Thursday, October 31, 2013


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


(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


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


A Walt Longmire Story
By Craig Johnson
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


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.