Monday, March 31, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Bronson - Street Vigilante: Switchblade

My original assessment of the three BRONSON books was off somewhat. While they are written by three different authors, the third book in the series does not start a new character or storyline - it follows the Richard Bronson of STREETS OF BLOOD. This leads me to wonder if the "reboot" of the second book is a reaction to BLIND RAGE and it's less than sympathetic protagonist, and that this was, in fact, originally intended as a long-running series that simply never got off the ground.

In SWITCHBLADE, the story starts off with Bronson and Jenkins hot on the trail of the Unholy Three, a team of punks that have been performing rapes and stabbings and robberies over the last few months. Jenkins is the detective from STREETS OF BLOOD who agreed to help out Bronson as long as he stuck to just killing violent criminals, and as we saw at the end of the second book, Jenkins has gone from passive observer to someone actively helping Bronson.

Bronson tracks the three punks to a shoe store, and arrives just a little too late. One of the punks is in the process of raping the woman who owns the store, and her husband, a paraplegic Vietnam vet in a wheelchair, has been brutally beaten and threatened. This time around, Bronson comes armed not with a shotgun or his Browning, but with a custom-made switchblade, and he kills two of the punks with it in just a few seconds, then runs down and strangles the last punk, a spoiled rich kid named Herbert Vincent Mardin III. "Herbie" is a rich little turd who gets off on power and violence, and he's recruited a couple other youths, one black, one Hispanic, to commit crimes. In stereotypically racist fashion, the black kid is described as only wanting to rape white women, and the Hispanic is only looking to get cash so he can buy pot and get high. Herbie, of course, is in it for the violence.

So, Bronson bumps off Herbie and friends, then goes home only to discover that Nora, his dead wife's sister, is in town and came by for a visit. Nora bears an uncanny resemblance to Bronson's dead wife, and she is clearly looking to sleep with Bronson, who initially protests before giving in, rationalizing it because his usual lay, the model next door, is out of the country on a photo shoot for a month. Nora is savvy enough to not "fall" for Bronson, but the two do fill emotional holes in each other's lives. Bronson finds Nora similar enough to his dead wife to enjoy her company, and Nora finds Bronson interesting and sexy, estranged as she is from her husband, from whom she is seeking a divorce.

Meanwhile, Herbert Vincent Mardin II, Herbie's father, is in a complete state of denial over the circumstances surrounding his son's death. Rather than accepting that Herbie was a violent psychopath, he considers him an "unfortunate victim of today's society" or some other nonsense. He begins digging to find the vigilante who killed Herbie, and when the police (who are tacitly helping Bronson) don't offer much help, Mardin calls in a few favors (He's a top-level executive in an International Bank) from the CIA, who put him in touch with Matthews, a former CIA operative who's been in the world of cloak-and-dagger operations since the days of the OSS. Matthews shows up with a team of other ex-Agency men, and they agree to track down the vigilante killer for a price.

I don't want to go any further into the plot of this book, but I will say the turns the story took were pretty interesting. Bronson finds himself pitted against not only a rogue cop, but these former CIA agents, as well as a trained assassin. There's a lot of move and counter-move as each side tries to get the best of the other, and overall it's a pretty enjoyable read. There's not quite as much over-the-top violence as in the previous two books, but I think the story works well without it, and there's still a good body count for the action junkie readers. There's also quite a bit of sex, as we follow Bronson, Mardin, and even Detective Harper, the rogue cop, into the bedroom with their respective mates.

One plot thread I did find unnecessary involved a diplomat from some "South American Banana Republic" who is portrayed as a violent, woman-beating, murderous lunatic. A number of comments are made regarding how the diplomat is little better than a "primitive savage who doesn't belong in the civilized world" or some such, giving a really racist slant to a story that didn't need to be in the book to begin with. Bronson and Nora run into this creep at the opera, where the diplomat's bodyguards are physically abusing anyone who gets in his way, and Bronson winds up decking one when the bodyguard shoves Nora. This gets blown up in the media to be an "attempted assault" on the diplomat, although no one knows the identity of the assailant. We later learn the diplomat beats up and abandons a girl along the side of the road after an attempted rape, and later kills and wounds a number of people in a drunk driving incident. Of course, due to "diplomatic immunity" (one of the most oft-abused plot devices ever, in my opinion) no one can do anything to the guy. No one, of course, except a Vigilante. Hmmm...

Overall, SWITCHBLADE was pretty good. I don't know if I enjoyed it as much as the second book, but it was certainly enjoyable. I think the author, whoever he was, tried emulating a lot of Len Levinson's style from book 2, but doesn't quite pull it off. Still, it is something of a shame that, after two books of creating a cast of characters, the series ended.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Dirty Harry #1 - Duel for Cannons

The first three Dirty Harry movies came out between 1971 and 1976. Then, there was a hiatus of seven years, until 1983's Sudden Impact. With the franchise dead going into the '80s, Warner Books decided to begin a series of media tie-in novels (although I doubt they were called that at the time) featuring the eponymous maverick cop and his Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. The series ran from 1981 to March of 1983, nine months before Sudden Impact was released. The series was written by two authors; Ric Meyers (who wrote the Ninja Master books) and Leslie Alan Horvitz, a writer I'm unfamiliar with. Meyers apparently wrote #'s 1, 3, 5, 8, 9, and 11.

The first book in the series, Duel for Cannons, opens with the line, "Boopsie's head exploded". The unfortunate Boopsie is a guy in a cartoon-figure suit at a knockoff Disney World-esque theme park in California. Boopsie is killed by a gunman who then gets chased by an off-duty San Antonio sheriff visiting the amusement park with his family. The sheriff gets drawn into a running gun battle with the shooter, and is eventually killed. Of course, the deceased is an old friend of Harry Callahan's, and Callahan doesn't take kindly to his friends being killed, even less so when the killer makes it look like the death was actually the sheriff pulling off a mass murder/suicide.

Although everyone else almost immediately dismisses the inconsistencies in the case, Harry pursues the evidence, and eventually uncovers a shadowy killer who seems to be trying to draw Harry to San Antonio. Eventually Harry goes there, and discovers that H. A. Striker, a wealthy business magnate, essentially runs the city, owns the cops, and gets to do whatever he wants. Striker had been opposed by the Sheriff, and one of his underlings, a tactically brilliant investigator named Nash. Harry teams up with Nash to try and bring down Striker, who is actually furious that the assassin - a .44 Magnum-loving killer named Sweetboy Williams -  lured Harry to San Antonio. Striker tries to get Harry arrested or driven off several times, only to get foiled on every occasion.

The story culminates with a ton of gunplay, as Striker tries to use a captured Nash as bait to lure Harry into a place where his bought cops - or Williams - can kill Harry. There's a ridiculous amount of gunfire and stuff getting smashed / shot / blown up, and although the killing isn't too gratuitous, at least one bad guy gets his head "blown clean off". I don't want to give away the details - there are a few twists and turns - but the ending is pretty satisfying, although the middle third of the book does sag a bit, and I found the whole plot a little hard to believe. With the police corruption looking SO blatant and rampant in San Antonio, and with the amount of evidence Nash gathers on Striker's doings, I don't see how he couldn't have just passed the information on to the FBI or some other, larger agency.

But overall, I found Duel for Cannons to be great fun. I've recently re-watched the first three Dirty Harry movies, and this book definitely references his filmic adventures extensively. One minor deviation is that DiGiorgio, an inspector who appears in all three earlier movies, is alive in this book, while (SPOILER) he's killed midway through The Enforcer. I suppose he was too good a secondary character to leave dead and buried, since his chubby, laid-back persona is a great counterpoint to Harry's belligerent, wound-up personality. There's also enough time spent in San Francisco dealing with punks and criminals there, that I'm looking forward to later stories taking place in the city itself. Meyers is able to capture and reproduce a lot of Harry's personality, and I can easily hear Eastwood speaking the dialogue in the book with Harry's typical laconic delivery.

It looks like Amazon has most, if not all of these books available for a somewhat reasonable price used, assuming you're not looking for mint condition specimens. I've already ordered the second book in the series, and I'll review it as soon as I can.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Len Levinson Comments on BRONSON - STREETS OF BLOOD

After reading my review of his entry in the BRONSON series, author Len Levinson was kind enough to write me regarding his experiences writing the novel. I asked if he minded writing me a few comments I could use as a blog post, and he was happy to share the experience with my readers. So, without further ado...

Len Levinson on STREETS OF BLOOD

STREETS OF BLOOD came about through the following chain of events.  One day I received a phone call from an editor at Manor.  He asked me to come to his office and discuss a project.  I knew him when he was an editor at Belmont-Tower, don’t remember his name now.
When I arrived in his office, he explained they were developing a series based on the popular movie DEATH WISH starring Charles Bronson, and wanted me to write one of the novels.  Naturally I said yes due to my constant need for money.  So a contract was drawn up and I signed it.
The DEATH WISH movie was very controversial at the time.  I’d never seen it but had read about it in many publications.  The story was of a self-appointed vigilante killing criminals in New York City.  Many people thought that vigilantism was horrible.  Others thought it was a great idea, because NYC was a high crime city back then, and the NYPD seemed ineffective.
I really got into the novel because I’d been a crime victim numerous times, mugged in front of a bar in the East 60s, mugged on the subway, held up at knife point in the East Village, and a few of my apartments had been burglarized.  It was a great pleasure to kill criminals in my imagination, like I was getting even at last.  Regarding the plot, mine was entirely original except for the basic vigilante premise.
I’m very grateful for Jack’s insightful review.  I especially appreciated his comments on sex in novels.  Some writers go the straight porno route with lots of anatomical details.  Others try to rip-off PLAYBOY or James Bond.  I tried to be true to life.  I’m glad Jack thought I was successful.

Friday, March 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Bronson - Street Vigilante: Streets of Blood

As can be read in my review of the first BRONSON book, BLIND RAGE, I was somewhat disappointed with the first of this weird, unconnected, three-book series. I found BLIND RAGE to possess a main character who was not only unsympathetic, but downright loathsome, and there were tones of strong racism and homophobia that went beyond mere character PoV.

However, I knew that Len Levinson - a veteran writer of more than 80 books under countless pen names - wrote STREETS OF BLOOD, and so I gave this second volume a try. None of the three BRONSON books are related in any way beyond the premise that a guy named Bronson becomes a vigilante after his family is killed by criminal scum. In SoB, Bronson is a high-powered businessman living in a penthouse apartment in Manhattan, after moving his business to New York several years ago, when his wife and children were killed by muggers.

Unlike the Bronson of the first book, this Bronson is a war hero, a former Captain in the Green Berets who'd served with distinction in Vietnam. He's smart and capable and ruthless to his enemies, but he also fights to protect and defend the other innocents out there. While the first Bronson really didn't care about anyone else, and was fine with collateral damage, SoB's Bronson hunts criminals not for revenge, but to clean the scum from the streets so they can't harm anyone else. This change in characterization goes a long way towards making him a more sympathetic character while still maintaining a badass attitude.

Also unlike the first book in the series, the point of view shifts between Bronson, Jenkins - the detective who first suspects Bronson of being a vigilante - and several other minor characters, such as Rinaldi, a crooked cop, as well as various victims and criminals. Some readers dislike this kind of PoV switching, and I think it can be handled badly at times, but here it works pretty well, and I think it is a trademark of many Levinson novels. It works best, in my mind, to build the rich atmosphere of the seedy 1970s New York City that the story is set in, a place Levinson knows very well. You can smell the exhaust, taste the cheap liquor and greasy food, and feel the gritty pavement underneath your feet. It goes a long way towards immersing the reader in the story.

As for the plot, it is pretty straightforward. Bronson kills four rapists in Central Park with a sawn-off shotgun, then eacapes, but is stopped by Jenkins. He's questioned, but since Bronson looks like a well-to-do businessman, Jenkins lets him go, figuring this guy couldn't possibly be a vigilante killer. But when the victim of the rape describes her savior as someone who matches Bronson's description, and later changes her story after Bronson visits her in the hospital and asks her to help conceal his identity, Jenkins becomes suspicious. As Bronson continues to kill and Jenkins closes in, he has a change of heart - Bronson is skillful and disciplined, and he doesn't harm innocents. Jenkins makes the decision to just let Bronson do his thing, as long as no one gets hurt who doesn't deserve it. While this does sound ludicrous, consider that the original DEATH WISH has a similar outcome - both the book and the movie - where the cops tacitly agree to look the other way, to one degree or another.

However, things go sour when one of the hoodlums Bronson kills is the nephew of Scarlotti, a mob boss with a lot of weight. Scarlotti's sister demands justice, so he begins to hunt down the vigilante, and eventually learns of Bronson's identity. There are some attacks and counter-attacks, and as things come to a head, Jenkins actually teams up with Bronson to take out Scarlotti, after the mob boss has a cop killed. This was a pretty cool, unforeseen turn of events, since before, Jenkins came off as something of a jerk. But when he goes "rogue", he develops a lot more of a backbone.

I also can't review this book without talking about the sexual content that pervades the novel. Levinson is great at maintaining a semi-sleazy vibe throughout the book, but it is never gratuitous or offensive. Characters have sexual drives, and sometimes those drives influence their behaviors. Bronson gets seduced by his next-door neighbor, a young woman who is a professional model. Bronson is reluctant at first, having remained faithful to the memory of his dead wife for years, but he finally comes to the conclusion that she wouldn't want him living alone and lonely for the rest of his life. Jenkins also has a brief extra-marital affair with a woman who tends bar at one of Scarlotti's joints, and we learn a little about the mob boss' own sexual appetites. Levinson's characters live in a world where both the bad guys and the good guys check out women, and occasionally get checked out themselves, and that's okay. I find it adds a layer of reality that's often missing in Men's Adventure novels, where the characters are either bizarrely chaste or outrageously promiscuous.

In conclusion, this was a fun read, and a welcome change of pace from the first BRONSON title. The third and final book, SWITCHBLADE, is on its way to me as I type this, and I'll be sure to review it as soon as possible.

Monday, March 10, 2014


I just wanted to take a moment and update readers on one of my current projects. I'm working on a new novel, tentatively titled HANGMAN: SAN FRANCISCO SLAUGHTER. Those of you who've read KILLER INSTINCTS might get the reference, but for those of you who missed it, "Hangman" was Jamie Lynch's call-sign while a member of SOG during the Vietnam war. Jamie is the uncle of William Lynch, the protagonist in KILLER INSTINCTS. Jamie is also the older son of Thomas Lynch, the main character in my COMMANDO series.

This (first) HANGMAN novel is being written for two reasons. First, to bridge the generation gap between Thomas and William Lynch. When I originally began writing KILLER INSTINCTS, my intent was to go back through the generations and write about each of the Lynch men who went to war, what I'd called at the time the Lynch Legacy. The first COMMANDO novel was the first completed volume in this idea, but I'd actually written the first thousand words of HANGMAN while writing KILLER INSTINCTS. Only now, over two years later, am I finally going back and writing the rest of the story.

The second reason for writing this book is to try and write a kick-ass '70s-style Men's Adventure novel. In 1973, Jamie Lynch has been out of the Army for a little less than a year, and he's going stir-crazy living the life of a beach bum in San Diego. After getting in touch with his old commanding officer, Jamie is given a job working for Steiger, a Silicon Valley CEO. One of Steiger's top engineers has gone missing after stealing a prototype for an ordnance guidance system, and Steiger fears the prototype will fall into the hands of one of his competitors. Lynch teams up with Blake, Steiger's chief of security, as well as an enigmatic mercenary gunslinger named Richard...

SAN FRANCISCO SLAUGHTER is going to be violent. It's going to be crass. It's going to get ugly. People are going to get killed in not-very-nice ways. There's a lot of drinking and swearing and even a little sex. There's cars and guns and arson and torture. The good guys aren't so great, but the bad guys are even worse.

I'll probably have the first draft of the manuscript finished by the first week of April. I'll be looking for some beta readers, so if you're interested, shoot me an email and I'll put you on the list. My target date for publication is June 1st.