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.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

AND THE SUN GOETH DOWN


AND THE SUN GOETH DOWN
Book Two of The Vim Hood Chronicles
By Terry Mark
Self-Published-Available At Amazon
350 pgs

Last year writer Terry Mark wowed us with his debut novel, “Kill The Night.” It was the first of his ongoing series, The Vim Hood Chronicles. In that adventure, Thomas Edison and Nikla Tesla teamed up to defeat an immortal vampire gunslinger. The book was a riotous pulp romp unlike anything else we’d read in many, many years. Now, without any let up at all, Mark is back with another fast paced, rollicking adventure that will have most readers cheering from the very first page to the last.

It is 1917 and former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt is in New Mexico putting his veteran Rough Riders through their paces. This time they are carrying out their maneuvers on camels as they are more adaptable to desert terrain than horses. War in Europe seems eminent and as always the gung-ho President is busting at the seams to get into the fray once Washington announces a formal declaration. But the last thing the old Rough Rider and his troopers expect to encounter is an army of long dead Aztec Warriors on a killing rampage throughout the territory leaving decimated American and Mexican towns in their wake.

The more Roosevelt and his troops clash with the strange marauders, they discover them to be zombie-like adversaries who, when shot, merely rise to fight again. It is as if they are possessed by some unholy power and led by an immortal figure with a dark past. Along the way a young seventeen year old cub reporter from the Kansas City Star finds his way into Roosevelt’s camp. His name is Ernest Hemingway.

As the confrontations between the two armies increases in ferocity, Roosevelt looks to General Blackjack Pershing for aid. Among Pershing’s staff is a Lt. George Patton commanding a mobile armor unit. Oh, there’s also tribe of legendary Apache warriors led by a massive, yellow haired chief.

Mark’s ability to weave in authentic history with his outlandish imagination is evident throughout as his historical personages all act and speak as we believe they would have. Then there is his detailed military encounters sweeping across the pages as if plucked out of a time machine and laid before us in vivid, horrendous details.  “And The Sun Goeth Down” is a magnificent achievement by a remarkable new voice in pulp fiction. Pick this up one up fast!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

HOT LEAD, COLD JUSTICE


HOT LEAD, COLD JUSTICE
A Caleb York Western
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Kensington Books
200 pgs. 
Available 5/26/2020

With the fourth novel in this series, Max Allan Collins puts his hero, gunslinger turned Sheriff, Caleb York, up against a vicious gang of outlaws while at the same time dealing with the disastrous winter blizzard of 1887. The latter, a freakish storm that destroyed farms and livestock was later labeled by historians as “The Great Die-Up,” so impactful was the event that it forever altered the course of western ranching for decades to follow.

Against this brutal setting, Burn’Em Burnham, a former member of Quantrill’s Raiders, arrives in Trinidad, New Mexico to finalize his plan to rob a bank in nearby Los Vegas. Advantageous to the outlaw leader, one of his former crew has reformed and is operating a saddle and leather goods store in the fast growing little town. Burnham offers to cut the merchant in for a share of the loot if he’ll allow Burnham and his three men to hideout in his quarters above the shop. The former Confederate soldier’s strategy being after the bank job, most of the local lawmen will assume the robbers would head south to Mexico. None would ever imagine them going north to lay low in Trinidad.

All of this seems carefully strategized until two unexpected variables arise. The first is discovering that York is the sheriff of Trinidad. It was York who’d sent him to prison ten years earlier. The second is the unforeseen blizzard. Both ultimately affect the gang’s fate and those of many innocent people caught in their path.

As always, Collins weaves a masterful tale filled with action, suspense and tragedy. Though is west is anchored in the memories of many classic Hollywood horse-operas, it also makes use of the unvarnished historical facts thus combining the two to create a unique and memorable story. Honestly, his vivid description of the white snowy hell that descended upon the plains had this reviewer blowing on his fingers as he turned the pages. Collins remains a master yarn-spinner and this book proves it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

MORT KUNSTLER - The Godfather of Pulp Fiction Illustrators


MORT KUNSTLER
The Godfather of Pulp Fiction Illustrators
Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle
MensPulpMags.com
# new texture
131 pgs.

After thoroughly enjoying this latest title from Men’s Adventure Magazines (MAMS) historians Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, we logged on to Wikipedia to get a more complete history on artist Mort Kunstler and his amazing career.
“Mort Kunstler (born August 28, 1927) is an American artist known for his illustrative paintings of historical events, especially of the American Civil War. He was a child prodigy, who, with encouragement from his parents, became a skilled artist by the time he was twelve.  


K√ľnstler began his career in the 1950s as a freelance artist, illustrating paperback book covers and men's adventure magazines. In 1965 he was commissioned by National Geographic to create what became his first historic painting. He also created posters for movies such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. And by the 1970s he was painting covers for Newsweek, Reader's Digest, and other magazines, with the bulk of his work during that period in advertising art.”
Of course the entry has a whole lot more about this incredibly talent artist and we hope you’ll check it out after reading this review. As ever, when possible, editors Deis and Doyle prefer to have their subjects narrate their own personal experiences and Kunstler’s reminiscence here is priceless. He discusses coming into the illustration game long after the original pulps had died out and magazine art was quickly being replaced by photographs. It was more or less the twilight of American illustrations except for one particular genre, the MAMS. It was here, among those wild and garishly painted covers that Kunstler launched his career.


The book is filled with dozens of absolutely beautiful reproductions of those covers. In those images are all the iconic trappings of the MAMS. Sweaty heroic men battling enemy armies, savage beasts and deadly femme fatales. The villains are larger than life, the woman dream-like fantasies and the scenes of nature simply spectacular. Kunstler’s authentic detailing is obvious in his aircrafts, boats, military uniforms etc. etc. It is this attention to the real world artifacts that allows the exaggerated elements of his work to grab the viewer so strongly. His colors of bold when necessary, subtle when evoking a specific mood and his composition always has the action up front and center.


This volume also contains a superb index of all the MAMS covers Kunstler created. The list is nothing short of amazing. One of the most endearing elements of the original classic pulps was the artwork and artists like Mort Kunstler carried on that tradition by providing MAMS with some of the finest art ever produced commercially. If you love pulp art, this book should be in your collection.

(Below two of his stunning movie posters.)






 






 


Monday, January 20, 2020

DEAD JACK and the Pandemonium Device


DEAD JACK and the Pandemonium Device
By James Aquilone
Homunculus House
206 pgs

Every now and then we are introduced to new writer who proves New Pulp fiction is alive and well. Such a writer is James Aquilone and his first novel is a rollicking trip down weird twisted roads unlike anything we’ve ever encountered before. Aquilone has created a madcap world where all manner of bizarre creatures of fantasy exist side-by-side in mirror-like reflection of our own staid and recognizable reality. The world is called Pandemonium and it has five cities; ShadowShade, The Red Garden, Monster Island, Witch End and The Broken Lands. All of them situated in the Broken Sea.

But before we get too far into all this, let’s explain the origin of Pandemonium. During World War II the Nazis recruited three of the greatest wizards of our world to aid them in winning world war. Unfortunately one of these three attempted to betray the other two and in the ensuing conflict a rift was opened into another dimension. The renegade wizard, along with lots of other innocent folks was thrown into this alternate existence that is Pandemonium.

One of these unlucky chaps was a dead private eye named Jack and upon arrival into his new crazy world, he became an animated zombie. Thus it was only natural, or should we say unnatural, that he soon became Dead Jack, the best private detective in ShadowShade. Along with Lilith, his ghost secretary, Dead Jack has a mini-sidekick named Oswald. Oswald is a homunculus which Webster’s Dictionary defines as “a little man, dwarf, manikin.” Imagine the Pillsbury dough boy brought to life with the ability to change his shape at will and that’s Oswald, though a little less cute and a whole lot weirder.

Now Dead Jack does his back to live harmoniously with his fellow denizens and that means keeping his zombie eating habits under control. He does this by ingesting pixie dust, Pandemonium’s version of our own opiates. As the story opens, poor Jack slips and eats a thuggish leprechaun thus forcing him to feel his victim’s angry clan. He and Oswald end up in the hands of the Goblin Queen who is in need of Jack’s services. Unknown forces have kidnapped 52 of Her Majesty’s beloved black cats and she hires the pair to find and return her feline pets.

Why would anyone in Pandemonium steal 52 cats? As Jack and Oswald investigate they slowly begin to fathom a much more dangerous conspiracy at work; one that could bring about the total destruction of Pandemonium and all its inhabitants. But can this inept duo solve the puzzle in time, unmask the real villain and save their eerie-wacky world? Writer James Aquilone doesn’t spare a pun or warped joke along the way as he puts his really charming dead hero through his paces in one of the most enjoyable adventures we’ve ever read.

“Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device,” is an original romp that never lets up from start to finish. And if that weren’t enough, there’s the bonus of two extra features at the back of the book. We’d also be remiss in not applauding the book’s design, the gorgeous cover by Colton Worley. Then, unlike most New Pulp publishers, we’re offered two beautiful interior illustrations by artist Ed Watson. Our only gripe – why just two? This book begged for more.

Final thoughts, James Aquilone is a new voice in the New Pulp community. One you need to support big time!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

CUTTHROAT


CUTTHROAT
(An Isaac Bell Adventure)
By Justin Scott & Clive Cussler
Putnam Books
381 pages

We’ve been fans of this series since first created by Clive Cussler and then picked up by Justin Scott. These are historical action packed stories of a turn-of-the-century Van Dorn detective Isaac Bell and accurate settings and history are as much fun as the adventure stuff. With “The Cutthroat” Bell and his confederates uncover the startling truth that a serial killer has been active in the US for nearly twenty years. The more they begin collecting data from across the country, one similarity continues to rise prominent in all the various police reports and newspaper accounts; the murders are highly reminiscent of London’s notorious Jack the Ripper killings.

Considering the fact that the Ripper was never apprehended, speculation arises as to the possibility that the fiend ended his reign of terror in England because he escaped to America. As outlandish as the idea seems, Bell is determined to solve the case and travels to England to re-examine the Ripper’s crime history. Ultimately creating a feasible timeline, the savvy manhunter comes to the conclusion that had the Ripper committed his crimes while in his early twenties, the idea of his coming to the US and continuing his evil ways is not only possible but with the mounting evidence gathered by the Van Dorn agents, highly probable.

Set against the backdrop of flamboyant American theater groups in the early 1900s, Scott weaves a mesmerizing, suspenseful tale that had this reviewer turning pages late into the night. “Cutthroat” is a gem in what is already a great series worth of any pulp lovers support.

Monday, January 06, 2020

THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO PULP FICTION


THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO PULP FICTION:
The Heroes, TheVillains and the Writers.
By Jonathan W. Sweet
Brick Pickle Media
138 pgs.

We really appreciate little introductory books like this one written by award winning journalist and editor Jonathan W. Sweet. It offers a very clear cut explanation of what pulp fiction is and its history in American Literature. Divided into definitive sections, the author introduces new readers to the most famous of the Golden Age pulp writers. It is the biggest section in the book and rightly so. Some truly remarkable men and women created those amazing stories that thrilled several generations. There is some mention of various pulp artists, but sparingly as the focus is on the fiction here.

Sweet then offers brief descriptions of the most popular pulp characters, starting with the greats ala the Shadow, Doc Savage, the Spider and others. This is followed by a roster of the more colorful villains and then ends the section with a look at the B-heroes who, though popular with readers, never had their own titles.

Finally, Sweet wraps it all up by showcasing current publishers who are today endeavoring to keep the pulps alive, both in quality reprint collections and others offering up new adventures such as Airship 27, Pro Se and Flinch Books. All in all nice, informative package. We’re told a Volume Two is in the works and will be most eager to read it.