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.