Friday, February 28, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [61]: MURDER IN THE HAREM CLUB by Carter Brown

(second edition, 1962, Horwitz)

Rick Holman is a Hollywood fixer. The one guy the rich and famous in distress go to to sweep their troubles (and murder) under the rug. In Murder in the Harem Club, Holman drops the glamour and glitz for gloss and print, hired by a Playboy knock-off to investigate a series of random threats. All of which aim at putting the magazine magnate in a pine box. 

Right off the bat, this reeks of mafioso involvement; everything from the gentleman's club meet and greet between Holman and client (who refers to himself as 'Sultan'), to the inner workings of the adult magazine complete with underworld funding sources and drop dead dames who happen to drop dead - there's something more sinister to the Sultan's story than meets the eye...

While Murder in the Harem club is a Rick Holman mystery, this is another of Carter Brown's books which would fit one of his other characters; Danny Boyd, the debonair PI with the profile the ladies can't help but gush over. The Holman hallmarks are distinctly lacking; the Hollywood angle isn't there and the case doesn't scream 'fixer' - there's nothing to fix, this is a straight forward investigation to ascertain who is threatening the Sultan, which makes this a strange fit for a Holman book. 

As far as the plot goes - this one's a real head scratcher, mostly because the case doesn't really eventuate, and the hire of Holman is pretty much null and void. Read the book, you'll get what I mean.  

Murder in the Harem Club isn't one of the better Carter Brown books but it's still got that popcorn pulp buttery goodness that makes is just enjoyable enough to keep reading til the last word. 

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Review: NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD: AN ANTHOLOGY


A collection of short stories set in the world of the most iconic zombie (or ghouls as George A Romero called them, at least initially) film ever made? Written by some of the best talent the horror genre has to offer?

Yes!

This collection is great. Even if you're not big into the zombie scene there's enough here to satisfy all your dark and bloody horror cravings. The zombies are more a conduit of horror, rather than the center piece - this is largely due to the surprising depth and variety of the stories collected in this volume but also, due to the writers ability to instill a bevy of scares outside the flesh eating 'rotters'.

For instance, Brian Keene heightens the horror in his story PAGES FROM A NOTEBOOK INSIDE A HOUSE IN THE WOODS by throwing ghosts and a haunted house into mix, while David Wellington takes the walking dead to the stars in ORBITAL DECAY

Romance is rife among the dead in THE BURNING DAYS by Carrie Ryan and one of my favorite stories from this collection IN THAT QUIET EARTH by Mike Carey; a story about a scientist who manufactures a way to become a zombie (yet still retain some semblance of humanity) so he can lay in the grave with his long dead wife for eternity. 

There's so much goodness in this bloodbath that it's hard to pin down a handful of standouts. That said JIMMY JAY BAXTER'S LAST DAY ON EARTH by John Skipp is a hell of a read which features an action hero and female protagonist ripped straight from the pages of a men's adventure magazine; crazy fun. YOU CAN STAY ALL DAY by Mira Grant of Feed fame brings horror for profit in a showcase of splatter that isn't for those easily offended by gore, death, and A-grade horror; I lapped it up like a starving zombie to a masticated corpse. 

Some other notables from this collection of 19 short stories include; DEAD RUN by Chuck Wendig (this could be a scene from the Walking Dead! It's full of action, suspense, great characters, and damn good writing), JOHN DOE by George A Romero (could easily be a scene from Night of the Living Dead in which a pathologist finds out the hard way that the dead, on this night, don't die), and A DEAD GIRL NAMED SUE by Craig E Engler (I won't spoil this (too much) but will say that revenge is a dish best served...live, and to a pack of hungry zombies...). Honestly, I could go on but I don't want to spoil the fun.

This book is easily a 5 star read. If you're into horror, read this. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [60]: GIRL ON THE LOOSE by G. G. Fickling


In the third installment featuring the nerviest and curviest private eye in the business, Honey West falls victim to a murderous case of mistaken identity; in the fictional world of Honey W, all busty well built blondes look alike...so it seems. 

The opening stanza is the most hardboiled the series has to offer and reads like a scene ripped from a Mike Hammer novel. However, the comparisons with Hammer soon dissipate and Honey resumes doing Honey things...fighting crime with her lips, hips, and...you know... 



A staple of the series; the convoluted plot, rears its ugly head yet again. Cartoon dialogue and flimsy storytelling are commonplace (and expected in this series) yet at some point it becomes hard to enjoy the popcorn pulp nature of these books, and that's exactly what happens in the later stages here, when, once again, an unbelievable rationale is thrust in the face of the reader and a culprit out of left field is revealed as a kidnapper... 

Whilst the weakest of the first three books, GIRL ON THE LOOSE does have some memorable moments; opening stanza aside, there's a scene of Honey and her reporter friend pulling the wool over a crime boss's eyes at a booze fueled pool party which reads as though it was written for film - butter to what is otherwise a somewhat stale bun. 



GIRL ON THE LOOSE is one of three books collected in the HONEY WEST FILES VOL 1, published 2012 by Moonstone Press (there, unfortunately, doesn't appear to be a volume 2). It is the third book in the series. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Review: BLOOD CULT by David L. Robbins


After having read Cults Uncovered, True Stories of Mind Control and Murder, the new non-fiction written by Emily G. Thompson (published 2020, DK Books) I wanted to read more about the inner workings of these dangerous cults; but, from a fictional perspective because, let's face it, real-like is scary as hell. 

Enter a Blood Cult (published 1981 by Leisure Books). 

Blood Cult is a hack and slash story more akin to an episode of Walker Texas Ranger as apposed to the horrors of a real life cult such as the Peoples Temple. 

The book started out well enough with an intense chase through a forest as an escapee fled the madness of the cult only to be cut down in a very brutal manner. The scene was intense and set up the story in the best way possible...only for everything to go downhill. 

Despite the title, most of Blood Cult takes place outside of secret confines of the 'blood' cult overseen by religious fanatic Brother Jacob and his henchmen. The characters are cookie-cutter and the plot overly simplistic; a mission to rescue two of the cults recent converts from a life of slavery. 

Just so happens that the brother of one of the converts is an army vet and martial arts expert. Naturally he proceeds to beat the living crap out of every single cult member in his way to recuse his brother and partner from Brother Jacob's evil ways. That's as deep as it gets...

Whilst enjoyable in parts, the book lacked any depth and failed to explore cults and the horrors within, rather, the author choose to focus on a flimsy action-based theme which had little impact on this reader. 

I'd rated Blood Cult 2/5 stars. Look elsewhere for your cult fiction fix.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [59]: A GUN FOR HONEY by G. G. Fickling


Honey West, the bombshell private eye with curves that could kill is hired to babysit the wife of a wealthy film director suspected to be in the cross-hairs of a killers scope. 

Arriving at the directors mansion on day one of her assignment to a raunchy new years eve party, Honey quickly becomes the center of attention, thanks to her well built body which every hot blooded male (and some females) simply cant resist brushing up to and/or commenting on. Whilst this tact to draw the reader to Honey's not so subtle charms fits the theme of the series, it does grow tiresome very quickly. 

In less time than it takes Honey to shed her clothes (those pesky garments just keep getting in the way!), her client is found dead and everyone who'd earlier made sexual remakes towards the well endowed private eye is immediately suspected. 



As Honey's dogged determination to catch the killer, no thanks to the police's ineptitude and amateur hour input, draws the story to a close, the reader can't help but feel cheated by an ending which felt too convenient and was executed with little conviction. 

While not as complex in terms of complicated plotting and sheer body count as the first book in the series THIS GIRL FOR HIRE, A GUN FOR HONEY does go off the rails in parts only to be brought back on track by some flimsy plot-saving devices, which, to be honest, don't hold up to scrutiny; this isn't actually a bad thing as these books aren't intended to be Raymond Chandler / Jim Thompson quality - they're pure popcorn pulp; buttery and good in small doses. 



A GUN FOR HONEY is one of three books collected in the HONEY WEST FILES VOL 1, published 2012 by Moonstone Press (there, unfortunately, doesn't appear to be a volume 2). It is the second book in the series. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Pen Names and Pulp Books - Dean Koontz


I've been acquiring a lot of pulp and 'retro' horror novels this year (i.e. 80's mass market paperbacks), many of which by 'new-to-me-authors', which, on face value is a great way to broaden my collection and expand upon the works of authors I've not previously been familiar with. 

Yet, one thing that's becoming increasingly apparent through my digging in the dark corners of secondhand bookstores is the somewhat prominent use of pseudonyms used by authors during the 70's, 80's and to some extent 90's. Whilst the practice of employing pen names isn't confined to those decades, it certainly seems more prominent then. 

Dean Koontz is one of many authors who used a host of pen names, particularly during the early stages of his career. Being motivated by success and drive to earn enough cash to sustain his writing career Koontz used some pseudonyms to publish horror to pulp to thriller novels. That's where this blog post kicks in. 

Today I take a look at three recent reads by different pseudonyms Koontz wrote under; Chase writing as K. R. Dwyer (published 1972), The Door to December writing as Leigh Nichols (published 1985), and Blood Risk writing as Brian Coffey (published 1973).  

Chase, whilst not Koontz' best book is a quick, easy read seeped in traditional pulp stylings with enough suspense to garner it a thriller of sorts. The plot and title character don't lean towards high literature nor the more sophisticated storytelling Koontz later produced but there's enough there to satisfy a quick niche needs for a hero with a heart; the typical all American good guy taking down the big bad and falling for the woman of his dreams while he's at it. 

A lot of the themes of this book are outdated (PTSD and same-sex relationship for instance) and the book suffers from some overly simplistic plot elements (Chase, for example, assumes the role of a quasi P.I to track down a killer without who he met by chance mid-kill only to encounter no resistance from near anyone he interrogates throughout the investigation) which ultimately curtailed my experience. That said, as a quick, non-thought provoking read, it ticks the boxes. Almost a poor mans' James Bond or, to a lesser extent Mike Hammer.

The Door to December meanwhile, reads more like the popular door-stoppers Koontz is better known for in recent times. His growth in writing deeper plot and meaningful characters is evident and much improved over Chase. The book has similar themes to Disembodied by Robert W. Walker with a form of astral projection, poltergeist activity, and murder at its deadly core. 

While at times reading like a police procedural with a suspicion of supernatural activity, The Door to December is definitely horror, particularly in the mid to later stages of the book. That said the scares are more PG than nightmare inducing.

Blood Risk rounds out my Koontz-three-peat and is probably the best of the bunch. On the surface Blood Risk bares resemblance to the well-known series by Richard Stark featuring criminal extraordinaire, Parker, insofar as the synopsis and lead character. However, shortly after a failed heist, resulting in one member of a professional gang of thieves being captured by the mob (not an enviable position), the plot turned 'rescue mission', with any noir sentiment thrown out the window in favor of a survival and special ops-like focus.

The action scenes, being prominent in the beginning and end of the book only, make for some downtime in-between the bullets and broads which enables some strong character development and backstory. Despite a lack of story progression, I didn't mind this slower pace (the book is only 160 pages long, so the intervening period wasn't exactly lengthy).   

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Review: CULTS UNCOVERED by Emily G. Thompson


Cults, religious fanaticism, terrorism, brainwashing, mass murder, and gross scale manipulation of the vulnerable and at-risk are all scary and confronting elements explored in delicately balanced morsels of madness ripped from straight from newspaper and social medial headlines worldwide. 

Non-fiction, and in particular, true crime can be difficult to read. For one, unlike fiction, the murder, horror, and heartache is real. In Cults Uncovered, many followers and bystanders alike suffered in the most inhumane conditions and were exploited by virtue of their ignorance and manipulated by their (at times, misguided) beliefs. 

In short, sharp chapters sticking to facts and telling the hard truths, author Emily G. Thompson's recounting of these horrific happenings is a beginners guide to uncovering what lay beneath the glossy magazine spreads and prime time coverage of some of the most memorable and disturbing acts of human depravity in the last century.

Cults Uncovered serves well to introduce those with a casual curiosity of the atrocities taken place in these cults and provides plenty of reference points to dig deeper. 

Learn more about the book from the publisher website HERE

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [58]: THIS GIRL FOR HIRE by G. G. Fickling


Innocence, naivety, ignorance – the PI with the body to moonlight as a bikini model and the face to go along with it conforms to all three. ‘The nerviest, curviest, PI in Los Angeles’ is a blonde bombshell following in her murdered father’s footsteps. H West was once a well-known gumshoe, now with Honey West taking over the family business she faces difficulty in re-establishing the brand, having to overcome male perception and era stereotypes.

THIS GIRL FOR HIRE is a fun, pulpy murder mystery full of cheesy dialogue and little realism (there is a scene where Honey is nearly raped only to then end up playing strip poker with the man and his friends). The first installment in the Honey West PI series is to be taken lightly. G.G. Fickling goes to great lengths to embellish the unbelievable (the killer once unveiled was someone I didn't imagine – it also makes a mockery of the police involved in the case).


There are plot holes by virtue of real life contrasts simply not being plausible (an inability to recognise a murdered person for instance) yet this doesn't come off as a bad thing. In fact, it adds to the pulpy fun feel of Honey West. Her charisma and care-free attitude is refreshing. Her ignorance, almost enough to get her out of many tight situations (and not just her bathing suit – of which there are many references).

The case is simple and linear – a Hollywood type hires Honey West fearing for his life. Soon he’s found murdered proving his fears correct. Shortly thereafter Honey is once again hired by her former clients friend (also in the business) to track down the killer. Suspects drop quicker than shoddy scripts as the conclusion draws near – the mystery certainly kept me guessing.

Despite its shortcomings, THIS GIRL FOR HIRE (pub 1956) is very much a guilty pleasure – it doesn't do much for the literary senses but does satisfy the craving for simple pulp entertainment, easily consumed and equally enjoyed.


THIS GIRL FOR HIRE is one of three books collected in the HONEY WEST FILES VOL 1, published 2012 by Moonstone Press (there, unfortunately, doesn't appear to be a volume 2). It is the first book in the series. 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Review: VOICES IN THE SNOW by Darcy Coates


In the cold dark depths of horror where blinding white fear and perpetual nightmare reins, a sinister spread of madness driven by a primal instinct disrupts reality in this highly addictive new novel by Darcy Coates. 

Through a veil of snow and ignorance, Clare, unassumingly drives head-on into danger after a phone call from her sister, the contents of which remain a mystery which gently unfolds as the plot, not so gently, reaches a fever pitch.

Whilst a solid, singular and sequential story featuring interesting and life-like characters is great, Voices in the Show goes the extra mile in delivering a horror with depth, both in story and character.

For a large portion of the book I thought this was horror of the haunted house variety mixed with a little bit of crazy by virtue of an unsettling and slightly 'off' resident of a secluded mansion who takes Clare in following a car accident in the forest. 

How wrong I was. 

Echoing elements of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, Darcy Coates succeeds in scaring the crap out of the reader; creatures hiding in the shadowy corners of dark rooms conjure vivid imagery of Stephen King's Gerald's Game, and an ever present threat of danger, combined with a confined sense of claustrophobia make for one hell of a read. 

I highly recommend checking this one out. 

Find out more about the  book HERE. (New South website) and HERE (Poisoned Pen).

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Pick of the Month [January 2020]


It's hard to believe the first month of 2020 is done and dusted. Not only did my country suffer horrendous heat and bush fire (some of which hit far too close for comfort), we celebrated Australia Day, flocked to some of the best beaches the world has to offer, and, as is this is a book blog - read lots of books. 

Personally, I read 13 books which is on par with what I averaged per month throughout last year - but it's not all about the numbers. Give me quality over quantity any day and lucky for me, I read some pretty great books to kick off 2020. 

No Sanctuary by Richard Laymon gets the nod as the pick of the month ahead of genre sharing Accursed by Paperbacks from Hell favorite Guy N Smith

No Sanctuary is suspenseful horror at its finest in which the omnipresent threat of danger ever lurks. 

From the blurb:

Rick would do anything for his girlfriend, Bert. He'd even spend his vacation in the wilderness with her, hiking the trails around Fern Lake, even though it's the last place on Earth he wants to be. But Rick would follow Bert to hell and back - which is just what he's about to do.
Gillian is on vacation too, but her pastimes are decidedly weirder than Rick and Bert's. She likes to break into people's homes and live there while they're away. Too bad for her she picked the home of a serial killer - a particularly nasty one who likes to take his victims out to the wilds of Fern Lake so he can have his fun without being interrupted. Rick and Bert have no idea how wild the wilderness can be. But they're about to find out. 
I strongly recommend pick this one up. 


Sunday, February 2, 2020

Review: ROBBIE'S WIFE by Russell Hill


Jake Stone is a screen writer from LA who finds himself on a farm outside London seeking inspiration to cure a severe case of writers block. However, the serene and quiet country escape he wanted turns out to be anything but. Embroiled in an affair with the farmer's wife, charged with murder, and assaulted by gypsies, this is one vacation Jake shouldn't have taken. 

This is the second time I've read Robbie's Wife and it's even better the second time around. I love character driven stories and this doesn't fail to deliver. Jack Stone is a character ripped from the pages of a Jason Starr novel who makes accidental murder justified and par for the course; an event bound to happen that's still no less shocking when it does.

Robbie's Wife is well plotted, populated by multidimensional characters and a perfectly executed. I highly recommend this. Think James M Cain with a more modern flavor. An easy 5/5 stars.
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