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.

Monday, April 10, 2017

TRIGGERMAN



 
TRIGGERMAN
5 Issue Comic Mini-Series
Script by Walter Hill & Matz
Art by Jef
Hard Case Crime
Titan Comics

A few weeks ago we wrote our first review of an ongoing Hard Case Crime comic series from Titan Comics.  Now we’re turning our attention on a shorter, 5 issue mini-series by the established filmmaker Walker Hill and adapted for comics by Matz. 

To the hermit cave-dwellers among you, Walter Hill is an American film director, screenwriter and producer widely known for his over-the- action films. Some critics credit him with reviving the Western genre. Hill is often quoted as saying everything he’s ever written is a Western. Among his most popular films were The Warriors, Hard Times, The Driver, Southern Comfort, Steets of Fire, 48 Hrs and Last Man Standing.

In “Triggerman,” two low-life mobsters have reneged on a deal with Big Al Capone and disappeared with his money. The wrinkle here is they also fled with Lena  Dorsey, the former girlfriend of convicted mob hitman, Roy “Triggerman” Nash currently incarnated in the Big House. Capone has Nash sprung from prison on the condition he find the two idiots and teach a permanent lesson in what happens to people who cross Big Al. As to the money and the girl, Nash can have them.

And so begins a violent chase which leads Nash to the arid dessert of Arizona and finally to the streets of Los Angeles. Along the way he leaves trail of bodies while igniting bad blood with local bosses and crooked cops. Subtlety isn’t Nash’s style and he’s a man of few words, preferring to shoot first and then pick up whatever pieces are left.

“Triggerman” from the first page of issue # 1 to last of # 5 is one of Hill’s best damn stories ever and this reviewer has to wonder why it has never been filmed. Whereas any half-decent filmmaker would be three steps ahead of the game by using the graphics in this comic as his or her storyboards. We’re new to artist Jef, but it’s obvious he loves this prohibition era genre and his art throughout is simply gorgeous. His lines are tight and precise and the perfect sponge for the muted colors used throughout the series.

 “Triggerman” is a fast paced, brutal, crime drama told with an economy of words that is dark poetry.  Somebody please make this a movie.

Friday, April 07, 2017

"LET'S ROLL, KATO."



“LET’S ROLL, KATO”
A Guide to TV’s The Green Hornet
By Billie Rae Bates
BRBTV.com
481 pgs

Last year I was contacted by writer Billie Rae Bates. She was in the process of writing what would be the most comprehensive book ever done on the 60’s Green Hornet TV series starring Van Williams as Britt Reid and Bruce Lee as Kato. Whereas I’d subsequently written those characters in my early 90s Green Hornet comic series from Now Comics, Billie reached out to me. We spent a couple of hours one afternoon as she picked my memories about how that comic series came about, what my own feelings were concerning that TV show etc. etc. etc.

Now that book is finished and in print and it is simply a fantastic work of research. Billie starts at the beginning, giving readers an encapsulated history of GH from his origins at WXYZ, the Detroit radio station owned by George Trendle; how Trendle and his top writer, Fran Striker invented the Green Hornet to follow their unheralded success with their western drama, the Lone Ranger. Then she moves over the two Universal movie serials and finally comes to the crux of this massive tome, the television show put together by producer Bill Dozier that so captured the imagination of fans around the world.

The book gives us a break down to all 26 episodes, anecdotes about the cast, the building of the fantastic automobile known as the Black Beauty and hundreds of other details meticulously set forth in this truly fabulous book.  Several years ago, writer cultural historian Martin Gram wowed GH fans with his brilliant giant volume on the entire history of the character’s radio exploits.  With “LET’S ROLL, KATO,” Billie Rae Bates has given us a magnificent companion title to stand right alongside that masterpiece.

No real Green Hornet & Kato fan should be without this treasure.

Monday, April 03, 2017

THE WINTER FAMILY



THE WINTER FAMILY
By Clifford Jackman
Doubleday
329 pgs

Any reviewer will tell you, the real joy of this job is being surprised by a new writer who puts forth something radically different from anything you’ve ever read before. Now we’ve read our share of western titles from traditional pulp oaters to the more sophisticated noir tempered offerings of the 70s and 80s. But none of them prepared us for Clifford Jackman’s “The Winter Family.”

Imagine the history of the post Civil War era 1864 to 1900 as told through the eyes of Sam Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch. If you can do that, then you’ve a half-way decent chance of understanding this violent saga of brutality born on countless battlefields and then unleashed on a burgeoning frontier like a twisted, blood-letting plague.

At the center of it all is Augustus Winter, a young man raised by a heartless preacher whose only touch was that of a leather strap.  In the Union Army, as part of Sherman’s scorched-earth march to the sea through Georgia, Winter finds himself surrounded by other broken souls. Men whose moral compasses are shattered by the horrors that surround them until to survive, they give in to their primal natures and become comfortable with meting out death and destruction to all who cross their paths.

These include Quentin Ross, a bonafide psychopath who takes pleasure in killing women and children. Fred Jackson, a freed slave wanting only to flee his tortured past and make a new start. The empire brothers, Johnny Charlie, two reckless, simpletons soon addicted to violence until it is the only thing they relish. Bill Bread, the alcoholic Indian seeking redemption in a bottle and Sgt. Jan Mueller, a German immigrant conscripted into the army the second he stepped off the boat in New York. By the time the war is over, these men find themselves unwilling to give up their killing ways. They soon become federal agents hunting members of the Klan. When that campaign ultimately wanes along with the half-hearted reconstruction of the South, they move ever westward until they arrive in Chicago as hired mercenaries for the Republican Party to assure a victory in the next municipal elections.

When that goes awry, the Winter Family, as they are ultimately named by the authorities head to the badlands of Oklahoma as unrelenting scalp-hunters after the bounty placed on the renegade apache named Geronimo. Like “The Wild Bunch,” the Winter Family is racing against time and the ever encroaching juggernaut that is civilization. Their world is diminishing and they are all too aware none of them will die of old age. This book is filled with one frenetic gun fight after another until the finale when the last of the bad men charge headlong into hell with guns blazing.

“The Winter Family” is a reading experience you’ll remember long after you’ve finished it.  Jackman is a born storyteller who leaves it all on the page.  We can’t see what he offers up next, though topping this book will prove to be a real challenge.

Monday, March 20, 2017

PEEPLAND




PEEPLAND
A Comicbook Series
Script by Christa Faust & Gary Phillips
Art by Andrea Camerini
Colors by Marco Lesko
Letters by Comicrafts’ Jimmy Bentancourt
Editor Todd Williams
Consulting Editor Charles Ardai
Hard Case Crime/Titan Comics

Back when Charles Ardai began the Hard Case Crime imprint it pretty much shook up the American publishing world. Focusing on both new and classic crime novel reprints, the brand quickly became synonymous with quality pulp storytelling. Then, after a few years, HCC moved to over to a British house, Titan books without skipping a beat and their wonderful titles continued to entertain legions of crime fans around the world.

We know, because we’ve been super HCC fans since day one and have reviewed too many of them to count here. Still, can you imagine our surprise when we recently discovered Titan and joined forces with HCC to do crime comics? Damn, nothing like this had ever been attempted since the post-World War II days of hard edged, adult comics prevalent in the U.S. throughout the early 50s before the whole Frederic Werthram “Seduction of the Innocent” debacle that put the final nail in the coffin for such violent, bloody graphic tales. Which in itself was the real crime.

Which is why, upon discovering HCC comics, we knocked off a quick letter to the big guy himself, Charles Ardai, all but begging him to assist us in finding these comics. A good friend, he wasted no time in putting us in touch with Titan’s U.S. representative, Katharine Carroll and two weeks later a large package arrivals in the mail crammed packed with several different HCC comics, among them, “Peepland.”

Taking place in sleazy sex world of the late eighties Time Square area known to locals as the Deuce, this quirky, fast paced thriller unfolds swiftly, it’s plot unraveling like a ball of yarn dropped from the couch and rolling across the living room floor. A two-bit pornographer known as Dirty Dick accidentally video tapes a murder in Central Park. Unknown to him, the killer is the son of one of New York’s wealthiest men and he will do anything to retrieve the damn film. Dick is soon caught and thrown under the wheels of a subway train but not before he leaves the sought after video with Roxy Bell, a peep-show worker. When she learns of Dick’s fate, she realizes she most likely is now on the same hit list and enlists the aid of her ex-boyfriend, Nick Nunzio. Pretty soon they are not only dodging hired killers but discover the rich Daddy has put a bounty on their heads for anyone to claim.

At present we have read the first four issues and our review is based on them. Considering you have two of the best crime novelist at the helm with Phillips and Faust, the reader is fairly guaranteed a terrific story infused with enough action and wacky black comedy to keep one entertain from page to page. Whereas on the visual side of things, artist Andrea Camerini is extremely talented and we love his depictions of the main characters. He is aided and abetted by colorist Marco Lesko and letterer John Bentancourt.  As we said, technically this is a truly beautiful produced comic title. If we had any criticism at all, it was the lack of useful captions in the first issue. There is a trend in comics today to forego the use of captions which we find ridiculous. Captions have a place in graphics if only to clearly delineate between scene jumps, clearly telling the reader where the locale is at any particular point in the story. That was lacking in issue one and some of the scene jumps were confusing. Happily someone, most likely  the editor, realized this and subsequent issues have begun to employ more such caption markers.

All told, “Peepland” is a gritty, brilliantly conceived thriller told in a grand, colorful cinematic way. It is what good comics are all about and a fantastic bridge between them and New Pulp. We’re looking forward to future issues with enthusiastic anticipation.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

THE ADVENTURES OF LAZARUS GRAY Vol Two



THE ADVENTURES OF LAZARUS GRAY Vol 2
Die Glocke
By Barry Reese
Pro Se Press
169 pgs.

This is the second collection of stories featuring the reborn hero, Lazarus Gray. A one time member of the all powerful secret cabal known as the Illuminati, Gray arrived in Sovereign City washing up on the morning tide with no memory of his past. Volume One told of his struggles to uncover that mystery at the same time introduced us to the amazing trio that would become his partners in Assistance Unlimited; lethal lovely Samantha Grace, former con-artist Morgan Watts and Korean martial artist Eun Jiwon.

In this rip-roaring second outing, Gray and company find themselves traveling the globe to stop would be villains from obtaining all manners of occult power.  From the barren wastelands of Mongolia to the green fields of England and the hidden jungles of South America. No place is too remote for this daring quartet. Along the way they encounter old foes from Walther Lunt, the twisted German scientist, to the ancient Princess Femi. Then they are pitted against new creatures of evil such as the monstrous Jack-in-Irons, a towering behemoth with a boars head and unleashed on earth via a powerful arcane construct known as the Bell; i.e. Die Glocke from the title. There’s also the murderous Titan, a man of superhuman strength.

Our love of this series comes from Reese’s own unabashed fun in whipping up the most far fetched, outlandish plots, creating charismatic heroes and villains and then delivering rock solid action sequences that have us jumping up and down with joy. Reese gets pulp, he breathes it into every single page he writes.  Consider his seductive femme fatales such the previously mentioned Egyptian Mummy Princes Femi and then there’s the so seductive Japanese Miya Shimada, who’s only weakness is her love for Gray. Which in turns leads to one of the most unique plot endings ever envisioned in a pulp tale.

As if that wasn’t enough, this adventure packed book introduces us to two new members of the team; German officer Jakob Spottenbreg and beautiful witch Abigail Cross. Then, in the very last tale, Gray and his allies meet the Golden Age comic hero the Black Terror in one of the strangest crossovers ever imagined.

Honestly, there aren’t enough adjectives in the dictionary to properly applaud this book. Note, it was first published in 2012 and we’re playing catch up here. There are several more volumes awaiting us and for that this reviewer is do damn happy.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

AMAZING! ASTONISHING! WEIRD! The Complete Pulp Magazine Covers Vol. 2



 AMAZING! ASTONISHING! WEIRD!
The Complete Pulp Covers Vol. 2
By Todd Frye
Self-Published
Also available at Amazon.

Having come to pulp fandom via the comic book route, we’ve always had a strong appreciation for the art of the pulps. From their being filled with beautifully rendered pen and ink illustrations to their dazzling, colorful covers. One of the real tragedies we learned long ago was how undervalued these covers were at the time they were created. It was not unusual for paintings to be trashed seconds after an issue had been published. Thus over the years the actual number of original pulp cover paintings that survived is such a small percentage of the thousands created, it is one of the saddest realities of our cultural history.

So it is whenever some enterprising pulp enthusiast puts together a book that focuses on that lost art, we stand up and cheer. Over the years, there have been several such titles reprinting what little remaining pulp covers that still exist. We have most of them in our own personal library. Whereas this new collection, independently published book from Todd Frye of Tennessee is something really special.

What Frye has done is to pick a specific pulp title and then reprint, in full color, all its covers in chronological order in which they were printed. In this second volume of the series, he does this with two of the most renowned pulps ever published, Amazing Stories (284 issues and 1 annual dated from April 1926 to March 1953) and Weird Tales (279 issues) dated from March 1923 to Sept 1954. And if that wasn’t enough, the book has all the covers from Astonishing Stories, Marvel titles and South Sea Stories.

The second we opened the book and began looking at those old covers, it was as if we were being transported back in time to a truly remarkable era and witnessing a new literary renaissance intended not for academia, but for the average man and woman who simply enjoyed a good tale. With Amazing Stories, we get the birth of science fiction and its history through the years. The names plastered on those garish covers start off with such venerables as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and gradually begin featuring the new kids on the block ala Asimov, Campbell, Heinlein, etc.etc; way too many to list here. Likewise with Weird Tales, we witness the emergence of glorious fantasy fiction in all its interpretations from horror ala H.P. Lovecraft to sword and sorcery from Robert E. Howard and so much more along the way. Names like Robert Bloch and Ray Bradbury pop up constantly and it easy to imagine the excitement each new issue generated among the pulp readers of the day.

That this book is a treasure is evident from the first page to the last. The time and effort put into assembling these covers must have been herculean and the result is a tome the true pulp addict will pick up time and time again. Those outlandish, imaginative covers have so much yet to tell us. Frye knows his pulp history and the book’s preface and individual chapter headings are wonderfully written for those new readers unfamiliar with the pulps. It is clear he’s being careful to introduce them properly which leads to our only real critique of the entire book. In one early section, he offers up suggestions on where new pulp fans might find pulps to buy. There he lists the various on-line services ala E-Bay etc. and even mentions comic book conventions but totally fails to mention the two most successful and on-going Pulp conventions still active; the Windy City Pulp & Paper Con happening in Chicago every Spring and Pulp Fest which arrives in late Aug. in Pittsburgh.  Both have been around for many years and feature the largest collection of pulps ever assembled under any roof. Each show is a veritable gold mine for collectors and fans of pulps. In fact, this book would sell extremely well at both. Hopefully in future editions, Frye will amend this oversight.

That being said, this is truly an independent project and at $29.95 a copy a steal. Frye even picks up mailing cost for orders in the U.S. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a bargain like this. Please, if you are true pulp fan, you need to visit Todd Frye’s website listed at the start of this column and pick up a copy of this book. It will blow you away!!


Friday, March 10, 2017

MURDER NEVER KNOCKS



MURDER NEVER KNOCKS
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Titan Books
249 pages

All Mike Hammer mysteries contain a fair amount of action, gun battles and bloodshed but at the moment we’re having a really hard time thinking of another one that comes this saturated with violence. From the first page, wherein Hammer is confronted in his own offices by a hired killer, this story roars out of the chute like a crazed bull at a western rodeo; stomping down anyone unlucky enough to be caught in its path of destruction.

Someone has put out a contract on Hammer and with each new chapter bodies drop; some belonging to ruthless assassins, others innocent bystanders trapped in the deadly crossfire. The puzzle has the savvy private eye doing his best to decipher who put the target on his back at the same as he’s dodging bullets. By the time three different hitmen have tried to collect and failed, Hammer has to face the truth that he is being stalked by a cunning, merciless psychopath unlike any killer he has ever encountered before. How does he fight a madman whose very reasons for wanting him dead make absolutely no sense at all?

“Murder Never Knocks,” is taut, unrelenting thriller and never lets up on its own inherent suspense. It’s a pure Spillane and Collins cocktail, one that goes down smooth and then leaves your guts on fire.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

THE WORKING WRITER'S GUIDE TO COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS



THE WORKING WRITER’S
GUIDE TO COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS
By Nick Macari
Panel to Panel Publishing
90 pgs

Every once in a while loyal readers to this blog know that we’ll step outside the pulp fiction lines to put our spotlight on other kinds of books we think deserve your attention. Such is the case with this new tome on writing for comics and graphic novels by Nick Marcari.

Over the years, in our forty-five year career as a comic scribe, we’ve encountered lots of books on “how-to” that range from the sophisticated and complex, to the cheap and poorly presented titles. We’ve even done a couple of similar projects ourselves. Thus we were really curious about Macari’s take on the subject.

First of all this is a really beautiful book, extremely well designed and laid out. Much thought was given in adding the appropriate graphics to each chapter and thus better illustrate the technical points Macari makes. Whereas his own writing is very clear and precise and he adeptly covers all the important aspects of writing a decent comic script, regardless of its length.  If we had any critique at all it would be that the book itself is geared for adults, i.e. college age readers and above. Put in the hands of younger creators, we believe the breath and scope of the material in these pages might actually scare off inexperienced readers.  But then again we note, part of the title is, “The Working Writer’s Guide..” strongly suggesting the target audience is for folks who have already dabbled in comics and now want to amp up their participation.

In the past we’ve taught many workshops on writing comics.  Had this terrific book been available to us then, we’d have put it to good use. This is clearly the kind of helpful title any new writer should have in his or her comics reference library.  Well done, Nick Macari, well done indeed.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

THE NANON FACTOR



THE NANON FACTOR
By Wayne Carey
A Leo Book
341 pgs

So this fellow named Carey sends us a copy of his first book, “The Nanon Factor,” to read and review. Upon starting the novel, we realize it features animals that have had their intelligence heightened by injections nano-molecules. A dog named Sam and a cat named Sophia are communicating telepathically and this reviewer is about to put the novel down and run for the hills. We’ve never been “animal” people. Not that we have anything against the furry four legged creatures, but hey, not all of us had pets growing up. It’s a personal thing, thus we generally do not enjoy stories with animal characters.

So the instinctive reaction after reading those first few pages was to simply put the book away and tell Mr. Carey we simply couldn’t finish it. Right. Then the dog and cat discover that their owner, the scientist responsible for their alteration, has been murdered and the body is discovered by Katie Tyler, a sixteen year old who lives across the street with her older brother Josh, and detective father, Sgt. Michael Tyler.  Hmm, suddenly we’re got a little Nancy Drew going on here and Katie and her family prove to be really likeable characters, extremely well written. Naturally Mike Tyler wants to lead the investigation of the murder, but is put off by his captain because of his personal connection as a neighbor to the dead man.  Meanwhile, Katie has already brought Sam and Sophie to their home along with a third animal, a rat. And yes, he too has been nano-injected and can mentally talk with the dog and cat. Together, the trio plans to help their new human allies and solve the mystery of who killed their master.

And this reviewer realizes he’s now devoured almost half the book non-stop.  What the hell just happened? What happened was a truly gifted story teller, i.e. Wayne Carey, has spun a tale that is fast moving, suspenseful and filled with such intriguing characters, both human and non-human. He weaves a story so flawlessly told that we found ourselves constantly compelled to turn the next page; to finish as yet just more chapter until all too soon we’ve reached the end. In the process, we’ve become fans of Wayne Carey and his exciting gift of word weaving.

“The Nanon Factor” is a truly wonderful first novel that hints at the tremendous potential within this new writer and we can only wait to see what new thrills he’s going to send our way in the future.  Do keep writing, Wayne Carey, you’ve made a believer out of us.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

MAKING REVIEWERS HAPPY

For any reviewer, nothing is more gratifying than seeing one's review quoted on the next title in a series. Case in point, on the back cover of "Murder Never Knocks," by Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins (which I hope to review soon) is a quote from my Pulp Fiction Reviews of "Kill Me, Darling," the previous release in the series. Thanks so much to Max and Titan Books.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

WORLD, CHASE ME DOWN



WORLD, CHASE ME DOWN
By Andrew Hilleman
Penguin Books
332 pgs

At the turn of the century, Pat Crowe and an associate kidnapped the teenage son of one of the wealthiest meatpacking tycoons of Ohmaha, Nebraska, Edward Cudahy. The they were paid twenty-five thousands dollars in gold coins as a ransom. They then released the boy unharmed and fled state kicking off one of the most intensive manhunts in U.S. history. Eventually, Crowe, found himself alone and the most wanted man in America. Many considered him the last of the real wild west outlaws.

His flight took him through the southwest, then across the sea to Japan and into Africa in time to participate in the Boer War. Years later, upon his return to America, he gave himself up to the authorities and was brought back to Omaha to stand trial. Then, in the most shocking twist of all, he was exonerated though everyone knew he was guilty. His crime was so blown out of proportion during his years on the run that by the time of the  trial, his character had become the stuff of legend and average American saw him as a cowboy Robin Hood battling the elite rich. He became a hero around which they could somehow rally and strike back at what they perceived to be the injustices of the world.

Now all that is fact.  There was a Pat Crowe, he did kidnap Edward Cudahy Jr., abscond with the gold and ultimately win his court trial. These facts alone make for a fantastic story, but author Hilleman isn’t content to simply give us a dry, fact for fact recitation. Rather, in a truly amazing creative tour de force, he opts to “fictionalize” the story of Pat Crowe and in so doing produces a work so exuberant and outlandish as to clearly classify as a true piece of pulp melodrama

From the onset Crowe, tells us he is no hero and that is the most understated truth in the entire narrative. Crowe is in fact a simple minded, hard working soul who simply cannot accept the injustices the times imposed on the uneducated poor. No matter what financial endeavors he attempted to pursue, the political and economic forces of the time would conspire to assure he was never successful. These was not the days of making dreams come true. Thus, defeated at ever turn, Crowe pragmatically saw his only recourse was to break the law to achieve his goals.

He does so with absolutely no remorse. He is not a cruel man, but then again, has no problem harming, to the point of killing, those lawmen who attempt to apprehend him. The real genius of Hilleman’s tale is that he systematically deconstructs the romanticism of the western.  Regardless of heroic figure the press makes of him, Crowe remains content with his own identity. It is this stoicism that allows him to survive the current of public opinion and in the end see him through these remarkable events as nothing by a solitary survivor; an old man with one hell of a tale to tell. Which is exactly what this book is, one hell of a whopper.  Highest recommendations here.


Monday, February 06, 2017

NIGHTSCAPE - Double Feature No. 1



NIGHTSCAPE
Edited by David W. Edwards
Part One – by Derrick Ferguson & David W.Edwards
Part Two – by Arlen M.Todd
Imperiad Entertainment
299 pages

What we have here is a title with two different pulp actioners; both edited by David W.Edwards. Thus will give you or take on each separately.

Kicking of this volume is “The Thousand-Eyed Fear” by Editor Edwards and popular pulp writer, Derrick Ferguson. It’s a deliriously delicious pulp romp evocative of some the best classic tales of the early 30s. Set in World War One, the story follows a Doc Savage clone named Lt. Nolin Quigg, known around the world as Strongboy, and his team of young soldiers to include Brits and Americans referred to as The Lost Boys.
Occult scientist working for the Germans have somehow tapped into another dimension and captured a monstrous, evil entity capable of spreading fear throughout a limitless region and turning people into babbling fools or heinous monsters.

The Germans have devised a way of draining the occult energy from this “thing” and are going to use it to power their new secret weapon, a giant tank three times the size of such war machines. Thus it is up to Strongboy and his crew to infiltrate the German’s hidden underground base, thwart the fiendish beast and destroy the super tank. As we stated at the start of this review, this is magnificent pulp brilliantly written. We’ve no clue which of the two writers did what sections, as the prose is seemless and we have to add, aside from the violent, bloody action, Edwards and Ferguson infuse some thought provoking philosophies throughout giving their characters an original twist.  All in all a great read and we are hoping to see lots more of Lt. Quigg and company in the future.

Next up is “The Q for Damnation” by Arlen M.Todd and storywise it is another stellar pulp tale with as yet another new hero in the French female masked vigilante/detective known as Monteau. Lina Mayen, when not on a case, disguises her operations under the guise of being a criminal mob boss herself. A nice tip of the hat to the Green Hornet set up. When one of Lina’s old friends, a curator of a Paris museum, is brutally murdered during the theft of a special painting said to possess arcane mysteries. Monteau is soon caught up in a truly bizarre case involving elements reported during a World War One battle. Lo and behold, we readers suddenly realize this story, happening almost thirty years after the first adventure, is actually a sequel that reveals some of the horrendous aftermaths of that previous tale.  All in all, Todd’s writing is competent and we had fun challenging ourselves to properly translate much of his French dialogue; it being one of the languages we were raised in.

Now we’d love to give “The Q for Damanation” the same high marks as we did for “The Thousand-Eyed Fear,” but unfortunately that becomes impossible due solely to the printing gimmicks scattered throughout the text. By that we mean there are entire sections done in faux cursive, ala diary entries that go on and on, or reprinted hospital forms filled with supposed doctor’s notes etc. etc. There is even a section presented to us ala a scene in a play! We have to wonder if the editor believed this was a “fun” way to break up the monotony of page after page filled with only text?  Keep in mind, all books are for the most part just pages of text. It was those words do that matters, not how they are dressed up visually. Thus this stuff fails miserably as it merely creates annoying, jarring visuals that instantly take the reader out of the narrative. Something that should be avoided at all cost. In the end, we’d suggest, if he truly needs to break up the repetitiveness of text pages, he revert to the traditional use of pulp interior illustrations. When done by talented graphic artists, such pieces actually enhance the fiction.

In the end, this is really a good, solid package and we do recommend it highly. The level of imagination in this volume is noteworthy and will entertain even the most jaded pulp fan.
  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

CUT ME IN



CUT ME IN
By Ed McBain
Hard Case Crime
237 pages

As a high school student in the early 1960s, we discovered the paperback crime fiction of writer Ed McBain and instantly became enamored of his enormous talent. He was and remains to this very day our favorite author. “Cut Me In,” is one of his early works but before we get into the review here’s a little background. Ed McBain (Octorber 15,1926 – July 6, 2005) is was one of the pen names of author and screenwriter Salavtore Albert Lombino who legally adopted the name Evan Hunter in 1952. Over his career he wrote under several pseudonyms that included John Abbott, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon and Richard Marsten, amongst others. But he is best known as McBain, the name he used for most of his crime fiction to include his popular 87th Precinct books which became a staple of the police procedural genre.

In 1951, Lombino took a job as an executive editor for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency and there worked with such authors as Poul Anderson, Arthur C.Clarke, Lester del Rey, Richard S.Prather and P.G.Woodhouse. That same year he made his first professional sale; a short science-fiction tale titled “Welcome Martians!” published under his birth name of S.A. Lombino. In reading “Cut Me In,” it is obvious McBain used experiences learned in that job as the basis for his murder mystery.

Protagonist Josh Blake is half owner of a New York Literary Agency. One day he comes to work and finds his partner, Del Gilbert, shot to death. A Detective Sgt. DiLuca is assigned the case and Blake thinks he is an incompetent bumbler. On the verge of signing a big movie deal concerning one of their major clients, Blake suspects someone wants the deal nixed and when the agreement contract goes missing, he’s convinced it was the motive behind the killing. Then Gilbert’s mistress is murdered and DiLuca turns his attention on Blake.

“Cut Me In,” told from Blake’s perspective, is a fast moving, taut thriller and gives the reader a glimpse into the cutthroat world of agents, writers and Hollywood producers; people willing to sell their souls to the devil to gain fame and wealth. Whereas published in the mid-50s, there’s a distinct chauvinistic feel to McBain’s depiction women. All of them appear cookie-cutter beautiful, professional and sexually aggressive ala some antiquated exploitation pulp in which all the women are deprives nymphomaniacs who throw themselves at the hero. In lesser hands, it would be paperback trash and we suspect McBain was all too aware of its tawdriness. Yet he was writing in a time when editors demanded such blatant pandering to their readers. That he manages to deliver a solid mystery despite these handicaps is no small achievement and “Cut Me In” is a wonderful look back at the beginnings of a writer would eventually be awarded the coveted Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America.

And if that isn’t enough to get you to pick up a copy of this book, it also has a bonus Matt Cordell private eye short in it, which is pure 50s tough-guy fiction.  Honestly, mystery lovers, it really doesn’t get any better than McBain.

Friday, January 13, 2017

NEED MORE ROAD



NEED MORE ROAD
By Stephen Jared
Soltice Publishing
202 pages

Stephen Jared is one of the more promising voices in New Pulp fiction working today and his past titles have shown a real flare for both heroic adventure and tightly plotted noir crime thrilles. Whereas with “Need More Road,” he sets out on a much more ambitions journey to create a poignant character study of a lonely man living in quiet desperation. Sadly, even his talent can’t save the book’s rambling second half.

The tale is set in the post World War II years. Eddie Howard is a fifty year old bank clerk living the sleep desert town of Barstow, California. He lives alone in his dead parents’ house where he was raised and the only real joy he has are his trips to the small movie house. Eddie loves the movies and sees each new release multiple times. They are his ticket out of the mundane routine of his boorish life. 

Then one day a beautiful young woman walks into the bank and from that moment on Eddie’s world is sent spiraling out of control. A Marilyn Monroe clone, Mary Rose has come to Barstow to set up an account for her father, Mr.McCoy, who is still living back in Los Angeles. Eddie befriends her and they soon become close. He can’t believe his good fortune.  When her supposed father eventually arrives in town, the reader is miles ahead of this familiar noir plot line.  The man calling himself Mary Rose’s father is actually her criminal boyfriend and they are in town to rob the bank. By now Eddie has fallen totally under the blonde femme fatale’s charms.

All this is classic noir and Jared does a great job moving the story along carefully with no sense of urgency. It is this deliberate pacing that builds the tension and as poor Eddie falls deeper and deeper into the couple’s web of lies, it is impossible to put the book down. The heist is carried out and then the characters begin their escape with the stolen cash.

Even when Eddie manages to outwit McCoy and his safecracking buddy, and escape their clutches with Mary Rose in tow, the suspense rolls along at breakneck speed taking the fugitives on a twisting, rambling road. All the while their relationship seems to flounder and have no clear purpose; it’s as if despite everything that has happened, Eddie and Mary Rose are doomed to remain strangers.

The hallmark of noir fiction is a climatic finale that is most often tragic. Whereas Jared’s last third of “Need More Road” doesn’t go anywhere. It just stops. The book has no solid ending to justify its powerful first half. At the end we are left with an exercise in good writing.  In this genre that is just not enough.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

STAR BRIDGE



STAR BRIDGE
By Jack Williamson & James Gunn
Tor Books
294 pgs
First published 1955

Every now and then a publisher will send us a new edition of a classic book.  Such was the case when Tor sent us a new softcover edition of “Star Bridge” by Jack Williamson and James Gunn. Although we’d never read it before, we had heard of it over the years and were delighted to have the opportunity to see what the fuss was all about.

Williamson, a well known author in the field, wrote the first fifty pages of the manuscript before hitting the dreaded writer’s block and putting it aside. Years later, he met and became friends with the younger Gunn and ultimately gave him the material, which also included extensive notes, to complete the book.  Gunn did so in a masterful way and it was published in 1955. Then it simply drifted off into oblivion.  In fact most critics of that time thought it nothing but an old fashion space opera filled “fast-moving blood-and-thunder…” quoting Villiers Gerson for the New York Times.

But like all hidden gems in the rough, the book simply wouldn’t go away and continued to be reprinted by various publishers. Eventually new generations of sci-fi fans found it such as authors Samuel R. Delaney and Edward Bryant, who both have said it was the book that “turned (them) on” to science fiction.

The book revolves around mankind’s expansion into far flung space via special tubes which allow travel beyond the restraints of FTL.  Since their invention, on the distant planet of Eron, the tubes systematically created a vast galactic empire which is controlled by the golden people of Eron. As the book opens, the Eron’s governing body has become totally corrupt and is mercilessly crushing any and all who stand in its way. Thus a mercenary named Horn is hired to assassinate the General Director, the all powerful ruler of Eron. In accomplishing his mission, Horn quickly comes to realize he has set into motion a new power struggle which will destroy the empire and along with it civilization unless he can learn the real secret of what powers the tubes.

What we have here is at its core an old fashion space opera, easily derived from Williamson’s own outline. It was the style of writing he excelled at. But at the same time, Gunn, a more introspective writer, layers his chapters with the philosophies behind human nature in both describing its noble strengths as opposed to its obsessive quest for power. Thus while spinning an action packed adventure we are given a treatise on the relative importance of impersonal forces and individuals in the event of history. One modern day fan of the book likened it to collaboration between Heinlein and Asimov and we would agree with that description.

“Star Bridge” is a great book worthy of being a science fiction classic. We’re glad we finally had a chance to enjoy it. If you haven’t yet, we urge you to do so soon. You won’t be disappointed.