Unlike all the other pulps I've featured in this series, I actually own a copy of this one, although I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. It includes an early story by one of my favorite authors, Harry Whittington, but I'm not really familiar with any of the other authors in it with the exception of Paul W. Fairman, who wrote a little bit of everything in his long and prolific career, and W. Edmunds Claussen, whose by-line I've seen in other Western pulps, even though I've never read anything by him. I need to get to this one soon and read the Whittington and Fairman stories, anyway.
You never know what you’re going to get when you delve into the world of Fifties and Sixties soft-core erotic novels. JILL is a prime example of that. It’s by an author I’ve never heard of, Sid Kane, and published by a company I’ve never heard of, Headline Books. (Much different from the British publisher Headline, I assure you!)
But is it any good? Well . . .
JILL uses a standard erotica plot from that era, telling the story of a girl from a small town who goes off to college and experiences life, if you know what I mean and I think you do. Jill starts out as a good girl, but when she sees how much fun her slutty redheaded roommate Sheila is having, she’s tempted. Still, she holds out for a while before she gives in to her natural urges.
Jill is a pretty well-drawn character, and the supporting cast is interesting, too. There’s a goofy little beatnik called Sam the Zip, a black blues singer named Jehova, the half-breed star quarterback of the school’s football team, Johnny Toledo, and an older male student who’s back from the war (Korean?), Blondie Jensen. Blondie is one of the villains of the piece, as is a sinister gangster named Savini. There’s a minor crime subplot, but it never amounts to much. Most of the book is more concerned with the soap opera elements.
Unlike some books of this type that tend to be a little long-winded, shall we say (got to make that 50,000 words somehow), Kane’s style is terse and clipped for the most part and even reminded me in places of James Ellroy’s work. His chapters are short, too. Nightstands and Beacons usually had 12 to 14 chapters. JILL has 40 in its 160 pages.
Don’t get me wrong. JILL is no lost classic. It’s not as good as your average Nightstand or Beacon Book. But it’s interesting and has some nice dry humor in it, almost as if Sid Kane, whoever he was, was poking a little fun at the genre. Kane published one other book that I’m aware of, THRILL GIRLS, published by Epic Books in 1961, a year after JILL came out. I have no idea if the name was a pseudonym. Don’t rush out looking for JILL, but if you run across a copy at a reasonable price (I paid two bucks for mine at Half Price Books), it’s worth picking up.
From an early Sam Elliott film last week (LIFEGUARD) to a much more recent one this week. AVENGER is a made-for-cable adaptation of a Frederick Forsyth novel I haven’t read (which would apply to all of Frederick Forsyth’s novels, come to think of it). I don’t think it made much of a splash when it aired several years ago. But I caught up with it on DVD and found it to be a pretty good movie.
Elliott plays a retired intelligence agent named Dexter who has gone into business for himself as a lawyer, but he has a sideline as sort of an international PI/soldier of fortune. In AVENGER, which really plays like it ought to be part of a series, he’s hired by a wealthy businessman with a lot of political influence to find out what happened to the man’s son, who disappeared while volunteering with an aid mission to Bosnia. Dexter’s search puts him on the trail of a Serbian war criminal who has fled Europe but still has some dangerous friends in high places.
There’s surprisingly little action in this film. It’s more of a low-key yarn that strives for suspense rather than thrills. Elliott, looking craggier than ever, does a fine job when trouble does break out, though. He has an effective way of delivering the sort of menacing throwaway lines that all action movie heroes have to deliver here and there. The ending could have used a little more blood-and-thunder, as far as I’m concerned, but that doesn’t detract too much from the overall film. If you’re a fan of Elliott and/or international intrigue, AVENGER is worth watching.
If you haven't already, you really need to go over to the Western Fictioneers blog and read Troy Smith's great post about the Top Ten Western Comics of All Time, plus a whole posse of runner-ups. I was part of the panel that selected these comics, and Troy's post sure brings back a lot of memories for me. In fact, one of the issues pictured in his post is one of the first comics I ever remember owning and reading, and I've swiped the scan and used it here, too. Ah, the nostalgia!
Looking for a good sword-and-sorcery yarn? Look no further than THE COLOSSUS OF MAHRASS, an e-book by R.J. Salter. The fact that “R.J. Salter” is none other than our old buddy Mel Odom should tell you why this is a highly entertaining adventure.
The hero is privateer Jaelik Tarlsson, whose ship Rapier’s Thrust sails the Alpatian Sea, a land-locked body of water that serves as an uneasy boundary between empires in the fantasy world this story inhabits. Jaelik’s problem is that he’s haunted by a ghost. A beautiful female ghost, mind you, but a ghost nonetheless, and she has some sort of mysterious mission she wants him to carry out that involves an ancient wizard, a bloodthirsty warlord, and some extremely dangerous magical weapons. There are swordfights, sea battles, escapes from dungeons, hideous monsters, giants bestriding the earth . . . In other words, everything you need for a story of this sort.
I love heroic fantasy, and I’d read a lot more of it if not for the fact that almost everything published in the genre these days is 800 pages long and is part of an endless series of 800-page-long books. (I exaggerate . . . but not by much.) THE COLOSSUS OF MAHRASS, on the other hand, at a brisk, well-paced 35,000 words or so, reminds me very much of those wonderful Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novellas by Fritz Leiber that I read with so much enjoyment back in the Sixties. The setting is developed well enough to make sense without going into exhaustive detail, the plot has some nice twists, and there’s plenty of action. Simply put, this is great storytelling and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended.
There's not much to say about this one except, my, isn't that a pretty cover by H.C. Murphy? No action for a change, but I love the colors and the sheer peacefulness of the scene. And don't we all need a little peacefulness once in a while? I'm sure the stories inside are action-packed, though, since the authors include Eugene Cunningham and J.E. Grinstead, both of them actual former cowboys who wrote many fine Western novels and stories. At this point in its existence, FRONTIER STORIES wasn't exclusively a Western pulp but also published stories that took place anywhere that was considered a frontier. Judging by such titles as "The Son of a Sea Cook" (by S.B.H. Hurst) and "A Cupid in Sea Boots" (by James K. Waterman), this issue contains several stories that aren't Westerns. But I'm sure they're pretty good, too.
Here's another Ace Science Fiction Double by an always reliable author. This short novel was originally published in 1953 under the title "Silent Victory" in the pulp TWO COMPLETE SCIENCE-ADVENTURE NOVELS, and then later was reprinted as THE WAR OF TWO WORLDS as half of Ace Double D-335, which is where I read it. Poul Anderson has never been one of my favorite authors, but he could be counted on for consistently entertaining work, and that's the case here.
THE WAR OF TWO WORLDS takes us back to the Solar System as it was originally portrayed in SF, with life on other planets -- or at least one other planet, in this case Mars. This novel begins where some would end, as a long, bloody war between the Terrans and the Martians finally grinds to a halt with the Martians emerging victorious. The narrator and hero, a spacer with the United Nations forces, returns to a defeated Earth under Martian occupation. But all is not as it seems, and before you know it, we're off on a cross-country adventure that at times reads more like hardboiled crime fiction than SF.
The short length and pulp origins means that the story is almost all action without much characterization, but there are some nice plot twists along the way and the pace seldom lets up for very long. Not a great book, but I found it pretty enjoyable and think that it's well worth reading.
I was looking to read something a little different, and WILSON by Daniel Clowes fits into that category. Definitely different.
It’s a graphic novel told in one page, comic strip-like chunks, that zips through years in the life of a guy named Wilson, who when the book opens is a 43-year-old misanthropic loner living in Oakland. He’s estranged from his father, his wife left him 16 years earlier when she was pregnant, he apparently has no job (although he’s not homeless or even very poor, for some unexplained reason), and he spends his time wandering around talking to strangers. He’s the kind of guy who has an opinion about everything, usually negative, and never shuts up. He also has no filter on his comments, so he offends nearly everybody he meets. His only friend is his dog Pepper.
Then he gets word that his dad is on his deathbed in Chicago, so he flies back for one last visit and as a result of that decides to try to locate his ex-wife and find out what happened to the child she was carrying when she left him.
From there things do not work out well.
I’ll be honest with you, this is one of the most depressing things I’ve read in a long time. Wilson is an utterly repellent character, but at the same time he’s fascinating and you almost start to root for him, even though most of his troubles are completely of his own making. And some of the time he’s saying things that a lot of us have thought but are too polite to put into words. Bleak or not, this is a well-written book. Clowes’ art is interesting, too, varying from page to page. Sometimes it’s fairly realistic, and at others it’s bizarrely cartoonish.
Most of my graphic novel reading will continue to concentrate on superheroes, I’m sure. That’s what I grew up reading and still enjoy. But it’s good to try other things, too, and while it would be hard to say that I actually liked this book, I was impressed by it and I’m glad I read it. If you’re drawn to bleak, slice-of-life stories, by all means give it a try.
How long has it been since you read a good, old-fashioned, swashbuckling pirate yarn? Well, neighbor, that’s too long, as they used to say on the Wolf Brand Chili commercials. What you need to do is read CAST IN DARK WATERS by Ed Gorman and Tom Piccirilli, which is a pirate yarn . . . and more.
Gorman and Piccirilli have come up with a fine protagonist in the young woman known as Crimson, a beautiful, redheaded female pirate in the Caribbean sometime in the late 17th or early 18th century. She’s hired by a tobacco planter from Virginia and the man’s wife to retrieve the couple’s daughter, who has run off with a pirate who makes his headquarters on an island that’s supposed to be cursed.
Because this is as much a horror tale as it is a pirate story, you know things aren’t going to go particularly well on this mission, and sure enough, they don’t. But there’s plenty of pulpish goodness along the way, including swordfights. You know I love me some swordfights.
Gorman and Piccirilli have done a great job on this novella, which was originally published as a limited edition hardcover. I missed out on that edition and have wanted to read it ever since, so as soon as it became available as a very affordable e-book, I grabbed a copy. It’s available at all the usual outlets, including the publisher’s website, and if you enjoy high adventure yarns with more than a touch of creepiness and some fine characters, I highly recommend CAST IN DARK WATERS.
I’ve been a Sam Elliott fan for a long time. He’s been a highlight of the generally dismal history of Western movies over the past thirty years. For those of you who have read my novels in the ABILENE series, I always pictured Elliott as the hero of that series, Marshal Luke Travis.
However, the first Sam Elliott movie I ever saw wasn’t a Western. It was LIFEGUARD, a quiet little drama about a guy who’s, well, a lifeguard. Elliott plays a character who’s in his mid-30s but still working as a lifeguard on the beach in Los Angeles, even though his friends and family think he ought to grow up and get a real job. He starts to consider it when meets a woman he likes (the beautiful Anne Archer), but at the same time, a younger woman he meets on the beach (the equally beautiful Kathleen Quinlan) is attracted to him despite the difference in their ages, and he keeps being drawn back to her.
That’s pretty much all of the plot, as I remember it (been a while since I’ve seen this one), Elliott trying to choose between Quinlan and the beach or Archer and a more so-called normal life. But the movie is so well-written and well-acted that it remains compelling all the way through, and the scenery, which is somewhat wintery and gloomy despite the beach setting, is beautifully photographed.
If you haven’t seen this one, it’s well worth watching. It’s very much of its time and really has that Seventies feel to it. Which, for those of us who were there, isn’t a bad thing.
I’ve mentioned before that I like a book with a distinctive style. Well, Ed Lynskey’s new novel LAKE CHARLES has that in spades, and that’s a good thing.
LAKE CHARLES is set in eastern Tennessee in 1979 and is the story of two young men who are best friends and brothers-in-law, Brendan Fishback (the narrator) and Cobb Kuzawa, who go out bass fishing on the lake of the title and run into much more trouble than they ever imagined they would. Brendan’s twin sister and Cobb’s estranged wife Edna is with them, riding her jet ski on the lake, when she mysteriously disappears. Brendan and Cobb start searching for her, and their search leads them into danger.
Oh, and did I mention that when the book begins, Brendan already has a murder charge hanging over his head because he woke up in a very Gold Medal-esque situation: in a sleazy motel with a beautiful but dead girl who happens to be the daughter of the richest and most powerful man in the area? Yeah, he has that to deal with, too.
From that beginning, the book races off on several days of near-nonstop action involving kidnapping, drug dealers, crooked cops, Federal agents, shoot-outs, murder by crossbow, and assorted other mayhem, all of it told in Lynskey’s off-beat but very effective style. You may think you have everything figured out in this book, but I guarantee some of the plot twists will take you by surprise. They surprised me, anyway.
I guess LAKE CHARLES falls into the hardboiled redneck genre, but I prefer to think of it as a fine crime novel that you shouldn’t miss. You can pre-order it on Amazon now. Highly recommended.
FAITH AND A FAST GUN is another adventure of hard-luck range detective Joshua Dillard, who’s in Del Rio to visit the grave of his late wife when he finds himself drawn into a clash between the daughter of a murdered rancher and the cattle baron responsible for the man’s death. Faith Hartnett’s brother Dick won a herd of longhorns from ruthless rancher Lyte Grumman, who rules Del Rio with an iron fist, then left with the cattle on a trail drive to Montana. Faith wants to head north, too, and rejoin her brother, but Grumman wants to prevent that. Even though it’s not Joshua’s trouble, he decides to help Faith get away from Grumman and be reunited with her brother.
Well-written though it is, with good characters and some nice hardboiled action, this is a pretty standard beginning for a Western novel. But old pro Chap O’Keefe (actually Keith Chapman, as many of you already know) is just luring the reader in before springing some great twists in the plot. Those twists don’t come fast and furious, as they do in some books. The sense that something isn’t quite right builds at a more deliberate but very effective pace, picking up steam as the storyline moves from Texas to Montana and winds up in a stunning climax that’s more like something out of Greek tragedy than a traditional Western.
This is a fine novel, with O’Keefe working solidly in the tradition of noirish Western authors such as Lewis B. Patten, H.A. De Rosso, and Dean Owen. Joshua Dillard is a very appealing, tough but flawed hero, and the other characters are drawn vividly as well. If you’re a Western fan and haven’t tried a Chap O’Keefe novel yet, you really should.
I'm fudging a little this time, because GUNSMOKE was a digest magazine, not a pulp. But the authors in this issue (the first issue of GUNSMOKE's very short run) are outstanding: Noel Loomis, Nelson Nye, Frank O'Rourke, A.B. Guthrie Jr., Evan Hunter, Jack Schaefer, Steve Frazee, Robert Turner, and Elmore Leonard. Whew! With contributors like that, how did this magazine fail?
Time for another adventure of Secret Agent X, soon to be reprinted by Beb Books. “Horror’s Handclasp” is from the November 1936 issue of the pulp SECRET AGENT X, and the writer behind the Brant House pseudonym is G.T. Fleming-Roberts, one of the most prolific and best of the Secret Agent X authors.
This novel opens with a séance (always good for pulpish thrills) which Secret Agent X attends in disguise (naturally) because he’s received a tip that a mysterious criminal mastermind known only as The Fury has something to do with what’s going to happen there. Not surprisingly, there’s a little mystical hokum, but then real danger crops up as one of the people attending the séance is murdered by what appears to be a disembodied hand that carries the touch of death.
From there the story gallops off at the usual mile-a-minute pace, as Secret Agent X tries to foil the plans of The Fury. There are gangsters, an eccentric scientist who claims to have invented a death ray, a beautiful femme fatale who may or may not be a professional thief, a sinister mortuary, shambling, zombie-like henchmen (zombie in the classic sense, not speedy brain-munchers, who came along much later), and a room that’s an electrified death trap like something out of a James Bond movie. That ought to be enough to tell you whether or not you’d enjoy this novel. It’s silly, it’s over the top, the plot’s a little thin, and of course I loved every page of it.
The pulp cover is pretty good, too, and actually depicts a scene from the story. The blonde is plucky girl reporter Betty Dale, Secret Agent X’s sidekick and romantic interest, although like everybody else she doesn’t know his true identity. Overall in the series, Betty is a pretty good character. Sure, she gets captured by the bad guys and has to be rescued in nearly every story, but she’s also fairly competent at times and actually helps the Agent.
“Horror’s Handclasp” is one of the better Secret Agent X stories I’ve read, so if you’ve read and enjoyed other entries from the series, you should certainly give this one a try, too.
Livia's quoted in an article about culinary mysteries on CNN.com this morning. Check it out. And as a teaser for those of you who are fans of the Fresh Baked Mystery series, the title of the next book, due out this fall, is THE GINGERBREAD BUMP-OFF.
This collection of pulp Western stories is now available from the always excellent Black Dog Books, and I'd recommend it highly even if I hadn't written the introduction for it. E. Hoffmann Price was always an above-average pulp author, and these yarns that were somewhat inspired by Robert E. Howard's humorous Westerns are well worth reading. NOMAD'S TRAIL reprints the first twelve stories in the Simon Boliver Grimes series. I had read a few of these before, but reading them in order makes them even better. By all means, if you're a Western fan or just a fan of fast-moving, action-packed pulp yarns, you should check these out.
DAMN YOUR EYES is another short film that’s making the festival and contest circuit, and it’s a very good one. Some of the reviews have called it a parody of a Spaghetti Western, but I’m not sure that’s completely true. Except for a moment or two, it plays more like an affectionate homage to the Spaghetti Westerns. You’ve got your mysterious stranger in town who’s a deadly gunfighter with a secret, you’ve got your whore with a heart of gold, you’ve got your stalwart sheriff who wants to prevent trouble in his town, and you’ve got your despicable villains, some of whom meet appropriate ends in bloody shootouts. For fans of the genre, this is good stuff. The acting ranges from good to excellent, and the movie looks great, with very good photography.
Here are a few comments from the writer and director of DAMN YOUR EYES, David Guglielmo:
DAMN YOUR EYES has had an interesting progression because I first conceived the idea in 2005, and I wrote a few scenes but ended up putting them aside because the story was getting too big, and too complicated for a freshman at film school. I decided to go back to that idea in my senior year and make it my thesis project. It was still too big. So I serialized it and decided to do "Part I" first. Now, I've decided I'm going to make it a feature. It's a long time to work on a project, but it keeps evolving and turning into something else, so it always feels fresh. The short you see now is a lot different than the 2005 story. And the feature is a lot different than this short. I think I keep growing as a storyteller, and the story grows with me.
You can watch this film here, and if you enjoy gritty, noirish Westerns, I highly recommend you do so.
Some of the blurbs for Heath Lowrance’s debut from the great New Pulp Press compare it to a Gold Medal novel. There are certainly some similarities, especially early on.
THE BASTARD HAND starts out with its protagonist and narrator, Charlie Wesley, being thrown out of a bar in Memphis. Charlie is on the run after escaping from a mental institution in the Pacific Northwest. He’s on his way to Florida to visit his brother’s grave, but he’s taking his time about getting there and is basically drifting. Charlie is maybe crazy, maybe not, but his dead brother talks to him and gives him advice.
Before Charlie can get out of Memphis, though, he has another mentor, because he encounters and befriends an eccentric and vaguely sinister preacher, Reverend Phinneas Childe. The reverend is on his way to become the pastor of the Baptist church in the small northern Mississippi town of Cuba Landing, and he asks Charlie to come with him. Being in no hurry to get anywhere, Charlie agrees.
If you’ve read very many books like this, you already know that’s probably not a good idea.
Of course it’s not, because when Charlie and the reverend get to Cuba Landing, they discover it’s one of those wonderful noir novel towns where nearly everybody has a secret, and most of them are pretty dark. The previous pastor of the church has disappeared under suspicious circumstances, there’s a beautiful blond femme fatale, the mayor and the chief of police may well be corrupt . . . you know the drill.
If a well-written Gold Medal pastiche was all THE BASTARD HAND was, it would still be a very good book. But about halfway through the book, in a subplot that involves some Memphis gangsters who are after Charlie, Lowrance throws a curve and introduces an utterly bizarre twist and turns this novel into something that may have been influenced by those Fifties Gold Medals but is a whole other creature all its own. As the book progresses, the small-town secrets get weirder, too, as Lowrance weaves together the various strands of the plot and ramps things up into a fascinating combination of throwback noir, gritty crime thriller, Southern Gothic, and pure fantasy.
There’s no way to say much more about the plot without ruining things. The characters are vividly drawn, the action scenes are well done, there’s just enough humor to offset a little of the grimness, and every time Lowrance takes such a risk that you think the book is about to crash and burn in silliness, he finds a way to pull it off in spectacular fashion. Yes, THE BASTARD HAND is a little over the top. I have no problem with that. In fact, this is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’m already looking forward to seeing what Heath Lowrance comes up with next. Needless to say, THE BASTARD HAND gets a high recommendation from me.
I’ve always had a certain fondness for mental institution yarns. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. Donald Westlake’s Tucker Coe novel WAX APPLE. Things like that. Maybe because I’ve always suspected that I’m a little crazy myself, but that’s neither here nor there. We’re here today to talk about IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY, which fits solidly in the mental institution genre.
This film centers around 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist), who checks himself into a mental health facility because he’s been having suicidal thoughts. Once he gets there, though, he finds that because of renovations to the facility, the teenage patients have been put in with the adult patients, which isn’t what he bargained for. He wants out, but he has to stay there five days before he can be re-evaluated and released.
There’s not a lot that will surprise you in this movie. Craig connects with some of the patients and various people learn important lessons, including him. He makes friends with a troubled but wise older guy who becomes his mentor (Zach Galifianakis). He meets a young female patient (Emma Roberts, who is rapidly becoming much prettier than her more famous aunt) and begins a promising romance with her. There are some funny moments, some dramatic moments, some “aww” moments.
But predictable or not, when things are done really well, they still work, and that’s the case here. The acting is good all around, the script is well-written, and IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY is just a very enjoyable film, other than several instances of vomiting. When the hell did it become okay for people to throw up on-screen in movies? I hate that!
As usual, the "novels" in this pulp are more like novellas and novelettes, but the line-up of authors in this one is pretty good, with J. Allen Dunn, A. Leslie (really Leslie Scott), and Ed Earl Repp. I'm not familiar with the other two writers featured on the cover, although I think I've heard of Wilton West. And you've got to love a title like "The Rawhide Gap Hellions". At least I do.
Ace Doubles are nearly always fun, no matter what the genre. That’s certainly true of this novel. Reading the Stark House edition of Robert Silverberg’s Don Elliott novels GANG GIRL and SEX BUM a couple of weeks ago put me in the mood to read some of his science fiction.
First of all, STEPSONS OF TERRA is a great title. I’m not sure who came up with it, possibly Donald Wollheim, who bought Silverberg’s novel “Shadow on the Stars” (originally published in SCIENCE FICTION ADVENTURES, April 1958) and brought it out as an Ace Double that same year. It sounds to me like a “French Foreign Legion in Outer Space” novel (which would have been fine with me) but that’s not it at all. It’s the story of the Earth colony world Corwin, which is facing destruction from a rampaging horde from beyond the galaxy. (You gotta love those rampaging hordes. I do, anyway.) So the government of Corwin sends an ambassador to Earth to ask for help against the invaders. Unfortunately, Corwin is so far away from Earth that there hasn’t been any contact between them for 500 years. When Baird Ewing, the ambassador from Corwin, arrives on Earth, he doesn’t find what he’s expecting.
From there the book becomes a novel of political intrigue for a while, then takes a surprising turn and evolves into a time travel yarn. Silverberg damns the paradoxes and steams full speed ahead, winding up with an offbeat but entertaining space opera.
As you’d expect, this is a well-written novel with some nice plot twists. One of the things I liked about it is that it tells an exciting, fairly complicated story in about 50,000 words, and it stands alone pretty well, too, although there’s room for a sequel, which as far as I know Silverberg never wrote. No 150,000 word doorstop here, no trilogy that turns into an endless series of bigger and bigger books. Just a good solid SF yarn of the sort that, yes, I know it’s a cliché, they don’t write anymore. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and I suspect many of you would, too.
UPDATE: Robert Silverberg confirms that STEPSONS OF TERRA was Wollheim's title.
DEAD MAN'S REVENGE, the third book in the Rancho Diablo series, is now available on Amazon. This one is by Bill Crider, and as you'd expect from one of Bill's books, it's a fine yarn full of action and mystery. Highly recommended.
PAID IN BLOOD, the first book in our buddy Mel Odom's NCIS series (these are not tie-in novels to the TV show, by the way, but they're still great military-based mystery novels) is now available from Amazon for free. That's right, zero dollars. Grab this one while you've got the chance.
To celebrate the release of THE DEAD MAN #2: RING OF KNIVES by James Daniels, the first book in the series, FACE OF EVIL by series creators Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, is now available for a limited time only at the fantastic price of 99 cents. If you haven't yet jumped on this series, this is a great chance for you to do so. And if you've already read the first book, you'll definitely want to pick up RING OF KNIVES, which is excellent and highly recommended by me.
How do you say “With great power comes great responsibility,” in Russian? Because that’s about the only thing this movie misses in its retelling of the Spider-Man origin (more the Spidey movie than the comic book, though of course they’re similar).
Imagine Peter Parker is a Russian college student named Dmitry Maykov. He has loving parents (Aunt May and Uncle Ben), a little sister (well, that’s different, anyway), and a rich buddy (Harry Osborn). There’s an evil industrialist (Norman Osborn), a mugger who’s destined to play a big part in the plot (the burglar), and a scientific discovery that changes Dmitry’s life. No, he doesn’t get bitten by a radioactive spider. He winds up with a car that used to belong to some Russian scientists. And, oh yeah, thanks to the “nanocatalyst” installed in it, the car flies. So what does young Dmitry do with his flying car, after he’s tried to make a fast buck for himself with it? He becomes a mysterious crimefighter, of course, and is dubbed “Black Lightning” by the media.
Snarky comments aside, BLACK LIGHTNING is a well-made, pretty entertaining film. The same people who made the Angelina Jolie/Morgan Freeman actioner WANTED, which I sort of liked despite its silliness, are behind this one. The special effects are pretty good, there’s plenty of action, and the Russian actors (I don’t know who any of them are, of course) do a fine job, especially the one playing Dmitry. The whole thing’s in Russian, so you have to read the subtitles, but I turn on the subtitles on everything we watch anyway, so I’m used to that. There’s one huge lapse in logic in the plot that’s annoying, but this isn’t the sort of movie you watch for the plot. Overall, I liked BLACK LIGHTNING. Even though the main character doesn’t have any super-powers, it fits solidly in the superhero action film genre and is worth watching.
As this book opens, former Chicago cop turned private detective Michael Kelly is on the platform at an elevated station when a young woman is gunned down, seemingly at random. A short time later, a passenger on one of the elevated trains is killed by a sniper. Maybe the two crimes are connected, maybe they’re not, but in short order, a task force including the FBI and the Chicago police is put together to search for the killer or killers.
Kelly is involved, too, more than he knows at first, because it soon becomes apparent, at least to him, that the motivation for the crimes can be traced back to something in his own past. The fact that the first murder took place in his presence is no coincidence. So without any resources other than his own, he sets out to untangle what’s going on and try to prevent any more killing.
THE THIRD RAIL is much more of a thriller than a traditional private eye novel. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Author Michael Harvey puts together a nice, twisty plot, good characters, and some hardboiled prose to come up with an entertaining blend. This is one of those books that offer a mixture of first-person and third-person chapters, a common technique in modern thrillers that the old curmudgeon in me doesn’t really care for, but I’ve grown more accepting of it when the author is a good writer, and Harvey is.
This is the third book to feature Michael Kelly, the first two being THE CHICAGO WAY and THE FIFTH FLOOR. I haven’t read them, but based on THE THIRD RAIL, I probably should. It’s a good solid thriller and is worth reading.
There's a new interview with me, conducted by my friend Brett Weiss, in the latest issue of THE WRITER. I was a regular reader of THE WRITER for many years and still remember many of the helpful articles I came across in it, so I'm very happy to be appearing in its pages. You can check it out here.
I’m no longer surprised when I wind up liking a movie that most of the critics hated. Such is the case with BURLESQUE. I’m not a big fan of musicals where the characters sing when there’s no good reason. But in a movie like this where the story centers around performing to start with, I don’t mind it. Still, I didn’t have huge high hopes for BURLESQUE or anything like that. Not a big fan of Cher or Christina Aguilera, either, although I don’t dislike either of them.
Somehow, though, this one really worked for me. I suspect it’s because despite the bared skin and the cussin’, at heart BURLESQUE is a 1930s backstage melodrama. Line after line of dialogue sounds like it ought to be delivered in black-and-white. And you know me, I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff. Plus the performances are okay (Stanley Tucci is excellent as always), the music and the dancing are entertaining, and the movie looks great. But Kristen Bell as a brunette? Nah, doesn’t work for me.
That’s my only quibble, though. I just thought BURLESQUE was a lot of fun in a determinedly old-fashioned way.
This is the first issue of this pulp, which was notable later on for being the home of a lengthy series of novelettes by W.C. Tuttle about Tombstone and Speedy, a pair of not-so-bright range detectives (the slapstick version of Hashknife and Sleepy, Tuttle's somewhat more serious range detectives). There's a good lineup of authors in this first issue, including Chuck Martin, Tom Curry, William Hopson, and C. William Harrison. The author of the lead novel, Larry A. Harris, shows up frequently in Western pulps published by Ned Pines, but I've always found his work pretty undistinguished. I don't know who did the artwork on the cover, but I like it, nice sense of danger and action to it.
ATTACK! is one of only three novels that I know of by Leland Jamieson. I read a bunch of Jamieson's pulp stories a while back and enjoyed all of them. He specialized in stories about aviation and was published often in BLUE BOOK, one of the classiest of the pulp magazines. It's possible that ATTACK! was originally published in BLUE BOOK. I know it had hardcover editions from two different publishers, Morrow and Grosset & Dunlap. I read the G&D, which was probably the "cheap" reprint edition.
Read now 71 years after it was published in 1940, this would have to be considered an alternate history novel. It centers around a U.S. aircraft carrier in the South Atlantic when war breaks out between the United States and Germany over Germany's attempt to invade and take over Brazil so that the Nazis can use it as a base for an invasion of North America. The pilots on the American carrier Scarab have to stop the German invasion fleet almost singlehandedly.
There's not much characterization other than the one pilot who functions as the book's protagonist, but Jamieson writes very well about air and naval combat. The battle scenes are extremely well-done, and his portrayal of life aboard an aircraft carrier is vivid and convincing. I'm no expert on such things, but I did quite a bit of research on the subject while I was writing my World War II series and have also visited the U.S.S. Lexington several times where it's now docked in Corpus Christi, Texas, and everything about ATTACK! rings true to me. Personally, I would have liked a little more detail about the planes -- were those dive bombers Dauntlesses, and were those fighters Avengers? -- but that's pretty minor. Jamieson probably kept things deliberately generic and vague because he was writing about something that, from his perspective, hadn't happened yet. That's very different from writing historical fiction. This is a very entertaining yarn.