Tuesday, September 27, 2016

STUNT MAN



STUNT-MAN
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

CIRCLING THE RUNWAY



CIRCLING THE RUNWAY
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

BARBARIANS ON BIKES



 
BARBARIANS ON BIKES
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




SINGULARITY
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.

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.