Thursday, January 19, 2017

CUT ME IN



CUT ME IN
By Ed McBain
Hard Case Crime
237 pages

As a high school student in the early 1960s, we discovered the paperback crime fiction of writer Ed McBain and instantly became enamored of his enormous talent. He was and remains to this very day our favorite author. “Cut Me In,” is one of his early works but before we get into the review here’s a little background. Ed McBain (Octorber 15,1926 – July 6, 2005) is was one of the pen names of author and screenwriter Salavtore Albert Lombino who legally adopted the name Evan Hunter in 1952. Over his career he wrote under several pseudonyms that included John Abbott, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon and Richard Marsten, amongst others. But he is best known as McBain, the name he used for most of his crime fiction to include his popular 87th Precinct books which became a staple of the police procedural genre.

In 1951, Lombino took a job as an executive editor for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency and there worked with such authors as Poul Anderson, Arthur C.Clarke, Lester del Rey, Richard S.Prather and P.G.Woodhouse. That same year he made his first professional sale; a short science-fiction tale titled “Welcome Martians!” published under his birth name of S.A. Lombino. In reading “Cut Me In,” it is obvious McBain used experiences learned in that job as the basis for his murder mystery.

Protagonist Josh Blake is half owner of a New York Literary Agency. One day he comes to work and finds his partner, Del Gilbert, shot to death. A Detective Sgt. DiLuca is assigned the case and Blake thinks he is an incompetent bumbler. On the verge of signing a big movie deal concerning one of their major clients, Blake suspects someone wants the deal nixed and when the agreement contract goes missing, he’s convinced it was the motive behind the killing. Then Gilbert’s mistress is murdered and DiLuca turns his attention on Blake.

“Cut Me In,” told from Blake’s perspective, is a fast moving, taut thriller and gives the reader a glimpse into the cutthroat world of agents, writers and Hollywood producers; people willing to sell their souls to the devil to gain fame and wealth. Whereas published in the mid-50s, there’s a distinct chauvinistic feel to McBain’s depiction women. All of them appear cookie-cutter beautiful, professional and sexually aggressive ala some antiquated exploitation pulp in which all the women are deprives nymphomaniacs who throw themselves at the hero. In lesser hands, it would be paperback trash and we suspect McBain was all too aware of its tawdriness. Yet he was writing in a time when editors demanded such blatant pandering to their readers. That he manages to deliver a solid mystery despite these handicaps is no small achievement and “Cut Me In” is a wonderful look back at the beginnings of a writer would eventually be awarded the coveted Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America.

And if that isn’t enough to get you to pick up a copy of this book, it also has a bonus Matt Cordell private eye short in it, which is pure 50s tough-guy fiction.  Honestly, mystery lovers, it really doesn’t get any better than McBain.

Friday, January 13, 2017

NEED MORE ROAD



NEED MORE ROAD
By Stephen Jared
Soltice Publishing
202 pages

Stephen Jared is one of the more promising voices in New Pulp fiction working today and his past titles have shown a real flare for both heroic adventure and tightly plotted noir crime thrilles. Whereas with “Need More Road,” he sets out on a much more ambitions journey to create a poignant character study of a lonely man living in quiet desperation. Sadly, even his talent can’t save the book’s rambling second half.

The tale is set in the post World War II years. Eddie Howard is a fifty year old bank clerk living the sleep desert town of Barstow, California. He lives alone in his dead parents’ house where he was raised and the only real joy he has are his trips to the small movie house. Eddie loves the movies and sees each new release multiple times. They are his ticket out of the mundane routine of his boorish life. 

Then one day a beautiful young woman walks into the bank and from that moment on Eddie’s world is sent spiraling out of control. A Marilyn Monroe clone, Mary Rose has come to Barstow to set up an account for her father, Mr.McCoy, who is still living back in Los Angeles. Eddie befriends her and they soon become close. He can’t believe his good fortune.  When her supposed father eventually arrives in town, the reader is miles ahead of this familiar noir plot line.  The man calling himself Mary Rose’s father is actually her criminal boyfriend and they are in town to rob the bank. By now Eddie has fallen totally under the blonde femme fatale’s charms.

All this is classic noir and Jared does a great job moving the story along carefully with no sense of urgency. It is this deliberate pacing that builds the tension and as poor Eddie falls deeper and deeper into the couple’s web of lies, it is impossible to put the book down. The heist is carried out and then the characters begin their escape with the stolen cash.

Even when Eddie manages to outwit McCoy and his safecracking buddy, and escape their clutches with Mary Rose in tow, the suspense rolls along at breakneck speed taking the fugitives on a twisting, rambling road. All the while their relationship seems to flounder and have no clear purpose; it’s as if despite everything that has happened, Eddie and Mary Rose are doomed to remain strangers.

The hallmark of noir fiction is a climatic finale that is most often tragic. Whereas Jared’s last third of “Need More Road” doesn’t go anywhere. It just stops. The book has no solid ending to justify its powerful first half. At the end we are left with an exercise in good writing.  In this genre that is just not enough.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

STAR BRIDGE



STAR BRIDGE
By Jack Williamson & James Gunn
Tor Books
294 pgs
First published 1955

Every now and then a publisher will send us a new edition of a classic book.  Such was the case when Tor sent us a new softcover edition of “Star Bridge” by Jack Williamson and James Gunn. Although we’d never read it before, we had heard of it over the years and were delighted to have the opportunity to see what the fuss was all about.

Williamson, a well known author in the field, wrote the first fifty pages of the manuscript before hitting the dreaded writer’s block and putting it aside. Years later, he met and became friends with the younger Gunn and ultimately gave him the material, which also included extensive notes, to complete the book.  Gunn did so in a masterful way and it was published in 1955. Then it simply drifted off into oblivion.  In fact most critics of that time thought it nothing but an old fashion space opera filled “fast-moving blood-and-thunder…” quoting Villiers Gerson for the New York Times.

But like all hidden gems in the rough, the book simply wouldn’t go away and continued to be reprinted by various publishers. Eventually new generations of sci-fi fans found it such as authors Samuel R. Delaney and Edward Bryant, who both have said it was the book that “turned (them) on” to science fiction.

The book revolves around mankind’s expansion into far flung space via special tubes which allow travel beyond the restraints of FTL.  Since their invention, on the distant planet of Eron, the tubes systematically created a vast galactic empire which is controlled by the golden people of Eron. As the book opens, the Eron’s governing body has become totally corrupt and is mercilessly crushing any and all who stand in its way. Thus a mercenary named Horn is hired to assassinate the General Director, the all powerful ruler of Eron. In accomplishing his mission, Horn quickly comes to realize he has set into motion a new power struggle which will destroy the empire and along with it civilization unless he can learn the real secret of what powers the tubes.

What we have here is at its core an old fashion space opera, easily derived from Williamson’s own outline. It was the style of writing he excelled at. But at the same time, Gunn, a more introspective writer, layers his chapters with the philosophies behind human nature in both describing its noble strengths as opposed to its obsessive quest for power. Thus while spinning an action packed adventure we are given a treatise on the relative importance of impersonal forces and individuals in the event of history. One modern day fan of the book likened it to collaboration between Heinlein and Asimov and we would agree with that description.

“Star Bridge” is a great book worthy of being a science fiction classic. We’re glad we finally had a chance to enjoy it. If you haven’t yet, we urge you to do so soon. You won’t be disappointed.

Friday, December 30, 2016

WRATH OF ATHENA



WRATH OF ATHENA
A Snapshot Universe Novella
By Dale Cozort
Chisel & Stone Publishing
77 pages

Writer Dale Cozort enjoys alternate world fiction and several of his full length sci-fi novels have dealt with this theme. Whereas most such books require much elaborate world building and can be complicated to establish. Now he seems to have found the perfect solution to all that in his Snapshot novellas.  We don’t claim to understand the set up fully, but it appears that in the far future bubbles of alternate worlds have been created in which people can travel freely and intermingle with both animals and cultures from various eras in human history.

Now one of those major bubbles is Madagascar where various hybrid lemurs and other bizarre creatures live in the wilderness. The land has also been colonized in specific areas to even include an Amish community.

It is in this fantastical setting that we meet our protagonists, Scott Hardy and Athena Anders. Both work for a traveling zoo which keeps many exotic animals from lots of different Snapshot worlds. The most popular of these are two dog-sized dinosaurs named Mister McGuffin and  Horny Chick. Days prior to the zoo’s opening show, the two dinos escape and it is up to Scott and Athena to find them fast.  Apparently Horny Chick is in heat and should she and Mister McGuffin begin breeding, their eggs could hatch and systematically destroy the fragile Madagascan ecology.

And if that wasn’t serious enough, they soon realize the animals’ escape might have been caused by someone for nefarious reasons beyond their comprehension.  And so the couple races against time to both find the missing creatures and solve the riddle of their disappearance.

Cozort has a whopping fun time with this tale and his characters are charming.  Enough so that the reader immediately take to them and their odd dilemma.  The Snapshot world is a crazy hodgepodge of Sci-Fi stables skillfully employed as an exotic backdrop to a really enjoyable and fast paced novella.  If you like the exotic, you’ll find get your fill with this marvelous little book.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

BANSHEES



BANSHEES
By Mike Baron
WordFire Press
401 pages

Since turning his considerable talents to prose, Eisner Award winning comicbook writer Mike Baron has been knocking out some fantastic over-the-top fiction. Among these is “Banshees,” a horror fantasy set squarely in the world of rock and roll and its tale is as loud and boisterous as the craziest heavy metal performers blasting out musical Armageddon.

The tale revolves around the apparent resurrection of a 70s trio known as the Banshees who went out in a blaze of glory when their private plane crashed into the unyielding Scottish Highlands. Now, decades later a new group appears on the European circuit claiming to be the Banshees and playing the old band’s repertoire in perfect mimicry. Enough so that several people begin to wonder if this may in fact be the actual Banshees returned from the dead.

Chief of amongst these is Ian St. James, the only progeny of the original three, being the son of the Banshees’ drummer Oaian St.James. Himself a one time musician, now down on his luck, St. James attempts to contact the group only to be thwarted by the group’s manager, a decidedly thuggish Russian mobster associated with an occult group known as the Mad Monks. When an attempt is made on his life, St. James quickly realizes there is more going on than merely a publicity gimmick by a group of rock and roll posers. Something totally beyond his ability to deal with alone.

His luck changes when a reporter for the popular In Crowd magazine, Connie Cosgrove, enlist his aid chronicling the Banshees newly scheduled tour from Berlin to Paris, London and ultimately the US; all to culminated at a sold out venue in Los Angeles.  Along the way they meet a weird fellow named Prof. Klapp who is convinced the Banshees are the resurrected dead and their appearance in the world signals the end of times. Whereas only St. James has the ability, through his blood connection, to stop them and save all mankind.

Baron’s book is a rocket blast of suspense that moves at breakneck speed. Along the way it is crammed with hundreds of hilarious cultural bon mots and innuendos that set it leagues above other mundane horror tales.  “Banshees” is a brilliant achievement by a creative force that is just getting warmed up. 

Sunday, December 04, 2016

VIC CHALLENGER - FAST!



VIC CHALLENGER – FAST!
By Jerry Gill
Ann Darrow Co.
203 pages

The old adage about not judging a book by its cover has never been more valid than with this particular paperback novel.  But we’ll get to that aspect at the end of our review. We’d much rather focus on the vital stuff, the story itself.

With Victoria Challenger, Jerry Gill has created one of the most original, fun, pulp heroines ever.  The back story explains how Vic, as she is known by her legion of fans, is the reincarnation of a primitive cave girl who lived at the dawn of time.  Somehow Vic’s memories of her past life survive in her DNA and among these is the fact that in that first life she was mated to a might hunter name Nu, her eternal love. Now reborn in the early 20th Century, she senses that Nu has also returned. This, in her job as a travel writer, she begins to search him out wherever her assignments take her.

In this, the fifth book in the saga, Vic, and her best friend, Lin, visit Australia.  One of Vic’s aunts, Ethyl Hudgeons, and her husband Pete, live there on an Outback ranch.  Eager to explore this new, rugged continent, both young woman arrive at a western seaport and are taken to the wilderness home by an aborigine named Woorak, who works for the Hudgeons.  Along their buckboard journey, the friendly native points out all manner of wildlife and flora to the lovely visitors; information that ultimately proves to be life saving.

Several days after their arrival, during a dance put on for their benefit, the station is raided by outlaws known as bushrangers in the Outback.  Among the loot they purloin from Mrs. Hudgeon’s guests is a map detailing the whereabouts of a long lost family treasure.  Through various circumstances, Vic and Lin learn that the posse being led by her Uncle Pete has been sent on a false trail and the gutsy Americans decide to go after the brigands on their own.  What follows is a harrowing chase across some of the most savage terrain on the planet.

The real fun of Gill’s writing is the overabundance of research he has packed into this really fast paced adventure.  Enough so that the reader, while enjoying the action, is also given a glimpse into both the natural dangers and beauties of Australia’s Outback.  It’s as if Vic’s own travelogue articles had merged with her personal derring-do exploits.  This is a rousing tale expertly written with memorable characters, both good and bad.  On his website, listed above, Gill tags Vic as the Queen of the Pulps, and after having enjoyed this outing, we’re not about to argue the point.  She is clearly one of the most original such ever put to paper and worthy of your attention.

And that’s the end of the review.  Whereas Gill’s obvious one-man operation, is prey to the typical amateur pitfalls of photo-shop like cover images that are really bad.  Enough so that they do the fiction a major disservice, in this reviewer’s opinion.  We would admonish our readers not to be put off by them.  At the same time, we also plead with the author do some web-surfing and find a professional artist who can dress things up professionally.  Vic Challenger deserves nothing less.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

SETINELS ; THE DARK CRUSADE



SENTINELS : THE DARK CRUSADE
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
206 pages

If, like this reviewer, you are a fan of Van Plexico’s star spanning superhero saga, The Sentinels, then the arrival of this book, the eight in the series, was a much anticipated reading pleasure.  Of course with this many volumes into the saga, it would be impossible for any reviewer to explain everything without having to write a book-length tome about what has gone before.  Here’s a thought, as we’ve had the fun of reading and reviewing the previous seven books, feel free to scroll through our reviews and find those early critiques.

Otherwise, leave us offer up an abbreviated synopsis to launch you into this truly amazing series whose inspirations derive from the classic comic books of the 70s and 80s, specifically Marvel’s the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy with DC’s Green Lantern.

The Sentinels are a group of human super powered heroes led by Ultraa.  In recent adventures they battled invading alien beings and ultimately came to ally themselves with  a squad of Kur-Bai warriors known as the Elites.  No sooner do they save the Earth, then it is discovered a civil war has broken out on the Kur-Bain homeworld and the Elites are compelled hurry back.  Only now half the Sentinels agree to accompany them, led by Esro Brachis, the millionaire genius inventor, who has fallen in love with the beautiful Kur-Bai Captain Mondrian.

No sooner to they depart our solar system, then a charismatic fellow named Law convinces the Earth’s governments that the Kur-Bai Empire will remain a continuing threat unless a human led space armada can be sent against them; under his leadership of course.  What the world leaders don’t know is that Law is actually a powerful super being known as the Black Terror and his desire to destroy the Kur-Bai is fueled solely by a personal vendetta.  Thus the ominous crusade referred to in the title.  Now if this dozen or so characters wasn’t enough to hold your interest in the main plot, Plexico throws a little background history concerning the martial arts fighter known as the Black Dragon and then brings us up to speed with the situation concerning teenage hero Mitch Michaelson, who now possesses the powerful golden armor of a Star Knight.

Confused yet?  Well, in all truth, you needn’t be; ever.  Plexico’s enthusiasm for the stories he tells has never once waned.  From the very first Sentinel novel to this new chapter, his love for these myriad characters remains as strong as ever, infusing his fiction with a clear, precise storytelling economy that is to be envied. He tells a truly fast paced adventure that never slows down from opening scene to climatic, cliffhanger finale.  And as ever, we are left wanting more, much, much more.

We love this series, Plexico’s writing, and the gorgeous art of Chris Kohler.  Honestly, if you call yourself a fan of New Pulp and haven’t latched onto The Sentinels Saga yet, you are missing out on something special.  Don’t say we didn’t tell you.