Thursday, October 25, 2007


by Derrick Ferguson
Frontier Publishing
171 pages

Every now and then a writer delivers a book that is just so pure pulp, you want to clap your hands and shout hallelujah. Derrick Ferguson as a writer is cut from the same cloth as Walter Gibson, Lester Dent, Ian Fleming and Clive Cussler. He’s a pulp wordsmith who spins a rollicking adventure yarn that never lets up from the first page to the last. It is clear to see in his black hero, Dillon, that Ferguson knows this genre inside out. He not only relishes it, he finds way to enhance it by upping the ante constantly.

Dillon encounters one familiar cliff-hanger threat after another in his battles against Odin, the criminal mastermind. But it is how he manages to escape each and every one of these death-traps that is fun, ingenious and totally captivating. I haven’t had this much fun reading a book in a long time.

Who is Dillon? Where does he come from and how did he become such a skilled, daring, near super human hero of justice? Well, would you believe he was raised in a hidden martial arts temple hidden in the mountains of Tibet? Of course you would, if you are a true believer. Or that he possesses such arcane skills as the ability to lower his body metabolism to appear dead, only to be comfortable resting in a deep, meditative trance.

Ferguson also provides a terrific supporting cast of absolutely larger-than life, eccentric characters both good and evil such as the old Eli Creed, Dillon’s one-time mentor and Chew Mi (pronounced me), a sexy oriental femme fatale whose single goal is to give him a glorious death. Add exotic locales from small English hamlets to the jungles of South America and you have a rollicking adventure romp that is highly cinematic in its orchestration.

Sadly this book was handled by a very small publisher and received very little notice or distribution when it was released in 2003. It is my fervent hope that this review will help correct that wrong and help bring it to the wider audience is so richly warrants. If you love action adventure novels with verve and imagination, you will not do better than

Thursday, October 18, 2007


The Apocalypse Parable:
A Conspiracy of Weeds
by Brian Kaufman
Last Knight Publishing Co.
287 pages

One of the joys of doing this column is discovering books published by small outfits that rarely get wide distribution. Such is the case with this novel by Colorado resident, Brian Kaufman. It is also one of those books difficult to slap a genre label on. It is part mystery, part thriller with a good dose of philosophical debate thrown in for good measure.

When widower Daniel Bain is hired by reclusive millionaire, Mordecai Ryan, to find Jesus, he at first thinks the dying old man is orchestrating some sick-twisted hoax at his expense. Bain is a skip-tracer who locates missing people, primarily through the use of computers and the internet. He’s as far from being a private investigator as a counter clerk is being the head of a bank. Still, the obscene amount of money Ryan dangles under his nose is too much to resist and he reluctantly takes the job.

From that point on Bain’s life is systematically turned upside as he experiences one bizarre event after another like a cosmic chain of good and bad luck interwoven together to confuse the hell out of him. Years earlier Bain’s wife had run off to be with another man. She took their baby daughter with her and then both of them died when their car hit a patch of winter ice and flipped off the road. Bain’s grief became so mixed up with his anger at her betrayal, he’s become an emotional zombie and cynic.

Now his search for Mordecai Ryan’s Jesus leads him to a nineteen year girl who sells pornographic tapes and pictures of herself over the internet. Like Bain, she too is a wounded soul and they instantly find a kinship together. Neither is aware of just how strong that bond is until a stalker threatens the girl’s life and Bain finds himself cast in the role of her protector. All the while he finds himself getting closer and closer to find Ryan’s lost Messiah.

Kaufman writes with courage in tackling spiritual themes. He clearly recognizes the human condition for its broken state, but through Bain he refuses to accept the tired old platitudes that come from a thousand year old gospel. The book’s gruesome climax hints at a begrudging acceptance of the greatest mystery of them all, love. This is a well written book with weighty themes. If you aren’t afraid to think about the big questions, then this is a book you should seek out and read. Whether in the end, you agree or disagree with Daniel Bain, you won’t easily forget him.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


by William H. Keith
Baen Books
374 pages

When I was a high school student back in the early 1960s, I discovered science fiction through the pages of a marvelous monthly magazine called Worlds of If. It was edited by writer Frederic Pohl and often carried series fiction featuring reoccurring heroes. One of my favorite such series were the Retief short stories written by Keith Laumer. Jame Retied is an undersecretary in the Diplomatic Corp set against the backdrop of a galactic universe where man has encountered hundreds of alien races.

According to his bio, Laumer had himself done service in various British Embassies around the world and used his own personal experiences to enliven Retief’s adventures. For the most part, his tales pitted him no so much against physical threats and the
inane stupidity of corrupt government, including his own superiors. Laumer used his tales to satirize the illogic of most world politics as he saw it and for that reason they were particularly fun. Predating both Star Trek and Dr. Who, the Retief stories were a wonderful blend of space opera hijinks and pun-filled comedy. Laumer had a way of mangling the language as an added barb to his jousting literary lance.

Imagine my elated joy when I discovered this new book starring the irascible and ever loving Jame Retief on a bookstore shelf. Apparently someone has licensed the rights to the character and now he’s off on a brand new set of exploits. I’m very happy to report that William H. Keith, like Laumer, is no slouch in the satire department and he cleverly weaves a story fanciful story of intergalactic intrigue and deception that is a laugh fest from start to end.

Retief, as always, finds himself in the middle of an age old conflict between two races, a criminal operation organized by his old enemies, the Groaci (think Ferengis from Star Trek) and a group of space hippies involved with a planet wide peace demonstration. Of course Retief’s is the only sound intellect in the entire bunch and it falls to him to uncover the Machiavellian doings before three planets erupt in catastrophic warfare. Is he up to the task? Or better yet, was there ever a doubt our daring, ingenious hero would come through in the end? Nope.

RETIEF’S PEACE was a most delightful reacquainting for this writer. It’s also a very good place for those of you who have never encountered Jame Retied before. In a field too often filled with overly dramatic, weighty themes, he is a breath of true fresh air. Do yourselves a big favor and pick this one up.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


by Will Thomas
A Touchstone Book
337 pages

Limehouse is the name the Brits gave to the Chinatown section of old Victorian London. Thus it is the primary locale for most of the action in this, the third case of Inquiry Agent, Cyrus Barker. In the first book of this series, SOME DANGER INVOLVED, Welsh clerk, Thomas Llewelyn came to work for Barker after answering a classified ad. He was summarily informed that Barker’s former assistant, Mr. Quong, had been murdered, shot between the eyes and his body dumped in the river. Barker, a former sea captain with a brilliant intellect like his contemporary, Sherlock Holmes, is unable to solve the crime nor find Quong’s murderer.

Now it is two years later and Barker is informed by a local constable that, before his death, Quong had something left at a pawn shop. No sooner do Barker and Llewelyn retrieve the item in question, a small Chinese text book on martial arts, then the officer is gunned down in front of them; a bullet between the eyes. Barker identifies the text as having been stolen from an ancient Chinese monastery because of the deadly killing techniques it teaches.

Once again Thomas sends his pair of heroes on a quest throughout as yet another fascinating part of Victorian England as he did in his two previous outings. The world of the Chinese population in London is well defined with all its ramifications for the future of the British Colonial Empire. Thomas also reveals many of Barker’s mysterious history which he only alluded to in those earlier adventures. Within only a few chapters the plot is well set. A deadly assassin from China has traveled half-way around the world to find the unique little book and will kill anyone who gets in his way. The suspects begin to add up with a casts of colorful characters both foreign and domestic, to include a pompous secretary of the Foreign Office who’s hobby is illegal bare-knuckles fighting.

I also appreciated how the relationship between the shy and inexperienced Llewelyn and the stoic, supremely egoistical Barker continues to evolve, each learning to respect and trust the other with each new case. By the end of THE LIMEHOUSE TEXT, the young Welshman learns to value his own intuition and value to the remarkable man he has come to work for. THE LIMEHOUSE TEXT is another fine entry in a really fun series and I for one am looking forward to number four.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


by Clive Cussler & Paul Kemprecos
Berkley Novel
494 pages

During the Golden Age of the pulps, the most popular adventure title on the newsstands was DOC SAVAGE as written by Kenneth Robeson. Robeson was a Street & Smith housename and the majority of the Man of Bronze’s exploits were written by Lester Dent. Unlike the mysterious, pistol-packing avengers the Shadow and the Spider, Doc was a full blown public figure who traveled the world with a loyal group of compatriots.

It is no wonder that the minute Clive Cussler introduced the world to his seafaring hero, Dirk Pitt, pulp fans were only too ready to welcome him. The similarities between Doc and Dirk are many and Cussler has rightly inherited the mantle left by Dent in creating over-the-top, globe spanning adventures. Sadly, Cussler chose to age Pitt as if he were a real person and as he grew older, so did his creation. Eventually this resulted in having a hero too old to go adventuring.

Cussler solved this problem in two ways. The first, and most bizarre, was when he whipped up a fully grown Dirk Pitt Junior on his readers. He and his writing buddies have done two books with this father and son team and although they are fun to read, it still seems an awkward fit. Whereas Cussler’s second ploy, one I’ve always assumed was foisted on him by his publisher to fatten the cash cow, was to invent a spin-off series featuring another NUMA agent, Kirk Austin. Although not physically identical to Pitt, Austin is very much cut from the same chivalrous mold and is a handsome, daring, modern day Galahad. This particular series has produced some terrific books and POLAR SHIFT is no exception.

The story starts in Europe during World War II with a Hungarian scientist named Kovacs fleeing both the Nazis and Soviets. Protecting him is a mysterious German agent who works for a secret organization aware of the professor’s importance to the future. Kovacs has developed a process by which ultrasonic waves can be made to disrupt the Earth’s magnetic poles. Were such knowledge to fall into the wrong hands, the power wielded could destroy the world. The agent, Schroeder, manages to save Kovacs and get him safely to America where he changes his name and disappears into academic obscurity. Thus ends the action packed prologue.

Jump ahead to the present and a group of well financed anarchist have uncovered papers left by Novacs detailing his theories. They set about creating giant dynamos and begin to experiment on the open seas. One such trial results in the sinking of massive ocean cargo ship by rogue waves well over a hundred feet high. Thus NUMA is alerted and enter Dirk Pitt and his team of scientist/adventurers. By the time Dirk learns the mystery behind the freakish polar shifts, he will have traveled to the Artic and uncovered a lost city within a dead volcano, discovered a herd of dwarf wooly mammoths and been chased through the highways of Washington DC. in an old Stanley Steamer pursued by a gang of machine gun wielding thugs wearing Civil War uniforms. All in a day’s work for the intrepid Kurt Austin. Oh, and there is of course a beautiful lady in distress to be rescued. This time is she is the late Dr. Kovacs’ granddaughter, who holds the mathematical key to stopping the polar shift.

No one writes better pulp fiction than Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos. POLAR SHIFT is another feather in their caps. Like popcorn at a Saturday afternoon matinee, it’s almost too good to describe.