Thursday, May 24, 2012


SGT.JANUS – Spirit Breaker
By Jim Beard
Airship 27 Productions
160 pages
Guest Reviewer – William Patrick Maynard

There is a longstanding tradition of occult detectives. Sheridan Le Fanu is generally considered the originator of the sub-genre with his chronicles of Dr. Martin Hesselius. Together with William Hodgson Hope’s Carnacki, Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin, and Manly Wade Wellman’s John Thunstone, Dr. Hesselius’ cases are generally regarded as the finest examples of a continuing occult detective hero in the supernatural realm of mystery fiction.
Willie Meikle, Jim Butcher, and Simon R. Green are among the outstanding contemporary practitioners of the form. Now one may add Jim Beard and his creation of Sgt. Roman Janus to the list of occult detectives whose exploits are worthy of a larger audience. Beard is among the select group whose work is exclusively aimed at the niche market for New Pulp. Sgt. Janus, both as an original creation and as a literary work itself, raises the bar for Beard’s fellow authors to match the same exacting standard achieved here.
Janus, in Roman mythology, is the god of the gateway to the past and the future. So it is with Sgt. Janus, a character who provides the essential link between the astral plane and our own reality. The eight stories in this collection depict the character through the eyes of his clients. The device works brilliantly in giving the reader differing perspectives on the detective and his methods.
Consequently, one wonders why the conceit is not more commonly employed in genre fiction. One suspects that as appreciation of Beard’s talent grows, the device may become more common in certain quarters at least. As a testament to Beard’s plotting and characterization, I was unable to rank the stories in the collection as I found them to be uniformly excellent.
The book’s publisher, Airship 27 has deservedly made a name for itself among pulp-specialty houses for not only the writing talent they employ, but also the design of their books which is rarely short of stunning. It is no exaggeration to say that their titles place consistently among the best-looking on the market with cover and interior artwork of a surprisingly high caliber. Given the diversity of narrative viewpoints in the collection, it is perhaps only appropriate that artist Eric Johns delivered eight unique illustrations to grace each of the stories.
Johns’ stylistic range is surprisingly broad. The illustration for the first story, “The Portobello Cetacean” could be a Lynd Ward woodcut in the vividness of his depiction of the ethereal struggle between occult detective and spirit. While a Manga-style illustration is entirely appropriate for “This Unbroken Lock.” The lifelike quality of the highly-charged erotic illustration for “Lydia’s Lover” is likewise a perfect match. Johns employs an exaggerated Fumetti-style to depict the disturbed sexuality of “Sculpted Velvet” and one cannot imagine a more evocative choice.
As the description of the artwork suggests, Beard’s fiction is anything but pat and routine. While he may deliberately conjure the spirits of authors of Victorian and Edwardian occult fiction before him, Beard’s prose is fresh and entirely modern in his, at times, frank and unsettling tales of the wages of his characters’ past sins. Each story breezes by and like the best tales told round the campfire, it leaves the reader hungry for more. 
Not only does the changing narrative voice keep each story fresh and exciting, so does Beard’s decision to make Janus House, the detective’s residence an integral part of the formula. As Mervyn Peake ably demonstrated with Gormenghast and contemporary masters such as Neil Gaiman have proven to good effect time and again, treating a mysterious house as a character only adds to the narrator and the reader’s sense of disorientation. Where this genre is concerned, such a decision only serves to heighten the mystery and compel the reader and narrator to move forward with the story.
It is only fitting that by the time one reaches the shocking conclusion of the final tale, “The Unfinished Landscape,” Beard’s occult detective stays true to his name and passes through a portal few before him have dared to venture. As the entirely appropriate title of the final story suggests, the door is left open for more adventures from this timeless original in the classic tradition. I for one will be eager to let Roman Janus (and, by extension, Jim Beard) be my guide. Sgt. Janus, Spirit-Breaker come highly recommended.

William Patrick Maynard was authorized to continue Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu thrillers beginning with The Terror of Fu Manchu (2009; Black Coat Press). A sequel, The Destiny of Fu Manchu was published earlier this year by Black Coat Press.  Next up is a collection of short stories featuring an Edwardian detective, The Occult Case Book of Shankar Hardwicke and a hardboiled detective novel, Lawhead. To see additional articles by William, visit his blog at

Monday, May 21, 2012


By Derrick Ferguson
PulpWork Press
142 pages

Over past few years several new pulp writers have created terrific heroes that easily compare with the classic characters of the 30s magazines. One of these is Dillon by the talented Derrick Ferguson.  Dillon is an African American modern day adventurer who travels the globe aiding people in desperate need of rescue and at the same time taking on insidious villains of every imaginable form.  The thing I absolutely love about Dillon is that even in the midst of the most dire situations, when death practically is assured its ultimate victory, he manages to retain his sense of humor making him the coolest pulp hero of them all.

After offering up a couple of fast paced novels which first introduced us to Dillon and his exploits, Ferguson this time collects four short tales that were published in various projects over the years and this fan is most grateful for this.  These four action packed thrillers display the range of settings and atypical missions our hero takes on, each is a fast, mile-a-second read that will leave blisters on your fingers.

“Dillon and the Bad Ass Belt Buckle,” finds our hero and his mentor, Eli Creed, in the jungles of Cambodia to rescue an American film actress.  Their mission is successful up to the point they lose their transportation and have to seek refuge in a fortified camp called Cheap Prayer. It is by a mercenary outlaw named Kudro Mayoka. I won’t spoil the fun with any more details except to add the plot revolves around Dillon challenging Kudro to a survival race with the winner becoming the enclave’s new leader and claiming a giant belt buckle studded with jewels and emblazoned with the words BAD ASS.  Honestly, I don’t think I stopped laughing once while reading this one.

“Dead Beat in La Esca,” is a real collector’s treasure as it was co-written by Joel Jenkins and has one of Joel’s pulp characters, guitar player Sly Ganlet meeting up with Dillon one night in a fancy nightclub.  Unbeknown to the both, they’ve been set up by a mysterious organization that wants them both out of the way.  The irony is both men may actually do the bad guys a favor by killing each other first.  A different kind of story and though worthwhile, was the weakest in this collection.  Guess I just like my Dillon flying solo.

“Dillon and the Escape From Tosegio,” is another one of those oddities.  It’s a rollicking, non-stop thrill ride which was penned as a prequel to the first Dillon novel.  It reminds one of those opening action prequels in the James Bond movie, done to set the stage and get the audience in the proper mood.  Having read “Dillon and the Voice of Odin,” when I came to the end of this short, I could easily envision the opening credits of the bigger movie.  Really happy to see this one in print for all Dillon fans.

Finally, Ferguson saves the best for last in “Dillon and the Judas Cup.”  Although I likened Dillon to action heroes like Bond, there’s also a great deal of Indiana Jones in his adventures and they revolve around arcane lore long forgotten in time.  Such is the plot of this yarn wherein a chalice made from the thirty pieces of silver paid Judas Iscariot for betraying Jesus, has survived through the ages bringing both power and tragedy to any who possess it.  Dillon is hired by a dying rich industrialist to procure the cup and once and for all hide away so that it can never again curse mankind.  To do so he must recruit two of his associates, a cat-burglar and a computer hacker.  Along with the industrialist beautiful daughter, they fly to the remote island where it is being held and launch their Mission Impossible-like plan to steal it.  Of course, like any other Dillon caper, things never go as smoothly as envisioned and soon all of them are racing for their lives to flee the atoll before its volcano erupts and sinks them all.  It’s a grand finale to a wonderful anthology.

If you’ve yet to meet Dillon, this the book is your invitation to a world of thrills and spills as delivered by a writer at the top of his game.  Ferguson’s love of action adventure explodes from every page and he always leaves his readers both satisfied and begging for more.  “Four Bullets For Dillon,” is a hands down winner and I’d be remiss not to mention it comes wrapped by a gorgeous cover by artist Anthony Castrillo.  What more could any pulp fan want?

Friday, May 18, 2012


By Brian Cronin
A Plume Book
Trivia/Pulp Culture/Comics
262 pages

What kind of book would you expect from a lawyer who is a true comic book geek? Brian Corbin writes a regular blog for Comic Book Resources which has brought him into contact with some of the leading professional writers and artists in the comic field, not to mention lots of enthusiastic die-hard fans along the way.

This collection of trivia lists is his follow up volume “Was Superman A Spy?” by the same company and it is absolutely wonderful.  With such bizarro lists such as Ten Crazy Items Found on Batman’s Utility Belt from which the book gets its title to such media related topics as Seven Bands That Got Their Names from Comics.  More and more comic cons are hosting all manner of comic trivia panels and contests and if you’ve ever entertained the idea of doing such, this little volume could prove invaluable.

My one critique is Cronin tends to spotlight the big two, Marvel & DC, overly much giving short shrift to lots of other great companies in the process.  An example found in his Six Cameos by Clark Kent and Lois Lane Outside of DC Comics. A little more research and he might have found the fan favorite scene in Now Comics “Sting of the Green Hornet” where Clark & Lois, circa 1940, are seen leaving after their interview with President Franklin Roosevelt.  Cronin is obviously unfamiliar with the scene and the series.  I’m not. You see, I wrote it. 

Again, a really fun book any comic fan would appreciate.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


(A Walt Longmire Mystery)
By Craig Johnson
Penguin Books
309 pages

“Hell Is Empty” is as much about the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming as it is about the people who live within their shadows.  Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire is transporting several prisoners to an out of the way wilderness locale to unearth the remains of a slain Indian boy murdered by one of the convicts; a psychopath named Raynaud Shade.  Upon meeting Longmire for the first time, Shade tells him he hears ghosts and believes the sheriff possesses the same ability.  Longmire, having fulfilled his duty in getting this human monster to the site, packs it in and starts down the mountain.

Within hours of digging up the boy’s bones, the convicts, following a plan devised by Shade, escape; killing several federal agents and marshals in the process.  When the news reaches Longmire, he realizes he’s the only lawman left on the mountain able to give chase and sets out after the killers alone.  Thus begins his incredible journey that will ultimately test both his body and his spirit as a savage winter storm is descending on the mountains and becomes a deadly participant in the drama.

Johnson’s title; “Hell Is Empty,” is an homage to Dante’s classic fantasy, “Inferno,” where the lowest levels of hell are not hot but numbingly frozen over much like the very peaks Longmire must conquer to capture Shade and save the female marshal he holds  hostage.  Now a resident of Colorado, I am daily reminded of the power and majesty of these mountain ranges and threat they pose to any who venture into them naively without the proper outdoor skills.  This book is more an adventure odyssey than a mystery. Longmire must confront his own inner demons while climbing higher to reach the snow blanketed Cloud Peak which is Shade’s final destination where both will confront each other in a primal contest of good versus evil.

The book is multilayered and despite it Heminwayesque narrative style, Johnson adds a new twist by having his protagonist guided by a giant Crow warrior called Virgil White Buffalo; his version Dante’s Roman poet guide. There is a crucial connection between the giant Virgil and the fleeing killer that Longmire slowly uncovers as the pair make their way through the brutal storm.  Soon the physical suffering the sheriff has to endure begins playing tricks on his consciousness until the reader realizes his companion may simply be the hallucination of a fevered mind.

“Hell Is Empty,” is the seventh book in the Walt Longmire series by Johnson and a terrific, gripping read unlike anything else on the market today.  It is fresh with interesting characters and skillful in its economic storytelling.  As the book’s cover announces, the series has been turned into a new A & E television series that will soon premier on Sunday evening June 3rd and features Australian actor Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire with Katee Sachofff of Battlestar Galactica fame as his chief deputy Victoria “Vic” Moretti and Lou Diamond Phillips as best friend, Henry Standing Bear. If the show is as much fun as this book, then we’re all in for a treat.

Thursday, May 03, 2012


A Domino Lady Audio-Book
Written by Rich Harvey
Directed by Lance Roger Axt
Engineered by Piper Payne
Recorded at Broken Radio Studios, San Francisco, CA
Post Production by The AudioComics Company

One of the truly wonderful and totally unexpected results of the new renaissance in pulp fiction has been the resurgence renewed interest in old time radio dramas.  And what better subject matter for these new audio outfits then the classic pulp heroes of the 1930s and 40s.  Several companies have started producing audio books from the original pulp magazines and now for the very first time pulp fans can “listen” to the adventures of the Spider, Secret Agent X and many others.

Of course as all pulp fans know, there were very few lady avengers and the clear cut leader of that small group was writer Lars Anderson’s Domino Lady.  Now Audio Comics out of San Francisco, directed by Lance Roger Axt, has produced a truly marvelous original Domino Lady radio drama written by Rich Harvey and acted by a truly inspired cast.

In San Diego for the new Pacific Coast Exposition, Ellen Patrick, daughter of the former State Attorney General, is only too willing to contribute financially to the mega event which will bring much needed revenue to the popular seacoast community.  When someone breaks into the aptly named Crime Does Not Pay pavilion and walks off with a unique one million bill printed by the Federal Reserve, it spells disaster for Mayor Benbough and his planning committee. Unless the bill can be recovered, the insurance company will demand restitution from the city and in the process bankrupt it.

Once again, the beautiful and audacious Miss Patrick dons her gown, cape and as the  Domino Mask slips into the fair grounds to do her own investigation.  She is nearly captured by her former paramour, private eye Roge McKane, on duty as the exposition’s chief of security.  The inter-change between these two is pure sauciness with double-entendres flying left and right and had this listener laughing aloud.

ALL’S FAIR IN WAR is a superb audio treat with great writing, perfect acting; especially by Karen Stillwell as Ellen Patrick/Domino Lady and Peter Carini as McKane.  The blues/jazz soundtrack is also a gem and easily sets the story’s atmosphere.  If we have one complaint is that this is only the opening chapter in the series and ends much too soon, leaving us wanting a whole lot more.  Axt and Audio Comics have produced a top-notch audio recording that is pure pulp goodness.  We recommend you order you copy now.  You thank us later.

Cast & Crew –
Karen Stilwell as Ellen Patrick/The Domino Lady
Peter Carini as Roge McKane
Mandy Brown as Dottie Jaster
Peter Papadopoulos as Dan Carley
Kevin Donnelly as "Moxie"
Bill Chessman as Samuel Benton
Lance Roger Axt as Mayor Benbough and your Narrator
Christine Marshall as your Announcer

Additional roles portrayed by the members of the Pulp Adventures Acting Company is the URL for purchasing direct: also, we will have links to where All's Fair in War can be purchased via iTunes, Amazon Mp3, Zune, Rhapsody, Nokia, and eMusic starting next week (or I should say, when it's up on  iTunes, Amazon Mp3, Zune, Rhapsody, Nokia, and eMusic). Thanks!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

CREEPING DAWN - Rise of the Black Centipede

Rise of the Black Centipede
By Chuck Miller
Pro Se Productions
189 pages

Chuck Miller is emphatically one of the bright new voices in the New Pulp Fiction movement and last year burst on to the scene with this book.  It introduced the world to his truly mondo-bizarro hero, the Black Centipede.

Describing Miller’s twisted, odd and vibrant style is a challenge in itself.  Unlike traditional classic pulp writers, his work is a hodge-podge blend of history and fiction and told from way too many different perspectives.

Written in first person narrative, the Black Centipede is a young man who crosses paths with the infamous Lizzy Borden of Massachusetts and through her encounters a mysterious being calling herself “Bloody” Mary Jane Gallows; the supposed spiritual creation of Borden and Jack the Ripper.  If that wasn’t twisted enough, our hero is saved from being murdered when his own body is possessed by another alien entity representing itself in the shape of an ugly, creeping black centipede.  Once this merger occurs, he finds himself capable of many super human feats of strength.  He becomes, like Will Eisner’s Spirit, virtually impossible to kill.

From that point on his adventures have him crossing paths with real life figures such a gangster Frank Niti and newspaper tycoon, William Randoph Hearst who wants to turn the Centipede into a popular “real life” pulp hero in his own magazine.  Then there are villains like Doctor Almanac, voodoo fighter Baron Samedi who battle across Zenith City, each with his own perverse agenda and little regard for the citizenry caught in the middle.

It’s fanciful stuff indeed but this reviewer wishes Miller would make an attempt at sticking to one point of view.  Towards the end of this first outing, we are given an entire chapter told to us by a police officer who was on the scene.  Supposedly this is necessary because the Black Centipede was on the other side of town when the incident took place. Still paragraph after paragraph of hearsay is as deadly in a novel as it is in a court of law.  Writing rule of thumb, Mr.Miller, show us, don’t tell us.

Still as this is his first book, that one flaw is easily overlooked for the overabundance of originality infused in this book.  With “Creeping Dawn,” Chuck Miller clearly establishes himself as a voice to be reckoned with.  We predict a truly brilliant future for both creator and his one-of-a-kind hero.