In the 1970s, iconic pulp character the Avenger was resurrected once again, with Warner Paperback Library reprinting the original stories as well as commissioning a new series to be written by Ron Goulart (author of the invaluable Cheap Thrills, a beautifully illustrated history of the pulps) under the original house-name “Kenneth Robeson.” The third of these new novels (#27 in the Warner series) was The Purple Zombie (1974), a fun and fast-paced adventure admirably done in the original pulp style.
As the story opens, it is the early 1940s, and Hollywood B-movie starlet Heather Blair is in the middle of shooting a zombie movie when her Uncle Denny knocks at her door—a dead Uncle Denny who is, without a doubt, a real zombie. Cole Wilson, one of the Avenger’s associates at Justice, Inc., happens to be visiting the film’s director at the time and begins to investigate the case. He discovers that Uncle Denny’s body was not the only one stolen from the crypt—also missing is Dr. David Franklin Sheehan, who was working on a radio-controlled bomb when he passed away. The Avenger and the rest of Justice, Inc. join Cole in a frantic pursuit to stop a fiendish German spy ring from reincarnating Dr. Sheehan and gaining access to the top-secret plans.
Goulart speeds through the plot like a fast-burning fuse. The Purple Zombie is inventive entertainment, and even when you can predict the twists (of course someone is going to stop the evil assassin from shooting the Avenger!) you aren’t dissatisfied or disappointed because the story is always moving forward. Goulart’s light touch is what is noteworthy about the book: a subtle sense of humor, swift action, and single sentence paragraphs that leap down the page as fast as the Avenger’s bullets. And nearly every chapter has at least one attraction to command our attention. A brief list would include: panther wrestling; autograph hounds; vintage airplane chases; old abandoned Western movie sets; gala Hollywood premieres; mad scientists; belts with hidden knives and radio transmitters; juice shacks; hearse chases through cemeteries; and, of course, zombies. All that, and more, in just 141 pages.
A few quotes, starting with the first two sentences of the book:
“The dead man went for a walk. That was what spoiled things and led to all the trouble.”
“There was a great whomping sound. A ball of intense orange and black grew suddenly in the gray morning. The green Spad was no longer there. Fragments of the ship, and of the man who’d been flying it, were scattering through the air like a puzzle coming apart.”
“All at once an odd, silvery pistol appeared in the Avenger’s hand. It made a whispering, coughing sound.”
Cover art by George Gross.