Ron Fortier

THE ADVENTURES OF FORTUNE McCALL

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Jan 242015
 


THE ADVENTURES OF FORTUNE McCALL
By Derrick Ferguson
Pro Se Press
149 pages

One of the problems faced by any reviewer is simply not having enough time to read all the books delivered to us over time.  In our attempts to examine a wide variety of pulp fiction, we often make choices that relegate even our favorite authors to the back of the line when it comes to deciding which title to read and review next.  We say this because this particular review is one of those we have, much to our own dismay, put off way too long. 

Derrick Ferguson is one of the finest writers of new pulp fiction out there.  If you are aware of the genre at all, then you know him as the creator/author of Dillon.  Dillon is one of the finest pulp hero series on the market today.  Whereas a few years ago, Ferguson went and invented another great character in Fortune McCall for a shared-world put together by Tommy Hancock at Pro Se Press.  The idea was that a handful of new pulp writer would all create original pulp heroes that would operate out of the same fictional locale; Sovereign City.  In this set up Hancock gave us Doc Daye, Barry Reese invented Lazarus Gray and as noted above, Derrick Ferguson whipped up Fortune McCall who makes his appearance for the first time in this book which collects four of his adventures.

From the offset we learn McCall is the royal heir to a powerful family that rules the North African kingdom of Khusra.  Without divulging much of his actual background, Ferguson let us know that Fortune eschewed a pampered life for one of travel and adventure.  This he accomplished by having an amazing seagoing palace built called the “Heart of Fortune,” a combination casino/ hotel on which he resides along with a crew of Otwani warriors from his native land and his personal team of fellow adventurers.  Each of these is as colorful and appealing as our hero; one of which is his own cousin, Tracy Scott, a diminutive beauty who acts as his personal bodyguard and is quite proficient at the job.

Of course the star is Fortune and he is an educated man who is loyal to a fault, loves good food, action and beautiful women; the latter being his one Achilles heel.  In this first volume,  McCall and company battle a twisted brother and sister team who have kidnapped a British agent, attempt to stop a madmen from unleashing a deadly virus on the city, search for a missing stage magician and finally go about retrieving a lost fortune in gold.  Each story is a whirlwind of action with brilliantly painted characters, both heroes and villains and, as ever, Ferguson delivers quality pulp adventure at its best. 

After having finished “The Adventures of Fortune McCall,” we spent a few minutes banging our heads against the wall.  To have waited so long to enjoy these fantastic stories again points out the pitfalls we reviewers do our best to avoid.  Sometimes we fail but that’s no reason you should.  Go pick up this book now!!  You can thank us later. 

AWESOME TALES # 1

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Jan 192015
 


AWESOME TALES # 1
Editor Rich Harvey

As regular readers of this column know, ever once in a while we will look at publications other than your typical pulp novel or anthology.  In the past we’ve occasionally cocked a critical eye towards graphic novels or, when applicable, magazines devoted to pulp fiction.  Of course the number of such periodicals is almost non-existence since the demise of Pro Se Productions excellent magazine series, Pro Se Presents.  Obviously producing magazines has its own unique challenges the average New Pulp publisher would rather avoid altogether.

Thus there was no way we weren’t going to talk about Rich Harvey’s new venture, AWESOME TALES.  The first issue is a slim affair with only three stories, two featuring female pulp heroes and a third revolving around office politics in the Pentagon that was clearly added as filler material. 

Whereas we rarely mention art or packaging in our regular reviews, this format demands we do so.  It is the highlight of the issue, as Harvey designs an iconic pulp cover around artist Ed Coutts art that has both the Domino Lady and Wicca Girl squaring off against a Nazi femme fatale.  The interior of the issue is also well laid out and we liked that Harvey mixed Coutts original art with some original Domino Lady illustrations from her earlier pulp appearances.

We only wish the stories were up to the quality of the packaging.  “Pretenders to the Throne,” by Harvey, teams Domino Lady and Wicca Girl as they take on the job of protecting the British Crown Jewels from Nazis agents working for Hitler.  Even though there is plenty of action here, Domino Lady was always meant to be a crime-fighting character that used her sexuality as a weapon.  Sure, there’s plenty of overt titillation here, but there are also elements of fantasy magic and that derailed our enjoyment. 

Magic is the Wicca Girl’s forte and that is proven readily enough in the “The Warlock Murders,” by her creator, R. Allen Leider in which he has her hunting down a 300 year old serial killer for Scotland Yard.  This was our favorite of the stories in this premier issue.  We already mentioned the short-short in the middle, “The Seven Pictures” which is really and odd piece that might have worked better in a twisted issue of “True Confessions.”

In the end, “AWESOME TALES” is a good looking pulp magazine and we’re happy its here.  Our fervent hope is the quality of the contents will improve with succeeding issue.


QUARRY’S CHOICE

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Jan 122015
 


QUARRY’S CHOICE
By Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
227 pages

If you’re a fan of hard-hitting crime novels, a new Quarry book is always a case for celebration.  “Quarry’s Choice,” is no exception.  In this one, Collins takes us back in time to the early 70s when our Vietnam vet hero was establishing himself as a killer for hire.  When someone tries to shoot the Broker, the man who employs him, Quarry is sent south to Biloxi, Mississippi to repay the favor in kind.  Finding himself in land of the notorious Dixie Mafia, he must thread carefully, finding himself very much a stranger in a strange land.

At the same time Quarry is saddled a young stripper/prostitute named Luann who manages to wiggle her way through his pragmatic, hard-shelled exterior and do what few people have ever done, reach his heart.  Thus, while attempting to complete a difficult job, discern who his real enemies are and survive a savage ambush, Quarry must also grapple with his own feelings towards this naïve blond beauty.  Is she a liability he can ill afford?  And if so, in the end, will he be forced to see her as just another target?

“Quarry’s Choice,” moves at a speed just slightly over the limit like a smooth oiled literary machine with enough pick up and power to carry the reader to a damn satisfying finale.  Trust me, like his hero, Collins never misses.

MOONLIGHT WEEPS

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Jan 012015
 


MOONLIGHT WEEPS
(A Dick Moonlight Thriller)
By Vincent Zandri
In & Out Books
236 pages

Dick Moonlight is Private Eye working in Albany, New York.  At one time he tried to take his own life by blowing his brains out.  Against all odds, he survived only to learn that the bullet had lodged itself in those self-same brains and could cause him all kinds of grief unless removed one day.  Until that delicate surgery can be performed, Moonlight can faint without warning, have sudden memory lapses or simply drop dead; thus completing the act he began years ago.  Living with a constant death-threat has a caustic effect on Moonlight’s character adding a twisted dark humor to his already cynical world view.

In this tale, Moonlight is hired to chauffeur a rich brain surgeon who, because of multiple DUI convictions, has had his license revoked.  Upon taking the gig, he learns the doctor has another job for him; to help clear his son of a rape conviction and possible reckless homicide charge.  The young lady the boy is accused of having raped later committed suicide because, after the assault, he took pictures of her naked and posted them on Facebook.  It doesn’t take special detecting skills for our hero to realize he’s gotten embroiled with a sleazy father and son team.  It also doesn’t help matters that the victim was the daughter of a well known state senator.

Unfortunately Moonlight’s bank account is hovering over the minus zone and he can’t afford to be choosy as to which clients he takes on.  The doctor is not only rich but being aware of Moonlight’s condition, suggest that if he successfully aids in clearing his son from all charges, he would then be willing to operate on the P.I. and remove the bullet in his head.

And that is the gist of “Moonlight Weeps.”  Of course there are several subplots to include the sudden appearance of Moonlight’s dead lover, a fat Elvis Presley imitator who ends up being his assistance and police narcotics detective who has a personal vendetta against his client.  Oh, and let’s not forget the two Russian mobsters who love to quote Clint Eastwood movies.  “Moonlight Weeps” is an overflowing goulash feast of classic PI tropes all blended together marvelously from the first taste to the last mouthful.  And like all good meals, it left us satisfied but still wanting more. 

THE GODS OF GOTHAM

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Dec 292014
 


THE GODS OF GOTHAM
By Lyndsay Faye
Berkley Books
427 pages

One of the joys of reading any Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes mystery is their settings.  It is unlikely Doyle’s purpose was ever to offer an historical travelogue but nonetheless we are given such in each and every tale.  Whereas Lyndsay Faye, following in Doyle’s footsteps, which she does incredibly well in “The Gods of Gotham,” is decidedly intent on showing us the astounding world of New York City in the nineteenth century.  The burgeoning metropolis on the Hudson is as much a character in this epic saga as its struggling inhabitants battling to eke out a living from day to day against overwhelming odds.

Timothy Wilde and his older brother, Valentine, are the orphaned sons of two Irish immigrants.  Val works as a firefighter and is active in the Irish Democratic Party while Tim manages a bar and is saving his money to propose to Miss Mercy Underhill, the daughter of a protestant minister he has grown up loving.  When a horrible fire destroys both his business establishment and his apartment building, Tim is suddenly destitute without a penny to his name.  Without conferring with him, Val enlists them both into the newly formed New York Police Department being assembled by Judge George Washington Matsell.  Like all good historical novels, fiction and fact have to work together smoothly and the birth of the New York Police is deftly handled here as it depicts the aversion to its creation by New Yorkers who saw it as just another gang in a city riddled with such.

Tim begrudgingly accepts his “copper star” until something better can come along.  Then one night he bumps into a runaway child prostitute covered in blood.  It is she who tells him of a mysterious black-cloaked man responsible for the murder and mutilation of over a dozen children; all of them employed at various brothels throughout the city.  All of which leads to the discovery of a gruesome gravesite in the woods north of Twenty-third Street.  As these events come to light, Matsell sees in Tim a moral stubbornness in his desire to pursue the case while at the same time exhibiting a keen mind for puzzle-solving; the type of skills required in this post-crime situation.  Tim, much to his own surprise, is becoming a detective; a role that will lead him down the dark, depraved alleys of the human psyche.

“The Gods of Gotham,” is a truly remarkable writing achievement. It would not surprise this reviewer if Lyndsay Faye did not have a working time-machine hidden in her New York apartment as the scenes she describes are so brilliantly real. In every sense they transport the reader back to a world that, until now, only existed in dusty museums.  She brings that past to life and in doing so enriches us all.

THE SHOTGUN ARCANA

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Dec 212014
 


THE SHOTGUN ARCANA
By R.S. Belcher
Tor Books
396 pages

One of our favorite books of last year was “The Six-Gun Tarot,” by R.S. Belcher which we reviewed at that time as one of the most original, audacious weird western novels ever written.  Now comes its sequel and we totally need to find new, better adjectives worthy of this amazing follow up tale of the most haunted town on the frontier, Golgotha, Nevada.

The Mormon mayor possesses a magical sword and golden armor left to his father by the Prophet John Smith.  The richest man in town, Malachi Bick, is a fallen angel. The Sheriff, Jon Hightower, was once hanged; it didn’t take and now is considered some kind of immortal whereas his chief deputy is a shape-shifting half-breed named Mutt.  The widow Maude Stapleton is the three times grand-daughter of the pirate queen, Ann Boney and the town blacksmith, Clay Turlough is a frustrated scientist attempting to raise the dead with the blood from unholy worms. These are but a handful Golgotha’s colorful citizenry.  There are many more, all of whom eventually play a role in the story’s central plot. 

Raziel, another fallen angel calling himself Ray Ziel, has come to Golgotha to find the skull of the first mortal ever murdered.  Within this aged relic has been imprisoned the essence of destruction.  Should the skull be destroyed then this malevolent spirit would be released and infect all humans; turning them into mindless creatures of death.  This is Raziel’s goal and to achieve it he sends out an ethereal call throughout the world calling only the most savage, cruel, monstrous people to heed his summons and come to Golgotha. 

Thus Bick must ally himself with Sheriff Hightower and his supernaturally gifted associates in finding a way to battle Raziel and defeat his army of butchers before they can lay waste to the town and capture its treasure, the possessed skull. 

The action never lets up for a second and Belcher juggles all his wonderful characters with a master’s touch, allowing each ample time with their various subplots while moving the main narrative forward.  It is an unrelenting pace and the suspense mounts rapidly until upon reaching the final battle between good and evil, the reader is transfixed; mesmerized in such a skillful way unable to stop until the final page has been devoured.  Weird westerns are easily one of the most popular genres of new pulps today and no one writes them better than R.S. Belcher.  “The Shotgun Arcana” is a fantastic book lovers of the macabre are going to applaud long and hard.  Miss this one to your  regret.


DOCTOR OMEGA & THE SHADOWMEN

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Dec 062014
 



DOCTOR OMEGA AND THE SHADOWMEN
Edited by J.M. & Randy Lofficier
Black Coat Press
278 pages

Earlier in the year we saw the cover to this anthology and were greatly intrigued by it. Till then we had never head of Doctor Omega.  This was obviously a sequel of sorts to the book “Doctor Omega” by Arnould Galopin that Black Coat Press had published several years ago. Then, much to our delight, our good friend, Lucas Garrett provided us with a copy of that old French science fiction adventure thus familiarizing us with this hero.  We read the book; enjoyed it immensely and wrote up an enthusiastic review in which we noted many of the similarities between Doctor Omega and another highly popular Doctor, this one of British origins on the telly.

Then we happily went out and bought a copy of this title.  It is a collection of thirteen brand new Doctor Omega stories as penned by some of the best writers in the New Pulp field today; from G.L. Gick, Chris Roberson, Stuart Shiffman and Matthew Baugh to name a few.  Let me add that every story in this volume is excellent, though they vary in theme and length considerably, there is in each a spark of gleeful imagination and twisted perspectives on daring-do.

From wonky vampires to cowboy heroes, Prof. Moriarity and the Bride of Frankenstein, the good Doctor’s adventures are peppered with classic fictional characters easily recognizable and handled with deft interpretations.  And though it seems unfair to single out one particular entry, we must applaud the fateful meeting between Omega’s ship the Cosmos and a tiny little craft from the planet Krypton.  You can pretty much figure out what happens next.

“Doctor Omega and the Shadowmen” is one of the best anthologies released this year and it is guaranteed to entertain fans of the fantastic.  Do yourselves a big favor and pick up copy.  You can thank us later.

GIDEON SMITH & THE BRASS DRAGON

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Nov 222014
 


 
GIDEON SMITH & THE BRASS DRAGON
By David Barnett
Tor Books
352 pgs.

Last year we discovered a truly marvelous steampunk title, “Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl,” by David Barnett.  It was so audacious in its alternate-steam world presentation mixing original characters with figures from various literary classics.  It was such a joy to read, we nominated it for Best Pulp Novel of that year and, as with all fun reads, we fervently hoped that Barnett would grace us with a sequel.  That he has is a cause of much celebration and proving himself a genuine fantasy adventure master, he delivers a follow-up tale twice as grand as its predecessor.

It is months since the events chronicled in the first book a young Gideon Smith, the native of a small fishing village, has been named the Hero of the Empire by the Queen and has become an agent of the Foreign Service.  Accompanying him on his adventures is the corpulent journalist, Aloysius Bent, and the lovely airship captain, Ms Rowena Fanshawe.  After returning from an assignment in the South Pacific, they are ordered to British America to retrieve Apep; the mechanical dragon stolen by the Texas outlaw Louis Cockayne along with Maria, the clockwork girl.  This is a personal mission to Smith as he has fallen in love with Maria and is determined to rescue her from Cockayne.

But this America is primarily an untamed land with only its coastlines having been settled; the British in the east, the Japanese in the west and the Spanish to the south.  Upon their arrival in New York, they learn that Cockayne is hiding in the free Texas town of San Antonio now called Steamtown and run by Thaddeus Pinch; a cyborg gunfirghter named more machine than man.  Pinch is a sadistic fiend who operates the coal mines of Steamtown through the pain and suffering of hundreds of kidnapped slaves.

To save Maria and retrieve the Brass Dragon, Gideon and his friends have to battle a private army of cutthroat mercenaries and battle a prehistoric monster.  But as in their first adventure, they manage to recruit new allies among which are a genius Japanese inventor, an immortal freedom fighter known as Nameless and a beautiful Zorro-like senorita whose prowess with a rapier is deadly.  The action is non-stop, the locales both familiar and strange and all of it populated by some of the most colorful characters ever put down on paper.  “Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon” is a rollicking adventure and for David Barnett’s second winner in a row.  We can only wonder what he has up his imaginary sleeve for book number three.



ADONIS MORGAN – Nobody Special

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Oct 302014
 



ADONIS MORGAN
(Nobody Special)
By Frank Byrns
115 pages
Pro Se Press

There are several respected writers in the New Pulp movement who specialize in tales of realistic superheroes.  One of the best is writer Frank Byrns as he amply demonstrates in this paperback collection starring his metahuman character, Adonis Morgan.

The five stories here detail the adventures of a man riding the unpredictable rollercoaster that comes with having super strength.  Early on we learn that Morgan went the traditional cape and mask route upon attaining his powers but the world being what it is, he gave up that romantic calling fast.  He then tries his hand at being a movie stuntman; being impervious to most kind of traumas does have advantages.  But when he’s framed for murder by a fellow metahuman with a long-held grudge, even that quickly sours.

Next he’s a nighttime taxi-driver and eventually a bodyguard for a campaigning senator assigned to protect the man’s younger, trophy wife.  When she’s kidnapped, Morgan is once again the public patsy.

As you can see, Byrns’ doesn’t offer up any rose-colored views; proving all too often that the fun stuff does indeed only happen in the comic books.  A world with real super powered people would, by the mere premise, be a complicated place.  One which he deftly portrays with ease.  From the first page, we dropped smoothly into this world and could easily empathize with Morgan.  Sometimes being a superhero just isn’t all it’s cracked up to me.  On the other hand, these stories are original and insightful and offer up a unique look into a little explored sci-fi pulp genre.  If you’ve never read superhero prose before, this is the place to start.


WAIT FOR SIGNS

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Oct 212014
 




WAIT FOR SIGNS
Twelve Longmire Stories
By Craig Johnson
Viking Penguin
183 pages

We reviewers are always trying to come up with fancy descriptions that will instantly cue the reader into exactly what kind of experience awaits them in the title we are reporting on.  It’s that tight-wire routine of giving away just enough of the idea without spoiling the actual contents.  With any Craig Johnson Longmire title, that’s not all that difficult.

Like the best fictional detective series ever put to pen, the joy in these mysteries is always the characters themselves with the actual who-dunnits really only an excuse to visit them time after time.  And the Longmire books are no exceptions.  Rather they excel at this process and every time a new one comes out, we can’t wait to spend more time with Sheriff Walt, Deputy Vic, George Standing Bear and all the marvelous characters who inhabit Johnson’s Absaroka County, Wyoming.

Over the past years, since beginning the series, Johnson has written a dozen short stories dealing with this series.  Some are poetic epilogues to certain novels while others are simply stand alone vignettes that do not require any real familiarity with the books.  What they all have in common is Johnson’s grasp of humanity with all its foibles and his unique homespun humor.  Here’s the bottom line, if Mark Twain had written mystery stories, they would have read a whole lot like the dozen between the covers of “Wait For Sign.”  That’s the best compliment this reviewer can offer.