Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Black Gat Books: Three New Titles

There are three new titles now available from the Stark House imprint Black Gat Books. If you’re not familiar with Black Gat, you’re in for a treat. It is a mass market line dedicated to reprinting great crime novels of the past. Stark House’s website identifies Black Gat’s mission statement—

“This is a single-title line of books, uniformly priced at $9.99, offering additional reprint titles from past masters of mystery fiction. Each book will be numbered. Some will have new introductions, some will not.”

The three new titles available now are:

No. 6Felony Tank by Maclolm Braly. This one was originally published in 1961 by Gold Medal. It is a prison tale from an author who knew what prison was like.

Publisher’s description: “Seventeen-year-old Doug is in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up in jail. What happens next could only have been written by the author of It’s Cold Out There.”

No. 7The Girl on the Best Seller List by Vin Packer. This one was originally published in 1960 by Gold Medal. Vin Packer was one of Gold Medal’s great writers and her, Marijane Meaker, work is underappreciated.

Publisher’s description: “They all had a reason to hate Gloria Whealdon after she exposed their lives in her bestselling novel—but only one had a reason to kill.”

No. 8She Got What She Wanted by Orrie Hitt. This one was originally published in 1954 by pure sleaze publisher Beacon Books. Orrie Hitt’s work is something more (much more) than average and his work has had a resurgence over the last several years.  

Publisher’s description: “Della Banners was born into poverty. It had been a hard life up in the hills. But she discovered early that a girl with her figure could get things from men. So when she ran away to the city, she was ready to try anything.”

The Black Gat titles are available directly from the publisher, and most online bookstores. If you click on the above titles you will be whisked to the Amazon page for each.

Saturday, August 20, 2016


Jay Walker “Doak” Miller is a retired NYPD detective. He left the job for sunny small town Florida supplementing his pension as a part-time private investigator; performing background checks, routine insurance inquiries, and every so often undercover work for the local Sheriff’s office, which is where the story begins.

The wife of a wealthy businessman, looking to hire her husband killed, was fingered by a small time crook. The Sheriff wants Doak to revive his Jersey accent and play the part of hitman; get it on tape, and accept a $1,000 down payment. Doak readily agrees until he sees the woman, and calls everything off. The problem, he doesn’t tell the Sheriff, and he coaches the woman exactly what to say for the tape.

The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes is challenging. It is short, written with Mr. Block’s usual literate, stark flair, and remarkably complicated. It is third person from Doak’s perspective, but has the feel of first. It is Doak Miller’s story, and intimately told. There is some cheating—the girl’s (the one with the deep blue eyes) backstory is told in narrative disguised as dialogue, but it works.

The challenge is the novel’s lack of morality, or more precisely, Doak’s lack of morality. He is devious, criminal, selfish, and, as the novel develops and Doak’s character is revealed, it is clear he is a man fallen, rather than falling. His destruction is self-inflicted, and the woman is the tool he chooses to use. It is a cock-eyed version of the film Double Indemnity; here the man is predator and the woman his willing playmate.

The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes admirably plays off the old black and white film noir without losing its own identity and interest. Its plotting is disturbingly good. Nothing is out of place or unresolved. There is a heavy dose of erotica, and not a single likable character. It is both familiar, and new—

“‘That’s the movies,’ she said. ‘This is life.’”

This review was written for Ed Gormans blog and went live on September 15, 2015. I have a few projects going right now, which have been keeping me away from the blog more than I like, but I hope to have some original material soon.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "A Shot in the Dark"

A Shot in the Dark was published by Simon & Schuster in 1952 as a hardcover. The edition that caught my eye is a mass market published by Award Books in 1965. It is a seemingly simple cover with only a small splash of illustration, but the overall design—the black background scratching its way into a blue border—works very well. The "Now Only" sticker, which I don't dare remove, adds a little something, but mostly an enviable price. The artist: Unknown (to me).

The opening sentence:

“It was stupid to go on needling the customs officer at the Havana airport, but Johnny Edwards had been doing stupid things all his life and he didn’t feel like reforming now.”

Monday, August 08, 2016

New Book: "Survivors Will Be Shot Again" by Bill Crider

Bill Crider’s latest Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery, Survivors Will Be Shot Again, is scheduled for release August 9, 2016, which is only a few hours away as I type. It represents the 23rd title in the series and the 30th year of Dan Rhodes in print; the first title, Too Late to Die, was published in 1986. This latest novel and the series as a whole are enormously entertaining. There is always a sharp, well-plotted mystery, humor – in the form of the always eclectic and often eccentric residents of rural-Blackin County, Texas – and the very appealing Sheriff Rhodes.

But don’t take my word for it. Ed Gorman said the following about Survivors Will Be Shot Again:

“Bill Crider writes some the finest traditional mysteries around. He is a first rate plotter who also knows how to pace his material. Such a mixture of mystery, humor and even an occasional horrific moment give his work its unique mastery.”

Do yourself a favor and read a terrific mystery by a great writer. Survivors Will Be Shot Again is available from St. Martin’s Press as both a hardcover and ebook.  

Sunday, July 31, 2016

THE PLAGUE OF THIEVES AFFAIR by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

Plague of Thieves Affair is the fourth entry in Marcia Muller’s and Bill Pronzini’s historical detective series featuring Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon. The two spend the novel working on separate cases—Quincannon is looking for the killer of a brew master at a local steam beer brewery, and Carpenter is hired to protect a traveling exhibition of very expensive reticules, handbags, being displayed at a local gallery. Quincannon’s inquiry goes sideways when his suspect is found shot dead behind not one, but two locked doors, and the police rule it a suicide. Quincannon doesn’t agree, and he determines to solve the mystery of both murders.

Meanwhile, back at Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services, Sabina is approached with, potentially, the solution to the vexing mystery of the true identity of a man who claims to be Sherlock Holmes. It is vexing because Mr. Holmes has the bad habit—at least in Quincannon’s mind—of dropping in on many of the agency’s cases and, using flawless deductive reasoning, solving them before disappearing again. The estate wants Sabina to find the Sherlock impersonator, whose real name may be Charles P. Fairchild III, so it can determine if he is mentally fit to inherit the estate.

Plague of Thieves Affair is an adept, entertaining, and intriguing whodunit. Its setting is a well-developed late-Nineteenth century San Francisco. There are several descriptions of the business climate, a quarry with little regard for crushing a house or two to get its desired stone is the best, giving the story a sense reality and place. Quincannon is gruff, intelligent, and deeply in love with Sabina—a name as alluring as any in fiction. Sabina is much less gruff, but just as intelligent as John, with an added air of sophistication. The mystery of the Holmes impersonator is the gem of the story and it nicely unravels with the surrounding investigations. The crimes are solved with a combination of wit and intelligent deductive reasoning. It is as readable as it is satisfying.

This review was originally published at Ed Gorman's blog January 30, 2016. It's been a busy few months at my house and I hope to have something new for the blog very soon.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Books You Should Read: "Backshot" by Ed Gorman and Tom Piccirilli

Cemetery Dance has two signed, limited edition hardcovers, with interconnected storylines available. The titles: Backshot: 1902 by Ed Gorman, and Backshot: 2012 by Tom Piccirilli. The stories are connected across one hundred years by Marshal Delmar Royce. Royce is a character in 1902, and the grandfather of the anti-hero protagonist in 2012.

1902 is a hardboiled, noirish—ish because there is always a touch of hope in Ed Gorman’s work no matter how dark—Western. In my review earlier this year I wrote:

“It is very much like an old Gold Medal crime novel—a man trapped in a situation far out of his control, his downfall brought by a beautiful woman, and his redemption in the arms of another. It is developed with Ed Gorman’s masterful colors of humanity. The most egregious, nasty villains are painted with the light brush of understanding, creating a moral ambiguity that is more horrifying than straight evil. It is an understated masterpiece, an apt description of many of Ed Gorman’s works, and well worth the price of admission.” [Read the review]

2012 is a richly textured crime novel with betrayal and revenge at its core. It is dark, splendid, and written with a style that very few writers are capable of. In my review earlier this year I wrote:

“It is thematically complex with a heaviness of the past’s influence on the present. Royce is haunted by the image of a man he will never meet, Delmar Royce, and Quill is tormented by the shadow of his abusive father. The story never strays into predictability, and Royce is, if not exactly likable, understandable and even familiar.” [Read the review]

Both of these titles can be purchased directly from Cemetery Dance (click the titles below to see the webpage for each book):

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

DRY STONE WALLS by Robert J. Randisi

Truxton—“My parents named me after a highway sign”—Lewis is a retired NYPD Captain of Detectives. He is a young 62, and using his retirement to travel the United States by housesitting—

“Mature Male Available for Housesitting, Non-Smoker, No Pets, Widower.”

Tru gets free lodging, and the traveling homeowners get reassurance their house is safe. Tru is on a job in rural Kentucky when he discovers the nearly lost art of dry stone walls; rock walls with no mortar. Max Beasley, a curmudgeonly old-timer, is the only local mason who still constructs the walls. Max agrees to take Tru as apprentice, but Tru’s job description changes when he arrives at the job site and a portion of the wall has been knocked down, and even more strangely, Max is not there.

It turns out Max is in jail for the murder of a land developer whose body was found beneath the collapsed stones of the wall. Max had refused to sell his property, and the developer tried multiple methods of persuasion, including physical intimidation. Methods Max didn’t like. Tru is convinced Max is innocent of the crime, and he spends the rest of the novel proving it.

Dry Stone Walls is the first in a promising new series. It is a comfortable whodunit rich with dialogue, a likeable protagonist, small-town paranoia—of outsiders like Tru—and a cast of oddball characters; a local Sheriff who allows Max’s temporary escape from county jail, an old woman wanting to help Max get “off the hook,” without “puttin’ [herself] on it!” and a bookkeeper who is a gin rummy prodigy.

The mystery is also good. There is enough going on the keep things interesting; an FBI agent working undercover at the murdered man’s office, and the local residents’ unwillingness to give Tru an honest answer. The killer is identified earlier than expected, but a satisfying twist in the final pages keeps things interesting.

This review originally appeared at Ed Gorman’s blog on July 21, 2015.