Wednesday, August 27, 2014

THE CAGLIOSTRO CHRONICLES



THE CAGLIOSTRO CHRONICLES
By Ralph L. Angelo Jr.
Cosmic Comet Publishing
271 pages

Long ago we discovered a copy of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s classic sci-fi novel, “The Skylark of Space.”  What impressed us was how the action centered around two civilian scientists who build an amazing spacecraft and come up with the means to launch it into deep space where they have many fantastic adventures.  Smith is often credited as being the father of that sci-fi sub-genre known as the Space Opera.  But at that time most such tales generally featured military heroes whereas not so in this story.  The fact that the heroes were civilians was one of the many aspects of the book we enjoyed and so remember it fondly to this day.

Which brings us to Ralph Angelo’s “The Cagliostro Chronicles,” a bonafide space opera that follows in Smith’s footsteps with its protagonists being the crew of a civilian made spaceship.  Genius aeronautical engineer, Mark Johnson, has built the massive Cagliostro and outfitted here with a unique magnetic engine of his own invention that will allow it to travel faster than light; in effect transport him and his crew to the far reaches of the galaxy in the blink of an eye.  He and his hand picked crew are about to embark on a “shake-down” flight when Johnson’s friend, General Abruzzi begins acting very strangely.  Johnson suspects, for whatever illogical purposes, the general not only does not want him to launch the Cagliostro but is in fact planning to forcefully take it from.  Heeding his instincts, he takes off ahead of schedule and sure enough finds the entire Earth Space Navy chasing after him and his crew. 

Using their new FTL drive, they manage to escape to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and there, Johnson confides in his team; made up of a beautiful telepath named Ariel, a super-strong security chief and several other gifted scientists.  Under secret orders of the President, Johnson has learned that evidence exist of alien incursions into out Solar System and has been ordered to discover the origin of mysterious space messages intercepted by the government.  The Cagliostro’s first mission is to discover who is sending these transmissions and what their intent is.

We found this first half of the book slow.  Understandably Angelo was burdened with laying out the basic plot, identifying his characters etc.etc. in the basic set-up.  Still we kept hoping the pacing would pick and are happy to report it does so in grand fashion once we get to the inhabited, alien worlds.  From that point on Angelo is clearly channeling classic pulp writers like Doc Smith and Edmond Hamilton as he propels our likeable heroes into one adventure after another as they eventually realize the Earth is in jeopardy from a full-blown alien invasion armada.  By the time they race back to our Solar System, there isn’t a moment to spare.   Clones of government officials have infiltrated the highest branches of the government and are working to assure the invasion’s success. Exposing them is only a small part of the ray-blasting action.  Now it is up to Johnson and the crew of the Cagliostro to orchestrate a viable defense strategy that will give the Earth forces a chance to survive the coming onslaught.

If you like super space battles with thousands of ships engaged in a life and death struggle, with heroes larger than life and last minute rescues, “The Cagliostro Chronicles” was written for you and all Space Opera lovers.  It is a headlong rush into the wonders and dangers that mankind will some day have to confront.  Let’s hope we have real men like Captain Mark Johnson to lead the way. 


Monday, August 18, 2014

WHITE FIRE



WHITE FIRE
A Special Agent Pendergast Mystery
By Preston & Child
Vision
470 pages

When you read through 470 pages of a book and it seems like you only just started, you know it is a special book.  When you read a book that takes place in the majestic Rocky Mountains of Colorado while at the same time dealing with a lost Sherlock Holmes tale by Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s a good bet you’ve gotten into a truly unique and original adventure.  All of which are the hallmarks of the Special FBI Agent Pendergast thrillers by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

Easily one of the best New Pulp series on the market today, the adventures of Agent Perdergast are always a treat filled with the bizarre and unexpected.  Alone, both Preston and Child are excellent masters of action fiction; together they are unbeatable. 

In this, the fourteenth of the series. Pendergast’s young female protégé, Corrie Swanson, finds herself in the exclusive ski resort of Roaring Fork, Colorado.  As a student of a prestigious criminal justice college, Corrie has traveled to the remote mountain town in hopes of examining the recently exhumed bodies of eleven miners who were supposedly killed and eaten by a grizzly bear in the late 1800s.  All of this is for a thesis paper she is writing.  But when she exactly sees a few skeletal remains from one of the bodies, Corrie spots an anomaly that doesn’t corroborate the recorded cause of death.  Because of this revelation she is soon arrested and thrown in jail for trumped up charges by some of the wealthier townsfolk afraid of what she has accidentally uncovered.

Of course word of her incarceration doesn’t take long to reach Pendergast and he arrives days later to rescue Corrie and investigate why she was illegal imprisoned.  But before his own detective work can get rolling, Roaring Fork is beset by a serial arsonist who targets the most expensive homes in the community.  This unknown sadist invades the rich mansions, overcomes the residing families and leaves them to burn alive in the fiery conflagration.  Thus it would appear Agent Pendergast is dealing with two separate cases and that beomces his conundrum; whether they are independent affairs or in fact actually related to each other.  And if so, how?

And why does the hundred years old grizzle bear killings involve a lost Sherlock Holmes story?

The word page-turner is all too often carelessly dropped into a review without any real justification.  In this case, there is no other way to correctly describe “White Fire.”  We’ve been a fan of the Pendergast series since its inception and soundly declare “White Fire” to be one of the best thus far.  It never misses a single beat in its literary melody of suspense and thrills. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

DOC VOODOO - CROSSFIRE



DOC VOODOO : CROSSFIRE
By Dale Lucas
Beating Windward Press
224 pages

A few years ago we were introduced to the black pulp avenger, Doc Voodoo in his debut novel.  It was an auspicious one and in our enthusiastic review we made it quite clear we wanted sequels.  Now that wish has been answered in a marvelous fashion by author Dale Lucas affording we readers with another fast paced, wall-to-wall action thriller that is truly great reading experience.

In 1927 Harlem, the Italian mob boss, Harry Flood, has plans on taking over the neighborhood.  To do so he sends his goons to murder the leading community leaders which include the highly respected Reverend Barnabus Farnes amongst others.  At the last possible moment, the skull-faced, gun-toting Doc Voodoo comes to the rescue.  Farnes is totally unaware that the voodoo empowered avenger is actually Dr. Dub Corveaux, the kind-hearted, dedicated man of medicine who is sweet on his daughter, the lovely Fralene.

Incensed by his men’s failure to eliminate their targets, Flood cunningly plans to fight fire with fire, taking his lead from the mysterious black clad crime fighter.  He finds a Haitian witch and has her summon a demon to possess Rev. Farnes.  At the same time, a self-serving, black entrepreneur, Jebediah Debbs, tired of the pastor’s non-violent approach, begins to arm Harlem natives so as to form their own vigilante committee and deal with the mobsters’ threat bullet for bullet.

Now all of Harlem is on the verge of a massive blood-letting and its one shining hope for peace has become corrupted by unknown forces.  Suddenly both the skills of Dr. Corveaux and the abilities of his scary alter-ego will be called upon if catastrophe is to be avoided.  But can one man stand alone against the tides of both human and supernatural greed and cruelty.

Mixing classic pulp elements of both hero and horror genres, Lucas once again puts forth an amazing, totally gratifying tale that is as good, if not better, than the first book in this series.  “Doc Voodoo : Crossfire,” is easily one of the best pulp novels we’ve read this year and we will be nominating for several pulp awards come Jan. 15, 2015.  That good?  You can bet your bones on it.



Saturday, August 02, 2014

THE SPOOK LIGHTS AFFAIR



THE SPOOKS LIGHTS AFFAIR
By Marcia Muller & Bill Pronzini
A Forge Book
250 pages

There have been several husband and wife mystery-writing teams in the past but only two have ever both won the coveted MWA Grand Masters award; Margaret Millar and Ross McDonald and the authors of this book.  “The Spooks Lights Affair” is part of their Carpenter and Quincannon series and if this entry is representative of the earlier cases, we may have to go dig them up.

In 1895 San Francisco, Sabina Carter and John Quincannon are partners of a well known and respected private detective agency.  Although they usually work as a team, in this  book we find them handling their own individual cases. 

Carter has been hired by the wealthy St. Ives family to shadow their rebellious, overly romantic daughter, Virginia.  It has come to their attention that the girl has been seeing handsome young store clerk who does not meet their upper-crusty standards for an acceptable suitor.  Alas, the girl is frustrated by having the tenacious private eye on her heels constantly.  On a fog shrouded night, while both are attending a sumptuous gala hosted by the mayor; Virginia attempts to elude Carter and dashes up the side of a steep hill where she commits suicide by throwing herself off a cliff.

As tragic as these events are, they take a quick turn towards the mysterious when an extensive search of the area below the cliffs fails to find Virginia’s body.  It has somehow disappeared, vanished into thin air.

Meanwhile the always ambitious Quincannon is attempting to hunt down the solo bandit who robbed a local Wells Fargo office of thirty-five thousand dollars.  The bank has offered up a tidy reward for anyone who can find the culprit, bring him to justice and retrieve the stolen funds.  Thus it would seem the sleuthing partners are dealing with two separate cases.  But when they compare their notes, they discover that several of the people they are investigating have connections to one another.  How is dead girl’s older brother connected to one of the shadier figures involved with the bank heist?  What was the true role of the dead girl’s beau in her demise and subsequent disappearance?  Is he also part of the daring robbery?

The plot is complex and fun to follow.  Even more so is the authentic setting in which it plays out as Carter and Quincannon give us a wonderful tour of San Francisco in its gilded era from the infamous Barbary Coast to the rich Tenderloin gambling houses and garish brothels that catered to the city’s wealthiest men.  “The Spook Lights Affair” is both a terrific mystery plus a rollicking time-travel adventure populated with truly colorful figures both fictional and historical.  It is a fun romp by two masters of their craft who obviously enjoy working together much to their readers’ delights.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

RAGTIME COWBOYS



 RAGTIME COWBOYS
By Loren D. Estleman
A Forge Book
264 pages

I have a particular fondness for stories that pair historical figures together in fictional adventures.  These people actually lived during the same time but in reality never met, ergo the wish-fulfillment element in this kind of what-if story.  That’s what Loren D. Estleman has done with “Ragtime Cowboys” and it works to perfection.

As unlikely as it seems, both Charlie Siringo and Dashiell Hammett did have several things in common; both worked for the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency at one time and both later went on to become published writers.  Siringo was recognized more for his illustrious lawman career which had him rubbing elbows with the likes of Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett and Butch Cassidy and his whole in the wall gang.  There have been scores of books and films about his life and career securely guaranteeing his place in western cowboy history.  Hammett on the other hand would gain renown for his literary achievements giving the mystery world such classic personages such as Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles.  Thus they were karmic opposites, one famous for his real exploits, the other for his fictional creativity.

And so Estlemen brings them together in 1921 California.  The tale begins in Los Angeles where a senior Siringo is attempting to write another book about his colorful past. He is visited by an aged Wyatt Earp.  Earp owns a horse ranch and one of his prized racing horses has been stolen.  He hires his Siringo to find and retrieve it.  The only clue they have is the suspected thief has just been hired to work for the widow of Jack London on her spread in the hills beyond San Francisco.  Earp sends Siringo to Frisco where he is met by a young man also a former Pinkerton veteran who will act as his guide and aide; one Dashiell Hammett. 

The dialogue between Siringo and Hammett is brilliant and hilarious.  While Siringo was a staunch Republican who despised socialist of every ilk, Hammett was an avowed liberal who never missed a chance to criticize the noveau American rich gentry.  From the second they meet, the sparks fly and it is only through their trials together that they ultimately come to respect each other’s grit and strength of character. How that mutual respect evolves is the true beauty of this cowboy fable. 

Oh, there’s also an underpinning plot of political corruptions wherein our two ragtime cowboys get mixed up with the Teapot Dome Scandal.  This was a bribery incident that took place between 1920 and 1923 during the administration of President Warding Harding which ultimately led to the Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall becoming the first Cabinet member to go prison.  The entire plot is a nothing but a flimsy gimmick with which to bring Siringo and Hammett together against an authentic historical event.  Its revelations at the book’s climax are superfluous and easily forgotten.  What is not is the shoot-out at the London ranch and both Siringo and Hammett reliving their raucous rowdy youthful escapades one last time.

“Ragtime Cowboys,” is an insightful look into America’s past through the eyes of two remarkable men, both of product of their times.  It is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

SNATCHED!



 SNATCHED!
By Charles Boeckman
235 pages
Prose Press

No baseball player hits a homerun every time at bat.  Nor does every writer produce a must-read thriller with each new book he or she releases.  I’ve made no secret in this column that I am huge fan of pulp writer Charles Boeckman and the fact that he is still writing in his 90s continues to both astound and inspire me.  Sadly, with his latest book he goes off into a multi-plotted ditch with no clear cut finale.

In fact, the book is divided into two very distinct parts as if it had been originally intended to be presented as two separate shorter pieces.  In the first half we meet our protagonist, private eyes Kate McHaney and her alcoholic musician ex-husband, Craig Dawson.  We’re given brief background histories of both; a reader’s digest encapsulation of their all too brief union and then the mystery begins.  The mayor’s teenage daughter has been kidnapped and it is suspected the culprit was a local mob boss with connections to the Mafia.  McHaney and Dawson are hired by the mayor and ultimately discover the real bad guys and in a climatic shootout in some arid Texas scrubland, rescue the young lady.

Now had the book ended there, we’d be applauding loudly and singing its praises.  But it does not and what we are then presented with are a series of interconnected vignettes regarding the gangland boss which all manage to involve our heroes in one fashion or another.  The old mayor has retired and the mobster is campaigning to replace him. Somehow Craig is recruited to run against him.  Then the two private eyes become the guardians of a young orphan whose father, a convicted drug-dealer, was murdered.  Soon thereafter the boy comes to Kate asking her help in finding a missing Mexican girl here in the U.S. illegally.  Which then puts the lovely detective in the crosshairs of the Mafia kingpin and days prior to the big election, Dawson disappears.

If this all sounds confusing, it is and it isn’t.  It is not difficult to follow because Charles Boeckman is the consummate writing professional and his technical skills are exemplary.  The reader has no problem following along with his tale. The problem is that narrative goes nowhere and by the end of the book there are no concrete resolutions to any of these plot threads.  The book is billed as the first in a series and so it is safe to assume Boeckman will pick up on these dangling plots in his next volume.  All well and good if the reader is fortunate enough to find the next book.  But even in a series, each chapter should be somewhat self-contained and close out on a genuine climax that does not require having to wait for a sequel.

Thus, as much as I liked these characters and the author’s storytelling, I’m left unsatisfied that the book does not have a real ending.

Friday, July 18, 2014

DOCTOR OMEGA



DOCTOR OMEGA
By Arnould Galopin
Adapted by Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier
Black Coat Press
254 pages

Was there a French fictional character “who” appeared in a 1905 book that just possibly might have been one of the inspirations for the famous British sci-fi icon, Doctor Who?
Upon reading this 2003 edition from Black Coat Press, one would be hard pressed to believe the similarities between writer Arnould Galopin’s Doctor Omega and that other fellow are purely coincidental. Then again, in the world of pulp fiction, stranger things have happened.  Still whether you choose to believe the above supposition or not, it did not hamper the enjoyment this reviewer had with this wondrous and little known sci-fi French adventure.

The story is told by one Denis Borel, a semi-retired violin teacher who settles in the peaceful Normandy countryside to get away from the hustle and bustle of Paris. But he soon discovers he has a rather eccentric neighbor in a white-haired gentlemen named Doctor Omega.  This scientist has invented an amazing ship, the Cosmos, that can travel through both time and space and he invites Borel to accompany him on his voyage to Mars a billion years in the past.  Accompanying them is Dr. Omega’s aide-camp, a burly bearded fellow named Fred.

And before you can shout Sacre Bleu!, the trio take off for the bizarre red planet as it existed in ages past.  The Cosmos is not only a spacecraft, but it can be altered to become a submersible thus allowing them to explore the depths of Mar’s seas and then it extends tractor wheels and becomes a pseudo tank carrying them across the harsh landscape of this alien world.  Eventually Dr. Omega and his companions discover all manner of animals, flora and ultimately a dwarfish race of Martians.  Considering when this book was written, we can’t help but marvel at Galopin’s boundless imagination as his tale is wonderfully interpreted and enhanced by the Lofficiers.

“Doctor Omega” is a real treasure from the annals of early science-fiction and though nowhere as successful or famous as Wells or Verne, Arnould Galopin deserves some recognition for this truly exceptional work.  As to the similarities between Dr. Omega and that other doctor, we’ll let you decide for yourselves.  This reviewer is simply happy to have had the chance to meet both of them.