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.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

STRAIGHT OUT OF DEADWOOD


STRAIGHT OUT OF DEADWOOD
Edited by David Boop
Baen Books
265 pgs

All too often we’ve heard literary types bemoan the fact that the art of writing short stories is dead in America. Now that is geared to the fact that many of the classic slicks like Saturday Evening Post and others of such renown are no longer in existence. And yet it is in the field of New Pulp that we find short stories are not only alive but flourishing thanks to a new generation of talented young writers.

One genre in particular exemplifies that fact and it is Weird Westerns. Recently writer/editor David Boop put together three good-sized weird westerns anthologies of which “Straight Out of Deadwood” is the latest. It contains 17 cautionary tales filled with suspense, horror and a good dose of sheer creepiness. We confess most of the writers in this collection were unknown to us, but after having read their stories, we certainly plan on searching out more of their fiction.

In a perfect world, all anthologies would have nothing but great stories. Alas, in our real world “Straight Out of Deadwood” runs the spectrum in quality from top to bottom. Among our personal favorites were Mike Resnick (a writer we are quite familiar with) “The Doctor and the Specter,” about Doc Holliday’s last words before dying. It’s a gem. Charlaine Harris’ “A Talk with My Mother,” has a marvelous O’Henry ending that had us chuckling.  Derrick Ferguson’s well known Sebastian Red character shows up in “The Relay Station at Wrigley’s Pass” much to our delight. We were impressed with Marsheila Rockwell’s “Dreamcatcher.”  Honorable mentions for pure scary stuff goes to Betsy Dornbucsh’s “The Petrified Man” and Travis Heerman’s “Blood Lust and Gold Dust.”

The remaining entries were so-so, with one absurdly morbid to the point of being disgusting. As we stated at the offset, anthologies generally are a mixed bag. Overall, because there were more winners than clunkers and so we gladly recommend you pick this one up.