Thursday, April 26, 2012

Antiques Disposal: a Trash 'n' Treasures Mystery by Barbara Allan (Barbara Collins and Max Allan Collins)

Fans of Storage Wars, take note. Antiques Disposal, the sixth entry in the Trash 'n' Treasures cozy mystery series from author Barbara Allan (actually spouses Barbara Collins and Max Allan Collins) has heroines (or anti-heroines, depending on your take) Brandy and Vivian Borne bidding on a storage unit to stock their antique shop. There they discover both a cornet (that may have belonged to Bix Beiderbecke) and a corpse (that definitely belongs to Big Jim Bob, owner of the storage area and ex-flame of Vivian's).

If you're new to the antics of the mother-daughter dueling duo (as well as the authors' prevalent parenthetical asides — apparently the subject of much debate), you may wish to start with the first novel in the series, Antiques Roadkill, though the authors will catch you up satisfactorily in Antiques Disposal

Just be aware that facts presumed here were used as revelations in previous entries, so reading a later book may spoil the impact of earlier ones.  (The authors tackle this with admirable wit within the text.)

The Collinses as "Barbara Allan" produce another wacky, lightweight romp perfect for an evening's escapism, despite the Bornes' increasingly complex family tree.  This series is just pure fun, and the humor, though readers of more "hard-boiled" fiction might call it silly, is a treat. 

However breezy the novel feels, writing funny is actually quite difficult to pull off while keeping a tight rein on a murder-mystery plot.  The fact that this pair (the Collinses, not the Bornes) keep managing to pull this off while remaining happily married is a credit to them. 

(For those thinking that the authors are merely cashing in on a popular fad, looking into the history on Max Allan Collins's blog reveals that the first chapter and synopsis of Antiques Disposal were sent to the editor in June 2010, and Storage Wars debuted in December of that year.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Stressed by Taxes? Vinewood's Got it Worse!


Vinewood, GA — A sinkhole that appeared without warning in the middle of Main Street has the residents of Vinewood up in arms. It has already claimed one life, that of local man Calvin Hull, when it opened up under his car while he was driving.

Local pharmacist George “Doc” Taggert attributes Hull’s to pure bad luck — simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. “It could’ve been any one of us,” Taggert said. “But it just happened to be Calvin on that very spot when the earth fell out from under him. Can you imagine what that must’ve been like? Tooling along Main Street in your new car, then boom. The street falls away and the earth swallows you up.”

The sinkhole is currently roped off with yellow “Caution!” tape, and through-traffic is blocked by yellow-and-black saw horses affixed with battery-operated flashers. But one man thinks that is not enough to protect the town....

Read the rest of “Sinkhole Shakes Up Vinewood Residents” over at the Acid Grave Press blog.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Outlaws All by Max Brand (Western novellas)

Outlaws All contains three novellas by author Max Brand. Like many of the novella collections released by Leisure Books, they are completely unrelated, except that they all originally appeared in Western Story Magazine, and two of them in 1921. Luckily, this does not matter so much, as Frederick Faust (under whatever name he wrote) was such a good writer that it is hard to go wrong with his work at any length.

"Alec the Great," a prologue to author Max Brand's novel Sixteen in Nome, was originally published in 1930 as "Two Masters." It is a "chronicle of hatred" between Massey and Calmont. The duo were inseparable friends, though almost total opposites. Then a third made them even more devoted enemies.

A girl? No indeed. It is a canine force that draws these friends apart: the titular puppy, Alexander. Confronted with this addition to their Alaskan gold-finding venture, the pair seem to completely forget their search... and their friendship.

This novella is a good example of why I enjoy Max Brand so much. In addition to his poetic yet accessible style, he writes nontraditional Westerns of other frontiers (called "North-Westerns" by some).

"Riding into Peril" saw print in November 1921 as by John Frederick. The Kid — Kestrell Irving Dangerfield — was a true presence in Jorgenville. His silky blond hair and mild blue eyes drawing the ladies to him, and his way with a gun endearing him to the townspeople due to his ending fights with transients (not starting them).

Justice Bland, even with his affection for Dangerfield, knows the Kid needs to be taken down a notch. But he has no legal recourse until Dangerfield accidentally wounds an innocent bystander — even though the Kid apologized immediately, took the victim right to the doctor, and paid his bill. Bland then tries to teach the Kid a lesson, saying he will make sure Dangerfield serves a full six years in the county jail unless he promises to forever put down his guns.

The title story, "Outlaws All," appeared in September 1921 and features Brand's popular Bull Hunter character. It was, in fact, used as the opening chapters of that character's second eponymous novel. (A total of five novellas comprise the two novels Bull Hunter and Bull Hunter's Romance.)

The main focus, however, is on the half-wolf, half-dog known as The Ghost. The first chapter is a beautifully written and self-contained tale of the Ghost's attack on a bull, and the majority of it is told from the dog's point of view. This is unusual even for Brand, who is even now remembered for taking the Western to uncommon places.

This trio of Western novellas was a treat, and both those who enjoy traditional Westerns and those looking for something a little different will find something for them in Outlaws All.
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