Brak the Barbarian by John Jakes
Now, I have to admit I’m not a massive fantasy fan. I have dipped my toes in occasionally, especially when I worked at Waterstones book shop. I liked The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings is good, but lets be honest, a bit boring. Loved the Conan Books and John Carpenter of Mars ( I will defend the Movie! I also believe that genre is called sword and planet ) However, thanks to the spectacular success of Game of Thrones ( I did not like the Books or the TV series , yes , we do exist) publishers went mad looking for the next big fantasy series so there where loads of them. A few stand outs where Andy Remics Rage of Kings ( only 2 books),Joe Abercrombie’s novels , Nicholas Eames Band Series (again , only 2!)and Peter Newman’s excellent Vagrant series ( a trilogy and more sci fi fantasy). However, a lot of them where cookie cutter Tolkien/Martin etc fantasy tomes of such epic scale i would need a clone to get through the series for me. Everyone just wanted to write a book as thick as a brick. Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E Howard wrote 50 thousand word novels of high adventure, great quick reads! Although, to be fair , I think a lot of the stories appeared in magazine format originally. A lot of these had spectacular paintings on the covers, from the likes of Frank Frazetta. So, I found some of these Brak novels very cheap and thought, why not! The covers are always pretty good and I had never heard of them and as they looked similar to the Conan books , I thought they where worth a chance. Plus they were only short, so if it was terrible, the pain would be over quick.
So What is Brak the Barbarian about? Well, not really a novel, more of a collection of adventures similar to the Conan books. Just Brak, his broadsword, a long braid of blonde hair and dressed only in a loincloth He’s setting out to a new land as he has been thrown out of his original tribe. No real explanation as to why in this first book. r. He ends up in a town, gets harassed by some fellows who end up being these really great, weird creatures with knives for hands who follow Yog Shoggoth , bringer of dark. Yep, we hit Lovecraft country already. That’s where it all kicks off. He manages to escape and then goes onto another similar tale. He’s a prisoner, a doppelganger for a dead prince, a body guard and an assassin in various tales. Honestly, this just flies all over the place. We enter a world of weird Lovecraftian horrors, evil wizards, women who seem to only wear variations on transparent silk gowns and some amazing monsters ( fangfish, what a name !!!) Plus a lot of violent, gory , over the top swordplay. that really surprised me. Some of the writing is typical flowery, old world Conan style fantasy ( it was written in 1967) but the fight scenes are more brutal than any Conan novel and worth grinding through some of the meandering content in between them.
About a quarter of the way through I was ready to give in, but in the end I did really enjoy it. The fight scenes are fast paced and brutal and some of the characters really well written for a pulp fantasy short page turner . I’m not sure I would read the rest of the series. Not due to the quality but really because fantasy is not my bag. However, if you are a fantasy fan, I would really recommend these books.
Bats out of Hell by Guy N Smith
Guy N Smith. Controversial author , pipe smoking enthusiast and Game Shooting expert.
I love Guy N Smith.
A lot of people do not, I get why. But boy, did he churn out some stuff. Are they literary masterpieces? Not at all! Do they entertain? Hell, yes. And that was his remit. He sold millions of copies and kept them coming, gloriously more gruesome each time. Horror was at its height when he was writing and he was a master.
Bats out of Hell is a weird one. It’s probably the only one of his horror novels that has a very serious dose of reality at its core .The bats are not the bad guys here. They carry a disease that has been manufactured in a lab ( yes, I know what you’re thinking. Covid 19 anyone?). The novel is a part eco thriller, post apocalyptic riot action ( Day of the Triffids?) , with a touch of horror gore thrown in. The bad guys are the people.
Quick synopsis- Dr Newman has managed to create a deadly virus similar to meningitis on a bunch of bats by accident. Then due to a spat with his girl friend in which he slaps her!!! ( Newman is about as 70’s archetypal as you can get, Christ he even slapped her ) who catches him about to take another girlfriend for a quickie in the back of a car. The ensuing fight breaks the glass case the bats re in and they escape through a window the good dictor has ben snaking a fag through ( i dont think you are meant to like this doctor ) and chaos around birmingham ensues and it turns into a war zone, deaths, full hospitals, riots , voluntary gun toting vigilantes ( BVP) army shooting first , ask later. Honestly, I think Mr Smith had a potential vision of the future.
It has all the usual Smith character tropes ( older man has affair with younger woman, she cannot resist him, The authorities will not listen to him about the danger etc) with the briefest of in depth characterisation. But as with all his novels, it rips along at the usual pace, introducing characters and despatching them at breakneck pace in a violent and disturbing manner.
I don’t know if Smith has done this on purpose, but you never seem to like Dr Newman. He certainly comes across as a bit of a bastard. It’s his fault and he apologizes and ,of course, saves the day.
What does come across, strangely, is Smith’s love of nature. He had been a gamekeeper in a past life and had an intimate knowledge of the countryside . He could see the potential danger of messing with nature, and this book is a touch prophetical and in many ways ahead of its time. Never thought I would say that about a Guy N Smith book.
I bloody love the cover art to this one , with the same font and layout as the early crab books. I wish they had stuck with this in the long run
Anyway, well worth a read, considering what’s happened over the past couple of years! We have almost been living in a Guy N Smith reality!!! A good one to have in the collection.
Cheers and Fears!
Apache Volume 2 Knife In the Knight by William M James
I was very lucky and managed to pick up a large collection of these at one of my many book shop and market visits. In the 1970’s-1980’s a group of Authors ,Terry Harknett, Angus Wells, Laurence James, and John Harvey, writing under various pseudonyms, became collectively known as the Piccadilly Westerns. Apache is one of the many gritty, action packed and incredibly brutal Adult Westerns that came out during this period. There where a total of 27 Apache titles. Knife in the Night was originally published in 1973
I pretty much knew the story basics .All these westerns follow a particular theme and order in the writing. These books where produced to be a fast , quick and entertaining read, then you could jump onto the next one. These are books not looking for literary awards but literary sales! I read volume 2 as I have yet to get hold of the first one at a decent price. This series is particularly difficult to get hold of and the prices can be ridiculous!
Cuchillo has recovered from his injuries sustained in the first volume in a brief couple of weeks (this guy is tough) and is out for revenge on the nasty bastard that is his series nemesis Captain Pinner. The man who killed his wife and child , tortured him and chopped his fingers off!!! He is going to kill him with the dagger he was falsely accused of stealing from Pinner (thus the the finger removal!) He hunts down a Mexican raiding party with brutal efficiency and then goes on to raid Fort Davison, where Pinner and his men are based. However, Pinner is away buying horses. Cuchillo and his Apache compatriots, whom he has persuaded to help him, lay waste to everyone in a violent onslaught, no one is spared!
This is a brutal, gory, and violent book. If you like Quentin Taratino, Sam Pekinpah, Italian Westerns and Giallo movies and maybe a touch of Saw, your going love this book. When the hero takes down the Mexican raiding party, the blood shed is worthy of any horror movie! (Eyeball slicing anyone?)
It’s a brief read and all the volumes pretty much follow the same theme, but a gritty, blood splattered roller coaster of an action novel. Its well written, well-paced and knows its audience, giving them ( me?) exactly what they wanted at the time. I would recommend anyone to read at least one of the Piccadilly Western novels ( Edge is probably the most famous, it was even made into a Amazon Pilot show )
They come from a time before home video, Netflix ,computer games and mobile devices. When publishing was on fire and entertainment was key! These books sold enormous numbers. Although some of the content would be frowned upon today with good reason. It plays with racial stereotypes a bit to fast and loose and no way would it get published today, I suspect. However, these pulp books are part of a publishing history that should not be forgotten.
You can pretty much get most of the titles digitally from the Piccadilly Publishing website. Much like a lot of the 70/80’s horror novels, the original print copies go for a lot of cash and are hard to get hold of now. Keep scouring you charity bookshops!!!
There is a great article about these westers on the Six Gun Justice website and podcast. Also check out the fantastic Paperback Warriors blog. They have new reviews everyday for all sorts of pulp action, horror and western novels. The Podcast has been on a hiatus , but well worth listening to the episodes they have already.
The Terror of the Seven Crypts by Etienne Aubin
I’m writing these reviews just for fun. I have an extensive collection of trashy sci fi, action, horror, fantasy novels and just thought I would give some quick reviews so people get the idea what they are about. If you follow on Instagram you will have seen me post the images on my stories. I’m no reviewer, so don’t expect any literary insights!! These are books of a different time, when publishing was king and attitudes a lot different! Be warned!!!
New English Library. I am ,at the moment, trying to collect as many of the horror titles as possible. It’s a task, getting more expensive all the time!!!! Put NEL really new how to p[ump these out, as well as all sorts of other genres, but that’s a whole website on its own! Check out nasty Nels , sadly defunct now but has everything you want to know!
Eteinne Aubin was a pseudonym for British author James Moffat
This the first of the early horror series from NEL, which they randomly just seemed to start and stop numbering for some reason. This is an early one (1974) so not the most gory of tales.
The story is set during the French revolution and a bunch of character of noble descent or vaguely connected and on the run from the Revolutionaries and after a skirmish where some revolutionaries get killed, they find refuge in an abandoned chateau . The cast of characters or the usual ( aloof noble ad servant, a lecherous banker , handsome soldier and lots of Skellington’s)
Unbeknownst to, them , it is a secret hiding place of the stolen royal treasures of Marcel Fournier, one time partner of revolutionary leaders Robespierre and Marat.
What unfolds is a gothic tale of terror as members of the group disappear. An unknown assailant, chases or leads them to one of the seven crypts, which have various terrible traps and the individuals care despatched in horrific ways ( spikes, snakes, crocodiles???) .
This a a cheesy, somewhat meandering novel, that seems obsessed with the women’s breasts for a lot of its time! I don’t think it will win any rewards for historical accuracy or characterisation. Saying that, its a light fun read that I really enjoyed. Part murder mystery, part gothic horror. It feels like a novelisation of a Roger Corman movie with Vincent Price, over the top dialogue, strange characters, slight splashes of crimson and with traps as good as any Indiana Jones tale! A cracking hoot of a novel!!