Aug 312014
 

Gwen Gregory guest blogs for Jessy Randall this week.

WolfIn the wake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Swedish mysteries are all the rage. Not that they aren’t good, but they may be getting more attention than thrillers set in, say, Honduras. Anything with a Swedish connection seems to have a little extra oomph right now. Cecilia Ekbäck is, in fact, from Sweden, but she now lives in Canada and wrote this book in English, which probably makes it easier to present to a U.S. audience. Historical novels are also hot, and Wolf Winter wins on this front too.

Set on the frontier of Swedish Lapland in 1717, Wolf Winter includes a murder, but it goes beyond to study human behavior under extremes. In 18th century Scandinavia, the struggle with winter and just finding food to make it through until spring was brutal. Maija has moved from a coastal town to a rugged mountain with her husband and daughters. This sparsely-settled area holds just a few families, and the closest town is miles away. Almost as soon as they get there, one of the daughters finds a dead body; the story of how and why this man was killed unfolds throughout the novel. Against a backdrop of the politics and culture of the time, Ekbäck explores of how people act under pressure, whether political, social, or religious. The culturally distinct Lapps play a role in the story, as does the state-sanctioned church and even the King of Sweden. In the end, Maija and most of the other settlers survive the harsh winter, but not without much suffering, both physical and psychological.   

At times I was reminded of Halldor Laxness’s Independent People and other novels that bring home the fundamental toughness of rural life in Scandinavia. I can’t evaluate the authenticity of Ekbäck’s recreation of Sweden in 1717, but I found it all eminently believable. I enjoyed both the historical detail and the characters. The author’s spare style fits well with the reserved people and harsh landscape she describes. This title is due out in January 2015. 

Gwen Gregory is the resource acquisition and management librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She reads books the way many people watch TV.

Bullion by Michael Woodman

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Aug 312014
 
Fresh from his job a MI6 position, 
Paul Gane gets involved in scheme to steal a fortune but the double cross is rampant



Printing History
Written by Michael Woodman

Sphere
ISBN 722 19279
January 1971

Beagle Books
Beagle Boxer #95141
March 1971



 Posted by at 1:29 pm
Aug 312014
 
This is a pulp I owned and read many years ago. I don't remember anything about it except the cover and the fact that I enjoyed it. Not surprising since the authors included Jack Williamson and Ray Cummings. The Polton Cross story in this one is probably the only thing I've ever read by John Russell Fearn. I have no memory of it. Fearn is one of those authors I've seen mentioned many times,
Aug 312014
 

Marilyn Thiele

Now that the summer rush is about to end, it’s time to think seriously again about ordering books for the shop in a less frenetic fashion. In the spring, thoughts are about what will be popular for vacation reading. Laying hands on copies of the summer reading lists of the local schools is another chore; the schools’ websites are becoming inaccessible to outsiders, and curriculum planners may or may not take the time to respond to a request for a list. Customers with kids turn out to be the best resource. Once the season begins, it seems more time is spent restocking  (“We’re out of Maze Runner again!”) or ordering items you didn’t think would be big, but turned out to be.

Only a few years ago, I could peruse the biannual New York Times Sunday section listing films to be released in the next several months, and feel comfortable that stocking books on which forthcoming films were based would satisfy demand for those who want both the written and visual versions. I just had to be careful to get the right book cover; most of my customers hate (as I do) the “media tie-in” covers. The physical book looks dated in a very short time, whether it’s still on my shelf or in the customer’s library. When I have tried having both versions on display, the non-media copies are the ones that sell. I have had customers say it cheapens written work , and I agree.  A while back, the standard cover for As I Lay Dying was temporarily out of stock, and so I went with the movie tie-in cover. I overheard a customer saying that he wanted the book, but couldn’t stand looking at James Franco. He was willing to wait for a “real” copy.

More recently, I find that being aware of upcoming film releases is only half the job when it comes to ordering for media-related books. The burgeoning  number of series television shows on HBO, Netflix, STARZ, and who knows how many other outlets  has created a huge market for the books on which they are based. The Game of Thrones series was always popular with fantasy fans and a steady seller. It has now become mainstream, has moved from my Fantasy section to a more central display area, and requires a quick inventory check whenever I am placing an order, especially if a new season is beginning. Outlander is beginning to follow the same pattern.

I am not a big TV or film fan. What leisure time I have is usually spent reading. I am tempted by some of the ongoing (and completed) TV  series, but will probably wind up “binge-watching” if we have another bad winter. Thus I have to rely on written sources to find out what’s happening. With the advent of the mini-and maxi-series trend, I find myself making notes while reading the newspaper or magazines so that I can anticipate which books will be in demand.

My totally unscientific observation (and from one who is not a filmgoer) is that there has been a steady increase over the last few years in the number of movies based on bestselling (or classic) books, and more recently, based on young adult fiction. I feared for a while that this trend would decrease the interest in books. I have heard the comment, particularly from young visitors to my shop who are being encouraged by a parent to choose a particular book, “I saw the movie. I don’t need to read the book!”  Fortunately, this sentiment appears to be the minority view and is usually expressed by reluctant readers. Film and TV versions of books are increasing sales. Some want to read the book before seeing the film. Others love the film and realize that the written version probably contains character development, subplots, and details missing from the visual version. (I wonder how the upcoming film of Gone Girl can possibly contain all the plot reversals of the book, even if it is 2 ½  hours long.)

Certainly the Game of Thrones and Outlander television shows have introduced book series that have been ongoing for years, but limited to audiences of Fantasy or Time-Travel Romance fans, to mainstream readers. Both are deserving of this wider audience and offer much more than their previous “genre” classifications implied. Readers who never read fantasy and have completed the Game of Thrones volumes are looking for more books in a similar vein: Thus the increase in sales of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles.  More important, readers are expanding their horizons and discovering that this “genre” stuff might be every bit as good as the “literary” works they have limited themselves to in the past.

Keeping up with what’s happening in the film, television, and on-line entertainment worlds means a little more work for the bookseller who wants to offer the consumer the print versions of their favorite shows or movies. But if these other media are leading readers back to books, showing them the advantages of the written word, and causing them to seek out more books, even if they haven’t been filmed (yet), it’s well worth it.

Aug 312014
 
Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


THIS IS MY AFFAIR. 20th Century Fox, 1937. Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Victor McLaglen, Brian Donlevy, Sidney Blackmer, John Carradine, Douglas Fowley, Robert McWade, Frank Conroy, Alan Dinehart, Douglas Wood, Sig Ruman. Screenplay: Lamar Trotti, Allen Rivkin (uncredited: Kube Glasmon, Wallace Sullivan, and Darrel F. Zannuck). Directed by William A. Seiter.

   This film is a nostalgic romantic musical set at the turn of the nineteenth century with a pair of real life lovers in obvious love with each other — no, it’s a tough crime tale about a super gang of bank robbers threatening the safety of the nation’s economy — no, its about a tough young undercover operative who falls in love with the showgirl sister of one of the criminals he is sent to arrest — no, its about corruption at the highest levels of government — no, it’s about Teddy Roosevelt — but it’s also a tough prison drama as the hour counts down to an innocent man’s execution — and it’s a psychological drama as one man tries to break another to reveal the mastermind behind the bank robbing scheme…

   Well, actually it’s all of that, and with that many elements it shouldn’t work, but still they do.

   I first saw this as an adolescent, and again as a young adult, then it was over forty years before I saw it again earlier this week on You Tube, so I was surprised how accurate my memory was about it, and shocked to find it was every bit as good as I remembered it. Not many films manage that. The look, script, performances, careful recreation of the era from familiar names and slang to the very acts performing on stage, all meticulously recreated and still retaining the charm they possessed then and when first released.

   The film opens with a group of nuns and children touring Arlington National Cemetery in contemporary (1937) times. They pause at General Sheridan’s grave, then the next stone reads Lieutenant Richard Perry, who no one has heard of, though as one nun notes he must have done something great for his country.

   The tour walks on, the camera lingers, and slowly fog and clouds take us back to Washington DC in the McKinley administration and a party at the White House where we meet Vice President Sidney Blackmer as the loud and ‘bully’ Teddy Roosevelt (the first of many times to play TR), then young Lt. Richard Perry (Robert Taylor) recently back from the Spanish American War with medals and the praise of his commander Admiral Dewey (Robert McWade).

   Perry barely gets to flirt with a pretty girl, however, before he is called back to a meeting alone with President McKinley (Frank Conroy). It seems a gang of bank robbers in the Midwest have been so successful they threaten the economy and the Secret Service is helpless because of a high level leak in Washington.

   Perry is known to be rebellious, independent, brilliant, and brave. He will be McKinley’s personal operative, communicate only by a special mark on letters he sends, and his status and existence unknown to any other human.

   You can see where this is going.

   Perry goes deep undercover and sets out on his quest to find the man at the top. (Several IMDb reviews missed entirely that McKinley isn’t sending him to catch bank robbers, but a high placed traitor in Washington — the perils of reviewing films before watching them.) The trail leads to Chicago and a new elegant saloon replete with illegal gambling run by Bat (Baptiste) Duryea (Brian Donlevy) and brutal practical joker Jock Ramsay (Victor McLaglen).

   The star of the show is Bat’s half sister Lil Duryea (Stanwyck) who Jock believes is his girl, though she does everything short of throw a drink in his face to discourage him.

   Naturally Jock is none too pleased to see handsome Perry take and interest and despite her best efforts Lil take an interest back.

   If the middle section drags a little, keep in mind Taylor and Stanwyck were about to marry and very much in love and this was designed to take advantage of that publicity to bring in women audiences. We may complain today there are too many musical numbers and the romance goes on a bit, but audiences in 1937 did not. They wanted to see the real life lovers devouring each other with every glance and Taylor and Stanwyck deliver. Especially Stanwyck who does everything but melt when she looks at Taylor.

   Perry soon realizes the key to the bank robberies and Mr. Big is Bat and Jock, and through Lil to them, but he’s is also in love with her by now. Still he penetrates the gang and soon Bat begins to see the advantage of a smart smooth operator over crude Jock with his unfunny practical jokes and card tricks that never work. And his sister loves Perry as well another bonus, because Bat is not without nuances, including genuine affection for Lil.

   Perry manages to get a letter to McKinley, but when the president informs his cabinet and Vice President, the traitor is among them. Perry had planned to resign and get out with Lil, but he is too close to run now.

   The Midwest is too hot, so they plan to hit a bank in Baltimore, but plans go awry when the police spring a trap and Bat is killed. In due order Jock and Perry are caught, tried, and sentenced to death for the man killed in the holdup shoot out. (Justice actually did move faster then — or at least law did.)

   Perry still doesn’t know who the top man is and plans to work on Jock as the date of execution approaches. The following scenes between Taylor and McLaglen are well done as Jock begins to unravel under the pressure. Perry plays Iago to Jock’s Othello who falls apart with fear and anger as the date of his hanging approaches, and the pull never comes to free him. Both men are effective in these scenes.

   It’s an impressive scene when Jock does break with half a dozen policeman in his tight cell struggling to restrain him.

   Now Perry can write the President, and gets warden John Hamilton to send his specially marked letter so he can be freed and the traitor exposed. Which, as any good dramatist would stage it, is the point when news reaches Perry that McKinley has been shot, and dies without waking up.

   Oooops.

   Perry’s only hope is to tell Lil the truth and send her to President Roosevelt (Sidney Blackmer), but when she finds out he was a policeman and her half brother died because of him, she turns on him and Perry has no where to turn as the hours near for the execution. The warden and the priest come for Ramsay, who has regained enough composure to do card tricks for the priest, and who looks forward to Perry hanging next.

   It isn’t giving that much away that Lil realizes she loves Perry goes to TR, is not believed, then is, then isn’t again until McKinley’s secretary calls a second time to confirm he was instructed to look with specially marked envelopes, but is it in time…

   Of course it is, this is Hollywood, not Stratford-on-Avon. Movie audiences still don’t want to mix too much irony with romance, and killing off Robert Taylor at that point would have killed the box office and word of mouth. These things aren’t film noir, happy endings, if at all possible, are required. Things would soon darken as the war approached, but in 1937 the odds of Taylor and Stanwyck not ending up in clench were microcosmic.

   The film was originally designed for the popular team of Tyrone Power and Alice Faye, then when they were out, Fox borrowed Taylor from MGM, and since he and Stanwyck were soon marrying this was guaranteed box office gold.

   Stanwyck sings her own numbers, and is sprightly, sexy, tough, and — well she’s Barbara Stanwyck and at a point in her career when she made one good or great movie after another. Taylor has some strong scenes in the prison and handles them with skill, his desperation quite real, and his manipulation of Jock has a tough sadistic edge we would not see in him again until the post war era.

   McLaglen chews the scenery with the best of them and yet delivers moments that will recall his Oscar-winning role in John Ford’s The Informer. Donlevy does well with a good bad man, but then he always did. The rest of the cast is capable with Douglas Fowley and John Carradine as henchmen.

   But one actor stands out.

   Sidney Blackmer’s Teddy Roosevelt comes close to stealing the movie every time he is on screen. He is full blooded, bully, enthusiastic, boisterous, loud, and altogether Teddy. He played TR in at least three other movies (uncredited in William Wellman’s Buffalo Bill), and on television, and like Raymond Massey’s Lincoln, it is the role he is best remembered by.

   He was still a popular character actor as late as his role in Rosemary’s Baby but he seldom had a part with this much energy. He also played Anthony Abbot’s (Fulton Ousler) Police Commissioner Thatcher Colt in The Panther’s Claw, and Colt was modeled on TR.

   Director William A. Seiter had a good career that began in 1915 and lasted into television (he made the switch in 1955) up to 1965. If not an auteur, he was capable and professional in the manner of a George Sherman or Woody Van Dyke and helmed all sort of films ably, while screenwriters Lamar Trotti and Allen Rivkin went on to better things.

   This is a nostalgic postcard from the past, tinted with sepia and rose colored glasses, the early years of the 20th Century as only Hollywood could do them. You wouldn’t be too surprised if Perry turned out to be Nicholas Carter and this came straight from the Nickel Library and the pen of Frederick Rennasler Dey himself.

   If the film misses a beat I have never noticed it. It is exactly what is means to be, and to expect anything more or damn it for not being anything else is to totally miss the point that it is perfect for what was intended.

   I cannot find it in myself to criticize any film for being exactly what the audience wanted and the director, screenwriters, and producer intended. Doing anything different would have upset the delicate balance that allows this to work, and in 1937 no one wanted to see the film noir version of this story.

   It’s like complaining because there is no CGI in Snow White or Bert Lahr doesn’t look much like a real lion in The Wizard of Oz as far as I’m concerned, it completely misses the point. It is well and good to not like it for what it is, but don’t condemn it for not being what it was never intended to be.

   For what it is, its a wedding cake topper for an attractive young couple when they were at their most beautiful and has just the right mix of romance, comedy, melodrama, and grit to entertain anyone who loves movie movies. It is a perfect example of they don’t make them like that anymore with all the flaws and genius that statement encompasses. Seeing it again after forty years I was astounded at what good taste my fourteen year old self had in liking it and remembering it so well at the time.

   To think they used to give away dishes to get people to come in and see movies this good.

 Posted by at 1:42 am
Aug 302014
 
IT’S ABOUT CRIME
by Marv Lachman

BILL CRIDER – Too Late to Die. Walker, hardcover, 1986. Ivy, paperback, 1989.

   Mystery novels with a rural policeman as the leading character are a rare breed. One of the best of them is Too Late to Die by 8111 Crider.

   Crider’s hero is Dan Rhodes, Sheriff of Blacklin County, Texas, and most of the action takes place in and around one of that small county’s smaller spots, Thurston (population 408). The book is true its country locale (with characters like Billy Joe Bryan, the retarded local “Peeping Tom”), but there is an intelligence at work here which gives this work a sophistication not often found in backwoods mysteries.

   The local settings ring with such truth that they completely convinced this city slicker who was brought up in The Bronx. I especially liked the scenes at the general store and the debate at the school during Rhodes’ reelection campaign. They all work to strengthen a good detective story.

   Anyone familiar with Bill Crider’s work in reference books and fan magazines should not be too surprised that this is one of the best first mysteries of 1986.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 8, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1986 (slightly revised).

 Posted by at 11:24 pm
Aug 302014
 

liam and tjOkay, where do I start?

Couple of days ago I put together five sets of eight assorted Scudder paperbacks. We mentioned them on Facebook and they sold out overnight @ $49.99 a set. I was encouraged enough to do the same for Bernie R—six sets this time, eight titles per set, mostly mint paperbacks but we offered them as signed reading copies. Same deal, same price. Mentioned them on Facebook and four sets sold in a couple of hours. We’ve got two sets left. I may be able to put together some more sets down the line, if and when I open the right box, but no guarantees.

THE UPDATE UPDATED: The two sets sold, almost as soon as the post went out. Well, gee—I got busy as a nitpicker picking nits, and put together six more sets. Same deal, eight nice fresh reading copies, some UK editions mixed in, and all of them signed by The Big Fellow.

I’m thinking of putting together a multi-copy set of the Tanner series. I’ll have to see how many copies we can spare. (The reason we have all of these paperbacks is LB’s agent used to need them for foreign submission; now, in an age where everything is electronic and moves magically through cyberspace, that’s not as necessary as it was.)

While I was looking for things, I found a lost box of The Burglar in the Rye. We were down to one or two copies, having discarded several with ripped covers and other disasters, and they were pegged at $24.99, but we’ve got enough on hand to put ‘em on special at $9.99. Facebookers grabbed a batch, and last I looked we have 19 left. These are hardcover first editions in brand-new condition, and of course I got him to sign them.

The steady ka-ching! that greeted the price drop on Rye led me to hunt some more, and guess what? We’ve got an equally good supply of the Dutton hardcover first editions of The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza and The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian. They’re firsts, they’re signed, and they’re the same format as Rye—and, duh, the same price. $9.99.

Oh, before I forget. The Burglar Paperback Reading Copy set is US-only. We can ship the individual hardcover books internationally, but note that the per-copy shipping charge is double what you’d pay for the book itself, so you may or may not feel it’s worth it. I’m not sure I worded all of this as well as I could have, or as he would have, but click the links and the pertinent shipping information will appear.

David Trevor for LB’s eBay Bookstore

PS—I couldn’t decide which book to illustrate in this post, so decided instead on a still from A Walk Among the Tombstones. Just because I like it. That’s Liam Neeson as Matthew Scudder and Astro (aka Brian Bradley) as TJ. But you figured that out, right?

 

 Posted by at 6:22 pm

The Joe R. Lansdale Binge of Summer ’14

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Aug 302014
 
I spent all of July and the beginning of August on a Joe R. Lansdale rampage. I read a selection of his books-- some I had read previously, years ago, and others were new to me-- and I'm happy to tell you Lansdale is every bit as terrific as I remembered. It was about 25 years ago, I guess, I first discovered him. I was working in an independent book store at the time, and THE DRIVE-IN caught my eye; even then, I was enraptured with what you might call "trash culture"; that is, B-movies, surf and garage punk, cheesy Americana, etc, and THE DRIVE-IN looked right up my alley.

Oh yes, it definitely was. THE DRIVE-IN threw me for a loop and quickly became one my very favorite books, and Joe Lansdale became one of my very favorite writers. I sought out all of his available books at the time, read them in a near-frenzy of fan-worship, preached the Lansdale gospel to everyone I knew.

But over the years I sort of lost track of him a little. He released book after book, becoming steadily more popular, but I had moved on and shifted my obsession to the great paperback original writers of the '50's and early '60's.

That was pretty stupid of me. When I finally caught up to him, I was very happy to discover that Lansdale had only gotten better and better in the intervening years. He really is a remarkably original voice, and even though his work is closer to mainstream now than it ever was, he is still fearless, still wry and crude, still a writer's writer.

I read a total of 13 Lansdale's in a row on this binge, which took me about halfway through the ones I have on my shelf. Maybe next July I'll tackle the rest...

Here are my notes on the Great Summer Lansdale Binge, in no real order:














COLD IN JULY

When a burglar breaks into his home, husband and father Richard Dane is forced to shoot him down. Dane isn't a violent man, and the event is traumatic for him-- but when the burglar's father, Ben Russel, comes seeking revenge, Dane finds himself confronting the darkest parts of his own heart. 

That set-up in really only the starting point of this highly unpredictable novel. Bizarre circumstances push Dane and Russel into the role of allies, and their journey leads them to discover a very dark and very disturbing conspiracy that changes both men forever. 

I first read this one some twenty years ago. It was among the first two or three that turned me into a serious Lansdale fan and one I've been itching to re-read for some time. It stands up very well, even though Lansdale has definitely gotten better and his voice more distinctive since. Terrific book.


SAVAGE SEASON


This first of what would become a series about Hap Collins and Leonard Pine is just a terrific book, and I loved it as much on this second reading as I had waaay back in 1990. When Hap's ex, Trudy, shows up, Hap and Leonard get drawn into a search for hidden money. Trudy has hooked up with some old '60's radicals who have big plans for the cash. Things go south, of course, and the last half of SAVAGE SEASON is riddled with tension and double-crosses that come at a lightning pace. There's a huge, amazingly suspenseful action sequence at the climax that just blew me away. Vintage Lansdale.


MUCHO MOJO


While SAVAGE SEASON, the first appearance of Hap and Leonard, was kind of a "caper" novel, this one is more a straight-up mystery. Well, as "straight-up" as you could expect from Lansdale, anyway... and if you know Lansdale, you know he doesn't really do "straight-up". 


Leonard's uncle dies, leaving Leonard a house, lots of money, and a dead boy hidden under the floorboards, along with an assortment of moldering kiddie porn mags. This unsavory discovery sets Leonard and Hap on a quest to clear Leonard's uncle's name and nab the real killer. Along the way, they uncover more victims, and since all the victims are wayward black boys, the police aren't much help. 

At its heart, this is a novel about the politics of race in E. Texas, and Lansdale doesn't flinch when it comes to that subject. It's a solid mystery novel, too, even if the bad guy(s) are somewhat telegraphed. But what really makes MUCHO MOJO shine, just like all the other books in this series, is the terrific relationship between Hap and Leonard; a straight white guy and a gay black guy with a friendship that is as deep and strong as any you'll ever read about. Their banter is witty and affectionate and feels very real. While the other relationships in the novel-- especially Hap's doomed romance with Florida-- maybe fall a little flat, all is forgiven when Hap and Leonard are on the page together. 

ACT OF LOVE


Joe Lansdale's first published novel, from 1981, was released in the early days of the serial killer craze that gripped the reading and movie-watching public in the '80's, the zeitgeist that culminated in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, but kept hobbling along after that until most of us were sick unto death of serial killer stories. 


The story is simple: a depraved killer, The Houston Hacker, goes around slicing up women, and a detective, Marvin Hanson, pursues him. There are a couple of twists and turns near the end as Lansdale keeps us guessing who the killer is. Hanson's family is put in danger when the Hacker decides he's getting too close. That's about it.

It's hard to make any sort of judgment about it all these years later, because all the tropes we're so familiar with now probably weren't so overdone then. And being a huge fan of Lansdale, it's kinda hard for me to be harsh about this one. But compared to the work Champion Joe would do later, ACT OF LOVE is, honestly, not great. There's very little of the writer he would become evident here; none of those eccentric character tics, none of that exceptional dialogue or black humor. In fact, ACT OF LOVE is pretty much a humorless book, and the violence is unrestrained and almost immaturely graphic, to no real purpose. I don't know. Maybe I'm judging too harshly, as right before this one I read THE BOTTOMS, which is Lansdale at his very finest. Maybe it's not fair to compare a writer to himself 25 years ago. 

But regardless, the Lansdale we have now is, without question, one of the finest and most original writers working. Unless you're a hardcore fan or a completest, though, I'd suggest skipping ACT OF LOVE.

LOST ECHOES


After a mysterious childhood illness, Harry Wilkes is left with a strange condition-- loud noises cause visions of past horrors to come to him in crippling clarity. Now in college, he has shut himself off from the world and turned to boozing to numb the vision's power. When he meets Tad, an older alcoholic, they work together to find their "centers", until Harry's childhood friend/crush Kayla shows up begging Harry's help in finding her father's murderer. And the results could end up killing them all.


This is an exceptionally strong novel, even for Lansdale. The characters are fully realized in all their flaws and weaknesses, and the subject of alcoholism is treated with remarkable insight and realism. A terrific thriller.

FLAMING ZEPPELINS


This volume contains two short novels, "Zeppelins West" and "Flaming London"; in the first, Buffalo Bill Cody's travelling Wild West Show winds up in Imperial Japan on a secret mission, where Cody (who, by the way, is just a head in a Mason jar), Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, and Sitting Bull rescue the Frankenstein Monster from an evil shogun. Then, with the Japanese in pursuit, they crash in the ocean, are rescued by Captain Bemo (standing in for Captain Nemo), and taken to the Island of Dr. Momo (standing in for Dr. Moreau). And that's just the beginning. You might get the impression that this is a seriously goofy, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, romp, and you'd be right. It's wildly anarchic and over-the-top.


The second volume,"Flaming London", continues the bizarre fun, as Ned the Seal (introduced as a minor character in the first one but taking more center stage here) teams up with Mark Twain and Jules Verne to battle invading Martians a la War of the Worlds. Along the way, they encounter a giant steam man, a talking Martian ape, pirates lost in time, and the Flying Dutchman.

So, yeah. Crazy stuff. Lansdale without a filter, basically. The first novel has a nice, flying by the seat of your pants feeling, as if Lansdale is making it up as he goes and is having a helluva good time. The second one is more cohesive, and maybe a bit more satisfying in the long run. But both of them are well worth reading.

DEADMAN'S ROAD


DEADMAN'S ROAD contains all of Lansdale's tales of the Rev Jebidiah Mercer, the gunslinger preacher who wanders the West destroying supernatural evil wherever he finds it. The bulk of the volume is taken up by the short novel DEAD IN THE WEST, in which the tormented Reverend arrives in Mud Creek, Texas, the target of a vengeful Indian curse and hordes of flesh-eating zombies. In the other stories, Reverend Mercer has his head on a little straighter (which isn't saying much, the guy's a mess) and vanquishes werewolves, goblins, and demonic bees.


All the stories are fun and profane in the best Lansdale tradition. Not too many writers can balance grim against funny, horrifying against goofy, the way Joe Lansdale can, and the result of that is a handful of stories that only HE could have written.

THE BOTTOMS


I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is probably Lansdale's most fully realized novel that I've read so far. It is entirely gripping, with terrific and believable characters, pitch-perfect pacing, and, in the last fourth, almost unbearable suspense. 


Like several of his other more "serious" novels (please note I use serious in quotation marks) THE BOTTOMS takes place in Depression-era East Texas. Young Harry and his little sister Tom find the mutilated corpse of a black woman, and as horrifying as it is, it's only the beginning in a string of murders that ultimately lead to the lynching of an innocent black man for the crime. Harry's father, who acts as a part time constable, has his hands full trying to find the murderer while keeping the KKK from taking further steps in the black community. 

More than a few times, THE BOTTOMS made me think of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD; the comparison is inevitable. The narrator is a young person who's father is often the sole voice of reason in a town stained by ugly institutionalized racism. There's even aBoo Radley of sorts, near the end. And speaking of that ending... the last chapter is just flat-out terrifying.

THE TWO-BEAR MAMBO


The third Hap and Leonard book, and the strongest so far. At the request of their cop friend Hanson, the boys head off to Grovetown, Texas, in search of Hanson's girlfriend (and Hap's ex) Florida. What they find is a kind of throwback town, full of Jim Crow types. No sir, they don't like "coloreds" in Grovetown. Trying to get a bead on where Florida has vanished to, Hap and Leonard find themselves in pretty serious straits, asking questions that are making some of Grovetown's more illustrious citizens nervous-- and a little past the halfway mark in THE TWO-BEAR MAMBO, our heroes get a pretty shocking reminder of their own mortality with a pretty brutal beat-down. Of course, it takes a whole mob of folks to do it, but it's enough to make the boys start second-guessing themselves. 


Reading this one, it dawned on me finally that I've really developed an emotional attachment to Hap and Leonard. It's hard not to like them, right from the first book, but in this one it really hit home; there were a few moments when I found myself worried about them, which was ridiculous, as I know full well there are more books in the series after this one, and yet... I got so caught up in events I wasn't even thinking about that.

Anyway, the last fourth of THE TWO-BEAR MAMBO goes dark, as Hap and Leonard find it in themselves to get back on the horse and finish what they started, despite their fear and new-found insecurity. And the climax, set during a raging rain storm and the threat of the entire town flooding with them in it, is a nail biter. Great stuff. 

HIGH COTTON


A collection of Lansdale's most popular stories. Very good stuff, and a reminder of what an original voice he was, right from the very beginning of his career. Most of these stories are pretty brutal and pretty graphic. Others, like "Bob the Dinosaur Goes to Disneyland" are surprisingly whimsical, even if they DO have that twisted Lansdale touch.


Favorites include the aforementioned "Bob the Dinosaur", the truly disturbing "By Bizarre Hands", the black comedy "Night They Missed the Horror Show", the action-packed and scary "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road", the Alfred Hitchcock-esque "The Steel Valentine", and the tragic-funny "Godzilla's Twelve-Step Program".

FREEZER BURN

Bill is a loser in the classic mold, a shiftless fella without much brains or ambition. He's been living off his mother's social security checks, but when she dies (and her corpse starts stinking the place up) the pipeline dries up and Bill comes up with a scheme to rob a fireworks stand across the street from his house. The "heist" goes south in a hurry, and Bill has to take it on the lam through a dangerous swamp. He winds up joining a travelling freak show, making friends with a dog boy, and falling hard for the freak show owner's sexy young wife... and of course, the wife has a plan to do away with her husband...

If you've read any old Gold Medal paperback originals from guys like Charles Williams or Day Keene or Robert Edmund Alter, or even if you've read James M. Cain, you already know this story backwards and forwards. But Lansdale does the Lansdale thing with it, making it hysterically funny at times, dark, profane, a little vile on occasion, but compellingly readable. There are lots of surprises along the way, some truly memorable characters and scenes, and seeing the way Bill changes (in some ways he becomes a better person, and in other ways, well... not so much) is fascinating.

Also, I should note, the whole opening segment involving the botched robbery and Bill's escape through the swamp is one of the funniest things I've ever read in my life. It was disturbing too, but I couldn't help but laugh out loud a few times.

BAD CHILI

This one starts with one of the funnier sequences in the Hap and Leonard series, as the boys are attacked out of nowhere by a rabid squirrel; it's a seemingly random beginning that actually becomes relevant at the end. But even if it wasn't, it works as a purely comic scene.

The whole book is pretty funny, really. There's more emphasis on comedy than in the previous books, and that's probably why I like it maybe just a little less. But a LOT happens in this one-- Leonard's boyfriend Raul disappears, Leonard is accused of murder (surprisingly, he's cleared pretty quickly)and the boys investigate a ring of black market gay-bashing video makers. There are lots of quirky characters and quirky scenes, but BAD CHILI maybe doesn't hold together as a whole as well as previous Hap and Leonard novels.

I'm being nit-picky, of course. Even a lesser Hap & Leonard novel is well-worth reading. Some bonus's are the surprise appearance of Jim Bob Luke, from COLD IN JULY, and a really thrilling climax that takes place during a tornado. Poor Hap keeps getting caught in the middle of natural disasters. And of course, the easy camaraderie between Hap & Leonard is a pure joy.

SUNSET AND SAWDUST


Depression-era E Texas: during a violent storm, Sunset Jones kills her husband, the constable, as he attempts to rape her. Much to Camp Rapture's dismay, she inherits his job and finds herself in the middle of a double murder investigation that implicates some of the town's highest officials. And Sunset's life, as well as the lives of her daughter and her friends, is in serious danger.


That summary doesn't do it justice. This is Lansdale at his best. SUNSET & SAWDUST is a suspenseful, darkly comic thriller with all of the great, wry touches Champion Joe is known for. And Sunset is just a terrific character. In this age when too many creators think a "strong female character" is basically just a man in drag, Lansdale gives us a believable and engaging heroine who is strong BECAUSE she's a woman, not in spite of it. You'll definitely root for her.