Friday, October 15, 2021

THE NINE NATIONS - Book One - The Sliding World

 

THE NINE NATIONS

Book One – The Sliding World

By Jim Beard

A Becky Books Production

192 pgs

The truth is we are not big fantasy readers. Oh sure, being involved with pulpdom, we’ve read our share of Robert E. Howard’s Conan and Charles Saunders African mythology books but not a whole lot more. In fact, we tend to avoid the genre these days in the place of masked avengers and noir mysteries. So why this one? Well, in all honesty because the author is someone of unusual talent whose past efforts have always entertained us. We opted to give it a go.

At the start of the tale, we learn that things are rather bleak in the world of the Nine Nations. Apparently the land mass upon which the varied countries are situated is actually sliding over the edge of a bottomless abyss. It’s as if Mother Nature has decided to destroy human kind and nothing can stop this slide to oblivion. Amidst this dismal predicament, something happens in the land of Complin that predicates an unusual quest. A notorious thief has stolen a pendant that is somehow mystically connected to the land and its retrieval becomes King Green’s singular goal. To that end he assigns his General Ketch to put together a small group of warriors and take the Warrior’s Road through other nations on a quest to find the pendant.

Ketch chooses an odd assortment of male mercenaries and a group of fierce maiden Horse Wardens of Uzzlin.  As this is transpiring, the King orders his chief law enforcer, High Warrant Jon Torck to accompany a magician named Stoan and a separate mission. It is the King’s belief that the mage may be able to divine a way to end the slide and save civilization. Torck, who abhors any kind of idol worship and mumbo-jumbo, is reluctant but acquiesces due to his staunch loyalty. Their journey leads them to the mysterious uninhabited zone known as the Graylands where nothing lives; not animal, vegetation or human. There, Torck will meet his destiny head on.

As ever, Jim Beard has woven a totally original story unlike any other sword and sorcery adventure. It is filled with intriguing, complex characters and the pace is relentless from beginning to end. Oh sure, there are the required fantasy elements, but it is how he weaves them into his narrative that we found refreshing. Like all good sagas, Book One ends on a cliffhanger and we are looking forward to it with relish. Don’t let us down now, Mr. Beard. We’re having too much fun.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Derrick Ferguson's DILLON - The Odd Jobs

 

Derrick Ferguson’s
DILLON The Odd Jobs

Edited by Derrick Ferguson, Ernest Russell, Michael Hintze, HC Playa

Pro-Se Press

173 pgs

Created by the late Derrick Ferguson, the modern day adventurer known as Dillon was one of the very first black pulp heroes to arrive on the New Pulp scene. Over the past decade Ferguson gave us lots of books, short stories and even a comic strip starring his stalwart hero. In the process, as most writers do, he created lots of amazing supporting characters along the way while building up a huge and devoted fan base. Thus it was only logically when one day he openly invited his writing colleagues to contribute stories to Dillon’s world. Four daring, and super talented scribes accepted the challenge and this wonderful book is the result of their efforts.

“Dillon and the City of Stone,” by Erik Fromme is the longest tale in the collection and a really terrific adventure. Fromme’s handling of Dillon is wonderful as he clearly knows the character and his nuances and is obviously having a great deal of fun with this story about Dillon’s running off to a small Mexican village for a little R & R. Isn’t often the globe trotting hero gets to simply chill with good, decent people living dull, unexciting lives. Right. Of course this idyllic vacation is interrupted when several of the village’s women and children up weird looking night raiders and carried off into the surrounding jungles. All of which leads Dillon and two brave villagers to a trail that will take them into a long lost underground city. Oh yeah, this Dillon pulp all the way.

Up next is “Dire Learning” by Russ Anderson Jr. reintroduces us to Mrs. Allie Pierri and her teenage son, Shon. Allie works for as an agent for the French Ministry of Defense and Shon, having been trained from an early age, often assist on her mission. They first appeared in the Dillon comic strip “Escape From Tosegio” and then had a major part in the book “Dillon and the Pirates of Xonira.” In this outing, Allie disappears while investigating a prestigious French secondary school. Unaware his mother is being held by a former ally turned assassin, Shon manages to get into the school as an exchange student to try and find her. In the end, both of them uncover embezzlement on the part of the Head Mistress while at the same time foiling a political assignation. This is another gem with both teenage hijinks and espionage mixed together well. Shaken, not stirred, Mr. Anderson. Bravo.

In “Dillon and the Sisters of the Machine,” Joel Jenkins picks up our hero Xonira after its bloody civil war hoping to find a little piece and quiet. Instead he’s the target of a self-aware computer calling itself the Great Machine. It unleashes four sexy female Terminator-like killers to eliminate Dillon before he can thwart the Great Machines world domination. It’s James Cameron country and Jenkins does it justice.

“Dillon and the Devil’s Mercy,” is the final tale as written by Mark Bousquet and has Dillon traveling to Zurich, Switzerland to help Idell Creed, the son of his beloved mentor, Eil Creed. There he encounters an ancient Russian myth, a plot to capture rich oil fields and a claustrophobic underwater adventure that would make James Bond proud. All in all a dandy fast paced thriller and marvelous addition to the volume.

“Dillon and the Writer’s Circle” is a look at the contributors’ bios and an informal history of Derrick Ferguson’s career focusing on the creation of his greatest character Dillon. It is a reminder of what we’ve lost with his passing. Though he may no long with us, his Dillon books are still out there. Do yourself a big favor and go read them now. You’ll be happier for it.

Monday, September 27, 2021

SATURN'S CHILD And Other Tales

 

SATURN’S CHILD And Other Tales

By Mark Allen Vann

Xepico Press

211 pages

Writer Mark Allen Vann has the marvelous talent of spinning old familiar genres around until they appear like something totally fresh and new.  He does this to perfection in his latest collection of stories, “Saturn’s Child And Other Tales.” There are a total of seven and each is wonderfully presented with seven new and original heroes battling all manner of villainy.

Saturn’s Child kicks off the collection wherein Vann does a flip on a classic Edgar Rice Burroughs off-world yarn. In this case it is the beautiful Saturn Princess Xian Xenn who, while fleeing assassins, is magical transported to the planet Earth. Specifically Los Vegas in the 70s where she encounters mobsters, berserk bikers and ultimately has a meeting none other than the King. We’ll be nominating this one for a Pulp Factory Award.

Secondly “Bad Medicine at Blackstone Gulch,” is a weird western that introduces us to Marshal Hollister Payne charged with bringing the deadly four Yancy Brothers to Silver City to be judged for their many crimes. Along the way they encounter the ghost of an Indian Shaman set on delivering his own blood-oath vengeance.

“Dented Halos and Dirty Faces.” Angel City was once a thriving metropolis protected by the Justice Squadron. Then the vampire invasion fell upon it and the heroes were defeated. Now the citizens cower in fear every night as the blood suckers seek out their new victims. Private Eye Jana Dhark, the former super-hero Jett, is hired to find a missing teenage girl by her father. But to do so will mean assembling a new team with the courage to enter the Dead Zone and confront an army of the undead.

“They Call Him…Iron Mask” is a really charming twist on the Superman origin, only this time the rocket ship that crash lands in Martha and Elroy’s farm backyard is carrying a humanoid shaped robot with good intentions. What happens next is both amusing and endearing. A story we personally love and will to be another award nomination for sure.

“The Lion of Llanaxa” begins well enough but simply doesn’t deliver by its conclusion. It’s a tale that goes nowhere and thus is the weakest one in the book.

“Through Fog of War” has World War II Navy sailor Colton Kendricks shipwrecked on a strange deserted island somewhere in the South Pacific. What he discovers on that island defies all reason and logic, but proves to be a very good opening chapter to what we hope is more to come.

Finally Vann wraps it all up with “Stalker in the Shadows,” the tale of Rick Mordane who lives in a world where the dead have come back to life. Well at least as visible, interacting ghosts if you will and he’s a private eye better identified as a Poltergeist Negotiator. What a hot looking redhead comes to him saying she’s being stalked by a former lover, Rick finds himself unable to resist her charms even though the case itself has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. A really wonky, fun story.

And there you have it, four terrific yarns, two genuine gems and one lackluster affair. Meaning this is another well crafted Xepico Press offering by a writer whose talent is only growing with each new collection. You don’t want to miss it.

 

 

 

Friday, September 24, 2021

MEN'S ADVENTURE QUATERLY Vol 1 # 3

 

MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY

Vol 1 No 3

Edited by Robert Deis & Bill Cunningham

Pulp 2.0

153 pgs

We came home from Vietnam in July of 1968. We were only too happy to return to civilian life and put that last year behind us. By March of 1969 we were working in a shoe factory and attending college at night. Sometime in that month we picked up a paperback novel called “The Executioner – War against The Mafia” by Don Pendleton. It was to be the first in a series from a new publisher named Pinnacle. A few weeks later they released, “The Destroyer” by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy. After reading both of these initial adventures, we had one thought – the pulps were back! After having been a comic book reader since childhood, we eventually picked up some knowledge of those 30s and 40s yellow paged magazines that had entertained folks during the Great Depression. Reading Mack Bolan and Remo Williams, it was only too evident that they were new, modern “pulp” heroes for a new generation.

Sure enough within months, the drugstore racks were overflowing with new “hero” series ala the Death Merchant by Joseph Rosenberger, Piers Anthony’s Judomaster, Marc Olden’s Black Samurai, Paul Kenyon’s The Baroness. It seemed every possible classic pulp genre was covered to even include the occult ala Frank Lauria’s Doctor Orient books. Oh yeah, for the next decade, we readers would be the benefactors of the newest incarnation of pulps, which had morphed from the classic 40s volumes into the MAMs of the 50s and 60s and now the paperback boom of the 70s. We loved the stuff.

Whereas The Executioner books were by far our favorites and we followed them loyally from Pinnacle to Gold Eagle. Even enjoying the spin-off series as they emerged. At one point we actually corresponded with one of the ghost writers on Able Team. In the end we’d amassed well over two hundred paperbacks with name Pendleton painted across the covers before selling the lot in a yard sale to an employee of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire, whose purpose was to divvy them up amongst his co-workers there. So we were delighted they’d found a new and worthy home.

Now Bill Cunningham and Bob Deis have turned their magnificent creative spotlight on The Executioner phenomenon with the third issue of their “Men’s Adventure Quarterly” and it is by far their best issue so far. The volume is jammed packed with not only the history of this amazing ground-breaking series and its creator, but includes several excellent articles and pictorials. The piece on action-adventure writer Chuck Dixon is great and details his own work on such iconic characters and the Punisher and Batman in the comics to his own Levon Cade paperback adventures. There are also several short stories in the same vein such as the over-the-top “The Amputee Vengeance Squad’s Mafia Wipeout” by Jack Tyler. They also feature not one, but two “book bonus” reprints of the first two Executioner novels in their entirety as they appeared in two different MAMs.

As always Cunningham has an artist touch with his beautiful layouts; our favorites being the spread of Gil Cohen cover paintings and further into the issue the reproduction of the first dozen Executioner covers from Pinnacle. Seeing those unleashed a flood of great memories for this reviewer. Linda Pendleton’s memoir of her life with Don relives the early days when Mack Bolan was just an idea that had to be born. Wrap this all up with a little Bettie Page spread and you end up with one of slickest, expertly produced magazine packages ever assembled. Kudos to the Deis – Cunningham team. You boys are 3 for 3 at bat. Now that’s a damn impressive record.

 

Monday, September 20, 2021

NIGHTVEIL - Crisis at the Crossroads of Infinity.

 

NIGHTVEIL

Crisis at the Crossroads of Infinity

By Bobby Nash

Pro-Se Press

171 pgs

Several years ago AC Comics, one of the longest running independent comics companies in the country, joined forces with New Pulp publisher Pro-Se Press to produce several novels based on their colorful comic book characters. Writer Bobby Nash immediately signed on to write a book featuring AC’s female sorceress, Nightveil. The end result was “Nightveil – Crisis at the Crossings of Infinity.”

The adventure opens at a nexus point where all dimensions meet. There an obsessed Nightveil is battling another Nightveil from another world. Believing her world is being slowly destroyed by the creation of multiple worlds, this one time hero is now bent on eliminating all her doppelgangers. The opening chapter is a fierce encounter played out against the backdrop of infinity. Soon the world known as Wastelands is littered with the bodies of fallen Nightveils.

At which point Laura Wright, our world’s own Nightveil, becomes aware of this threat and nearly becomes the evil sorceress’ next victim. Realizing she cannot defeat the crazed Nightveil alone, Laura devises a plan to recruit other Nightveils and heroes from the myriad dimensions to help save infinity. All of which culminates in a cosmic encounter overseen by a powerful entity with the ability to change reality as we know it.

In reading this fast paced adventure, we were impressed with Nash’s ability to write all the various incarnations of the same person. He expertly moves from scene to scene and we are never once confused as to who’s who. In the end, the adventure works brilliantly and wraps with a satisfying climax.

In 2019 “Nightveil – Crisis at the Crossroads of Infinity” won the Pulp Factory Award for Best Novel; an award it totally merited.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

MOONSTONE DOUBLE SHOT

 

MOONSTONE DOUBLE SHOT

Edited by Joe Gentile

Featuring - The Green Hornet & Kolchak

By Nancy Holder &

Johnny Dollar

By Tommy Hancock

Moonstone Books

55 pgs

Recently Moonstone Books has started publishing new short Green Hornet prose adventures by various New Pulp scribes in small booklets. Each features a GH tale backed up by a second story featuring another pulp character. In this edition, that is radio investigator Johnny Dollar.

Nancy Holder’s GH story, “House of a Thousand Screams” is fun in that a young reporter named Carl Kolchak shows up at Sentinel publisher Britt Reid’s office looking for a job. He tells read that if given a chance, he’ll uncover the identity of the Green Hornet within two weeks. As this develops, Kolchak also discovers murder at a rundown amusement park and actually ends up working GH and Kato to capture the bad guys. Again, lots of fun.


Then we have Tommy Hancock’s Johnny Dollar story “The For Jenny Matter” about a murdered young woman who worked as a secretary in the police station. At first it appears she is just another victim of a twisted serial killer, but things aren’t what they appear to me and slowly Dollar begins to suspects the real monster is someone he knows personally. This is by far one of Hancock’s best works and the ending is powerful in so many emotional ways. Look for this to get award nods at the end of the year.

All total a little book that packs a solid punch. Way to go, Moonstone!

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

GHOSTS OF THE JACKAL

GHOSTS OF THE JACKAL

By Jonathan W. Sweet

Brick Pickle Media LLC.

157 pgs

This is the second book in this series featuring Sweet’s original pulp hero and we are delighted. As much as we enjoyed his first outing, this one is twice as much fun. We’re given two really great adventures.

In the first the Jackal, with the assistant of actor Edward Van Sloan hunts a real vampire. Of course this is a delight in that Van Sloan portrayed Prof. Abraham Van Helsing in the film “Dracula” opposite Bela Lugosi. Sweet enjoys setting the tale in his own twin-cities backyard of Minneapolis and St. Paul and it works to perfection.

In his second outing, the Jackal teams with a former lover/vigilante, the beautiful Eurasian Charlie Becker aka the Black Wraith. She is after a killer who may be in possession of a lost manuscript supposedly penned by Edgar Alan Poe before his death. The man is attempting to sell the document to unscrupulous book dealers who are willing to pay exorbitantly for the lost tale. An added bonus to this particular adventure is basis of truth behind the story and Sweet actually reprints Poe’s original pages to the tale he never completed. Fascinating stuff.

All in all, “Ghosts of the Jackal” is simply terrific and Sweet a really polished writer who is clearly having a good time with this series. So much that his enthusiasm translates to every scene, pulling us readers along for the ride. Honestly, we want more.


 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

THE SHADOWED CIRCLE

 

The Shadowed Circle # 1

Editor/Publisher Steve Donoso

A Renaissance Press Publication

50 pages

From a wonderful cover image to the last stunning back cover pix, this little magazine is a pulp gem. Especially for those of you who consider the Shadow the greatest pulp creation of them all. Editor Steve Donoso and his staff have collected eleven insightful articles that cover a huge range of topics.

From Mr. Pulp Will Murray’s piece on Femme Fatales to Dwight Fuhro’s personal hunt for the most famous Shadow painting of them all. (Check out that back cover we mentioned earlier.) Each article is informative and well written. We knew nothing about the Shadow short-films until reading Joseph Gibson’s essay. All of this is solid fare for any true fan of the pulps.

Then Art Director John Sies does a magnificent job in laying out the pages and embellishing them with various images and drawings that are fitting to each segment. Some are familiar while others we’d never seen before. Each captures a different facet of the Shadow conveying the sense of mystery and danger he exuded whether on radio or in his own title.

In the end, it has been way too long since we’ve had such a delightful magazine devoted to this amazing character. Kudos to all involved and please, go get Ed Hulse to do a piece on Victor Jory’s Shadow serial. Something this reviewer would love to read.

 

Monday, August 30, 2021

MJOLNIR

 

 

MJOLNIR

By B.C. James

Self-published

376 pgs

Often when reviewing a book we’ve absolutely loved, our most daunting challenge is getting that euphoria to you, dear readers.  “Mjolnir” is one of those books. From cover to cover it is a comedy-fantasy-action adventure and if all those elements blended together do not spell pulp, then we don’t know what does?

The plot is most imaginative. Odin, in dire fear of his own demise when the predicted Ragnarok occurs, banishes all the North Gods out of Asgard to Earth. Here, Thor, Loki, Freya and all the others finds themselves having to take on actual jobs to sustain themselves. Thor becomes a professional football player, Loki a savvy business man and Freya an expensive high class hooker. Quite the come down for the Goddess of Love. Of course Odin’s scheme has its flaws in that Loki still desires to knock off the Allfather and assume his authority and power. To do this he conspires with the other dimensional god, Surt.

Surt’s fee for this assistant is the sacrifice of a female Asgardian goddess. Loki agrees and sets his sights on Freya who has repeatedly spurned in the past. The final key element and the book’s title, is Thor’s powerful hammer, Mjolnir. He’s given it up and Odin believes by possessing it, he can thwart Ragnarok. Thus the book begins and within only a few chapters, a colorful cast of characters battling all over the U.S. in cataclysmic encounters the likes only seen in early Marvel comics.

B.C. James is a marvelous craftsman and his satirical wit is evident in every scene and line of dialog. So much that one has to wonder from magic elixir is he drinking. “Mjolnir” is a winner you really don’t want to miss. Don’t saw we didn’t tell you.

 


 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

ATIQUES CARRY ON

 

ANTIQUES CARRY ON

A Trash ‘N’ Treasures Mystery

By Barbara Allan

Guest Reviewer -Valerie Fortier

Severn House

194 pgs

Ron isn’t into Cozy mysteries and when this one arrived in the mail, he dropped it on my desk top with the suggestion I give it a go. Months later it’s still sitting there and I decided to give it a try. As a Mom myself, I totally get the mother-daughter dynamics. Sometimes they gel, other times they are nothing but oil and water.

I would recommend you take time to meet Vivian and Brandy. The mother-daughter team that never misses a chance to inject humor and fun while investigating a new mystery. I really enjoyed the book; especially the great twist at the end in regards to who done it. Just when you think you’ve got it solved, there’s more to be revealed.

The book offers up a truly wonderful cast of characters to “cozy” up by the fire and share some time with.

Final note – This is the start and end of my reviewing career. Thanks, Ron.

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

MANEATERS

 

MANEATERS

Killer Sharks in Men’s Adventure Magazines

Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle

MensPulpMags.com

# new texture

192 pgs

With apologies to Peter Benchley, just when you thought it was safe go back into the Mam’s pulp library comes “Maneaters.” This is a collection of sixteen over-the-top tales of deadly shark encounters as offered in various Men’s Adventure Magazines during the 1960s, to include two wonderful cover photo and illustrations galleries. In all, these stories exemplify the horror thrills associated with these deadly sea predators and each entry provides more than enough blood and guts gore to engender some truly colorful nightmares and keep one from ever venturing out into the sea ever again.

Now we’ve all come to expect this kind of exploitive excellent from Deis and Doyle, but what elevates “Maneater” a notch above their previous titles is the afterwards provided by actual marine biologists who wonderfully debunk the various myths associated with sharks while at the same time offering factual data about these incredible fear inducing creatures.

“Maneaters” is a one kind of book that both applauds the imagination of Mams writers while at the same time demonstrating the dangers such fiction inspired. Today many species of shark are on endangered lists threatening to irrevocably upside the natural ecosystems of oceans around the world. A tip of the fedora to Deis and Doyle for both a fun read and a much needed warning that we must protect these magnificent beast from total extinction. Now that would be a real horror.

Friday, July 30, 2021

TO LIVE AND SPY IN BERLIN

 

TO LIVE AND SPY IN BERLIN

By Max Allan Collins with Matthew V. Clemens

Wolfpack Publishing

221 pgs

With this third installment of the John Sand series, Collins and Clemens put forth a proposition many past mystery writers have tackled; can marriage still be romantic and sexy? Following the events that were detailed in “Come Spy With Me” and “Live Fast, Spy Hard,” former British Agent John Sand and his Texas Oil Heiress wife, Stacey, have together joined the new international spy organization called GUILE created by U.S. President John Kennedy and run by former British Spy Chief Sir Lord Malcolm Marbury; known affectionately as Double M.

As we rejoin the Sands, the major issue between them is whether or not Stacey becoming an operative was a good idea or not. A series of lethal encounters with a team of professional assassins has John rethinking his decision. At the same time certain intelligence comes to the surface that former Nazis who escaped capture at the end of World War II may be active in Berlin, after having disappeared for several decades in certain South American countries. Bomb making uranium has been stolen and the likelihood of these renegade Nazis creating their own atomic bomb is a threat that cannot be ignored.

As in the first two entries, Collins and Clemens cleverly work in actual historical settings throughout the thriller, weaving their fiction skillfully around real people and the volatile political atmosphere of the early 1960s. Yet despite this outer layer of narrative, it is the relationship between John and Stacey that is truly captivating. It was impossible not to recall other literary and cinematic spouses from the past. From Nick and Nora Charles, to televisions Hart to Hart and McMillan & Wife, married duos sharing outlandish adventures worked remarkably well in the past and they are very much the pedigree of this thrill-a-minute new series.

As always, Collins and Clemens offer up a whole lot more than any back cover blurb can properly define. This series is brilliant in all its many aspects. If you’re a spy junkie like us, its time you met the Sands.

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.