Monday, December 27, 2010

Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories, edited by David T. Wilbanks and Craig Clarke (hard rock and heavy metal inspired anthology of dark fantasy and horror stories)

I am very proud to say that my first book is now available — a project nearly two years in the making! See more below, beginning with Carrie Gowran's utterly awesome cover art, which perfectly encompasses the anthology's hard-rock and dark-fiction aspects.

Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories
Edited by David T. Wilbanks and Craig Clarke
—A Hard-Rockin' Horror and Dark-Fantasy Anthology—


Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories consists of six horror and dark-fantasy stories inspired by some of the greatest hard-rock and heavy-metal bands in that music’s long and influential history. Each author was invited to submit a short story or novella inspired by the band of his choice.

You're sure to be impressed by the half-dozen diverse tales they came up with. The set list is as follows:

“Spooky Tooth” by Randy Chandler
“Iron Maiden” by Matthew Fryer
“Black Sabbath” by Steven L. Shrewsbury
“Judas Priest” by David T. Wilbanks
“Motorhead” by Kent Gowran
“Slayer” by L.L. Soares

An original lineup indeed. Grab a copy now for only $2.99 because you’ll not want to pass up the chance to read six of the sharpest, savviest, hardest, and heaviest stories published this year.


"One of the things that make having an e-reader worthwhile." — Dead in the South

"Heavy metal horror heaven." — Ginger Nuts of Horror

"A good variety pack of scary stories ... an easy read, and a satisfying one." — Patrick D'Orazio

Now available on:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Favorite Reads of 2010 (Best Books of the Year list)

Of all the books I read this year, these 15 take the top marks. For more on why I chose these particular books as my favorites of 2010, click on the link to read the original review.

It's been another great year for reading, and I'm very excited about 2011. See you then!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Joke for the Writers in the Audience

(as told by Jimmy Pomegranate in John Darnton's novel Black and White and Dead All Over)

So there's an editor and a reporter. And they're trapped in the Sahara. Two weeks they've been staggering along, and now they're dying of thirst under the desert sun, crawling along, sweat pouring down, their skin cracked and sunburned all to hell. They're just about to expire. With their last ounce of strength, they make it to the crest of a sand dune and look over, and what do they see? A beautiful oasis, crystal clear water and palm trees wafting in the soft breezes.

They run down to it. The reporter dives in, and he's happy as the proverbial clam. He's swallowing great bogs of water and splashing around and having a grand old time. Then he looks back, and what's he see? The editor's just standing there on the shore, and what's he doing? He's got his pecker out and he's pissing right into the goddamned water.

The reporter yells out, "Hey, what the hell you doin'?"

And the editor looks up, and he shouts back, "I'm making it better!"

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Coming Soon: Peter Rabe's The Silent Wall and The Return of Marvin Palaver (Stark House Press)

“Hitch was with this great, high-heeled monster of a woman and the only reason I was along, I spoke Italian and Hitch did not. It turned out that the woman was not Italian at all, she was Sicilian, and her glue-voiced accent was so heavy that I understood almost as little as Hitch. Not that it mattered.”
—from The Silent Wall by Peter Rabe

Stark House Press is happy to announce the long-awaited publication of the late, great Peter Rabe’s final manuscripts, The Silent Wall and The Return of Marvin Palaver. Along with a very rare Rabe short story, “Hard Case Redhead,” the books will appear in a single volume this coming January.

The above passage is the opening from The Silent Wall, which Booklist calls “a claustrophobic noir, at times almost unbearably tense.” And it is certainly that. Matty Matheson has the run of an entire town but he is not allowed to leave, held captive by the Mafia for reasons he only thinks he knows.

The Return of Marvin Palaver is a darkly comic, highly complex, short book about a swindle, payback, and the incredible lengths one man will go to get his revenge against the man who ruined him. Rabe never wrote the same book twice, and even with his talent for writing different kinds of crime fiction, the story will leave you breathless with its unique voice and dark sense of humor.

Shortly before his death in 1990, Rabe had sent these manuscripts to friend and author Ed Gorman, who’s had them in his possession until now. We’re ecstatic to be the ones who are finally bringing these books, along with the short story “Hard Case Redhead,” into the world. In “Redhead,” two thieves and their uninvited guest try to wait out the aftermath of a troublesome heist. It’s hard-boiled and noir and shows that Rabe could write just as well at shorter lengths.


We’re also announcing the creation of the Stark House Book Club with a special offer of free shipping on all our books to everyone who signs up now. No minimum to buy, no obligation, just sign up and you’ll receive each new release, hassle-free and with no shipping, as they are published. For a limited time, each new member can order as many backlist titles as they’d like for 15% off list price and again, free shipping. To sign up for the club, e-mail us. And to check out our list of authors and titles, visit our website.

On tap for the near future are a two-in-one volume of vintage sleaze crime novels from the famous (under his real name) Don Elliott, a nice trio from Day Keene, and many other exciting titles. So sign up now, and don’t miss a book!

To receive this newsletter automatically, please send your e-mail address. We look forward to hearing from you.

Greg Shepard, publisher
Stark House Press

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers (unabridged audio book read by Bronson Pinchot)

This review was originally published on SF Site.

John Chandagnac, son of a puppeteer, is still mourning his father's death when he sets out for Jamaica to get back his inheritance from the uncle who stole it. To this end, he charters the Vociferous Carmichael but gets to see another side of sea life when it is attacked by Phillip Davies, privateer and captain of the sloop Jenny.

Chandagnac gets on the wrong side of a pirate captain (by defeating him with sword techniques learned for puppet shows) and is offered the choice to either join them or die. Now christened "Jack Shandy," he discovers that the people he thought were on his side are simply out for themselves (isn't that always the way?) — including one's strange plan for the legendary Fountain of Youth, which has very different powers than usually supposed.

On Stranger Tides, the 1987 novel from author Tim Powers now available in audiobook form, is also the source material for the fourth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, gladdening many of Powers' fans since that will undoubtedly bring his work closer to the mass appeal they have long felt he deserved. The option apparently existed long before it was revealed, since the third film in the series most definitely foreshadows this book's Fountain of Youth plot.

For those who have not experienced his work before, Powers is a discovery. On Stranger Tides combines the mundane and the supernatural into a gripping narrative filled with high adventure. It has the potential to please readers of most forms of genre fiction, with plenty of gunfire and swordplay alongside voodoo, zombies, ghost ships, and sorcery, with numerous startling twists that never stretch the bounds of plausibility. There's adventure, revenge, romance, and intrigue all folded together into a cohesive whole as Powers never loses sight of his primary goal of telling a ripping yarn. He maintains a consistent level of tension throughout, along with a great deal of humor, toward a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

Another discovery made through listening to On Stranger Tides is the highly advanced narrative skill of actor Bronson Pinchot. Pinchot is probably still most widely known for either his seven-year stint as the pseudo-Greek naïf Balki Bartokomous on the situation comedy Perfect Strangers or for his scene-stealing turns as Serge in two Beverly Hills Cop films. But his deft handling of unplaceable accents in those roles does not prepare one for his reading of Powers' work. The sheer number of accents Pinchot tackles is impressive, and his ability to distinguish characters while juggling various dialects within a single conversation is nothing short of astonishing, making the audio rendition a much fuller experience than the text alone could provide.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante by Richard Tooker (pulp sci-fi adventure short stories)

Richard Tooker was obviously meant to tell stories of adventure. Born in 1902, Tooker's father's family were sea captains, soldiers, and adventurers. The storytelling part came from his mother, who knew the author of the classic adventure Alice of Old Vincennes. Tooker published his first story at the age of 15, then after finishing school, worked as an editor and reporter and was enlisted in the Marines. He felt that his life contained parallels with Jack London's Martin Eden and published his first novel, The Day of the Brown Horde, in 1929 (from whose dustjacket the substance of this paragraph comes).

Tooker's skill at writing cracking sci-fi adventure is well evidenced by Black Dog Books' collection of the three longish stories featuring his hero Zenith Rand, as published in three consecutive issues (June, August, and October 1936) of Mystery Adventure Magazine. Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante contains the title inaugural tale plus two others, "Revenge on Scylla" and "Angels of Oorn" (the source of the book's appealing cover illustration).

"Zenith" (whose given name is never revealed) was named by his fellow Terran Spacemen for his "indomitable fighting spirit" in the midst of playing "sky-the-limit stakes in the grim game of stellar conquest and exploration" (zenith, of course, being the sky's own upper limit). Nevertheless, Rand has a weakness, and her name is Sandra Yates.

As we discover in "Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante," the first of the trilogy, Pilotess Yates — a Valkyr Amazon — broke Rand's heart (or perhaps merely bruised his pride) when she chose another over him. It was, in fact, this event that led him to choose the distant post on Camia, moon of Orthos, and subsequently necessitated Yates's arrival just in time to save Rand from the Camian goat-women. O, sweet irony!

In addition to the color art by Norman Saunders found on the Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante's front and back covers (from the very issues in which the first and third stories appeared), Black Dog Books publisher Tom Roberts has also included the black-and-white illustrations (uncredited and unknown) that accompanied the stories' first appearances inside the magazines. In doing this, Roberts has done his best to replicate the original reading experience as closely as possible while offering a cleaner presentation of the text.

"Revenge on Scylla" finds Zenith on the titular "somber sphere ... on the fringe of Altair's Titan gravity" in a search for Sandra among the slime seas. Since the events of their previous outing, Yates and Rand became "mates for life" (something involving having "simply signed the book" — no marriages for these even-steven fiftieth-century Terran couples), much to the chagrin of "Death" Lamson, Rand's supernumerary on this rescue mission to reclaim Yates from the half-snake Scyllans. If that's not enough to deal with, the group will also face betrayal from their own side.

Tooker's prose is not the most accessible. Several sentences required a second or third reading to completely suss out their meaning. But the author definitely understands action, and the writing in Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante improves with each story.

"Angels of Oorn" posits Zenith Rand on the titular moon of Procyon, required to (once again) save Mate Yates from its denizens, highly unsavory despite their epithet ("Zenith snorted derisively ... 'If you Oornites are angels, I'm Mercury's half-brother'"). This story is definitely the most interesting, with the threat coming not only in physical form but also mental, as a directed gaze from the hypnotic, shape-shifting Oornites can kill, and even a mere glance can incapacitate or madden.

This last story engenders an appetite for further adventures, but there are only these three, for whatever reason (there is no background explanatory material included). Nevertheless, Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante offers a chance to read these pioneering spicy pulp sci-fi adventure stories that would otherwise have been lost to the casual enthusiast.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters (unabridged audio book read by Katherine Kellgren)

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters was the followup to the hugely successful Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, yet you rarely hear about it. This is unfortunate because, as far as I'm concerned, it's the vastly superior product.

Co-author Ben H. Winters primarily changed the setting to a set of island villages surrounded by murderous maritime monsters of every stripe, and then added the necessary details for color. In addition, the book is a trove of deadpan humor, that dry British wit that doesn't tell you when to laugh and that I enjoy so much. (Hint: most mentions of horrific ocean denizens rate at least a chuckle.) Audiobook reader Katherine Kellgren is especially adept at this style of delivery, leaving the sublime and the ridiculous to fight it out between themselves, while also managing to occasionally wink with her voice.

Though Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is a continuous source of amusement, there is a constant sense of dread from ever-present ocean threats and the many past deaths caused by the sea-borne killers. One occasionally occurs "on screen," as it were. A particular highlight is the struggle of Edward Ferrars and Mrs. Dashwood against a vengeant tuna. Also added is a thread of mystery: What is the significance of the five-pointed star that troubles Elinor with its continued presence in her mind?

I do recommend a basic familiarity with the story of the original Sense and Sensibility — even if only from having seen the Emma Thompson–scripted film adaptation more than once — just so you can appreciate the changes Winters makes to Austen's original story and how well he incorporates them, staying true to the tone, language, and characters while giving them a twist. Examples: Edward Ferrars' lighthouse-keeping ambition; Colonel Brandon's rather squiddy-looking visage; Marianne's rescue from an attacking octopus by the dashing, wet-suit- and diving-helmet-wearing Willoughby; young Margaret's increasing disturbing preoccupation; the secret of Miss Steele; and the reason behind Mr. Palmer's ever-ill mood.

The sheer number of laughs makes Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters a great book to unwind with. I recommend it far and above its inferior predecessor.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Afraid by J.A. Konrath writing as Jack Kilborn (horror)

This review was originally published in somewhat different form on Page Horrific. Copyright 2010. For the cleaner, tighter — and therefore better — version (approx. 225 words), go there.

Safe Haven, Wisconsin, was not named ironically. It only seems that way since the five strangers came to town: Bernie, Taylor, Santiago, Logan, and Ajax. They only want some information ("Where is Warren?"), but they're eager to torture, mutilate, and murder to get it.

They were trained for this work by the military, in fact. The thing is, they like their work a little too much, and they'll never kill outright when there's still some excruciating pain left to deal out. As their leader states, they're "Hannibal Lecters with Rambo training."

Afraid was the first pure horror novel from author Jack Kilborn (better known as J.A. Konrath for writing the Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels series of mysteries — as well as for making a bundle of money off selling his books electronically).

Konrath has dealt with disturbing subject matter before in the Daniels series, but in Afraid he takes it so far, that writing under the Kilborn pseudonym was necessary to protect unsuspecting buyers from being inadvertently traumatized.

Afraid is a remarkably imaginative collection of disturbing ideas and disturbed villains. The novel begins with the explosion of a helicopter, and it is filled with horrific high points that include the townwide lottery giveaway, Sheriff Ace Streng's bear-trap ordeal, the secret film, and the very concept of Red-ops. (The anticipation of Warren's appearance rivals that of Harry Lime in The Third Man.)

As Kilborn, Konrath shows no remorse with his characters, throwing them up against one thing after another like contestants on some psychotic game show. Afraid is very visual in style, so reading it is somewhat akin to watching a horror movie in your head — one that's actually frightening.

At the same time, Kilborn knows that a good scary story needs some humor to lighten the mood a little bit — and subsequently make it even scarier. He's more than up to the challenge. If you remember way back when "horror" meant "terrifying" and not just "gross," treat yourself and read Afraid.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Download the radio adaptation of Gary A. Braunbeck's "Return to Mariabronn" (from Haunted Legends edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas)

Gary A. Braunbeck is the author of the short ghost story "Return to Mariabronn," available in the new anthology Haunted Legends, edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas. Braunbeck has spearheaded a audio adaptation of his story, and it is available for download just in time for Halloween.

"Return to Mariabronn" was broadcast on Ohio radio stations and features the voices of the author, Braunbeck himself; his wife, author Lucy A. Snyder; and some students from Ohio State University. To download the mp3, simply visit the Ohio State University Media Manager.

Great Halloween listening!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Danger in Paradise by A.S. Fleischman (Stark House Press)

Growing up, I was a fan of author A.S. Fleischman's work, only I didn't know it. At that time, Fleischman was going by his middle name of Sid and mostly made his living writing works for children, including the "Bloodhound Gang" mysteries on the PBS TV show 3-2-1 Contact ("Whenever there's trouble, we're there on the double"). My friend Bryan McCarter and I loved these so much that we formed the "Bloodhound Gang II" and solved mysteries around the neighborhood of our own devising.

As Sid, Fleischman won the Newbery Award for his novel The Whipping Boy. As Albert Sidney Fleischman, he wrote the screenplays for both Blood Alley (from his novel) and Sam Peckinpah's debut feature The Deadly Companions (from his novel Yellowleg). But before he was either of those, Fleischman began his writing career as A.S. Fleischman, author of a couple of thrillers for Gold Medal Books set in the Malay Peninsula and published in the early 1950s.

Danger in Paradise and Malay Woman have not been in print since then. And now they're paired in a new trade-paper edition from Stark House Press.

In Danger in Paradise, oil geologist Jefferson Cape is ready to leave Indonesia after having made some good money and then spent it. But when he stops for a final bottle of arrack, a White Russian girl stops him at the bar. Nicole Balashova wants him to carry something on board for her, and like a sucker, Jeff agrees.

Jeff is chased and misses his boat, and that's only the beginning of this tropical thriller from 1953. Before his life is normal again, he will learn of Nicole's death, get (almost) caught up with maneater Regina Williams, be pursued by a Pith-helmet-wearing, Malacca-cane-carrying skinny threat, and get knocked out a few times.

Danger in Paradise is a blazing read, with Fleischman throwing one thing after another at his hero. The exotic setting (and women) only make the reading that much richer. I'm already looking forward to diving into Malay Woman, based on reviews of that book from James Reasoner and Bill Crider. It sounds even better.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hard Case Crime signs with Titan Publishing -- also, Gabriel Hunt's future and other news from founder Charles Ardai

We've got some big news to announce today: After a year's hiatus, Hard Case Crime will be returning to bookstores with new titles in 2011.

As you know, our relationship with Dorchester Publishing (Hard Case Crime's publisher since the line's launch in 2004) came to an end a few months ago when Dorchester announced it was getting out of the business of publishing mass-market paperback books. This left Hard Case Crime without a home. I've spent the past six weeks in meetings with other publishers interested in giving us a new home, and I was gratified to receive offers from five of the firms we met with. They were all firms I respect greatly and would have enjoyed working with, but in the end, one stood out as clearly the best match, and that was UK-based Titan Publishing.

Based in London, Titan is a publisher both of fiction and of gorgeous art books focusing on pop culture such as movie poster art, pin-ups, newspaper comic strips, and Golden Age comic books. They have worked with filmmakers such as J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, and George Lucas. Titan has been around for 30 years, has more than 200 employees, and in addition to publishing books also has a magazine division, a retail division (Titan owns the famous Forbidden Planet bookstore in London, and until recently co-owned the Murder One mystery bookstore with Maxim Jakubowski), and a merchandise division that produces items such as T-shirts, sculptures, and accessories. It's fun to imagine what sorts of cool Hard Case Crime products we might create with them!

But first things first: books.

Titan plans to acquire all existing stock of Hard Case Crime's backlist from Dorchester Publishing and to resume shipping these titles to booksellers immediately. Hard Case Crime will relaunch in September/October 2011 with four new books, including two you've heard about before — Choke Hold by Christa Faust (sequel to her Edgar Award-nominated Money Shot) and Quarry's Ex by Max Allan Collins (the latest in the popular series of hit man novels by the author of Road to Perdition), both of which were in the works at Dorchester but never got published — and two you haven't heard about, never-before-published novels by major writers in the field (MWA Grand Masters, names to be announced shortly).

You'll be hearing more about all four books over the coming months, I promise. In the meantime, if you'd like a little taste of Quarry's Ex and Choke Hold, you can see their cover art and read a sample chapter from each at our Web site.

(Why so long a wait? It has to do with the sales cycle in the book publishing business. Titan's sales force is already selling July/August 2011 titles to stores now; September/October 2011 is the soonest we can get new books out if we want to have enough time for booksellers to consider and order them, and then for Titan to print and ship them, etc.)

We will also still be going ahead with our special hardcover "double" volume with Subterranean Press, featuring two long-lost Lawrence Block novels [69 Barrow Street and Strange Embrace — Ed.] bound back-to-back. More info on that one as soon as we have a firm publication date and cover art to to show you!

In other news, Haven, the SyFy television series inspired by one of our books (The Colorado Kid by Stephen King), just completed its first season and has been renewed for a second. If you haven't seen the show or only caught the first few episodes, I'd encourage you to give it a(nother) try — it got really good by the end of the season (and no, I'm not just saying that because I wrote the penultimate episode and came up with the story for one before that...). It's a little different from what you see in our books, since every story contains elements of the supernatural — but it's still a show about a FBI agent, a cop, and a criminal, and features some awfully hard cases....

Also: Universal Pictures acquired the rights to two other Hard Case Crime books — Little Girl Lost and Songs of Innocence by my close personal friend Richard Aleas — and has attached a director (Jonathan Levine, The Wackness) and screenwriter (Michael Bacall, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) to the project. No guarantee that a movie will actually get made, of course, but it's a very exciting first step.

What else is new? Well, Hard Case Crime's sister line, The Adventures of Gabriel Hunt, is staying with Dorchester for the time being, and they have plans to reissue all of those books — including the sixth, which never came out in mass-market paperback — in the larger "trade paperback" format (as well as e-book format). If everything goes as planned, those should start coming next year. If you poke around online, you can also find an audiobook edition of one book in the series, Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear, produced by AudioRealms. If there's ever been a genre suited to audiobook adaptation, it's tales of adventure! (If you don't feel like hunting for it — pun intended — here's a link.)

That's all the news this time around. There will be more, probably fairly soon -- you'll certainly be hearing from me well before this time next year, when the new books come out. But in the meantime, I want to thank you for all your patience and your support. It's great to know you're out there, as passionate about our books as ever. I promise: We'll give you some good scratching for your itch just as soon as we can.

New books will be published in paperback (possibly some in hardcover as well!); ebook editions will also be released across multiple platforms. Titan is distributed in the U.S. and Canada by Random House.

We're very excited about working with Titan (indeed, we had offers from five publishers and chose Titan over several that were much larger and better-known) -- they love pulp fiction as much as we do and appreciate that in books like ours the visual dimension is just as important as the storytelling. It's hard to imagine a better home for Hard Case Crime.


Official press release:

Hard Case Crime Returns!

Titan Books to Relaunch Acclaimed Pulp Paperback Series

New York, NY; London, UK (October 19, 2010) — Titan Books and series creator Charles Ardai announced today that they are teaming up to relaunch the popular Hard Case Crime series of paperback crime novels. Nominated five times in five years for the Edgar Allan Poe award, the mystery genre’s highest honor, Hard Case Crime has published such luminaries as Stephen King (the book that was the basis for the new TV series Haven), Mickey Spillane, Ed McBain, Donald E. Westlake, Lawrence Block, Pete Hamill, Max Allan Collins, Madison Smartt Bell and Roger Zelazny, to name just a few. Each book features new cover art in the classic pulp style, including covers painted by Robert McGinnis, the legendary illustrator who painted the original James Bond movie posters.

Hard Case Crime has won praise from dozens of major publications ranging from Time, Newsweek and The Atlantic Monthly to Entertainment Weekly, Playboy, and Reader’s Digest, and has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR’s Fresh Air, and in every major newspaper in America (including repeated coverage in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and USA Today).

First launched in 2004, Hard Case Crime published 66 titles through August 2010, at which time its long-time publisher, Dorchester Publishing, announced it was exiting the mass market paperback publishing business after nearly 40 years. After receiving offers from five other publishers (including two of the largest in the world) to continue the line, Charles Ardai selected UK-based Titan Publishing as Hard Case Crime’s new home.

“Titan has an extraordinary record of creating beautiful, exciting books with exactly the pop culture sensibility that Hard Case Crime exists to celebrate,” said Charles Ardai, founder and editor of Hard Case Crime and an Edgar Award-winning mystery writer himself. “Titan is one of the few publishers that loves pulp fiction as much as we do.”

Titan’s first new Hard Case Crime titles, scheduled to come out in September and October 2011, include Quarry's Ex, a new installment in the popular series of hit man novels by Road to Perdition creator Max Allan Collins; Choke Hold, Christa Faust’s sequel to her Edgar Award-nominated Hard Case Crime novel Money Shot; and two never-before-published novels by major authors in the crime genre (both recipients of the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America).

Additionally, Titan plans to acquire all existing stock of Hard Case Crime’s backlist titles from Dorchester Publishing and resume shipping those titles to stores immediately.

“Hard Case Crime has done a remarkable job in a very short time of building a brand known for outstanding crime fiction and stunning artwork,” said Nick Landau, Publisher of Titan Books and CEO of the Titan Publishing Group. “We are thrilled to partner with Charles and look forward to bringing Hard Case Crime to a wider audience around the world, not only through the novels themselves but also through an innovative merchandise program.”

For more information, call Hard Case Crime on 646-205-2181 or e-mail; call Titan (US media) on 914-788-1005 or email; or call Titan (UK media) on +44 (0)20 7803 1906 or email

About Hard Case Crime

Charles Ardai founded Hard Case Crime in 2004 through Winterfall LLC, a privately owned media company responsible for a variety of print, film, and television projects. The series has been nominated for and/or won numerous awards since its inception including the Edgar, the Shamus, the Anthony, the Barry, and the Spinetingler Award. The series’ bestselling title of all time, The Colorado Kid by Stephen King, was the basis for the current SyFy television series Haven, on which Charles Ardai works as a writer and producer. There have also been a number of feature film deals involving Hard Case Crime books, including The Last Lullaby, based on The Last Quarry by Max Allan Collins and starring Tom Sizemore as the titular hit man, and more recently Universal Pictures’ purchase of the film rights to Little Girl Lost and Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas.

About Titan Publishing Group

Titan Publishing Group is an independently owned publishing company, established in 1981. The company is based at offices in London, but operates worldwide, with sales and distribution in the US & Canada being handled by Random House. Titan Publishing Group has three divisions: Titan Books, Titan Magazines/Comics and Titan Merchandise. In addition to fiction, including novelizations of films such as Terminator Salvation, original novels based on TV shows such as Primeval and Supernatural and the popular computer game Runescape, and the celebrated Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series of novels launched in 2009, Titan Books also publishes an extensive line of media- and pop culture-related non-fiction, graphic novels, art and music books.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne

Author S.C. Gwynne takes a most interesting approach in his history of the Comanche Indians. He does it by focusing on the events before, during, and after the life of the Comanches' last chief, Quanah Parker, the half-breed son of a white female captive, Cynthia Ann Parker, and another Comanche chief, Peta Nocona.

Empire of the Summer Moon begins with the murder and capture of most of the James W. Parker family, including the taking of 9-year-old Cynthia Ann. (The seemingly endless search of Parker for his family inspired Alan Le May's novel The Searchers and the subsequent film.)

Gwynne uses the book written by Cynthia Ann's sister Rachel (also abducted) as his main source for this material, as very little is known of Cynthia Ann's own time with the tribe until much later, when it was revealed that she had had multiple opportunities to escape and had refused to leave her husband and children.

One portion I found especially engrossing was the chronicle of the Texas Rangers, essentially a group of organized vigilantes. In order to be on equal ground and successfully fend off attacks upon the reluctant "nation" of Texas, the Rangers learned to fight like the Comanches — including their impressive skill at shooting with accuracy from a galloping horse. Gwynne also offers insight into the Comancheros, the half-breed traders who were the only non-Indians the tribe would deal with directly.

Under the guise of telling Quanah Parker's story, Gwynne produces a fairly comprehensive tribal history. Empire of the Summer Moon is one that anyone should read who only thinks of Comanches as the bloodthirsty savages of traditional Western fiction. Gwynne's prose is smooth and unadorned, resulting in a history without pretensions. He lets the story take the spotlight; his tenure with Time Magazine was apparently excellent training for this career move.

I have only reached the halfway point — Gwynne has barely touched upon Quanah himself — yet I feel confident in recommending Empire of the Summer Moon to both those with prior interest in its subject who wish to expand their knowledge, and those wanting an introduction to the topic. Both, I wager, with be well satisfied.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Michael Frayn on Writing Success

"I don’t think it is a very good idea to write different sorts of things. If I were to give serious practical advice to a young writer about how to succeed I would say, Write the same book, or the same play, over and over again, just very slightly different, so that people get used to it.

"It takes some time, but if you do it often enough, finally people will get the hang of it, and get familiar with it, and they’ll like it. Then you go on producing a consistent product and you’ll have a market for it. Because the consumer of books or plays, including myself, very reasonably wants to know or have some idea in advance what the book or the play is going to be like.

"It is the same as buying breakfast cereal: if you buy a packet of cornflakes, you want to be sure it will contain cornflakes and not muesli. It is very irritating if the packet doesn’t contain what you expected it to contain. Similarly it is a reasonable demand from the theatergoer or novel reader that he should get a constant product, which is identified by the author’s brand name.

"If I could have done this, I would have. But I don’t have much control over what I produce. All I can do is to write the stories that come to me.... If I had been better organized as a writer, I would have gone beyond the stories’ dictates and imposed my own central imprint on everything."

—from a 2003 interview in The Paris Review

Friday, October 1, 2010

Horror scholarship makes paying for school less frightening!

In honor of the beginning of October, the scariest month of the year, I thought I'd mention an interesting piece of news that was shared with me. Star Costumes has developed and is now offering a $1,000 scholarship to eligible students who are "studying in a field designed to prepare them for work in the horror industry."

This could include anyone from aspiring directors and screenwriters to those looking to work in make-up or set design — even a film critic (criticism being, of course, near and dear to my own heart). All that's required is to fill out the application form and write a 300- to 400-word essay about your inspirations, goals, and accomplishments.

There is no application fee. But the deadline is October 31st, which will be here before you know it. If horror is your field of study, you may be especially busy this month, so for more information (or to get started right away!), just click on the logo to be taken to the appropriate page.

In spite of my cheesy subject line, I think this is a great opportunity Star Costumes is offering. So be sure to let us here at Somebody Dies know if this announcement led to your receiving the scholarship. We'll be cheering you on!

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Congregation of Jackals by S. Craig Zahler (debut Western novel)

Update: For those who have been waiting, A Congregation of Jackals is now available in an electronic edition, with the trade paperback slated for May 2011.

Author S. Craig Zahler's debut Western novel (he is best known for his film work) opens with a scene that quickly lets readers know what is in store if they continue reading A Congregation of Jackals. In it, a set of swarthy twin outlaws torture a young newlywed couple physically and emotionally just for the fun of it.

Then the story shifts to the main plot: 47-year-old rancher Oswell Danford receives a telegram inviting him to Trailspur for the wedding of one of his old gang, James Lingham, to Beatrice Jeffries, daughter of local sheriff T.W. Jeffries. "All old acquaintances will be in attendance," promises the sender, and this makes Oswell and the other recipients — Dicky Sterling and Oswell's brother Godfrey — very nervous, as it means that the fifth of their Tall Boxer Gang is ready to settle an old score.

A Congregation of Jackals is a mature and thoughtful Western that can stand up alongside anything that Cormac McCarthy or Larry McMurtry have written. At the same time, its unrepentant violence, intensity, and dark worldview could easily appeal to fans of hardboiled crime fiction, as well as current envelope-pushing Western authors like Peter Brandvold, Max McCoy, and J. Lee Butts.

I especially liked Zahler's choice to tell the backstory of Oswell's bank-robbing past through the letters he writes home to his wife during his long journey to Trailspur. Not only is it an improvement over the traditional flashback, but in telling the story through Oswell's own words, it gives the reader a chance to get to know him, and his feelings about his past, before all hell breaks loose.

Because once the wedding starts, the tension is unbreakable, as Oswell, Dicky, and Godfrey guard the church door in preparation for the arrival of Quinlan, their expected but unwanted visitor. Locals and outlanders work together to ensure that nothing will ruin the ceremony. But no one can possibly be prepared for what Quinlan has in store for them and anyone who gets in his way.

Zahler's choices in A Congregation of Jackals are truly surprising. He seems to give Quinlan a free hand, tending toward the brutal realism of a man who has been stewing over a betrayal for decades and is finally ready to make his retribution fantasies reality. None of the characters is safe; anyone could die at any time, so the suspense is always high.

A Congregation of Jackals is a truly modern Western. Zahler takes all the traditional excitement of a narrative of the Old West and injects it with a 21st-century sensibility, giving it a freshness not often seen. In order to survive, the Western genre needs to appeal to newer, younger readers, and Zahler's cinematic style may be just the thing to draw them in.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Native Son by Richard Wright (unabridged audio book read by Peter Francis James)

A classic of African American literature — and indeed of any kind — author Richard Wright's Native Son is surprisingly accessible to the modern reader, since it is basically a crime novel with literary leanings. Bigger Thomas lives with his mother, sister, and brother in one room on the South Side of Chicago in the 1930s. They are so cramped, they have to turn away while the others dress, causing much embarrassment all around.

Bigger is not ambitious — and he actually seems a bit lazy — but a chance connection gets him a good job chauffeuring for the owner of the Thomases' apartment building, Mr. Dalton. Wright clearly shows the mixture of fear, shame, and anger that Bigger feels toward whites, and it is these conflicting yet combined emotions that cause most of his later trouble.

He is supposed to drive the Daltons' daughter, Mary, to the university his first night on the job, but she has him detour to meet up with her Communist boyfriend, Jan Erlone. The couple were previously the subject of a gossip newsreel viewed by Bigger and a friend earlier that day, a bit of a scandal since Mr. and Mrs. Dalton are most fervently not Red supporters.

Mary and Jan invite Bigger to hang out with them, whereupon they all get a little too drunk. Delivering the girl to her room late that night, Bigger nearly has his way with the barely conscious (but seemingly willing) Mary, but the blind Mrs. Dalton enters the room to check on her daughter. Bigger panics, fearing the worst if he is found in the bedroom of the white girl. He reaches for a pillow....

I don't have to tell you what happens next. And Wright doesn't shy away from any of it. Every aspect is there on the page: the fingernails scratching his hand, the glassy eyes, the realization of what he has done, his decision to cover it up and blame it on the boyfriend, his decision to simply make the body disappear, the planning, the trunk, the hatchet, the furnace ... and that's only part one of Native Son, entitled "Fear."

From there, Wright chronicles seemingly every detail of the aftermath, including Bigger's attempt to frame Jan, nearly successful through his overconfidence in the whites' underestimation of him, until his eventual slip-up in another moment of panic. Part two, "Flight," covers the manhunt as it slowly accelerates into a citywide search, resulting in another murder as Bigger tries to hide out in abandoned buildings during a snowstorm, surrounded by newspaper coverage and passionate discussions of him by both blacks and whites.

Part three, "Fate," shows the inevitable outcome: Bigger's capture, interrogation, and indictment. Wright showcases his fantastic characterization during the trial (easily as good as anything in Anatomy of a Murder) as both sides present intelligent, persuasive arguments in their favor. For this reason alone, aspiring writers should read Native Son to see how balanced presentation of the facts of the case results in gripping reading.

In fact, Native Son is probably one of the best written, plotted, peopled, and constructed novels I have ever read. (Small details presented earlier pay off later on in surprising ways.) It is most definitely one of the most powerful. Wright succeeds in presenting an indelible portrait of a time and place and the attitudes prevalent, while at the same time delivering a suspenseful narrative with a positive ending — though not necessarily a "happy" one.

Actor Peter Francis James lends gravitas to the audiobook of Native Son. His narrative voice is nicely detached, leaving Wright's words to speak for themselves. And James's characterizations are done with subtle changes. My only complaint is that Jan Erlone and lawyer Boris Max sounded very similar, and when the two were in the same room, it was hard to tell them apart, especially since their worldviews are so similar they were often reiterating what the other was saying. But his work superlative throughout, making the audio version a terrific way of introducing oneself to the work of Richard Wright and seeing why his work still resonates with readers seventy years later.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Guest Blogger: Scott Gese: Rope and Wire Short Story Competition

The Western website, Rope and Wire, has been online for three and a half years now working hard to promote the Western genre through a variety of avenues. The approach seems to be working. Since day one, Rope and Wire has seen steady growth not only in the amount of its high-quality content but also in the number of its loyal followers.

The main idea behind Rope and Wire is to promote the Western genre through new, up and coming, and established Western authors. But the site doesn’t limit itself to just authors. It includes many other Western venues.

Short stories are a great way to introduce new readers to what Western authors actually write about. It gives them a feel for the genre that will hopefully continue to grow and mature, possibly translating into the sale of a few Western novels.

In a constant search for new ways to promote the genre, the Rope and Wire website has begun accepting submissions for their very first Western short-story competition. The competition is open to both novice and established authors. It creates an opportunity for the top five winning authors to have their work promoted by Rope and Wire and helps authors gain some valuable name recognition.

The competition, although somewhat conventional, does have several unconventional aspects to it. The first is that submissions will not be accepted by postal mail. All submissions are by email. While there is the possibility that this will reduce the total number of submissions, Rope and Wire believes in keeping up with the times.

As I’ve often said; “Even though the setting we write about is one hundred and fifty years in our past, we don’t write about it with fountain pens. For the most part, we use keyboards and computers.” So to me, it only makes sense to take a more modern approach for both story submissions and fee payments, which brings up the second unconventional aspect of this competition.

All submission fees are paid electronically through PayPal. This is a virtually instantaneous form of payment. After all, if the story submission is being sent electronically, it only makes sense to send the $15.00 entry fee the same way. No more waiting days for a check to clear before your story can be entered into the competition. I admit there are some who will scoff at this approach. But then I’ve always understood that change does not always come easy, but it does always come.

The third aspect to this competition has to do with the prize money. Most short-story competitions offer a set amount, and usually for only one winner. With the Rope and Wire Western short-story competition, we’ve decided to make prize money available to the top three winners and on a sliding scale. This means that, for each submission, the prize amount for first, second, and third place jumps $5.00, $3.00, and $2.00, respectively. So there is the potential of some rather large prizes.

The remaining $5.00 goes to pay for PayPal fees (yes, they do charge to use their service) and also to help defer the cost of keeping Rope and Wire online. If you’re interested in finding out more about the Rope and Wire Western short-story competition, or the Rope and Wire website in general, just click on the links.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Trail Drive to Montana (Gunsmith #69) by Gary McCarthy writing as J.R. Roberts

Regular readers of this repository of reviews will likely know that I am a big fan of The Gunsmith, which is the only long-running adult Western series still primarily written by a single author under a pseudonym, in this case Robert J. Randisi under the moniker J. R. Roberts. However, he has not written all of them. Randisi stated in a 2007 interview with Saddlebums Western Review that his publisher early on wanted more books than he could turn out on his own. Thus, around 30 of the first 100 were contracted from other authors to fulfill the twelve-a-year quota.

Later, I learned from an interview on Western Fiction Review that author Gary McCarthy, who had written a book I had recently enjoyed called The Pony Express War, had been one of those writers. (He reportedly wrote four Gunsmith novels.) As I enjoy cattle-drive novels, I chose McCarthy's first for the series, Trail Drive to Montana, to see if I could detect a difference in styles.

Actually, it was easy. From page one of Trail Drive to Montana, I would at least have known that it was not from the usual author. Randisi has a fast-paced, easy reading style that utilizes punchy dialogue and short, sharp paragraphs. The first paragraph of this book has 20 lines of small text, and there's no real conversation for five pages. This is not a criticism of either style, merely an illustration of how different they are.

McCarthy shows you the whole picture, and this slows things down a bit compared to the norm for this series, but I must admit to the appeal of seeing ex-lawman and professional gunsmith Clint Adams being genuinely articulate instead of simply a man of action. Even the heroine remarks, "You got a fine way with words, Mr. Adams."

She is Mandy Roe, whom Adams discovers after her horse is killed and she is left stranded underneath it. Her father is Bart Roe, the former outlaw pardoned by the governor and now an innovative cattle breeder in his 80s, who still has as fiery a temper as ever. Or, as Clint says, "He's the craziest old son of a bitch I ever saw in my life." (Having a way with words means you sometimes get right to the point.)

The Roes need to drive their herd of special crossbreeds up to Montana, away from the vengeful Moffit clan, seeking revenge for a 25-year-old transgression. The Gunsmith, in no way a cowboy and actually quite proud of the fact, agrees to accompany them on the journey. Unlike typical Texas longhorns, who are known as "rainbow cattle" for the variety of their hues, the Roe herd is exceptionally uniform in size and color, selected for those attributes in the breeding process.

Dr. Thomas Thom, Bart Roe's brother-in-law and an equal partner in the breeding, makes a connection between the longhorns and Americans. As he puts it, "Crossbreeding almost always results in a more vigorous strain of beef. It accounts for much of the American drive and energy. You see, this country is the greatest bunch of crossbred people in the world.... We are not in-bred like many of the old-line European families. We have greater vigor. So does this herd."

McCarthy fills Trail Drive to Montana with the expected level of action (of both types), and an additonal level of description that makes for a richer read than the typical series novel. He is quickly working his way toward an entry on my list of favorite authors, and I look forward to reading more of his work.

Further reading: For another adult Western series novel about a cattle drive, read Longarm on the Goodnight Trail. For other novels on the subject, Ralph Compton's Trail Drive series, starting with The Goodnight Trail, is also a winner. And of course, there's the epic of all Westerns, Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize–winning Lonesome Dove, which also centers around a trail drive.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Psycho by Robert Bloch (unabridged audio book read by Paul Michael Garcia)

Nearly everyone knows the story of Psycho, of how a woman named Crane steals $40,000 from her employer and takes off to marry her boyfriend. A rainstorm causes her to make a wrong turn off the main highway, and she stops for the night at the one beacon of light on that deserted stretch, the Bates Motel, run by the unassuming mama's boy Norman Bates.

Bates himself has become an iconic figure, synonymous with the psychotic murderer and more often the source of parody than fear. So, how does one approach the original novel by author Robert Bloch with a fresh eye?

Surprisingly, it is fairly simple: one cannot. If you have seen the classic film as directed by Alfred Hitchcock, you've experienced the story in its tightest form.

Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano delivered a very faithful adaptation, and if that is enough for you, so be it. But if you long for more depth of character, more insight into motive and history, and especially more internal monologue, then Psycho the novel is just the thing for you.

Audiobook reader Paul Michael Garcia delivers a better performance than I thought possible, inhabiting all the characters fully. This allowed me to forget that I was listening to "Psycho" and just immerse myself in Bloch's world one more time — almost, if I tried really hard, as if for the first time.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sea Fangs by L. Ron Hubbard (unabridged audio book performed by a full cast)

Bob Sherman, one-time land owner and boat captain, had his dreams taken away by Herbert Marmion, who commandeered Sherman's property for the U.S. government's use. Trying to get to the bottom of things, Sherman hires himself out as a sailor on Marmion's ship, the Bonito. A hurricane then tosses them about, bringing forth the captain's ineptitude and Marmion's daughter Phyllis, a black-haired beauty.

The ship eventually anchors, but on the Island of Death, the headquarters of Venezuelan pirates from whom Sherman just escaped after an 18-month imprisonment. ("It would be just like the sea to bring me back where I least want to return.") It looks like Sherman is destined for recapture, but the Bonito puts up a good defense when attacked, with eight full minutes of shells and bullets making "the air ... alive with lead" on this fantastic audio adaptation of author L. Ron Hubbard's novella Sea Fangs.

Sea Fangs is a relatively early short novel from Hubbard, appearing first in the June 1934 issue of Five Novels Monthly, so it's not as skillfully crafted as works like Six-Gun Caballero and Under the Diehard Brand that were published only four years later.

The cast of Sea Fangs is, as usual for these Galaxy Audio productions, generally first-rate, with Firesign Theatre alumnus Phil Proctor tackling three relatively prominent roles and director Jim Meskimen juggling five other supporting parts. The only real fault in the production lies with the lead actress. The heroine, Phyllis, as written by Hubbard, goes through numerous emotions from devotion to grief to fear, but Kristen Proctor never gives anything more than the same flat line-readings.

Miss Proctor's performance actually detracts from the story instead of adding insight to the character. She is never once believable as the clever, strong-willed woman of action Hubbard imagined. Protagonist Bob Sherman fares considerably better, though this is due more to narrator R.F. Daley's reading of Sherman's thoughts and actions than to Shane Johnson's effort with the dialogue. That said, the audiobook of Sea Fangs is still a fine way to pass two hours, especially if you're commuting and you'd rather be on the high seas than stuck in a sea of traffic.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Blue-Eyed Devil by Robert B. Parker (unabridged audio book read by Titus Welliver)

Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch have quite a history together. They kept the peace as deputy U.S. marshals in a town called Appaloosa, where Virgil fell in love with a woman named Allie. Then Everett left Appaloosa (for the obvious reason) and settled in Resolution, where he kept the peace in town on a less formal basis for basically the only local businessman. Virgil came along later on (after Allie left him) to visit and help out. Eventually the duo was aided by another pair of gunmen known as Kato and Rose.

Subsequently, the pair moved on to Brimstone, after hearing that Allie's last beau hadn't worked out and she'd gotten herself involved in prostitution. There they worked as deputy sheriffs until they rescued Allie from herself, in addition to helping out a young girl, a selective mute who will only choose to talk to Virgil, much to Allie's chagrin. At the end of Brimstone, the gang is headed back to Appaloosa.

Blue-Eyed Devil, the first novel in the series not to be named after the town in which it is set, begins on their third day back in Appaloosa, when chief of police Amos Callico lets them know in no uncertain terms that he is the one in charge. But he also offers them jobs working for him. When they decline Callico, they know he'll be trouble, and he is because Callico is running a "protection" racket, and those who don't want to pay look to Cole and Hitch for help.

Author Robert B. Parker approached Westerns in the same way he did his other novels: with long strings of dialogue and short chapters. This makes them not only fast reads -- though the laconic delivery of the characters can make them seem longer -- but also highly accessible to readers who may think they don't like Westerns. Actually, Virgil and Everett have a similar friendship as Parker's mystery heroes Spenser and Hawk: Everett is the narrator and main filter for the action, the relatable one, but Virgil, like Hawk, is the more mysterious and therefore more intriguing character.

Virgil Cole's skill with a firearm is legendary, and Parker gives it a mythic spin. Always calm and relaxed, Virgil's draw looks leisurely, but it is always faster than anyone else's. But my favorite aspect of the characters is that Virgil is well-read while Everett is well-educated. (Virgil regularly refers to Everett's time at West Point.) Neither is both, which means they often share knowledge with each other, and consequently with us. From the philosophy of Rousseau to the viability of the Macedonian phalanx in modern warfare, there is a lot to learn in Parker's Westerns in addition to terrific reads.

Blue-Eyed Devil is likely the final Parker Western, and that's too bad because these four novels have been some of my favorite reads of his. They are also some of the most readable modern Westerns available, and when an author of Parker's stature publishes a Western, it gives the genre some much-needed attention. The story as told comes full circle with new beginnings and old familiarities, but I wouldn't mind seeing the series continued by other hands.

The first name that comes to mind is that of Robert J. Randisi. Parker and Randisi share a skill with dialogue that says more than it seems to, and Randisi has also written his fair share of private-eye novels. Also, they both seem to follow the popular Strunk and White dictum to "omit needless words," resulting in the abovementioned brevity of dialogue and chapter. Because of these similarities, I think Randisi would be able to take over the series with little disruption, and I hope the publisher (and the author's estate) will consider this option to continue the Cole and Hitch stories.

Blue-Eyed Devil and the other three books in the series are read on audiobook by Titus Welliver, probably best known to Western fans as "Silas Adams" on the series Deadwood. Welliver has the perfect voice for these intelligent, confident, understated men: he stays out of the way and lets Parker's hardboiled Westerns speak for themselves and shine just like they do in print. Welliver's reading reminds me of that of the prolific Scott Brick's signature dysthymic delivery (see Vendetta), and he should translate well to other genres in the same way Brick does.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Twilight and New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (unabridged audio books read by Ilyana Kadushin)

Curiosity gets me every time. I often feel compelled to try to understand the appeal of popular literary and cinematic phenomena. I've read and seen many things I was not actually interested in, just for that reason.

Many of them proved to be major disappointments, such as Forrest Gump, The Da Vinci Code, and The Dark Knight. But some have led me to a long-lasting appreciation of their respective merits, like The Crying Game and the Harry Potter novels.

Despite its apparently huge success, I had never even heard of the Twilight saga until the fourth one, Breaking Dawn, was being published, but with all the unavoidable hype surrounding the release of the film adaptations, I decided I needed to see what the big deal was. I started with the first one, Twilight, read on unabridged audiobook by Ilyana Kadushin (You've Been Warned) — and I was completely drawn in.

In case you don't know, Twilight begins the story of Bella Swan, who leaves her soon-to-be-remarried mother to move in with her father, the chief of police of Forks, Washington. Bella is a clumsy teenager who is inevitably drawn to the pale and mysterious Edward Cullen, one of a "family" of vampires who abstain from human blood. (Their patriarch, Carlisle, is even a doctor devoted to saving lives.)

Author Stephenie Meyer draws the complicated relationship between Bella and Edward with affectionate detail as they navigate the multiple conflicts inherent in a vampire–human romance. And don't think for a moment that Twilight isn't a romance — fans of the brutal variety of bloodsucker should stay away. But I was completely absorbed by Meyer's easy prose and Bella's engaging narration enough to go straight on to the next book.

New Moon begins with the Cullens' moving away from Forks to avoid putting Bella in more danger after a birthday celebration for her goes horribly awry. But Bella can't stand being away from Edward. She gets pretty whiny and mopey here, and I almost stopped listening, but reader Kadushin fully embodies the feeling in the text to the point that I began to feel genuine sympathy for Bella, so I stuck it out.

Bella even begins to do reckless things simply in order to hear Edward's advising voice in her head. This includes buying a couple of motorcycles, something her father would be extremely against. So, she hides them at the home of her childhood friend, Jacob Black. Anyone who has seen the trailer to the New Moon film will know that werewolves are a part of this story, but none show up for ten chapters. So, as with vampire aficionados, lycanthrope lovers may be bored.

In the meantime, Meyer fills the space with the deepening friendship between Bella and the two-years-younger Jacob as he slowly falls in love with her. This will lead to the triangular conflict so often discussed by fans of the series as Bella sees the benefits and drawbacks of each individual, and they both fight to stay uppermost in her mind.

References to Romeo and Juliet abound, both subtle and trite (the first book was reportedly styled upon Pride and Prejudice), and New Moon is generally a weaker offering than Twilight, but it presents information and relationship development that is built upon later in the series, and it is still an absorbing, if not particularly well-written, read.

I only got about four chapters into the third book, Eclipse, before putting it down in favor of other books, but it does attempt to draw me back into its thrall occasionally. Luckily, it's not a complex story, so it is easy to exit and reenter with little loss of comprehension. But at this point, I feel I know enough about the draw of the series through Twilight and New Moon to not have to see it to its conclusion.

At least not right now....

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Corpse King by Tim Curran (#21 in the Cemetery Dance Novella Series)

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2010. Reprinted with permission.

In a city of filth, the dead are for sale. Samuel Clow and his partner Mickey Kierney are traders in mortality, spending their nights digging up the freshly dead for the benefit of science and their wallets. One night they get lucky and come across a shallow mass grave of cholera victims — 30 in all.

Clow and Kierney are off to cash in at old Dr. Gray's when they see something strange — and for these blokes to call something "strange" is saying a lot. The mythical Corpse King is rising. The lord of the dead, bane of resurrectionists everywhere, has struck again, laughing its hysterical laugh.

The Corpse King is the twenty-first in Cemetery Dance Publications' popular series of limited-edition hardcover novellas. It has ultra-creepy cover art by Alan Clark and intensely disturbing, almost photo-realistic interior illustrations by Keith Minnion.

Author Tim Curran paints the Irish slums of Edinburgh, Scotland, with a muddy brush, "a mud swimming with the filth of ... seepage from backed-up sewers ... emptied privy pails, offal from the slaughteryards ... a seething organic brew of feces, urine, blood ... a ripe and heady breeding ground for contagious disease." (Must be hard to sell real estate with a ringing endorsement like that.)

In fact, there's so much illness that the cemeteries are overflowing. Bodies just pile up — as hidden from sight as possible (or convenient) — while Clow and Kierney take advantage to get funds for their nightly imbibitions.

At first, the pair take a brave tack: they simply refuse to believe in the Corpse King's existence, diving back into their ghastly work. But a thing that eats corpses cuts into the livelihood of enterprising individuals trafficking in the freshly dead. So, the duo take it upon themselves to bait and destroy the culprit, whatever it may be.

This chase takes up a good portion of the plot of The Corpse King — and it is a frightening, suspenseful ride — but the main draw of the novella is the partnership of Clow and Kierney themselves. They've obviously been working together for some time, as they have an easy-going, mildly competitive manner with one another.

Their verbal jousts over who had the worst childhood — Four Yorkshiremen–style — are a highlight. They're wickedly witty and uproariously rude as they engage in a sort of "one-downmanship":

"Me old man used to beat me severely about the ears with his fists and I think he knocked something loose up there, he did."

"Cor, he only used his fists?"

"Unless a fire poker was near, you see."

"Me old man was the same way. Used a barrel stave on me, he did.... The old sod. I used to wake each morning with a stream of his vile piss in me face, except on me birthday when he'd dump the entire chamber pot on me as a gift. It's with great love and respect that I remember me father."

"Aye, enough then, Michael Kierney. If you were to peel an onion beneath me nose I could cry no more."

"You're a kind man, Samuel Clow."
Curran seems to have a quiver full of remarks, retorts, and ripostes layered with humorous hyperbole and gallows humor (literally, during the hanging of a fellow graverobber) that engenders an affection for these companions that grounds the abnormal goings-on in a relatable reality. One begins to care about the filthy buggers, especially when compared to the people around them.

As a result, The Corpse King is more than just a horror tale. It's also a tragic portrait of friendship. When Curran began leading the story toward its inevitable end, I just held on because I knew I was in the hands of a master.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Guest Blogger: James Mowery: EBooks in Today's Online Market

James Mowery is a computer geek who writes about technology and related topics. To read more blog posts by him, go to led tv.

Books are generally considered “old media”: they are not very current, don’t update very easily, and are generally an antique way to transfer and store knowledge. However, technology is infiltrating the book market, just like everything else, and is changing the way we read books. The idea of storing large amounts of text digitally is not particularly new or innovative, but storing and reading whole books digitally is a recently new trend.

The development of eBook readers is what has really allowed this. Digital book readers, which have special screens that don’t cause eye strain, are the recent innovation that has allowed for eBooks to really become popular and penetrate the market. Amazon has reported that it sells more eBooks than hardcover books, which is a huge indicator of just how big the eBook market is.

Apple iPadMost eBook readers use a special eInk screen which is black and white and doesn’t refresh very fast. This limits the display on those devices to traditional text-only books. However, newer devices like the iPad have full-color displays that have the potential to allow for other types of content.

Right now, most eBooks are books that are published primarily in print form and simply copied into eBook form. As eBook readers become more popular, it may be possible to design eBooks specifically with the device in mind.

New features could include embedded photos or videos that accompany the text, or even how-to guides or applications that could help you do something else on your reader. Social media integration seems almost inevitable in the future of eBooks. The digitization of books provides a promising feature filled with new technology.

This article copyright © 2010 James Mowery.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Tilting House by Tom Llewellyn

When the real estate agent shows the Peshik family Tilton House, she is honest about the flaws: the floors tilt at a three-degree angle, and they were designed that way; the walls and floors are covered in script and drawings of a scientific and artistic nature. But the wood is gorgeous, and the price is certainly right — especially when the agent (desperately, it seems) shaves $20,000 off the asking price — so, they take it.

Then weird things start happening, and not just the kleptomaniacal leanings of the mumbling neighbor known only as Purple Door Man. I mean, weird things like the brutal murder of a Rattus rattus, resulting in the victim's father (Mr. Daga by name) getting so peeved he gives Mr. Peshik a talking-to then sells off his rare coin collection (the rat's, that is) so he can buy the house next door and relocate his remaining family.

Oh, and let's not forget the pair of undertakers who go around town, delivering their business cards, one at a time, to the person who'll die tomorrow. Author Tom Llewellyn's debut novel, The Tilting House, continues in this mostly episodic fashion, telling various stories presented as the events of the day, with the next day (or thereabouts) bringing on the next story. This not only makes it easy to find a stopping place if you need to put the book down for a spell, but it also makes the strangeness a little easier to take instead of all at one.

The Tilting House is geared toward readers in the 9-12 age group, but this much older reader found himself swept up in the linearly presented vignettes. There's a little of everything here: suspense, humor, adventure, horror, mystery, and a lot of heart. Llewellyn's story is imaginative and just weird enough to keep the reader interested, but it is also grounded in the realities (such as they are) of a family trying to get used to a new house.

What does Grandpa's leg share with their dining-room set? Why does the dimmer switch bring reporters around? What are the "deadly" consequences of the mysterious "grow powder" found inside the box in the attic? Who was the mysterious F.T. Tilton, and why did he write all over his house? The answers to these and other questions reside in The Tilting House. The result is a sort of House of Leaves for the grammar-school set. One thing is for sure: you'll never see moss the same way again.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Trouble with Tramps: An Orrie Hitt Homage by Michael Hemmingson (Black Mask Books)

"You wanna know what the trouble with tramps is?" he said to me.

"Sure," I said. A good bartender always listens.

"A tramp is always a tramp. They try to fool you, they may even fool themselves. They think they've changed and maybe they want to, they say it's all behind in the past, but deen down, down their rotten cores, they're still tramps. They are born tramps and will die tramps."

Upon finishing author Michael Hemmingson's recent story collection This Other Eden, I was very interested in other works by him. But after reading such serious stuff, I was surprised to come across a romp like The Trouble with Tramps -- a pastiche of the work of author Orrie Hitt, the "Shakespeare of sleaze" who made a career of chronicling the foibles of ne'er-do-wells in his paperback originals of the 1950s and '60s.

Hemmingson is a bit of a Hitt scholar. He runs the blog Those Sexy Vintage Sleaze Books, where he has made a study of this kind of feverish writing over the past year, focusing primarily on the work of Orrie Hitt and the early years of Robert Silverberg. So, the man knows his stuff.

The Trouble with Tramps is the story of Jack Card — resident of Hittsville ("Just a stone's toss from Port Jervis") — and how he juggles his relationships with three women: his lush tramp wife Kay, his pregnant underage tramp girlfriend Lucy, and his new tramp lover Eve, who wants Jack to kill her important-businessman husband, while trying to write pulp stories in whatever free time he has.

Jack's two-hour lunch with Eve has cost him his job, which brings his problems into sharp focus. "It was the spring of 1957 and I had $52.50 to my name, with a frigid wife to support, a teenage lover to keep, and I was falling for a married woman who spent more money in a day than I did in a month."

To go into much more of the plot would ruin the fun of the reading, and The Trouble with Tramps is indeed a great deal of fun. It reads like it was written in one long burst of inspiration, but the prose is so sharp and pointed that there must have been a great deal of craft involved.

Hemmingson's skill with dialogue and character shines through, and the "sleaze" aspect is deftly handled. It's sexy without being silly and racy without resorting to raunch. Even the ending, obviously meant to shock, is done as tastefully as possible.

Plus, there's the fact that The Trouble with Tramps is so obviously a labor of love. Since most authors copy their favorite writer at some point, that Hemmingson's has been published for us to read is special indeed. I know it's made me curious for more of the work of both Hitt and Hemmingson. So, in that way, it's a good read and a terrific promotional piece.

Nitpicker's Note: For those who care about such things — and I know many people do not — this book could have really used another set of eyes to look it over. There are at least a dozen typos that are blatantly obvious — and one missing S from the beginning of "He lay down on top of me" changes the whole meaning of the sentence.

Now, I'm not saying it's anything on the scale of the story of Jose Saramago's The History of the Siege of Lisbon, where an inserted "not" effectively changes history. But, as one who instantly notices such details — that's how I became a copyeditor in the first place — it tended to take me out of the story somewhat, and The Trouble with Tramps deserves better.
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