Reviews: Red and Buried and One Horse Open Slay by James Mullaney

James Mullaney was a ghostwriter for Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir’s Destroyer series in its final years, and was the only author fully embraced by fans after Will Murray left the series. He was so popular that he became the only author besides Murphy and Sapir to get cover billing, in the sadly short-lived New Destroyer series for which he wrote Dead Reckoning, one of the very best the long series had to offer.

With the Destroyer on hold (temporarily, I hope), Mullaney has launched a couple of series of his own as e-books.

The first is The Red Menace and its first entry, Red and Buried, which is an overlapping of men’s adventure novel, caped-crusader adventure, and Cold War thriller. The Red Menace was a Commie-fighter extraordinaire in the ‘50s, but now it’s the early ‘70s and he’s both older and the worse for wear after grievous injuries suffered in the line of duty in his earlier days. He’s talked out of retirement following the death of one of his old agents, who had stumbled across a fearsome Soviet weaponry plot based out of Cuba.

The Red Menace penetrates Cuba as his alter ego, Patrick “Podge” Becket, president and owner of the world-renowned Becket Security, and, with Dr. Thaddeus Wainwright (who is much more than he seems) serving as his sidekick, dons cape and mask at night to protect the free world. What he discovers is more frightening than anyone could have imagined, as one of his old Soviet nemeses is running the project and not particularly concerned with what Moscow thinks anymore.

Mullaney’s books are nearly all entertaining, and Red and Buried is no exception. We flash back to the ‘50s and hop around the globe with the Red Menace, with the plot and the action always going full speed ahead.

While a promising beginning, it’s far from perfect. The book is marred by overly-broad humor and a never-ending stream of smart-ass remarks from Becket and Wainwright that are more obnoxious than funny or witty. (These were also problems with some, but by no means all, of Mullaney’s Destroyer entries.) Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable novel that Destroyer fans and those who like Commie-bashing that puts Mickey Spillane to shame will want to check out. Mullaney plants plenty of seeds throughout the book and especially at the end to indicate that the series will be going in some unexpected directions, and I expect that it will get better as he finds his footing.

Much better, and just in time for the holidays, is One Horse Open Slay, the first outing for private investigator Crag Banyon. Teeny, one of Santa’s elves, shows up at Crag’s doorstep, begging for help. Something foul is happening at the North Pole. Crag turns down the case, and Teeny is later found with a sharpened candy cane driven through the back of his skull.

Banyon’s fingerprints are all over the crime scene and one of his old partners is eager to pin the rap on him, so Crag must escape to Santa’s Workshop and figure out why this Christmas isn’t turning out so holly and jolly.

If this all sounds too cutesy, I assure you it’s really not. It’s like a hard-boiled, gin-soaked Who Framed Roger Rabbit with mythological and fairy tale figures instead of cartoon characters. Mullaney gleefully throws in every tough-guy detective cliche he can think of–for some reason I found the idea of “the third Mrs. Claus” as a femme fatale to be hilarious. It’s brisk and funny, and well worth your time during the holiday season or any other time of year. Worth your money, too, at a mere 99¢.

Merry Christmas and a crime-filled New Year from The Violent World of Parker!

Red and Buried (The Red Menace #1)

One Horse Open Slay (A Crag Banyon Mystery)