Tuesday, December 29, 2020




By Max Allan Collins

Hard Case Crime

222 pgs

The best is left for last. Or so the old adage goes. From our perspective, never having read any of the previous books in this series, we are grateful to have read this supposed last entry. After reading “Skim Deep,” we truly regretted not having found and read the earlier Nolan titles. Nolan is a professional thief with a checkered past. As this tale unfolds, he’s now in his mid-fifties, living with a beautiful young lady half his age and, together, they operate a fancy dinner restaurant. Nolan has retired from his criminal ways, and with the apparent blessings of the Chicago Mob, is very content to be on the straight and narrow path. There’s little else he wants.

Which is what prompts him to propose to Sherry, his young lover and companion. He’s ready for a commitment even to the point of discussing the possibility of their having children together. Though somewhat shocked by his unexpected offer, Sherry waste no time in accepting and in no time flat, they are flying off to Los Vegas where they will get hitched at one of those kitschy chapels.

All the while this main plot is moving along, we are given a second and nastier narrative. During past capers, Nolan had killed two redneck brothers who had set out to double-cross him. What he was unaware of is that their mother, a widowed old witch living on an isolated country farm in Missouri, has a third son. Having discovered Nolan was responsible for the death of her older boys, Ma Comfort, manipulates Daniel, the youngest, to hunt down Nolan and get revenge for her.

The two plots fail to collide as Daniel shows up at Nolan and Sherry’s home only a few days after their departure to Los Vegas. Frustrated at first, the would-be killer then decides to stay in the area and use the time to carefully plan out his deadly welcome home for the newlyweds.

Collin flawlessly weaves both plots back and forth as if he’s braiding a storyline, making it only more suspenseful with every new twist and turn. Once in Vegas, Nolan connects with a few old friends unaware that his presence has made it possible for one of them put into motion a convoluted casino theft.

As always, Collins writing is cinematic and each scene is so wonderfully visualized, this reviewer couldn’t help but wish some Hollywood producer would option this for the big screen. Unlike a few of his other series wherein Collins purposely doesn’t delineate the actual look of his protagonist, with Nolan, we are told up front that he’s the spitting image of western movie actor Lee Van Cleef. You would think that in all of movieland, there would be several decent Van Cleef look-alikes. “Skim Deep,” is a delicious read with terrific characters and as always, so damn readable. Collins makes you feel as if you were sitting at a bar with him, as he spins his yarn. It’s that personal.

Finally, a tip of the pulp fedora to the folks at Hard Case Crime, for releasing three other early Nolan books in brand new editions, all sporting really beautiful covers by artist by Mark Eastbrook. Each of these is a gem.

Thursday, December 24, 2020



Edited by Adam Messer

Valhalla Books

229 pgs

Valhalla Books is a relatively new name in the pulp field and they are off to a great start with this premier anthology, “The Devil’s due.” Presented for your enjoyment are fourteen stories in which the main characters, much to their later regret, make packs with the Devil. It’s a classic theme, as Editor Messer points out in his introduction, and every one these fourteen scribes has a great deal of fun with that. So, we’re going to rank them here by our favorite on down.

“The Devil You Know,” by Shane Nelson is a poignant inspection of selfishness and its true cost to the human soul.

“Here Comes Mr. Herribone,” by Tim Jeffreys. A down and out comedy duo discovers the secret to fame in fortune in a bizarre costume head with disastrous results. Wonderfully creepy.

“Identity Theft,” by Rachel A. Brune. The Devil’s own private eye investigates what could be the first ever bogus contract given the Prince of Hell.  An original tale with different kind of world weary hero.

“Mary’s Secret,” by Winfield Strock III. Marty Todd Lincoln’s letter to a friend reveals the awful sacrifice made by her husband to end the Civil War which might contemn him to eternal damnation. Solid and intriguing.

“Genevieve and the Owl,” by Mark Allan Gunnells about a poor, village girl with a sorry lot in life until a magical owl offers several wishes. She manipulates him with a cunning he cannot predict. Fun story with nice surprise wrap up.

“Dante’s Tenth,” by Bobby Nash. The dessert town of Dante is quickly being settled by folks from strange places as a love sick newspaper reporter soon learns. Wonderful set up for a really well done weird western tale.

“The Black Rock,” by Alledria Hurt is a twisty little tale of a young woman desperate to become a bestselling author and the strange black rock with power to make her dreams come true. If she dares.

“Face It,” by Carol Gyzander. How important were his looks and standing in the community? Enough to kill his wife? But is it too late to make restitution. It all depends on the Judge. A creepy little thriller with an unexpected ending.

“The Plan,” by Josh Vasquez. Dillion grew up planning revenge against the minister who abused him as a child. What he didn’t count on was the demon in the cast. Rough, brutal tale not for the squeamish.

“The Resurrection and the Life,” by Jude Reid. A young medical school nearing the completion of his studies accidentally kills a man while drunk. To save himself he’s forced to deal with an unscrupulous whorehouse madam.

“The Known and True History of the Djin,” by Adam Messer. Wherein the book’s editor dons his writing cap and offers up the story of yet another writer willing to bargain away his life for fame. Though well written, the story’s rambling second half leads nowhere unexpected, as it should have.

“Sadie’s Choices,” by Ravyn Crescent. A girl kills her sister and makes a deal with the devil. Then at the end she tries to break the contract only to fall in love with Satan’s son. A complicated piece that left this reader both confused and unsatisfied.

“Good Samuel Ritton,” by Samuel R. Grosse. A father will do anything to protect his daughters from the world’s evils. Too predictable to be effective.

In all “The Devil’s Due” thirteen cautionary tales are fun, with a few being especially memorable. With it, Valhalla Books is off to an auspicious start. Bravo.


Friday, December 18, 2020




A Sheriff Aaron Mackey Western

By Terrence McCauley

Pinnacle Western

320 pgs


Series books are done in two ways. The first being each installment, though it might reference previous books, can stand on its own merits providing the reader with a beginning, middle and end. The second version is books are left with dangling plots forcing readers to pick up the next volume to see how things turn out.

In the first book of this series, writer Terrence McCauley gave is a tale that solidly adhered to option one; it stood complete by the finale. If we never bothered to pick up another Sheriff Aaron Mackey book, we would be okay with that. Whereas good writers generally do convince us to buy their future output. Which was why we went out and purchased the next three books in this series immediately, not wanting to miss any of them. We enjoy McCauley’s work that much.

Still, half-way through “Dark Territory,” we started getting that annoyed feeling that this one wasn’t going to wrap up by the last page. And we were correct in that assumption. It’s a cliffhanger that requires the reader to pick up the third book. Happy about that? Not really. But hey, let’s get to the actual plot.

Having saved the town of Dover Station Montana, Sheriff Aaron Mackey and his deputy, Billy Sunday, are concerned with how quickly the place is growing. This all due to investments by a rich New York financier named Rice. With the increased commerce brought by the railroad line, Rice sees economic potential and leaves his partner, Van Horn in charge of steering the town to its next level; one with lots of banks, hotels, restaurants etc. etc. In other words create a real boomtown. It is at this juncture that we are introduced to the story’s villain, an enterprising con artist named James Grant. Grant has a complex past having acquired multiple skills that allow him not only to manipulate others to do his bidding; he’s also ambitious and dreams of fame and fortune. All of which he’s going to obtain by becoming Dover Station’s Mayor and in so doing replace Rice’s vision with his own.

To accomplish this, Grant orchestrates Marxist inspired trouble among the construction workers and then hires men to rob the railroad to cause further unrest among the populace. His goal is to have Sheriff Mackey and Deputy Sunday thrown out of office and replaced with his own municipal police force. But Aaron Mackey’s no fool and he ultimately uncovers Grant’s grandiose scheme. Unfortunately he doesn’t have the evidence to stop what Grant has set in motion. Thus the book ends with no closure at all, leaving both antagonists aware of the threat the other poses but with no resolution.

So to sum up. If you picked up book one of this series, you’ll likely get “Dark Territory” and enjoy it. We did. But honestly, we hate having to wait for that final big battle that’s brewing in Dover Station.


Saturday, December 12, 2020




A Pendergast Novel

By Preston & Child

Grand Central Publishing

400 pgs

When authors make the bestseller lists as Preston and Child have done with their Special Agent Pendergast series, publishers love nothing better than filling two or three pages in each new book with review blurbs shouting the praises of the previous titles. Which is all well and good; however we’ve noticed a trend in several reviewers to compare this unique character with Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective Sherlock Holmes. Of course there are similarities in that both men are brilliant and have uncanny skills in solving bizarre crimes. But we’d like to suggest the one classic fiction hero Agent Pendergast more clearly resembles is Walter Gibson’s pulp icon the Shadow.

How so?

The answer is in the formula of each series. Whereas Holmes took on his cases with a singular assistant, Dr. Watson, the Shadow was noted for orchestrating his investigation via a group of highly skilled operatives. From Margo Lane, to Harry Vincent, Shrevy and many, many others, the mysterious crime fighter oftentimes didn’t appear in the adventure until the climax; his agents having assembled the clues he required. Writers Preston and Child have, over a series of 18 Pendergast mysteries, done the same thing as this latest case so clearly demonstrates.

When over a hundred severed feet still encased in canvas shoes wash up on the beach of Captiva, Florida, a small, exclusive tourist town, FBI Special Agent Pendergast is assigned the baffling case. Whereas when operating from his homebase in New York City, the silver-haired Pendergast is often is assisted by Lt. Vincent D’Agosta, archeologist Nora Kelly or butler/chauffeur Proctor and others; all of them capable of standing toe to toe with any of the Shadow’s group.

Now, away from home, Pendergast employs another group of skilled individuals to assist him starting with his own ward, the mysterious Constance Greene, a young lady a whole lot older than normal science dictates. FBI Agent Coldmoon, half-Italian, half Lakota Sioux with a pension for burnt coffee and Sheriff P.B. Perelman, an intellectual turned peace officer. Over the course of their investigation, Pendergast’s team will cover the globe from manufacturing provinces in China to a small jungle village in Guatemala collecting the various strings that ultimately lead back to a twisted cabal that will stop at nothing to achieve their horrendous goals.

We’ve been a fan of the Pendergast series from the first entry and continue to relish each new book. “Crooked River” is one of the best thus far. If you love modern pulp fiction done with flair and panache, this one will keep you up all night.

Sunday, December 06, 2020




By Max Allan Collins with Matthew V. Clemens

Wolfpack Publishing

238 pgs

Max Collins is one of those writers who is constantly surprising us. After decades of offering up great mystery and crime tales, he then had us cheering wildly for his western actioners courtesy of the late Mickey Spillane’s cowboy hero, Caleb York. Now comes super-spy James Bond’s clone, John Sand.

The setting is the early 60s and a British novelist has become famous by fictionalizing the exploits of M1-6’s operative, John Sand. Obviously with such notoriety, Sand’s effectiveness as an agent is compromised and as the story opens, he has retired and married the beautiful Stacey Boldt, the beautiful heiress to a Texas oil tycoon. If that sounds familiar, think George Lazenby and Diana Riggs, we certainly did. It is wish fulfillment ala what might have happened had she survived. This book takes us there and it’s a wonderful ride.

Sand is sincere in his desire to leave his dangerous career behind and pursue his new role as an executive in his wife’s business empire. This all goes awry when, while on a trip to Carribean, he becomes entangled in a political assassination. Within days he’s summoned by President John F. Kennedy to a clandestine meeting in the desert of Utah where a Frank Sinatra western is being filmed. Kennedy suspects rogue agents of the C.I.A. are planning on assassinating Fidel Castro. After the disastrous failure of the Bay of Pigs, the last thing he wants is another embarrassing incident pointing back to the U.S. Reluctantly Sand agrees to go to Cuba and see if there is any validity to the President’s claims.

As always, Collins’ use of the time and culture are spot on and add so much to the rich texture of his narrative. Ultimately Sand uncovers an even greater threat and upon reporting to Kennedy, is once again manipulated into being the President’s personal secret agent. If that wasn’t enough of a headache, Stacey demands to tag along. If her husband is going to continue leading a double-life, then he is going to do it with her or else he can pack his bags and kiss their marriage sayonara.

If like us, you grew up reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond adventures, “Come Spy With Me” will feel like old home week. Not a bad way to kick off a new series, Mr. Collins & Clemens. Not bad at all.

Thursday, December 03, 2020




By Gary Phillips

Agora Books

232 pgs

In contemplating this particular review, we were reminded of the old McDonald’s campaign ad in which people were encouraged to increase their initial order from a simple burger and fries to Super-Size. Not that that was good for anyone’s overall health, but the idea of exaggerating something seems an appropriate theme here. You see,Matthew Alexander Henson (August 8, 1866 – March 9, 1955) was a real person. He was an explorer who joined Robert Peary on many Artic voyages over a period of twenty-three years. Best known for his part in the 1908-1909 expedition wherein Henson claimed to have been the first human to reach the geographic North Pole on April 6, 1909.

All of which describes a truly heroic character in the flesh. Now writer Gary Phillips has turned Henson into a bonafide pulp action hero; in other words, he Super-Sized him. And he did it with his usual writing flair and panache. The history setting is accurate throughout the book and it is obvious Phillips is having so much fun having Henson interact with such notable figures as crime boss Dutch Schultz and inventor Nikola Tesla. Focused on Harlem, characters like Langston Hughes and Bessie Coleman also appear and Phillips enjoys sharing little known facts about that part of the Big Apple during the post-World War One era. When reading historical pulp, and that’s what this is, we really appreciate these true facts.

The plot itself is a basic one. While on his last venture to the frozen North, Henson and a close Eskimo friend discovered a meteorite containing unbelievable energy. He is unclear as to what to do with the fragment he brought back with him. When he discovers certain unscrupulous men with money want to use it to power weapons of mass destruction, the world weary explorer is determined to thwart their plans. Thus begins a deadly hide and seek contest that leaves several people dead and threatens a horrific attack on a large public gathering where a noted black leader is speaking. Henson must convince his friends of the danger and recruit them to his cause in the hope they have time to avert calamity and save the day.

“Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem” is a pulp romp, with a wonderful storyline filled with amazing characters, both real and fictional. Phillips, like the best musicians, never misses a beat between the drama and bullets flying. It’s a page turner from start to finish and we loved every bit of it.