Friday, October 21, 2016


By Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
209 pages
Release Date – Oct 4, 2016

Regardless of one’s opinion of the new “Quarry” Cinemax TV series, it has shined a light on these fantastic books and that is a benefit worth applauding.  As Collins says in his Afterward, the first Quarry book came out in 1976 and was topical at the time. Upon reading these new editions, one is catapulted back to very different America and thus they have truly become “period pieces.”

Which, in the case of “Quarry in the Black,” is poignantly ironic with its setting being the presidential campaign of ’76 pitting Richard Nixon against George McGovern.  And here we are smack in the middle of another contentious race with all the same circus atmosphere they all seem to engender.

Quarry, the Vietnam sniper vet turned professional assassin, is given the job of killing Reverend Raymond Wesley.  A one time drug addict and pusher, Wesley found redemption while in prison and upon his release became a vocal crusader for the Civil Rights movement and McGovern supporter.  Although Quarry normally has no qualms as to who his targets are, the political implications of this assignment bother him. Enough so that he questions the Broker, the middleman who gives him his contracts, as to the relevancy of such a hit.  In other words he wants to know why a good man like Wesley should be slated for death.  The assignation of Martin Luther King is very much on his mind and he has no desire to be the next James Earl Ray.

The Broker, sensing his unease, explains that their client claims Wesley’s ministry is a sham; that he is still dealing drugs.  Only now he is using his new public persona to facilitate his old criminal ways.  The moral issue put aside temporarily, Quarry takes the job and signs on to Wesley’s organization as a disillusioned veteran wanting to help the preacher’s noble cause.  But as in any Quarry novel, things are never exactly what they seem and before long, our sarcastic protagonist is caught up with white supremacists, crooked drug dealers and a beautiful campaign worker who had an affair with the holier than thou Reverent.

Bullets fly, bodies fall and in the end, Quarry, as ever, unmasks the truth for all its sweet bitterness.  Having come to this series late, we will be forever grateful to Hard Case Crime for having the wisdom to bring them back in these beautiful produced new editions.  Do yourself a favor and get every single one of them.  Nobody writes noir better than Max Collins.

PS – As for that TV show, we give it a B plus.  Keeping in mind, this is an altogether different medium and the creators’ vision of Quarry.  It isn’t a bad one and we have enjoyed season one.  Hopefully with a season two, we’ll see the character evolve into one more aligned with his prose identity. 

Monday, October 10, 2016


(A Phillip Chandler Mystery)
By Bill Craig
Whiz Bang LLC
274 pgs

Bill Craig can knock out a half dozen crime thrillers faster than most established writers can do one. The amazement is, they are all damn good books. With “Circle City Shakedown,” first released in 2014, he starts a brand new series featuring a former U.S. Deputy Marshal named Phillip Chandler who has come to Indianapolis to start his new career as a private investigator.

Before going much further here, let’s state that one of this book’s many pluses was setting it take place anywhere other than New York, Los Angeles or Miami.  Not that we have any issues with books using those locales, only that they’ve been terribly over-used in the past and it is truly refreshing to see a private eye working somewhere else for a change. That Craig knows Indy all too well, is evident from the first page and thus is able to bring the reader into this tale effortlessly.

Chandler’s first case as a new private dick is to locate a missing stripper with the stage name Rita Red. According to her friend, another dancer named Mary Norman, Rita went to a private party on the suggestion of the stage manager and never came home.  Taking the case, Chandler soon begins to suspect Rita has met with foul play at the hands of a sadistic city official with both deep pockets and ties to corrupt financial power brokers.  That corruption even extends into the police department and the more he digs, the more dangerous his job becomes.

“Circle City Shakedown” moves fast like the blast of a .45 lead slug.  Craig never lets his plot languish and keeps Chandler moving through this twisted maze of crime and corruption like a juggernaut on auto-pilot.  We eventually learn that Chandler’s wife and daughter had been brutally murdered by a former gang boss and one of the men responsible for their deaths is connected with the people he is investigating. 

The characters here are rich and appealing and Craig orchestrates the entire story so that it builds to a powerful climax that delivers everything a good thriller should have.  By the last page, we were glad to have met this new shamus and his supporting cast and will be anxious to see what other kinds of trouble they get into next time. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2016


By William C. Dietz
Ace Books
327 pgs
Guest Reviewer – Andrew Salmon

This isn't the first time Dietz has destroyed the world and he's gotten better at it. INTO THE GUNS doesn't waste a second getting going right out of the gate. On May Day 2018, 60 meteors hit the Earth and send the world into chaos. The United States lose Washington and the government is wiped out in one disastrous stroke, sending the country into upheaval where resources are the new currency and power is up for grabs.

We initially experience the catastrophe through the eyes of First Lieutenant Robin "Mac" Macintyre. She's career military as is her sister and father though they don't see eye to eye on most things - to put it mildly.  In the wake of the strikes, her first concern is protecting her unit while trying to hammer out her next move now that the military command structure is either gone or cut off.

Dietz then switches the action from Mac to Samuel T. Sloan, the United States Secretary of Energy. He's in Tampico on an official function when meteor strikes send a tsunami into the coastal city - while an attempt is being made to kidnap him.

With the players in place, things heat up as Mac is confronted by roving bands or small and well organized raiders, hoarders and those making power grabs while Sloan finds himself faced with enough troubles to give James Bond the jitters. Dietz's action scenes are, as usual, second to none. It's not just one gun blazing scene after another. Strategies are employed and they don't always work. The battles are realistic, heroic, tragic, chaotic and impactful in driving the story forward.

The characterization is spot on and you can't help but root for the novel's heroes as they gradually are united against a common enemy. The world becomes a very, very dangerous place overnight and everyone is in it up to their necks. Actions have consequences here and our protagonists are not necessarily given a free pass. As INTO THE GUNS is the first of a trilogy, Dietz does a great job of setting things up for the next installments but doesn't skimp on the action and plot movement.

All this makes for an engaging reading. We're not talking about a series of cool action scenes strung together. No, INTO THE GUNS has a definite goal and it gets there in spades.  The stakes continue to rise as the meteor dust settles. Battles big and small are waged but they are only the opening shots of a war to come. By the time you get to the last page, you're out of breath. But things are really only getting started. This reader is looking forward to the next book in the series.

INTO THE GUNS delivers! You don't want to miss this one.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


The Autobiography of Yakima Canutt
With Oliver Drake
Walker Publishing Company
Published 1979
237 pages

Having been a fan of the movie serials for most of my life, I was familiar with Yakima Canutt; considered by many to be the most famous stunt man of them all. Sometime in 1979, film critic Leonard Maltin reviewed Canutt’s autobiography, “Stunt Man,” co-written with biographer Oliver Drake. I recall at the time wanting very much to pick up a copy and read it. Alas, that never happened and decades later, the only place to find a copy was on E-Bay if one was willing to pay an exuberant, over inflated price. I pretty much resigned myself to never realizing that old wish. Then, much to my amazement and delight, my daughter Michelle gave me a beat up old library copy she’d gone on-line to purchase it for me as a Christmas gift several years ago.

Enos Edward Canutt was born on Nov. 29, 1895 in Yakima County, Washington and grew up to become a champion rodeo rider. His knowledge and love of horses eventually led him to Hollywood where, in the early 1920s, he became a silent western movie actor.
By the time the “talkies” arrived, Yak, as he was known, had become one of the premier stuntmen in films and a good friend of rising star John Wayne. Both were employed by the new founded Republic Pictures and Yak would double in such popular serials as “The Lone Ranger” and “Zorro Rides Again.”  While attending a live stage musical in Los Angeles, Yak and serial director William Witney were taken by the dancers’ intricate choreographed routines. They began to speculate on how such pre-planned steps could enliven the fight sequences in their serials and would soon create some of the most memorable and dramatic fights ever staged.

Still Yak’s renown was his horse stunts and while working on John Ford’s memorable “Stagecoach,” he developed the famous “transfer” wherein he jumped off the stagecoach onto the horses, continue to leap frog to the front pair, then fall to the ground as the team and coach ran over him only to catch the rear of the coach and pull himself back on board. To this day it remains one of the most well known western stunts ever devised.

By the 40s, Yak had suffered so many bodily injuries, he eventually gave up stunt work to become a 2nd Unit Director; the guy who actually directs the big action sequences for movies. All of which led to his setting up and directing the famous chariot race in the 1959 version of “Ben-Hur” with Charlton Heston. In 1969 Heston presented Yak with an Honorary Academy Award for his lifetime achievement in stunt work, being credited for making the profession safer over the years with his overriding concern for the well being of his crews and their animals.

Yak passed away on May 24th, 1986 at the age of 90.  His autobiography is a treasure of wonderful memoirs of this incredible man’s life and all the films he was a part of. I truly hope some day the publisher does a new edition so that more film buffs like myself can read this truly wonderful book.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


A Jake Diamond Mystery
By J.L. Abramo
Down & Books
242 pgs

We generally do not enjoy books wherein the writer moves back and forth between first and third person narratives.  Most of the time these shifts are jarring  in that the reader, safely ensconced in the hero’s personality finds themselves tossed out of that mindset into a detached world vision…and then back again.  But as all things, there are exception to the rules and writer J.L. Abramo proves to be such; at least to this reviewer.

“Circling The Runway,” is a convoluted mystery that has more twist and turns in it then a box full of intertwined old shoelaces.  Within the first few pages we are introduced to at least a half dozen different characters all running to and fro; some with serious criminality on their minds while the others are the unsuspecting victims.  In this dense population of characters we meet Lt. Laura Lopez and Sgt. Roxton Johnson of the SFPD who find themselves investigating the murder of a well loved young Assistant District Attorney. Then there’s private investigator Jake Diamond and his gal-Friday, Darlene Roman who have their own hands full helping a known San Francisco mob figure clear one of his nephews of a murder charge.

That both cases will ultimately collide is a the result of some amazing plotting that has more twist and turns than a mountain back road.  And yet through it all, Abramo shows a flair for characterization that is not only flawless but crucial to making a tale like this work. There are so many moving parts all going off in different directions; you have to wonder if he isn’t a mechanic as well as a mystery writer.  No matter, in the end he has this plot engine purring like a well oiled machine with a truly remarkable finale that was more than satisfying.

All in all a terrific book we recommend happily.  J.L. Abramo is a writer to keep an eye on. He’s having way too much fun here and it’s contagious.

Friday, September 09, 2016


Bikers & Motorcycle Gangs in Men’s Pulp Adventure Magazines
Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle
A New Texture Book
116 pgs

Even since appearing on the pulp scene a few years ago, Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle have done a truly wonderful job of educating the reading public about the evolution of pulp magazines into the post-World War II Men’s Adventure Magazines (MAMS) that proliferated across the drugstore racks between the 50s and 70s.

In such beautifully produced books such as “Weasels Ripped My Flesh,” “He-Men, Bag Men & Nymphos,” “Crypto-Zoology,” and “A Handful of Hell,” they have brought us an amazing collection of reprinted fiction from so many of the most popular MAMS.  But for the most part, despite being beautiful adorned with classic art reproductions, those titles were focused on the stories and the writers.  In that fashion, Deis and Doyle clearly made their point in depicting the gradual evolution of American pulps.

With this, their fifth title, they’ve turned the spotlight on the artwork that graced the pages and covers of those latter day pulps.  Using the highly popular theme of the Outlaw Biker Gangs that infused itself into the America psyche of the era, they’ve collected some of the most beautiful illustrations and cover art ever produced for commercial periodicals.  Throughout these pages you’ll find the work of such talented artists as Mort Kunstler, Earl Norem, Marti Ripoll, Al Rossi, Gil Cohen, Basil Gogos and others you’ve most likely never heard of before. Which is itself a sin that needs correcting.

These were giants who month after month provided drawings that accompanied such features as “Sex Life of a Motorcycle Mama,” or “Havana Joy Girl Who Became a Guerilla Queen,” among the more sedate such titles. This book is a bountiful treasure that is summed up poetically with crime writer Paul Bishop’s afterword memoir. A tip of the pulp fedora to Deis and Doyle, you guys are batting 500!! 

(There is also a hard cover with 16 extra pages available.)

Friday, September 02, 2016

SINGULARITY - Rise of the Posthumans

Rise of the Posthumans
Edited by Jaime Ramos & Wayne Carey
Pro Se Press
164 pgs.

Shared world anthologies are always fascinating and at the same time a really challenge to pull off properly. In this wonderful book from Pro Se Press, editors Jaime Ramos and Wayne Carey have created a post-apocalyptic England controlled by a despotic Queen in which humanity begins to arise from the ashes. Still a poisonous gas called the Creeping Green covers the land and people have to wear protective gas masks and goggles when out and about.  A group of resistance fighters begins to appear; each with his or her back story and some with enhanced abilities. These are their stories.

Jennie Wood’s “Charada” has overtones of the Jewish Holocaust in that a secret government facility in New Southampton is mindwiping people and then using them as a private police force to hunt up undesirables. Once captured, these people have their organs harvested and used in scientific experiment to help create stronger soldiers known as Evols. Riley is one such hunter whose memories were erased to make her a better, more obedient agent but something has happened. Her memories are slowly beginning to resurface and with them agonizing moral issues as to the true purpose of her organization. A gripping tale with dark overtones you won’t soon forget.

Next is Nancy Hansen’s “Simon Simple,” the story about a young man whose chameleon like abilities can make him nearly invisible when blending in with his backgrounds. As the tale begins, he’s an enforcer working for a criminal gang but when his female friend, Mattie Fox is captured by the Queen’s Regulators and scheduled for execution, Simon’s conscience gets the best of him and he becomes a real hero.

In “The Rebel” by Lee Houston Jr., a steampunk Zorro-like figure appears on the scene thwarting the Queen’s plans on resurrecting ancient technology to strengthen her cruel hold on the remnants of mankind. A rollicking fun adventure.

Brant Fowler next offers up, “The Eye of the Mind.” It is the tale of a telepath refugee named Littleton who is using his skills to get by as a small time crook. But when he comes to the attention of the Queen, he soon finds himself being manipulated into becoming one of her agents. A skillful story about how even the best of intentions can go horribly awry. Like this one a lot.

Lord Basil Faulkner works for the Ministry of Transportation, assisting the Queen and her elite to obtain the scare perishables such as fresh fruits while the common folk scavenge for scraps.  But when the night falls, he dons a black cloak, a synthetic eye which allows him to see in the dark and he becomes “The Pistoleer.” Written by Chris Magee, this masked champion also is immune to the “Creeping Green,” allowing him to travel sans gas mask through the ever present poisonous gases that cover the city.
His is a short tale, but fast paced and professionally delivered.

Finally this first collection wraps up with “The Bride of Dr. Bravo” by co-editor Jaime Ramos. This one reveals that the main villain throughout the collection, Queen Anne Wintersmith, has a brother, Bradley, who has conspired against as well under the guise of the steampunk hero, Dr. Bravo. But his motive is in keeping his French wife, Salome, alive after she suffered radiation poisoning from the “Creeping Green.” In the end there is a climatic confrontation between the siblings that moves the tale into the world of the supernatural whereby Bradley’s wife transform into a truly mystic being of remarkable powers.  A tense, brutal yarn.

All in all “Singularity – Rise of the Posthumans,” does offer up a treasure of terrific story but in the end, there seems to be a lack of genuine connection between them, as though we’ve seen glimpses of different dwellings but the entire neighborhood in which they exist is still vague and unknown to us. In the end, this reviewer would love to see these same characters actually interact with one another and provide us with that adhesive that is so vital to a shared-world environment.  It could be prove to a challenge, but these writers, with this first entry, have all proven they are all more than capable of delivering something special.