Last Update 6/21/18

The Blue Ice by Hammond Innes, Ballantine, 1948 

Another post war adventure story. This time the hero is a not entirely likeable businessman who is diverted from his yachting trip to the Mediterranean to visit Norway instead. A disreputable but talented metallurgist has reportedly died there after making a monumental discovery. There are several other interested parties who want to find the metal, or the mystery of the man’s death, and they clash repeatedly over the course of the story.  The ending is very dramatic but leaves a lot of loose ends. A very good story suffers a bit from a meandering climax. 6/21/18

Poor Fool by Erskine Caldwell, Novel, 1953 (originally published in 1930)

This early, quite short novel by Caldwell is rather relentlessly depressing. A small time boxer short on brains gets involved in a rigged series of matches. The man in charge murders his girlfriend to keep the boxer from being distracted and then stiffs him for his share of the proceeds. It looks as if the worm might turn, but then the villain hires a couple of hit men and the result is predictable though somewhat frustrating. Very well written though. 6/19/18

Side by Side by Jenni L. Walsh, Forge, 2018, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-9845-1

I'm not sure why I was sent a review copy of this - a fictionalized version of the life of Bonnie Parker - but I was curious enough that I read it, and was interested enough to finish even though it is written in present tense, which I despise. Clyde Barrow has been sent to prison and Bonnie is somewhat adrift without him. It's apparently the second in a series - the book ends well before they are killed. I was most interested in the depiction of Depression era life, and some of the minor characters as well. I'm afraid I never developed much empathy for Bonnie, who was after all a callous multiple murderer. 6/13/18

Malay Collins by Murray Leinster, Black Dog, 2000 (originally published in 1930) 

Three related short stories from 1930 involving a master thief operating in Asia. In each of the three he is able to steal a highly protected jewel from a temple, despite traps, spies, and other dangers. Although they are marred by some casual racism, all three are fairly good adventure tales with lots of local color and some cleverly designed details. 6/12/18

Mexican Trail by Will F. Jenkins, Burt, 1933

A man framed for a murder he didn’t commit takes on the identity of another murdered man. Acting in the latter’s stead, he gets involved with the mounting violence between two ranches, eventually proving that it is being instigated by a third party, a gang of outlaws led by a Mexcian known as the Boss. The various imposters involved complicate matters significantly. This is a fair western despite some low level racism, but late in the book there are a couple of scenes that fail to ring true. Jenkins is better known as Murray Leinster. 6/11/18

The Trail of Blood by Murray Leinster, Black Dog, 2017 

The opening novella in this collection, “Juju,” is an excellent adventure in which five people are besieged by angry natives and a rampaging gorilla. “The Seventh Bullet” is a very clever tale about an assassin with a surprising twist at the end. “Sharks” is a very good story about murder and intrigue among three schooners fishing for oysters and pearls. “The Red Stone” describes the consequences when a policeman and his prisoner are stranded on a remote island after their ship sinks. The title story is another winner. A small group of men harass a small army in the jungle. There are several stories about unscrupulous men double crossing each other. A few of the stories are quite minor but even those are well written. If the adventure pulps hadn’t died, Leinster might well have enjoyed a major career other than in SF. This collection is well worth your time and money. 6/9/18

Fire in the Snow by Hammond Innes, Avon, 1970 (originally published in 1947)

Also known as The Lonely Skier. An out of work writer agrees to travel to a ski resort to keep an eye on some supposedly odd behavior. He soon discovers that he is caught up in the search for some stolen Nazi gold. An attempt is made to abandon him in the wilderness, a beautiful contessa has a sinister past, a mysterious buyer surprises everyone at an auction, and secret agents for various sources all come together for a deadly finale. The plot is a bit too contrived to be entirely plausible but the story is otherwise exciting and well told. 6/6/18

Outlaw Sheriff by Will F. Jenkins, Burt, 1934 

This is a less than scintillating western by the author better known as Murray Leinster. The protagonist claims falsely to be a rustler to clear his brother’s name, then gets recruited by a crooked sheriff to help one side in a range war in a nearby community. He eventually becomes acting sheriff himself, plays a complicated double game, falls in love with the niece of the chief bad guy, and survives a couple of attempts to murder him. There are some minor but irritating plot problems sprinkled through this one. Also known as Rustlin' Sheriff. Jenkins is better known as Murray Leinster. 6/3/18

The Killer Mine by Hammond Innes, Ballantine, 1947

The protagonist, Jim Pryce, is a classic antihero. He deserted from the British Army in Italy during the war and has now been smuggled into Cornwall where he expects to support himself illegally. He finds himself being coerced to help a smuggler create a secret entrance from the sea to the interior of a mine. But things grow more complicated. There is a rich vein of ore in the mine, a crazy man determined to develop it, a secret from Pryce’s own past which has to be uncovered, and a young woman who changes his attitude toward life. Excellent story and the sequence where he is lost in the mine is superb. 6/1/18

Dead and Alive by Hammond Innes, Fontana, 1965  (originally published in 1946) 

Two men buy a beached landing craft at the end of World War II, planning to use it to trade goods with Mediterranean ports. The first third deals with their efforts to salvage and refit the vessel. A widow writes and asks that they make inquiries about her daughter, who disappeared during the war. That leads them to a daring rescue attempt, after which their ship is stolen and must be recovered after a somewhat rushed and very violent ending. One of the author's lesser books but still worthwhile. 5/30/18

Fighting Horse Valley by Will F. Jenkins, Alfred King, 1934  

This is very much a traditional western though it is set in the 1930s. Chet Holliday returns to his home town where he has bought an abandoned gold mine he plans to reopen. He is immediately faced with hostility from the richest landowner, the sheriff, and a lawyer who seems to run the small town. Someone does not want the mine reopened, and the disappearance of two people the day the mine closed suggests pretty strongly that their bodies are inside. There is murder and attempted murder as the plot rushes headlong to its inevitable ending. Not bad at all. Jenkins is better known for his SF as Murray Leinster. 5/25/18

Attack Alarm by Hammond Innes, Fontana, 1969 (originally published in 1941)

Action at an anti-aircraft defense station on the British coast during World War II. A group of fifth columnists are planning to sabotage the defenses to allow German troops to land and take control of the coast bases, the beginning of a major invasion of the islands. A journalist serving on a gun crew figures out that something is wrong and, after no one believe him initially, eventually proves that the conspiracy is real and helps to defeat the plan. Somewhat overly reliant on coincidences but certainly exciting. 5/24/18

Her Desert Lover by Louisa Carter Lee, Chelsea House, 1925  

Will F.Jenkins, aka Murray Leinster, also wrote romance fiction early in his career under this pseudonym. Although there is a love affair in the book, it is basically a very simple murder mystery. The protagonist shelters a girl with amnesia, then finds another woman lying dead nearby. The live girl eventually regains her memory and complains that her father is trying to force her to marry someone she despises. The dead woman turns out to be the protagonist’s estranged aunt. Eventually the female lead is accused of having committed the murder, but it is painfully obvious that her intended husband is the killer. Some minor alarms and excursions follow before everything is straightened out. Not badly written but completely forgettable. The title is meaningless. The hero had just returned from a trip to Egypt, but there is no further reference to a desert. 5/21/18

Trapped by Hammond Innes, Ballantine, 1940  

British title was Wreckers Must Breathe. A journalist is vacationing in Cornwall just as World War II begins and he and a local fisherman are taken prisoner when they investigate a possible spy. They are transferred by submarine to a secret German naval base inside an enormous cave where they have a series of low key adventures. Eventually they organize a handful of other prisoners and rebel against the Germans, disabling the base and trapping a number of submarines. The scenes in the mine that connects to the cave are rather eerie and the last few chapters are particularly exciting. Innes is very fair in his treatment of the German characters, many of whom he describes in complimentary terms.5/18/18

The Trojan Horse by Hammond Innes, Fontana, 1962 (originally published in 1940) 

This is the earliest Hammond Innes adventure story readily available. It was published early during World War II so it’s not surprising that the villains are Nazi agents. A lawyer is approached by a man who has been framed for murder. He is actually a brilliant inventor whose new engine design might tip the balance in the air war. He disappears and is presumed dead and a secret coded message leads our hero to track down the man’s daughter and the prototype engine, while being pursued by a variety of thugs. This leads to the discovery of fifth columnists including a prominent industrialist who is actively working for the Nazis. There is an excellent chase sequence through the sewers under London and a nearly as good climax aboard a munitions ship. There is some mild wartime propaganda - the chief Nazi in the story is a caricature - but it's an exciting and well constructed adventure by a writer who would get even better with the passage of time. 5/7/18

 

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