Friday, August 11, 2017

ROAD TO PERDITION (New Expanded Novel)



ROAD TO PERDITION
The New, Expanded Novel
Max Allan Collins
Brash Books
239 pages

Some times books and our interest in them take overly circuitous paths to reach us. Such was this case with this Max Allan Collins masterpiece. Bear with me, please.

Back in 1987, the late-lamented First Comics began publishing an English version of a highly popular Japanese manga series called “Lone Wolf and Cub.” Begun in 1970, it was written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Goseki Kojima. The series chronicles the story of Ogami Itto, the Shogun’s executioner who uses a dotankuki battle sword. Disgraced by false accustions from another clan, he becomes an assassin and along with his three year old son, Daigoro, they seek revenge on their enemies.

In Japan the story was adapted into six films, four plays and a TV series. With First Comics’ English version, it quickly became a cult favorite; especially among those comic fans familiar with the original manga series. Among these was these was Max Collins whereas this reviewer was new to the series and its history. But that didn’t stop us from becoming devoted fans. Sadly First Comics folded before they could redo the entire manga run.

In 1998, over a decade later, Paradox Press, an imprint of DC Comics, released “Road to Perdition” written by Collins with art by Richard Piers Rayner. Told against the backdrop of the Great Depression in 1931, it tells the story of Michael O’Sullivan, a mob enforcer and his son, Michael Jr., as they seek vengeance against the man who murdered the rest of their family. DC, wanting to promote the project, plastered images of the adult gunman and his young son in all of their titles. When seeing these for the first time, we instantly recalled “Lone Wolf and Cub” and rightly guessed Collins had been inspired by that Japanese comic. In subsequent interviews, he was only to happy label “Road to Perdition” an unabashed homage to “Lone Wolf and Cub.”

Then, for reasons long forgotten, we never picked up a copy of that graphic novel though we’d been devoted followers of Collins comic work from “Ms. Tree” to “Wild Dog.” Eventually, as most of you know, “Road to Perdition” was made into a spectacular crime film in 2002. Directed by Sam Mendes with a screenplay adaptation by David Self. The movie starred Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law and pre-James Bond Daniel Craig. It was a big hit and won several Oscars to include a posthumous one for Best Cinematography. Naturally, it was no surprise that DC immediately re-issued Collins’ graphic novel and after having enjoyed the movie so damn much, we finally got our hands on that comic. Needless to say, it simply blew us away.

Now at the same time that all this was transpiring, Collins was approached to write a novel based on Self’s screenplay. It was only good marketing that the studio wanted a novelization of the movie out on the bookshelves at the same time the film was showing in theaters. Having done many previous such adaptions, Collins took on the assignment and decided to merge elements from both his original graphic novel and the film’s screenplay thus expanding on the entire saga in a way that would provide readers with a richer, more detailed experience rather than simply rehashing what had already been done. Then, to Collins’ chagrin, the film company declined to do the longer version and published an edited edition that conformed closer to the film. Collins did protest but to no avail.

Now, thanks to Brash Books, and Steven Spielberg, his complete novel has at long last been published and every crime fiction buff should be jumping with joy. And there you have the tale of this reviewer’s route to what is perhaps Collins’ most poetic and memorable work. Upon opening the book, we were a bit leery that we’d not be able to get past the actors’ images when reading the story. Happily that pitfall never happens due entirely to Collins’ ability to add weight and substance to these characters; to deftly expolore their tortured souls and offer us a complex, heart rendering tale about the good and evil that resides in all of us. Michael O’Sullivan and John Looney are never more believable than revealed in these pages and at times the anguish they endure becomes unbearable. If you only saw the movie, you’ve only gotten half the story.

In the bible, God warns that “Vengeance is mine.” Woe to those who would wear it as a shield for in the end, they too will become its victims. “Road to Perdition” is at its core a story of good people trying to survive and the sins they commit to do so. Read this complete version and we promise you, it will stay with you for days to come. This is a master’s work and we thank Collins for finally bringing it to us.

Friday, August 04, 2017

I WATCHED THEM EAT ME ALIVE




I WATCHED THEM EAT ME ALIVE
The Men’s Adventure Library Journal
Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle
# new texture
124 pages

Ever since launching their Men’s Adventure Library, Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle have taken on the wonderful task of educating pulp fans on the history of Men’s Adventure Magazines. These over-the-top magazines with their garishly painted covers were by their very nature the true heirs to the classic adventure pulps of the 1930s and 1940s. War weary veterans, having survived the horrors of World War II, were ready for periodicals that unabashedly celebrated their courage and sacrifices. It was a time when being macho was norm, and the ideal of the American male. There was none of the angst and politically correct idiocacy that so pervades every facet of our society today.

These magazines were intended for men and were filled with tales of rugged heroism whether taking place on the battlefields of Europe and the South Pacific or pitting the protagonists against the still existing wildernesses of the world. They certainly were not for the squeamish and under that MAM’s umbrella there were many distinct sub-genres; none more gruesome than those featuring animal attacks. Be they rats, weasels, giant sea crabs or slithering, slimy snakes, the Man vs Critters yarns were some of the most violent ever concocted and often stretched the boundries of the truth. Sure it was unlikely that Australia’s flying squirrels would enmass attack and kill humans, but the idea itself was enough to sell a MAM’s editor and soon inspire a startling cover depicting that very scene.

With “I Watched Them Eat Me Alive,” Deis and Doyle have given us a new, slimmer tome with this very theme as its central core. The book is filled with five of the most memorable such tales by veteran scribes Stan Smith, Robert Silverberg, Lylod Parker, Lester Hutton and the amazing Walter Kaylin. Kaylin’s snake-fest is a fitting finale to the book’s fiction and will surely be the source of our nightmares to come.

Peppered between these stories are seven pictorial reproducing some of the most beautiful MAM’s covers and interior art ever produced by classic artists such as Rafael De Soto, Norm Saunders, Clarence Doore and many others who got their start in the pulps. Again reminding us of that evolution.

The MAM’s died out in the early 70s, soon to be forgotten and those issues that survived were relegated to attic boxes. It is a true testimony to Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle that they have managed to rekindle a genuine historical interest in those titles and together they insure that they will maintain their place in America’s literary history. We soundly applaud them…and this terrific book. If you love pulps, you need to pick this up along with all their previous titles. Believe us, you will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

THE SLEEP DETECTIVES GO TO WASHINGTON



THE SLEEP DETECTIVES GO TO WASHINGTON
By Matthew Bieniek
188 pages

Matthew Bienek has been writing and self-publishing his genre books for the past few years. He’s a regular at the annual Windy City Pulp & Paper Convention and that is where our paths crossed. Several years ago he gave me a copy of “The Sleep Detectives,” the first in a series about a young man named Tony Michalik who has the ability to visit, in his dreams, any event that has occurred in the past. By doing so, Tony was able to help the Acme Detective Agency solved many of the local police’s Cold Cases. It was a fun book and really well written. Bienek has a no-nonsense approach to his writing and he pays attention to details, never ignoring them while being very careful to maintain a specific logic in his narrative.

Since that first book, he’s done a few Sleep Detective novelettes and now he offers us a second full length adventure. The tale starts up a year later with Tony having become a valuable asset to the Acme Detective Agency. Enough so that their unusual success rate at solving crimes has come to the attention of several government agencies, in particular the C.I.A. Through their own means, they discover that Tony is the reason for the company’s successes and approach him with an offer to work for them. To sweeten the deal, they invite Tony, accompanied by his girlfriend Maria and best friend Danny, to Washington D.C. to meet with specialists in the field of paranormal abilities. As Tony has a fear of flying, the trio, along with the agent, opt to travel by train. Hours before their arrival in the nation’s capitol, the operative is murdered in his sleeping car leaving our heroes in a real quandary. They decide to make their way to Fort Meade, where their C.I.A. appointment was set up on their own and hope to discover some answers.

As the plot moves along, Tony and his pals learn that there are Soviet Agents who may be responsible for the agent’s death as they are also trying to recruit Tony. At first he assumes it is for their country but later learns the two foreign spies are working for a private firm made up of former C.I.A. and F.B.I. people who work for rich clients in the shadowy world of international espionage. Eventually Tony encounters representatives of this group and shortly thereafter is involved with another murder.

Bienek never falls into the Hollywood trap of turning his likeable protagonist into some kind of instant superhero. Tony remains very much a sincere young man whose desire is to help other with his uncanny abilities and is very naïve to the machinizations of mercenary intelligence agencies. This is another solid entry in a superbly realized series and we liked it as much as the first book. Here’s hoping a third Sleeping Detective is just around the corner.

Monday, July 17, 2017

SENTINELS 9 : Vendetta



SENTINELS 9 : VENDETTA
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
290 pages

More years ago than we care to remember, a budding new pulp writer sent us a book called “When Strikes The Warlord.” It was a prose superhero adventure featuring a team called the Sentinels and clearly inspired by Marvel Comics’ own Avengers. The author of that book was Van Allen Plexico and with that one book he launched a series that grew in scope and grandeur with each new chapter.

Initially the stories centered on the earthbound heroes; Ultraa, the powerful team leader, Esro Brachis, the millionaire genius inventor and Wendy Lee, a beautiful young woman with amazing powers. Oh, there were others, but these three made up the core of the group and as time went on their personalities began to take shape with each additional adventure. It was immediately obvious that Plexico’s grand scheme would take these heroes far beyond the boundaries of one lonely planet as a plethora of alien beings began popping up to either threaten the Earth or save it.  From Star Knights to a thousand year old space warrior suffering from amnesia, the scope of the Sentinels broadened quickly.

Eventually we encountered the space faring Kur-bai from the planet Kurizon and their heroes known as the Elites. Soon both teams were fighting side by side against living stars and other fantastical galactic beings, all seeking to rule the universe. And that was all within the confines of the first six books. With the seventh, Plexico set about taking his now mega-cast on an amazing journey to Kurizon itself. The Sentinels and Elites mission  was to rescue the Empire from a tyrant.  What they did not know was shortly after their departure, one of their greatest foes, an immortal known as the Black Terror,  assembled a human space fleet and flew off after them to invade Kurizon and conquer the Kur-bai Empire.

“Sentinels : Vendetta,” opens with almost a dozen plot lines and constantly shifts from one character to another at such a rapid pace, this reviewer began thinking of installing a seat belt on our reading recliner. The action in this epic finale moves at breakneck speed and in such a grandiose fashion, especially for the diehard fans who have been along this ride from the beginning.  Side note – of all the entries in this saga, this one, as brilliantly written as it is, is nothing but one battle after another, each more powerful and dramatic than the previous featuring most of the cast. Ergo, a new reader would most likely give up after the few chapters. Knowing these heroes and villains is crucial to enjoying what a true climatic masterpiece this book becomes. It is the grand payoff all of us have been waiting for and Plexico doesn’t disappoint. All his wonderful and amazing characters get their time on the stage and in the most logical and satisfying ways possible.

In the end an powerful empire’s history is redirected for the betterment of all its people, two heroes wed and the Earth is once again safe thanks to the courage of a handful of heroes, both human and alien.  “Sentinels 9 : Vendetta,” is simply a gift to we readers from a writer who never once lost sight of his goal; to write the ultimate space opera of all time. Well done, Van Allen Plexico, mission accomplished.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

CEARA AMENA




CEARA AMENA
Warrior of the Qumran Desert
By Jamie Evans
Pulpsmack Publishing
88 pages

For the past several years, writer Jamie Evans has been writing and publishing his own fiction in small chapbooks. Released in 2015, this one clearly had no real editing. What appears on the pages is often disjointed and lacking in any structured plot. It becomes obvious Evans is a seat-of-the-pants story teller just jumping in over his head and praying he can paddle fast enough to stay afloat.

And here’s the thing, he manages to actually do just that, despite the overwhelming flaws on display. Thus we’ve no desire to focus solely on his lack of technical prowess but instead applaud his knack for spinning a fast-paced adventure. And with only 88 pages to do it, you have to know there is no fat on these bones; though it might have helped round his characters just a bit more. Skills we hope he learns to cultivate, with the help of a good editor some day.

The lead character Ceara Amena; a blade for hire who often works for the city of Dagon. When she’s asked to spy on a neighboring city, it is because there are rumblings of a possible invasion. She takes the job. But before she can even reach her destination, she is warned by a beautiful stranger that an evil sorcerer named Che Mosh is pulling the strings behind the scenes. His ultimate goal is to marry the rightful heir, Princess Aeveen, and with her at his side, wage war against the other desert people until he rules them all. 

Amena all too soon finds herself collecting a group of misfit warriors; a mining dwarf, a forest scout and a seven tall blue giant. In the end they unravel Che Mosh’s dastardly scheme, rescue the princess and defeat the evil magician. It’s all pretty much by the numbers, but again, Evans has such a wild flair for action, it is as if he doesn’t care as long as he’s having fun. Which in itself is contagious, despite the lack of writing sophistication. This reviewer recalls how many of the early pulp writers were similar “hacks” who managed to grow with their craft. We think Jamie Evans certainly has that potential and we’re rooting for him all the way.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

RISE OF THE SKULL CRUSHER



RISE OF THE SKULL CRUSHER
By Joel Jenkins
Pulp Work Press
269 pgs

Book two of this fast based fantasy series continues adventures of exiled prince Strommand Greattrix as he battles to free his people in the kingdom of Argalas from the tyrannical rule of the Damionite Empire. The action takes place on the planet Carparath where sword and sorcery are the weapons of choice and warring nations battle for power in the skies via fleets of massive balloon ships.

At the end of book one “Skull Crusher,” Strommand had commandeered an enemy scout ship along with three people he had rescued; Shawna a fiery redheaded slave being brutally tortured and then Amber, a beautiful black woman and her warrior ally Roland, who were prisoners of dessert raiders. Together the four of them overcoma the crew of the small airship and barely escaped with their lives, the ship half destroyed and staying aloft with only a few balloons and prayers.

Book two picks up with Strommand guiding the dilapidated half-ship to the mountain kingdom of Covallis in search of his exiled uncle Lance Greattrix. Strommand’s plan is to persuade his uncle, the true legitimate heir to the throne of Argalas, to assist him in recruiting a new air flotilla and return to their homeland to retake it from the usurpers. But nothing is ever simple in a world where politics are constantly changing people’s loyalties and the prince must court favors from several foreign royal families before he can successfully complete his mission. It is a dangerous game as he is uncertain who he can trust and who would betray him to gain favor with the enemy lords.

In the Greattrix saga, writer Jenkins weaves an adventure that is eighty percent Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian tales as if they filtered through George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones.” This volume is a delightful mix of over-the-top action and Machiavellian intrigues all perfectly balanced with a deft touch. Jenkins strength is his imagination and ability to create some of the most memorable female characters ever to grace the pages of a fantasy epic; each is unique and equally memorable. We enjoyed the first entry in this series a great deal and are thrilled that the verve and adventure haven’t let up one single bit in this second installment. If you love original fantasy adventure, you’ll look far and wide before finding anything as good as this saga. So says this reviewer.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

THE ADVENTURE OF THE INGONITA COUNTESS



THE ADVENTURE OF THE
INCOGNITO COUNTESS
By Cynthia Ward
Aqueduct Press
110 pgs

Lucy Harker is the daughter of Count Dracula and Mina Harker, a fact known only to a handful of people. Growing up half-vampire, she is trained to become a spy for the British government and is directed by the mysterious M, in this case that stands for Mycroft Holmes. In her first field assignment, Lucy is told to she is to act as a secret bodyguard to an American military officer traveling back the United States aboard the maiden ship Titantic. The officer carries with him the plans to Captain Nemo’s long lost  super submarine, the Nautilus. It is imperative the plans reach America safely and do not fall into enemy hands. The enemy being the Germans who are once again beating the drums of war.

Now if you love outlandish pulp plots as this reviewer does, then you have to know Ms. Ward’s is so marvelously peppered with such well known fictional characters that we were captivated from the very first chapter. Never mind that once aboard the Titantic, Lucy encounters the Lord and Lady Greyborough; well known throughout the empire for their wealth and prestige. Rumors abound that he, James Greyborough, was actually raised by apes in the jungles of Africa as a babe. Lucy sees him as a possible ally should she need one during the long sea trip.

Whereas there are several German agents also on board; which comes as no real surprise. Having been properly briefed my M, Lucy believes herself ready for anything. Anything that is except for a beautiful young woman named Carmilla Karnstein who happens to be an actual vampire with abilities far beyond her own. Though instantly attracted to the exotic beauty, Lucy suspects her of being in with the spies and must be ever vigilant or else be undone.

But when her passions threaten to override her training, she soon finds herself in more danger than she could possibly have imagined. “The Adventure of the Incognita Countess,” is pure pulp in the grandest style and Ward’s panache in bringing these colorful characters together in such a radical, over-the-top plot is just fantastic. This is one of those adventures one needs to relish and relinquish all attempts finding a rational behind the plot. It’s just fun…and tons of it.  And wait till the iceberg shows up!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

RESTLESS




RESTLESS
(An Anthology of Mummy Horror)
Edited by Jim Beard & John C. Bruening
Flinch Books
187 pgs

Once again the good folks at Flinch Books have put together another terrific anthology filled with top-notch stories. This one’s theme all about the classic Mummy monsters found in black and white movies and turn of the century horror novels. The writers are among the best of New Pulp today and they do not disappoint even the most jaded of readers.

Barry Reese kicks it all off with his “Love’s Deadly Kiss.” When a British explorer Thomas York returns to England after his latest adventures in Africa, he discovers that his old friend has acquired a unique mummy and appears to be under its influence somehow. When that gentleman is cruelly murdered, York investigates only to learn he too has fallen victim to the sway of this ancient, immortal temptress.

“To Rise and Conquer” by Teel James Glenn follows next. During the Japanese invasion of China, an America flier finds himself fleeing with several escapees through the rugged terrain of Mongolia. They find a hidden cave in which to hide from their pursuers only to discover it holds the remains one of history’s most lauded conquerors.

“The Weighing of the Dead,” is by Sam Gafford and introduces us to a British occult detective named Dr. Greenwood and his first meeting with Claire Montgomery, an archeologist looking into mysterious occurrences in the London Royal Museum. Plenty of horror and action ensue.

Duane Spurlock then offers up “Spirits From the Dread World.” An ancient Aztec mummy is revised to wreak havoc on the citizens of Mexico City unless a once famous luchador named El Puno can regain his courage and come to their rescue.

“The Warrior and the Stone,” by John Bruening has archeologist Jake Bennett and his Turkish guide, Haluk deep in the mountains between Tibet and China looking of a lost magical stone said to bestow immortality. Instead what they uncover is an ancient warrior trapped in time and awaiting his last battle.

Nancy Hansen wraps up the volume with her story, “Sacrifices.” When the mummified remains of a warrior women are found intact in the wilderness of the Russian steppes, Marcela Ramos is called in by a Russian colleague to help investigate. But no sooner does she set about bringing the frozen corpse back to the United States when a serious of mysterious accidents befalls the crews involved with the transport process. Enough so that Marcela soon realizes she’s taken on a horrible curse that could spell her doom.

It isn’t often when reviewing an anthology that we have such a difficult time choosing our favorite entry. That’s how great all these stories in this collection truly are. Whereas if given no other recourse, our needle with point to Teel James Glenn by the narrowest of margins. Truthfully, this there isn’t a bad apple in the bunch and our fedora if off to Flinch Books once again. If you love old fashion horror, pick up “Restless,” dim the lights and sit down for an evening reading pleasure. You can thank us later.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

FACES OF FEAR



The Black Bat-The Purple Scar
Faces of Fear
By Ron Fortier
Illustrations by Rob Davis
Moonstone Books
86 pgs
Guest Reviewer – Michael Housel

                                                                                               
Just finished the novella, THE BLACK BAT/THE PURPLE SCAR: FACES OF FEAR, the latest crossover adventure from Moonstone Books. Gotta say--whoa!!! This one sure overflows with action and intrigue. It's also written by Black Bat raconteur and Airship 27 Publications founder, Ron Fortier (a good sign, if ever there was one, for no one weaves a New Pulp yarn quite like Captain Ron). The adventure is also graced by gripping illustrations from his creative pal, the legendary Rob Davis!!!

Faces of Fear deals with the evident rise of dead criminals within Black Bat/Tony Quinn's NY turf. It appears that the insidious, porcelain-faced Mr. Mask is responsible. Naturally, Black Bat (accompanied by his faithful assistant, Silk Kirby) leaps in to tackle the situation. However, as the weirdness mounts, another enigmatic figure enters--that hard-hitting, rubber-masked avenger, the Purple Scar, aka Miles Murdoch. 

After the Black Bat rescues the Purple Scar from a sticky situation, the crusaders decide to join forces to untangle the perplexing manifestations.

As with Fortier's Black Bat comic-book entries, Faces of Fear moves at a rapid clip, but the blistering action never blurs the characterizations, which remain distinct throughout, courtesy of the author's crisp, engaging style. The story also does an excellent job probing concepts of identity and the secrets people tuck beneath their various facades. 

Davis' wonderful illustrations give a film-noir ambiance to the tale: each image projecting a moody, almost three-dimensional depth that pulp fans will relish. 

By the adventure's conclusion, one side triumphs over the other, but I won't reveal exactly how. Experiencing the way Black Bat and Purple Scar (or more precisely, Fortier and Davis) make it click is all part of the fun. 

Incidentally, the stunning hardback-cover artwork is by Davis, with Eric Enervold having rendered the dynamic, softcover version. Cool!!! 

Give Faces of Fear a try. You're guaranteed a rousing treat, with either edition you buy. Heck, why not splurge for both? 

Sunday, June 04, 2017

THE GUNS ABOVE



THE GUNS ABOVE
By Robyn Bennis
Tor Books
351 pages

We love this book! The reasons for this overwhelming reaction are many and we’ll happily elaborate for your edification. Years ago, while still in high school, we discovered the works of British writer C.S. Forster and his clever navel hero, Horatio Hornblower. It was a romantic saga filled with action and heroes; the stuff teenage boys dream of. Then along about that same period in our creative evolution, we discovered the grand airships of old, from the German made Zeppelins to their American Navy counterparts, the Los Angeles and Macon. We began promptly collecting everything we could in regards to these fantastic clippers of the cloud.

Thus is should be no surprise to anyone that when we began our own publishing venture, we labeled it Airship 27 Productions. Now, we report all of this because in lieu of the ever increasing popularity of steampunk, more and more books have been written dealing with airships; including “The Guns of Above.” When we saw an ad on-line for the title, we immediately reached out to Tor Books and asked to receive a review copy. They were gracious enough to respond and last week it arrived, wrapped in a truly beautiful cover by artist Tommy Arnold.

Lt. Josette Dupre is an executive officer on a Garnian Army’s Aerial Signal Corp airship during the bloody war with their enemy, the neighboring nation of Vinzhalia. As the book opens, her ship, the Osprey has crash landed in the middle of a savage battle and her captain killed. Dupre takes command of the survivors and rallies the ground forces to salvage a victory from sure defeat. As a reward for her gallantry, she is promoted to Captain and given her own ship, a small scout christened the Mistral.

Now in the grand tradition of steampunk, we must explain these are not the more recognizable airships of our own reality, but actual steam powered rigid crafts containing multiple gas bags and armed with canons locked into wheeled tracks. The airmen fire powder and flint rifles. Considering this level of technology, it becomes all too clear within the first few chapters that life aboard these airships are fraught with peril, if not from enemy airships, then the very fragility of the ships themselves. And it is in this world where life and death waltz together in the heavens that Captain Josette Dupre finds her calling.

Whereas the mores of the time are not as advanced as the sciences and though women are allowed to serve in the aircorp, they are forbidden to participate in actual combat. Dupre’s promotion has nothing to do with her skills or heroism, but rather the fact that the war has decimated the ranks of qualified officers and that is why she is given Mistral; there was no else available. A fact she is all too aware of. But it doesn’t deter her from recruiting other women for her own crew and treating them as equals. 

She even has a spy to contend with.  The Commander of the Garnian Army, one General Hinkal, wants to see her fail and so orders his aristocratic nephew, Lord Bernat Hinkal to fly with the Mistral and there write up a secret report detailing Dupre’s failings so as to provide the General with the evidence he requires to have her dismissed and removed from command.

All of which would be easy enough to accomplish if not for two things. The first being Josette Dupre is very much a capable leader and skillfully leads her new ship into one hazardous mission after another gradually inspiring her crew and gaining their loyalty. While at the same time winning over Bernat, a spoiled dandy who, for the first time in his life, is given the opportunity to act like a man, to find his own self worth and in the process become Dupre’s most unlikely ally.

“The Guns Above” is a rousing adventure from first page to last and what is even more unbelievable is the fact that it is the author’s debut novel. It has been a long time since this reviewer has been so enamored with a fictional character so brilliantly conceived and realized. Captain Josette Dupre is such a figure and when you’ve read her adventures, you’ll add her to the ranks of such heroes as Hornblower and James T. Kirk.  When Jan. 2018 rolls around, we will be nominating “The Guns Above” for the Pulp Factory Awards in the Best Novel category. Now go grab a copy and join us.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

SKELOS 2



SKELOS     2
The Magazine of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy
Edited by Mark Fin, Chris Gruber, Jeffrey Shanks
Skelos Press
202 pages

Last year we had the pleasure of reviewing the first issue of this terrific new fantasy journal and gave it a resounding welcome. Imagine both our surprise and delight upon opening the second issue and discovering it is not only as good as the premier volume but in some ways even better.

Billed as repository for short fiction, novellas, interviews, art, reviews and essays, the journal does a magnificent job of covering each venue with excellent pieces, be they fiction or expository articles. Each is of superb quality and among this issue we, as any review would, had our favorites. Fiction-wise, Robert M. Price’s “The Eleventh Scarlett Hell,” is a marvelous Thongor of Lemuria adventure novelette to be relished, while the short works of Milton Davis, Cynthia Ward and Jessica Amanda Salmonson were our favorites among that category.

Frank Coffman is a devilishly clever poet and is his “The Wood” was particularly creepy as were “The Night Realm” by Chad Hensely and “The Mockingbird” by Pat Calhoun. Had we had similar verse in high school, English Lit would have certainly been a whole lot more interesting.

We were unfamiliar with writer Arriane “Tex” Thompson until Mark Finn’s interview and may have to acquaint ourselves with more of her work in the future. “Warrior Women of History,” presented by Jeffrey Shanks with illustrations by Samuel Dillon was pure joy. One has to wonder why more hasn’t been done with these amazing characters from history.

Lastly, and always helpful, were a half dozen reviews by folks such as Dave Breski, Jake Vander Weide and Keith West, to name a few.

All in all, another treasure trove of both tales and artwork, beautifully designed and presented. Fantasy fans should be rejoicing loudly.  SKELOS 2 is another homerun by a production staff that knows the fantasy genre inside and out. We can only dream of what they are going to do with volume 3.

Monday, May 22, 2017

THE WILL TO KILL



THE WILL TO KILL
(The Lost Mike Hammer Mystery)
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Titan Books
230 pages

The release of yet another “lost” Mike Hammer novel by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins is always a cause for celebration among mystery lovers. In this case, Hammer discovers the partial remains of a corpse floating on a chunk of ice in the Hudson River. A quick investigation determines the dead man was the butler of a one time cop turned millionaire inventor who also died via mysterious circumstances. Thing is, this retired copper was a friend of Homicide Detective Pat Chambers; Hammer’s good buddy. It is Chambers who sends the tough-guy private eye up into the Catskill to investigate both the butler’s bizarre end while at the same time learning more about the widowed inventor’s death and his four heirs.

Unlike most Hammer tales, where the action unfolds on the streets of the Big Apple, this one has him up in the rarefied air of the well-to-do and their richly landscaped abodes. Once settled into the scene, Hammer gets accounted with the four siblings; two stepsons, both with hidden skeletons in their private closets, a lovely daughter and a challenged younger male with childlike qualities. All of them stand to gain from their late father’s will upon each of them turning forty years old.

Of course, this being a Hammer novel, it comes as no surprise when one of the two stepsons is murdered leaving his share to be divided among the surviving three. And thus we begin to drift into a less traditional Hammer caper and more an Agatha Christie “Ten Little Indians” tableau. This by now means suggest the book isn’t suspenseful and well conceived. Only that it feels out of place in the Hammer canon. Most likely because of the setting itself than any other factor.

Bottom line, any Hammer book by Spillane and Collins is going to be good, but take Hammer out of the City and something gets lost in translation.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

SOME OTHER SHORE



SOME OTHER SHORE
By Dwight R. Decker
Vesper Press
144 pages

We’ve known Dwight “Doc” Decker for many years and he has a reputation as one of the finest writers in genre fiction. This is his latest collection of shorts and it proves to be a delightful, eclectic bunch covering everything from fantasy to cautionary sci-fi. The half dozen here assembled beings with “Witch Hunt” a dangerous sequel to the Hansel and Gretel and it isn’t a fairy tale.

In “Extraordinary Proof,” a well known skeptic is in for the surprise encounter of his life in regards to aliens walking amongst us while “Raiders of the Future,” has time travelers going to the future to steal advanced technology. When they are captured by a futuristic librarian, it is the rookie on the team who comes up with the solution to their dilemma.

 “Saxon Violence,” begins with an old British vicar attempting to resurrect King Arthur during World War II and gets some unexpected results for his efforts.  Had he done more historical research into the subject, his ending may have been different.  “Miracle By Mistake,” is marvelous piece in which a student from the far future finds himself working with a traveling circus in 1911 and learning his own true self-worth.

Finally we “The Last of Their Kind,” which tells of a World War II fighter pilot shot down in the South Pacific and rescued on a small island by a clan of real mermaids.

All in all, if you are on the hunt for old fashion, well told short stories, you needn’t look any further than “Some Other Shore.”  Decker even includes a friendly afterword in which he relates the inspirations for his yarns. A completely fun package we hated to see end.  Here’s hoping a second collection will soon be coming out way.

Monday, May 08, 2017

SEARCH FOR THE BEAST



SEARCH FOR THE BEAST
By Derrick Ferguson
Based on the screenplay by Rick Montana
Pro Se Press
169 pages

This is a book we’ve been most anxious to get our hands on for multiple reasons. So here’s a question for all of you. What do you get when you adapt an hour long B horror movie into a full length novel? Well, if the writer chosen to do the novelization is competent, you’ll most likely get an okay prose version of the flick. Whereas if your writer is one of the finest, most capable authors in New Pulp today, what you’ll end up with is something a whole lot more intense, suspenseful and exciting than the actual source material.

Now as to that latter, we have not seen writer/director Rick Montana’s little movie and are solely referring to the extremely negative comments on its Amazon page. Ouch. We don’t generally mind B movies, but those with a modicum of fun attached to them. Now back to book review.

One of the first things Ferguson does is shifts the tale’s setting from the backwoods of Alabama to the northwest Florida swamps, which is a much more logical setting if the entire theme of your narrative centers around the hunt for a bigfoot type creature called the Beast. The protagonist is a former Army Ranger turned archeologist named David Stone who is quite familiar with both the Beast and his Okaloosa wilderness habitat. When the son of the area’s richest men goes missing along with his girlfriend, the father hires Stone to go and find him. He also sends along a squad of ex-military mercenaries led by one Jim Steele. Stone is rightly suspicious of Steele and his team, sensing early on that their agendas are not the same.  Unfortunately Stone has made the mistake of bringing along an undergraduate student, Wendy, and he soon fears he has not only  endangered his own life but hers as well.

No sooner does the group get settled into their bivouac camp, then the Beast appears and savagely murders one of Steele’s men. At the same time another group of mysterious hunters materializes and Steele is convinced they are chasing after the same illegal cache he has been hired to find and destroy. All the while Dr. Stone and Wendy are caught up in the crossfire doing their best to survive both the human killers and the supernatural Beast.

Ferguson imbues what is a fairly standard plot with so much verve and energy, this reviewer became totally caught up in the tale; willingly forgetting how outlandish the plot is. He is a masterful writer and gives these characters tons more depth and substance than any B movie could ever offer. Maybe some night we’ll get to see the film on cable, till then, we’re in no hurry to do so. Having read the book, we’re pretty sure we came out ahead on this one.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

BEYOND RUE MORGUE



BEYOND RUE MORGUE
Edited by Paul Kane & Charles Prepolec
Titan Books
332 pages

This is such a marvelous idea for an anthology. Editors Kane and Prepolec open the collection with their short essay on arguably literature’s first true fictional detective; Edgar Allan Poe’s C. August Dupin. Then they kick off the book with Poe’s seminal “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which for anyone with little experience reading dated English prose, is a chore in itself. Whereas once the title classic has been put forth, the curtain opens to nine brand new stories inspired by Poe’s unique character.

“The Sons of Tammany” by Mike Carey.  The building of the Brooklyn Bridge and government corruption is the backdrop to this fast moving yarn.

“The Unfathomed Darkness” by Simon Clark. A fanatical Danish cult sets out on a perilous airship pilgrimage only to end in twisted murder.

“The Weight of a Dead Man,” by Weston Ochse & Yvonne Navarro. Dupin’s grandson, Pinkerton agent Nate Dupes, arrives in Arizona looking for a stolen painting only to get caught up with an ancient cult and a colorful Mexican bandito. An action packed pulper that is much fun.

“The Vanishing Assassin,” by Jonathan Mayberry.  Dupin solves the mystery of a butchered art dealer.

“The Gruesome Affair of the Electric Blue Lightning,” by Joe R. Lansdale. This one throws in everything from Frankenstein to Lovecraft’s Elder Gods.

“From Darkness, Emerged, Returned,” by Elizabeth Massie. A nice little psychological thriller that was my least favorite. Not because it is badly written but because it’s tenuous connection to the theme.

“After The End,” by Lisa Tuttle. This tale is so cleverly plotted; the writer’s prophecy at the end is eerily effective.

“The Purloined Face,” by Stephen Volk. A truly fanciful tale wherein Dupin is actually Edgar Allen Poe; having faked his own death back in America and retired to Paris to pursue his new career as a detective. His assistant and narrator of the tale is none other than a young Sherlock Holmes and together they seek to unravel the true identity of the Phantom of the Opera. A truly imaginative, wonderful story.  Easily my favorite of this collection.

“New Murders in the Rue Morgue,” by Clive Barker. When an American descendant of the Dupin returns to Paris, he finds line between fiction and reality blurred in a truly horrifying tale.

In all this is an eclectic, fun anthology worthy of your attention and support.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

ENVY THE DEAD



ENVY THE DEAD
By Robert Randisi
Down & Out Books
273 pgs

Sangster was one of the best killers in the death-dealing business until one day he woke to discover he had a soul. Translate to conscience and because of that unexpected epiphany, he retired immediately. Now, one of his few friends aware of his old career, Catholic priest Father Patrick, comes to Sangster looking for help. Years earlier, while assigned to a parish in Philadelphia, a young twelve year old altar boy committed suicide after claiming he had been abused by a priest. Father Patrick swore he was not that priest, whereas the boy’s father, mobster Jimmy Abbatello doesn’t believe him and puts out a contract on the cleric. The Bishop quickly has him reassigned to a parish in New Orleans and for the next decade Father Patrick believes he’s actually escaped the obsessed Abatello.

Then one day the priest runs into one of the old Philly hoods in a public square. Though he ducks away fast, he is unsure as to whether the fellow spotted him. Worried that such is the case, he seeks out Sangster and thus the novel begins.  Randisi is one of those old pros in the crime genre who has gotten so good at telling these kinds of stories, his prose is economical and his dialogue sharp, crisp and fun. These are the traits every writer works at as they are the elements that make prose either convoluted or, like this novel, enjoyably readable. The pages seem to turn themselves, that’s how smoothly Randasi spins his tale.

Sangster reluctantly agrees to help and eventually learns a notorious hitman known as Frankie Trigger has taken the contract and is already in New Orleans. But Sangster isn’t without his own support in the retired ex-Sheriff Burke, a wiry character always ready for a little action. If all this wasn’t enough, Sangster gets another surprise when a beautiful young woman named Roxy shows up claiming to be the daughter of his former controller. She wants Sangster to teach her to be a hired gun.

“Envy The Dead,” is one of those rare thrillers that delivers memorable moments without ever straining credibility. In the end, it’s about people, flawed, imperfect and simply wanted to get by in a world too often cold and uncaring.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

THE BOOTLEGGER



THE BOOTLEGGER
(An Isaac Bell Adventure)
By Justin Scott with Clive Cussler
Berkley Novel
435 pgs

This is the sixth Isaac Bell thriller from writer Justin Scott. For the record, Clive Cussler created the characters and set up for the series in his book, “The Chase,” then handed it off to the Scott to continue.  Which in our opinion is both genius and bothersome. Genius because Justin Scott is an amazing writer, bothersome in that for purely promotion purposes, the publishers always slap Cussler’s name over these books in a giant font with Scott’s shrunk down to near invisibility beneath it.  But, good or bad, these cottage series have been around forever. It obvious the books make tons of money and Mr. Scott’s ego is surely compensated by his share of the royalties.  As this is one of our current favorite series currently being written, we just had to vent a bit.  Now on to the actual review.

Set in 1921, Prohibition is the law of the land and causing havoc across the country. In an attempt to keep his prestigious detective company free of corruption, Joseph Van Horn offers his company’s services to the Coast Guard. On an inspection tour with one of their patrol boats, they come under attack from bootleggers operating a super-fast armored cruiser equipped with machine guns.  Van Horn is wounded in the confrontation and almost dies.  That is all the motivation his chief agent and protégé Isaac Bell needs to mount a full out offensive against the cunning operators of that incredible but deadly speedboat.  Bell will stop at nothing to find the bootleggers and bring them to justice.

But as the investigation mounts, Bell uncovers evidence that the owner of the black rum-runner may not be a simple criminal after all.  With the help of Pauline Grandzau, the lovely Van Dorn agent in charge of their Berlin office, he learns that the mysterious master mind behind the increase in bootlegging activities may be a Russian Bolshevik spy whose purpose is complete destruction of America’s democratic government.  Using the sale of illegal, rut-gut booze, this foreign provocateur audaciously plans to finance his campaign of terror via his quickly amassing wealth from his bootlegging operations.

From the waters of the Great Lakes down to the old speakeasies of Detroit and ending in the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean, “The Bootlegger” is a non-stop thrill ride that never once lets up, skillfully building suspense to a powerful, explosive finale pitting an old fashion hero against a heartless monster in a contest that only one will survive.  We’ve never once been disappointed by an Isasc Bell thriller and this one is certainly no exception.