Wednesday, January 31, 2007


A Novel of Wild Bill Hickok
by Max McCoy
Signet Historical Novel
244 pages

As in all things in life, most of have favorites; a favorite writer, a favorite TV show, a favorite food, etc.etc. Likewise, of all the larger than life historical figures of the Wild West era, mine has always been Wild Bill Hickok. Born James Butler Hickok, in Troy Grove, Illinois in 1837, he grew up to become a Yankee scout during the Civil War. After the war he drifted west as a scout, gambler, stage coach driver and eventually lawman. An educated, sophisticated dandy, with his long, curly brown hair and thick mustache, he was said to cut an extremely dashing figure that caused women to swoon. A friend of Buffalo Bill Cody, he spent an entire season in New York City, on the stage in a Wild West dramatization that was not to his liking and weary, returned to Deadwood, where he was eventually murdered by one Jack McCall.

There have been countless books, both historical and fictional written about him as well as many, many movie and television versions of his marksmanship exploits on the frontier. Now, within weeks of each other, two new books have arrived and I was most eager to get my hands on them.

A BREED APART focuses primarily on Hickok’s younger days leading up to the time where he begins to earn his reputation as a gunfighter. A great deal is spent on his encounter with way-station bully Dave McCanles who crossed paths with the young Hickock and became his first victim. Then the book takes Wild Bill into the war years where he was free-riding spy for the Union Armies along the Missouri, Arkansas border and ends with his famous shoot-out with his old friend, Davis Tutt on the streets of Springfield.

This is a fast moving story that is easily told with fascinating characters. McCoy is a veteran western writer and his shows both in his settings and dialogue. The people are so believable, it is easy to imagine this is truly how it was in a much unsettled and untamed country. This is a terrific book and I hope McCoy comes back to tell more stories about the legendary Wild Bill. There’s lots more to tell.


Tales From Deadwood
by Mike Jameson
Berkley Western Novel
246 pages

Upon picking up this book, I realized it was actually third and final entry of a trilogy centered around the town of Deadwood and its colorful citizens during that fateful summer of 1876 when Wild Bill Hickock was shot and killed in the # 10 Saloon.

The first two books in the series, DEADWOOD and the GAMBLERS, I am assuming, introduced the large cast and then proceeded to develop the separate plots leading to this climatic chapter.

To that end, Hickock’s murder is a pivotal element in the book and comes at about the half-way mark. It is well told and historically accurate. The other stories here are also a much fun. There is the tale of young gunfighter, Bellamy Bridges, and the battle for his soul. Englishman Dick Seymour’s Pony Express race against the unscrupulous Jed Powell through Sioux territory has some very exciting actions moments and the colorful saloon and bordello owners, Al Swearengen and Laurette Parkhurst add much evil spice to this heady western melodrama.

It’s a dandy read and I’m going to be ordering the first two volumes. So, if you too are as fascinated by the life and times of Wild Bill Hickok, you couldn’t find two better books to read.

Monday, January 22, 2007


by Erwin K. Roberts
116 pages
Available from

Over the years, many pulp writers have toyed with the idea of what a second generation of heroes would have been like. Take some of the old classic guys like the Shadow or Doc Savage and then imagine them settling down to raise a family. What kind of people would their sons and daughters have been? And more importantly, would they have followed in their parent’s footsteps and become crime-fighters too?

This book attempts to answer that question in that it introduces a disguise-artist-weapons expert hero who is clearly suppose to be the son of 30s super spy, Secret Agent X. And in that vein, it works exceedingly well. A mad villain has stolen 70 kilos of plutonium rich nuclear fuel and is going to blackmail the city for millions. If his demands are not met, he will release the lethal stuff via a dirty bomb that will contaminate thousands of people.

Enter the mysterious, no-face hero known by the police and public only as The Voice. Once again the pulse-pounding beat of classic pulp adventures is sounded, only this time in a more modern setting. And it all works. Roberts obviously knows pulps and captures their break-neck pacing perfectly, while at the same time adding in a heavy does of bloody, shoot-em-up action.

I am giving PLUTONIUM NIGHTMARE a thumbs up, but at the same time I am compelled to point out what I consider its one and only flaw. The book does not adhere to one narrative style. It jumps annoyingly between a third person story telling to a first person narration. I have never been a fan of this kind of writing as it always jars me out of the action. Roberts writes both well enough, and the last part of the book is almost entirely in the hero’s voice (no pun intended), but that doesn’t erase the earlier of moments of bouncing and back and forth. I would really love to see more adventures of the Voice, but please, pick one style next time.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Grave Descent
by John Lange
Hard Case Crime
203 pages

I love hard hitting crime thrillers that read easy. You pick up the book, begin flipping pages and before you know it you are half way through it. Such is the case with this thriller from 1970. It is another one of those long lost nuggets that Hard Case Crime is so good at finding.

Off the shores of a tropical Caribbean island, a million dollar luxury yatch, Grave Descent, has gone down in sixty feet of crystal blue, shark-infested waters. The owners, a wealthy family from up north, hire salvage diver James McGregor to retrieve several items from the wreck and ascertain if she can be raised.

But McGregor has been around the block a few times and everything about the ship and its fate just doesn’t add up. The more he gets involved, the more his strong sense of survival begins warning him that he is being played for a patsy. There is something aboard Grave Descent that may just get him killed…after he finds it.

The local color of the setting, the economically lean narrative and the characters are handled just right. Enough so that I read it fast, liked what a read a great deal and will be on the look out for more mysteries by Mr.Lange. If the cold winter blues have got you down, pick this island caper up and enjoy the heat.

Monday, January 15, 2007


No Limits
Star Trek: New Frontier
Edited by Peter David
Pocket Books 375 pages

A while back I reviewed a Peter David New Frontier novel and made the claim that it is the best fictional ST series ever done. I stick with that claim and in a few short weeks will be reviewing David’s latest chapter in that enjoyable saga. Unfortunately what we have here is not as much fun.

And allow this reviewer a little second guessing as to the why of this particular anthology. Let us consider that my opinion is right and New Frontier is by far the best selling Star Trek fiction on the market. That being the case, it is only natural to imagine Pocket Books wanting very much to capitalize on this and increase their profits. But sadly there is only one Peter David and he can only do one book at a time. Of course the idea of doing other New Frontier books without him is ludicrous, and thank heavens these editors are smart enough to know that. Still there had to be a way to give readers “more” New Frontier while David busy writing whatever other things he writes?

The solution was obvious. Let’s do an anthology of short stories based on the colorful crew of the starship Excalibur and get David to edit it. That way the fans get more stories, we can more money and David is still on board. It can’t lose.

Economically, Pocket Books was right. Creatively is another matter altogether. There are eighteen stories in NO LIMITS. Of these, six are extremely well done; I’ll get to those in a minute. Eleven are mediocre, something no New Frontier tale should ever be, and one is just God awful. (No, I’m not being sacrilegious here…rather tipping my hand at which is the real turkey in this collection.) I also was very upset by the order of these stories. In one early tale a familiar officer aboard the Excalibur is killed in action but at the end of the book is a story wherein he is very much alive. Now considering that editor Keith DeCandido provides an official New Frontier Timeline as a special addendum here, you would think they could have put these two particular stories in the proper order. Sloppy editing, Mr. David.

If you are a completist and must have every Star Trek New Frontier book, then do check out those entries by David Mack, Kevin Dilmore, Peg Robinson, Mary Scott-Wiecek, Allyn Gibson and Peter David’s own, “A Little Getaway,” which tells the untold story of Calhoun and Elizabeth Shelby’s honeymoon. That gem is almost worth the price of admission.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Eerey Tocsin
in the Cryptoid Zoo
by Kevin Noel Olson
157 pages

Available from.. (

One of the privileges of writing a review column is being able to break your own rules. You see, this is a column devoted to modern day pulp fiction and this title is certainly not that. It is a wonderful, exciting, extremely original children's book by the very talented Mr.Olson.

Having had the pleasure of reading the manuscript before it went to the presses, I was only to happy to contribute a small cover blurb for this terrific story. And now that the book is out and marvelously illustrated by Debi Hammack, I want all you Harry Potter fans to go out and buy this. Eerey Tocsin is one of the most charming, amusing and daring heroines to come down the literary highway in years.

This adventure is fast-paced, dark and mysterious and a through joy to read. Just when you think the wonder and magic have slowed down, you turn the page and wham, it jumps right back at you. I really, really hope this is on the first in a series. I am now an Eerey fan and I want more. Lots more.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Myths For The Modern Age
Edited By Win Scott Eckert
Monkey Brain Books
392 pages

Imagine, if you will, that all the major fictional heroes of the 20th Century were actually related. Figures like Tarzan, Dr.Fu Manchu, Doc Savage, the Shadow and Sherlock Holmes all being found on the same family-tree. It boggles the mind, doesn’t it? Well that is exactly what science-fiction writer, Philip Jose Farmer, posited when he invented his wonderful Wold Newton Universe in the early 1970s while writing the biographies of both Tarzan (Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke 1972) and Doc Savage (Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life 1093). In these books, Farmer set forth an amazing genealogy that clearly linked both these remarkable heroes and many others.

According to Farmer, back in 1795, a meteor struck the earth in Wold Newton, a small village in the East Riding Yorkshire County of England. At the moment it hit, two large coaches with fourteen passengers and four coachmen were traveling within a few yards of it. These eighteen souls were all exposed to the ionization of the accompanying meteorites. Somehow this altered their genetic make-up so that their descendants were born with enhanced human abilities and went on to become great crime fighters, scientists and explorers. Whereas others became super criminals.

Since putting forth the theory, Farmer soon found himself swamped with requests from an army of fans to expand the concept. They wanted to know more about these amazing heroes and villains and how they were related to each other. Soon fan interest evolved into scholarly dissertations as other writers came on board to expand the Wold Newton universe and make it their own. Farmer had inadvertently created the biggest mythological sandbox of our times and soon many, many others wanted to play in it.

One such Wold Newton enthusiast, soon to be expert, was Win Eckert. Eckert is a scholar with a B.S. in Anthropology. In 1997 he created the first website devoted to expanding Farmer’s concepts of the Wold Newton Family. This book is a collection of various essays by Eckert, Farmer and others who’ve gone on to add further, more intricate layers to what some call the Modern Mythology.

I truly love this book. Where else can you find an essay that identifies Modesty Blaise as the illegitimate daughter of Tarzan of the Apes and Queen La of the lost jungle city of Opar? Or read an argument to the effect that Sherlock Holmes, Hercules Poirot and Jules

deGrandin are all cousins? And those are just a few of the marvelous concoctions brewed up by these masters of the imagination. It is an introduction to a fabulous world made up of heroes, villains, vampires and ancient gods, all waiting to entertain you with their incredible pedigree. Anyone who calls himself a fan of classic pulp fiction should own this book.