Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A Vision of Fire by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin


(hb; 2014: Book One of the Earthend Saga)

From the inside flap:

"The daughter of India's ambassador to the United Nations starts speaking in tongues and having violent visions. A young Haitian girl claws at her throat, apparently drowning on dry land.  An Iranian boy suddenly sets himself on fire.

"Called to treat the ambassador's daughter, renown child psychologist Caitlin O'Hara is sure that Maanik's fits have something to do with the recent assassination attempt on her father - a shooting that has escalated nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan - but when teenagers around the world start having similar outbursts, Caitlin is forced to consider that a more sinister force is at work.

"Caitlin must now race across the globe to identify the links connecting these bizarre incidents in order to save Maanik - whose soul might be in peril - and perhaps the world."


Review:

Vision is a solid, well-written - if slow-build - set-up novel for Anderson and Rovin's science and speculative- iction storyline. The writing is concise, vivid and highly visualized (making it television miniseries-friendly, should someone decide to adapt it), and the characters and the concepts are interesting. This is a promising start to Anderson and Rovin's future serial work.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Black by Max Booth III


(pb; 2013: novella)

From the back cover:

"Black: A Novella A horrific Western tale of a gunfighter cursed with unwanted immortality. It's one thing to make a deal with the Devil; it's another when the deal is made for you."


Review:

Black is a horror-and-action gory, stripped-to-its-genre-core, thoroughly entertaining and perversely humorous sixty-three page Western with a sympathetic (if violent) protagonist. Excellent read, worth owning.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dark Corners edited by CT McNeely, Emily McNeely and Steve Gallagher


(pb; pulp fiction magazine/anthology: Fall 2014, Vol. 1 Issue 1)

Overall review:

Excellent two hundred and fifty-nine-page anthology that got published as a pulp magazine - it's got a bit of everything for lovers of this genre: stories, novella segments, book reviews and author interviews. While not all of the thirty-seven pieces struck me as wonderful - there were a few, disappointments I chalk up to my personal preferences - I could see why the McNeelys and Gallagher published them. If future issues of this magazine-anthology are this exceptional and gut-punch effective, this will be a read-every-issue publication.


Standout works:

1.)  "Company Man" - Tom Pitts:  A hit man (Jerry) offers to show a new-to-crime associate (Rico) an imaginative way to do a job.  Well-written, effective finish.


2.)  "Short and Choppy" - Will Viharo:  Grisly, sexually explicit and brutal story about a dwarf (Cameron) whose hatred for his writing teacher (Sean) and lust for Sean's wife (Sabrina) leads Cameron toward some fantastically violent actions.  Excellent, black-hearted and noirish laugh-out-loud tale.



3.)  "Domestic Tableau" - Warren Moore:  An adolescent's life of crime and drug addiction place him and his family in desperate and dangerous situations.  There are some nice twists at the end, with a clever, theme-appropriate mention of the band Queensrÿche as a story-layer element (for those familiar with their early-to-mid-career music).
 



4.)  "The Husband Killers" - Deborah Lacy: During the live taping of a popular morning show, a man dies on camera, the apparent victim of poisoning.  Detective Jocelyn Reed, at the scene of the crime, has to weed out the killer or killers from a large group of people - most of whom have sufficient motives to want the man dead.  This is a good, attention-holding read.


5.)  "Adele" - Vito Racanelli: Immediately involving tale about a cop (Sommers) who stabs his cleaver-slashing wife (Adele) in self-defense while the only witness - her latest lover, a junkie - escapes. Now, Sommers must track down the junkie before Sommers gets sent to prison. There aren't a lot of surprises in "Adele," but it's well-written. 


6.)  "Next to Nothing" - Sam Wiebe: A private investigator (John Wakeland) tries to talk down an old acquaintance (Mr. Jacks) after Jacks - grieving for his dead son, Wakeland's friend - gets violent with sharp objects in his motel room.

Excellent, memorable, horrific and humane (if bleak) work, one that sensitive animal lovers might want to skip.


7.)  "The Natanhala Kidnapping" - Gary L. Robbe:  Disturbing, effective story about old friends who resurrect an outdated ritual of kidnapping each other on their honeymoons - only this time, the ritual goes south in an irrevocable way. 


8.)  "Off, Park and Up" - Martin Zeigler:  An OCD-addled, cineaste encounters agitating delays on his all-important "Movie Day." Laugh out loud funny (in a dark way, of course), tone-effective work.


9.)  "Will Viharo: Unsung Hero of the Pulps" (article) - CT McNeely:  Excellent, succinct overview of, and appreciation for, Viharo's work and his in-the-flesh contributions to the pulp and cinematic genres. A man of many talents, Viharo deserves to be recognized for what he's done and this is a worthy salute to the man.


10.)  "John D. MacDonald's The Executioners" (book review) - Reviewed by Dyer Wilk:  MacDonald's 1957 novel, which brought into being two films, both titled Cape Fear (one in 1962, the other - a remake - in 1991) gets its worthwhile due once again.  Good, smart review.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lemons Never Lie by Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake)


(pb; 1971, 2006: fourth novel in the Alan Grofeld series)

From the back cover:

"When he's not pulling heists with his friend Parker, Alan Grofeld runs a small theater in Indiana.  But putting on shows costs money and jobs have been thin, which is why Grofeld agrees to listen to Andrew Myers' plan to knock over a brewery.  Unfortunately, Myers' plan is insane - so Grofeld walks out on him.  And you don't walk out on Myers."


Review:

Lemons is a distinctive - and, along with The Blackbird, one of the best books - in the Alan Grofeld series. What sets Lemons apart from the three previous Grofeld entries is that it also shows Grofeld interacting with his supportive and easygoing wife, Mary (last seen in the Parker novel The Score). When he's with Mary, he's not nearly as caustic or wise-cracking as he is when he's working as a heistman; this shift in personality makes him even more likeable. Even when a murderous amateur (Andrew Myers) forces Grofeld into a tiresome endeavor - getting revenge on Myers, and hopefully some much-needed cash while doing so - Grofeld is tender and loving with his wife, in a way he isn't with his occasional, extramarital women or those he encounters in his criminal works.

This being a Stark novel, there's no wasted words, the action is swift and smart, the characters' core personalities are deftly sketched out and the ending is edgy and memorable - this time with an added amiability, as this is a Grofeld story.

Excellent, hard-to-put-down conclusion to a standout series. Worth owning, these books.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk


(hb; 2014)

From the inside flap:

"Penny Harrigan is a low-level assistant in a big Manhattan law firm who has an apartment in Queens and no love life at all. So it comes as a great shock when she finds herself invited to dinner by one C. Linus Maxwell, a.k.a. 'Climax-Well,' a software megabillionaire and lover of the most gorgeous and accomplished women on earth. After taking her to dinner at Manhattan's most exclusive restaurant, he whisks Penny off to a hotel suite in Paris, where he proceeds, notebook in hand, to bring her to previously undreamed-of heights of orgasmic pleasure for days on end. What's not to like?

"This: Penny discovers she is a test subject for the final development of a line of sex toys to be marketed in a nationwide chain of boutiques called Beautiful You. So potent and effective are these devices that women by the millions line up outside stores on opening day and then lock themselves in their rooms with them and stop coming out. Except for batteries. Maxwell's plan for the erotically enabled world domination must be stopped. But how?"


Review:

Beautiful is an excellent, bleakly hilarious satire - a fictional reality that reads like real life in an exaggerated way.  Its journalistic tone is analytical, almost chilling, with touches of perverse, risible humor in the first quarter of the novel (a trademark of Palahniuk's work); after that, as all the plot-puzzle pieces begin to fall into place at the right time (for reader like myself), it's a warmer-in-tone rollercoaster ride for Penny - Beautiful's determined but frazzled protagonist - who is trying to gather information with which to defeat her ever-present and seemingly unstoppable ex-sexmate (to call Maxwell her lover would be tonally incorrect).

Readers who are familiar with Palahniuk's writing will likely spot some of his well-foreshadowed, necessary and theme-centric twists.  (This is not a criticism, of course.)  These twists, along with the ones that surprise and further delight, make Beautiful an effective work that amuses, otherwise entertains and rips into mindless pop culture and its resulting mindset with savage aplomb.  Worth owning, this.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dead Skip by Joe Gores


(pb; 1972: first novel in the DKA File series.  Loosely linked crossover novel with Richard Stark's novel Plunder Squad.)

From the back cover:

"Ballard had 72 hours to find out who attacked his partner, Bart Heslip. Bart was no help.  He was in the hospital, in a coma; his woman was doing a slow burn by his side. Now Ballard was racing around in the frayed edges of Oakland and San Francisco tracing down deadbeats.  A lush stripper, an embezzler and an ex-con all had repo'd cars in common.  Did they also share a murder? With the clock ticking away like Bart Heslip's heartbeat, Ballard was up against a dead skip, a blank wall. Then Ballard's boss, Dan Kearny, jumped into the hunt, loving every minute of it - and hurtling them both toward the pointed barrel of a gun."


Review:

Dead is a fun, fast-moving and P.I.-gritty novel that features the East Bay and San Francisco area, written with feels-like-you're-there detailed effectiveness.  Good book for a lazy autumn afternoon read, worth owning.  Followed by Final Notice.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Plunder Squad by Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake)


(pb; 1972, 2010: fifteenth novel in the Parker series.  Introduction by Charles Ardai.  Loosely linked crossover novel with Joe Gores' novel Dead Skip.)


From the back cover:

" 'Hearing the click behind him, Parker threw his glass straight back over his right shoulder, and dove off his chair to the left.' When a job looks like amateur hour, Parker walks away. But even a squad of seasoned professionals can't guarantee against human error in a high-risk scam. Can an art dealer with issues unload a truck of paintings with Parker's aid? Or will the heist end up too much of a human interest story, as luck runs out before Parker can get in on the score?"


Review:

Plunder is another favorite-for-this-reader entry in Stark's Parker series.  It not only varies up the usual Parker storyline in a taut and thrilling way, it brings together familiar faces from previous novels in this series: Ed Mackey, one of Parker's cheerful semi-regular heistmates; Dan Kearny*, a P.I. who crossed paths with Parker prior to the main storyline of The Hunter; George Uhl, a murderous thug Parker encountered in The Sour Lemon Score; Stan Devers, whose work with Parker in The Green Eagle Score led to Devers' expulsion from the ROTC and his subsequent life of crime; and, of course, Handy McKay, a ex-Parker-heistmate-now-diner-owner in Presque, Maine who serves as Parker's "contact man" for jobs.

Plunder, like the preceding Parker novels, is an excellent read, one worth owning.

Followed by Butcher's Moon.


[*Dan Kearny is the main character in Joe Gores' DKA Files series.]
Steve Isaak has published two hundred stories and poems, and is the author of three anthologies: Behind the wheel: selected poems, Shinjuku sex cheese holocaust: poems and the forthcoming Horrorsex County: stories (which are, or will be, available at Lulu and Amazon).