Wednesday, October 24, 2012

TARGET LANCER




TARGET LANCER
By Max Allan Collins
Forge Books
305 pages
Available Nov.2012

John F. Kennedy was the first American Catholic to become president back in 1960.  That was a big deal for this reviewer who was Catholic, 13 years old and entering his freshmen year at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, a parochial school in Southern New Hampshire.  Three years later, while sitting in a study hall as a junior, we were interrupted by the announcement over the public address speakers that President Kennedy had been shot while riding in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas, Texas.

As much as that news was a tragedy for the entire country, those of us too young to realize the consequences of such a murder watched the transition of power take affect just as we’d been taught in our civic classes and found comfort in that process.  Five years later, while serving in army in Vietnam, the news of Bobby Kennedy’s assignation during his own campaign for the presidency had a much deeper impact. Here we were in a strange, foreign country supposedly fighting for freedom and democracy while back home the nation’s future was being decided by an insane gunman’s bullet.  The world seemed to have gone completely mad.

The Twentieth Century certainly had its defining moments, many of them acts of violence forever imprinted on our national consciousness.  Naturally the public wanted answers and within week’s of the President’s death a government investigation was launched and came to be known as the Warren Commission.  At its conclusion, it declared that Kennedy had been slain by one lone, crazed gunman named Lee Harvey Oswald.  As all of you are well aware, Oswald was gunned down in front of the Dallas jail within days of his capture and died before ever going to trial.  His killer was the owner of a local strip joint with mob connections named Jack Ruby.

Ruby swore he acted on his own until his death in prison of cancer.  Yet to many people his silencing of Oswald seemed to be a cleverly staged killing orchestrated by Machiavellian forces that wanted the truth kept hidden; the same cabal that was actually responsible for Kennedy’s death.  As years passed, many investigators, both private and public, began to uncover mountains of damning evidence that in the end turned the Warren Commission’s finding upside down and definitively proved them to be one massive cover up foisted on the American people.

When we learned that Max Allan Collins’ newest Nathan Heller historical thriller would involve the Kennedy assassination we were naturally intrigued.  What new light could the talented Collins and his phenomenal research partner, George Hagenauer, shed on one of the most overexposed criminal events in all of history?  Having just finished reading “Target Lancer,” the answer to that question provides the basis for one of the most gripping mystery plots ever put to paper.  As usual, Collins sets a historically accurate background then superimposes his own thoughts and beliefs about its scenario via his fictional hero, Nate Heller; the owner of the A-1 Detective Agency of Chicago.  At the book’s opening, Heller is recruited by the Chicago branch of the Secret Service to help with security measures for the president’s planned visit to the Windy City.  Apparently during the Fall of 1963, Kennedy’s people had begun to organize his re-election campaign via several big city visits to include Tampa, Chicago and then Dallas.  With only one year remaining in his term, it was time to start politicking once more.

Within days of agreeing to help the local authorities, Heller is sent to interview a Chicago detective who he has come in contact with an irrational ex-marine who might pose a genuine threat.  From this slim lead, Heller and his partner, a black Secret Service agent named Eben Boldt, learn of a professional hit squad made of two Americans and two Cuban refugees apparently surveying the proposed route of the president’s motorcade through the city.  As each new element is uncovered, Heller starts mentally assembling a jigsaw puzzle that perfectly defines a clandestine military operation.  By the books end, he has unraveled a murderous conspiracy made up of gangland figures and corrupted government agents to eliminate Lance; the Secret Service code name for President Kennedy.

What “Target Lancer” exposes is that the there were three identical hit squads, and their duped patsies, established in all three cities prior to that fateful November in 1963.  As with all Heller books, the historical afterward Collins provides is just as informative as his fiction is captivating.  Upon finishing the book, this reviewer couldn’t help but wonder, now that most of the real principles have all died and gone to their eternal court of judgment, what it is we, as a nation can learn from such history?  Evil men do exist and that we must be ever vigilant to assure they do not usurp the rights of the many by their insidious acts of violence. 

For both students of history and lovers of suspense mysteries, “Target Lancer” is a masterful work not to be missed. Collins just keeps getting better and better.

Friday, October 12, 2012

SUSPENSE, SUSPICION & SHOCKERS



SUSPENSE, SUSPICION & SHOCKERS
By Charles Beckman Jr.
Von Boeckman Fiction Factory Publications
ISBN # 9781479238736
265 pgs.

Several months ago I received an e-mail from a woman named Patti Boeckman. She told me her husband, Charles Boeckman, for most of his life had been a professional pulp writer working in the 40s and 50s under the name of Charles Beckmen.  Between 1945 through to 1975 his short crime stories had appeared in such pulp magazines as Dime Detective, All-Story Detective, Manhunt, Detective Tales to name just a few leading up to many sales in 60s and 70s to Alfred Hitchock’s Mystery Magazine.

A native of Texas, raised during the Great Depression, Charles had two loves; writing and music.  He became a success in both fields.  He taught himself to play saxophone and clarinet and during his travels throughout the south from Texas to Florida he often played with many reputable jazz bands until he formed his own.  In 1990, he earned a star in the South Texas Music Walk of Fame and his band to this day still plays in October Texas Jazz Festival.

What Charles and Patti were unaware of until recently was the resurgence in pulp fiction brought about via the internet which allowed life-long fans and newcomers to come together and begin creating forums to share their love of this escapist literary genre.  Patti, a former school teacher, discovered all this accidently while surfing the web and began to dig deeper into this wonderful phenomenon which invariable led her to the New Pulp Fiction movement.  A smart lady, she jotted down names and e-mail addresses and methodically reached out to many of these “new” pulp enthusiasts and that was how her letter of introduction popped up in my e-mail box.

At that time Patti and Charles were considering collecting many of his crime stories and self-publishing a book.  Hearing this, I, and many of my colleagues, encouraged them to pursue this plan.  The idea of a new collection of authentic pulp tales produced by the actual writer was too good a dream to let slip away.  Then after a few months, Patti wrote again.  This time with the news that they had gone and achieved their objective and the result was this book, “Supsense, Suspicions & Shockers,” by Charles Beckman Jr.  She asked if I would like a copy to review.  That had to be the easiest question I’ve ever answered in my life.

This book, which sports a truly gorgeous cover by amazing Laura Givens, is crammed with twenty-four stories; every single one of them a dazzling display of originality and deft story-telling technique.  Like the finest writers of the pulp era, Beckman had a keen, unerring grasp of human psychology and he employed it like a skillful surgeon carving up plot twists that turn on a time and more often than not, leave the reader both surprised and delighted.  No easy feat.  At the same time, because the book is so packed with stories, a true sense of the times emerges from the pages enveloping the reader taking them on a nostalgic journey back to an American landscape that can only be remembered in such pieces.  And throughout, Beckman’s background in music, especially the vibrancy of New Orleans jazz, is often the spiritual background to his cautionary yarns about desperate men and women struggling to survive in a bleak and desolate world.

Here is a sniveling coward bitten by a rattlesnake facing his own demise with joy, a walking dead man with a hole in his head, a musician being hunted by death itself, a cop after the punk who killed his wife and a husband who believes his devoted wife is about to murder him for absolutely no other reason than to simply do him in.  These are a small sampling of the unique characters that populate Charles Beckman’s fiction and once you’ve met them, I doubt seriously you will ever forget them.  There is a true humanity to these tales that seeks to uncover the good in even the worst of people and thus leaves the reader with a poignant optimistic hope for the future.  

“Suspense, Suspicion & Shockers,” is a genuine treasure trove of great pulp fiction by one of the best writers to ever tap his fingers over the keys of a mechanical typewriter.  There was magic in those fingers and it awaits you in this book.

PS – My copy arrived autographed.

Monday, October 01, 2012

MYTHICAL - Heart of Stone




MYTHICAL: Heart of Stone
By C.E. Martin
ISBN # 9781479128372
239 pages

The explosion of self-publishing has flooded the reading world with thousands upon thousands of new works by unknown writers.  For the most part, logic and literary tradition dictates 95% is crap.  One percent is great and the other four percent is made up of really good stories worthy of being sought out and enjoyed.   C.E. Martin’s “MYTHICAL : Heart of Stone,” is very much part of that delightful four percent.  This is a superior action/adventure fantasy which mixes the superhero genre with lots of mythological magic.

Colonel Mark Kinsler is the leader of a squad of stone soldiers known as Detachment 1039.  When their attempt to capture and destroy a terrorist shape-shifter goes horribly awry, Kinsler is the only survivor.  His body, petrified in stone, is dumped in the Arizona desert where it is discovered by a group of five high school seniors on a final jaunt before graduation.  The only girl among the group, Josie, is somehow personally drawn to what she believes is a bizarre stone sculpture of an Adonis like figure. When she inadvertently helps Kinsler heal and regain his human form, she soon finds herself caught up in a fantastic world of spies and ancient superbeings.

Kinsler, having suffered temporary amnesia, initially relies upon Josie and her four male companions to help him sort out his current predicament.  Eventually, as his memories slowly return during their trip to Vegas, he soon realizes his target is planning on killing the visiting vice-President and assuming his place in the government.  Unsure as to whom he can trust, Kinsler has to rely on Josie and the boy named Jimmy to see him through his mission.

Martin writes amazing action sequences that race across the pages effortlessly.  They are so well delivered with sophisticated attention to the smallest details.  His skill pulls the readers into the middle of these slugfests and brilliantly allows them to experience each vicariously. Very few writers have this storytelling gift so well realized.  Oh, sure, there are some clich├ęd plot devises, but they never seemed forced and become integral parts of the narrative from beginning to end.  What the book does is open the doors to a unique world that is much like our own and yet very, very different. But Martin is wise enough not to overwhelm us with those differences too quickly and deftly reveals them gradually so that by the book’s climax, we’ve been fully introduced to this other Earth; one I very much want to revisit again real soon.

“MYTHICAL : Heart of Stone,” is something old made new and a true pleasure to discover.  And it’s only the first step in what I predict is going to be an amazing series.  Buy your ticket and get on board now!