Thursday, March 26, 2020

GHOSTS OF EMPIRE


GHOST OF EMPIRE
By George Mann
Titan Books
272 pages

George Mann is a New Pulp writer currently producing three terrific series; the Newbury & Hobbs books, new Sherlock Holmes fantasies and his steampunk vigilante adventures of the Ghost of which this is the fourth. It is also the best. Within its pages Mann has crammed enough action and adventure, colorful heroes and mysterious villains to fill a half dozen books.

New York playboy Gabriel Cross, alias the Ghost, his girl friend Ginny Gray and their friends, Detective Felix Donovan and his wife Flora are in London on a much needed vacation. When they are confronted by a gravely wounded British Secret Service agent of Cross’ acquaintance, their plans for a restful sojourn evaporate immediately. In seeking help for his friend, the weary crime-fighter is pulled into an eerie conspiracy unleashed by Russian spies capable of deadly arcane magic. It soon becomes evident that the enemy agents are planning the destruction of London. They are commanded by a powerful, undying wizard from out of Russia’s bloody past.

Mann pits Cross and his friends against this horde of murderous magicians in one battle after another at breakneck speed. Then when thing look their worst for the Ghost and company, a very unique new ally arrives on the scene leading to a truly powerful and climatic confrontation with the Master Villain. Friends, this is truly pulp fiction at its best!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

MURDER STAGE LEFt


MURDER STAGE LEFT
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
By Robert Goldsborough
MysteriousPress.Com
232 pgs

Most mystery series, after a few books have been published, often fall into a formulaic pattern. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it actually creates a familiarity the readers quickly learn to accept and become comfortable with. It’s very much like visit an old friend. Sure some things may be new, but for the most part we know our surroundings and have come to appreciate them.

The formula of the Nero Wolfe mysteries was set early on by his creator, the late Rex Stout. Someone is murdered, Wolfe’s gumshoe, Archie Goodwin, goes and intervies the most obvious suspects, reports back to his boss and then the rotund detective has them assemble in his New York brownstone and there reveals which is the killer. Now if you’re a fan Nero Wolfe, all of that is routine and welcomed. Happily writer Robert Goldborough has continued the formula in his Wolfe books much to our delight.

Still every now and then, a good writer will endeavor to spice things up and with “Murder Stage Left,” Goldborough does that by flipping the formula upside down. Broadway producer/director Roy Breckenridge comes to Wolfe concerned that there is some kind of malaise infecting his newest hit show; though he can’t define his feeling of dread any clearer. For his own selfish reasons, Wolfe agrees to assist Breckenridge by having Archie visit the set and interview the cast members in the guise of a Canadian journalist. Thus the story kicks off with what should be the second act and we are found meeting the suspects before any crime has ever been committed.

This was such a fun twist on the formula, we found ourselves grinning as we read along. When the invariable murder does occur, the tale smoothly falls back into its time-worn groove and the puzzle becomes the book’s total focus. It should be mentioned, without giving away any important clues, that Goodwin’s activities as a bogus writer become a vital element in Wolfe’s unmasking the killer at the finale.

Kudos to Robert Goldsborough for in “Murder Stage Left,” he’s done the near impossible in giving us something both old…and new.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

GIRL CAN'T HELP IT


GIRL CAN’T HELP IT
A Krista Larson Mystery
By Max Allan Collins
Thomas & Mercer
275 pgs

There really should be a subgenre name for murder mysteries involving rock and roll bands. Seriously, quite a few such books have been done over the years. Enough to warrant such a label. None of which should come as a surprise as many writers in their younger days were known to have played in such bands. Thus is the case with writer Collins and, like those others before him, he skillfully weaves those experiences in this, his second Krista Larson mystery.

Galena Chief of Police Krista Larson, and her retired detective father, Keith, first appeared in “Girl Most Likely” and found instant favor with many of Collins’ fans; this reviewer included. In this latest outing, Galena is about to host a reunion concerts for a local band that long ago hit the big time. Krista is kept hopping with how such a tourist attracting event will impact her town. When several of the band’s members die within a year of each other prior to the reunion, her cop instincts begin to tingle. After hearing his daughter’s misgivings about the deaths, Keith begins to come around to her dark suspicions. Is there a murderer targeting the old rockers and if so, why?

Most decent mystery series depend on solid characters we readers can empathize with enough to want to meet them again and again. While immensely enjoying “Girl Can’t Help It,” we appreciated Collins displaying the hometown charm of Galena and its citizenry so that we were reminded favorably of the late Robert Parker’s homespun copper, Jesse Stone of Paradise, Massachusetts. All in all, the Larsons second outing is as much a pleasure as was the first and once again we find ourselves clamoring for more.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

CRYPTOZOICA


CRYPTOZOICA
By Mark Ellis
Cover & Interior Illustrations by Jeff Slemons
Millennial Concepts
404 pgs

Mark Ellis is an accomplished writer with a long, impressive history of writing fantastic fiction. When we first heard of this book, a decade ago, we were intrigued. Having grown up reading lots of Lost World adventures from Conan Doyle to Burrough and Michael Crichton, we naturally wondered what Ellis would bring to the genre. Then, while at a local convention last year, we have the good fortune of sitting next to our friend, graphic artist Jeff Slemons. The same Jeff Slemons who had contributed the artwork to this massive tome and much to our delight he had copies for sale on his table. Months later, we’ve finally read “Cryptozoica” and find ourselves deliriously happy to have done so.

This book is wonderfully crafted right from the start with its tantalizing opening segment of Charles Darwin on his historical voyage aboard The Beagle to solve the mystery of evolution. The ship has found a strange island in the South China Sea occupied by creatures long thought extinct. When Darwin begins to speculate what this discovery will mean to the world, another member of the crew, Dr. Belleau argues the revelations themselves will actually stymie the progress of science allowing religious zealots to exploit the islands secret to their own prejudice ends. In the end the famous scientist acquiesces and for the next several centuries their discoveries are protected by a secret organization known as the School of Night.

With that introductory chapter out of the way, the story continues in our present time where three different parties are about to clash over the future of Big TamTung; the dinosaur island. The first is a wealthy financier with plans to turn the island into a tourist attraction and is represented by Americans “Tombstone” Jack Kavanaugh, his partner Augustus Crowe and their lovely Malaysian mechanic Mouzi. When several very rich patrons are killed on their first expedition, the entire enterprise is scuttled. The second interested group is the Bamboo Triad, a far reaching criminal organization represented by the beautiful Bai Suzhen and her rival, Jimmy Chao. Their own agenda concerns a mysterious substance supposedly residing at the center of the island and capable of altering the course of science and medicine forever. It is this fable Prima Materia that entices scientist Aubrey Belleau, great grandson of the Beagle’s medic to gamble everything he possesses to find it. Accompanying him is his deadly bodyguard, the brutish Hamish Oakshott and world renowned paleontologist Honore Roxton.

The first half of the book sets the table introducing the readers to this colorful cast with brief glimpses into their individual histories and the demons and dreams that will lead them to the dangers of the savage world. All of which kicks off in the second half and totally revs up the story’s pacing too full speed ahead. From their first encounter with a giant prehistoric crocodile, to blood-sucking leeches that fall from the trees, each page propels the action in a crazy non-stop ride that encompasses the best elements of all such pulp adventures.

Ellis is a brilliant writer and along with all the great pulp madness displayed, he also explores the origins of man with all its twists and turns, scientific facts and tons of unproven legends that have yet to be explored and revealed. All of which makes “Cryptozoica” a feast of plenty for all lovers of high octane adventure. Our only regret is it took us this long to find. Please do not make that same mistake.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

THE DECENT IN OF DEATH


THE DECENT INN OF DEATH
A John Madden Mystery
By Rennie Airth
Penguin Books
353 pgs

In a small village town, church organist Greta Hartman is found dead face down in a creek after having supposedly fallen off a slippery bridge. The problem is her best friend, Very Cruickshank doesn’t believe the fall was an accident. She fervently suspected her friend was murdered and manages to convey that suspicion to retired Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair who is staying nearby with the friends; John and Helen Madden. While they are abroad on vacation, Sinclair decides to do a little investigation on his own the result of which uncovers several anomalies with the facts of Mrs. Hartman’s death.

Like a bloodhound catching an elusive scent of something askew, Sinclair continues to pry into the matter until his inquiries lead him to suspect a very demented killer may be targeting a wealthy young and invalid widow named Julia Lesage. Even though clues are tenuous at best, the old copper travels to Oxford where Mrs. Lesage stately manor home is located. When a winter snow blizzard hits, Sinclair, Mrs. Lesage and her staff find themselves trapped without telephone service.

Meanwhile, having returned from his trip, John Madden is surprised his friend missing and begins his own hunt. Along the way, he steadily begins to gather information as to the reason for Sinclair’s absent and does his own search via his police contacts. All of which being to point to the truth at his friend may have stumbled onto a heinous crime and now find himself locked in a country estate with the killer.

The joy of this novel is the meticulous preciseness in which Airth lays out his tale. Described as a “police procedural” the story’s pace is deliberately set and the writer is in no apparent haste to tell it. Unlike the tensions we often find in American mysteries of this kind, Airth’s prose relishes the details, the dialog and the atmosphere beautifully. This skillful chapter by chapter unraveling builds to a truly suspenseful and highly dramatic climax we found perfectly realized. “The Decent Inn of Death” is a beautiful work of fiction as offered up by a writing master. We heartily recommend it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

VERSES FOR THE DEAD


VERSES FOR THE DEAD
A Pendergast Novel
By Preston & Child
Grand Central Publishing
365 pgs

The Pendergast thrillers have remained our favorite ongoing pulp series ever since one of dear friends sent us a copy of “The Cabinet of Curiosities” ages ago. Upon reading it, we were instantly mesmerized by the character of FBI Special Agent Pendergast and his most unique methods of solving mysteries. With each new book, of which this is the eighteenth, critics began echoing each other in labeling the character a modern American Sherlock Holmes. Though we don’t find any fault with that title, we on the other hand long ago compared the white haired Pendergast with the Shadow. He’s truly one of a kind individual, trained in dozens of arcane arts, master of hand-to-hand combat, and has a group of devoted skilled experts in various sciences willing to assist him the second he calls.

Thus when a new Pendergast paperback hits the racks, we are overjoyed and anxious to discover what new horrors he will encounter and combat. With “Verses for the Dead,” Pendergast his sent to Miami by his boss, FBI Director Pickett, to hunt down a bizarre serial killer who murders young women, cuts out their hearts and then leaves those grisly organs on the graves of other women; all who have died by suicide. If such a puzzle wasn’t enough for the austere detective, Pickett, knowing of our hero’s penchant for being unorthodox, saddles him with a partner; one whose second mission is to ascertain everything in the investigation is done by the book.

One of the real treats of any Pendergast adventure is the marvelous supporting characters Preston and Child introduce do us to along the way. This, as I alluded above, has led them to create truly memorable men and women who invariably become permanent additions to large cast that inhabits Pendergast’s world. In this particular assignment we meet two new such remarkable people. The first is “the partner” Pendergast must work with, an FBI agent of Lakota Sioux descent named Coldmoon who enjoys a rather peculiar beverage. We won’t spoil it for you. Coldmoon is a skilled agent and just as dedicated as Pendergast to finding the killer. The fun of how their different personalities clash at the offset is worth the price of admission. Then there is the beautiful African American Miami pathologist, Dr. Charlotte Fauchet, whose expertise become invaluable uncovering clues to the killer’s methods and history.

Like all such plots, our hero and his allies are racing a deadly clock hoping to unmask the killer and stop him (or her) before they can claim another victim. With each new chapter, the narrative drives forward like a speeding race car until it comes to its powerful and hair-raising climax. “Verses for the Dead” is by far one of the stellar gems in this thriller necklace and if you’re a Pendergast fan, you are in for a wild reading experience. If you aren’t, then it’s pretty much high time you became one.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

AND THE SUN GOETH DOWN


AND THE SUN GOETH DOWN
Book Two of The Vim Hood Chronicles
By Terry Mark
Self-Published-Available At Amazon
350 pgs

Last year writer Terry Mark wowed us with his debut novel, “Kill The Night.” It was the first of his ongoing series, The Vim Hood Chronicles. In that adventure, Thomas Edison and Nikla Tesla teamed up to defeat an immortal vampire gunslinger. The book was a riotous pulp romp unlike anything else we’d read in many, many years. Now, without any let up at all, Mark is back with another fast paced, rollicking adventure that will have most readers cheering from the very first page to the last.

It is 1917 and former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt is in New Mexico putting his veteran Rough Riders through their paces. This time they are carrying out their maneuvers on camels as they are more adaptable to desert terrain than horses. War in Europe seems eminent and as always the gung-ho President is busting at the seams to get into the fray once Washington announces a formal declaration. But the last thing the old Rough Rider and his troopers expect to encounter is an army of long dead Aztec Warriors on a killing rampage throughout the territory leaving decimated American and Mexican towns in their wake.

The more Roosevelt and his troops clash with the strange marauders, they discover them to be zombie-like adversaries who, when shot, merely rise to fight again. It is as if they are possessed by some unholy power and led by an immortal figure with a dark past. Along the way a young seventeen year old cub reporter from the Kansas City Star finds his way into Roosevelt’s camp. His name is Ernest Hemingway.

As the confrontations between the two armies increases in ferocity, Roosevelt looks to General Blackjack Pershing for aid. Among Pershing’s staff is a Lt. George Patton commanding a mobile armor unit. Oh, there’s also tribe of legendary Apache warriors led by a massive, yellow haired chief.

Mark’s ability to weave in authentic history with his outlandish imagination is evident throughout as his historical personages all act and speak as we believe they would have. Then there is his detailed military encounters sweeping across the pages as if plucked out of a time machine and laid before us in vivid, horrendous details.  “And The Sun Goeth Down” is a magnificent achievement by a remarkable new voice in pulp fiction. Pick this up one up fast!