Saturday, December 31, 2011


The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories
By Max Allan Collins
Thomas & Mercer
373 pages

Sixty three year old Max Collins has been at this writing game for a while coming onto the mystery private-eye scene with his 1994 Shamus Award winning “True Detective,” published the year before.  Since that monumental debut, Collins has gone on to produce several continuing series both in comics and prose; these include his comic book female P.I. Ms. Tree and the morally ambiguous hit-man, Quarry. The one fictional character Collins is most recognized for is Nathan Heller from his historical crime novels.   Heller is a Chicago based investigator who over the course of his career rubs shoulders with personalities such as Al Capone and Eliot Ness and worked on such mysteries as the Lindberg baby kidnapping and the disappearance of aviatrix Amelia Earhart.  His most recent Heller case was the critically acclaimed “Bye Bye Baby” wherein the fiftyish shamus becames involved with the death of Marilyn Monroe.  All of these books are excellent and worthy of your time and attention.

Over the years Collins, at the request of anthology editors, also penned short stories featuring Heller.  With the assistance of his research colleague, George Hagenauer, Collins adapted true crime stories and then wove his tough guy hero into their fabric so that the history and fiction elements become indistinguishable.  This volume has taken that baker’s dozen and for the very first time presented them in chronological order from the first which occurs in 1933 to the last set in 1949.  The settings range from Chicago to Cleveland and Hollywood.  Here is a sampling of what is included between the covers.

“Kaddish for the Kid,” Heller is hired to protect a retailer from a crooked union scam in reality a protection racket.  During a street shootout, his young partner is killed and the angry private dick goes after the killers with a vengeance.

“The Blonde Tigress,” has Heller investigating a trio of stick-up artists led by a female boss who tries to manipulate him into aiding her escape justice.

“Private Consultation,” has a well known Chicago doctor accused for murdering her daughter-in-law and her son hires Heller to investigate. What he uncovers is a sad testimony to a loveless marriage where none of the participants are innocent of wrong doing.

The Perfect Crime,” finds Heller in Los Angeles to help a friend. Before he can pack up and head home, he’s hired by the beautiful blonde star, Thelma Todd to act as her bodyguard. Miss Todd suspects mobsters wish to do her harm for refusing to allow Lucky Luciano to use the top floors of her famous restaurant as a casino.  When she is found dead in her garage from carbon monoxide poisoning, Heller knows the coroner’s accidental death ruling is pure bunk. He decides to extend his trip to catch a killer.

In “House Call” a caring doctor is brutally murdered while answering a night summons to aid a sick child.  This time Heller joins forces with the Chicago P.D. to hunt down the vicious killers and bring them to justice.

“Marble Mildred” tells the story of woman trapped for fourteen years in a loveless marriage who discovers a humiliating secret which she’d rather go to the electric chair rather than having it made public.  A tragedy Heller is helpless to prevent.

“The Strawberry Teardrop” is based on the case of Cleveland serial killer, the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run and how he was finally caught by the famous lawman Eliot Ness.

There is not a lemon in the batch.  Collins writing style is terse and economically efficient.  He uses words like a scalpel carving up the psychological motivations that induce people to do bad things.  All the while Nathan Heller is his surgeon, meting out equal doses of justice and compassion.  The title, “Chicago Lightning,” is gangster slang for gunfire and is only fitting as this book comes heavily loaded with pure pulp pizzaz.  Don’t miss it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

HUGH MONN - Private Detective

HUGH MONN –Private Detective
By Lee Houston, Jr.
Pro Se Press
176 pages

Genre blending has always been a staple of pulp fiction and there have been many sci-fi based private eye creations over the years.  Writer Lee Houston Jr. isn’t breaking any new ground with this collection. What is his doing is adding to it with a truly sympathetic character in Hugh Monn, a human residing on the planet of Frontera.  For background, we are told that there was an intergalactic war between isolationist who opposed species interaction and the allied worlds who favored it both for moral and economic reasons.  The isolationist lost although remnants survive in bands of outlawed terrorist.  Monn is a battle weary veteran of the campaign having fought with the allies.  Now he’s settled down in his one man private investigations business and the eight cases in this volume have him mixing with various humanoid species also inhabiting the city island of Galveston 2. Each is well done and adds in creating a fascinating supporting cast.

“Dineena’s Dilemna,” in which a disinherited son attempts to frame his cousin for the murder of his own mother.  Alas, private detective Hugh Moon is on the case and spots enough clues to free his client and bring the murderous heir to justice.

In “Shortages” Monn is hired by a docking outfit to solve the theft of merchandise from a highly secured storage facility. It looks like an inside job and evidence implicates one of the alien employees unless Monn can figure out how the thieves are working their operations.

In “Law and Order,” Monn is retained by a Felinoid lawyer named Mau to help clear her client from an armed robbery charge.  The problem is the store’s video tapes clearly show the defendant committing the crime. Moon has to prove that even the eyes can be deceived by digital chicanery.

With “The Siege,” Houston gives us his version of the move “Die Hard,” with Monn going up against group of ant-like terrorist secretly taking over a major business tower at the heart of the island where he resides. Super rifle in hand, the gutsy private eye takes on this squad of trained commandos single handed.

“Where Can I Get A Witness?”  Monn is hired to subpoena an elusive witness in a motor vehicle accident case.  In the process he stumbles over the case of popular female singer who mysteriously vanished decades earlier. What’s the connection being that disappearance and the old man becomes the puzzle he must solve before someone dies.

Then a paternity issue results in a kidnapping and ends with Monn trapping an embezzler who became too greedy, all in the story, “For The Benefit Of Master Tyke.”  This one gives us more of the detective’s character and sensitivity as he tries to keep a family from falling apart.  While “At What Price Gloria?” Monn helps an old acquaintance from an earlier case outwit foreign blackmailers and foil an assassination plot.

Finally the book ends with our hero attempting to have spend, “A Day At The Beach,” only to end up solving a brutal murder with the help of a few other beach goers.

What is particularly refreshing in these tales is that Houston wisely opts not to make his hero a hard-boiled, typically cynical type.  Hugh Monn is a genuinely nice guy who likes people and aliens alike and is sincere in trying to make his world a better place for all to live in.  He’s a good guy I liked meeting and hope to see him again real soon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Preston & Child
380 pages

In 1995, thriller specialist Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child joined forces to write a best selling novel titled, “The Relic.”  In the process, they created one of the most popular action suspense heroes ever to appear on the printed page; FBI Special Agent Pendergast.  Although the book was a big success and later adapted to film, it was the creation of Pendergast that would be remembered. It has always been my personal belief that the character’s instant popularity surprised the two and they wasted no time in bringing him back in further adventures.  Enough so that with each new Pendergast book, his fame among action devotees continued to spread and today he has a huge, loyal following.

When the pair announced, last year, that they had created a brand new series hero and would be releasing his first book in 2011, the news spread like wildfire across the book world. Eager fans soon learned the new character was named Gideon Crew and the authors had clearly set out to make him as different from Agent Pendergast as they could.  We were also informed, via their website, that a major Hollywood studio had optioned the film rights from the galleys alone.  Obviously the marketing machines were moving in high gear.  The hardback arrived earlier this year to resounding critical acclaim and as of a few weeks ago the paperback edition which is what I’ve just finished reading.

Unless one has never read a Preston & Child Pendergast book, it would be impossible for anyone to read “Gideon’s Sword” without constantly comparing the two fictional heroes. What I appreciated immediately was how the writers set about breaking convention and actually giving this premier outing not one but two separate stories.  If the casual reader picks up the title based solely on the back cover blurb, he or she is going to expect to find a typical revenge drama wherein Gideon Crew goes after the people responsible for his father’s death when he was only a child.  This entire opening section of the novel serves brilliantly in defining our protagonist and giving us a complete origin history.  In a few chapters we learn who he is, what he has done with his life and where those choices have taken him.

But when that first plot is resolved effectively in the first quarter of the book, I found myself both surprised and delighted.  Suddenly the book seemed to take a detour down an entirely different road, one that led to the unknown and unexpected.  Crew is recruited by a unique organization in the employ of the government to become an independent spy.
The logic, according to this top secret “engineering” outfit is Crew’s own anonymity in the world of espionage is his greatest asset, one that will give him the advantage over competing foreign agencies.

His first assignment is to retrieve an important formula from a supposedly defecting Chinese scientist. But when that fellow is murdered upon his arrival in New York, Crew finds himself locked in a deadly race with a merciless assassin to retrieve the mysterious data.  Adding to the puzzle is no one knows what the secret really is.  At this point, Preston & Child do what they do best and that is amp up the pacing so that the story and action begin to accelerate exponentially from chapter to chapter until their over-the-top climax arrives, leaving this reviewer with finger blisters from turning the pages so fast.

“Gideon’s Sword” is a top-notch pulp thriller worthy of any fans attention and support.  As to whether Gideon Crew lives up to his predecessor’s well earned status among loyal readers is another matter.  There were many things I liked about Crew, but again this was only a first meeting and I’m going to reserve the thumbs up or down until at least one more book.  There is a rather important plot element regarding the character’s future that I’ve purposely avoided detailing here. It is one you need to discover for yourself.  I won’t spoil it for you.  Read the book and then we’ll talk.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


By Doug Farrell
BookSurge Publishing
484 pages

Every now and then, I trip over a book that’s really hard to describe genre-wise and this is such a case.  It’s a madcap adventure that falls somewhere between fantasy, slapstick comedy and social satire.  That all these elements mix effectively and in the end produce a heady concoction of genuine adult delight is a testament to Farrell’s own imagination in brewing what he aptly describes as “A Fairy-tale for Grown-ups.”

The set up deals with a fairy war that occurred in another dimension wherein the goblin race lost and was forced to flee to our world, arriving in 1947, two years after the end of World War II.  Convincing certain human scientist to help them, the goblins invented special disguises that allowed them to go undetected in our world and for decades walked among humans, some even interbreeding with them.  Ultimately the same scientists who developed these sophisticated camouflages saw the potential for monetary wealth by using the same formulas to create beauty aids for human women.  They create Glamorine, a Chicago based million dollar cosmetic empire built on the results of these techniques and certain globin magics.

The book’s theme plays with duel definitions of the word glamour.  The first being a quality of fascinating, alluring, or attracting, especially by a combination of charm and good looks.  It also means magic or enchantment; spell; witchery.

The protagonist is super model and the face of Glamorine, Laurie Morgan, whose grandfather was one of the scientist who created the company.  As the story opens Laurie has become disillusioned by her near perfect life and is in the process of divorcing her loving husband, Nick.  Laurie is suffering from ennui unable to explain her own dissatisfaction and believes she’s become trapped in a dull, boring routine of existence.  No sooner is the divorce granted then she is contacted by a blue gnome name Hawley disguised as a little girl.  He warns Laurie that her life is in danger.  As if confronting an actual blue dwarf weren’t enough, Laurie begins to running into women throughout Chicago who looked exactly like her. 

As paranoia begins to set in, Hawley explains that there is a goblin revolution in the works.  After decades of living in secrecy amongst mankind, a group of goblin leaders have concocted a scheme to take control of Glamorine and replace its board of directors, including Laurie and her grandfather, with phony disguised goblins. Once they’ve achieved this end, they plan on poisoning the cosmetics produced to Glamorine to eliminate all of mankind and take over the Earth.

Needless to say having an army of vicious goblins out to do her in is more than enough motivation to snap Laurie out of her malaise and back into living at full tilt if only to stay alive.  Before the book’s conclusion arrives, she will have been held prisoner in an underwater complex below Lake Michigan, met and been devoured by a fire breathing dragon and allied herself with tiny pig-fairies only she can see.  “Glamour Job” is a rollicking tale that never lets up and is filled with satirical jabs at how we treasure a make-believe beauty that is simply an illusion devised by Fifth Avenue to milk millions from starry eyed little girls all wanting to grow up and become runway princesses.  But do be warned, this is only the first chapter in a trilogy and the ending does come somewhat abruptly.

We also note by the print date that “Glamour Job” is four years old.  All the more reason to seek it out as it might have flown under your radar.  Urban fantasy isn’t one of this reviewer’s most favorite genres, but “Glamour Job” has enough action muscle to sustain it for even the most jaded pulp reader.  If you are looking for something truly different and fun, you would be hard press to do much better than this book.

Friday, November 25, 2011

MERKABAH RIDER - The Mensch With No Name

The Mensch With No Name
By Edward M. Erdelac
Damanation Books, LLC
218 pages

Perhaps the most popular sub-genre in the resurgence of new pulp fiction is that of the weird western. It seems everywhere one turns these days; another publisher is coming out with another anthology which combines the cowboy classic setting with all manner of bizarre and horrible trappings.  None is more effective and original than Edward M. Erdelac’s Merkabh Rider series.  In his first book, “Tales of a High Plains Drifter” we were introduced to the Rider, last of an order of Jewish mystics searching a demon infested west on the trail of his teacher, who betrayed and massacred the order known as the Sons of Essenes.  In this second volume, the Rider’s travails continue through four new adventures.

In “The Infernal Napoleon”, the Rider finds himself in an out of the way watering hole used by freight haulers.  Here, in this desolate way station he’s set upon by a vengeance seeking demonic dwarf who controls a satanic canon and is willing to destroy dozens of innocent lives to achieve his ends.  But in all things, there is a balance and the aid of a young Samson-like strongman may tilt the odds in the Rider’s favor.  The action is fast and brutal and sets the tone for the entire book.

Next is “The Damned Dingus.” During a train robbery by a group of dim witted varmints, the Rider’s unique Volcanic pistol is stolen. With the aid of the famous gunfighter, Doc Holiday, and an experienced deputy marshal, the Rider travels to an abandoned mine in the high country and encounters the savage menace of an invisible monster capable of ripping men and horses to pieces.  What is it the creature is protecting and what is its connection to his old teacher’s twisted plans?

Leaving Arizona, the Rider learns he has been labeled a wanted outlaw with a bounty on his head.  Fleeing into New Mexico, he encounters a band of Apaches battling an age old horror that dwells beneath the earth.  Here Erdelac takes a page from H. P. Lovecrafts’ canon in using the evil Old Ones from beyond the stars as the threat and only the Rider and his arcane skills can free the territory of the vile and corrupted She-Demon in the episode called appropriately, “The Outlaw Gods.” Before it is finished, the Rider will have led an army of Spanish ghosts in an epic battle across the astral plane.

Finally, still assailed by Queen Lilith’s invisible sprites that are draining away his life essence, the Rider is found by Kabede; a Merkabah Rider from a secret Ethiopian sect of the Sons of Essenes.  Kabede convinces the Rider that the answers to Adon’s diabolical plan, the meaning behind the so called Hour of Incursion, can only be answered by the Prince of Hell, Satan and they must travel to Hell in astral form.  Erdelac’s depiction of the various levels of Gehena are as evocative as Milton’s own “Paradise Lost” and deftly combine Judeo/Christian tradition with other prehistoric myths.  In the end, he weaves a complicated but amazing tapestry of mankind’s ongoing quest to explain the meaning of creation and the eternal conflict between faith and hopelessness.  By the end of this final chapter, the Rider and his new companion have set into motion actions which will either lead to their defeat at the hands of Adon and his minions, or a miraculous victory against the forces of alien damnation.  Calling this finale a cliffhanger is a major understatement.

“MERKABAH RIDER – The Mensch With No Name” is a terrific continuation of an exciting saga this reviewer imagines will culminate in a third and final volume.  This is easily some of the finest western/horror/action writing on the market today and comes highly recommended.  The Merkabah Rider is truly a pulp hero like no other.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

HARDLUCK HANNIGAN - The Golden Scorpion

The Fantastic Adventures of
The Golden Scorpion
By Bill Craig
Cover by Laura Givens

Ever since starting this column, I’ve reviewed many small independent books but all of them were in one fashion or another associated with either a publishing group or writers’ organization. They all had ISBN numbers, a website or link as to where their books could be purchased. Bill Craig’s offering here has neither, no ISBN, no website address and no page numbering. I can’t even tell you how many pages there are in this great little book.  This book exemplifies self-publishing to the maximum understanding of that process.  This book was written, assembled and printed by Bill Craig. Happily, I’m informed that all of Craig’s books are available at Amazon.

Despite the book’s amateurish production values, Craig is really a very competent writer who excels at fast paced action.  He is most assuredly a new pulp writer worthy of your attention and one of the most prolific working today.  The Hardluck Hannigan series is only one of several he has invented and continues to pump out at a rather remarkable rate.  Understand, Craig’s purple prose is masculine and he waste no time jumping into each book’s plot with little fanfare as to who these characters are or where they’ve been up to this point in their lives.

The Golden Scorpion opens with Michael Hardluck Hannigan in Cairo having just completed an adventure in Africa.  At the bequest of his Russian buddy, Gregor Shotsky, they go to meet an unscrupulous dealer in antiquities who has information on the whereabouts of an ancient mystical artifact known as the Golden Scorpion.  The Golden Scorpion supposedly is a powerful arcane weapon of some kind said to be buried deep in the sands of the Sahara.  Within minutes of meeting this fellow, Hannigan and Gregor are attacked by Tureg warriors, the merchant is killed and they escape with their lives and a new ally, a lovely American secret agent named Chas Ridings.

As I said before, the action never lets up and all too quickly we learn Hannigan is being pursued by a secret cult of desert warriors, a Chinese master criminal and members of the Illuminati based in England.  A great deal of Craig’s writing is reminiscent of Lester Dent’s classic Doc Savage stories in that Hannigan seems to be always accompanied by an eclectic group of aides made up of assassins, soldiers of fortune and brilliant scientists answering the siren song of adventure.  Throughout their madcap race across the burning sands, battling both human and inhuman foes, Hannigan and company press on while Craig occasionally drops information concerning their previous exploits that led to their current predicament.  It is both frustrating and intriguing at the same time.

The Golden Scorpion is a quick read that left me wanting a whole lot more.  If you haven’t heard of Bill Craig before, then you need to remedy that. He’s a damn awesome pulp writer who knows how to spin a yarn.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


By Wayne Reinagel
Knight Raven Studios
440 pages

Several years ago, writer Wayne Reinagle burst upon the pulp fiction world with a self published tome that was the pulp equivalent of “Gone With the Wind.”  PULP HEROES – MORE THAN MORTAL was a giant white elephant of a clunker that was not well written and appeared to be stitched together by a fan boy who was irrevocably addicted to the classic pulp heroes of the 1930s & 40s.  Still, as badly exceuted as that book was, the poor mechanics could not disguise the genuine love and enthusiasm Reinagel possessed for these iconic heroes and how much fun he had playing with them.  You see, the audacity of the man is he put practically every single major ( & minor ) pulp hero in that one giant volume.  Here were Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Spider, the Avenger etc.etc., albeit all with new names to avoid legal repercussions from the rights holders, though readers knew exactly who each was.  Despite its literary flaws, the book is also important in that it was the beginning of Reinagel’s super saga that would invariably use every major literary hero and villain from both the 19th and 20th Centuries spread across an historical roadmap of herculean breath and girth.

Somewhere in all this Reinagel came to an unexplainable decision in regards to his pulp magnus opus; he’d inadvertently begun it in the middle.  After the subsequent release of MORE THAN MORTALS, he was plagued with plot threads that could only be rationalized by going backwards in time, rather than forward.  Thus the second book in the trilogy was actually the first chronologically: PULP HEROES – KHAN DYNASTY. It went back decades to give us the origins of the people who would ultimately sire the pulp heroes of the Great Depression.  Asserting his genuine talent, Reinagel’s prose is much improved with this book though it still suffered the same affliction as its predecessor; massive dumps of historical data were dropped helter skelter through the narrative even in the middle of some balls-out action sequences.  Again, Reinagel is not a man of moderations, he wants to give his readers ( & himself ) more and more.  Some times to the detriment of his tale.  Still KHAN DYNASTY was a major improvement and contained the portent of better things to come.

This reviewer is very happy to declare that literary promise has at long last been realized in Reinagel’s third book, MODERN MARVELS – VIKTORIANA.  Clocking in at an impressive 440 pages, it adds proof that the guy simply cannot write a short piece but it also loudly proclaims his arrival as a sophisticated storyteller.  This is the work of a craftsman who judiciously balances both action and characterizations and even though there are still many researched historical facts, they are kept concise and only used when propelling the action forward.  That this is the writer’s fastest paced, most colorful and grandiose book is blatantly obvious from the first page to last.

Once again, the author propels us backward to lay the foundation of heroic fiction in a brilliant twist that is pure nectar of the gods to any reader who grew up enjoying the fantastic literature of the 19th Century.  The heroes of this volume are the writers who produced those amazing works all of us encountered along the road to maturity and adulthood; the English classics with a few mongrel relatives thrown in for good measure.

The plot is simple enough.  The planet’s are about to align in a unique positioning only witnessed every thousand years and two insidious fiends, Varney the Vampire and his stooge, a teenage Aleister Crowley, plan to use the stellar phenomenon to their own twisted ends.  They wish to open a hole to another dimension; one filled with demons eager to crossover and destroy the earth.  But to do so, Varney requires nine special magical tablets or else his insane plot will fail.

Guarding those arcane items are the most famous and courageous souls of their times; H.R. Haggard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Nikola Tesla, and an aged Edgar Allen Poe accompanied by a teenage magician named Harry Houdini. They are led by an enigmatic, seemingly immortal beauty, Mary Shelly.   Now if that isn’t a Who’s Who list of the most influential writers in English Literature during the late 19th Century, then I’d be at a loss to compile another.  The exuberant bravado of Reinagel is his fearlessness in employing this stellar cast and bringing them to wonderful life in his glorious adventure.  Their interaction amongst themselves, the romance between Haggard and the ever dangerous lovely Miss Shelley, the good-old-boys camaraderie between Doyle and Stoker is simply endearing and believable.

Wayne Reinagel clearly possesses one of the grandest imaginations ever unleashed on the printed page. His dreams and his fiction know no bounds when after adventure of the highest order and he delivers it beyond measure in this book.  Every one of his books is an experience with so many surprises in store for the reader but none have so entertained and delighted this reviewer as MODERN MARVELS VIKTORIANA.  Mark my words, pulp fans, your lives will be enriched for the better after reading this pure pulp odyssey by a truly one of a kind maser storyteller.  Bravo, Wayne Reinagel, bravo!

Friday, October 07, 2011


By Christa Faust
Hard Case Crime
251 pages

Christa Faust, Hard Case Crime’s only female writer returns with a brutal, hard hitting sequel to her first Angel Dare story, “Money Shot.”  Dare is a former porn star who in the first novel found herself mixed up with a group of Croatian mobsters running a sex-slave operation. By the end of that story, Dare had destroyed their organization, freed the captive girls and was on the wrong side of a sadistic criminal mob.

As “Choke Hold” begins, we learn Dare had gone into the government’s Witness Protection program and been given a new identity in rural New England. Somehow the revenge seeking killers learned of her whereabouts and by sheer luck she manages to elude them and escape, this time completely on her own.  Eventually she stops running somewhere in the Arizona desert where she becomes a waitress in a run down, out of the way diner until she can afford enough cash to pay for new counterfeit identity papers. 

Then the whimsies of fate intervene and into the place walks one of Dare’s old lovers, a former porn actor known as Thick Vic Ventura.  He is there to meet his estranged eighteen year old son, a mixed martial arts fighter who he has never met before.  No sooner do the two men greet each other then the joint is invaded by a trio of gun wielding Hispanics who shoot Ventura and attempt to kill his son.  By the time the lead has stopped flying, there are several corpses on the floor and Dare is fleeing out the back door with Cody Noon, Vic’s son, in tow.  He takes her to his mentor, a famous ex-fighter named Hank who is more than a little punch-drunk.

Dare begins to suspect Cody was the real target of the attack  at the diner and by the time she and Hank can fathom the cause, the boy is grabbed by several goons who work for a local Mexican crime boss.  It seems of the mob’s cocaine stash had been pilfered and Cody is the prime suspect.  Having promised Vic, as he lay dying, that she would protect his son, Dare feels obligated to save him, she and Hank, who has become enamored with her, head south on an ill-planned rescue mission.

“Choke Hold” is a chase novel that weaves its way from the barren Arizona badlands to the illegal fighting rings of Mexico and comes to a gun-blazing, bullet rain of destruction in the glitzy American Mecca of Los Vegas.  It is classic noir in that the characters, both good and bad, are lost souls without an ounce of hope between them.  Life has kicked Hank in the head so many times, he has serious medical issues, Cody is pursuing a naïve dream without the slightest idea of the dangerous world he inhabits and Dare is a tired porn queen on the lam from obsessed foreign killers barely able to keep one ahead of them from one day to the next.

Had there been some concrete resolution to any of these characters, the ending would have been a pleasant surprise.  Unfortunately from the first page to the last, “Choke Hold” is a one way trip down a railroad track to meet the oncoming train of death head on and thus offers up no surprises. 

Angel Dare is a well envisioned protagonist and in “Money Shot” there was progression in her development as a character.  That is totally missing in “Choke Hold” and thus questions the books very purpose for being, save to watch her run around being chased by killers.  Noir fiction is not easy to write and nearly impossible in a first person narrative when from the very first “I”, you know the hero will survive.  “Choke Hold” feels like a bad sequel and if there is to be a third Angel Dare book, here’s hoping it has a real finish.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


By Joel Jenkins
Pulp Work Press
263 pages

Writer Joel Jenkins is one of the most prolific, exciting and talented members of the New Pulp movement today.  Through his association with Pulp Work Press, an outfit he started with fellow writers Joshua Reynolds and Derrick Ferguson, Jenkins has produced some of the most amazing, fast-paced pulp adventures ever to hit print.  The originator of several series in various traditional genres, STRANGE GODS OF THE DIRE PLANET, is the fourth book in this homage to Edgar Rice Burrough’s classic Martian books.

Having not read the previous three, I really appreciated Jenkins’ understanding that new readers would need a little extra background exposition to bring them up to speed on where the action was taking place and who all these characters were; while at the same time moving the story along at a breakneck pace to satisfy those fans who had been along for the ride from the beginning.  That he accomplishes this wonderfully is no small achievement and a big reason I enjoyed the book so much.

Here’s what any new reader will learn upon entering Garvey Dire’s world.  Dire is a modern NASA astronaut who, by some cosmic snafu, had his space craft hurled through an anomaly that sent him back in time millions of years to a Mars inhabited by humans like himself and all manner of beasts and fauna.  Realizing this is a one way trip; Dire accepts his fate and sets about making a new life for himself amongst the female dominated tribes of the giant red planet.  Jenkins has created a truly exotic social background that is fascinating with paying scrupulous attention to what each of these customs means to the entire culture he has created.

On Dire’s Mars, men are in short supply so they are protected and treasured and it is the abundant female sex that handles the affairs of state, commerce and warfare.  Obviously this is a different world than Dire is comfortable with, especially when adapting he realizes he must accept polygamy and marry several women to assume an active role in this society.  Like Burrough’s books, Jenkins’ Martian civilization is crumpling and the population struggling daily against both the forces of nature and time to survive.

The crux of this fourth volume centers about a long kept secret of an occult group of fanatics known as the Technopriests and Dire and his allies attempt to uncover it.  There is bloodshed galore, non-stop action and great heroic characters battling against truly beautifully crafted background.  It also ends on one of the most dramatic cliffhangers this reader has ever encountered.  Over the many years since Burroughs created his interplanetary pulp classics there have been dozens of imitators who have attempted to recapture the magic he wielded but none has ever come as close as Jenkins with the Dire Planet books.  These books are rock!

Monday, September 19, 2011


Edited by Milton Davis & Charles Saunders
MV Media LLC.
284 pages

This reviewer has often made it known that he enjoys anthologies for two reasons; the first being the concept of similarly themed tales from various writers collected between two cover is just plain fun.  The second is the continued encouragement of the short story format. For many years academics were decrying the extinction of this form with the loss of so many monthly literary magazines and they were right to do so. But thanks to the emergence of genre themed anthologies, the short story has truly had a strong resurgence in popularity over the past decade.

Now comes this truly unique book which heralds the supposed creation of yet another fiction genre, that of “sword and soul.”  In the opening introduction, editors Davis and Saunders, both African Americans and leading writers in the field of fantasy adventure, detail a history of the genre first established by pulp writer Robert E. Howard when he invented sword and sorcery with his well known Conan adventures.  Whereas Saunders entered the field in the 1970s with the creation of his own barbaric warrior hero, Imaro and later Davis followed suit, each imbuing this fantasy sub-genre with what they believe is a clearly felt African sensibility.  Davis argues this is a new, original evolution of the well established sword and sorcery theme.  Are they correct, or simply trying to sell us something old with a new coat of paint?

As always, reviewing an anthology to determine its entertainment worth is pure mathematics.  You simply count how many stories are in the volume and then during the course of reading label those which are exceptional, those which are simply mediocre and those that are ineffective. At the end, whichever way the scales tip, you have your verdict.  GRIOTS, that’s a French word  for African storytellers, collects fourteen tales of exotic action and adventure all presented by African American writers.  Here are my favorite six in this collection.

“Changeling” by Carole McDonnell is my favorite of the bunch.  It tells the story of three sisters and their fates in a poignant tale of human emotions from the noble self-scarifying nature of true love to the petty ugliness of greed and jealousy.  Three princesses, each cast in a different mold confront the meanings of their lives and truth while resigning themselves to destiny proving the age old adage that a leopard can’t change its spots.  McDonnell is a gifted writer and she lays out her plot with an efficiency of words that mesmerize and paint images long remembered after the reading.

“The Three Faced One,” by Charles Saunders was no surprise as my second favorite here in that it is us another great tale of the wandering warrior, Imaro, the hero of several of Saunders’ novels.  This story finds Imaro coming to the aid of a tribe of cattle herders being taken abused by a three-faced demon.  Once more the powerful hero must pit his muscles against the forces of evil sorcery.  This is pure Imaro gold and worth the price of admission by itself.

“Skin Magic” by P.Djeli Clark is a gripping, original action piece about the victim of a dying sorcerer’s curse.  A young thief must live with moving tattoos etched his chest that are actual portals to other worlds and the monsters that live there.  How he comes to deal with this horrid fate is a very gripping and exciting entry. 

Whereas co-editor Milton Davis’s own “Captured Beauty” is the rollicking action tale of Changa, who despises slavery and risks his own position with his sympathetic employer to find a kidnapped maiden and rescue her from a cruel master who wields black magic.  

Another winner is “The Demon in the Wall,” by Stafford L.Battle featuring beautiful Makhulu and her warrior grandson Zende.  Together they must rescue their captured family from the demoness Swallow and her human ally, the rich and fat Fabu. Together they are an unbeatable combination of sorcery and strength.

In “The Queen, The Demon & The Mercenary,” by Ronald T. Jones, Queen Zara’s land is besieged by an evil demon warrior and her salvation lies in the hands of an enigmatic mercenary with a cocky air of self-confidence.

The above half dozen are extremely well done and highly recommended.  At the same time honorable mention goes to “Awakening” by Valjeanne Jeffers, “Lost Son” by Maurice Broaddus, “The General’s Daughter” by Anthony Kwamu and “The Leopard Walks Alone,” by Melvin Carter.

The remaining four failed to impress me and one was so convoluted in its prose, I re-read it twice and still couldn’t decipher what exactly was going in the story.  You may have a different opinion.  Still six truly well crafted adventures and four equally well told make GRIOTS a winning anthology unlike most of the fantasy found on today’s book shelves.  Is it really a new genre?  I leave that for you to decide, me, I just enjoyed the stories regardless of what anyone wishes to label them.

Review Postscript – I do have one final critique concerning GRIOTS, but as it does not concern its literary contents, I felt it best to set this issue apart from my main review.  Many readers do not give much attention to the accompanying artwork in such volumes but they are, at least to this reviewer, an integral part of the book’s overall presentation.  Following the tradition of classic pulp fiction, GRIOTS, besides its lovely cover painting, also showcases fourteen black and white interior illustrations, one for each of the stories. 

And therein is my frustration as the art is delivered by half a dozen artists.  At their basic core, anthologies are diverse stories all connected by a central theme.  Nothing helps cement that theme more than one artist bringing his or her talent to a book, giving it a visual cohesiveness that is crucial to the overall feel of the tome.  But when a reader is confronted by multiple art pieces done in a variety of styles with differing levels of quality that unifying thread is shattered. 

Consider this analogy if you will.  Imagine being invited to a fancy, hip hop dance with lively modern music.  You’re out on the dance floor have a grand time when suddenly you have to hold up because every new track being played has to be handled by a new D.J.  All too soon what was once a fun time is now a discordant mess.  A single, talented D.J. can clearly leave his or her personality imprint on such a party, a single illustrator for GRIOTS would have left the same kind of visual oneness.

I would strongly urge the editors to consider using only one interior artist for their follow up sequels.  And just so you do not think I’m anti artists, let me finish with saying I really liked the work of Stanley Weaver, John Jennings, Paul Davey and Shawn Alleyne found in this book.

Friday, September 09, 2011


By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
247 pages
Release Date - 4 Oct. 2011

In 1967 popular mystery writer, Mickey Spillane, sought to cash in the James Bond spy craze sweeping the world of literary fiction.  He created a Florida based government agent named Morgan the Raider; obviously referencing the famous pirate with the same name.  The book was titled THE DELTA FACTOR and the plot revolved around Morgan and a beautiful female agent, Kim Stacy, going to a South American island to rescue a scientist being held by terrorists.  Spillane had begun work on a sequel when THE DELTA FACTOR was made into a rather bland, lackluster movie in 1971 and disheartened by that film; he shelved the new book and never completed it.

Forty-four years later, thanks to Spillane’s good friend and protégé, crime novelist, Max Allan Collins, fans can now enjoy that sequel, THE CONSUMMATA.  The story takes places only a few months after the events in the first book, with Morgan now a felon having been framed for an armored car hold up that netted the thieves forty million dollars.  Although innocent, the only way he can prove his innocent is to find the stolen loot and return it, all the while eluding both local and government agents.

As if that isn’t trouble enough, he finds himself entangled with a group of Cuban exile patriots living in Miami who have become victims of a lowlife named Jamie Halaquez;  a spy for dictator, Fidel Castro.  Halaquez has stolen the rebels’ war chest containing seventy-five thousand dollars; money intended to fund the group’s activities and help other refugees flee Cuba.  Owing them a debt of honor, Morgan volunteers to find Halaquez and return their money. 

Less than twenty four hours later, a bomb destroys the hotel room in which Morgan was to have set up his base of operations.  Only through a sixth sense honed through years of espionage work does Morgan avoid being killed but at the same time is made aware that there is another spy in his new circle of friends.  Now things are really complicated, in a very deadly way.  At the same time he is playing detective in the seamy world of Miami’s sex clubs, unknown killers are dogging his trail.

THE CONSUMMATA is a typical pedal-to-metal Spillane thriller that zips along at a fast, gut tightening pace filled with lots of sexy and dangerous women and a true exotic mix of colorful supporting characters from both sides of the law.  There are always a few critics who will claim they can discern where Spillane left off and where Collins took over the yarn. This reviewer is happy to say he is not one of those.  This is a seamless adventure that moves smoothly from chapter to chapter with one clear and exciting voice, echoing the bullet-blasting tales of a true Mystery Grandmaster.

Friday, September 02, 2011


By Justin Scott (&Clive Cussler)
Berkley Books
562 pages

Several years ago best selling writer Clive Cussler created a new turn of the century hero in Isaac Bell, an operative for the Van Dorn Detective Agency in the early 1900s.  Bell appeared in Cussler’s excellent novel, “The Chase.”  It is the one and only Isaac Bell adventure Cussler has ever written, although there are two more currently on the market with a fourth on the way all bearing his name on the covers.  But then again, as most book lovers know, covers do lie.

So here’s more pulp history. Publishers would create characters then hire writers to spin their adventures.  Aware their demands for monthly stories would be too much of any one scribe to produce, they would hire several and print their work under a house pseudonym.  That’s why all of Walter Gibson’s great Shadow novels were published under the by-line of Maxwell Grant, because he did not write all the Shadow adventures.  Likewise, even though Lester Dent did write the majority of Doc Savage tales, he did not write them all. But they were published under the bogus house name of Kenneth Robeson.  This was an established practice of the times and as long as their checks didn’t bounce, most pulp writers never quibbled about such aesthetics as fame and glory.

Jump ahead to the early 1980s and this established deceitful tradition was suddenly given a new spin by the publishers’ marketing departments when they realized certain bestselling authors’ names have what is commonly referred in the advertising game as Brand Recognition.  That simply means that over a period of time these writers (Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler to name a few) have created, via their books, an army of loyal fans numbering in the thousands. Fans who will buy anything with their names on it, regardless of the plots, themes, genres etc.  If it says Clive Cussler on the cover, X number of thousands of copies are guaranteed to sell. Thus for Cussler’s publisher the logical next step was to get him to write more books every year to keep those sales coming in on an annual basis.  After all the book business is no different than any other, the bottom line isn’t art, its profits.

Unfortunately they soon discovered that poor Cussler didn’t want to be chained to his PC twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  The guy very much wanted to eat, drink, sleep, spend time with his loved ones and actually have a life.  What’s the point of making all this money if he couldn’t have time to enjoy it?  Such an awful dilemma to have.  So what’s was the solution that placated both the writer and the publisher’s needs at the same?  The answer, most likely first originated by some truly ingenious marketing manager, was to use the famous author’s name but hire someone else to do the actual writing.  We are not talking about co-writing here, although that is what these money hungry publishers would like you to assume.  Oh, no, they went out and hired other writers to take over the series created by the big name authors and then let them write them solo.

Of course not being privy to these inside machinations, we can only speculate.  As a reviewer who does enjoy Cussler’s work, I’d like to believe that when he first began whipping up all these spin-off series from his Dirk Pitt books, he did take some time in overseeing the creation of these new concepts and did investigate, as much as time would allow him, who these new writers would be.  He may even have contributed an occasional plot or two in the beginning.  But that’s it, readers.  At present Cussler has his name on a total of five on-going series and I’m guessing the only one he actually does any writing on are the Dirk Pitt books which he now co-authors with his son Dirk Cussler.

The Kurt Austin adventures, the Fargo Adventures, the Oregon Files and now the Isaac Bell adventures are handled entirely by hired guns.  If the books are still good, is this a bad thing?  Not necessarily.  But it remains a deceitful trade practice this reviewer is getting more and more tired of because it does rob the real authors from the full praise they deserve.  Thus, I for one, will from this point on list the names of the true writers over those of the “brand name” celebrity.  That said, let’s look at “The Wrecker” by Justin Scott.

The year is 1907 and Southern Pacific Railroad is on the verge of completing the last section of its Cascades express line.  It is a project the company is heavily invested in and should it fail would mean their ruin.  When a brilliant saboteur known as the Wrecker is wreaking havoc and destruction on the line, causing multiple deaths in the process, the company is thrown into turmoil. Finally the president and owner, Osgood Hennessy, hires the famous Van Dorn Detective agency to hunt down Wrecker and bring him to justice before he totally destroys their operations.  Because of the prestige status of his client, Joe Van Dorn assigns his best agent, Isaac Bell, to the case and thus the hunt is on.

This book is a fast paced thriller pitting two cunning intellects against each other, with the Wrecker having the advantage as his true identity is unknown to the determined investigator.  From one end of the sprawling continent to the other, Bell and the Wrecker play a deadly cat and mouse game like Grandmasters at a chess tournament, each moving his pieces skillfully with deadly intent.  Soon both are aware there can only be one victor in this contest; only to who will survive their final conflict.  “The Wrecker” is a truly magnificent historical adventure with a relentless pace as speedy as the trains it describes populated by noble heroes and dastardly villains.  If you enjoy solid adventure with an authentic historical background, this is one book you do not want to miss. Kudos to Mr.Justin Scott, we can’t wait to read the next book in this entertaining series.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

SENTINELS - Stellarax

SENTINELS – Stellarax
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
311 pages

When Van Allen Plexico first introduced us to the world of the Sentinels way back in book number one “When Strikes The Warlord,” I doubt any of us had a clue what a wild ride he was about to take us all on.  And before we get too deeply into this review, here’s a fact you need to be aware of; “Sentinels – Stellarax” is the sixth book in a series and yes, it is necessary to have read the first five to both understand and enjoy this book.  So those of you who have not read those earlier books, you may want to forego this review altogether. But again, be forewarned, I am about to rant and rave about how much fun this volume is and you may find yourself tempted to dig into your piggy banks and go out and buy those other five books. As well you should.

Don’t get me wrong here, continuing series have been a part of science fiction since it first appeared back in the early days of the pulps.  E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series comes to mind immediately, then there was Asimov’s Foundation books, Richard Adams Horseclan Saga and most recently, Peter David’s New Frontier Star Trek paperbacks.  All of them series, all of them dependent on readers starting from the beginning to keep abreast of each new chapter and plot evolution.  The Sentinels is no different than those classics and honestly just as imaginative and wonderful.

Plexico’s conceit was to take the super heroics he had found as a child in comic books and bring that same wild and crazy out-of-this-world action to prose.  That he does so effortlessly is evidence of his genuine skills as a writer and with each new book he delivers, he only gets better.

Now for you loyal readers who have been following along, you are well aware that when we left our merry band of Earth super-heroes and their alien allies, they were assembled on a massive platform in orbit over the planet Earth as it was being confronted by four of the most powerful entities in the universe, known as the Rivals.  Each of these god-like beings had similar twin goals, to vanquish the other three and conquer the Earth.  It was up to our gang of heroes to defeat them and save the day.  It was the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers and I could not wait to dig into this, the final book of this second overriding story arc to see what happened next.

Led by genius industrial inventor, Esro Brachis, the Sentinels include Pulsar, a lovely  young woman Asian American with amazing powers, Captain Mondrian, a tall, red-skinned alien member of the Elite Kur-Bai Starfleet, Shiva, a one time British agent now the embodiment of the Hindu god wielding a Trident of Destruction and a teen boy who has inherited the powerful golden armor of a Star Knight.  Of course there are other members of the cast, but for the most part these are the focus of this adventure and how they manage to outwit the overwhelming superiority of the four Rivals is simply ingenious and a joy to behold.  Plexico’s ability to keep the action moving at hyper-speed while every so often offering up an important flashback sequence is akin the juggler hurling a half-dozen chainsaws over his head.  One slip…and oops, the end.  That he continues to keep every character in place at the same time answering questions posed in the early books is simply fantastic.

From unstoppable blue foam known as the Blight that consumes everything in its path to space born zombies raining down on the Earth, “Sentinels – Stellarax” is action packed.  It is easily the best book in the series and that’s no small achievement.  When any reader invest so much time with such a continuing saga, there is a natural expectation that the pay-offs at the end had better to be spectacular.  Plexico delivers nothing less each and every time.  I, for one, can’t wait for the next one.  Long live the Sentinels!

Friday, August 19, 2011


By Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
211 pages
Available Sept.20, 2011

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.

(Postscript – This review was written and posted last year when the book was first published by Dorchester Press.  Shortly thereafter Hard Case Crime parted company with that firm and this new edition is now being released by their new British publisher, Titan Books.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


By Lawrence Block
(Writing as Jill Emerson)
Hard Case Crime
335 pages
Release Date 20 Sept 2011

One of the classic traits of a noire crime story is the protagonist being an unsympathetic character.  The history of American literature took a sharp left turn when this new genre came into its own, evolving from the hardcore crime pulps of the 1930s.  Till then, the majority of books generally portrayed the central figures as worthy of the readers’ admiration when they behaved in true heroic style, or sympathetic when they did not.  But either way, one was able to identify with the characters.

Noire changed all that and GETTING OFF is a truly fitting example of the genre as the lead character is a female sociopath without a conscience.  Early in the tale we learn that Kit Tolliver was sexually abused by her father from a very young age.  But whether that abuse caused her unrelenting psychosis is not argued in the slightest, as her personal response to it is to coldly murder total strangers.  Block does make it clear that Kit is in some bizarre mentally deranged way killing her father over and over again with each new man she sleeps with.  What he does not do his judge her for it and therein lies the perspective that is truly unsettling.

At times the book’s heavy handedness slips into black comedy territory and the prevailing humor is twisted in its perversity.  Along Kit’s journey of life, and death-dealing, she logically encounters partners who are just as sick as she is.  In those scenes it is all too easy to start rooting for her as if she is somehow more worthy of survival then the other monsters she has crossed paths with.  The last noire thriller to have bothered me this much was Jim Thompson’s classic THE KILLER INSIDE ME.  And like that book, this one is not for the faint of heart.

In the end, GETTING OFF is a cautionary tale about the sexual mores of our times and the dangerous waters singles, and cheaters, swim in.  Let them read GETTING OFF and I guarantee you they will think twice about their next plunge into those dark depths where the toothy sharks prowl.

Friday, August 05, 2011

THE ROOK - Volume Six.

(Volume 6)
By Barry Reese
Pro-Se Productions
186 pgs

Like many of the Rook’s dedicated fans, I’ve been very anxious to read the latest volume in this marvelous new pulp series; especially since it is the first such debuting from Reese’s new publisher, Pro-Se Productions.  Shifts from one publisher to another can produce some bumps in the road but I was very happy to see  this transition was handled smoothly.  In fact this may be the best Rook collection ever produced.

Allow me to add that the author himself has publicly stated he was not completely satisfiend with his recent outings as his large supporting cast somehow began to take over the center spotlight away from the series’ star, crime-busting avenger, Max Davies.  Davies, for those of you just now becoming acquainted with this series, is a wealthy, Atlanta based business man who leads a secret life as the avenger known world wide as the Rook.  Through the previous five volumes published via Wild Cat Books, we’ve learned of Davies’ history, the murder of his father and subsequent haunting that propelled him into his career as a vigilante.  We’ve met his closest friends, hero allies and a gang of some of the most dastardly villains ever to grace a pulp yarn.

With this latest entry in the Rook saga, we’re given three exceptional stories that move at lightning speed and offer up thrills galore.  The first and longest tale has the Rook going up against a classic German pulp hero from the 1930s, Sun Koh, a Prince from Atlantis who time travels from the past to the 30s in an effort to save his people and the Aryan race.  Sun Koh was an authentic pulp character whose exploits were ended when the Nazis regime, who despised the fanciful literature of the pulps, became threatened by his popularity.  The battle between these two unyielding giants is a real clash of titans, never mind that Reese also throws in three very saucy female Axis agents known as the Furies.  (The cover alone says it all.)

The second and shortest story is a weird outing about a haunted western town and the curse put upon.  The opportunity to see the Rook as a “cowboy” works extremely well and is a real hoot.  Finally the volume closes with the Rook teaming up with as yet another Reese creation, Lazarus Gray and his Sovereign City team known as Assistance Unlimited. They are Reese’s tip of the pulp fedora to the Avenger and his Justice, Inc. In this auspicious meeting, the Rook and Gray hunt a lunatic serial killer who is under the influence of a spectral being calling herself Lady Death.

Barry Reese’s Rook series is one of the major highlights of the New Pulp Fiction movement sweeping the American literary scene.  If you are not reading them yet, it’s time you got caught up on the fun. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

CONAN - The Barbarian

By Michael Stackpole
Berkeley Boulevard
Movie Tie-In
292 pages

It appears you just can’t keep a good barbarian down.  Conan the Barbarian is a hero and well known iconic figure in American fantasy. He was created by writer Robert E.Howard in 1932 via a series of fantasy stories sold to Weird Tales Magazine.  Howard was born and raised in Texas and spent most of his life in the town of Cross Plains.  As a boy he dreamed of becoming a writer of adventure fiction but was not successful until the age of twenty-three.

Howard’s Conan is a character whose literary imprint has been compared to such fiction greats as Tarzan, Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond.  With Conan, Howard created the genre known as sword and sorcery, inspiring a legion of imitators and giving him an influence in the fantasy field rivaled only by J.R.R. Tolkein.  On the eve of publishing his first novel, he committed suicide at the age of thirty. That he remains a highly read author, with his best works continuously reprinted speaks volumes for his place in the ranks of American masters.

As for Conan, he has appeared in hundreds of licensed paperbacks, Marvel comics, films, television programs, video games, roleplaying games, and even a board game.  In 1982 he came to big screen portrayed by bodybuilding champion turned actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger who recreated the role in the sequel several years later.  Producer John Milius had planned a trilogy, but the proposed third film, Conan the Conqueror was never produced.  Now, almost three decades later, the famous Cimmerian warrior from the mythological Hyborian age once again comes to the silver screen in a brand new production from Millenium Films, Lionsgate, and Paradox Entertainment.  And to promote what they hope will be a huge summer blockbuster, their marketing department commissioned a novelization of the screenplay by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood.  The writer given the job was Michael Stackpole.

Many book lovers detest such novelizations believing them to be mere carbon copy retellings form the screenplays with nothing new to offer readers who plan on seeing the movie. In many cases, that is exactly all they get. On the other hand, when such a task is given to a true fan of the material, then what results is something much deeper and more complete than the screen treatment.  Stackpole is a gifted professional who clearly knows Conan and his original exploits as chronicled by Howard.  He not only tells the story laid out by the screenplay, but at the same time enriches it scene upon scene with authentic references to the Conan canon which totally elevates the narrative beyond being a mere reflection of the movie.

Born on a battlefield, young Conan grows up amongst the mountain people of Cimmeria and is taught to be a warrior from the day he can hold and wield a sword.  But as he matures, his father relates how his unique birth is regarded by seers as a powerful portent of the fate that awaits Conan. Not only will he be a great fighter amongst his people, but there are signs that he will one day be known throughout the civilized nations as mighty hero of unrivaled strength and daring.

As always, we have to assume that there will be people picking up this book who have absolutely no idea of who Conan is or Robert E.Howard, but have seen the trailers for the movie and are curious about it. For them, this is as good an introduction to Conan as any other that has come along in the past thirty years.  The book is fun and does its job well; it makes you want to go see the film.  So please, save me the aisle seat.