Sunday, December 04, 2016

VIC CHALLENGER - FAST!



VIC CHALLENGER – FAST!
By Jerry Gill
Ann Darrow Co.
203 pages

The old adage about not judging a book by its cover has never been more valid than with this particular paperback novel.  But we’ll get to that aspect at the end of our review. We’d much rather focus on the vital stuff, the story itself.

With Victoria Challenger, Jerry Gill has created one of the most original, fun, pulp heroines ever.  The back story explains how Vic, as she is known by her legion of fans, is the reincarnation of a primitive cave girl who lived at the dawn of time.  Somehow Vic’s memories of her past life survive in her DNA and among these is the fact that in that first life she was mated to a might hunter name Nu, her eternal love. Now reborn in the early 20th Century, she senses that Nu has also returned. This, in her job as a travel writer, she begins to search him out wherever her assignments take her.

In this, the fifth book in the saga, Vic, and her best friend, Lin, visit Australia.  One of Vic’s aunts, Ethyl Hudgeons, and her husband Pete, live there on an Outback ranch.  Eager to explore this new, rugged continent, both young woman arrive at a western seaport and are taken to the wilderness home by an aborigine named Woorak, who works for the Hudgeons.  Along their buckboard journey, the friendly native points out all manner of wildlife and flora to the lovely visitors; information that ultimately proves to be life saving.

Several days after their arrival, during a dance put on for their benefit, the station is raided by outlaws known as bushrangers in the Outback.  Among the loot they purloin from Mrs. Hudgeon’s guests is a map detailing the whereabouts of a long lost family treasure.  Through various circumstances, Vic and Lin learn that the posse being led by her Uncle Pete has been sent on a false trail and the gutsy Americans decide to go after the brigands on their own.  What follows is a harrowing chase across some of the most savage terrain on the planet.

The real fun of Gill’s writing is the overabundance of research he has packed into this really fast paced adventure.  Enough so that the reader, while enjoying the action, is also given a glimpse into both the natural dangers and beauties of Australia’s Outback.  It’s as if Vic’s own travelogue articles had merged with her personal derring-do exploits.  This is a rousing tale expertly written with memorable characters, both good and bad.  On his website, listed above, Gill tags Vic as the Queen of the Pulps, and after having enjoyed this outing, we’re not about to argue the point.  She is clearly one of the most original such ever put to paper and worthy of your attention.

And that’s the end of the review.  Whereas Gill’s obvious one-man operation, is prey to the typical amateur pitfalls of photo-shop like cover images that are really bad.  Enough so that they do the fiction a major disservice, in this reviewer’s opinion.  We would admonish our readers not to be put off by them.  At the same time, we also plead with the author do some web-surfing and find a professional artist who can dress things up professionally.  Vic Challenger deserves nothing less.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

SETINELS ; THE DARK CRUSADE



SENTINELS : THE DARK CRUSADE
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
206 pages

If, like this reviewer, you are a fan of Van Plexico’s star spanning superhero saga, The Sentinels, then the arrival of this book, the eight in the series, was a much anticipated reading pleasure.  Of course with this many volumes into the saga, it would be impossible for any reviewer to explain everything without having to write a book-length tome about what has gone before.  Here’s a thought, as we’ve had the fun of reading and reviewing the previous seven books, feel free to scroll through our reviews and find those early critiques.

Otherwise, leave us offer up an abbreviated synopsis to launch you into this truly amazing series whose inspirations derive from the classic comic books of the 70s and 80s, specifically Marvel’s the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy with DC’s Green Lantern.

The Sentinels are a group of human super powered heroes led by Ultraa.  In recent adventures they battled invading alien beings and ultimately came to ally themselves with  a squad of Kur-Bai warriors known as the Elites.  No sooner do they save the Earth, then it is discovered a civil war has broken out on the Kur-Bain homeworld and the Elites are compelled hurry back.  Only now half the Sentinels agree to accompany them, led by Esro Brachis, the millionaire genius inventor, who has fallen in love with the beautiful Kur-Bai Captain Mondrian.

No sooner to they depart our solar system, then a charismatic fellow named Law convinces the Earth’s governments that the Kur-Bai Empire will remain a continuing threat unless a human led space armada can be sent against them; under his leadership of course.  What the world leaders don’t know is that Law is actually a powerful super being known as the Black Terror and his desire to destroy the Kur-Bai is fueled solely by a personal vendetta.  Thus the ominous crusade referred to in the title.  Now if this dozen or so characters wasn’t enough to hold your interest in the main plot, Plexico throws a little background history concerning the martial arts fighter known as the Black Dragon and then brings us up to speed with the situation concerning teenage hero Mitch Michaelson, who now possesses the powerful golden armor of a Star Knight.

Confused yet?  Well, in all truth, you needn’t be; ever.  Plexico’s enthusiasm for the stories he tells has never once waned.  From the very first Sentinel novel to this new chapter, his love for these myriad characters remains as strong as ever, infusing his fiction with a clear, precise storytelling economy that is to be envied. He tells a truly fast paced adventure that never slows down from opening scene to climatic, cliffhanger finale.  And as ever, we are left wanting more, much, much more.

We love this series, Plexico’s writing, and the gorgeous art of Chris Kohler.  Honestly, if you call yourself a fan of New Pulp and haven’t latched onto The Sentinels Saga yet, you are missing out on something special.  Don’t say we didn’t tell you.

Friday, November 11, 2016

THE BODY SNATCHES AFFAIR



THE BODY SNATCHERS AFFAIR
A Carpenter & Quincannon Mystery
By Marcia Muller & Bill Pronzini
Forge Books
219 pages

This is the second Carpenter & Quincannon mystery we’ve had the pleasure of reading and are eager to point you in its direction.  Authors Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini are both accomplished and cherished mystery scribes whereas how this series allows them to merge their considerable talents is a pure delight.  We wonder if each, alone, actually crafted their respective gender avatars in the stories.  Both the former Secret Service Agent Charles Quincannon and the widowed Mrs. Sabina Carpenter are terrific characters and their pension for solving complicated, criminal cases makes them unstoppable as a team.

They operate out of San Francisco, where they have their offices, at the turn of the century.  In this book, the bodies of two very different, and equally important, personages have been stolen.  The first corpse mysteriously taken belonged to a high ranking Tong mobster in Chinatown.  The ghoulish theft has the potential of igniting a bloody war between the rival gangs unless the perpetrators can be caught and brought to justice.  When a young woman hires Quincannon to locate her heroin addicted husband, a lawyer for one of the Tongs, he has to venture into twisted mazes of the opium dens.  No sooner does he find the missing husband than the man is shot to death in his arms, the detective barely avoiding a second bullet meant for him.  Somehow the lawyer’s murder is related to the missing corpse.

Then, a few days later, Sabina is hired by a wealthy upper-crust widow whose financier husband recently passed away.  Shortly after his interment, unknown parties managed to break into the family mausoleum and kidnapped the body.  Now they are holding it for ransoming.  If she refuses to pay, they threaten to desecrate her beloved’s remains.

The bodies of two prominent men from totally different social circles are snatched within days of each other.  Coincidence?  Or is there an actual connection between the two?  Once again Muller and Prozini offer up a fast paced adventure with some of the most colorful characters to ever grace the pages of a mystery novel.  “The Body Snatchers Affair” is twisty romp that will easily satisfy even the most jaded reader.  Personally, we can’t wait to see what this duo tackles next.

Monday, October 31, 2016

THE DAMP FEDORA




THE DAMP FEDORA
By Kate Pilarcik
Down & Out Books
114 pgs

Stream of consciousness writing is the process by which a writer jots down words faster than the output of a Thompson submachine gun. It is not easy to do, as often what ends up on the paper is a mish-mash of thoughts and disjointed ideas that simply don’t fit together at all. On the other hand, if you’re Kate Pilarcik, you end up with a book that is so energized with rapid-fire slang-slugs, it’s almost impossible to keep up with.  Honestly, if you aren’t an experienced reader who truly loves the written word, we are going to warn you away from this little gem. Why? Because to fully appreciate its nuances and word-games, one needs to love fiction. Pulp fiction to be exact. And of course we do, which in this case is a very happy happenstance.

Nelle Callahan is a gusty, tough-as-nail female P.I. who agrees to help a mysterious, handsome stranger locate his father’s lost will.  Seems like a simple enough, run-of-the-mill plot. Right. So she takes him to her favorite coffee shop down the street where they are assaulted by a mob thug. Then, after Nelle puts the mug’s lights out, with the owner’s help via a swinging fry pan, she finds herself chasing after a famous baseball player who just happened to be in the joint and witnessed the confrontation.  Apparently a talented player for the Phillies, this sportsman, it turns out, was at the shop looking for Nelle in the hope she can get him reinstated and back on the playing field.

All of which takes the story into the world of pre-World War II baseball and it is a ride as wacky and joyous as an extra innings pitchers’ duel.  Do recall my earlier warning; this is the kind of book that takes detours you never saw coming. Then, before you can sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” we discover this troubled big leaguer is in possession of a priceless J.R. Reach bat made of white ash, of which only three were made.

Oh, and did we mention Nelle is also a secret agent for the O.S.S.?

“The Damp Fedora,” once we managed to cut our way through the first five pages, took off like a bucking bronco fresh out of the rodeo shute forcing us to hold on for dear life. With every wondrous phrase, evocative of times long gone, we experienced a thrill ride like none other found between the pages of such a slim book. Pilarcik is a bloody genius and you heard it here first.  Now, Lady, you owe me a cold one.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

OUTLAWS OF OLYMPUS - BLACK'S MAGIC



OUTLAWS OF OLYMPUS
BLACK’S MAGIC
By C.E. Martin
50 pgs.

Here we have the second little chapter book in C.E. Martin’s fun series which has the Greek Gods returning to Earth, but this time during the days of the American Wild West. Each takes on a different, iconic western persona while attempting to advance their ancient agenda of getting mortals to worship them anew.

The main protagonist is Hercules, now living the life of a frontier Catholic priest named Father Sergio Ercole.  When a band of murdering Indians made up entirely of squaws go on the rampage, the mysterious Jack Black cajoles Father Ercole in going after these female killers to discover the reason by their deadly war-party.

Honestly, with only 50 pgs, this chapter book packs a wallop.  We can’t recommend this series strong enough. Check out C.E. Martin’s webpage.  You’ll be glad you did.

Monday, October 24, 2016

SKELOS 1



SKELOS  1
The Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy
Edited by Mark Finn, Chris Gruber & Jeffrey Shanks
Skelos Press
160 pgs.

It is always a pleasure being surprised by something straight out of the blue.  Perhaps the most extinct publication form today is the genre themed magazine.  Over the years, they have gradually died out; due in most part to economic reasons.  Books are simply easier and cheaper to print while a magazine, regardless of its scheduling, simply demands a great deal more work.  Which is why the appearance of a full blown, illustrated periodical devoted to weird fiction is nothing short of miraculous these days.

So before even getting into the contents and quality of this title, we have to tip our pulp fedora to the Herculean efforts of editors Finn, Gruber and Shanks.  They have achieved something truly special and much needed in the world of literature today.  “Skelos 1” is brimming with creepy, frightening tales of various lengths, all guaranteed to produce nightmares in unsuspecting readers.  While peppered amongst all this excellent fiction are several critical essays examining such topics as Robert E. Howard’s world building to the comparison of H.P. Lovecraft with Welsh writer Arthur Machen. 

These scholarly pieces may not be for the average pulp readers, but for those devoted to the genres, they provide intriguing insights to their respective subjects.  And if that wasn’t enough, the magazine also features fantasy poetry, something unseen since the early days of the pulps.  Add to this evocative artwork and deft design work and the reader comes away holding on to a true pulp treasure.  In fact, after reading issue # 1 from cover to cover, this reviewer can easily imagine how long ago fans of Weird Tales must have felt when it first appeared on the scene.  Like that august title, “Skelos” offers up unlimited potential and could prove to be welcome platform in discovering new creators with a genuine talent for the macabre.  “The Yellow Death” by David Hardy was our personal favorite in this collection.  Still, in the end, the title’s greatest challenge will be building a supportive, loyal audience. 

For now, they’ve taken a huge, successful first step.  Here’s hoping issue # 2 is not too far on the horizon.

Friday, October 21, 2016

QUARRY IN THE BLACK



QUARRY IN THE BLACK
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.