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Feb 012015

By Steve Bryant
Dark Horse
240 pages

When’s the last time you were able to buy a terrific comic book hardback for $20? You’re probably scratching your head right now and coming up with squat.  That’s because it’s been that long a time since a superb, quality comic package like this was made available at such a great price. Okay, enough of the sales pitch and no, we don’t work for Dark Horse.

Steve Bryant’s Athena Voltaire is a gorgeous female version of Indiana Jones.  And that’s really all you need to know about the character to jump right into her adventures; all of which read like they could easily have been adapted as Republic Studio cliff-hanger serials starring Linda Stirling.  And now that we’ve said that, I think Stirling would have made a great cinematic Athena.

Athena’s father was a famous stage magician, she grew up traveling the world with her parents, became a stunt pilot and eventually began her own flying services.  It is the 1930s and the Nazis are popping up all over the globe looking for arcane artifacts their Fuehrer can use to rule the world.  In the five colorful graphic adventures collected between these covers, Ms Voltaire travels from Tibet to Mexico and lots of other exotic locales to thwart these agents of the Third Reich from allying themselves with all kinds of demons and monsters.  Trust us, her adventures are always fast paced, thrilling and action packed. 

In this era of the New Pulp Movement, Athena Voltaire shines as one of the finest pulp heroes ever created.  If you truly love pulp, you owe it to yourself to pick up this book.  Then once you’ve have, buckle up for adventure.  With Athena Voltaire it never stops!

How I Came to Write This Story: "THE CAPE"

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Feb 012015
This story, included in the HISTORY AND MYSTERY, OH MY anthology started out as a quick little flash fiction story about Caruso's entanglement with the law when he fondled a woman at the Bronx Zoo.
In enlarging it for this anthology, I wanted to look at the incident more closely from the viewpoint of the tailor who made the fur coat (with slits for Caruso's hands) that he wore on the fateful day. How he saw the fur coat as his opportunity to increase his wealthy clientele and perhaps eventually move uptown.
It was fun looking into life on the lower east side at the turn of the last century and what a shop like his might be like.The story is true except for the parts about the tailor. It is very possible the coat was made uptown and not downtown at all. But I like to think my little tailor was responsible.

You can find this available on kindle and soon it will also be in print.
Feb 012015
That's kind of a goofy cover (what else would you expect from Trojan Publications?), but I like it. And I'm sure the stories inside this issue of HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE are goofy but fun, too. Robert Leslie Bellem wrote two of them under his own name, Dan Turner yarns, of course, plus the Dan Turner comic strip, plus stories under his pseudonyms Ellery Watson Calder and Harley L. Court. Filling
Feb 012015

Hollywood has never met an old idea that it didn’t try to make new again, but this past year they’ve managed to do it surprisingly well.  A good number of the 2015 Oscar nominated films were based on books, and what is shocking is that the movie adaptations were often as good, if not better, than the original formats.  As a librarian it is my duty to provide reading assignments so that you may decide for yourself how the books compare to the nominated movies (some in technical categories):

 Alan Turing
  Alan Turing: The Enigma, by Andrew Hodges   - The Imitation Game is based on this nonfiction account of how Alan Turing eseentially invented the computer and helped the Allies win WWII by breaking the Enigma Cipher codes.  Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance is amazing as he portrays a man tragically destroyed by the country he saved.


 American sniper American Sniper:  The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in American History by Chris Kyle, Scott McKewen, and Jim Felice – It’s impossible not to watch this film and not be impacted by the real death of Chris Kyle during the movie's production.  There have been numerous disputes concerning the accuracy of some of Kyle’s stateside activities in his memoir, but  Kyle's skills and kills were well-documented.  The film itself is a rather apolitical presentation of the war and mirrors Kyle’s unquestioning dedication to his duties as a soldier, as well as the challenges he faced when coming home.  Bradley Cooper is quiet but physically huge in his immersive performance, and the conclusion showing real footage of Kyle’s funeral destroyed me.

  SunfireSunfire & Big Hero 6 by Scott Lobdell, Gus Vazquez, & Bud Larosa – This was an adult Marvel X-men spinoff that included their Asian characters, Sunfire and the Silver Samurai.  Apparently Marvel wanted to cash in on the Asian market and would later combine them with their other minority characters…Canadians.  Big Hero 6 would go on to appear in a team-up with Alpha Flight.  Disney's film version is very entertaining for a younger audience, but be warned, there is a lotof death for a children's film.

  Captain AmericaCaptain America: Civil War by Ed Brubaker – The movie Winter Soldier was not based on a specific graphic novel, but if you want a preview of where the franchise is going read Captain America: Civil War.  This is an outstanding graphic novel that brings modern-day politics into the superhero arena. 

  FoxcatcherFoxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother's Murder, John du Pont's Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold by Mark Schultz and David Thomas.  Mark Schultz has had a few issues with the movie and possibly been a little quick to react on social media, but this is a moving memoir of two brothers’ complex relationship and the sociopathic man who both mentored and destroyed them.

  Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Spoilers!  But seriously, you've been hiding in a cave if you haven't yet heard of the "twist" in the film and book.  Flynn had the rare opportunity to also write the screenplay, so it’s interesting that the film seems to present a far more sympathetic view of the husband. This is one of the rare cases where seeing the movie before reading the book makes for a better film experience.  It also makes me so glad that I’m not married.


  GuardiansGuardians of the Galaxy – There is a reason that when Marvel announced this Guardians 2new franchise everybody said, “Who?”  This is a very weird comic series and will appeal to those who like...the unique. The orginial comic was published in 1969, but good luck finding that one.  There was a reissue in 2008 that has the action still taking place in space but with fewer interactions with the Defenders and The Avengers. 

  HobbitThe Hobbit; or, There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien –  The final in the film trilogy was this year's The Hobbit:  The Battle of the Five Armies (the Eagles were an army).  We did not need three movies from what was essentially a children’s book.  Despite being intended for a younger audience, be prepared for an impressively high body count.  Peter Jackson added characters and subplots that are barely mentioned or not mentioned at all in The Hobbit to stretch out the films (and make up for the lack of females in the book). While I loved the book and the many confusing names that I may have I bleeped over, I remember seeing the original animated 1977 movie and thinking that they really should have just sent the Eagles in first.

How to Train Your Dragon How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Crowell - For children ages 7 and up, this is a delightful series of books about young Viking Hiccup and his dragon Toothless.  The books are full of humor and lessons on how to be a hero, and while the movies are a serious departure both are equally wonderful.


Inherent ViceInherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon – I have to admit, I’ve never read Pynchon.  But this is his extremely unique twist on the detective novel that takes place in the 60s, so I assume a lot of drugs and sex are involved.  Joaquin Phoenix is weird enough to capture the tone of the book.


MockingjayMockingjay by Suzanne Collins – As the series went on it never matched the quality of the first Hunger Games, and frankly, I found the books rather depressing.  Be prepared to know that things do not get more upbeat in the last half of the book that will become the next movie, Mockingjay Part Two.



Travelling to InfinityTravelling to Infinity:  My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking – This memoir by Stephen Hawking’s first wife was adapted into the film The Theory of Everything and is a tale of a marriage that was challenged as much by Stephen Hawking’s success as his illnesses.  And then the dude leaves her for his nurse.  


Unbroken:  A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,  by Laura Hillenbrand – The incredible true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who survived 47 days at sea and was rescued by the Japanese; who tortured him as a Prisoner of War for another year and a half.  Director Angelina Jolie said that she cut out real parts of his life from the movie because she didn’t think an audience would be able to believe they actually happened.  When was the last time you punched a shark?


WildWild:  From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed – Author Cheryl Strayed worked closely with Reece Witherspoon, keeping the sentiment and tone of the novel.  The mother-daughter relationship is outstanding in both.


  XmenX-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson – The movie title was changed to X-Men: Days of Future Past, with the much more marketable Wolverine time-traveling instead of Kitty Pryde.   This 1990 graphic novel is truly haunting for its Terminator-looking cover and Holocaust/Internment Camp themes.

 They was robbed and just because:

  SnowpiercerSnowpiercer by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette  – I loved this insane movie based on a graphic novel.  The movie itself was beautiful, Tilda Swinton was whackadoodle, Chris Evans was both stoic and desperate, and there was an ax battle scene.  In the future the entire surviving population lives on a train that circles Earth, with the poorest barely surviving in the back and the absurdly rich relaxing in the front.  Can we say, revolution?

 In the past, I don’t think that I ever enjoyed a movie after reading the book first.  When I read a book I visualize characters in my head, and seeing a film's translation afterwards is just too jarring .  Happily, that changed this past year.  Looking at this list of great films, there’s very little chance that there will be a shortage of future movie adaptations from books.  I can only hope that they continue  this trend of respecting the content of the book, even as they improve and refine the presentation.

Feb 012015
Today already brought us the list of nominees for this year’s Agatha Awards. Now come the five contenders for the 2015 Hammett Prize for literary excellence, chosen by the North American Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers.

Wayfaring Stranger, by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster)
Smoke River, by Krista Foss (McClelland & Stewart)
Gangsterland, by Tod Goldberg (Counterpoint)
Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King (Scribner)
Goodhouse, by Peyton Marshall (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

An announcement of which book and author wins this commendation will be made around the time of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association’s (NAIBA) Fall Conference, scheduled to be held in Somerset, New Jersey, from October 2 to 4.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)
Feb 012015

by Fred Blosser

Forget “Deflategate” and other, more troubling allegations of wrongdoing in real-life pro football that have made headlines in the past few months.  Here’s today’s question in the hours leading up to kickoff in Super Bowl 49:  How and where do the cultures of pro football and crime intersect in the world of fiction?  Here are some examples that come to mind immediately . . .

William Campbell Gault’s Southern California PI, Brock Callahan, was known as “The Rock” from his pro football days.  Brock was the Rock long before Dwayne Johnson.  Philip Marlowe played football, although probably in college, not professionally, where, in “a slight miscalculation in an attempt to block a punt, I blocked the guy’s foot instead” (THE LONG GOODBYE, Chapter 8).  If Marlowe played collegiate ball in the mid-1920s, I like to think that he may have lined up against my dad, Ernie Blosser, and his old High Point College, N.C.,  team in some parallel dimension where reality and fiction overlap.  If that was the case, I wonder if it was Dad’s foot that accidentally broke Marlowe’s nose?

Richard Stark’s Parker robs a football stadium in THE SEVENTH (1966).  In not entirely coincidental casting, when THE SEVENTH was made into the mediocre but interesting movie THE SPLIT (1968), the Parker character was played by Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Jim Brown.  THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991) opens with a star player running amok on the field with a gun during a big game.

My own favorite story combining crime and football is more obscure.  By my quick count, “Call Your Murder Signals!” was John D. MacDonald’s 80th published story, a 12,000-word novelette appearing in the June 1948 issue of DIME DETECTIVE.  How prolific was JDM in his journeyman years as a pulp writer?  Just consider that, at the time, he had only been writing professionally for two years.  That’s how prolific.

Like most of MacDonald’s other protagonists, the lead character of “Call Your Murder Signals!” isn’t the usual private eye or police detective pulp hero.  Benjamin “Tige” Gaynor, war hero and former All-American lineman, is coach of a pro football team called the Port Davis Travelers.  Tige runs afoul of an influential gossip columnist on the local paper, Welch Williams.  Tige is Williams’ rival for the affection of the columnist’s secretary, Ann Lowry.

Williams runs a column insinuating that Tige has compiled evidence about a shady betting racket that includes crooked players on the Travelers team as well as politically prominent figures.  The column suggests that Tige plans to use the information to blackmail the ringleaders and their henchmen, or failing that, to spill the details to the cops.

The column sets up Tige for a one-way ride with two players whom he’d kicked off the team on suspicion of trying to throw games, Bill Garson and Dane Jorgasen.  Garson shoots Tige with a .32, and thinking him dead, throws him out of the speeding car on a lonely road.  Deftly, MacDonald covers this backstory in a few paragraphs of terse exposition.  The novelette opens mid-action as Tige regains consciousness:

“Without knowing how it happened, I was on my face in the shallow ditch, and my hands were no longer tied. My right arm was twisted under me at a funny angle. I burned in a dozen places. My cheek rested in a puddle, and the rain beat down on me.

“The legs were gone, too. Oh, they were there, but they were old stockings filled with sand and putty.”

On the slender chance that someone may someday rescue and reprint “Call Your Murder Signals!”, I don’t want to reveal much more of the story.  Suffice to say that JDM introduces another female character, Kelly Wharton, as Tige Gaynor, badly bloodied but determined, sets out to even things with Williams, Garson, Jorgasen, and the higher-ups behind the  gambling racket.  Twelve more double-columned pages of the 17-page story remain, crammed with action and dire complications for the hero.

There’s a little bit of Raymond Chandler influence in JDM’s wordsmithing.  The description of Welch Williams from Tige’s first-person perspective calls to mind the polished but ruthless thugs who inhabit Chandler’s pulp tales and novels: “Welch Williams is a pretty boy with muscles who writes a dainty little column which nibbles with icy teeth at the foibles of the four hundred in Port Davis.  The guy is rough.”

Nevertheless, MacDonald has already put his personal stamp on content and style.  He’s already forged the terse, wry prose that characterizes his work, with full expression in his novels from the 1950s onward, as in this exchange between Tige and pert, wholesomely attractive Kelly Wharton:

“She was suddenly serious.  ‘You should be dead, Benjamin.’

“ ‘Huh?  What’s this Benjamin?’

“ ‘Your name. We got it off your driver’s license. Dad says that you are called Tige.  That name sounds as though you ought to be scratched behind the ears.  How did you get it?’ ”

“Call Your Murder Signals!” earns cover billing, if not the cover illustration by the great Norman Saunders, and a wonderful double-page black-and-white interior drawing (uncredited -- Stan Drake, maybe?) from the climactic scene: Williams holds a gun on Tige as Ann Lowry watches in a sexy nightgown and robe.  The blurb on the magazine’s contents page is pure pulp platinum: “Snap into kill formation, boys, and -- CALL YOUR MURDER SIGNALS! When the trigger toughs tried to bench him for keeps, All-American Gaynor decides he’d rather do-in than die.”

MacDonald’s pulp stories turn up occasionally in new anthologies.  Maybe “Call Your Murder Signals!” will be retrieved after 67 years.  At least, in the words of Jake Barnes, isn’t it pretty to think so.

Tales Of Terror (1962)

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Feb 012015
The conclusion of Edgar Allan Poe Week

Three short sequences based on Poe tales: 

The Black Cat 
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar".


Directed by Roger Corman

Vincent Price as Fortunato/Valdemar/Locke
Maggie Pierce as Lenora Locke
Leona Gage as Morella Locke
Edmund Cobb as Driver
Debra Paget as Helene Valdemar
David Frankham as Valdermar's physician
Peter Lorre as Montresor Herringbone
Joyce Jameson as Annabel Herringbone
Basil Rathbone as Mr. Carmichael
 Posted by at 2:14 am

Things That Make You go…

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Feb 012015

I just learned that my work is available in 666 libraries in the U.S.

Proving as clearly as anything that Mr. Satan is everywhere.

That’s kind of neat, though, I guess. I mean, now I don’t feel like a complete unknown outside some of the more questionable watering holes in the lesser Mexican area.

Another thing that makes me feel I’m making progress in this writing thing is that my second co-authored novel with the legendary Clive Cussler is now up for pre-order: The Solomon Curse. Releases in September.

The last one hit the #2 position on the NY Times list its second week out. Not a terrible showing. Seems to have sold a few copies, too, so all good. And my novella in Steven Konkoly’s The Perseid Collapse Kindle world, Deadly Calm, will go live on Feb. 3rd, which will no doubt put me over the top. For those who enjoy my balls to the wall action romps, it’s a good example of how I roll. It turned out well, and I believe it’s a worthwhile entrant into the whole Kindle world thing. Worth checking out.

What does it all mean? Beats me. I’m still writing every day, putting in more than full time hours, clocking 4-6 miles on the treadmill desk, which is the bomb, and a must-have for full time desk monkeys. There was another study published the other day that says sitting kills. So it’s not just a matter of trying to cram in exercise when you don’t have the time – it’s a matter of life and death. I’m completely happy with mine, and will get another in a heartbeat whenever this one burns out.

Beyond that, what the hell happened to January? I mean, it was just here, and now it’s gone. Seems like that’s happening a lot lately – time gets away from me, and soon it’s another year under the belt and deeper in debt.

Things in my neck of the woods are returning to normal now post-Hurricane Odile, although crime in La Paz is off the hook since the storm – they’ve been averaging a shooting per day there as two factions of the same cartel battle it out for the meth trade in the barrios. It’s a hundred miles from me, so I’m not that worried, although that’s only a couple hours drive, so too damn close for comfort. Given a population of 350K or so in La Paz, at 350 intentional homicides per year, which is about one a day, the ratio per 100K population would be…100. To put that into perspective, the ratio in the U.S. is about 5, and that includes trouble spots like DC, Detroit, etc. etc. Same in Argentina. Chile, actually lower, more like 4. Canada, even lower. Mainland Mexico, about 20-something. 100 is insanely dangerous. As in, worse than anywhere else in Mexico, dangerous.

The year before, the ratio for Southern Baja was about a 2 or so. My, the times they are a changing. Of course, those being gunned down are the ones that need killing – drug dealers. But it’s just a matter of time until there’s collateral damage. It’s a bad situation, and one the local media has studiously ignored, I believe because the government doesn’t want to scare away the tourists. But I also believe that if they don’t get that shit under control stat, it’s going to be common knowledge, and then buh bye tourist dollars – most Americans won’t differentiate between La Paz and Los Cabos when reading travel advisories for Baja, even though it’s like not visiting La Jolla in San Diego because the drive-byes in South Central LA are off the hook. To Gringos, it’s all kind of one and the same – Baja California Sur. And if it’s killing fields “there” the tourists won’t come. The irony being that the Cabo and San Jose del Cabo areas are about as safe as ever.

That’s all I’ve got. I’m working my fingers to nubs so that my readership can remain entertained, and won’t have to start dating other authors to get titillation. I’ve got the following scheduled now with my editor for 2015: JET – Ops Files, Terror Alert, for late March (just went on pre-order yesterday, I believe, with a temp cover that will be replaced next week). An Assassin novel for May. JET #9 for June.  Another JET – Ops Files end of Sept or October. And JET #10 for Xmas. And possibly BLACK #5 for Sept – remains to be seen how inspired I feel. Oh, and also possibly the first installment in a new series in Sept. – one I think will be frigging huge – and action adventure yarn that’s part treasure hunt, part conspiracy yarn, with some of the most memorable characters I’ve yet created.

So there will be plenty more opportunities for crap buying in 2015 – a veritable plethora of crap. But do check out Deadly Calm when it goes live on Tuesday. It’s dirt cheap, reads really well, is my first shot at dystopian/prepper fiction, and is a fun romp that floors the throttle from the first chapter. Remains to be seen whether the bloodthirsty cannibal pandas make it past the final edits. I hope they keep them in. We’ll see.


Feb 012015
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:          

FEMALE ON THE BEACH. Universal International, 1955. Joan Crawford, Jeff Chandler, Jan Sterling, Cecil Kellaway, Natalie Schafer. Director: Joseph Pevney.

   There’s that infamous scene in The Hustler (1961), the one anybody who’s ever watched the film will not easily forget. Where Piper Laurie’s character uses lipstick to scribble on a bathroom mirror, following a seedy dalliance with George C. Scott’s character and just prior to taking her own life. The words: PERVERTED. TWISTED. CRIPPLED. Those words speak volumes about the lurid, seedy, sad atmosphere that permeates Robert Rossen’s masterpiece.

   And that’s the same type of environment that seems to exist in the 1955 thriller, Female on the Beach, in which a (miscast) thirty-something Jeff Chandler portrays Drummond Hall, a rather uninspiring character who falls for, and marries, a fifty-year old sauced up widow, Lynn Markham (Joan Crawford). For most of the movie, we are led to believe that “Drummy” (Chandler) murdered the previous tenant of Markham’s beach house and that he ultimately has his eye on Markham’s life as well. Notice that I say: “seems to.” That’s because the story, the characters, and the atmosphere never quite gel into a coherent, believable cinematic whole.

   But it’s not for a lack of trying.

   In fact, the movie tries too hard to be something that it’s not: a compellingly watchable murder mystery. And don’t let the black and white cinematography fool you, for it’s not noir, either. Not remotely. Instead, it’s a middling thriller with some good moments, over the top acting from Joan Crawford, and a lurid, psychologically twisted claustrophobic Orange County, California beach house setting. I guess that’s worth something.

   The push-and-pull, cat-and-mouse love affair between Chandler and Crawford is alternately bizarre, off-putting, and unintentionally hilarious. Check that: maybe it was intended to be funny, or at least tongue firmly in cheek. Make no mistake: Female on the Beach is a strange movie about strange characters doing strange things on the beach. But ultimately, despite Chandler’s best efforts at portraying a character quite different from those larger than live heroes he often portrays, it’s not a particularly engrossing film.

 Posted by at 1:43 am