Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Re-Kindling Interest: Dark Side of the Morgue by Raymond Benson (The Rock 'n' Roll Detective's Greatest Hits)

This is one of a series of reviews focusing on out-of-print works that have become available again via a variety of e-book formats.

A blonde wearing sunglasses and a big, floppy hat has been killing members of Chicago's prog-rock scene (known locally as "Chicagoprog"), and Zach Garriott (guitarist and vocalist for the seminal bands North Side and Red Skyez, but gone solo since 1980) wants Spike Berenger's help finding the suspect — he's on the list. The trouble is, the main suspect is Sylvia Favero, and she's been dead since 1970.

Dark Side of the Morgue is author Raymond Benson's second Spike Berenger novel. This Kindle edition (called The Rock 'n' Roll Detective's Greatest Hits) contains it and the other two, A Hard Day's Death and On the Threshold of a Death for less than the price of one of the original paperback editions.

P.I. Spike Berenger used to be in a progressive rock band called The Fixers, but they didn't last long (though they still have some devoted fans). Now Berenger and his partner Rudy Bishop run Rockin' Security, a service for the music industry. Berenger also has his private investigator's license because it sometimes helps with business. Suzanne Prescott, a former Goth devotee now into Transcendental Meditation (T.M.) and martial arts, is his investigation partner.

Berenger, a little bored with his current caseload involving Iggy Pop's dogs and Debbie Harry's landlord, decides to take the case, partly because he's friends and former colleagues with many of the participants. Here, Benson's knowledge of the prog-rock industry serves him well (he wrote The Pocket Guide to Jethro Tull and is himself a composer and songwriter).

After a long exposition introducing character relationships and band histories, Benson's feel for the high points brings authenticity to the story and never feels just like some guy trying to write a rock novel. (A Chicagoprog "family tree" at the front of the book is great for reference, and the table of contents is actually a "track listing" of song titles.)

Dark Side of the Morgue is funny, disturbing, and filled with deep knowledge of the music industry and abnormal psychology, all combined to make a really terrific read that I wanted to pick up whenever I had a free moment. It is assembled from P.I./thriller tropes we've seen many times before, but Benson has put them together in a way that feels fresh and original, and results in the reader responding to them as if they were brand new.

My only real complaint is that protagonist Spike Berenger is the least interesting person in the book. But Berenger's transparency allows the supporting characters to truly shine (for example, in how Prescott's T.M. skills actually figure into the plot instead of being just an interesting character quirk). Benson obviously spent a great deal of time developing his musicians' relationships and histories, and the hard work pays off as Dark Side of the Morgue is an engrossing read that is as much for rock fans as it is for fans of conventional P.I. novels.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Re-Kindling Interest: The Words by Douglas Clegg (novella)

This is one of a series of reviews focusing on out-of-print works that have become available again via a variety of e-book formats.

The new ebook explosion has been great for the novella. Previously only to be found in limited editions in the small press or in anthologies, this former bastard of the literary world has finally found a form in which it can thrive.

This is not only good for the authors but also for readers who may have missed out on hidden gems like this one (originally published in Four Dark Nights).

Douglas Clegg's The Words is a real stunner. In fewer than a hundred pages, Clegg creates a mythology, ages it, and sets its destiny in motion via two teenage boys, Dash and Mark, and their poorly chosen selections of reading materials.

Once Dash initiates the events, only Mark can stop them, but he can't for the life of him remember the words Dash begged him not to forget. Oh, he can remember the names that started it all, but those foreign-sounding words continue to escape him.

Clegg creates real tension, even during the flashback scenes used to explain the history and lead up to the present. Using the novella form to its utmost, The Words could have been told no other way, and I'm glad to see that it may finally find the audience that missed it the first time around.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bad Juju: a little something for the weekend

  • First off, Bad Juju is available from the Amazon Kindle store this weekend, January 21 and 22, for free! If you were hesitant to try it out, now's the time.
  • Also, Walt Hicks, the publisher of the original paperback edition, reminisces about Bad Juju in his review of Randy Chandler's latest novel, Daemon of the Dark Wood:
    It's hard to believe that almost exactly a decade ago I was searching high and low for that perfect first novel for HellBound Books Publishing. Looking for something original with a fresh voice, but also a real page-turner, I sifted through over a hundred 'first three chapter/synopsis' packages, many quite well-written, most of them starring ghosts, zombies, werewolves, and other auld beasties; the vast majority showcasing hordes of vampires in every conceivable shape, stripe and configuration.

    One day, I opened an e-mail, quickly buzzed through the cover note, started the chapters, and ... wait. I think I may have something here. Quickly followed by: How the hell is this NOT published already? I immediately fired off an e-mail request for the complete manuscript. Within a few days' time, I knew I had that elusive first novel for HellBound: Bad Juju by Randy Chandler.
    Read the rest of the review over at Hellbound Times.

Friday, January 13, 2012

My Latest Project

For the last several months, I and my colleague at Acid Grave Press, David T. Wilbanks, have been working steadily on getting a new edition of Randy Chandler's novel Bad Juju ready for publication. And now it's out on Amazon. (Other stores will follow.)

More info at the Acid Grave Press blog.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2011: The Year in Review(s)

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