HARDBOILED NOW: HIDDEN GEMS PART 2
In last week’s column, I spotlighted two private eye series familiar only to the acolytes of the hardboiled inner circle—The Eye—whose knowledge and fanatical commitment to the genre keep the embers of even the most obscure fictional private eyes and tough guys alive. This week, I’ll expose three more hidden gems of the genre.
I must admit, I’m having way too much fun with this theme. While compiling my own list of obscure tough guy characters, I also reached out to some of my co-fanatics who contribute to the Men’s Adventure Paperbacks of the ‘70s and ‘80s Facebook group—Celebrating the two-fisted, heavily armed paperback adventure heroes of long-gone publishers like Pinnacle, Leisure, Zebra, etc....The Executioner. The Destroyer. The Death Merchant. The Protector. Nick Carter, Killmaster. The Penetrator. Black Samurai. Edge. The Hook. And so many more. In short order, they inundated me with enough private eyes, hitmen, vigilantes, tough crooks, tougher cops, and troubleshooters to fill this column for the rest of the year. I had either read or was familiar with most of the characters they mentioned—from both series or standalone novels—but there were definitely some I needed to check out for myself.
Anyone serious about tracking down these series and others should be familiar with these Internet resources: Kevin Burton Smith’s THRILLING DETECTIVE website is a comprehensive reference site for almost any detective series or character ever to grace the page; Joe Kenney’s GLORIOUS TRASH blog—where I have spent way too much time perusing the many books of my misspent youth—is filled with reviews and biting commentary on an outrageous number of paperback original men’s action/adventure series; Bruce Grossman’s BULLETS, BROADS, BLACKMAIL, AND BOMBS column on the BOOKGASM blog hits all the high points and low points of men’s action/adventure series; JOHNNY LARUE'S CRANE SHOT blog—trashy movies, trashy paperbacks, trashy old TV shows, trashy...well, you get the picture; and the TRASH MENACE blog—a review of men's adventure, pulp heroes, horror paperbacks, disposable culture, transgressive literature, and theme parks. Each of these sites will keep both hardcore and new fans busy for hours…
This week, I’m continuing with my own list of obscure favorites. This dynamic duo, like the Rafferty and Hardman series from last week, have been off the hardboiled genre’s radar for far too long.
One of the toughest tough guys is Ennis Willie’s Sand—A former crime lord with a price on his head, an army of hit men on his back, and a .45 riding in a shoulder rig under his arm to do his talking. A man alone, with few friends and many hates. There is nowhere to hide…and it's too late to pray...
Short, terse, full of sex and graphic violence, the Sand Shockers, took their cue from Richard Stark’s far better known Parker novels. But Sand is far more than an imitation Parker. Sand’s violent cross-country crusade to break from his past as a mob hitman and rectify past wrongs—killing a morgue-full of minions and former mob bosses without qualms in the process—forms the template followed a decade later by Donald Pendleton’s Mack Bolan The Executioner series and its myriad of imitators.
Ennis Willie wrote many novels published by the low-circulation sleaze imprint Merit Books in Chicago. Merit also published the nine Sand novels, but the distribution of Merit’s books was erratic at best, condemning the Sand Shockers to obscurity. However, the inner circle of hardboiled fanatics—in particular Stephen Mertz and Ed Gorman—have kept Sand’s flame alive, ensuring his continuing legacy.
A hardboiled icon in his own right, Max Allan Collins acknowledges his series featuring tough crook Nolan and his later series with calculating hitman Quarry (soon to be seen on Cinemax) were inspired by Sand. Regarding Ennis Willie the writer, Collins declares, Among American writers, only one caught Mickey Spillane's magic—only one managed to create a fever-dream world of sadistic gangsters, willing women and larger-than-life tough guys.
THE SAND SHOCKERS
Scarlet Goddess (1963)
Aura Of Sensuality (1963)
Haven For The Damned (1963)
Game Of Passion (1964)
And Some Were Evil (1964)
Warped Ambition (1964)
The Case Of The Loaded Garter Holster (1964)
Passion Has No Rule Book (1964)
Code Of Vengeance (1965)
The original Sand novels are incredibly rare and expensive, however, Ramble House has resurrected a number of Sand tales in two readily available collections, SAND’S GAME and SAND’S WAR
FOR MORE ON ENNIS WILLIE CLICK HERE
An American GI who remained in Tokyo as a Karate student after World War II, Burns Bannion was created by Earl Norman (Norman Thomson) in a series of nine paperback originals. Like the original Sand novels, the Bannion books are rare and expensive. Unlike Sand, there are no easily accessible reprints or collections.
In 1958’s Kill Me In Tokyo, Burns Bannion gets his start as a private eye when he is mistaken for a real Californian PI who has followed a lead to Japan. Racial stereotypes abound in Bannion’s Japan, but if you can get beyond the political incorrectness (by today’s standards), the books are quick, hard hitting, and enjoyable reads. They are also possibly the first action novels to feature a westerner with martial arts skills.
The covers of the first editions and all reprints have become collectable treasures, especially with great blurbs claiming Bannion to be blood brother to Shell Scott and Mike Hammer and a guy who keeps running into his two favorite pastimes—gorgeous girls and deadly killers.
THE BURNS BANNION SERIES
Kill Me in Tokyo (1958)
Kill Me in Shimbashi (1959)
Kill Me in Yokohama (1960)
Kill Me in Yoshiwara (1961)
Kill Me in Shinjunku (1961)
Kill Me in Atami (1962)
Kill Me on the Ginza (1962)
Kill Me In Yokosuka (1966)
Kill Me in Roppongi (1967)