Monday, October 31, 2016


By Kate Pilarcik
Down & Out Books
114 pgs

Stream of consciousness writing is the process by which a writer jots down words faster than the output of a Thompson submachine gun. It is not easy to do, as often what ends up on the paper is a mish-mash of thoughts and disjointed ideas that simply don’t fit together at all. On the other hand, if you’re Kate Pilarcik, you end up with a book that is so energized with rapid-fire slang-slugs, it’s almost impossible to keep up with.  Honestly, if you aren’t an experienced reader who truly loves the written word, we are going to warn you away from this little gem. Why? Because to fully appreciate its nuances and word-games, one needs to love fiction. Pulp fiction to be exact. And of course we do, which in this case is a very happy happenstance.

Nelle Callahan is a gusty, tough-as-nail female P.I. who agrees to help a mysterious, handsome stranger locate his father’s lost will.  Seems like a simple enough, run-of-the-mill plot. Right. So she takes him to her favorite coffee shop down the street where they are assaulted by a mob thug. Then, after Nelle puts the mug’s lights out, with the owner’s help via a swinging fry pan, she finds herself chasing after a famous baseball player who just happened to be in the joint and witnessed the confrontation.  Apparently a talented player for the Phillies, this sportsman, it turns out, was at the shop looking for Nelle in the hope she can get him reinstated and back on the playing field.

All of which takes the story into the world of pre-World War II baseball and it is a ride as wacky and joyous as an extra innings pitchers’ duel.  Do recall my earlier warning; this is the kind of book that takes detours you never saw coming. Then, before you can sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” we discover this troubled big leaguer is in possession of a priceless J.R. Reach bat made of white ash, of which only three were made.

Oh, and did we mention Nelle is also a secret agent for the O.S.S.?

“The Damp Fedora,” once we managed to cut our way through the first five pages, took off like a bucking bronco fresh out of the rodeo shute forcing us to hold on for dear life. With every wondrous phrase, evocative of times long gone, we experienced a thrill ride like none other found between the pages of such a slim book. Pilarcik is a bloody genius and you heard it here first.  Now, Lady, you owe me a cold one.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


By C.E. Martin
50 pgs.

Here we have the second little chapter book in C.E. Martin’s fun series which has the Greek Gods returning to Earth, but this time during the days of the American Wild West. Each takes on a different, iconic western persona while attempting to advance their ancient agenda of getting mortals to worship them anew.

The main protagonist is Hercules, now living the life of a frontier Catholic priest named Father Sergio Ercole.  When a band of murdering Indians made up entirely of squaws go on the rampage, the mysterious Jack Black cajoles Father Ercole in going after these female killers to discover the reason by their deadly war-party.

Honestly, with only 50 pgs, this chapter book packs a wallop.  We can’t recommend this series strong enough. Check out C.E. Martin’s webpage.  You’ll be glad you did.

Monday, October 24, 2016


The Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy
Edited by Mark Finn, Chris Gruber & Jeffrey Shanks
Skelos Press
160 pgs.

It is always a pleasure being surprised by something straight out of the blue.  Perhaps the most extinct publication form today is the genre themed magazine.  Over the years, they have gradually died out; due in most part to economic reasons.  Books are simply easier and cheaper to print while a magazine, regardless of its scheduling, simply demands a great deal more work.  Which is why the appearance of a full blown, illustrated periodical devoted to weird fiction is nothing short of miraculous these days.

So before even getting into the contents and quality of this title, we have to tip our pulp fedora to the Herculean efforts of editors Finn, Gruber and Shanks.  They have achieved something truly special and much needed in the world of literature today.  “Skelos 1” is brimming with creepy, frightening tales of various lengths, all guaranteed to produce nightmares in unsuspecting readers.  While peppered amongst all this excellent fiction are several critical essays examining such topics as Robert E. Howard’s world building to the comparison of H.P. Lovecraft with Welsh writer Arthur Machen. 

These scholarly pieces may not be for the average pulp readers, but for those devoted to the genres, they provide intriguing insights to their respective subjects.  And if that wasn’t enough, the magazine also features fantasy poetry, something unseen since the early days of the pulps.  Add to this evocative artwork and deft design work and the reader comes away holding on to a true pulp treasure.  In fact, after reading issue # 1 from cover to cover, this reviewer can easily imagine how long ago fans of Weird Tales must have felt when it first appeared on the scene.  Like that august title, “Skelos” offers up unlimited potential and could prove to be welcome platform in discovering new creators with a genuine talent for the macabre.  “The Yellow Death” by David Hardy was our personal favorite in this collection.  Still, in the end, the title’s greatest challenge will be building a supportive, loyal audience. 

For now, they’ve taken a huge, successful first step.  Here’s hoping issue # 2 is not too far on the horizon.

Friday, October 21, 2016


By Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
209 pages
Release Date – Oct 4, 2016

Regardless of one’s opinion of the new “Quarry” Cinemax TV series, it has shined a light on these fantastic books and that is a benefit worth applauding.  As Collins says in his Afterward, the first Quarry book came out in 1976 and was topical at the time. Upon reading these new editions, one is catapulted back to very different America and thus they have truly become “period pieces.”

Which, in the case of “Quarry in the Black,” is poignantly ironic with its setting being the presidential campaign of ’76 pitting Richard Nixon against George McGovern.  And here we are smack in the middle of another contentious race with all the same circus atmosphere they all seem to engender.

Quarry, the Vietnam sniper vet turned professional assassin, is given the job of killing Reverend Raymond Wesley.  A one time drug addict and pusher, Wesley found redemption while in prison and upon his release became a vocal crusader for the Civil Rights movement and McGovern supporter.  Although Quarry normally has no qualms as to who his targets are, the political implications of this assignment bother him. Enough so that he questions the Broker, the middleman who gives him his contracts, as to the relevancy of such a hit.  In other words he wants to know why a good man like Wesley should be slated for death.  The assignation of Martin Luther King is very much on his mind and he has no desire to be the next James Earl Ray.

The Broker, sensing his unease, explains that their client claims Wesley’s ministry is a sham; that he is still dealing drugs.  Only now he is using his new public persona to facilitate his old criminal ways.  The moral issue put aside temporarily, Quarry takes the job and signs on to Wesley’s organization as a disillusioned veteran wanting to help the preacher’s noble cause.  But as in any Quarry novel, things are never exactly what they seem and before long, our sarcastic protagonist is caught up with white supremacists, crooked drug dealers and a beautiful campaign worker who had an affair with the holier than thou Reverent.

Bullets fly, bodies fall and in the end, Quarry, as ever, unmasks the truth for all its sweet bitterness.  Having come to this series late, we will be forever grateful to Hard Case Crime for having the wisdom to bring them back in these beautiful produced new editions.  Do yourself a favor and get every single one of them.  Nobody writes noir better than Max Collins.

PS – As for that TV show, we give it a B plus.  Keeping in mind, this is an altogether different medium and the creators’ vision of Quarry.  It isn’t a bad one and we have enjoyed season one.  Hopefully with a season two, we’ll see the character evolve into one more aligned with his prose identity. 

Monday, October 10, 2016


(A Phillip Chandler Mystery)
By Bill Craig
Whiz Bang LLC
274 pgs

Bill Craig can knock out a half dozen crime thrillers faster than most established writers can do one. The amazement is, they are all damn good books. With “Circle City Shakedown,” first released in 2014, he starts a brand new series featuring a former U.S. Deputy Marshal named Phillip Chandler who has come to Indianapolis to start his new career as a private investigator.

Before going much further here, let’s state that one of this book’s many pluses was setting it take place anywhere other than New York, Los Angeles or Miami.  Not that we have any issues with books using those locales, only that they’ve been terribly over-used in the past and it is truly refreshing to see a private eye working somewhere else for a change. That Craig knows Indy all too well, is evident from the first page and thus is able to bring the reader into this tale effortlessly.

Chandler’s first case as a new private dick is to locate a missing stripper with the stage name Rita Red. According to her friend, another dancer named Mary Norman, Rita went to a private party on the suggestion of the stage manager and never came home.  Taking the case, Chandler soon begins to suspect Rita has met with foul play at the hands of a sadistic city official with both deep pockets and ties to corrupt financial power brokers.  That corruption even extends into the police department and the more he digs, the more dangerous his job becomes.

“Circle City Shakedown” moves fast like the blast of a .45 lead slug.  Craig never lets his plot languish and keeps Chandler moving through this twisted maze of crime and corruption like a juggernaut on auto-pilot.  We eventually learn that Chandler’s wife and daughter had been brutally murdered by a former gang boss and one of the men responsible for their deaths is connected with the people he is investigating. 

The characters here are rich and appealing and Craig orchestrates the entire story so that it builds to a powerful climax that delivers everything a good thriller should have.  By the last page, we were glad to have met this new shamus and his supporting cast and will be anxious to see what other kinds of trouble they get into next time. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2016


By William C. Dietz
Ace Books
327 pgs
Guest Reviewer – Andrew Salmon

This isn't the first time Dietz has destroyed the world and he's gotten better at it. INTO THE GUNS doesn't waste a second getting going right out of the gate. On May Day 2018, 60 meteors hit the Earth and send the world into chaos. The United States lose Washington and the government is wiped out in one disastrous stroke, sending the country into upheaval where resources are the new currency and power is up for grabs.

We initially experience the catastrophe through the eyes of First Lieutenant Robin "Mac" Macintyre. She's career military as is her sister and father though they don't see eye to eye on most things - to put it mildly.  In the wake of the strikes, her first concern is protecting her unit while trying to hammer out her next move now that the military command structure is either gone or cut off.

Dietz then switches the action from Mac to Samuel T. Sloan, the United States Secretary of Energy. He's in Tampico on an official function when meteor strikes send a tsunami into the coastal city - while an attempt is being made to kidnap him.

With the players in place, things heat up as Mac is confronted by roving bands or small and well organized raiders, hoarders and those making power grabs while Sloan finds himself faced with enough troubles to give James Bond the jitters. Dietz's action scenes are, as usual, second to none. It's not just one gun blazing scene after another. Strategies are employed and they don't always work. The battles are realistic, heroic, tragic, chaotic and impactful in driving the story forward.

The characterization is spot on and you can't help but root for the novel's heroes as they gradually are united against a common enemy. The world becomes a very, very dangerous place overnight and everyone is in it up to their necks. Actions have consequences here and our protagonists are not necessarily given a free pass. As INTO THE GUNS is the first of a trilogy, Dietz does a great job of setting things up for the next installments but doesn't skimp on the action and plot movement.

All this makes for an engaging reading. We're not talking about a series of cool action scenes strung together. No, INTO THE GUNS has a definite goal and it gets there in spades.  The stakes continue to rise as the meteor dust settles. Battles big and small are waged but they are only the opening shots of a war to come. By the time you get to the last page, you're out of breath. But things are really only getting started. This reader is looking forward to the next book in the series.

INTO THE GUNS delivers! You don't want to miss this one.