Mata Hari: Agent H21 – The Eye of Dawn

Mata Hari

MATA HARI: Agent H21 – THE EYE OF DAWN is a pet project of mine. For many years now I have been interested in the story of Mata Hari – and even beyond that, the myth that has built up around her. I asked myself was there a real-life character more befitting the Pulp Fiction treatment than Mata Hari? Her name alone conjured up images of exotic temple dancing, veils, ornate jewel-encrusted head-dresses and rhythmic undulating body movements. The idea of an exotic dancer who worked as a lethal double agent and used her powers of seduction to extract military secrets from her many lovers made Mata Hari an enduring archetype of the femme fatale.

In the fictional world, she’d been the subject of at least four movies, three stage musicals, and countless other plays and radio adaptations. She was the woman Indiana Jones lost his virginity to – The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles – Demons of Deception. If that wasn’t enough, in Charles K. Feldman’s Casino Royale (1967) – that’s the one with David Niven as Sir James Bond – it is suggested James Bond fathered Mata Hari’s child – naturally enough, named Mata Bond.

So I had this idea putting together an anthology of stories, featuring Mata Hari, and inviting other authors to participate. However, with my busy schedule, I kept pushing the idea back. But the idea wouldn’t go away. Finally I bit the bullet, and pitched the idea to my publisher…

“There may not be a more tantalizing, truly amazing historical figure to have existed than Mata Hari,” says Tommy Hancock, Editor in Chief of Pro Se Productions. “And when the man behind this project, David James Foster came to me with an idea for a collection of tales centered around her, the answer was simple. This is the sort of project Pro Se thrives on. Pro Se Productions is a company about reviving characters from the past, real or fictional. Mata Hari, in many ways, uniquely qualifies as both, so a new collection of tales swirling around her seemed a perfect fit for Pro Se.”

So the project was a go! I must admit, when the call for submissions went out, I wasn’t sure what to expect. When the stories started coming in, I was surprised many of the authors picked up on the fact Mata Hari was a mother, who’d lost one child and had another taken away from her. In other tales of Mata’s life, that pain, anguish and regret is often glossed over – but each of the contributors had done their homework, and their stories moved beyond the myth. While this theme was not always front and center, after all these are pulp adventure stories, it bubbled beneath the surface and gave the collection a weight, and a sense of humanity.

I am proud of the fantastic team of authors who came aboard this project – Justin Manuel Sawyer, Marie Beaud, A. S. Crowder, E. W. Farnsworth, Shannon Court, and Simone Torey. They took the concept and ran with it, and made this book what it is. I hope readers enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.


MATA HARI: AGENT H21 – THE EYE OF DAWN is now available in paperback and as an eBook, from Pro Se Production. Yes, the Queen of Spies is back in seven new tales of adventure, seduction and espionage.

Trust No One!

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Bad Man’s River (1971)

Bad Man's River
Director: Gene Martin
Starring: Lee Van Cleef | James Mason | Gina Lollobrigida | Gianni Garko | Diana Lorys | Jess Hahn | Eduardo Fajardo

By the early 1970s the Spaghetti Western was waning in popularity. To breathe life into the genre, film producers and directors were trying new things. Some chose to latch onto the kung-fu craze, resulting in films like SHANGHAI JOE. Others chose to go the comedy route, the most popular being the Trinity films with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. BAD MAN’S RIVER also wanders down the comedy path, but also latched onto another popular genre at that time, the caper film. The result is a jarring mish-mash of styles, only buoyed by the cast, who at least appear to be having fun.

In the film, Lee Van Cleef plays Roy King, the leader of an outlaw gang recruited by Gina Lollabrigida’s character, Alicia, to steal one million dollars from the Mexican government. The story itself is quite okay, I won’t outline it here, but it ticks all the boxes that a film of its kind should. There are double crosses, triple crosses, and characters who aren’t who they appear to be. But as the story progresses, genuine moments of tension are blown by silly slapstick gags.

Don’t get me wrong, BAD MAN’S RIVER is by no means a ‘stinker’, but it’s hardly essential viewing for Spaghetti Western fans. At best, it’s a minor diversion.

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Gunshine State

Title: Gunshine State
Author: Andrew Nette
Publisher: 280 Steps (pictured above)
First Published: 2016

The Heist Always Goes Wrong

You may have met Gary Chance, the central protagonist in Gunshine State, before. I’m reluctant to describe him as a hero, because Chance is a career crim – yeah, he’s a bit of a bastard. Chance previously appeared in the short story, Two Men in a Car, which appeared in the anthologyThe First Shift (2012). And he fought an Atlantean cult in Chasing Atlantis, which appeared in Hard Labour (2012) – both collections published by Crime Factory.

Gunshine State

The 2018 edition, published by Down & Out Books.

In Gunshine State, Chance’s first full length adventure, he finds himself up to his neck in trouble when a heist in Port Pirie goes wrong. He hightails it to Surfer’s Paradise, in Queensland, where he accepts a job working for Dennis Curry. Curry runs an illegal high-stakes poker game, and he has assembled a crew to roll one of his best customers. It seems like a straight forward job, but the heist goes wrong. The heist always goes wrong!

Gunshine State is a damn fine heist novel. Sure, it presents the usual genre tropes, but does so in such a way, it is clear author Andrew Nette has great affection for this kind of crime story. It’s not so much about the destination, but enjoying the ride while it lasts. And Nette gives us one hell of a ride, taking the reader from the ore-producing region of South Australia, to the Glitter Strip in Queensland, then on to Pattaya, before arriving in Melbourne for a suitably vigorous climax.

In Gary Chance, Nette has created a character who can stand shoulder to shoulder with Parker and Wyatt, and I’m looking forward to his next adventure, which I believe will be called Orphan Road, and is due out next year.

Please note, Gunshine State was reissued by Down & Out Books in early 2018.

You can find out more about Andrew Nette’s work at his website, Pulp Curry.

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Balazar the Butcher


Title: Balazar the Butcher
Author: Emerson Dodge (Paul Wheelahan)
Publisher: The Cleveland Publishing Co. (No. 1411)
First Published: 2004

‘This killer from Sonora was an odd one!’

Despite the cover image, which looks like Red Sun era Charles Bronson, I can’t recall a moustache or a knife in the story. But I guess this type of image appeals to readers of a certain age – it drew me in – so I guess it’s effective marketing.

This novella-length tale concerns Joel Masterman, the owner of the sprawling Jefferson Ranch. Joel is an old school rancher, who runs Long-horns rather than Herefords, and he doesn’t believe in fences. He despises change – rejects progress. However, he is on his last legs, and his sons, and his Grand-daughter, arrive to see him through his last days – and naturally enough, to ensure they receive their inheritance when he passes. But, two of his sons, James and Martin, who are greedy, have been hard at work behind the scenes, making plans for the ranch, even before Joel has died. They plan to sell the property to the railroad, who have been wanting to run a track through the middle of the ranch for years.

When Joel finds out about his son’s betrayal, he threatens to write them all out of the Will. But, before he can do so, the sons plot to have their father murdered.

You’re probably wondering where the titular Balazar the Butcher fits into all this? Balazar is a Mexican bandit, who had a run in with Joel Masterman, and his number one ramrod, Dave Simpson, several years earlier. The incident cost Balazar an arm, and he has been dreaming of revenge ever since. Naturally, Balazar is the perfect candidate for the killing, so the sons arrange for him to do the deed. However, they never counted on the determination of Dave Simpson.

Balazar the Butcher, for 94 of its 96 pages, is a rattling yarn. However the resolution is crammed into two short pages – the promised climax never truly arrives. Whether this is the result of the writer hitting his word count, and winding things up quickly, or a razor-wielding editor ensuring the book – including the cover – does not exceed 100 pages, I can never know.

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Hangin’ Tough

Hangin Tough

Title: Hangin’ Tough
Author: Cole Shelton (Roger Green)
Publisher: Cleveland Publishing Co. (Series 1 No 16)
Published: 2016 (Previously published 1968 – As Cut Three Notches)

‘It kinda acts as a warnin’ to others!’

Hangin’ Tough is a strange book to review, or at least this particular edition. Firstly, the painted cover art features a portrait of Clint Eastwood, and a noose. Coupling that with the title ‘Hangin’ Tough’, the immediate thought is this book is somehow connected to the film Hang ‘Em High, which starred Eastwood. Further to that, the main character in the story is Rowdy Bates, and Eastwood played a character called Rowdy Yates in the television series Rawhide. Adding these elements up, and with nary a word read, the story comes off as a pastiche, rather than a serious western tale. Having said that, this story was originally entitled Cut Three Notches, and while I have not been able to find that edition, I can speculate that with different cover art (no Eastwood), and different title, the story’s influences would not be so obvious.

The story itself is pretty simple. It starts with fourteen-year-old Rowdy Bates and his Pa making camp for the night. On an open range, they’ve come across a maverick calf with no brand, and shoot it for supper. No sooner are the steaks sizzling in the frypan, and three men sneak up upon their camp, and at gunpoint claim that the calf belongs to them. Pa explains there was no brand, but if he has made a mistake, he’s willing to make it up, work off the debt he owes. The three men want none of it. They’re just itching to lynch somebody, and they string Pa Bates up, and make Rowdy watch.

Once Pa’s dead, the three owlhoots turn their attention to Rowdy, they figure they can’t leave the boy alive. However, Rowdy breaks free and runs into the darkness, evading capture. The story skips ahead seven years. Rowdy is now a man and has taught himself to shoot pretty good. Singular in his purpose, he sets off to kill the men who murdered his Pa all those years ago.

According to Graeme Flanagan’s Australian Vintage Paperback Guide, Cole Shelton was one of the many pseudonyms of Roger Green, who also wrote as Cord Brecker, Ben Taggart, Matt Hollinger, Brad Houston, Sundown McCabe, Lesley Rogers.

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The Vengeance Trail

Vengeance Trail StarTitle: The Vengeance Trail
Author: Paul Evan Lehman
Publisher: Star Western (No. 103)
Published: 1957

‘His back was a target for every outlaw gun!’

On the title page, each Star Western declared, ‘This is a Star Western. Every story new. Every story complete.’ This is somewhat of an exaggeration, the stories were new to Australian shores, but they weren’t new. Most had been published in the United States for many years.

In this one, Jim Randall rides to Briscoe after being informed his father died from a bullet wound. In his haste, Randall pushes his mount too hard and the horse collapses. He makes the rest of the journey by stage coach. On route he meets Alonzo and Linda Lane, a father and daughter traveling to San Antonio. Linda is described as being ‘extraordinarily pretty’, and naturally enough Randall finds himself drawn to her. But a romance novel, this is not. The action starts soon after.

Vengeance Trail US 2That night, two gunslingers come for Randall and one puts a slug in his side. Before collapsing, Randall shoots one of the attackers, but the other flees into the shadows. Randall is patched up (by Linda Lane – yeah, yeah, this is not a romance novel) and continues his journey. Upon arrival in Briscoe, he finds his father wasn’t murdered at all, but took his own life after discovering he owed the bank (and the town) $70,000. It would appear to be an open and shut case, except for the encounter with the gunslingers. Their unwarranted attack alerts Randall to the fact something more sinister in going on.

Vengeance_Trail USTHE VENGEANCE TRAIL is an entertaining, but at times clunky western tale, with action sequences that are a little chaste by today’s standard. Maybe that’s because the story is older than listed. In the Star edition, it states this book was ‘First Published 1957’. In actuality, the story was originally released as THE COLD TRAIL (1949) in the United States, although later published by Ace Books as THE VENGEANCE TRAIL. It would seem Star acquired the rights from Ace, as they have even used the same artwork, although flipped in the other direction. I’ve attached some other cover art I’ve scrounged from the net for comparison.

Idaho KidPaul Evan Lehman wrote more than 50 westerns over the course of his career. Two of his westerns were turned into films, GUNSMOKE OVER THE GUADELUPE was made as GUN SMOKE (1935) – and IDAHO was made as THE IDAHO KID (1936).

For the collectors among you, seeking Australian Star Westerns, Lehman also wrote:

Passion in the Dust (1953) – Star Books 208
Texas Guns (1954) – Star Books 224
Rustlers of Rio Grande – Star Books 261
Fighting Buckeroo – Star Books 273
Bullets Don’t Bluff (1955) – Star Books 307

I’m sure there’s others, but that’s all I can confirm at this time

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Five Guns to Red Butte

Red Butte

Title: Five Guns to Red Butte
Author: Ben Taggart (Roger Green)
Publisher: Iron Horse Westerns (251) – a Division of Cleveland Publishing Co.
Published: 1976

‘Only Clint Dawson could save the town!’

The cover of this 100 page novella, features a villainous Lee Van Cleef look-a-like, which in some ways is appropriate, as the hero of the story, Clint Dawson, is clearly modelled on Clint Eastwood. However, the story borrows many of its beats from High Plains Drifter (1972), rather than The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). The dialogue in particular, mimics many famous western Eastwood-isms.

Clint Dawson makes his living with his gun; a gun-for-hire in the town of Red Butte. But the times-are-a-changing, and the civic leaders of Red Butte want to turn the town in a model of peace and harmony. They want to drive the undesirables out. As a gunslinger, Dawson is considered an undesirable and he is asked to leave the town. He refuses, as he is courting the preacher’s daughter, Mary Jo Griffin. He hopes to one day, hang up the gun and settle down.

The Mayor, Rufus Cobb, and the sheriff, Jacob Avery, hatch a plan to ensure Dawson leaves town. They frame him for cattle-rustling, and arrange to have him sent to a territorial prison for five years.

At this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking the story seems set to become a revenge western, with Dawson returning to Red Butte to face off against those who did him wrong. But in fact, the story heads in a different direction. After Dawson is released, he starts a new life as a trapper, dealing in furs and pelts

Meanwhile, notorious outlaw, Lennie Trafford, and four members of his gang have their sights set of Red Butte’s bank. They ride into town, shoot the sheriff and then take whatever they want, money, booze, and women. They kill anyone who opposes them.

The civic leaders meet, and reluctantly agree that to rid the town of the outlaw menace, they need to hire a gunfighter. They know only one, Clint Dawson, and he is asked to intercede on the town’s behalf. Despite being wronged by the town, he agrees.

The setup for the second half of this story is awfully contrived, and it’s unlikely that a man who had been betrayed – had his whole life taken from him – would be so forgiving. But that aside, FIVE GUNS TO RED BUTTE is an entertaining oater, with enough gunplay and frontier justice to satisfy most fans of the genre.

According to Graeme Flanagan’s AUSTRALIAN VINTAGE PAPERBACK GUIDE, Ben Taggart was one of the many pseudonyms of Roger Green, who also wrote as Cord Brecker, Cole Shelton, Matt Hollinger, Brad Houston, Sundown McCabe, and Lesley Rogers.

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Cutter and the Kingsnake




Cutter & the KingsnakeAs a part of Pro Se Press’ innovative Single Shot Signature Series line, the final story in the Vengeance series, CUTTER AND THE KINGSNAKE, is now available.

Scribed by James Hopwood (pen name of rising pulp adventure writer David J. Foster), the series features Nathan Cutter, an Australian soldier whose life is turned upside down when his family become innocent victims in a gangland war. Written in the style of the men’s action-adventure stories of the 1970s and ’80s, such as The Executioner, these fast-paced stories ratchet mayhem and excitement to new levels.

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Hold on to your seat. Nathan Cutter is back in his bloodiest adventure yet. Crime kingpin Yuen Lao still wants Cutter dead. But Cutter is on his trail, looking to settle the score once and for all. Featuring gunfights, car chases and an explosive finale, CUTTER AND THE KINGSNAKE is a high-octane thrill fest that will leave you gasping for breath. From Pro Se Productions.

Featuring a riveting cover and design by Jeffrey Hayes and print formatting by Antonino Lo Iacono and Marzia Marina, VENGEANCE: CUTTER AND THE KINGSNAKE is available now at Amazon

VENGEANCE: CUTTER AND THE KINGSNAKE is also available on Kindle Unlimited for free to Kindle Unlimited members.

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The Amsterdam Kill (1977)

Amsterdam 1
Country: Hong Kong | United States
Director: Robert Clouse
Starring: Robert Mitchum | Bradford Dillman | Richard Egan | Leslie Nielson | Key Luke |
Writers: Robert Clouse | Gregory Teifer
Music: Hal Schaefer

The Amsterdam Kill promises ‘the meanest Mitchum movie yet.’ That may be so, but he’s only mean because he’s so damn incompetent. His character falls into every trap imaginable. He is set-up, beaten up, kidnapped, drugged, and humiliated at every turn. It’s only at the end of the film he redeems himself – with the aid of a bulldozer – and even then it’s only after he’s been rescued by an ally. Yep, he’d been captured again.

That’s not to say The Amsterdam Kill is a truly dreadful film – it’s not, but the promotional material, which features Mitchum looking like a Dirty Harry style avenger of justice – holding a veritable cannon in his hand – is a downright lie.

In the film Mitchum plays Larry Quinlan, a washed up DEA agent, who was fired for skimming off the top of his busts. He is given a shot at redemption when a drug cartel kingpin (Key Luke) wants to ‘get out’. He promises Quinlan information on the drug pipeline – which starts in Hong Kong, and ships the goods to Amsterdam for international distribution – in exchange for a new identity in the United States. Quinlan agrees to the deal and reaches out to some old contacts; these include Odums (Bradford Dillman), Ridgeway (Richard Egan), and Knight (Leslie Nielson). From here everything goes pearshaped, and people start dying.

The Amsterdam Kill was directed by Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon) and produced by Raymond Chow (a Golden Harvest film), and despite Mitchum’s charisma never fully reaches its potential. There are a one or two good action setpieces that keep the story afloat, and good location sequences in Hong Kong and Amsterdam – but as a whole, the film doesn’t come together.

This one is for Mitchum completists only.
Amsterdam 2

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Hunters of the Golden Cobra (1982)

hunters-of-the-golden-cobra-posterCountry: Italy
Director: Antonio Margheriti (as Anthony M. Dawson)
Starring: David Warbeck | John Steiner| Almanta Suska | Luciano Pigozzi
Writers: Tito Carpi | Gianfranco Couyoumdjian
Music: Carlo Savina

Raiders of the Lost Ark was such a success many imitators followed in its wake, which if you think about it, is only right, because Raiders itself was an imitation of the old cliff-hanger adventure serials of the 1940s (along with other adventure movies). You only have to look at The Secret of the Incas, starring Charlton Heston, to see where Indiana Jones got his look. But Raiders had several things its imitators didn’t have – a decent budget, great actors, first class production values, and Steven Spielberg at the helm.

Hunters of the Golden Cobra was directed by Antonio Margheriti – under his Anthony M. Dawson pseudonym. I like Margheriti. As always, he puts it all out there, doing the best he can with the budget he’s been allocated. The models used in this production are decent (better than most CGI) and the special effects are quite okay too. Unfortunately, Hunters of the Golden Cobra has a script that you wouldn’t wrap fish ‘n’ chips in. The plot holes are large enough to swallow the Starship Cygnus. However, Margheriti keeps the action coming thick and fast, so most viewers will barely have time to catch their breath, let alone analyze the nonsensical plot.

The movie teams David Warbeck and John Steiner – who would work together again with Margheriti on Ark of the Sun God – as two soldiers assigned the task of locating the Golden Cobra, a relic, which if it falls into the wrong hands could change the political face of Asia forever.

Warbeck plays a cynical American named Bob Jackson, and Steiner plays David Frank, a stiff-upper-lip Brit, who laughs in the face of danger. Joining them on the quest is archaeologist Professor Greenwater (Luciano Pigozzi), and his niece, Julia (Almanta Suska). Julia has an ulterior motive to join the jungle quest, as she is trying to locate her twin sister, who disappeared as a child many years earlier.

As a Raiders ripoff, the film features all the setpieces you’d expect – large hairy spiders, snake pits, jungle tribes with blowdarts, numerous hair-breadth escapes, and some mystical mumbo-jumbo at the end. And of course, all of this is punctuated with a lot of explosions and machinegun fire.

So is Hunters of the Golden Cobra a good film? In a word, no. The villain is uninspired and the attempts at humor fall falt. Add this to the aforementioned script, and you get a film that is … a mess, really. But the film has a rough-hewn charm that may appeal to fans of Antonio Margheriti and trash cinema. Others beware.

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