. Tight, fast-moving, brilliantly-written, and worth seeking out. Second in the "Drake: The Man With Nobody's Face" series.
The Enforcer #1 - Andrew Sugar (Lancer, 1973)
Action series with a sci-fi twist as terminal cancer patient Alex Jason is approached by the John Anyrn Institute, an organization founded on Ayn Rand's selfishness-is-a-virtue bullshit philosophy. As Jason has investigative and pseudo-ESP skills they wish to make use of, they offer to keep him from dying by loading his brainwaves into a clone body. In exchange for preserving his life, he'll take on assassination missions for their benefit. The clone bodies are perfect (the sense are even heightened since the organs have never been used), but they disintegrate and melt after three months, so Jason will have to remain under the thumb of this institute as long as he wants to keep living. Without many other options, Jason accepts the deal and gets a new body and is sent to destroy some oil wells being used to finance a tyrant. His arsenal has lots of gimmicks; in addition to his own intuitive powers and ability to banish pain by using his ki, Jason also gets a laser rifle of unlimited range (it melts after 15 shots or if anyone else tries to fire it), time-released nutrition shots, special food, and other such gadgetry. What the mission turns up is also sort of outlandish; a plot to cross humans and plants to make self-sustaining slaves. In the process of stopping this plot you get a fairly big body count with a lot of people killed with lasers and such (and some low-tech deaths, too, such as a guy who's drowned in a bucket of shit). It's fast-paced and Jason is put through the wringer, physically and emotionally, and it's better-written than average.
A more in-depth (and funnier - love the Hallmark card thing!) review of this book can be found at the always-great Glorious Trash blog, which you should definitely visit if you like the books I'm covering in this post.
A Princess of Mars - Edgar Rice Burroughs (1917)
Classic ERB adventure novel sends Civil War veteran John Carter of Virginia to the planet Mars (know to its inhabitants as Barsoom), where Carter has increased strength due to Mars' lower gravity. He befriends a green race of four-armed tusked giants and a human-like red race, fights many battles, and falls in love with Dejah Thoris, the beautiful princess of Mars, who he vows to win at any cost. It's a formative sci-fi classic and pure logic-only-gets-in-the-way romantic adventure, with Carter fending off all kinds of enemies, escaping all kinds of traps, defeating evil, and getting the girl. Led to ten other books. It's a bit goofy but Burroughs is so good at keeping things moving full speed ahead that you'll be willing to forgive him a lot of overenthusiasm. The details of his alien world and its society are an impressive feat of pure imagination.
Operation Che Guevara - Nick Carter (written by Jon Messmann) (Award Books, 1969)
Superspy Nick Carter goes into Bolivia, chasing rumors that Che Guevara is still alive and back to leading a band of murdering, raping "revolutionaries." Even though intelligence agencies got Guevara's right hand in the mail, they believe he was fanatic enough to give up a hand to fake his death, and is now operating as a warlord called El Garfio - "The Hook." Nick poses as an East German arms dealer trying to move a huge shipment of weapons, which brings the revolutionaries to him to do business -- most notably a pair of women, one claiming to represent El Garfio, the other wanting to protect her businesses from his raiders. Nick suspects neither woman is what she seems, but of course that doesn't stop him from having frequent sex with both of them. When he's not busy screwing, Nick leads a small band of men who were victims of Che's atrocities on jungle raids against El Gario's interests, ending up in a huge battle that reveals the truth. It's played out pretty realistically but is still kind of a They Saved Hitler's Brain of action novels... but making history's true pieces of shit like Hitler or Che die all over again is an irresistible idea, and this pulls it off with nonstop action, be it fights, sex, close calls, chases, etc. Highly entertaining action-novel-as-propaganda.
Dirty Harry #1: Duel For Cannons - Dane Hartman (Warner Books, 1981)
Before Sudden Impact came out, Clint Eastwood had said he wasn't going to make any more Dirty Harry movies, but the character was still popular and Warner Brothers still had the rights to it, so when men's-adventure books started booming they decided to cash in by creating novels based around the character. A couple of different authors (most notably Ric Meyers, who didn't do this one) served as "Dane Hartman," but all did a decent job of making the books feel cinematic. In this one a friend of Harry's is gunned down by a killer with a .44 Magnum, and Harry figures out that the killer is trying to goad him into a fight. Following a tangled trail into San Antonio, Harry discovers the killer is part of a conspiracy with a crooked sheriff and his small army of thugs, all of whom have targeted Harry. This has too much action, if anything, with so many gunfights going on you could start feeling numb. But for the most part Harry's kept as a badass but not a superman, and this novel's not perfect but does have a lot going for it.
comedian Rob Delaney er what?
The Blaster #1: The Girl With The Dynamite Bangs - Lou Cameron (Lancer, 1973)
First in a proposed series that didn't happen, so it's also the only. It was an odd idea for a series; our hero, Boomer Green, isn't a vigilante or any kind of crime-fighter, he's just a construction worker who's an expert in demolitions (the cover mentions three times that he's a "hardhat" so that was the big selling point). Boomer takes a job in a remote section of the Amazon to clear a huge log jam with his primacord and gelatinite, but there are problems; there may be Indian tribes downriver who could be killed in the subsequent flash flooding, and somebody wants to stop Boomer so badly they shoot him with a poisoned dart. His employer, an ex-Nazi who's crazy on cocaine, poses another problem, as do his squabbling offspring and a housemaid who Boomer keeps screwing. Boomer has to figure out exactly what's up, keep from getting killed, keep the project from being sabotaged, and avoid killing any Indians who might be downstream. It's pretty well-written (in first person) and Boomer's an amusing smartass, and that carries things pretty well even though there aren't wall-to-wall fights. Not bad, too bad there weren't more of them.
C. A. T. (Crisis Aversion Team) #1: Tower of Blood - Spike Andrews (Warner Books, 1982)
A Starsky & Hutch-like pair of cops who get all the dirty jobs -- literally; one has to swim in a sewer and the other gets buried in roach-infested garbage, among other clothes-wrecking indignities. An informant's about to give them some big intel when he's gunned down by five assassins. After killing for of them our heroes (named Santillo & Weston) try to figure out what the informant knew as more bodies pile up and things (such as a chemical plant) start exploding. They decide that the son of a failed industrial magnate is on the warpath to avenge his dad on the people who bought him out, but it turns out to be more twisted than that, and they realize that a lot of people are going to be taken hostage on the top floor of the World Trade Center and maybe blown up. They have to stop it, despite resistance from the brass. It reads like buddy-cop Dirty Harrys with huge and frequent action scenes that are very well done. It's detail-rich and can get a bit overwhelming, but still, it's like a big-budget top-scale action movie and I don't think it'll disappoint anybody.
The Mind Poisoners - Nick Carter (written by Lionel White) (Award Books, 1966)
Pre-dating Kent State by several years, this red-scare relic deals with student peace protests turning into violent bloodbaths, and college kids being pushed into sedition by evil Chinese Communists who give them drugs that make them brutal. Superspy Nick Carter poses as a visiting philosophy professor to try to get a handle on what's making the hippies turn vicious. He sleeps with a beautiful coed, almost gets his testicles crushed in a torture device, gets drugged, has to change identities (posing as a mobster in Vegas), sleeps with a movie starlet, and dukes it out with baddies in a sewer. The bodies pile up and the action never stops, and the plot and writing are solid, too. That's not surprising when you know noir author Lionel White - who wrote The Killer that Kubrick adapted - ghosted this one. Good stuff.
Marc Dean - Mercenary #1: Thirteen For The Kill - Peter Buck (Signet, 1981)
Soldier-for-hire Col. Marc Dean takes 40 men and a bunch of equipment to Morocco to capture a fort held by rebels who are in the way of his employer's precious metals interests in the region. His ships are sunk in a storm before they can land, though, and only around a dozen men with almost no supplies are left to carry out the mission. First they have to raid an armory to replace their equipment (almost half the books goes by before this - the first real action - happens). Then they lose one of the trucks they stole and the other breaks down while they're trying to pursue the escaping rebels. There's an intense cliffhanger (literally) as they have to climb a cliff to blow up a bridge, and then there's a chaotic climactic battle with lots of explosions as a payoff. It's not bad and is more realistic than most, and the writing style is decent even if there's a little too much fat on it, but Dean comes across as a bit of dick. Maybe I just don't like officers (okay, there's no maybe -- I don't like officers) but he's pushy and doesn't listen to anybody else, and judging by all the bad breaks and lost men and equipment he has, perhaps he should. I ended up agreeing with his ex-wife in a flashback scene showing his troubled home life. The book's also a little confused about what he looks like -- a character mistakes him for James Coburn, but in the cover painting he's kind of a generic-looking putz. Anyway, it's a pretty decent book overall, a bit overlong but admirable for keeping things at a people-could-actually-do-this level.
The Grey Horde Creeps - Norvell Page (Girasol, originally 1938)
In a plot somewhat similar to Hordes of the Red Butcher, the Spider battles ape-men monsters that start their marauding in Kentucky, then spread to NYC. While investigating the disappearance of around 500 men in the Kentucky hills, the Spider discovers that a criminal mastermind has turned them into "Blancos" - albinos with bestial minds and an ability to withstand large amounts of injury due to very slow-moving, thick blood. Since they're very hard to kill, the Spider and his sidekick Ram Singh mostly dismember them with bullets and knives, and it's a bloodless-bloodbath until the Spider's captured and injected with the Blanco serum himself. Now battling the monsters and the effects of his own encroaching bestialism, the Spider tries to save New York. The amount of action in this thing is insane -- it's a constant fight and chase throughout, with a pause only for a jailbreak in the middle (which, o' course, involves much more fighting). The plot's kind of incidental and the motivation for unleashing the albino-beast-horde is barely even touched on because there's not time for plotting when there's so much shooting and hacking to do.
Just in case you didn't think they could get gruesome back in the 30's, here are a couple of the original illustrations from the magazine. They look like outtakes from Dore's illustrations for Dante's Inferno.
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Junco Partner is an old New Orleans classic blues, performed by luminaries like James Booker (my personal favorite version!), Dr. John, Professor Longhair, the Clash (!) and many more..., and tells the cautionary tale of a N'Awlins junkie. The original melody is the one that appears in Professor Longhair's brilliant 'Tipitina' + is lovely. Go check it out when you can, but til then, give this one a listen + let me know what you think of my version...