Wednesday, May 27, 2009


By Bonnie Kozek
iUniverse, Inc.
118 pgs

What are the odds I’d end up reviewing two books back to back whose protagonist is named Honey? Which is exactly what happened, but be warned, these ladies are about as different as night and day can be. Read on, MacDuff.

This book kicked me in the teeth. It’s an ugly slice of life few of us ever get to see, or want to for that matter. Which is why turning its pages was like sparring with a heavyweight. Every few scenes your get you jaw rocked and your gut punched. It hurts like hell, but once the literary adrenalin starts juicing, there’s no way you are going to stop. Of course the challenge here is to try and tell you what Bonnie Kozek writes like, when it’s damn near impossible. She’s an original. Imagine what kind of hard boiled fiction Mickey Spillane would have given us if he’d been a she? A sassy, angry, tough, twenty-first century dame with a story to tell. That’s Ms.Kozek.

Honey McGuinness grew up with a suicidal mother who wanted to share eternity with her. Only problem is, mom didn’t want to wait until nature ran its course and opted to punch both their tickets by taking a flying leap off a high-rise. She died, Honey lived. If you call the messed up life she endured from that point on was living. Sex, drugs and a little rock and roll, the girl walked on the wild side until it all became home, one she has no intentions of ever leaving.

“…what was I afraid of? I’d ingested, digested, shoved up my ass, and shot into my bloodstream every kind of consciousness-numbing intoxicant, narcotic, and medication known to man-and whatever I missed in my later years my sick-o mother shoved down my throat in the first sixteen. I was experienced, stoned and beautiful.”

When one of Honey’s homeless friends is gunned down in front of her apartment and left to bleed to death, her bleak, comfy world is shattered. Especially when she finds Billy was wired and the machine tape is still on his body. Was he a helpless pawn of the cops? A patsy sent into the drug flooded streets to be sacrificed to the scum? Honey believed her heart had turned to stone long ago but with Billy’s murder, she realizes, much to her own utter disbelief, that she gives a damn. Then she finds an unlikely ally in a goody-two-shoes rookie cop named Skinner. All of which propels Honey on yet another personal voyage through hell to uncover a truth too many powerful people want hidden permanently.

THRESHOLD is a brutal, take-no-prisoners adult thriller that paints a disturbing, factual picture of a culture most Americans will never know. Thank God for that. Whereas the fact that people do live like this is a crime against all mankind. Bravo to Bonnie Kozek for having the guts write about it. My only question is, why was this book published by a small, unknown publisher? If any book deserved to be a Hard Case Crime title, it’s this one. They just don’t come any meaner.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


By G.G. Fickling
Overlook Press
200 pgs.

Sexy, blond, private eye, Honey West, was created in 1957 by the husband and wife team of Gloria and Forest Fickling. She was a fashion writer and he covered sports; they wrote ten Honey West paperbacks under the pseudonym G.G. Fickling. Honey is notable for being one of the first female private detectives in popular fiction. She inspired a short lived TV series (1965-66) starring Anne Francis and was a very popular heroine until here retirement in 1971.

KISS FOR A KILLER is the sixth book in the series and is typical of most of them. When a professional football player, with whom she once had a fling, is run over by a steamroller, Honey takes it upon herself to get involved with the case, much to the chagrin of Deputy Sheriff, Mark Storm. Soon she’s caught up with a zany bunch of lethal nudists who have a lot to hide in more ways than one. The Fickling’s clearly wrote these as light, comedic tales and were ingenious in just how many times they could get poor Honey out of her clothes.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of truly creepy sequences in this story that are extremely well handled and make the book worth picking up. But be warned, the plot is paper thin and there are so many red herrings sprinkled throughout, it is sometimes hard to keep up with the determined Ms. West. New bodies keep popping up like dandelions on a spring lawn. In the end, Honey solves the case in her own unique style and walks off in the arms of the ruggedly handsome Deputy Storm.

If you are old enough to remember the TV series, you may be surprised by these books, as by the time Honey was brought to the small screen, she’d undergone a serious make-over to dampen her risqué (for that time) nature, although Ms. Francis certainly captured her allure and sensuality. This is the second Honey West book Overlook Press has released, the other being the first in the series, THIS GIRL FOR HIRE. Both are inexpensively priced and if you are looking for some fun, summer reading, you could do a lot worse than meeting Ms. Honey West.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Edited by Joe Gentile & Howard Hopkins
Moonstone Books
361 pages

One of the most original and enduring pulp heroes was a character known as the Avenger and another product of the successful Street & Smith publishing house. This was the same company that had given the world both the Shadow and Doc Savage, by far the most famous pulp characters of all time. The Avenger came about when the folks at Street & Smith came up with the idea of creating a new character who would combine both the mystery elements of the Shadow and the globe-trotting adventures of the Man of Bronze. The result was the dramatic story of Richard Henry Benson, a famed adventurer whose beloved wife and daughter are murdered by a ruthless gang of killers. Benson suffers a traumatic breakdown that not only turns his hair prematurely white, but at the same time deadens the nerves in his face so that it takes on a putty-like malleability thus allowing him to shape it in any manner he desires. Suddenly, with a little make up and a few wigs, Benson can become anybody. Seeing this bizarre ability as a sign, he opts not to wallow in self-pity, but to devote his life from that moment on to the cause of righting wrongs for other victims like himself. He soon recruits a band of loyal follower, each of them with their own personal history of loss at the hands of criminals, and thus is born Justice, Inc.

The series was written by pulp veteran Paul Ernst and although the stories were extremely well done and very popular with the fans, the title was doomed to a short run. It had the misfortune of coming on the scene as the door was closing on the pulp era wherein economic hard times and paper shortages were forcing all the major publishers to cut back on their output. The Avenger was one of the early casualties of this media demise.

Now pulp fans can take rejoice, as the Avenger and his entire team are back in a terrific anthology featuring eighteen brand new adventures by some of today’s finest action writers. Here are Nellie Gray, the spitfire blonde, Smitty, the veritable seven foot electrical genius, Fergus MacMurdie, the Scottish chemist, Josh and Rosabel Newton, the African American husband and wife team and the debonair Cole Wilson; all of them willingly racing into danger at their leader’s bidding. The stories themselves pit them against assassins, mad scientists, and killer robots all penned by today’s modern pulp scribes to include Mark Justice, Martin Powell, and Ron Goulart amongst others.

This reviewer would be hard pressed to pick a favorite in this collection, as all eighteen are truly great, fast paced action yarns. Kudos to editors Joe Gentile (a true pulp enthusiast and promoter) and Howard Hopkins (an authority on the Avenger) for putting these pulse pounding new chapters in the life of one of pulpdom’s greatest heroes. This is one of the best pulp anthologies ever produced. Here’s hoping there are future volumes in the works. You can never have too much of a good thing.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


By Jason Starr
Hard Case Crime
Available May 26
253 pages

This is one of the grittiest, most hypnotic novels I’ve ever read. True to classic noir, it introduces the reader to a luckless schmuck with illusions of grandeur and then proceeds to suck him into a bottom-less pit of crime and insanity. Like the gory roadside crash on the highway that compels us to slow down and stare at mutilated figures, once we meet would be actor and bouncer, Tommy Russo, we become his shadow and watch helplessly as his life unravels thread by agonizing thread.

In his early thirties, Russo is a gambling addict and all-around loser who lies to himself about one day hitting the big score at the tracks or getting an acting gig that will instantly catapult him to fame and glory. When he is offered an opportunity to join a small syndicate of men in buying a race horse, Tommy sees it as his one big chance to grab the brass ring of life and become a winner. But to join he’ll have to come up with ten thousand dollars, which he of course doesn’t have.

Using his good looks, Tommy seduces an old girlfriend and steals her jewelry. He pawns the stolen baubles for seed money, believing he can win at the tracks and thus earn his stake in the proposed syndicate. Of course he only ends up losing the money, making the girl suspicious and in the process he becomes even more desperate. Enough to rob the safe in the bar where he is employed by a man who trust him like a son.

Starr’s writing is economic to a fault, sparing little verbiage on anything other than Tommy’s cold, cruel, irrational look at the world. Within the first chapters the reader realizes the guy has no real grasp of reality and is on a one way trip to hell. How that doom befalls him is both ironic and pathetic.

FAKE I.D. is a nasty piece of work and thus a delicious noir experience you will not soon forget. Powerful stuff.