Hidden Gem: “Handful of Hell”, Robert F. Dorr.
By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com.
Rarely you find a great treasure, a book that reaches back with precious reflection on the past and ignites inspiration for the future.
It’s even more delightful when it celebrates an incredible career.
A Handful of Hell: Classic War and Adventure Stories by Robert F. Dorr gives you each of those treasures. Handful of Hell is thoughtfully edited by Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle to adapt its brilliant snapshots for a new age of readers. The result is incredibly special.
This book is something unique a new audience will love, the reader who won’t sit through an entire novel to get to the action. Handful of Hell is “extreme writing”, the X-Games, the Nitro Circus of story telling. That gives these stories new life to a fresh audience.
This anthology also serves as a historical time capsule, not just of the events depicted, but also of a style of writing mostly extinct that shaped publishing and story telling into the age of Ian Fleming, Alistar MacLean, Tom Clancy and even modern thrill-writers like Stephen King, David Baldacci and Brad Thor.
Author Robert F. Dorr has lived a James Bond-like lifestyle. Born in 1939 he became a shadowy diplomat from Madagascar to Korea to Liberia, Sweden and England. A published author from age 16, Dorr has been seen in every corner of the globe on diplomatic missions and posing next to advanced fighter jets before orientation rides, something reserved for the connected and influential.
In addition to providing a rare and uniquely informed perspective on conflict, espionage and adventure Dorr is incredibly prolific as an author, having published over 70 books and contributing frequently to aviation and defense publications.
In each of the 17 remarkable adventure stories in Handful of Hell Dorr thrills and teaches- history, editing, writing and style. Writing is hard work, and Dorr has been a tireless slave-virtuoso to the trade. He bangs out tense, staccato sentences that hit like a burst of machine gun fire, punctuating the action the way it happened- and the way we want it remembered.
The post WWII era of the late 1940’s, ‘50’s 60’s, and even early ‘70’s featured a huge population of American men thrust into middle class America from a life fighting or contributing to brutal wars around the globe. Back at home middle class American life had become dull. This audience was looking for escapism in romanticized adventure. An accounting of their lives that added danger, meaning and romance to their personal narrative. Dorr’s writing does that elegantly. It is quick, tight, vivid and often terrifying.
Interestingly, this book works perfectly in the modern age of media, where attention spans are short and appetite for the sensational is strong. Each story is quick and serrated; once it saws into your imagination it won’t release your flesh to the end. Each one is a quick read. That is how audiences were then, and are again- they want tight, fast action in small sound bites. This is YouTube for book lovers, a collection of crashes, combat, catastrophe and heroism written as if a GoPro could make words on a page.
Since most “sweat” magazines now reside in a musty pile in your grandfather’s basement Handful of Hell is also a historical homage to the era of adventure magazines. If you want to understand that publishing movement, this book will unlock that understanding.
That new 500-page “best seller” thriller novel will gather dust when you crack the binding on Handful of Hell. Its historical relevance, tight, sensational editing and crisp attention to technical detail are far more engaging, entertaining and even educational. As soon as you start reading Handful of Hell you’ll know it is page-fulls of fun.