Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Black Gat - The Latest Titles!


Stark House Press and its imprint Black Gat Books are my favorite classic crime publishers. Black Gat publishes beautiful mass market paperback editions, usually featuring the art from the original paperback. A new title comes out about every three months. Here are a few of Black Gats latest titles are:

Tears Are for Angels, by Paul Connolly (originally published in 1952 by Fawcett Gold Medal).

When Jean finds Harry London, there isn’t much left of the man. He lives alone in a shack, spends all his time drunk on moonshine. He’s forgotten about shaving, washing. All he does is shoot at empty cans of beans…and pretends he’s shooting Dick Stewart…Jean is there to find out what happened to her friend, Lucy. The last letter she received from her, she was happily married to Harry, living on his farm, settling into her new life. Now she’s dead, a suicide. What happened to Lucy? And what has turned her loving husband into this brooding wreck of a man, whose sole reason for living is to take revenge against a man who once did him wrong…


The Living End, by Frank Kane (originally published in 1957 by Dell).

Eddie Marlon is just a kid with a song he wants published, another city kid with dreams of being in the music business. His song is nothing special, but Eddie gets a tip that a local radio station needs help on the early morning shift. Marty Allen hires him to line up the records for his show. But the way Eddie sees it, Marty is a square—he doesn’t go for the bucks that are to be had charging A&R guys to get their tunes on the air. Eddie must have been born lucky because one night Marty needs Eddie to help him get the station boss out of a jam. Then they owe him. And when it’s time to collect, Eddie is right there with a plan. He wants his own time slot and he wants to put on free shows with all the big talent, who will naturally play for free to get the air time. Eddie’s got big plans alright. Because now it’s his shot at the top—and if you want to be on Eddie’s show, you’re going to pay for it!



Stool Pigeon, by Louis Malley (originally published in 1953 by Avon).

It’s Christmas Eve in Little Italy, and Vince Milazzo is called in to investigate the murder of Tony Statella, shot in the head outside of Rocky Tosco’s restaurant. Milazzo has got a personal grudge against Tosco that goes back to their childhood. He knows that somehow Rocky is involved, and is determined this time to bring him down. Even though the murderer turns out to be a kid who was avenging the honor of his sister, Milazzo keeps pushing the Chief for more time. He knows that Rocky is guilty of something, if only he can find someone to rat on him. But every stool pigeon Milazzo talks to tells him the same thing—they don’t know from nothing. Now Milazzo has until midnight to find the connection … or this case might very well be his last.


Monday, February 24, 2020

THE WOLF IN THE CLOUDS by Ron Faust


The Wolf in the Clouds is Ron Faust’s second published novel. It was originally published as a hardcover by Bobbs-Merrill’s Black Bat Mystery imprint, then as a paperback by Popular Library, and recently as a trade paperback and ebook. It is, like much of Mr. Faust’s early work, a relatively simple adventure yarn with a poetic lilt that makes it a little more.

A small town in rural Colorado is under siege from a slow moving blizzard and a rampage killer. A killer who shot several people at a nearby ski resort and is now hiding in the rugged Wolf Mountain Wilderness Area. The storm trapped three college students skiing in the shadow of the Wolf—a high, unforgiving mountain peak—and two forest rangers brave the freezing temperatures to mount a rescue. The rangers, Jack and Frank, find the skiers safely holed up in a small cabin, but they also find the killer; a man named Ralph Brace whom Jack once considered a friend, but now realizes he never knew at all.

The Wolf in the Clouds is an entertaining, smoothly written adventure novel. It is written in first person from Jack’s perspective and the narrative includes ideas larger than the story. The complexity of public land use is only one and it is as relevant today as it was forty years ago. The prose is both complex and simple; easy to read, but with a texture and feel of something almost beautiful—

“Roof timbers creaked, the last light faded from the windows, the stone walls exhaled a new, acid cold. The long winter night was here; we had fourteen or fifteen hours until dawn.”

The story lacks the complexity of Mr. Faust’s later novels and the protagonist, Jack, is shaded nearly cold. He is aloof, even in an early scene with his wife, and something of an outsider with both the Forest Service and the townsfolk, which is forgivable since everything works so well—setting, plotting, character. The Wolf in the Clouds isn’t in the top-tier of Mr. Faust’s body of work, which is reserved for his final six or seven novels, but it is still pretty damn go


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "To Live and Die in Beverly Hills"

To Die in Beverly Hills, by Gerald Petievich, was published in hardcover by Arbor House in 1983. The edition that caught my eye was Pinnacle Books’ mass market edition published in 1984. The cover has a cool Florida / Caribbean vibe to it—even if the tale is set in Southern California—with palm trees, and orange sky, a Rolls, and bullet holes. The artist: Paul Stinson






















The first paragraph:

The Bulletin board in the  Detective Bureau was covered with a clear-plastic burglary occurrence chart dotted with red stickpins. Because Beverly Hills was a rich man’s city, burglary was the only crime with enough weekly activity to be charted.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Stark House's February Newsletter

The February Stark House Press newsletter is live at their website:

“The lead title—the book that Crime Club members will receive automatically—is another double volume from one of our favorite authors, Jean Potts. The two books are Home is the Prisoner and The Little Lie.

“Booklist has already posted a thumbs-up review that perfectly describes the two plots: ‘In 1960’s Home Is the Prisoner, a man convicted of manslaughter returns to the scene of the crime years later, determined to clear his name, no matter the cost; in 1968’s The Little Lie, a woman lies about her boyfriend because she’s embarrassed that he broke up with her, only to find that one little lie leads to a bigger one, and then an even bigger one, until there is no end to the deceptions.’”

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Murder by Gemini"

Cannon: Murder by Gemini, by Richard Gallagher was published as a paperback original by Magnum Books in 1971, which is the very edition that caught my eye. What’s not to like? Cannon trying to run in blue and pink and something resembling full-tilt color. The artist: Unknown (to me at least)

 
The opening paragraph:

The northwest corner of Wyoming, land once called “end of the plains” by Crow and Sioux. … The Grand Teton Range … Peaks topped by rock spires tall and slender as needles. … High valleys … Clear icy lakes … Fir, spruce and pine greening the earth. …

Richard Gallagher, if the internet is to be believed, is a pen name used by paperback pulpster Len Levinson.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

NOWHERE TO RUN by Ron Faust


Ron Faust published 15 novels in a career that spanned nearly 40 years. The first, Tombs of Blue Ice, appeared in 1974 and the last, Jackstraw, was published posthumously in 2013. His work never gained the commercial success it deserved; maybe it was too atmospheric and literary for the genre crowd, and too plot-driven for the literati. Or maybe he didn’t put enough titles on the shelves, or maybe it was pure blind bad luck. Whatever the reason, his work is deserving of a revival.

Faust’s work appeared in three distinct bursts. The first, and his most productive as far as number of titles published, was between 1974 and 1981. This period saw the publication of six novels, which tended to adventure with exotic locations and solitary heroes. Lean, beautiful, descriptive prose, linear storylines, and violence.

The final novel of this early writing period is titled Nowhere to Run, and its publication in 1981 would be Ron Faust’s last for 12 years. It is also one of a few Ron Faust novels I hadn’t read, until very recently, and while it isn’t as mature and ambitious as much of Faust’s later work—In the Forest of the Night, When She Was Bad, etc.—it is an excellent adventure story with a strong sense of place, character, and a beautifully nuanced awareness of humanity.

David Rhodes is something of a bum. He was a professional tennis player, ranked as high as 147 in the world, living illegally in the Mexican coastal town of El Jardin de los Reyes, Garden of the Kings. He makes a meager living teaching tennis and raiding lobster traps. In the beginning, he meets an American girl who calls herself Strawberry Lassitude—

“Her eyes seemed illuminated from within. They were bright and metallic with craziness.”

—who is later found strangled at the bottom of a rocky cliff. The local police, in the form of one Captain Vigil, are desperate to solve the murder in a manner to reassure the town’s primary economic driver: tourism. Specifically, American tourists. The simplest solution. One American killing another, and, better, the killer an illegal guest of the seaside town, which makes David the ideal suspect.

Nowhere to Run is stylistically flashy, thematically subtle, and plotted for surprise. The natural, smooth flow of language is beautiful in its sparse and rich tones. It equally defines the characters, the landscape, and the story.

“Vigil half turned in his chair, raised a hand, and when the waiter arrived he ordered two more bottles of the mineral water. He smiled at David. He was not an ugly man until he smiled.”

“Brown pelicans folded their wings and made clumsy crosswind landings in the troughs between waves. The tops of the coconut palms were greenly incandescent in the sunlight but it was cool and dim in the shade below. Here, there was a soothing opacity, a rippling underwater sheen, while beyond the grove of trees the morning sun glazed the air and slowly devoured the shadows it had created.”

Nowhere to Run is simple, or appears so at its surface. The tale is straightforward—murder, man accused, and, after much turmoil, killer exposed—but its simplicity is misleading. The story is dependent less on plot than character. The actions of the characters, and the motive for those actions, are dominant and the plot becomes a rational extension to that dominance rather than the characters a prisoner of the plot. Its language is sharp, almost poetic in its descriptive prowess, and its building blocks are human morality, psychology, and frailty. The psychology, and morality, and frailty, are summarized quite nicely in the closing pages—

“He had spent most of that evening in the lounge of the Hotel El Presidente, drinking and playing liar’s poker with a couple of his pals. They had gambled with one-hundred-peso notes and Harry had lost about forty dollars. Not much money, but enough to sour his mood a little; he had never learned how to accept losing, hated it, regarded it as a little death—every time you lost, whether a dime or an argument or what the Asians call face, a chip was taken out of your self-esteem and you entered the next contest with that much less confidence. Losing was an accumulative poison like lead or arsenic; small doses did not appear to cause much harm, but they collected and in time…”


Thursday, January 30, 2020

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Water Hole"

Water Hole, by Julian Jay Savarin, is a Gordon Gallagher thriller. There were at least five in the series and Water Hole is either the first or second. It was published as a hardcover by St. Martin’s Press in 1982. The edition that caught my eye is the Harper paperback published in 1993. A lizard, a Mac-10, binoculars, a broken camera, sand, and what looks like pink Fun Dip makes the cover work. The artist: Unknown (to me at least), but the photographer is Herman Estevez.


 
The first paragraph:

The end of the gangway rested on a pier in Taormina, Sicily. A man left a gleaming ocean-going yacht, walked down unhurriedly. He looked at peace with the world. The yacht belonged to him.

Julian Jay Savarin wrote, by my count, 35 novels between 1979 and 2007. He is a musician, fronting the band Julian’s Treatment. According to his entry in Guide to Literary Masters & Their Works, by Diana M. Casey:

“Very little is known about author Julian Jay Savarin’s life. He was born in Dominica, moved with his family to the United Kingdom in 1962, earned a degree in history, and settled in England.”

Monday, January 27, 2020

No Comment: "The Tribe"


“‘Because my mother married a communist who wouldn’t kiss the rebbe’s ass. The rebbe, by the way, was Jacob Levy’s father. So, one man won’t kiss, pretty soon somebody else won’t, and before you know it you can’t get anyone to pucker up.’”

—Bari Wood, The Tribe. Valancourt Books, 2019 (© 1981); page 183

[No Comment is a series of posts featuring passages that caught my attention. It may be the idea, the texture, or the presence that grabbed my eye. There is no analysis provided, and it invariably is out of context]

Thursday, January 23, 2020

THE TRIBE by Bari Wood

The Tribe, by Bari Wood (NAL, 1981), is a slow burning and suspenseful horror novel with a genuine Jewish golem at its core. It begins with the liberation of the Nazi extermination camp Belzec at the end of World War 2. Major Bianco, an American officer, becomes curious about the inmates living in barracks 554 because, unlike the camps other survivors, they are skinny but not emaciated. Bianco searches the barracks and inconceivably discovers boxes full of food, which should have been impossible since the Nazis were starving any Jews that werent sent to the gas chambers. But before Bianco can question the men of barracks 554, they disappear from a military transport.

The Tribe’s roots are in Nazi Germany’s extermination camps, but the story is set in New York City and Long Island in 1980. The murder of a young Jewish academic by a ragtag Brooklyn street gang starts things off, but the police investigation is cut short when the killers—all of them are still boys, really—are beat to death in the basement of an abandoned house. The only clue, and it’s not helpful to anyone, is the clay-like mud covering the crime scene.

The Tribe is a good example of 1980s horror. It is smart. The characters are well-drawn. The suspense is built scene-by-scene, and while the reader knows what the monster is, the mystery about the how and the why of the beast is intriguing and surprising. A richness of detail about the Jewish communities in New York City and Long Island, and the experiences of these men and women during the Holocaust, adds texture. The story says something about racism and hate, too. Its only real flaw, and this can be said of so many popular novels of a certain length, is that the story’s pacing slows to a crawl in the few dozen pages it takes for the characters to come together for the big and satisfying climactic showdown.


Friday, January 17, 2020

2019: The Year in Writing


I’ve never been accused of being a great writer or a prolific writer, but in 2019 I approached “working” writer status. I had four original crime short stories published. Three were published in related crime anthologies edited by Paul Bishop and published by Wolfpack:
“No Chips, No Bonus” appeared in Pattern of Behavior;
“Awake” appeared in Criminal Tendencies; and
“Junkyard” appeared in Bandit Territory.
The fourth story, “121”, appeared in Rick Ollerman’s Down & Out: The Magazine, Vol. 2, Iss. 1. Three of the tales—“No Chips, No Bonus”, “Junkyard”, and “121”—featured a washed out former FBI agent named Jimmy Ford working security in a nowhere casino town on the Utah-Nevada border. I have more plans for Jimmy and we’ll see where he goes.  
I wrote an Introduction for Stark House’s omnibus edition of Lionel White’s Coffin for a Hood / Operation—Murder. I wrote five or six reviews for Justin Marriott’s terrific Men of Violence. And there were my usual contributions, which I’m proud of, to Mystery Scene Magazine: Five Short & Sweet columns; a dozen or more book reviews; and a feature article about mysteries that take place in circuses and carnivals titled, “Hey Rube! The Mystery is at the Circus”
Overall, 2019 was a pretty good writing year and I hope 2020 will shape up even better.

   


Monday, January 13, 2020

A Plurality of Eagles (Landing)

Jack Higgins’ The Eagle Has Landed thundered onto the book scene in 1975. It was published simultaneously in the United Kingdom, by William Collins & Sons, and the United States, by Holt, Rinehart & Winston. It was translated into a mediocre film released in 1976 starring Michael Caine, Robert Duval, and Donald Sutherland. The director was John Sturges. It has been translated into dozens of languages, published in myriad paperback editions and, I’ve read, it has sold more than 50 million copies.

The Eagle Has Landed is also one of my favorite thrillers. It is complex, exciting, with well-drawn and empathetic characters, and perfectly plotted. It’s also a book I have trouble leaving on the shelf of thrift shops and used bookstores (if the condition and the price are right). I’ve given more than a few away to fellow readers and right now I have four copies on my bookshelf, all mass market paperbacks. 

The first U.S. mass market edition published by Bantam in 1976.


 
The first U.K. mass market edition published by Pan Books in 1976.


 


This Bantam reprint, with new cover art, was published in 1981.

 
And the fourth is the most recent edition published by Berkley in 2000.



Now, if I had the Pocket Books edition published in 1991, I would be a happy man.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

THE SPY IN THE BOX by Ralph Dennis

The Spy in the Box was written by Ralph Dennis in the early 1980s, but this Brash Books edition, released nearly 40 years after it was written, is its first publication. Brash has been releasing Dennis’ work, both previously published and unpublished alike, over the past few years and the quality of Dennis’ writing—the style and the plotting—has been consistently good. It’s been good enough that I wonder why it wasn’t published when it was written rather than moldering away in a filing cabinet drawer awaiting discovery by a new generation of publishers and readers.

Will Hall is a CIA agent stationed in Costa Verde, a South American hotspot, trying to navigate a regime change. His choice to take Costa Verde’s presidency is the moderate Paul Marcos, but when he witnesses Marcos’ assassination and the United States’ pallid response, he quits the agency and goes home. But some things are easier to quit than others, and when he’s framed as a whistleblower—an article with his name and detailing the CIA’s work in Cost Verde is set to appear in a liberal New York newspaper—his leisurely retirement is interrupted by assassins.

The Spy in the Box is a smooth thriller with an abundance of Cold War coolness and double-crosses. Dennis’ prose is straight and sparse. The characters are drawn with depth and include a honey pot with more on her mind than seduction, and a CIA king with a flicker of a conscience. The settings are old-school spy thriller stuff: safe houses, decaying agency-owned motels. The plot is linear and fun. Its only fault is a lack of surprises, but that doesn’t mean it’s not exciting. There are some nice action sequences and a nostalgic sense of 1970s television to it. It’s not as good as Dennis’ Hardman novels, but The Spy in the Box’s unexpected characterization gives it a nice little push.