Wednesday, May 24, 2017

SKELOS 2



SKELOS     2
The Magazine of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy
Edited by Mark Fin, Chris Gruber, Jeffrey Shanks
Skelos Press
202 pages

Last year we had the pleasure of reviewing the first issue of this terrific new fantasy journal and gave it a resounding welcome. Imagine both our surprise and delight upon opening the second issue and discovering it is not only as good as the premier volume but in some ways even better.

Billed as repository for short fiction, novellas, interviews, art, reviews and essays, the journal does a magnificent job of covering each venue with excellent pieces, be they fiction or expository articles. Each is of superb quality and among this issue we, as any review would, had our favorites. Fiction-wise, Robert M. Price’s “The Eleventh Scarlett Hell,” is a marvelous Thongor of Lemuria adventure novelette to be relished, while the short works of Milton Davis, Cynthia Ward and Jessica Amanda Salmonson were our favorites among that category.

Frank Coffman is a devilishly clever poet and is his “The Wood” was particularly creepy as were “The Night Realm” by Chad Hensely and “The Mockingbird” by Pat Calhoun. Had we had similar verse in high school, English Lit would have certainly been a whole lot more interesting.

We were unfamiliar with writer Arriane “Tex” Thompson until Mark Finn’s interview and may have to acquaint ourselves with more of her work in the future. “Warrior Women of History,” presented by Jeffrey Shanks with illustrations by Samuel Dillon was pure joy. One has to wonder why more hasn’t been done with these amazing characters from history.

Lastly, and always helpful, were a half dozen reviews by folks such as Dave Breski, Jake Vander Weide and Keith West, to name a few.

All in all, another treasure trove of both tales and artwork, beautifully designed and presented. Fantasy fans should be rejoicing loudly.  SKELOS 2 is another homerun by a production staff that knows the fantasy genre inside and out. We can only dream of what they are going to do with volume 3.

Monday, May 22, 2017

THE WILL TO KILL



THE WILL TO KILL
(The Lost Mike Hammer Mystery)
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Titan Books
230 pages

The release of yet another “lost” Mike Hammer novel by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins is always a cause for celebration among mystery lovers. In this case, Hammer discovers the partial remains of a corpse floating on a chunk of ice in the Hudson River. A quick investigation determines the dead man was the butler of a one time cop turned millionaire inventor who also died via mysterious circumstances. Thing is, this retired copper was a friend of Homicide Detective Pat Chambers; Hammer’s good buddy. It is Chambers who sends the tough-guy private eye up into the Catskill to investigate both the butler’s bizarre end while at the same time learning more about the widowed inventor’s death and his four heirs.

Unlike most Hammer tales, where the action unfolds on the streets of the Big Apple, this one has him up in the rarefied air of the well-to-do and their richly landscaped abodes. Once settled into the scene, Hammer gets accounted with the four siblings; two stepsons, both with hidden skeletons in their private closets, a lovely daughter and a challenged younger male with childlike qualities. All of them stand to gain from their late father’s will upon each of them turning forty years old.

Of course, this being a Hammer novel, it comes as no surprise when one of the two stepsons is murdered leaving his share to be divided among the surviving three. And thus we begin to drift into a less traditional Hammer caper and more an Agatha Christie “Ten Little Indians” tableau. This by now means suggest the book isn’t suspenseful and well conceived. Only that it feels out of place in the Hammer canon. Most likely because of the setting itself than any other factor.

Bottom line, any Hammer book by Spillane and Collins is going to be good, but take Hammer out of the City and something gets lost in translation.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

SOME OTHER SHORE



SOME OTHER SHORE
By Dwight R. Decker
Vesper Press
144 pages

We’ve known Dwight “Doc” Decker for many years and he has a reputation as one of the finest writers in genre fiction. This is his latest collection of shorts and it proves to be a delightful, eclectic bunch covering everything from fantasy to cautionary sci-fi. The half dozen here assembled beings with “Witch Hunt” a dangerous sequel to the Hansel and Gretel and it isn’t a fairy tale.

In “Extraordinary Proof,” a well known skeptic is in for the surprise encounter of his life in regards to aliens walking amongst us while “Raiders of the Future,” has time travelers going to the future to steal advanced technology. When they are captured by a futuristic librarian, it is the rookie on the team who comes up with the solution to their dilemma.

 “Saxon Violence,” begins with an old British vicar attempting to resurrect King Arthur during World War II and gets some unexpected results for his efforts.  Had he done more historical research into the subject, his ending may have been different.  “Miracle By Mistake,” is marvelous piece in which a student from the far future finds himself working with a traveling circus in 1911 and learning his own true self-worth.

Finally we “The Last of Their Kind,” which tells of a World War II fighter pilot shot down in the South Pacific and rescued on a small island by a clan of real mermaids.

All in all, if you are on the hunt for old fashion, well told short stories, you needn’t look any further than “Some Other Shore.”  Decker even includes a friendly afterword in which he relates the inspirations for his yarns. A completely fun package we hated to see end.  Here’s hoping a second collection will soon be coming out way.

Monday, May 08, 2017

SEARCH FOR THE BEAST



SEARCH FOR THE BEAST
By Derrick Ferguson
Based on the screenplay by Rick Montana
Pro Se Press
169 pages

This is a book we’ve been most anxious to get our hands on for multiple reasons. So here’s a question for all of you. What do you get when you adapt an hour long B horror movie into a full length novel? Well, if the writer chosen to do the novelization is competent, you’ll most likely get an okay prose version of the flick. Whereas if your writer is one of the finest, most capable authors in New Pulp today, what you’ll end up with is something a whole lot more intense, suspenseful and exciting than the actual source material.

Now as to that latter, we have not seen writer/director Rick Montana’s little movie and are solely referring to the extremely negative comments on its Amazon page. Ouch. We don’t generally mind B movies, but those with a modicum of fun attached to them. Now back to book review.

One of the first things Ferguson does is shifts the tale’s setting from the backwoods of Alabama to the northwest Florida swamps, which is a much more logical setting if the entire theme of your narrative centers around the hunt for a bigfoot type creature called the Beast. The protagonist is a former Army Ranger turned archeologist named David Stone who is quite familiar with both the Beast and his Okaloosa wilderness habitat. When the son of the area’s richest men goes missing along with his girlfriend, the father hires Stone to go and find him. He also sends along a squad of ex-military mercenaries led by one Jim Steele. Stone is rightly suspicious of Steele and his team, sensing early on that their agendas are not the same.  Unfortunately Stone has made the mistake of bringing along an undergraduate student, Wendy, and he soon fears he has not only  endangered his own life but hers as well.

No sooner does the group get settled into their bivouac camp, then the Beast appears and savagely murders one of Steele’s men. At the same time another group of mysterious hunters materializes and Steele is convinced they are chasing after the same illegal cache he has been hired to find and destroy. All the while Dr. Stone and Wendy are caught up in the crossfire doing their best to survive both the human killers and the supernatural Beast.

Ferguson imbues what is a fairly standard plot with so much verve and energy, this reviewer became totally caught up in the tale; willingly forgetting how outlandish the plot is. He is a masterful writer and gives these characters tons more depth and substance than any B movie could ever offer. Maybe some night we’ll get to see the film on cable, till then, we’re in no hurry to do so. Having read the book, we’re pretty sure we came out ahead on this one.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

BEYOND RUE MORGUE



BEYOND RUE MORGUE
Edited by Paul Kane & Charles Prepolec
Titan Books
332 pages

This is such a marvelous idea for an anthology. Editors Kane and Prepolec open the collection with their short essay on arguably literature’s first true fictional detective; Edgar Allan Poe’s C. August Dupin. Then they kick off the book with Poe’s seminal “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which for anyone with little experience reading dated English prose, is a chore in itself. Whereas once the title classic has been put forth, the curtain opens to nine brand new stories inspired by Poe’s unique character.

“The Sons of Tammany” by Mike Carey.  The building of the Brooklyn Bridge and government corruption is the backdrop to this fast moving yarn.

“The Unfathomed Darkness” by Simon Clark. A fanatical Danish cult sets out on a perilous airship pilgrimage only to end in twisted murder.

“The Weight of a Dead Man,” by Weston Ochse & Yvonne Navarro. Dupin’s grandson, Pinkerton agent Nate Dupes, arrives in Arizona looking for a stolen painting only to get caught up with an ancient cult and a colorful Mexican bandito. An action packed pulper that is much fun.

“The Vanishing Assassin,” by Jonathan Mayberry.  Dupin solves the mystery of a butchered art dealer.

“The Gruesome Affair of the Electric Blue Lightning,” by Joe R. Lansdale. This one throws in everything from Frankenstein to Lovecraft’s Elder Gods.

“From Darkness, Emerged, Returned,” by Elizabeth Massie. A nice little psychological thriller that was my least favorite. Not because it is badly written but because it’s tenuous connection to the theme.

“After The End,” by Lisa Tuttle. This tale is so cleverly plotted; the writer’s prophecy at the end is eerily effective.

“The Purloined Face,” by Stephen Volk. A truly fanciful tale wherein Dupin is actually Edgar Allen Poe; having faked his own death back in America and retired to Paris to pursue his new career as a detective. His assistant and narrator of the tale is none other than a young Sherlock Holmes and together they seek to unravel the true identity of the Phantom of the Opera. A truly imaginative, wonderful story.  Easily my favorite of this collection.

“New Murders in the Rue Morgue,” by Clive Barker. When an American descendant of the Dupin returns to Paris, he finds line between fiction and reality blurred in a truly horrifying tale.

In all this is an eclectic, fun anthology worthy of your attention and support.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

ENVY THE DEAD



ENVY THE DEAD
By Robert Randisi
Down & Out Books
273 pgs

Sangster was one of the best killers in the death-dealing business until one day he woke to discover he had a soul. Translate to conscience and because of that unexpected epiphany, he retired immediately. Now, one of his few friends aware of his old career, Catholic priest Father Patrick, comes to Sangster looking for help. Years earlier, while assigned to a parish in Philadelphia, a young twelve year old altar boy committed suicide after claiming he had been abused by a priest. Father Patrick swore he was not that priest, whereas the boy’s father, mobster Jimmy Abbatello doesn’t believe him and puts out a contract on the cleric. The Bishop quickly has him reassigned to a parish in New Orleans and for the next decade Father Patrick believes he’s actually escaped the obsessed Abatello.

Then one day the priest runs into one of the old Philly hoods in a public square. Though he ducks away fast, he is unsure as to whether the fellow spotted him. Worried that such is the case, he seeks out Sangster and thus the novel begins.  Randisi is one of those old pros in the crime genre who has gotten so good at telling these kinds of stories, his prose is economical and his dialogue sharp, crisp and fun. These are the traits every writer works at as they are the elements that make prose either convoluted or, like this novel, enjoyably readable. The pages seem to turn themselves, that’s how smoothly Randasi spins his tale.

Sangster reluctantly agrees to help and eventually learns a notorious hitman known as Frankie Trigger has taken the contract and is already in New Orleans. But Sangster isn’t without his own support in the retired ex-Sheriff Burke, a wiry character always ready for a little action. If all this wasn’t enough, Sangster gets another surprise when a beautiful young woman named Roxy shows up claiming to be the daughter of his former controller. She wants Sangster to teach her to be a hired gun.

“Envy The Dead,” is one of those rare thrillers that delivers memorable moments without ever straining credibility. In the end, it’s about people, flawed, imperfect and simply wanted to get by in a world too often cold and uncaring.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

THE BOOTLEGGER



THE BOOTLEGGER
(An Isaac Bell Adventure)
By Justin Scott with Clive Cussler
Berkley Novel
435 pgs

This is the sixth Isaac Bell thriller from writer Justin Scott. For the record, Clive Cussler created the characters and set up for the series in his book, “The Chase,” then handed it off to the Scott to continue.  Which in our opinion is both genius and bothersome. Genius because Justin Scott is an amazing writer, bothersome in that for purely promotion purposes, the publishers always slap Cussler’s name over these books in a giant font with Scott’s shrunk down to near invisibility beneath it.  But, good or bad, these cottage series have been around forever. It obvious the books make tons of money and Mr. Scott’s ego is surely compensated by his share of the royalties.  As this is one of our current favorite series currently being written, we just had to vent a bit.  Now on to the actual review.

Set in 1921, Prohibition is the law of the land and causing havoc across the country. In an attempt to keep his prestigious detective company free of corruption, Joseph Van Horn offers his company’s services to the Coast Guard. On an inspection tour with one of their patrol boats, they come under attack from bootleggers operating a super-fast armored cruiser equipped with machine guns.  Van Horn is wounded in the confrontation and almost dies.  That is all the motivation his chief agent and protégé Isaac Bell needs to mount a full out offensive against the cunning operators of that incredible but deadly speedboat.  Bell will stop at nothing to find the bootleggers and bring them to justice.

But as the investigation mounts, Bell uncovers evidence that the owner of the black rum-runner may not be a simple criminal after all.  With the help of Pauline Grandzau, the lovely Van Dorn agent in charge of their Berlin office, he learns that the mysterious master mind behind the increase in bootlegging activities may be a Russian Bolshevik spy whose purpose is complete destruction of America’s democratic government.  Using the sale of illegal, rut-gut booze, this foreign provocateur audaciously plans to finance his campaign of terror via his quickly amassing wealth from his bootlegging operations.

From the waters of the Great Lakes down to the old speakeasies of Detroit and ending in the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean, “The Bootlegger” is a non-stop thrill ride that never once lets up, skillfully building suspense to a powerful, explosive finale pitting an old fashion hero against a heartless monster in a contest that only one will survive.  We’ve never once been disappointed by an Isasc Bell thriller and this one is certainly no exception.