Wednesday, January 15, 2020

CUTTHROAT


CUTTHROAT
(An Isaac Bell Adventure)
By Justin Scott & Clive Cussler
Putnam Books
381 pages

We’ve been fans of this series since first created by Clive Cussler and then picked up by Justin Scott. These are historical action packed stories of a turn-of-the-century Van Dorn detective Isaac Bell and accurate settings and history are as much fun as the adventure stuff. With “The Cutthroat” Bell and his confederates uncover the startling truth that a serial killer has been active in the US for nearly twenty years. The more they begin collecting data from across the country, one similarity continues to rise prominent in all the various police reports and newspaper accounts; the murders are highly reminiscent of London’s notorious Jack the Ripper killings.

Considering the fact that the Ripper was never apprehended, speculation arises as to the possibility that the fiend ended his reign of terror in England because he escaped to America. As outlandish as the idea seems, Bell is determined to solve the case and travels to England to re-examine the Ripper’s crime history. Ultimately creating a feasible timeline, the savvy manhunter comes to the conclusion that had the Ripper committed his crimes while in his early twenties, the idea of his coming to the US and continuing his evil ways is not only possible but with the mounting evidence gathered by the Van Dorn agents, highly probable.

Set against the backdrop of flamboyant American theater groups in the early 1900s, Scott weaves a mesmerizing, suspenseful tale that had this reviewer turning pages late into the night. “Cutthroat” is a gem in what is already a great series worth of any pulp lovers support.

Monday, January 06, 2020

THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO PULP FICTION


THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO PULP FICTION:
The Heroes, TheVillains and the Writers.
By Jonathan W. Sweet
Brick Pickle Media
138 pgs.

We really appreciate little introductory books like this one written by award winning journalist and editor Jonathan W. Sweet. It offers a very clear cut explanation of what pulp fiction is and its history in American Literature. Divided into definitive sections, the author introduces new readers to the most famous of the Golden Age pulp writers. It is the biggest section in the book and rightly so. Some truly remarkable men and women created those amazing stories that thrilled several generations. There is some mention of various pulp artists, but sparingly as the focus is on the fiction here.

Sweet then offers brief descriptions of the most popular pulp characters, starting with the greats ala the Shadow, Doc Savage, the Spider and others. This is followed by a roster of the more colorful villains and then ends the section with a look at the B-heroes who, though popular with readers, never had their own titles.

Finally, Sweet wraps it all up by showcasing current publishers who are today endeavoring to keep the pulps alive, both in quality reprint collections and others offering up new adventures such as Airship 27, Pro Se and Flinch Books. All in all nice, informative package. We’re told a Volume Two is in the works and will be most eager to read it.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

STRAIGHT OUT OF DEADWOOD


STRAIGHT OUT OF DEADWOOD
Edited by David Boop
Baen Books
265 pgs

All too often we’ve heard literary types bemoan the fact that the art of writing short stories is dead in America. Now that is geared to the fact that many of the classic slicks like Saturday Evening Post and others of such renown are no longer in existence. And yet it is in the field of New Pulp that we find short stories are not only alive but flourishing thanks to a new generation of talented young writers.

One genre in particular exemplifies that fact and it is Weird Westerns. Recently writer/editor David Boop put together three good-sized weird westerns anthologies of which “Straight Out of Deadwood” is the latest. It contains 17 cautionary tales filled with suspense, horror and a good dose of sheer creepiness. We confess most of the writers in this collection were unknown to us, but after having read their stories, we certainly plan on searching out more of their fiction.

In a perfect world, all anthologies would have nothing but great stories. Alas, in our real world “Straight Out of Deadwood” runs the spectrum in quality from top to bottom. Among our personal favorites were Mike Resnick (a writer we are quite familiar with) “The Doctor and the Specter,” about Doc Holliday’s last words before dying. It’s a gem. Charlaine Harris’ “A Talk with My Mother,” has a marvelous O’Henry ending that had us chuckling.  Derrick Ferguson’s well known Sebastian Red character shows up in “The Relay Station at Wrigley’s Pass” much to our delight. We were impressed with Marsheila Rockwell’s “Dreamcatcher.”  Honorable mentions for pure scary stuff goes to Betsy Dornbucsh’s “The Petrified Man” and Travis Heerman’s “Blood Lust and Gold Dust.”

The remaining entries were so-so, with one absurdly morbid to the point of being disgusting. As we stated at the offset, anthologies generally are a mixed bag. Overall, because there were more winners than clunkers and so we gladly recommend you pick this one up.

Friday, December 13, 2019

GAUGE BLACK - Hell's Revenge


GAUGE BLACK – Hell’s Revenge
By Mark Justice
Self-Published
Available at Amazon
128 pgs

Revenge plots are a standard in westerns but in “Gauge Black – Hell’s Revenge,” author Mark Justice rips the format to shreds in this unforgiving tale. A Corporal in the Union Army during the Civil War, Gauge Black wants nothing more than to return to his life as a farmer once peace is declared. He is savagely robbed of that goal when several privates, in retaliation for a few disciplinary reports, accuse Black of torturing and killing a captured Confederate officer during the final days of the conflict.

Scared the news of the atrocity will reach Washington, the Advocate General and his staff opt to ignore Black’s pleas of innocent and with only unsubstantiated testimonies, find him guilty. He is sentenced to serve three years in an Arizona federal prison known as Hell.

Run by the sadistic Warden Peck, Black endures the worst depravities imaginable and uses his obsessive desire for revenge to survive. He endures each attack and brutally murders other inmates at the Warden’s pleasure. No sin is too perverse to stop him. The three years pass and finally papers arrive officially sanctioning his release. What leaves Hell is not the wronged army corporal, but a violent killing machine with absolutely no conscience left. Gauge Black has only one desire, to make those who stole his life suffer and die…as painfully as possible.

Justice prose is knife sharp and by the time his protagonist has begun his mission of vengeance, the reader soon learns there is not a single ounce of redemption left in this story. In the end, Gauge Black is a heartless monster who lives to destroy his creators.
This is rough stuff, pulp readers. You’ve been warned.

Monday, December 09, 2019

TARZAN AND THE LOST VALLEY


TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD
By Fritz Leiber
From a Screenplay by Clair Huffaker
ERB, Inc.
320 pages

Clair Huffaker was one of the finest American writers to ever work in Hollywood. In 1965 he was hired by producer Sy Weintraub to write a new Tarzan film which would feature a modern sophisticated version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s classic hero. It would be the first of three to star former football pro Mick Henry as the new, suave and debonair Ape Man. “Tarzan and the Valley of Gold” was released in the summer of 1966.

The plot has Tarzan flying to Mexico in answer to a summons from an old friend who works for the government. A treacherous villain, whose hobby is blowing people up, has located the whereabouts of a lost civilization and is going there at the head of his own private mercenary army. Tarzan’s job is to stop him and save the lost city of gold. Eschewing the previous Tarzan movies, Weintraub and Huffaker purposely ignored any references to Jane, Boy or any other trappings that had been added over the years. Trappings that had turned Burroughs savage champion into a middle-aged, family man as exciting as a bowl of porridge.

Henry not only looked the part as envisioned by readers, but this Tarzan was also intelligent, multi-lingual and resourceful. The movie moves at a fast clip and the action never stops. It remains one of our favorites. It wasn’t till years later that we discovered sci-fi writer Fritz Leiber had written a paperback novelization of the screenplay. It was the first authorized Tarzan novel by an author other Burroughs and was officially listed as the 25th book in the series. With only one printing, the book soon disappeared and became a unique literary treasure sought by many fans over the years. Now ERB, Inc. has produced a beautiful hardcover edition which features a gorgeous cover by Richard Hescox and three black and white interior illustrations by Douglas Klauba.

Known for his creation of the sword and sorcery characters Fathrd and Gray Mouser, Leiber took Huffaker’s lean tale and turned it into a full blown, detailed novel that in the end had very little resemblance to the actual movie. In the book most of the story takes place in the jungle of Brazil and is purposely adjusted to the Tarzan canon as written by Burroughs. Thus there are footnotes galore referring to past Burroughs books and the missus is mentioned, though never by name. Leiber even alludes to his hero’s supposed longevity as having to do with the supernatural.

Where Leiber’s story shines is his complete characterizations of all the principles from Tarzan to the villain Vinaro. No longer cookie-cutter Bond-like figures, each of them is fully realized adding great depth to the adventure. We’re even given Tarzan’s personal self-refection as he continually struggles with his duel natures; one civilized and the other a primitive beast. All in all, the book is truly something unique and a wonderful read. Thank you ERB, Inc. for rescuing it from the obscurity and giving all us Tarzan fans this beautiful edition.

Friday, November 29, 2019

THE MADNESS OF FRANKENSTEIN


THE MADNESS OF FRANKENSTEIN
By Derrick Ferguson
Pulp Work Press
138 pgs.

New Pulp writer Derrick Ferguson is best known for his action packed adventures, be they the exploits of Dillon, Fortune McCall or Sebastian Red. All of these should already be on your reading list. But back in 1914, Ferguson wrote this truly amazing novella, “The Madness of Frankenstein” that is his homage to the great Hammer horror flicks of the 60s and 70s. Having finally picked up a copy, we were eager open its pages and discover what special grisly treats Mr. Ferguson had whipped up for his unsuspecting readers.

The book is a non-stop, frantic, over the top story with enough colorful characters to cast a dozen movies. A young scientist named Peter Holden is imprisoned because of his fanatical obsession with the infamous Doctor Victor Von Frankenstein; the monster-maker. But Holden isn’t the only person seeking the notorious villain. The Holy Mother Church has inaugurated a group of warrior clerics calling themselves the Justicers and their singular mission is to find Frankenstein and put an end to his blasphemous career.

When a ravenously beautiful young woman named Angelique appears with news of Frankenstein’s whereabouts, a Justicer named Christopher Wrightson has Holden released in his charge. Angelique’s information has Frankenstein somehow connected to an insane asylum located far in the northern woods. The party sets out immediately unaware of the true horrors that await them in this damp, dark fortress of madness.

Aside from the sheer brutality of Ferguson’s prose, there is also a strain of black humor evident as he peppers his tale with some very recognizable names. These are his personal “Easter eggs” and makes the story that much more fun. Not a word is wasted, not a classic action ignored as “The Madness of Frankenstein” delivers a truly unforgettable reading experience.

Our only request; when is the sequel coming?

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

MIDNIGHT GUARDIAN - Annihilation Machine


THE MIDNIGHT GUARDIAN
(Annihilation Machine)
By John C. Bruening
Flinch Books
328 pgs

John Bruening’s second novel in his Midnight Guardian pulp series answers the question; Can one have too much of a good thing? Sadly the answer in this case is most definitely. We recall reviewing the first book in this series, “Midnight Guardian – Hour of Darkness” and at time thinking it was a bit long for a pulp thriller. We were concerned about Bruening failing to understand the basic tropes of what made the pulps work. If he continued to produce overly long books, then they would only serve to deaden the impact of his fiction. Which is exactly what has happened with “Annihilation Machine.”

The basic plot is a familiar one with most pulp readers. It is 1938 and a mad, disfigured German scientist calling himself Sensenmann has been smuggled into the U.S. and is threatening to destroy Union City with a powerful machine that annihilated buildings from miles away with uncanny accuracy. Naturally he’s working for Hitler and the Nazi High Command. That’s it. Nothing overly complicated. Then it is up to Assistant District Attorney Jack Hunter to stop him as the masked vigilante, the Midnight Guardian.

John C. Bruening is a very good writer and he has created some really terrific characters with this series. Unfortunately he falls into the trap of being so meticulous in his storytelling that he has to put down every single incident, conference meeting and interview as if each were so vital to the overall book. Not true. Had Bruening had the benefit of a veteran pulp editor, he could have easily trimmed his massive tome by a hundred pages and still told his story; only a whole lot faster and meaner. Pacing is a crucial element to any pulp thriller and most of this book’s middle section seems to be locked into Snail Gear.

Another irksome point is the writer’s refusal to name his hero. Let me clarify. In the majority of classic masked avenger pulps, the classic writers understood the duality of the hero once he, or she, assumed and second identity. Thus when writing his Spider adventures, Norvell Page would not call his hero Richard Wentworth, while he was in action as his crimefighting hero. He would call him The Spider. Whereas throughout “Annihilation Machine,” Bruening eschews calling his protagonist anything but his Christian name. Thus it is always Jack Hunter in action and never the Midnight Guardian. We have no clue what the author has against calling him by his colorful title? It’s almost as if he were embarrassed to be writing pulp.

In the end, “Midnight Guardian – Annihilation Machine” is a good book by a good writer. We simply believe it could have been better.