Tuesday, April 22, 2014

THE BRUTAL ILLUSION



THE BRUTAL ILLUSION
By Stephen Jared
161 pages
Solstice Publishing

Since Hollywood first appeared amidst the bustling beehive of Los Angeles, California, it became the Mecca for thousands of young men and women hoping to find fame and fortune in the film industry.  But only a tiny percentage would ever realize those dreams. The majority would either return to their small town homes, find other menial employment or worse, end up lost souls beneath the heartless wheels of the motion picture world.

Stephen Jared’s cautionary tale of Allyson Rockwell is such a tragedy and from the first page to the last, it is a grim, unrelenting descent into a young woman’s personal hell. Depressed and ready to call it quits, Allyson is within hours of taking a bus home when, on a whim, she goes to a glitzy Hollywood film premier and there meets a Lenny Carsen, a sadistic mobster who is captivated by her good looks.  Seeing her vulnerability, Carsen convinces her to give up her plans of going home by suggesting he can get her a film contract. When he manages to make good on that promise, it is then simple for him to suggest Allyson move into his small home in the suburbs.  Not wanting to appear ungrateful and still euphoric by having just signed a contract with Universal Studios, Allyson naively accepts Carsen’s offer.

Days later, while in a drunken stupor, he rapes her on the kitchen floor.  He makes it quite clear she can expect more of the same on a regular basis.  Too ashamed to go to the police, Allyson is afraid a scandal would jeopardize her fledgling acting career which she had worked so hard to attain.  But by choosing to keep her situation a secret, Allyson begins her descent into a dark, bottomless pit of despair from which there is no return.

After beginning his writing presence with several action adventures, Stephen Jared focuses his considerable talent on his own back yard.  A professional actor in both films and television, he is no stranger to the back office deals and exploitative manipulations young actors are subject to on a daily basis.  It is this intimate knowledge of the players in this industry of illusion that lifts his tale to a level of poignant reality that is difficult to ignore.  It is by far his most personal work and thus his best.  There are no happy endings in “The Brutal Illusion,” only broken hearts.

Monday, April 14, 2014

KING OF WEEDS



KING OF THE WEEDS
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Titan Books
267 pages
Available 6 May 2014

Private Eye Mike Hammer’s closest friend is Homicide Detective Pat Chambers.  The two fought together as Marines in the South Pacific and came home to join the police force together.   But Hammer’s general dislike of authority soon had him setting up his own private shingle while Chambers worked his way up through the ranks as one of the most hard-nosed, honest cops to ever serve people of New York City.  Now, with his promotion to Inspector locked up and a decent retirement only a few years away, an early case from the past resurfaces with newly discovered facts that may derail Chambers’ bright future and smear an otherwise untarnished career.  A man then Officer Chambers had collared for a string of Bowery murders now appears to have been innocent all along and wrongly incarcerated for forty years.

At the same Hammer is gunned down by professional assassin on his way to work one morning.  It is only through blind luck that the two .22 slugs intended to shred his heart are stopped short by a recently purchased….  To say any more would spoil one of the most dramatic openings to any Hammer book ever imagined.  Soon, the aging P.I. and his beautiful assistant, Velda, begin to suspect threads from a previous case are getting them targeted for death.  Buried somewhere in the rugged mountains of the Adirondacks is a cavern containing ninety-billion dollars of stolen mob money stashed away by another of Hammer’s old war buddies.  Before being gunned down, this old foxhole pal confided in Hammer the location of the treasure.  Suddenly a whole lot of people, both lawmen and outlaws, suspect Hammer of knowing the location and they are willing to do whatever it takes to make him reveal it.

Two disparate cases with no apparent connections; one forty years old, the other as fresh as Hammer’s healing bullet wounds.  Yet, as Hammer starts digging into both, his well tested instincts begin sending out warnings that these two cases have a common dominator and unless he can find out exactly where they converge, Pat Chambers stellar reputation will be destroyed and a lot more people will die thanks to the diabolical orchestrations of a criminal fiend known as the King of Weeds.

According to co-author, Max Collins, this book represents the last of six substantial manuscripts Spillane left behind, and was intended to be the last in the series, before he started THE GOLIATH BONE in response to 9/11.  It is also the sequel to the last Hammer published in Spillane’s lifetime, BLACK ALLEY (1997) but can be read as a stand alone entry in the series.

This reviewer has been a Spillane fan from the first time he picked up a Mike Hammer paperback as a teenager in the early 60s.  That these unfinished manuscripts should be completed by the writer chosen s specifically by the character’s creator is a truly remarkable literary achievement in the history of mystery fiction and it is all too obvious that Spillane knew what he was doing all along.  Collins, through his never wavering respect for these characters has delivered them to a finish line Spillane would have been proud of.  Known for using that last sentence in his books like a final punch to put away his critics, Spillane wielded sentences like a surgeon’s scalpel with finesse and razor sharp precision.  A skill he taught this Collins kid and when you read the last line in KING OF WEEDS, like me, you’ll have a wicked smile on your face.  I guarantee it.

Monday, April 07, 2014

LEGION II - SONS OF TERRA



LEGION II – SONS OF TERRA
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
323 pages

One of the things I try my best to do when writing these reviews is to be honest with you, dear readers.  Which is why, if you haven’t read the first book in this series, LEGION I – LORDS OF FIRE, then stop reading this and go out a pick up a copy now!  Once you’ve finished reading it come on back.  Of course, if you decide not to do that, then I have to advise you not to read this second volume.  This in a tightly plotted trilogy and each book is intricately connected.  By itself this book serves no purpose.

That being said, LEGION II – SONS OF TERRA picks up where the first one ended, the human galactic empire having survived a demonic attempt at conquest as orchestrated by dark gods from another dimension.  As this volume begins, the forces of mankind are engaged in stellar warfare throughout the galaxies and two outer world Legions are scattered over too many fronts guaranteeing their ultimate failure.  General Ezekial Tamerlane, the chief aide to Supreme Ruler, suspects the coordinated attacks of their foes coming simultaneously is no coincidence but a well planned scheme by unknown forces.  Have the demons from Underworld returned and if so, who exactly is manipulating them?

Tamerlane’s dear friend and ally, General Agrippa of the Third Legion, is battling overwhelming alien armies with psychic weaponry and the defeat of his troops is imminent unless Tamerlane can muster fresh reserves to come to their aid.  This he plans to accomplish by convincing General Iapetus to deploy his Legion II Sons of Terra in these outer world battles. But Iapetus, ordered by the Supreme Leader, Nakamura, to defend the planet Earth, has no intentions of wasting his legions on what he sees as a futile endeavor and ignores Tamerlane’s request.

Unable to fathom Iapetus’ blatant insubordination, Tamerlane finds himself challenged both from without and within; surrounded by strange forces, demonic spies and suspicious agents of the Holy Church whose actions continue to fuel his paranoia.  All of which comes to a startling confrontation on the Empire planet of Ahknaton where, in blood and death, the enemy will be revealed and all masks removed from friend and foe alike.

Not since Frank Herbert’s DUNE books has there been such an intricately plotted space saga that echoes all the action of the early days of science fiction yet is tempered with the talented sensibilities of a modern day pulp adventure.  What never fails to amaze me is, in the midst of these clashing futuristic armies and navies, Plexico still manages to define his characters so distinctly as to make them compelling.  He never loses sight of the fact that no matter how grandiose in scope a story may be, it must never overshadow the simple truths of its characters.  LEGION II SONS OF TERRA is another amazing chapter that leaves us anticipating the final book with so nail-biting anxiousness.
For this reviewer, it can’t get hear fast enough.

Friday, March 28, 2014

PURSUED



PURSUED
By Charles Boeckman
Worldwide Imprints
150 pages

Sometimes we reviewers have a tough job finding the adequate words to describe our experiences reading books.  The challenge in reviewing any Charles Boeckman book is what can you say that hasn’t already been repeated numerous times in regards to a 92 year old pulp writer who has been at this writing game most of his adult life? 

Really, not a hell of a whole lot.  Thus the wise course is to simply describe in some small detail the actual plot and tell you ahead of time this is a damn good book.  Boeckman doesn’t know how to write any other kind.

Lauran McCaully works for a radio station along the east coast of Texas.  One night, while driving home, she is run off the road by two men in a black sedan.  It is all too clear that they mean to kill her and Lauran flees her wrecked car into the brutal countryside hoping to escape them.  She manages to reach the isolated ranch of Deputy Sheriff Lee Walton, a widower living by himself.  Hurt and weakened by her ordeal, Lauran is helpless and Walton quickly administers to her wounds, gets her fed and allows her a night’s rest in his own bed.  The following morning she is able to give him a cohesive account of what happened to her on the road.

At the same time, Lee is emotionally surprised at how much he is attracted to this lovely, desperate woman.  The attraction is mutual as both quickly get to know each other in the coming days.  Although Lee believes Lauran’s accounts of the attempt on her life, his boss, a political ambitious sheriff has other thoughts.  When Lauran’s abandoned car is found miles from the scene of the accident it has the body of a dead man in it; a lawyer Lauran had done computer work for in the past.  The sheriff publicly accuses her of killing the man over some romantic entanglement and having concocted the entire automobile attack as a means of throwing suspicions away from herself.

Lauran is living an ever escalating nightmare.  Not only did two men attempt to murder for reasons she can’t fathom, but now it looks like she is being framed for the murder of a dear friend.  But she is not alone in her plight, as Lee Walton finds the circumstances surrounding the entire affair too coincidental and his instincts tell him Lauran is being set up.  Risking his career, he quits his jobs to help prove her innocence and learn who the real killers are.

Now all this would be enough of a thriller plot as is, but Boeckman amps it up even further by setting it against the arrival of a category five hurricane that threatens the entire town should tidal waters crest the beach front barricades.  And in the middle of all this, a secret from Lauran’s past re-emerges posing as yet another threat to both her and the man she has irrationally fallen in love with.

“Pursued,” is the embodiment of what a fast paced, pulp thriller is all about.  There is not a single miscue in the entire tale and it will keep you turning pages at lightning speed, as if the hurricane in the book had leaped out of the pages to rail against the reader’s own imagination.  To write like this is both a talent and the result of years of hard work and dedication.  The blessing for we readers is Boeckman shows no signs of letting up and I full expect to be reviewing his stuff when he turns 100.  Just bloody amazing!!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

SOUL QUEST



SOUL QUEST
By Percival Constantine
Pulp Work Press
400 pages

This wonderful, sci-fi fantasy adventure is the longest work Percival Constantine has ever done.  It’s also his best to date.  And that’s saying a lot.  Having enjoyed his work since he first popped up on the New Pulp scenes a few years ago, what impressed me the most was how each new book revealed a growing, maturing talent that was constantly improving.  His last few offerings have been exceptional and “Soul Quest” simply knocks it out of the ballpark.  It is a solid, literary homerun.

Set in a colorful alien, world, the story centers on a crew of Sky Pirates.  Their ship, the Excalibur, is well known, and dreaded, throughout the shipping lanes of various empires.  Swordsman Zarim is her captain and his crew is made up of the boomerang hurling Ekala, a beautiful thief, and the winged faerie tough guy, Swul.  When Zarim’s mystic mentor, Master Quand, sends them on a mission to find five powerful gems said to possesses unimaginable power, their lives are quickly turned upside down.

What Quand fails to tell them is that the High Priest of the city-state of Serenity, Vortai, is also seeking the very same gems for his own nefarious ends.  When Zarim and the others are nearly killed retrieving the first two stones, Quand is forces to confess the full extend of the legend behind the powerful rocks.  Whoever possesses all five will absorb their power and be able to remake the world in his, or her, image.  In other words become a god.  Considering Vortai’s streak of sadistic cruelty, Zarim and his pals understand immediately that he cannot be allowed to triumph in his quest.  If they don’t find and collect the stones before Vortai, the world as they know it will cease to be.

And on that plot road, Constantine puts forth all manner of terrific, fun and original characters, both good and bad.  Traversing this amazing new fantasy world, the Excalibur’s ranks swell with the addition of Tanus, a former officer in the Dreadnaught Navy, Reyche, a religious devotee turned vampire and Liran, a white furred humanoid catwoman warrior from the frozen north.  Whereas Vortai has his own cadre of relentless killers ready to foil Zarim and his team at every turn.

“Soul Quest” reminded me a great deal of those early Ace Paperbacks in which I first discovered science fiction and fantasy as a teenager.  The action never stops; the heroes are true romantic rogues in the classic sense and the villains as dastardly as they come.  For a big book, “Soul Quest” moved at such breakneck speed, I read through it quickly only to be both satisfied and sad to see it end.  Zarim and the crew of the Excalibur are wonderful characters and I really am keeping my fingers crossed we’ll see them again soon.

Friday, March 07, 2014

EL MOSAICO - The Road to Hellfire



EL MOSAICO
Vol II – The Road to Hellfire
By Michael Panush
Curiosity Quills Press
189 pages

After reading Michael Panush’s first collection starring his western Frankenstein-like monster last year, I was eager to dig into this second volume. This one contains seven new tales of Clayton Cane, a man assembled by a Confederate scientist during the last days of the Civil War from the parts of dead soldiers.  Hoping to replenish the ranks of the failing Southern legions, the scientist used voodoo magic to animate the man he had stitched together but then perished before he could duplicate the process. Thus El Mosaico, as he is called by Mexicans, is one of a kind, roaming the world seeking purpose and salvation.  Or so he believes.

In RATS, Cane finds himself in New York City at the bidding of a several powerful politicians.  A rat infestation has been plaguing their district and they hire Cane to find the source and eliminate the pests.  But to do so the stitched-up hero must confront a vengeful wraith and put it to rests as only he can.

In APACHE GOLD, Cane and a lady school teacher are captured by a gang of outlaws and dragged along into the Arizona wilderness to find an old Spanish gold mine now protected by the angry spirits of long dead Conquistadors.

AT COFFIN’S CLOSE brings the patchwork gunfighter to New Orleans to help the only friend he ever had; a man dead for many years.  It’s a gruesome tale of voodoo, zombies and a fanatical ex-Confederate Officer bent on taking control of the city.  One of our favorites from this collection.

Then Cane hires out as a guard on a wagon train going through the high mountains in the deep of winter.  While crossing the cursed stretch known as BLOOD PASS, they are set upon by a brood of vampires and quickly imprisoned in caves to be fed upon.

THE MAKING OF A GUNSLINGER has Clayton Cane crossing paths with an Eastern writer of dime novels who wants to chronicles his exploits.  But when the two encounter an old foe from Cane’s past, neither may live long enough to finish any story at all.

Next Cane travels to San Francisco’s Chinatown and hires out to a Tong leader whose opium den is being haunted by a malevolent HUNGRY GHOST.  When he learns the secret behind this voracious poltergeist, Cane switches allegiances to lie to rest a suffering soul.

As in others of his collections, Panush ends this one with a novella; ON ANGEL’S WINGS. Cane is followed by a motley crew of past acquaintances to a Texas town called Hellfire which is about to be set upon by the very man who created him, Dr. Adolphus Angell.  Cane had assumed Dr. Angell had perished in the last days of the Civil War but now learns his creator is not only alive but has made a company of patchwork men fashioned after Cane and with them plans on conquering the world.  To do so he requires unique minerals found in the land beyond Hellfire called the Silver Mesa.  Thus to reach this spot and mine the sought after element he is willing to slaughter an entire town unless Cane stop him.

ON ANGEL’S WINGS is a great finale bringing Clayton Cane’s story full circle as he confronts the evil genius who made him and must wrestle with his own destiny.  Can a man created only for war aspire to something grander?  The gunfighter known as El Mosaico is about the find the answer to the question as will those readers smart enough to grab this truly outstanding book.  If you like weird westerns, they do not come any better than this.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

SUPEREME JUSTICE



SUPREME JUSTICE
By Max Allan Collins
Thomas & Mercer
284 pages
Available June 2014

After taking a bullet for the President he personally despised, Secret Service Agent Joseph Reeder collected his partial pension and called it quits.  Now he operates his own security business in the nation’s capital and is fairly content with his life.  All that changes when a Supreme Court Justice is shot dead during the audacious daylight robbery of a swank D.C. restaurant.  Reeder is recruited by Gabe Sloan, an old F.B.I. friend, to help with the investigation.  Nicknamed “Peep” by his former associates, Reeder is a student of kinesics; the art of reading body language and his observation skills are legendary.

Asked to examine video footage of the robbery and shooting, Reeder is able to see through the subterfuge of the incident and discovers that the Justice’s murder was in fact a deliberate assassination.  Sloan has him report his findings to his superiors at the Bureau and an inter-agency task force is put together to find the killers.  Twenty four hours later a second Justice is gunned down outside his home and what had begun as an isolated act of violence is quickly turned into a full-blown threat against the highest court in the land.

In Joe Reeder, Max Collins has invented up a compelling, quirky and totally believable hero caught up in a twisted mystery with enough twists and turns as to leave a crossword junky dizzy.   Teamed with Patti Rogers, a smart and tenacious F.B.I. agent, Reeder is a modern day Sherlock Holmes matching wits with an unknown advisory whose ultimate goal is nothing less than altering the landscape of American jurisprudence for generations to come.

Collins’ ability to capture the social and political schism of our times delivers a truly frightening and plausible scenario.  “Supreme Justice” is a taut thriller you will not be able to put down once you’ve picked it up.  This is a master at work.