Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Thrift Shop Books Covers: "The Rockford Files"

The Rockford Files returned to television in 1994 with a made-for-TV movie, I Still Love L.A. It switched networks, from NBC, which broadcast the original series from 1974 to 1980, to CBS. Another seven movies aired through 1999, and while they weren’t the original, they were pretty good. Even better the success of the movies encouraged Forge to release two original novels featuring the intrepid Jim Rockford, and written by the accomplished Stuart M. Kaminsky. 
The Green Bottle was published 1996 as a hardcover by Forge, but the edition that caught my eye is the 1999 paperback. It has the glitter and glow of all the beautiful people (very Hollywood) with the added bonus of a hotel in the background. The artist: Steve Chorney.

The first paragraph:
“It was raining in Santa Monica, a cold, driving, California winter rain, and I was crouched on the deck of a small but not inexpensive boat moored at the pier along with a few hundred other boats being tossed by the Pacific.”
Devil on My Doorstep was published as a hardcover by Forge in 1998, but the edition that caught my eye is the 2001 paperback. A wealthy enclave across a golden sea bordered with an oh so 1990s woman. The artist: Steve Chorney.  

The first paragraph:
“The sun was just about to come up and I was late. I must have hit the snooze button on the alarm clock without knowing it. I turned the on the Weather Channel and heated some of yesterday’s—or was it the day before’s—coffee in the microwave while I drank a glass of orange juice. The coffee was awful, but it was coffee.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Mystery Scene Issue No. 150

The latest issue of Mystery Scene Magazine—No. 150—is at a newsstand near you. As usual, it is packed. It features an interview with Scott Turow, Michael Mallory’s terrific article “Raffles: The Anti-Sherlock Holmes” and many others.

It also features my short story review column, “Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered.” All of the column reviews are currently available in the print edition and most are also available at MS’s website. In the column I discuss:
Nearly Nero, by Loren D. Estleman, is a collection of ten stories featuring Estleman’s endearing Nero Wolfe-like character Claudius Lyon.
MatchUp, edited by Lee Child, is an anthology produced by the Thriller Writers Association that pairs a female and male thriller writer for each story.
Dis Mem Ber and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense collects seven dark tales by Joyce Carol Oates.
The March / April, 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, featuring a bevy of terrific stories from Pauline Simpson, Alan E. Foulds, and Chris Knopf.
It also includes four of my book reviews. The titles: The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz, The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan, She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper, and The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg. The book reviews are all available at MS’s website:
The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz is the beginning of a new series and a return to the type of stories Mr. Koontz wrote in the 1990s.
The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan is pleasantly surprising psychological thriller.
She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper is a first novel that roars on all cylinders. 

The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg is a new take on an old subject.
The reviews are available online at Mystery Scene’s website—click the titles above.
Mystery Scene is available at many newsstands, including Barnes & Noble, and available for order at MS’s website.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

CHASE by Dean Koontz

I am a longtime fan of Dean Koontz’s writing.  I enjoy all of Mr Koontz’s work, but I have a particular fondness for the work he produced in the 1970s and 80s.  I love his big genre mixing thrillers like Lightning, Cold Fire, and Twilight Eyes and more recently I have gained an appreciation for his earlier straight suspense novels like Shattered, After the Last Race, and Dragonfly.

I recently reread a short suspense novel written as by K. R. Dwyer titled Chase.  Benjamin Chase is a used up Vietnam veteran who received the Medal of Honor for an act he wants to forget.  He lives alone in an attic apartment.  He drinks to drown out the voices of the dead, and he wants to be left alone to grieve and regret.  His world tumbles into chaos when he saves a young woman from murder, and the would-be killer—a man who calls himself “Judge”—begins calling Ben on the telephone.      

Chase is a dark and disturbing novel.  It was written in the Vietnam-era and is infused with hard cynicism.  Chase is simple.  He is alone, guilty, and ashamed.  His isolation is perpetuated by the near hero worship, and simple minded patriotism, of the townsfolk.  He has judged himself as less than, but as Judge pursues his verdict against Chase, he is forced to face both himself and his demons.

Chase is all story, which is to say plot with a snatch of something close to meaning.  It is short and sleek.  It takes only a few pages to move from the opening scene banquet to the action.  That is not to say it is plotted from action scene to action scene because it isn’t; there is a legitimate mystery, and the psychology of the protagonist is interesting in itself, and the slow escalation of isolation between Chase and the police, and Chase and society creates a tension all its own.  The prose is crisp and with a touch of melancholy—

“Maybe it was better to be without a woman than to die and leave behind one who grieved so briefly as this.”      
It opens as a straight forward suspense novel—how will Chase save himself from Judge—to something approaching a vigilante novel.  The climax is both surprising and horrifying; even disturbing.  Its suddenness and violence surprised as much on my second reading as it did the first.  Chase isn’t one of Dean Koontz’s big novels, and it may not appeal to most of his current readership, but it a fine example of high velocity classic suspense.  But that ending is a killer.    

Chase was originally published by Random House in hardcover in 1972.  It was reissued in Mr Koontz’s collection Strange Highways in 1995.  The reissued version was touched up before its release, but what was changed, other than the addition of a brief opening chapter setting the time and place of the story, I’m not sure.

This review originally went live December 16, 2013.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "White Cargo"

White Cargo is one of Stuart Woods rare standalone novels. It was published by Simon & Schuster as a hardcover in 1988, but the edition that caught my eye is a mass market published by Avon in 1989. The cover hits a few of my “I have to read this” buttons: a dense, dangerous looking jungle, a single prop airplane crashing into said jungle, and vibrant and exciting colors. The artist: Unknown (to me, at least).

The opening paragraph:
“Wendell Catledge sat up and squinted at the smudge on the horizon. It should not have been a surprise, he thought, but it was. The boat slid smoothly along in the light wind, and even the slightest movement made it hard to focus on the shape, but it wasn’t a ship or an oil rig, and in the early morning light, it seemed to be pink. He pulled at his beard and ran a hand through his hair, which was a good six months overdue for cutting. Hell, it just might be, it just might be what he guessed it was.”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

COLD HIT by Stephen J. Cannell

Cold Hit (2005) is Stephen J. Cannell’s fifth novel featuring LAPD Detective Shane Scully and the second I’ve read. The first title I read, On the Grind (2009), was disappointing in its lack of depth, character development and over-easy plotting, but Cold Hit is a top-notch police procedural that renders a fully-realized Shane Scully. A complex plot with more than one surprise, and an alluring Southern California setting.
Shane Scully and his partner Zack Farrell are the primary detectives on a series of killings targeting homeless men. After the victims are killed with a bullet to the head, their finger-tips are removed and a symbol is carved into their chests. With the case going nowhere—no suspects, witnesses, clues, or the victims’ identities uncovered—the LAPD’s brass are threatening to remove Scully as the primary detective and form a multi-agency task force to continue the investigation.

Cold Hit is a nicely developed, finely plotted, character driven procedural. It has a sense of the believable from the police investigation to Scully’s relationships with his partner—drowning in alcohol and divorce—and his family. He is likable, something of a maverick who struggles against authority, and tough without being super human. The investigation deepens into the realm of national security and there is an interesting discussion about the post-9/11 world’s enhanced federal law enforcement powers without the story losing its appeal or momentum. Even better, it made me want to read another Shane Scully novel.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Owls Don't Blink"

Owl’s Don’t Blink is the sixth mystery Erle Stanley Gardner published as by A.A. Fair and featuring private eyes Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. Its original release was as a hardcover by William Morrow & Co. in 1942, but the edition that caught my eye is a mass market published by Dell in 1970. An old school photographic cover isn’t my usual bag, but something about this one works. The artist: Unknown (to me, at least).

The opening paragraph:

“I was awakened at three o’clock in the morning by the sound of a garbage-pail cover being kicked across the sidewalk. A moment later, a woman’s voice, harsh and shrill, shouted, ‘I am not going with you! Do you understand?’”

Monday, June 05, 2017

McGRAVE by Lee Goldberg

McGrave is a stylish, action-packed, and downright fun novella written by Lee Goldberg. The Afterword explains it “began as a television pilot” and the plotting, pacing and vivid cinematic prose give it an episodic television feel. A good thing in this case.
John McGrave is an LAPD detective whose knack for destruction has yielded the nifty nickname, “Tidal Wave.” After foiling the attempted robbery of a 3,000 year-old chamber pot, McGrave is fired from the force. His termination is for a culmination of events, but the final straw is a soon to be filed $20-million lawsuit by one of L.A.’s wealthiest residents. Without a job, or even any prospects for a job, McGrave takes the first flight to Berlin trailing the only would-be toilet robber to escape L.A.

McGrave is a sterling action yarn, at a perfect length, with a nicely rendered Berlin setting. The dialogue is witty, the characters fit nicely and play well together. John McGave is something like Lethal Weapons’ Detective Riggs (Mel Gibson) searching for, and finding, his Detective Murtaugh (Danny Glover) in a very unexpected locale mixed with a classic 1980s Stephen J. Cannell television series.

Monday, May 22, 2017

JIMI AFTER DARK by Stephen Mertz

Jimi After Dark is the second novel in what I think of as Stephen Mertz’s musical mystery series, which isn’t an accurate moniker since the books are as much about the time and place of the tales’ setting as they are about the music and musicians. The first, Hank & Muddy (2011), was set in the 1950s and featured Hank Williams and Muddy Waters. Jimi After Dark is a 1960s novel set in 1970 London, near the end of Jimi Hendrix’s too-short life. Its genesis, as Mr. Mertz explains in his Afterword, is Jimi’s mostly disbelieved kidnapping claim by armed thugs and his ultimate rescue by other armed men.

From the start, Jimi is in trouble, legal trouble with his former manager Mike Jeffrey and another, more violent, trouble with more than one unknown source that may, or may not be related to the Kray Brothers—the East End crime syndicate brothers in prison when the story begins—and the Central Intelligence Agency. Jimi calls on his old Army buddy, unnamed in the story and simply called Soldier, for help. Soldier is fresh from his second tour in Vietnam with a tendency towards violence and a strong sense of duty and loyalty, which acts as an effective literary foil for Jimi’s hippie and gangster filled world.  

Jimi After Dark is an action crime novel with nicely executed action scenes, a few twists, and big ideas: friendship, loyalty, betrayal—the unexpected betrayal of friends and lovers and the more expected betrayal from governments—duty, honor, and the relationship between music and culture. The 1960’s culture war is dissected, Jimi on one side and Soldier on the other, wrapped inside a well-told, exciting story with the cleanest, strongest prose in the business. Jimi After Dark is Stephen Mertz’s best novel, and it should be on everyone’s reading list.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Gran Gato and Me

The National Weather Service database claims it was hot in Salt Lake City on August 5, 2004. 96-degrees; cloudless blue sky. A summer evening no different than any other. The difference, and what I remember, is the stadium, crowd, smells—distinctive sweetness of kettle corn, franks, beer, sweat—and a once great player who found himself with a minor league contract, and a desire to get back to the big leagues.

The player’s appearance was widely advertised in the local media and the fans came to see him. They lined up along the first base side against the low concrete wall separating seats from field; hoping for a glimpse, a word, an autograph. It was the final month of a disappointing season for the home team. The Salt Lake Stingers were in the Pacific Coast League’s cellar, but its parent club, Anaheim Angels, were set for another division title and an October appearance. The player was Andrés Galarraga and the Angels signed him to add depth, experience, and flexibility to its roster.
Andrés had a reputation for an unflagging enthusiasm. His demeanor was as much his trademark as his distinctive white hair, towering home runs, and dazzling defensive play at first. His nickname was “Gran Gato”—Big Cat—earned for his agility and quickness. Time had eroded the skills his nickname spoke of, but the name was still his, and only his. He started his career in Montreal in 1985, and on a hot August evening in 2004 he was in Salt Lake City trying to get back. It hadn’t been easy, either.

In February 1999 Andrés was diagnosed with cancer—non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—in his spine. The entire season was lost while he received treatment. Big Cat beat the disease, and came back strong in 2000, but the diagnosis made its mark. He said, in an interview with The Sporting News’ Jon Heyman:
“I felt like I’d be dying any time. The way everyone was looking at me, the way everyone knew.”
The cancer recurred in early-2004, and Big Cat beat it again, but he was without a team. In June he announced, in his hometown of Caracas, Venezuela, that he was ready to play. It was two long months before an offer was made. His first stop was Salt Lake City, and his desired destination Anaheim. He wanted two more major league home runs. He had 398 for his career, and 400 was an appealing benchmark. The clock was ticking. He was 43 with fading opportunity.

When the players began to appear on the field for pre-game warm ups a buzz of anticipation enveloped the crowd. The fans craned their necks as each player appeared on the field. A mellow roar built from scattered applause as Andrés came into view. His distinctive white hair shimmering in the thick evening light. The fans chanted, “Big Cat! Big Cat! Big Cat!” He stopped, looked at the fans, removed his cap.
Andrés was there to play baseball, but instead of continuing to the field to prepare for the game he went directly to the wall of fans. He stopped at the first in line, spoke a few words, and signed a ball. He steadily moved down the line, stopping at each person, speaking a few words, grinning, and signing a card, ball, or hat. I was there that night; waiting in line, anxious, and hopeful he would make it to my position, closer to the end than the beginning, before the players were called in for the National Anthem.

I had seen Andrés Galarraga once before. It was a spring game in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was playing for the Giants, and before the first pitch Andrés and Barry Bonds—along with Barry’s young son—wandered the edges of the ballpark; stopping frequently to talk, laugh, and interact with fans. Barry had an unfriendly reputation. The opposite of Andrés’, but on that overcast March afternoon everything was a smile and laugh. I didn’t participate in the dialogue, but instead watched with admiration.
In Salt Lake City my attitude was different. I came to see Andrés Galarraga; wish him luck, get an autograph, and be part of his comeback. I was nervous, my palms likely damp, when Andrés arrived at my position.

I handed him a clipboard, two cards attached, and a felt-tipped pen. I said, “Welcome back.”
Andrés looked up at me—with the help of the concrete floor I was a few inches taller—smiled his famous lopsided grin, said, “It’s good to be back.” He signed the cards, handed back the clipboard and pen.

It was a brief encounter. I wanted to talk to him. Tell him how much I admired his play, his courage, and his impending comeback. Maybe tell him I saw the grand slam he crushed in Miami in 1997, or his comeback home run on opening day in Atlanta in 2000, but I settled for “welcome back,” and “thank you.”  
The Stingers lost that night; outscored by the Omaha Royals, 6 – 1. I know because I looked it up. I don’t remember anything about the game, or Andrés’ performance. The box score is lost to me; seemingly unavailable online. I’m certain Andrés was the designated hitter, but how he played is a mystery. He spent all of August in a Stingers uniform, and he hit well— batting .304, with four home runs, and 19 RBI, in 111 plate appearances.

He played well enough to get a September call-up to Anaheim; it would be his last appearance in the Show, but his playing time was limited. Appearing in seven games with a meager ten at bats. He hit a single home run with the Angels, and never made it to 400. I hope it doesn’t bother him. He was a terrific player, and his appearance in Salt Lake City on that hot August night is one of my favorite baseball memories.

Friday, May 12, 2017

OVERFLOW by L. J. Martin

Overflow is the eighth novel in L. J. Martin’s The Repairman series featuring former Marine turned troubleshooter Mike Reardon. When a federal judge is killed on a public bus, destroyed by a deliberately set explosion during Las Vegas’ morning commute, the FBI’s first instinct is to blame it on terrorists, which seems accurate enough when an organization called Destroy Satan America claims credit. A Las Vegas casino owner, Alex Pointer, wants to hire Reardon and his pal, the very wealthy entrepreneur Pax Weatherwax, for a very special job:

“I want you to find, and kill slowly, with as much pain as you can stand to apply, whoever is responsible for the bus bombing.”    
Reardon isn’t a hitman and he doesn’t like to work where he lives, but with a few provisions, no cold blooded murder—for either he or Pax—and a big payday, he takes the job. It isn’t long before it becomes apparent the bus bombing is more complex than it appears, and even less time for the bullets to start flying.

Overflow is a blazingly fast novel. The action is relentless, the story exciting. A few nice descriptions of greater Las Vegas and a barrel of oddball characters give it color. Reardon and Pax have a symbiotic relationship similar to Robert B. Parker’s Spenser and Hawk, and, also like Parker’s characters, they spar good naturedly with clever and often humorous dialogue. Overflow fits somewhere between the thriller, private eye and men’s adventure subgenres, and while it is the eighth in the series it is a good place to introduce yourself to The Repairman.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

THE BIG SHOWDOWN by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

The Big Showdown is the follow up to Mickey Spillane’s and Max Allan Collins’ The Legend of Caleb York (2015). Caleb York is leaving Trinidad, New Mexico, where he has been sheriff since knocking down corrupted lawman and shakedown artist Harry Gauge, to take a job in the Pinkerton Detective Agency’s San Diego office. A good replacement has been found for Trinidad’s sheriff with Ben Wade, and as Caleb is saying goodbye to the girl he will regret leaving, Willa Cullen, Trinidad’s only bank is robbed at gunpoint.
Caleb guns down two of the robbers in the street, but the third escapes, a majority of the bank’s cash on his horse. The robbery leaves the bank near financial ruin, which could be fatal for both bank and Trinidad if the townsfolk demand their money. Caleb pledges to stay on as Trinidad’s sheriff until the final robber is caught, and the money is recovered.
The Big Showdown is a fine crime and Western hybrid. There is murder, fraud, and violence. The crime element features nicely placed and believable forensic crime scene interpretation by Caleb and the town’s doctor. There are gunfights, intrigue, and a lovable town drunk turned sober deputy. The prose is smooth as glass. The plot is interesting and while the master mind behind all the troubles in Trinidad is less than a mystery, how it plays out is satisfying and surprising.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

A Stephen Mertz Music Mystery: "Jimi After Dark"

From Stephen Mertz—
Movies often claim to be “Based on a True Story.”
My new novel, Jimi After Dark, may or may not be based on the truth.

The real-life characters in the book include the late Monika Dannemann (Jimi’s last girlfriend), the late Michael Jeffrey (Jimi’s shady manager), and the immortal Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix. The hero, Soldier, and all of the other characters are figments of the author’s imagination.
The novel was inspired by Jimi’s assertion, made to associates and his inner circle on more than one occasion, that he had been kidnapped in England by armed thugs in October, 1969 and held captive until other armed thugs came to his rescue. Jimi claimed that Mike Jeffrey was involved. I invoked Literary license in shifting this alleged incident to Jimi’s final days, which is the time frame of the novel.
I refer to the “alleged incident” because no such kidnapping was ever reported to the authorities. The skepticism Jimi’s claims invoked among those he told prompted him to soon refrain from mentioning it. Jimi’s “kidnapping” is much debated among Hendrix scholars. Debunkers have, over the years, unearthed convincing evidence that the whole scenario could well have been a drug-addled fabrication by Jimi intended to further cloud his legal problems...
Jimi After Dark is now available in ebook and trade paperback.

Notes about the author. Stephen Mertz has written first class fiction across four decades. An original writer of The Executioner action series (featuring Mack Bolan), after its creator Don Pendleton stopped writing the novels, his 1984 novel Day of Mourning is considered by most as a classic entry in the series. He created and helmed no less than two adventure series during the 1980s: M.I.A. Hunter and Cody’s Army. In the early years of the 21st Century he moved away from his pulp beginnings to write his most ambitious and best works, including The Castro Directive, Hank & Muddy, Dragon Games, and The Korean Intercept.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Mystery Scene Issue No. 149

The latest issue of Mystery Scene Magazine—No. 149—is at a newsstand near you. As usual, it is packed. It features Ron Miller’s terrific article “Why Can’t the Movie Be Just Like the Book?” “The Small World of Modern Thrillers” by Nicholas Barber and the second part of Lawrence Block’s “How to be a Writer Without Writing Anything,” which I’m still using as a blueprint for my future projects.

It also features my short story review column, “Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered.” All of the column reviews are currently available in the print edition and most are also available at MS’s website. In the column I discuss:
Bound by Mystery, edited by Diane D. DiBiase, is an anthology celebrating Poisoned Pen Press’ 20th anniversary.
Anatomy of Innocence is an anthology, but also something very different from my usual coverage since it features true stories about men and women of have been wrongly convicted, and since released, of crimes they didn’t commit.
The January/February issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, featuring stories by Hugh Pentecost, S. J. Rozan, Brendan DuBois and nine others. Unfortunately this is a print exclusive.
The Purple Flame and Other Detective Stories, collecting 15 traditional mysteries by Frederick Irving Anderson.
There are also three of my book reviews in Issue No. 149. The titles: Heretics by Leonardo Padura, The Day of the Lie by William Brodrick, and Undertow by R. M. Greenaway. The book reviews are all available at MS’s website:
Heretics by the Cuban author Leonardo Padura is an interesting and well-developed, if a little long, private detective novel set in Cuba.  
The Day of the Lie by William Brodrick is the fourth novel featuring Father Anselm that is more thought provoking than thrilling.
Undertow by R. M. Greenaway is a fine Canadian police procedural set in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The reviews are available online at Mystery Scene’s website—click the titles above.
Mystery Scene is available at many newsstands, including Barnes & Noble, and available for order at MS’s website.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

COPP ON ICE by Don Pendleton

The fifth in the Joe Copp series, Copp on Ice, is pure hardboiled fun. Joe Copp, the toughest most righteous P.I. in Southern California, is hired on a short term basis as the chief of police for the growing inland city of Brighton. The city manager has promised him 48 hours, but Joe will be lucky if he makes it 36. His mission: find Brighton PD's corrupt cops and kick every last one to the curb, dead or alive. And corruption is exactly what Joe finds. Enough to make him good and angry.

Heavy on the hardboiled—prose and attitude alike—Copp on Ice reads like a shot of rock candy. The mystery quick and satisfying. The social commentary rough-edged, but illuminating and surprisingly relevant more than 25 years after its original release. The fun includes a climactic gunfight shot in the nude, more than a handful of murders, mostly cops, a house of sin and graft, sexual perversion and more. And Joe Copp, the man on a mission, the man with a code, the man who gets the job done, the man who is anything but an enigma, is always entertaining in his rough, over-the-top tough guy way.

Friday, April 07, 2017


Dan J. Marlowe.  The name alone brings an echo of the hardboiled—

“I’ll be leaving one of these days, and the day I do they’ll never forget it.” 

He wrote in the heyday of the paperback original.  His best work was published by Gold Medal, and his novels stand above most of his contemporaries as hard, uncompromising masterpieces of hardboiled crime and suspense. 

His life was as strange as his fiction: he is likely the plainest womanizer exported by Massachusetts; he gambled professionally for several years; he befriended, lived with, and co-wrote several short stories with the notorious bank robber Al Nussbaum; and late in life he developed memory loss and something called aphasia—“partial or total inability to write and understand words.”     
And all that is only the beginning.  Not to mention it was parroted from the introduction, written by Marlowe’s biographer Charles Kelly, to the new trade paperback double published by Stark House Press.  It features two of Marlowe’s best novels, which really, are two halves a single story: The Name of the Game is Death (Gold Medal 1962), and One Endless Hour (Gold Medal 1969). 

The novels tell the genesis story of Marlowe’s Earl Drake series character.  Drake is not a likable man.  He is a bank robber with a predilection for killing people.  He doesn’t kill simply to kill, but kill he does.  The Name of the Game is Death opens at the scene of a botched bank robbery with Drake shot in the escape.  He and his partner split up, and Drake finds a doctor and a dark place to hide until he is recuperated and the heat is off, which is when the story really begins.  His partner went missing with the money, and Drake is broke.  The rest of Name of the Game is Drake’s search for his partner, and the money, and One Endless Hour is the fallout.

The two novels merge into one complete and engrossing story, which is not to say either is dependent on the other; both are complete with beginning, middle, and end.  However the plot in One Endless Hour is built directly from Name of the Game.  In fact, the final chapter of Name of the Game is included, with a few adjustments as the Prologue to One Endless Hour.  

Name of the Game is the stronger of the two novels.  It includes an exposition of Drake’s childhood, explaining (without apologizing) for Drake’s seeming amoral character.  Its backstory emphasis and character development is reminiscent of John D. MacDonald, but only just.  Its prose is raw and hardboiled—

“I swear both his feet were off the ground when he fired at me.  The odds must have been sixty thousand to one, but he took me in the left upper arm.  It smashed me back against the car.  I steadied myself with a hand on the roof and put two a yard behind each other right through his belt buckle.  If they had their windows open they could have heard him across town.”

—and it is more thematically related to Jim Thompson than John D.

One Endless Hour is more of a straight caper novel.  It lacks Name of the Game’s character development, and backstory, but it flashes pure action.  And, if you consider the two novels as one story, it is the climactic resolution.  The differences in pacing and plotting act to strengthen the two novels’ impact rather than diminish it, and the new Stark House edition is the perfect way to experience the story arc.  

Purchase a copy of The Name of the Game is Death / One Endless Night at Amazon.

This review was originally posted May 19, 2013, but I thought it might be of interest again.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Recalled to Life"

Recalled to Life was serialized in the June and August, 1958 issues of Infinity Science Fiction. The edition that caught my eye is the mass market published by Lancer Focus in 1967. The dominantly orange high tech machinery below a solid white background is marvelously dated. The artist: Unknown (to me at least).

The opening paragraph:
“That morning James Harker was not expecting anything unusual to happen. He had painstakingly taught himself, these six months since election, not to expect anything. He had returned to private law practice, and the  Governorship and all such things were now bright memories, growing dimmer each month.”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Western Fiction Review's Take on RED ROCK RAMPAGE

Western Fiction Review reviews Blaze! Red Rock Rampage in a very nice way. Steve Myall, editor of WFR, is an expert on series Western fiction and his review means a great deal to me. A few of my favorite parts:

“This is Ben Boulden’s first entry into this multi-authored series and what a terrific addition it is. Filled with action from the word go the author weaves a twisting plot that sees both J.D. and Kate facing many deadly situations.”
“Ben Boulden’s descriptive writing puts you right there in the thick of the action and his characterization of both good and bad is very well drawn, enabling you to share their emotions.”
“…this fast moving tale that ought to please all fans of westerns.”
You can read the entire review at Western Fiction Review.

Blaze! Red Rock Rampage is available in ebook, exclusively for Kindle (also available for Kindle Unlimited), and paperback everywhere.

If you read RRR, let send me an email and let me know what you think.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Don Pendleton's Stewart Mann Series by Stephen Mertz

I read this essay about five early Don Pendleton novels, featuring Stewart Mann rather than Mack Bolan, written by DP devotee, all-around great human, and terrific writer Stephen Mertz a few years ago. Steve was kind enough to allow me to reprint it here. The books are difficult to find, and maybe even harder is trying to filch a decent cover scan or two. And if you find these books, take pity and send a few to me.

I was in need of some light reading, and so just finished one of Don’s earliest books, a Stewart Mann, private eye novel called The Hot One (1966), written as by Stephan Gregory.

It was a hoot and if you haven’t yet sampled the Mann series (there were five books), you owe yourself a glance at another side of Don that he rarely (understandably) revealed in the Bolan novels: he was one funny dude.  I’ll always remember his warm Arkansas chuckle.  The Mann novels are cast in the Shell Scott/Carter Brown style of sexy, breezy, funny, hard-hitting short mysteries that were popular in the 1950s and 60s.  In fact, The Hot One totally holds its own in the Prather level of ribald detective fun. 

This isn’t the voice Don used in his Joe Copp private eye books, by which time he’d firmly carved his own distinctive writing style, but is that of an enthusiastic young writer stretching his muscles for the main event (Bolan is three years away, remember).  But there is foreshadowing of the big guy to come.  Towards the end of this book, Mann has his moment of despair and considers bailing when he has a chance, but Don has him reflect, “Bug out, Mann, bug out.  And I started to.  But I knew I’d spend the rest of my life feeling like a whipped pup.  I did care about the people involved.” 

But about the humor: as this is a “sexy” 1966 paperback, most of the funny stuff are witty asides about this gal or that; my favorite is when Stew and a chick are trapped and it looks for sure like they’re gonna die, but when she sees Mann, she starts touching up her face.  Don writes, “I watched idly, marveling at that creature called woman.  At the gates of hell a woman would ask Lucifer for a comb and lipstick.”  The plot is the purest hokum, seat-of-the-pants plotting with holes big enough to drive the War Wagon through…and I loved every word.

Well, almost every word. 

A few caveats are in order if this series sounds interesting enough to you to go on-line in search of it.  The ones to start with are The Insatiables and Madam Murder, which were published exactly as Don wrote them.  The Hot One and The Sexy Saints were “spiced up” with about 10 pages of graphic sex (written by the editor) scattered throughout each book.  Don was a romantic writer and these passages are easy to spot in their crudeness (and easy to skip over).  More problematic is Don’s wonderful naming of Mann’s self-destructive sex impulse: ol’ creature.  Just when everything is going hunky-dory for Mann, on a case or with life in general, ol’ creature stirs.  Stew got booted from the Marines for doing a General’s daughter.  Kicked off the cops for doing the captain’s wife.  It’s a great literary device.  Well, in Saints and Hot One, ol’ creature becomes ol’ baldy.  Which I think is hilarious.  Whenever the subject came up in conversation, Don invariably repeated the new name, rolled his eyes and there was that soft Arkansas chuckle again. 

The only Mann to avoid is The Sex Goddess, which is incomprehensible through no fault of Don’s.  The book was over the word-length so the editor arbitrarily deleted three consecutive chapters from the middle of the book.  Yowza.

Upon finishing The Hot One, I found myself leafing through my correspondence with Don from when I was just a writer-in-the-making—a year from my first professional sale, two years from my first book sale.  I had initially written Don a straight up fan letter, and waited awhile before letting on that I nurtured dreams of a writing career.  In a letter to me dated 24 March 1974, Don wrote:
“I could have guessed that you too are a writer.  Keep at it.  Nobody ever said it was easy—and I’ll let you in on another little truth.  The more “successful” you get, the harder “it” gets.  I used to knock out those Stephan Gregory books in 5 or 6 days and never feel a pain.  Now I pace the floor and sweat blood to get 8 or 10 pages a day.  But it’s all worth it, so hell keep at it.”

Thanks, Don—for Stewart Mann, and for the advice.