Monday, October 05, 2015

COME OUT TONIGHT by Richard Laymon

Richard Laymon is a legend in the horror genre. His work is brutal, violent and, at times, almost pornographic. His novel Come Out Tonight is no exception. It is the story of Sherry Gates and her scrape with a demented underage serial killer.

The novel opens with Sherry sending her boyfriend, Duane, to a local convenience store for condoms. When he doesn’t return she gets nervous and goes out looking for him. She finds Duane’s van, but she doesn’t find him. This sparks an all-night search, a chance meeting with a helpful older man and an encounter with two charmingly innocent teenage boys. And, somewhere in between, she is kidnapped, beaten, and raped. The plot takes a number of surprising turns. And in the end, it becomes difficult to tell the good guys from the bad.

Come Out Tonight opens with a bang. The prose is quick and sharp. The story is interesting and the characters are fun, even if a little familiar to anyone who has read Richard Laymon’s work. It is dialogue rich, and a very quick read. Unfortunately, like many of Laymon’s novels, it lacks a certain amount of believability. It is difficult to ignore the glaring fact that all of this pain, fear and horror could be escaped by simply picking up the telephone and dialing three numbers: 9-1-1.

While the characters motives are suspect, and not adequately explained, this is still a fun novel. The reader just has to ignore the obvious holes in the plot, and the fact that Laymon’s characters never make the right decision. They always run down the wrong corridor, or choose the wrong road, or alley. They are innocent, or ignorant, of their true situations, and they always think they can handle it. They never, when it is available, ask for help. And, of course, their actions always lead them into deeper, darker and more frightening places.

Fortunately, it isn’t very difficult to ignore the novel’s weaknesses. Richard Laymon can weave a damn good story and make you want to ignore the blemishes. He does it with a sturdy understanding of the tale and its impact on the audience. He tightens the suspense like a noose around the reader’s neck. He makes you want to believe the tale. It is very much like a campfire story. You know it is not real, and could never be real, but somehow it still enthralls and even scares you.

The action is violent and stuffed with sex—most of the novel is filled with sexual torture, but somehow, as written by Laymon it is less disturbing and nasty than it could be; perhaps because it is seemingly written through the eyes of a thirteen year-old boy. It is more fantasy than reality. And that fantasy is somehow innocent and almost coy.

Come Out Tonight is not for everyone. If you are offended by violence, sex, or just about anything else, avoid this book. If, on the other hand, you like a little heady action and quick-shot violence you just might like this offering. Be careful and don’t take it too seriously, or we all may have to question both our sensibilities and our sanity.

This review originally went live April 5, 2007, and since it is October I dusted it off and made it new again.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

GRANDMASTER by Warren Murphy and Molly Cochran

Grandmaster was published in 1984. It won an Edgar Award for best paperback original in 1985, and it is the first, by my count, of seven novels co-written and published as by Warren Murphy and Molly Cochran. It is both familiar and fresh to readers of Mr. Murphy’s long running series, The Destroyer. The familiarity is its Eastern mysticism, and the fresh is its less satirical and more hard-bitten tone.
Justin Gilead is nearly an orphan. His mother died before he was three, and his father—

“a novelist known worldwide by the single name Leviathan, which graced a stream of flashy if embarrassingly illiterate best-sellers”

—promptly unloaded the child to a succession of aunts, uncles, and anyone else who would look after him. An uncle encouraged Justin to play chess, which he did, and very well, but he is more than just a chess prodigy. He is mystical; the reincarnated Patanjali of Rashimpur; The Wearer of the Blue Hat. The fantasy element is remarkably complicated, in a good way, and important to the novel. It is played out in a straight forward cold war espionage with a slash of good an evil.              

Grandmaster, when it was released, was a wholly original novel, and still is. It is a mixture of the heroic and cold war machinations. It is larger than life, but reasonable with its grandiosity; Justin Gilead is greater than a simple man, but less than an outright hero. He has failed his destiny and is motivated by revenge. The espionage element is the playground for the story, and while a cold war novel, its focus, and what makes it work, is the thematic good versus evil. The good isn’t the United States, and the evil isn’t the Soviet Union. It is much more personal, and much more interesting for it.

Wonderfully (because it made me laugh), Justin Gilead’s father—at least in name—resembles the bestselling author Trevanian. A man Warren Murphy likely knew since he wrote the screenplay for Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Trevanian’s novel The Eiger Sanction. And Mr. Murphy’s assessment is less than fawning—see the quote above.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Available Now: "The Marilyn Tapes"

Ed Gorman’s writing is strong, fast and sleek as a bullet. He is one of the best.
—Dean Koontz

Ed Gorman’s The Marilyn Tapes was released as a hardcover in 1995 by Tor / Forge.

Marilyn Monroe is dead but she left behind tape recordings that reveal every moment of her rendezvous with President John F. Kennedy and with his brother Robert. Now the tapes are missing and everyone from the Mafia to J. Edgar Hoover to the Kennedy family wants them.

The Marilyn Tapes is a crime novel saturated with period detail, and haunted by Marilyn Monroe. A Marilyn that never appears on page, and a Marilyn who no one really knew. It is thoroughly researched, beautifully written, and wonderfully readable.  

The Marilyn Tapes has been favorably compared with the writing of Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy’s American Tabloid. It should have been a bestseller when it was first released and, now, its second chance, and yours, has arrived—

Buy it. Read it. And Rate it (on Amazon).

Praise for The Marilyn Tapes:

“The flip side of James Ellroy's justly acclaimed American Tabloid and equally as powerful.” —London's Sunday Time Out

“A fast paced tale of treachery and murder...the story ricochets off sociopathic games in high places.” —Publisher's Weekly

“A fascinating and suspenseful novel on a grand scale.” —The Drood Review

“A striking combination of Tom Clancy''s political thrillers and Elmore Leonard's hypnotically sassy novels of America's mean streets.” —Interzone (London)

“A powerful and indelible portrait of Marilyn Monroe even though Gorman never brings her on stage.” —Baker and Taylor

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Point Blank" and "Killtown"

In the early-1970s Berkley Medallion published several of Richard Stark’s Parker novels dressed up as a men’s adventure series. The series was called: The Violent World of Parker. Each novel was numbered; the numbering had no relationship to the original publication order. The first in the series was Slayground, which was the fourteenth printed, and the second in the series was Point Black, which, under the title The Hunter, was the first to feature professional thief Parker. The covers are very much like the men’s adventure series published in the 1970s—explosions, shootings, guns and knives. Two of my favorites, as far as cover art, are Point Blank, and Killtown (originally published as The Score). The artist: Lou Feck.    

The opening paragraph of Point Blank:

“When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell. The guy said, ‘Screw you, buddy,’ yanked his Chevy back into the stream of traffic, and roared on down the tollbooths. Parker spat in the right-hand lane, lit hislast cigarette, and walked across the George Washington Bridge.”

The opening paragraph of Killtown:

“When the bellboy left, Parker went over to the house phone and made his call. He gave the operator downstairs the number he wanted, and waited while the phone clicked and ticked and snicked in his ear. He was feeling impatient, and he was about to go downstairs and put in the call from a pay phone when all the clicking finally quit and a ringing sound started instead.”

Sunday, September 20, 2015

OVERHEAD by Jack M. Bickham

Overhead is the third novel featuring Brad Smith. It was published in 1991 by Tor, and it is something of a transitional novel in the series. It is longer than the first two—as are the three that follow—and it permanently moves Brad from Richardson, Texas to the fictional Elk City, Montana.

Brad’s old tennis pal, Ted Treacher—who helped Danisa escape Yugoslavia in Tiebreaker—purchased a tennis and golf resort outside of Elk City. There is local opposition, and he is leveraged to the eyeballs. Ted wants Brad’s help to set up a small professional tournament. He has $60,000 purse money and the tournament would bring welcome publicity. Collie wants Brad to do some snooping while he is there. A civilian employee of a nearby Air Force research facility was caught removing classified data, but murdered before she could talk. The FBI thinks the Soviets are behind both spying and murder. It also thinks the killer is Brad’s old nemesis Sylvester. A little loyalty—to Ted, mostly—and a quarrel with the new head tennis pro at the resort Brad works, persuades him to load his Bronco and go to Montana.

Overhead is the weakest of the Brad Smith novels. It is longer than the first two, and several subplots run through its length; specifically, a corporate corruption scandal and an unexplained high rate of child death in Elk City. It is busy, and all of the intrigue distracts from the main focus of the novel—Brad’s and Sylvester’s ever growing annoyance with each other. It isn’t a bad novel at all, but it isn’t quite as good as the other novels in the series.

The good stuff is the setting, characters, and suspense. Mr. Bickham develops the cloying small town atmosphere of Elk City nicely, and does an even better job with the resort. The characters are never without believable motivation. There is the bully-psychopath Elk City cop, Ted who is falling apart under the financial pressure of the resort, Ardis Allen, a cutthroat businesswoman, Sylvester, and Brad. It is also structured to achieve a high level of suspense. It is written in first—Brad’s perspective—and third person, and the alternating perspective allows the author to prolong suspenseful scenes across more than one chapter (and it works very well).

There is also a nice touch of social commentary, and something about the human experience. My favorite—

“Hemingway liked to talk about how life sometimes bent people, sometimes in such a way that they healed and went on, stronger because of the hurt. He said life sometimes broke people, too. But he never really came to terms with that. Maybe he couldn’t. Maybe at the very end Hemingway understood being truly broken, beyond healing, and that was why he went down to the hallway that fine sunny morning outside of Ketchum and put both barrels of the shotgun to his forehead, just above the eyes, and pulled both triggers.”

Overhead may not be the best of Jack Bickham’s Brad Smith novels, but it is still an exciting, entertaining, and very worthwhile read.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Something New

I’m trying something new. It is something I’ve been thinking about for a few months—I’m always a little slow off the line. What is it? A Gravetapping Facebook page. It is a companion to the blog featuring links to articles on the web, television and movie trailers, comments, and anything else I find interesting that fits somewhere in the vast entertainment category.

So do me a favor. A little one, but a favor nonetheless and visit Facebook and “Like” Gravetgapping’s new sister site.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Publicity Push: The Robert Payne Novels

Ed Gorman is the definition of a professional writer. He has written dozens of novels in several genres—mystery, western, science fiction. His work has earned him The Eye for lifetime achievement from the Private Eye Writer’s Association, an Anthony, a Spur, and the International Writers Award.

In 1994 Mr. Gorman introduced a series character named Robert Payne—former FBI psychological profiler turned consultant—in Blood Moon. The series ran four books; each set in Iowa. Click the title of each book to be taken to its Amazon page.

“Crime writing veteran Gorman…evokes the closed-in atmosphere of small towns in this promising series launch that features modern psychological crime fighting by a winning detective.” –Publishers Weekly on Blood Moon

“Payne belongs to the hard-boiled detective school, but Gorman gives him an appealing softer side by detailing his loving relationship with live-in girlfriend Felice, by showing his attention to a young girl with cerebral palsy and by examining his ambivalent feelings for his dying stepfather. The prolific Gorman delivers another smooth page-turner with top-notch mystery production values.” –Publishers Weekly on Harlot’s Moon

Publisher’s description. Former FBI agent and psychological profiler Robert Payne is on the trail of a serial killer. A 12 year old girl has been murdered and mutilated, and the detective assigned to the case wound up dead. Now Nora Conners, the girl's wealthy mother, has hired Payne to solve the murder and bring closure. After narrowing his search to three men, a televangelist, a honey salesman, and an art teacher, all living in the small Iowa town of New Hope, Payne begins to narrow the field, posing as a journalist. That's just the start. As the daughter of one of the suspects joins the list of victims, and the woman who hired him is murdered, Payne finds himself on a race to solve the case before he himself is implicated.

First paragraph. First day of incarceration, there’s a killing.

Hawk Moon

Publisher’s description. Two beautiful Indian women are found dead with their noses cut off—an old Indian practice to punish infidelity—in this suspenseful second mystery by best-selling author Ed Gorman. The mutilation murders stun the quiet Iowa town of Cedar Rapids and call for the special skills of criminal psychologist Robert Payne, who uses clues from the crime scene to piece together a psychological portrait of the killer. The prime suspect is another Indian, David Rhodes, who is estranged from his wife, police detective Cindy Rhodes—and the woman with whom Payne is starting to fall in love.

First paragraph. Anna Tolan was helping her father shear sheep when she heard the woman’s cry on the wind across the cornfield.  

Publisher’s description. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A Catholic priest has been found half-naked and dead in a seedy motel room, with his tongue cut out. Ex-FBI profiler Robert Payne has been called in to investigate by his childhood friend Steve Gray, now a monsignor. With a fund-raising drive coming up, Steve wants to squelch a scandal. But all the signs point to unholy doings in the tightly knit parish.

Why did the pugnacious president of the Parish Board remove a gold earring from the scene of the crime? Was his beautiful blonde wife doing more than confessing to the profligate priest? And why was the dead priest hoarding newspaper stories about two other brutal murders? As Payne examines the evidence and pieces together the profile of a subtle and devious killer, it's clear that there will be hell to pay—with no end in sight...

First paragraph. So one night when she’s thirteen, Tawanna decides to give it a try for herself. She waits till after eight, till her mother’s done some dope and is sleeping in the bedroom.

Publisher’s description. Twenty-five years ago, in a small Iowa town, an asylum for the criminally insane burned to the ground, killing inmates and employees. The fire was set by Paul Renard, a sexual psychopath who escaped the blaze and disappeared. Today young Ricky Hennessey faces murder charges in the death of his girlfriend. His defense: Paul Renard did it. Legal investigator Robert Payne joins the case at the request of Tandy West, a cable TV psychic and Payne's former lover. She’s doing a piece on the Hennessey case for her show but has begun to question her gift and feels the need for Payne’s reality-based investigatory skills. With the assistance of the local police chief, Susan Charles, Payne learns that the past has invaded the future in a most unexpected way.

First paragraph. Way up here, at certain times of year, you can sometimes hear them screaming, more than twenty people who died in the asylum fire over thirty years ago.