Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Drums of the Dark Gods by W.A. Ballinger


W. Howard Baker wrote Drums of the Dark Gods under the pseudonym W. A. Ballinger, one of many aliases he used. It was Baker who allegedly created the Peter Saxon pseudonym for Amalgamated Press. Under the Saxon name he reportedly wrote Vampire’s Moon, one of the best pulp paperback vampire stories from the Swinging 70s. There is some debate among bibliophiles which of the Peter Saxon novels were written by Baker, and which were written by Wilfred McNeilly. Since I collect them all I can attest that the stylistic similarities between both writers makes it difficult to confirm. I collect any paperback written by W. Howard Baker and Wilfred McNeilly under any of their many pseudonyms. The books are always good. Drums of the Dark Gods is a tight supernatural thriller from 1967, just at the onset of that era when Peter Saxon paperbacks began to proliferate. Insurance investigator and enemy of black magic practitioners Richard Quintain takes his telepathically gifted secretary, Julia, with him to Haiti to infiltrate a group of Satanists and voodoo cultists. They come under attack almost immediately, encounter zombies and eventually find themselves trapped in the blood-drenched torture chamber of Gorga, Master of the Left Hand Path. Gruesome, suspenseful, implausible and ultimately incredibly entertaining, Drums of the Dark Gods is a wacky thrill ride. Entertaining books like this are the reason why I collected so many horror paperbacks from this era. They were good old fashioned pulp fun, not necessarily taking themselves too seriously, but serving up just what horror fans wanted. They don’t make them like this any more, and that’s a shame. Drums of the Dark Gods is fairly easy to find, and so are those great Peter Saxon paperbacks. Track down a copy and give yourself a Halloween treat.

3 comments:

  1. He did at least one of the SECRET SGENT paperback tie-ins

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  2. Tom, You are quite right in reporting that the authorship of the W. A. Ballinger and Peter Saxon books has been open to considerable question. At this late date the issue is unlikely to be resolved to anyone's complete satisfaction. I've read that after Baker's death his widow destroyed most of his business papers in a large bonfire.

    When Baker secured the editorship of the Amalgamated Press's venerable Sexton Blake detective series in the mid 1950s, it was partly on the strength of a book that was ghost-written for him by Jack Trevor Story, who had been an author on the UK Panther Books list at the time Baker had been on their editorial staff. Story, of course, later secured his reputation with The Trouble with Harry (filmed by Hitchcock) and Live Now, Pay Later. He also wrote many fine Sexton Blake novels under his own name.

    At AP in the late 1950s, Baker set up a system for producing Sexton Blake Library books that appeared under the house names Desmond Reid and Richard Williams. Manuscripts from people like Wilfred McNeilly, Vic J. Hanson (who later became a Black Horse Western writer under his own name and Jay Hill Potter), and Stephen D. Frances (the original Hank Janson) were accepted for about half the AP's fee. Baker would copy-edit the material and annotate the sections he considered in need of rewriting. The manuscript was then sent to George Paul Mann (aka Arthur Maclean), another of his old Panther Books associates I believe, who would produce a "clean" typescript for the printers and collect the other half of the AP budget for the book.

    By the time I was working at Fleetway (AP renamed) as Baker's assistant on the Sexton Blake series in the early 1960s, the Desmond Reid system was also used to produce the books that appeared under the Ballinger and Saxon pen-names and even as "by W. Howard Baker"!

    From what I've heard, it's likely that after Baker left Fleetway and set up his Press Editorial Services, these practices were continued for the paperbacks published in the UK by Mayflower and in the US by other publishers of PBOs.

    Bob, I think the Secret Agent (US)/Danger Man (UK) tie-in which you refer to as being written by W. Howard Baker was a rewrite of the Sexton Blake book Dark Frontier which had been attributed when published in that form to Arthur Maclean. I have little doubt that George Paul Mann was the original author.

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  3. Chap, first, I want to wish you well in recovering from your surgery. Although my health is currently good I know well the tribulations of recovering from a serious illness. Get well, pard!

    And thank you for this thoughtful and detailed response. You have provided much information about Baker that I didn't know, and I'm grateful that you shared it here. That was a hell of a group of writers and I'm thrilled that they are not forgotten. I will plan additional posts in the future.

    The Peter Saxon books are among my favorites, and I also enjoyed the Sexton Blake series. It's fascinating to learn that you knew Baker personally and you are invited to post here any further memories or reaction to his books. Also, does anyone have a photo of him? I've never seen one.

    Bob, I have that Secret Agent paperback and remember liking it. That was a hell of a show, too!

    Stay well, keep writing and keep reading.
    best always,
    Tom

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