Friday, December 28, 2007


By Lawrence Block
Hard Case Crime
205 pages

Welcome to Greenwich Village, New York, during the height of the “beat” movement. Anita Carbone is a bored college student who, like the rest of her generation, is repulsed by the American dream of surburbia, a nine to five job and two and a half kids. She doesn’t know what it is she wants, only what she doesn’t. Thus she hooks up with two pot-smoking hippies in the persons of Joe Milani and Shank Marsten. Shank supports the two by selling marijuana while Joe simply smokes weed and floats through his life.

When Shank is offered an opportunity to start pushing heroin, he grabs for it and soon is moving in faster, more lucrative circles. He begins to have dreams of big scores with even bigger rewards. All the while Joe and Anita are simply tagging along for the ride, unaware of how deep into the drug world Shank is leading them. In the end Shank’s house of cards falls apart and he resorts to violence to escape capture by the law. Soon all three of them are on the run with nowhere to go.

Block is a craftsman who builds characters precisely. He knows their motivations, or in this particular case, their lack of such, and he paints a sad picture of a lost generation struggling to find some worth in the world. By the books climax, Joe has to climb out of his mental fugue and get back into reality, or else become a piece of social flotsam forever adrift in a meaningless existence. First published in 1961, A DIET OF TREACLE is a look back in time well worth your attention.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


By Jim Patton
Forge Books
316 pages

Max Travis is a tough as nails District Attorney whose personal life is a mess. He’s had two failed marriages and just can’t seem to connect with the right woman. Then within a period of two days his routine world is turned topsy-turvy by two supposedly unrelated events. The first is a home invasion at his friend’s place that goes tragically awry and leaves another pal shot and in a coma. The second is his accidental meeting of a sensational looking divorcee in his favorite bar only a day later. The hot blond, Dana Waverleigh, looks like she just came off a Penthouse centerfold and Max falls for her like the proverbial ton of bricks. From her immediate, sexual response, Dana seems to be feeling the same things and the two begin a highly charged affair.

Travis is at a place in his life where idea he may end up a cantankerous old bachelor seems to be evolving into a self-fulfilling prophecy. So much so that he overlooks the facts that Dana has two daughters from her past failed relationships. That should warning enough that there is something psychologically wrong with his new paramour. But the sex is great, the dream of making one relationship work is just too strong. Max soon finds himself lost in Dana’s charms.

When another horrible shooting occurs and ballistics matches the bullets to the gun used in the home invasion, clues begin to drop that Dana’s association with Max is not an accident of chance but there exist a tenuous connection to the drug-addled killer on the loose. Can the love-sick D.A. come to his senses before somebody else dies? Patton’s writing is crisp and concise with an economy of verbiage I found absolutely perfect for this kind of noir melodrama. He has an ear for dialogue that rings true and a bitter sweet sympathy for all his characters, whether good or evil.

DYING FOR DANA is a solid entry in the ranks of crime-fiction that I recommend it strongly. It’s a good read that completely satisfied me by the end.

Monday, December 17, 2007


By Mark Del Franco
Ace Books
292 pages
Available Feb.08

Imagine if you will that the world of fairies and elves and other assorted fantasy folks actually existed somewhere in another dimension along side our own. Now imagine that somehow that world and our own suddenly merged together into one truly weird reality and there you have the setting of Mark Del Franco’s fantasy series. In this world, which looks, sounds and feels like our own, all these fey creatures now reside right alongside normal humans. The day of merging is known by all as the Convergence and the fey people recall it with much melancholy as they were the ones uprooted from their familiar existence and thrust into ours without any warning.

It is many years since the Convergence and fey folk have learned to adapt and live in the human world, albeit with a silent, often antagonistic acceptance. Our hero, Connor Grey, a Druid born on Earth, is part of the new generation that has no memories or emotional connection to the old world. He lives in Boston and works helping the police on matters dealing with the fey community. His best friend is a tough, Irish detective named Murdock and they make an effective team, each deferring to the others strengths whenever on a case.

During an earlier investigation, Grey was nearly killed by a German Elf. When the Convergence occurred, it did not simply deposit all manner of fey beings so they could live harmoniously as one people. Far from it. Old hatreds and rivalries came along, such as the animosity between Celtic Fairies governed by the Guildhouse and the Teutonic Elves ruled over by the German based Consortium. It is one of these latter that attacks Grey, and although the villain fails to kill him, his eldritch assault somehow robs Grey of his druid powers. Now he has to adapt to a life without these skills and rely on his instincts to help Murdoch when something goes awry in Boston’s fey neighborhood.

When one of the leaders of the Consortium and a human teenage drug runner are both murdered on the same night only blocks away, Grey suspects the killings are somehow related. The Elf lord was a politic figure attempting to bring about unity between the Guildhouse and the Consortium. His brutal slaying by a Troll gang leader begins to stir up bad blood between the two factions until an all out magic war threatens to overrun the streets of Beantown. It is left to has-been Druid and a savvy human cop to unravel the mystery before that war erupts.

UNQUIET DREAMS is the second book in the series and although I’ve not read the first, I can say without reservation it a solid adventure filled with unique characters and plenty of fast paced suspsense. In fact the only thing I did not like about this book was its title. Del Franco has chosen to name the books in this series with words beginning with the UN prefix and although that may be a nifty marketing stratagem, it really does not serve his novel in the slightest. It is a poor label slapped on a really good book. Do not be put off by it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Edited by Matthew P. Mayo
Express Westerns Publication
185 pages
Available on-line at

What with having recently read and reviewed the collected short western stories of Elmore Leonard, it seems I’ve suddenly found myself caught up in this uniquely American pulp sub-genre. Happily so, I might add. This particular volume is made up of writers, most of them British, who write western novels for the Robert Hale publishing outfit across the pond.

Oh, there are a few American scribes among this talented bunch, but oddly enough only one of them actually lives out west, while two of the four reside in the woods of Maine. Go figure. It seems you really don’t have to live out west to write about it. WHERE LEGENDS RIDE contains some truly memorable and weld told stories that I enjoyed a great deal. As in all anthologies, there are degrees of proficiency and this book is no exception.

The Prodigal by Chuck Tyrell is a poignant, classic cowboy tale of right and wrong with a dedicated marshal having to hunt down his own son. Likewise The Man Who Tracked a River by Derek Rutherford offered up a story of guilt and redemption that was seeped in the dust of the badlands. Desert Surrender by Kit Churchill is a raw, grim adventure that had me turning the pages fast. These are all classic western gems.

Once Upon A Time In Mirage by I.J. Parnham and Snows of Montana by the editor, Matthew P. Mayo read like saddle-tramp sagas inspired by O’Henry, their twisty ends fun.

For outright horsey humor there is Hard Times For The Pecos Kid by Les Pierce and Pretty Polly by Duane Spurlock. Both could have been made into movies with James Garner, they have the same light, hilarious flare to them. Whereas Hectate by P. McCormac tells the story of a mule from hell that is just too funny. I actually chuckled out loud while reading these entries. Proving that all westerns need not be straight laced and melodramatic.

Among the others, I thought Bubbles by Ross Morton was a creative mistake as it really isn’t a short story. It’s a tale so large it is clearly an outline for a novel that I hope some day he chooses to write. While as much as I enjoy anything Lance Howard writes, his The Ballad of Jesse Barnett did not belong in this collection. There is a larger-than-life theme to the eclectic collection and this story just does not fit that mold.

Fourteen horse-operas presented for your enjoyment by skilled writers who clearly know their stuff. There is so little good short fiction done these days, when an excellent book like this comes along, you dare not pass it up. So tighten your cinches, belt on your holster and get ready to ride. This is one hell of a literary round-up.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


and Other Holiday Tales
by Charles Dickens
Borders Classics
224 pages

There are still many classics I’ve yet to lay my hands upon. As Thanksgiving passed and we entered fully into the Christmas season, my thoughts drifted to all the wonderful movies with this particular holiday theme that I like so much. For me, A Christmas Carol remains the most enjoyable, followed closely by It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story. I wonder if many people know that Dicken’s immortal tale of old Scrooge is the most filmed novel ever. From the days of the silent movies through to animation and even a Muppet Christmas Carol, the story has been told and retold countless times. And yet I’d never read the actual novel. Well, to be fair, novella. It is a relatively short piece and one of five Christmas stories that Dickens wrote during his life. This wonderful volume also contained two others; The Chimes and The Cricket On The Hearth.

Now having finally read the original, I’m truly delighted to have done so. Dickens had a true sense of human nature and he reveled in telling stories of people from all social standings. He understood the woes of the poor and downtrodden and forever gave them a poignant, suffering nobility. What surprised me the most about the story was how fast paced it is and just how quickly old miserly Scrooge’s conversion comes about. On the oft chance that there are those of you still unfamiliar with this cautionary tale, it’s plot is simple enough.

Ebeneezer Scrooge is a cantankerous old man who detest charity and believes hard work is the only means to salvation. Enough so that he treats his clerk, Bob Cratchit, like a slave and refuses to celebrate the Christmas holidays. On the eve of Christmas he is visited by the waling ghost of his late business partner, Jacob Marley, who has come to warn him. Unless he changes his ways, his own eternity will be spend in misery. Marley tells Scrooge he will be visited by three ghosts, spirits of Christmas past, present and future. Which is exactly what happens and in those three visitations, Scrooge’s heart is thawed to the blessings of love and family. He is forever changed into a decent, thoughtful and generous soul who finds great satisfaction in doing for others the rest of his days.

In so short a collection of words, Dickens crams more drama and pathos than any ten writers could hope to accomplish. He cuts to the quick of human emotions and frailties and delivers a brilliant testimony on the powers of Christmas and good fellowship. The message it brings the world is even more relevant in our consumer obsessed society than ever before.

Of the remaining two stories, I found The Chimes to be difficult and confusing. It tells the story of a porter who works near an old church and is forever haunted by the sound of the steeple bells. Somewhere in the New Year’s celebrations he is given a vision of the future by Bell Goblins. It is a bleak setting due in part because he has listened to the wrong advice and not to his heart. Upon waking, he sets out on a different, more jovial and hopeful path. Not one of Dicken’s better efforts.

Whereas the last of the three, A Cricket On The Hearth is pure Dickens and much fun to read. A group of working class people prepare to celebrate the wedding of Tarkelton, an old skin-flint who owns a toy shop, to a beautiful young woman. Meanwhile a Carrier name John Peerybingle and his own young wife, Dot, have just had a new baby and he has a hard time believing his good fortune. There is also Caleb, the widowed toy-maker who lives with his blind daughter and works for Tarkelton.

Now into their midst comes a deaf old man who is down on his luck and has nowhere to stay. Dot Peerybingle urges her husband to take him in and soon events begin to occur that come to test their love and loyalty to one another. All the while the little cricket who lives in the Peerybingle hearth continues to inspire the residents with a magical charm that saves John Peerybingle from making the worst mistake of his life. By the end of the story the true identity of the mysterious lodger is resolved and all are made happy again in typical Dickens’ style. Having read several of his novels while in school, A Cricket On The Heart reminded me of that old familiar charm inherent in his longer works. It really is a gem of a story and one I’m glad to have found at last.

Reading new books is always a pleasure, but it can never quite compare with settling down with something this old and cherished. If you are looking to add some old fashion cheer to this holiday season, look no further than Mr. Charles Dickens and a Christmas Carol.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Edited by Gregg Sutter
Harper Books
546 pages

A good magnetic compass will always point to what is called “true North.” After having finished this whopping big book, I found myself thinking the one clear cut theme throughout these thirty-one stories was that they all pointed “true West.” Social historians have for years claimed a big part of this country’s moral fiber was shaped during the post-Civil War years during our expansion west. The era of the “wild west” and the cowboys somehow infused itself onto our cultural consciousness. From the early dime novels to the rampant production of the silent B movies, tales of the old west have imbedded themselves into the identity of what it is to be an American.

Talented writers who have worked in this genre always revolved their stories around that basic cowboy code of simply doing the right thing. From Tom Mix seeking vengeance in Riders of the Purple Sage, to Gary Cooper defending his town in High Noon and Clint Eastwood out to avenge a scarred saloon girl in Unforgiven, the ramrod nobility of the cowboy hero has remained unwavering.

Picking up a book this big can be daunting, but once I started getting into its tales of Apaches, Mexicans and Cavalry officers, I could almost smell the mesquite and feel the heat of the blazing Arizona sun that just never quits. Leonard uses that locale as the primary background for all his stories and he does so skillfully, painting a picture of a rough, cruel landscape that clearly helped define the people who dared to live on it.

Leonard was brought up in Detroit and during World War II served with the Seabees in the South Pacific. Upon his discharge he entered the University of Detroit and graduated in 1950 with a degree in Philosophy and English. He sold his first short story, Trail of the Apache, in 1951 and for the next two decades continued writing top-notch western tales. At the same time he also penned novels, many of which were later bought by Hollywood and made into films. Two of the stories in this collection were similarly adapted into movies; the Captives filmed as The Tall T, and 3:10 To Yuma, first filmed in 1950 and then remade this year. Each of these films, including those based on his western novels feature the resolute, stoic hero up against overwhelming odds but refusing to compromise his integrity and honor. They are all classic morality tales that just happened to be played out on horseback.

After the western pulp magazines died off in the mid-sixties, Leonard shifted all his efforts to novels and soon was turning to urban criminal topics like Get Shorty, Rum Punch, and Out of Sight. All of which propelled him into the limelight as a bestselling author. Deservedly so. Still, it is in these western that his true gift shines, as each of these stories captures not only the human condition in all its imperfection, but does so with a sympathetic touch that leaves the reader feeling better for having read them. They are populated by unforgettable characters like the young army officer who’s taste for moonshine saves his patrol; the Mexican constable who confronts racism and is in the end defeated by it and the woman with the blue tattoos on her face exiled into the desert by an ignorant, wounded husband.

This is a truly amazing collection and if you appreciate the true genius of short stories, then do not let it pass you by. Voices like Elmore Leonard’s need to be cherished.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


by John Levitt
Ace Fantasy
297 paged

Half way through chapter one of this book, I began get a very familiar feeling as if I was entering a fictional neighborhood I’d been to before. Mason is a jazz guitarist who lives in San Francisco and makes a comfortable living playing occasional gigs in night spots throughout the city. He is a talented musician but admits he could be much better if he worked at it. The same applies to his ability to do magic.

The word wizard is never used, rather Mason tells us immediately that there are people who can “do” magic and those that cannot. Whoa, now where have we heard that before? Of course it is Harry Potter’s setting, the non-magic folks being the muggles. That is what DOG DAYS reminded me of from start to finish, as if I’d stepped into a mature version of a J.K. Rowlings adventure.

Like Harry, Mason also has a pet ally, a small brown dog named Louie who is much better realized as a character then Harry’s owl ever was. Levitt develops the relationship between Mason and Lou so deftly, it becomes one of the major plot points to what is actually a very fast paced suspense mystery. An unknown practitioner, the word replacing wizard here, has attacked Mason on several occasions and both times nearly killed him. Desperate to understand why his life is suddenly in jeopardy, Mason seeks out the help of Victor, an Enforcer who oversees the magical well-being of the city, and his old mentor, Eli, another powerful practitioner.

As much as Levitt uses magic throughout the story, he never allows it to drift free, keeping his reality-anchor in check throughout. Much like the Rowlings books, because we believe in the mundane, normal every day environment the protagonist lives in is our own, we can then suspend our disbelief and imagine a secret realm co-existing in the shadows, just a little askew from our vision. A place of deadly arcane goblins and crystalline cave dwelling monsters that Mason must escape and defeat before he can hope to unravel the mystery and the villainy behind it.

It is a terrific story, well plotted and written. Mason and Lou are fascinating and I’m thrilled to know DOG DAYS will have sequels. I enjoyed taking this journey through the fog enshrouded, magical streets of the Golden Gate city with the two of them and am very eager to do so again.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

MY LINKS - Who Are Those Guys?

Ever since starting Pulp Fiction Reviews I've kept my links file short. Whereas this site is dedicated to books and readers, I didn't want to put lots of links related to other endeavors, even if they were fun and special to me. But there are five there and I thought I'd give you an introduction to each in the hopes you will check them out.

Airship 27 is my personal home webpage and it is here I ramble and rant every Friday morning on my weekly Flight Log essay which will cover anything from movies, my grand kids to the Boston Red Sox. So if you want to know a bit more about what makes me tick. Please, stop on by.

Pulp Factory is an informal club of pulp enthusiasts. It was the brain child of my buddy Anthony Schiavino and we have about 25 members. We use this blog regularly to promote our various projects.

Hard Case Crime is without the best new paperback publisher to come along in the last twenty years. Publisher Charles Ardai selects the finest hard edged mysteries from both the new and classic ranks and then dresses them up with eye-popping covers. If you've never read a HCC book, you are missing out on lots of fun.

Docs 50 is another review site very similar to this one and is the work of Troy Holaday. I wasn't unaware of it until he wrote me to suggest we swap links and added that he was a frequent visitor to this column. After checking out his site, I was amazed at how similar our taste are in a totally eclectic fashion. So if you enjoy reading my reviews, please, check out Troy's column. It's superbly done.

I Was A Bronze Age Boy - I cut this title on the link, only because it is a wee bit long to print. Ha. And this is such a quirky site, describing it is difficult. My good buddy, fellow writer, Mark Justice, seems to have opened the vaults to his massive collection of old comics, paperbacks and pulps and every day posts these fantastic covers from days long gone by, but never forgotten.
So if you are a few decades past 30, you may find yourself, like me, going down memory lane every time I click on to his nostalgic treasure mine.

There you have it. Don't expect to see more. Ha. And as always, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting on my reviews. You are the folks who have made this so much fun for me over the past year. Thanks ever, Ron.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


by Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
269 pages

Finally the third and final book in this epic super hero saga. Not that there won’t be more adventures in the future, but this volume does complete the story arc established with book one and continued throughout the second. It’s a slam-bam, in your face slug-fest this time out as Earth’s heroes, new and old, must come together to stop one intergalactic threat after another.

And I am not exaggerating in the least here. The first assault on planet Earth is by a series of quickly replicating robots known as Xorexes that are virtually unstoppable. The more the powerful Ultraa and his young team attack the destructive machines, the stronger they become by absorbing the heroes own powers; which are then transferred to all the Xorexes instantaneously. This contest is remindful of Hercules’ mythological encounter with the multiple headed Hydra monsters.

Yet somehow the Sentinels’ own alien robot ally, Vanadium holds the solution to saving the world from this robot infestation. Then there is the fate of the twin Warlords, each battling the other to invent a machine that will erase the known universe. Never mind the mind-control conspiracies of the mysterious Randall Nation lurking in the shadows of the very Pentagon itself.

Plexico stirs a heady stew of fast paced action that never once lags. In fact I often found myself flipping pages so fast they began to blur. The one and only weakness of this entry is the fact that it does depend heavily on the reader having read the first book two books to enjoy it to the max. The author does provide a two page recap at the start of the book, but it in itself only serves to show just how much has gone on in books one and two; events that are extremely crucial to identifying the characters here, as there are lots of them, good and bad.

So thumbs up to a smashing wrap up to what has been a triumphant glorious homage to comic book super hero teams. Whether you’re a DC or Marvel fan, there is much for you to relish and appreciate in these adventures. Thumbs up, Plexico. This is another solid winner.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


by D. M. Cornish
Speak Books
312 pages

The real success of any fantasy adventure is how complete the writer creates the protagonist’s world. If a background is grounded in details that remain true and logical, then the story can be told with an added richness not often found in literature. Such is the case with D. M. Cornish’s amazing new novel, FOUNDLING.

From the second you enter this world, you know at once that you are venturing somewhere new and perhaps dangerous. Then, with a subtle shift in emphasis, we are introduced to the hero, one Rossamund Bookchild and that unsettled anxiety is immediately dispelled. Why? Because Rossamund is so real and sympathetic. He joins the ranks of many other classical orphan heroes ala Oliver Twist, Pip and even Harry Potter. He is an optimistic lad who, as a babe, was abandoned on the footsteps of Madame Opera’s Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys & Girls. In that one title we are informed that Rossamund’s people are a seafaring culture. And what a sea it is, by all the accounts and adventures related to him and by Head Master Fransitart, a retired sailor whose background is misted in mystery.

By the time Rossamund attains a certain age, he is allowed to be apprenticed to any reputable government agency. In other words, when ready to leave the orphanage, he must assume gainful employment. Rossamund learns he’s been chosen to be a Lamplighter for the Empire. It seems a terribly boring choice for a career, but again, he has no say in the matter and is quickly bundled up, given a stipend, letters of recommendation and launched into the real world.

And again, let me reiterate, what a world it is. It resembles the Victorian Age of Charles Dickens’ famous stories with a big dash of Robert Louis Stephenson thrown in to keep things humming. Rossumund is to travel to a distant city by river, only he mistakenly takes the wrong boat which results in his being kidnapped by a group of unsavory pirates. He manages to escape and then finds himself in league with a professional monster fighter. Oh, did I mention this world’s frontiers are populated by all sorts of monsters? And to combat them, certain brave souls acquire special powers and hire themselves out as mercenaries. They acquire these so called talents by undergoing radical surgeries and having foreign organs grafted into their bodies.

Such a monster fighter is the beautiful Lady Europe, with whom Rossamund soon becomes a traveling companion. FOUNDLING is the first in a series and is sub-titled Book One – Monster Blood Tattoo. Once I started reading it, I was completely mesmerized by the spell it wove. There are more new and fresh ideas in this one book then half a dozen others I read over the years. Enough so that Cornish isn’t satisfied to let his readers go even when they’ve reached the end.

I listed this novel at 312 pages. The actually book, with all its beautiful illustrations, also by the author, goes to 434 pages. The remaining 112 pages consist of appendices, maps and a remarkably comprehensive glossary. Note, you don’t have to read any of it to love THE FOUNDLING. Consider it a literary after-dinner-mint to be enjoyed later at your leisure. If you enjoy fantasy at its highest level, then I urge you to not to miss this new book. It truly is one of a kind.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


by Christa Faust
Hard Case Crime
252 pages
Available Jan.29

Angel Dare ran away to Los Angeles from Chicago to find a glamorous life. At least more glamorous then marrying some beer-guzzling slob, getting fat and raising a pack of snot-nosed brats. It is easy to see the girl had a cynical perspective on life in middle America. Once in L.A. she quickly turned her natural assets into profit by becoming one of the hottest porn queens to ever orgasm on tape. For such a hard edged soul, life seemed okay, if not great. Then, as it does with all mortals, age began to catch up with the saucy vixen and rather than turn into some pathetic sex matron, Angel quit the business, or at least the action in front of the lenses.

An intelligent business woman, she realized there was a good living to be made handling new talent. Along the way she might have began to sense a conscience at work, but philosophy was never her strong suit. Angel simply believed, because of her own experiences in the trade, she could not only manage young, naive performers, but that she could also protect them. This is the setting as the book opens. It quickly deteriorates. By the end of the first two chapters Angel has been brutalized, raped, shot, left for dead in the trunk of a car and framed for the murder of one of her dearest friends. Writer Christa Faust doesn’t waste a single sentence propelling her hero in a maze of suspense, mystery and gut wrenching desperation.

The book is very much an odyssey as Angel, alone, wounded and hunted by the police, must find a way to survive beyond the next few hours. Not only to stay alive, but to somehow regain her strength and administer a merciless retribution to the men who victimized her. She manages to contact a tough ex-cop whom she had recently hired to act as a bodyguard/escort for some of her girls. His name is Malloy and he’s been through the ringer himself, having lost his badge years earlier when he became obsessed with the death of a beautiful prostitute. Malloy found the murderer and returned the favor in kind. Now he’s become Angel’s savior and as the succeeding days roll by, Malloy teaches her how to disguise herself and avoid detection by both the police and the gang that is still after her.

Part of the plot revolves around a briefcase full of stolen money. It is the reason for Angel’s predicament and ultimately the deaths of many others before the book reaches is powerful, action packed climax. I was amazed at Faust’s confidence in telling this story about the porn industry and her frank depiction of its practitioners, both good and bad. What I found particularly astute was her portrayal of Angel and the many layers that make up her character. The book’s ending is not so much a surprise to the reader as it is to Angel herself. Convinced throughout the book that she is a selfish, hard hearted bitch, she refuses to give in to that nature and does something completely noble and selfless. It’s a gem of a scene and had me musing about the fact that there was more “angel” in Angel Dare than even she was aware.

MONEY SHOT is a homerun of a novel that will have you cheering and wanting more from this exciting new writer.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


by Derrick Ferguson
Frontier Publishing
171 pages

Every now and then a writer delivers a book that is just so pure pulp, you want to clap your hands and shout hallelujah. Derrick Ferguson as a writer is cut from the same cloth as Walter Gibson, Lester Dent, Ian Fleming and Clive Cussler. He’s a pulp wordsmith who spins a rollicking adventure yarn that never lets up from the first page to the last. It is clear to see in his black hero, Dillon, that Ferguson knows this genre inside out. He not only relishes it, he finds way to enhance it by upping the ante constantly.

Dillon encounters one familiar cliff-hanger threat after another in his battles against Odin, the criminal mastermind. But it is how he manages to escape each and every one of these death-traps that is fun, ingenious and totally captivating. I haven’t had this much fun reading a book in a long time.

Who is Dillon? Where does he come from and how did he become such a skilled, daring, near super human hero of justice? Well, would you believe he was raised in a hidden martial arts temple hidden in the mountains of Tibet? Of course you would, if you are a true believer. Or that he possesses such arcane skills as the ability to lower his body metabolism to appear dead, only to be comfortable resting in a deep, meditative trance.

Ferguson also provides a terrific supporting cast of absolutely larger-than life, eccentric characters both good and evil such as the old Eli Creed, Dillon’s one-time mentor and Chew Mi (pronounced me), a sexy oriental femme fatale whose single goal is to give him a glorious death. Add exotic locales from small English hamlets to the jungles of South America and you have a rollicking adventure romp that is highly cinematic in its orchestration.

Sadly this book was handled by a very small publisher and received very little notice or distribution when it was released in 2003. It is my fervent hope that this review will help correct that wrong and help bring it to the wider audience is so richly warrants. If you love action adventure novels with verve and imagination, you will not do better than

Thursday, October 18, 2007


The Apocalypse Parable:
A Conspiracy of Weeds
by Brian Kaufman
Last Knight Publishing Co.
287 pages

One of the joys of doing this column is discovering books published by small outfits that rarely get wide distribution. Such is the case with this novel by Colorado resident, Brian Kaufman. It is also one of those books difficult to slap a genre label on. It is part mystery, part thriller with a good dose of philosophical debate thrown in for good measure.

When widower Daniel Bain is hired by reclusive millionaire, Mordecai Ryan, to find Jesus, he at first thinks the dying old man is orchestrating some sick-twisted hoax at his expense. Bain is a skip-tracer who locates missing people, primarily through the use of computers and the internet. He’s as far from being a private investigator as a counter clerk is being the head of a bank. Still, the obscene amount of money Ryan dangles under his nose is too much to resist and he reluctantly takes the job.

From that point on Bain’s life is systematically turned upside as he experiences one bizarre event after another like a cosmic chain of good and bad luck interwoven together to confuse the hell out of him. Years earlier Bain’s wife had run off to be with another man. She took their baby daughter with her and then both of them died when their car hit a patch of winter ice and flipped off the road. Bain’s grief became so mixed up with his anger at her betrayal, he’s become an emotional zombie and cynic.

Now his search for Mordecai Ryan’s Jesus leads him to a nineteen year girl who sells pornographic tapes and pictures of herself over the internet. Like Bain, she too is a wounded soul and they instantly find a kinship together. Neither is aware of just how strong that bond is until a stalker threatens the girl’s life and Bain finds himself cast in the role of her protector. All the while he finds himself getting closer and closer to find Ryan’s lost Messiah.

Kaufman writes with courage in tackling spiritual themes. He clearly recognizes the human condition for its broken state, but through Bain he refuses to accept the tired old platitudes that come from a thousand year old gospel. The book’s gruesome climax hints at a begrudging acceptance of the greatest mystery of them all, love. This is a well written book with weighty themes. If you aren’t afraid to think about the big questions, then this is a book you should seek out and read. Whether in the end, you agree or disagree with Daniel Bain, you won’t easily forget him.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


by William H. Keith
Baen Books
374 pages

When I was a high school student back in the early 1960s, I discovered science fiction through the pages of a marvelous monthly magazine called Worlds of If. It was edited by writer Frederic Pohl and often carried series fiction featuring reoccurring heroes. One of my favorite such series were the Retief short stories written by Keith Laumer. Jame Retied is an undersecretary in the Diplomatic Corp set against the backdrop of a galactic universe where man has encountered hundreds of alien races.

According to his bio, Laumer had himself done service in various British Embassies around the world and used his own personal experiences to enliven Retief’s adventures. For the most part, his tales pitted him no so much against physical threats and the
inane stupidity of corrupt government, including his own superiors. Laumer used his tales to satirize the illogic of most world politics as he saw it and for that reason they were particularly fun. Predating both Star Trek and Dr. Who, the Retief stories were a wonderful blend of space opera hijinks and pun-filled comedy. Laumer had a way of mangling the language as an added barb to his jousting literary lance.

Imagine my elated joy when I discovered this new book starring the irascible and ever loving Jame Retief on a bookstore shelf. Apparently someone has licensed the rights to the character and now he’s off on a brand new set of exploits. I’m very happy to report that William H. Keith, like Laumer, is no slouch in the satire department and he cleverly weaves a story fanciful story of intergalactic intrigue and deception that is a laugh fest from start to end.

Retief, as always, finds himself in the middle of an age old conflict between two races, a criminal operation organized by his old enemies, the Groaci (think Ferengis from Star Trek) and a group of space hippies involved with a planet wide peace demonstration. Of course Retief’s is the only sound intellect in the entire bunch and it falls to him to uncover the Machiavellian doings before three planets erupt in catastrophic warfare. Is he up to the task? Or better yet, was there ever a doubt our daring, ingenious hero would come through in the end? Nope.

RETIEF’S PEACE was a most delightful reacquainting for this writer. It’s also a very good place for those of you who have never encountered Jame Retied before. In a field too often filled with overly dramatic, weighty themes, he is a breath of true fresh air. Do yourselves a big favor and pick this one up.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


by Will Thomas
A Touchstone Book
337 pages

Limehouse is the name the Brits gave to the Chinatown section of old Victorian London. Thus it is the primary locale for most of the action in this, the third case of Inquiry Agent, Cyrus Barker. In the first book of this series, SOME DANGER INVOLVED, Welsh clerk, Thomas Llewelyn came to work for Barker after answering a classified ad. He was summarily informed that Barker’s former assistant, Mr. Quong, had been murdered, shot between the eyes and his body dumped in the river. Barker, a former sea captain with a brilliant intellect like his contemporary, Sherlock Holmes, is unable to solve the crime nor find Quong’s murderer.

Now it is two years later and Barker is informed by a local constable that, before his death, Quong had something left at a pawn shop. No sooner do Barker and Llewelyn retrieve the item in question, a small Chinese text book on martial arts, then the officer is gunned down in front of them; a bullet between the eyes. Barker identifies the text as having been stolen from an ancient Chinese monastery because of the deadly killing techniques it teaches.

Once again Thomas sends his pair of heroes on a quest throughout as yet another fascinating part of Victorian England as he did in his two previous outings. The world of the Chinese population in London is well defined with all its ramifications for the future of the British Colonial Empire. Thomas also reveals many of Barker’s mysterious history which he only alluded to in those earlier adventures. Within only a few chapters the plot is well set. A deadly assassin from China has traveled half-way around the world to find the unique little book and will kill anyone who gets in his way. The suspects begin to add up with a casts of colorful characters both foreign and domestic, to include a pompous secretary of the Foreign Office who’s hobby is illegal bare-knuckles fighting.

I also appreciated how the relationship between the shy and inexperienced Llewelyn and the stoic, supremely egoistical Barker continues to evolve, each learning to respect and trust the other with each new case. By the end of THE LIMEHOUSE TEXT, the young Welshman learns to value his own intuition and value to the remarkable man he has come to work for. THE LIMEHOUSE TEXT is another fine entry in a really fun series and I for one am looking forward to number four.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


by Clive Cussler & Paul Kemprecos
Berkley Novel
494 pages

During the Golden Age of the pulps, the most popular adventure title on the newsstands was DOC SAVAGE as written by Kenneth Robeson. Robeson was a Street & Smith housename and the majority of the Man of Bronze’s exploits were written by Lester Dent. Unlike the mysterious, pistol-packing avengers the Shadow and the Spider, Doc was a full blown public figure who traveled the world with a loyal group of compatriots.

It is no wonder that the minute Clive Cussler introduced the world to his seafaring hero, Dirk Pitt, pulp fans were only too ready to welcome him. The similarities between Doc and Dirk are many and Cussler has rightly inherited the mantle left by Dent in creating over-the-top, globe spanning adventures. Sadly, Cussler chose to age Pitt as if he were a real person and as he grew older, so did his creation. Eventually this resulted in having a hero too old to go adventuring.

Cussler solved this problem in two ways. The first, and most bizarre, was when he whipped up a fully grown Dirk Pitt Junior on his readers. He and his writing buddies have done two books with this father and son team and although they are fun to read, it still seems an awkward fit. Whereas Cussler’s second ploy, one I’ve always assumed was foisted on him by his publisher to fatten the cash cow, was to invent a spin-off series featuring another NUMA agent, Kirk Austin. Although not physically identical to Pitt, Austin is very much cut from the same chivalrous mold and is a handsome, daring, modern day Galahad. This particular series has produced some terrific books and POLAR SHIFT is no exception.

The story starts in Europe during World War II with a Hungarian scientist named Kovacs fleeing both the Nazis and Soviets. Protecting him is a mysterious German agent who works for a secret organization aware of the professor’s importance to the future. Kovacs has developed a process by which ultrasonic waves can be made to disrupt the Earth’s magnetic poles. Were such knowledge to fall into the wrong hands, the power wielded could destroy the world. The agent, Schroeder, manages to save Kovacs and get him safely to America where he changes his name and disappears into academic obscurity. Thus ends the action packed prologue.

Jump ahead to the present and a group of well financed anarchist have uncovered papers left by Novacs detailing his theories. They set about creating giant dynamos and begin to experiment on the open seas. One such trial results in the sinking of massive ocean cargo ship by rogue waves well over a hundred feet high. Thus NUMA is alerted and enter Dirk Pitt and his team of scientist/adventurers. By the time Dirk learns the mystery behind the freakish polar shifts, he will have traveled to the Artic and uncovered a lost city within a dead volcano, discovered a herd of dwarf wooly mammoths and been chased through the highways of Washington DC. in an old Stanley Steamer pursued by a gang of machine gun wielding thugs wearing Civil War uniforms. All in a day’s work for the intrepid Kurt Austin. Oh, and there is of course a beautiful lady in distress to be rescued. This time is she is the late Dr. Kovacs’ granddaughter, who holds the mathematical key to stopping the polar shift.

No one writes better pulp fiction than Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos. POLAR SHIFT is another feather in their caps. Like popcorn at a Saturday afternoon matinee, it’s almost too good to describe.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


by Robert Terrall
Hard Case Crime
220 pages

Back in the early late 1950s, my Uncle Ray use to go through books like this one as if he were eating salted peanuts. Many was the night, after dinner, that I’d race across the back yard to his house to hook up with my cousin, David, to see if he was up to a game of baseball or football in the neighborhood field depending on what season it was. I’d find Aunt Winnie in the kitchen cleaning up the dishes, while in the living room there would be Uncle Ray, a Navy Yard welder, stretched out on his favorite sofa, in his stocking feet, the black and white television on and a cheap, Gold Medal mystery novel in his hands. Ray could both read through one of those gaudy covered thrillers in one evening, at the same time be tuned in to the evening broadcasts. The guy simply amazed me.

And so did those wonderful paperbacks. Of the army of tough-guy private eyes to grace the pages of those drugstore rack thrillers, Robert Terrall’s Ben Gates was one of the finest. Gates, like many of his counterparts, was a New York City based gumshoe with fast fists for the bad guys and charm aplenty for the sexy ladies, of which there were many. KILL NOW, PAY LATER is typical of his cases, wherein he’s hired by an insurance company to protect the wedding gifts of a wealthy Long Island socialite. A simple enough case until somebody spikes the coffee he’s drinking and by the time he comes to, someone has been scared to death during an abortive robbery and the perpetrator gunned down.

It all seems like a very open and shut case. Unfortunately it also makes Gates look like an incompetent accomplice. Knowing the only way to clear his name, and reputation, is to unravel the caper on his own, very much to the ire of the State Tropper Captain in charge. Along the way, our witty, cigar-smoking shamus tangles with no less than four stunning, sexy beauties all with various motives. The only thing they have in common is getting him in bed. Even though Terrall was excellent at creating a light, satirical atmosphere to his mysteries, Gates is very much a real detective and by the end of the book his efforts expose a poignant, family tragedy.

All in all a dandy pulp mystery Uncle Ray would have enjoyed immensely. In fact, considering he read hundreds of these, he probably actually did. I hope you will too.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Edited by Del Howison & Jeff Gelb
Ace Horror
339 pages

Often times while at conventions chatting with my colleagues, one of the topics that seems to reoccur frequently is the death of short fiction in American literature. Oh, I know, you can all make an argument for this or that foundation or magazine that still promotes the art of short story writing. But if you are brutally honest, you will also concede that these are mere oasis in a vast desert where the format is all but forgotten and extinct.

Except for one particular genre; horror. The field of short horror fiction is as vibrant and alive today as when I first discovered it as a teenager in high school with my introduction to the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is without a doubt the founding root of American short fiction, and that the one genre he so excelled in, that of the horrifying, thrives today says something for our national psyche as a whole. Without going into all the psychological underpinnings of why we like to be frightened, the truth remains that all of us, at one time or another in our lives nurture a dark desire to peek into the black bedroom closet, almost wishing to find a lurking monster within. Today’s horror writers serve that primal need by offering up the monsters our imaginations crave.

That said, the strength and weakness of any anthology is always going to be its diversity. DARK DELICACIES, we are told in the preface, came about because there is an actual bookstore with that name located somewhere in Southern California and it caters to horror fiction. Thus did one of the owners and a fellow writer come up with the idea of producing a yearly anthology series showcasing today’s premier writers of the macabre. With this first volume, they hit a bulls-eye in winning the prestigious Bram Stoke Award.

On the whole, DARK DELICACIES does deliver its promise to put forth the scariest tales ever. Some of course miss the mark by very little while others sadly don’t even belong in this collection. But again, with a mixed bag, that is always to be expected. Ray Bradbury’s entry is a token affair. Had his little noir romance been submitted by an unknown, it would most likely have been rejected on the spot.

My favorites are Nancy Holder’s OUT TWELVE-STEPPIN’, SUMMER OF AA, about two rock stars in L.A. who happen to be cannibals and are trying to quit. It’s both chilling and funny as hell. Likewise John Farris’ BLOODY MARY MORNING which delivers a wonderful, twisted finale. The most haunting, and justifiably so, is THE DIVING GIRL by the recently deceased Richard Laymon. Laymon was a truly unique voice in the world of horror fiction and reading this touching story, I was once again reminded of how much he will be missed.

Other notables worthy of your attention are; HAECKEL’S TALE by Clive Barker, THE PYRE AND OTHERS by David J. Schow, BLACK MILL COVE by Lisa Morton and THE BANDIT OF SANITY by Roberta Lannes.

There are a few other so-so pieces. Finally, since I’ve applauded the best in this gathering, it is only fair I skewer the worst. That honor goes to KADDISH by Whitley Streiber. His story is a distasteful anti-religion piece of science fiction extrapolation on what would happen if the Christian Right were to control the country. One of the tenets of true Christianity is that all people are allowed to live their own lives and make their own religious choices. Maybe Streiber has never met a real Christian before. His vision is sophomoric at best, hateful at worst. Too bad it had to be included in this otherwise stellar collection.

Pick up DARK DELICACIES, wait for a lonely, foggy night and sit back and enjoy, But keep one eye on those shadows in the corner. They seem to be moving, don’t they?

Thursday, September 13, 2007


by Cornell Woolrich
Hard Case Crime
254 pages

Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich was born in 1903 and died in 1968. During his life he wrote twenty-seven novels, the last, INTO THE NIGHT, was unfinished at his death and completed by Lawrence Block. So successful were his novels and short stories that twenty-five features were made based on them to include Francois Truffaut’s THE BRIDE WORE BLACK and Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW.

Cornell’s work was the essence of noir drama, centered around the psychological traumas suffered by his characters. FRIGHT, originally published in 1950, under his George Hopley pseudonym, is a prime example of this kind of gripping thriller.

Set in the early 1900s, a young business man, Prescott Marshall, is about to marry the girl of his dreams; a young socialite named Marjorie Worth. A few weeks before the wedding, Marshall goes out on the two with several of his pals and ends up having a dalliance with a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. When the girl comes to him several days later and asks for money to keep her silence about their tryst, he is more angry with himself for having let down his moral guard, then he is with the bimbo. He pays her and thinks that’s the end of it, but alas he soon learns otherwise.

On the morning of his wedding, the blonde shows up and demands an even larger sum. This time she threatens to disrupt the wedding and tell Majorie the entire sordid tale. Pushed to his limit, Marshall strangles the girl in a fit of passion and hides the body in his closet. He somehow manages to go through with the wedding, but all the while his mind is caught up in a merry-go-round of fevered terror he cannot escape.

Woolrich’s genius is taking us into Marshall’s fragile mind and watching as every single event in his life from that point onward becomes a threat to him. He convinces Marjorie, after their honeymoon, to flee New York and go live in the Midwest. Yet he’s not safe from his paranoia even there. For as any psychologist would understand, the one person Prescott Marshall cannot ever elude is himself. His spiraling descent into madness and ultimately other murders is an amazing tour-de-force that held me until the very last, astonishing page. Woolrich had a gift for language that is all too rare in modern writers and he employs it throughout this novel with an artist’s deftness.

FRIGHT is one book I will not soon forget. Lastly, a big tip of the fedora to cover artist, Arthur Suydam. This is one of his best efforts to date and a fitting companion to this terrific Woolrich classic.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


by John Steakley
Daw Books
426 pages

I have an affinity for science fiction military novels. Two years ago a friend of mine urged me to find a book he had read long ago called ARMOR. He ranted and raved about how brutal was its depiction of warfare and how much the book had awed him. Considering it was well over ten years since he’d read it, I was willing to accept his recommendation. For a book to having such a lasting effect suggested it was truly something special. Two weeks ago, while browsing a mall bookstore, I found ARMOR. It is copyright 1984. I have no clue what printing this paperback is, and I don’t really care. I’m just damn happy it is still being reissued.

ARMOR tells the story of a mysterious man named Felix who joints the Fleet Navy to escape a painful past. During basic training, he is found to have unique warrior skills, ala a remarkable adaptability to combat situations and an incredible, almost superhuman will to live. Felix is made a Scout and given the standard, fully armored battle suit, complete with the latest computer controlled technology to provide him with the most up impressive firepower of any soldier in the known universe.

He and his fellow warriors are going to need all of that weaponry. Mankind has gone to war with an alien race so lethal, they engender fear even by the mention of their earthly description, Ants. On a savagely hostile desert world, where the air is poisonous and rivers of acid flow, millions of these huge, four-armed killing machines breed every single day with one hive-like goal, the complete destruction of the human race. This nightmarish planet is called Banshee and that is where Felix and thousands of his comrades are deployed.

From the start Navy intelligence gives proof to its own oxymoronic nature as Felix and his group arrive dead center in midst of a swarming ant pile. Thousands upon thousands of ants, their pincer-like hands clawing and cutting through the plastisteel of Fleet armor and gutting into soft human flesh beneath. But Felix isn’t one of these terrified victims. Somehow the essence of the suit comes alive at the moment of contact and suddenly he finds himself being controlled by a powerful killing-frenzy he later identifies as the Engine. It will not allow him to die. Felix kills everything in his path, breaks through the ant-swarm and escapes…to fight another day. And another day, again, and again, and again.

Who is Felix really? What secrets lie in his past life and how has he become the only soldier able to merge with his battle suit and become the Engine? This book has been rightly hailed as a classic by sci-fi literary critics and I add my voice to theirs. If you have ever wondered at the nature of the beast that resides in all things under nature’s skies, then ARMOR will raise some uncomfortable issues. Just keep telling yourself it’s only a book. I did. And a damn good one at that.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


The Book of the Dead
by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
Warner Books
597 pages

I make no bones about the fact that after reading THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, I became an immediate fan of this series. If there is a more traditional classic pulp hero than Special Agent Pendergast, I’ve yet to encounter him. Whereas Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt gets my vote for being a modern Doc Savage, Pendergast is the heir apparent to both the Shadow and Mandrake the Magician. What else can you say about a thin, gaunt F.B.I. agent who is rich, a genius and can time travel in his mind. That latter ability a trick he picked up in an ancient Tibetan monastery. See, I told you he was pulp eccentric. And of course he is the penultimate good guy.

Special Agent Pendergast first appeared in this team’s first work together, THE RELIC, but it wasn’t until THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES that he took center stage and instantly captivated a readership hungry for this kind of literary action. That was followed up with the equally brilliant STILL LIFE WITH CROWS. Then came BRIMSTONE, and we Pendergast fans were shocked to discover the super agent did indeed have a deadly nemesis his equal in all things; his own younger brother, the twisted Diogenes Pendergast.

BRIMSTONE, much to our delight, was in fact the first book in a Diogenes trilogy that was quickly followed by THE DANCE OF DEATH. Here, for the second time in so many months, Pendergast, aided by his good friend, police Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta, barely managed to foil Diogenes latest sinister plot. But Diogenes, in his own brilliant way, had outwitted our hero and in the book’s startling finale, successfully framed Pendergast for a series of murders he himself had committed. Thus the cliffhanger ending found our stalwart hero locked up in a maximum security federal prison while the psychotic Diogenes was still at large and planning his most evil crime yet. This last year, awaiting the release of THE BOOK OF THE DEAD, has been rough.

So, here it is, the final chapter. It is a winner from the opening page to the last, propelling the reader on a high speed roller coaster ride of wild, imaginative suspense and thrills. Diogenes, in a clever disguise, has made himself a staff member of the New York Museum of Natural History. It is here he plans a heinous mass murder the likes of which this city has never seen. Meanwhile, D’Agosta, along with the help of wheelchair bound computer wunderkind, Eli Glinn, orchestrates a fantastic, complex prison break that will free Pendergast; hopefully in time to thwart his insane brother. This chapter in the series also provided, for the first time, an intimate look back into Pendergast’s past, something Preston and Child have skillfully withheld up until now. The revelations in this section are powerful and add much to the character’s layered, and unique personality.

Granted, most books should stand on their own, and in that regard THE BOOK OF THE DEAD will clearly confuse any new readers who have not read the previous two volumes. If, on the other hand, you make the effort to hunt them up and read them all, I guarantee you a truly exciting reading experience. There are just too few thrillers these days that are this much fun. Here’s hoping Special Agent Pendergast is around for a long, long time.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


The Accidental Time Machine
by Joe Haldeman
Ace Books
276 pages

Ever since H.G.Wells set forth the idea of traveling through time, dozens of writers have found the challenge of playing with time irresistible. This includes followers of both hard science fiction like Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein and practitioners of the not-so hard sci-fi, poet scribes ala Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson among these. Hugo Award winner Joe Haldeman’s work is clearly of the former camp.

Matt Fuller is a research assistant at MIT who discovers the calibrator machine he is working on has somehow become a time machine that leaps into the future every time he presses the ON button. At first, it is only gone for a few seconds, but Fuller begins to calculate that with each jump, the machine expands it reach by a factor of twelve. Keeping the discovery to himself, he then manages to connect the small calibrator time machine box to an automobile. This allows him to jump into the future with the next push of the button. So begins Matt Fuller’s adventure and ours.

Thankfully Haldeman then sets the spotlight on the socio-economic goings on of future America rather then getting too involved with the technical requirements for a real time machine. He does cover the usual paradoxes inherent with messing with history, but it is his deft eye on the evolution of social mores that is the fun of this book. He imagines first a world where right wing Christian fundamentalist have taken control of a ravaged country and set about building a society the Amish would find stifling. When Matt jumps again, he finds himself on the west coast where interaction between people is limited strictly to the internet and Los Angeles is operated by a sentient computer who appears as an attractive woman, sort of an electronic between an all knowing mother-hen and a guardian angel.

The book is breezy, fun and yes, thought provoking. I think H.G. Wells would have enjoyed it as much as I did.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Deadly Beloved
A Ms.Tree Novel
by Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
194 pages
(Available 27 Nov.)

Back in the heyday of independent comics, writer Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beaty created one of the most memorable characters to ever grace the pages of graphic literature; Private Eye Ms.Tree. The sexy brunette with the page boy cut and the square shouldered blue trenchcoat stuck around for fifteen years, moving from publisher to publisher as she delivered some of the best, slam-bang action mystery stories ever produced for any media. The barrel of her .45 was always hot as this dame had no qualms about giving the bad guys a lead send-off when the situated warranted. Which was quite often, much to our satisfaction. She was no Agatha Christie type puzzle-solver, although Michael Tree (her dad wanted a boy) was sharp as any tack on the board. She preferred to play in the tough-guys’ sandbox and the lady was every bit their equal in the wit and bravado departments.

At the time, we fans knew Collins was also an accomplished mystery writer and dreamed of the day when he would give us an honest-to-goodness Ms. Tree novel. That day has come, thanks in large part to publisher/editor Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime. This is the book all of us clamored for and now that it’s here, it delivers on all cylinders.

The wife of a well known accountant catches her husband in bed with a hooker and blows them both to kingdom come. What should be an open and shut case is anything but to the homicide detective Lt. Valer. Everything about the crime is too set-up, too convenient. Through the woman’s lawyer, Ms. Tree is brought into the case. Valer believes the mob has recruited a murder specialist who covers up his hits by duping others into carry them. The idea of such a nefarious puppeteer seems outlandish, until Ms. Tree learns her client suffers from schizophrenia and that someone had switched her medication which kept her rational, with placebos.

And if that wasn’t enough to get the plot rolling, Valer then suggest the murder of her own husband, ex-cop Michael Tree, a year earlier on their wedding day, may have been another of the death planner’s contracts. Soon Tree and her associate, Dan Green, are knee deep in killers and assassins and the body count starts to climb. The hallmark of the Ms. Tree comics was their intensity and rapid fire pacing; DEADLY BELOVED is no exception. Collins also earns his mystery stripes as he plays fair and peppers his tale with more than enough clues for the astute reader to figure who done it. He also manages to provide a clever hat trick at the end that had me grinning like a kid exiting the carnival Fun House.

How many times can you tell the same story? In Collins’ case, there is no limit. The joy of DEADLY BELOVED is that it is very much the origin story of Michael Tree that all of us read and enjoyed so many years ago in the comics. And then again, it is told in an exciting new way that is completely accessible to the first time reader unaware of the character’s history. That is nothing short of brilliant. DEALY BELOVED is by far the best mystery I’ve read this year. Collins states, in his informative afterward, that future Ms. Tree novels with depend in large part to the reception of this first book. Max, please consider this a huge thumbs up and a heartfelt plea for more.