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.