Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Khufra Run by James Graham (Jack Higgins)

The Khufra Run by James Graham (Jack Higgins)
MacMillan Hardcover
Copyright 1972

Published in 1972, "The Khufra Run" is another adrenalin-filled adventure that was written under the author's pseudonym of James Graham. In his early writing days, Jack Higgins took the reader to different locations and in this one we start in Ibiza, Spain. Ex-'Nam pilot Jack Nelson runs a charter floatplane service there and he has been known to take a job or two on the illegal side when cash is low. Along with Harry Turk, an American ex-Marine that Nelson befriended when both were captured by the Viet Cong, they stumble on an opportunity to retrieve a loot of sunken treasure in the Khufra Marshes. But of course it won't be easy to accomplish. An abstruse nun, who Nelson saves from being raped, only knows the exact location of the treasure. A violent group is after her for the secret and her life is constantly in jeopardy. As the nun gains knowledge that Nelson and Turk have commando skills that can even the score against a formidable enemy, she allows both men to protect her and help recover the treasure for a share. As in most Higgins novels the action starts quick and never lets up. Nelson's plane is destroyed, there are more attempted attacks to stop them, and with a small cache of weapons the race is on to the Khufra Marshes.

Higgins is a master at narration. The trek that Nelson, Turk and the nun take to the marshes is an intense ride for the reader, all captured in a group of explosive chapters. Throw in an aging Hollywood starlet who may have a stake in the outcome, illegal drugs, bad weather in a hostile environment, explosions and constant dodging of automatic gunfire- and "The Khufra Run" becomes one of the best novels that I have read by Jack Higgins.

Jack Higgins wrote four novels under the name of James Graham. All take you on a deadly adventure that is packed with action between pages of a darn good plotted story:

A Game for Heroes (1970)
The Wrath of God (1971)
The Khufra Run (1972)
The Run to Morning (1974)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Man From Limbo by John D. MacDonald

The Man From Limbo By John D. MacDonald
Short Story, Dime Detective Magazine
April 1953

Like many of the successful post-war American mystery novelists, John D. MacDonald got his start writing for the popular pulp magazines. There are some who believe here is where you'll find his best work, and I might agree with that statement. Try reading stories like "Finders Killers" or "In a Small Motel," and you'll find characters and plots with smothering situations that explode from the pages. "The Man From Limbo" appeared in the Apr. 1953 issue of Dime Detective. It may not be the best MacDonald short story, but it sure is a fascinating one. The story starts with shell-shocked ex-GI Dolph Regan, struggling within his inner darkness and fears, being constantly tormented by events from the war. He takes on a job as a traveling salesman, which lands him in a town where he finds his old platoon sergeant is running for mayor. Before we know it, Regan is on the run for a murder rap and his war buddy is out to kill him. All this has to do with the future control of corruption in the town and an amnesiac mystery from the past. Along the way he bumps into a couple of dames, one is out to help him and the other is there to harm him. MacDonald creates a hell of a setting and scraps it all together into a quick ending.

I do have favorite novels by John D. MacDonald, they are the non-Travis McGee novels. And it was through the pounding on that typewriter, writing for the pulps, that rooted those novels and made them extraordinary.

"The Man From Limbo" can also be found in the 1992 crime anthology containing 23 Dime Detective Magazine stories titled, HARD-BOILED DETECTIVES.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Man Called Shenandoah

A Man Called Shenandoah
TV Series 1965-1966

Talk about underrated TV Westerns from the 60s!

A Man Called Shenandoah starred Robert Horton as a shot up, near dead survivor found on the prairie. Once healed, he realizes he has amnesia and is destined to roam the Western frontier to discover his past and who he was. The doctor who helped mend him gave him the name Shenandoah. (which means "land of silence")

Due to stiff competition from the other networks, (and the fact that there was an abundance of Western action shows on TV at the time) A Man Called Shenandoah lasted only 34 episode. But the well written and original scripts with Horton getting in many tight spots make this series a lost treasure. A big bonus is the notable performance by Robert Horton throughout the short-lived series. I remember it as a haunting and extraordinary portrayal. The past big name Western shows get most of the recognition now, but it is these quality little gems that appealed to me way back then. A Man Called Shenandoah needs to be released on DVD. I only have a couple of episodes. I'm on the hunt to get them all.

Robert Horton had a fine voice and sang the title song for the series. He also cut a LP and if you have it, you're in luck.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Cage by Talmage Powell

The Cage by Talmage Powell
Avon G1346
Copyright 1969

Sykes touched his bleeding ribs. "That's good. Let him pay! Let the sun, the flies, and the buzzards have him, while me and you tear up a Mexican town with his five thousand dollars!"

Webb Cameron returns to his ranch after a tiring day of pole-setting and wire-stringing to find his wife brutally beaten, raped, and left mentally in a vegetable state. Showing no signs of improvement and unable to control his wife, Cameron builds a cage to keep her from harming herself. Vengeance is on his mind and the trail that is left by the culprits leads into the sun-scorched badlands. With no one to tend to his wife, Cameron locks her in the caged wagon and heads out after them. He believes that if she confronts those who ravished her, she will be will be cured and return back to normal. So his journey begins and along the way we meet a down-and-out prospector, an obscure couple what has a few skeletons in their closet, a band of half-starved renegade Indians, and the two mean bastards that Cameron is pursuing.

This is more than a revenge Western novel. There are some complex characters at play here and a shock or two awaits the reader during Cameron’s hunt for the abusers of his wife. Little subplots are in the novel. Lost honor and brutal survival are hopelessly demoralizing the not-so-merry band of Indians. The ranch couple goes along with Webb Cameron, not to help him, but mainly to restore a personal dignity that was lost. Whenever the story shifts to the villains, Sickly Sykes (who is white) and Columbus George, (who is black) it gets kicked up a notch. They are ruthless and savage boys lacking any sense of humanity, but they will arouse the attention of the reader. The main character Webb Cameron was the least appealing to me, but the others compensate plenty for him. Written in 1969, “The Cage” is a bit different from your traditional Western novel. I liked it – a good dusty story, merciless action, and an excellent ending. Not bad for a 127 page Western novel.

And written by the author that gave us those wonderful PI Ed River novels.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Looters by Albert Conroy

The Looters by Albert Conroy
Crest s431
Copyright 1961

Colonel Targo studied her thoughtfully. Finally he shook his head. "You talk much too quickly, lovely one. I must make sure that you speak the truth. And there is only one way to be sure."
He went to the wall and took down a leather strap. There was a cruel lust in his face as he returned to her, and began...

Albert Conroy is one of many pseudonyms used by prolific author Marvin H. Albert. I’m a big fan of his novels and he never disappointed me. No matter if it’s a mystery, western, adventure, or detective story, in less than 200 pages he can package a thrilling narrative where the plot sails tirelessly and the lead character is truly magnetic. Written in 1961, it’s evident that the events in Cuba inspired the setting for Marvin Albert to craft “The Looters.”

Having his fill of prison and crime, retired safecracker Sam Morgan seems content scratching a living working on charter fishing boats in Florida. That all changes when he is offered a proposition by beautiful Colleen O’Hara. She needs him to open a safe on the Caribbean island of Caribo and is willing to pay highly for it. Well, Morgan refuses and ends up shanghaied to the island, where he learns more about the heist and accepts the offer. The corrupt dictator has his personal loot (millions of dollars in gold) stashed in a vault under the Fortress del Rey and two forces are willing to team up to get it. One is Colleen’s father -who happens to be an ex-gangster, and the other is Kosta -the leader of the underground rebellion. There’s plenty of action that takes place throughout the novel. The jungles are swarming with government men hunting down members of the revolution, which now includes affable Sam Morgan. Colleen and Morgan barely escape the pursuing soldiers, during which they witness the horrors of a ruthless dictator. Finally the time to act arrives and they siege the well protected Fortress del Rey. Kosta buys time holding off wave after wave of government soldiers as Morgan fights his way down into the vault and attempts to get at the loot.

Those familiar with Marvin Albert’s work may recognize some similarities in “The Looters” with the four high intrigue adventure novels he authored in the mid-70s under the pseudo Ian MacAlister. The story takes place in a volatile location, it features a likable protagonist who has in the past been known to dabble on the opposite side of what society deems is right, there is always an attractive girl involved, and the ending is filled with explosive combat. In fact, the take over of the fortress by Morgan and Kosta’s rebels, with them violently holding it in an Alamo-like manner, is a page turning thrill ride. I’m not going to say that “The Looters” is better than the outstanding Ian MacAlister books, but written 15 years before them, it doesn’t miss by much.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Luke Malone - Manhunter

In 1975, Atlas Comics - a little known comic book publishing company, released a three issue run featuring a rugged San Francisco private eye named Luke Malone. Luke Malone-Manhunter was the back story in the comic book series called Police Action featuring Lomax NYPD. Created and drawn by artist Mike Ploog, Malone is an ex-city detective who hits the bottle after his wife is killed in a botched bank robbery in which he was called on. Thrown off the force, Malone can be found crawling through dirty gin-joints and in the street gutters of Frisco. It is there where he mopes around with a “I don’t care” attitude. He is content being a violent rummy until a friend tells him that the mastermind of the bank robbery is still on the loose and convinces Malone to try his hand at being a P.I. Now he is on the prowl and hits the streets to settle the score. Tough-talk dialogue and fine artwork make Luke Malone-Manhunter a surprisingly good hard-boiled comic

I have the first two of the 3 issue run of the series. The first one is called "Requiem for a Champ" (February 1975) and has Malone solving the murder of a skid-row bum who was once a lightweight boxer. The P.I. starts interfering in police business which takes him to an old burlesque queen, mob men, and on the receiving end of thumps on the head. The second issue is "Whatever Happened to Luke Malone?" (April 1975) and this is an origin story about how Malone came to be a P.I., which I briefly outlined above. These are quick scripted stories, containing plenty of creeps as bad guys and violent 1970s action that fulls up every frame.

If you like detective stories that are told and illustrated in comic books and graphic novels, you'll find Luke Malone-Manhunter to be up your alley. It is unfortunate that the comic book character had a short run, because the plots are tightly packaged and the Luke has a hard-edged vigilante soul inside him. When Luke Malone steps in to play ball, he turns it into a mean game.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Boy Who Invented The Bubble Gun by Paul Gallico

The Boy Who Invented The Bubble Gun
by Paul Gallico
Dell 0719
Copyright 1974

Nine and a half year-old Julian West is an innovated kid. He came up with his own little invention, a toy gun that shoots bubbles, and he is pretty excited about it. Shunned by his father, Julian sneaks out one night and with $150, he hops onto a Greyhound bus going to Washington to get a patent for his “bubble gun.” Well, the adventure begins and along the way we see it unfold through the eyes of the young boy.

The novel is subtitled An Odyssey of Innocence, and Paul Gallico beautifully captures that inevitable moment in life, when a young boy realizes that childhood is over and discovers what the world is really like. During Julian’s passage, he touches the lives of an odd assortment of characters. He meets up with two love-struck teenagers, a cat-and–mouse drama between the KGB and CIA, an immigrant musician looking forward to a new life in America, and there is even an unstable killer who attempts to hijack the bus. But its the bond between Julian and a disillusioned Vietnam veteran named Frank Marshall, that brings the reality of the existence of the unfair laws of human nature to him. Marshall takes to the kid, protecting and befriending him. Julian looks up to Marshall, who comes to symbolize many things in a world that can be both awe-inspiring and dangerous. And it is because of the trip and the time he spends with Marshall, that allows in the end, Julian’s relationship with his father to develop.

This is the second time that I read “The Boy Who Invented The Bubble Gun,” the first time was when it came out in 1974. The story of a nine year-old traveling alone across the country and some of the interactions between the characters, may be a bit unbelievable today. But I enjoyed it in 1974, and again in 2009. Paul Gallico was a remarkable writer. (If you ever read “The Snow Goose,” you'll know what I mean) It doesn’t matter that the novel was written 35 years ago, Gallico’s writing touches your heart and the maturing of Julian West will be long remembered.

“The Boy Who Invented The Bubble Gun” is a compelling story that takes us on a journey that is both heartwarming and inspiring.