Thursday, August 25, 2011

SENTINELS - Stellarax

SENTINELS – Stellarax
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
311 pages

When Van Allen Plexico first introduced us to the world of the Sentinels way back in book number one “When Strikes The Warlord,” I doubt any of us had a clue what a wild ride he was about to take us all on.  And before we get too deeply into this review, here’s a fact you need to be aware of; “Sentinels – Stellarax” is the sixth book in a series and yes, it is necessary to have read the first five to both understand and enjoy this book.  So those of you who have not read those earlier books, you may want to forego this review altogether. But again, be forewarned, I am about to rant and rave about how much fun this volume is and you may find yourself tempted to dig into your piggy banks and go out and buy those other five books. As well you should.

Don’t get me wrong here, continuing series have been a part of science fiction since it first appeared back in the early days of the pulps.  E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series comes to mind immediately, then there was Asimov’s Foundation books, Richard Adams Horseclan Saga and most recently, Peter David’s New Frontier Star Trek paperbacks.  All of them series, all of them dependent on readers starting from the beginning to keep abreast of each new chapter and plot evolution.  The Sentinels is no different than those classics and honestly just as imaginative and wonderful.

Plexico’s conceit was to take the super heroics he had found as a child in comic books and bring that same wild and crazy out-of-this-world action to prose.  That he does so effortlessly is evidence of his genuine skills as a writer and with each new book he delivers, he only gets better.

Now for you loyal readers who have been following along, you are well aware that when we left our merry band of Earth super-heroes and their alien allies, they were assembled on a massive platform in orbit over the planet Earth as it was being confronted by four of the most powerful entities in the universe, known as the Rivals.  Each of these god-like beings had similar twin goals, to vanquish the other three and conquer the Earth.  It was up to our gang of heroes to defeat them and save the day.  It was the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers and I could not wait to dig into this, the final book of this second overriding story arc to see what happened next.

Led by genius industrial inventor, Esro Brachis, the Sentinels include Pulsar, a lovely  young woman Asian American with amazing powers, Captain Mondrian, a tall, red-skinned alien member of the Elite Kur-Bai Starfleet, Shiva, a one time British agent now the embodiment of the Hindu god wielding a Trident of Destruction and a teen boy who has inherited the powerful golden armor of a Star Knight.  Of course there are other members of the cast, but for the most part these are the focus of this adventure and how they manage to outwit the overwhelming superiority of the four Rivals is simply ingenious and a joy to behold.  Plexico’s ability to keep the action moving at hyper-speed while every so often offering up an important flashback sequence is akin the juggler hurling a half-dozen chainsaws over his head.  One slip…and oops, the end.  That he continues to keep every character in place at the same time answering questions posed in the early books is simply fantastic.

From unstoppable blue foam known as the Blight that consumes everything in its path to space born zombies raining down on the Earth, “Sentinels – Stellarax” is action packed.  It is easily the best book in the series and that’s no small achievement.  When any reader invest so much time with such a continuing saga, there is a natural expectation that the pay-offs at the end had better to be spectacular.  Plexico delivers nothing less each and every time.  I, for one, can’t wait for the next one.  Long live the Sentinels!

Friday, August 19, 2011


By Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
211 pages
Available Sept.20, 2011

Max Allan Collins started writing his Quarry books back in 1976 with The Broker.  It was the first time we were introduced to the Vietnam vet turned paid assassin.  In that tale, we learned how Quarry, not his real name of course, came home to find his wife in bed with another man.  He murders the guy by dropping a car on him and then, because of his service record as a war hero, is acquitted by jury.  Shortly thereafter he is recruited by a man known only as the Broker to become a professional killer.

In the books that have appeared since that stellar debut, that opening scenario has often been retold many times to bring the new readers up to speed.  Recently, since becoming affiliated with Hard Case Crime, Collins has begun filling in specific details of Quarry’s life, each more compelling than the last.  In this particular book, we are told what happened to Quarry’s ex-wife after they divorced and parted.  But Quarry’s personal life is, as always case, only the subplot of the story.

Quarry has come to a small Arizona town where a movie studio is shooting an action B movie.  When he discovers that the director of the film is the target of a hit, Quarry approaches the man and offers his own lethal services to both eliminate the threat and discover who put out the contract in the first place.  It is this neat little twist combination of mystery and crime thriller that makes this series so original and fun.  Quarry is no knight-in-shining armor private eye out to save the world.  He’s a killer who makes a good living taking out other killers.

Once the first part of his contract has been efficiently resolved, Quarry is a master of death-dealing, he then becomes a detective chasing down the person who put out the contract on the moviemaker.  As always, there are plenty of juicy suspects from the mob boss who is financing the project to the director’s wife who inherits all if he dies.  The problem is the woman is Quarry’s ex-wife.  The second he lays eyes on her, old familiar feelings he thought long dead begin to resurface, complicating an already precarious situation.

Paying homage to the potboilers of the 40s and 50s, Collins laces his tale with the most outrageous sexual encounters; all done with a sly, sharp wit that is ingratiating.  At the same time he balances that adult humor with explosive violence that is as mesmerizing as it is ugly.  His prose falls into place with the deft touch of a contemporary poet, each line awakening a new possibility in how we see the world.  Reading Quarry is an education in human psychology taught from the barrel of a silenced automatic.

(Postscript – This review was written and posted last year when the book was first published by Dorchester Press.  Shortly thereafter Hard Case Crime parted company with that firm and this new edition is now being released by their new British publisher, Titan Books.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


By Lawrence Block
(Writing as Jill Emerson)
Hard Case Crime
335 pages
Release Date 20 Sept 2011

One of the classic traits of a noire crime story is the protagonist being an unsympathetic character.  The history of American literature took a sharp left turn when this new genre came into its own, evolving from the hardcore crime pulps of the 1930s.  Till then, the majority of books generally portrayed the central figures as worthy of the readers’ admiration when they behaved in true heroic style, or sympathetic when they did not.  But either way, one was able to identify with the characters.

Noire changed all that and GETTING OFF is a truly fitting example of the genre as the lead character is a female sociopath without a conscience.  Early in the tale we learn that Kit Tolliver was sexually abused by her father from a very young age.  But whether that abuse caused her unrelenting psychosis is not argued in the slightest, as her personal response to it is to coldly murder total strangers.  Block does make it clear that Kit is in some bizarre mentally deranged way killing her father over and over again with each new man she sleeps with.  What he does not do his judge her for it and therein lies the perspective that is truly unsettling.

At times the book’s heavy handedness slips into black comedy territory and the prevailing humor is twisted in its perversity.  Along Kit’s journey of life, and death-dealing, she logically encounters partners who are just as sick as she is.  In those scenes it is all too easy to start rooting for her as if she is somehow more worthy of survival then the other monsters she has crossed paths with.  The last noire thriller to have bothered me this much was Jim Thompson’s classic THE KILLER INSIDE ME.  And like that book, this one is not for the faint of heart.

In the end, GETTING OFF is a cautionary tale about the sexual mores of our times and the dangerous waters singles, and cheaters, swim in.  Let them read GETTING OFF and I guarantee you they will think twice about their next plunge into those dark depths where the toothy sharks prowl.

Friday, August 05, 2011

THE ROOK - Volume Six.

(Volume 6)
By Barry Reese
Pro-Se Productions
186 pgs

Like many of the Rook’s dedicated fans, I’ve been very anxious to read the latest volume in this marvelous new pulp series; especially since it is the first such debuting from Reese’s new publisher, Pro-Se Productions.  Shifts from one publisher to another can produce some bumps in the road but I was very happy to see  this transition was handled smoothly.  In fact this may be the best Rook collection ever produced.

Allow me to add that the author himself has publicly stated he was not completely satisfiend with his recent outings as his large supporting cast somehow began to take over the center spotlight away from the series’ star, crime-busting avenger, Max Davies.  Davies, for those of you just now becoming acquainted with this series, is a wealthy, Atlanta based business man who leads a secret life as the avenger known world wide as the Rook.  Through the previous five volumes published via Wild Cat Books, we’ve learned of Davies’ history, the murder of his father and subsequent haunting that propelled him into his career as a vigilante.  We’ve met his closest friends, hero allies and a gang of some of the most dastardly villains ever to grace a pulp yarn.

With this latest entry in the Rook saga, we’re given three exceptional stories that move at lightning speed and offer up thrills galore.  The first and longest tale has the Rook going up against a classic German pulp hero from the 1930s, Sun Koh, a Prince from Atlantis who time travels from the past to the 30s in an effort to save his people and the Aryan race.  Sun Koh was an authentic pulp character whose exploits were ended when the Nazis regime, who despised the fanciful literature of the pulps, became threatened by his popularity.  The battle between these two unyielding giants is a real clash of titans, never mind that Reese also throws in three very saucy female Axis agents known as the Furies.  (The cover alone says it all.)

The second and shortest story is a weird outing about a haunted western town and the curse put upon.  The opportunity to see the Rook as a “cowboy” works extremely well and is a real hoot.  Finally the volume closes with the Rook teaming up with as yet another Reese creation, Lazarus Gray and his Sovereign City team known as Assistance Unlimited. They are Reese’s tip of the pulp fedora to the Avenger and his Justice, Inc. In this auspicious meeting, the Rook and Gray hunt a lunatic serial killer who is under the influence of a spectral being calling herself Lady Death.

Barry Reese’s Rook series is one of the major highlights of the New Pulp Fiction movement sweeping the American literary scene.  If you are not reading them yet, it’s time you got caught up on the fun.