Sunday, April 18, 2010


Edited by Russ Anderson Jr.
Pulpwork Press
152 pages

There have been those critics who have been lamenting the supposed death of the “short story” in American literature. I would argue their alarm is a bit premature, as lately short pulp fiction (i.e. popular fiction of all genres) has not only been surviving quite well, but with books like this one, actual been getting strong. Gathered here are nine fun, extremely well written tales of the Wild West, all with a touch of the macabre. Some are better than others, but the fun of any anthology is that very potential inherent in multiple writers and their varied offering.

“Camazotz” by Josh Reynolds suffers a fatal flaw in that it’s too short and one wonders why it was even included. It’s a nifty idea of a cowboy trying to get out of Mexico with an Aztec mummy. Unfortunately no sooner does it get going then it’s over. Makes me wish the editor would have pestered Reynolds to expand it to a more satisfying length.

“Wyrm Over Diablo” by Joel Jenkins features a colorful pair of heroes that were so much fun to see in action, I’m hoping he had plans to use them again in the future. This was a non-stop action piece pitting a Native American gunfighter against a Cthulhu type monster that was thrilling stuff.

“Don Cuevo’s Curative” by Thomas Deja is my favorite. Deja’s tale of a spooky, thoughtful exorcist who is hired by a town to save a young possessed farm boy was skillfully laid out with intriguing, sympathetic characters. Deja’s style is laconic in that it doesn’t rush the story, pacing it carefully to a very rewarding finale. He’s a writer worth watching.

“The Town With No Name,” by Mike McGee is a comedic entry that never takes itself seriously. An emotional scarred outlaw is recruited to be the sacrificial lamb to the Devil on behalf of a dusty town of lost souls. How he accepts his role in their grand scheme and confronts Lucifer is reminiscent of the finer O’Henry tales.

“Sins Of The Past,” by Barry Reese features a 2oth Century masked avenger traveling back into time to put to rest a trouble spirit that is the cause behind a genuine “ghost town.”

“You Need To Know What’s Coming,” by Ian Mileham is easily the most frightening story in the collection, with a really creepy ending.

“Of All The Plague A Lover Bears,” by Derrick Ferguson not only has the most original title, it also presents the pulpiest tale in which a mystic gunslinger is hired to clean out a town full of flesh-eating zombies. This is the kind of gem I read anthologies for.

The book has two remaining stories, but quite honestly, neither belongs here. One features asteroid miners in space and the other about a small town handy man who meets the Devil on Halloween eve. They are both well written and enjoyable, but I take umbrage that when you set a theme for an anthology, stick to it. Just because the space cowboy wears a Stetson does not make it a “western”. Likewise the other tale, whose setting has no distinctiveness, could easily have taken place in the woods of Maine. Which is why I cry foul. Neither of these is a real “western.”

That said, HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD, is a grand collection that is extremely entertaining and worth your support. In fact, I’m hoping it does well enough to warrant another volume. These are too much fun to end with just one outing.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


By Andrew Gross
William Morrow
416 pages
Available April 23rd

A gripping suspense novel deftly plotted so as to move along at an easy exhilarating pace that never once feels contrived. Each scene seems perfectly set in sequence so that the plot falls together like a series of well lined-up dominoes. All too often, lesser writers are forced to invent outlandish events to justify their heroes’ brilliant deductions. It’s what separates the master scribes from the wannabes, that ability to lay out a plot that unfolds naturally. The pieces fit perfectly, thus allowing the reader to enter the scenario and become invested with the protagonists.

Ty Hauck is a respected ex-detective working as an investigative manager for a prestigious global security outfit. When a former lover, April Glassman, is brutally murdered along with her husband and oldest daughter in a supposedly botched home robbery, Hauck gets involved. His cop instincts telling him it was more than a home invasion gone sour. April’s husband was the chief equities trader for a large Manhattan investment bank and several days after his murder, auditors learn that he leveraged the firm beyond its assets. When it collapses, it sends catastrophic ripples throughout the economic community. Then, within days of these events, a second big money trader commits suicide and once again another reputable institution is brought down. Savvy cops have an aversion to coincidences and Hauck is no exception. He begins to suspect there is a connection between these two untimely deaths and continues his probing until he finds himself the target of a sadistic ex-Army Ranger sent to terminate his investigation.

All the while, in Washington D.C. a low level Treasury Agent named Naomi Blum is discovering similar threads that connect the two dead Walls Street brokers. She begins to suspect they were mere pawns in a larger conspiracy to topple to the U.S. Economy. When she learns of an ex-cop who has gotten himself embroiled in the affair, Blum travels to New York and arranges a secret meeting with Hauck. Once they realize their cases are intertwined, they agree to join forces in unraveling the plot and following it back to its sources.

Soon they are in Serbia tracking down a fugitive war criminal, all too aware that their own lives are also at risk with every move they make. Gross balances wonderful characterization with taut action sequences that are both exciting and credible. Ty Hauck is no James Bond, he’s just a good man looking for the truth while possessing the moral courage to find it no matter where the trail leads, even to the highest offices of the U.S. Government. RECKLESS is an intricately plotted, top-notch thriller and with it Gross easily steps to the head of the class in this already crowded school.