Savage Sky

Aussie Pulp Project
SavageFrontAuthor: W.R. Bennett
Publisher: Horwitz
Published: ???

Notes: Better Cover images required.


Back Cover:
Savage B

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Crimes of Passion

Aussie Pulp Project
CrimesofPassionFrontAuthor: James Holledge
Publisher: Horwitz
Published: 1963
Pages: 132

Notes: Inside it lists other titles by the author, which include: Australia’s Wicked Women, Notorious Women, Crimes Which Shocked Australia, Australian War Heroes and Deeds That Made The AIF.

Source: Ebay:

Back Cover:

Crime of Passion Back

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Commander Carton

Aussie Pulp ProjectCommander CartonAuthor: J.E. Macdonnell
Publisher: Horwitz
Published: 1960

Notes: Ex R.A.N. hero turned special investigator.

Source: Ebay:

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The Tank Raiders

Aussie Pulp ProjectTank RaidersAuthor: Michael Owen
Publisher: Horwitz
Published: 1963
Pages: 130

Notes: A part of the ‘Michael Owen Series’.
World war two pulp fiction. North Africa, Australians fighting Rommel’s desert korps.

Source: Ebay:

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Aussie Pulp Project

Author: James Dark
Publisher: Horwitz
Book No: PB 116

NOTES: PB. 116
Allegedly, says James Workman is author on title page (not confirmed).

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Terrifying Tales

Aussie Pulp Project

Author: James Dark
Publisher: Horwitz
Book No: PB 129

PB. 129
Cover says James Dark Series

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Captain Mettle V.C.

Aussie Pulp Project

Author: James MacNell (J.E. Macdonell)
Publisher: The Children’s Press
Published: Unknown (around 1958?)

Captain Mettle V.C. was the first in a series of children’s adventure books written by Australian author J.E. Macdonnell under the pen name James MacNell.

Mettle isn’t exactly a spy, he is a Navy commander, but his adventures, and the type of assignments thrust upon him, go beyond the boundaries of a typical naval adventure. They certainly fall within the parameters of an espionage novel.

As the story opens, Captain Mettle is on the bridge of the destroyer, Scorpion, steaming towards Hong Kong for a very important meeting with the Admiral controlling the China station. Aside from Mettle, the opening chapter also introduces the reader to Mettle’s second-in-command, Cuthbert Crabbe de Courcy – known to all and sundry as Crabby. Crabby always appears tired, and bored – however despite this projection of lethargy, whenever there is a crisis, he is a man of swift and vigorous action.

The other character of note is Hooky Hogan, the chief bosun’s mate. Hooky, as his nickname suggests, has a hook where his right hand should be. The introduction to Hooky happens when one of the crew falls overboard. Hooky is the first into the lifeboat sent off to rescue the man. However, before they can drag in and rescue the the flailing and thrashing crewman, a giant shark spears its way through the water towards him. Hooky leaps into the water, drags the crewman out of harms way, and then with his hook, splits the shark along its belly as it speeds past.

Upon arrival in Hong Kong, and after a meeting with Admiral Sterne, Mettle is assigned to command a torpedo boat and track down a band or pirates who have been plundering the shipping lanes out of Hong Kong. Recently four merchant ships have simply vanished from the area. Mettle hand picks two crewmen to come with him on the mission – Crabby and Hooky – and they set off in their quest to stop the piracy.

It doesn’t take long for Mettle and his crew to encounter the pirates after they tuck in behind a merchant ship transporting a shipment of guns to Shanghai. Naturally the pirates attempt to steal the shipment, and send out a fake distress signal from a junk in front of the vessel. The cargo ship stops to offer assistance, and the pirates storm on board.

Mettle and his ship mates stop the assault, and with their torpedo boat, stop the junk and a flotilla of other small craft from making off with the cargo. But the men that Mettle captures are just the worker bees, and he is after ‘The Brain’ behind the operation. After interrogating one of the prisoners, Mettle is given directions to an old temple on mainland China.

As the story plays out, the events that led to Hooky losing his hand are retold, and it concerns a villain named Li Fang Fu; a man who specialises in torture – especially the fabled ‘death by a thousand cuts’. In one of those coincidences that can only occur in an adventure story like this, it so happens that Li Fang Fu is also the head of the pirate organisation, and as our trio close in, he has a reception committee waiting.

Captain Mettle in action!

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by Captain Mettle VC. I have read a few of J.E. Macdonnell’s Mark Hood spy adventures, and while I have found them hugely enjoyable, it can generally be accepted that they are wafer thin slices of sixties spy pulp entertainment. So I expected the Mettle books – which are aimed at children – to be dumbed down and desexualised versions of the Hood books – or at least in style. While the story is quite simple – no more or less than some of the Hoods – I found it refreshing that Macdonnell didn’t tone down – or dumb down – his writing. The story doesn’t shy away from adult themes, like death, torture and drugs. However their is no sex. If these books were aimed at boys, I am guessing it is teenage readers rather than youngsters. That’s why I have enjoyed Charlie Higson’s Young Bond and Anthony Horrowitz’s Alex Rider books, because they didn’t dumb down their stories for their audience, and neither did Macdonnell when creating Captain Mettle.

As can be expected from a book of this vintage, the story and characters are frightfully racist. With the villains of the piece being Chinese pirates, over the course of the novel every derogatory term for the Chinese is used, and a few I have not heard before. The characters also chain smoke throughout the story. These attributes in a modern novel, aimed at the adult market, would be derided as being antiquated and xenophobic, but if they were presented in a contemporary novel aimed at children, and remember this is a novel aimed at teenage boys, then the author could find protesters on their front lawn. Times have certainly changed. But judging the content by today’s standards is not fair, and to be honest, I cannot see this book appealing to the current crop of young readers. It’s probably only of interest to readers like my self, who are interested in author, J.E. Macdonnell or vintage pulp and naval fiction.

All in all, Captain Mettle VC is a rollicking spy adventure which is thoroughly enjoyable, and on the strength of it, I would be happy to read more of Mettle’s adventures. Other books in the Captain Mettle series are, Mettle Dives Deep and Mettle at Woomera.

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Mettle Dives Deep

Aussie Pulp Project

Author: James MacNell (J.E. Macdonnell)
Publisher: The Childrens Press
Published: Unknown (around 1958?)

Mettle Dives Deep is the second of the Captain Mettle children’s adventure books by J.E. Macdonnell, writing as James Macnell. As it is the second book, no time is wasted introducing the characters, so the action begins from the get-go.

It opens with Admiral Sterne briefing Mettle on his next mission. Mettle and his crew – including the perpetually bored Crabby, and bosun’s mate Hooky Hogan – on board the Naval destroyer, Scorpion are now a ‘Special Services’ unit, which I guess is the navy’s equivalent of being some kind of naval spy squad. Their assignment is to track down a cadre of gunrunners who have being smuggling weapons to groups of terrorists in the Mediterranean. Nobody knows how the gunrunners are doing it, because the coast is being watched day and night. The Scorpion sails off at speed to unravel the mystery and capture those responsible.

This second outing plays a bit more like a naval adventure, than the first Mettle book, but that is not such a bad thing. By accident, Mettle and his crew stumble on the path of a midget submarine – the asdic equipment was conveniently being tested at the time. The story then reverts to a good old submarine hunting story, with the bad guys lying silently on the sea bed, hoping that the destroyer will move on believing they have lost the signal. Meanwhile, Mettle believes that the lost signal might be a trick, with the sub lying doggo at the bottom, so he has the engines cut, and everybody on board remain dead silent. I know it’s the type of thing that we have seen in just about every submarine movie ever made – particularly The Enemy Below with Robert Mitchum. But it still reads rather well, and creates a bit of tension.

The choice by Macdonnell, to have the villains of the piece use a Japanese midget submarine is an interesting one. Midget submarines were used on numerous occasions in World War II, but as an Australian, the submarine attack on Sydney Harbour was no doubt, indelibly burnt into Macdonnell’s mind. While the actual attack, on Sydney is generally regarded as a failure, the psychological aspect of the attack can not be underplayed. Even as a boy, I was told tales of the day that Japanese subs snuck into Sydney and bombed Australia. They didn’t actually ‘bomb’ Australia. They fired torpedoes at ships in the harbour, but the event almost became an an urban myth, with the story and facts being greatly distorted with each telling… but such was the psychological power of the attack. I am sure it is still an event that resonates extremely strongly with older Australians. By choosing midgets submarines, for Australian readers, Macdonnell’s story certainly evokes the memory of the Japaneses attack, and he uses it to his advantage.

After waiting on the bottom for half an hour, the villains decide to start their engines and high tail it out of there. But Mettle is waiting, and has the Scorpion crew deliver a string of depth charges. The villains, and their sub full of guns and dynamite, which just may blow, head to the surface and surrender. The gunrunners are taken into custody. Of course, the submariners are just evil minions, and Mettle is after the big Kahuna – a man known as the ‘Squeaker’ due to his high pitched voice.

Mettle undertakes his own little mission where he takes the place of the gunrunners in the sub – accompanied by Hooky, and an fiery red-headed engineer know quite simply as ‘Engines’. Ultimately, Mettle Dives Deep is an adventure story, so as you’d expect it should have some of the trappings of a ‘Boy’s Own Adventure’ book – and having laid the ground work, with having Mettle and his crew inside a midget sub, what do you think happens next? If you remember my review of the first Mettle book, you may recall that Hooky tangled with a shark – so sharks are out – so if you said a giant octopus, then give yourself top marks. You are absolutely correct.

Mettle and Hooky sail to Basra and meet the gunrunners, in the process getting into a gun fight and stealing a plane – just par for the course for the boys. As the links in the gunrunning chain are broken, Mettle and his team end up of the coast of Somaliland with the villains holed up on a boat in a coastal crater lake (had to get that volcano motif in there somehow!)

Mettle has twenty of his best men, all armed, don frogman outfits and storm the lake. While the climax to this book is pretty exciting, the actual final confrontation with the villainous ‘Squeaker’ is a bit of a let down. There’s not really a cathartic coup de gras, and as such the final pages flounder at little.

However, there is still a lot of fun to be found in this Captain Mettle adventure. As I mentioned above, it is more of a naval adventure than Captain Mettle V.C. with much of the action taking place either on the destroyer, Scorpion or on a captured miniature submarine. That’s not a bad thing, but I must admit, I would have liked to see Mettle carrying out more of his own brand of derring-do on land. But a small quibble. Next up, to close out the series is Captain Mettle at Woomera, which I predict, given the Australian based story, will be more land based.

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The Invisibles

Aussie Pulp Project

Author: J.E. MacDonnell
Publisher: Horwitz Publications
Published: 1970

From the Blurb:

It was a hell of a way to die!

“You are a tough man, Mr. Hood,” Bula said.

“Thank you,” said Hood. “Now what do you do?”

It seemed that Bula meant to do nothing. He remained where he was, while his eyes held Hood’s with the basilisk steadiness of a snake’s. And then Hood felt the oddest sensation in his life – as if his will were being sucked out of his brain. A trance like cocoon seemed to be enveloping him; invisible, intangible, yet as palpable as a python’s coils around his arms and legs.

His medical training warned him that it was some form of hypnosis and although he strove to avert his eyes, he found he could not. He stood there helplessly as if his hard-trained body had turned to putty, and watched Bula coming for him.

His great shoulder heaved and an iron fist exploded against Hood’s stomach. Hood reeled back as if he had been clubbed. “I am annoyed with you, Mr. Hood.”

The second blow landed over Hood’s heart. He gasped in an attempt to get some air down into his system.

“And because I am annoyed … I will punch you to death … instead of using the knife …”

As a boorish, parochial Australian, I was determined to go out and find a true Aussie spy series. Well I found one. It’s not actually Australian, but written by an Australian, J.E. MacDonnell – not to be confused with John D. MacDonald, author of the Travis McGee books – or Ross Macdonald, who briefly went by the name John Ross Macdonald before changing it to plain old Ross Macdonald, in order to avoid confusion with John D. MacDonald. Er, Ross Macdonald is the author of the Lew Archer novels, but I have veered off track once again.

J.E. MacDonnell was a prolific Australian author who specialised in naval adventure stories, but he also turned his hand to churning out a series of loose and fast paced espionage novels featuring a secret agent named Mark Hood – not to be confused with secret agent Charles Hood, who appeared in a series of spy adventures written by James Mayo (Hammerhead was made into a film starring Vince Edwards). I may be wrong here, but I believe that The Invisibles is the twelfth book in the Mark Hood series.

As the story opens, Intertrust Agent, Mark Hood is posing as a wealthy playboy, when in fact he is on a highly secret and dangerous mission. It starts in February on an un-named island in the Caribbean. Hood is driving his rented Buick convertible along a coast road from his villa near the city of Mahame to the town of Ruijas. As he rounds a corner, in the headlamps, he sees a body lying on the road. Hood stops to investigate and gets out of the car. As he approaches, the body springs to life and produces a rifle, which had been tucked away under the body. The aggressor points the rifle at Hood and pulls the trigger. As the gunman made the shot, Hood had already leapt forward and the bullet misses to the left hand side. Hood delivers a karate chop to the aggressor’s neck – killing him. Next, Hood tosses the body over a cliff. As he gets back into his car, in the distance he can hear the low murmur of a voodoo drum.

Next Hood meets the resident Caribbean Intertrust man, Jimmy Sangster (no not the Hammer screenwriter). This guy is in his sixties with a limp. Hood explains why he’s on the island – it is believed that someone on the island is attempting to build an atomic bomb. The prime suspect is a revolutionary leader named Shango, who also happens to be a Houngan or Voodoo Priest. He operates out of a fortress, on top of one of the highest mountains on the island. (Can you guess where the climax takes place?)

As Hood drives back to his villa, as if summoned by some demonic force, a mini tornado chases him along the road. It picks up his car and tosses it, as if it were a toy, into the sea. Trapped in the car, Hood rides it down until it hits a rocky undersea shelf. Then he unfastens his seatbelt, and thanks to his scuba diving experience, he surfaces, just as currents push the car off the shelf and down in the darkened depths of the sea.

That’s the thing about Hood, and the incidents that happen throughout this novel – whatever the situation, Hood can handle it, because he has had prior experience. I am sure that the guy has done everything, from piloting helicopters and gunships to advanced medicine and surgery. Hood can do it all. And he can do it better than another popular literary spy. And the book goes to lengths to point this out. They can be summed up in one small passage. Hood’s boss, Fortescue says, “This job is too important to have you boys pussyfooting around playing 007’s”.

But Bond references aren’t enough for a story like this. Dear reader, I know what you really want – and that’s a fat slice of Voodoo action, and this book delivers a few of them. Here’s one from pg. 73.

‘But now all attention, and Hood’s was concentrated on a slender girl who had stopped her circling to face the post. Her head craned far back, her legs were together, and her arms outstretched. She was naked. In Hood’s tautened mind her brown sweat gleaming body formed the shape of an obscene cross.

The drum beat swelled even fiercer and the girl began to dance.

Hood had never seen anything like it. Although her feet barely moved, the gyrations of her hips and shoulders made her seem as if she were leaping in a frenzy. they shivered and twisted, then undulated with a serpentine sinuosity, and then rolled and coiled and thrust themselves forward and back in abandoned sexuality.’

Ah, that’s enough of that you pagans! The Invisibles is action packed from the word go, and at only 126 pages long, it is never intended to be anything more that a quick and slight slice of throwaway entertainment – much like the Nick Carter ‘Killmaster’ novels. But one of the sad things about these ‘throwaway’ novels, is exactly that – they are being thrown away. In a world where I can walk into practically any bookshop in the English speaking world and find exactly the same books on the shelf, it’s a terrible shame that the books of the past are treated as a disposable commodity. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first in line for the next Clive Cussler, Matthew Reilly or Jeremy Duns novel, but at the same time, I wonder if my son will ever know who Alistair MacLean is?

From the back cover:

They were as ancient as Evil itself – but armed with the nuclear power of tomorrow.

Intertrust Agent Mark Hood faces the shadowy terrors of the supernatural when he is sent to the interior of a remote Caribbean island to break up a black market in atom bombs.

The sellers? No one knows. The buyers? THE INVISIBLES – Voodoo priests with a fiendish plan to make a human sacrifice of the entire world. Hood’s only ally – a beautiful, sultry believer who leads him into an orgy of lust, terror and sudden death!

• For an overview of J.E MacDonnell’s career click here
• Bill Crider looks at Sword of Genghis Khan
• Pop Sensation looks at Operation Octopus
• James Reasoner looks at The Bamboo Bomb
• Click here for a more complete listing (and alternate titles) of the Mark Hood series.

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Come Die With Me

Aussie Pulp Project

Signet US paperback edition 1965

Author: James Dark – J.E. MacDonnell
Publisher: Signet / Horwitz
Published: July 1965

Come Die With Me is the first in the Mark Hood series of international spy thrillers by Australian author J.E. MacDonnell (published in the US under the name James Dark).

Being the first in the series, unlike other entries, this one fleshes out a bit about Intertrust, the organisation that Mark Hood works for. Intertrust was created by the four nuclear powers (remembering this was written in the mid 1960s) to stop other nuclear threats from arising. The idea that cold war America and the USSR are working together through Intertrust is an interesting one – although in the books that I have read, this facet of the organisation is never really explored. In fact, Hood could just work for England or the United States.

Another aspect that is also fleshed out more, is Hood’s background. He is an American, but went to study in England, where he became an excellent (world famous) cricketer. After that he became a ‘world famous’ racing car driver. An then a ‘world famous’… well you get the idea. Now Hood is a man of leisure… a playboy… a dilettante. He travels the world looking for excitement and adventure. Well that’s his cover anyway. As we know he is now an Intertrust agent, but his reputation as a jet-setting playboy allows him to travel all over the world with barely an eyebrow raised.

The story concerns a neo-Nazi named Gauss who has stolen three nuclear armed torpedo boats, the last one being taken in Nassau in the Bahamas. Hood is immediately shipped off to investigate, and soon on the trail of the neo-Nazis. The twist in the story comes early, when Hood is captured, and is offered a position in Gauss’ employ (with a substantial paycheck to go with it). Hood has little choice, beyond work for Gauss or die, so he accepts the bribe and the job. However he is not completely trusted, and although now working from the inside, he finds himself helpless to stop Gauss from moving towards the next phase of his operation.

Hood is taken to Gauss’ fortress like retreat in Brazil, which is built on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean. While Hood is not exactly a prisoner, he is a closely watched guest, with no access to the outside world. And Gauss is suspicious enough to keep most of his plans under wraps. He is not a garrulous uber-villain who has to describe his mad scheme to the hero in loving detail. Well not at the start anyway!

Gauss’ ultimate plot is kept under wraps until the last minute, but Hood gets an inkling of his intent when he meets Maria in the fortress. She is a bacteriologist who has found a way to improve crop yields, by introducing bacteria to certain crops. Her research could put an end to starvation in third world countries. Of course, Hood also realises that the research, if utilised by someone who wished to destroy rather than create could be perverted for evil ends.

The Mark Hood thrillers are fast paced, but at times I think too fast. There are certain passages in this book that are written so quickly, with lack of description that I could barely follow the action. There is one passage in particular, where Hood, in a car, is being chased down a winding and twisting mountain road, by one of Gauss’ minions.

From page 50:

The big Mercedes was bellowing upon him. He jabbed his right foot down, feeling the Jaguar surge, and he wondered with detachment through his apprehension how Hermann would finish him, against the cliff on the left or over the edge on the right, and he heard a high wild scream of brakes and there were the twin white swords sailing out into nothing, then dipping abruptly, and then vanishing below the edge.

Clearly the villain has driven off the edge, but the above sentence is the only description of the incident. Another sentence confirming that Hermann is dead, and the car has crashed – maybe into the sea – would have fleshed out the action scene quite substantially. Instead, the story rattles on to the next incident.

Horwitz Australian paperback edition 1987

The Mark Hood books are pretty much throwaways, meaning that they are short and very little time is spent on characterisation and plot development. If the narrative begins to flounder, MacDonnell’s story telling device is to simply have the hero whacked over the head by the bad guys and wake up in the villain’s lair. It cuts out all that boring investigation stuff that other spies have to do. Yep, Hood is so good that he just has to turn up in a location and the enemy agents over-react, knock him out, bring him back to their lair, and finally in long, slow, loving detail they reveal their evil plot. It certainly saves time, and keeps the books page count down, well under 150 pages.

But having said all that, the book is not masquerading as a piece of high art either. It is what it is – a slick little spy adventure with girls, guns and goons. It’s a piece of vintage pulp fiction, and if that appeals to you (it does me) then Come Die With Me is a perfectly acceptable way to wile away a few hours.

From David Foster’s collection.

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