Ron Fortier

THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST

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Feb 272015
 


THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST
Book One  Jan 2015
Edited by Arkay Olgar
Larque Press LLC
116 pages

Growing up in the 50s and 60s, we were lucky enough to enjoy all the wonderful little magazines available on the newsstands during those decades.  They were called digest and they covered every genre imaginable.  We fondly remember having subscriptions to both The Worlds of If and Analog; two of our favorite sci-fi monthlies.  Every now and then we’d pick up a mystery digest like Alfred Hitchcok and Ellery Queen as well.  It seemed whenever any particular mystery series made it big in the paperback field, invariably there would be a digest monthly. I can still recall picking up copies of The 87th Precinct Mystery Magazine and Shell Scott Mystery Magazine.  Both were short-lived, but not so the popular Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine that, as best I can remember, was around for a long time.

Today the digests are all but gone save for a handful.  Which is why we were delighted to see the arrival of a brand new title that is actually devoted to those great little monthlies; The Digest Enthusiast.  Issue number one is an eclectic treasure of both factual article on specific digest titles of old, a review of another little series, The Paperback Parade, and three really excellent short stories done in various lengths by writers Joe Wehrle Jr, Lesann Berry and Richard Krauss.  We hope this inclusion of short fiction will be permanent feature and offer new pulp writers another market for their tales.

Among some of the digest title histories examined here are Coronet, Galaxy Science Fiction and Photo-rama to name a few.  We have to confess, our favorite article was the interview with Canadian fan/writer Matthew Turcotte in regards to his collection of Archie Digests which he claims is well over thousand issues strong.  Just amazing.

The Digest Enthusiast is extremely well produced, with clean layouts and clear, expertly printed articles about a lost American publishing format.  We recommend it highly to all our pulp readers.


KILL ME, DARLING

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Feb 262015
 


KILL ME, DARLING
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Titan Books
Available in March 2015
241 pages

Every now and then the universe offers up such an unexpected surprise, we are left with such a euphoric rush as to describe the feelings as miraculous.  That was our experience just a few short weeks ago when the mail delivered this lost Mike Hammer thriller into our hands.  As most mystery enthusiasts are already well aware, for the past few years Mickey Spillane’s pal and protégé, writer Max Allan Collins, has done a wonderful job of completing those unfinished Mike Hammer books Spillane had left behind from bits and pieces found in the late writer’s files.

In his introduction to this particular novel, Collins reiterates that mission and goes on to explain how he, his wife Barbara, and Spillane’s widow, Jane, conducted an exhaustive search which led to discovery of as yet more Hammer material.  From these lost treasures, Collins plans to fashion three additional Mike Hammer novels, “Kill Me, Darling,” being the first.  And what a way to start!

It’s the 1950s and private eye, Mike Hammer, is sinking in an alcoholic stupor.  All because the one and only true life of his life, Velda, has left him.  Without a single word or hint of her intentions, she simply leaves a short note and vanishes.  Confused, bitter and decidedly angry, Hammer takes to the bottle to drown the pain of loss.  Then he learns that his one time mentor, Wade Manley, a veteran police officer, was gunned down in a seedy part of town and the papers are calling it a random shooting.  But even in a drunken haze, Hammer can’t buy the scenario.  Manley was an experienced cop who never let his guard down, especially to any nervous street punk.  He suspects there’s a whole lot more to the shooting.

His suspicions are quickly solidified by his friend, Detective Pat Chambers, who also has some information on Velda’s whereabouts.  Chambers has learned through police grapevine that the beautiful brunette is in Miami and supposedly involved with an up-and-coming mobster named Nolly Quinn.  Quinn has the reputation of being a ladies’ man with a sadistic streak.  Several of his past paramours have disappeared without a trace.  Chambers also suggest a connection between Manley’s death and Velda’s abrupt change of scenery.  Velda had once worked for the seasoned copper as part of his vice squad and there’s a chance Manley may have recruited her to go to Miami and infiltrate the deadly Romeo’s organization.  Word on the street is Quinn wants to bring in drugs through Cuba and setting up a base of operation in Magic City is the logical step in that progression.

Without any further ado, Hammer packs up his meager belongings, jumps in his car and heads south.  Once in Miami, he sets about finding both Velda and her new beau but as always happens with Hammer, violence and death have accompanied on his trip.  The welcome mat is bloody from day one and unless Hammer can sober up fast, his vacation in the sun may be a permanent one.

Spillane & Collins’ Mike Hammer stories are as fast paced as a hot Tommy Gun spitting lead and they never miss their target; that of thrills, suspense and mystery.  They’ve been imitated time and time again, but nothing ever comes close.  The Hammer novels are classics and “Kill Me, Darling,” proves to be no exception.


BLOOD ON THE COBBLESTONES

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Feb 132015
 


BLOOD ON THE COBBLESTONES
By Robert Ricci
Create Space Independent Pub.
126 pages

One of the things that we’ve always loved about good mystery writers is there ability to convey the settings in which their stories are set.  Robert Parker was extremely deft at this with his Boston based Spencer novels.  Now we have a new writer, inspired by the old classic pulp crime thrillers, who is taking us down those same familiar Bean Town Streets.

Jenna Coyne is a recent college graduate doing her best to get by while having to put up with an amorous, married boss, who won’t leave her alone.  When she finally has no recourse but to verbally rebuff his uncouth advances, she worries about being fired.  Or how much should she fight to keep was is really an awful job?  Then, upon returning to her quaint, comfortable apartment, she is attacked by two black drug dealers who have mistaken her for the girlfriend of their white pusher who lives across the hall.  Apparently Kyle, the opportunistic pusher, owes them a great deal of money and they plan on getting it by threatening his girlfriend.  Lucky for Jenna she has a bat-wielding Hispanic friend named Edna who lives nearby with her daughter, Marta; Jenna’s former college roommate.

Edna soundly whacks the two hoodlums and chases them off.  In the aftermath, Jenna confronts both Kyle and later his actual girlfriend, Vicky Robinson.  Jenna is none too happy with having been accosted for someone else.  Still she believes there is more to mix-up than Kyle is letting on and she befriends the mixed-up, drug-addicted Vicky.  As this relationship takes hold, Vicky confides in her that Kyle worked for her father, an abusive loser who makes a living reposing cars.  Eventually the two girls stumble upon a stash of hidden cash worth forty thousand dollars and from that point onwards things turn very, very ugly.

Ricci’s storytelling style is crisp and flawless.  Most of his principle characters in this book are female and he writes them extremely well.  They are fun, intelligent and above all believable.  Whereas Jenna’s tenacity and ultimate courage rises logically to the surface as the book speeds to a brutal finale that is nothing less than savage.   We believe “Blood On The Cobblestones,” is Robert Ricci’s first book and such is one hell of an impressive debut.  We can’t wait to see what he offers up next.


THE EXECUTIONER’S HEART

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Feb 102015
 


THE EXECUTIONER’S HEART
A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation
By George Mann
Tor Books
349 pages

George Mann is quickly becoming one of our favorite writers.  In fact, we actually nominated one of his two Ghost novels for the Pulp Factory Awards a few years ago.  He’s a bonafide writer of steampunk whereas we were unfamiliar with this other series of which “The Execustioner’s Heart” is the fourth entry.  Let me add, after reading it, we’ve every intention of finding those previous three books. 

It is obvious the saga of Sir Maurice Newbury and his associate, Miss Veronica Hobbes, is an on-going narrative but Mann is skilled enough to give his readers the pertinent facts from those earlier adventures to both understand and enjoy this volume on its own merits.  Like all good steampunk, Sir Newbury and Miss Hobbes live in a world that has both science and active magic.  In fact Newbury’s profession is that of a supernatural investigator.  It is with this expertise that he assist Scotland Yard and the British Secret Service.  Both value his assistance.

In this tale, a skilled assassin believed to be immortal has begun killing the Queen’s agents and then she cuts out their hearts as trophies.  When the Prince of Wales comes to Newbury seeking his help, he confides in the detective that he believes his mother, the Queen Mother, maybe suffering from senility and thus endangering the empire she rules.  There are rumors of foreign agents in London plotting to steal a new heat powered weapon developed by the British Military.  As Newbury and Hobbes work to unravel the mystery with their friend, Sir Charles Bainbrdige, Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, the primary question remains; do the murders have any connection with the spies or are they the result of an entirely new threat from another quarter? 

Mann’s writing is flawless and he pulls his readers in with a very fine prose that is a joy to read.  His characters are likeable and his villains as unique and captivating.  In fact, the Executioner of the title is one of the most original, and deadly, personages we’ve ever encountered in fiction.  She is a lethal lovely no reader will soon forget.  “The Executioner’s Heart” is a terrific, fast paced thriller steampunk fans are sure to applaud.
We are only too happy to join in that rousing cheer.

ATHENA VOLTAIRE – COMPENDIUM

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Feb 012015
 


ATHENA VOLTAIRE – COMPENDIUM
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!

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.