Here are the covers for Livia's two new mystery novels that will be out this fall. THE PUMPKIN MUFFIN MURDER, the latest book in the Fresh Baked Mystery series, will be released on November 2. KILLER ON A HOT TIN ROOF, the third book in the Delilah Dickinson series, comes out a few weeks later on November 30. I've read both these books and think they're great. Of course, I'm hardly an unbiased judge, but you can trust me on this one.
I’m not sure how I managed to miss seeing MOGAMBO, because it played on TV all the time when I was a kid. However, I hadn’t seen it until now. Actually, now that I think about it, I was never really much of a Clark Gable fan until I saw him in THE MISFITS in the early Seventies. That won me over, and I’ve enjoyed most of his films that I’ve seen since then.
But to get back to MOGAMBO, for the undoubtedly few of you who haven’t seen it, Gable plays a white hunter in Africa who captures animals for zoos and circuses, much like John Wayne’s character in HATARI!, which came out a few years later. His life is disrupted by the arrival of a brassy, wisecracking American showgirl played by Ava Gardner, who was supposed to go along on a safari with a maharajah. The safari was cancelled, but she didn’t know that, and now she’s stuck at Gable’s hunting camp for a while. An English couple show up later. The husband’s an anthropologist who wants to study gorillas; the wife is Grace Kelly. A romantic triangle soon develops between Gable, Gardner, and Kelly.
That’s just about the entire plot, and therein lies the problem with MOGAMBO. Not much happens, and there are some really slow stretches, which surprised me since it was directed by John Ford and his films usually perk along at a pretty good pace. The photography is great, the scenery is beautiful, and the acting is okay for the most part. I was never much of an Ava Gardner fan, either, but she’s really good in this movie.
I wanted to like this one more than I did, but I'm glad I saw it anyway. It’s certainly not a bad film, there’s just not much to it. I guess when it comes to jungle movies, watching all those Tarzan movies as a kid ruined me.
I'm trying to be more diligent about updating the cover scans on the WesternPulps website, so I thought I'd go ahead and post here the one I just put up there. It's from the September 20, 1926 issue of WEST, which features a Bat Jennison story entitled "Odds Are Even". This was prompted by an exchange of comments between Jerry Page, Walker Martin, and myself about Bat Jennison and the author of the series, George Bruce Marquis. I've never read any of these stories and probably ought to. Anyway, I like the cover. (By the way, this image is from the Fictionmags Index, surely one of the most important and useful sites on the web.)
Recently both of my daughters said to me, “You know what’s a really good movie, even though you wouldn’t think it would be? CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS.” And now that I’ve seen it, I have to say that they’re right.
It’s the story of young, would-be inventor Flint Lockwood, who, after coming up with a series of inventions that don’t work out that well (the Monkey Thought Translator, for one), builds a machine that transforms the genetic material of ordinary water, turning it into food. At first this seems to be a great boon to humanity, until the machine (which has been shot accidentally into the stratosphere) spirals out of control and begins producing more and more food, all of it bigger than normal and increasing in size all the time, which leaves the world in danger of being destroyed by giant meatballs and hot dogs.
Yes, of course that’s pretty silly, which is probably what led Hollywood to market this as a kid’s movie, and there’s no doubt most kids would find it funny. But at the same time, it’s full of pop culture references and eventually becomes a fairly sharp-edged satire of scientific disaster movies such as THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and 2012. (I realize that referring to those movies as “scientific” is being generous. In that regard, CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS isn’t much more far-fetched.)
I’m still not all that fond of modern computer animation, but this movie is well-acted and has a funny script with some nice plot twists. I liked it a lot and think it’s well worth watching.
Perfect Crime Books is rapidly becoming a force in the mystery small press field. They’ve published a couple of books by Bob Randisi, and now the second entry in a fine new private eye series by Edward Cline is about to come out. PRESENCE OF MIND is the second novel to feature New York PI Chess Hanrahan, who narrates in classic private eye fashion. This novel finds Hanrahan investigating the murder of a fellow PI, the head of an agency who had taken on a case Hanrahan was too busy to handle. Because of that, Hanrahan feels a certain responsibility to find out what happened.
Like a number of other novels, PRESENCE OF MIND is set in the relatively recent past, in this case the late Eighties, just as the computer industry is about to explode, and the case that got Hanrahan’s friend murdered involves an up-and-coming computer company. The complex plot has a lot more twists than that, however, and ultimately Hanrahan finds himself trying to untangle strands that involve political negotiations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, blackmail, business chicanery, and a deadly secret that goes all the way back to the Korean War. There’s also a considerable amount of discussion about intellectualism and political philosophy, a couple of subjects that normally would have me yawning in a hurry, but Cline does a good job of making it all perk along nicely.
Chess Hanrahan is an appealing protagonist, smart enough to hold his own with those who consider themselves his intellectual and moral superiors, wry enough not to take himself or anybody else too seriously, and tough enough to handle the occasional action scene. Edward Cline writes very well, and if you’re a fan of private eye fiction, you ought to check out his work, including this novel.
There are quite a few collections of Lester Dent’s pulp stories available now, and I’ll eventually get to all of them, trust me. Dent is one of my all-time favorite authors and has been ever since that day in 1964 when I plunked down a quarter, two dimes, and two pennies (sales tax, you know) for a brand-spanking new copy of the Doc Savage novel METEOR MENACE off the paperback spinner rack in Tompkins’ Drugstore.
THE CRIME SPECTACULARIST is a collection that originally came out in 2006, but it’s still in print and available from Pulpville Press. It includes two novelettes and a novella starring Foster Fade, a private detective who works exclusively for a New York tabloid called The Planet. His job is to root out spectacular crimes and solve them, well, spectacularly, thereby increasing The Planet’s circulation when the paper runs exclusive stories about these exploits. Fade supposedly writes these stories, but since he’s a detective and adventurer, not a scribbler, the yarns are actually ghosted by his sidekick, a beautiful platinum blonde named Din Stevens who carries an automatic in her purse and is not averse to using it.
If that bit of background doesn’t catch your interest, you might as well stop reading this post. As for me . . . boy, I love this stuff. The three stories in THE CRIME SPECTACULARIST originally appeared in the pulp ALL DETECTIVE in 1934, which was also the second year of Dent’s Doc Savage novels and quite possibly the best year in the whole run of that series. So Dent was pretty much at the top of his game when he wrote these Foster Fade stories, and it shows. The first one, “Hell in Boxes” concerns the deadly and mysterious Aroma Assassin, whose murders are accompanied by a distinctive smell. Dent throws in some killers from South America, as well. The second story, “White-Hot Corpses”, centers around nefarious shenanigans at a creepy, deserted amusement park (a great setting for a story like this) and features one of the grotesque, oddball murder methods that Dent often came up with for his stories. And the third story, “Murder in Circles” is the longest and best of the bunch, with Fade and Din trying to track down some parrots found floating at sea in a canoe. Why those parrots are so important is a mystery, but the quest to recover them involves half a dozen killings, another mysterious murder method, and an isolated Caribbean island. This story could have easily been done as a Doc Savage novel, but at this stage of his career Dent was so imaginative I don’t imagine he had much trouble coming up with plenty of plots.
An added attraction in these stories is the way Dent’s hardboiled prose gallops along at such a breath-taking pace. Most of the time, he was one of the best pure storytellers who worked in the pulps, and once you start any of these stories, you’ll want to keep flipping the pages until you get to the end.
Foster Fade is similar to Doc Savage (and other Dent characters) in that he’s obsessed with gadgets and always has some gizmo handy to help him get out of whatever jam he’s in. He wisecracks a lot more than Doc ever did, though. But as far as I’m concerned, Din Stevens sort of steals the show in these stories. She’s a great character, brave when she has to be, as quick with a wisecrack as her boss, and a real babe, to boot. Dent should have written more stories about her. She could have carried her own series.
It’s also interesting that Fade and Din work for a newspaper called The Planet. It’s been fairly well established that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were heavily influenced by Doc Savage in their creation of Superman, and here’s another instance where they might have been influenced by Dent’s work. Sure, the paper in these stories is a tabloid, and it’s called The Planet, not The Daily Planet, but that strikes me as close enough to be a possibility, anyway. So does the relationship between Fade and Din. A lot of their dialogue could have easily come out of the mouths of Clark Kent and Lois Lane.
All in all, THE CRIME SPECTACULARIST is a fine collection, and if you’re a fan of fast-paced pulp adventure stories, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
BULLET FOR A RANGER is James J. Griffin’s latest novel featuring Texas Ranger Jim Blawcyzk, and as always, it’s an excellent traditional Western novel with plenty of action and a very likable protagonist.
This one opens with Blawcyzk in the same sort of predicament that the protagonists of numerous classic hardboiled crime novels find themselves in: he wakes up naked and hungover in a strange bed, with a beautiful woman beside him who happens to be dead. The similarities to those “man on the run” novels continue as Jim is arrested for murder by the corrupt local authorities and eventually has to escape and try to prove his innocence while eluding capture.
Of course, it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll be successful, but Griffin throws in a nice twist or two along the way. You probably won’t be surprised by any of them, but in this case the fact that you know what’s coming while the characters don’t actually added to my enjoyment of the book.
Jim Griffin always brings a lot of passion and enthusiasm to his work, and he’s a gifted yarn-spinner. I had a fine time reading BULLET FOR A RANGER, and if you like traditional action Westerns, I think you will, too.
LEGION reminds me a lot of some of the horror novels I read in the Seventies and Eighties. A motley group of humans with assorted back-stories (think GRAND HOTEL or STAGECOACH) are trapped in a diner/gas station on the edge of the Mojave Desert and are forced into being humanity’s only defenders against a rapidly approaching apocalypse. Shades of Stephen King and Robert R. McCammon! (And why does the apocalypse always start in the desert southwest?) Oh, and there’s a pregnant woman whose child is the key to saving the world, so our heroes – some of whom will live and some of whom will die – have to protect her until the baby is born and then protect the child.
Yes, you’ve seen and/or read all of this before. One twist is that it’s God who’s going to destroy the world, and the horde of monsters attacking the diner are really humans possessed by angels. And it’s a renegade angel, Michael (played by the always good Paul Bettany) who shows up with a bunch of automatic weapons and a rocket launcher to pitch in on the human side.
Despite the fact that it’s pretty predictable, LEGION is also well-made and entertaining. Sure, you know the formula, but it manages to generate considerable suspense at times. The rest of the cast, which includes Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, and a number of familiar faces from TV, does a good job, and the special effects are creepily effective. If you liked all those horror novels with similar plots, you’ll probably enjoy LEGION. I did.
Usually if Luc Besson is involved in a movie, you know there’s going to be a lot of stylish, over-the-top action in it. FROM PARIS WITH LOVE is no exception, although Besson just came up with the story for it. The plot concerns a young man working as the personal aide to the American ambassador to France who is also a low-level operative for the CIA. He gets a chance to move up in the secret agent ranks when he’s assigned to help out a visiting operative who comes to Paris on a mysterious mission that seems to keep changing.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays the young man, and John Travolta (with shaved head, beard, and earrings) is the veteran agent whose methods are eccentric, to say the least. After a while, you begin to wonder if Travolta’s character has gone rogue and has an agenda of his own, or if he’s just plain nuts. This is one of those “nothing is what it seems” movies, though, and eventually everything makes sense, but not before there are a lot of those over-the-top action scenes.
Speaking of over the top, Travolta hams it up shamelessly in this one, and few people are better than him at hamming it up and still somehow making his part work. I liked just about everything about FROM PARIS WITH LOVE, even the corny PULP FICTION in-joke. I have a feeling that this is one of those “love ‘em or hate ‘em” movies, too, so bear that in mind if you decide to watch it. I had a fine time with it.
6 GUNS is a new, straight-to-DVD Western from The Asylum, a production company that doesn’t have the best reputation. (I’m just going by what I’ve read; this is the first film from them that I’ve seen.) So my expectations were fairly low, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is a pretty good little film.
It has a simple revenge plot: a gang of outlaws goes after a former lawman who killed the gang leader’s father. They kill the man and his two sons, then rape his wife and leave her for dead. But she survives and enlists the help of a famous bounty hunter to help her get revenge on the outlaws. She doesn’t just want the bounty hunter to go after them, though. She wants him to teach her how to be a gunfighter so she can help kill them. There’s some definite HANNIE CAULDER influence there, I think.
Things play out about like you’d expect, although there are a few twists that sort of stretch credibility almost to the breaking point. The action scenes are well-staged and not too gory, and the production values are pretty good. Barry Van Dyke is not somebody I would have picked to play a rugged, tight-lipped Western hero in the Clint Eastwood mode, but he does a fine job as the bounty hunter.
You’d think that Westerns would be more attractive to movie producers than they are. There aren’t many types of movie that can be made more cheaply these days: few, if any, special effects, typically a small cast, and not many sets (there are only a handful in 6 GUNS). I guess that’s why most Westerns that get made are low-budget efforts like this one. Fortunately, you can make a good Western on a low budget, and 6 GUNS falls into that category. It’s not a great film, but it’s worth worthing.
I don’t post daily page counts or stuff like that here on the blog anymore, as I did when I started it, but there are a few milestones I like to mention. Earlier this week, I delivered my 250th novel. It’s a house-name book, one of the ones I can’t reveal, but that’s okay. I’m still proud of having written 250 novels. I’m not sure I have 250 more in me, but I think I can keep going for a while yet, as long as the editors have faith in me and the readers enjoy what I’m doing. Many thanks to everyone who has helped make it possible!
You’ve seen this book on Ed Gorman’s blog and Bill Crider’s blog in the past couple of days, and quite possibly elsewhere. But here’s my two cents worth: SAND’S GAME is a great book and a book that’s a long time overdue. The novels and the stories are about as tough and fast-paced as any you’ll ever read, and all the additional material is, as others have said, worth the price by itself. Don’t pass this one up, and here’s hoping that it’ll be just the first of many Ennis Willie collections to come.
Like the Secret Agent X novels, it’s hard to consider the Black Bat novels truly forgotten because they’re being reprinted, but since they’re probably not very prominent on the public’s radar, we’re going to fudge a little.
The pulp BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE existed for several years before 1939, but with the July issue of that year, it became what’s known as a character pulp, rather than a general detective pulp. The lead novel in that issue, “Brand of the Black Bat”, introduced Tony Quinn, the District Attorney in an unnamed city that seems to be patterned after New York. During the trial of mobster Oliver Snate (what a great name!), Quinn is attacked by hired thugs who wind up throwing acid in his face, blinding him. Snate is acquitted, and because of Quinn’s injuries, he has to retire as the DA. He plunges for a time into despair, helped only by his butler, the reformed con man and small-time crook Norton “Silk” Kirby.
Then a beautiful, mysterious woman shows up and tells Quinn she knows of a doctor who can perform a delicate operation that will cure his blindness. Willing to take any chance to restore his sight, Quinn submits to the operation, and sure enough, he can see again. Actually, his sight is even better than before, because now he can even see in almost total darkness. So what does he do?
Well, this is a pulp magazine from 1939, after all. He decides to pretend to still be blind, so he can don a hood and cape, call himself the Black Bat, and fight crime, of course. And the first criminal he goes after is none other than Oliver Snate, as well as the mysterious mastermind who is pulling Snate’s strings.
I don’t believe I’ve ever read a Black Bat novel before, and if they’re all as good as this origin story, I’ve been missing something. “Brand of the Black Bat” is a lot of fun, with colorful writing, plenty of action, and a few plot twists, though no real jaw-droppers. Originally published under the house-name G. Wayman Jones, the character is actually the creation of veteran pulp author (and later prolific paperbacker) Norman A. Daniels. Daniels’ style is fast-paced and straight-forward, without the wordiness that afflicted some pulp authors, and his plots are usually inventive without being too bizarre.
“Brand of the Black Bat” has been reprinted recently by Altus Press in THE BLACK BAT OMNIBUS, VOLUME 1, the initial entry in a project intended to reprint the entire series. It features a fine introduction by pulp expert (and long-time friend of mine) Tom Johnson. Some people have tried to draw a parallel between the Black Bat and Batman, claiming that one was influenced by the other, but Tom’s introduction proves this not to be the case. The Black Bat was intended to be similar to The Shadow, but he also reminds me considerably of The Spider, with the way he pastes a cutout of a black bat on the foreheads of the crooks he guns down.
I really enjoyed this novel, and if you’re a fan of good pulp yarns and haven’t met the Black Bat yet, you owe it to yourself to pick up this volume and give it a try. Highly recommended.
As action/adventure movies starring wrestlers-turned-actors go, THE STRANGER is okay. Steve Austin (I don’t think he uses the Stone Cold moniker anymore) plays a guy with amnesia who is being chased by crooked FBI agents, honest FBI agents, Russian mobsters, and a Mexican drug cartel. There’s plenty of shooting and fighting and Stuff Blowing Up Real Good as he tries to figure out who he really is and why all these people are after him, all with the help of a beautiful female doctor. The plot manages to be extremely complex but predictable at the same time. Still, it’s a fairly entertaining hour and a half, and I think it’s an improvement over Austin’s previous film, THE CONDEMNED.
I’ve written here before about my fondness for World War I aviation movies (I think I’m the only one who loves the movie FLYBOYS, predictable though it may be). So naturally I had to watch THE RED BARON, a biopic of sorts about Baron Manfred von Richtofen. I say “of sorts” because it basically just covers the war, although it touches on von Richtofen’s childhood and family life.
Even though it was made in 2008, THE RED BARON indulges in the sort of historical fictionalization I associate more with Hollywood epics of the Thirties and Forties. The viewer gets to know some of the members of von Richtofen’s Flying Circus, and most of that seems to be fairly historically accurate, if a little soap-operatic at times. It’s with von Richtofen himself that the filmmakers play fast and loose, turning him into a matinee idol hero who romances a French nurse and forms a friendship with Canadian pilot Captain Roy Brown by saving his life when Brown crashes during a battle. Later, in another dogfight, Brown cripples von Richtofen’s plane and forces him to land, so Brown lands, too, and they stand around in a field philosophizing about war. Ironic as hell for the viewer who knows
that eventually Brown will be credited with shooting down von Richtofen (although later research indicates that von Richtofen was probably killed by machine gun fire from a battery manned by Australian soldiers). Unfortunately, as far as I know von Richtofen and Brown never met in real life.
But hey, it’s a movie, and historical quibbles aside, here’s what you want to know: it’s a pretty entertaining one. The dogfights and aerial sequences look great. So good, in fact, that I suspect there was a lot of CGI involved. The acting is fine, the script moves right along, and I enjoyed it. If you’re a fan of World War I aviation movies, it’s definitely worth watching. In fact, it made me want to watch THE DAWN PATROL again.
The other thing about this movie is that most of the way through it, in the back of my mind I kept hearing, “Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more . . . the Bloody Red Baron was rollin’ up the score . . .”
TWICE MURDERED is another in the outstanding series of pulp reprint collections coming out from Black Dog Books. Laurence Donovan is probably best known for the house-name novels he wrote starring Doc Savage, The Phantom Detective, The Skipper, and The Whisperer, but he also had a long and prolific career producing detective and Western yarns for a variety of pulps. This volume collects a dozen stories published in the Thirties and Forties in the pulps PRIVATE DETECTIVE, SPICY DETECTIVE, HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE, BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE, and SUPER DETECTIVE, under Donovan’s name and his pseudonym Larry Dunn.
Donovan had three main strengths as a writer: he was able to come up with complex plots, he used interesting settings, and he wrote fast-moving, effective action scenes. Most of the protagonists in these stories are private eyes, and like Roger Torrey’s private eye characters, they share a lot of similarities despite having different names. I think Donovan’s shamuses come across a little more as individuals, though.
All of the stories included here are good solid pulp tales, consistently entertaining. Some of them are stand-outs, though. “Death Dances on Dimes” is set in a dime-a-dance joint, and it’s unusual in that it has a female narrator. There’s something else about her that’s unusual for the pulps, too, but you’ll have to read the story to find out what it is. “The Man Who Came to Die” is about an insurance racket and manages to be pretty creepy while at the same time packing enough plot and action for a full-length novel into a novelette. “The Greyhound Murders” is another complicated murder mystery with an interesting setting (a dog racing track) and a high body count. “Footprint of Destiny” is about the movie business and features the sort of plot that Dan Turner is usually untangling. I guess Dan was out of town that week.
In addition to the stories, editor/publisher Tom Roberts provides a fine introduction that includes more biographical information about Donovan than I’ve seen anywhere else, as well as an extensive bibliography of Donovan’s work. TWICE MURDERED is an excellent addition to the Black Dog Books line, and if you’re a pulp fan, I highly recommend it.
EDGE OF DARKNESS is Mel Gibson’s first movie as an actor in several years, and it’s a good part for him: a world-weary Boston police detective who is trying to solve the murder of his grown daughter, who was gunned while she was visiting him by someone with an apparent grudge against Gibson’s character.
The big plot twist here is so obvious that the filmmakers wisely don’t try to keep it a secret for very long. Unfortunately, the whole movie is equally as predictable. You’ll know just about everything that’s going to happen well before it does, except for the parts that don’t really make sense. Plotwise, EDGE OF DARKNESS winds up really muddled.
Which is a shame, because otherwise it’s a well-made film. The action scenes are effective, Gibson does a good job as the vengeful, mourning cop, and Danny Huston, as always, is the smarmiest villain in the movies these days. EDGE OF DARKNESS isn’t a terrible film, it’s just not a very good one.
STATEN ISLAND is another of those movies I’d never heard of. It’s a quirky independent crime drama that plays out in three interlocking storylines. The first concerns the boss of a low-level syndicate crew (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) who is obsessed with doing something to get his name in the history books, whether it’s becoming the next big crime overlord or setting the world record for holding his breath underwater. The second storyline concerns a young man who works as a septic tank cleaner (Ethan Hawke), and he’s ambitious, too, but not for himself. He wants the baby he and his wife plan to have to be smarter than he is, and he’s willing to do anything to make that come about. Finally, the third storyline is centered around an elderly, deaf mute deli worker (Seymour Cassel) who slices meat and has a rather grisly sideline.
These plots all circle around and tie in with each other, manipulating time in ways that make it a little difficult to follow what’s going on at first, until the sequence starts to become apparent. It’s a grim little movie with some moments of unexpected humor here and there. The acting is fine all around, with D’Onofrio his usual goofy but compelling self, Hawke very earnest, and Cassel unexpectedly poignant. STATEN ISLAND is an odd movie, arty at times, violent at others, but I liked it fairly well. I think it’s worth watching.
I seem to remember reading an interview with Robert Silverberg in which he talked about reading stories by “Ivar Jorgenson” when he was a kid and later growing up to be “Ivar Jorgenson”. I can certainly understand that feeling, having been lucky enough to write as “Brett Halliday” after reading many, many books under that byline when I was younger.
STARHAVEN is Silverberg’s only novel under the Jorgenson name, originally published by Thomas Bouregy in 1958 and reprinted a year later by Ace as the other half of Edmond Hamilton’s THE SUN SMASHER, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. It’s the story of Johnny Mantell, a beachcomber and bum on the resort planet Mulciber, who has to flee from his peaceful existence because he’s unjustly accused of murder. He steals a spaceship and heads for Starhaven, a giant metal-enclosed sanctuary world where criminals of all sorts, even murderers, can find, well, haven. Naturally enough, on a world populated by criminals there aren’t any laws, so Johnny may have his work cut out just surviving on Starhaven.
Once he gets there, however, he finds himself taken under the wing of the benevolent dictator who runs the place. Unfortunately, he also finds himself attracted to the dictator’s beautiful girlfriend, and then there’s this sinister conspiracy in which he gets involved . . .
This is a pretty simple plot and could probably work as a straight crime novel or a Western with a few changes. But then about halfway through, Silverberg pulls a nice SF-nal twist. It doesn’t come as a big shocker, but it’s still effective, and there’s another good twist later on. And of course, being Silverberg’s work, the prose is very smooth and readable.
I’m going by memory here, but it seems to me that “Ivar Jorgenson” started out as a personal pseudonym for Paul W. Fairman but eventually became a house-name used in the Ziff-Davis science fiction magazines edited by Fairman, as well as a few other places. STARHAVEN may well be an expansion of one of Silverberg’s yarns for the SF digests; I haven’t been able to find out about that. I believe it’s gone unreprinted since this Ace edition.
I’m one of those oddballs who likes Silverberg’s early novels as well or better than his later ones, but that’s because I prefer my science fiction more action-oriented. STARHAVEN is an entertaining yarn, and taken in tandem with THE SUN SMASHER, they make this one of the better Ace SF Doubles I’ve read.
It would be easy to make fun of THE COVENANT. The plot, about four young men at an exclusive New England prep school who are really warlocks (descended from the Salem witches, to boot!) is pretty hokey, and the acting isn’t particularly good. At times the cast (nobody you’ve ever heard of, with the possible exceptions of Taylor Kitsch from FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and Chace Crawford from GOSSIP GIRL) looks like they’re having trouble not breaking up at the lines they’re saying with such solemnity. The movie also has a relatively high sleaze factor, with lots of excuses to have teenage girls in bathing suits, teenage girls in their underwear, teenage girls showering . . . you get the idea. (To be fair, most of these actresses are probably in their twenties, they’re just playing teenagers.)
But despite all that, THE COVENANT does manage to be fairly entertaining. The special effects are okay and there’s plenty of mystical action. It reminded me a lot of The CW’s THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, so take that into account if you’re trying to decide whether to watch it. It definitely falls into the “amiable time-waster” category.
I was expecting a cute little romantic comedy when we started watching this. After all, it stars Amy Adams, and who’s cuter than Amy Adams? In this one she plays a successful young New Yorker who expects her cardiologist boyfriend to propose to her. When he doesn’t, she decides to fly over to Dublin, Ireland, where he’s attending a conference, and propose to him instead, because her father (played by John Lithgow, who’s in the movie for maybe five minutes) has told her about an old Irish tradition where women are allowed to do the proposing every four years on February 29.
This whole set-up feels a little forced to me, but its only real purpose is to get Adams’ character to Ireland, where all sorts of screwball things happen to prevent her from getting to Dublin in time to propose on February 29. The film turns into an Irish road movie as a handsome but surly innkeeper tries to help her get where she’s going.
Well, of course you know what’s going to happen. There’s not much in this movie you won’t see coming well in advance. However, the scenery is beautiful and the script is actually pretty funny in a gentle, old-fashioned sort of way, giving the best lines, of course, to some elderly Irish eccentrics. Although LEAP YEAR is a far cry from THE QUIET MAN, it reminded me a little of that film in its setting and attitude. Amy Adams is indeed cute, and Matthew Goode turns in a fine performance as the Irish guy. LEAP YEAR is a pleasant enough way to spend some time, as long as you’re not looking for anything more than that.
I've knocked off work early today since it's my birthday, and I was in a good place in the current manuscript to stop. Earlier, had an excellent lunch and birthday cake, finished with some fine presents: clothes, CDs, DVDs, a pair of binoculars (for some reason, I've always liked binoculars), and three books: BITTER STEEL, the new collection by Charles Gramlich; THE COMPLETE KI-GOR, VOLUME 1, the first six Ki-Gor novels from the pulp JUNGLE STORIES; and THE BLACK BAT OMNIBUS, VOLUME 1, the first three Black Bat novels from BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE. Great stuff, all around, and a day like today reminds me how lucky I am to have such a great family. Topped off with a multitude of birthday wishes from friends, and it's been a fine day. Thanks to one and all. Now to read some Black Bat.
I'm taking part in the big TV Cop Show Weekend on The Tainted Archive. You can head over there to check out my comments on SHERIFF OF COCHISE, a series some of you may remember, and be sure to check out all the other posts while you're there.
The protagonist of this novel, Chase Iverton, has chosen a tough path for himself. Following the Civil War, Chase, a Texan who fought for the Union, returns to his ranch in the Big Bend county of West Texas, finds himself surrounded by former friends who now despise him as a turncoat, and makes things even worse for himself by marrying the daughter of his late father’s worst enemy. It’s no wonder that as the novel opens, a mob wants to tar and feather Chase. That’s hardly the worst thing that happens to him before LAWLESS GUNS is over, though.
Dudley Dean (real name Dudley Dean McGaughey, who also wrote Westerns as Dean Owen, Bret Sanders, and assorted other pen-names) was one of those authors who really liked to torment his heroes. This book is no different, as Chase Iverton has to deal with rustlers, Mexican revolutionaries, and a wife he may or may not be able to trust. McGaughey piles troubles on his head until it seems impossible for Chase to overcome the odds against him, but somehow, he’s tough enough to do so, even though he’s hardly the superheroic figure you find in some Western novels. McGaughey also throws in a plot twist or two that I wasn’t expecting.
McGaughey belongs in the same group of hardboiled Western authors who came to prominence in the genre in the Forties and Fifties: Lewis B. Patten, H.A. De Rosso, Giles Lutz, and William Heuman, to name a few. He could be as gritty as any of them, and the climax of this novel is pretty dark and harrowing, especially for a book published in 1959. There’s very little heroic about it, but it sure is effective.
I really admire McGaughey. For more than thirty years, he worked steadily in the paperback field, in addition to his Westerns turning out hardboiled mysteries as Dudley Dean, John Dudley, and Hodge Evans, plus the occasional movie novelization, TV tie-in, or hardboiled sleaze novel. If you haven’t read his work, LAWLESS GUNS would be as good a place to start as any, but really, I’ve never read a book under his various pseudonyms that I didn’t enjoy.
A while back I read James Rollins’ novel SANDSTORM and liked it quite a bit. Since then I’ve been meaning to read something else by him, but his new books have been entries in his Sigma Force series and I’m a little obsessive about reading series novels in order, and also many of them have been longer than I wanted to tackle. I could backtrack to his earlier stand-alone novels, and I still intend to, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.
However, his most recent book, ALTAR OF EDEN, is not only a stand-alone, but it comes in just short of 400 pages, which is my entirely arbitrary and often violated limit for how long a book I’ll read these days. So I gave it a try and was glad I did.
As Rollins (whose real name is James Czajkowski) explains in an introductory note, he was a veterinarian before he became a best-selling thriller writer and wanted to write a book with a protagonist who’s a vet. Dr. Lorna Polk works at an animal medical research center in Louisiana and is called on to examine the cargo of a mysterious freighter that runs aground during a hurricane. This throws her back in contact with Border Patrol agent Jack Menard, with whom she shares a tragic past. They discover that there’s plenty that’s odd – and dangerous – about the animals on the wrecked freighter, and that discovery plunges them into an international conspiracy that threatens their lives and the lives of several of their friends.
The real strength of this book is its speed. Nearly the entire book takes place in a span of about twenty-four hours, with the action racing along through three distinct set-pieces. The way Rollins paces the book and cuts back and forth between the characters is very effective. The compressed time-frame means that some things happen maybe just a hair too quickly to be believable, but that didn’t really bother me. I’m not enough of a science buff to say whether or not all the cutting-edge science in the book is plausible, but Rollins certainly makes it sound like it is.
I really enjoyed ALTAR OF EDEN. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of a lot of modern thrillers, but based on what I’ve read so far, Rollins’ books are fine adventure novels. I’ll definitely be reading more.