Friday, January 23, 2009


THE ROOK –Vol. One
By Barry Reese
Wild Cat Books
157 pages

Before you start thinking this is a very small book because of the page count, let me add that the book’s format is 7 x 10 inches, much like the original pulp magazines. The pages feature a double column layout and there really is substantial text between the two covers. I’ll discuss the book’s design later, but first the contents.

The Rook, an original character, exist in the time of the classic heroes and in this, his first collection, crosses paths with several popular figures. The first is Richard Benson, the Avenger, and the second, with whom he shares a case, is the weird Moon Man from Ten Detective Aces. The Rook’s real identity is that of wealthy playboy, Max Davies and as this first volume begins, he’s transplanted himself to Atlanta, Georgia to escape the scrutiny of the New York police force. Of course trouble is going to follow him, no matter where the Rook sets his nest and soon he’s knee deep in zombies, vampire queens and ancient Egyptian magicians. There’s no lack of exotic, over the top villainy in these tales and Reese is clearly having much fun putting his hero through his paces.

At the same time there are allies, the most prominent being Hollywood B-movie star, Evelyn Gould, who, as the book transpires becomes the Rook’s lover and partner, sharing his wild and wooly adventures side by side. She’s a great character and marvelously realized. All the trappings of solid, classic purple prose are present in these five stories and except for a single misstep, Reese proves to be a masterful story-teller. My one and only critique is his permanently altering an established pulp hero. It was a joy to see Steve Thatcher, the Moon Man, team up with the Rook in the books’ fourth chapter, The Gasping Death, but when Reese ends the tale by having Thatcher marry his sweetheart, Sue McEwen, I cried foul! Classic characters should be kept as the writer found them, and thus available for future pulp-scribes to play with. Changing them is petty and selfish. Again, the only sour note in a truly sumptuous composition.

Finally, if you are going to paint a sexy woman’s image on the overhanging moon of the cover painting, then don’t go covering her up with the book’s logo! Storn A. Cook’s beautiful cover deserved much better respect than what it was given. Somebody at Wild Cat Books dropped the ball on this one.

Bottom line, The Rook – Vol. One is an excellent pulp offering and you should not miss it. Reese has already released a volume two and just recently a number three. I’m thrilled, and you can expect to see both of them reviewed here in due time.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


By John Levitt
Ace Fantasy
321 pages

This is the second book in a series begun last year by writer John Levitt about a jazz guitarist named Mason and his dog, Louie. They live and work, at least Mason does, in the Castro district of San Francisco. Mason is also a practitioner of real magic and uses his talents, along with his mentors, Eli and Victor, in maintaining the peace among the city’s magic people. Since they prefer to keep their talents from the normal public, this can be a very delicate balancing act. Fortunately for Mason he is one of the few practitioners aided by a magic creature known as an Ifrit. In this case, his small Russell Terrier, Lou.

I enjoyed this pair’s debut in DOG DAYS and was eagerly anticipating their further adventures. Perhaps my expectations were too high. The trouble with books that mix genres is that they are obligated to fulfill two distinct purposes. Whereas this series is a fantasy, it must explore those elements to a greater degree with each new book and NEW TRICKS delivers on that front wonderfully. During the course of the story we are introduced to all manner of new magical creatures and alien locales that added much to the enjoyment of this read.

Unfortunately the book is also a mystery, much like most dark fantasy series these days. Which is where the book fails miserably. At the start we learn that an unknown black magician has tried to steal the body of one of Mason’s former girlfriends, another practitioner. This unknown assailant failed, but in the process left the woman brain dead. Mason and his friends immediately set about hunting this malevolent magician and soon several suspects emerge in classic mystery form; one of them is the mind killer, the others red herrings. The process is to then follow Mason throughout the book as he assembles clues, escapes attacks on himself and Lou and ultimately puts everything together to expose the murderer. Of course a few other innocent practitioners are murdered along the way.

Levitt’s writing is very solid and he does infuse a great deal of personality into both Mason and that dog. In fact I would guess most readers will end up liking Lou better than his human sidekick. But sadly I knew the killer’s identity within just a few pages of that character’s entry into the narrative. And thus I found myself very annoyed that it took Mason the entire rest of the book to come to the same conclusion. Bad mysteries tend to make the hero appear less than brilliant and that should be avoided at all cost.

In the end, I’m still going to recommend picking up NEW TRICKS, but for the magical aspects of the book and the series as a whole. Levitt has left many things still unanswered about this pair and I am intrigued enough to stay with this. But because of the lame mystery element, this one gets only a marginal pass.

Friday, January 02, 2009


By Laura E. Reeve
RoC Sicence Fiction
324 pages

I can’t think of a better way of starting a new year of Pulp Fiction Reviews then with the premier of a new science fiction series by a very talented writer. The Press Release that accompanied PEACEKEEPER explained that Laura E. Reeve is a former Air Force Officer and that her experiences as a participant in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty inspired this sci-fi military thriller.

Ariane Kedros is a pilot aboard a two man exploration vessel called Aether’s Touch. Her single crew is the ship’s and company’s owner, Matt Journey. Matt was born on a generation ship and has a phobia about open spaces. Besides her career as a pilot, Kedros is also a reserve major in the Consortium of Autonomous Worlds, CAW, often undertaking assignments for the intelligence branch.

Fifteen years earlier, Kedros piloted a ship on a secret mission that resulted in the total annihilation of an entire solar system. She and her team were duped by their superiors and didn’t realize the true purpose of their flight until it was too late. They barely managed to return in one piece. Even though this horrendous action brought about peace negotiations between the CAW and their foes, the Terran Expansion League, Kedros and her team were all given new identities to protect them from possible retribution.

But some demons come from within and Ariane Kedros is plagued by her own conscience to the point of becoming an alcoholic. When members of her old squad start turning up dead, her superiors believe they have somehow been unmasked and that a cunning assassin is going after them one by one. Amidst this life and death puzzle, Kedros is sent as a CAW representative to oversee the first official disarmament inspection by a Terran party of a CAW military space station. She is about to confront the very people who, if they knew her true identity, would demand her head on a pike.

PEACEKEEPER moves along at a good clip with several mysterious sub-plots that include an alien race with their own secret agenda. There’s also the discovery of strange ancient ruins on a newly discovered planet and the murder of Matt’s business partner. How all these threads come together is dealt with quite nicely in this first chapter of Major Ariane Kedros’ adventures. Several plots are left open ended and I, for one, am eager to see where this is all going to go. This is good, old fashion science fiction with some great characters. You don’t want to pass it up.