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.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

POLLEN'S WOMEN - The Art of Samson Pollen



POLLEN’S WOMEN
The Art of Samson Pollen
Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Dole
# new texture
135 pgs

One of the tragedies of the original pulp era was the lack of recognition given to the brilliant artists of that time. Every single week hundreds of pulp titles hit the newsstands, each graced with a gorgeous, colorful cover paintings and filled with dozens of wonderful black and illustrations. Whereas these populace magazines were snobbishly ignored by the purveyors of the uppercrust, academia including and no effort was made to save this amazing art. It has been reported that over 90% of all those great covers and illustrations were destroyed and lost to us forever, save in the fading pages of the actual mags, some eighty years or older today.

After World War Two, pulps evolved into comics for kids and two new adult formats to continue the publication of action adventure stories. One was the small paperback designed to be easily carried in one’s back-pocket and produced on the cheap. The other, and more direct descend of the original pulps, was the men’s adventure magazines, hereto referred to as MAGS. From the 50s to early 70s they proliferated in drugstores racks via dozens of titles all aimed at the World War II veterans looking for stories featuring rugged, individuals not afraid to take on the world. The MAMS catered to tales of war heroes, explorers, tough cops and rebel bikers. It was a cornucopia of he-man virility that oozed off every page.

Accompanying these tales was the macho art; a vital element of the entire package. Like their smaller, golden age predecessors, the MAMS were chock full of amazing illustrations, most done in long double page formats while offering up some of the greatest in-your face all action scenes ever put on a cover. Here were soldiers combating overwhelming odds, or treasure hunters battled savage beasts of every kind imaginable while at the same time protecting some half-clad buxom babe. They were simply men’s fantasies brought to stunning visual reality as created a dozen or so remarkable artists.

One such was Samson Pollen and now editors Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle have collected dozens of his more spectacular pieces. Each is represented into versions; first showcasing the actual artwork alone and then the same image as surrounded as folded into the magazine’s layout with text and titles etc. It is a truly effective demonstration of the format challenges posed to Pollen and his peers. One of this book’s most intriguing parts is Pollen’s own memoirs which he shared with co-author Doyle. At 86, the veteran illustrator’s tales of his work-for-hire experiences as a professional illustrator are fascinating. Pollen never assumed he was creating anything but commercial art and his job, as he saw it, was to give the editors what they wanted. No matter how silly those requests often times appeared to be. He was told to draw this or that and he did. He was a workman artist.

Today, one gets the sense that he is happily bemused at how valuable his art has become and the status it has achieved in the scheme of things. In this day of digital art, illustrators are a dying breed and one wonders if future generations will ever see their like again. For now we can only tip our pulp fedoras to Mr. Deis & Mr. Doyle for saving work of this true master; Samson Pollen.

Friday, February 09, 2018

STRANGE VIEW FROM A SKEWED ORBIT



STRANGE VIEW FROM
A SKEWED ORBIT
(An Oddball Memoir)
By Ardath Mayhar
Borgo Press
159 pgs

Dear Readers, this certainly will not be one of my regular reviews. You see the subject matter is much too personal for me and we need to share much more than a few declarative paragraphs concerning this wonderful little book. So time for some history. In the early 80s, pre-PC and internet time, I had joined a group via snail-mail correspondence called SPWAO; the Small Press Writers & Artists Organization. We were made of up both amateur and professional creators all working in one fashion or another with small press. Among that group was Texas based professional sci-fi and fantasy writer Ardath Mayhar. If you’ll allow me to name drop here, the group also included among its ranks Charles Saunders, Richard & Wendy Pini and Kevin Anderson; all of which I’m sure you readily recognized.

We had officers, collected dues and published a monthly newsletter. At one point I was elected the President and responsible for putting out that newsletter. It was along this time that I began a friendly correspondence with Ardath not realizing it would soon become a life-saver for me. Note, members of SPWAO were set on achieving professionalism in various genres, from books to comics. Most of my energies directed towards the latter without much thought at all to novel writing.

Then came my divorce and my world turned upside down. Having three small children unable to comprehend exactly why their father was leaving caused me months of pain and anguish. At one point I let some of this out in a letter to Ardath, this kindly grandmother writer from Texas, as a way of maybe dispelling a little of the hurt I was dealing with. Her response was a rapid reply in which she suggested, “Why don’t we write a book together. It might help take your mind off the sadness.”  She even let me devise the subject matter and plot and we went at it. Six months later her agent sold “Trail of the Seahawks” to TSR’s new Windwalker paperback line and I was a published author. 

And of course, as Ardath was well aware, the rest of my life did settle out. My weekly visitations with my wonderful children eventually proved to them my continued love and devotion and within the next few years some kind of normalcy returned to all of us. Oh, and Ardath and me went on to write two more books together, “Monkey Station” and “Witchfire.” I would have loved to have done more, but she was then in her late 70s and let me know I was good enough to fly on my own, whereas she still had too many of her own tales to tell in whatever time she had left.

That’s the personal stuff.  Now here’s the clinical.  Ardath Mayhar Feb 20 – 1930 to Feb 1st 2012 (aged 81) began writing professionally in 1979. She was nominated for the Mark Twain Award and won the Balrog Award for a horror narrative poem in Masques 1. In 2008 she was honored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as an Author Emeritus. She wrote over sixty books ranging from sci-fi to horror to young adult to historical to westerns; with some work under the pseudonym Frank Cannon, Frances Hurst, and John Killdeer. Mrs. Mayhar also shared her knowledge and skills of writing with many people through the Writer’s Digest correspondence courses.

Recently I learned that in 1996 Ardath compiled a rambling, intimate memoir of her life after having been pestered by friends to do so. That book is “Strange View From a Skewed Orbit.”  It is a truly wonderful glimpse into the heart and mind of a remarkable woman who was descended of pioneer stock. It is a glimpse of both the rugged landscape of East Texas but also of a culture that prides individualism and old fashion grit. In the book’s final few essays, Ardath lambast the wishy-washy nonsense that is today’s feminism, decrying pampered women who have swallowed the entire hogwash philosophy of victimhood. In her own words, “It is not the function of government to make life easy for anyone, rich or poor, male or female, black white, yellow or red. That is a sure route to dependency. We are our own motivators, and if we do not use our strength, our intelligence, and our determination to achieve what we are capable of doing, the fault lies with us, not some anonymous “white male establishment.””

It is one of my life’s major disappointments that we never actually got to meet in this world. But believe me, that is a meeting that will certainly take place in the next. Till then, every time I sit down to write, I know I’ve a friend looking down from on high.
God bless you, Ardath, and thanks.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

THE OBSIDIAN CHAMBER



 THE OBSIDIAN CHAMBER
(A Pendergast Novel)
By Preston & Child
Grand Central Publishing
437 pgs

We make no bones that we are devoted fans of this new pulp series. Special Agent Pendergast and his revolving cast of supporting characters are truly colorful and memorable. In this, the sixteen entry, the authors pick up from the dramatic cliffhanger they ended book fifteen, “Crimson Shore.” We won’t tell you what that dangling question was on the off chance some of you are playing catch up and have yet to read it.

Rather we will say the tale opens with Pendergast away from his home on Riverside Drive in New York City, leaving his ward, Constance Greene, chauffeur and bodyguard Proctor and household keeper, Mrs. Trask, to fend for themsevles. Not a good thing when his younger brother, supposedly dead, invades the domicile, subdues Proctor and kidnaps Ms. Greene. Here we should let you know, Diogenes is as great a villain as his brother is a hero. A psychotic genius whose level of cruelty is beyond measure and the one true advisory our protagonist has yet to adequately best.

And with that kidnapping begins a globe trotting chase around the glove, as a frantic Proctor, whose responsibility it was to protect the girl, spares no effort or money to go after them wherever they are bound. That this madcap race takes up the first quarter if the entire book will tell you at what a frenetic pace “The Obsidian Chamber” is propelled. By the time our hero does arrive on the scene, having barely escaped the clutches of a gang of drug smugglers off the coast of Maine, we readers are whipping through pages faster and faster. How on earth is Pendergast ever going to get up to speed? And therein lays the talent of this superb writing team in that they set out that solution so logically via what past books have established; that he is no mere mortal. Pendergast is a man of superior intellect and imagination and he how he employs those talents to solve the most bizarre challenge he has ever faced is the delight of this book.

As with all series pulp adventures, some often time feel like obligatory fillers and are soon forgotten when a new chapter arrives. While others, like “The Obsidian Chamber” hit so many right notes as to create a melody masterpiece of plotting and pace so spectacular that the tune will reverberate in your minds long after you’ve finished the last page.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

UNREMARKABLE



 UNREMARKABLE
 By Geoff Habiger & Coy Kissee
Shadow Dragon Press
205 pages

We’ve often said the fun of writing a review blog is discovering new and exciting talent. Case in point this book sent to us by authors Habiger and Kissee, “Unremarkable.” From the book design it is easy enough to infer that the story deals with death and violence and sure enough it kicks off fast in those directions.

The year is 1929 and young Saul Imbierowicz is a postal clerk in Chicago. For an average fellow, his life has been what most people would consider dull and boring. But when he meets a vivacious redhead named Moira a few days before Valentine’s Day, things seem to be changing for the better. Moira is a beauty and Saul can’t believe his good luck. When she asks him to accompany her on an errand to the North Side, he willingly agrees to tag along. There isn’t much he wouldn’t do for the girl.

Then they find themselves walking into one of the most celebrated gangland shootings in American history, the St. Valentine’s Massacre wherein seven of Al Capone’s men were gunned in a street corner garage by members of the Irish Mob under the orders of Bugs Moran. Tragically Moira and Saul arrive at the location while bullets are still flying and Moira is shot. Shocked and frightened at her body lying in a pool of blood, Saul flees in horror unable to deal with the violence suddenly foisted upon him.

As if that wasn’t enough to totally ruin his life, he is then grabbed by several of Moran’s thugs and brought to a meeting with the mob boss. Moran informs him that federal agents, who maintain offices in the same building as the post office, have come into possession of Frank Capone’s tax accounting records. The data in those books would be sufficient to put Al away for a very long time. Something Moran wants to assure happens. Fearing Capone might somehow steal the books from the feds, he wants Saul to do it first and then bring those books to him. If Saul doesn’t do as he demands, Moran will have his parents and sister killed.

The authors waste no time in building the suspense and the narrative moves at a very steady pace. Saul is the innocent protagonist who, for no fault of his own, finds himself in a seemingly inescapable dilemma. Can he actually do what Moran wants; break into the feds’ offices and steal the Capone books? As he grapples with this question, he is suddenly set upon by the very agents who occupy those offices. They know of his presence at the street corner during the shooting and want to know what happened to Moira? If poor Saul was mixed-up before, this new wrinkle totally leaves him confused.  Moira’s dead, isn’t she? After all, he saw her die. Or did he?  And if she is somehow alive, where is she and how is she involved with the entire affair?

“Unremarkable” is a really fun read that will keep readers guessing from chapter to chapter. The characters are one hundred percent authentic and the underlying mystery reveals itself slowly like a many layered onion. It is a thriller in the best sense of the word and one we highly applaud. Do yourselves a favor and pick up a copy.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

THE BLACK STILETTO - Black & White



THE BLACK STILLETO – Black & White
By Raymond Benson
Oceanview Publishing
309 pgs

In the first book of this series, a divorced unemployed accountant named Martin Talbot uncovered a startling secret upon opening the contents of his mother’s effects.  In the 1950s and 60s, his mother, then Judy Cooper, donned a masked and became a crime fighting vigilante known as the Black Stiletto. Now she suffers from Alzheimer’s and is committed to medical institution. In her diaries, part of the cache he discovers, he learns that as a teenager, Judy had run away from her abusive stepfather in Texas to begin a new life in New York City. There she came under the tutelage of an exboxer named Freddie who taught her how to fight. She later added to her martial skills by studying both judo and karate from a Japanese sensei. Eventually she had a romantic tryst with a young man who she later learned was part of the Mafia. When he was murdered, Judy decided to mete out her own justice in the guise of her secret identity. By the book’s finale, Martin is forced to accept the realities of his discoveries and keep them a secret from everyone including his own daughter, Gina, who adores her grandmother.

With “Black & White,” the saga continues and again is narrated by both Martin in the present and by sections of Judy’s detailed diaries showcasing her exploits. For Judy the year is 1959 and the country is undergoing radical changes. Many are due in part to the racial tensions boiling up in the urban centers of America’s fast growing cities. Harlem has become a blacks-only community and a gangster named Carl Purdy has risen to power. He has grandiose ambitions and challenges the Italian families for control of the growing drug trade.

As the Black Stiletto enters the fray, she finds herself hunted by a smart and handsome F.B.I. agent named John Richardson. Through a series of dangerous outings, the Stiletto manages to start a truly weird, and romantic, relationship with the dedicated agent. While their feelings for each other threaten both of them, Judy finds herself embroiled in the Harlem gang war and agreeing to a truly bizarre alliance with a Mafia Don. Meanwhile, in our time, son Martin has unearthed an actual film reel of Judy in her Black Stiletto get-up and is being blackmailed by a small time New York thug who also owns a copy of the same film.

Once again, Raymond Benson weaves twin stories, interweaving them skillfully while heightening the suspense with each new chapter so that the reader is rewarded with not one but two exciting and dramatic climaxes. What makes this book a winner, as was the first, is his knack of bringing Judy Cooper to life with all her courage, naiveté and sincere empathy for others. She is a wonderful character; one you really should get to know.