Monday, August 20, 2018

SWIFT VENGEANCE


SWIFT VENGEANCE
By T. Jefferson Parker
Putnam Books
353 pgs

Lindsay Rakes is a former drone operator for the U.S. Air Force.  In the end, her work of dropping missiles on enemy targets a world away becomes too much for her own conscience. The post guilt eventually ruins her marriage, losing both her husband and son through to the abuse of alcohol. Ultimately it is San Diego Private Investigator, Roland Ford, who comes to Rakes’ rescue, seeing the psychological scars she carries. He can identify as a Marine veteran who had served in Fallujah. He eventually gets Rakes in AA and on a path of sobriety.

As the book opens, Ford is still grieving for the loss of his wife in a single engine plane crash a year earlier. When Rakes shows up at his doorstep with a note threatening her life via beheading, he puts that melancholy aside. The note is written in a stylized Arabic calligraphy and the author signs himself Caliphornia openly identifying himself as a Muslim and alluding to her service activities. As it turns out, the other two men in her unit, also drone operators, had received the same thread on similar stationary. Ford takes Rakes note to FBI Agent Joan Taucher, a dedicated warrior obsessed with protecting her community from suffering terrorist attacks of any kind. She sees the threat as real and together, they begin their hunt for the elusive villain.

When one of the other two targeted veterans is murdered and beheaded, both Ford and Taucher find themselves in a race with a madman bent on a very singular vengeance. He has not chosen his targets at random, but because of their involvement with one specific mission. Now it’s up to the world weary P.I. to find that connection before the killer strikes again on an ever larger scale.

“Swift Vengeance,” like all good thrillers, works because of Parker’s ability to create believable characters, both good and bad. His insights into the human soul with its flaws and strengths is what propels the story. It allows us to know these people as if they were our own friends and neighbors. When the climax arrives, we’ve become invested and it carries us to a powerful finale cruel in its truth and inevitability. The last page of this amazing book is one this reviewer will never forget.  

Sunday, August 12, 2018

THE GANGSTER


THE GANGSTER
An Isaac Bell Adventure
By Justin Scott (& Clive Cussler)
Putnam Books
416 pgs

Of all the cottage spin-off series to come from Clive Cussler, my favorite remains the Isaac Bell stories, as writer Justin Scott knows his history and can write smooth, fast paced action better than most thriller writers today. “The Gangster” is no exception. It begins with an early encounter be Bell as a college student with an Italian immigrant, Anthony Braco, in a railyard. Later, that immigrant becomes the brilliant and cruel leader of New York’s Black Hand, the precursor of the dreaded Mafia.

Of course by this time, Bell is now a detective for the Van Dorn Agency and it is inevitable that the two will cross paths and become antagonist. All of this set up is wonderfully set forth and the tactics of blackmail and intimidation employed by are right out of crimeland textbooks. Where the novel takes a sharp turn is when Bell learns Braco has become involved with a plot to assassinate President Theodore Roosevelt. From that point on, we dare any reader to put this book down. It flies over the last two hundred pages like a bolt of storytelling lighting. 

We’ve enjoyed all the Isaac Bell books to date and “The Gangster” is by far one of the best. Can’t wait to see what Justin Scott has up his sleeve for the next one.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

CHILDREN OF THE LIGHT - Book One - The Silver Haired Boy


CHILDREN OF THE LIGHT
Book One : The Silver-Haired Boy
By Aaron Powers
Create Space Platform
Available at Amazon
216 pgs

As we’ve said often enough in this column, self-published books are really hit or miss. The ability to publish one’s own work, without having to rely on a professional publisher is both a good thing and a bad thing. Obviously it’s a good thing for that talented writer who, for whatever obstacles, simply can’t get his or her work looked at by those big shot companies. It is certainly a bad thing when people without an ounce of writing skills think they are the next Stephen King and put their amateurish (we’re being kind here) ramblings out for the whole world to suffer through.

So here we have another self-published entry. Whereas we are delighted to say it falls totally in the former camp. Aaron Powers can write. And that is an understatement. He not only understands the technical skilled required to write, he’s also got the instincts of a true storyteller. From page one to the dramatic finale, “Children of the Light” is a roller-coaster ride that is so well conceived and delivered, we were amazed that this is his first novel.

Ticho is young boy living in Gainsborough. He is an orphan who doesn’t know his own history. He is mute and lots of very bad people are chasing him because he stole a museum statue. The statue he stole is of a shepherd holding recovered lost lamb. What its value is, Ticho doesn’t know but in the opening chapter his adoptive father is murdered by the very people wanting its return. During the chase, he encounters a very wise old man named Armin Kayetan who brings him to a magical cottage hidden on the outskirts of the city.

Here Armin, and a few of his trusted allies, inform Ticho that for centuries a secret war has been waged on Earth between the powers of good and evil; dark and light. Ticho is a direct descendant of the first Children of the Light and has inherited their amazing powers. It is Armin’s task to train the boy and teach him how to use these gifts as the demonic forces are closing in on them every day. The statue is one of six the minions of the Dark require to rule the world and usher in an age of true horror.

“Children of the Light – Book One – The Silver-Haired Boy” is one of the most enjoyable books we’ve read all year and one that is extremely hard to put down once you start reading. This is what solid, action adventure fantasy is all about. Aaron Powers…remember that name.  You will be hearing it a whole lot more in the future. Count on it.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Captain Cosmos - Spin a Web of Death.


CAPTAIN COSMOS
The Last Starveyer in
Spin a Web of Death
By Nicola Cuti
Nicolaentertainment.com
297 pgs

It would be safe to say most sci-fi readers first encountered writer Nicola Cuti’s work among the pages of comic books. At the now defunct Charlton Comics, Cuit created the hilarious E-Man with artist pal, Joe Staton. His list of credits is far too long to enumerate here. Still we were naturally surprised to see he’d ventured not only into prose writing but also the questionable world self-publishing.

He does so here in his first Captain Cosmos adventure; a character obviously based on himself, were he a bonafide space ranger. This is an out and out old school pulp space opera; the kind most of us encountered while in high school. It is pure fun from the first page to the last. Our hero is a sad-sack, former Starveyer who left the service to start his own freight hauling business. Aboard his ship, Belvedere, he is free to roam the spaceways with his crew among which are Cadet Starling and Zen-ya, an alien beauty.

During one very lucrative run, Cosmos learns that a galaxy wide rescue mission is being assembled to save the inhabitants of a planet about to perish. The world is called Arach and its people, Arachnians, are spider-like beings. Much to the ire of the business man who is employing him, Cosmos has the Belvedere  join the rescue fleet and through a series of odd mishaps ends up being the only ship to actually land on Arach. Once there, Cosmos encounters a Gillian, a lovely Earth Scientist, who agrees to assist them in getting the Arachnians ready for transporting.

Alas the populace of the capital city will not leave unless their Royal Family accompanies them, thus forcing Cosmos and Gillian on a hasty journey into the wild to find the governing clan. Along they way, to and from, they encounter one danger after another as they struggle to complete their mission. All the while Arach’s time grows ever shorter.

“Spin a Web of Death,” is a fresh, no-hold barred, rollicking adventure with tons of action and a wry, satirical humor that elevates it far beyond the average space opera. It is a gem of a story told by a man whose own creativity appears endless. Cuti is one of the best and this wonderful book proves to be another notch in his belt. Please, go out and buy it now. You can thank me later.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Bentley Goes To School


BENTLEY GOES TO SCHOOL
Story by Kellie Lambert
Art by Jeff Slemons
Paws Publishing
24 pgs

We love children’s books and though this is not the first such we’ve reviewed; it has been a long, long while since the last. What brought about this review is the amazing artwork of Jeff Slemons, a fellow Coloradan who we know mostly for his automobile cartoons and comics work. Quality children’s books are artistic gems, both for their succinct economy of storytelling and their imaginative illustrations. This book has them both.

The plot is simple enough. Bentley, our hero, is a big 200 pound brindle, English Mastiff. Brindle refers to the striped cologing on his body. He belongs to Kellie, a school principal and one day she takes Bentley to work with her. He immediately falls in love with all the kids. So much so that he wants to go to school every day. He learns that would be possible if he were a Therap Dog. Bentley immediately goes to training school to learn this very important job, working very had to achieve that goal and get his wish; to go to school every day.

“Bentley Goes To School” is a charming, delightful story that will entrance both young and old alike. Kellie Lambert and Jeff Slemons have given us a treat with this fun story about a pretty amazing dog. We loved this book and if you’re an animal lover, so will you.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

CUBA : Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter.


CUBA : Sugar, Sex, and Scandal
Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle
# new texture
159 pages

Once again Bob Deis & Wyatt Doyle have released a new anthology from their series; “The Men’s Adventure Library Journal” titles. As ever, they’ve dug into their amazing collection of vintage Men’s Adventure Magazines (MAMS for short) and put together a series of articles, fiction and illustrations all focused on the theme of Cuba and its bloody history.

It’s a truly weird approach telling the history of people via such articles, but in its own way the tropical island’s very make up seems soaked in pulpish gore and horror; never mind the action and adventure. The pieces are typical sensationalist exposes such as “Havana’s Amazing Flesh Market,” to “Castro’s Commie Blueprint to Take Over Latin America.”

Fiction wise there’s “Bayamo’s Night of Terror,” by Don Hogan. A ghastly account of life in one of Cuba’s worst prison hell-holes.  As for special features, the book offers up some truly wonderful examples of artist Norm Eastman’s work for the MAMS and then there is an all too short pictorial featuring the lovely model Eva Lynd recounting her own one time trip to Cuba.

Beautiful assembled and laid out, “CUBA : Sugar, Sex and Slaughter” is representative of a time when drugstores magazine racks were filled with some of the most lurid, explosive stories ever to grace a pulp page. This book is just another lesson delivered by two experts who really know their stuff.  A welcome addition to any pulp library.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

THE GHOSTS OF KARNAK


THE GHOSTS OF KARNAK
By George Mann
Titan Books
271 pages

George Mann’s steam-pulp hero, the Ghost, returns in this, his third outing. When Gabriel Cross’ girlfriend, Ginny Gray, fails to return from her sight-seeing trip to Egypt, he is a bit concerned. That feeling of tread is only magnified when his friend, police detective Felix Donovan informs Garbriel that he’s been investigating a series of gruesome murders wherein the bodies are left with ancient Egyptian symbols cared into their flesh. Donovan suspects a group of fanatical cultists who worship ancient gods.

At the same time, a local crime boss whose enforcers wear mechanized armor is somehow involved and Gabriel and Donovan soon discover there is turf war going between the mobster and the cultist. The mystery continues to lead them in various directions, but all eventually coalesces to the point where the Ghost discovers Ginny may be in the hands of a madman who plans on using her body to host the spirit of a long dead Egyptian diety.

As ever, Mann spins a fast pace action tale with colorful characters who easily could have stepped out of the pages of any classic pulp magazine. The Ghost series is one of his best and something every pulp fan should pick up.