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.
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