Tuesday, May 08, 2018

THE CHAMELEON THIEF OF CAIRO


THE CHAMELEON THIEF OF CAIRO
By Stephen Jared
Solstice Publishing
127 pgs

It is 1948 and actor turned adventurer, Jack Hunter, longs for nothing more than to settle down with his wife and kids. When an old CIA spymaster named Kitchener shows up on his doorstep, he knows his quiet life is about to come to an end. Kitchener has come looking for Jack’s best friend, former fighter pilot, Clancy Halloway. It seems one of Clancy’s old war buddies, on assignment in Egypt, has mysteriously vanished and Kitchener is hoping to recruit Clancy to find him.

What sounds like a simple enough mission is anything but. All of Egypt is in turmoil. The British having finally left and various political factions; both old and new, are vying for control of that ancient land. Somewhere in that chaotic brew, spies come and go with allegiances changing constantly. Knowing Clancy is heading into a world of constant danger, Jack decides to accompany him, much to his wife’s displeasure. But he truly has no other choice. Having become a man of honor, there is no way he can abandon Clancy when he is needed the most.

Once in Cairo, the last known location of the missing spy, Bounce Cavanagh, the duo find themselves frustrated at every turn. Then a dead Egpytian youth is found in their hotel room and both are questioned by the authorities. It is through them that Jack and Clancy learn of an elusive former Nazis named Krueger said to be operating in the area and affiliated with certain revolutionary groups. But does this German spy have anything to do with the fate of the American agent and if so, how does it relate to the plans of the fringe radicals?

As ever, Stephen Jared spins an old fashion, colorful tale of intrigue, mystery and the noble sacrifice of loyalty. In a world where no one can be trusted, Jack and Clancy’s unyielding friendship may be the one real advantage they have of completing their mission and surving it. This is a well plotted thriller that moves at a comfortable pace, eschewing cheap stereotypical action for skillful characterizations. In the end, it is a classic tale of romantic adventure that does not disappoint. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

KILLING TOWN


KILLING TOWN
The Lost First Mike Hammer Thriller!
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Titan Books
225 pages

Sometimes Christmas comes early. That was our first reaction upon learning Max Allan Collins and the folks at Titan Books were about to publish the first Mike Hammer book by the late Mickey Spillane. In his introduction to “Killing Town,” Collins explains the history behind this “lost” manuscript that predates the 1947 release of Spillane’s “I, the Jury,” which first introduced the tough-guy New York P.I. to the reading public and forever set crime fiction on its butt. It’s an introduction Spillane fans will appreciate.

As for the tale itself, it kicks off with Hammer arriving in a small Rhode Island burg named Killington under the cover of darkness. He is on a private mission and does not want his presence known save for the one person he has come to find. That’s mystery number one. Then, within a few hours of his arrival, he is assaulted by the local police and arrested. The charge, the rape and murder of a young woman. Mystery number two.

It quickly becomes clear to the ex-Marine, that he is being framed and the cops are working for the town’s real authority, one ex-Senator Charles Killington. But why? Hammer’s mission has nothing to do with the Killingtons who own the two biggest companies in the hamlet; a cannery and glue making factory.

With one legal setback after another, witnesses paid off to indict him; Hammer is close to revealing all when he is saved by the Senator’s beautiful daughter Melba who provides him with a false alibi. Upon his release from jail, she then tells him the price of his freedom is that he has marry her.  Mystery number three.

“Killing Town,” like all Spillane thrillers, has more twists and turns then a San Francisco street. While along the route we encounter familiar landmarks; brutal corrupt cops, deadly mob assassins and sexy women with devious agendas. This is Hammer country and before once can even begin to decipher the puzzle, bullets start flying and bodies begin piling up like Lincoln Logs. We gratefully tip our pulp fedora to Misters Spillane and Collins and the good folks at Titan Books. This indeed was a special kind of gift you don’t want to miss.

Friday, April 27, 2018

"No Harp for My Angel." "Booty for a Babe." "Eve, It's Extortion."


“No Harp for My Angel”
“Booty for a Babe”
“Eve, It’s Extortion”
3 by Carter Brown
Stark House Press
298 pgs

Once again Stark House Press delivers a package of reprint classics. This time featuring three Detective Al Wheeler mysteries by Australian scribe Alan Geoffrey Yates writing as Carter Brown. As with all such collections from this wonderful publisher, the stories themselves are preceded by an informative essay on Yates and his life as a paperback writer by Rick Ollerman; itself worthy of the price of the book. As a child growin up in the 50s, we had an uncle who devoured paperback mysteries as if they were popcorn, reading a minimum of six per week. His nose was always buried in one of those little tomes; all of them featuring tough guy and hot babe covers. The one name we distinctly remember appearing over most of this sexy images was that of Carter Brown and for good reason. In his writing career he wrote hundred of them.

“No Harp for My Angel,” has Det. Wheeler on vacation in Florida when he runs afoul of a casino thug named Johnny Lynch with serious ambitions rise in the criminal underworld. At the same time lovely young socialites, daughters of prominent families, begin disappearing and the local cops believe Lynch is involved. Whereas Wheeler is a new face in town, he is recruited to go undercover as New York crook and learn not only what is happening to the missing girls but how it connects to the mobster. Naturally, in all such adventures, Wheeler not only has to contend with several deadly bruisers while mainting his disguise, but also a raven haired femme fatale who might very easily spell his doom if he becomes infatuated with her charms.

The second short novel is called “Booty for a Babe.” The guest speaker at a small weekend science-fiction club is murdered in the middle of the grand hall when a dart is shot into his heart. Eighty-five eye witnesses and all of them instant suspects. To solve the case, Commissoner Lavers sends in Det. Al Wheeler because of his unorthodox methods. Of course part of that includes flirting with every good looking dame on the scene. The problem is once the convention ends, the attendees get to go home. It’s Wheeler’s job to see the killer isn’t set free with them. This one is breeze and fun, with Wheeler’s wisecracking par for the course and early sci-fi takes a serious shellacking.

“Eve, It’s Extortion,” is the third and final book in the collection and our personal favorite. When a drunk is the victim of a hit and run, he leaves his beautiful widow a tidy sum of cash. Moss, the insurance agent, suspects foul play and convinces Police Commissiner Lavers to investigate. The commissioner assigns Al Wheeler to the case. As ever, the cocky, wise-cracking lieutenant soon finds himself elbow deep in beautiful, but deadly women; from Eve, the widow to a claims hunter named Edna Bright and a mischievous redhead named Natalie. Amidst this bevy of beauties he finds blackmailers and killers all intermingle in a pretzel like affair that will take all his unorthodox luck to solve. This is a breezy, fun caper that doesn’t disappoint. Wheeler even gets the girl in the end.

All in all, Stark House Mystery Classics delivers another great package celebrating the glorious days of paperback mayhem. This is one all mystery loves will appreciate.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

VEGAS HEIST


VEGAS HEIST
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
231 pgs

Some books seem to fly through your hands; they being that much fun to read. Such is the case with Van Plexico’s new offering, “Vegas Heist.” A serious change of course for a writer best known for sci-fi and superhero prose, this time Plexico ventures into crime fiction and he does so with surprising results. It is quite clear from page one that our author is a Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake fan, as his characters are familiar iconic types seen over and over again in the works of those two great writers. And still, despite these obvious clones, Plexico adds his own satirical whimsy to the caper giving it an authentic historical background and infusing it with a pacing remindful of a short, lit fuse. Any second you know it’s going to explode.

John Harper, a professional thief, does his best avoid schemes involving robbing the casinos of Los Vegas. Why? Because the obvious risks far outweighted the slim possibilities of monetary gain. Then one day his old pal, Los Vegas Attorney Saul “Salsa” Salzman calls him with a plan that in its concept is almost foolproof. During during the building of Caesar’s Palace, one of the many construction contractors, one Roy Funderburk, had a secret tunnel built under hotel leading several miles under the city streets to an innocuous exit no one has yet to uncover. 

With the hotel nearly completed and due to open on New Year’s Eve, all they would have to do is assemble a team, find the hidden tunnel entrance and undetected, break into the vault, steal the cash and be gone before anyone was the wiser. The only glitch is a two bit mobster murdered Funderburk before he could reveal exactly where this tunnel entry was  located.  But Salsa doesn’t see that as a problem and convinces Harper they can find the disguised locale long before the grand opening. Tempted by the possibility of a rich grab, Harper agrees to take on the job and, with Salsa’s advice, they hire two more men; Tommy Donovan, an old time safe cracker, and Brett Rooker, a big, beefy thug to be their security muscle.

With the team assembled, they head to Sin City and the grand future that awaits them. Of course in all such tales, things are never exactly what they appear to me and soon Harper learns that there are other players in their little play. Primary among these are Julian Monti, the small time hood who killed Funderburk, and told Salsa about the secret tunnel, and Lois Funderburk, the dead man’s widow who knows a lot more than they were led to believe. Harper’s personal philosophy is never trust anyone and on this heist, it is one that may just keep him alive.

“Vegas Heist,” is one of those books impossible to put down. Like his characters, Plexico brings us along his own devious plotting filled with twist and turns that you don’t see coming until the very end. It is a terrific read and one we highly recommend. As for John Harper, we want more; a whole lot more.

Monday, March 26, 2018

DAYFALL


DAYFALL
By Michael David Ares
Tor Books
286 pgs

In the not too distant future, Pakistan and India suffer a nuclear confrontation which has disastrous results throughout the globe. Ice melting in subartic regions and Greenland causes rising water levels and twenty percent of New York City is lost. Other parts of the eastern seacoast suffer varying degrees of this “nuclear winter” wherein the sun if blocked for lengthy periods of time. Hardest hit is New York and for ten years its survivors learn to live in darkness until the after effects of the catastrophe begin to dissipate and the clouds begin to thin.

Scientist start predicting what they call Dayfall will soon herald the return of the sun and banish the stygian darkness. At the same time they caution the authorities that such a dramatic reappearance of daylight could cause psychological issues with the populace and the Manhattan Police Department is put on alert. But how does one prepare for something totally unprecedented? Just as the momentous day is fast approaching, a vicious serial killer emerges on the scene. This fiend butchers his victims with knives, leaving their bloody corpses in pieces. He is soon labeled the Dayfall Killer.

Frantic to catch this monster and avoid city-wide panic, the Mayor hires a young Philadelphia detective named Jon Phillips. Supposedly he is uniquely qualified as he had single handedly captured another such killer in Philly only a few weeks earlier. Phillips has only twenty-four short hours to find his new target. And if that challenge isn’t enough as is, he quickly learns there is an underlying political battle at play between the Mayor and an independent police force known as Gotham Security.  Owned and conceived by Gar Render, GS wants to usurp the local police with Render as the next Mayor.

“Dayfall,” is a pulpish noir mix of violence, social engineering and selfish paranoia expertly brewed to create a fast paced, suspenseful thriller unlike anything else on the market today. Whereas it really isn’t science fiction but rather a science thriller. Writer Michael David Ares is definately a name to remember.

Friday, March 16, 2018

THE CURSE OF THE BLOOD FIENDS



CURSE OF THE BLOOD FIENDS
By P.J. Thorndyke
Celluloid Terrors
298 pages

Receiving books from authors we are unfamiliar with is always an exciting event. It leads us to a new door wherein we wonder what awaits on the other side; something fantastically good, something mediocre or, heaven forbid, something gawd awful. We are delighted to report that P.J. Thorndyke’s “Curse of the Blood Fiends” lands solidly in that first grouping and with a tremendous splash. Enough so that we really hope you’ll take this review to heart and run and get your own copy. Really, it is that much fun.

The time is World War II and the military is looking for any advantage it can muster to help us win our campaigns in both Europe and the South Pacific. To that end they sponsor a mad scientist’s expedition to the Rain Forest of the Amazon. It is led by a well known big-game warden named Henry Gross. The scientist is looking for a leaf based chemical that can revive the dead with the intent on using it to bring back fallen GIs and sending them back into combat as unyielding zombies.

No sooner is the compound discovered, then Gross is bitten by jungle werewolf and is then himself infected with the curse. He flees the base and returns to his home in Los Angeles in hopes of finding a cure him of his beastly condition. Instead, after a series of depressing encounters, Gross turns into his new hairy persona and begins biting others. Here the entire plot does a wild detour. It seems Gross’ bite not only changes humans into werewolves, but it also transforms others in to vampires.  All too soon Tinsel Town is being overrun with these nocturnal monsters. The city police find themselves overwhelmed with creatures far beyond their understanding and abilities to deal with.

Amidst all this action, we find Rosa Bridger, a lady P.I. engaged to a Hollowood leading man. Bridger, in trying to locate a lost starlet, uncovers a vampire nest in Beverly Hills where captive humans are being held as living blood banks to feed to undead. Oh, and did we mention that her fiancee’s younger brother is attempting to revive a thousand year old mummy in the family’s mansion?

What P.J. Thorndyke has done is given us all the classic Universal Monsters and brought them together albeit in new and original ways culminating in several over-the-top clashes that had this reviewer cheering wildly. Filled with panache, his prose is controlled and creates a steady pace that never once lets up leading the reader to one of the most satisfying climaxes this side of a Saturday Afternoon Monster Matinee.  “Curse of the Blood Fiends” is old-fashion thrills, spills and fun. The kind you thought lost forever. Well, you were wrong. This book has it all. Now go buy a copy!

Monday, February 26, 2018

NIGHTWISE



NIGHTWISE
By R. S. Belcher
Tor Books
352 pgs

This is the third R. S. Belcher novel we’ve read in the past two years and we are fast becoming devoted fans. Whereas the first two were part of a weird western series, “Nightwise” is a twisted, dark tale of modern witchcraft and wizardry unafraid of venturing into horrific fields of imagination.

Latham Ballard is a wizard whose name is known throughout the magic world; referred to as The Life. At a child, mentored by his Granny, Latham used his supernatural powers to revive a dead squirrel. From that point on there was no turning back and his life became one bizarre adventure after another; most involving deadly out-of-this world battles with all manner of fantastic creatures. In fact, he caused so much trouble, the Nightwise, an organization of wizards devoted to protecting humanity, expelled him. This came as no surprise to Ballard, as he was never comfortable in the hero role and saw himself as a pure, unadulterated selfish bastard.

As the books opens, Ballard visits one of his remaining friends, another wizard named Branco Boj who is dying of AIDS. Years earlier, Boj’s wife had been savagely butchered by a wizard named Dusan Slorzack. Boj ask Ballard to find Slorzack and kill him. Ballard agrees and thus the chase begins though the rogue wizard has no real idea what a powerful mage he is hunting.

It soon begins clear to Ballard, that Slorzack is a heartless killer able to elude even the most complex searching techniques, both technical and magical. Then, along the hunt, Ballard uncovers a new type of American made magic born during the early days of the country’s history. All of which is centered around a mystical place called The Greenway. What is this strange alien magic all about and what is the significance of The Greenway to Dusan Slorzack?

R.S. Belcher pulls out all the stops in delivering a brutal story about the true meanings of the human heart; loneliness, love, despair, anger, and unyielding hope against the cruelest fates.  It is a brilliant page turner and carves another notch in this writer’s remarkable career. If you aren’t familiar with him, we urge you to do so now and enjoy the ride. He won’t let you down.