Recommended Reading…

I’ve been busy lately, working on a new art book for the Men’s Adventure Library series I co-edit with Wyatt Doyle and a new issue of the MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY magazine that I co-edit with Bill Cunningham.

The art book will be a follow-up to POLLEN’S WOMEN: THE ART OF SAMSON POLLEN and POLLEN’S ACTION, the two we published before Sam passed away in December 2018. The new book will be the first in a series that will feature scans of men’s adventure magazine illustrations by Sam in chronological order, tentatively titled POLLEN IN PRINT.

The next MAQ issue will feature MAM stories and artwork involving “Jungle Girls.” I expect the new Pollen book and MAQ #4 to be published in January 2022. If you’ve missed any of the books I co-edit, you can get them via Amazon worldwide — or directly from me at a discount via my eBay listings or the online bookstore linked to this blog.

In addition to reading old men’s adventure mags, I generally read at least a couple of books every week. Here are some I’ve read in recent months that I highly recommend…

STEVE HOLLAND: THE WORLD’S GREATEST ILLUSTRATION ART MODEL by Michael Stradford is one of the coolest and most significant books in the realm of vintage paperback and MAM artwork ever published. Holland was used as a model by almost every top illustration artist who worked in those genres. His face and body appeared on literally thousands of paperback covers, magazine covers and interior illustrations published during the last half of the 20th century. Even after his death in 1997, Holland’s image continued to be the familiar iconic image for pulp heroes like Doc Savage, The Avenger and The Spider. Stradford’s book includes interviews with some of the last of the living illustration artists and pulp fiction experts who knew him, including James Bama, Jack Faragasso, Bob Larkin, Ron Lesser, Peter Caras, Joe Devito, Alex Ross and Will Murray. It also showcases scores of never-before-seen artist reference photos of Holland and many cover and interior paintings they were used for. He even sought out Holland’s family members for reminiscences and family photos, and included an interview with my friend Eva Lynd, subject of the book Wyatt Doyle and I co-edited with her, EVA: MEN’S ADVENTURE SUPERMODEL. If you have that book, you know that Eva did many modeling sessions with Holland for MAM illustrations and paperback covers. I’m honored that Michael asked me to contribute a chapter to the book about Holland’s appearances in men’s adventure magazine artwork. STEVE HOLLAND: THE WORLD’S GREATEST ILLUSTRATION ART MODEL is an amazing feat of research and a visual feast that I think is a must-have for fans of vintage paperbacks, men’s adventure magazines, comic books, and illustration art. I also love Michael’s previous book focusing on Holland’s work as a model for Doc Savage, THE TORN SHIRT SESSIONS.

COME SPY WITH ME by Max Allan Collins

COME SPY WITH ME by Max Allan Collins is an entertaining and audacious tour de force. In this alternate literary universe, author Ian Fleming’s famed series of spy novels were based on the exploits of a real British spy named John Sand, not a fictional character named James Bond. COME SPY WITH ME is the first of a series of novels about John Sand. It starts shortly after Sand has retired from the spy business and married Stacey Boldt, a beautiful, brainy and wealthy woman. Stacey inherited and runs a huge oil company with worldwide operations. Sand becomes her right hand in the company. The rousing opening starts with them on their honeymoon in the Caribbean, during which they are attacked by an old enemy. But the real plot begins when President John F. Kennedy recruits Sand for a secret mission to save the life of the president of a Caribbean island. Along the way, Sand and his wife meet with various people who were famous in the early 1960s, including JFK, Frank Sinatra and other members of his “Rat Pack,” and Fidel Castro. It’s all great, glorious fun for fans of old style spy novels and, in my humble opinion, much more Bond-like than the recent Bond movies. I listened to the Audible edition, narrated by Brian J. Gill and felt his real British accent and reading style were perfect for the book. I’m now hooked on the John Sand series, reading the second, LIVE FAST, SPY HARD, and looking forward to the third, TO LIVE AND SPY IN BERLIN. As someone who became a fan of James Bond novels and movies in the 1960s, I’m enjoying the Sand novels a helluva lot more than I enjoyed the latest Bond movie. I don’t know much about Max’s Sand co-writer, Matthew V. Clemens. other than that he’s written with Max Allan Collins. I do know I’m a major M.A.C. fan. He’s one of the best, most versatile writers I know of. Other books of his that I read and enjoyed in recent months include SKIM DEEP, a novel in his series about the heist expert Frank Nolan, and his Western novel THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK, which is based on an unpublished work by his late friend and mentor Mickey Spillane. I also recently read and enjoyed the wild science fiction novel Max co-wrote with SCTV alum, Dave Thomas, THE MANY LIVES OF JIMMY LEIGHTON and his collection of horror stories, REINCARNAL & OTHER DARK TALES. Like I said, I’m a major M.A.C. fan.

HOMICIDE: SAIGON is one of the many top notch action/adventure novels written by another one of my favorite writers, Stephen Mertz. It’s right up there with the classic entries he wrote for the Mack Bolan/Executioner series under the Don Pendleton house name, the M.I.A. HUNTER series he launched in the mid-1980s and the new CODY’S WAR series he created more recently. HOMICIDE: SAIGON is set in what is now known as Ho Chi Minh City at the height of the Vietnam War in 1970. But it’s not a war novel. It is, as the title suggests, a crime novel, with the war as an ever present factor in the scenes and plot. The main characters are Cord McGavin, a hard-boiled military detective, and his wife Kelly, a photojournalist. They make a great pair and the fact that Mertz portrays Kelly as an intelligent, tough woman and gives her an equal role in the action makes this novel a bit different and fresher than many men’s adventure novels. Mertz’s descriptions of Saigon are incredibly vivid — down to the smells — and his understanding the messy politics of South Vietnam at the time is impressive. The plot pits Cord and Kelly against some dirty, very brutal American and South Vietnamese officials. As in most of Mertz’s work, the scenes of violence are frequent, bloody, well-described and highly satisfying if you’re an action fan. And, the relationship between Cord and Kelly is spicy and humorous. In addition to the main novel, there are two short stories featuring them in this book. It seems to be pointing to a new Mertz series. I hope that’s the case, since I really enjoyed both the main novel and the short stories in HOMICIDE: SAIGON and I’m ready for more. Two other books by Mertz I read this year and totally loved are his mystery novels involving famous musicians: JIMI AFTER DARK, featuring Jimi Hendrix, and HANK & MUDDY, featuring Hank Williams and Muddy Waters. They’re a gas! I also read and loved the first two books in his CODY’S WAR series, DRAGONFIRE! and CAMP DAVID HAS FALLEN! The main character in those, Jack Cody, is reminiscent of Mack Bolan, The Executioner. Mertz wrote some of the best novels in the Executioner series and was mentored by the creator of that long-running series, Don Pendleton. So, if you’re a Bolan Fan, I’m guessing you’ll be a Cody fan, too. (By the way, the MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY #3 includes, among other things, never-before-reprinted MAM “Book Bonus” versions of the first two Executioner novels, some commentary by Mertz, and an article about the evolution of the Bolanverse by Don’s wife, Linda Pendleton. Sadly, Linda passed away a week before Christmas 2021. She was a terrific author in her own right and a wonderful person. I was honored to know her.)

MY LIFE IN COMICS (A MEMOIR) by Ron Fortier is Ron’s account of his experiences as a writer of comic books. I’m a big fan of Ron and his multifaceted career. In recent years, he has been a leading creator and advocate of the “New Pulp” novel genre, which features new stories about old pulp magazine characters or stories about new characters in the classic pulp mold. Fortier has written excellent examples of both that I have enjoyed, like his series of novels that resurrected the pulp character Captain Hazzard and the popular novel series about his creation, Brother Bones. I have also been impressed by the success of the publishing company Fortier created with artist Rob Davis, the Airship 27 imprint. In addition to books by Fortier and Davis, Airship 27 has published novels and story anthologies that helped launch or boost the writing careers of many up and coming writers. I was aware of Ron’s earlier career as a comic book writer and had read and enjoyed some of his best known comics, like TERMINATOR: THE BURNING EARTH, one of the first major comics illustrated by Alex Ross, and the GREEN HORNET comics he wrote. But it wasn’t until I read Fortier’s memoir, MY LIFE IN COMICS, that I realized how long and significant his comics career has been. In this book, he traces the twisty, ups-and-downs of his work for various small and large comics companies from 1981 up to recent years. He recounts his first big breaks, the highs of having some of his comics creations become top sellers and getting compliments from celebrities like Harlan Ellison and Arnold Schwarzenegger — and the lows of having projects cancelled by corporate bozos or the disappearance of the intended publisher. Perhaps even more significantly, his book is full of fascinating information and anecdotes of interest to anyone who is a fan of comic book history and anyone who is hoping to become a successful comic book writer, artist, or indie publisher.

NEMESIS: THE BOOK OF THE MOVIE, a unique new book by my buddy and collaborator on the MAQ, Bill Cunningham. It’s one of several movie-related books Bill has created. His latest is CELLULOID WARS: THE MAKING OF BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, which I’ve ordered but haven’t read yet. NEMESIS is part old style British gangster movie and part mystery/thriller. It was produced by an upstart independent company named Shogun Films. The Shogun team has other crime and action films under their belts and several in the works. I think their film NEMESIS is well-produced and ambitious. Like most indie filmmakers, they had a comparatively modest budget to work with. But the quality of the writing, acting and camerawork elevates it above most modestly-funded indie productions. Shogun Films has also done an interestingly creative and unusually effective job of promoting NEMESIS, at film festivals, in the press, and by recruiting Cunningham to create this beautifully designed “making of” book about it. If you watch and enjoy the movie first, the book will be more interesting, of course. Either way, if you’re interested in the “how to” aspects of modern indie filmmaking, you’ll find it fascinating. As always, Cunningham’s graphic design work is highly creative and the book is lushly illustrated in full color, with stills and behind the scenes photos. The commentary by the producer, director and actors provides cool insights into both the movie and independent filmmaking. I highly recommend both the book about NEMESIS and the movie.

PAPERBACKS AT WAR is one of the recent publications edited by editor, publisher and vintage paperback maven Justin Marriott. I’ve interviewed and written about Justin in previous posts on this blog, and he’s written about some of the Men’s Adventure Library books I co-edit in issues of his edgy fanzine MEN OF VIOLENCE. Justin has been called “King of the Fanzines” for the many cool “zines” he edits and publishes on an ongoing basis. In addition to MEN OF VIOLENCE, he writes for, edits and publishes the fanzines PAPERBACK FANATIC, PULP HORROR, SLEAZY READER, MONSTER MANIACS and HOT LEAD. Recently, he has also been putting out some special standalone “book reviews” books. PAPERBACKS AT WAR is the latest example and it’s a must have for any fan of war novels. It provides insightful reviews of over 170 titles, written by a baker’s dozen of knowledgeable reviewers, many of whom are authors themselves, such as Mel Odom (who wrote several of my favorite post-Don Pendleton novels in the EXECUTIONER series), John Peel (a prolific author of science fiction novels and tie-in novels for TV shows like DOCTOR WHO and STAR TREK), and Tim DeForest (author of many guides to classic TV and radio shows). The titles chosen for reviews cover a wide range of books and comics. Some are well-known, some obscure — and almost all are likely to be interesting to anyone who likes gritty war novels or comics. If you see a review of a book you know, you’ll probably learn something new about it. If you’re looking for new reading ideas, PAPERBACKS AT WAR is chock full of them. It’s also nicely illustrated with black-and-white covers scans. I highly recommended it. I also like his other books collecting reviews by various experts on vintage paperbacks, comics and other media, such as HOT LEAD MOST WANTED ALL REVIEWS SPECIAL (focusing on Western novels) and BATTLING BRITONS: REVIEWS OF BRITISH WAR COMICS FROM THE 1960S TO THE 2000S.

EVERYBODY KILLS SOMEBODY SOMETIME is the first in the RAT PACK MYSTERIES series penned by the prolific writer Robert Randisi. Simply put, I loved it. It shows why Randisi is one of the grandmasters of mystery, crime and action/adventure novels, in the same league as writers like Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake. I’m a fan of both Randisi and the real group of celebrity friends called the “Rat Pack” – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. I have fond memories of seeing them on TV and in movies as a kid in the ’50s and a teenager in the ’60s. So, for me, Randisi’s Rat Pack novels are doubly enjoyable and fun to read. He clearly did a lot of research on the Pack members and what Las Vegas was like in the ’60s. He captures their personalities and coolness perfectly. And, in EVERYBODY KILLS SOMEBODY SOMETIME, which is set during the filming of the Pack’s famed 1960 movie OCEAN’S 11, he paints a vivid picture of what Vegas was like at that time. You can jump into Randisi’s Rat Pack series at any point and not be lost. But be sure to read this first one. It’s a truly cool mystery novel featuring the “Kings of Cool,” from the mind of a top writer. I give it 5 stars and three thumbs up! I’m now about half way through the rest of the books in the series and loving them, too.

The RATTLER’S LAW series of Western novels are by another prolific action/adventure pro, James Reasoner. Reasoner has written many kinds of novels, but is especially well known for his Westerns — and rightly so. RATTLER’S LAW, VOLUME ONE, is a Kindle collection of the first eight novels in this series about lawman Lucas Flint. Flint’s nickname, “The Rattler,” reflects his legendary speed at drawing a six-gun. Reasoner has explained to readers of his popular Rough Edges” blog (of which I am one) that the Rattler ebooks are rewritten and expanded versions of his earlier Western novels. “More than director’s cut, not exactly a reboot, more like new books based on old ones,” he explained. “It’s a process I really haven’t done before now, which has made it fun.” The end results of this process are also fun to read if you’re a Western fan. The first RATTLER novel, “The Town Tamer,” is an origin story of sorts. It tells us that Flint was once the Marshall of Wichita, but resigned after his wife Mary was shot and paralyzed by a bullet meant for him. She then wasted away over a period of three years and eventually died. This traumatized Flint so much that he not only gave up being a lawman, he also gave up wearing a six-gun, and basically lost his way. In “The Town Tamer,” Flint rides into the town of Abilene and finds it being terrorized by a gang of murderous thugs. During the course of this first story, Flint gets his mojo back, starts wearing his six-gun again and, with some help from a young man named Cully Markham, he gives the bad guys a bloody education about why he’s called “The Rattler.” He becomes Abilene’s Marshall and makes Cully his Deputy. In each of the RATTLER novels, Flint and Cully get involved in solving some kind of mystery and dealing with vicious villains. If you want a whole bunch of classic Western reading for an very low price, you’ll want to add Reasoner’s RATTLER’S LAW series to your Kindle queue.

HELLBENDERS by Richard Prosch is subtitled “A Traditional Western Novel.” That subtitle is both apt and not quite true at the same time. It is indeed written in a style that’s like classic Western novels from the ’50s and ’60s. There are no unnecessary X-rated sex scenes or f-bombs. The main male character, Texas Ranger Lin Jarret, is not some overly conflicted or troubled antihero. He’s a good guy and a tough hombre. The bad guys are truly bad men who deserve and eventually get their just desserts. But Prosch smartly updates some aspects of the story so it will also appeal to readers who were born after the ‘60s. The main female character is a Texas rancher’s daughter named Reece Sinclair. She’s tough herself, handy with guns, intelligent, and committed to a cause that was generally unpopular in Texas in the mid-1800s: the abolition of slavery. Those aspects make HELLBENDERS a bit fresher than many old Western novels. Lin helps Reece fight to keep her ranch from being stolen by force, in a series of violent confrontations that end with a big, satisfying bang of a finale. I’m a fan of Prosch, both as a writer and as co-host (with writer Paul Bishop, who I’ve written about here in previous posts) of the excellent Six-Gun Justice Podcast. In that great podcast, Paul and Richard give listeners a deep dive into Western novels, movies, TV shows and history. Prosch’s novel HELLBENDERS and his other Westerns, reflect the depth of his knowledge and his skill as a writer. I enjoyed and recommend this first novel in what is now a three book series and already have the next one, SEVEN DEVILS ROAD, on my Kindle.

The RAT BASTARDS World War II novel series launched by writer Len Levinson is not new. I read paperback editions versions of several back in the 1980s. The series is now available in ebook and Audible format, so I recently decided to “re-read” RAT BASTARDS #1: HIT THE BEACH via the Audible edition. It’s even better than I remembered. In fact, it’s one of the best, most gloriously gritty war novels I know of. Len is among the great pro yarn spinners in the realm of action/adventure novels. During a career that spans more than 40 years, he has penned scores of high-octane books under his own name and over 20 pseudonyms. He has launched popular book series in several genres, including Westerns, war, and spy novels. HIT THE BEACH is the first of the 16 novels in the RAT BASTARDS series originally written under the house name John Mackie. If you’re into listening to books, check out the Audible edition, which is nicely narrated by Ray Porter. If you were awed by the Omaha Beach landing scenes in the movie SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, you’ll be awed by the opening Guadalcanal beach landing scenes in HIT THE BEACH. Levinson makes them an equally jaw-dropping, immersive experience, using words instead of film. The novel follows a platoon of mostly raw recruits over the course of a few hellish days after the landing, through a series of bloody encounters with Japanese troops and a mind-blowing Banzai charge. It’s an amazing book, with great GI characters that have a “Dirty Dozen” feel, insightful portrayals of Japanese officers and soldiers, and awesome battle scenes. I’m also glad that Levinson’s APACHE WARS SAGA series is also now out in Kindle and audiobook editions. I listened to the Audible version of the first one in that series a while ago, DESERT HAWKS. It’s excellent!

THE FLY & I: VOLUME FOUR OF THE MEMOIRS OF ARNOLD SCHNABEL is the latest novel in a series written by Dan Leo. Leo has created his own unique, highly enjoyable literary universe in his novels featuring the former railroad worker, bohemian poet and mental patient Arnold Schnabel. The adventures of Arnold span decades and multiverses, including trips (in all senses of the word) through the inner recesses of his mind, heaven, purgatory, and various dimensions. It’s almost impossible to sum up what this fourth novel in Leo’s series featuring Arnold is about. Of course, that’s also true of the previous three. What’s easier to sum up is the fact that I have thoroughly enjoyed every one, chuckled frequently while reading them, and been amazed by some of the many literary, religious references and surprisingly deep thoughts they include. I also like that Leo’s character Big Ben Blagwell makes another appearance in Volume Four. Ben is a mountain of a man, a sailor, a veteran, and a part-time smuggler. He’s like a character out of a vintage men’s adventure magazine — a genre that happens to be Ben’s favorite reading material. With Ben and several other highly unusual friends, like the talking fly mentioned in the title, THE FLY AND I sends Arnold on a whole new set of totally unpredictable escapades and escapes, illuminated with the amazingly witty dialogue Leo excels at. There’s really nothing quite like Dan Leo’s Arnold Schnabel novels. I highly recommend this one, and the three previous books in the series: RAILROAD TRAIN TO HEAVEN, THIS WORLD OR ANY OTHER WORLD, and THE BRAWNY EMBRACES.

When Wyatt Doyle and I were at PulpFest 2021 to sell our books and do a presentation about Eva Lynd, I bought a copy of BENEDICT AND BRAZOS 1: ACES WILD from my friends Rich Harvey and Audrey Parente. Rich and Audrey are head honchos of the great indie publishing company Bold Venture Press and organizers of the popular Pulp AdventureCon shows held annually in New Jersey and Florida. ACES WILD is one of many Westerns written by E. Jefferson Clay, a popular Australian pulp fiction pro. The Benedict and Brazos books were first published in the 1960s in Australia and more recently reprinted there by Piccadilly Publishing — not to be confused with “Piccadilly Cowboys” books published in the UK, which are adult Westerns. Under a licensing deal with the Aussie company, Bold Venture has published the first eight novels in the Benedict and Brazos series in paperback and Kindle format so far. Presumably, more are coming, since there are dozens in the series. Although you don’t necessarily need to read them in order, BENEDICT AND BRAZOS 1: ACES WILD, is a good starting point. It recounts the origins of a friendship between the two main characters Duke Benedict and Hank Brazos, which began when they were serving in armies on opposite sides in the American Civil War. Writer E. Jefferson Clay’s style is in the mode of traditional, pulp-flavored Westerns, leavened with a good sense of humor. It’s quick, fun, escapist reading.

Of course, I hope readers of this blog will also check out the Men’s Adventure Library books and MAQ magazine issues I co-edit.

As I write this post, shortly before Christmas 2021, there are now 14 books in the MAL book series and three issues of the MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY. Stay tuned for more of each in 2022.

By the way, my MAL books co-editor Wyatt Doyle has just released a cool new art book he created with artist/musician Jimmy Angelina, titled BE ITALIAN. It features Jimmy’s masterful portraits of actors in movie scenes that illuminate the Italian identity in motion pictures, from the early years of the silver screen through the modern era. It’s a unique and impressive creation by Wyatt and Jimmy. The deluxe 11″ x 8.5″ hardcover and 6.5″ x 6.5″ trade softcover editions are available from Amazon and other booksellers. But for movie and Italian buffs who want to splurge a little, Wyatt and Jimmy have launched an IndieGoGo page where you can get a special signed and numbered edition of the deluxe hardcover. You can also opt for a special bonus package that includes signed and numbered 8″ x 10″ prints of Jimmy’s artwork from the book suitable for framing, plus secret bonus swag, all with free shipping. It’s an offer you can’t refuse!

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