Monday, October 14, 2019

MYSTERY OF THE AMERICAN YETI


MYSTERY OF THE AMERICAN YETI
(A Hollywood Cowboy Detectives adventure)
By Darryle Purcell
Buckskin Editions Westerns
166 pgs

Reading a new Darryle Purcell book is like having your favorite sweet dessert. In this, his latest Hollywood Cowboy Detectives tale, he pulls out all the stops and offers up another fast paced, action packed adventure that is pure pulp. 

In 1929 a newsreel crew disappeared in the Cascade Mountains of northern California while searching for the legendary creature known as Sasquatch. Years later, one of their film cameras is found in a charity auction held in an isolated mountain town. The head of Republic Pictures assigns top press writer, Curly Woods and studio chauffeur Nick Danby to go and investigate. Curly immediately contacts retired silent screen actor William S. Hart known to have a cabin in the area. Then he, Nick and western star Hoot Gibson, drive to up to rendezvous with Hart, who will guide them on this particular hunt.

Upon arriving in the Cascades they are ambushed by several members of the American communist party which only adds to the puzzle. What are Reds doing in the area and what is their connection to the missing film crew? This is followed by an encounter with a smelly, hairy beast and then an attack by a mechanical robot of unbelievable power.

From monsters, to spies and eventually a hidden underground city, our heroes never get a moment of rest as their quest leads them to an amazing discovery that underscores the dangers facing the world. Once again, Purcell invites his readers along displaying a genuine love of his characters, both real and fictional, and his understanding of the times. “Mystery of the American Yeti,” is a rootin-tootin’ gem.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

SABBATH


SABBATH
By Nick Mamatas
Tor Books
302 pgs  

Hexen Sabbath is an 11th Century British knight who enjoys his life of battle and pillaging. He considers himself a Christian warrior and meets his death in combat when he refuses to slay an innocent boy. Centuries later he awakens in modern New York brought back from the dead by an Angel to complete a mission for God. The seven deadly sins have been personified in human form and are planning to destroy the world in a nuclear holocaust. It is Sabbath’s mission to find them and slay them all by decapitation thereby saving mankind.

Before he can begin his gruesome work, Sabbath is befriended by a young woman of Russian descent named Jennifer. Realizing he needs a guide in this new age, he reveals his identity to her and his mission. To his surprise, she reluctantly becomes his ally. By doing so she instantly becomes a target of Sabbath’s most cunning opponents, Pride. In our world, Pride is a powerful politician with aspirations to become the President.

“Sabbath” is dark, humorous romp through today’s sensibilities as it satirically depicts each of the Seven Deadly Sins in all too recognizable personas the readers will be familiar with. There is also lots of blood and gore along the way. It is a daring romp with no quarter given as philosophy meets spirituality head on. This books rocks.

Monday, September 23, 2019


LAST STAGE TO HELL JUNCTION
(A Caleb York Western)
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Kensington Books
224 pgs

It is always fun to see writers known for a particular genre wander off into unknown territories. Which is exactly what transpired with mystery/crime writer Max Allan Collins took it upon himself to novelize a western movie script by the late Mickey Spillane. The result was four cowboy actioners featuring former gunfighter turned sheriff, Caleb York.

We read book one, a few years ago and thought it a very decent western. Having just finished the fourth in the series (yes, we know, we’ll have to find 2 & 3 eventually) we have to say Collins has adapted to the genre like a cowhand to his Stetson.

At the start of this novel, three of Trinidad’as most well known citizens board a stagecoach for Los Vegas from where they plan on catching a train to Denzer. One is Raymond Parker, an influential business man in the little New Mexico community. The others are rancher Willa Carter and saloon owner Rita Filley. Only a few miles out of town, the stagecoach is waylaid by the Hargrave gang, the driver and shotgun guard murdered and the passengers taken hostage. It is the outlaws’ plan to demand a hefty ransom from Parker’s business partners in Denver.

By the time Sheriff York learns of the incident, it is too late for him to successfully track the bandits. Somewhere in the nearby hills exist an old ghost town and a hotel that offers its services solely to outlaws. The Hargrave gang has made their headquarters and where they are holding their prisoners. Such outlaw lairs were not uncommon in the years after the Civil War. In fact there were actual documented histories of actual “outlaw” towns.

Once York does lean of Hell Junction, the rest of the book is focused on his out-thinking Hargrave and finding a way to rescue his friends, the two women especially dear to him. For a story that is somewhat claustrophobic in that it doesn’t cover a lot of ground, Collins manages to keep the narrative moving forward. As ever, just when we readers need some action, Caleb York’s .44 is there to provide it in a seamless fashion. This is solid story-telling with fascinating characters and could easily be transferred to the big screen by some enterprising movie producer. We can only wish. In the meantime we have the books and that in itself is a pleasure.

+++

Now we don’t usually do this, but with this paperback edition we simply could not hide our distaste for the cover. Having grown up in the 50s and 60s, we were treated to western paperbacks that sported painted covers by some of the finest artists in the world, ala Robert McGinnis and many others. Whereas this title looks totally photo-shopped with the supposed hero looking like a Chippendale model from Beverly Hills. If we were female and a devotee of Harlequin romances, then we might it find it appealing. But not for a rough and tumble, old-fashion shootem-up. Publisher…take note.  Please.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

BY FIRE ABOVE


BY FIRE ABOVE
(A Signal Airship Novel)
By Robyn Bennis
Tor Books
367 pgs

Among the more than fifty novels we read last year, one of our favorites was Robyn Bennis steampunk adventure “The Guns of Above.” Now she has given us its sequel, “By Fire Above” and it not only as good as her first outing, but in many ways far superior. Simply put, it’s a page-turning delight.

We are reunited with the Garnian airship Mistral and its crew of stalwart men and women led by the no-nonsense Captain Josette Dupre; aided by the flamboyant and witty Lord Bernat Hinkal. The same Lord Hinkal who just happens to be her mother’s lover. There’s also recently promoted Ensign Kemper and Sgt. Jutes among others. Believe me, within a few pages of introucing each, Bennis fleshes them out brilliantly.

In the previous novel, Josette’s hometown of Durum had fallen to the enemy forces of Vinzhalia. In the first half of this book, she learns how to gain favor among the Garnian royal court in hopes of persuading the Command Staff to approve the retaking of the town. With the help of Bernat and his older brother, Roland, she miraculously manages to gain an audience with the King and then is stunned to learn he is willing to grant her wish; the army will march on Durum with Mistral flying support.

Bennis’ satirical depiction of court life and politics is both insightful and funny. Yet it is only the prelude to the heart of the adventure. Once the campaign to retake Durum is underway, she pulls out all the stops and the action ramps up to full speed ahead. It is so fast and precise; you’ll have trouble catching your breath from chapter to chapter. Her weaving of multiple, fascinating characters throughout explosive, suspense filled combat is simply amazing.

Bennis is one of the finest writers we’ve ever had the pleasure of discovering and her Mistral adventures exceptional in every way. Think C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower in the sky and you’ll get the idea. If you love imaginative action, adventure and truly remarkable characters, please, do not miss “By Fire Above.”

Saturday, August 24, 2019

THE OTHER REALM


THE OTHER REALM
Book Three of the Utgarda Trilogy
By Joab Stieglitz
Rantings of a Wandering Mind
185 pgs

In the first two books of this trilogy we were introduced to Father Sean O’Malley, a Catholic priest, Anna Rykoy, a Russian anthropologist, and Dr. Harold Lamb. The three of them encountered strange occult happenings at a north-east college which in turn led them to New York and the strange disappearance of pulp writer Brian Teploy. At the conclusion of the second novel, the trio discovered Teploy had been committed to a sanitarium having suffered a mental breakdown and were off to find him.

“The Other Realm” picks up where the last ended only to have our heroes uncover a startling revelation. Aliens from another dimension have been visiting our world and in doing so run afoul of a scientist with delusions of grandeur. He ultimately goes insane with the power he is able to leech from them. At the same time he manages to kidnap Teploy and imprison him in another dimension actually constructed from the pulp writer’s own imagination.

The only way to save Teploy, according to alien beings, is for Anna and Harry’s minds to enter that fictional world and become a part of it. Thus after two books clearly set in a normal 1920s background, Stieglitz then throws us into a sword and sorcery adventure that reads like a blending of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Rice Burroughs. He offers up a dangerous quest unlike any we’ve ever encountered before.

“The Other Realm,” is as enjoyable as the first two books and the added genre twist gives it a surprising romp we were not expecting. At the conclusion the author sets the stage for possible future adventures with O’Malley, Rykoy and Lamb. We’d like nothing better.

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.