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.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

OUTLAWS OF OLYMPUS



OUTLAWS OF OLYMPUS
By C.E. Martin
Available at Amazon
55 pages

Just when you think a genre of pulp fiction has been fairly well exhausted, up pops a new wrinkle. In this case the genre is the Weird Western and the guy offering us a new twists on this popular field is C.E. Martin with his “Outlaws of Olympus” concept.  The title pretty much gives the idea away, but for those of you who somehow missed Classical Mythology in high school, here’s what C.E. sets forth.  The ancient Greek Gods, you know, Zeus, Mercury and the others have reappeared on Earth during the Westward migration of the late 1860s.  Ergo, you have gods, demi-gods and mythological monsters sharing the wild frontier with your cowboys, settlers and Indians.

It’s a heady stew and with this first little chapbook, things get kicked off fast. Mercury, in the guise of an outlaw known as the Quicksilver Kid, is causing mayhem and destruction as he mows down anyone foolish enough to confront him with a special six-shooter that fires gold bullets.  Then Hercules arrives in the guise of a Catholic Monk named Father Sergio Morricone.  (Yes, we know where that came from. C.E. has a fine sense of humor.)

The Kid is holding an entire town captive and forcing them to offer him a blood sacrifice every few days or else he’ll wreak bloody havoc.  When Father Morricone shows up, their confrontation is as one would expect between two gods.  But who is the black cavalry soldier riding with Hercules and what role will he play in their final battle?

Fifty-five pages flies by when the action is this colorful and frenetic.  We’ve been a fan of Martin’s “Stone Soldiers” series for a few years now and are thrilled to see him launching another great new pulp saga with tons of potential.  Stay tuned.

Friday, June 24, 2016

THE QUEEN'S MARKSMAN



THE QUEEN’S MARKSMAN
By Theresa M. Moore
Antellus Books
285 pages

In 1878, young Robert St. John, a descendant of the fabled Earl of Loxley, aka Robin Hood, joins the army to fight in Afghanistan.  On the journey east via the Orient Express with the new recruits, he encounters two very strange European noblemen.  They prove to be vampires and one of them, unable to control his blood-lust, attacks Robert in the middle of the night.  In doing so he turns the young Englishman into one of the undead.  From that point forward, this imaginative adventure focuses on Robert’s learning to adjust to his new life as a vampire.  He quickly learns to adapt his unearthly powers on the battlefield and soon becomes a war hero succeeding in exploits beyond the abilities of normal men.

Upon his return to England, he is knighted by Queen Victoria and, via Prime Minister Disraeli, put in charge of created a new secret service for the empire.  It is clear from the very first page that Ms. Moore had a genuine affection for all things British and she skillfully weaves both its actual history and those myths and legends that have endeared themselves to fiction fans for generations.  Via the exploits of Sir Robert, we glimpse a Victorian world on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution and a burgeoning 20th Century that will be filled with both wonders and horrors.

None of the latter is more gruesome than the appearance of Jack the Ripper on the streets of White Chapel.  As the empire’s colonial strength begins to wane around the globe, its own moral decay accelerates in the swelling ranks of the poor and homeless.  And amidst this changing world walks the Ripper, a madman with his own brand of soulless insanity.   Ms. Moore offers up Sir Robert, and his fellow vampires, as agents of good working in the shadows to keep civilization on track.  Soon our hero and his vampire companion are on the hunt to find Saucy Jack and end his murderous rampage.

Though not what we would label a fast paced action pulp, “The Queen’s Marksman,” is a steadily told adventure focused on developing rich, full realized characters both good and bad.  We enjoyed it a great deal and it once again adds substantial evidence to our beliefs that the best new fiction on the market today is coming from small, independent publishers like Antellus.  Bravo, Ms Moore and well done.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

LOOKING AT THE WORLD WITH BROKEN GLASS IN MY EYE



LOOKING AT THE WORLD WITH
BROKEN GLASS IN MY EYE
By Mark Justice
Graveside Books
304 pages

A few reviews earlier we talked about book titled “No Rest for the Dead.” This particular review should be offered under the heading of, “A Voice From Beyond.”  It’s pretty easy to rift off titles as this collection of weird, horror yarns by the late Mark Justice sports a mouthful itself.  And maybe that’s because of Mark’s talent for black comedy and his love of the truly bizarre.  Also let’s clear things up front here.  Unlike the times we review books by friends and colleagues where we do our best to remain fair and impartial, this time around it’s sincerely personal.

Mark Justice was a pal and one hell of a damn great writer.  And no, we don’t toss that adjective around lightly.  This collection of 18 twisted tales of various lengths and subject matter are some of the best, funniest and truly creepy tales ever penned.  Each is a solid gem of wit, wisdom and incredible insight into what wise folks call the human condition.  Which in the end is the purpose of all fiction: to view the world through one’s unique life experiences and then have the courage to share them with others.  Mark does that so well, there were moments when reading through these yarns we were either laughing, crying or weary of any strange noises in the house around us.  The man had the ability to pull you into his fabulous imagination and hold you there until the final, bloody end.  And he left us there better for having gone along for the ride.

A quick glance at the table of contents and instantly we recall savoring these truly wonderful stories.  “Black Wings” is perhaps the most disturbing of the bunch and will most likely generate nightmares for lots of readers.  Whereas “Nursing Home of the Gods” and “Agent of Death” are hilarious, side-splitting black comedies.  Then there is the longer entry, “The Autumn Man,” which is both haunting and nostalgic with a good dash of horror thrown in for good measure.

Mark Justice left us too soon in the grand scheme of things.  Yet, during his short time with us, he wrote memorable works of fiction that will continue to both entertain and scare the hell out of readers for ages to come.  In that we take much comfort and devote ourselves to helping spread the word.  If this is the first time you’ve ever heard of Mark Justice, please, go find this book, it is a truly a gift from beyond.