Friday, August 09, 2019

TORRID TWINS


TORRID TWINS
A Tokey Wedge Swinger
By Jack Lynn
Grizzly Pulp
168 pgs

Tokey Wedge is an old throw-back Private Eye ala Shell Scott. Operating in the big city with a couple of friends on the police force, Tokey has a way of getting into trouble when it comes to hot-blooded dames. In this outing, he’s hired by a rich tycoon named Langland, to protect his precious rock, the Black Opal. The financier has serious money troubles and Tokey is convinced he’s planning on stealing the gem himself to collect the big insurance policy.

Adding dangerous spice to the situation is Langland’s wife, a buxom sex-pot named Virginia who is into a local mobster for serious gambling debts. She needs the cash to get her neck out of the noose. As if she wasn’t dynamite fleshly delights enough, Virginia has an identical twin sister who was once her husband’s former lover. Abbigail, nicknamed Nabby, is an alcoholic lush who despises her sister for stealing her man. So Tokey has two raging nymphos two handle…pun intended. But the trouble doesn’t end there. The case also offers up a third femme-fatale in the shape of Langland’s beautiful stepdaughter from his deceased first wife, Sonya. Though only a lowly 36 C, the half-Japanese Sonya makes a living as a bra-model.

“Torrid Twins” is so true to its sweat-mags roots as to propel the reader on a pulp time-travel adventure. The raunchy humor, the two fisted punches and the flying hot-lead resound with genuine authenticity from a time long gone. If you recall those days with fondness and need a good laugh, grab a copy. As Tokey might say, “It’s a handful of action.”

Monday, August 05, 2019

JACE OF THE JUNGLE


JACE OF THE JUNGLE
A Snapshot Novella
By Dale Cozort
121 pgs

I’ve been a big fan of writer Dale Cozort’s unique Snapshot books since the start. In them he envisioned an all powerful race of aliens who could duplicate any part of human history on our planet and duplicate it perfectly, molecule for molecule. Imagine these god-like beings creating an exact duplicate of Argentina in 1920, meaning everything in that country at that time would then exist in a bubble…while the original Argentina would still exist here on Earth. Thus there would be two, with the “snapshot” double now at the whims of these aliens, where by they could attach that bubble to another that might contain France in 1955 and then allow the people in both bubbles to cross a zone tunnel and interact.

Okay, so yes, it gives us headaches too. The thing is Cozort is crafty enough to use this world building to his story-telling advantage. In his latest Snapshot Novella, “Jace of the Jungle” he totally goes all Edgar Rice Burroughs with a young eleven year old white boy living in a hodge-podge Africa that features ape-people, Roman Legions, lost cities and dinosaurs. See what I mean? This is pulp-weaving and he pulls it off with so much fun and enthusiasm, this little 121 pg book is a tease appetizer leaving us wanting a whole lot more.

Like ERB? Like romantic jungle adventures? Like action and adventure galore? Then what are you waiting for? “Jace of the Jungle” is waiting for you.

Monday, July 29, 2019

MURDER, MY LOVE


MURDER MY LOVE
A Mike Hammer Mystery
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Titan Books
198 pgs

Whenever Max Allan Collins delivers another Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer book, our thought is how the hits just keep coming. That is what each of these has been to date, bonfide gems based on either unfinished manuscripts or detailed plot outlines written by Spillane before his death. Collins efforts in bringing each to publication has been truly astounding and we mystery fans are all the richer for them.

In this latest outing, the New York based Hammer is hired by a handsome state senator with aspirations to being President. Unfortunately his extra-marital affairs have made him the target of a blackmailer and he requires the private eye’s help in extracting himself from his own warranted dilemma. Hammer reluctantly takes the job, though not his typical kind of work. There is a hefty payday involved and he’s not about to shrug that off lightly. His assignment, learn the identity of the blackmailer and retrieve the tape recording of the senator and his lovely secretary doing the hanky panky after hours.

Within the first twenty-fours, Hammer, and his faithful Velda, find the extortionist and it begins to look like an open and shut case. At which point a former state governor and World War II war hero, enters the story and things take a decidedly ugly turn. It’s the world of politics and when several characters end up dead, Hammer learns that all that is dirty and corrupt doesn’t only apply to the criminal empires.

Where power is the prize, evil will often extend its foul claws.  “ Murder, My Love,” is another fast reading mystery with enough action to keep any Spillane enthusiast thrilled from beginning to end. Amen.

Friday, July 26, 2019

FATAL INQUIRY


FATAL INQUIRY
A Baker & Llewelyn Novel
By Will Thomas
Monitaur Books
290 pgs.

“Fatal Inquiry” is the sixth in Will Thomas’ series about Cyrus Barker, London Agent of Inquiry and his assistant clerk, Thomas Llewelyn. Set in the same period as the Conan Doyle stories, these adventures offer Holmes fan a differet perspective on the great city and its social eccentricies. Each new story has been built upon the previous creating a marvelous cast of fun, wonderful defined supporting characters.

In this new entry, Barker comes under the attack of his arch enemy, Sebastian Nightwine, a former military officer whose path he has crossed on several occasions; much to his regret. Now Nightwine has returned to England to convince the Foreign Office to assist him in his madcap scheme to invade and rule Tibet. Such a coup would greatly enhance the Empire’s prestiage and power in that region of the world.

The villain is well aware Barker will be an impidement to his grandious plan. Thus he frames the detective for murder and puts a price on his head. Within twenty-four hours, Barker and Lleweln’s lives are shattered and the two find themselves fugitives on the run. When Lleweln is soon caught and released, he realizes Barker purposely tricked him so that he would be free of the bounty on his own head.  Now, for the first time since their meeting, Llewelyn must act solo. He must employ all the skills and cunning the crafty his employer has taught him and somehow save Baker in the end.

As if that wasn’t challenge enough, the lad then meets Nightwine’s beautiful daughter and suddenly the rules of the games are altered. Is she an ally or a foe, a pawn or a cold blooded killer like her father? 

“Fatal Inquiry” is a tense, fast paced historical thriller that never lets up and is by far the best book in the series thus far. Which is saying a great deal? Here is hoping volume number seven isn’t too far off.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

CROSSWISE


CROSSWISE
By S.W. Lauden
Down & Out Books
139 pgs

Tommy Ruzzo is an ex-New York cop kicked off the force for criminal behavior. He follows his girlfriend, Shayna, back to her hometown of Seatown Florida. Shortly thereafter she dumps him and takes a powder. Ruzzo accepts a job as the Head of Security manager at a beachfront retirement facility known as Precious Acres. He spends most of his days between driving a golf cart around the grounds to getting drunk at a local watering hole named the Rusty Pelican.

One morning the custodian, Ruzzo’s drinking buddy, finds one of the residents dead on the bocce court with his throat cut. As many of the patrons are former New Yorkers, several with mob ties, Ruzzo suspects that maybe the past is catching up to them. Getting little help from the local Sheriff, he keeps poking about and then a second resident is killed. The old man is found with the local newspaper laid on his chest opened to where the cross-word puzzle is found. Another of the old snowbirds tells Ruzzo about a hitman who would post warnings in the cross-word puzzles as a way to unnerve his intended targets.

In the middle of this chaos, Shayna returns, this time with her husband in tow. He’s a small time drug dealer with a mean streak. Could he have anything to do with the murders? Does he know anything about Ruzzo’s relationship with previous Shayna? Within a week, the world-weary ex-cop is knee deep in bodies and beginning to think he may be next on the list of some deranged mob assassin.

S.W. Lauden’s writing is lean delivering only what the story requires to keep it moving along. There are no long passages of exposition or insightful reflection. His characters, especially Tommy Ruzzo, are all flawed and doing simply doing their best to get from day to day. When murder enters the stage, masks come off and a killer takes the spotlight.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

THE ANDROID'S DREAM


THE ANDROID’S DREAM
By John Scalzi
Tor Books
394 pgs

Every time we read a John Scalzi sci-fi book, we’re amazed at how he delivers unique and original stories that somehow are reminiscent of past authors such as Robert Heinlein and Edmond Hamilton. Scalzi is comfortable detailing known science while extrapolating it, which is what all good science fiction does. At the same time, he throws in tons of old pulp space opera action. That both work in perfect harmony with each other is what has made him such a popular writer today.

With “The Android’s Dream,” he blazes a story about alien conspiracies, biological manipulations and a sentient computer. Harry Creek is a war veteran working for the State Department and has the unenviable job of giving people bad news. Need to fire someone, call Harry. Need to tell a diplomat she’s being assigned to some far off world no one has ever heard of before, call Harry. What is fun is the fact that Harry has no problems with the role. He’s a pragmatist. After all, somebody’s got to it.

When a respected member of an alien Nidu delegation is assassinated via chemically produced smells during a trade negotiation, the Department’s Administrators scramble to salvage the situation and avoid an all out war. This can be done by providing the aliens with a special breed of sheep known as the Android’s Dream. Apparently such animals were gifts to the Nidu generations earlier upon first contact. Now the ruling clan of must sacrifice such a sheep whenever a new ruler is crowned. Sounds simple enough until it is discovered somebody has systematically destroyed all the known Android’s Dream sheep on the earth. Thus Harry Creek’s assignment is to find just one sheep and then keep it alive.

To accomplish this, Harry creates a self-aware computer program based on the mind of a deceased friend name Brian. Once awakened Brian begins searching the World Wide Web and managed to find the only remaining Android’s Dream still breathing. But it’s not a sheep; it’s a young woman whose genetic code actually contains sheep genes.

And that all happens within the first half of the book. Soon Harry and the lady, one Robin Baker, are on the run being chased by both human and alien killers. The action is non-stop; the characters brilliantly conceived and climax a slam-bang finale that had us cheering aloud. All science-fiction should be as good as “The Android’s Dream.” We can’t wait to see what Scalzi cooks up next.

Monday, July 01, 2019

KILLING QUARRY


KILLING QUARRY
By Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
206 pages
Pub Date – 12 Nov – 2019

When reading a Max Collins Quarry novel, readers have come to expect certain elements to grace the pages of each new title.  Primary among these are witty, often sharply sarcastic bantering between the veteran hitman and the people he encounters. Then there are the sexy femme fatales that come in all colors, ages and alluring shapes. Though Quarry would never call himself a “ladies man,” his ability to attract beautiful women certainly makes his male readers envious. Then you add in sudden, often violent action in which our protagonist has to fight tooth and nail to survive and your Quarry recipe is almost complete.  So what’s the final ingredient? The twisted, original plots that will keep you turning the pages in an attempt to unravel the mystery before he does.

Thus in this vein, “Killing Quarry” is as yet another winner fulfilling all of these expectations with a fast-pace plot that adds a terrific new perspective to the series. For the first time in his death-dealing career, Quarry has never been the intended target. He is this time and when that revelation becomes apparent, it turns his entire world upside down. No longer the hunter, Quarry doesn’t fancy the role of prey. Someone has painted a target on his back and if he makes one false move, it could be his last.

If that were not enough to occupy his attention, in the middle of the entire affair he is reunited with an old lover from his early days in the killing game. Lu, short for Lucille, also happens be in his line of work.  Though she has a logical explanation for why she has come back now, Quarry is ever skeptical. He is alive because of his trust issues. Is she there to assist him in learning who has put out on a contract on him or is she pursuing her own selfish agenda? And why, after almost a decade of operating in relative obscurity, has his identity finally been exposed?

“Killing Quarry” is a twisty thriller that skillfully moves from one scene to next with such consummate ease, most readers will reach the end sooner than desired. Then again, that’s another part of any Quarry book, we never want them to end.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

THE COLORADO KID


THE COLORADO KID
By Stephen King
Hard Case Crime
187 pgs

It’s not often we get to review the same book twice. But in this case, it is a task we relished greatly. Back in 2005 the newly arrived Hard Case Crime was shaking up the paperback scene with their series of hard-boiled crime novels; some classic reprints by long dead authors, others brand new tales by some of the leading mystery writers of the day. Though not noted particularly as a mystery novelist, Stephen King was approached to write a marketing blurb for one of their future releases. To the surprised delight of publisher Charles Ardai, King instead offered to submit a full manuscript entitled, “The Colorado Kid.”

We won’t bore you with the specifics; Ardai relates them in detail in his forward to this new, deluxe edition. What we will tell you is that back then we were most fortunate to be on their reviewers and one day the mail brought us a copy of King’s book. As memory serves, we read it in two days and wrote a glowing review. The book had struck a chord in us; one familiar with most writers. And so here we are, all these years later, sitting down to revisit this truly wonderful book in the hopes it will once again work its magic on us.

Stephanie is a college journalism student from mid-Ohio who has come to a little island off the coast Maine as part of a work-study program. Her bosses at the weekly paper are two old natives, Vince Teague and David Bowie, the publisher and editor respectively. Each is a veteran newshound with a whole lot to teach the eager young lady. During the course of their tutelage, they bring up the topic of unsolved mysteries and Steffi, as they call her, is instantly hooked. And so they tell her story of the Colorado Kid.

Twenty years earlier, the body of a man had been discovered on the beach by two teenage kids out for a morning jog. The body has no identification and as the story unfolds, uncovering that and other facts becomes a slow and laborious task. All the while, Steffi is mesmerized with each new scene her mentors relate. Still, at the offset, they warn her that the story of the Colorado Kid will frustrate her in the end. Why? Because is has no resolution.

And that dear readers is the genius of King’s offering; a mystery story left unsolved. Upon its first printing, “The Colorado Kid” did indeed raise up a loud hue and cry of “Foul!” Mystery fans weaned on traditional who-done-its naturally expected by the book’s finale there would be a solution; fully exposing of the killer and a fitting wrap up that would allow them to happily move on to the next read. Alas King wouldn’t play by those rules here. His goal was something much grander. He wanted to spin a yarn where the actual star was the mystery itself; in all its unanswerable splendor. By doing so, he reflects the truth of all our lives. For all the supposed control we have in living day to day, all of us are in fact characters in a cosmic mystery whose final chapter has yet to be written.
“The Colorado Kid,” remains a masterpiece of storytelling. It is rich in simple folksy wisdom and eerie in its underlying conceit. Under the normal lies the darkness and things that very much go bump in the night. Upon a second reading we come away even more delighted than ever.  Another personal note, when we read it the first time we lived along the Maine border in Southern New Hampshire. Today we live in Colorado. Go figure.

We also want to applaud the decision to add both a gorgeous new cover by Paul Mann and some amazing interior illustrations by Mark Edward Geyer and Kate Kelton. Now that’s pulp fiction!

Friday, June 21, 2019

ASTROMAN - The Secret Citadel


ASTROMAN
Book One – The Secret Citadel
By Dwight Decker
Vesper Press
178 pgs

Superheroes are a popular topic for prose novesl these days as authors attempt to cash on on the success of Hollywood’s big buget Cape Operas. With “Astroman – The Secret Citadel,” writer Dwight Decker takes his own shot at spinning something new out of something old and worn.

The premise comes at the subject from a totally slanted approach. Matt Dawson is a scientist from our world leading a fairly mundane existent. One day a freakish accident throws him into an alternate plane where he arrives with enhanced super powers. Now that alone would be enough for a solid plot foundation upon which to erect an exciting tale. Whereas Decker has more literary tricks up his sleeve.

You see, the new Earth Dawson has landed on already has a “super” hero.  His name is Astroman and he’s a strange visitor from another planet; in fact the last surviving son of that particular alien world. Now on terra firma and possessed with mighty powers, Astroman assumes the disguise of a mild-mannered reporter working for a large metropolitan newspaper.

Sound familiar? If you’ve been living on this globe for the past 75 years, then you pretty much know who Astroman and his cast of characters is based on.  All that is missing is the fruity cereal commercial. Naturally our protagonist is eager to meet this hero but learns Astroman is missing and has been for quite some time. So what happened to him? Has he gone off into space on some secret galactic errand or has he fallen prey to his arch enemy, a brilliant scientist gone rogue.

To learn the answer to this puzzle, Dawson is quickly caught up in more trouble than he could possibly have imagined. In the end, he wonders if being is super is really a blessing or a curse. “ASTROMAN – The Secret Citadel” is a well thought out exposition about what it means to be extraordinary and Decker explores the theme with so much enthusiasm, the book is a fun romp. But be warned, it is only the first half of a larger story though at its end we are promised the second part soon. Don’t let us down, Decker. This is really good stuff.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

BLACK HATS


BLACK HATS
Max Allan Collins
Brash Books
264 pgs

Wyatt Earp, the famous western lawman, is in his seventies enjoying semi-retirement living in Los Angeles with his wife Sadie. He does a little detective work every so often between acting as a consultant for the movie folks cranking horse operas by the hundreds. Among his Hollywood friends are William S. Hart and Tom Mix. In other words, his life isn’t that bad at all.

Of course there’s always calm before any storm and Earp’s dark clouds arrive with a visit from Doc Holliday’s widow, “Big Nose” Kate Elder. She surprises the ex-marshal by revealing that before he died, Doc fathered a son who he never got to see. She named the boy John and told him his deceased father had been a dentist; a good and decent fellow. She purposely omitted any mention of his having been a notorious gambler and gun-fighter. Later, when tragedy strikes young Johnny, he turns to drinking and learns the truth about his heritage. Angry and hurt, Junior packs his bags and heads for the lights of New York City to open a fancy nightclub.

Prohibition is in full swing and various criminal mobs are all vying for their share of the profits from illegal booze and speakeasies. One particular group has its eyes on Johnny’s operations. Its representative is a street savvy thug named Al Capone.

Thus Kate’s request of Earp; go to Manhattan and bring her son home safely before it’s too late. Although reluctant, Earp’s loyalty to his old friend wins out and he agrees to take the job. From that point forward, “Black Hat” becomes a history buff’s delight. As ever, Collins shines in his showcasing well known historical figures mixing them deftly through his tale as if he is simply recording facts.

Wyatt Earp vs. Al Capone. Just the idea alone had this reviewer clapping his hands in outrageous delight. Like the author, we too are fans of the old west legends and none is more widely known than that of Wyatt Earp. As always happens in any culture, certain events seem to strike a universal chord that speaks to the soul of a nation. Whereas England had King Arthur and Robin Hood, we Americans shaped our mythologies on the plains of the great frontier. The gunfight at the O.K. Corral is easily one of the most retold stories in all of American folklore. That it really happened is irrefutable and still in the retelling, its facts have been hammered and reshaped to fit a grandiose stage of heroic proportions.

In his post essay, Collins discusses the challenge to writers having to find the facts buried under years of exaggeration in hopes of spinning fairly accurate yarns. To a point that is. As John Ford told us at the finale of his classic film, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “…when facts don’t mesh with the legend, print the legend.”

Kudos to Collins for exercising restraint and giving us a glimpse at the human side of these legends. Both Earp and Capone are portrayed with a great deal of insight as he imagines one man’s journey reaching its twilight crossing paths with another whose own brutal career is just beginning.

“Black Hats” is gold plated gift to all of us who love tall tales.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

SNAPSHOT


SNAPSHOT
By Dale Cozort
Chisel and Stone Publishing
262 pgs

There have been all kinds of science fiction stories using either time travel or alternate dimensions. What writer Dale Cozort has done here is combined both elements into a truly unique set-up which in itself is hard to describe. But being a reviewer, there is really no way to get around that. So please follow along as best you can.

We start with some truly powerful, God-like aliens who have come to experiment with mankind in a strange bizarre way. Part of mysterious plan demands they recreate segments of our history and various cultures in different time-frames. For an example, the aliens, referred to as the Tourists, take a “snapshot” of Europe in 1938. Now this sample is in effect the entire continent and every single living being on it, humans, plants and animals. Now they take this sample and encase it in a giant all encompassing globe. With me so far?  Good. Now keep in mind, no one back in the 1938 Europe is even aware this “snapshot” was taken…and they simply go on with their lives. Meanwhile the copies (all the creatures of the now 1938 Europe globe snapshot) are well aware they are no longer on the actual planet Earth.

Of course you can‘t have an experiment with only one sampling. You need others to explore new dynamics, so the Tourists whip up a giant version of the island of Madagascar and set the 1938 Europe snapshot globe on it. Then they take more snapshots from various times and locations, ala United States 1953, Germany 1942, making more and more snapshots…which they then line up one after the other in what appears to be random fashion. Still with me? Hang in there, we’re almost done. Next the Tourists create two vents in each globe so that the people in that snapshot can actually fly into the next globe by going through a rather dense piece of atmosphere called the Babble Zone. That way members of one snapshot can enter another snapshot, etc. etc. etc.

And that’s the Snapshot Universe of Dale Cozort.  Note, nowhere in this first novel, published in 2014, do we ever learn anything at all about the aliens save what we’ve just told you. Rather Cozort centers his tale on several characters living in the various snapshot zones. One is an American rancher named McNeil. Another is a female Prussian pilot Captain Steiner and the last an American Middle Eastern Analyst named Greg Dunne. Now both McNeil and Steiner have were born and raised in various snapshots, whereas Dunne is the newbie who at the book’s beginning, is yanked out of his 2014 USA continent and plunked smack dab into the new 2014 USA Snapshot. Thing is when the event transpired, his wife was in Hawaii on a vacation and so she wasn’t snapped. Meaning Greg is alone in his snapshot world without her and other family loved ones while the original Greg Dunne is still back on Earth none the wiser.

By now, dear readers, you are asking yourselves, “If this thing is that convoluted to start with, why should I even bother to pick it up and read it?” The answer is simple enough, because despite its eleaborate background, “Snapshot” is a good book. Not only because its an original and fresh take on old sci-fi stuff, but because Cozort can write truly complex and believable characters. All of which have psychological problems and hang ups. Rancher McNeil hides a dark secret that if exposed will ruin him. And yet this secret haunts him to the point of madness. Pilot Steiner also carries within her a hidden obsession that can only be satisfied by cold cruel vengeance. And finally Greg Dunne grapples with a brand new life he never wanted or asked for.

How these characters confront their personal demons and survive is what propels the narrative in such a unique and fascinating way. “Snapshot” is like no other book you’ve ever read before and very much worth your time and effort. In the end, you’ll be happy you took the ride.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

PIRATES


PIRATES
By Timothy J. Lockhart
Stark House Press
210 pgs

Having been severely wounded and disfigured in Iraq, former Navy Seal Hal Morgan has learned to make peace with his scars, both physically and emotionally. Now living in Puerto Rica, all he wants is a quiet life of sailing and fishing. All of that comes to a shattering end when he rescues a lovely Cuban woman from a sinking boat in the middle of the ocean. Ana is the mistress of a vicious mobster and has fled the man’s clutches along with half million dollars of his money. Now the island gangster will do anything to retrieve her and the cash; including kill anyone who stands in his way.

The question is, does the war weary Morgan have the strength and will for one last campaign?

Writer Timothy Lockhart delivers a straight forward, action thriller without frills. His protagonists are both noble and flawed. Their interwoven fate propels them into a life and death struggle they can only survive by trusting each other. “Pirates” is one hell of an adventure.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

STOP THE PRESSES!


STOP THE PRESSES!
A Nero Mystery
By Robert Goldsborough
MysteriousPress.com
237 pgs

Cameron Clay is an egotistical little man who, in his selfishness, envies the rich and the powerful. But he does have one unique talent, he’s a gifted journalist and has utilized his skills to become the most widely read columnist in New York City. His daily column, “Stop the Presses,” is a glorified gossip feature he uses to attack corrupt politicians, crooked cops and even his own ex-wife for having had the temerity to leave him. Clay sees himself as the champion of the average man who must labor for the pleasure of the social elite. Thus is verbal attacks are constant and brutal. In short he is a fellow many would like to see dead.

Which is where Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin enter the story. Len Cohen, the newspaper writer and friend of the pair, goes out on a limb and implores Wolf to grant Clay an audience. The irascible columnist has been receiving threatening phone calls that have him convinced he is the target of a would be killer. Against his better judgment, Wolfe acquiesces to Cohen and allows Clay to visit his brownstone office and put forth his case.

The meeting between the two is one for the records as Wolfe, by some herculean task, endures Clay’s ramblings and from them gleans that nervous journalist suspects one of five people as the unknown caller. Wolfe begrudgingly tells Clay to either go to the police or hire a bodyguard. Both options are refused and Clay exits in a huff. Several days later he is found in his home with a bullet hole in his head. After a search of the premises, Inspector Cramer of the NYP calls the death a suicide, though no note is found at the scene.

Reading the account in the papers, Wolfe and Archie see it as a conclusion to the entire sordid affair.  Alas they are proven wrong. The publisher of the newspaper Clay worked for is convinced his popular staffer was murdered and hires Nero Wolfe to investigate. In his typical, methodical fashion, the heavy set, beer-drinking detective sets out to investigate each of the five people the dead man had claimed to be capable of murder.

Once again Robert Goldsborough delivers another fine Nero Wolfe puzzle and throughout plays fair with the readers. As the suspects appear and tell their stories, clues are dropped and the challenge as always is to solve the crime before Wolfe does at the traditional office gathering in the finale. Goldsborough ability to capture Archie’s voice is brilliant and each of his books would have made creator Rex Stout smile. This one sure had that effect on this reviewer.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

THE MUNICIPALISTS


THE MUNICIPALISTS
By Seth Fried
Penguin Books
264 pgs

Henry Thompson has a deep abiding love for cities. He sees them as the true salvation of mankind with each giant Gotham moving progress forward via both science and art. That is why he works in Suitland, home to the United States Municipalities Survey, an organization devoted to the improvement of cities. When the biggest of them all, Metropolis, comes under the attack of a maddened terrorist, Thompson is sent there find the villain and stop him by any means possible.

Before he can adequately come to grips with the assignment itself, he then learns he will have a partner named Owen to accompany on his mission.  All well and good until he discovers Owen is the name for the company’s computer A-I and has no corporeal physical being. Owen is connected to Henry via a sophisticated tie-clip which can project both Owen’s voice and an image construct allowing other people to both see and hear him. Only Henry knows Owen really isn’t there…for real.

In “The Municipalists” author Seth Friend has created a humorous action buddy story that envisions a world where machines are gradually taking over the world in very subtle ways. Enough so that the underlying foundations of the futuristic utopias Henry has always applauded may actually conceal a corrupt core adept at exploiting the poor and downtrodden. In the course of their adventure throughout the super city after the fanatical terrorists, Henry’s naïveté experiences a soul shaking education; one that will leave him changed forever.

“The Municipalists” is both eye-opening and entertaining. Two traits every good science fiction novel should contain. This one has them both in abundance.

Monday, April 01, 2019

EARLY RISER


EARLY RISER
By Jasper Fforde
Viking Books
400 pgs

On an alternate Earth, a brutal ice age dominates the planet and four months a year, the human population hibernates in order to survive. A pharmaceutical company named Hiber Tech has developed Morphenox, a drug that induces dreamless sleep. Thus an individual, after bulking up with fatty foods, can sleep away their winters. Now to keep these thousands of slumberers safe there is the Winder Consuls; or for want of a better designation, Winter Police.

Charlie Worthing, a young man raised in a government orphanage, is recruited as a Winter Consul and sent to the most remote sector of the empire. There he discovers a mixed-bag of non-sleepers. Apparently Morphenox isn’t always one hundred percent safe and he learns that a small percentage of users awaken early…brain dead. They’re called the Nighwalkers and having little or no cognitive capabilities, are trained in doing repetitive menial task. If they are unable to function even at this animal level, they are deployed; i.e. terminated and their body parts sold.

Then there are the insomniacs who refuse to take Morphenox and prefer to endure the frigid times as best they can without succumbing to mindnumbing boredom. There are also entire clans known as Villains, who live out in the country and also refuse to take part in hibernation. Among them is the legend of a Winter monster known as the Gronk. The Gronk seeks and out targets that are “unworthy” and eliminates them while singing Broadway showtunes.

This quick introduction to Winter leaves the naïve Charlie afloat as he tries to discern who among his new acquaintances is telling him the truth and who are carrying out their own secret agendas. All of which center around the rumored possibility that there exist a viral dreamscape that connects people via their dreams.

Jasper Fforde’s tale is strange, original, funny and totally captivating. At its core is the essence of good vs. evil, reality vs. dreams and how they can easily become confused in a landscape that is devoid of both natural and human warmth. “Early Riser” is both mesmerizing and unsettling. In the end it is a reading experience the reader will remember long after the last page has been finished.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

DISCO


DISCO
By Mike Baron
A Liberty Island Book
332 pg

Donnie Waits and his single mother, Kate, have moved to a different town three times in the past three years. Now, in their newest home, Kate has landed good job at a meat-packing plant while Donnie has it a whole lot tougher. He’s about to start his senior of high school as the dreaded “new kid in town.” Having settled in during the last few weeks of summer, Donnie has made friends with Nate, a black Vietnam veteran who lives by himself and operates a rundown bait shop by the river.

One day, Donnie borrows Nate’s skiff for a leisurely row. As the boat is moving under an overpass, Donnie is startled when a car above him comes to a sudden stop and then a small black bag is dumped off the bridge to land at his feet. As the unseen auto speeds away, Donnie opens the bag to find a small, black puppy. And from that moment on, Donnie’s life is changed forever.

Whatever typical feelings of teenage angst and loneliness he harbored are soon dispelled with his having to care for the orphaned dog. At first his mother is reluctant to let him keep the furry mutt, but soon she too is swayed by its natural charm. When school begins, Donnie, soon finds himself embroiled in as yet another alien landscape through which he must traverse. Like every other high school, this one comes equipped with jocks, elitist popular kids, nerds and the usual coterie of brutish, cruel bullies. Malcom, an overweight sci-fi fanatic becomes one of his first allies and then he meets Goth girl, Neely, who begins to stir his awakening manhood.

There are also the Barnes brothers, the bullies, whose sole purpose in life is to make it miserable for everyone else they meet.

And as if all that wasn’t enough to keep a teenage boy occupied, he discovers his mother has started dating her boss, an amiable fellow named Frank who owns the company; Werner Meats. Sadly, the outfit is on the verge of going under due to steadily falling sales.

The dog, which undergoes several different names, eventually displays an overly enthusiastic ability to jump high on command. Having discovered the sport of Disc Dogs; organized contest wherein dogs must run and jump, while performing amazing gymnastic moves, to catch a thrown Frisbee. Donnie christens the black four-legged flier, Disco and starts training him to compete.

Known for his action packed comics and gripping horror novels, writer Mike Baron reveals a new side to his fabulous imagination with “Disco.” While reading it, we couldn’t help but marvel at how deftly he captured the world of today’s high school students as they struggle to leave behind the innocence of childhood and deal with the burdens and responsibilities of adulthood. There are dark moments in this story and they are handled with true insight and compassion. This is a coming of age tale filled with believable, wonderful characters both noble and evil. It deserves a huge audience as it has all the earmarks of a true American classic. Do not miss it.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

GIRL MOST LIKELY


GIRL MOST LIKELY
By Max Allan Collins
Thomas & Mercer
287 pgs
Available April 1st, 2019

Books by one’s favorite writers are always a welcome treat for any reviewer. Whereas we’ve enjoyed Max Allan Collins work over the years, we always do our best to be honest and truthful with these reviews. Have no worries, dear readers, Collins once again delivers a resounding homerun knocking the ball way-way out of the park with “Girl Most Likely.” In it are all the elements that make up the majority of his work; suspense, likeable characters, skillful pacing and a liberal dose of humor.

Krista Larson is the police chief of the Midwest tourist town known as Galena. At twenty-eight, she also has the distinction of being the youngest chief in the country. We soon learn that she followed in her father’s footsteps. Nntil his retirement, Keith Larson, was a detective in nearby Dubuque. With the passing of his wife from cancer, Keith  accepts his daughter invention to “move back home” and so as the book begins he is awkwardly getting settled into the house where he and his late wife raised their only child.

Meanwhile, Krista is making preparations for her tenth high school reunion to be held at a nearby lodge. Like most sane people, she is ambivalent about attending and having to see people now part of her past. Oh, there are friends she hopes to reconnect with, plus those students who remained in Galena. She maintained close relationships with several of these. It’s pretty much the “out-of-towners” that she’s concerned about. One such is Astrid Lund, “the girl most likely to succeed” as labeled in the senior yearbook. She went on to become a celebrity journalist for a Chicago television station. Astrid’s appearance at the reunion has the entire community abuzz.

What they don’t know is the dark secret Ms Lund is harboring and how it is one of the primary reasons for her return. When Astrid is brutally murdered hours after the reunion dance, Krista Larson is handed her very first murder case. Even though she is confident in her own abilities and those of her small staff, she wisely recruits her father to act as an unofficial consultant on the case. With his assistance, and her own natural “cop” instincts, the two soon suspect the murderer is in fact a member of the Class of 09 and the motive lies with Astrid’s long-kept secret.

As always, Collins’ attention to details is magnificent. Although police procedure is for the most part universal, there are obvious differences in approach. A big city homicide division has a great deal more resources available to it than those of a small town police department. It is this realistic view of Krista and her team’s operations that wins our applause. The mystery unfolds at the perfect pacing and in doing so builds each layer of suspense until the reader is unable to put the book down.

Now the finale, while fitting, left us a wee bit unsatisfied. The end comes and the stage curtain drops…wham. Whereas we’d just spent a few hundred pages with Krista and her dad, an epilogue would have been welcomed here. Still, that is a minor quibble and indicative of the fact we’d very much like this to become as yet another Collins series. Please, Max, more.

Monday, March 04, 2019

KARILYNE - Heart Cold As Ice


KARILYNE
Heart Cold As Ice
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
333 pgs.

Hell hath no fury like an Ice Goddess tricked. Here’s hoping you’ll forgive my twising the Bard’s famous phrase to kick off this review of Van Allen Plexico’s latest entry in his grand space saga. Karilyne is the beautiful goddess of ice and steel who enjoys her solitude. When a fellow god, Cevelar, accompanied by a human, General Vostok, come to her for help, she unwittingly falls for their lies and soon finds herself imprisoned in a foreign castle and her mighty battle axe stolen.

Through the assistance of a strange little techno mage, Karilyne and her human aid, Mirana, escape only to learn Cevelar and Vostok are seeking six cosmic weapons of incredible power with which they hope to resurrect a dead god of chaos. Karilyne’s axe is one of the six artifacts required. But she knows their insane plan will ultimately bring about the destruction of the entire universe. They must be stopped and she will have her revenge.

Soon they are joined by two female Templar knights and a giant gray warrior, all agreeing to serve Karilyne for the duration of her mission. The group begins to travel the varied dimenions of the Three Levels upon which reside gods, humans and aliens. When Solonis, a whimsical god possessing a time traveling machine, joins them, the action kicks into high gear. Soon our heroes are flung from one reality to another. They even witness the all consuming future entropy; if Cevelar and Vostok are successful.

Once again, Plexico creates memorable characters, each distinct and original. He then drops them into wondrous settings rich with imagination.  His world building is clever and mesmerizing, pulling the reader into these myriad realms effortlessly. If you’ve read his earlier books in this saga, you already know what fun awaits you. If you are just now discovering the series, do not wait another minute before opening this book; what awaits inside will blow your mind!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

THE TIME ROADS


THE TIME ROADS
By Beth Bernobich
Tor Books
302 pgs.

Two of science fictions’ most often used plots revolve around time travel and alternate worlds. Whereas this book merges the two conceits in a twisty, compelling story that is nothing short of brilliant.

The tale opens in the early 1900 hundreds in a world where the Irish Empire rules, Anglia is subservient, there is no America but rather the Mexica republics and the rumors of war are a constant threat around the globe. Aine Lasairfona Devereaux, the Queen of Eire, desires peace but is incapable of devising a practical strategy to insure it. Then Breandan O Cuilinn, a genius scientist, comes to her saying he has discovered the existence “time fractures.” These anomalies could lead to time travel if examined carefully. Such journeys to the future could be the means of avoiding the coming international conflicts.

Then, before he can successfully prove his theory, O Cuilinn disappears in an experiment gone awry. Queen Aine suspects he has trapped himself in the future and once again she finds herself beset by plots and conspiracies. At this juncture in the narrative, Bernobich shifts our attentions to Simon and Gwen Madoc, two sibling mathematicians who may have come across the “time fractures,” much to their detriment. Their discovery proves to have disastrous effects on their immediate surroundings. Gwen is institutionalized with a mental breakdown and a mysterious serial killer begins murdering Simon’s fellow students.

Alarmed by these murders at one of the country’s most prestigious universities, Queen Anne sends her personal bodyguard, Commander Aidrean O Deaghaidh, to investigate. All too soon he too is caught up in the flux of changing timelines, which leads to his questioning his own sanity.

And that’s only the first half of the book.  “The Time Roads” is a complex, enthralling tale filled with amazing characters all struggling to find their places in an ever changing cosmos. Despite the uncertainty of each new future that challenges them, they learn to rely on the inner strength that is their true, immutable constant. That human love and loyalty, despite their many failings, will in the end triumph. A tip of the pulp fedora to Beth Bernobich for a truly unforgettable adventure.