Monday, September 12, 2016

A Handful of Hell - Robert F. Dorr

I became acquainted with Robert F. Dorr only in the past couple of years, through Facebook, e-mail correspondence, and one enjoyable phone conversation. He passed away earlier this year. Best known as a military historian specializing in aviation topics, he wrote scores of stories and articles for the men’s adventure magazines. I read some of those magazines as a kid (when I could sneak ’em into the house), so I may well have encountered Bob Dorr’s work back in the Sixties and Seventies, but since I didn’t pay much attention to the authors’ names, I can’t really say whether I did or not. (As an aside, I did notice the names of two authors back then: Wayne C. Ulsh and Roland Empey. Ulsh went on to write several paperback thrillers, and Roland Empey turned out to be Walter Kaylin, one of the most prolific and respected men’s adventure magazine writers. There’s an excellent collection of his work available from the same good folks who put together the book I’m writing about now.)

But to get back to Bob Dorr . . . Earlier this year, The Men’s Adventure Library and New Texture Books (basically Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, the editors of this volume) published A HANDFUL OF HELL, a collection of some of Robert F. Dorr’s best stories from the men’s adventure magazines. They range from Dorr’s debut story, “The Night Intruders”, the story of a Korean War bombing mission first published in REAL, August 1962, to “I Fought Burma’s ‘Red Flag’ Terrorist Killers”, from BLUEBOOK, March 1972. Most of the stories are set during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam war, but there are a few non-military adventure yarns as well.

Some of these stories are only lightly fictionalized accounts of actual incidents, while others are completely made up. But what you’ll notice immediately is the air of complete authenticity that runs through all of them. Dorr’s fiction is so realistic that it might as well be based on true stories. There’s also a great deal of empathy for the American fighting men featured in them. They’re not superheroes. They’re average guys, with individual strengths and weaknesses, just trying to do the best they can in very harrowing situations. Dorr’s style is vivid and clear, making it easy for even a non-military, non-flying reader (like me) to understand and appreciate what’s going on. There are no wasted words. These stories get moving right away and never slow down. They hit like a punch in the gut—and that’s a good thing, to my way of thinking.

I’m sorry I didn’t get this book read and this review posted before Bob passed away, so he could have known how much I enjoyed and was impressed by it. It’s a great collection, one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I give it a very high recommendation. (If you’re going to pick up a copy, I’d go for the hardback edition, which contains bonus stories and material, not to mention being a very handsome volume.)

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I'll have to get hold of this