Tuesday, July 24, 2012


By Craig Johnson
Penguins Books
354 pages

One of the benefits of writer Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire mysteries being adapted into a critically well received television series is having the publisher re-issue new editions of the books; to include the very first, “The Cold Dish.”  For those of you who have never read any of these or have yet to catch the TV show, which airs on A & E on Sunday evenings, you are missing some truly excellent entertainment and might want to run down to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of “The Cold Dish” right now.

The protagonist is Walt Longmire who has been the sheriff of Wyoming’s rugged Absaroka County for twenty-four years. A widow with an adult daughter, Longmire’s solitary life resolves around his job and his tight knit circle of friends and co-workers that include his feisty Deputy Victoria ‘Vic’ Moretti and Native American tavern owner, Henry Standing Bear. Longmire’s dry wit and sarcasm fuel his personality and adds a great deal of humor to otherwise somber, intense plots obviously centered around gruesome crimes.

In this first novel, a mysterious assassin is stalking four young men who two years prior had sexual assaulted an innocent Cheyenne girl with fetal alcohol syndrome.  When the judge lets them off with a light sentence, it only serves to heighten the tension between the local white community and residents of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.  No sooner are the men released from prison then one of them is found shot to death and Longmire finds himself saddled with a case wherein the majority of the county has a motive; revenge.

One of the distinguishing peculiarities of the case is that the victim was murdered with a classic Sharps Buffalo rifle capable, in the hands of a marksman, of hitting a target at long range distances.  This one piece of information shortens the sheriff’s lists of possible suspects to a small handful to include Henry Standing Bear.

Johnson’s writing is brilliant and he combines the classic traits of a standard police procedural with the homey affectations of a western adventure; the beautiful Wyoming setting becoming as important an element of his tale as his characters.  He is also unafraid to add elements of Indian mysticism which lend a truly unique humanity to the story not found in most mysteries.  “The Cold Dish” is a masterful book that is both enjoyable and captivating and once finished, had this reviewer all too eager to find the next book in the series.  Honestly, it is that good…and then some.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

DOSSOUYE -The Dancers of Mulukau

The Dancers of Mulukau
By Charles Saunders
Sword & Soul Media
320 pages

Fantasy adventure writer Charles Saunders is often compared to Robert E. Howard as his Imaro is very much as strong a barbarian hero as is Conan; the difference obviously being that Imago’s world is not that of Howard’s Hyborian era but rather that of Africa’s mythological past. Since the 1970s his tales of Imaro have thrilled legions of readers and continue to do so to this day.

Still, if Howard’s Conan had the fiesty Red Sonja, one would fully expect Saunders to offer us a black female warrior to co-exist in this particular setting. Several years ago he did just that in bringing to life the amazing, beautiful and truly mesmerizing Dossouye; a native of the kingdom of Abomey, where women warriors are as prominent as their male counterparts. Then Saunders went Imaro one better by giving this sexy, independent amazon a very strange pet; Gbo the war-bull. From their first appearance in print, this duo has fired the imagination of fantasy lovers and rightly so.

Now comes this full length novel that takes the pair to a foreign country far from their homeland.  Dossouye is hired as a bodyguard, along with a troop of male mercenaries, to accompany a group of magical entertainers known as the Dancers of Mulukau on their journey to the city Khutuma.  In Khutuma, the well water is contains special rejuvenating properties which provide the people with long, abnormally healthy lives.  Yet at times the wells run dry and only the magic of the Dancers can replenish them; thus the urgency of their mission.

But the trip across a barren desert is fraught with dangers both natural and supernatural; the latter because of the Dancers physical condition.  They are all hermaphrodites; possessing both male and female organs. Whereas the majority of people from the neighboring kingdoms do not concern themselves with this fact, one particular group of mountain dwellers known as the Walaq are very much aware of it.  The Walaq are religious zealots whose extremist ideology sees the Dancers as freaks of nature who, according to their deity, must be completely exterminated from the face of the world.

As you can see by this very delicate social subplot, this isn’t your typical sword and sorcery fare.  Which comes as no surprise if you’ve read any of Saunders past works. Charles Saunders is an insightful, gifted adventure writer who uses his story-telling talents to not only entertain his readers, but to enlighten them in the process; to dispel the curtains of ignorant prejudices that still encumber our society and continues to perpetuate needless suffering and pain on others all for the sake of some subjective “norm” that truly doesn’t exist.

“Dossouye –The Dancers of Mulukau,” is a fast moving, thrilling and original fantasy adventure that breathes fresh air into this long established and often times too familiar genre.  His writing is flawless, his characters captivating and in the end he delivers a truly satisfying reading experience like few others working in the field today.  And here’s my prediction, gleaned from being one of his staunches fans from the start, no one will be able to read this book without, upon finishing it, having the urge to go out and collect all his other books.  Do yourselves a favor, don’t fight the urge.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012


By William P. Maynard
Black Coat Press
210 pages

When William P. Maynard wrote The Terror of Fu Manchu, it justifiably received an overwhelming positive reception from the pulp community.  Not only had Sax Rohmer’s classic character been resurrected after decades, but by a wonderfully talented writer able to tell the story in Rohmer’s same, unique literary voice.  Reading that book one could easily imagine it having been penned by Rohmer, it is that good.  And before all the hoopla had died down, it would go on to receive many acolytes and even a Pulp Factory Award nomination for Best Novel of 2010.  This success did not go unnoticed by both the publisher and the licensors.  They wisely concluded that Fu Manchu fans would want more from this skilled writer and were only too happy to sign Maynard to write a sequel.

The Destiny of Fu Manchu is that rare follow up book that is better than the first.  Which is no small feat by any means.  Taking a different tack, Maynard opts to tell this new thriller through the eyes of British Archeologist, Prof. Michael Knox rather than those of Dr. Petrie, the original series’ best known raconteur.  In doing so, he offers the readers a marvelously new perception of these classic figures from both sides of this on-going saga.  Knox, unlike Petrie, in not a selfless, courageous hero but rather a shallow, womanizing opportunist who, upon finding himself entangled with the deadly forces of the Si Fan, immediately flees with no other plan than to save his own skin.  

For whatever reasons, Fu Manchu and his enemies are after a hidden Egyptian power buried under one of the pyramids Knox and his colleagues are excavating.  When his associate is brutally murdered by oriental assassins, Knox disguises himself and flees, hoping to escape whatever dangers have befallen him.  Instead he is found, seduced and hypnotized by Fah lo Suee, the daughter of Fu Manchu.  She is the most alluring Femme Fatale ever created in pulp fiction.  At the last possible moment, Knox is rescued by the determined Sir Nayland Smith of British Intelligence; Fu Manchu’s arch rival. From that point onward, the narrative becomes a world spanning adventure going next to the jungles of Abyssinia and London, then on to Munich before making a complete circuit and ending back in Egypt.

Maynard cleverly weaves in a diabolical plot that has Knox and Smith involved with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s Munich meeting with Chancellor Adolf Hitler in an ill fated attempt to forestall a second world war.  His portrayal of Hitler and his bullying manipulation of the western world leaders is deft and insightful blurring the line between history and fiction to tell a fantastic, mesmerizing tale.

As ever, Maynard’s true genius is his comprehending Fu Manchu’s complicated character and motives so that by the book’s epilogue, it leaves us contemplating what forces compel men to achieve power and glory when aware both will ultimately destroy them. In the end, the differences between the hero and the villain seem inconsequential, both being obsessed to the point of self-destructive hubris.  The Destiny of Fu Manchu is the finest pulp novel this reviewer has read this year.  It is going to take something truly remarkable to usurp that number one spot.  We shall see.