Churchill's Vixens No 3

Churchill’s Vixens No.3 The Leaning Maiden

By Leslie McManus
Published by Mews Books 1976

The Leaning Maiden, is the third book in the Churchill’s Vixens series and it may even be more sleazy than the first. The second book in the series, The Belgian Fox I haven’t found a copy of — and that may be a good thing!

The action passages in The Leaning Maiden are poorly written – so if you look at the story from a blood and thunder perspective – it doesn’t pass muster. But let’s be honest, this book was never intended to be more than low-class 1970’s smut.

Even though I enjoyed this book (and I have had a bug, so my brain hasn’t really been firing on all cylinders), I couldn’t really recommend it to anyone.

From the back cover:

THE ALLIES GREATEST AGENTS AT ESPIONAGE, DESTRUCTION AND SEX

Churchill’s Vixens: The most secret weapon employed against the Third Reich. Special agents as capable on a midnight mission as in the beds of friend or foe.

Sophia Veluttio: Athletic and voluptuous, young, English girl of Italian ancestry, is parachuted into Italy to help the resistance prepare for the Allied invasion.

She proves as adept at blowing up factories as seducing Italian officers.

Sophia leaves a trail of destruction and confusion for the enemy as she and her comrades move toward the day of reckoning on the beaches of Anzio.

Sophia’s story, like the others in this powerful new series, might just be true.

Churchill's Vixens No 3

The Two Edged Sword

Author: L.B. Earle
Publisher: Horwitz
Published: 1965
Book No: 31

Following on from Tuesday’s post about Prisoner of War pulp fiction, published in Australia in the 1960s. Here’s another one, The Two Edged Sword. Once again, I have not read this one, but it would appear that this time American Marines are the target for brutality inflicted by the Japanese.

As with all Horwitz books, there is little information available on the author (the National Library of Australia lists this as his only work).

Front:

Here, in this hell camp, the bestiality of the inquisitors revealed war in its most terrible aspect.

Back:

The two edged sword became the symbol of Captain Yakahito’s rule of terror on the lonely outpost of Wake Island, the Japanese and American marines are locked in deadly combat. The unequal struggle is soon over, the island is taken by the enemy and the surviving marines are taken prisoner by the Japanese.

Captured, interrogated, beaten and tortured, the men are taken to one of the infamous prison camps deep in the Burmese jungle on the Thai border.

Menaced by the sun, ravaged by disease, with starvation and despair their only companions, they plan to escape – but their only hope is help from the outside.

The Two Edged Sword

The Dead Man: The Beast Within

Author: James Daniels
Publisher: 47 North
Published: 2011
Book No: 7

It’s been a while since I have reviewed any of The Dead Man series. I am up to book number seven, The Beast Within, written by James Daniels (who also wrote Ring of Knives). This one has been out quite a while, and I must admit I went to Amazon and read the reviews (hopefully not sock-puppeted), to see what readers had to say. The general consensus appeared to be that this was the weakest of The Dead Man series and could be skipped over.

But as regular visitors to P2K, who have read my reviews of trash exploitation cinema, would know, I am a lover of the unloved. The negative reviews only made me want to read it more. I mean, how bad could it be?

Sadly for me (or gleefully for others), The Beast Within was fine – nothing wrong with it at all. Sure, it branches off and tries something new. Mr. Dark isn’t really in the story – but his presence is well and truly felt. And the story opens up a whole new world of possibilities for The Dead Man series. It implies Matt Cahill’s journey to discover the secret of his power, and his running battle with Mr.Dark, is just the tip of a dark magical underworld that spans the globe.

On top of that, you get the usual mayhem – this time, evil white supremacists, rampaging bears, dangling from a chairlift, exploding trucks, flaming crossbows – of course a damsel in distress – and Cahill’s usual axe wielding form of justice. No complaints from me.

I am looking forward to the next book in the series, Fire and Ice, by Jude Hardin.

The Dead Man: The Beast Within

Ghost Money

Author: Andrew Nette
Publisher: Snubnose Press
Published: August 2012

I must admit, I don’t know much about Cambodia or the Khmer Rouge – and therefore Andrew Nette’s debut novel, Ghost Money was a real eye opener for me. It works on many levels – as a history lesson (all the best novels teach you stuff you don’t know), a detective thriller, and a deep explorative character study. Furthermore it is dripping with atmosphere. I know that sounds like a cliché, but I can’t think of a better way to describe the heat, humidity, and smell of South East Asia. While I have to use cliche’s, Nette doesn’t. He lived in Phnom Penh for a few years, and would appear to know the city well, and paints a extremely evocative picture.

The story concerns an ex-cop named Max Quinlan who now works as a detective, tracking down missing persons. In this instance, his case is to track down an Australian businessman named Charles Avery who has disappeared while in the midst of a shady gem stone deal.

As the tale begins, Quinlan, while searching Avery’s hotel apartment in Bangkok, finds the delinquent Australian’s business partner dead. Quinlan suspects Avery of the deed, and clues point to him fleeing to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Quinlan follows the trail, but what he finds is quite a bit more than he bargained for. A normal detective would have cut their losses and returned home safely, but not Quinlan. He is driven by his own demons, and has to see the case through to the end, no matter where it takes him.

At a quick glance, Ghost Money may seem like a stereotypical detective thriller. Anyone who has read Chandler, Spillane, or Corris (as an Australian reference) will recognise the frame work of this story – a missing person case. But that is where the comparison ends. Quinlan doesn’t spout wisecracks. He doesn’t drink. And furthermore comes of second best in every physical encounter (okay he does come out on top once, but only because his opponent falls foul of his own evil scheme – to say more would constitute a spoiler). So while the framework may be familiar to readers of crime fiction, the characters certainly are not. And that is important, as it is the characters who drive the story. Quinlan has his share of back story. He is not a man who arrives on the page, already a hero (that is if you’d call him that). He has flaws and skeletons in his closet. At the end of the book, he is a very different character to the man who started

Once the story kicks into high gear, Quinlan is partnered with a Cambodian named Sarin, who is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, and now works as a translator for a local reporter named Gillies. While Quinlan is the driving force in the story, Sarin is its heart. Cambodia is his country, and the events, and changing political climate, are the things he will have to live with, once the story is over – coupling that with his brutal backstory, and a man emerges who is strong, resourceful and resilient – and if one has to call one of the characters a hero, then Sarin is more deserving of the title.

In this day and age, it is not so surprising that a lot of fiction pays homage to the pop-cultural works that have coloured, and possibly influenced the author on his writer’s journey. They can be films, other works of literature, or even songs. There are a few of these references (or in-jokes) in Ghost Money, however author Andrew Nette, never lets them overtake the story. They are subtle nuggets for the knowing. However, I want to touch briefly on the last quarter of the book, which is an intoxicating roller coaster ride, which not only ties up the disparate plot threads, but immerses the reader noirish nether world of music, surreal dream-like images and literary themes. The run home starts, with Jim Morrison name-checked – from there our protagonists are shunted into the deep dark heart of Cambodia in a helicopter. Next comes the journey down river by boat. It may sound like I am describing Apocalypse Now. While Ghost Money is a very different beast from Coppola’s Vietnam allegory, the comparison is not that far fetched. Apocalypse Now is based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and the story of one man making a journey into a landscape he doesn’t understand, to find a man, but ultimately confronting his own inner demons, which is equally applicable for Ghost Money.

The wash-up is, Ghost Money is a noirish detective story, the likes of which you’ve never read before. As I said at the top, the framework is something very familiar, but the trip itself is a wild roller-coaster ride that will take you places you’ve never been and teach you things about the world that you were never taught – all of this in a package that’s damnably readable, and thoroughly entertaining.

Ghost Money

Fight Card: Tomato Can Comeback

Author: Jack Tunney (Henry Brown)
Published: August 2012
Book No: 8

Earlier this month, the eighth novella in the Fight Card series, Tomato Can Comeback was released, and it continues the high standard set by the previous stories. This one is set in Detroit, and is told from the point of view of sports reporter, Gil Schwartz.

The hero of the piece, is a boxer named Tom Garrick, who after suffering a terrible beating at hands of a welterweight contender, is nicknamed Tomato Can – as it is suggested that he bled so much during the fight, he resembled a tomato can being split open by a tire iron. The beating is so traumatic, Garrick gives up the fight game.

Later, however, with the help of an army buddy, his platoon sergeant in Korea, Garrick prepares to make a comeback. Gil Schwartz thinks it may make a great story, and pays close attention to Garrick, and the people around him.

Unlike many of the other Fight Cards stories, there isn’t an out and out villain (like organised crime, or a dirty fighter), but there is a mystery to the story – which I’ll refrain from remarking upon – but it ties all the loose ends together rather nicely.

Tomato Can Comeback is hugely entertaining and a worthy addition to the Fight Card series. If you enjoyed, King of the Outback, or any of the other Fight Cards stories, then jump on board this one – you wont regret it. Highly recommended.

Fight Card: Tomato Can Comeback

The Only Man in Town

Author: Emerson Dodge (Paul Wheelahan)
Publisher: The Cleveland Publishing Co.
First Published: 1977

“We don’t cotton to strangers makin’ free with our womenfolk!”

I have often bemoaned the fact the Australian pulp fiction tradition is dead – but there is one last hold out, and it is Cleveland Publishing. Cleveland caters to a unique niche market, especially for Australia, and that is they publish westerns. And they really are pulp – it’s hard to describe the actual books themselves – they are more like a mini magazine printed on newsprint – only 20,000 to 25,000 words (under a hundred pages) and barely 5 millimeters thick.

Here’s some of the history of Cleveland from their website:

Cleveland Publishing Co Pty Ltd, home of the Cleveland Westerns, is an Australian owned and operated publishing house which was founded in Sydney, Australia in 1953 by Jack Atkins. Having its beginnings in the boom of pulp fiction writing in the 1950s, Cleveland prospered as a publisher of high-quality short stories, principally in the Western genre, and remains as Australia’s most successful and only pulp fiction publisher today.

At its height, Cleveland Publishing printed 18 of its exceptionally popular Westerns each month with print runs for each of its titles peaking at 25,000. The company continues to satisfy its readers’ desire for superior short stories in that genre today with the publication of eight titles, including two new stories under its popular ‘Cleveland’ brand, each month both in Australia and, via its website, internationally.

The story I am reviewing here is called The Only Man in Town, and it was written by Emerson Dodge. A quick Google search reveals that Emerson Dodge was one of the many pen names of Paul Wheelahan – and Australian author who wrote for Cleveland from 1963 to 1997.

Here’s a snippet from a 2005 interview with Wheelahan on Reader’s Voice by Simon Sandall.

The Cleveland westerns were just under 100 pages long, in 10 chapters. Paul Wheelahan could turn out these 100 page westerns at a rapid rate.

“During my three books a month period at Cleveland I used to take four or five days,” he said.

“… Sometimes on the Monday I’d get up and I wouldn’t have a synopsis, and I’d write a synopsis, and then start the story and I’d take it in on Friday afternoon in the car, get there about 10 minutes before closing time, and then go to the pub. I don’t know how I did it.”

Read the whole article and interview here.

The Only Man in Town concerns Harlan Chadd, a mysterious no-nonsense stranger who rides into the town of Assembly. He immediately locks horns with the spirited owned of the Cressida Hotel, Etta Cassidy. Etta was the oldest of four sisters, and when their mother died, she assumed the responsibility of getting the girls married off to prosperous men. Adopting a pompous and snobby attitude, Etta only associates with the finest and wealthiest people of Assembly. Chadd, as a grubby unkempt horseman is an unwelcome.

Unbeknownst to the good people of Assembly, somebody has been buying up all the property in a line from the end of the railroad, to the river. Those who have refused to sell have either been bullied and threatened, or become victim to freakish accidents. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that the railroad intends to come through the town.

Naturally, one of the properties on the proposed path, is the Cressida Hotel, and Etta has no desire to sell. She figures her wealthy friends will stand beside her when push comes to shove. Of course they don’t, and it is Harlan Chadd who comes to her aid when things turn ugly.

The Only Man in Town is quite predictable, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment this fast paced story has to offer. If I have a criticism, it is the resolution is wrapped up in about two pages – which seems a tad abrupt after such a prolonged build up. However, for the price of a pot of beer, this tale delivers everything it should.

I was delighted to find out Cleveland Publishing is still going – putting out the same type of stories it has for nearly sixty years – and I hope it continues to do so.

The Only Man in Town

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves

Author: Matthew Reilly
Publisher: MacMillan
Published: 2012

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves is the fourth outing for Captain Shane Schofield, after Ice Station, Area 7, and Scarecrow (it’s the fifth if you count the novella Hell Island which was given away for free as a part of the Books Alive campaign in Australia – that’s the one where the ‘apes went apeshit!’).

This story concerns a villainous cadre of soldiers known as the Army of Thieves who take control of an old Soviet scientific installation known as Dragon Island. As well as being a research facility, Dragon Island was also a super weapon, designed to set fire to the atmosphere and destroy most of the earth (obviously it was a last strike weapon – in the event of, and after losing a nuclear war).

The Army of Thieves start pumping out a flammable gas into the atmosphere from Dragon Island and the countdown to doomsday begins. An Army Unit goes in to stop the Thieves, but they are cut down in a hail of machine gun and rocket fire. With time running out, the only team close enough, are a small research team in the Arctic, headed by Shane Schofield. He is sent in with three other Marine, two civilians, and a robot, to do what an Army unit couldn’t do – save the world!

Of course, from the outset it is one wild and woolly set piece after another, with Schofield and his team being chased, shot at, bombed, and every other possible thing – as they try to beat the deadline, and stop the earth’s atmosphere being incinerated (For another airport fiction take on the atmosphere being set alight, check out Bill Napier’s Revelation).

While I enjoyed Army of Thieves, I thought it was not up to the standard of the Jack West adventures that Reilly has written most recently (Seven Ancient Wonders, Six Sacred Stones, Five Greatest Warriors). In some areas, some prudent editing would have improved the flow of the story too. But ultimately, picking on a Reilly novel is like kicking a dog. It is just mean spirited. Reilly writes fast paced thrill fests designed to entertain – and Army of Thieves certainly does that, as long as you are prepared to suspend disbelief.

The key to Army of Thieves (and most of Reilly’s novels, for that matter) is the ‘how are they going to get out of that’ factor – and how close to death the main characters can come – and still manage to survive. Or not! In fact, and this may constitute a minor spoiler, but not really for anyone who has read a Reilly novel – the story really is about how many times the characters can be killed and come back to life. Scarecrow dies once, his loyal second-in-command Gena ‘Mother’ Newman dies twice, and a new character known as Baba dies three times (and the robot twice).

If you’re a Reilly fan, and fast paced thrills are your thing, then Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves will fit the bill nicely. If you want a little bit more meat on the bones of your action adventure stories, you may have to seek out James Rollins, or revisit some vintage Cussler.

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves

Striking Force

Author: L. K. Jackson
Publisher: Horwitz
Published: 1965
Book No: 32

Striking Force is another men on a mission title from Australian publisher Horwitz. This tale is pretty grim, focusing on the fear of going into battle – and author L.K. Jackson does quite a good job of ratcheting up that tension. Almost too good of a job, because the following action passages don’t manage to live up to the build up.

The book could have done with some hard editing also. There is a lot of repetition, often within the space of a few paragraphs.

As you would expect from a book of this age, the Japanese soldiers portrayed in the story are a bit on the crude side. Not quite out-and-out racism, but certainly negative Japanese stereotypes are used, such as ‘little yellow skin’, and ‘the only good Jap is a dead Jap’ etc. I don’t think I have to elaborate any more.

The story is told from the point of view of an un-named Sergeant. And the mission under the command of Lieutenant Braddock and Captain Mannion, is to follow and meet with General Stilwell. Stilwell ventured into the jungle two months earlier, and nobody has heard from him since.

From the very beginning, the Japs are on the brigade’s trail, and when Mannion foolishly leads them down a river, the unit is set upon from all sides.

The climax, where the brigade, who have been split in two groups, assault a Japanese airbase is rousing, vigorous and well written – and on the tougher side of boys-own-adventure. It is more like Saving Private Ryan than Where Eagles Dare (if that makes sense – it’s more about surviving than blood and bullet heroics). It would not surprise me if I learnt that the author was a vet.

I can find no information on author L.K. Jackson, but it would appear that Striking Force was also released by Trojan Paperbacks (which appear to be a UK company) – but with an American soldier on the cover.

Front: With a burning zeal and blazing barrels the Chindit brigade captured the vital Jap airfield.

Back: Fools or heroes

Lieutenant Braddock’s men were trapped deep in Japanese held territory.

They were sick and tired, hunted like rats in the fetid jungle.
The Sergeant and his gallant six proposed an ingenious rear attack as a last ditch stand.

The Lieutenant considered it absolute suicide.

Striking Force

A Mouth Full of Blood

Author: Eric Beetner
Published: July 2012

I have to admit I am biased. It is no secret that I have written a Fight Card novel and have spent the last six months reading fight fiction and watching boxing movies. Therefore one could reasonably say, that my objectivity on A Mouth Full of Blood is compromised. I beg to differ. I think it means that I have now read and watched the best and the worst, and that puts me in the perfect position to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of such material.

Without a word of a lie – and this is a pretty big claim – I think Eric Beetner’s latest addition to the Fight Card series, A Mouth Full of Blood is the best in the series so far. Like I said, it’s a big claim, because there have been some damn good stories in the series (humility forbids that I talk about how King of the Outback stacks up against the others – I will leave that to other critics).

A Mouth Full of Blood is a perfect balance of action and drama, and the characters are believable. Furthermore you actually care about them, willing them to come through at the end. The hero, Jimmy Wyler first appeared in Split Decision (which was released last November). However, no prior knowledge of the events in Split Decision is required to enjoy this tale.

A Mouth Full of Blood finds Jimmy back in his home town Chicago, working as a dishwasher at a small diner. One of his co-workers is a fifteen year old boy, Leo – whose home life is monstrous. His father is an abusive alcoholic, and his sister has failed to come home for the past five nights.

Leo explains she has been taken by a villainous pimp named Flip, aided and abetted by his gang of switch-blade minions. They intend to turn her out onto the streets as a prostitute. Jimmy decides to help Leo and his family to get her back.

The fight scenes in the novel are vivid and well described (almost cinematic), and it is easy to follow the action. However a fight scene is nothing without the characters having a strong motivation to fight, and the human drama in this tale is top rate, making the stakes inside the ring, all that more important.

And maybe that the key to A Mouth Full of Blood. I have talked about it being fight fiction, which it is – however it is the human drama that makes the story work, and therefore I think you don’t have to be a boxing fan to enjoy this story at all. It is about the characters, one of whom, just happens to be an ex-boxer. So if you have been tip-toeing around the Fight Card series, thinking that you’re not that interested in reading about sweaty men slugging it out in a ring, then this may very well be a book for you. Yes, there is fighting in it, but at heart, it’s just a great story. I think author, Eric Beetner has delivered a slab of first class entertainment regardless of genre. Highly recommended.

A Mouth Full of Blood is available form Amazon as an eBook or Paperback.

A Mouth Full of Blood

The Judas Strain

Author: James Rollins
Publisher: Orion Books
Published: 2007

I have a few James Rollins novels, but The Judas Strain was the first Sigma Force novel that I have read – I think it is the 4th in the series. Not that reading them in order seemed to matter. There is some backstory to the characters, but not being familiar with it, does not detract from the story at all.

This tale starts in the past, with Marco Polo returning to Venice after many years at the court of Kublai Khan. On route, a plague decimates his fleet. The story then skips ahead to present day, where some scientists from the University of Sydney are investigating the beaching of eighty dolphins along the coast of Java. After diving, Dr. Susan Tunis notices red blotches on her skin.

Meanwhile in Washington, Sigma Force Commander, Gray Pierce is enjoying a barbecue with friends and family at his parents home. As the evening draws to a close, and assassin from a shadowy organisation known as the Guild, known as Seichan, crashes her motorcycle on the front lawn. She has a bullet wound in her back, and is carrying a small stone pyramid.

Despite being enemies, Seichan enlists Pierces and Monsignor Vigor Verona – the prefect of the Achivio Segretto Vaticano (the Vatican’s Secret Archives) – and man well versed in the esoteric, to help crack the code enscribed on the pyramid in a forgotten language known as Angelic Text.

Another Sigma Force operative, Monk Kokkalis and Dr. Lisa Cummings are on Christmas Island helping to control a biological outbreak which has swept the island. That is, until pirates seize the Mistress of the Seas, the vessel they are working from.

As you can see there are several story threads at the beginning of the novel, which spiral and twist in different directions – with thrills and danger at each turn. I particularly liked the ‘killer’ crabs and the sequence at the Haga Sophia in Istanbul.

Along the way, each of the characters plays their part in the story, whether it be solving clues to ancient puzzles, or fighting of rampaging hordes of cannibals. As the story moves along – and at quite a brisk pace, I might add – the strands come together for an exciting climax.

If I have one small quibble with the book, it is the depiction of the Australian characters at the beginning, which are broad outdated stereotypes. Nobody has used the word ‘bonzer’ (actually it should be ‘bonza’) since 1974. Most Australian’s would say ‘arse’ rather than ‘ass’ – and hardly anybody drinks Foster’s. As I said a small quibble, and would not detract from most people’s enjoyment of the book – but I found it rather jarring. Thankfully it is only a short passage at the start.

From the blurb:

Buried deep within a jungle, ancient ruins conceal a deadly secret…

Buried in a tomb in Venice, a great explorer hides a truth that could shatter history…

Buried in our genetic code, a mystery like no other…

But nothing stays buried forever… and it will be up to Sigma Force, a covert team of elite scientists, to face what will be unearthed: a plague beyond any cure, a scourge that turns all of nature against mankind.

From the high seas of the Indian ocean to the dark jungles of Southeast Asia, from the canals of Venice to the crypts of ancient kings, the Sigma Force team must piece together a mystery that, unless solved, will end all life on our planet. But this challenge may prove too large for Sigma Force alone. With a worldwide pandemic looming, Painter Crowe and Commander Gray Pierce turn to their deadliest adversaries for help, teaming up with a diabolical foe who thwarted them in the past.

But can the enemy be trusted even now? Or will they prove to be another Judas?

Combining stunning historical revelations, breathtaking action and mysteries on a grand scale, James Rollins delivers adventure in its purest form.

All in all, The Judas Strain is an enjoyable romp, and I guess I am saying nothing new here, but Rollins is clearly the successor to Clive Cussler’s empire as the number one action adventure writer. Needless to say, I will track down a few more Sigma Force adventures to see what wild and frantic shenanigans Rollins can throw my way.

The Judas Strain