Friday, December 26, 2008


By Lawrence Block
Hard Case Crime
206 pages

As a writer, Lawrence Block may be the stingiest man in the world. He never wastes a word. His writing is lean and crisp, evoking images swiftly and pushing his narrative along at such a smooth, even pace it becomes seductive. After you’ve read a few of his books, you soon come to realize that in his hands, you are assured a completely satisfying reading experience.

The year is 1961 and Fidel Castro, a one time lawyer and revolutionary hero of the people, is now Cuba’s reigning dictator. Five American mercenaries are recruited by a secret Cuban refugee organization to kill the bearded one. For this deed they will split one hundred thousand dollars. What follows next is a fast paced thriller throughout which Block offers up the actual history of Fidel Castro and his rise to power. It is a marvelous counterpoint against which he paints the characters of five very different men and their motives for taking the job.

Hines, the youngest, is looking for revenge. Fenton, an accountant, is dying of cancer and has nothing to lose. Garth is a mindless bruiser just looking for his next pay check while Turner is trying to escape the law. That leaves the only professional in the bunch, Garrison, a cool, pragmatic killer methodically going through familiar motions. Block’s genius is painting all of them in vivid detail quickly and effortlessly. It’s that economy of words again. A few paragraphs and all five suddenly come to life.

I found it particularly appropriate that Hard Case Crime would reprint this classic thriller at a time when Castro’s health is waning and the world waits to witness the final chapter in his notorious life. I wonder if it will be as dramatic as Block’s book?

Saturday, December 20, 2008


By David Morrell
Vanguard Press
228 pages

I’m somewhat ambivalent about what I call “gimmick” books. These are novels written specifically around a particular theme or event. Obviously publishers love nothing more than to have Christmas related titles out during this time of the year and I would imagine some editors actually suggest such projects to their authors. This is where the tricky stuff comes into play. Imagine you are David Morrell, one of the finest writers of modern pulp thrillers working today and a friend innocently brings up the idea of your writing a Christmas spy thriller.

Which, we are told in the book’s acknowledgement, is exactly what transpired. Now I am a huge fan of Morrell’s work and when I saw this gaily colored and designed dust jacket on the bookstore’s shelf, I immediately picked it up. But this time with a good degree of trepidation. I already know Morrell can write amazing suspense tales and his action is second to none in the seat-of-your pants category, but a sentimental Christmasy plot? I left the store with some serious doubts and not a little bit of natural reader curiosity.

Of course, being completely honest here, I too fell victim to the fun idea of having a Christmas themed pulp fiction book to review. I’ve never claimed to be impervious to a savvy marketing campaign. Ha.

The book opens on Christmas Eve in the city of Sante Fe, New Mexico. A group of immigrant Russian gangsters from New York, under the employ of Al Quaida, have come to this southwestern town to kidnap an Arab baby; a baby hailed by the world press as the Child of Peace. The father is a Palestinian doctor and founder a very powerful peace movement in the Middle East. Of course there are always those who prefer the world as messed up as it is, as they profit from its suffering. These are the agents of evil who will stop at nothing to prevent this baby from heralding a new peace.

Amongst this gang of ruthless killers is an American spy, Paul Kagan. Born of Russian parents who fled to this country to escape the oppression of Soviet Communism, Kagan has been raised to despise any organization or government that robs people of their freedoms. Able to pose as a Russian outlaw, he has infiltrated the gang and over the years becomes the trusted right hand of the leader, Andrei, a brutal and efficient killer. Still, the things he is force to do to maintain his role gradually begin to eat away at his soul until he fears he will become as corrupt as the forces he battles. But his controllers refuse to allow him to quit, always claiming there is one more threat to be dealt with, one more plot to be uncovered.

Thus, on this Christmas Eve, in the middle of the kidnapping, something inside the Kagan snaps and he rebels. He snatches the baby away from the Russians, killing one of them in the process and flees into the crowded streets, but not before being shot in the arm as he escapes. And thus begins the chase that is the book’s main plot and one I guarantee you will keep you turning pages as if they were on fire. Soon the wounded and desperate spy takes shelter in a modest home where he encounters a battered young mother and her son. The three quickly become allies and set about turning the house into a defensible fort to repel the coming siege. All are determined to save the baby, even at the cost of their lives.

Morrell is a marvelous storyteller and he revels in retelling the classic Nativity Story in this fresh and fantastic manner. By the time the book’s action finale rolls around, he has created a powerful scenario that hinges on the philosophical tenet that the bravest among us are the peacemakers. In the end, Kagan’s salvation depends on his ability to trust his enemy, to see him with fresh and forgiving eyes. Whereas in that microcosm between two men, Morrell paints the real challenge of all mankind, do we have the courage to trust? Christmas tells us we can.

Finally, I want to thank all of you. Because of your repeated visits to Pulp Fiction Reviews, this endeavor has become more rewarding than I ever dreamed possible. Over the past two years thousands of you have stopped by to read these reviews, discuss them and, to my happy surprise, gone out and purchased the books. Publishers have taken note, as have writers so that my mail box is always filled with new books because of your support. Thank you and Merry Christmas to all of you. Now make yourself a cup of eggnog and go read a good book.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


By David J. Schow
Hard Case Crime
249 pages

Barney is a gunman. He makes his living as a firearms expert. There is very little, outside a few close friends that he values in this world except his skill and knowledge as a shooter. When an old Army pal from his days in Iraq calls to say his wife has been kidnapped in Mexico City and is going die, Barney’s sense of loyalty propels him into a deadly nightmare mission to save her. What Barney doesn’t realize, until it is too late, is that he is merely a pawn in a larger operation. He’s been duped right from the start. His noble efforts leave him a prisoner in a Mexican hellhole where he is tortured repeatedly by men who enjoy their work.

Through a strength of raw will, Barney manages to survive his ordeal and escape, but not before being horribly mutilated. By the time he returns to his home base in Los Angeles, he is consumed with an all encompassing hatred and need for revenge. He recruits three shooting buddies, men who understand guns and know how to use them, to help him obtain that bloody vengeance. As this book charges into its final chapters, the action explodes across the pages with a riveting, all too realistic battle royal. Bullets fly and bodies fall!

GUN WORK is not for the squeamish and reminded me a great deal of those classic 1950s Men’s Sweat magazine adventures. It’s a story about a man who thought he had nothing to live for until he comes within a breath of dying and then hate becomes his motivating obsession. David J. Schow writes pulp like nobody’s business. This one is the real McCoy!

Thursday, December 04, 2008


By Sherri L. Smith
Putnam Books
269 pages

In the winter of 1941, Ida Mae Jones has graduated from high school in Slidell, Louisiana and lives on a strawberry farm with her widowed mother, her grandfather, older brother Tom and younger brother Abel. Tom is a student at a Negro college studying medicine and Ida Mae works as a maid for a well-to-do white family in nearby New Orleans with her best friend, Jolene. Before his death in a freakish accident, Ida’s father had bought a plane for crop dusting and taught her how to fly. It is her life’s passion. Sadly no respectable flight school will give her a pilot’s license because of her gender. As December rolls around, she is resigned to the fact that she may never realize her dream of becoming a professional aviator. When Japan attacks Pearl Harbor and the United States enters the world war already raging in Europe, everything changes for this spirited young woman.

Two years later, Thomas is in the army serving in the South Pacific and Ida is going stir crazy at home wanting to get involved. When she learns that the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) program is recruiting women to help fly planes across the country, her dream is rekindled. This unique organization was a merger of WFTD (Women’s Flying Training Detachment) and the WAFS (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron) whereby the US Army Air Force employed civilian female pilots to fly military aircrafts on missions that ranged from ferrying planes from factories to military bases and towing aerial targets. They made it possible to free up thousands of male pilots for combat roles overseas. Sadly, in 1943 they were also discriminatory against blacks and qualified Negro women were refused entry into the corp.

Which is where Sherri Smith’s story takes-off much like her high flying heroine. Ida Mae is a light skinned Negro who can easily pass for white. She is also a person of high moral character and the realization that she must lie to achieve her goal of joining the WASP is a truly bitter pill. Against her family’s wishes, Ida applies for flight school and is accepted, her subterfuge successful. Soon she finds herself stationed at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, with hundreds of other would-be pilots. There she meets two other spirited girls in Patsy “Cakewalk” Kake, a veteran wing-walker and barnstormer and Lily Lowenstein, a wealthy socialite from New York. They become close friends and in the weeks and months ahead, support each other through the grueling training.

Smith’s research is flawless and she vividly recreates the daily life of a WASP. For the most part, these brave young women were given very little credit by their male counterparts, when all too often they performed to higher standards then the men. Time and time again, WASP pilots were put to the test and their skills and courage always won out. Thus Smith weaves both a marvelous historical narrative that is one hundred percent factual with a warm and endearing fiction. It is a seamless tale that is both sad and inspiring. FLYGIRL is one of those rare books you wish would never end and Ida Mae Jones is a character you will never forget.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


The Eldritch New Adventures of
By Micah S. Harris
Minor Profit Press
113 pages

One of the true rewards of this job is being able to share with all of you amazing books that, for one reason or another, simply do not get the exposure and acolytes they deserve. This is such a case. It overflows with so much old fashion adventure, I’m hard pressed to describe the fun I had reading it. Be aware, it is not a graphic novel, despite both its gorgeous cover, by artist Loston Wallace, and its comic dimensions. It is a prose novel, but packaged differently with a nice overall design. It’s both very easy to handle and read.

For those of you not versed in classic English literature, Becky Sharp is the heroine of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1947 novel, VANTIY FAIR; a book that satirized the mores of 19th century English society. Harris actually teaches English Lit, thus his familiarity and obvious fascination for the character. But it is what he does with her in this madcap tale that is pure pulp genius. Since the lovely lass came to a rather tragic ending in the Thackeray version, Harris’s offers us a duplicate Becky Sharpe from an alternate world. In this reality, Becky is recruited by a sect of Lovecraftian aliens posing as human to help them defeat a rival monster known as Tulu. But to do so, Becky will first have to be granted immortality and then sent on a globe-spanning quest to obtain the required talismans needed to defeat Tulu.

Once her journey begins, through both geography and time, Becky manages to meet Asheya, known as She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, encounters the giant gorilla Kong of Skull Island, enters into a passionate romance with the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, travels with Nemo and battles a super strong Egyptian Mummy alongside the Ape Man of the African Jungle. And these are only a few of her amazing exploits.

The delight of this book is not only its marvelous conceit, but Harris’ talent as a gifted writer. His use of language is deft and exact, with a very beautiful command of style. The narrative has such grace as to carry to reader along effortlessly, all the while painting unbelievable scenes of action and daring-do with panache. This is easily one of the best books I’ve read all year. Last word, if you enjoy reading fresh and original fiction, then consider picking up THE ELDRICTH NEW ADVENTURES OF BECKY SHARP as a Christmas gift to yourself. You can order it at Amazon or go directly to the publisher on-line at ( Tell them I sent you.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


By Richard Laymon
Leisure Fiction
215 pages

This horror book defines the term, page-turner. Sherri and Neala are traveling through woods to do a little hiking. The Dills family (Lander and Ruth, daughter Cordelia and boyfriend Ben) stop at small motel in a sleepy little off-road to rest. Within hours the six of them are kidnapped by the town’s people and taken into the deeps to be offered up to a wild savage clan of cannibals. From page one, I found myself gripped with an obsessive need to know what happened next. So masterfully is this suspense story told, it is virtually impossible to set down.

During his short lifetime, Richard Laymon wrote of the most gripping horror stories of our times and quickly amassed a devoted following of fans that included Stephen King and Dean R. Koontz. Sadly his work wasn’t discovered by American readers until after his death in 2001 when he won the Bram Stoker Award posthumously for his novel, The Traveling Vampire Show.

Laymon’s genius was depicting normal people, placing them in settings of pure terror and then allowing them to react truthfully. Unlike the characters who inhabit today’s gore splatter movies, who, when encountering cannibals in “the hills”, immediately start acting like idiots. Not so the characters in Laymon’s book. They fight back, for all they are worth, their primal survival instincts quickly overriding their civilized sensibilities. One of them to point of becoming even more demented than the savages themselves. It is a powerful and all too believable metamorphosis.

If you are in the mood for a good scare unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, then this is the writer for you, and THE WOODS ARE DARK is by far his horror masterpiece. But a final word of caution. Read it with the lights on. It will give you nightmares.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


By Joel Jenkins
Pulpwork Press
295 pages

A few years ago an internet outfit called Frontier Publishing came on the pulp scene with several titles geared solely to old fashion action and adventure. Sadly they could not make a go of it and folded, but not before three of their best writers got together and founded Pulpwork Press. One of these was Joel Jenkins and this book was a product of that new venture.

In the metropolis of Denbrook, Damon St. Cloud is an investigative reporter looking into City Hall corruption that leads all the way to the mayor and his cronies. St. Cloud’s prying eventually threatens the wrong people and he returns home one night to find his wife and son butchered, their bodies torn to pieces, the house painted in their blood. St. Cloud, mentally unhinged by the experience, disappears and the prevailing rumors are he either died or ended up in a sanitarium. Both suppositions are miles away from the truth. After distancing himself from the horror foisted on him, St. Cloud comes to the startling conclusion that his family was murdered by vampires secretly in the employ of the city fathers. Knowing he is ill prepared to deal with them, he goes into self-exile, traveling the world’s exotic locales to amass the arcane knowledge he will need to fight these blood-sucking demons.

DEVIL TAKE THE HINDMOST begins many years later with Damon St. Cloud’s returns to Denbrook and the hell he brings with him. Armed with both knowledge and state of the art weaponry, he soon begins dealing cold, ruthless vengeance on the vampire clans of Denbrook single-handedly. He is a tireless, fearless angel of retribution and soon those responsible for the deaths of his family are not so self-assured of their invulnerability.

This is pure purple-prose at its frenetic best. Jenkins creates marvelous characters, good and bad, who populate his story and move it along with a razor sharp pacing that never lessens. His action sequences are among the best I’ve ever read. Currently books starring vampire hunters are very much in vogue, but very few of them pack the wallop this book contains. You can find it here ( Tell Pulp Fiction Reviews sent you.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


By John Farris
Hard Case Crime
217 pages

John Farris is a smooth story teller who writes with both economy and style. His protagonist is Peter Mallory, an ex-mob gunman who had thought his past was behind him. Now living in the Miami area, he owns a bait shop and is engaged to a lovely young socialite. Life is good; until the day that past comes knocking.

Mallory’s old mentor and employer, Boss Macy Barr, is being threatened by an unknown assassin from yesterday. Years earlier, running a protection racket, Barr had ordered a family run business burned to the ground when the owner refused to capitulate to his extortion demands. Somehow the man’s daughter survived and now, years later, has set about claiming her revenge her family by killing everyone involved with the fire.

Barr has turned into a feeble old man scared for his life. Mallory is the only person he trust to hunt down the mysterious killer and save him. Amidst Barr’s crumbling empire, Mallory must diplomatically search out a killer while at the same time avoid crossing paths with the other mob figures intent on inheriting Barr’s territory. Farris is excellent at propelling the story and offering up a few red-herrings along the way. There’s plenty of action and a powerful climatic finish that had me turning pages quickly.

This one has it all; sympathetic characters, tough as nails gangsters and several hot women who are twice as lethal as the men. BABY DOLL is a classic gangster novel by one of the best in the business. Don’t miss it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

PULP HEROES - More Than Mortal

PULP HEROES – More Than Mortal
By Wayne Reinagel
Knightraven Studios
413 pages

I’m not a big fan of pastiches; writing a thinly disguised character based on another popular figure. People have been doing it for years when frustrated at not being able to obtain the rights to one iconic hero or another. There have been pastiches of every famous fictional hero from Sherlock Holmes to Tarzan and Flash Gordon. It is clear that there is an obsessive need that compels these writers and it won’t be denied. Such is the case with Wayne Reinagel’s massive tome that pays homage to great classic pulp heroes of the 1930s and throws in a few Victorian figures for good measure. In doing so he has written the Gone With The Wind of all pulp pastiches, an monumental achievement envisioned in the mind of a truly devoted fan.

What if Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Spider and the Avenger, arguably the most popular pulp heroes ever created, were to team up for one epic adventure that would test all their amazing powers and skills? It was this pulp fanboy dream that Reinagel bravely set out to write and make a reality. From page one of this gargantuan saga we meet Doc Titan, the Darkness, the Scorpion and the Guardian, and their myriads aids and colleagues as they find themselves under attack from mysterious and lethal forces. Within hours, all of them are set upon by gun wielding armies of gangsters in the employ of foreign agents. Using their honed fighting skills, our heroes defeat their enemies but not without suffering personal loses amongst their ranks.

The year is 1945 and World War II is quickly reaching a climax that will determine the fate of mankind. It comes as no great surprise to our band of heroes that the source of the villainy they are combating leads to a megalomaniac Nazis agent known as the Black Skull and his Russian ally, one Victor Kaine, whom Doc Titan believes to be his illegitimate son. Where this book works so marvelously is how the characters interact with each other throughout the story. Where Doc and the Guardian are adverse to violence and believe in the possibilities of criminal rehabilitation, not so the blood thirsty Scorpion and his gun-toting pal, the Darkness. Their brand of justice is the final kind dispensed from the barrels of smoking .45 automatics. With such different modus operandi you’d except some clash of personalities and that’s what we get. But it is laced with a sarcastic dark humor that allows each hero to compromise his position and work with his peers towards one common objective, the salvation of democracy and the destruction of the Third Reich.

Now the only critique here is the same that applies to all pastiches. If you aren’t familiar with the originals upon which these clones are based, you are simply not going to have a clue as to what is going on here and or who the hell all these folks are. That’s a big Achilles to any book and it’s unavoidable. So, if you aren’t familiar with the Shadow, Doc Savage or the others, I would strongly recommend you find some decent reprints and discover the fun of pulps. You’ll be happy you did. Then come back to this truly amazing book and buckle up for the ride of your life. This book is a roller-coaster of action adventure that packs more thrills than any other five modern thrillers combined. It’s a grand literary achievement and I tip my fedora to Mr. Reinagle for pulling it off so magnificently. Pulp enthusiasts are going to adore this book.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


(A Novel of World War II)
By Patrick Culhane
A William Morrow Book
331 pages

Life aboard a Navy ship in the South Pacific during World War II was never a picnic but for the men of the Liberty Hill Victory, it is ten times more dangerous. Their newly launched ship carries tons of live ammunition intended for the fighting U.S. forces going toe to toe with Japanese troops along a string of tiny islands none of the crew had ever heard of before Pearl Harbor. And if their cargo of bombs and bullets wasn’t enough of a threat to their survival, the Liberty Hill Victory also has the dubious distinction of being one of the first integrated ships to sail into harm’s way.

Set in 1943, RED SKY IN MORNING, follows young ensign Peter Maxwell, a choir director form Iowa, who signs on to the newly christened ship along with four buddies unaware that ninety percent of the crew are black. No sooner is this discovered than Maxwell and his pals meet the skipper, Captain Egan, a bigoted seadog who despises snot-nosed college boys as much as blacks. Save for the five officers and four petty officers, the entire crew is made up of mostly illiterate young negroes eager to defend a country that considers them second-class citizens. While abhorring the senseless ignorance of racism, Maxwell is afraid that with the added nature of their cargo, those tensions will create a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately one of the black seamen is a former Chicago Police Detective named Ulysses Grant Washington, Sarge to his friends. Both he and Maxwell are musicians and share a passion for jazz. It is this bond that brings them together and becomes the foundation upon which Maxwell and his friends hope to create an atmosphere of cooperation and teamwork that will keep the Liberty Hill Victory on an even and steady course.

Things are going well until they encounter a fierce ocean storm and are separated from their convoy escort and left vulnerable in hostile waters. Then the body of one of the white officers is discovered in the ship’s bowels, his throat slashed. Captain Egan orders Maxwell to investigate and find the killer, convinced it is one of the crew. Realizing he is in way over his head, the young Lieutenant (jg), persuades Sarge to take over the investigation as he is the only man on board with any real experience in such grisly matters.

Inadvertently the two begin stirring up racial tensions anew as old feelings of mistrust rise to the surface amongst passionate accusations and denials. And while they methodically set about unraveling their murder mystery, the Liberty Hill Victory is spotted by enemy fighter planes and is soon under attack. As Jap zeroes descend on them with claws of hot lead, any single hit capable of igniting their floating powder keg, a killer roams the decks ready to strike again to protect his identity.

Max Allan Collins, writing as Patrick Culhane, expertly weaves history, social mores and a gripping mystery into a suspenseful story that never lets up. His characters truly evoke a different time and place when patriotism and self-sacrifice for God and country were the norm. They are also human, with faults and fears, each caught up in a war they never asked for, but are too stubborn and brave to flee from. RED SKY IN MORNING is a classic war drama that is rich in its authenticity and emotional honesty.

As a post-war baby-boomer myself, I often listened to my late father’s stories of his years in the South Pacific as an anti-aircraft artilleryman. I know he would have loved this book as much as I did.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Edited by Denise Little
DAW Books
307 pages

When I started reading, back in the mid-1950s, through to end of my high school days in 1964, there were still dozens of periodicals that published short fiction. Everything from Redbook to Argosy and the Saturday Evening Post were available as outlets for short stories. Today those magazines are gone and with them, to a large degree, short fiction. Happily there is still one mainstay of this literary format still offering up these bite-sized nuggets of story telling and that is the anthology. One such collection is WITCH HIGH, edited by Denise Little.

The theme of the book revolves around a school for witches, Salem Township Public High School # 4. As most of us will attest, surviving high school is a rite of passion all Americans have had to endure and the experiences culled from those four years often times set the course, good or bad, for the remainder of our lives. Now imagine having to handle those awkward years and magical powers at the same time.

This is the central challenge to the characters in the 14 stories that make up this truly delicious anthology. There is not a dud in the bunch, each deftly written with a keen ear and eye for the angst-ridden lives of the typical teenager in today’s culture. Of the fourteen contributors, I was only familiar with two; Bill McKay and Diane Duane. McKay, oddly enough the only male writer on board, delivers the darkest tale with a poignant, heart-warming end. I’m familiar with much of Duane’s Star Trek fiction and she has the final tale in the book, which caps it all off wonderfully.

Other personal favorites included “Domestic Magic” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and “You Got Served” by Ester M. Friesner. I also appreciated the fact that not all the stories starred the students of Witch High, but several featured the teachers and their daily trials and tribulations. All in all, WITCH HIGH is a place Harry Potter and his chums would feel right at home at, and I believe, so will you.

Friday, September 19, 2008


By Steve Fisher
Hard Case Crime
218 pages

HCC promotes this particular book on the front cover as “A novel of Las Vegas.”
Which is exactly what this is, a time-capsule look back at the glitter capital as it existed back in the 1950s, long before the city powers opted to make it a family-friendly vacation destination.

Joe Martin is an army veteran who owns and operates the Rainbow’s End casino without any help from the syndicate. He is an annoyance they want eliminated. They hire a big time gambler named Bello to break the house; that is winning all the casino’s funds in a marathon game of craps. Martin is no naïve rookie and long before Bellow sets foot in his establishment, he becomes aware that an assault is imminent. Martin’s fear is that while he is dealing with the mercenary high roller, the syndicate will attack at him on other fronts.

Luckily, Martin has two loyal friends who won’t let that happen. The first is Sprig, his tough chief of security and Mal Davis, a lounge singer/pianist who is afraid his career is going nowhere fast. As the syndicate unleashes its various strategies to bring down Rainbow’s End, both Sprig and Davis soon find themselves soldiers in Joe Martin’s war.

Then, as if things couldn’t be more tense, enter Sunny Guido, a beautiful grade school teacher from California who entrances the cynical Martin and first time in his life has him experiencing love. But is she the real deal, or clever plant sent by the syndicate to mess with his mind?

I’ve personally never had any desire to gamble nor visit that glitzy city out in the middle of the Nevada dessert. Still, after reading this excellent story, I can better appreciate the fascination of people for this one-of-a-kind sin city. Fisher creates truly great characters and drives his narrative with ease, building suspense slowly until the finale erupts across the last chapter like a breath of much need fresh air. NO HOUSE LIMIT is a gem of a book and I recommend it highly.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


By Clive Cussler
& Paul Kemprecos
Berkley Novel
529 pages

Readability is a word you don’t trip over every day. Found in the umbrella definition of the word read, it more or less describes the ease or difficulty of any text to be deciphered. I bring this up because there are clearly books whose readability far outshines others such as all of Clive Cussler’s adventure novels. His writing is the literary equivalent of salted nuts, once you eat one, you are compelled to eat more. Beginning with page one of THE NAVIGATOR, I knew I was once again in friendly territory, as these pulp inspired thrillers have been entertaining readers for almost two generations ever since the paperback publication of Cussler’s THE PACIFIC VORTEX, his first Dirk Pitt adventure. That was way back in 1983; the hardback original having appeared the year before. The thing is it was the mass paperback editions that found, via word of mouth, Cussler’s audience and pulled them into becoming avid, lifelong fans.

I confess to coming in late on the fun. Several of my writing colleagues had been telling me for several years that Dirk Pitt was the “new” Doc Savage, that most famous of world trotting pulp adventurers. I procrastinated until the release of Pitt’s seventh outing, CYCLOPS. Why that one? Because the paperback cover sported a dirigible and I am just a bonafide sucker for airships. Once I’d read the book, I immediately realized how terrific the concept of Pitt and his NUMA (National Underwater & Marine Agency) was and went out and found the first six and devoured them speedily.

Like the pulps they evolved from, Cussler’s books are filled with exotic locations, dastardly villains and near super human heroes who always save mankind just in the nick of time. Each is filled with accurate historical backgrounds, suspense, action humor and imagination beyond belief. Now this kind of rampant success had one drawback. The demand for new stories was never-ending and poor Cussler was, after all, just one man. He could only write so much and still eat, drink and live his life like the rest of us. How could his publishers satisfy the clamor for more without killing the goose who in fact laid those golden eggs? The answer was another pulp standard, create a spin-off series and bring in another quality suspense writer.

SERPENT was published in 1999 and its credit reads, “Clive Cussler with Paul Kemprecos.” Kemprecos is a professional writer who had written several best selling novels featuring an underwater detective. Thus he was the ideal partner to work with Cussler. Together they invented another NUMA operative in Texas born Kurt Austin, who, although physically different than Pitt, is clearly cut from the same larger-than-life hero mold. There’s even a letter on the book’s first page introducing the readers to this new character and it is signed, Dirk Pitt. I have no inside clue as to how they work, but my guess would be that they develop a plot together and then Kemprecos goes off to do the actual writing. To date there have been six Kurt Austin adventures with THE NAVIGATOR being the seventh. All of them have been just as much fun as the Pitt books and this new one is certainly no exception.

These books are formulaic, but unlike other critics, I see that as their strength. Readers know what to expect and are rarely disappointed. THE NAVIGATOR begins three thousand years ago when King Solomon orders Phoenician captain to sail half way around the world to bury a sacred relic whose existence could cause havoc amongst the known civilizations of man. The tale then jumps forward to the last days of Thomas Jefferson’s Presidency and a mission assigned the famous explorer Meriwether Lewis and the beginnings of a secret organization known as the Artichoke Club.

What these divergent elements have in common is the puzzle that challenges Austin and his team as he comes to the rescue of a lovely archeologist named Carina Mechadi. In the Baghdad national museum, shortly after the American take-over, Mechadi finds a life-size statue of ancient sailor known as the Navigator. But before she can properly examine it, the statue is stolen by a group of mercenaries working for a mysterious tycoon named Balthazar. What is the secret of the statue and to what purpose does Balthazar intend to use it? THE NAVIGATOR is a convoluted, globe-spanning puzzle that will keep you turning pages late into the night. The pacing never lets up and with each new piece of the puzzle revealed, the excitement mounts exponentially until the slam-bang climax.

This is a good as modern pulp gets, and I’m hoping both Dirk Pitt and his pal, Kurt Austin, are going to be around for a long, long time. Pass the peanuts, please.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


A New Mike Hammer Novel
By Mickey Spillane
With Max Allan Collins
Hartcourt Press
267 pages
Available Oct.2008

You would have expected the father of America’s toughest private-eye to go out with a bang! And he does, in this, one of the two remaining Mike Hammer books Mickey Spillane was writing at the time of his death. Thankfully his close friend, and literary protégé, Max Allan Collins was on board to complete them. It’s a loud bang of action, humor and a long fulfilled romance that had me hooked from page one.

Nobody wrote tough-guy pulp like Spillane. It was a talent that never left him over his sixty year career as a crime writer. Mike Hammer is out and about on a cold New York City winter night when trouble comes calling in the form of two young people hurrying down the street unaware they’ve picked up a menacing shadow. Never one to mind his own business, Hammer takes off after them and their mysterious pursuer and arrives in the nick of time to save them from being gunned down. Hammer never goes anywhere without his trusty Colt .45 automatic. With a dead man at his feet, and two frightened innocents, Hammer whisks them off to the security of his office and thus the tale begins.

The would-be victims are college sweethearts recently returned from a trip to Israel. After camping in the Valley of Elah, the two accidentally uncover a human femur bone the size of a railroad tie. They believe it to be the only remains of the biblical Philistine giant, Goliath. The couple, Mark and Jenna, smuggle the bone out of the country by mailing it to a friend back home. Once back in New York, they retrieve it and are on their way to the university to deliver it to their respective parents who are both archeologists. Thus ends their tale at the point of being attacked by the unknown assassin and Hammer’s timely appearance. Hammer immediately realizes the political implications of their discovery and the dangers they entail, to include the botched murder attempt.

Leave it to Spillane to deliver a topical thriller, post 9-11, with Hammer ready to take on Islamic terrorists all by his lonesome. The plot moves at a fast clip and before long Hammer is embroiled with foreign dignitaries, government agents and criminal arms dealers, all the while having to protect the two young lovers. Thus the subplot of his long overdue marriage to Velda, his gorgeous, loyal secretary is truly poignant. Ever the skilled story-telling magician, Spillane pulls a few aces out his sleeve, including the reason why it has taken Hammer so long to make an honest woman of her. Their marriage and honeymoon adds a fitting chapter to Hammer’s last case. The feelings of these two characters, their enduring love and its joyful resolution reminded me of what William Faulkner called “…the truths of the heart.”

But worry not, pulp fans. Before the two can sail off into the sunset, there is still the matter of a ruthless killer who has left a trail of bodies for Hammer to follow like a grisly invitation to a climatic showdown. Mike Hammer never walked away from a case until justice had been meted out; the kind dispensed from the barrel of his .45. THE GOLIATH BONE is no exception. This is one hell of a ride you do not want to miss!

Sunday, August 31, 2008


By Victor Pelevin
333 pages

The real fun of being a reviewer is the surprises you are sent by various publishers. Of course many are duds and that is to be expected. Then again a marketing editor will send along something truly unique, unlike anything you’ve ever read before. Such was the case with this outlandish novel by Russian author, Victor Pelevin. It is not a book for the tame reader who is afraid of moving out of his or her comfort zone. There are so many different facets to this book, encapsulating them is not at all easy.

A Hu-Li is a two thousand year old shapeshifting werefox from China who disguises herself as a cute and sexy fifteen year old Moscow prostitute. She seduces men so that she can absorb their life force and thus maintain her near immortality. She does this by hypnotizing them with her ginger red tail. Now if that wasn’t wild enough, A Hu-Li is also a philosopher, a follower of the Supreme Tao, a secret teaching that will supposedly transform her into the perfect being, known as the Super Werewolf, and allow her to ascend from this plane of reality to a greater one.

When A Hu-Li meets a Russian security officer named Alexander, everything in her life changes. Upon learning he is a werewolf, she falls in love with him. It is the first time she has ever felt this way towards any other living being and it sets her on a new, emotional journey to plummet the essences of her true self and place in the cosmos. As much as all of this sounds completely bizarre, Pelevin’s gift as a writer is making A Hu-Lin and her quirky fox-nature accessible and sympathetic. Once you enter her world, he pulls you along effortlessly, creating a need in the reader to reach the end and learn if this incredible creature truly will find her Nirvana.

Two things helped make reading this book a fun and challenging experience. The first is that I love philosophy and the second is that I actually spent eight amazing days in Moscow several years ago and came away with a distinct impression of the city, the country and its people. All of which Pelevin captures so perfectly. There is a melancholy Russian mindset that is afraid of true democracy and freedom, at the same time being propelled towards it by the forces of history. It is a social tragedy being played out on the world stage to this day. How it will end, only time will tell. But I can’t help but thinking, Russian writers like Victor Pelevin are the prophets sent to show their countrymen the path to that brave new world we, in America, daily take for granted.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


By Charles Ardai
Hard Case Crime
331 pages
Available Nov. 25

Several years ago, Charles Ardai, and then partner Max Phillips, began Hard Case Crime, a publishing imprint dedicated to reviving lost pulp crime classics and showcasing new writers in the field. Now, with forty-nine truly amazing books under their belts, the debut of their 50th offering demanded something special and unique. Happily, Ardai was up to the challenge. Every chapter title in this book is taken, in order of publication, from the titles of those first fifty! I kid you not. And it is no little trick.

FIFTY-TO-ONE is one hilarious roller-coaster ride that never stops from page one to the finale. Ardai has tipped his fedora to the entire crime noir genre in this gem of a what-if tale that imagines Hard Case Crime having been started fifty years ago by a shady, unscrupulous entrepreneur named Charlie Borden. One has to wonder whimsically if he isn’t Ardai’s want-to-be alter ego as he writes him with so much conviction and panache.

One day a sweet, innocent eighteen year old girl from South Dakota arrives in New York and immediately runs afoul of this likeable hustler. Her name is Tricia and she’s smart as a whip. When Borden commissions her to write a true-life crime bio for him, he has no idea her book is going to be the catalyst that sets one of the city’s most notorious mob bosses after his hide, as well as the police. What follows is a plot with more twists and turns a bag of fresh baked pretzels. It is a thoroughly convoluted mystery tied into several sticky, but clever knots. All of which our unlikely sleuths have to unravel as they keep running through the streets and alleys of New York, always one short step ahead of mob and the law.

As crime fiction goes, FIFTY-TO-ONE may not win any prizes, but as a celebration of the entire genre, it is truly one of the most enjoyable books HCC has ever produced. Add to this fun the special full insert which reproduces all of their gorgeous covers to date and you have a book that should be a must read on everyone’s list. Personally I’m hoping when book 100 comes around, Charlie and Tricia will be back. I miss them already.

Monday, August 18, 2008


By C.J. Henderson
Marietta Publishing
243 pages

It isn’t often you get to review a book you helped bring about. As most of you know, aside from these reviews, I also produce pulp novels and anthologies for Airship 27 Prod.
A while back C.J. Henderson approached me with an idea he had for a book wherein a group of lesser known classic pulp heroes would band together to save the world from some horrible catastrophe. I loved the idea and encouraged C.J. to write it, which he did and here it is now available from Marietta Publishing out of Georgia. As to why we didn’t publish it is a story for a later date. What matters here is how absolutely terrific this book is.

Set in the months prior to the start of World War II, strange weather patterns fall upon America both on the west and eastern coasts. Savage, brutal storms that leave a wake of death and destruction in their paths. When several colorful characters, at divergent locales, begin to investigate these supposedly natural tragedies, they soon uncover an evil malevolent force that is anything but natural.

Within days, an occult magician named Ravenwood, summons three people to his New York apartments. They are Ellen Patrick, the crime fighting Domino Lady from California, Anthony Quinn, the blind lawyer from New York who is really the avenger known as the Black Bat and lastly, Inspector John Raymond Legrasse of New Orleans, a veteran in fighting the forces of arcane evil. This is very much the pulp version of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and the conceit works extremely well. Taking a bunch of second string pulp heroes, Henderson ties them to the world of H.P.Lovecraft’s Ancient Gods myth by brining in Legrasse, a character he’s used many, many times in other horror orientated adventures.

Henderson is brilliant at capturing personalities with only a few words and I found myself seeing these familiar heroes in an entirely new and exciting new light. The interaction between them is fun and as always C.J. doesn’t scrimp on the action. There’s plenty of it, all in the rousing traditional bloody pulps mode. So if, like me, you truly enjoy pulp action and adventure, pick this one up. Oh, and did I mention it has an introduction by some pulp fan named Fortier?

Monday, August 11, 2008


By Peter Rabe
Stark House Noir Classics
308 pages

This is the second Stark House title I’ve read and I remain impressed big time. Each of their titles not only offers up two classic noir pulp novels, but they are accompanied by informative articles and essays on the authors’ lives. This volume has a closing piece on Rabe by Donald Westlake. If you are a fan of this genre, you should be hunting up each and every one of these books. They do not disappoint.

In ANATOMY OF A KILLER, Rabe delivers a cutting edge noir thriller with his use language. His sentences are short, stabbing declarative burst that keep the reader glued to the action. At the same time, he keeps his main character, Sam Jordan in sharp focus. Jordan is a man comfortable with the routines of his life as a hired gun for the mob. When, immediately after a successful hit, he is given another assignment, things begin to unravel quickly. The job must be carried out immediately without any preliminary scouting having been done. It is up to Jordan to personally case out the intended mark; something he has never done before.

Thrown off of his established routine, Jordan finds himself floundering. He begins to have doubts about his life and career. All of which are then compounded when he meets and falls for Betty, a simple girl working as a waitress. Jordan begins to see other futures for himself and these self-induced dreams cloud his work. He botches the hit and soon his employers are wondering if he’s become a loose canon.

This is not an easy book to grasp, as I indicated earlier. Rabe’s style is lean and brutal. Yet it enthralls and pulls the reader into a tightly woven web until you find yourself unable to put the book down, desperately demanding to know Jordan’s ultimate fate. This is classic noir; one of the best I’ve ever encountered.

A SHROUD FOR JESSO is a book that starts down one trail and quickly veers off into a totally different one. After World War II, Jack Jesso is a New York tough guy who has been muscled out of his own syndicate by the Mob. Angry and wanting some payback, he is manipulated into working for Kator, a former Nazi aristocrat who is selling American weapons secrets to the Soviets. Finding himself kidnapped, Jesso manages to avoid being executed by bluffing his captors into believing he has information vital to their operation. Once they arrive in Germany, again the plot takes a sharp twist when Jesso meets the Kator’s beautiful sister, Rennette.

A classic femme fatale, Rennette soon becomes Jesso’s overriding obsession, to possess her, and her brother’s money. She is ultimately his downfall, as he is blind to the vulnerability she has created in him. People, like tigers, don’t change their spots. In the end Jesso isn’t as smart as he thought he was and his doom predicable from the second he locks eyes on the woman. Again, noir fiction with style and grace and plenty of punch. A certified psychologist, writer Peter Rabe knew what made people tick and he explored those dark, twisted shadows in his amazing stories.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


By John Scalzi
Tor Books
343 pages

I’ve always been a sucker for military sci-fi. A few years ago someone gave me a copy of John Scalzi’s book, OLD MAN’S WAR and I devoured it. Scalzi envisiones a future wherein man has reached the stars and found them populated by some truly hostile aliens Defending human colonists are the Colonial Defense Forces, made up of enhanced soldiers recruited from the ranks of the earth’s senior citizens population. Seniors are given the chance to have their consciousness transferred into new, stronger bodies genetically altered for peak performance. Their blood is made up of nano-bots for quick healing and each CDF soldier is implanted with a pea sized computer directly into their brain. These Brain-Pals aid the newly awaken warrior cope with his new form and the savage wars he or she is about to participate in.

Towards the end of that first book, we learned that even among CDF troops there existed an even tougher branch known as Special Forces. Many of the seniors who signed on to participate in the CDF actually died before they could be fully intergrated into their new bodies. From these deceased volunteers, the CDF had taken DNA samples. From these DNA samples they proceed to clone new, more advanced bodies. Unlike the CDF recruits who had their personal psyches transferred to their new host bodies, clone warriors are born without any past identities. During the cloning process, Special Forces are genetically engineered to be the most loyal, professional soldiers ever imagined. Yet they must evolve new personalities. Realborns call them the Ghost Brigades.

In this adventure, second of a trilogy, the CDF finds itself dealing with a traitorous scientist named Charles Boutin, an expert in consciousness mapping and Brain-Pals. For his own unfathomable reasons, Boutin flees his labs and seeks political asylum with an enemy alien race. Afraid of what Boutin might give this race, CDF generals are frantic to discover the meaning of his defection and how much secret data he escaped with. When it is discovered Boutin left behind a copy of his own consciousness, a daring plan is devised to imprint that very consciousness onto a newly hatched Ghost Brigade clone. Of course it is a double-edged sword. Will the clone really be able to access the scientists store of knowledge and solve their puzzle or will he evolve into a second traitor and betray them?

Once Jared Dirac is brought to life, the book kicks into high gear as we follow the newborn’s entry into the Special Forces excellerated training program. By the use of their hyper-fast Brain-Pals, Dirac and his team can communicate instantaneously, transferring huge amounts of data in micro-seconds. Jared is just a regular member of the squad until the day, after returning from a particularly harrowing mission, he suddenly has flashes of Charles Boutin’s memories. These are so vivid as to detail the traitor’s current whereabouts. Once Jared tells his superiors, a mission to retrieve Boutin is quickly conceived. Dirac will be a part of a Special Forces unit sent deep into enemy space to retrieve the turncoat scientist.

Scalzi never lets up on the suspense and action. His story is both exciting and stimulating as his delves into themes of personal identity in regards to manufactured people with only copies of consciousness. Do they possess souls apart from their originating DNA codes, or do such things as soul truly exist? What really makes up the mind? All of these ideas are brilliantly interwoven through this grand, all-out action saga. THE GHOST BRIGADES is one of the finest science fiction books I’ve ever enjoyed. Now it’s time to go find that third and final chapter of this truly fantastic series.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


By Robert McCammon
Pocket Books
792 pages

Those of you familiar with this column will be aware that I’ve already reviewed the first half of this book. This strange chain of events came about when I’d purchased the paperback edition which contained only the first half, sub-titled Judgment of the Witch. At the time I bought the book, I was unaware it was incomplete. Again, I don’t want to retread old ground here as in that initial review I made my displeasure very clear to one and all. Here was a book I enjoyed immensely and was now forced to seek out its second half.

Several attempts to order on-line proved fruitless and I invariably resorted to visiting a local Barnes & Noble to order part two; Evil Unveiled. As it would turn out, the store clerk screwed up my request and put in a order for the trade paperback version which contained the entire novel! And they let me have it for the price of the smaller paperback. Amazing. So I came home with this volume and promptly took the incomplete paperback and threw it in the trash. Again, a pox on the publisher for releasing such a great read in so ridiculous a fashion.

That said, the remaining half of the book is just as powerful and the first. Young legal clerk Matthew Corbett is frantic to save innocent Rachel Howarth from being burned at the stake for witchcraft. Convinced there is a criminal mastermind plotting to destroy this new colony town, Matthew gambles everything, including his own future, in a desperate gamble to save the woman and unmask the true villain.

McMammon is one of the finest American writers working today. He breathes such life into this pre-American world of those struggling early colonists who daily wrestled a hostile, frontier environment to make a new world for themselves. His research is remarkable the cast of characters rich and captivating. SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD is the first in a new series from this talented tale-spinner and you should not miss it. But please, once more. Make sure you buy the complete novel and don’t go through the hell this reviewer traveled to finish it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


By Donald E. Westlake
Hard Case Crime
253 pages

Veteran crime writer Donald E. Westlake can write gripping, tough stories with the best of them. Hell, he is one of the best of “them.” But then again he can whip up a dandy mystery, infuse it with his own unique brand of humor and have you laughing out loud in no time flat. Such is the case with this comedy about a New York City hack named Chet (he despises Chester) Conway who, in one turn of destiny’s wheel, goes from being a lucky gambler whose horse came in to a desperate murder suspect hunted down by two very dangerous criminal gangs.

Chet’s long shot nag wins him close to a thousand dollars. A nice pay-offs for a fellow use to winning and losing tens and twenties. Believing his ship has finally come in, he arrives at his bookie’s apartment only to discover the guy has been shot to death and his money swiped. Chet does the right thing and cooperates with the police but that doesn’t stop two rival mobs from believing he’s somehow involved and is now a liability to their organization. Enter the dead man’s sister, a lovely, vengeance obsessed blonde named Abbie, (she despises Abigail) and suddenly Chet is not only scrambling for his life, but now he’s teamed up with a tough-as-nails beauty with a habit of attracting trouble.

By the time a bullet creases his skull, sparing his life by inches, our hero starts to wish he’d never made that bet in the first place. Caught in the middle between the gangs and the cops, with an unknown killer after him, our stalwart cabbie must become the hero and solve the murder or become the next dead body.

The laughs come as fast as the bullets in this gem of a mystery and the poker-game climax had me marveling at the cleverness of Westlake’s plot. This is just plain mayhem fun from a master story teller. Give yourself a treat and pick it up.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


(Monster Blood Tatoo)
By D.M. Cornish
Putnam Books
736 pages

Last year I had the tremendous joy of discovering the world of Rossamund Bookchild, the orphan raised in a foundling home and at a young age sent out into a remarkable, alien world to seek his fortune as a royal lamplighter. Now if none of this makes any sense to you, it's because D.M. Cornish has invented an entire world to set his story in and it is a world like none you've ever encountered before.

The last time I enjoyed such a rich, complicated literary fabrication was J.K. Rawling's world of boy wizard Harry Potter. There's a lot of similarities between Potter and Bookchild. There's also a huge dose of Charles Dickens and lots and lots of J.R.R. Tolkien. Cornish has woven a unique world so rich in details that it completely swallows the reader with it's multiple layers of social, economic and political history. But the most important thing you need to know about the lad's world is that it has monsters; of all manner and variety.

In this second installment of what is to be a trilogy, young Rossamund arrives at the Lamplighter training hall to begin his training. Lamplighters are much like a national militia whose task it is to keep the empire's roadways well illuminated via a chain of lamppost that dot every single road in the empire, be they crowded municipal lanes or the off the map frontier paths. These brave men must keep the dark at bay, maintaining a tenuous grasp on civilization. Rossamund is proud to become one of them.

Yet as the story unfolds, he is witness to repeated monster attacks, their frequency puzzling to his superiors. He also discovers political corruption among the fort's command and a dark, terrible secret hidden within its walls. Fortunately he is not alone in his adventures being aided by a truly unusual group of physcially altererd characters. There is Thrednody, the young girl with the mental psychic abilities to hurt monsters, Sebastipole, the human lie-detector and the beautiful Europe, who can shoot lightning from her hands and is a famous monster-killer.

Like most readers, I'm always leery of long books by new writers. Having thoroughly enjoyed book one in this series, I was completely undadunted by this volume's 700 plus pages. I knew it would contain the maximum amount of adventure, thrills and wonder. I wasn't disappointed in the least. In fact, now that I've finished it, I can't wait for the final chapter and I hope it's even longer! You can never ever have too much of a good thing.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Hair Club President

There use to be a popular television commercial for hair growth products on television that I always got a big kick out. The sales dude identified himself as the president of the company and at the end of each segment, he'd hold up a before picture of himself bald as a cue ball and say, "I'm not only the Hair Club president, I'm also a client."

Which is why the logo at the top of this column. You see, I am not only a reader and reviewer, I'm also a writer. But it would be inappropriate for me to ever review my own work here so I thought I'd merely announce the fact that they do exist and you might want to check them out.

For the past few years, artist Rob Davis and I have produced pulp novels and anthologies under the Airship 27 Production banner. All our books are published via Cornerstone Book Publishers of New Orleans, Michael Poll publisher. And they are all available through all the major distributors world wide, to include Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. etc. We even have our own on-line store ( Please, stop on by and check out our titles. If you enjoy fast paced, action packed fiction, then I think we have something special for you. Thanks ever, Ron.

Monday, June 23, 2008


By Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
Available Aug. 08
206 pages

Max Allan Collins is one of those writers capable of turning a plot upside down in just a few short paragraphs and giving his readers an entirely new look at something old and worn. That he now does it with an entire series is simply terrific fun.

Back in 1976, the author of the NATE HELLER books and THE ROAD TO PERDITION, began a new series of crime thrillers about a professional hitman known as Quarry. He followed it up with six other volumes, the final being the aptly titled THE LAST QUARRY, published in 2007 by Hard Case Crime. As I reviewed in this very column, it was a great read and fitting end to this dark, always mesmerizing saga. And of course lots of us were sad that there just wouldn’t be any further Quarry tales to enjoy. Boy, we’re we ever wrong.

After telling us his professional killer’s last assignment, Collins flips the entire stage end over and end and now offers up THE FIRST QUARRY. Yup, it’s the juicy, razor blade to the throat hor douvere after we’ve already devoured the bullet blasting dessert. Collins is one manipulative S.O.B. God bless him.

Coming home from Vietnam, our hero finds his wife shacking up with a neighbor. When Quarry confronts him, the man laughs in his face. Quarry drops a car on him. He’s spontaneous and resourceful, if nothing else. Released by the police because the D.A. isn’t about to take a recently returned veteran to court, Quarry is approached by a very rich man who calls himself the Broker. He offers Quarry steady employment as a professional assassin, a trade he learned from the U.S. Army and became quite proficient at in the rice fields and jungles on ‘Nam. The pragmatic Quarry accepts and is there christened with the name Quarry. You really didn’t think it was his real name, did you?

Once these required preambles are done with, Collins serves up a truly twisted gem of a thriller for his freshly minted killer. Quarry’s target is an English professor at a small college. The fellow is writing an expose their customer does not want finished. By the time Quarry discovers their employer is actually a mob boss from Chicago, he’s already killed three people, made love to two beautiful women and become entangled in gang war. Just your typical day at the office for Quarry. There’s the adage that one should always save the best for last, but with THE FIRST QUARRY, that theory sinks like a body with cement boots. This is one of Collins’ most satisfying thrillers, deftly mixing action, suspense, sex and humor into a cocktail that will knock your socks off!!! Don’t miss it!

Friday, June 20, 2008


By Charles R. Saunders
Sword & Soul Media
193 pages

In 1978, writer Charles Saunders submitted a story entitled Abewe’s Sword to the paperback anthology, AMAZONS, edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson and published by DAW books. With the then popularity of Conan and other sword and sorcery heroes, the conceit of this volume was to focus the spotlight on women warriors. No stranger to this genre, Saunders had by then given the world his greatest character, Imaro, the black hero who inhabited ancient Africa. Delving back into this setting again, he now envisioned a tall, brave and beautiful female soldier named Dossouye.

In the 1980s he added three stories more to this series, Gimmile’s Song, Shiminege’s Mask and Marwe’s Forest. In 2002, he saw the possibility of collecting these adventures and rewrote several while adding a fifth to round out the narrative; Obenga’s Drum. This volume is that collection.

Unlike Imaro, Dossouye grew up as a part of an elite fighting force, ahosi (female warriors) of the Abomey Kingdom. In this kingdom, all the ahosi eschew marriage and family for their service to the Leopard King, the ruler of the land. They wear ankle bracelets that identify them as his brides and only when those rings are broken by the King’s decree are they allowed to marry and go on with their own, personal lives.

As always, Saunders is a master of inventiveness and Dossouye and her battle sisters go into battle riding domesticated water buffaloes. Our heroine’s is a massive bull she calls Gbo. Rider and animal are inseperable and when in combat become an efficient team capable of devastating the enemy’s ranks.

In the opening story, Dossouye is chosen by the spirits of her ancestors to wield a magical sword which will save her people from an invading army. She accomplishes this feat but at great personal sacrifice. At tale’s end she is forced into self-exile, never to return home and she sets out to explore the vast, unknown lands to the East, where a great forest rises up out of the earth. It is in this alien world that the remaining four adventures occur and each is a gem of both action and human drama. Dossouye is a complex character and Saunders deftly explores her inner most thoughts and emotions as she adapts to her new life, alone in a new land filled with all manner of exotic peoples and creatures. This collection is clearly the set up for a proposed, full length novel which I pray is not too far in the writing. I am most eager to take up with this ahosi and her pet war-bull.

Final note, due to the lack good sense on the part of today’s publishing community; Saunders had to resort to self-publishing the terrific book. The only sure place you can get a copy is at ( The book sports an absolutely gorgeous cover by one Mshindo Kuumba. If you truly enjoy sword and sorcery done right, you must get this book. You can thank me, later.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Story by Brian Jacques
Art by Alexi Natchev
Philomel Books
45 pages

As a bibliophile, I truly love all books and have a real fondness for quality childrens’ books. THE TALE OF URSO BRUNOV AND THE WHITE EMPEROR is a gorgeous package with a marvelous adventure tale by the noted creator of the Redwall series.

Miniature bear chieftain, Urso Brunov, lives in a forest at the top of the world. When two young polar bears, a sister and brother, find themselves stranded on the shore of his kingdom, the little bear comes their rescue immediately. He bravely shoos off a pack of dangerous wolves and then promises the young polar bears he will see them safely returned to their home, the land of the Land of Rainbow Lights.

To achieve this goal, the crafty Urso calls on the air of animals both on the land and in the sea; from wild boards, fleet deer and a giant, friendly whale. In the end he brings the lost bears home and there is rewarded by their father, the noble White Emperor Blanco. The story moves at a fast clip and is never boring for a minute.

Add to this the beautiful art of Alexi Natchev. His work is simplistic and at the same time properly detailed. His pages are never overcrowded and his compositions are balanced and beautiful. He captures emotions with ease and brings these exotic creatures to life with his use of vibrant colors.

This is an excellent book for any child and adult willing to take a few minutes to explore its vivid, imaginative world where a tiny bear is truly giant-size hero. Here is hoping we haven’t seen the last of Urso Brunvo.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


By Ken Bruen & Jason Starr
Hard Case Crime
222 pages
Available in Aug.08

Having read and enjoyed the first two books in this hilarious series, I was really anxious to get my hands on this one. It is the first continuing series Hard Case Crime has ever produced and they’ve set the bar extremely high. In BUST, Bruen and Starr introduced us to the most self-delusional shyster in New York entrepreneur, Max Fisher and his nymphomaniac secretary-lover, Angela Petrakos. The two, with the help of an Irish psychopath, plotted the murder of Max’s wife. Through a serious of mind-boggling snafus, they not only managed to do the dirty deed, but also escaped the clutches of the law in the process. Well, two of them anyway.

In the second installment, SLIDE, Max ends up becoming petty drug dealer with Al Pacino Scarface fantasies. Meanwhile, Angela, having fled to Ireland, returns with yet another killer and this time the body count really mounts quickly. In the end, Max’s luck finally runs out and he’s on his way to prison, while the lovely Angela has barely made it on a plane and for a second time gets away free and clear.

THE MAX begins with Angela having settled on a small Greek island and Max arriving at Attica where he is going to serve his sentence. After SLIDE, I honestly didn’t think these two writers could possible top the sheer insanity of that entry. By the end of chapter one, they had proved me completely wrong and I was laughing my fool head off. Max is perhaps the dumbest gangster ever created and how he manages not only to survive in the pen, but ends up running the Big House is sheer brilliant lunacy. Meanwhile the ever sexy Angela is once again up her neck in foul play and leaving a trail of bodies in her wake. She is caught and sent to a women’s prison on an island called Lesbo. All of which is just too funny to properly describe. Don’t worry, she manages to escape, as always.

The subplots in THE MAX, like the first two books, are many and each is deliciously twisted and evil. There isn’t a decent person in this entire book, yet each of them is so marvelously brought to life, I could care less. Bungling-crook tales are hard to write because most crime writers simply don’t understand the humor inherent in most criminal.

For sheer outright stupidity, the characters in THE MAX take the prize, as you will, if, on the other hand, you are smart enough to pick up this book.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


By Kat Richardson
ROC Fantasy
341 pages
Availabe Aug. 2008

It seems like ever since Jim Butcher unleashed the Dresden Files on the world, we’ve become inundated with urban fantasies about Private Eyes with paranormal abilities. Kat Richardson’s Seattle based P.I., Harper Blaine is the newest member of this ever expanding club. In this, her third book, we quickly learn that Blaine was accidentally killed on a previous case and legally dead for two minutes. When she was revived, it was with the ability to see and move in the ghostly dimension she refers to as the Grey. The Grey is inhabited by all kinds of ghosts, zombies and mythological monsters, some friendly, others frightening and dangerous. With each new book, Blaine becomes more adept at dealing with her new sight and gifts but it certainly doesn’t make her “normal” life any easier.

At the start of UNDERGROUND, one of her friends, a street character with a genius for electronics, named Quinton, makes Blaine aware that someone or something is horrendously murdering homeless people who have settled in the mysterious underworld avenues of old Seattle. After a catastrophic fire at the turn the century, the people of this Pacific Coast metropolis reconstructed their city over the skeletons of the old, in the process sealing away an entire hidden urban landscape. The Seattle Underground has been featured in books, documentaries and even as a setting for several horror movies, the most popular being the NIGHT STRANGLER, the second Kolchak feature produced by Dan Curtis and starring the late Darren McGavin. It is an excellent background for a monster tale and that’s what we have here.

Blaine and Quinton soon learn that they are dealing with an ancient Indian monster said to inhabit the area and reappear ever few decades to feed. Because of her ability to cross the boundaries between our world and the Grey, Blaine is the only person with any chance of finding the legendary beast and stopping it. But to do so she will need Quinton’s help and that of several other close friends, all of whom could end up the creature’s next victim for their participation.

Harper Blaine is a likeable character, as are the supporting players in this adventure. Richardson draw’s heavily from her knowledge of the city and its history, much to the story’s enrichment. I’ve never been to Seattle, but after following Blaine through its streets, parks and amazing Underground, I’m ready to book a flight west. UNDERGROUND is a fast paced, edge of your seat fantasy adventure with many surprises and some new wrinkles in this fast growing sub-genre. If you get a kick out of things that go bump into the night, this book is just your ticket. Get it punched now.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


By Scott Mackay
ROC Science Fiction
357 pages

I enjoy all kinds of science fiction but all too often am put off by the sub-category referred to as “hard” sci-fi. You know, the kind written by real Phds who’ve graduated from M.I.T. with degrees in quantum-nano-whatever. Nine out of ten times, these geniuses from academia, although brilliant in their respective fields, have absolutely no idea of how to tell a story. Their books are filled with pages and pages of scientific jargon and speculation (remember the what-if part that makes it sci-fi in the first place) with absolutely no concept of characterization or plot development. Of course, what you always hope for when hunting through this genre is that one out of the ten; where the author not only knows his science, he or she also understands how to spin a damn good yarn.

Dr. Cameron Conrad is a physicist and mathematician on the moon about to begin an experiment in hyper-dimensionality which he believes will help unlock the secrets of the universe. Suddenly a giant monolith from the deepest reaches of outer space suddenly appears over them. So strong is its gravitational pull, it wreaks havoc with the Conrad’s field and completely destroys all his equipment. Within the next few hours, everyone stationed at the Gettysburg moon facility is caught up in the monumental puzzle of who or what the monolith is? Where did it come from? Is it really an alien construct and why is it here, in our Solar System?

Conrad is convinced the monolith represents First Contact and attempts to reach out to Builders, as he comes to label them. In the process he is pulled into the monolith and his brain altered. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the military has launched a response force led by a gung-ho marine hero, Colonel Pittman. Pittman is a soldier’s soldier and he lives for combat. He honestly believes the aliens pose a threat and when they begin to siphon hydrogen from our sun, a process which will result in the earth’s total annihilation, Pittman launches a nuclear assault against the monolith.

Meanwhile, recovering in a hospital back on Earth, Cameron, who experienced a very faint contact with the Builders, is convinced they are completely unaware of our existence. He argues we are no more than ants to them and unless he can find a way to make them aware of us, the Earth is doomed. Much of Mackay’s story adopts elements and scenarios from other classic science fiction adventures, notably Arthur C. Clarke’s A SPACE ODESSEY. But what makes his tale unique is his willingness to expand the borders of accepted scientific thinking into areas considered taboo. Mackay proposes that pushed to its limits, physics will eventually come to grips with incalculable math wherein instinct, intuition and yes, even faith will be required to solve the riddles of life. He suggests quite boldly that there is even more to reality than what we can measure with science.

The horrors that befall Earth during the events in OMEGA SOL are devastating and Mackay doesn’t shy away from detailing them accurately in a cautionary example of how truly fragile a basket mankind has store all its eggs. There are times in the book when he narrowly avoids stereotyping Cameron and Pittman as the hero and villain. That he does so and enriches both of them with self-doubts and disbelief is small part of the overall excellence of this book. When I first picked up OMEGA SOL, I allowed myself one chapter to determine if I would finish it or not. That I couldn’t put it down, is why I’m here to give OMEGA SOL major thumbs up.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


By Shepard Rifkin
Hard Case Crime
254 pages

This is one hell of a good book. Unlike a lot of crime titles that aspire to the label of noire, this one delivers. It is a hard edged, brutal look at America in the early sixties set against the backdrop of racial prejudice as it existed in the Deep South.

Joe Dunne is a Korean War veteran who makes a decent living as a private eye in New York City. He’s even got a cute, blonde secretary named Kirby, a former Georgia peach. The trouble with Dunne is he’s wants more and that greed is his Achilles’ heel. When the son of a wealthy industrialist goes missing in Mississippi while working on voter registration for blacks, his father believes he’s been murdered. He hires Dunne not only to prove that assumption, but to find the men responsible and kill them. In short order Dunne is promised half a million dollars to murder five men. He accepts the jobs.

Dunne meticulously plans the assignment by creating a bogus identity for himself and Kirby, who has convinced him to bring her along as proper Southern camouflage. She is not aware of his actual mission and assumes he’s only looking for the murderers. Of course once they arrive in the sleepy little community of Okalusa, Dunne must play the part of a bigot to ingratiate himself with the suspects, one of which is the town’s redneck sheriff. It is a repulsive role and he despises himself for having to assume it. Through Kirby, Dunne sees the South as it truly is, a divided land still nursing its wounds from a hundred year old war with the North.

Rifkin captures the atmosphere of the times perfectly and although it was easy to see the tragic ending half way through the book, that is what noir is all about. Noir stories are about being trapped on a runaway train whose tracks go off the cliff. You see the wreck coming and there’s nothing you, or the protagonist, can do about it. Noir is being a victim of fate and that’s the tragedy of Joe Dunne. It’s a fate he chose for himself.

This is one of the finest noir thrillers ever penned. Kudos to Hard Case Crime for bringing it back. It deserves a huge audience.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Novel by Louise Simonson
Story by Jordan Goldberg
Ace Science Fiction
278 pages

A solid round of applause to Warner Brothers Animation for producing a truly marvelous new animated film in the continuing saga of Gotham City’s greatest detective. WB recruited several popular Batman comics scribes to contribute a story set during the interval time frame between BATMAN BEGINS and the soon to be released, DARK KNIGHT. The idea was to create a direct to DVD animated feature they could release while the sequel was playing in theaters around the world. What is truly exciting is that producer Bruce Timm opted to have each segment done overseas in Japan employing their brand of stylized cartooning known as anime. As a fan of animation, I’m most eager to see this movie when it debuts.

In the meanwhile, not one to miss a product opportunity, those same WB execs took the animation film script and had it novelized for the paperback market. They were also smart enough to assign it to Louise Simonson. Simonson, no stranger to comic scripting, took the separate elements from the movie and wove them together into a very neat, cohesive drama that effectively captures the somber tone of this Batman’s world.

It has only been a few weeks since the events depicted in BATMAN BEGINS and Jim Gordon and his team of detectives find themselves hard pressed to maintain law and order in the hell-hole that is Gotham. With the death of mob boss, Falcone, both the Italian and Russian gangs are battling each other to gain control of the city’s criminal underwold. Amidst carnage, the Scarecrow is still at large, directing an army of Arkham Asylum escapees, one of which is the mutant monster known as Killer Croc.

And if that wasn’t enough to keep billionaire Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego busy, a deadly super assassin, known as Deadshot, is responsible for several high profile murders. Word on the street is that his next target will be the Caped Crusader himself.

Novelizations are tricky as the writer generally has to pad the narrative to comply with normal book lengths that usually exceed film scripts. Still, the book should mirror the events of the movie it is based upon. Simonson not only attains that objective but also enhances the adventure with her own personal understanding of this truly iconic cultural hero. BATMAN GOTHAM KNIGHT is a good read and will appease even the most dedicated Bat-fans.