Thursday, May 21, 2015

AN OLD FRIEND OF THE FAMILY



AN OLD FRIEND OF THE FAMILY
By Fred Saberhagen
Tor Books
207 pages

“An Old Friend of the Family,” was the third in the New Dracula series written by the late Fred Saberhagen (1930-2007).   Best known for his Beserker science fiction series, his reimagining of the Dracula legend put forth the concept that Vlad Tepes, the Prince of Wallachia, only became a vampire after he was murdered.  In the books, he is the protagonist and the humans bent on his destruction are portrayed as bumbling fools.

This volume was the third in the series and with it he moved the saga to modern times with the descendants of Mina Harker, Dracula’s one true love, living in the suburbs of Chicago (where Saberhagen was born) and coming under the attack of New World vampires hoping to lure the Old Count to America and defeat him. 

It is the middle of a brutal Illinois winter and Kate Sutherland is kidnapped party and made into a vampire.   Her grandmother Clarissa, Mina Harker’s granddaughter, recalls being told that should she, or her loved ones, ever find themselves in danger, all she had to do is read aloud an ancient Latin chant and help would appear.  After Kate’s body is discovered, her younger brother Johnny is then snatched and brutal kidnapped.  The old woman, with the help of her remaining granddaughter, Judy, speaks the chant and a few days later Dr. Corday arrives on their doorstep.  He is the old friend of the family and though vague and mysterious, it is immediately obvious to Gran and Judy that they have a very powerful ally in this strange old man.

Dr. Corday waste no time investigating the attacks on the Sutherlands and offers his assistant to Joe Hagen, Kate’s detective boyfriend.  It is Corday who, upon examining Kate’s body in the morgue before her autopsy, discovers that she is not dead.  Rather she’s been turned and he manages to get her out of the morgue and sequesters her in the family mausoleum until he can properly educate her in regards to her new status as one of the undead.

But as the savage blizzard continues to blanket the Windy City and its outlying communities, Corday’s supernatural foes learn of his arrival and double their efforts to capture and destroy him.  “An Old Friend of the Family,” is a gripping, fast moving vampire adventure told by a master whose hero is presented in a new light while maintaining his dark appeal.  We’d heard of this series often over the years, especially of this particular entry, and are now very glad to have finally read it.   If you’re a fan of classic vampire tales, this book will put a huge smile on your face.  Just watch out for the fangs.

Monday, May 18, 2015

THE SLEEP DETECTIVES



THE SLEEP DETECTIVES
By Matthew Bieniek
Self-Published
ISBN-13  978-1493620142
134 pages

Many times, while attending various pulp conventions, new writers will present me with copies of their self-published books to obtain a review.  Such was the case with this little gem from Matthew Bieniek.  It is a wonderful, extremely well written story about a young man named Tony who has the ability to go places and events in his dreams that have actually happened.  All he has to do is think of the time and place before falling off to sleep and in his dreams he is there.  This can happen with mundane incidents to those with rich historical significant such as being at Gettysburg to see President Lincoln deliver his famous address to a war weary nation.  Or appearing in a parking late at night to see who it was that stole his co-worker’s car.

Tony works in a grocery store and spends most of his time with his best friends, Dom and Danny.  When he confides in them about his special “dream” abilities, they see the potential for Tony being able to assist the police in solving crimes that have been relegated to the cold-cases files.  Eventually, Dom gets a job with a local detective agency and connects Tony with the owner of the company.  Invariably our likeable hero is asked to help solve the five year old disappearance of a young lady.  This assignment takes him to some dark places and ultimately endangers Tony and his friends when a  murderer is exposed.

“The Sleep Detectives” is fresh, original and its characters believable from the first page to the last.  Bieniek’s pacing is balanced and he pulls us along effortlessly.  It is rare to find such an unpretentious writer who clearly loves what he is doing and achieves what he sets out to do, completely entertain his readers.  Go find “The Sleep Detectives.”  You’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

FLYING FISH "PROMETHEUS"



FLYING FISH “PROMETHEUS”
By Vilhelm Bergsoe
Translated by Dwight R. Decker
Vesper Press
47 pages

When little books, sometimes called chap-books, land on my desk, they bring within their pages lots of unique, long forgotten literary treasures.  FLYING FISH “PROMETHEUS” is a very old Danish science fiction tale reminiscent of the works of Jules Verne.  It is a rare story, considering its source, and little known among most sci-fi buffs until only recently.  It was published in 1870 and tells the story of a Danish engineer who travels in a remarkable airship.

In the tale, the author sets his adventure in the future of 1969 and his hero is on his way to Central America to witness the opening of the Panama Canal.  The fun of this short tale is seeing which of the author’s predictions came true and which were pure flights of imaginative fancy. (Pun intended.)  Perhaps the greatest of these being the aircraft itself which works less than conventional dirigibles and more like an actual flying fish having to propel itself out of a body of water to attain flight. 

For those of you who enjoy finding such long lost sci-fi gems, this wonderful package comes with additional material to include an essay on the author and the story’s history and a post article by the translator, Dwight Decker, on his role in bringing the story back into print and the inherent challenges in the translation.  All in all, FLYING FISH “PROMETHEUS” is a rare sci-fi oddity we think readers will enjoy discovering…at long last.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

BLUE LABYRINTH



BLUE LABYRINTH
An Agent Pendergast Novel
By Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
Grand Central Publishing
403 pages

“Blue Labyrinth” is the fourteenth novel in our favorite new pulp fiction series starring Special FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast.  We first discovered the remarkable, acerbic millionaire detective when a close friend gifted us with a copy of his third adventure, “The Cabinet of Curiosities.”  We were hooked immediately and compared many of the character’s talents and attributes to Walter Gibson’s classic pulp hero, The Shadow.

Of course all such series have their ups and downs and loyal fans are always going to quantify certain entries as being better than others; the lackluster titles quickly shoved aside and forgotten.  Such has been the case with the Pendergast books and we are thrilled to report that “Blue Labyrinth” immediately moves to the top of our personal list as one of the best ever.

The action begins when Pendergast’s diabolical son is left murdered on his doorstep in Manhattan.  It is over, sadistic challenge that sends Pendergast on a twisted, trap laden hunt for one of the most cunning adversaries he has ever dueled.  One bizarre clue after another leads him from an abandoned casino in the Southwest desert to an over populated Brazillian ghetto filled with human misery and suffering.  Eventually a twisted motive somehow connected with his family’s past begins to emerge.  The entire affair is in fact a cold, calculating campaign against all those Pendegast holds dear.  It is a personal war and one he cannot afford to lose.

Once again writers Preston and Child whip up a brilliant, pretzel like plot that keeps the readers guessing from one page to another.  Once more, we readers sit on the edge of our armchairs following familiar cast players such as Detective Vincent D’Agosta, Dr. Margo Green and the ephemeral, always mysterious, Constance Greene as they join forces to help Pendergast survive the greatest threat he has ever faced.; one that will destroy him if they fail.

“Blue Labyrinth” is another top-notch chapter one of the finest thriller series on the market today and not to be missed.  Honestly, we can’t wait for the next one.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

NOWHERE TO RUN



NOWHERE TO RUN
(A Joe Picket Novel)
By C.J. Box
Berkeley Prime Crime
320 pages

One of the things readers often do is give books as presents.  We’ve been doing that for years and recently our good friend, Gary Kato, send us “Nowhere To Run,” by C.J. Box.  In the past, we’d sent Gary several Longmire mysteries by Craig Johnson and mentioned how much the setting of Wyoming was an integral part of the tales.  Thus Gary’s opting to introduce us to Box’s work which, as it turns out, stars Wyoming Game Warden named Joe Picket. 

Like Johnson, Box uses Wyoming’s rugged mountains and valleys as a major part of his storytelling and it makes the book all that much more fascination.  In this day and age, particularly for urban dwellers, we often forget how big America truly is and just how much of it is still primal wilderness; wilderness that can prove deadly to the unwary travel. 

While investigating a strange incident reported to him by several hunters, Picket rides out into the deep mountains and comes across two brothers, identical twins, living in the mountains like hermits.  When he attempts to question them as part of his job things suddenly get violent and Joe finds himself on foot, wounded and being hunted by two men who clearly know the ways of the mountain.  But that’s only the beginning of this edge-of-your-seat thriller.  Through strength of will, Joe manages to escape his hunters and makes it back to civilization.  While recovering from his wounds, he learns that every single search party sent into the mountains to find the two supposedly psycho brothers has failed to find any physical evidence of them to corroborate his report.  Now people are questioning Joe’s integrity and even his sanity.

Frustrated by this turn of events and angered that no one will believe his story, Joe is more determined than ever to go back into those dark mountains and not only find the deadly twins but learn the reasons for their being there in the first place.  The answer to that question is somehow caught up in a political scandal with ties to Washington and several government agencies.  Is there a conspiracy involved?  Is someone purposely trying to impede Joe quest for the truth?

“Nowhere To Run,” is a taut, gripping adventure with a political undercurrent that many people will find unsettling.  Kudos for Box for having the courage to say what many of us feel today; that the real dangers to our way of life don’t lie in the wilderness, but in the halls of Washington D.C.  And now we need to thank Gary for introducing us to this amazing book and character.  If you haven’t met Joe Picket yet, what are you waiting for?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK



THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Kensington Publishing
229 pages

Say the words Mickey Spillane and most readers will immediately Mike Hammer and hardboiled mysteries.  Perhaps the furthest thing from anyone’s thoughts would be a classic western adventure.  Which is exactly what this book is and its history is as fascinating as the tale it tells.  In his introduction, Max Allan Collins relates the friendship that existed between Spillane and John Wayne, one of the most famous western actors to ever grace the silver screen.  He believes it was this camaraderie that inspired Spillane to try his hand a writing a western screenplay that he hoped his pal, Wayne, would someday produce and star in.

Alas that never came to fruition but lucky for us, Spillane actually wrote the screenplay and it remained hidden amongst his files for all these years.  Upon discovering it, Collins opted to novelize it, sticking to the plot and action as Spillane had envisioned for his shoot’em-up horse opera.  After reading this book adaptation, we’re truly disappointed it was never filmed.

“The Legend of Caleb York,” is a classic western with a tried and true plot about a nameless stranger who rides into the small New Mexico town of Trinidad and finds himself caught up in a war between the corrupt sheriff and local ranchers. Harry Gauge is a sadistic gunfighter who uses his badge to systematically gain control of most of the ranches in the area.  Gauge’s only real challenge comes from a blind rancher named Cullen and his lovely daughter Willa.  Within minutes of arriving in Trinidad the stranger guns down two of Gauge’s men in a fast-draw display that has the locals guessing the unassuming gunslinger’s true identity.

Reading “The Legend of Caleb York” is much like watching one of a dozen famous western movies; each character in the story is molded from iconic elements all of us are immediately familiar with.  The good guys are stalwart and the villains black-hearted as they come fueling the reader’s imagination in such a wonderful, traditional way.  Give this one big thumbs way up, western lovers.  It’s a six-gun blasting winner from the first page to the last.

Friday, April 10, 2015

PULPSPLOITATION



PULPSPLOITATION
Edited by Nicholas Ahlhem
Metahuman Press
177 pages

Exploit – A notable deed or act. To use to best advantage.  To make use of selfishly or unethically.

The word exploit didn’t attract any particular attention until the folks in Hollywood got  hold of it and then we were given the Exploitation film which was usually applied to any film which was considered to be low budget and attempting to gain financial and critical success by “exploting” a current trend or a niche genre of a base desire for lurid subject matter.  This meant these movies needed something to exploit and for most it was either sex or violence.  And we’ve all heard the term, Sexploitation.

So it is only logical to assume an anthology calling itself “Pulpsploitation” is going to be saturated with excessive, gratuitous sex and violence in large quantity.  To varying the degrees, the five writers in this collection have no qualms of dishing out both whenever necessary to keep their stories moving.  Still, the idea of seeing a classic hero like Airboy having sex is a bit unorthodox to this pulp fan; to say the least.  So this review comes with a very emphatic Adults Only recommendation. 

Now the five tales that make up this book spotlight not only classic pulp heroes but a few popular comic book stars also make an appearance.  Every story is a reimagining of the character in a new, more modern setting and that is the real fun here.

Ahlelm starts the collection with that vary Airboy adventure, “Time Enough For Love,” which has Davy Nelson reawakens after having been a prisoner aboard the Air Tomb for over thirty years.  The world of the 1980s is strange and alien to him to say the least Still he has the aid of the Flying Dutchman’s beautiful daughter to help get familiar with this brave new world.  She explains to him that remnants of an old Japanese foe are about to launch their own atomic bombs on the US and its up to Airboy to save the day.  But first he must find his super-plane Birdie and satisfying the lustful longings of his beautiful ally; which is where the tale gets R rated.  Alhelm’s a solid writer and he knows these golden age characters extremely well and we doubt seriously after reading through the obligatory “sex scene,” many of you will ever consider Davy Nelson a “boy” again.

Next up writer Teel James Glenn showcases as yet another comic hero; the Gunmaster.  Although personally not familiar with this character, we were educated easily enough in his story, “Praey For The Raven.”  Following the theme of the anthology, the story opens in the past with Gunmaster Dumas Poe chasing after his nemesis, the Raven.  He fails to capture him and many years later, it falls to his son, Darian Poe, to complete the mission.  In reading through this story, we were struck with how much Gunmaster has in common with another classic pulp/comic hero; the Green Lama.  Both are given backgrounds involving Far Easter mysticism, they both employ the same phrases and there exist a connection in their names.  All in the all, the original Gunmaster was very much a Gun Toting Green Lama.  Glenn is to be applauded for moving the series forward by the creation of the original’s son and promises to do much more with the concept in future volumes. 

By far our favorite entry in this collection was Frank Byrns creation of a brand new Black Bat to follow in the footsteps of the iconic pulp hero.  In the 80s, retired lawyer Tony Quinn has begun a legal foundation to help the impoverished minorities living in the poorer sections of New York.  One of his lawyers is Jackie Clay, a black man whose own brother is involved with dealing drugs.  When a gang war with a rival faction threatens to destroy innocent lives in his home community, Clay adopts the mantle of the Black Bat to bring justice to these modern evil-doers, all under the watchful eye of old Mr. Quinn.  And set to aid Clay in his future battles are two rather important members of the Quinn Foundation; Carol O’Leary, the redheaded daughter of Butch O’Leary and Detective Danny Kirby, the son of former conman, Silk Kirby.  Byrns’ new Black Bat and company is wonderfully realized and we can’t wait to read their further adventures.  We also appreciate that he eschewed any kind of sexual encounters; leaving us to enjoy a more traditional pulp yarn.

The fourth tale is another winner; this one by Australian writer Steven Gepp.  He offers up a jungle hero named Tabu.  Having never heard of this character, we’ve no idea if he appeared in the pulps or comics.  It would have been nice if Gepp could have provided us with a little background history along with his bio.  Regardless, Tabu is very much a cookie-cutter figure who has been transplanted out of Africa and into a metropolitan US city where’s he’s become a big-time wrestling personality.  That alone was enough to have us enjoying this action story.  The Col War Russians are after a Star Wars type weapon invented by America and it’s up to Tabu to make sure it doesn’t fall into their hands.  All in all a very fun romp.

Lastly we have E.A.G.L.E. – Alpha & Omega by Caine Dorr that reads a great deal like many of the old classic pulp spy thrillers ala Secret Agent X and the Secret Six.  Commander Shannon is a veteran operative for a super secret outfit called E.A.G.L.E., which is his personal codename as well, that eliminates threats to America that cannot be dealt with by conventional law enforcement agencies; to include assassinations.  We have no idea if this tale is based on an actual pulp or is the author’s own original creation.  Either way, Commander Shannon comes across like an older version of Mack Bolan and the writing here is crisp, fast paced and delivers the standard action one would expect from such a genre.

All in all, book one of “Pulpsploitation” is extremely well realized with five top-notch stories any “adult” pulp readers will find entertaining.  And we would be remiss if we didn’t give kudos to a gorgeous cover provided by the super talented Nik Powliko.  This is a great package cover to cover and we’re only to happy to give it major thumbs up.  Hopefully a volume two is in the works.