Monday, January 31, 2011

The Silent Wall / The Return of Marvin Palaver by Peter Rabe (also includes "Hard Case Redhead")

Though they've previously reprinted ten other novels by author Peter Rabe, this volume is exciting news even for Stark House Press as it contains two works that have never been published in any form: the novel The Silent Wall and the novella The Return of Marvin Palaver. Sandwiched between the two longer works is the ultra-rare short story "Hard Case Redhead," which has not been seen since its original appearance in Mystery Tales Magazine. All of these will be welcome additions to the libraries of Rabe enthusiasts.

Because it was the shortest, I started with "Hard Case Redhead." This story is real shot-in-the-arm fiction, with two robbers kidnapping an accidental tourist on her way across their escape alley. The tension is high, the characters well drawn, and the insight is up to usual Rabe standards — all included in a package a fraction the size of the author's usual offering.

Stark House Press's regular proofreader Rick Ollerman steps up his participation (rating a special thanks from the publisher) with an incisive, though occasionally repetitive, introduction that displays his wide knowledge of the Rabe oeuvre. Ollerman's introduction is an even better advertisement for the other Rabe books in the Stark House library than the list in the back of the book.

The Return of Marvin Palaver is quite a departure for the author, giving the reader a supernatural revenge tale that uses dialect and humor to deliver its punch. "I died at the worst possible moment in life," Marvin tells us, "just when I was coming out even."

Just when he is about to pull a masterful schwindel on his nemesis, Sidney Minsk ("may he live to be a poor man forever"), Palaver drops dead on Minsk's office floor. Unwilling to let that be the period to his life, Palaver comes back down from heaven to manipulate events toward the ultimate revenge. The Return of Marvin Palaver is sure to leave a smile on the reader's face with its perfect plotting and characterization.

Sure to be the big draw in this collection is The Silent Wall. Radio man on a tanker, "Matty" Matheson finds himself once again in Sicily, in Messina near Forza d'Aguil, where he was stationed during the War. With a week to kill before the tanker is repaired, Matty decides to revisit his past and rents a Vespa to go "see how things have turned out — for her."

For some reason he does not understand, the Mafia now don't want him to leave and have sabotaged his exit. And to make things more complicated, the only person offering assistance is an innkeeper, Vinciguerra, who talks in riddles. The only real respite he finds comes in the person of the waitress Sophia, but any reader of noir fiction known you can never really trust the dames.

It's been almost forty years since the world has seen a new Rabe novel, and The Silent Wall was definitely worth the wait. It reads like the culmination of Rabe's career: a hardboiled story that depends more on the interactions of its characters than the machinations of its plot, their conversations holding as much appeal as their actions.

Never before have I found so engrossing a story where basically the same thing happens over and over again (Matty tries to escape and is foiled). The ending of The Silent Wall roughly switches gears, becoming a strange combination of sexy and confounding that nevertheless keeps the pages turning to the finish. Though I read the tales here in a different order than the publisher intended, I think I made the right choice as the quality seemed to get better with each one.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Living After Midnight co-editor David T. Wilbanks interviewed

Dave gets interviewed by Neal Hock over at Bookhound's Den, and he mentions a little anthology that you may have heard of.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Merkabah Rider: The Mensch with No Name by Edward M. Erdelac (weird Western novella collection)

This review is going to be pretty lame, but it has nothing to do with the quality of the book being reviewed (if such a word can be used here). It is purely due to my lack of organization. As an old-fashioned sort of fellow, I write out my reviews in longhand on a notepad, taking notes and fashioning opinions in the midst of reading the book.

Unfortunately, however, in the case of Merkabah Rider: The Mensch with No Name by author Edward M. Erdelac, after my review was written — but before I had the opportunity to transcribe it here — I lost it.

I was keeping it inside the book, as usual, and when I went to get the book and bring it to the computer, the paper wasn't there. Couldn't find it anywhere. I looked up and down for days. And, almost worse, when I attempted to recreate what I had written, I was unable.

But The Mensch with No Name deserves a review of some kind because it's quite a good read. If you enjoyed the first book in the series, the fantastic Tales of a High Planes Drifter (which made my Best of 2010 list) — and if you haven't read it, you definitely should before tackling this sequel — then you will enjoy this one.

If you're completely unfamiliar with the concept, read the review of that book for the basics, and transpose those superlatives to this one. With Merkabah Rider: The Mensch with No Name, Erdelac confirms my original impression that he has joined the ranks of Robert E. Howard (whose creation Nameless Cults is referenced, much like his "Kelly the Conjure-Man" inspired a tale in the first collection) and Joe R. Lansdale, two of my favorite authors and the kings of the weird Western. I look eagerly forward to further Rider adventures, and hopefully I'll be a little more careful with my notes next time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hard Case Crime discovery

I was perusing the "stacks" over at Amazon and accidentally came across some interesting information. I looks like the first Hard Case Crime reprints under the new contract with Titan Publishing will be coming out on February 22.

I haven't checked each title individually, but a quick look over at the Amazon listings suggests that at least a dozen, and closer to two dozen, titles will be hitting store shelves once again. So, for those readers who have been waiting to catch up on their collection until the folks involved would actually get royalties for your purchase (and I know this includes quite a few of you), your wait will soon be over.

And it's a good thing that some catching up will be possible now, because the new books in the line — Christa Faust's Choke Hold (the sequel to the almost universally acclaimed Money Shot) and Max Allan Collins's Quarry's Ex (latest in the series that spawned the movie The Last Lullaby) — are still not scheduled to arrive until much later in 2011.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Game of Chance (Diamondback #4) by Frank Roderus writing as Guy Brewer (adult series Western)

On the run from a rich Texan whose father he killed, Dexter Yancey and his best friend James are on their way to the Indian Nations. Dex is a gambler and con man. James is a former slave.

The duo are so inseparable that they even got the same education, and they both have surprises in their future — James because he's treated like nothing less than a human being, Dex because he's mistaken for a hit man. But the $3,000 fee from the fat man is too appealing to pass up.

Dex will, of course, do what he can to avoid having to actually earn that fee (and still keep it), especially when he meets the beautiful intended victim, widow Wilhelmina Stout.

Game of Chance is longer than the usual adult-series Western at 200 pages, plus it has the writing of author Frank Roderus (Charlie and the Sir) to recommend it. (Roderus wrote the entire short-lived Diamondback series under the house name Guy Brewer.)

The repartee between Dex and James sometimes feels forced, but they have genuine brotherly affection for one another. The main draw for this entry in the series, however, is that it offers up a surprising revelation about the main characters from an unexpected source.

Roderus seems to be striving for a level of character involvement here, and actually using the series format for long-term story development, something I had heretofore not seen in this genre. That, along with the talents of its author, is enough for me to recommend Game of Chance.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Another great review of Living After Midnight

We've got another great review for Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories, this time from Ginger Nuts of Horror.

He uses the phrase "heavy metal horror heaven," which is pure heaven for this co-editor. And he says "the hit rate is just perfect," and that he found it hard to single out favorites.

He calls Steven L. Shrewsbury's "Black Sabbath" an example of "how zombie stories should be written"; says "Spooky Tooth" by Randy Chandler is "excellent"; and especially lauds Kent Gowran's "Motorhead" as a "hard fast paced balls to the wall story," with a note that Kent's presence on a book's table of contents will guarantee future purchases.

I'm really glad to see that readers are responding to these Hard and Heavy Stories the way my co-editor Dave and I did when we first read them. It is my hope that the book inspires readers to check out more from these terrific authors.

Just as a reminder, Living After Midnight is still available for only $2.99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, Kobo, Sony, and Smashwords.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Living After Midnight reviewed and featured

The new horror/dark-fantasy anthology I co-edited with David T. Wilbanks, Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories, has received its first review from Dead in the South.

The reviewer strongly recommends it, and says that "It’s one of the things that make having an e-reader worthwhile." He also singles out Kent Gowran's story, "Motorhead," as a "great pulp crime story [with] adrenaline mixed with its ink."

We're also featured over on author Scott Nicholson's Indie Books Blog with a short interview. Be sure to check out more of both sites.

In addition to Amazon, Diesel, and Smashwords, Living After Midnight is also now available on Sony, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Quickie by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge (unabridged audio book read by Mary Stuart Masterson)

On her way to give her husband Paul a sexy surprise for lunch, Lauren Stillwell instead see him leaving his office building with a corn-fed blonde on his arm. She follows them to a hotel, and this discovery — and Paul's lying about it when confronted — turns her into a woman bent on evening the score, literally.

It was just supposed to be a quickie, but Lauren's retaliatory assignation ("Paul and I had once had a sweet sex life.... But being with Scott was life-threatening") quickly turns to murder when one of her lovers kills the other as she watches through the window into the dark, rainy night. The killer loads the victim into his car and drives off.

Once Lauren realizes he's not at any of the local hospitals, she checks out a crime scene she overhears on a cop's radio. And that's where authors James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge drop the first major surprise of The Quickie. Many more follow in this novel whose agenda is announced early on: "This is what happens when you cheat. This is what you get." But Patterson and Ledwidge have housed it in a slick thriller that is practically guaranteed to please Patterson's legion of fans.

Actress Mary Stuart Masterson (Fried Green Tomatoes, Benny & Joon) remains invisible throughout her reading of the audiobook of The Quickie, letting the characters, especially narrator Lauren, shine fully. Her portrayals are insightful and completely naturalistic with unexpected emphasis placed (in retrospect) where a real person would put it.

The Quickie is completely absorbing even as it stretches the bounds of plausibility. The final disc is a roller-coaster ride as all questions are answered and all threads tied up neatly, leaving the listener with a smile.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cattle King for a Day by L. Ron Hubbard (unabridged multi-cast audio book)

After receiving news of his grandfather's death, Chinook Shannon heads north from Arizona to Bull Butte, Montana, to take over the Slash-S ranch. What he finds is surprising: not only in the property in debt to the tune of $26,000 but it's also been commandeered for gold mining, and a fellow named Brad Kendall doesn't want Chinook to get to the ranch. The bank is about to foreclose, and Chinook has twenty-four hours to set things right or he'll only be Cattle King for a Day.

Author L. Ron Hubbard was a master of the action Western, filling his stories of adventure with plenty of gunplay and vengeance. "Cattle King for a Day" (originally published in All Western Magazine's March 1937 issue) is enhanced by authenticity springing from Hubbard's time living in Montana, complete with details on local mining, banking, etc.

But humor is welcome here as well. One passage in particular from "Cattle King for a Day" brought a smile — where the author describes the stream of epithets and obscenities directed by Kendall toward Sheriff Taggart:

It was all unquotable. It treated Taggart's family tree from its inception, followed through several-score generations, caught up with Taggart's personal appearance, filthy habits, general demeanor, and went on to revite Taggart's posterity.

In addition, the character of Sheriff Taggart offers a sense of nostalgia for fans of the comic quartet Firesign Theater, as the actor who voices Taggart, Phil Proctor, borrows heavily from his portrayal of used-auto salesman Ralph Spoilsport, first heard on the group's classic album How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All.

Also on this audio is "Come and Get It" (from the October 15, 1938, issue of Street & Smith's Western Story). Bill Norton arrives at Wolf Junction, Wyoming, as the new owner of the Bar N, met only by the station agent and a prairie dog, apparently the only residents — even "at the early hour of 11" — of this veritable ghost town.

Bill soon discovers there's actually very little waiting for him but a pair of sixguns and an unpleasant surprise: his father was murdered. But how is a tenderfooted Easterner who's never fired a gun supposed to avenge his father? With the help of a clever mind and a clever dog, and a twist ending that leaves the listener with a smile.

These two Western stories of men and their new properties, which hold surprises neither of them is prepared for, make for a good pair of listens that more than fill the two-hour running time of Cattle King for a Day. I find myself more and more on the lookout for these Galaxy Audio productions, as they are sure (with a few exceptions) to provide an engaging and exciting pulp-adventure experience.
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