Sunday, July 30, 2023

Lust Victim (AKA No Lust Tonight)

Lust Victim (AKA No Lust Tonight) was written by Robert Silverberg under the name Don Elliott and was published in 1962. It’s one of the countless sleaze novels churned out by Silverberg at a time when the bottom had temporarily fallen out of the science fiction market.

These sleaze novels were interesting in that on the one hand they were written to a rigid formula and on the other hand they offered writers almost complete artistic freedom. The formula was that the novels had to be short and had to contain frequent sexual encounters. Apart from that a writer could do pretty much what he wanted. In this case Silverberg chose to write a marital melodrama but with a crime and a mystery of sorts to add spice. And since he happened to be a very fine writer Silverberg managed to write a reasonably interesting story.

Dave Lamson has everything a man could want. He’s in his mid thirties. He runs a very successful electronics company. He has plenty of money. He lives in a very comfortable house in a very comfortable neighbourhood. His wife Moira is not just a loving faithful wife. She’s also extremely hot and they have a great mutually satisfying sex life.

And then it all comes crashing down. A burglar breaks into the house, ties up Dave and rapes Moira in front of him.

Dave is a decent guy and a good husband but his life has been utterly conventional, and his outlook is utterly conventional. He cannot deal with the fact that everything has now changed. He thinks they should just forget the unpleasant incident and everything will go back to normal. It’s not that he’s insensitive. He knows it will take Moira a while to get over the trauma. He’s prepared to give her all the time she needs. If it takes her a couple of days, maybe even three days, to get over her trauma he’ll be patient.

But when things are not back to normal after a few days Dave gets frustrated. Moira doesn’t want to have sex and more. Dave thinks this is a crazy silly over-reaction to such a minor incident. But after five days he can’t wait any longer. He makes it clear that he expects sex. Moira agrees, but she’s unresponsive. This is just too much for Dave. It’s not enjoyable having sex with her if she just lies there passively.

Dave is pretty disturbed by all this and he he now finds himself pretty disturbed by his tall blonde very pretty secretary Ruthie. He’d never really noticed her breasts before but now he notices them all the time. And he notices the interesting things her posterior does when she walks. Pretty soon they’re having an affair. Dave figures he’s doing Moira a favour. This way he won’t keep pressuring Moira for sex, and that will give Moira some time to get herself back to normal. Dave has quite a way of rationalising things.

Dave persuades Moira to see a psychoanalyst and the analyst has an intriguing theory. It has to do with the fact that the rapist looked a lot like Dave. Maybe it would be helpful to track down this rapist. Dave starts playing amateur detective, and his investigations invariably lead him into bed with various women. It’s one way of following up leads. Eventually, after bedding a lot of women, he finds the lead he’s looking for but whether it will lead to the result he hoped for is another matter.

There’s a lot of sex in this book. By sleaze fiction standards it’s reasonably explicit. It’s all described in terms of euphemisms but you have no doubt who is doing what to whom. The fact that sleaze authors had to avoid the cruder sexual terms makes the sex seem rather sexier.

Dave is an odd character. On the surface he seems to be presented as a pretty good guy but I can’t help feeling that Silverberg is being heavily ironic at times, especially with the amusing rationalisations Dave comes up with for jumping into bed with every female he encounters. The book doesn’t seem quite sure whether it approves of the Sexual Revolution or not. That Sexual Revolution was just starting to take off in 1962. Of course at that time authors (and publishers) had to tread carefully. They couldn’t come out in favour of promiscuity, but Silverberg isn’t anxious to condemn promiscuity either. One of the nicest characters in the book is a whore.

You never know with these sleaze novels whether they’ll turn out to be sleazy noir fiction with downbeat endings, or sleazy romantic fiction with upbeat endings, or turn out to be just unclassifiable so you could get any kind of ending. I’m not going to give you any hints as to which category this one occupies.

Lust Victim is entertaining (Silverberg could never write dull prose even if he tried), it's often amusingly ironic and I rather liked it. Recommended.

Stark House have reprinted this title in paperback, paired with another Silverberg sleaze novel, Lust Queen.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Black Pearl (Modesty Blaise)

The Black Pearl is a Titan Press collection of four of Modesty Blaise’s comic-strip adventures by Peter O’Donnell. They all date from the 1960s, the period when Jim Holdaway was providing the drawings.

The Black Pearl is the most interesting since it gives us some of Modesty’s backstory. The Magnified Man is also interesting, with some crazy gadgetry used by the bad guys. The Jericho Caper offers us a glimpse of Modesty’s love life, which she is always trying to keep separate from her professional life. Her boyfriends have a tendency to want to help but Modesty has no desire to allow amateurs to get in the way and endanger themselves. Modesty has a strange emotional life. She likes to keep control of her love affairs and she’s reluctant to allow them to get too serious.

Modesty likes men, but you get the feeling that the only man she really respects is Willie Garvin. And, for complicated reasons have to do with both her past and his, she and Willie can never be more than professional partners. They never sleep together. But they are professional partners with a strange intense emotional bond.

In The Black Pearl Modesty has a debt to pay, to a holy man who saved her life in the Himalayas years earlier. To repay the debt she has to find the Black Pearl and take it to where it is needed. The problem for Modesty and Willie is that they have no idea what the Black Pearl actually is. Maybe it’s an actual pearl, but apparently it’s difficult to transport so it probably isn’t an ordinary pearl.

You’ll have to read the comic to find out what it is, but it certainly comes a surprise to Modesty.

This adventure gives us a hint as to the origins of certain mental abilities possessed by both Modesty and Willie. These are not paranormal powers. They’re simply abilities that have been developed by intensive mental training. In Willie’s case it’s his uncanny ability to know when something is going to go wrong. In Modesty’s case it’s her ability to shut down parts of her mind completely in order to endure unpleasant experiences. It’s the reason she is able to endure torture.

It’s a reasonably supposition that a holy man from the Himalayans may have helped them to develop these abilities.

The adventure itself lands Modesty in the middle of a confrontation between guerrilla fighters and Chinese soldiers. It’s a fun story.

The Magnified Man is a heist story, with some slightly science fictional touches (to reveal what those touches are would constitute a spoiler).

It starts with Willie making a serious mistake. He greets an old girlfriend in a bar, but the girlfriend is an agent of the Deuxième Bureau and she’s on an operation and he’s just blown her cover.

Somehow Modesty and Willie will have to get that girl out of the mess that Willie has landed her in, and in doing so they find themselves in the middle of the operation on which she was working - which means they will have to foil a very elaborate heist conspiracy.

Willie will also have to deal emotionally with the possibly disastrous consequences of his mistake. That’s one of the interesting elements in this story - Willie rarely makes mistakes but we find out that he’s by no means infallible.

In The Jericho Caper Modesty has dropped out of circulation for a while (as she does from time to time) and she’s staying in a remote South American village, having a love affair with a blind sculptor. Everything is rosy until bandits arrive and kidnap three of the village girls. The bandits are from a neighbouring state which is a kind of bandit state.

The local priest wants to avoid bloodshed, which puts him at odds with Modesty. Modesty is not exactly an apostle of non-violence. She will have to find a way to rescue those girls and deal with the bandits without running up too high a body count.

She solves the problem using some biblical inspiration. First she has to lure the bad guys into an old Inca fortress, then find a way to make the walls come a-tumbling down just like the walls of Jericho. As you might expect, knowing Modesty Blaise, her solution is not entirely non-violent. Modesty isn’t bloodthirsty but she can be ruthless when she feels it’s appropriate.

The fourth adventure, The Killing Ground, is an oddity. It’s a very short adventure O’Donnell had to whip up to keep Scottish newspapers supplied with Modesty Blaise adventures while the series was on hiatus in England due to a printer’s strike. It’s another variation on Richard Connell’s famous 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game, with Modesty and Blaise finding themselves the hunted rather than the hunters. O’Donnell later adapted this comic into a novella which was included in the final Modesty Blaise short story collection The Cobra Trap.

I’ve been a fan of O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise novels for quite a while and I’m now becoming a serious fan of the comics as well. They’re stylish grown-up comics and they’re extraordinarily entertaining.

The Black Pearl is highly recommended.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

S.P. Meek's The Drums of Tapajos

The Drums of Tapajos was serialised in the pulp magazine Amazing Stories in December 1930 and January 1931. All I know about the author, S.P. Meek (1894-1972) is that he was American and had served in the military in the First World War, and that he was for a brief period quite prolific.

This novel has been re-issued in paperback by Armchair Fiction in their excellent Lost World-Lost Race series.

The book begins with three American servicemen who joined up too late to see action in the First World War. Action is what they now want. They’re bored by the peacetime army. They consider heading to South America in the hope of getting mixed up in a revolution. Thy have no political beliefs, but a revolution sounds like it might be exciting. Then Willis, a friend of theirs, tells them an odd story about an adventure he had in the wilds of Brazil. A strange old man suddenly appeared and gave him a knife and a map, and then promptly died. Willis lost the map but he thinks he remembers the main details.

The knife is interesting - very very old indeed. Willis has had the blade analysed but no-one can identify the allow from which it was made. Willis suggests that the four of them set off into the Amazon rainforest to find the source of that knife. They may not find anything worthwhile but it will be a grand adventure, and there’s always the slim chance of finding treasure. That knife was clearly manufactured by an advanced civilisation, and that certainly suggests the possibility of finding the ruins of a lost civilisation. And where there are ruins there may be treasure.

They set off down the Rio Tapajos. The locals warn them that they are headed into forbidden territory. If they hear the drums their fate is sealed.

The journey down the river provides plenty of danger and excitement - alligators, tribesmen shooting poisoned arrows at them, strange bloodcurdling screams from the forest, and tracks that are hard to interpret as being the tracks of any living animals.

Of course they do find a city, but it’s no ruin. The city of Troyana is run by people who appear to be Freemasons, of a sort. Or perhaps they follow a system that was to some extent the origin of Freemasonry. The city has been there for six thousand years.

It’s not Atlantis, but some of the inhabitants were originally from Atlantis.

It’s a utopia of sorts. Perhaps you could call it a flawed utopia. It has a definite dark side.

They are welcomed by a guy named Nahum. He happens to have three very beautiful granddaughters, a fact of keen interest to the young Americans.

Are the four Americans prisoners or guests? They’re not certain. Do the rulers of Troyana have friendly or unfriendly intentions? That is also uncertain.

For the scientifically inclined narrator, Lieutenant Duncan, there is much of interest. We get a certain amount of technobabble, reflecting the technological obsessions of 1930 - radio, a kind of television, unlocking the power of the atom. The city is largely automated, but there is an underclass who may no slaves but they certainly appear to live in conditions of forced servitude. Those who rule the city are enlightened, in some ways.

The Americans witness a religious ritual which reminds them of rituals of the ancient world, and that ritual is where the trouble starts.

It’s an entertaining story with some decent world-building. Perhaps some of the action scenes could have been a bit more exciting.

The most interesting aspect of the novel is a certain ambiguity in the way this lost city is described, and in the view of the young adventurers towards this lost civilisation. And some ambiguity on the part of the city-dwellers towards these outsiders. There’s also some ambiguity about the intentions of our four heroes. Do they seek merely to enrich themselves?

The ending leaves some questions unanswered. It suggests that Meek was keeping his options open in case he decided to write a sequel, and in fact in 1932 he did just that. It’s called Troyana and if I ever come across a copy I’ll probably pick it up.

The Drums of Tapajos isn’t one of the great lost civilisation tales but it’s a solid adventure. Recommended, especially if (like me) you just can’t get enough of the lost world genre.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Walter Untermeyer's Dark the Summer Dies

Walter Untermeyer Jr’s novel Dark the Summer Dies was published in 1953. It’s been re-issued as one of three novels in the Stark House Noir paperback Lion Trio 3: Femmes Fatale. All three novels were originally published by Lion Books in the 50s.

Dark the Summer Dies is definitely noir, but not in the usual conventional way. We’ll return to this point later.

Tony Bianchi, the teenaged hero-narrator, works as a swimming instructor at a country club. He is hoping to gain admission to college.

Tony has a girlfriend, Betty. Their courtship is rather chaste. Betty won’t allow him to take any liberties. Tony doesn’t really mind. He shares the prevailing attitude that nice girls don’t have sex. If Betty allowed him to have sex with her he’d know that she wasn’t a nice girl after all.

And then Tony meets Vicky. Vicky is an older woman, and she’s married. She’s twenty-eight. She’s drop-dead gorgeous and she has class. She’s so far out of Tony’s league that it’s not funny. And yet she seems interested in him. Tony doesn’t understand this at all. He certainly doesn’t understand why she proceeds to seduce him.

Tony is now hooked. He is dimly aware that this situation is not likely to end well. He becomes obsessed with the idea that he is going to have Vicky’s outraged husband sending guys round to break his legs. As usual poor Tony has no idea what he’s gotten himself into. He thinks he’s in a crime B-movie but he isn’t. He’s in a potentially nasty situation, but it’s not the kind of situation in which guys get their legs broken by hired goons.

He is involved in a dangerous game but he doesn’t know what the game is or what the rules are. He doesn’t even know how many players are involved. At this stage he could extricate himself from the situation, but there are two things that keep him in the game. Firstly there’s the obvious excitement of bedding a beautiful glamorous woman. The second reason is the excitement of bedding a woman who is rich and out of his league.

Sex is only one of the engines driving this novel’s noir plot. Equally important is money. Like so many of the American noir novels of this period Dark the Summer Dies deals with the vast chasm between those who have money and those who don’t. Those who have money can do whatever they like. Those without money have very limited options. Those who have money and those who don’t inhabit different universes. And those with money are inclined to use those without money as playthings. Which is what happens here.

Tony gets a major ego boost from the fact that he is bedding a woman from that other universe - the universe of money, power, privilege, luxury and style.

Unfortunately he is being drawn further and further the game that Vicky is playing. The suspense in this novel isn’t of the usual kind. The suspense comes from our knowledge that the game in which Tony is involved is almost certain to end messily and unpleasantly and that Tony is unlikely to come out of its unscathed, if he survives at all.

There are none of the usual noir trappings. None of the characters are involved in any kind of crime. There’s no atmosphere of corruption. Nobody carries guns. There is no hardboiled dialogue. This is not crime noir. It’s more like domestic noir, or noir melodrama. In fact it has a certain amount in common with some of the noir melodramas of Orrie Hitt.

But it’s still genuine noir. Tony is a classic noir protagonist, a basically decent guy who finds his life spiralling out of control due to his own character weaknesses and poor judgment. Vicky is a classic femme fatale. It’s a deceptive tale in the sense that it takes a long while for the real noirness to kick in.

Sex plays a huge role in this story but it’s handled in a very very tame manner. This is not quite sleaze fiction but it has some affinities with that genre, but in the early 50s a writer could deal with sexual situations but any description of actual sex was out of the question.

Dark the Summer Dies might disappoint those who like their noir to include mobsters, tough guys, heists and gunplay but if you enjoy noirish melodrama there’s plenty to enjoy here. Recommended.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Otis Adelbert Kline's Lord of the Lamia

Otis Adelbert Kline (1891-1946) was an American pulp writer veery much in the Edgar Rice Burroughs mould. In fact Kline has been accused of more or less recycling most of Burroughs’ most popular ideas. That’s perhaps a bit unfair. Both writers were working in the same genres - jungle adventures and sword-and-planet adventures. Some similarities were inevitable, and Burroughs and Kline were certainly not the only writers setting adventures on Mars and Venus.

Kline’s Lord of the Lamia was serialised in Weird Tales in 1935.

It is is based on the legend of the lamia, or rather legends. There were lots of lamia legends. The starting point was the late of a Libyan queen named Lamia. Later legends described a lamia as a demon who has sex with young men, as a serpent-woman and even as a vaguely vampire-like female demon. Kline takes the most interesting ones and adds a few flourishes of his own. In this novel Lamia is indeed a Libyan queen who lived several thousand years ago, and she can transform herself into a cobra. If her mummy can be found she can be revived by means of an incantation ad she will become the slave of the man who awakens her.

The novel begins with a young American archaeologist named Tane renting a house in Cairo from portly middle-aged German archaeologist Dr Schneider. Before Tane takes possession of the house the funeral procession of a Muslim holy man passes by. Although deceased the holy man is able to give unmistakeable signs that he wishes to be interred in what is now Tane’s house. Dr Schneider tells Tane he will just have to accept this.

Tane has strange dreams, which he believes may be because he has been drugged. But they may not be dreams after all. He finds that the coffin of the holy man contains the mummy-case of a beautiful young queen, and the mummy-case contains a mummified cobra which comes to life. Tane thinks he saw the cobra become a beautiful young woman who informed him that she is Lamia and that she is now his slave.

There are several powerful men who would like to have Lamia as a slave. They’re prepared to play rough. One of these men is Hagg Nadeem, the head of the Egyptian secret police. He is a man of deep learning in esoteric subjects and he knows a great deal about Lamia. Whether Hagg Nadeem is really just out to enslave Lamia or whether he’s one of the good guys is one of the questions Tane would like to be able to answer but can’t. Hagg Nadeem is interested in other things besides Lamia. He has another agenda.

This is certainly an action-packed story. Tane is continually being set upon by ruffians. He would surely have been killed several times had it not been for the powerful ally he has in Lamia. She’s not much use in a fight in human form but when she transforms into a cobra she can be very handy indeed.

The big question is the nature of Lamia. Is she a monster? Will having her as his slave prove fatal to Tane? Or is she a kind of benevolent demi-goddess, or even just morally neutral? What exactly is her agenda? Tane really needs answers to those questions, given that he’s fallen hopelessly in love with her.

Tane can give a good account of himself in a brawl but he’s not quite a conventional hero. He never really understands what is going on. He isn’t stupid but he is out of his depth and unlike most conventional heroes he never really manages to take control of the situation. He reacts to the actions, and manipulations, of others. That actually makes him a rather sympathetic character.

We do not of course know if Lamia will turn out to be heroine of villainess but she’s unlikely to be either a totally conventional heroine or a totally conventional villainess. She is however rather fascinating. A lamia makes a change from the usual run of witches and vampires and werewolves.

Egyptology had become fashionable in the late 19th century and became big news in 1922 when Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun so using ancient Egyptian mythology as a basis for a story was a sound commercial move on Kline’s part. And personally I love any story with an Egyptology angle so I’m certainly not complaining.

Kline wasn’t quite in the front rank of pulp writers but he was very competent and he had no problems pacing a story.

Lord of the Lamia is a lightweight but fun story. There’s mystery, there’s action, there’s some horror and there’s an offbeat love story. It all adds up to pretty solid entertainment. Recommended.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Robert Silverberg's Connie

Connie is one of the sleaze novels that science fiction grandmaster Robert Silverberg wrote in the late 50s and early 60s. This one was written under the pseudonym Loren Beauchamp and published in 1959.

Connie Barrett is an ordinary teenaged girl living in Brooklyn. She lives in what used to be a nice neighbourhood but now it’s not quite so nice.

Connie has her future all mapped out. She has a really nice boyfriend named John. They’re going steady. Eventually they will get engaged. Then will come college. And, in the fullness of time, marriage. She has already decided that they will have three children. Connie figures they’ll be able to get married in about four years time. In the meantime Connie intends to hang on to her virginity. She’s sure that John won’t mind waiting for four years to have sex with her. If he really loves her he won’t mind at all. John is at college now but Connie is confident he won’t be going out with any other girls. Why would he need when he only has four years to wait?

Then one night Connie heads off to post a letter. And gets gang-raped on her way home.

That changes everything. All that trouble she want to to preserve her virginity now seems to have been rather silly.

Connie knows that from now on she will be That Unfortunate Girl and everybody will feel sorry for her. She doesn’t like that idea.

She gets packed off to her grandparents’ home in Arizona to rest and recover. She does a lot of thinking. Marriage to John now seems like an unreal prospect. And in fact a few days later she gets a letter from him. John now thinks that maybe they should stop going steady for a while. And maybe marriage isn’t such a great idea. Connie sends him a reply, telling him that he can do whatever he likes. She doesn’t care any more.

Connie is going to have to make a new life for herself. She wants to make that new life as far away as possible from everybody she knows. San Francisco sounds interesting.

She will have to find a job, but Connie has that all figured out. Connie likes to have her future mapped out. She will spend five or six years as a high-class call-girl, then retire and maybe become a rich man’s mistress.

She doesn’t mind the idea of being a call-girl. After all, it’s too late now to worry about her virginity. And Connie has discovered that she rather enjoys sex.

Connie is very successful as a prostitute but then she makes a mistake. She falls in love.

This is a book that deals with what were hot-button issues at the time, and are still hot-button issues today. The subject of prostitution upsets people just as much today as it did in 1959. Especially if the author decides to write about a prostitute who is actually a very sympathetic character.

The core of the book is not the rape, but the responses of various characters to it. John’s reaction, deciding he no longer wants to marry Connie, would probably have been common enough in an era obsessed with puritanism. Her parents’ response, their total inability to deal with the situation, would probably have also been common.

What’s more interesting is Connie’s response. She decides that everything in her life is now changed, but she is determined to create a new life for herself. She is adamant that that means starting afresh in a new city. Connie is a practical girl. She has absolutely no desire to be poor. Becoming a call-girl seems to her to be an entirely rational sensible decision. Looking at things in a totally hard-headed way it has to be admitted that her decision makes sense. It makes sense if you can cope with it emotionally, and Connie is confident that she can. And she does. It’s not her career as a prostitute that brings her life to a new crisis.

This is typical of sleaze novels of the era. There’s lots of sex, but none of it is even the slightest bit graphic. The sleaze factor (which was of course the selling point for these books) comes from the sexual situations rather than explicit textbook descriptions of sexual acts. The most shocking element in this novel would have been the sadomasochistic episodes (which still shock some people today).

Silverberg varied his approach to sleaze fiction somewhat. Sometimes his endings were upbeat, sometimes downbeat. Some were harder-edged than others. Some of his novels were sleazier than others, and some were more romantic.

These sleaze novels were in many cases essentially sexy romances. They dealt with love as well as sex. And this book certainly has some romance angles.

Like all Silverberg’s sleaze fiction Connie is well-written (Silverberg had mastered the art of writing very quickly but still writing well) and entertaining. Recommended.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Nick Carter - The Bright Blue Death

The Bright Blue Death, published in 1967, is the 30th of the Nick Carter Killmaster spy thrillers. All the Killmaster books are credited to Nick Carter which was of course simply a house name. This one was written by Nicholas Browne.

Nick has to find a way to infiltrate a Swedish base. It’s not just a base, it’s a vast underground city designed to house a large portion of the Swedish population in the event of a nuclear war.

Why is an American agent trying to infiltrate a Swedish base? The reason is that the agency for which Nick works, AXE, is concerned that the Swedes have a security breach. And that security breach has something to do with an advanced anti-laser device the Swedes are working on. The Chinese want to sabotage that anti-laser research because it would neutralise their own new laser weapon, a weapon which is a threat to Civilisation As We Know It.

Nick gets into the Swedish base and he encounters something unexpected - a whole bunch of German spies. They’re not agents of the West German government. They work for a sinister neo-nazi movement known as the Teutonic Knights. This movement is led by the crazy Count von Stadee.

Nick finds something else odd - a dead Swedish scientist whose skin has turned bright blue.

He also meets a beautiful blonde Swedish scientist named Astrid Lundgren. She’s involved in all sorts of top-secret research including the anti-laser project and she tells him the dead scientist was a victim of the dreaded indigo rays. Somehow the anti-laser device produces these rays, which are instant death. Which of course threatens the whole ant-laser project.

Nick will have to infiltrate the Teutonic Knights, by pretending to offer to sell Astrid to them.

All this craziness happens really early in the book. 

And there’s more craziness to come. Such as one of von Stadee’s henchmen, who is a thousand-year-old Viking. Not some lunatic who imagines himself to be a Viking, but an actual Viking born a thousand years ago. And there’s a zeppelin as well. Plus some great action scenes in an amusement park. I should also mention the murderous laughing dwarf.

Astrid isn’t the only glamorous female in this tale. There’s also Boots Delaney, an American biker chick who is von Stadee’s girlfriend. A very frustrated girlfriend. Von Stadee is either unable or unwilling to satisfy her in bed due to some very peculiar sexual kinks that he has.

This is a fairly typical Killmaster adventure, although with perhaps a higher weirdness quotient than most. The pacing is so frenetic that you don’t have time to worry about how crazy some of the story elements are. It’s reasonably violent - there’s even a decapitation. Nick kills lots of bad guys using guns, knives and his bare hands.

There’s a moderate amount of sex, not too explicit but you get the message. Boots Delaney is a splendid crazy bad girl. She’s like a wildcat, both in bed and out of bed. Von Stadee is a fine megalomaniac villain. Making him kinky adds a bit of extra spice.

Nick Carter is your basic square-jawed womanising ruthless action hero.

Neo-nazis were one of the weird pop culture obsessions of the 60s. They turn up in just about every spy fiction series and TV spy series of the decade.

The author makes good use of some imaginative settings. There’s underwater action and there are epic fights in the underground city pus the amusement park scenes I’ve already mentioned.

This is great pulp spy thriller stuff. It has no literary aspirations but it delivers supercharged action and thrills. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Edgar Wallace's The Green Ribbon

The Green Ribbon
is a 1929 Edgar Wallace thriller with a racing background.

Edna Gray is a young pretty English girl who has been living in Argentina. At the age of twenty-two she has suddenly become a very rich young woman and she has returned to England to take possession of a rather large but run-down country estate. She intends to live in Longhall, a large rambling neglected old house which forms part of her inheritance. 

On the ship she had met a Mr Luke and they had struck up something of a friendship (although not at this stage a romance).

What she doesn’t know is that Mark Luke in a Scotland Yard Detective Inspector. She also doesn’t know why he’s so interested in Gillywood Farm (which she now owns) or why he has the idea that she might be in danger. It has something to do with her tenant, Mr Goodie. Mr Goodie leases Gillywood Farm for his business which is training racehorses. He has turned the farm into a kind of fortress.

Edna does not like Mr Goodie and she cannot imagine why he wants to buy Longhall or why he is offering her fifty thousand pounds for it, which is at least five times what the property is worth.

Luke also has no idea why Goodie is interested in Longhall but he feels that it is one of the things he needs to find out.

Luke is investigating Mr Trigger’s Transactions. This is a racing racket run by a Mr Trigger. Luke knows this, and he knows that Mr Goodie and a Dr Blanter are involved. Also involved is Arthur Rustem, Edna’s lawyer. Although he’s not really her lawyer now. Since he had an unfortunate misunderstanding with the Law Society he is no longer allowed to practice law but he still manages Edna’s estate.

Luke therefore knows the identity of those involved in the crooked gambling racket and he knows roughly how the swindle is worked. His problem is that it’s not clear that this racket is actually illegal. It’s certainly unethical and dishonest but Mr Trigger has come up with an incredibly profitable operation that remains technically within the law. Or at least it appears to be technically legal. Luke is sure that if he digs deeply enough he will discover something for which the conspirators can be prosecuted.

The scheme is very clever and provides an exceptionally interesting and original driving force for Wallace’s plot. It also adds a bit more suspense. Luke is convinced that Edna is in danger but he can’t protect her by arresting those who endanger her, and he can’t even figure out exactly why she is in danger. There’s also the mysterious behaviour of Mr Garcia, an old family friend of Edna’s who suddenly disappeared and then turned up in Constantinople.

The estate provides a perfect setting for Wallace’s purposes. There may not be any secret passageways in Longhall but there is an elaborate cave system nearby which is just as much fun. And there are plenty of classic Wallace ingredients. There is murder. There is racetrack skullduggery. There are Mr Goodie’s huge savage dogs. There are odd mysteries - why did Mr Goodie suddenly have to move all his stables? There’s a collapsible aeroplane. There are car chases. There are exotic poisons. There are hints of sexual depravity, and drug-taking. And there’s some romance.

Edna is a personable heroine. She’s no fool but she has no idea how she managed to find herself in the middle of such a complex and dangerous situation. Mr Luke is also a likeable hero, intelligent without being brilliant and confident without being arrogant.

And there are plenty of villains. Some of the bad guys are truly twisted and malevolent, others are just greedy and short-sighted and some are slightly ambiguous. You don’t know which of the villains are the ones to really worry about until late in the story.

A great racetrack mystery thriller and although the criminal scheme is complicated Wallace gives us enough racing background to make it perfectly comprehensible once the details are revealed.

The Green Ribbon is top-tier Wallace. Highly recommended.