Monday, July 20, 2020

MURDER in the RUE DUMAS


MURDER IN THE RUE DUMAS
By M.L. Longworth
Penguin Books
296 pgs.

We confess to not reading all that many new books from other countries and perhaps should do so more often. “Murder in the Rue Dumas” comes to us from France by way of M.L. Longworth. She actually resides in Aix, the setting of this story and so generously paints a warm and beautiful picture of the area. Enough to have us wondering how delightful a town it would be to visit. Just not when people are being murdered there.

The head of philosophy department at the nearby college is planning to retire and several of his colleagues are hoping to be his replacement. The position not only comes with prestige and a raise, but also included is a fabulous apartment suite on the campus itself. Some actually believe the apartment if more valuable than the title itself and there is the fact that once awarded, it is a lifetime position. Things go awry when at a party in his apartment, Prof. Moutes tells his friends he has changed his mind and is not going to retire. The next morning he is found dead in his office, his head smashed in.

Enter Judge AntoineVerlaque and Inspector Bruno Paulik to systematically interview the usual suspects from among the faculty and student body. Longworth never rushes the plot along and some readers may be distracted by several of her musings on travel, cooking and love, but we found each delightful. Each of these digressions enhanced our overall enjoyment of the story. Of course the mystery is solved in the end, both by intuition and solid clues but honestly, with “Murder in the Rue Dumas,” it is the journey to it we appreciated most.

Maybe its time to see if our passport is still valid.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

WHO'S WHO in NEW PULP


WHO’S WHO in NEW PULP is now available at Amazon. Here are 222 bios of the finest New Pulp writers, artists, reviewers, editors and publishers. All proceeds from sale of the book to go to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  Note – all participants can purchase copies directly from Rob Davis – Art Director Airship 27 Production.
Thanks to all who helped make this book possible.
AMAZON LINK –
(https://www.amazon.com/dp/1946183830?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860)

Sunday, July 05, 2020

MIAMI HEIST


MIAMI HEIST
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
230 pgs

Two years ago, Pulp Factory Award winning sci-fi writer, Van Plexico turned his considerable writing skills to produce a crime thriller. It was called “Vegas Heist” and went on to win his second Best Novel Pulp Factory Award, making him the only writer to have done so in the group’s fifteen year history. As one of the reviewers of “Vegas Heist,” we immediately joined the chorus of readers urging him to do another and here it is much to our unadulterated delight.

Back in action are thieves Harper and Salsa and this time their target is a stash of Nazi good bars hidden on a small island off the coast of Miami, Florida. It’s 1966 and a full year has passed since the duo’s successful Vegas caper. But rather than continue to live leisurely off their ill-gotten gains, the guys are getting restless. Which is when Salsa learns the rumor of the lost Nazi gold on Ruby Island and persuades Harper to help him investigate whether it’s a mere folk tale or in fact has some validity.

Disguised as bridge card players attending a tournament, the two, along with their lovely ladies, travel to the island owned by millionaire Landsdale to scout out his multi-room mansion serriptiously. Harper considers it a wild goose chase until, but pure accident, actually uncover the gold. Rest easy, there are no spoilers here. Needless to say, once they know there is a wealth of gold ready for the taking, Harper quickly begins making a plan and assembling a team. Whereas the closer the day of the heist approaches, several incidents arise which have him second-guessing the entire caper.

By the time the actual robbery is under way, Hurricane Inez hits the area and things quickly begin to fall a part. Like all such tales, there is plenty of suspense, surprises and betrayals all leading to a wet and bloody climax none of the characters could have ever predicted. Once again, Plexico delivers a blistering story that had this reviewer turning pages so fast as to blur the words. This is a new classic crime thriller and a very welcomed addition to what we pray is a series only getting warmed up.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES


THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES
By Lawrence Block
Hard Case Crime
Titan Books
234 pgs

With this novel, Block tips his noir fedora to the late novelist James M. Cain who wrote both “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Double Indemnity.” Both are considered crime fiction classics and both revolve around a beautiful femme fatale who seduces her lover into helping her murder her husband.

Doak Miller is a divorced, retired New York cop living in Florida and doing a little P.I. work. When the local sheriff asks his help in setting up a sting, it is to catch a beautiful young woman looking to hire someone to kill her older, rich husband. But once Miller sees a photo of Lisa Yarrow Otterbein, he falls for her like the proverbial ton of bricks. Which poses the immediate problem of extracting from the trap she is in and then convincing the sheriff she actually changed her mind about wanting her spouse six feet under.

Once Doak confesses to Lisa he is on her side and the two become lovers, it is only inevitable they will again confront the same problem; how to get rid of the old man so they can both live high off his riches. Doak, per his experiences as a police officer, knows the odds against them being able to successfully get away with it. The sheriff already has Lisa on his radar and should hubby suddenly drop dead, regardless of how it happens, he would logically focus on Lisa as his primary suspect.

Block is a mean writer and not for the squeamish. His characters are raw unlikeable people and yet still mesmerizing in their own tragic ways. Doak’s dilemma boils down to his being unable to keep “it” in his pants. A subject that comes up all too often and one he never shies away from, even with Lisa; the flesh and blood embodiment of all his past sexual fantasies. Can this be true love?

One can’t help but relish the scenes in which Doak is glued to his TV set watching noir classis on the Turner channel, to include both “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Double Indemnity.” He can’t help but reflect that both are versions of his own story and wonders if their calamitous climaxes are fated for him and Lisa as well. Whereas they are only the products of a fevered writer’s imagination, Doak and Lisa are all too real. Once started, you will have a hard time putting this one down.

Monday, June 29, 2020

THE LONG HIGH NOON


THE LONG HIGH NOON
By Loren D. Estleman
Forge Books
271 pgs

There are writers who are so damn dependable, you can pick up anything they’ve done and know before even opening the cover you are going to be entertained to the max. One such pulp scribe, is Loren D. Estleman. Though known primarily for his mysteries, Estleman is also highly regarded for his down to earth, folksy westerns. His knowledge of history is spot on and as wild and colorful as his western characters may be, they always appear on a realistic stage to tell their tales.

Such is the case with this wildly insane comedy from 2015. Cowboys turned gunslingers, Randy Locke and Frank Farmer are feuding but neither can remember why. The only thing they know is each wants to shoot the other dead. And thus begins this chase after one another that goes from the 1880s up through the start of the new century. From all over the west, to Barbary Coast of California, to the Oklahoma Territories, the gold fields of Alaska and the oil fields of Texas. It is a journey both men will endure numerous hardships and deprivations to eventually satiate their obsessive goal; to kill the other in a fair gunfight.

If you think the plot is outlandish, you are correct but Estleman’s way with the times, the birth of a nation and the people who parented it are part of the magic he imbues in Randy and Frank. In them is the good and bad in all of us, fighting to achieve even a modicum of purpose in this mystery we call life. “The Long High Noon” is one of the most unforgettable books we’ve ever read. If you like originality, so will you. Count on it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

EIGHT AGAINST THE DARKNESS


EIGHT AGAINST THE DARKNESS
By Mark Allen Vann
Xepico Press
147 pgs

The real pleasure of writing this blog is discovering talented New Pulp writers like Mark Allen Vann. This, his first book, is a collection of eight stories all debuting a new pulp hero created from the familiar tropes of the classics from the 30s and 40s. In these pages the reader will find a Warrior Prince, Victorian Agent, Mentalist, Adventurer, Witch Hunter, Sky Pirate, Masked Vigilante and of course an Occult Detective.

Vann, in his insightful afterwards to the collections, makes no apologies for using those tried and true hero molds as he was raised on the super-charged tales of Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Johnston McCauley and Walter Gibson, among so many others. Rather, he is wise enough to put his own personal twist to each character and very effectively makes them new and fresh. No small achievement, believe us. We’ve seen lots of other young writers attempt such only to fail miserable with their copycat inventions.

Corr maybe related to Conan, but except for swinging a mean sword and being one hell of a bruiser, that’s where the similarities part ways. Alistair Synne may have gone to school with Solomon Kane, but he clearly graduated with his own peculiar skills, including to flintlock pistols that fire bits of his soul every time he shoots them. Then there is the beautiful steampunk sky pirate, Red d Havick, captain of the Scarlet Mistress adventuring on a world where massive islands float.

We would be hard pressed to name a favorite among the eight action packed tales in this collection. What we will say is, all of Vann’s heroes totally deserve lots more stories; each is that much fun and exciting to follow. This is one of the most audacious new pulp debuts in a long time and if Vann is thinking of a sequel, we’d really like to see his take on a western. Bottom line Mark Allen Vann is a name you will soon be hearing a whole lot more and that, dear readers, is a wonderful thing. Count on it.

Saturday, June 13, 2020


LEGACY – OM NIBUS Vol One
By Warren Murphy and Gerald Welch
Destroyer Books
454 pgs.

In our last review, we were reminded how Pinnacle books appeared on the scene shortly after we came home from Vietnam in 1968. They released two paperback pulp series; The Executioner by Don Pendleton and Created – The Destroyer by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy. As we discussed Mack Bolan last time, with this review we’re going to take a look at a new spin-off series that sprang from the elements of the Destroyer saga. But first, let’s give you some background.

The Destroyer novels were about a U.S. government agent named Remo Williams. The hero first appears as a Newark cop framed for a crime and sentenced to death. His death is faked by the government so he can be trained as an assassin for CURE, a secret organization set up by President Kennedy to defend the country by working outside the law. The head of CURE is Harold W. Smith, a man selected by the President not only for his brilliant mind but also because of his integrity. Remo’s trainer father-figure is Chiun, a deadly assassin and the last Master of Sinanju, a Korean based martial art far superior than any other such fighting techniques.

Unlike the realism of the Mack Bolan adventures, the tales of Remo and Chiun were outlandish escapades bordering on fantasy. Remo could dodge bullets and Chiun walked on water. This was pulp exaggeration to the max and the books never took themselves seriously. They were spot-on satires jabbing at political tomfoolery under the thin veneer of action stories. In time, Sapir and Murphy parted ways and ghost-writers were brought on to continue the series which would run to 150 books. There was even a movie which starred Fred Ward as Remo and Joel Grey as Chuin. Though a box-office bomb, it struck a nerve with fans and remains a cult classic.

Eventually Pinnacle sold the series to Tor books. Sapir passed away in 1987 and the rights reverted back solely to Murphy. Once he had control of his creation, Murphy set about expanding the Destroyer concept and began working with young writers to assist him in launching both a new Destroyer series continuing the exploits of Remo and Chuin, but along with young writer Gerald Welch, he produced a spin-off titled Legacy which would introduce the world to Remo’s two children, Stone Smith and his half-sister Freya. After Murphy’s passing in 2015, Welch continued to sibling stories maintaining the same style and effervescences associated with the characters.

Having read and enjoyed those early Destroyer paperbacks, we were actually taken by surprise upon receiving “Legacy – Omnibus” as we had no idea that series had been revived and evolved in this exciting new version. The giant sized omnibus collects the first three Legacy titles, “Forgotten Son,” “The Killing Fields,” and “Overload.” All are terrific and expand upon the new characters from Stone and Freya to their grandfather, “Sunny Joe Roam.” It also fleshes out an historical back-story about Sinanju and its splinter group, an actual Native American tribe living on a reservation in Arizona. Now if that isn’t wonky pulp fare, we don’t know what is. “Legacy – Omnibus” is a grand introduction to the new world of The Destroyer and not only has those first opening chapters but is packed with bonus “extras” that enrich the entire reading experience. It is an awesome package any pulp fan would treasure. It now has a special place in our own library. If like this reviewer, you are an old fan of the series, then this is cause for celebration, The Destoryer(s) is back!

Sunday, June 07, 2020

ONE MAN ARMY - The Action Paperback Art of Gil Cohen


ONE MAN ARMY
The Action Paperback Art of Gil Cohen
Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle
# new texture book
134 pgs.

We came home to civilian life in the summer of 1968, leaving Vietnam far behind. We were all of 21 at the time and the future seemed one giant mystery. Several months later, while browsing a paperback spinner rack, we discovered two titles published by a new outfit calling itself Pinnacle Books. One was called The Destroyer and written by the team of Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy; the other The Executioner written by Don Pendleton. Upon reading both, we came to the conclusion that they were in fact a new, modern version of the pulps. One told the tale of a super-spy with crazy martial arts skill. It was as over the top as any of the original pulp heroes from the 30s and 40s.

Now the Executioner was a bit more grounded in the real world. It told the story of an American soldier named Mack Bolan sent home from Vietnam to bury his family; presumably killed by his own father. The story, as Bolan would learn, dealth with the old man’s outrage upon learning his daughter, in order to pay off a debt to the local mob, was turned into a prostitute. Bolan senior couldn’t deal with the disgrace and so shot her, his wife and then turned the gun on himself. That was the tragedy the weary soldier was confronted with. So why was he fighting a war in a foreign land when America had its own savages to battle? In the end, Bolan goes AWOL and swears a vendetta against the Mafia and all such criminal organizations. Using the skills Uncle Sam taught him, Bolan launches a one man war and operating outside the law, he become the mob’s worst nightmare.

With each new book in the series, Bolan, nicknamed the Executioner, continued to rack up his body count laying waste to every single mob family in the country. And as he did so, his popularity among the readership grew in leaps and bounds. The appeal of this lone wolf hero unencumbered by the law was strong and Pinnacle realized it had a huge winner on its hands. In fact Bolan’s exploits were so popular they soon spawned spin-off series, ala Able Team, U.S. based agents getting together under Bolan’s direction, and Phoenix Force, another squad created and assembled to take on foreign threats to the USA. And like the Executioner, they too were immensely successful. Eventually Harlequin Books would buy out the Mack Bolan series and they are still published to this day.

One of the elements that contributed in great part to all this success were the beautiful, action orientated painted covers. Like the old classic pulps, they featured the hero battling for his life against tremendous odds, protecting a beautiful sexy gal, or going it alone deep in enemy territory. Although other talented MAM artists, ala George Gross, contributed artwork, in 1972 Pinnacle hired Gil Cohen to take the reins. He would be involved with both Mack Bolan and then the Phoenix Force for the next fifteen years turning in his last Bolan assignment in 1987.

Now MAM historians Bob Deis and Wyatt Dolye have produced a truly gorgeous book collecting so many of these astounding paintings. Each is a visually dramatic scene representing the action within the paperback’s pages. Cohen has an uncanny ability to freeze a kinetic moment but without losing the power it contains. That is the hallmark of a great illustrator. Another aspect of all Deis and Doyle volumes is their sharing the subject’s memoirs through recorded interviews. Reading Cohen’s own thoughts about Mack Bolan and his look was fascinating. In retrospect, we found his own depiction of the Executioner, especially around the eyes, reminded us a great deal of one-time James Bond, actor George Lazenby. We imagine each reader had his own mental casting for the role.

Another element to pay close attention to is Cohen’s authentic aircraft throughout the book. Since leaving MAMs and paperbacks behind, he has become one of the leading aviation artists in the world today. All in all, this is as yet another true artistic treasure that will highlight any pulp reference library, including yours. A sincere thanks to Deis and Doyle. Please, keep’em coming, fellahs. We’re the richer for them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

DEATH OF AN ART COLLECTOR


DEATH OF AN ART COLLECTOR
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
By Robert Goldsborough
Mysterious Press
221 pgs

We’ve made no secret that we greatly enjoy Robert Goldsborough’s new Nero Wolfe mysteries. He handles all the familiar trappings from the rotund detective’s love of Remmers beer and his thousand of orchids to his witty battering with his dapper legman, Archie Goodwin perfectly.

In this outing Wolfe is faced with one of his most challenging puzzles. Noted art collector, Arthur Wordell, a rough hewn character, enjoys sitting on the narrow windowsill of his office located on the twentieth floor. He tells one and all he enjoys the view of downtown from that perch. Of course when his body is found splattered over the sidewalk one morning, the police, and many others, assume Wordell’s luck ran out and he slipped and fell to his death. Or maybe he committed suicide to end it all.

Whereas his daughter Nadia believes the irascible Wordell was pushed and thus hires Nero Wolfe to find her father’s killer. At this point we are on familiar ground as Archie begins inviting those closest to Wordell to visit their brownstone abode and meet with his boss. One by one, Wolfe confronts the suspects and Goldsborough shines making the repetitive narrative lively with his talent for capturing a character’s personality in very few words. Ultimately all suspects have been met and interviewed and it is time for Wolfe to reveal the killer.

But can he? We have no intention of spoiling what is easily one of the most original climaxes in any Wolfe book ever. What we will say is, like Archie and Wolfe, we never saw it coming. That alone makes “Death of an Art Collector” one of the most memorable cases in the series to date and one you will not want to miss.


Thursday, May 21, 2020

STORYHACK Issue # 5


STORYHACK
Action & Adventure – Issue # 5
Edited by Bryce Beattie
Baby Katie Media LLC
112 pgs

As you’ll never see this on any magazine wrack, we hesitate to call such. Rather it is a pulp anthology in the guise of old fashion monthly. It features nine new stories by talented writers and the subject matter is as far reaching as those old golden age titles. So a tip of the pulp fedora to Editor Bryce Beattie. This is a handsomely designed package with a terrific cover by Zefanya Maega and nine interior illustrations by seven other skilled artists.

“The Last Word” by H.A. Titus opens the book with a bang. A private eye actioner in a world of magic and wizards and orcs. It’s fun and we liked it a great deal.

“The Singer’s Tale” by Jon Mollison is a touch of noire with a sultry femme fatale who’s charm pack an extra magic wallop. The ending was a nice surprise.

“The Lair of the Old Ones” by Stanley W. Wagenaar is nothing less than a rip-roaring, broadsword wielding Conan-like adventure that moves at hyper-speed. Wagenaar’s flair for head-on action sequences is terrific and we hope to lots more of his work in the future.

“Acme Denton – Out of Time” by Michael Hayes is the story of a luckless private eye with too many bills and a wife a small child to support. When he’s thrown into the Wild West past of Arizona, things start to get crazy. This looks to be the first installment of a proposed series.

“The Last Contract” by Dominka Lein is an old fashion space opera with a futuristic assassin and his alien girlfriend taking on assignment that might prove to be their own undoing. It was well done, though the pseudo technical jargon was overused a wee bit much.

“Makani and the Vulture God” by Paul R. McNamee was set on a South Sea island and centered around a downhill surfing-like contest between the men of the tribe. When an evil Vulture god becomes involved, it is left to the local ka-man, Makani, to save the day.

“Night of a Thousand Eyes” by Deborah L. Davitt has a downloaded detective investigating the disappearance of fellow agents on a manufacturing world. He’s aided by a sassy AI and the chemistry Davitt infuses these characters with is much fun.

“Black Dog Bend” by JD Cowan is a nice little time-travel ghost story skillfully delivered.

“Swimming with the Devil” by William Eckman has the dubious distinction of being the last story in the book and thus the one that will tend to influence your average reader as the reads the last page. Often times a great deal depends on one’s exist as well as one’s entrance. In this case it is a real gem. Whereas the story revolves around a Persian pearl diver, pun totally intended. We enjoyed the way the story was presented in a relaxed, informal style and the ending innovative and charming. Easily one of the top two entries in this wonderful collection.

Final thoughts. Come next year’s nominating for the Pulp Factory Awards, we can see ourselves offering up “Storyhack # 5” in the Best Anthology/Collection category, while several of the stories will most likely get nods in the Short Story category. Yes, my friends, it’s that good.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

THE BLACK STILETTO - Secret & Lies


THE BLACK STILETTO
Stars & Stripes
By Raymond Benson
Oceanview Publishing
384 pgs.

In this, the third installment of Raymond Benson’s female vigilante saga, Judy Cooper comes to the aid of a Chinese family in New York, gets in involved with the 1960 presidential campaign and ends up saving both John Kennedy and Richard Nixon from being shot by a Russian assassin. All in a day’s work for the vivacious readhead from Texas.

As in the previous entries, all this is revealed via her diaries by her son Martin. Judy today is an elderly soul residing in a senior care facility suffering from Alzeimer’s. Never having revealed her secret crime-fighting career in the past, the truth revealed in those diaries becomes an unbearable burden to Martin. At the same time, his only daughter, Gina, has endured a rape and assault and is now studying martial arts taking her on a path and eerily mirrors that of her grandmother.

The delight of this series is the humanity Benson infuses in all his characters and allows each to tell his or her story. All of them begin to form the picture of a real family, each member in flux doing their best to make through the greatest puzzle of them all, life. This is such a great series and here’s hoping we’ll soon be hearing Gina’s voice.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

DEAD JACK and the Soul Catcher



DEAD JACK and the Soul Catcher
By James Aquilone
Homunculus House
217 pages

Occasionally publishers will solicit a review of a book by sending out pre-press galleys. Then if the reviewer does deliver a positive report, they will lift a phrase from that and slap on the cover of the actual book. Which is what was done with this title, the quote being credited to writer Jonathan Maberry and it reads, “Wicked Fun!” Honestly, those two words are the most accurate descriptions of this novel imaginable. It is very, very much, wicked fun from start to finish. Alas, my job here his done. Bye.

Obviously not the case as we do have an obligation to fill you in on a bit more details about this particular title and the why behind that pithy applause. Forgive us, Mr. Maberry for being a bit more verbose.

During World War II, Nazis experimenting with occult artifacts opened a rift into an alternate dimension and many of them, including their American prisoners, ended up being trapped there. They soon discovered it was a dark version of New York City and its five boroughs and called it Pandemonium; a world filled with all the nightmares known to mankind from ghouls, ghosts, vampires, werewolves and a few brain eating zombies. Among these walking dead is Jack, a private eye looking for his soul taken from him by the head Nazis scientist Ratzinger. In the first book, Jack and his small sidekick, a homunculus named Oswald, stopped a madman from re-opening the rift that would have allowed the horrors of Pandemonium to invade “normal” Earth. But in the process, Oswald was left in a catatonic state with Jack unsure if the little guy was alive or not.

As this second tale begins, Jack learns the Nazis are at it again building a machine that will steal all the remaining human souls in Pandemonium. Convinced by an old friend that it is his duty to stop them, Jack sets out to learn the location of this weapon while at the same time trying to find a way to revive Oswald. He recruits a kooky wizard named Wally and a tough-as-nails, hammer wielding witch-fairy named Zara and off they go through the bizarre wilds of Pandemonium to save the day.

James Aquilone’s writing leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. His characters are unique and absolutely hilarious. His pacing is incredible with nary a dull moment throughout the story. Action, suspense and so much black humor, we found ourselves often laughing aloud. “Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher,” is that rarity among book series in that it is even better than the first book. One can only wonder what goodies Mr. Aquilone will surprise us with when the next chapter arrives. Personally, we can’t wait.

Monday, April 27, 2020

VIC CHALLENGER - A Savage Place


VIC CHALLENGER – A SAVAGE PLACE
By Jerry Gill
Ann Darrow Co.
216 pgs

Writer Jerry Gill’s savage reincarnated adventuress, Victoria Custer (nickname Vic Challenger) is back in this, her ninth adventure. It’s a non-stop, high octane story that never lets up for a second. In this outing, Vic hears about a so-called man-eating plant said to exist lost Mkodo jungles of Madagascar. Before the ink dries on her travel plans, Vic is in a small dhow sailing from the coast of Africa to the island nation.

Immediately her boat is attacked by pirated and though the entire crew is murdered, she manages to elude that fate and makes her way to land. After overcoming natural survival challenges as only she can, Vic soon reaches civilization and there outfits herself for her journey into the dangerous back-country jungles. Accompanying her is a young girl, Zarah, who has read Vic’s exploits in the international newspapers and wants to mimic her adventurous career. Once in the jungle, they encounter savage lemurs, bizarre acid producing plants, giant birds and deadly underground monsters.

As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, they soon learned they are being followed my jewel hunting mercenary named Moreau who will stop at nothing to achieve his dreams of wealth and power.

“A Savage Place” is another solid chapter in this remarkable adventure series that is so pulpish that when reading, we had to wonder if Jerry Gill wasn’t a time-traveler from the 20s. If you haven’t encountered the Queen of New Pulp yet it is high time you did.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

STRAIGHT OUT OF DODGE CITY


STRAIGHT OUT OF DODGE CITY
Edited by David Boop
Baen Books
250 pages

Here we have the third in Baen Books’ weird western Straight Outta series edited by David Boop. It’s a nifty collection of fourteen stories by both veteran writers and a few newbies. As always, we judge an anthology via a hierarchy of stories we thought exceptional, those we thought okay and finally those we simply didn’t care for. Then we tally it all up and if the pluses outnumber the minuses, we’ll gladly recommend the book to you, dear readers. So let’s get cracking.

Among our favorites were “The Hoodoo Man and the Midnight Train” by the always reliable Joe R. Landsale. A tale of dark magic and cursed gunslinger collecting doomed souls on his train from hell. “The Murder of the Rag Doll Kid” by editor/writer David Boop is poignant and beautiful told. “The Dead Can’t Die Twice” by Samantha Lee Howe is a chilling tale of a haunted gun seeing vengeance on those who did its owner wrong.  Julie Frost’s “Rara Lupus” is a different look at werewolves, while Kim May’s “Stealing Thunder from the Gods” offers up a transcontinental airship service encountering a Native American deity.

Also worth your attention are James A. Moore’s “Kachina” doing a nice job of pitting an ogre against a shapeshifter. “Ghost Men of Sunrise Mesa” by Jonathan Maberry has a bit of H.G. Wells thrown into the mix. Mercedes Lackey’s “As Long as Grass Shall Grow” centers around a land rush to claim prairie lands containing sacred spirits of the earth. It’s both fanciful and romantic. James Van Pelt’s “A Simple Pine Box,” is whimsical and fun while “Fang for Fang, Fire for Blood,” by Ava Morgan packed a nice surprise punch at the end.

Whereas we didn’t care for the other remaining four. We should mention that Irene Radford spins a decent tale, but honestly, it really isn’t a western, weird or otherwise and didn’t belong in this collection.

Final tally, ten of these fourteen get a big thumbs up and kudos to Mr. Boop for another stellar anthology. It’s a lot of fun and we recommend you pick up a copy. You’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO PULP FICTION - Vol 2


THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO PULP FICTION
Vol 2
By Jonathan W. Sweet
Brick Pickle Pulp
181 pgs

A few months ago, we had the fun of reading and reviewing the first volume in this new pulp reference series by Jonathan Sweet. That book shined a light on the classic heroes and villains of the pulps and ended with a section on writers’ biographies.

In this follow up, Sweet details the publishing histories of major pulp publishers of the times and lists all their titles alphabetically. It is an amazing documentation presenting the debut date and the final editons with the names of the primary writers who graced their pages. He breaks these up in the most popular genres from crime, to horror and spicy pulps. Every page is filled with captivating data and a credit to the author’s intensive research to include all the major titles.

Then the wraps it all up with the second half of writers’ biography picking up from where he left off at the end of volume one. Again, the material in these short histories is amazing, often times eye-opening and poignant to any lover of pulp fiction and its history. Reference books like these are invaluable to the true lover of pulp fiction and we tip our fedora to Jonathan Sweet and Brick Pickle Pulp.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

MASQUERADE FOR MURDER


MASQUERADE FOR MURDER
A Mike Hammer Mystery
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Titan Books
220 pgs

Honestly, having writer Max Allan Collins turn in another Mike Hammer novel in this Legacy series is like our enjoying the gift that never stops giving. With this entry, we find Hammer starting to feel his age though his style of dealing with scum hasn’t softened in the least bit. When young Vincent Colby, son of a wealthy stockbroker, is nearly run over outside a swank Manhattan steak house, Hammer and Detective Pat Chambers are among the witnesses. Was it an accident and attempted vehicular homicide? Hammer isn’t sure, but that doesn’t stop him from agreeing to investigate the incident at the senior Colby’s request.

Having been banged up by the collision, the debonair young playboy begins to exhibit severe mood swings bordering on physical violence. His father believes these are the after affects of the trauma the boy suffered. A few days later, Hammer successfully tracks down the driver only to find him dead with his chest caved in. Then a retired homicide detective is found murdered in the same fashion, followed soon after by a dominatrix; all of whom had some connection with young Colby.

Is the rich kid being framed or is he suffering from some mental illness causing him to commit these killings? And there is the gruesome manner of death. What kind of force can crush a person’s chest as if it had been hit by a cannonball? With each new page the case twists and turns; enough to tie Hammer in what looks like an inescapable knot. Of course before he can manage that trick, the weary private eye will have to depend on his quick trigger finger and darkly creative imagination. Blood flows as is the norm in any Hammer caper with a conclusion we soundly approved of.

We think you will too.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

GHOSTS OF EMPIRE


GHOST OF EMPIRE
By George Mann
Titan Books
272 pages

George Mann is a New Pulp writer currently producing three terrific series; the Newbury & Hobbs books, new Sherlock Holmes fantasies and his steampunk vigilante adventures of the Ghost of which this is the fourth. It is also the best. Within its pages Mann has crammed enough action and adventure, colorful heroes and mysterious villains to fill a half dozen books.

New York playboy Gabriel Cross, alias the Ghost, his girl friend Ginny Gray and their friends, Detective Felix Donovan and his wife Flora are in London on a much needed vacation. When they are confronted by a gravely wounded British Secret Service agent of Cross’ acquaintance, their plans for a restful sojourn evaporate immediately. In seeking help for his friend, the weary crime-fighter is pulled into an eerie conspiracy unleashed by Russian spies capable of deadly arcane magic. It soon becomes evident that the enemy agents are planning the destruction of London. They are commanded by a powerful, undying wizard from out of Russia’s bloody past.

Mann pits Cross and his friends against this horde of murderous magicians in one battle after another at breakneck speed. Then when thing look their worst for the Ghost and company, a very unique new ally arrives on the scene leading to a truly powerful and climatic confrontation with the Master Villain. Friends, this is truly pulp fiction at its best!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

MURDER STAGE LEFt


MURDER STAGE LEFT
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
By Robert Goldsborough
MysteriousPress.Com
232 pgs

Most mystery series, after a few books have been published, often fall into a formulaic pattern. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it actually creates a familiarity the readers quickly learn to accept and become comfortable with. It’s very much like visit an old friend. Sure some things may be new, but for the most part we know our surroundings and have come to appreciate them.

The formula of the Nero Wolfe mysteries was set early on by his creator, the late Rex Stout. Someone is murdered, Wolfe’s gumshoe, Archie Goodwin, goes and intervies the most obvious suspects, reports back to his boss and then the rotund detective has them assemble in his New York brownstone and there reveals which is the killer. Now if you’re a fan Nero Wolfe, all of that is routine and welcomed. Happily writer Robert Goldborough has continued the formula in his Wolfe books much to our delight.

Still every now and then, a good writer will endeavor to spice things up and with “Murder Stage Left,” Goldborough does that by flipping the formula upside down. Broadway producer/director Roy Breckenridge comes to Wolfe concerned that there is some kind of malaise infecting his newest hit show; though he can’t define his feeling of dread any clearer. For his own selfish reasons, Wolfe agrees to assist Breckenridge by having Archie visit the set and interview the cast members in the guise of a Canadian journalist. Thus the story kicks off with what should be the second act and we are found meeting the suspects before any crime has ever been committed.

This was such a fun twist on the formula, we found ourselves grinning as we read along. When the invariable murder does occur, the tale smoothly falls back into its time-worn groove and the puzzle becomes the book’s total focus. It should be mentioned, without giving away any important clues, that Goodwin’s activities as a bogus writer become a vital element in Wolfe’s unmasking the killer at the finale.

Kudos to Robert Goldsborough for in “Murder Stage Left,” he’s done the near impossible in giving us something both old…and new.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

GIRL CAN'T HELP IT


GIRL CAN’T HELP IT
A Krista Larson Mystery
By Max Allan Collins
Thomas & Mercer
275 pgs

There really should be a subgenre name for murder mysteries involving rock and roll bands. Seriously, quite a few such books have been done over the years. Enough to warrant such a label. None of which should come as a surprise as many writers in their younger days were known to have played in such bands. Thus is the case with writer Collins and, like those others before him, he skillfully weaves those experiences in this, his second Krista Larson mystery.

Galena Chief of Police Krista Larson, and her retired detective father, Keith, first appeared in “Girl Most Likely” and found instant favor with many of Collins’ fans; this reviewer included. In this latest outing, Galena is about to host a reunion concerts for a local band that long ago hit the big time. Krista is kept hopping with how such a tourist attracting event will impact her town. When several of the band’s members die within a year of each other prior to the reunion, her cop instincts begin to tingle. After hearing his daughter’s misgivings about the deaths, Keith begins to come around to her dark suspicions. Is there a murderer targeting the old rockers and if so, why?

Most decent mystery series depend on solid characters we readers can empathize with enough to want to meet them again and again. While immensely enjoying “Girl Can’t Help It,” we appreciated Collins displaying the hometown charm of Galena and its citizenry so that we were reminded favorably of the late Robert Parker’s homespun copper, Jesse Stone of Paradise, Massachusetts. All in all, the Larsons second outing is as much a pleasure as was the first and once again we find ourselves clamoring for more.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

CRYPTOZOICA


CRYPTOZOICA
By Mark Ellis
Cover & Interior Illustrations by Jeff Slemons
Millennial Concepts
404 pgs

Mark Ellis is an accomplished writer with a long, impressive history of writing fantastic fiction. When we first heard of this book, a decade ago, we were intrigued. Having grown up reading lots of Lost World adventures from Conan Doyle to Burrough and Michael Crichton, we naturally wondered what Ellis would bring to the genre. Then, while at a local convention last year, we have the good fortune of sitting next to our friend, graphic artist Jeff Slemons. The same Jeff Slemons who had contributed the artwork to this massive tome and much to our delight he had copies for sale on his table. Months later, we’ve finally read “Cryptozoica” and find ourselves deliriously happy to have done so.

This book is wonderfully crafted right from the start with its tantalizing opening segment of Charles Darwin on his historical voyage aboard The Beagle to solve the mystery of evolution. The ship has found a strange island in the South China Sea occupied by creatures long thought extinct. When Darwin begins to speculate what this discovery will mean to the world, another member of the crew, Dr. Belleau argues the revelations themselves will actually stymie the progress of science allowing religious zealots to exploit the islands secret to their own prejudice ends. In the end the famous scientist acquiesces and for the next several centuries their discoveries are protected by a secret organization known as the School of Night.

With that introductory chapter out of the way, the story continues in our present time where three different parties are about to clash over the future of Big TamTung; the dinosaur island. The first is a wealthy financier with plans to turn the island into a tourist attraction and is represented by Americans “Tombstone” Jack Kavanaugh, his partner Augustus Crowe and their lovely Malaysian mechanic Mouzi. When several very rich patrons are killed on their first expedition, the entire enterprise is scuttled. The second interested group is the Bamboo Triad, a far reaching criminal organization represented by the beautiful Bai Suzhen and her rival, Jimmy Chao. Their own agenda concerns a mysterious substance supposedly residing at the center of the island and capable of altering the course of science and medicine forever. It is this fable Prima Materia that entices scientist Aubrey Belleau, great grandson of the Beagle’s medic to gamble everything he possesses to find it. Accompanying him is his deadly bodyguard, the brutish Hamish Oakshott and world renowned paleontologist Honore Roxton.

The first half of the book sets the table introducing the readers to this colorful cast with brief glimpses into their individual histories and the demons and dreams that will lead them to the dangers of the savage world. All of which kicks off in the second half and totally revs up the story’s pacing too full speed ahead. From their first encounter with a giant prehistoric crocodile, to blood-sucking leeches that fall from the trees, each page propels the action in a crazy non-stop ride that encompasses the best elements of all such pulp adventures.

Ellis is a brilliant writer and along with all the great pulp madness displayed, he also explores the origins of man with all its twists and turns, scientific facts and tons of unproven legends that have yet to be explored and revealed. All of which makes “Cryptozoica” a feast of plenty for all lovers of high octane adventure. Our only regret is it took us this long to find. Please do not make that same mistake.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

THE DECENT IN OF DEATH


THE DECENT INN OF DEATH
A John Madden Mystery
By Rennie Airth
Penguin Books
353 pgs

In a small village town, church organist Greta Hartman is found dead face down in a creek after having supposedly fallen off a slippery bridge. The problem is her best friend, Very Cruickshank doesn’t believe the fall was an accident. She fervently suspected her friend was murdered and manages to convey that suspicion to retired Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair who is staying nearby with the friends; John and Helen Madden. While they are abroad on vacation, Sinclair decides to do a little investigation on his own the result of which uncovers several anomalies with the facts of Mrs. Hartman’s death.

Like a bloodhound catching an elusive scent of something askew, Sinclair continues to pry into the matter until his inquiries lead him to suspect a very demented killer may be targeting a wealthy young and invalid widow named Julia Lesage. Even though clues are tenuous at best, the old copper travels to Oxford where Mrs. Lesage stately manor home is located. When a winter snow blizzard hits, Sinclair, Mrs. Lesage and her staff find themselves trapped without telephone service.

Meanwhile, having returned from his trip, John Madden is surprised his friend missing and begins his own hunt. Along the way, he steadily begins to gather information as to the reason for Sinclair’s absent and does his own search via his police contacts. All of which being to point to the truth at his friend may have stumbled onto a heinous crime and now find himself locked in a country estate with the killer.

The joy of this novel is the meticulous preciseness in which Airth lays out his tale. Described as a “police procedural” the story’s pace is deliberately set and the writer is in no apparent haste to tell it. Unlike the tensions we often find in American mysteries of this kind, Airth’s prose relishes the details, the dialog and the atmosphere beautifully. This skillful chapter by chapter unraveling builds to a truly suspenseful and highly dramatic climax we found perfectly realized. “The Decent Inn of Death” is a beautiful work of fiction as offered up by a writing master. We heartily recommend it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

VERSES FOR THE DEAD


VERSES FOR THE DEAD
A Pendergast Novel
By Preston & Child
Grand Central Publishing
365 pgs

The Pendergast thrillers have remained our favorite ongoing pulp series ever since one of dear friends sent us a copy of “The Cabinet of Curiosities” ages ago. Upon reading it, we were instantly mesmerized by the character of FBI Special Agent Pendergast and his most unique methods of solving mysteries. With each new book, of which this is the eighteenth, critics began echoing each other in labeling the character a modern American Sherlock Holmes. Though we don’t find any fault with that title, we on the other hand long ago compared the white haired Pendergast with the Shadow. He’s truly one of a kind individual, trained in dozens of arcane arts, master of hand-to-hand combat, and has a group of devoted skilled experts in various sciences willing to assist him the second he calls.

Thus when a new Pendergast paperback hits the racks, we are overjoyed and anxious to discover what new horrors he will encounter and combat. With “Verses for the Dead,” Pendergast his sent to Miami by his boss, FBI Director Pickett, to hunt down a bizarre serial killer who murders young women, cuts out their hearts and then leaves those grisly organs on the graves of other women; all who have died by suicide. If such a puzzle wasn’t enough for the austere detective, Pickett, knowing of our hero’s penchant for being unorthodox, saddles him with a partner; one whose second mission is to ascertain everything in the investigation is done by the book.

One of the real treats of any Pendergast adventure is the marvelous supporting characters Preston and Child introduce do us to along the way. This, as I alluded above, has led them to create truly memorable men and women who invariably become permanent additions to large cast that inhabits Pendergast’s world. In this particular assignment we meet two new such remarkable people. The first is “the partner” Pendergast must work with, an FBI agent of Lakota Sioux descent named Coldmoon who enjoys a rather peculiar beverage. We won’t spoil it for you. Coldmoon is a skilled agent and just as dedicated as Pendergast to finding the killer. The fun of how their different personalities clash at the offset is worth the price of admission. Then there is the beautiful African American Miami pathologist, Dr. Charlotte Fauchet, whose expertise become invaluable uncovering clues to the killer’s methods and history.

Like all such plots, our hero and his allies are racing a deadly clock hoping to unmask the killer and stop him (or her) before they can claim another victim. With each new chapter, the narrative drives forward like a speeding race car until it comes to its powerful and hair-raising climax. “Verses for the Dead” is by far one of the stellar gems in this thriller necklace and if you’re a Pendergast fan, you are in for a wild reading experience. If you aren’t, then it’s pretty much high time you became one.