Monday, June 13, 2016

Danger Patrol

Danger Patrol, edited by Noah Sarlat
January, 1963  Paperback Library

Longtime men’s adventure magazine editor Noah Sarlat returns with another paperback anthology of men’s mag yarns; Danger Patrol, like the Sarlat anthology Women With Guns, is sourced from the various “Diamond Line” of men’s mags Sarlat edited (ie Male, Stag, For Men Only, etc). The four stories reprinted here are novella length, likely featured as “True Book Bonues” in their original magazine printings, and they each run to 40-some pages of small print.

Danger Patrol does not benefit from the strongest of openers. “Bar Maid Decoy for the Soviet’s Fishing Fleet Spies,” written by W.J. Saber and originally appearing in the September 1960 issue of Stag, is frankly a boring, ponderous tale that I ended up abandoning. Sorry! I tried, though. But while Saber’s writing is up to the usual Diamond Line standards, doling out a polished tale with well-crafted characters, the story was just so slow-going that I couldn’t take it. One wonders why it was chosen for inclusion in the book, let alone why it was given first place.

Occuring in March, 1960, “Bar Maid” features WWII vet Andy Balliol, a hulking, 280-pound mass of muscle who has lived in England since after the war. He goes from port to port on the North Coast, selling things to remote fishermen from his boat. The British government has bullied him into assisting MI5. Turns out the Soviets have been sneaking spies into the swarms of Russian fishermen who congregate around the North Coast, with even a submarine or two lurking outside the three-mile limit. Balliol is put aboard a fishing vessel which hides all sorts of fancy sonar gear and weaponry, his assignment to use his knowledge of the area to help out the crew in their search.

While it sounds like an interesting premise, “Bar Maid” is ultimately boring and tedious. Balliol is an aytpical protagonist, married (not that this keeps him from enjoying some illicit, off-page shenanigans with a bar maid or two), and just looking to keep his business running. I’ve never been the biggest fan of naval fiction, and ultimately that’s what “Bar Maid” is, as the crew trawls around the North Coast, daunting the Russian fishermen and trying to lure out the subs. Eventually this becomes a larger plot where the titular bar maid is used to distract the Russian spies, but by that point I’d jumped ship. Saber was a good writer, though, and a men’s mag veteran; his later story, the violent heist thriller “A Bullet For The Enforcer,” was much better.

The second story is a little more along the lines of what we’ve come here for. “The Yank Who Fouled Up Rommel’s Desert Assault” is courtesy Warren J. Shanahan and originally appeared in the October 1961 issue of Stag. What’s crazy is that Warren J. Shanahan and W.J. Saber were one and the same! Shanahan was his real name and “Saber” was one of his pseudonyms. At any rate, his talent is much better displayed in this yarn that takes place in the North African theater of World War II and calls to mind the 1920s desert pulps of Harold Lamb. Our hero is a young lieutenant named Bob Courtney who is plucked out of basic training and put into espionage training in London due to his mastery of the Arabic language, quite a rare knowledge in those days.

Courtney is another atypical protagonist for the genre; he’s untried in combat, more prone to studying Oriental languages (something he’s been interested in since childhood), but he’s still burly and studly, have no fear. In typical men’s mag style the story opens en media res; it’s November, 1942, and Courtney’s in the Sahara with a one-eyed French Foreign Legionaire named Georges Le Brun, their mission to sway the native Tuareg tribes to turn against the Vichy French. The desert warriors have given fealty to that Nazi-aligned branch of the French government, and Courtney is assigned to change their minds.

From here, true to genre staple, we flash back to Courtney’s beginnings and how he ended up here in North Africa. He’s taught Berber (Shanahan seems to think the Tuaregs and Berbers are one and the same, which is not the case) and instructed in the customs of the desert nomad warriors. After several months Courtney is sent to North Africa, where we pick back up with the opening section. Courtney’s secondary objective is to stop a “Nazi anthropologist” named Flaegler who is stirring up the Tuaregs and moving them around the Sahara for some nefarious goal. After much traveling across the desert our heroes find Flaegler and the Tuaregs; so begins a war of wills to win the support of their leader.

The Diamond Line was always sure to add some sex appeal to these yarns; soon enough the strong-willed Tuareg women, who unlike the men do not wear veils, declare a “love fest.” All the single men, including Courtney and Le Brun, must sit with the single women and praise their beauty. Courtney is paired up with foxy Menia, “[whose] beauty is known all over the desert.” But Courtney knows that much trouble can arise from having an affair with a Tuareg woman, so he keeps himself to words only, lifting lines from Shakespeare and further winning the approval of the desert peoples. It works, though, as Menia gives herself to Courtney there on the desert sand – not that we get any juicy details, of course.

The desert life stuff goes on and on, finally culminating in a fight with a jealous would-be suitor of Menia who comes after Courtney. Our hero escapes with Le Brun and Nazi Flaegler and the trio race across the desert with angry Tuaregs in tow. We get another brief action scene as they hold off a group of desert warriors, Flaegler trying to kill Courtney during the action but our hero getting the drop on him. And that’s it – “Whether his mission was successful is not directly known,” Shanahan lamely wraps up Courtney’s tale, thus bringing to end another middling story.

The third tale is courtesy Richard Gallagher, definitely one of my favorite men’s mag authors. “WW II’s Forgotten Sailor and His Desert Shangri-La” originally appeared in the January 1962 issue of Stag. It’s a little too similar to the previous story in the anthology, as once again it concerns an untried but plucky protagonist who is dropped into a hostile desert environment. In this case the desert is the Gobi and the protagonist is Navy Lt. John Mulhare, who when we meet him in May 1942 is the sole operator of “Mongolian Weather Station #1,” a remote radio broadcasting unit from which Mulhare sends weather updates to the Navy fleet.

Gallagher proves why he’s one of the better authors with a tale that featuers more sex and action than the previous two stories combined. In true men’s mag style it opens with both, as Mulhare is being bathed by his Mongolian consort, Numdah (whom we learn Mulhare had to force to bathe initially, Mongolian women being infamously dirty and unwashed), when “the Japs” launch an air raid on the village. The brief action scene also sees Japanese paratroopers dropping in just in time to get gunned down by Mulhare and the Mongol warriors.

But from there it’s to the inevitable flashback, where we see that Mulhare was dropped into the Gobi in January and had to become friendly with this tribe, led by Otan-shu, while setting up his station. Gallagher I’ve found is known for starting his stories out about one thing before veering unexpectedly in another direction. So is the case here. After the Japanese attack in May, Otan-shu orders the Mongols off, and now Mulhare is all alone. The story becomes a desert survival epic, and stays that way for the duration, as Mulhare makes his miserable way across the desert.

Mulhare eventually hooks up with another horde of Mongols, but these ones are mean and treat him like a “guest,” ie a prisoner. It’s all eerily similar to the previous tale as Mulhare engages in various pissing contests with the Mongol warriors to prove his manly mettle. He even takes another Mongol babe (off-page), not caring this time whether she’s bathed or not – Gallagher also has a strange fondness for often reminding us how dirty and smelly his characters are, particular the ladies. Unlike the previous story, though, Gallagher doesn’t even give us a big finale; instead we have the briefest of sword fights between the Mongols and some Japanese, and then Mulhare is turned safely over to the Nationalist Chinese.

Gallagher also delivers the final tale, “Blow The German Sub Pens at Adriatic Harbor,” from the August 1962 issue of Male. Not only is this the best story in the anthology, it’s also the only story that captures the theme of the book, with a misfit commando squad venturing into Axis territory to blow up the titular submarine pens. It’s my favorite story by Gallagher yet, and brings to mind his tale “Five Greek Girls to Istanbul,” which was collected in Women With Guns. And for once he opens with a storyline and sticks with it for the duration of the tale.

It’s August 1942 and Sgt. Max Jeremy is in charge of a five-man commando squad tasked with destroying the subs that are wreaking havoc on Allied convoys that supply Malta. The sub pens are located in Bari, Italy, on the Adriactic coast, built into the grottoes of a cliff base; “three hundred feet of granite armor plate covered them.” For the mission Jeremy leads Sgt. Running Horse Smith, aka “Pawnee,” who runs the radio; Dino, a demolitions guy; Gino, a mountain man; and finally Biji Salvato, “a dark-haired sweet-meat of a girl” who has somehow gotten assigned to this particular mission, mostly due to having grown up in Bari.

Gallagher puts the focus on action this time; the story opens with a lone fighter plane attack on Jeremy’s squad, in which poor Dino buys it. Even after the customary flashback, to a few months previously, Gallagher keeps the action moving, skipping over the squad’s training in London and sending them posthaste to Italy, where they first take on a German radio-directional truck. Gallagher also remembers the sex factor; however when Biji makes the expected advances on Jeremy he turns her away, fearing that her sleeping with him would cause jealousy in the group. Jeremy does get lucky later, when a nubile 18 year-old girl gives herself to him in the village the squad hides in.

But once again Gallagher dwells on how dirty and grimy our heroes are; Jeremy even encounteres the girl, Sophia, because he’s hoping to take a nighttime swim to get the stink off him. When he asks Sophia for some soap, she laughs that there hasn’t been any soap in the village for three years. But there’s more action on the way, Gallagher again well capturing the plight of a small group of commandos in enemy territory, as our heroes take on a platoon of Italian soldiers near a cemetary. By the time they get to those sub pens, Jeremy’s squad has been whittled down to three people: himself, Biji, and constantly-worrying Pawnee.

Armed with 300 pounds of airdopped nitrostarch and an 88mm artillery shell, which they steal from the Germans in another action sequence, Jeremy and team ply through the foggy harbor on a motor boat, evading the “cornstalk-thick” mines. We don’t get a big climactic shootout, though; when the Germans and Italians spot our heroes, they jump from the boat, which is used as an explosive battering ram. In the chaos of escape Jeremy and Biji are separated, but Gallagher – who arbitrarily drops into first-person narration here and there, the idea being that he is “friends” with Jeremy or something – informs us that the two were married in ’46, and indeed Gallagher even just recently visited them in New York!

Saved by a last story that redeems the anthology, Danger Patrol really doesn’t display the best material the Diamond Line had to offer. I’m certain there were much better stories Sarlat could’ve chosen. The stories here, other than the last one, are too ponderous and lack the rugged heroism expected from vintage men’s mag yarns. However the book’s still recommended for the sole fact that it actually features such yarns – it’s sure as hell a cheaper alternative than hunting down the original magazines.

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