Friday, October 05, 2018

CITY OF ENDLESS NIGHT


CITY OF ENDLESS NIGHT
A Pendergast Novel
Preston & Child
Grand Central Publishing
358 pgs

We absolutely love modern pulp thrillers and there is no better series on the market today than Preston and Child’s Special Agent Pendergast books.  Pendergast is a wealthy FBI agent who lives in New York but his cases often take him to exotic locales around the world. Whereas in “City of Endless Night,” the seventeenth in the series, the action takes place in the Big Apple itself.

A vicious serial killer is on the loose. One who, after killing his victims, decapitates them? Put in charge of the investigation is veteran detective, Lt. Vincent D’Agosta. Understanding the uniqueness of the killings, D’Agosta is only glad to accept Agent Pendergast’s assistant; the two are close friends having shared several cases in the past. The problem with this one is the disparaging lack of any connection between the suspects; one is a young woman, the next two adult males. All of them are from different social backgrounds.

When the FBI’s own Unsub Profiling Unit fails to deliver any kind of reliable data, D’Agosta and Pendergast begin to suspect the killer is a bonafide sociopath selecting his targets at random. Without a clear modus operandi, they are challenged with doing the impossible. Find a killer who can strike anytime, anywhere against anyone.

“City of Endless Night” is a clever mystery meticulously plotted and offers up an intriguing puzzle we found wonderfully original. It is a thriller that will keep readers guessing from chapter to chapter until the final confrontation between the inimitable Agent Pendergast and the most brilliant fiend he’s ever hunted. Not to be missed.

Friday, September 28, 2018

CAVE OF THE BLOOD DEMONS


CAVE OF THE BLOOD DEMONS
A Man of the Mist Adventure
By Darryle Purcell
Digital Parchment Press
160 pgs

This is the second in writer Darryle Purcell’s new pulp series, featuring his Man in the Mist and the second of his books to land on my review stack. The first was part of his older series, The Hollywood Cowboy Detectives of which there are currently fifteen. The Man in the Mist is actually Los Angeles manufacturing industrialist Ralph Thorn. Trained by mystics in the Far East, Thorn can cloud the minds of men and blind them to his very presence, thus becoming an invisible avenger meting out justice to those beyond the law.

As the adventure opens, it is 1938 and a poisoned drug is turning people into mindless killers. Helping the police investigate the source of the lethal drug, Thorn and his feisty secretary sidekick, Moxie Malone, discover the tainted heroin is actually being delivered hidden in small dragon statues imported by one of his own companies from Indochina.
Determined to discover the actual source, Thorn, Moxie and Police Detective Farmisht are soon on a cruise ship bound for the Orient. With them is the lovely Cecile Nguyen, whose father runs the rubber plantation that services Thorn Industries.

But danger is also along for the ride, as agents for the mysterious mastermind, known only as the Dutchman, launch several attacks on Thorn and his companions. The action never stops, as Purcell captures the speedy pace of the classic pulps while adding a healthy dose of comedic banter to ease the suspense along the way to his action packed finale.  “Cave of the Blood Demons” is one hundred percent pure pulp fun and shouldn’t be missed.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

KILL THE NIGHT


KILL THE NIGHT
Self-Published
By Terry Mark
PO Box 272572
Fort Collins, CO 80527
353 pg

Writing a first book is always a tricky challenge. All too often most would-be authors spend months, even years, on a project only to end up with pages of uninspired words.
It is all too rare when a new writer puts in lots of blood, sweat and tears to deliver something truly original and fun. The latter is the case with Terry Mark’s first effort, “Kill The Night.” This is an out and out pulp thriller that moves like a runaway freight train.

The story begins in Paris where inventor Nikolas Tesla has debut his newest wonder, a giant robot that can lift and move heavy transportation barges on the Seine River. When a later demonstration goes awry, a beautiful young lady is killed. Her lover, looking like American gunslinger, vows vengeance on Tesla.

The book then jumps ahead in time and space to New York where Tesla and American genius, Thomas Editor have become bitter foes over various patent litigations and broken contractual agreements. Enter a spunky female journalist named Ida Tarbell who sees the feud between these two famous men as the story of a lifetime. She follows the two men to the Chicago World Exhibition, where Tesla has agreed to light the famous “White City” with electricity.

When the Gunslinger appears, Tesla is forced to flee westward. As it turns out, the mysterious hunter as added Edison as a target and both men’s lives art in jeopardy. But who exactly is this man and what terrible dark secret does he hide. From Chicago onto Kansas City and then a wild race to the mountains of Colorado for a bang up finale.
Writer Mark Terry pulls out all the stops.

“Kill The Night,” is wonderfully set in a time when Americans saw science and progress as the twin paths to a brighter future. It was a time of wonder and awe. In this whirlwind era, three courageous people struggle not only to triumph, but to survive. This is a terrific. Sadly it is not currently available through normal distribution channels and interested readers should contact Mr. Mark directly at the address above. Tell him we sent you…with the highest recommendations.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

MURDER IN THE BALL PARK


MURDER IN THE BALL PARK
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
By Robert Goldsborough
A Mysterious Press Original
224 pgs

As we love both baseball and Nero Wolfe mysteries, this new entry by Robert Goldsborough was a much anticipated read. Happily it did not disappoint in any way offering up another intriguing murder and the all too familiar investigative routines originating from the brownstone at West 35th Street in New York. 

The story opens with Archie Goodwin and his pal, Saul Panzer, attending a Giants vs Dodgers game at the Polo Grounds. Upon arriving, they learn it is Flag Day at the ballpark and among the dignitaries on hand is State Senator Orson Milbank and his entourage. At the top of the 4th inning a homerun is hit into the second deck area over left field and as the crowd of thousands jump to their feet to cheer, the Senator keels over having been shot in the head by an assassin’s bullet. By the time Archie and Saul reach Milbank, he is dead. Several days later the Senator’s widow, a much younger former Hollywood actress, calls the Brownstone requesting to emply the famous Nero Wolfe to solve her husband’s murder and bring the killer to justice.

The late Rex Stout, Wolfe’s creator, was a genius in developing a mold by which the rotund detective’s tales would be laid out. Basically Wolfe never leaves his home. Rather he assigns Goodwin to do the leg work; which also includes interviewing the various suspects. Archie has a knack for remembering conversations verbatim and these he reports back to Wolfe. When all the pieces of a puzzle have been assembled in the tale, Wolfe deduces the solution and has all the suspects invited to his office where he then reveals the “how it was done” and the killer’s identity. It is a formula Robert Goldsborough has captured perfectly in these new Wolfe mysteries which is why we love them so much.

Much like the Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson stories that clearly inspired Stout, the mysteries themselves often prove secondary in importance to the actual fun of simply “being” with these wonderful characters. “Murder In The Ball Park” is no exception. If you are Wolfe and Goodwin fan as this reviewer is, you will relish every single scene in this dandy little caper where in the end, murder strikes out.

Monday, August 20, 2018

SWIFT VENGEANCE


SWIFT VENGEANCE
By T. Jefferson Parker
Putnam Books
353 pgs

Lindsay Rakes is a former drone operator for the U.S. Air Force.  In the end, her work of dropping missiles on enemy targets a world away becomes too much for her own conscience. The post guilt eventually ruins her marriage, losing both her husband and son through to the abuse of alcohol. Ultimately it is San Diego Private Investigator, Roland Ford, who comes to Rakes’ rescue, seeing the psychological scars she carries. He can identify as a Marine veteran who had served in Fallujah. He eventually gets Rakes in AA and on a path of sobriety.

As the book opens, Ford is still grieving for the loss of his wife in a single engine plane crash a year earlier. When Rakes shows up at his doorstep with a note threatening her life via beheading, he puts that melancholy aside. The note is written in a stylized Arabic calligraphy and the author signs himself Caliphornia openly identifying himself as a Muslim and alluding to her service activities. As it turns out, the other two men in her unit, also drone operators, had received the same thread on similar stationary. Ford takes Rakes note to FBI Agent Joan Taucher, a dedicated warrior obsessed with protecting her community from suffering terrorist attacks of any kind. She sees the threat as real and together, they begin their hunt for the elusive villain.

When one of the other two targeted veterans is murdered and beheaded, both Ford and Taucher find themselves in a race with a madman bent on a very singular vengeance. He has not chosen his targets at random, but because of their involvement with one specific mission. Now it’s up to the world weary P.I. to find that connection before the killer strikes again on an ever larger scale.

“Swift Vengeance,” like all good thrillers, works because of Parker’s ability to create believable characters, both good and bad. His insights into the human soul with its flaws and strengths is what propels the story. It allows us to know these people as if they were our own friends and neighbors. When the climax arrives, we’ve become invested and it carries us to a powerful finale cruel in its truth and inevitability. The last page of this amazing book is one this reviewer will never forget.  

Sunday, August 12, 2018

THE GANGSTER


THE GANGSTER
An Isaac Bell Adventure
By Justin Scott (& Clive Cussler)
Putnam Books
416 pgs

Of all the cottage spin-off series to come from Clive Cussler, my favorite remains the Isaac Bell stories, as writer Justin Scott knows his history and can write smooth, fast paced action better than most thriller writers today. “The Gangster” is no exception. It begins with an early encounter be Bell as a college student with an Italian immigrant, Anthony Braco, in a railyard. Later, that immigrant becomes the brilliant and cruel leader of New York’s Black Hand, the precursor of the dreaded Mafia.

Of course by this time, Bell is now a detective for the Van Dorn Agency and it is inevitable that the two will cross paths and become antagonist. All of this set up is wonderfully set forth and the tactics of blackmail and intimidation employed by are right out of crimeland textbooks. Where the novel takes a sharp turn is when Bell learns Braco has become involved with a plot to assassinate President Theodore Roosevelt. From that point on, we dare any reader to put this book down. It flies over the last two hundred pages like a bolt of storytelling lighting. 

We’ve enjoyed all the Isaac Bell books to date and “The Gangster” is by far one of the best. Can’t wait to see what Justin Scott has up his sleeve for the next one.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

CHILDREN OF THE LIGHT - Book One - The Silver Haired Boy


CHILDREN OF THE LIGHT
Book One : The Silver-Haired Boy
By Aaron Powers
Create Space Platform
Available at Amazon
216 pgs

As we’ve said often enough in this column, self-published books are really hit or miss. The ability to publish one’s own work, without having to rely on a professional publisher is both a good thing and a bad thing. Obviously it’s a good thing for that talented writer who, for whatever obstacles, simply can’t get his or her work looked at by those big shot companies. It is certainly a bad thing when people without an ounce of writing skills think they are the next Stephen King and put their amateurish (we’re being kind here) ramblings out for the whole world to suffer through.

So here we have another self-published entry. Whereas we are delighted to say it falls totally in the former camp. Aaron Powers can write. And that is an understatement. He not only understands the technical skilled required to write, he’s also got the instincts of a true storyteller. From page one to the dramatic finale, “Children of the Light” is a roller-coaster ride that is so well conceived and delivered, we were amazed that this is his first novel.

Ticho is young boy living in Gainsborough. He is an orphan who doesn’t know his own history. He is mute and lots of very bad people are chasing him because he stole a museum statue. The statue he stole is of a shepherd holding recovered lost lamb. What its value is, Ticho doesn’t know but in the opening chapter his adoptive father is murdered by the very people wanting its return. During the chase, he encounters a very wise old man named Armin Kayetan who brings him to a magical cottage hidden on the outskirts of the city.

Here Armin, and a few of his trusted allies, inform Ticho that for centuries a secret war has been waged on Earth between the powers of good and evil; dark and light. Ticho is a direct descendant of the first Children of the Light and has inherited their amazing powers. It is Armin’s task to train the boy and teach him how to use these gifts as the demonic forces are closing in on them every day. The statue is one of six the minions of the Dark require to rule the world and usher in an age of true horror.

“Children of the Light – Book One – The Silver-Haired Boy” is one of the most enjoyable books we’ve read all year and one that is extremely hard to put down once you start reading. This is what solid, action adventure fantasy is all about. Aaron Powers…remember that name.  You will be hearing it a whole lot more in the future. Count on it.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Captain Cosmos - Spin a Web of Death.


CAPTAIN COSMOS
The Last Starveyer in
Spin a Web of Death
By Nicola Cuti
Nicolaentertainment.com
297 pgs

It would be safe to say most sci-fi readers first encountered writer Nicola Cuti’s work among the pages of comic books. At the now defunct Charlton Comics, Cuit created the hilarious E-Man with artist pal, Joe Staton. His list of credits is far too long to enumerate here. Still we were naturally surprised to see he’d ventured not only into prose writing but also the questionable world self-publishing.

He does so here in his first Captain Cosmos adventure; a character obviously based on himself, were he a bonafide space ranger. This is an out and out old school pulp space opera; the kind most of us encountered while in high school. It is pure fun from the first page to the last. Our hero is a sad-sack, former Starveyer who left the service to start his own freight hauling business. Aboard his ship, Belvedere, he is free to roam the spaceways with his crew among which are Cadet Starling and Zen-ya, an alien beauty.

During one very lucrative run, Cosmos learns that a galaxy wide rescue mission is being assembled to save the inhabitants of a planet about to perish. The world is called Arach and its people, Arachnians, are spider-like beings. Much to the ire of the business man who is employing him, Cosmos has the Belvedere  join the rescue fleet and through a series of odd mishaps ends up being the only ship to actually land on Arach. Once there, Cosmos encounters a Gillian, a lovely Earth Scientist, who agrees to assist them in getting the Arachnians ready for transporting.

Alas the populace of the capital city will not leave unless their Royal Family accompanies them, thus forcing Cosmos and Gillian on a hasty journey into the wild to find the governing clan. Along they way, to and from, they encounter one danger after another as they struggle to complete their mission. All the while Arach’s time grows ever shorter.

“Spin a Web of Death,” is a fresh, no-hold barred, rollicking adventure with tons of action and a wry, satirical humor that elevates it far beyond the average space opera. It is a gem of a story told by a man whose own creativity appears endless. Cuti is one of the best and this wonderful book proves to be another notch in his belt. Please, go out and buy it now. You can thank me later.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Bentley Goes To School


BENTLEY GOES TO SCHOOL
Story by Kellie Lambert
Art by Jeff Slemons
Paws Publishing
24 pgs

We love children’s books and though this is not the first such we’ve reviewed; it has been a long, long while since the last. What brought about this review is the amazing artwork of Jeff Slemons, a fellow Coloradan who we know mostly for his automobile cartoons and comics work. Quality children’s books are artistic gems, both for their succinct economy of storytelling and their imaginative illustrations. This book has them both.

The plot is simple enough. Bentley, our hero, is a big 200 pound brindle, English Mastiff. Brindle refers to the striped cologing on his body. He belongs to Kellie, a school principal and one day she takes Bentley to work with her. He immediately falls in love with all the kids. So much so that he wants to go to school every day. He learns that would be possible if he were a Therap Dog. Bentley immediately goes to training school to learn this very important job, working very had to achieve that goal and get his wish; to go to school every day.

“Bentley Goes To School” is a charming, delightful story that will entrance both young and old alike. Kellie Lambert and Jeff Slemons have given us a treat with this fun story about a pretty amazing dog. We loved this book and if you’re an animal lover, so will you.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

CUBA : Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter.


CUBA : Sugar, Sex, and Scandal
Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle
# new texture
159 pages

Once again Bob Deis & Wyatt Doyle have released a new anthology from their series; “The Men’s Adventure Library Journal” titles. As ever, they’ve dug into their amazing collection of vintage Men’s Adventure Magazines (MAMS for short) and put together a series of articles, fiction and illustrations all focused on the theme of Cuba and its bloody history.

It’s a truly weird approach telling the history of people via such articles, but in its own way the tropical island’s very make up seems soaked in pulpish gore and horror; never mind the action and adventure. The pieces are typical sensationalist exposes such as “Havana’s Amazing Flesh Market,” to “Castro’s Commie Blueprint to Take Over Latin America.”

Fiction wise there’s “Bayamo’s Night of Terror,” by Don Hogan. A ghastly account of life in one of Cuba’s worst prison hell-holes.  As for special features, the book offers up some truly wonderful examples of artist Norm Eastman’s work for the MAMS and then there is an all too short pictorial featuring the lovely model Eva Lynd recounting her own one time trip to Cuba.

Beautiful assembled and laid out, “CUBA : Sugar, Sex and Slaughter” is representative of a time when drugstores magazine racks were filled with some of the most lurid, explosive stories ever to grace a pulp page. This book is just another lesson delivered by two experts who really know their stuff.  A welcome addition to any pulp library.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

THE GHOSTS OF KARNAK


THE GHOSTS OF KARNAK
By George Mann
Titan Books
271 pages

George Mann’s steam-pulp hero, the Ghost, returns in this, his third outing. When Gabriel Cross’ girlfriend, Ginny Gray, fails to return from her sight-seeing trip to Egypt, he is a bit concerned. That feeling of tread is only magnified when his friend, police detective Felix Donovan informs Garbriel that he’s been investigating a series of gruesome murders wherein the bodies are left with ancient Egyptian symbols cared into their flesh. Donovan suspects a group of fanatical cultists who worship ancient gods.

At the same time, a local crime boss whose enforcers wear mechanized armor is somehow involved and Gabriel and Donovan soon discover there is turf war going between the mobster and the cultist. The mystery continues to lead them in various directions, but all eventually coalesces to the point where the Ghost discovers Ginny may be in the hands of a madman who plans on using her body to host the spirit of a long dead Egyptian diety.

As ever, Mann spins a fast pace action tale with colorful characters who easily could have stepped out of the pages of any classic pulp magazine. The Ghost series is one of his best and something every pulp fan should pick up.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

THE INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES OF DOC ATLAS


THE INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES OF DOC ATLAS
By Michael A. Black & Ray Lovato
268 pages

Over the years there have been way too many Doc Savage clones created by want-to-be pulp writers; some good, some atrocious. Before going any further, let’s get one thing straight, Doc Atlas clearly resides in the good camp. In fact, his exploits, as penned by Misters Black & Lovato far exceed mere pastiches, giving Doc and his supporting characters their own unique identies and clearly establishing them as some of the finest heroes created in the New Pulp era.

This collection, first published back in 2011, features five highly charged adventures and is a wonderful introduction to the series.  Doc Atlas naturally is the hero; a man of both science and action. He’s aided and abetted by fancy lawyer Edward “Ace” Assante and Thomas “Mad Dog” Deagan; both former military officers he served with in the past. And lastly there is the lovely spitfire reporter, Penelop “Penny” Cartier whose affection for Doc is a cause of concern as she is forever wanting to join him and the others on their dangerous missions. Author Lovato kicks off the volume with a wonderful introduction explaining how to childhood pals grew up to become pulp addicts and ultimately writers. It’s a intimate peek at what wonders are possible when conceived in friendship.

“The Riddle of the Sphinx” has Doc, Ace and Mad Dog journeying deep into Mexican jungles in search of a missing archeologist. In this one Doc is reunited with an old flame much to Penny’s chagrin and as ever, the action is hot and heavy throughout.

Next up is “Desert Shadows.” Shortly after spotting weird lights in the sky, several planes crash in desert near the small town of Roswell, New Mexico, and Doc and company head west to find the truth amidst the quickly growing hysteria of visitors from outer of space. Naturally the real answer is more realistic but equally sinister.

In the third story, “Killer Gorilla,” a vicious gang boss about to be electrocuted in prison vows to return and wreak vengeance on those who put him away. Days later several of these men are found brutally murdered as if torn apart by a wild animal. Could the dead man’s brains have been transplanted into the body of a mountain gorilla?

With “Artic Terror” the authors tip their hats to Howard Hawk’s monster flick, “The Thing.” A supposed alien spacecraft has crashed landed in the frozen north sending Doc, his team and a group of soldiers to the aid of a research facility. By the time they arrive, half the scientist are dead, victims of a bizarre, glowing creature.

And finally we have, “The Satan Plague,” in which our heroes cross paths with Senator Joe McCarthy and his notorious public witch hunt for communist spies. Truth is, a group of ex-Nazi scientists are about to unleash germ on an unsuspecting public unless Doc can foil their insidious plans. A powerful, gripping finale to a great collection.

Doc Atlas is a terrific New Pulp hero and if you remain unfamiliar with his adventures, now is the time to jump on board. Airship 27 Productions recently announced they will soon be publishing the brand new adventures of the Golden Avenger courtesy of Misters Black & Lovato. Something truly special to look forward to.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT


THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT
By Terrence McCauley
Polis Press
336 pages
Release date – June 5th
Guest Reviewer Andrew Salmon

EVERYTHING NEW IS OLD AGAIN

And that's a good thing!

Terrence McCauley's new novel, THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT, turns the old saying on its head. You see, McCauley got his start prowling the fictional mean streets of the 1920s and 30s when he broke onto the scene with PROHIBITION - a must read. If you haven't got a copy, stop reading and pick one up now. He followed that up with SLOW BURN and AGAINST THE ROPES before launching his James Hicks series of contemporary thrillers. So McCauley knows the vintage back alleys well.

THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT also heralds the return of Charlie Doherty, disgraced cop now working as a Private Investigator for Mr. Harriman Van Dorn. It's a sweet set-up that takes care of Doherty's needs while giving him the freedom to pretend to care about his clients. In this case, a wealthy woman who believes her husband, Mr. Fairfax, did not commit suicide but, rather, was murdered. As the dead man and his wife were associates of Mr. Van Dorn, Doherty just may put a little more oomph into going through the motions. And that's what he believes he's doing. The Fairfax case is suicide - straight down the line. Or is it?

It's difficult to discuss what follows as spoilers would really detract from the narrative here. There's a lot more going on that meets the eye and McCauley keeps things moving at a brisk pace. The deeper Doherty gets into the case, the wider his horizon becomes as the reader is drawn into a darker world just starting to show its teeth. The revelations are well thought out and should surprise readers. And the end is, really, just the beginning - there he goes turning things on their heads again! McCauley also provides an interesting palate of characters devoid of black and white stereotypes. Not knowing what the characters are capable of is half the fun!

THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT brings a lot of McCauley's fiction together. As a prequel to his University series (SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, A MURDER OF CROWS, A CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS), the connection is obvious, but sliding Doherty into the mix brings in PROHIBITION, THE DEVIL OF BELLEAU WOOD and SLOW BURN. What begins to take shape is an intriguing blend of past and present - a patchwork quilt (or should that be a shroud?) with depth and breadth well worth exploring.

THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT delivers. If you haven't read any of McCauley's work this is a good place to start. I highly recommend it.



Tuesday, May 08, 2018

THE CHAMELEON THIEF OF CAIRO


THE CHAMELEON THIEF OF CAIRO
By Stephen Jared
Solstice Publishing
127 pgs

It is 1948 and actor turned adventurer, Jack Hunter, longs for nothing more than to settle down with his wife and kids. When an old CIA spymaster named Kitchener shows up on his doorstep, he knows his quiet life is about to come to an end. Kitchener has come looking for Jack’s best friend, former fighter pilot, Clancy Halloway. It seems one of Clancy’s old war buddies, on assignment in Egypt, has mysteriously vanished and Kitchener is hoping to recruit Clancy to find him.

What sounds like a simple enough mission is anything but. All of Egypt is in turmoil. The British having finally left and various political factions; both old and new, are vying for control of that ancient land. Somewhere in that chaotic brew, spies come and go with allegiances changing constantly. Knowing Clancy is heading into a world of constant danger, Jack decides to accompany him, much to his wife’s displeasure. But he truly has no other choice. Having become a man of honor, there is no way he can abandon Clancy when he is needed the most.

Once in Cairo, the last known location of the missing spy, Bounce Cavanagh, the duo find themselves frustrated at every turn. Then a dead Egpytian youth is found in their hotel room and both are questioned by the authorities. It is through them that Jack and Clancy learn of an elusive former Nazis named Krueger said to be operating in the area and affiliated with certain revolutionary groups. But does this German spy have anything to do with the fate of the American agent and if so, how does it relate to the plans of the fringe radicals?

As ever, Stephen Jared spins an old fashion, colorful tale of intrigue, mystery and the noble sacrifice of loyalty. In a world where no one can be trusted, Jack and Clancy’s unyielding friendship may be the one real advantage they have of completing their mission and surving it. This is a well plotted thriller that moves at a comfortable pace, eschewing cheap stereotypical action for skillful characterizations. In the end, it is a classic tale of romantic adventure that does not disappoint. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

KILLING TOWN


KILLING TOWN
The Lost First Mike Hammer Thriller!
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Titan Books
225 pages

Sometimes Christmas comes early. That was our first reaction upon learning Max Allan Collins and the folks at Titan Books were about to publish the first Mike Hammer book by the late Mickey Spillane. In his introduction to “Killing Town,” Collins explains the history behind this “lost” manuscript that predates the 1947 release of Spillane’s “I, the Jury,” which first introduced the tough-guy New York P.I. to the reading public and forever set crime fiction on its butt. It’s an introduction Spillane fans will appreciate.

As for the tale itself, it kicks off with Hammer arriving in a small Rhode Island burg named Killington under the cover of darkness. He is on a private mission and does not want his presence known save for the one person he has come to find. That’s mystery number one. Then, within a few hours of his arrival, he is assaulted by the local police and arrested. The charge, the rape and murder of a young woman. Mystery number two.

It quickly becomes clear to the ex-Marine, that he is being framed and the cops are working for the town’s real authority, one ex-Senator Charles Killington. But why? Hammer’s mission has nothing to do with the Killingtons who own the two biggest companies in the hamlet; a cannery and glue making factory.

With one legal setback after another, witnesses paid off to indict him; Hammer is close to revealing all when he is saved by the Senator’s beautiful daughter Melba who provides him with a false alibi. Upon his release from jail, she then tells him the price of his freedom is that he has marry her.  Mystery number three.

“Killing Town,” like all Spillane thrillers, has more twists and turns then a San Francisco street. While along the route we encounter familiar landmarks; brutal corrupt cops, deadly mob assassins and sexy women with devious agendas. This is Hammer country and before once can even begin to decipher the puzzle, bullets start flying and bodies begin piling up like Lincoln Logs. We gratefully tip our pulp fedora to Misters Spillane and Collins and the good folks at Titan Books. This indeed was a special kind of gift you don’t want to miss.

Friday, April 27, 2018

"No Harp for My Angel." "Booty for a Babe." "Eve, It's Extortion."


“No Harp for My Angel”
“Booty for a Babe”
“Eve, It’s Extortion”
3 by Carter Brown
Stark House Press
298 pgs

Once again Stark House Press delivers a package of reprint classics. This time featuring three Detective Al Wheeler mysteries by Australian scribe Alan Geoffrey Yates writing as Carter Brown. As with all such collections from this wonderful publisher, the stories themselves are preceded by an informative essay on Yates and his life as a paperback writer by Rick Ollerman; itself worthy of the price of the book. As a child growin up in the 50s, we had an uncle who devoured paperback mysteries as if they were popcorn, reading a minimum of six per week. His nose was always buried in one of those little tomes; all of them featuring tough guy and hot babe covers. The one name we distinctly remember appearing over most of this sexy images was that of Carter Brown and for good reason. In his writing career he wrote hundred of them.

“No Harp for My Angel,” has Det. Wheeler on vacation in Florida when he runs afoul of a casino thug named Johnny Lynch with serious ambitions rise in the criminal underworld. At the same time lovely young socialites, daughters of prominent families, begin disappearing and the local cops believe Lynch is involved. Whereas Wheeler is a new face in town, he is recruited to go undercover as New York crook and learn not only what is happening to the missing girls but how it connects to the mobster. Naturally, in all such adventures, Wheeler not only has to contend with several deadly bruisers while mainting his disguise, but also a raven haired femme fatale who might very easily spell his doom if he becomes infatuated with her charms.

The second short novel is called “Booty for a Babe.” The guest speaker at a small weekend science-fiction club is murdered in the middle of the grand hall when a dart is shot into his heart. Eighty-five eye witnesses and all of them instant suspects. To solve the case, Commissoner Lavers sends in Det. Al Wheeler because of his unorthodox methods. Of course part of that includes flirting with every good looking dame on the scene. The problem is once the convention ends, the attendees get to go home. It’s Wheeler’s job to see the killer isn’t set free with them. This one is breeze and fun, with Wheeler’s wisecracking par for the course and early sci-fi takes a serious shellacking.

“Eve, It’s Extortion,” is the third and final book in the collection and our personal favorite. When a drunk is the victim of a hit and run, he leaves his beautiful widow a tidy sum of cash. Moss, the insurance agent, suspects foul play and convinces Police Commissiner Lavers to investigate. The commissioner assigns Al Wheeler to the case. As ever, the cocky, wise-cracking lieutenant soon finds himself elbow deep in beautiful, but deadly women; from Eve, the widow to a claims hunter named Edna Bright and a mischievous redhead named Natalie. Amidst this bevy of beauties he finds blackmailers and killers all intermingle in a pretzel like affair that will take all his unorthodox luck to solve. This is a breezy, fun caper that doesn’t disappoint. Wheeler even gets the girl in the end.

All in all, Stark House Mystery Classics delivers another great package celebrating the glorious days of paperback mayhem. This is one all mystery loves will appreciate.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

VEGAS HEIST


VEGAS HEIST
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
231 pgs

Some books seem to fly through your hands; they being that much fun to read. Such is the case with Van Plexico’s new offering, “Vegas Heist.” A serious change of course for a writer best known for sci-fi and superhero prose, this time Plexico ventures into crime fiction and he does so with surprising results. It is quite clear from page one that our author is a Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake fan, as his characters are familiar iconic types seen over and over again in the works of those two great writers. And still, despite these obvious clones, Plexico adds his own satirical whimsy to the caper giving it an authentic historical background and infusing it with a pacing remindful of a short, lit fuse. Any second you know it’s going to explode.

John Harper, a professional thief, does his best avoid schemes involving robbing the casinos of Los Vegas. Why? Because the obvious risks far outweighted the slim possibilities of monetary gain. Then one day his old pal, Los Vegas Attorney Saul “Salsa” Salzman calls him with a plan that in its concept is almost foolproof. During during the building of Caesar’s Palace, one of the many construction contractors, one Roy Funderburk, had a secret tunnel built under hotel leading several miles under the city streets to an innocuous exit no one has yet to uncover. 

With the hotel nearly completed and due to open on New Year’s Eve, all they would have to do is assemble a team, find the hidden tunnel entrance and undetected, break into the vault, steal the cash and be gone before anyone was the wiser. The only glitch is a two bit mobster murdered Funderburk before he could reveal exactly where this tunnel entry was  located.  But Salsa doesn’t see that as a problem and convinces Harper they can find the disguised locale long before the grand opening. Tempted by the possibility of a rich grab, Harper agrees to take on the job and, with Salsa’s advice, they hire two more men; Tommy Donovan, an old time safe cracker, and Brett Rooker, a big, beefy thug to be their security muscle.

With the team assembled, they head to Sin City and the grand future that awaits them. Of course in all such tales, things are never exactly what they appear to me and soon Harper learns that there are other players in their little play. Primary among these are Julian Monti, the small time hood who killed Funderburk, and told Salsa about the secret tunnel, and Lois Funderburk, the dead man’s widow who knows a lot more than they were led to believe. Harper’s personal philosophy is never trust anyone and on this heist, it is one that may just keep him alive.

“Vegas Heist,” is one of those books impossible to put down. Like his characters, Plexico brings us along his own devious plotting filled with twist and turns that you don’t see coming until the very end. It is a terrific read and one we highly recommend. As for John Harper, we want more; a whole lot more.

Monday, March 26, 2018

DAYFALL


DAYFALL
By Michael David Ares
Tor Books
286 pgs

In the not too distant future, Pakistan and India suffer a nuclear confrontation which has disastrous results throughout the globe. Ice melting in subartic regions and Greenland causes rising water levels and twenty percent of New York City is lost. Other parts of the eastern seacoast suffer varying degrees of this “nuclear winter” wherein the sun if blocked for lengthy periods of time. Hardest hit is New York and for ten years its survivors learn to live in darkness until the after effects of the catastrophe begin to dissipate and the clouds begin to thin.

Scientist start predicting what they call Dayfall will soon herald the return of the sun and banish the stygian darkness. At the same time they caution the authorities that such a dramatic reappearance of daylight could cause psychological issues with the populace and the Manhattan Police Department is put on alert. But how does one prepare for something totally unprecedented? Just as the momentous day is fast approaching, a vicious serial killer emerges on the scene. This fiend butchers his victims with knives, leaving their bloody corpses in pieces. He is soon labeled the Dayfall Killer.

Frantic to catch this monster and avoid city-wide panic, the Mayor hires a young Philadelphia detective named Jon Phillips. Supposedly he is uniquely qualified as he had single handedly captured another such killer in Philly only a few weeks earlier. Phillips has only twenty-four short hours to find his new target. And if that challenge isn’t enough as is, he quickly learns there is an underlying political battle at play between the Mayor and an independent police force known as Gotham Security.  Owned and conceived by Gar Render, GS wants to usurp the local police with Render as the next Mayor.

“Dayfall,” is a pulpish noir mix of violence, social engineering and selfish paranoia expertly brewed to create a fast paced, suspenseful thriller unlike anything else on the market today. Whereas it really isn’t science fiction but rather a science thriller. Writer Michael David Ares is definately a name to remember.

Friday, March 16, 2018

THE CURSE OF THE BLOOD FIENDS



CURSE OF THE BLOOD FIENDS
By P.J. Thorndyke
Celluloid Terrors
298 pages

Receiving books from authors we are unfamiliar with is always an exciting event. It leads us to a new door wherein we wonder what awaits on the other side; something fantastically good, something mediocre or, heaven forbid, something gawd awful. We are delighted to report that P.J. Thorndyke’s “Curse of the Blood Fiends” lands solidly in that first grouping and with a tremendous splash. Enough so that we really hope you’ll take this review to heart and run and get your own copy. Really, it is that much fun.

The time is World War II and the military is looking for any advantage it can muster to help us win our campaigns in both Europe and the South Pacific. To that end they sponsor a mad scientist’s expedition to the Rain Forest of the Amazon. It is led by a well known big-game warden named Henry Gross. The scientist is looking for a leaf based chemical that can revive the dead with the intent on using it to bring back fallen GIs and sending them back into combat as unyielding zombies.

No sooner is the compound discovered, then Gross is bitten by jungle werewolf and is then himself infected with the curse. He flees the base and returns to his home in Los Angeles in hopes of finding a cure him of his beastly condition. Instead, after a series of depressing encounters, Gross turns into his new hairy persona and begins biting others. Here the entire plot does a wild detour. It seems Gross’ bite not only changes humans into werewolves, but it also transforms others in to vampires.  All too soon Tinsel Town is being overrun with these nocturnal monsters. The city police find themselves overwhelmed with creatures far beyond their understanding and abilities to deal with.

Amidst all this action, we find Rosa Bridger, a lady P.I. engaged to a Hollowood leading man. Bridger, in trying to locate a lost starlet, uncovers a vampire nest in Beverly Hills where captive humans are being held as living blood banks to feed to undead. Oh, and did we mention that her fiancee’s younger brother is attempting to revive a thousand year old mummy in the family’s mansion?

What P.J. Thorndyke has done is given us all the classic Universal Monsters and brought them together albeit in new and original ways culminating in several over-the-top clashes that had this reviewer cheering wildly. Filled with panache, his prose is controlled and creates a steady pace that never once lets up leading the reader to one of the most satisfying climaxes this side of a Saturday Afternoon Monster Matinee.  “Curse of the Blood Fiends” is old-fashion thrills, spills and fun. The kind you thought lost forever. Well, you were wrong. This book has it all. Now go buy a copy!

Monday, February 26, 2018

NIGHTWISE



NIGHTWISE
By R. S. Belcher
Tor Books
352 pgs

This is the third R. S. Belcher novel we’ve read in the past two years and we are fast becoming devoted fans. Whereas the first two were part of a weird western series, “Nightwise” is a twisted, dark tale of modern witchcraft and wizardry unafraid of venturing into horrific fields of imagination.

Latham Ballard is a wizard whose name is known throughout the magic world; referred to as The Life. At a child, mentored by his Granny, Latham used his supernatural powers to revive a dead squirrel. From that point on there was no turning back and his life became one bizarre adventure after another; most involving deadly out-of-this world battles with all manner of fantastic creatures. In fact, he caused so much trouble, the Nightwise, an organization of wizards devoted to protecting humanity, expelled him. This came as no surprise to Ballard, as he was never comfortable in the hero role and saw himself as a pure, unadulterated selfish bastard.

As the books opens, Ballard visits one of his remaining friends, another wizard named Branco Boj who is dying of AIDS. Years earlier, Boj’s wife had been savagely butchered by a wizard named Dusan Slorzack. Boj ask Ballard to find Slorzack and kill him. Ballard agrees and thus the chase begins though the rogue wizard has no real idea what a powerful mage he is hunting.

It soon begins clear to Ballard, that Slorzack is a heartless killer able to elude even the most complex searching techniques, both technical and magical. Then, along the hunt, Ballard uncovers a new type of American made magic born during the early days of the country’s history. All of which is centered around a mystical place called The Greenway. What is this strange alien magic all about and what is the significance of The Greenway to Dusan Slorzack?

R.S. Belcher pulls out all the stops in delivering a brutal story about the true meanings of the human heart; loneliness, love, despair, anger, and unyielding hope against the cruelest fates.  It is a brilliant page turner and carves another notch in this writer’s remarkable career. If you aren’t familiar with him, we urge you to do so now and enjoy the ride. He won’t let you down.