Thursday, January 19, 2017


By Ed McBain
Hard Case Crime
237 pages

As a high school student in the early 1960s, we discovered the paperback crime fiction of writer Ed McBain and instantly became enamored of his enormous talent. He was and remains to this very day our favorite author. “Cut Me In,” is one of his early works but before we get into the review here’s a little background. Ed McBain (Octorber 15,1926 – July 6, 2005) is was one of the pen names of author and screenwriter Salavtore Albert Lombino who legally adopted the name Evan Hunter in 1952. Over his career he wrote under several pseudonyms that included John Abbott, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon and Richard Marsten, amongst others. But he is best known as McBain, the name he used for most of his crime fiction to include his popular 87th Precinct books which became a staple of the police procedural genre.

In 1951, Lombino took a job as an executive editor for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency and there worked with such authors as Poul Anderson, Arthur C.Clarke, Lester del Rey, Richard S.Prather and P.G.Woodhouse. That same year he made his first professional sale; a short science-fiction tale titled “Welcome Martians!” published under his birth name of S.A. Lombino. In reading “Cut Me In,” it is obvious McBain used experiences learned in that job as the basis for his murder mystery.

Protagonist Josh Blake is half owner of a New York Literary Agency. One day he comes to work and finds his partner, Del Gilbert, shot to death. A Detective Sgt. DiLuca is assigned the case and Blake thinks he is an incompetent bumbler. On the verge of signing a big movie deal concerning one of their major clients, Blake suspects someone wants the deal nixed and when the agreement contract goes missing, he’s convinced it was the motive behind the killing. Then Gilbert’s mistress is murdered and DiLuca turns his attention on Blake.

“Cut Me In,” told from Blake’s perspective, is a fast moving, taut thriller and gives the reader a glimpse into the cutthroat world of agents, writers and Hollywood producers; people willing to sell their souls to the devil to gain fame and wealth. Whereas published in the mid-50s, there’s a distinct chauvinistic feel to McBain’s depiction women. All of them appear cookie-cutter beautiful, professional and sexually aggressive ala some antiquated exploitation pulp in which all the women are deprives nymphomaniacs who throw themselves at the hero. In lesser hands, it would be paperback trash and we suspect McBain was all too aware of its tawdriness. Yet he was writing in a time when editors demanded such blatant pandering to their readers. That he manages to deliver a solid mystery despite these handicaps is no small achievement and “Cut Me In” is a wonderful look back at the beginnings of a writer would eventually be awarded the coveted Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America.

And if that isn’t enough to get you to pick up a copy of this book, it also has a bonus Matt Cordell private eye short in it, which is pure 50s tough-guy fiction.  Honestly, mystery lovers, it really doesn’t get any better than McBain.

Friday, January 13, 2017


By Stephen Jared
Soltice Publishing
202 pages

Stephen Jared is one of the more promising voices in New Pulp fiction working today and his past titles have shown a real flare for both heroic adventure and tightly plotted noir crime thrilles. Whereas with “Need More Road,” he sets out on a much more ambitions journey to create a poignant character study of a lonely man living in quiet desperation. Sadly, even his talent can’t save the book’s rambling second half.

The tale is set in the post World War II years. Eddie Howard is a fifty year old bank clerk living the sleep desert town of Barstow, California. He lives alone in his dead parents’ house where he was raised and the only real joy he has are his trips to the small movie house. Eddie loves the movies and sees each new release multiple times. They are his ticket out of the mundane routine of his boorish life. 

Then one day a beautiful young woman walks into the bank and from that moment on Eddie’s world is sent spiraling out of control. A Marilyn Monroe clone, Mary Rose has come to Barstow to set up an account for her father, Mr.McCoy, who is still living back in Los Angeles. Eddie befriends her and they soon become close. He can’t believe his good fortune.  When her supposed father eventually arrives in town, the reader is miles ahead of this familiar noir plot line.  The man calling himself Mary Rose’s father is actually her criminal boyfriend and they are in town to rob the bank. By now Eddie has fallen totally under the blonde femme fatale’s charms.

All this is classic noir and Jared does a great job moving the story along carefully with no sense of urgency. It is this deliberate pacing that builds the tension and as poor Eddie falls deeper and deeper into the couple’s web of lies, it is impossible to put the book down. The heist is carried out and then the characters begin their escape with the stolen cash.

Even when Eddie manages to outwit McCoy and his safecracking buddy, and escape their clutches with Mary Rose in tow, the suspense rolls along at breakneck speed taking the fugitives on a twisting, rambling road. All the while their relationship seems to flounder and have no clear purpose; it’s as if despite everything that has happened, Eddie and Mary Rose are doomed to remain strangers.

The hallmark of noir fiction is a climatic finale that is most often tragic. Whereas Jared’s last third of “Need More Road” doesn’t go anywhere. It just stops. The book has no solid ending to justify its powerful first half. At the end we are left with an exercise in good writing.  In this genre that is just not enough.

Sunday, January 08, 2017


By Jack Williamson & James Gunn
Tor Books
294 pgs
First published 1955

Every now and then a publisher will send us a new edition of a classic book.  Such was the case when Tor sent us a new softcover edition of “Star Bridge” by Jack Williamson and James Gunn. Although we’d never read it before, we had heard of it over the years and were delighted to have the opportunity to see what the fuss was all about.

Williamson, a well known author in the field, wrote the first fifty pages of the manuscript before hitting the dreaded writer’s block and putting it aside. Years later, he met and became friends with the younger Gunn and ultimately gave him the material, which also included extensive notes, to complete the book.  Gunn did so in a masterful way and it was published in 1955. Then it simply drifted off into oblivion.  In fact most critics of that time thought it nothing but an old fashion space opera filled “fast-moving blood-and-thunder…” quoting Villiers Gerson for the New York Times.

But like all hidden gems in the rough, the book simply wouldn’t go away and continued to be reprinted by various publishers. Eventually new generations of sci-fi fans found it such as authors Samuel R. Delaney and Edward Bryant, who both have said it was the book that “turned (them) on” to science fiction.

The book revolves around mankind’s expansion into far flung space via special tubes which allow travel beyond the restraints of FTL.  Since their invention, on the distant planet of Eron, the tubes systematically created a vast galactic empire which is controlled by the golden people of Eron. As the book opens, the Eron’s governing body has become totally corrupt and is mercilessly crushing any and all who stand in its way. Thus a mercenary named Horn is hired to assassinate the General Director, the all powerful ruler of Eron. In accomplishing his mission, Horn quickly comes to realize he has set into motion a new power struggle which will destroy the empire and along with it civilization unless he can learn the real secret of what powers the tubes.

What we have here is at its core an old fashion space opera, easily derived from Williamson’s own outline. It was the style of writing he excelled at. But at the same time, Gunn, a more introspective writer, layers his chapters with the philosophies behind human nature in both describing its noble strengths as opposed to its obsessive quest for power. Thus while spinning an action packed adventure we are given a treatise on the relative importance of impersonal forces and individuals in the event of history. One modern day fan of the book likened it to collaboration between Heinlein and Asimov and we would agree with that description.

“Star Bridge” is a great book worthy of being a science fiction classic. We’re glad we finally had a chance to enjoy it. If you haven’t yet, we urge you to do so soon. You won’t be disappointed.