Friday, April 29, 2016


By Gary Phillips
Down & Out Books
295 pages

First before digging into this book’s trio of excellent pulp yarns, we want to tip our fedora to Down & Out Books.  A fairly new publishing house, the quality of their recent titles has been excellent and that bodes well for all new pulp readers.  In fact, the three novellas you’ll encounter in this volume were only available digitally until now; just another reason for us devoted book lovers should be grateful to this new outfit. Here’s hoping they are with us for many years to come.

Okay, so on to the review.  Gary Phillips is regarded as one of the finest new pulp authors in the game today and his reputation is well earned.  A prolific scribe, he has a passion for creating unique heroes with a recognizable pedigree going back to the classic pulps of the 30s and 40s.  In this book we get to meet three of the newest starting Malcolm Cavanaugh Bleekston; a sophisticated conman with the nickname McBleak.  Sauve and debonair, he follows in the footsteps of such notable crime figures as Parker and Raffles with just a smidgen of the Saint in there somewhere.  In this offering called “The Extractors,” McBleak sets his sights on a greedy developer and plots an elaborate and dangerous scam to fleece the crooked financier.  The con is meticulously planned out and with the help of some loyal pals, McBleak risks life and limb to come out on top.

This is followed by “Ten Seconds to Death,” in which we meet the Essex Man, Luke Warfield.  He is a former secret agent turned philanthropist who uses his agency to help people in need, support his community and bring justice to those who can’t afford it in a legal system corrupt to the bone.  If he sounds a bit like Bruce Wayne/Batman, trust us, that’s no accident.  Phillips loves his heroes brave and noble.  In this introduction to Warfield and his team, we learn something of his black-ops background when he begins to investigate the murder of his stepfather.  It appears an old colleague from that shadowy world has gone rogue and unless Essex can stop him, he will rain down death and destruction on Los Angeles.  This one moves like an Indy 500 speedster, giving us readers little to do by flip those pages and hold on tight.

Finally we get Phillips’ homage to the super pulp icons ala Doc Savage and the Avenger with Ned Noc Brenner, an extreme sports junkie who is recruited by a mysterious organization known as the Vigilance Initiative.  Under the direction of a genius inventor named Hiram Templesmith, Noc and two other agents are sent to foil the plot of a super criminal known as Prospero about to sell a flying-tank to whoever will bid the highest for this weapon of doom.  In true pulp fashion, Noc’s new pals also have their own unique skills. Kolburn is a human chameleon who can change his appearance via millions of nano-robots in his skin cells while the lovely Navarro has subtle by powerful psychic that allow her to sense the veracity of an opponent.  Together, the three efficiently set out to spoil Prospero’s scheme and obtain the anti-gravity machine before it falls into evil hands.

“3 The Hard Way,” is such an awesome volume as it stands.  But to sweeten the pot even more, Phillips has added a brand new Essex Man short to welcome readers to the worlds of his amazing imagination.  In a time when we are seeing more and more wonderful new pulp fiction entering the literary world, Gary Phillips is far out front leading the pack. It would do you well to start reading him now rather than play catch up later. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


By Loren D. Estleman
Forge Books
224 pgs
Available May 2016

Now we’ve only read a few books by Loren D. Estleman but those were enough to convince us of his immeasurable storytelling talents.  It is also clear he possesses a genuine fondness for westerns as this latest title soundly confirms.

Montana based U.S. Deputy Marshal Page Murdock, a seasoned lawman, is ordered by his superior, Federal Judge Harlan Blackthorne, to Cape Hell, Mexico, to investigates the activities of former Confederate officer, Captain Oscar Childress, said to be assembling a private army to capture Mexico City.  From there Childress plans to turn his attention to United States and attempt to start a second Civil War.

Murdoch finds the entire idea ludicrous but has little say in the matter and soon finds himself aboard an old steam engine train called The Ghost barreling his way south with a shifty Mexican engineer and Joseph, his Indian fireman.  Their destination, Childress’ camp hidden deep in the heart of the rugged Sierra Madres overlooking Cape Hell.

The ex-Confederate would-be conqueror is a well used plot that in lesser hands would have proven tiresome and unoriginal, but it is Murdock’s weary world voice that gives it a new feel.  His curiosity at what makes Childress tick and his stubbornness in seeing the mission completed offer up a truly likeable protagonist who, considering how many times he’s cracked over the head, must have a skull made of rock.

“Cape Hell” is as fast paced as the locomotive that carries us into the eerily beautiful but deadly landscape and in the end delivers a fresh, exciting yarn worthy of the best classic westerns.  This one is a winner hands down.

Friday, April 01, 2016


Classic War & Adventure Stories
By Robert F. Dorr
New Texture Books
323 pages

At the height of the classic pulp era of the 1930s and 40s, variety was the name of the game as magazine racks were inundated with titles covering every conceivable genre of fiction known to mankind.  There was clearly something for everyone; men, women and children.  In the post World War II years starting in the early 50s, pulps outgrew their small, square format and morphed into the more typical, larger publications.  With this evolution the diversity continued only now it seemed to be a lot more noticeable.  Glancing at drugstore racks, one could clearly see sections set aside for women’s interest ala romance and confession titles, whereas the kids now had their comic books and for the men readers; many made up of veterans, there were the Men’s Adventure Magazines or, as we’ve come to refer to them today, MAMS.

Month after month throughout the 50s, 60s and well into the 70s, dozens of title covers featured soldiers, sailors and airmen along with scantily clad, busty babes in all manners of death defying scenarios. These were periodicals loudly proclaiming their machismo and all things rugged. There were no fobbish, sophisticated intellectuals in these pages, but true American patriots, battling tough-guys willing to give all for God and country. The writers that produced mountains of these stories were men cast from the same mold as they heroes they wrote about.  None was better at this craft than Robert F. Dorr.

Now editors Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, two men dedicated to preserving the history of MAMS, have collected 17 of Dorr’s classic action adventure shorts that appeared in various titles between 1962 and 1970.  These blood and guts yarns portray American warriors in both the European theater and South Pacific, from on-the-ground hand to hand combat to the nerve-wracking trauma of airmen battling in the skies aboard massive air bombers. Then there are stories detailing the horror of the Korean conflict and finally brutally detailed accounts of jungle action in the steaming valleys of Vietnam.

Throughout them all, Dorr brings to each such authenticity that he immediately captures his readers and sucks them into action. Enough so that this reviewer could hear the sounds of the mighty Pratt & Whitney engines as they  carried airmen over enemy territory and felt hot lead zipping past his head as he crouched in a foxhole of hardened mud on a Korean hillside awaiting the oncoming charge of crazed Red Soldiers.  This ability to share an experience is the hallmark of a true writer. It is a rare talent only few have ever possessed and Dorr is one of them.  My personal favorite was his recounting of “The Incredible Glory Saga of the Boondock Padre.”  This is story of Father Robert Liteky, an Army Chaplain who won the Medal of Honor for his courage at the battle of Phuoc Loc three weeks before the Tet Offensive of 1967. You see, this reviewer was an Army Spec 4 stationed at Long Binh only a few miles away when this happened.  Robert Dorr’s story brought back lots of memories of the brave men and women I served with in those log ago days. Many never came home and we salute writers like Dorr for not letting their stories be forgotten.

“A HANDFUL OF HELL,” is a remarkable collection by a truly great writer. One we are damn proud to have in our library.  It deserves your support and then some.