Monday, June 23, 2008


By Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
Available Aug. 08
206 pages

Max Allan Collins is one of those writers capable of turning a plot upside down in just a few short paragraphs and giving his readers an entirely new look at something old and worn. That he now does it with an entire series is simply terrific fun.

Back in 1976, the author of the NATE HELLER books and THE ROAD TO PERDITION, began a new series of crime thrillers about a professional hitman known as Quarry. He followed it up with six other volumes, the final being the aptly titled THE LAST QUARRY, published in 2007 by Hard Case Crime. As I reviewed in this very column, it was a great read and fitting end to this dark, always mesmerizing saga. And of course lots of us were sad that there just wouldn’t be any further Quarry tales to enjoy. Boy, we’re we ever wrong.

After telling us his professional killer’s last assignment, Collins flips the entire stage end over and end and now offers up THE FIRST QUARRY. Yup, it’s the juicy, razor blade to the throat hor douvere after we’ve already devoured the bullet blasting dessert. Collins is one manipulative S.O.B. God bless him.

Coming home from Vietnam, our hero finds his wife shacking up with a neighbor. When Quarry confronts him, the man laughs in his face. Quarry drops a car on him. He’s spontaneous and resourceful, if nothing else. Released by the police because the D.A. isn’t about to take a recently returned veteran to court, Quarry is approached by a very rich man who calls himself the Broker. He offers Quarry steady employment as a professional assassin, a trade he learned from the U.S. Army and became quite proficient at in the rice fields and jungles on ‘Nam. The pragmatic Quarry accepts and is there christened with the name Quarry. You really didn’t think it was his real name, did you?

Once these required preambles are done with, Collins serves up a truly twisted gem of a thriller for his freshly minted killer. Quarry’s target is an English professor at a small college. The fellow is writing an expose their customer does not want finished. By the time Quarry discovers their employer is actually a mob boss from Chicago, he’s already killed three people, made love to two beautiful women and become entangled in gang war. Just your typical day at the office for Quarry. There’s the adage that one should always save the best for last, but with THE FIRST QUARRY, that theory sinks like a body with cement boots. This is one of Collins’ most satisfying thrillers, deftly mixing action, suspense, sex and humor into a cocktail that will knock your socks off!!! Don’t miss it!

Friday, June 20, 2008


By Charles R. Saunders
Sword & Soul Media
193 pages

In 1978, writer Charles Saunders submitted a story entitled Abewe’s Sword to the paperback anthology, AMAZONS, edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson and published by DAW books. With the then popularity of Conan and other sword and sorcery heroes, the conceit of this volume was to focus the spotlight on women warriors. No stranger to this genre, Saunders had by then given the world his greatest character, Imaro, the black hero who inhabited ancient Africa. Delving back into this setting again, he now envisioned a tall, brave and beautiful female soldier named Dossouye.

In the 1980s he added three stories more to this series, Gimmile’s Song, Shiminege’s Mask and Marwe’s Forest. In 2002, he saw the possibility of collecting these adventures and rewrote several while adding a fifth to round out the narrative; Obenga’s Drum. This volume is that collection.

Unlike Imaro, Dossouye grew up as a part of an elite fighting force, ahosi (female warriors) of the Abomey Kingdom. In this kingdom, all the ahosi eschew marriage and family for their service to the Leopard King, the ruler of the land. They wear ankle bracelets that identify them as his brides and only when those rings are broken by the King’s decree are they allowed to marry and go on with their own, personal lives.

As always, Saunders is a master of inventiveness and Dossouye and her battle sisters go into battle riding domesticated water buffaloes. Our heroine’s is a massive bull she calls Gbo. Rider and animal are inseperable and when in combat become an efficient team capable of devastating the enemy’s ranks.

In the opening story, Dossouye is chosen by the spirits of her ancestors to wield a magical sword which will save her people from an invading army. She accomplishes this feat but at great personal sacrifice. At tale’s end she is forced into self-exile, never to return home and she sets out to explore the vast, unknown lands to the East, where a great forest rises up out of the earth. It is in this alien world that the remaining four adventures occur and each is a gem of both action and human drama. Dossouye is a complex character and Saunders deftly explores her inner most thoughts and emotions as she adapts to her new life, alone in a new land filled with all manner of exotic peoples and creatures. This collection is clearly the set up for a proposed, full length novel which I pray is not too far in the writing. I am most eager to take up with this ahosi and her pet war-bull.

Final note, due to the lack good sense on the part of today’s publishing community; Saunders had to resort to self-publishing the terrific book. The only sure place you can get a copy is at ( The book sports an absolutely gorgeous cover by one Mshindo Kuumba. If you truly enjoy sword and sorcery done right, you must get this book. You can thank me, later.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Story by Brian Jacques
Art by Alexi Natchev
Philomel Books
45 pages

As a bibliophile, I truly love all books and have a real fondness for quality childrens’ books. THE TALE OF URSO BRUNOV AND THE WHITE EMPEROR is a gorgeous package with a marvelous adventure tale by the noted creator of the Redwall series.

Miniature bear chieftain, Urso Brunov, lives in a forest at the top of the world. When two young polar bears, a sister and brother, find themselves stranded on the shore of his kingdom, the little bear comes their rescue immediately. He bravely shoos off a pack of dangerous wolves and then promises the young polar bears he will see them safely returned to their home, the land of the Land of Rainbow Lights.

To achieve this goal, the crafty Urso calls on the air of animals both on the land and in the sea; from wild boards, fleet deer and a giant, friendly whale. In the end he brings the lost bears home and there is rewarded by their father, the noble White Emperor Blanco. The story moves at a fast clip and is never boring for a minute.

Add to this the beautiful art of Alexi Natchev. His work is simplistic and at the same time properly detailed. His pages are never overcrowded and his compositions are balanced and beautiful. He captures emotions with ease and brings these exotic creatures to life with his use of vibrant colors.

This is an excellent book for any child and adult willing to take a few minutes to explore its vivid, imaginative world where a tiny bear is truly giant-size hero. Here is hoping we haven’t seen the last of Urso Brunvo.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


By Ken Bruen & Jason Starr
Hard Case Crime
222 pages
Available in Aug.08

Having read and enjoyed the first two books in this hilarious series, I was really anxious to get my hands on this one. It is the first continuing series Hard Case Crime has ever produced and they’ve set the bar extremely high. In BUST, Bruen and Starr introduced us to the most self-delusional shyster in New York entrepreneur, Max Fisher and his nymphomaniac secretary-lover, Angela Petrakos. The two, with the help of an Irish psychopath, plotted the murder of Max’s wife. Through a serious of mind-boggling snafus, they not only managed to do the dirty deed, but also escaped the clutches of the law in the process. Well, two of them anyway.

In the second installment, SLIDE, Max ends up becoming petty drug dealer with Al Pacino Scarface fantasies. Meanwhile, Angela, having fled to Ireland, returns with yet another killer and this time the body count really mounts quickly. In the end, Max’s luck finally runs out and he’s on his way to prison, while the lovely Angela has barely made it on a plane and for a second time gets away free and clear.

THE MAX begins with Angela having settled on a small Greek island and Max arriving at Attica where he is going to serve his sentence. After SLIDE, I honestly didn’t think these two writers could possible top the sheer insanity of that entry. By the end of chapter one, they had proved me completely wrong and I was laughing my fool head off. Max is perhaps the dumbest gangster ever created and how he manages not only to survive in the pen, but ends up running the Big House is sheer brilliant lunacy. Meanwhile the ever sexy Angela is once again up her neck in foul play and leaving a trail of bodies in her wake. She is caught and sent to a women’s prison on an island called Lesbo. All of which is just too funny to properly describe. Don’t worry, she manages to escape, as always.

The subplots in THE MAX, like the first two books, are many and each is deliciously twisted and evil. There isn’t a decent person in this entire book, yet each of them is so marvelously brought to life, I could care less. Bungling-crook tales are hard to write because most crime writers simply don’t understand the humor inherent in most criminal.

For sheer outright stupidity, the characters in THE MAX take the prize, as you will, if, on the other hand, you are smart enough to pick up this book.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


By Kat Richardson
ROC Fantasy
341 pages
Availabe Aug. 2008

It seems like ever since Jim Butcher unleashed the Dresden Files on the world, we’ve become inundated with urban fantasies about Private Eyes with paranormal abilities. Kat Richardson’s Seattle based P.I., Harper Blaine is the newest member of this ever expanding club. In this, her third book, we quickly learn that Blaine was accidentally killed on a previous case and legally dead for two minutes. When she was revived, it was with the ability to see and move in the ghostly dimension she refers to as the Grey. The Grey is inhabited by all kinds of ghosts, zombies and mythological monsters, some friendly, others frightening and dangerous. With each new book, Blaine becomes more adept at dealing with her new sight and gifts but it certainly doesn’t make her “normal” life any easier.

At the start of UNDERGROUND, one of her friends, a street character with a genius for electronics, named Quinton, makes Blaine aware that someone or something is horrendously murdering homeless people who have settled in the mysterious underworld avenues of old Seattle. After a catastrophic fire at the turn the century, the people of this Pacific Coast metropolis reconstructed their city over the skeletons of the old, in the process sealing away an entire hidden urban landscape. The Seattle Underground has been featured in books, documentaries and even as a setting for several horror movies, the most popular being the NIGHT STRANGLER, the second Kolchak feature produced by Dan Curtis and starring the late Darren McGavin. It is an excellent background for a monster tale and that’s what we have here.

Blaine and Quinton soon learn that they are dealing with an ancient Indian monster said to inhabit the area and reappear ever few decades to feed. Because of her ability to cross the boundaries between our world and the Grey, Blaine is the only person with any chance of finding the legendary beast and stopping it. But to do so she will need Quinton’s help and that of several other close friends, all of whom could end up the creature’s next victim for their participation.

Harper Blaine is a likeable character, as are the supporting players in this adventure. Richardson draw’s heavily from her knowledge of the city and its history, much to the story’s enrichment. I’ve never been to Seattle, but after following Blaine through its streets, parks and amazing Underground, I’m ready to book a flight west. UNDERGROUND is a fast paced, edge of your seat fantasy adventure with many surprises and some new wrinkles in this fast growing sub-genre. If you get a kick out of things that go bump into the night, this book is just your ticket. Get it punched now.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


By Scott Mackay
ROC Science Fiction
357 pages

I enjoy all kinds of science fiction but all too often am put off by the sub-category referred to as “hard” sci-fi. You know, the kind written by real Phds who’ve graduated from M.I.T. with degrees in quantum-nano-whatever. Nine out of ten times, these geniuses from academia, although brilliant in their respective fields, have absolutely no idea of how to tell a story. Their books are filled with pages and pages of scientific jargon and speculation (remember the what-if part that makes it sci-fi in the first place) with absolutely no concept of characterization or plot development. Of course, what you always hope for when hunting through this genre is that one out of the ten; where the author not only knows his science, he or she also understands how to spin a damn good yarn.

Dr. Cameron Conrad is a physicist and mathematician on the moon about to begin an experiment in hyper-dimensionality which he believes will help unlock the secrets of the universe. Suddenly a giant monolith from the deepest reaches of outer space suddenly appears over them. So strong is its gravitational pull, it wreaks havoc with the Conrad’s field and completely destroys all his equipment. Within the next few hours, everyone stationed at the Gettysburg moon facility is caught up in the monumental puzzle of who or what the monolith is? Where did it come from? Is it really an alien construct and why is it here, in our Solar System?

Conrad is convinced the monolith represents First Contact and attempts to reach out to Builders, as he comes to label them. In the process he is pulled into the monolith and his brain altered. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the military has launched a response force led by a gung-ho marine hero, Colonel Pittman. Pittman is a soldier’s soldier and he lives for combat. He honestly believes the aliens pose a threat and when they begin to siphon hydrogen from our sun, a process which will result in the earth’s total annihilation, Pittman launches a nuclear assault against the monolith.

Meanwhile, recovering in a hospital back on Earth, Cameron, who experienced a very faint contact with the Builders, is convinced they are completely unaware of our existence. He argues we are no more than ants to them and unless he can find a way to make them aware of us, the Earth is doomed. Much of Mackay’s story adopts elements and scenarios from other classic science fiction adventures, notably Arthur C. Clarke’s A SPACE ODESSEY. But what makes his tale unique is his willingness to expand the borders of accepted scientific thinking into areas considered taboo. Mackay proposes that pushed to its limits, physics will eventually come to grips with incalculable math wherein instinct, intuition and yes, even faith will be required to solve the riddles of life. He suggests quite boldly that there is even more to reality than what we can measure with science.

The horrors that befall Earth during the events in OMEGA SOL are devastating and Mackay doesn’t shy away from detailing them accurately in a cautionary example of how truly fragile a basket mankind has store all its eggs. There are times in the book when he narrowly avoids stereotyping Cameron and Pittman as the hero and villain. That he does so and enriches both of them with self-doubts and disbelief is small part of the overall excellence of this book. When I first picked up OMEGA SOL, I allowed myself one chapter to determine if I would finish it or not. That I couldn’t put it down, is why I’m here to give OMEGA SOL major thumbs up.