Tuesday, March 15, 2016


(A Robineux Mystery)
By E.A. Cook
Rogue House Publishing
169 pages

Sometimes the story of how we received a particular book can be as interesting as the book itself.  Several weeks ago we walked into a very small local bookstore.  You know the kind, they make most of their income in selling or trading used books.  As we had a stack of such that were taking up way too much space in our office, we thought we’d stop by this little store and donate them to the owner.   We will never just trash a book, we love them too much. Thus this way they would hopefully end up in the hands of other bibliophiles like us and along the way provide a little sustaining income to the owner of the shop.

The charming lady who operated the store was happy to take the books off our hands, especially seeing the immaculate condition they were still in and we entered into a nice conversation about what we both liked to read.  Finally, as we were starting to say our goodbyes, she held up her hand, walked over to a shelf and picked up this small book with a light green cover.  She then explained it was written by a local writer here Fort Collins and she wanted us to have it.  She personally thought it was very well written.

And now on to our review of E.A. Cook’s “Spanish Moss.”  The protagonist, Calvin, has been physically abused by his father most of his young life.  When the man attempts to rape him at the age of fifteen, Calvin kills him in self-defense and runs away.  Via hitch-hiking, he wanders aimlessly through the south for several years until one night he’s picked up by a sexual predator.  In his attempt to flee, the boy causes car to crash off a bridge and into the waters of a dark and foreboding swamp.  Hours later, while crouched on the limb of a tree; he is rescued by a Cajun named Esteen Robinaux.  Sensing the boy’s fear and fragility, Esteen brings him to his mother, Miss Jovetta Robineux.   Gifted with “the sight,” Miss Jovetta welcomes young Calvin into their lives and informs him that he now has both a home and a family for as long as he wants one.

Having never known such kindness, the lad accepts cautiously but soon learns there is nothing phony about the Robineux, they are exactly what they appear to be, good and loving people.  In time he also meets Esteen’s only child, a beautiful young woman named Sophie who happens to be a Medical Examiner for the parish.  It is through her Calvin discovers the tragedy that befell the Robineuxs when Sophie’s mother, on a trip to New Orleans, was brutally raped and murdered.  The killer was never found.  As his new life progresses, Calvin begins to mature in both body and mind.  Both Miss Jovetta and Esteen provide him with sage life lessons while Sophie, a third-degree black-belt in Kenpo karate, teaches her adopted brother how to defend himself properly.

Upon turning eighteen, Calvin decides that the best way he can repay them is to go to New Orleans and hunt down the monster that killed Camille Robineux.  Though saddened by this, the family respectfully accepts to his decision.  They send him off with their prayers and well wishes.  At this point, Cook’s narrative becomes a true mystery as Calvin, now calling himself Vin, starts his investigations in New Orleans by contacting newspaper reporter Jack Turpin and Police Detective Liam Nation, both familiar with the old case.  The plot is convoluted and ultimately twist and turns on itself like a crazy pretzel demanding that the reader stay alert as each new character brings a new clue to the unfolding drama.  Cook’s depiction of the city and its popular landmarks add an authentic layer to this fast paced story and there is very little wasted wordage.  His writing is lean and mean, delivering an abrupt but satisfying climax. 

In the end, this little tome works nicely as an introduction to a cast of colorful characters we’d very much like to see return.  Vin Robineux and his remarkable family certainly deserve an encore.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016


Edited by Jim Beard & John Bruening
Flinch Books!
168 pages

This is such a fun anthology and we want to applaud editors Jim Beard and John Bruening for not only bringing together a half-dozen truly exciting, fresh stories but for coming up with the concept in the first place. When you consider the fact that there were hundreds of pulp titles in the 30s and 40s and that they covered almost every conceivable topic fiction might offer, it is a minor miracle these two intrepid editors actually found one that hadn’t ever been utilized.  And in doing so have given New Pulp a really exciting new theme. 

The setting is 1956 and circuses are dying out in America thanks to the advent of highways and television.  No longer do the citizens of small towns and villages have to depend solely on these traveling shows to provide them with excitement and entertainment.  And so the members of the Henderson & Ross Royal Circus travel the land wondering how much longer their way of life will continue.  Here’s a quick look at the six terrific entries that make up this first volume of “Big Top Tales.”

“Trial of the Scorpion,” by Frank Schildiner features Marko the Knife Thrower as he confronts the evil twisted genius who raised him as a child.  While in San Francisco, Marko is called before the Master to answer charges of betrayal leveled at him by a rival member of the organization and can only prove his innocent by participating in the Trial of Scorpions.  Schildiner is one of the most imaginative writers in New Pulp today and this story is both gripping and fun.  Here’s hoping we see the Master again soon.

Up nest is “Deadly Triangle,” by Nick Ahlhelm and stars trapeze artist Lulubelle Rose Jensen, the circus’ trapeze artist.  This one is a murder mystery with Rose being targeted by a serial in St. Louis.  Fast paced with a terrific finale worthy of the Big Top.

With “Broken Bones,” writer Rocko Jerome introduces us to the Skeleton Man, Parker Stente, in a sad, sweet melancholy story about love, courage and destiny.  This one surprised me in such a wonderful way.

In the “Ringmaster’s Son,” by Ralph L. Angelo Jr., circus master of ceremony, Tim Tennyson’s reckless past comes back to haunt him when the train stops in the little town of Wellsboro, Penn.  A woman from his past claims to have given birth to his son twelve years earlier.  Is she telling the truth or is her claim a scam to blackmail the flamboyant Ringmaster?

Next we have John A. McColley’s  “A Trunk Full of Memories,” in which the Elephant Lady, Daphne, is confronted by an old flame from her German past; a one time lover corrupted by the Nazis.  Having built a new and positive career in the circus, with her elephant Surlee, she will fight to maintain that life no matter the cost.

Finally writer Sam Gifford wraps everything up with “Because It is Bitter,” the story of the young 15 hear old roustabout, Joey, and his first crush on a girl.  In this instance she is a local bareback rider and his experience is both tender and heartbreaking.  A coming of age amidst the sawdust of the Big Top.

Having known many such traveling shows as a youngster in rural New England while growing up, these stories brought back long forgotten memories of a simpler time in America.  This is a stellar collection and brings with it a unique nostalgic magic that will linger long after you finished it.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016


By Terrence McCauley
Polis Books
328 pages

In 1953 British writer Ian Fleming wrote “Casino Royale,” and gave the world super spy James Bond, 007.  The irony is Fleming, who had been in Naval Intelligence during the war, set out to portray a believable espionage agent who would appear to those around him as someone innocuous and boring.  Then in 1960 Universal adapted his book “Dr. No,” as a film with debonair Sean Connery in the role and from that moment on, James Bond was altered forever.  Gone was the drab, realistic settings to be quickly replaced with pulpish super-villains, beautiful sexy femme fatales, exotic locales and fantastic techno gadgets.  Hardly the realism Fleming originally envisioned.  That authentic, punch-to-the-gut grit would come from another source, one purely American.

In 1958, mystery/crime writer Donald Hamilton wrote “Death of a Citizen,” and introduced American agent Matt Helm.  Helm was the total opposite of the suave and sophisticated Bond.  He didn’t drink expensive champagne or drive foreign sports car, but what he could do was eliminate enemy agents with a cold, efficient brutality that was uncompromising in its savagery.  Helm’s world of espionage was a stark, realistic landscape most readers had never glimpsed before.  It was if Mickey Spillane had taken over for Fleming.  In fact, many years later, Spillane actually dipped his toe into these waters with his Tiger Mann books.  Still, put up against Hamilton’s Helm series, they too fell flat.  Though many writers attempted to imitate Hamilton’s style, none could capture his unforgiving authenticity.

Until now.

In “Sympathy For The Devil,” Terrence McCauley introduces us to a ultra secret organization known as the University and one of its top agents, James Hicks.  Leagues ahead of the CIA and NSA, the University has developed an amazing data gathering network by promoting the advancement of such modern day wonders as the internet, spy satellites and other cutting-edge communication devices.  These tools make it possible for Hicks and his colleagues to monitor every major metropolis on the globe.

When one of Hick’s assets, a long time experienced agent, is drugged into betraying him, Hick’s finds himself knee-deep in a mystery whose solution maybe reveal a new and catastrophic threat to America on the scale of 9/11.  What he had believed to be a small terror cell operating in New York City has somehow, under his own scrutiny, evolved into something a lot more complicated and deadly with far reaching international sponsors.  A new group of fanatical Islamic Terrorists have begun a multi-faceted plan to attack America unless Hicks can mobilize the Universities’ substantial forces to uncover and defeat them.

With Hicks, McCauley has given us another Matt Helm.  Hicks is a lone; tough-as-nails patriot with no ties or loyalties to anything but his country.  He is a dedicated shadow warrior who will do anything, to include torture, to completely annihilate his enemies.  He understands the barbaric nature of his foes and is more than willing to give them the same ruthless treatment they exhibit daily.  And in so doing, he steps off the pages of this fast paced thriller as a truly remarkable protagonist, unflinching is his purpose and lethal in its execution.  Finally, in James Hicks, Matt Helm has a worthy successor and one we want to see a whole lot more of.  “Sympathy For The Devil,” is one of those rare books that makes you sit up and cheer.  Don’t miss it!  You will regret it later.