Monday, November 18, 2013

HUGH MOON - Catching A Rising Star

HUGH MONN – Private Detective
By Lee Houston Jr.
Prose Press
175 pages

Last year I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing writer Lee Houston Junior’s debut title featuring his futuristic private eye, Hugh Monn.  It was a collection of tales showcasing the white haired, ex-military vet and his life on the alien world of Frontera. I gave the book major thumbs up and I trust all of you went out a grabbed a copy.  That book reminded me a great deal of the 1950s paperback era and all the marvelous sci-fi authors who appeared in the pages of those Ace Doubles.

Now comes Hugh Monn’s newest case and, much to my delight, it’s a full length novel.
A film company, Stellar Studios, arrives on Frontera to shoot a romantic-comedy vid featuring the very sexy and popular alien star, Ruby Kwartz.  When her human manager, Augustus Dubois, recommends they hire a local to act as an additional bodyguard.  The lucky man they choose is our protagonist.  From the start Hugh isn’t comfortable around the movie entourage finding they gauche and egotistical but they are willing to pay triple his usual rates.  Typical of all private eyes, there’s no way Hugh can turn down that kind of creds.

Then the big star’s publicist, Nola Pierce, also a member of the same red-skinned race, confides in Hugh that she believes Ruby is in real danger.  Although unconvinced at the start, as the gumshoe begins to investigate he uncovers a few unsavory facts about Dubois and Ruby’s co-star, Dirk Hartford.  Then, only hours after location filming begins on a nearby beach, a flying camera goes bonkers and nearly crashes into Monn, Hartford and the actor’s Primoid bodyguard.  Monn doesn’t believe in accidents, especially when he’s working a case.  Is Ruby Kwartz’s life in jeapordy?  And if so was the beach incident meant to eliminate him or her co-star?  And if so, why?

Houston delivers all the standard wise-cracking humor these kind of mysteries of noted for and it is surprising how well the form works even in such an exotic off-world setting.  All the while reading “Catch A Rising Star,” I was reminded a great deal of those wonderful Shell Scott mysteries by the late Richard Prather.  That both Hugh and Shell have premature white hair just can’t be a coincidence; can it?  This is a marvelous book written by a talented writer who knows both genres well and thus merges them so smoothly as to be totally entertaining.  This book cemented my membership in the Hugh Monn fan club, a group that’s about to get a whole lot bigger.  Take my word for that.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


By Mike Baron
Word Fire Press
334 pages
Guest Reviewer – Derrick Ferguson

If you’re as well read as I think you are (and you must be…why else are you reading book reviews? You’re looking for something good to read, right?) then you should have some familiarity with the name Mike Baron. Mr. Baron first landed on my radar when I discovered his innovative science fiction comic book “Nexus” which he co-created with Mike Rude. Much like other great comic book pairings like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers or Marv Wolfman and Gene Colon, the two of them made magic together and if you haven’t read “Nexus” yet then you should correct that at your earliest opportunity.
Mr. Baron has also written many other comic book titles but in recent years he’s been working in prose, writing some really compelling novels such as “Helmet Head” which I really enjoyed. That’s a book you really ought to pick up as it reads like the lost novelization of a John Carpenter movie. Yeah, it’s that good.
SKORPIO is almost as good. It’s not a roller coaster ride like “Helmet Head’ which reads like a runaway train going downhill from start to finish. Mr. Baron takes his time setting up the situation and the characters before he gets to the guts of his story but I appreciate a writer who has the confidence to take his time to take us where we need to go so he can most effectively deliver the goods later on and yeah, SKORPIO delivers.
Vaughan Beadles is a Professor of Anthropology at Creighton University in Illinois where he enjoys a near rock star status. He’s too handsome for his own good with a gorgeous wife and beautiful baby boy. Beadles is riding high due to his acquisition of relics belonging to a previously lost Southwestern Indian tribe, the Azuma. But all that comes to a screeching halt when Beadles is framed for stealing some of the artifacts. And if that wasn’t enough, one of his students dies from a scorpion sting that he got when Beadles lets the kid get an unauthorized sneak peek at the artifacts.
His life rapidly falls into ruin. His wife leaves him, he loses his job and all of his money goes toward his legal fees. The only way Beadles can see to salvage his life is to find where the Azuma actually lived and prove his theories to be true. In his quest to find the birthplace, Beadles runs into a truly amazing diverse cast of characters. Some of them you’ll wonder what the hell they’re doing in the book but trust me, part of the enjoyment of reading SKORPIO is seeing just how Mike Baron pulls all of these characters together and makes them integral components of the story.
It takes a while for the title character to show up but when it does it’s worth the wait. Skorpio is a vengeful ghost of hideous power who appears in the sunlight, which is a nice twist as ghosts are usually associated with the nighttime. I also liked Mr. Baron’s choice of protagonist. Vaughan Beadles isn’t exactly squeaky clean in his dealings and he’s a bit of an opportunist, always actively looking for an angle to advance his career and fatten his bank account.
In fact, most of the characters in SKORPIO are a little more on the gray side than you might expect but I enjoyed that as it gave the book an unpredictability I found refreshing. There’s never any way to tell what these characters are going to do or say and for me, that’s always welcome in my fiction.
Mike Baron’s prose is as uncomplicated and straightforward as the word “No.”  He doesn’t go in for flowery purple prose. He’s a born storyteller who is concerned with only one thing: telling you a good story. He’s not interested in showing off his vocabulary or trying to impress you with his cleverness in turning a pithy phrase. He just wants you to have a good time and I certainly did have a good time reading SKORPIO.