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.