Saturday, December 26, 2015


By Don Elliot
Stark House
257 pages

Robert Silverberg is best known for his science fiction titles but during his early days as a writer, he produced hundreds of racy sex pulps under very pseudonym.  In this volume, Stark House reprints two he did under his Don Elliot by-line. The book’s real bonus is Silverberg’s introductory essay in which he details those years between the 50s and 70s when such “risqué” paperbacks flooded the drugstore spinner racks and push the boundaries of sexual acceptance. There is humor in how restrictive the writing had to be to adhere to the more of the time; the so-called sexual revolution hadn’t fully infiltrated the public with its anything goes philosophy.  And so writers had to be inventive with their choice of words in describing the amorous antics of their characters.

In the first tale, “Lust Queen,” a New York mystery writer named Joey Baldwin is given the assignment of ghost writing an autobiography of a popular Hollywood star named Mona Thorne. To do this he has to leave his young, nubile young fiancée for several months; something he is definitely not happy about. Then, upon his arrival in L.A., he discovers that Mona Thorne is an aging sexpot wishing to make him her new love interest and she quickly seduces. Joey doesn’t mind the sex, but Mona is a real she-bitch who demands complete obedience.  Although formulaic in its set-up, “Lust Queen” in interesting in that creating a writer as his protagonist, Silverberg authentically details the publishing world as it existed in those post World War II days gives us an intimate look at the life of a professional pulp scribe.

With “Lust Victim,” the tableau involves a happily married suburban couple, Dave and Moira Lamson.  Dave owns his own business in the city and is doing quite well, and with young boys, Moira is a busy, content mother and housewife. What is clear at the offset is that they still enjoy sex a great deal. Then one night, a burglar breaks into their house, ties Dave up and rapes Moira in front of him. It is a brutal act compounded by the fact that the attacker strongly resembles Dave. After the rapist has fled with what little jewelry he stole, Moira is so emotionally shocked that she makes Dave promise not to tell the police about the rape, only the robbery. He capitulates but soon comes to regret that action when in the succeeding days he slowly discovers just how changed his wife has become.

Rape is always a traumatic experience but when reading “Lust Victim,” it is easy to see that people’s attitudes and reaction to it back in the 60s was far more ignorant than today. Initially Dave naïve believes all Moira needs is time and that she’ll eventually return to her former self and they can merely get on with their happy lives. When this doesn’t happen and she begins to push him off from any physical contact, he is not so much understanding as angry and frustrated. Enough so that he falls prey to the temptations of his flirtatious secretary. And of course his dalliance doesn’t stop there. The more annoyed he becomes with Moira, the more he excuses his cheating habits with the rational that if his wife cannot meet his sexual needs than he has no choice but to go to bed with other women. It’s a convoluted logic, but if one is writing a “sex” book, then one has to have x number of sex scenes to titillate the readers.  Eventually Dave forces Moira to get counseling and this leads to uncovering a very dark secret regarding the night of the rape. A secret, when revealed, leads to dramatic climax, exposed the rapist and ends with Dave and Moira once again happy bed partners…just like that. Once has to wonder if Dave will ever get around to telling Moira about all his escapades while she was going through her personal ordeal?

Reading these books today without knowing their history most likely elicit unfair critiques. Despite one’s thoughts on the field of 60s adult paperbacks, what no reviewer can argue is the competency in which Elliot/Silverberg wrote. His fiction is always precise and enticing, regardless of the plot, his skill as a writer is what is always on display and for that reason alone, picking up this volume is well worth it. Hey, even the best authors had to make a buck.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


By David Barnett
Tor Books
379 pages

I am by no means a fanatical fan of steampunk, though the little of it I’ve read in the past few years has entertained me a great deal.  None more than David Barnett’s series starring Gideon Smith as the Hero of the British Empire.  Books one, “Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl,” and two, “Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon,” were thrilling, colorful adventures set in this fascinating alternate history and populated by some of the most imaginative characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction.

Thus you have to know how thrilled I was when this latest volume arrived in the mail. I couldn’t wait to open it to the first chapter and learn what new perils would befall the stalwart Gideon, his sweetheart automaton, Maria, the daring Belle of the Airways, Rowena Fanshawe and the humorous, tubby journalist, Mr. Aloysius Bent. And to my utter delight, writer Barnett waste not a single paragraph in launching this new tale in which our heroes must deal with a bizarre version of Jack the Ripper, Rowena framed for murder and put on trial while Gideon has his memory stolen by an evil hypnotist who is hunting Maria for nefarious ends.

Whereas I’d love to urge all of you to go out and buy this entertaining book, honesty compels me to dissuade those of you who have yet to read the first two volumes. Of course Barnett does provide background exposition on what has gone before as he pulls as along this new adventure.  But the truth remains that he has invented way too many wonderful characters to believe these brief glimpses into their individual histories will suffice to clarify what is going on here.  That is a fallacy as “Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper” is a continuation of what has gone before and the evolution of each principle character as each of them face life altering threats to their lives and to those they have come to love and protect.

The prime example in this deft evolution is Maria the Mechanical Girl. At this juncture of her story, we see her come to grips with being able to accept her solitary uniqueness and what it will mean to her relationship with Gideon.  Can an automaton love and be loved, in all its aspects, both spiritually and physically?  Whereas Rowena Fanshawe finds her own life tossed about on the vagaries of soulless political interests willing to sacrifice her rather then expose the government’s own sins.  Heady stuff for a steampunk thriller, but just another complex element that weaves through a dazzling fun adventure I couldn’t put down. It is perhaps the best book in the series thus far and ends on dramatic finale that suggests possible future plot avenues. 

Now comes the hard part; waiting for that next installment.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Edited by Jennifer L.Holm,  Matthew Holm
& Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Random House Children’s Books
Available Jan 2016
136 pages

We discovered cartoons in the daily and Sunday newspapers as a child learning how to read.  Today’s generation of youngsters may not be all that familiar with actual newspaper strips but thanks to the wonderful world of the internet, there are hundreds of new cartoons to be found on-line. This little square book, the second in a series, brings together some of the finest cartoon creators working today.  The theme is lunch room adventures and the style and humor is a broad and eclectic as any ink stroke.

All the stories in this collection are both fun and educational. From Cece Bell’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Lunch” to Nathan Hale’s historical “Lunch Bomb 1943,” there is something for everyone; including a brand new Snoopy adventure called “Lunchtime Beagle.”  The imagination in each tale is tremendous and these are the kinds of strips parents will want to read along with their children.

All in all, “Comics Squad – Lunch” is a cartoon treasure for all the little readers in your family and a truly marvelous introduction to some of today’s most creative comic strips.
We can’t wait to see what the Comics Squad comes up with next.

Friday, December 04, 2015


By Paul Bishop
Pro Se Press
272 pages

On average, we read approximately fifty books a year. The bulk of those are fairly decent whereas a small number are amateurish and difficult to get through while an equally small number are truly exceptional; what we call great reads. Finding the latter is always too rare an event, which makes reviewing them that much more of a challenge.  You see, we really want you to know just how superb these books truly are.

“Lie Catchers” by Paul Bishop is one of those gems.  In fact we have no qualms in saying it is among the top five great reads of our year. Obviously it’s a crime thriller, that much the title and back cover text will tell you. What they don’t give away is just how different a cop mystery it is.  Rather than focusing on the usual detective action of investigating the crime and chasing down the unknown perpetrators, “Lie Catchers” takes us into the world of expert interrogators; highly skilled, and trained, men and women whose job it is to question suspects and ferret out the truth from the mountain of lies it is usually buried beneath.  It is this crucial aspect of police work that is examined in a truly fascinating narrative that had us flipping pages late into the night.

Not to say the other cop-book tropes aren’t employed.  Two young children from two different families have been kidnapped.  When the police are called in there seems to be no apparent connection between the two cases.  Leading the investigation is detective Ray Pagan, considered one of the finest interrogators on the force, and his new partner, Calamity Jane Randall, recently returned to active duty after having been wounded on her previous case.  Part of the charm of this story is the relationship evolution between them; Randall, who is hiding a very special secret, and Pagan, an odd-duck personality with an obsessive passion for the truth.  Randall had heard stories about Pagan, most of which she’d thought to be exaggerated bullcrap.  But once partnered with him, she soon learns the eccentric detective is far more colorful than his fabricated exploits.

Together each possesses a unique ability and it is their eventual coming to grips with those talents that ultimately molds them into a cohesive partnership with one single goal, to find the bad guys and uncover the truth.  “Lie Catchers” is a brilliant treatise on the realities all of us grapple with every day and the fantasies we often surround ourselves with to survive.  Heaven forbid, we call them lies.  In the end “Lie Catchers” is a remarkable reading experience you will not soon forget, and that my friends, is whole truth…so help me God.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


By Ian Thomas Healy
Local Hero Press LLC
350 pages

For the past three years, Colorado based writer Ian Thomas Healy has been writing some of the most entertaining superhero fiction on the market today. This subgenre of fantasy adventure is about bringing spandex wearing comicbook characters to the world of prose fiction. It is a growing field in literature today with a half-dozen notable New Pulp writers thriving in it; names like Van Plexico, Lee Houston Jr. and Nick Ahlhelm spring immediately to mind. Considering the amount of world-building that went into this novel, we’re amazed this book (series) doesn’t have a much larger following.  It deserves to.

“Just Cause,” billed as the first in the series, actually begins in the middle of the saga, in 2012, when Salena Thompson joins the premier superhero team, Just Cause, as their newest intern after having graduated from the renowned Hero Academy.  A third generation speedster, she calls herself Mustang Sally and is overwhelmed by how fast her life is moving, much like her own super-speed abilities. Both Sally’s mother, Faith, and grandmother, possessed similar powers and fought with previous teams dating back to World War II when metahumans first appeared.

Mustang Sally, as the protagonist, is our entry into this amazing world, and through her eyes we discover the rich and complex history of superheroes, and their villainous counterparts.  Sally’s father was killed weeks before she was born by a twisted scientific genius known as the Destroyer who continues to be Just Cause’s greatest adversary. Sally’s secret wish is to find him and have her revenge. But before she can do that, she must prove herself to the Just Cause which is led by the brilliant, but conservative Juice, whose powers to produce electric charges make him a formidable warrior.

Along the way Sally makes close friends with a Sondra Eagle, the winged Native American known as Desert Eagle and falls madly in love with Jason, the super strong young rock musician called Mastiff. All the while getting to know the other members of the team and learning to adjust to her new role as an adult superhero. Thus the book is really a coming-of-age tale decked out in a flashy superhero garment and it is to Healy’s credit as a writer, that his characterization of Sally and the others is as skillful as his ability to convey action sequences. For in the end, if we don’t believe Salena, the naïve, eager, loyal and courageous young woman then there is no empathizing with Mustang Sally.

“Just Cause” is a pure delight from cover to cover.  This edition is a heavily revised and expanded version. It is a most welcomed addition to our library and we recommend it highly.  If you grew up with your nose buried in Marvel and DC comics, as we did, then you are going to love “Just Cause.”  And as Mr. Stan Lee would say, “Nuff said.”

Thursday, November 05, 2015


By Edgar Rice Burroughs
(A graphic novel)
Editor Patrick Thorpe
Sequential Pulps &
Dark Horse Books

Since we first heard of this project, we were excited to see it come to fruition. The idea was simple enough, take Burrough’s own book, which relates the adventures of a young Tarzan in a collection of short stories and have them adapted to comic strips by various artists. Michael Hudson of Sequential Pulps was the driving force behind this super cool idea and he enlisted the talented Martin Powell to adapt those tales into comic scripts. Then it was a matter of recruiting the right artist for each segment.

Daren Bader’s cover art is simply stunning in both composition and execution. It sets a very high bar for the interior artists, some of whom proved to be its equal while others fall a bit short. The nature of any anthology is in the end a subjective experience between individual creators and their audience. Thus, of the twelve strips assembled here, there were some that simply bowled us over and we’d like to single them out as they were truly exceptional.

If we had to pick a favorite, it would be a tie between “Tarzan and the Native Boy” from Nik Poliwko and “The Nightmare” by Mark Wheatley. In the first, Poliwko ssems to be channeling the late/great Russ Manning. As a comic lover who grew up reading Manning’s Tarzan comics from Dell, this strip was a loving trip home. Whereas Wheatley’s style of art was perfectly suited to a tale about what is real and unreal, his colors blending in perfectly to add the proper mood. We’ve yet to see a bad piece of Wheatley art and have to believe none exist.

We’d also like to applaud artists Lowell Isaac, Will Meugniot, Terry Beatty who all turned in inspired work. Whereas we found Jamie Chase’s style moody and Steven Gordon’s cartoony, both worked beautifully with their stories.  Each is a joy to read and we truly appreciated the wonderful artwork on displaye in these pages.

As we indicated above, this is an amazing collection and will please any true Tarzan fan. One can only imagine the logistic chores of corralling all these various talents and pulling such a project together.  A tip of the pulp hat to Diane Leto for making it all come together.  This is a beautiful book we are happy to have in our library.

Sunday, November 01, 2015


An Infernum Novella
By Percival Constantine
Nifty Entertainment
139 pages

“Gentleman Rogue” is the third in a series about a shadowy spy organization and the mysterious man who operates, Dante.  The first was a mixed bag called “Love and Bullets” which evidenced the potential Constantine had as a writer.  With the second, “Outlaw Blues,” that promise was realized and now with this latest entry, he lets loose with a wonderful, sophisticated heist caper that hits all the classic beats readers expect from this genre.

The fun here is his protagonist Dalton Moore, a former British Spy turned thief who has left his past behind and adopted a humanitarian code of ethics wherein he does not kill; even his worst enemies. Not that easy an oath to maintain when being chased around the globe by some of the deadliest assassins in the world.  A criminal mastermind named Johnny Venom has obtained a drug that turns people into mindless savages and is about to auction it off to the international terrorist organizations.  Dante wants Dalton to steal the drug, called Fury, and deliver it to him. He manipulates Dalton by offering to tell him where his missing father is being imprisoned and upon the delivery of Fury, Dante says he will free the old man. Dalton reluctantly accepts the deal.

But as ever there are always wrinkles in these spy missions.  For Dalton it is being saddled with the sexy but deadly Tauna, one of Dante’s personal lieutenants. Dalton is none to happy to have her shadowing his every move.  Of course the bad guys are no slouches either when it comes to gathering intel and soon Dalton and Tauna learn that Venom has dispatched the silent assassin Vincente to find and dispose of them.
All the while, it becomes clear to Dalton that someone, either in his own camp, or Dante’s group, has sold them out; they have a traitor in their midst.

Part heist, part chase and totally one hundred percent action packed, “Gentlemen Rogue” is gem of a read.  Dalton Moore and Tauna are likeable characters and Constantine would be wise to bring them back soon.  As for the Infernum series as a whole, each new chapter is better than the last.  Thus you have to believe this reviewer is now most anxious for volume four.

Monday, October 26, 2015


By Robert F. Dorr
ISBN # 978-0-9863200-0-2
292 pages

The fun of any new pulp adventure is you never know exactly what you are going to get. Oh, sure, you can make a few educated guesses based on your knowledge of the author’s history and the book’s theme, but that’s still pretty much surface data. It doesn’t really delve deep enough to reveal anything of significance until you start reading. That being said, you can imagine my curiosity in picking up something called, “Hitler’s Time Machine.” Some assumptions leapt immediately mind; it being a sci-fi thriller set against the backdrop of World War II.

Robert F. Door is an Air Force vet and one-time diplomat. He has written several military history books. “Hitler’s Time Machine” is his first fiction title and I’m delighted to say he hits a home run his first time at bat. Within just a few chapters, I was hooked. Long before the advent of World War II, a German sniper arrives on Campobello Island. He has traveled from the future to injure the famous inhabitant of that little island off the Canadian coast, Franklin D. Roosevelt. From that opening sequence the narrative takes of like a V-2 rocket, pulling the reader along for a wild, crazy adventure wherein both the U.S. and Germans simultaneously begin experimenting with time travel as another way of fighting the war.

In the states, the program is led by a tenacious, brilliant young woman named Barbara Stafford, while in Germany, her counterpart is Prof. Kimmler, one of the men tasked with creating the Holocaust death camps. While Barbara struggles to deal with the overt sexism of the 40s, Kimmler is caught up in playing political games between the Fuhrer, Adolph Hitler, and one of his most trusted advisors and chief off the SS, Heinrich Himmler. Throughout the story, Dorr brilliantly mixes real history with his fictional narrative weaving them into a seamless tapestry that in the end had this reader wondering if the events in this book didn’t actually happen. That’s how good a writer he is.

In fact, it is this attention to historical detail that makes “Hitler’s Time Machine” so fascinating. Unlike the majority of overly verbose thriller writers today, Dorr’s exposition is sparse and to the point. He doesn’t waste words but creates quick scalpel sharp scenes that built upon each other to reach a suspense filled climax.  Ever wonder what kind of science-fiction Tom Clancy might have written? Look not further than “Hitler’s Time Machine.”

Friday, October 16, 2015


By Davide Mana
Acheron Books
340 pages

Shanghai in 1936 is overrun by foreign agents all vying to align themselves with various political factions they believe will survive the coming global conflict and emerge victorious.  Amidst this cauldron of intrigue and espionage, Italian mercenary pilot Felice Sabatini finds himself caught up in a bizarre expedition that will lead to mysterious peeks of Tibet in search of an ancient artifact that could easily tilt the balance of power to whoever possesses it.

Guiding him along this dangerous quest is a beautiful Asian femme-fatale with the anglicized name of Pat Neal. Their enemy is a blonde German vixen who commands a giant black airship with a Nazi swastika painted on its hull. Along the way, Sabatini and Neal confront both human and magical advisories to include a group of Ninja like monks, Japanese agents, a three-eyed demon and talking green dogs. Author Mana has crammed more fantasy adventure in this one pulp tale than we’d normally find twice as many.

“The Ministry of Thunder,” is a rollicking tongue-in-cheek over-the-top pulp winner that completely won me over within its first few chapters. It’s Indiana Jones meets Bill Barnes with a touch of Kung-Fu thrown in to spice things up.  It is the first Davide Mana book we’ve read and we certainly hope not the last.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

BANARAK - Storming the Gates.

BANARAK – Storming the Gates
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books and
243 pages

This is as yet another action packed adventure taking place in the fictional sci-fi mythology created by Van Allen Plexico call The Shattering. In this mythos, mankind exists in a universe made up of three distinct level of reality; the Above, where dwell gods with amazing powers, the Middle (or for want of a better term, our own universe) made up of we mere mortals and lastly the Below, home to assorted demons and other monstrous creatures. In his galaxy spanning saga, most of the drama results from unexpected interactions between these three levels which tend to lead to cataclysmic results.

In one of Plexico’s first books, “Lucien – Dark God’s Homecoming,” we were given a glimpse of this universe long after the old god’s from the Above had been vanquished via an act of betrayal amongst one of their owns. Then, in subsequent titles, Plexico opted to move around to other parts of his mythos and chose to weave stories that for the most part happened in his imagined future. Now, with “Banarak – Storming the Gates,” he takes back in time and spins the fantastic story of the actual birth of the Above gods.

The setup is quickly related. In the distant future mankind has launched itself into space hoping to find new worlds to colonize and guarantee the continuation of our species. Almost immediately star-gates are discovered at various points in space which allow us to leap front across the galaxies and soon seven worlds are settled and a burgeoning Empire of Man is about to be established. But just as quickly as the gates were found, they suddenly, without warning, cease functioning and thus seven separate human planets learn they must forge on independent of the others. Thus seven different cultures continue to evolve over the next few decades, each establishing its own unique identity. The only single unifying tradition to remain viable on all seven isolated empires is their common religion; the Church of the Seven Stars.

Then, just as mysteriously as they stopped functioning, the star-gates are reactivated by forces unknown.  On the human world of Majondra, the military commander Constantine Baranak devises a plan to use the gates to invade and conquer the other six empires thus establishing one cohesive galaxy spanning regime. Aiding him in this audacious scheme are his siblings and his son, Gaius, who also serves as Constantine’s military aide. On the eve of this stellar invasion, Constantine is betrayed and assassinated by a high priest of the church at the same time Majondra comes under attack by a rival empire. It is left to Gaius to fathom how his father’s bold scheme was discovered and who amongst the royal family betrayed them.

One of Plexico’s hallmarks is the breakneck speed at which he propels his plot never allowing his reader a moment’s respite as his protagonist is plunged into one amazing adventure after another. He creates unique, alien allies and foes that confront Gaius at every turn until in the end; his family’s very survival depends on his keen insights into both their various natures. Dealing with cosmic forces beyond understanding, Constantine’s son must gamble with the fate of his people to either achieve a bold new future or fail and watch them totally destroyed.  “BANARAK – Storming the Gates,” is a space opera thrill ride that never disappoints.  If you have never a Van Allen Plexico space adventure, this is clearly the place to start.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

HILO - The Boy Who Crashed To Earth

The Boy Who Crashed To Earth
By Judd Winick
Random House Children’s Books
193 pages

What we have with this charming, wonderfully illustrated hardback book is a marriage between traditional children’s books and your standard graphic novel.  Formatted like a comic but capturing the essence of a children’s book intended to amuse, enlighten and teach all in a colorful, fantastic, exuberant story.  “HILO – The Boy Who Crashed To Earth,” marvelously captures the joy of childhood complete with its fears, innocence and abounding sense of wonder.

As a child, we truly believe anything is possible, including the fanciful premise of this tale; a strange boy from another world falls out of the sky and instantly ingratiates himself with two earth kids quickly becoming their new remarkable friend.

You would think HILO is the main character in this sci-fi kids’ adventure but not true. The real star of the story is young Daniel Jackson Lim, better known to his family and friends as D.J.  He’s one of five children and believes he is the only one without any special talents.  His brothers and sisters all excel in either sports or academics but not poor D.J.  He’s just an average boy and that lack of self-worth bothers him terribly.
It is only when he meets the “Boy Who Crashed To Earth,” that D.J. is thrust into having to exceed his own expectations that he is forced to reevaluate his true self and therein discovers own, unique gifts.

We cannot recommend this book highly enough.  The story and art are superb and will delight both young and old readers alike. For you parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, we cannot imagine any young boy or girl not being thrilled to have a copy.  And yes, the book is available from Amazon.  Get it now!  You can thank us later.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


By Raymond Benson
Oceanview Publishing
266 pages

Did you ever wish you had a lot more time to read?  I have to believe everyone reading these reviews is now nodding their head affirmatively. It seems every day a new book comes out that appeals to our particular likes and suddenly our pile of books to read begins to rise towards the ceiling. It’s a daily occurrence for every reviewer I know and there is no solution other than to accept the limitations imposed by life and do one’s best to climb that mountain. What follows is one of those reviews of a book I’ve been waiting years to get to.

Judy Cooper is raped by her stepfather at the age of thirteen. She leaves her small town home in Texas and makes her way to New York City circa the mid-1950s. There she gets a job as a waitress in a greasy spoon diner and then makes friends with the owner of a local boxing gym. For her help in managing his office chores, this old pugilist allows her to live in the apartment over the gym. Pretty standard stuff until one day Judy gets it into her head that she wants to learn how to box. The nightmares of her rape continues to haunt her and learning how to physically defend herself is something she has to do for her own peace of mind. Not only does she learn to box, much to the chagrin of the male clientele, but soon thereafter Judy discovers a new Japanese dojo has opened in the city and out of curiosity goes to see what all the fuss is about. Seeing both a display of judo and karate, the young Texas gal realizes this is going to be the next step in her evolution as a warrior.

All of this history is related to us via flashbacks found in Judy’s diaries by her son, Martin. In the present, Judy is an old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s and has been committed to a nursing facility. Because of her incapacity to manage her own affairs, her lawyer delivers a box of her personal belongs to Martin and thus he discovers the diaries. Once he begins reading them, he, and we readers, learn a whole lot more about this amazing woman he calls Mom.

Through a series of fateful encounters, Judy falls in love with a gangster working for the Mafia. When he is murdered by his own Don, Judy decides to emulate the comic book heroes she’s read about and seek her own personal justice. She dons a black leather jacket and mask and becomes a butt-kicking vigilante calling herself the Black Stiletto.

Deftly moving back and forth from his mother’s writings to Martin’s own personal problems, Benson deftly keeps the pace moving at a machine-gun rattling clip. The idea of a real costume clad hero has been done by many other writers today, all of them hoping to cash in on the recent popularity of comics. But none have done so as logically as Benson does with Judy and her metamorphosis into this radical new persona is totally believable. Though she possesses no supernatural powers, she is gifted with heightened senses that allow her discern when people are lying to her. At the same time her survival instincts, due in large part to her rigorous martial arts training, have grown sharp and unerring. 

And so we are given a female Batman, though after reading this first book in the series, I’d argue Judy Cooper has a great deal more in common with the early pulp heroes; especially one Ellen Patrick, better known as the Domino Lady. Although they are polar opposites in their modus operandi and looks, it is those qualities they share that make them sisters in arms.  Beautiful, cunning, vulnerable and with a strong sense of justice is what makes them exceptional in their own times and settings.

“The Black Stilleto” is grand tale with a truly original, endearing protagonist. Having met Judy Cooper, I doubt seriously I’ll ever forget her.  And neither will you.

Monday, September 21, 2015


Edited by Robert Deis, David Coleman & Wyatt Dole
New Texture
281 pages

Once again, Men’s Adventure Magazines (MAMS) historian, Robert Deis, and his co-horts, David Coleman and Wyatt Dole, have put together another absolutely wonderful collection of bizarre tales culled from the various MAMS published between the 50s and 70s.  In their first book, “Weasels Ripped My Flesh,” they assembled an eclectic mixture of every possible genre known to men’s fiction from westerns to crime and mystery and heroic war tales.  They followed this up with a volume devoted entirely to the works of writer Walter Kaylin, one of the most prolific pulp writers of the era, in a gorgeous package entitled, “He-Men, Bag Men & Nymphos.”

With this latest entry, we are given a healthy dose of weird creatures that roam the remaining wilderness areas of the world.  Here, in what these long-ago pseudo scientific experts labeled Cryptozoology, are stories that relate amazing encounters with all manner of freakish monsters from the Abominable Snowman (the largest group in the book) to horrific sea monsters capable of sinking the largest ocean liners and high mountain Thunder Birds so large they can carry away adult humans in their razor sharp talons.

If you’ve ever wondered at where the legends of such notorious beings as Bigfoot and the Jersey Devil were born, you needn’t look any further than these pages.  The MAMS were crammed with these eye-witness sightings, often at the cost of human lives.  Here are reported accounts by hunters, explorers, scientists and unlucky travelers, all testifying to those mysterious things that go bump in the night lost in the deep woods of our imagination.  And that is what is at work throughout each and every one of these macabre episodes, sheer, unbridled imagination.  Hell, there’s even a story about a sea leviathan by none other than Arthur C. Clarke.

“Cryptozoology Anthology,” is the kind of book P.T. Barnum might have been hawking in front of his circus tents to make a few extra pennies before allowing us into the inner big-top to view the wonders chained inside.  It is a book for those of us who remember a world a little less mapped and a whole lot more dangerous.  Grab a copy, get your ticket punched and hang on for the ride.  It’s a whopper!

Monday, September 14, 2015


By Frank Schildiner
250 pages
Black Coat Press

Most of my experiences with Frank Schildiner’s work has been reading and editing his fast paced, action pack hero-pulp short stories.  That his first full length novel should be one of unremitting horror came as a surprise to say the least.  I had no idea what to expect when I opened it and began the first chapter.  I should note this particular book falls in line with a series of older Frankenstein books written Jean-Claude Carriere begun in 1956.  As explained by the editor/publisher Jean-Marc Lofficer in his introduction to this volume. Carriere’s tales interpreted the monster, known as Gouroull, as a more savage creature obsessed with goals in his twisted life; one the creation of a mate and the other the total destruction of all mankind.

It is this version that Schildiner continues in his book.  The setting is the height of World War One and in the midst of the all the battlefields of Europe, Gouroull appears reviling in the unrelenting bloodletting. Ultimately he encounters the mad scientist Herbert West who has become a disciple of his late creator, Victor Frankenstein.  West is thrilled to finally meet Gouroull and agrees to create a mate for him if the monster will procure half a dozen occult artifacts scattered throughout the world.  Being virtually indestructible, Gouroull sets off to complete his assigned task.  Thus the book’s first half becomes a bizarre scavenger hunt through some of the most frightening settings ever culled from horror fiction. Schildiner has much fun taking his protagonist on this journey and each chapter has the monster encountering one memorable fiend after another. Honestly, the congress of famous vampires that occurs in chapter five is worth the price of admission. It had me chuckling aloud and stomping my feet on the floor with the introduction of each new invitee.  From Barnabus Collins to Dracula himself, this is by far the most colorful vampire gathering ever put to paper.

Of course procuring those unique objects proves to be no challenge to Gouroull.  But when he returns to mad doctor’s lab with these items, he is told his mission is only half completed.  Even with the arcane treasures to replicate Frankenstein’s operation, West still requires the bones of a strong and powerful woman upon which to build this new creation. Once again Gouroull is off on yet another journey through the back roads and dark woods of the continent and for a second time the quest formula becomes Schildiner’s tool to showcase some of the more evil females of legend and history.

“The Quest of Frankenstein” is one of the most well written horror pastiches ever imagined and Schildiner’s work rivals even the most experienced scribes in the field. For in the end, it is his sincere love of the genre that shines through every single page and pulls the reader along for one hell of an unforgettable ride. Easily one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read all year and one truly warranting a sequel.  This is my kind of monster!

Thursday, September 03, 2015

HADON, King of Opar

HADON, King of Opar
By Christopher Paul Carey
Meteor House Press
153 pages

Opar, the lost jungle city first appeared in the pages of Edgar Rice Burrough’s “The Return of Tarzan.” Some believe Burroughs took the name from the Biblical reference to Ophir, whence King Solomon supposedly received a cargo of  gold, silver, sandalwood, precious stones, ivory, and other treasures every three years via some unknown, secret route. Burroughs would revisit the lost city in several other Tarzan adventures to include “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar,” “Tarzan and the Golden Lion,” and “Tarzan the Invicncible.”

In 1974, the late Philip Jose Farmer took it upon himself to write the history of Opar and beganwith his novel, “Hadon of Ancient Opar,” and continued it with “Flight to Opar,” published two years later.  Now Christopher Paul Carey has picked up the narrative and will most likely carry it to its ultimate conclusion.  In the words of Phantom creator, Lee Falk, for those who came in late, never fear, the publisher has provided an abbreviated history of events which is found as a helpful supplement in the back of the book.

Whereas not having read any of these previous chapters, we found this a rollicking good adventure read and any reader with even the slightest familiarity with either Burroughs or Farmer will have no problems enjoying this tale.  At the offset, Opar is invaded by a large force of river pirates led by a sadistic mercenary named Gahesi.  In the middle of the night, Hadon, the King, rallies his troops and goes out to battle his foes. Too late he learns the enemy’s forces have found the secret tunnel passages into the vast city and have already gained control of its primary routes of access.

Afraid to commit his remaining forces, Hadon opts to reenter Opar via this same maze of secret passageways and learned the fate of his queen and family.  In the process he discovers it was one of the high priest and priestess that betrayed them in divulging the secret routes to Gahesi in hopes of sharing in the coup’s bloody victory. But Hadon is not so easily defeated and through a series of near fatal encounters, he manages to rescue a few members of his beloved family and rejoin his troops outside the gates to the city. Here he is discovers even more startling news; a group of giant warriors led the son of Hadon’s deceased cousin, Kwasin, have arrived on a quest to learn the fate of their sire.

Could they possibly be the allies Hadon needs to retake Opar and defeat the river pirates? The opportunity exists but first Hadon will have to fight eight foot tall leader of the giants to prove his worthiness.  Spinning a non-stop adventure tale, Carey’s pace never lets up and his easy, competent style allows readers to slip into this ancient, magnificent world he has so expertly brought back to life.  Burroughs and Farmer would have been proud.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


By Max Allan Collins
Illustrations by Terry Beatty
Dover Mystery Classic
265 pages

Of all the ongoing series mystery writer Max Collins continues to juggle, while doing all the things we normal being do such eat, drink and sleep, my favorite is quickly becoming his Jack and Maggie Starr books.  Being a comic book fan since the age of five, it’s only natural I’d appreciate a mystery series that involves American comic books during the Golden Age of the four-color little mags.  It started with A Killing in Comics (May 2007) which I’ve not had the pleasure of reading yet and then later produced Strip for Murder (May 2008 and the subject of this review) and wrapped with Seduction of the Innocent (June 2013) which revolved around fictionalized version of Frederic Wertham’s crusade against comic books back in the 1950s.  One of my personal favorites of Collins’ books.

The set up is a fun one.  Maggie Starr was once a famous burlesque queen who married the Major, a World War One hero and widower.  He owned Starr Syndicates which managed a group of highly profitable cartoon strips.  When the Major died, Maggie inherited the business and helping her run it as a special security consultant is the Major’s son, Jack.  Immediately one is reminded me of the classic boss-employee partnership between Rex Stout’s master detective Nero Wolfe and his witty, tough-guy legman chronicler, Archie Goodwin.  Here it is Jack who tells the tales with tongue firmly in cheek.  In fact Jack’s dialogue showcases some of the best lines Collins has ever put to paper; many so exaggerated as to be as cartoonish as the properties Starr Syndicate handles. 

The banter between Jack, a healthy, handsome lad and his drop-dead gorgeous stepmother is one of the major attractions (pun intended) of these stories. Though it is made absolutely clear there is no risqué hanky-panky happening here. But don’t feel sorry for the lad, in the two books I’ve read thus far, he never lacks sexy feminine companionship.  Whereas there’s plenty of adult foibles within the stories themselves and the world of early comics is proven to be as nasty and cutthroat as any other commercial venture in American history. 

The crux of the plot deals with an on-going feud between two famous cartoonists, both with inflated egos, who despise each other for multiple past wrongs. When one of them is murdered, Starr Syndicate is in danger of losing its most profitable strip and so Maggie orders Jack to solve the mystery and help save the family business. Throughout the story, Collins offers up a parade of thinly disguised cartoonists most fans will easily recognize, in fact the feuding duo are thinly veiled versions of the men who created Lil’ Abner and Joe Palooka. 

Now as entertained as I was throughout the book, I’m going to bet half my own readers here, especially those under thirty, don’t have the foggiest notion as to the two iconic characters I just mentioned.  Thus the book, for the non-fan, is most likely going to be bothersome as most of the book’s appeal will fall flat.  How can you truly enjoy the game if you don’t know who the players are?

Don’t get me wrong.  Even with that handicap, Collins is too much a pro not to deliver a good mystery and always plays fair with the clues peppered throughout the course of the narrative.  But what I would like to see is for him to take the series away from its limited comic-world settings and explore its true potential as a straight out mystery series starring two of the most enjoyable detectives ever to grace the printed page.  In the end there’s a whole lot more to Maggie and Jack then just four flat colors.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


An Isaac Bell Adventure
By JUSTIN SCOTT & Clive Cussler
Berkley Novel
402 pages

Okay, back-story first for those of you unfamiliar with the Isaac Bell series. He was created by popular new pulp writer Clive Cussler in the first book of the series, “The Chase,” with the assistance of novelist Justin Scott. Since that time, although his name always appears on the book’s covers, it is all too clear that these marvelous tales are penned solely by Mr. Scott. And, we might add, we’ve come to enjoy them just as much as Cussler’s own original Dirk Pitt books.

Isaac Bell is the leading investigator for the New York based Van Horn Detective Agency. The son of a wealthy Boston banker, Bell found the life of a banker much too dull and boring for his taste and discovering the excitement and adventure inherent in his chosen professional, quickly became one of the finest investigators at the Agency. In the previous books, all taking place in the early 1900s, Bell’s saga is set against the amazing birth of the industrial age in America. His cases have dealt with the burgeoning empires of transcontinental railroads and the pioneers of early aviation; whereas in this volume, Scott sends us backward in time to one of Bell’s first assignments.

As the book opens, he is disguised as a coal miner in rural West Virginia attempting to learn more concerning the make up of union organizers determined to gain higher wages and safer working conditions for their members. At the same time he begins to suspect that one of the richest Wall Street tycoons is behind a series of sabotage attacks on the mines that have left dozens injured or dead. Someone has hired a cunning agitator to create turmoil between the owners and the workers but to what end he cannot fathom.

As ever Scott’s historical setting is phenomenal and half the fun of reading these exploits. But with “The Striker” there comes a fresh twist in that this mysterious provocateur Bell is chasing is in many ways as skilled and trained as he is. Could it be possible that the man Bell is hunting is another detective? One trained by his own mentor?  And what is the role of the lovely Mary Higgins, the sister of one of the union organizers?  Combining both emotional investments with a mile-a-minute pacing, Scott once again delivers a breath-taking race through history at the same time making it come alive for today’s readers. It isn’t often that a thriller provides us with a genuine glimpse into tragedies and glories that made this country great.

“The Striker” is another great addition to the Isaac Bell series and we’re already anxious for the next one.  Major thumbs up here, loyal readers.

Thursday, August 06, 2015


Stories by Walter Kaylin
Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle
New Texture
283 pages

A little while ago this reviewer had the joy of discovering the fiction world of Men’s Adventure Magazines that proliferated the newsstands of the 50s, 60s and 70s via a wonderful anthology titled, “Weasels Ripped My Flesh.” Amongst the great and wacky stories in that were a few by a writer named Walter Kaylin who the editors claimed was one of the most prolific writers for those magazines.

“He-Men, Bag Men & Nymphos,” is an entire collection of Kaylin’s amazing work with fifteen stories featured within its pages. They represent the entire spectrum of this he-man brand of pulp fiction; from modern day gangsters, to south sea island sirens to western outlaws and surfing assassins. This book has it all making us marvel at the boundless imagination that produced these outlandish tales. There are even a few factual articles mixed amongst them. Of these, the most gripping is Kaylin’s account of the U.S.S Indianapolis and its fate when sunk in the last days of World War II. It is a harrowing tale comprised from documented naval records and survivors’ testimonies.

Going from fact to fiction has no diminishing effects on any of Kaylin’s work, all of it is brilliant and written with a flare, no matter how boring the subject material. Which brings us to the one piece we feel should have been omitted; “The Army’s Terrifying Death Bugs and Loony Gas.” It is dated 1960 and is report on the state of the military’s research into chemical warfare. It is the only piece that doesn’t belong here. But hey, fourteen bulleyes out of fifteen shots is a damn impressive score.

Which is as good a way as any to describe Walter Kaylin’s wrtings. He was a master at his craft of spinning pulp tall tales and the fun he had writing them infects his readers as well. Bravo, Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle; that’s two homeruns in a row.  Please, keep swinging for the fences. We love this stuff.