Bad Men Doing Bad-Man Stuff

Presenting a bunch of reviews of action books for the eyeball part of your face!  I'm pretty sure at least a few of these haven't been covered anywhere else yet so they'll hopefully be useful.  Enjoy!  Learn things that'll never do you any good but may be entertaining!  Or just look at the pictures.  You like pictures!

 That's about as badass a cover as you're going to find.  Looks like the cover of one of those old "sweat" magazines. Looks like the artist who did the Lone Wolf series covers, and several others.  Briggs looks like a BMF fo' sho'.

The Killing Ground - John Hardesty (Leisure, 1978)
Joe Briggs is a mercenary who's been targeted for assassination by the CIA.  After an attempt at him fails, Briggs agrees to lead a UN force against IRA terrorists in Northern Ireland to quash the grudge the CIA has against him.  He's soon in even more trouble, though, as the terrorists decimate his troops in a series of violent attacks and traps.  He manages to score some victories with the troops he has left, but they're dwindling and the UN wants to pull him out.  By then he's got personal business to settle with some of the terrorist leaders, though, both avenging some of his officers and a girlfriend they murdered, as well as wanting to finish what he started and prevent some political assassinations.   So, a showdown with the terrorists' top killer is inevitable... especially since Briggs is now on their death list, as well, and won't be safe anywhere unless he finishes it.  Decently written action novel, with frequent fight scenes that are handled realistically; Briggs is tough, but he's no superman, and he doesn't always have a lot of luck, either.  Not bad.

One of the few books I've ever seen that devoted all the cover art to someone who's actually a fairly minor character.

Black Narc - Jeffrey Feinman  (Manor Books, 1977)
Jacobs, the narcotics agent who's the main character in this book, is actually Jewish, but I guess Jew Narc wouldn't be as exploitable a title.  Jacobs is burned out and taking some vacation time with a girl he picked up.   All he wants is some fun but she's in some trouble because an ex-Nazi turned porn producer wants her to star in some depraved snuff-style films he's making, and Jacobs doesn't want that to happen.  Then an old colleague named Washington - who is a black narc - shows up, needing help in busting a bunch of criminals which includes the ex-Nazi.  They found Washington out when he was compromised while working undercover, and now they're threatening  his family.  Washington is a gimmicks whiz, and Jacobs and his girlfriend help Washington plant bugs in the Nazi's office, but they end up recording Washington getting murdered by the thugs.  Jacobs and Washington's sons want some off-the-books revenge for that.  Decently-written pulp novel that's not nearly as exploitative as the title would lead you to believe, and to my knowledge it never actually came out as a movie despite the claims on the cover.

The Burning Season - Wayne D. Dundee  (Dell, 1988)
Inaugural appearance of private eye Joe Hannibal, who in this one is playing bounty hunter as he tracks down a criminal hick named Junior Odum.  He catches Odum at his mother's grave, and Odum stands to give him trouble but swears to go along peacefully if Hannibal will investigate his mother's death.  Supposedly she burned to death while smoking in bed but Junior is convinced that someone killed her.   Junior's right, and finding out who did it will land Hannibal in a few tough scrapes.  Andrew Vachss compared Dundee with Mickey Spillane but I don't really see that; Hannibal is more of a Rockford type than a Hammer, avoiding fights when he can but getting in a few nonetheless, and taking almost as much damage as he deals out.  While the book is gritty it's not really all that hard-boiled, and reminded me a little of James Lee Burke's stuff.  In any case, it's good and well-written, with a solid eye for setting, character, detail, and pacing.

Mafia: Operation Hit Man - Don Romano  (Pyramid, 1974)
Part of a series of unrelated Mafia novels, this one depicts the saga of Dom Caressimo, a former soldier enlisted as a hit man by the mob as a way to start a new "Murder Inc." type of business.  Dom is given assignments and paid upwards of $10,000 a hit, and he's doing well and getting rich until a contract goes out on a girl he once had a fling with.  He fills the contract, in a way that can lay the blame on a serial rapist, but afterwards he has an impotency problem.  He learns that he can temporarily cure the problem by visiting a dominatrix, but for some reason this bit of kink so unnerves the mob that when they get wind of it they decide that Dom may be a liability.  Murder doesn't phase these guys, but a little hanky-spanky gives them the vapors?  Dom finds out they want him dead, though, and he's not a safe man to cross.  Sleazy but well-written sex and violence that plays kind of like one of those Italian crime movies. 

The Headhunters #1: Heroin Triple Cross - John Weisman & Brian Boyer (Pinnacle, 1974)
This is kind of an odd choice to build an action series around -- a police department's Internal Affairs Division -- the watchdog unit that tries to bust dirty cops.  In this book, at least, the authors don't seem to know what to do with the concept, either, and the unit takes a back seat to the criminals as most of the narrative focuses on a high-living Black drug kingpin and his dealings with a brutal, corrupt Black cop.  There's some decent action and drugs and sex sleaze (including a woman who specializes in an act so depraved the reader's never allowed to know what it is) but the narrative gets so muddled you stop caring after a while, and it's trying so hard to read like a blaxploitation movie that it gets embarrassingly racist and silly.  The writing itself isn't bad and I'm betting there's a better book in the series.

You can read a much better review of this book at the great blog, Glorious Trash.

Is that Zach Galifianakis?

Lethal Injection - Jim Nisbet  (Overlook Press, 2009)
A prison doctor is disturbed by a prisoner's nonchalant response to his execution and starts believing the man was innocent.  Driven to find out and with his own personal life in free-fall, he tracks down some of the dead man's partners in crime and tries to uncover the truth about what happened.  His new friends are scary sociopaths and definitely not safe company, and when he finds out the truth, even that has more secrets and drags him further into darkness.  The characterization is a little weak; it's hard to feel much sympathy for such self-wrecking douchebags, but the situation is bleak and severe and packs a punch despite the lack of sympathetic protagonists.  Solid neo-noir.

 The cover art is the best thing about this book, easily.  Gotta love the Glenn Danzig guy in gladiator/bondage gear on the back whose arm's a squid, and the ax-weilding guy with a spider-plant-flower beard and the Cuisinart haircut.  And the insect-face guy must've won one helluva rodeo to score that belt buckle.

Mutants Amok #1 - Mark Grant (Avon, 1991)
In the future mankind bred mutants to fight their wars and do their work, but it backfired and the genetically-engineered monstrosities have enslaved mankind.  Most humans work on farms or are used for horrible experiments, but small bands of human rebels try to free mankind from the mutant enslavement.  One rebel leader named Max Turkel crashes his plane near a farm and is hidden in a treehouse by a human who's never known anything but enslavement.  Turkel is pretty much of a jerk, getting drunk and making lame sex jokes, but somehow he inspires others to seek freedom, and when they farm boy's girlfriend is abducted for mutant experiments, he teams up with Max to fight back.   The whole thing's too sci-fi goofy for me and you can't really take it seriously (the mutants bred a race of Hobbits for Christsake), and Turkel is a clownish, unrealistic oaf of a hero.  There's lots of gore but it all comes off as cartoonish, and the mutants are so evil I'm not sure how they'd maintain a society when they kill each other off so randomly.  If you have a tolerance for sci-fi and aren't too picky, though, you may get more out of it than I did, because it's not boring or anything, just wacky.