Reviews  Comments Off on Review: DOUGLAS PRESTON & LINCOLN CHILD – The Lost Island.
Apr 112015

DOUGLAS PRESTON & LINCOLN CHILD – The Lost Island. Grand Central, hardcover, 2014; paperback, March 2015.

   Between them, the pair of authors Preston and Child have written and co-written a list of titles that fills a page, just before the title page. I’ve always meant to read one, and now I finally have. All things considered, I may not have picked the best one to start with.

   To begin with, while Preston and Child are best known for their series of books about someone called Pendergast, this is the third in a new series featuring an adventurer named Gideon Crew. It doesn’t matter so much that this is the third one; it’s that when this one ends Gideon is ready to continue the adventure right into the fourth one. I always hate that when it happens.

   But even worse is that this gets more and more uninteresting as the book goes on. I hate it even more when that happens. It begins with Gideon stealing a page from the Book of Kells from its state-of-the-art guarded case in Manhattan museum, one of the most audacious ventures I can imagine you can imagine, and it continues on with Gideon’s employer chemically removing the hand-colored print from the page, completely destroying it.

   The madness behind this action? A treasure map, one not leading to gold or other sundry valuables, but a secret with all-but-magical healing powers. And off Gideon goes to find it, discovering as he does so that he is retracing steps taken by others before him in the realm of Greek mythology.

   But with rather ordinary obstacles along the way: treasure-hunting pirates, a shipwreck, a unknown tribe of natives who believe in human sacrifice — each of step the way turning disaster into just coincidentally one step further in the right direction.

   The final obstacle is not so ordinary, but by that time the pedestrian writing and dialogue had me caught in a bind. I’d spent a lot of time getting to that point myself. Should I give up, or try to redeem my input to this point and garner whatever output I could get? I tossed a mental coin and I went on, and while I’m glad I did, I probably made the wrong decision.

   In my opinion, as far as this book is concerned — I certainly can’t vouch for their earlier work — I think Preston and Child are writing for young adults. I’d state that as a fact if it weren’t for all of the bloody deaths that occur, especially toward the end of the book. Of course maybe that’s what young adults are reading these days, instead of the Hardy Boys and their motorcycle and roadster. I have to admit that is something I just don’t know.

 Posted by at 11:50 pm

Horror Movie Review: THE SKULL (1965).

 Horror movies, Reviews  Comments Off on Horror Movie Review: THE SKULL (1965).
Apr 112015

THE SKULL. Amicus Productions/Paramount Pictures, 1965. Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green. Based on the short story “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade,” by Robert Bloch (Weird Tales, September 1945). Director: Freddie Francis.

   A reasonably good job was done in adapting Robert Bloch’s short story to the screen, but at 83 minutes long, it’s about a half hour longer than it needs to be. And for a movie to be scary, it certainly doesn’t bode well when a sizable chunk of it could be cut out with being noticed.

   But it’s always good to see Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in a movie together, no doubt about that. This time around, Cushing plays a collector of occult and inhuman items who is offered an absolutely unique item, the skull of the notorious Marquis de Sade, while Lee is it’s previous owner — who most definitely does NOT want it back. He is more than happy it was stolen from him.

   Better, though, than either of these two actors in their respective roles is Patrick Wymark as Marco, the unctuous middleman (or thief) in the sale of the skull to Cushing. His death, a dramatic fall down a stairwell through several panes of colored glass, was for me a highlight of the film. That was the turning point for me. The movie simply ran out of steam from that scene
   On hand are plenty of scary music, flashing lights and moonlight, and a skull mysteriously floating in the air, but none of these are of any avail when the story itself doesn’t make sense. Horror is a state of mind, and there have to be rules that have to followed, even in terms of the supernatural, not so?

   Read the story (follow the link provided). It’s only six pages long, and in those six pages it packs up to 20 or 30 times the punch of this highly acclaimed but in the end not entirely convincing horror film.

 Posted by at 3:02 am


 matthew scudder, Reviews  Comments Off on Dead End Follies on EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE
Apr 102015

I love reading Matthew Scudder novels. It’s a ritual to me, like renewing with a badass, self-loathing friend every couple months or so. EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE is a great addition to the series and is almost as satisfying as the masterful A STAB IN THE DARK. Read it for the terrific, unexpected plot twists, the rich, complex and subtle characters, but if you’re a fan of the series, read it for Scudder, first and foremost, who struggles with his demons in a way he hasn’t before and who develops new wrinkles to his personality because of it. EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE is a solid, rewarding detective novel you could as a read alone or as one of the high point in the series. Reading Matthew Scudder never gets old.

Click here to read the review


A Western Fiction Review by Dan Stumpf: MILTON LOTT – Backtrack.

 Reviews, Western Fiction  Comments Off on A Western Fiction Review by Dan Stumpf: MILTON LOTT – Backtrack.
Apr 092015
Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         

MILTON LOTT – Backtrack. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover,, 1965. Berkley F1472, paperback, 1967.

   I mentioned Milton Lott before in these pages (he wrote The Last Hunt, 1954) but I’ve never been able to find out much about him except that he died in 1996 at age 80 after turning out only three books. I haven’t read Dance Back the Buffalo (1959) but based on The Last Hunt and this one, I wish he’d done a lot more.

   Backtrack is a woolly thing, set in Texas around 1879 but darting one way, then another, like a horse that won’t be saddled, never settling down to one theme, but never losing momentum or a sense of purpose either. The narrator is a cowboy (literally, he makes his living herding cattle) who meets up with a very strange and troubled youth in the course of a cattle drive. When the kid (now known as “the Kid”) kills 2 men and lights out, he goes after him to tell him he’s not in trouble with the law — and to sort of look after him, since the kid seems too weird to last long without a keeper.


   The narrator himself (called “Ringo” for a wound he suffered trying to take a dump on a hot pot) has hang-ups of his own. Though he seems gentle enough, he has a reputation as a killer, and suffers from what we now call Repressed Memories: odd flashbacks he can’t put together that warp his judgment at times. And as he follows the kid’s trail, it leads him back to his childhood home and confrontation with his past.

   This would have been enough for a fine Western all by itself, but Lott never loses sight of his narrative peg for very long, and as Ringo struggles with his identity, the Kid picks up a reputation of his own, two gunmen on his trail, and the idea that Ringo is after him to kill him.

   What could have been hopelessly over-complicated at a lesser typewriter flows with natural grace from Lott. Backtrack teems with energy and inventiveness that are a real pleasure to read, evoking the dusty trail, the grinding work of the cowboy, and hair-raising encounters with man & beast, including a medicine show huckster who seems to have stepped out of Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.

   There’s a really really clever confrontation between a gunfighter and a sleight-of-hand artist (“I couldn’t see any gun on him, but he didn’t look like he’d take long to find one.”) and a splendid moment when a cowboy dodging a night-stampede climbs a tree for safety and sees his saddle climb the tree too.

   To appreciate that last bit you’ll have to read the book. And I recommend you do.

 Posted by at 6:37 pm


 Nonfiction, Reviews, The Crime of Our Lives  Comments Off on Thomas Pluck on THE CRIME OF OUR LIVES
Apr 092015

As a writer and a reader, this collection has been amusing, illuminating, and soothing. As much as things have changed in the writing biz, some things remain the same, and those whose work we love–they busted their ass the same as the rest of us. And some of them are as mysterious as characters in their own novels. TCOOL is a damn good read for anyone who loves a good crime tale; I learned something new about writers whom I’ve read every word of, and was introduced to a few whose work I’m eager to become acquainted with. What are you waiting for?

Click here to read the review


Archived Review: JOE R. LANSDALE – Sunset and Sawdust.

 Reviews  Comments Off on Archived Review: JOE R. LANSDALE – Sunset and Sawdust.
Apr 092015

JOE R. LANSDALE – Sunset and Sawdust. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 2004. Vintage, trade paperback, 2005.

   It begins as a tornado hits the home of Sunset Jones and her husband Pete, and it ends soon after a gigantic swarm of ground-clearing locusts hits the small East Texas sawmill town of Camp Rapture. The country is in the midst of the Depression, and Pete, the town’s constable, does not survive the house-leveling storm. While he is raping Sunset, she pulls his gun from his holster and shoots him clean through the head.

   There are quite a few places in this book where I simply had to stop and say to myself “Wow!” or “Oh, my!” and this is only the first of them. The second is a little more subtle – Sunset’s mother-in-law, having gone through the same wife-beating routine with Pete’s daddy, sticks up for her, even so far as convincing the locals that Sunset would make a fine replacement for Pete as the town’s law enforcement officer. (She is the co-owner of the sawmill, after all.)

   What does Sunset know about police work? Very little, but with the of two deputies, both of whom are either in love or unrequited lust with her, she starts right in – and makes enemies right and left. Uppity is hardly the word for Sunset. As far as Camp Rapture is concerned, she has three strikes against her. She shot her husband. She’s a woman doing a man’s job. She sided with a black man who killed the sheriff the next town over, not that that worked out very well.

   This is not your ordinary detective puzzle mystery, although there is one to be solved. There are times when Lansdale verges into Stephen King territory, or perhaps this is the result that would occur if Mr. King were to verge into Mr. Lansdale’s East Texas venue, with some of the scariest villains you will never read about in your everyday straight-laced Perry Mason courtroom drama.

   What you will discover, were you to decide to read this book, is that once started, you will never know which direction it will go next. Staid and sedate is not Joe R. Lansdale’s forte, and you will never find a better example than this.

– June 2004

 Posted by at 2:27 am

A Movie Review by Jonathan Lewis: IRON MAN (1951).

 Reviews, Sports films  Comments Off on A Movie Review by Jonathan Lewis: IRON MAN (1951).
Apr 072015
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

IRON MAN. Universal International, 1951. Jeff Chandler, Evelyn Keyes, Stephen McNally, Rock Hudson, Joyce Holden, Jim Backus, Jim Arness. Based on the novel by W. R. Burnett (1930). Director: Joseph Pevney.

   During his film career, Jeff Chandler portrayed a wide array of diverse and exotic characters. These include a Jewish resistance leader in Palestine, Cochise, a Bedouin horseman, and U.S. Army general.

   Add boxer to that list.

   In Iron Man, a 1951 remake of a Tod Browning film of the same name, Chandler portrays Coke Mason, a coal miner who takes up professional boxing. But he’s not just any run of the mill pugilist. No. Coke Mason is an emotionally immature, mad dog consumed with unbridled rage. He’s type of boxer who fights dirty, one whom the gawking crowds just love to hate. He’s the eponymous “Iron Man.”

   Coke’s not a particularly easy character to like, but then again he’s not designed to be. That is, until we realize what’s motivating him and who’s taking financial advantage of his clumsy, but deadly, boxing abilities. To that extent, Iron Man is as much a criticism of professional boxing as it is a character study of a flawed, albeit all too human, man who finds himself betrayed and manipulated by those he most trusted.

   Directed by Joseph Pevney, Iron Man at times feels a little too much like a soap opera. The film hints at the dark side of human nature, but never satisfactorily explores it. Forget the black and white cinematography and the doomed protagonist; this is not a crime film or a film noir. It’s merely an average, although perfectly entertaining, 1950s sports film.

   While Chandler is less convincing as a boxer when in the ring, he’s quite good at portraying the emotional tumult of an intellectually ambitious, but professionally limited man still scarred from a tough childhood in a bleak coal mining town. Look for a youthful Rock Hudson as Speed O’Keefe, Coke’s sparring partner turned rival, who becomes an agent of change for the title character.

   As to whether the Chandler-Hudson boxing match is believable or not, I will defer judgment to those more familiar with boxing and with boxing films.

 Posted by at 6:35 pm

Reviewed by William F. Deeck: WIRT VAN ARSDALE – The Professor Knits a Shroud.

 Authors, Reviews  Comments Off on Reviewed by William F. Deeck: WIRT VAN ARSDALE – The Professor Knits a Shroud.
Apr 072015
William F. Deeck

WIRT VAN ARSDALE – The Professor Knits a Shroud. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1951.

   Pedro Jose Maria Guadaloupe 0’Reilly y Apodaca, B.S., M.A., Ph.D., more familiarly and shortly known as Peter or Uncle Pete, is a professor of anthropology, not, as Doubleoday’s dust jacket would have it, archaeology. The young lady to whom he is a former guardian invites him, somewhat to the displeasure of her husband even though he usually enjoys Uncle Pete’s company, to their farm, presently occupied by Henri Von Fliegel, a best-selling author.

   Apodaca describes Von Fliegel’s books this way: …Oh, he had good story ideas. That I will grant you. But then he’d take those good ideas and embellish them with all sorts of impossible characters and impossible situations and throw in a lot of cheap sentimentality and as much fornication as he thought he could get by with and call the whole nauseating mess a novel…

   Ah, how the literary world has progressed since the 1950s.

   But I digress.

   As is usual with successful authors — though only in fiction, one hopes — Von Fliegel is loathed by almost everyone, and apparently with good reason. As is to be expected, he comes to no good end, shot in the head while working on his current novel.

   Luckily, Professor Apodaca’s experience in anthropological fie!d work leads him to make some sterling deductions, and these convince the police that he should be part of the investigation. He solves the case, to the appreciation of almost all concerned. As an aid to his cerebration, the professor knits socks. At last count, he had completed 2,736 individual ones, I believe, not pairs.

   The only unbelievable item in the novel, if one accepts the sock count, is Apodaca’s inability to recall for a lengthy period where he had read about the word rache written in blood. There are well-read people who wouldn’t immediate|y know that, but what are they doing detecting in mystery novels?

   Wirt Van Arsdale, a pseudonym of Martha Wirt Davis, wrote only one mystery. A pity, for Van Arsdale showed lots of promise in this boo. Of course, you have to accept the usual caveat that people act unreasonably for purposes of the plot in this bib!io mystery.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 6, November-December 1987.

Bio-Bibliographic Notes: As Bill points out, this was Martha Wirt Davis’s only work of detective fiction. She may have written others if not for her untimely death in 1952, at the age of 46. She was married to author and occasional pulp fiction writer Clyde Brion Davis, who died in 1962. According to Wikipedia, their son, David Brion Davis, is an “American intellectual and cultural historian, and a leading authority on slavery and abolition in the Western world.”

 Posted by at 6:07 pm

A Review by Barry Gardner: ROGER ZELAZNY – A Night in the Lonesome October.

 Reviews, Science Fiction & Fantasy  Comments Off on A Review by Barry Gardner: ROGER ZELAZNY – A Night in the Lonesome October.
Apr 072015

ROGER ZELAZNY – A Night in the Lonesome October. William Morrow, hardcover, 1993; paperback, 1994. Chicago Review Press,softcover, 2014. Illustrated by Gahan Wilson.

   If I were to play the “one author for a desert island” game with science fiction, Roger Zelazny would certainly be one of the finalists, and several of his books would find their way onto any 100 best list I made.

   Most critical opinion would have it that his work has been essentially trivial for the last decade, or longer. I wouldn’t argue the point, but would argue that even trivial Zelazny is of a quality of readability matched by relatively few writing in the field today.

   This is about a diverse group of characters who gather in England for a recurring contest between two factions: one who wants to open a gate so that the Elder Gods can return, one who wants to bar it. The tale is told from the viewpoint of the familiar of one of the “closers,” a dog (of a sort) named Snuff. Without giving away too much of the plot, I’ll simply say that many of the players will be familiar.

   This is very much a Zelazny book in terms of style and obscurity, and by obscurity I mean that he never tells you as much about the characters and setting as you’d like to Know. Wilson’s many illustrations are as appealingly macabre as you’d expect, and add greatly to the book.

   This isn’t a work of substance. However, it’s pleasant if ephemeral, and it’s Zelazny, and that’ll do in a pinch.

– Reprinted from Ah, Sweet Mysteries #9, September 1993.

 Posted by at 1:39 am