Tuesday, May 28, 2019

BLACK HATS


BLACK HATS
Max Allan Collins
Brash Books
264 pgs

Wyatt Earp, the famous western lawman, is in his seventies enjoying semi-retirement living in Los Angeles with his wife Sadie. He does a little detective work every so often between acting as a consultant for the movie folks cranking horse operas by the hundreds. Among his Hollywood friends are William S. Hart and Tom Mix. In other words, his life isn’t that bad at all.

Of course there’s always calm before any storm and Earp’s dark clouds arrive with a visit from Doc Holliday’s widow, “Big Nose” Kate Elder. She surprises the ex-marshal by revealing that before he died, Doc fathered a son who he never got to see. She named the boy John and told him his deceased father had been a dentist; a good and decent fellow. She purposely omitted any mention of his having been a notorious gambler and gun-fighter. Later, when tragedy strikes young Johnny, he turns to drinking and learns the truth about his heritage. Angry and hurt, Junior packs his bags and heads for the lights of New York City to open a fancy nightclub.

Prohibition is in full swing and various criminal mobs are all vying for their share of the profits from illegal booze and speakeasies. One particular group has its eyes on Johnny’s operations. Its representative is a street savvy thug named Al Capone.

Thus Kate’s request of Earp; go to Manhattan and bring her son home safely before it’s too late. Although reluctant, Earp’s loyalty to his old friend wins out and he agrees to take the job. From that point forward, “Black Hat” becomes a history buff’s delight. As ever, Collins shines in his showcasing well known historical figures mixing them deftly through his tale as if he is simply recording facts.

Wyatt Earp vs. Al Capone. Just the idea alone had this reviewer clapping his hands in outrageous delight. Like the author, we too are fans of the old west legends and none is more widely known than that of Wyatt Earp. As always happens in any culture, certain events seem to strike a universal chord that speaks to the soul of a nation. Whereas England had King Arthur and Robin Hood, we Americans shaped our mythologies on the plains of the great frontier. The gunfight at the O.K. Corral is easily one of the most retold stories in all of American folklore. That it really happened is irrefutable and still in the retelling, its facts have been hammered and reshaped to fit a grandiose stage of heroic proportions.

In his post essay, Collins discusses the challenge to writers having to find the facts buried under years of exaggeration in hopes of spinning fairly accurate yarns. To a point that is. As John Ford told us at the finale of his classic film, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “…when facts don’t mesh with the legend, print the legend.”

Kudos to Collins for exercising restraint and giving us a glimpse at the human side of these legends. Both Earp and Capone are portrayed with a great deal of insight as he imagines one man’s journey reaching its twilight crossing paths with another whose own brutal career is just beginning.

“Black Hats” is gold plated gift to all of us who love tall tales.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

SNAPSHOT


SNAPSHOT
By Dale Cozort
Chisel and Stone Publishing
262 pgs

There have been all kinds of science fiction stories using either time travel or alternate dimensions. What writer Dale Cozort has done here is combined both elements into a truly unique set-up which in itself is hard to describe. But being a reviewer, there is really no way to get around that. So please follow along as best you can.

We start with some truly powerful, God-like aliens who have come to experiment with mankind in a strange bizarre way. Part of mysterious plan demands they recreate segments of our history and various cultures in different time-frames. For an example, the aliens, referred to as the Tourists, take a “snapshot” of Europe in 1938. Now this sample is in effect the entire continent and every single living being on it, humans, plants and animals. Now they take this sample and encase it in a giant all encompassing globe. With me so far?  Good. Now keep in mind, no one back in the 1938 Europe is even aware this “snapshot” was taken…and they simply go on with their lives. Meanwhile the copies (all the creatures of the now 1938 Europe globe snapshot) are well aware they are no longer on the actual planet Earth.

Of course you can‘t have an experiment with only one sampling. You need others to explore new dynamics, so the Tourists whip up a giant version of the island of Madagascar and set the 1938 Europe snapshot globe on it. Then they take more snapshots from various times and locations, ala United States 1953, Germany 1942, making more and more snapshots…which they then line up one after the other in what appears to be random fashion. Still with me? Hang in there, we’re almost done. Next the Tourists create two vents in each globe so that the people in that snapshot can actually fly into the next globe by going through a rather dense piece of atmosphere called the Babble Zone. That way members of one snapshot can enter another snapshot, etc. etc. etc.

And that’s the Snapshot Universe of Dale Cozort.  Note, nowhere in this first novel, published in 2014, do we ever learn anything at all about the aliens save what we’ve just told you. Rather Cozort centers his tale on several characters living in the various snapshot zones. One is an American rancher named McNeil. Another is a female Prussian pilot Captain Steiner and the last an American Middle Eastern Analyst named Greg Dunne. Now both McNeil and Steiner have were born and raised in various snapshots, whereas Dunne is the newbie who at the book’s beginning, is yanked out of his 2014 USA continent and plunked smack dab into the new 2014 USA Snapshot. Thing is when the event transpired, his wife was in Hawaii on a vacation and so she wasn’t snapped. Meaning Greg is alone in his snapshot world without her and other family loved ones while the original Greg Dunne is still back on Earth none the wiser.

By now, dear readers, you are asking yourselves, “If this thing is that convoluted to start with, why should I even bother to pick it up and read it?” The answer is simple enough, because despite its eleaborate background, “Snapshot” is a good book. Not only because its an original and fresh take on old sci-fi stuff, but because Cozort can write truly complex and believable characters. All of which have psychological problems and hang ups. Rancher McNeil hides a dark secret that if exposed will ruin him. And yet this secret haunts him to the point of madness. Pilot Steiner also carries within her a hidden obsession that can only be satisfied by cold cruel vengeance. And finally Greg Dunne grapples with a brand new life he never wanted or asked for.

How these characters confront their personal demons and survive is what propels the narrative in such a unique and fascinating way. “Snapshot” is like no other book you’ve ever read before and very much worth your time and effort. In the end, you’ll be happy you took the ride.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

PIRATES


PIRATES
By Timothy J. Lockhart
Stark House Press
210 pgs

Having been severely wounded and disfigured in Iraq, former Navy Seal Hal Morgan has learned to make peace with his scars, both physically and emotionally. Now living in Puerto Rica, all he wants is a quiet life of sailing and fishing. All of that comes to a shattering end when he rescues a lovely Cuban woman from a sinking boat in the middle of the ocean. Ana is the mistress of a vicious mobster and has fled the man’s clutches along with half million dollars of his money. Now the island gangster will do anything to retrieve her and the cash; including kill anyone who stands in his way.

The question is, does the war weary Morgan have the strength and will for one last campaign?

Writer Timothy Lockhart delivers a straight forward, action thriller without frills. His protagonists are both noble and flawed. Their interwoven fate propels them into a life and death struggle they can only survive by trusting each other. “Pirates” is one hell of an adventure.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

STOP THE PRESSES!


STOP THE PRESSES!
A Nero Mystery
By Robert Goldsborough
MysteriousPress.com
237 pgs

Cameron Clay is an egotistical little man who, in his selfishness, envies the rich and the powerful. But he does have one unique talent, he’s a gifted journalist and has utilized his skills to become the most widely read columnist in New York City. His daily column, “Stop the Presses,” is a glorified gossip feature he uses to attack corrupt politicians, crooked cops and even his own ex-wife for having had the temerity to leave him. Clay sees himself as the champion of the average man who must labor for the pleasure of the social elite. Thus is verbal attacks are constant and brutal. In short he is a fellow many would like to see dead.

Which is where Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin enter the story. Len Cohen, the newspaper writer and friend of the pair, goes out on a limb and implores Wolf to grant Clay an audience. The irascible columnist has been receiving threatening phone calls that have him convinced he is the target of a would be killer. Against his better judgment, Wolfe acquiesces to Cohen and allows Clay to visit his brownstone office and put forth his case.

The meeting between the two is one for the records as Wolfe, by some herculean task, endures Clay’s ramblings and from them gleans that nervous journalist suspects one of five people as the unknown caller. Wolfe begrudgingly tells Clay to either go to the police or hire a bodyguard. Both options are refused and Clay exits in a huff. Several days later he is found in his home with a bullet hole in his head. After a search of the premises, Inspector Cramer of the NYP calls the death a suicide, though no note is found at the scene.

Reading the account in the papers, Wolfe and Archie see it as a conclusion to the entire sordid affair.  Alas they are proven wrong. The publisher of the newspaper Clay worked for is convinced his popular staffer was murdered and hires Nero Wolfe to investigate. In his typical, methodical fashion, the heavy set, beer-drinking detective sets out to investigate each of the five people the dead man had claimed to be capable of murder.

Once again Robert Goldsborough delivers another fine Nero Wolfe puzzle and throughout plays fair with the readers. As the suspects appear and tell their stories, clues are dropped and the challenge as always is to solve the crime before Wolfe does at the traditional office gathering in the finale. Goldsborough ability to capture Archie’s voice is brilliant and each of his books would have made creator Rex Stout smile. This one sure had that effect on this reviewer.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

THE MUNICIPALISTS


THE MUNICIPALISTS
By Seth Fried
Penguin Books
264 pgs

Henry Thompson has a deep abiding love for cities. He sees them as the true salvation of mankind with each giant Gotham moving progress forward via both science and art. That is why he works in Suitland, home to the United States Municipalities Survey, an organization devoted to the improvement of cities. When the biggest of them all, Metropolis, comes under the attack of a maddened terrorist, Thompson is sent there find the villain and stop him by any means possible.

Before he can adequately come to grips with the assignment itself, he then learns he will have a partner named Owen to accompany on his mission.  All well and good until he discovers Owen is the name for the company’s computer A-I and has no corporeal physical being. Owen is connected to Henry via a sophisticated tie-clip which can project both Owen’s voice and an image construct allowing other people to both see and hear him. Only Henry knows Owen really isn’t there…for real.

In “The Municipalists” author Seth Friend has created a humorous action buddy story that envisions a world where machines are gradually taking over the world in very subtle ways. Enough so that the underlying foundations of the futuristic utopias Henry has always applauded may actually conceal a corrupt core adept at exploiting the poor and downtrodden. In the course of their adventure throughout the super city after the fanatical terrorists, Henry’s naïveté experiences a soul shaking education; one that will leave him changed forever.

“The Municipalists” is both eye-opening and entertaining. Two traits every good science fiction novel should contain. This one has them both in abundance.

Monday, April 01, 2019

EARLY RISER


EARLY RISER
By Jasper Fforde
Viking Books
400 pgs

On an alternate Earth, a brutal ice age dominates the planet and four months a year, the human population hibernates in order to survive. A pharmaceutical company named Hiber Tech has developed Morphenox, a drug that induces dreamless sleep. Thus an individual, after bulking up with fatty foods, can sleep away their winters. Now to keep these thousands of slumberers safe there is the Winder Consuls; or for want of a better designation, Winter Police.

Charlie Worthing, a young man raised in a government orphanage, is recruited as a Winter Consul and sent to the most remote sector of the empire. There he discovers a mixed-bag of non-sleepers. Apparently Morphenox isn’t always one hundred percent safe and he learns that a small percentage of users awaken early…brain dead. They’re called the Nighwalkers and having little or no cognitive capabilities, are trained in doing repetitive menial task. If they are unable to function even at this animal level, they are deployed; i.e. terminated and their body parts sold.

Then there are the insomniacs who refuse to take Morphenox and prefer to endure the frigid times as best they can without succumbing to mindnumbing boredom. There are also entire clans known as Villains, who live out in the country and also refuse to take part in hibernation. Among them is the legend of a Winter monster known as the Gronk. The Gronk seeks and out targets that are “unworthy” and eliminates them while singing Broadway showtunes.

This quick introduction to Winter leaves the naïve Charlie afloat as he tries to discern who among his new acquaintances is telling him the truth and who are carrying out their own secret agendas. All of which center around the rumored possibility that there exist a viral dreamscape that connects people via their dreams.

Jasper Fforde’s tale is strange, original, funny and totally captivating. At its core is the essence of good vs. evil, reality vs. dreams and how they can easily become confused in a landscape that is devoid of both natural and human warmth. “Early Riser” is both mesmerizing and unsettling. In the end it is a reading experience the reader will remember long after the last page has been finished.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

DISCO


DISCO
By Mike Baron
A Liberty Island Book
332 pg

Donnie Waits and his single mother, Kate, have moved to a different town three times in the past three years. Now, in their newest home, Kate has landed good job at a meat-packing plant while Donnie has it a whole lot tougher. He’s about to start his senior of high school as the dreaded “new kid in town.” Having settled in during the last few weeks of summer, Donnie has made friends with Nate, a black Vietnam veteran who lives by himself and operates a rundown bait shop by the river.

One day, Donnie borrows Nate’s skiff for a leisurely row. As the boat is moving under an overpass, Donnie is startled when a car above him comes to a sudden stop and then a small black bag is dumped off the bridge to land at his feet. As the unseen auto speeds away, Donnie opens the bag to find a small, black puppy. And from that moment on, Donnie’s life is changed forever.

Whatever typical feelings of teenage angst and loneliness he harbored are soon dispelled with his having to care for the orphaned dog. At first his mother is reluctant to let him keep the furry mutt, but soon she too is swayed by its natural charm. When school begins, Donnie, soon finds himself embroiled in as yet another alien landscape through which he must traverse. Like every other high school, this one comes equipped with jocks, elitist popular kids, nerds and the usual coterie of brutish, cruel bullies. Malcom, an overweight sci-fi fanatic becomes one of his first allies and then he meets Goth girl, Neely, who begins to stir his awakening manhood.

There are also the Barnes brothers, the bullies, whose sole purpose in life is to make it miserable for everyone else they meet.

And as if all that wasn’t enough to keep a teenage boy occupied, he discovers his mother has started dating her boss, an amiable fellow named Frank who owns the company; Werner Meats. Sadly, the outfit is on the verge of going under due to steadily falling sales.

The dog, which undergoes several different names, eventually displays an overly enthusiastic ability to jump high on command. Having discovered the sport of Disc Dogs; organized contest wherein dogs must run and jump, while performing amazing gymnastic moves, to catch a thrown Frisbee. Donnie christens the black four-legged flier, Disco and starts training him to compete.

Known for his action packed comics and gripping horror novels, writer Mike Baron reveals a new side to his fabulous imagination with “Disco.” While reading it, we couldn’t help but marvel at how deftly he captured the world of today’s high school students as they struggle to leave behind the innocence of childhood and deal with the burdens and responsibilities of adulthood. There are dark moments in this story and they are handled with true insight and compassion. This is a coming of age tale filled with believable, wonderful characters both noble and evil. It deserves a huge audience as it has all the earmarks of a true American classic. Do not miss it.