Monday, 10 June 2019

Old School Horrors 7: Dark Summer, by Mark Upton

The seventh, in an occasional thread, of blog posts celebrating those cheesy, sleazy old-school pulp paperbacks from the 70s and 80s, which are now mostly forgotten.  Yes, we’re not talking great art here but these books have their place - for better or worse - in the genre and I think they deserve to be remembered.

This time around, I'm looking at a novel that appears to switch genres halfway through...
cover scan of my copy - published in 1980 by Corgi
The Fiery Novel Of Infernal Carnal Trysts!

It was a summer just like any other in ritzy Penlow Park.  Until the beautiful Diane Cheney arrived - the mysterious raven-haired widow who radiated sexuality...  She spread her dark sexual spell on them all - and on their marriages.

On Paul Fayette, the contented, suburban banker and on his happy tomboy wife Laura.  On the philandering Clint Stahl and his discontented, wanton wife Margaret.  Mrs Cheney played all things to all lovers.  Victim to the master.  Aunt to the small boy.  Taskmaster to the wanton.  Romantic love to the girl-child.  And she corrupted goodness wherever she found it.  Her time at Pentlow Park became the DARK SUMMER that changed their lives forever...

Life in Penlow Park, a luxury enclave in upstate New York, is enjoying the late 70s with a mixture of money, sex and good living.  Paul and Laura Fayette are middle-aged, empty-nesters - he works in a bank in Manhattan, she is a housewife - who love each other dearly, share everything and enjoy the physicality of their relationship.  Their friends, Clint and Margaret Stahl, are not quite so lucky however - he works for Paul and chases anything in a skirt, not bothering to hide it from his wife who is seemingly resigned to this life.  Into this - and the Penlow Park Country Club - come widowed Diane Cheney and her father, Colonel Benjamin Coulter.  The widow Cheney turns everyone’s heads and, with Coulter’s seemingly unlimited funds and penchant for magic tricks, they soon have the town under their spell.  As one of the blurbs reads, “[widow Cheney] materialises again and again, further enticing and ensaring Paul, Laura, Clint and Margaret, setting them forever outside the bounds of society as they once knew it. Dark Summer is a novel of ordinary, comfortable life going suddenly, fatally askew...”  And I wouldn’t argue with that.

A book of two halves, the first is a fairly intimate portrayal of long-term marriage and a couple still in love (though the description of Laura is brutally honest, even if it does embrace her age) that works well - Paul worries about work, they both worry about their children (away at college) and their place in the world and I liked it a lot.  Clint and Margaret are the opposite to this, narked and narky with each other, their relationship doomed from the moment we meet them.  The introduction of Widow Cheney and the Colonel shifts the book into something else altogether, pushing the book into thriller and then supernatural territory in ways that are sometimes laboured, sometimes wonderfully subtle.  Sex oozes through the pages, between the couples and their outside conquests, through fantasies and fears that aren’t expressed to loving partners but still acted out by others and Upton seems to relish this though it’s not explicit - there are lots of mentions of moistness and thatches, but nothing graphic.  The pacing in the first half is good, as is the writing - a lot of short, clipped sentences (Lawrence Sanders - Upton was his pseudonym - is famous for writing crime novels) including a whole paragraph opening Chapter Two with no full stops - but it seems to lose its way in the centre (as if it’s struggling with the switch from reality to supernatural).  It picks up again, especially after three people are vividly killed in a house fire and rattles towards the ending, which is abrupt and unexpected and ever-so-slightly odd.  The main characters work, even if their thinking processes feel a bit alien to a modern reader and the elusiveness of Cheney and the Colonel (we never really find out who or what they are) is well done.

I enjoyed this, it’s not great art and doesn’t pretend to be, but it’s competently put together and entertaining and if you like sleazy late 70s thrillers, you’ll probably enjoy this.

* * *
author photo from a hardcover dust jacket
Lawrence Sanders was born in Brooklyn, New York City, on 15th March 1920 and after attending Wabash College he served in the United States Marine Corps from 1943 to 1946.  He was a journalist for over twenty years and also contributed a series of short stories, featuring an insurance investigator called Wolf Lannihan, to Swank magazine.

His first novel, The Anderson Tapes, was published in 1970 and made into a film the following year, starring Sean Connery.  The book won the Edgar Award, from the Mystery Writers Of America, for Best First Novel.  A minor character from the novel, Edward X. Delaney, appeared in another four novels and the next one published, The First Deadly Sin (1973), was made into a film in 1980 with Frank Sinatra playing the character.

According to the Thrilling Detective website, he was once a “newsstand rack superstar” with his “frothy, padded paperbacks of technology, sex and the peccadilloes of the rich and famous” and “the sex was sleazy and frequent, more kink than think”.  He went on to write at least 36 more novels in the crime and mystery field, publishing from 1970 to 1998.  His Archy McNally series was continued by Vincent Lardo.

He died in Florida on 7th February 1998.


The Edward X. Delaney series
The Anderson Tapes (1970)
The First Deadly Sin (1973)
The Second Deadly Sin (1977)
The Third Deadly Sin (1981)
The Fourth Deadly Sin (1985)

The Peter Tangent series
The Tangent Objective (1976)
The Tangent Factor (1976)

The Commandment series
The Sixth Commandment (1978)
The Tenth Commandment (1980)
The Eighth Commandment (1986)
The Seventh Commandment (1991)

The Timothy Cone series (short stories)
The Timothy Files (1987)
Timothy's Game (1988)

The Archy McNally series
McNally's Secret (1991)
McNally's Luck (1992)
McNally's Risk (1993)
McNally's Caper (1994)
McNally's Trial (1995)
McNally's Puzzle (1996)
McNally's Gamble (1997)

Stand-alone titles
The Pleasures of Helen (1971)
Love Songs (1972)
The Tomorrow File (1975)
The Marlow Chronicles (1977)
Caper (1980) (written as Lesley Andress)
Dark Summer (1980) (written as Mark Upton)
The Case of Lucy Bending (1982)
The Seduction of Peter S (1983)
The Passion of Molly T (1984)
The Loves of Harry Dancer (1985)
Tales of the Wolf (1986) - a collection of 13 stories originally published in Swank magazine from 1968-69
The Dream Lover (1986)
Capital Crimes (1989)
Stolen Blessings (1990)
Sullivan's Sting (1990)
Private Pleasures (1993)
Guilty Pleasures (1998)

For a few years now, I've been collecting old 70s and 80s paperbacks (mostly horror), picking them up cheaply in secondhand bookshops and at car boot sales and slowly building a collection.  My friend (and fellow collector) Johnny Mains once told me that charity shops sometimes pulp old books like this because the market for them is so small - I understand why but I think it's terrible.  We might not be talking great art here but on the whole, I think these books deserve to be remembered.

To that end, on an irregular basis (too much cheese isn't good for anyone's diet), I'm going to review these "old-school" horrors (and perhaps include some bonus material, if I can find it).

Monday, 3 June 2019

Nostalgic For My Childhood - More Comic & Magazine ads

Following on from the last blog (which you can read here), I thought now would be a good time to look at more of those ads we found in the comics and magazines of our youth, for toys and sweets, books, games and badges.

As before, there's a certain charm to the imagery - most of which is hand-drawn - and a sense of innocence too, a time of postal orders and things costing pennies, along with - it has to be said - an odd way of selling shoes...

Here, then, are a few more ads of our childhood, I hope they spark some memories for you...
Terry Scott, dressed as an over-sized schoolboy, selling a chocolate bar that cost 3p in the 70s!  I still have one of these Flip'N Fly things, there's a little tab you put in a notch on the side of the disk and use to flick it.  I don't think me or Tracy ever got it into a glass, I think we often ended up shooting each other instead.
Years later, while sorting through my old car toybox, which Mum & Dad kept and gave to me when Dude was born, I found some of these.  They still stood up.
Yo-Yo's were a big deal for a while, when I was a kid (as they were a few years back for Dude) and Trebor were obviously keen to ride the trend.  But even better than a dragon playing with a Yo-Yo, check out the 10p coin to cover postage and packing!  I don't think you can buy a lot of those sweets listed these days (chewy cigarettes are now candy sticks), more's the pity...
As evidenced by my Star Wars At 40 thread, I was a big fan of the film back then and can imagine the stress I caused my parents on seeing this ad...
1p per piece of gum - ah, the days when a 10 penny mix-bag meant you could get up to 20 items in it (if you were smart and went for the half-penny chews)...  I tried to explain the concept of half-penny chews to Dude a little while back but gave up...
My parents bought me this Star Wars annual (which I still have) before we went on holiday (my sister & I were always bought a magazine to read on the way, usually the Summer Special of whatever comic we liked at the time).  I loved it.
The Barratt ad in the last blog was a competition to win a trip in a hot air balloon.  This time, we have the opportunity to get a lot of Tom & Jerry badges.
A bright spark at the ad agency realised Menzies could latch onto the then huge Star Wars market without actually including any Star Wars merchandise in the advert!  To this day, I have never played Othello.
Before Ceefax, Teletext or the Internet, there was the phone (and Buzby).  Reading this, it feels like another age altogether, doesn't it?  If there's ever another post in this sub-thread, I'll find an ad for Dial-A-Disc!
10-year-old me opens his magazine, looks at this and says "Here, take my pocket money..."
Proof, if it were needed, that even the most mundane of items (Jif dessert toppings!) can win by associating with current trends (space and sci-fi in this case - Star Wars was still burning up the box office, Moonraker had just opened and The Empire Strikes Back was waiting in the wings).  I'm not entirely sure how this would have worked but for £1 (yay, it's a postal order!) it can't be too much of a computer...
"Do you need to get petrol Dad?"
"We're going on holiday son, I imagine we'll need to get some at some point."
"Good.  There's a new Smurf out..."
This was a big deal at the time and I remember sending off for a pack and putting this poster on my bedroom wall (I like the Superman films).
I was thirteen and already a fan of Brian Bolland (from his work on Judge Dredd) and horror films and Forbidden Planet was a shop I was desperate to go to.  I didn't realise that ambition for a few more years though (and then, 30 years later, I'd be signing a book there - see my post here)

Whilst it might seem odd now, somebody in 1982 decided it would be a good idea to have Weetabix advertised by a gang of bovver boys (and a bovver girl) wearing white t-shirts, drainpipe jeans and braces.  Comprised of five members - Dunk was the leader, Brains was the smart one who wore glasses, Crunch was the beefy one, Bixie the girl and Brian, who just said "OK!" in the TV ads - the group was very successful, raging against “titchy breakfasts”, “airy-fairy cereals” and “breakfasts fit for sparrows”. The ad campaign ran through until 1989 and was so popular Weetabix even started a club for them.

Me and my friends were 16 and for those of us not staying on for Sixth Form, work and college beckoned and the adult-making step of having to open a bank account.  Midland (now known as HSBC) tried their hardest to tempt us with this little lot, though most of us would never have use for a maths set ever again.

If you're interested, more of my Nostalgic For My Childhood posts can be found here

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Pet Sematary, by Stephen King

As I've written about before, Stephen King got me properly into horror (with Salem's Lot) and I used his Danse Macabre to immerse myself in the genre.  Last year, after picking up a hardcover edition of Pet Sematary on the Crusty Exterior Leicester gathering, I decided to re-read the novel, having put it off for years (certainly since we had Dude).  I thoroughly enjoyed it (though it is genuinely frightening, especially the parental worries it brings) and I've decided to go back through his back catalogue, re-reading as a middle-aged horror fan what the teen version of me loved back in the 80s.  But first, Pet Sematary...
New English Library paperback, reprinted December 1985
cover scan of my copy
Dr Louis Creed has moved his family - wife Rachel, children Ellie & Gage and cat Church - from Chicago to Ludlow, Maine where he is taking over the running of the University of Maine infirmary.  Things start well - he has great neighbours, in 80-something Jud Crandall and his wife Norma, the house is lovely, the kids are growing - but then turn a bit darker.  First, Victor Pascow, a university student, is run over and mortally injured, dying in Louis’ reception while Jud shows the family a Pet Sematary which happens to be on their land and which Rachel is disturbed by.  When Church is killed by a lorry on the busy road, Louis makes a mistake in an effort to hide the dread news from Ellie.  Jud has told him about a place beyond the Sematary, an old Micmac burial ground that might have special powers and Louis asks Jud to take him there.

I first read this novel decades ago, as a teen who loved Stephen King and all things horror and, crucially, didn’t have children.  I loved it back then, though I could see it was dark and enjoyed the film too but have resisted a re-read, especially since we had Dude.  But now seemed a good time (the novel turned 35 last year, a new film version was released this year) and I’m so glad I did.

It’s difficult to state just how dark the book is.  It’s bloody frightening in places (that ending!) and it hits a parent hard where it hurts (the exhumation scene is almost unbearable) but it’s also beautifully structured (lovingly setting up the family, the house, the location, with the novel starting months before the bad stuff) and overall a fantastic read.  The characters are all vividly brought to life, the locations are well realised and everything is wonderfully realistic, even how rational characters embrace the supernatural.  Not for the faint of heart - King himself said in interview the novel scared him - but it completely justifies your attention and if you’re a horror fan I can’t recommend it highly enough.  Superb stuff.

New English Library paperback, rear cover, reprinted December 1985
cover scan of my copy
On his website, King writes that in early 1979 he was writer-in-residence at the University of Maine at Orono and rented a house in nearby Orrington.  Built on a major truck route that often claimed the lives of pets, “local children had created an informal pet cemetery”.  When his daughter's cat Smucky was run over, King buried the cat there and had to explain to his daughter what had happened.  Afterwards, he wondered “what would happen if the cat were to return the next day, alive but fundamentally different”.  This led to him wondering what might happen if a child were killed, brought on by an experience with his youngest son Owen.  He told the Paris Review “Owen [went] charging for the road. He was this little guy, probably two years old. I’m yelling, Don’t do that! And of course he runs faster and laughs, because that’s what they do at that age. I ran after him and gave him a flying tackle and pulled him down on the shoulder of the road, and a truck just thundered by him”

“Everything,” he told the Paris Review, “in it - up to the point where the little boy is killed in the road - everything is true.”  He researched modern burial practises and told himself he had to “go a little bit further”, before realising it was so “gruesome by the end of it” he didn’t even give a draft to his wife Tabitha to read.  “When I finished I put it in the desk and just left it there. I worked on Christine, which I liked a lot better, and which was published before Pet Sematary.”

The novel became known as the book King thought too scary to publish (he refused to do interviews or publicity in support of it).  According to Grady Hendrix however, this a lot of this refusal was down to it being “his final flipped bird to Doubleday”.  When he signed to them, his contract enrolled him into an author investment plan which protected him from taxes by only paying out $50k a year.  A victim of his own success, within ten years the fund had amassed $3m, which would take Doubleday 60 or more years to pay off.  He asked for his funds to be released (since he’d already moved publisher by then) and they refused, wanting at least one more book from him.  To fulfill this contractual obligation, he gave them Pet Sematary, saying in interview “It’s a terrible book - not in terms of the writing, but it just spirals down into darkness. It seems to be saying that nothing works and nothing is worth it, and I don’t really believe that.”

Even though he wanted nothing to do with it, Doubleday went to town with their promotion.  The novel had a first printing of 500,000 copies (“actually only 335,000 copies”, according to Grady), backed by a major ad campaign and sold 657k hardbacks in its first year, becoming “his first mega-blockbuster”.
BCA hardcover edition, 1993
cover scan of my copy
The book was made into a film directed by Mary Lambert and released in April 1989.  I saw it at the cinema with my girlfriend of the time and found it chilling, but nowhere near as scary as the book.  She, on the other hand, was terrified.  A sequel, Pet Sematary Two, was released in 1992 and I never bothered with it.  A new adaption was released earlier this year.

In 1997, a dramatisation of six half-hour episodes was broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

In a 2010 introduction for the novel, King called Pet Sematary the most frightening book he’s ever written.  I’d have to agree with him on that.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Closer Still, by Richard Farren Barber (a review and Q&A)

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book I've read and loved, which I think adds to the horror genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.
Keep your friend close, and your enemies closer still.
- Origin contested

“Closer Still is about childhood friends and childhood enemies. It is a story about how the two are often not as far apart as one might believe. It is my thoughts on the strength of children to navigate an environment in which they are often powerless. It is about love and betrayal. The casual pain inflicted by friends. It is the visceral cry of youth against the injustice of life.”

Rachel is fifteen, burdened with the nickname ‘Kooky’ and seemingly ostracised from a small group of girls she was once part of.  To make matters worse, she’s being haunted by her best friend Katie, who sits or stands quietly in the corner of Rachel’s bedroom.  As time goes on and Katie discovers more powers - she spends a long time trying to roll a pencil over a dresser top - Rachel’s ex-friends begin an insidious campaign of bullying - online and in person - that serve to make Rachel ever more isolated and alone.  She’s cornered in cloak rooms, harassed in corridors and chased down the street, the latter incident videoed to go viral through the school.  Although this brings in the authority figures - parents and teachers - her reluctance to talk and the natural reserve/disdain of a fifteen-year old prevents any kind of breakthrough.  And meanwhile, the bullying gets worse and Katie’s presence becomes ever stronger.

I thoroughly enjoyed Barber’s previous novella Perfect Darkness, Perfect Silence and this is equally as good, if poles apart.  A perfectly paced ghost story that turns up its horror - both real and supernatural - as it goes, this benefits greatly from having Rachel as the narrator (unreliable at times), with Barber capturing her voice exceptionally well.  School life feels real and raw with the sense of being alone in a crowded classroom or playground, the demeanour of the teachers which can be threatening or benign but never fully on your side, the smell of the rooms and corridors, the terror of being trapped in a toilet block.  At home, we see very little of Rachel’s life other than in her bedroom, where parents only occasionally intrude but the spectre of Katie is often there and watching.  The supernatural hand is played well, with Katie appearing early enough that we quickly accept she’s a part of Rachel’s world and as the terror and threat ramp up, she becomes evermore frightening.  The ex-friends are equally well realised and never fully painted to be the villains of the piece.  In lesser hands, ringleader Sarah would be the stereotypical bully but her character is developed to show different sides and angles, while hangers-on Francine and Joanna find themselves in a situation they don’t want to be in but can’t seem to get out of.  As all these lives spiral downwards, it seems that Katie has a plan in mind and when her retribution is unleashed, it’s brisk and harsh and clearly building to a bigger picture.

Exceptionally well written, with a great sense for location and atmosphere, this is a perfectly realised ghost story and I would highly recommend it.

* * *
I enjoyed the story so much, I asked Richard some questions about it and he was gracious enough to answer.
Richard, Stephen Bacon, me and Wayne Parkin, doing a boyband pose
on Scarborough seafront during FantasyCon weekend, September 2016.
You can read a full report of the convention here
MW:   Can you give me some idea as to where this came from?  And bearing in mind how perfectly the cover title (and quote) work, did that come early in the process or later?

RFB:  The novel was originally going to be a script, and it goes back many years. I started it to submit to the BBC Writers’ Room in 2009. It was called Wallflowers and I still have the original 31 pages of script, and that taught me one thing; writing a script is not the same as writing prose! It’s a whole different technique and skillset (and I have no doubt there are script writers the world over who would read this and roll their eyes) Although I don’t remember actually submitting it, I must have done as I still have the receipt from the BBC.

By 2014, when I came back to the idea and decided that I wanted to write it as a novella, I had the title of Closer Still which came directly from the quote. (Although I had to Google the origin of the quote!).  I did have an idea that Closer Still would be the first of two novellas, with the second called Still Closer, which would tell the story from Katie’s viewpoint, because I think Katie has a lot to say and I have a lot of sympathy for her. I even wrote the start of an outline but I haven't gone back to it yet. Maybe one day...

MW:   You treat the supernatural almost as a normal occurrence in this, with Rachel fully accepting it.  Did you worry about how this would come across (it’s works very well, in my opinion)?

RFB:  One of the things I really like playing with in fiction is casting the supernatural as natural; so in Closer Still Rachel simply accepts that Katie is a ghost and has the usual curiosity about what being dead really feels like.

I’m fascinated by the idea that quite often “stuff” is out in the open and we just don’t know it because we don’t really know to notice it. That idea that the best place to hide things is in plain view. I often wonder what is behind the small door that you walk past every day, why the windows of that house are boarded up.

It’s a subject I’ve come back to with my recent novel The Living and The Lost - where again it starts from the basis that ghosts are a simple fact of life (I do like ghost stories!) and runs with it from there.

I don’t think I really worried about how it would come across, because my idea was that either you’re able to suspend disbelief for the duration of the story or you’re probably reading the wrong genre. Interestingly, I heard Joe Hill talk recently and he said his approach was that if the story had anything unusual or difficult to digest, get it out at the very start because the readers will be more accepting of it.

MW:   Obvious question but I’m intrigued - have you ever had a supernatural experience?

RFB:  I haven’t had a supernatural experience. The closest I’ve come to was going into St Mary’s Close in Edinburgh and having a ghost tour in the semi-darkness. By the end of the tour I was living on the edge of my nerves – the place was genuinely eerie. I found myself at the very back of the group and constantly looking over my shoulder into the darkness. Did I see anything moving behind me? I don’t think so, but I realised that if anyone had put a hand on my shoulder I would have screamed loud enough to wake the dead.

MW:   I loved the school location and found it reminded me a lot of my own.  But since you & I left full-time education during the 80s, how much research did you have to do?

RFB:  Thank you! I’ll confess I didn’t do any research. The school is based on my memories of the schools I attended back in the 80s. In many respects I have an awful memory, but I seem to have a knack for remembering places.  Just the other week I was discussing this with someone and saying I think if I went back to my secondary school now, and if it hadn’t changed, I think I could walk around the site without getting lost. If I close my eyes now I can see whole sections of the corridors. But if you asked me to name who was in my class or almost anything about Chemistry then I wouldn’t have a clue.

MW:   Rachel carries the novella and I found her to exceptionally well realised.  Was writing from her pov (bearing in mind you’re neither female or in your teens) ever daunting?

RFB:  It was definitely a challenge to write a main character where the age and gender were so far removed from my own – and therefore the life experiences and attitudes would be different. It was a deliberate decision to write a piece of fiction from a view point other than middle-aged-white-man. I’m not sure how well it reflects true life, but I tried to tap into that the sense of being an outsider. The feelings of injustice and guilt Rachel is dealing with are relatable to all of us.

You can find Richard online at Twitter here

Monday, 13 May 2019

Novelisation Review 1: "Vega$" by Max Franklin

The first of an occasional thread celebrating old-school paperback novelisations from the 70s and 80s, which are now mostly forgotten.  We're not talking great art but these books have their place - they were a fantastic resource from a time when you couldn't watch your favourite film or TV show whenever you felt like it - and I think they deserve to be remembered.

This time, I'm looking at Vega$, by Max Franklin, adapted from the US TV series.

Las Vegas private detective Dan Tanna is hired by a Merle & Loretta Ochs to find their runaway teenaged daughter, Marilyn Nedloe - it's not the first time she's made a break for the lights.  Tanna quickly locates her, only to find she's working as a prostitute for Larry Larry Johnson and when he breaks her free, discovers she doesn't want to go home.  It appears that her stepfather, Merle, has been coming on strong and Tanna doesn't like it.  But Marilyn has made a mistake and turned over a trick who is connected with the mob and soon Tanna is trying to discover who murdered her and Larry Larry.  In the meantime, he's trying to stop a conman fleecing the casino, act as bodyguard to a nightclub entertainer and buy a birthday gift for his secretary's daughter.

Dan Tanna is “a hard guy for hire in a hard-hearted town” according to the cover blurb and for the most part, that’s true.  Although the book maintains that Vegas is trying to keep itself clean (there’s no Mafia here), it doesn’t shy away from the sleazier side of things.  Marilyn Nedloe has turned to prostitution and although she’s of age looks younger and uses that to her advantage, which is uncomfortable (though never graphically explored) while some of the violence is harsh indeed.  Franklin has a snappy style, the story fairly rocks along but it does come unstuck in places, where you can see the need for a commercial break slotted into the flow of action.  The main story - Marilyn and Larry Larry and why they’re killed - is well handled, even if the ending is a bit brisk, but the sub-plots (the man trying to fleece the casino and the birthday business) aren’t much more than fillers.  I liked Tanna (and detected a sense of Spenser about him - and the Parker books were certainly around when this was written - especially with the gallantry but that might be because of the Urich connection), though everyone seems to know him and he seems to rely on the grace of various friends in police forces across the country to get information to crack the case.  The locations are well used, Vegas seems grubby in the daylight (and this was before the glitz explosion) but I thought the book let itself down in how it treats the female characters (you could argue it was the times but Franklin also wrote for “Charlies Angels”).  As it is, apart from Tanna’s main secretary Beatrice - who is well realised - the rest of the women are poorly sketched, especially Angie, Beatrice’s deputy, who is essentially an attractive bit of set dressing.  That aside, this is a prime novelisation, it’s brisk and no-nonsense, does what it says on the tin and is generally quite enjoyable.

The novelisation is based on the pilot episode, High Roller, written by Michael Mann.  I picked up my copy from Books and Pieces in Nottingham, on the Crusty Exterior gathering there (which you can read about here).

* * *
Judy Landers, Robert Urich, Phyllis Davis and Tony Curtis
Vega$ ran for three series, from April 1978 through to June 1981 and 69 episodes and appeared in the UK in November 1978.  Produced by Aaron Spelling, it was created by Michael Mann who’d worked on American TV in the mid-70s writing scripts for Police Story and Starsky & Hutch.  It appears he had little more to do with the series following the pilot he wrote and he clearly went on to bigger and better things.

The series was filmed entirely on location in Las Vegas (apart from special episodes set in Hawaii and San Francisco) and starred Robert Urich as private detective Dan Tanna, a VietNam vet on retainer to the Maxim Hotel run by Phillip Roth (played by Tony Curtis).  He lived in a props warehouse and parked his car - a red 1957 Ford Thunderbird convertible - inside (which is pretty much all I can remember about the series, other than the vehicles appearances in Corgi catalogues).  He was ably assisted by Bobby Borso (Bart Braverman) and his trusty secretaries Beatrice Travis (Phyllis Davis) and Angie Turner (Judy Landers), while Lt. David Nelson (Greg Morris) was his contact in the police force.  Tanna’s older sister Julie (played by Catherine Hickland) appears in the pilot and novelisation but didn’t feature for the remainder of the run.  Will Sampson played Harlon Twoleaf, Tanna's sergeant from his army days, but only appeared in the first series.

The name “Dan Tanna” came from Aaron Spelling’s favourite restaurant (though it was called Dan Tana’s), on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, California.

* * *
Max Franklin was a pen name for the prolific pulp fiction writer Richard Deming.  Born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1915, he gained degrees from Washington University in St. Louis and the State University of Iowa, before being drafted into the army nine months before Pearl Harbour.  When he left service five years later, he sold a short story called The Juarez Knife to Popular Detective magazine.  It featured a tough, disabled private eye named Manville “Manny Moon” (he’d lost his leg in World War 2) who went on to appear in more stories across a range of detective pulp magazines.  In 1950, though his timing coincided with the collapse of the pulp market, Deming became a full-time writer and ended the 50s writing stand-alone novels as well as paperback originals featuring characters from Dragnet.  He created another series, featuring vice cop Matt Rudd, during the 60s and also wrote non-fiction.

In the early 70s, he became a key player in the tie-in market for popular TV shows, writing more than twenty paperback original novels for the likes of Mod Squad, Charlie’s Angels and Starsky & Hutch, as well as the novelisation for the 1974 film 99 44/100% Dead.

In additional to his output as Richard Deming, he also wrote as Emily Moor, Nick Morino, Ellery Queen (ten novels under the house name during the 60s), Max Franklin (for his novelisation work), Richard Hale Curtis and Halsey Clark.

Richard Deming died in 1983.

for further bibliographical details, Fantastic Fiction has a thorough section on him.

For a few years now, after finding out charity shops sometimes pulp old books because the market for them is so small, I've been collecting 70s and 80s paperbacks through secondhand bookshops, car boot sales and ebay.  I set up a thread for the horror titles (which you can see here) but novelisations were a rich vein in those decades, before the advent of home video, when viewers wanted to revisit the adventures of their favourite TV show or film.  I realise we might not be talking great art here but, on the whole, I think these books deserve to be remembered.

To that end, on an irregular basis, I'm going to review these "old-school" tie-ins with, hopefully, some background material on each one.

Monday, 6 May 2019

A Summer To Remember, by Sue Moorcroft

Regular readers of the blog will know Sue Moorcroft and I have been friends for a while, having met at the Kettering Writers Group in 1999 (the group leader was of a more literary bent, so we genre writers were consigned to the back of the room, where we had great fun).  Since then she's gone from strength to strength, hitting number one in the Kindle Bestseller charts (with The Christmas Promise) while also becoming a Sunday Times Best Seller in the process and I've featured her a lot on blog (to see more, click this link).  I'm also pleased to be one of her beta-readers and her latest novel, A Summer To Remember, has jumped straight into my all-time top 5 favourites of her work.
As part of the blog tour, I have an extract from the novel to share with you and I'll also include my review.  In addition, I picked Sue's brains, at one our Trading Post meet-ups, for a Q&A session about the book.

WANTED! A caretaker for Roundhouse Row holiday cottages.

WHERE? Nelson’s Bar is the perfect little village. Nestled away on the Norfolk coast we can offer you no signal, no Wi-Fi and – most importantly – no problems!

WHO? The ideal candidate will be looking for an escape from their cheating scumbag ex-fiancé, a diversion from their entitled cousin, and a break from their traitorous friends.

WHAT YOU’LL GET! Accommodation in a chocolate-box cottage, plus a summer filled with blue skies and beachside walks. Oh, and a reunion with the man of your dreams.

PLEASE NOTE: We take no responsibility for any of the above scumbags, passengers and/or traitors walking back into your life…


For the past six years, since Alice had jilted Lee and Aaron had bought Lee out of the property, she’d looked after Alice’s half of Roundhouse Row with a tiny fragment of her capabilities. A part-time caretaking job would be a breeze; a summer in Norfolk would help her heal. She’d wilfully ignored Aaron’s astounded reply: TOMORROW??? What about references??? Or me being able to chat with this person? And, later, Clancy! Please reply! She’d put her phone on ‘do not disturb’ in case he broke the tacit agreement of only communicating via email, and rang.

And that’s how she’d ended up sitting amongst boxes last night, packing recklessly for a low-effort life change and a place to lick her wounds. She’d been able to look into Will’s mortified face and say with manufactured indifference, ‘I have somewhere to go. You needn’t worry.’ She’d handed him the white leather file emblazoned with September Wedding in silver. ‘You’ll find everything in here that you need to cancel our wedding. It’s only fair that you take responsibility as you’re the one to find someone new.’ Then she’d completed her packing with the images of wedding dresses and morning suits swimming in the tears in her eyes, remembering, now she was about to return to Nelson’s Bar, Alice’s wedding day.

Clancy was getting an agonising taste of what Lee must have felt. Surely Alice couldn’t truly have imagined Lee’s pain at being left at the altar like that? Or she would have arranged some gentler way of withdrawing from the marriage.

Now, with Lee’s brother Aaron looking on, she swal¬lowed convulsively against empty-stomach nausea. The fluttering in her ears grew louder and cold sweat gathered on her face. Ever the pragmatist, she murmured, ‘I think I should sit down.’

And she did. The room rushed past her and the floor flew up to hit her, hard.

She heard Aaron exclaim, then a warm hand guided her head down towards her knees and his voice seemed to come from far away. ‘Are you ill?’

Politely, she replied, ‘I’m OK. I just missed breakfast.’ Cautiously, she eased away from him and lifted her head. The room only spun slightly. And that might have been because she’d been suddenly engulfed in the memory of the last time Aaron had touched her. It hadn’t occurred to her that he’d still affect her.

* * *
My review:

There’s so much to like about this novel and I did, it was a superb read.  Clancy, her heroine, is a terrific character who’s sexy and smart, damaged but strong and she grabs you by the hand and runs you through the story.  Everything she does is realistic and feels right so we fully identify with her situation and all the bad stuff that befalls her.  Aaron, her romantic foil, is well drawn, hunky, down-to-earth and a real countryboy to Clancy’s metropolitan lady, adding a nice will-they/won’t-they (end up together because of their differences) to the course of their romance.  Sue’s graceful writing throws up some particularly unpalatable characters, two of which I actively despised, as well as the usual cast of quirky locals.  This time around the story is set in Nelson’s Bar, a little bit of headland near Hunstanton and it’s so well described you could almost see the houses and feel the salt in the air.  With a nice sub-plot sympathetically dealing with a gay relationship in a small community, a one-eyed dog and a loving older couple who can no longer live together (their choice), this is a cracking read, full of tension, romance and humour, told with great pace and I absolutely loved it.  Very highly recommended.

* * *
5 Questions With Sue Moorcroft:

MW:   Where did the idea come from? Clancy is another in your line of strong, if slightly wounded heroines.  What prompted you to make the choices for her character you did?

SM:   The spark for the story, which also formed a chunk of Clancy’s issues, was a Tweet. It depicted a couple caught in an intimate moment on the guy’s video conferencing software which, somehow, he’d managed to leave running. Because he was fully dressed it wasn’t pornographic but the activity in which they were engaged couldn’t be mistaken. I began to wonder whether the man and woman were single or, if not, who they were cheating on. How did the video, or a still from it, make it onto social media? Where were these people employed? Did they lose their jobs? Did it cause embarrassment to the employer as well as to the couple? Or, as the still didn’t show faces, did they get away with it? Who else had been involved in the video call?

MW:   Why head to the seaside this time?

SM:   I like the seaside! Some time ago I read an article about a tiny village that was up for sale - the whole village. I think it was forty-seven cottages and a manor house. At first my idea was that Clancy would somehow get the money to buy the whole thing but I soon went off that, partly because my agent wasn’t keen. Only a couple of things stuck: a very small village; the kind of problems some rural communities experience with mobile signal and broadband.

The connectivity issues were quite a driving factor for the story and for as many plot points as it gave me, it took others away. A place I remembered visiting that suffering signal issues was north Norfolk so I put my village, Nelson’s Bar, there. It doesn’t hurt that I love the area and thoroughly enjoyed a visit of a few days to research. The mobile signal is much improved there now but there were enough ‘not-spots’ to work with my story. To make certain, I put Nelson’s Bar up on a headland that protrudes out to sea so for it to lie in a no-signal area was credible.
Members of Sue's street team - Team Sue Moorcroft - at Bacchus Bar, Birmingham, 6th April (photo courtesy John Jackson)
from left - John Jackson, Kim Nash, Sue, Mick Arnold, Louise Styles, some bloke, Maggie Sullivan, Anne Williams, Rachel Gilbey, Tracy Ann
MW:   What prompted your decision that Aaron and Clancy should have a history, however brief and unsatisfactory?

SM:   It added to Clancy’s issues and gave Aaron something to deal with. When they’d met in the run-up to the wedding of Clancy’s cousin Alice and Aaron’s brother Lee sparks had ignited between them. For that to combust in the form of a furious row when Alice left Lee at the altar set them for an awkward intervening span of years when Clancy was left looking after Alice’s half of Roundhouse Row and Aaron had bought Lee out of his half.

Fiction isn’t interesting without conflict. Also, when protagonists have history it makes the opening of the book pretty interesting.

MW:   You acknowledge struggling with this novel.  After so many years of writing them, why do you think this happened?

SM:   I’ve asked myself this question A LOT! I think I had so many things I wanted to include in this book that I wanted to get it down while it was all in my head. This led me to neglect my own golden rules of knowing, even before I start writing, the major conflicts of each central character and his or her major goals. This meant I had to work them out as I went along. It made me worry about focus and also I went up a big blind alley that took a bit of reversing out of. I can’t remember exactly what it was but I remember going to bed one night and suddenly breaking out in a sweat as I realised that my story threads had no chance of coming together. In that situation, it’s not just words that are wasted; time is wasted too. With two books a year to write I’m always time-poor so I got a bit stressy.

In the end, I decided to send the second draft in to my editor with everything crossed and see what she thought. It was such an incredible relief to receive the lightest edit notes ever! Either I was stressing about nothing or I’d wrangled the problems into submission.

And, as you know, my trusted beta reader (a chap called Mark West) liked it too!

MW:   Thanks, Sue and good luck with the book!

SM:   Thank you, for inviting me onto your blog and for taking part in my blog tour. I owe you a large diet Pepsi.

Sue Moorcroft is a Sunday Times and international bestselling author and has reached the coveted #1 spot on Amazon Kindle. She’s won the Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary, and has been nominated for several other awards, including the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards.

Facebook: sue.moorcroft.3
Facebook author page:
Twitter: @suemoorcroft
Instagram: suemoorcroftauthor
Amazon author page:

Monday, 29 April 2019

The Art Of British Comics (in the 70s) - part 2

Since my last post on British comics in the 70s (which you can read here), I've collected a few more issues via ebay and picked up a couple of reprint collections from Rebellion too.  Time and again, I'm struck by the high quality of the artwork, both for the strips themselves and the covers and I still think it's a real shame you don't see this kind of thing any more.

So, to once again make up for the lack of hand-drawn colour on comic shelves these days, here's another selection of covers from the 1970s.

The issue of Action that caused a whole host of problems for the comic, not only for this cover (and the strip it came from) but also because, in the Look Out For Lefty strip, a footballer is injured when a bottle is thrown at his head by the heroes girlfriend.  For more details, Lew Stringer wrote an excellent blog on the issue, which you can read here 
For more info on Bullet, I blogged about it previously here
I previously blogged about Starlord (you can read the post here)
I blogged about Tornado earlier this year (you can read the post here) as it celebrates its 40th anniversary
I previously blogged about this comic here

If you enjoyed this, I'd highly recommend Great News For All Readers and A Resource On Jinty, two excellent comic blogs

Thanks to Lew Stringer (Action and Warlord covers)

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Happy Birthday Nick

On the 21st, my oldest and best friend Nick became a fellow member of the Half-Century Club.
Nick, Alison, me and Dude, January 2019
I wrote about Nick in 2014 (you can read the post here) and everything in it still holds true.  We first met in September 1976, the first day of junior school - I was new to Rothwell and didn't know anyone else in the class - and the teacher sat us next to each other.  We became firm friends that day and, wonderfully, we still are.
detail of school photograph, Rothwell Juniors, 1977, with Nick on the left
Over the years, we've had some great times (and some down times), we've run the world, put on plays, saw Jarre at the Docklands, holidayed, laughed and had terrific adventures together.  My brother-from-another-mother (as kids we spent so much time in each others houses you got fed by whichever Mum was in your orbit), I was his Best Man, he was mine and he's Dude's godfather.

I saw two quotes which I think sum Nick & I up perfectly.  The first is more sentimental...

A good friend knows all your best stories, a Best Friend has lived them with you

The second made me laugh and would have the same effect on him...

I want to be the reason you look down at your phone and smile.  Then walk into a pole.

Happy birthday Nick and here's to many more!
1979, Mum attempts to skateboard.  I'm holding onto her, Nick's in front of me
1986, last day of school (Sixth Form trip to Great Yarmouth) - from left; James MacDonald, Steve Corton, me, Phil Cross, Nick (he wore that top hat for years...)
1987, off on a bike ride
1988, on Corton beach with Tracy and Sarah
1988, high above Bath in the back of a Hercules (Nick was in the RAF at the time)
1990, on the way to his wedding, his mum's car broke down.  Not the best start, it has to be said...
1998, our wedding day
2009, pulling faces with Dude in Taddiport
2013, in Market Harborough
2015, post heart attack and weight loss (both mine)