Leaving Bondi

BondiAuthor: Robert G. Barrett
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published: 2000

Over the years I have read a few of Robert G. Barrett’s Les Norton series. I don’t know how many there are in the series. I have about seven of them, and I’d guess there’s probably that many I don’t have. I have always found them to be – for wont of a lazy comparison – a knockabout variation on the Cliff Hardy stories – the obvious connection being that they are often set in Sydney (but the boys move around a bit from story to story). However Les is not a Private Detective like Hardy. Instead he’s a trouble shooter at the Kelly Club. ‘Trouble’ being the operative word. Les seems to attract it. In this story he gets mixed up in a movie deal – the movie being called ‘Leaving Bondi’.

As I implied above, I have enjoyed many of Norton’s adventures – but this one was undone by one particularly sleazy scene which ruined the whole book. In the scene, Les rescues a drugged girl from a cult of devil-worshipers who are about to slit her throat. After the rescue, Les takes the unconscious girl back to his hotel room – and let’s just say things get a little rapey for my liking. Worse, still the incident is passed off as a joke a bit later on. The Les Norton stories have never really been politically correct, but this one went over the line for me.

I doubt international readers would find a lot to enjoy in the Les Norton series. They are very Australian with little explanation of the wheres and whyfores – if you’re not familiar with the place names and products you may feel left out – and very much of their time. This book is fourteen years old and some of the products mentioned are no longer available, television shows are no longer on etc…

The Les Norton books can be good fun, but unless you’re a die hard fan of the series, I’d give this one a miss.

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Leaving Bondi

Iron Head & Other Stories

IronHeadThe Fight Card team flexes its muscles for a good cause. Iron Head and Other Stories is the first of several charity anthologies being released by the Fight Card team over the next few months, and it includes my vintage fight fiction short, Bushwhacked – written under the pen name James Hopwood.

All monies made from this project go to revered Western (and other genres) writer, Jory Sherman who has racked up a stack of medical bills. Over the years, Jory has not only been a prolific writer, he has been a mentor to many other up and coming writers.

Here’s the blurb from Bushwhacked.

Trooper Gladstone Farrell of Victorian Colonial Police Force was corrupt as they came.

Farrell had a fearsome reputation throughout the Central Victorian Goldfields. He was not in the least concerned at keeping the peace. As far as he was concerned, ‘Gold Fever’ was about money, and he did everything possible to get his share. However, this did not include hard labor, such as digging or panning for gold. His methods were much simpler. He would allow others to do the hard graft, and when they had found a few ounces he would swoop – always in the capacity of a custodian of the law. Most of the miners in the area didn’t have licenses, so when Farrell came calling, they either had to pay a portion of their diggings or face a hefty fine. Either way, Farrell got their gold or their money.

When Farrell swooped on the Clancy brothers for mining without a license, they made an unusual proposition to keep from going to jail. Danny Clancy was a bare-knuckles fighter; but not an honest one. His next fight was fixed, and his opponent was set to fall in the sixth round. Farrell muscled in on the deal, intending to collect two ways – first taking his cut from the Clancy brothers, and secondly, cleaning up with his own side bet.

James Hopwood (pen name of David James Foster), author of King of the Outback, a hard punching story in the Fight Card series is back with another knuckle bruising tale. A tale in which nothing is as it seems, and in which someone will be Bushwhacked!

Even if you’ve already grabbed a copy and read Bushwhacked, there are nine other great stories in this collection and at only US$1.99 – less than a glass or beer or cup of coffee – there’s plenty of fine entertainment to be found in these pages, and you’ll be helping a good cause.

You can find Iron Head and Other Stories at Amazon.

Fight Card Presents: Iron Head & Other Stories is the first in a series of charity anthologies from the Fight Card authors cooperative – a writers community featuring many of today’s finest fictioneers, including Jory Sherman, Ryan McFadden, Mark Finn, Troy D. Smith, Ed Greenwood, Jack Badelaire, James Scott Bell, James Hopwood, Bowie V. Ibarra, and Matthew Pizzolato.

Compiled by Paul Bishop and Jeremy L. C. Jones, 100% of the proceeds from these anthologies will go directly to an author-in-need (in this case, revered western writer Jory Sherman) or a literacy charity. Words on paper are the life blood of a writer. The writers in this volume were willing to bleed in order to give a transfusion to one of their own – and then continue to bleed to give a transfusion to literacy charities in support of that most precious of commodities … readers. They are true fighters, every one …

Iron Head & Other Stories

Sudden Impact (1983)

SuddenImpact_B2-1-500x692Country: United States
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, Bradford Dillman, Albert Popwell
Music: Lalo Schifrin

I am sure that I do not have to introduce the character of Dirty Harry Callahan. Sudden Impact was the fourth film in the Dirty Harry series, preceded by Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, and The Enforcer. And preceding The Dead Pool.

I have very mixed feelings about Sudden Impact. On one hand, it is a sleazy repugnant little film. Easily the worst of the Dirty Harry films. But for me, it represents one of the rites of manhood. The film was released in 1983, with a ‘R’ certificate, which meant that in Australia, no one under the age of 18 years could see the film. I would have been around 15 years old when the film was released, and therefore was too young to go to a screening.

At this time, I still lived in the country, up north on the Murray River. But frequently the family would make trips on the weekend to Melbourne. We would often stay at my aunt and uncle’s place and sleep on the floor, as it was cheaper than hotel accommodation. One of these trips coincided with the release of Sudden Impact. And somehow, I managed to convince my father and my uncle to take me to see the film. My thinking was, that if I was accompanied by two men who were clearly over 18, then the staff at the cinema would not question my age. So it was, the three of us went into the heart of the city to see Sudden Impact on a Saturday night.

I remember walking beside them, proud as punch. I also remember, the sex show spruikers asking us to “step this way gentleman, show starts right away”. With a firm hand on my shoulder, my dad steered me past these temptations, and towards the movie house. There was no trouble at the cinema whatsoever, and we all enjoyed the film. And that is one of the things about Sudden Impact; it is a film, that should be seen on the big screen and with a crowd. The film has quite a few comedic moments, and these play a lot better with a crowd. When the crowd laughs, you laugh. And this comedy balances out the more sleazy aspects of the film.

This is something that I noticed years later when the film became available on video. On television, and without a crowd behind me, my reaction to the film was very different. Initially, at the cinema, I thought the film was fantastic. An exciting blend of blazing Magnum action, and witty dialogue. But on video, with much of the humour diluted, you’re left with a tale of rape and revenge, and even Callahan’s motives are dodgy. At the end of the film, he puts himself above the law, allowing a killer to go free.

But the film reached a level of popularity beyond its story, when Ronald Regan – President of the United States at that time – quoted the ‘Make My Day!’ line from the film. Much like Rambo: First Blood Part II, the film and its loner hero came to epitomize the new America – a country that was regaining its sense of worth after the Iran hostage situation. Many words have already been spent analyzing the political content in the Dirty Harry films – so I’ll move on, leaving that to the experts.

The story is quite simple. Sondra Locke plays a woman who, along with her sister, was gang raped by a bunch of students led by a psychopath. Many years later, she starts seeking revenge shooting the offending members. After the few few deaths, the psychopath cottons on to what’s happening, and decides to strike back. But naturally enough, standing between both parties is Harry Callahan – armed with a new weapon – the .44 Magnum Automag. Gun-porn fans rejoice.

It almost seems funny looking back at it now, and seeing how far Harry Callahan had changed from the original Dirty Harry, to the stylized and somewhat sleazy mayhem in Sudden Impact. It’s only Eastwood’s presence and the .44 magnum that ties it all together.

As I said, I have very mixed feelings about the film. I know it is not very good, but maybe because of the built in affection I have for it, I cut it more slack than most.

Sudden Impact (1983)

Superseven Calling Cairo (1965)

Country: Italy / France
Starring: Roger Browne, Fabienne Dali, Massimo Serato, Dina De Santis, Rosalba Neri, Antonio Gradoli, Mino Doro
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
Original Title: Superseven chiama Cairo

There are heaps of styles of spy films, but I think the ones I enjoy the most are the jet-set globe trotters from the 1960s. You can often tell a globe-trotter by its title, which often had the name of the city or country where the action was set. If a spy story uses an exotic location, then it wasn’t unusual for that location to be mentioned in the title. The roll call of holiday destinations for spies included, Our Man In Havana, Funeral In Berlin, That Man In Istanbul, Espionage In Tangiers, The Girl From Rio, Assassination In Rome, Our Man In Marrakech, Fury In The Orient, Hong Kong Hot Harbour, Our Man In Jamaica and many, many others. Having said all that, of course, just because a film is set in a particular location, it doesn’t mean it was actually filmed there. In fact most Eurospy films were shot on sound-stages in Rome, with a series of travelogue shots crudely inserted into them. The travelogue shots were at best, filmed by a second unit team, or at worst, simply stock footage. The film under the microscope today is Superseven Calling Cairo, directed by Umberto Lenzi, and it looks like in this instance, that a decent second unit team was hired to pick up the shots required for the film, with locations as diverse as London, Paris, Rome, Locarno, and of course, Cairo.

The film stars the impossibly square-jawed Robert Browne as Martin Stevens, Agent Superseven. See what they did there? He’s not 007, 077, or even agent 777 – Superseven is even better – he’s ‘Super’. The film opens in Paris, and Superseven is in a hotel room, delicately chewing on the bottom lip of a strawberry blonde. Just as things are about to get steamy, she pulls away, claiming to have forgotten an appointment with the Turkish Military Attache. She has promised to deliver a cheque to him – the catch being that first, Superseven has to write the cheque. This lovey-dovey scenario is actually a mission, and Superseven is buying … something. We never find out what it is, because as he is writing the cheque, in the mirror he watches as she retrieves a pistol from her handbag. In a flash he spins around, and flicks around the pen he was using to write with – because it is also a gun. He fires twice, shooting her in the belly. Chalk one up for Martin Stevens — Mr. Kiss Kiss Kill Kill!

The film skips ahead to London, and to the Waterloo Museum which actually houses the Secret Service. Stevens bypasses the historically dressed manikins and old armaments, for his mission briefing with the chief, who is known as The Professor. The Prof. Asks if Stevens has heard of Baltonium. The agent says he hasn’t, and The Prof. explains that it is a new element which is one hundred times more radioactive than uranium – but it can be handled in complete safety, like any other ordinary, stable mineral. Furthermore, a three ounce sample of Baltonium has been stolen, and the metal turned into a piece of the lens of portable movie camera. This camera, and fifty other normal versions just like it have been shipped to Cairo, where the dealer was supposed to pass the sample off to a third party who had made arrangements to sell it to Russia.

However, the ‘special’ camera was unwittingly sold to a tourist by mistake. Stevens’ job, should he choose to accept it, is to go to Cairo, track down the tourist, and retrieve the camera and the Baltonium before the opposition can. Of course, ‘our man’ accepts the mission.

Although it’s highly doubtful that Roger Browne actually left Rome; Martin Stevens, Agent Superseven, arrives in Cairo and the montage of travelogue shots begins; interspersed with shots of Stevens and sweaty looking locals with twitching mustaches, wearing fezzes. Superseven is expected however, and the villains of the piece, headed by an ex-Nazi named Alex (Massimo Serato) have prepared a reception committee for him. As far as reception committees go, this one isn’t too bad. As Stevens arrives at his hotel room he finds Fadja Hassan (Rosalba Neri) in his shower. She claims that the shower in her room next door is broken. Stevens doesn’t buy it, but what the heck – he has only just arrived in town and there is already a naked women in his room – what’s not to like?

So then the mating ritual begins. In spy films, romance, and ‘pulling a bird’ are quite different to real life. Well I guess that’s true in any movie or television show, but at least in other genres they tend to play out the usual boy meets girl moments – minus the awkward moments that happen in real life – but spy films there is no effort made at pretending that there is an attraction. In Superseven she abuses him, and then he abuses her. Then he grabs her, drags her in and kisses her. She appears not to like it, and he doesn’t care if she likes it or not. Then they sleep together. I am no expert, but being smarmy and obnoxious has never worked for me. But look at all the spies that this works for — I mean Tony Kendall in the Kommissar X films made a career out of being a jerk, but still was always surround by a bevy of beautiful women. I just don’t get it. But hey, it works for Roger Browne and the story moves forward because of it.

But Superseven is more than a one woman guy, and Cairo serves up many other women he can abuse, and the next one is Denise (Fabienne Dali). Denise was working at the camera shop, where the movie camera was sold to the tourist, so our hero quickly hits on her. Initially she is repulsed, but still agrees to take a few weeks leave and accompany him as he searches the tourist destinations. He wins her over by confessing that ‘he is a spy… you know, like James Bond.’ The magic words ‘James Bond’ are the clincher and soon our dynamic duo are on a camel at the pyramids of Giza.

Although, at the head of this review, I opined that I prefer my spy films to be globe-trotting ones, I believe it is the globe-trotting that lets this film down. Not that there is anything wrong with the travelogue and second unit footage that is cut into the story. The things is, focusing on globe-trotting seems to have gotten in the way of pace and story telling. Director, Umberto Lenzi, in the 1970s, with many of his hard and fast Euro Crime films, proved that he can make taut, and tough films, with proficient action scenes in them. It didn’t matter that they were almost bound to the one city, such as Rome, Milan or Naples. In fact, he made that work in favour of the stories. But here, much of the time is wasted on shots that simply seem to be inserted into the story for the sake of the location. The sequence at the pyramids is a perfect example – cutting it from the movie, wouldn’t detract from the story at all. But then again, when you promote your film as being set in Egypt, I guess some skylarking amongst the antiquities is expected. But it doesn’t make it a better film.

Ultimately, despite all the things that this film does right, the stodgy middle and the padding travelogue shots stop Superseven Calling Cairo from being a top-tier Eurospy film. It isn’t a stinker — it is at least comprehensible and provides a few high-points — but there are far better Eurospy films out there to sample and enjoy. This one is for completists only, all others should give it a miss.

Superseven Calling Cairo (1965)

Commando: Operation Cannibal

OpCanAuthor: Jack Badelaire
Published: December 2013

Operation Cannibal is the third book in the highly enjoyable Commando series (following Operation Arrowhead and Operation Bedlam) written by indie author Jack Badelaire. The story is a stand alone adventure, and having read to first two book is not a necessity.

While the first two titles in the series, saw Corporal Lynch and the 3 Commando unit fighting the Jerries in occupied France, this tale sees the unit in Northern Africa, fighting heat, sand and… naturally enough, more Germans – this time members of Rommel’s Afrika Korp, allied with members of the Italian light infantry, the Bersaglieri.

Like the previous books in the series, Cannibal serves up all the usual boys-own-adventure you could desire – bullets, bombs, bren guns and more. However, author Jack Badelaire has not not only changed the setting, but also added a dollop of suspense at the start, which serves the story well.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, you should check the series out.

Commando: Operation Cannibal

Dig Two Graves

DTGAuthor: Eric Beetner
Publisher: Snubnose Press
Published: November 2011

As the title, Dig Two Graves, would imply, this novella is a tale of revenge. It concerns Val, who is an ex-con. But one who has lived a strange double life. On civi-street he is straight, and while in prison he is gay – described as an ‘innie and outie’. As the story begins Val is busted by the police. He was ratted out by his prison lover, a Latino named Ernesto.

From page one, Dig Two Graves is a wild ride, and the pace doesn’t let up. Val escapes from custody and seeks vengeance. Forgive me for being light on details, but I don’t really want to give any of the twists and turns away. I probably have already said too much!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this story is it serves up crime genre cliché after cliché – or at least it sets up each set piece that way – but as the story plays out, each of these sequences is turned on their head. Just when you think you know where the story is going, and you have read it all before, author, Eric Beetner drags the story kicking and screaming in a completely opposite direction.

This book is not for everyone. It fast, furious and filthy – and violent, but I found it to be a breath of fresh air in a genre where so many stories read the same. Highly recommended.

Dig Two Graves