Monday, July 17, 2017

SENTINELS 9 : Vendetta



SENTINELS 9 : VENDETTA
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
290 pages

More years ago than we care to remember, a budding new pulp writer sent us a book called “When Strikes The Warlord.” It was a prose superhero adventure featuring a team called the Sentinels and clearly inspired by Marvel Comics’ own Avengers. The author of that book was Van Allen Plexico and with that one book he launched a series that grew in scope and grandeur with each new chapter.

Initially the stories centered on the earthbound heroes; Ultraa, the powerful team leader, Esro Brachis, the millionaire genius inventor and Wendy Lee, a beautiful young woman with amazing powers. Oh, there were others, but these three made up the core of the group and as time went on their personalities began to take shape with each additional adventure. It was immediately obvious that Plexico’s grand scheme would take these heroes far beyond the boundaries of one lonely planet as a plethora of alien beings began popping up to either threaten the Earth or save it.  From Star Knights to a thousand year old space warrior suffering from amnesia, the scope of the Sentinels broadened quickly.

Eventually we encountered the space faring Kur-bai from the planet Kurizon and their heroes known as the Elites. Soon both teams were fighting side by side against living stars and other fantastical galactic beings, all seeking to rule the universe. And that was all within the confines of the first six books. With the seventh, Plexico set about taking his now mega-cast on an amazing journey to Kurizon itself. The Sentinels and Elites mission  was to rescue the Empire from a tyrant.  What they did not know was shortly after their departure, one of their greatest foes, an immortal known as the Black Terror,  assembled a human space fleet and flew off after them to invade Kurizon and conquer the Kur-bai Empire.

“Sentinels : Vendetta,” opens with almost a dozen plot lines and constantly shifts from one character to another at such a rapid pace, this reviewer began thinking of installing a seat belt on our reading recliner. The action in this epic finale moves at breakneck speed and in such a grandiose fashion, especially for the diehard fans who have been along this ride from the beginning.  Side note – of all the entries in this saga, this one, as brilliantly written as it is, is nothing but one battle after another, each more powerful and dramatic than the previous featuring most of the cast. Ergo, a new reader would most likely give up after the few chapters. Knowing these heroes and villains is crucial to enjoying what a true climatic masterpiece this book becomes. It is the grand payoff all of us have been waiting for and Plexico doesn’t disappoint. All his wonderful and amazing characters get their time on the stage and in the most logical and satisfying ways possible.

In the end an powerful empire’s history is redirected for the betterment of all its people, two heroes wed and the Earth is once again safe thanks to the courage of a handful of heroes, both human and alien.  “Sentinels 9 : Vendetta,” is simply a gift to we readers from a writer who never once lost sight of his goal; to write the ultimate space opera of all time. Well done, Van Allen Plexico, mission accomplished.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

CEARA AMENA




CEARA AMENA
Warrior of the Qumran Desert
By Jamie Evans
Pulpsmack Publishing
88 pages

For the past several years, writer Jamie Evans has been writing and publishing his own fiction in small chapbooks. Released in 2015, this one clearly had no real editing. What appears on the pages is often disjointed and lacking in any structured plot. It becomes obvious Evans is a seat-of-the-pants story teller just jumping in over his head and praying he can paddle fast enough to stay afloat.

And here’s the thing, he manages to actually do just that, despite the overwhelming flaws on display. Thus we’ve no desire to focus solely on his lack of technical prowess but instead applaud his knack for spinning a fast-paced adventure. And with only 88 pages to do it, you have to know there is no fat on these bones; though it might have helped round his characters just a bit more. Skills we hope he learns to cultivate, with the help of a good editor some day.

The lead character Ceara Amena; a blade for hire who often works for the city of Dagon. When she’s asked to spy on a neighboring city, it is because there are rumblings of a possible invasion. She takes the job. But before she can even reach her destination, she is warned by a beautiful stranger that an evil sorcerer named Che Mosh is pulling the strings behind the scenes. His ultimate goal is to marry the rightful heir, Princess Aeveen, and with her at his side, wage war against the other desert people until he rules them all. 

Amena all too soon finds herself collecting a group of misfit warriors; a mining dwarf, a forest scout and a seven tall blue giant. In the end they unravel Che Mosh’s dastardly scheme, rescue the princess and defeat the evil magician. It’s all pretty much by the numbers, but again, Evans has such a wild flair for action, it is as if he doesn’t care as long as he’s having fun. Which in itself is contagious, despite the lack of writing sophistication. This reviewer recalls how many of the early pulp writers were similar “hacks” who managed to grow with their craft. We think Jamie Evans certainly has that potential and we’re rooting for him all the way.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

RISE OF THE SKULL CRUSHER



RISE OF THE SKULL CRUSHER
By Joel Jenkins
Pulp Work Press
269 pgs

Book two of this fast based fantasy series continues adventures of exiled prince Strommand Greattrix as he battles to free his people in the kingdom of Argalas from the tyrannical rule of the Damionite Empire. The action takes place on the planet Carparath where sword and sorcery are the weapons of choice and warring nations battle for power in the skies via fleets of massive balloon ships.

At the end of book one “Skull Crusher,” Strommand had commandeered an enemy scout ship along with three people he had rescued; Shawna a fiery redheaded slave being brutally tortured and then Amber, a beautiful black woman and her warrior ally Roland, who were prisoners of dessert raiders. Together the four of them overcoma the crew of the small airship and barely escaped with their lives, the ship half destroyed and staying aloft with only a few balloons and prayers.

Book two picks up with Strommand guiding the dilapidated half-ship to the mountain kingdom of Covallis in search of his exiled uncle Lance Greattrix. Strommand’s plan is to persuade his uncle, the true legitimate heir to the throne of Argalas, to assist him in recruiting a new air flotilla and return to their homeland to retake it from the usurpers. But nothing is ever simple in a world where politics are constantly changing people’s loyalties and the prince must court favors from several foreign royal families before he can successfully complete his mission. It is a dangerous game as he is uncertain who he can trust and who would betray him to gain favor with the enemy lords.

In the Greattrix saga, writer Jenkins weaves an adventure that is eighty percent Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian tales as if they filtered through George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones.” This volume is a delightful mix of over-the-top action and Machiavellian intrigues all perfectly balanced with a deft touch. Jenkins strength is his imagination and ability to create some of the most memorable female characters ever to grace the pages of a fantasy epic; each is unique and equally memorable. We enjoyed the first entry in this series a great deal and are thrilled that the verve and adventure haven’t let up one single bit in this second installment. If you love original fantasy adventure, you’ll look far and wide before finding anything as good as this saga. So says this reviewer.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

THE ADVENTURE OF THE INGONITA COUNTESS



THE ADVENTURE OF THE
INCOGNITO COUNTESS
By Cynthia Ward
Aqueduct Press
110 pgs

Lucy Harker is the daughter of Count Dracula and Mina Harker, a fact known only to a handful of people. Growing up half-vampire, she is trained to become a spy for the British government and is directed by the mysterious M, in this case that stands for Mycroft Holmes. In her first field assignment, Lucy is told to she is to act as a secret bodyguard to an American military officer traveling back the United States aboard the maiden ship Titantic. The officer carries with him the plans to Captain Nemo’s long lost  super submarine, the Nautilus. It is imperative the plans reach America safely and do not fall into enemy hands. The enemy being the Germans who are once again beating the drums of war.

Now if you love outlandish pulp plots as this reviewer does, then you have to know Ms. Ward’s is so marvelously peppered with such well known fictional characters that we were captivated from the very first chapter. Never mind that once aboard the Titantic, Lucy encounters the Lord and Lady Greyborough; well known throughout the empire for their wealth and prestige. Rumors abound that he, James Greyborough, was actually raised by apes in the jungles of Africa as a babe. Lucy sees him as a possible ally should she need one during the long sea trip.

Whereas there are several German agents also on board; which comes as no real surprise. Having been properly briefed my M, Lucy believes herself ready for anything. Anything that is except for a beautiful young woman named Carmilla Karnstein who happens to be an actual vampire with abilities far beyond her own. Though instantly attracted to the exotic beauty, Lucy suspects her of being in with the spies and must be ever vigilant or else be undone.

But when her passions threaten to override her training, she soon finds herself in more danger than she could possibly have imagined. “The Adventure of the Incognita Countess,” is pure pulp in the grandest style and Ward’s panache in bringing these colorful characters together in such a radical, over-the-top plot is just fantastic. This is one of those adventures one needs to relish and relinquish all attempts finding a rational behind the plot. It’s just fun…and tons of it.  And wait till the iceberg shows up!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

RESTLESS




RESTLESS
(An Anthology of Mummy Horror)
Edited by Jim Beard & John C. Bruening
Flinch Books
187 pgs

Once again the good folks at Flinch Books have put together another terrific anthology filled with top-notch stories. This one’s theme all about the classic Mummy monsters found in black and white movies and turn of the century horror novels. The writers are among the best of New Pulp today and they do not disappoint even the most jaded of readers.

Barry Reese kicks it all off with his “Love’s Deadly Kiss.” When a British explorer Thomas York returns to England after his latest adventures in Africa, he discovers that his old friend has acquired a unique mummy and appears to be under its influence somehow. When that gentleman is cruelly murdered, York investigates only to learn he too has fallen victim to the sway of this ancient, immortal temptress.

“To Rise and Conquer” by Teel James Glenn follows next. During the Japanese invasion of China, an America flier finds himself fleeing with several escapees through the rugged terrain of Mongolia. They find a hidden cave in which to hide from their pursuers only to discover it holds the remains one of history’s most lauded conquerors.

“The Weighing of the Dead,” is by Sam Gafford and introduces us to a British occult detective named Dr. Greenwood and his first meeting with Claire Montgomery, an archeologist looking into mysterious occurrences in the London Royal Museum. Plenty of horror and action ensue.

Duane Spurlock then offers up “Spirits From the Dread World.” An ancient Aztec mummy is revised to wreak havoc on the citizens of Mexico City unless a once famous luchador named El Puno can regain his courage and come to their rescue.

“The Warrior and the Stone,” by John Bruening has archeologist Jake Bennett and his Turkish guide, Haluk deep in the mountains between Tibet and China looking of a lost magical stone said to bestow immortality. Instead what they uncover is an ancient warrior trapped in time and awaiting his last battle.

Nancy Hansen wraps up the volume with her story, “Sacrifices.” When the mummified remains of a warrior women are found intact in the wilderness of the Russian steppes, Marcela Ramos is called in by a Russian colleague to help investigate. But no sooner does she set about bringing the frozen corpse back to the United States when a serious of mysterious accidents befalls the crews involved with the transport process. Enough so that Marcela soon realizes she’s taken on a horrible curse that could spell her doom.

It isn’t often when reviewing an anthology that we have such a difficult time choosing our favorite entry. That’s how great all these stories in this collection truly are. Whereas if given no other recourse, our needle with point to Teel James Glenn by the narrowest of margins. Truthfully, this there isn’t a bad apple in the bunch and our fedora if off to Flinch Books once again. If you love old fashion horror, pick up “Restless,” dim the lights and sit down for an evening reading pleasure. You can thank us later.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

FACES OF FEAR



The Black Bat-The Purple Scar
Faces of Fear
By Ron Fortier
Illustrations by Rob Davis
Moonstone Books
86 pgs
Guest Reviewer – Michael Housel

                                                                                               
Just finished the novella, THE BLACK BAT/THE PURPLE SCAR: FACES OF FEAR, the latest crossover adventure from Moonstone Books. Gotta say--whoa!!! This one sure overflows with action and intrigue. It's also written by Black Bat raconteur and Airship 27 Publications founder, Ron Fortier (a good sign, if ever there was one, for no one weaves a New Pulp yarn quite like Captain Ron). The adventure is also graced by gripping illustrations from his creative pal, the legendary Rob Davis!!!

Faces of Fear deals with the evident rise of dead criminals within Black Bat/Tony Quinn's NY turf. It appears that the insidious, porcelain-faced Mr. Mask is responsible. Naturally, Black Bat (accompanied by his faithful assistant, Silk Kirby) leaps in to tackle the situation. However, as the weirdness mounts, another enigmatic figure enters--that hard-hitting, rubber-masked avenger, the Purple Scar, aka Miles Murdoch. 

After the Black Bat rescues the Purple Scar from a sticky situation, the crusaders decide to join forces to untangle the perplexing manifestations.

As with Fortier's Black Bat comic-book entries, Faces of Fear moves at a rapid clip, but the blistering action never blurs the characterizations, which remain distinct throughout, courtesy of the author's crisp, engaging style. The story also does an excellent job probing concepts of identity and the secrets people tuck beneath their various facades. 

Davis' wonderful illustrations give a film-noir ambiance to the tale: each image projecting a moody, almost three-dimensional depth that pulp fans will relish. 

By the adventure's conclusion, one side triumphs over the other, but I won't reveal exactly how. Experiencing the way Black Bat and Purple Scar (or more precisely, Fortier and Davis) make it click is all part of the fun. 

Incidentally, the stunning hardback-cover artwork is by Davis, with Eric Enervold having rendered the dynamic, softcover version. Cool!!! 

Give Faces of Fear a try. You're guaranteed a rousing treat, with either edition you buy. Heck, why not splurge for both? 

Sunday, June 04, 2017

THE GUNS ABOVE



THE GUNS ABOVE
By Robyn Bennis
Tor Books
351 pages

We love this book! The reasons for this overwhelming reaction are many and we’ll happily elaborate for your edification. Years ago, while still in high school, we discovered the works of British writer C.S. Forster and his clever navel hero, Horatio Hornblower. It was a romantic saga filled with action and heroes; the stuff teenage boys dream of. Then along about that same period in our creative evolution, we discovered the grand airships of old, from the German made Zeppelins to their American Navy counterparts, the Los Angeles and Macon. We began promptly collecting everything we could in regards to these fantastic clippers of the cloud.

Thus is should be no surprise to anyone that when we began our own publishing venture, we labeled it Airship 27 Productions. Now, we report all of this because in lieu of the ever increasing popularity of steampunk, more and more books have been written dealing with airships; including “The Guns of Above.” When we saw an ad on-line for the title, we immediately reached out to Tor Books and asked to receive a review copy. They were gracious enough to respond and last week it arrived, wrapped in a truly beautiful cover by artist Tommy Arnold.

Lt. Josette Dupre is an executive officer on a Garnian Army’s Aerial Signal Corp airship during the bloody war with their enemy, the neighboring nation of Vinzhalia. As the book opens, her ship, the Osprey has crash landed in the middle of a savage battle and her captain killed. Dupre takes command of the survivors and rallies the ground forces to salvage a victory from sure defeat. As a reward for her gallantry, she is promoted to Captain and given her own ship, a small scout christened the Mistral.

Now in the grand tradition of steampunk, we must explain these are not the more recognizable airships of our own reality, but actual steam powered rigid crafts containing multiple gas bags and armed with canons locked into wheeled tracks. The airmen fire powder and flint rifles. Considering this level of technology, it becomes all too clear within the first few chapters that life aboard these airships are fraught with peril, if not from enemy airships, then the very fragility of the ships themselves. And it is in this world where life and death waltz together in the heavens that Captain Josette Dupre finds her calling.

Whereas the mores of the time are not as advanced as the sciences and though women are allowed to serve in the aircorp, they are forbidden to participate in actual combat. Dupre’s promotion has nothing to do with her skills or heroism, but rather the fact that the war has decimated the ranks of qualified officers and that is why she is given Mistral; there was no else available. A fact she is all too aware of. But it doesn’t deter her from recruiting other women for her own crew and treating them as equals. 

She even has a spy to contend with.  The Commander of the Garnian Army, one General Hinkal, wants to see her fail and so orders his aristocratic nephew, Lord Bernat Hinkal to fly with the Mistral and there write up a secret report detailing Dupre’s failings so as to provide the General with the evidence he requires to have her dismissed and removed from command.

All of which would be easy enough to accomplish if not for two things. The first being Josette Dupre is very much a capable leader and skillfully leads her new ship into one hazardous mission after another gradually inspiring her crew and gaining their loyalty. While at the same time winning over Bernat, a spoiled dandy who, for the first time in his life, is given the opportunity to act like a man, to find his own self worth and in the process become Dupre’s most unlikely ally.

“The Guns Above” is a rousing adventure from first page to last and what is even more unbelievable is the fact that it is the author’s debut novel. It has been a long time since this reviewer has been so enamored with a fictional character so brilliantly conceived and realized. Captain Josette Dupre is such a figure and when you’ve read her adventures, you’ll add her to the ranks of such heroes as Hornblower and James T. Kirk.  When Jan. 2018 rolls around, we will be nominating “The Guns Above” for the Pulp Factory Awards in the Best Novel category. Now go grab a copy and join us.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

SKELOS 2



SKELOS     2
The Magazine of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy
Edited by Mark Fin, Chris Gruber, Jeffrey Shanks
Skelos Press
202 pages

Last year we had the pleasure of reviewing the first issue of this terrific new fantasy journal and gave it a resounding welcome. Imagine both our surprise and delight upon opening the second issue and discovering it is not only as good as the premier volume but in some ways even better.

Billed as repository for short fiction, novellas, interviews, art, reviews and essays, the journal does a magnificent job of covering each venue with excellent pieces, be they fiction or expository articles. Each is of superb quality and among this issue we, as any review would, had our favorites. Fiction-wise, Robert M. Price’s “The Eleventh Scarlett Hell,” is a marvelous Thongor of Lemuria adventure novelette to be relished, while the short works of Milton Davis, Cynthia Ward and Jessica Amanda Salmonson were our favorites among that category.

Frank Coffman is a devilishly clever poet and is his “The Wood” was particularly creepy as were “The Night Realm” by Chad Hensely and “The Mockingbird” by Pat Calhoun. Had we had similar verse in high school, English Lit would have certainly been a whole lot more interesting.

We were unfamiliar with writer Arriane “Tex” Thompson until Mark Finn’s interview and may have to acquaint ourselves with more of her work in the future. “Warrior Women of History,” presented by Jeffrey Shanks with illustrations by Samuel Dillon was pure joy. One has to wonder why more hasn’t been done with these amazing characters from history.

Lastly, and always helpful, were a half dozen reviews by folks such as Dave Breski, Jake Vander Weide and Keith West, to name a few.

All in all, another treasure trove of both tales and artwork, beautifully designed and presented. Fantasy fans should be rejoicing loudly.  SKELOS 2 is another homerun by a production staff that knows the fantasy genre inside and out. We can only dream of what they are going to do with volume 3.

Monday, May 22, 2017

THE WILL TO KILL



THE WILL TO KILL
(The Lost Mike Hammer Mystery)
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Titan Books
230 pages

The release of yet another “lost” Mike Hammer novel by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins is always a cause for celebration among mystery lovers. In this case, Hammer discovers the partial remains of a corpse floating on a chunk of ice in the Hudson River. A quick investigation determines the dead man was the butler of a one time cop turned millionaire inventor who also died via mysterious circumstances. Thing is, this retired copper was a friend of Homicide Detective Pat Chambers; Hammer’s good buddy. It is Chambers who sends the tough-guy private eye up into the Catskill to investigate both the butler’s bizarre end while at the same time learning more about the widowed inventor’s death and his four heirs.

Unlike most Hammer tales, where the action unfolds on the streets of the Big Apple, this one has him up in the rarefied air of the well-to-do and their richly landscaped abodes. Once settled into the scene, Hammer gets accounted with the four siblings; two stepsons, both with hidden skeletons in their private closets, a lovely daughter and a challenged younger male with childlike qualities. All of them stand to gain from their late father’s will upon each of them turning forty years old.

Of course, this being a Hammer novel, it comes as no surprise when one of the two stepsons is murdered leaving his share to be divided among the surviving three. And thus we begin to drift into a less traditional Hammer caper and more an Agatha Christie “Ten Little Indians” tableau. This by now means suggest the book isn’t suspenseful and well conceived. Only that it feels out of place in the Hammer canon. Most likely because of the setting itself than any other factor.

Bottom line, any Hammer book by Spillane and Collins is going to be good, but take Hammer out of the City and something gets lost in translation.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

SOME OTHER SHORE



SOME OTHER SHORE
By Dwight R. Decker
Vesper Press
144 pages

We’ve known Dwight “Doc” Decker for many years and he has a reputation as one of the finest writers in genre fiction. This is his latest collection of shorts and it proves to be a delightful, eclectic bunch covering everything from fantasy to cautionary sci-fi. The half dozen here assembled beings with “Witch Hunt” a dangerous sequel to the Hansel and Gretel and it isn’t a fairy tale.

In “Extraordinary Proof,” a well known skeptic is in for the surprise encounter of his life in regards to aliens walking amongst us while “Raiders of the Future,” has time travelers going to the future to steal advanced technology. When they are captured by a futuristic librarian, it is the rookie on the team who comes up with the solution to their dilemma.

 “Saxon Violence,” begins with an old British vicar attempting to resurrect King Arthur during World War II and gets some unexpected results for his efforts.  Had he done more historical research into the subject, his ending may have been different.  “Miracle By Mistake,” is marvelous piece in which a student from the far future finds himself working with a traveling circus in 1911 and learning his own true self-worth.

Finally we “The Last of Their Kind,” which tells of a World War II fighter pilot shot down in the South Pacific and rescued on a small island by a clan of real mermaids.

All in all, if you are on the hunt for old fashion, well told short stories, you needn’t look any further than “Some Other Shore.”  Decker even includes a friendly afterword in which he relates the inspirations for his yarns. A completely fun package we hated to see end.  Here’s hoping a second collection will soon be coming out way.

Monday, May 08, 2017

SEARCH FOR THE BEAST



SEARCH FOR THE BEAST
By Derrick Ferguson
Based on the screenplay by Rick Montana
Pro Se Press
169 pages

This is a book we’ve been most anxious to get our hands on for multiple reasons. So here’s a question for all of you. What do you get when you adapt an hour long B horror movie into a full length novel? Well, if the writer chosen to do the novelization is competent, you’ll most likely get an okay prose version of the flick. Whereas if your writer is one of the finest, most capable authors in New Pulp today, what you’ll end up with is something a whole lot more intense, suspenseful and exciting than the actual source material.

Now as to that latter, we have not seen writer/director Rick Montana’s little movie and are solely referring to the extremely negative comments on its Amazon page. Ouch. We don’t generally mind B movies, but those with a modicum of fun attached to them. Now back to book review.

One of the first things Ferguson does is shifts the tale’s setting from the backwoods of Alabama to the northwest Florida swamps, which is a much more logical setting if the entire theme of your narrative centers around the hunt for a bigfoot type creature called the Beast. The protagonist is a former Army Ranger turned archeologist named David Stone who is quite familiar with both the Beast and his Okaloosa wilderness habitat. When the son of the area’s richest men goes missing along with his girlfriend, the father hires Stone to go and find him. He also sends along a squad of ex-military mercenaries led by one Jim Steele. Stone is rightly suspicious of Steele and his team, sensing early on that their agendas are not the same.  Unfortunately Stone has made the mistake of bringing along an undergraduate student, Wendy, and he soon fears he has not only  endangered his own life but hers as well.

No sooner does the group get settled into their bivouac camp, then the Beast appears and savagely murders one of Steele’s men. At the same time another group of mysterious hunters materializes and Steele is convinced they are chasing after the same illegal cache he has been hired to find and destroy. All the while Dr. Stone and Wendy are caught up in the crossfire doing their best to survive both the human killers and the supernatural Beast.

Ferguson imbues what is a fairly standard plot with so much verve and energy, this reviewer became totally caught up in the tale; willingly forgetting how outlandish the plot is. He is a masterful writer and gives these characters tons more depth and substance than any B movie could ever offer. Maybe some night we’ll get to see the film on cable, till then, we’re in no hurry to do so. Having read the book, we’re pretty sure we came out ahead on this one.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

BEYOND RUE MORGUE



BEYOND RUE MORGUE
Edited by Paul Kane & Charles Prepolec
Titan Books
332 pages

This is such a marvelous idea for an anthology. Editors Kane and Prepolec open the collection with their short essay on arguably literature’s first true fictional detective; Edgar Allan Poe’s C. August Dupin. Then they kick off the book with Poe’s seminal “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which for anyone with little experience reading dated English prose, is a chore in itself. Whereas once the title classic has been put forth, the curtain opens to nine brand new stories inspired by Poe’s unique character.

“The Sons of Tammany” by Mike Carey.  The building of the Brooklyn Bridge and government corruption is the backdrop to this fast moving yarn.

“The Unfathomed Darkness” by Simon Clark. A fanatical Danish cult sets out on a perilous airship pilgrimage only to end in twisted murder.

“The Weight of a Dead Man,” by Weston Ochse & Yvonne Navarro. Dupin’s grandson, Pinkerton agent Nate Dupes, arrives in Arizona looking for a stolen painting only to get caught up with an ancient cult and a colorful Mexican bandito. An action packed pulper that is much fun.

“The Vanishing Assassin,” by Jonathan Mayberry.  Dupin solves the mystery of a butchered art dealer.

“The Gruesome Affair of the Electric Blue Lightning,” by Joe R. Lansdale. This one throws in everything from Frankenstein to Lovecraft’s Elder Gods.

“From Darkness, Emerged, Returned,” by Elizabeth Massie. A nice little psychological thriller that was my least favorite. Not because it is badly written but because it’s tenuous connection to the theme.

“After The End,” by Lisa Tuttle. This tale is so cleverly plotted; the writer’s prophecy at the end is eerily effective.

“The Purloined Face,” by Stephen Volk. A truly fanciful tale wherein Dupin is actually Edgar Allen Poe; having faked his own death back in America and retired to Paris to pursue his new career as a detective. His assistant and narrator of the tale is none other than a young Sherlock Holmes and together they seek to unravel the true identity of the Phantom of the Opera. A truly imaginative, wonderful story.  Easily my favorite of this collection.

“New Murders in the Rue Morgue,” by Clive Barker. When an American descendant of the Dupin returns to Paris, he finds line between fiction and reality blurred in a truly horrifying tale.

In all this is an eclectic, fun anthology worthy of your attention and support.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

ENVY THE DEAD



ENVY THE DEAD
By Robert Randisi
Down & Out Books
273 pgs

Sangster was one of the best killers in the death-dealing business until one day he woke to discover he had a soul. Translate to conscience and because of that unexpected epiphany, he retired immediately. Now, one of his few friends aware of his old career, Catholic priest Father Patrick, comes to Sangster looking for help. Years earlier, while assigned to a parish in Philadelphia, a young twelve year old altar boy committed suicide after claiming he had been abused by a priest. Father Patrick swore he was not that priest, whereas the boy’s father, mobster Jimmy Abbatello doesn’t believe him and puts out a contract on the cleric. The Bishop quickly has him reassigned to a parish in New Orleans and for the next decade Father Patrick believes he’s actually escaped the obsessed Abatello.

Then one day the priest runs into one of the old Philly hoods in a public square. Though he ducks away fast, he is unsure as to whether the fellow spotted him. Worried that such is the case, he seeks out Sangster and thus the novel begins.  Randisi is one of those old pros in the crime genre who has gotten so good at telling these kinds of stories, his prose is economical and his dialogue sharp, crisp and fun. These are the traits every writer works at as they are the elements that make prose either convoluted or, like this novel, enjoyably readable. The pages seem to turn themselves, that’s how smoothly Randasi spins his tale.

Sangster reluctantly agrees to help and eventually learns a notorious hitman known as Frankie Trigger has taken the contract and is already in New Orleans. But Sangster isn’t without his own support in the retired ex-Sheriff Burke, a wiry character always ready for a little action. If all this wasn’t enough, Sangster gets another surprise when a beautiful young woman named Roxy shows up claiming to be the daughter of his former controller. She wants Sangster to teach her to be a hired gun.

“Envy The Dead,” is one of those rare thrillers that delivers memorable moments without ever straining credibility. In the end, it’s about people, flawed, imperfect and simply wanted to get by in a world too often cold and uncaring.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

THE BOOTLEGGER



THE BOOTLEGGER
(An Isaac Bell Adventure)
By Justin Scott with Clive Cussler
Berkley Novel
435 pgs

This is the sixth Isaac Bell thriller from writer Justin Scott. For the record, Clive Cussler created the characters and set up for the series in his book, “The Chase,” then handed it off to the Scott to continue.  Which in our opinion is both genius and bothersome. Genius because Justin Scott is an amazing writer, bothersome in that for purely promotion purposes, the publishers always slap Cussler’s name over these books in a giant font with Scott’s shrunk down to near invisibility beneath it.  But, good or bad, these cottage series have been around forever. It obvious the books make tons of money and Mr. Scott’s ego is surely compensated by his share of the royalties.  As this is one of our current favorite series currently being written, we just had to vent a bit.  Now on to the actual review.

Set in 1921, Prohibition is the law of the land and causing havoc across the country. In an attempt to keep his prestigious detective company free of corruption, Joseph Van Horn offers his company’s services to the Coast Guard. On an inspection tour with one of their patrol boats, they come under attack from bootleggers operating a super-fast armored cruiser equipped with machine guns.  Van Horn is wounded in the confrontation and almost dies.  That is all the motivation his chief agent and protégé Isaac Bell needs to mount a full out offensive against the cunning operators of that incredible but deadly speedboat.  Bell will stop at nothing to find the bootleggers and bring them to justice.

But as the investigation mounts, Bell uncovers evidence that the owner of the black rum-runner may not be a simple criminal after all.  With the help of Pauline Grandzau, the lovely Van Dorn agent in charge of their Berlin office, he learns that the mysterious master mind behind the increase in bootlegging activities may be a Russian Bolshevik spy whose purpose is complete destruction of America’s democratic government.  Using the sale of illegal, rut-gut booze, this foreign provocateur audaciously plans to finance his campaign of terror via his quickly amassing wealth from his bootlegging operations.

From the waters of the Great Lakes down to the old speakeasies of Detroit and ending in the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean, “The Bootlegger” is a non-stop thrill ride that never once lets up, skillfully building suspense to a powerful, explosive finale pitting an old fashion hero against a heartless monster in a contest that only one will survive.  We’ve never once been disappointed by an Isasc Bell thriller and this one is certainly no exception.

Monday, April 10, 2017

TRIGGERMAN



 
TRIGGERMAN
5 Issue Comic Mini-Series
Script by Walter Hill & Matz
Art by Jef
Hard Case Crime
Titan Comics

A few weeks ago we wrote our first review of an ongoing Hard Case Crime comic series from Titan Comics.  Now we’re turning our attention on a shorter, 5 issue mini-series by the established filmmaker Walker Hill and adapted for comics by Matz. 

To the hermit cave-dwellers among you, Walter Hill is an American film director, screenwriter and producer widely known for his over-the- action films. Some critics credit him with reviving the Western genre. Hill is often quoted as saying everything he’s ever written is a Western. Among his most popular films were The Warriors, Hard Times, The Driver, Southern Comfort, Steets of Fire, 48 Hrs and Last Man Standing.

In “Triggerman,” two low-life mobsters have reneged on a deal with Big Al Capone and disappeared with his money. The wrinkle here is they also fled with Lena  Dorsey, the former girlfriend of convicted mob hitman, Roy “Triggerman” Nash currently incarnated in the Big House. Capone has Nash sprung from prison on the condition he find the two idiots and teach a permanent lesson in what happens to people who cross Big Al. As to the money and the girl, Nash can have them.

And so begins a violent chase which leads Nash to the arid dessert of Arizona and finally to the streets of Los Angeles. Along the way he leaves trail of bodies while igniting bad blood with local bosses and crooked cops. Subtlety isn’t Nash’s style and he’s a man of few words, preferring to shoot first and then pick up whatever pieces are left.

“Triggerman” from the first page of issue # 1 to last of # 5 is one of Hill’s best damn stories ever and this reviewer has to wonder why it has never been filmed. Whereas any half-decent filmmaker would be three steps ahead of the game by using the graphics in this comic as his or her storyboards. We’re new to artist Jef, but it’s obvious he loves this prohibition era genre and his art throughout is simply gorgeous. His lines are tight and precise and the perfect sponge for the muted colors used throughout the series.

 “Triggerman” is a fast paced, brutal, crime drama told with an economy of words that is dark poetry.  Somebody please make this a movie.

Friday, April 07, 2017

"LET'S ROLL, KATO."



“LET’S ROLL, KATO”
A Guide to TV’s The Green Hornet
By Billie Rae Bates
BRBTV.com
481 pgs

Last year I was contacted by writer Billie Rae Bates. She was in the process of writing what would be the most comprehensive book ever done on the 60’s Green Hornet TV series starring Van Williams as Britt Reid and Bruce Lee as Kato. Whereas I’d subsequently written those characters in my early 90s Green Hornet comic series from Now Comics, Billie reached out to me. We spent a couple of hours one afternoon as she picked my memories about how that comic series came about, what my own feelings were concerning that TV show etc. etc. etc.

Now that book is finished and in print and it is simply a fantastic work of research. Billie starts at the beginning, giving readers an encapsulated history of GH from his origins at WXYZ, the Detroit radio station owned by George Trendle; how Trendle and his top writer, Fran Striker invented the Green Hornet to follow their unheralded success with their western drama, the Lone Ranger. Then she moves over the two Universal movie serials and finally comes to the crux of this massive tome, the television show put together by producer Bill Dozier that so captured the imagination of fans around the world.

The book gives us a break down to all 26 episodes, anecdotes about the cast, the building of the fantastic automobile known as the Black Beauty and hundreds of other details meticulously set forth in this truly fabulous book.  Several years ago, writer cultural historian Martin Gram wowed GH fans with his brilliant giant volume on the entire history of the character’s radio exploits.  With “LET’S ROLL, KATO,” Billie Rae Bates has given us a magnificent companion title to stand right alongside that masterpiece.

No real Green Hornet & Kato fan should be without this treasure.

Monday, April 03, 2017

THE WINTER FAMILY



THE WINTER FAMILY
By Clifford Jackman
Doubleday
329 pgs

Any reviewer will tell you, the real joy of this job is being surprised by a new writer who puts forth something radically different from anything you’ve ever read before. Now we’ve read our share of western titles from traditional pulp oaters to the more sophisticated noir tempered offerings of the 70s and 80s. But none of them prepared us for Clifford Jackman’s “The Winter Family.”

Imagine the history of the post Civil War era 1864 to 1900 as told through the eyes of Sam Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch. If you can do that, then you’ve a half-way decent chance of understanding this violent saga of brutality born on countless battlefields and then unleashed on a burgeoning frontier like a twisted, blood-letting plague.

At the center of it all is Augustus Winter, a young man raised by a heartless preacher whose only touch was that of a leather strap.  In the Union Army, as part of Sherman’s scorched-earth march to the sea through Georgia, Winter finds himself surrounded by other broken souls. Men whose moral compasses are shattered by the horrors that surround them until to survive, they give in to their primal natures and become comfortable with meting out death and destruction to all who cross their paths.

These include Quentin Ross, a bonafide psychopath who takes pleasure in killing women and children. Fred Jackson, a freed slave wanting only to flee his tortured past and make a new start. The empire brothers, Johnny Charlie, two reckless, simpletons soon addicted to violence until it is the only thing they relish. Bill Bread, the alcoholic Indian seeking redemption in a bottle and Sgt. Jan Mueller, a German immigrant conscripted into the army the second he stepped off the boat in New York. By the time the war is over, these men find themselves unwilling to give up their killing ways. They soon become federal agents hunting members of the Klan. When that campaign ultimately wanes along with the half-hearted reconstruction of the South, they move ever westward until they arrive in Chicago as hired mercenaries for the Republican Party to assure a victory in the next municipal elections.

When that goes awry, the Winter Family, as they are ultimately named by the authorities head to the badlands of Oklahoma as unrelenting scalp-hunters after the bounty placed on the renegade apache named Geronimo. Like “The Wild Bunch,” the Winter Family is racing against time and the ever encroaching juggernaut that is civilization. Their world is diminishing and they are all too aware none of them will die of old age. This book is filled with one frenetic gun fight after another until the finale when the last of the bad men charge headlong into hell with guns blazing.

“The Winter Family” is a reading experience you’ll remember long after you’ve finished it.  Jackman is a born storyteller who leaves it all on the page.  We can’t see what he offers up next, though topping this book will prove to be a real challenge.

Monday, March 20, 2017

PEEPLAND




PEEPLAND
A Comicbook Series
Script by Christa Faust & Gary Phillips
Art by Andrea Camerini
Colors by Marco Lesko
Letters by Comicrafts’ Jimmy Bentancourt
Editor Todd Williams
Consulting Editor Charles Ardai
Hard Case Crime/Titan Comics

Back when Charles Ardai began the Hard Case Crime imprint it pretty much shook up the American publishing world. Focusing on both new and classic crime novel reprints, the brand quickly became synonymous with quality pulp storytelling. Then, after a few years, HCC moved to over to a British house, Titan books without skipping a beat and their wonderful titles continued to entertain legions of crime fans around the world.

We know, because we’ve been super HCC fans since day one and have reviewed too many of them to count here. Still, can you imagine our surprise when we recently discovered Titan and joined forces with HCC to do crime comics? Damn, nothing like this had ever been attempted since the post-World War II days of hard edged, adult comics prevalent in the U.S. throughout the early 50s before the whole Frederic Werthram “Seduction of the Innocent” debacle that put the final nail in the coffin for such violent, bloody graphic tales. Which in itself was the real crime.

Which is why, upon discovering HCC comics, we knocked off a quick letter to the big guy himself, Charles Ardai, all but begging him to assist us in finding these comics. A good friend, he wasted no time in putting us in touch with Titan’s U.S. representative, Katharine Carroll and two weeks later a large package arrivals in the mail crammed packed with several different HCC comics, among them, “Peepland.”

Taking place in sleazy sex world of the late eighties Time Square area known to locals as the Deuce, this quirky, fast paced thriller unfolds swiftly, it’s plot unraveling like a ball of yarn dropped from the couch and rolling across the living room floor. A two-bit pornographer known as Dirty Dick accidentally video tapes a murder in Central Park. Unknown to him, the killer is the son of one of New York’s wealthiest men and he will do anything to retrieve the damn film. Dick is soon caught and thrown under the wheels of a subway train but not before he leaves the sought after video with Roxy Bell, a peep-show worker. When she learns of Dick’s fate, she realizes she most likely is now on the same hit list and enlists the aid of her ex-boyfriend, Nick Nunzio. Pretty soon they are not only dodging hired killers but discover the rich Daddy has put a bounty on their heads for anyone to claim.

At present we have read the first four issues and our review is based on them. Considering you have two of the best crime novelist at the helm with Phillips and Faust, the reader is fairly guaranteed a terrific story infused with enough action and wacky black comedy to keep one entertain from page to page. Whereas on the visual side of things, artist Andrea Camerini is extremely talented and we love his depictions of the main characters. He is aided and abetted by colorist Marco Lesko and letterer John Bentancourt.  As we said, technically this is a truly beautiful produced comic title. If we had any criticism at all, it was the lack of useful captions in the first issue. There is a trend in comics today to forego the use of captions which we find ridiculous. Captions have a place in graphics if only to clearly delineate between scene jumps, clearly telling the reader where the locale is at any particular point in the story. That was lacking in issue one and some of the scene jumps were confusing. Happily someone, most likely  the editor, realized this and subsequent issues have begun to employ more such caption markers.

All told, “Peepland” is a gritty, brilliantly conceived thriller told in a grand, colorful cinematic way. It is what good comics are all about and a fantastic bridge between them and New Pulp. We’re looking forward to future issues with enthusiastic anticipation.