Saturday, March 8, 2008

Will Penny by Tom Gries

Will Penny by Tom Gries (and Bob Thomas)
Ballantine U5134, Copyright 1968

"What do I know about love?"-Will Penny

There are times when someone will mention a western movie to me and I’d answer, “Oh, that one is on my top-ten list of favorite westerns.” But in reality I’ll say that to well over ten or even twenty movies, so lately I am careful about say things like “that’s my favorite this-and-that….” Which brings me to Will Penny and I’ll leave how high this western film is rated to others. But there was a novelization written for the film and now I have a new respect for books written after movies are filmed.

I usually don’t read film novelizations, but when I found this one I had to give it a go. The story of an old cowpoke that finds love while trying to protect a mother and her young boy is just as strong in words as it is on film. Lonely Will Penny battles with this new discovery of love and family, something he has never known or felt. There is the heartwarming friendship between the cowhands; Penny, Dutchy and Blue. The pages capture the freedom they share and the way of life they love. We can smell the fresh, cold mountain air and snuggle in the warmth of the mountain cabin. Thrown in the story are some crazy inbreed villains that provide some good western action; and I can’t help but enjoy reliving the story through the pages of the novel.

But of course the strength of the story is Will Penny finding something he never had or felt. Love. The love he found with Catherine and family bond discovered with Button. And yet he has to let it go, because to Will Penny love cannot survive in his world. He realizes that a time for a woman’s love and family has past for him. He has limitations now because of his age, and life would be harder and more uncertain. Will Penny don’t risk the chance, and walks away.

"A man can't change, not when he's lived one way most of fifty years. I came closer with you than I ever done, I wish it woulda happened long ago. It's too late for me."

All that was wonderful in the movie is captured in the novel. I may have enjoyed it so much because the movie was exceptional, I’ll never know since I saw the film first. But I do picture Charlton Heston as Will Penny and Joan Hackett as Catherine when I read it, and why not they were terrific. I certainly enjoyed this enough, to take a chance and read more novelizations of films. As for Tom Gries, the writer and director of the movie, he created a magnificent western film and a memorable western character in Will Penny.

There is even a statue of the Will Penny character in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Death Stalk in Spain by Don Smith

Death Stalk in Spain by Don Smith
Award Books AN1040, Copyright 1972

Here one that's a bit different. Take a PI that works for a special department of the CIA and send him around the world performing investigations for the USA. The "Secret Mission" series by Don Smith are a blend of adventure, intrigue and decent PI story. Phil Sherman is our world traveler PI, a pretty sharp guy that isn't afraid to bend the rules at times.

In "Death Stalk in Spain," Sherman is asked to help the U.S. Navy in locating a missing rescue submarine and it's rogue captain, Lt. Kelly. Kelly has obtained information on the location of ten tons of gold that was sunk by a German U-boat during WWII. He needs the U.S. sub to retrieve the gold from the depths and has the ex-captain of the U-Boat that sunk it as his partner. Sherman starts piecing it together and then a beautiful Spanish woman is thrown in the mix, playing both sides of the fence. After a couple of close encounters with death, he stays on the trail and pursues the surviving conspirator in a suspenseful climactic chase at the end.

"I heard the gunshot as I hit the water and stayed under as long as I could. I came up and gulped down a lungful of air, and a rifle cracked at the same instant as the bullet snapped overhead. I went under again and changed direction. The rifle did worry me. It had the range."

Not a bad mystery story, with a good amount of exciting action that is the norm for these series books. Phil Sherman doesn't have special Hi-Tech weapons or other spy tools; in fact he doesn't even carry a gun. What he does is follow the leads and perform some nice detective work. As in all of these, there is plenty of heated activity at the end to wrap it up. Sherman isn't afraid of the ladies and can be a charmer, throwing a joke or two. The dames always seem to be involved with the caper, but he'll show compassion for them and lets them off in the end. What works well is that Sherman comes off like an average PI. Not a super spy, just a “dick on a case” whose turf just happens to be locations throughout the world.

Don Smith creates an entertaining novel. As these adventure novels go, the "Secret Mission" series is one of the better ones out there. Smith even gives us a geography lesson; in this one we get a full understanding of the coast of western Spain. I liked that and it definitely helps the story. Overall a very intriguing novel that kept me glued to the story all the way through. This is the only book of the series that I own, but it was good enough for me to hunt down another. As for Don Smith, I don't know much about him but I may have read a book of his in the past about the mafia. I vaguely remember it followed the success of Puzo’s "The Godfather"-but I could be wrong, it was a while ago.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Prognosis Negative by Floyd Mahannah

Prognosis Negative by Floyd Mahannah
Short Story in Manhunt March 1953

I always enjoy the PI stories that Manhunt published and this one is excellent. It's a story of a "two-bit dick" who finally shows some guts before he "punches out."

Jim Makin is a California PI, who was just informed that he has an inaccessible tumor in his brain and has about a year to live. He's in a middle of a case in which his client, a female illegal immigrant, has taken $60,000 from the racket boss-Ernie Fidako. The big guy wants the dough back, and knows Makin is hiding her. Makin is a bit scared of Ernie and his boys, but after his negative prognosis he musters up some courage and a "what the hell" attitude. He goes after Ernie. Eventually, Makin stubbles, and Ernie nabs him and the tamale. Ernie roughs both up, before Jim Makin makes his move and violently takes on the four of them.

"I'd crossed Ernie Fidako, and in this town that was poison. He left it lying there-the alternative-the slug in the back, the concrete coffin, the long sleep under the Bay."

I love these Manhunt short stories and this one is definitely hardboiled. Hell, Ernie Fidako even sets the girl's hair on fire to make her talk. A top-notch story, with an ending that is rough, violent and the bullets are flying. Jim Makin is an interesting PI character and too bad he only had a year left-would of loved to see him in a whole novel. The transition from a guy who yesterday would of been running scared, to the nothing-to-lose attitude Makin has now, is ingeniously handled by the author. A fine little noir short story.

As for Floyd Mahannah, a fine writer that wrote some excellent novels for Signet in the 50s. Bill Crider wrote a fine review for The Broken Body. (Signet 957)

As for this issue of Manhunt, check who else is inside:
Mickey Spillane (Part III of "Everybody's Watching Me")
Richard Prather (Scott Shell story)
Leslie Charteris (A Saint story)
Craig Rice (John J. Malone story)
Bruno Fischer
Frank Kane (Johnny Liddell story)
William Lindsay Gresham
Harold Masur (Scott Jordan story)
Evan Hunter (Matt Cordell story)
Robert Patrick Wilmot
Richard Marsten