Ron Fortier

PULPSPLOITATION

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Apr 102015
 


PULPSPLOITATION
Edited by Nicholas Ahlhem
Metahuman Press
177 pages
Exploit – A notable deed or act. To use to best advantage.  To make use of selfishly or unethically.
The word exploit didn’t attract any particular attention until the folks in Hollywood got  hold of it and then we were given the Exploitation film which was usually applied to any film which was considered to be low budget and attempting to gain financial and critical success by “exploting” a current trend or a niche genre of a base desire for lurid subject matter.  This meant these movies needed something to exploit and for most it was either sex or violence.  And we’ve all heard the term, Sexploitation.
So it is only logical to assume an anthology calling itself “Pulpsploitation” is going to be saturated with excessive, gratuitous sex and violence in large quantity.  To varying the degrees, the five writers in this collection have no qualms of dishing out both whenever necessary to keep their stories moving.  Still, the idea of seeing a classic hero like Airboy having sex is a bit unorthodox to this pulp fan; to say the least.  So this review comes with a very emphatic Adults Only recommendation. 
Now the five tales that make up this book spotlight not only classic pulp heroes but a few popular comic book stars also make an appearance.  Every story is a reimagining of the character in a new, more modern setting and that is the real fun here.
Ahlelm starts the collection with that vary Airboy adventure, “Time Enough For Love,” which has Davy Nelson reawakens after having been a prisoner aboard the Air Tomb for over thirty years.  The world of the 1980s is strange and alien to him to say the least Still he has the aid of the Flying Dutchman’s beautiful daughter to help get familiar with this brave new world.  She explains to him that remnants of an old Japanese foe are about to launch their own atomic bombs on the US and its up to Airboy to save the day.  But first he must find his super-plane Birdie and satisfying the lustful longings of his beautiful ally; which is where the tale gets R rated.  Alhelm’s a solid writer and he knows these golden age characters extremely well and we doubt seriously after reading through the obligatory “sex scene,” many of you will ever consider Davy Nelson a “boy” again.
Next up writer Teel James Glenn showcases as yet another comic hero; the Gunmaster.  Although personally not familiar with this character, we were educated easily enough in his story, “Praey For The Raven.”  Following the theme of the anthology, the story opens in the past with Gunmaster Dumas Poe chasing after his nemesis, the Raven.  He fails to capture him and many years later, it falls to his son, Darian Poe, to complete the mission.  In reading through this story, we were struck with how much Gunmaster has in common with another classic pulp/comic hero; the Green Lama.  Both are given backgrounds involving Far Easter mysticism, they both employ the same phrases and there exist a connection in their names.  All in the all, the original Gunmaster was very much a Gun Toting Green Lama.  Glenn is to be applauded for moving the series forward by the creation of the original’s son and promises to do much more with the concept in future volumes. 
By far our favorite entry in this collection was Frank Byrns creation of a brand new Black Bat to follow in the footsteps of the iconic pulp hero.  In the 80s, retired lawyer Tony Quinn has begun a legal foundation to help the impoverished minorities living in the poorer sections of New York.  One of his lawyers is Jackie Clay, a black man whose own brother is involved with dealing drugs.  When a gang war with a rival faction threatens to destroy innocent lives in his home community, Clay adopts the mantle of the Black Bat to bring justice to these modern evil-doers, all under the watchful eye of old Mr. Quinn.  And set to aid Clay in his future battles are two rather important members of the Quinn Foundation; Carol O’Leary, the redheaded daughter of Butch O’Leary and Detective Danny Kirby, the son of former conman, Silk Kirby.  Byrns’ new Black Bat and company is wonderfully realized and we can’t wait to read their further adventures.  We also appreciate that he eschewed any kind of sexual encounters; leaving us to enjoy a more traditional pulp yarn.
The fourth tale is another winner; this one by Australian writer Steven Gepp.  He offers up a jungle hero named Tabu.  Having never heard of this character, we’ve no idea if he appeared in the pulps or comics.  It would have been nice if Gepp could have provided us with a little background history along with his bio.  Regardless, Tabu is very much a cookie-cutter figure who has been transplanted out of Africa and into a metropolitan US city where’s he’s become a big-time wrestling personality.  That alone was enough to have us enjoying this action story.  The Col War Russians are after a Star Wars type weapon invented by America and it’s up to Tabu to make sure it doesn’t fall into their hands.  All in all a very fun romp.
Lastly we have E.A.G.L.E. – Alpha & Omega by Caine Dorr that reads a great deal like many of the old classic pulp spy thrillers ala Secret Agent X and the Secret Six.  Commander Shannon is a veteran operative for a super secret outfit called E.A.G.L.E., which is his personal codename as well, that eliminates threats to America that cannot be dealt with by conventional law enforcement agencies; to include assassinations.  We have no idea if this tale is based on an actual pulp or is the author’s own original creation.  Either way, Commander Shannon comes across like an older version of Mack Bolan and the writing here is crisp, fast paced and delivers the standard action one would expect from such a genre.
All in all, book one of “Pulpsploitation” is extremely well realized with five top-notch stories any “adult” pulp readers will find entertaining.  And we would be remiss if we didn’t give kudos to a gorgeous cover provided by the super talented Nik Powliko.  This is a great package cover to cover and we’re only to happy to give it major thumbs up.  Hopefully a volume two is in the works.

THE INCREDIBLE ADVENTERS OF JAKE ASTRO

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Apr 022015
 


THE INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES
OF JAKE ASTRO   Vol One
By Ashley Sherer
PBM
287
One of the first rules of good genre writing is; never attempt to re-invent the wheel.  And by that we mean; each and every genre of fiction has its set of rules which you should never tamper with.  That is never more crucial then when writing space operas.  Space operas are those fun, action packed tales nowhere near the boundaries of hard sci-fi that is all about extrapolating current science know-how.  Space operas are Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Star Wars, and yes, Star Trek.  They are about larger than life heroes having over-the-top outer space adventures.
So buckle up and get ready to blast off with the latest bonafide entry in this club; space pilot and adventurer, Jake Astor, as created by writer Ashley Sherer.  Jake is a loveable rogue in the Hans Solo mold and his own alien sidekick/co-pilot is a paranoid, conspiracy addicted green lizard-man named Mikja.  This first volume of their exploits contains five stories; the first three being connected.  Each is tons of fun and had this reviewer chuckling all the way through them.
Jake is a classic space-opera hero who, no matter how simple the job, is always going to end up in trouble thus having to depend on his wits and tenacity to survive.  No matter how much he considers himself a hustler, in the end he always does the right thing.  The adventures in this collection range from Jake and Mikja exploring jungle planets to uncover ancient treasures to battling space ghosts on a frontier mining colony.  Like we said at the offset, standard fare for this genre, but done with a real panache that proves irresistible.  The best space-opera every penned?  Hardly.  But without reservations you will have fun spending a few hours with Jake Astro.  He’s one cool dude.

THE COMING OF CROW

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Mar 282015
 


THE COMING OF CROW
By Joel Jenkins
Pulpwork Press
305 pages
For ever reviewer, there are always books we cannot read fast enough because, not only do we personally enjoy them so much, but because we also can’t wait to share them with our fellow readers.  This is such a book.
Joel Jenkins is among the elite of the new pulp fiction writers working today.  Like most prolific scribes, he has several different series available to pulp fans.  Of all of them, my favorite is hands down the weird western stories he’s done featuring his wonderful character, Lone Crow.  Crow is the last of his tribe; they were all butchered by a renegade band of Apaches.  Crow’s travels take him all over the North and South America, from the freezing rugged Alaskan frontier to the thick, hot cloying jungles of Brazil.  Wherever there is some strange mystery dealing with the occult, you are bound to find this Indian gunfighter making an appearance.  And when he does, look out!  Then the action kicks up a notch and it’s blessed bullets against all manner of beasts and monsters.
“The Coming of Crow” contains fourteen of Crow’s amazing adventures; a few having been previously published in other anthologies over the past few years.  That I’d already read some of these before didn’t bother me in the least, as having bound together in one glorious collection is the treasure here.  Another fanciful element of many of Jenkins’ Lone Crow stories is that he peppers them with historical western figures.  Among these accounts, Crow crosses paths with the likes of Wyatt Earp, Bass Reeves, Shotgun Ferguson and many other colorful western legends.
If you are a fan of weird westerns, then your library isn’t complete until you have this book in it.  I was happy to see Jenkins purposely labeled it Volume One which means he has a lot more Lone Crow stories coming our way and this reviewer couldn’t be any happier about that.

SO NUDE, SO DEAD

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Mar 122015
 


SO NUDE, SO DEAD
By Ed McBain
Hard Case Crime
223 pages
Available July 25, 1915
As both a reviewer and writer, I am often asked who my favorite writer is…or was.  With over fifty years of reading behind me, there are many writers who’ve entertained me and I follow faithfully.  But the one who tops the list and stands above all the others is the late mystery/crime author, Ed McBain.  And that isn’t even his real name.
Ed McBain (Oct. 15, 1926 – July 6, 2005) was born Salvatore Albert Lombino.  He legally adopted the name Evan Hunter in 1952 under which he became a very successful writer.  In 1956 he adopted the penname Ed McBain when writing Cop Hater, the first novel in the 87th Precinct crime series.  These were cop procedural mysteries starring a group of detectives working the fictionalized city of Isola, based on New York.  Hunter would use many other pseudonyms in his stellar career but none ever achieved the success he earned under the McBain moniker and the more than fifty 87th novels he wrote.
I discovered the 87th Precinct mysteries while in high school and immediately was mesmerized by the smooth flowing prose. There was a fresh economy of words employed by McBain and he was a genius at dialogue.  Within a few short sentences, he could capture a character’s entire persona thus setting the table quickly and allowing his readers to enter his tales effortlessly.  His plots were ingenious and fun and I became an instant, lifelong fan.  When he passed away in 2005, I purpose held off reading his last 87th Precinct book, published posthumously, because I simply hated the thought there would be no others.
In the 1960s various publishers began reprinting many of his earlier crime shorts and novels using the McBain by-line and now Hard Case Crime is following suit.  So Nude, So Dead, has the distinction of being the first crime novel by Even Hunter published 1952 as The Evil Sleep.  It was later reprinted in 1956 under its current title and has been out of print since.  It tells the story of a gifted pianist named Ray Stone who falls prey to drugs. One night, while on a heroin high, he falls asleep next to a beautiful blond singer after they both shoot-up. He awakens the next morning to find her dead beside him, having been shot several times during the night by an unknown murderer.
Confused and dazed, Stone flees the scene and is immediately tagged as the police’s number one suspect.  An All Points Bulletin is put out on him across the city.  Normally any clear thinking person would immediately turn themselves in to clear their name.  The problem is Stone hasn’t had a “fix” in over twenty-four hours and his addiction is torturing him so that he is doing anything but thinking clearly.  Initially his first thought is to find a dealer and get another shot but that plan quickly falls apart when he realizes he is a wanted man and his own suppliers are afraid to get anywhere near him.  In his delusional state, Stone desperately decides the only way to prove his innocence is to find the killer and he begins investigating the dead girl’s associates, some already known to him in the city’s close-knit music community.
All the while he has to keep evading the police manhunt chasing after him.  Then when one of the people he questiones is also murdered, things go from bad to nightmarish.  McBain paints a picture of a pathetic lost soul in Ray Stone and does so vividly.  He never makes excuses for his protagonist’s fate but at the same time pulls us into his grim narrative where the elusive possibility that there might be redemption at the end of the story does exist.
So Nude, So Dead  is a remarkable glimpse Ed McBain’s early efforts and the evidence of his amazing talents is apparent throughout.  If, like me, you are an avowed fan of this master storyteller, you need to pick this up and at the same time thank Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime for resurrecting it.

EXCHANGE

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Mar 052015
 


EXCHANGE
By Dale R. Cozort
Stairway Press
246 pages
One of the most favorite sci-fi themes is that of multi-dimensional copies of the same world.  The writer posits there are countless versions of our earth all existing simultaneously in other dimensions removed from our own.  That’s the core plot foundation for Dale Cozort’s new adventure novel, “Exchange.”  In it, the entire city of Rockport, Illinois has been removed from our earth and placed on another earth, whereas it has been replaced by a chunk of terrain from that other world.  In other words, exchanged.  And the world it has dropped into has saber-tooth tigers, mastodons and green monkeys that appear to be semi-intelligent.
The government, using the Marines, attempts to evacuate as much of the population as it can once the exchange terminates and both sections revert back to their own dimension.  Should anyone be in what is referred to as Bear County when that happens, they would be forever trapped on this alternate earth.  Caught up in all this is single mother, Sharon Mack, who is frantically doing her best to keep herself and her autistic daughter, Bethany, alive.  Unfortunately her ex-husband is an abusive alcoholic who has decided he, and his clan of relatives, would be better off living in the savage world.  Thus he kidnaps Bethany and heads for the untamed surroundings of this dangerous environment.
But Sharon is no pushover and she is determined to track him down and get her daughter back before the final shift occurs.  Along the way she encounters a religious cult that has opted to relocate in Bear Country and establish colony there.  Amongst them is a handsome, enigmatic fellow named Leo West who early on befriends Sharon and volunteers to aid her in rescuing her daughter.  But West has secrets, chief among them what his real agenda is with both the cult camp and Sharon.  Complicating matters is the fact that she is attracted to him and with each passing day realizes this attraction may be clouding her judgment and jeopardizing her mission.
“Exchange,” is a well written, fact paced sci-fi thriller with both familiar concepts and new original twists.  Cozort creates interesting characters and keeps the pace humming along.  But at the same time, towards the second half of the book, many of the scenes seem to be repetitious of previous events so that we began fidgeting as if caught on a carousel going nowhere fast.  When the plot finally reaches the finale, it is with a relieved welcome.  Some editorial tightening here might have been helpful.  Still, “Exchange” is worthy of your attention and Cozort a writer to watch.  He’s by no means reached his full potential yet, but “Exchange” is a big step in the right direction.

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!