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LAST PUFFS by Harley Mazuk, Mystery/Crime, 293 pp., $14.95 (Paperback) $4.99
Author: Harley Mazuk
Publisher: New Pulp Press
Genre: Mystery/Crime/Private Eye
the violence in Spain, has become a pacifist and makes a marginal living
as a private eye. Max who lost an eye in Spain but owes his life to
Frank, has pledged Frank eternal loyalty. He’s a loyal communist party
member and successful criminal attorney.
Frank takes on a case for Joan Spring,
half-Chinese wife of a wealthy banker. Joan seduces Frank to ensure his
loyalty. But Frank busts up a prostitution/white slavery ring at the
Lotus House a brothel in Chinatown, where Joan was keeping refugees from
Then Max sees a woman working in a Fresno cigar factory, who is a dead ringer for Amanda, and brings in Frank, who learns it is
Amanda. She has tracked the fascists who killed her father and left her
for dead from her village in Spain to California. Amanda wants Frank to
help her take revenge. And by the way, she says the ten-year-old boy
with her is Frank’s son.
Joan Spring turns out to be a Red Chinese secret agent, and she’s
drawn a line through Max’s name with a pencil. Can Frank save Max again?
Can he help Amanda avenge her father when he’s sworn off violence? Can
he protect her from her target’s daughter, the sadistic Veronica
Rios-Ortega? Join Frank Swiver in the swift-moving story, Last Puffs.
.5 out of 5 stars Wonderful Read – Easy and Fun
February 10, 2018
Format: Kindle Edition| Verified Purchase
Frank Swiver is a detective. Murder investigations are his specialty.
He likes wine, loose women and fast cars. Not necessarily in that
order. Swiver inhabits an earlier world that is archaic and, without
doubt, politically incorrect by today’s standards. Harley Mazuk
recreates in Swiver a character from another era whose story is fun and
entertaining. Mazuk has an impressive knowledge of wines and cars which
permeate his narrative. As to his knowledge of women, I am not competent
to judge. I do know that the geography and time period portrayed is
well researched. There are many twists and turns to the plot as well as
an injection of espionage that keeps the reader guessing. Fans of old
fashion detective novels will enjoy this book. I know, I did.
— Amazon Reviewer
snow in the high ground during the night, and the captain wanted our squad,
which was nine men, to relieve an outpost on the crest of a hill, just up above
the tree line. Max Rabinowitz took point, and I followed, climbing steadily. It
was a cold, quiet morning, and we talked between ourselves about the ’38 baseball
season, and whether we’d be back in the States to see any games.
and the Tigers play DiMaggio and the Yanks,” said Max. Max was dark-haired and
rangy, and I always thought he looked a bit like Cary Grant, though now after a
year in the field, there was nothing suave nor dapper in his appearance.
“We’ve already seen DiMaggio play in San Francisco
with the Seals.”
Padres. Besides, he isn’t in the big leagues yet,” said Max.
I walked along just off Max’s shoulder. I was about the same height as Max, six
feet, six-one, a little thinner, and looked at least as scruffy that morning. I
wore a burgundy scarf around my head and ears, under a dirty and battered grey
fedora. I scanned the virgin snow ahead of us with heavy-lidded eyes. The wind
was faint, just enough to pick up a feathery wisp of snow in spots and spin it
they’ll keep him down on the farm for ’38.”
pitch to your boy Greenberg,” I told Max.
throws 100 miles an hour, and he strikes out more than one per inning.”
almost one an inning,”
Smitty, who was from Cleveland.
“Hundred mile an hour heat and nobody knows where it’s going.”
the cover of the tree line, Smitty kind of hopped up on one leg and threw his arms
out. I wondered what sort of a weird little dance that was; then I heard the
automatic weapons fire coming down at us off the hill. It was a mechanical
chatter, rather than gunpowder explosions, and the wind had blown the sound
around the hills so that the bullets cut Smitty down before it had reached us.
Branches near us started to snap off and tumble earthwards. Max hit the snow on
his belly and rolled downhill to his right to get to cover behind a rock. I
motioned for the others to get back into the trees, and dove into a low spot in
the fascists had overrun the outpost we’d been climbing up to the ridge to
relieve, and the firing was coming from there. We returned fire. I heard cries
in Spanish from behind me, a curse in a low voice, then a high-pitched prayer.
flipping end-over-end down the hill toward me. It seemed like slow motion. It
hit a rock and bounced up. I could say a Hail Mary in about four seconds flat
in those days, and I said one then. The grenade sailed over my head; I heard it
explode, and felt a shower of dirt on my back. In front of me, Max was popping
up and firing one round with his Springfield,
then dropping behind the rock. I popped up and fired when he dropped down. I
thought we were doing pretty well taking turns, but grenades kept arcing over
our heads and bullets pinged into Max’s rock and raked the dirt beside me. Max
tried lobbing one of his grenades towards the machine gun, but his throw was
uphill, and he didn’t have an arm like DiMaggio.
tried to aim and squeeze the trigger instead of popping off quick shots. Then I
didn’t hear anyone behind us firing anymore. I looked around and saw Rocco and
Pete sprawled in the grass. I called to a couple of the others.
fastballs,” I told him. “Maybe it’s time for us to dust.” Then we heard an
airplane motor. It grew louder, and the first plane, a Heinkel, zoomed over the
ridge seconds later. Max had risen to his feet and was scrambling down the
slope. He looked back over his shoulder at the plane just as a cannon shot from
the aircraft hit the rock he’d been behind. The explosion flipped Max in
mid-air and tossed him towards me. The ground under him ripped up and clods of
dirt flew towards us.
how long, I don’t know. When I opened my eyes, I was facing the sky but I
smelled the forest floor, earth and leaves. Truffles, perhaps? Max was on top
of me, limp, and it was quiet. No planes, no shooting. “Max,” I said, “we gotta
get up. Get off me.” I felt my voice in my head, but couldn’t hear it in my
ears. Max didn’t get up. I rolled him over next to me, and saw that his hat was
gone. The top of his head and the right
side of his face were a collage of blood and dirt. I shook him, and he gasped
for breath, earth falling out of his nostrils. He was still alive.
see.” It didn’t sound like Max, but there was no one else there.
of the dirt, debris and blood off Max’s head with my canteen, then I ripped
open a compress from my pack and put it over his forehead and eyes. I wrapped more
dressing around his head to keep the bandage in place “Hold this on your face,
man. Don’t try to open your eyes.” I was afraid his right eyeball was going to
fall out. “Hold it tight.” Using the slope, I maneuvered him across my
shoulder, head down in front of me, and struggled to my feet. I took off at a
trot along the tree line.
east but it looked like the whole damned fascist army was charging down from
the outpost, headed that way, so I ran south. It was downhill and my momentum
carried us. The going was easy, but I felt panic building in my gut so I tried
to slow down. I slid on the snow, fell on my butt, and slammed into a tree and
in the head from that plane. Say an act of contrition or something.”
off his forehead and looked under it. His wound didn’t appear to be deep, but
the right eye was very bad, all blood and pulp, and the bone around it may have
been shattered. “Press on this, Max.” I pressed the bandage back against his
face and put his hand on it.
again, and stepped off, forcing myself to keep my pace steady and not too fast.
We went on till the sun was high in the sky. I didn’t fall again, but my ankles
were burning, and my toes were pinched in my boots from going downhill. I
stopped twice, and opened our bota. I
washed my mouth out with the wine, a rustic red from Calatayud, then I cradled
Max’s head and opened his mouth. I squirted the wine in, squeezing the leather
skin, the way I’d squeezed the trigger of my rifle. Max coughed. He seemed only
the south, parallel to our lines, until we were deep in some woods. I was
scared and it wasn’t easy, but I would have done anything for Max. We had been
roommates and run around together at Berkeley.
We fell out of touch when he went to law school, and I started drinking, trying
to forget Cicilia. When Max re-connected with me in ’36, he tried to help me
sober up and get back on my feet. I’d come around for a while, but always, I’d
slip back into the abyss.
student days. I hadn’t been serious about my politics then. One evening to keep
me from drowning my demons, Max took me to a meeting about the Spanish Civil
War and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Before the night was over, we’d signed up
to fight in Spain.
Max didn’t have to. I think he did it to save me. Now I was going to save him.
hills, the woods quickly grew dark. There was a smell of pines, and the footing
was better—no snow or ice on the ground, which was hard and covered with dry
pine needles. Under the background din of war, the roar of artillery and
airplanes, I heard water down to my left. I turned towards it and a few minutes
later, came to a stream, probably flowing south to the Ebro.
It wasn’t night yet, but it was so dark under the tall trees, I would have walked
into the stream without seeing it if not for the sound of the water rushing
over the rocks. I put Max down on his back, head and shoulders downhill toward
the stream. The blood had dried; the gauze was stuck to his head. I scooped up
water with my hat and poured it on his face. The icy cold shocked him into
consciousness—and panic and pain.
“Gimme the morphine.” But I had used our morphine one night weeks ago on guard
duty on a cold hillside. We did have a flask of Cardenal Mendoza Spanish
Brandy, and I gave him some, then I drank. I rinsed his wound good and put a
new bandage on it using Max’s kit this time. My legs felt weak and started to
shake with cold or exhaustion. I don’t know if I could have stood up then if the
Generalissimo had come down the hill
waving his pistoles. We were down
low, and there were some bare shrubs and young trees sheltering us on the
uphill slope. I fought my exhaustion and tried to keep watch as long as I
could. I had another swallow of brandy and pulled close to Max. My eyes closed,
and I fell asleep.
Interview with the Author
What initially got you interested in writing?
One of the earliest tugs in the direction of writing that I can remember was from Mad Magazine. I liked their parodies and thought perhaps I could write good humor. I put together my own Mad-like newsletters for my grade school friends. Some years later, as an adult, I saw Walter Mosley at a book signing. There was a line out the door and around the front of the store, and a most of the folks in that line were young women. Mosley didn’t look like he was working too hard, and there were all these cute young gals lining up to see him. If that’s what writing was, that appealed to me.
What genres do you write in?
I have written primarily detective fiction—private eye sub-genre. Both my novels have been noir. Last Puffs is pulp fiction Sometimes I’m hard-boiled but mostly, I’m medium-boiled.
What drew you to writing these specific genres?
Reading. I loved Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain. I wanted to write stories that they might feel were familiar in some way.
How did you break into the field?
I had been working for some time on my first novel, White with Fish, Red with Murder, and I needed a change, something fresh. Around that same time, I was going on a beach vacation with my family, and I thought I’d try to do a short story about Frank Swiver, the same p.i. who stars in my novel. It was my first serious short story attempt, “The Tall Blonde with the Hot Boiler,” and I sold it to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, where it appeared in the “Black Mask” section (just where I wanted to see it). I was thrilled, and it was very encouraging for a new writer. I’m sure the experience helped me finish the novels and see them through publishing.
What do you want readers to take away from reading your works?
Well, I intend them to be entertaining, fun reads, so I hope readers derive some pleasure from my stories. I introduce as themes a number of ideas that I think are relevant to life today and look at them through the lens of 1948-’49. Violence, non-violence; violence against women; fascism, socialism; the voice of the working class, America as a nation of immigrants.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
Hearing from people who like my stories. Especially if they go on to specify some detail they particularly enjoyed, or some detail I got right for them. I do put things in my books and stories that I think might be meaningful only to me, and sometimes I learn that some of them resonate with others, too.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
Finding a good market for your work. Ellery Queen declined one of my stories last week, and that can be tough to cope with sometimes. I’m a big boy and I can take rejection, but it’s challenging as to, what do I do next? There are not too many outlets for private eye stories. Do I send it somewhere else? Do I change it? Or do I put it aside and start something new?
What advice would you give to people wanting to enter the field?
Write what you like, as opposed to trying to write what you think the market wants. As I just said above, finding a home for your work can be the most challenging thing about writing, but it’s good to believe in what you wrote.
What type of books do you enjoy reading?
I like early-to-mid-20th-century fiction. Not just Hammett, Chandler, and Cain, but also people like Ernest Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ian Fleming, Flannery O’Connor, Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, John O’Hara, Eric Ambler. Among contemporary authors, I enjoy Michael Connelly. I just read Walter Mosley’s Rose Gold, and I thought it was his best since Devil in a Blue Dress, so he’s still got it.
Is there anything else besides writing you think people would find interesting about you?
Oh, sure—I could swap travel stories with some people, wine stories with others. I think what happens when you’re a writer is that many of the most interesting things about you find their way into your work—thinly disguised.
What are the best ways to connect with you, or find out more about your work?
Leave a review if you read something of mine that you like. Comment on a blog post and I’ll get back to you. Or send me an e-mail if you have a question. Harley.firstname.lastname@example.org. I love to discuss my work. And you can always find out about me at my website, http://www.harleymazuk.com/.
that the Indians won the World Series. He majored in English literature
at Hiram College in Ohio, and Elphinstone College, Bombay, India. Harley
worked as a record salesman (vinyl) and later served the U.S.
Government in Information Technology and in communications, where he
honed his writing style as an editor and content provider for official
web sites.Retired now, he likes to write pulp fiction, mostly private eye stories, several of which have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. His first full length novel, White with Fish, Red with Murder, was released in 2017, and his newest, Last Puffs, just came out in January 2018.
Harley’s other passions are his wife Anastasia, their two children, reading, running, Italian cars, California wine and peace.
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