Thursday, December 03, 2020

MATTHEW HENSON and the ICE TEMPLE OF HARLEM

 

MATTHEW HENSON and the ICE TEMPLE OF HARLEM

By Gary Phillips

Agora Books

232 pgs

In contemplating this particular review, we were reminded of the old McDonald’s campaign ad in which people were encouraged to increase their initial order from a simple burger and fries to Super-Size. Not that that was good for anyone’s overall health, but the idea of exaggerating something seems an appropriate theme here. You see,Matthew Alexander Henson (August 8, 1866 – March 9, 1955) was a real person. He was an explorer who joined Robert Peary on many Artic voyages over a period of twenty-three years. Best known for his part in the 1908-1909 expedition wherein Henson claimed to have been the first human to reach the geographic North Pole on April 6, 1909.

All of which describes a truly heroic character in the flesh. Now writer Gary Phillips has turned Henson into a bonafide pulp action hero; in other words, he Super-Sized him. And he did it with his usual writing flair and panache. The history setting is accurate throughout the book and it is obvious Phillips is having so much fun having Henson interact with such notable figures as crime boss Dutch Schultz and inventor Nikola Tesla. Focused on Harlem, characters like Langston Hughes and Bessie Coleman also appear and Phillips enjoys sharing little known facts about that part of the Big Apple during the post-World War One era. When reading historical pulp, and that’s what this is, we really appreciate these true facts.

The plot itself is a basic one. While on his last venture to the frozen North, Henson and a close Eskimo friend discovered a meteorite containing unbelievable energy. He is unclear as to what to do with the fragment he brought back with him. When he discovers certain unscrupulous men with money want to use it to power weapons of mass destruction, the world weary explorer is determined to thwart their plans. Thus begins a deadly hide and seek contest that leaves several people dead and threatens a horrific attack on a large public gathering where a noted black leader is speaking. Henson must convince his friends of the danger and recruit them to his cause in the hope they have time to avert calamity and save the day.

“Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem” is a pulp romp, with a wonderful storyline filled with amazing characters, both real and fictional. Phillips, like the best musicians, never misses a beat between the drama and bullets flying. It’s a page turner from start to finish and we loved every bit of it.  


Sunday, November 29, 2020

 

PULP REALITY No 1

Edited by Charles Millhouse

Stormgate Press

154 pgs

Kudos to writer/editor Charles F. Millhouse for creating as yet another pseudo/magazine devoted to New Pulp fiction. Note, PULP REALITY isn’t the first such as over the past decade or so various other outfits have tried their hands at bringing back that old style of storytelling. As with all such endeavors, this volume has its ups and downs, hits and misses. Let’s look at the good stuff first. This premier issue features seven fun stories, the majority of them well written. In fact a few are outright pulp gems.

“Showdown on Scavenger Quay” by Bobby Nash.  Lance Star and Captain Hawklin to team up to battle on foes. We’ve always enjoyed stories bringing together heroes and Bobby Nash is one of the most well established, capable writers in New Pulp today as this tale clearly demonstrates.

“Reel One for the B-Man” by Clyde Hall.  An old movie house is haunted by all but forgotten matinee cliffhanger heroes. The mere concept here is wonderful and any lover of classic cinema will be smiling broadly as the young hero finds himself morphing into well known heroes to bamboozle a group of biker thug thieves.

“Captain Hawklin and the Clockwork Buccaneer” by Brian K. Morris. A German operative steals American freighters enroute to England during Lend Lease. Though a decent story, we had the feeling the writer simply overcooked his stew with too many elements and it might have benefited with a touch more cutting.

“Testament of a Forgotten God” by Charles F. Millhouse. Captain Zane Carrington transports an aged professor to the middle of the Pacific Ocean for an appointment with Poseidon. Easily the best yarn in the book and masterfully told. Though the ending was no surprise, it was the one we hoped for. We really need to read more of his work. Going to recommend this one for the Pulp Factory Awards.

“Ace Anderson and the Curse of Doctor Atomika Part One” by Kellie Lynn Austin. Undersea adventure Ace Anderson and Huck Finn battle German agents attempting to gain the secret weapons of Atlantis. Fast paced and often times confusing, we could barely follow along as the narrative was so intent on action it left little room for characterization. Pulp is action and adventure, but we also need to believe the characters are real.

“Prepare to be Mr. Fye” by Pete Lutz. Detective Jinx Duncan has a special occult power bestowed upon him; that that might come in handy when going after criminals in the big city. This is another of those gems we mentioned earlier and as an original tale, it is delivered smoothly making us want to see what comes next.

“Mercury Rises” by Rick Bradley. Clock repairman and part time P.I. Jack Mercury is kidnapped into outer space and becomes the hero of his own fantastic adventure. Finally the entire collection ends on a grand note that clearly demands lots more. Bradley knows how to write and this one was fun. To repeat, a terrific way to lower the curtain on a spectacular first issue.

Okay, so now a personal critique. Whatever the publisher’s intent, the oversized format really doesn’t work. It is an awkward shape difficult to hold, even when reclining in one’s comfortable recliner. The average reader would appreciate its size made to conform to the actual classic pulp mags.

There you have it.  PULP REALITY is fresh and exciting and off to a grand start. Here’s hoping it is around for a long time to come.

Friday, November 27, 2020

INVASION OF THE BRAIN TENTACLE

 

INVASION OF THE BRAIN TENTACLE

A Celluloid Terrors Title

By P.J. Thorndyke

Available from Amazon

332 pgs

Scientist Claire Weldon and her family move to the small rural town of Ralston, California in the summer of 1957.  Daughter Judy and son Tommy soon find themselves embroiled with typical high school drama while stay-at-home-dad Ray Weldon is responsible for baby rose.  Everything seems to be going smoothly until a meteorite falls out of the sky one night and lands next to a series of water canals use to irrigate the local farms in the area.

What no one knows is the meteorite contained eggs for an alien life form that, after centuries of traveling through the cosmos, comes to life in the water. One ugly, octopus like creature that can sting humans with a mind-altering chemical that makes them its slaves. By the time Claire and Ray begin to suspect this fantastic threat, lots of the village’s most influential citizens have become the alien monster’s puppets.

If all this reminds you of the 50s and early 60s schlock sci-fi movie matinees, then you’ve just hit the bull’s-eye as that is exactly the tone writer P.J. Thorndyke is after and he achieves it beautifully. In the end, “Invasion of the Brain Tentacles” becomes a clever mash-up of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with “Happy Days.” Need we say more? Go find this pulpy horror romp. It’s just too much fun.


Monday, November 16, 2020

THE DEATH OF PERSEPHONE

 

THE DEATH OF PERSEPHONE

By I.A. Watson

A Chillwater Publication

337 pgs

Okay, so let’s be extremely clear here, New Pulp scribe I.A. Watson is a genius. Period. In the time we’ve come to know him as a friend, collaborator and fan, he has constantly amazed us with his knowledge about….well, everything. Not only has he contributed to practically ever major New Pulp publisher out there, his new Sherlock Holmes adventures are marvelous and his recently completed retelling of the classic Robin Hood series for Airship 27 Production was incredible in both richness of storytelling and authentic historical background.

So what would you expect when Watson turns his amazing mental library on Greek Mythology? What you get is a truly bizarre mash up of myth and Gothic Romances. We won’t elaborate as the author himself pens an essay at the book’s end detailing the conception of this particular tale.

Kore Deione, the Maiden Goddess of Spring Harvest and the daughter of Zeus, is kidnapped by Hades, the King of the Dead. He has fallen madly in love with her and envisions her bringing to the Underworld a true completion it has never known. He sees what others can, but the task at had is to convince she, who he now calls the Lady Persephone, of his genuine love for her and the realization of what it can bring forth. And like any iconic Gothic Romance, Hades has a dark secret which the maid is obsessed to uncover, even if it means her own ruination.

With “The Death of Persephone” Watson has infused pagan myths with a decidedly salvation perspective that puts an exciting philosophical twists on the most important trinity of them all; life, love and death. It is an original, fresh tale and yet as old as time. We loved every single page.

 


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

A CHRISTMAS CAROL at 221 B

 

A CHRISTMAS CAROL at 221 B

By Thomas Mann

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Publishing

22 pgs

 

So we are on Amazon buying books recently when we see the cover to “A Christmas Carol at 221 B.” What? A Sherlock Holmes Christmas story. Okay, we need to read this one. We put in our order and the book arrives three days later. To our amused surprised, it is a very, very, VERY small book totally a grand 22 pages. All of which tell a truly amazing, wonderful story perfect for the holiday season.

It is Christmas Eve and Holmes and Watson, both in their later years, are warm and safe in their 221 B digs enjoying a glass of wine and smoke while outside a wintry storm blows. Holmes finds himself melancholy, the rarest of all rarities for this man and Watson immediately inquires as to why. Holmes replies that the answer lies in a long ago event in his youth past when, at the age of 24, he met a 95 year old Ebeneezer Scrooge.

Holmes tells Watson Dickens’ tale is all true and his experience provided the good doctor, and we readers, with a truly wonderful little sequel to what happened to all those marvelous people after Scrooge’s change of heart. There’s also a crime being hatched which young Holmes must grapple with to save the day.

In all, “A Christmas CAROL at 221 B” is a gem. Thank you Mr. Mann and Merry Christmas to us all.


Wednesday, November 04, 2020

THE BATTERED BADGE - A Nero Wolfe Mystery

 

THE BATTERED BADGE

A Nero Wolfe Mystery

By Robert Goldsborough

Mysterious Press

234 pgs

What we love about Robert Goldsborough new Nero Wolfe stories is his willingness to break the mold established by Wolfe’s creator, the late Rex Stout. Such a statement will certainly anger the purist out there, but we stand by it completely. No writer ever wants to bore his readers and a repetitive plot structure will guarantee that malaise eventually. Meaning quite simply, had Stout lived longer and continued to write new stories about his rotund sleuth, we can easily imagine him developing many of the same new elements Goldsborough has delighted us with over the past few years.

With “The Battered Badge,” Goldsborough centers his plot around one of the series most amiable supporting figures in Inspector Lionel Cramer, Wolfe’s opposite number on the NYPD. So many times Wolfe has frustrated the veteran copper in his pursuit of his duty, only in the end to hand him the killers and let the police take all the credit. It was easy for any astute reader to see both men respected each other but neither would ever admit it.

When a popular anti-crime personality is gun downed gangland style, criticism is directed at the police immediately and the new commissioner, bowing to political pressure, has Cramer relieved of his duties. The Homicide Division replacing him is an egotistical incompetent. This is extremely bothersome to both Wolfe and Archie and invariably they are caught up in the case even before they have an actual client. Goldsborough is clever enough to make us wait for the eventual meeting between Cramer and Wolfe. The last thing in the world Wolfe wants is for Cramer to know he is manipulating events to have the dedicated lawman reinstated.

Meanwhile Archie and fellow P.I. Saul Panzer continue to interview likely suspects all of which leads to a climatic gathering in police headquarters. Not the brownstone. And that is all we’ll reveal here, daring not to spoil what was one of the most enjoyable finales this series has ever delivered. Thank you, Mr. Goldsborough, for keeping these great characters fresh and exciting. Mr. Stout would have approved.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

THE BIG SHOWDOWN - A Caleb York Western

 

THE BIG SHOWDOWN

A Caleb York Western

By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins

Pinnacle Western

283 pgs

Several years ago we reviewed “The Legend of Caleb York.” It was an adaptation by Max Allan Collins of a movie screenplay by the late Mickey Spillane. We liked it a great deal and believe it was a one-shot at that time. Later we learned Collins had been persuaded to write four additional books featuring the gun fighting sheriff of Trinidad, New Mexico. Earlier in the year we received the fourth (The Last Stage to Hell Junction) and the fifth (Hot Lead, Cold Justice). Both were excellent and we said so in our respective reviews of each title.

Of course having now enjoyed three Caleb York oaters, there was no way we were going leave out the second and third entries. Our apologies for reviewing them out of chronicle order. Actually, Collins is so good at filling-in his readers with the start of each novel, readers needn’t worry. Each title stands on its own quite well. With “The Big Showdown,” we find ourselves arriving in the growing little town six months after the events of the first tale in which legendary gunfighter Caleb York rescued the community from the corrupt tyrannical sheriff Gauge and his band of killers. Having done so, he reluctantly accepted the sheriff’s badge until the citizen’s committee could appoint a qualified replacement.

It is York who recommends his old friend, Ben Wade for the job. Wade is an aging lawman looking for a peaceful town in which to settle and at the offset it seems like he and Trinidad were made for each other. That having been established, York is set to continue his journey to San Diego where he had hoped to sign on with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Fate intervenes at the last minute when three masked men are caught in the act of robbing the local bank. In the ensuing gun battle, York manages to shoot of the robbers but the third, while making his speedy getaway, manages to shoot and kill Wade. Seeing his friend lying dead on the street, Caleb York vows to find the third crook and bring him to justice; be that a bullet or the hangman’s noose. At the same time retrieve the stolen money which was most of the town’s economic base.

Of course like any Max Collins tale, there is always a mystery to be dealt with. York becomes suspicious that the three men who committed the crime might have had help from an unknown source. No sooner begins his investigation when a new figure appears on the scene. He’s Zachary Gauge, a New York businessman and the last living heir to the former sheriff. It seems this Gauge has inherited his dead cousin’s estate. This includes several ranches and interests in many local enterprises. Then the new Gauge declares he will cover the bank’s losses with his own money, which quickly makes him very popular with towns folk; especially Willa Cullen, the daughter of a rancher with whom York is smitten.

As always, Collins moves his story along at a good clip and it’s obvious he’s enjoying himself bringing these iconic western characters to life. Each and everyone one of them is a familiar player to those of us who love westerns and he does them perfectly. The dialog is both amusing and lively and the shoot-outs brutally vivid. “The Big Showdown” deserves its title and then some. So saddle up, readers. This one is another keeper.