Friday, March 31, 2017

Forgotten Books: THE SNATCHERS by Lionel White (1953)

I’d say that this book has echoes of Richard Stark’s Parker novels—but I can’t, because it was published seven years before the first Parker book, The Hunter. What’s the opposite of echoes? Beats me, but the feeling was there, the whole way through.

The author doesn’t fool around here. As the story begins, the crime has already taken place, and tensions are rising. The plot is simmering on page 1 and keeps getting hotter until—on the final page—well, you’ll have to read it and see. It’s the kind of thriller that keeps your eyes glued to the page.

Our hero is Cal Dent, the guy who masterminds and bankrolls the kidnapping of a little rich girl. As Parker will do so many times in years to come, Dent chooses the crew, then struggles do deal with their potpourri of personality disorders to keep the job from going off the rails. And while each member of the gang has a skill Dent requires, each has a nasty quirk that worms its way to forefront. By the end of the story all four quirks are quirking full blast, and Dent is battling an unexpected one of his own. I don’t remember Parker ever having it this tough.

Lionel White manages to shift point of view anytime he wants, and gets away with it, immersing us in every scene from multiple angles. We know what each of the Snatchers is thinking and feeling about the situation—and about each other—at every step of the way. Instead of being distracting, it heightens the tension.

As you’d expect, Cal Dent is the clearest thinker of the lot, and the closest to a normal human being. Though a career criminal, he has scruples—even a conscience—and has carefully planned this kidnapping to be his last job, the one that sets him up for life. Commensurate with his management skills, he expects to walk away with half the take, a cool $250,000.

Under Dent’s skin right from the start is Pearl, a hard-edged dame who oozes sex appeal and wields it like a weapon. At the moment, she’s hooked up with a brutal and ignorant thug named Red, who seems to be on hand chiefly as a driver. Hating everyone, and being hated in return, is an even more brutal, bestial and utterly merciless thug named Gino. Aside from Dent, the only member with any brains is Fats, an unkempt, foul-smelling rat who proves too smart for Dent’s own good.

Also on hand, and a major factor in the proceedings, is the kidnapee’s nanny, a hot-but-clean young babe who fires the blood of every Snatcher but Pearl.

The whole bunch are lot are holed up in a beach-front house in a rural area of Long Island (which presumably still existed in 1955), from which they venture out for sustenance and the needs of Dent’s scheme, and where they are bedeviled by a small-town cop who’s a lot smarter than he lets on.

It all comes to a boil with a slam-bang finish, with plenty of surprises along the way. This was White’s first book (with 35 or so more to come), and was filmed in 1968 as The Night of the Following Day, with Marlon Brando, Richard Boone and Rita Moreno.

Published as a Gold Medal original back in 1953, The Snatchers is now back in print as the first half of a twofer from Stark House Press. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Six Scarlet Scorpions: A PAT SAVAGE Adventure by Will Murray

Though Pat Savage has played minor roles—and at least one major role—in Will Murray’s WILD Adventures of Doc Savage, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book with her in the lead. Unlike Cousin Doc, Pat has no special mental or physical training, and possesses few of the scientific gadgets Doc employs.

But those minuses turned out to be a plus. Freed from Doc's ultra-heroic trappings, Pat Savage is a different type of hero. She’s more vulnerable, more fallible, more relatable, and a lot less uptight about showing her emotions—and her sense of humor. At the same time, she has a special quality of her own. As described in Chapter 1, “There was something electric in the way she moved, as if she might shed sparks at any moment. It was not merely the vitality of youth, but a quality that might never depart her.”

And though Pat has enough personality to carry the book on her own, she doesn’t have to, because her co-pilot for this adventure is Colonel Andrew Blodgett Mayfair, the apish chemist otherwise known as “Monk.”

For Monk, too, this tale is a bit of a departure. We’re not only treated to a glimpse of his past, as he revisits his home town of Tulsa, Oklahoma, but he displays a different side in his interactions with Pat. In Doc’s adventures, he’s either trading barbs with his rival/pal Ham, or teamed up with Doc himself, who is all but allergic to his humor. With Pat, we see a different type of rivalry, and a different type of camaraderie. Pat gives Monk as much guff as he dishes out, but without Ham’s acidity.

Pat and Monk are in Oklahoma because Pat has an itch to get rich, and Monk, who once worked as a roustabout, suggests leasing options on potential oil fields. As you’d expect, they soon find themselves up to their necks in bad guys and wanted for a laundry list of crimes—including murder.

Pat, armed with her grandfather’s old Colt Peacemaker, takes the lead in the investigation, partly because she insists this is her own mystery to solve, and partly because she’s able to move about in disguise, while the too-conspicuous Monk is forced to stay out of sight. "You," Pat tells him, "stand out like a wart on a banana."

The plot itself is quite Doc-like, and it ought to be, seeing that’s it’s based on the outline of an unwritten story left behind by Lester Dent. I was privileged to have a look at that outline, and it features an unemployed Tulsa oil-field worker named O’Shea. While following the basic structure of Dent’s plan, Will Murray vastly expanded the scope and added fantastic elements, while smoothly sliding Pat and Monk into O’Shea’s role as hero.

The mysterious head villain, Chief Standing Scorpion, is Will’s invention, as are the gang of Tommy Gun-toting Osage Indians who do his dirty work. The same goes for many of the supporting characters with very Dent-sounding names: Jim Dandy, Tall Turkey, Grabber Daly and “Thunder” Cloud.

The result is a bullet-ridden romp through Oklahoma and the oil business, with Monk—between shots and scrapes—playing tour guide. Pat Savage emerges from Doc’s shadow, proving herself more than equal to the challenge and worthy of more adventures on her own. Here’s hoping we get them!

Like the many WILD Adventures of Doc Savage, Six Scarlet Scorpions is available direct from Altus Press.

Monday, March 27, 2017

James Bama's SAVAGE Paintings

The Man of Bronze?
What's going on here? Did Bama's original Doc have hair?

The Majii

The Midas Man

The Terror in the Navy

Friday, March 24, 2017

Forgotten Books: NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH by James Hadley Chase

To begin with, this title is absolutely correct. There are no orchids in this book for Miss Blandish or anyone else. I don’t believe there is even a mention of orchids, so if your name happens to be Nero Wolfe, I suggest you turn to another blog.

Otherwise, read on.

I’ve had a book bearing this title (the Avon “Classic Crime” edition of 1961) kicking around the house for years, but resisted reading it. Somehow I had learned it was a revised and toned-down version of the notorious original. I mean, if I’m going to read a book famous for its brutality, why settle for a watered-down version?

A couple of years ago, I got curious again and tried to learn if any of the many reprint editions contained the original 1939 text. And it just got more frustrating. Best I could learn was that it had been officially revised by Chase (aka Rene Brabazon Raymond) in 1942 and again in 1961, with numerous variants published in between. I tried to track down a genuine first edition through InterLibrary Loan, and failed that too.

So I continued not reading it, until finally—just last year---Stark House came out with an uncensored, unexpurgated version, featuring the original text.

Was it worth the wait?

Well, it was pretty dang interesting. Back in 1939, it was probably the most violent book ever published, and I can see why it raised a ruckus. By now, I’m sure it’s been surpassed many times, but not by anything I’ve read, or would care to read.

The basic plot is this: Miss Blandish (no name given), daughter of a really rich guy, is kidnapped by a gang of brutal thugs. Almost immediately, she is re-kidnapped by a gang of infinitely more brutal thugs. As you would expect, brutality ensues. This continues until a private detective—relatively brutal himself, but with redeeming senses of humor and honor—is hired to find her.

To give you an idea of the caliber of crook she’s dealing with, her chief tormentor, Slim Grisson, was once caught by his school master “cutting up a new-born kitten with a rusty pair of scissors.” Slim does everything violently, right down to way he picks his nose. Leading the gang is the kitten-cutter’s mother, who has “shoulders like a gorilla,” and flesh hanging “in two loose sacks on either side of her mouth.” On meeting Miss B, Ma says, “You’re going to stay here until your old man comes across” and “If he tries to be smart, I’m going to take you apart in bits, and those bits will be sent to your pa every goddam day until he learns to play ball.” And she ain’t fooling.

P.I. Dave Fenner, who makes his first appearance almost halfway into the book, knows how to deal with such folk. Switching on a portable electric stove, he watches the filaments turn red and says, “I could get a hell of a kick clappin’ this poultice on that’s rat’s mug.” And he ain’t fooling, either. Later he holds a fry pan full of hissing grease over another rat and announces, “You’ll talk or I’ll slop this fat in your mug.” The rat talks.

Chase delivers many nice turns of phrase. As in, “There was a dead man lying on the floor. There could be no mistake just how dead he was. The small blue hole in the centre of his forehead told Eddie that he was as dead as a lamb cutlet.”

The story is set in the U.S., and though Chase did pretty well with Americanese, a few British terms and spellings slipped through. Words like kerb, cheque, bell-push, boot (for trunk), grips (for suitcases) and lift (for elevator). At one point Fenner says, “It’s sweet fanny to me who happened to Heinie. That little rat’s got nothin’ to do with me.” Sweet fanny?

The afterword to the Stark House edition, by John Fraser, discusses the novel’s complex publishing history and probable sources. One insight of particular interest to me was the mention of Jonathan Latimer’s The Dead Don’t Care, published in England the year before Orchids. Fraser quotes a passage in which Crane ponders what happens to pretty women at the hands of kidnappers. Crane is pretty sure he knows, but wonders why no one ever talks about it. Fraser thinks this scene may have been in Chase’s mind when he came up with Orchids. According to Fraser, the original 1939 text appears in a 1977 Corgi paperback and and 1961 Robert Hale edition, both published in Great Britain. This new Stark House book (which also contains, you may have noticed, Twelve “Chinamen” and a Woman) appears to the first American printing of the real thing.

P.S. In case you missed it, over the past four days I’ve taken a nosy look at the bookshelf of author Stephen Mertz, featuring books by Cleve F. Adams, Michael Avallone, Robert Leslie Bellem, Carroll John Daly, Lester Dent, Donald Hamilton, Dashiell Hammett, Robert E. Howard, Joe Lansdale, Don Pendleton, Richard S. Prather, Bill Pronzini, Bob Randisi and others. You can view the whole shebang HERE.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Here we are at the fourth and final row this photo gives us access to. Sad, ain't it? We'll all be up nights wondering what Steve has stashed on Row Five, with authors S thru Z.

In the shadows under Steve's wrist sit two of the Carroll & Graf Spider doubles published in the '90s. Can't see which they are (there were at least eight of them), but in between is a Spider book we can identify.

And this is it. I always planned to get a copy of my own, but never got around to it. Guess it's about time. After a few blurry titles, we roll into the Don Pendleton department . . .

The books Steve is either hiding or calling attention to with his hand are most likely the four sleazy adventures of Stewart Mann, detective, penned by Pendleton in his pre-Executioner days. Steve spilled the beans on these recently on Ben Boulden's blog, and you can read the story HERE

Next up are a bunch of Executioners. This one is unmistakable, but the others are too tough for me. I yapped about this book recently HERE.

Pendleton's post-Exectioner days are represented by these two hardcovers, and that's likely a Copp paperback sandwiched between them. 

And bringing the Pendleton section to a close is one of the many books by Don's wife Linda. 

This next section starts with several Shell Scott adventures.

I can see these. Can you see more?

Then it's Pronzini time. I have these two on my shelves, too.

That red/orange hardback between Labyrinth and Bindlestiff looks mighty familiar. I might even have a copy, but it has me baffled. 

There are way too many books here I can't make out. Guess I'll have to make the pilgrimage to Tuscon.

 I didn't know what a Nick Carter book was doing this late in the alphabet until I figured out it was written by Bob Randisi. 

Which explains why, after a couple more titles I can't read, we come to these two. The books that follow are mostly a mystery, though I do see a couple of Harold Robbins, one of which is The Carpetbaggers

The last two I can be sure of are these, by a guy I'm not familiar with. But if Steve likes him he must be good. 

Down near the end of the line is a single Stony Man (Executioner spin-off) book. Who done it?

That's it. That's all I got. But let this be a lesson to you. If you go posting photos of your bookshelves you risk some nosy bozo like me poking around in them!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Over the past two days, we've seen that Steve has some mighty swell books, and they just keep on a'comin'. 

The first books visible on row Three are Donald Hamilton's adventures of Matt Helm. I can't read the titles--the best I can get are impressions. But I'm going out on a limb and say I have the impression two of them might be these . . .

Hm. I've never read a Matt Helm book. That blurb at the top of The Wrecking Crew makes me think I should. 

Next up are Hammett's best book (left) and the one other folks think is his best (right). Read these more times than I can count. 

After a copy of The Big Knockover and what I suspect is a later book called Nightmare Town, we find the hands-down most (left) and least (right) important Hammett story collections.

And two more less than vital but still interesting collections of artifacts. Among the next nine books is something by Ernie Hemingway (a story collection?) and a couple of Jack Higgins thrillers, including The Eagle Has Landed

Then we find four REH titles, only two of which I can be sure of. The fourth has the same coloring as Berkley's Son of the White Wolf and Marchers of Valhalla, but the words don't seem to fit.

L. Ron Hubbard is not a name I expected to find here. Surprise, surprise. Following that are several unidentifiable E. Howard Hunt books and a Longmire adventure. It may not be As the Crow Flies, but the coloring is right. 

Jumping to the next shelf, there's this one by Wm. Johnstone. Four books later there's another by the same dude, so it's a fair bet those in between are too. Then there are a few Frank Kanes. It almost looks like there's a Henry Kane in there too, but if so he's out of order. 

We then encounter a Stephen King or two and a Dean Koontz or two before entering Joe Lansdale territory. 

It looks like there are ten Lansdale titles, but I can only be sure of four titles, and pretty sure of three editions. I have no clue as to the addition of The Magic Wagon, third from the top in the stack.

Since this is the last pic in today's post, I'm glad it has a great cover. 

Tomorrow: Row Four, and a fond farewell to the Mertz Library. See you then.