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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Taking it in the shorts, Part II

Blood & Tacos       
Edited by Johnny Shaw
(E-magazine format)
Volumes I-IV reviewed

Blood & Tacos is a specialized taste in magazines, so if you're special, you will probably enjoy the hell right out of it. 

Particularly if you take a guilty pleasure at some of the men's adventure stories that came out in the 1970s and early 1980s featuring heroes called the Penetrator, the Destroyer and the Executioner. 

Actually, you will probably enjoy the hell right out of it if your pleasure at reading these potboilers is, like mine, not even remotely guilty.

A couple of words of warning, though:

First, it helps you enjoy the magazine to have a twisted sense of humor; the more twisted, the more you enjoy.  My own sense of humor is as twisted as Lombard Street, so I do just fine.

Second, you have to have a high tolerance for a degree of calculated racism, ethnic ridicule and sexism.  Keep in mind that the stories that are lampooned in Blood & Tacos often featured obsessive murderers who were white, working class, military veterans that looked on women primarily as tools for sexual gratification.

And those are the heroes!

As editor Johnny Shaw, author of Dove Season (winner of the Stan Johnson Award for outstanding debut mystery), Big Maria (a 2013 Anthony Award winner) and Plaster City puts it in his editor's statement, "So many of the books from this era depict a world . . . where men with mustaches bring order to chaos. And women, minorities, youth culture, foreigners, and every other 'other' are treated with fear and a punch to the jaw."

Editor Johnny Shaw
"These were fast & fun books, feverish first drafts full of entertainment value . . . the B-movies of literature. Written quickly, tongue-in-cheek, and with the potential to be fun as hell," Shaw says.

Part of Blood & Tacos allure is the fact that the stories it satirizes are as over the top as a USMC LRRP on a Parris Island obstacle course:

"When a book opens with the hero fighting an albino with a spear-gun (see THE HELLFIRE CONSPIRACY (Agent for COMINSEC #4) by Ralph Hayes)," Shaw says, "one’s first reaction might be, 'that’s ridiculous.' But on closer examination, that reaction will turn to 'that’s awesome.' Bingo! Both of you are right. Ridiculously awesome!"

In the pages of Blood & Tacos, Shaw and his contributors take the plot lines a giant step further than the originals. Consider Shaw's own contribution: Chingón, The World's Deadliest Mexican, in "Blood & Tacos," a story of revenge, passion and hand grenades that appears in B&T Number One.

When Chingón makes his first appearance in the story, he is standing in front of a Mesa Verde cantina where the daughter of a U.S. Senator is being held as part of a plot to force her father, a staunch law and order candidate, to withdraw as a candidate for President of the United States.

"Chingón had lived in the heat of the Mexican desert all his life," Shaw/Godfrey writes. "If [the sun] thought it could best Chingón, it had another think coming. The sun had done its damnedest in its effort to burn him, but only managed to tan his skin to the texture of fine Corinthian leather."

It is easy to imagine Danny Trejo in the part. During a confrontation with the baddies, Shaw/Godfrey comments:

"Chingón was known by many names: the Matador of Mayhem. The Caballero of Catastrophe. The Hermano of Hurt. The Patron of Pain. And the admittedly less-inspired, Jefe of Internal Injuries."

Our hero meets a group of outlaw bikers that he will have to defeat to recover the Senator's daughter.

"A motley band of bearded and leathered pendejos, thought Chingón. No sense of style. No hygiene. No knowledge of mustache wax. No class."

The abductee, Amanda Grey, "un tamale caliente," as Chingón describes her in one passage, turns out to be as tough as the World's Deadliest Mexican, himself, joining him in a high speed getaway and firing a machine gun at their pursuers with dispatch:

"Three holes in the Jeep's windshield later and in the most undramatic of fashions it slowed to a stop with the horn blowing full volume and two dead men looking asleep, save for the holes in their foreheads."

B&T Number One would be worth the 99 cent tariff for Chingón 's exploits, alone. But Chingón, singular hero that he is, is anything but alone. Neo-pulp writer Gary Phillips, whose latest novel, The Warlord of Willow Ridge, was reviewed here a few weeks ago, introduces a character called The Silencer (AKA Booker Essex), who, in addition to being a dead-eye shot and martial arts expert is also a mechanical genius who has created a host of infernal devices he uses to eliminate no-goodniks from the planet.

Essex and his squeeze, Marcia Mathers, take revenge against a racketeer who killed Marcia's brother and Booker's best friend and business partner.
Cameron Ashley

Then there is "Longhair Death Farm," in which Cameron Ashley, editor of the Australian pulp publishing operation, The Crime Factory, introduces us to an even more outrageous character, the Albino Wino, who virtually single-handedly exterminates a hippie cult that traps and consumes the pigmentally-deprived in order to extract their incredible recuperative powers.

In B&T Number 2, British writer Ray Banks, author of the series of novels featuring Scottish P.I. Calvin Innes (The Big Blind, Beast of Burden, etc.) introduces us to "Dead Eye," a nom de guerre for Victor Cruz, a blind swordsman like Zatoichi who just happens to be Mexican instead of Japanese. Writing as "Guy Rivera," Banks serves up "End of the Renaissance," in which Cruz wipes out a vicious group of Neo-Nazis who have created a border empire fueled by Latino slave labor.

Ray Banks

Stripper Sunshine O'Shay, alias "Sunshine, Stripper Assassin," makes an appearance in "The G-String Gundown." Sunshine, a precocious 18 year old, is ostensibly the heroine of fictitious author Walter Himes (a cross between Walter Mosley and Chester Himes, apparently). In fact, however, she is actually the creation of Josh Stallings, author of the Moses McGuire series and a frequent contributor to such cyberpulp journals as Beat to a Pulp and Crime Factory. Sunshine settles a score with a trio of L.A. gang chieftains who have divided up the city's vice market among themselves, a bit of payback that dates back to an incident that occurred 19 years ago on the evening she was conceived. It's mos def a keeper.

Matthew C. Funk
Matthew C. Funk, the editor of Needle Magazine, gives us a review of "Blast Out in Lebanon," a tale about a retired CIA man known as The Sniper -- except at his West Palm Beach condo association, where the silver-hairs refer to him as "the asshole" because he querulously dominates every discussion.  

The tale, supposedly related to Funk during an interview with the former spook himself, is doubly funny, not only because it shows Funk's mastery of the genre, but also because it has such portentous aimlessness that it actually seems like the portentous philosophical ramblings that are often interspersed with murders in a real red-meat espionage yarn.

B&T Number 3 introduces us to Dax Maxwell, an ex-spook who goes by the monicker "the Chemistrator." The story, which was supposedly penned by a bakery truck driver from Indiana named Calvin Beauclerc, is actually the work of science fiction stylist Rob Kroese, author of the Mercury trilogy. 

Rob Kroese
In a caper called "Drug City U.S.A.," Chemistrator Maxwell takes on an army of goons and corrupt cops headed by dope dealer Chico Juarez. It features such forgettable dialog as this exchange after the fiend has captured our hero:

"'I remember joo,' said Chico Juarez. 'Joor wife screamed like a leetle girl when I killed her. And so deed joor daughter.'"

"'My daughter was a little girl,' growled Dax, straining against his bonds."

(No complaints, please. I warned you about the "calculated racism, ethnic ridicule and sexism." It's your fault that you ignored the warning, not mine!)

B&T 3 also contains a little gem of a tale by Todd "Big Daddy Thug" Robinson of Thuglit, the e-pulp magazine I reviewed here last week. The story, "Studs Winslow and the Bitches of the Fifth Reich," ostensibly by a retired deep sea salvage diver named Halloran Oates, concerns hero Winslow and his female companion, Cookie Cutter, who run afoul of a group of female Nazis while attempting to salvage a sunken World War Two U-boat.

Todd (Big Daddy Thug) Robinson

Stowed aboard the German sub is the legendary Mayan Amulet or Qaxteqakotittlq, an artifact of mysterious mystical power that the bitches plan to use to raise Adolph Hitler from the dead and initiate the rise of a Fifth Reich.

The story has mummy-fu, sunshine-fu, Tiger shark-fu and Great White-fu. Sharks are eaten alive. People are eaten alive. Mayan vampires run riot. Boats explode.

If Joe Bob Thornton had read it, he'd tell you to check it out!

The tone of the tale is so arch it should be be standing outside St. Louis on the West Bank of the Mississippi. Almost miraculously, it keeps you chuckling while actually mustering some of the feeling of the old Doc Savage era pulp stories it sends up.

On numerous occasions Robinson manages to accomplish both tasks simultaneously by throwing in references to other Studs Winslow stories ("Studs Winslow versus the Abominable Snowman," "Studs Winslow Swings through Time," "Studs Winslow and the Atlantean Princess of Sea-love," etc.).  They conjured the many happy hours of my youth I spent reading equally inane potboilers like "Tom Swift and his Electric Grandmother," "Tom Quest and the Cosmic Defibrillator" and the ever-popular "The Radio Boys Escape from San Quentin."

B&T Number 4 keeps the flow going with the Sanitizer in "The Potomac Penetration," a tale that is supposedly penned by Marion Hillberry (writing as Stack Grannett) but is actually the product of Nick Slosser, a writer who works at Murder by the Book, a mystery bookstore in Portland, Oregon.

Nick Slosser
It concerns The Sanitizer, a former CIA agent working as a janitor at a nuclear power plant near Washington, D.C., who becomes involved in a phony meltdown that is intended to force evacuation of the nation's capitol so an army of Russian moles can steal the classified documents fleeing bureaucrats have left lying on their desks. 

The scheme was hatched by the Scarlet Flower, a femme fatale who suggests to me how Jessica Rabbit might have turned out had she been raised a Young Pioneer in Leningrad.

For sheer insanity, there is Michael Muldoon, the vice- battling "Father Dukes," a rather punch-drunk former heavyweight who took up the cloth and a lifelong fight against crime after beating an opponent to death in the ring.

In a heavily abridged adventure called "Dopehouse Inferno" the good father fights his way through a building that is literally a den of inequity, seeking "The Piper," a crooked lawyer who controls all vice in Delaware City. 

In the process, Father Dukes destroys the building, destroys The Piper, and destroys just about everything else within several blocks that has any material value.

The story was penned by Bart Lessard, author of Rakehell (2013) and of The Danse Joyeuse at Murderer's Corner (2011), masquerading as Milt Walsh, the supposed creator of the character. It makes liberal use of every ethnic stereotype in the book -- plus a few that I swear Lessard must have invented himself -- beginning with the hero, who is portrayed as the dullest-witted yet thickest-skulled Irishman who ever quaffed a Guinness.

The stories in these four issues of Blood & Tacos are send-ups that lack the seriousness of the neo-pulp specimens in Thuglit and some of the other cyberpulp titles. But are they funny? My dear sweet god, yes!

How funny? Funny enough that at least two of the nights I was sitting in bed reading them, my raven-like cackling woke up my partner of nearly 47 years. Believe me, if you are willing to risk that sort of calamity, you'd best be rewarded by some cheap laughs!

Blood & Tacos has cheap laughs in profusion. (Were you expecting maybe expensive laughs from a publication that retails for less than a buck?)

If you are looking for serious literature that will force you to think Deep Thoughts and ponder Deep Ideas, Blood & Tacos will probably leave you a little disappointed.  

On the other hand, if you are looking for a few hours of solid amusement, buy the entire set and have a ball: this 'Zine is the most fun I've had since I was a High School sophomore sitting on the shitter in the middle of the night and reading the old Harvey Kurtzman Mad Magazine anthologies.

All you have to do is find a way to muffle your laughter so you don't rouse the neighbors. . .

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