Tuesday, February 20, 2024

NOBODY'S ANGEL

 

NOBODY’S ANGEL

By Jack Clark

Hard Case Crime

218 pgs

 

Eddie Miles is a world weary Chicago taxi-cab driver. He’s divorced; his ex-wife packed her bag and moved away taking his daughter with her. He has no clue where she went. Whatever dreams Eddie had have long ago evaporated and his life is driving through the great Windy City in an endless circle all night long ferrying other lost souls.

 

When one of Eddie’s oldest friends, a veteran cabbie, is shot and killed, he can’t help but take it personally. Though unaware of his own lack of police skills, Eddie starts becoming super attuned to not only his passengers, but the would-be fares throughout the next few nights. All the while wondering if one of them could be the killer. Because of this heighten awareness, he ends up saving the life a badly cut up teenage prostitute who then calls him her angel. 

Clark’s depiction of Chicago today is one of stark, merciless brutality and the world Eddie and his fellow hacks inhabit is reminiscent on Milton’s nine levels hell. This is a non-forgiving book about people who have given up struggling to hold on what little humanity is left to them. A remarkable achievement in noir fiction.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

SHERLOCK HOLMES - THE VANISHING MAN

 

SHERLOCK HOLMES

The Vanishing Man

By Philip Purser-Hallard

Titan Books

279 pg

 

We love Sherlock Holmes mysteries and were recently made aware that Titan Books has been publishing a new series of Holmes novels by various authors. If all of them are anywhere as good as “The Vanishing Man” by Philip Purser-Hallard, then Holmes fans should be delighted, as the set up is traditional Doyle all the way.

Holmes is approached by a group of noted Londoners who have formed a scientific society to explore the possibilities of actual psychic phenomenon ala telekinesis and telepathy. In the course of one of their experiments, a fellow claiming to have been raised on the planet Venus, disappears while locked in a room with only one door and one window. At the time of his disappearance, he was being observed by two men of the society around the clock. And still he vanished before their eyes.

Never once believing the incident is anything but a clever hoax, Holmes is still intrigued enough to pursue the matter. Within a few days of his investigations one of the members of the group, an artist, is brutally murdered and his studio trashed. Thus what began as a curious exercise to the Great Detective takes on a more gruesome note. Now solving the initial puzzle may also reveal a cold blooded murderer.

“The Vanishing Man” is wonderfully written and we especially loved a small exchange between Holmes and Watson towards the conclusion wherein Watson actually corrects Holmes on hurried deduction. It is priceless. If you are a bonafide Holmes addict, you might want to check this one out.

Friday, February 09, 2024

THE HINDENBURG MURDERS

 

THE HINDENBURG MURDERS

By Max Allan Collins

Thomas & Mercer

245 pgs

This is one of writer Max Collins’ murder mysteries centered on outstanding historical events. Other books in the series involved the sinking of the Titanic and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In this tale, he sets his sights on the dramatic end of the magnificent German airship Hindenburg.

The Hindenburg Disaster, as it became known, occurred on May 6, 1937.  The LZ 129 Hindenburg was a German commercial passenger-carrying rigid airship. The largest such flying machine designed and built by the Zeppelin Company. Filled with hydrogen, it caught fire and was destroyed during its attempt to dock with its mooring mast at the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst New Jersey. Of the 97 people on board, 35 died along with a one ground fatality. The disaster was captured on newsreels and radio eyewitness reports.

In plotting his tale of murder and sabotage, Collins’ muse was aided by the fact that sailing on the airship’s last trip was none other than the popular mystery writer and creator of the Saint, Leslie Charteris. The debonair Charteris is on his way back to America to finalize his divorce from his second wife. Upon getting settled into the spacious, beautifully furnished interior, he soon is made aware that the turbulent politics of the time have also come aboard. Hitler and his Nazi party are changing the climate of the country and not all Germans are thrilled with the fervor of this new nationalism. Attacks on Jewish citizens are rampant and an underground resistance movement fueled by communist agitators is rumored to be active.

Although neutral in his own opinions, the writer soon suspects that the fellow sharing his cabin is an agent of the secret police. When the man disappears soon after the ship’s departure, the only logical explanation points to murder. Someone, fearing exposure by the agent, managed to throw him overboard during the night. The veteran captain of the Hindenburg, being one of Charteris’ old acquaintances, seeks his aid in ferreting out the killer before the mighty airship reaches its final destination. Added to this challenge is the possibility that the killer is also a saboteur and may have planted a bomb somewhere on the giant craft.

As always, Collins research is meticulous and within the first few pages, we readers are taken on a detailed tour of the Hindenburg’s wonders from its stately dining rooms to its four gondolas containing its powerful Daimler engines. As the journey progresses, Charteris does his best to surreptitiously interview the most likely suspects, from a slapstick vaudeville entertaining to even a young member of the ship’s crew. As the hours tick away, the ship moves closer and closer to its destiny.

The final chapters detailing the horrendous explosion and burning of the Hindenburg are gut wrenching. Charteris was one of the survivors and in the end, he walks away with what his believes to be the actual cause of the tragedy. Over the years, a variety of theories have been put forth for both the cause of ignition and the initial fuel for the ensuing fire. The publicity shattered public confidence in the giant, passenger-carrying rigid airship and sounded the death knell of the airship era. For many aviation buffs, this reviewer included, it remains an everlasting loss.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

THE COMPLETE I.V. FROST

THE COMPLETE IVY FROST

By Donald Wandrei

Edited by Stephen Haffner

Haffner Press

698 pgs

 

We always attempt to make our reviews personal and not cookie-cutter dissertations that simply say yea or nea. That has never been more vital than with this review of a really unique pulp character which we not only love but have actually written. So let’s start by getting the cold facts out of the way. Donald A. Wandrei (20 April 1908 to 15 Oct 1987) was a writer of science fiction, fantasy and and weird fiction. He was also an editor and co-founder, with fellow writer August Derleth, of the popular publishing firm, Arkham House.  Ask most pulp fans and this is the data they will recall.

Whereas only a select few know that Wandrei also wrote mysteries and ultimately created one of the most colorful detectives ever to grace the pages of Clues magazine.

Professor I.V. Frost was Wandrei’s take on Sherlock Holmes. He was an eccentric genius who gave up teaching because it bored him and turned to solving bizarre, intricate mysteries that baffled the police. In his first published tale, he hired a beautiful blonde named Jean Moray to be his assistant, ala a girl-Friday. Try imagining Basil Rathbone (Wandrei envisioned Frost as tall, skinny, gaunt fellow ala a living scarecrow) having as as his partner the sexy blond-bombshell, Jean Harlow.  That’s Frost and Moray. Though Jean is more than cupid lips, gray-green eyes and an hour glass figure; she’s also a graduate of Berkeley with a Masters Degree in Physics. And those are the qualifictions that land her job; not her looks. Though in his own clever way, Frost often takes advantage of them when distracting others who are attempting to stymie his investigations.

Wandrei wrote a total of eighteen I.V. Frost mysteries for Clues. In 2000, D.H. Olson, who penned the excellent introduction here, edited a volume published by Fedogan and Bremer collecting the first eight of Frost's adventures. Which is where we were first introduced to these characters. A second volume of the remaining ten tales was promised but much to our dismay never materialized. Now, thanks to Haffner Press that has been corrected with this truly wonderful, complete collection which arrived in 2020. For the past four years it has sat on our bookshelf.

During the intervening years, we were approached by Moonstone Books publisher and managing editor, Joe Gentile, asking if would be like to write new I.V. Frost adventures. We were thrilled at the prospect and quickly wrote not only a new prose tale, but three short comic strips. Redbud Studio published two of those strips in the first ever I.V. Frost comic book, while Moonstone eventually published the third as a bonus feature in a Black Bat special. Then three years ago Joe called again wanting another prose yarn and we happily obliged him. It appeared in a book series called Double-Shot. When Joe reached out again to us last year, we not only agreed to once again join Frost and Ms. Moray on a case, but realized it was high time we sat down and read through the entire Haffner edition, finally familiarizing ourselves with the entire cannon.

It is truly a remarkable series and Wandrei was a deft writer comfortable with both frivolous banter ala the sexual tension between Frost and Jean, and inventing some of the most bizarre, truly grotesque scenarios into which to set them. Together the brainy professor and his cocky, reckless protégé tackled twisted, complex crimes and battled the most ruthless villains ever to appear in print. Happily, the volume is still available from Haffner and if you are a true fan of the pulps, you need to have this book in your library. Meanwhile, keep an out for “Recipe For Murder,” by this reviewer, coming soon from Moonstone Books in another volume of Double-Shot. Somehow we have a feeling; we aren’t done with Frost and Ms. Moray just yet.
 

Monday, January 15, 2024

LEVON'S WAR

 

LEVON’S WAR

(Levon Cade # 6)

By Chuck Dixon

Rough Edges Press

267 pgs

 

As we continue to fill in the holes in our Levon Cade collection, we come to volume six which is by far one of the most dramatic, action packed installments. Cade returns to Iraq to honor a promise his made to a Kurdish soldier while stationed there. At the same, Federal Agent Nancy Valdez finds his Uncle Fern and takes charge of his daughter, Merry, putting her in an uncaring Foster Care system in hopes of scaring her into betraying her father.  

Dixon skillfully weaves history between the horror of war, which remains part of the lives of all people in the Middle East, to the cruel underbelly of our own child protective services and Merry’s ordeal. Note, she proves to be as tough and resilient as her father. “Levon’s War” is brutal and savage. Not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned. And now on to # 7.

Thursday, January 04, 2024

THE TERRORS

 

 

THE TERRORS

By Brian K. Morris

Rising Tide Pub.

245 pgs

 

Any comic fan upon seeing the gorgeous Jeffrey Hayes cover to this book would have done a double-take. Here is a black man wearing the all too familiar costume of The Black Terror. The Black Terror appeared in Exciting Comics # 9. He was pharmacist Bob Benton, who had formulated a chemical he called formic ethers, which gave him superpowers. He used these to fight crime with his sidekick, a young Tim Rowland, and together they were known as the “Terror Twins.” Many of those early stories were penned by Patricia Highsmith before she became a bestselling crime novelist.

But here’s the rub. Neither Bob or Tim was black. This race switch becomes the lynch pin of writer Brian K. Morris’ unique reinterpretation of these heroes. Keeping the original World War II setting, he’s able to incorporate a social underpinning to his drama while at the same time tipping his cap to those golden age characters. And it works without ever becoming preachy. He deftly defines his cast, the racism of the times and the drama all of them are caught up in, both personally and publicly.

As if that wasn’t enough to sink your teeth into, he then has the guts to bring as yet another old timer into the fray. Any true comic fan, upon being introduced to the Cobalt Scarab, a redheaded mystery man who Benson encounters, will immediately recognize the long-lived hero with the BB initials. His name and origin here also connect with the original. Of course, Morris also throws in some new and nasty villains ala the beautiful Sylvia Devereux. One of the most cold-hearted women this side of Delilah.

“The Terror” is a clever, thrill ride with an honest appreciation of what was good and bad about the past. Here’s hoping there’s a sequel in the works.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

BORN TO HANG

 

BORN TO HANG

A Jeremiah Halstead Western

By Terrance McCauley

Pinnacle Books

316 Pgs.  

This is the fourth entry in the Jeremiah Halstead series and like the previous books, a slam-bang action packed western ride. At the end of the last installment, Halstead, the protégé of Montana Marshal Aaron Mackey, had been falsely charged with the murder of to sheriff’s deputies and a warrant issued for his arrest. Knowing fully well his Deputy Marshal had been targeted by a corrupt federal judge, Mackey allowed Halstead time to escape the city and disappear into the western mountain ranges known as the Flatheads.

As “Born To Hang” opens, Mackey, fearing numerous bounty hunters are now on Halstead’s trail, dispatches another of his men, Jason Sanborne, to find the fugitive and bring him back to Helena before he’s gunned down. Mackey is right to be worried, as Halstead is indeed set upon by mountain trappers eager to claim the five thousand dollar reward on his head. After surviving two such ambushes and leaving five men dead, Halstead comes down out of the mountains to a small village known as Barren Pines. Here he hopes to resupply his provisions and wait out a harsh winter storm. 

Instead what he finds is a conniving dance hall queen known as the Glamorous Glenda who is working with the town lawman, to trap Halstead and bring him back to Missoula for the reward. At the same, Halstead’s nemesis, the one-armed Emil Riker, is on his way there along with a group of gunmen to mete out his own blood vengeance on the man who killed his brother and took shot off his arm. 

Between killers and surprise allies, Barren Pines soon becomes the nexus of survival for the weary Halstead. Will his uncanny luck finally expire? Once again, Terrance McCauley spins a truly terrific story with memorable characters and tons of gun-blazing action. “Born To Hang” is another of his bonafide western winners.