Sunday, May 01, 2016

THE DEVIL DOGS OF BELLEAU WOOD



THE DEVIL DOGS OF BELLEAU WOOD
By Terrence McCauley
Down & Out Books
130 pages

“The Devil Dogs of Belleau Woods,” is a gripping war adventure set during one of the most brutal battles of World War One.  Corporal Charlie Doherty is a New York City cop who thought he was a tough guy but when he finds himself in a pitched battle alongside a handful of U.S. Marines against an overwhelming force of German troopers, he quickly discovers the true meaning of grit and courage. 

The book opens with Doherty the sole survivor of his company after a hellish battle with the enemy.  Alone in its aftermath, he founds himself lost in the dense forest of the Belleau Woods pinned down by a machine-gun nest.  Then two gutsy Marine officers arrive on the scene; Capt. Devlin and Lt. Barrows. Devlin, though young, is a seasoned warrior and quickly directs them into taking out the German gun.  Soon the trio hook up with a group of other lost Marines led by a grizzled Sgt. Ambrose.  Devlin believes the enemy is going to make another push to break through their lines and they may be the only force in the area capable of repelling them.

When they find a small, isolated French farm, Devlin decides it is the place where they will make their stand.  Their objective, to hold back the advancing Germans until reinforcements can arrive.  McCauley’s prose is terse and straight forward.  His fighting scenes are savage without being sensational.  He paints the horror of warfare with a detached, clear reporting and captures the pain, suffering, courage and ultimate sacrifice that are part of combat.

We haven’t read a war book this good since Richard Matheson’s “The Beardless Warriors.”  For a small volume it packs a solid punch proving once again that Terrence McCauley is a rising star in today’s fiction.  Not to be missed.

Friday, April 29, 2016

3 THE HARD WAY



3 THE HARD WAY
By Gary Phillips
Down & Out Books
295 pages

First before digging into this book’s trio of excellent pulp yarns, we want to tip our fedora to Down & Out Books.  A fairly new publishing house, the quality of their recent titles has been excellent and that bodes well for all new pulp readers.  In fact, the three novellas you’ll encounter in this volume were only available digitally until now; just another reason for us devoted book lovers should be grateful to this new outfit. Here’s hoping they are with us for many years to come.

Okay, so on to the review.  Gary Phillips is regarded as one of the finest new pulp authors in the game today and his reputation is well earned.  A prolific scribe, he has a passion for creating unique heroes with a recognizable pedigree going back to the classic pulps of the 30s and 40s.  In this book we get to meet three of the newest starting Malcolm Cavanaugh Bleekston; a sophisticated conman with the nickname McBleak.  Sauve and debonair, he follows in the footsteps of such notable crime figures as Parker and Raffles with just a smidgen of the Saint in there somewhere.  In this offering called “The Extractors,” McBleak sets his sights on a greedy developer and plots an elaborate and dangerous scam to fleece the crooked financier.  The con is meticulously planned out and with the help of some loyal pals, McBleak risks life and limb to come out on top.

This is followed by “Ten Seconds to Death,” in which we meet the Essex Man, Luke Warfield.  He is a former secret agent turned philanthropist who uses his agency to help people in need, support his community and bring justice to those who can’t afford it in a legal system corrupt to the bone.  If he sounds a bit like Bruce Wayne/Batman, trust us, that’s no accident.  Phillips loves his heroes brave and noble.  In this introduction to Warfield and his team, we learn something of his black-ops background when he begins to investigate the murder of his stepfather.  It appears an old colleague from that shadowy world has gone rogue and unless Essex can stop him, he will rain down death and destruction on Los Angeles.  This one moves like an Indy 500 speedster, giving us readers little to do by flip those pages and hold on tight.

Finally we get Phillips’ homage to the super pulp icons ala Doc Savage and the Avenger with Ned Noc Brenner, an extreme sports junkie who is recruited by a mysterious organization known as the Vigilance Initiative.  Under the direction of a genius inventor named Hiram Templesmith, Noc and two other agents are sent to foil the plot of a super criminal known as Prospero about to sell a flying-tank to whoever will bid the highest for this weapon of doom.  In true pulp fashion, Noc’s new pals also have their own unique skills. Kolburn is a human chameleon who can change his appearance via millions of nano-robots in his skin cells while the lovely Navarro has subtle by powerful psychic that allow her to sense the veracity of an opponent.  Together, the three efficiently set out to spoil Prospero’s scheme and obtain the anti-gravity machine before it falls into evil hands.

“3 The Hard Way,” is such an awesome volume as it stands.  But to sweeten the pot even more, Phillips has added a brand new Essex Man short to welcome readers to the worlds of his amazing imagination.  In a time when we are seeing more and more wonderful new pulp fiction entering the literary world, Gary Phillips is far out front leading the pack. It would do you well to start reading him now rather than play catch up later. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

CAPE HELL



CAPE HELL
By Loren D. Estleman
Forge Books
224 pgs
Available May 2016

Now we’ve only read a few books by Loren D. Estleman but those were enough to convince us of his immeasurable storytelling talents.  It is also clear he possesses a genuine fondness for westerns as this latest title soundly confirms.

Montana based U.S. Deputy Marshal Page Murdock, a seasoned lawman, is ordered by his superior, Federal Judge Harlan Blackthorne, to Cape Hell, Mexico, to investigates the activities of former Confederate officer, Captain Oscar Childress, said to be assembling a private army to capture Mexico City.  From there Childress plans to turn his attention to United States and attempt to start a second Civil War.

Murdoch finds the entire idea ludicrous but has little say in the matter and soon finds himself aboard an old steam engine train called The Ghost barreling his way south with a shifty Mexican engineer and Joseph, his Indian fireman.  Their destination, Childress’ camp hidden deep in the heart of the rugged Sierra Madres overlooking Cape Hell.

The ex-Confederate would-be conqueror is a well used plot that in lesser hands would have proven tiresome and unoriginal, but it is Murdock’s weary world voice that gives it a new feel.  His curiosity at what makes Childress tick and his stubbornness in seeing the mission completed offer up a truly likeable protagonist who, considering how many times he’s cracked over the head, must have a skull made of rock.

“Cape Hell” is as fast paced as the locomotive that carries us into the eerily beautiful but deadly landscape and in the end delivers a fresh, exciting yarn worthy of the best classic westerns.  This one is a winner hands down.

Friday, April 01, 2016

A HANDFUL OF HELL



A HANDFUL OF HELL
Classic War & Adventure Stories
By Robert F. Dorr
New Texture Books
323 pages

At the height of the classic pulp era of the 1930s and 40s, variety was the name of the game as magazine racks were inundated with titles covering every conceivable genre of fiction known to mankind.  There was clearly something for everyone; men, women and children.  In the post World War II years starting in the early 50s, pulps outgrew their small, square format and morphed into the more typical, larger publications.  With this evolution the diversity continued only now it seemed to be a lot more noticeable.  Glancing at drugstore racks, one could clearly see sections set aside for women’s interest ala romance and confession titles, whereas the kids now had their comic books and for the men readers; many made up of veterans, there were the Men’s Adventure Magazines or, as we’ve come to refer to them today, MAMS.

Month after month throughout the 50s, 60s and well into the 70s, dozens of title covers featured soldiers, sailors and airmen along with scantily clad, busty babes in all manners of death defying scenarios. These were periodicals loudly proclaiming their machismo and all things rugged. There were no fobbish, sophisticated intellectuals in these pages, but true American patriots, battling tough-guys willing to give all for God and country. The writers that produced mountains of these stories were men cast from the same mold as they heroes they wrote about.  None was better at this craft than Robert F. Dorr.

Now editors Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, two men dedicated to preserving the history of MAMS, have collected 17 of Dorr’s classic action adventure shorts that appeared in various titles between 1962 and 1970.  These blood and guts yarns portray American warriors in both the European theater and South Pacific, from on-the-ground hand to hand combat to the nerve-wracking trauma of airmen battling in the skies aboard massive air bombers. Then there are stories detailing the horror of the Korean conflict and finally brutally detailed accounts of jungle action in the steaming valleys of Vietnam.

Throughout them all, Dorr brings to each such authenticity that he immediately captures his readers and sucks them into action. Enough so that this reviewer could hear the sounds of the mighty Pratt & Whitney engines as they  carried airmen over enemy territory and felt hot lead zipping past his head as he crouched in a foxhole of hardened mud on a Korean hillside awaiting the oncoming charge of crazed Red Soldiers.  This ability to share an experience is the hallmark of a true writer. It is a rare talent only few have ever possessed and Dorr is one of them.  My personal favorite was his recounting of “The Incredible Glory Saga of the Boondock Padre.”  This is story of Father Robert Liteky, an Army Chaplain who won the Medal of Honor for his courage at the battle of Phuoc Loc three weeks before the Tet Offensive of 1967. You see, this reviewer was an Army Spec 4 stationed at Long Binh only a few miles away when this happened.  Robert Dorr’s story brought back lots of memories of the brave men and women I served with in those log ago days. Many never came home and we salute writers like Dorr for not letting their stories be forgotten.

“A HANDFUL OF HELL,” is a remarkable collection by a truly great writer. One we are damn proud to have in our library.  It deserves your support and then some.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

SPANISH MOSS



SPANISH MOSS
(A Robineux Mystery)
By E.A. Cook
Rogue House Publishing
169 pages

Sometimes the story of how we received a particular book can be as interesting as the book itself.  Several weeks ago we walked into a very small local bookstore.  You know the kind, they make most of their income in selling or trading used books.  As we had a stack of such that were taking up way too much space in our office, we thought we’d stop by this little store and donate them to the owner.   We will never just trash a book, we love them too much. Thus this way they would hopefully end up in the hands of other bibliophiles like us and along the way provide a little sustaining income to the owner of the shop.

The charming lady who operated the store was happy to take the books off our hands, especially seeing the immaculate condition they were still in and we entered into a nice conversation about what we both liked to read.  Finally, as we were starting to say our goodbyes, she held up her hand, walked over to a shelf and picked up this small book with a light green cover.  She then explained it was written by a local writer here Fort Collins and she wanted us to have it.  She personally thought it was very well written.

And now on to our review of E.A. Cook’s “Spanish Moss.”  The protagonist, Calvin, has been physically abused by his father most of his young life.  When the man attempts to rape him at the age of fifteen, Calvin kills him in self-defense and runs away.  Via hitch-hiking, he wanders aimlessly through the south for several years until one night he’s picked up by a sexual predator.  In his attempt to flee, the boy causes car to crash off a bridge and into the waters of a dark and foreboding swamp.  Hours later, while crouched on the limb of a tree; he is rescued by a Cajun named Esteen Robinaux.  Sensing the boy’s fear and fragility, Esteen brings him to his mother, Miss Jovetta Robineux.   Gifted with “the sight,” Miss Jovetta welcomes young Calvin into their lives and informs him that he now has both a home and a family for as long as he wants one.

Having never known such kindness, the lad accepts cautiously but soon learns there is nothing phony about the Robineux, they are exactly what they appear to be, good and loving people.  In time he also meets Esteen’s only child, a beautiful young woman named Sophie who happens to be a Medical Examiner for the parish.  It is through her Calvin discovers the tragedy that befell the Robineuxs when Sophie’s mother, on a trip to New Orleans, was brutally raped and murdered.  The killer was never found.  As his new life progresses, Calvin begins to mature in both body and mind.  Both Miss Jovetta and Esteen provide him with sage life lessons while Sophie, a third-degree black-belt in Kenpo karate, teaches her adopted brother how to defend himself properly.

Upon turning eighteen, Calvin decides that the best way he can repay them is to go to New Orleans and hunt down the monster that killed Camille Robineux.  Though saddened by this, the family respectfully accepts to his decision.  They send him off with their prayers and well wishes.  At this point, Cook’s narrative becomes a true mystery as Calvin, now calling himself Vin, starts his investigations in New Orleans by contacting newspaper reporter Jack Turpin and Police Detective Liam Nation, both familiar with the old case.  The plot is convoluted and ultimately twist and turns on itself like a crazy pretzel demanding that the reader stay alert as each new character brings a new clue to the unfolding drama.  Cook’s depiction of the city and its popular landmarks add an authentic layer to this fast paced story and there is very little wasted wordage.  His writing is lean and mean, delivering an abrupt but satisfying climax. 

In the end, this little tome works nicely as an introduction to a cast of colorful characters we’d very much like to see return.  Vin Robineux and his remarkable family certainly deserve an encore.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

BIG TOP TALES



BIG TOP TALES
Edited by Jim Beard & John Bruening
Flinch Books!
168 pages

This is such a fun anthology and we want to applaud editors Jim Beard and John Bruening for not only bringing together a half-dozen truly exciting, fresh stories but for coming up with the concept in the first place. When you consider the fact that there were hundreds of pulp titles in the 30s and 40s and that they covered almost every conceivable topic fiction might offer, it is a minor miracle these two intrepid editors actually found one that hadn’t ever been utilized.  And in doing so have given New Pulp a really exciting new theme. 

The setting is 1956 and circuses are dying out in America thanks to the advent of highways and television.  No longer do the citizens of small towns and villages have to depend solely on these traveling shows to provide them with excitement and entertainment.  And so the members of the Henderson & Ross Royal Circus travel the land wondering how much longer their way of life will continue.  Here’s a quick look at the six terrific entries that make up this first volume of “Big Top Tales.”

“Trial of the Scorpion,” by Frank Schildiner features Marko the Knife Thrower as he confronts the evil twisted genius who raised him as a child.  While in San Francisco, Marko is called before the Master to answer charges of betrayal leveled at him by a rival member of the organization and can only prove his innocent by participating in the Trial of Scorpions.  Schildiner is one of the most imaginative writers in New Pulp today and this story is both gripping and fun.  Here’s hoping we see the Master again soon.

Up nest is “Deadly Triangle,” by Nick Ahlhelm and stars trapeze artist Lulubelle Rose Jensen, the circus’ trapeze artist.  This one is a murder mystery with Rose being targeted by a serial in St. Louis.  Fast paced with a terrific finale worthy of the Big Top.

With “Broken Bones,” writer Rocko Jerome introduces us to the Skeleton Man, Parker Stente, in a sad, sweet melancholy story about love, courage and destiny.  This one surprised me in such a wonderful way.

In the “Ringmaster’s Son,” by Ralph L. Angelo Jr., circus master of ceremony, Tim Tennyson’s reckless past comes back to haunt him when the train stops in the little town of Wellsboro, Penn.  A woman from his past claims to have given birth to his son twelve years earlier.  Is she telling the truth or is her claim a scam to blackmail the flamboyant Ringmaster?

Next we have John A. McColley’s  “A Trunk Full of Memories,” in which the Elephant Lady, Daphne, is confronted by an old flame from her German past; a one time lover corrupted by the Nazis.  Having built a new and positive career in the circus, with her elephant Surlee, she will fight to maintain that life no matter the cost.

Finally writer Sam Gifford wraps everything up with “Because It is Bitter,” the story of the young 15 hear old roustabout, Joey, and his first crush on a girl.  In this instance she is a local bareback rider and his experience is both tender and heartbreaking.  A coming of age amidst the sawdust of the Big Top.

Having known many such traveling shows as a youngster in rural New England while growing up, these stories brought back long forgotten memories of a simpler time in America.  This is a stellar collection and brings with it a unique nostalgic magic that will linger long after you finished it.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL



SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
By Terrence McCauley
Polis Books
328 pages

In 1953 British writer Ian Fleming wrote “Casino Royale,” and gave the world super spy James Bond, 007.  The irony is Fleming, who had been in Naval Intelligence during the war, set out to portray a believable espionage agent who would appear to those around him as someone innocuous and boring.  Then in 1960 Universal adapted his book “Dr. No,” as a film with debonair Sean Connery in the role and from that moment on, James Bond was altered forever.  Gone was the drab, realistic settings to be quickly replaced with pulpish super-villains, beautiful sexy femme fatales, exotic locales and fantastic techno gadgets.  Hardly the realism Fleming originally envisioned.  That authentic, punch-to-the-gut grit would come from another source, one purely American.

In 1958, mystery/crime writer Donald Hamilton wrote “Death of a Citizen,” and introduced American agent Matt Helm.  Helm was the total opposite of the suave and sophisticated Bond.  He didn’t drink expensive champagne or drive foreign sports car, but what he could do was eliminate enemy agents with a cold, efficient brutality that was uncompromising in its savagery.  Helm’s world of espionage was a stark, realistic landscape most readers had never glimpsed before.  It was if Mickey Spillane had taken over for Fleming.  In fact, many years later, Spillane actually dipped his toe into these waters with his Tiger Mann books.  Still, put up against Hamilton’s Helm series, they too fell flat.  Though many writers attempted to imitate Hamilton’s style, none could capture his unforgiving authenticity.

Until now.

In “Sympathy For The Devil,” Terrence McCauley introduces us to a ultra secret organization known as the University and one of its top agents, James Hicks.  Leagues ahead of the CIA and NSA, the University has developed an amazing data gathering network by promoting the advancement of such modern day wonders as the internet, spy satellites and other cutting-edge communication devices.  These tools make it possible for Hicks and his colleagues to monitor every major metropolis on the globe.

When one of Hick’s assets, a long time experienced agent, is drugged into betraying him, Hick’s finds himself knee-deep in a mystery whose solution maybe reveal a new and catastrophic threat to America on the scale of 9/11.  What he had believed to be a small terror cell operating in New York City has somehow, under his own scrutiny, evolved into something a lot more complicated and deadly with far reaching international sponsors.  A new group of fanatical Islamic Terrorists have begun a multi-faceted plan to attack America unless Hicks can mobilize the Universities’ substantial forces to uncover and defeat them.

With Hicks, McCauley has given us another Matt Helm.  Hicks is a lone; tough-as-nails patriot with no ties or loyalties to anything but his country.  He is a dedicated shadow warrior who will do anything, to include torture, to completely annihilate his enemies.  He understands the barbaric nature of his foes and is more than willing to give them the same ruthless treatment they exhibit daily.  And in so doing, he steps off the pages of this fast paced thriller as a truly remarkable protagonist, unflinching is his purpose and lethal in its execution.  Finally, in James Hicks, Matt Helm has a worthy successor and one we want to see a whole lot more of.  “Sympathy For The Devil,” is one of those rare books that makes you sit up and cheer.  Don’t miss it!  You will regret it later.