Monday, April 10, 2017

Terror In Algiers

Terror In Algiers, by Emile C. Schurmacher
July, 1962  Paperback Library

Here we have yet another vintage men’s adventure magazine anthology, another one devoted to the work of prolific writer Emile C. Schurmacher. And this is a topical publication for sure, capitalizing on the Algerian War that was raging at the time; the four stories collected here all take place in the conflict, featuring French Foreign Legion soldiers, Algerian terrorists, French revolutionists, and even the occasional “Yank” who has become involved to make a buck or two.

Once again Schurmacher delivers a Preface in which he makes the claim of being a globe-trotting reporter, same as he did in his (superior) men’s mag collection Our Secret War Against Red China. Even the cover makes the claim that Schurmacher was an Algiers-based reporter. My assumption is this is all b.s. and Schurmacher, like the majority of men’s mag writers, was just producing straight-up fiction, but in reality it turns out that at least some of the stories in Terror In Algiers are more along the lines of potted histories, as some of the protagonists are real people.

Such is the case with the first story, “The Rape Of Algiers,” which was originally published in the August 1962 issue of Bluebook. The hero of this yarn is real-life ass-kicking French soldier Colonel Yves Godard, who we’re informed is known as “Colonel X” among his enemies in battle-strewn Algiers. Godard is a founding member of the SAO, the Secret Army Organization of General Salan, the objective of which is to keep Algieria in the hands of the French. They hate “traitor” De Gaulle for insisting that the Algerians run their own country, thus they are at war both with the Algerian FLN as well as the French.

Schurmacher starts with the action as Godard, on the run from some pursuing FLN assassins, hops into the apartment of a sexy French streetwalker who happens to be an undercover SAO agent – we’re informed most French people here in Tangiers support the secret army. Godard whips out a handy “burp gun” and mows ‘em down, knowing he’ll get away scot free because the police are also on the side of the SAO. But that “batard” De Gaulle has sent in a new police force with the express intent of taking down General Salan’s force. In the course of which the sadists even capture the poor streetwalking gal (with whom Godard does not have sex, thus ignoring all laws of the world of men’s magazines) and slit her throat.

Before Godard can launch a vengeance strike we jump back in time, as is mandatory for most men’s mag stories, and have a long backstory on how Godard came to serve Salan and how the SAO came to be. A former Green Beret in French Indochina, Godard wracked up some serious battlefield experience before eventually finding himself in Tangiers. Salan first assigns him to look into an FLN plot in which sexy European hookers are somehow causing French Foreign Legion soldiers to leave the service. Godard poses as a new recruit, has (off-page) sex with one of the hookers, and soon uncovers the spy network, which extends to Paris.

The FLN is the main villain here, and Godard swears an oath that he’ll kill “eight Moslems for every one European.” We learn that hundreds of French and FLN are indeed killed by Salan and Godard, but the tale ends with them escaping Tangiers when the heat really moves in. From Wikipedia I learned that Godard never returned to Algieria, despite Schurmacher’s proclamations at the end that he would; he died of natural causes in the ‘70s.

“Death In The Casbah” is another shortish story, originally appearing as “I Hunt Terrorists” in the March 1958 issue of Man’s Magazine. The only tale in the collection to be told in first-person, it, like the previous story, wasn’t part of the Diamond Line of men’s magazines, thus this story is not only shorter but also strives to be more realistic, coming off less like the rugged adventure fiction of the Diamond line magazines.

Lt. Rene Laroche informs us how he came to work for the French Intelligence service in Algeria, mostly because he can pass for a native; when the tale opens he’s in a firefight with some FLN terrorists who have come after a source of intel. This story is really two long siege pieces nearly back-to-back; after escaping this assassination attempt, Laroche flees back to HQ and rounds up a team of Foreign Legion Green Berets. They head into the district where the terrorists have holed up and shoot it out with them overnight; one’s killed by a sniper and the other blows himself up in an early version of a suicide vest – the saddest thing about this collection is how little things have changed.

The second siege follows immediately after, as Laroche gets word that a top FLN terrorist, as well as his equally-deadly mistress, have holed up in yet another apartment and are shooting it out. The “female terrorist” angle had me expecting the usual men’s mag luridism, but the lady stays off-page and is unexploited, save for a lame and strange denoument in which the girl’s boyfriend, as part of a surrender bargain, requests that the lady’s clothes be brought up to the apartment, as she’s been fighting in the buff! And that’s that for this one, easily the least-entertaining story in the book. 

“Planes, Gold, Guns and Women,” takes us back to the Diamond Line yarns, not to mention the novella length of their “True Booklength” features, which this one certainly was, originally appearing as “King Of the Gun And Girl Smugglers” in Male Magazine, October, 1957. Wonderfully-named Yank hero Tex Fargo, a “hard-bitten, self-exiled pilot,” is an interesting dude because in the previous two stories he’d be considered the villain, given that, as a mercenary pilot-for-hire, he sometimes flies wanted FLN terrorists out of Tangiers, evading pursuing French planes.

This story’s very much in the classic men’s mag mode, starting on the (bedroom) action, with Tex getting offered a job from sexy French babe Monique, who tells a story about a stash of diamonds in Cairo before going up to Tex’s room. But in the midst of all the (off-page) sex, Tex realizes Monique is really an undercover French operative, here to snuff out whether Tex is really about to fly two much-wanted FLN terrorists to Cairo that night. He is and does, again evading the French pursuing planes, chuckling over the free sex he got in the bargain from the sexy French spy babe.

From here to the usual flashback, in which we learn that Tex was a young hotshot pilot in WWII and then got involved in the post-war black market thanks to another sexy Eurobabe: Jeanne, a Belgium lady who approached Tex with the offer to fly bootleg cargo for her sort of startup black market operation. But after that one came to an abrupt end, with Jean in jail and her colleague dead, Tex hooked up with an Italian gunrunner named Golpe who ran his business from a villa in Rome. In between all the bootleg-flying Tex has frequent (off-page) sex with “the Contessa,” who shows up later in the tale to be flown to the Middle East to be some sheik’s latest wife.

When the Golpe business also runs out, Tex next moves on to Algeria, figuring he can set up his own black market flying service in the midst of the war. This part is given less focus than the other parts, and also has a strange downer of a finale in which Tex is hired to rescue a prince sentenced to death in Benghazi; Tex fails in the escape attempt and the prince is killed anyway, which proves that Benghazi is a bad-luck place even in vintage fiction. The tale ends with Tex excited to reap more illicit profit (and off-page sex) in the burgeoning market of the Algerian war.

The final tale is also a long one: “Legionnaire Charney of the Bat d’Af,” which was first published as “Mike Charney: The Vanishing Legionainnaire” in the February 1959 issue of Man’s World. This one’s sort of a French Foreign Legion desert adventure mixed with a prison story. Mike Charney is a half-American, half-French Legionnaire who is currently serving time in the Bat d’Af prison compound in the middle of the desert. Gradually we’ll learn he’s here due to getting in a firefight with FLN forces that he shouldn’t have; he and his entire unit were sent to the harsh prison in reprimand.

Charney’s history is probed; starting off as a mechanic in French Indochina, he got so sick of the VC atrocities that he joined the Foreign Legion Green Berets. After the French withdrawal Charney moved on to Tangier, where as mentioned he got into trouble and was sent to prison. When we meet him he’s running his “camion” along the dusty roads and encounters sexy babe Monique, daughter of some VIP who will soon be withdrawing from the area, too, given all the FLN trouble. Charney spends his nights thinking about her and can’t even bring himself to touch the fat and ugly hookers provided for the imprisoned Legionnaires. We get lots of prison fiction stuff, from the cliched sadist in charge to quickly-stifled revolts.

The action doesn’t come to a head until the final quarter, when the FLN get more bold in their attacks; Charney and compatriots kill several of them in a vengeance strike. When they find that Monique has been abducted, they set off across the desert in pursuit. Only Charney survives the melee, saving Monique after killing her captors. Here the story becomes a desert survival epic where the two budding lovers endure the elements while getting to safety – and not having sex! Not, that is, until a massive sandstorm hits one day, and while burrowing into the ground for safety the two get busy (off-page, naturally).

This time we’re given an upbeat finale in which Charney, who has decided to go AWOL, gets Monique to civilization and tells her so long – he’s going to live like a refugee or something in Tangiers. But then word comes down that Monique’s father, a VIP in the French government, is so overjoyed that his daughter was saved that Charney’s not only been exonerated from his prison term but also given a medal and a promotion.

And that’s it for the collection – to tell the truth, none of these stories were very compelling, and I’m sure there were better Foreign Legion tales in the men’s mags of the day…perhaps just none by Shcurmacher. Anyway I’d definitely recommend Our Secret War Against Red China over this one.

Sadly, all these stories about ‘50s/’60s Tangiers, and not a single appearance by William S. Burroughs! Now that would’ve made for one helluva messed-up men’s mag story…


Robert Deis (aka "SubtropicBob") said...

Another great post, Joe. Love your topics and in-depth research. The cover painting of that paperback is by Stan Borack, who also did many men's adventure magazine covers. Steve Holland is the male model, of course. Cheers!

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comment, Bob! Borak also did the cover for "Our Secret War Against Red China," which I like even more.

Robert Deis (aka "SubtropicBob") said...

Yep! And there's Steve Holland again on "Our Secret War.." Cool! I don't know who Borack used for female models.