Friday, June 30, 2023

Mickey Spillane’s The Snake

The Snake, published in 1964, is the eighth of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels. It is a kind of sequel to The Girl Hunters and you absolutely have to read The Girl Hunters before reading The Snake.

Some further explanation is however required. Between 1947 and 1952 Spillane wrote six Mike Hammer novels which were huge bestsellers. For the next ten years he wrote very little, and he wrote no Hammer stories during that period. In 1962 he revived the Hammer series with The Girl Hunters.

At the beginning of The Girl Hunters Mike is a drunken bum living on the streets. After a case went very badly wrong he crawled inside a bottle and stayed there for seven years. Mike is convinced that he made a terrible mistake that got Velda killed. Velda was more than just his secretary. She was more like a partner. She had a private investigator’s licence herself. And she was the great love of Mike’s life. With Velda dead he had nothing to live for.

Until the day he discovered an extremely interesting fact. Velda may be alive. If she is then Mike has to find her, which means he has to pick himself up out of the gutter. Which he does.

At the beginning of The Snake Mike is reunited with Velda. But she’s not alone. She’s taken in a girl. A young woman actually, named Sue, but she seems more like a girl. A very frightened girl. She thinks her adoptive father killed her mother and is trying to kill her. Sue has run away.

Her adoptive father is Sim Torrance and he’s running for governor.

Within minutes of being reunited with Velda there’s a shoot-out which leaves two men dead and one badly hurt. It’s clear that it was an attempted gang hit, but the identity of the target is the first puzzle Mike will have to unravel. Was he the target, or was it Velda, or was it Sue?

And there are more murder attempts.

Mike figures he needs to know a bit more about the Torrance family. Sim Torrance seems squeaky-clean but Sue’s mother, now long since deceased, had an interesting history.

There’s also the possibility that someone wants revenge on Torrance, possibly as a result of his activities as D.A. years ago. There are a few possible suspects. Mike is also interested in the history of the guys he shot.

Mike is particularly interested in a robbery that took place many years earlier. The robbery went badly wrong, but Mike is curious about the circumstances. He suspects that that bungled robbery may have started a series of events that are now bearing fatal fruit.

It’s a pretty decent plot. What’s interesting is that Hammer is far from infallible, and has several narrow escapes which are due more to luck than anything else. Hammer isn’t quite as quick as he used to be. But he hasn’t lost any of his steely determination.

The Mike Hammer of The Girl Hunters and The Snake differs slightly from the Hammer of the early novels. He is now a man out of his time. The world changed during his seven years of alcoholic oblivion and to some extent it’s passed him by. He’s out of touch with the way the rackets operate in this new world. A lot of the people he used to know are no longer around. He now finds himself in the 1960s and he’s not entirely comfortable. He’s also a bit more interested in the idea of finding emotional stability. It’s a realistic change and it makes this new variant of Hammer rather interesting.

The Girl Hunters is a kind of redemption story, and in The Snake Mike is still trying to put the pieces of his life back together. He is also very concerned not to make mistakes, since he still believes that it was a mistake on his part that led to seven years of nightmare for both Velda and himself. Hammer is now a man more aware of consequences.

It cannot be emphasised too strongly that if you’re new to Spillane you must read the first six Mike Hammer books before attempting to read the later books. You have to understand the man he was in order to understand the slightly different man he becomes.

The Snake is a fine hardboiled mystery and is highly recommended with the above caveats in mind.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat

Harry Harrison’s science fiction novel The Stainless Steel Rat was published in 1961, although it drew on two earlier novelettes, The Stainless Steel Rat (1957) and The Misplaced Battleship (1960), which had appeared in the pulp magazine Astounding. A sequel would appear in 1970, to be followed by another ten books in the series.

James Bolivar diGriz is a criminal in a far-future world in which crime is extremely rare. It’s a world that could be described as a flawed utopia. There is law and order and stability and prosperity throughout the far-flung league of planets but these benefits have been purchased at the cost of an oppressive regime of surveillance and social control. But it’s soft oppression. Nobody really minds. Well, almost nobody.

There are a few misfits like James Bolivar diGriz. They turn to crime as an escape from the boredom of an excessively organised society. They crave challenge and adventure. The challenge is what seems to appeal most to diGriz. He likes outwitting the system.

He is a loner. That’s another part of his motivation. He just doesn’t like being told what to do. He hates to be a cog in anyone’s machine. He wants to make his own choices, even if they’re bad choices. He sometimes thinks of himself as a kind of rat, existing in the dark corners of society.

As the story opens he is regretfully shutting down a very successful illegal operation. It is time to move on, in fact it’s time to head for another planet. He finds a suitable planet and soon he has another criminal scheme lined up. But his luck has run out.

Being caught is bad enough, but he is to suffer a fate much more unpleasant than prison. He is informed that he is now a member of the Special Corps, an elite interstellar police squad recruited entirely from former criminals. To his horror he is now a cop.

It’s as boring as he thought it would be, until he discovers something very odd and interesting in the computer files. It’s the blueprint of a space freighter under construction. But to diGriz it doesn’t look like a freighter. It looks uncannily like a space battleship from a thousand years earlier, a time when space battleships were built that were infinitely more powerful than anything known in the present day. He manages to get himself sent on a mission to find out what is going on, and that’s the beginning of a series of wild adventures.

The mission will also bring into into contact with Angelina. Angelina is a lady super-villain. She is a merciless killer, cruel and vindictive and totally lacking in any redeeming qualities. He is horrified by her. She is an evil woman who must be hunted down. At the same time he has to admit that he is strongly attracted to her. She is evil but fascinating. He can see the similarities between Angelina and himself - they’re both both misfits and rebels. He isn’t evil, in fact in all his criminal endeavours he has never actually killed anyone. But the similarities are there. Angelina is like his dark mirror image.

This is a semi-comic adventure romp. Don’t expect the science and technology to be even remotely plausible. Harrison clearly has no interest in such things. He doesn’t even resort to technobabble to try to explain things like faster-than-light travel. He just assumes it’s possible because it’s necessary to the story. 

This is superficially a science fiction novel but Harrison could just as easily have set the story in a world of magic.

The story is what matters, and the high adventure, and most of all the characters. Angelina is a wonderful character. Like diGriz we can’t feel being both repelled and fascinated by her. She might be a bad girl on an epic scale but she lives her life to the full and she loves the risks involved in her lifestyle and she loves the thrills. She’s an adventure junkie.

And diGriz is just as intriguing. He lacks Angelina’s ruthlessness and bloodthirstiness but he has a cheerfully amoral attitude and he’s just as much of an adrenalin junkie. He’s totally dishonest. He will cheat a cabdriver for the sheer pleasure of outwitting him, and will then leave an enormous tip.

Angelina and diGriz are drunk on life.

The Stainless Steel Rat is fine space opera but mostly it’s just superb entertainment. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Guido Crepax's Private Life

Private Life is the fourth volume in the superb Complete Crepax series from Fantagraphics. The series aims to collect all of Guido Crepax’s comics. The comics in this volume were written between the mid-60s and the mid-80s.

Guido Crepax was the name used by Milan-Born Guido Crepas (1933-2003). Exciting things were happening in the world of European comics by the 1960s, beginning with the first appearance of Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella in the French V Magazine in 1962. European comics of the 60s bore no resemblance to American comics. European comics were aimed at grown-ups. They were sexy and sophisticated, they were witty and wildly imaginative and they were stylistically adventurous.

Crepax would push all of these elements very far indeed. He would attract immediate attention when his first comic adventure, The Lesmo Curve, appeared in Linus magazine in 1965. This was also the first appearance of his most famous creation, the fashion photographer Valentina. Valentina would appear in countless Crepax comics. Her adventures often involved elements of science fiction and fantasy, plentiful hallucinogenic dream sequences, espionage, crime and general weirdness. Plus a great deal of eroticism.

Private Life focuses, as the title suggests, on comics that tell us about Valentina’s emotional life and her relationship with her lover, art critic Phil Rembrandt. As a result there’s not quite as much of the outrageousness, bizarre inventiveness and stylistic flamboyance that you’ll find in Valentina’s other adventures. Crepax however still manages to give us some trippy dream sequences and these comics are by no means totally lacking in delirious weirdness.

Unlike almost every other comic book heroine Valentina ages over the course of her many adventures. At the beginning she is a carefree 22-year-old. She will find a stable emotional relationship with Phil Rembrandt and they will have a child. By the time you get to her final adventures she’s rapidly closing in on middle age.

Another unusual feature is that, in between their extraordinary surreal adventures, she and Phil have a normal family life. The baby has to have his bath. The dishes have to be washed. The laundry has to be done. And while Valentina and Phil both have glamorous jobs they do have to work for a living. This contrast between perfectly normal domesticity and bizarre adventures gives these comics a distinctive flavour.

Crepax’s original intention was to write a comic about an art critic named Phil Rembrandt who has a double life. He is also a superhero named Neutron. He has only one superpower but it’s pretty impressive. He can temporarily paralyse people with his eyes. Crepax soon realised that he wasn’t all that interested in doing a conventional superhero comic and that aspect started to fade into the background. At the same time Crepax’s focus shifted more towards Phil’s fashion photographer girlfriend Valentina.

Crepax’s comics became gradually more surreal and experimental. Reality and dream become hopelessly intertwined. It is never possible to be sure how many of Valentina’s adventures are real, and it could be argued that Valentina’s real life takes place in her dreams.

The Comics

The Lesmo Curve introduces us to Valentina. And it introduces Valentina to Phil Rembrandt, who will become her husband and the great love of her life. Phil is also the superhero Neutron. Valentina and Phil will go on to share all kinds of bizarre adventures.

In The Lesmo Curve beautiful girls are marrying rich men, and the rich men keep meeting with fatal accidents. The latest intended victim is a racing car driver. At this stage Crepax was still finding his feet and this story isn’t as outrageous or bizarre as many of the subsequent stories. But it’s an entertaining story.

Ciao, Valentina involves a photograph taken by Valentina. People are prepared to go to drastic lengths to get their hands on it even though it seems like a remarkably innocent photo. There has to be some key in that photograph, and of course there is.

This is obviously another early story and it still has an at least vaguely conventional thriller plot. The plot is an intriguing anticipation of Antonioni’s Blow-Up. It's fun.

That all changes and things take a turn for the weird with the next stories in this collection. Funny Valentine, Filippo and Valentina, Fearless Paper Doll Valentina and Valentina the Fearless are odd little snippets and also offer glimpses of Valentina’s childhood.

Valentina’s Baby is a series of strange dreams that Valentina has while in labour with her son Mattia. And Valentina’s dreams are very strange indeed.

Manuscript Found in a Stroller is a whimsical little throwaway story about a very strange discovery our heroine makes when she checks her washing machine.

In Fallen Angels Valentina seems to be contemplating having an affair, with a man named Arno. There’s definitely something between these two but Valentina is hanging back. There’s also some cool falling statuary.

In The Empress’s New Clothes Valentina finds herself all alone on a blank page, patiently waiting for Crepax to turn up to create a story for her. Not wildly original (Chuck Jones had been playing with such ideas in Daffy Duck cartoons for years) but it’s a whimsical little throwaway story. It’s also a bit disturbing since, no matter how bizarre and unlikely her adventures, we’ve never before been confronted so starkly with the idea that Valentina is just a comic-book character. It’s Crepax being playful, but it is disturbing.

Le Zattere, Venice is just Crepax reminiscing about his own childhood and it’s a bit dull.

Peitro Giacomo Rogeri is much more interesting. A girl leaves a ’cello in Valentina’s studio and then disappears. She claims the instrument is 250 years old. In fact it was owned at one time by Paganini. Several groups and individuals want to get their hands on that ’cello. There are apparently secret documents concealed in the instrument.

With Anthropology we move into authentically weird Crepax territory. How much of the story is a dream is uncertain. Valentina encounters the Subterraneans, strange human-like but non-human creatures which figure in many of Valentina’s adventures. And Louise Brooks makes an appearance, although maybe it’s not Louise Brooks or maybe it’s Louise Brooks getting mixed up with other women in Valentina’s dream.

Private Life is a slightly older Valentina reminiscing about her past adventures (and wondering how many of them were real). It’s Crepax saying farewell to Valentina, and perhaps Valentina saying farewell to herself. Although the ending didn’t necessarily entirely close off the possibility of further Valentina adventures it’s obvious that Crepax felt that he’d gone as far with the character as he could.

Final Thoughts

Although this volume includes the earliest Valentina comics my personal view is that if you have never encountered Valentina before you’re better off starting with the third of the Fantagraphics Complete Crepax volumes, Evil Spells. I think it’s a better introduction to Valentina’s world and a better illustration of the reasons she became such an important pop culture icon. And on the whole Evil Spells is a stronger collection.

Once you become obsessed with Valentina then you’ll certainly want to pick up Private Life to find out more about what makes her tick. So Private Life is highly recommended, but grab Evil Spells first.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Peter O’Donnell’s I, Lucifer (Modesty Blaise #3)

I, Lucifer was the third of Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise novels. It appeared in 1967.

Modesty Blaise of course started life as a comic strip character, created by O’Donnell in 1963. He was hired to write the screenplay for the Modesty Blaise movie, which ended up not being used for the movie. But even before the movie was released O’Donnell had produced a novelisation of the screenplay which was published in 1965 as Modesty Blaise and was hugely successful (in fact a lot more successful than the movie).

O’Donnell eventually wrote eleven Modesty Blaise novels plus two short story collections, while continuing to write the comic strip.

Modesty Blaise was certainly not the first kickass action heroine. Honey West predates her by several years - the first Honey West novel, This Girl for Hire, appeared in 1956. And by the time the Modesty Blaise comic was launched Cathy Gale had already exploded onto the small screen in The Avengers.

What made Modesty Blaise so intriguing is that she was not just a kickass action heroine. She also belonged to the tradition of the gentleman rogue hero. The most famous such hero is of course Leslie Charteris’s Simon Templar, the Saint. The Saint had several precursors and lots of imitators. What makes Modesty Blaise so very interesting is that she was not just the first lady rogue acton heroine, she is still just about the only representative of that species.

And Modesty has a great deal in common with Simon Templar. Both became exceedingly rich by being very successful criminals. Both more or less retired from crime to become crime-fighters. Both have worked unofficially for the British intelligence services. Both occupy a socially ambiguous position. Simon Templar can pass as a gentleman but he isn’t really one. Modesty can pass as a lady but she isn’t really one. They are able to move in the highest social circles but they remain outsiders. Both are charming, sexy and dangerous. Both tend not to worry too much about conforming to conventional standards of morality. Both have a definite streak of ruthlessness. Both are unapologetic about their criminal pasts. Modesty Blaise is to a large extent a female Simon Templar.

The adventure with which I, Lucifer is concerned isn’t really Modesty’s business, but she makes it her business (which is exactly Simon Templar’s approach to life). Someone tries to kill a friend of hers, a man highly placed in the French intelligence community. Modesty tends to get annoyed by that sort of thing. She has a word to Sir Gerald Tarrant, a man very highly placed in a British counter-espionage agency for whom she often works totally unofficially. And she discovers that something very strange is going on. Someone is running a protection racket, but an unusual one. Those who don’t pay up die, but they die of natural causes.

The reader already knows that Lucifer has something to do with his. No, not that Lucifer, the real one, but a very disturbed young man who is convinced that he is Lucifer. He has a very unusual ability, which eventually explains how that unconventional protection racket is worked. That ability possessed by the young man is being used by a criminal mastermind.

Modesty and her partner-in-crime (now her partner in crimefighting) Willie Garvin finally manage to infiltrate this criminal organisation and a great deal of mayhem ensues. There are quite a few complications. Modesty has been having a rather pleasant love affair with a young fellow named Stephen. Stephen is a bit of an innocent and somehow he has become involved in this criminal conspiracy.

This novel deals with the paranormal, in this case precognition. You do have to remember that this was 1967, a time when the paranormal was still moderately scientifically respectable. The paranormal was not a concept that was confined merely to genres like science fiction and fantasy. It would pop up from time to time in spy fiction. In fact at that time some of the crazier real-life intelligence agencies such as the C.I.A. took things like telepathy quite seriously.

And this paranormal aspect is used quite skilfully. The way the protection racket works is clever. The paranormal powers possessed by Lucifer have serious limits. They do not make him invulnerable nor do they make the criminal gag unbeatable. That’s normally the biggest single disadvantage of magic, super-powers or paranormal powers in fiction - they make either the hero or the villain seem too formidable.

And Lucifer is an intriguing charter. He’s a nice young man who just happens to believe that he is the Prince of Darkness. Modesty rather likes him.

During the course of this case Modesty will have to consider whether she’s prepared to (literally) get into bed with the Devil. She decides that she’s done worse things, and he is very good-looking.

The novel doesn’t stint when it comes to action. If you want unarmed combat, gunplay, knife fights and explosions you’ll be well satisfied. There are sinister insane villains (who are much more sinister and insane than Lucifer).

And then there are Pluto and Belial, and they add another touch of outrageousness to the story.

There’s no graphic sex but there’s a casual acceptance of the idea that people do have sex. Modesty likes sex. She’s by no means obsessed with it, but she does enjoy it.

Like the two earlier novels in the series I, Lucifer is clever, witty and great fun. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Exotic Adventures of Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg would become one of the grand masters of science fiction but he had an interesting and colourful second career as a pulp sleaze writer. In 1958 he was making a name for himself in science fiction when the market suddenly dried up. The science fiction magazines for which he wrote creased publication. The market for paperback sci-fi was extremely small at that time. In order to survive Silverberg wrote huge numbers of sleaze novels but before that he wrote stories for men’s adventure magazines. Specifically for one called Exotic Adventures. The men’s adventure magazines were known for their glossy slick presentation but Exotic Adventures was one of the more low-rent examples. Silverberg ended up writing almost all of the content.

Exotic Adventures of Robert Silverberg, edited by Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle, contains all of Silverberg’s stories for this magazine.

A lot of these are article non-fiction articles, although one suspects that Silverberg had no time whatsoever for research so they’re probably mainly fiction.

Silverberg was one of the best writers of sleaze novels. The much shorter format in which he had to work for Exotic Adventures didn’t really suit him. Silverberg liked us to get to know what made his characters tick, and what inner demons they had to face. He just can’t do that in these very short stories.

Most of the stories hardly even qualify as fully developed short stories. They’re just vignettes, with some sleaze content.

That’s not to say that there’s no entertainment value to be found here. Some of these tales are amusing and the best of them are pleasingly outrageous. It is however a good idea not to set your expectations too high for this collection.

The men’s adventure genre that started to take off in a big way at the end of the 50s has its own disreputable shameless charm. It’s a genre that can be lots of fun.

I don’t think there’s a single story in this collection that you would get away with today. Some modern readers will be heading for the fainting couches. But if you’re a fan of the men’s adventure genre you probably know what to expect and you’ll enjoy yourself.

The Stories

The first story, Campus Hellcat, is the odd man out. It’s just a sex story with no adventure but it does have an amusing twist.

Safari of Death
takes the reader to Equatorial Africa where a man discovers that while lions are dangerous women are much more dangerous.

I Was a Tangier’s Smuggler is the tale of a man’s introduction to the smuggling racket. He’s not smuggling narcotics or anything like that. He’s smuggling cigarettes, a very lucrative proposition at the time. He also has an extra item of cargo, a Moroccan girl.

In the case of Attacked by Monster Crabs the title says it all. A naked romp on a beach does indeed lead to an attack by monster crabs.

Trapped by Mau Mau Terror is a blood-drenched tale of Kenya in the days of the Mau Mau Rebellion. Lots of terror, and of course there’s time for sex as well.

Bride of the Jaguar God is better, with a nasty twist to it. A secret cult of jaguar god worshippers is discovered deep in the jungles of southern Mexico. There is a terrible price to pay for anyone who witnesses their secret rites.

Nudist Paradise on the French Riviera is an account of a visit to an island nudist camp, with some sex thrown in.

Tahiti, Lusty Island of Untamed Women, is about an American ex-serviceman who has adopted the life of a beachcomber in Tahiti. It’s a life that suits him - no work and plenty of play with a succession of willing Tahitian girls (who don’t believe in long-term commitments but do believe in free love).

Egypt’s City of Prostitutes is non-fiction (or claims to be) and the title pretty much tells you what it’s all about. It’s a shock-horror exposé.

Radiant Jade: The Chinese Mata Hari obviously concerns a Chinese lady spy who uses sex as a tool of espionage and serves whichever masters seem to her to be most advantageous. It’s a tale of sex, cruelty, torture and betrayal.

Saba, Land of Love-Starved Women takes place on an island in the Caribbean. On this island the women outnumber the men by two to one, so naturally the women are all man-hungry. They’re all available, which sounds like a paradise for men. But there are unexpected hazards for men. This is one of the best stories in the collection.

Opium Den in Vietnam
is a surprisingly non-hysterical account of opium usage in Saigon. A young American finds opium to be surprisingly pleasant if used in moderation and finds to his delighted surprise that the best opium dens offer women as well.

Island of Exiled Women is amusingly outrageous. A man is shipwrecked on the island of Luanape in the Pacific. This is (so we are assured) a prison island. It’s a prison island for young women who have committed one of any number of sexual offences. There are no guards because there’s no way off the island. Just the female prisoners. Two or three hundred of them, all young and beautiful and stark naked. And since there are no men on the island all these women are incredibly man-hungry. The shipwrecked mariner thinks he’s found Paradise, until he finds out what it’s like being one man having to satisfy a couple of hundred sex-starved girls.

The Arabian Slave Girl Racket is an article about an American working for six weeks in Saudi Arabia. He is offered a slave girl and it’s an attractive deal. He can buy her for $2,000 and the slave trader will buy her back in six weeks for $1,500. She’s expensive because she’s a virgin but the slave-trader assumes that when he buys her back she will be minus her virginity. The American of course knows that slavery is wrong but the girl is so beautiful and surely there’s no harm in it if he refrains from touching her. The trouble is that the girl is very upset when he doesn’t want to sleep with her and he can’t stand seeing a pretty girl upset, so the upshot is that after six weeks her virginity is indeed merely a dim memory.

In A Temporary Husband in Ladakh an American finds himself in a remote Himalayan country in which all the women have at least three husbands. And sometimes they’re happy to have a fourth husband on a temporary basis.

Wolf Children of India is a rather grim article about children raised by wolves.

I Watched the Secret Sex Rites of Uganda is pretty self-explanatory and doesn’t have any real twists to keep things interesting.

A Drinking Man’s Guide to Europe is just an article about where to buy cheap booze.

In Love Hungry Girls of Japan two Americans are kept as sex slaves by the ama, the Japanese naked girl pearl divers. It’s not as much fun as they’d expected it to be.

Juaraz, Sin City Across the Border article is just an article about sex and sin across the border.

I Escaped from the Soviet Slave Camp is a nothing story about a political prisoner in Hungary.

Final Thoughts

A wildly uneven collection of oddities, but fun if you’re in the mood for the literary equivalent of a beer and popcorn movie.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Paul S. Meskil’s Sin Pit

Sin Pit is a noir novel published by Lion Books in 1954. It was a veteran newspaper reporter Paul S. Meskil’s only novel. And it’s quite something. When he was persuaded to write the novel he was told that the publisher didn’t want it set in New York or LA or Chicago. That had been done too often. Since East St Louis was one of his old stomping grounds as a crime reporter he decided to use it as the setting.

Barney Black is a cop so he’s used to seeing dead bodies. The sight of the corpse of the unidentified young blonde doesn’t upset him too much. He wants to find the killer, because it’s his job. Apart from that he doesn’t care much. Barney has never cared much about women anyway. For Barney women just fulfil a physical need. At the age of thirty-two he has never been in love. He intends to keep it that way. His mother had been a tramp and he assumes that a woman will always be trouble for a man.

There was something about the dead girl that bothered him. Eventually he figures it out. He had seen her before. She had worked briefly as a barmaid in one of the dives that he frequents. So now the cops have a name for the girl. Randy.

Randy had been shot. She hadn’t been raped but her clothes were all torn up. The most notable thing about her was that she had been whipped. And obviously she’d been whipped on more than one occasion.

Barney follows up a few leads, finds out that Randy worked as a whore, and the trail leads him to Grace Trudo. It’s a fateful meeting. Barney can see that Grace is no good. She’s a tramp, and she’s dangerous. She oozes sex. He hates her instinctively. And he wants her. He wants her more than he’s ever wanted any woman.

Barney thinks of himself as an honest cop. Which means he’s not as corrupt as some of the other cops on the force. Barney just takes corruption for granted. It’s no big deal. Following the rules is no big deal either. It’s only a problem if you’re careless. His superiors also take it for granted that rules like remaining within your own jurisdiction or respecting suspect’s rights are only important if the press decides to make a song and dance about them.

Barney also understands that if you want information from suspects, or even witnesses, sometimes you have to beat it out of them. Barney is just a regular cop. He thinks of himself as a good cop. Every good cop keeps a rubber hose in his desk drawer.

So it’s not surprising that Barney bends a few rules in the course of his investigation.

He is however a competent enough investigator and soon he has a theory about the crime. The theory explains the other murders pretty well as well, because Randy’s murder does indeed lead to other killings.

Of course Barney gets involved with Grace. They can’t keep their hands off each other. She’s married, but that’s not a problem for either of them. And now he realises he had Grace all wrong at the beginning. Now he figures he knows all about her, and all about her marriage.

In fact there’s a lot he doesn’t know about her marriage. It’s a slightly unusual marriage, to say the least.

And Barney is drawn into the noir nightmare world, where things go on that even a hardened cop could scarcely have imagined.

And for the reader there are some weird plot twists, which lead to a very surprising ending.

This is a seriously hardboiled novel, it’s most definitely noir and it’s pretty sleazy. This is the seamy underside of 1950s America. It’s highly recommended.

Stark House have issued Sin Pit in a three-novel paperback edition, Lion Trio 3: Femmes Fatale, along with Dark the Summer Dies by Walter Untermeyer Jr and The Devil's Daughter by Peter Marsh.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Lost in Space by Dave van Arnam and Ron Archer

Lost in Space by Dave van Arnam and Ron Archer, published in 1967, is as its name suggests a TV tie-in novel inspired by the classic TV series.

And it's radically different from the TV version. Different in just about every way you could imagine.

It's not that it's a bad science fiction novel. It just isn't a Lost in Space novel.

My full review can be found at Cult TV Lounge.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Lester Del Rey’s When the World Tottered

Lester Del Rey’s 1950 novel When the World Tottered, published in Fantastic Adventures in December 1950, is one of many attempts to combine ancient mythology with science fiction.

Lester Del Rey (1915-1993) was a fairly prolific American science fiction writer.

The novel begins at un unspecified time but probably a few years into the future. Leif Svensen is a farmer living in the United States. He is of Scandinavian descent, which is important. The world is undergoing some sort of crisis. Particularly harsh winters, crop failures, food shortages. Things are growing rather tense. And people have reported seeing women riding through the air on horseback, which Leif attributes to hysteria.

Leif is involved in a dispute with his neighbours over his dog Lobo which has been accused of killing livestock. Things come to a head, there is an attempt to Lynch Leif and his twin brother Lee, an attempt which ends in a violent fight. Leif remembers being struck a savage blow.

Leif wakes up to discover that he is no longer on Earth. He is in Asgard, the home of the Norse gods. He was brought there by a Valkyrie. The task of the Valkyries of course is to carry heroes killed in combat to Asgard. It seems that Leif is such a fallen hero.

That’s disturbing enough, but it’s worse than that. The time for Ragnarok is approaching. All will be destroyed, including the gods themselves. It is their inescapable destiny.

Leif has his doubts about that. He comes to the conclusion that these gods among whom he now finds himself really were the origins of Norse mythology, but he suspects that they are simply beings from another dimension, one of several such alternate dimensions. They really are gods, the giants with whom the gods will do battle really do exist, but Leif is not convinced that their destiny is written in stone. Maybe he can change it. It might help if the gods had better weaponry. Spears and swords and battle-axes and Thor’s hammer all very well, but grenades might give the gods more of an edge.

Of course the odds would be even better if he had some Uranium-235 but there’s no chance of that. Until one of the dwarf smiths who serves the gods informs him that he can create an almost limitless supply of that element.

Loki, the notorious trickster god, also has doubts about the inevitability of fate. He also has plans to change the destiny of the gods. Maybe he and Leif can come up with a plan. Naturally a lot depends on whether Leif can trust Loki.

There’s another complication for Leif. He has fallen in love with a pretty Valkyrie, Fulla.

This novel seems on the surface to be fantasy but really it’s science fiction. Asgard is simply another dimension in which the rules are different. It just happens to be a dimension in which certain things are possible which would be considered magic on Earth. These gods are immortal beings but whether they are gods or not is an open question.

There’s no shortage of action. Leif is trapped in the world of the frost giants and must battle his way to freedom. Ragnarok is to involve a mighty battle, and that’s what happens. It’s a bloody battle indeed. The gods believe they will lose, because Fate has decreed that they will lose. Leif intends to win the battle.

There’s plenty here to please fans of action and mayhem, and plenty to please science fiction fans who want imaginative speculation about other worlds.

It’s all very entertaining. Highly recomended.

Armchair Fiction have reissued this one in one of their two-novel paperback editions, paired with Ice City of the Gorgon by Richard S. Shaver and Chester S. Geier (a book that deals with a somewhat similar theme).

I’ve also reviewed Lester Del Rey’s Pursuit, a very different kind of science fiction novel but a very good one.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

To Russia With Lust - The Lady from L.U.S.T. #6

To Russia With Lust is the sixth of the Lady from L.U.S.T. sexy spy thrillers written by Gardner Francis Fox (1911-1986) using the pseudonym Rod Gray. It was published in 1968.

Eve Drum is an ace agent for an ultra-secret U.S. intelligence agency, L.U.S.T. (the League of Undercover Spies and Terrorists). Her latest mission requires her to break into the Soviet Embassy to steal a code book. Her theft is going smoothly until she realises there’s something going on in the adjoining bedroom. What’s going on is that a senior Soviet diplomat is having some bedroom fun with a gorgeous brunette named Magda. While they’re coupling the girl steals a notebook from the diplomat.

Eve figures the notebook is probably worth stealing as well. So of course she steals it.

Later that evening when she meets up with her controller she discovers that she hit the jackpot. The diplomat is Serge Akonov, and he’s important. The notebook is much more important. It contains the whereabouts of a fabulous fortune which Rommel tried to ship out of North Africa in 1943. The treasure is five billion dollars in gold bullion. Of course the bullion was stolen but the U.S. Government now decides it wants to steal that bullion. The idea of returning the gold to its rightful owners doesn’t occur to anyone.

Eve’s job is to get further information out of Akonov and if possible persuade him to defect. She doesn’t know how she’s going to do that but she figures that seducing him will be a good start. Seducing men is one of Eve’s special skills. Eve has seen Serge Akonov in action in the bedroom and she was mightily impressed by his sexual prowess. Seducing him should be very pleasant. Mixing sex with duty is one of the things that makes Eve love her job as a spy so much.

Before Akonov can be seduced it will be necessary to rescue Magda. She’s about to be executed for pilfering that notebook. So Eve pulls off a daring underwater rescue.

Seducing Akonov is easy. Eve poses as a guide for an exhibition of American art in Leningrad and makes sure she attracts lots of publicity by wearing scandalously revealing outfits. That should attract Akonov like a Pooh Bear to a honey pot, and it does. He is so taken by her that he invites her to an orgy. Eve likes orgies.

Persuading him to defect will be less easy, until she comes across something that will be the perfect lever. Of course then she has to get him out of the Soviet Union and the KGB is likely to make that rather difficult.

Finding that treasure proves be a challenge as well. It turns out that knowing where it’s supposed to be isn’t enough.

Fox had a solid formula worked out for both his Lady from L.U.S.T. and Cherry Delight thrillers. Get your heroine naked as often as possible, feature lots of moderately graphic (but not too graphic) sex and include plenty of thrilling violent action scenes. And make sure it all moves along at a breakneck pace. But most importantly, make sure that despite all the sex the book still works as an exciting spy thriller. Make sure to include all the required spy fiction ingredients - double-crosses, betrayals, divided loyalties. Include lots of fight scenes and gunplay and explosions. Include cool gadgets.

In this case the formula works perfectly. We get helicopters battling ships, assassins running about everywhere, underwater action scenes, rocket backpacks and then there’s Eve’s secret weapon. I won’t tell you where she hides it.

In between all the spy action Eve still finds time to have plenty of sex. She has plenty of energy. And she’s a very imaginative girl and she’s always wiling to expand her knowledge base. The sex is described in an engagingly lighthearted cheerful way and is never graphic.

I’ve previously reviewed the first two Lady from L.U.S.T. books Lust, Be a Lady Tonight and Lay Me Odds as well as the first Cherry Delight book, The Italian Connection. They’re all great fun.

To Russia With Lust is high-octane entertainment. Sexy but good-natured and with a perfectly serviceable spy thriller plot. Not to be taken too seriously, but still highly recommended.