Wednesday, August 24, 2016

THE MYTH HUNTER - Curse of the Necronomicon



THE MYTH HUNTER
Curse of the Necronomicon
By Percival Constantine
Nifty Entertainment
145 pgs

Of the various series created by new pulp scribe Percival Constantine, our favorite is his Myth Hunter books starring beautiful Elisa Hill; a trained archeologist who travels the globe in search of arcane artifacts often believed to me mere legends.  In this latest adventure, Hill, in an effort to save her old lover-partner, Lucas Davalos, finds herself caught up in the quest of the notorious book known as the Necronomicon.

First revealed to the public in the horror stories of pulp great, H.P. Lovecraft, the Necronomicon was described as a book of magic which could offer untold powers. The source of thes dark powers were the Elder Gods; a race of monstrous beings banished to another dimension before the dawn of time. A wealthy, recluse financier whose health has him at death’s door, believes the book actually exist and that it can grant him immortality.

And so the hunt is on with Hill and Davalos aided by the beautiful Japanese kitsune Asami (a magical being who can turn herself into a kind of were-fox creature) battling an evil demonic cult and army of paid mercenaries to stop a madman from achieving his perverted goals. The action is non-stop as Constantine controls pacing like a fined tuned Ferrari engine whipping through delightful character scenes with just the right moments of personal tension.

We’ve said all along that Constantine just gets better with every new book he writes.  “Curse of the Necronomican” continues to prove us right as it has become our favorite Myth Hunter entry thus far.  If you enjoy great pulp adventures with gutsy female heroes, look no further, dear readers.  This one’s for you.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

THE MIDNIGHT GUARDIAN



THE MIDNIGHT GUARDIAN
(Hour of Darkness)
By John C. Bruening
Flinch! Books
408 pages

The traditional classic pulp novels that appeared in the 30s magazines generally ran   60,000 words.  In them one would find a fast paced narrative that would explode across the pages in colorful, purple prose. Over time many of these tales were reprinted in paperbacks and continued to be labeled as novels. Whereas in truth, they were actually novellas that once took up the main portion of a monthly periodical that also featured two to three additional shorts to fill them out. We raise this topic because over the years, most novels coming from the big New York publishers grew to well over 120,000 words and were easily distinguishable from their pulp paperback cousins. Of course this ultimately led to the over-written, padded monstrosities we are cursed with today and the dwindling sales margins have forced big time publishers to demand “bigger” books. But that’s a whole other topic for another time.

Our purpose here was to point out that the fact that even with the emergence of New Pulp, writers found themselves sticking with the tried and true 60,000 word format which isn’t a bad thing at all. Whereas a few daring penmen have attempted to bridge the gap between pulp and traditional novel and the results have been haphazard to say the least.
Up until now no one had been able to deliver a realistic hybrid we are hereby calling the pulp novel. And that, my fellow dear readers, is what John Bruening has brilliantly achieved here. “The Midnight Guardian – Hour of Darkness,” clocking in at twice the size of an average pulp book is a genuine novel in every sense of the word….and still pulp. The significance of that is going to felt for a long time to come.

 When Jack Hunter was a young man of high school age, his policeman father, Lt. James Hunter, died heroically saving Union City from a sadistic gangland boss named Nicky Diamond. Diamond was caught and sent to prison for fifteen years, while young Jack went on to college and eventually law school. The plot kicks into high gear when Diamond, upon his release, returns to the city and immediately begins setting up his old gang He recruits new soldiers with the intent of finally realizing his twisted dream of taking complete control of Union City.

Whereas Jack is now an Assistant District Attorney who, along with his boss, the police Commissioner and a dedicated police detective named Dugan, is not about to let that happen. The added menace in Nicky Diamond is that he loves to blow things up and hires both a demolition expert and a talented radio engineer. Together he has them fashion deadly timebombs which he uses in leveling several buildings with the city limits. These acts of destructions are his public calling card announcing his return.

Angered by Diamond’s effrontery and total disrespect for the law, Jack finds himself stymied in not being able to go after the crook directly. The memory of his father’s death continues to haunt him and his temptation to make this crusade a personal one is at constant struggle with his career as a representative of the justice system. Eventually, it is Jack’s cousin, Buzz Hunter, who offers him a fantastic alternative to his dilemma.  Eight years older and a veteran of World War One, Buzz owns and operates an electrical store and is himself a genius inventor.  It is Buzz who creates a leather helmet wired with special sensors that when worn, affect a stimulating wave that heightens the brain’s sensory capabilities. Simply put, when one wears the helmet, one can hear and see far beyond the normal human range. Adding goggles and a mask to the helmet, Jack ends up with a remarkable scientific marvel that helps him gain an edge on Diamond and his murderous crew.

Wearing the disguising helmet and whipping through Union City on a souped-up motorcycle, Jack becomes a mysterious vigilante and begins his campaign to thwart Diamond and his insane goals.

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because Bruening has no issue with following classic pulp elements to weave his over-the-top adventure and he gives us a new pulp hero who is truly a legitimate heir to such battlers as Secret Agent X and the Black Bat. By the time we had come to the novel’s last fifty pages, all this reviewer could do was keep turning pages and hang on tightly. Every single action sequence that races towards the dramatic finale is a Republic Serial put to prose. There is no lack of action in this tome, and even though Bruening does give us a larger entree than we are use to, he makes it so damn tasty; it becomes a remarkable pulp feast.

“The Midnight Guardian – Hour of Darkness” is a pulp novel.  As such it is the first of its kind, and this reviewer has to believe, having now set the bar to this quality level, Bruening’s colleagues have one hell of a challenge ahead of them. We wish them luck.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

CRIMSON SHORE




CRIMSON SHORE
A Pendergast Novel
By Preston & Child
Grand Central Publishin
370 pgs

Whenever people ask us what is the best New Pulp Fiction being published today, we’ll invariably point them to the Agent Pendergast novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  In the same way Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt is a modern interpretation of the classic pulp hero, Doc Savage, FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast is our Shadow.  We first became aware of this series when years ago a dear friend sent us copies of “Still Life With Crows” and “The Cabinet of Curiosities,” two of the early entries, as a Christmas gift. Thus leaving us with a debt we’ll never be able to completely repay.  That we instantly were enamored with Pendergast and his world would be a gross understatement.
Preston and Child, in the grand tradition of the classic pulps, pull out all the stops and their plots are incredibly far-fetched, over-the-top, crazy mysteries filled with the most bizarre villains, monsters and incredibly brave heroes.

Okay, if the above paragraph hasn’t won you over, there’s no need to continue reading this review.  “Crimson Shore” is the 15th book in the series.  It begins when Pendergast and his beautiful young ward, Constance Greene, travel to a small fishing hamlet on the coast of Massachusetts named Exmouth.  They have been hired by a well known sculptor, who resides in the village.  His priceless wine collection has been stolen from the cellar of his lighthouse cottage.  During their investigation, they uncover a centuries old murder which sets them on a hunt for a mysterious killer who lives in the marshes along the shore.  Soon both Pendergast and Constance are delving into Exmouth’s sordid past; a history connected with the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

When several people are slain and their corpses found tattooed with arcane symbols, panic begins to grip the small, close knit community and our heroes are quickly caught up in a suspenseful chase that will lead them into shadowy horrors beyond anything they have ever faced before.  “Crimson Shore” is a roller-coast page-turner that will keep even the most jaded reader up till the wee hours of the night.  Its final mystery is one we never saw coming and one we will never forget.  Kudos to Preston and Child for this masterful series that shows no signs of plot fatigue yet.  And in this day and age, that’s saying quite a lot.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A CONGRESSION OF PALLBEARERS



FIGHT CARD – SHERLOCK HOLMES
A CONGRESSION OF PALLBEARERS
By Andrew Salmon
Fight Card
133 pgs

This is the final entry in the Fight Card Sherlock Holmes trilogy as written by Canadian pulpster, Andrew Salmon.  No stranger to Holmes and Watson, Salmon’s stories of the Great Detective have earned him awards and well deserved recognition. Thus it was not a fluke when Fight Card publisher, Paul Bishop, first approached him a few years ago to bring the Baker Street Detective into the world of boxing. 

Salmons first two books, “Work Capitol” and “Blood to the Bone,” were well received by Holmes fans around the world.  So meticulous is Salmon’s research and his ability to turn a Victorian phrase, his stories flow with a perfect Arthur Conan Doyle pitch that is so familiar to readers.  And now we have the third and final chapter of this stellar trilogy.

“A Congression of Pallbearers,” picks up a few years after the events in the second adventure.  It begins with an assassination attempt on Holmes and then the plot meanders into a convoluted espionage affair which reintroduces the alluring character of female pugilist Eby Stokes.  Upon the culmination of their first encounter in the previous book, Miss Stokes had been recruited by Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, to be an operative for Britain’s Special Branch.  What with the world racing towards a new century filled with all manner of scientific marvels, the Empire’s role seems to be diminishing and she appears more vulnerable than ever.

Soon after the attempt on Holmes’ life, a female agent is brutally murdered and Holmes begins to suspect both incidents are connected.  He and Watson confront Mycroft only to learn Stokes, and her partner, a male agent named Andrew Martin, have gone missing while on assignment in Berlin.  Days later, Miss Stokes suddenly appears at Holmes’ door with a dangerous tale of her own.  She and Martin, while in Germany, discovered that Special Branch had been infiltrated by foreign agents who were systematically obtaining sensitive British secrets and smuggling them out of the country.  Not knowing who they could trust, the pair returned to England via a clandestine route and were now hiding in fear of their lives.

As is typical of all Salmon fiction, the plot bolts forth like a rocket propelling the narrative along at breakneck speed, all the way delving into the personalities of the players with a deft, often heart-warming perspective.  His ability to bring Holmes and Watson to life while at the same time lavishing us with local color, history and action galore is at its zenith in this offering.  In the end, he has saved the best for last, “Fight Card – Sherlock Holmes – A Congression of Pallbearers,” is an amazing work by a master storyteller.  Not to be missed.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

SHERLOCK HOLMES - DOMINO LADY



SHERLOCK HOLMES – DOMINO LADY
Edited by Joe Gentile
Moonstone Press
120 pages

Normally we don’t care for “hybrid” publications.  By that we refer to books that have comics strips and prose stories mixed together between two covers; neither a full out graphic novel or a traditional prose anthology.  And yet, as the old saying wisely dictates, for every rule there is always an exception.  “Sherlock Holmes – Domino Lady” from Moonstone Press is that oh so rare, wonderful exception.

Edited by Joe Gentile, it reprints an earlier two-issue Domino Lady adventure by Nancy Holder and Bobby Nash, only now it is in full color, as are the other two short strips in this package. That in itself is a welcome upgrade to what was already a marvelous story.  Next we have two short prose pieces, one by Nash and the other by Holder.  Spaced between these is a solo Holmes strip Gentile and then the book wraps up with a solo Domino Lady strip by James Chambers and artist Scott P. “Doc” Vaughn.  If you are unfamiliar with Vaughn, he does a great pulp sci-fi webstrip called “Warbirds of Mars” and is no slouch when it comes to drawing sexy 1940s style pin-up beauties.  Thus his doing Domino Lady was an editorial stroke of genius.

Cap it all off with a gorgeous cover by the amazing Mike Fyles and you have a truly unique, fun and beautiful book any pulp fan would love to have in his or her collection.  As for the book’s overall theme, the pairing of a 70 year old Holmes and the vivacious, alluring Ellen Patrick from Los Angeles…well, honestly, it works a whole lot better than one could possibly imagine.  A tip of the pulp fedora to Moonstone Press.  Here’s wishing for more such hybrids.  You may make a believer out of us yet.


Saturday, July 09, 2016

THE IMMORALITY ENGINE



THE IMMORALITY ENGINE
By George Mann
Tor Books
347 pages

It would be nice if publishers were uniform in how they dispensed their titles to reviewers but alas, that is not the case.  Rather they simply hand copies to various marketing associates in their home offices and these men and women mail out the books to their individual lists of reviewers.  Which is why, after having send us “The Executioner’s Heart,” the fourth book in the Newbury & Hobbes Investigation series (which we absolutely loved and reviewed months ago), we were then gifted with third installment, “The Immorality Engine.”

Of course it’s always awkward reading any series backwards, but the simple truth is we so loved these characters we simply dove into the tale and kept our fingers crossed it wouldn’t be too difficult to understand what was what.

Mann is a steampunk writer and the world his characters inhabit is filled with airships and steam-powered Hansom cabs that weave their way through the streets of Victorian London dodging the more traditional horse-driven models.  Both Sir Morris Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes are special agents of Queen Victoria; an aged monarch now living via the workings of a clockwork mechanism.  The case begins when the duo is recruited by Scotland Yard Inspector Charles Bainbridge to investigate two murders of the same man.  It seems the morgue has two corpses belonging to a burglar named Edwin Skyes but Sykes had no siblings; these are not twins nor merely look-alike individuals.  Newbury quickly comes to the inescapable conclusion that one body is in fact a replica of the other.  In other words someone has developed the process of human cloning.

At the same time, Veronica is concerned for her sister Amelia’s well-being.  Amelia is residing in a sanitarium because of her epileptic-like seizures which, when they occur, allow her to see the future.  She is under the private care of the Queen’s own personal physician, Dr. Fabian.  All should be fine and yet Veronica has her suspicions as to why Her Majesty is interested in her sister’s well being.  Could the Queen be manipulating Fabian to discover the source of Amelia’s prophetic abilities for her own gains?

Thus both investigators find themselves dealing with two totally different cases.  Or so they believe until they come in contact with a secret society whose antiquated beliefs in spiritual rebirth may threaten the entire government.  From this point on there are attempted murders at every twist and turn to include attacks by incredible mechanical monsters; all to stop Newbury and Hobbes from finding the truth.

Once again Mann delivers a fantastic page turner that kept this reader thrilled and delighted from the opening scene to the last.  “The Immorality Engine,” is everything one would accept from a colorful, imaginative steampunk adventure.  Meanwhile, we definitely need to pick up books one and two.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

TALES FROM THE FLIP-SIDE: The Adventures of Big Daddy Cool & The Bombshell Kittens



TALES FROM THE FLIP-SIDE
The Adventures of Big Daddy Cool & The Bombshell Kittens
By John Pyka
Pros Se Press
169 pages

When our colleague and fellow reviewer, Tommy Hancock, handed us a copy of this book and said, “It has everything from Nazis vampires to flying cars!”  We knew instantly we were in for a real pulp treat.  And of course Tommy right. Enough so for that to have become an understatement.

New Pulp writer John Pyka’s adventure takes place in a glorious fun-house of an alternate world where the Earth was invaded by Martians; shades of H.G. Wells.  But thanks to scientist such as Tesla and Edison, we managed to beat the bug-eyed monsters and then pretty much stole their technology to create our own weapons; all to insure they would never try that invasion gig again.

Thus the world is filled with both new and alien inspired inventions.  Time passes and as the 1930s roll along, stirrings in Germany begin to make themselves known as an egomaniac named Adolf Hitler comes to power under the ministrations of Count Dracula.  See, we told you this one had everything a pulp reader would want.  Whereas these vampire Nazis pose a threat to our world, there is always the possibility of another attack form the stars.  Ergo the super heroes have divided themselves into two groups; the spacefaring Defenders of Earth and the earthbound superheroes that fight your assorted crime and evil masterminds.

Among the latter we found our protagonist, an ex-thug turned nightclub entertainer named Johnny Dellarocca better known as Big Daddy Cool.  Johnny’s powers are his ability to read minds…after he’s felt pain.  Sure it’s twisted.  Every time he needs to use his abilities, somebody else has to punch the hell out of him.  So let’s give Pyka a ton of credit here, these superheroes totally break the mold while being so much damn fun.
Johnny takes it upon himself to find other supers and recruits them in his battle against villainy.  Chief among these are the absolutely beautiful women he finds all over the country, each possessing a fantastic gift…and all of them eventually falling madly in love with their new boss.  These of course are The Bombshell Kittens as advertised in the sub-title.

“Tales From The Flip-Side: The Adventures of Big Daddy Cool & The Bombshell Kittens is easily one of the wildest rides this reviewer has ever been taken on and we loved every single minute of it.  Is it silly? Totally.  Is it wacky? That word doesn’t even come close.  But that’s what it is suppose to be and delivers far and beyond its initial promise.  If you are tired of the same old plots and heroes done by rote, then shake up your reading habit and dive into something so damn original it will leave you laughing for hours after you put it down.

This one is one of a kind.  And thanks, Tommy, we so owe you one big time.