Famed detective and mystery writer Lawrence Block (A Walk Among the Tombstones, 8 Million Ways to Die) takes the helm as guest editor for DARK CITY LIGHTS, the fourth edition of the Have a NYC series. Twenty-three thrilling, hilarious and poignant short stories—all based in New York City—written by new and acclaimed fiction masters, including Robert Silverberg (Hugo and Nebula Award multiple winner; grand master of SFWA); Ed Park (author, Personal Days; senior editor, Amazon’s literary imprint, Little A); Jim Fusilli (rock and pop music critic, The Wall Street Journal; author, Closing Time and A Well-Known Secret); Parnell Hall (author, Last Puzzle & Testament); S. J. Rozan (Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero and Macavity award-wining author); Brian Koppelman (co-writer, Ocean’s 13 and Rounders); and Elaine Kagan (author, No Good-Byes; actress, GoodFellas). Additional authors include Thomas Pluck (Blade of Dishonor), Warren Moore (Broken Glass Waltzes), Jerrold Mundis (How to Get Out of Debt, The Dogs), Jonathan Santlofer (The Death Artist, Anatomy of Fear), David Levien (co-writer, Ocean’s 13 and Rounders; author City of the Sun), Jill D. Block (contributor to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine), Jane Dentinger (author, Murder on Cue), Erin Mitchell (Crimespree magazine contributor); Peter Carlaftes (author, I Fold with the Hand I Was Dealt; co-director, Three Rooms Press and A Year on Facebook), Tom Callahan (author), Eve Kagan (actress and international teaching artist), Bill Bernico (author, Cooper, PI series), Kat Georges (author, Our Lady of the Hunger; co-director, Three Rooms Press), Annette Meyers (author, The Smith & Wetzon Wall Street Wall Street mystery series), and Peter Hochstein (author, Heiress Strangled in Molten Chocolate at Nazi Sex Orgy). Editor Lawrence Block also contributes a story. A brilliant book that redefines the New York of today—and tomorrow. (This looks like a great anthology. I have a copy and will be reading the stories between novels.)
This series lasted only 13 episodes, but we watched them all and enjoyed them. PEPPER DENNIS was one of those oddball hybrids, part newsroom drama and part screwball comedy. Rebecca Romijn played the title character, an ambitious TV reporter in Chicago, and Brooke Burns was her sister. Those two right there were reason enough for me to watch, but the series also had some fairly good scripts and a solid supporting cast including likable character actors Rider Strong and Fred Koehler. Not a great series, but we thought it was entertaining.
I admit, I've never been much of an A.E. van Vogt fan. I've never read SLAN, although I've owned copies of it. I don't know if I do now or not. Should I read it? Other stories in this issue of ASTOUNDING are by Theodore Sturgeon, L. Sprague de Camp, Malcolm Jameson, Harry Bates, and Nat Schachner. That's a pretty strong line-up. The cover is by Hubert Rogers.
I seem to keep coming back in this series to WESTERN STORY and H.W. Scott. I suppose that's because the magazine was one of the leaders in the Western pulp field for so long and because Scott painted so many covers for it, and painted them so well, to boot. This one has a circus theme, and Westerns and circuses seem to go together well. I've written a few myself using a traveling circus as a major plot element. I don't know if this cover is meant to tie in with any particular story in the issue. It seems unlikely, based on their titles. But I'm sure they're fine stories, anyway, considering that they were written by Walt Coburn, Peter Dawson, Hugh B. Cave, and Philip Ketchum, all excellent Western pulp authors.
A few weeks ago I wrote about L.P. Holmes' Ace Double
Western THE BUZZARDS OF ROCKY PASS, which is reprinted in this volume under its
pulp title "The Buzzard's Brethren" (ACTION STORIES, August 1941).
The other two stories in this collection are the novelette "Horse Thief
Trail" (originally published under the title "Make Way For a
Maverick" in the July 1942 issue of WESTERN TRAILS) and another short
novel, "River Range", from the May 17, 1946 issue of RANCH ROMANCES.
In "Horse Thief Trail", young orphan Jeff Hawn is taken in and raised
by an outlaw and the man's long-suffering wife. When the woman Jeff regards as
his mother passes away, he takes one of the outlaw's horses and sets out on his
own, but not without being pursued by the man and the rest of the gang. Jeff
gets away and eventually becomes a tough young lawman, working as deputy for a
sheriff who has a beautiful niece and a connection to Jeff's history that's a
fairly big coincidence to swallow. Despite that, the story races right along
with plenty of action and Holmes' usual fine prose. And if the ending is
predictable, it's no less enjoyable getting there.
"River Range" is set along the lower Colorado River in Arizona
Territory and utilizes the fairly uncommon plot of shipping cattle by riverboat.
The protagonist is Boone Logan, the foreman of the C Cross ranch. Holmes has a
habit of using ranch foremen as his heroes, rather than the owner of the ranch.
Logan is a tough customer who rubs a lot of people the wrong way, so when
rustling and other trouble begins to plague the spread, there are plenty of
suspects. Since this was a RANCH ROMANCES story, there's plenty of "woman
interest" (as the pulp editors called it) in the form of the rancher's
beautiful daughter from back east. Other than the riverboat angle, there's
nothing really surprising in this yarn, but Holmes was a master at pacing a
story and there are also some really nice descriptive passages about the stark
but picturesque terrain.
Books like this are pure entertainment for me. I really enjoyed all three
stories in RIVER RANGE. If you're a fan of traditional Westerns, you won't go
wrong with this book or anything else by L.P. Holmes, I suspect.
A while back I read and very much enjoyed Marko Kloos's
debut novel TERMS OF ENLISTMENT. It's a top-notch military science fiction
novel narrated by young soldier Andrew Grayson, which ends with a cliffhanger of
sorts as humanity makes contact with an alien race for the first time and
realizes that to those aliens, humanity is nothing more than a bunch of ants to
be stepped on.
As the sequel, LINES OF DEPARTURE, opens, five years have passed since the
ending of the first novel, and Andrew has become a seasoned veteran of the war
against the aliens, who have come to be called the Lankies. (I'm not quite sure
why.) The Earth forces have lost basically every battle, and the Lankies have
gobbled up human colony after human colony. Not only that, the two main Terran
factions are still fighting amongst themselves, as they were before the aliens showed
up, and the situation on Earth itself is steadily deteriorating, as Andrew
discovers when he makes a poignant trip home to visit his mother.
Eventually he finds himself stationed on a backwater planet and involved in a
dangerous mutiny, but all that goes out the window when a giant Lankie ship
arrives and Andrew finds himself in the middle of a desperate plan to finally
win one, just one, battle against the aliens...
Like the first book in the series, LINES OF DEPARTURE has a high degree of
authenticity when it comes to the military activity, and the action scenes,
which include both ground combat and space battles, are very well-handled. In
addition, Andrew is a fine, sympathetic protagonist, tough, intelligent, and
I thought this book got off to a little slower start and wasn't quite as
compelling overall as TERMS OF ENLISTMENT, but it's still an absolutely
top-notch science fiction novel. And although it certainly has a satisfying
climax, it ends on something of a cliffhanger as well. The third book in the
trilogy, ANGLES OF ATTACK, is already available, and I'll be picking it up and
reading it soon.
(This post originally appeared on May 11, 2010.) We hadn’t seen a big, epic historical drama for a while, and this is one from the Eighties that we never watched. My fondness for war films is well-documented, too, so we gave EMPIRE OF THE SUN a try and I’m glad we did.
Based on an autobiographical novel by British SF author J.G. Ballard, the story centers around his childhood in Shanghai during World War II. The character, called James Graham in the film, is about twelve years old when the war begins and the Japanese attack and occupy Shanghai. Separated from his parents, young Jim is forced to survive in the devastated city on his own for a while until he falls in with some Americans who are somewhat shady characters. Eventually they’re all captured by the Japanese and forced to live in an internment camp for British and American prisoners until the end of the war.
Boiled down, that’s the plot of the movie, but it’s rich with characters and incidents that fill up its two-and-a-half-hour running time. There’s plenty of spectacle, as you’d expect in a film directed by Steven Spielberg, and yes, while some of it is a little hokey and overblown, it’s also pretty effective. When he tackles big historical dramas like this, Spielberg reminds me a little of David Lean (a director whose films I need to revisit someday soon).
A young Christian Bale plays Jim and does a good job. John Malkovich, eccentric as always, is the American who befriends him and saves his life more than once. The supporting cast is uniformly good, including one young Japanese actor who does a great job as a would-be pilot. (The internment camp is right next to a Japanese airfield, probably to discourage Allied attacks on the field, a strategy that doesn’t always work.)
EMPIRE OF THE SUN is an old-fashioned yarn that I enjoyed a lot. If you like historical dramas and/or war movies and haven’t ever seen it, you ought to check it out.
Wayne D. Dundee's novel FUGITIVE TRAIL is in the running for
a Peacemaker Award this year, and well it should be, because it's a fine
traditional Western novel.
Like a lot of Civil War veterans, Eli Cole has come home to find his world
ruined. He heads west, hoping to find a new home on the frontier, but he
carries with him a price on his head because of a shooting in which he was
involved. Starting out, his only companion is his dog Shadow, but he soon
becomes involved with a small group of travelers heading for Colorado. The
party is led by a minister who plans to spread God's word to the miners in the
Rocky Mountains, so Cole with his violent ways doesn't really seem to fit in
with the group. But with trouble dogging all of them, Cole and his gun may be just
what they need.
As usual with a Dundee novel, the characters are human and well-drawn, and
there's plenty of hardboiled action. Eli Cole is a very sympathetic
protagonist, so the reader can't help but hope that he'll eventually find some
happiness. FUGITIVE TRAIL is a fine example of Dundee's work and ample evidence
of why he's one of today's most popular and highly regarded Western writers.
QUICK TRIGGER WESTERN NOVELS wasn't one of the top-tier Western pulps, but it had some decent covers, including this one, and popular authors like Ed Earl Repp and Brad Buckner (who was also Ed Earl Repp, by the way). Other authors in this issue are Larry Colt (sounds like a pseudonym to me; I wonder if he was really Ed Earl Repp), James Lassiter, and Dick Robson, none of whom I've ever heard of. Probably an enjoyable issue anyway.
I'm fudging a little calling this a book, since it first
appeared in the pages of the pulp magazine TERROR TALES (in the September 1934
issue) and is available now in a partial replica of that issue. But at least
it's a complete novel; the editor says so right on the...No, wait, it's more
like a 25,000 word novella. But it is
forgotten by most of you, more than likely, and I had a great time reading it,
so I'm going to write about it anyway.
Unlike most Weird Menace stories, which usually have some apparently
supernatural aspect to them (I say apparently because there's almost always a
rational explanation for the bizarre elements), HOUSE OF LIVING DEATH is set up
more like a straight crime/suspense yarn. Two-fisted adventurer and narrator
Hal Armour returns from Chile, where he's been managing his father's business
interests, to New York, where his father died unexpectedly. When he gets there,
he finds that the estate is being handled by a shady lawyer he's never heard
of, and an aunt he didn't even know he had has come out of the woodwork, too.
Naturally, all this makes Hal suspicious (can't say he's not quick on the
uptake...well, actually, you can), and before you know it he's been framed for
a murder he didn't commit and thrown into an insane asylum because the lawyer
and the "aunt" have made it look like he's crazy.
The rest of the novella concerns Hal's efforts to survive in the asylum (which
is full of violent inmates, brutal, whip-wielding guards, and a doctor who's crazier than the people locked up there, of course), find
out the truth about what's happened to him, rescue the beautiful blonde he
meets in there who seems to be in the same fix he is, and blast apart the
conspiracy and set things right. This involves lots of running around in the
big, hulking building and fighting not only the head guard but also the other
inmates, who really are crazy, although they've probably been driven that way
by the tortures their captors have handed out to them.
Zagat's prose is as breathless and over-the-top as it should be in a story like
this, and he never slows down the pace long enough to let the reader think too
much about how obvious the plot is. However, he does come up with a fairly nice
twist along the way, and then, after what seems like a pretty apocalyptic
ending, he has one more twist in store.
I realize the appeal of a story like this is going to be rather limited in this
day and age, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading HOUSE OF LIVING DEATH. There are
several collections of Zagat's Weird Menace stories available, so if you want to
check out the work of one of the top authors in the genre, I highly recommend
Frank Sparks and Cyclone Bill Martin are old friends from their buffalo-hunting days. But those days are over and done with now. Sparks is a hard-nosed sheriff, and Cyclone Bill is the ringleader of a gang of clever horse thieves plaguing the county. Their friendship won't make any difference when it comes to a hot lead showdown between lawman and horse thief! TRAIL OF THE CYCLONE is another exciting tale of Samaria, Kansas, from acclaimed author David Hardy. This is top-notch entertainment for fans of fast-paced, action-packed traditional Westerns! (If you haven't checked out Dave Hardy's Samaria, Kansas, stories, you should give them a try. These are excellent Western yarns!)
The finalists for the 2015 Peacemaker Awards have been announced and can be found here. Congratulations to all the nominees! I'm very pleased that a couple of my Outlaw Ranger books are finalists in the Best Independently Published Western category. As for the other news, I'm surprised, humbled, and very, very pleased to learn that Western Fictioneers is honoring me with the Lifetime Achievement Award. I wrote my first Western novel 30 years ago, and since then I've written more than 200 Westerns, so they've been a major part of my career and of my life. And I can honestly say I've never written one that I didn't enjoy. It's very gratifying to know that others enjoy them as well. Thank you to everyone in Western Fictioneers for this great honor!
This four-hour mini-series about the siege of Masada in
ancient Israel ran on CBS the week before Easter, but we recorded it and didn't
watch it until now. Back in the Seventies and Eighties, when the mini-series
genre was booming on TV, Livia and I watched a bunch of them (including one
called MASADA that starred Peter O'Toole and Peter Strauss). THE DOVEKEEPERS is
very reminiscent of the mini-series from that era. For one thing, Biblical setting or
not, it's pure historical soap opera, filled with lust, treachery, stalwart
heroes, noble and long-suffering heroines, despicable villains, big battles,
and tragedy. In fact, early on, when it was already obvious what this show was
going to deliver, I turned to Livia and said, "Did we write the book this
was based on and just forget about it?"
Well, of course the answer to that question is no. The only Biblical soap opera
I ever wrote was TRIUMPH OF THE LION, the final book in the Children of the
Lion series, which was packaged by Book Creations Inc. and published by Bantam
under the house-name Peter Danielson. Alice Hoffman wrote the source novel for
THE DOVEKEEPERS, and according to the reviews I've read, the mini-series does a
terrible job of adapting it. Not having read the book, I have no idea. But I
enjoyed the TV version anyway. Sure, it's over the top, but the scenery and the
photography are great, the action scenes are pretty well done, and there's even
a Viking in it (seriously). You can watch it now on Amazon if you're
interested, and there'll be a DVD version coming out in a couple of months. If
you go into it knowing what to expect, you might find it fairly entertaining. I
Years ago, I read the Phantom Detective novel from this issue in one of those little Hanos reprints from Greece that had the tiny print. I probably wouldn't even attempt to read print that small these days, but that wasn't exactly the Golden Age of Pulp Reprints back then so I was glad to get even the Hanos volumes. I've never forgotten that distinctive cover. As for the novel itself, it's by George A. McDonald, one of the better Phantom Detective authors, writing under the Robert Wallace house-name, and I don't recall anything about it except that I liked it. I've read a bunch of Phantom Detective novels over the years, some in reprints and some in the original pulps, and always enjoyed them.
Was Sonny Tabor the most popular character who ever appeared in WILD WEST WEEKLY? Maybe. Those stories were featured on the cover many times, as in the case of this issue with a nice cover by Richard Case. In addition to Paul Powers, who was really Ward M. Stevens, of course, authors in this issue include Dean Owen, Lynn Westland (really Archie Joscelyn), and Allan R. Bosworth, an excellent Western pulpster who wrote under a lot of the house-names in WILD WEST WEEKLY as well as his own.
Evan Lewis's recent posts about Dashiell Hammett and the
Continental Op have put me in the mood to reread some of Hammett's work. I
haven't gotten around to doing that yet, but when I ran across a copy of this
1983 biography of Hammett at Half Price Books, I didn't hesitate to pick it up.
Not only am I interested in the subject, but the book is also by William F.
Nolan, who's written a number of other books, both fiction and non-fiction, that
I've read quite a bit about Hammett over the years, but this is the first
actual biography of him that I've read. Not surprisingly, I already knew
something about many of the events Nolan covers, but there was a considerable
amount of information that was new to me as well, such as a detailed look at
the abandoned novel that Hammett wound up turning into THE THIN MAN. I wasn't
aware of just how many times he started other novels, only to give up on them,
either. And this book includes the most detailed account I've read so far about
the time Hammett spent serving in the army during World War II, stationed in
the Aleutian Islands.
Of course, I was most interested in all the stuff about Hammett's writing
career. It's always fascinating to me to read about what an author wrote, for
who, and how much he got paid for it. I love all those behind-the-scenes
publishing stories. Nolan does an excellent job of striking a balance between
presenting the facts and offering some critical analysis of Hammett's work
without ever getting too heavy-handed about it. If anything, this book just
made me want to reread the novels and stories even more, which I suppose is one
thing a good biography of a writer ought to do.
I don't know how Hammett scholars regard this volume, but I never claimed to be
a scholar of any kind and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you're a Hammett fan and
run across a copy like I did, it's well worth reading.
About 33 years ago, I read a book entitled MACKLIN'S WOMEN,
the first book in a new Adult Western series called The Gunsmith. The author
was J.R. Roberts, who I knew even then was really Robert J. Randisi. In fact,
Bob may have sent me that copy of the first Gunsmith novel; I can't recall
But I'm relatively sure it didn't occur to me as I read and enjoyed the first
adventure of Clint Adams that Bob would still be writing them and I'd still be
reading them more than three decades later.
That's the case, however. I just read THE GUNSMITH #400: THE LINCOLN RANSOM.
This is a milestone in more ways than one. Not only the 400th book,
making The Gunsmith one of the longest-running Western series ever, but the
first book from the series' new homes, Piccadilly Publishing for the e-book
editions and Western Trailblazer for the trade paperbacks.
In this one Clint is working for the government, as he does from time to time,
on a top-secret mission: someone has stolen the coffin containing the body of
Abraham Lincoln from its tomb in Springfield, Illinois, and is demanding
$100,000 ransom for its return. The ransom is supposed to be paid in a small
town in Colorado. Clint gets the job of delivering the money and recovering the
former President's body, but of course things don't turn out to be quite that
simple as he also uncovers the conspiracy behind the theft, with some help from
his old friend, private detective Talbot Roper (who has starred in some Randisi
novels of his own and may well again one of these days).
As usual with Gunsmith novels, THE LINCOLN RANSOM is driven mostly by dialogue
and action and is very fast-paced. Bob's writing has a distinctive voice that's
always enjoyable. If you've been a Gunsmith fan in the past, there's no need to
stop now. I think the series is going to be around for a long time yet.
Bounty hunter Bodie Kendrick makes a welcome return in
GUNFIRE RIDGE, Wayne D. Dundee's latest novel. This time he's in pursuit of a
gang of outlaws that's been wreaking havoc in the Nebraska panhandle, far from
Kendrick's usual southwestern haunts. In addition to the bounties on the heads
of his quarry, Kendrick also has a personal score to settle with the men he's hunting.
But then at the same time, he also finds himself being hunted by a group of
killers who have a grudge of their own against him. It's the proverbial
"rock and a hard place" situation and a very dangerous spot for
Kendrick to be caught in. Luckily he has some help from a gun-toting soiled
dove and a troop of Buffalo Soldiers.
As usual with Dundee's work, the action in GUNFIRE RIDGE is fast-paced and
hardboiled and a prime example of why he's considered one of the best Western
writers in the business these days. Bodie Kendrick is a strong, very likable
hero, and the other characters are excellent as well. If you're a Western fan,
Dundee always provides great entertainment. Highly recommended.
It was one of the most brutal crimes Nevada had ever seen—a stagecoach and everyone in it chopped to pieces by a hail of bullets from a Gatling gun. Now husband-and-wife gunfighters J.D. and Kate Blaze are on the trail of the mass murderers, determined to bring them to justice and discover the motive for this savage slaughter. Before they find the truth, though, J.D. and Kate will have to pit six-shooter and Winchester against the terrible fury of a killing machine! Award-winning Western writer Michael Newton joins the BLAZE! team with an action-packed novel rooted in the bloody history of the Old West. One of the most popular and acclaimed authors of Western, crime, and adventure novels for the past 30 years, Newton spins a compelling tale of violence and deadly secrets in AMBUSHED!
(This post originally appeared on September 13, 2010.) This little indie comedy is another Movie I’d Never Heard Of, but as it often seems to turn out, it’s also a pretty good film. The protagonist is Dale Sweeney (David Allen Basche), a young man who hosts a middle-of-the-night call-in radio show on a small AM station in Florida. Dale’s callers are UFO nuts, conspiracy theorists, and all sorts of fringe weirdos, but that’s the focus of the program. It provides a forum for anybody to get their ideas out there, no matter how odd, and as Dale says, “I’ll believe you.” Unfortunately, the station manager isn’t as sympathetic and wants to cancel Dale’s show. Then, a strange caller starts calling in every night at 1:13 and spouting what sounds like gibberish for five minutes. In order to save his radio show, Dale starts to hype the idea that the caller is really a space alien stranded on Earth and trying to communicate with his home planet. The ploy works, but then mysterious guys in black suits and sunglasses show up and start asking questions, and a wave of odd robberies hits the town, and things keep on getting weirder . . . This movie is more whimsical than it is laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s smart and well-written, with a very nice twist about halfway through and another funny twist at the end. It also has the great Patrick Warburton in it and a supporting cast that includes comedy veterans like Fred Willard and Chris Elliott. I’LL BELIEVE YOU is an entertaining, very likable movie, and if you haven’t seen it (which is likely, given its low profile), it’s certainly well worth watching.
Black Dog Books has six new titles now available for order, and it's a pulp bonanza! The Garden of TNT by William J. Makin—The compete adventures of the Red Wolf of Arabia. With an introduction by Mike Ashley. Dying Comes Hard by James P. Olsen—Two-fisted investigator "Hard Guy" Dallas Duane knocks the crime out of these oil field mysteries. With an introduction by James Reasoner. The Voice of the Night by Hugh Pendexter—Jeff Faschon, Inquirer, is called in to solve a string of baffling mysteries. With an introduction by Evan Lewis. Tarrano the Conqueror by Ray Cummings—A war between worlds as Tarrano the Conqueror attempts to take over the Earth. With an introduction by Tom Roberts. Death Has An Escort by Roger Torrey—Crime comes in many forms, great and small—but no crime compares to murder! With an introduction by Richard A. Moore. and Windy City Pulp Stories No. 15—celebrating H.P Lovecraft and the Street & Smith comics. As noted above, I wrote the intro for DYING COMES HARD, and it's a really good book, as purely entertaining as anything I've read recently. I'm sure the others are all great as well and I look forward to reading them. I've read some of the Red Wolf of Arabia stories in BLUE BOOK and really enjoyed them. Roger Torrey is another long-time favorite of mine. Tom Roberts does a beautiful job with these books, and if you're a pulp fan you can't go wrong with anything he publishes.
Jazz hands! That's how I react whenever I see three hanging bodies and somebody points a gun at me. Snark aside, Paul Ernst and Walter Ripperger were both pretty good writers, so I'm sure this is a decent issue of DETECTIVE STORY, which rightly or wrongly I've always thought to be on the rather stodgy side.
The girl is an Angry Blonde instead of an Angry Redhead, but otherwise it's our old friends making another appearance on a Western pulp cover. The novel in this issue is by Will Ermine, one of the pseudonyms used by the generally dependable Harry Sinclair Drago, who was probably best known under his other pseudonym, Bliss Lomax. I have a number of his books on my shelves, and I need to get around to reading them.
Like a lot of comics fans of my generation, I was a huge fan
of writer/artist Jim Steranko's legendary run on Nick Fury, Agent of
S.H.I.E.L.D., first in STRANGE TALES and then in Fury's own comic book. The
issues-long battle between Fury and the villainous Yellow Claw was probably the
high point of the STRANGE TALES run. I thought it was great stuff. But I had no
idea at the time that it wasn't the first appearance in the Marvel Universe of
the Yellow Claw and his stalwart nemesis, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jimmy Woo.
Similarly, I thought it was a pretty good story when Roy Thomas introduced the
hero known as Marvel Boy in the pages of FANTASTIC FOUR but didn't know that
that character had appeared previously, too. I wasn't aware of any of that
until an issue of WHAT IF in the 1970s delved into the history of those
A few decades later, that same issue of WHAT IF inspired writer Jeff Parker to
revive the Yellow Claw, Jimmy Woo, Marvel Boy, and others from the Fifties in a
mini-series called AGENTS OF ATLAS, because in those dark days between the end
of the Golden Age (when Marvel was known officially as Timely Comics) and the
beginning of the Silver Age (when the company we now know as Marvel Comics was
born), the company was called Atlas Comics.
I recently came across a trade paperback reprinting of the AGENTS OF ATLAS
mini-series from 2006 that also includes the first appearances from the Forties
and Fifties of the characters, along with the issue of WHAT IF that inspired
their rebirth. I must have read that issue of WHAT IF because I read almost
everything Marvel published in those days, but I have no memory of it, and this
was my first time to read the mini-series and the other stories.
The Agents of Atlas are the above-mentioned S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jimmy Woo, who
started out working for the F.B.I.; Marvel Boy, an Earthling raised in an alien
colony on Uranus (and yes, the name of the planet is the subject of several
jokes); Namora, the cousin of Prince Namor, the Submariner; Venus, apparently
the Goddess of Love her own self, come to Earth and taking human form; M-11,
the enigmatic "human robot"; and my favorite among them, soldier of
fortune Ken Hale, who is transformed by a witch doctor's curse into an
intelligent gorilla known as (what else?) Gorilla Man. As you can tell, this is
a pretty oddball group that reminded me slightly of the early days of the Doom
Patrol, one of my favorite DC comics from the early Sixties.
The main storyline in this collection, the mini-series from 2006, is a
modern-day story that finds the agents regrouping into a team to help Jimmy Woo
take on a vast, shadowy criminal organization known as the Atlas Foundation.
It's a lightweight, fairly fast-moving and entertaining story. The script by
Jeff Parker and the art by Leonard Kirk are both good, and hey, how can you not
like a story that features an intelligent gorilla firing four machine guns simultaneously?
Maybe you can resist the appeal of a scene like that, but I can't. It's a shame
Gorilla Man never got his own series, even though I doubt that the exploits of
a superspy gorilla would have been very successful. I would have read it,
The reprints of the stories that introduced the characters in the Forties,
Fifties, and Seventies are fun in a nostalgic way, too. The best of them is
probably the one from THE YELLOW CLAW #1, with art by the great Joe Maneely and
a script by Al Feldstein, better known for his work on MAD. The Human Robot
story was written by Stan Lee and drawn by John Romita, who both went on to do
much bigger and better things a few years later, of course.
Overall, AGENTS OF ATLAS is a nice little trip into the past for those of us
who remember those days. If you're a comics fan of a certain age, you'll
probably enjoy it like I did.
Nobody breaks me out of a reading funk—that feeling of vague
dissatisfaction and the inability to find anything you really want to read
despite having books piled around you—better than Lawrence Block. I found
myself edging in the direction of a funk the other day, and what should come
along just in time but THE CRIME OF OUR LIVES, Block's new non-fiction
Ed Gorman likes to say that Lawrence Block writes the best sentences in the
business. Ed is no slouch in that area himself, and I think a lot of writers,
myself included, come up with some pretty good sentences here and there. But
Ed's right, no one makes it look as effortless as Block, and no one can do it
anywhere near as consistently, either.
THE CRIME OF OUR LIVES is a collection of essays and introductions to various
books, a few autobiographical but mostly about other authors of crime and
mystery fiction. Some of the writers Block talks about are Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Donald
Westlake, Evan Hunter, Robert B. Parker, Mary Higgins Clark, Ross Thomas, Jim
Thompson, Charles Willeford, and Mickey Spillane. (I use the phrase "talks
about" deliberately, because in many ways reading this book is like
sitting down and having an entertaining, informative conversation with Block.)
Other sections are devoted to authors who maybe aren't as well-known these days,
such as Frederic Brown, and some who are almost forgotten, for example Henry
Kane. There are also several pieces about Scott Meredith and his literary
agency where Block was first an employee and then a client.
(If I can intrude with a personal story—and I can, since it's my blog—after I
had written my first novel in the fall and winter of 1977-78, I sent it around
to various publishers, knowing the odds of selling it were slim without an
agent, but I didn't know any agents at the time and hadn't quite figured out how
to find one. I was just a good ol' boy in a small town in Texas. But after
several swift rejections, I came across an ad in WRITER'S DIGEST about how the
Scott Meredith Literary Agency was looking for manuscripts. Now, I knew that
name because I had seen it on the copyright pages of many mystery novels I'd
read—"Published by arrangement with Scott Meredith Literary
Agency"—and thought, wouldn't it be great to be represented by Scott
Meredith? If I could get him to take on my book, how could I possibly go wrong?
Of course, there was a reading fee involved, $200 as I recall, and that was a
lot of money in those days, but it seemed like a worthwhile investment...
Lawrence Block knows where this story is going, and you probably do, too. I
sent the manuscript off, along with a check, and got a letter back a couple of
weeks later, a detailed letter several pages long, telling me how my book was
good, but just not quite good enough,
and the problems it had were too ingrained to be overcome, so I'd be well-advised
to start over and write another book, and if I did, and sent it in with another
couple of hundred bucks, I stood a good chance of breaking in and becoming a
client of the Scott Meredith Literary Agency. And it was signed by the man
himself, the same guy whose name I'd seen in all those novels I'd read!
Needless to say, I never became a client, but the book eventually sold and can
be purchased on Amazon this very day, in either trade paperback or e-book
edition, whichever you prefer. I've often wondered over the years, after
reading Lawrence Block's reminiscences in other places about Scott Meredith and
how his agency operated, just who really wrote that letter to me back in 1978.)
I've gotten far off track from the purpose of this post, which is to tell you
just how enjoyable THE CRIME OF OUR LIVES is and how it's one of the best books
I've read so far this year. You won't find a better collection about mystery
fiction and the people who write it. This one gets my highest recommendation.