Monday, December 23, 2013

THE WRONG QUARRY



THE WRONG QUARRY
By Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
221 pages

Here is another tough and gritty tale featuring Max Allan Collin’s killer-for-hire, Quarry. Collins, a superb story-teller with several series under his gunbelt, is never better then when narrating a new Quarry story.  Unlike Collin’s other good-guy heroes, the Vietnam veteran is the quintessential pragmatic character who sees his job of eliminating people as something totally mundane and unromantic.  Quarry’s philosophy is a simple one, certain people need killing and killing is something he is good at.

Upon his return from Nam, Quarry was recruited by a man known as the Broker.  Later, when the Broker betrayed him, the savvy hitman terminated the Broker and confiscated all his files.  Amongst these records were the names of the other killers working for the Broker. It was then that Quarry was struck by inspiration.  What if he were to follow these other killers, learn who their targets were and then use this information to his own advantage.  He would contact the person in the cross-hairs and, for a substantial fee, offer to eliminate the threat to them by killing the killers.  A hitman targeting other hitmen.  As bizarre as the concept was, Quarry actually made it work and was soon living a very comfortable life in his new, albeit macabre, career.

In, “The Wrong Quarry,” Quarry shadows a hitman to the sleepy little town of Stockwell, Missouri and soon learns the man’s target is a gay dance teacher named Roger Vale.  After doing a little digging, Quarry discovers that a year earlier high school senior Candy Stockwell, the granddaughter of the town’s patriarch, had vanished mysteriously.  Although the Stockwell family did its best to prove Vale responsible for the girl’s disappearance, the police could find no conclusive evidence to substantiate their claims.   Quarry learns that the majority of parents whose students were taught by Vale all supported him and believed Clarence Stockwell’s accusations were founded on his dislike of Vale’s homosexuality.

Working against a pair of killers’ unknown timetable, Quarry confronts Vale and informs him of the contract on his life.  He then offers the dance teacher his lethal services.  Once again Quarry sets about fulfilling his contract but he isn’t completely convinced it was the senior Stockwell who commissioned the hit on Vale.  As he begins to do his own private investigation into Candy’s disappearances a different picture takes shape and he soon realizes, as in all things in life, nothing is ever simply black and white.  Somewhere in the missing girl’s past is a hidden secret that hides a sadistic monster and before his job is finished, Quarry will discover the depths of depravity a twisted mind is capable of.

“The Wrong Quarry,” is another solid entry in a truly hard-edged series this reviewer hopes will never end.  These books are just too damn good!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

RUNNER



RUNNER
By Patrick Lee
Minotaur Books
336 pages
Available Feb 18, 2014
Guest Reviewer – Andrew Salmon

Patrick Lee burst on the scene with a trilogy for the ages. The Breach novels were three of the finest action novels I've had the pleasure to read and I was chomping at the bit to see what Lee had up his sleeve for a follow-up.

RUNNER is that follow-up to the Breach and it does not disappoint!

Sam Dryden, a former special-forces operative, is living on auto-pilot following the death of his wife and daughter. One night, plagued by insomnia, he feels compelled to go for a run on the beach during which he runs into a frightened eleven-year-old girl on the run from a group of armed men. Dryden gets involved and they elude the pursuers at least for the moment.

But the group after the girl are a determined bunch and they've got state of the art gadgetry to corner their prey - so long as their prey isn't Sam Dryden. Using tracking satellites, mis-information to the media and dastardly doggedness, Sam and Rachel are running for their lives. And make no mistake, the group is not thinking of capturing the pair, this is a search and destroy mission.

What follows is a breath-taking, full-tilt, action yarn that does not let up until you hit the last page. Part Jack Reacher, part FIRESTARTER, Lee's RUNNER combines the best elements of both. His characterization is excellent. Dryden comes across as a damaged yet capable human being and Lee makes sure Rachel never strays into the smart-mouth, precocious kid minefield. Twist and turns abound and this is where Lee shines. He has the uncanny knack of slowly unveiling the details while Sam and Rachel flee for their lives and the plot unfolds with tantalizing slowness, just enough to keep you reading until Lee pulls the rug out from under you time and time again.

But where Lee excels is in his payoffs. Once the main thrust of the plot is revealed, any experienced reader could fill in where they think the story is going only they'd be wrong. Lee keeps the standard action, suspense framework of the novel fresh and, although the final payoff does not quite reach BREACH's mind-blowing levels, it is still satisfyingly different and engaging.

 With characters you care about, and an unpredictable plot, RUNNER is sure to satisfy any action junkie. I tore through the thing and am already anxiously awaiting Lee's next effort.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

SHERLOCK HOLMES : WORK CAPITOL



SHERLOCK HOLMES ; WORK CAPITOL
By Andrew Salmon
A Fightcard Novel
137 pages

Canadian writer Andrew Salmon burst on the New Pulp scene several years ago when his very first Sherlock Holmes story for Airship 27 Procutions, The Adventure of the Locked Room, won him the Pulp Factory Award for Best Pulp Short Story of 2009.  Since that outing, Salmon has gone on to write four more tales starring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous crime solving duo, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Now Salmon has taken his affinity for these characters and given us his longest Holmes story yet; one wherein the famous sleuth is tested both physically and mentally.  The Fightcard books, established by writer/publisher Paul Bishop, is a popular series that has quickly revived a classic pulp genre, the boxing stories, by new and exciting writers.
Bringing Holmes and Watson into the 1880s London underground world of bare-knuckle fighting was a stroke of genius first suggested by Bishop and now brilliantly realized in this new title.

Easily one of the author’s most daunting challenges, Salmon clearly did his homework and offers up a terrific adventure that is both historically accurate in its setting and at the same time true to the classic Doyle formula of presenting our heroes with a unique and macabre murder mystery.  With only a few days before Christmas, 1884, Sherlock Holmes engages in a friendly boxing match with an old friend as another of his many personal challenges to better himself.  No sooner has the bout ended then someone enters the hall screaming, “Murder.”  Disregarding his own lack of clothing, Holmes rushes into the snowy night clad only in britches to find the dead body of a young man apparently strangled to death.  But the victim’s footprints are the only ones to be found in the pristine white snow around his body?

And just like that the game is afoot as Holmes and Watson find themselves plunged into a deadly affair filled with sadistic killers, clever counterfeiters and a monstrous ex-pugilist named Tanner who has no qualms about eliminating any who stand in his way.  Thus as the wintery holidays draw near, Holmes and Watson race against the clock to solve not one, but two heinous crimes while matching wits with a diabolic fiend hidden in the shadows.  In the end, Holmes must once again step into the ring and put his life on the line against a sadistic brawler or all will be lost.

“Sherlock Holmes : Work Capitol,” is easily Andrew Salmon’s finest work to date and is destined to become a classic amongst diehard Holmes and fight fans alike.  It is a reading experience to be enjoyed and savored and it is poetically fitting that it comes to us now at Christmas time.  Thank you, Mr. Salmon, for this marvelous literary gift to us all.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

DINOSAUR DUST



DINOSAUR DUST
By Michael Panush
Curiosity Quills Press
225 pages

Early last year we reviewed a book called “Dinosaur Jazz” by Michael Panush of California.  It told the story of a strange and mysterious island in the South Pacific discovered at the turn of the century by British explorers.  On the island were found all manner of creatures thought to be long extinct from dinosaurs to saber-tooth tigers and wooly mammoths; plus a race of ape-like people.  Of course the discovery of such a place had scientific repercussions around the world and soon the island was being invaded by scientist but also tourists, hunters, adventurers and entrepreneurs.  The place was called Archeron Island.

“Dinasaur Jazz,” told the story of Sir Edwin Crowe, the son of the man who had discovered the island and a World War One veteran wanting to put the horrors of the trenches behind him.  The book was a glorious introduction to this unique setting and one filled with so much action and adventure that this reviewer nominated the book for the Pulp Factory Awards ad Best Pulp Novel of 2012.

Now Panush has profuced a sequel, “Dinosaur Dust,” and as unbelievable as it seems, it is just as wonderful as its predecessor.  The book opens in the United States ten years after the events in the first book.  The Jazz Age has given way to the Depression and Americans are in dire straights, to include convicted gangster, Norris Hall.  A former Marine, Hall has no intention of spending his days in an Oklahoma prison and escapes to hunt down the man who betrayed him.  He returns to St.Louis to inform his mob boss that he is out and once again available do to his bidding.

The Boss owns part of a Hollywood movie studio which produces B-movies featuring a trained raptor named Rusty.  Someone has stolen the loveable dino and Hall is ordered to Los Angeles to learn who snatched the scaly star and retrieve him unharmed.  Now if that wasn’t odd enough, he’s also ordered to take along a young pulp writer named Nathan Whipple whose father is a New York attorney who had been helpful to mob families in the past.  The na├»ve writer wants to learn more about gangsters as fodder for his future pulp sagas.

Of course readers of “Dinosaur Jazz” will immediately recognize this character as the same ten year old precocious lad who was part of that book’s cast of characters.  Having him reappear in this sequel as a struggling pulp writer was a real treat and it helped tie the two books together.  Still, one needn’t have read the first to enjoy this new tale.

The fun of “Dinosaur Dust” is getting to know tough-guy Hall and to watch his character develop a real conscience as he is cast into an entirely new experience unlike any he has ever known before.  He and Nathan manage to uncover the villain who stole Rusty only to learn the creature has been shipped back to Archeron Island and so they must travel there to complete their assignment.  When they arrive, they quickly discover the island has become a microcosm of the world’s current political unrest.  Causing part of this  tension are Russian Bolsheviks who have organized the Apemen laborers and are inciting them to revolt against the rich who control most of Victoria City, the island’s capital. They also discover a huge contingent of both Japanese military and a company of Nazis storm-troopers, all pumping their chests with nationalist fervor and clearly eager to ignite a new world war to achieve their mutual mad dreams of conquest.

So what the hell does have missing Hollywood dinosaur have to do with any of that?
By the time Hall and Whipple discover the answer to that puzzle, things heat up fast and the action explodes non-stop across the pages all leading to a pulp-glorious final battle in the Hollywood Hills between Nazis, dinosaurs, airships and American gangsters to be forever known as “The Battle of L.A.”

Michael Panush is one of the best New Pulp writers on the market today and “Dinosaur Dust,”is by far his most original and exciting book yet.  We will be nominating it for Best Pulp Novel of 2013.  It deserves to win.


Thursday, December 05, 2013

SADDLES, SIX-GUNS & SHOOTOUTS



SADDLES, SIXGUNS & SHOOTOUTS
By Charles Beckman, Jr.
ISBN 9781483922102
179 pages

The latest story in this new collection by writer Charles Beckman, Jr. is dated 1956 so the odds are most of you reading this volume weren’t even born when these were published for the first time in various western pulp magazines.  Now, thanks to the easy accessibility to self-publishing, books like this can be produced and made available to an entire new generation of young pulp enthusiast.  Beckman, during his long career, was one of the hundreds of veteran pulp scribes who pumped out scores of stories in every genre imaginable to earn a living.  Was it great literature?  Hardly.  Rather pulps were the epitome of escapist, entertaining fiction intended not for academia but for the average reading Joe and Jill.

As this new book proves readily, when it came to entertaining fiction, no one took a back seat to Charles Beckman, Jr.  This title features his western yarns and contains a neat dozen.  So saddle up for some genuine wild-west adventures.

BRAZOS WOMEN encapsulates the history post Civil War Texas as seen from a Southern Belle who has escaped the sexist prejudices of New Orleans to make her fortune on the frontier.  It is wonderfully told and Beckman does a deft job of setting an authentic background filled with tragedy and triumph.

BAD MAN FROM BOSTON has greenhorn Art Billows coming to grips with his dreams of being a hero and willing to sacrifice all for one minute of bravery.  While in RUSTY GUNS an old gunfighter seeks revenge only to find redemption.  Clayton Traveler in THE KID COMES BACK follows a ten year old trail to get justice on the men who murdered his father and stole their home.  Jimmy Laredo is an orphan with the face of an angel and the soul of killer unable to escape THE LAST BULLET.  Whereas ex-outlaw, Ollie Towns finds his past hot on his heels in time for him to catch the STAGE COACH TO HELL.

Ex-Confederate soldier, Jim Brady, comes to a small Texas town to start a new life all because of a photograph in HOME IS THE KILLER.  One of my favorites here.  Then tough town-tamer Bull Huler has to decide whether to reconcile with the woman who deserted him, or not, in BITTER REUNION IN RIMROCK. All of Beckman’s stories are infused with simple but powerful human emotions that resonated with this reviewer. Sometimes fatalistic, his men and women are rugged pioneers coping with the ever expanding frontier that will either bring their lives success or tragedy.  THE DEVIL’S DEADLINE tells the story of Ed Brennan, a small town newspaper publisher who finds the courage to stand up to a corrupt sheriff, even though it means the end of all he ever hoped for.

And finally, the book ends with another novelette, HELL’S CARGO; the story of a young riverboat captain who comes home from the Civil War to face the man who stole both his boat and his woman.  It is a fast paced, superbly written tale of the lost glory of the old steamboats that plied the Mississippi and Missouri rivers between St.Louis and New Orleans before the coming of the railroads.  It’s a grand adventure and just the right way to close out this truly excellent collection.

We’ve enjoyed every Charles Beckman, Jr. story we’ve ever had the pleasure of reading and this new title is no exception.  Beckman was a true pulp veteran who could spin a tale with the best of them and SADDLES, SIX-GUNS & SHOOTOUTS proves that beyond a doubt.  Recommending this book is a no-brainer, folks.  You owe tit o yourself to learn what good writing is all about.

Monday, November 18, 2013

HUGH MOON - Catching A Rising Star




HUGH MONN – Private Detective
CATCH A RISING STAR
By Lee Houston Jr.
Prose Press
175 pages

Last year I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing writer Lee Houston Junior’s debut title featuring his futuristic private eye, Hugh Monn.  It was a collection of tales showcasing the white haired, ex-military vet and his life on the alien world of Frontera. I gave the book major thumbs up and I trust all of you went out a grabbed a copy.  That book reminded me a great deal of the 1950s paperback era and all the marvelous sci-fi authors who appeared in the pages of those Ace Doubles.

Now comes Hugh Monn’s newest case and, much to my delight, it’s a full length novel.
A film company, Stellar Studios, arrives on Frontera to shoot a romantic-comedy vid featuring the very sexy and popular alien star, Ruby Kwartz.  When her human manager, Augustus Dubois, recommends they hire a local to act as an additional bodyguard.  The lucky man they choose is our protagonist.  From the start Hugh isn’t comfortable around the movie entourage finding they gauche and egotistical but they are willing to pay triple his usual rates.  Typical of all private eyes, there’s no way Hugh can turn down that kind of creds.

Then the big star’s publicist, Nola Pierce, also a member of the same red-skinned race, confides in Hugh that she believes Ruby is in real danger.  Although unconvinced at the start, as the gumshoe begins to investigate he uncovers a few unsavory facts about Dubois and Ruby’s co-star, Dirk Hartford.  Then, only hours after location filming begins on a nearby beach, a flying camera goes bonkers and nearly crashes into Monn, Hartford and the actor’s Primoid bodyguard.  Monn doesn’t believe in accidents, especially when he’s working a case.  Is Ruby Kwartz’s life in jeapordy?  And if so was the beach incident meant to eliminate him or her co-star?  And if so, why?

Houston delivers all the standard wise-cracking humor these kind of mysteries of noted for and it is surprising how well the form works even in such an exotic off-world setting.  All the while reading “Catch A Rising Star,” I was reminded a great deal of those wonderful Shell Scott mysteries by the late Richard Prather.  That both Hugh and Shell have premature white hair just can’t be a coincidence; can it?  This is a marvelous book written by a talented writer who knows both genres well and thus merges them so smoothly as to be totally entertaining.  This book cemented my membership in the Hugh Monn fan club, a group that’s about to get a whole lot bigger.  Take my word for that.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

SKORPIO



SKORPIO
By Mike Baron
Word Fire Press
334 pages
Guest Reviewer – Derrick Ferguson

If you’re as well read as I think you are (and you must be…why else are you reading book reviews? You’re looking for something good to read, right?) then you should have some familiarity with the name Mike Baron. Mr. Baron first landed on my radar when I discovered his innovative science fiction comic book “Nexus” which he co-created with Mike Rude. Much like other great comic book pairings like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers or Marv Wolfman and Gene Colon, the two of them made magic together and if you haven’t read “Nexus” yet then you should correct that at your earliest opportunity.
Mr. Baron has also written many other comic book titles but in recent years he’s been working in prose, writing some really compelling novels such as “Helmet Head” which I really enjoyed. That’s a book you really ought to pick up as it reads like the lost novelization of a John Carpenter movie. Yeah, it’s that good.
SKORPIO is almost as good. It’s not a roller coaster ride like “Helmet Head’ which reads like a runaway train going downhill from start to finish. Mr. Baron takes his time setting up the situation and the characters before he gets to the guts of his story but I appreciate a writer who has the confidence to take his time to take us where we need to go so he can most effectively deliver the goods later on and yeah, SKORPIO delivers.
Vaughan Beadles is a Professor of Anthropology at Creighton University in Illinois where he enjoys a near rock star status. He’s too handsome for his own good with a gorgeous wife and beautiful baby boy. Beadles is riding high due to his acquisition of relics belonging to a previously lost Southwestern Indian tribe, the Azuma. But all that comes to a screeching halt when Beadles is framed for stealing some of the artifacts. And if that wasn’t enough, one of his students dies from a scorpion sting that he got when Beadles lets the kid get an unauthorized sneak peek at the artifacts.
His life rapidly falls into ruin. His wife leaves him, he loses his job and all of his money goes toward his legal fees. The only way Beadles can see to salvage his life is to find where the Azuma actually lived and prove his theories to be true. In his quest to find the birthplace, Beadles runs into a truly amazing diverse cast of characters. Some of them you’ll wonder what the hell they’re doing in the book but trust me, part of the enjoyment of reading SKORPIO is seeing just how Mike Baron pulls all of these characters together and makes them integral components of the story.
It takes a while for the title character to show up but when it does it’s worth the wait. Skorpio is a vengeful ghost of hideous power who appears in the sunlight, which is a nice twist as ghosts are usually associated with the nighttime. I also liked Mr. Baron’s choice of protagonist. Vaughan Beadles isn’t exactly squeaky clean in his dealings and he’s a bit of an opportunist, always actively looking for an angle to advance his career and fatten his bank account.
In fact, most of the characters in SKORPIO are a little more on the gray side than you might expect but I enjoyed that as it gave the book an unpredictability I found refreshing. There’s never any way to tell what these characters are going to do or say and for me, that’s always welcome in my fiction.
Mike Baron’s prose is as uncomplicated and straightforward as the word “No.”  He doesn’t go in for flowery purple prose. He’s a born storyteller who is concerned with only one thing: telling you a good story. He’s not interested in showing off his vocabulary or trying to impress you with his cleverness in turning a pithy phrase. He just wants you to have a good time and I certainly did have a good time reading SKORPIO. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

EARLY CRIMES



EARLY CRIMES
By Max Allan Collins
Perfect Crime Books
157 pages

All readers have favorite writers; those talented scribes who spin a yarn in a style and fashion that entertains our personal taste in fiction.  In the field of mystery fiction, Max Allan Collins, is one of mine and getting a new book with his name on it is always a cause for celebration.  Whereas this one is of particular significance as it collects three of Collins’ first ever attempts at crime writing and offers us a glimpse into his evolution as a writer.

The book, handsomely produced by Perfect Crime Books, features two of Collin’s short pieces that date back to his college days and a longer novella.  Believe me; digging into this book was akin to finding long lost treasure ala Indiana Jones.

“Public Servant,” is the first short and is clearly an homage to Jim Thompson’s classic “The Killer Inside Me,” which Collins admittedly confesses.  Still it has a sharp slicing bite like an innocuous paper-cut; looking innocent but leaving a trail of blood.  Whereas the second short, “The Rack,” is a tip of the pulp fedora to classic noir novels and films wherein the luckless protagonist, despite his best efforts, is doomed from the beginning and can do nothing but accept his damning fate.  It’s not a genre I’m particularly fond of and the less said here, the better.

The book’s real gem is the novella, “Shoot the Moon,” which is a twisted, funny crime caper that goes horribly wrong for two naive high school graduates.  Fred, who likes to gamble too much, and his best friend, Wheat, owe the school’s muscle bound football jock a lot of money.  When the jock’s bimbo cheerleader suggest they run naked through a wedding reception at a nearby by hotel, the boys agree to the stunt strictly to satisfy the debt.  What neither realizes is that the girl being married is the Police Chief’s daughter.  They are both caught, arrested for streaking and sentenced to lock up in the county jail for several months. 

That punishment isn’t very severe as the facility is used primarily to house inmates awaiting trial.  Those convicted of serious crimes are sent to the state penitentiary.  While serving their time, the lads make the acquaintances of Elam and Hopp, two older seasoned criminals, who con them into play cards to help pass the time.  Without giving away the plot, the boys get conned and, upon their release, go home thinking owe the crooks a few dollars.  A few weeks later, Elam and Hopps show up on their doorstep demanding thousands of dollars.  Then truth of their predicament descends on our heroes like the proverbial ton of bricks.

Once again they are in a jam because of a gambling debt only this time the buy-out isn’t going to be simple prank.  Ed and Hopp have their eye on a small bank in a nearby town and coerce Fred and Wheat to helping them rob it.  They do this by fabricating yet another lie which our gullible protagonist swallow, hook, line and sinker.

What happens next is an unexpected literary curve ball thrown at us by a truly gifted writer.  Collins has always had a penchant for infusing even his most gritty tales with off the wall comedy bordering on screwball antics.  In “Shoot the Moon,” he dishes it out in perfectly measured doses and Fred’s dire fate begins to spool out of control while he desperately tries to find a way and save himself and Wheat.

The plot threads come together so brilliantly at the conclusion, I was both shaking my head and laughing at the same time.  Honestly, this madcap crime tale would make a truly funny short film. Till then, do yourselves a favor, pick up a copy and laugh a little.  It’s good for the soul.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

BLOOD AND STONE



BLOOD AND STONE
(Stone Soldiers # 3)
By C.E. Martin
ISBN # 978148481485
308 pages

No writer in the New Pulp movement writes more intense, all out battle action sequences than C.E. Martin.  His Stone Soldiers series, of which this is the third, is a unique blend of superhero dramatics blended with Tom Clancy style military encounters.  “Blood and Stone” wraps up the first story arc began with volume one, “Mythical,” as Colonel Mark Kenslir and his super soldiers of stone from Detachment 1039 confront the ancient monster-god Tezcahtlip in the heart of the Yucatan jungles.  It is there the ancient shape-shifter has set up his new empire posing as the Mayan deity Kukulcan.

Throughout this series, beside his hyper-pulp pacing, Martin has created some truly memorable characters to populate his over-the-top saga.  With “Blood and Stone,” he adds yet another remarkable player in Dr. Laura Olson, Kenslir’s vampire ally, who joins his team in leading the hunt for Tezcahtlip because in their first encounter, the beast ripped out her heart and ate it.  Sound outrageous?  You bet it is and becomes a pure adrenalin rush from cover to cover.

Our single nagging critique is that sometimes Martin gets caught up in his own gory excessiveness and it becomes repetitious.  The goal of all good writing is that every single sentence, paragraph and chapter is vital to the narrative.  Towards the middle of this adventure, we were stopped short by a chapter which, aside from displaying the villain’s inhuman cruelty, adds nothing new to the plot.  Because we were already well aware of the monster’s character, this entire chapter was pointless.  Martin would do well to enlist an experienced editor to help him recognize these excesses and help him avoid them in the future.

That being said, “Blood and Stone” is a terrific third volume in a very original concept and one this reviewer is eager to see expanded to other storylines. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

MARLOW : INDIGO TIDE



MARLOW : INDIGO TIDE
By Bill Craig
Whiz Bang LLC
167 pages

Rick Marlow was a New York City cop with a promising career of ahead of him.  One night, while answering a call about a body found in an alley, he was shot in the back by his own partner, Nolan, and left for dead.  He later discovers, after surviving multiple surgeries, that his pal had taken his own life after shooting Marlow; all because Nolan was a dirty copy and Internal Affairs was on to his sins.  Unfortunately for Marlow, the detectives of I.A. come to the conclusion that he too was crooked by association and began an harassment campaign hoping they could intimidate him into confessing his wrong doings.

Despite the fact there was absolutely no evidence against him, Marlow knew the investigators wouldn’t relent and thus he had no other option than to quite the force and seek employment elsewhere.  Who ever said life was fair? 

Marlow decided it was also time for a change of scenery.  At one time his deceased father had worked as a private investigator for a lawyer named Walter Loomis now practicing in Key West, Florida.  Taking what little he owned, Marlow headed south to find Loomis and offer to work for him in the same capacity as his father had once done.  Loomis, familiar with the young man’s plight and inexcusable treatment at the hands of the NYPD, accepts his offer and gives him a job.  A smart man, Loomis had been close to Marlow’s father and is willing to take a chance that Marlow is cut from the same cloth as his old friend.

Marlow’s first assignment is to find a young woman who has come into a sizeable inheritance from the death of her two grandfathers.  The girl had dropped out of sight months earlier and the executor of the estate wants her found to settle things.  Taking what little data provided by Loomis’ client, Marlow eagerly begins his hunt.  But what starts as a simple missing persons case soon escalates into something a whole lot deadlier and Marlow is suddenly crossing paths with one of Miami’s most powerful tycoons, dodging bullets, confronting outlaw bikers, and coming under the surveillance of the Cuban secret police.  What is it about this young woman that ignites such a storm of violence and why are very bad people doing their best to make sure Marlow doesn’t find her…alive?

Bill Craig is no stranger to well plotted, private eye capers, having created the Sam Decker series a few years ago much to acclaim of mystery fans.  With Rick Marlow he has another winner in envisioning a believable, world weary character with just enough honor to fight the good fight, protect the innocent and take on the bad guys even when the odds are stacked against him.  Marlow’s pedigree clearly harkens back to Sam Spade all the way to Jim Rockford and Craig never misses a beat.  This is familiar territory that never gets old when handled by a writer of his caliber.  Pick it up; the adventure is just beginning.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT



SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT
A Walt Longmire Story
By Craig Johnson
Viking
146 pages

“Spirit of Steamboat” is the best story I’ve read all year.  It is easily the best Walt Longmire story I’ve ever read and could perhaps be the best single piece of fiction Craig Johnson has ever written. 

Now let me back that all up.  The wonder of this little novella is how perfectly all the pieces fit together.  The plot is a gem of simplicity which then becomes the surface on which Johnson lays out some truly powerful moral tenets.

It is Christmas Eve, 1988, and newly elected Sheriff Longmire is given a challenge unlike any other he has ever faced before.  A ferocious winter storm has come barreling out of Canada and threatens to overwhelm most of the western states.   Due to the weather, a horrible highway accident has transpired leaving a very young girl the sole survivor of her family.  But she has suffered severe burns over her body and unless she can be flown to the Children’s Hospital in Denver, she will die.

Longmire is at the Durant, Wyoming airfield awaiting a Med-Evac helicopter bringing the patient and her grandmother to rendezvous with a fixed wing aircraft that will take them the rest of the way to Denver.  The problem is the storm has arrived earlier than predicted and made flying conditions impossible for any of the aircrafts housed at the airfield; all but one that is.  Set in the back of the giant hangar is an old B-25 Mitchell bomber from World War II named Steamboat after a legendary rodeo stallion by the same name.  When Longmire begins to suggest the possibilities of using the old warbird to complete their mercy flight, he’s told that not only is he crazy for suggestion such an idea but where in all of Wyoming is he going to find a qualified pilot to fly the old relic?

If you’re a fan of this series, you already know that Longmire’s predecessor, and mentor, is a cantankerous, one-legged old cowboy named Lucian Connally.  As it turns out, the former sheriff was a bomber pilot in the war who flew in General Jimmy Doolittle’s raid against Tokyo within weeks of American’s entry into the conflict.  Longmire manages to locate Connally and “recruit” him for the mission.  Connally in turn drafts the lovely Julie Luehrman, a local school teacher and pilot to be his co-pilot as he argues he’ll need someone with “two” legs to help him control big plane.

When the medical helicopter arrives with its precious cargo, Longmire is given another set-back.  Neither of the medics is willing to accompany them on the dangerous flight to Colorado aboard the vintage bomber.  They consider the flight impossible and neither is willing to risk their lives. And therein lies the moral center of this fable; just how valuable is any single life?  Is it really worth endangering many to save one?  For Walt Longmire, there is no complexity to that question whatsoever.  He knows the right thing to do regardless of the odds against them.  In the end, it is his good friend, Doctor Bloomfield who volunteers to go along and watch over their patient replacing the cowardly medics.

Once the Steamboat takes off into the whirling, white maelstrom, the story accelerates into a nail-biting adventure as these four good people dare to battle a raging blizzard to save the life of a little girl.  Flying on a wing and a prayer, finding courage deep within themselves, the crew of the Steamboat perform selflessly thus demonstrating by their actions all that is good and noble in humanity.

By the book’s poetic finale, I was emotionally wrung out.  “Spirit of Steamboat” is a book I plan on giving to friends as a Christmas gift this year.  It is a reading experience I want to share with them…and you.  But before that, I want to say to Craig Johnson, “Thank, you.”

Friday, October 04, 2013

GIDEON SMITH and the MECHANICAL GIRL



GIDEON SMITH and the MECHANICAL GIRL
By David Barnett
Tor Books
351 pages

Over the past few years, the sub-genre of Steampunk has gotten quite popular to the point of becoming a separate fandom entity with gatherings and conventions dedicated to it solely; from costuming to gadgetry.  The few books we’ve read in the vein have been truly enjoyable which was why we were delighted to get this new title from good folks at Tor books.

Whereas Steampunk and New Pulp often collide, that’s never been more apparent than in David Barnett’s wonderful, “Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl.”  In this alternate world, Gideon Smith is the son of a fisherman living in the quaint seaside village of Sandsend, England.  Although happy, Gideon dreams of being a hero and experiencing moments of high adventure like his favorite pulp hero, Captain Lucien Trigger; Hero of the Empire.  Then one day his life is turned upside by an act of violence; his father and his crew disappear while out to sea.  When the local constable is unable to help him solved the mystery, Gideon turns to a London writer named Bram Stoker who has come to Sandsend in hopes of finding inspiration for a new book he wants to write about vampires.

All too soon, ominous events befall the small town.  A foreign sailing ship goes aground with only a dead captain tied to the wheel and a savage wild dog aboard.  Next the local constable vanishes while exploring local caves and a young boy is accosted by a bizarre humanoid frog-like mummy.  Stoker is convinced a dark evil has come ashore and he supports Gideon’s plan to go to London and solicit the aid of his hero, Captain Trigger.

Along the way, Gideon discovers a life-like mechanical girl named Maria whose inventor has also gone missing leaving her in the care of a sadistic male servant.  Gideon rescues Maria and together they make their way to the capital in hopes of finding the answers to both their mysteries.  In the end, Gideon discovers the truth behind his glorified idol and must come to grasp with the reality that magazine heroes are all too often just fiction and nothing more.  To find the answers he seeks, he will have to challenge himself beyond his boyhood dreams and tackle overwhelming obstacles along the way.

Fortunately he is not alone in his grand quest as he inadvertently gathers a colorful  group of characters willing to accompany him.  Joining Stoker and the mechanical girl are a fat, obnoxious city reporter named Bent, Elizabeth Bathory, the widow of Count Dracula, a beautiful airship pilot and a notorious Texan outlaw.  Together their adventure leads them to through the streets of London and then to the exotic dessert sands of Egypt where an ancient weapon is being assembled by a madman with one goal; to destroy the British Empire.

From beginning to end, “Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl,” is a pure delight any pulp fan will enjoy.  Unlike many of the convoluted, modern day thrillers we are constantly bombarded with these days, it a glorious reminder of the classic high adventure tales of such writers as H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson all delivered with unabashed bravura.  Barnett knows how to tell a whopper and the world he creates in this story is one this reviewer hopes to revisit often.  It sure beats the hell of reality.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

LEZ VAMPS



 LEZ VAMPS
Stories inspired by the art of Mark Wheatley
Edited by Gary Henry
Guest Reviewer Derrick Ferguson

See, I had no idea at all there there was even a Lesbian Vampire genre in print or movies. If I had, you can bet your sweet bippy I’d have been all over it in no time at all. Mark Wheatley explains it all in his highly entertaining introduction to LEZ VAMPS but I’ll give you the thumbnail: the short stories in LEZ VAMPS are based upon one of Mr. Wheatley’s paintings. His fans liked it so much a contest was launched to find the best short story based on that painting. And an extraordinary painting it is.  But don’t take my word for it.  Bounce on over to his Facebook fan page and check ‘em out for yourself.
Fortunately for us, the decision was made to collect some of the best entries into a digital anthology that is available for free. And it’s made a believer outta me when it come to the Lesbian Vampire genre.

But the first story “The Adoption” by James Smith wasn’t the one that did it for me. It’s the sort of story that as I was reading it I was way too aware of the fact that I was reading a story. It’s supposed to be humorous, I get that. But the overall effect on me was that of a guy in a bar jabbing you in your ribs with his elbow telling you what he thinks is the funniest joke in the world and you’re sitting there praying he’ll finish so you can get back to watching the ball game and drinking your beer.

“Boundary Dispute” by Cynthia and Mike Arsuaga did sell me on the premise, I’m happy to say and it should have been the first story in the book. This piece is drenched in sensual atmosphere and moodiness. Let’s face it, you give me a story that’s about Lesbian Vampires and I expect my fair share of erotic titillation. This story delivered exactly that.

“Lez Vamps” by Johnda Estep is what I call a Hit The Ground Running Story. It starts off fast and doesn’t let up. Most of it is carried along by dialog which is something I greatly admire in any writer as I feel my own work just doesn’t feel like if it has much meat unless I provide description. But some writers can convey exactly what they want to a reader by the skillful use of dialog and that’s what’s going on here. It’s a nice change up from the previous story which is heavy on description that feels like a heavy cloak wrapping around you. This one bounces back and forth and never slows down from start to finish.

Gordon Dymowski’s “Out There In The Night” is a straightforward story of vampire seduction. Mr. Dymowski tells a story that could easily be the beginning of a novel, if he wishes to take it further. But then again, he doesn’t have to. Between this story and “Boundary Dispute” I was beginning to get the whole thing about Vampire Lesbians…it’s not about sex and it’s really not even about the vampirism. It’s all about the seduction. Like the song says, that’s the hook that keeps you coming back and that’s the hook that kept me reading.

“Theatrics” by Bill Nichols did what I think “The Adoption” was trying to do: be a funny Lesbian Vampire story. The difference is that “Theatrics” actually is funny because Mr. Nichols got out of the way of his story and told the story instead of trying to impress me with how much of a funny guy he is.

“The Prey” by Askshat Sinha is really one that made me sit up and go ‘whoa’ because it started out to be one kind of story and subtly shifted into another so smoothly that I got blindsided and that’s exactly what I think the author was going for. This is the kind of story I read anthologies for and why I love them so much. “The Prey” has a gut punch of an ending I found very satisfying and enjoyable.

“The Undead” by Charles Baird also continues in that theme of seduction that I found I responded to in my favorite stories of this anthology. The sex and the actual vampirism is almost a byproduct of the way that the characters come into vampirism. They want to be seduced and they want to feel the overwhelming emotion of being pursued and seduced.  It’s like a drug and this story as well as “The Prey” and “Out There In The Night” communicates that very well.

“Vampires: A Short Essay” by Russ Rogers didn’t turn my crank at all.  Just like “The Adaption” it’s a story that came across to me as the writer trying to show how how hip and cool and funny he is rather than giving me a story worth my time to read.
There are a couple of poems in this anthology as well: “Night” by Johanda Estep and “Savior In The Tent Of Countess Reynardine” by Steffan Gilbert” that I didn’t review because when it comes down to poetry, I am way outta my league. My appreciation of poetry begins and ends with Dr. Seuss and I’m not ashamed to admit it. But if if you’re a fan and appreciate erotic poetry then by all means, check out the two offerings and maybe you’ll get more out of them than I did.

So should you read LEZ VAMPS? Well, first of all it’s a free read so there’s that to take into account. And most of the stories are pretty good so I’d say Yes. As for me, I’m going to hunt up more movies and stories about this Lesbian Vampires genre apparently you guys have been hiding from me.

(This E-book is avaible for FREE at the following links.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

THE ADVENTURES OF GRAVEDIGGER



THE ADVENTURES OF GRAVEDIGGER
By Barry Reese
Pro Se Press
146 pages

The fun of any Barry Reese pulp fiction is that very element; the fun.  It is an inherent element in every thing he writers and this, the premier volume, of his latest new character series is no exception.

Charity Grace grew up on the way-way wrong side of the tracks in Sovereign City.  The end result of this hard-knock life was her becoming a petty thief and ultimately led to her violent murder.  But cosmic forces manifested by a mysterious Voice are not prepared to allow her eternal slumber just yet.  Instead, floating in a weird limbo state between life and non-existence, Charity is offered a proposition.  She will be allowed to return to the land of the living for a period of three years.  In that time she must become an agent of righteous vengeance and eliminate, permanently, all who prey on the innocent in Sovereign City.  In other words she will become a vigilante executioner.  Considering her only other option is most likely eternal damnation, Charity wisely accepts the Voice’s offer.

Once back, her body renewed with new found vigor and abilities, she soon learns that she is only one in a long line of such special avengers known by the name, Gravedigger, though she has the dubious distinction of being the first female to assume the role.  With the all too brief mentoring of the former Gravedigger and his big, black British assistance, Charity begins to adapt to her new role.  Of course this being pulp fiction, she soon finds herself coming up against an assortment of supernatural menaces to including the gruesome Headless Horseman of American folklore; only he now proves to be a real entity and nearly impossible to kill.

We could go on and on about the cool elements Reese throws into this heady pulp stew chief of which are the cameo guest appearances by two of his other popular heroes, the Rook and Lazarus Gray and their very different reactions to the Gravedigger’s arrival on the crime-fighting scene.  And then there’s the historical back story that adds even more mysterious layers to the plot and is a clever hook for future volumes.

“The Adventures of the Gravedigger,” is another winner from one of the most entertaining writers in New Pulp today.  And friends, that’s saying a whole lot.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

THE AUSLANDER FILES



THE AUSLANDER FILES
By Michael Patrick Sullivan
Pulp 2.0 Press
110 pages

World War II has been raging for months when the white haired man awakens in a hotel room with no memory of who he is or what he is doing in America.  All he knows is that he speaks and thinks in German, vocally with an Austrian accent. So why is he in America?  And why does he have dreams that lead him to various cities where Nazis agents are about to launch acts of sabotage against US bases and interests?  Could it be that he planned those mission?  That he is the Nazis Master Spy and if he does get his memories back, will they prove him to be a heartless monster?

And therein lies the premise of the Auslander; a word that translates in German to mean alien.  With this enigmatic character, writer Michael Patrick Sullivan has created a truly original hero but with all the trappings of traditional pulp action.  This little booklet contains ten very short tales, each approximately 3,000 words in length that are quickly put forth, filled with frenetic pacing that never lets up.  Obviously being so short, there is no room for wasted exposition which is what makes each a gem of pulp fiction.

Sullivan also writes with a modern sensibility devoid of the melodramatic romances of the early pulps.  The Auslander kills, both the guilty and the innocent, to accomplish his missions and foil the saboteurs.  It’s a morally ambiguous line he is willing to cross time and time again.

Kudos to publisher Bill Cunningham and Pulp 2.0 for collecting these stories in a terrific paperback you don’t want to miss.  This reviewer is hoping we haven’t seen the last of the Auslander.