Thursday, September 17, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [77]: CONAN by Robert E. Howard

This collection of short stories is the perfect place to start for readers new to Conan. Not only does the book provide bite sized morals of the violent sword and sorcery the long running fantastical protagonist is renowned for, but it also introduces all the key elements outside of the core themes prominent in the larger forms of fiction; monsters, magicians, thievery, the undead, friendship, deceit, and battles a-plenty. 

I must admit that I've not read many Conan stories so my praise for this short story collection can be taken with a grain of salt. That said, this book just worked for me; be it Conan taking on a job as a thief and winding up battling a serpent or taking down a giant slug which had destroyed a  castle and its surroundings, to rescuing a damsel in distress near naked and bloodied on a battlefield, each story was rich in Hyborian lore and cleverly intertwined into the broader continuity. 

Another thing that appealed to me in these stories was the references to other adventures/places/characters, notably the Sword of Skelos which coincidentally, is the only Conan novel I've read. 

I couldn't draw myself away from these stories until I'd finished the book, enjoying each of them equally. It's rare that I rate a collection so highly but CONAN was surprisingly consistent throughout. Highly recommend. 

Book of the Month [August 2020]


I read some very good books and some very bad books last month with little in between. It was one of those strange periods of reading where I either loved or hated (perhaps that's a too harsh a word - disliked) whatever I picked up. On a positive note, I didn't record a DNF. 

The standouts were all very different from one another, which, as an eclectic reader I appreciated; THE LIBRARY OF THE UNWRITTEN by A.J. Hackwith (fantasy/horror) , THE SOUTHERN BOOK CLUB'S GUIDE TO SLAYING VAMPIRES by Grady Hendrix (horror), and, my choice for this months' book of the month, STALKERS by Eileen Ormsby (true crime). 


STALKERS is a real winner for true crime junkies. Readers of this blog and my reviews on Goodreads, will know that I rated Eileen Ormsby's THE DARKEST WEB very highly so won't be all that surprised by the praise I heaped onto this one:
Dark, disturbing, and near unbelievable - Stalkers by Eileen Ormsby reads like crime fiction at its finest - only it's not. Comprising four stories of seriously creepy stalkers complete with information about each stalkers sub category for added context and insight into the mind of the maddened, author Eileen Ormsby provides a peak behind the curtain of normalcy to showcase a world so twisted it's difficult to comprehend. 
Yeah, it's a good one that's for sure.

Despite my up and down reading month, there was plenty to get excited about. Fingers crossed September's between good and bad reads isn't as big as this months.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Review: THE SOUTHERN BOOK CLUB'S GUIDE TO SLAYING VAMPIRES by Grady Hendrix


I don't know what it is about this book but there's just something about 90's suburban housewives kicking vampire ass while balancing family, friends and book club - and doing it all in style, that works on so many levels.

The thing that really stands out for me, is the ease of horror into the everyday life of the characters. The proverbial blood-spatter on the white picket fence doesn't feel out of place, in fact, it's like its always been there; an evil skulking behind the garbage bins at night patiently waiting for its prey, salivating for something succulent to sink its achingly hungry teeth into - and sink its teeth it does!

The plot feeds off the paranoia of one housewife in particular, Patricia, thanks largely to her genre of choice when it comes to book club; true crime. When children start to act strange, or even go missing, her knowledge of predators, gleamed from the pages of true crime books sparks her inner detective. From there it's goodbye dirty dishes and daily chores and hello conspiracy theories and monster hunting. 

While there are plenty of gory moments, The Southern Book Club's Guide To Slaying Vampires isn't all about that Dracula blood-drinking night life. I found it to be a character centric tale which emphasis the nature of neighbourly love, friendship, family, and the deep rooted behavioural to protect ones patch (while, you know, taking out vampires). 

The Southern Book Club's Guide To Slaying Vampires is a perfect blend of well written mass market paperback horror (yes, there are some from the 80's and 90's which are actually worth reading (though I do love those highly collectable covers)) and a more realistic take on the themes prevalent in Desperate Housewives. I can't recommend this book enough! 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Review: STALKERS by Eileen Ormsby

Dark, disturbing, and near unbelievable - Stalkers by Eileen Ormsby reads like crime fiction at its finest - only it's not. Comprising four stories of seriously creepy stalkers complete with information about each stalkers sub category for added context and insight into the mind of the maddened, author Eileen Ormsby provides a peak behind the curtain of normalcy to showcase a world so twisted it's difficult to comprehend. 

Whilst it would've been easy to write a book featuring high profile public figure harassment/stalker cases spattered across mainstream media, Stalkers delves a little deeper, both in timeline and victim. Sure there's one story featuring an up and coming young actress but the others are about normal, everyday people, including a shocking case featuring two teenage boys which, honestly scared the living daylight out of me, as did one about a deluded author who sought out a book reviewer who posted an unfavourable review on Goodreads! (yikes...). 

It's been a while since a true crime book has given me serious goose bumps. Not since I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara has a non-fiction book left such a lasting impression and that's exactly what Stalkers has done - especially the fourth story about a young women who falls victim to a Craigslist rape fantasy which honestly feels like it was written for the silver screen and not ripped from police files and public news reports. There's so many twists to this torrid tale I couldn't believe how it turned out. 

If you're a true crime junkie and/or a fan of the The Dark Web books by Eileen Ormsby this is a no-brainer, pick up a copy from Amazon right now.  

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Review: THE LIBRARY OF THE UNWRITTEN by A.J. Hackwith


Who doesn't love reading books about books? The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a long time favourite of mine, so naturally I couldn't wait to delve into this book-book with a supernatural edge (I immediately thought of Fireproof by Gerard Brennan). 

The Library of the Unwritten does a fantastic job at merging the devilish elements of hell and fallen angels with the timeless allure of libraries. The characters who populate this sojourn into the many realms of belief are equal parts bookish and demonic - yet not without their redeeming qualities (Claire, and Hero are particular favourites). 

Whilst I'm touching upon characters, I need to make mention of how diverse and unique each one is. Claire, Hell's librarian is vibrant, tough, and not without her darker moments, whilst Brevity, the head librarians muse, is a perfect ying to Claire's yang. Then there's the damsels, Hero and Brit; characters who exist only in the minds of their authors until the unfinished manuscripts hit the stacks in Hell's library - these characters are cleverly crafted and critical to the core plot. You've also got the stock standard demons and angels too stuck in eternal conflict, which I won't go into detail as to avoid spoilers, needless to say, there's a lot going on in this book and each character is given their time spotlight. 

The Library of the Unwritten reads like a fantasy adventure book complete with a meaningful quest for a loyal band of heroes and plenty of dangers and pitfalls in their way. Ultimately the mantle of each character is put the test with some passing and others making the reader form completely different opinions of them from when the book started out. As you can gather, this story is heavy on character growth and development with the story happening around them (don't get me wrong, the story is a pretty good one). 

Overall, I really enjoyed The Library of the Unwritten and can't wait to see what's next for these characters.  

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Book of the Month [July 2020]

I read 7 books last month which was my lowest amount for any given month this year, but, whilst July wasn't plentiful in volume, it was in quality. 

After languishing in my TBR for years I finally read CONSOLE WARS by Blake Harris and I loved it. The teenage me couldn't help but lap up that Nintendo and Sega dose of nostalgia. Despite some flaws (there seemed to be a distinct Sega bias) I couldn't put the book down and had a blast (from the past?) reading it form beginning to the end. If you're a 90's kid/teen who played video games, I strongly recommend CONSOLE WARS.

RUSTY PUPPY by Joe R Landsale was another highlight but then again I come to expect this with any Hap and Leonard book I read. You can read my 5 star review HERE

I've been dipping in and out of the world of 4000AD and Judge Dredd and was generally pleased with the collection of novellas printed in Judges: Volume One, edited by Michael Carroll. The premise of the collection focuses on the judge program as it's being rolled out across America, so not much Dredd but a whole lot of interesting and action packed story. 

However, there can only be one book of the month and that lofty award goes to BROKEN by Don Winslow. I listened to this one on Audible but wish I read it in print (I'll likely pick up a print copy at some stage). This collection of novellas is just great. A perfect balance of crime and comedy featuring characters from series across Winslow's back catalogue of fiction. In a word: Excellent. 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [76]: THE GIRL, THE GOLD WATCH AND EVERYTHING by John D MacDonald


I'm glad I researched this book before delving in otherwise I think I would've been thoroughly confused. 

Renowned for crime fiction, The Girl, Gold Watch and Everything deviates from John D MacDonald's bread and butter in favor of b-grade sci-fi which oozes pulp.

Published in 1962 (my edition 1968), the story holds up pretty well; time travel by virtue of a gold watch which, when the hands are turned backwards, temporarily suspends time to allow the watch holder to move freely around unbeknownst to everyone else. 


Naturally this power is used for monetary gain and to enable the protagonist, Kirby to escape some pretty dicey situations, however the primary purpose of this great power is comedy. Yep...Kirby and his girlfriend use the suspended time to prank innocent bystanders as well as those who want to get possession of the watch themselves. Whilst I didn't mind this approach, the humor quickly grew adolescent (15yr old me would've loved it)

There are a few plot holes and 'easy-outs' throughout the book which dampened my enjoyment - and the attempted scientific rationalization of the gold watch's abilities I could've done without but overall I liked the book and would certainly recommend anyone picking this up in the dollar section of a used bookstore (I wouldn't recommended actively seeking out a copy as, honestly, it's not worth it). 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [75]: BONES WILL TELL by Bruno Fischer


This is a hard book to find information about; this edition is was published in 2017 by Armchair Fiction as a double feature reminiscent of those highly collectable Ace Book Doubles from yesteryear and features the tagline on the front (back) cover ' first time in paperback', yet I can find pretty much nothing about this on the internet....

With the original publication is as much a mystery as the whodunit, perhaps Armchair Fiction wanted to add to the overall allure of mystery: Mission accomplished.

Bones Will Tell is a classic whodunit murder mystery with elements of horror (mostly from the suspense and shock methods spattered throughout). Clocking in around 60 pages, it's a quick read that gets straight to the point with little to no filler content.

The premise is pretty simple and that's part of the fun; a preteen couple daring themselves to be brave jump over the wall of a creepy old house inhibited by an equally creepy old woman (though in reality said creepy old woman is in her early 50's) in search of ghoulish things and, well, to prove to themselves they're brave. Little did they know what lay on the other side of the wall would haunt them for the rest of their lives! 

Whilst not as good as the book this is paired with in the two-for-one printing (Dead in Bed by Day Keene), Bones Will Tell is a lot fun to read, and will be more appreciated by readers familiar with pulp/dime-store paperbacks than traditional mystery readers. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [74]: DEAD IN BED by Day Keene


First published in 1959 and reprinted in 2017 by Armchair Fiction as a double feature reminiscent of those highly collectable Ace Book Doubles from yesteryear, Dead In Bed is a formulaic pulp private eye novel, complete with wanton dames, murder, deceit, sex, and a whole lot of easy violence. 

Johnny Aloha is a Hawaiian private eye who makes his living in LA. Set in the post World War II era, Aloha, a former marine himself, has all the tools to recuse any dame in distress (or state of undress as it were) and has the uncanny ability to dodge bullets and escape out of the most dire of predicaments (i.e he can untie knots while both hands are restricted and can swim for miles in ice cold water whilst feeling the effects of a concussion after escaping from a sinking ship which he was able to do after he took down two armed bad guys). Far fetched as this is, Johnny is a largely enjoyable character in similar mould to the protagonists featured in Carter Brown's pulp novels

"Aloha means hello, goodbye, and “much love” in island parlance, but Aloha’s presence usually meant murder…anytime, anywhere!" 


In Dead in Bed, Aloha is hired by a soon-to-be-wealthy beautiful blonde 20yr woman to find her missing promiscuous mother. What looks to be a pretty straight forward missing persons case soon turns deadly when Chinese gangsters show up looking to beat Aloha to a bloody pulp. Whilst this angle is ambiguous in the beginning, it makes sense in the end. 

Add some more beatings, blunt forced trauma, eager dames looking for the kind of love only Aloha can provide, and a cool 40 million dollars worth of inheritance and you've got a bag full of buttery popcorn pulp. 

My only major gripe with the book is that it reads as a second instalment in a private eye series. Throughout the book I couldn't help but think I was dropped into a story which started from a preceding volume, especially given the considerable references made to a previous case which didn't seem to have anything to do with the main plot in this book. After looking into it further, this is the first book to feature Aloha with Day Keene penning a second, Payloa, one year later in 1960.

Overall Dead in Bed is a solid enough pulp which achieves what it sets out to do; entertain. 

Author Interview: KYLE PERRY

Kyle Perry is a counsellor who has worked extensively in high schools, youth shelters and drug rehabs. In his work he encounters stories and journeys that would fill a hundred books. Kyle’s mother grew up in the foothills of the Great Western Tiers, in Tasmania’s heartland, where his grandfather was called on for search and rescues in the mountains. Kyle himself has been lost in Tasmanian mountains twice, and once used ripped pages of a journal stuck on branches to find his way back out. He has also seen strange things in the bush that defy explanation and are best not spoken about. Kyle divides his time between his small country hometown in Tasmania’s North West and Hobart. The Bluffs is his debut novel.*

*author image and bio from Penguin Books Australia

Kyle was kind enough to stop by the blog to answer some questions about his debut novel (which I loved),The Bluffs, but before we delve into that, take some time out to read my 5 star review on this blog and over on Goodreads

(Josh) The myth that is the Hungry Man adds an element of otherworldly to the story and heightens the fear-factor tenfold, where did the idea originate from? 

(Kyle) The Hungry Man is based on a blend of real experiences, as well as the legend of Alexander Pearce - also known as the Cannibal Convict who is rumoured to have hidden out in the Tiers - and a bush myth my mate once told me about, called the Tall Man . . . apparently, if you’re in his bushland and look behind you three times, the Tall Man will take you.

The Bluffs echoes the female adolescence noir stylings made popular in recent times by Megan Abbott, are you familiar with her work and do you think this is a theme you will continue with in the future? 


No, I’m not – I just researched her and her novels look great! The female adolescence stories came from real experiences as a youth worker in high schools, and the fascinating and disturbing politics and lawlessness of teenage girls. It’s a theme I’d like to continue with in future for sure, there’s a lot of stories to be told, but I’d like a bit of distance right now, too, from that job, so at the moment I’m not sure expecting it to feature in my next book.


There are some truly memorable characters in The Bluffs, notably Madison Mason, how hard was it balancing these diverse character personalities and ensuing each had sufficient page time to tell their side of the story? 

A great question, mixed with the kind of feedback an author loves to hear! At the moment, I’d say it’s a writer’s instinct – when you’ve written as many stories as I have you eventually get a feeling for which character fits where and which chapter needs who – but this was matched with the dream-team of agent, publisher, and editor who give me the perspective to keep the characters and their energies balanced. Here, the diversity was a strength – whose energy will blend with whose to get the right tension or catharsis in this scene; which personality needs to clash right now vs which personality needs to blend right now; etc.

I’d also add that part of my strength as a writer is my profession and background as a counsellor, which gives me a few extra tools for how to dive deep into characterisation and the tiny cues and comments that bely the deeper things going on. I’m glad you liked Madison (or hated) – she was loosely based on a real student, but I’ll never, ever say who!

The Bluffs reads like it's part of a much broader story, are there plans to revisit the characters in future books? I'd personally love to read more about the Jaguar Girls.  


Awesome to hear that, too! The idea of a good story is that it’s taking place in a wider universe, and we’re just capturing one frame of that universe. I’m still unsure on revisiting that universe. If enough people want it, I might consider it, but when I held the final copy in my hands I felt it was nice and complete and didn’t feel like it wanted to be revisited. But that could change, once I finish my current novel – which is a standalone.

What would your elevator pitch to sell The Bluffs to prospective readers be? 


Four teenage girls go missing on a school camp in the Tasmanian mountains, where an urban legend stalks the trees. When a body shows up with the shoes nearby, neatly tied, the story twists and turns until the final page.

- - - - -

Many thanks to Kyle, and Jess from Penguin Random House Australia for arranging this interview. 

If you've not done so, head over to one of these sites to pick up a copy of the book, you won't regret it: Amazon AU / Book Depository / Dymocks

Monday, July 13, 2020

Review: RUSTY PUPPY by Joe R Lansdale


I've said it before and I will say it again; no one is able to rival Elmore Leonard's craft as close as Joe R. Lansdale. In fact, I'd say the two are neck and neck for the best dialogue and characterisation ever written in crime fiction. Yeah - I'm fanboying hard over this one. 

Rusty Puppy pits the colourful duo up against corrupt cops, shady ambulance chasers, project drug dealers and common street thugs, and, to top it all off, a 400 year old vampire disguised as an 11 year old girl. 

In true Hap and Leonard fashion, their prowess for detecting somehow leads them down a bumpy, bruising path and into a bush of brass knuckles and beat downs - the themes you'd expect to find are served up to perfection; comfort food akin to chicken noodle soup during flu season. 

Much like other books in the series (this is the 10th instalment), Rusty Puppy reads well as a standalone but it all the more enjoyable for having read what came before. The events of Honky Tonk Samurai lead straight into this book which is great for continuity and add a whole layer of depth to what is already a pretty meaty story. 

My rating: another 5/5 star read. Up next Jackrabbit Smile.  

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Book of the Month [June 2020]


Hard to believe we're already half way through 2020 (though to be honest, I, like most, will be glad to see the back end of 2020). Despite the hardships and difficulties many of us are going through, there is one thing which helps to provide a distraction from the weight of the world - books. 

Being half way through the year, means I'm also at the half way mark of my 2020 Goodreads reading challenge (of 120 books). I'm happy to say I'm ahead, though my output is slowing in recent months. 

In June I read 10 books with, as the above imagine suggests, The Bluffs by Kyle Perry being the pick of the bunch. 


From the back of the book:

When a school group of teenage girls go missing in the remote wilderness of Tasmania’s Great Western Tiers, the people of Limestone Creek are immediately on alert. Not long ago, six young girls went missing in the area of those dangerous bluffs, and the legends of ‘the Hungry Man’ still haunt locals to this day.

Now, authorities can determine that the teacher, Eliza Ellis, was knocked unconscious, so someone on the mountain was up to foul play. Jordan Murphy, father of missing student Jasmine and the town’s local dealer, instantly becomes prime suspect, but Detective Con Badenhorst knows that in a town this size – with corrupt cops, small-town politics, and a teenage YouTube sensation – anyone could be hiding something, and bluffing comes second nature.

When a body is found, mauled, at the bottom of a cliff, suspicion turns to a wild animal – but that can’t explain why she, like all victims past and present, was discovered barefoot, with her shoes found nearby, laces neatly tied.

What happened up there on the bluffs? Somebody knows… unless the local legends are true…
    

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Review: THE BLUFFS by Kyle Perry


The Bluffs is a heady mix of mystery and intrigue fueled by speculative crime fiction amid a back drop of adolescent female noir; think Megan Abbott (Dare Me), Jonathan Janz (The Siren and the Spectre), and Jane Harper (Force of Nature). 

The complexities and cleverly plotted criminal components ensure the reader can never get complacent; just when I thought I'd figured it out, the script was flipped upside down with all blood soaked paths leading down a dark and dangerous new direction.

Despite the constant element of surprise and never ending twists, not once did the plot loose plausibility; every single piece of the puzzle fit perfectly; a testament to a well written story.

I can't recommend The Bluffs enough. 5/5 stars. 

- - - - - - - - 

Read more about Kyle Perry, author of The Bluffs HERE

Where to buy: Amazon AU / Book Depository / Dymocks

- - - - - - - - 

From the back of the book:

When a school group of teenage girls go missing in the remote wilderness of Tasmania’s Great Western Tiers, the people of Limestone Creek are immediately on alert. Not long ago, six young girls went missing in the area of those dangerous bluffs, and the legends of ‘the Hungry Man’ still haunt locals to this day.

Now, authorities can determine that the teacher, Eliza Ellis, was knocked unconscious, so someone on the mountain was up to foul play. Jordan Murphy, father of missing student Jasmine and the town’s local dealer, instantly becomes prime suspect, but Detective Con Badenhorst knows that in a town this size – with corrupt cops, small-town politics, and a teenage YouTube sensation – anyone could be hiding something, and bluffing comes second nature.

When a body is found, mauled, at the bottom of a cliff, suspicion turns to a wild animal – but that can’t explain why she, like all victims past and present, was discovered barefoot, with her shoes found nearby, laces neatly tied.

What happened up there on the bluffs? Somebody knows… unless the local legends are true…
    

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [73]: HOME IS THE SAILOR by Day Keene


Home is the Sailor is a booze fueled romp in the sack, packed full of whisky dreams and murderous nightmares.

First published in 1952 and later reprinted by the fine folk at Hard Case Crime, Day Keene's easy come, easy go, tale of marriage and murder is a fine story told through the watery eyes of perennial drunk Swede Nelson, a sailor who hopes to put the sea life behind him in favor of dry land.

The centerpiece of the story is a hotel owner and widow who instantly falls for Swede. For the drunken sailor turned land dweller, this whirlwind romance seems too good to be true...and it is. In quick succession Swede is wrapped in a web of desire and is murdering for his love. Little did he know this would be the tip of a very sharp edge iceberg. 

Despite some cringe worthy dialogue and completely unbelievable scenes, Home is the Sailor is a lot fun. This book isn't a noir classic or high end literature; it's popcorn pulp which is sure to provide some lighthearted entertainment. 

Side note: I love the cover art by Richard B. Farrell and Gregory Manchess, it captures one of the more memorable moments in the book perfectly. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [72]: THE BEACH GIRLS by John D. MacDonald


A more apt title for The Beach Girls (published 1959) would be The Docklands Drama. This little slice of pulp reads more like J.K Rowling's The Casual Vacancy than it does noir/crime fiction.

Each chapter is told from a different POV of one of the main characters, with the author drip feeding elements of corporate conspiracy, adultery, and murder, only for them to not go anywhere. 


I enjoy character-centric books, however there needs to be something which ties them all together aside from proximity and gossip. Whilst the dockside living was an interesting place-setting, the criminal components were severely lacking - sure, there's a murder, but that was in the backstory with little violence (aside from a couple of adolescent-like beach brawls) or suspense throughout. 

Perhaps this felt underwhelming as I failed to connect with any of the characters. Leo Rice had promise, however the others, (aside from some backstory in their respective chapters) didn't add value or interest to the book nor really contribute in any meaningful way to the wider story arc - they were just there...like furniture. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Like Father, Like Son


Today I take a look at a father/son duo of books, The Fireman by Joe Hill (which was a long overdue read for me) and the new-ish collection of novellas by Stephen King in If It Bleeds. 

The family resemblance and Stephen King's influence is very noticeable in Joe Hill's lengthy extension-level-event tale involving a mysterious virus which causes people to develop dragon-like scales on their skin and eventually explode (if put under enough stress).

Given we're living through a real life pandemic, I wasn't sure this was the right time for a book like this. However, once I started, The Fireman was hard to put down (I read the vast majority of the 700+ doorstop in two days).  

Whilst I enjoyed the general premise and the characters, I thought the book could've been much shorter.

Like King, Hill's strength is characters, which, as mentioned above I enjoyed reading about them, I would've liked to have read more of the broader events surrounding the dragonscale.

- - - - - 

If It Bleeds collects four novellas, the best of which is the title of the collection which features Holly Gibney in, what I think, is the best rendition of the character so far. The story is intriguing and creepy; yet it's not over done - this is a plausible kind of horror which fits the tone of the larger series perfectly.

Life of Chuck had loads of promise and started off great but I felt it tapered off towards the end; a backwards telling of the titular character's life form end to beginning. 

Mr. Harrington's Phone is a lot of fun and focuses on relationship with a supernatural twist. Whilst a slow-burning story, it fits the novella format exceptionally well. 

Rat is perhaps the most true-to-horror story of them all. I'd love a full length novel of this one, just behind If It Bleeds as my favorite novella of the collection. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [71]:THE EXOTIC by Carter Brown


I'm a big Carter Brown fan, but of all the series he penned over his illustrious (or infamous?) career, the Al Wheeler books have to be my least favorite. 

Wheeler reads as a poor mans Hammer (check out the Mike Hammer books by Mickey Spillane, and later, by Max Allan Collins), the lone wolf detective theme just doesn't play out, with Wheeler reading more like a semi-competent private eye with a vague ability to protect and serve in the fictional Pine City, who is focused on the female form more than he is solving a murder. 

Sure, The Exotic is chock block full of that buttery pulp popcorn goodness I love so much but the dialogue really makes it hard to enjoy this for what it is; a pulp disguised as a clever murder mystery. Wheeler's scenes with his boss Lavers are hard to swallow and come across as juvenile and irrational rather than semi-professional. The believably here is low, very low.

What ultimately saves The Exotic is the ending. That last chapter is loaded with bloodshed and iconic scenes. Agnes (Hammer's love interest in this book) features heavily in the highlight reel, while the brazen display of bullets and bloodshed makes for some truly memorable moments.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [70]: THE CASE OF THE LUCKY LEGS by Erle Stanley Gardner


Beauty contests can be murder, and that's certainly true in The Case of the Lucky Legs, the third book in the long running Perry Mason series (originally published in 1934).

Perry Mason, the lawyer who dabbles in detective work not only has to contend with a missing beauty queen who may or may not be involved in murder, but his longtime friend and private detective, Paul Drake may not be as loyal as he was led to believe...it makes for a melting pot of sophisticated shadow play, half truths, and ill judgement. 

The Case of the Lucky Legs is a lot of fun. That's to say, the popcorn pulp is in full effect, but there's an added layer of complexity that only Erle Stanley Gardner can pull off without making the book feel like a pure legal thriller. 

One thing I've noticed about these earlier Mason books is that the courtroom antics aren't confined to the courtroom. Rather, the legal jargon and loopholes are cleverly incorporated into proceedings from the get-go and loosely applied throughout the book - of course that final element is critical to catching the criminal in the end - which Mason generally does. 

The Case of the Lucky Legs is a must read for pulp enthusiasts and readers who like their legal thrills just that bit lighter. 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [69]:THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS by Erle Stanley Gardner


Blackmail, lies, deceit, and death; The first book to feature the perennial lawyer/detective Perry Mason has it all. 

Written in 1933, the story holds up remarkably well with devious dames and troublesome tabloids out to extort and exploit Mason's wealthy client. On face value, Mason sees this case as a quick fix; confront the blackmailer, keep the wealthy out of the tabloids, and get his well earned cash once the case is closed - only, the world doesn't turn quite that easy, and before long Mason is neck deep in conspiracy and murder!

It's hard to believe this is the first book in the long running series. The characters in Della Street (Mason's sassy and classy secretary), Mason himself, and Paul Drake (the detective who assists Mason with his cases) are well developed and read like they've been investigating and solving mysteries for years; their chemistry is apparent throughout. 

The case itself is quite clever and I loved the constant twists and turns. Not once did I feel like I knew what was going to happen or who was going to bite the bullet. 

Whilst billed as a legal/crime thriller, these books are pure pulp with a touch more intellect; a damn near perfect combination for fun in fiction. 

Friday, June 5, 2020

Book of the Month [May 2020]


Halloween in May? Well, it was for me and my book of the month at least. 

With all the darkness in the world right now, it was nice to delve back into a bit of darkness in the fictional form with the novelization of Halloween (2018), written by John Passarella. Full disclaimer; it's been about a year and a half since I saw the film so some of the detail was a little sketchy going in - some scenes blew me away while others were completely new (either because I forgot about them or they were actually new scenes for the book). Either way I loved everything about the book. 

Other reading highlights for May include Honky Tonk Samurai by Joe R Lansdale (which was also one of the books featured in my Mount TBR challenge), the dark and twisted novelette by Andersen Prunty, We Don't Talk About Her, and a collection of novellas set in the world of Alice by Christina Henry, Looking Glass

Halloween book blurb: 
In 1978, Laurie Strode survived an encounter with Michael Myers, a masked figure who killed her friends and terrorized the town of Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween night. Myers was later gunned down, apprehended and committed to Smith's Grove State Hospital.
For forty years, memories of that nightmarish ordeal have haunted Laurie and now Myers is back once again on Halloween, having escaped a routine transfer, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. This time, Laurie is prepared with years of survival training to protect herself, her daughter Karen and her granddaughter Allyson, a teenager separated from her family and enjoying Halloween festivities.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Review: INTO BONES LIKE OIL by Kaaron Warren


First off; I've got to address the title - I Simply love it. Add to that, the cover is just perfect and captures one of the key elements of the story. I'm big on first impressions (I DO judge a book by its cover - at least when trying something new that catches my eye) and INTO BONES LIKE OIL by Australian horror scribe Kaaron Warren certainly makes a great first impression. 

Also - a big tick for me is the fact that Kaaron Warren is a fellow Aussie; I've been wanting to branch out into reading more horror from my home country (see ROO by Alan Baxter); the stage was set high from the get-go.

Luckily, this novella doesn't disappoint. 

INTO BONES LIKE OIL is moody, atmospheric, and full of emotion. In the short span of 81 pages, the characters shine through just as much as the creepy and overt ghostly themes which spread their cold caress across the page.  

Set in a haunted rooming house near the beach, the occupants, past and present, share a deep connection with the ghosts of a shipwreck. No only can the rooming house inhabitants see their ghostly neighbors but, when asleep, they can become the vessel to which these ghosts communicate with the living. Pretty creepy stuff. 

Ghosts aside, it the character's unique and depressing backstories which capture the emotion and provide depth to the story. Sure the apparitions and voices of the dead are highlights, but I like my horror with some humanity - and this has it. 

LINKS
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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Review: LOOKING GLASS by Christina Henry


Looking Glass comprises 4 novellas set in the dangerous and distinctly grown-up world of Alice; a child's story turned on its head by talented author Christina Henry.

Each of the novellas are must-reads for fans of the duology (which features the fantastical horrors Alice, and Red Queen). Not only does this collection breathe new life into Alice but expands on the stories previously told in the full length novels whilst adding a little more to the broader continuity (I thinking about the novellas LOVELY CREATURE in particular here).

My favorite (though only just) is the novella in which we learn more about Hatcher's backstory in WHEN I FIRST CAME TO TOWN. I knew Hatcher's past was stained blood red, but, reading this puts everything into perspective and makes Hatcher more than a simple sidekick along for the muscle; he's a bona-fide star of the duology in his own right. 

GIRL IN AMBER is perfect for the dangerous and dark world of Alice and serves as the singular most 'horror-like' novella in the collection. I won't spoil by going into detail but will say that this novella has some serious nightmare-inducing qualities. 

The collection is rounded off with THE MERCY SEAT which felt more 'fantasy' to me than the previous three novellas. I liked this and thought it was a fitting way to end the collection. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [68]: 77 RUE PARADIS by Gil Brewer


77 Rue Paradis (originally published 1954) is a slight departure from other books written by Gil Brewer. Sure there's a dark and brooding leading man, wanton women, and pure pulp bit part characters (I'm thinking of a pair of secretaries moonlighting as armed guards in a top secret government facility who could easily have been created by Quentin Tarantino), but the essence of the story is espionage. 

Baron is a guy who is down on his luck; forced to leave the country to hide from the media and his former colleagues following the sharp downfall of his plane building empire. He swears he's a victim of sabotage and that his planes weren't faulty - yet the deaths of many due to the less-than-standard aeronautical engineering of the planes produced by his company cast a long shadow of doubt. 

The novel starts with Baron wallowing in self pity in a dark hotel room with an attractive 'lady of the night' with whom he's starting to fall in love with. After wading through a few pages of this, and an indulgent amount of introspection, Baron's lady friend heads out and is promptly kidnapped - followed shortly thereafter by Baron himself being kidnapped. From there, it's spy on spy action until the somewhat Bond-ish action packed good verses evil ending.


Some parts of 77 Rue Paradis were entertaining, others not so much but then again that's pretty standard when it comes to pulps; the kidnappings and broader complexities of the plot were a pleasant surprise but I'm not sure the ending worked - same for the all too easy manner by which Baron and co. found themselves just where they needed to be at the exact moment they needed to be there. 

Overall, 77 Rue Paradis is a serviceable pulp and well worth reading for Gil Brewer completists. 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Review: HONKY TONK SAMURAI by Joe R Lansdale


The great thing about the Hap and Leonard books (aside from Hap and Leonard themselves) is the accessibility to new readers. It's been a while since I last read a book in this series and in no time at all, I found myself in familiar territory - this, despite having not read Devil Red, the book set prior to Honky Tonk Samurai (I do plan on correcting this asap). 

The ninth book in the series continues the exciting escapades and brotherly banter of the perennial protagonists amid the dangerous sh!t they so easily find themselves knee deep in. 

Working for a detective agency, the brotherly duo are hired to track down a longtime missing granddaughter of a cranky old woman. With little to go on, aside from a few hints at some nefarious activity and a picture of the missing granddaughter, they end up at a car dealership - sleuthing for answers whilst trying to determine if cars are the only thing on offer at said dealership...spoiler alert; the dealership is an elaborate front for blackmail and prostitution! But, this being a Hap and Leonard book, that's just the tip of the jagged iceberg.  

Honky Tonk Samurai is loads of fun; from the colorful characters to the high octane action scenes, the pace never lets up. Its refreshing that a series, nine books in, can still provide character and emotional depth whilst maintaining a distinct sense of continuity without sacrificing plot. 

I loved every moment and am looking forward to reading what happens in the next installment, Rusty Puppy

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Review: WE DON'T TALK ABOUT HER by Andersen Prunty


We Don't Talk About Her is a creepy stalker story with a disturbing twist. 

Stella is the object of the Clint's affection; he watches her at work, he fantasizes about her, he makes love to his mother thinking about her - wait what! Yep, things go from standard creepy to balls to the wall batshit crazy creepy in the blink of an eye. 

Making matters worse is Clint's mother isn't exactly into 'it' with her deranged son...Because she's a rotting corpse; dead to the world for an innumerable amount of time - all we know is she stinks to high Heaven and leaks bodily fluids. Clint doesn't seem to mind, until Stella arrives unexpectedly at his home after finishing her shift at the coffee shop one night.

Now, why would a seemingly 'normal' young woman want to visit her stalker? A stalker who happens to wear toilet paper for pants on occasion - and in public, whilst stalking? Well, I won't spoil that barrel of crazy for prospective readers, needless to say, a simple stalker story this is not. 

We Don't Talk About her is a one sitting read not for the squeamish. It's a bizzaro kind of horror which would appeal to readers who enjoy shock value - of which there's plenty. Personally, I liked it, even though I cringed pretty much the whole way through reading. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Review: THE SCENT OF TEARS by Adrian Tchaikovsky


Shadows of the Apt is one of the most creative and well crafted fictional universes I've had the pleasure of reading. The decalogy features some of the best fantasy print to every caress the page; full of interesting and dangerous landscapes brought to life by equally interesting and complex characters.

The Tales of the Apt books; short story collections set in the same universe are the cream on top of a very rich cake.

The fourth installment (and hopefully not the last) sees a bunch of authors given licence to delve into the world of the varied kinden and breathe new life into some of the lesser-knowns from the series proper while also introducing new characters to the fold. 

Some of my personal favorite characters in Totho, Uctebri, and Dephos all make some form of an appearance throughout the collection of stories which serves as nice Easter eggs for longtime fans of the series. 

Whilst I generally enjoyed all the stories, particular highlights include; OLD BLOOD and THE GOD OF PROFOUND THINGS by Adrian Tchaikovsky, THE MESSAGE by John Gwynne, THE PROMISE OF A THREAT by David Tallerman, and THE MANTIS WAY by Peter NEWMAN. 

Be it Wasp, Sea, Mole, Beetle, Bee, Mosquito or Mantis kinden - there's a story for every Shadows of the Apt fan. 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Paperback From Hell! BLOOD MIST by Robert James


Well, that sure was something...

Blood Mist is one of those 80's mass market horror paperbacks which struggles for identity and purpose. Is it a Fog-like story of a deadly substance sweeping across the country causing havoc and death to all it covers with its mysterious vapor? Or is it a weird bizarro-monster b-grade tale of vicious clawed beasts seeking the tender meat of humans? Or, is it a vampire tale with elements of the occult hidden underground for millennia only to surface in the most macabre manner? 

It's kind of all three; at least it is by the time the author figured out what kind of story he wanted to write. 

The book reads as though the author decided to change direction mid plot, keeping the core themes (something scary killing random people yet loosely tied to the main character (a former cop/PI turned real-estate magnate)), but pushing the broader tale in another direction. 

Whilst it actually worked out pretty well in the end, the shift is clearly noticeable. 

Blood Mist is a fun book and well worth picking up if you see a copy patiently waiting in the darker corners of a secondhand bookstore. 
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