Sunday, December 30, 2012


By Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
Grand Central Publishing
484 pages

Several years ago a very good friend gave me two paperback novels for Christmas.  They were “The Cabinet of Curiosities” and “Still Life with Crows,” both by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. They were my first introduction to Special FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast and one I’ve been most grateful for ever since.

The Pendergast books are the epitome of modern pulp thrillers harkening back to the grand old hero magazines of the 1930s and they clearly evoke the same escapist fare prevalent in those series.  Upon becoming a fan of the tall, gaunt Southern bred Pendergast, it soon became clear to me that he was the true heir to famous pulp avenger of old.  For if Clive Cussler’s sea-going hero, Dirk Pitt, can be called the modern day Doc Savage, something many of his ardent followers still claim, then Pendergast is our new Shadow.  Like that black clad nemesis of evil who “knew what lurked in the hearts of men,” Agent Pendergast is a most unique and extraordinary character.  He is wealthy and thus his career is an avocation of personal interest.  He is learned with several degrees, skilled in both philosophical and martial arts while a crack shot with most weapons.  Add to this the fact he also has knowledge of obscure and ancient arcane practices and rituals while possessing certain uncanny abilities which border on the supernatural and you have a genuine pulp hero for our times.

Since discovering this series, I’ve relished each new entry and have never once been disappointed by authors’ efforts.  Along with such an unforgettable main character, the books feature many truly amazing supporting characters from Pendergast’s allies ala New York Lt. Detective Vincent D’Agosta to his exotic young ward, Constance Greene who, though she appears to be in her early twenties, is actually over a hundred years old because of a strange elixir that has prolonged her youth. The genius of Preston and Lincoln is how they make the fantastic elements of each book as believable as the normal ones.

Now “Two Graves” ends a trilogy story arc begun in “Fever Dream” and continued in “Cold Vengeance.”  For twelve years, Agent Pendergast believed his beloved wife, Helen, had been killed by a lion on their honeymoon safari in Africa.  When evidence surfaces that proves her death was faked and that she might still be among the living, it propels Pendergast on the most important case he has ever confronted.  To say the story has been a roller coaster of action and suspense would be a truly gross understatement and the revelations in this final chapter are mind-boggling.  From a psychotic serial killer in Manhattan to a hidden Nazis eugenics camp in the jungles of Brazil, “Two Graves” is hands down the best Agent Pendergast novel ever written and this fan would never make that claim lightly.  Were the series to end at this point, I would hazard most readers would be content with the established canon as it now stands.

Of course, being fans, we will always want more; lots more.  But being a somewhat discriminating reviewer, it is difficult for me to imagine Preston and Child topping this book.  It is clearly their Agent Pendergast masterpiece.

Monday, December 24, 2012


By Terrence McCauley
Airship 27 Productions
181 pages
Now on Kindle
Guest Reviewer – Derrick Ferguson

I’m going to get to talking about PROHIBITION in a bit, I promise. But first, I gotta relate a little story that will assist me in making my opening point. Okay? Thank you for your patience and sit back. Here it goes:

Couple of weeks ago I’m having a Skype conversation with a gentleman who is incensed that I don’t like “Hobo With A Shotgun.” It’s a perfect modern grindhouse movie he insists. No, I politely disagree. “Planet Terror” is a a perfect modern grindhouse movie. The gentleman spends the next two minutes expressing his opinion that whatever it is I allegedly use for thinking must be composed of excrement and another minute telling me that “Planet Terror” is garbage and why on Earth do I think it’s the better movie.
“Because,” says I, “Robert Rodriguez knows what grindhouse is. The guys who made ‘Hobo With A Shotgun’ just think they know what grindhouse is.”

Which finally brings me to PROHIBITION by Terrence McCauley. We’ve got a lot of New Pulp writers who think they know what a 1930’s gangster story is. But Terrence McCauley knows what a 1930’s gangster story. Man, does he ever.

We’re in New York, 1930. The town is run by Archie Doyle, the city’s most powerful gangster who is more like the monarch of an unruly kingdom. And there’s somebody out there looking to take his crown. Archie’s got an ambitious plan in mind that will give him more power than he’s ever dreamed of before. But he’s got to stay alive long enough to see that plan through. That’s where his chief enforcer Terry Quinn comes in. Terry’s an ex-boxer and the toughest mug on two legs. But finding out who’s trying to start a bloody gang war between Archie Doyle and his main rival, Howard Rothman is going to take more than just being tough. Quinn is going to have to rely on his street smarts and think his way through this. Of course, shooting and slugging his way to the guilty party helps an awful lot, too.

PROHIBITION has a lot going for it, mainly that McCauley isn’t afraid to write characters who aren’t likeable at all. But that’s okay with me. As long as I know why the characters are doing what they’re doing and understand their motivations, I’m cool. McCauley is writing about people who have chosen a dark, dangerous and violent life and he stays true to that. That’s not to say he doesn’t find the humanity in them. He does. It’s just a humanity that manifests itself within the terms and parameters of the concrete jungle his characters have chosen to inhabit for whatever reasons people have to live a life of crime. This wasn’t an easy period in American history to live in and people had to make hard choices. The characters in PROHIBITION have to make the hardest choices of all since the wrong one can get them killed.

A lot of New Pulp writers figure that to write a 1930’s gangster story you just have to have pseudo-tough talking wanna-be’s sounding more like Slip Mahoney than real gangsters run around shooting Tommy guns. McCauley understands that the most successful gangsters of that era ran their organizations like businesses. The business just happens to be crime is all. Violence wasn’t their first resort to solve every problem. It was just as useful and as profitable to know when not to use violence as it was to know when to use it.

I appreciated the smartness of these characters. The way they talk to each other, maneuvering to gain an edge through words makes for some really solid dialog. The relationship between Archie Doyle and Terry Quinn reminds me a lot of the relationship between the Albert Finney/Gabriel Byrne characters from “Miller’s Crossing.” Imagine if Gabriel Byrne’s character was an authentic badass who knew how to fight instead of getting his ass kicked all the time and you’ll get what I mean. Terry Quinn is a guy who knows how to work the angles and his navigation through this gleefully violent story is an enjoyable one to read.

And like any good gangster story, McCauley doesn’t skimp on the sex and violence. If you want cute gangsters who pal around and crack jokes then go watch “Johnny Dangerously” because you’re not going to find that in PROHIBITION. I appreciated the tough, hard story McCauley is telling and the even tougher, harder characters who speak and talk pretty much the way I expect gangsters of that era to behave.

I’m sure that there are some who are going to be uncomfortable or even turned off by the language and that there isn’t really an ‘heroic’ character to root for. Terry Quinn is a killer and extraordinarily violent man who doesn’t make apologies for how he lives his life. Most readers like to have a lead character to root for and while Terry’s misplaced sense of honor and loyalty lifts him a notch above most of the other characters in the book that doesn’t mean he’s anywhere near being on the side of the angels. But it’s precisely because of that misplaced honor and loyalty that makes him such an enjoyable protagonist to read about.

And I can’t wrap up this review without mentioning the wonderful illustrations by Rob Moran which do an excellent job of capturing the mood and feel of the story. I’m willing to bet next month’s rent that Rob Moran has seen a lot of those great classic Warner Brothers black-and-white gangster epics of the 30’s and 40’s as that’s the feeling I got from his illustrations.

So should you read PROHIBITION? Absolutely. It’s not only a terrific way to spend a couple of quality reading hours, it’s also an important book in the evolution of New Pulp. It’s exciting to see books like this that adds another genre to expand what New Pulp is and can be. The bread-and-butter of New Pulp are the masked avengers, the jungle lords and the scientific adventurers, sure. But there’s plenty of room for sports stories, romance, westerns and private eyes. And in the last couple of years we’ve seen those. Hard-boiled crime stories are just as much a Classic Pulp tradition and I’m delighted to see it being continued and represented in New Pulp. Most definitely put PROHIBITION on your Must Read List. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


By Robert Goldsborough
A Book
221 pages

If you are a lover of books, then the passing of a favorite writer brings on a great deal of sadness; especially if that writer had been the author of a well loved series.  Such was the case for thousands of mystery lovers when Rex Stout passed away in 1975.  For all intents and purposes this also brought about the demise of his beloved characters, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

The following eleven years saw most of Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries reprinted countless times in various editions; all of them treasured by his fans.  Still the thrill of joining these familiar figures on new cases seemed to be a lost cause.  Then, in 1994, journalist Robert Goldsborough wrote “Murder in E Minor,” a brand new Nero Wolfe mystery much to the delight of the majority of Stout fans.  Note, I say majority.  In matters such as these, there will always be the vocal purists who see new stories as sacrilegious and prefer such fictional heroes end their careers with the death of their creators.  We are clearly not of that attitude.  We thoroughly enjoyed Goldsborough’s efforts and felt he had captured Archie’s voice perfectly.  He would go on to write six additional titles in the series ending them in 1994 with “The Missing Chapter.” 

At which point, annoyed by the criticism of that minority we mentioned, Goldsborough went on to create his own original mystery series featuring a Chicago reporter of the past named Snap Malek.  Several of these have won prestigious genre literary awards.  Still, when looking at our Nero Wolfe titles on our bookshelf, we regularly hoped that some day he would return to that familiar brownstone on West Thirty-Fifth Street in which dwells the rotund detective and his handsome legman, Archie Goodwin.  That he has done so in such a spectacular fashion is a cause for unabashed celebration.

Not only has Goldsborough answered our pleas, but he has gone beyond our wildest dreams in offering up the story Rex Stout never did; the tale of Archie’s first meeting with Nero Wolfe.  Painstakingly culling through Stout’s canon, Goldsborough took the slim nuggets seeded throughout the dozens of books and short stories and meticulously put them together in a working timeline.  From these morsels he then went on to craft a truly complete and traditional Nero Wolfe mystery only with a major difference; we finally are allowed to witness the first ever meeting between these two remarkable characters. Let us assure you, it was worth the wait.  Reading “Archie Meets Nero Wolfe,” had us remembering our teenage high school days when we first picked up our first Wolfe paperback.  This book is in essence a joyous family reunion.

It should be noted that the very first Nero Wolfe mystery, “Fer-De-Lance,” appeared in 1934 during the days of the Great Depression.  Goldsborough deftly sets his story in the same era wonderfully researching his background for authentic slang, clothing, automobiles and the city itself so the reader is transported back into that time. 

Now the book’s actual mystery plot resolves around a rich hotelier’s eight year old son being kidnapped.  The man hires the famous Nero Wolfe to save the boy.  Wolfe, as is his habit, then recruits his regular group of private investigators; all of whom are quite familiar to any fan of the series.  Only this time there’s a new face in the crowd, an eager beaver fresh of the bus from Ohio who has connected himself with operative Del Bascomb.  His name is Archie Goodwin and he is very, very eager to show Wolfe how capable he is.  As ever Goldsborough delivers a true by-the-rules puzzle astute readers will relish in trying to solve before Wolfe’s traditional in-house gathering at the finale.  But the true heart of this book is the fun in watching a young, brash, would be private-eye encounter the man who is going to be his mentor and closest friend.  Goldsborough again captures Archie’s voice brilliantly and in doing so takes us on the ride we’ve all been waiting for a long, long time.

Mystery fans, if you or a loved one is a Nero Wolfe fan, you could not give them a better Christmas gift this year than, “Archie Meets Nero Wolfe.”  Then watch the smiles on their faces when they unwrap this truly great book.  Tell them Santa sent you.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

THE EXECUTIONER - Border Offensive

Border Offensive
By Joshua Reynolds (really)
Gold Eagle
187 pages

We were discharged from the U.S. Army and returned civilian life upon our return home from Vietnam in the summer of 1968.  Sometime shortly after that major life change, we picked up a paperback book from a new publisher called Gold Eagle; the book was “Mack Bolan – The Excutioner” and the author was Don Pendleton.  It told the story of a Vietnam veteran who comes home to Massachusetts to bury his family, all dead because of the local Mafia which the police cannot bring to justice because of lack of evidence.

Incensed that while he was fighting for his country in a foreign land, his own loved ones were being victimized back home, Bolan realizes he’s been fighting the wrong war.  He goes AWOL, arms himself and retaliates against the local mobsters responsible for killing his family. By the book’s end he is a fugitive on the run but oddly content with his new role; that of an avenging angel who will take on the mob with no regards to his own safety.  He will become their Executioner and do what the law cannot; mete out justice.

It was heady stuff but even to a twenty-one year old reader, it was also very familiar.  Having learned about pulp fiction and their history over the years, it was all too easy to recognize this new paperback series was in fact a brand new attempt at mass market pulp fiction and in his own way, Mack Bolan, had become the Shadow of our times.  Confirmation of that theory quickly followed when Gold Eagle not only began issuing new Bolan adventures monthly but also debut another series about a secret agent trained in martial arts called The Destroyer by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir.  Just like that these two on-going action packed series launched an entire two version of American paperback pulps that would flourish throughout the 1970s.  Within months other paperback companies were putting forth their own wild and wooly series from the Black Samurai, to the Lone Wolf, the Chameleon and the Baroness to name on a very few.  By the end of that decade there were dozens of these on the bookstore racks.

Off course Pendleton, being only human after all, couldn’t possibly keep churning out book after book after book. Thus the editors of Gold Eagle adopted another practice of the old pulps; they hired ghost writers to produce books all under Pendleton’s name. As this became the norm, even after his death, the true author was given their due credit on the indicia page with the phrase, “Special thanks and acknowledgement to John Smith for his contributions to this work.”  Over the past forty years dozens of authors have found their name in this sentence.  Which brings us to this latest Executioner adventure and its author, new pulp writer Joshua Reynolds.

Being familiar with Reynolds work on reviving classic pulp characters ala Jim Anthony Super Detective and Dan Fowler G-Man, we decided it was time to revisit Mack Bolan after almost twenty years and see if anything had changed in the set formula of the books. Happily the tried and true elements were still there; tons of violent action with a stalwart hero who preserves despite all manner of physical duress.  Reynolds easily slips on the Executioner styling opening the book with Bolan in Mexico having just destroyed a drug cartel’s money making poppy fields.  On his way back to the states, he runs afoul of a group of Texas coyotes; men who smuggle illegal Mexican immigrants across the border for cash.  Knowing these characters to be merciless thugs, Bolan opts to investigate the situation and inadvertently interferes with an undercover border agent’s plan to bring down the two sadistic brothers running the operation.

Then Bolan and his new ally discover the coyotes are working for an al Qaeda agent named Turiq Ibn Tumart who plans on infiltrating the ranks of the poor Mexican workers with one hundred al Qaeda terrorists and in this manner smuggle them into the U.S. to wreak whatever murder and destruction they can perpetrate on unsuspecting American cities.  Now it’s up to Bolan and the young agent to find a way to stop this deadly convoy and destroy both the coyotes and their fanatical Jadhists allies.

“The Executioner – Border Offensive,” is an excellent addition to this long running series and kudos to Reynolds for this gritty, fast paced new chapter in the on-going war against evil by the one and only Mack Bolan.  Pick it up, pulp fans, you won’t be disappointed.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


By Mike Baron
Published by Create Space
268 pages
Guest Reviewer – Nick Ahlhelm

While new to the world of prose fiction, Mike Baron is a name well known to comic fans. Since the early 1980s, Baron has created unique and out-of-the-norm characters like Nexus, an intergalactic assassin dressed like a superhero, or The Badger, an adventurer with multiple personality disorder surrounded by a strange cast of characters .
As he enters the world of prose fiction, he brings that same mix of genres with oddball characters in to his debut novel, Helmet Head. The novel proves to be a crazy mix of pulp and thriller fiction with the genre surroundings of 70s exploitation cinema.
Our nominal lead is Pete Fagan, a motorcycle riding deputy in rural southern Illinois. His first days at the new job quickly turn bad as he not only ends up a witness to a murder, but also as a potential victim to the killer, an urban legend come to life.
Helmet Head is a massive beast of a biker, towering over all around him. Dressed in black, he carries a massive katana and uses it to murder his victims with one clean swipe through the neck.
Fagan quickly stumbles in to a biker bar called the Kongo Klub, home of the Road Dogs, Helmet Head’s chosen targets over the course of the book. Already injured, Fagan stays behind as the Road Dogs go after the killer. He quickly forms a bond with Macy, old lady of the club’s president, even as the Dogs start to die in grisly manner.
Baron keeps the action going at a breakneck pace throughout the novel, never slowing down to let a reader even catch a breath. He expertly gets us in the head of each of his characters, even if it is only seconds before they meet a horrible fate.
The end barrels forward as Fagan searches out the secrets of Helmet Head, and uncovers even stranger tales in the process. Ultimately, Fagan ends up in a fight for his life with the man behind the helmet in a stunning climax.
Helmet Head is a quick, action packed read for a fan of action, tale-spinning and iron horses. Baron seems to know what he’s talking about when it comes to motorcycles and fans of Sons of Anarchy will find something to love even in the more reprehensible members of the Road Dogs.
Helmet Head is available from Amazon in both hard-copy and in ebook format.

Saturday, December 08, 2012


By Max Allan Collins
Illustrations by Terry Beatty
Available 19 Feb. 2013
Hard Case Crime
260 pages

What better book to review following our look at a Modesty Blaise strip collection then one that uses the 1950s anti-comic book witch hunt as its thinly disguised narrative skeleton.  “Seduction of the Innocent,” is the third in a series starring former stripper and newspaper syndicate owner, Maggie Starr and her World War II veteran stepson, Jack Starr.  Both appeared in two earlier comics themed mysteries, “A Killing in Comics,” 2007 and “Strip for Murder,” 2008.  Now Collins wraps up the trilogy with a look at the events that nearly destroyed the American comics industry via the publication of the original, “Seduction of the Innocent,” by Dr. Fredric Wertham.

For the uninitiated, Wertham (March 20,1895 – November 18, 1981) was a German born American psychiatrist who made a name for himself by denouncing comics books as a corrupting influence on the children of that era.  Targeting such publishers as E.C. Comics, he posited the theory that the crime, sex and violence depicted in those comics were the principle cause of delinquency among juvenile boys.  Of course he failed to point out that the titles he singled out were clearly intended for an adult audience though no such labeling existed at the time.  His best known book was “Seduction of the Innocent,” and his criticisms of comic books launched a U.S. Congressional inquiry into the industry and the creation of the Comics Code.

Of course the book is a sham using only the most gruesome examples of graphic art to prove a theory that was never corroborated with traditional scientific sampling.  But the public, already molded by McCarthyism was only too eager to start comic book burning events in their noble defense of America’s naive youth. 

Author Collins has no difficult task in imagining a scenario in which the hated fictional doctor is murdered and then he lines up a half dozen very plausible suspects, each based loosely on past comic industry personalities from publishers to writers and artists.  And therein lies the fun of this tale for any diehard comic book fan; guessing who it is Collins is rifting off of as Jack Starr investigates.  As ever, Collins plays fair and the clues are laid out within the context of the story for all to see and interpret, mystery fans; the challenge being can we solve it before Jack and Maggie do?

This new “Seduction of the Innocent,” is by far a whole lot more entertaining than its predecessors and has the distinction of being Hard Case Crime’s first ever illustrated novel.  Through out the book there are wonderful spot illustrations provided by the super talented Terry Beatty; all done in the marvelous retro golden age style of art.  They add a really nice visual element to what is already a fun read.  It is hoped that Collins’ legion of fans will demand yet more of these delicious murder mysteries starring Maggie & Jack Starr.  In a literary environment overly saturated with dark, somber and depressing cautionary tales these are truly a breath of fresh air.

Monday, December 03, 2012

MODESTY BLAISE : Lady in the Dark

(Lady in the Dark)
By Peter O’Donnell
& Enric Badia Romero
Titan Books

One of the great pulp heroes of all time was the comic strip character Modesty Blaise created by writer Peter O’Donnell with artist Jim Holdaway for the British newspapers back in 1963.  It was remarkable when one considers she arrived on the scene when most newspaper action strips were dying out.  After Holdaway left the strip, several new artists took over to include Enric Badia Romero featured in this volume.  Over the years Modesty & Willie appeared in several movies and series of 13 novels and short story collections. 

Now Titan Books is collecting these daily strips in large, handsome packages each containing three complete storylines; all of which are filled with humor, suspense, mystery and tons of explosive action; all traits that have become synonymous with the deadly brunette lovely.

This volume starts with “The Girl from the Future,” wherein Modesty and her loyal sidekick Willie Garvin come to the aid of their American friend, Paul Gant.  Gant, a rich tycoon, has been asked to construct two massive spheres of gold valued at millions of dollars.  His customer is an eccentric sci-fi publisher who believes he has been visited by a beautiful young woman from the future.  Of course both Modesty and Willie know the so-called time traveler is working some kind of scam.  Their challenge is to unravel the con and expose the conspirators before innocent people get hurt.

In “The Big Mole,” Modesty and Blaise are on holiday when they learn a group of terrorists known as the Paladins are holding a dozen nurses hostages in a nearby country retreat where they have fled with their prize, a wounded espionage agent working for a foreign government.  Hiding out in the retreat, the Paladins have orders to kill the spy rather than let him be recaptured by the British S.A.S.  Thus a double dilemma is posed; how to attack the facility, rescue the nurses while somehow preventing the spy from being assassinated at the same time.  It seems an impossible task until Modesty learns that an historical military reenactment between the Cavaliers and Roundheads is scheduled for that same area.  Can she and Willie adapt the old Trojan Horse gambit in a new, modern twist and save the day?

It all wraps with “Lady in the Dark.”  Dinah, a blind woman and close friend of Modesty and Willie, possesses a remarkable dowsing gift which allows her to find underground water sources and mineral deposits.  No one is surprised when she is hired by the widow of European count to help find a century’s old Roman treasure worth millions said to be hidden in an underground cave on her estate.  When Dinah’s husband, Steve, injures his back, Willie offers to accompany her on the assignment leaving Modesty to nursemaid Steve back to health in England.  But no sooner are Dinah and Willie settled into the old castle then the ever suspicious Garvin discovers they have been duped by Salamander Four, a secret criminal organization.  They are holding the true countess prisoner, having replaced her with one of their own agents, and want the Roman treasure for themselves.  Can Willie foil their plot while at the same time protect a blind girl and innocent countess?  Or can he somehow get word back to Modesty in time for her to fly to the rescue?  “Lady in the Dark” is a typical Modesty Blaise adventure that zips like hot lead and never misses its target.

We applaud Titan Books for this beautiful designed and packaged collection in their efforts to preserve one of the greatest newspaper action strips of all time.  Modesty fans should be thrilled at the opportunity to collect the entire run at such an affordable price in such gorgeous, easy to read books.  As for those of you who have never met the lovely and dangerous Ms. Blaise, we can’t think of a better way for you to do so.