Friday, July 23, 2021

HOUR OF THE ROBOT

 

HOUR OF THE ROBOT

By Paul R. McNamee

Mystique Press

185 pgs

This sci-fi actioner begins when an advance scout ship from an alien empire arrives in orbit around the Earth with the intent gathering data for an invasion. As it turns out, one of the three members of the crew rebels at the idea of conquest and sabotages the mission at the same time stranding himself here. Seven years later, this castaway has become a superhero to the people of the great city Palas simply referred to as the Alien. His secret lair is managed by an intelligent robot of his own design called Robot.

Writer McNamee clearly spins his tale from the iconic comic book mythos of the twentieth century. Whereas the Alien is another version of Superman, in the nearby dark brooding metropolis of Crowsport (re-Gotham) a masked crimefigther named the Protector has taken to cleaning up the street aided by his firecracker of a lovely sidekick, a young lady called Understudy.

But what are heroes without villains? And in this case, we immediately learn of brilliant genius called Mr. Medina and a cruel, thuggish mob boss called Dufresne. Together they are forever hatching various get rich schemes to acquire wealth and power. It appears the forces are good and evil are equally balance until the Alien uncovers clues of a mysterious third party’s involvement. This unknown element could prove the most dangerous threat the planet has ever encountered unless Alien and the Protector then discover its identity and goals.

“Hour of the Robot” is a terrific first novel and a fun read.  McNamee’s prose is succinct in its brevity detailing the action clearly throughout without wasting so much as a single word. He tells you his story without fancy trappings while at the same time drawing forth really wonderful personalities from his cast of characters. Though based on all too familiar themes, “Hour of the Robot” is really something fresh and exciting and a bravo first novel of a very skillful storyteller.  Honestly, we want more. Lots more.

 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

FIVE DECEMBERS

 

FIVE DECEMBERS

By James Kestrel

Hard Case Crime

427 pgs

“Five Decembers” is one of the greatest books we have ever read. It is destined to be a classic of American fiction for so, so many reasons.

It is late Nov. in Honolulu, 1941. Tensions between the U.S. and Japan are reaching a crescendo and the ghosts of war are once again manifesting themselves. World War I veteran, Detective Joe McGrady is called to investigate the brutal murder of a young couple; their bodies having been discovered in a rickety shack up in the hills of a dairy farm. The boy was American, the girl Japanese and their remains the grisly signature of a sadistic monster. No sooner than McGrady begin his investigation when he learns the male victim was the nephew of an Admiral in command of the island’s pacific fleet. Via this connection, the evidence suggests the killer was in fact a trained spy and since fled Hawaii for Hong Kong.

At the Admiral’s request, McGrady agrees to take up the chase and is soon packed and saying farewell to Molly, a young college student he’d recently become involved with. His hope is to catch the killer, turn him over to the British authorities and then be home in only a few weeks. What McGrady fails to anticipate is the attack on Pearl Harbor, the following week, Dec.7th that finds him wrongly incarcerated in a Hong Kong jail cell. Unable to convince the Brits of his identity and purpose, he helplessly witnesses the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong and is subsequently captured as a prisoner of war and brought to Japan.

What happens next to McGrady is truly mesmerizing, as Kestrel paints a setting few Americans have ever seen, let alone imagined; Japan during the war years. He masterfully depicts characters from all walks of life attempting to cope with the living nightmare that had seemingly swallowed all reality. The author captures people insightfully, his characters brokenly human regardless of race and all of them somehow significant to the entire story of McGrady’s personal odyssey. That he survives to return back to Honolulu is a heart-wrenching narrative and only the precursor for the book’s final third in which McGrady, like a dog with a bone, picks up his old case and once again begins his hunt for killer who had eluded all those years earlier.

“Five Decembers” is a gripping, taught, magnificent saga unlike anything we’ve ever read in our life. No understatement there. It is a work of power, brilliant plotting, heart and grace showing all the nobility of mankind as well as the depths of evil into which it can sink. Loves won and lost, enemies and allies encountered and a finale that will have you transfixed by its sheer, overwhelming beauty. What else can I say except, thank you, James Kestrel, for writing this book.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

EXOTIC ADVENTURES OF ROBERT SILVERBERG

EXOTIC ADVENTURES OF ROBERT SILVERBERG

Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle

# New Texture Press

139 pgs

Robert Silverberg is one of the best known science fiction writers in the world. He is a multiple winner of both Hugo and Nebula Awards, a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame and a Grand Master of SF. A voracious reader since childhood, he began submitting stories to science fiction magazines during his early teenage years. He received a BA in English Literature from Columbia University in 19567. While at Columbia, he wrote the juvenile novel “Revolt on Alpha” (1955) and won his first Hugo in 1956 as the "best new writer".

In 1959, the bottom fell out of the science fiction market and Silverberg turned his talent to write copiously to other fields, from historical non-fiction to softcore porn. At this time he was writing a quarter of a million words a month under dozens of pseudonyms. As Don Elliott he produced nearly 200 erotic novels. Silverberg also contributed to many of the MAMS of the late 50s to include “Exotic Adventures” a late 1957 arrival that only lasted six issues.

Now MAMS (Mens Adventure Magazines) historians Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle have collected 20 of those stories and articles in their latest release from their terrific Men’s Adventure Library series. They are eye-opening to say the least. Read in the context of the times, the stories, most of which are purely fiction, range from outlandish sexual encounters ala an island of sex-starved women, to supposedly investigative reports on the brothels of Juarez, Mexico. There’s an article on buying liquor in Europe alongside an expose of the Arab slave trade. Most are written in first person to add to the believability of each tale. Like his pulp heroes of the past, Silverberg wasn’t trying to produce great literature here, he was trying to earn a buck and he was damn good at that.

Some of the elements to take note of are the geographical settings detailed in those stories taking place in far off exotic locales. All of which added to the overall atmosphere of the stories themselves. Then Deis and Doyle have too much fun filling pages with old 50s ads from the “Invigorator Pill” to Joe Weider “Muscle Builder” programs. “Exotic Adventures of Robert Silverberg” is clearly a one of kind reading experience and an amusing look back on a time readers looked for the unexpected and weren’t so easily offended as today’s overly demure generation is. Thumbs up pulp aficionados, this is the good stuff.

 


 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

THE DARK SUNRISE

 

THE DARK SUNRISE

A Sheriff Aaron Mackey Western

By Terrence McCauley

Pinnacle Western

319 pgs

With this fourth volume, the saga of former Army cavalry officer turned U.S. Marshal; Aaron Mackey comes to a gun-blasting finale. As in most such series, one hopes the final chapter will prove worthy of the preceding volumes and this one delivers on that in spectacular fashion.

After months of battling with the malicious con-man James Grant, Mackey and his deputy, Billy Sunday, believe they’ve gathered enough evidence to have him either hung on incarcerated by federal judge in Helena, Montana. Much to their frustration, Grant hired a savvy attorney who underscored that most of the evidence is circumstantial and simply is not enough to convict Grant. In the end, Mackey has no choice but watch his nemesis escape justice and return to his hometown of Dover Station while he remains in Helena to take up his duties as territorial marshal. His only hope is that Grant’s influence, along with his ill-gotten gains have been diminished to the point where he is no longer a threat to decent people.

Unfortunately Mackey is proven wrong and Grant waste no time in hiring Nathan Rigg, a former Army officer who once tried to have Mackey court-martialed. Rigg is as cruel and sadistic as his employer and together they plan the total destruction of Dover Station.

“The Dark Sunrise” is a moving, powerful story that rewards readers of the previous three volumes. It is fast paced and packed with gun-blazing action from start to finish. All the while delving into the Mackey’s character in such a profoundly intimate fashion and to make him one of the greatest western characters to ever grace such a series. Terrence McCauley is a writer to reckon with and we really cannot wait to see what he’s got for us next up. Meantime, get these Aaron Mackey books and saddle up for a classic western adventure.

 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

MEN'S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY # 2

 

MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY

Vol 1 No 2

Edited by Robert Deis & Bill Cunningham

Pulp 2.0

153 pgs

So here’s our question. When is the second issue of a magazine not only equal in quality to the first issue, but even better? Well, for the answer to that you’ll have to query editors Robert Deis and Bill Cunningham. You see, that is exactly what these two imaginatively creative fellows have gone and done with the second issue of their “Men’s Adventure Quarterly.”

Once again they have jampacked seven stories, three introductions, a MAM’s cover gallery and a pictorial look at the sexiest femme spy gals ever to grace the silver screen neatly between two covers. Oh, and as westerns were theme of issue # 1, this one aims the spotlight at the Cold War spy tales inspired by the literary and cinema exploits of the one and only OO7, James Bond. There’s even an article detailing the adventures of the Scotland Yard detective rumored to have been the “real life” British super spy. Honestly, this package is so much fun. The stories are all classic examples of the best such yarns featured in the now defunct Men’s Adventure Magazines of the 50s to 70s that spilled over drugstore shelf racks across the country.

Not only has Deis cherry picked the finest art illustrations to grace this volume and given us wonderful biographical insights into the talented artists who produced them, but Design Maestro Cunningham skillfully lays out every single page to evoke the maximum pleasure and impact, i.e. each is a work of design delight.

We read through the entire package in just two days and the second we finished we found ourselves hungry for more. Bravo gentlemen, you’re on a streak to the benefit of all pulp fans, old and new. Thank you so very, very much.

 

Friday, June 11, 2021

THE FATEFUL EIGHT

 

THE FATEFUL EIGHT

By Mark Allen Vann

Xepico Press

293 pgs

Last year writer Mark Allen Vann impressed us with the debut of his first collection of new pulp tales, “Eight Against the Darkness.” In it, Vann introduced eight distinct heroes all molded on established pulp genres and each was a gem. Enough so that we were only too happy to nominated that book for the Pulp Factory Awards. That it didn’t win doesn’t seem to have fazed this talented scribe as now we have a sequel and once more eight brand new stories featuring his wonderful characters.

“Written in Stone,” features the stone-skinned private eye Thomas Greyscale as he hunts a frustrated pulp writer who is using a magic book to murder the editors who rejected his fiction. Maybe a bit of wish-fulfillment for some colleagues here.

“The Toll of the Demon Bell” has Puritan adventure Alistair Synne come upon a town haunted by a supernatural horror only he and his magic flintlocks can battle. This is a great character, though we found the ending a wee bit rushed.

“The Dagger’s Curse” has Corr, the Barbarian Prince, continuing his assignment for his mother, the Witch Queen Azura to retrieve a magical dagger little realizing its properties to change men into monsters.

“Whence Darkness Comes,” features a mixed up Mary Minerva out of the asylum and living as a stage magician. Whereas as a mentalist, she is capable of great power against the forces of darkness an somehow able to discern between dimensions; including viewing other heroes found in this collection. Now that’s a neat little twist.

“Sky Shadows” sees the return of Redd Havik, captain of the air-pirate ship as she hunts down her uncle, the cruel One-Eyed Jack employed by the empire to hunt down Redd and the crew of the Scarlett Mistress. One of our favorites from volume one and pleasure to see her in action again.

“Home In Time For Dinner.” Nathan Porter, aka the Revenant not only has to battle Big Tony’s mob of goons, but a shambling zombie killer that is targeting someone he loves. Fast paces, well delivered tale.

“Eye of the Tigermen,” finds Red Bannon and his pal Tolliver off to India to find a stolen gem supposedly containing unimaginable power. Move over Doc Savage, this one is major fun.

“Nightmares of Steam and Steel.” The longest tale in the book, it stars the King’s Agent Blake Spector as he teams up with Wizard Karkas Blackwell and inventor Dr. Archie Livingston to thwart a monstrous attack on the empire.

Finally Vann wraps it all up with the two page finale, “A Simple Game” in which he underlines the fact that all these different stories and heroes are actually a part of grant mosaic he’s brilliantly created. Overall, this second tome in his “Eight” saga is superior to the first and now happily indicated a third volume is in the works. All we can say is bring it on. Van writes as if he were actually eight writers in one. Amazing!

Thursday, June 03, 2021

MOONSTONE DOUBLE SHOT

Edited by Joe Gentile

Moonstone Books

(http://moonstonebooks.com/shop/item.aspx?itemid=1240)

94 pgs

Guest Reviewer – Michael Housel

Moonstone Books presents a new Double Shot release headlining those dynamic crime-figthers, the Green Hornet, Kato, I.V. Frost and Jean Moray in two sensational stories.

The Hornet novella springs from Mel Odom, and the Frost short story from Ron Fortier. The tales complement each other well, making this Moonstone submission a literary winner on both counts, abetted by a crackerjack cover from Malcolm McClinton and striking interiror illustrations from Segio Ibanez.

For Odom’s adventure, “The Hornet’s Big Score,” Britt Reid and Hayashi Kato face a killing spree frm the crafter crime lord Kavieff and race forth to snuff the carnage. The Detroit esacpage proves touchy but our resilient duo fights on to right a great wrong in this sizzling exploit. Kato is an admirable stand-out in this yarn, with plenty of Bruce Lee panache to spare, but Odom nails it a hundredfold with the Hornet, capturing the particular essence that Van Williams brought to the suave Britt Reid. On this basis, fans of the classic television series will be more than pleased. But anyone who’s encountered the Hornet & Kato’s adventures, no matter their incarnations or contexts, are certain to give “Big Score” a big thumbs-up.

In Fortier’s Frost caper, “The Vanishing Train,” our cool criminologist and his scrupulous, Harlow-ish confidant, Miss Jean Moray, investigate a missing locomotive. How could an object so massisve just disappear? That’s the clever angle of this crispy written mystery, which will leave readers conjecturing to the hilt. Beyond its nifty slant, the characterizations fuel this entry. Fortier gives a noble job of giving Frost his frosty demeanor, but Moray is the story’s beacon; a woman who’s smart, pretty and tenacious in the best, cool-headed way. Thanks to Fortier’s interpretation, she’s more than a sidekick, but one who possesses forefront, Emma Peel appeal.

Don’t miss out on this momentous debut of new Double Shot series from Moonstone Books.

 


 

SHERLOCK HOLMES VS DRACULA

 

SHERLOCK HOLMES VS DRACULA

By Loren D. Estleman

Titan Books

196 pgs

There have been numerous Holmes pastiches that pit him against the King of Vampires. Some have been decent, others abysmal and a very few extremely well done. This tome falls totally in the latter category and is a great deal of fun. Estleman’s plot is cleverly woven around Bram Stoker’s famous story so that those familiar with it will easily recognize those scenes when intruded upon by Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Which is his main approach sticking to Conan Doyle’s own styling in which the good doctor is our narrator. Holmes is brought into the matter when asked to visit the seacoast town of Whitby shortly after a ship from Transylvania has crashed upon its shores due to a horrendous sea storm. The ship is discovered abandoned except for the dead captain tied to the wheel. Witness also report having seen a massive dog leaping from the craft onto the beach and disappearing into the night.

A few weeks later the famed detective learns of a series of child kidnapping plaguing the neighboring communities reported to be the work of a female like wraith in white. Quick to take up the hunt, Holmes and Watson arrive in time to witness the destruction of the vampire by Doctor Abraham Van Helsing and his allies. And just like that Conan Doyle’s hero collides with Stoker’s masterpiece of horror.

The book is so much fun but its strongest element is how wonderfully Estleman portrays the relationship between Holmes and Watson. Over the years, hundreds of writers have taken on this duo and their amazing friendship. Estleman underscores the loyalty to the max and then gives us insight into how much the Great Detective actually appreciated his true brother in spirit. “Sherlock Holmes VS Dracula” is well worth your time. It satisfies from first page to last.

 

 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

COBRA WOMAN

 

 COBRA WOMAN

By Len Levinson

Rough Edge Press

287 pgs

When he was a young boy, Sam Wishnefsky saw an old 1944 movie called “Cobra Movie” starring exotic beauty Maria Montez. In it the South Seas temptress dances the alluring snake dance and is forever imprinted on Sam’s psyche. Years later, at 26, he’s living in New York City working as copy-writer for a direct-mail outfit called Vortex. It is the late 80s and personal computers are still years in the future. Sam is relatively happy with his life until one night, while attending party of hip, chic, know-it-all bohemians; he encounters a stunningly beautiful Maria Montez look-alike.

Gabriella is a Cuban refugee from Miami. U.S. What Sam isn’t told is that she was once wed to a New York mobster and has two little girls. Oh no, all poor Sam can see is the reality of his lifelong sexual fantasy brought to life right before his eyes. He waste no time in courting the Latin spit-fire whose command of English echoes band-leader Ricky Ricardo of the famous “I Love Lucy” television series. Even though these two star-crossed lovers have absolutely nothing in common, he’s a good Jewish boy while she’s a hoodoo lapsed Catholic, they discover that when in the sack they are pure dynamite. The sex is fiery and all consuming. No surprise, they marry.

Then Sam discovers he has two stepdaughters and a mother-in-law moving in with them over night. The poor sap has tied himself to a temperamental she-devil and before he cut himself lose, she’s pregnant with his child. What is even funnier is that Sam finds release from his daily suffering by using his experiences to write new self-help brochures that are bogus scams meant to solicit money from the consumer for non-existing books. He’s not only good at it, but since his hellish marriage, he unwittingly becomes the Messiah of the Downtrodden and increases Vortex’ profits tenfold. Naturally they don’t tell him any of this, as it is against their policy to reward achieving employees fearing it will simply want to quite to seek employment elsewhere. There C.E.O. is Mr. Saito, a business Samurai who sees honor only in sacrifice.

“Cobra Woman” is one of the most hilarious satires on our times we’ve ever read and Levinson’s insights into the machinations of our material world are sharp and scathing. There is nothing off bounds to his magnifying lens as it scrutinizes our mores and empty lifestyles. The story of Sam Wishnesky still mirrors that of many men and woman today, looking for success by chasing fantasies. And that never ends well.

 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

LIVE FAST, SPY HARD

 

LIVE FAST, SPY HARD

By Max Allan Collins with Matthew V. Clemens

A John Sand Thriller

Wolfpack Publishing

263 pgs

The 60s spy-vibes continue in this second John Sand adventures that proved to be so much fun in the first. For those who came in late, John Sand is the actual British agent who inspired the highly popular 007 character that so enamored President John Kennedy, launched a multi-billion dollar movie franchise and tons of literary imitators. Whereas that very notoriety forced the agent into retirement; a not unpleasant affair as it was helped along by his marriage to the beautiful and rich Texas oil heiress Stacey Boldt.

In the prelude to this new chapter, Collins and Clemens go back in time a few years and not only show us their first meeting but also the brutal murder of Stacey’s father, Dutch Boldt, at the hands of his business Jonathan Lonestarr; a death swiftly avenged by the former British spy. Now into their second year as happily married couple, John learns that Lonestarr may still be alive. If true he poses a real threat to both of them. But as a civilian, his access to information sources is severely limited and before he can either confirm or discredit the rumor, Stacey goes missing while on a business trip to Brownsville. Sand immediately goes off in search of her. Thus begins a violent odyssey that will take him from Mexico, to Los Vegas, Acapulco and end on the lush Caribbean island of Curacaos.

Along the way he will survive a deadly street ambush orchestrated by an American mob boss, be recruited into a new top secret spy network, and reconnect with an old flame amidst a brutal betrayal that results in the kidnapping of his former Boss from M16. As ever Collins and Clemens keep the pace moving rapidly while at the same time offering more twists and turns than a dirt road through the backwoods northern Maine. Oh, and did we mention among Sand’s helpful contacts is former colleague who wrote the bestselling thrillers and a certain well known American cowboy movie star? No worries, we won’t spoil the reveals.

While reading “Live Fast, Spy Hard,” we had the feeling that with this second entry, the authors had not only given us a half dozen scenes that purposely echo specific movies moments we’re all familiar with, but Sand’s own personality began to take on a very distinct Sean Connery voice and by the climatic ending, we could easily envision his cool, cruel smirk playing across his lips at what is to come. Another winner from a team that never misses a beat.

Monday, May 10, 2021

GET OUT OF TOWN

 

GET OUT OF TOWN

An Aaron Mackey Western

By Terrence McCauley

Pinncacle Western

341 pgs

This is book three in Terrence McCauley’s series featuring ex-Cavalry Captain Aaron Mackey and is black former Sergeant, Billy Sunday. If you haven’t read the first two entries, we’d advise you to put this volume back on your bookshelf and go do that right now. We can wait.

Okay, we’ll assume books one and two have now been devoured and you are all wondering what comes next. At the end of book two “Dark Territory” the corrupt politician James Grant had been elected the mayor of Dover Station Montana; a fast growing community thanks in large part to the arrival of the railroad. Annoyed that Mackey and Sunday are on to his illegal activities, Grant attempts to have them dealt with by doing away with the sheriff office in favor of a formal police department to be headed up by a former Texas Ranger named Underhill. Whereas Mackey, having been informed of Grant’s ploy ahead of time, sought the aide of a rich railroad financier named Rice, who in turn had a federal judge swear in Mackey as a U.S. Marshal, thus trumping any mayoral decrees from Grant.

Book three opens with Marshal Mackey chasing after the viscious Hancock gang run by Henry Hancock whose base of operation is a nearboring township named after his family, Hancock. As most of the citizens are in one way or another related to the clan headed by the cruel and brutal Mad Nellie Hancock, Mackey is well aware he’s riding into a rattler’s den in which he’ll receive no assistant from any of the residents. But his luck holds true and he manages to locate the gang before reaching the hamlet. What follows is a bloody shoot-out. McCauley is adept at these and there are never any shortages of such scenes in his books.

While Mackey is dealing with the Hancocks, Deputy Sunday finds himself caught up in a brutal and mysterious affair. The bodies of three Chinese prostitutes were discovered in a newly constructed building among the once raucous tent city inhabited by cattlemen and minors flocking to Dover Station to enjoy its many gambling house and bordellos. All three victims had their throats slit. Mayor Grant wants Sunday and Underhill to make the killings known immediately to stir up publicity and give himself a platform from which to rouse his constituency. Billy Sunday is no one’s fool and suspecting a deep ulterior motive behind the Mayor’s request, opts to forestall any such announcement until he has had time to further investigate the murders. All of which leads him to a deadly confrontation with the mad killer and his blood stained blade.

Like the previous two books, “Get Out Of Town” is a wonderfully plotted story with enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing. McCauley’s characters are rich and extremely well defined. They all invoke a strong, frontier flavor giving us a glimpse at just how difficult life was in the years after the Civil War and the toll it exacted on the men and woman who went west in order to tame a country and start new lives. Westerns don’t get any better than this series. As ever, the climax is fitting but McCauley’s holding back an ace for that final volume and we can’t wait to see how he’ll play it.

 

Sunday, May 02, 2021

RELENTLESS

 

RELENTLESS

A Gray Man Novel

By Mark Greaney

Berkley

512 pgs

Imagine the cloak and dagger finesse of Ian Fleming’s James Bond spy novels blended with Tom Clancy military techno-thrillers and you get the Gray Man. Author Mark Greaney, according to the publisher’s promotional write-ups, traveled the world to research the locations of his books at the same time studying military strategies and weapons and battlefield medicine with specialist in those respective fields. All to bring a clear authentic background to his wonderfully outrageous pulp hero, the Gray Man.

The Gray Man is the codename of Courtland Gentry, one of three unique and deadly spies known as the Poisoned Apples. They often operate independently of any official government agency, though their Spy Master is the Deputy Director of Operations for the CIA, Matthew Hanley. Gentry’s colleagues are Zach Hightower, codname Romantic and former Russian agent Zoya Zakharova, codename Anthem. Each is a professional provocateur resigned to the life they have chosen for themselves. Each possesses a high moral center, but is not averse to killing those they believe pose a threat not only to America, but the entire world.

In this, the tenth book in the Gray Man series, a cunning Arab Prince has crafted an ingenious plot to manipulate the U.S. into going to war with Iran. His goal is to totally destroy the Shia caliphate. Thus he assumes convinces the current Washington Administration that he is their ally and threw a series of deft clandestine operations prepares to launch his final gambit.

Thick books today tend to put off casual readers. Be aware at 501 pgs, this is not an overnight read, unless of course you are into speed-read. Otherwise prepare to enjoy a full course meal, as Greaney throws in not only his main plot but several juicy subplots each intriguing and complete realized. In all his narrative is a complex quilt filled with tons of exactly written action sequences comparable to any ever done on the silver screen. This is action-adventure with capital As. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting the Gray Man and we think you will too.

Monday, April 19, 2021

SHOOT-OUT AT SUGAR CREEK


 SHOOT-OUT AT SUGAR CREEK

A Caleb York Western

By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins

Kensington Books

Available April 27 - 2021

222 pages

 The sixth chapter in the Caleb York series picks up where the fifth ended, with the people of Trinidad New Mexico dealing with the aftermath of the worst winter recorded in the west. Many of the local ranchers, having lost most of their stock, have packed up and left the territory, while Willa Cullen, owner of the big Bar-O, is struggling with a decimated herd and a lack of clean running water to support them. The only unfouled source is Sugar Creek which sits on neighboring Circle G land.

As the story opens, the once abandoned ranch is bought by a beautiful widow named Victoria Hammond, who entertains grandiose plans to become the richest, most powerful figure in the county. Events get off on less than desirable footing when Sheriff Caleb York is forced to shoot and kill Victoria’s youngest of three sons for raping and savagely beating a local working girl. Upon meeting the woman to respectfully report the circumstances of the shooting, York discovers that she has no intentions of allowing any other ranchers access to Sugar Creek. She is also planning on buying out Willa for pennies on the dollar. No stranger to past range wars, York finds himself in the precarious role of peace-keeper, between the woman he loves and the ambitious widow Hammond. 

Along about this time, we found ourselves musing over Collins’ ingenuous plot with its echoes of a several classic television settings. Thus far the adventures of Caleb York and Trinidad have seemed much like Matt Dillon in the popular Gunsmoke series. Whereas with this book, he offers up a dark-mirror image of another well known oater, The Big Valley; what with Victoria Barclay (note the same first name) and her three boys. That the two, York and Victoria Hammond are on a collision course is obvious from their first scene together. Then, in his usual masterful touch, Collins ups the ante and violence erupts quickly towards the tale’s second half leaving blisters on our fingers. We simply could not put it down. The end was so Mickey Spillane, it was eerie.

We’ve enjoyed all the Caleb York books but this one clearly stands out as a high mark. Nobody spins a yarn like Max Collins. Nobody.

 

Monday, March 29, 2021

BENEDICT & BRAZOS #2 - A Badge For Brazos

 

BENEDICT & BRAZOS

# 2  Badge For Brazos

By E. Jefferson Clay

Bold Venture Press

Yank Duke Benedict and Reb Hank Brazos need a stake to continue their hunt for outlaw Bo Rangle who knows the whereabouts of $200,000 dollars stolen at the end of the Civil War. To that end they come to the small town of Harmony run by a loud-mouthed, over-sized Madam named Dutch Amy. She and her partners have discovered that the silver mine in the nearby hills actually has new, richer veins of the ore as yet untapped. Whereas the local mining camp of Whipple Creek believes the mine to have been played.

Fearing the miners will learn of the undug riches, she and her men begin a campaign of terror in hopes of forcing them to abandon the territory. This in turn creates several gun battles between the cowboys and miners that threaten the entire township. Upon seeing Brazos fighting skills, Dutch Amy appoints him Sheriff thinking him a stupid yokel she can easily manipulate. Alas, much to her chagrin, Brazos takes the job seriously and soon, along with Benedict’s assistance, he begins to investigate the recent rash of killings.

All of which leads to a violent gun-blasting confrontation between the two saddle partners versus Dutch Amy’s small army of hired gun. Once again Jefferson Clay demonstrates his flair for writing fast paced, colorful western action that moves across the pages like a runaway stampede of Texas Longhorns. This is Wild West at its Wildest!! Not to be missed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

EVOLUTION MAN

 

EVOLUTION MAN

By Charles E. Millhouse

Stormgate Press

265 pgs

Young Caidin Wells is thrill seeker. Anything from fast cars to skydiving, he willing signs regardless of the risk. Only in his twenties, he thinks himself invulnerable. Then one day his hand slips off a mountain face and Caidin plunges hundreds of feet to the earth. He awakens in a hospital miraculously alive thanks to his mother, Carol Wells, a microbiologist working on human nananites. Nananites are tiny little robots capable of traveling through a person’s blood and repairing any bodily harm done no matter how severe the injury. Although not given the green light by her employer for human testing, Carol realizes the only chance her son has to survive is by injecting him with the nanobots. He does survive and soon discovers his body is a whole lot more than just healthy, it’s on the cusp of being supercharged.

Now if this sounds all familiar, author Millhouse never hides the fact that his hero is in fact his version of the sixties television series “Six Million Dollar Man.” In fact his use of the Christian name Caidin is a respectful tip of the pulp fedora to writer Martin Caidin, the writer who created Steve Austin, the test pilot virtually rebuilt by science.

Millhouse’s use of nanonites is not at all that far-fetched as modern science and medicine are actually testing these microscopic agents today in research labs around the country. Once having accepted this familiar tale, we’re left with two primary plot objectives. The first is how will our young hero adapt to his brand new body? That’s a foray into the character’s personality, his strengths and his vulnerabilities and is extremely well handled throughout. The dynamics between Caidin and his mother, plus other supporting figures is believable on so many levels.

Whereas this is a pulp adventure, we have a second plot; that of the billionaire villain, Armand Devereux, Carol’s employer. He wants to control her discoveries and ultimately build a private army of nano-charged super mercenaries. Devereux, like all good villains, yearns not for cash, but for power. All the power in the world. 

In the end, we thoroughly enjoyed this novel and recommend it highly. Millhouse is a more than capable writer and his actions sequences precisely laid out. But there remains an unsatisfying finale. Sure we knew going in this would be the first of a series, but of the two objectives we mentioned earlier, the only one comprehensively dealt with in this opening chapter was that of Caidin’s adjustment; which will obviously continue in subsequent volumes. Whereas the second is left way too much unresolved. Really?

Friday, March 19, 2021

BARSTORMERS Book Two

 

BARNSTORMERS  Book Two

By Matthew Bieniek

Available at Amazon

207 pgs

College grads Kristina “Kiki” Hansen and Bridget Doyle continue their adventures as high flying barnstormers while continuing their undercover work as agents for the international police agency known as ICPO. In this volume the girls find themselves in gangster-ridden Chicago still chasing after the mysterious villain known as the Belgian. Frustrated with their constant interference in his schemes, he wants nothing more than to see the girls eliminated permanently.

Along the way Kiki finds romance in a handsome young man and ends up crossing paths with Al Capone’s chief assassin, Frank Nitti. Managing to survive their stay in the Windy City the girls then travel to St. Louis to find work with another Flying Circus and this time encounter an aviator named Charles Lindbergh.

Once again Matthew Bieniek offers up a wonderful look back into America’s past when daring young men and women saw aviation as the nation’s future with boundless economic potential. They were the pioneers of the clouds and living large was their way of life. None more exciting and colorful than Kiki and Bridget.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

THE BLOODY SPUR - A Caleb York Western

 

THE BLOODY SPUR

A Caleb York Western

By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins

Pinnacle Books

270 pgs

This is the third of Max Collins’ five Caleb York adventures. York was a western character created by the late Mickey Spillane in a movie script possibly intended for his pal John Wayne. Collins adapted that script into “The Legend of Caleb York” and had it published. Happily the editors were taken with the book’s reception and asked him to do more featuring this new cowboy hero. Collins obliged by writing another four books. Obviously we’d have preferred to read them in the order in which they appeared but that not being possible, we were still determined to obtain all five books; read and review them.

Having settled comfortably in Trinidad, New Mexico, Sheriff Caleb York senses trouble brewing when an odd series of events transpire with days of each other. The first being the arrival into town of Alver Hollis, a notorious gunfighter named the Preacherman and his two saddle pals. Familiar with the man’s deadly history, York believes him to be a paid assassin who disguises his killings under the label of “self-defense.” The question plaguing York is exactly who is the Preacherman’s target in Trinidad. The second affair is the public hue and cry in regards to the Sante Fe Railroad proposing to build a spur line from Los Vegas to Trinidad. Whereas most of the towns leading merchants see the spur as an economic boon to the community, blind rancher George Cullen disagrees. This poses a serious hindrance as Cullen’s spread is the largest in the territory on which the railroad needs to cross to build their new spur. Naturally Cullen makes it known he is not about to grant them that right-of-way. It also doesn’t help that the stubborn old man is the father of Willa Cullen, the young woman York is smitten with.

 

Things begin to heat up and before Willa can convince her father to change his mind, the old man is found dead with evidence indicating he was murdered. What we truly loved about this particular entry in the series is how Collins skillfully shaped it into a western detective story and York proves to be as capable an investigator as he is a peace keeper. The clues are there, as Collins always plays fair, and we happily admit by the book’s finale, he’d smoothly misdirected us. That doesn’t happen often. Thus “The Bloody Spur” is another winner in this series. So, what do you say, Max Collins, got a sixth brewing in that wonderful imagination of yours? We really hope so.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

DIAMONDBACK - It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

 

DIAMONDBACK

It Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time

By Derrick Ferguson

Pro Se Press

165 pgs

There is absolutely nothing subtle about this book. It is a powerful, gang-blasting, take-no-prisoners crime thriller from start to finish. The setting is the fictional city of Denbrook, a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah filled to top of its highest skyscrapers with sin and depravity run by gang bosses that would have made ancient samurai warlords look like Boy Scouts. Into this hellhole of concrete and steel comes a notorious gangster named Diamondback Vogel who comes across like a mythological John Henry badass.

Of course the various bosses are immediately aware of his presence and all of them curious as to his agenda. There questions are quickly answered when, after only a few hours of his arrival, Diamondback is involved in a bloody shoot-out in one of the swankiest night clubs in the city. Later that same day he takes a meeting with as yet a second crime boss, this one known as the Magician because of his interest in arcane mysticism. A caravan of four 18 wheelers filled with illegal weapons is on its way to Denbrook. The Magician wants Diamondback to destroy three of the trucks and their cargo and bring him the fourth. Diamondback accepts the assignment well aware every other criminal organization in Denbrook will be at the designated locale with similar intentions.

Hours later, at one of the many abandoned warehouses in the area known as the Barrens, Diamondback single-handedly wages combat with all these other factions and by the time he escapes with the only remaining truck, several acres of real estate have been blown to smithereens. The political powers that be, local and federal police agencies are enraged and quickly began their own machinations to find and eliminate Diamondback use whatever means possible. Thus within a twenty-hour period he becomes the most wanted man in Denbrook.

To say we liked this book would be an understatement. One should note, Ferguson is a movie buff and the subtitle to this first Diamondback tale is taken from the classic western film, The Magnificent Seven. Whereas it was a particular Clint Eastwood oater that kept surfacing in our thoughts as we read the book. That one about the Nameless gunfighter who rides into the sleepy border town and soon begins playing one outlaw gang against the other for his own gains. Finally, a needed word of caution here. Like the abundance of graphic violence throughout this book, there are also a few scenes of adult sex that leave very little to the imagination…or rather implicitly fire the imagination. If readers find that objectionable, don’t say we didn’t warn you. Remember the first line of this review. Nuff said.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

BENEDICT & BRAZOS # 1 Aces Wild

 

BENEDICT & BRAZOS

# 1 Aces Wild

By E. Jefferson Clay

Bold Venture Press

Writer Paul Wheelahan was born in 1930 in Bombala, New South Wales Australia the son of a mounted policeman. He grew up in the Great Depression and in 1947 moved Sydney, to work for his idol, comic creator Stan Pitt. At first Pitt employed him as an inker and eventually Wheelahan moved to doing covers. Ultimately he would write and produce short fillers for American outfits such as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and his own creations like the sci-fi hero Space Hawk.

When original Australian comics work dried out in 1963, Wheelahan turned to writing western novels writing more than 500 novels under various pseudonyms to include the Benedict & Brazos series as E. Jefferson Clay. These fast paced, action heavy books follow the adventures of two colorful Civil War veterans.

Nearing the end of the war, Confederate Sgt. Hank Brazos and his unit are ordered to guard a shipment of gold valued at over $200,000 dollars and transport it to New Mexico and Gen. Nathan Bedford Forest so that he may use it to fund a second Confederacy. As luck would have it, Brazos’ company encounters a Yankee patrol led by Captain Duke Benedict and a bloody battle ensues in which most of the combatants are slain. At which point a third force arrives on the scene led by mercenary outlaw raider, Bo Rangle. Forced to join forces, Benedict and Brazos, put up a valiant effort but in the end Rangle and his men succeed and ride off with the loot. Benedict and Brazos shake hands and go their separate ways believing they will never see each other again.

Less than a year after Appomattox, the two cross paths in the sleepy little Kansas town of Daybreak. Things are hopping in Daybreak, what with a new two story brick bordello going up much to the chagrin of the local Christian Ladies Auxiliary and a trio of outlaws has begun operating in the nearby valley. Before long, and after a few knuckle busting dust-ups and shoot-outs, Brazos begins to suspect Benedict has stumbled on to a clue as to the whereabouts of Bo Rangle and the missing gold shipment. To that end, he makes it a point of becoming the Yank’s shadow, having his own personal interest in recovering the lost treasure.

Like most non-American writers of pulp westerns, Wheelahan’s prose is purple as a summer twilight, rife with twangy cowboy slang, larger than life characters bordering on the cartoonish and yet still managing to deliver solid adult action. The pacing is as fast as a longhorn stampede from first page to last. Now this rip-roaring series is available to American pulp fans via Piccadilly Publishing’s association with Bold Venture, for which we can only say, “Thanks, Pilgrim.”  

Monday, March 08, 2021

ARCHIE GOES HOME

 

ARCHIE GOES HOME

A Nero Wolfe Adventure

By Robert Goldsborough

MysteriousPress.com

233 pgs

As we’ve said in previous reviews, series such as this one appeal to readers not so much for the actual mysteries, though it is fun to try and outguess the detectives before the finale, but rather for the characters themselves. Aside from the team of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, no other pair of fictional sleuths has ever captured the imagination of readers in such an overwhelming way as that of Nero World and his legman, Archie Goodwin. During the course of his chronicling their adventures, creator/writer Rex Stout doled out very few facts regarding Archie’s background. Now, much to our delight, Robert Goldsborough, having picked up the series with the blessings of Stout’s daughter, has set about filling in that history.

He began that task with two previous books, “Archie Meets Nero Wolfe – A Prequel” and “Archie in the Crosshairs.” Both excellent and recommended. He completes that trilogy with “Archie Goes Home” and does so with humor and panache.

The tale begins when Archie receives a call from his Aunt Edna, a local busy-body who collects gossip like a bibliophile collects first editions. It seems a local banker has committed suicide after the death of his wife. But a young female reporter believes the man was murdered by one of half-a-dozen people the man cruelly dealth with in the past. Obviously Aunt Edna is hoping Archie will come home and look into the matter. As it turns out, things are slow in New York and Wolfe agrees it would be an advantageous time for Archie to take a vacation and visit his mother.

Once back in the sleepy little Ohio burg, Archie soon finds himself corralled by both Aunt Edna and Katie Paget, the lovely and ambitious newshound. Between them, they provide him with a list of the most likely people harboring animus towards the late Mr. Mulgrew; the dead banker. And so begins another formulaic tale with Archie methodically interviewing all these suspects while at the same time irritating the local sheriff. The joy of the tale is Archie’s Mom, Marjorie Goodwin, a truly wonderful character with plenty of wit, charm and homegrown intelligence. The moments with mother and son are warm and loving and offer up a great deal of insight as to the Archie’s own nature; his loyalty and compassion for others.

As I said at the start, these books aren’t so much about the mysteries as the people. And still, Goldsborough use of Archie’s truly unique talent in solving the crime is totally apprapos. “Archie Goes Home” is a delight. Do we really need to say any more?

 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

A COWBOY IN CARPATHIA

 

A COWBOY IN CARPATHIA

By Teel James Glenn

Pro Se Press

184 pgs

Every so often a book comes along that is so pulp, it reverberates this fact gloriously on every single page. From inception to excecution and finally in print, it proudly tells the reader this is what true pulp fiction is all about. “A Cowboy in Carpathia” is such a book.

It is a what-if scenario in which writer Teel James Glenn imagines what might have happened if the legendary pulp writer Robert E. Howard had not taken his own life at the age of 30, but rather had gone on to leave his small hometown of Cross Plains Texas to explore the world at large and in so doing actually lived adventures much like those he only fantasized about in his many stories. Ah, the stuff that dreams are made of.

Thus the tale kicks off and soon protagonist Bob Howard is in New York on his way to visit England and then Europe and the world beyond, little realizing his journey will eventually lead him to combat one of the greatest dark forces of them all, Dracula, King of the Vampires. Along the way he will also find the love of his life in a beautiful and brave young lady named Gwendolyn Harker.

What mesmerized us from the beginning was how flawlessly Glenn envisions Howard and the world he never lived. It is there before us, as the rough-hewn writer of pulps, drinks in the world with an insatiable appetite for new adventures while retaining his stunning perceptions of ancient places, battles and heroes. It is a heady blend and Glenn weaves it perfectly in nearly flawless prose. This is one of those rare books where one simply cannot turn the pages fast enough. It may well be the writer’s magnus opus, only time will tell. But until then, we New Pulp fans can only say, thank you.