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Excerpt Reveal: Paperback Jack by Loren D. Estleman

Paperback JackPaperback Jack is a brand new historical thriller from Grand Master Loren D. Estleman: lurid paperback covers promised sex and danger, but what went on behind the scenes was nearly as spicy as the adventures between the covers.

1946. Fresh from the War in Europe, hack writer Jacob Heppleman discovers a changed world back home. The pulp magazines he used to write for are dying, replaced by a revolutionary new publishing racket: paperback novels, offering cheap excitement for the common man and woman. Although scorned by the critics, the tawdry drugstore novels sell like hotcakes – or so Jacob is assured by the enterprising head of Blue Devil Books, a pioneer in paperback publishing, known for its two-fisted heroes and underclad cover girls.

As “Jack Holly,” Jacob finds success as the author of scandalously bestselling crime novels. He prides himself on the authenticity of his work, however, which means picking the brains of some less than reputable characters, including an Irish gangster who wants a cut of the profits – or else. Meanwhile, as Hollywood comes calling, the entire industry also comes under fire from censorious politicians out to tame the paperback jungle in the name of public morality.

Targeted by both Congress and the Mob, Jay may end up the victim of his own success – unless he can write his way to a happier ending.

Paperback Jack will be available on November 15th, 2022. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


CHAPTER ONE

The Remington Streamliner portable was black, glossy, curved, with a sleek low profile like a Cadillac roadster. It had four rows of black-and-silver keys, but three keys were enameled in ruby red. One, the tabulator (largely useless except to accountants), was labeled SELF STARTER.

The typewriter—for that’s all it was, despite the trimmings— compared to his old gray Royal standard like a spaceship parked next to a hay wagon. In a pawnshop window it was absurdly out of place, surrounded by egg-beaters and pocket watches, bouquets of fountain pens, a Chock full o’Nuts coffee can filled with wire-rimmed spectacles tangled inextricably like paper clips, a full set of the World Book Encyclopedia (outdated emphatically by events in Munich and Yalta). It looked proud and disdainful, a prince in exile.

And it spoke to him.

“My keys will never tangle or stick,” it said. “I will never skip a space or type above or below the line. All I ask is a cleaning now and then, a little light oil, and I will serve you faithfully forever. Together we will change the face of literature.”

Jacob tugged on the handle to the door of the shop. It wouldn’t budge. A tin sign in the barred window told him to ring the bell. He pressed a brass button. There was a pause, then a buzz and a clunk, and he pulled the door open. That was something new in the world of retail. It belonged in a prison film.

The proprietor was an anachronism in green felt sleeve-protectors, black unbuttoned vest powdered with gray ash, and a green eyeshade that turned his long narrow face the color of a pickle. His red bow tie was so surrealistically crooked it might have been tied that way deliberately. He stood behind an old-fashioned wooden counter that reached to his sternum. The cardboard recruiting poster on a shelf behind him might have been merchandise, or it might have been stood up there by a previous owner and forgotten: The snarling German soldier wore a spiked helmet from two wars ago. The colors were faded and the corners curled inward.

“Yes-s?” A slight hissing at the end, as if the man had drawn in too much breath for just that one syllable and the rest had to escape.

“What are you asking for the typewriter in the window?”

The proprietor reached up to adjust a pair of glasses he wasn’t wearing, squinting past the visitor’s shoulder in the direction of an item he knew was there. “Fifty dollars.”

Jacob goggled. “I wouldn’t pay that for a brand-new machine!”

“Depression’s over, mister. Cost of living’s on the rise.”

“I’ll give you twenty-five.” He could get a used Underwood from the Business Exchange for less; but it must be the Remington.

The man behind the counter registered funny-papers astonishment. Jacob was half surprised his eyeshade didn’t fly off his head. “That’s less than I gave the dame who brought it in.”

“Do you know why she didn’t redeem it?” He had a sudden doubt about the mechanics of the machine.

“It was her father’s. Fergus Tunn, the poet? FBI tagged him for writing Nazi propaganda. They stuck him in a booby hatch upstate. She pawned it to keep him in straw to weave baskets. It was in all the papers.”

There it was again, that accusatory coda: It was in all the papers. The uninformed were the second-class citizens of the postwar world. “When did this happen?”

“Last year sometime.”

“Last year sometime I was in Brussels, waiting for my orders to ship home. If it made the papers there, it was in French. Or Flemish, which no one speaks a hundred yards outside the borders. Thirty.”

“Fifty’s the price. Comes with a case, pebbled-black fabric with chromium latches. It’s a quality item.”

Jacob wished he’d worn his uniform and medals. They had a wizard effect; or had, before the parades on Fifth Avenue lost their novelty. His suit was the one he’d worn to basic training, and it was out of fashion even then, but it had fit. Now it hung loose around the belly and cinched tight at the shoulders. “Can’t a veteran get a break?”

A tongue came off a tooth with a sharp snick. “Vets. Spoiled buggers.”

Spoiled?”

“Sure. All them free ham steaks and gasoline to burn while us Home Fronters had to hoard stamps to buy baloney and drive clear out to Coney Island for a little sun, which I think was rationed too. Now you want a deal just ’cause you wasn’t smart enough to dodge the draft. I ask you.”

“Just for that, ten, you son of a bitch!” Jacob scooped out his Army .45 and slammed it on the counter.

The muscles in the proprietor’s face shut down. He groped under the counter and lifted a short-barreled revolver into line with Jacob’s chest.

“This’s New York, Joe. The milkman packs iron.”

He put away the pistol. He’d packed it for muggers; he hadn’t expected to need it indoors even in that neighborhood.

The revolver vanished. “Next time I call the cops. Four-flusher.”

The buzzer let him out, blowing a raspberry.

Jacob drank six jiggers of Four Roses in a joint down the street called Ted’s Last Chance. It was of a piece with its surroundings, plopped between a check-cashing place and a Salvation Army store that smelled like old gym socks: Dead fighters struck old-fashioned stances in flyblown frames behind the bar. The juke kept playing “I’ll Never Smile Again.” Sots blubbered in their Schlitz.

After Last Call, when the only lights burning in the pawnshop were the little Christmas bulbs at the back to discourage burglars, Jacob threw a brick through the window and ran away with the Remington under his arm. He almost tossed a sawbuck into the vacant spot, but he might as well have left a card. And the alarm was clanging at his heels.

He’d pulled a gun on a civilian and robbed a legitimate place of business. He was a fugitive.

His name was Jacob Heppleman. He was twenty-nine years old, unmarried but no virgin, and thanks to the war was in as good a physical condition as he’d ever been or was ever likely to be. He was a writer, or had been before Pearl. Although he’d written a good deal about the sort of person who threw bricks through windows and snatched what was on the other side, he’d always dismissed them as freaks of nature, career crooks or wretches driven by ignorance or bad company into a Life of Crime: Fellows with broken noses, who doubled all their negatives and ended their sentences with prepositions; plot devices. This was the first criminal act of his life. It left him mortified, as if he’d been caught masturbating by the rabbi.

But three blocks away, with no police whistles in pursuit, no sirens, no warning shots into the air—none of the tricks he employed on paper to goose up suspense—he slowed to a stroll, shifting the weight of the Remington under his other arm to rest its mate. He might have been taking home a legitimate purchase. No, thanks, don’t bother to wrap it. I don’t have far to go.

It was a fine fall evening, geese squawking in Central Park; no reason for them to map out the migration just yet. It made a man sanguine. Petty theft, what was that? It wasn’t as if anything he’d fought for still applied.

Halfway home, he realized he’d left the carrying case behind.


Click below to pre-order your copy of Paperback Jack, coming November 15th, 2022!

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