Thursday, June 24, 2010


By Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
210 pages
Available Sept.28

Max Allan Collins started writing his Quarry books back in 1976 with The Broker. It was the first time we were introduced to the Vietnam vet turned paid assassin. In that tale, we learned how Quarry, not his real name of course, came home to find his wife in bed with another man. He murders the guy by dropping a car on him and then, because of his service record as a war hero, is acquitted by jury. Shortly thereafter he is recruited by a man known only as the Broker to become a professional killer.

In the books that have appeared since that stellar debut, that opening scenario has often been retold many times to bring the new readers up to speed. Recently, since becoming affiliated with Hard Case Crime, Collins has begun filling in specific details of Quarry’s life, each more compelling than the last. In this particular book, we are told what happened to Quarry’s ex-wife after they divorced and parted. But Quarry’s personal life is, as always case, only the subplot of the story.

Quarry has come to a small Arizona town where a movie studio is shooting an action B movie. When he discovers that the director of the film is the target of a hit, Quarry approaches the man and offers his own lethal services to both eliminate the threat and discover who put out the contract in the first place. It is this neat little twist combination of mystery and crime thriller that makes this series so original and fun. Quarry is no knight-in-shining armor private eye out to save the world. He’s a killer who makes a good living taking out other killers.

Once the first part of his contract has been efficiently resolved, Quarry is a master of death-dealing, he then becomes a detective chasing down the person who put out the contract on the moviemaker. As always, there are plenty of juicy suspects from the mob boss who is financing the project to the director’s wife who inherits all if he dies. The problem is the woman is Quarry’s ex-wife. The second he lays eyes on her, old familiar feelings he thought long dead begin to resurface, complicating an already precarious situation.

Paying homage to the potboilers of the 40s and 50s, Collins laces his tale with the most outrageous sexual encounters; all done with a sly, sharp wit that is ingratiating. At the same time he balances that adult humor with explosive violence that is as mesmerizing as it is ugly. His prose falls into place with the deft touch of a contemporary poet, each line awakening a new possibility in how we see the world. Reading Quarry is an education in human psychology taught from the barrel of a silenced automatic.

Monday, June 21, 2010


By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
252 pages

The planet Earth is under attack by a mechanical space faring super entity known as the Worldmind. The only thing between us and total annihilation is a group of super powered humans and their android allies known as the Sentinels. But before the group can deal with the Worldmind, they discover it is but one of three god-like space conquerors known as the Three Rivals and the other two are in fact on their way to our Solar System to do battle with the Worldmind.

So even if the Sentinels can miraculously defeat the Worldmind, it still leaves them with two other equally powerful threats to defeat. All of which are almost impossible for this brash young band of heroes, considering their own leader, the tactically brilliant Ultraa has been kidnapped and is now facing something known as the Galactic Council to defend the existences of the human race.

If all of this strikes you as cosmic melodrama, you are totally right, as Plexico’s continuing Sentinels saga was inspired by the outlandish, imagination rich comic books he read as a child. Here are all the colorful characters with their amazing abilities. Here are noble alien beings and dastardly, soulless foes that devour worlds as if they were on a fast food menu. There is absolutely nothing reserved or moderate about these over-the-top adventures and they are bloody addictive.

SENTINELS – WORLDMIND is the fifth book in this fun series and as such suffers the same weakness in being totally dependent on those volumes that came before it. Oh, sure, a reader might be able to understand some of the conflicts that occur in this book but in the end confusion will reign. Plexico’s cast of characters is extensive and each is unique and captivating story in themselves, ergo he could possibly recap all of them with each new chapter or the books would become thousands of pages long. I am particularly taken with the teen-age boy from Tennessee who has been grafted into an alien suit of armor to become the Star Knight.

Still, if you truly love wild space action, terrific characters and nail biting suspense, you must read these books. They are like nothing in heroic fiction ever done before. And let me add this incentive. Like all true talented writers, Plexico’s storytelling skills get better and better with each new book so that by the time you reach WORLDMIND, you are in for a tremendous, satisfying experience. THE SENTINELS is a truly wonderful homage to the comics we all grew up and should not be missed.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Editor Daniel Werneck
Poeira Books
118 pages

In its glory days, the pulp fiction monthly magazines were the repositories of thousands of fantastic short stories. It was a time unparalleled in America when reading was a national pastime, long before television and computers captured our imagination. Editor Daniel Werneck expresses this feeling aptly in his end of the book essay which is a nice concise history of the pulps, past, present and future. It is Werneck’s love the genre that propelled him to create his own homage to those long ago mags.

Startling Adventure Magazines contains an editorial, the previously mentioned essay, and five pieces of fiction. They are all short and the entire book/mag can be read in a leisurely ninety-minutes. The stories are as diverse as the originals which they wish to mirror and although the quality of each is evident, the effects are a mixed bag.

Vic’s Night Out by Anthony Abelaye seemed pointless. My high school English drummed the basic rules of writing into our heads long-long ago. For it to be a “real” story, it has to have brought about change by the tale’s ending, something that does not happen here. We meet two losers about to go out on the town. They go to a club, one of them starts a fight. They meet an old prostitute and take her home. She begins an affair with one of the two losers, leaving the other alone in a neighborhood bar feeling sorry for his pal. In others words they were sorry losers when the story started and remain so when it ends. Abelaye has a funky, modernistic prose he should use on something a whole lot more substantial.

Atha and the Green Tower by Eric Orchard is clearly the best action entry here and he delivers a quick, fast moving story much like the old pulps. This one should have been longer. Still my favorite is easily Werneck’s own Automatic Lives which tells the story of DVL-54, worker robot who makes guitars. One day he is informed that the government is transferring him to a factory that produces machine guns. Following DVL-54 as he comes to grip with this change and his bizarre sadness at losing his old job is a very poignant drama that was skillfully handled. This writer had much to offer.

The remainder of this slim volume contains another sci-fi entry, Summer by Colin Peters which is also extremely well done and a neat little one act play entitled Mama’s Boy by Jonathan Wallace where in a gay Devil plays a game of chance with a bar patron with disastrous results. If done on stage, the ending would certainly make folks sit up and take notice.

And there you have volume number of Startling Adventures Magazine. A tip of the pulp fedora to Daniel Werneck and company. This little book isn’t about to conquer the world, but it does entertain and in the end, isn’t that what the pulps were really all about?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


By Derrick Ferguson
Pulpwork Press
280 pages

A few years ago I read and reviewed an adventure novel called DILLON AND THE VOICE OF ODIN. It was my introduction to Derrick Ferguson’s larger than life action hero, Dillon. I recall liking the book a great deal and giving it a major thumbs up in my review. Well here comes the sequel and I have to admit it caught me completely by surprise. I fully expected to enjoy it and I have, just much more than I ever expected. This book is truly leaps and bounds a better read than its predecessor and Ferguson has truly grown as a writer. His prose was always clean, but now he brings a new sense of confidence to every sentence as if he’s finally gotten comfortable with this character and is now just having fun spinning his incredible exploits.

And incredible they certainly are. Dillon, a big strapping African American mercenary adventurer, is asked by his old mentor, Eli Creed, to help save the troubled monarchy of Xonira. A civil war has broken out between a wise and benevolent ruler and a cruel, twisted usurper who is in league with demonic forces beyond this world. The Lord Chancellor hires Dillon and Creed to enter an ancient death-maze known as the Blagdasen Citadel and there retrieve the Golden Bell, an artifact that will hopefully reunite the divided land and bring back peace. It’s a noble undertaking, but accomplishing it proves to be the most daring, dangerous and fool hardy mission Dillon has ever undertaken. Accompanied by the cantankerous Creed, a lovely Xoniran agent named Dagna Summers and Brandon, a specially gifted young man, Dillon sets out to do the impossible.

Believe me when I say Ferguson is a master pulp writer and he lays on the action thick and heavy from page to page. It is a break-neck pace that never slows down from rocket-pack raiders in Manhattan, advanced dirigible warships soaring over foreign lands, to a genetically altered female assassin. He dishes out the jaw-dropping wonders with every new chapter. There’s more action and thrills in this one book than a half-dozen other pulp thrillers I’ve read of late.

One of the sad truths of the old pulp era was its exclusion of minorities by both color and gender. There simply were no major black or female pulp writers, if any at all. Now Derrick Ferguson is among an elite group setting the ship alright, and he does so with a genuine flair and love of the genre. Dillon is part Indiana Jones, part James Bond and a whole lot of Imaro. And one of my personal favorite pulp heroes. He should be one of yours too.