Wednesday, August 31, 2022

TV tie-in novel - Mediterranean Caper (It Takes a Thief #2)

Published in 1969, Mediterranean Caper was the second TV tie-in novel based on the very successful 1968-1970 American TV spy series It Takes a Thief.

It was written by Gil Brewer, much better remembered as one of the great hardboiled/noir writers of the 1950s.

Mediterranean Caper is a lightweight but fun and breezy spy thriller. Entertaining, especially if you’re a fan of the TV show.

My full review can be found at Cult TV Lounge.

Monday, August 29, 2022

The Chic Chick Spy

The Chic Chick Spy dates from 1966. It’s the second of the three spy thrillers featuring the Miss From S.I.S. which were written by Robert Tralins. It’s a mixture of spy action and sleaze, which is a mixture I’m starting to find rather seductive.

Lee Crosley is a beautiful young woman who appears on the surface to be a successful travel writer. In reality she’s a counter-espionage field agent for S.I.S., a top-secret intelligence and counter-intelligence agency. All of S.I.S.’s agents are beautiful young women.

This time Lee is investigating a beauty salon. Beauty salons don’t sound very sinister but the Queen of Sheba beauty salon in downtown Washington is rather unusual. It’s run by a woman who claims to be the Queen of Sheba reincarnated. The staff consists almost entirely of lesbians. And if a woman goes to this salon to get her hair done she will be ordered to strip naked. There are Queen of Sheba salons all over the world and now they’re intending to open branches throughout the United States. The salons seem to be a cover for some sort of scheme for world domination.

Lee decides to make an appointment to get a dry and set. She soon finds herself totally nude and surrounded by lesbians in strange turbans. There is an attempt to hypnotise her and an attempt to drug her. The few men working for this beauty salon organisation seem a bit odd as well.

Lee gets into the usual scrapes you expect in a pulp spy caper. She gets captured and of course she escapes. Her sidekick David Dudley gets captured. Both Lee and David end up in various foreign cities chasing up leads, which involves attending conferences. What makes it a bit different from a standard spy thriller is that just about all of the scrapes Lee gets into involve her having to take all her clothes off.

Lee finally starts to suspect what is behind all this beauty salon stuff, and she’s horrified. This is much more diabolically twisted than your standard evil genius aiming for world domination stuff.

Lee Crosley is an engaging enough heroine. She’s basically your standard sexy lady spy. She isn’t defenceless when she enters the beauty salon. She has all kinds of gadgets concealed on and about her person. There are gadgets in her lipstick, her mascara pencil, her ballpoint pen and of course in her bra. The latter came as no surprise to me. Having read the first of Gardner Francis Fox’s delightful The Lady from L.U.S.T. spy thriller series I knew that lady spies always have secret devices hidden in their bras (and usually in their panties). Of course to use the gadget Lee has to take her bra off but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for her since she spends a lot of her time nude or semi-nude. In fact pretty much all of Lee’s underwear is deadly.

David Dudley is very much a sidekick. He’s quite resourceful and useful but he’s strictly a subordinate. In S.I.S. only women can become fully-fledged field agents. Men are purely employed in subordinate capacities. I suppose you could try to interpret this as an indication of some kind of feminist message but I think it might be a mistake to push this too far. This was 1966 and the book reflects the world of 1966. S.I.S. employs women because women make very useful agents. And the book is about lady spies because, let’s face it, lady spies are sexy and glamorous. That’s not to say it’s anti-feminist. If you’re the sort of person who sees political incorrectness everywhere I imagine you’ll find lots of it here.

There’s a reasonable amount of action. The violence is very low-key but people do get killed. The sleaze is also very low-key. There’s no sex. The sleaze mostly amounts to Lee getting naked a lot. A real lot. The book is sexy but in a lighthearted almost innocent way.

The front cover assures us that this is the most absurd book you will read this year. They’re not kidding. The plot is definitely crazy and goofy. It all kind of makes sense, if you accept some really outlandish assumptions.

If, like me, you enjoy books that mix espionage and sleaze then you really need to check out Gardner Francis Fox’s The Lady from L.U.S.T. and Cherry Delight thrillers. I’ve reviewed the first Lady from L.U.S.T. novel, Lust, Be a Lady Tonight, and the first Cherry Delight book, The Italian Connection (which is a total blast). They’re more frenetic and more overtly sleazy than The Chic Chick Spy but they belong broadly to the same sub-genre.

The Chic Chick Spy is silly fun. I liked it. Highly recommended.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Lionel White's Clean Break (The Killing)

Clean Break is a 1955 noir novel by Lionel White. It was made into the superb 1956 Stanley Kubrick movie The Killing. Later editions of the novel were published with the title The Killing.

Lionel White was apparently something of a specialist in caper stories and this novel is a classic of that sub-genre.

Johnny Clay is a fairly small-time crook but after serving four years in prison he thinks he’s figured out what he keeps doing wrong. The answer is that you have to think big. If you get caught you go to prison anyway so if you’re going to risk a prison stretch you might as well make it something worth the risk.

This time Johnny is thinking very big indeed. A racetrack robbery on Long Island. He expects to get away with two million dollars. Now back in 1955 two million dollars was an almost unimaginably vast sum of money. Enough to set up every member of the gang in luxury for the rest of their lives.

The only problem is that everyone knows that robbing a major racetrack is impossible. There are too many people, there’s way too much security. It can’t be done. But Johnny thinks he’s come up with a fool-poof plan.

The mistake most guys make in pulling off a big heist is that they use a team of professional criminals, which just makes things easy for the cops. Johnny is going to use amateurs. Guys with no criminal records.

His plan really is quite ingenious. It will involve a shooting but if things go right there won’t be any chance of a murder rap because no-one will have been murdered.

His choice of partners in the robbery says a lot about Johnny. He’s very clever, up to a point. The cops will be looking for professionals. And each of the guys involved is ideal for Johnny’s purposes. He has a couple of guys on the inside. There’s bartender Big Mike and there’s George Peatty, a cashier at the track. There’s a guy named Unger who will finance the heist. And there’s a cop, Randy Kellan. Randy is dishonest but he’s never been caught doing anything illegal. All these guys are suitable because they all need money desperately. Johnny will have to use a few professionals but they’ll be paid flat fees upfront and will never get to meet any of the members of the gang. They won’t know anything important so even if they get caught they won’t be able to tell the police anything of importance.

So these guys are good choices for the robbery, except for one thing. They’re losers. And guys become losers because they make a mess of everything they touch.

Johnny knows that the weakest link is George Peatty, but Johnny thinks he’ll be OK. What Johnny doesn’t realise is just how much of a weak link George is. George needs the money to stop his gorgeous young wife Sherry from leaving him. George doesn’t intend to tell Sherry anything but Sherry has a surefire way of getting George to do what she wants. If she lets George have sex with her he will do anything and tell her anything. The other problem that Johnny hasn’t anticipated is that Sherry Peatty is a tramp. That’s likely to cause real trouble. She’s the femme fatale in the mix.

White has come up with a very solid plot. And he tells the story in an interesting way. He constantly switches from one character’s point of view to another. And he keeps doubling back on the plot to give us vital parts of the story from the points of view of several different characters. When it comes to the heist itself he gives us the lead-up from the pint of view of every major characters. So we get a series of narratives running in parallel and overlapping (and Kubrick adopted a similar approach in his movie version which has been widely praised for its narrative innovations).

There’s plenty of noirness here. We feel from the start that all of these people are doomed. They’re attempting a very clever heist but they’re losers and we know that they’re going to make mistakes. Johnny is a loser as well. He’s a loser because he thinks he’s cleverer than he is. He’s fallen prey to wishful thinking. He thinks he’s a criminal mastermind but his plan is way too complicated to work.

White brings the story to a very satisfying conclusion.

Clean Break is definitely noir fiction but it’s also a terrific and exciting example of a heist story. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Sixth Glacier by Marius

The Sixth Glacier is a 1929 end-of-the-world science fiction novel written by an author who called himself Marius. Marius was a pseudonym used by Steve Benedict, about whom I know nothing. The novel was originally published, in two instalments, in Amazing Stories.

A young reporter from Science News is sent to interview a transportation tycoon named Dunraven. It seems that Dunraven has zero interest in transportation. He’s a rich old man and he can devote himself to his hobby. His hobby is palaeontology. He believes he has discovered the ruins of an ancient city in Mexico. A city 100,000 years old, dating from before the last Ice Age. And in this city he has found evidence to believe that another Ice Age is imminent.

The old man is right. The new Ice Age is on its way. Dunraven dismisses the various theories that were current at the time regarding the causes of the succession of ice ages. He has a theory of his own, and within a short time there is evidence which appears to confirm his theory. The solar system is about to drift through a vast frigid nebula, something that happens every hundred thousand years or so. Soon much of the world will be covered by vast ice sheets.

Most of the book is taken up by descriptions of the devastation that ensues. Marius is not one of those starry-eyed types who thinks that disasters bring out the best in people. In this novel the collapse of civilisation leads to wars, to lawlessness, mass murder and cannibalism.

Civilisation doesn’t quite end. The tropics are still habitable. The tropical zones are now filled with refugees from more northern latitudes.

It all seems hopeless until Dunraven hits on an idea. In the finest tradition of pulp fiction his idea sounds crazy but it just might work.

The reporter has some personal dramas to worry about as well. He’s in love with Dunraven’s daughter Clara. He knows he has a rival for her affections. He will discover that in fact he has two rivals.

Mostly the book is a kind of fairly dry documentary-style account of the disaster but Marius does throw in a few dramatic scenes as the reporter finds himself first at the mercy of the savage new tribes of igloo-dwellers and then a huge pack of wolves.

More interesting are Dunraven’s theories about the history of life on Earth. They are of course scientific nonsense but in 1929 they might have seemed more convincing. And they are entertaining. Dunraven believes that intelligent life has arisen on Earth many times, often in peculiar forms. Such as the spider-people.

The science might all be very dubious, basically silly pseudoscience, but it’s fun silly pseudoscience.

Apocalyptic novels had started to become a thing in the 1920s, presumably partly because of scientific and technological advances which made people more aware of the possibility of a civilisation-ending disaster. Mostly however it was undoubtedly due to the trauma of the First World War which made optimism seem like an increasingly unrealistic outlook. The most notable of 1920s post-apocalyptic science fiction novels was Nordenholt’s Million by Alfred Walter Stewart (who wrote under the name J.J. Connington and became a very successful detective fiction writer). Nordenholt’s Million was published in 1923 and deals in a remarkably detached and scientific way with the consequences of ecological catastrophe.

This was of course before nuclear weapons were even thought of but as both Connington and Marius demonstrated there were still plenty of plausible end-of-the-world scenarios. And the scenario described in The Sixth Glacier is certainly plausible even if the detailed scientific explanations he gives are mere pseudoscience.

Armchair Fiction have released this novel paired with Harl Vincent’s Before the Asteroids in a double-header paperback edition.

The Sixth Glacier is no masterpiece. Structurally it’s a bit clunky, the prose is less than exciting and there are no memorable characters with whom to empathise. Having said that, if you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic science fiction it does have historical interest.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

William Knoles' Sexperiment

William Knoles (1926-1970) wrote a lot of sleaze novels during the 60s, mostly using the pseudonym Clyde Allison. Sexperiment was published in 1966.

Dr John Whitman is a medical researcher. As the book opens he has some explaining to do to the authorities. He has to explain all those dead people. He tells the story in an extended flashback.

As his story begins he has a cosy post which gives him the freedom to explore new frontiers in medical research, along with his three young graduate students. Dr Whitman and his students have found a field of research which offers exciting possibilities - sex. They’re not interested in studying rats or monkeys. They want to study people. The problem with a research project of this kind is finding volunteers to participate but they realise that really isn’t a problem at all. Their four-person team consists of two men and two women. They will be the research subjects.

Of course this means that they’ll have to have lots of sex with each other but that’s a sacrifice they’re prepared to make for the sake of science.

Sadly the projects ends prematurely. The University thinks the project is just an excuse for a series of orgies so they fire Dr Whitman. His career is in ruins.

Or so it seems. Then he gets an offer he can’t refuse. An offer from the Mandrake Foundation, a very secretive foundation dedicated entirely to sex research and funded by an ageing eccentric sex-crazed billionaire.

Dr Whitman enjoys the challenges of his new position. It involves having lots of sex with eager female volunteers and he enjoys that as well.

The Mandrake Foundation employs a large number of medical scientists. They have several things in common. They’ve all lost their licence to practise medicine, all have disreputable backgrounds and all are basically mad scientists. One of these scientists, Dr Krieghund, has made a major breakthrough. He’s discovered a chemical that inflames female sexual desire. It’s an aphrodisiac that actually works. The trouble is that it works a bit too well. It doesn’t just make women amorous, it makes them terrifying.

And that’s the effect the stuff has when it’s incredibly diluted. If people ever got exposed to the undiluted chemical the results would be catastrophic. But these are serious scientists. They would never allow an accident like that to happen.

There’s an enormous amount of sex but none of it is described graphically.

The author is clearly aiming for comedy. At times almost slapstick comedy. There’s an incredible amount of mayhem as well but again you have to remember that you’re not meant to take this seriously at all. And it’s all so clearly absurd that I don’t think anyone would take it seriously. This is cartoon violence.

There’s also an element of satire, making fun of the pretensions of science and scientists and taking a few swipes at authority. This was the 60s after all.

No-one is going to mistake this for great literature but it’s lively and often genuinely amusing. In the 1960s sex was still something you could make jokes about.

Ferox Publications have re-issued this book in paperback paired with another William Knoles sleaze novel, Shame Market. Shame Market is very amusing very sleazy fun.

And that’s a pretty good way to describe Sexperiment. Shame Market is the better, funnier novel but both are enjoyable. Recommended.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

F. Van Wyck Mason’s The Shanghai Bund Murders

The Shanghai Bund Murders, published in 1933, is the sixth of F. Van Wyck Mason’s Hugh North spy thrillers.

When Mason wrote the first of his twenty-five Hugh North novels in 1930 spy fiction had been around for quite a while but it was mostly a British affair. The big names of the genre - William Le Queux, E. Phillips OIppenheim, H.C. McNeile (“Sapper”) and John Buchan - were all British. Spies in American fiction were confined to pulp fiction and usually featured in outlandish tales incorporating elements of science fiction or the fantastic, or they were essentially wartime adventure stories. There wasn’t really an American school of true serious spy fiction. Mason was a pioneer.

The next important step in the history of American spy fiction would be the appearance of the first of John P. Marquand’s Mr Moto novels, Your Turn, Mr Moto, in 1936.

Having said all this, Mason’s early Hugh North books are hybrids of a sort - they’re murder mysteries with added espionage elements and espionage backgrounds. As the series progressed the books become more and more true spy stories. And Hugh North is a real spy. A professional spy. He’s a U.S. intelligence officer.

Mason loved exotic settings. In fact it’s hard to think of an exotic locale that North doesn’t visit at some stage during the course of his career.

When reading The Shanghai Bund Murders you have to bear in mind that this was still the Warlord Era in China. Powerful and ruthless warlords had divided the country. Some warlords were ideologically motivated but most were mere opportunists out for power and money. The country was in a constant chaos and wars were continually breaking out.

You also have to remember that this was 1933. The world was not yet divided into rival ideological blocs. In these early Hugh North stories you can’t assume that the Germans or the Japanese will be the bad guys. The bad guys might turn out to be the French. Or the Italians. Or in fact just about any great power.

The Shanghai Bund Murders opens on a British steamer in the Yangtze River. Two warlord armies are fighting it out. Hugh North is in China but at this stage he is not anticipating being involved in any kind of espionage drama or foreign intrigue of any kind.

Two of his fellow passengers attract his attention. One is Sam Steel, an unscrupulous American mercenary in the service of one of the warlords. Steel and North have crossed swords before. The other passenger of interest is Mrs Ruby Braunfeld, a very glamorous Austrian lady. Ruby Braunfeld is a “coaster” - a prostitute plying her trade on the Chinese seaboard. But Ruby Braunfeld is no common prostitute - she is a very high-class very expensive courtesan and she is as charming as she is beautiful. At least four of the men aboard the steamer have already fallen in love with her. She’s obviously going to be worth watching.

And then one of her admirers commits suicide. Only it’s no suicide. The man was murdered. The motive was not robbery. It could be a crime passionnel. Hugh North however knows something about the man that suggests the possibility that espionage or international intrigue could be involved. The murdered man was British and it’s a British steamer but Hugh North also has reason to believe that the interests of the United States could be involved.

North knows that there’s some plot afoot and that it has something to do with the power struggle between three warlords. Various great powers believe that is in their interests for one of the three to come out on top. North has to make sure that whichever warlord wins is going to be one friendly to American interests, and British interests. Britain and the U.S. are colonial rivals but in this case they have decided that they have sufficient interests in common to persuade them to co√∂perate.

If North is going to foil this nefarious plot he has to find out who is behind it and why. In order to do that he will have to discover who murdered the man on the steamer, so there’s both a murder mystery and a spy thriller plot strand and both plot strands are inextricably linked.

Sam Steel is a suspect, but so is Ruby Braunfeld and so is an enigmatic English tea merchant, and a Chinese gentleman named Chang, and a mysterious Frenchman. And they’re all equally plausible suspects, and there’s no way of knowing what kinds of powerful interest groups could be pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Hugh North is a combination of action hero and clever detective. He uses the standard investigative methods you’d expect from a great detective but he gets involved in lots of rough-and-tumble action as well.

I’ve previously reviewed several other Hugh North spy novels - The Fort Terror Murders, The Singapore Exile Murders, The Budapest Parade Murders and the truly excellent The Branded Spy Murders. I can’t recommend the early Hugh North thrillers too highly - they have a distinctive flavour of their own, Mason uses his exotic settings not just to provide colour but as integral parts of his plots, they’re fast-paced and exciting and they have just a bit more emotional depth than you might expect. He really was a very fine writer.

The Shanghai Bund Murders is intelligent and provocative and it works as both murder mystery and spy novel. It’s also great fun. Highly recommended.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Men's Adventure Quarterly #4 Jungle Girl Issue

Men's Adventure Quarterly
(edited by Bob Deis and Bill Cunningham) has been an interesting publishing experiment, giving us glossy profusely illustrated collections of stories from men’s adventure magazines of the late 50s to the early 70s combined with “true story” articles from those magazines and lots of photographs and magazine covers. And published as real books, not ebooks. Rather inexpensive as well considering the luxurious format.

The spy issue, #2, was pretty enjoyable but #4 is the one I was looking forward to. This is the Jungle Girls issue. And who doesn’t love jungle girls?

A large part of this issue is devoted to Jane Dolinger and that’s fair enough. She was an exceptionally interesting lady. At the age of 19 she got bored with conventional society and took a job as Girl Friday to adventure writer Ken Krippene. It was the beginning of a life of constant travel to exotic and often dangerous locations. She eventually married Krippene and she quickly set about building a successful career for herself as a travel and adventure writer. She wrote quite a few books and countless articles for periodicals including men’s adventure magazines. She had her share of real adventures. She wrote about these adventures and in keeping with the spirit of men’s adventure magazines her articles were a mixture of fact and fiction. She understood what these magazines wanted and if adding fiction to the fact helped sell the articles she was happy to do so. She also had a parallel career as a nude model. She and Krippene discovered that they got more for their articles if they were accompanied by photographs so Krippene took photos of Jane having dangerous and exciting jungle adventures. They further discovered that if Jane was nude or semi-nude in the photos they’d get paid even more. Jane was happy to oblige.

Most of the first half is taken up by articles by, or about, Jane Dolinger. Her piece The Jungle Killers Who Fight for Women is the most fun. She’s in a village in the amazon when it gets raided by neighbouring headhunters out to steal women. If the villagers don’t repel the raiders Jane is sure to find herself carried off into the jungle as booty, and she will be raped and enslaved. This piece has a delightfully overheated quality to it.

You might at first be disappointed that there are only four stories in this collection. In fact Jane Dolinger’s several articles are at least semi-fictionalised and they’re in the same breathless overheated style as the actual stories so you’re not really missing out.

And those four stories are mostly enormous fun. There’s plenty of action, loads of semi-naked women (with wonderfully lurid illustrations to make sure you know what half-naked jungle girls look like) and there’s always some sex. One thing that jungle girls all have in common is that they’re driven mad with lust at the sight of handsome American adventurers.

The fiction part of the collection begins with Leonard Kelcey’s The She-Wolf of Halmahera. An American butterfly collector finds himself added to the collection of a beautiful but evil vampire jungle girl. She not only drinks her blood, she also forces him to satisfy her womanly lusts. A crazy story but great fun.

Don Honig’s Yank Explorer Who Ruled Guatemala’s Taboo Maiden Love Tribe is about tough cynical Nick O’Hanlon who is looking for missing British archaeologists. O’Hanlon really is breathtakingly cynical. It’s the wife of one of the missing men who offers him the job and he accepts on condition that she sleep with him.

Deep in the jungles of Guatemala O’Hanlon discovers a lost tribe of Mayan Indians and he ends up as the sex slave of their queen and her handmaidens. And the queen’s male sex slaves tend not to live all that long. Another great story.

J. Archibald Collinson’s Borneo’s Topless Army starts with A Vietnam vet taking on a job in the jungles of Borneo. The partner of a Chinese trader has died and his dead body has to be retuned to his home village. The Vietnam vet will have to battle a tribe of half-naked female warriors intent on stealing the body. And he encounters another half-naked female whose intentions he isn’t sure about. Even after he sleeps with her he’s still not certain if he can trust her.

This tale has all the lurid thrills you could ask for.

A.V. Loring’s Forbidden Amazon Female Compound is the weakest story in the collection. The premise is fun. An American engineer finds himself in a genuine amazon village. A tribe entirely made up of women. Men who approach the village are killed except for one month a year when the women invite men in to mate with them. The problem is that the plot doesn’t go anywhere, there’s very little action and there’s very little of the steamy sexiness we expect.

These stories were of course written at a time when authors didn’t have to worry about political correctness. This is part of the appeal. The political incorrectness is off the scale in most of these tales (and Jane Dolinger is pretty politically incorrect as well in her articles). Of course the many illustrations and photographs in this volume are also outrageously politically incorrect. I’m assuming that if you’re bothering to read a review of a collection of stories from men’s adventure magazines you’re no more bothered by this than I am.

The volume concludes with a selection of gorgeous cover illustrations and a detailed look at the Marion Michael phenomenon. Marion Michael caused a sensation with her sexy 1956 German jungle girl movie Liane, Jungle Goddess. She was billed as the new Brigitte Bardot. Her career went nowhere after that but for a brief moment she was everybody’s favourite sexy jungle girl.

This book is definitely a must-buy for jungle girl fans and for anyone interested in lesser-known aspects of 50s/60s pop culture. It’s gorgeously presented and the three best stories really are top-notch and outrageous. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Henry Kane’s Frenzy of Evil

Henry Kane’s Frenzy of Evil was published in 1963. Since it’s been reissued by Black Gat Books, an imprint of Stark House Noir, I assumed this was going to be noir fiction. It is, in a very broad sense, but it’s not in the usual run of noir fiction of its era and it definitely isn’t hardboiled. It has some affinities to the inverted detective story. In this case we know from the start that murder is being planned. The complications are that we don’t know the identity of the intended victim, and there’s more than one person planning murder. And we’re not sure how many intended victims there are.

Henry Kane (16908-1988) was an American lawyer and prolific pulp writer.

The book starts with a party for Jonathan Joseph Carson’s first wedding anniversary. Carson is sixty-two. His wife Dolores is twenty-two. Also present is his business partner George Ross, Ross’s wife and their two children, Jeffrey and Debbie. Playwright Frank Haines and his wife Vera and the director of a local theatre group, Gary Mason, are the other guests. These nine people represent hate, love, guilt, rape, adultery, madness and murder with each guest being particularly representative of one of these sins. So far no-one at the party has actually committed murder but that will change soon.

There are multiple romantic triangles established between these various characters. There’s suspicion and jealousy. Some of the jealousy is sexual, but not all of it.

At least two of the guests intend to commit murder. And they intend to get away with it.

The romantic entanglements go on getting messier and there are misunderstandings. Suspicions grow. Some of the suspicions are totally wrong and that will have consequences.

When the murder occurs it doesn’t go the way the murderer planned. Or at least it doesn’t go the way one of the murderers had planned. It’s made to look like a suicide but that fools cunning old Sam Kelly, the local sheriff, for about five minutes. Then he decides it’s a murder.

Then the plot twists start to kick in. And they’re nice and nasty with suitable ironic touches. The problem for the protagonists is that they’re operating on the basis of wrong or incomplete information, which leads them to make incorrect assumptions, which in turn leads them to do things that are the opposite of what they should do. They’ll think they’re digging themselves out of a hole when in fact they’re just digging themselves in deeper and deeper.

We can see fairly early on how events are likely to play out, but that makes it more enjoyable watching the author gradually bringing all the pieces together until the likely ending becomes a certainty. It’s a clever, devious and intricate plot in which the characters manipulate themselves without knowing it. What’s fun is that the reader can see the mistakes they’re making and we know how much trouble they’re getting into.

There’s a slight noir feel but whether you will think it’s enough to qualify this as noir fiction depends upon how strictly you define the term. It definitely has some dark cynical moments. And it has some dark characters.

If it is noir then it’s noir involving the rich and privileged rather than the usual noir losers. Of course the rich and privileged can be just as morally depraved as anyone on skid row.

And there’s some scientifically dubious but fun psychiatric stuff which is always a welcome touch.

The book is good enough to make me want to read more of Henry Kane’s work. Incidentally Henry Kane should not be confused with another fine noir writer, Frank Kane.

Frenzy of Evil is well-crafted mystery suspense and it’s highly recommended.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

John Norman’s Priest-Kings of Gor

Priest-Kings of Gor, published in 1968, is the third of John Norman’s Gor novels. It differs slightly from the first two books. They had very much the feel of high fantasy with sword & sorcery overtones. Priest-Kings of Gor is more of a science fiction novel.

I’m going to be vague about the plot in order to avoid revealing spoilers for the first two books.

Tarl Cabot is from Earth but he spends much of his time on Gor, which is the Counter-Earth. It’s a planet, almost identical to Earth, within our solar system. Its orbit has made it undetectable from Earth. Gor is also inhabited by humans, identical in every way to ourselves. The differences between the two planets are societal and cultural and those differences are quite profound. Gorean society is hierarchical and divided strictly into castes. Slavery is taken for granted. What made the Gor novels controversial is that on Gor female slavery is taken for granted. Not all the women are slaves, but some are.

Gor is ruled by the Priest-Kings. Nobody knows what kinds of beings the Priest-Kings are. Are they supernatural beings, are they men with supernatural powers, are they men with technology so advanced that they appear to all intents and purposes to be gods, or are they gods? Nobody has ever seen a Priest-King and lived to tell the tale so nobody knows. But the Priest-Kings are feared and obeyed.

In the first two books it was obvious that Tarl Cabot strongly disapproved of many aspects of Gorean society, especially the keeping of women as slaves. In this third book he still disapproves of slavery, but has become more tolerant of Gorean cultural practices.

Now Tarl Cabot is back on Gor and, after the events of the previous book, he wants revenge. He wants to meet the Priest-Kings face to face. More than that, he wants to destroy them.

In this book we find out what the Priest-Kings really are.

Tarl reaches the Sardar, the abode of the Priest-Kings. He meets Parp, who claims to be a Priest-King. Tarl is somewhat sceptical. Tarl finds himself a prisoner and encounters the slave girl Vika. Vika is beautiful and seductive. She might be a slave, but she has a reputation for enslaving men with her beauty. Tarl is not at all sure whether Vika can be trusted.

His third encounter is with one of the Priest-Kings, Misk.

Tarl becomes embroiled in power struggles which he does not fully understand. He cannot be sure of Vika’s motivations, or of Misk’s, in fact he cannot be sure of the motivations of any of the characters with whom he becomes involved.

There’s a good deal of action with full-scale battles and a threat to destroy the entire planet.

Tarl is going to have to trust somebody. He thinks he can trust Misk. He’s fairly sure he cannot trust Vika, but he’s not absolutely certain, and he feels vaguely responsible for her. Friendship and love complicate things for Tarl, but friendship and love make us human, an idea which seems obvious to Tarl but puzzling to Misk. His encounter with the Priest-Kings makes humanness suddenly very important to Tarl Cabot.

John Norman is a philosopher and he used the Gor novels as a means of playing around with various philosophical, political, social, cultural and sexual ideas. He claims to be most heavily influenced by Homer, Freud and Nietzsche. Nietzsche is the most obvious influence on the Gor series.

Having a character who divides his time between two radically different societies offers the obvious opportunity to question certain aspects of our own society, and the assumptions behind our social structure. But Norman is not entirely uncritical of Gorean society. He simply offers an alternative social model but whether we, the readers, approve of disapprove is up to us. He seems keen to question, rather than lecture us with his own ideas.

In this book he offers a third social alternative, that of the Priest-Kings, and again it’s left to us to decide how we feel about it. The Priest-Kings have a rational social model, but given that humans are not particularly rational creatures we may be inclined to consider the ideas of the Priest-Kings to be inapplicable to humans. The Priest-Kings have a very alien outlook.

Questions of free will versus compulsion, and conformity versus freedom, and the nature of historical destiny are raised.

If you put aside the sexual aspects (which some people are not going to be able to do) then the Gor books have enough interest to make them worth checking out. The sexual stuff is really a very minor feature of the early Gor novels. Norman is more interested in philosophical questions.

Priest-Kings of Gor might not be to everyone’s tastes but it’s still worth a look.

I’ve reviewed the two earlier Gor books, Tarnsman of Gor and Outlaws of Gor. It might be worth pointing out that these novels absolutely have to be read in sequence.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Orrie Hitt's Call South 3300: Ask For Molly!

Call South 3300: Ask For Molly! is a 1958 sleaze novel by Orrie Hitt, one of the most prolific and interesting writers that genre produced.

Slade Martin is the sales manager of the All-Channel TV company. They make TV sets. They were one of the most successful companies in the industry but they’ve been on a downward spiral. The general manager, spends all his time at the golf course. Their sets are outdated and look stodgy. Sales are plummeting. Slade knows that he’s the only man in the company who can turn the business around. The first step is to get a big order from a distributor named Kane. The upcoming sales convention will be the opportunity. Slade has an idea how he can get that order. All he needs is the right girl to butter up Kane.

The obvious choice would be the new girl in Accounting, Ann Frank. Ann is a gorgeous classy blonde. Slade is pretty obsessed by her. He’s an inveterate womaniser but this girl is something special.

Slade is sleeping regularly with his secretary Betty but it doesn’t mean anything to him. She has a nice body, that’s all. He’d much rather have Ann.

There are things he doesn’t know about Ann. The first time Ann slept with a boy it was like a whole new world opening up for her. She really really likes sex. In fact she likes it so much that she does it professionally. Ann is a call girl, working for Molly. She only keeps the job at All-Channel because she’s fallen for Slade.

Slade goes ahed with his plan to get that big order from Kane. He doesn’t actually expect her to sleep with Kane, she’s just supposed to string him along, but Ann takes the assignment more seriously than that. There’s a $500 bonus in it for her if she gets that order out of Kane and to Ann there’s no difference between turning tricks for Molly and turning tricks for the All-Channel TV company.

Things get very complicated. Ann and Slade sleep together but to Ann’s horror she feels nothing. She was thinking in terms of marrying him but to her it seems dishonest to marry a man and then pretend to be experiencing sexual bliss when she feels nothing.

Ann doesn’t feel anything when she sleeps with Slade but she feels a whole lot when she sleeps with bad boy Eric. Eric is a creep and a loser and couldn’t hold down a job under any circumstances and Ann understands that but he drives her wild in bed. She has no illusions about him. She plans to turn Eric into a kept man.

But nothing works out the way they’d expected for Ann or Slade, or for Betty, or for Eric.

This is full-on melodrama. It’s melodrama with sleaze but this was 1958 so while there’s plenty of sex going on we don’t get any graphic descriptions of the sex. We don’t get any descriptions of it at all. There’s an atmosphere of sleaze and lust and thwarted passion and twisted love but when the characters enter the bedroom we have to imagine what they might be getting up to.

None of these characters is especially likeable but they’re not unlikeable either. They’re a mixture of good and bad, strength and weakness, cynicism and romantic ideals. And of course this was the 1950s so it’s taken for granted that prostitution is wicked. Having said that Hitt offers us a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of a call girl. She’s not a mere bad girl.

The novel certainly takes a jaundiced view of business ethics. And kind of dirty trick is justified if it increases sales. The only strategy that All-Channel TV doesn’t consider is making better TV sets. In fact this book deals with two different businesses, respectable businesses like manufacturing TVs and prostitution. Prostitution comes across as being the more honest business. Ann at least takes pride in her work as a call girl. She makes $100 a trick (which in 1958 would have made her a very expensive high-class call girl) but she gives her customers their money’s worth. The only dishonest acts she performs are on behalf of All-Channel TV. Compared to the people running that company Molly (the madam for whom Ann works) is a model of honesty and integrity. Molly never asks Ann to do anything crooked.

The one puzzle that is never solved in this novel is why Ann can’t get aroused when she has sex with a guy who wants to marry her. We can of course offer our own speculations on that subject but Hitt leaves it an unanswered question.

Call South 3300: Ask For Molly! is fairly typical Orrie Hitt, and that’s no bad thing. Highly recommended.

This novel has been published in a paperback edition from Stark House which includes three Beacon Books sleaze classics (the others being N.R. de Mexico’s Marijuana Girl and Elaine Dorian’s Sex Cure).