Thursday, May 21, 2020

STORYHACK Issue # 5


STORYHACK
Action & Adventure – Issue # 5
Edited by Bryce Beattie
Baby Katie Media LLC
112 pgs

As you’ll never see this on any magazine wrack, we hesitate to call such. Rather it is a pulp anthology in the guise of old fashion monthly. It features nine new stories by talented writers and the subject matter is as far reaching as those old golden age titles. So a tip of the pulp fedora to Editor Bryce Beattie. This is a handsomely designed package with a terrific cover by Zefanya Maega and nine interior illustrations by seven other skilled artists.

“The Last Word” by H.A. Titus opens the book with a bang. A private eye actioner in a world of magic and wizards and orcs. It’s fun and we liked it a great deal.

“The Singer’s Tale” by Jon Mollison is a touch of noire with a sultry femme fatale who’s charm pack an extra magic wallop. The ending was a nice surprise.

“The Lair of the Old Ones” by Stanley W. Wagenaar is nothing less than a rip-roaring, broadsword wielding Conan-like adventure that moves at hyper-speed. Wagenaar’s flair for head-on action sequences is terrific and we hope to lots more of his work in the future.

“Acme Denton – Out of Time” by Michael Hayes is the story of a luckless private eye with too many bills and a wife a small child to support. When he’s thrown into the Wild West past of Arizona, things start to get crazy. This looks to be the first installment of a proposed series.

“The Last Contract” by Dominka Lein is an old fashion space opera with a futuristic assassin and his alien girlfriend taking on assignment that might prove to be their own undoing. It was well done, though the pseudo technical jargon was overused a wee bit much.

“Makani and the Vulture God” by Paul R. McNamee was set on a South Sea island and centered around a downhill surfing-like contest between the men of the tribe. When an evil Vulture god becomes involved, it is left to the local ka-man, Makani, to save the day.

“Night of a Thousand Eyes” by Deborah L. Davitt has a downloaded detective investigating the disappearance of fellow agents on a manufacturing world. He’s aided by a sassy AI and the chemistry Davitt infuses these characters with is much fun.

“Black Dog Bend” by JD Cowan is a nice little time-travel ghost story skillfully delivered.

“Swimming with the Devil” by William Eckman has the dubious distinction of being the last story in the book and thus the one that will tend to influence your average reader as the reads the last page. Often times a great deal depends on one’s exist as well as one’s entrance. In this case it is a real gem. Whereas the story revolves around a Persian pearl diver, pun totally intended. We enjoyed the way the story was presented in a relaxed, informal style and the ending innovative and charming. Easily one of the top two entries in this wonderful collection.

Final thoughts. Come next year’s nominating for the Pulp Factory Awards, we can see ourselves offering up “Storyhack # 5” in the Best Anthology/Collection category, while several of the stories will most likely get nods in the Short Story category. Yes, my friends, it’s that good.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

THE BLACK STILETTO - Secret & Lies


THE BLACK STILETTO
Stars & Stripes
By Raymond Benson
Oceanview Publishing
384 pgs.

In this, the third installment of Raymond Benson’s female vigilante saga, Judy Cooper comes to the aid of a Chinese family in New York, gets in involved with the 1960 presidential campaign and ends up saving both John Kennedy and Richard Nixon from being shot by a Russian assassin. All in a day’s work for the vivacious readhead from Texas.

As in the previous entries, all this is revealed via her diaries by her son Martin. Judy today is an elderly soul residing in a senior care facility suffering from Alzeimer’s. Never having revealed her secret crime-fighting career in the past, the truth revealed in those diaries becomes an unbearable burden to Martin. At the same time, his only daughter, Gina, has endured a rape and assault and is now studying martial arts taking her on a path and eerily mirrors that of her grandmother.

The delight of this series is the humanity Benson infuses in all his characters and allows each to tell his or her story. All of them begin to form the picture of a real family, each member in flux doing their best to make through the greatest puzzle of them all, life. This is such a great series and here’s hoping we’ll soon be hearing Gina’s voice.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

DEAD JACK and the Soul Catcher



DEAD JACK and the Soul Catcher
By James Aquilone
Homunculus House
217 pages

Occasionally publishers will solicit a review of a book by sending out pre-press galleys. Then if the reviewer does deliver a positive report, they will lift a phrase from that and slap on the cover of the actual book. Which is what was done with this title, the quote being credited to writer Jonathan Maberry and it reads, “Wicked Fun!” Honestly, those two words are the most accurate descriptions of this novel imaginable. It is very, very much, wicked fun from start to finish. Alas, my job here his done. Bye.

Obviously not the case as we do have an obligation to fill you in on a bit more details about this particular title and the why behind that pithy applause. Forgive us, Mr. Maberry for being a bit more verbose.

During World War II, Nazis experimenting with occult artifacts opened a rift into an alternate dimension and many of them, including their American prisoners, ended up being trapped there. They soon discovered it was a dark version of New York City and its five boroughs and called it Pandemonium; a world filled with all the nightmares known to mankind from ghouls, ghosts, vampires, werewolves and a few brain eating zombies. Among these walking dead is Jack, a private eye looking for his soul taken from him by the head Nazis scientist Ratzinger. In the first book, Jack and his small sidekick, a homunculus named Oswald, stopped a madman from re-opening the rift that would have allowed the horrors of Pandemonium to invade “normal” Earth. But in the process, Oswald was left in a catatonic state with Jack unsure if the little guy was alive or not.

As this second tale begins, Jack learns the Nazis are at it again building a machine that will steal all the remaining human souls in Pandemonium. Convinced by an old friend that it is his duty to stop them, Jack sets out to learn the location of this weapon while at the same time trying to find a way to revive Oswald. He recruits a kooky wizard named Wally and a tough-as-nails, hammer wielding witch-fairy named Zara and off they go through the bizarre wilds of Pandemonium to save the day.

James Aquilone’s writing leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. His characters are unique and absolutely hilarious. His pacing is incredible with nary a dull moment throughout the story. Action, suspense and so much black humor, we found ourselves often laughing aloud. “Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher,” is that rarity among book series in that it is even better than the first book. One can only wonder what goodies Mr. Aquilone will surprise us with when the next chapter arrives. Personally, we can’t wait.

Monday, April 27, 2020

VIC CHALLENGER - A Savage Place


VIC CHALLENGER – A SAVAGE PLACE
By Jerry Gill
Ann Darrow Co.
216 pgs

Writer Jerry Gill’s savage reincarnated adventuress, Victoria Custer (nickname Vic Challenger) is back in this, her ninth adventure. It’s a non-stop, high octane story that never lets up for a second. In this outing, Vic hears about a so-called man-eating plant said to exist lost Mkodo jungles of Madagascar. Before the ink dries on her travel plans, Vic is in a small dhow sailing from the coast of Africa to the island nation.

Immediately her boat is attacked by pirated and though the entire crew is murdered, she manages to elude that fate and makes her way to land. After overcoming natural survival challenges as only she can, Vic soon reaches civilization and there outfits herself for her journey into the dangerous back-country jungles. Accompanying her is a young girl, Zarah, who has read Vic’s exploits in the international newspapers and wants to mimic her adventurous career. Once in the jungle, they encounter savage lemurs, bizarre acid producing plants, giant birds and deadly underground monsters.

As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, they soon learned they are being followed my jewel hunting mercenary named Moreau who will stop at nothing to achieve his dreams of wealth and power.

“A Savage Place” is another solid chapter in this remarkable adventure series that is so pulpish that when reading, we had to wonder if Jerry Gill wasn’t a time-traveler from the 20s. If you haven’t encountered the Queen of New Pulp yet it is high time you did.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

STRAIGHT OUT OF DODGE CITY


STRAIGHT OUT OF DODGE CITY
Edited by David Boop
Baen Books
250 pages

Here we have the third in Baen Books’ weird western Straight Outta series edited by David Boop. It’s a nifty collection of fourteen stories by both veteran writers and a few newbies. As always, we judge an anthology via a hierarchy of stories we thought exceptional, those we thought okay and finally those we simply didn’t care for. Then we tally it all up and if the pluses outnumber the minuses, we’ll gladly recommend the book to you, dear readers. So let’s get cracking.

Among our favorites were “The Hoodoo Man and the Midnight Train” by the always reliable Joe R. Landsale. A tale of dark magic and cursed gunslinger collecting doomed souls on his train from hell. “The Murder of the Rag Doll Kid” by editor/writer David Boop is poignant and beautiful told. “The Dead Can’t Die Twice” by Samantha Lee Howe is a chilling tale of a haunted gun seeing vengeance on those who did its owner wrong.  Julie Frost’s “Rara Lupus” is a different look at werewolves, while Kim May’s “Stealing Thunder from the Gods” offers up a transcontinental airship service encountering a Native American deity.

Also worth your attention are James A. Moore’s “Kachina” doing a nice job of pitting an ogre against a shapeshifter. “Ghost Men of Sunrise Mesa” by Jonathan Maberry has a bit of H.G. Wells thrown into the mix. Mercedes Lackey’s “As Long as Grass Shall Grow” centers around a land rush to claim prairie lands containing sacred spirits of the earth. It’s both fanciful and romantic. James Van Pelt’s “A Simple Pine Box,” is whimsical and fun while “Fang for Fang, Fire for Blood,” by Ava Morgan packed a nice surprise punch at the end.

Whereas we didn’t care for the other remaining four. We should mention that Irene Radford spins a decent tale, but honestly, it really isn’t a western, weird or otherwise and didn’t belong in this collection.

Final tally, ten of these fourteen get a big thumbs up and kudos to Mr. Boop for another stellar anthology. It’s a lot of fun and we recommend you pick up a copy. You’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO PULP FICTION - Vol 2


THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO PULP FICTION
Vol 2
By Jonathan W. Sweet
Brick Pickle Pulp
181 pgs

A few months ago, we had the fun of reading and reviewing the first volume in this new pulp reference series by Jonathan Sweet. That book shined a light on the classic heroes and villains of the pulps and ended with a section on writers’ biographies.

In this follow up, Sweet details the publishing histories of major pulp publishers of the times and lists all their titles alphabetically. It is an amazing documentation presenting the debut date and the final editons with the names of the primary writers who graced their pages. He breaks these up in the most popular genres from crime, to horror and spicy pulps. Every page is filled with captivating data and a credit to the author’s intensive research to include all the major titles.

Then the wraps it all up with the second half of writers’ biography picking up from where he left off at the end of volume one. Again, the material in these short histories is amazing, often times eye-opening and poignant to any lover of pulp fiction and its history. Reference books like these are invaluable to the true lover of pulp fiction and we tip our fedora to Jonathan Sweet and Brick Pickle Pulp.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

MASQUERADE FOR MURDER


MASQUERADE FOR MURDER
A Mike Hammer Mystery
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Titan Books
220 pgs

Honestly, having writer Max Allan Collins turn in another Mike Hammer novel in this Legacy series is like our enjoying the gift that never stops giving. With this entry, we find Hammer starting to feel his age though his style of dealing with scum hasn’t softened in the least bit. When young Vincent Colby, son of a wealthy stockbroker, is nearly run over outside a swank Manhattan steak house, Hammer and Detective Pat Chambers are among the witnesses. Was it an accident and attempted vehicular homicide? Hammer isn’t sure, but that doesn’t stop him from agreeing to investigate the incident at the senior Colby’s request.

Having been banged up by the collision, the debonair young playboy begins to exhibit severe mood swings bordering on physical violence. His father believes these are the after affects of the trauma the boy suffered. A few days later, Hammer successfully tracks down the driver only to find him dead with his chest caved in. Then a retired homicide detective is found murdered in the same fashion, followed soon after by a dominatrix; all of whom had some connection with young Colby.

Is the rich kid being framed or is he suffering from some mental illness causing him to commit these killings? And there is the gruesome manner of death. What kind of force can crush a person’s chest as if it had been hit by a cannonball? With each new page the case twists and turns; enough to tie Hammer in what looks like an inescapable knot. Of course before he can manage that trick, the weary private eye will have to depend on his quick trigger finger and darkly creative imagination. Blood flows as is the norm in any Hammer caper with a conclusion we soundly approved of.

We think you will too.