Tuesday, September 22, 2009


By William Patrick Maynard
Black Coat Press
242 pages

One of the most popular pulp villains of all time was Sax Rohmer’s Chinese mastermind, Dr. Fu Manchu. Rohmer was the penname of Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward, a prolific British novelist born in 1883 and died in 1959. Rohmer’s first introduced the character in The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu, which ran as a magazine serial between 1912-13. It was an immediate success with its fast paced action centered on Sir Denis Nayland Smith and his companion, Dr. Petrie, taking on the world wide conspiracy of the “Yellow Peril.” The character went on to be featured in motion pictures and television with such notable actors as Warner Oland, Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee in the menacing role.

Now for the first time in many, many years we have a brand new, authorized adventure by William Patrick Maynard and it is a gem. Maynard’s style perfectly captures the voice of Dr.Petrie, the stiff-lipped hero/chronicler who battles valiantly alongside his courageous boyhood pal, Nayland Smith. Maynard has clearly done his homework and he peppers the narrative with many references to the duo’s past sorties against the fiendish leader of the Si Fan, the Chinese secret society devoted to world domination and the destruction of the British Empire.

This particular case revolves around a retired cleric whose autobiography contains the whereabouts of a precious, long lost ancient artifact said to contain powers that could destroy all of mankind. As Smith and Petrie take up the hunt, they quickly find themselves not only battling Fu Manchu and his Si Fan, but a second mysterious organization, one steeped in the occult and devil worship. Amidst this contest between two equally deadly groups, our heroes must win out or the civilization is doomed. From London to Paris, the action moves at a breakneck pace with a marvelous collection of truly memorable characters, both good and evil.

I particularly liked how deftly Fu Manchu was described, Maynard opting to give the figure a subtle, devious villainy and not turn him into a cardboard stereotype. In doing so he has delivered one of the finest pulp novels of the year and a worthy addition to the canon of Sax Rohmer’s thrilling saga. If you’ve never read a Fu Manchu tale, this is a terrific place to get started. This is pulp at its best.

Friday, September 11, 2009


By Peter Leonard
Minotaur Books
290 pages

If you are an avid reader, then you are well aware of writer Elmore Leonard and his rise from an obscure pulp writer in the 40s and 50s to one of the country’s bestselling crime novelist. Although in those early years, Leonard was quite successful as a western writer, it was his shift to oddball crime stories that cemented his popularity among critics and readers alike. Of course it didn’t hurt that brash, innovative filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino adapted Leonard’s work to the movies as well.

Now I bring this all up to introduce this, the second novel by Elmore’s son, Peter Leonard. According to the book’s front and back cover blurbs, this is his second book and the first, called QUIVER, seems to have elicited much critical praise. Having not read that book, I can’t opine one way or the other. Rather it is TRUST ME that has now introduced me to Peter Leonard and I have mixed feelings about it.

No surprise that he would write a twisted, noir crime tale in the same vein as his father. This acorn has really not fallen very far from the tree, I only wish it was much more grounded like the originating timber. Karen Delaney is a beautiful, Detroit based model, who has been ripped off by her former boyfriend, a thuggish Chaldean immigrant named Samir. She foolishly hands him $300,000 to invest for her. When they break up, after he physically abuses her, she finds herself unable to get the money back. Desperate, Karen decides to hire local thugs to steal the money back. Of course once she sets this scheme into motion, it quickly goes awry. Within twenty four hours of the theft, two people are dead and Karen is running for her life with an eclectic bunch of hoods on her tail to include two Iraqi veterans of Saddam’s Royal Guard and an ex-Detroit cop name O’Clair, who is one tough dude.

Half way through the book, I found myself both enjoying and being annoyed by it. The story’s premise is fine and the action moves at a really fast pace. All too the good, but lost in the process is any real characterization, save for the two principle characters, Karen and O’Clair, everyone else seems totally one-dimensional and sometimes hard to tell apart. Then the writer starts playing footloose with the narrative’s time, much like those Tarantino movies I mentioned earlier. Which definitely did not work here and really stopped the flow of story like an unexpected detour roadblock. An example, in one scene a character is brutally murdered and dumped in a hotel closet, then in the very next scene appears at Karen’s door, very much alive. Huh? It took this reader a few minutes to realize Leonard had gone back in time for the second scene.

Sorry, but what works on the big silver screen was never intended for the pages of a book. That’s the lesson he needs to learn. If he wants to write screenplays, I say go for it, but books don’t work this way. In the end, TRUST ME, is a freshmen work by a writer with a lot of talent. Here’s hoping future efforts will improve and not repeat these early miscues.

Friday, September 04, 2009


By Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
208 pages
Available 27 Oct.

First up let’s have no misunderstandings here, the release of a new Quarry novel is always cause for celebration amongst mystery and crime readers. Max Allan Collins’s prose is lean and mean in the best pulp sense. So a few chapters into this one, I suddenly find myself chuckling, “Shades of Yojimbo!!”

Back in 1961, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa dropped the film world on its derrier with an outlandish period drama called Yojimbo. In the movie a masterless samurai, played by Toshiro Mifune, arrives in a small town where competing crime lords make their money from gambling. He convinces each crime lord to hire him as protection from the other. By the time this conniving swordsman is done, he’s manipulated both gangs in wiping each other. He then cleans up the remnants with his lightning fast sword.

The film was such a huge international hti. Kurosawa said in later interviews that he was inspired by the American film noir classic, The Glass Key, based on a story by Dashiel Hammett’s 1931 novel. It is obvious there is something about this particular plot that fires the imagination of both writers and artist because, after seeing Yojimbo, in 1964 Italian director Sergio Leone remade it as the western A Fist Full of Dollars, starring Clint Eastwood and then in 1996, director Walter Hill took his shot, filming it as The Last Man Standing. This time it’s a Depression Era gangster theme, almost bringing it full circle with Hammett’s original tale.

And now we have QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE, the title itself being a tip off that we are about to revisit this classic plot, but in a very fresh and nasty way. Quarry, the enigmatic hero of the book finds himself in the river town of Hadee’s Port, having trailed another assassin there. In previous books, Quarry had stopped working for others and become an independent contractor. Once in the little burg, he quickly learns it is a wide open gambling town run by two gangs with strong connections to the Chicago mob, each annoyed by the other and each trying to get the upper hand.

Quarry waste no time in playing both sides against the middle, at the same dealing with the hired gun. He maneuvers himself into a position of trust with the expatriate Brit, Richard Cornell, running the high class casino. Once Quarry proves to Cornell that someone on the other side is trying to take him down, Cornell waste no time hiring him to discover who has put out a contract on him and then take them out. It’s a dangerous cat and mouse game, particularly when there are a lot of the felines and only one rodent. Bodies start to fall like dominos and eventually Quarry’s impromptu game of cards falls apart leaving him exposed, beaten to an inch of his life and about to buy the dirt farm of eternity.

This book, like all Quarry tales, is as addictive as a jar of salted nuts. Once you’ve eaten one, you know damn well the entire bowl is going to get emptied before you’re done. So pour yourself a tall cold one, grab that bag of nuts and kick your shoes off. QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE is an audacious ride over familiar territory, but delivered in a knee-to-the-groin kick that is just too damn much fun. Nobody does it better than Collins!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


By Brian Herbert & Kevin J.Anderson
Tor Books
448 pages

Within every revolution, there exist the seeds of its own destruction. This is the overriding message of this new chapter in the Dune saga begun back in 60s with the release of Frank Herbert’s amazing novel, DUNE. Herbert was a farseeing visionary who extrapolated on the future of mankind, interweaving the politics, religions and economic factors that would shape our tomorrows. His vision was brilliant in that it foresaw our ultimate dependency on fossil fuels as a race and our slow, burgeoning awareness that the health of our very planet was tied to the abuses of that hunger. Only he made it all happen on a world called Arrakis and the oil there was something called spice.

During his lifetime, Herbert wrote five sequels to his bestselling book, ending with CHAPTERHOUSE : DUNE. In 1999, Herbert son’s Brian, and writer Kevin J.Anderson, working from notes left by the author, began a new series of prequel novels that would tell the saga of this universe before the events of DUNE. Since that time they have completed more than a half dozen such books. But with THE WINDS OF DUNE, the two have come back to the original series and taken on the challenging task of filling in some missing gaps left in those early books.

Herbert’s second and third sequels were DUNE MESSIAH and CHILDREN OF DUNE respectively. At the end of the first, young Paul Atriedes, known as the Fremen Prophet Muab’ Dib, has come to realize his empire is corrupt and his own legend a major element of that corruption. Blinded by an assassin’s bomb, Paul makes the hard decision to exit the stage of history and walks off into the deep desert of Arrakis to die, leaving behind his younger sister, the insane Alia, to take control of the empire and the raising of his twin babies, Chani, their mother having died in childbirth. When Herbert returned to the saga with CHILDREN OF DUNE, many years had passed and the twins were young adults, being cared for by Princess Irulan and Paul’s own mother, the Lady Jessica.

It was an abrupt change that left many unanswered questions as to the events that took place immediately after Paul’s exodus and fans have long wondered about those early months following the end of DUNE OF MESSIAH. Now, with this book, they have their answers, as it attempts to fill in that missing time and explain some of the dramatic, early repercussions of the Prophet’s death.

Alia is manic in her desire to protect and preserve everything her brother had created, to the point of obsessive cruelty to all who would dare stand in her way. Hearing of her son’s death, Lady Jessica travels to Arrakis to be of assistance and soon begins to fathom the true moral decay that has infected her son’s regime and the savage legacy Alia is attempting to maintain. The main plot centers about Alia’s attempts to capture a former ally of Paul’s, one Bronso, who has begun writing critical essays denouncing Paul’s godhood and exposing his myth for the fraud it always was. But Lady Jessica is not of the same mind, having been entrusted long ago by her son with a secret so profound, it would destroy any who learned of it. Thus she must somehow honor her son’s memory and fulfill her obligation to him, even if it means conspiring against her own daughter.

THE WINDS OF DUNE is filled with the same psychological complexities that were a hallmark of Frank Herbert’s books. It twists and turns on matters of trust, loyalty and the meaning of honor. Familiar characters are brought back to life with poignant clarity and the suspense and tension never let up. Even knowing what comes next in CHILDREN OF DUNE, I was hooked by this tale and enjoyed it immensely. It is a worthy addition to the DUNE saga.